Faulty Cisterns and False Gods

Two things are true about humanity: we were created with needs and we were created to worship. Under the master craftsmanship of a sovereign and holy God, it is revealed to us that our needs and our worship are actually tied together. What, or who, we worship will determine where we go to have our needs fulfilled. These needs aren’t limited to only physical needs. Things like intimacy, security, satisfaction, happiness, joy, hope; all of these and many more will be sought after at the places we worship. And we can find out what, or who, exactly we worship by noticing where we turn when these needs arise.

God is revealed as Jehovah-jireh (YHWH-Yireh) in Genesis, right after providing a ram en lieu of Abraham’s son Isaac as a burnt offering. This name means The LORD will provide. And throughout the narrative of the Old Testament (and eventually the New Testament, as well) God shows Himself true to that name. He provides for His children out of famine, out of slavery in Egypt, out of the wilderness, and out of captivity. But without fail, like us, Israel always turns to other gods to provide for them. Their rebellion is not simply amnesia or a lapse in memory; it is deliberate treason, intentional rebellion, and grievous adultery. This is where we find ourselves in Jeremiah 2, listening to the Lord speak through the prophet Jeremiah to His people about why they turn their backs on Him. The Lord questions His people as to why they would consistently turn their backs on the same God who has saved and provided for them time after time, asking them “What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthlessness, and became worthless?”(Jer. 2:5).

Notice the connection God makes between what we worship and what they make us. He says Israel’s fathers pursued worthless things, and in the process became worthless. There is a direct connection between our identity and our g/God. You are as valuable as the person/thing you worship. Which brings us to the true nature of the sin the people committed against God: “for my people have committee two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jer. 2:13). Cisterns were essentially wells dug out of the ground that could only hold a limited amount of water; and being “hewn” out the earth, they probably tasted and looked like their surroundings, muddy, dirty and bitter. This is the indictment God has brought against His people. Instead of choosing to partake in the fountain of beautiful, clean, clear, crisp, cold, and captivating waters known as Yahweh, they preferred to drink from cisterns that could only provide unclean, filthy, sickness-inducing, muddy, dirty liquid. And, whats more, these man-made cisterns have holes in them; they cannot even hold the water! The very thing the cistern is made for is the very thing it cannot perform.

Friends, this is a most beautiful picture of idolatry. Choosing to worship anything, and anyone, other than the true and living God is choosing to put the weight of our existence, and our existential needs, on a figment of our imagination. I’m not saying false gods don’t really exist; they are just really useless. Think back to the golden calf made by the Israelites in Exodus. What exactly did they think this golden calf could do? I doubt they thought it could part the Red Sea, or that it could call down hail from Heaven. Then why did they make it? Because idolatry is pride. It is a prideful statement that says “Not only is there another in existence worthy to be called god, but this new god can also do for me what the original could not”. We turn to false gods because we refuse to believe, trust, wait, and obey the only true God. We are idolaters because we are selfish and prideful. Only pride could make a people choose to drink muddy, dirt water simply because they can do it on their own terms. The reality is that false gods will never provide what they say they can. And after expending our time and energy worshipping them, we will come away further from what we need and just as empty as when we came.

Let us be a people who repent of worshipping at the altars of false gods. As stated earlier, you will know what your god is by where you run in times of need. Let us be a people who, through the grace and empowerment of the Holy Spirit, ask for hearts that burn only at the altar of the Living God. Let us be a people who look to Christ, God the Son, who point us to God the Father. Let us ask the Lord for strength to close the lid on the cisterns which only make us sicker every time we bend down to fill our cup with its poison. And let us remember, we WILL worship; we must decide at which fountain we want our cup to be filled. You were made for living waters; it’s time to start drinking…

A Reason To Live

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We all need a reason to live. Reasons to live get us out of bed in the morning; they get us into our cars, get us through work, get us home and put us to sleep at night. We all need those reasons. Without realizing it, society spins, turns, and burns on our individual reasons to live. It could be needing to pay the bills; feeding and raising your children; making it to graduation; or simply just to experience enjoyment, pleasure and passion. But what happens when those reasons aren’t strong enough anymore? If your child is your reason to live, what happens once they grow up and no longer need you? What happens if your job is your reason to live but one day you suddenly lose it? That marriage that kept you going somehow shatters before your eyes. The problem with our reasons to live is that they are often as temporary as our own lives. And that would be ok, if our souls didn’t recognize in that moment that clearly we are made for something more permanent; eternal, even.

I know the woes of building eternal hopes on temporary foundations. Well-paying jobs only satisfy for so long. Writing blogs, dancing to new choreography, eating at new places and meeting new people all bring a thrill and a high that will soon dissipate. And once it does, I find myself standing there asking “What’s the point?”. If these things are the reasons to get out of bed every morning, then why get up knowing they will all soon cease to please? If these adventures only temporarily fill the voids in my heart, are they worth pursuing? Will there every be a pursuit, a point, or a goal worthy of the permanence and eternality my heart and soul long for? The issue, of course, is not just the pursuit but the hope behind the pursuit. All too often I realize that these pleasures and desires I put so much energy into pursuing, turn out to be the prophetic jars that cannot hold water; strewn from the selfish fabric of my selfish heart that believes these would make an excellent god. And every time these jars not only prove they cannot hold water, but cannot hold anything I actually need them to.

So, what is the point? Is there a purpose, a reason, and goal to strive and reach for that will sustain us every day we get out of bed in the morning. The Apostle Paul seems to think so. While in a prison cell he wrote a letter the church in Phillipi that eventually was canonized into the Bible as the Book of Philippians. In this book Paul exhorts the Philippians for their faith and for how much of an encouragement they have been to him. Paul here has every reason to question the point of living. Being in prison probably doesn’t inspire much hope and many reasons to keep going (I’m guessing, at least). And yet it is in this prison, trapped and surrounded by guards, that we see Paul explain to us very clearly and very briefly the point of living: For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21, ESV). Paul gets out of bed, every morning, in his prison cell, with hope and anticipation, because his life is not based on the encountering of temporary pleasures; his life is based on living for Christ. In fact, he mentions that his chains have in fact spread the gospel even more! His imprisonment has actually unchained the gospel message. And it is in this that Paul finds his reasoning for living. Paul lives, and dies, for and to Christ. It was not in the wild horse chasing of pleasure that Paul found his satisfaction; it was, ironically, when he was surrounded by chains and bars. This “to Christ” language shows up in numerous letters by Paul. In Romans 14:8, Paul tells us that we live and die to the Lord. In Galatians 2:20 , he tells believers that our live is no longer about us, but about Christ. Paul’s point is simple and clear, yet profound and cavernous: the point of life is Christ.

Christ is the only sure North Star to follow as we navigate life. Proclaiming His goodness, displaying His love, conforming to His will and loving Him with our all is the reason for life. All other things pale in comparison to the majesty, glory, and wonder of a life submitted and given completely over to Christ. Believer, like the Apostle Paul, please don’t think this is a goal I have attained simply because I write about it. I’m simply one who has just been given a map but has yet to figure out fully how to walk smoothly on such torrid terrain. So pray for me. But thanks be to the Holy Spirit, Who’s very job is to apply the words of Christ to our lives and conform us into His image. But our job, every morning, ever lunch break, every car ride home and random gift of peace and quiet that we get, is remind ourselves that our life is for and to Christ. Love your children, to the glory of Christ; work hard at your job, to glory of Christ; marry, serve, blog, travel, eat, drink, Netflix, shop, sleep, enjoy life, all to the glory of Christ. For to truly live is to truly live for Christ; He is, in fact, the point of it all and the reason to live.

 

Lessons Learned during Writer’s Block

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I wish I had something extremely profound to write about currently. Maybe I’m over-thinking and being a perfectionist to my own demise. But writer’s block doesn’t mean God hasn’t been speaking. In fact, He’s been pretty present as of late. So I decided to write down some of the lessons I believe the Lord is teaching in this season of pruning and shaping He has me in. Some of these may turn into full length posts someday, but for now they are just random lessons learned in the wilderness of writer’s block:

Too much weed killer, and not enough fertilizer, kills a yard

Mortification and vivification are two words used to describe the Christian’s process of sanctification, the process by which God shapes and forms His children back into the shape of shalom, the image of their Savior Jesus Christ. Mortification is the daily process by which sin is intentionally, purposely, and viciously battled against; vivification is daily the process by which the believer, in response to the mortification, attempts to “vivify”, or bring to life, virtues and joys that replace areas where sin once dwelt. The process must be “both/and” to be considered sanctification. But, like most things with humans, we tend to swing more to one side or the other. Personally, my pendulum swings more towards mortification. That in no way means that I do a good job at killing sin (most times quite the opposite), but it does mean my mind is generally more concerned with how horrible I am and the things I do wrong than concerned with replacing those horrible things with things that bring life. Recently, while talking with a friend about my deadly one-sidedness, he compared what I was doing to tending to a garden by using too much weed killer and not enough fertilizer. Weed killer is used to, well, kill weeds. Fertilizer, on the other hand, is used to begin to process of growing more desirable plants in your garden. Using too much of either one, at the expense of the other, ruins the yard. Too much fertilizer without first clearing out the weeds produces a garden with flowers choked out and surrounded by weeds; but use too much weed killer and not enough fertilizer, and you just have a graveyard of dead plants. This is what the Christian life is like. Only focusing on mortification without asking for the grace to vivify only brings death. But in order to truly enjoy vivification, or, in order to truly enjoy the beauty of new life springing forth in your garden, you must be engaged in the hard work of mortification. Be both/and.

God’s sanctification is God’s love

I just got through reading through the book of Leviticus. Yes, it was arduous; and yes, it’s worth it. Leviticus is full of festivals, moral laws, weird sacrifices and a lot, and I mean a lot, of shed blood. Staying deep into the weeds of it can easily find you lost. But if you zoom out a tad bit to look at how it reveals God’s character, we see it centers around God calling Himself The Lord who Sanctifies, a name He gave Himself in Exodus. So this isn’t a new name for the people of Israel but, after giving them all of these laws and commands to follow, He needed to remind Israel of who He is, which gives an explanation for what He is doing. God’s name is God’s character; and His character always proceeds and explains His actions. He is the God who sanctifies His children. Why? Because He is Holy. And only holy can be around holy. Therefore, God shows us that His love for us and His desire to dwell with us is so great that He would make a way for the people to sanctify themselves. Ultimately, these sacrifices were not enough and the people continued to live in rebellion and suffered the consequences of such. But it is through the blood of Jesus, slain hundreds of years later, and the giving of the Holy Spirit that now dwells in the hearts of believers, that we see God’s master plan (and master love) to continue to purify His people and make them holy and blameless before Him so He can dwell with us. Why? Because He loves us. God sanctifies because God loves.

Loving Jesus is the Beginning of Living

Are you in love with Jesus? Like, really in love with Jesus? Are you in love with His mission? Are you in love with His words, His actions, His thoughts? Are you in love with His commands? Like the psalmist, are they sweeter than honey from the honeycomb? Honestly, I don’t love Him like that. There are times I question whether I have even the base standard of love for Him. Does He consume my thoughts? Do I long to linger over the Word, the entire Word, to see traces of Him from Genesis to Revelation? Is He both my gentle Savior and my Mighty King? Do I love his sufferings? Do I love how He took every bit of suffering that I am deserving of for being an enemy of a holy and wrathful God? Do I love how He loved others? Do I love looking for ways to bring truth and light into the lives of other people like He did? Do I stay up at night and meditate on His truth? Do I wake up and reach for His Word instead of my phone? Do long for the Holy Spirit to apply His Word(s) to my life? Do I long to look like Him? Do I long to be with Him, to sit next to Him, to see Him face to face? Do I love Him? Not like I should. And if I’m not trying to love Him like that and more, I’m not trying to live.