Archive for June, 2010

When I think of summertime images of flip flops, beaches, naps, cold glasses of lemonade, BBQs, bonfires, and starlit skies unshielded by clouds fill my mind. For a season, the hustle and bustle of school takes a rest

visions of summer... Maui, Hawaii

 and the sun begins to shine its face upon the northern states. I love it!

..I also find that in the summer I’m more likely to read. During the school year I spend so much time scouring over books that I don’t really read “for fun”… but the summer brings a new season.

So… I recently read Timothy Keller’s book Counterfeit Gods: The empty promises of money, sex, and power,  and the only hope that matters (New York: Dutton, 2009). It’s worth the read. Written by a pastor of many years it speaks to what we, as individuals and as a society, worship.

but I don’t bow down and pray to any household idols, you may be thinking, so I’m in the clear. Well, not necessarily…

You may have heard the Biblical story of the Israelites, recently delivered out of Egyptian slavery, who made a gold statue shaped like a cow and worshipped it instead of God (Exodus 32). Growing up in the church, I often equated the first commandment “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3) with my own paraphrase of “don’t bow down to statues”… but idols aren’t limited to statues — they take many forms.  

“More than other idols, personal success and achievement lead to a sense that we ourselves are god, that our security and value rest in our own wisdom, strength, and performance. To be the very best at what you do, to be at the top of the heap, means no one is like you. You are supreme.” -Keller, p.75

“If your success is more than just success to you — if it is the measure of your value and worth — then accomplishment in one limited area of life will make you believe you have expertise in all areas. This, of course, leads to all kinds of bad choices and decisions. This distorted view of ourselves is part of the blindness to reality that the Bible says always accompanies idolatry (Psalm 135:15-18; Ezekiel 36:22-36).” -p.76 (emphasis mine)

Keller talks about love, lust, greed, glory… and disillusionment. The things we worship apart from God always disappoint. C.S. Lewis captures this well in Mere Christianity (emphasis mine):

“Most people, if they have really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longing which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy… There was something we have grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality… evaded us.”

What do we do? Idols are loved, trusted, and obeyed by those who worship them. They connect to our feelings of significance (love) and sense of security (trust), so we are driven to serve (obey) them. We even sacrifice to them — sacrifices of time, relationships, integrity, and money. When we are so focused on IT, we see the world in relation to IT…

“When an idol gets a grip on your heart, it spins out a whole set of false definitions of success and failure and happiness and sadness. It redefines reality in terms of itself… if, because of your idol, your ultimate good is the power and status of your people, then anything that gets in the way of it is, by definition, bad… In the end idols can make it possible to call evil good and good evil.” -Keller, p.146 (emphasis mine)


“Idols cannot simply be removed. They must be replaced. If you only try to uproot them, they grow back; but they can be supplanted. By what?  By God himself, of course. But by God we do not mean a general belief in his existence. Most people have that, yet their souls are riddled with idols. What we need is a living encounter with God.” -Keller, p.155

Idols will not gently excuse themselves from our lives. They often have death grips and their removal does not come without pain, but it is WORTH IT. The picture C.S. Lewis paints of the encounter between the boy Eustace and the lion Aslan in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is poignant. Keller paraphrases (emphasis mine):

“One night Eustace found an enormous pile of treasure in a cave. He was elated and began to imagine the life of ease and power he would now have. When he woke, however, to his horror, he had turned into a hideous dragon. ‘Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.’

Eustace tried to peel off the dragon skin, and become a boy again, but he was unsuccessful. CS Lewis describes Aslan’s restoration of Eustace — sharp claws and deep cuts: “The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt… Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off — just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt — and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been… I’d turned into a boy again.” : )

May we, like Eustace, submit to God… letting Him strip away the idols that have so entangled our hearts and minds. He is able and waiting.

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I just returned from two weeks of vacation, the last week of which was spent on the beautifully tropical isle of Maui, Hawaii. : ) On our trip back home, we had an early morning layover in San Francisco. To my delight I discovered something WONDERFUL in that airport. Here’s a look into my thoughts from my journaling that morning:

sunrise at Haleakala volcano

“So I am sitting here with coffee and my Bible looking out the window at planes coming and going and the hustle bustle of transportation, travel, and tourism and I feel refreshed. The sun is warm on my newly washed, but doubtfully clean (sand, sunscreen, peeling sunburn), face. My heart — finally — rests. Lord, thank you!

It’s been weeks since I’ve spent any real time praying or reading the Bible. I’ve been functioning with God how one survives a day at a mundane job — I punch in with glazed expression and uninterested mind, and I punch out secretly glad to be done with my time. Have you ever had a job or class like that? One where you are present and at the same time not present. It’s drudgery and it breeds resentment almost for the necessity of it. I don’t think our relationship with God — let alone with anyone — should be like that. There is no LIFE in that. There is no joy in it.

I can completely see how people can emerge from the journey of seminary feeling “dead” in their relationship with God and frustrated with the church. Everyone knows the church isn’t perfect — even folks who don’t attend know that! But we forget that the church is made up of people, and people are not perfect. We get selfish, bored, greedy, tired, and proud. We do the right things, but often for the wrong reasons. We need grace.

“Big Beach”

All this to say, I feel that I’m on the upswing of a burnout — and it is GLORIOUS!! I just spent six full days in the tropical Hawaiian islands and yet my soul feels more rested here in the San Francisco airport after a red-eye flight than on the gold sand beach of Maui. The reason is simple, yet profound:

I had tried to rest by getting away from everything, including God, when I should have turned to God.

I opened my Bible for the first time in a long time and as I began to read the Psalms I realized how much I longed to know God. How satisfying His words are to a heart that is ready to hear them. You’d think that a vacation with friends in the tropical islands could not be beat, and indeed it was fun, but even that left me wanting. Unsatisfied in spirit.

Bamboo forest, Pipewei trail

Though my eyes had feasted upon volcanoes, tropical rainforests, waterfalls, tropical sunsets, spinning dolphins, enormous sea turtles, coral reefs, and world famous beaches… though my body had reasted and indulged, my spirit felt unsatisfied. I believe even the most extravagant vacation in the most beautiful location will not satsify the spirit. It may distract for a time, but only God can fill our spirits. He made us that way.”

Here’s a section of the Psalms I was reading, hope it encourages you!

“I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” -Psalm 16:7-11

The FULLNESS OF JOY is found in the presence of God. God gives good counsel, peace, and joy. While God is always present we often ignore him, thinking that counsel, peace, joy, and happiness can be found elsewhere. But I kid you not, I felt such PEACE and JOY in God’s presence sitting in a San Francisco airport chair — more than any beautiful sunset on the beach with a cocktail could ever bring. There is nothing magical about the airport, but there is something powerful about basking in the sunshine with God. I highly recommend it! : )

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