Am I a God nearby, says the LORD, and not a God far off? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the LORD. I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, “I have dreamed, I have dreamed!” How long? Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back–those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart? They plan to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, just as their ancestors forgot my name for Baal. Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? says the LORD. Is not my word like fire, says the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? [NRSV]
“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’, and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? [NRSV]
SETTING THE CONTEXT
Last week we listen to the warning from Isaiah the prophet from a 75-80 year period of the 700s and 600s. Today we hear from Jeremiah who calls out to the people of God during a 75 year period from 627 to 575 BC.
Skip to the end of the story. Things go from fair to complete division and exile to Babylon, completely out of the Promised Land.
Even though generations pass and kings and nations continue to develop, the People of God eventually find themselves removed from their country and become enslaved to a foreign state and culture.
Like every other Prophet, Jeremiah calls for faith and faithfulness. He shares God’s words to inspire
- Devotion to God and not to other Gods and not to a life apart from God.
But We are Modern and we Know better:
In our modern world view we are quick to that fall of Jerusalem and all the people being driven out of their home and country would never happen to us. We are the U.S.A.
The ‘faithful’ once divided from one another also became divided from God and squandered their inheritance and ended up in the far country. (much like the prodigal son story)
What ‘was’ Baal Worship?
Historically the principal practices of Baalism were child sacrifice, sexual immorality, and reverence of creation over the Creator. We may have different practices but the core misplaced-spiritual devotion remains a threat to us.
Think when we say our personal success and networking were dependent on “playing the game.” If you quit playing along, avoid going to the parties, not participating in group-think, you would not be able to do business, lose your friends, not be successful. Your network would dry up. In various ways, our social and business The groups’ places demanded that we “support” to be liked, included or productive. Therefore, we give time, talent and allegiance that is misplaced. “Support” is based on participation and financial contribution. It was all tied up with the rules of doing business. Think of the high place of diversity. (College acceptance is not about the best students, its about demographic profiles. [ref.]
Misplaced Love, Devotion, or Trust
Anything good can become an idol if we love it too much. That’s what Paul was driving at when he called greed a form of idolatry. What is greed if not loving something too much?
Let’s consider some modern-day idols in three separate categories.
YAHWEH OR BAAL?
“When the Israelites entered Canaan, they found a land of farmers, not shepherds, as they had been in the wilderness. The land was fertile beyond anything the Hebrew nomads had ever seen. The Canaanites attributed this fertility to their god Baal, and that is where the Israelites problems began. Could the God who had led them out of Egypt and through the wilderness also provide fertile farms in the Promised Land? Or would the fertility god of Canaan have to be honored? Maybe, to be safe, they should worship both; Yahweh and Baal.
An intense battle began for the minds and hearts of God’s people. The book of Judges records the ongoing struggle: the Israelites attraction to, and worship of, the Canaanite gods; God’s disciplinary response; the people’s repentance; and God’s merciful forgiveness until the next time the Israelites reached for Baal instead of Yahweh.
This struggle to be totally committed to God is of vital importance to us today as well. We don’t think of ourselves as idol worshipers, yet we struggle to serve God alone in every part of our lives. It is easy (and seductive) to honor possessions, fun, relationships, fame, money, and a host of other potential “gods.”
We need to learn from Israel’s experience and respond to Jesus’ command for total allegiance. One way we can accomplish this is to study the gods that attracted Yahweh’s people 3,000 years ago.” [ref.]
How Does it Happen
First, we worship at the altar of materialism which feeds our need to build our egos through the acquisition of more “stuff.” Our homes are filled with all manner of possessions. We build bigger and bigger houses with more closets and storage space in order to house all the things we buy, much of which we haven’t even paid for yet. Most of our stuff has “planned obsolescence” built into it, making it useless in no time, and so we consign it to the garage or other storage space. Then we rush out to buy the newest item, garment or gadget and the whole process starts over. This insatiable desire for more, better, and newer stuff is nothing more than covetousness. The tenth commandment tells us not to fall victim to coveting: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17). God doesn’t just want to rain on our buying sprees. He knows we will never be happy indulging our materialistic desires because it is Satan’s trap to keep our focus on ourselves and not on Him.
Second, we worship at the altar of our own pride and ego. This often takes the form of obsession with careers and jobs. Millions of men—and increasingly more women—spend 60-80 hours a week working. Even on the weekends and during vacations, our laptops are humming and our minds are whirling with thoughts of how to make our businesses more successful, how to get that promotion, how to get the next raise, how to close the next deal. In the meantime, our children are starving for attention and love. We fool ourselves into thinking we are doing it for them, to give them a better life. But the truth is we are doing it for ourselves, to increase our self-esteem by appearing more successful in the eyes of the world. (Ecclesiastes 2:21-23).
Third, we idolize ‘humanity’ through naturalism and the power of science. We cling to the illusion that we are lords of our world and build our self-esteem to godlike proportions. We reject God’s Word and His description of how He created the heavens and the earth, and we accept the nonsense of atheistic evolution and naturalism. We embrace the goddess of environmentalism and fool ourselves into thinking we can preserve the earth indefinitely when God has declared that this current age will have an end. Our focus should not be on worshiping the environment but on living holy lives as we wait eagerly for the return of our Lord and Savior. We need saving, not the earth; God our hope, not ourselves.
Finally, and perhaps most destructively, we worship at the altar of self-aggrandizement or the fulfillment of the self to the exclusion of all others and their needs and desires. This manifests itself in self-indulgence through alcohol, drugs, and food. Those in affluent countries have unlimited access to alcohol, drugs (prescription drug use is at an all-time high, even among children), and food. Obesity rates in the U.S. have skyrocketed, and childhood diabetes brought on by overeating is epidemic. The self-control we so desperately need is spurned in our insatiable desire to eat, drink, and medicate more and more. When we love the Lord and others with everything that is in us, there will be no room in our hearts for idolatry. [ref]
I. Idols of Power
Idols of power are those created things that give us a sense of significance and personal worth.
II. Idols of Pleasure
So many things fall into this category.
Pleasure. It could be something that seems harmless—hobbies, sports, success, the promise of ‘ease.’
Sexual Satisfaction. Pleasure, power, self-fulfillment. Choice, Identity. All that is about self and not giving of oneself in devotion.
Personal Identity. When I ask you to validate my view of myself don’t care what you think of me nor do I care what God see’s in me.
Technology. We can’t live without some background noise. If you don’t think TV is an idol, try living without it for seven days and see what happens. TV, so can the computer, or phone, social media, artificial intelligence.—virtual reality gods that will advise us exactly as the gods of ancient Greece and Egypt instructed their followers.
Opinions: Many people today adopt this as the bottom line on personal morality. If it makes you feel good, go ahead and do it. Just don’t hurt anyone else in the process.
Self Gratification: How many times have you heard sin justified with the words, “I just want to be happy?” And so we divorce our spouses because we are unhappy, we break our commitments because we can’t find fulfillment, and we abandon our promises and walk away from family and friends—all in search of that elusive thing called happiness. We do wrong and excuse ourselves by saying, “God understands.”
Sexual fulfillment may become an idol. At this point, I would say that so-called Gay Christianity is a very clear form of modern-day Baal worship because homosexuals attempt to justify their sin by baptizing their immorality in the guise of Christianity. This is unspeakably evil because it links the holy name of Jesus with that which God has condemned.
Drugs, Alcohol, Food, diversions, and avoidance. When a thing or substance controls you, your time and your resources, you are an idolater whether you admit it or not.
So many of the addictions of life fall into this category. When God created the world, he pronounced it good, but ever since the Fall of Adam and Eve, Satan’s number one strategy has been to cause us to take that which is good and put it in the place of God. We may say it quite simply: Whatever controls you at a deep level is the god you worship. If you are not controlled by God, then you must be controlled by an idol of your own making.
III. Idols of the Heart
Jesus warned us that you cannot serve God and money? “No one can serve two masters. 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 both God and Money” (Matthew 6:24). Money is capitalized because when you serve it, it becomes your god. Our Lord said you cannot have God and money both in first place in your heart. One of them has to go. You cannot serve two masters.
Along the same line, a relationship can easily become an idol when it becomes the controlling interest of life. You can love a person too much or for the wrong reasons or in the wrong way or with the wrong motives. Once you say of any human relationship, “I cannot live without that person in my life,” then you have crossed a line that should not be crossed.
God’s warning: Destroy your idols or I will do it for you!
Let’s go back to the Second Commandment for a moment. Notice the warning in Exodus 20:5 — “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God.” In the end God, we belong to God and we are left with nothing but God, is the only way we find God sometimes.
Two Sobering Conclusions
A. Anything good can become an idol if we love it too much.
That should be completely clear by now. Idolatry lies in the worshiper, not in the thing worshipped. A golden calf is not an idol by itself. Left to itself, a golden calf is just a golden calf. It becomes an idol only when we begin to worship it. It is a wrong attitude that turns something good into something bad.
¨ Don’t blame your car if you aren’t happy. New or old, running or limping. It won’t love nor save you.
¨ Don’t blame your boy/girl friend if you aren’t happy. Address your own faith and bring that power.
¨ Don’t blame your spouse if you aren’t happy. No husband or wife can make you happy all the time.
¨ Don’t blame your boss if you aren’t happy. — Their job is to create wealth through you.
¨ Don’t blame your children if you aren’t happy. they are our joy but not our God
¨ Don’t blame your new house if you aren’t happy. No house can provide the ultimate happiness.
¨ Don’t blame your church if you aren’t happy. No church can make you happy.
Don’t blame the government if you aren’t happy. No politics will make you happy.
Happiness comes from a living relationship with Jesus Christ. He alone can satisfy the deepest needs of your life. Looking anywhere else for ultimate happiness is really just a sophisticated form of idolatry.
B. The ultimate tragedy of idolatry is that it takes all that you have and gives nothing in return.
Have you ever thought about how strange life is? You are born, you grow up, get married, get a job, have children, raise your children, take a vacation, retire, and then you die. And your children, what do they do? The same thing. And their children? The same thing.
You have two choices. You can spend your life chasing idols your hands have made. But what happens when you die? Your idols die with you. Or you can spend your life doing God’s will. And when you die, it’s not over. Life has just begun.
The folly of idolatry is that it’s only for this life and then it’s over. You’re a loser now and a loser later. The idol robs you now and leaves you penniless in the grave. You’ve cheated all the way around.
Idolatry makes sense if you are going to live forever on earth. But if you plan to die someday, it’s the greatest stupidity of all.
The only lasting cure for idolatry is a fervent love for God.
As we pondered the matter, it seems to me that the hardest step is seeing our idols in the first place. Even as we share these words, we are conscious of a little voice inside saying, “Hey, don’t worry about it. You’re not an idol-worshipper.” But that voice is not the voice of God. If I am honest before God and open to the Holy Spirit, I must admit that I have my idols that must be torn down. [ref]