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Archive for Idolatry


The Real Battle:: IDOLATRY

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But the LORD said to Joshua, “Get up! Why are you lying on your face like this? Israel has sinned and broken my covenant! They have stolen some of the things that I commanded must be set apart for me. And they have not only stolen them but have lied about it and hidden the things among their own belongings. That is why the Israelites are running from their enemies in defeat. For now Israel itself has been set apart for destruction. I will not remain with you any longer unless you destroy the things among you that were set apart for destruction. “Get up! Command the people to purify themselves in preparation for tomorrow. For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Hidden among you, O Israel, are things set apart for the LORD. You will never defeat your enemies until you remove these things from among you. (Joshua 7:10-13, NLT)

The challenges that Israel faced during their conquest of the land could be described more so as internal than external. No material, physical enemy posed a greater threat than the internal, spiritual conflict brought on by isolation and idolatry.

Typically when pastors and teachers talk about Achan’s sin, they point out the key phrases…”I saw…I coveted…I took…I hid,” then make applications around greed or the sin of coveting. But I think greed and coveting are symptomatic of a deeper issue, namely idolatry. The word idolatry often falls on our ears and creates images of people in undeveloped countries bowing in ignorance before carvings made out of wood or stone. But there’s more to idolatry than the graven image. Idolatry is when a person takes a good thing and makes it a God thing. And that’s a bad thing.

For example, take the gold and silver Achan found. Is there anything wrong with gold and silver? No. Is there anything wrong with possessing gold and silver? Again, the answer is no. But when the good thing becomes our security and satisfaction and serves as a functional savior, then it has become a God thing, and that’s a bad thing.

Your heart is like a pedestal upon which you enthrone the object of your worship. Every day you make the decision about who or what you will enthrone. This creates a huge problem. According to Psalm 135:15-18, “those who make them (idols) will become like them.” In short, you become like the object of your worship. As you continue to read the history of Israel as presented in the Old Testament, you’ll see that idolatry is a generational issue for the people.

So what is on the pedestal of your heart? May we be diligent each day to establish and enthrone Jesus Christ as Lord!

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Eliminating the Competition

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Martin Luther once said, “Whatever your heart clings to and relies upon, that properly is your God.” During the preparation of this sermon last week my mind turned to the infamous church of Laodicea found in Revelation chapter 3. God put a thermometer in their heart and discovered they were “lukewarm.” Not quite dead, but not fully alive. That’s an great illustration of how idols impact our ability to connect with God.

If you’re feeling a little lukewarm, there are some ways to detect the presence of idols in our hearts. I believe one of the functions of the classic spiritual disciplines is to help us to identify impediments in our relationship with God. Let me share what I mean. For example, the discipline of solitude helps identify people we have placed before God. The discipline of silence helps identify thoughts we have placed before God. The discipline of simplicity helps identify possessions we have placed before God. And the discipline of serving helps identify times when we place ourselves before God. Another way to look at this is to think about the discipline of fasting. In fasting, the heart may be tested for areas of dependency revealing any objects of worship. Still another way to go about it is to simply evaluate your checkbook and your calendar. How you spend your time and your money may be as informative and revealing as any reagent you apply. Finally, you could simply ask a friend who loves you enough to tell you the truth concerning any idols they may observe in your life.

So what if you do the inventory and you don’t like what you see? What should you do? The biblical response is to ruthlessly eradicate the idols from your life. 1 Corinthians 10:14 says we are to “flee from idols.” 1 John 5:21 adds to “keep yourselves from idols.” This is important for us to catch, because God doesn’t demand prominence. He demands pre-eminence. In Isaiah 42:8, God says plainly, “I will not share my glory with another.” Unplug from the idols in your life. You may be able to multi-task, but you cannot multi-worship. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters.”

During World War II, Martin Niemoller was arrested and placed in a Nazi concentration camp for refusing to bow to Adolf Hitler. He wrote a book describing his experience titled, “God is my Fuhrer.” In the book, Niemoller makes the following observation: “It is not enough to say ‘there is a God.’ You have to say, ‘You are my God’.” When we unplug from the idols that promise much and deliver nothing, the result is freedom. Freedom to connect with God and to relate to him as he intended.

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The Problem with Idols

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There are multiple (and I mean multiple!) texts within Scripture that discuss the dangers and problems that idols create in life. For brevity sake, I want to take a moment and point out two of the more obvious ones.

The first is based on Psalm 115:8, which reads, “And those who make idols are just like them, as are all who trust in them” (NLT). The point is obvious: you become like the object of your worship. That’s either really good news or really bad news. If God is the exclusive object of our worship, we will increase in our likeness of him. Good news, right? But if God is not the object of our worship, then we spiral downward and get stuck in a pattern of reductionism. Idols don’t elevate anyone to reach their potential, which is fulfilling the image of God that lies within.

A second problem with idols is that God views it as spiritual adultery. The Old Testament prophets, for example, used adultery to describe Israel’s spiritual condition resulting from years of idolatry. One cannot help but read the book of Hosea and draw a word of warning from the metaphor of adultery that he presented to the people of God.

The first and second commandments (Exodus 20:3-5) remind the faithful that God is a jealous God. In my ministry I’ve spent more time than I’d care to think about talking with Christians who struggle with jealousy. Sometimes there is jealousy over a friendship. Other times its over a spouse’s friend or co-worker who happens to be a member of the opposite sex. I’ve even had a few conversations with husbands who struggle to adapt to the new baby in the household that shifts marital dynamics. As I reflect on those talks, it seems that there are two major reasons people are afflicted with jealousy. One is simply insecurity. When a person is insecure within himself or herself, jealousy is usually not far away. A second reason, however, that people are jealous is that they have just cause. In other words, the other person in the relationship, whether it be spouse or friend, acts in a manner that creates jealousy.

I don’t think God is jealous because he’s insecure. To think about an “insecure God” is frankly preposterous! Yet God is provoked to jealousy when we seek fulfillment, satisfaction and gratification from other sources. When we change direction and focus our worship on other objects, God’s jealousy is aroused. He demands exclusivity in his worship.

Sometimes I wonder if the reason that connecting with God feels like so much work is an indication that we have set up idols in our lives. Remember, God doesn’t enter bidding wars for our affection and devotion. As in Romans 1, when we give in to idols and give ourselves up to them, God will give us over to them.

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