Gods of Pleasure, Part 1
From the series Gods at War
Let’s face it, we all struggle with sin. But what if those pesky, reoccurring issues… are only the tip of the iceberg? In this program, guest teacher Kyle Idleman suggests that our sin is actually rooted in something much more serious… a deeper problem that threatens to destroy our relationship with God. Wanna know what it is? Then don't miss this broadcast!
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About this series
Gods at War
Defeating the Idols that Battle for Your Heart
When you hear the word idol… you probably picture those big stone figures that people worshipped centuries ago. But did you know that - while most people don’t bow down to man-made statues anymore - we all worship something? In this series, our guest teacher Kyle Idleman reveals the subtle nature of idolatry and just how rampant it is in our lives - oftentimes without us even realizing it! He unpacks the ways we’ve put money, pleasure, achievements, careers… even our families, in place of God….And how we’ve allowed those false gods to satisfy, control and define us. Stay with us, as Kyle exposes the idols we’re holding on to … and challenges us to take radical steps to get back to worshipping the one true God.More from this series
Idolatry is the issue. Sin is usually what we focus on, but it’s just the fruit. Idolatry is always the tree from which it grows. And so, behind every sin struggle that I have, behind every sin struggle that you have is a false god that is winning the war in our lives.
And we asked ourselves some pretty difficult questions last week to try and identify some of the gods that are at war within you and at war within me. And I hope that you found that if you struggle with jealousy, it’s not just that you’re a jealous person, it’s that perhaps you have made stuff a god in your life.
If you are anxious and worried, a lot of the time it’s not that you’re just an anxious person, it’s that perhaps you have made comfort and security a god in your life.
If you keep losing to lust, maybe you have made sex a god in your life. If you struggle with gossip, maybe you have made what other people think of you a god in your life. If you’re a little bit legalistic and self-righteous, maybe that’s because you have made religious rules into a god of your life. If you’re discontent, maybe it’s because you have made money a god in your life.
If you are proud, maybe it’s because you have made image a god. If you lack self-control, maybe it’s because you have turned pleasure into a god. And so, behind every sin that I struggle with and you struggle with is this false god that is winning the war.
For most of my Christian life, I didn’t understand it that way. Instead, my focus would always be on the sin itself and on my mental determination to stop doing that sin. But we need to get past the surface. And if we scratch at that sin and if we keep scratching at it, then we will find underneath that sin is a false god that is sitting on the throne of our hearts. And until that god is dethroned, we will experience great frustration.
Until that god is off the throne of our hearts, we will not know victory. And so, we have tried to identify some of those gods and now we are talking about: how do we worship the one true God?
For you, the question is: What are some of the gods that you are struggling with? What are the gods at war within you? If you’re like me, and most of you are, then you will probably find that some of the hardest gods to defeat are the gods of pleasure.
We continually find ourselves bowing down to what feels good. After all, it is the mantra of our culture: If it feels good, do it. If you have an appetite, feed it. If you have an itch, scratch it. If you’ve got this pleasure or desire, then go ahead and satisfy it.
And so, these gods of pleasure are everywhere and they are some of the most difficult to defeat, in part, in part, because many of these gods are not evil or wrong in themselves. Instead, they were gifts given to us by God Himself and we turned them into gods. We took gifts and turned them into gods.
We took a gift that God gave us and we turned it into His primary competition. Imagine you’re a parent and you buy a Wii, a Nintendo Wii for your child. You take it home and the child is ecstatic, gives you a big thank you, lots of hugs, it was worth every penny. And your child sets up the Wii and begins to play that thing and you find great joy in seeing the pleasure that your gift brings them.
But then after a few weeks, it seems like that’s really all they want to do is play the Wii. And they complain about the attachments that they don’t have. And finally you come home from work one day and you want to spend time with your child, but your child doesn’t want to spend time with you because they would rather be playing the Wii. What happened?
The gift replaced the giver. At least practically speaking, the gift means more to the person than the one who gave it. And this is what we have done with many gifts of pleasure that God gave to us for us to enjoy, but we have turned them into gods. We have made them His competition.
And these are the gods that can be hardest to identify and to destroy. Listen to these words from John Piper. He says, “The greatest enemy for God is not poison, but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for the banquet of heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time drivel of triviality we drink in every night. The greatest adversary of love to God is not His enemies, but His gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For, when these replace an appetite for God Himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable. These are not evil in themselves; these are not vices; these are gifts of God. They are your basic meat and potatoes and coffee and gardening and reading and decorating and traveling and investing and TV watching and Internet surfing and shopping and exercising and collecting and talking and all of them can become deadly substitutes for God.”
Do you see why these gods of pleasure can be so dangerous? They are gifts, oftentimes from God Himself and we have turned them into His competition. And if you have your Bibles, turn to 1 Kings 18.
We were in Joshua 24 and Joshua, at the time was about a hundred and ten years old. He gathers the nation of Israel together at a place called Shechem for what will be his final speech to the people. And he throws down a challenge. He says, “Everybody is going to worship. It’s not a matter of if you will worship; you will worship. So choose this day whom you will serve. Who are you going to worship?
And all the people in Joshua 24 say, “Well, we will worship the Lord God,” and Joshua says to them, “Well, go destroy your idols. Go destroy the false gods that you brought with you out of the land of Egypt.”
So, that’s Joshua 24. Now we are in 1 Kings 18. Between that time and this time, hundreds of years have passed in Israel’s history. And a few important things have happened that you need to know.
One, Israel has split in two. They now are the northern kingdom of Israel, and the southern kingdom of Israel. The Northern Kingdom was first ruled by a king named Jeroboam. Jeroboam had a real practical problem on his hands and that is Jerusalem, the place where people would go to worship the Lord God is located in the Southern Kingdom. He didn’t want all his people in the Northern Kingdom commuting to the Southern Kingdom. He wanted them to stay out of there.
So, he gathers the people together and he says, “Listen, the traffic is horrible. The parking lot is a mess there. You don’t want to have to go all the way down to Jerusalem. Just stay here and worship. In fact, we have these gods, these false gods, that you can worship here.”
And he unlocks a storage building and he pulls out all these false gods and all these idols. He blows the dust off. And do you know where they are from? They are from the land of Egypt in the days of Joshua.
The people didn’t destroy the god. They just put it in a closet. Does that sound familiar? They just stored it for a little while and here we are hundreds of years later, those gods, those false gods come back and with a vengeance. In fact, as you read through the Israel’s history, you find kings come and go, but they become more and more entrenched as a nation worshipping these false gods.
Eventually, 1 Kings 16, verse 29 says, “Ahab son of Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned in Samaria over Israel for twenty-two years. Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him.” And there had been some pretty evil kings before him.
One of the things Ahab did was he married this woman by the name of Jezebel. And she was the princess of the Sidonians. And she comes in from this foreign nation and Ahab essentially puts her in charge of his religious cabinet.
And so, what she does is she finds all the prophets of God, the Lord God, that she can and she has them killed. She has them executed. And then, Jezebel sets up this altar to her primary god of her land named Baal. And so she sets up an altar to Baal. And then she builds Baal a temple in the northern kingdom of Israel.
Well, God, is a jealous God.
Eventually He has had enough of this and He is going to put a stop to it. And so, He calls His prophet, Elijah. And He says to Elijah, “I want you to go to Ahab and deliver a message to Ahab.” And so, that’s what we read about in chapter 17, verse 1.
Elijah says to the king, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at My word.”
And so, Elijah the prophet goes to the king and says a drought is coming. Now, here’s what you have to understand. Baal, the god they had been worshipping, primarily was the god of rain. He was the god of weather. And so, God looks at Israel as a nation and sees that the primary god they are worshipping is the god of rain. And God, the Lord God, says, “Alright, then I am going to withhold rain.”
And this is oftentimes what the Lord does. He sees an area that has become too important to us. In fact, it is more important to us than Him. And He withdraws His blessing in that area. Does this sound familiar to some of you?
Because some of you are the most frustrated in areas of life that mean the most to you, because you have made them too important and God has said, “Oh, okay, then I will remove My hand of blessing from you in that area since I am not the Lord of that area.”
And so, don’t be surprised. If you have put your marriage ahead of God, if you have put your work ahead of God, your finances ahead of God, if you have put your business ahead of God, if you have put your sex life ahead of God, if you have put your happiness ahead of God, then don’t be surprised if these are the areas in which you experience the most frustration. Because God says, “Oh, this is your Baal? Okay. I won’t send the rain.”
What Israel is experiencing as we read here, is what theologians would call the active wrath of God. The active wrath.
In other words, God is not going to just sit by any longer and let you live in disobedience or in idolatry. Instead, He is going to actively do something about it and He withholds the rain.
Now, there are other times, He doesn’t always work this way. Other times, when we are living in a pattern of sin or we are guilty of idolatry, we don’t experience God’s active wrath, we experience what is called God’s passive wrath. His passive wrath.
This is where God says, “I’ll just let you live with the natural consequences that come when I am not the Lord of your life.” And we read about this in Romans 1, which is all about idolatry. Three different places in Romans 1 it says, “The people exchanged God,” for something else. They exchanged God for this, they exchanged God for that.
Every time we read of this exchange they have made, we also read this. “And the Lord turned them over.” “And the Lord turned them over.” In other words, God is saying, “If that’s what you want, then that’s what you can have.” It’s His passive wrath where we live with the natural consequences that come when He is not the Lord of our life.
And if you’re living in a sinful pattern, if you’re guilty of idolatry, then you will experience God’s active wrath, or you will experience God’s passive wrath. So, the question is, what is the Baal in your life? Is there an area that has become too important to you where you’re now experiencing God withholding a blessing in that area? And if you will turn it over to Him, if you will make Him Lord of that area in your life, then He will oftentimes send the rain.
I have seen this as a pastor many times. One example I can think of is recently I talked to a young lady, she wanted more than anything else to get married. That’s what she had wanted for years, desperately praying, God, please send someone into my life. God, I want to be married. It’s my dream to be a wife, to be a mom. Please.
And there just came a point where she said, Okay, Lord, I am going to be content in You. I am going to find joy in You and whatever Your timing is is okay with me. I’ll keep praying about it. But this is no longer what is most important.
And she said it was about that time that God sent someone into her life. She stopped worshipping Baal and God sent the rain. Now, let me be real clear here. This is not a guaranteed formula, okay? And it’s not something where you can go to God and say, Okay, God, I’m going to make You first in my life, and then You bring that someone into my life. That’s what I really want. That’s not how it works either. He knows our hearts.
But He often does operate this way. You stopped worshipping Baal and God sent the rain.
And don’t be surprised that in your life, if there are some things that have become too important to you if God sends a drought, is this true for you right now? Are you experiencing a work drought? A financial drought? A marriage drought? A sex drought? A happiness drought? Because God is wanting to draw your attention back to Him. Because God wants to make sure that He is the Lord of this area in your life.
And then you turn to Him and you look up to Him and then you feel a drop of rain fall on your face. I read this week about a young girl walks into a department store and she sees this pearl necklace. It’s not real. It’s fake. It’s kind of gaudy and tacky, really. It costs about ten dollars, but she loves it.
She goes home and she saves up her money until she has ten bucks, comes back to the store; she buys these fake pearls. And she just wears them everywhere. I mean, all the time she wears these pearls, these fake pearls. And they look tacky and a few of them go missing after a little while. And finally her father comes to her one night and says, “Honey, do you love me?” And the little girl says, “Daddy, you know I love you.” And then the father says, “Then I want you to give me those pearls.” And the little girl says, “Dad, you can have my favorite toy, but you can’t have my pearls.” He comes to her the next night and says, “Honey, do you love me? Then I want you to give me your pearls.” And she says, “Well, you can have my favorite doll, but you can’t have my pearls.”
The next day she comes down the steps, she’s got some tears in her eyes and she is carrying her gaudy, tacky pearls in her hand and she says, “Daddy, you can have my pearls. I want you to know how much I love you.”
And then the father pulls out of his pocket a velvet case and he opens for his daughter a real pearl necklace. See, he was waiting for her to let go of the imitation so that he could bless her with the real thing. He was waiting to see that he, as the father, meant the most and then he would give her the best gift of all.
And I wonder how much, how often we are missing out on God’s blessing in a certain area of our lives because we have made it too important and if we would just give it back to Him, then God would send the rain.
And so, God sends Elijah and says to the king, “Listen, there is going to be this drought in the land.” And a few years pass. There is no rain. God has made His point. And He sends Elijah back to Ahab and basically Elijah sets up what you could call a cage match between God and all the gods of Baal and of Asherah.
1 Kings 18, verse 19, Elijah goes to Ahab and he says, “‘Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.’ So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel.”
Mount Carmel was kind of an ancient location of where God had been worshipped and they had brought sacrifices to the Lord from years ago. So they decide to meet on Mount Carmel.
Verse 21 says, “Elijah went before the people,” so he stands in front of this crowd of probably thousands and he says, “How long,” this is what he says to the people, “how long will you waver between two opinions?” Does this sound familiar from Joshua 24? “How long are you going to go back and forth? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”
And then it says this, “But the people said,” what? “The people said nothing.” Now you have to ask yourself why. Why were they silent? I see myself in this. They were silent because they didn’t want to have to choose. They wanted both. So, they thought it best to just say nothing at all.
If they wanted Baal instead of God, they would have said, “We choose Baal.” If they wanted God instead of Baal, they would have said, “We choose God.” They wanted both and so they said nothing. We don’t like to be forced to choose.
This is why many people don’t come to church, you understand. They would say if you asked them, “Well, I love God. I really do. But I don’t go to church.” “Well, why?” If you get down to it, I’m telling you, this is it. They don’t want to have to choose. They don’t want to put a throne on their hearts where God sits. Instead, they, I can do it too, “Well, we much prefer instead of a throne, we prefer a loveseat. A loveseat.”
Or we invite God to sit on the loveseat of our hearts, “God, You’re welcome, we want You on the loveseat of our hearts. Just understand you’re expected to share that space with something or someone else.”