Tag Archives: Idol

An Important Postscript

Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.
1 John 5:21 (NIV)

I find it interesting how writers choose to end their letters. Some people regularly add postscripts with little bullets of thought that they realized they forgot to add in the body of the message. Some have a stock sign-off like “Sincerely yours” that might be personalized to the writers own preference. I’ve always been partial to one of Paul’s favorite phrases “Grace and peace” or the chipper sounding Brit salute “Cheers!”

So it was that John’s sign-off on the letter to followers of Jesus leapt off the page at me this morning when I got to the end of the chapter. For the entire letter John has been confronting the false teaching of gnostic contemporaries who spreading all sorts of contrary and false ideas about who Jesus was. Today’s final chapter was no different. The gnostics of John’s day that Jesus was just a man upon whom Messiah descended at his baptism but then departed before death. Therefore, the gnostics claimed, Jesus death was nothing special (and there was no resurrection). John writes that both the water of Jesus baptism and the blood of His death were essential in the spiritual sense.

Then John gets to the end of his letter and simply says, “Dear children, keep yourself from idols.”

Where did that come from?! He hasn’t written anything about idols or idolatry in the entire letter. It’s essentially a postscript thrown in without the “P.S.” But postscripts are typically important thoughts to writers. They want to get it in. They don’t want us to forget it. It’s worthy of sneaking in as a final thought.

So I’ve been thinking about idolatry this morning in the quiet. I find that it’s easy for me as a 21st century western human to dismiss the notion of idolatry. It conjures up images of ancient pagan statues and religious artifacts from art and natural history museums. I have no real connection. When I come upon an admonition to “keep from idols” I pass over it without giving it serious thought. But I looked up the definition of idolatry this morning:

idolatry [ahy-doluh-tree] n. excessive or blind adoration, reverence, devotion, etc.

Excessive and blind adoration, reverence, and devotion can be given to almost anything. It’s not confined to ancient statuary. Along my life journey I’ve encountered individuals who appeared to offer more reverence to the church building and/or sanctuary than to the God it was built to honor. As I meditated this morning on the things to which we offer “excessive devotion” and it wasn’t hard to think of things…

I’ve known men who are so devoted to a sport like golf that they pretty much ignore their job, their marriage and their family. It’s all they think about, talk about, and desire to do.

Just this week a person told me about a poor teen dancer in the family whose father was so blindly devoted to himself that he couldn’t show up on time nor practice the father-daughter dance for her recital. Instead he embarrassed her by simply standing there next to her refusing to participate in the actual dance.

I recently had a fellow believer who admitted that they were so obsessed with cross fit that it had begun to be all they thought about to the detriment of other areas of their life.

These are all forms of idolatry according to the definition of the term. Any hobby, interest, or activity and slip across the from  a healthy life-giving piece of life into an obsessive, blind devotion that begins to have negative effect on my life and relationships. John’s postscript bullet is important. If I believe all the right stuff with my brain but my life is blindly obsessed or devoted to the wrong thing, then my adherence to some statement of belief is meaningless.

This morning, I’m taking stock of my own interests and devotions. Do they bring life and goodness to me and my relationships, or do they distract me from critical life priorities?

Love Trumps Freedom

No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
1 Corinthians 10:24 (NIV)

Wendy and I have friends and family members who represent a broad spectrum of generations, backgrounds, beliefs and social customs. When we get together with people we are aware that others have very different thoughts and feelings about all sorts of human rituals and behaviors. From saying a prayer of thanks before a meal to whether it’s acceptable to consume alcohol to choice of appropriate words/topics to the appropriateness of a cigar after a great meal, there are many different considerations.

That’s the crucial word: consideration. When it comes social settings with others of very different beliefs, my behavior is determined largely by whether I consider my beliefs or others beliefs more important to me in that moment.

Paul was dealing with exactly the same situation among the followers of Jesus in the first century town of Corinth. Some of the community felt passionately that it was inappropriate to buy or consume meat that had been sacrificed to one of the many pagan temples there before it ended up in the market.  Others felt just as passionately that it was silly to worry about such things. The result was one of many conflicts that had come to full boil among the diverse community of believers.

For the past three chapters Paul has been addressing this controversy. Yes, he agreed, there is nothing wrong with eating the meat. Those who felt such freedom of conscience were not be convinced otherwise. At the same time, Paul urged those who experienced such freedom to be considerate of those who held different beliefs on the matter. In other words: relatively insignificant dietary rules or beliefs of religious/social propriety are subordinate to the great commandment Jesus gave: Love those who think differently than you do. When you are with them, Paul urged, consider their conscience more important than your freedom. Freedom of conscience is subordinate to the law of love.

As I ponder this principle, I am aware that at times I am admittedly guilty of putting my pride and freedom ahead of others whom I make uncomfortable. I am reminded this morning: Love trumps freedom. Consideration of others trumps the freedom of my conscience. A good thing for me to embrace and apply as I press on with my journey today.

The Divine Good Luck Charm

Then Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because the Levite has become my priest.”
Judges 17:13 (NRSV)

Wendy and I are fans of the Minnesota Vikings. I even know the Vikings fight song and will sing it for you upon request. Granted, we have not had much to cheer about for many years. As we wind down the 2015 season, there is at least the prospect of our Vikes going to the playoffs and an outside chance they could win their division. I’m hopeful, but not holding my breath.

A life-long fan of the Vikings, I can remember being a kid and having so much life energy invested in that game on Sunday. A win could send me to the mountain top and a loss could ruin my life for days. Growing up in the 1970’s when the Vikings were a perennial favorite to go to the Super Bowl, there were more mountain tops than ruins – with the exception of the Super Bowl itself. 0-4. Woof.

Back in those blissful, ignorant days of childhood my perception of God was that of a divine good luck charm. Do the right thing and rub God the right way and the Vikings might win on Sunday. If they lost, well then I must have done something to deserve my tragic circumstances. My focus wasn’t on what God wanted of me, but rather what I could coerce out of God.

Looking back, it’s really quite silly. The story of Micah in today’s chapter, however, reminds me that my childhood perceptions of God are actually quite common. It seems to me that Micah was not looking for a relationship with his Creator, but rather a good luck charm that would assure his prosperity.

My spiritual journey has taught me that God is beyond what I can possibly fathom. God knows that our temporal fortunes in this life are of no eternal value compared to the true genuineness of our faith. Reducing God to some kind of divine talisman is demeaning and disrespectful, and I get the sense that this is why God gets so ticked off with idolatry. The narrow road winds to deeper, more meaningful places than wins and losses. It takes us through more painful tragedies and more life-giving victories.

We love our Vikings, and we will be cheering them on in the coming weeks. Who know? Maybe they’ll surprise us [Still not holding my breath]. Even if they lose, we’ll (once again) chalk it up as a spiritual lesson in faith and perseverance.

Skol!

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We’re All Suckers for a Love Story

skyfall_bond_girls-620x359I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols.
Ezekiel 14:5 (NIV)

Let me confess something to you. I am a sucker for a great love story. Wendy, Taylor, Madison and Suzanna can all tell you that I’m a real softie when it comes to a well written tear jerker. Don’t get me wrong. I am a guy and I love my action movies, but have you ever noticed that even that all great action movies have a love story woven through them? Script writers learned long ago that love stories are a core part of the human experience and a big part of what we respond to as we sit in front of that screen.

I believe that this has a great deal to do with how God created us. The Great Story that God reveals between the beginning of Genesis and the final chapter of John’s Revelation is a love story. It is the love story between God and humanity. God even uses the metaphor of marriage to describe the relationship between Jesus and His followers.

There is no relationship that doesn’t have its ups and downs. Even the best of marriages suffer their share of conflict. So it is with the Great Story. At the point of the story in which Ezekiel is telling, the relationship between God and His people is experiencing acute relational pain. God’s people have been adulterous. Their hearts and spirits had strayed. They had given their greatest affection to other idols and gods. There was a significant break in the relationship, and God was intent on “recapturing the hearts of the people.”

I find it hard to imagine worshipping the kinds of idols that stole the hearts of people in Ezekiel’s day. Worshipping at a pagan shrine or making an “offering” to have sex with a temple prostitute of the local fertility god is something I can’t even fathom. And yet, it seems to me that being driven by lust to have sex with a prostitute in service to Asherah is really no different than being driven by lust to masturbate to pornography or have sex with a prostitute in service to the almighty dollar. Our idols have changed faces over the millennia, but the core relational issues remain the same.

Today, I am thinking about the idols that steal my affections from God. And, I am grateful for God’s never ending desire and efforts to recapture my wayward heart.

Turning God into a Good Luck Charm

English: The Ark of the Covenant, by James Jac...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then they said, “Let’s bring the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord from Shiloh. If we carry it into battle with us, itwill save us from our enemies.” 1 Samuel 4:3b (NLT)

In todays chapter, the people of Israel were desperate for a victory. As a fan of both the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Cubs, I can totally relate. Rather than seeking out God the way God had prescribed, the Israelites took the Ark of the Covenant (remember Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark?) from the Tent of Meeting (a kind of moveable temple that the Israelites built and used while making the trek out of captivity in Egypt) where God said it should be and stay. They carried the Ark with them into battle as if it was some kind of secret weapon. Of course, that’s not how God purposed the Ark. They took something God had designed for one reason, and tried to use it for their own self-centered intentions.

The results were not positive.

We as humans have an ages old habit of turning God’s metaphors into mascots; We turn images into icons and idols that we wear, bear, rub, and relish. In doing so, we so easy to reduce the omnisicent, omnipotent, omnipresent Creator into a good luck charm. This is the very definition of profanity: to empty something of its meaning.

Today, I’m searching my own heart, life, and thoughts for ways that I subtly turn God into my personal talisman. I don’t need superstition. I need a savior.