“For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse. For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles. Therefore God delivered them over in the cravings of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served something created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen.” (Romans 1:20-25 HCSB)
When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers. — Oscar Wilde
Life can and often does take a bad turn. Things seem to be going along pretty well, then suddenly you get side-swiped by a mass transit bus. Ok, not literally a city bus, but it feels like it when it happens. Thirty years ago, that happened to me. Life seemed to be going along pretty well, then I received a phone call early one morning from my mother. All I heard her say was, “Gary, it’s your dad.” I knew immediately by the tone of her voice that my dad was gone, dead at the young age of sixty (my age now). I was sitting on the edge of the bed and was just reeling in the shock of it all. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t move, I felt numb and unable to process the words. I simply told Mom, “I’m on my way.” Fortunately, my wife was able to comprehend what had happened and she began to organize and get the kids ready for the two hour trip to my parent’s home. She had to tell me, “Just get dressed. I’ll take care of getting everything else ready.”
That phone call began a process that would result in a significant change in my relationship with my mother and my brothers. Up to that point, my dad had been the anchor of our family. Now, that would all change and shift and morph into something entirely different. To be honest, I didn’t appreciate my dad nearly enough when he was alive and I realize that more with each passing year since his death. The most significant change was in and with my mother. She was only fifty-five when my dad died, and that made it harder but the hardest part was yet to come. As my mother struggled with depression and loneliness (even as we tried to include her in almost everything we did) it became apparent that she was also struggling with dementia. At first, it was quite subtle and hard to detect. She would lose things, a lot. Anytime I visited her, I could count on spending some time finding something she had misplaced. I once spent several hours looking for her checkbook – turns out that she had stuck it between two books in her bookcase.
Why do I tell you this story? My mother’s mind became darker and darker with each passing week as her thinking became more and more senseless and confused. As her thinking deteriorated, her ability to function and communicate also deteriorated. One incidence stands out in my mind in those final years of her life. She had been placed in a care facility on the Gulf Coast by her older sister and I had made the 12-13 hour trip to see her. At this point, she was completely unable to communicate and had not known me for several years. I asked the nurses at the facility if I could just spend the day with her and care for her, they gladly granted my request. So, I spent the day feeding her, sitting with her, holding her hand and talking to her. Late that afternoon, I was sitting next to her at a table and just talking and telling her what all had been going on in our lives and I glanced over and a tear was running down her cheek. As I wiped away the tear, I kissed her on the cheek and told her, “I love you.” Her ability to communicate, think and reason clearly might have been severely impaired, but deep down inside was the woman who bore me and loved me and all of that slipped out in a tear drop. I thanked God for that tear, it made me feel that deep down in there, somewhere was the woman I had known and loved before this horrific disease ravaged her mind and memory.
In a similar way, many in our culture have developed spiritual dementia. As we discussed last week, when we continuously fail to glorify God and express gratitude towards Him then our thinking becomes futile and pointless and our minds grow darkened. As that happens, we begin to lose the ability to understand and communicate with regards to spiritual matters and in relation to God. Why does this happen and what are the results? Paul says that folks like this claim to be wise but are, in reality, just foolish. They exchange or substitute the glory of God for something else, something less, some cheap knock-off. While the word “idol” really does capture this idea very well, I intentionally avoided using it there because I want you to understand that an idol doesn’t have to look like, well, an idol. Sometimes I think religious words and phrases can get us sidetracked and take our thoughts in a direction that misses the real heart of the issue. Let’s see if I can explain what I mean…
Whenever scripture talks about substituting an image in place of God that resembles man, beast, bird or some other creature, it’s not just talking about physical idols like a little (or big) gold Buddha, the golden calf of the Exodus story, or some modern day equivalent. Most modern idols do not take these literal forms, at all. In fact, I think you might be surprised by what really qualifies as an idol today. I think many young people idolize their social media profiles. They are obsessed with “insta-fame” and how many followers they can and have accumulated. They are looking to “get rich” or at least make a good living from their social media profiles based on the amount of influence they can accumulate and wield over their followers. In social media language they are called INFLUENCERS because they influence and sway the opinions, likes, dislikes and even purchasing decisions/choices of their followers. A product endorsement on Twitter, Snap Chat or Tik Tok can create a “feeding frenzy” that ripples across the Internet and reverberates in our culture.
A few of you are probably shaking your head and thinking, “Yeah, that sounds about right for this young generation.” But, don’t move on too quickly. You and I are sometimes just as guilty even though it might not involve social media. We fall prey to many of the same things but with a different set of labels and looks. Those who influence and sway our opinions might not have pink streaks in their hair and desire “insta-fame”, but they might be wearing a red tie, white shirt and dark suit coat. They appeal to our desires for the American dream of a nice home, fancy car and a winning lottery ticket. We just want to live a nice, quiet, comfortable life, right? Nothing radical, nothing outlandish, nothing crazy. Just nice, quiet and comfortable… and, therein, lies the problem.
Paul says that “God delivered them over in the cravings of their hearts” and that word “cravings” means to over-desire something. Quick! Tell me, what is the “something” so I can avoid it. It is whatever you desire more than you desire God. That’s really the heart of the problem. It can take any form and look completely normal and even be quite good and positive. As I mentioned last week, Tim Keller says that that we have a tendency to take good things and make them into god things, in our lives. So, if we have a desire to succeed in our business more than we desire God, then it is in an idol. If we want to save the planet from green house gasses more than we desire God, then it is an idol. If we want to pursue child abusers and child pornographers more than we desire God, then it is an idol. Yes, even if we love our spouse and/or children more than we love God, it is an idol.
That’s hard to hear, isn’t it? I think many will even balk at those statements. But, before you tune me out, hear me out. Often, our love for these other things is really just a mask for self love. We love these other things because they fulfill a need in us that is really just an extension of loving ourselves. We love others for how they make us feel and how they love us in return. We love things for how they make us feel and how they make us feel (temporarily) fulfilled and complete. We love our jobs and our accomplishments for how they make us feel good about ourselves, valued by others, and give purpose and meaning to life. NONE of these things are truly bad or unexpected, it is how God made us – to desire these good things. However, the issue is that we have substituted our love of these good things (self, status, possessions and sex) for the best thing, for God and His glory. He is and must always be our primary purpose, desire and love. The ultimate desire is sought in giving ourselves whatever we want and all that we can imagine and the ultimate punishment is that God would step back and allow us to actually achieve it. Is that the real legacy of western culture and the American dream?
It’s not wrong to work towards a nice, comfortable life. It IS wrong to make that our primary goal as we forsake all thought and concern for God and what He desires of us. Be very careful here. God doesn’t just want a spot in your life. He doesn’t just want you to include Him in your thoughts and prayers, to include Him in your desires, to include Him in your plans and goals. He wants, NO – HE DEMANDS, that He be THE spot, THE priority, THE thought, THE desire, and THE absolute goal and love of your life. That is the ONLY position He deserves, the only place where He can be. FIRST PLACE. ONLY PLACE.
Paul says that when we make these other things our ultimate THING or desire then God “gives us over” to those desires. He steps back and lets us find out where those choices and desires take us… and, believe it or not, they lead us right into to sexual impurity. We are going to look at this issue in much more detail, in the weeks to come. For now, I just want to touch on why this choice of substitute gods leads us directly and naturally into sexual impurity. It is really all about what we truly need, desire and love and what we tend to substitute for that deepest of love relationships that we were made to desire and enjoy – a deep and intense love for God.
The church is often accused of being prudish and avoiding the issues and questions surrounding sex. That’s partly due to the fact that we’ve made it something it was never intended to be: cheap, tawdry, dirty and entirely physical. What we often forget or fail to understand, in our modern culture, regarding sex is that it was designed and intended by God to be the most intimate act of selfless love between a husband and a wife. Jesus himself says, “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.” (Matthew 19:6 HCSB) Jesus’ comments come from a question that was posed to Him about divorce, “is a man permitted to divorce his wife for any reason?” He says that Moses permitted them to divorce, but it was not that way from the beginning (or from God’s intent, purpose and design). In other words, God’s intent was that marriage be something different than what man has made it. Yeah, go back and read that statement again. We take something that God made and designed as good and beautiful and we corrupt it with our own selfish desires and sinful thoughts and actions.
I’m going to stop here a moment and comment on the issue of divorce in the Church and among Christians. First, let me state unequivocally that divorce is NOT the unpardonable sin. It is not God’s design nor His desire but is redeemable. God is able to take our mistakes, teach us a very valuable lesson regarding ourselves and His grace, and then move us into building a life that can and does honor Him. If you have divorce in your past then be honest and open towards God regarding the pain, hurt and struggles but also be open to His grace, mercy and discipline as He changes in you those things that don’t resemble Christ. Please, don’t become defensive on this subject. It is easy to start throwing blame around but that’s not what’s needed here. What’s needed is an honest confession of your own part of any failed marriage and a commitment to being a more godly spouse in the future, if God permits and leads you into another marital relationship. Remember, every marriage should be ALL about honoring and glorifying God and not be about meeting our own selfish needs and desires.
Now, notice the results of our sexual sin… our bodies are degraded. That word literally means that our bodies are dishonoring to God when used in a way that is in opposition to His will and inconsistent with His design and purpose. This translation uses the word “degraded” because it reflects the reality of our bodies not being used in a way that is consistent with God’s intent and the results are that our bodies are “degraded” from their original purpose of glorifying God.
Our culture wants to make love, our marriages, our sexuality and even our gender something that is defined by our needs, our desires, our thoughts and our feelings rather than something that is defined by God and for His glory. The family unit is the base, the basic building block of culture and all that God intended. When we fail to follow His design for our own lives and our families then we end up with a degraded purpose for our bodies and a broken culture. How can I be so sure? Paul’s next statement… “they exchanged the truth of God for a lie.”
They exchanged or substituted the truth of God for a lie. What is that lie? Well, at least one lie that they believes in Roman culture and that we believe, today, in our own culture is that our physical bodies are spiritually inconsequential and that our physical desires, needs and actions have nothing to do with our spiritual lives, growth and relationship with God. In other words, it doesn’t matter what we do to them, how we treat them, use them, modify them, or view them because they belong to us and have nothing to do with our spiritual relationship with God. Our study over the past several weeks make it abundantly clear that God’s existence, purpose, and glory has been clearly revealed in the physical creation, that includes our physical bodies. Paul put is this way in his letter to the Corinthian church, “Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 HCSB)
That brings me to my final point, this week. Pauls says that when we believe this lie (that our sexuality defines and fulfills us) then we worship and serve “something created” rather than the ONE who created it. That’s precisely what we see in our modern culture. We are so obsessed with our physical desires, self-defined identity/gender and sexuality that we worship and serve them (our created bodies) rather than Him/God (the creator). Instead of being a servant of God, we have become slaves to our selves, our own physical bodies, desires and feelings. This is not just evident in the recent emphasis in our culture regarding gender identity and sexuality, but also the grip that pornography has had on our culture since the late 50’s. This grip has tightened into a choke hold with the advent and pervasiveness of the Internet.
Barna Research Group surveys reveal that:
• 62% of teenagers (ages 13-17) have received a sexual image via their cell phones.
• 72% of Christian young adults (ages 18-24) actively seek out pornography on the internet.
• 3 out of 5 divorces cite the use of porn as a major factor.
• 57% of pastors and 68% of youth pastors struggle with pornography.
If you find yourself included in one of these statistics, then you need to stop and recognize the strangle hold that this lie has on your and your life. The first step to freedom comes when you confess it and seek God’s forgiveness, spiritual guidance and, perhaps, professional psychological help. Pornography is an addiction and it is insidious and very difficult to overcome on your own. If you find yourself seeking approval and identity in your sexuality, then you need to recognize that as a lie that our culture is spreading and causing you to be enslaved to your own desires instead of being a servant of God. Again, seek God’s forgiveness and help in overcoming these lies and commit yourself to being a servant of God rather than being enslaved to you own needs and desires.
If I can help you or pray for you in any fo these things, please go to our prayer request page (https://hilltopshawnee.com/prayer-request/) and send me a message. I’ll get a text message and will begin praying for you.