Posts Tagged 'Idolatry'

Video Sermon: 23 August

Good morning saints and, just in case there are any you logging on today, sinners. A cheery late summer welcome to you all. Click HERE to watch today’s video sermon entitled You Might Be An Idolater If…  

As always, our prayer is that the Lord blesses you and speaks to you as we study His Word together. If you have a need, no matter what it is, we’d be happy to pray for you. Just leave a short note in the comments section and it would be our privilege to join with you in prayer.

You Might Be An Idolater!

Question Idol

“Are you an idolater?”

Well, are you? It’s a serious question that deserves some consideration because, as hard as it may be to believe, you could be an idolater and not even know it! James Stephenson wrote:

The religion of some is like the skin of the chameleon that changes its color according to the hues of circumstances.

Does that describe your religion? It certainly describes the way a lot of Israelites eventually came to relate to God. Their religion started out fine. But along the way, the people got distracted by the shiny temptation of idolatry. Christians are like that, too. We are so easily distracted in our walk with Christ by the things of the world.

In looking at 2 Kings 17, we can learn plenty about the danger of idolatry and what results when somebody, Israel in this case, gets too involved in it.

Hoshea became king of Israel in Samaria. It was in the 12th year that Ahaz was king of Judah. Hoshea ruled for nine years. He was the son of Elah.  Hoshea did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. But he wasn’t as evil as the kings of Israel who ruled before him. (2 Kings 17:1, 2 NIrV)

King Hoshea reigned for nine years before the Assyrian horde bulldozed the Northern Kingdom of Israel out of existence. His near-decade on the throne was characterized by evil. It’s true that he wasn’t as bad as most of the previous rulers of Israel, but that isn’t saying much. The best that could be said of him was that he actually allowed numerous citizens of the northern tribes to emigrate to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of the Passover.

Verse 23 sums up what happened to most of citizens of Israel:

So the Lord removed them from his land. That’s what he had warned them he would do. He had given that warning through all of his servants the prophets. So the people of Israel were taken away from their country. They were forced to go to Assyria. And that’s where they still are. (NIrV)

These Israelites paid a very high price for their idolatry. God hasn’t changed since He judged Israel for its centuries of idolatry, and He still doesn’t like it when His people get involved idolatrous practices.

So, are you an idolater? You might be an idolater if you…

Think about Him one day a week

There are lots of Christians like this: they faithfully attend Sunday services and have no problem slipping into their “God talk” when they are in church, but you’d be hard-pressed to see much evidence of their so-called Christian faith during the other six days!

This is what happened to the people of Israel. They were more concerned with outward observances of the their faith than with the condition of their hearts. But then that’s essence of religion in general. Truth is, God didn’t invent religion, man did. God has always been interested in having a relationship with His people, not in their “religious” observances. That always surprises people when they read that. Most people think God gave the Jews their “religion,” but that’s not true. What He gave them were ways to relate to Him. They turned His simple ways into complicated works. That’s what all religions are based on: works. God hates a “works-based” faith because people focus on the “works” at the expense of the faith God wants.

Because, let’s face it, it’s a whole lot easier to mindlessly do “things” than it is to work hard at developing and maintaining a “relationship.” It’s easier to memorize and recite the Apostle’s Creed than it is to understand it and appreciate what it says Jesus did for you! It’s easier to slip into a booth and rattle off a few sins and have your priest offer absolution and a few acts of penance than it is to actually grapple with sin and resist sin so that your relationship with God stays healthy. It’s easier to relieve your guilty conscience by spending an hour in church once a week than it is taking time to know, personally and intimately, the One whom claim to love so much; the One who saved your soul. And that is idolatry: imagining you can placate God by doing “something.”

Here’s how much God hates that kind of idolatry:

Stop bringing offerings that do not mean anything to me! I hate your incense. I can’t stand your evil gatherings. I can’t stand the way you celebrate your New Moon Feasts, Sabbath days and special services. I hate your New Moon Feasts and your other appointed feasts. They have become a heavy load to me. I am tired of carrying it. (Isaiah 1:13, 14 NIrV)

The Lord says, “I hate your holy feasts. I can’t stand them. I hate it when you gather together.” (Amos 5:21 NIrV)

It’s never a good thing when God uses the word “hate” with you in view! But God hates it when we behave like idolaters. He hates it when we read our Bibles on Sunday and deny its every claim the other six days of the week. And we’re not doing ourselves any good by acting like idolaters. We’re missing out on the best God has for us.

So, are you an idolater?  You might be an idolater if you…

Give Him what costs you nothing.

We are acting like idolaters when we give God something that costs us nothing. I know you’re thinking about money, but we give God lots of things that either don’t cost anything or that we don’t need. Things like money, time, our attention, and even love. When it comes to giving to the Lord, the question should never be, “Can I afford to give it?”, but rather, “Does the Lord need it?”

Paul wrote a lot about giving to the Lord. Giving was a big part of Paul’s life and ministry; here was one man who truly gave all he had to give in service to Christ! And he expected his friends to be living exactly the same way:

God supplies seed to the planter. He supplies bread for food. God will also supply and increase the amount of your seed. He will increase the results of your good works. You will be made rich in every way. Then you can always give freely. We will take your many gifts to the people who need them. And they will give thanks to God.

Your gifts meet the needs of God’s people. And that’s not all. Your gifts also cause many people to thank God.

You have shown yourselves to be worthy by what you have given. So people will praise God because you obey him. (2 Corinthians 9:10 – 13 NIrV)

Paul used the word “gifts” because his Corinthian friends gave all kinds of things to other churches that had needs. Their generosity caused other people to praise God. Can you imagine? Does that happen much today? People more often than not criticize the church for the dopey things it does, but if it did what it was supposed to be doing, and more to the point, if Christians lived the way God intends for them to live, those looking on would praise God. That’s what Paul wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so it must be true. When you give your life to serve God instead of giving Him the scraps your life, not only will you always come out ahead, but others will be pointed to God.

So, are you an idolater?  You might be an idolater if you…

Are more interested in your daily life than in the cause of Christ.

God knows we’ve got jobs to go to; families to raise; other important things to tend to during the week, but when those things begin to mean more to us than Christ, we are behaving like idolaters. And it’s so insidious, isn’t it? For the moms and dads, how easy is it to elevate your kids or the needs of your family above Christ? For the pastor, how easy it is to knock Christ off the throne of your heart and replace Him with the needs of the church. All believers need to take care that Christ and the cause of Christ remain the most important pursuits of our lives. Is that an extreme position to take? Not according to Jesus:

But put God’s kingdom first. Do what he wants you to do. Then all of those things will also be given to you. (Matthew 6:33 NIrV)

Perhaps the reason you find life so hard or why you’re always coming up short on paying your bills or why you don’t get along with your spouse is because you’re subjugating God to second or third or fourth place in your life. We become idolaters when we do that.

You might be an idolater if you…

Are more anxious for happiness than for usefulness.

As a pastor and counselor, I cannot count the number of times I have heard people say things like this:

I just want to be happy.

God wants me to be happy.

When do I get to be happy?

Usually people say those things after they’re adultery has been found out. Or as a way to justify their sinful behavior or lifestyle. Probably the most deluded people on the face of the earth are Christians because we can find a way to justify any sin! But when we do that, we become idolaters. We’re more interested in pleasing ourselves than God. We work harder and put more thought into doing things for ourselves than for God. What would the church look like if its members thought about it as much as they do about their own homes?

Here’s the point: Either pleasing God is what’s important to you or it isn’t. If you aren’t pleasing God, you’re pleasing yourself.

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy some good food and sweet drinks. Send some of it to those who don’t have any. This day is set apart to honor our Lord. So don’t be sad. The joy of the Lord makes you strong.” (Nehemiah 8:10 NIrV)

Indeed. It is the joy of the Lord that makes a believer strong, it is not the joy of your job, or of your family, or of your bank account.

Are you an idolater?  You might be if…

Prefer to hear only happy sermons, not faithful sermons.

It’s not that you should want to be told how bad you are from the pulpit every week or even that you like other people to be told how bad they are! It’s about your willingness to listen to the Word of God being preached or taught in its fullness. Sometimes, the Word can be very encouraging and uplifting. As a preacher I can say it’s a joy to preach those kinds of sermons. There’s no easier sermon to preach than one on the love of God or the gifts of the Holy Spirit. After all, who would be offended by sermons like those? But what about sermons that rebuke, reprove, and exhort? After all, in God we see both goodness and severity.

Think about how kind God is! Also think about how firm he is! He was hard on those who stopped following him. But he is kind to you. So you must continue to live in his kindness. If you don’t, you also will be cut off. (Romans 11:22 NIrV)

That’s right. While “God is love,” He is also a “consuming fire.” In today’s touchy-feely, politically-correct obsessed society, we are told people need to feel good about themselves; that they need to be accepted and tolerated. Sounds good, but it’s not what the Bible teaches. We may sing the hymn that says:

Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me, and that thou bidst me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

And while those wonderful lyrics by Charlotte Elliot aren’t wrong, you can’t stay just as you are after you come to Jesus! The Bible says this:

What should we say then? Should we keep on sinning so that God’s grace can increase? Not at all! As far as sin is concerned, we are dead. So how can we keep on sinning? (Romans 6:1, 2 NIrV)

What if we keep sinning on purpose? What if we do it even after we know the truth? Then there is no offering for our sins. All we can do is to wait in fear for God to judge. His blazing fire will burn up his enemies. (Hebrews 10:26, 27 NIrV)

If you’re somebody who doesn’t like to read or hear the truth of God’s Word, then you might be an idolater! If you don’t see the absolute necessity of being rebuked or reproved or chastised through the Word of God or even the Sunday sermon, you might be an idolater.

So, how did you fair?  Are you an idolater?  If you’re like me, your answer probably looks like this:

Sometimes I am, sometimes I’m not.

Being faithful to Jesus and to the call to righteous living involves a spiritual battle we fight ever day.  Let’s try to keep our guards up.  Let’s stop taking the grace of our Lord for granted.

UNEASY LIES THE HEAD THAT WEARS THE CROWN

1 Kings 12:26—33

One of the things we notice as we study the historical books of Kings and Chronicles is the obvious connection between immorality and idolatry; where you find one you will eventually find the other for they go hand-in-hand.  Thanks to Solomon’s idolatry, caused by his immorality, the united kingdom of Israel was on the brink of splitting up.  Solomon’s sin would be repeated over and over in successive monarchies for generations in the remnants of his kingdom, both north and south.  While the southern kingdom of Judah had a series of very godly and strong kings, the evil and wicked ones led to its downfall.  The northern kingdom of Israel, on the other hand, had not one godly king and the kingdom suffered greatly until it was assimilated into the great Assyrian Empire in 722 B.C.  The ten tribes that made up the northern kingdom of Israel literally vanished from the face of the earth.

God’s people, the Hebrews, struggled with both of these sins through most of their existence as a nation(s) because their kings, with few exceptions, were just like themselves.  Fortunately, some time in our future, the last Son of David will come and He will restore Israel to its former grandeur.

While Rehoboam, Solomon’s son had become king of the two tribes to the south, sitting on his father’s throne in Jerusalem, God’s choice to rule the ten tribes to the north was Jeroboam.  Jeroboam, the son of Nebat was a real piece of work; he had it all, including a stunning and surprising promise from God found in 1 Kings 11:27—39.  Essentially, Jehovah would rip ten tribes from Solomon’s son and give them—literally give them!—to Jeroboam in a covenant that sounded a lot like the Davidic Covenant—

If you (Jeroboam) do whatever I command you and walk in my ways and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and commands, as David my servant did, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you.  (verse 38)

Jeroboam’s kingdom—the ten tribes north of Judah—would endure forever, as would Jeroboam’s dynasty, if he would simply live in obedience to the Word of the Lord.  That is quite a promise!  However, despite the fact that Jeroboam had all this going for him, and despite the fact that Jeroboam was a descendant of Joshua, Jeroboam would fail because of religion.

1.  His problems began in his mind, verses 26, 27

Jeroboam thought to himself, “The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David. If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam.”

As Jeroboam set up his kingdom and his throne at city named Schecem, he soon took steps to provide for the religious needs of his people.  To his credit, he felt it vitally important to have a strong religious society. But, he had a problem:  the Temple where the people were to worship was in Jerusalem and Jerusalem was in the southern kingdom and Jeroboam concluded that if he let his people go south to worship, they may never come back.

So, in an effort to keep his people at home, the king overstepped his authority and went way beyond God’s plan for him.  It has been correctly observed that there are only two religions in the world:  one that has its origin in the “I will” of God, and the other has its source in the “I think” of a man’s mind.  Jeroboam saw what he thought would become a problem, and thought of a solution that was outside of God’s will.  Isaiah 55:8 makes it plain—

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.

Jeroboam seemed to forget that he had a promise from God!  There was no way he could fail if he remained faithful.  He had the promise of an everlasting kingdom and dynasty that depended on nothing he would plan and scheme; only on obedience to the Word of the Lord.

Sadly, because the heart of a man is deceitful and evil at its core, he is incapable of devising a religion on his own that meets the demands of God and the needs of man.  Only God can establish a religion that can do that.  Jeroboam is about ruin the future of his ten tribes almost before it begins, all in the name of religion.

2.  His religion was basically selfish, verses 28—30

After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”  One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. And this thing became a sin; the people went even as far as Dan to worship the one there.

Jeroboam established what amounted to an alternate religion and a far more convenient religion for his people.  Jeroboam sought advice, though we are not told from whom, and the best he could come up with was the establishing of temples in Samaria and Bethel.  The despicable thing about this was that these temples housed golden calves!  Why golden calves?  Was he really wanting the people to worship them?  It seems almost inconceivable, but we have a small glimpse into this man’s heart.  Notice what the king told the people:  “Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”  What kind of man can hear from God, be given a promise from God, then turn around and betray that God?  He was a selfish man, and he was the king of selfish people.  He established a religion for his people that he created in his own mind, ostensibly for his people’s good, but really it was for his own good.

A religion that comes from a carnal heart and that appeals only to the flesh will produce only soulless hypocrites.  Jeroboam produced a religion of selfish expediency, not of sacrifice.

3.  His religion was godless

This is obvious, is it not?  Worshiping a golden calf cannot be a good thing and certainly God had no part in it.  God’s command was clear—

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  (Exodus 20:4)

Yet here is a king and whole nation of people on the cusp of establishing a religion exactly contrary to the Word of God!  How can that be possible?  One thing we learn, not only from Scripture, but from our own experience, is that the carnal mind wants to walk by sight, not by faith.   The carnal mind cannot come up with a system of worship acceptable to God because it will always be based on sight, not faith.  If you don’t like the word “sight,” we may substitute “feeling.”  A worldly worship will always be based on our senses, not on faith.  The Bible is replete with examples of men who “thought” they should do certain things but their minds were carnal and their plans godless.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. (Proverbs 16:25)

Jeroboam didn’t know it, but his plan for an alternate, convenient religion would lead to the northern kingdom’s fall.  Verse 30 is so sad—“this thing became a sin.”  It started out as a thought, but it became a sin.  The golden calves, not evil in themselves, became a sin.  Have you noticed that human beings are always very likely to esteem the things they themselves create?   The products of man’s imagination always seem to be more interesting to people than Godly things.  The song, the praise band, the prayer book, the liturgy, all of these things come from the creative mind of man and sadly, far too many Christians feel that they need these things to worship.  But whenever anything takes the place of God, it “becomes a sin.”

4.  His religious leaders were lowlifes, verse 31

Jeroboam built shrines on high places and appointed priests from all sorts of people, even though they were not Levites.

Really, the people Jeroboam made priests came from the “lowest of the people.”  This is characteristic of all “man-made” religions; there is no premium placed on those who lead it.  In fact, some religions and even churches seem proud to be led by men or women “just like themselves.”  Jeroboam had no interest in choosing his priests as prescribed by God’s law, he picked the men he wanted, regardless of their qualifications or lack thereof.

To their credit, the Levites would have nothing to do with Jeroboam’s sham religion, and instead, they chose to leave their homes and journey south to Rehoboam’s southern kingdom where the true Jewish faith was retained and practiced.  In fact, many true believers from the north did exactly the same thing when it became apparent that the northern kingdom was going downhill fast, led by a godless and clueless king.

5.  His religion was deceptive, verses 32, 33

He instituted a festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the festival held in Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar. This he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves he had made. And at Bethel he also installed priests at the high places he had made.  On the fifteenth day of the eighth month, a month of his own choosing, he offered sacrifices on the altar he had built at Bethel. So he instituted the festival for the Israelites and went up to the altar to make offerings.

Notice the phrase, “like the festival held in Judah.”  Jeroboam instituted many celebrations and feasts of his own invention, but he patterned his religion after the true religion; it had the appearances of being right, but it was a pale imitation; it was a mockery and lifeless image of the real thing.

What was really going on in the northern kingdom?

Jeroboam was nothing if not clever.  His golden calves (literally they were bulls), as well as many other features of his “religion” were all carefully crafted and instituted to remind his people of their past.  And this was very appealing to the Israelites who were now facing an uncertain future.  In reality, the golden bulls—an idea he probably imported from his time in exile in Egypt—were probably meant to be a representation of Jehovah, and not meant to be worshiped as gods themselves.

Jeroboam, in fact, took on the appearance of a religious reformer; basically using religion to further his political agenda.  In troubled times, people seem to crave two things:  they want more religion, true or false, and they want change.  Jeroboam delivered both.  He gave his people their religious fix and he turned his ten tribes upside down.  He completely gutted the nation as it was established by David and Solomon.

It was this idolatry or near-idolatry that gave rise to the severe condemnation of him in the repeated vindictive expression “the sins of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat.”

May the Lord help Christians walk by faith, and not by sight.  May our “religion” be based on the objective Word of God, and not our feelings and certainly not on flowery words and promises made by religious charlatans and/or political leaders.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

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