Posts Tagged With: idolatry

Divine Sovereignty. III. Success Despite Our Failures

“Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose’
calling a bird of prey from the east,
the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
I have purposed, and I will do it” (Isaiah 46:8–11; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

“The Flight of the Prisoners” by James Tissot (1836-1902), depicting the Babylonian exile. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Divine sovereignty grows out of God’s unique status as the self-existent One, the ground of all being, the Creator of all. He is all-knowing, able to tell the entire story from the beginning, including events that have not taken place as though they already have. He can accomplish all of His plans and use whomever He chooses to fulfill His will.

Isaiah 46 describes God’s judgment upon the Babylonians and their gods. Even though Babylon was the world power of his day, God maintained His authority over that nation. All who rejected His laws—whether the acknowledged Him as Lord and God or not—would be deemed “transgressors.” He counted them as rebels whether they believed He was God or not, no matter how sincerely they believed in something.

A popular lie today claims that “All roads lead to God.” Many believe that God is at the top of a spiritual “mountain” with numerous paths, each one a different religion, leading to Him. This contradicts Scripture. In fact, it is contrary to most religions. I invite you to subscribe to weekly prayer alerts at Voice of the Martyrs’ https://www.icommittopray.com/ website. This ministry mobilizes people to pray for Christians throughout the world who face persecution—disowned by families, attacked by mobs, arrested, assassinated, executed, etc. The perpetrators are not only government officials. Sometimes, they are Muslims, Hindus, Buddhist monks, etc. They do not see Christians as “fellow travelers climbing different roads to seek the same God.” Instead, they see Christians as a threat to be silenced and punished. These religions do not believe we are worshiping their deities. Christians should not assume they are worshiping our God under different names. Exodus 20:2, “You shall have no other gods before me,” prohibits this. Either our God is true and all other gods are false, or our God is not true. Because He is the One True God, having revealed Himself in the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus, He is able to judge all creation. His sovereignty extends to all.

(I realize some people will claim Christians, Jews, and Muslims all worship the same God, since “Allah” is the Arabic equivalent of the Hebrew “Elohim” and Arab Christians also call the biblical God “Allah.” However, the nature of the Muslim Allah is very different from the biblical God. Despite the name, they are very different beings.)

We can trust God even when He executes His judgment. He knows the end from the beginning. Isaiah’s prophecies warned of an impending Babylonian exile. In 587 BC, approximately 100 years after the prophet died, the nation of Judah was conquered by Babylon, and its leaders were taken captive into exile. One would expect that the people of Israel would cease to exist. The words “Israelite,” “Jew,” and “Israel” would slip into the archives of history, joining the Hittites and Midianites as peoples of the past. Think about it—When is the last time you met a Hittite? Do you know anybody whose DNA test says they are 25% Midianite? The same fate should have met the Jews and other Israelites.

However, God had chosen to use this superpower to discipline His people. Even though, humanly speaking, the Babylonians could have wiped Israel out of the history books, God knew the end from the beginning. He knew how things would turn out. He knew how to intervene to ensure that the Jewish nation would survive, revive, and one day fulfill their mission to be a blessing to all nations (Genesis 12:3), which He would accomplish by sending His Son as our Savior.

He not only knows the end from the beginning. He knows us inside and out. He knows we are sinners. He knew before we were born which sins would become our greatest temptations and how we would fail. He is not shocked by our sin. No matter how horrible your sins sound to you and others, He will not scream, “You did WHAT?!? Are you kidding me? How could you do that?” (Incidentally, if your sin has a name, then somebody else committed it before you did. You have created no new sins. God has forgiven it before.)

White House Special Counsel Chuck Colson, ca. 1969. White House photo, Nixon Presidential Library via Wikimedia Commons.

Even when we think we have completely destroyed our lives, God can bring good and blessing out of our mistakes. Chuck Colson was a member of President Richard Nixon’s staff who was sentenced to prison for his involvement in the Watergate scandal. One could easily have assumed that his life was a failure and he would be remembered as nothing more than Nixon’s disgraced henchman. However, through his criminal trial and eventual conviction, Colson came to know Jesus Christ and started sharing his faith with fellow prisoners. After his release he continued to minister to them. He formed Prison Fellowship, a ministry sharing the love of Christ with prisoners and their families, which also touched the lives of many other Christians. His sins and eventual repentance paved the way for a life of ministry and blessing to God, His people, and countless transgressors.

Saint Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders as a teenager and sold into slavery as a shepherd, which he often believed was a punishment for some sin committed in his youth. Seven years later, he escaped and returned to his family. However, during his bondage, he learned to love the Irish people and eventually returned to his land of captivity to spread the Gospel to a nation bound by idolatry and superstition. His greatest low point, his time as a shepherd, which should have destroyed his life, became God’s opportunity to use him to change a nation and history.

These were ordinary men, not comic-book superheroes. God worked through their misfortunes, mistakes, and even their rebellion to accomplish His will. Nevertheless, God’s will was not thwarted. His will cannot be thwarted in your life either. He can turn our rebellious behavior around to accomplish His will. Even when we think we have completely destroyed our lives, He can turn our circumstances around and bring good and blessing out of our lives. He will succeed in accomplishing His will. “I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.” He will not fail.

Let us each surrender our will and lives to the care of God, knowing that He can bless us and others with His abundant life, no matter what we have done before. He will not be defeated by our past, present, or future. He will always be in control.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, divine sovereignty, God's Majestic Attributes, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Recognizing Idolatry

“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5, emphasis added; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version, unless otherwise indicated).

In a recent post, I mentioned idolatry four times. Ezekiel 36:25–27 mentioned that God would cleanse us of our idolatries.

It may say “In God We Trust,” but money is an idol for many Americans. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

After posting that article, I realized some people may not realize that this verse speaks directly to them. Many Christians think, “I don’t have a statue of Buddha or some other image of a pagan religion. I’m not an idolater.” Others think they are off the hook because they do not have crucifixes, rosary beads, or pictures of the Virgin Mary.

The New Testament teaches that idolatry is more than just praying to a statue or image. Colossians 3:5 says covetousness and/or greed (some English translations use the latter term) is idolatry. We desire things more than we desire God. Many of us have forgotten what Jesus said:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24).

The Apostle Paul adds to this by saying:

“For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5).

While the Second Commandment tells us that we must not make or worship a graven image, the New Testament reveals that there is a deeper spiritual aspect to this commandment. To fully obey it, we must avoid building spiritual idols in our hearts that keep us from drawing closer to God. In its catechism, the Book of Common Prayer says we fulfill this commandment when we “put nothing in the place of God.”

So, how can we know if we are guilty of idolatry? Here are a few questions you may ask yourself:

Do I buy things that I cannot afford? If you own things you do not need (besides food, clothing, and shelter) and are going into debt to buy them, you probably have an idol. Incidentally, going into debt includes the use of credit cards. Too many people do not know the difference between “needs” and “wants” and fall into a snare as a result. First Timothy gives us God’s perspective on this:

“But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness…” (1 Timothy 6:6-11).

You need food. You need clothes (not necessarily expensive, trendy, or flashy clothes). You need a roof over your head (not necessarily a mansion). You do not need a brand-new luxury sports car, the latest $500 cell phone, cable television package with all the premium channels, etc. Recognizing the difference between needs and wants is necessary for overcoming idolatry.

Do I have things that I do not really need, but I do not give to the Lord and His work? If you spend your money on yourself and ignore the needs of God’s people and the needy, you have an idol. Sincere Christians may disagree whether we are obligated to tithe. Personally, I believe we should give 10% to the Lord, His Church, and the advancement of His kingdom. Others believe that we should be generous without specifying a percentage of our income:

“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

I could add countless verses where God’s Word says that His children should be generous. You cannot justify greed by saying, “I won’t give because I’m not cheerful about it.” Remember, it says, “God loves a cheerful giver.” Scripture never says that “God loves a greedy grouch.”

Do I disobey God’s Word or compromise my faith to get what I want? If you are willing to lie, cheat, or steal to get what you want, you are probably an idolater.

Do I pray for what I want more than I pray to be fruitful for God?

“You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:3–4).

It is not always about money. In a society blessed with wealth and ease, we can become idolaters about things besides money. I have known people who say they are Christian, but never attend church between September and January: football comes first to them. Others worship their political party, musicians (it is no accident that a popular TV show is called “American Idol”), actors, other entertainers, hobbies, etc. Anything that keeps you from worshiping God and doing His will can be an idol. Here is a little project you can try to see if you might be an idolater in a nonfinancial area of your life:

  1. Ask a few friends who are not in your church or Christian circles what they think are the three things you value most. You can ask family members if they are not Christians. If your faith does not come up regularly (i.e., people are not mentioning “God,” “Jesus,” “Christianity,” “church,” “your faith,” etc.), take note of the things people do mention. There might be an idol there. You may need to remove it completely from your life.
  2. Ask the same people who they think are the three people you admire most. If Jesus is not mentioned, but someone else usually is, you might have an idol.
  3. Consider what you have learned. Are there idols that you have to remove from your life? Take the proper steps to remove them. Seek godly counsel from a pastor or other mature follower of Christ if necessary.

“Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Self-Sufficiency or Gratitude

“And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full. Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them…” (Deuteronomy 11:13–16, ESV).

031 Stoke Rochford Ss Andrew & Mary, interior - tower arch restoration plaque

A plaque on a church thanks God for protection during World War II. By Acabashi [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

During the past year, a new phrase has gained popularity: “fake news.” The term has been around for a while, but it now permeates the Internet. If one does not want to believe something that has been reported, they will claim it is fake news. While President Donald Trump may be most responsible for the phrase’s popularity, no side of the political spectrum holds a monopoly on it. Indeed, some websites and media outlets are generally untrustworthy and deserve to be called “fake news,” but many will invoke that term to avoid investigating claims that go against their presuppositions, regardless of the source.

Like I said, fake news has been around for some time. In a very real sense, it is just the newest synonym in a family of words and phrases related to untruth, dishonesty, deception, etc. It is the newest twist on “lie.” People are prone to believe lies, especially in the spiritual realm. In my previous post, I addressed a few of the lies that we can overcome through confession of sin. No single short article can address all of the spiritual lies people believe, but we will look at some of the big ones in the next few weeks.

Perhaps the greatest lie of all is self-sufficiency, and God’s Word warns His people against it frequently in His Word. A false belief that “I accomplished something great and do not need God’s help” is the entry point onto the shortcut to idolatry. Deuteronomy 11:13–16 reminds the reader of a similar warning earlier in that book:

“And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you…” (Deuteronomy 6:10–14).

Similar warnings appear elsewhere in Scripture. In Revelation 3:14–22, Jesus reprimanded the Laodicean church for its lukewarm faith. Most Christians will read their own pet peeve into that passage: Did Jesus think their worship songs were boring? Were they praying too mechanically? Maybe they enjoyed the same hobbies and entertainment as their heathen neighbors did. Actually, none of those were the real problems. Laodicea was a very wealthy community, prospering from a nearby hot spring and other successful industries. We see Jesus hinting at these blessings throughout His rebuke, beginning with the hot springs: Once the water cooled off, it was lukewarm and unpleasant. The city was famous for an eye salve and textiles, both of which are called unprofitable in this warning. Their lukewarm faith was not so much a matter of worship or morals: They thought they could make it on their own and did not need Jesus in their daily lives. Thus, He ends up outside the church, asking to be invited in. Laodicea thus becomes a picture of many Christians: lukewarm, self-sufficient, leaving our Saviour out in the cold.

Despite God’s warnings, the lie of self-sufficiency is one that people love to believe. American culture exalts the “self-made man.” We celebrate the man who rose from humble means to become a great success in business, politics, or some other field. We create a myth about how he achieved greatness by the sweat of his brow and his own ingenuity and inspiration, with little or no help from others. Those who guided or assisted him can be readily forgotten. The Frank Sinatra song that declares “I did it my way” may very well be the anthem of the self-made man.

To such people, Jesus declares, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). God had placed those healing waters close to Laodicea. He gave each of us the talents, insight, and resources that lead to our success. He surrounded us with the people who helped us succeed. With every victory we achieve, or every goal we accomplish in life, we should give thanks to God first and foremost. He made it possible.

The lie of self-sufficiency is a step towards idolatry. For the ancient Israelites, that could be idolatry in the most literal sense. They might decide, “I had a great harvest. Yahweh didn’t do this; I did it! Maybe I can shop around for other gods who will allow me to do things my way to prosper.” The all-powerful God of all things, who provided the soil and weather that made a produced a bountiful harvest, may be rejected in favor of idols whom the self-made man seeks to manipulate for greater gain.

Today, we may choose other idols. In its broadest sense, an idol can be anything that we choose to focus on instead of God. We can make our own ideas an idol. We can idolize money (Ephesians 5:5 equates idolatry with covetousness or greed), political parties and systems, self-help gurus, financial advisors, etc. Anything or anybody who takes our eyes off God and claims to offer peace, pleasure, and prosperity can be an idol.

The answer to the lie of self-sufficiency is gratitude. It is tempting to give ourselves a pat on the back whenever we accomplish something. However, before we exalt ourselves, let us take some time to think of three ways that God made your success possible. What obstacles to success were not present because He removed them even before you began? Why or what helped you succeed? How did you obtain the resources to succeed? How did you develop the skills to succeed? The answer to almost all of these questions will point back to God’s grace. He remains the source of all our blessings, and He deserves to be thanked and worshiped because of His goodness.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Valiant Warrior Misses the Mark

Shortly before my recent vacation, which took me away from writing for a few weeks, I posted an article about the Old Testament judge Gideon. In that article, I pointed out that we need to see ourselves from God’s perspective. We may have a low opinion of ourselves, but God sees the potential He has given us. Even when Gideon was controlled by fear and doubt, God called him a “valiant warrior” and called him to lead the Israelite army to overthrow their oppressors. In that article, I summarized:

What is your identity? If you are in Christ, God’s seed abides in you (1 John 3:9) and you are a partaker in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). God can do great things through you. Fix your eyes on him, not your earthly status or present circumstances, and prepare to go forth in the power He gives you to advance His kingdom!

During my vacation, I was reminded that this is only half the story. The preacher in my son’s church preached the other half of Gideon’s story: After he won the battle against Midian, he took matters into his own hands. During the first half, we hear God instructing him. After a while, Gideon made his own decisions. He went from spiritual hero to a bad example.

If you are not familiar with Gideon’s story, you may read it in Judges 6-8 on Bible Gateway or a similar Bible app or website. What follows is a brief summary.

Gideon started on the right track. He struggled with doubt, but started to obey God’s instructions despite his fears and doubts and eventually courageously led his army to victory.

It all sounds good in Judges 6:11–7:23. God spoke and Gideon obeyed (even if he needed encouragement to overcome his fears and doubts). As a result, the people of God experienced victory.

However, after that, God seemed silent. We do not see the words “God said” again in Gideon’s story after he routed the Midianite army. After starting in obedience to God, Gideon seemed to take matters into his own hands. It seems as if he started to act without seeking God’s will. God continued to give him victory, but Gideon was heading for trouble. The man who started his ministry by tearing down an altar to Baal began to collect new idols: After killing two Midianite leaders, he decided to keep crescent ornaments that were on their camels’ necks. These crescents were symbols of the moon god (Judges 8:21).

Although Gideon refused to be appointed as king of Israel, he requested a large sum of silver, which he made “into an ephod, and placed it in his city, Ophrah, and all Israel played the harlot with it there, so that it became a snare to Gideon and his household” (Judges 8:27). He collected symbols of a pagan god and introduced a new idol to the Israelite people. Gideon obeyed God as long as it was convenient, but then turned back to idolatry.

In the end, he had no positive lasting legacy. The Israelites soon forgot about him and his family, and as soon as he died, they returned to worshipping other gods and rejected the LORD (Judges 8:33–35). Furthermore, his illegitimate son Abimelech (whose name means “my father is the king”) slaughtered all his siblings and declared himself king.

Gideon started well, but ended in failure. The man who tore down an altar to Baal claimed amulets depicting a pagan deity and crafted something that became an idol. The man who said “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you” (Judges 8:23) gave his son a royal name, and that son claimed kingship without God’s approval.

While we need to recognize our identity in Christ, we need to remember that entire phrase: It is our identity in Christ. Sometimes, we win spiritual battles through God’s power and the work of the Holy Spirit, and suddenly forget that He is in control. The apostle Paul asked, “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3). If we are wise, we will recognize that the spiritual life is a marathon: We have to persist in following Jesus. We cannot start walking with Him and suddenly decide we are so spiritual was can run ahead of him. We need to ask all of the important questions:

  • God, how do you see me?
  • What gifts and talents have you given me?
  • What is my mission and calling?
  • What is your will for my life?
  • What do you want me to do in this situation?

Like many of the heroes in the book of Judges, Gideon was a complex figure: He had some good qualities, but he failed in many ways as well. Like each of us, he was a work in progress. Let us not stop short of doing God’s will and quickly forget His blessings and guidance.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Presidential Election: America’s Mirror

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Meme from the Rowdy Conservatives Facebook page

I have said little online about the 2016 Presidential campaign so far. Although I consider myself fairly politically active (I vote in every major election and at one time served in several state and national positions in a minor political party), I have refused to openly endorse either candidate.

This week, the media flared up with reports that Donald Trump made some vulgar boastful comments about things he claimed he could do to women. As usual, controversy erupted. Part of Trump’s appeal has been his tendency to speak his mind, but some people seemed surprised about what was in his mind.

I will not try to defend Trump. Others have, and you can find their rationales all over the Internet. My point in this post is to explain what I believe should have been the Christian response throughout this campaign.

There is a simple reason why I have refused to endorse a candidate. While many of my friends share openly their support of a particular political candidate on Facebook and other online forums, I prefer to focus on principles, not personalities. I am a Christian, pro-life, pro-traditional-family, constitutional conservative. I prefer to focus on such issues and principles. Those may remain stable, and I do not frequently waver on them.

However, people have this terrible tendency of disappointing us. As we saw with Trump’s comments, people will say and do things that I do not agree with, even when I do agree with them on some of their political positions. I prefer to defend my ideology than to try to defend a person. I will always try to ground anything I say about politics on the Constitution and biblical truth. Those are not prone to change, but people are prone to fail.

This particular campaign has been especially troubling. There has never been a perfect Presidential candidate, as far as I can tell. Even those Presidents that I have liked had some flaws that I refuse to excuse. However, in 2016, it seems like we have scraped the bottom of the barrel. I believe we should consider a person’s character when voting; however, the two characters the major parties selected are both devoid of character. (It may have been a scandal about Donald Trump that inspired this post, but I could probably write a book about Hillary Clinton’s ethical shortcomings. Let’s just say that, after years of defending her husband’s harassment of women, she has no business criticizing Trump’s words.)

But, as I have said for years, America gets the candidates and elected officials it deserves. We will elect politicians who reflect our values. Our nation’s value system cherishes celebrities, wealth, greed, pride, and sexual immorality and vulgarity. Well, we can see all of our nation’s idols on display in the current campaign. The fact that many of us are criticizing the candidates for committing the same sins we cherish in our hearts merely multiplies the hypocrisy. Narcissism? Our culture created “the selfie” and thinks it’s an art form. Bigoted hate-filled speech? Both candidates have said some hostile offensive things about each other and their supporters, and the supporters have likewise been guilty. Vulgar comments and sexual misconduct? I call your attention to the above meme; and our TV, movies, and music; and virtually our entire society.

When people ask if God is judging America, I say we have made it too easy for Him. He does not need to send a giant meteor (even if that is the closest I have come to endorsing a candidate this time around). He can just sit back, let us elect our candidates, and then watch us suffer the consequences. I can almost picture God watching us, much as a parent watches a child having a temper tantrum, arms folded, waiting for us to hit our breaking point so He can say, “Have you had enough already?”

Perhaps the fact that our Presidential election has been narrowed down to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump serves as a mirror in which America should see its flaws. This is something that the church seriously needs to consider. Many of us continue to hope that God will somehow bring revival to America. However, many Christians expect Him to do it only through a Republican President who can appoint the right Supreme Court justices.

I propose that it is time for American Christians to repent of our political idolatry and begin to talk, think, and act as if God is bigger than our entire political establishment. I am not saying who we should vote for in November to be our next President. However, I will continue to trust that God will remain on the throne, no matter who sits in the Oval Office.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Christians and Culture, Current events, Politics | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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