Everyday Gospel

The Idolatry of Great Expectations

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by Morgan Coyner

The past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about how much people have been letting me down lately. I like to think that I have simple expectations of people, but I feel like every time I need something from someone, they fall short. After a little (okay, a lot) of self-pity which led to some much-needed self-reflection, I realized that my disappointments stemmed not from others but from my expectations of others.

See, lately, I’ve let my focus shift. I’ve expected people to know exactly what I need at any given moment. I’ve expected that they fill the places inside of me that still sometimes feel empty. But how can they fulfill the parts of me they can’t access, that I don’t let them near? They can’t. Yet when they don’t, I end up hurt and disappointed and filled with resentment.

Yet, in these disappointments, I hear God whisper to me to pull closer.

He reminds me over and over that they are not my Christ. He is.

This isn’t new. Idolatry is one of the most common and pervasive sins in the Bible.

In Daniel 3, Nebuchadnezzar builds a giant golden image and commands people to worship it. Aaron made a golden calf to worship not that long after God parted the Red Sea and made a way out of Israel. The entire book of Judges chronicles Israel’s wavering between idolatry and belief in God.

I think it’s hard for us to see our own idolatry sometimes. We think that since we aren’t worshipping golden statues or acknowledging the existence of other gods that we’re fine. As a kid, I thought that “have no other gods before me” was the easiest commandment. God is God, the only God. Done.

But literally, anything can turn into an idol. Exercise. School work. Friends. Husbands. Wives. Even our expectations of others can turn into idols. Anything that we put before God and deem more important than God becomes an idol. When I run to a friend instead of bringing my hurt to Jesus, that’s an idol. When I push quiet time out of my schedule for school work and socializing, they become idols. When I focus on exercise as a way to glorify myself through my appearance instead of maintaining a healthy body, it becomes an idol.

Here’s the thing about idols: they don’t fulfill us. They cannot satisfy the longings of our hearts. No matter how much we chase them and worship them, we will never be full.

Jesus is the one who fills. He tells us in John 6:35, “Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

When we draw ourselves closer to Christ, we can finally experience true, real, and everlasting satisfaction. We will neither hunger nor thirst, not physically or emotionally. Our hunger for success will fade into a hunger for Christ. Our thirst for love will be quenched by His love.

It’s hard to let go of our expectations, to consider the possibility that any work we do isn’t of us but of Christ. It’s even harder to give ourselves over on a daily, hourly, minutely basis. I challenge you today to do some reflecting of your own and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Where is my focus throughout the majority of my day?
  2. If it’s not Christ, why? What need or desire am I trying to fulfill on my own?
  3. What does the Bible say about this?
     

God gave us his Son so we could commune with Him, yet he also gave us His Word, a tool through which we can access Him. It’s only through Scripture that we can learn the unadulterated truth. So dig in, get your hands dirty, and let the Lord wash them clean.

 

 

Why I Pray In Response To Tragedy

 photo:  Pascal Bovet

photo: Pascal Bovet

by: Morgan Coyner

I prayed that God would strengthen my own faltering beliefs, that though I know God is good and sovereign, that when lives are taken en masse, it seems like he is neither of those things.

Waking up to the news of the Las Vegas shooting, I felt broken. I thought of one of my favorite worship songs, Hosanna, and the line that says "break my heart for what breaks Yours." I felt it. In the very core of my being, I felt sorrow and pain and anger about the loss of lives I do not know, will never get to know.

The first thing I did after getting out of bed was open my bright pink, glittered prayer journal and write. That's the easiest way for me to talk to God. I write him letters, open and honest, my heart leaking onto the page through purple ink.

I prayed for peace and comfort for those who may not have physical injuries but are most certainly going to be dealing with mental and emotional trauma after what they witnessed. Peace and comfort for families who have lost their worlds, their shining stars, the dearest parts of their hearts.

I prayed for understanding, that we would somehow glean meaning from what is an otherwise senseless and meaningless act of violence.

I prayed that God would strengthen my own faltering beliefs, that though I know God is good and sovereign, that when lives are taken en masse, it seems like he is neither of those things.

I prayed for God to reveal himself through this tragedy, for it to somehow, some way, bring people to Him.

What happened in Las Vegas, in Orlando, in Blacksburg, is a constant reminder that we live in a broken world functioning within broken systems being led by broken people. It's no wonder we often feel that things are falling apart. When the shoe rack hanging on your closet door breaks (which mine just did), you don't rehang it with its only remaining hook. You take it down and create a plan to get a new one, a fully functional one that will hopefully be more effective than its predecessor.

It's clear to me that we need a plan of action. We need to act on that plan of action. But that doesn't mean we don't pray. Prayers are not platitudes. Prayers are not meaningless words whispered or shouted into the abyss. Prayer is a real connection to our living God.

When the Israelites were in slavery, they prayed constantly to God. I imagine their prayers weren’t always faithful prayers. They were probably desperate prayers of anger. “Why are you doing this to us? How could you let us be treated this way?” Don’t we pray the same way?

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.  — Exodus 2:23-25
"Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them." — Exodus 3:7-9

God knew the suffering of his people. He heard their cries. He reached out to Moses and set in motion a plan to give them victory, to deliver them from slavery in one of the most majestic and awe-inspiring stories in the Bible.

God tells Moses that he does this so that “his wonders might be multiplied” (Exodus 11:9), so that the glory is given to Him. We, as Christians, are to recognize God’s glory, proclaim God’s glory and reflect God’s glory. He gives us those opportunities.

...praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saint — Ephesians 6:18

God sent his Son to die for us, to carry our shame, to pay for our sins on the cross. When He did this, he gave us a connection to him, a way to speak to Him. The Bible tells us that we can pray all kinds of prayers and all kinds of requests. That doesn't mean every request will be granted, but we can ask for whatever we want with the confidence that, at the very least, it will be heard. This verse is written as a command. We are commanded to pray, not only for ourselves, but also for the Lord's people.

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. — 1 John 5:14

I know this post has been kind of scripture-heavy, but I want to make sure you know I'm not making this up based on my own personal ideas. It is written that he hears ANYTHING that we pray. And I know that things like peace and comfort and justice are part of his will. He hears these things.

I understand the heart behind the frustration with “thoughts and prayers” being a common and empty response. The frequency of violence and subsequently, the frequency of hearing that people are praying has desensitized us to the power prayer yields. God hears us, and God acts on our prayers. We can ask him for any request; we can ask him for changed laws, for better equipped politicians. God’s people still had to work to get out of Egypt. He didn’t simply pluck them up and place them into the land of milk and honey. We have work to do. We have senators to call, rallies to plan and attend, books to write, hard conversations to have with friends and families. But that work begins in prayer.

Why You Should Stop Trying to Numb Your Pain

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Today, across our nation and world, people are hurting. Maybe you are hurting over the tragedy in Las Vegas, or maybe it's from the pressures of life. Instead of masking and numbing your pain, there is a better way.


by Adriel Sanchez

As a pastor, part of what I do is deal with wounds. I’m not talking about scraped knees, or broken bones (although I do deal with those as a father of three kids!), but the deep spiritual wounds we all have. It doesn’t matter who you are, you have pain. I do, too. Right now, you might not be aware of your pain, but that’s not because it isn’t there. It’s because you’ve been numbing yourself.

Numbing yourself is a way of dealing with pain. The hurt is still there, the wound may even be infected, you just don’t feel it. Israel’s false prophets helped the Hebrews numb themselves, and God rebuked them for it. God told the prophet, Jeremiah, that those prophets had “healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” (Jer. 6:14) Instead of exposing the wound, and making it felt, they put a band-aid on what was broken.

You see, it’s much easier to put band-aids on ourselves (and it’s easier for pastors to do this for their parishioners) than it is for us to deal with our pain. You might not be feeling your wound because you’ve stacked so many band-aids on it.

We all have different ways of masking our pain. It could be excessive alcohol consumption, binging every night on Netflix, pornography, shopping, or eating. The list goes on and on, but quite simply, band-aids are those things which we use to escape our painful reality. They’re the stuff that helps us not to feel. They’re the things that say to us, “Peace, peace!” when deep down we’re a mess.

Stop and think for a second about what that might be in your life. What do you use to escape reality? How have you been medicating yourself to avoid having to feel your wounds?

We’re all guilty of this, but Jesus offers us a better way. You see, there’s something about his wounds that should bring us healing. The prophet Isaiah wrote of Jesus, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isa 53:5) This is not peace like the false prophets promised, artificial and temporary, but true healing.

Here again, we’re not talking about physical ailments per se, but the deep spiritual injuries caused by sin; the pain from broken homes and relationships, insecurities, anxieties, betrayal, hatred, and sexual failure. This list also goes on and on, and it’s difficult to talk about, which is why we try to avoid it at all costs.

But Jesus says we don’t have to avoid it. We don’t have to numb ourselves until we die after years of self-made-morphine. Instead of numbing our pain, we can be open and honest about our wounds so that the true healer can operate. We can see the wound for what it is, and not be terrified of feeling it. In fact, God would have us be aware of those wounds, and the pain can be a means of bringing us into his presence daily (yes, sometimes the hurt doesn’t go away).

Instead of trying to mask your pain, let it make you desperate for the one who knows what it feels like to be pierced, crushed, chastised, and abandoned. Find solidarity with his suffering, and healing in his stripes. Christianity doesn’t offer us an escape from pain, but the ability to truly feel it, because we don’t have to fear it. Our God, Jesus, is intimately aware of pain, having experienced it in his body, and he can deal with our wounds in a way that Netflix and six beers can’t.

Next time you’re tempted to numb out, turn to the One who felt pain for you. Allow yourself to feel your brokenness instead of pretending like it isn’t there. There may be tears, and that’s okay, God keeps track of them (Ps. 56:8). Ask God to do what only he can do, and grant you peace.

You may find yourself praying that prayer on a continual basis, but perhaps that’s one of God’s points in allowing suffering in the first place. It’s in our weakness that God’s grace often shines the brightest (2 Cor. 12:8-10), and should God be pleased to shine in your sorrow, let him. When he does, you’ll find the experience to be infinitely better than the band-aids you’ve been stacking.

 

Tuesday - It Is Well

2 Cor. 6 (1) we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain, (10) as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.
The more absorbed I am in the gospel, the more grateful I become in the midst of my circumstances, whatever they may be.
— Vincent

When I consider thankfulness, the song 'It is Well With My Soul' always comes to mind. I know of no other song that so completely peels back the human condition and calls us to find our joy, in good times and in difficult times, in Jesus. Take a moment this morning and listen to this song while reading the lyrics below. Consider the multitude of reasons that you have to be thankful today, no matter your situation.

It Is Well With My Soul
(Original lyrics)

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Refrain:
It is well, (it is well),
With my soul, (with my soul)
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life,
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But Lord, 'tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
A song in the night, oh my soul!

Thursday - Freedom in Confession

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. – Eph. 3:14-19

 

Sin is so destructive. I hate it when I sin. My first instinct when I sin is to hide it, to ignore it or to blame someone else. It shouldn’t be a surprise to me that I respond to sin just as Adam and Eve did. Like Adam and Eve, the last thing I want is for my sin to be known.

But this is usually a horizontal response – I don’t want my family or friends to know that something is wrong with me. When we treat our sin like this, we are valuing our horizontal relationships more than we value our vertical relationship. Maybe you are like me and respond in this way because you want others around you to think you are perfect. We may never say we want to appear perfect, but our actions reveal our hearts.

Jesus’ response to our sin is quite the opposite. Like the Father in the Garden, He wants to bring the sin out into the light so it can be dealt with, and we can be free. Paul tells us that if we truly comprehend and receive the love of Christ, then we will not hide it. We will not pretend that we are not broken.

It always makes me cringe with sadness when I’m with brothers and sisters during prayer and someone responds that they have nothing to pray about…they are good. This usually indicates that this person is not in tune with their Father spiritually, or more often than not, they simply don’t trust enough to reveal where the Father is growing them spiritually.

Spend some time today with your Father. Ask Him to reveal areas in your heart that you do not trust others with and confess those. Talk to someone you love and trust, and share where God is growing you spiritually. Be reminded that Jesus offers grace and forgiveness and freedom in our confession.

Wednesday – The Cross Leads to Confession

James 5:16. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed…”
“And the more open I am in confessing my sins to fellow Christians, the more I enjoy the healing of the Lord in response to their grace filled counsel and prayers.” – Milton Vincent

Yesterday we saw that the cross leads to the reality that you and I are sinners. Our sin is so disgusting and despicable that Jesus had to die for us. There is no sin greater. And there is no greater Savior.

This redemptive reality frees us up to enjoy confessional communion with other Christians. This type of confessional community was common in the early church, but it was not natural or easy. In James 5:16, James had to remind his people to be intentional in participating in community. Enjoying the grace that should accompany confession among believers depends on mutual trust and love.

This trust and love that must undergird confession reminds me of the trust fall that is often played in youth groups and camps, maybe you have played. One person stands with their back to another, and they are asked to cross their arms, lock their knees and fall back. The expectation is the person will catch the one falling. If the person falling is caught, it builds confidence that they can do it again and expect the same result. This same trust is demonstrated when a child jumps into a parent’s arms. But, it only takes once for a person not to be caught to break trust.

This is true in community. James tells us that we should confess our sins, one to another. And in this confession, we should find brothers and sisters ready and willing to pray for us and offer us gracious healing. This is God’s grace shown to us through other broken people who need the same grace, healing and prayer. This relationship is essential in our Christian journey. The cross should lead us to confession, and confession should lead us to prayer and healing. Find a community today where you can experience the grace the Lord has provided for you.

 

Tuesday - The Cross Brings Clarity, Jesus Brings Hope

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“So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called Golgotha. There they crucified him” – John 19

At the center of our Christian faith stands the cross. It is a condemning symbol for you and I. It declares that we are enemies of God. It reveals that we all have failed. Romans 3:23 frames this failure by declaring that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The cross declares without apology that none of us are good, no one understands and no one seeks after God.

The image of the cross, alone, should make us weep with our failures. When we proclaim ourselves as Christians, the cross is a part of who we are. The cross, alone, declares that we all fail, we have all fallen and there is no hope. With our sins clearly exposed by the presence of the cross, there is no need to pretend to be better than we are. If you call yourself a Christian, then we know, you are a failure just like the rest of us.

But we do not view the cross alone. While the cross may reveal that we have no hope, the man hanging on the cross changes the story. Jesus made the sacrifice we could not make, to pay the debt we could not pay. Jesus changed my story and He changes yours. Jesus frees us to be honest about who we are, failures and all. Since there is no reason to pretend that we aren’t broken, this should free us to be open and honest with ourselves.

The clarity of the cross presses us deeply into the hope that Jesus offers. Today, rest in that hope. Spend some time in prayer today confessing the sins that the cross may remind you of, and then rest in the presence of Jesus – you are forgiven, restored and redeemed. The shackles have been broken and you have been set free.

Monday - Exposed By The Cross, Part II

The Cross also exposes me before the eyes of other people, informing them of the depth of my depravity. If I wanted others to think highly of me, I would conceal the fact that a shameful slaughter of the perfect Son of God was required that I might be saved. But when I stand at the foot of the Cross and am seen by others under the light of that Cross, I am left uncomfortably exposed before their eyes. Indeed the most humiliating gossip that could ever be whispered about me is blared from Golgotha’s hill; (75) and my self-righteous reputation is left in ruins in the wake of its revelations. With the worst facts about me thus exposed to the view of others, I find myself feeling that I truly have nothing left to hide.

Thankfully, the more exposed I see that I am by the Cross, the more I find myself opening up to others ongoing issues of sin in my life. (Why would anyone be shocked to hear of my struggles with past and present sin when the Cross already told them I am a desperately sinful person?) And the more open I am in confessing my sins to fellow-Christians, the more I enjoy the healing of the Lord in response to their grace filled counsel and prayers.(76) Experiencing richer levels of Christ’s love in companionship with such saints,(77) I give thanks for the Gospel’s role in forcing my hand toward self-disclosure and the freedom that follows.(78)

75-Golgotha was the place where Jesus was crucified. John 19. “(17)…and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of the Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha. (18) There they crucified Him…

76-James 5:16. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed…”

77-Ephesians 3. “(14) For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,…(17)…that you, being rooted and grounded in love, (18) may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, (19) and to know the love of Christ…”

78-Ecclesiastes 4. “(9) Two are better than one…(10) For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up…(12) And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.”

Friday - Joy in Prayer

Psalm 68:4. “Sing to God, sing praises to His name...and exult before Him.”

“When God chose me in Christ before the foundation of the world, He did not merely choose me to be “holy and blameless”; He chose me also to be “before Him in love. ”To be sure, I am always in God’s presence on earth, and in heaven I will be in His presence more fully than ever. But it could also be said that in this life I am especially “before Him in love” when I come “before Him” in prayer and worship.” – Milton Vincent

In the early months of 1994, I was stationed in the frozen wasteland that is New Jersey for a month of training with the Army Rangers. It was one of the hardest months I have ever experienced in my life. Jennifer and I had recently gotten engaged, and I would be shipping off to England for three years. We didn’t know when we would be able to get married or when I would be able to return to see her again.

The phone was our lifeline. Every evening when I would return from the field, my driving desire was to call her. The thought of being in her presence brought joy to me. In many ways, those conversations sustained me through some difficult days.

My conversations with Jesus are very similar…but better. Jesus paid with His life to welcome me into His family. He tore the veil to allow me into the presence of our Father.  Jesus opened the way for me to experience joy in my Father’s presence.

While it is true that one day Christians will stand completely in His presence and know pure joy and innocence, we also have the opportunity to enter His presence every day. Approaching God in prayer helps battle loneliness – Jesus is with us – helps us understand our Father better – God answers in His time – and draws us into communion with Him through dark days, temptations and trials. Prayer brings us to a place of hope. 

Don’t waste the gift of prayer. Don’t waste the privilege we have to enter into our Father’s presence and experience the loving embrace that He offers.