What You Trust is What You Worship

Baal_thunderbolt_Louvre_AO15775ReDiscovered Word 13

(Judges 1-2)

What brings you peace? What makes you feel secure?

Is it your home or your health or your family or your job? What would you say is the focus of your life and the center of your thoughts?

Because what you trust is what you worship. 

When we read that the Israelites worshipped idols, we think, “That’s not me. I don’t bow to a statue of stone or a block of wood.” Such idolatry is so foreign to most of us that we can’t relate.

We forget, though, that the root of idolatry was an attitude of mistrust toward God. The Israelites worshipped idols because they believed that the gods of the Canaanites would give them what the God of the Universe would not. They worshipped Baal because they hoped he would make it rain, not because they particularly liked statues of bulls. They worshiped Asherah because they hoped she would give them victory in war and success in love.

Understand this: The Israelites returned to their false gods because of what the gods could give them. The God who led them out of Egypt was powerful, but He was also uncontrollable. To worship Yahweh meant giving up control.

The gods of Canaan were impotent, but at least you could tell them what to do. So they traded the one true God for the illusion of stability. They preferred gods who could be manipulated. Pray the right way, recite the right incantations, perform the correct rituals, and the Canaanite deities would do what you asked.

God would take care of them, but only on His terms. Not on their own.

So ask yourself again: Where do you look for security and peace? Because what you trust is also what you worship. 

You can seek to manipulate your life so that the outcome is exactly what you want. You can pray to the gods of hard work, political activism, sexual pleasure, financial security, or worldly prestige. There are thousands of little idols you can set up in your heart. You can perform the right chants and rituals and hold onto the illusion of control.

You aren’t in control, though. The God who made heaven and earth will tolerate no pretenders to His throne. The Israelites learned that painful lesson over and over and over again. They worshipped idols, they self-destructed, they called out to God, He saved them, and then they did it all again. Time and time again.

You and I do the same. We just have a harder time admitting it. We worship God with our lips, yet in our hearts we trust our idols. He offers more than we need or deserve, but we prefer the illusion of control. And like Israel, we suffer because of our failure to trust.

The good news is that He saves us from ourselves. Just as He did for Israel, He offers us another chance. The death and resurrection of Jesus provides a permanent solution to our sin and idolatry.

And today He opens His arms and offers another chance at redemption, another day to trust Him, to purge the idols from our hearts and accept Him as our King. Through the power of His Spirit, from a foundation of grace, He calls us to worship and trust the only God who saves.

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You Are Not Past Your Prime

ReDiscovered Word

(Joshua 14-15)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you think you’re past your prime, you need to meet Caleb. Caleb knew what many do not, that your work isn’t finished until God says you’re done.

When he was young, Caleb had the guts to trust God. When he was old, he had the strength to put his faith into action.

There weren’t any gyms in the wilderness. Moses didn’t start the day leading Zumba classes for the people of Israel. But Caleb stayed strong, because God kept him strong. At the age of eighty-five, he could honestly say that he was as strong as he had been at age forty.

Only Caleb and Joshua were left from their generation of Israelites. The others were dead. Their terrible fear of death became a self-fulfilling prophecy, and one by one they dropped in the wilderness. None of them inherited the Promised Land, because they didn’t believe God could give it to them.

But forty-five years after he spied out the land, Caleb claimed his inheritance. He was just as strong and gutsy as the forty-year-old man he had once been, the man who was so idealistic about God’s power that he was willing to contradict the majority of his countrymen, insisting that God could defeat the giants of Canaan. And at age eighty-five, Caleb did just that, marching into Canaan and driving out the giants to take what God had promised.

Your work is not done until God says it’s done.

It’s easy to idealize youth, to believe that if you aren’t “successful” by age thirty — or certainly by forty — that it’s all over. You’re past your prime. Nothing left to do but sit on the porch and work a Sudoku puzzle. God can find somebody younger or stronger to do the important stuff.

But the Bible is filled with stories of men and women who had their greatest impact in their later years. Abraham. Moses. Caleb. John the Apostle.

They had the impact they did because they never stopped trusting in God’s faithfulness. In every case, they spent years waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled. They spent their lives engaged in the ordinary tasks of obeying God, loving others and asking for the strength to reflect God’s character. When their moments of greatness arrived, they were prepared because of the years they spent cultivating their character. Most of those years they spent in obscurity and in trial and in uncertainty, but they kept trusting Him anyway.

You may not change the world, or conquer a kingdom, or write a beautiful book, but God isn’t finished with you. Not when you’re thirty-five. Not when you’re forty-five. Not when you’re eighty-five. As long as you breathe, there is always another day to trust Him, another day to obey Him, even when the results aren’t dramatic.

So wake up tomorrow and ask for the strength to simply trust Him. Ask for one more day to represent Jesus with what you say and do. Tell Him you’ll obey Him in small ways and in big ways, until the day your body gives out. And on that day, you can look ahead — much like Caleb — and remember God’s promise of resurrection. You can remember that you’re not past your prime, that your prime is still ahead of you and will in fact last forever.

Your work is not done until God says it’s done. And His promises never go away until the day they’re fulfilled. Caleb knew the truth, and his life exhorts us to remember it also.

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A Sickness Worse Than Ebola

afraid_eyeFor the past two weeks, my Facebook feed has been littered with updates about the Ebola virus. Some people are afraid it’s going to spread, while others are saying it won’t. Some are saying the government isn’t protecting us well enough, and a few are just cracking clever Ebola jokes.

All the angst about Ebola highlights a deeper sickness in our hearts, a sickness that can’t be cured with any antiviral drug. We are infected with a deep fear of death and paralyzed by our lack of trust in God.

“Do not worry,” Jesus said. “Who of you, by being worried, can add a single hour to his life?”

Jesus said those words for a good reason. He knew that all of us wrestle with fear. All of us lie awake at times and imagine monsters in our closet and outside our door. We see the shadow of death lurking at the threshold of our lives, and our fear turns to terror. Our terror turns us inward, to the point that all we care about is self-preservation.

Jesus warned us about fear, and his disciples repeated the warning over and over again (Philippians 4:6-7; 1 Peter 5:7; 1 John 4:18). Why? Because fear drives us to the kind of selfishness that prevents us from caring about other people. Fear focuses our attention on what we cannot control and we lose sight of what matters.

Worst of all, fear makes us forget the power of God. Fear drove Abraham to lie about his wife Sarah, even though he knew that God was stronger than Pharaoh. Fear drove Moses to argue with God, even when he saw God’s presence in the burning bush. Fear drove the Israelites to harden their hearts and worship idols, right after they saw Him part the Red Sea and drown the Egyptians.

When we allow fear to have free reign in our hearts and minds, the result is devastating to our walk with God.

I wrestle with anxiety sometimes, and on my worst days it dominates my heart and mind. All of the “what ifs” add up and threaten to drown out God’s voice. What’s terrible is that my worst fears center on things I cannot control. Fear makes me small-minded and mean. I find myself snapping at my kids and growing angry with my co-workers. Fear is a terrorist, and it’s always plotting a coup. If we allow it, fear will take over and eject God’s goodness from our hearts.

If Ebola terrifies you, I have bad news and good news. Here’s the bad news: if Jesus doesn’t come back in the next few years, we’re all going to die. Maybe we will die of Ebola. More likely it will be something else. Some other disease, or an accident, or just old age. What’s even worse news is that the United States government can’t stop it. Every American will die, just like every African and everybody everywhere. You and I are already dying because of Adam’s sin and our own.

But here’s the good news: The God who parted the Red Sea and knocked down the walls of Jericho is the same God who raised His Son from the dead. That means that death is not the last word. Even if we die from a terrible virus, death cannot win. Every person connected to Jesus through faith will rise again and reign with Him.

Christians ought to be the bravest men and women in the world. Instead of locking the doors, we’re called to open them up and share the good news. Death is overcome. No fear can destroy us forever.

Instead of praying to the government, we pray to the God who rules the universe. He alone can overcome disease and death and bring us life that never ends. Governments and doctors are helpful to a point, but they cannot ultimately stop death. Only God can do that.

What is the antidote to the fear that paralyzes our hearts? Steep yourself in the Word of God. Read and remember the stories of His power. Set up a memorial stone in your heart so that you will not forget, an ebenezer to remind you of all He’s done and all He’s yet to do. He will not abandon his people to death.

We are called to be brave. We are called to pray for those who are suffering and help them in their pain. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, knowing that He risked death and exposure to all of our troubles. He incarnated Himself and entered our mess, determined to save us. He calls us to model His incarnation, to love others and pray for them, and to refuse to be paralyzed with fear.

There is a sickness worse than Ebola, and it’s called terror. There’s also a cure, and its name is resurrection.

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God Sees in the Dark


(Joshua 7)

There is no private sin. Even when you turn off the lights, God sees. Even when you’re in the dark, people suffer.

Just like you and me, Achan tried to hide his sin. He buried his stolen loot in the ground beneath his tent. It was a perfect plan, one that nobody could possibly discover. Only his family knew, and they weren’t talking.

But God saw Achan’s sin, and the whole nation suffered for it. They were defeated at the battle of Ai, and God told Joshua that one of his countrymen was a thief. Achan died for his sin, and his family died for the cover-up. When God knows your heart, there’s nowhere you can hide.

We still try to hide, though. We are so afraid that our sin will be found out that we turn off the lights and pretend nobody knows. We lie to ourselves, saying that private sin doesn’t harm anybody else.

What’s a little private greed or lust or theft? We convince ourselves that our selfishness and pride and dishonesty doesn’t affect the way we treat others.

The lie of Achan is that image is everything. But image without character is just a mirage. 

God cares about our hearts. God sees deep inside of us and knows who we really are. He hates all sin, but he especially despises lies and deceit. So He exposes secret sin and punishes it.

He always gives us a chance to confess, though. It’s always better to bring our own sin into the light instead of waiting for God to drag us there. Just like Achan, we have every opportunity to confess. Achan chose to die in his sin. Will you and I do the same?

The God of justice and mercy sees all and knows all. Every sin will eventually come to light, along with every secret thought. We cannot hide because God has already found us out. And He provided a path to mercy and forgiveness through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

So come into the light. Hiding leads to death. Confession leads to mercy.

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