The other night I had a stunning revelation. Well, maybe not a revelation…but rather a reaffirmation of a truth that I’d already known.
As an adult, my schedule has always pretty hectic. Years ago it was go to work, go to school, be a worship leader, be an elder, be a coach, be a husband, be a dad…a never-ending list of things to do. My life has settled in some ways but in others it’s still “go, go, go”. With three kids (one of whom is into sports), a wife who is the PTA President, and now being responsible for the music ministry at Grace Crossing, free time has become one of those things that I’ve heard about but rarely see.
So, in the midst of transport from point A to point B, God showed me why it is that I get so exasperated when things (or people) don’t go the way I want them to. Most times, I claim that the source of this exasperation is stress. I mean…that’s logical, right? Constantly going makes Jack a stressed boy. God, via the Holy Spirit, showed me that stress is not the cause of my exasperation but rather sin.
Don’t get me wrong…I’m not saying that stress or exasperation or frustration are sins, per se. I mean, we live in America, right? Those things are virtues in our culture. But following the logical progress of stress and its causes…this is where the sin is revealed.
We live in a “Burger King” culture. We want it our way…and we want it yesterday. What’s more is that our society tells us that we’re completely right in those desires. But God tells us something different. In Exodus, Moses is leading a group of grumbly church folk. (I’m glad grumbly church folk don’t exist today). They’d been wandering around in the desert for a while. Everybody was stressed out. Following his father-in-law’s advice, Moses became the go-between for God and His people. God was ready to make a covenant with Israel and was about to lay down the terms. The first term is the one on which I’d like to focus:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me. (Exodus 20:2-3)
Wait a minute…how did I go from talking about stress to talking about idolatry? Actually, the path is painfully easy to see…When things don’t go the way I want, I get stressed. When I get stressed, it manifests as either anger or brooding. I either lash out at others or I turn completely inward. Either way, my reaction is based on the simple fact that I didn’t get what I wanted…not much unlike a spoiled toddler.
(I still don’t see how you get to idolatry here…)
Here’s how we get to idolatry here: whether we’d admit it or not, deep down, all of us want to be (and think we are) the center of all things. Now, we don’t say that because we’re conditioned not to be that selfish. But it’s there. When the person in traffic cuts us off, what’s our thought? “Why is this guy doing this to ME?” When we go to a restaurant and others get served before us, what do we say? “We’ve been here longer than those people…we should get seated before them.” When our neighbor gets a promotion at work we grumble, “If his boss only knew what a bum this guy really is…”
We want to be served. We want to be put first. We want to have the rest of the world cater to our needs and our schedules. In short, we want to be king. We want to be God. So much so that we see ourselves as little gods passing out vengeance on those who oppose us and blessing those who are with us. We place ourselves as the “other gods” that the Lord warns us about.
I think this is why God puts this as the first term of the covenant. God (being omnipotent) knew that the most persistent method of sin is idolatry. And idolatry is the vomit to which mankind so often returns. Whether it was in the wilderness, at Babel, in Israel and Judea, in Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified, or in America when the housing and stock markets went crazy…idolatry was there at the root of them all. In effect, idolatry says to God, “You’re not doing this right. I know what’s best for me better than You do. I can handle my life all by myself.”
So how do we keep ourselves from acting like this? Well, unfortunately, we can’t. The Fall in the garden left mankind so incapable of seeing anything unclouded by sin that we can’t see ourselves rightly as the creature and God as the Creator. Left to ourselves, we’re hopelessly blinded by sin. But…
…God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with Him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)
Mercifully, Jesus died for our sin of idolatry so that two things could happen:
- In Christ, the veil of sin has been lifted from our eyes so that we can rightly see God as God and
- In Christ, God now sees us as righteous because we are covered by Jesus’ righteousness (so now He doesn’t have to destroy us for our rebellion against Him)
God did this. He saved us. When what we deserved was nothing more than death and obliteration, God stepped down into our story and died for us in our place. But note the phrase, “in Christ”. Without Christ, we are stuck in our sin…without hope. We can’t save ourselves…but thankfully, God is rich in mercy. And all He asks is that you believe that He sent Jesus as our Savior and that it’s only through Jesus that we can be saved.