You can listen to an audio version of this sermon here.
You can watch an abbreviated, informal version of this sermon here.
Last week with Pastor Michael we examined, in experiencing the liberating grace of God, the first step of facing facts, of humbling ourselves to overcome denial about the various situations or problems in our lives that keep us from experiencing the abundant life that God intends for us. Today we take the next step, which is recognizing that we desperately need help. As Hamilton said “It’s very, very difficult to overcome, without help.” No matter what our pattern of destruction might be, and we all have brokenness and unhealthiness in our lives, we desperately need the help of a higher power than ourselves. Before, we hear more of these testimonies, let’s take a moment to examine the real root of our problems, the sin beneath the sin, the idols and the idolatries that motivate and lie beneath all the surface sin we tend to focus on.
First, in the words of the great musician Bob Dylan: “You gotta serve somebody.” Deeply ingrained into each of us, as part of our design, is that we are made to worship and serve. In Romans chapter 1, Paul writes about the nature God and the nature of humanity from the beginning, and he writes about how humanity exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images, for idols. That from the very beginning, when humanity gave up on God, they had to put something in their hearts, in the gap, some would say say in the God shaped hole in our hearts, to try and fill the vacuum left by not being in relationship with our loving Creator. In Romans 1:25, Paul writes that “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator…” This is idolatry. Idolatry is whenever we put anything in the highest priority slot of our lives other than God. Every human personality, every human community, is based on some ultimate concern or some ultimate allegiance to something. And whatever we put there, we naturally worship it. The word worship in English comes from a combination of worth-ship meaning its most basic form: to give worth or value to something. Whatever becomes our ultimate value, is what we assign worth to, and whatever in our lives is the ultimate, we will naturally serve that, whether it is a person, a cause, or a philosophy. Even atheist, who expressedly do not believe in a deity, have something in their life that they have determined is of ultimate worth to them, worthy of worth-ship and service.
We are made to worship and serve, and this manifests itself when we see the plethora of idols that we create because, as John Calvin points out, we are a perpetual factory of idols. Jeremiah 2:25, speaking in the voice of Israel says: “But you said ‘It’s no use! I love foreign gods, and I must go after them.” Tim Keller who has written extensively and very well about idolatry, challenges us with this question. I encourage you to close your eyes, take a deep breath, and dive deeply into your soul as you listen to this question. “What thing, if you lost it, could make you lose your will to live? What thing, if you lost it, would make all meaning and significance and hope disappear from your life?” You can open your eyes. That thing is your idol, that is your actual deity that is filling the god shaped hole in your heart. Anything can be idol, we are perpetual factories of idols, even good things can be an idol.
Let’s look at our passage for today, which is probably the most clear example of idolatry in the bible in Exodus 32:1-5. The people of Israel have just been liberated from slavery by God through Moses. The waters of the Red Sea were parted and they travel to this mountain, where Moses goes up to commune with God and this is what happens. Exodus 32:1-5:
When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, "Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him." 2 Aaron answered them, "Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me." 3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt." 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, "Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD."
So they create this idol, this human made creation, and at the end of the passage, it says tomorrow there will be a festival. Who is the festival in honor of? It’s in honor of the Lord. If you look at the Hebrew, it says “Tomorrow there will be a festival to Yahweh.” The Hebrews aren't so ignorant and blind that they don’t understand that they've just created this golden calf. They know that the golden calf isn't literally the God that just rescued them. They create this idol in an effort to honor and celebrate Yahweh who brought them out of Egypt and we, especially as Christians, do the same thing. We create idols all the time in an effort to do what’s good. We create idols of career, family, good political cause, security, even ministry and mission in the name of Yahweh. The truth is that any and every created thing is good in itself, but can have demonic, destructive influence if it is promoted to an ultimate, god-like place in any heart, society, or culture. The scary thing is, that it is possible to be almost completely compliant with the surface, the superficial, and behavioral law and yet be obeying out of idolatrous motives rather than God.
Because these idols are difficult for us to see, they are buried so deep in our psyches and our souls, let’s take a minute to look at this list of Tim Keller's. This is by no means an exhaustive list, someone pointed out the idol of security isn’t on here, but it gives us a good place to begin the process of reflection and soul searching.
Life only has meaning and I only have worth if:
Work idolatry: I am highly productive getting a lot done.
Achievement idolatry: I am being recognized for my accomplishments, excelling in my career.
Materialism idolatry: I have a certain level of wealth, financial freedom, and possessions.
Religion idolatry: I am adhering to my religion's moral codes and accomplished in it activities.
Individual person idolatry: this one Person is in my life and happy there and/or happy with me.
Irreligion idolatry: I feel I am totally independent of organized religion in a self-made morality.
Racial/cultural idolatry: my race and culture is ascendant and recognized as superior.
Inner ring idolatry: a particular social, professional, or other group lets me in
Family idolatry: my children and/or my parents are happy and happy with me.
Relationship idolatry: Mr. or Ms. 'Right' is in love with me."
Suffering idolatry: I am hurting or in a problem, only then do I feel noble, worthy of love or able
to deal with guilt.
Ideology idolatry: my political or social cause or party is making progress and ascending in
influence or power.
Image idolatry: I have a particular kind of look or body image
The truth is that many of us will live our lives out blind to certain idols or the depth to which we worship and serve these created things. In the Old Testament, in Israel, when it says that they went after other gods, and this is THE sin of the bible, God compares Israel to being a whore for going after other gods. When Israel went after other gods, when they worshiped idols, they didn’t stop worshiping Yahweh, that just added extra gods, extra concerns, extra idols that they worshiped in addition to Yahweh. Sometimes, by the grace of God, our eyes are opened to the idols in our lives, as Pastor Michael said last week he opposes the proud through people, through his Spirit, through consequences. We’re going to watch now, a summary of four people who, by the grace of God, had theirs eyes opened to the destructive patterns in their lives. These stories are going to be shared in their entirety online. We’ll let you know when the final editing is completed and we’re hoping that others of you will share, either by video or by writing about the idols in your lives. If you look at my blog post for this week “Confession of this Pastor’s Idolatry” you can see a written version of an idol I’ve struggled with. Now as you listen to these testimonies, think not only about the destructive patterns they’ve overcome, but about the idols that lie beneath.
I’ve said this personally to all four of these brave individuals, but again, publically thank you for sharing your stories and again, I encourage us all, to begin thinking of your own story, no matter what the idol, and how you might share the story of God’s work in your life with your brothers and sisters in Christ for encouragement and edification.
Next week we’ll be looking at the next step in experiencing liberating Grace and at practical ways we can make changes, but as we conclude here this morning, if you didn’t pick it up from these testimonies, the only way to dig out these idols is to yield to highest power. If you’ve ever had an addiction or something that had power over you, you know that when you get rid of it, there is always a multitude waiting to take its place. You can give up an addiction to overeating, for example, and replace it with an addiction to exercise. Usually we replace addictions or idols according to what’s more or less socially acceptable. Remember, we are made to worship and serve, we will worship and serve something.
Jesus says in Matthew 12:43-47 "When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left.' When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.” In Mark 3:27, Jesus identifies himself as being the strong one who can enter into a person, bind up whatever demonic, or destructive idol is there, and he doesn’t leave us empty or unarmed but stays with us by the presence of His Holy Spirit. Nothing in this world is capable of fulfilling us. Tim Keller says what Hamilton concluded with “The degree to which you see Jesus on the cross losing everything for you – he will become so beautiful to you – that these things that control you will lose their power – if you really want to change – Jesus Christ must become your overmastering passion.”
Jesus says in Matthew 11:28 “"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest… you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke (my mastership) is easy and my burden is light." We are made to worship and serve, when we yield to the highest power, to Jesus and submit to Him, that’s when we begin to experience a fullness of life that God intended for us from the beginning. This is the gospel, the good news, that when we believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, when he takes his rightful place worthy of worship and service, our lives now and forever are made whole and right again. The only option, for true freedom, is when Jesus becomes the passion of our lives.