I really liked the game of chess as a kid. I often played a neighbor boy who was just enough older than I was that he typically beat me, soundly. I’m not terribly competitive, but I am terribly nerdy so I went to the library* for help. There I learned of a move called “The Queen’s Sacrifice” where you lure your opponent into taking your queen and he puts himself into check-mate. It worked like a charm, once; and taught me a lesson I’ll never forget…
My queen died so that I, the chess player, could win. The move was totally unfair to her and, since she didn’t live to see me win, my reasoning was totally obscure to her. As her sovereign, her feelings, perceptions, were less important than my goal of winning. By now I’m sure you realize that I’m not really talking about a chess piece.
We have promises, we know that He had reserved us a home in heaven, but here on earth I’m a player on His team; a chess piece on His board – “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him”. I leave you with this piece by Pastor Jack Hyles. Your Brother in Christ, Pastor Scott
I was in Mansfield. Ohio, sitting on a platform about to speak. The Pastor of the church where I was speaking leaned over and whispered to me that there was a certain lady in the back whose husband had cancer. He asked me to pray for her and for him. After the service, several people came by to express their burdens and heartaches and divulge the loads they carried. I went to my room and thought of the many people in my own church who carry similar loads. My mind settled on one particular one who just a few days before had looked through tears toward me to ask, “Why, Pastor, why?” These meditations caused me to sit in my motel room one Labor Day afternoon and pen the following lines:
I have sat beside a tiny crib,
And watched a baby die,
As parents slowly turned toward me,
To ask, “Oh, Pastor, why?”
I have held the youthful husband’s head,
And felt death’s heave and sigh.
A widow looked through tears and said,
“Dear Pastor, tell me why?”
I have seen a gold-star mother weep,
And hold a picture nigh
Her lonely breast, and softly ask,
“Why? Pastor, why, oh, why?”
I have walked away from babyland,
Where still-born babies lie.
A mother stretches empty arms,
And asks me, “Pastor, why?”
I have watched my drunken Father leave
Our home, and say “good-bye,”
While looking into Mother’s face
I asked, “Please tell me why?”
I have heard the white-tipped tapping cane,
Which leads a blinded eye.
And then a darkened, lonely voice
Cries, Preacher, show me why.”
I have caught a fiancee’s burning tears,
And heard her lonely cry.
She held an unused wedding gown,
And shouted, “Pastor, why?”
I have heard the cancer patient say,
” ‘Tis gain for me to die;”
Then look into his daughter’s face,
And mutely whisper, “Why?”
I have seen a father take his life,
A widow stands nearby;
As little children say, “Dear Mom,
The Preacher’ll tell us why.”
I’ve seen my mother stand beside
Two tiny graves and cry.
And though she’s never let me know,
I knew she wondered, “Why?”
I’ve heard an orphan faintly say,
Who gazed into the sky,
“Tho Mom and Dad have gone away,
My Preacher will know why.”
I tiptoed to my Father’s throne,
So timid and so shy,
To say, “Dear God, some of Your own
Are wanting to know why.”
I heard him say so tenderly,
“Their eyes I’ll gladly dry,
Tho they must look through faith today,
Tomorrow they’ll know why.”
“If now they find the reasons that
Their hopes have gone awry,
In Heaven, they will miss the joy
Of hearing Me tell why.”
And so I’ve found it pleases Him
When I can testify,
“I’ll trust my God to do what’s best,
And wait to find out why.”
*When the internet went public on April 30, 1993, I was married with a third child on the way.
June 17, 2022 – The very last verse of 1 John says, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” With that verse in mind I “Googled” Idols in America Today and the following article was the first hit. Rather than borrow from it, I thought I’d just post it. Read it through until the end!
The Top 7 Idols in America
Americans are fundamentally polytheists with these idols in America, worshiping at the shrines of many gods. Here are the top 7.
Americans are fundamentally polytheists with these idols in America, worshiping at the shrines of many gods. Many who call themselves Christians are as polytheistic as Hindus.
Many who call themselves Christians are as polytheistic as Hindus. We, of course, have different names for our gods of prosperity, fertility, good luck, celebrity or whatever.
Money and success have often been thought of as America’s gods. “God is gold,” “the Almighty Dollar,” and all that. But things have changed over the years. Money has been demoted to a somewhat lesser deity, though still devoutly worshiped.
America’s Top Gods
Here are North America’s seven most popular gods. By “god” I mean something (anything) in our life that commands more loyalty, dedication and devotion than the one true Living God. Not necessarily the highest loyalty, since many of us are functional polytheists, whatever we claim. But sincere and central devotion.
The question then becomes: What is your or my functional pantheon?
From the biblical perspective, of course, such “gods” are really idols. Idols that the Bible both denounces and mocks.
America’s gods today, in inverse order:
7. National Security
Yes, for some people this is the One High God (“My Country, Right or Wrong”). It is a much higher god since the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the passage of the (idolatrous? blasphemous?) Patriot Act. Anything done in the name of national security, or now by the NSA, is by definition justified, since the end justifies the means.
National Security in the U.S. is the new name of the old god of Nationalism.
But for many in the U.S., this is not the High God. It is one among many, and it nudges out the other gods only in times of clear threat and crisis.
This is one of the gods, so-called, that the Bible denounces. Read Ezekiel.
6. Money, Riches, Wealth
Still a much-adored and sought-after god in the United States. The pursuit of wealth was one of the two founding pillars of the United States, and of course this is still in place. But it is now so taken for granted—so unquestioned—that the worship of this god is a little less prominent.
This god is also called Mammon, which Jesus referred to in Matthew 6:24 when he said, “You cannot serve God and Mammon.” (Was he wrong?)
The rise of technology has birthed other gods, however, so Money is a bit less adored than in times past.
The worship of guns in the U.S. is fully obvious and is well known globally—though quite puzzling to many folks in other countries, including Canada. A few months ago, The Economist magazine from the U.K. ran a cartoon depicting a church service, which was actually a worship-of-guns service, in America.
How America’s gun culture developed is well documented in Michael Bellesiles’ Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture (2000) and other sources.
All it took to turn fascination with guns (primarily by males) into a religion was linking it up with the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment.
Today, all the marks of religion are evident when one either confronts a gun devotee or questions anything about this devotion. (For clarity: I am not speaking about legitimate limited uses of firearms but the deification of the gun.)
I know many folks would rank this idolatry higher, closer to the top. For many Americans, it is indeed Top God. But the number of devotees is a actually minority of the total population, so I rank it here.
4. The Automobile
This beautiful and more and more glitzy and gadgety god has been around now for over a century. Historians talk about “America’s love affair with the automobile.” The automobile quickly became a symbol of money, sex and power, with a clear hierarchy identifiable by model and price. A divider of the haves from the have-nots.
When the automobile moves from being a means of transportation to something else, something more, a hierarchical status symbol, deification is complete. The marks of worship, from temples to worship rallies to lavish offerings, become obvious. Our casual obliviousness to the sacrifice of thousands of lives on our highways is another sign (32,000 last year—adult and child sacrifice).
But we’re not yet at the top.
3. Fame and Celebrity
Celebrity has been around for a long time—going back at least to Absalom, the Old Testament’s most famous celebrity, with his clever charm and his beautiful black flowing hair.
But modern technology—printing of course, but especially movies, radio, TV and now the Internet—have given the Castor-and-Pollux god of Fame-and-Celebrity new prominence.
So now fame and celebrity are largely unquestioned, even among Christians. Being famous is always better than not being, and becoming a celebrity is always something to be applauded. Therefore, aspired to.
In this value system, seeking obscurity is dumb. Becoming “less so that others may become more” is irrational, suspect and likely a sign of mental derangement.
Many parents will sacrifice virtually anything for the chance for their child to become famous—whether in entertainment, sports or even academia. (Ever seen a child beauty pageant?)
Note that the high god here is not money, but rather fame-and-celebrity.
2. Collegiate Sports
Collegiate sports is, of course, a way to achieve fame, celebrity and wealth—at least potentially.
Compare the salaries and perks of university head coaches and athletic directors with those of presidents and deans as a first indicator of this idolatry. Look at sports and media budgets.
But there are many other signs. Collegiate sports have become a whole elaborate high-tech profit-making system—a business, really—with big winners and many losers.
From the outside looking in, the idolatry is obvious. From the inside, even to raise the question appears extreme, unjustified, irrational.
1. Professional Sports
This is America’s Top God at the moment. Not 50 years ago, but now. The growing popularity of and devotion to this god has happened so gradually that millions have not noticed the seduction. Instead, what they see is high-tech glitz powered by advertising mega-dollars.
Professional sports have it all: Money, fame, sex, technology, and immense and growing economic clout.
It is professional sports, of course, that powers collegiate sports—to the point where the line between “professional” and “amateur” is often a joke.
College sports power high-school sports—which power grade-school sports. A huge, interlocking system, a hierarchy.
Result: Today, one of the most obscene, disturbing scenes on TV or the Internet or on a sports field is not sex or violence. It is a small boy, barely into grade school, nearly lost in a football helmet and uniform, being socialized into a culture and worldview that is artificial, unhealthy and ultimately demeaning. Trapped in a uniform and trapped in a deadly culture. It is a tragedy and a training in idolatry. Actually a form of spiritual formation (or malformation).
Among many other things, this form of unrecognized child abuse insulates (literally) your child from normal, unprogrammed interaction with the natural world of trees, flowers, birds, rivers and dirt. God’s good creation.
Tests for Idolatry
Oops! What’s that sound I hear? Ah, howls of protest! “No, no, no! These things are not really our gods! You are wrong! We don’t actually worship these things. We just like them. They’re diversions, entertainment, leisure-time hobbies. Pastimes. Innocent.”
Do I hear the squeal of sacred cows?
Well, here are five tests for idolatry. So we can decide for ourselves.
1. The test of time and attention. How much time, devotion and unquestioned loyalty do I give to this “diversion”? What about passion and intensity of devotion and depth of loyalty? How much time and money go into this adulation, and at the expense of what other things?
2. The test of the willingness to question and evaluate. Do I ever—and am I willing to—step back and question my loyalty? To ask where the line is between interest and worship, and how we know when we cross that line? Especially: To question our loyalties and dedications by the light of the biblical prophets?
3. The test of public signs of devotion. Devotees of gods commonly make their devotion public through their behavior, clothing and emblems. They give public displays, advertising where their loyalties lie, so everyone will know, and there will be no confusion. These often take the form of logos, flags, caps, T-shirts and other clothing items.
Over the past week or month, what loyalties have I publicly advertised?
4. The test of comparative devotion with other gods or loyalties. For example, loyalty and devotion to Jesus Christ. If I evaluate my interests, time and money use, amount and intensity of attention, what comes out on top? What is second, third, fourth?
Whatever is on top is your or my functional god, and the others are proof of polytheism.
5. The test of ethical effects. What behaviors follow from my worship (that is, interest, hobby, avocation, relationship, whatever)? Are we ethically sensitive to the effects of our devotions? Or does my loyalty produce ethical insensitivity—most especially, insensitivity to the virtues and values of the Gospel of the kingdom of God.
“Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless, indeed, you fail to meet the test!” (2 Cor. 13.5).
Admittedly, the above pantheon ranking is impressionistic and unscientific. Probably it could be tested by carefully measuring money, time and media attention. My intuition is that if the pantheon of gods were so investigated and properly weighted for variable factors, it would come out confirming, more or less, what I suggest here.
Any ranking is, of course, fuzzy. It is not uncommon for polytheists to have many, many gods—one for each need or whim or lust or day of the week. Plus, there are many other potential deities not mentioned here: pets, pills (for every need), health, beauty/figure/physique, clothing, jewelry, tools, books, food, individualism or individual rights, church buildings—whatever we allow to become or adopt as a god. And, of course, there’s the original U.S. Trinity of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”—good if properly placed, but idolatrous if they become objects of unquestioned worship.
Like all humans, we’re also good at demonizing whomever or whatever we don’t like.
So we should examine ourselves. In the best-case scenario, if we pass the examination—that is, if King Jesus emerges as the One True God in our lives by whose power we renounce all idols—we do well.
If we do not pass with clear conscience, then some pantheonic reassessment and probably renunciation is in order.
Yes, and I recall that Jesus said: “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you” (Mt. 5:3-6).
God says, “You shall worship no other god, because the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Ex. 34:14). “I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols” (Isa. 42:8).
“There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god” (Psalm 81:9).
“Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts” (Mal. 3:7).
Often as a pastor I will use an illustration to help shed light on the meaning of the message. Sometimes the illustration is a message in itself.
The May 1987 edition of National Geographic included a feature about the arctic wolf. Author L. David Mech described how a seven-member pack had targeted several musk-oxen calves who were guarded by eleven adults. As the wolves approached their quarry, the musk-oxen bunched in an impenetrable semicircle, their deadly rear hooves facing out, and the calves remained safe during a long standoff with the enemy.
But then a single ox broke rank, and the herd scattered into nervous little groups. A skirmish ensued, and the adults finally fled in panic, leaving the calves to the mercy of the predators. Not a single calf survived.
Paul warned the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 that after his departure wolves would come, not sparing the flock. Wolves continue to attack the church today but cannot penetrate and destroy when unity is maintained. When believers break ranks, however, they provide easy prey.
As I prepare to preach Richard “Sunny” Boxx’s funeral tomorrow, I’m finding paperwork for Nelson Borden’s service, from just a couple of weeks ago, tucked away in my funeral folder. It made me remember the sweet bond those two had. Every Sunday, for months, they each came early to Sunday Service and sat having coffee. After a while Nelson started baking cookies and bringing a couple to share over coffee.
I thought, wouldn’t it be neat to have a picture of that precious communion – Sgt. Sunny, being devoured by cancer, having a chocolate chip cookie with Maj. Nelson who is being devoured by the ravages of age. I texted the coffee ladies and several others who were around early on Sundays. To a person they said something like, “No, sure wish I did!” or “I had no idea that Easter would be the last Sunday they would ever share those moments!”
The point, however, of this blog is not my regret of having never snapped a pic. The point is that we NEVER know when the last time will be for any opportunity. Have you recently told your mom, spouse, kids that you love them? Do you have your documents in order? Have you mailed that birthday gift that is sitting on the kitchen desk? I could go on and on, but you know what the Bible says about those of us who assume we’ll always have “tomorrow!”
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.
As the sage says: “Live one day at a time, but always have your bags packed!”