Episode 1. Idolatry Among God’s People
So many things in this world seem to turn out to be imposters. They promise so much, they look so good, but when you finally sacrifice everything to get that one thing – whatever it happens to be …
So many things in this world seem to turn out to be imposters. They promise so much, they look so good, but when you finally sacrifice everything to get that one thing – whatever it happens to be – it almost always disappoints. Have you ever wondered why that is?
THE REAL THING
After more than five decades living on planet Earth I’ve experienced here in Australia where I live, quite a few elections, after all Australia is a democracy and so we have regular elections. Every three years for our federal parliament, every four years for our state parliament and every few years for local government. So I have countless times heard politicians promising the Earth in order to get elected.
Aspiring Prime Ministers, aspiring State Premiers, aspiring local councillors adamantly proclaiming that this is what they will do and this is what they won’t do if only we’ll elect them. And each time I want to believe them, I do believe them, maybe the best way to put it is I put my hope and trust in them to lead our country, our state or our city in the right direction.
But no sooner do we elect them then all those rock solid promises seem to go out the window. Now there are often very good reasons for that, circumstances change, the economic outlook changes and so on but if I had a dollar for every time I felt deflated and disappointed through the breaking of the promises I heard before election day I think I’d be a pretty wealthy guy.
I know that it’s tough being a leader and a politician and I really feel for those people and respect them and all that but you get my drift. And yet it’s not just politicians and governments that so often disappoint us, let’s not pick on those mostly hard working, mostly decent and honest people who step forward to lead in our society, so many other things disappoint as well even though they had promised so much.
I wonder in your life what have you been disappointed in. What was it that promised so much and then you tried it and it left you so terribly deflated when it failed to live up to the promise, hmm? Perhaps it was a relationship, a marriage perhaps. The courtship was so wonderful then ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty years down the track – nothing.
Perhaps it was a child whom you brought into this world in great love and sacrificed for for so many years only for that son or daughter to go completely off the rails and desert you and reject you and the value’s you tried so hard to distil in them. Perhaps it was a job or a career choice; perhaps it was something that you’d saved hard for and bought only to discover that the sacrifice just wasn’t worth it.
I remember once, many years ago when I was earning lots of money, jetting around the globe, business class of course as a high-priced IT consultant, I bought myself a really expensive car, beautiful thing it was. Smooth curves, deep burgundy paint work, gorgeous soft creamy colour leather seats, that wonderful new car smell that you get, every electronic gadget you can imagine, four-wheel steering so you could turn the thing around on a pin head, really an amazing piece of luxury engineering.
I was so delighted when I picked it up from the showroom. It cost a huge amount of money and I went into debt to buy it because I just had to have it. And just a few years later I was on an overseas business trip and left it at the airport. When I came back I discovered that there had been a really big hailstorm. That beautiful sleek, shiny, deep burgundy skin had so many craters in it from where the hail had hit it that it looked a bit like, I imagine, the surface of the moon would look like.
I had it repaired of course but ever after that it had a leak in one of the rear passenger doors they could never find and fix so that when it rained I’d get a little swimming pool on the floor behind the driver’s seat that I had to empty with a cup. I ended up selling that car for a tiny fraction of what I paid for it.
Are you getting my drift here? So many things in this world disappoint and yet we chase after them with all that we are. We sacrifice our money, our energies, our time, our emotional strength to them over and over again trying to get them to work, trying to squeeze out of them that satisfaction that we’ve been looking for but over and over again they slap us in the face.
And when that happens to me I think to myself, ‘You dummy, haven’t you figured it out yet?’ Please don’t get me wrong, there are many good things in this world for us to enjoy and God does want us to enjoy them. Marriages are a good thing, a gift from God. Children, well yeah, they’re a good thing too, an amazing blessing from God and the things we can buy and do, they’re all great but when we get to sacrificing our money, our energies, our very lives on their altars that right there is wrong.
I want to share with you today what is probably a very familiar passage from Gods Word, the First and Second Commandments from Exodus chapter 20, verses 1 to 6, have a listen.
Then God spoke all of these words. I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery and you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above or that is on the earth beneath or that is in the water or under the earth.
You shall not bow down to them or worship them for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God punishing children for the inequity of their parents to the third and fourth generations of those who reject me but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and who keep my commandments.
Today we’re kicking off a new series of messages that I’ve called God’s Very Best For You. It’s a really important series because this idolatry thing is something that you and I want to do over and over again. We want to take the good things of this world many of them perfectly good things and then place them above God in our lives.
And as we’ll see we often do that by rationalising that these are after all blessings from God. He wants me to be happy, He wants me to enjoy the good things of this world and of course He does but do you notice that there are two parts to this transgression of, if I can call it this, idolatry.
There is the making of the false image, “You shall not make for yourself an idol whether in the form of anything that is in the heaven above, that is on the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth.”
And then there’s the worshipping of it, “You shall not bow down to them or worship them for I the Lord your God am a jealous God punishing the children for the inequity of their parents to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
Now this is something that we’re going to chat quite a bit about over the next few weeks on the program but right now let me ask you, what is it in your life that has become a false image? That idol, that thing that you’ve made for yourself be it a career, a reputation, a relationship, a possession, whatever it is that you have placed above God by worshipping it.
By sacrificing your life and your resources in order to have it by pouring all your energies and all your time into it to try and squeeze that satisfaction out of it that it’s meant to give you that the world promised you it should give you. What is it in your life? Come on what is it?
Do you see how easily you’ve rationalised that behaviour away by telling yourself that it is after all God’s blessing and God does, after all, want you to be happy and to enjoy your life. Yeah, I know this is confronting. I know it’s uncomfortable but here’s the thing, God loves you so much that He wants the best for you, the very best for you.
And He knows how He’s made you and He made you so very deliberately in a way that the things of this earth, however good they are, will never ever ever bring you the joy and the peace and the contentment that can only be found in Him. It’s never going to happen. Your Father in heaven loves you so much that He only wants the best, the very best for you.
UNMASKING THE IMPOSTER
It’s funny how easy it is for you and me to go chasing after the things of this world when all along the very best thing of all, God Himself, is ready and waiting to be our very best. And we don’t just go chasing after those things, we sacrifice our lives to them.
I used to be a workaholic and just quietly if I don’t keep an eye on that that’s a habit that I can very quickly slip back into. Now back when I was an IT consultant, I had my own IT consulting firm, I was being a workaholic in order to make money in order to further my career and the company’s reputation. I did it because it made me feel good in so many ways and yet it caused me to lose the things that were in fact the most important things in my life.
These days, since I became a Christian and since I went into full-time ministry doing what I’m doing right now with you, I could so easily slip back into being a workaholic and rationalise that behaviour by telling myself that after all, I’m in God’s business now, I’m doing His work, I’m sharing His love with all these people through these radio programs and on the internet.
Can I tell you just how easy it is for me to start believing that lie? It is the easiest thing in the world for me to work like an idiot, live out that lie, lose the balance and the rest that I need in my life and the time with my wife and my family and start to worship the works of my own hands and that, if you’ve spent any time reading the Bible, is called over and over and over again, it’s called idolatry which is the first thing that God tells us not to do in the Ten Commandments right?
And it’s something you see happening in the nation of Israel over and over again too. Moses is up on Mount Sinai getting the Ten Commandments from God and what are God’s people doing down in the valley? Here it is, Exodus chapter 32 verses 1 to 8.
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain the people gathered around Aaron and said to him, ‘come make gods for us. Who shall go before us? As for Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.
And Aaron said to them, ‘take off your gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons and your daughters and bring them to me’. So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it into a mould and cast an image of a calf and said, ‘these are your gods O Israel who brought you up from the land of Egypt.
When Aaron saw this he built an altar before it and Aaron made proclamation and said, ‘tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.’ They rose early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well being then the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to revel.
The Lord said to Moses, ‘go down at once, your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have acted perversely. They have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them, they have cast for themselves an image of a calf and have worshipped it and sacrificed to it and said ‘these are your gods O Israel who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
The Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, how stiff necked they are. Now let me alone so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them and of you I will make a great nation.
Ha and because that worked so well for them they kept on doing it over and over again, you read about it right through the Old Testament. Eventually God has had enough and He pronounces judgement on them through the Prophet Isaiah, chapter 2 verses 8 to 10. He says;
Their land is filled with idols, they bow down to the work of their own hands, to what their own fingers have made and so people are humbled and everyone brought low, do not forgive them. Enter into the rock and hide in the dust from the terror of the Lord and from the glory of his majesty.
So what is it with God’s people? What’s the matter with us? You see it’s not just the Israelites way back then two and a half thousand years ago, it’s us, Gods people here and now. We get things so badly out of whack, we start worshipping the works of our own hands. You see I could easily worship this ministry of Christianityworks above and beyond the God whom I’m serving, it would be so easy to do, it’s a temptation that I’m constantly guarding against.
You see I so enjoy doing what I do, I so enjoy seeing people’s lives changed, I so enjoy seeing new radio stations in far off lands starting to air these programs to a whole new audience, it’s an absolute delight and somewhere there is a line that I daren’t cross. A line where I start to worship the works of my own hands above and before God. A line where the ministry becomes more important to me than my relationship with Jesus.
I’ll be honest with you here there have been times where I’ve been guilty of that and God has had to slap me around and deal with me on it. In a sense this idolatry thing becomes so incredibly natural to us and it’s not just me it’s you too, it comes so easily to you too because idolatry isn’t just the making of physical idols like the golden calf or other statues and so on, it’s putting things in our lives that we place above God.
And there are so many things in that category in our lives. Have a listen to how the Apostle Paul puts it in his letter to the Colossians in the New Testament, chapter 3 verses 5 to 10. Paul says:
Put to death therefore whatever in you that’s earthly. Fornication, impurity, passion, evil desires and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these things the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways that you once followed when you were living that life but now you must get rid of all such thing, anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive language from your mouth.
Don’t lie to one another seeing that you’ve stripped off your old self and it’s practices and you’ve clothed yourselves with the new self which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.
Do you see how long that list of things is that God calls idolatry? And it’s a whole bunch of things people do all the time that we place above Gods Word. He’s saying it’s wrong and we decide to ourselves ‘tough, it’s fine in my life, it’s okay, I’ll worship God, I’ll go to Church on Sunday’s but I’ll continue on with my anger or wrath or malice or slander or greed or abusive language or sexual immorality or evil desires’ all of which are idolatry.
Whenever we set something up above or against God we’re making an idol of it. We are worshipping it instead of God. Idolatry lies at the heart of our sinful nature and here’s the thing that you and I need to know about the things that are idols in our lives. Those idols are imposters, they’re not the real thing.
Pornography is a good example. Sex is something that God invented with the intention of blessing a man and a woman in a lifelong relationship of love and intimacy and when a man and a woman choose to live that out the blessing is enormous. Pornography on the other hand diverts the natural desires that we have into something that falls so far short of Gods ideal. It presents itself as being something attractive but it’s nothing more than the devil himself dressed up as the angel of light.
You see idols are imposters and they fall short of the real thing. Idols divert our natural desire and urge to worship God and plunge us into a world of hurt and pain. That’s the bad news but here’s the good news. God loves you so much that He wants the very best for you and His best is Jesus, His best for you is a lifelong, eternal, intimate, personal, powerful, dynamic, exciting relationship with Jesus.
He wants that so much that He sends Jesus to die for you. He wants that so much that He pours His Holy Spirit out on you. So which one are you going to go for, the imposter or Gods best?
BACK TO YOUR LIFE
So, in the few minutes that we have left together today, let’s get back to your life: Back to your submission to, or rejection of, God’s Word; back to how you choose to live: Humbly under the Word of God, or doing what seems right in your own eyes. And the reason that I’m being so blunt here, so direct here, is that idolatry is deadly. Idolatry saps the faith out of you. Idolatry causes you to wander off and to reject God, and I believe today God is speaking to us and calling us back to Him.
I believe that of the millions of people listening to this message around the world today there are many, many, many who need to hear this call back to God’s very best for them. Are you one of them? If so then listen up, listen to what Gods Word is saying to you today.
Jonah chapter 2, verse 8.
Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.
Psalm 16, verse 4.
The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply. Their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips.
Leviticus chapter 19, verse 4.
Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves any gods of cast metal for I am the Lord your God.
1 Corinthians chapter 10, verse 14.
Therefore my beloved flee from idolatry.
1 John chapter 5, verse 21.
Little children keep yourself from idols.
Are you hearing God’s call to you today? Those were just a small fraction of the Scriptures that call us away from the idols we set up in our lives and in our homes. They’re just a fraction of what God has to say about the imposters that we would fill our lives with. They’re just a tiny smidgeon of the Scriptures through which God cries out to us to call us back to his best – to Jesus His Son.
Please, please, please, hear God’s cry to you today. Please hear His call. Please turn away from the idols in your life, and back to Jesus. God never condemns those whom He loves, but He does speak the truth in love. He does hit us right between the eyes with it because He loves us so much, and He wants us to turn back.
I know, I know. In this day and age the idea of honouring God, of taking Him at His Word, the idea of rejecting the things that He says are wrong even while society is shouting at us that we’re being narrow-minded bigots, it’s not easy, is it? Well, listen to me. People want to lead you astray. People want to lead you into a place where you participate in idolatry, poor imposters at best, the way they do. In fact, that’s exactly what this passage of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:1-7) tells us is going to happen:
You must understand this: That in the last days, distressing times will come. The people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderous, profligate brutes; haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of Godliness but denying its power. Avoid them, for among them are those who make their way into households and captivate silly women, overwhelmed by their sins and swayed by all kinds of desires, who are always being instructed and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth.
That’s what going on in the world today, and can I tell you? That’s sadly what is going on in many-a church today – too many. We’ll talk a whole bunch more about the idolatry of the church next week on the programme, but in the face of the world’s sin, God has a very simple command when it comes to people like that who deny God’s power, but on the outside they’re all Godly and sweet: Avoid them.
Please do not be led astray by false doctrine, by false prophets, by false teachers, no matter how smooth and slippery their words may be. God won’t be mocked. You and I will reap what we sow, and it’s up to each one of us to throw out our idols, whatever form they may take, and turn our lives back to Jesus – the One who loves you so much that He died for your sins, Jesus. Right here, you have God’s very best for you. Nothing else even comes close.