Thursday, September 18, 2008

Americans' Idols

A friend of mine recently shared that she was in a group where the topic of The 10 Commandments came up. Another person brought a challenge, "I bet no one here can come up with all 10!"

My friend took and shot and didn't do too badly. She named seven of the ten. (Check out Exodus 20:1-17 for yourself and see the whole list.)

This morning as I was reading them, verse 4 halted me. It reads,

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything...

If you're like me, you're wondering how such statements apply today. And our initial thought might scream, "Nobody around here makes idols. Nobody I know does any smelting of gold, silver, or other precious ores. Nobody carves the image of a deity with the intent of living their life for that hand-crafted god. Nobody around here makes idols."

But the next verse reads,

You shall not bow down to them or worship them...

That got me thinking.

While we don't "bow down" physically to hardly anything or anyone, we do bow to lots of things and ideas.

- We bow down to the idea of being famous (What other culture could make a cliché out of "fifteen minutes of fame"?)

- We bow down to pay for the new vehicle or new clothes. And we feel the pain every time we make a sacrifice (known as a payment) to our credit card company.

- We bow down to the promise of having our wants met immediately. (How many cell phone calls and text messages really are emergencies that just can't wait? Yet how often are we perturbed that "they aren't answering!"?)

- We sacrifice our lives to things that will keep pain or difficulty far away from us.

- We bow down to being entertained. We sacrifice time with friends or family so we can sit in front of a screen and watch people who've never heard of us and don't care at all about us, catch a touchdown or pretend in a movie, while we neglect spouses or children or parents who want a little time with us.

The other morning my wife and I sat down and talked. Spontaneously.

Shouldn't be a big deal. But I felt stabbed with the conviction that too often there is an electronic device on somewhere that has my attention instead of the person most important in all the world to me. Too often I'm running here or there putting out fires or working on projects, rather than looking into the eyes of one individual I've committed to spend the rest of my life with. Sitting down to talk for no real reason ought to be the rule, not the exception.

Yeah, I'm afraid we have our idols as much as any people who've ever lived. We're just not as good at seeing them as other people are. Or maybe we're less honest about it.

We look for gods that will help us escape boredom or allow us to avoid dealing with the real issues of our lives: lack of self-control, below-the-surface-anger, past disappointments, broken relationships.

In his book Living Simply through the Day, Tilden Edwards writes, "Maybe TV will help settle us down - or the newspaper - or some work - or sex - or a big snack. Less seems to gnaw at us then. Life stays put for a moment. We feel in control again - we're 'doing something' - anything."

He goes on to tell us that while the "aftereffect of the doing leaves us less anxious" he also tells us those sorts of outlets leave us "more drugged. We've exchanged a gnawing anxiety for a dulled sensibility."

Our "idols and gods" don't really provide the solutions for which we were looking.

Where do we look for freedom from our idols?

The opening words of Exodus 20 were a reminder to the Hebrew people. They used to be slaves to a foreign king. They were now liberated to serve God.

I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

May we remember that we were once slaves but God freed us.

May we remember that we are always tempted to go back to serving other gods.

May we remember that there is One who speaks living, liberating words into our lives if we will "have an ear to hear what the Spirit is saying".

May we ask Him to free us from our idols and gods.

Grace & peace

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