At our church, the theme for 2019 is “Reflect and Refine.” At the start of this new year, we’re asking ourselves some challenging questions, like, “Are we hungry to grow? Are we hungry to know more of God, especially his presence, love, and power? Are we willing to make more space in our lives for God, so we can seek him with all our hearts?” The hard reality is God will not refine or purify us unless we seek him wholeheartedly.
The good news is that when we seek God, he promises to be with us. We know this from the five promises found in Zephaniah 3:17: “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” This verse promises us God’s presence (“is with you”), God’s power (“mighty to save”), God’s pleasure (“delight in you”), God’s peace (“quiet you with his love”), and God’s praise (“rejoice over you with singing”).
However, for us to receive these promises, Zephaniah is clear we must repent of all idols in our lives (see Zeph. 1:2-7; 2:1-3). Before you think “Well I don’t worship idols, so no problem!” you may want to consider that an idol is more than a gold-covered statue. According to Romans 1:25, idolatry can be understood as worshiping and serving “created things rather than the Creator.” Thus, I define an idol as “anything or any person we worship, serve or trust in more than God.” So as we examine our lives, we may find some modern-day idols. What about social media? It seems to me many people are worshiping Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or Tinder more than God. Perhaps some of us may be spending more time posting, scrolling and liking/swiping than praying, reading the Bible, or serving needy neighbors. Or what about video games? What about football: NFL or Fantasy Football league? What about shopping for clothes or cosmetics on eBay or Amazon? What about pornography? What about alcohol? What about chocolate/sweets? What about Netflix? Or how about workaholism, approval addiction, romantic relationships?
If you want to know if you have an idol, ask yourself these questions: what is the thing, that if taken from my life, I would lose all sense of meaning and purpose? If taken from me, I would want to quit living and die?
Another way to find out is by fasting: abstain from your favorite app/platform, stop watching Netflix, stop playing video games, stop drinking alcohol for two weeks. Can you do it? Does it even make you uncomfortable to think about it? If you resist fasting from something that is non-essential, there’s a high likelihood it’s an idol in your life.
Again, if we repent of our sins and our idols, God is mighty to heal us, transform us, and fill us with a greater love for him and our fellow humans. We can be sure of this because God “is mighty to save.” How? Well, you and I have the benefit of seeing the whole picture of God’s plan for history. Unlike the prophet Zephaniah, we live after the arrival of Jesus Christ. We know about Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. 1 Corinthians 1:18 declares “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Romans 1:16 announces “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.” Furthermore, Colossians 2:13-16 asserts that through Jesus Christ, God has defeated death, sin, and evil. Our three most formidable opponents have been conquered!
At the beginning of 2019, do you believe in God’s presence and power?
If you’re struggling with doubt or discouragement, let me tell you a true story. Perhaps you’ve heard of Bob Goff. Bob is the founder of Love Does, a nonprofit organization that operates schools and pursues justice for children in conflict areas such as Uganda, Somalia, and Iraq. Bob is a NY Times best-selling author, adjunct law professor, and the Honorary Consul for the Republic of Uganda to the United States.
According to Bob (in his book, Everybody, Always), Uganda has a problem with witch doctors. People will pay witch doctors to put a hex/spell on their enemies. To do that, witch doctors commit demonic and heinous crimes, including child sacrifice and mutilation. A few years ago, Bob heaom he calls “Charlie,” was attacked and left for dead by a witch doctor named Kabi. Miraculously, Charlie survived. Through the generosity of donors, Bob flew to Uganda, became Charlie’s legal guardian, and brought Charlie to the US where he had multiple reconstructive surgeries at Cedar Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. Today he’s a happy and healthy boy.
But Bob did something no one had ever done before in Uganda: he prosecuted Kabi for his crime. Up to that point, witch doctors were not prosecuted because the Ugandan legal authorities were afraid of them. Yet Bob believed in the power of God, so he found a judge willing to take the case, put Kabi on trial, and Kabi was convicted and sentenced to fifty years in prison.
Remarkably, that’s not the end of the story. God told Bob to love his enemy Kabi. So Bob flew to Uganda, went into the prison, shared the gospel with Kabi, and Kabi prayed to make Jesus Christ his Lord and Savior. Then, Bob discipled him to the point Kabi wanted to evangelize the prison. So Bob and Kabi, the prosecutor and the man he prosecuted, stood side by side, while Kabi preached the gospel to 3,000 men on death row, and hundreds of them came forward to believe in Jesus and get baptized.
Since that time, Bob Goff started a school for witch doctors, to teach them to read and write using the Bible as their textbook. Bob Goff, Charlie, and Kabi demonstrate Jesus Christ is powerful and mighty to save!
If God can change Kabi, he can change any of us. So let’s seek God passionately and trust his promises in 2019.