26 Jul

Where Do Idols Come From?

God is our maker and not what we have made.  That’s major!  Yet, it’s astonishing that people even today will gather materials and fashion for themselves an idol made of wood or metal.

The Bible in several places shows the foolishness of this sinful practice.  One explicit passage is Jeremiah 10:1-6:

  • Hear the word which the LORD speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the LORD, “Do not learn the way of the nations, And do not be terrified by the signs of the heavens Although the nations are terrified by them; For the customs of the peoples are delusion; Because it is wood cut from the forest, The work of the hands of a craftsman with a cutting tool.  “They decorate it with silver and with gold; They fasten it with nails and with hammers So that it will not totter.  “Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field are they, And they cannot speak; They must be carried, Because they cannot walk! Do not fear them, For they can do no harm, Nor can they do any good.”  There is none like You, O LORD; You are great, and great is Your name in might.

While idolatry is astonishing, it’s also very sad.  The earth is replete of idols, which shows that we’re innately spiritual.  We naturally seek the divine.  That’s why all peoples everywhere worship something, even if it’s themselves.  That’s just part of how God has created us.  In fat, it’s hard work to be an atheist.

However, there’s a problem.  We’re not only innately spiritual.  We are also innately depraved, and when innate spirituality collides with innate depravity, the result is idolatry.

Innate Spirituality + Innate Depravity = Idolatry

As we innately seek the divine, our sin leads us away from the true and only God.  Romans 1:18-23 explains how this process works:

  • For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

We naturally want a faith, but we don’t naturally want truth.  We naturally want a faith, but we don’t want to walk by faith.  And that’s where idols come from.  We want a God we can see, which requires no faith.

The Reformer John Calvin said it the following way when he wrote about the origin of idols being man’s desire for a tangible deity (The Institutes, 1.11.8).  Some in Calvin’s day were apparently arguing that idols came from the desire to honor dead ancestors, but Calvin disagreed.  He wrote:

For it appears from Moses that idols were in use before this eagerness to consecrate images of the dead prevailed, which is frequently mentioned by secular writers. When he relates that Rachel stole her father’s idols [Genesis 31:19], he is speaking of a vice that was common. From this we may gather that man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols…

Man’s mind, full as it is of pride and boldness, dares to imagine a god according to its own capacity; as it sluggishly plods, indeed is overwhelmed with the crassest ignorance, it conceives an unreality and an empty appearance as God. To these evils a new wickedness joins itself, that man tries to express in his work the sort of God he has inwardly conceived. Therefore the mind begets an idol; the hand gives it birth…

Daily experience teaches that flesh is always uneasy until it has obtained some figment like itself in which it may fondly find solace as in an image of God. In almost every age since the beginning of the world, men, in order that they might obey this blind desire, have set up symbols in which they believed God appeared before their bodily eyes.

That’s why we, our hearts and minds, are idol-making factories:  we’re uncomfortable with an invisible God.  It was true for the Israelites as they made a golden calf to represent Yahweh while Moses was on Sinai (Exodus 32), and it’s true today.

For example, a couple years ago, I was having a discussion with my older son Zachariah.  He had just turned 4-years-old.  I was up against a deadline and had to get some work done immediately, but he really wanted me to play.  Zach’s very social and doesn’t like playing alone.  Since none of his buddies were around, and his little brother was napping, good ol’ dad was his anticipated playmate.  Our exchange went something like this:

“Dad, I want you to play with me,” Zachariah declared.

“Son, I’d love to, but I’ve really got to get this work done.  It has to be done today.  Why don’t you go upstairs and play.  Build a big house with Lincoln Logs!”

“Dad, I don’t want to go upstairs by myself,” he answered back, beginning that whiny voice that kids employ so well.  “It’s kinda dark up there and sometimes I get scared up there by myself.”

Looking for one of those teachable moments and given that we’d just done a VBS about not being afraid, I asked him, “Zachariah, why should you not be scared to go up stairs and play?”

“Because God is always with me,” he answered correctly.

“That’s right,” I said.  “You don’t have any reason to be scared.”

And then he said it as matter-of-factly as possible, “But, daddy, sometimes I wish I had a god I could see.”

Wow!  That was raw and heart-penetrating!  I’ve felt the same way too.  Haven’t you?  Well, that’s the spirit behind the birth of idols.  We want a faith, but we don’t want to walk by faith.

While idolatry is everywhere on the earth, we really don’t see many physical idols made of wood or metal here in our area of the earth.  Trust me:  idols are there but just invisible.  In a sense, I wish the idols that you and I have to deal with were made of wood and metal so that we could easily smash them, melt them down, or set fire to them.  But they’re not, which makes them more difficult to recognize and eradicate.  We nevertheless must destroy them!

That’s where Christian music artist Ross King has been so helpful in his song “Clear the Stage.”  In the bridge of that song, he gives very helpful idol-detecting definitions:

  1. Anything I put before my God is an idol.
  2. Anything I want with all my heart is an idol.
  3. Anything I can’t stop thinking of is an idol.
  4. Anything that I give all my love is an idol.

Think through those definitions.  Do any idols in your life become apparent.

Now that we understand where idols come from and have definitions to help discover our invisible ones, I’m really praying that we’ll work to find and crush them for our good and the glory of God!

I’m really interested to hear feedback from you about what potential idols you see in your life and others.

21 Jul

Jesus or Your Children?

A few nights ago I was up late going through some mp3 songs to put on my phone. I’m sure you know how songs so easily take you down Memory Lane. I was well on my way when I ran across Phil Vassar’s song from back in 2000 called “Just Another Day in Paradise.” The song is all about how crazy life can be with a spouse and some kids, bills piling up, things breaking, schedules calling, juggling work and home, sour milk, but then the chorus kicks in with the following words that share the truth that although life is frustrating and crazy at times, it’s blessed:

Well, it’s ok; It’s so nice
It’s just another day in paradise
Well, there’s no place that I’d rather be
Well, it’s two hearts and one dream
I wouldn’t trade it for anything
And I ask the Lord every night
For just another day in paradise

At that point, I went from Memory Lane to rejoicing. The song just hit home in my heart because it was like Vassar was singing about my life. Life is crazy right now with three young’uns and one on the way, but man, am I blessed! I began to thank God for my wife and kids and eventually went to bed, but as I was lying there, this question came to my mind: Ben, do you love Jesus more than your children?

That’s just how the Holy Spirit works, isn’t it? And immediately the following true story from the 1999 book by dc Talk and The Voice of the Martyrs called Jesus Freaks came to mind.  I had read it years ago and had really been impacted by it, and the Lord there in my bed brought it back to mind.

The story comes from North Korea in the 1950s and is called “More Love to Thee.”

For years, Pastor Kim and 27 of his flock of Korean saints had hand-dug tunnels beneath the earth. Then, as the Communists were building a road, they discovered the Christians living underground.

The officials brought them out before a crowd of 30,000 in the village of Gok San for a public trial and execution. They were told, “Deny Christ, or you will die.” But they refused.

At this point the head Communist officer ordered four children from the group seized and had them prepared for hanging. With ropes tied around their small necks, the officer again commanded the parents to deny Christ.

Not one of the believers would deny their faith. They told the children, “We will soon see you in heaven.” The children died quietly.

The officer then called for a steamroller to be brought in. He forced the Christians to lie on the ground in its path. As its engine revved, they were given one last chance to recant their faith in Jesus. Again they refused.

As the steamroller began to inch forward, the Christians began to sing a song they had often sung together. As their bones and bodies were crushed under the pressure of the massive rollers, their lips utter the words:

“More love to Thee, O Christ, more love to Thee
Thee alone I seek, more love to Thee
Let sorrow do its work, more love to Thee
Then shall my latest breath whisper Thy praise
This be the parting cry my heart shall raise;
More love, O Christ, to Thee,” (p124-5).

What an astounding and radical demonstration of love for Jesus! Do I love Jesus more than my children? Do you? Would I, in order to save their lives from persecutors, deny my Savior and Lord? Would you?

Jesus’ words ring so clearly in my ears, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it,” (Matthew 10:37-39).

So, will it be Jesus or your children? Oh how I pray that you or I would never be put in the situation to choose like those Korean Christians had to choose, but if it were to come to be, I pray my answer would be “Jesus.” I pray the same for you as well.

But dear one, let me go a step further. The choice is really not between loving Jesus or loving your children. The truth is that you can do both. You see, in these Korean Christians choosing to love Jesus more than their children, they were actually doing the most loving thing they could for their children. They demonstrated to their children by their choice of faithfulness to Jesus that Jesus is more prized than anything else. That is the most loving thing a father or a mother can do for their children. So, it’s not an either/or. It’s a both/and. Love your children by loving Jesus more!

And more importantly, this truth is not just relevant to life and death situations. It’s relevant to every aspect of your parenting life. In all phases of your children’s lives and in all interactions, be most loving to your children by loving Jesus more than you love them.

I thank the Lord so much for my children. What blessings they are to me! But if I am to love them properly, I must love Jesus more than I love them. More love to Thee, O Christ!