Tag Archives: False gods

Unconditional Faith.

One of the most powerful examples of faith found in the Bible involves three young men named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. Many of you will recall they were exiled Jews living in Babylon, along with their friend, Daniel. Over time they had distinguished themselves as leaders and were entrusted with administrative powers to manage the king’s affairs.

Eventually, the king issued an edict demanding everyone worship a statue of gold, a violation of the Lord’s command that people worship Him alone. Anyone defying the decree would face immediate death by being thrown into a fiery furnace. The declaration forced these young men to make a critical decision. Where would their loyalty lie: with God or with the king; with their faith or with their careers? Would they compromise their faith by trying to have it both ways: loving the Lord in private while publicly obeying the king’s decree?

Once the order was made public, colleagues immediately leveled accusations against the three young men. The rabble-rousers informed the king that this trio of Jewish exiles refused to obey his proclamation. Furious, the king demanded their instant obedience, taunting them with this rhetorical question: “Who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?” (Daniel 3:15, NKJV).

The young men responded, “O king, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand” (vs. 16-17). What a bold witness. The men not only refused to obey the king, they used the encounter to testify of God and His omnipotence. Instead of destroying their faith, the king’s threat fueled it.

The three men then declared, “But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up” (vs. 18, emphasis added). With those words the Jewish exiles removed any doubt about their commitment to God. They knew He could rescue them from the fiery furnace and the painful death that would result.

But if, for whatever reason, He chose not to, they would refrain from denying Him or serving a false god. Their faith was not predicated on God blessing them, making life easy, or protecting them in the face of danger. They trusted Him implicitly, even if doing so yielded intense pain and a brutal death. They understood that God worked in ways that did not always make sense to them and therefore would obey Him no matter the cost. What a powerful testimony.

Job possessed a similar perspective and evidenced a comparable commitment to God. His faith was not predicated on having his desires met or his agenda fulfilled. It did not ebb and flow with the tide of God’s blessings. Instead, it remained steadfast in the face of whatever circumstances he confronted, including a series of relentless and brutal attacks by Satan that left all ten of his children dead, destroyed his wealth, and weakened his health.

Yet in response to that collection of tragic events, Job didn’t shake his fist to the sky and curse God. Nor did he renounce his faith in the Lord. Instead, Scripture tells us “he fell to the ground and worshiped” (Job 1:20, NKJV). What a remarkable reaction. Despite being unaware of what had precipitated the catastrophes or why God would allow them, Job instinctively placed his trust in the Lord and praised Him. He knew that out of the ash heap of overwhelming pain and tragedy God would raise up something good.

Not surprisingly, Job’s response pleased God, who subsequently described him as “a blameless and upright man who fears God and shuns evil and still holds fast to his integrity (Job 2:3). Though obviously grieved and devastated by the news of the calamities, Job resisted the temptation to blame God. Instead, he found solace in his Creator and worshiped Him in the midst of his tears.

That response, however, shocked and angered his wife, who remarked contemptuously: “Do you still hold to your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9, NKJV). Her statement captures the predominant view of faith in our secular society: unless faith yields immediate and lasting temporal benefits, what’s the point. Sadly, that perspective infects many churchgoers today as well. As long as the sun shines on their lives, they remain loyal to God. But the moment tragedy strikes, their faith weakens or collapses altogether.

Job provided the perfect rebuke to such faith, telling his wife: “You speak as foolish people do. Should we accept good from God but not adversity as well?” (Job 2:10). Later Job would proclaim, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15, NKJV). Job did not withhold his own life from God nor condition his obedience on understanding God’s purpose. He assented to follow, worship, and praise God irrespective of his circumstances or the condition of his life.

Do you possess a similar commitment to God? Is your faith as steadfast in the midst of painful trials and difficult circumstances as was the faith of Job? Are you willing to obey God, no matter the cost, as were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego? Confronted with a comparable choice between life and death, would you choose the Lord or your life? As our world grows increasingly hostile to God, a modern version of the scenario confronted by that trio of Jewish exiles seems more and more possible in our generation. Are you prepared to stand firm for God? I pray you are.

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The Most Dangerous Sin in America.

If asked to name the sin most likely to provoke God’s judgment on the nation, churchgoers might point to Hollywood’s debauchery, Wall Street’s greed, Washington’s escalating antagonism to religious freedom, Planned Parenthood’s abortion mills, or society’s swelling sexual depravity. While such behaviors certainly reflect a decline in our nation’s moral fabric and are an affront to God, they are limited in scope, practiced by segments of the country but not an overwhelming majority of the nation.

To pinpoint the most dangerous sin in America, the one most responsible for sending our country down a moral slope so steep and so severe we may never recover, we must identify one practiced across most of society, both inside and outside the church, that directly challenges God’s sovereignty, and that is difficult for the sinner to recognize. That sin is idolatry and it grips the hearts, minds, and souls of more Americans than probably any other sin.

Anyone doubting the danger of idolatry need look no further than the Old Testament. Time and again the nation of Israel turned its back on God to chase false gods and worship foreign idols. And in every instance their decision resulted in separation from God and, eventually, His punishment. What Israel failed to understand was the severity of its idolatry. It both angered and grieved God.

The First Commandment clearly communicates God’s expectation that He alone deserves our worship, praise, and adoration: “You shall have no other gods besides Me” (Deuteronomy 5:7, NKJV). God demands we recognize His preeminence and we have no other gods in our lives.

Too often we assume this simply means we have no gods in the form of a graven image. We likely make that association because the Second Commandment specifically proscribes bowing down and serving such images. But we need to understand that idolatry is not limited to kneeling before graven images, praising inanimate objects, and verbalizing allegiance to deities of stone and wood. Idolatry occurs whenever we love something more than God, pursue it with more passion than we pursue God, and make it a greater priority in our lives than Him.

The fourteenth chapter of Ezekiel provides insight into God’s view of idolatry. While Ezekiel is visiting with some of Israel’s leaders God tells him, “These leaders have set up idols in their hearts. They have embraced things that will make them fall into sin.” (vs. 3, NLT). We learn two critical truths from this exchange. First, idolatry is first and foremost a condition of the heart. That’s what makes it so difficult to identify. Second, idolatry represents the embrace of things that lead us to sin and which separates us from God.

God makes that connection clearer a couple verses later when He informs Ezekiel that He will punish anyone in Israel “who separates himself from Me and sets up idols in his heart and puts before him what causes him to stumble into iniquity” (vs. 7, NKJV). Idolatry drives people away from God. Whenever we allow something to nestle into our hearts and usurp God’s rightful place there, we commit idolatry.

Merriam-Webster defines idolatry as “the immoderate attachment or devotion to something.” We demonstrate idolatry, then, whenever we pursue something with unbridled fervor and display excessive loyalty toward it. In other words, idolatry exists whenever we allow anything except God to consume our lives.

Looking through that lens makes it easier to recognize the presence of idolatry in our lives. We need only ask ourselves what activities, priorities, and passions do we chase with more zeal than we pursue God? An honest assessment might reveal the existence of one or more idols in our lives, and may include one of the following:

  • Entertainment: Our culture is saturated with myriad forms of entertainment including television, movies, video games, sports, concerts, gambling, and online diversions to name a few. And an ever-increasing number of us devote every spare moment indulging an insatiable appetite for our favorite form of entertainment.
  • Thrills/Experiences: Perhaps at no time in history has mankind valued thrills and experiences as much as we do today. We want to travel to the most exotic locations, participate in the most extreme sports, partake in death-defying activities, and enjoy memorable experiences on a regular basis. And many of us prioritize these pursuits and excursions above everything else in life, including God.
  • Careers: Achieving the pinnacle of success in corporate America these days often requires working twelve-to-fourteen hour days, going into the office on weekends, being available to your boss around-the-clock, and a resolute commitment to helping the company exceed expectations. Not surprisingly, this demands a level of devotion that often leaves little time or energy for anything else, forcing God to the sideline.
  • Self/Pride: Society has made the celebration of self a virtue. We have placed celebrity on a pedestal, honoring those with the creativity and hustle to make themselves the center of attention. Modesty and humility are the currency of chumps. If you want to be popular in the world then you must constantly promote yourself on social media and among your friends. Sadly, it is a vice that thrives inside the church as well.
  • Material Things: It is difficult to overstate the degree to which we have become a materialistic culture. We want more stuff, better stuff, newer stuff, and we want it faster than ever – witness Amazon’s new one-hour delivery program (so you don’t have to suffer the interminable one or two day wait with conventional delivery). And when our homes, garages, and attics are filled to the full, we simply get a bigger house, a second house, or rent a storage unit. And the more we buy and own, the more our souls are bought and owned.

I could go on but you get the picture. These are the things that often win our devotion, enthusiasm, and allegiance. And while in moderation none of these pursuits is sinful, they become idols when they consume our lives and force God to the periphery. When they dominate our resources, time, and energy, these innocent interests evolve into gods. And while the secular world may shrug at this assessment, or even embrace it proudly, those in the church resist, knowing it is an abomination to the Lord. We insist that Jesus alone gets our worship and devotion.

But the evidence reveals how specious that assertion is for many of us. And the evidence is overwhelming. By almost any reasonable metric – time, energy, enthusiasm, focus, and resources – God often takes a backseat to one or more of the idols listed above. For many of us He isn’t even the second or third priority. Irrespective of what we claim to believe, God doesn’t always sit on the throne of our heart. It is the gods above that often occupy that place of prominence.

So what do most of us do when made aware of this lethal sin? We compound our iniquity by justifying our behavior. We sprinkle Jesus over our idols and claim to pursue them for His glory, insisting He has placed in our hearts the desire to chase them. Many of us go to great lengths to demonstrate the virtue of these idols and tell ourselves that God created us to enjoy them to the full.

All the while Satan smiles with smug satisfaction that we have bought into his lie. He rejoices when we bow down to his idols and do so with more fervor than he ever imagined. It is His greatest deceit that so much of the church is consumed with idolatry yet remains convinced such behavior doesn’t exist.

It is time we adopt a different approach. Instead of asking whether there is anything wrong with the things that consume our resources, demand our time, and secure our devotion, we ought to ask whether there is anything right with them? Are they good for our spiritual development? Do they make us into the men and women God wants us to be? Do they honor Christ and draw us into a more intimate relationship with Him? Those are the more appropriate questions we need to ask.

So how do we rid ourselves of idolatry? First, we need to examine our lives carefully for the presence of false gods and idols. Next, we need to get real, recognize that their existence represents sin, and repent. No more justifying our excessive devotion to and zealous pursuit of anything but God. That only perpetuates the problem. Instead, we must seek forgiveness and ask God to give us a growing desire for Him. Finally, we should begin directing more and more of our time, energy, attention, and resources toward Him.

And if we don’t? He will eventually remove those idols from our lives – not because He hates us but because He loves us. He knows that the best thing for us is having a healthy, mature, and vibrant relationship with Him, not a life filled with passion for the things of the world. Because, after all, idolatry is the most dangerous sin.