A Definition of an Idol

Idol Definition


Listening as Freedom

active listeningWhat is the Lord saying to you right now?

No, I’m not asking for you to listen for an audible voice.  I’m asking you about your listening habits.  When is the last time you slowed down to listen to what the Lord is speaking to you about your life, life situations, and/or those around you.

Is there conviction? Encouragement? Leading? How about a nagging question that you know is from Him?  Or even a statement repeated to you in your spirit?

If our God is a living God, and He is, and if He is a speaking God, and He is, what is He saying to you right now?

Sarah Young wrote about one of her impressions of the Lord’s speaking to her about her listening to Him in her book Jesus Calling.  In her April 22 installment, she writes about the call to listen for prayer and trust and the freedom from needing to try to control life:

Listen to Me continually.  I have much to communicate to you, so many people and situations in need of prayer.  I am training you to set your mind on Me more and more, tuning out distractions through the help of My Spirit.

Walk with Me in holy trust, responding to My initiatives rather than trying to make things fit your plans.  I died to set you free, and that includes freedom from compulsive planning.  When your mind spins with a multitude of thoughts, you cannot hear My voice. A mind preoccupied with planning pays homage to the idol of control.  Turn from idolatry back to Me.  Listen to Me and live abundantly!

John 8:36; Proverbs 19:21; John 10:27

Isaiah’s Sarcasm Regarding Idolatry

The book of Isaiah is full of the glory of God, displays of the sinfulness of humanity, prophesies of Christ, and the promises of God.  One of my favorite chapters is where Isaiah openly mocks the practice of idolatry in Israel.  The commentary bleeds holy sarcasm.  Pointed humor juts out everywhere.

Yet, before we jump too quickly jump into the “those idiots” mindset, Isaiah’s comments should cause us to pause and consider what created things we may be worshiping instead of the Creator.  What do we think that we can’t live without?  What do we think gives (or would give) us purpose and meaning in life?  What do we spend the most time and/or money on every month?  (For more on human idolatry, check out Timothy Keller’s Counterfeit Gods).

[9] All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame. [10] Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing? [11] Behold, all his companions shall be put to shame, and the craftsmen are only human. Let them all assemble, let them stand forth. They shall be terrified; they shall be put to shame together.

[12] The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. [13] The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. [14] He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. [15] Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. [16] Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” [17] And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”

[18] They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. [19] No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, “Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?” [20] He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?”
(Isaiah 44:9-20 ESV)

God in the Hands of Angry Sinners

Some people are attracted to the idea of a god of love without wrath.  A loving god without justice.  Unfortunately, some people who call themselves Christians promote these ideals.  The god they desire enables them to live however they please and endorse any lifestyle they so please.  R.C. Sproul wrote about the god of the people who reject a holy God – the God of the Bible who has both love and wrath – in his book The Holiness of God.  In chapter nine, “God in the Hands of Angry Sinners” Sproul diagnoses the heart condition and product of a person who desires a god without wrath:

“Do we consider the wrath of God as a primitive or obscene concept?  Is the very notion of Hell an insult to us?  If so, it is clear that the god we worship is not a holy God. Indeed he is not God at all.  If we despise the justice of God we are not Christians… If we hate the wrath of God it is because we hate God Himself.  We may protest vehemently against these charges but the vehemence only confirms our hostility towards God… We may say emphatically… “God is altogether sweet to me.  My god is a god of love.”  But a loving god who has no wrath is no God.  He is an idol of our own making as if we caved him out of stone.”

Name Your God

While listening to an Oasis alumni, Matt, talk to some upcoming graduates I was inspired concerning who their “real” God might be.  As these students approach a major decision point in their lives, who their practical God is will appear.  They are all great Christians who are actively serving.  They love Jesus and His church without a doubt.  Yet, when it comes down to it, what is the starting point, and the central focus of their planning?  Is it the highest paying job?  Is it the school that offers the best scholarship and grant money?  Is it a church where they can continue to actively serve Jesus Christ?  Neither a high paying job nor a full ride for grad school are evil things, but if that is the first consideration with the thought of fitting God somewhere around them, then those items are in reality their functional saviors, their “real” gods.

This is not something that only these students face, but the same thing that we face all the time when a crisis point or major decision is on the horizon.  In what or who do we place our primary confidence?  If we believe in Jesus then we certainly want to live in a way that pleases Him, but is He the first Person we consult?  If Christ seems to be leading us in a direction contrary to our preferences, are we willing to follow His lead or do we sideline Him?

I do not believe that we have to be super clear, doubt and fear free when it comes to the Lord’s leading when making a decision.  Rather, that we have determined to follow Him no matter what.  Let’s be honest, a lot of the time it is not that cut and dry when it comes to discerning the Lord’s speaking in our decisions.  Often, it is best to determine to follow the Lord no matter what and if it isn’t clear what direction He is leading then to objectively look at the situation, get advice from wise mentors and then do something telling the Lord to make it clear if it is the wrong choice.  (For more on this, check out my review of the book Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung.)

So, it is time for a gut check.  When it comes to the decisions in your life, who or what is the first thing that you consider and consult?  Odds are, that is your god.  If your honest first response was not Jesus then this would be a great time to come to Him and ask for His help to give your heart some re-ordering help.

Golden PS3 & Wii

Who needs a golden calf to have fun when you can get a golden PS3 for the limited price of $4999.  If you have ever wondered if you might have a problem with gaming being an idol in your life just ask yourself if you would consider racking up credit card debt in order to get this one (or the jewel encrusted one to come out soon).  For more details, check out the article on line.

And if you are not a PS3 fan and have a lot of extra money laying around to blow on a game system you can go with Nintendo.  There is a golden Nintendo Wii that also comes with diamonds.  It runs for the price of $486,000.

Even if you are not considering purchasing this golden game system you may want to look at your checkbook and credit card bills to discover what your idol may be.  As Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

Money Masters

Are we money masters or do we have money masters controlling our lives?  It is one or the other.  There is no neutral when it comes to money.

In his book Counterfeit Gods, Timothy Keller zeros in on this in his chapter Money Changes Everything. In a masterful dissection of the Almighty Dollar’s hold in a person’s heart with its various manifestations, Keller leads the reader to understand that addressing the surface issues won’t effectively kill our being mastered by money.  There is something deeper at work that uses things like money to obtain its desires.  It is this deep rooted issue that must be attacked.  The question becomes, “How do we get rid of this deep rooted idol?”  Keller offers this prescription:

This is why idols cannot be dealt with by simply eliminating surface idols like money or sex.  We can look at them and say, “I need to de-emphasize this in my life.  I must not let this drive me.  I will stop it.” Direct appeals like this won’t work, because the deep idols have to be dealt with a the heart level. There is only one way to change at the heart level and that is through faith in the gospel (p 66).

The solution to stinginess is a reorientation to the generosity of Christ in the gospel, how he poured out his wealth for you. Now you don’t have to worry about money – the Cross proves God’s care for you and gives you the security. Now you don’t have to envy anyone else’s money.  Jesus’s love and salvation confers on you a remarkable status – one that money cannot give you. Money cannot save you from tragedy, or give you control in a chaotic world. Only God can do that. What breaks the power of money over us is not just redoubled effort to follow the example of Christ. Rather, it is deepening your understanding of the salvation of Christ, what you have in him, and then living out the changes that that understanding makes in your heart – the seat of your mind, will and emotions. Faith in the gospel restructures our motivations, our self-understanding and identity, our view of the world. Behavioral compliance to rules without a complete change of heart will be superficial and fleeting (p 68).