Do false gods, false prophets, and idols still exist?

Politics, business, and religion today rely heavily on the ancient practice of gods, prophets, and idols. Politicians, for example, promote themselves as saviours and gods, the ones in whom we can trust to supply all our needs. They also promise a bright future as if they are prophets with divine powers. And the economy has been made into an idol, as if money and prosperity are the solution to all evils.

Present evidence and history have proved them all false, of course, because no political system, no corporate business model, and no religion has been able to solve every human problem, or steadily provide for every human need. But we still vote, still believe the promises, and still believe money will solve all.

And so another generation of young people will get sucked into the lie that the state will look after them, that money and possessions bring happiness, that business, politics and religion are genuinely interested in their needs, and that life is what you make it. Is it any surprise, therefore, when it becomes obvious it’s all a lie, that bright, observant young people are turned off by the rhetoric, and they wonder if anyone out there is truly genuine and honest? Because it’s our young people who are the gauge of how we’re doing. Are they eager to contribute and join in, because life is full of hope and promise? Or are they becoming increasingly cynical and depressed and infected by the self-centred attitudes of their elders?

Every young person must pass through the entire range of societal gods, prophets and idols we’ve created to seek and find the key to happiness, contentment and fulfillment. We offer them sports heroes, music and movie gods, mood-altering drugs, may the best man win, making a ton of money as the greatest god of all, and brutal competition to be the brightest, the most beautiful, the most admired, and the most noticed. The pressure on young people, however, is becoming unbearable, but what sane person can live up to the expectations the gods of our creation demand? No wonder so many young people turn to drugs, sex, uncaring selfishness, self-injury and suicide to deal with the pain.

It’s the pain of gods, prophets and idols that have proved themselves over and over again to be utterly false and useless. One wonders how we can ever give young people hope when we know what they’re in for in their future, with horrible people at every stage of their lives in politics, business and religion wanting to scam and exploit them. How fortunate, then, that there is a genuine God waiting for them too.

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Does God still give visions?

In Acts 2:17, Peter quotes a prophecy from the book of Joel that “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people,” and “your young men will see visions.” The Greek word for visions means God-given visions, and so does the Hebrew word for visions in Joel 2:28, so yes, God gives visions, but does Acts 2:17 mean God will be giving visions to Christians all through the centuries, or was it meant only for the Jews back then?

In context, verse 14, Peter is talking to his “Fellow Jews” when he quotes Joel, and he ends the quote with “Men of Israel” in verse 22, so the prophecy is clearly meant for the Jews and Israel back then. But why Joel? Because Joel’s prophecy was both a warning and hope for the Jews of Peter’s time, just it had been a warning and hope for the Jews of Joel’s time.

In both Acts 2 and Joel the Jews were heading for the “dreadful day of the Lord” (Joel 1:15), a time when Judah would be attacked and destroyed by an invading army. In Joel the attacker was most likely Babylon, and in Acts it would be the Romans in 70 AD, when Jerusalem would be totally destroyed.

To the Jews in Joel’s day who responded to his warning and repented, God promised mercy, protection, and the pouring out of his Spirit and other “wonders” to provide clear evidence that he was with them before calamity struck, and that he would save any survivors who called on him when calamity struck. So hope was offered with the warning. But the Jews of Joel’s day didn’t respond to God’s call, and all the way up to Acts 2 they never received protection from pagan powers and they never received the Holy Spirit or the other wonders Joel promised.

And now in Acts 2 the Jews are warned again of the dreadful day of the Lord coming, in their case the impending attack by the Romans, but with the same hope being offered of the pouring out of the Spirit and other wonders to provide clear evidence God was with them, and that God would spare those who called on him from the calamity coming.

And many Jews did heed the warning (Acts 2:40), and the Holy Spirit was poured out on 3,000 of them in one day, followed by all sorts of visions and other wonders given and done by the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts.

In context, then, Acts 2:17 is about God giving visions back then, and why. If some take that to mean God still gives visions today, Acts 2:17 is not a good verse for proving it.

“What the hell happened?”

A lovely girl of sixteen tries to kill herself, and a promising student blows his university education because of mind-crippling drugs. No wonder their parents ask, “What the hell happened?”

And it’s phrased that way because it’s so unexplainable. What on earth was going through these young people’s minds that made them ruin their lives? It makes no sense at all. And it makes even less sense if they’ve been loved and grown up in good homes. You mean love isn’t enough?

So where does that leave a parent now, if loving a child is no guarantee a child will turn out right? What went wrong? What was lacking? What did the parents miss? Surely love conquers all, doesn’t it? That’s why parents do their level best to love their children, have fun together, create fond memories, and be there for them whenever needs arise.

It must come as a huge shock, then, when their full-of-life twelve year old, who raised funds for needy families and helped out at the local food bank and enjoyed dozens of sleepovers and activities with friends, suddenly turns into a morose, angry teenager – and for no obvious reason.

So what ‘the hell’ did happen? Well, clearly there was a hole in these young people’s minds that wasn’t being filled by human love alone. The love of parents wasn’t enough, nor was the love of friends, teachers, grandparents, or mentors. Some young people even resist love, and turn on their parents, making life at home a nightmare. Just the slightest aggravation and the child explodes emotionally. Therapy and medication may help, but for many young people there is no medical or counselling aid that can ease the anger they feel.

But why do they feel such anger? Because there’s a hole that hasn’t been filled yet by the Holy Spirit. Instead it’s being filled by another spirit “who is now at work in those who are disobedient (or have no interest in what God wants for them),” Ephesians 2:2. And that spirit has a horrible armoury of junk to fill young people’s minds with, like “frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness, paranoid loneliness, cutthroat competition, all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants, a brutal temper, an impotence to love and be loved, and the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival, etc.,” Galatians 5:19-20.

No wonder so many young people are in a mess and they’re so angry; it’s because they can’t find a way out of it. But God can get them out, by replacing the junk in their heads with “things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity, etc.,” (verses 22-23). He’s there to help, because he’s the only one who can.

Is suicide an unforgivable sin?

The bridge was closed off at both ends because of a jumper standing on the north side parapet. “So, why don’t you jump?” a voice in the jumper’s head whispered. “Because suicide’s an unforgivable sin,” the jumper replied.

“So Christ died to forgive every sin but suicide, did he?” the voice responded. “Yes,” the jumper shouted, “because killing yourself is premeditated murder.”

“Oh, so murder’s an unforgivable sin, is it?” the voice asked. “Yes,” the jumper replied, “no murderer has eternal life in him, 1 John 3:15.”

“But adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, drunks and cheats don’t have eternal life in them either, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, so why should murder be any different?” “Because if you kill yourself, you can’t confess your sin after you’re dead, can you?” the jumper replied.

“Oh, so it’s not confessing that’s an unpardonable sin now, is it?” the voice asked. “Yes,” the jumper fired back, “you have to confess before you can be saved, Romans 10:10.”

“But in verses 8, 9 and 11 it isn’t confessing one’s sins that saves a person, it’s confessing their faith in Christ, right?” the voice asked. “Well, yes,” the jumper admitted, “but I still say suicide is different because if I deliberately destroy my body, God will destroy me, 1 Corinthians 3:17.”

“But that verse isn’t talking about taking your life by suicide, it’s about wrecking your life by living by the world’s standards, not God’s.” “Well, killing myself isn’t exactly living by God’s standards either, is it?” the jumper sniffed. “I’m deliberately destroying what belongs to him. My body isn’t my own; it’s God’s. He decides what happens to my body, not me, 1 Corinthians 6:19.”

“So, why are you taking medication?” the voice asked, “Isn’t that interfering with God’s plan for your life by using human means to keep yourself alive?” “But without medication, my life would be hell,” the jumper protested.

“Yes, and that’s what you’re really afraid of, isn’t it?” the voice replied. “It’s not all this stuff about going to an eternal hell, it’s having to live another day in this hell right here, isn’t it?” “Yes,” the jumper sighed, “it’s my life now that’s killing me. I hate it. I’m useless to my family and I feel so guilty. For their sake and mine, I’m better off dead.”

“Well, you may think that,” the voice replied, “but Christ came for people just like you.” “So I’ve been told,” the jumper sighed again, “but the pain gets so bad at times it’s all I can think of. I can’t even think about Christ.”

“And is that an unforgivable sin?” the voice asked. “No,” the jumper cried, “nothing separates us from Christ’s love.”

“Need I say more?” the voice replied.

Even if it’s only a very little we can do…

This week was a guilt-trip. It all started with a Christian program on TV highlighting the amazing acts of service and giving that Christians are doing. One man, for instance, deserted by his mother on a street corner at age twelve, has created a worldwide ministry serving thousands of children. Another courageous Christian ministry is rescuing girls from prostitution in Cambodia.

I thought to myself, “But what am I doing to help people? I’m not doing anything close to what these Christians are doing. I feel so guilty, so lacking, so – well, admit it – so inferior.”

Then I heard that a friend of mine had published a book. A book, no less. I haven’t done that either. So what am I doing with my life instead, when all these other Christians are being so active, productive and useful? And I’m not just feeling guilty, I’m jealous too, because think how great it’s going to be for them in the line-up meeting Jesus one day. All those wonderful things they did they can talk to Jesus about. And me? Not a book to my name; and not a child rescued.

It reminded me of Jesus’ story in Luke 19:15-19 about a king wanting to know how much his subjects gained with the money he’d given them. My worst fears exactly; it’s line-up time and Jesus wants to know what I’ve got to show for all my years of being a Christian. What did I do with the gifts he gave me?

Well, the first chap comes up and he’s made ten times what the king gave him. And the king is jolly pleased, verse 17: “Well done,” he says, “Because you have been faithful in a very little…”

Hang on, stop tape, what was that? For all those tremendous gains the man had made, it was only “a very little?”

But in that very little the man had been been faithful, and that’s what counted. Faithful how, though? Verse 23, he’d been faithful in using what he’d been given to serve the king’s purpose. It wasn’t to make a name for himself, or to get himself on TV as a great guy, or to impress people with his good deeds; it was simply to serve the one who’d given him the talents in the first place in whatever way he could.

It isn’t what we do with what we’ve been given, then, is it? It’s who we are doing it for. It’s using what we’ve got to serve Jesus’ purpose. So, even if it’s only a very little we can do, it gets a “well done” from Jesus when it’s done for him.

Why does God let good people die so young?

We could also ask the question: “Why does God let bad people die so old?” It doesn’t seem fair, for instance, that a man still alive at 113 years old attributes his longevity to ‘Cigarettes, whisky, and wild, wild women,’ while Job, who was “blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8) was reduced to a pitiful wreck of a man, having lost all his children and his livelihood to a deal Satan made with God. Or that Jesus, who obeyed and trusted God perfectly, was sent to an early death by conniving, power-hungry, religious hypocrites.

Surely good people deserve to live to a ripe old age as proof that God rewards people for living good lives. It’s hardly good advertising on God’s part instead to let good people suffer from persecution, accidents, all the usual diseases everyone else gets, and premature death, because why would anyone be attracted to Christianity when it clearly doesn’t guarantee immunity from all the things that take humans to an early grave?

But if God isn’t interested in guaranteeing a long life, what is he interested in instead? One answer Jesus gave in John 3:21 was this: “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” What’s important is opening up what long or short lives we’ve got to God, to make it plain to anyone watching what a human life is like when God is the one shaping and moulding it for his purposes, both now and in the future.

And what makes that so noticeable is the contrast to those in verse 20 who “will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” Some people spend their entire lives hiding from God, and don’t want him involved in their lives at all. But others, like David, willingly open their lives to God: “Investigate my life, O God,” he wrote in Psalm 139:23-24 (The Message), “find out everything about me. Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; see for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong – then guide me on the road to eternal life.”

David knew there was more going on in life than trying to extend it for as long as possible. His focus, instead, was on what God could create in him while he was alive, to prepare him expertly for the life David would be living after he died. And who knows at what age that preparation is complete? Obviously God does, so if he lets a good person die young…

Has a dog ever asked, “Why does God let me suffer?”

Dogs have suffered horribly at the hands of humans. They’ve been trained for dog fights to kill and maim, and bred for human vanity without concern for the problems pedigree dogs suffer, like weak hips, spinal pressure, squashed nasal passages, cancerous skin, and epilepsy.

Dogs are also smooched on and pampered like little girly dolls, making them fat, ugly and obnoxious. They are locked up for hours in empty homes with nothing to do, making them bored, listless and arthritic. Or they’ve been so badly treated they turn savage and attack without warning. What humans have done to dogs is disgusting.

But dogs, amazingly, take it. They react badly when life becomes unbearable, yes, but it’s not done in revenge, or because they’re thinking, “I’ve had enough of this idiot, and it’s time he got a taste of his own medicine.”

Dogs, instead, take life as it comes. If they spend all day in the garage with a blanket and a bowl of water while the family are at work and school, so be it. And if they get bopped on the nose for chewing the carpet, they get the point and adapt to their owner’s requirements. They may whine if left alone or they can’t join in with the kids playing, but they don’t bear grudges or wonder why they’re being ignored or mistreated when they don’t deserve it. A dog doesn’t take pain personally; and has a dog ever asked, “Why does God let me suffer?”

But humans do. When life doesn’t turn out the way we like, we take it personally, and look for someone to blame and vent our anger on. And who better than God, who holds the reins of the universe and could make every life turn out right if he wanted to? So we pretend he doesn’t love us, to excuse ourselves acting like bratty children who can’t get their way.

But dogs never do that. They never seek excuse to turn on their owners with weird notions that their owners don’t love them, or their owners like punishing them. It makes me wonder, therefore, if God created dogs to become our best friends so we can learn from them, because we cannot escape the fact that here is a creature that accepts whatever we throw at it, and it keeps on trusting no matter what.

And it’s so obviously the way to be, because dogs are the happiest creatures on earth. They are easily content in whatever situation they find themselves in, and accept life as it comes without complaint. I wonder how many humans have asked, then, “How can I be more like a dog?”