According to the Idols of our Hearts

Now some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat before me. And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts, and put before them that which causes them to stumble into iniquity. Should I let Myself be inquired of at all by them? Therefore speak to them, and say to them, 'Thus says the Lord God : Everyone of the house of Israel who sets up his idols in his heart, and puts before him what causes him to stumble into iniquity, and then comes to the prophet, I the Lord will answer him who comes, according to the multitude of his idols, that I may seize the house of Israel by their heart, because they are all estranged from Me by their idols'."

Therefore say to the house of Israel, "Thus says the Lord God : Repent, turn away from your idols, and turn your faces away from all your abominations. For anyone of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell in Israel, who separates himself from Me and sets up his idols in his heart and puts before him what causes him to stumble into iniquity, then comes to a prophet to inquire of him concerning Me, I the Lord will answer him by Myself. I will set My face against that man and make him a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of My people. Then you shall know that I am The Lord."
~Ezekiel 14:1-8 NKJV

It seems like the idea that God will give us what's in our hearts keeps popping up over and over lately. So I've been reading and mulling over this passage, trying to understand its meaning. At first glance, it seems to be saying that God will give you whatever answer is in your heart. The NLT even renders a later verse as saying God will deceive a prophet:
"And if a prophet is deceived into giving a message, it is because I, the Lord, have deceived that prophet. I will lift my fist against such prophets and cut them off from the community of Israel.  False prophets and those who seek their guidance will all be punished for their sins." ~Ezekiel 14:9-10
The idea of God deceiving someone, or answering falsely because someone asks with an idolatrous heart, just doesn't jive with what I know of God. Both the Bible and Book of Mormon have something to say about the truthful nature of God. Paul wrote it to Titus, almost in passing, as if the idea that God is wholly truthful is such a given that it hardly bears mentioning:
This truth gives them confidence that they have eternal life, which God—who does not lie—promised them before the world began. ~ Titus 1:2 NLT
The Book of Mormon gets a little more specific, but still, it's a given; not an idea that takes a great deal of exposition or persuasion to make sense:
"And the Lord said unto [Ether]: Believest thou the words which I shall speak? And he answered: Yea, Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie." ~Ether 3:11-12
So I turned my mind to the human side of the equation. How could God's truthful answer seem false to the children He loves, of whom He said,
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! ~Matt 7:7-11 NLT
And to whom He said:
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. ~James 1:5
and:
Remember that without faith you can do nothing; therefore ask in faith. Trifle not with these things; do not bask for that which you ought not. Ask that you may know the mysteries of God . . . ~D&C 8:10-11
(I love how the Lord followed up an injunction to not ask for things we "ought not" with a direct instruction right afterward to inquire about the "mysteries of God". Clearly, asking about the mysteries is not taboo, for anyone. Or at least God thinks so. ;o) )

So, long story short: God is just not into messing with His kids. He is truthful. He will give good things (i.e. the truth!) to those that ask Him, and He's not going to get after us for coming to Him with questions.

So, since God isn't a deceiver, how are we left to understand those verses? What can it mean to be answered according to the idols in our hearts?

I believe it's fairly well-understood that we limited human beings interpret and comprehend what comes into our lives according to what we know, what we have experienced. Most of us know the American proverb: "When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail."

Add to that the deep human distaste for cognitive dissonance, the square-peg-in-a-round-hold dilemma that requires us to either throw out the peg as defective, or do the sometimes painful work of changing the hole, changing the way we understand the world in order to accommodate the new truth we've received, and suddenly it starts to make sense.

As I was talking this through with Vern, it came to me so clearly: the idols in our hearts are colored glasses, filters, through which we understand what we receive from God. That's how some people can honestly believe that in order to have Zion, we have to actually kick the poor out from among us (since there will be no poor in Zion). The idols in their hearts require them to reject the poor, and then cry "all is well in Zion!" because they have achieved the condition of "and there shall be no poor among them". (And I've actually come across one of these. They are not Utah urban legend. I was gobsmacked.) The idea of needing to eject the poor in order to prepare for Jesus is so deeply counter to what the scriptures say . . . and yet I read a lengthy and flawlessly-reasoned explanation of why it makes perfect sense. Trouble was, the basic premise was flawed, and that little slant into how that person understood the nature of Jesus Christ, what His victory meant (that He was the ultimate owner of all, and that since He was the richest One in all of creation that He would only want the rich and successful with Him in paradise) made utter craziness of the scripture that tells us there shall be no poor in Zion, where the people are of one heart and Christ dwells among them. And yet, this person wrested the scriptures to fit his idea of Jesus.

When we have idols in our hearts, instead of God, the powerful force of human nature and all the beguiling temptations of the enemy combine in us to misunderstand God's word. Our misunderstanding fits within the framework we already have, though, and when we understand something, even if it's misunderstanding, neurons connect in the same way in our brains as when we learn something correctly, and we're given the same powerful positive hormonal feedback as when we learn something correctly.  I know this phenomenon well, from back in math class in junior high. ;)

If you're suffering from an idolatrous heart condition, it's easy to mistake that neurological feedback rush for Holy Spirit's witness of truth. (Which is much harder to mistake after you've received the Testimony of Jesus with the second baptism. That said, this can exist either whollistically, or in topic-specific areas. It can be due to veils of unbelief that still exist in parts of our understanding, and which God proceeds to remove methodically as we seek Him and press into our identities as His.

It's not God that answers differently when we set up gods unto ourselves. It's we, the mortal, fallible ones, who hear differently.

Father in Heaven, You are amazing. I rest, so confident, in Your unchanging nature, and the constancy of Jesus. I rejoice that You and He are faithful, that You are made of nothing which is not good, nothing which is not true, nothing which is not love. Because I know these things--because I know I can trust you without limit--Lord, open my eyes to my own idolatry. Show me the ways in which I still reject You, or get in Your way in my life. I want to follow You. I want my old life, my former way of doing things, the way that is my own, to be crucified; and I want to rise again into the unbounded love and grace of my Savior, continually changed into newness life after the manner of His life, of His heart. Lord, I want to live as proof of every good thing that comes from You; I want so much for my life to be the proof of Your love. I humble myself before You, God of mine that I know I can trust utterly and completely. (What good would be a god that isn't worthy of that? Hallelujah to God and the Lamb!) Thank You, oh how I thank You, for the happiness, peace, and JOY that comes when I throw myself upon Your mercy, Your grace, and into Your will. When I am made aware of a way to submit more fully to You, and make another leap past the boundary of my mortal experience. Keep showing me, God, what to do. Keep showing me things through Your eyes. Keep teaching me, and keep on turning all of my paradigms upside down. Even if I never get used to it--even if it never gets any easier--I will go through every last one of them rejoicing, because You are a giver of good gifts . . . and I want to receive all You have in store for Your children, in Jesus' beloved and tenderly merciful name, so be it. Amen!!!

(And God, can I just say that I'm so glad that I can have some measure of confidence that it will get easier? lol I really appreciate that. ;o) )



"The Proof Of Your Love"

If I sing but don't have love
I waste my breath with every song
I bring an empty voice, a hollow noise
If I speak with a silver tongue
Convince a crowd but don't have love
I leave a bitter taste with every word I say

So let my life be the proof,
The proof of Your love
Let my love look like You and what You're made of
How You lived, how You died
Love is sacrifice
So let my life be the proof,
The proof of Your love

If I give
To a needy soul but don't have love then who is poor?
It seems all the poverty is found in me

So let my life be the proof,
The proof of Your love
Let my love look like You and what You're made of
How You lived, how You died
Love is sacrifice
Oh, let my life be the proof,
The proof of Your love

When it's all said and done
When we sing our final song
Only love remains
Only love remains

Let my life be the proof,
The proof of Your love
Let my love look like You and what You're made of
How You lived, how You died
Love is sacrifice
So let my life be the proof,
The proof of Your love


Suckling Babes

9 ¶Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.

~Isaiah 28:9 KJV

Reading this post got me thinking . . . and the clear application of Isaiah's analogy of a nursing babe to those who gain spiritual strength from other mortals came into my mind. God provides mother's milk to infants to nourish and strengthen them until they are old enough to eat on their own. Nursing babies are even born with a different throat construction than they will have in just over a year; it's nearly impossible for them to inhale enough milk to be in danger of drowning. During this time of inarticulation, the mother needs to be in tune with her baby (and, in my personal experience, the Spirit of God) so she can meet her baby's needs well, and the baby can thrive. Then, over time, the baby grows and flourishes on mother's milk, until it is developed enough to thrive on solid foods. During that period of growth, the baby's throat changes, and speech slowly becomes possible.

Spiritually, we all go through these same phases and changes. We are taught, and rely on, others stronger than ourselves to give us what we need to grow in the knowledge of God until we can receive that spiritual nourishment directly. It's a process of weaning ourselves from relying on mortals and learning to rely on God. The process varies widely . . . some follow a very natural and seamless path. Some need more time nourished by a spiritual mother; others a relatively short time. But, like with human infants who spend somewhere between 1.4% and 3% of their total lifespan on mother's milk, we're not meant to rely on men for more than a short time, and only as necessary when God leads us through new areas of development where we might once again hold infant status.

My own process was mostly seamless, until in my late teens the enemy got the upper hand through depression and a spirit of confusion that held me down for a couple decades. That was just plain spiritual starvation through famine. Then, I was sent a spiritual mother who nourished me, and whose simple connection to God showed me how others I had relied on for survival during those years of famine had fed me utterly worthless junk food. Worse yet, that junk food had deeply damaged the development of my relationship with God. The weaning process from those sources was abrupt, deeply painful, and I'm still discovering raw voids in my soul for Jesus to fill. But the burden lifted from no longer drinking that Kool-Aid is blessed relief, the resulting clarity stark and brilliant, like the view from a high peak on the clearest, coldest day of winter.

And, as I have once again flourished and have begun to receive my nourishment directly from God, I've found my voice.

Eyes to See

Scripture: Revelation 19:19-20

"Then I saw the beast and the kings of the world and their armies gathered together to fight against the one sitting on the horse and his army.  And the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who did mighty miracles on behalf of the beast—miracles that deceived all who had accepted the mark of the beast and who worshiped his statue. Both the beast and his false prophet were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur."

I wonder what this will actually seem like, to those in its throes. The one sitting on the horse will be readily recognizable to those with eyes to see, as will the beast and false prophet. But it seems that they will, to those who aren't seeing with spiritual eyes, look as though their roles were reversed.

Lately, and yesterday especially, I have been presented with ideas and topics upon which salvation could, (and really should), hang. Over and over, the pattern of dichotomy establishes itself: "This way to God!", pitted against "Watch out, you'll end up in hell that way!" Of course, the arguments are far more subtle than that, obfuscatory synecdoches scattered throughout. And I find myself pondering on and untangling the meaning of various the ones presented to me, wondering which side I'll choose, which points and ideas are actually on the upward route.

Father, I thank You for all You have provided for Your children's education and guidance. For scripture, for Your Son, and Your Spirit. I'm so glad I know to trust in You, to follow Your Word in the Spirit, and for Your patience and forgiveness as I fumble around. Please, give me eyes to see truth from error.  Show me clearly what I need to see to do Your work in a way pleasing to You, and lead me always in Your ways. I'm so glad for You, and for Jesus, and for the Holy Spirit, for the love that is the primary channel of communication from You, for Your followers who bring that love to me like a flood, and for the paths in which it has led me. Bring light to Your people, God, light and life and love eternal, and to those who seek to be Yours. In Jesus' name, amen.


What do I truly seek?

So Jesus told them, “My message is not my own; it comes from God who sent me. Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know whether my teaching is from God or is merely my own. Those who speak for themselves want glory only for themselves, but a person who seeks to honor the one who sent him speaks truth, not lies. Moses gave you the law, but none of you obeys it! In fact, you are trying to kill me.” (John 7:16-19 NLT)

"Yes, I realize that you are descendants of Abraham. And yet some of you are trying to kill me because there’s no room in your hearts for my message. I am telling you what I saw when I was with my Father. But you are following the advice of your father.” 

“Our father is Abraham!” they declared. 

“No,” Jesus replied, “for if you were really the children of Abraham, you would follow his example. Instead, you are trying to kill me because I told you the truth, which I heard from God. Abraham never did such a thing. No, you are imitating your real father.” 

They replied, “We aren’t illegitimate children! God himself is our true Father.” 

Jesus told them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, because I have come to you from God. I am not here on my own, but he sent me." 

"Why can’t you understand what I am saying? It’s because you can’t even hear me!" (John 8:37-43 NLT)

*************************

Who is my Father?

To whom do I turn?

To whom do I look?

From whom do I receive strength?

Direction?

Hope?

Confidence?

What are the fruits of my thoughts?

Of my words?

Of my choices?

My life?

Who finds them acceptable and pleasing?

Who do I declare?

Whose work do I do?

Do I feel a constant connection with loving, gracious, forgiving Jesus?

Do my prayers feel like conversations, or monologues to a silent room?

Does that connection flow out to those around me?

Do the names of men more often come from my mouth than the name of Jesus?

Whose words most often come to my mind, and into my conversation?

Whom do I quote most often: God or men?

Whom do I praise most often: Jesus, or men?

Whom do I thank most often?


Returning from speaking with Aslan: “Emeth came walking forward into the open strip of grass between the bonfire and the Stable. His eyes were shining, his face was solemn, his hand was on his sword-hilt, and he carried his head high. Jill felt like crying when she looked at his face. And Jewel whispered in the King's ear, "By the Lion's Mane, I almost love this young warrior, Calormene though he be. He is worthy of a better god than Tash.” 

Then Emeth said: "'Beloved', said the Glorious One, 'unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.' And since then, O Kings and Ladies, I have been wandering to find him and my happiness is so great that it even weakens me like a wound. And this is the marvel of marvels, that he called me Beloved, me who am but as a dog.”  (The Last Battle, by C. S. Lewis)

The Arm of Flesh

Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you refuse to serve my gods or to worship the gold statue I have set up?  I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments.  But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty.  But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” Nebuchadnezzar was so furious with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face became distorted with rage. He commanded that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual.

Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel to rescue his servants who trusted in him. They defied the king’s command and were willing to die rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.  Therefore, I make this decree: If any people, whatever their race or nation or language, speak a word against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they will be torn limb from limb, and their houses will be turned into heaps of rubble. There is no other god who can rescue like this!” --Daniel 3:14-19, 28-29 NLT

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego's stand has always inspired me.  And, lately, I seem to keep running into this mountainous rock that is my knowledge of Jesus Christ, and the things He has taught me.  I know exactly how those three young men felt: not puffed up and pleased with themselves for making such a noble and impassioned declaration, but humble.  The spirit of what they said seemed to be: "You're welcome to do as you will with us, we're just not going to obey those decrees of yours. And whatever happens, we're not worried", with the feeling of "Have a blessed day," overlaid for good measure.  I feel strength in my testimony of The Truth growing surer and stronger, deeper and wider.  And it is good.

After the miracle, Nebuchadnezzar's conversion to belief in the Most High God is impressive . . . but his new decree is disappointing.  Yes, it's what everyone with a cause dreams of: a powerful person throwing their weight around to further your cause. And those same people rationalize that if that cause is the salvation of mankind, then so much the better!  Only trouble is, it neuters people's ability to make choices for themselves.  And as this life is a test, that leaves them pretty stuck.  Even though Nebuchadnezzer had stopped trying to physically destroy S, M & A, it seems to me that he just turned that destructive power towards his own people, but in a spiritual way.  It's like the enemy decided that if he couldn't burn the boys to a crisp, he'd happily trade that for the slow spiritual death of many, many others.  he's a tricky one, the old serpent. And we have to listen closely to the Holy Spirit so he won't catch us unawares.

God, I pray you would open my eyes to see where I am coercing or trying to force others to do good.  Temper my language, open my eyes, soften my heart, and make my ears to hear Your Word and Your Truth. Show me how to give freedom to those around me, the freedom that only comes in Christ Jesus.  In His holiest and most beloved Name, Amen.