The Heart of Idolatry

golden calfThe Israelites had seen God break the most powerful nation on earth in order to free them. Every symbol of the Egyptian religion mocked or destroyed – the Nile to blood, crops mutilated, the death of the firstborn, etc. All because Egypt wouldn’t let Israel free to worship their, the only God.

As an aside, this is one of the misconceptions about the Exodus story. Moses never asked for the slaves to be set free. His request was to be allowed to be free and independent enough, as a people, to worship God. God’s anger was directed against the government that would not allow that freedom of worship. Their freedom from slavery was a result of their desire and priority of worship.

Moving forward, the Israelites go through the Red Sea on dry land and watch the protection of a pillar of fire and see the army – a symbol of strength – of Egypt drowned in the Red Sea.

Once they arrive at Mt. Sinai, they are filled with terror at a cloud of smoke and fire covering the mountain, and they watched Moses march on up to the summit to meet with God.

I’d think that would be enough to believe, right? I mean, seems like a lot of “evidence” to work through a season of hardship and doubt.

Their faith didn’t last forty days.

Moses told them ONE THING from God before he walks up the mountain – idols are bad. They really piss God off. Don’t do it.

Moses is gone a couple weeks, close to a month, maybe, and the Israelites begin to doubt. “Moses is dead. What are we going to do now?”

The FIRST THING they do in their doubt is to make an idol.

They donate their wealth (given to them by the Egyptians to “please, leave!”) to Aaron, the brother of Moses, the dude left in charge. And Aaron makes a golden calf. The Israelites were a pastoral people, meaning they were noted for their flocks and herds.

The Israelites literally say: “This is the god that brought us out of Egypt.”

Isaiah has a hilarious discourse on idolatry. He talks about cutting down a tree. From that tree we burn some in the fire to keep warm. We make bowls and utensils to eat out of. Then we make a little statue, bow down to worship it, and say, “Hey, thanks for creating me.”

Idolatry, at it’s heart, at the source, is worshiping the work of our own hands. And while that exhibits itself in “graven images,” we must realize that we can worship anything apart from God that we have generated or manufactured.

That includes political systems, moral systems, cultural norms, postmodern ideas of identity and reality, economic systems, philosophy, logic, science, religion, relationships, romantic love, etc.

If I formulate an argument, despite how intelligent it seems, that God does not exist, the irony of using an ability gifted to me by God from his own likeness to prove that Giver does not exist is the same nature of self-deception as making a bowl and an idol out of the same tree. To choose what was created, as good as it may be, over the One who created it, is dangerous and destructive.

When we ascribe power to what does not possess it, that is also a form of idolatry. My ability to think and reason, while good, is limited in its ability. To ascribe it more than is prudent will lead to deception. And without a true revelation of the Creator, then something “good” becomes a deathtrap.

Religious traditions can possess the same problem. When used in context of the Creator, the only one with power, and in relation to him, then traditions can be good and reasonable reminders of revelation. But when we begin to believe those traditions have power in and of themselves, or that they are the solution, we can create idols within Christianity, which supposes to worship the one Solution, the Savior, the “only Potentate,” as the KJV says it.

But when the revelation of God through our relationship with Him is given its proper place, the primary position in our lives, the position of LORD and KING, then I can truly appreciate the good things in life without seeking to worship them. That leads to peace and purity and life, and that life more abundantly.

That is my prayer for all of us.


Transformation of the Kingdom

transformationSometimes I use words like “kingdom” and “transformation” and the context is more metaphysical or mystic or even philosophical, but I wanted to share a couple things today to make it a little more practical.

We’ve been building relationship with these new families that have been attending our church. I’ve been part of discipling two brothers. And over the last two months, we’ve really seen a major change in their life.

What does that mean? They’re more at peace, feel more purpose, experience more love, have a deeper relationship with God, see the results of change in their family relationships.

In the midst of this growth, one of the brothers has been embroiled in a fairly crappy situation. I won’t go into details for the sake of privacy, but I’ll summarize to say that it has thrown the family into crisis.

All it has done is reveal the change, the transformation, that has happened at the core of these families. They see the hand of God in the midst of trial and trouble. The young man has shared is faith and started praying with another young man in a similar situation because the second young man said, “What’s so different about you?”

This crisis situation has brought these families closer together. They’ve gained friends and close relationships out of it.

And I hear statements like, “This isn’t how I would have acted or reacted before.”

This is only the most recent example of many, many people I’ve seen transformed over the past twenty years by a relationship with a loving God and His people. Or, to be use the religious term, Christ and Christians.

These transformations produce joy and peace, healthier and more loving relationships, a greater sense of purpose. And others around them, like me, are inspired and encouraged to further their own journey of transformation.

In other words, it isn’t mere religious acknowledgement of fact, nor is it a belief that has no bearing on everyday life. Quite the opposite. The simple and loving message of the Christian gospel and faith permeates every detail of life for the better. It is simple yet infinitely deep and practical. “Life and that life more abundantly.”

You’ve probably heard it said that people can be so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good. The opposite is true. Unless you are heavenly minded, you can be no earthly good. The unseen affects the seen.

The Kingdom of God, the rule and reign of a loving and holy and perfect Heavenly Father, results in good. Since God is the creator and loving, then this good is holistic. It affects the mind, the heart, the soul, the strength. It affects every part of us.

That doesn’t mean that there won’t be troubles or that we are exempt from trials or struggles or hard times. And I don’t have space in this post (perhaps another one) to go into the reality that when you are of the Kingdom of God, you become a target for other kingdoms, both spiritual and material, that cause trouble and bring the battle.

But the change is not only felt but evident in behavior. People change. And it is always a gift to see it.


The Kingdom is Reality

crownOur culture is the middle of a shift. It isn’t completely new, but as usual, it looks a little new in a different context. This shift is away from the absolutes of a Judeo-Christian worldview to a more humanistic one, which means that we are continually accepting that the new absolute reality is that we each define our own reality, and that is a good thing. We can define ourselves, determine our own truths, and all of it is seen as heroic and intrinsic to our rights as human beings. Of course, since this must, by nature, deny the reality espoused by Christianity and the Bible.

Like I said, this is nothing new. The Bible is the history, from Creation on, of God revealing himself to people for their good and then they either accept it and live or they run towards destruction. Since the ultimate reality is one that is unseen by our physical eyes, revelation is key.

Faith is key. And faith is not based on a wish despite a lack of evidence, as many like to suppose. Faith is a confidence based on spiritual revelation and therefore, an eternal, spiritual perspective. Our spiritual senses must be awakened to see that which is more powerful than what we do not.

The Kingdom of God is “not of this world.” And yet we have the prophecy from Daniel about how this Kingdom from Heaven will enter our material world and crush all other kingdoms to dust.

Because of the nature of the Heavenly Kingdom, no earthly power or kingdom can change it, cannot corrupt it. It is eternal and indestructible. It is the only good. When that Kingdom comes into contact with the kingdoms and powers (i.e. the individual “realities”), not only do they not compare, but the Heavenly will destroy the others.

What we do not see, what is unseen, has greater impact than what is seen. As Paul says, what is unseen is eternal and never goes away, what is seen is only temporary.

So to step away from that eternal reality to our own, self-manufactured reality, is an eternal tragedy. For someone to believe something that is not real is a form of insanity. If a young Asian woman believes she is, in fact, Napoleon, then she is insane. We are moving closer and closer, in our modern progressive culture, to saying, “Who are we to tell her she’s NOT Napoleon? Maybe she’s been reincarnated or something. We cannot know for sure, therefore, it is hateful to tell her she is not, in fact, the French dictator that tried to become the Emperor of Europe.”

And to declare that there is a reality that transcends any and all personal reality, that dominates and rules over them all, to declare the Kingdom, our culture will more and more call us the insane, the madmen, the hateful, even though it is a message of love.

Everyone who comes to faith in Christ, everyone who sees and moves by faith to enter the Kingdom, must deny their own reality to participate in the true reality. Even those of us who were raised “in church,” we have had to come to grips with our own selfish nature and self-manufactured reality that we may have only given a Christian name to.

The Heavenly Kingdom is the reality from which everything that was created was created. What was created was corrupted and so everything will eventually return to the Kingdom, the consensual rule and reign of God. What was of the corruption, not of the absolute reality of the Kingdom, will pass away so that what is eternal will be all in all again. That is redemption. Corruption cannot coexist with redemption. And it will not.

The Gospel, therefore, is first that a non-corrupted Kingdom exists. And second, that you have the opportunity to be a part of one whose purpose is eternal good and cannot be lost or changed or destroyed.

“Repent, for the Kingdom of God is here.” That’s what Jesus preached. He came from that pure reality into our corrupted one to say THAT. He was sent by the Father to do so. Literally gave his life for it, knowing there is no way he can lose.

And for those of us who have been born of the Father and entered the Kingdom, the true reality, then that is our message, as well. It is a message of love that leads to life and peace. We give our lives for it, knowing there is no way we can lose.


Why the Kingdom is Greater than Tomorrowland

tomorrowlandSeeing the previews for the Tomorrowland movie, I wanted to watch it. Didn’t get to it in the theater and finally got it on Redbox and watched it with the family last week.

Without giving too much away, the story is about this other dimension where a different Earth is populated with the artists, inventors, and geniuses of Earth to invest in the future, to create a better world, essentially a futuristic, peaceful world where dreams can come true. A young woman is invited to Tomorrowland and the adventure begins.

We all enjoyed the movie. It is inspiring, the idea of encouraging and empowering the dreamers who won’t give up. As a writer, it wasn’t perfectly written, but it was very good.

Why do these kinds of movies inspire us so? These ideas of another world where “magic” happens, like Narnia or Hogwarts or whatever, are rooted in something that actually exists. It’s called the Kingdom.

We love these movies. Humanity always has. We always will. And while the writers and creators of these fantasy/sci-fi stories may not believe in or connect with the Kingdom of God, the essential desire for a different world comes from the heart and mind and soul of men and women created by the Lord of that Kingdom, the King who loves and invites us all into that Kingdom.

Tomorrowland, while a good movie, is only a taste of what is real. The real thing is way cooler.

Everyone is invited to the Kingdom. We don’t have to be smart enough or good enough. We don’t have to be a “dreamer that doesn’t give up.”

If we accept the Kings invitation, he makes us powerful enough to operate within the Kingdom that “is not of this world.” He makes dreamers that do not quit out of us.

We get to bring elements of that Kingdom to this world, however. We bring Heaven to Earth with our obedience, our prayers, our worship, our love. And once we accept the invitation, we also become recruiters for the Kingdom, spreading the same Good News that inspired us.

And we don’t have to hide the Kingdom from anyone. No one can get into the Kingdom and corrupt it. It is incorruptible. There is no danger of inviting someone in who will ruin it. It changes them as they participate within it. There are unlimited resources to sustain the Kingdom.

Shall I go on? Ultimately, the Kingdom is greater than Tomorrowland because it is real. We can wait for a Tomorrowland of our own invention, but it will crumble and fall because it is built upon corrupt foundations, as great as it may seem for a time. The Kingdom is immune to evil and sin and will forever be the expression of the eternal, amazing present and future God has for all of us.

Good News, indeed.