Tag Archives: Relevance

The “I” in “Idolatry”

The "I" in "Idolatry" (CaD Jud 3) Wayfarer

The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs.
Judges 3:7 (NIV)

In today’s chapter, the author of Judges makes it clear that the Hebrew people committed idolatry with the gods Baal and Asherah. Because these popular regional gods would compete for the attention of the Hebrew people for centuries, it’s important to understand a little bit of the context of who these deities were. Part of the difficulty is that one diety might have different names in different cities or regions as well as differences and nuances in the myths and worship practices.

The Mesopotamian region had an entire pantheon of gods and goddesses that prefigures the Greek and Roman gods with which we’re more familiar in Western culture. In the mythology of the era, Baal was the big dog, like Zeus. Asherah was Baal’s wife and the mother of 70+ other gods. Survival in the ancient world was hard. Death rates among infants and children were staggering. Famine was common and severe. It was a violent world in with local warlords constantly making themselves rich and powerful by conquering and pillaging neighbors. Survival was highly dependent on fertility. Families needed children to be born and survive to help with the daily necessities of survival. People needed crops to grow, survive, and be harvested so they would have enough food to survive.

Baal and Asherah were both gods of fertility, and as we all know, human fertility depends on people having sex. Thus, the worship of these fertility gods commonly involved sex. Having sex with the sacred prostitutes was a common form of worship. In some cases, children were ritually sacrificed. If life is the most precious thing, what is the most sacrificial gift one could give the gods? I can begin to appreciate that God wanted His people to avoid these things for their own spiritual, mental, and societal health.

The systemic cycle of Judges I wrote about yesterday always begins with the Hebrew people breaking the numero uno command and worshipping Baal, Asherah, et al. So what does this have to do with me sitting in my home office on this early Thursday morning in the 21st century?

A couple of thoughts I’m pondering in the quiet:

It’s easy, perhaps too easy, to think about Baal and Asherah and think that idolatry isn’t relevant in my life today. At its heart, idolatry is the worship of something else rather than God. Jesus said that the greatest command was to love the Lord God with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength. To what do I give my heart, soul, mind, and strength? It may not be Baal and Asherah, but it might be the accumulation of wealth, a life stuffed with the latest gadgets, a social media profile with lots of followers and influence, a closet full of the latest fashions, a life of being high and having no responsibility, the endless pursuit of more pleasure or a stronger adrenaline rush, or any number of distractions to which I channel my heart, soul, mind, and strength. Idolatry is about the fidelity of spirit. Where do my time, energy, money, strength, and mind share get spent each day?

Some things never change. Over 3,000 years have passed since the events in today’s chapter but we’re still dealing with the core issues of life and death, fertility, survival, and power struggles between groups of people. In a few minutes, I will go down to read the news and I know what it will be. Conflict over terminating the life of infants in the womb. The desire to have sex without restriction and free of the consequences of human fertility. The struggle for power over culture, thought, and speech. There will be stories of people killing other people because they disagree. There will be stories of zealous warlords and emperors of business. There’s a likelihood of there being stories of people killing, burning, looting, and raping as crime rates soar in American cities.

So, what has changed exactly?

Once again, I find myself back at the point of thinking about the human condition…my human condition. As a follower of Jesus, I’m told to start by asking myself what it is I treasure. Where do spend my heart, soul, mindshare, time, and resources? What do I do with what I control? I am the “I” in “idolatry.” I am the “I” in “idolatry.” It’s not if I will have my personal idols, but in what or whom will I invest my heart, soul, mindshare, and resources. I’m going to spend them somewhere. Where am I spending mine?

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Villains, Justice, Wrestling

Villains, Justice, Wrestling (CaD Ex 11) Wayfarer

Every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the female slave who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the livestock. Then there will be a loud cry throughout the whole land of Egypt, such as has never been or will ever be again.
Exodus 11:5-6 (NRSVCE)

The past few months of COVID shut-downs have been strange on a number of levels. For being non-athletic, creative types, Wendy and I both enjoy watching and avidly following certain sports and teams. We also have the shows we avidly watch. It’s been strange to have so little to watch. Not necessarily bad, mind you. I confess we’ve gotten a lot of things done that have been on the task list for way too long. I’m just recognizing how often we look forward to certain games or new episodes of a certain series.

Game of Thrones was a series to which I was late to the party. Wendy had no interest and I didn’t want to pay for HBO or for each year’s series on DVD. It was a ridiculous Black Friday deal for all but the last season on DVD that gave me many wonderful months of binging while on the road for work.

One of the hallmarks of the Game of Thrones series was the quality of the villains. I can’t think of another series with more despicable characters whom I wanted to get their just desserts and (I confess) die in despicable ways. The writers knew how to create characters I loved to hate, and how to keep me as an audience member passionately desiring a villain’s demise so for so long that when the climax finally arrived it was oddly satisfying in somewhat creepy ways.

Today’s chapter is a climactic point in the Exodus story, though I find it easy to lose sight of this fact. I think that it’s a combination of breaking up the narrative in small daily chunks, translating it into English from an ancient language, and the fact that the ancients weren’t exactly George Martin or Stephen King when it comes to crafting the narrative.

The final plague on Pharaoh and Egypt is the death of every Egyptian first-born, which feels rather heinous on the surface of things as we read with the eyes of 21st-century mindset. There are a couple of important parallels in this story which, I can’t allow myself to forget this, is at its heart about an enslaved, oppressed people being freed from their chains.

Pharaoh and the Egyptians have all the earthly power. They have the absolute authority, socio-economic status, and a system completely rigged in their favor. The Hebrews have one respected leader (Moses, who was raised an Egyptian member of Pharaoh’s household) and this mysterious God who has come out of a burning bush to reveal Himself as the One underdog champion of the oppressed Hebrews against over 1500 Egyptian deities.

[cue: Rocky’s Theme]

Pharaoh has just threatened Moses with death, but Moses informs his nemesis that it is his first-born son (always the favored-one in ancient Patriarchal systems) who will die. I believe most parents would say that losing a child is worse than dying yourself. Pharaoh and the God of Moses have already gone nine exhausting rounds. This plague is the knockout punch. At the very beginning of the story, it was established that the Hebrew slaves cried out in their suffering, and God heard their cries. Now, God proclaims through Moses, it will be Pharaoh and the Egyptian oppressors who will “cry out” in their suffering.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about my African-American brothers and sisters. Historically, it’s easy to see why the Exodus story has always resonated with African-Americans. Wendy and I just watched the movie Harriett a few weeks ago. “Grandma Moses” led her people to freedom. The heinous videos of Ahmed Aubrey and George Floyd (a brother in Christ) haunt me. The Moses story will always be relevant in a fallen world where broken earthly systems favor some people and not others.

As I meditate on these things, Jesus’ first recorded message echoes in my spirit:

[Jesus] stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
 

Some mornings my soul is overwhelmed with questions. Like Jacob, I find myself wrestling with God.

Strong Through the Home Stretch

English: 2007 Dublin City Marathon (Ireland) 中...
English: 2007 Dublin City Marathon (Ireland) 中文: 2007年爱尔兰都柏林城马拉松 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 17

Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” Genesis 17:17 (NIV)

When I was a young man, I memorized and clung to this line from Paul’s letter to his young protege Timothy:

Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.

I figured that if God had given me spiritual gifts like everyone else, then I was totally going to use those gifts and be of service. I wanted to make a difference. I tried to instill that same spirit in my daughters in their youth, and continue to get jazzed when I see young people with a passion for God actively living out their faith.

Today, I’m at a different place in the journey. If averages and genetics hold sway, you could say that I’m still in mid-life. Nevertheless, I can’t deny the fact that I’m likely on the downhill side. Instead of not letting others think less of me because I’m young, I sometimes feel the need not to let others think less of me because I’m old. As technology advances at breakneck speeds, I wonder if the gulf between generations is expanding and making it easier for in the back stretch and making the final turn to feel irrelevant and lost.

I think that it’s awesome that God made such a huge play in Abram’s life right when Abram was turning 100 and Sarai was in her nineties. God willing, I want the last half of my life to be more productive than the first. I want to live with purpose and witness God doing big things in and through my life when I’m old. I don’t want to stagger and limp to the finish. God grant that I finish strong. I want to be kicking it in to a full sprint when I hit the home stretch and find myself heading for the tape.

You go, Abe.

Chapter-a-Day Matthew 13

He replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. Matthew 13:11-13

There is a progression through which individuals move towards belief. Those who make a decision to follow Jesus will usually look at the path behind them and point to a series of things that led them to their faith decision. Among the many things that made my heart ready to follow was music. As a kid I listened to a lot of music and I was drawn to music and lyrics that had a spiritual component to it. I can remember listening to the music of Kansas a lot, and identified with the spiritual journey that Kerry Livgren was on.

I love that Jesus was a story teller. He spun metaphorical stories that enticed people, drew them in and made their hearts ready for faith. We have the same opportunity through art, music, video, writing, plays, and other forms of metaphorical, artistic expression. I am convinced more than ever, if we want the Message to remain relevant to a digital generation, we must become better story tellers. If we don’t, any receptivity to God’s Message will quickly be lost and buried beneath the blur of internet traffic.

Today, I’m praying to be a better story teller.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and woodlouse

Chapter-a-Day Jeremiah 37

“And tell me, whatever has become of your prophets who preached all those sermons saying that the king of Babylon would never attack you or this land?” Jeremiah 37:19 (MSG)

“Old Testament Persons for $800, Alex.”

“A contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah, he was a false prophet who told the King that Babylon would never attack.”

[cue sound effect: crickets chirping]

I doubt even Watson the robot could get that one. The reality is that history did not record the names or messages of the false prophets. Perhaps there’s a random name etched on the fragment of a tablet or scroll and referenced  in some obscure archaeology dissertation. But, let’s be real, it’s far from general public knowledge. Jeremiah’s story, however, and his writing are read and referenced by millions to this day 2500 years after he lived and died.

Forgive my little foray into navel contemplation this morning. I’ve been thinking a lot about relevance lately. I’ve been noodling on the idea of legacy. What of my life will be completely forgotten when they close the casket? What, if anything, will survive? Will anything from my life have any lasting value or significance?

What struck me in reading today’s chapter is the contrast. Jeremiah spoke what was true. And, while it was wildly unpopular and landed him in a dungeon, it has lasted the test of time. The other prophets spoke what was, in the moment,  convenient and popular. Still, it was untrue. Even if history does record their names, it is nothing more than a tough piece of obscure trivia that would probably too tough for final Jeopardy.

Despite my many failures to this date in the journey, I really want my life, my words, and that which I produce to be marked by what is true. Perhaps, it will then have some lasting value.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Shawn Smith

Chapter-a-Day Jeremiah 34

 

“‘But listen, O Zedekiah king of Judah, to the rest of the Message of God. You won’t be killed. You’ll die a peaceful death. They will honor you with funeral rites as they honored your ancestors, the kings who preceded you. They will properly mourn your death, weeping, “Master, master!” This is a solemn promise. God’s Decree.'” Jeremiah 34:4-5 (MSG)

As I read God’s message to King Zedekiah, I felt pangs of depression. What a sad message to hear. Your life and impotent reign as king will be marked by failure, destruction, humiliation and captivity. But hey Zed, look on the bright side, you’ll die a peaceful death.

Suddenly, I have Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” going through my head.

God, mercifully spare me from Zedekiah’s fate. I don’t really care about my death. Let my life count for something.