What Is Idolatry, and Do I Practice it?

When we think of the Ten Commandments, probably the “law” that seems the most out-dated is “Thou Shalt Not Commit Idolatry,” or put another way, “Thou Shalt Not Make Unto Thyself Any Graven Images!”

Whew! Well, thank goodness we no longer carve images out of wood and bow down to them. But, look at those wacky Catholics! Boy, they sure didn’t get the memo! As for most civilized people, we’re waaaaay beyond that primitive stuff.

So, did God write a law akin to the law that if your car spooks a horse you need to hide it until the animal settles down? (that’s actually a law in Pennsylvania). Or, maybe it’s like the law in Missouri against driving down the highway with an uncaged bear. Or, laws that require a woman to get her husband’s permission before going to the stylist in Michigan!

Something tells me that God wasn’t short-sighted. He is the first and the last. Nothing is outside of His awareness and we don’t “out-grow” God’s laws. When He tells us that idolatry makes the top ten, we better understand that it’s a problem.

But, you might say, I don’t have any carved idols. In fact, I haven’t bowed down to anything since the time Justin Beeber was in town! And, his acting is wooden, so touche!

No, really, who worships carved idols? Nobody except some Aborigine somewhere, right?

WRONG!

We know the answer that people will worship their cars (what a sweet ride!) or sports (gotta have my ESPN!). The Sunday School answer is that anything that takes our attention away from God is idolatry.

That’s true, I might add. But it’s not the whole story.

How about our desire to know the future? Sure, we don’t put much stock in it, right? I mean, those fortune cookies are just lame. But, how about horoscopes? How about visiting mediums? Or rares? *rimshot*

Seriously, how many times have we seen some supposed Christian “declaring” what is going to happen? Something super-specific like “There will be an amazing event this year that will shake you to the core!!” Or maybe, “An old world leader who’s riddled with cancer will die this decade!” Or, “I’m seeing thousands of mis-matched socks that will be found right after you spend money on new pairs!”

Do you ever get sucked into believing the “predictions” of some “prophet” or sooth-sayer? Do you think that they are tapping into some force that allows them to predict the future?

If the answer was a “nooooo, not really,” then it’s probably really a “yes, I do!” And it shows the idolatry of our hearts more clearly than someone who waxes their car every day or follows all the sports stats religiously.

Idolatry, after all, is trying to tap into God’s power apart from God. This definition is synonymous with paganism. It’s believing that there’s power out there that does what only God can do, but God is trying to chase us away from it. Sound familiar?

It should. It’s what Satan told Eve in the garden. If she’d eat the forbidden fruit, she’d become like God, her eyes would be opened, etc. The same is true with idolatry. We start to believe that there’s this power we can tap into. We can speak things into existence. We can declare the future, and it will happen. We can invoke God’s power by our own will.

That’s straight up idolatry. It’s blasphemy. Our words cannot create anything. Only The Word of God creates. It is through Christ that all things were made and in Him sustained. (Col. 1:16-17). And yet, there are so-called Christian preachers who tell people this stuff. They tell them that they can declare money into their accounts (and then pay the pastor, I suppose). They tell them they can declare health to themselves (though the Apostle Paul couldn’t heal himself of the thorn in his flesh and couldn’t heal Timothy of his stomach issues).

These false teachers are wolves. They prey upon our natural desire to have money and health. They’re snake-oil salesmen who claim to offer a power that only God work. Anyone who believes them commits idolatry.

So, do you think there actually is this power? Do you think God has warned us away from witches because they can tell the future and affect things magically? If so, consider this passage:

Set forth your case, says the LORD; bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob.

Let them bring them, and tell us what is to happen. Tell us the former things, what they are, that we may consider them, that we may know their outcome; or declare to us the things to come.

Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; do good, or do harm, that we may be dismayed and terrified.

Behold, you are nothing, and your work is less than nothing; an abomination is he who chooses you. Is. 41:21-24

The idols and the false prophets cannot tell the future. They cannot explain the past. They cannot do harm or terrify anyone. Their works are ‘less than nothing,’ and those who believe in them are an abomination.

Short version: God has all power and he doesn’t share it with idols and false prophets. Idolatry is ascribing the power or attributes of God to anything else.

John The Baptist Free Ministry Webinar! Limited Seating – Click Now!

I keep seeing these ads with Jerry Jenkins and others shamelessly hawking themselves as having the “secret” to writing earth-shattering books of great, life-changing importance.

The problem is that Jerry Jenkins has written cheesy “end-times” “apocalypse” thrillers that have a rather loose grip on prose, character, plot or … theology.

But, It got me thinking, what if the actual heroes of the Bible did a similar thing … Let’s take a look at John The Baptist:

Continue reading →

Should Christians Be Excited About Star Wars: The Last Jedi?

I watched this teaser a while back when it came out. I needed to digest the few little tidbits. Watch it and then we’ll discuss…

 

 

The tease begins with a voice telling someone to “Breathe…. just breathe.” This is interspersed with darkness, suggesting the person’s (probably Rae’s) eyes are shut. Then the voice says, “Reach out!”

In pagan religion (which is any belief that attempts to appropriate God’s powers to us or for our purpose) this is standard for meditation.

Quick note, Christians are encouraged in God’s Word to meditate on God’s Law, or Scripture. We are never encouraged to engage in clearing our mind or giving ourselves to some random, blank nothing from which we’ll sense something leading us.

But, ever since Star Wars: A New Hope, this has been a blatant part of Star Wars. Clear your mind, let go of your conscious self… blah, blah, blah.

Of course, in Star Wars, this results in God-like power such–as knowing the future, flying through the air (?), moving objects with ‘the force,’ directing people’s minds to influence their actions, etc.

It’s clear from the latest trailer that this is a central part of the Star Wars fictional world. And, I’ll admit, I sort of scoffed at the Christian objection to the movies when they came out. I was pretty young and have had time to think about this as I grow in my walk with the Lord.

What has recently hit me is how subtly the enemy inserts false ideas into the culture. They don’t come to us overtly as some trumpet-blast with a statue of a false god where we’re ordered to bow down, or else! Not that such a thing is unheard of.

Instead, the enemy infiltrates our congregations introducing a bit more emphasis on a symbol like communion, then co-opting baptism to either be the thing that saves you, or binds some covenant to children. Then, he gets us to exalt priests as if they are the intermediary between us and God, rather than Christ.

The enemy inserts small things into our daily life that sound somewhat biblical. We pseudo-christian ideas in movies, making us accept little things that would suggest God is a safety-net for when we need supernatural help. Or, that God saves those who try really hard to be good, like Santa giving gifts to every good little girl and boy.

As a culture, we love entertainment. Movies and TV shows are very entertaining. With Star Wars, we were given an exceptional adventure tale with special effects that we’d never seen before. George Lucas wanted to make something akin to the Saturday serials that he had enjoyed as a kid.

Star Wars captured the culture’s imagination so much that it, along with Spielberg’s Jaws, pretty much created the Summer Blockbuster trend. From then on, movie studios have targeted Memorial Day and 4th of July for what they call “tent-pole” movies. I assume that represents the Big Top entertainment and the movie that holds it all up?

I’m not going to pretend that Star Wars isn’t entertaining (even the prequels had a few entertaining moments, though they were largely tedious, insulting messes).

With The Force Awakens, however, Disney has set out to recapture the essence of the first trilogy, and they did so very well. At the expense of a coherent plot or solid characterization, they managed to shoe-horn in every major entertaining scene from the first three movies into one.

They followed that billions of dollars profit with Rogue One and will release The Last Jedi this year.

Back to the teaser….

The viewer/character is encouraged to reach out (with their senses) and then tell the teacher what they see.

“Light”

oh, that’s good, right?

“Darkness”

Wait, that’s bad. It’s a threat! The person is perceiving a threat, so we’re still good, right?

“The balance!”

Okay, what’s that all about? Being that I’m a geek, I know where that fits in with Star Wars mythology. The “balance” is good. Supposedly, too much of the dark side, throws things out of balance and that needs correcting. According to random things stated in the series, “there is always two Sith”–those are the dark force guys.

The “prophecy” about Anakin Skywalker (in the prequels) is that he will “bring balance” to the force. So, he’s a promised one, born of a virgin, no less, and destined to …. bring balance?

See, the allusion to Jesus is bad enough, but we can assume this is just a fictional story that is shamelessly borrowing from Christianity. But, what it also does is shamelessly promote Hinduism. Balance, Karma, etc. There’s no such thing as evil, only dark and light. And there needs to be balance.

We see this in the Naturalists who believe humans have overpopulated the planet, and have thrown the ecosystem out of balance. There are actually those who believe that population limits are needed and extermination measures should be taken.

The teaser continues with someone saying that it’s bigger than that, but we’ll have to wait to find out what that is about.

Then we’re given a voice that might be a bad guy saying, “I only know one truth.”

And, we’ve learned that “Only a Sith speaks in absolutes!” A laughable statement that is, itself an absolute.

But, this person who “knows” this “one truth” believes the Jedi (the guardians of truth(?) and justice in the galaxy) must come to an end.

Uh-oh, this bad person who holds to One Truth wants to disrupt the BALANCE!!

What’s dangerous about entertainment is how sly it is. Most people watch this teaser and either say, “Ugh, stupid Star Wars! They’re making another one??” Or, “Cool! I wonder if Luke is a good guy or a bad guy? Is Rae going to force levitate?” or something like that.

People don’t consider that while they’re munching on popcorn they are being fed the idea that our minds could have power. Or that the “force” is “within us.” Or that all that matters is “the balance.”

How does that affect us? Are Christians going to abandon the Bible for the Jedi religion? Probably not in any other way than the most casual, fun-loving sort of way. But, we have had churches have Star Wars-themed services on the opening weekend of The Force Awakens. We have articles and books drawing parallels between Star Wars and the Bible, such as when Paul writes that we are to “overcome evil with good.”

See, and that’s how the enemy works. We see a loose connection, then force that square peg into the round hole. Paul wasn’t talking about the balance, or a life of non-violence, etc. He was advocating repentance from worldly wisdom and methods and surrender to the Lord, Jesus and trust in the Father’s ability to defeat the enemies that assail us. We, meanwhile are to feed our enemy, and clothe them (not slice them up with a light-saber after they don’t take our warning not to attack us!). See Romans 12 for the Bible reference.

I have a lot of friends who love Star Wars. I have found them entertaining, too. But, all of this overt mystical language and pagan propaganda doesn’t seem like something my Lord would go to for entertainment.

It used to be that fiction–in itself–was considered to be a lie, and therefore sinful. Thus, writers like Daniel Defoe and others would include a moral to the story, as with Robinson Crusoe. Pilgrim’s Progress was a book-length parable.

While I disagree that all fiction is a lie, and thus sinful, I do think that presenting things that are openly contrary to Scripture is dangerous. This is  most important for Christians–and they’re not too good about it, frankly.

But, when we seek out entertainment during our leisure time, we should consider whether the media is eroding our understanding of God, or building it up. Most of the world’s entertainment will do something to erode it. We’re either treated to ideas of casual sex, foul language, cheating, lying, disregard for life …. the list goes on. As a professor in college used to say, there are “wheat and tares” in the movies. Sometimes we can parse them out. Sometimes there may be more wheat than tares.

Sometimes the tares are there, but we want them so much that we decide they’re really wheat.

And that’s the danger we face when we don’t exercise discernment with our entertainment. This includes Christian movies. I posted a review of War Room that shows how that movie does a lot to damage the importance of prayer, while supposedly encouraging prayer. It includes books written by so-called Christian authors such as Ted Dekker. Another “Christian” movie, The Shack, is a pagan movie that is tantamount to blasphemy, yet gets the endorsement from my friends at Focus On The Family.

We need to be aware of what the enemy is trying to do. It’s subtle. It’s gradual. And if we’re not grounded in God’s Word, we’ll be led astray.

Will God Bless Those Who Bless Me?

Abram’s Children

One of the more popular verses applied to America’s political relationship with Israel is Genesis 12:3:

 “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

The context is Abram’s call out of Haran to a land God would show him. This was Abram’s second call, but that’s another story. Here God makes various promises to assure Abram.

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”

Abram responded with obedience to the call out of the life he’d always known.

“So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him.”

So, the application of the “bless those who bless you” seems to apply to Abraham and his descendants. That’s the clear meaning from the context.

Of course, Paul clarifies who the descendants of Abraham really are.

“…not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, ….it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” Romans 9:7-8

Remember, through Hagar Abraham fathered Ishmael, a symbol of a child of the flesh. Paul writes more about this in Galatians 4:23-25. To understand how this works we must remember that Isaac was a child of promise, born miraculously to a woman who was barren and post-menopausal and to a man whose body was “as good as dead.” In other words, there was no physical possibility of Isaac’s conception and birth. It was completely the work of God, which worked through the faithful cooperation and obedience of Abraham and Sarah.

The descendants of Abraham are those who are children of promise. They are born miraculously, awakened from the dead by the call of the Lord. They are given the gift of repentance (2Tim. 2:25) and faith (Eph. 2:8).

So, applying this to the Nation of Israel today misses the point. I’ll explain.

Who Really Gets Blessed/Cursed?

When reading about Abram being called out, we can see a type of us, the believer, receiving the call. We see this with the disciples, when Jesus calls them out. We see it again with Lazarus who is called out of the tomb to new life.

The application of Genesis 12:3, as we see, can be applied to all true children of Abraham who are his descendants by promise and faith.

But there’s an added meaning to this. To understand the types and symbols of the Old Testament and how they point to the New Testament, we need to realize that they indicate a couple meanings, sometimes. And if we miss this, we might apply the verse in a way that isn’t consistent with Scripture.

An example of applying it poorly is how people try to say that America, the political entity, is blessed when it politically supports the political entity known as Israel. This amounts to mysticism. It suggests that God is not concerned with the repentance and obedience of the people that inhabit Israel, or America, but rather is concerned with the earthly politics of the two nations.

Ask yourself this: When has God ever been concerned with earthly prosperity over faithfulness to His Word?

Never.

So, Abraham as being a father of an earthly people apart from faith and promise is not the point of verse 3. I believe it does apply to true Christians who are treated well by the world being a blessing of God upon those “nations.” I also believe that when the world curses true Christians they will suffer curses.

But that application should be expanded in light of Abraham’s other “type.” Remember, he is the father who had an only begotten son, the son he loved, whom he would sacrifice for God. In that story, found in Genesis 22, Abraham is like God the Father, offering up his only son, Isaac, the one born of promise, not of the flesh.

So, when vs. 3 says, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” it is referring to Isaac, who is a type of Christ. And since we understand that God the Father and the Son are one, we should apply verse 3 the following way:

Those who bless the Lord, Jesus, will be blessed, and those who curse the Lord Jesus will be cursed. Jesus confirms this in John when he describes the work of the Holy Spirit:

“And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;” John 16:8-9

Sin is rejecting Christ, not believing in Him as Lord and Savior. Those who turn in repentance (leaving the life they’ve known and is common in the world) and believe in Jesus as the source of all life, trusting in His promises, counting Him as their great reward, will be blessed by God with eternal life. Those who reject Christ, or dishonor Him, will be cursed with eternal punishment.

So, Genesis 12:3 doesn’t suggest some mystical earthly prosperity if we support Israel. It demonstrates God’s blessing to those who turn to the Lord and bless Him, showing Him the honor He deserves.

Why Do Preachers Think They can Make Stuff Up?

For a while I thought Franklin Graham was a more stalwart Christian than his father. He seemed to be unafraid of pointing out the gross errors of Islam instead of his father’s attempts to say Muslims worshipped God, just by a different name. ???

Sorry, Billy, there’s more than a few writers of actual Scripture who disagree with you.

But then, Franklin gets up at President Trump’s inauguration and says that “rain is a sign of God’s blessing,” and then points out that it started raining when President Trump walked up to the podium.

I know, this is old news. But, when I heard this, I didn’t have the audio. Now, I do. And I have a guy who points out EXACTLY what I though at the time. Enjoy:

No, Franklin, God is not showing His blessing on our nation with some sprinkles as President Trump walks up. With that sort of asinine Biblical exegesis, we could claim that God is blessing a rapist who gets rained on while assaulting a woman, or a child who gets sprinkled while lying to his parents …

Well, of course, that wouldn’t be the case!!

But that’s exactly the problem we have when so-called preachers take it upon themselves to speak for God when God hasn’t spoken to them.

In short, they’re false prophets. If Franklin has any fear of God, he’ll repent of this blatant misappropriation of God’s mind and will humble himself.

Is God On Trial?

Have you ever doubted God? Who hasn’t? It’s in our nature to question what all this means and evaluate how our lives will seem to be a random set of events that amount to nothing. We agree with Solomon’s wisdom in the book of Ecclesiastes that “all is vanity” and “striving after the wind.”

But do we realize what we’re doing when we entertain those doubts? Essentially, we’re listening to the flesh, which veers quickly to the words of Satan, “Did God really say?”

Worse, we begin listening to worldly wisdom that tells us we are the architects of our future, or we make our own luck.

Some Christians will say, “God doesn’t drive parked cars!”

Is this true? Does God need us to get moving before He can use us?

Others say we need to follow the rules of Karma, and that if we are one with the positive forces in the cosmos, then things will turn around to our favor.

Maybe you’re wondering, is God even real, or is it just “the Universe” like so many like to say.

There’s a movie out, The Case For Christ, following Lee Stroble’s research that convinces him of the ‘proof’ that Jesus was a real man, and thus, Christianity is true. The title suggests a trial of sorts, and it is a compelling story. It captivates us because we like trials and arguments. A large number of TV shows involve lawyers and trials. We enjoy parsing through the evidence to see what really happened.

This is also the topic of Isaiah chapter 40 and 41. God puts himself on trial against the idols. Actually, the idols, and the world corridors of power are on trial against God, just as Pilate was standing before the judgment bar of Christ, not the other way around.

In chapter 41, in particular, God challenges the people and their idols to tell the future, explain the events of the past … do good, do evil, show power.

Of course, the idols and the rulers cannot do any of this. Through Isaiah, God has already declared what will happen, despite people’s attempts to secure themselves against the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Egyptians. None of these great nations can do anything to God. They actually serve His purpose.

We often think that our lives are filled with meaningless suffering or unjust turns of events. Yet, God is sovereign in every aspect of what happens. When we doubt this, we’re actually being tempted to trust in our idols. Granted, we don’t have little statues made of wood and metal or shrunken heads of our ancestors, or bones plastered into the walls of our house (I’m assuming most of us don’t!) But, our idols are just as much “less than emptiness.”

We trust in the politics of today. Many trust that Donald Trump will protect Christian morality through Supreme Court nominations. Many trust in a job with the right company to provide for their needs.

It’s not immediately wrong to read the paper and make evaluations on a Presidential nomination, or seek to be gainfully employed. But, it is wrong if we start assigning God’s hand to things that we think are fitting into some plan or design of our own making. In other words, some people have determined that one way is God’s Will, and then begin constructing a path of likely scenarios that will accomplish it.

That’s worldly wisdom. That’s actually sooth-saying. We want to know the future, and we attempt to read the tea leaves or look into the crystal ball to declare the outcome. Some use the Bible to do this. They assign numbers to the letters and try to unlock secrets about the future (this is called Numerology).

God tells us not to do this. It’s witchcraft. It’s attempting to do what only God can do.

Only God directs events. Only God can tell the future. Only God can explain events that happened and what they mean.

Sometimes, God reveals the good reason for some tragedy to us in our personal lives. We come to realize the good that God was working. But other times, God simply asks us, as He did to Job, “Where were you when I created the universe?” God repeatedly says through His writers in Scripture, “Who counseled me with wisdom and taught me justice?”

The answer is obvious. No one  did.

God may leave us waiting for an answer, showing us enough light for one step at a time. And we should respond in thanksgiving for that light, and that step.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Why We Shouldn’t Fear

Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.

Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.

Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”?

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.

Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. 

Isaiah 40:21-31

But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Behold, all who are incensed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish.

You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them; those who war against you shall be as nothing at all.

For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.

Isaiah 41:8-13

A Useless Message?

Isaiah wouldn’t be considered a successful minister. Despite his prophecies, kings did what they wanted, repented only when it seemed they had to, then returned to their selfish, prideful ways.

Isaiah is remarkable because his prophecies pointed down the vast corridors of time to Jesus Christ, our Lord. He reminds us of God’s sovereignty over all matters of life. He reminds us that we don’t even have a frame of reference to interpret God’s ways.

That could be frightening. Imagining God looking down on humanity, regarding the lofty princes and powerful nations as “less than nothing,” and the people as grasshoppers, dust on the scales. We make no impact at all to God.

We don’t like that idea. We like to think that we have a purpose and make our mark on history. We want to be somebody. We want to make a name for ourselves. We believe we can reach the stars or build a tower to heaven. We prefer to think that we can know the deep things of knowledge both of good and evil, and that in that pursuit, we’ll become like God.

It’s all absurd. It would be like the comedy sketch Jim Gaffigan did about the toddlers who try to run away. “Where do you think you’re going?”

Only, with God, it’s even more absurd.

Who Is Like God?

There is nothing to which we can compare God. He is intimately involved in his creation, including all the stars in the galaxy, which he calls by name, not missing a single one.

Think about that when you think you’ve been forgotten by God. He doesn’t regard people the way we do. Pomp and status in our society means nothing to Him. When Jesus stood before Pilate, it was actually Pilate who stood before Jesus, his soul on trial.

With all our striving, we grow tired. Even when we are young, we do not possess the strength to go on forever. There comes a time when we are exhausted, hemmed in on every side.

True Hope of Deliverance

But if we look to the Lord, He renews our strength. He gives power to the faint. Though we be as lame, weak people, we’ll be more than conquerors by His might.

The promise that continues in chapter 41 is to God’s people, not to people in general. It is only the repentant who have put their faith in the absolute justice and holiness of God’s nature, have renounced all claim of control on their life that can then rest in the declarations that follow.

Our enemies will be as nothing at all. We’ll look for them and not find them.

The Lord holds us in His right hand. We need not fear. He is our Lord.