Can God Trust Me?

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

The most important benchmark for spiritual leaders is that they have gained God’s trust. If you aspire to influence with God, and by that, influence with people, then you must make it your prayer that God will find you trustworthy. And not only in your praying, you must make it your conscious and continual effort to be a man or woman of unquestionable trust. Nothing matters more.

Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 12:7-8

Of all my house, my servant Moses is the one I trust. I speak to him face to face, clearly, and not in riddles! He sees the Lord as he is. So why were you not afraid to criticize my servant Moses?

Time and again, Moses, hands down the greatest leader the world has ever known, faced challenges to his leadership. Even from within his inner circle there were people, who for a variety of reasons—all of them wrong—tried to take him down. Particularly disappointing was the uprising of his own brothers and sister against his God-given authority.

Miriam, with her brother Aaron’s support, became jealous of Moses and criticized him. God had been doing marvelous things among the Israelites, revealing his presence in ways not seen nor heard before. Most satisfying to the nation of Israel was that God was revealing himself to them as a very personal and powerful Deity. Of course, up to this point, Moses had been God’s point man. God spoke through him to the people in unheard of ways. But Moses was just one man, and the nation was exceedingly large, so God instructed Moses to expand the base of spokesmen so the word of the Lord could be spread more effectively among the two million Israelites. In Numbers 11, seventy elders of Israel were selected for that role. And even these men had gotten into the act and were prophesying as the Spirit of God came upon them. God was showing up, revealing his presence, revealing his word, revealing his power and revealing his provision.

Something else was showing us, too. Pride! Miriam and Aaron, too, had tremendous encounters with the Lord, and had been used in outstanding ways, but they wanted more. But when they saw Moses getting so much recognition from God and from the people, they were critical because, as his sister and brother, they knew he was flawed. And the perfect opportunity to bring him down a notch or two came in the form of his wife. They focused their criticism on the fact that he had married a non-Israelite woman, and used that as their justification to diminish him while seizing more recognition for themselves.

Amazingly, God stepped in to defend Moses: “Listen carefully to what I’m telling you. If there is a prophet of God among you, I make myself known to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. But I don’t do it that way with my servant Moses; he has the run of my entire house; I speak to him intimately, in person, in plain talk without riddles: He ponders the very form of GodSo why did you show no reverence or respect in speaking against my servant, against Moses?” (Numbers 12:6-8, MSG)

If you are a spiritual leader, how awesome would it be that God would literally come to your defense? Would to God that he would do that today when his human leaders are under unfair criticism and flesh-inspired attack!

But what is even more powerful is God’s evaluation of Moses as he sets Miriam and Aaron straight. God acknowledges that he speaks through others prophetically, but Moses is on an altogether higher plain—God trusts him, so he speaks to him face to face; Moses received the Lord’s direct communication; Moses sees the Lord as he is.

What a testimony! And as a spiritual leader, that should be the benchmark I set for both my life and ministry—that God trusts me.

That is my prayer, that God will find me trustworthy! How about you? In whatever role of influence God has given you, whether great or small, whether others respect your leadership or you are facing challenges, make it your aim to humbly, submissively offer yourself to the One you represent, and allow him to put his divine affirmation upon your leadership.

Going Deeper With God: Do you desire to be like Moses? Try offering this prayer: “Father god, make me Moses-like in my attitude, in my service to you, and in my influence with people. Thank you for hearing my prayer and answering me when I call out to you. What a gracious, merciful and loving Father you are.”

Romanticizing The Past

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

In a very real sense, sin is an attempt to fill the emptiness in our lives with the things that God will ultimately provide, but doing so apart from waiting and trusting through faith for him to give them in his way and in his time. The scary thing is, when we stubbornly persist in our fleshly attempts to satisfy the empty part of our soul, God may actually give us what we crave—but allow an even deeper emptiness within. We must be careful what we ask for, and rather learn to seek only what he desires to give.

Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 11:4-6

The foreign rabble within the Israelite community began to crave other food, and again the children of Israel started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”

The children of Israel were a couple of years into their wilderness experience, and God was developing their faith by testing their trust. And on several occasions, the people failed the test. This was just such an occasion. The “rabble” among them—likely a non-Israelite group that followed them out of Egypt, for whatever reason—were a constant source of trouble. In this case, they influenced God’s people to complain about his provision by romanticizing “all the wonderful provisions” they so enjoyed back in Egypt. Of course, they wouldn’t have left Egypt if those were truly the good old days. But undisciplined desires began to taint their memories, and they started longing for a return to the “pleasures” of Egypt, which of course, were sinful pleasures.

Is sin pleasurable? You bet it is—that’s why it works so well. Hebrews 11 refers to this very thing: “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” (Hebrews 11:24-26)

To be sure, sin is attractive. There is a certain “value in its treasures”, as we see in the case of Moses’ rejection of sin’s seasonal satisfaction. There is an enjoyment of the “pleasures of sin for a season”: the buzz from that alcoholic drink, the high from that illicit drug, the thrill of crossing that sexual boundary, the emotional release of that angry, hurtful tirade, the general freedom of that life controlled by sinful desires rather than by the Holy Spirit. Yes, there is pleasure in sin—for a season.

But seasons end and sinful pleasures are fleeting: they are short-lived, and they are progressively destructive to everything that God intends for us: a healthy body, harmonious relationships, and a holy life. And sinful pleasures dull our sense of reality—we begin to romanticize what we once had. In that sense, when we long for the good old days where sin reigned in our lives, we need to snap ourselves back into reality and admit that the good old days weren’t actually that good; in truth, they were the bad old days. Listen to how author Larry Osborn talks about this very thing:

Almost every generation looks back and wonders what happened to the “good old days.” It’s human nature. The evils of the past tend to fade from memory, while the injustices and evils of the present stand out in bold relief. Perhaps that is why Solomon wrote, “Do not say ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10)

Whenever we are tempted to ask, “why were the old days better than these?”, that should be a red alert that we need to do as Moses did and compare the short-lived benefits of sin with the long-term reward of trusting God. When we fail to trust in God’s promise to fully meet our needs and satisfy our desires, we will end up romanticizing the past’s sketchy track record of fully pleasuring our heart’s desire. The things we once depended on for satisfaction and security, the pleasurable sensations that money or power or attention or relationships or possessions or food or sex produces, apart from God, are what C.S. Lewis referred to as the “sweet poison of the false infinite.” These are what we might call substitute sacreds—the surrogates we desperately use to fill the emptiness of our dissatisfied lives.

In reality, however, no substitute sacred ever fulfills what it so brazenly promises. Only the one true Sacred can do that! St. Augustine said, “Sin comes when we take a perfectly natural desire or longing or ambition and try desperately to fulfill it without God…All these good things, and all our security, are rightly found only and completely in him.” God longs for us to come trustingly to him with our needy souls so he can graciously and abundantly and unendingly satisfy our deepest longings and most powerful passions—in his way and in his time. As Augustine said, God has created us for himself, and we will only find satisfaction when we find our satisfaction in him.

In a very real sense, sin is an attempt to fill the emptiness in our lives with the things that God will ultimately provide, but doing so apart from waiting and trusting through faith for him to give them in his way and in his time. The scary thing is, when we stubbornly persist in our self-centered attempts to satisfy the empty part of our soul, God may actually give us what we crave—but allow an even deeper emptiness within. Psalm 106:13-15 offers this sad and sobering commentary on our undisciplined desires:

The children of Israel soon forgot God’s works;
They did not wait for His counsel,
But lusted exceedingly in the wilderness,
And tested God in the desert.
So He gave them their request,
But sent leanness into their soul.

To get what we want, yet end up with leanness in our souls—what a sad possibility. Let the Israelites in Numbers 11 be a continual cautionary tale that we must be careful what we ask for. Rather, we must learn to seek only what God desires to give and be grateful for what he has already graciously provided.

Going Deeper With God: Read and reflect on Psalm 106, then do two things: First repent of your fleshly desires and cry out to God to lead you not into temptation. Second, practice gratitude for what you’ve got. Doing that will cause you to focus on the rewards of following God and reject the false infinites of what you left behind in your life of sin.

Pray Bigly!

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Why not pray audacious prayers for victory! Why not shout—yes shout, that’s what Moses did—shout out your prayer as you open the front door: “Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered! Let them flee before you!” It might freak your neighbors out a bit, but if it came down to it, I would rather have God’s favor going ahead of me into my day that than my neighbors’ approval.

Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 10:33-36

The Israelites marched for three days after leaving the mountain of the Lord, with the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant moving ahead of them to show them where to stop and rest. As they moved on each day, the cloud of the Lord hovered over them. And whenever the Ark set out, Moses would shout, “Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered! Let them flee before you!” And when the Ark was set down, he would say, “Return, O Lord, to the countless thousands of Israel!”

Should we pray each day for protection and victory? Do we need to daily ask God to watch over our children, our work, our homes? Should we be bothering him to give us success in what is out in front of us as we leave the house? Doesn’t God already know what we need; doesn’t he already have us covered?

My response to that is, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Besides, Jesus taught us to pray, “keep us from the evil one.” It seems that the Lord’s Prayer Jesus urged us to pray had a sense of dailyness to it: “Give us today our daily bread.”

These kinds of prayers for protection and victory aren’t so much to remind a God who may have forgotten about us. He never forgets. How could he? We are his own special people. Isaiah captured the Lord’s tender watchfulness over our lives when he said, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne. Though she may forget, I will not forget you. See, I have engraved you on the palm of my hand.” (Isaiah 49:15) No, these kinds of prayer are not to shake God out of his lapse of memory, it is to remind us that he has us continually covered. They are to bring us back to a daily acknowledgement of our utter but joyful dependence on him for provision, protection and victory.

So I say why not pray these audacious prayers for victory! Why not shout—yes shout, that’s what Moses did—shout out your prayer as you open the front door: “Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered! Let them flee before you!” It might freak your neighbors out a bit, but if it came down to it, I would rather have God’s favor going ahead of me into my day than my neighbors’ approval. And at day’s end, why not offer a prayer before your family wraps up and heads to sleep, “Return, O Lord, to the people in this house!”

Some think these kinds of prayers are pointless, even showing a lack of trust in a God who already knows. Others say when we pray prayers like this, we are using prayer like a magic charm to gain the favor of the gods. I disagree. Scripture would lean less toward those opinions than the one expressed by author and pastor Mark Batterson. Let me offer some insights from his book, The Circle Maker,

Each prayer is like a seed that gets planted in the ground. It disappears for a season, but it eventually bears fruit that blesses future generations. In fact, our prayers bear fruit forever.

God won’t answer 100 percent of the prayers we don’t pray.

Why do we mistakenly think that God is offended by our prayers for the impossible? The truth is that God is offended by anything less! God is offended when we ask Him to do things we can do ourselves. It’s the impossible prayers that honor God because they reveal our faith and allow God to reveal His glory.

God won’t answer 100 percent of the prayers you don’t pray. If that is true, I say why not ask, and ask bigly! Ask him daily, and nightly, for protection and victory and anything else you have in mind. God can handle even the prayers that are kind of ridiculous. He doesn’t get offended by your praying. In fact, my guess is, since he is your Father, that he likes it when you as his child believe enough in his generosity that you are willing to ask early and often for anything that is on your heart.

Going Deeper With God: Pray about everything—big, small, medium. Take it to God. Be audacious in praying. It both honors God and pleases his heart because it reveals your trust in his goodness and generosity.

Obliterating Sin

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

“Making them right with the Lord!” What a power-packed phrase, wouldn’t you say! This is the great effort of God and that is the great need of man. And through God’s initiative, both through the Levitical system of sacrifice and the perfect, once-for-all sacrifice of his Son and our Savior, that has been made possible.

Going Deep // Focus: Leviticus 4:20

By this sacrifice for sin, the priest will purify the people, making them right with the Lord, and they will be forgiven.

“Making them right with the Lord!” So much is packed into that phrase, wouldn’t you say! That is the great effort of God and that is the great need of man. And through God’s initiative, both through the Levitical system of sacrifice and the perfect, once-for-all sacrifice of his Son and our Savior, that has been made possible.

You see, sin, that which makes us un-right with God, is number one the problem of the human race! All other problems stem from this. Both our acts of sin and our Adamic sinfulness separate us from our Creator and Provider. God is pure and cannot tolerate impurity. Nor can he bless the impure. And because God is not only holy, but also just, his justice demands punishment for sin—our sin. And the only proper punishment for sin that can satisfy an utterly holy God is death for the sinner.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. …The wages of sin is death… But I do not excuse the guilty. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations.” (Romans 3:23, 6:23a, Exodus 34:7)

Houston, we have a problem! We are sinful and can do nothing to change that; God is holy, and cannot tolerate sin. Death to the sinner!

But God, who is rich in mercy and ceaseless in grace, has provided a way of escape for the sinner. Under the Old covenant, a sacrificial system was established that transferred the guilt of the guilty onto the sacrifice and thus absolved God’s righteous anger. Throughout the Old Testament this plan is made plain, and specifically in Leviticus 4 and 5, the phrase is repeated: offer sacrifice for sin…making them pure…they will be forgiven.

But, thank God, our Holy Creator went a step further and established a new and better covenant with his people: He sent the perfect sacrifice, his one and only Son, to be the sacrifice for our sins. And the offering up us Jesus on the cross as the atonement for our sin not only satisfied God’s righteous wrath and absolved the guilt for our sins, but the blood of his sacrifice obliterated our guilty standing before God created and perpetuated by our Adamic sinfulness. And best of all, his death was the once-for-all sacrifice to end all sin offerings—we don’t have to offer it over and over again.

And the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all. … Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. …the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus our Lord. (Isaiah 53:6, 1 Peter 3:18, Romans 6:23b)

Hallelujah! Once cleansed, the blood of Jesus keeps on cleansing us from all unrighteousness:

But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (1 John 1:7-9)

What a God, who made a way in the Old Covenant for his people to be made right with him, at least temporarily, until the time for the permanent, perfect offering of his Son, our wonderful, merciful Savior, who offered himself as the once-for-all sacrifice for our sin.

Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. (Psalm 32:1-2)

Blessed indeed! We have been made right with God.

Going Deeper With God: As you consider that your sin is permanently covered by Christ’s sacrifice, you may want to make this prayer your prayer: “Holy God, I thank you for Jesus, by whose sacrifice I can call you ‘Dear Father.’ By his death, I am pure and brought near to you. My sins are forgiven—all my sinful past is erased, my guilt from today is removed, my future failures have already been taken care of, my mistakes are redeemed for the glory of God. I am made right with you. How loved I am how blessed I am! I am forever grateful.”

The Radiant Face of Your Pastor

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Moses was tasked with leading a people, some of whom didn’t want to follow, others who were jealous of him, and some who just didn’t like him or his style of leading. But God gave Moses a gift to fulfill his high call: the dramatic Presence of God himself. As a result, the glory of the Lord lit up Moses’ face whenever he returned to the people from the Lord’s presence. Most pastors don’t expect something that dramatic, but they do crave God’s approval as they stand before their people. Without that, they’ve got nothing.

Going Deep // Focus: Exodus 34:29-30,35

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him…they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the LORD.

Most of the direct interaction pastors have with the people of their church is quite positive and appreciative. Those who are upset and who do not appreciate their pastor’s leadership style or his ministerial abilities don’t usually speak to the pastor directly—which is certainly the Biblical approach to handling differences—they tell other people. Pastors usually hear of it either second or third hand, or after the fact when those who are disgruntled have landed in another church.

This is, undoubtedly, the most disheartening thing that the pastor faces. Don’t let your pastor kid you: he takes it personally. (I realize your spiritual leader may be a woman, but just for the sake of discussion, let me use the masculine pronoun to refer to your pastor.) It gnaws at his insecurities, shakes his confidence in his abilities, discourages his spirit, frustrates his vision, and if all that weren’t enough, it hurts his feelings. Yes, pastors have feelings just like you. I know all of this because I am a pastor, and because I interact with enough of them to know this is true.

Is the challenge the pastor faces any different than the one Moses faced? He was tasked with leading a people, some of whom didn’t want to follow, others who were jealous of him, and some who just didn’t like him or his style of leading. But God gave Moses some special gifts to fulfill his high call: miracles, Divine interventions, the dramatic Presence of God himself, and in this case, the glory of the Lord that lit up Moses’ face whenever he would return to the people from the Lord’s presence.

Most pastors I know don’t expect something that dramatic—neither do I. But we do crave some sort of Divine aide that will indicate the Lord’s approval as we stand before our people. Our only qualification to lead is God’s anointing upon our life and ministry. Without that, we’ve got nothing.

What is interesting to note is that even though Moses had these Divine displays of affirmation on his résumé, there were still those who resisted and rejected his leadership. I guess it happens to the best of them—and I guess I, and every other spiritual leader, have to steel ourselves against the insecurities, oppositions and rejections that will assault our leadership at one time or another.

But at the end of the day, for most of the pastors I know, including me, the privilege of representing God to the people and the people to God is more than enough to make up for any slight, oversight, or personal inconvenience we may experience.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Going Deeper With God: Here is a prayer you might consider lifting up to God on behalf of your spiritual leader: “Dear Father, I am not asking for you to make my pastor’s face to glow like Moses. But Lord, it is true that my leader cannot fulfill his Divine calling to lead me and my fellow believers to the victories you have destined our church to achieve without your visible anointing and favor upon his life. So I ask that you would put your hand on him in a special way. Cleanse him that he might contain your holy favor and purify his motives that he might handle your blessing and anointing as a sacred trust. And fill him with the Moses-like enabling Presence that your people will be inspired to follow. Cause your Presence to go before him…let your hand be with him…expand his territory…bless him indeed…and cause his life to expended for your glory and honor.”

Knowing The God Who Wants To Be Known

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

To ask God that you might know him is a request that pleases his heart! After all, that is the reason he created you; that is why you exist. God himself says in Hosea 6:6, “For I desire…the knowledge of God [from you] more than burnt offerings.” That should be your chief aim in life. To know God who wants to be known is truly the sweetest nectar of life.

Going Deep // Focus: Exodus 33:11

The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.

If I could choose an epitaph that described my life, it would be this: “The Lord would speak to Ray Noah face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.” But is that really possible for a human being?

It was for Moses! If anyone ever really knew God, if a human being ever experienced an extraordinarily intimate revelation of God, if a man ever truly had a close personal friendship with God, it was Moses.

But Moses didn’t always have this kind of relationship with God. If you were to review Moses’ life, you would be reminded that in his first forty years, Moses knew a lot about God. He was born to Hebrew parents, but raised in the lap of luxury in the Egyptian palace as one of Pharaoh’s sons—he was a prince of Egypt. Moses knew about God through his heritage, but there is no indication of a walk with God characterized by love and obedience. In fact, it appears Moses was somewhat indifferent to God.

But then Moses tried to play God and killed an Egyptian, and he had to flee the palace to the backside of the Sinai Desert, where he lived as a fugitive for the next forty years until he met God at the burning bush. And during these four decades, Moses unlearned everything he knew about God in the first forty years. It was a desert experience—literally and spiritually—where Moses knew nothing but the silence of God. God had enrolled Moses in the University of the Desert—the Graduate School of Sinai—where he trained Moses in the curricula of solitude, monotony and failure.

But then came the burning bush, which marked the beginning of the final forty years of Moses’ life. And in this period, he came to know and experience God the way we want to know and experience him: In his power and glory. Moses, unlike any other man, experienced first hand every attribute of God a human being could possibly experience: God’s omnipotence—that he is all-powerful; his omniscience—that he is all-wise and knowing; his omnipresence—that he is everywhere at all times; his Divine nature—that is, his justice, righteousness, holiness, and incomparable greatness.

What more could a human being want? Yet that wasn’t enough. Moses didn’t just want to know about God, he wasn’t satisfied with seeing the evidence of God’s activity. He wanted more:

If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so that I may know you and continue to find favor with you…Now show me your glory. (Exodus 33:13,18)

You’ve got to admire Moses’ boldness, audacity and greediness for God! Here is what he’s really asking: “God, I want to know you…your character…your nature…what makes you tick. I want to enter into the deepest dimension of intimacy with the Almighty that’s possible for one human being.”

Amazingly, God obliged this big, audacious request—he revealed himself fully to Moses. (Exodus 33:14-23) Now this doesn’t simply tell us something about Moses, it mostly reveals something vitally important about God: God wants us to know how much he wants to be known.

He has made himself knowable. He is not some unapproachable deity way out there in a galaxy far, far away. He is the God who is there, the God who is near, the God who will reveal himself to those who long to know him.

What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him. (Deuteronomy 4:7)

God wants us to know that he’s near and that he is knowable: “I will cause my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence.” (Exodus 33:19) In other words, I will let you know me.

To ask to know him is a request that pleases the heart of God! You see, that’s what we were made for: To know God. That’s what he desires from us. God himself says in Hosea 6:6, “For I desire…the knowledge of God [from you] more than burnt offerings.” And that should be our chief aim in life—to know God—because that is truly the sweetest nectar of life. Jeremiah 9:23-24 says,

This is what the LORD says: ‘Let not the wise man gloat in his wisdom, or the mighty man in his might, or the rich man in his riches. Let them boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the LORD who is just and righteous, whose love is unfailing, and that I delight in these things. I, the LORD, have spoken!

Knowing God is the best thing in life. In fact, it is eternal life. Jesus said in John 17:3, “This is eternal life: That they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

God has offered to let you know him—really know him. It’s the best offer you’ll ever get! I would take him up on it if I were you.

Going Deeper With God: Not only does God want to be known, God has made himself available. He doesn’t want you just to know about him, he wants you to intimately know his person. God is knowable and personable. Exodus 33:11 tells us that Moses knew God as a friend, and that he “would speak to Moses face-to-face.” Exodus 33:14 God tells Moses, “My presence will go with you…” Exodus 33:19 says that God “caused his goodness to pass in front of him and proclaimed his name in Moses’ presence.” God said he would let Moses see the after-effects of his glory in Exodus 33:22. What is God saying? “I want you to know me, and I will make myself available to you. And now you will not only know about me, you will see and experience my very nature and personhood.” That’s quite an invitation! Have you taken God up on his offer?

Not “How Could They?” but “How Could We?”

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

If even in the subtlest of ways we replace our devotion to and dependence upon God with doubts about God’s love, with dependencies on the arm of flesh and with doctrines about God that are not squared with the loving, generous, sovereign God of the Bible, we are flirting with worship of the golden calf.

Going Deep // Focus: Exodus 32:1-4

When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.” So Aaron said, “Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters, and bring them to me.” All the people took the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded it into the shape of a calf. When the people saw it, they exclaimed, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!”

A golden calf! Really! After all that God had just done for them! Are you kidding me? How could they?

After 400 years of slavery, God delivered His people from the thoroughly idolatrous nation of Egypt. The Egyptians had hundreds of gods, and as slaves, the Israelites had been forced to build temples for many of those idols.

The influence of Egyptian for idolatry surfaced when the Israelites insisted that Aaron build a golden calf as an object of worship while Moses was on the mountain receiving God’s commandments. Keep in mind that God had just delivered them with miracle after miracle that no other god could come close to replicating, not by thousands of miles. The God of Israel had shown himself to be the one, true, covenantly faithful God. Yet Israel abandoned him in a flash.

God was so angry with their abrupt, blatant backsliding that He wanted to wipe out the whole nation and start over with Moses. But in one of the outstanding acts of priestly intercession, Moses stood between God’s judgment and the people’s guilt to save the day. Yet Moses ordered the slaughter of those who had led the way and for those who openly participated in this gross spiritual fornication.

That is when the tribe of Levi rose up and executed 3,000 idolaters that day with the sword. God’s subsequent choice of the Levites to serve as priests may have been rooted in their response to help Moses destroy idolatry among the people. And that became one of the priest’s duties in perpetuity—then and now in the pastoral priesthood: to keep the people out of idolatry while keeping them locked into the exclusive worship of Yahweh.

Tragically, over time, after Israel became a strong nation, they again became infested with idolatry, and at times, even the Levitical priests joined the people in the worship of idols. There came the day when idolatry was even practiced in the very Temple of God.

And the Levites who went far from Me, when Israel went astray, who strayed away from Me after their idols, shall bear their iniquity. Because they ministered to them before their idols and caused the house of Israel to fall into iniquity, therefore I have raised My hand in an oath against them that they shall bear their iniquity. (Ezekiel 44:10, 12)

Now if you are like me, the question I have, in light of all that God had just orchestrated on behalf of his people—miracle after miracle—is “how could they?” Yet don’t we, too, quickly desert the worship of God to rely on other sources for our safety, provision and happiness? Think of false god after false god Israel fell for—and in a less obvious way, we fall for as well. Here are some of the gods back then, and how we subtly worship them today:

There was Dagon, who was viewed as the god of vegetation. The Philistines worshiped him as a god of provision. His help was sought to ensure a bountiful harvest. We must realize that we do not worship God primarily for the purpose of receiving his blessings. If our loyalty to him is mostly so that we can get something from him, then we are in real danger of trading our revelation of God for a concept of Dagon.

Then there was Baal, who was considered to be the son of Dagon. Baal was a chief god of the Philistines and he was considered to be unpredictable and unreliable. Most famously, Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest to see who was the true God;, and the sign of the true God would be the one who answered by fire. Elijah taunted the prophets of Baal as they beseeched their reluctant god to answer and prove himself. The prophet mocked Baal’s unpredictability and unreliability for doing only what he wanted to do, when he wanted to do it—which was never. Sometimes we drift into that opinion of God, too, when he doesn’t’ answer when we want and in the way we want. That is flirting with idolatry. God is sovereign and he does as he pleases, but he also mercifully invites us to petition him through expectant, persistent prayer in trust that he is reliable and always acts on the promise of his Word in response to our asking.

There was Ashtoreth, the lone goddess of the four Philistine gods who was considered to be the spouse of Baal. She was the goddess of sex and fertility. She was identified with the Egyptian deity Isis and also with the Greco- Roman sex-deities of Aphrodite and Venus. Need I make application to our cultures infatuation with the goddess of elicit sex. Unlike Israel, we must be careful as believers not to allow our minds to become polluted with a preoccupation with sexual lust and salacious behavior.

Finally, Beelzebub was known, interestingly, as the god who creates and sustains wounds. Jesus called him the prince of demons, clearly identifying him with Satan. Beelzebub means, “the lord of the flies,” an appropriate title for the work of demons. This is a disturbing picture in the natural realm of what the disgusting devil likes to do in the spiritual realm. Just as flies are drawn to open wounds and cuts, so demons are drawn to the open wounds in our hearts. When we allow the hurts of our hearts to fester and go unhealed, we are prime targets for the demonic to work through the idolatrous attitudes of bitterness, un-forgiveness and victimization.

Maybe you think I am stretching the application of Old Testament idolatry a little too far here, but just think about it. Whenever we replace our devotion to and dependence on God, even in the most subtle or self-justifiable ways, with doubts about God’s love, with dependencies on the arm of flesh, with doctrines about God that are not squared with the loving, faithful, sovereign God of the Bible, we are flirting with worship of the golden calf. As Becky Manley Pippert said,

Whatever controls us is our lord. The person who seeks power is controlled by power. The person who seeks acceptance is controlled by acceptance. We do not control ourselves. We are controlled by the lord of our lives.

Who or what is god of your life? Make sure it is the only one and true God!

Going Deeper With God: Whenever you find yourself in response to your Bible reading saying, “how could they?”, that is a sure sign that you also need to say, “how do I?” The New Testament says, “these things happened to them as warnings to us upon who the ends of the age have fallen.” (1 Corinthians 10:6-11) In what ways might you be flirting with idolatry?