March 30, 2015

Vanity of idolatry

Numbers 33:50–34:29, 1 Corinthians 15:35–58, Psalm 29:1–11
John Calvin said that the human heart is an idol-making factory. An idol isn’t just a statue in a special niche. It is anything that takes the place of God, anything that I worship, or rely on, or think about all the time. I must agree with Calvin for I know that my heart has churned out many an idol.

Today’s reading from the OT brings out the problem the Israelites would have with that issue as they entered the land God promised them. He also warns them about the consequences of making idols.

And the Lord spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places . . . . But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell. And I will do to you as I thought to do to them.” (Numbers 33: 50–52; 55–56)

When I became a Christian and entered the life God promises to all who believe in Christ, I needed to be rid of anything that would turn me aside from absolute surrender to Jesus. Now, nearly forty-five years later, those things that did not get demolished are barbs and thorns, some solidly entrenched. Some of the things I care about are God-given burdens and joys, but there are a few that keep my heart from 100% loyalty. They might not be visible to others, but I know what they are and I know the battles that I’ve had because of them.

We listened to a message on Sunday that asked the question: “What’s holding you back?” Back from what? From whole-heartedly living for Christ! If the idols of the nations around them could be barbs and thorns and trouble for the people of God back in the OT times, then certainly the idols Christians (including me) create in their own hearts will do the same to us, perhaps even worse. Everything I’ve ever relied on other than the Lord has been not only a disappointment because all idols let me down, but a hindrance to anything good I want to do. Serving the Lord and living for Him is challenge enough without a ball and chain tied to my heart.

The NT reading offers this encouragement: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Serving an idol is a vain thing. Pleasure or temporary reward could be attached, but eventually it comes to nothing. Serving the Lord is an eternal thing. It builds character, persistence, steadfastness. I cannot always see the results, but eternity will reveal what God has done because of steadfast and loyal obedience in the lives of those who worship Him alone.

The psalmist says this, “May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!” (Psalm 29:11) And I say that strength is what I need to persevere, and peace is what I need so my idol-making factory stops doing that and perseveres in what it is supposed to do . . . love God totally.

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