Tearing Down Idols

The vast majority of the Christians in our day are inundated with work and other obsessions that have replaced a true relationship with Jesus. Jesus’ enemy is not opposition, persecution, or threatened poverty. It’s over-commitment, fatigue, stress and running too fast. In this message we look at how to regain the life Jesus is calling you to live.

I want to ask you to consider this question today:

What do I need to do to live the kind of life Jesus invites me to live?

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And I also want you to consider:

What are the things I need to do on a daily basis… and a weekly basis… and a monthly basis… and a yearly basis if I’m really going to get serious about living the way I know God is calling me to live?

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I just want to be straightforward with you up front — the message today is going to be intensely focused.

This is not a message about acquiring new information.
This is not a message about learning new stuff.
This is about making a decision today.

Because the vast majority of the people in our society — and more importantly, the vast majority of Christ followers — say the primary enemy of Jesus’ way of life isn’t opposition or persecution or threatened poverty or so on.

It’s just busyness.
It’s fatigue.
It’s over-commitment — saying yes to too much.
And running too fast.

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So I want us to declare war on this today.

I want us to say, “The time for living this insanely fast-paced life, constantly in a hurry, is just done.”

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I want us all to make a decision about this today.

I want us all to make a decision that we’re going to be different people, starting today.

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And I want us all to make a commitment today that no matter what opportunities it means passing up, I’m going to get serious about living the way God calls me to live.

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No matter what promotions you have to watch go to some less-deserving person.
No matter what aspects of your lifestyle you have to downsize.
No matter who it means you’ll disappoint.
No matter what legitimately good achievements you will miss out on.

I want us all to go public today with a commitment to live a simpler, saner life.

Even if it costs you money.
Even if it makes people mad at you.
Even if it feels kind of boring.
Even if it gets you fired.

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At this point, is anyone feeling any hesitation about being here today?

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Here’s the deal, I believe there’s something we have to do today.

It’s a fundamental thing we must do before we can make any commitment and have it stick. And it has to stick. It matters too much.

There have been too many conversations for too many years on the part of too many people who have too much to offer to the kingdom of God that just keep saying year after year:

“I’m missing it.
“I’m not living the life I know I should be living.
“I’m not getting to know God the way I want to.
“My family is not being the family it could be… because I’m just too busy.
“It’s got to change.”

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There is one thing — I think just one thing — that we have to do before we make these commitments if they’re going to stick.

I believe there’s a reason why people don’t get off the treadmill of hurry in our society.

And the primary reason is fear.

The primary reason people don’t eliminate hurry from their lives is fear.

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We’re afraid it will mean, “I have to say no to something I want so badly. And saying no will feel like dying.”

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I believe the problem is that people want a sane, unhurried, God-honoring way of life; but there’s something else they want more. Because if there wasn’t something else they wanted more, they would be living that kind of life.

It’s not that hard. It’s not that complicated.

And the writers of Scripture use a word for this condition. It’s the word —

Idolatry

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Our way of life, you understand, indicates that at some level — we are idolaters.

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Jesus said:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

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And everyone in this room can do that.

But our problem is we’re afraid — “If I really do follow the way of Jesus — if I really do ruthlessly eliminate hurry and this insane pace for my life:

I’m afraid I’ll miss out on what I want the most.
I’m afraid I won’t get the corner office.
I won’t be a contributor.
Or I’ll have to live with disapproval from people whose love and admiration I’ve got to have.
Or I’ll live with insecurity and anxiety because I’m not sure God will really take care of me.

Now, I don’t think anyone here sits down and worships these things like the Canaanites worshiped Baal.

But when there’s something in your life that prevents you from saying yes to what you know to be God’s way of life, that something is an idol.

And an idol has to be dethroned.

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One of the saddest statements about many of Israel’s kings, that occurred many times in the Old Testament, was along these lines.

This is 1 Kings 22:43 about the King Jehoshaphat, but it’s used in many of them.

In everything he followed the ways of his father Asa and did not stray from them; he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. The high places, however, were not removed, and the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there.

People had to take action to unmask and dethrone idols, or in time, they’d go back to them.

And I think that’s what happens.

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So today is going to be about tearing down idols.

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And I want to look at four of the idols I think threaten us most in our day.

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I’m going to look at a symbol for each one of them.

Towards the end of the message, I’m going to ask you to identify which one you wrestle with the most.

And I’m going to ask you if you are willing to make a commitment — to dethrone it from your life, tear it down, root it out of your life.

I’m very serious about this.

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Alright, the first symbol of an idol that I think claims an awful lot of us is a ladder.

This is a picture of vocational achievement.
It’s a picture of your job or career.

It’s not a bad thing to have work that you love. It’s a good thing to give yourself to that.

But in our society, we’re often taught to idolize our work.

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If this is you, the primary reality in your life is that more than anything else, you want to climb that ladder.

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And the truth is that God, your family, and pretty much everything else gets the leftovers from you.

There’s a little voice inside you that says, “If you don’t climb that ladder, you’re going to be one of those ordinary people, one of the insignificant mediocres. You won’t count. Not really.”

If this is you, the truth is that much, if not most, of your identity and your self-esteem come from work accomplishments.

Your spouse, if you’re married, your children, if you have them, would say you work too many hours.

You’re gone from home too much.

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Work keeps you from prayer.
It keeps you from Scripture.
it keeps you from worship.
It keeps you from serving.
It keeps you from your family.

And you intend to change, but somehow, you never do.

And the question you have to ask yourself is how high can you climb? And will it ever be high enough?

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And do you ever think about what happens to really good ladder climbers in the long run?

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I want to tell you about one of the greatest ladder climbers in the ancient world.

He’s found in Acts 12.

His name was Herod. He was known as Herod Agrippa the first.

We’ve talked before about Herod the Great and how all of his sons were named Herod.

Well this particular Herod was a grandson of Herod the Great. He was the nephew of Herod Antipas.

Herod Antipas is the one who wanted to kill Jesus. This is his nephew — Herod Agrippa.

Herod Agrippa was very ambitious. He was a ladder climber.

And he got his Uncle Antipas, one time, to put him on the payroll. But he was so ambitious, he got in trouble for trying to expend his powers by using bribes, and he lost that job.

Now I know living in the US, the idea of nepotism and bribery and corruption in government comes as quite a shock.

But it happened sometimes in the ancient world.

Agrippa wasn’t through. He lost that job, so he borrowed money, went to Rome through flattery and other means. He hitched his wagon to the star of a character named Caligula, who would become emperor — not a very nice one.

And when Caligula became emperor, he named Herod Agrippa king over his uncle Philip’s old province in the Holy Land.

Now, this made the wife of Herod Antipas furious; because Antipas had been serving for 40 years, but he was only called a tetrarch. He wasn’t a king. He didn’t have that title.

So she said to her husband, “You go tell your boss, you go tell Caesar that you want a better title. You want to be named king. You want to climb the ladder.”

So Herod Antipas did what his wife said. He and his wife went to Rome, and they told Caesar, “You should make Herod Antipas king.”

Caesar got so mad that Antipas lost his job, was thrown in exile where he eventually died, and guess who Caesar gave all of his territory and wealth and money and power to?

Herod Agrippa.

Herod Agrippa climbed the ladder as high as it could be climbed.

He was probably the most wealthy, powerful man in all of the Holy Land in the day of the New Testament church.

This is how his life ends up — Acts 12, the latter part of verse 19.

Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there. He had been quarreling with the people of Tyre and Sidon; they now joined together and sought an audience with him.

After securing the support of Blastus, a trusted personal servant of the king, they asked for peace, because they depended on the king’s country for their food supply.

This is how powerful he has become. Foreign countries, now, are dependent on him.

On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.”

Have you ever had people say that to you at work?

Royal robes.
Sitting on a throne.
“This is the voice of a god.”

You don’t climb ladders a whole lot higher than that.

Verse 23:

Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.

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In the end, the greatest ladder climbers that have ever lived — you supply the name and a face — in the end, they’re food for worms.

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And there’s so much deception with idols, because I think the idols we’re talking about today — they’re not obvious idols like Baal or Buddha or something like that.

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There’s a common reaction from men and women in the corporate world who are workaholics. I hear it from Christians and non-Christians alike.

I know a very successful business person who said it recently. He said:

“My family just doesn’t appreciate me. I’m doing all this for them. I’m paying for everything they need.

“They don’t understand. I’ve got to be at work. I’d rather be home more but I can’t.”

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I know some workaholics well enough to know that they really don’t want to be home more.

This guy has assistants who cater to his every need, subordinates who say “yes” to pretty much every suggestion.

He has power, status, money and prestige.

At home, he has to do chores and run errands and listen to his wife and children complain about how much he’s gone.

He would much rather be at the office.

The reality is, he’s doing what he does at work for himself — because of the way it makes him feel.

Or because of the way he thinks — that if he can just climb high enough, just a little bit higher.

The reality is he’s scared to death of what his life would feel like if he didn’t sit in that office anymore, if he got down off the ladder.

The reality is, he’s afraid.

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And for some of you, that’s the idol that has to come down.

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So what do you need to do to tear down that idol?

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Now, I’m going to ask you to NOT be vague about this.

A friend of mine was wrestling with this issue. And he felt God calling him to be home for dinner with his family every night of the week.

And at the time he had three children under the age of three.

Being home for dinner and bath-time and bedtime with three kids under the age of three, to put it mildly, did not feed his drive for achievement.

He’s a partner at a private equity firm where working long hours is part of the culture, so he didn’t know what this would mean for his job if he took this step.

He just knew what it would mean for his marriage and his family and his soul if he didn’t take it.

It’s real easy to quite vaguely say, “Of course, my family is a priority above my work. Of course. I’m doing all this for them.”

But he made that decision. He made it 15 years ago, and he says he has not regretted it one day of his life.

Understand, this doesn’t mean you can’t love your job.

And of course, when you work — whether you love it or whether it’s not real thrilling to you — you ought to give it the best that you have when you’re there.

But don’t give it time or energy or allegiance that keeps you from living in the way of Christ. It’s not worth it. That ladder is not worth it. And for some of you, that’s the idol that needs to get torn down.

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Alright, the image for the second idol is a thumbs up. Anyone know what this represents?

This stands for the idol of approval.

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Because there will be a lot of people in a room this size where the reality is — you really live to try to gain the approval, or at least avoid the disapproval of certain people in your life. And it feels to you like you would die if you didn’t do that.

And God and everything else in your life gets the leftovers.

Because if everyone is not giving you a thumbs up, if anyone is disappointed in you, your inner world gets shaky.

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I’ll tell you what your life is like if this is your idol.

This is a little loose, probably no one has ever seen this show but me, but did anyone here ever watch a TV show called “The Gong Show?”

For the millennials here who have no idea what the gong show is:

This was a show where people would perform, showcase they’re talent — a lot like America’s Got Talent. And there would be a panel of judges sitting there evaluating them.

Except all the judges would be just waiting for an excuse to gong them, which was a humiliating thing.

The gong meant, “You’re not good enough. Get off this stage. Stop wasting our time.”

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And we wonder — why would anyone put themselves through that?

Don’t you wonder why people would put themselves through that in a show like that?

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The truth is there are people who go through their whole life like that. Only it’s like there is a little panel of judges in their mind.

They think:

“I have to please my parents, my teachers, authority figures, my peers, my boss, other people that work in my field, my kids.”

And their whole life is about gong avoidance.

“If my house has to look perfect, I’ll do whatever it takes.
“If my children have to be chauffeured to practices, lessons and games, even though it makes our family life miserable and exhausts us all, I’ll do it.
“If I have to say yes to commitments to make people happy with me, I’ll say yes.
“If it leaves me resentful, exhausted, prayerless, feeling far from God, miserable in my life, I’ll say yes — because I worship the god of approval.”

And people lose decades of their lives doing this. And they’re living someone else’s life, not theirs.

And what’s so ironic about this is we do it to ourselves. We carry that around in our own minds.

When you’re in your twenties, you live to please other people.
When you’re in your thirties, you get tired of trying to please them all the time.
When you’re in your forties, you realize, no one was thinking about you anyway. They were thinking about themselves.
When you’re in your fifties, you can’t even remember their names anymore.

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This is a very, very important idol. And the Apostle Paul wrote precisely about this.

I want us to see words that the Apostle Paul wrote, because they come from such a convicted place in the battle against this idol.

This is what Paul wrote:

I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.

“I care very little,” Paul says. “I’m not going to bow down before that idol.”

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So what do you need to do to dethrone this idol in your life?

Maybe it’s real clear to you right now — there’s a person or commitment in your life that you need to say no to so you can say yes to God.

And you know who that person or what that commitment is. You know that right now. It’s on your mind right now sitting here.

Maybe you need to go off to be alone with God sometime in the next few days, use a journal if that would help, and write down the names of people whom you’re letting sit in that judges chair inside you.

And then, tell them — and ask for God’s help in this — they’re not going to be allowed there anymore.

Your life, from here on, is to be lived to please only one, and that’s God. And He’s a God of grace.

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Maybe you need to memorize Paul’s statement:

“I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court. It is the Lord who judges me.”

Maybe you just need to write the words — “I care very little if I’m judged by you.” And put that somewhere so you can see it regularly. So you’re reminded of this moment when you decided to dethrone the idol of approval.

That needs to get real deep in your mind.

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There’s a third idol, and this idol is symbolized by a padlock, because this is the idol of security.

The reality is, for a lot of us in this room, when we think about the future, we just get scared.

It seems like I have to take care of myself. And God gets the leftovers.

This idol says:

You have to try to engineer your own security.
You have to ensure the maintenance of your way of life.
You can’t really trust that God will take care of you.

Of course it’s good to plan wisely for the future. Of course it’s good to work responsibly. But when security becomes an idol, you find you can’t stop worrying.

You keep putting in too much overtime.
You keep obsessing over the future.
You look at your finances and try to make decisions about your future way too much.
You wear yourself out. Or you wear your spouse out. Or you wear your family out.

And you can’t pray or worship or serve or laugh or play the way God wants you to.

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Work and money loom too large in your life — not because you idolize your career, but because you’re afraid and you don’t trust that God really will take care of you.

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Jesus talked so much about this. He’d say, “Look at the birds. They don’t worry. They’re not anxious. God takes care of them.”

He tells about a man who worshiped this idol one time, who devoted all of his time and all of his energy to this. And one day, when things went really well for this guy — better than they’d ever gone before in his life — he said, “Now I know what I’ll do. I will build bigger barns and I’ll store up everything I need. I’m smart enough and clever enough, and I’ve engineered it.

“Now you’ll have plenty of good things laid out for many years,” he said to himself. “At last you’re secure.”

Do you know what Jesus called that man?

“You fool,” Jesus said, “your life is not in your hands. And if you think that you can secure it by being hardworking enough and clever enough and having enough money — if you think that’s what security is about, and you think that you’re really smart because somehow you can do it, it’s unspeakably tragic.”

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So what do you need to do to dethrone this idol?

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Maybe you need to look at your bank account, and your financial records, and your investments — everything about your financial life and future — just lay it all out.

And then just pray about it and submit it to God.

Tell God, “God, I’m trusting you for my future. I’m not going to sacrifice the way of life you’ve called me to because I think I’ve got to engineer my security anymore.”

Maybe you need help getting some part of your financial life on track. Get help.

Maybe you need to downsize some part of your budget.
Maybe what you need to do to take action, to root this idol out of your life, is to spend a little time serving and giving and being around someone who has far less than you. And learn from them that you don’t have to live your life in anxious slavery before this idol, because you don’t.

There are millions and millions, hundreds of millions of people around this world who have unspeakably less than almost all of us in this room, and they live with quite a sense of freedom and confidence and dependence on God. There are quite a lot of people alive who do that.

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Alright, there’s one more idol I want to talk about today. This is kind of a subtle one, but it’s a real important one for me to name here.

The symbol for this idol is a tool belt. Very often in the Bible, we’re commanded to do good work. We’re commanded to work at everything the Lord gives us to do with all of our hearts.

The Apostle Paul said:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.

So this tool belt is a picture of working at good things for God.

When it comes to this idol, I’m especially concerned for many of you who are most involved at Blue Oaks.

I want to talk real directly for a moment now to those of you who are deeply committed volunteers, and to a number of you who, like me, are part of our staff or board.

Because for some of you, your lives are filled with wonderful activities, doing a lot of good work — doing good things and saying good words.

But everything is not well between you and God.

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And the life that you’re inviting other people to live is not the life that you’re living yourself.

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And the truth is, when you stop to acknowledge it, you find yourself tired, stretched thin, irritable, tempted sometimes to get quite cynical or a little bitter.

Your soul is not well.

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And this is a very dangerous thing for a church, especially when it starts to get near the core.

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There is, I think, a fascinating story in the New Testament. I’ll just summarize it, but it’s in Acts 8.

It involves a man named Simon the Sorcerer who became a Christ follower.

He became a believer.
And he followed the disciples around.
And we’re told that he was captivated by the excitement of the ministry.
He just marveled at the lives that were changed, the miracles that happened.

And he went to Peter and John and said, “I’ve got to get in on this. I’ve got to be a part of it.

“I’ll do anything. I’ll give you my money if I can have this ability, if I can be a real player, if I can be someone who counts in this ministry.”

And they rebuke him very sharply.

Peter said to him. “If you don’t repent, your self-centeredness, your wrong-heartedness will ruin all the good that you say you want to do.”

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There was a lot of good in Simon.
He was a genuine believer.
He clearly had quite powerful and charismatic gifts and presence.
He was in community.
He wanted to genuinely do good work.

He wasn’t in it for greed.
He said he was willing to pay, give his money for this.

But his problem might be put like this — Simon wanted to be used by God more than he wanted God Himself.

He wanted the rush and excitement of all this dramatic activity.

And he wanted to be in the middle of it.
And he wanted to be the one directing it.
And he wanted to be known as someone who was working with all of his heart for the Lord.

There was a kind of glamour involved in all of this.

God alone was not enough for Simon.

The truth is, at some level, in the midst of a lot of other good things in him, it was still all about him.

So Peter rebukes him sharply.

And Simon says, “Pray for me that nothing you have said will happen to me.”

And that’s the last we hear of him in the New Testament.

We don’t know, maybe he left at that point.
Maybe he repented and prayed.
Maybe he led quite a quiet and undramatic life.
We don’t know. We never hear of him again.

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Some of you who have been serving in the church for a long time:

You’ve been running so hard.
The best you can discern it, you’re not captive to one of these other idols.
But you’re running too fast.
And you’re tired.
And you’re over-committed.
And you’re stretched too thin.
And you’re not living with love.
And you’re not living with joy.
And it’s possible, at a church like this, where what we do can look so exciting and can be so admired; it’s possible that you’re wanting to be used by God more than you just want God.

That can happen to us. It could happen to me.

And it’s real dangerous because what happens over time is you start using God.

You start trying to use him to create the experiences and the excitement and the reputation that you really crave.

And part of you is driven to be seen as a real spiritual leader, and then you get hurt or crushed or envious or jealous when it doesn’t happen to you, or it happens to someone else.

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So I think there are some in this room who need to pray:

“God, I don’t demand anything of you.
I don’t demand certain results.
I don’t demand certain experiences.
I don’t demand that you use me in some particular way.

“More than anything else, God, I just want you and I want your kind of life.

“And I will make it a priority to spend time with you.
And I will make it a priority to spend time in prayer. And time in your Word.
And I will trust, God, that if I live as I know I need to live — working with all my heart as unto the Lord — that you’ll use me in ways that you see fit.”

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Well, those are the four idols I wanted to talk to you about.

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Maybe your idol is one of these. Maybe it’s something else.

But there’s something we have to do today.

The writers of Scripture are real clear on what needs to be done to idols.

Consistently, throughout Scripture, God made people take action, do something concrete to root them out of their lives.

Israel would have an idol dethroning ceremony.

Do you remember what happened to the golden calf?

Moses had it burned in a fire, then ground up into powder, dissolved in water and then made the people drink it as a way of saying, “Never again. No more.”

Baal was defeated in a blaze of fire.

The idols would be smashed in the high places.

These were concrete ways of saying, “This idol — this thing that I thought was so powerful — will not receive my allegiance. My loyalty, from this day forward, goes to God alone.”

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So Blue Oaks, we’re going to have an idol dethroning ceremony, because it’s time to stop. This is the only life you’ve got.

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I’m going to run through the names of the idols, and I want to make this quite concrete.

So I’m going to ask you, if you’re willing to, when I get to whatever idol it is that you’re tempted to follow that could mess up your life — I’m going to ask you to stand up when I get to it.

And I’d like you to remain standing.

And then I’m going to ask you today, just between you and God, to put a stake in the ground.

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So the first one is this ladder-climbing achievement idol.

I’m going to ask anyone here, if you find yourself tempted, ever, to allow work to play a role, to take the time in your life that you shouldn’t, just stand up right now as a way of saying publicly, before God, “I’m not going to do that anymore.

“I’m going to root this idol out of my life. And whatever it takes, God, I want you to know I will not sacrifice my life, my time, my family, my energy to climbing some ladder that’s never going to satisfy me.”

So, just stand up if that’s you. And I’m going to ask that you remain standing.

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Second one is this idol of approval.

And again, I’m going to ask if you find yourself tempted to sacrifice your life to get people that you don’t even know to approve of you, just stand up right now.

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And I’m going to give you another minute to stand, because some of you are worried, “What are other people going to think of me if I stand up right now?”

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I want to tell you something — in the community of God, anytime anyone is willing publicly to say, “I’m going to root this idol out of my life,” that’s a victory for the whole community. It really is. So just stand if this is your idol.

And as you stand right now, you’re saying to God, “God, I’m not going to sacrifice my life anymore. From now on, it’s going to be a small thing for me to be judged by any human being.”

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Alright, if your idol is security — if you find yourself tempted to be overly concerned or worried about the future — I want to ask you to stand up.

And you’re saying, as you do this, “I’m not going to live a crazy, worried, fearful, anxious life because I think somehow I can make myself secure.

“I’m really going to trust. I’m going to do what I need to in my life daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, and trust that God will really do what he says he will do.”

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And then I’m going to ask if any of you find that you’re tempted in your work for God, where ministry can be so visible and so exciting and so glamorous in some ways, and you find yourself stretched a little thin — just stand up right now if you’re willing to say, “God, I want you more than I want to be used by you.”

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And I want to give you another moment to think about your life and if there is anything else —

Maybe you’re here today and the idol that wants to get a hold of you, the one that you know, that you wrestle with, it wasn’t named today. It’s not one of the four I mentioned today.

It’s something else, but you know what it is.

And if you want to make a stand today and say, “God, no more to this idol,” I just want you to have a chance to stand up right now.

If there is anything else, any unnamed idol for you and you want to make a declaration right now, you can stand up and tell God that.

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And here’s what we’re going to do.

I want to give this moment to you to talk to God and to make a real solemn vow.

And it’s just going to be silent with nothing else going on.

Will you just say to God:

God, I want to tear down this Idol today. And even though it’s going to hurt, I want it rooted out of my life. And I will not let it have any more power over me.

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And then I’m going to ask you to do just one more thing. And that is to go home and start living the way you know Jesus wants you to.

Love God.
Enjoy your family.
Watch over your soul.
And understand you have everything you need to dethrone that idol.
Jesus promised it’s so, and he’ll help you.

||

Alright, spend some time in prayer and then the worship team is going to lead us in a closing song.

Blue Oaks Church
Pleasanton, CA

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