June 21: The god of Success

Read Luke 18:18-29

By many accounts, the teachings of Christ in today’s passage seem irrational. The completely selfless proposition of forsaking everything we own to benefit others is counterculture. Thoughts that would generally populate our minds (at least mine at some points) are “I worked hard for this money, it’s mine!” or “Well, what I am supposed to live on?” Why would I ever give up everything, let alone to someone I don’t know?

Money has always been, and continues to be, one of the greatest idols in the eyes of humanity. The man Jesus is speaking to in this passage was incredibly wealthy. He lacked nothing, and yearned for little. Well, except for what he could not buy, a ticket to heaven. Our study of the scripture today picks up when this man encounters God himself, seeking His direction on what he must do to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus turns the wealthy man’s world upside down. He explains to him, “There is nothing you can do to earn your way into heaven. You can try and uphold the law, and practice certain ‘good’ behaviors, but outside of a whole hearted pursuit of, and belief in Jesus Christ, there is no way to heaven.” So Jesus picks the area of the man’s heart He knows has not been surrendered… his finances. The wealthy man held nothing in higher esteem than his treasure, not even God. Jesus tells him to forgo this god in his life, and follow Him. Outside of following Jesus, there is no way to Heaven.

This passage of scripture can often be misinterpreted or taken out of context. Jesus is not saying to give up all of your possessions; quite frankly He doesn’t need them. Jesus wants you to give up your heart. He wants no competition for your love and devotion. So often, our finances can be the front lines of the battleground for our hearts, and it was Christ himself who said, “Where your treasure is, there also your heart will be.” (Luke 12:34)

Where is your treasure? Is your treasure in the hope found in the resurrecting power of Jesus Christ? Or is your hope in your job? Your paycheck? Your stock dividends? If you are struggling with idolizing money, pray to God today to soften your heart, and provide you with wisdom to start living a more selfless lifestyle.

-TAB

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June 20: The god of Entertainment

Read Ecclesiastes 2:1-26

In the time we live, it seems like our culture continues to be driven by an instant gratification mentality. Unfortunately, despite popular opinion, human kind has always been entertainment or pleasure driven; the indulgences of today are just different from the indulgences of yesterday. Yet, the principles of idolizing entertainment are timeless, dating back even to biblical times. Our study today focuses on King Solomon, a man who spent much of his life in pursuit of pleasure.

It is fair to say King Solomon was infatuated with entertainment. He successfully went through just about every worldly vanity. Solomon constructed massive structures, pools, royal gardens, fell to drunkenness, had sexual escapades, owned slaves, amassed large quantities of money, and chased philosophy and wisdom. This does not sound all too different than today, does it?

I am sure we can all relate to at least one if not several of the avenues of entertainment Solomon pursued. People in our time still find pleasure in the pride of building huge homes, laughing at dirty jokes, exploring sexually, acquiring and/or spending large sums of money, and getting drunk. But can any one of these truly give pleasure, better yet joy?

Let us heed the words of the man who experienced all of these “pleasures” and even more. Despite having “everything” defined by worldly standards, Solomon says it is all “Meaningless! Meaningless… everything is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). He had quite literally tried everything, acquired everything, and pursued every bit of knowledge he could obtain; yet he found it all to be meaningless.

Solomon realized true joy is found in a relationship with God. No worldly pleasure will ever compare to satisfaction of the hope of eternity found in the cross. Paul writes to the church in Philippi saying, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ” (Philippians 3:8-9).

We can gain everything; we can idolize the search for pleasure in anything, yet true joy cannot be experienced outside of a relationship with, and pursuit of, the Lord Jesus Christ. Have you made your personal pleasure a god? Lay these entertainment idols at the foot of the cross today in prayer.

-Taylor Bennington (TAB)

Pastoral Intern

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June 19: The god of Sex

Read 2 Samuel 13:1-22

This week, we are considering what it looks like to live life void of other gods and free from idols. Today’s tragic story illustrates the dangers of worshiping the god of sex. Amnon was not the first to fall prey. There were countless before him, and the number since are innumerable as well.

Still, what Amnon did was unthinkable. Not only did he rape a woman, but this was also an act of incest. (Tamar was his half-sister.) For some, the reading of this story and/or simple mention of words like those above may evoke painful memories of past experiences. May I, first of all, let you know that I am praying for you as I write this. Although I have no knowledge of your name or situation, I am asking God to bring healing to you.

Amnon’s story demonstrates the power of the god of sex. He was so obsessed that he became ill. This was not a classic case of a person who was “love sick.” He wanted something that was beyond his natural reach and outside of the supernatural plan of God. The god of sex has a way of making the unthinkable and ungodly inviting.

Jonadab was certainly no help. He encouraged Amnon to pursue the untouchable. Both entertainment and so called “experts” will do that. They can make you feel like you deserve the little fling or the immoral expression.

Eventually, Amnon disregarded the guard rails. He deceived David and Tamar. Eventually, he forced himself on his own family member.

But then came the thing that may surprise us most. After this shameful encounter, his intense love turned to hatred of even greater intensity.

Here is the main point I want to make about the god of sex. Though countless people deceive others or hide their actions to worship this idol, they end up being the deceived ones. Outside of the wrong context of marriage, it creates bondage or brokenness. It will keep a person coming back. It will cause a person to pursue it at deeper and more dangerous levels. It will cause a person to hate others and hate themselves. The god of sex lures with inviting promises only to leave dissatisfied worshipers.

This is a good reminder for us to follow the New Testament instruction. “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” (Eph. 5:3)

sbk

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June 18: Idolatry

Read Exodus 32:1-35

The story of Exodus 32 seems illogical. The inscriptions on the tablets of stone had scarcely cooled from the finger of God writing instructions like “no other god” and “no graven images.” The people of God had recently affirmed their obedience to these instructions with the bold statement, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.” (Ex. 24:7)

Even though the commandments and the commitment were both fresh, from the perspective of the Israelites, Moses sure seemed to be taking too long on the mountain. They asked Aaron to “make us gods who will go before us.” (v. 1) All too quickly, they had forgotten their promise to the faithful God. All too quickly, they had forgotten how He had brought them out of bondage in Egypt. All too quickly, the fact that God had protected them from Pharaoh’s army counted for nothing. All too quickly, they wanted to replace God’s visible leadership through a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. All too quickly, they succumbed to the temptation to be like the surrounding nations with graven gods. All too quickly, they worshiped a golden calf and partied like the holy God of heaven was of no significance.

Ouch! The consequences of those decisions were painful. People lost their lives.

Their story of idolatry invites us to examine our own approach to life. In moments when God’s presence may seem distant, do we quickly forget His past track record of faithfulness? When we don’t know where we are going or how we will get there, do we turn to other gods? When we are disappointed or hurting, do we seek the help of an idol to ease the pain rather than turning to the God who heals?

Before we seek to weed out some of the idolatry of our lives in the days ahead, can I ask that we reflect on God’s faithfulness in the past? If we pause to enumerate the countless ways in which He has evidenced Himself in our lives, we will see no need to turn to anything or anyone else. And, for many of us, if we also pause to reflect on the commitment to Him, we will rethink our efforts before we turn elsewhere.

This exercise of recounting God’s faithfulness and our commitment would be a good one for you to embark on now in prayer.

sbk

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June 17: One God

Read 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

In this devotional series, we are examining the timeless principles outlined in the 10 Commandments. Specifically this week, we are exploring the implications of the first two commandments:

  1. No other gods before God
  2. No graven images to be worshiped

After reading 1 Corinthians 8, you may consider these commands to be unnecessary. After all, Paul makes it clear that “there is no God but one.” (v. 4) Not only is there no other like Him, but He is the one and only. He alone is supreme, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God. He is our creator “from whom all things came” and our sustainer “through whom we live.” (v. 6) He is also the One who ascribes to us purpose as indicated in the statement “for whom we live.” (v. 6)

The commandment, then, to place no other gods before Him is an interesting one. It is instruction that warns against the foolish possibility of ascribing importance to some non-deity…possibly to some imagined or even demonic entity…the worship that only God deserves.

Similarly, this chapter helps us to identify graven images or idols for what they are. “An idol is nothing at all in the world,” Paul says in verse 4. Idols are not representative images of a deity that is really behind them. They have no divine power.

All of this leads us to some interesting conclusions. In spite of the uniqueness of God and the “nothingness” of idols, God deemed it necessary to give the clear instructions of the first two commandments. He recognized the bent of fallen humanity to worship objects, activities, or beings (real or invented) other than Himself. He understood our tendency to subject ourselves to forces other than His omnipotent power. In reality, the only power these other entities possess is either demonic or the power that we ascribe to them. That demonic or ascribed power is dangerous. Guaranteed, it will lead us away from God, and we will find ourselves enslaved to it.

Our idols today are not always represented by an image that we place in a prominent place in our homes and bow before. (Oh, wait! That just sounded a bit like a TV or computer!) Over the days ahead, we will look at some common ones.

Would you begin to ask God to expose any idols that might be in your life.

sbk

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June 16: Goals and Gratitude, part 2

Read Genesis 28:1-22

Jacob had a rich spiritual heritage. He was heir to a promise made originally to his grandfather Abraham and restated to his father, Isaac. Of Isaac’s two sons, Jacob was to be the one through whom the promise of land, people, and blessing would be realized.

But in spite of that great spiritual heritage, Jacob’s faith was still being forged in the fires of divine encounters and life experiences. You see, he had yet to fully own the faith that his family had historically claimed.

This divine encounter at Bethel, however, became a milestone experience in his life. Have you experienced that? Yours did not likely include a voice or a vision. It was probably void of angels and ladders. But it was real, nonetheless. Somehow the promises of God became clear. His provision for you became plain. It was a moving encounter and a milestone event.

Jacob had one of those while resting. And, when he awoke, he expressed his amazement and made a vow . . . a conditional one. Even though God had spoken clearly, renewing the very promises He had made to his dad and granddad, still Jacob wasn’t ready to fully sign on as a God-follower. That final and full commitment was still contingent upon God’s faithful provision and protection in his journey. If God provided and protected, then the Lord would be his God.

Indeed, God honored Jacob’s conditional vow. He was faithful to Jacob. And, eventually, Jacob did give Himself to following the God his family had embraced. Still, before you establish some kind of conditional vow with God — some kind of “If You . . . then I . . .” agreement with God — let me encourage you to consider all of the ways God has already revealed Himself to you. What about all of the ways He has already been faithful?

Better than “If You . . ., then I . . .” is “Because you . . . , therefore I . . .”  Here is the way Paul stated it in Romans 12:1:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”

sbk

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June 15: Goals and Gratitude

Read Psalm 116:1-19

“What shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me?” (v. 12).

That is a good question that deserves a thoughtful response. Anything you might choose to give in return will pale in comparison to His generosity towards you. Even the motive with which you give should be one of gratitude and thanksgiving for a “no strings attached” gift from His grace. It is not one of compensation or repayment for His help.

The psalmist seemed to understand those cautions well. He had experienced God’s incredible provision. In a time of desperation, he had called out to God, and God answered him (vv. 1, 2). At a point when death seemed certain, the Lord had rescued him (vv. 3, 4, 8, 9). By the grace of God, the author’s affliction, anguish, alarm, and tears were gone (vv. 8, 10, 11).

Have you experienced that kind of deliverance in your life? When have you experienced that kind of gracious, divine intervention in your life situations?

So what do you do in response? Though nothing is adequate, you can amp up your love (v. 1). Even though any reply will fall short, you can amplify your expressions of gratitude (vv. 13, 17). And, while anything you might give will seem meager in comparison with the full measure of His grace, you can “fulfill your vow” (vv. 14, 18).

This vow could have been a promise made before the rescue, in the desperation of the moment. Have you ever made one of those? Perhaps it went something like this, “God, if you rescue me from this, I will __________!” Those kinds of promises shouldn’t be made flippantly. Did you ever make a statement like that? Did you experience God’s rescue? Did you follow through with your vow? The psalmist had every intention of following through.

Meanwhile, this vow could have also been a long contemplated, after-the-rescue promise. Rather than an “if you” statement, it could have been a “because you” promise. He could have prayerfully considered, “After having experienced God’s goodness, what shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me?” After coming up with an answer, he joyfully looked forward to completing his vow?

What will you return to the Lord for all his goodness to you?

sbk

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