Keynotes – August 2019

Marks of a Christian Part 5 – Struggling with Idolatry

Lately, in my personal devotions, I have been spending a lot of time in 1st and 2nd Kings. It is so sad to hear God time after time talk about the kings of Israel (Northern Kingdom) saying, “and he did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” Even the kings who did what was right (Southern Kingdom) often failed to remove the high places; “the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there.”

As I read these passages I keep asking myself if we don’t have similar issues. I’m pleased that I don’t know of anyone worshipping Molech and offering their children as sacrifices. That would be an obvious problem! So, if we do have an issue, it would be far more subtle. Do we put up idols in our sanctuaries like the Israelites did? Of course we don’t put up statues that we worship, but perhaps we need to look at the whole building as a potential impediment.

I titled this article “Struggling with Idolatry” thinking that a Christian is going to be active in working against Satan and struggling to keep idols out of our lives. And trusting that our idols would have to be subtle, or we would notice them, I need to ask, “Are you struggling?” I’m asking myself that question, first.

Are there idols in our lives that we aren’t aware of?

On July 14th our Gospel reading helped us understand what God desires as spoken by a teacher of the Law. ”‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Luke 10:27 NIV

The word “All” doesn’t leave any room for wiggling. And that’s where I think idols can slip into our lives. I doubt that any of us would stand up and boldly claim that we put God first 100% of the time.

Maybe we don’t struggle enough.

“They rejected His decrees and the covenant He made with their fathers and the warnings He had given them. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the Lord  had ordered them, “Do not do as they do,” and they did the things the Lord  had forbidden them to do. … 18 So the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them from His presence. Only the tribe of Judah was left, 19 and even Judah did not keep the commands of the Lord their God.” 2 Kings 17:15, 18-19 NIV

One thought that came to mind, we have become very lax in the way we dress when we come before God on Sundays. Yes, I remember a time when we wouldn’t go to the City without a suit and a tie, or fly on an airplane or go to the movies well dressed. But when it comes to meeting with God, do we appreciate what we have? Do we actively think about what we are doing or have we become complacent about the privilege we have been given? Do we do as the world does?

Do we have rose colored glasses on “Knowing” that “we aren’t prejudiced; it’s all the people around us?” Until we can admit our shortcomings we aren’t going to attempt to change. That includes the attitude of the LCMS as well.

How can you tell if you have an idol in your life? Would it be difficult to live if it was taken away from you? Is it something you just can’t live without? Then it could be an idol! Of course there are many things, such as air, that we require. But an idol consumes too much of our time, talents or treasures to be good for us.

Unlike the Children of Israel we don’t live in a theocracy. In other words, although our government was founded by strong Christians, it isn’t based on or bound by the Bible. We don’t require people to be and act like Christians.

Most of us grew up in the United States, which for a great many years did base our laws and practices on the Bible, but that is not our country today. Our country is not founded on faith in Jesus. Although I see God working to draw people to Himself, our country has drifted far away from Him. It would not be a shock to me if God didn’t do something major to get our attention. 9/11 didn’t do it for very long.

We have drifted as a country and I think the same can be said for our congregations. As we have become more prosperous we have interpreted that as being blessed by God; and we truly have been blessed by God! That only becomes a problem when we start to believe that we deserve it. It is an even bigger problem when we think we deserve more.

As I was reading 2 Kings Chapters 22 and 23 I was confronted by a man who truly understood God’s desire. And it brought me to tears. The Gospel reading from July 14th had the teacher of the Law tell us, and in 2 Kings 23:25 King Josiah showed us how to live as a Christian. “Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king who like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with the Law of Moses.”

Josiah did the opposite of what was popular. After centuries of kings leading the Children of Israel away from God he did what would have been unthinkable to the people who had grown accustomed to their idolatry. He smashed the idols, burned them, scattered them; and he killed the priest who served the idols. He restored the Temple of God and called on the people to remove the idols from their homes and turn to God. He celebrated the Passover with the people for the first time in a very long time. He read the Word of God to the people.

In spite of all the Josiah did right, the people didn’t change and within a few years of Josiah’s death the Children of Israel were taken off to Babylon in captivity. Was that a punishment or was it God’s blessing? God’s desire was and continues to be to draw His people back to Him. He expects us to be faithful to Him and to Him alone. We can’t allow ANYTHING to get between us and our God.

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12:48

Some time ago I did some research when we studied the phrase “blessed are the poor…” I wanted to know what the meant in our day. Who is poor? The result was shocking for me. 40% of the people in the world live on under $1,000 a year. The next 40% live on under $11,000 a year. The poverty level in Alameda County is at about $23,000 a year which means someone in our area is considered to be living in poverty when they have an income double that of 80% of the people of the world!

Do we really appreciate what God has given us? How much comfort is “Enough?” How much can we buy without being considered “wealthy?” Are we complacent? Are we grateful to God for all His blessings? Are we doing anything?

Do we worship God or do we worship consumerism? I keep recalling what Jesus said in The Parable of the Shrewd Manager. (Luke 16:9) “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is GONE, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” Jesus isn’t telling us to hold on to what He gives us, but to give it away!

In case you were wondering, and perhaps you are looking for some wiggle room, while I was at the seminary I spoke like this with some of the professors. Some, if not all, thought I was being a bit extreme. As I continue to study God’s Word this common thread connects every part that I read. We can attempt to wish it away, but the Word of the Lord stands forever.

Let’s study His Word together. Let’s struggle together. Let’s review where we are today. And let’s come up with a plan that glorifies God continually!

Pastor Oatman