April 19, 2020
None of us has ever been here before.
This pandemic has brought us into a new land…
A place that’s unfamiliar to us all.
Not a land flowing with milk and honey…we’ve had that.
But one of uncertainty…
Where most of the handles we use to hold onto while moving forward have either fallen away or come under question.
We are…in a word…lost.
Not that we don’t recognize some things about where we are…
But lost as in…we need delivered.
We need God to deliver us…
We need Him to deliver us to that better place.
Where He is magnified…
Where the name of Jesus flows easily from our tongues
Even outside of church
And the authority of Scripture is once-again acknowledged
The place described in Deuteronomy 4:9…
Where we, “…give heed to ourselves and keep our souls diligently, so that we do not forget the things which our eyes have seen and they do not depart from our hearts all the days of our life; but we make them known to our sons and our grandsons.”
We cannot get there on our own…this godly land.
He must lead us…as He led the Hebrew people out of bondage and into their promised land.
We can’t design it…engineer it…build it…and be amazed by our own accomplishments.
We’ve tried that…and failed.
We are here…where we’ve never been before…and our Lord is ready to deliver us.
Are we ready to follow?
This is the crucial question.
We have the map…
It’s all here…in God’s word.
He tells us how to be a moral…kind and righteous people.
How to hold onto and what to let go.
Church…whenever we find ourselves in a place, where we’ve never been…
It is decision time.
And our choice is to follow God or lead ourselves.
If we choose to follow Him then…
Where do we begin?
Well…let’s start at the beginning…when God taught His people how to follow Him and live in their new land.
This is critical.
Because we don’t know how to live except that God teaches us.
We know how to exist…we know how to survive…
But only God can show us how to live because He is the living God
And that’s what makes the first commandment so important.
Because only the living God can teach us how to live.
No other gods are alive.
They never were…
So, describing them as dead gives them more credit than they’re due
For something to be dead…it first must live
A dead god must first have been a living god
And there is only one living God
So…let’s learn (relearn) how to live.
You shall have no other gods before Me.
We typically think about the first commandment in light of the second.
You shall have no other gods before Me. 8 You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 9 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me.
This…in fact…is the traditional Jewish construct of the Commandments.
With the first being…
(6) I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
When verse seven is combined with eight, the understanding can be that by following the second…not making idols…we satisfy the first.
Having no other gods before the one true and living God.
Here’s where a literal interpretation of Scripture gets us in trouble.
People reason that because they don’t have a statue of chubby Buddha on the mantle or a shrine to Molech in the back yard…
Or bow to ceramic fish while whispering some spiritual incantation before going off to work…
They’ve complied with Commandment number two and fulfilled number one.
But that’s a far too narrow interpretation…too literal.
We must think about the first commandment in the broadest terms if we’re going to follow God.
Here’s a working definition of an idol…an other god…
Whatever we put before God is a god by virtue of being put before God.
Making gods isn’t restricted to manufacturing or buying or bowing down to objects.
It’s about positioning and prioritizing…about passion and practice…
Whatever we position and prioritize with our passion and practice before God…is our god or gods.
We are…in our heart-of-hearts idol makers and worshipers.
This is why God’s first prohibition condemns having other gods before Him.
He knows us better than we know ourselves.
We are so refined at idolatry…that it’s hard for us to recognize the idols we’ve made.
And we cannot follow God to the place He wants us if we don’t see the idols in our way.
“Lord, show us the idols in our path.”
And what of the idols created by others?
See…that’s how ancient Israel danced around commandments one and two.
They eventually allowed other idol-makers to set up shop in the land.
Their rationale was that as long as they didn’t make them…God wouldn’t judge His people.
But God did judge them since tolerating idolatry is the same as practicing it.
If I tolerate my bad knee it doesn’t eliminate the pain…
It just means I put up with it.
We’ll putting up with the idols of others is idolatry.
And this is one way we went wrong.
We made a god of tolerance.
And it is such a powerful god that many are offended by that statement.
I have offended the god of tolerance.
But not really…because it’s not a living god.
The only ones offended are those who worship the god of tolerance.
You shall have no other gods before Me.
“Lord, show us the idols in our path and give us the strength to knock them down.”
For every idol-maker…there needs to be an idol-breaker…
In order to follow God.
We are idol-makers and God commands us to be idol-breakers.
This isn’t a command to look on the gods of others with judgment and condemnation.
What did God say?
You shall have no other gods before Me.
The collective “you” starts with the individual “you”.
So…what do you…what do I do?
Let’s consider four biblical steps toward becoming idol-breakers.
Admit You are an Idol Maker
1 John 5:21, reads, Little children, guard yourselves from idols.
Don’t you just love the tenderness of John’s caution.
It’s as though he makes the point believers are too naïve…too spiritually inexperienced to realize we make idols.
So…as a parent warns their children to be aware that what they do will hurt them…
John also warns us.
Because as much as it’s in a child’s nature to cross the street without looking or play with matches…
It’s in our nature to make idols.
To make other gods
The Bible puts it this way…
Psalm 135:15, The idols of the nations are but silver and gold, the work of man’s hands.
Habakkuk 2:18, What profit is the idol when its maker has carved it, or an image, a teacher of falsehood? For its maker trusts in his own handiwork when he fashions speechless idols.
Why is this so?
What is it about us that compels us to make idols?
Well, let’s go back to the beginning…
In Genesis 1:26, God said, Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness….
And in verse 27, God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
The God-bearing image…or likeness…we are given is the fundamental ability to create.
Male and female
Listen, creating mankind as male and female wasn’t to reflect the masculine and feminine natures of God…
As liberal theologians and feminist theology want us to believe
God is neither male or female…God is spirit
He did it in order to endow us with the capacity to create…to be part of His creation at the highest level.
God is Creator with a capital C…
We are small c creators.
It is our God-given nature to be creators.
But we create out of our corrupted nature.
We’re still trying to be like God. (Gen. 3:5)
So…we make other gods in our own image.
The first step in becoming an idol-breaker is admitting you’re an idol-maker.
Ask the Lord to Reveal Your Idols
What’s natural for us also becomes unconscious to us.
Let me illustrate…
Let’s say you meet someone for the first time and almost immediately after your introduction you notice they have a faint facial tick.
Eyebrow raises when they make a point
Lips press together if they disagree with something
Now…they have no awareness of the activity…
Because they’ve been doing it virtually all their life.
You…on the other hand…see the behavior with fresh eyes…
You even have to concentrate not to look at their peculiar habit.
But let’s say that after a while you become best friends.
Spend a lot of time together
What once seemed a bit odd to you became…
This is how it is with our idols…the gods we’ve made.
Over time they become so familiar to us…we don’t recognize them for what they really are.
We’re not even conscious they exist.
We’ve justified them into being.
This is why we must ask the Lord to reveal our idols to us.
He sees us with unvarnished eyes.
Psalm 69:5, says, O God, it is You who knows my folly, and my wrongs are not hidden from You.
1 Corinthians 2:10, teaches, For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.
The Holy Spirit can search our spiritual blind spots for other gods…
And reveal them to us
This is tough.
Think about it…when was the last time you asked somebody to point out your faults?
Even if you respect them and believe they can be impartial
Face it…we don’t like to be found in error…especially not by holy God.
Because then there’s no defense
It’s takes courage to ask the Lord to reveal our idols.
Because what if He shows us that we’ve put our kids before Him…
What if He reveals an idol someone else that we love has made?
Have we been going along to get along
That was a big part of ancient Israel’s tolerance of her neighbor’s gods.
Do I have the courage to ask the Lord to reveal my idols?
God uses unwanted and unexpected times of trouble to expose our idols and draw us closer to him. Paul Tripp Tweet
If you have the courage to ask God to reveal your idols…then take the next step.
Abandon Your Idols
If we think asking God to reveal our idols is tough…
Abandoning them is much harder
Scripture has 142 injunctions to reject idols and the practice of idolatry.
There are so many because it was…and it is hard…for God’s people to abandon the idols they embrace.
It was such a test for Israel that God would allow idolatrous nations to enslave His people in order to lead them away from those other gods.
Judges 3:7-8, reads, The sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth. 8 Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, so that He sold them into the hands of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia; and the sons of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years.
At the end of 8 years, God raised up Othniel to deliver Israel.
Verse 11, it says, Then the land had rest forty years. And Othniel the son of Kenaz died.
Then 12-14, Now the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord. So, the Lord strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done evil in the sight of the Lord. 13 And he gathered to himself the sons of Ammon and Amalek; and he went and defeated Israel, and they possessed the city of the palm trees. 14 The sons of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years.
Again, and again the cycle continued.
Because the power of idolatry is so tempting.
1 Corinthians 10:14, reads, Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.
It’s not safe to presume that ancient Israel and 1st century Christians were less spiritual or theologically sophisticated than us…
And that’s why they kept chasing after other gods
No…we’re actually more sophisticated at idol-making.
We’re not as blatant about it as they.
We don’t burn incense to carved images of Greek or Mesopotamian deities.
Our idols are shrouded in the language of inclusion and tolerance.
We serve the priests of entertainment…who tantalize us in high-definition.
Our idols speak the oracles of unquestionable scientific dogma…
Handed down by the mystery gods from temples of academia.
We worship rock-stars of Christianity.
Many want to be like them rather than the God they serve
Politicians have been raised to god-like status by enraptured followers from the right, left and center.
The almighty dollar is too small a god for us…
We must talk in terms of millions, billions and trillions to get the attention of the gods of Wall Street.
And most of us carry around the pocket-size idol marked by a symbol of original sin…an apple bitten by many who bow to the god of technology.
Yes…we are very sophisticated at making idols and worshiping them.
So, how do we abandon them?
Do I have to give-up my iPhone…stock portfolio…and binge-watching my favorite Netflix series?
Remember what I said earlier…
Whatever we put before God is a god by virtue of being put before Him.
What will it take for YOU to put God before…ahead of…everything and everyone else?
If you haven’t already done it
That’s the question.
Because if we don’t do that…then all the other commandments of the Old and New Testament are out of reach.
And only you…in the intimacy of your time with the Lord…
Can answer that question.
What will it take?
One of the most powerful images of the Old Testament is Jacob wrestling with God from Genesis 32.
It’s after Jacob struggles with God that God changes his name to Israel.
Which means…Contend with God
Wrestling with God is a good exercise.
It brings us close to Him.
It’s where He exposes our weaknesses.
When He pins us down.
And where our spiritual muscles get stronger.
Strong enough to abandon our idols.
Avoid Making New Idols
Did you know that your skin regenerates itself approximately every 27 days?
Without you thinking about it.
That’s how it is with having other gods before God.
We don’t even have to think about it…and poof…there’s a new god.
We must think about avoiding these new demigods.
Admit you’re an idol-maker.
Ask the Lord to reveal your idols.
Abandon your idols.
This is wrestling with the one true God.
Become an idol-breaker.