Webster's Dictionary says that "worship" takes place when we have an extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem. In other words, worship happens when what we value most becomes the focus of of our devotion and affection.
If you don't believe me, tell me what you "daydream" about, what you lead with in conversations, what you worry about most, or for what you want to be known for and I'll show you what you worship.
I'll go further. What we worship, we serve. It's the default mode of the human heart.
Think about it. What we treasure most almost always gets placed on the pedestal of our hearts. And we go to great lengths to keep it perched perfectly there. We serve it. We attend to it. We gratify it. When it is threatened, we're like a frenzied mother bear safeguarding her cubs. In the words of INXS, "It ain't pretty when the pretty leaves you."
The Bible has a word for these things we worship. They are called idols.
Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones says an idol is, "anything in our lives that occupies the place that should be occupied by God alone ... An idol is anything by which I live and on which I depend, anything that... holds such a controlling position in my life that ... it moves and rouses and attracts so much of my time and attention, my energy and money."
Within the collective consciousness of our culture, when we hear the word "idol," we probably think of the depiction of it from the classic movie, The Ten Commandments. Fresh off the heels of the Red Sea miracle, the former Egyptian slaves, now freed Israelites, are camping at the foot of Mount Sinai. When Moses, played by Charlton Heston, delays coming down from the mountain, the Israelite's faith in him dissolves and wooed by Dathan, they build a golden calf as an idol to worship in place of Yahweh God.
This idol was crafted because it appeared vital to the Israelites that a replacement be found for Moses, their intermediary (or spokesperson) to God. They were convinced that without an intermediary, there would be no further access to God and no method of securing his grace. Rabbi Lazer Gukow says, "their mistake was that they saw their intermediary (Moses), rather than God, as the initiative for revelation ... They had not yet absorbed the ... concept that man has direct access to God."
The Israelites desired to have an avenue to God but they placed their hope in someone (Moses) that they believed would give them access to what they really wanted, rather than finding their faith in the One. When there was no sign of Moses' return, they crafted a tangible object, as Gukow says, because "physical objects, they reasoned, can be safely preserved; they don't walk away and disappear as Moses did." It was Moses first, and then the Israelites moved to idols, which they felt compelled to devote their attention to. Not a good move.
It may seem silly in the 21st century to think we could ever find ourselves at the foot of a mountain, worshiping a golden idol. Sure, extolling a caramel-colored baby cow seems far fetched, but what if I told you we have our own golden idols we bow down to? Our golden calves are things like work, beauty, children, the American Dream, or money, just to name a few.
Now, work, beauty, children, and money are not bad things but when we take these good things and make them ultimate things, they become what the Bible calls idols. But it's actually worse than that. John Calvin said our hearts are a "perpetual factory of idols." We churn them out as naturally as we breathe in and out oxygen.
Remember the "I Love Lucy" episode where Lucy and Ethel switch jobs with their husbands at the candy factory? There is the scene where Lucy and Ethel are charged with the job of wrapping up chocolates as they come down the assembly line. At first, they feel pretty confident that they can handle the job but before they know it, they can't keep up. The chocolates keep coming and coming and they get further and further behind. They try to hide unwrapped chocolates in their hats, in their clothes, and in their mouths.
This is a lot like what idols resemble in our lives. We are not only Lucy and Ethel but we are the ones on the other side of the wall producing the chocolates. We manufacture idols at a dizzying rate and then, like Lucy and Ethel, we act like they aren't there. I want to let you in on something: they are.
I like how Romans 1:25 says it: " ... they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator." In this passage, the apostle Paul is talking about the first humans, Adam and Eve, and giving us an account of how sin works.
In short, Paul is saying that Adam and Eve didn't "fall" into sin like we would accidentally plunge into a hole but that they literally changed their object of worship. That object of worship became their god. Little "g." And when they did, things have never been the same. Sin entered the world and we became separated from God.
When we change the object of our worship to something created rather than the Creator, it becomes idolatry and idolatry will always mess things up -- just like it did in the Garden of Eden. When you worship at the foot of your "golden calf," you are not in control of it. It will control you.
The raw truth is that idols never deliver what they promise. Ever. They may provide temporal pleasure but they fall short of giving sustaining joy -- the kind of joy we are desperate for. Further, God will not compete with your stuff. He will give you over to it if you want it bad enough.
So trade the "gods" coming down your assembly line for the Creator God. I promise, you will finally find the happiness and rest you've yearned to find.
-(Brad Andrews is lead pastor at Mercyview)
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