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.

Idolatry

            Truth is one of the greatest possessions we own.  To know the truth and to practice it is the key to success in every area of life.  This is especially true for the Christian.  All truth finds its source in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).  Jesus taught that if anyone would live in fellowship with Him through the practice of truth they would have the “light of life” (John 8:12).  God expects us to practice the truth He has revealed to us.  One of our most serious hindrances is the neglect of learning truth and our failure to practice what we know to be true.  An important truth which every believer in Jesus must accept is that the Christian will serve that which he yields to himself/herself (Romans 6:16).
 
            Jesus Christ, as our representative, fulfilled all the demands of Old Testament law for us.  His work is imputed to the believing sinner who thereby becomes righteous and forgiven (Romans 3:24-31; 5:1-11).  Through identification with Jesus in his crucifixion and resurrection the believer is set free from the penalty and bondage of sin and will no longer be characterized by the dominion of sin (Romans 6:1-14; 1 John 3:9).
 
            This does not mean, however, that the believer never sins again in this life.  What it means is that when we sin we not only disobey God, lose fellowship with Him, hinder our spiritual progress, and fail to be a good example – we become characterized by and enslaved to our sin.  When we seek to have something or someone else replace the atoning work of Jesus on the cross to meet the most basic needs of our lives, we have set that something or someone up as our idol to worship.
 
            Jesus said that we cannot serve both God and money (Matthew 6:19-24).  When we serve God we live in freedom; when we serve money we become idol worshipers and become enslaved to it, trusting that money will be our ticket to real freedom and happiness.  The issue here is not how much or how little money we actually possess, but the place of money of in our lives and what it stands for – how it figures in our list of priorities.  Many believers today serve God with their lips, but in reality they are in bondage to money.  The evidence is in how we live.  If we are willing to sacrifice almost anything and everything to gain money, then we have set up financial security as the thing we really worship and adore.
 
 
 
            Jesus said that when we know the truth, it is truth that can make us free (John 8:32).  Whenever we commit a sin, we become the servant of that sin.  This is more than being caught in addictions such as alcohol, gambling, pornography, and overeating.  Persons with “clean” lives can also fall prey to the errors of believing that regular church attendance, giving ten percent of income to the church, being nice, growing up with Christian parents, working hard, or being an all-around “good” person are the things that secure a right relationship with God and provide the best things in life.  Idolatry is not only tied to addictions; it can be tethered to our virtues, good deeds, and self-righteousness.
 
            This season of Lent is to be a time of healthy introspection, taking a fierce moral and spiritual inventory of our lives, and identifying and repenting of everything that we have replaced God with as an idol. 
 
–What or whom do you identify as your primary means of security and significance?
–Do you have any anger or resentment toward those who pose a threat to whatever it is you tie your security and significance to?
–What fears do you have about giving up certain possessions, activities, or even relationships?
–List the activities and behaviors that you continue to do even though you know it is not in your best interest to do them.  Admit your helplessness to God, receive the work of Jesus on your behalf, and tell a trusted pastor or church leader about your issue.
 

 

            We must not allow ourselves to live careless lives, but to live in the freedom that comes from knowing and practicing the truth.  May our Lenten journey lead us to new hope and life in Christ.