top of page

Failed Attempts and Idols

Updated: Mar 10, 2019

by Dave Miller

Previous Chapter 3.4 | Next Chapter 3.6

The picture spoke for itself. In August of 2015, on the banks of the Evros river in Turkey, a rescue worker held the cold limp body of a three-year-old Syrian boy.

A family fleeing with hope for a safer home found only more tragedy. The picture speaks on behalf of hundreds of thousands of refugees pouring into Europe to escape civil war, terrorists, destruction, and 250,000+ dead. Paris was rocked by coordinated terrorist attacks while Facebook lit up with French flag profiles. Allepo, London, North Korea… our news feeds are filled with another tragedy, another war, another destroyed family.

This was NOT God’s original design.

Our world is broken. So broken in fact, that all of our attempts to fix our brokenness only leave us in more brokenness. The possibilities are as endless as our imagination when it comes to solving our own problems.

Honestly, we don’t recognize the root of the problem. Paul Tripp says, “[Sin] reduces our lives to the claustrophobic confine of one.” [1] We create our problems, and then believe we are the solution to our problems. We are still sowing fig leaves together to hide our shame with no ability whatsoever to actually remove our guilt. It is the vicious cycle of the blind leading the blind. Jesus told us the result:

“Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?” (Luke 6:39).

And pits we find, then gladly jump in thinking somehow this new pit will be the answer.

Talk with just about anyone who trusts anyone or anything besides Jesus to solve the problems. They try to sound convincing.

  • When I get the next promotion then I will have the respect I need and deserve.

  • When I get that raise then I will have the money to buy the house we need and we can finally be comfortable.

  • I will log onto Ashley Madison to find that extra thrill my wife can’t give me anymore.

  • If more people were religious like me, it would be a much better place.

  • There really isn’t any point, so live and let live.

  • If you only live once you might as well have fun.

Do you see the “me, my, and mine?” Sometimes others are so good at finding there own solutions, they write books and make millions leading other blind men into their pit. Like a rubber band, every attempt we make only snaps us right back into our broken mess.

Broken men cannot fix broken lives with broken means.

That is the funny thing about sin; it convinces us that we are good enough. Just like Adam and Eve we trust in our own broken judgment, then call it wisdom. The Apostle Paul wrote about our foolishness:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things (Rom. 1:21-23).

We decide. Then we always fail, because our trust is in someone who can’t deliver, ourselves. We are deluded once again by our claustrophobic confine of one.

Good Enough?

A well-respected religious leader once held a dinner party and invited Jesus to join he and his friends. As they were reclining at the table enjoying the spread of fruits, breads, and drink, an uninvited woman of the city came to the dinner. You could almost hear the thoughts of those around the table in the astonished quietness of the room. With every eye fixated, she simply knelt down at Jesus’ outstretched feet and began to weep, every tear dropping gently upon the teacher’s dusty feet.

Drip … drip … … … drip.

The salty moisture began to create a thin layer of mud. The more she wept the more she cradled Jesus’ feet in her hands. Falling face down she began to wipe the dirty mess with her hair. Between the hurried sobs and gentle wipes, Jesus waited patiently for the woman to finish.

“Was this woman invited?” wondered the dinner guests.

Simon, the host of the party couldn’t believe what he was seeing, “Doesn’t he know who this woman is?” he thought to himself. “If he really was a prophet like people say, he would surely know this woman washing his feet is a sinner.”

But Jesus knew what was in Simon’s heart.

The woman was still crouched. She gently poured an alabaster jar of ointment and began kissing Jesus feet. “Simon,” Jesus said. Simon slowly turned his impenetrable gaze from the uncomfortable moment taking place in his home and made eye contact with Jesus. “I have something to say to you.”

Simon answered, “Say it teacher.”

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty,” Jesus said. “When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Trying to avoid the awkward woman lying at Jesus’ feet in the middle of dinner, the room quickly shifted their attention to the conversation between Jesus and Simon. “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt,” Simon answered.

Jesus unassumingly answered, “You have judged rightly.” Then he drew the room’s attention back to the woman lying behind him in the floor. “Simon, do you see this woman?” he asked.

How could he not? He had been trying to avoid the whole event, but now he had no choice. The dinner guests caught a glimpse of the woman’s face as she looked up. The front of her hair was wet and matting in the brown silt of the leftover dusty roads. Trailing down her cheeks were brown stained tears washing clean a path as they fell to the floor. The aroma of expensive ointment had now filled the room and was inescapable to every hushed breath. What would Jesus do with this sinful woman?

Then Jesus, after firmly locking everyone’s attention upon the woman said to Simon, “I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

The bold truth was gracefully proclaimed and everyone in the room knew who had been forgiven much that day. And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Then those who were at table with him began to say amongthemselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?”

And Jesus said to the woman, Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”[2]

I told this story one early morning while sharing coffee and pancakes with my cousin who had trusted Jesus just a few weeks before. Luke, our IHOP waiter, had served us every week as Jon and I met for our 5:30 am discipleship time. His curiosity of our conversations allowed us to share the gospel with him and learn that just a few months before he too had become a follower of Jesus out of a homeless lifestyle as a result of addiction. So each week we began to train him on how to make disciples. This particular morning, when I finished the story of the sinful woman Luke rocked back on his heels, covered his mouth and shouted, “Oh no he dih-int, Jesus just told Simon!”

Luke understood.

Simon wasn’t the most worthy in the room, Jesus was. To Simon, Jesus was a guest who could bring him honor. To the woman, Jesus was to be honored. The one who understood her brokenness walked away forgiven.

The Heart of the Matter

No matter how hard we try we cannot do anything about our corrupted hearts and broken sinful lives. We can sit at the heads of tables, have the most honored guests in our homes, receive the respect of those around us and all of it is our way of sowing fig leaves to cover our inward shame and insecurity. We can practice religious piety, give and sacrifice on behalf of others, serve our community, and love the unlovable, all the while scared that someone will look past our cover and see the reality of our hearts. We look to someone else or something else to give us value because we are created to bear the Image not be the image. We will worship someone or something, and will become like the object of our worship. The Bible simply calls this idolatry.

And God spoke all these words, saying:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods beforeme. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments (Ex. 20:1-6).

God’s top two commandments:

  1. Have no other God before me.

  2. You will not make carved images.

There is only one Image to seek. There is only one Image we were created to reflect, God’s. When we choose another we surely become like another. Sin has led our hearts to another. But why?

The treasonous heart can only be rescued by death and rebirth. We need a new heart! God said:

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).

When God calls to his people:

“Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds,”

they respond,

“‘That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart” (Jer. 18:11-12).

So what is the “heart” of man? Again Paul Tripp’s teaching is helpful. He calls the heart the “causal core of your personhood,” in other words what makes you do what you do.[3] Our heart is our mind, will, and emotions that together create our desires, motivations, and inclinations. Our heart sets the trajectory of life through our decisions, actions, and reactions. Is it any wonder that Jesus said:

“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

Or when he said:

“What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person” (Matt. 15:18-20a).

Or when he was asked what is the greatest commandment in the law and Jesus simply responded:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 22:37-40).

Listen to what the scriptures are teaching us about ourselves. We are deceived if we trust our own wicked hearts. God must provide for us an inward heart change impossible on our own. So God said:

“I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart” (Jer 24:7).

And again in Ezekiel:

“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh ” (Ezekiel 11:19).

And God kept the promise. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:1-5a:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the bodyand the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…

We need a new heart and God has provided one through Jesus Christ.

Up Next: Perfect Image, Perfect Savior

Until there's #NoPlaceLeft...


[1]Paul Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s hands ?

[2]The story of the Sinful Woman was taken from Luke 7:36-50 and is used in the short-term discipleship outlined in Chapter 4 “Disciple-Making Rethunk.”

[3]Paul Tripp reference check


Sentergy: When Jesus, People, Practice and Theology Collide



Chapter 1: The Glory of God

Chapter 2: The Glory of God in Jesus

Chapter 3: The Glory of God in the Gospel

bottom of page