by Ricky Chelette
Idolatry. Most of us would say that we are not idol worshipers. Most of you reading this article would say you love the Lord deeply. You attend church weekly; you are kind, hospitable, and even generous. When you read the word idol you often think of a Buddha or some other kind of statuary where people bow and worship. Or maybe you think of some altar where a person recites prayers to something or someone that is neither living nor life-giving.
But idols are often more subtle than statuary and shrines. I believe many of us are more deceived than we would believe and the devil is absolutely thrilled with our acceptable forms of idol worship. Let me illustrate with just a few examples.
Media. We live in a technologically advanced world. Our airways are filled with more information floating around than was known to man just a few short years ago. If we could see all the information flying around us, we would be mortified. But we love it! We love our smartphones, our iPads, our DVD players in every moving vehicle, our constant connection to everyone and everything. Sure, these inventions of modernity have added much to our ability to communicate and stay connected to friends and family, but they have also become substitutes for real connecting and relating to each other. More importantly, these technologies have often caused us to be disconnected from God. Television has become a constant background noise in most of our homes and has often drowned out the still, small, voice of God. From movies to music, to Hulu, to iPhones, to iPods, to streaming video, to webcams we are obsessed with images and information that fill our lives with knowledge, but often rob us of relationships; most importantly the relationship with Him! I’m just saying.
Food. Americans have an obsession with food and we are now sharing that obsession with the rest of the western culture. We supersize everything and in the process have super-sized ourselves. It is reported that upwards of 70% of the American population is overweight or obese (JAMA online)! You can’t have a statistic like that and not believe we make an idol of food. We use food to medicate our pains, celebrate our joys, soothe our sorrows and take the place of our God. I’m not saying food is bad, after all, we have to eat, but last time I checked gluttony was still a sin (Prov. 23:2; 20-21)!
Work. It is not uncommon for many of us to work fifty, sixty, or more hours per week. Far too many of us define our lives not by the quality of our living, but by the hours we put in at work. What we do and how long we do it, seems more important than who we are. Work must not define us. God defines us.
Leisure. Despite the fact we work hard and often long hours, we are doing so in order to play even harder. We love our leisure time and we are willing to spend great amounts of money to enjoy it. I live in Arlington, Texas, the home of the Rangers, Six Flags, Hurricane Harbor, and the newly built, 1.2 billion dollar Cowboy Stadium — the most expensive stadium built in the history of the world! I can actually look out of my office building window and see it — a monument to man and his worship of football. During the football season, 80,000+ people will gather, pay as much as $75 just to park, pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars for premier seats, spend hours in preparation and participation, and cheer raucously for The Boys! The roof will open, God will look down and watch his team play ball — at least that is the legend. Would any of us even attend church if we had to arrive three hours early, bring our own food, and pay $75 just to park? I’m just saying.
Idolatry is defined as: “1. the religious worship of idols. 2. excessive or blind adoration, reverence, devotion (www.dictionary.com).” It doesn’t take a genius to realize we may not bow the knee to a graven image or worship at the shrine filled with incense and ringing bells, but we are all too often bowing the knee to something other than the God of the Universe!
We are obsessed with our looks, our status, our technology, our intelligence, our money, our position, our church, our family, our sports teams and the list could go on and on. I’m not trying to say all these things are evil, of course, they are not. But what I am saying is as Christians, we have been called to take up our cross and follow (Matt 16:14). We are commanded that those who lose their lives will find them (Matt 10:39). In Judges 6 we see Gideon, a man with a heart for the ways of the Lord, commanded by God to tear down the Asherah poles that had been erected to worship Baal and upon their foundations, build altars to honor the One True God. It is time for all of us who claim the name of Christ to take serious inventory of our lives and see what Asherah poles we need to tear down. We need to replace these would-be idols with altars to our Lord.
We have spent much of our lives allowing little idols to be erected that stand in the way of all God wants to do in and through us. We are too easily defined by the things of this world rather than the One who created the world.
For those who struggle with same-gender attractions it may be we have idealized some aspect of masculinity or femininity and we believe to possess that attribute(s) is to truly be male or female — what a deception! No single attribute makes a man or a woman. But what makes every person is the acknowledgment that we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14), that before we were even born God knew us (Jeremiah 1:5), and that we have been ransomed by Christ (1 Pet. 1:18-19) so that we might have adoption in Him (Rom. 8:16-17) through His sacrifice on the cross for us (Col. 1:20). We are not defined by anything or anyone but Him!
Others of us have idolized the concept of healing! We have spent money, time and effort pursuing healing, but rarely giving our whole hearts to the pursuit of Christ and Him alone, the true healer. We’ve become slaves to another false identity, ex-gay or struggler, or survivor — erecting yet other false idols in our lives. When we pursue anything over Him we are guilty of idolatry.
For those whose loved ones are struggling with same-gender attractions or who have embraced their homosexual identity, your idol may be the hope that one day they will change and come home. All your energies and efforts are focused on the hope that they will return, but in the midst of it all, you have lost your personal zeal for the Lord, your desire to grow in Him, and your willingness to surrender him/her to the Lord. It is easy to look pious and devoted while talking about God and His goodness, but all the while walking farther from experiencing His voice in your own life and walk. The idea of hope is not worthy of our worship; only He who is our HOPE.
What is it that truly defines you? How have you allowed idolatry to enter your life and your relationship with God? Is it the idol you have allowed to grow in your life that is standing in the way of all that Christ desires to call forth in you? God demands that we have no other gods before Him (Ex. 20:3) yet we continue to worship at shrines of our own makings and doings. How can we find peace with something we create? Tear down the idols and in their place build an Ebenezer to honor the Lord. Let go of whatever you are holding on to if it is not Christ and Him alone!