Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Project "One-Thing-At-A-Time"

This past Sunday at Life Bible Fellowship Church, I encouraged believers to ask themselves if the Spirit was leading them to do something special in the month of August. We all want change in our lives, but we can get overwhelmed when we try to take on a new habit or practice indefinitely. But many of us can try something new for a month and see how God impacts us during that time.
I shared that I have felt led by the Spirit to try something for the month of August. I am calling it One-Thing-at-a-Time.

Sociologists have recently been talking about something called "Continuous Partial Attention." The idea is that, due to our phones, our computers, our televisions, our iPads, our iPods, and the many other devices that we have, we are rarely giving our full attention to any one thing. How many of us have seen a couple sitting across from each other in a restaurant, each on their own phone, not interacting with each other at all? Perhaps the more difficult question concerns how many of us have done that very thing.
I have found recently that I am rarely doing only one thing. If I am watching a movie, I am also playing a game on my iPad. If I am reading, I am also watching a television show. If I am watching sports, I am also playing some game on my phone. If I am playing with my sons, I am also checking the scores.
Sometimes it is unavoidable and harmless to multitask. We listen to music while we run. We talk on the phone while we in the car for our kids. We read a book while we eat. There is nothing evil about any of these. Frankly, there is nothing evil about the habits that I named above. But for me, these habits have made me ask questions about my contentment and my focus. More importantly, they have made me wonder if I am drowning out the voice of God's Spirit by surrounding myself with constant noise.
So, I don't feel that it is realistic to say that I will never again read while watching, or play a game while watching, or listen while playing. But I do think that I can try something new for a month and see what God does.
I share all of this partly for my own sake, and partly for the sake of anyone reading this. It is for my own sake so that I get concrete enough to follow through. It is for your sake so that it can possibly cause you to ask questions about your own habits and about how you can create more space for God's voice in your life.
So, here are some specifics during the month of August:
1. If I am reading something, I am reading. No music. No TV shows.
2. If I am watching something, I am watching. No reading. No playing a game on my iPad. No checking scores.
3. No more watching something on the iPad while I eat, get dressed, brush my teeth, etc. Fine to read while eating, but I want to break myself of the need of constant noise and entertainment. For goodness sake, I think I should be able to brush my teeth without needing to watch something while I do it.
4. If I am playing with my sons, or hanging out with my wife, no watching something in the background or constant checking of scores. Just be in the moment. Enjoy it. I won't regret it.
5. Listening the music while driving or running is fine. But there is no need to do it all the time. Some quiet space is good.
None of this is meant to be legalistic, but I know myself. Some of you are like me. If I don't get specific, I will let myself off the hook. I want to listen to God's voice in my life. I want to focus on what he has called me to do. I want to eliminate the background noise and see what happens.
What I am talking about here may resonate with you. If so, consider doing the same thing during August. I would love to hear how it goes. If this causes you to do something different for August, go for it. The Spirit leads us all in different ways. The most important thing is that we listen. As the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 5:25, "Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit."

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Demands of Idols

This past Sunday at Life Bible Fellowship Church, Pastor Gary Keith spoke on the acts of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). One of the acts of the flesh is idolatry. As he spoke, the concept of idolatry really stuck with me.
Today very few of us bow down before pieces of wood or stone or gold. The whole concept seems silly to us. So, we may feel convicted when Paul talks about sexual immorality, jealousy, malice, or drunkenness. But when he speaks of idolatry, we get a pass.
Or do we?
In his book Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller says this:

The Bible often speaks of idols using the religious metaphor. God should be our true Savior, but we look to personal achievement or financial prosperity to give us the peace and security we need. Idols give us a sense of being in control, and we can locate them by looking at our nightmares. What do we fear the most? What if we lost it, would make life not worth living? We make "sacrifices" to appease and please our gods, who we believe will protect us. We look to our idols to provide us with a sense of confidence and safety.

For me, the most striking part of this quotation is when he says that we make sacrifices to appease and please our idols. Gods demand sacrifices. Throughout the Old Testament, and in many religions throughout history, animals have been sacrificed in order to appease the gods. When we think of an idol as something that demands a sacrifice, we can more easily identify the idols of our hearts.

If my idol is money, then I am willing to sacrifice my integrity in order to rake it in. I will cut corners, cheat on my taxes, and embezzle from my company. I will sacrifice the needs of my church or people who have run into hard times because I need the money for myself.
If my idol is success, then I am willing to sacrifice my relationships with loved ones in order to climb the ladder. I will work non-stop, compete with everyone, and neglect my family in order to fill my tank with the accolades that come along with being successful.
If my idol is my family, then I am willing to sacrifice the broader world in order to give them everything possible. Involvement in church and in God's work will take a back seat to recitals, sporting events, and other activities. The great irony of this idol is that it is deceptively selfish. We tell ourselves that we are putting our family first, but it is really a way for us to fill our own tank at their expense. By placing too high a value on our family we end up ruining it.
If my idol is the approval of others, then I will sacrifice truth and authenticity in order to get it. I won't tell anyone that they are wrong. I will smile and nod and approve and reinforce. I will sacrifice even my own identity so that this god can give me the approval for which I so desperately crave.
Idolatry is not a problem of the past or of tribal communities. It is a problem for all of us.
What are your idols? And what sacrifices have you offered to them?

The great news when we come to the gospel is not that God doesn't demand a sacrifice, but instead that he himself has provided the sacrifice that he demands. He sent his Son in order to fulfill all that he requires. The true God, the one and only, invites us to a peace-filled relationship based on the sacrifice that Jesus offered for us all. This is why he is the only God worthy of trust and worship.