James Montgomery Boice explains the apparent paradox at the heart of the Christian life: We must become Christ’s slave before we can be truly free.
J.A. Medders tells us what the most important five-letter word in Calvinism is. (Hint: it’s not TULIP.)
Michael Card explains how God's kindness is a path that leads us to repentance, that leads us to Jesus.
Advent is a time for us to return to what this season—and our lives—are to be about: worship. Not just for Advent, but for always.
Humans have always loved idols. Israel’s history shows us that no matter how many miraculous wonders we witness, our hearts will always elevate the created before the Creator (Rom.1:25). What began as statues to Baal, Asherah poles, and Greek temples, continues to permeate our culture. These days, our idols look a bit nobler—a spouse, children, happiness, comfort, health—but they enslave us just like the idols of old.
Our idols don’t just settle for helping us break the second commandment, they permeate much deeper in our lives. The Psalms tell us that those who trust idols will become like them (Ps. 135:18). We may not turn into stone and wood, but eventually, the idols of our heart can chip away at significant areas in our spiritual lives.
The idols we create are blind, deaf, and mute, and if we continue serving them, we’ll eventually become the same. If left undisturbed and ignored, we may begin to lose our own sight, become deaf to others, and render our speech useless to the surrounding world.
Blind to Our Sin
One of the first ways we become like our idols is in becoming blind to our own sin. If we are in Christ, we have been given a new heart (Ezek. 36:26) and our eyes are opened to the gospel, yet the temptation to turn back towards darkness endures. It’s why the author of Hebrews exhorted the church to take care that no one has an unbelieving heart, “leading you to fall away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12-13).
Each person, feeling, circumstance, or dream we hold up as more important than God is ultimately a declaration of unbelief. Our idols make us believe that God won’t satisfy more than our they can. Our idols make us think that God’s grace isn’t enough, so we must make our own rules. They make us think that seeking our own comfort is more worthwhile than seeking the Lord’s glory.
We may not say these truths out loud, but the subtle deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13) will continue to feed our idols of unbelief, make excuses, and harden us to the sin we harbor. Some of us may continue to idolize health, blind to the ways we are trusting in our workouts to give us the peace that only God can give. Others may cloak our approval-seeking in righteous words like service or encouragement, but in reality, our idols stay hidden behind the sin we can’t see.
The trouble is, we can’t crush what we can’t see. This is where the passage in Hebrews gives us great hope. We must “exhort one another daily” (Heb. 3:13). Just as we could not open our eyes to Christ without his work, we need the Holy Spirit and Christ’s church to open our eyes to our blindness—even after salvation. It’s our brothers and sisters who can illuminate the darkness, and the Holy Spirit alone who can give us back our sight and put to death the idols of unbelief in our hearts.
Deaf to Our Brothers and Sisters
Our idols can make us become blind to our own sin, but they can also cause us to become deaf to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We see this played out in big and small ways in the church, whether it’s the prideful parent who refuses to seek any outside help, or the church member holding his politics so tightly that he can’t hear the concerns of a brother in Christ. Our strong opinions, steeped in the idolatry of self, can keep us so attuned to our own views that we can’t stop to give grace or charity to our dissenter.
But Christ calls us to something radical. He not only tells us to open our ears but to go even further by outdoing one another with honor (Rom. 12:10). We are told to bless those who hurt us, to be humble in our own eyes, and do what is honorable in the sight of all (Rom.12:14-17).
Beginning to knock down these idols begins by first finding the root. Where are we deaf to the concerns and wisdom of our brothers and sisters in Christ? What topics do we bristle at hearing a word of correction? Or what topics do we refuse to seek wisdom in?
You’ll likely have to ask a trusted brother or sister to help you see what you cannot. Of course, our brothers and sisters in these disagreements are sinners too, but Jesus tells us our first step is always to look upon our own sin (Matt. 7:3).
Mute to the World
Finally, our idols can mute our voice to the world around us, which fleshes out in two ways. The first is seen when our idols make us look exactly like the world around us. When we idolize comfort, a job, or happiness, we will inevitably be tossed into anxiety when these idols are not met. When the job is lost or life gets difficult, we will look no different than the unbeliever in the cubicle sitting right to us.
As Christians, however, our lives should look different because our hope is completely different. That doesn’t mean that we can’t feel stressed or experience difficulty, but it does mean that our priorities should look different than the unbelievers around us. When we continue to let the idols of our hearts take over, they rob us of the chance to preach a different and beautiful story to the world around us.
Secondly, our idols keep us from purposefully entering into the lives of those around us. Who has time to develop a relationship with a neighbor when we are too busy with our own projects? How do we encourage the woman behind us in the checkout when we are too concerned with our phone? The nature of man-made idols is that they must be maintained. We must keep feeding our need for approval, tone our body, multiply our entertainment—and when we do we are left with little time for else.
But again, Jesus calls us to something radical. We have a different mission than maintaining our idols. Instead, we are to give up our hold on everything in this world to gain everything in the beauty of Christ. We are to make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20) and to proclaim his name among the people God has put around us. And if we want to be ready to give an answer for the hope we have in Christ (1 Pt. 3:15), we must first clear away the idols that rob us of that voice.
Good News for Idolaters
While it’s painful to see the grip of idolatry, the good news is that we worship the God who stands above every idol. Just as the ancient statue of Dagon fell to the ground before the Ark of the Covenant, our own idols will fall prostrate before the true God of heaven (1 Sam. 5:2).
We don’t have to feel defeat but can seek out our idols so we can destroy them. We can stop to see what has been keeping us from speaking the gospel to those around us. We can ask God to show us where our ears have been closed to our family in Christ. And we can ask from the Holy Spirit and our brothers and sisters to help show us the sin we can’t see.
We may start to become like our idols, but it’s the power of the cross—the same power that raised Jesus from the dead—that gives us the power to crush them. Each day we can lean on the God who continues to breathe life and hope into our blind, deaf, and mute hearts.
Brianna Lambert is a wife and mom to three, making their home in the cornfields of Indiana. She loves using writing to work out the truths God is teaching her each day. She has contributed to various online publications such as Morning by Morning and Fathom magazine. You can find more of her writing paired with her husband’s photography at lookingtotheharvest.com.
If you’re a Christian, you’re a miracle. Your conversion was a restoration of fortunes, a miraculous release from captivity, and a joyful homecoming. With God, there are no “boring” testimonies. But over time, life gets boring. We wonder how we lost that lovin’ feeling. We want the good times back. More than that, we want a future of greater glory.
Israel anticipated the hopeful restoration of Zion. But they didn’t just hope for a prosperous city—they looked forward to a reigning king, their promised Messiah.
They looked forward to the time when, after the anticipation and the hope, after the promises and the prophecies, Jesus comes. He lives and dies and rises again to save his people from their sins.
But that’s not the end of the story. The Bible concludes not with a deep sigh of rest but cries out in desperate anticipation, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20). God’s people aren’t home just yet.
Such is the tone of Psalm 126, a psalm of ascent, filled with what was and longing for what will one day be.
LONGING FOR BETTER DAYS
Even without knowing much of the context, it’s easy to see that Psalm 126 speaks of an Israelite restoration so grand that even the surrounding nations remembered it (Ps. 126:2-3). Maybe it was their return from exile in Babylon. Maybe something else.
Whatever it was, it was like a dream (Ps.126:1). It was the happy day from which all others orbited, evoking laughter and joy, like Job after his suffering (Job 42:10). And the psalmist wanted another hopeful and joyous restoration.
Christians recognize this feeling of elation. Like the conversion experience or a season of personal revival, spiritual restoration awakens zeal for the gospel. These brief moments can stick in our memories for a lifetime, and if you’re like me, are ones to which your heart longs to return.
The psalmist understood that longing. The Lord had done great things for the people of God, and they were glad (Ps. 126:3). But that gladness faded, as it tends to do. We need more than memories of great things done. We need the hope of great things to come.
An initial reading of this psalm can leave the reader with the impression that nostalgia weighed the psalmist down—like remembering “the good ole days” that are now long gone. But that’s not quite the tone.
Nostalgia takes us half-way home; it takes us back to the place of our former blessing, but it can’t take us to future hope. Like the glory days of old, only God can take us to that blessed shore. Only God can gather us together with lasting joy, like Israel bringing in plenty during the harvest (Ps. 126:5-6).
“Nostalgia” first appeared as a word in the 1770s, springing from the combination of the Greek words nostos, meaning “homecoming,” and algos, meaning “pain.” In the 1800s, encyclopedias of medicine listed nostalgia as a disease: “severe homesickness.”
Isn’t that what we all are, to some degree or another? Homesick.
Israel sure was, even at home. So are we. We’re homesick for God, for what only he can provide. We’re homesick for final freedom, forgiveness, refuge, victory, and peace.
Christians live in a world that looks like home without the satisfaction of home. As C.S. Lewis said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” Made for another world, indeed. But we’re in this one now, and we must learn to live here.
LEARNING TO LIVE HERE
Far from a disease bringing one down, the memory of Psalm 126 causes the careful reader to swell with hope. Today may not be like yesterday, but God doesn’t intend to take us back to what was. He intends to bring us forward to what will one day be.
The Garden of Eden was a pointer to—not the culmination of—the glory to come. God’s gift of your future is better than the varied gifts of your past. In the end, even all the revivals of history will pale in comparison to the great revival coming on the clouds. Walking with Jesus is a journey of hope!
So Psalm 126 is not a great and longing sigh as much as it is the first verse of a new and hopeful song. Yes, there is a plea for restoration (Ps. 126:4), but it’s not a cry of desperation. It’s a cry of expectation. It’s a cry for God to do it again, grounded in faith that he will.
The lesson is that learning to live here is more than coping with a happy memory, it’s rejoicing in a coming glory. That doesn’t mean homesickness is easier to bear. It means, given to Christ, nostalgia points us homeward to glory rather than backward to the Garden.
Jesus reverses nostalgia’s direction. With him, as good as our past was, the best is yet to come.
THE GARDEN OF GRACE
No single event of blessing is enough to sustain us forever. We forget. We weaken. We falter. We fall.
We need a resurrection hope. That's why God sent his Sower to sow gospel seeds into our lives (Mark 4:1-20). But that seed doesn't grow instantly. Cultivating takes time we don’t often want to spend. It takes watering when we don’t want to. It takes, in a word, maturing.
Learning to pray our tears is the maturing process by which we prepare for a greater harvest. Psalm 126:5-6 promises “those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” As we weep toward God, he takes our tears and plants them in his garden of grace. They take root and grow. But the harvest comes later—as late as the resurrection.
SHOUTS OF JOY
I imagine Mary Magdalene and the other Mary on their way to the tomb of Jesus, weeping as they walk. What a joy it was to know him, to be by his side as he taught, as he healed, as he filled the world with happiness and hope. But that was yesterday. Today, their tears are with him in the grave, buried in the ground.
As they approach the garden tomb, the earth quakes and the stone rolls away. Someone stands before them. His appearance is like lightning. His clothing is white as snow. He seems to know their tears. “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen.”
Could it be? Then behold—he appears and says, “Greetings!”
They fall and worship. Then they rise and go, to tell his disciples that they too will see him. (Matt. 28:1-10).
In other words, they’re coming home with shouts of joy (Ps. 126:6).
NO MORE TEARS
Sally Lloyd-Jones captures this joyful mood in The Jesus Storybook Bible. Mary runs,
And it seemed to her that morning, as she ran, almost as if the whole world had been made anew, almost as if the whole world was singing for joy—the trees, tiny sounds in the grass, the birds . . . her heart.
Was God really making everything sad come untrue? Was he making even death come untrue?
She couldn’t wait to tell Jesus’ friends. ‘They won’t believe it!’ she laughed.
She laughed. Oh, she laughed!
Her mouth was filled with laughter (Ps. 126:2) because the Lord had done great things for her (Ps. 126:3). But not only for her. The Lord had done great things for all his people, for all his friends, for all of us.
Those great things of the resurrection came by way of death. That’s the Christian life: first the cross, then the crown. It's the planting that produces the harvest, the death that produces life. As Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).
Jesus is the proof that buried hope grows into glorious reality. The tears of the cross bore the fruit of the resurrection. He went out weeping, bearing his life for sowing; he came home with sheaves (Ps. 126:6), bringing many sons to glory (Heb. 2:10).
COMING HOME TO A BETTER STORY
Israel’s story was a good one, but a better one was yet to come. And there’s a better one coming for us, as well.
One day, the Lord will restore our fortunes—untarnished communion with him, coram deo. The first earth will pass away, and the holy city, the New Jerusalem, will come down out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
We will receive our glorified bodies on the new heaven and new earth. On that great and glorious day, God will say to all his people, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man” (Rev. 21:1-4). He will wipe every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more!
No more mourning. No more crying. No more pain.
The former things will have passed away.
We’ll finally be home.
David McLemore is an elder at Refuge Church in Franklin, Tennessee. He also works for a large healthcare corporation where he manages an application development department. He is married to Sarah, and they have three sons. Read more of David’s writing on his blog, Things of the Sort.
[i] Timothy J. Keller, “Praying Our Tears,” February 27, 2000, City Life Church, Boston, sermon, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive.