Breakfast. Idolatry. Cupcakes. God's Faithfulness. God's Discipline.
One never quite acknowledges the presence of an idol in one's life until one rises in the morning to worship it, only to find it has been taken away in the night.
Humans were made for worship and so everyone worships something, even those who claim to be atheists. The sorrow and mourning with which one greets the disappearance of that which we worship and the resultant emptiness in our lives betray the identity of that god (some material thing, or a relationship, or a person, or even a talent or trait that we die die must have).
Surely it is useless to give one's all for a false god, a god who either promises much or whom we think promises much but cannot deliver. On the threshold of the Promised Land, the Book of Deuteronomy tells us that Moses reminded the Israelites of the faithfulness of God: how he had made a seemingly impossible promise to Abraham and Sarah, who were barren in their old age, that he would give them descendants more numerous than the stars in the sky (Genesis 22, Genesis 26) and how this had indeed been fulfilled (cf Deuteronomy 10:22). This was but a snapshot, a sample, of the overarching faithfulness of God who would go on to promise through various prophets (as recorded for us in the Old Testament) that he had seen the suffering and pain and death in this fallen world caused by the sin of man and that he could and was more than willing to save anyone who would avail himself/herself to his rescue. This rescue, the prophets said, would come through an anointed king who was God himself (Psalm 2), the Son of Man who would come to judge the world (Daniel 7), and also through a suffering servant of God (Isaiah 53).
When Jesus arrived, he proved to be able to do the things only God could do - not just healing the sick, lame, deaf, blind and casting out demons without any mumbo-jumbo, but also raising the dead, creating food and controlling "nature" (Mark 1:18-8:26). He acknowledged Peter's confession that he was the Christ, the promised anointed divine king, he said he was the Son of Man too but was also adamant that he was the suffering servant of God (Mark 8:27-31). All the promises of God, then, were focused in on one man, Jesus.
Our trust in God is no blind faith, since he has ensured sufficient evidence of his past acts of faithfulness and truthfulness. Jesus has shown that he is the cumulative fulfilment of God's promises and indeed that he is God himself.
The first commandment given to Moses was "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:2-3). A commandment to be obeyed, yet also a plain statement of fact (cf Deuteronomy 4:32-35). There is no other god to be worshipped besides the LORD.
So Jesus' commandment to those who would trust in him as Christ and Son of Man and Suffering Servant to "deny himself, take up his cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34) is also something to be obeyed, yet the first part also stems from a plain statement of fact: if God is God, there is no other to be worshipped and no other who can interpret reality and tell us of what is to come. Therefore, it is obvious that we must deny all attempts to interpret reality, all attempts to mold Jesus into the nice, hippie saviour we can be comfortable telling our friends about, all attempts to ascribe to God what he has never promised, all attempts to place importance on anything other than God and what God deems important (as expounded in Jesus' words and the gospel (Mark 8:35,38)).
All such delusional attempts will end in failure. Setting one's mind on anything but the things of God as revealed in Scripture has the stink of Satan about it (Mark 8:33). So unsurprisingly, the idolater will does this will lose his life and his soul and be rejected by Jesus when he comes again to judge the living and the dead (Mark 8:34-38).
But sadly, this doesn't stop us professing believers in Christ from wallowing, at times, in this carcinogenic sludge. Sure, one has the niggling feeling at times that perhaps one could be worshipping something other than the One True God (we speak of idols of the non-shiny kind of course, gold leaf being rather vulgar and crass these days cf a certain calf sculpture at the foot of Mount Sinai circa approximately 1,300 B.C.), but with a bit of stonewalling and a lot of dressing up with godly motives and reasons, the conscience soon had its naggy mouth taped over and we were free to enjoy the apparent pleasures offered by the aforementioned god. and the real extent of that cancer's hold on us.
In the cold light of day, our idolatry is starkly stupid. Did our idols create us that in their absence we perish? Would God have us waste our tears over the death of a folly, the removal of a trap of Satan? Do we forget that Moses said to the adulterous Israelites when the writing was still fresh on the covenantal stone:
Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'" And the LORD said to Moses, "I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you. (Exodus 32:7-10)Our worship of other gods is insulting to the One True God, and he who created us could have rightly destroyed us.
But if we are reading or typing this then he has not. Because in his immense grace and patience, God elects instead to forcibly remove the tumour, bit by bit. Yet we dare blame him for this and threaten to renounce our heavenly citizenship unless he reinstate the same, or even plead for him to take away our lifebreath now that we have no more reason to live.
Scripture about God disciplining us is "a word of encouragement" because it addresses us as God's children:
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?We are not to respond to God's discipline with resentment but instead be comforted(!) that God does this because he loves us:
"My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives." (Hebrews 12:5)
My son, do not despise the LORD’s disciplineMoses reminded the Israelites of the same thing in Deuteronomy:
or be weary of his reproof,
for the LORD reproves him whom he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights. (Proverbs 3:11-12)
Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you. (Deuteronomy 8:5)God's discipline is in fact further evidence of God's faithfulness, for what God who promised to rescue will allow his sheep to stray into the mouths of wolves:
I know, O LORD, that your rules are righteous,The right response to discipline is not to chaff but to repent:
and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. (Psalms 119:75)
Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. (Revelation 3:19)We repent not by gritting our teeth and chanting "all things work for the good of those who love him" or "this is the best of all possible worlds", but by turning back to God.
Perhaps the dichotomy of mind and heart as is popular in many Christian circles which say that head knowledge must then become heart knowledge must be addressed. While the acknowledgement of mere factual information about God never saved anyone since even the demons acknowledge there is one God and shudder (James 2:19), disobedience and thus idolatry come from error and unbelief in the mind - not comprehending the goodness and faithfulness of God, not trusting that God is God, or that his words are true.
When we find ourselves in sin, or by the grace of God, disciplined for our idolatry, then we must take heed to examine again God's Word and the record of his deeds throughout the whole of human history. Obedience and trust in God isn't quite a matter of applying what we have learnt in bible study; rather it is deepening a relationship with a stable, dependable Father whose ways are not as capricious as humans whose moods vary according to the amount of sleep they've had the previous night, how well they have been fed, the ambient temperature of their environment and how boring the present company.
Thanks to Billy and Cindy Foote who kindly sent me their Not a god CD before mp3s were readily downloadable from the web:
You Are God Alone
You are not a god created by human hands
You are not a god dependent on any mortal man
You are not a god in need of anything we can give
By Your plan that's just the way it is
You are God alone, from before time began
You were on your throne, You were God alone
And right now, in the the good times and bad
You are on Your throne, You are God alone
You're Unchangeable, You're Unshakeable
You're Unstoppable, that's what You are
You're the only God whose power none can contend
You're the only God whose name and praise will never end
You're the only God who's worthy of everything we can give
You are God that's just the way it is