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As many of you know Bev and I are celebrating our 40th anniversary with a trip to the Orient. We are presently on the little island called Koh Sumui. It’s about an hour and half ferry ride off the mainland of Thailand. It was quite the adventure getting here with me doing the driving. They drive on the wrong side of the road (British side) and from the wrong side of the car. But it was breathtakingly beautiful!

 

Yesterday we went sightseeing and saw the “golden Buddha in a place called Bo Phut. It is a popular Buddhist and tourist destination. There were the usual donation boxes everywhere with people carrying their lotus flowers clasped in their palms. People kneeled and put their clasped hands and to their chins and rocked gently back and forth. You could faintly hear their prayers and smell the incense burning as they believe they reach heaven better with their prayers with the smoke arising too their god.

 

I was reminded of Isaiah 42:17-19, “They shall be turned back, they shall be greatly ashamed, that trust in graven images, that say to the molten images, Ye are our gods. Hear, ye deaf; and look, ye blind, that ye may see. Who is blind, but my servant? or deaf, as my messenger that I sent? who is blind as he that is perfect, and blind as the LORD’S servant?

 

As you know, the people of Israel continually displayed this tendency of idol worship in Old Testament times.   You don’t even have to leave the book of Exodus before these people—newly freed from Egyptian bondage, by the God who loves them—have made a golden calf and begun to substitute it—worship it as their god. In fact at the very moment that Moses was on the mountain with God receiving His ten(der) laws, these people were making this idol. Exodus 32:4 records Aaron pointing to this gold bovine and crying, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”

 

And then—all through the history of the children of Israel you will find that they continued to have a problem keeping this very Commandment. Following the idolatrous practices of neighboring nations, King Jeroboam set up golden calves in Dan and also in Beersheba.

Even the brazen serpent that God provided in the wilderness to deliver the people from snake bites was later made into a graven object of worship by the Israelites. I could cite many examples, but the sad fact is that only when the people of Israel were carried into captivity were they finally cured of this problem of idolatry.

 

But the Jews weren’t the only ones with this tendency. You may remember that the book of Acts records that Paul was bewildered by the “many gods” that filled the city of Athens. His account tells us there must have been an idol of some kind on every block.  And of course—idolatry continues in our world even to this day.

 

A few years ago I read a story about a certain tribe that lives in the Bismarck Mountains of central Papua New Guinea and I learned that these people like BIG EARS—a lot. As a matter of fact, this tribe worshiped former President Lyndon Johnson because he had big ears. According to Dr. Ulrich Ritterfeldt of the University of Utrecht in Holland, the people of this tribe had this famous photo of President Johnson pulling on the big ears of his beagles. They hung this photo in a cave and flowers were offered to it. You know, looking at my own ears, tells me I could do pretty well in the Bismarck Mountains of Central Papua New Guinea!

 

Now—we in the United States hear stories like this and we think that, since idolatry is all about worshiping weird things — like big ears and golden cows—and since we don’t do that kind of silly stuff here—well we feel that this law is no longer relevant to us—that obeying this commandment is a snap. We can move on to commandment 3.But the reality is that idolatry in our culture is very widespread. It’s just more subtle. For example: in our culture we worship the gods of materialism, sexual indulgence, and personal power—and their messages don’t just line the streets as they did in Athens in Paul’s day.  No—here they fill the very airwaves! The images and their deceptive offers go across the nation by satellite, cable, Internet, and slick four-color printing.  I mean, in our country we are surrounded by more false images than ever before in the history of mankind. They leer at us from billboards and magazine covers. They call to us in powerful visual impressions on television and pop-up ads on our notebooks and smart phones.  And, as every good advertising or network executive knows, the objective of these ads is to “capture” as many people as possible.  These guys want their ads to capture our attention—our interest—our money—our time—our commitment.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with money or a new car or wanting to wear attractive clothes or wanting to succeed in business. It’s just that these things and a hundred others can become idols to us as they begin to control our thoughts and desires.

 

Another American idol” these days are celebrities. There is a real sense in which we worship them, looking to them for guidance in life on everything from health, to sexuality, and politics.

 

But you know, I think the most-worshiped false god in our society is SELF. We make books on the subject bestsellers by purchasing them by the millions. We make every effort to “look out for number one.”  Let’s face it–ours is an age of gross SELFishness. This is the “ME” era. I agree with Dr. Laura Schlessinger who writes, “One could read the Second Commandment as follows: ‘Do not make your SELF an idol.” And our society does exactly that. We idolize our individual FEELINGS—basing major decisions on how we FEEL rather than on what God says. We worship happiness and self-esteem at all costs. We care more about personal rights than God-given responsibilities. We worship how we look which is why we will spend $335 for a pair of “True Religion Jeans” showing the true object of our “religion!” We especially bow down to our careers.  In fact it is often not until the first heart attack that men realize that they work to live not live to work. Well, whenever any of these things or people—when anything other than God—becomes the absolute focus of our attentions and activities—that is idolatry. Nothing in our lives—especially not SELF—should make God take a back seat.

Now before we go any further—think about it—why would God give us this law? Why would idolatry be such a big deal to Him?

 

And the Bible shows that it IS a big deal to God. Did you know more than 50 of the laws in the first five books of the Bible are directed against idolatry? Did you know that in all Judaism it is one of only four sins to which the death penalty is attached? Why?  Why did God think this law was necessary?

 

Well—I think one reason He did was because, as I said, God knew how easy it would be for us to slip into idolatrous acts—as history shows we have done.

 

And here’s why.  God is unseen—a spirit and a power invisible to the eyes of men. It is very hard for simple people like you and I to remember and to think about and to worship an UNSEEN God. We prefer to have something we can see, and touch—something we can relate to.

 

It’s like the story of a man named Jack who was walking along a steep cliff one day when he accidentally got too close to the edge and fell. On the way down he grabbed a branch, which temporarily stopped his fall. He looked down and to his horror saw that the canyon fell straight down for more than a thousand feet. He couldn’t hang on to the branch forever and there was no way for him to climb up the steep wall of the cliff. So Jack began yelling for help, hoping that someone passing by would hear him and lower a rope or something, “Help!  Help!  Is there anyone up there? Help!” He yelled for hours but no one heard him. He was about to give up when he heard a voice. “Jack, Jack, can you hear me?” “Yes, yes!  I can hear you!  I’m down here!” “I can see you Jack.  Are you alright?” “Yes, but—who are you and where are you?”

“I am the Lord, Jack.  I’m everywhere.” “THE Lord? You mean, GOD?” “That’s Me.” “God please help me. I promise if You will get me down from here I will stop sinning.  I’ll be a really good person.  I’ll serve you for the rest of my life.” “Easy on the promises Jack. Just let Me get you down from there and then we can talk. Now, here’s what I want you to do. Listen carefully.” “I’ll do anything Lord.  Just tell me what to do.” “Okay.  Let go of the branch.” “What?” “I said, let go of the branch.  Just trust Me.  Let go.” There was a long silence. Finally Jack yelled, “Is anyone ELSE up there?!”

 

Like Jack, when the rubber meets the road in life, we want a god we can reach out and touch. That’s why we have this tendency to worship things we can see and feel. God of course knows that we are like this. He knew that this would be a very real temptation for us so He gave us this second foundational law.  Like His other laws God gave us this one to protect us and disobeying this particular law can indeed cause us great harm in many ways.

So why is idolatry so harmful? There are a multitude of reasons but let me zero into one that may have never considered. Listen to the words of Psalm 135, “The idols of the nations are but silver and gold, the work of man’s hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; they have eyes, but they do not see; they have ears, but they do not hear; nor is there any breath at all in their mouths. Those who make them will be like them.” We become like what we worship! Jeremiah 2:5 says, “They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.”  

 

Listen! We become just like any false image we pursue in life.

  • If we worship self, we become selfish.
  • If we idolize wealth, then like Scrooge we tend to value it above anything else—even our loved ones.
  • If we bow down at the altar of physical beauty, we become shallow people. Our own beauty as individuals becomes only skin deep.

 

And the sad thing is God wants us to become like Him—not the false, empty images we pursue. In Romans 8:29 Paul says that God’s desire is that all His followers be “conformed to the likeness or IMAGE of His Son.” In 1 John 3:2 it proclaims the hope that when Jesus returns “we shall be LIKE Him.” So, as Ron Mehl writes, “Why in the world should I waste my time chasing shadows, substitutes, desert mirages, and house-of-mirrors reflections?  Why should I serve other lords who aren’t lords at all, care nothing for me and never will?”

 

Indeed why? Why place something other than God at the center of our lives when doing so hurts us in so many ways?

  • Idolatry promises us everything and gives us nothing. It steels our freedom.
  • It hurts our children and our grandchildren and our great grandchildren.
  • It changes us so that we become like those empty things we worship.

 

Substituting God for anything else is such a wasteful thing to do. No wonder God has lovingly given us this second commandment! But you know the most amazing thing about this law is that not only does disobeying it hurt us. There is a sense in which it hurts God Himself!

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