Listen up, you people…part 2

Listen to this message from God, O King of Judah, sitting on David’s throne; and let your servants and your people listen too. The Lord says, “Be fair-minded. Do what is right! Help those in need of justice! Quit your evil deeds! Protect the rights of aliens and immigrants, orphans and widows; stop murdering the innocent! If you put an end to all these terrible deeds you are doing, then I will deliver this nation and once more give kings to sit on David’s throne, and there shall be prosperity for all.”

And woe to you King Jehoiachin, for you are building your great palace with forced labor (slave labor). By not paying wages you are building injustice into its walls, and oppression into its doorframes and ceilings….Why did your father Josiah reign so long? Because he was just and fair in all his dealings. That is why the Lord blessed him. He saw to it that justice and help were given the poor and needy and all went well for him. This is how a man lives close to God. Jeremiah 22:2-4, 13, 15-16 (TLB)

Please refer to my previous post (part 1).

The second major point that I see in the Book of Jeremiah (as with nearly all the major and minor prophets) is the tremendous emphasis on “social justice.” I know that is a loaded term now days, but the above verses put it in context. One cannot get away from this clarion call that God wants his people and their leaders to “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) The problem I see is that some isolate justice issues and empty them of their spiritual dimension. In the same way, others isolate the spiritual from social realities—separating out walking humbly with God from doing justice and loving mercy.

Israel was punished by God because of idolatry; they broke the first and second commandments and all of their other grievous sins as outlined in the passages above flowed out of this. “Idolatry isn’t just one of many sins; rather it’s the greatest sin that all others come from….Idolatry isn’t an issue; it is the issue.” (Kyle Idleman) Read Ezekiel 20 and see that the history of Israel was a history of idolatry.

The “social justice issues” raised in the passages above illustrate this. Protecting the rights of the most vulnerable, providing justice for the oppressed, paying fair wages, etc., flow from knowing and worshipping the true God and bestowing honor and dignity upon all those whom he has created. Replacing the knowledge and worship of the true God with idolatry (like King Jehoiachin and Israel had done) exposed the social order to injustice and removed the protective shield of ultimate value of the individual that worship of the true God alone provides.

Paul’s graphic portrayal of idolatry in Romans 1:21-32 clearly reveals the connection between the refusal to believe in the Creator God, the worship of created things (idolatry), and all forms of consequences which plague our world, our society, our families, and our own personal lives today. When we exchange the truth of God for a lie, we believe the lie and live our lives any way we choose, often to our own self-destruction. We also give ultimate value to issues that we deem most important such as freedom, nationalism, institutional racism, social justice, immigration, reparations. We worship these idols and they drive us to actions where the end often justify the means—like an attack on the Capitol. When you have a god before God it can lead to a toxic and self-destructive springboard to all kinds of havoc and injustice.

“Racism, therefore, is not merely horizontally unjust, depriving other creatures of what they are due; it is also vertically unjust, failing to give the Creator his due by making race and ultimate issue of devotion….Look deep enough underneath any horizontal human-against-human injustice and you will always find a vertical human-against-God injustice, a refusal to give the Creator the worship only the Creator is due.All injustice is a violation of the first commandment” (Thaddeus Williams, “Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth.” p 18)

The Black church was at the center of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s-60s. Many of its most prominent leaders were empowered by the belief that all humanity was the children of God to be treated with justice, kindness, and equality—because God gave them that dignity. As long as we fail to recognize that all injustice is a deeply spiritual issue (“a violation of the first commandment”), we will never have a unified platform from which to solve the multiplex of social justice issues facing us today. Instead, we will divide ourselves into tribes, declare war on other tribes, and arrive at solutions that only satisfy our tribe and the gods we worship. Our nation needs revival if it is to have unity!

Addictions: the Cult of Self-Worship

Addiction-Series-The-Heart-of-AddictionThe disease model of addiction has become the prevalent paradigm by which our culture understands the subject. Certainly the influence of genetics and the biological and physiological components of addiction need to be recognized for effective treatment. However, most recovering addicts that I have spoken to have recognized a far deeper issue that needed to be addressed. They remembered days of being out of control; when they reached the point when “the drink (or drug) made the choice” and not them. Yet, when they sobered up for any length of time they recognized the need to take responsibility for their powerless condition and to realize they were not helpless; though they felt out of control, they still had to make choices. While genetics and biology may influence addiction, they cannot an addict make. There is a vast difference between influence and determinism.

God created us with physical needs and desires which when kept within the boundaries of our love and obedience to him can lead to pleasure and joy. However, sinful human nature wants to consume these cravings upon itself and enjoy them without the limits of restraint. These become our idols and we worship them so they will give us what we want. Edward Welch in his helpful book Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave writes: “The purpose of all idolatry is to manipulate the idol for our own benefit. This means we don’t want to be ruled by idols. Instead, we want to use them. For example, when Elijah confronted the Baal worshippers on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18), the prophets of Baal slashed themselves and did everything they could to manipulate Baal to do their will. Idolaters want nothing above themselves, including their idols. Their fabricated gods are intended to be mere puppet kings, means to an end.”

We do not want to be ruled by God. Every addiction breaks the command “You shall have no other gods before me.” We also do not want to be ruled by our cravings. No one wants to be a sex addict, a gambler, an alcoholic. We just want to be happy and to satisfy our hearts with our “drug of choice” without any consequences. Our selfish hearts want to construct a world in which we can live as we please and have everyone else live for our benefit and under our control. (I think Hitler tried that.)

However, our idols do not cooperate (Welch). Instead of allowing us to manipulate them for our benefit, they begin to control us. Jesus said “No one can serve two masters, for he will either hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matt.6:24) In the context Jesus was talking about money, but it should be noted that there is a deeper significance here. Jesus implied that we are never the master, but always the slave. Paul said the same thing; “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey; either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness.” (Rom. 6:16) So much for being in control!

How could sticks and stones enslave Old Testament Israel? How can simple substances or lifeless objects or harmless images enslave us? Certainly they hook some of us who have emotional vulnerabilities or trust issues because of our dysfunctional backgrounds, while others of us are captured biologically or physiologically. All of this is explained by the disease model. However, there is a deeper spiritual struggle that rages in every form of idolatry. First, there is desire to run from the worship of the true God, and run to those gods who will help us cope, give us pleasure, and ask nothing in return (so we think). Second, behind every idol of addiction there is a world of the demonic and we expose ourselves to the power behind “not-the-god.”

Thus we do not struggle in our addictions “against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against authorities, against cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12) This is why we need a power greater than ourselves not only to restore us to sanity (a new mind), but to help us turn our lives and wills over to God (a new heart). This comes through the gospel. Our addictions may have morphed into a disease, but our healing will always begin with the spiritual; with the love, mercy, and forgiveness of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Not-the-momma: not-the-god…

solomon-idolatryMany years ago there was a TV program called Dinosaurs; a very funny show about a family of human-like dinosaurs who experienced marriage and child-rearing problems, in-law conflicts, etc. Each episode dealt with one of these issues in a very unique way. The family had two teens and little baby who kept referring to the dad as “not-the-momma,” which humorously indicated the centrality of mom and the irrelevancy of dad at that point in the baby’s life.

When God gave his commandments to Israel, they began with a similar perspective on idolatry (Exodus 20:3). Yahweh was central and all idols were “not-the-god.” This wasn’t ignoring reality; it literally meant that there were no-other-gods. Isaiah 44, 45, 46, repeated a form of the verse “I am the Lord; besides me there is no god.” To my knowledge there is no indication in the whole of Scripture that idolatry was really a competition between the one true God and any other divinity. In fact, Paul actually said the same thing in 1 Corinthians 10 where he acknowledged that idols were nothing. So what was the big deal then about idolatry and why did God seem to be so defensive about it?

Paul continued in 1 Corinthians 10:20, “No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God.” The danger of idolatry is that there is a spiritual reality behind the idol which robs God of his glory. Thus, according to Paul, what we eat or drink can ultimately become worship issues. (Paul implied a similar thing in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 when he talked about sex.) This was why Paul had such an expansive view of worship; “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) I think this is so clarifying—whatever I do becomes an altar of sacrifice and praise; a platform for worship. Paul told Timothy “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:4, 5) He said a similar thing in 1 Corinthians 10:30.

Giving thanks for our food or drink, or whatever we do, does not make things kosher; just like it does not make wrong actions right. Thanksgiving is not magic; it is worship. Thanksgiving acknowledges God as the Giver as well as expressing our gratitude and obligation to use his gifts properly. This is even true when it comes to our finances. “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:17, 18). My wealth is a reminder that it is God who provides for me, and it should deepen my dependency on him and not on his gifts. My wealth also provides an opportunity for me to glorify God by my generosity to others.

Just as all of life is an act of worship to the God who has provided for his creation, so all of these gifts can be used and abused when they replace the Giver. This is where we become idolatrous and begin to worship “not-the-god.” This is where we exchange “the truth of God for a lie and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator…” (Romans 1:25) This is also where we enter into the world of the demonic and expose ourselves to the power behind “not-the-god.” We must understand this if we are to effectively deal with our addictions… more about this next week. Today, however, whatever you eat or drink or however you use your money, may it be as an intentional act of worship.