On gratitude and the dangers of idolatry

You would not be honored if I thanked you often for your gifts to me, but had no deep and spontaneous regard for you as a person. You would feel insulted, no matter how much I thanked you for your gifts. If your character and personality do not attract me or give me joy in being around you, then you will just feel used, like a tool or a machine to produce the things I really love.

So it is with God. If we are not captured by his personality and character, then all our declarations of thanksgiving are like the gratitude of a wife to a husband for the money she gets from him to use in her affair with another man. This is exactly the picture in James 4:3-4. James criticizes the motives of prayer that treats God like a cuckold: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?” Why does he call these praying people “adulteresses”? Because, even though praying, they are forsaking their husband (God) and going after a paramour (the world). And to make matters worse, they are asking their husband (in prayer) to fund the adultery.

Amazingly, this same flawed spiritual dynamic is sometimes true when people thank God for sending Christ to die for them. Perhaps you have heard people say how thankful we should be for the death of Christ because it shows how much value God puts upon us. What is the foundation of this gratitude?

Jonathan Edwards calls it the gratitude of hypocrites. Why? Because,

they first rejoice, and are elevated with the fact that they are made much of by God; and then on that ground, he seems in a sort, lovely to them. . . . They are pleased in the highest degree, in hearing how much God and Christ make of them. So that their joy is really a joy in themselves, and not in God.2

It is a shocking thing to learn that one of today’s most common descriptions of how to respond to the cross may well be a description of natural self-love with no spiritual value.

We do well to listen to Jonathan Edwards. Does he not simply spell out for us the Biblical truth that we should do all things-including giving thanks-to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31)? And God is not glorified if the foundation of our gratitude is the worth of the gift and not the excellency of the Giver. If gratitude is not rooted in the beauty of God before the gift, it is probably disguised idolatry. May God grant us a heart to delight in him for who he is so that all our gratitude for his gifts will be the echo of our joy in the excellency of the Giver!

Excerpted from John Piper, A Godward Life (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah, 1997), 213-214.

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CHOSEN: No Superhero: Esther 4

MAIN POINTS

  • Esther’s Inadequacy
  • Esther’s Teachability
  • Esther’s Dependency

REMEMBER

  • Esther’s humility – contrast
  • Humility – unlikely quality for a heroine
  • Don’t feel bad when you are sincerely/authenticaly inadequate
  • Commit to being a life-long learner
  • Live as a team player

QUOTES ETC

‘Remember, it is not your weakness that will get in the way of God’s working through you, but your delusions of strength. His strength is made perfect in our weakness! Point to His strength by being willing to admit your weakness.’   Paul David Tripp

 ‘Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. It means freedom from thinking about yourself one way or the other at all. The source of humility is the habit of realizing the presence of God.’     William Temple

EXTRAORDINARY EXPERIENCE: Acts 2

MAIN POINTS

  1. Holy Spirit was Promised to us: Acts 1:8; John 16:5
  2. Holy Spirit was provided for us: Acts 2:2,4
  3. Holy Spirit prepares us: Acts 1:8

REMEMBER

  • God keeps His promises!
  • God does it – be available!
  • God has a mission – be available!
  • Nothing changed – He has the same plan/power/people
  • Be being filled – Ephesians 5:18

QUOTES & EXTRA

‘Our reliance on the Spirit is not intended to foster an attitude of “I can’t do it,” but one of “I can do it through Him who strengthens me.” The Christian should never complain of want of ability and power.’       Jerry Bridges

‘Don’t ever forget that you cannot do what God has called you to do.  You cannot parent that child, love that husband, care for that elderly parent, submit to that boss, teach that Sunday school class, or lead that small-group Bible study.  God specializes in the impossible, so that when the victory is won and the task is complete, we cannot take any credit.  Others know we didn’t do it, and we know we didn’t do it.  We must always remember that we can only live the Christian life and serve God through the power of His Holy Spirit.  As soon as we think we can handle it on our own, we become useless to Him.  We have to be willing to get out of the way, let God take over, and let Him overshadow us.’    Nancy Leigh DeMoss 

 ‘The baptism of the Spirit means that I belong to His body; the fullness of the Spirit means that my body belongs to Him. The baptism is final; the fullness is repeated as we trust God for new power to witness. The baptism involves all other believers, for it makes us one in the body of Christ while the fullness is personal and individual. These are two distinct experiences and they must not be confused.’                                                                                                                                                                                                         Warren Wiersbe



CHOSEN: Pride & Prejudice: Esther 3

MAIN POINTS

  1. Haman’s Offence (1-4)
  2. Haman’s Revenge (1-6)
  3. Haman’s pretence (8-9)

 
REMEMBER

  • Free will & God’s Sovereignity are not mutually exclusive
  • Reality check – injustice is real – don’t be surprised
  • Reality check – beware temptation to take revenge
  • Reality check – beware of impatience – wait for the whole picture
  • Reality check – beware of lack of trust – ‘control’ issues
     

QUOTES

‘Life is filled with sharp corners and hard floors. Try as we may to cushion ourselves from the bumps and brace ourselves for the falls, pain is inescapable. It comes with the territory. We can’t huddle ourselves in some cave to avoid it. Neither can we hope that our faith will insulate us from the cold, hard realities of life.’   C. Swindoll

 

EXTRA (background to Mordecai vs. Haman conflict)

Haman was an “Agagite,” which could mean he came from a district in the empire known as Agag. But it could also mean that he was descended from Agag, king of the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15:8). If the latter is the case, then we can easily understand why Haman hated the Jews: God had declared war on the Amalekites and wanted their name and memory blotted off the face of the earth.

The story goes back to the time of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt (Ex. 17:8-15), when the Amalekites attacked God’s weary people in the rear ranks of the marching nation (Deut. 25:18). After Moses commanded Joshua to fight against Amalek, he interceded on the mountain, and Joshua won a great victory. God told Moses to write in a book that He had declared war on the Amalekites and would one day utterly destroy them because of what they had done to His people. Moses reminded the Israelites of the Amalekites’ treacherous attack before they entered the Promised Land (Deut. 25:17-19).

It was Saul, the first king of Israel, whom God commanded to destroy the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15); and he failed in his commission and lost his own crown. (It was an Amalekite who claimed he put Saul to death on the battlefield. See 2 Sam. 1:1-10.) Because Saul didn’t fully obey the Lord, some Amalekites lived; and one of their descendants, Haman, determined to annihilate his people’s ancient enemy, the Jews. It’s worth noting that King Saul, a Benjamite, failed to destroy the Amalekites; but Mordecai, also a Benjamite (Est. 2:5), took up the battle and defeated Haman. It’s also worth noting that the founder of the Amalekites was a descendant of Esau (Gen. 36:12), and Esau was the enemy of his brother Jacob. This was another stage in the age-old conflict between the flesh and the Spirit, Satan and the Lord, the way of faith and the way of the world.

CHOSEN:HIStory: Esther 1 & 2

MAIN POINTS

  • The Crisis
  • The Competition
  • The Conspiracy

REMEMBER!

  • God uses ordinary people
  • God uses difficult circumstances
  • Your destiny is HIS story

QUOTES

‘We all imagine ourselves the agents of our destiny, capable of determining our own fate, but have we truly any choice in when we rise? Or when we fall? Or does a force larger than ourselves bid us our direction? Is it evolution that takes us by the hand? Does science point the way?Or is it God who intervenes, keeping us safe?’     Heroes: Mohinder Suresh

 ‘For all his bluster, it is the sad province of man that he cannot choose his triumph. He can only choose how he will stand when the call of destiny comes, hoping that he’ll have the courage to answer.’     Heroes: Mohinder Suresh