In Deuteronomy 12, there is a warning to God’s people:
“30 do not fall into the trap of following their customs and worshiping their gods. Do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations worship their gods? I want to follow their example.’ 31 You must not worship the Lord your God the way the other nations worship their gods, for they perform for their gods every detestable act that the Lord hates…”
I often wonder what it is that we need to pay attention to in our own culture, what are our gods? What are the things that demand our allegiance and take up our time and resources? What are the items or people or symbols to which we are to pay homage? What demands our trust and requires our dedication?
Well, let me suggest a few things that we might want to avoid, because they are American gods that compete with the Lord God Almighty in our lives.
Our homes are filled with stuff. We build bigger and bigger houses with more closets and storage space in order to keep all the things we purchase, or put on lines of credit. We rush out to buy the newest item, outfit, or gadget knowing that in a matter of days or months it will be completely obsolete, but we buy it anyway and we store it anyway. This unquenchable desire for more, better, and newer stuff is nothing more than what the Bible calls “covetousness.” We will never be happy indulging our materialistic desires because it is a trap to keep our focus on ourselves and not on God.
Our modern technology, especially movies, radio, TV, and now the Internet have opened up the world to our fingertips with promises of fame and the desire to be discovered. So now fame and celebrity are largely unquestioned, even among Christians. Being famous is always better than not being famous, and becoming a celebrity is always something to be applauded. The idea that anyone would want to sink back into obscurity seems strange. Paul’s teaching to become “less so that others may become more” is irrational, not to mention Jesus’ teaching to go about our good works “in secret” so that God can bless us. Many, if not most, people will sacrifice virtually anything for a chance for them, or their child, to become famous—the arenas are many including entertainment, sports, or even academia...even among church groups and ministers!
The late comedian George Carlin said: "Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.” Now, while you may not like the word stupid, the idea that politics can solve our issues or that a particular politician is a messianic figure posed to save us from all evil (that the last administration set up) is just…well, stupid. Understand this, elected officials are deeply rooted in “short-term” thought. They can only think ahead as far as the next election when, once again, they must effectively re-interview for their jobs. Additionally, they are naturally populist and must constantly bear in mind their public image. Their popularity and their existence go hand-in-hand and if the fickle public decides to change its mind, it is likely the politician will not be re-elected. How can this system, or person, produce the type of salvation that is promised every four to eight years?
Sports - college/professional
Sports have it all: money, fame, sex, technology, and immense and growing economic clout. It is professional sports that powers collegiate sports, to the point where the line between “professional” and “amateur” is often blurry at best. College sports power high-school sports—which power elementary school sports. A huge, interlocking system, a hierarchy. Compare the salaries and perks of university head coaches and athletic directors with those of presidents and deans as a first indicator of its power. Look at sports and media budgets at all levels, but especially high school and colleges. From the outside looking in, the idolatry is plain to see. From the inside, even to raise the question is betrayal and foolishness.
Our society worships at the altar of sex, and by extension, the altar of lust, pornography, and sensationalism. Every part of our daily lives seems to honor and revolve around sex. There is no escaping the pervasive presence of indulgent sex. It has infiltrated every corner of our culture and radically changed the way we view ourselves and the way we treat each other. The worst damage we inflict isn't physical; it's mental and spiritual. When everything we say and do is viewed through the lens of sexuality we reduce ourselves to objects. We turn ourselves over to the hungry impulse of physical desire, so that the final goal of every decision is our own satisfaction. But does this really satisfy us, or simply beg for more and more?
We worship at the altar of self-aggrandizement or self-fulfillment to the exclusion of other people and their needs and desires. This reveals itself in self-indulgence through many things, but we can focus on alcohol, drugs, and food for the purpose of example. Those in affluent countries have unlimited access to alcohol, drugs (prescription drug use is at an all-time high, even among children), and food. Obesity rates in the U.S. have increased rapidly, and childhood diabetes is an epidemic. The self-control we so desperately need is rejected in our insatiable desire to eat, drink, and medicate more and more. We resist any effort to get us to curb our appetites, and we are determined to make ourselves the god of our lives. We know that this will never ultimately fulfill us, but we keep falling for it over and over again.
This often takes the form of obsession with careers and jobs since we tend to identify ourselves with what we “do.” Millions of men, and increasingly more women, spend 60-80 hours a week working. Even on the weekends and during vacations, our laptops are humming, our cell phones are dinging, and our minds are whirling with thoughts of how to create more success; how to get that promotion, how to get the next raise, how to close the next deal, how to publish the next paper, etc. In the meantime, our children and our spouses are starving for attention and love. We fool ourselves into thinking we are doing it for them, to give them a better life, but we are really doing it for ourselves. We strive to increase our self-esteem by appearing more successful, but what are we sacrificing to appear this way? This is foolish.
The words of Deuteronomy 12:32 should resonate in our hearts, “so be careful to obey…”
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.