Contentment in the Midst of Chaos

by Debi Martin of the Sojourner Between Worlds blog.

This is my life right now.

boxes

Boxes, boxes, everywhere! Due to some family needs, we are moving from our home in Michigan to live near family in Pennsylvania. We are in the process of selling our condo, which is stressful, as anyone who has ever bought or sold a home can attest to. At the same time we are also packing up in preparation for movers to come at the end of December and put most of our stuff in storage. We will live with family temporarily while looking for a new place in Pennsylvania. So there are decisions as to what to put in storage, what do we think we’ll need in the meantime, not knowing how long it will take to find and buy a new home.

It’s easy (and probably natural) at times like these to look ahead and think, “Oh, I can’t wait until we have our new place and can be moved in and settled again, with life back to somewhat normal.” Until then life is chaotic and uncertain, living half out of boxes and suitcases. It’s hard to feel relaxed and content in the midst of all that is going on. But we are not meant to live our lives in the “Oh, when such and such happens, then I can relax and all will be well.” We aren’t meant to live in the future “someday”. We are called to live in the here and now, the everyday chaos, the half packed boxes around us. What better picture of this life being temporary? This is not our final destination. A new heaven and earth await us, where there will be no more chaos, no more stress, no more sin. Even when things settle down and there is a new normal, this is still not our final home. We are to hold this life loosely, ever realizing that this is temporary. We are sojourning between worlds, as this blog is called. So as I live in the midst of chaos, God can use this to remind me not to be looking for a future settled home here on this earth, but a future home in the new heaven and earth that awaits me when Christ returns. Until then I must live each day to glorify God and proclaim Jesus Christ.

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Modern-Day Idolatry Is All-Encompassing

idolatry-answeredHave you thought much about the biblical sin of idolatry lately? Most people don’t think much about it because, after all, it’s not something that we deal with too much in the 21st century West. We don’t see many people bowing down and worshiping statues and shrines today, do we? But is that all idolatry entails? Is bowing down to an Asherah pole the full idea behind the biblical prohibition against idolatry?

I don’t think so. In fact, I think idolatry is the most pervasive of all sins. To be more precise, I am now convinced that all sin is a form of idolatry.

My friend and I are going through the book of First Corinthians in our Bible study right now and we just finished up the section in 10:14-22. This is part of a major section of this letter from Paul to the church in Corinth; it starts in 8:1 and goes to 11:1. In this section Paul is addressing a concern that was brought up in a letter that Paul received from the Corinthian church, that of whether or not it’s OK to eat meat sacrificed to idols. In this section he’s more specifically addressing the issue of Christian freedom as it pertains to eating meat sacrificed to idols in the temple dedicated to that idol.

Here’s the passage:

1 Corinthians 10:14-22

Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he? (ESV)

And here are the final notes to that section as they were summarized in this morning’s study.

Participation is repeated several times in this passage. The word used most often for participation is koinōnia which is frequently translated fellowship in the NT.

New Testament authors expressed the essence of Christianity in one word. It is the Greek word koinõnia usually translated as “fellowship.” St. Paul reduces the whole Christian vocation to a koinõnia when he writes “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship (koinõnia) of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9). St. Luke uses the same term to depict the life of the first Christians: “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship (koinõnia), and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). 1 John goes a step further and affirms “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship (koinõnia) with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). Fellowship with Christ, leading to a fellowship with the Father, and fellowship with one another in Christ: there you have Christianity in one word.
(from the Overview of the book Koinōnia in the New Testament: A Dynamic Expression of Christian Life by George Panikulam • Pontifical Biblical Institute 1979)

By participating, or having fellowship, with demonic activity, we are joining ourselves in the same way to demons as we should to Christ. This is a smack in the face of the God who saved us and must be avoided at all costs.

An idol is anything that replaces the one, true God as an object of devotion. The most prevalent form of idolatry in Bible times was the worship of images that were thought to embody the various pagan deities. From the very beginning of God’s covenant relationship with Israel, the people were to worship God alone.

Idolatry extends beyond the worship of idols and images and false gods, however. Our modern idols are many and varied. Even for those who do not bow physically before a statue, idolatry is a matter of the heart—pride, self-centeredness, greed, gluttony, a love for possessions, and ultimately rebellion against God.

All the various forms of modern idolatry have one thing at their core: self. We no longer bow down to idols and images, but all too frequently we worship at the altar of the god of self. This brand of modern idolatry takes various forms.

  • Materialism – we like the comfort of things.
  • Pride – we want to make sure people think of us as important, accomplished, or worthy of adulation.
  • Child-worship – we do everything we can, honest or not, to ensure our children get the best education or things or accomplishments.
  • Freedom from discomfort – we often seek out, as primary importance, any escape from the difficulties and pains of life.
  • I’m sure you can think of many more.

The very basic command to us as children of God in a covenant relationship is to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mk 12:28-31). We fail at that constantly. In fact, we do not obey that command for more than mere split seconds at a time. We are constantly in disobedience to that command. So, if we are not putting God first, we are putting something else first. That is idolatry.

It is my opinion that any sin is idolatry at its core, of which we are in constant violation. That is bad news. “Oh, wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Ro 7:24-8:1)

Though we are in constant violation, we must strive every moment of every day to avoid idolatry wherever we can. We must constantly seek to serve God in every decision and every activity (cf 2Pt 1:5ff). Anything that comes before that is idolatry.

By the way… A Quick Note on Ministry Support and Involvement

In 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2, among other places, Paul asks for prayer for his ministry. I think we can easily gain application from Paul’s request that we should be in prayer for others’ ministry efforts.

  • 2Th 3:1-2. Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith.

The following came from the notes on 2 Thessalonians 3.

Though not all of us are in vocational ministry, as Christians we are all to be involved in ministry. Whether or not we make our living from ministry, we must be involved. When Jesus gave his final mandate that we should go everywhere and make disciples, he did not mean that we should do that only if we can make our living from it. We need to be about that task everywhere we go and in everything we do.

Part of that also includes the support of others in their ministries, again, vocationally or not. As your friends, co-workers, and family members are going about their daily lives and engaging in whatever ministry opportunities our God has granted them, we should be praying for them and seeking to help them as we are able. This may include:

  • Asking God to guide and bless their efforts.
  • Asking God to open the hearts of those they are sharing with.
  • Encouraging them with participation in Bible study and lay theological education.
  • Helping them financially, if that’s appropriate.
  • Encouraging them to press on despite difficulties.

As the body of Christ, we need to be working together to fulfill our Lord’s command to us.

Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:18-20)

Jesus also said, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Ac 1:8)

Our Journey to Europe — Debi’s Journal

Europe 2015Last month my wife and I had the wonderful opportunity to go on a ministry trip to four of the SEND International fields in Central Europe. It was a great trip, however exhausting, where we were able to see what the missionaries of SEND (and Teach Beyond in Hungary) are doing on the ground in these four areas.

Debi is posting about our trip on her blog with descriptions and pictures, so I’ll direct you over there for that. It’s in four parts, one for each of the countries we visited: Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, and Macedonia.

The only thing I’d like to add to what she’s already said is a personal note. There were two times over there that I started to feel overwhelmed at the need in these areas. I don’t mean the physical need, though there was a lot of that also; I mean the massive level of spiritual darkness that is so pervasive in these places. The people in these locations, indeed all over Europe and the world, are truly and profoundly lost. It seems that the mandate given by Christ to take the Gospel to the world is so huge, and the number of Christians who are serious about taking up that mandate is so small, as to make the job seem impossible. Hopelessness in the face of such an impossible task can easily take over one’s soul. Twice during the trip I felt that sense of hopelessness.

But God is a very big God. The task is not ours, at least not in the sense that we are on our own to complete it. The task, ultimately, is God’s. He planned it from beginning to end, and he will see it through. Though all true Christians are called by God to take the wonderful Good News to the world, it is God who causes the growth. The responsibility for that belongs only to him. Our responsibility is to tell the Good News of Christ to the lost everywhere. The job is impossible for us, but nothing is impossible for God!

In Romans chapter 10 Paul quoted the Old Testament when he proclaimed, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” He then followed that up with these four questions:

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?
And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?
And how are they to hear without someone preaching?
And how are they to preach unless they are sent?

He concluded the thought by quoting Scripture again: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

Will you consider your part in the mandate to take the Gospel to the world? If it seems impossible to you, that’s not a bad thing. It is impossible apart from God. But God is in the business of accomplishing the impossible and inspiring awe in the hearts of his people along the way.

Here are a few ways you can obey that mandate:

  1. Pray – Everyone who knows Christ can pray. Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 9:37-38, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Here are some ways you can pray every day (here, here, and here).
  2. Give – Though God is ultimately in control of his work, he commands that his people be personally involved. That includes doing what we can to use his money to finance the work. I believe most Christians can give a lot more to missions than they give currently. Will you consider and pray about how you can give more to the work of God? What are some things that you can give up in order to increase your giving to a missionary or missions organization?
  3. Go – I would ask that you not dismiss this too quickly. Please ask God if he would have you and your family go to the mission field yourselves. The needs are many:

    Are you a teacher?
    Are you tech-savvy?
    Are you a sound engineer?
    Are you good with kids?
    Are you talented in logistics or organization?
    Do you have leadership skills?
    Do you know music?
    Are you good with cars?
    Do you have skills with electrical circuits or electronics?
    Do you have legal training?

    If you answered yes to any of these (or any other skills you can imagine), there is need for your skill set in missions. Please pray about it. Research needs around the world. Look for missions agencies that serve the places in which you are most interested. If nothing else, you’ll gain a lot of new understanding of the world and missions in general.

Thank you for considering how you can be a part of God’s work around the world. If you have any questions at all about this, including where you might find resources or information about any area of missions, please let me know. I’d be glad to help you in any way I can.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
— Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 28:18-20)