Quotes to Ponder

This first quote is about prayer from Ray Ortlund’s Christ is Deeper Still blog…

“Maintenance prayer meetings are short, mechanical and totally focused on physical needs inside the church or on personal needs of the people present.  But frontline prayer has three basic traits: a) a request for grace to confess sins and humble ourselves, b) a compassion and zeal for the flourishing of the church, and c) a yearning to know God, to see his face, to see his glory.”

Tim Keller, “Kingdom-centered Prayer,” Redeemer Report, January 2006.

Here are some quotes about idolatry:

“Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God, your functional savior. ”
― Martin Luther

“If you uproot the idol and fail to plant the love of Christ in its place, the idol will grow back.”
― Tullian Tchividjian, Jesus + Nothing = Everything

“By giving us control, our new technologies tend to enhance existing idols in our lives. Instead of becoming more like Christ through the forming and shaping influence of the church community, we form, and shape, and personalize our community to make it more like us. We take control of things that are not ours to control. Could it be that our desire for control is short-circuiting the process of change and transformation God wants us to experience through the mess of real world, flesh and blood, face-to-face relationships?”
― Tim Challies, The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion

“Mindset of the man too busy: I am too busy BEING God to become LIKE God.”
― Mark Buchanan, The Holy Wild: Trusting in the Character of God

“Idolatry’ is the practice of seeking the source and provision of what we need either physically or emotionally in someone or something other than the one true God. It is the tragically pathetic attempt to squeeze life out of lifeless forms that cannot help us meet our real needs.”
― Scott J. Hafemann, The God of Promise and the Life of Faith: Understanding the Heart of the Bible

“Could it be that desire for a good thing has become a bad thing because that desire has become a ruling thing?”
― Paul David Tripp

“Idolatry is attached to everything. All of our bitterness, all our impurity, all our malice, all of our problems, everything that troubles us is a result of idolatry. And what is idolatry? It’s taking a good thing and making it an ultimate thing.”
― Timothy Keller

“Possibly the most debilitating deception of all is to create a god of my own making, fool myself into believing that this limp god of mine is the true God, and then construct the entirety of my life on this flamboyantly fictional character. Possibly the most devastating realization of all is when the real God shows up, and in the showing up all of this come crashing down.”
― Craig D. Lounsbrough

“Detecting and destroying idols is an ongoing battle.”
― Brad Bigney, Gospel Treason: Betraying the Gospel with Hidden Idols

“The true god of your heart is what your thoughts effortlessly go to when there is nothing else demanding your attention.”
― Timothy J. Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters

“If your deepest feelings are reserved for something other than Almighty God, then that something other is an emotional idol… if you get more excited about material things than the simple yet profound fact that your sin was nailed to the cross by the sinless Son of God, then you’re bowing down to Tammuz.”
― Mark Batterson, All In: You Are One Decision Away From a Totally Different Life

“If we love someone more than we love God, it is worse than inordinate – it is idolatry.
When God is first in our hearts, all other loves are in order and find their rightful place.”
― Elisabeth Elliot

“Images of the Holy easily become holy images — sacrosanct. My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks His presence? The Incarnation is the supreme example; it leads all previous idea of the Messiah in ruins.”
― C.S. Lewis

“People make crummy gods.”
― Matt Chandler

“We are molding Jesus into our image. He’s beginning to look a lot like us because, after all, that is who we are most comfortable with. The danger now is when we gather in our church buildings to sing, and lift up our hands in worship, we may not actually be worshiping the Jesus of the Bible. Instead, we may be worshiping ourselves.”
― David Platt, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream

“Idolatry, like all sin, is devastating to the soul. It cuts us off from the comforts of grace, the peace of conscience, and the joy that is to be our strength.”
― Elyse M. Fitzpatrick, Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus

“To the extent that we are trapped by the overvaluing, idealizing tendency, we are not free fully to celebrate the limited but real goods of creation. Idolatry by definition is not an accurate assessment of creaturely goods, but an overvaluing of them so as to miss the richness of their actual, limited values. If I worship my tennis trophies, my Mondrian, my family tree, my Kawasaki, or my bank account, then I do not really receive those goods for what they actually are – limited, historical, and finite – goods which are vulnerable to being taken away by time and death. When I pretend that a value is something more than it is, ironically I value it less appropriately than it deserves. Biblical psychology invites us to relate ourselves absolutely to the absolute and relatively to the relative.”
― Thomas C. Oden, Guilt Free

“Suffering always reveal idols of the heart.”
― James MacDonald, Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling: Changing Lives with God’s Changeless Truth

“Shall I say of you that you worship the image of your God that you have in your mind, but not your God?”
― Margaret Landon, Anna and the King of Siam

“The greatest idol I will never truly remove is self.”
― Pastor James Wilson

M’Cheyne Bible Reading, January 7

Today’s readings are from Genesis 7, Matthew 7, Ezra 7 and Acts 7.

Genesis 7 records the flood.  That it was global is clear from verse 19, where it says…

19 And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered.

flood chart (genesis 7-8)

Noah and his family, and the animals that gathered to the ark, were the only ones who survived.  Note in verse 16 that it says that “the LORD shut them in.”  God made them safe and secure in the Ark, just as He makes us safe and secure in Jesus Christ.

Matthew 7 finishes Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  It begins with the verse that has superceded John 3:16 as the most well known verse in American society–“Judge not lest ye be judged” (Matthew 7:1).  Of course, from the context we know that this was not meant to exclude all judgment, but to be careful in our judgment.  To get the speck out of our brother’s eye, we have to judge.  There is judgment being made in not casting one’s pearls before swine.

What an encouragement to pray is verse 11, “how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”  Since our earthly fathers give us good gifts, “how much more” will our Heavenly Father!  All we have to do is ask!

I’ve always thought, when comparing the narrow and broad paths (Matthew 7:13-14), that the narrow path led in one direction and the broad path in the opposite direction.  But in reality, the broad path could be all around the narrow path, on every side, since upon the broad path are religious unbelievers who look, act, dress and speak a lot like true believers.

It is scary to think that people in ministry, who do even miraculous things, can be unsaved.  It is possible to be deceived about one’s salvation (Matthew 7:21-23).

Ezra 7 speaks of the return of Ezra (and others) to the land of Israel.  Even though the book begins with the first return under Zerubbabel, Ezra doesn’t come until 57 years later.

Ezra’s priestly pedigree is first established (Ezra 7:1-6a), then his spiritual credibility (Ezra 6:b, “and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him.”), then his teaching pattern (Ezra 7:10).  And lastly, a letter of recommendation from the king (7:11-26).

This is a great pattern for any teacher of God’s Word…

10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.


“The order is very significant, for you cannot effectively practice what you have not thoroughly learned, and you cannot convincingly teach what you have not practically applied.” [Note: Laney, p52.]

Ezra then gives thanks for all the “loyal love” God had shown to him (Ezra 7:27-28).

Acts 7 is Stephen’s speech before the Sanhedrin.  He first recounts Israel’s history.  I wonder if his mentioned of Moses (their hero) being rejected (Acts 7:24-28) and then again in the wilderness, was meant to set up a statement about them rejecting their Messiah.  But Stephen didn’t get that far.  He directed a stinging rebuke against them that they did not even keep their own law (reinforcing the bad news that they were sinners) and they rushed him and stoned him.

51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit.  As your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?  And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”

In his death, Stephen imitates our Lord, surrendering his spirit (Acts 7:59) and asking God to forgive his murderers (Acts 7:60).

M’Cheyne Bible Reading, January 1

Today’s readings are from Genesis 1, Matthew 1, Ezra 1 and Acts 1.  All of them focus on new beginnings–of creation, the gospel (birth of Christ), Israel returning to the land, and the church.  This is the beginning of a new year, a time to start something, to take a new path.

All of these events were also miraculous, or at least far beyond anyone’s imagination.

“Evening and morning,” “evening and morning,” six times in Genesis 1, reminding us that the pattern from the beginning has been to rest first and then to work.  And that is just like the gospel–we rest first in the finished work of Jesus Christ, then we work for Jesus Christ.  It is not that we do not work, but that we put work in its proper place.  Through resting in Christ we gain the strength to work for Christ.

Joseph had to trust God (Matthew 1), that this child in Mary’s womb was really sired by the Holy Spirit.  It was not obvious, but something that the angel declared to him.  Trust God and wait for Him to fulfill His promises.

Here is another “unbelievable miracle” in Ezra 1.  The people of Judah were in captivity in Persia (the recent conquerors over Babylon).  They had been in captivity nearly 70 years and some had never seen their beloved land.  They had almost lost hope.  But God “stirred the spirit of Cyrus” to release them to build a house to the Lord, rebuild a lost temple.  He also stirred the spirits of the people to return.  God made good on His promises to Israel.  He “moved heaven and earth” to return them to the land.  Don’t lose faith that God can move the spirits of even the most powerful leaders.

Acts 1:14 says “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”  They were awaiting the promised Holy Spirit in prayer.  How I wish this were true of the church today!  People united in prayer–what a wonderful sight.  God was about to do something new, and His people were united in devoted prayer.  Keep praying in faith for God to do something new.

Your Pastor, Prayed For or Preyed Upon

Lamar Austin, November 8, 2018

How the mighty have fallen.  Over the past several years a number of big-name pastors have fallen and are no longer in ministry or have changed ministries.  All of us pastors are susceptible to moral improprieties, abusive power, lack of self-control, burnout and all the struggles which come from being set upon a pedestal.

Sometimes pastors quit the ministry because they have been chewed up and spit out by a congregation of people who were supposed to love, support and pray for him.

So pastors fail and congregations fail.  One of the best ways to keep either from happening is by praying for one another.

Several years ago Terry Tekyl wrote a book entitled Prayer For or Preyed Upon.  In it he asks the question, “Could the pastor be the least prayed for person in the
local church today?”

In Luke 22 Jesus tells Peter:

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you,that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Jesus begins by warning Peter that he is much more vulnerable to Satan than he knew.  Jesus clues us in to this as a rebuke of Peter by using his former name, “Simon, Simon.”

The word “behold” can mean “pay attention” or “watch out.”  The reason he needed to watch out is that Satan was on the prowl and wanted to “sift you like wheat.”  Sifting is part of the agricultural process that began with plowing of the land,  sowing/planting of the grain; reaping and threshing or trampling of the stalks of grain.

It is the threshing stage that is being referred to here.  After reaping the corn or wheat, stalks would be placed into threshing floors constructed in the fields.

Animals then drug threshing equipment over the stalks of corn or wheat in order to separate the grain from the husks/chaff.  The husks and grain would then winnowed by tossing into the air to allow the wind to blow away the husks/chaff.

The grain would then remain, but it would be mixed with  stones and lumps of soil which clung to the roots when it was reaped.   A sifter or sieve would be used to separate the grain from the stones. The grain would be tossed into the air during this process.

Sift like wheat


What Jesus is saying is that Satan wanted to agitate and throw him around violently.

John Piper illustrates:

We can imagine a picture like this: Satan has a big sieve with jagged-edged wires forming a mesh with holes shaped like faithless men and women.  What he aims to do is throw people into this sieve and shake them around over these jagged edges until they are so torn and weak and desperate that they let go of their faith and fall through the sieve as faithless people, right into Satan’s company.  Faith cannot fall through the mesh.  It’s the wrong shape.  And so as long as the disciples hold to their faith, trusting the power and goodness of God for their hope, then they will not fall through the mesh into Satan’s hands. (The Sifting of Simon Peter, April 26, 1981)

We get a clue what Satan was attacking by looking at Jesus’ prayer “that your faith will not fail.”  What Satan wants to destroy is Peter’s faith.

However, the good news for Peter (and for us, Romans 8:34) is that Jesus was praying for him, actually had been praying for him.  And that made all the difference for Peter and will for us as well.

Peter did not realize how valuable he was to Jesus.  Jesus had been praying for him that his faith will not fail and that after he returned he would strengthen his brothers (would retain his leadership position).

And Jesus’ prayer was answered.  Peter did fail, but his faith did not.  Earlier that night we see Peter’s bravado and self-confidence on display when he would say in response to Jesus..

“Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33)

It’s almost as if Jesus was saying, “I don’t need your prayers.  I’m perfectly capable of standing with you to the end.”

Years later, when Peter would look back on God’s work in his life, he wrote in chapter 1 of his first epistle:

6 In this [ultimate salvation] you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

“The tested genuineness of your faith” is what Peter experienced that night.  His bravado and self-confidence were shot to pieces, much dross was eliminated, but what was left was “more precious than gold,” real faith, true faith.

What causes Peter’s faith to be refined instead of destroyed and what ultimately made his leadership stronger?  Undoubtedly the pray of Jesus Christ.

Your pastor (me included) seldom realizes how vulnerable he is to Satan or how valuable he is to Jesus.  Won’t you join Jesus in praying for your pastor?  His very life and leadership depend upon it.  Your pastor needs prayer partners.  Tell him you will be one.