“Naming Our Idols”
Text: 2 Kings 17: 24-29, 32-41
Prayer: O Lord, you call us to love you with all of heart, all of our mind, soul and strength. Help us to see all that hinders this, and strengthen us through your word to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Introduction video clip “Idol Worship”
Idiolatry, we think of it as a thing of the past, of worshiping a golden calf like the Israelites did when they lost faith in God and decided to make one of their own.
But idols can be something quite different as Mike Slaughter makes the point. He defines idols as: “Anything, or anyone, that receives primary focus of my energy or resources, which belong first to God.”
I. What Are Our Idols?
So what are our idols? When asking his Facebook friends, “What idols do you wrestle with in your life?” It was interesting that most of the idols named are really good gifts from God but to which we give a wrong priority.
One person said the idol she struggles with most is her husband and children, constantly placing their interests above God’s interests. Isn’t that easy to do? Relationships are a gift from God. But what happens when we begin to worship the gifts instead of the giver?
Another named food as an idol. What an incredible gift from God! I mean, if all we needed were nutrition, then God could come up with some kind of power to mix with water, like the astronauts used in the 1960’s. Walk through the produce section of Haggens or QFC. Talk about God’s blessings: bananas, apples, grapes, strawberries, God came up with all this good stuff. But what happens when we begin to worship the gift instead of the giver? Food can become an addiction.
Think about sex, another great gift from God! If all God wanted was procreation, God could have come us with something like mixing earwax on a cotton swab, right? Instead God make this incredible, bonding, mystical experience between two partners. And again, when we begin to worship the gift over the giver, it can become an addition.
What is the idol you wrestle with the most? I wrestle with the idol of material possessions. I want to spend money on a new car that looks incredible, maybe even an all electric one, or the latest electronic gadget that does some incredible new thing. But if you come to my house you don’t see too many of these things, because by the grace of God I’ve been kept from unbridled accumulation. I mean I drive a 10-year old car and it’s good for what I need and looks decent too. But the temptation is there, I can easily fall into coveting material things.
And I’m not alone. Many of us create a god in the image of possessions, values, and traditions we have brought with us from the slavery of the past.
We easily get hooked back into materialism, creating a god who services our materialistic interests.
How many of us, if we are a Democrat or Republican, make God a member of our party? We create a god in the image of our values.
Even our family can become an idol. And Jesus gives many examples of people prioritizing family over God’s call. Now, family is a good thing. But in Matthew 8:21-22 we read that Jesus emphasis the important of following God’s call even above family.
A disciple is asking if he can first go and bury his father before following Jesus. Jesus’ response? No “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” Many of us would say that a dad’s burial is a very good excuse to stay home. And I know in this context it is hyperbole, an exaggeration. But Jesus is making the point that we can’t even place family above our love for God.
We need to understand that you and I become what we worship. God wants our exclusive devotion. We are not to place any other gods, any other priorities that get prime-time sage of our time, energy or resources, before God.
Our text from 2 Kings makes is so clear at the end. Over and over and over again it is repeated, “Don’t worship other gods.” And I’ll tell you something. Giving God our exclusive devotion is not only great spiritual wisdom; it also has wide-range practical application. When God has the right priority in my life, I am much happier, healthier, whole, and full of what the New Testaments call the fruit of the Spirit: Love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.
These are the byproducts of a life that is lived around the priority of putting God first in our lives.
II. Heart Check
So, let’s do a heart check. Let me ask the hard question now. Are you ready to do a heart check on your priorities?
The first indicator of what we truly worship is how we spend our time. So, this week, look at your calendar.
I have one friend who hasn’t been in worship for a long time. She says she a committed Christian. And so I asked her, why aren’t you in church with regularity? She says, well there are a lot of football games on TV that I just got to watch. And they are always on Sundays! Check your calendar, because it helps to reveal what you worship. We make time for what we deem most important.
And by all means realize that filling your calendars with church activities is not what God wants either. Jesus is more concerned about our relationship with him, being faithful to love him and serve him faithfully.
Your second priority check is your bank statement or checkbook. Money is one of the truest indicators of faith. Jesus said it himself: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Mt 6:21) And you can’t help but notice that Jesus talked more about money that any other single topic except faith.
Sixteen of his thirty-eight parables dealt with money or possessions.
And of course we could look at our expenses and say we are just paying bills. But the followup question is: How many of those bills are because of a possession you felt that you just had to have in your life?
In our idolatry, we have allowed ourselves to become the center of our universe. We evaluate all our interests, whether family, friends, money, job, or possessions, through how well they serve self. We search for significance in everything but God. We may have a little space for Jesus in our lives, but he is far from the center.
III. Living Abundantly
What Jesus calls living abundantly comes when Christ is the center and is the deciding factor for everything in our lives.
This is why I begin every morning with a time of scripture readying and prayer, to align my thoughts with God’s.
When Christ is in control, it means that my allegiance to Jesus supersedes all other commitments or values in my life. You know, we have to pay attention to this divided heart issue. When we pursue the shiny gods of the culture, we spend our lives conjugating three verbs: to want, to have, to achieve. Jesus leads us in a better way. He tells us to conjugate one verb: to love. “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart [passion], with all your being, with all your strength [work], and with all your mind…” Lk 10:27
That’s worship, true worship. And worship is much more than a one-hour-a-week activity in which we come together to honor God through song, prayer, and the study of God’s word. But in the Bible, worship means something much more holistic. Worship comes from the word “worth.” Worship, or “worth-ship,” is to be a 24/7 activity, a constant demonstration of the first value and first priority God in our lives.
So let me summarize this for us. The things that so frequently become idols in our own lives don’t start out as inherently bad.
Money is the means by which we conduct business and have access to things that meet our basic needs; it not a bad thing at it core. The same is true of possessions, such as a place to live and clothes to wear. Succeeding in our chosen field give us the opportunity to bless more people with our work. Friendships are fundamentally good things; God created us to be in relationship with one another. None of these are bad in and of themselves.
The evil comes from making idols of money and possessions. It isn’t the stuff itself; it is what is found within us. We worship them because we think they are things we can have some measure of control over. Control or more accurately, the illusion of control, helps us to feel secure amid the many scary unknowns of life. It helps us feel less vulnerable.
The Lord our God is unable to be controlled by anything except God’s self. Resisting idolatry and worship God alone means giving up our illusions of control, recognizing that we are part of God’s creation and acknowledging the lordship of the Creator.
That’s why is makes sense to say that the first commandments is: “I am the Lord your God and you will have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20: 2-3) And all the people said: “Amen.”
Prayer: O Lord, help us to recognize the idols that pull at our lives. Give us the power to put them in their place by putting you in your rightful place as the highest priority of our lives. So many things demand our loyalty, and they all seem really important. Help us to know what you are calling us to do, and to follow even if it seems impractical or irrational by the world’s standard. Amen.