Monday, October 3, 2011

Idols of Our Own Making

This week we have that great story about the people of Israel making that golden calf while Moses is up on the mountain getting the Ten Commandments from God.  You remember that scene in the movie version.  Moses is on the mountain having a long conversation with God.  God takes a tablet of stone and begins to carve out the Ten Commandments on it, making each one come alive with fire as if the stone is in a smelter.  With the hot stone tucked in his arm, Moses begins his trek down the mountain when suddenly he begins to hear the noise of a huge party going on down below.  The people of Israel got tired of waiting for him to return so they decided to make an idol of gold, using the jewelry and other valuables they had stolen from Egypt as they made their way out of town.  Moses' brother Aaron melted down those golden pieces and formed this calf so they would have a god to worship since they were unsure of the God that Moses was chatting with up on the mountain.  The movie version has a great scene in which Moses sees the frivolity and debauchery going on down below him and gets so angry that he throws down the tablet that has the Ten Commandments printed on them and suddenly an earthquake happens and the earth swallows up a great portion of the revelers. 

The Biblical version is not quite as spectacular as the movie version.  Certainly there is lightning and thunder and smoke on the mountain and Moses does get angry at the people and smash the stone containing the Ten Commandments.  An earthquake does not happen though; instead, Moses takes the idol made of gold and they grind it down into powder and he makes the people drink water containing the gold for punishment.  Then God sends a plague on them.  So, idolatry does not pay, they learn.  Being patient and waiting for Moses is the right choice and maybe they will  make that choice the next time Moses takes off up the mountain, which happens soon because Moses has to get a copy of the Ten Commandments again.  This time, God makes Moses do the writing as Moses must have had a lesson or two to learn also, maybe one about controlling his anger. 

I love this story because it is so dramatic and high-action.  It is also very human.  It points to the idea that humans will have idols to worship even when they know that there is only one true God whom we should worship.  Few if any of us create actual idols made of stone or glass or substances found in the earth.  We think of ourselves as much more intelligent than that.  No, our idols are some of our own making that we have formed based upon the way we live our lives.  Our idols have evolved out of the persons that we have become and what we consider to be important in life. 

When I was growing up, the preacher at our church would preach for a while and then he would say, "Okay, now I've stopped preaching and gone to meddling."  So, if you think that what I begin to say now is meddling then you can leave this webpage and go back to Facebook or whereever you were before you began reading this. 

Idols of our own making evolve out of our lives and what we began to see as important to life as we became older and wiser (in our minds).  They may involve our jobs or our families or even things we may consider to be sacred to our lives.  Perhaps we put in so much time on our jobs that we have little time left for anything else.  Sure, we have to be industrious and give our best to our occupations but when we let that be the center of our lives and decide that working longer and making more money is what life is about, then perhaps our jobs have become our idols.  Maybe our leisure time has become our idol.  If we center our lives around what will be the next thing we do to have fun or what party will we attend next, then even pleasure can become an idol.  Even something that is good for us, such as exercise, can become an idol.  If we decide that we have to run the 5 minute mile (if that is possible) or we have to play tennis better than anyone we know and we will practice until our bodies can no longer take it, then maybe even that pursuit has become an idol. 

I work in the religion business so I think that going to church is an activity that everyone should be engaged in.  I want people to be in church as often as they possibly can and I think that going to church should be a regular part of one's life.  However, even going to church can become an idol if one is doing it for the wrong reasons.  I grew up in a church where we had church services four times a week, and I went to all of those services.  We also had activities that were not services on other days of the week and I was expected to be at those too.  Sometimes I went to them because of guilt or expectations of others and not because I truly wanted to be there.  Sometimes I even resented being there and wished I were elsewhere.  Religion was an addiction to some of the folks who were involved in that church and it was an idol to them because they worshiped church rather than the God who should have been at the center of life. 

Moderation and balance are two words that help us to avoid creating idols in our lives.  We all need work but we all need rest too.  Even pastors need vacations and should take them so as to preserve the energy they have for ministry in the future.  People need exercise but they also need sleep and should get both in their lives.  People need good wholesome, healthy foods and they need to live in a way that will promote good health for their bodies.  Moderation in life will bring us contentment because our strivings for things we think we want will cease and we will live in joy. 

So, you dont have to make an idol that looks like a Kon-Tiki statue or a golden calf.  An idol may suddenly sneak up on you and say, "Gotcha" and you will be surprised because you invited it in long before and did not notice that it would take over if you let it.  Life a life of moderation and contentment and worship the God who loves you more than you will ever know. 

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