Thursday, August 16, 2012

That Pesky Thorn (Part Three)

A Few More Thorns

This is the third of a three-part series, suggesting that compromise with the wrong things can have disastrous results. 
In Part One, we saw that the altars the people of Israel allowed to remain constantly enticed them away from their God, and He no longer helped them defeat their enemies.  The compromise they made gave rise to a metaphorical “thorn in their side” – a constant disturbance to their relationship with God, and a persistent source of temptation.
In our lives, we might compromise with certain things that we know should be eliminated.  We fail to “tear down our altars”, getting rid of the things that pull us away from God because, to be honest, we like whatever it is that God asks us to release.  In the end, that thing, whatever it is, becomes a “thorn” to us.
In Part Two, I shared an example from my own life when I failed to get rid of something I knew I should eliminate.  I saw very clearly and powerfully how that unreleased thing quickly became a “thorn in my side”, and robbed me of victory.
In Part Three, we will look at a few examples of things that could be classified as an “altar” because they can become more important to a person than God.  We will see how those “altars”, if left intact, can produce thorns, causing trouble and pain to us and everyone around us.
These “altars” might be things, activities, or even attitudes.  Let’s take a look at a few of them. We could cite many examples of each.  Here are just a few.
Consumables – Legal and Otherwise
Any recovering alcoholic knows that it is not a good idea to keep alcohol around the house.  On days when an alcoholic is not sober, getting the next drink is more important to them than anything else.  The same holds true for drug use.  The desire for the next drink, the next fix, eclipses everything else.  It doesn’t matter that family members are hurt.  It doesn’t matter that this “altar” gets in the way of being close to God.  As the alcoholic or the addict gives in to the desire for a drink or a fix, this addiction becomes a “thorn” that harms everyone around.
Now, you may be thinking, “I don’t have a problem like that.  I’m not an alcoholic or a drug addict.  No altars to tear down here.” 
Slow down a minute.  Let’s think about this.
What about that expensive Starbucks habit and the frequent visits to your favourite fast food place that sucks money from your family’s bank account and drains what you could have otherwise given to God’s work?
What about that chocolate cake in the refrigerator, or the super-size bag of potato chips in the cupboard that you know you shouldn’t eat because you know it is not good for you.  It harms your body, the temple of the Holy Spirit
OK, OK.  Conviction is at work here.  I am sitting here at my computer with a glass of Coke Zero in front of me.  This soda has been a big “altar” in the past as I drank way too much of it to the harm of my body.  I have been doing fairly well keeping this altar torn down recently, but I have it here now, and I know where having it around can lead.  Excuse me a moment while I go pour the rest of the glass down the drain………
All right.  I’m back.  I poured out the rest of the bottle, too.  If I hadn’t, that bottle sitting there in the fridge would keep calling to me the whole time I am trying to write this post.  It would become to me…a thorn in my side.
I am not na├»ve.  Some of these “altars” are more difficult to deal with than others.  I will say, though, that a habit of any kind – alcohol, drugs, potato chips…or Coke Zero –  is far more difficult to fight if the “thorn” is readily available to tempt us than it would be if the “thorn” was not in easy access.

In this age of electronics, we can play games on our computer, our iPads, smartphones, X-Boxes …and the list goes on.  These objects can become “altars” that suck away our time and energy from people we love and from our Heavenly Father.  While not bad in and of themselves, just as no one food is sinful in and of itself, overindulgence  is an “altar” that must be torn down if we do not want to see a painful, damaging thorn growing up in this area.

Eyes Only
Certain activities can give rise to a “thorn” that disrupts relationships with others and with God.  Many of these examples involve both things and activities.
Consider the devastation caused by involvement with pornography. I believe that there are many who play around with this “altar” and think it is not a problem.  Whether a person is addicted to pornography or is just dabbling around in it, that person is playing a dangerous game.  Make no mistake about it, the “altar” of pornography will grow a massive “thorn” that will poison your relationship with your husband or wife, and with God.
So, how does one tear down this “altar”?  Start by getting rid of the magazines stored in a box under your bed.  Start by moving your computer into a public place in your home, and installing appropriate software on it.  If the shortest route home from work involves driving past a tempting adult video store, take the long way home.  Ladies, if you find that you are having a difficult time keeping your thoughts clean and being satisfied with your husband…you might consider whether steamy romance novels are growing a thorn in your marriage.  There is likely to be more to do than steps like these, but if you don’t take these measures, everything else will be exponentially more difficult.
Night Owl Alert
I can just imagine some readers thinking they are off the hook because pornography has never been an issue in their lives.  Very good.  I’m glad.  What about the habit of staying up until the wee hours of the morning watching late night television?  How could that be an “altar”? How could that give rise to a “thorn” that damages relationships?
I have found this to be an issue.  I am a night owl.  I admit it.  Sometimes, though, I take it a bit too far.  When I have stayed up late too many nights in a row, I am shorter-tempered with my daughter.  I don’t think as clearly.  When I try to have my quiet time with God, I find myself dozing off as I read my Bible.
The solution?  Self-discipline.  Make sure to schedule activities so they finish earlier in the evening.  Turn off the TV and pass on that extra movie that would keep you up until 2 AM.  Don’t start something at 8 PM that you know is likely to take four hours instead of just thirty minutes.  This may be easier if you are married and your spouse can make the same commitment.  I will have a harder time finding this accountability and support as a single mom, but I still need to do it.

Sunday Morning at the Beach and Other Distracting Activities
We should be actively teaching our children about God all week long, but God told us to not forsake assembling together with other believers for a reason (Hebrews 10:25).  He never intended our faith in Him to be lived out on our own.  He didn’t intend families to go it alone either.  We grow best in the company of others.
I realize I may step on some toes here.  Many people are extremely busy all week long, and see Sunday as their one day to sleep in, go to the beach, or do some other fun activity..
You say that you can worship God at the beach as easily as you do in church.  Could be.  But DO you?  Really?  Or do you habitually exchange time focused on worship and drawing closer to God for activities that relegate God to the sidelines as an afterthought?  Yes?  Then that activity has become an “altar”.  If that is happening in your home, that is what your children will learn from you.  A faith that belongs on the sidelines of life.  By the time this kind of faith is passed on to your grandchildren, it is likely to be practically non-existent.  How do you like that thorn?

Finally, let’s look at a couple attitude altars.  I suggested that we sometimes don’t want to tear down our altars because we like them.  If that is the case, how do these “altars” fit in?  Bitterness and unforgiveness certainly don’t sound fun.  True.  But they can make us feel powerful, and that may feel preferable to feeling hurt. 

Bitterness and Unforgiveness
When someone has wronged us, we often like to nurse a grudge.  As we rehearse the other person’s faults, refusing to forgive them, we grow more and more bitter.  The wrongs done to us appear bigger and bigger.  We feel justified in holding on to our anger.  When we are angry, we feel powerful.  That is why we don’t want to let go of it.
These “altars” of bitterness and unforgiveness produce particularly damaging thorns.  If we harbour bitterness and unforgiveness in our hearts toward a husband, wife, friend, boss, co-worker, pastor, or neighbour, it will be impossible for that relationship to grow strong and healthy.  If we harbour bitterness toward God, we will remain far from Him.  The “thorn” of bitterness will choke the life out of our relationships.  God cannot give us the victory He would like to give.
God’s Word tells us not to allow the sun to set while we are still angry (Ephesians 4:26).  We are to tear down these “altars” quickly.  Yes, we will be angry sometimes, but we are not to remain that way. 
We must release the bitterness that poisons our hearts.  We must extend forgiveness to those who have wronged us realizing that Jesus forgave us first (Ephesians 4:32).

So whether the “altars in our lives come in the form of objects, activities, or attitudes, we need not allow them to remain.  God asks us to get rid of everything that gets in between us and God.  When we do, we tear down the “altars” that get in the way of our relationships.  We pull the pesky thorns up by the roots.
 Take some time to consider what “altars” big or small are in your life.  What “thorns” have you seen growing up as you allow the “altar” to remain? What is God asking you to do to tear down the “altar”?  When you do, you free Him to work powerfully to give you victory against the enemies of your family and your soul.

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