What Are You Inhaling?
(You can find a recording of this sermon here.)
This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.
Think about our culture, and how true the following statement is:
“We expect anything and everything. We expect the contradictory and the impossible. We expect compact cars which are spacious; luxurious cars which are economical. We expect to be rich and charitable, powerful and merciful, active and reflective, kind and competitive …. We expect to eat and stay thin, to be constantly on the move and ever more neighborly, to go to a "church of our choice" and yet feel its guiding power over us, to revere God and to be God. Never have people been more the masters of their environment. Yet never has a people felt more deceived and disappointed. For never has a people expected so much more than the world could offer.” (Daniel Boorstin, The Image)
Do we live in a world wondering about the validity of the things in which we have put our hope and trust?
This morning we talked about idolatry. Approximately 2600 years ago, a whole nation (Judah) was guilty of idolatry - the act of placing the creation above the Creator, the act of willfully setting aside God and setting up idols who receive the worship only God deserves.
Key Text: Jeremiah 2:13
Notice the two actions that they were involved in.
“Forsaking” - Which means to abandon, or leave behind.
“Digging” - literally means to cut or to carve.
On Sunday I likened forsaking to exhaling and digging to inhaling. When we exhale, we remove from our lungs the air that is present and immediately replace it by inhaling the air that surrounds us. This physical reality illustrates what we can do with God. We exhale God from the center of our lives, from being in charge and inhale whatever else is out there, that we deem worthy of our worship and that we think will give us life.
Big Idea: Idolatry is when we exhale God and inhale whatever else is out there.
Here are four observations of this exchange process referred to in our text.
1. Moving from a godly orientation to an ungodly orientation.
The context of Jeremiah is that these are a people that once followed God, but have moved to an ungodly orientation. Notice Jeremiah 2:1-4: they are inhaling God. God is central, God enlivens them, excites them - He is their object of worship. But then note (v.)5 they have exhaled God, removed God from that central place and inhaled what? Worthless idols!
It is a rearranging of life, a choosing of a new priority, a reversing of what God has done and where He has been in the believer’s/nation’s life. He has moved from the center to the margins, from the throne room to the back room.
Listen to what Stuart Macalister says in Catalyst Magazine:
“Christianity demands a change of focus and orientation. The scriptures call for self renunciation as a core aspect of the life it envisions. The heart, and its ordering is of course central to this. The tragic view of humanity, and the understanding of the heart’s inclination or orientation, means we need to be careful in monitoring what captivates and captures our hearts.”Note, “we need to be careful...” In other words this process (exhale, inhale…) that can change our orientation needs to be guarded against. Jeremiah 17:9 confirms this: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
Ever experienced the temptation to move from a godly orientation to an ungodly orientation?
Some writers refer to the heart as an idol factory. How can your heart become an idol factory?
Be careful what you inhale!
2. If you do the first- exhale (forsake) you will do the second inhale (dig).
“My people have committed two sins” - Not one but two. Why is that? Let’s refer to our theologian friend Bob Dylan. What did he so eloquently write (and by some standards, poorly) sing? You Gotta Serve Somebody. Just as it is impossible in the physical realm to exhale without inhaling (unless of course you are dead) so too in the spiritual realm, it is impossible to forsake God and just remain neutral. There is no neutral territory. Judah was never in a state of “not” worshipping, following, something or somebody. When you say no to God you immediately, just like taking your next breath, say yes to something or someone else. Agree, disagree?
Here is the great danger, what we inhale can be anything. Nothing, not even the cutest little kid on the block, is exempt from becoming an idol in someone’s life. I have heard it said that the reason fighting terrorism is so challenging, is because there is no country to attack, no army in military garb to target. Likewise, you can’t say “these five things”, “these three items” are the idols to avoid. Anything, even Bob’s Big Boy Hot Fudge Cake can become an idol.
Got any good things that are idols, that have robbed God of being priority #1?
Be careful what you inhale!
3. It can be a subtle process - exhale, inhale
V. 2:13 is a picture of what can be a very subtle process. Forsaking and digging are not always accompanied with loud noises, like bashing pans together. Sometimes the shift is subtle, like a silent killer. It can start ever so subtly in the Christ follower’s life.
Group exercise: Sit as a group and see if you can hear each other breathing. Yes, I know this is weird but then so am I. Just do it - you will feel much better. What do you note? In most cases you cannot hear a person breathing. Yes there are loud talkers, but rarely do we think to ourselves “Wow that person breathes loud!” Ever been in a movie and had someone say, “Please don’t breathe so loud, people are trying to listen to the movie!” Ever heard someone say, “If you are going to breathe so loud then take it outside, I am trying to watch the news!” Doubt it!
Likewise, our act of idolatry can be silent and subtle.
David Clarkson distinguishes between external idolatry, which consists in literal bowing down to a physical image, and internal idolatry, which consists of an act of the soul. “When the mind is most taken up with an object and the heart and affections most set upon it, this is soul worship; and this is… the honor due only to the Lord, to have the first, the highest place, both in our minds and hearts and endeavors.” The worship of our idols in some cases is not as obvious as bowing own to Molech, Baal or Zeus (the three stooges).
Think of the subtle ways we shift allegiance as we walk through the day. Exhale, inhale... On Sunday I gave several examples.
Another reason for the subtlety is because we can actually be doing the right thing but be motivated by an idol in our heart. For example, I can attempt to preach my best sermon to satisfy my need for affirmation, validation and praise. Ya, I know ugly eh!
Be careful what you inhale!
4. What is so subtle can be so evil.
2:13 is a picture of adultery, treason and self-salvation. Not a pretty picture.
- Adultery - check out Jer. 2:32; 3:1b-2,6-10,14; 5:7,8
- Treason/Disloyalty - check out Romans 1:25,26
- Self-salvation - check out Jer. 2:28
Just in case you are not yet convinced of the evil, check out Jer. 2:5 “They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.” This is a theme all throughout Scriptures. Idolatry is not good for the soul. Note what is said about when we take good things and turn them into idols. Imagine what can happen when we take worthless things and turn them into idols.
“What many people call “psychological problems” are simple issues of idolatry. Perfectionism, workaholism, chronic indecisiveness, the need to control the lives of others- all of these stem from making good things into idols that then drive us into the ground as we try to appease them.” (Timothy Kellar, Counterfeit Gods.)
Be careful what you inhale!
Here is your assignment in preparation for next week. Ask God to sensitize your heart this week to the number of times you exhale, inhale. Ask for God to show you where an idol is in control, not God, where anything other than God is more greatly shaping, leading or influencing you.
And then list what your top 5 idols could be, like Bob’s Big Boy Hot Fudge Cake.
Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.” Are you?
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