TODAY WE REMEMBER 9/11
WE THINK OF THE SORROW
AND WE WONDER IF THE RETURN OF JESUS IS NEAR
WE KNOW HE TOLD US TO BE READY
WE LONG TO BE THE KIND OF BRIDE
THAT WILL NOT BE ASHAMED WHEN HE APPEARS
AND SO WE ARE RETURNING TO A STUDY THAT HAS BEEN CHANGING OUR HEARTS
AND TO THE PROMISE FROM EZEKIEL THAT
GOD WILL REPLACE OUR HEARTS OF STONE
WITH HEARTS OF FLESH
TO REPLACE DEAD, UNRESPONSIVE HEARTS
WITH PASSIONATE, REAL, AND POWERFUL HEARTS
Welcome to those of you who have done parts of “The Stonecutter” study before — I’m counting on you to be mentors!
Welcome to those who are just joining us. We are so glad you are here.
I don’t think it is coincidental that Leslie Vernick, author and counselor, is visiting me this week — for she pours her wealth into my heart as I prepare. We biked ten miles yesterday (she pushed me!) and then dined on butternut squash and whitefish at an outside cafe. I have been pondering a question, and so I posed it to Leslie, as we lingered over supper. “I know we will have many begin The Stonecutter study Sunday, but drop out — a smaller percentage will be faithful. And then even among the faithful, some will see dramatic changes, and others will not. Why?”
Leslie quoted Tozer, the words flowing out of her heart:
True spirituality manifests inteself in certain dominant desires. These everpresent deep-seated wants are sufficiently powerful to moderate and control a life.
“What are those desires?” I asked.
“To please God, to honor God, to love God, to glorify God with your life.”
“Yes,” I said, “that is what it is.”
May we ask God to give us these dominant desires. To want Him instead of just what He gives.
HOW THE STUDY WORKS
This study will have three or four parts. The first two are essential, and I pray you will be able to do all of it. But go at your own pace. I suggest doing some each day, same time, same place, to develop a habit. It is more important to experience God than to look at this as a task to be accomplished and hurried through. Having said that, I must say that the sermons I am suggesting in Part III. (usually by Tim Keller) are igniting hearts. If you have an Ipod or similar device, you can download them and listen as you work, drive, exercise… They are saying that his sermons are resulting in the first “internet revival.”
PART I. THE FOUNDATION (THIS IS REVIEW, BUT ESSENTIAL FOR THE NEW PEOPLE AND HELPFUL FOR THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN WITH US. AFTER READING, ANSWER THE ICE-BREAKER.)
PART II. BIBLE STUDY (AGAIN, ESSENTIAL)
PART III. THE SERMON (I will try to give you free sermons, but sometimes they will be 2.50 to download. This is optional. Redeemer is using the money for ministries in New York City, so the money is well spent.)
AND SOMETIMES: PART IV. THE TESTIMONY (If you have been in this study and want to send me a half page or, at most, page testimony of how God is working in your life, you can send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.) Anne, who has been with us since almost the beginning, will start this week, though I am incorporating her testimony into Part I.)
Because the participation is growing, and we are so glad, if you have a common name, you might give us a middle name, or even give us something unique such as Mary from Indiana or Linda the nurse the first time you log on. There are directions on how to get started on the right side of this page — and if you have trouble, contact my great website manager at email@example.com The first time your comment will need to be approved — but after that, you usually will come right on. Think about what you write before you write it, for it is hard for me to delete it. Many have found it is helpful to copy the study to a word document and then paste their answers when they are satisfied with them. Thoughtful careful answers are so very appreciated by all because as we grow, there can be a lot to read. Please pray for God’s anointing for us all!
DON’T LOOK FOR A QUICK FIX. THE NEXT FEW WEEKS WILL HELP YOU GRASP THE CONCEPT. BE PATIENT.
PART I. THE FOUNDATION
Why is it that some believers in Jesus Christ are set free from besetting sins, and others remain mud-bound? Each group seems to know the Lord, each group wants to change, but only one does. Though the mud-bound group is weary of repeating their failures and weary of their wilderness wanderings, they are stuck. In despair, they cry:
I don’t want to be so anxious, but nothing seems to help.
I’ve tried so many times to lose weight – it’s hopeless.
I hate it that I get so angry, but I cannot change.
A mediocre Christian life with occasional picnics in the desert is not what God wants for us.
The salvation God promises is a “double cure.” Remember the lyrics in Rock of Ages?
Be of sin the double cure
Save from wrath, and make me pure.
We not only can be saved from the penalty of sin, (save from wrath) but indeed, He is saving us from the power of sin (make me pure). The first cure is instantaneous, and the second is a process, but the same power that brought us new life can also transform our hearts, freeing us from the sins that have bound us for so long.
One of the rich metaphors God gives for this transformation is from Ezekiel, where He promises to transform “our heart of stone” into a “heart of flesh.” He is the Cardiovascular Surgeon who can give us a heart transplant, excising our lifeless cold hearts and replacing them with pulsating and passionate hearts, hearts that have the power to overcome sin.
Anne, of our faithful bloggers who has a rich contemplative spirit, and has been through this study, writes this:
The Stonecutter series has been the most life changing study I have ever done. I won’t say that it was easy or that I don’t need to do it again because neither is true. I will continue this fall so that I may continue on the path to freedom. When we began the study there was a picture of a heart of flesh with stones dropping off it — I so wanted that heart.
When we began to discuss what idols we would like to be free of Dee made it clear that we should choose just one so that we would not be overwhelmed. I looked at what seemed my greatest struggle and thought it was comfort. Fortunately I also prayed and God began revealing one so deep that I was not even aware of it. It controlled me like a rudder and I did not even see it. One pivotal incident happened at work through an offhand comment from one of my coworkers that opened my eyes. This person saw in my soul with startling clarity. As we learned on the blog about how to recognize our physical reaction to idol threat I knew that I must first deal with the idol of approval because it was setting off all the sirens. When I began to take steps against my approval idol, I saw assault from everywhere. I think it was for about a week that I suffered deeply. I felt weak and shaky at times but as we studied I learned how to speak truth to my soul which brought victories. Just a month or so later I had a dream that spoke deeply to me of God’s love for me. Realizing His love for me gave me just the kind of strength I needed for my battle. Another thing the dream helped me to understand is that my idolatry is an attempt to cover myself before God and that prevents intimacy with Him. Greater intimacy led to victory in the area of the comfort idol also.
I am learning that God is the Stonecutter. He will remove the stone from my heart. My job is to allow Him. It is heart surgery and painful at times, but if I allow it, I will quickly be healed. If I pull away it could take 40 years in the wilderness!
Anne referred to idols — we aren’t talking about the stone gods of the Old Testament or even the little Buddha that may be in the place where you get a pedicure. Ezekiel says we have idols of the heart — these are our “functional gods.” We may think we trust in Jesus, but often we trust instead in the approval of others, or our comfort, or having control over our lives. These are hidden stones in our hearts, like hidden boulders under water that can cause a shipwreck.
These treacherous stones lurk beneath the deep waters of our souls – stones that have stymied our journey and cut us to pieces. But God’s light is shining down into the deep dark waters revealing the Scylla that have shipwrecked lives. (In Homer’s Odyssey, “Scylla” looked from a distance like a dangerous rock shoal, but was in actuality a six-headed sea monster. Her long necks stretched down to the ship as she passed, seizing six of Odysseus’ sailors.)
In response, many of us are crying out to the Stonecutter, asking Him to remove the stones. And He’s doing it. An amazing excitement is rippling out, the joy so characteristic of revival. The Stonecutter is exposing that we are, indeed, idolaters. Even though we love God, there are others things in our heart of hearts we think we must have to be fulfilled. We think thoughts like:
Unless I succeed in my career… unless people love me… unless I get out of this crummy apartment…unless I get married…unless ___________________then I have no life.
When we make money or marriage or ministry our foundation, our security, and our identity we are idolaters. These stones in our hearts block the presence of God. Jesus, the Stonecutter, is in process of chipping those stones away so we can experience real life.
Why is it that a study on idolatry leads to victory when other studies have failed?
ATTACKING THE ROOT PROBLEM
So often we have failed to conquer a besetting sin because we have attacked the symptoms of our sin instead of the root problem. Alcoholics Anonymous knows that there is no hope for deliverance until an alcoholic sees and names his root problem. She must come to the point where she can stand up before a group and admit, “Hi – my name is Jane, and I am an alcoholic.” As long as she denies her root problem and attempts to control the symptoms, she is doomed to failure. She may try to control her anger by counting to ten, her frequent accidents by naming a designated driver, and her absenteeism at work by asking her spouse to get her out of bed in the morning. But as long as she denies the root problem, her alcoholism will win.
In the same way, unless we as believers identify the root problem that leads to a multitude of surface sins, we are doomed to failure. Though our surface sins are many, there are three categories that cover most of the deep idols that lead to these surface sins. They are:
Why does understanding our root problem free us when other plans fail? Consider. Someone with the deep idol of comfort/security may want to overcome over-eating, over-spending, or a lazy devotional life – but she can’t seem to stop running to the refrigerator, buying impulsively, or hitting snooze on the alarm clock. She hates herself for failing and renews her efforts to attack the near sin: “I’ll start a better diet, a better budget, and buy a better alarm clock.” But her DEEP idol of comfort will CRY OUT when he is restricted. He will tell her lies: Just one potato chip… just window shop… just a little more sleep… He is crouching at the door, waiting for her to open it a crack, and when she does, he barrels in, attacking her.
She must open her eyes to the beast, the liar, the stone god within her heart. He promises relief but delivers bondage. THEN SHE MUST LEARN, AS LEAH DOES IN OUR BIBLE STUDY THIS WEEK, HOW GOD CAN BE WHAT HER IDOL NEVER COULD BE, TURN FROM HER STONE IDOL, AND ALLOW GOD TO COME IN AND FILL THAT SPACE.
1. Tell us your name, one thing that will help us identify you (I’m Cyndi the homeschooling mom from Ohio; or I’m Terri who leads prison ministries in Texas…) and one reason you have decided to do The Stonecutter.
2. What is one thing you want to remember from Part I.?
PART II. BIBLE STUDY
Leah and Rachel. Sisters. They were real women, like you and me. They wanted to have meaning in their lives, to be loved, to feel like their lives mattered. Though each might have told you, that they loved the God of their ancestor Abraham, each had “functional idols,” something from which they really thought they could get their meaning in life. God is The Stonecutter. With one, He successfully removed the stone. The other died, seemingly, with a heart of stone.
Jacob is fleeing his brother, having tricked him, and comes to his Uncle Laban’s home. There he meets the love of his life, Rachel.
3. Read Genesis 29:9-20 to understand the background.
A. Find evidences that Jacob has fallen deeply for Rachel.
B. In verses 16 and 17, what contrasts do you find between the two sisters?
Though some translators diplomatically describe Leah as having “delicate or weak eyes,” as if she simply needed glasses, the context reveals otherwise. If, indeed, she simply had poor vision, the contrast between her and her sister would be: “Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel could see very well.” Instead, the contrast is:
Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance.
It is likely Leah had an eye malfunction, such as cross-eyes or a lazy eye.
C. How long did Jacob agree to work for Rachel’s hand? How long did it seem to him and why?
4. Read Genesis 29:21-30
A. Describe Laban’s ruse.
B. When morning breaks and the sun falls on Leah’s face, after the marriage has been consummated, how did Jacob respond?
C. How do you think Leah felt? How would you have felt?
READ GENESIS 29:31-34
5. What evidence in verse 31 do you see of the Lord’s compassion for Leah? How might this speak to you in whatever pain you are facing right now?
6. Leah’s first three sons. Find the names she gives each son, what they mean, and what they tell you about what Leah thought she had to have to be fulfilled.
7. CHALLENGE QUESTION: WE HAVE IDENTIFIED LEAH’S FUNCTIONAL IDOL — BUT WHAT DO YOU THINK COULD HAVE BEEN THE DEEP IDOL UNDERNEATH? (I DON’T KNOW — IT COULD ACTUALLY HAVE BEEN ANY OF THE THREE MENTIONED ABOVE — BUT I’D LIKE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK.) OFTEN WE IDENTIFY ONE IDOL, AND THEN WE LOOK AGAIN, AND SEE ANOTHER.
It was my friend Leslie Vernick who suggested we pay attention to our body language to identify our own deep idols. I can picture Leah becoming anxious, even feeling ill as she watched Jacob with Rachel. I imagine her depression at being ignored by Jacob. Often our thought life reveals our idols — and I’m sure Leah’s thought life was consumed with wanting Jacob’s love, approval, and having the security of being beloved in his eyes.
8. BE ALERT TO YOUR OWN BODY LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT LIFE. WHAT THINGS MAKE YOU ANXIOUS AND ANGRY? WHERE DOES YOUR MIND GO WHEN IT IS FREE TO ROAM? THIS WILL HELP YOU BEGIN TO IDENTIFY YOUR IDOLS OF THE HEART. BECOME SELF-AWARE AND WRITE DOWN WHAT YOU OBSERVE.
Often, it isn’t until our world is shaken that we can see the futility of our idols. After three sons, Jacob still does not love Leah. Listen to this Bonnie Rait song and imagine Leah, sitting by the fire, mourning that Jacob does not love her.
9. READ GENESIS 29:34-35
What did Leah name her fourth son and why? What turn do you see?
10. In the following passages, do your best to find ways that God met Leah, cared for Leah, and had compassion on her.
A. Genesis 30:17
B. In this next passage Jacob is speaking — remember how unusual it is for a woman to be mentioned, to be remembered, in Scripture. Genesis 49:31
C. Ruth 4:11
D. Hebrews 7:14
E. Revelation 5:5
11. When God denies us a desire of our heart, He always has a plan, a plan not to hurt us, but a plan for our good. Have you experienced this? If so, share one illustration from your life.
12. Leah’s learning to praise the Lord was key in creating her heart of flesh. Some of the ways we can follow her model are to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs in our quiet times and throughout the day. Try learning one simple song or verse from a hymn this week. What will it be?
13. I have also learned the power of praying Scripture. I’d like you to look at Martin French’s depiction of Revelation 19:11-16 above and then pray through those verses. Take one — and use it as a way to praise God. For example:
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.
Lord, this takes my breath away. You are returning. You are Faithful and True. You have always been faithful to me, even when You have allowed pain in my life. You are True, and I cling to that. One day You will make war against our enemies — but not against me — for You have taken the punishment I deserve, and I will never stop praising you.
Now — you try! READ THIS PASSAGE IN REVELATION, LOOK AT MARTIN FRENCH’S DEPICTION OF JESUS ON A WHITE HORSE, AND PRAY IT, MAKING IT YOUR OWN.
PART III. THE SERMON
(FREE SERMON BY TIM KELLER ENTITLED THE GRAND MYTHOLOGIZER: JESUS AND THE IDOLS OF OUR HEART)
To download the audio: http://thegospelcoalition.org/resources/a/The-Grand-Demythologizer-The-Gospel-and-Idolatry
To watch the same on video:
14. RESPONDING TO THE SERMON
A. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY WAS KELLER’S MAIN POINT?
B. WHAT STOOD OUT TO YOU FROM THIS MESSAGE AND WHY?
15. WHAT IS YOUR TAKE-A-WAY FROM THIS FIRST WEEK?
EXTRA RESOURCES THAT MIGHT INTEREST YOU
KELLER’S SERMON “THE GIRL NOBODY LOVED” TO BE FOUND AT WWW.REDEEMER.COM
SALLY LLOYD-JONES CHILDREN’S STORY, BY THE SAME TITLE, IN THE JESUS STORYBOOK BIBLE