Sunday, February 7, 2016

Stupid Israelites?

         Am I the only one who can’t understand why the Israelites in the Old Testament kept running after powerless idols when they could have had the living God? God rescued them from their oppressors, fought their battles, gave them the most beautiful land on earth, blessed them with large families, clothed them like royalty, made their crops abundantly productive, etc. He longed to be their God and they to be His people. He poured out lavish love on them, and yet, they turned to idols of their own making? Why?
         But, let’s think about this: For His blessing to continue, God required a few things. He asked them to lead a life of restraint, self-control, sacrifice, and obedience. Their false idols (themselves) allowed excessive indulgence (drink, sex, food), “freedom” to do whatever they wanted, self-promotion, and the pursuit of selfish desires. They refused to submit to God’s authority, because they thought any consequences of their behavior would be worth doing what they wanted now. But eventually (and after numerous warnings), their idolatry led to famine, disease, death, war, torture, and captivity. Only a small remnant would be saved.
         If only people could see God’s goodness and love towards us! When He puts restraints on us, it’s for our good. He knows our sin will enslave us and destroy the good things in our lives. Our rebellion will keep us from fully knowing Him and finding satisfaction in Him. And He is more amazing that we can imagine!
         What idol(s) controls you today? Good things taken to excess or out of God’s boundaries seem to be common idols. Food is one example. It seems to be the Christian “drug,” and it has a powerful hold on many of us. In some ways it’s harder to control, because we can’t just abstain from eating. And as Americans, advertisers push food in our faces all day long. We have been conditioned to think we’re worth it. We deserve it, and we need a lot of it. We believe we can’t enjoy life without indulging. Resolutely, we refuse to give up or limit favorite foods we know are bad for us.
         A few years ago, God told me to give up sugar for a year, because it had such a strong hold on me. A year. He forced me to decide to submit to Him or live in idolatry. That was a tough year. I have since loosened the restrictions a bit, but I still have to be careful. Now, we’re working on portion sizes and good choices so I can be healthy. In the future, if I walk in obedience to Him now, I will avoid terrible consequences.
         Our Pastor recently taught a lesson on fasting. I found these points helpful: Fasting breaks the power of food over us and strengthens our self-control muscle. It causes us to lean into God’s power and strength and depend on Him. It is in our leanness that we find satisfaction in Him alone.

         God’s ways aren’t glamorous or fun or easy, but they are good and life-giving. When we fail, He helps us get up, dust our clothes, and try again. In the process, we draw closer to Him and find that He satisfies the true hunger of our hearts.

--Joyce Hague

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