Many of our Sunday school classes began a four-week study this morning called “FIRST”…It is based on the book shiny gods by Rev. Mike Slaughter and it deals with putting God first in all aspects of our lives. This study comes from the work of our Stewardship Ministry Team…I know that some wonder why we are talking about this “again” after just going through our Building for Life campaign in the fall. Others think we “talk about money” too much. The fact is that Jesus talked about money more than he talked about heaven and hell. Our Stewardship Team rightly wants to remind us that God is supposed to be in control of our entire life – especially our money…And, stewardship is about more than money – it’s about putting God first in everything.
The Lord said to Moses: “Say this to the Israelites: You saw for yourselves how I spoke with you from heaven. Don’t make alongside me gods of silver or gold for yourselves. Make for me an altar from fertile soil on which to sacrifice your entirely burned offerings, your well-being sacrifices, your sheep, and your oxen. I will come to you and bless you in every place where I make sure my name is remembered.”
Aaron said to them, “All right, take out the gold rings from the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took out the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. He collected them and tied them up in a cloth. Then he made a metal image of a bull calf, and the people declared, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”
How did the Israelites get to this place where they gave up on the God who saved them? The Book of Exodus is a pretty exciting book. A lot happens there that shaped the history of the world right up to today…If you’ve never read it, you probably should. But, for today, I’m interested in what caused the Israelites to fashion that golden calf. Moses led them out of slavery in Egypt and into the desert…Along the way they faced challenges, but each time God provided whatever they needed…When they reached Mt. Sinai, God called Moses onto the mountain to tell him the good news of what lay ahead for the people God had chosen – if they would simply obey his commands and give him thanks and praise. Moses was gone a long time. The people grew impatient, selfish, and distrustful of God…They were frightened and wanted what they were accustomed to – a god they could see…A god like the idols they had seen worshipped for so long in Egypt…So they made their golden calf and threw a big party and forgot about the God who created them. It’s ironic that they wouldn’t have the gold to make the calf if God had not allowed them to plunder as they left the land of Egypt.
IDOLATRY – seems like kind of an odd word for our culture…I mean “worship” is an unknown concept for a lot of people…Most people think of Billy Idol or American Idol…But we’re all Christians, right? – We don’t worship idols, we worship God, right?
Naming Our Idols
Here’s what Mike Slaughter says about idols: Let me give you my definition of an idol: anything, or anyone, that receives the primary focus of my energy or resources, which should first belong to God. The Bible calls this having a divided heart. Instead of making it our primary life passion to worship the Lord our God and to serve only him, we begin to separate our spiritual life from the practical aspects of life. We use our idols, instead of God, to provide identity or meaning in our lives. This is especially easy to do when those idols are positive things, or even people we love. The danger is that even our virtues can become vices—or idols—if they are not directed toward God.
Now I know we can hear that statement and think that it really doesn’t apply to us…We’re faithful church members; we study the Bible; we show up most Sundays; we give what we can; we’re on a committee or two; that means we worship God, right? Here’s where it gets tough for most of us…“primary focus of my energy”…It’s not about how much time you spend at church or how much money you give to church…It’s about the primary focus of your energy, your resources, your passions…It’s about who gives identity and meaning to your life…It’s supposed to be about God. As Mike points out, we have separated our spiritual lives from our practical lives…That is simply unnatural. It’s like trying to separate your heart from your brain…Neither one will work right if you try. And that is what leads us to idol worship. I don’t think any one of us ever intends to worship anything other than God…But after reading this book “shiny gods” I realize that I am wrong. Idol worship isn’t so far from us as we want to think. What’s really hard about this is that, sometimes, the idols that capture our attention are not bad things…That is exactly the point…“The thing” or “the person” isn’t what’s wrong; It is the power they hold over our lives that makes an idol.
You can easily determine the power any particular thing has in your life by examining its real influence…Rev. Slaughter suggests that we look at our calendar. Those things that are most important to you are the things that occupy the most time in any given week. There’s your job – kinda need that, right…But, what about the rest of your time? Is Sunday morning worship scheduled to be sure you don’t plan something else in its place? How about Sunday school or Bible study or prayer time – have you blocked out any significant time for God? One of the stories from the book might help here…I recently said to a friend, “Hey, I haven’t seen you in worship in a while, and you used to come to Wednesday night Bible study.” He replied, “Well, there are a lot of softball tournaments on the weekend, and on Wednesday nights I’m in a softball league.” (shiny gods, page 38) Does this guy worship softball? Maybe not; but he doesn’t seem to worship God very well, either…God wants to be THE priority in our lives, not A priority…God commands us to put him at the TOP of the list – all the time, every time…How we schedule our time demonstrates our real priorities. Where we expend our energies is evidence of what we truly value.
In the land of football – much of America – game day can be like “church”…If it’s your favorite college game on Saturday or the NFL on Sunday, worship may be too early, too late, or too inconvenient. I get it…it’s a long drive from Norman to Sand Springs. I understand that getting ready for your Super Bowl party takes time. Now I’m not just gonna pick on the sports fans this morning…You can substitute things like “the lake” or “electronic gadgets” or prime-time TV and get to the same place where something besides God is demanding – AND GETTING – our attention. I’m as guilty as the next person. I love my “i-stuff” and spend too much time playing with them…time I could be studying or praying. All of us has something that takes our attention away from total devotion to God. That’s because we are imperfect human beings and we need to always try to do better. We will make mistakes, but we need to keep trying. It’s important to keep trying because people are watching…little people…who watch everything we do and learn more from what they see than from anything we will ever say. And the thing is – you don’t have to be their parent for them to learn from you…They learn from every adult they know here at church, at school, and what they see on TV. “Don’t forget the covenant that I made with you. Don’t worship other gods. Instead, worship only the Lord your God. He will rescue you from your enemies’ power. But they wouldn’t listen. Instead, they continued doing their former religious practices. So these nations worship the Lord, but they also serve their idols. The children and the grandchildren are doing the very same thing their parents did. And that’s how things still are today.” (2 Kings 17:38-41, CEB)
We complain because the church is so gray…there aren’t enough young people and children…what happened? Gee, I don’t know, maybe they saw their parents and grandparents at the football game on Sunday instead of in church and figured that it just isn’t that important. Maybe they were allowed to sleep in too many Sunday mornings after late-night events that they learned that Sunday morning is “my only day to sleep.” It could be that talking and texting on smart phones has reduced the need to talk to God…in person. It sounds harsh, doesn’t it, but think about it. I brought back an interesting remembrance from Israel. It’s called a KIPPAH. The Talmud states: “Cover your head in order that the fear of heaven may be upon you.” Covering one’s head, such as by wearing a kippah, is described as “honoring God”. I’ve often wondered why Jewish men wear this odd little cap everywhere they go…Now I know. It is as a constant reminder that God will always be in charge and we should honor that…It is to display our fear of God. Maybe that’s not such a bad image to portray for others. “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind…” (Luke 10:27a, CEB) In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.