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LAYERS OF LIES
I've got layers of lies I don't even know about.
—Sara Groves, "Eyes Wide Open"
My name is Dee and I am an idolater.
For most of my Christian life I didn't know I was an idolater. I certainly didn't worship statues. I loved the One True God. But I have come face to face with my naïveté. I now know I have what Ezekiel calls "idols of the heart."
Let me tell you my story.
STONES IN OUR HEARTS
All I knew was that I was having trouble keeping an administrative assistant. I couldn't understand it.
Wasn't I a warm and caring boss? I never yelled or made unreasonable demands. Why didn't they appreciate what they had? The work was meaningful, the travel exciting, the pay good, and the boss encouraging. So what was the matter?
Since it took a good year to learn the complexities of the position, I would hire only someone who expressed a desire to work in the ministry long term. Yet invariably, after just two or three years, my assistant would have a change of heart about being involved long term and resign.
When my fourth administrative assistant resigned, I lamented to my friend Jan Silvious, expecting a sympathetic ear. Instead, she arched an eyebrow, peered at me through her funky rhinestone glasses, and said, "Dee, this seems to be a pattern in your life."
What? Was she implying that I was the problem?
That was a wake-up call for me. I had deceived myself about the darkness lurking in my heart. I told myself I was a good boss. But I wasn't.
All along, I had felt I was serving God. I was puzzled. Why am I not experiencing more of the promised joy? Why do my assistants keep leaving? In other words, before I became aware of my idolatry, I became aware of the symptoms telling me that something was not right.
As I would discover, I had idols in my heart that were blocking my intimacy with God, bringing friction in key relationships, and destroying my joy. Yet because soul idols are invisible, I didn't even know they were there.
Any time our deepest desire is for something other than God because we think that will satisfy or rescue us, a dangerous "soul idol" is forming. We may idolize the approval of people, our own comfort, or maintaining control. All of these things canbecome "idol lies," things we value more than God. We cling to these idols, and in so doing, as Jonah said, we "forfeit the grace that could be ours" (see Jonah 2:8, NIV).
The scriptural truth on which this book is based has had an enormous impact on my own life and gives me a passion for you to know it too. I have tested the truth in pilot groups, and the results in women's lives are nothing less than astounding. Though many of these women are mature believers, a light is going on that has been off all of their Christian lives. They are being delivered from anxiety, depression, gluttony, and so many destructive behaviors and emotions.
Let me share with you an image that has been helpful to these women and to me on this journey: soul idolatry is like cancer, especially the silent cancers. My husband did not know he had a tumor in his colon, but he did know that his stomach was often upset and that he felt unusually tired. He told me that he might have an ulcer and that he would check that out, but he believed that he really just needed a good vacation. He did not know a malignant tumor was in his body, growing, destroying—that it would take him from our five children and me in his prime.
Tumors are hard lumps like stones. What is so frightening about them is that, left unchecked, they grow. The sooner we discover them, the better our chance of rescue.
And God is on the move, uncovering these hidden stones in our hearts and chiseling them down. I call Jesus the Stonecutter because He can reveal, remove, and replace our heart idols with Himself.
Jan's comment about "the pattern in my life" helped me see my "stone," my calcifying tumor. I wanted this malignancy out so badly that I submitted to the work of the Stonecutter. And though the surgery was hard, my color is coming back, and I see a radical difference in my relationships. I am experiencing the healing that comes after a successful surgery, when a foreign body is removed and living flesh can thrive again.
Jesus the Stonecutter can transform your life as well.
Every believer needs to be set free, and it begins with getting past our denial, with seeing what we really idolize, and admitting this to God and to others. We may think, for example, that our deepest desire is for God, but in reality we are running to food, friendship, or Facebook to fill up our souls. We may think that our identity is in Christ, but in reality it may be in the success of our ministry, mothering, or marriage.
Just as the only hope an alcoholic has of being set free is seeing and confessing his real problem, so it is with us.
And so I stand before you and confess.
MY NAME IS DEE AND I AM AN IDOLATER
Each time an administrative assistant resigned, my diagnosis was that there was a problem with my assistant.
I needed help to see myself as I really was. Jeremiah tells us our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). Solomon tells us that our hearts are like deep, dark waters—but a friend of understanding can draw those waters out (Proverbs 20:5). When my friend Jan challenged my assessment of my situation, her words helped me see the idols lurking in the dark waters of my soul.
All of us need help to see ourselves as we really are. We can look in a mirror several times a day and not be shocked, and then someone hands us a photograph. Whoa! I have to change my hair ... lose weight ... never wear that dress again ...
This is why God tells us we so desperately need the body of Christ. (It is also why there is an accompanying Bible study for small groups at the back of this book.) God gave us to each other to help us see what we cannot see on our own and to encourage one another as we travel together in the same journey—the journey of being set free.
So my conversation with Jan was the beginning of my recognizing that something might be wrong with me, not the people who worked for me. Yet I needed more evidence. God gave that to me through a story. A story can open our eyes because it has the power to bypass our natural defenses and slip right into the heart.
That's what happened when Nathan came to King David, who, amazingly, was in denial about his sins of sexual abuse and murder. Nathan told him a story about someone else, a rich man who took a poor man's only lamb, a lamb he loved "like a daughter," and killed it, serving it for dinner. David was incensed and said, "As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die" (2 Samuel 12:5).
Nathan said to David, "You are the man!" (verse 7).
Finally David saw. We see his response of genuine repentance in Psalm 51.
After Jan's comment jolted me awake, God sent me my own Nathan through a sermon by Jim Om titled "Models of Manipulation." He spoke about the story of Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, "hanging on every word he said" (Luke 10:39, MSG), and of Martha boiling with anger as she works alone in the kitchen, finally bursting out with confrontation for Jesus and her sister.
You may have heard this story so often that your eyes glaze over when you hear it coming. I find Christian women think they already know the point of the passage. But do we? I've spoken and written about this story, but this time I heard it differently. So please read the following carefully, even if you think you already understand this story.
This is a story about idolatry and how it keeps us from Jesus.
MARTHA THE MANIPULATOR
How often I've heard women say, "I'd like to be a Mary, but I'm such a Martha." They think this is a story about trying hard to have the temperament of a Mary when God gave them the temperament of a Martha. It's not. Or they think it is a story about how sitting at Jesus' feet is more important than serving. But it is not about that either, because both are vital in the vibrant and balanced Christian life.
As Pastor Om pointed out, Martha had a heart idol, and the symptom of it was manipulation. He said one of the following signs occurs when a manipulator is in action:
1. An attempt to produce guilt
2. An unreasonable demand
When Martha comes charging out of that kitchen, her body language alone could have heaped a load of guilt upon her sister. But then she speaks "over" her sister and accuses the Lord: "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?" (Luke 10:40). Then she makes her demand, barking an order to the Son of God: "Tell her then to help me."
So we see the symptoms of an idol in Martha—irritability, anxiousness, manipulation, and friction in her relationships. What is her heart idol, the deep desire that ruled her words and actions more than love for Jesus? Pastor Om thinks it may have been human approval. If Martha truly is the Martha Stewart of biblical days, this visit from an important guest is her chance to shine. Perhaps she is stomping the grapes for the wine, slicing the cucumbers for the salad, and steaming the red snapper over the fire—so yes, she is stressed! She is also miffed at Mary, who seems oblivious to all that has to be done.
There was a time when I was quite sympathetic with Martha, thinking it unfair that she had to fix a meal for thirteen men by herself while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus. But if you look carefully at the pronouns in the text, it is possible that Jesus came alone. That's how Walter Wangerin imagines it in his novel The Book of God: "During these last three years He has usually come in the company of His disciples. He first makes sure they all have food and places to sleep in Bethany. Then He silently slips into our courtyard."
So if Jesus is alone, why is Martha in such a state preparing the meal? Charles Swindoll puts it like this: "Martha, Martha—chips and dip would be fine!"
Or it may have been that Martha's heart idol, her deepest desire, is to remain in control. She is a natural leader—and leaders often think they know better than anyone else how things should be done. Even when praying, they are telling the Lord who made the galaxies just how things should be done.
I know how easy this is to do.
DEE THE MANIPULATOR
When I listened to this sermon, I was cut to the heart, for I saw myself. When I would be unhappy with something an assistant did or didn't do, I let my irritability rise instead of taking it before the Lord and asking Him for insight. Was this really a problem worth mentioning? Was there something else going on in my relationship with God that was producing my irritability?
Instead, like Martha, I let the simmering in me come to a boil. I was not as likely to lash out, but I would often mention a concern "sideways." If my assistant arrived late for work, for instance, I might ask if everything was okay at home. This made me look sympathetic, but in reality I was making a jab about her lateness, asking her sideways to explain her tardiness. If she didn't, and innocently responded, "Yeah. Everything's good," I would be irked! She missed my meaning. Then my icy body language communicated disapproval.
It wasn't effective and it made her feel beaten down. So why did I do it? I did it because my heart is desperately wicked and I couldn't see the stone in my soul. I justified my behavior.
When Jim Om told this story, it was as if he handed me a photograph. It was hard to face my ugliness, to admit I had a tumor growing—but I am so thankful to God for showing me my cancer. He is radiating this tumor, but I also know I must keep coming to Him, for my tumor has a frightening capacity to regenerate.
One of the idols that calls most loudly to me is control. I often feel I know what is best. Like Martha, I was a micro-manager, thinking I knew how things should be run. I wanted a detailed accounting of how my assistant spent her time. Gaye was my first full-time assistant, and she was particularly gifted and devoted to the ministry. Yet I still felt the need to be in control. If I observed something that seemed amiss (as Martha observed Mary's absence in the kitchen), I often failed to slow down and look at my own heart and be still before the Lord. Instead, I jumped to my own defense, going over in my mind why Gaye was wrong and why I was right.
I remember a period when Gaye's closest friend was facing a crisis that involved continual and life-threatening surgeries for her young son. They lived three hours away and Gaye wanted to be at her side each time for surgery and recovery. I should have listened to Gaye more carefully and, even more so, to the Lord. Instead, I was "worried and anxious" about many things: Gaye doesn't really care about the ministry. There is so much work to be done—how can we get it done with her taking off like this all the time? I'm feeling overwhelmed. She needs to be here more, or things are going to fall apart.
The truth is, Gaye cared deeply about the ministry, but she also cared about her friend. She had done what was absolutely needed for the upcoming retreat, and she was asking for grace in this time of need.
The stone god in my heart, this boulder control, was producing irritability, anxiousness, and manipulation. I wasn't really seeing Gaye as Jesus saw her, as a caring person deeply hurting for her closest friend. I didn't feel I could tell Gaye not to go on a mission of mercy, but I did manage to make her feel guilty with a passive-aggressive remark or a sigh. Gaye began to feel frustrated and unappreciated.
God had provided me with a wonderful woman, and if I had given her grace and freedom, she might have stayed on with the ministry, or at the very least I would have known that I wasn't the reason she left. I also missed the chance to see God work. If I had been still before Him, listening to Him and allowing Him to be my control, who knows what good fruit would have been produced?
Whenever a name is uttered twice in the Bible, it indicates passion. David mourned over his son's body, crying: "O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!" Jesus looked over Jerusalem and cried, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem ... How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" And Jesus pleads with Martha: "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary" (Luke 10:41--42).
What would cause Jesus to use the double invocative with Martha? He sees her stone. He knows how it hurts her, how it weighs her down, how it robs her of peace and joy. His tone, I'm convinced, is compassionate rather than condemning.
God knows that the stones in our hearts are painful. They destroy relationships and ministries and keep us from experiencing Him. When He sees the stones in our hearts, He is grieved. He wants to remove them so that life can flow.
So Jesus reminds Martha that Mary has chosen the most important thing, which is to love the Lord with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our might (Deuteronomy 6:5).
The irony is that both Martha and I would have said we were serving God. And yet we were both working at cross-purposes with Him because we were not allowing Him to be in control. And we suffered. We were anxious, irritable, and missing the sweetness of Him. We also hurt other people.
Jesus wants us to turn from our paltry gods and trust Him to be our comfort, our control, and our approval. As the Stonecutter, He will break the painful stones of our heart and replace them with Himself. Ezekiel promises that God will change our heart of stone to a heart of flesh. When the stone "god" is removed, God's Spirit is no longer grieved, and He comes to reign in us, producing glorious fruit.
When we see Martha, later, at a party in celebration of the raising of her brother, Lazarus, she still has the type-A temperament and the gift of serving that God gave her. None of that has changed, nor should it. What has changed is that a stone has been removed from her heart so that her temperament and her gift are now being used as God intended. They are glorifying Him instead of feeding the stone tumor that was destroying her intimacy with God.
My sin of manipulation is fading and I am quicker to recognize when my idol of control is operating. Manipulative thoughts still come to mind, but I recognize them now as the enemies they are, and I am quicker to turn from them, to talk to my soul about God's love and wisdom, and then relinquish control to Him.
Excerpted from Idol Lies by Dee Brestin. Copyright © 2012 Dee Brestin. Excerpted by permission of WORTHY PUBLISHING.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted September 9, 2012
I have read many Christian books for women and not one has been as life changing as Idol Lies. One thing that sets Dee’s book apart from the others is her honest humility in sharing her own struggles. From page one, you are drawn in to her personal journey. She introduces women with struggles we can all relate to. But most importantly, with empathy and grounded biblical insight, she guides readers to the Truth that sets us free. Idol Lies aids the reader in identifying the hidden idols that we have become so comfortable with we don’t even recognize as idols. She helps us see how these idols are not the “friends” to our soul we think they are, but are hindrances to the life we were created for. Dee points readers to the path of freedom and living life for our One True Love. This book shook up my heart and challenged my thinking, and ultimately filled me with hope and a deeper love for Christ.
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