"The First and the Last"
Jeremiah 10:11-16; Galatians 5:19-21
Pastor Tom Millner
SpiritSong Worship Center
December 13, 2009
A professor stood in front of his classroom and declared; "there is no God." Even more boldly he said; "if there is a God in heaven, let him strike me down." Nothing happened. The professor shook his head and a few moments later repeated; "if there is a God in heaven, let him strike me down." He stood there with fists and teeth clenched. A young ex-marine in the back got to his feet, went forward to the professor and knocked him squarely off his podium. Startled and smarting from the blow the professor stood and said; "I said that if there really is a God that HE knock me down." The young man replied; "He was busy so He sent me!"
In describing ancient idolatry, William Barclay made this declaration (from Barclay, The Letter to the Colossians, p.182) "The essence of idolatry is the desire to get. A man sets up an idol and worships it because he desires to get something out of God. To put it bluntly, he believes that by his sacrifices and his gifts and his worship, he can persuade, or even bribe God into giving him what he desires." This is not just ancient idolatry; it is current and modern idolatry as well. "The essence of idolatry is the desire to get." This elevates the royal ME above the holy HE in our lives. Let's look at some subtle (and not so subtle) ways in which we succumb to idolatry in our lives today.
- "Going for the feeling." God is not found in the way I feel Him. How many times have you heard someone say; "I'm just not feeling it?" I don't "feel" the presence of His Spirit now. Or I don't "feel" the love for you anymore. I don't feel like going to that event this evening. I don't feel like going to worship today. I don't feel the music today. I don't feel like you respect me. I don't feel like I measure up. I don't feel like I'm loved. What happens when we have a feeling gap? We think there's something wrong – something missing. We don't like this emotional dissonance because we've been taught that feelings are related to safety and security – so if there's something off, we need to make it different. I don't feel the excitement, I don't feel the joy…therefore, I must seek to fill the feeling. When we seek to fill the feeling, we seek the god of our feelings while ignoring the feelings of the God who has already given us everything we need and could ever hope for – the mercy to spare us from what we really deserve and the grace to receive what we really don't deserve. Our feelings can present us with the greatest source of deceit. Why? – Because they give us our greatest moments of satisfaction. Therein lays the rub. We tend to believe that faith, worship, and hope are contingent upon our own satisfaction. NOT the case. Do you believe that Christ was more than our great example; that Christ was the great exception to our very nature? Recall the account in scripture when Jesus was in the garden the evening before his crucifixion – do you think he was "feeling" the love as He looked toward the morning and the pain He was about to suffer? All feelings aside were placed as He asserted "Not my will but thine be done." Therein lay His satisfaction – not the feeling – that He had surrendered self-interest to the greater interest of the Father – the greater good of all human-kind!
- Obsession with having things our way. When I was in India, after having found my beautiful daughter as an infant, I had the occasion to visit Mother Theresa's Ashram in the depths of the slums of Ahmadabad. Stepping from the street into the compound was like stepping from the cesspool into the palace. It was the place I wanted my future daughter to be while I waited for the court process to be completed. Three of the Sisters came to visit with the family with which I was staying there. We had a wonderful time sharing jokes and stories and some tasty Indian treats. When it was time for them to leave, recalling the pristine appearance of their abode, I stated that I would pay for a rickshaw to return them safely. "No thank you," they stated; "we'll take the bus." The thought horrified me. The buses were overcrowded and people were literally hanging out the windows. "I insist," I responded; "you'll be much more comfortable in a rickshaw." "You don't understand," they replied; "we don't know who God will put in our path that needs the care He has called us to bring." I was obsessed with their comfort – they were resolved to His calling. How often do we overlook the purpose of our God by obsessing about our way of thinking? We should even listen to our prayers some times. We pray as though a few special words, a quote of scripture out of its context, and a firm demand, will somehow put the creator of the universe in a place to do our bidding. We disregard His divine purpose and plan that is far greater and more expansive than our limited minds can comprehend. We walk all over those who dare not do things our way, ignore the blessing of discovering the heart's desire of the other, then dare to ask God "WHY" when things don't' go our way. That leads us to the third way we succumb to idolatry in our lives.
- Demanding that God follow our will. This can be a subtle one! You see, from the earliest times in our childhood, we hear the positive message that "if you can dream it, you can be it." Mega churches are built on the notion of positive affirmations that render God obliged to return the blessings we do deeply desire. After all, doesn't scripture state "you have not because you ask not?" "All things are possible!" How many times have we heard from the electronic pulpit "God desires you to be successful in fulfilling your dreams?" The God of our dreams who gives me everything my heart desires – now that's the god for me! Give more and receive more. What a return on my investment! Jesus patently resisted these temptations when in the desert after His baptism. Matthew 4:3-11 "The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread."(In other words, "you're in control here; you're hungry; take what you need to satisfy your hunger – you have the right – God will follow your will!" ) Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.' "Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. If you are the Son of God, he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: " 'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.' (In other words, "show everyone how great you are, after all, God's not going to let His main man be hurt. God desires you to be successful in all you do!") Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' "Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. All this I will give you, he said, "if you will bow down and worship me."(In other words – carpe diem – cease the day, Jesus! Why put off till tomorrow what can be in your grasp today! After all, it's all about you, Jesus!) Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.' "Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him." So the three main areas that we can fall victim to the temptation to demand God to meet our will are: 1. Our physical needs, 2. Our ego needs – prove He's on our side, and 3. Our greed – give me more and give me now! God gives the antidote, however – 1, God's word supersedes even our physical urges; 2, God is not our personal little god to put to the test; 3, Worship Him only!
- Self interest superseding service! The Boy Scout was 35 minutes late for the troop meeting. The meeting last month was about offering service to others and at the beginning of every meeting; each individual had the opportunity to share ways in which they had been of service to someone in the community. When young Bobby arrived, his uniform was torn, his hair was disheveled, his face was scratched and bleeding and he was sporting a fresh black eye. "What happened to you, Bobby?" the Scout Master asked. "I stopped to help a little old lady across the street," Bobby responded with a proud smile. "How noble of you, Bobby – what an act of service," the Scout Master retorted. Tell me, how do you come by that torn uniform, the scratched face and the black eye?" "She didn't want to go," responded Bobby! It's funny, but it's tragically human. We want to serve God in our way whether He wants our service in that way or not. Then we wonder why we wind up wounded in frustrated because after all, I did my utmost for you God! We think that because we have a desire and a little bit of information, we can shower God with the blessing of our service that makes us feel like we've accomplished so much. "O God, if others could just see what a humble hero I really am!" Let's get it clear, honey – the heart God seeks is not the hero, it's not the self-willed one, it's not the self-obsessed one, nor the glory to the feeling one; it's the broken one! The one that says –"not my will but thine be done;" the one that is becoming self-less, obsessed less, demand-less, and feel-less.
My friend Jack says everything is cause and effect. I think of it as behavior and consequence. The consequence of our demanding things our way: Galatians 5:19-21 "sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like." The consequences of giving first place to God: Galatians 5:22-23 "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self- control. Against such things there is no law." Who wants to be first? Then take the position that is last. In that position you'll find the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control that you've always sought. There and only there will you find these things that are the free gift of the FIRST and only GOD in your life!