Lent begins this Wednesday.
The whole practice of “Lent” may be foreign to you if you are not a part of a high liturgical church. Like many Christian traditions, it can be rich, or it can be meaningless. I believe that together we can make it rich. It fits perfectly with where God has been leading us in overcoming the idols of our hearts. Idols cannot be removed, they can only be replaced by Jesus, the True Lover of our Souls. That is what we will concentrate on during this holy time, and it is a perfect time for new people to join in. I encourage you to invite your friends — you may find friends from high liturgical churches (Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopal, and others) particularly interested, and they could join this Ash Wednesday or before. Pray and see if God brings someone to mind or across your path.
The following is a free sermon that I would love everyone to listen to from Tim Keller. It’s called Removing Idols of the Heart and here is the link to paste in your browser.
I also have a U-Tube video I’d love for you to watch: Be Thou My Vision video
PART I. REVIEW
If you have just joined us, you would be helped by reading some of the past posts, for we began this subject with the start of 2011 with A Heart of Flesh. However, I don’t want to overwhelm you either, so this summary may suffice.
Why are some Christians continually defeated by the same sins and others set free?
Change occurs when a believer recognizes he or she is an idolater. Though we struggle with many “near sins,” behind every “near” sin is a deep stone idol producing that near sin. There are three deep idols:
For example, someone with the deep idol of SECURITY/COMFORT could struggle with near sins like gluttony, laziness, or stinginess. She might attack gluttony with a diet, laziness with a better alarm clock, or stinginess with a tithing budget. But because she has not addressed the root problem of idolatry, that deep idol will cry out when he is restricted, persisting until he defeats her diet, her alarm clock, or her budget. He will lie to her, promising to meet her needs for security and comfort, and will do so initially, but then bring her into bondage again. Eventually she may despair, crying, “It is hopeless!”
But it is not hopeless. Those who recognize their root problem have experienced the transforming power of the Stone Cutter, of the One True Lover of their souls. Idols cannot be removed, only replaced. When we learn from His Word how He can be what our idols can never truly be, and trust Him to be that, we experience transformation into a heart of flesh. We are not only set free from those cruel stones that actually cut us to pieces, but we experience intimacy with the living and breathing God who is the fulfillment of all desire.
1. What impresses you from the above, and why?
2. If you have just joined us, introduce yourself. Though you may not know or be ready to share, be asking yourself what stone, what deep idol might be producing your near sins. If you have any insight, share it here.
3. If you have been with us, can you encourage newcomers by sharing, briefly, what God has shown you and how you are beginning to see progress?
PART II. LENT
Lent is a Christian tradition that though not commanded in Scripture can have some great benefits. It is meant to be a holy time of contemplation and a time of growth. Unfortunately, like so many Christian traditions, it has often degenerated into ritual without understanding. Individuals give up candy, or meat, or Facebook — without realizing the purpose. It actually was meant to be a step toward removing idols of the heart and replacing them with Jesus — but too often, that has been lost. It was meant to be a time of remembering how frail we are (on Ash Wednesday, which is this week, many receive the sign of the cross on their forehead as a reminder that they are dust, and to dust they will return.) This is thoroughly scriptural, to remember that we are like the grass of the field, and to therefore set our affections on things above. But as we have been learning, idols cannot be removed, they can only be replaced. Unless we replace them with putting on Christ, we may actually be in worse shape than when we began.
1. On Ash Wednesday, Christians are reminded that their lives are fragile and fleeting. Truly, we should know this, but are often in denial. What do the following passages say, and what are your reflections on each?
A. Ecclesiastes 7:2
B. Psalm 90:9-12
2. Read Colossians 3:1-4
A. What, according to verse 1, are we to seek, and why?
B. A key secret to success is in verse 2. What is it?
C. Meditate on verses 3-4 in your translation, and also, as paraphrased in The Message:
Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life-even though invisible to spectators-is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up too-the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.
D. What truth are we told, and what, therefore, should be our response?
PART III. WEEKLY GOAL AND GOD HUNT
Here we get to the really exciting part. I want you to set a two part goal each week. The first part is to remove the idol, the second is to replace it with Christ. I would rather do a new goal each week than for the whole of Lent, seeing each Sunday as a fresh start, culminating in Easter Sunday. Choose one stone a week, and it may be the same stone for all of Lent. Let me give you an example for each of the three deep idols, and then you be still before God and set your own two part goal and share it with the others. Then, give us any reports of how you see God on the move.
A. POWER/CONTROL Perhaps you have seen your near sin of nagging, manipulation, or sarcasm and realize your deep idol is POWER/CONTROL. It is good to stop saying those kind of things to a spouse, child, mother…but now, replace the idol by putting on Christ, by being loving, by praying, by saying what will build up.
B. AFFIRMATION/APPROVAL Perhaps you have seen how deeply you want men to approve of you and it leads to the near sins of anxiety, exaggeration, or addiction to Facebook. It is good to recognize this, for that is half the battle — but now you must bask in the approval of Christ. Perhaps you could do that by memorizing one of the great hymns about his love, like Be Thou My Vision, And Can It Be, or Deep Deep Love. Or begin memorizing Psalm 103. Use these words to speak to your soul.
C. SECURITY/COMFORT. Perhaps you realize your near sin is over-eating or over-spending. It is good to plan a healthy eating program or a budget, but you must address that deep idol by allowing Jesus to be your security/comfort. If it is spending, then substitute the time you would spend shopping with reading good books or strong Christian fellowship. If it is eating, you may want to not only substitute fruit for sweets, but to also sit down with tea, an orange, and a rich book like The Sacred Romance, Bonhoeffer, or Redeeming Love. If you feel led to go on a partial fast from food, then use that time to feast on the bread of life. Run to the psalms or put on your ipod and praise music and walk. Let Him meet your need. He takes longer than does spending or eating, but they turn on you, and He will not — instead, He will satisfy you as you wait on Him.
4. Set a goal, just for this week, on what you would like removed and how you will replace it. (I think it is better to set goals on a weekly basis than for the whole seven weeks of Lent.) What is your goal?
5. Report on how God is on the move! This can be so rich as you share your growth, the combustion cycle, as Keller says, of repentance and faith. Repenting of the idol, trusting the true God.