Hollow Deception: Are You Susceptible?

HOLLOW. It’s a term that conveys a sense of emptiness. I remember, when I was a kid, my parents bought me a large chocolate Easter bunny. I was excited as I bit into the ears (don’t we all?) only to be met with instant disappointment. While expected a thick chunk of milk chocolate, I was met with a thin layer of cheap chocolate and a mouthful of hollow center. While that may not be the best example of gratitude toward a free gift, it is a prime example of how unexpected hollowness makes one feel. Oftentimes, those suffering from depression will liken their low points as a feeling of hollowness. Not only does being hollow represent emptiness, but it also can imply a state of deadness. For instance, think of a dry tree in the woods that has been hollowed out over the years. It is completely dead, bears no fruit, and yet remains standing alone in the woods.

5 Say to all the people of the land and to the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months these seventy years, was it actually for Me that you fasted? When you eat and drink, do you not eat for yourselves and do you not drink for yourselves?

Zechariah 7:5-6, NASB

In the above example, we see rigid fasting and acts of worship. However, they were empty. They were hollow. Far from being an acceptable form of worship, later in the chapter, we see that God did not hear them. He had spoken His law to them and they received it not. Similarly, God did not receive what they brought to the table. It was not true worship meant for Him. Everything they did was for themselves. As Matthew Henry puts it in his commentary, “There was the form of duty, but no life, or soul, or power in it. Holy exercises are to be done to God, looking to his word as our rule, and his glory as our end, seeking to please him and obtain his favour; but self was the centre of all their actions.”

Is “hollow” a term you would use to describe your spiritual life? Is your worship hollow? I think it’s safe to say we’ve all felt hollow at times. From my own personal experience, I’ve found myself simply reciting lyrics to a worship song. I’ve found myself tuning out during a sermon. I’ve found myself silently hoping the worship leader wouldn’t ask everyone to stand for the next song. While it may be the case, I don’t think I’m alone in this. There are times in my life where I just don’t feel like it. What is it? Exactly! “It” is literally anything having to do with worship. In those moments, I just don’t feel like it. So, what makes me any different than the casual atheist who is only at church because his parents want him there? While there is no remorse among the atheist, by the grace of God, I am convicted of this every time “it” sneaks up. Our bodies are temples. While the unbeliever’s temple is hollow, void of any real god (Psalm 115:4-7), believers have the indwelling of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). It’s the Spirit who drives us to worship in joyful faith (Galatians 5:25). It’s also the Spirit who convicts when we may lapse into the draw of the flesh (John 6:18). While there is no hope in the life of the atheist, we have a great hope (2 Corinthians 3:12).

There may come times where we feel hollow. It’s during these times that we must rest in the promises of God, trust the prompting of the Spirit, and put our belief into practice. I’m convinced we fall into these moments when we begin to think of God as an academic topic, and worship becomes another action that we’re supposed to do. However, God is no mere topic for a textbook. He is a great and mighty God (Isaiah 9:6). He is the Creator of all things (Colossians 1:16) and is worthy of all praise (Psalm 145:3) and glory (Psalm 115:1). If you are currently in a place where worship is a struggle, let this serve as an encouragement. We not only owe it to God, but He has given us the joyful privilege of doing so. He has called us out of darkness and into the light that we may proclaim his excellencies (1 Peter 2:9).

Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 6:1, NASB

On the flip side of feeling hollow, there is the equal danger of being hollow while feeling fulfilled. This comes in the form of self-righteousness and pride. People tend to desire acceptance and approval among their peers. This is a natural desire for us. Recognizing this can greatly help avoid falling into the trap of merely appearing holy. After all, we’re warned that pride goes before the fall (Proverbs 16:18). It would be a bitter irony to go from feeling hollow while being filled, to feeling filled while being filled, to feeling filled while being hollow, only to go to feeling hollow while being hollow.

As you work out your faith with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), remember who it is that is worthy of glory and honor and power (Revelation 4:11). Enjoin yourself to the church in fellowship with the saints (Hebrews 10:25), submitting to the teaching of your elders (Hebrews 13:17), and abide in Christ (John 15:4), lest you be taken captive by empty and hollow deceit (Colossians 2:8).

~ Travis W. Rogers

It Is Not Good…

ALONE. Have you ever felt completely and utterly alone? I don’t mean the occasional feeling of missing a loved one or even the feeling of being ostracized for an opinion. I’m referring to the deepest sense of the word. Have you ever felt as if you had nobody to turn to, nobody to love you, and nobody who cared about you? I can honestly say I haven’t ever felt this deep feeling of loneliness, yet I know there are many who have. It is discouraging to me whenever I hear of someone who feels this way. As mankind, God has decreed that it is not good that we be alone (Genesis 2:18). As saddening as it may be to me, I can only imagine how depressing and devastating it must be in the life of the one who has lost all hope of human connection. Sadly, we all too often see the tangible results of such thoughts and feelings. While the holidays are meant to be a time of reconciliation and family togetherness, for many, it is a time of hopelessness. Instead of smiles and laughs, we read of suicides and mourning loved ones who just couldn’t be seen through the fog of despair.
I’m reminded of a time when I had an encounter with a random stranger. He confided in me that he had renounced the Christian faith. His reasons were plenty but one in particular stood out to me. He felt like God had abandoned him. In a time of extreme struggle and hardship, he reached out to God but felt as if God had not reached out in return. To him, this was the final straw. How could a loving God leave a man in such turmoil? How could a kind God sit back and watch as he suffered the indignities of cruel humanity? How could the Father not respond to His child when he was pleading for help? At this moment, he had lost all hope in man and had reconciled in his mind that God was nothing more than the imaginary hope that man wanted Him to be. He was now hopeless. He had nobody.
How do we respond to such confessions? Do we treat them as any other criticism of the Christian faith? Do we bust out our Bibles and begin the Scripture recitations? Ashamedly, this is how many self-proclaimed Christians behave when faced with similar situations. There is a time and a place for standing firm in the Scriptures at all costs but there is always time to let the Scriptures speak in love. I saw it as the perfect opportunity to share with him God’s redemptive story beginning in Genesis all the way through Revelation. I shared how God had created mankind perfect and upright in His image (Genesis 1). I explained how mankind fell to the temptations of Satan and how, as a result, mankind was cursed (Genesis 3). I shed light on some practical examples and how sin shows itself in our daily lives. I explained how we have all sinned (Romans 3:23) and are worthy of death (Romans 6:23). We looked at Ephesians 2:1 telling us we are dead in our trespasses and sins. He had shared with me how he had done so much for his fellow man only to be greeted with thanklessness in return. This prompted a review of Isaiah 64:6 where he states that even our greatest works are as filthy rags. Sin is nothing more than a failure to put God at the center of all things. Regardless of what we may deem good, it will always be in the relative sense. Unless God is at the center, it will always be as foul as filthy, blood-stained rags. Nothing we can ever dream of doing will ever earn God’s favor nor should we expect it to net us something in return. Even if our entire life should reflect the portion where Job suffered worst, it would only be a small portion of what we actually deserve for our rebellion against God Almighty.
My goal in all of this was to show how, as mankind, we are depraved and sinful beings. We have a sense of entitlement when, in reality, we deserve nothing. Yet, as sinful beings worthy of nothing, God has decreed that it is not good for man to be alone. Indeed, even when we have nothing, we know that God does not want us to feel alone. I could’ve left our discussion at that but then I’d be no better than those fierce Christians I spoke of earlier. Where would my demonstration of Christ-like love be? After all, he was already feeling the bitterness of being alone. Should I kick him while he’s down and tell him he deserves nothing due to his sinfulness? No, there was too much left to the story to leave it at that. I wanted to make it abundantly clear that God has promised never to leave nor forsake His own (Hebrews 13:5). If we have been reconciled to the Father through Christ the Son (2 Corinthians 5:18), He will always be with us. Though we may not always feel His presence, we can be assured He is there with us. Just as He has declared it is not good for man to be alone, He has also declared we will always have communion with Him through the Son.
Of course, none of this would be complete without tying it into Christ’s redemptive work. I wanted to highlight the fact that Christ, God in the flesh, came to this Earth with a specific purpose. He lived a sinless life only to be met with contempt. He demonstrated love in its perfection only to be met with hate, mockery, and an excruciating death. He who knew no sin became sin on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:21). Hanging on that cross, he was cursed by God (Galatians 3:13) so that we would not be. Christ knew communion with God better than any of us could ever imagine. He was God! He had the most intimate of relationships with the Father. Yet, this innocent man came of his own accord to give himself up as the ultimate sacrifice to appease the wrath of God and reconcile all of His own. That moment when Christ became sin (note, not a sinner), he experienced perhaps the greatest agony of all. No, it was not the nails piercing his skin nor was it the scourged flesh hanging off his body. Nor was it the salted sweat dripping into his wounds. In the midst of such torment, Christ had to endure the fact that God the Father turned His back on His Son (Matthew 27:46). This was the most unimaginable sorrow any man had ever felt. Christ had the feeling of absolute loneliness on that cross. His own Father had forsaken him. It had to be this way if Christ were to accomplish that which he came to perform.
As alone as a person may feel, it will never come close to what Christ had to endure. God Himself has assured us of this. Friends, if you or someone you know ever feels totally alone, I encourage you to remember that God is with you. Even if your heart tells you there is nobody there, please understand that the heart is deceitful above all else and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). Though the Christian has been set free from the shackles of sin, there is still a very real battle against the flesh. If you are a Christian, I implore you to pray harder than ever before and to not lose hope that God is by your side. Whether or not you feel He is answering your prayers, they will be answered in His perfect time and we need to place our unwavering trust in the God who created the universe. Trust that the God who forsook His Son has promised never to leave nor forsake us. This should be an encouragement of the utmost degree. If you are not a Christian, it is my prayer that you would look to God, cast all of your burdens upon Him, show yourself before Him, and trust in the miraculous gift of Christ. Only then will you truly understand the hope that is found within (1 Peter 3:15). Friend, you do not have to be alone.
~Travis W. Rogers

Spanish Rice Theology

I’m at work and lunch has come. I’m reheating my Spanish rice in the microwave and can practically taste it already. It smelled like it had been prepared from scratch. Little did anybody know, I made it from a package that required nothing more than a little water and a heated pot. This thought had me reflecting on how it must’ve been before food came prepackaged. Nowadays, it seems everything comes in a box, can, or bag. The frozen foods section is stacked with everything you could imagine. How did people live before this innovation? What happened to the days when cooking was an art? What happened to the days when your every day household cook knew exactly what oregano or paprika tasted like and how much should be added? Sadly, they are gone forever. In our day and age, we have truly lost the art of cooking. We’ve lost the art of compiling all of the individual ingredients, slaving over the stove, and producing a delicious meal as the fruits of your labor.

Isn’t theology much like this? I’ve never seen more self-proclaimed theologians than I do today. Facebook and the rest of the internet are filled with them. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. In fact, I find it exciting that more and more people are gaining a hunger for biblical truth. However, just as we’ve lost the art of cooking, it seems as if we have also lost the art of theology. Just as grocery stores have made products readily available, the internet is a repository of a nearly infinite number of theological resources. After 5 minutes of searching, you can have a library filled with more sermons that you could listen to in a lifetime. There are entire websites dedicated to commentaries, frequently asked questions, sermons, e-books, and more. In fact, there are even sites dedicated to providing ready-made sermons for pastors who haven’t had time to prepare their own. It’s almost scary how readily available theological content has become. It’s all prepackaged nowadays. Gone are the days of pouring through the Scriptures and matching up the cross references. Gone are the hours, days, and weeks of meditating upon the Word of God and allowing the Spirit to move and change you as an individual throughout the course of your studies. The days of the Christian allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture, piecing together the entire truth of Scripture, slaving over the pages of Scripture, and topping it off with the wisdom of those who have gone before all with the purpose of producing a convicting and exciting sermon are seemingly vanishing rapidly. Gone is the art of theology.

Just as prepackaged food isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I do not believe prepackaged theology is inherently evil. In fact, it can often be quite convenient and efficient. That being said, both can lead to weakness if not kept under control. Just as continuous use of prepackaged food will eventually lead to an individual lacking cooking skills, continuous use of prepackaged theological resources will lead to a weak theologian. Theology is more than having the right URL. It’s more than having the right answer. Theology is having a proper reverence for God while being changed in the course of your studies. If you find yourself rushing straight to your favorite commentary upon being asked a question you don’t immediately have an answer for, I urge you to take a step back, breathe, and crack open your bible first. Let the Spirit speak to you as you meditate on the Word. After you’ve gathered all your ingredients, by all means, top it off with a dash of commentary and serve the Gospel to all who will hear.

Bon appetit!

~ Travis W. Rogers

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