Idolatry

“You shall have no other gods before me.” – Exodus 20:3

IMG_2824My first experience with idolatry overseas was on my first mission trip to China in 2009. In need of something “cultural” for my sister, I bought her a tiny Buddha statue. I asked my Chinese friend to help me barter for this trinket and ended up paying a fair price. However, my Chinese friend was a Christian and later told me she was worried my sister would worship the statue. She kindly asked me to get rid of the small Buddha and even provided a replacement gift for my sister. At first I was confused…I knew there was no way my sister would ever bow down to this statue in worship. Later though, my pastor explained that when someone in China becomes a Christian, if they are Buddhist they have to destroy any man-made idol they own. Often times to the disapproval of their families.


“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God….” – Exodus 20:4-5

In the trips following, it was easy for me to judge these unbelievers that I saw in Asian countries bowing down to idols…”How could they ever think this object would fulfill them?…How could they place their hope in something that clearly will not provide for them?…How could they ever entrust their eternity in something other than God?” These were common thoughts I would have as I visited pagodas around Asia and witnessed various forms of worship. “There is no way,” I thought, “that I could ever worship an idol.” …at least that’s what I thought before seven months ago.


“I am the Lord; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to carved idols.” – Isaiah 42:8

“My glory I will not give to another.” – Isaiah 48:11

Seven months ago I was dumped by the man I thought I was supposed to marry. The breakup blindsided me and I was completely crushed. For three years I was convinced that this was the man God placed in my life to be my husband. I had a ring chosen and virtually our entire future mapped out…at least by me. For three years, I longed to be his helper and one day his partner on the foreign mission field. As dramatic as it sounds, my world literally collapsed around me when he told me we should break up. One day when venting to woman much wiser than I am, I expressed that I had no hope. The words struck her…”No hope?” I replied that I just feel so hopeless with where I am in life—I had been counting on him to marry me and the dream was taken from me. She retorted, “Emily…if it feels like anything is robbing you of your hope, chances are that thing is an idol.” I wish I could say that I immediately repented and thanked her for pointing out my sin…but no. Instead, I got defensive — “He is NOT an idol to me…marriage is not an idol to me!” After about ten minutes, I finally admitted what I’d been lying to myself about for nearly three years: I was an idolator. I found my fulfillment, self-worth, and joy in a created thing rather than the Creator.

“The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him. It begins in the mind and may be present where no overt act of worship has taken place.” – A.W. Tozer

The seven months since the realization have been rough, but also freeing. I felt like I had been enchained for three years (not by him or the relationship, but by the sin of idolatry) and I could finally breath and see God for who He is. I could also begin to see myself for who He made me to be. This has been a rough journey and there is still so much on the road ahead. Everyday I have to ask God to point out the idols in my life, and then, like the Chinese Christians, I have to turn them over to be destroyed. A.W. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” My hope is that I will get to a place where people pale in comparison to what comes to my mind when I think about God. My prayer is that He continues to reveal more of Himself to me each day.

“Do I trust at all in the flesh? Or have I learned to go beyond all confidence in myself and other people of God? Do I trust in books and prayers or other joys in my life? Or have I placed my confidence in God Himself, not in His blessings? ‘I am Almighty God…’ – El-Shaddai, the All-Powerful God (Genesis 17:1). The reason we are still being disciplined is that we will know that God is real. As soon as God becomes real to us, people pale in comparison, becoming shadows of reality. Nothing that other saints do or say can ever upset the one who is built on God.” – Oswald Chambers

Where to go from here…

This summer has been rather busy and thought provoking. After spending two weeks in Vietnam during June and a month helping with Disciple Makers training in July, I definitely can feel the Lord working in my heart, pulling me in directions I never thought I’d go. Basically this post serves as a way for me to process all that God has been teaching me. It essentially boils down to this: make disciples wherever you go.

Over the past few years, I’ve been so fixated on one place that I feel like I’ve been blind to all the possibilities that God has in store for me. I’ve been putting his plan in a small, pretty box that makes sense to me. Placing these limitations on him stems from my stubborness and my need for a plan in life.  However, my prayer for the past few months has been, “Lord, help me to want to make disciples wherever I am. Make it about the people I encounter and not about the place that I encounter them. Help me to love all people with the love with which you have loved me.”

I’ve been reading Shadow of the Almighty which recounts the life and death of Jim Elliot. As he journals about an encounter with a confused waitress, he says:

Had a heart-rending time trying to speak the Words of Life to her, and as I think of all this country now, many just as confused, and more so, I realized that the 39th Street bus is as much a mission field as Africa ever was.

See, even one of my missionary heroes knew this truth even when he was still in college. Now I’m trying to see how these two things (knowing that I need to make disciples everywhere I go and knowing the obvious call on my life to foreign missions) can peacefully coexist.  I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch for them to do so. The only thing hindering me is the lack of a clear, outlined plan. But enter again Jim Elliot when discussing his time at Wheaton College:

Be that as it may, my Father knows best, and I’m confident that He has placed me here; my task is to labor quietly until the pillar-cloud removes and leads farther, working out God’s purposes in God’s time.

This is my prayer as I move into my last year of college…that I will labor quietly among the people he has given me until he leads me farther in his perfect timing.  Where that pillar-cloud will lead…I no longer know, but I trust in the goodness and perfection of His plans and not my own.

 

 

Read the Book

Summer reading always posed a problem for my high school self.  I blame SparkNotes.  The novels weren’t difficult, I was given ample time, just the knowledge that there was an easier way to pass caused my motivation to dwindle.  I never once gave it my all, because I knew SparkNotes had my back.

I attended a college Bible study a few months ago and we were walking through John 11.  The death of Lazarus is a familiar story, but that particular night God revealed a new truth to me through scripture.

John 11:40-42 – “Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’  So they took away the stone.  And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.'”

A couple of things struck me about this passage, the first being the amount of comfort we can all draw from the idea that Jesus will say things on behalf of our lack of understanding.  Even when we are shrouded in disbelief of God’s capabilities, he’ll do things so that we may believe and understand.  I know I too often fit into that category.  More times than not, I’m like the people in John 6:30 who ask Jesus, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you?  What work do you perform?”  We want a sign before we believe.  After all, seeing is believing…right?

Well, not when it comes to Jesus.  There are times throughout scripture where Jesus gets a little sassy (Holy Sass as I like to call it) and John 11:40-42 is one of those times.  Jesus tells Martha that if she believes then she will see, not the other way around as our world likes to think.  We also see in Jesus’ prayer that he knew the whole time that the Father heard him.  If we are aiming to be more like Jesus, then seeing is not believing…believing is seeing.

So, how often do we rely on the SparkNotes version when it comes to our belief?  Seeing the signs and then believing is obvious; however, having total faith before the signs is difficult and something we should all seek.

In the end, SparkNotes only gets you so far.  For many students, cutting corners like that results in a ‘C’, and in my case a ‘B’.  I know, though, that if I would’ve buckled down and not relied on the easy road, I would have without a doubt gotten an ‘A’.  I just wonder, if we settle for the easy way out (the SparkNotes version of belief) aren’t we settling for a ‘C’?  Would we get to see more of God’s glory if we just believed in the first place?  Does our initial disbelief lead to us settling for less than God’s best for our lives?

I urge all of us to not rely on the oversimplified version.  Don’t seek the signs, seek the Savior (cliche?…possibly).  Strive for the ‘A’…doing so will lead to God’s best for your life.

Trees

I’ve had a fascination with trees for the past couple of years now.  I love looking at them, I love walking under them, I love drawing them in class, I just flat out enjoy trees.  They’re just a beautiful piece of God’s wonderful creation.  The other day I was driving and admiring the clouds and, once again, thinking about trees.  That’s when it hit me…trees are the workmanship of God and are displaying His work in absolute, utter perfection.  They’re doing just what God made them to do…stand there, be beautiful, and display God’s glory.

This made me think though…am I displaying God’s glory in absolute, utter perfection?  Am I taking part in all that He created me for?  Isaiah 43:7 says that we are formed, made, created for His glory.  We are made for His glory!! Think about the human body for a moment…nerve impulses to and from the brain travel as fast as 170 miles per hour, your nose can remember 50,000 different scents, and your body gives off enough heat in 30 minutes to bring half a gallon of water to a boil.  Now these are merely a few facts, but whoever created something like that I think deserves some credit…right?

Unlike trees, though, God took it a step further with us…He sent His son.  1 Corinthians 6:20 tells us that we we were bought at a price, so we must glorify God in our bodies.  Romans 15:8-9 says,”For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” Christ came, died, and rose for us…not the trees.  So, other than the neat, natural stuff that my body displays everyday about the awesomeness of God’s workmanship, what am I doing to display His love, His mercy, and His sacrifice?

The trees are doing their part to glorify God…are we doing ours?

Walk like an Egyptian

Number of pyramids: approximately 138

Tallest pyramid: 481 feet tall, about 2.3 million stone blocks (each one weighing anywhere from 2.5 to 15 tons)

Time it took to build The Great Pyramid: 20 years (about 180 blocks per hour, 1 block every 3 minutes).

I’m currently taking a class on World Civilizations and we most recently discussed the Egyptians.  Ever since the sixth grade I have heard about hieroglyphics, various pharaohs, and the controversial pyramids. I understand that there is much debate over how exactly the Egyptians were able to construct such impossible structures.  Several theories are out there, anything from ramps to aliens (which actually may be more likely than the existence of Big Foot). However, my professor offered a different perspective. His answer to how the pyramids could have been made is that “the gods wanted it done, so they did it at all costs.”

Two aspects about this statement peaked my interest, the first being that this answers a ‘how’ question rather than a ‘why’ question. See, for Egyptians, if it was the will of the gods for something to be done, it was done. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. They endured seemingly impossible feats just to bring glory to their gods through their obedience.  The second thing this quote brought about was the wondering of ‘what about us’?  As Christians, what “pyramids” are we being commanded to build? Are we being obedient and doing what God tells us so through that He will receive glory?  Or are we saying ‘no’, ‘maybe later’, or completely ignoring him entirely?

Are we willing to carry a 15 ton stone block for the Creator?  What about a cross?  Are we so strong in our faith that we could face certain death and still be obedient? Or maybe a more trivial question is: are we so strong in our faith that we could face 40, 50, 60 years of the ups and downs of life and still be obedient?  Maybe our walks should be more like an Egyptian.  We know the One True God, let’s start living that out whatever the cost may be.  No excuses, just obedience.

Forgetting Freedom

“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

                                                         –         Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz

I would consider my memory to be fairly decent.  Recalling vocabulary words, people’s names, and movie quotes has always come to me with ease.  However, an incident in the summer of 2009 made me realize something I had virtually forgotten all of my life.

I was seventeen years old and spending two weeks of my summer with members of my church teaching English to university students in China.  The room in which we taught was a cramped office full of unadorned Chinese books, one electric turquoise couch, and the unpleasant smell of mildew and urine.  The feature that caused the room to be nearly unbearable, though, was the lack of an air conditioning unit.  The day of the incident, the students and my church group were leaving the office for lunch.  I was thankful to have escaped from the lingering stench and stifling heat and enter the freedom of fresh air and a cool breeze.  As I walked and improperly repeated the phrase ‘I don’t speak Chinese’ in Chinese, I noticed a man approaching our group.  I would have thought nothing of this because the Chinese often drew near us wanting to practice their English and take our picture, but this man was wearing an army green button up shirt with small golden stars on his left shoulder, the outfit of a police officer.

The officer had an underlying impression of greed and corruption in his eyes as he spoke the foreign language.  I stepped back as our translators began speaking with him, using their hands as much as their mouths to communicate.  The discussion grew heated and one of our three translators insisted that we leave for lunch while the other two solve the indistinguishable problem.  Confused, our group trotted down the cracked sidewalk while our new friends accompanied the unexpected stranger into the office.  As we advanced further away from the office, I was bombarded by the imprisoning odor of two week old garbage and spoiled milk.

I was practicing with my chopsticks, with little success, when our translators arrived at the restaurant.  Their faces were weighted with worry as they explained that the officer confiscated their teaching license because of our large group of foreigners.  It was in that moment that the words of Dorothy resonated in my mind.  My group and friends had done nothing illegal by our standards; however, my friends were being unjustly penalized by the government.  We were no longer in the safety of our democratic nation, but rather in a distant land where the government could do as they pleased without explanation.

In the eighth grade, I studied American History and memorized names, dates, and the Bill of Rights.  Like most eighth graders (and possibly most adult Americans), I thought I understood all that jazz about independence and unalienable rights, essentially all the things our forefathers deemed important enough to die for; but, looking back on it now, I truthfully had no concept of their true meaning.  This incident caused me to appreciate the idea that so many Americans so easily forget: freedom.  I took for granted our right to vote, our freedom of speech, our opportunity of a fair trial, and, most importantly in my opinion, our ability to openly worship.

I have the amazing privilege to worship the One True God whenever and wherever I please…but how many times a day, a week, a year do I simply forget this freedom or become too busy to notice?  How often do I ignore the numerous blessings and resources to spread the gospel in this country while my brothers and sisters all over the world struggle to make it another day?  And when/if they make it another day, they praise the Father and risk it all again to make his glory known to those around them.  How many of my brothers and sisters have to meet in absolute secret and choose to stay for hours upon hours just to grasp another teaching in the Word?  And how many of us meet publicly every Sunday and Wednesday with our air conditioned buildings, comfy lobby couches, youth rooms decked out with all the latest technology and games, fog machines and light shows to create the “right” atmosphere for worship, listen to our 45 minute sermon, and drive home?  Where is the risk in that?  Shouldn’t there be some sort of risk involved with faith?

Now, I am in no way saying we all should just sell everything and move overseas, but there should absolutely be an acknowledgement evident in my life of the thankfulness I have of where God has placed me.  And with that placement comes outrageous responsibility to do something with the blessings I have received.  I refuse to lead an irresponsible Christian walk.  I refuse to squander this privilege.  I refuse to take this freedom for granted.  Like Jesus said in Luke 12:48 “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand more.”