My milking parlor is a crucible. Heat is applied to my soul. Dross rises, like cream, to the surface. The same place of epiphany and mingling of my praises with sparrow-song tributes is the place where my sin patterns erupt. God’s cleansing me. One moment I’m thinking about a scripture story, maybe a recent sermon, maybe a passage I tucked in my pocket, now iodine-stained and tattered; the next moment a painful memory slips in and fear creeps in or I nurse a deeply felt, unmet longing and I watch anger grow into gloom. Hint: there’s an idol down deep in my heart.
Listen to Timothy Keller:
“When idolatry is mapped onto the future – when our idols are threatened – it leads to paralyzing fear and anxiety. When it is mapped onto the past – when we fail our idols – it leads to irremediable guilt. When idolatry is mapped onto the present life – when our idols are blocked or removed by circumstances – it roils us with anger and despair.”
|“There is much emphasis on notoriety and fame in our society. Our newspapers and television keep giving us the message: What counts is to be known, praised, and admired, whether you are a writer, an actor, a musician, or a politician.
Still, real greatness is often hidden, humble, simple, and unobtrusive. It is not easy to trust ourselves and our actions without public affirmation. We must have strong self-confidence combined with deep humility. Some of the greatest works of art and the most important works of peace were created by people who had no need for the limelight. They knew that what they were doing was their call, and they did it with great patience, perseverance, and love.”
Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
I’m an atta-boy addict. I demand it from those close to me, early and often. Withhold it and a button gets pushed. “Do you like the faithful service and support I provide around here? Haven’t heard a thank-you lately. Did you not notice?” Now, add in the slightest hint of suggestion or correction, and you just pressed the red nuke button. I escalate into full blown entitled demands. “Why are you so good at catching me do it wrong? A little thanks would go a long way. How about some encouragement? Am I on the inside of this team? I sure feel like the bumbling idiot. Oh, I am so inadequate.”
A cow swats me with a well-aimed tail, knocking my glasses off. I can’t find them. I can’t see. I want to punch something. An unexpected, skillful hind leg somehow crushes my forearm between bone and steel. I do punch something. Out fly previously suppressed profanities. Dross arising!
Sometimes, by God’s grace, I hear myself articulating my idea of the good life that’s been denied; partly directed toward those close to me, partly at God. It’s an awareness, a subtle inward shift in my soul. Hot anger shifts to piercing conviction. I feel my need for remedy more than my demand for approval. I own the dross and confess my sin.
Listen as the Psalmist gives us a voice to our Prayer of Confession:
“Our Father in heaven, we have sinned. We have done wrong and acted wickedly. We give no thought to Your miracles; we do not remember Your many acts of kindness. How quickly we forget what You have done! We don’t wait for your plan to unfold. We give in to our craving; we put You to the test. We trade our glorious God for a cheap imitation. We won’t believe Your promises to us. Instead, we grumble and refuse to obey You. We worship idols, which become a snare to us. Save us, O Lord our God! Gather us back to you, so we can thank Your holy name and glory in Your praise.” (adapted from Psalm 106)
A quick-handed ladle removes the dross. We have new ears to hear Paul express the Promise of Forgiveness:
“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? God is the one who justifies.” (Romans 8:32-33)
“Graciously give us all things?” There’s the good life I long for.
Another deep shift happens. Rock and I exchange whispers.
“My dear Ron, what is it that you lack?”
“Oh, my dear Shepherd, I lack nothing.”
The atta-boy addict emerges from the milking parlor pit with a remedy. Repentance and forgiveness have worked their wonderful way. God’s cleansing has removed a layer of dross revealing deep longings aimed in a new direction.
 Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods, pg. 149.