AMERICAN IDOLATRY

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AMERICAN IDOL
America held a presidential election yesterday. In my opinion, America chose an idol and not a leader. Some will differ with my opinion, but there are good reasons why I believe this. The majority of people who voted for Barack Obama did not know much about his background, his voting history or his position on crucial political and social issues. They voted for him because they liked his rhetoric, his good looks, his youth, his charisma or his race.  And many voted for him because he was not a Republican.

I am not going to write about politics or politicians, however. I want to write about idolatry in America.

IDOLATRY IN AMERICA
In the Bible, idolatry is described as one of the worst sins that man can commit. Most people think of carved statues when they think of idolatry, but the New Testament defines idolatry as covetousness.

Ephesians 5:5 For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

Colossians 3:5 Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry

I Corinthians 10:6-14 also gives this idea. I once visited the ruins of ancient Corinth in Greece and was shocked at the many heathen temples and the emphasis on lust everywhere I looked! It certainly helped me to better understand Paul's letters to the Corinthians!

The Greek word for "covetousness" indicates intense desire, greed, or lust (bordering on addiction). Coveting is selfishness, perhaps the most prominent characteristic of America today. Americans have turned to idolatry!

God created man with desires and there is nothing inherently wrong with having or even fulfilling desires. But God warns of excessive desires which it calls lusting and of permitting our desires to become obsessive. He gave specific instructions to Jewish kings in Deuteronomy 17:14-17. First and foremost, the king was to meet God's approval. Secondly, he was to be from Israel and not a stranger. The next instruction is three-fold and remarkable. The king that Israel chooses is instructed not to become obsessed with power (accumulating horses), fleshly lust (many wives) or affluence (silver and gold). These are the three basic categories of all sin. All are forms of idolatry or coveting. I want to elaborate on these three categories of coveting in America.

Lust for power is not confined to the political realm. The quest for power, popularity, influence and position permeate our American lifestyles. One of the most popular TV programs is “American Idol” and Americans idolize sports heroes, Hollywood stars and pop musicians who bask in their wealth, popularity and influence. The quest for power, position and influence is found in the work place, in marriages, families and even in churches.

Many who lust for power simply seek control. From dictators who seek control of nations to the hen-pecked or abusive spouse, the driving force of such individuals is control. Our godly attitude  should be one of humble servitude. That doesn't mean that we let ourselves to be pushed around or manipulated. One who has a mind to serve seeks the other person's well-being whereas control oriented people seek to feed their own egos. They want to control the money, control their own destiny, control conditions in their environment and control others. The latter is not always a military or physical control, but often the attempt to control minds.

Lust of the flesh  There is an obsession with sex in America. The media promotes homosexuality and many other deviant sensual acts. But there are many other kinds of fleshly lust. Many Americans worship their bodies. They prefer a feel-good environment known as "comfort-zone." Americans spend billions for health, physical fitness, and cosmetics.  We don’t eat to live, we live to eat.  The Bible calls this gluttony. Need I mention our drug problem and addiction to alcohol? Consider how much money Budweiser, Miller and other breweries spend for advertising at sporting events.

Americans demand and are accustomed to getting instant gratification. It starts in the cradle – kids are spoiled rotten. They get anything they want immediately and woe to parents who hesitate!

We have non-stop entertainment with hundreds of TV channels, on the big screen with stereo sound and all the special effects. Theme parks, cruises, casinos and sporting events are just a few favorite destinations.

Most Americans are obsessed with themselves, spending billions on makeup, fashions, and health products. To improve one’s personal appearance, there are plastic surgery and breast implants, and to improve sexual performance, there are Viagra, Cialis and steroids.

Health care is big business. For every physical ailment there is a quick fix. When you have acid reflux, take the purple pill, and if you can’t sleep, take the butterfly pill. If you have pain, take Tylenol. If you have lots of aches and pains, you should be “all-Advil.” There are quick-fix solutions for just about every physical malady. Hips, knees and other joints are replaced; vital organs transplanted.

Jesus taught that physical problems are not the worst thing in life. He said we are better off without eyes and arms than being bound by sin (Matt. 18:8-9). The devil advertises sin as desirable, fun and rewarding, but Jesus said, we are better off being physically handicapped! Jesus healed a man who was lame and completely dependant on others for 38 long years. Then he told him not to sin, lest something worse happen to him (John 5:14).

Lust for wealth is called by many names such as affluence, prosperity, profit, materialism and capitalism. The most common word is greed. We have greedy politicians, greedy businessmen, greedy lawyers and of course greedy citizens who demand more and more for less and less. Our economic problems with maxed out credit cards and foreclosures are due to greed. Get rich quick schemes and buy now - pay later practices backfired and now citizens of the most affluent nation on earth are complaining about the lousy economy.  Greedy Americans have borrowed from the future and now it's payback time. 

As I wrote above, the Bible calls idolatry coveting. Most TV ads appeal to these three areas of temptation, our desire for control (power), the lust of the flesh and greed for money.  We are told that we should feel good, look good, and have anything we desire.

Covetousness or greed is the American way of life! Many if not all the problems we face in America today are the result of idolatry or coveting. It is interesting to note that the ten commandments begin with a warning against idolatry and end with a warning against coveting. Coveting takes many forms, but it is always idolatry because it comes between us and God. Gambling also falls in this category, but I wrote another article devoted to that subject and won't repeat it here.

It is high time to address the real need of America and get back to God's economy, but America chooses rather to ignore the need and feed the greed! The present government voted to bail out floundering businesses and Americans just elected a President who promised to give them what they want.

God's Word gives us the solution to the problem of idolatry:
Psalm 37:4 says, Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.
Matthew 6:33 reads, But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
If our desire is to be like Christ and to do God’s will, our desires are no longer coveting.

Unfortunately, not a few Christians are more concerned about material things, comforts and entertainment than hearing and obeying God’s Word. Some churches also offer professional shows, loud music and sophisticated multimedia to attract and entertain.

We are officially “retired” missionaries, and involved in recruitment for missions. We have discovered that few young people – even those studying in Bible colleges - are interested in missions or ministry. But they are obsessed with getting things and enjoying life. 

GOD'S JUDGMENT IS CERTAIN!
Just when we think that all is going great, disaster may be lurking around the corner, ready to strike. Such occasions should be viewed as God’s wake-up call.

Americans were enjoying a bright sunny September day in 2001, when terrorists struck a blow that changed the course of history.

After that fateful day, Americans displayed a unity that has hardly been equaled in our nation’s history. Members of the Senate and Congress were seen on television, holding hands and praying together!

Unfortunately, Americans have short memories. Seven years later, most Americans insist that  President Bush should not have declared war on the terrorists who attacked us so treacherously. They are demanding that our troops be recalled.

Most Americans expect another terrorist attack soon. They also expect another Katrina, a California earthquake and melted icebergs due to global warming, but it doesn’t seem to affect the way they live and their attitude towards God.

God will likely choose a rod of punishment that we least expect. There are numerous possibilities.

We still hear a lot about the AIDS epidemic, but biologists are more concerned about a third of the global population being infected with tuberculosis. And we thought we had TB licked decades ago!

Another serious danger that has shown its ugly head recently is the mysterious death of honey bees - entire colonies of bees are dying and without bees, we would lose a third of our food supply. This should be of major concern, but our government continues to subsidize the big chemical concerns that develop and produce powerful insecticides and experiment with gene manipulation. Beekeepers are left to deal with "their" problem by themselves.

Enhanced Radiation Warhead (ERW) is a very real threat. All living organisms would be destroyed. Only infrastructures would be spared except in the immediate vicinity of the blast. But we don’t hear about this danger any more.

Nor do we hear much about the Electro Magnetic Pulse bomb (short EMP). It doesn’t do much damage to people or structures, but it creates a widespread electro-magnetic field, producing enough electricity to destroy every micro chip for hundreds of miles in every direction. Practically nothing would function - neither the car, refrigerator nor wristwatch! (Read article by Clifford D. May, Scripps Howard News Service, August 14, 2008 http://www.defenddemocracy.org/).

Perhaps God is reserving the right to destroy America himself. That is how it happened in Noah's day, to Sodom and Gemorra, and to Pharaoh and Egypt's world power. Science experts say that a repeat of the 1859 solar storm, called "the Carrington Event," would devastate the modern world, doing more damage than all three of the above named catastrophes combined! Of course God has many other recourses that we know nothing about. 

America may be more likely to self-destruct than be destroyed by terrorists or a natural catastrophe. The gates of hell could not prevail against an America that was founded on the precepts of God’s Word. It was not terrorists, but Americans who removed the Bible from public life in 1963. It is Americans who insist on the separation of church and state, removing Christian principles from public life and political decisions.  it is Americans who kill a fourth of their unborn children and Americans who have tossed out God's institution of marriage and replaced it with free-for-all sex of any kind.

In the Old Testament, Pharaoh commanded that infant Jews be thrown into the Nile, and in the New Testament, King Herod ordered the infamous slaughter of the infants in Bethlehem. Americans elected to kill over 50 million unborn babies.

God seems prepared to punish America for its idolatry, but it doesn't have to come to that yet. There is a better option!

RIPE FOR REVIVAL !
God led Ezekiel into a desert valley full of dry bones. He wanted to test him. It was God and not Ezekiel who asked the question. “Can these bones live?” Many times, when we are in the desert and think that all is hopeless and lost, it may be simply time for the Lord to show his greatness. We could be standing on the threshold of revival.

Joseph tried to obey God and honor his parents, yet everything seemed to go against him. We are familiar with the story today, but what must he have felt and thought back then? Perhaps God knew that Joseph could not develop into a strong Godly person in his comfortable home environment so he placed him in situations that helped him to become strong.

In Acts 16, Paul and Silas were thrown into prison for freeing a hostage of Satan. Martyr complex? Resignation? Anger? Frustration? NO! They sang hymns all night! If many of us had been in that situation instead of Paul and Silas, Acts 16:25-27 might read as follows:

The disciples grumbled and complained about the injustices they were experiencing until the other prisoners told them to shut up so they could get some sleep. At midnight there was suddenly a great earthquake. At first the Christians thought, “Now we are going to die! Doesn’t God care about us at all?“

When the earthquake subsided, the Christians saw that their chains had fallen off and all the gates and doors were ajar. “Finally,” they said, “God has come to our aid!” In a moment, they stood up and fled from the prison as fast as their legs could carry them. The other prisoners also fled and when the keeper saw this, he drew his sword and committed suicide.

The other prisoners, the jailor and his family, and everyone else involved in this terrible incident were eternally lost. No church was founded in Philippi and the disciples asked each other why God allowed all this to happen.

The disciples were soon reunited with their friends, families and church. They shared their experiences and everyone agreed, “Let that be a lesson to us all. Don’t ever try to free Satan's hostages!”

Fortunately, Paul was not like most of us.

During the 70s and 80s, I printed a lot of literature and Bible portions that were smuggled behind the Iron Curtain. Border guards searched vehicles coming into the East; virtually taking them apart, looking for Bibles and Christian literature. Christians, especially pastors, were being imprisoned under false pretenses. In many Eastern European countries, church construction was forbidden. If Christians were found worshipping in private homes, the homes were destroyed. The situation looked hopeless to most believers and many attempted to escape to the West.

Without warning, the Iron Curtain crumbled in the fall of 1989. It all started when Austria and Hungary agreed to dismantle the Iron Curtain between their nations, hoping to co-host the Olympic Games. That never happened, but within weeks, Communist governments in one country after another were overthrown. The Berlin Wall was destroyed and the Iron Curtain vanished almost overnight. It was a memorable experience, visiting Czechoslovakia and seeing Bibles for sale on tables in the streets.

The gospel must be preached in all nations. People from all nations will be praising God together in Heaven. If God took care to see that an equal number of Jews from each tribe will be represented in the 144,000 believers during the tribulation period, would he be content that large numbers from western nations populate heaven, but practically none from Arab nations and only a handful from China?

Isaiah prophesied that in the end times, Egypt, Assyria (Kurdistan) and Israel would be worshipping God together (Isa. 19:23-25). This may be the moment of opportunity for Christians around the world. We have the most powerful weapons at our disposal. We have prayer, the Holy Spirit and God’s promises. “If God be for us, who can withstand us?” (Romans 8:31).

Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing!” (John 15:5).

The Bible tells us that "the love of money is the root of all evil." The liberal media recognize that our financial woes are the result of greed. Both presidential candidates repeatedly name greed as the culprit. Now here is the real kicker: Coveting, greed and lust are NOT illegal; they are SIN! These have to do with ethics and morality – with God and religion! Liberals have been campaigning to remove every aspect of God and religion from public life, yet they talk about greed as if it was a crime! If you eliminate God and his Word, you can’t talk about morality and ethics!

GOD'S ECONOMY or MAN'S?
God’s economics: Godliness – as detailed in Matthew 6:33. We are to seek first of all a) the kingdom of God, and b) His righteousness (what God says is right). If we do this, all things will fall into their proper place.

The world’s economics: Covetousness – greed!

We are driven either by creed or by greed. God’s economy outsources workers to the uttermost part of the earth to preach the gospel of truth and righteousness*. Greedy Americans outsource jobs and export Hollywood filth to every nation.

In Luke 20, Jesus asked the Pharisees whose image was on a coin.  He then said we are to render to Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s. We were created in God's image! Give yourself to God!

Ralph V. Harvey

November 5, 2008

* The word "righteousness" is religious terminology. There is no secular equivalent in the English language. The next best word would be "legal" but that does not have the same connotation.