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Article


Speaking Out For A Return To Biblical Authority

by UM Voice * September 17, 2001


Idolatry. When we hear that word, we picture images of golden calves, or carved statues of wood and stone. Maybe the Greek and Roman gods come to mind. Or thinking about our modern world, you might envision the wiccan religion or some other cultic form of earth worship. But idolatry is not usually something that comes to the forefront of our minds when we consider the sins that we as Christians struggle with on a daily basis.

Why is this? Have we really become strong enough to withstand the allure of idolatry? It is interesting that this is not God’s perspective. He uses two of the Ten Commandments to deal with this human tendency – the first two, no less. Our Creator knew the inclinations of our hearts to this most grievous sin, and we should still take it very seriously.

Certainly Israel had a recurring problem with this sin as they continually turned to other gods from neighboring nations. They were never able to keep themselves from idols, but it isn’t something that we spend a lot of time thinking about today. And given the scandals that make headlines when Christians fall today (adultery, extortion, lying, etc.) it would certainly seem like we have more trouble with some of the other commandments further on down the list.

The Bible tells us that God never changes. He is eternal and unchanging, and so are His promises. It is because of this that we can draw some measure of comfort and hope in the midst of overwhelming grief. And it is because of this that we have assurance of salvation beyond this life. He has promised to forgive those who confess and repent, so we can be assured that He will. He is not capricious or mean-spirited, God is Holy. God is good. Always has been, always will be. Our faith in this immutable fact will be what carries us through this tragic episode in our history.

But just as God is unchanging in His goodness, so Satan is also equally consistent in his malice and evil. He has hated humanity from day one (or maybe day six!), and has done everything in his power to deceive and to destroy. For ancient Israel, he used the allure of foreign gods to entice them away from the true God. And reading through the Old Testament you hear a familiar list every time they stray from God. They turned to Baal and Asherah (Ashtoreth) of the Canaanites. They turned to Molech of the Ammonites, Chemosh of the Moabites, and to Bel & Nebo of the Babylonians. And just as we skim over the litany of “begats” in Genesis and Chronicles, we gloss over the names of these foreign gods, from a foreign time. To modern Christians, they have become little more than footnotes to the Biblical narrative, distant and seemingly irrelevant.

Or are they? Baal, Bel & Dagon (of the Philistines) were ancient gods of fertility and the harvest. To societies whose economies revolved around agriculture, these were important gods to please. A plentiful harvest ensured their survival and prosperity. Molech & Chemosh were ancient gods of war. In a violent world, you wanted these guys on your side too. Asherah was the goddess of love, whose worship involved all sorts of sexual perversion. Nebo was the god of science and astrology. And the worship of all these gods centered around two themes: sex and child sacrifice. Still seem so distant? The names have changed, but “an idol by any other name is still an idol”. Economic power and security, military strength, technology, pleasure, and yes – even abortion, our modern day child sacrifice ritual of “choice”. Satan is still using the same tactics to lead people away from God, he has merely changed the packaging to appeal to a more “sophisticated” audience.

We are a generation who maximizes our investments to our 401Ks, while bringing a token offering into the storehouse of God. We build bigger more extravagant homes, while God’s house is neglected. We save up to send ourselves on vacations, but can’t see fit to help send a missionary to proclaim God’s Word. We buy more cars, more gadgets, more comforts for ourselves, while many around the world are cold and hungry. We give little thought to the sanctity of the Sabbath, satisfying ourselves that we have done God’s will by going to church.

So is retirement planning evil? Is enjoying the fruits of our labor an affront to God? Of course not! God longs to bless us! He desires to be gracious! In fact, in the New Heaven and New Earth, there will be nothing but blessing! The problem is the priority we place on these things. We put ourselves first, and God gets only the leftovers. We fail to recognize that everything we have belongs to God, and so we hold on tightly to those things He has blessed us with. We get things all turned around because we worship the gifts, and not the Giver.

What does Jesus say? “Seek ye FIRST the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these other things will be added unto you.” (Matt. 6:33) What things will be added? All of those things which we strive for and try to claim for ourselves! We must have FAITH that this is true, but our actions belie our lip-service that we pay to this truth! If we truly believed it, then our actions would show it. That is precisely James’ point when he tells us that faith, without works, is dead. He isn’t talking about justifying ourselves through our own merit and good works. That would nullify the very essence of the Gospel!!! He is talking about your actions, the fruit that you bear, either affirming your profession of faith or exposing it as empty words.

And this is why idolatry is so subtle, and why we rarely give it a second thought! You will never hear the culture condemn us for these things which it considers, normal, natural, and just part of living the American dream. But an adulterous preacher? “Shameful!” A Christian involved in extortion? “Hypocritical!” Yet find a Christian who has lowered the spiritual bar to accommodate the level of the culture around him and the response is “So what?” And then there are those men and women, Christians who do try to be faithful to God’s Word. They attend church, give faithfully, sacrifice of their time, speak out against atrocities committed against the unborn, preach repentance to a lost world, teach Jesus as the only Way, etc. What is the response of the culture? “Now you’re scaring me…”

We all must examine our lives and honestly ask ourselves “Where have I allowed the culture to influence me, instead of the other way around?” This is a hard question to ask, since we have grown so accustomed to and comfortable with our own behavior that we are often blind to how far off the mark we truly are. But at this time of crisis, God wants us to not just mourn with those around us for the tragedy and loss of life, but to mourn our sin as well. Oxford atheist turned Christian apologist C.S. Lewis wrote years ago that "pain is God’s megaphone to a deaf world." This is certainly God’s wake-up call to a people who are spiritually fast asleep. We must be vigilant to ensure we don’t just hit the snooze bar and roll back over.

So once again I challenge you to answer the question, was this a “random” act of Satan on the loose, or the consequence of a God whose patience is near its end, trying to call His people back to themselves before final judgment. Look at how selective these targets were. The symbols of our economic and military might were the chosen targets – this time. Why would Satan be interested in tearing down our icons that we inherently pay homage to every day? These are the things where he would have us be most comfortable, in least need of God. Had Satan been given free reign to engineer this attack, he would’ve tried to maximize loss of life. Hi-rise apartment complexes would have been targeted. Or what about hitting four different NFL games on a Sunday afternoon? The loss of life would have been staggering, far beyond anything we saw last week.

No, you may not find a carved statue in our homes these days, but we don’t need them. We have built national monuments to the gods we serve. And what we witnessed last week was God tearing down those altars that we have built, the work of our hands.

When He judged Israel, he challenged them to see if the gods they had turned to - put their confidence in - could save them in the face of His wrath. He is asking us the same thing. Is our faith and security found in a strong economy, or in His Strength? Is our hope for a bright future resting on the might of our military machine, or in His Power? He is asking us to “choose this day whom you will serve.”

God will deliver us, when we turn to Him with all our hearts. May He comfort us all in this time of great distress. May He use the brokenness we feel to give us hearts of flesh, not of stone. May we truly turn from our wicked ways, and put away the idols from our midst that have kindled His wrath. And may the name of Jesus be praised as we pull together in Christian love and patriotism, helping our fellow man through this tragedy and reaching out with the hope that can be found in Christ alone.

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