We Are Hollow Men

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; 

and they do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.”
(Psalm 115:4-8)

We are hollow people.

We have filled ourselves with food so that there is an obesity epidemic; but still we hunger for purpose and meaning in life.

We pride ourselves in the knowledge of the trivial and technological, but we have lost the basic understanding of how to relate to one another.

We supply our homes with comfort and entertainment, but the saccharine fluff leaves us desolate and rotting inside.

We are bombarded with breaking news every minute, but the truth of what is really happening eludes us.

We are surrounded on social media with “friends,” but we are isolated and feel like know one really knows us.

We chase after the desires of the flesh with no thought of lasting consequence and wonder why we are left feeling empty, broken, and lost.

This generation has more than any age that has gone before, why then are we plagued with emptiness? We read almost everyday of another life lost to suicide, bound by addiction, or even worse; of those who take up arms to inflict violence upon the unsuspecting.

And this is nothing new. T.S. Eliot penned the following in 1925:

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us-if at all-not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.

Could it be that after generations of planting the seeds of idolatry, its hollow fruit is finally coming to harvest? While giving lip-service to the God of Scriptures, have we not chased after the idols of gold and silver, those things of earth and man which offer no hope of life or salvation?

We pursue a career, advancement and success; but feel betrayed when the cold wheel of industry eventually rolls us over.

We have made the individual the arbiter of truth so that everything is subjective, denying the authority (and even existence) of our Creator; and we wonder why the world is full of lies.

We cast of the restraints of antiquated morality for the sake of individual fulfillment; only to find ourselves alone and abused by those we’d hope would bring us pleasure.

All of this is evidence of the truth of Psalm 115. We have laid ourselves low before the false-gods of this world, and we are amazed that we have become like them! We are “shape without form, shade without color; paralyzed force, gesture without motion…” When we see a world filled with violence, deception, and indulgence, isn’t it because that’s what we’ve been worshiping all this time: power, self, and pleasure.

We are hollow, empty people, longing to be filled with that which brings us life; and that is why we need to hear the Gospel of Salvation in Jesus Christ. Quit starving yourselves on the empty and vain things of this world. “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread… Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in rich food” (Isa 55:2). Jesus is the Bread of Life (John 6:48), and He gives the water of eternal life (John 7:38). In John 10:10, Jesus said that He came that we may have life and have it abundantly. He alone is way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6).

Jesus Christ came to bear the wrath of God to take away our sins, and to give all who believe in Him the gift of forgiveness and pease with God in eternal life. Through His life, death, and resurrection, He has purchased salvation, the reconciliation of those who had “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man” (Rom 1:23). His is the only name given, in heaven and on earth, by which we must be saved… (Acts 4:12).

O hollow ones, if you are longing to be filled with life, with peace, with meaning – won’t you come to Christ Jesus the Lord and Savior. Beloved, if your heart breaks for the lost, if you hear the cry of the madding crowd – won’t you share Christ Jesus your Lord and Savior!

SDG

The Idolatry of Relationships

It has always amazed me how incongruous our worldly festivities are on days honoring historic figures/events: President’s Day (Washington’s birthday) is when we buy household appliances; St. Patrick’s Day, is a license for public intoxication; Easter Sunday is marked by a rabbit leaving candy eggs.  So it is with Valentines Day.

St. Valentine was a Christian pastor when Claudius was the Roman emperor.  Realizing that Roman men were unwilling to join the army because of their wives and families, Claudius purportedly banned all marriages in Rome. Valentine defied this ban and continued to perform marriages for secret. When his actions were discovered, Valentine was beaten to death and beheaded.

Does Hallmark have any cards depicting that?

The way we celebrate Valentine’s Day betrays our idolatry of relationships.  We live in an age when romantic love and fulfillment is the ultimate goal in life.  Online dating, aided by social media apps, constantly market to us that the “perfect mate” is out there, just one click away. Our entertainment industry inundates us with stories and images of those star-crossed lovers who defy every norm and custom just to be with the one they love, even if it means leaving the one they thought they loved. This Valentine’s Day will be filled with desperate men scrambling to find flowers or chocolates so that they don’t come home empty handed, just to “prove” their love.

What is the cure for our idolatrous relationships?

In his book Counterfeit Gods, pastor and author Tim Keller writes about this idolatry of relationships.  Here are some excerpts from his chapter entitled, “Love is Not All You Need.”

The failure of romantic love as a solution to human problems is so much a part of modern man’s frustration… No human relationship can bear the burden of godhood… However much we may idealize and idolize him [the love partner], he inevitably reflects earthly decay and imperfection… After all, what is it that we want when we elevate he love partner to this position? We want to be rid of our faults, of our feeling of nothingness. We want to be justified, to know our existence has not been in vain. We want redemption – nothing less. Needless to say, human partners cannot give this.

Both the stereotypically male and female idolatries regarding romantic love are dead ends. It is often said that “men use love to get sex, women use sex to get love.”  As in all stereotypes there is some truth to this, but this story shows that both of these counterfeit gods disappoint.

Male love idolatries make them addicted to being independent, so they can “play the field.” Female love idolatries… make them addicted and dependent – vulnerable and easily manipulated. Both are a form of slavery, both blind us so we can’t make wise life choices, both distort our lives.

The gods of moralistic religions favor the successful and the overachievers. They are the ones who climb the moral ladder up to heaven. But the God of the Bible is the one who comes down into this world to accomplish a salvation and give us a grace we could never attain ourselves. He loves the unwanted, the weak, and unloved. He is not just a king and we are his subjects; he is not just a shepherd and we are the sheep. He is a husband and we are his spouse. He is ravished with us – even those of us whom no one else notices.

And here is the power to overcome our idolatries. There are many people in the world who have not found a romantic partner, and they need to hear the Lord say, “I am the true bridegroom.  There is only one set of arms that will give you all your heart’s desire, and await you at the end of time, if only you turn to me. And know that I love you now.” However it is not just those without spouses who need to see that God is our ultimate spouse, but those with spouses as well.  They need this in order to save their marriage from the crushing weight of there divine expectations. If you marry someone expecting them to be like a god, it is only inevitable that they will disappoint you. It’s not that you should try to love your spouse less, but that rather you should know and love God more.

Excerpt from: Keller, Tim. Counterfeit Gods, The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters (Dutton; New York, 2009) pg. 40-45.

Did you bring your God?

“And when the troops came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord see from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies”  (1 Samuel 4:3).

John Calvin wrote that “man’s nature is a perpetual factory of idols.”  That may seem a little harsh, but I think we prove it just about every day.  Certainly, we’re not out carving little wooden idols that we place on our mantel at home for worship, but the time and energy we’ve devoted to our smartphones alone ought to make us stop and wonder if they haven’t become our idols today.

The worst part is, we tend to turn the good things that God has given us into objects of worship, where we value the gift more than the giver.  If God grants us health, become obsessed with staying fit and looking young.  If God grants us wealth, how easy is it for that wealth to become a trap, where all we can think about is earning more money!  If God promises His presence will always be with us, we tend to idolize our own security, and we treat God as a cosmic genie who is there to do our bidding.

Consider, for example, the passage above.  The people of Israel had just been soundly defeated by the Philistines in battle at Ebenezer.  Losing over 4,000 men, the troops returned to the camp and the elders asked, “Why has the Lord defeated us today?”

Now any healthy amount of self-examination probably could have led to the right answer here.  The book of Judges offers plenty of help.  The people all did what was right in their own eyes (Judg 21:25).  They repeatedly turned their backs on God and worshiped the false gods of the surrounding nations. They ignored their heritage as the chosen people of God, a holy nation called out of slavery in Egypt and set apart for God’s glory. Any one of these might have been the reason the Lord handed them over to the Philistines in battle that day.

Instead of confessing the truth of their sinfulness, the Israelites in effect blamed God.  They reasoned that the reason they lost was because God must not have been with them in battle.  On the surface, that makes sense; when God fought on Israel’s behalf, their victories were overwhelming.  However, their solution demonstrated the heart of their problem.

Realizing they had lost the battle because God had not fought for them, did the people repent of their sins and seek the intercession of the Lord?  No.  Instead of turning to the Lord, the elders decided to find the Ark of the Covenant, the golden chest that represented the meeting place between God and man, and let that lead them into battle.  “Bring us the ark!” they cried. “Then those Philistines will get what’s coming to them.”

The ark had become for the Israelites and idol, or at least a good luck charm. Without giving any thought to their standing before God, the Israelites simply thought if they had the ark, that would be enough.

Sadly, they were wrong.  The Israelites were defeated, again, in battle.  The ark was taken by the Philistines, and Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phones were killed.  The glory of the Lord departed from Israel, until a time when the people would learn to once again reverence the name of the Lord.

What has become an idol for you?  What occupies your thoughts, your energy, your time?  Where do you spend most of your money? What one thing can you not live without? The answer to these questions reveals that which our hearts have created as idols.

Often, the biggest idol we have to deal with is our own misconception of God.  We take God’s promise of forgiveness as a license for indulgence – “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission…”  We hoard God’s blessings as though they were ours to cling to, rather than pass them along to those for whom they were intended.  Without listening to God’s voice, without obeying the teaching of Christ, we run headlong into temptation and sin, and then we wonder why God lets us fall on our faces in defeat in sin.

Israel learned the hard and slow way to cast down their idols.  And each of us must learn that too.  So fix your eyes on Christ, listen to his voice, and leave behind the idols of your heart that you might run after him.

SDG

Why I Love Theatre

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory,
glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
(John 1:14)

les mis cct

Opening night for the Cherokee Community Theater’s production of Les Miserables is just three weeks away, and over the next few weeks, I thought I would offer my thoughts on the characters and themes of this great story.  However, before getting into all of that, I thought I might step back and share just why I am involved in Community Theater in the first place.

Let me begin by saying how grateful I am to have a congregation and Session who support me in this endeavor.  Over the past 8 years I have been in Cherokee, I have performed in 8 shows and helped with tech on a handful of others, and have never heard a complaint from my congregation.  To be so involved requires a great balancing act between family, work, and the stage, but it has always been worth it to be part of such a great performance.

One of the things I love about theater is the friendship and connections made in the community theater setting.  Being a part of a show gets me outside of the church circle and into the community.  Coming together as a community to put on a show, to tell a story, to share a message, gives us a common purpose and goal.  I have made so many friends in the theater here, and have worked with some amazingly talented people.  It is such an honor to be able to share the stage with them.

I also love the theater, especially the musical, because it has always been a part of my life.  My father was a classical violinist, directed the church choir, and was often involved in musical theater.  One of my first memories was sitting in my dad’s conductor’s chair when he was directing “Two By Two.”  Throughout high school and college, with every musical performance, my dad would be there, playing in the pit.  I’ve performed in almost 20 musicals, and my father was a part of nearly all of them.  Even today, community theater is a family affair.  In this summer production of Les Miserables, I will be playing Jean Valjean, three of my children are in the chorus, and my wife is running the lights and sound.

That being said, there are those who argue that Christians should not participate or even attend the theater.  Sadly, very often, God is not honored on the stage.  For the actor, theater, by its nature, can easily feed sinful pride and vain-glory. Standing in the lights hearing the applause can quickly go to your head.

And yet, I believe theater can bring glory to God through a very powerful medium of storytelling. The stage allows an actor to step outside of himself and tell the story of sorrow and joy , brokenness and redemption… Every human experience, emotion, longing. Theatre can open you to the human experience in a way that no other art form can. It challenges the actors and the audience to confront issues and opens a forum for discussion.  Theatre helps an audience ask “what if?” and leads them to think about how to live before the face of God.

Plays are stories incarnate.  They put flesh on our ideas, our values, our struggles.  They can teach us to rejoice, that can lead us to repent.  And, by God’s grace, they can help us become better human beings.  We use story to communicate a higher truth, and in that truth, God may be glorified. Not every show, of course, but some, some of the best, even those that never mention God, cannot help but point us to God.

The story of the Gospel is a divine drama, God incarnate, the Word made flesh, to save a broken, fallen people through sacrifice and love. I take part in theater to communicate good stories, because in these stories I can help communicate truth.

While I may joke about being a diva, I really don’t need the spotlight, I don’t long for the applause, nor do I need the affirmation of men. I love being part of a cast and crew who, by using their talents and abilities given by God, can tell great stories and in doing so, share a glimpse of His great story.

SDG

Looking to the State

“Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.”
(Psalm 146:3 (ESV)

 Last week I made the mistake of saying what I would be writing about this week – so, begging your pardon, you’ll have to stay tuned until next week to read on the topic of “What to do when you don’t like either candidate.”  My apologies.

Today, however, I will write about something that I was hoping to put off because it’s a little more difficult to write about, because it touches every heart and makes us rethink our relationship with the state.  All I ask is this, bear with me here in patience and graciousness as I try to work out a very pressing issue.

It will come as no surprise to you, hopefully, to know that I am politically conservative, and that I tend to vote Republican.  So, with eager anticipation I tuned in to the Republican National Convention.  I was encouraged by the new, young, republicans like Paul Ryan and Marc Rubio.  It took a while for me to pick my jaw up off the floor after Eastwood’s “Empty Chair” routine – odd, hilarious (and considering the outcome of first debate, prophetic).  But the moment that made me take a step back from the edge of the cliff came at the end of Gov. Chris Christie’s speech.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed his speech.  His combination of down home wisdom and brash disregard for political cronyism when confronting corruption and dysfunction in his state was refreshing.  His was an inspiring message – up until the very end.  Here’s the quote that went down like a sideways Dorito:

Listen, there is doubt and fear for our future in every corner of our country.  I have traveled all over the country, and I have seen this myself.  These feelings are real.  This moment is real, and it is a moment like this where some skeptics wonder if America’s greatness is over.  They wonder how those who have come before the before us had in the spirit and tenacity to lead America to a new era of greatness in the face of challenge, not to look around and say “Not me”, but to look around and say “Yes, me.” Now, I have an answer tonight for the skeptics and the naysayers, the dividers and the defenders of the status quo.  I have faith in us.

Up until that moment, I was ready to buy whatever the Governor was selling, but when I hear a politician talking about faith, instantly my “spidey-senses” start tingling – and not in a good way.

I get what Gov. Christie was saying; this Great Experiment of freedom that is America requires free people to work hard for success and to persevere through adversity.  We are free people in America, and we are to use our freedom to improve our lives and the lives of those around us.  If we are to maintain that American Exceptionalism which has led to so many advances that have benefited not just Americans but the world, we need leadership that will defend our freedoms; someone that will ask the necessary questions and make the hard decisions.

But is my faith in America?  Is my faith in the American people?  No, and it cannot, it must not, be.

John Calvin wrote that the heart is an idol factory, we are always looking to create a god of our own choosing in our own image.  Idolatry is anything that takes the place of God in our lives.  Think about the delicate balance you have created for yourself; just enough money in the checking account, a safe and reliable car, a reasonable peace at home, and a good job that provides for your needs.  If anyone of those things were to disappear, would your joy, your security, your hope for the future disappear as well?  Have the things of this world become an idol for you?

Now let’s take that to another level. Do you look to the State for your salvation?  We may not put it in those words, exactly, but the meaning is the same.  “If my candidate get’s elected, then things will be right again.”  “The government needs to do something about this problem in our society…” Have you found yourself saying these things?

When we place that State in the position of providing our hope and security for the future, we have fallen into Statolatry; we have made a god out of our political system, demi-gods out of our politicians, and we will be sorely disappointed.  The Psalmist said, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation” (Psalm 146:3).  Isaiah wrote the same, “Woe to those who go down to Egypt [or over to D.C.] for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the LORD” (Isaiah 31:1)  Just this morning I heard a podcast from R.C. Sproul who said, “the minute we exalt any authority over the authority of Christ, we have committed treason against him, for his is the highest authority.”

Let us be careful not to become American-Christians; a people whose faith is so intertwined with our political system that we cannot speak the truth of God’s word because we are always at the breast of government dependency, whose eyes look first to Washington for help rather than to the heavens for our Savior.

Let us, rather, be Christians first, whose allegiance is to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Let us remember that our freedom has not been given to us by Congress, but by God in Jesus Christ (“For freedom Christ has set you free” Gal 5:1) – Congress’ responsibility is merely to protect those freedoms.  Let us work together to share the message of Christ, so that all may be set free in Him, and so that in that freedom, our nation may be blessed and our God may be praised.

Grace and peace be with you!

SDG

Earth Day and Good Friday

I’m not one to really get into all the hubub about “Earth Day.”  I try to be a good steward of God’s creation, I learned that in scouting.  My family recycles, we try not to waste too much water (but with a pre-teen girl, that’s near impossible), and both our cars average about 25 miles per gallon, even though they are 10 years old.

I just can’t throw myself into the “Earth Day” excitement.  As my heart is an “idol factory,” always taking the good gifts of God and making them gods themselves, I have seen how “Earth Day” and “Environmentalism” are no different.  We worship “Mother Earth,” but it’s always the “hand of God” that brings disaster, as if “Gaia” and “God” were two equal gods, opposing one another, one loving, one not.  “The Lord our God is one, and we shall have no other gods before Him” (Deut 6:4).  “There is no one holy like the Lord, Indeed, there is no one besides Thee, Nor is there any rock like our God” (1 Sam 2:2).  “Earth Day” service project, while good and beneficial, become a religious service, “do this and you will recieve absolution for your environmental sins.”  Yeah, so I’m a little skeptical of “Earth Day.”

But this week I read an article by Janie Cheaney of World Magazine that, while not changing my attitude about “Earth Day,” did help me to see Earth’s role in our salvation story anew.  I encourage you to click here to read it.  As Ms. Cheaney noted in her email to me about this article, “I can’t help thinking, especially in reference to Rom. 8:19, that Earth would somehow recognize her King.”

“This Earth Day, thousands of Earth’s devotees will be handing out recycling containers, picking up trash, and urging us to remember our mother. If she had a soul, she might be smiling indulgently at pleas to “make a difference,” even while pointing upward with every fresh-planted seeding. Only one Person really has made a difference.”

I Am the Lord Your God

“I am the Lord your God…”
(Leviticus 19:3)

I’m reading through the book of Leviticus, again, in my Bible reading program.  Sometimes it is hard to read Leviticus, the demands for holiness, all the blood and sacrifice codes, all the rules and regulations – it’s tempting to just gloss over or skip the whole thing.  Still, it is God’s word, it serves a vital role in demonstrating the necessity for holiness in our approach to God, our absolute inability to live up to such a standard, and thus, our need for a perfect and holy Savior.

In my reading for today (Leviticus 19-27) I was particularly struck by the repetition of the phrase “I am the Lord your God.”  In those 8 chapters alone, the phrase is used 41 times – you can’t miss it even if you are just skimming through.  Eventually you start asking, “Why would God keep repeating that?” 

One explanation might be that God is swearing an oath, and since there is no higher source of authority or power by which to swear, God swears by His own name: “I am the Lord.”  Because God is the Lord, and because He has made a promise in His own name, 1) we can trust His word is true, and 2) we are to obey His word.

Still, there seems to be some distinct ways in which this phrase, “I am the Lord” is used to punctuate the text.  Consider these with me for a moment:

  1. He will Judge our actions – Frequently “I am the Lord” is paired with the call to be holy, because the Lord is Holy.  Leviticus 18-27 is renowned (and for some, infamous) for its call to moral and ethical holiness.  God defines holiness in terms of our treatment of the poor, our relationships (sexual and otherwise) with those around us, and our fair and honest practice in business.  God’s people are to be marked by holiness, because we serve a God who is holy.  For those who disregard God’s commands, who blatantly and willfully defy His holy word, who trample on the poor for the sake of personal gain – God reminds us that He is the Lord and He will judge our actions by the standard of His holiness and righteousness.  (Praise be to God, for He has provided our righteousness in Christ Jesus His Son.)
  2. He will provide – Sometimes, “I am the Lord,” follows God’s command to do something that makes little sense.  God commanded a Sabbath year for the land, in which no crops would be planted, property would be returned to its original owners, slaves would be set free, etc.  Financially, practically, we would think this is economic suicide.  What would happen today if every farmer in America (or just Iowa alone) decided to take a year off from planting and harvesting?  But God seems to say, “I know this doesn’t make any sense, but I am the Lord your God, and I will provide – trust in me.”  What are you doing right now that requires you to trust that God will provide?  Remember, He is the Lord, He will provide.
  3. God alone will be worshiped – Within Leviticus there are several prohibitions against consulting “mediums and necromancers,” in others words, seeking guidance and instruction from the dead or from other gods.  In turning to these false gods, we are giving our worship and placing our trust in something or someone other than the one true God.  It saddens me how many friends and church members I see who consult horoscopes, or give their time and attention to “spirit guides” who communicate with the dead.  But it is even more painful to watch as Christians are deluded into following the false gods of prosperity, beauty, politics, sex – thinking that in these things they will find fulfillment and peace in their lives.  We serve the living God, who alone can satisfy the desires of our hearts, who alone will be worshiped.

Next time you read through the book of Leviticus, take a moment and underline all the times you see the phrase, “I am the Lord,” it will really open your eyes.  As you go through your day today, remember, He is the Lord our God, calling us to a life of holiness in Christ our Lord, encouraging us to trust in His almighty hand to provide; and may we live to worship and honor Him alone.

SDG