Read Exodus 32:7-14
God rescues the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. They have witness his miracles, plagues on the Egyptians, the first Passover and are on their way to the Promised Land! God has provided a way through the red sea, a cloud to lead them by day, a pillar of fire at night, protected them, and promised them their inheritance.
A land flowing with milk and honey- a good land, a place they can grow, prosper, set down roots, worship YHWH in freedom, just a little further to journey and they will arrive!
Moses, their leader sees the fire of God burning on Mt Sinai, a sign of His presence and heads up to talk with God, to gain instructions for how to lead and what to teach God’s people as they live this adventure.
The Israelites are fickle…
They are tired of waiting for the Promised Land, weary of traveling, tired of manna and now Moses has gone up on Mt Sinai and has been gone too long.
So, taking matters in to their own hands, the Israelites tell Aaron, second in command to build the a golden calf, a god they can SEE. YHWH was unseen, but His miracles and His Presence quite visible. But they want to create their own god and worship it.
Aaron does it and they have a worship service offer and sacrifices to the god they have created.
Exodus 32:17-42 is a conversation between God and Moses about this travesty. God is angry, Moses pleaded with Him to withhold His anger and punishment and forgive their idolatry.
God relents and the people of Israel are saved, but they will wander in the wilderness until the generation of idolaters dies before the rest of Israel enters the Promised Land.
Long story… how does it apply to us today?
- I think we are often like the impatient, worrisome, controlling Israelites and when we can also be guilty of creating idols and worshiping other gods. Well, at least I know I can and do.
- No blood sacrifices or worship services, but our eyes and hearts turn toward other things, people to fill the place in our lives that only God can and should fill.
- Romans 1:25 says, “For they have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and they worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator God who is forever praised.”
Can you relate?
We are too clever to actually fashion a golden idol for everyone to see. No… our idols are subtle and wily, often disguised as good or reasonable pursuits.
Modern day idols could include:
- Worship of money. Money in and of itself not bad, but rather a tool, but are we enslaved to it? Do we find our value in our material possessions or wealth?
- Obsession with anything: fitness, health, fashion, prestige, bigger and better: keeping up with the Jones’
- Sports! Professional teams that we can recite statistics for, plan our days around. Do God and the Scriptures get our same attention?
- Kids can become the center of our world, be all consuming or giving us greater meaing and purpose than God. We push them to succeed as reflections of us
- Stubborn self-reliance, security and/or independence: we rely on ourselves as the bottom line
- Work, vocation, the next step on the career path– defines our value, fuels our pride and ego and steals from other areas of our lives
- Volunteer/church work: finding meaning, value, appreciation in something
- Other people, whose influence and opinion is far more important than God’s
None of these are bad in and of themselves, but they can become idols when they take the place of God on the throne, as the most important thing in our life.
We all have idols.
Things, belief systems, people and/or pursuits which are more important to us than God.
We find our security, purpose, value or “wellness of soul” in these MORE than our relationship with God.
And when we discover them, we must name them for what they are, and replace them with Jesus.
God alone is to be our greatest desire.
- In God, we are to find, value, meaning, purpose, rest and soul wellness, no matter what else is going well or falling apart in our lives.
- We must seek Him, meditate on His truth, spend time with Him building the relationship with our greatest Love.
God is jealous and will not abide us having any loves greater than our love for Him. He doesn’t give up on us, but He will leave us to our own devices as we ruin our lives with chasing after idols, pursuing what repeatedly leaves us empty…until we give up and return to Him.
- This is where it gets messy. We get mad at God for the way things are going in our lives and don’t pause to see our part in it. The steps we take away from Him, the pursuit of one more fix of the euphoria we get from a killer deal at work, or the praise of the church for running VBS, again…
- When we call these false fillers by their real name – Idolatry- we are forced to face ourselves and admit that we have set up “shiny golden calves” to worship. We have trusted ourselves, made our own way and bowed to something or someone that will always leave us empty.
To examine the idols in our lives, we have to ask the question of WHY?
The condition of our hearts is the measuring stick.
- Volunteering for VBS is not wrong, or a literal idol, but if it fills your cup in a way that your relationship with Jesus doesn’t, there is an issue.
- Success at work is not wrong. If fact it is a blessing with which to bless others. But if it becomes the cornerstone of your value, image, and purpose instead of seeing these reflected in your relationship with Jesus, then work is worshiped for what it provides, not God.
I would rather have a list of rules… do this, don’t do that.
- 10 hours of volunteering at the church is not idolatry, but more than that is. (check, ok be sure to limit hours)
- I can watch and enjoy sports except on Sundays (glad we have DVR)
- Making money in “this range” is not idolatry, but more than that is. Or as long as I give X amount away, it doesn’t matter how much I make. (never examining if my giving is more about Me than about serving God)
Is there a formula I can use to calculate where this fits on the “idolatry scale?”
God has 1 Rule: “ME first.” (Exodus 3:20)
He invites us into relationship with Him, as the MOST important, life-giving, value and purpose finding place. Anything that threatens or takes God’s position as FIRST in our lives is an idol.
- Why we do what we do is the issue.
- God says, “do it all: work, volunteer, succeed, play, pursue people, relationships, hobbies and passions -BUT NOT more than ME. I come FIRST!”
Tim Keller writes in Counterfeit Gods,
Jesus must become more beautiful to your imagination, more attractive to your heart, than your idol. That is what will replace your counterfeit gods. If you uproot the idol and fail to “plant” the love of Christ in its place the idol will grow back. (p172).
- What are the idols in your life?
- What captures your heart, attention, time, energy more than God?
- Where do you find meaning and sense of value that is greater than the value of being a Precious Child of God?
- What do you sacrifice to pursue the idols that you have created to make your life work, make sense or to be in control?
- What do you hear the Lord nudging you to change as He invites you to put Him First?
- What part of your story has shaped you to set up these idols as more valuable and trustworthy than God?
Read this thought provoking sermon by Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church, Seattle WA on worship and idolatry. He has a set of great questions at the end about common idol for Christians.
Book recommendation: “No Other gods: confronting our Modern Day Idols” by Kelly Minter
Daily Lectionary Readings:
Exodus 30:7-14; Psalm 106; John 5:31-47
If you want to read through the New Testament during Lent (about ½ hour a day)
Read on Day 30: 1 Corinthians 9-16