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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

False Idols

The Bible is incredibly comprehensive when it comes to God's views --- and mandates for us with respect to idols or worship of anything but God Himself. Leviticus 19:4 tells us, "Do not turn to idols ... I am the Lord your God." That seems clear enough. God's sentiment is further revealed in 1 Kings 21:16, which says, "He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols ..." Vilest manner? That's strong! It's definition ( suggests some incredibly strong views.

In 2 Kings, 17:41, we get a further sense of God's frustration, where it explains, "Even while these people were worshiping the Lord, they were serving their idols." Mind you, this is a discussion about God's people who were displeasing God a great deal. He was very unhappy with their behavior. Ultimately, He dealt with them in a very severe manner too.

So Larry, what does this mean to me? Why should I care about this? I don't have any idols? I just worship God. Right? Well, don't be so sure. Do you think that the people referred to in 2 Kings 17:41 thought they were serving idols while worshiping God? Is there any chance they would have been surprised to hear someone describe them that way? Yes, of course there is. But how is that relevant to us? Could we, modern-day Christians, be possibly serving idols while worshiping God? If so, how would we know it?

Normally we think of idolatry as statues and other physical objects that are common to non-Christian religions. But let me suggest to you that idolatry begins when we put more focus on anything that is created than we put on the Creator Himself.

You might want to stop and re-read that. Think about what it says. What is anything that is created? It's not limited to physical objects. It includes all things that are physical, including our own bodies. But it also includes concepts, time, feelings, events, experiences, activities --- all things that wouldn't exist were it not for the Creator.

You see, I suspect that there is far, far more idolatry in modern-day Christianity than most of us could ever suspect. In fact, I'm pretty convinced that it's currently at a wild and rampant level. God must be totally disgusted. I know, you're thinking that I must be some radical who has no sense of reality. But look around you. Better yet, ask God to show you what He sees around you. Pray something like, "Lord, today, let me see with Your eyes, hear with Your ears and think with Your mind." I've prayed that prayer, quite often.

What might you see? First of all, remember our definition of idolatry --- anything that receives more of our attention and priority than the Creator Himself. With that in mind, look at our work habits, shopping habits, entertainment habits. I know of guys who can never seem to find time to read their Bible ... but can spend five hours playing video games. (That's idolatry.) I know people who spend as many as eighty hours a week at work ... but don't have the energy to get to church many Sundays. (That's idolatry.)

I know women who have what I call a "mommie god." They are so desperate to become mothers --- so convinced that being a mom is the ultimate prize in their lives, that they will do anything ... alienate relationships, neglect their marriages, etc. They may look like what society would call "good mothers." But they are not nice people. In fact, they are incredibly selfish and unloving towards others. One wonders if they really even love their kids --- as their kids seem to just be the awards of life that give them their sense of value. (This is all idolatry.)

You see, idolatry doesn't require us to have physically manufactured idols. In the United States of America, most of our idols aren't physical. They are relationships ("I'm not complete without a man.") They are goals ("I want to retire when I'm 50.") They are concepts ("I just want to be happy.") They are activities ("My son's hockey games force us to miss church most weeks now.") They are places ("Our home requires so much work.") They are compelling emotions ("Fear keeps me from doing what I think God wants me to do.") Of course, our idols can also be our houses, our cars, our clothes, or even our bodies. Think I'm kidding? Look at how much we spend on those things, and compare that to our financial obedience to God.

There are some people who are more worried about their weight and their looks than they are about their spiritual health and maturity. In fact, there are quite a lot of those people. Sadly, they don't know that fat and ugly people can still spend eternity in heaven!

The point is, even virtuous things, like good parenting and good health, can be perverted to the point that they represent an imbalance in our lives. We end up spending more of our focus and attention, time and money, on things that are created than we do on the Creator Himself. (That's idolatry.)

American Christians, it's time to wake up and take inventory of what's important to you. Then ask yourself if it's the same as what's important to God. If it's not ... that's idolatry!

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