Day Three: Return To Me
Sometimes idolatry consumes us like a crashing wave, knocking us off our feet- other times it drags us out into its depths little by little until we no longer have a footing. Regardless it will always and ultimately leave us in a state of confusion, causing us to ourselves why we said “yes” to it in the first place, what our intentions were, and whether or not we knew what exactly we were saying yes to. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you intend to stay, and cost you more than you can afford to pay”, or rather it can be said that our sin will always take us down a very different and far more difficult road than we imagined it would. Like infomercials, the most appealing aspect of idolatry always ends up being its advertisement. The promises, the persuasion, and the satisfaction all end up being a finely orchestrated smoke and mirrors act, but when the shiny mirrors shatter and the mystic smoke fades, we find the only one clapping is Satan, and we begin to get a glimpse of what our idols really are: worthless.
2 Kings 17:15 takes us back to the Israelites as they were walking in disobedience, as it reads, “They despised God’s statutes and His covenant that He made with their fathers and the warnings that He gave them. They went after worthless idols and became worthless themselves, and they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the Lord had commanded them that they should not do like them.” The Israelites were living in a world saturated in idolatry of every sort, from food to sex and even the cliché statues we find so un-relatable to our culture. To summarize, they were surrounded. Sound relatable now? Like the Israelites, we too can pretty easily admit that from our phone screens to commercials on the radio, we’re surrounded with false advertisements tempting us to creep away from our loving Father.
If you have ventured away before or if you’re still running from Him in any facet of your life, there is good news: God has not forgotten or abandoned you. God is not like our old friends from high school; He doesn’t just move on from us or forget us because we have done so to Him, for we cannot creep away unnoticed from El Roi- the God who sees us. What God said to the nation who forgot and abandoned Him, He says to us too in Isaiah 44:21-22 “Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me. I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.” Each day the world will send its sirens to coax us into its lies of what real living is, and each day God will faithfully call to us too, beckoning us to choose Him first- to return to Him.
How can you take intentional action to saturate yourself in truth in the spaces you notice yourself feeling the most temptation? Maybe it involves deleting playlists, posting scriptures up in your office, skipping that movie or show, or setting your alarm a little earlier to spend time in the Word. No matter where you’re at in your walk with the Lord, one thing’s for sure; it must begin with repentance because to repent is to return home.
Day Two: What's the Real Cost?
If we’re being honest, a pretty significant factor in how willing we are to walk away from our idols can be based on how much we’ve invested in it, or rather how much we would “lose” in the walk away. Would we lose our physical beauty, our social status, our fancy things, our good connections, our jobs or even our relationships? The enemy knows that when it comes to idols, the more of ourselves we invest in them. The harder it is to break away from them.
In Acts 19 we step into a fiery dispute led by a man named Demetrius (an idol shrine builder) regarding what Paul has been preaching in Ephesus. Demetrius is in a situation where his investments in idolatry are now threatened by the truth and he begins with the following, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.” I will say, the only thing I actually appreciate about Demetrius here is his bluntness. I mean he gets it. If the people were to receive the truth of the gospel, many of them would lose their income and their culture. In short, if they received the gospel, everything would have to change in consequence.
Personally, I have found one of the most powerful practices to be writing down lies I believe and combatting them by writing down scripture right next to it. I’ve got an example for us here. Matthew 16:24-26 is a passage many of us have heard yet so often easily forget as we slowly creep down the road of idolatry. “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” Demetrius says that following Christ, specifically in the giving up of their idols, will cost the people financially, socially and culturally, but Jesus says that all of these things are worthless in comparison to being right with God. The enemy will always argue in the language you are most likely to listen to. Whether it’s through a rational thought process, a set of circumstances lining up perfectly, fear of losing something significant, etc. the enemy will use whatever will persuade us most into believing that our idolatry is right, healthy, normal, not a big deal, etc.
In a world that is drenched in the worship of anything and everything that “benefits” ourselves, it’s so crucial that we faithfully check what our hearts are believing with what scripture is saying. Not with just what our community group says, what our pastor says, what our family says, what our minds say, what that person we happened to meet says, but with what God says. Philippians 3:8 tells us, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ”. Do you believe that any money you could ever lose, any image of yourself that could be shattered or any person in your life that you would have to let go of, is such a little cost to pay in comparison to “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ”?
Day One: What They’re Made Of
What do you think of when you hear the word “idolatry”? Do you think of giant statues, sacrifices, or people who are drowning in their addictions? Idolatry is a word many of us Christians can feel pretty confident and comfortable discussing in these days because so often it holds a connotation of someone whose life is completely and blatantly absorbed in something clearly and utterly evil. The problem with this idea of idolatry is that it’s quite irrelevant in our culture today. I think for most of us, idolatry is much more discrete, private and culturally approved than we would expect it to be. Idolatry has assimilated itself into many of our lives in such a painfully normal and unnoticeable way, often going overlooked until its most detrimental effects finally explode. In his book Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller describes idols saying, “[An idol] is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.”
Exodus 20 states the most crucial command, “You shall have no other gods before me”, but what do these “other gods” look like for us now? If we don’t understand what idols really are, then we will continue kneeling in ignorance to them. Keller goes on to describe characteristics of these different forms of idols, saying, “if you should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living….you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought….it can even be your morality and virtue, or even success in the Christian ministry.” This means that it's not just the inherently corrupt things in our worlds that qualify as idols, but even the seemingly good too, because the evil in idolatry has far less to do with the object of worship than it does the orientation of one's heart towards it. That's why children, job positions and a certain level of income can all qualify as blessings or idols in our lives. At the end of the day, we are called to live open handed with whatever we are given, for it's in the gripping of things, even blessings, that our hearts begin slipping into different forms of idolatry.
It’s important that we begin to ask God for renewed vision to see what idolatry looks like in our own world today and especially in our personal lives. Looking at this definition of idolatry, to what in your life can you see yourself kneeling to? Whether you’re consumed in sin or indulging in its poison every so often, whether it looks horrific from every angle or camouflages itself in light, ask God to begin revealing to you the parts of your heart that have been bowing to false gods. As you are praying, reflect on the reading of Psalms 115 ( https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=psalms+115&version=ESV ).