Is Religion Your Idol?

Idols are anything that replace God on the throne of our life.  And believe it or not, a common idol in the Christian community is elevating doctrinal truth over God Himself.  This occurs when people rely on the “rightness” of their doctrine for their standing with God rather than on God Himself and His grace.

The sign that you have made religion an idol is when you show contempt and disdain for those of other denominations or religions rather than graciousness.  Trusting in the rightness of our views can make us feel superior if the fruit of the spirit is not growing in ourselves.

You as Christmas Tree

If you’ve ever had a “live” Christmas tree decorating your house for Christmas, you know that a tree will hold its needles for only so long.  You can water the base of the tree, but it will only keep it flourishing for so long.  Eventually, the needles turn brown and fall off.  The sap begins to run, and the tree will finally die.  Then we take it to the curb for disposal.

But what about that time in between the tree being cut down and finally dying?  We take it into our living room, stick it in a stand, and decorate it with ornaments and tinsel and lights.  We make it look as rich and beautiful as we can, only to throw it away a month later.  Cutting a tree from its source of life and making it look good for a season, in the end, accomplishes little else than seasonal beauty.

It might seem silly to think of yourself as a Christmas tree, but is it far off?  Away from God, we can survive only for a time before we perish in the dry air of consumerism.  The things that make a Christmas tree beautiful are the color of its needles, the way the branches fall, its fragrance, and the texture of its bark.  Cut the tree down and all that eventually goes away.  The underground water supply livens the tree’s roots.  The root system gives the tree its strength, the rich soil that holds the roots all together, nourishing and securing the trunk and limbs.  The tree needs the underground source to make it beautiful to the world.  Its beauty emerges because of the inner work.

It’s the same for us.  The very essence of our being comes from within.  But when something other than God defines us, we reduce ourselves to Christmas trees, beautiful on the outside, perched on our stands, while dying inside.  For some of us, our root systems scare us.  Our insides are mangled by past mistakes and feelings of insecurity.  These emotions confuse us, making it difficult to find our true selves.  It’s easier to put on our tinsel and lights and walk around looking good.

Our culture has tried to define us by what we see on the outside.  But it can’t erase the moments of self-doubt.  We need to feel loved and known for who we are on the inside.  Ultimately only God can do that.

How to Control the “Stress” that leads to Outbursts

If you want your children to model self-control in their lives, then you must show them self-control in yours.

This is an area I feel like I have not done so well.  I need to place all my “control” into the hands of God.

How to control the “stress” that leads to my outbursts of frustration and anger?

  • Avoid negative people (Proverbs 22:24).
  • Avoid knee-jerk responses when aggravated by others (James 3:2).
  • Show control in the midst of chaos or emergency (James 1:26).
  • Beg God to give you peace and understanding (Philippians 4:7).

Are Politics Your Idol?

I’ve been known to dabble into politics now and then even though I carefully keep it out of the pulpit unless there is a clear-cut moral issue addressed by the Bible.  But I really don’t get caught up into it as much as I used to.  Looking back now, there was a time it was probably an idol.  I have to be careful it doesn’t become one again.  Here are some signs to look for to know whether or not poltics has become an idol in your life.

  1. FEAR!  If our views are threatened by those in power, our response will be complete panic.  I remember doing that when Clinton got elected.  Anytime we believe  that if OUR politicies and people are not in power that everything will fall apart we’re demonstrating fear.
  2. DEMONIZATION!  Our opponents are not considered to be simply mistaken but to be evil.  When we go down that road, we’re idolizing our brand of politics and it’s ultimately dangerous.

Can you add any other symptoms of idolizing politics?

If You Could Be Perfect In One Area of Your Life, What Would It Be?

If I could choose one place to be perfect, it would be in my parenting.  Every word, every action has an impact on my children–often in ways I don’t see or understand.

That doesn’t mean they would be perfect, but when they’re 40 and in therapy they could never say, “I’m this way because my dad….”

What about you?  Where would you choose to be perfect?

The 4 Levels of Love

Bernard of Clairvaux, a man who led a renewal movement in the 12th century European church, has an incredible insight about the “levels of love” as we relate to God and understand ourselves.

God is love, and because we were created to resemble Him, we, too, have an impulse to love.  But that impulse first leaks out in a badly perverted form.

Level #1: I love myself for my sake.  In other words, we’re selfish.  That’s true of every child born into the world.

And then we hear about a God who is good enough to do what no one else would, to look after us.  Good.  It’s about time.

Level #2: I love God for my sake.  That’s how most people who believe there is a God regard Him.  Each thinks, He is Someone who exists to make me happy, to make my life better.  Now I can go to church and worship God without any real sense of sinfulness or any significant dislodging of my selfishness.  I can go to church with the same expectation that carries me into a restaurant: feed me well. I want what you serve me to taste good and be good for me.  I’ll leave a big tip if you deliver.

Eventually it becomes appallingly clear that I can be a little hellion who loves no one but myself.  And a new word enters our vocabulary–wrongI’m wrong.  And when I realize that I’m wrong, another new word occurs to me that I need: Forgiveness.  Maybe then we hear about Jesus and what He did for us on the cross.  Before, goodness meant my receiving whatever I wanted.  Now that same word is measured by Someone sacrificing His well-being in an act of utter selflessness for the well-being of someone who is utterly selfish.

Love level #3: I love God for God’s sake.  When I realize who He is and who I am, when I see that He loves me when I use Him, and died to forgive me for being so self-centered, I become a Christian, a forgiven sinner who loves God for who He is, a lover like no other.

Bernard’s insight into the Christ life reaches still higher.  Gratitude begins to stir.  A longing rises up.  I want to do something for someone else, for God.  I look at what I have, at who I am.  Perhaps I have musical talent.  Perhaps I’m relational difficulties.  The longing takes shape and I realize that everything I have (those gifts AND those trying circumstances) is an opportunity to release my gratitude to God.

Love level #4: I love myself for God’s sake.  Now everything in me (weaknesses and strengths) and in my life (trials and pleasures) becomes an eagerly received opportunity to bring Him pleasure by trusting His goodness, counting on His promises, and living to delight Him).

Suffering is transformed from pain requiring relief into a costly opportunity to delight the God I love.  Blessings, all the good things I enjoy, no longer remain sources of pleasure to enhance and exploit, but now stretch before me as avenues for displaying my love for God, both by accepting them with gratitude and by sharing them with joy.

So what level are you on?

Dear Couples…

Don’t set yourself up for disappointment; 2 imperfect people can never have a perfect marriage.

God uses the imperfections in each of us to constantly remind us that the true source of joy and satisfaction is not in our spouses but only in Him.

At the same time, it’s not our job to inform our spouses about every blunder we find in every situation.  When we find fault in something our spouse has done, we are usually adding a negative element to our relationships.

The dominant response to consistent criticism will ultimately cause the other person’s personality to close up and go silent.  There needs to be twice as much affirmation as criticism.  At LEAST!

Jennifer and I are very different.  But “imperfect Marcus” gets to celebrate with “imperfect Jennifer” our common love for the “perfect Christ.”