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03-30-2014 message by Pastor Rich Doebler

2 Tim 3:1-51 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. (NIV)

Last week we began a new series of messages about “American Idols.” We saw that idolatry is not just something found in ancient times or primitive cultures. It’s not just bowing down before stone or metal objects, praying to carved images. We saw that idolatry still happens today—in our own culture…and in our own hearts.

An idol is anything that comes between us and our devotion to God. When something becomes an obsession for us—when it controls us or consumes most of our time or energy or attention, that thing becomes an idol; one dictionary definition of idol is: any person or thing regarded with blind admiration, adoration, or devotion.

Will Mancini (Unique Church, p 37) says “An idol is anything we add to Jesus in order to make life work.”

This is a huge problem for anyone wanting to serve God. Before we look at today’s topic, here are a couple of things about this problem we need to understand.

1. All sins contain the seed of idolatry. At the core of all sinful behavior is a resistance to God, rebelling against his ways. That attitude is the same thing we find in worshiping idols.

Kyle Idleman (Gods At War, p 22) says idolatry isn’t just one of many sins. He says it is THE ONE, GREAT sin that all other sins come from: “If you start scratching at whatever struggle you’re dealing with, eventually you’ll find that underneath it is a false god. Until that god is dethroned, and the Lord God takes his rightful place, you will not have victory.”

He says that’s why—when you look at the Ten Commandments—the very FIRST commandment God gave Moses on the mountain—the one that came before the others—number ONE was: “2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, 3 You shall have no other gods before me.” (Ex. 20:2-3) [p 23]

And the second commandment expands on the first: “4 You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them (Ex. 20:4-5)

After first “HAVE no other gods” we are told second to “MAKE no other gods to worship.”

What’s the difference? Idleman says the reason the second reinforces the first is because it is so easy to make anything—even good things—into gods.

“Anything in the world can be hammered into an idol,” he says, “and therefore can be a false god, if misplaced at the top spot of our affections.” [p 25]

2. We must guard our hearts against idols. Idol worship has always been a heart issue more than anything else. Just because we have no images before us doesn’t mean we are immune to the problem.

Last week we saw how culture—the world around us—competes for our affection. There are American idols, so we must confront these “gods of culture.”

If ancient Israel mixed in with the nations, following their ways, adopting their customs, and worshiping their idols (Ps 106:35-36)—well, it’s also a very real temptation today.

Some people today, do what ancient Israel did. They “…set up idols in their hearts” (Ezek 14:4-5).

When something or someone becomes your number one affection—the highest object of your desire—that’s when it captures your heart and becomes an idol.

Computer people say, “Garbage in…garbage out.” Jesus said “…the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45).

If you allow your heart to fill up with garbage (negative thinking, bitterness, resentment, anger, hurt, and so on), all that junk is going to leak out. People will see garbage in the way you live.

What’s inside will eventually come out. It must come out! If you’re driving down the road and hit a skunk, it’s going to smell like a skunk! It’s not going to smell like a flower garden. It is what it is.

In the same way, a heart can become consumed by rotten, stinking idols— in the form of destructive thoughts and desires and addictions that will ruin your life. If it’s at the core of your being, in your heart, then it takes over your whole life.

This is why Proverbs says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (4:23).

Years ago when I was young and carefree, I spent a summer traveling around Europe with some friends. We were driving our VW bug through Italy late one evening, looking for a place to stop for the night. But we didn’t get to the youth hostel before dark, so we finally decided just to camp out. We pulled off on a little roadside rest stop—or at least that’s what it looked like. We flipped a coin to see who got to sleep inside the VW, and my friend, Dan, and I ended up on the ground in our sleeping sacks.
We didn’t mind. The weather was warm and dry, so in the dark we just tried to find a spot soft enough to sleep. The next morning, though, as the sun approached the horizon and everything gradually became light, we discovered we’d been sleeping in a trash heap—a junk yard. There was garbage all around us. People had been dumping trash there for “who knows how long?” It was disgusting!
The amazing thing to me was that in the dark, we couldn’t see the trash. We weren’t bothered by the dump. Maybe we were too tired to notice. Maybe in that foreign place our sense of smell had become desensitized. Whatever the reason, we slept just fine, with no worries—yet surrounded by garbage.

How many people today don’t even realize that they’ve allowed rotten, disgusting idols to take over their hearts? They just don’t notice. They’ve become desensitized. They’ve mingled with the nations around them. They’re sleeping in the garbage!

Idolatry is a matter of the heart. If anything other than God takes priority in your heart of hearts, something is rotten. If spiritual garbage takes over, it will contaminate your soul and ruin your life.

So as we continue this series “American Idols”  I want to talk about “battling the gods of self.”

We live in a culture that glamorizes self. We emphasize personal rights. We celebrate personal freedom: “If it feels good, do it. There are no absolutes. If it’s right for you, it’s okay.”

Self becomes a god when ego takes over, or when personal comfort becomes paramount, or when personal desires become the driving force behind all we do.

Narcissism is one symptom of this idol. Forty years ago the generation known as “baby boomers” was labeled by some as the “Me” generation. Self-fulfillment and self-actualization became buzz words.

But worship of self is not a trend limited to any one generation. The latest thing is “selfies.” So Ellen Degeneres took a “selfie” at the Oscars and it was tweeted millions of time around the world within minutes.

It’s just another expression of the same old thing. It’s as old as Adam, who chose to go his way instead of God’s way. He chose himself over the one, true God.

And so self becomes an idol. Jesus put his finger on this false god when he said that if anyone wanted to follow him, he would have to “deny himself” (Luke 9:23). To be a hard-core, authentic follower of Jesus, you cannot worship the god of self. It’s an idol that we must dislodge from its central place in our hearts.

Paul, in his letter to Timothy, prophesized that in the last days, self-worship would become a major symptom of society. Listen again to what he said, this time from the Amplified version. Isn’t this an accurate description of our society? Isn’t this an indication that we are living in the last days?

2 Tim 3:1-5 – But understand this, that in the last days will come (set in) perilous times of great stress and trouble [hard to deal with and hard to bear]. 2 For people will be lovers of self and [utterly] self-centered, lovers of money and aroused by an inordinate [greedy] desire for wealth, proud and arrogant and contemptuous boasters [arrogant3, conceited1, stuck-up2]. They will be abusive (blasphemous, scoffing) [rude2, insulting1], disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy and profane [consider nothing sacred4]. 3 [They will be] without natural [human] affection (callous and inhuman), relentless (admitting of no truce or appeasement) [unforgiving5, irreconcilable3]; [they will be] slanderers (false accusers, troublemakers) [malicious gossips3], intemperate and loose in morals and conduct, uncontrolled [without-self-control5] and fierce, haters of good. 4 [They will be] treacherous [betrayers], rash, [and] inflated with self-conceit [swollen with pride1]. [They will be] lovers of sensual pleasures and vain amusements more than and rather than lovers of God. 5 For [although] they hold a form of piety (true religion), they deny and reject and are strangers to the power of it [their conduct belies the genuineness of their profession]. Avoid [all] such people [turn away from them].

Paul saw the cultural trends in the first century and predicted that sinful human nature would continue to take society downhill. His vision of the future—the last days—shows that idolatry—worshiping the god of self—will corrupt the human heart and undermine faith.

In a sense, Paul’s entire list are subsets of worshiping the false god of “self.” Each of the attitudes, desires, and things in this list are like stones that make up an altar—this altar to the god of self: money, pleasure, ungratefulness, unforgiving, and so on. Take a closer look:

  1. Lovers of self and utterly self-centered. People will love themselves more than God. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons reported that Americans spent $11 billion in 2012 on face lifts, Botox injections, breast augmentations, tummy tucks, nose jobs, and other aesthetic cosmetic procedures.

○       More than $33.3 billion is spent annually on cosmetics, make-up, and other beauty products (hair sprays, etc.)—and it’s not just the women.

○       Diet and health scares are pervasive. One research firm calculates that Americans spend more than $60 billion annually trying to lose weight.

○       But love of self also includes the “self-improvement” industry. Millions spend over $11 billion annually to find success, fulfillment, or wealth in books, seminars, audio and video products.

  1. Lovers of sensual pleasure and vain amusements. People will love pleasure more than God.

○       Entertainment (music, movies), home-theater systems, sporting events, and recreational activities dominate our society.

○       There’s nothing inherently wrong with enjoying life. Nothing wrong with having fun. Recreation literally means to “re-create”—in other words, to restore and replenish. We need rest. God gave us the Sabbath, designed as a tool not only to worship him, but also to replenish us physically and spiritually.

○       The problem comes when it—or anything—is taken to excess. When chasing fun controls our lives and consumes our resources and our energies, it becomes an idol. When we become addicted to pleasure, addicted to seeking thrills, we have a problem.

○       What do you most enjoy doing? Golf? Camping? Fishing? Working? Sports? Travel? Whatever it is, ask yourself if it has ever interfered with your commitment to seek God. Have you ever put something you enjoy ahead of God’s purposes?

These are all symptoms of an idolatrous society—narcissistic characteristics, personal attitudes and internal motivations that reveal idolatrous hearts. Sinful, human nature has fueled the moral decline of our society. If we stop and think about it, we see these attitudes and characteristics all around us…

  1. Boastful, proud, conceitedarrogant, self-indulgent people who want to be served, who look down on others, who have a chip on their shoulders.
  2. Abusive, brutal—why do we hear so much about child abuse, spousal abuse, elder abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, verbal abuse? Because we live in the last days?
  3. Disobedient to parents—rebellious, runaways, youth who reject the values and beliefs of parents, disrespect authority. Teachers have to put up with garbage. Law enforcement.
  4. Ungrateful—there is an entitlement mentality in our society: “I’m entitled…they have more than me, so they should give it to me…the world owes me.”
  5. Unholy—holy means sanctified, separated specifically for God and his purpose (e.g. OT temple instruments); so “unholy” means this distinction has been lost—there is no line separating what is sacred and what is profane. The sense of respect and “awe” has gone; when anything and everything is called “awesome,” what is left for God?
  6. Without love—lacking compassion, self-centered people find it difficult to empathize with or care for others in need or people who suffer.
  7. Unforgiving—holding grudges, being vengeful, vindictive, getting even.
  8. Slanderous—think of politics these days—the lies and distortions to advance one’s own agenda, playing on people’s fears. Or think of media that specializes in garbage, reporting scandals to attract more readers or viewers.
  9. Without self-control—self-indulgent, “if-it-feels-good-do-it” attitude, addictive/compulsive behavior, destructive and debilitating habits, undisciplined lives.
  10. Not lovers of the good—tolerant of wrong doing, complacent about sin, not repulsed by it…but it can also mean being content with mediocrity, satisfied with “good enough” or “enough to get by.”
  11. Treacherous, rash—disloyal, unfaithful, making self the top priority
  12. Having a form of godliness—next week: Rejecting the gods of religion.

So how should we respond to all this?

First, ask the Holy Spirit to shine his light in your heart. Have you been affected by any of these symptoms? Have you put self ahead of God? Do you need to “deny yourself,” like Jesus said?

David prayed, 23 Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Ps 139:23-24)

Second, tear this idol down! Will you give it up? Will you dethrone self so God can take his rightful place in your heart?