The Recipe for “Salad Bar” Religion

2 Kings 17

24And the king of Assyria transported groups of people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim and resettled them in the towns of Samaria, replacing the people of Israel. So the Assyrians took over Samaria and the other towns of Israel. 25But since these foreign settlers did not worship the LORD when they first arrived, the LORD sent lions among them to kill some of them.

26So a message was sent to the king of Assyria: “The people whom you have resettled in the towns of Israel do not know how to worship the God of the land. He has sent lions among them to destroy them because they have not worshiped him correctly.”

27The king of Assyria then commanded, “Send one of the exiled priests from Samaria back to Israel. Let him teach the new residents the religious customs of the God of the land.” 28So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria returned to Bethel and taught the new residents how to worship the LORD.

29But these various groups of foreigners also continued to worship their own gods. In town after town where they lived, they placed their idols at the pagan shrines that the people of Israel had built. 30Those from Babylon worshiped idols of their god Succoth-benoth. Those from Cuthah worshiped their god Nergal. And those from Hamath worshiped Ashima. 31The Avvites worshiped their gods Nibhaz and Tartak. And the people from Sepharvaim even burned their own children as sacrifices to Adrammelech and Anammelech.

32These new residents worshiped the LORD, but they appointed from among themselves priests to offer sacrifices at the pagan shrines. 33And though they worshiped the LORD, they continued to follow the religious customs of the nations from which they came. 34And this is still going on among them today. They follow their former practices instead of truly worshiping the LORD and obeying the laws, regulations, instructions, and commands he gave the descendants of Jacob, whose name he changed to Israel. 35For the LORD had made a covenant with the descendants of Jacob and commanded them: “Do not worship any other gods or bow before them or serve them or offer sacrifices to them. 36Worship only the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt with such mighty miracles and power. You must worship him and bow before him; offer sacrifices to him alone. 37Be careful to obey all the laws, regulations, instructions, and commands that he wrote for you. You must not worship any other gods. 38Do not forget the covenant I made with you, and do not worship other gods. 39You must worship only the LORD your God. He is the one who will rescue you from all your enemies.”

40But the people would not listen and continued to follow their old ways. 41So while these new residents worshiped the LORD, they also worshiped their idols. And to this day their descendants do the same. (2 Kings 17:24-41, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

About 700 years before Christ, the Assyrians, who were the dominant world power at the time, invaded and conquered Israel, the northern kingdom.

A common template for a conquering army was exporting the defeated nation’s people back to the nation of the invading army where they would be assimilated and/or acculturated into the dominant culture.

At the same time, it was common for the conquering power to bring its own citizens in to occupy the conquered land, thus expanding their cultural reach even further.

This is what’s happening in 2 Kings 17. The Assyrian army has conquered Israel and shipped off most of its citizens to the motherland. In exchange, people from various parts of the Assyrian empire are brought into Samaria in order to repopulate the area with those who are already assimilated into the Assyrian way of life.

But there’s a problem. These new people don’t worship God. They have their own regional deities whom they worship. So the Lord sends in lions to kill some of the inhabitants.

When the king learns that some of his selected subjects are being taken down by lions in his newly acquired province, he’s told that the reason is because the people don’t understand how to worship the local deity (God) and so they are being punished by lions that have been sent to kill them.

The king decides to send an exiled priest back to Israel to instruct the new inhabitants in how to worship the Lord, thus hoping to appease the local deity and quell the lion attacks.

This exiled priest does what he’s asked to do. He instructs the new inhabitants in the proper ways to worship the Lord.

The new inhabitants are quick to comply. After all, who wants to get killed by a lion?

The problem is that even though these new inhabitants begin worshiping the Lord according to the pattern they are taught by this exiled priest, they never give up worshiping their previous deities. They worship the Lord but neglect to forsake their former gods.

It occurred to me that we do the same thing today. We may not have regional deities we’re worshiping in addition to God as these people in 2 Kings 17 did, but we may have things besides Jesus that seduce our affections and take priority in our lives.

The truth is that not much has changed in the 2700+ years since this was written. Many people come to church and add Christianity to their philosophical library but they neglect to forsake their former idols and previous ways of life.

As a result, many people end up with what I call a “salad bar” approach to their religious views. I call it a salad bar because if you’ve ever been to a place like Souplantation or a similar buffet-line style eatery, it is a great illustration for how people develop their religious views.

In a salad bar or any kind of buffet line, you grab your plate and you walk down the food line and you put food on your plate that you like and you pass over the foods you don’t like. You pick and choose the things you enjoy while rejecting the things you don’t prefer.

When you reach the end of the buffet line, you pay the cashier and you walk to an open table holding a plate that has all of the delicious items and tantalizing desserts you prefer without any of the foods you dislike.

This isn’t true Christianity. It’s more like what we see here in 2 Kings 17. Just because a person says they believe in Christ and they worship Jesus doesn’t mean they have forsaken all of their previous idols and it doesn’t mean that they have abandoned all of their previous wordly philosophies and dogmas.

The true Christ-follower recognizes that Jesus is calling us into a relationship that is best illustrated as a marital covenant. I wrote about that here.

As is true of any marriage relationship, there is an underlying expectation that both parties will be faithful and true to their one and only partner.

When we add Jesus as just another side dish on our plate of religious philosophies, we have not really made a true commitment to Jesus because saying “yes” to Jesus requires us to first and foremost, forsake all others.

Reflection

What were the idols or gods in your life that you worshiped or gave priority before you came to Christ?

What are the things that tend to compete for you affections as you seek to make Christ Lord in your life?

What are the views or teachings of Christianity that you have a hard time believing – those beliefs that if they were in a salad bar, you’d prefer to pass over instead of putting them on your plate?

Also, what are some views and thoughts from the culture or your previous way of life that you’ve had a hard time discarding from your plate, even though they may stand in contrast to clear biblical teachings?

What are some things you can do to avoid a “salad bar” theology?

 

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

A Discourse on the Foolishness of Idols

Isaiah 44

9How foolish are those who manufacture idols to be their gods. These highly valued objects are really worthless. They themselves are witnesses that this is so, for their idols neither see nor know. No wonder those who worship them are put to shame. 10Who but a fool would make his own god—an idol that cannot help him one bit! 11All who worship idols will stand before the LORD in shame, along with all these craftsmen—mere humans—who claim they can make a god. Together they will stand in terror and shame.

12The blacksmith stands at his forge to make a sharp tool, pounding and shaping it with all his might. His work makes him hungry and thirsty, weak and faint. 13Then the wood-carver measures and marks out a block of wood, takes the tool, and carves the figure of a man. Now he has a wonderful idol that cannot even move from where it is placed! 14He cuts down cedars; he selects the cypress and the oak; he plants the cedar in the forest to be nourished by the rain. 15And after his care, he uses part of the wood to make a fire to warm himself and bake his bread. Then—yes, it’s true—he takes the rest of it and makes himself a god for people to worship! He makes an idol and bows down and praises it! 16He burns part of the tree to roast his meat and to keep himself warm. 17Then he takes what’s left and makes his god: a carved idol! He falls down in front of it, worshiping and praying to it. “Rescue me!” he says. “You are my god!”

18Such stupidity and ignorance! Their eyes are closed, and they cannot see. Their minds are shut, and they cannot think. 19The person who made the idol never stops to reflect, “Why, it’s just a block of wood! I burned half of it for heat and used it to bake my bread and roast my meat. How can the rest of it be a god? Should I bow down to worship a chunk of wood?” 20The poor, deluded fool feeds on ashes. He is trusting something that can give him no help at all. Yet he cannot bring himself to ask, “Is this thing, this idol that I’m holding in my hand, a lie?”


The Daily DAVEotional

In this chapter of Isaiah, the prophet goes to considerable lengths to explain the process and foolishness of fashioning an idol out of wood and then worshiping it as your god.

Who in their right mind would take a block of wood, using some of it to heat their home and cook their food while fashioning an idol out of the remaining portion, which they then worship as their god? It makes ZERO sense. Isaiah goes so far as to call it “stupidity and ignorance!”

Why would people do this?

For starters, the people living in the Ancient Near East did not have the same technological and informational understanding that we do today. It was quite common to believe in a regional deity as a supernatural being who had to be appeased or worshiped in order to gain favor and blessings that would make life livable.

For example, if there was drought, the people would appeal to the regional deity to bring rain. If crops were failing, the regional deity would be appeased in order to bring a favorable crop.

The god you worshiped and to whom you appealed was largely a function of where you lived, as it was a commonly held belief that there were many deities, each of whom ruled over a particular territory.

The fact that the Israelites continually forsook the Lord in order to worship Baal was because Baal was the god of the Canaanites, the people who occupied the land when the Israelites arrived on the scene. Though God had instructed the Israelites to remove the Canaanites from the land, the Jews never fully expelled the Canaanite religious belief system, which became a constant thorn in their side.

Today, there are still cultures that worship regional deities but most of the modern world sees this as foolishness, just as Isaiah has described. But that doesn’t mean that the modern world doesn’t still worship idols. We do. We are just much more sophisticated in how we do it.

What really is an idol anyway, and why is it wrong to worship an idol?

An idol could be defined as an object of substitutionary trust.

Think of the 10 commandments. The first commandment, which is found in Exodus 20:3 is “Do not worship any other gods besides me”. But before the Lord shares the first commandment, He prefaces it by saying, “I am the Lord your God who rescued you from slavery in Egypt.”

At the core of this commandment is a recognition of who provides for you and who sustains your very life. It’s a remembrance and acknowledgement of all that God has done for you, including deliverance from slavery.

When the Israelites worshiped idols, they were essentially saying that God was NOT the one who rescued them; God is NOT the one who sustains them: God is NOT the one who delivers them or protects them or cares for them.

We do the same thing – we just attribute our trust to things other than carved wooden idols.

If an idol is an object of substitutionary trust, what are people today most likely to put their trust in instead of God?

Themselves!

The most common idol that people trust for their success, deliverance and provision is themselves. Many people have become their own gods. They alone determine their destiny. They alone can provide for themselves and their family. They alone are the masters of their own fate. They alone determine what they believe to be right and wrong.

In our modern culture, we no longer take a block of wood and use some of it for heating while fashioning a portion into an idol that we then worship. Instead, we simply reject God as the ultimate standard of right and wrong, while denying God’s involvement in our lives, His sovereignty in the world and His right to receive worship as the one who created us.

In short, we magnify and glorify ourselves and others, who serve as our means of trust to provide for us, deliver us, protect us, and bless us! It may not be as obvious as creating our god from a block of wood, but nonetheless, it’s just as foolish!

Reflection

What do you think of the author’s definition of an idol as a substitutionary object of trust? Do you agree with it? Why or why not?

What are the things that you are most likely to trust to provide for you, care for you and deliver you in place of God?

What can you do to ensure that God has His rightful place in your life and that you worship Him and Him alone? What steps can you take; what practices can you implement?

 

Photo by Nathan Lemon on Unsplash

Is God Against Construction Projects?

Genesis 11

1At one time the whole world spoke a single language and used the same words. 2As the people migrated eastward, they found a plain in the land of Babylonia and settled there. 3They began to talk about construction projects. “Come,” they said, “let’s make great piles of burnt brick and collect natural asphalt to use as mortar. 4Let’s build a great city with a tower that reaches to the skies—a monument to our greatness! This will bring us together and keep us from scattering all over the world.”

5But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6“Look!” he said. “If they can accomplish this when they have just begun to take advantage of their common language and political unity, just think of what they will do later. Nothing will be impossible for them! 7Come, let’s go down and give them different languages. Then they won’t be able to understand each other.”

8In that way, the LORD scattered them all over the earth; and that ended the building of the city. 9That is why the city was called Babel, because it was there that the LORD confused the people by giving them many languages, thus scattering them across the earth. (Genesis 11:1-9, NLT)


Genesis 11 documents a pivotal scene in the advancement of the human race.

The text says that the people gathered together and began to talk about construction projects. The Lord responds by scattering the people, making them unable to accomplish their objective.

Is God against construction projects?

NO.

The first problem here is not that people are building things but that God’s stated command that people “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” wasn’t being fulfilled.

Instead, the people are congregating together.

It’s clear that some were aware of God’s mandate to fill the earth because it is stated that the reason they want to congregate together and build this tower is to “keep us from scattering all over the world.”

The second problem is that they were building “a monument to our greatness.”

There is no doubt that when people work together and put their minds to something, the possibilities of what can be accomplished are limitless. There is no end to the number of examples of human cooperation and ingenuity, including space exploration and sending astronauts to the moon, the development of vaccines and medication to combat disease, industrial and other technological inventions…the list goes on and on.

But one of the potential downsides of human ingenuity is the propensity of humankind to take credit for their achievements and forget the role God has played in our lives and in the universe. It’s as if the more we advance, the more enamored we become with ourselves. We become the center of our own universe as we begin to worship our achievements and magnify our greatness. In short, we become gods unto ourselves!

This is the ultimate form of idolatry and it’s rampant in our culture. Philosophically, secular humanism is the idea that puts man at the center of a society that excludes God. In a world without God, man becomes the ultimate authority on what is good and bad, what is right and wrong, and what is moral and immoral.

With people in control instead of God, what could go wrong?

God is not against construction projects and He’s not against people working together to advance human objectives, particularly those that benefit the common good. However, He IS against man making Himself god and putting himself at the center of the universe, a position that is exclusively reserved for God Himself.

Reflection

What are some examples of humanistic philosophy have you seen  in our culture today?

In what ways are you tempted to neglect God and “make a name for yourself?”

What steps or practices can you implement to ensure that God is at the center instead of you?

 

Photo by Viktor Jakovlev on Unsplash

Are You an Idol Worshiper?

For my daily devotional reading, I’ve been following the Grant Horner Bible reading plan. I’m in my third year of following this plan, which invites the reader to read one chapter a day from each of 10 different segments of the Bible (Gospels, Old Testament Pentateuch, New Testament Letters #1, New Testament Letters #2, Wisdom Literature, Psalms, Proverbs, Old Testament History, Old Testament Prophets and finally, the book of Acts) for a total of 10 chapters each day.

One of the unique elements to this plan is that you begin to see how the scriptures are related to each other as you see certain themes and topics show up in completely different segments of your Bible reading. This was again the case for me a few days ago when I read the following similar verses from completely different chapters and segments of the Bible:

The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. 16They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see; 17they have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths. 18Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them. (Psalms 135:15-18)

They told Aaron, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!’** 41That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it and held a celebration in honor of what their hands had made.  (Acts 7:40-41)

Idols have always been an issue with people. We see the theme of idols repeatedly throughout Scripture. In the Psalms passage (and many other locations in Scripture) the author writes about the sheer irony of a person fashioning a figurine out of metal or wood or some other material – giving it eyes and ears and a mouth, even though it cannot see, hear or speak, and then bowing to that figurine as if it had some power to grant to us whatever we might request. It’s utter foolishness. To do this, the Psalmist says, will make you just as senseless as the idols you’ve created.

In the Acts passage, Stephen, who is about to be stoned, is giving a short history of the nation of Israel when he recounts this incident that occurred while Moses was on Mt. Sinai communing with God and receiving the 10 commandments. The people weren’t sure what happened to Moses or why it was taking him so long to come down from the mountain so they asked Aaron to fashion a gold calf which they subsequently began to worship as their God.

It’s easy to read passages like these and wonder how the Israelites could be so dumb to think that something they have just created with their own hands is somehow a god that will do your bidding! How can something you have created have the power to give you whatever you want and do whatever you ask?

People today are still in the habit of creating idols. We may not fashion figurines that we place on the mantel and worship, as we see in the Scriptures, but we create an idol any time our image of God suits our preferences instead of reality.

Think about it this way – in the Bible, we see people fashioning idols to represent gods the way they see them, whether they are in the form of an animal (calf) or people (eyes, ears, mouth). Even if we don’t create a physical representation of God via some figurine, we are still creating an idol any time we create a mental image of God that doesn’t comply with how God is revealed to us in the Bible.

In today’s world, it’s easier than ever to appeal to a “god” that bends to my political views and my cultural preferences.

Because God is infinite, there is always going to be a sense in which our views of Him are not completely accurate. So how can we avoid worshiping an idol? The key is our heart. God doesn’t expect that we would know everything about Him perfectly but He does exhort us to seek him with our whole heart and to worship Him as He’s been revealed.

This is another reason why it’s so important to read and understand God’s Word, for it’s the primary source for truthful information about who God is and what He’s like.

Reflection:

What are some ways you may be tempted to bend your understanding of God and His nature to fit your own views or preferences?

What is the source of information you have about God?

What steps can you take to increase your understanding of who God is so you are worshiping Him in spirit and truth?

 

To learn more about the Grant Horner daily Bible reading plan, you can google it, or go to this blog post, which I found to have a very thorough description.