Thursday, June 10, 2010

One Little Word Shall Fell Him

John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, hailed as one of the most notable works in British literature, recounts the story of the protagonist, Christian, as he travels from his earthly homeland, the City of Destruction, to his heavenly dwelling, “the World which is to Come.” Becoming aware that he carries a heavy burden of sin, Christian seeks to cast off the load he bears and find redemption. Through his interaction with Evangelist, he finds the way to Wicket Gate which leads Christian to Good Will (the Christ character). When Christian arrives at the Place of Deliverance (allegorical for the foot of the cross of Christ), the ties that bind his heavy burden to his back begin to shred and his burden rolls off. Christian is welcomed in peace by three shining ones who announce he has been forgiven. His dirty, ratted cloths are replaced with glistening new clothing, and he is handed a “Roll with a seal upon it.” Christian is saved and the allegory comes to a close. At least it would seem like the allegory would come to a close at this point. But it is here, at Christian’s conversion, that the book just begins.

For now Christian comes upon Difficulty Hill, and if he is to proceed along the right path, he must endure the trek up it. At times the path is so steep that he must crawl on his hands and his feet. Once he arrives at the top and steps inside Palace Beautiful, he is given spiritual armor and weapons for the warfare he will face: a sword, a helmet, a shield, a breastplate, and a firm warning that the next step of his journey will be quite dangerous. This warning proves true when Christian crosses paths with Apollyon, a “foul fiend,” in the Valley of Humiliation, and nearly loses his life. His only hope is to use the spiritual armor which he has been given.

Though allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress reflects a stark reality of Christian life. Charles Spurgeon writes:

John Bunyan has not pictured Christian as carried to heaven while
asleep in an easy chair. He makes him lose his burden at the cross-foot,
but he represents him as climbing Hill Difficulty on his hands and knees.
Christian has to descend into the Valley of Humiliation, and to tread the
dangerous pathway through the gloomy horrors of the Shadow of Death…nowhere is
he delivered from the necessities incident to the way, for even at the last he
fords the black river, and struggles with its terrible billows. Effort is
used all the way through, and you that are pilgrims to the skies will find it to
be no allegory, but a matter of fact.
Each pilgrim, including you and me, are engaged in a spiritual battle. In a spiritual sense, we cannot fight this battle while lying reclined in a Lazy Boy chair, sipping not-too-tangy and not-too-sweet lemonade. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). Our foe, the enemy of our souls and his demonic cronies, are out to dissuade us from following our Savior and Shepherd passionately and wholeheartedly. The devil is not the horn bearing, pitchfork carrying red creature that Hollywood portrays. No, he is much more subtle and crafty. So subtle and crafty that we sheep are “prone to wander, Lord we feel it, prone to leave the God we love!”

The Father of Lies whispers deception after deception over our souls. Sometimes he appeals to our pride and speaks the lie that you and I can earn our own salvation through performing good deeds, as if the law could ever make us holy before a righteous and perfect God. Sometimes he speaks the lie that God could never forgive what you and I have done and we will be hopelessly lost in our sins forever, as if Jesus’ bloody and brutal wrath-bearing death only covered the “small” sins. Sometimes he tells us that the sin in our life is not that big of a deal or that we will never get caught in our sin, as if God is not just and we can somehow hide from the Creator of the universe.

Regardless of which lie he speaks, he will always tempt us to make little of Jesus and to make much of ourselves. But victory is only found in the Valley of Humiliation, when we face these spiritual battles head on and fight them with the armor that God Himself has provided for us: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, and prayer in the Spirit (see Eph. 6:14-18).

Here is the Truth. Apart from Jesus, you and I are hopelessly lost in our sins. Performing good deeds—even a lifetime of good deeds—cannot take away the sin that stains our souls. The perfect, righteous, holy God before whom each of us will give an account doesn’t give out “get out of hell free” cards to those who go to church, give to the poor, or walk the elderly across the street. But God remedied this problem in the greatest act of love in all history. He sent His sinless Son, Jesus, to be nailed to two pieces of wood in order to bear the wrath of God for the sins of all who come to faith in Him. By repenting of our sins, believing that Jesus alone has the power to save sinners, and turning to Him as Lord of our lives, we are saved! It is a completely free, we-did-nothing-to-deserve-it kind of gift! And His salvation is available to all people, no matter what you have done. Yes, even the sin that came into your mind as you read that sentence. Because Jesus died on the cross and was raised to life again, Christ-followers have victory over the enemy no matter how formidable his attacks. That is why we make much of Jesus! And that is what we celebrate as we end these series of posts over the book of Ephesians.

[1] Spurgeon, Charles H. Pictures from Pilgrim’s Progress. Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publication, 1992. p.134.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Relational Idolatry in Families

Number one New York Times best-seller, The Purpose Driven Life begins, “It’s not about you. The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose.”[1]

As we touched on in the last post, the words “It’s not about you” are hard to swallow when we live in an egocentric society where my needs and my desires are paramount. This grates against our prideful, self-centered, sinful nature that secretly whispers into our souls that we should seek our identity in anything other than our Savior. The poison of idolatry is subtle in our society. We may not have a temple to Artemis, a widely worshipped Greek goddess popular in the time when Paul wrote his letter to Ephesian believers, but idolatry is just as alive in twenty-first century America.

One subtle form of idolatry that has crept into the modern evangelical church is the idol of family. We treat our children as if they were the center of the universe—as if our worth, value, and significance rested in their ability to achieve. Tim Keller, author of Counterfeit Gods, writes, “Modern society…puts great pressure on individuals to prove their worth through personal achievement. It is not enough to be a good citizen or family member. You must win, be on top, to show you are the best…. From the earliest years, an alliance of parents and schools creates a pressure cooker of competition, designed to produce students who excel in everything…. The family is no longer what Christopher Lasch once called a ‘haven in a heartless world,’ a counterbalance to the dog-eat-dog areas of life. Instead, the family has become the nursery where the craving for success is first cultivated.”[2]

In Proverbs 22:6, we are instructed to, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” How are we raising our children in this dog-eat-dog world? In his sermon on this topic at First Baptist Church of Geneva, Pastor Jeff Frazier asked a provocative series of questions. “What would you rather have,” he asked, “to have your child become a great athlete, a great musician, a great student, a great scholar, a great business man or woman, or a great man or woman of God?” The question is posed to us. Are we eager to raise sons and daughters who count the cost, take up their cross, and follow Jesus Christ? Or are we content to raise children whose identity is found in their success, wealth, and personal achievement? In Ephesians 6:4, Paul exhorts fathers to not “exasperate your children.” By making idols out of our sons and daughters, we raise up bitter, resentful, jaded children.

It is not only parents who struggle with idolatry. The inherited sin nature with which we are born feeds us the lie that life is about self-satisfaction and self-glory. Parents do not need to teach a child to be selfish; it comes naturally. Therefore, throughout the child’s toddler years, parents stress the importance of sharing and taking turns. Parents have the responsibility of raising children who fear the Lord and keep His commands. Children have the responsibility to “obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Eph. 6:1). And adult children should “honor your father and mother,” for this pleases the Lord (Eph. 6:2).

Consider whether there are any areas of relational idolatry in your own life. In what areas is God calling you to renounce the temptation to make life about you or the success of your children? Offer up a prayer to the Lord, asking Him to break any idols in your life and fill you with Himself as your all-surpassing Joy and Treasure!

[1] Warren, Rick. The Purpose-Driven Life: What On Earth am I Here For? Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004. p. 5.
[2] Keller, Timothy. Counterfeit gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters. New York: Dutton, 2009. p. 79.