We Must Repent of Our Idolatry if We Are to Be Saved
Idolatry was what got the ancient Israelites in trouble over and over again. What is idolatry? Idolatry is placing anything above God—any person or any other created thing. That could be a movie star, a sports team, a home state, a religious leader, a material possession or object, or a bodily appetite among other things. But whatever the external object of worship appears to be—idolatry in the end is usually, if not always, self-worship—the original sin, the desire to be as God. It is manifested outwardly by putting others down (after all, a god has to be above other beings) and thinking too highly of ourselves. There can be no true community amongst self-worshipping idolaters—they’re too obsessed with trying to prove they’re better than each other to ponder God’s command that we love one another. …every city or house divided against itself shall not stand (Matthew 12:25). But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another (Gal. 5:15).
Capitalism Will Save Us. That was the title of a recent book idolizing capitalism. Unfortunately, the current fractional reserve banking and debt based capitalism will not only not save us—it is rapidly facilitating our destruction. Capitalism defined as saving more than you spend and investing the savings in productive enterprises is a good thing, but that is not what our current so-called capitalism is about; the latter is about the Whore of Babylon buying up the entire world with counterfeit money while enslaving the rest of us in debt. But capitalism, whether the legitimate kind or the fraudulent kind we are now under, will not save us. What will save us? Jesus. Save us from what? Our sins. …and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he will save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).
America is under judgment for the sin of idolatry. Though every sports team except one is destined to eventually lose in its quest for an annual championship, sports coaches are fired regularly for not winning—i.e., for not proving that their team and its fans by extension—are better than all the other teams and their respective fans. Football has become one of the great American idols and the NFL now advertises that football is family. In the early days of our country the family and the church was the family—not football, it hadn’t been invented yet. A disinterested anthropologist from another part of the planet might well conclude that American football has replaced Christianity as the American religion. Although it could be argued that Christians should not play football because of the players’ physical hits on one another, that is not my concern in this message. I’m using football as an example for sports in general whose importance has been blown way out of proportion and become a grotesque manifestation of our self-worshipping idolatry. Sports, if kept in proper perspective, can play a positive role in our lives by teaching us the value of discipline and practice, enhancing our physical and mental health, and last, but not least, teaching us a little humility when we lose. But they haven’t been kept in perspective. An acquaintance of mine related the story of a friend, a teacher and football coach who was fired from a small high school because he’d had two losing seasons in a row. He was fired despite, in the words of my acquaintance, “Vince Lombardi couldn’t have won with the kids he had those two years.” The coach was fired because the townspeople felt humiliated and wanted to win so they could feel superior to the other towns around them. This problem is not limited to high school football, but is evident in all walks of life. A book published a few years ago entitled Cyberselfish chronicled the narcissism and egotism prevalent in silicon valley that appears to equal if not exceed that amongst sports fans.
Imagine for a moment that you wanted to teach your teen age son and his friends that God withholds from and/or grants different gifts and abilities to individuals so that they need each other and learn to love and serve one another—and as an added benefit, they all prosper more in the end. You take them out in the wilderness twenty miles away from the hunting lodge where you have headquartered, give each one part of a partially disassembled all terrain vehicle, and tell them that if they make it back to the lodge within 24 hours they will each receive a substantial sum of money; you give one the keys, one the battery, one the fuel, one the vehicle itself, one the wheels, and one a map and compass. You return to the lodge and wait. A week passes and and they don’t show up. You return to where you left them and find them starved, bruised and beaten. Upon investigation, you find that each one was trying to prove that he and his ‘gift’ was the most important, none was willing to cooperate in the interest of community, and they wound up fighting each other to prove who was the best (i.e., ‘god’). You hope that this fictional account would not happen in reality and presumably it wouldn’t in the scenario above. But it is happening all too often in our culture at large; too many individuals and families are focused on being better than their neighbors and not on the welfare of the community. Instead of loving God with all their heart, soul, and mind, and their neighbor as themselves, and using their God-given gifts and talents to serve God and the Christian community, they are worshipping themselves and have little if any concern for their children’s future, much less that of future generations. Their only concern is for their personal affluence and status.
Too many Americans are guilty of the idolatry of selfishness and pride. Without a vision for the Christian community—God’s kingdom—there is no community and no chance of stopping the growing tyranny in America and around the world. “You can’t beat something with nothing,” goes the old political saw, and from the human perspective, we are losing our country to the Whore of Babylon because there is not enough true Christian community to beat her. Individuals cannot beat an organized syndicate. But the real problem and solution is transcendent; we are losing because we are under God’s judgment and he is using the whore to punish us for our self-worshipping idolatry. We don’t have to be more numerous or better organized than the whore to beat her. The whore is not the main problem—our self-worshipping idolatry is the primary problem and God has promised that if we repent of our idolatry and come before him in true Christian community, he will heal our land. If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land (II Chronicles 7:14).
God has made us to live in community and the current radical individualism is killing us. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it (Matthew 10:39). We find ourselves by losing ourselves in service to God and neighbor. Our identity is in Christ; we are to retain our individual identity but we do that by focusing more on service to God and our neighbor, on service to God’s kingdom and his righteousness—not on our status or just our personal gain. Our identity is both individual and communal and if we don’t give attention to the welfare of the community as well as our own, we wind up losing both as individuals and as a community. We obviously must give attention to our personal needs, but to focus just on ourselves and/or our immediate family to the exclusion of the larger community is selfishness and selfishness is idolatry.
…Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve (Matthew 4:10). We’re to worship God—not ourselves or our sports teams. Worship is, according to Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, “the act of paying divine honors to the Supreme Being.” It’s good to have passion and especially nice to have it about the important aspects of your life such as your career and family. And it’s good to have passion about other things in life such as sports, art, music, and God’s creation. But we need to keep our priorities in order and if we’re truly worshipping God as we should, our greatest passion must be our love for God and his service. And we need a vision to do that—a vision for God’s kingdom here and now in time as well as for eternity.
The heresy of dispensationalism has taken many evangelical Christians out of God’s good creation into a hyper-spiritual, other worldly realm in which—apart from those called to personal evangelism—there is nothing for them to do in the way of serving God. This leaves them in a spiritual vacuum with no vision and little if any meaning for their life. But a vacuum does not long remain a vacuum; and a spiritual vacuum is quickly filled by idols.
If we American men will put away our idols and get a vision for God’s kingdom, and get half as passionate about building that kingdom as we do about winning a sports championship—and humble ourselves, and pray, and seek God’s face, and turn from our wicked ways, victory is assured—because if we do those things, God, who cannot lie, has promised to forgive our sin and heal our land.