Deuteronomy 12:28-32 – Curious

Be careful to obey all these words that I command you today, so that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever, because you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of the Lord your God.

When the Lord your God has cut off before you the nations whom you are about to enter to dispossess them, when you have dispossessed them and live in their land, take care that you are not snared into imitating them, after they have been destroyed before you: do not inquire concerning their gods, saying, “How did these nations worship their gods? I also want to do the same.” You must not do the same for the Lord your God, because every abhorrent thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods. They would even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. You must diligently observe everything that I command you; do not add to it or take anything from it. (NRSV)

The old phrase “curiosity kills the cat” certainly applies to the ancient Israelites concerning the pagan nations that surrounded them. The book of Deuteronomy is a re-statement of the law for a new generation of God’s people poised to enter the Promised Land. The previous generation had experienced a failure of faith and completely died out over the course of a forty-year sojourn in the desert. But now their children were ready to enter the land and receive the promises of God.

There is the healthy curiosity of seeking to understand, and then there is a bad curiosity borne from discontentment. God knew the people would be curious, in all the negative sense of that word. Today’s Old Testament lesson is a clear warning to keep away from the practices of the nations which God was about to dispossess from the land. 

Now, thousands of years removed from the Old Testament, we know the end of the story. The Israelites, although possessing a remnant of people faithful and devoted to God’s law, allowed their curiosity to get the best of them and ended up not following the Lord as they were commanded.

“Curiosity is not a sin. But we should exercise caution with our curiosity yes, indeed.”

albus dumbledore to harry potter

Before becoming a Christian over forty years ago, I did not live according to God’s commands or the way of Jesus Christ. Because of that reality, I have always found it “curious” that there are believers who wonder if they are missing out on something, having always been in the church. They may even adopt some cultural practices, like offering their children on the altar of wealth or sports, serving the idols of security, or getting ahead.  

Spiritual F.O.M.O. (Fear of Missing Out) is likely to lead one down a damaging path. We must all have the wisdom to identify the healthy practices of our culture consistent with God’s Word, and the unhealthy curiosity to pursue endeavors uncritically without making sound godly decisions. 

Ever-present God, you have given us your gracious and holy Word to know and live by. Strengthen our knowledge and faith so that we may serve you faithfully today and always through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Psalm 115

            We don’t talk too much about idolatry or idol worship anymore, even in the church.  After all, nobody in Western society really bows down to human-made little idols like in other cultures and prays to inanimate objects.  Or do we?  Most Westerners think that money talks; that sports rules; and, that others should bow to American ways.  We even have places of worship for our idols on Wall Street, the local mall, and the stadium.
 
            I’m not down on shopping, making money, watching the next NBA playoff game, or American democracy.  It’s just that we are fooling ourselves if we think that idolatry speech is not relevant to us.  We replace the worship of God and Christ’s Church with all kinds of things.  Our hearts do not always love God with all our mind and strength.  Like the pagans of old, we are just as prone to trust in products of our own construction in order to get our sense of security and fulfillment.
 
            The simple spiritual practice of giving glory to God for every good thing in our lives can help inoculate us from the propensity to trust in our own ingenuity and production.  In short, we need God – all the time.  Whatever practices we can put in place to remind us of that truth will bring the kind of blessing that we often search for in other gods.  Starting the day with inhaling the words “more of you” and exhaling with the words “less of me” gives God his due place in our lives and puts us on a trajectory of giving God glory throughout the day.
            Great God Almighty, I will bless your name today and every day.  Wean me away from the idols of my heart so that I will learn to trust you more and more in daily life.  To the glory of Jesus I pray.  Amen.

Deuteronomy 12:28-32

            The old phrase “curiosity kills the cat” certainly applies to the ancient Israelites concerning the pagan nations that surrounded them.  The book of Deuteronomy is a re-statement of the law for a new generation of God’s people poised to enter the Promised Land.  The previous generation had experienced a failure of faith and perished over the course of a forty year sojourn in the desert.  But now their children were ready to enter the land and receive the promises of God.
             The Lord knew that the people would be curious, in all the bad sense of that word.  These verses are a clear warning to keep away from the practices of the nations that God was about to dispossess from the land.  Sitting here now thousands of years removed from the Old Testament, we know the end of the story.  The Israelites, although having a remnant of people faithful and devoted to God’s law, as a whole allowed their curiosity to get the best of them and did not follow the Lord.
             Before becoming a Christian thirty-five years ago I did not live according to God’s commands.  Because of that reality in my life, I have always found it “curious” that there are believers who wonder if they are missing out on something, having always been in the church.  They may even adopt some cultural practices, like offering their children on the altar of wealth or sports, serving the idols of security or getting ahead.  We must all have the wisdom to identify the healthy practices of our culture consistent with God’s Word, and the unhealthy curiosity to pursue endeavors uncritically without making sound godly decisions.  
             Ever-present God, you have given me your Word to know and live by.  Strengthen my knowledge of you and my faith so that I will serve you faithfully today and always through Jesus Christ my Lord.  Amen.

Biblical Colonialism

 
 
There is a certain kind of idolatry that is rampant within many churches today.  It masquerades as godliness, but is really full of dead men’s bones.  As with most idolatrous behavior, it is not easily discerned or detected by those who practice it.  This is why it is insidious and dark.  The sin I am referring to is what I will call “biblical colonialism.”
 
            What I mean by this term is the activity of some believers and churches to approach the text of Holy Scripture with the intent of doing hermeneutical conquering.  That is, coming at the text of the Bible in such a way as to determine the right interpretation and defend that interpretation with life and lips to the point of holy war.  This is to reify in a position that is believed to be the right and true teaching of the Word of God.  The Bible then inevitably becomes elevated to such a level of being the Trinity:  Father, Son, and Holy Scripture.  The Spirit of God is replaced with what such colonizing persons believe to be the only plain and authoritative truth of the Bible.  And they will not be dissuaded even by the blessed Holy Spirit to change their position.  They will die for it, or, at least, go on (un)holy campaigns and wage battle after battle defending their idolatrous behavior.  It is, some Christians believe, the biblical high ground.  But is it?
 
            Instead, could it be more of the modernist impulse to have answers for everything?  It seems to me that the Enlightenment project of sheer rationalist thought has left in its wake a draining of all mystery; the belief that every biblical problem can be answered; the endeavor and even compulsion to understand every cultural, social, and political issue through the modernist lens of sheer objective knowledge.  In other words, it is the aggressive attempt to colonize the Bible and conquer it so that it serves my need to have clear black and white answers to every issue there is, as if this is the real task of the church.  It is to try and master the text of Scripture, instead of putting oneself in the humble position of being mastered by the Scripture.  If we are so certain about our interpretations of Scripture, then no wonder so many women feel oppressed by the church and even more gay individuals will have nothing to do with the evangelical church, not to mention the wholesale flock of entire generations of young persons from institutional church life.  It is the height of hubris to think that when we get beyond the core cardinal doctrines of the faith as expressed in historic Christianity that we can colonize the Bible and conquer it so that our interpretations on a range of issues are on par with God himself.  It is to value hermeneutics over love; to esteem interpretation over grace; to seek conquered territory over hospitality.
 
            Perhaps alongside the commonly identified idols of money, power, and sex we must also include the Bible itself.  After all, Holy Scripture is the revelation of God – not God himself.  To treat it otherwise is to miss its central message of redemption in Christ, and the great need that the entire world has to come to grips with the person and work of Jesus – not with my interpretation of particular Bible verses that are ancillary to people knowing Christ.  King Jesus is the rightful ruler of the universe – not me or my supposed conquest of Bible passages that purport to have all the correct and right answers to all of life’s problems and woes.
 

 

            If I am “right,” the only real posture to take for many believers and churches today is to prostrate ourselves before the God who is jealous for his Name to be set apart as the only one to be worshiped and adored.  There is a great need for repentance – not for other people, but for us who claim to know Christ and serve him.  Instead of belly-aching and complaining that the world should be serving the interests of evangelical Christianity, we have desperate need to come back to the ancient practice of seeing the church as the continuing presence of Christ on earth and serving the world’s people.  Only then will we reverse the curse of biblical colonialism and spread the good news of new life in Christ.