Until very recently, I’ve spent the entirety of this year re-reading every book of the new testament. Not necessarily in order from Matthew through Revelation but taking the time to study every book, chapter, and verse in the new testament . . . taking the time to dive into the history of the early church, the epistles, and the life of Jesus . . . making sure that I read it in context rather than pull out bits and pieces here and there. And I’m more convinced now than ever of the immense grace of God in the face of my own unworthiness. I don’t say that in a self deprecating way, but as I’ve written before, Paul talks at length about our sins, our human faults, and our desperate need for God and His grace. None of us are righteous (Romans 3:10). None of us are good enough. And we all need the power of the Holy Spirit to lead, guide, and transform.
While I don’t think we’re ever really done reading any passage of scripture . . . I have no doubt I’ll do this all again sooner rather than later because I learn more every time I re-visit any part of God’s word . . . I wrapped up my current study of the new testament with the book of Mark (I know, unusual to save Mark for last) about six weeks ago and then wondered where I should go from there. And seeing as how I had just spent months in the new testament, it only seemed natural to dive into the old testament.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17
I somehow landed on the book of Ezekiel. If you’ve read any of the books of the prophets, you know they can be challenging at times. Sometimes it takes me days to get through just one chapter because I have to stop, dissect what is happening, look up the history for context, and search for the meaning in the symbolism. But the books of the prophets, and the old testament in general, are so rich with lessons for the people of God, followers of Christ. And I think we all too often discount the old testament as not being necessary. However, there is a ton to learn if we are willing to take the time.
As I was reading chapter 14 of Ezekiel a couple weeks ago, these words jumped out to me:
“Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts, and put before them that which causes them to stumble into iniquity. Should I let Myself be inquired of at all by them?” Ezekiel 14:3
To give you a frame of reference, God is talking to Ezekiel here in regards to the elders of Israel. He’s not talking about the people that don’t follow Him. He’s not talking about the lost of the world. He’s talking about His people and even more, the leaders. And it was one of those moments when the Holy Spirit put something in my heart, and I knew, in the deepest part of me, that He’s also talking to me, right here, in the year of our Lord 2021.
We think of idols as something tangible we can touch and see. A little statue sitting in someone’s living room. Another god we worship . . . something obviously contrary to God and His word. And absolutely, an idol can be those things. But an idol is anything that is held in our hearts in the place that is only meant for God. If we look at a man or a woman, whether it be a president or a pastor or our best friend, and they can do absolutely no wrong in our eyes, if we can find a justification for every single word and action, that’s an idol. Our kids, our spouses, our jobs, even our churches and ministries . . . can all become idols. Our politics, our beliefs, our opinions . . . all lend themselves to idolization. Social media, television, entertainment, material possessions, appearances (or keeping them up as the case may be) . . . pride, refusal to be teachable . . . the list goes on.
“these men have set up their idols in their hearts . . . “
These are the words that have stuck with me even weeks later. In the case of the children of Israel, they were openly rebellious and sinful, and their idols were obvious. But so often it’s not the obvious that gets us, and the things we idolize are often necessary and even good things in our lives. The issue is a heart issue. There is nothing wrong with holding someone in high regard, with having a deep respect for a person and availing yourself to their wisdom, but we must remember we are all human and none of us will get it right all the time. There is nothing wrong with loving your spouse and your children. You are actually called to do just that. We should be showing up to work and doing our best, and we’re called to serve with excellence in our churches. Politics, opinions, and deeply held beliefs all have their place. And if our beliefs are moral absolutes of the bible then they’re non-negotiables. So do not hear me saying that in and of themselves any of these things are wrong. But when they cause us to spin out of control, when they cause us to be filled with anxiety and need to control rather than be filled with peace, when they cause us to treat others with a lack of compassion and grace, it is all a sure sign we’re holding them above God. When they cause us to act in a way that is contrary to His word, to the fruits of the spirit . . . “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23) . . . we’re putting that person or thing or idea ahead of our Savior. We have to be so careful that we aren’t setting any of it up as an idol in our hearts. We have to make sure that our priorities are in order.
For me, it’s a never ending process of daily seeking and asking God to show me what needs correcting, and when I’m not consistently in the word and praying, things can go sideways real fast. It’s about having a teachable spirit, and that’s not always easy for me . . . being teachable. It’s learning to admit when I’m wrong, that those I follow can be wrong, that I’m holding something or someone or even myself and ultimately, my pride in a place that is meant only for God because I want to be right all the time. But I’m not. And pride, even when it’s pushing for what is right, is devastatingly destructive.
“Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 16:18
Whether correction comes directly from the Holy Spirit, or as it more often does, through the words of another, I’m learning to stop and reflect and ask myself if there’s something that needs changing. And I’ll readily admit, I haven’t arrived. I’m 100% a work in progress, but if there’s even the tiniest idol in my heart, it needs to be toppled. Sometimes that takes days, weeks, or even longer to accept. Most of the time, it’s a hard and uncomfortable process. But I also know it’s necessary, and it’s all part of growing and growing up in Christ.
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