Wednesday, July 16, 2014

All that has taken my heart

"Lord, I will bow to You - to no other god
         but You alone...
 Lord, I will worship You, nothing hands have made,
         but You alone.
     I will lay down my idols, thrones I have made,
     All that has taken my heart, oh..
 Lord, I will bow to you, to no other god
     ... but You alone.

     I will lay down my idols, thrones I have made,
     All that has taken my heart, oh..
 Lord, I will bow to you, to no other god
     ... but You alone."     - - Bob Fitts

Yes. Yes there are Christian idols. There are things that take our hearts without us even being aware of them. 

I'm not talking about cars, or sports, or TV, or (fill in the blank that we turn to when we feel empty or bored). I'm talking about right inside the church.

When I first heard Bob Fitts sing the song I've quoted above, I was struck by how humble the man was. How he longed to worship God and God alone. Then I got to meet him and work with him briefly. His attitude in person was full of grace and gratitude. There was no hint of self-serving or arrogance in him. 

I fear that in some areas in church life, we've succumbed to an "American Idol" mentality. We follow superstars, or styles of worship (Hillsong vs Thousand Foot Krutch for example). We hear a worship band and reduce their ministry - which they give to Jesus - down to something that must be applauded, or tell them, "Good job!" (Job?? Really??) We rob them of their heavenly reward by lavishing earthly reward on them. 

Photo "Center Of Church" courtesy of Keerati at
And that's not all. Idolatry is not just worshipping other gods. Idolatry is also worshipping a version of God that isn't really what He's about. Just like the children of Israel did once - it cost them three thousand lives that day. 

Let me explain. In Egypt, every altar or shrine erected to whatever god was being worshipped at the time had an altar base - a pedestal, if you will - which was made in the shape of Hathor, the goddess of the earth. She was represented by a cow. 

When Moses went up the mountain to get the law from God, the people got restless. "We can't just stand here," they thought. "We have to DO something!" They originally wanted to worship the God that brought them out of Egypt. They pressured Aaron into allowing it. They donated some of the gold they had plundered from the Egyptians and they made an altar base. Naturally it was in the shape of a bovine - a small cow - a calf. 

But it was JUST THE BASE. There was NOTHING ON TOP of the calf. (The Egyptians never did this. All their altars had something on top.) God's people intended to worship the "unseen God" which - they reasoned - was above the altar. But their worship and celebration soon focused on the human-made base upon which they had thought the presence of God would hover. They followed the practices they'd seen growing up (traditions of men). And they moved from a desire to worship God, to saying "THESE are the godS that brought us out of Egypt." 

Can you see the path of degradation into idolatry? 

This is what happens when people think that they can 'add' something to what has already been done for them. The people felt they had to add something of their own, something tangible, to this worship-fest. Just like the church today stumbles over the simplicity of the Good News and feels she has to add to it: the wood, hay and stubble of rules, regulations and ritual (1 Cor. 3: 11-13). 

Idolatry. It's spiritual adultery. 

Rules and regulations and rituals feel good. They make us feel comfortable, safe, like we are doing something for ourselves, securing our place, pleasing God. They take our heart, they steal it away from a life in which He is the centre because of His goodness, mercy and grace. Bit by little bit the focus becomes the altar (what we do or don't do for Him, our own human effort) and not Him. We get into the mindset that in order to please Him we have to appease Him, that is, to keep Him from getting mad at us by doing stuff He likes.

But don't we see? God is already pleased with us. Because of what Jesus did for us, we are already pure, clean, washed, made whole. We are the righteousness of God in Jesus, because He was made to be sin. For us. (2 Cor 5:21) Once for all time, He settled the sin question: past, present, and future. "He,  having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God ... for by one offering He has perfected for all time those that are being made holy." (Heb 10: 12, 14.)

There is nothing we could do to add to that. It's already perfect. The forgiveness is complete, unconditional, absolute. "He is able to save them to the uttermost those who come to God by Him, seeing that He ever lives to make intercession for them." (Heb 7:25). "These things I have written to you that you might know that you have [present tense] eternal life, and that you may believe on the name [or in the authority] of the Son of God." (1 John 5:13).

This is basic stuff; this is the scandalousness - the lavish nature - of God's Grace. But it goes against our human nature. Like the people of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai, we feel that we can't "just stand there" in the freedom with which Christ has made us free. We have to "do something" ... and in this lies the most dangerous fear-based lifestyle possible - thinking that we have to keep by our own efforts that which God has already freely given. 

So that is what I will lay down. I will lay down the idols of all my own efforts, all my own devices, all my arm-twisting where I try to behave myself so God will answer my prayers, and all my insistence on complicating His free gift, sullying it with my own kindling (wood, hay, and stubble). I will focus instead on His perfect sacrifice for me, and live in gratitude and worship to Him who gave all He had, all He was, for me, and who lives forevermore.

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