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Archive for Idols


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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On Idols and Idolatry

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Ecclesiastes 3:10 says that “God has planted eternity in the human heart.” One of the things I think this communicates to us is that we have been created to worship. Within us lies the capacity to worship and the will to worship. So why do we struggle to connect with God? Why is it so hard for us to seek God and find God? We will worship. The question then is, “Who are we worshipping?” “What are we worshipping?”

I believe that one of the reasons we struggle in our attempts to connect with God is that we have allowed idols to creep into our lives. Without going into a lengthy definition, idolatry is giving our allegiance and affection to someone or something in order to gratify and satisfy our desires and fill the longings in our souls.

Idolatry was a problem throughout the Bible. From Genesis and the tower of Babel to Babylon the Great in Revelation, idolatry is a recurring theme. Those who read the Bible can see it clearly illustrated in the Kings of the Old Testament. There were good kings like David who wholeheartedly worshipped God. Don’t get me wrong, at times David was a rascal. But he never departed from his singular worship of God. Then there were kings like Solomon who tried to balance the worship of God with the worship of idols. By the end of his life he is duplicitous and jaded about life and God. Other kings were like Rehoboam, who abandoned God completely and exclusively worshipped idols. For hundreds of years, the people of God ebbed and flowed according to their worship practices. In fact, Israel struggled with idolatry until the inter-testamental period and their return from exile. Only then did Israel become truly monotheistic.

About now, you may be feeling the need to call a time-out. After all, who among us has an altar erected in their home or an asherah pole in the back yard? While we may not possess graven images complete with altars of sacrifice, the subtle temptation to possess idols is just as real today as it was for our Old Testament counterparts. The only difference is that our idols are far more sophisticated.

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