My son asked me the other day to tell him the story of Elijah. He meant a quick story about Elijah calling fire from heaven. What I heard was, “Dad, even though I’m 4, I want you to tell me every detail of Elijah’s life over the next 30 minutes.” Fortunately, Jude is bright, and was patient, and I made Elijah sound like a real hero, even compared to the likes of Captain America and the Hulk.
That last part is key too. The world has done such an incredible job creating larger-than-life heroes for our children to idolize, and often, even we as adults idolize them, so that the Bible seems dull by comparison. Elijah didn’t wear a cool costume, or a mask, or carry a shield. He wasn’t fighting “crime” in various parts of the word. He didn’t have a cool name. But man, was his life important!
Elijah's story reminded me of so many things. Isn’t it incredible how the enemy works away at us? When Moses led the Hebrews across the Red Sea, there were by many estimates, over one million people in their camp. When Elijah tells God he’s the only one who hasn’t bowed the knee to Baal, he’s corrected and told that there were actually 7,000 that had not bowed to Baal. So, he was wrong, but ONLY 7,000?!?!?! Out of one million! How time had changed their hearts!
Baal, for those unfamiliar, was a statue. He was a carving made by the hands of men. He was legend passed between cultures leading back to Nimrod and the Tower of Babel. And part of worshipping Baal was sacrificing children to him in order to prosper. The Israelites of that day had turned away from the God who parted the Red Sea, and the Jordan, and crumbled the walls of Jericho, and delivered them from Goliath, and built the Temple, and on and on, for a statue that required children to die in order to prosper people.
Baal was an idol. The Jewish people were guilty of serving and worshipping many idols, though God strictly forbids that. But Baal represented what we all want: to worship something and it magically make us successful—at least as the world defines success. If it sounds familiar, it’s the same sales pitch Satan gave Jesus in the wilderness in Matthew chapter 4.
Elijah came to show us how to deal with idols. GET RID OF THEM! THEY ARE NOT GOD AND ARE NOT MEANT TO BE WORSHIPPED AS SUCH! Or as Jesus said, “'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment'" (Matthew 22:37-38).
Let me quickly summarize. Elijah was so frustrated by the state of Israel under King Ahab and wife, Jezebel, that he called a drought on the nation for three and a half years. Then, after being fed by birds for a time, living with a widow and her son off of a pinch of oil and flour for a time, after raising her son from the dead, Elijah was filled with faith and knew it was time for the appointed showdown between God and Baal. He called for a contest to see which god could consume a sacrifice by fire. Baal arrived with 450 prophets, and God with one: Elijah. After a lot of silliness and mocking, it became clear that Baal was nothing more than nothing. Then, to drive home the point of MY God’s greatness, Elijah doused the offering with water--drenched it in fact. And then he prayed. God sent fire from heaven and consumed the water-logged sacrifice, and the sacrifice Baal had failed to consume. Then, Elijah rid Israel of the prophets of Baal. Their judgment day had come.
So what is an idol? It’s anything we place before God in our lives. I was reading a book by Francis Chan and was convicted when he identified me as idolizing achievement. Like so many, I tend to put the blessing of God in front of the God who blesses. Some have made the church itself their idol, or their denomination. Preferring the ideals, methods, and practices of their custom to a relationship with God and what His Word says. Some idolize people. Some, money, success, fame, medicine, technology. Unfortunately, the list could go on.
Think that sounds silly? How about this 2014 quote from The Telegraph, “Americans enjoyed five hours and 16 minutes of leisure, and spent an average of eight minutes a day in prayer...” Where we put our time is the same as where we put our hope, our joy, our trust. In America, only 9% of Christians have read the entire Bible. We pray less than 10 minutes per day and we don’t read the Word of God. So, where does our time go? Don’t think there are idols in our lives? If we truly examine ourselves and where we spend our time, we’ll begin to see that we all have Baals to get rid of.
We ask children who they idolize; it's typically athletes. We make shows called American Idol. We give money (that we don’t have) for the right to watch people do things (that don’t benefit us), all while we struggle and they live like kings and queens. When I was a kid, it was “I wanna be like Mike” about Michael Jordan. I wanted to be like Hulk Hogan, too. I wanted to be like Justin Timberlake. I wanted to be like The Beatles. And on and on. To want to be like those people means we’re not emulating and striving to be like Jesus. As a Christian, that’s a problem.
After I told the story to my son, I had to take a hard look at myself. I can’t fall into a trap of idolizing Elijah either. My life is to be spent knowing and following God. I’ll paraphrase something Chuck Missler said in a message I was listening to: God needs to be number one on a list of one in our lives.
Yesterday, I did a massive purge on my Twitter. I know, whoop-de-doo. But it was significant. Over the years, I have wasted so much time watching sports, thinking about sports, talking about sports, reading about sports, speculating about sports. THAT'S IDOL WORSHIP! I wiped it all off my timeline. I can’t fall into that trap anymore. It was my moment for a showdown. Things that I previously invested so much of myself in are no longer important.
I will watch a game again at some point, but that game can’t be the center and focus of my life. There’s too much God has for me to waste all my time on that.
I know this is a lot. It’s a heavy post. I promise I’m directing this at myself. Hopefully, you don’t have my struggle. Praise God if you don't! But if you do, I hope you feel the same way I do.
I don’t like wrestling, and sports, and music, and movies, and information, and achievement; I LOVE those things. In fact, I’ve been very guilty of idolizing them. But that has to be my past. My present must be spending time on things that matter: finding God, talking to Him, reading His Word, sharing what He’s doing in me, etc.
Those things made me weak and apathetic and ineffective. Those were the wide path that leads to destruction. But my life’s goal is to hear these words from my Savior some day: “Well done good and faithful servant.” He won’t commend me for knowing every Beatles lyric, every match of the year in the modern era, or every stat of every ball player in every Hall of Fame. Hopefully, He’ll commend me for being faithful. For knowing Him. For trying to tell people how good He is. For showing the fruit He’s put in my life. For shining light in dark places. For being defined by love and obedience. For being covered by the blood of Jesus.
I don’t want my son to idolize Elijah as he has the Hulk. I want him to see what the power of God can do in a mortal man when that man is following God. I want him to see idolatry early, how ugly and destructive it is, so he’s not 35 purging his life from the idols. I want him to always know that Jesus loves him, and no amount of money in the world could replace him. He’s one of my gifts from God. I want his life to matter in ways that actually matter.
And I want you to know all of that too. The love of Jesus Christ can change the world. Everything else is a counterfeit, and an idol.