One of my seminary professors, Chuck DeGroat has written an incredible book on Exodus and our struggles as humans, Leaving Egypt. Here is a great quote from his chapter on the Golden Calf:
Where was God? [While Israel was making the Golden Calf] In a blend of irony, tragedy, and even a bit of comedy, while the Israelites were desperately crafting their substitute God-presence, God was busy making plans to be more present with them than ever. And while we’re desperately seeking our own substitutes for security, God’s Son, as the carpenter he was raised to be, is building a home for His restless, weary pilgrim children.
I can’t think of a book in the past few years as nuturing to my soul as this one. And if you click this link, it’s only $.99 on Kindle until Saturday! bit.ly/Mz8jIB
When it comes to trials, most Christians act like sailers and tattooist. One of the classic maritime tattoos is the words “Hold Fast” across the knuckles. The idea goes back to the days where mariners would fight back their urges to abandon ship and give up their mission. In the face of these struggles, their fist cried, “Hold Fast”. When a greenhorn sailor would cower in the face of an impending storm, the weathered vet could flash as strong message with his hands.
Most of the time, our response as believers to trials and hardship in our lives is close to the same. When work gets tough, when our marriage is hard, when our kids won’t behave, when money runs out: Hold fast. Just keep hanging on. Just keep going.
Sometimes, if we are thinking spiritually, we endure our trials by thinking ahead to heaven. We think ahead to a time when our troubles will be gone. Just imagine heaven. Just think of the day when this will all be over. Hold fast.
The deep and abiding trouble with this is that My focus is being, ever so slightly, directed in the wrong way. I am being told to hold fast to hope in heaven. Hold fast to the idea that this will all be over some day.
In reality, this is a form of idolatry. It is clever, religious idolatry. It is evil because it ultimately directs my attention off of Christ and onto a blessing he is giving me. I am worshiping the gift and not the Giver. Ultimately anything, even any good thing, that takes our eyes of of Christ is idolatrous. Any gift, any misplaced hope, any thing that we seek comfit in apart from Jesus is idolatry.
So then our prayers and approach to trials should not be one of “Father get me out of this”. Rather we should pray like Christ, “Now my soul is troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father save me from this hour?’ But for this purpose I have come. Father glorify your name”. I trials are for His glory and He has given us the resources to walk through them.
What we need is not less trials, but more Jesus.
When I was in high school, it was always fun to play the prank to put stuff in someone’s drink when they stepped away from the table. You could dump salt in their coke, fill their tea with pepper juice and otherwise case mischief. It was always great to see a big reaction when the friend returned to the table and took a swig of Dr. Pepper that tasted like soy sauce. Inevitably that friend would laugh, order another drink and plot his revenge.
But what wouldn’t happen is that person keeping their be-spoiled drink. It was gross.
Jeremiah calls out ancient Israel and us for the same thing. He says, the Lord has these two problems with you. First, you have abandoned him (a free flowing spring of pure water) and second, you have dug your own cisterns which hold no water and whats left at the bottom is dirty and gross.
Well good thing for us, we have city water, right?
Unfortunately, no. More often than not, I turn to my idols to provide me with something that I feel I am not getting from Christ. This is difficult because sometimes the love and acceptance of Christ is somewhat intangible and abstract.
I want people to do what I expect so that I am provided with comfort. We want our kids to act right in public so we can have the adoration of all the over parents around. We want our spouses to love us so that we feel better about our self-worth. We want the elders of our churches to bend to our wills. We want the doctor to shrug and say that the cancer is benign.
The problem is not with having comfort, good kids, or a loving spouse; the problem is wanting these things to serve as our Gods. Only in Christ can we truly have acceptance and the love we truly desire. Until I revel in what Christ has done for me, I am just wallowing around in and drinking my dirty nasty cistern water.
And the problem with cistern water is that it does not refresh. It never quenches the thirst that it says it will. And there in is where our anger and frustration begin. When our idols fail to deliver, we get angry. We get frustrated. And most the time, we jump deeper into the arms of those very same idols.
The Gospel breaks this cycle by reminding us that we are already accepted. I saw on twitter yesterday and now I can’t find it, a quote that goes something like this:
You can tell that you have grown in your understanding and trust of the gospel when you are more willing to disappoint people.
What is it that you feel like you aren’t getting from Christ? How does the Gospel say that he is already providing it?
So one of the things that I at the same time relish and despise is mowing my yard.
I hate mowing my yard because as I am sweating out the grind of mowing, I cannot help but noticed every divot and brown spot. Every patch of crab grass seems like an acre, every weed seems to be ready to spawn an army of its kind. And so I push the heavy mower up and down the awkward hills of my yard, becoming more and more depressed with each line.
As I mow, all I can see is the little picture. I focus on the next five feet so that my lines stay straight. Even if my grass is marred with mange and discoloration, at least my lines will be straight! And so the hour long process kills me. It plays against my awkward, half-butted perfectionism – which is obviously the most awkward form of perfectionism.
Every stray tissue, every pile of dog feces, every ant hill feels like an indictment.
And so, I trudge towards the finish line, where I put away the mower and sit on the porch enjoying a cold beverage. As I do this, something happens. I eventually stop sweating. But even more important, I start to look out over the yard and something dawns on me. It’s actually not that bad. From the vantage point of my chair, I can see the big picture. My yard is kind of nice.
The crab grass seems to have disappeared; the weeds can’t be seen. The brown spots seem to have shrank and I can’t find any dog crap. The lines that looked slightly crooked as I mowed look like they have been laid out with geometric precision.
And so many times, life is just like this. As we work our way though a difficult season, all we can see is the problems. And even worse, the problems seemed to be magnified by the proximity. And yet instead of trusting that the bigger picture is more beautiful than I can imagine, I rage against God. I am upset that he won’t give me what I want; that he won’t rescue me from my discomfort. How dare he have something bigger in store?
This morning, I read a quote by TIm Keller that sums up my selfishness:
Jesus says, I will not be hurried because I love you. I know what I am doing. And if you try and impose your understanding of schedule and timing on my, you will struggle to feel loved by me.
This week I have the privilege of being in Chicago for the Gospel Coalition Conference. It has been amazing. Yesterday I heard messages by Tim Keller, John Piper, Phillip Ryken, and Mark Driscoll. Far and away the one that struck me the most was Keller. Keller did a fairly typical “Keller-esque” message on idolatry of the heart. He artfully identified and tore down numerous God’s that we as Christians bow down to.
This was an interesting contrast with the hotel we are staying at. The hotel is called “Aloft”, but should, perhaps, be called “Aloof”. I am grateful for the church providing a hotel near the conference center and grateful that I am staying here. Nevertheless the attention to detail in the hotel is astounding. The entire hotel seems to have been designed, decorated and furnished by Ikea.
Cool color schemes that bounce alternately from stark solids to vivid patterns.
Even the music in the elevator music is cool.
In fact the elevator is a great microcosm of the hotel as a whole. The elevator is brush finished stainless steel from top to bottom and from a crown near the ceiling, a soft and beautiful blue lights seeps out. Then from some unscene (sic) speakers, a barrage of hip European sounding techno lurches out.
I walked in the hotel and (at least in my mind) made a motion like a 5th grader. I pumped my fist and elbow by my side and said in a loud whisper, “Yessssssssss”. Again, this is all going on in my head. I love cool. A lot. A whole lot.
In fact, I worship cool. I kneel at the altar of pop culture and drink deep of the swill-y Kool-aide.
God help us, because I have a feeling, I am not alone.