Tag Archives: idolatry

Absolutely Absolute

31 May


Always. Never. None. Every.

Absolutes are never true– except that is an absolute.

And except for God.

He is all love and complete forgiveness. He never fails and is the source of endless hope. Everything we have and are is because of Him. Nothing I have is because of my own goodness, intelligence, or talent– it’s all because of Him.

He is absolutely absolute in every way. (Is that redundant? If so, I think it’s OK in this case.)

Recently, my Facebook newsfeed has been barraged with whiny posts about worship– why we should or shouldn’t do something during worship; what a horrible state church worship is in; and if we will only do these 4 (or 6 or 10) things, worship will be saved. All of them have one thing in common: if my personal preference is met, we will be able to worship God.

Really? There is something that must be in place before I can worship the great I AM, the One who redeemed my life from damnation and calls me His child? He is not enough? My preferences need to be met before I can give Him the honor He is due?

Absolutely not.



I will worship my Savior with organ hymns and with electric guitar rock. I will praise the great God in a stadium full of people and in a country church. I will sing and shout and declare how glorious, majestic, amazing, and wonderful my Jesus is. And absolutely nothing will prevent me. Not your preferences… and not mine.

Oh sing to the Lord a new song;
    sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
    tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
    his marvelous works among all the peoples!
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
    he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
    but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
    strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    bring an offering, and come into his courts!
Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness;
    tremble before him, all the earth!

Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!
    Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved;
    he will judge the peoples with equity.”

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
    let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
    let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
    before the Lord, for he comes,
    for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
    and the peoples in his faithfulness.

Psalm 96



What you do

1 Feb


A friend posted this on Facebook tonight:

Last week, I did a gig in Spain leading worship for international missionaries. After working fine for a couple of days, my guitar rig got fried by some sort of power glitch. So, I had to finish 4 days of music for the conference with ONE electric guitar sound.

No verbs, delays, overdrives, or anything. All I had was a Tele Thinline and a Tech21 Blonde pedal (analog Fender amp simulator) with one setting.

This is good…

Here’s what I (re)learned from the experience:

1) Limited options inspire more creativity than unlimited options.

2) Anything that makes you play simpler, more carefully-composed parts is a good thing.

3) Your audience only cares that you play with creativity and passion. Few people, if any, will ever know or notice what you DON’T have. They’ll just notice what you DO, with what you have.

Of COURSE I’m not gonna do that again by choice, but I am actually grateful for the experience.

Equipment is not the only limitation we get hung up on. Personnel (If only we had a bass player…); bigger church building (If only we had more room…); more talented preacher (If only we got meat instead of milk…); ______ (Insert your wish.)

Why do we worship again? What is the point of excellence? Why do we expend so much energy and creativity getting ready for Sunday?

Oh, that’s right….

For God.




Several years ago the worship team I was a part of had the “if only-s”. There was always a reason why we couldn’t fully worship God.

Then we recognized our idolatry. We had put a list of our own desires between us and worship God.

He wants our best efforts.

But if we have one talent, he doesn’t expect a ten-talent performance.

We are not responsible for what he has not provided, only for what we can give him– all we have.

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.  Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41-44


In blogmanship cooperation, Scott’s facebook status turned into this post, which turned into more from Scott here. A picture of the Body and web-laboration!



31 Aug


I am a list-maker.

Partly because my memory isn’t great, partly because I like to check off completed tasks. Mostly, though to clear my mind.

When I’m not able to write an idea down, my mind gets stuck. I fixate on that one thing and little else, because I’m afraid I will forget. Maybe I’m out there all by myself, but if I think of something I need to get at the store I’m going to, and I don’t tell Siri to make a note, I will either focus on that one thing so hard, which means I can’t daydream, or I will forget.

The forgetting part isn’t so bad (although it IS inconvenient), but the I-can’t-think-of-anything-else part frustrates me. I’m fairly certain that one of my spiritual gifts is daydreaming, thinking, and noticing… and then making new connections. I’m not sure what to call it. I don’t see it listed in 1 Cor 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, or 1 Peter 4. In any case, when there is one thing in my mind, I can’t move on and think about other, grander things.

The same thing happens in my spirit. When I get fixated on something, when I keep mulling something over in my heart, I get stuck there. I think God designed us this way on purpose. Because if we could carry it all in minds and souls with an infinite capacity, we wouldn’t need him.

He wants to carry the stuff that life throws at us.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 Pet 5:6-7

He is made to carry the heavy stuff. We are not.

Why are casting and humble in the same verse?

Because not casting  my cares on him is pride. When we take on what only God is meant to carry, we are sinning. It’s a trust issue. If I continue to hold onto stuff, working over it, fretting, rehearsing, and dwelling on it, I am saying, “This is too big for you, God. I can figure it out with a better solution than you could, so until I do, I’ll just keep on carrying it.”

And we all know that sin blocks our relationship with God. Even if it didn’t, however, we’d still be stuck – fixated on something without the capacity to enjoy God and the life he gave us.

Relationship is where this passage is headed: “because he cares for you.” No power struggle. No lecture. Not even any talk about pride and sin. Just a loving Father caring for his child by carrying the heavy stuff, so our arms are free to throw around his neck and hear  the “I love you” he whispers in our ear as he pulls us close.



I have heard it often said in church that we should leave our stuff at the back door before we come in to worship him. There’s some good in that idea, but what if instead, we brought all the stuff we carry into church and offered it up to him? This isn’t a logistical adjustment, it’s a heart issue of control and pride – which is essentially idolatry! Besides, if we don’t give it over to him, we will be sorely tempted (I used that word on purpose) to pick everything up again as we leave. That means we are changed in the presence of God as we worship him, only to go back to the way we were before. This isn’t the transformation promised by the Gospel!

So… those of us who lead others into the means of grace during worship, what are we fixated on? What has our heart? Are we carrying what God should be carrying?

Or are we humbly trusting and allowing him to have and inhabit our being so he can flow through us unhindered?

[L]et us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith… Heb 12:1-2

The Ultimate Do-Over

3 Mar

I have loved you with an everlasting love;
.   I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.

I will build you up again,
.   and you will be rebuilt, O Virgin Israel.

Again you will take up your tambourines
.   and go out to dance with the joyful.    —Jeremiah 31:3-4

Sitting with a tangled green mess in my lap, I crumbled into a heap. “I can’t do it!” I raged.

The “hat” flew across the room, knitting needles clanking as they landed then rolled under my grandma’s dining room table.

Looking at the floor, I heard her come into the room, but I ignored her. I would know those black oxfords in a crowd of feet. “Who wears those ugly things anymore,” I thought, my anger spilling all over the linoleum toward her pointy-toed shoes.

She retrieved my tangle of knit-when-I-should-have-purled from the chair where it had landed and kicked the needles out from under the table.  She bent down as they rolled toward her.

I steeled myself for a scolding. She simply walked out of the room and back into the kitchen. I heard a creak from the chrome chair legs as she sat.

Still pouting, I turned on the TV and lost myself in Wheel of Fortune. Words and letters were better friends than yarn. I was good at this.


Israel had turned away from God. Not like turning around and ignoring Him– more like running headlong in the opposite direction toward anything else that made them feel good. Instead of praising their Creator, they worshiped other gods– gods they made with their own hands. Gods that could not hear or do anything.

When God made the first Covenant with Israel, he said he would be their God if they would serve him only.

The crazy thing is that when they broke the Covenant, God didn’t stop being their God. He went after them, wooing them back. And when they couldn’t be wooed, the curses he had promised came: sword, famine, and plague.

He brought horrendous devastation and exile on his chosen people. And they responded as he had hoped – with repentance. The curses were punishment for disobedience and natural consequences for their sin, but they were also the discipline of a loving Father. Everlasting love and unfailing kindness go to any lengths, including discipline.

While the Israelites were still in exile (a severe punishment because a major promise of the Covenant was the Land), Jeremiah received gracious promises from God. In Jeremiah 29-31 God proclaimed that restoration would come to the remnant– to those who repented and turned back to him.

In Jeremiah 31:4, in the middle of incredible promises, a glorious treasure lives: You will be rebuilt, O Virgin Israel.

As Israel slid into idolatry, God called her an adulteress and a prostitute. She threw away her honor for shame and disgrace. Her virginity was forever lost when she turned from her Beloved and ran into the arms of self-indulgence, hedonism, and debauchery.

Yet God restores the Remnant of Israel. More than just taking her back, he completely restores her virginity– and he puts no quotes around the word. In 31:4 Virgin is a capitalized title, drawing attention to Israel’s redeemed status. His Remnant Bride is completely restored.  He gave her the ultimate do-over.

She responds by making music and dancing– the Virgin Bride sings the praises of her Beloved.


A couple of game shows later, my grandma came into the room, the ball of yarn, neatly wound in one hand and the beginnings of a hat in the other. The snarls were completely gone; she had taken me back to the point before I got off. Without a word, she put the needles in my hands, cupped her hands around mine, and worked the yarn up and around until the hat was done.

She told my mom that I had knitted it. I made the mess. She put it back right.


Ready for Sunday

God has completely restored me– all the mess is gone, cleaned up, and put right. Do I fully understand that?

Do I understand that his everlasting love and unfailing kindness went to the ultimate length– the sacrifice of his Son so that I could have the ultimate do-over.

Much of the time I don’t grasp this.  But when I do, my heart sings and soars! I am his Bride; he is my Beloved.

Let the singing and dancing begin!


1 Jun

Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
    and him only shall you serve.’”  Matthew 4:10

The entire Bible is a call to worship God exclusively and turn away from idolatry.

(I can’t remember where I read or heard that, so fill me in if you know the source.)

An over-simplification?   The more I think about this idea and read the Word with it in mind, the more I think it’s true.


  • God commands us to worship Him.  He is the only One worthy of worship; and He knows that it is also best for us, because other gods cannot satisfy the desires He put into us.
  • If we worship God alone, we don’t serve other, lesser masters.
  • Lesser masters are not perfect (only God is perfect), therefore lesser masters contain an element of corruption.  They are not worthy of worship, and when we do worship them, we take on their corrupted nature.
  • I have been corrupted by sin, so focusing on myself (self-worship) is also a bad idea.  It can lead to all sorts of selfishness, manipulation, and hedonism.
  • Satan is the one who wants to draw my attention away from God.  (See Matt 4:10, above.)
  • God is love, peace, faithfulness, etc., and we (individually and collectively) find these intangibles when we worship Him, not lesser gods.
  • Worship isn’t necessarily bowing before a statue; worship is giving my attention and devotion to someone or something, expecting to receive from him or it what only God can give.

I could go on.  These are only a few ideas off the top of my head.

I know they are all undeveloped arguments laden with presuppositions.  The point is, no matter what angle I take, I keep coming back to my original statement: The entire Bible is a call to worship God exclusively and turn away from idolatry.


Ready for Sunday

What does this mean for us as we lead others in worshiping God?

I think of the incredible responsibility we have to make sure everything we do, say, sing, play, etc., glorifies God, and only God– not my musicianship, not the soloist, not the drama team, not our beautiful building.  All of these can be used to bring Him glory, but none should receive glory in themselves.  Everything must glorify Him alone.

I know that we worship all week long, not just when we are singing on a Sunday morning.  But our corporate worship time can help set the direction for the rest of my week, propelling my heart toward God.   While we are together, brothers and sisters united in Christ worshiping the Father, my heart is encouraged and re-directed to worship God alone.

I am humbled by the responsibility this places on me as a worship leader.  I am sickened by my sin of idolatry as other things distract me from His call.  I am resolute, with His matchless power at work within me, to worship God only and to lead others to do the same.

Soli Deo gloria!

Worship Idols

21 Apr

Our church is reading Counterfeit Gods, by Timothy Keller.  His writing is very easy to read, and the stories he uses are engaging.  His razor-sharp logic, however, is a deftly-shot arrow that found its mark deep in my heart.

The definition of an idol, according to Keller is: “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.”

Every specialized group of people has its own particular list of insidious idols.  For those of us who lead others in worshiping God, what are ours?  That last phrase in the quote above is especially troubling to me.  Immediately, I think of my identity – only God can be the true source of my identity– not my ability to sing, not my position on the worship team, not what the pastor thinks of me, not the latest song I wrote, not how clever or creative I am.  Only God.

“An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel as if my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.’  There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship.”

May it never be!

How can the very thing God has called me to do be an idol?  After thinking about it from another angle, I see that this makes perfect sense.  The one who is gifted in business is blinded to her fixation with the bottom line or her workaholism.  The one who went into politics to serve people denies he is now caught up in having power over them.  The plank is always in another’s eye, not mine.  Especially since leading worship is a holy calling and above more worldly pursuits.

But we are no different.  Our holy calling can also become our idol.  And maybe worshiping worship is the most heinous idol.  After all, our calling is to worship God.  We should know better.

To whom much is given (the ability and privilege of leading others in worshiping God); much is demanded (the responsibility of knowing Who we worship and what we should not worship).

“We think that idols are bad things, but that is almost never the case.  The greater the good, the more likely we are to expect that it can satisfy our deepest needs and hopes.  Anything can serve as a counterfeit god, especially the very best things in life.”

Throughout the book Keller emphasizes that the only way to get rid of an idol is by calling it sin and replacing it with a deep love for Christ.

God made us to be worshipers.  We cannot not worship – but we get to choose what we worship.


Heart check for Sunday–

What are my idols?

Name them.  Confess them.

Memorize a verse that reminds me to dethrone the golden calf and bow before the one who holds my life in His hands.

Tomorrow, and always, I choose to worship you, Lord.

Quotes from Counterfeit Gods are from the Introduction, pp. xix-xx

Gomer’s Choice

18 Feb

[She] went after her lovers
and forgot me, declares the Lord.

Therefore, I will allure her…  Hosea 2:13-14

Forgetting God is what Gomers do.

Western culture and human nature produce one after another.  Gifted artists, raised in the church where their God-given talents are nurtured, attain a level of ability that gives them options not available to most of us.   In the myriad of choices they forget the One who gave them their talent.

Elvis Presley grew up singing Gospel songs.  After becoming famous, he continued to sing and record songs that glorified Jesus while he chased after fame and self-gratification– empty idols that seduced him away from God.  He died young (age 42) and miserable.

Whitney Houston‘s mother encouraged her to eschew fame and continue singing in church.  The lure of fame pulled her through a morass of substance abuse that ended last week in her early death.

Hosea gave his wife everything she needed.  Gifts that she used for idol worship.  Gifts she attributed to her lovers, not her husband.  (Hos 2:8)  My heart grieves for her, and Elvis, and Whitney – each so blessed and loved, and all so deluded.  They remind me of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, who went looking for her heart’s desire by running away from those who loved her best and from what, deep in her heart, she really wanted.

Gomer’s story is also Israel’s.  God provided Israel with everything she needed because of His love for her, but His chosen nation chose to worship other gods.  Throughout the book of Hosea, God exposes Israel’s idolatry.  He calls her behavior what it was – adulterous whoring.  (Hos 2:2)  He punished her severely, taking away all His gifts, and put an end to her celebration. (Hos 2:9-13)

But that’s not the end of the story.

God allures her.  He entices and woos her as a lover would to a place where they can be alone together and tenderly speaks to her.  (Hos 2:14)  He gives back everything her lifestyle took from her and promises hope where there had been trouble and despair.  Her actions called for punishment and death; He gives grace and restoration.  (Hos 2:15)

Whitney and Elvis turned away from the Source of their great talent at the beginning of their careers, one choice at a time, until what they were chasing devoured them.  Though we don’t know for sure, reports indicate that they were both seeking God in their final days.  I pray they were able to see through the veil substance abuse had erected to the Face of the Lover of their souls.

It’s the little choices.  The ones that focus attention on me, not God.  To play a fill so others notice me.  To choose a song because it features my talent.  To plan a program that fulfills my need for significance.  To imagine how people will praise me for my abilities when the worship service is over.

We each have some Gomer in us.  Whether we use the talents and abilities He gave us within the church outside of it; whether we tour in a famous band or play in a local 2-piece duo, the choice is: worship myself or God?


Heart-check for Sunday

What is my motivation for leading, playing in the worship band, designing the service, etc?  Whose glory am I interested in?

During the worship set, where does my mind go?  Am I worshiping and leading others to worship God?

The second half of Hosea 2 covers Israel’s restoration.  Because Israel did not acknowledge that all she had was a gift from God, He took His gifts back.  I have known musicians and teachers who had experienced this, yet with others (like Elvis and Whitney) God lets the gifts remain.  God cares for each of us differently, but in one respect we are all the same: He wants our hearts.  In every case God graciously calls, deep unto deep, with an offer of complete restoration – no strings attached.  Free grace.

That enables me to sing again, as when I first knew Him.

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