What Has Your Heart?: Jesus, Herod, and the Temptation toward Idolatry

William Blake, Moses Indignant at the Golden Calf

We become what we worship.

This idea is something we encounter throughout Scripture. What grips our hearts—what holds our attention at the center of our lives—motivates us, moves us, and leads us wherever it desires.

We see this clearly in the sharp contrast between Herod the Great and Jesus, which I preached about this past weekend at Eastbrook. Herod is motivated by power. It grips his life with such ferocity that he willingly executed one of his wives and several of his children to secure his grip upon that power. The slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16-18) was but one example of Herod’s disturbing use of violence to secure his position at any cost. The scary reality is this: Herod thought he had a hold on power, but it was actually the idol of power that had a grip on him. It motivated him, moved him, and led him wherever it desired.

Sometimes when we see an extreme example of the ruin brought by idolatry, it distances us from the ways that idolatry has a hold on our own lives. We see someone like Herod the Great, or some other renowned ‘sinner’ or ‘evil person’ from our own time, and may think, “Thank God I’m nothing like that!” But the truth is rather different. We all have a proclivity toward idolatry. There are many things that vie for our heart’s affections. There are many passions, aims, people, and objects that seek to set themselves up in our lives in order to motivate us, move us, and lead us wherever they desire. We all become what we worship.

What we see in Herod the Great’s terrifying actions is merely the fruit of a heart that is disordered through idolatry. Jesus said: “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart” (Luke 6:45). For Herod all of this started many years before the events we read about in Matthew 2. The small beginnings of idolatry, if left unchecked, expand over time. This is the way idolatry works within all of our lives. Through small decisions and apparently insignificant actions, we increasingly give our hearts over to the grip of idols. Eventually, numbed to smaller wrong decisions and actions, greater and more distorted words and actions are normalized under the spell of the idol that grips our lives.

As followers of Jesus, we cannot countenance idols. We have one center of our lives—one hold on our heart—and that is the Living God. We do well to take stock of ways that idols have come to grip our lives. I have found four questions helpful for such an inventory as suggested by Tim Keller in his book book Counterfeit Gods (pages 167-170). Consider them with me as we begin this year:

  1. What are we dreaming about or imagining? As William Temple said, “Your religion is what you do with your solitude.”
  2. How are we spending our money? As Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there is your heart also” (Matthew 6:21).
  3. What are we truly living for – what is our functional master? Keller writes: “When you pray and work for something and you don’t get it and you respond with explosive anger or deep despair, then you may have found your real god.”
  4. What are our most uncontrollable emotions? Keller again writes: “Look for your idols at the bottom of your most painful emotions, especially those that never seem to lift and that drive you to do things you know are wrong.”

We become what we worship, so may we worship the Lord our God only. May we shed our idols, tear them down to the ground, and, like Joshua entering the Promised Land, declare, “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

The Divine Dance and Christian Unity

This past weekend in my message at Eastbrook, I mentioned that we have to learn to live in the dance of the Triune God if we want to walk in unity as believers. Let me explain. One of the great theological descriptions of the Trinity is the Greek word perichoresis, which conveys the sense of both differentiation and interpenetration of the three persons of the One God. Perichoresis means that the Triune God sits together and shares one with another without losing their differentiation nor shedding their utter unity.

In his book, The Reason for God, Tim Keller describes this aspect of God as follows:

Each of the divine persons centers upon the others. None demands that the others revolve around him. Each voluntarily circles the other two, pouring love, delight, and adoration into them. Each person of the Trinity loves, adores, defers to, and rejoices in the others. That creates a dynamic, pulsating dance of joy and love.

Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Penguin Books, 2009), 224.

The created universe is a dance with the inner life of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—written through every incandescent atom and far-flung galaxy. Human beings were made to live within the divine dance from the moment of their creation. However, we lost the dance in the refusal to serve God and participate in his community through sin since the time of Adam and Eve.

As we reach out to God by faith through the complete work of Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we dwell in God and God dwells in us. We are brought back into the dance of God through God’s gracious, forgiving, restoring, and reconciling work in us.

The people of God, in a sense, live by entering into the dance of the Triune God. We are in God and God is in us through faith in Jesus Christ. It is this divine dance that brings unity to us individually and as a community, not our efforts or our abilities. Certainly, as in all good dancing, there must be a partner who leads and a partner who follows. When that relationships exists well, the dance is beautiful but when the follower resists the leader, the dance ends in chaos. The Triune God leads us in the divine dance, and true unity arrives as we yield to His divine life in us.

The Weekend Wanderer: 22 August 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.


Last week I took a break from “The Weekend Wanderer” as I spent a few days away with my family in northern Wisconsin. I never checked my email once and never went online throughout that time away, which was one of the greatest head-clearing moments I’ve had all summer. I hope you can make space to do that sometime as well. You will not regret it, even if you never leave your home. Of course, the moment I returned and opened my email the floods returned, but there was still value in getting to dry ground for short while to remember what life can be like.


renee-fisher-N7oCVnnhgCA-unsplash“A Biblical Critique of Secular Justice and Critical Theory” – Tim Keller has put together a pretty striking series of articles featured in Gospel in Life, Redeemer Churches & Ministries’ Quarterly Newsletter. The series features two earlier articles, “The Bible and Race” and “The Sin of Racism,” and promises one further article on “Justice in the Bible.” This third in the series explores the wide ranging conceptions of justice in the broader culture, offering biblical responses to each coupled with some further attention to the hot topic of critical theory as part of a discussion. The entire series is well worth the read.


7_9076_HARPERS_0920_p063_02“Nonconforming” – Here’s Laurent Dubreuil in Harper’s Magazine about the challenges and inanities of identity politics: “Whereas identity politics, as theorized four decades ago, aimed to liberate the oppressed and to oppose American capitalism, its main form today is more invested in changing the direction of domination and in multiplying restrictions. It is the social order of the day, its rhetoric ubiquitous in the neurotic centers of the American economy (universities, the media, the tech sector). Under this regime, identities, once affirmed, are indisputable. If I say, ‘As an x, I think. . . ,’ I am no longer voicing an opinion that can be evaluated or critiqued within a shared space of discourse; I am merely saying what I am. If you disagree with me, you may trace everything I say back to my identity before availing yourself of corresponding counterarguments: you say a because you are an x, but I am a y and I therefore believe in b. Such identities, I insist, are not emancipatory, neither at the psychological nor at the political level. We all should have the right to evade identification, individually and collectively.”


love politics church“20 Quotes on Loving Church Members with Different Politics” – Matt Smethurst shares 20 quotes from Jonathan Leeman and Andy Naselli’s new booklet, How Can I Love Church Members with Different Politics? (Crossway, 2020). Here’s one example to get you thinking: “The gospel does not automatically resolve all our wisdom-based political judgments in the here and now. It helps us love and forbear with one another amid those different wisdom-based judgments. It creates unity amid diversity, not uniformity.”


800“Christian groups unveil new criminal justice reform push” – From the Associated Press: “A coalition of Christian groups including the Church of God in Christ and the National Association of Evangelicals is launching a new criminal justice reform push that seeks to rally believers behind policing changes grounded in biblical principles. Set to be announced Wednesday, the Prayer & Action Justice Initiative has its roots in a campaign started in the aftermath of the coronavirus to help save small churches at risk of closing, with top contributors to that work now channeling their energy toward the criminal justice project. It is expected to include prayer gatherings, nonviolent protests and policy advocacy — all aimed at advancing the cause of racial equity in the justice system.”


Hagia Sofia mosque“The end of secularism is nigh: The West’s ability to market this culturally conditioned assumption is dying – Here comes Tom Holland to alert us to what we should already know about the declining influence of secularism around the world. Holland highlights how this is seen in recent startling changes taken by Prime Minister Modi in India and President Erdogan in Turkey. This “should serve as a wake-up call to the West that it is not only its financial, economic and military muscle that is currently atrophying. So too is its ability to market its culturally conditioned assumptions as universal.”


Rick Love“He Loved Muslims Because He Loved Jesus. The Bible Showed Him How.” – Joseph Cummings remembers Rick Love, former international director of Frontiers and founder of Peace Catalyst, who passed away on December 29 after complications of cancer: “Rick Love loved Jesus above all else. He loved the Bible as God’s Word. Rick’s love for Jesus led him to love Muslims. But his love for Scripture eventually changed his mind about how to love Muslims.”


Music: Sigur Rós, “Glósóli,” from Takk

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 13 June 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.


Dr. Tony Evans“Dr. Tony Evans Speaks From His Heart About Social Injustice” – One of the most respected African-American voices in evangelicalism is Dr. Tony Evans. His preaching and teaching ministry has blessed thousands over the years. I would encourage you to take fifteen minutes to watch this important word from Dr. Evans as he talks about four area of the cultural pandemic that we need to step forward into as Christians today. He touches upon a wide range of topics, including prayer, protest, individual responsibility, systemic racism, working for the gospel, working for kingdom transformation, and so much more.


Charlie Dates“I Can’t Breathe” – If you’re not familiar with Charlie Dates, the Senior Pastor of Progressive Baptist Church in Chicago, IL, I encourage you to get to know him. Dates holds a PhD in Historical Theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and is a widely-respected speaker on various topics. The Center for Pastor Theologians shared a powerful sermon he preached at Progressive Baptist on May 31 entitled “I Can’t Breathe.”


Tisby familial grief“The Familial Language of Black Grief” – Jemar Tisby’s book The Color of Compromise is one of my must-read books on racial justice in America. I had the chance to hear Tisby speak last Fall on his book and related topics at Wheaton College, which I’ve posted about elsewhere. He writes “Notions of family saturate the black freedom struggle in all of its aspects, especially the threat of police brutality. Under the constant surveillance, suspicion, and violence of law enforcement in America, black people share a kinship of calamity. A brotherhood and sisterhood of suffering. Like any family, it is not something we choose. This sense of solidarity through hardship is forced on us by the oppression we endure.”


Tom Holland - Dominion“A non-Christian’s argument for Christianity’s positive influence” – “Tom Holland has a grand thesis. He explores it with energy, ad­vances it with panache, and pulls it off with a flourish. His lively and absorbing project is at once a serviceable church history, a studied engagement with Christianity’s finest and darkest hours, and a compelling argument. The argument goes as follows: Chris­tianity brought something new and unique into the world; that quality in its various manifestations—notably deep respect for the weak, the suffering, and the vulnerable and a sense of the validity of every human life—remains deeply imbued in Western culture; and it is expressed as powerfully today by those who claim to have rejected Christian truth claims as by Christians themselves.”


Lawrence Aker III - preaching on race“Preaching on Race: Why We Can’t Wait” – In early May I was able to participate in a seminar with Preaching Today called “Pivoting Your Summer Preaching Series”
With Lawrence Aker III and Matt Woodley. I was so thankful to read this article from Lawrence on the necessity of preaching on race. I would add that we should not only preach on race in this moment, but throughout our ministry and in many seasons of the life of the church.


landing-faithful-justice“Resources for Faithful Justice” – InterVarsity Press is offering a number of amazing resources for free right now on their website. Please take a look at and take advantage of this unique offer. “IVP is grateful for the prophetic voices of our authors who share their stories, educate us when we are uninformed, and challenge us with the truth. Learn from these books as we pursue justice, wholeness, and racial righteousness in our homes, churches, and communities. You can also read our commitment to amplifying voices of color. To start reading right away, you can choose one ebook from this page to download for free. IVP will continue to pay the full royalties to the authors of these important books.”


Tim Keller“Tim Keller Asks for Prayers for Pancreatic Cancer” – “Tim Keller asked followers for prayer as he begins chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer. The popular Christian author and pastor announced the news of his diagnosis in an update on Instagram and Twitter Sunday morning. ‘Less than three weeks ago I didn’t know I had cancer,’ wrote Keller. ‘Today I’m headed to the National Cancer Institute at the [National Institutes of Health] for additional testing before beginning chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer next week in New York City.'”


 

Music: Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On,” from What’s Going On

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]