As a minister, believe it or not, the church can be my Buddha; it can be my dead and obese idol of choice. The temptation is always before me to over-value increased membership, happy and unified elders, more and better facilities, additional staff, fantastic programs, theological degrees, blog readership stats, church fame, personal notoriety, hearing people praise my ministerial skills, and receiving a larger salary. Yes, sadly, all these things are like heroine to my heart. If I am not careful, I give faith, honor, glory, and worship to the church of Christ and not the Christ of the church.
When I go to eat at one of the local Chinese restaurants in my city, a statue of Buddha can be seen perched near the front door. This pagan idol shows the allegiance of the business owners. It presents to their patrons that in which they trust. Sadly, their statue also proclaims they are still in bondage to sin, in allegiance with the dark side, and at enmity with God. My very hard working neighbors are missing the delight of being united with Jesus Christ and adopted by the Heavenly Father. They have passed on enjoying a relationship with the Prince of Peace and are giving faith, honor, glory, and worship to a dead obese man.
Similar idolatry can occur when a teenager enters the mall, when a fitness junky visits the gym, when the businessman drives down the motor-mile, when the single individual logs on to Match.com, when a soccer mom selects and adorns her house, or when a political activist looks with longing at his or her favorite candidate. Clothes, shoes, health, muscles, fine driving machines, spouses, homes, furniture, and excellent candidates are not sinful; as a matter of fact they are good gifts of God. However, when one trusts in these things to satisfy, save, and provide meaning in life, they prove their hearts are in the wrong place. Even though they may worship Jesus Christ in church on Sunday, they are giving faith, honor, glory, and worship to dead and obese things.
As a minister, believe it or not, the church can be my Buddha; it can be my dead and obese idol of choice. The temptation is always before me to over-value increased membership, happy and unified elders, more and better facilities, additional staff, fantastic programs, theological degrees, blog readership stats, church fame, personal notoriety, hearing people praise my ministerial skills, and receiving a larger salary. Yes, sadly, all these things are like heroine to my heart. If I am not careful, I give faith, honor, glory, and worship to the church of Christ and not the Christ of the church. I worship the gifts and not the Giver, and then I whine when the Giver takes away a few of his gifts. And friends, my Jealous Father is so saddened by my idolatrous affections. As a matter of fact, God is probably more saddened over my Presbyterian idolatry than he is over that of my pagan neighbors.
So what is your idol? Could it be food, alcohol, sex, jewelry, antiques, sex, children, popularity, vocation, knowledge, fame, ease? Consider these questions as you evaluate your heart:
- What do you focus most upon?
- What gives you the greatest highs and lows?
- What do you day-dream about?
- For what do you extend most of your physical energy?
- Why do you work?
- Where are you seeking to find your comfort?
- What is on your “must have” list?
- For what are you willing to make ultimate sacrifices?
- In what are you placing your trust for peace?
- In what are you placing your trust for significance?
- What can be taken away from you that will ruin tomorrow?
- What tempts you to compromise before the face of God?
- What tempts you to take your own life?
- If three wishes could be granted, for what would you wish?
- When you prayed yesterday, what was the primary content of your conversation? Was it your relationship with the Prince of Peace?
Therefore friends, when I read Ezekiel this week, I thought about me. In this portion of God’s Word, elders were assembled before Ezekiel, and he had a message for them. He pleaded with them to note their offensive idols and repent. Ezekiel begged God’s people to get rid of their dead and obese idols:
Then certain of the elders of Israel came to me and sat before me. And the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces. Should I indeed let myself be consulted by them? Therefore speak to them and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Any one of the house of Israel who takes his idols into his heart and sets the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to the prophet, I the Lord will answer him as he comes with the multitude of his idols, that I may lay hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, who are all estranged from me through their idols. “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations. For any one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel, who separates himself from me, taking his idols into his heart and putting the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to a prophet to consult me through him, I the Lord will answer him myself. And I will set my face against that man; I will make him a sign and a byword and cut him off from the midst of my people, and you shall know that I am the Lord. And if the prophet is deceived and speaks a word, I, the Lord, have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand against him and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel. (Ezekiel 14:1-9)
Here we see four statements:
- God’s people have a multitude of idols.
- God’s people hold on to their many idols as they seek to worship God.
- God’s people have a Loving and Jealous God who will not allow them to be satisfied with their idols.
- God’s people should willingly repent before their Loving and Jealous God forces them to repent. He is not a God who leaves his people alone. He is also a God who will not share.
Therefore readers, what ought we to do?
We who do not know Jesus, let us repent and worship the Savior. God forbids our idolatry. He loathes it, and he damns it. Hell is made for perpetual idolaters like us who are not concerned over our transgression. Have we heard the story about Jesus? He came to earth, earned our required merit, and he paid all our earned demerit. Yes, because he loves those who call upon him, Jesus obeyed the Father, had no idols, worshiped properly, and then was pinned to the cross to receive the just consequences of a pagan idolater. By the hand of the Heavenly Father, Jesus was executed as a Buddha worshiper. He was treated like one addicted to materialism and hedonism. He was crushed for many who placed ultimate value in dead and obese idols. Then, following his condemnation and death, Jesus rose from the grave. Now, consider what Jesus is doing. Through Ezekiel’s preaching and Joe’s blog, the Prince of Peace is calling us to repent. Idol worshiper, bow the knee and join his family! Why will we not learn from our own dissatisfied history? Why will you not leave our dead and obese idols and worship the living Christ?
Then, a word for us who do know Jesus. Will we not learn from our own tragic and dissatisfied history? Will we continue to carry the name of Jesus in our hearts while clutching our idols with our hands? How much longer will we trade one in and grab another. Jesus is the only one worthy of our faith, honor, glory, and worship. Let us repent! Let us keep repenting. Let us go to him in prayer and talk with him about our many lovers. Let us ask him to reveal those “good things” in which we have placed too much trust and significance. Let us ask him for an increased measure of godly sorrow that concludes in Christ-honoring reconciliation and joy. Let us beg him to decrease our affection for other things while he inflames our souls for him. Brothers and sisters, you who like me worship other gods, let us repent before the face of our loving and gracious Savior. He stands before us now with tender arms wide open. Let us do so willingly, quickly, and eagerly. In addition, let us be warned. If we do not repent, he promises to use his strong, loving, and tender arms to pry us from our idols. He will not share space. He will not leave us alone. He loves us too much. He abhors dead and obese substitutes.
Joseph A. Franks IV is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of Palmetto Hills Presbyterian Church in Simpsonville, South Carolina. This article first appeared on his blog, and is used with permission.