Hope Weekly - April 8, 2012
There I was, standing at the foot of one of the greatest buildings in the world, a symbol of democracy, power, and empire. Pillars, over one hundred feet tall, towered over my head. It was breathtaking. It was the Parthenon, an ancient temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena, the goddess of wisdom, courage and warfare.
Of course, the city of Athens was full of dozens of other temples and gods. There were gods you could turn to for just about anything—love, beauty, healing, agriculture, fertility, and athletics. Athens was truly a “city full of idols." (Acts 17:16).
As I walked through the ancient ruins of this idol-city, I wondered, how could these people have been so foolish? How could they have worshipped physical and lifeless idols?
And then we drove down from the Acropolis and the Parthenon into downtown Athens. On our drive we passed billboards of near-naked women, luxurious five-star hotels, the 2004 Olympic Stadium, and a city drowning in financial debt. Then it hit me. People in Greece still worship idols. Sure, they are packaged differently but sacrifices are made to the gods of beauty, power, materialism, sports, and greed. Shrines are erected in their honor and they are worshipped, adored and praised.
Idols of the Heart
In the book of Ezekiel the Israelite community is in Babylon, exiled from the Promised Land. They are all waiting to hear from the Lord, desperate for some instruction, to know what's next. And in 14:1-5, God responds to them through the prophet,
Some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat down in front of me. 2 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 3 “Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all?
4 Therefore speak to them and tell them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: When any of the Israelites set up idols in their hearts and put a wicked stumbling block before their faces and then go to a prophet, I the Lord will answer them myself in keeping with their great idolatry. 5 I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols.’
In this passage Ezekiel tells the Israelites that the reason they are receiving the divine "silent treatment" is because they set up idols in their hearts (v. 3). The Israelites were not erecting temples to Athena or other physical idols. No, these were idols "of the heart". The elders had created counterfeit gods. Perhaps these were idols of power, a successful career, material possessions, or a stable family. Whatever the case, the idols were creating a “stumbling block” for these Israelites and drawing their hearts away from the one true and living God.
People in America have idols of the heart too. Our culture has many things that take the place of God. And most of us fight against idolatry everyday. What do you find your security, hope and identity in? What do you dream about, find your sense of worth and pleasure in other than God? If something comes to mind, then odds are it’s probably an idol. The tricky part about idols, however, is they are typically good things. They are good things that we turn into ultimate things.
"Oh, the only reason I'm working 80 hours week is because I want to get my kids into the best school and set them up for success."
"Well, the reason I never spend time with God is because I'm busy and any free time I get goes to my husband, who I love so much."
"I know baseball can eat up my time but at least my hobby is healthy and wholesome."
Is wanting to provide for your family, spend time with your spouse, or follow sports a bad thing? Of course not. But if any of these things becomes the supreme love of our lives, above God, then we have trouble. If we ignore our idols, if we push them under the rug then trouble will come on us as trouble came on the Israelite leaders in Babylon. The best way to deal with our idol addictions is a three-step process.
1. Identify your idols
A helpful way of identifying your idols is considering what you love, trust and obey.
What do you love? What is it that captures your heart and imagination. What's the thing that you daydream about and can't imagine living without?What do you trust? What do you place your faith in other than God? What acts as your functional savior?What do you serve? What do you spend your talent, time and treasure on?
2. Uproot your idols
In our passage above, Ezekiel says, "This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!" So the Lord calls us to repentance, to acknowledging and turning from our idols. This is the painful and active process of laying our idols on the altar and confessing our sins to God, and perhaps to a brother or sister in Christ. This takes humility, contriteness and honesty. But we can’t stop here.
3. Replace your idols
Finally, we need to replace our idols with the real McCoy.
"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." (Colossians 3:1-2)
The way we replace our idols is by "setting our minds on things above", on Christ! This means appreciating, dwelling on, and rejoicing in the person of Christ. When our worth, identity and hope rest in the finished work of the risen Christ, everything changes.
My prayer for us this week is that we would identify, uproot, and replace our idols; that we would truly seek to find our joy in Christ and not the short-term pleasure of counterfeit gods. Our hearts were made for bigger things. As we continue to reflect of the significance of the resurrection this week, let’s put in the time and effort to worship Jesus and not the good things around us.