If you’re like me, you’ve probably reached that point in the year when your Bible reading plan starts to turn to the prophets. Second only to Leviticus (and possibly Job) in lack of popularity, many people cringe when this part of their Bible reading plan rolls around. It’s tempting to ask ourselves, “Since these prophecies were given to a specific people during a specific time in their history, what do they actually have to do with me?”
Yet, as I’ve been reading through the prophets this year, I realize they have so, so much to do with the American church.
Specifically, we need to pay attention to the parts where God tells His people to put stop worshiping idols, following foreign religions, and return to obeying His laws.
It’s funny. I remember being a child growing up in the church, and hearing teachers and preachers share how the people of Israel would turn away from God‘s laws and worship idols. They would forget the Ten Commandments given to them by Moses, or, worse yet, they combined the law of Moses along with idol worship and worshiped the gods of the nations around them.
The choice to disobey God‘s laws and participate in idol worship removed God’s blessing from their land and placed them in a place where they would be punished.
Because if we go back to the book of Joshua, we read that right before he died, Joshua gathered all of the Israelite's together.
He started by reminding them of their history: how they were slaves in Egypt, but God set them free. He reminded them or the miracles, how they were given the Promised Land and the fact that they were God’s people.
Then he gave them a choice:
“So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly.
Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone.
But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14-15)
Immediately, the people responded, “We will serve the Lord!”
But Joshua, knowing the people, reminded them that this would not be easy. In fact, he said they couldn’t do it.
Then Joshua warned the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy and jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you abandon the Lord and serve other gods, he will turn against you and destroy you, even though he has been so good to you.” (Joshua 24:19-20)
Knowing full well, what would happen if they made a covenant with God, and then broke it, the Israelite's said: “No, we will serve the Lord!…..We will serve the Lord our God. We will obey him alone.” (Joshua 24:21 & 24)
So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day at Shechem, committing them to follow the decrees and regulations of the Lord.
Joshua recorded these things in the Book of God’s Instructions. As a reminder of their agreement, he took a huge stone and rolled it beneath the terebinth tree beside the Tabernacle of the Lord.
Joshua said to all the people, “This stone has heard everything the Lord said to us. It will be a witness to testify against you if you go back on your word to God.” (Joshua 24:25-27)
Fast forward a few decades, and the book of the prophet are essentially God reminding His people that they made an agreement and then broke it. He’s asking them to please come back, to repent, and change before all of the things that He warned them would happen if they broke the agreement and worshiped idols happened to them.
It’s the heart of a loving God saying, “I don’t want you to suffer the consequences of your sins. I don’t want bad things to happen to you. I don’t want to send you into exile—I don’t want you to lose your land. I want you to turn back to Me, repent, and stop worshiping idols.”
As I said, I remember being a little girl in Sunday school class hearing these stories. The funny thing is they were always told with the caveat of “Of course, we don’t worship idols or foreign gods in America. We need to be careful that we don’t make other things idols in our hearts.”
We talked about sports, movie stars, money, or friends, or different ways to set things before God and make them idols in our hearts. But we almost laughed at the idea that obviously we don’t worship idols or foreign gods.
And yet, this year, as I’ve been reading through the prophets, I’ve been really sad to realize that this is no longer true in America.
It’s no longer “obvious” that we don’t worship idols or participate in foreign religions.
Instead, it is all too common for Christians to mix serving God and going to church on Sunday with participating in foreign religion and idol worship during the week.
Don’t believe me? Think I’m crazy? Consider this:
We now live in a society that says all religions are equal. As Buddhism, Hinduism, Animism, and other foreign religions have become the cultural norm, their practices have become “hobbies” within Christianity.
--It’s now commonplace to hear about Christians doing yoga, even though it is derived from Hinduism.
--Many follow the practice of meditation as laid out by Buddhism.
--Many believe in crystals' healing power and set them around their house, even though this is New Age theology.
--Marie Kondo had people thanking objects before they threw them out with is Animism.
--Christians dabble in the occult by playing Dungeons and Dragons and Ouiji boards.
--Nobody even blinks an eye when Christians know their astrological sign or read their horoscope.
--Christians watch television shows about demons and the occult on television the time. Churches promote Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings without realizing the real life dangers of magic and the occult.
--We talk about Kharma, read the writings of Gandhi and other Eastern philosophers as if they aren’t false teachers preaching false religions.
The fact is that the Christian church has a problem they don’t want to talk about when it comes to worshiping foreign gods and idol worship. However, just like in the days of the prophets, today, the same loving God says, “I don’t want you to suffer the consequences of these sins. It’s time to recognize our sin, repent, stop worshiping idols and participating in foreign religions.
He’s calling us back to the truth that we are to serve God and serve Him only.
Like the Israelites, we need to search our hearts and see if there is even a hint of participating in foreign religions or idol worship in our lives.
Like the Israelites, today the choice stands before each of us: will we follow God and abandon idols and foreign religions?
If we say "yes", then we have go follow it up with actions.
It’s time to heed the words of the Bible in the Old and New Testament and stop flirting with idols and foreign religions.
As John says,
“Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21, NIV)
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Adessa Holden is an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God specializing in Women's Ministry. Together with her brother, Jamie, they manage 4One Ministries and travel the East Coast speaking, holding conferences, and producing Men's and Women's resources that provide practical Biblical teaching for everyday life.
When asked about herself, she'll tell you "I'm a women's minister, a sister, and a daughter. I love to laugh and spend time with people. My favorite things are chocolate, the ocean, sandals and white capris, anything purple, summertime and riding in the car listening to music. It is my absolute honor and privilege to serve Jesus and women through this ministry.