Posts Tagged With: idolatry

Self-Sufficiency or Gratitude

“And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full. Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them…” (Deuteronomy 11:13–16, ESV).

031 Stoke Rochford Ss Andrew & Mary, interior - tower arch restoration plaque

A plaque on a church thanks God for protection during World War II. By Acabashi [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

During the past year, a new phrase has gained popularity: “fake news.” The term has been around for a while, but it now permeates the Internet. If one does not want to believe something that has been reported, they will claim it is fake news. While President Donald Trump may be most responsible for the phrase’s popularity, no side of the political spectrum holds a monopoly on it. Indeed, some websites and media outlets are generally untrustworthy and deserve to be called “fake news,” but many will invoke that term to avoid investigating claims that go against their presuppositions, regardless of the source.

Like I said, fake news has been around for some time. In a very real sense, it is just the newest synonym in a family of words and phrases related to untruth, dishonesty, deception, etc. It is the newest twist on “lie.” People are prone to believe lies, especially in the spiritual realm. In my previous post, I addressed a few of the lies that we can overcome through confession of sin. No single short article can address all of the spiritual lies people believe, but we will look at some of the big ones in the next few weeks.

Perhaps the greatest lie of all is self-sufficiency, and God’s Word warns His people against it frequently in His Word. A false belief that “I accomplished something great and do not need God’s help” is the entry point onto the shortcut to idolatry. Deuteronomy 11:13–16 reminds the reader of a similar warning earlier in that book:

“And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you…” (Deuteronomy 6:10–14).

Similar warnings appear elsewhere in Scripture. In Revelation 3:14–22, Jesus reprimanded the Laodicean church for its lukewarm faith. Most Christians will read their own pet peeve into that passage: Did Jesus think their worship songs were boring? Were they praying too mechanically? Maybe they enjoyed the same hobbies and entertainment as their heathen neighbors did. Actually, none of those were the real problems. Laodicea was a very wealthy community, prospering from a nearby hot spring and other successful industries. We see Jesus hinting at these blessings throughout His rebuke, beginning with the hot springs: Once the water cooled off, it was lukewarm and unpleasant. The city was famous for an eye salve and textiles, both of which are called unprofitable in this warning. Their lukewarm faith was not so much a matter of worship or morals: They thought they could make it on their own and did not need Jesus in their daily lives. Thus, He ends up outside the church, asking to be invited in. Laodicea thus becomes a picture of many Christians: lukewarm, self-sufficient, leaving our Saviour out in the cold.

Despite God’s warnings, the lie of self-sufficiency is one that people love to believe. American culture exalts the “self-made man.” We celebrate the man who rose from humble means to become a great success in business, politics, or some other field. We create a myth about how he achieved greatness by the sweat of his brow and his own ingenuity and inspiration, with little or no help from others. Those who guided or assisted him can be readily forgotten. The Frank Sinatra song that declares “I did it my way” may very well be the anthem of the self-made man.

To such people, Jesus declares, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). God had placed those healing waters close to Laodicea. He gave each of us the talents, insight, and resources that lead to our success. He surrounded us with the people who helped us succeed. With every victory we achieve, or every goal we accomplish in life, we should give thanks to God first and foremost. He made it possible.

The lie of self-sufficiency is a step towards idolatry. For the ancient Israelites, that could be idolatry in the most literal sense. They might decide, “I had a great harvest. Yahweh didn’t do this; I did it! Maybe I can shop around for other gods who will allow me to do things my way to prosper.” The all-powerful God of all things, who provided the soil and weather that made a produced a bountiful harvest, may be rejected in favor of idols whom the self-made man seeks to manipulate for greater gain.

Today, we may choose other idols. In its broadest sense, an idol can be anything that we choose to focus on instead of God. We can make our own ideas an idol. We can idolize money (Ephesians 5:5 equates idolatry with covetousness or greed), political parties and systems, self-help gurus, financial advisors, etc. Anything or anybody who takes our eyes off God and claims to offer peace, pleasure, and prosperity can be an idol.

The answer to the lie of self-sufficiency is gratitude. It is tempting to give ourselves a pat on the back whenever we accomplish something. However, before we exalt ourselves, let us take some time to think of three ways that God made your success possible. What obstacles to success were not present because He removed them even before you began? Why or what helped you succeed? How did you obtain the resources to succeed? How did you develop the skills to succeed? The answer to almost all of these questions will point back to God’s grace. He remains the source of all our blessings, and He deserves to be thanked and worshiped because of His goodness.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Categories: Bible meditations, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Valiant Warrior Misses the Mark

Shortly before my recent vacation, which took me away from writing for a few weeks, I posted an article about the Old Testament judge Gideon. In that article, I pointed out that we need to see ourselves from God’s perspective. We may have a low opinion of ourselves, but God sees the potential He has given us. Even when Gideon was controlled by fear and doubt, God called him a “valiant warrior” and called him to lead the Israelite army to overthrow their oppressors. In that article, I summarized:

What is your identity? If you are in Christ, God’s seed abides in you (1 John 3:9) and you are a partaker in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). God can do great things through you. Fix your eyes on him, not your earthly status or present circumstances, and prepare to go forth in the power He gives you to advance His kingdom!

During my vacation, I was reminded that this is only half the story. The preacher in my son’s church preached the other half of Gideon’s story: After he won the battle against Midian, he took matters into his own hands. During the first half, we hear God instructing him. After a while, Gideon made his own decisions. He went from spiritual hero to a bad example.

If you are not familiar with Gideon’s story, you may read it in Judges 6-8 on Bible Gateway or a similar Bible app or website. What follows is a brief summary.

Gideon started on the right track. He struggled with doubt, but started to obey God’s instructions despite his fears and doubts and eventually courageously led his army to victory.

It all sounds good in Judges 6:11–7:23. God spoke and Gideon obeyed (even if he needed encouragement to overcome his fears and doubts). As a result, the people of God experienced victory.

However, after that, God seemed silent. We do not see the words “God said” again in Gideon’s story after he routed the Midianite army. After starting in obedience to God, Gideon seemed to take matters into his own hands. It seems as if he started to act without seeking God’s will. God continued to give him victory, but Gideon was heading for trouble. The man who started his ministry by tearing down an altar to Baal began to collect new idols: After killing two Midianite leaders, he decided to keep crescent ornaments that were on their camels’ necks. These crescents were symbols of the moon god (Judges 8:21).

Although Gideon refused to be appointed as king of Israel, he requested a large sum of silver, which he made “into an ephod, and placed it in his city, Ophrah, and all Israel played the harlot with it there, so that it became a snare to Gideon and his household” (Judges 8:27). He collected symbols of a pagan god and introduced a new idol to the Israelite people. Gideon obeyed God as long as it was convenient, but then turned back to idolatry.

In the end, he had no positive lasting legacy. The Israelites soon forgot about him and his family, and as soon as he died, they returned to worshipping other gods and rejected the LORD (Judges 8:33–35). Furthermore, his illegitimate son Abimelech (whose name means “my father is the king”) slaughtered all his siblings and declared himself king.

Gideon started well, but ended in failure. The man who tore down an altar to Baal claimed amulets depicting a pagan deity and crafted something that became an idol. The man who said “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you” (Judges 8:23) gave his son a royal name, and that son claimed kingship without God’s approval.

While we need to recognize our identity in Christ, we need to remember that entire phrase: It is our identity in Christ. Sometimes, we win spiritual battles through God’s power and the work of the Holy Spirit, and suddenly forget that He is in control. The apostle Paul asked, “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3). If we are wise, we will recognize that the spiritual life is a marathon: We have to persist in following Jesus. We cannot start walking with Him and suddenly decide we are so spiritual was can run ahead of him. We need to ask all of the important questions:

  • God, how do you see me?
  • What gifts and talents have you given me?
  • What is my mission and calling?
  • What is your will for my life?
  • What do you want me to do in this situation?

Like many of the heroes in the book of Judges, Gideon was a complex figure: He had some good qualities, but he failed in many ways as well. Like each of us, he was a work in progress. Let us not stop short of doing God’s will and quickly forget His blessings and guidance.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Presidential Election: America’s Mirror

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Meme from the Rowdy Conservatives Facebook page

I have said little online about the 2016 Presidential campaign so far. Although I consider myself fairly politically active (I vote in every major election and at one time served in several state and national positions in a minor political party), I have refused to openly endorse either candidate.

This week, the media flared up with reports that Donald Trump made some vulgar boastful comments about things he claimed he could do to women. As usual, controversy erupted. Part of Trump’s appeal has been his tendency to speak his mind, but some people seemed surprised about what was in his mind.

I will not try to defend Trump. Others have, and you can find their rationales all over the Internet. My point in this post is to explain what I believe should have been the Christian response throughout this campaign.

There is a simple reason why I have refused to endorse a candidate. While many of my friends share openly their support of a particular political candidate on Facebook and other online forums, I prefer to focus on principles, not personalities. I am a Christian, pro-life, pro-traditional-family, constitutional conservative. I prefer to focus on such issues and principles. Those may remain stable, and I do not frequently waver on them.

However, people have this terrible tendency of disappointing us. As we saw with Trump’s comments, people will say and do things that I do not agree with, even when I do agree with them on some of their political positions. I prefer to defend my ideology than to try to defend a person. I will always try to ground anything I say about politics on the Constitution and biblical truth. Those are not prone to change, but people are prone to fail.

This particular campaign has been especially troubling. There has never been a perfect Presidential candidate, as far as I can tell. Even those Presidents that I have liked had some flaws that I refuse to excuse. However, in 2016, it seems like we have scraped the bottom of the barrel. I believe we should consider a person’s character when voting; however, the two characters the major parties selected are both devoid of character. (It may have been a scandal about Donald Trump that inspired this post, but I could probably write a book about Hillary Clinton’s ethical shortcomings. Let’s just say that, after years of defending her husband’s harassment of women, she has no business criticizing Trump’s words.)

But, as I have said for years, America gets the candidates and elected officials it deserves. We will elect politicians who reflect our values. Our nation’s value system cherishes celebrities, wealth, greed, pride, and sexual immorality and vulgarity. Well, we can see all of our nation’s idols on display in the current campaign. The fact that many of us are criticizing the candidates for committing the same sins we cherish in our hearts merely multiplies the hypocrisy. Narcissism? Our culture created “the selfie” and thinks it’s an art form. Bigoted hate-filled speech? Both candidates have said some hostile offensive things about each other and their supporters, and the supporters have likewise been guilty. Vulgar comments and sexual misconduct? I call your attention to the above meme; and our TV, movies, and music; and virtually our entire society.

When people ask if God is judging America, I say we have made it too easy for Him. He does not need to send a giant meteor (even if that is the closest I have come to endorsing a candidate this time around). He can just sit back, let us elect our candidates, and then watch us suffer the consequences. I can almost picture God watching us, much as a parent watches a child having a temper tantrum, arms folded, waiting for us to hit our breaking point so He can say, “Have you had enough already?”

Perhaps the fact that our Presidential election has been narrowed down to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump serves as a mirror in which America should see its flaws. This is something that the church seriously needs to consider. Many of us continue to hope that God will somehow bring revival to America. However, many Christians expect Him to do it only through a Republican President who can appoint the right Supreme Court justices.

I propose that it is time for American Christians to repent of our political idolatry and begin to talk, think, and act as if God is bigger than our entire political establishment. I am not saying who we should vote for in November to be our next President. However, I will continue to trust that God will remain on the throne, no matter who sits in the Oval Office.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Christians and Culture, Current events, Politics | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Modern-Day Elijahs I: The Person God Calls

In a chapter title in his classic book, Why Revival Tarries, Leonard Ravenhill asked, “Where are the Elijahs of God?” The question is a slight twist on the prophet Elisha’s question, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” (2 Kings 2:14). Ravenhill observed that, although God has not changed and is still on the throne, the church fails to have a powerful impact because there are few godly men of Elijah’s character:

To the question, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” we answer, “Where He has always been‒on the throne!” But where are the Elijahs of God? We know Elijah was “a man of like passions as we are,” but alas! we are not men of like prayer as he was. One praying man stands as a majority with God! Today God is bypassing men‒not because they are too ignorant, but because they are too self-sufficient. Brethren, our abilities are our handicaps, and our talents our stumbling blocks!

Ravenhill’s question is probably more relevant now than it was in 1959, when he first posed it. God raised up Elijah at a time when Israel had drifted far from Him‒so far that it could no longer be recognized as a nation in covenant with Him. It was a nation under godless rule.

As I write this post, it has been about two months since the United States Supreme Court ruled that homosexual marriage should be allowed throughout the nation. A county clerk, who is a Christian, is in jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples with her name on them. Freedom of religion, which is guaranteed by our Constitution, has been trashed in favor of a man-made right to sin. Thousands of babies continue to be slaughtered in the womb, and now we find that their body parts are sold for medical research.

Over the next few weeks, I will share a series of articles based on a Bible study series I taught when I was serving as assistant pastor. The series, inspired in part by Ravenhill’s insight, was entitled “Modern-Day Elijahs,” and was intended to challenge believers to emulate the life of Elijah. We need such men and women in 2015.

Let us begin with a brief introduction to the man, his times, and his ministry. Elijah first appears in 1 Kings 17:1:

Now Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the settlers of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”

The name Elijah means “Yahweh is my God,” pointing to his complete devotion to the one true God of Israel. He lived in troubled times. Ahab was ruling as king over the northern kingdom of Israel. The previous king, Ahab’s father Omri, was an evil man who “acted more wickedly than all {the kings} who were before him” (1 Kings 16:25). It is interesting that, beginning with Omri’s reign, the northern kingdom was less frequently referred to as “Israel” and more often referred to by other names. In secular sources from those times, the nation is often called the house or land of Omri, instead of Israel.

Ahab was not much better. According to 1 Kings 16:29-31, he started by following in his father’s footsteps. Then, things became worse after his wedding. His wife Jezebel, a daughter of the king of Sidon and worshipper of the false god Baal, brought massive change to Israel. She established Baal-worship as the state religion, appointed prophets and priests to serve her deity, and executed as many prophets of Yahweh as she could (only Elijah and a few who had been hidden and protected in caves survived her reign of terror).

Elijah rises up in these dark days. The Bible tells us little about his background: It tells us he is a settler of Gilead, which was a region populated by members of three Israelite tribes: Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh. We do not know if he was a member of any of these three tribes: while the word “Tishbite” may refer to his ancestral clan or his hometown, some scholars suggest it may mean “stranger.” If that is the case, Elijah could have been a non-Israelite who had converted to faith in Yahweh.

However, none of this is certain. Scripture is not too concerned about Elijah’s background or ancestry. It is concerned about his zealous faith in God. As Ravenhill said, “One praying man stands as a majority with God,” and Elijah was that one man! Because he knew the one true God and had spent time with him, he could say with certainty that he would say when it would rain. Even though Baal may have been viewed as a nature deity who controlled the rain and agriculture, Elijah would be so bold as to say he knew when the one true God would act.

Such are the people who God is looking for in America in 2015. He is looking for men who will stand before Him, not bowing to the false gods of American culture. Although Baal worshippers may have bowed before idols made of wood, gold, or silver, Americans often bow before other gods: our political elite, money, economic power-brokers, entertainers and other celebrities, false religions (atheism, New Age, watered-down versions of Christianity), media, etc. God is looking for committed believers who will stand before Him in prayer, instead of kneeling to our culture’s false gods for brainwashing.

The man who stands before God can stand against anything that the flesh, the world, or the devil may throw at him. We will see how God provides for and protects those who answer His call in our next study.

NOTE: Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
This post copyright © 2015 by Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.
Categories: Bible meditations, Current events, Modern-Day Elijahs | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

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