Monday, March 30, 2015


The Remedy for a Disquieted Soul

Today: The Remedy for a Disquieted Soul: a Holy Week reflection and prayer guide to prepare our hearts and minds for Easter. Curated by Steven Dilla.
John 20.19On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
It is vital to recognize that the peace Jesus gives is not a kind of placid tranquility which avoids all conflict. Jesus himself is heading for the cross; yet he speaks of his peace. 
Similarly, the peace Jesus promises does not avoid trouble; it triumphs over it. Nor is this peace to be confused with aloofness that is indifferent to injustice, corruption, idolatry, or some other sin. It is not simply “feeling good” in some narcissistic way, nor is it some mystical sense of well-being detached from physical and spiritual realities.
The world wishes peace on people. Yet for all its wishing, the world cannot grant the gift of personal peace, but only wish it on someone. At most, it can achieve reconciliation between brothers or between nations; and even then the achievement often proves temporary. 
Christ, by contrast, bequeaths the gift of peace on all his followers, bestowing it as an essential part of the salvation he achieves for them. The cross wins peace with God. The forgiveness, restoration, and healing which flow from this primary peace constitute the only adequate basis for peace with others, and for personal peace within ourselves.
So much of our restlessness and bitterness springs from our possessiveness, our desire for preeminence, our lust for recognition. Our love for self is so strong that it turns to hatred for others who do not give us what we think is our due. 
There is no peace where such sins flourish. Jesus betrayed no possessiveness. He desired his Father’s glory and will, not personal preeminence and popular recognition. Far from loving his life, he gave it up for others—indeed, for others who did not begin to offer him what was his due. And so Jesus could speak of his peace.
Lenten Evening Prayer: The Daily Examen1. Opening prayer of invitation: become aware of God’s presence (2 minutes).
2. Review the day with gratitude (3 minutes).
3. Pay attention to your emotions (3 minutes).
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it (5 minutes).
5. Closing prayer: look toward tomorrow (2 minutes).
Today’s ReadingsLeviticus 1 (0 – 2:37)John 20 (Listen – 4:17)
Holy Week Reflections
Part 1 of 5,

Where are the Outcasts?

 Jonathan Parnell post: Jesus Turns the Tables

He entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. (Mark 11:15)
This particular Monday may have felt like the proverbial Monday morning in the modern Western world — a time to reengage the grind and get back to work. Jesus, indeed, walked into Jerusalem to take care of business.
The meek and mild Jesus of progressive “tolerance” that so many of our contemporaries have come to prefer was nowhere to be found when he made a mess of the money-changers. There was nothing soft and tender on display when Jesus, in Jeremiah-like fashion, pronounced a resounding judgment on Israel.
In no uncertain terms, his rebuke fell on their worship.

Pigeons! Get Your Pigeons!

The Christian tradition in which I was raised regularly had visiting musical groups play concerts. As you can imagine, these groups would have their albums and other merchandise to promote on the circuit, but at our local church, they weren’t allowed to sell them — at least not in the church foyer where most attenders entered. The rationale came from Mark 11:15–19 when Jesus cleansed the temple. Jesus clearly didn’t like it when folks hawked their wares around the temple, and therefore we shouldn’t sell stuff around the sanctuary.
To be sure, the place of worship in first-century Judaism and the auditorium of a rural baptist church in America don’t exactly correspond, but true to Jesus’s words, my home church didn’t want the place of worship to be co-opted as a place of commerce. And that much is right.
So this is one temple problem going on in Jesus’s day. If you can imagine, the city would have been packed with pilgrims because of Passover. They would have come to the temple to offer sacrifices, and seizing an opportunity, pigeon-vendors set up shop. It might not have been too different from a sporting event today when sweaty salesmen walk the aisles and herald their popcorn — except these were sacrificial birds, their motive was sinister, and the prices were probably jacked even higher. “Pigeons! Get your pigeons!” they would have hollered.
Without doubt, this is a far cry from what the place of worship should have been, and Jesus wouldn’t have it. Turning heads by his claim of authority, Jesus spoke for God and turned over tables. And central to it all was what he quoted from the Old Testament, from Isaiah and Jeremiah:
“Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? [Isaiah 56:7–8] But you have made it a den of robbers [Jeremiah 7:11].”

Out of Sync

The co-op for commerce was a problem, but that wasn’t the only thing, or even the main thing, that Jesus was addressing. The real fiasco was how out of sync Israel’s worship was with the great end-times vision Isaiah had prophesied — the new age that Jesus had come to inaugurate.
Jesus quotes a portion of that vision from Isaiah 56: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.”
The context of Isaiah 56 tells us more. According to Isaiah’s vision, eunuchs would keep God’s covenant (Isaiah 56:4), and foreigners would join themselves to him (Isaiah 56:6), and the outcasts would be gathered with his people (Isaiah 56:8). But Jesus approached a temple pulsing with buying and selling. The court of the Gentiles, the place designed all along for foreigners to congregate, for the nations to seek the Lord, was overrun with opportunists trying to turn a profit. And the Jewish leaders had let this happen.
Their economic drive, and their false security in the temple as an emblem of blessing (Jeremiah 7:3–11), had crowded out space for the nations to draw near, and therefore Jesus was driving them out. The great sadness of this scene wasn’t so much the rows of product and price-gouging, but that all this left no room for the Gentiles and outcasts to come to God. This place of worship should have prefigured the hope of God’s restored creation — a day when “all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob’” (Isaiah 2:2–3).
In other words, the ultimate vision of God’s people in God’s place would look a little more motley than it did when Jesus stepped foot into Jerusalem. And because their worship was so far removed from this vision, Jesus had enough. The worship of God’s people was so out of line with God’s purposes that zeal consumed God’s messiah. It had to stop.

What About Us?

And here is the lesson for us on this Monday of Holy Week, or really, here is the question.
How well does our worship prefigure the prophetic vision of the new creation? Do our relational investments and our corporate gatherings reflect, even in a small way, the heart of a God who gathers the outcasts?
This question is no more relevant than on Easter, when our churches try especially to look their finest. When we assemble for worship this weekend, no one will set up tables to exchange currency. No one will lead in their oxen in hopes of getting rich. No one will tote a cage of high-priced pigeons. But our decorations may be elaborate. Our attire may be elegant. Our music may be world class. We may put exuberant energy into these things, and make it an impressive spectacle, but if Jesus were to come, if he were to step into our churches this Sunday, he’d be looking for the rabble. Where are the misfits, the socially marginalized, the outcasts?
There is plenty of life in the veins of Easter to propel us beyond our comforts, our cliques, and our Sunday best, and send us powerfully out in the pursuit of the least.

This Holy Monday meditation is the second installment in the Desiring God 2015 Holy Week daily devotional series. Also in this series: The Savior’s Tears of Sovereign Mercy (Palm Sunday).

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Remember How God ...

Steven Lee post: We Complain Because We Forget

I am stunned every time I read the story of the Exodus. How can the people of Israel complain like they do? How could they be so ignorant, so stupid, so forgetful?
The God of the universe had just tossed around the most powerful man on the face of the earth like a toddler with a rag doll. God didn’t just humble Pharaoh; he broke his spirit and revealed Pharaoh’s impotence. A slave people and their God left him and his nation in shambles. This display of power sent vibrations throughout the world, inspiring fear and awe.

The Deadly Disease of Spiritual Amnesia

Yet Israel’s response to this spectacular deliverance from Egypt is not mainly praise, worship, and whole-hearted trust. Instead, Israel responds with grumbling— complaining, murmuring, quarreling. “No water, Moses! Where’s the beef, Moses? I have blisters on my feet, Moses. Who died and made you boss? Are we there yet, Moses?” Spiritual amnesia set in quickly and covered the eyes of Israel’s hearts. So soon had they forgotten God’s gracious and miraculous deliverance?
This spiritual amnesia — forgetting God’s deliverance and provision — is a deadly disease. The people of Israel, on the heels of unthinkable miracles, with their pockets full of Egyptian jewelry, grumble at their less-than-five-star accommodations in the desert. This wasn’t just headache-induced grumbling or low-blood-sugar complaining. This was faithlessness. It is the heart that says, “I know better than God. If only he would follow my plan.”

Why We Complain

And yet that’s my heart and yours. “Where’s the dinner, honey? Leftovers again? Where’s the protein? Is that all you got done today? Can you change the dirty diaper? What’s this sticky stuff on the chair?” I can be just like the people of Israel. “I know you’ve forgiven all my sins at the cross, rescued me from eternal conscious torment, and given me everlasting joy in your presence, but all we have for dinner is Ramen or Cheerios.”
Grumbling, whining, and thanklessness are not ultimately the heart’s responses to circumstances, but to God. Israel grumbled at their enslavement, grumbled when Moses came on the scene, and still grumbled as they wandered safely in the wilderness. Their complaining wasn’t rooted in their scenery, but their heart.
The same is true for you. A heart of gratitude and thankfulness isn’t dependent on your bank statement, doctor’s diagnosis, or the praise you receive for a job well done. Thanklessness and grumbling — regardless of your situation, even your suffering — reflect your heart. They are sin. Spiritual amnesia is a deadly disease that threatens your faith and your joy more than any cancer. It penetrates to the core and rots your heart from within.
“Grumbling and complaining are not ultimately the heart’s responses to circumstances, but to God.”

Chemotherapy of the Soul

How can we guard ourselves from this spiritual forgetfulness? How can we root out the cancer that threatens our joy and faith? Very simply the antidote is to remember. Remember God’s gracious deliverance and redemption. Establish it in your memory. Memorialize it. Paint it on the walls of your house. Journal it and reread it each morning.
God gives us this pattern in the Exodus. Israel has just been given their menu for the next forty years: manna from heaven. Gather six days, a double portion on the last, and rest on the Sabbath. But then God commands Moses to take an omer of manna (about two quarts) and keep it in a jar as a reminder of God’s faithfulness (Exodus 16:32–33).
There are two miracles here. The obvious is that God fed a couple million people with manna from heaven for forty years. No gluten allergies, no low-carb diet, and no lack of vital nutrients. God sustains his people miraculously to teach them he can and will provide their daily bread — everything they need.
The second is that the manna in the jar did not spoil as it normally would (Exodus 16:20). God kept the manna from spoiling to remind Israel that he not only keeps manna from spoiling, but that he will keep his people alive, even in the wilderness. This jar of white flakes was to be an enduring reminder that God provides. He provides in the Exodus from Egypt, and he provides in the desert wasteland.

We Must Remember

God is saying the same thing to you. If you’re inclined to grumble, to be thankless, or to complain about our circumstances, God graciously reminds us that we must remember his gracious redemption and provision.
Take a moment and look back on God’s fingerprints all over your life:
  • Remember how God has protected you from making shipwreck of your life.
  • Remember how God graciously let you grow up in a godly family.
  • Remember how God awakened you to the ugliness of your sin.
  • Remember how you walked away from that terrible car crash.
  • Remember how your wife, sister, or mom survived breast cancer.
  • Remember how you had mentors and key friends guide you in your faith.
  • Remember how he sustained you during that season of unemployment.
  • Remember how God miraculously healed you.
  • Remember that impossible prayer request that God answered.
  • Remember how you had no money and an envelope just showed up in the mail with exactly the amount you needed.
  • Remember how the gospel came alive as it never had before.
  • Remember God.
The antidote to spiritual amnesia is making every effort to recall and remember God’s gracious deliverance. The fact that you — a sinner who was an enemy of God — are now a beloved child is a miracle. Don’t let that wonder ever fade.Remember.
Let this act of remembering awaken in you joy in God and a deep sense of gratitude that God loves you, knows you, and keeps you.

All Kinds of Artistic Craftsmanship

30 Then Moses said to the Israelites, "See, the LORD has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 31 and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts-- 32 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 33 to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic craftsmanship. 34 And he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others. 35 He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as craftsmen, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers--all of them master craftsmen and designers.

Exodus 35

Monday, March 23, 2015

Be Steadfast

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
1 Cor 15: 57-58

With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.
1 Cor 15: 58 [Message]

Sovereign Over All

God’s Presence in Vocation
Exodus 31.1-6The LORD said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel… and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab… Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you.”
There are particular places we expect God to be present. In ancient Israel’s day we see God’s Spirit reside in the holy of holies — a space distinct from every part of common life. We also see the special relationship Israel’s leaders and pillars of faith had with him (Adam, Eve, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Aaron to name a few).
Bezalel and Oholiab are outliers to this expectation, but not to the way God’s Spirit works. Both men are tradesmen who are filled with God’s Spirit to engage in their vocation in a unique and transcendent way. (They are not the first to have this happen.)
God creates work as an invitation into creation and empowers it as a pathway into deeper relationship with Him. Work’s transcendent value comes from him.
“If the God of the Bible exists,” posits Timothy Keller in Every Good Endeavor, “and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavor, even the simplest of ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever.”
God’s presence reaches into every part of the world as his Spirit empowers people of faith in each vocation. 
“No single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest,” insists Abraham Kuyper. As an advocate for God’s presence in all things, Kuyper proclaims, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”
PrayerFather, thank you for creating, empowering, and valuing work. Give us the ability to engage in our vocations in ways which bring honor and glory to you. Give us vision for your Kingdom in our fields and in the lives of those we work with. Help us to see our work, as Dr. Keller says, as your “assignment to serve others.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

One Thing I Know

He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

John 9:25

Intentional and Indigenous

Erik Raymond post:  Toxic Charity

Christians rightly have a burden to love and serve their neighbor. In particular many of us have opportunity to serve the poor around us. But how do we do this? What do we do?
I remember asking this question to my friend Mez McConnell, the founder and director of 20schemes, (a ministry to plant church in Scotland’s poorest communities). Mez spoke of the need to help without hurting people. He has a profoundly biblical and therefore a compassionate and responsible approach to this work. In our conversation he recommend the book Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton. Mez called it a must for considering this subject. So, I picked it up.
When you read the subtitle you can get the picture: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help, And How to Reverse it. In this subtitle you can see that the book is going to be something of a critique to the popular approaches to mercy ministry. He spends time showing the typical western approach religious approach to the problem. We often gear up, save up, and pump up to go and do a week or two in an impoverished area. But how does this really help the people on the ground? He tells stories of short-term relief that did not work towards a solution for a long-term problem. He references church teams spending thousands of dollars and mobilizing dozens of people to come and paint a church building that was just painted a few months ago–by another well meaning group of missionaries.
But the book is more than simply a critique, it is path ahead. Lupton advocates a more sustained, intentional, indigenous approach. He promotes involving, training, and deploying those who you are aiming to impact rather than simply throwing money at them. Obviously this is hard(er). People can assuage their middle-class guilt complex by giving money or a week or two in a bad area, but does that really help? Lupton himself struggled with this and decided to move into a more urban, economically challenged community as a home base for his ministry.
The book’s strength is its thoughtful presentation of both sides of the helping. It applauds the desire to do something. At the same time, it shows the impact of what we do in the lives of  the people and the community that we are trying to serve. What if instead of helping we were actually hurting? This is an important consideration for Christians seeking to serve in this way.
One omission from the book is how the local church fits into this discussion. In my reading it is assumed that the church collective is going to have a ministry to the poor. It is a matter of ecclesiological debate as to what the mission of the church is with respect to social justice. The assumption for many is that it is is. I think it would be helpful for churches, particularly church leaders, to work through this question and then consider how they might engage in this ministry. Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert’s book is very helpful on the subject.

If you are thinking about mercy ministry in impoverished communities then I echo Mez’s advice: pick up Toxic Charity it is eyeopening and illuminating. It will get the conversation going, provide examples to help you think further on this important subject.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Our Work

Bethany post: Reengaging Earth With Heaven



Father, we know no greater love than yours. Help us to see our work as part of your redemption plan for this world and those around us. Empower us to invest in the lives of our coworkers. Sharpen our ability to see what you’re doing in and through our work.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Logic On Fire: the Life and Legacy of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones from Media Gratiae on Vimeo.

Jesus Is a Gracious Trainer - And Relentless

Jon Bloom post: Jesus Will Not Leave You Alone

You and Jesus share a desire for your comfort. But you and Jesus do not always agree on what kind of comfort is best for you.
In fact, right now you might be feeling that if Jesus really cared so much for your comfort, then you would not be dealing with such pain. But that is not true. What is true is that you likely prefer the comfort that comes from the absence of discomfort, while Jesus prefers you to have the ultimate comfort of your holiness.
So while you might feel frustrated over a very uncomfortable situation you’re being forced to deal with, Jesus is actually pursuing your long-term comfort through that very situation.
It is in these seasons that Jesus’s promises to be with you always (Matthew 28:20) and to never forsake you (Hebrews 13:5) may not be so much comforting as they are bothersome or even painful. These are times you might wish that Jesus would just leave you alone.
But it is merciful that he does not, for unless you are holy as he is holy you will not have the comfort you need the most (Leviticus 11:441 Peter 1:16).

Training Is Always Uncomfortable

If you’re a Christian, you are a disciple of Jesus. And by necessity, a disciple undergoes discipline. If a disciple is a student, then discipline is training. Jesus’s discipline for you, however severe (and it is severe at times), is not God’s wrath against you. If you are tempted to believe that, don’t. It’s your unbelief or the Enemy talking to you. When Jesus became sin for you (2 Corinthians 5:21), he removed all of sin’s condemnation from you (Romans 8:1).
No, discipline is training. Training in what? Training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). The unique training course that Jesus has designed for you (he designs a unique course for each disciple) has one great aim: to teach you to trust him in everything. That’s his goal for you. Jesus wants you to learn to trust in him in all things at all times. For the more you trust Jesus, the holier you become.
Now, justification by faith alone is a glorious truth. When we first trust in Jesus’s person and work for the forgiveness of all our sins and the promise of eternal life, God credits to us the righteousness of Christ, in union with Christ by faith. We are saved from God’s wrath (Romans 5:9), and we are considered, in that moment, holy as Christ is holy — because we are in Christ. It is a moment of great comfort.
Then comes the school of sanctification. God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8). First, he confers on us the degree, and then he sends us to school. It’s a wonderful education system, for we are guaranteed graduation (Philippians 1:6).
Nonetheless, in this school, things get very uncomfortable for us. Jesus begins to train us to live by faith in him (Galatians 2:20). He trains us to live out the righteousness we have received through faith; he means for us to grow in the experience of the holiness he has given us; he transforms us into his likeness by the renewing of our minds (Romans 8:2912:2).

Jesus Is a Gracious Trainer — And Relentless

Jesus is a gracious trainer, but he is also a relentless trainer. We are not nearly as eager for our growth in holiness as he is. We tend to think that our progress so far is good enough. We might even be tempted to think that Jesus is cruel because of the amount of pain he puts us through. But the truth is, we don’t really know what’s good for us.
Think of the training experiences in your life that benefitted you the most. How many of those experiences were comfortable? Zero. And the more excellence you sought (or were pushed) to achieve in a discipline, the more rigorous the training became, right?
How often did you want to give up? How often did you wonder if it was worth it? How often did you feel mad at your coach or instructor or parent or boss for pushing you beyond what you thought necessary? If you did give up, not because the training was bad for you but because you just didn’t want to work at it, how did you feel? When you look back at a coach or instructor or parent or boss who just didn’t let you give up on what was best for you, how do you feel about them now?
Jesus is a far better trainer than any of them. All our earthly trainers “disciplined us as it seemed best to them,” but Jesus disciplines us “that we might share his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).
Jesus really does desire your comfort. He desires it more than you do. He so desires your ultimate comfort that he will make you very uncomfortable in order to give it to you.
He wants to give you the true comfort of learning to fear only God, so he will give you the discomfort of facing your false fears.
He wants to give you the true comfort of resting secure in the promises of God, so he will give you the discomfort of living with apparent uncertainty.
He wants to give you the true comfort of sharing his humility (Philippians 2:3–5), so he will give you the discomfort of opposing your pride.
He wants to give you the true comfort and joy of worshiping God alone, so he will take the painful whip of discipline into the temple of your heart to clear our the idolatrous merchants. And therefore your experience is this: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

Jesus, Please Do Not Leave Me Alone

So, if today you’re tempted to “grow weary and fainthearted” (Hebrews 12:3) in Jesus’s training course for you, join me in this prayer:
Lord Jesus, forgive me for my short-sightedness and for how often I sinfully prefer my earthly comfort over the comfort of my holiness. Forgive me for the smallness of my faith. Despite what my flesh craves, my spirit craves your will for me more. I want to share your holiness and bear the peaceful fruit of righteousness. So do whatever it takes until you have completed your good work in me. For I want more than anything to trust in you in all things at all times. Please, Lord, whatever you do, do not leave me alone! I pray this in your name and for the sake of your glory. Amen.

Guard Against Idolatry - And Get a Job

Marshall Segal post: Work with Your Hands, Not with Your Worship

The sinful human heart has a strange and offensive fascination with the work of our own hands.
Regardless of who we are — however talented, well-known, or successful — there’s something uniquely captivating about what we create, what we build, and what we accomplish. Most Christians know we’re not saved by our works, but we are often prone to be satisfied by them. We need to continually ask if our hearts rest most regularly and most fully in what God has done, or instead in what we’ve made or achieved.
As American dream-ers, we are not the first to fall in love with the works of our hands. The Bible — cataloguing several thousand years of idolatry — repeatedly defines rebellion against God in terms of replacing him with things we have made.
Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. (Psalm 115:4, also Psalm 135:15)
Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made. (Isaiah 2:8)
And I will declare my judgments against them, for all their evil in forsaking me. They have made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands. (Jeremiah 1:16)
David summarizes the theme, “The wicked are snared in the work of their own hands” (Psalm 9:16). Now, each of the examples above was written in a context where people literally worshiped small (or large) statutes of men or animals. They would melt their silver and gold and form it into gods that they could see and touch and hold. Stephen tells the story, “And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands” (Acts 7:41). Seriously, Israel, what is wrong with you? Just put down the shiny Noah’s ark action figures and worship the God in the terrifying pillar of fire and cloud of smoke (Exodus 13:21–22).

The Wickedness of Work-Worship

It’s like a four-year-old girl painting a picture of her mommy. To the naked eye, the person depicted could be mom or dad or the family dog, but we all fawn (maybe even tear up) over that mess of a masterpiece. The crayons, however misguided, bring brilliant color to a daughter’s love for her mother.
But what if the little girl started stubbornly ignoring her mom because she loved her drawing so much? What if the daughter spurned mom and only talked to her awful, unintelligible depiction of her? Instead of being affectionate and adorable, the girl’s artistic pursuits are suddenly ignorant and offensive.
That’s the nature and ugliness of work-worship — bowing down to the labor of our hands. And we’re all melting what God has given us and molding it into something that will serve us — our desires, our ego, our glory.
“We’re all melting what God has given us and molding it into something that will serve us.”

Why Do We Worship Our Work?

Reading through the Old Testament today, it’s hard to imagine why God’s people would leave him for some silver and gold. We think we can’t relate to those mutinous episodes of arts and crafts. The harder reality is that their foolish fixation on the things they had made actually vividly depicts our own idolatry. We’re all tempted to worship the works of our hands. Why?

1. We worship the works of our hands because we define and value reality based on what we can see, smell, taste, hear, and feel.

This is the allure of the action figures. They are smooth and shiny, and they’re right in front of us. That’s why sinners exchange “the glory of the immortal [but invisible] God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:23). You never have to wonder whether a statue will show up. You build it yourself, bring it yourself, and set it up yourself. These gods are great because we control them. They serve as god on our terms. They tickle all of our senses. Sadly, they never sense themselves (Deuteronomy 4:28). They are dead, and therefore they only live in our deceitful imaginations and ambitions. It’s a convenient, but superficial and failing marriage.
We worship work in the same way. We look to work, and not God, for our security, identity, and satisfaction because work provides things that are tangible — results we can hold onto. Work is something we can reasonably predict and control. Paychecks, timecards, projects, emails, sales, savings accounts — even home-making and hobbies — all provide visible evidence that we are significant and safe. So we invest our best love and energy in our work, and not with the Lord.
Faith is the immortal enemy of work-worship. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Not heard. Not smelled. Not tasted. Not touched. But unbelievably real, infinitely lasting, and overwhelmingly satisfying.

2. We worship the works of our hands because we’re dying to save ourselves from our sin.

We have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:16)
Why was Paul so outspoken and militant against works-based righteousness? He said any gospel that says we’re saved by what we do was worthy of hell (Galatians 1:9). According to the apostle, there was nothing good about news that declared we needed to earn our approval or prove ourselves before God in order to gain his acceptance. That mindset disregards and nullifies the work of Christ on the cross (Galatians 2:21). Paul was not only provoked because the message was devastatingly wrong, but because it was so pervasively compelling among Christians. Even those who had heard and embraced the true gospel were falling prey to works-based promises.
One of the sharpest, most hideous edges of our sin against God is our belief that we can make it right. It’s embedded in our humanity, and it’s billboarded across this land of endless dreams and second chances. American society would have you believe that if you work hard enough and well enough, you can do anything or be anything. Hard work will cover any mistake, bad choice, or blunder. It will overcome even our worst failures and, eventually, people will forget the wrongs and love us again for our newfound growth or success.
It sounds enticing, and it very well may work with your wife, neighbor, or employer. But it’s just the opposite of the gospel. God will never accept you for doing better, because you can never undo or cover your sin. Only God can deal with your sin, and he doesn’t need your help. Only Christ’s work can pay the price of your punishment and satisfy the wrath of God.
We consume ourselves with work because we think our work will save us. But work was never meant to redeem us. It was meant to reflect and display the God who alone saves. Therefore, we need to embrace a salvation by grace alone, and work from that grace for the glory and vindication of God alone.

3. We worship the works of our hands because we worship ourselves.

Good work done by my hands for my glory makes God very angry (Jeremiah 25:6–7). Excellent work done by professing Christians for reasons other than God’s glory can damn them (Romans 14:23). That kind of productivity infuriates God; it does not please him.
Work-worship at its ugliest, most intense core is nothing but me-worship. Our tendency to worship work is not just that we love what we do, or that we spend most of our waking hours there, or that we’re so committed to excellence. It’s that we love ourselves. We love and worship our work because it’s ours. That’s why we’re far less likely to worship the works of other people’s hands, even if it’s better than our own.
John Piper says, “When you exchange the glory of God for idols, the main one that you exchange the glory of God for is yourself. The idol that you have is yourself.”
In the same way, Jon Bloom writes, “The soul is designed to worship, but not to worship our self. The self is not glorious enough to captivate the soul. We know this. Yet our fallen selves don’t want to believe it. We’re drawn again and again into the hopeless labyrinth of deception that is self-worship.”
The good news of Jesus Christ stands against all me-worship. At the heart of Christianity is a faith that denies itself — even dies to itself — for its own sake (Matthew 16:24–25). In the end, there are no self-employed Christians. We’re all employed and deployed by grace for God, not ourselves.
“Good work done by my hands for my glory makes God very angry.”

Guard Against Idolatry — And Get a Job

The warning about worshiping the works of your hands is not a prohibition against working with your hands. On the contrary, the Book that banishes work-worship also demands hard work.
Paul says to Christians, “Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you” (1 Thessalonians 4:11). Likewise, he exhorted the idle and lazy, “Let [the thief] labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28). Paul strived to model hard work with his hands (1 Corinthians 4:12), and called others to imitate him (1 Corinthians 11:1).
Our tendency toward idolatry in our work is no indictment against work (just like pornography is no indictment against sex (in the context of marriage), and drunk driving is no indictment against the automobile). Even before sin entered into the world, God wanted us to work (Genesis 2:15). In fact, he made us to work (Psalm 8:6). It was woven into the goodness of God’s perfect creation. All work is God’s, and it serves as a brilliant shadow of his own sovereign, just, creative, and sustaining work (Hebrews 1:10Psalm 143:5).
Therefore, we need to learn the secret of working hard with our hands, and not with our worship — that is, without giving our heart and hope to our work. “We [must] say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands” (Hosea 14:3).

Are You Happy in Your Job?

Maybe you’ve made a gorgeous golden calf. You probably haven’t. But maybe you’ve raised a polite and beautiful family. Or maybe you started a successful business, or contributed to one. Or maybe you served in a fruitful and growing ministry. Whatever work you do will be a temptation to trust in yourself, and not in God. It will be a temptation to rejoice in and worship what you can see and take credit for, instead of the God behind and beneath it all.
We need a calling and a treasure bigger than ourselves, and more glorious than any of our work. We rest and rejoice in the work of God’s hands, not ours — even when his work is done through our hands (1 Corinthians 15:10). We sing with the psalmist, “You, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy” (Psalm 92:4).
If we want to be truly happy in our jobs, we cannot base our happiness on our jobs or our abilities. Our worship and happiness must be anchored and rooted first and only in God. He has done all the work worthy of worship. With our hands on the plow and our hearts with God, then Peter may say of us, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice [and work] with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8).
“We need to learn the secret of working hard with our hands without giving our heart and hope to our work.”