Wilderness

I love The Sims.  I love creating the perfect family and building them a dream house.  I love living vicariously through them as they get jobs as chefs, police officers, or star athletes.  As I get lost in their world, time slips away from me in mine.  Suddenly “I’m only going to play for an hour” turns into an entire day lost to a fake reality.  We all have our time leeches.  It is incredibly easy to get swept along by school, friends, work, or Netflix.  Our culture teaches us that if we’re not doing something, we’re wasting time.  Our schedules are so packed they begin to burst at the seams.  We constantly look for what comes next.  We need to have discipline in learning how to follow Jesus in a culture of busyness.

In Matthew 3, Jesus gets baptized.  As He is coming up out of the water, the heavens open and God says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3: 17).  Jesus had a moment with the Father through which His identity was confirmed.  Because we are children of God and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:16-17), the Lord says this of us as well.  You are His beloved child.  Our identity is confirmed in moment of close proximity to Him.

Mark tells us that after His baptism, Jesus was immediately led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil.  If you’re like me, that makes you pause with a furrowed brow.  Not only did Jesus go directly from the water, a place of close proximity to God, to the wilderness, but He was led there by the Holy Spirit.  I’m sorry, what? Why in the world would the Spirit lead Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted?

The wilderness is where we have to face our idolatry.

While Jesus was in the wilderness, He didn’t have any possessions or worldly comfort.  It was just Him and the Father.  We hate being in the wilderness because we get uncomfortable when we have to face God.  Jesus survived the wilderness and rejected temptation because He stood firm on the foundation of the Father.  He was not shaken.  We can live the same life, but our idols stand in the way.  Idols are anything or anyone that begins to capture our hearts, minds, and affections more than God.  It is looking to anything other than God as our source of life.  When we try to go through the wilderness standing on the foundation of an idol, the idol will crumble and we will fall.

While the Israelites were in the wilderness in Exodus 32, Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments from the Lord.  He was so long in coming down that the Israelites assumed he had died.  They asked Aaron to make a god for them to worship.  They each gave their best rings of gold and made a golden calf.  They threw a celebration for this calf and worshipped it.  Moses came down from the mountain and rebuked them.  The Lord’s anger burned and thousands died from a plague He sent (remember this because I will come back to it later).

The Israelites lost their hope and trust in the Lord.  They gave their best to something created rather than the Creator.  The golden calf was safe and tangible.  We do the same thing when we allow good things to become god things.  When things that are meant to be good and pure become gods in our lives, they become bad things.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.  
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.  They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
Romans 1:18-25 (emphasis mine)

We need to understand though that God’s wrath is not against people; it is against the sin that separates Him from His beloved children.  He loves us so much that He loathes the sin that separates us from Him (verse 18).

We exchange the truth about who He is and who we are when we give ourselves, even just a small part, to idols (verse 25).  That could be money, achievements, relationships, a nice job, the “American dream,” good grades, possessions, or so much more.  We need to be sure we are giving the Lord our best.  God looked with favor upon Abel because he brought Him his first fruits and best.  We are called to live the same way.

It is really easy to read this and feel discouraged and to wonder where to go from here.  Personally, I have been struggling with the same idol for years.  I often feel like I will never get out of it.  I am not a slave to this lie though.  My identity is not determined by my idol or my sin struggle.  My identity is determined by God, and He says I am His beloved child and He is pleased with me.

Though the Israelites had been giving their best to the golden calf, in Exodus 36 we see that they began giving their best to the Lord.  They gave so much of their best jewelry to build the sanctuary of the Lord that Moses had to restrain them from giving any more.  The same people who made a golden calf to worship turned around and gave so much to the Lord that they were cut off.  What would happen in our lives and community if we lived with that kind of fervor?

My question to you is this: what are you putting your hope in?  What are you looking to for life?

So like the hours I wasted on Sims, don’t let your hours wasted keep you from God.  Let’s not let our idols steal away our time, thoughts, affections, and energy.  Let’s fervently pursue Christ despite our culture of busyness.

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