Category Archives: assurance

Fatal Attraction: All That Glitters is Not Gold, Part 2

Anaconda

Cross-posted from Gospel Centered Discipleship

I’m a sucker for the occasional B-movie escapism. Replete with a low budget, painful dialogue, and a severely undefined story arc, it can be the perfect silliness for a Friday evening. Enter Anaconda. As only 1997 could deliver, the film chronicles a documentary crew headed into the jungle to shoot footage on a mysterious Indian tribe. On their way, they pick up a stranded man who then takes the team hostage on his quest to capture the world’s largest and deadliest snake: a record-breaking green Anaconda.

The thrust of the storyline in one sentence (spoiler alert!) is: people scanning the crest of the river to determine where this deadly snake might be. That’s it. You can imagine the dialogue: “Is that it?” “Did you see that?” “I think I heard something” “Watch out, I see it coming!”

I’ve been thinking lately about the ways we pursue happiness and my drifted to Anaconda. Though most of us wouldn’t articulate it this way, we stroll through our human existence, scanning the surface of our hearts until we find what we think we are looking for. Our time, our energy, our attention, and even our money is devoted to a quest of self-assurance and self-significance.

The Great Hunt

We want to be loved. We want to belong. We want to make a difference. We want to feel important. And we’ll look endlessly until we have found something we think might satisfy us—much like the documentary crew looking for what lies at the crest of the river. But the fruit of our self-salvation projects lie at the surface of a greater hunt in our lives.

Want happiness? It’s important to identify what is at the surface of our hopes and desires. In order for us to find real satisfaction, we must start here. We must ask, “Is that it?” “Did you see that?” “I think I heard something” “Watch out, I see it coming!” The Bible calls this self-diagnosis idol detection (1 Cor. 10:14). Today, we discussing step one of this self-diagnosis: unearthing those idols that lie on the surface.

Many times these idols are easily discernible. You can identify them by listening to your prayers. What do you ask God forgiveness for? Maybe it’s an anger problem. Maybe it’s an issue with lust. Maybe you have bitterness in your heart towards another. Anger, lust, and bitterness are exterior sins indicating deeper root sins. These are branch idols. You can see them easily but the root sins are what’s actually feeding them.

Hunting for Your Idols

Here are some questions as you look for your surface idols.

  • Do I need to be esteemed by people?
  • Do I demand order in my world?
  • Do I compare myself favorably to others?
  • Am I angry or defeated if things are not accomplished immediately?
  • Do I have to be the center of my family life, my job, or my church?
  • Do I dictate that people must submit to me?
  • Do I think my opinions are all-wise and correct?
  • Do I do whatever pleases me?
  • Is my appearance—whether religiously or physically—ultimate?
  • Do I desire to be accountable to no one?
  • Do I have to win at everything?

If you notice, these questions require a sense of self-awareness. Tim Keller says that one way you can identify your surface idols is by looking at your most uncontrollable emotions.

Just like a fisherman looking for fish knows to go where the water is rolling, look for your idols at the bottom of your most painful emotions, especially those that never seem to lift and that drive you to do things you know are wrong . . . when you ‘pull your emotions up by the root,’ as it were, you will often find your idols clinging to them.

So what are your surface idols? Look at where the water is rolling on the crest of your heart and you will locate them. It’s an essential first step to reversing the fatal attraction of idolatry in our lives.

Next time, we will look at why we can’t stop at just identifying our surface idols if we want to find true significance and happiness. To find real peace and contentment in life, there is something that lurks beneath the surface that we must address because our surface sins are only symptoms of much deeper sins.

A Buoyant Hope

Behind the veneer of much of our discipleship (and honestly, my own weathered and jaded heart), there is something in the depths of my heart that regularly flusters and flummoxes. It is something we all crave but even on our best days, we feel very little of. In our pursuit of it, we have replaced it with falsified versions that aren’t up to spiritual snuff. And thought it’s right under our noses, it’s possible that the reason we may not have much of it is because we are looking in the wrong nooks and crannies for it.

Oh hope, where art thou?

More Like the Mona Lisa

One of the reasons that we overlook hope is because we are wrongheaded in our definition of it. Hope is typically expressed as doubt rather than a deep certitude that what seems impossible is assured. I’ve said it before. “I hope everybody shows up tonight for missional community” or “I hope they remember to show up for this counseling meeting” or “I sure do hope they like this sermon.” But that is not biblical hope. Hope is not just an aspiration for something good but an expectation that it will happen—an assurance that it will happen. An inevitability that the good we anticipate and long for will transpire. In other words, biblical hope is not finger­-crossing. It is a thumbs up kind of hope—a hope that it is embedded, not in skepticism, but in the stalwart faithfulness of God.

My children loves to color our carport sidewalk with chalk. It’s one of their favorite activities. Pinks and greens and blues and yellows all scribbled on gray concrete. I love to watch them as they make the grandest creations with no thought about their lack of permanence. Inevitably, a rain shower eventually rolls in and washes away their artwork. Gone. In a moment. Hope in a faithful God is never like this. It doesn’t wash away with a little rain. There is firmness in it that can’t ever be dissolved because God’s purposes are more like the Mona Lisa—enduring and unfading. Hoping in God and hoping in anything else is the difference between chalk and paint. One fades, the other abides.

Seeing the Unseen

The writer of Hebrews adds a vital component to the idea of hope: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). Wherever there is full guarantee of hope, there is faith. Or said another way, faith is the jam-­packed, self­-confidence of hope. I admit that I regularly lack that kind of confidence but that is what real hope brings. It brings spiritual assuredness. I need that kind of inspiration for my flimsy faith. But the writer of Hebrews also says that yes, faith includes hope but it is more than hope.

Charles Spurgeon says it this way, “Though the ‘things’ are only ’hoped for’ and ‘not seen’ at present, the eye of faith can see them, and the hand of faith can grasp them.” See, faith­-shaped hope does the unthinkable and the counterintuitive. It sees what is unseen and clasps on what is intangible. It has vision for what is undetectable. It clutches onto what is indiscernible. That’s good news to me because frankly, my faith tends to be miniature sized. What was Jesus’ proposal to his disciples for their little faith? He told them to grow it to the size of a tiny mustard seed (Mk 4:31). I love that. Jesus, as only he can, gives me hope that I can have a faith that believes and sees what can’t be seen if it’s as big as something that is very small because my faith is small most of the time.

The Bible describes the patriarch Abraham as a man of deep faith who had this kind of hope. He was filled with hope that God was able to do everything that he had promised ­ even though reality raged against God’s promise. “In hope he believed against hope” (Rom. 4:18). Interesting verbiage. Webster’s Dictionary has a separate entry for the phrase “hope against hope.” It is defined as “to hope without any basis for expecting fulfillment.” Does this sound like Abraham’s faith? Not even close. Abraham’s hope had a different tone and focus.

Abraham’s “against hope” meant that from a conventional human perspective, there was not an ounce of likelihood that a miracle could happen. Remember, Abraham was old and his wife was barren. Abraham knew that hope is never anchored to what is achievable by man’s effort. Biblical hope gazes to the promise of a miraculous God. Abraham had a Hebrews-like hope. We must point our hearts and the hearts of others to this kind of hope in our discipleship.

Head over to Gospel Centered Discipleship to the last part of this article and read how hope is like a cork for the soul.