William G. Bass was engaged in a meeting with a local church, working in the neighborhoods of a small town in southeastern Florida. He and I had been asked by someone (and my, how you never seem to know just who) to find time to visit a recent convert who had been worshipping with a digressive group in town, seeking perhaps an encouraging word.
In Acts 14 we read about Paul and Barnabas traveling through Asia Minor preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. When they came into the city of Lystra, they found the people desiring to treat them as one of their Roman gods because they had healed a lame man. Once the people of Lystra understood that Paul and Barnabas were not gods in the flesh (with the assistance of some persecuting Jews), they stoned Paul, dragged him out of the city, and left him for dead.
We like to think we are a wiser society than the Romans when it comes to idol worship. Most Americans do not think that we worship gods like the Greeks and the Romans. Though we may not have a figure carved out of wood and stone, it is clear that Americans are following after a number of gods. I have identified at least three gods that we seem to follow after and continue to put our trust in daily.
The god of sufficiency (Work & Status)
It is amazing to me how work has become such an important aspect in peoples lives. Work is no longer about making some money to pay the bills. Work defines our character. Work is the amazing hall pass of elementary school. If we “have” to work, then no one questions it. Work seems to be the excuse of all excuses.
Obviously work is necessary for our survival. But what I am questioning is our “have to” mentality toward work. I think many times we are lying to ourselves. It is not that we have to work and make various sacrifices, but that we want to work. We say we are making sacrifices, but we really are not because the other things in life are not as important to us as our work. We would rather work than serve God. We would rather work than spend time with our wife or husband. We would rather work than spend time with our “crying” children. Work has become who we are and has become our god.
Without fail, people ask me if they are sinning by working on Sunday rather than coming to worship. The question is not one that can be answered with an obvious passage. But in many ways I think we are not asking the right question and I would like to suggest two different questions to ask for us to determine if work is our god.
First, what else is being sacrificed by work? Sometimes when we are sacrificing our Sundays we are also sacrificing the rest of our service to God. We are not praying, reading, studying, meditating, serving others, or teaching the lost because of our work. Many times work is our excuse because we do not want to perform our responsibilities toward God. I believe attending services is one of the “easier” commands of God. Loving our neighbor as ourselves is more difficult than sitting in a pew for an hour. Thinking of others’ interests above my own is more difficult than coming to services. The point is that if we want to get out of worshipping God, we are liking not keeping the other commands of God. If we are not keeping the other commands of God, then there is no point in coming to worship anyway.
Second, will you will be comfortable on the day of judgment telling God that work prevented you from doing what he commanded. Luke 14 tells the parable of the great banquet where those invited made excuses as to why they could not come. The masters reaction was of anger. I know for myself that I would not feel good with any excuse as to why I did not live up to my duties and responsibilities as a servant of God. Physical work certainly would not give me confidence when the final accounting before God is done. Preachers have to be very cautious with this problem. Since the work is serving God, many have made undue sacrifices which have cost family life. Too often congregations expect preachers to disregard the family to serve them. All of us must make sure we are not sacrificing our spouses and children because we find our lives in work.
The god of more (Wealth)
Following closely with work is wealth. The other reason people plunge themselves into work is because wealth is what is important. Always wanting more and temporary contentment is a common problem. We work more because we want more. We are unwilling to scale back our standard of living. We are unwilling to make financial sacrifices so we sacrifice God and family. We are consumed with having more in life and are unwilling to be thankful for the staggering amount of blessings we have. Nearly all of have more than what our parents and grandparents had at our age. Yet, we think we lack so much. We are deceiving ourselves and are serving the god of “more.”
The god of self (Comfort)
I suppose it was a little uncomfortable for Paul to be stoned. I supposed he was uncomfortable go among complete strangers and teaching the gospel in the face of persecution. Yet, one of the biggest reasons people to not obey the Lord is because it is not convenient. Churches are attempting to package God in a way that he can be convenient for you. If you like camping, he is the god of camping. If you like sports, he is the god of sports. Whatever you like, churches will market God for that need. We think we can change God to fit our need. We are encouraged to worship at the church of your choice. We think God is like an ice cream parlor, supposedly offering 31 flavors so we can pick what we like. We are exchanging the true and living God for a personal god we can put in our back pocket to make us feel better. Any attempt to make God what we want is to develop a worthless idol.
We are a selfish people. We see it every day. People cutting in front of other people in grocery store lines. It happened to me just the other day while waiting at a toll plaza on the Florida Turnpike. Someone did not want to wait in line, so they cut through the media and tried to leapfrog over 10 other cars who had been waiting in line before him. We are a selfish people that believes the world revolves around us. So what do we do when someone is cutting us of? If you are like me, we try to block them off from doing it. Why? We block them off because we are selfish also and we think we ought to have priority over others also. If we think about it for a moment we will recognize that our selfish is the cause of many problems in the family and in society.
As we conclude
I would like for us to take a moment to identify the important things in your life. Write down the things you enjoy, things that give you happiness, things that mean a lot to you, and so on. Then write down the amount of time spent in each pursuit on average per week. Add up the hours with God and hours with the family. Determine if we are placing a greater emphasis on the worthless things of life and not giving time to the things that truly matter. More often than not, we are committing more time to the worthless things and not enough time to the things that should be of great value to our lives. Everything should come second to God and to our families.
According to Ecclesiastes, most of the things in this world are worthless things. Much of what we do is worthless. While we may receive temporary enjoyment, there is not lasting pleasure.