Wretched Idolatry

The Bible is not always as PG-rated as we would like to think. While teaching the Bible in a flippant manner is not good, I also think that there is a shock value in many Biblical texts that we are supposed to steep in rather than gloss over.

Here in February, I’ve been starting through the book of Jeremiah. This is a book of the Bible that I have never spent a ton of time in, but as part of God’s Word I know that it is useful for my training in righteousness. As I was reading through the first few chapters the last couple days, I’ve been caught totally off guard by the language it uses when talking about the idolatry of God’s people.

Through the lips of Jeremiah, God proclaims that the spiritual idolatry of His people is equivalent to whoredom.

You read that right.

Not only that, but the Lord goes on to use even more shocking imagery for the sins of His people.

In essence, Jeremiah 2-3 teaches us a few things about idolatry.

IDOLATRY IS ADULTERY

Idolatry is adultery. This imagery, this theme, is all throughout the Biblical story, most often seen in the prophets.

Look at the language that God uses through the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 2-3.

This is what the Lord says: “I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness, through a land not sown. – Jeremiah 2:2

Long ago you broke off your yoke and tore off your bonds; you said, ‘I will not serve you!’ Indeed, on every high hill and under every spreading tree you lay down as a prostitute. – Jeremiah 2:20

You have lived as a prostitute with many lovers – would you now return to me?” – Jeremiah 3:1b

Then in the most stunning language we see this:

(you are) a wild donkey accustomed to the desert, sniffing the wind in her craving – in her heat who can restrain her? – Jeremiah 2:24a

Why such abrasive and shocking language?

Because the reality of idolatry is deplorable.

God made a covenant with His people in the Old Testament, and although He rescued and redeemed them time and time again, they turned from Him and worshipped other gods. They were not faithful. All one has to do is read the Old Testament with even the slightest attention to idolatry and you will see that it seeps into almost every story. God’s people regularly and religiously pursued false gods of the other nations and false gods of their own creation.

What idols have you created? What fills your heart and mind besides the Lord?

IDOLATRY IS CONTAGIOUS

So we’ve seen in this passage that idolatry is equated to spiritual adultery.

Sadly, it gets worse. Jeremiah says that idolatry is contagious. According to Jeremiah 3:7-10, we see that the faithlessness of Israel leads Judah into sin as well.

When a country or community becomes dominated by idolatry, the idolatry starts to become the new normal. Idolatry can become the status quo, seeping into the very nature of the community.

How many of us find our confidence and security in our possessions? How many of us find our confidence and security in our government or military? How many of us find our confidence and security in our ability to follow man-made religious traditions? How many of us find our confidence and security in the praise of others?

All of the above are foolish.

Here’s a not-so-subtle form of idolatry I’ve found myself in: needing the praise of man.

There’s nothing wrong with desiring appreciation. That’s a natural desire. But when the praise of man becomes the source of energy, life, and joy in my heart, I’ve fallen into idolatry. One way the praise of man has become a contagion in our communities is through social media. Now, every person has the ability to speak up about practically anything. Now, we can parade our accomplishments before a litany of ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ who will build us up with their likes, and if we’re lucky, their heart emojis.

This is all fine and dandy when the likes are coming.

It becomes discouraging when the likes run dry.

Even writing about this seems silly. Ultimately it is.

Social media gets us consistently and constantly comparing our lives to the lives of others, filling our minds with things that are neither pure nor lovely.

In a world of people-pleasing affirmation addicts, the idolatry of needing affirmation became contagious. I fall into it time and again.

WE CAN TURN FROM IDOLATRY

Here’s the good news. Both for me and for you if you too struggle with idolatry.

Jeremiah 3 has some profound words about the grace of God.

” ‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will frown on you no longer, for I am faithful,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will not be angry forever. . . . . . . . “Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding.” – Jeremiah 3:12b, 22a

I’m not faithful to God. I’m a spiritual harlot. I’m a donkey in heat. Yet God says here in the book of Jeremiah that He will receive His people back to Him. This theme of God’s forgiveness and grace in the midst of our vile sins runs throughout the entire narrative of Scripture.

He is not angry forever. He relents from giving us what we deserve. He is faithful, even when we are not. He is powerful enough to cure us of our backsliding.

I backslide a lot.

Like a lot a lot.

Yet each time I return to the Lord, each time I limp my way back to Him, He is faithful to receive me and restore our relationship.

There is a way out of the idolatry you find yourself in, the idolatry that is ingrained in your psyche, the idolatry that is likely even culturally acceptable.

Return to the Lord, to your first love.

Lay your idols down at His feet.

Let your heart and mind be filled with praise for Him.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

The American Flag or The Cross

I remember the sermon. I was a senior in college home for the weekend and we had a guest speaker at our church. I enjoyed his message, but there was an undercurrent of a belief system that was concerning to me. Although not explicitly said, there was an implicit sense of the end of the world being equivalent to the rapid moral decline of the United States. This was a sentiment that I have heard echoed in other messages, blog posts, social media rants, etc. If the United States should fall as a nation, the end of the world would be upon us.

Honestly this is very concerning to me. Here’s a few quick reasons why.

  1. This belief is wholly inconsistent with history. The USA is not the first world power that has ever existed. Egypt, Rome, Babylon, Assyria. There is historical and Biblical proof of these nations’ rapid declines, and guess what, we’re still here.
  2. This belief is way too narrow. It is statistically true that in the Western world the church is dead or dying. Europe is incredibly dark spiritually and we’re right behind them. That being said, the global church is exploding. People are coming to Christ in droves in Africa and Asia. We may be on the outskirts here in the USA, but the global church is thriving in the midst of suffering.
  3. This belief is the result of putting our hope in the wrong thing. This is what this post is about. If you take a long look at the Old Testament, you will see that many of the prophetic oracles against the nations (including also the people of Israel) promised destruction because people were believing in their own government, specifically military, for hope and security. Take for instance Isaiah 31:1 – Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord. (see also 2 Chronicles 16:7)

I grew up believing that this was the best country on earth. We were the epicenter of morality, spirituality, and Christian missions. We sent people out to the nations who needed the gospel. We were a country that was all about Christian values. We were God’s country. The rose-colored glasses started to come off at OBU, and then were completely ripped off my eyes in Phoenix.

Phoenix was the darkest of places I’ve been to. A staggering 90%+ don’t having saving faith in Jesus Christ. A major metropolitan area right here in our country, an epicenter of sorts in its own right, and it is dark. This country is not my home. This country is not my hope.

I’ll be honest, my time in Phoenix frightened me. I’ve written about this experience in other blogs, how I came to quickly realize that the United States wasn’t my home. God walked me through fear and anxiety and brought me to the point through studying Scripture that I was able to realize that the United States of America is not a Christian country.

Honestly, there is really no such thing. There can be leaders and policies that support Christian morals and values, but there is no such thing as a Christian country.

There is however such thing as a Christian nation. However it is not a nation that is limited by geography, ethnicity, financial class, or culture. It is a nation of people who have put their trust, hope, and security not in mere men or governments, but instead in Jesus Christ.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. – 1 Peter 2:9-10

The decline of our country can be discombobulating. It can be devastating. It can be discouraging. However, if you remain in that space, that is likely a sign that your hope is in the wrong thing. Repent and believe in the good news of the gospel, that our Risen King sits enthroned in heaven and controls the world and the powers that ‘rule’ it.

It is easy to look at what’s happening and blame my generation for the moral chaos that seems to be swirling all around. It is harder to accept that we may have failed our children by teaching them to put their hope in our country, their security in the American Dream, and their peace in our military might. May we be people who teach our children to put their hope in their Risen Savior, their security in His sovereign hand, and their peace in His unfailing love.

We have an American flag in our sanctuary where I work, and I fear that it has become a symbol of where people are putting their hope. The cross is the symbol of that which we should be putting our hope in.

The American flag doesn’t bring me peace, security, or hope.

The cross of Christ and the empty tomb bring me peace, security, or hope.

MY HOPE IS NOT IN DONALD TRUMP MAKING AMERICA GREAT AGAIN. MY HOPE IS IN KING JESUS MAKING ALL THINGS NEW AGAIN.

I plead with you to live for Christ, to be allegiant to Him first and foremost. Be in the public sphere, vote, rally, protest when necessary, but be allegiant to Christ more than country.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

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