I read 54 books in 2018: about one a week. I love learning and books are one of my favorite forms of learning. I tend to read five types of books: Christian Living, Theology, Leadership, General Non-Fiction, and Fiction. If you’re interested in tracking my reading, getting fuller reviews, and sharing with me your favorites, I use Goodreads and would be happy to have you friend me there. Here were some highlights for me in 2018:
What are the idols of your heart? What are the ways in which you have allowed your heart which is intended to worship God, to worship the golden calves that surround us?[i] There are several ways to diagnose our hearts. Ask yourself the question: what keeps me up when I’m trying to sleep? What do I fear? What do I think about? What do I daydream about? What gets me most excited in life? What do I give myself to? What do you use your time for?[ii]
Often what we will first uncover are the superficial idols. Maybe it’s pornography or adultery, or maybe it’s alcohol, television, or shopping. Or maybe it’s fitness, sports, work, patriotism, or family. Everything can be turned into an idol. And these gods are rarely solitary.[iii] Gods open doors for gods. Culturally, we are often taught therapeutic methods to deal with these idols, often exchanging one idol with another seemingly “good” idol. We exchange pornography for patriotism, alcohol for fitness, television for family and think that we’ve fixed ourselves, but we haven’t. We are still worshiping a god. There are many churches out there who preach the good news of these better gods: family and patriotism and financial security. But these are still gods, and while they are good gifts from the Giver, they are still just gifts.
But there are deeper idols that lurk behind these superficial idols. The enemy is quite content to have us replace these superficial idols with "better" idols that serve the same function in our lives. What lies deeper? What are you trying to get when you crave coming home and collapsing on the couch and watching TV? What need are you filling when you shop?
Last week we started considering how idolatry might still be alive and well in us today.
To do so, we took ourselves back to the most famous incident of idolatry in the Bible: the golden calf.[i] The Israelites created the golden calf at the very time God is giving Moses the Ten Commandments.
The Ten Commandments capture God’s covenant with his people. God declares, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.”[ii] The covenant begins with a statement of who God is: he is the saving God, the rescuing God. God then promises that his covenant is exclusive. In weddings the pastor asks the groom, do you promise to “love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, and forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?” And then he turns to the bride and asks her a similar set of questions. A marriage covenant is exclusive. In it we relinquish our authority. So is our covenant with God.
As she creates the golden calf, Israel rejects the covenant and takes her authority back. The covenant that was made with God is now broken. Israel is an adulteress. As pastor Tim Keller once said, “We never break the other commandments without breaking the first one.”[iii]
Everyone suffers. And yet perhaps because of the age in which we live, there have been few cultures that have struggled more with suffering than ours. I’m currently reading a popular book on loss and I’m struck by how vapid the wisdom of our age is in the face of suffering.
Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering is, quite simply, the best book on suffering that I’ve read. Keller deals with the subject philosophically, theologically, and practically. Each treatment is successful on its own, and combined they pack a unique punch as Keller engages mind and heart alike.
Timothy Keller is such a unique author. His books range from the incredibly accessible: The Prodigal God and Counterfeit Gods, to the slightly more rigorous, but still very accessible apologetic, The Reason for God, to the more rigorous practitioner’s guides such as Generous Justice or Preaching. Part of Timothy Keller’s unique gifting is his ability to write so well in each of these genres. Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering is the most rigorous book by Keller to date and yet the book is every bit as well written as any of his best.
Contemporary westerners are repelled by suffering and death. On the stage of world history, our fear of death is abnormal. Keller quotes an author at The New York Times Magazine, who, after the tragic sniper shootings in the Washington DC area reflected, “The fact is, staving off our own death is one of our favorite national pastimes. Whether it’s exercise, checking our cholesterol or having a mammogram, we are always hedging against mortality. [And yet] despite our best intentions, it is still, for the most part, random. And it is absolutely coming.”[i] This aversion to suffering and death is a cultural blind spot and means that we naturally approach the topic with naiveté.
When you think of godly leaders, King David is in rarified air. He is, after all the famed slayer of Goliath, the one who was known as “the man after God’s own heart” and the greatest king in Israel’s history. His life seemed directionless from a human perspective, but every step had incredible purpose. There is no King David without his journey.
As a young man, David had the oil from Samuel’s horn poured out over his head and “the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward.”[i] It was within a few years that David would defeat Goliath and be promised Saul’s daughter in marriage. Surely he must have thought that his ascension to the throne was near. But as things so often are in God’s economy, it would be many years before David would sit on the throne.[ii] David would go from the rising star of Israel, whom the people sung about in the streets, to fleeing, to exile, wandering with his motley band across the hostile terrain of Palestine. And while so many years had passed, he twice refused to take the life of the man who not only sought his life, but blocked his anointing.[iii]
What must have sustained David for these long years was not only the presence of God, but also God’s purpose for him. Even as he ran for his life, he speaks of his trust and his purpose, “But the king [referring to himself, who wasn’t yet king] shall rejoice in God.” So it is with the power of a purposeful spiritual life for us. When we know and understand the identity and purposes God has placed on our lives, it sustains us through tremendous difficulty, which is also God’s purpose.