Tag Archives: Idolatry

God’s Greatest Adversaries Are His Gifts

idolatryThe greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18-20). The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable.

Jesus said some people hear the word of God, and a desire for God is awakened in their hearts. But then, “as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life” (Luke 8:14). In another place he said, “The desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:19). “The pleasures of this life” and “the desires for other things”—these are not evil in themselves. These are not vices. These are gifts of God. They are your basic meat and pota- toes and coffee and gardening and reading and decorating and traveling and investing and TV-watching and Internet-surfing and shopping and exercising and collecting and talking. And all of them can become deadly substitutes for God.

John Piper, Hunger for God14-15.

Image Credit: Crossway

HT: Ryan Loveing (Life Action Ministries)

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The Man-Centeredness of Prosperity Theology

Prosperity teaching raises the very question that Satan asked God: “Does Job fear God for nothing?” (Job 1:9). Though Job’s faith was proved genuine, many other people are less interested in God himself than in the fringe benefits we claim that he offers. The world comes to a prosperous Church with mixed motives. As Sir Robert L’Estrange, a seventeenth-century British journalist, observed, “He that serves God for money will serve the devil for better wages.”

The central problem with the health-and-wealth gospel is that it’s man-centered, not God-centered. When approached from a “prosperity” posture, prayer degenerates into coercion, by which we “name it and claim it,” pulling God’s leash until he follows our whims. We attempt to arm-twist the Almighty into increasing our comforts and underwriting lifestyles about which we’ve not bothered to consult him in the first place.

“Faith” becomes a crowbar to break down the door of God’s reluctance, rather than a humble attempt to lay hold of his willingness. When we claim the blood of Christ, believing that God must take away this illness or handicap or financial hardship, are we asking him to remove the very things he has put into our lives to make us more Christlike?

We treat God as an object, a tool, a means to an end. God’s blessing on financial giving is turned into a money-back guarantee whereby he is obligated to do precisely what we want. A Florida man heard a pastor say that if the man gave a hundred dollars, God would give him a thousand dollars back. When the thousand never came, he filed a lawsuit against the church.

In prosperity theology, God is seen as a great no-lose lottery in the sky, a cosmic slot machine into which you put in a coin and pull the lever, then stick out your hat and catch the winnings while your “casino buddies” (or fellow Christians) whoop and holler (or say “Amen”) and wait their turn in line.

God’s reason for existing, apparently, is to give us what we want. If we had no needs, God would probably just disappear. After all, what purpose would he serve? This feeble theology reduces prayer to an endless “wish list” that we take before our Santa God. Many healthy and wealthy Christians view God as little more than a wish-granting fairy. We call him “Master” but treat him like a genie. Instead of rubbing a lamp, we quote a verse or say “Praise the Lord” three times, and presto-change-o, abracadabra, the smoky God with the funny hat and big biceps is indebted to act out the script we’ve written for him. Consider God’s role in relation to us in these words of a prominent preacher of prosperity: “Put God to work for you and maximize your potential in our divinely ordered capitalist system.”

Our pragmatic use of God demonstrates a clear lack of interest in God himself. After all, who cares what a genie is like? Genies serve one purpose—to grant us our wishes and make us prosperous and happy. Instead of being the great subject of our faith, for many of us God is merely an object—which explains the glut of sermons, books, articles, seminars, and conversations about us and the dearth of those about God. He is introduced and dismissed at our convenience. “You can go now, God—I’ll call you back when I think of something else I want.”

The Bible shows us a very different picture of God, in which he is central, his glory is the focal point of the universe, and his sovereign purpose entitles him to do what he wills, even when it violates what we want and expect.

When righteous Job lost everything, even his own sons and daughters, he fell to the ground and worshiped God, saying, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” We’re told, “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (Job 1:21-22).

In contrast, when advocates of a prosperity gospel lose their health and wealth, they often lose their faith. They conclude that they must have committed some unknown sin. If they could only find it and confess it, they would get their health and wealth back. The only other alternative is that God’s promises are not true, that God is undependable, or that he’s forsaken them. Job’s wife said, “Curse God and die.” Job’s response was a simple question that exposes the shallowness of prosperity theology: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:9-10).

Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions, and Eternity, Chapter 6.

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The Idolatry of Dissatisfaction

It was all you ever knew.  It was all your parents ever knew, as well as the rest of your family.  It was all that any of your people had ever known.  Up before sunrise, awakened by the call of your master’s voice.  Grueling, seemingly endless labor surpassed the day and fear of torture or death covered your bed through the night.  That is, until you were redeemed from your slavery.  A far off King, having known of your plight, set forth an ancient plan that would forever change your life.  He sent His man into your country of captivity and began to work wonders amongst the people and herald the impending judgment coming by the hand of the King.  Your captors mocked and increased your oppression, which aroused mummers against the King. And then it happened: the King’s man proclaimed one final judgment – death would sweep the land.  As hope fled from your people, the King sent a message, “I will pay the price required.”  Under the darkness of night the King’s wrath was poured out, yet you and your people remained.  With the fragrance of death in the air, your captors had been destroyed.  At the price of life taken, you have been set free, given life, and brought under the care of the King.

Immediately you begin your sojourn to the land of the King.  The journey is hard but the King’s provisions are abundant and continue to rain down.  And your constant hope is the promise the King has made that when you reach His land you will dine with Him forevermore as one of His own. After many years sojourning, you arrive at a glorious sight – the kingdom of the King.  You are ushered quickly to the King’s palace and into a grand hall to await the entrance of the King and the banquet He has prepared for your coming.  Great anticipation fills your heart and your mind.  What will He look like?  What will He be like?  How should I act?  How can I thank Him?

After years of being fed out of the King’s rations in your travels, you begin to inquire about the contents of the banquet.  There had been many times while on your journey that you and others would long for the delicacies you enjoyed while in your captivity, and at times even grumbling about the King’s food.  But surely it would be different now.  You think, surely the King would have all that you desired and, as you await His arrival, your mind is flooded with the longings of your heart.  These fantasies deafen your ears to the sound of the trumpet call announcing the entry of the King.  As you are led into the banquet room, the sweet and savory fragrances carry you further into your fantasies, blinding you to the presence of the King.  A servant declares, “Taste and see the King’s goodness towards you.”  You dig in but quickly push back in wonder.  You look back and forth along the table spread before you and drop your head in disappointment.  After all this time awaiting this moment, you complain: “How could He forget to have _________? If only He had prepared __________ then everything would be perfect!”  Then, as though the whole world stopped, the King rises from His throne, walks to your seat, kneels beside you and says, “I have redeemed you, made you my own, given you all things that are mine, constantly cared for you in every turn of life…”  And as He continues, you notice battle wounds on His hands and His feet and remember the story you had been told of your redemption.  The King had not sent His warriors to defeat your captors or to pay the price due but it had been the King who had given Himself in battle as a price for your freedom.  He died that you would have life.

A flood of tears rush from your eyes.  Never before had you understood that the provisions and care in your journey, the promise of a blessed inheritance, and the promise of dining at the table of the King forevermore were not the treasure but the King Himself.  Broken by your grumbling and unbelieving heart, you fall prostrate before the King and begin to declare His glory for all to hear, proclaiming:

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,

to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might

and honor and glory and blessing!”

One of the most ignored sins in Christianity is complaining or grumbling.  While no analogy is perfect, the story above is a picture of our hearts every time we complain about anything.  The sin of complaining may not sound that terrible in comparison to others (adultery, theft, murder) but before God it is abominable.  Several times after the exodus from the Egyptian captivity the Israelites grumbled about their situation, against Moses and ultimately against God. God’s anger was kindled each time and He was prepared to wipe them out of existence and many were destroyed (Num. 11, 14, 16).  Paul even picks up on this in 1 Corinthians 10, linking their complaining with idolatry and warning believers not to test God in this way.  It is easy for us to think that this doesn’t applies to us, feeling that we are quite content with our life, but ask yourself a few heart diagnostics:

  • Do you get physically, emotionally, or mentally angry when you are stuck in traffic, get stopped by every stoplight, or are made late by other people or circumstances?
  • When you go out to eat and the service, food, or atmosphere of the restaurant is not too your liking, does it ruin your meal and mood?
  • Do you criticize the decisions of those in authority over you (in government, at work, at home, and at church)?
  • Are you perpetually dissatisfied with your life (looks, status, income, wife, husband, kids, etc.)?  Do you constantly buy into the “grass is greener” deception?
  • Are your conversations with others or your social networking (Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, etc.) filled with complaints or criticism?
  • Do you have a hard time being thankful “in all things” or to rejoice “at all times”?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, there is a good chance that you have a problem with complaining.  If those questions didn’t get you, then ask yourself this, “Do you sin?” Now we are all in trouble because none of us are exempt from that last question.  You see, every time we sin we are trying to put ourselves in the place of God, usurping Him with our dissatisfaction, literally complaining that what God was doing wasn’t good enough so we had to take over.  Not only that, but every sin is unbelief.  A. W. Tozer said, “At the moment of sin, we are all practical atheists.”  Our sin, especially the sin of complaining, reveals that we do not believe God to be who He has revealed Himself to be or to do what He has said He will do.  Stephen Altrogge, in his book The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence, unravels several misrepresentations we proclaim about God to ourselves and to the world when we complain.

Complaining Declares that God is:

  • An Unkind Master – When we complain, we’re saying that God hasn’t been good to us.  We are making a loud statement to ourselves and to the rest of the world that God hasn’t been a good master…. [It is] blindness to all God has done for us (103-4).
  • A Helpless God – When I complain, I’m preaching to myself and everyone else that God is helpless.  I’m saying that God doesn’t know what he’s doing when it comes to my life, that God is a new driver behind the wheel of the universe (105).
  • Open to Our Judgment – When we complain, we accuse God. We drag God to the witness stand and demand that he give an account for his actions…. we’re accusing God of hating us… of not caring for us…of deliberate neglect (107-8).
  • Not the Source of Joy – When we complain, we portray God as a joyless Scrooge in the sky, a miserable master who has no time for happiness.  We show our neighbors and friends that followers of Jesus are scowling, joyless drips who follows a joyless master (110).

That’s what our complaining proclaims about God, but what does He tell us about Himself.  Like the story above, God is not only the King of kings but He is a loving master as well, who gives Himself for His people.  The King Himself, Jesus, said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45).  God has not revealed Himself as helpless but the One who created and controls all things.  Ultimately, complaining is a rejection of or mistrust of God’s sovereignty.  We want to control our lives.  We think we know what’s best for us, but the presence of sin in all of us screams otherwise.  God is the all-wise, all-powerful, all-good God who, as He has declared, is working together in ALL things for the good of His own that they may be transformed into the image of Christ.  That means every circumstance whether good or bad in your estimation, every person in your life whether a good or bad relationship, and every thing in your life has been purposefully orchestrated by the sovereign hand of God for your good and His glory.  Not only that but all this is beyond our understanding and judgment.  We, His rebellious creatures, have no right nor ability to truly call God to give account.  Paul, after writing about God’s wondrous plan of redemption, proclaims:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Rom. 11:33-36)

Lastly, God is not a joyless tyrant, rather He is the source of all joy and pleasure.  To know Him is to know joy.  To follow him is to find the source of all pleasure.  Psalm 16:11 declares, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right had are pleasures forevermore.”  If we are to know this immeasurable joy and pleasure we must know Him who came to give us those things, Christ our Lord.  If you need joy, run to to Christ.  If you desire pleasure, follow Christ and He will give you the greatest joy and pleasure that you could ever imagine – Himself.

Altrogge writes, “Complaining is blindness… Blindness to the mercies that surround us.  Blindness to the blessings that greet us with the sunrise.  It’s as if we’re standing on top of a mountain of gold coins complaining about a quarter we lost.  God has dumped many, many blessings on us, and we’re whining about the one thing we don’t have (103-4).  If you are in Christ, you have been given life, set free from your captivity to sin, made a child of God, given an inheritance with Christ, and are being kept by the power of God, awaiting a weight of glory beyond comparison.  We are undeserving slaves rebelling against our redeemer when we complain.  We must repent of our complaining and remember all that God is and all that He has done for us.  We must confess the sin of our unbelieving hearts and cling to the promises of God in Christ.  We must rejoice with thankful hearts for the gift of grace found in the surpassing pleasure of knowing Jesus Christ.  When we set our minds on the things above, our complaining hearts and mouths should stand silent before the gracious and holy King of kings.  Behold and be satisfied.

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.” – Philippians 2:14-16

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