Ask the Pastor* – Aug 12, 2022

Question #1:  How does defending my faith play in the current culture without feeling I have to defend my God who needs no defense?

  1. Armor protects the one wearing it and it protects those that stand behind it.  We face an onslaught of anti-God, anti-biblical sentiment in this nation and we wear the Armor of God to keep from being spiritually KIA and to protect those whose armor is still forming.  Our job isn’t to take Satan out. That will happen at the end of the tribulation. Our job is to stand!  Or in other words, a win for us is keeping our faith from being wrecked, not “winning the argument.”  (Ephesians 6:10-18)
  1. If by “defend” you are referring to 1 Peter 3:15, where “defend” is the word from which we get “apologetics”, then we need a plan.
  • We need to make sure we are serving Jesus (sanctify in your hearts) and not acting out of pride.
  • We need to have a well reasoned explanation (testimony) for the hope in us.
  • We need to endure suffering with joy so that people will ask why we are different.
  • When they ask we need to explain our hope.  (1 Peter 3:8-17)
  1. If by “defend” you are referring to witnessing, Jesus shows there comes a point when you have to dust off your feet and move on.  (Matthew 10:14; Mark 6:11, Luke 9:5).  In Acts, Paul says of his brethren, “Your blood is on your own heads”; it got to that point when they started to blaspheme (Acts 18:5-6).
  • Paul, in an attempt to get the Corinthian Church to stop choosing up sides reminds us that God, not the evangelist, is responsible for anyone’s salvation.  (1 Corinthians 3:1-9)
  • Pray!

Question #2:  I feel I need to pour myself out in love for Christ to reach others, yet I am often trampled.  Do I retreat or keep going until I damage relationships beyond repair?  I feel retreating is vital to save relationships yet I sometimes feel I’m compromising for an easy day.  Oftentimes I feel I have cast pearls before swine because I felt that was the wisdom needed yet I did get quite lacerated in the aftermath for holding my ground. HOW does one navigate some of these hard waters?

  • John ends his first epistle encouraging us to pray for those in sin.  James ends his encouraging us to rescue them – so your impulse is correct.
  • Being trampled is what happens in the world.  (1 Peter 2-3)
  • The issue, however, is complicated when it’s our own family. 
  • Loving a prodigal used to be a matter of praying for them to come home.
  • Today prodigals don’t leave; they stay and want to be accepted. So…
    • Pray hard
    • Don’t let yourself be baited (James 1:19-20 tells us to listen before we speak and to remember that our anger is of no profit).
    • Set boundaries, even if they are just in your own heart – have an escape plan (I like Paul’s handling of blaspheming Jews, but that’s hard for a parent – so maybe a timer?).
    • Seek peace via agreeing to disagree and not rehash old arguments over and over (casting pearls).
    • Love through action not unrequested advice.
    • Take time to heal – if needed after each visit (I am thinking of 1 Kings 19 when Elijah fled Jezebel, but I’m reminded that even Jesus took breaks – Mark 1:35)!
    • Keep answering softly.  It does turn away wrath!  (Proverbs 15:1)

Serving in the same trench as you,

Pastor Scott

*Ask the pastor was my regular column back when the newsletter was a monthly mailing.  It’s harder to come up with a question each week, but I love it when they come!

Saved via Fire? August 5, 2022

I was googling a reference and this post, from a branch ministry of GotQuestions, popped up. I’m going to post it here because I think it shines light on one of those questions that always seem to be percolating. Happy Reading! ~Pastor Scott

What does 1 Corinthians 3:15 mean?

A fiery test is coming that will reveal the quality of the work of everyone who helps to build the church of Christ on earth. Paul’s metaphor pictures the church, the community of believers, as a structure that may be raised with either high-quality or poor building materials. He seems to equate these building materials with teaching that is true and helpful about the way of God versus that which is distorted and misleading (1 Corinthians 3:12–13).

Even structures built from cheap, weak materials may appear good and strong to casual view. Fire will reveal what the building is really made of. That fire will come with the judgment of Christ on the day of the Lord. This is a judgment of the work of Christians, not the Christians themselves (Romans 8:1). Non-believers must face a very different judgment (Revelation 20:11–15). Scholars disagree whether, in this case, Paul is describing the works of all believers or only of Christian leaders (James 3:1). In either case, all Christians will experience some judgment of their works (2 Corinthians 5:10).

We know this is not a judgment of whether a person is saved or not (Titus 3:5). It’s not God’s judgment on sin. Those who trust in Christ have been forgiven for their sin. Jesus already received God’s judgment for it. Paul made it clear at the very start of this letter that the Christians in Corinth, though many were still living “of the flesh” (1 Corinthians 3:3), would stand guiltless before God in the day of the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:8).

There will be loss, however. Those whose work is burned up, found to be worthless by Christ’s judgment, will suffer some unspecified loss. No detail is given, but it may be the simple loss of seeing all of one’s effort in this life revealed as nothing more than selfishness and wasted potential.

Even that person, though, with his or her sins covered by the blood of Christ, will be saved by God’s grace because of faith in Christ. Paul adds, though, that it will be as if they have gone through fire. Again, there is room for uncertainty about what this means.

Context Summary
First Corinthians 3:10–23 expands on Paul’s earlier point that it is God, not human beings, who are worthy. Each person must build their ”works” on a foundation of Christ. Those works will be subject to judgment, to see what has eternal value. Lasting works are based in valuable, durable, precious things like wisdom and truth. Cheap and fragile materials won’t stand the fire of God’s judgment.
Chapter Summary
Paul cannot call the Corinthian Christians ”spiritual” people. Though they are in Christ, they continue to live to the flesh. They are spiritual infants, not ready for solid food. Divisions among them prove they are still serving themselves, picking sides in a senseless debate between Christian teachers. Paul insists that both he and Apollos are mere servants of the Lord and co-workers. They are not in competition. Those who lead the Corinthians must build carefully because their work will be tested on the day of the Lord. Christian leaders who build the church will have their work judged by Christ to see if they have built on the foundation of Christ. All human wisdom will be shown to be futile and worthless.

Satan’s Word Switching – July 29, 2022

I was born in the middle of the 20th Century.  During most of my life, “sex” was a dirty word, and “gender” was the word we used in place of “sex of a human being.”   I know that words morph and develop, I know that English is a hodgepodge language and our words come from all over.  But sometimes we have to take a stand and say, with Inigo Montoyo, “I don’t think that word means what you think it means!”  I, for one, insist that God only made two genders!

Amen?

PS

P.S. Below is a condensed etymology of the word “Gender.”

c. 1300, “kind, sort, class, a class or kind of persons or things sharing certain traits,” from Old French gendre, genre “kind, species; character; gender” (12c., Modern French genre), from stem of Latin genus (genitive generis) “race, stock, family; kind, rank, order; species,” also “(male or female) sex,” from root *gene- “give birth, beget,” with derivatives referring to procreation and familial and tribal groups.

The “male-or-female sex” sense is attested in English from early 15c. As sex (n.) took on erotic qualities in 20c., gender came to be the usual English word for “sex of a human being,” in which use it was at first regarded as colloquial or humorous. Later often in feminist writing with reference to social attributes as much as biological qualities; this sense first attested 1963. Gender-bender is from 1977, popularized from 1980, with reference to pop star David Bowie.

gender (n.) Online Dictionary of Etymology

Since you read this far, I will confess that this article was written because of another word quibble I have.  Sunday we sang an ancient hymn, “Be Thou My Vision.”   Afterwards I couldn’t help but remember how the word “vision” is also misused within the church.   Tim Challies makes my point pretty well. 

https://www.challies.com/articles/where-there-is-no-vision-proverbs-2918/
Strong’s Concordance:  VISION from chazah; a sight (mentally), i.e. A dream, revelation, or oracle — vision.

Accountable for every word – July 22, 2022

“Don’t we have to account for every careless word?”  I was asked, by an individual, in a moment of self-appraisal.   “Yes”, I said, but I was bothered that it didn’t seem to fit into my theology in general.  Thought it might be worthy of further study.  

Let’s start with the Biblical context.  Turns out the phrase only appears once, in Mathew 12.  Jesus says in verse 36, “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.”   On its face, that gives me pause.  I try to speak the truth in love. I try to make sure my conversation is full of grace, seasoned with salt.  Yet, I carelessly joke, tease, grump, and complain with the best of them.  Does that mean I’m in big trouble at the Judgment Seat?

As you look a little deeper you see that Matthew 12 records a debate between Jesus and the Pharisees.  As the chapter opens the Pharisees are taking Jesus to task because his disciples were gleaning handfuls of grain as they walked the fields on the Sabbath.  Jesus states that He is the LORD of the Sabbath and then asks them if they wouldn’t rescue a sheep from a pit on the Sabbath?  Matthew 12 then records them accusing Jesus, after He cast out demons, of being in league with the Devil.  Jesus’ response is to point out that if Satan’s house is that divided, it wouldn’t be standing, after which He pronounces judgment in this way:

He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters.

“Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven.  Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit.  You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil.   But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.  For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”  

Matthew 12:30-37 – emphasis added

The warning against careless, or idle, words is given in the context of denial or affirmation of Christ’s deity.  It doesn’t seem like Jesus has in mind a comment about the color of house you drive past or a quip during a canasta game with friends. He is cautioning us to speak carefully about His and the Spirit’s work.  I’m not implying that it’s “anything goes” in terms of our speech; Ephesians 4:25ff, makes it clear that our speech matters, but the words by which the unrepentant will be condemned and the redeemed will be justified are the words of blasphemy of, or faith in, Jesus! 

I, for one, need to trust more and worry less,

Pastor Scott

All we like sheep – Jul 15, 2022

On Sunday I shared a stat that had come across my screen about the impact of frequent Bible reading.   It had to do with Bible reading frequency and having a biblical worldview.  I couldn’t verify that specific stat this morning, but I am guessing it was derived from studies like this one:  https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/religious-landscape-study/frequency-of-reading-scripture/

In that study frequency of Bible Reading and frequency of church attendance (participation) are also linked; which brought this particular old story to mind!  Be edified!

A member of a certain church, who previously had been attending services regularly, stopped going. After a few weeks, the pastor decided to visit him. It was a chilly evening. The pastor found the man at home alone, sitting before a blazing fire.

Guessing the reason for his pastor’s visit, the man welcomed him, led him to a big chair near the fireplace and waited. The pastor made himself comfortable but said nothing. In the grave silence, he contemplated the play of the flames around the burning logs.

After some minutes, the pastor took the fire tongs, carefully picked up a brightly burning ember and placed it to one side of the hearth all alone. Then he sat back in his chair, still silent. The host watched all this in quiet fascination.

As the one lone ember’s flame diminished, there was a momentary glow and then its fire was no more. Soon it was cold and “dead as a doornail.”

Not a word had been spoken since the initial greeting.

Just before the pastor was ready to leave, he picked up the cold, dead ember and placed it back in the middle of the fire. Immediately it began to glow once more with the light and warmth of the burning coals around it.

As the pastor reached the door to leave, his host said, “Thank you so much for your visit and especially for the fiery sermon. I shall be back in church next Sunday.”

Yours, because I’m His,

Pastor Scott

Spring Cleaning – Jul 8, 2022

Our house is pretty “picked up.”  We aren’t neat freaks in the neurotic sense, but we aren’t slobs either.  The house is cleaned regularly and we typically put things back where they belong.  That said, every once in a while we have to search out a bad smell in the refrigerator or move a couch only to discover hidden messes: an old piece of lettuce turning brown in the bottom of vegetable crisper or toys, a piece of pop-corn, and a family of dust-bunnies living under the couch.   Sometimes no matter how careful you are in day-to-day life, things still get forgotten in a bottom drawer.

In John 13 we have a beautiful picture of how day-to-day living accumulates filth, as we see the Master kneeling down to wash the feet of His disciples.  Peter, after first arguing with Jesus, asks for a full body-wash.  Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean…”  Like Peter we have been justified, once for all, but sometimes we pick up filth that is less apparent than dust covered feet!

A Jewish tradition, in preparation for Passover, was to deep clean the whole house to insure that no leaven was present.  Paul uses that as a word picture for rooting out stubborn sin in the church (1 Cor 5:6-8), but it’s also a fitting illustration for cleaning out those hidden messes in our lives. In Psalm 139 David prays that God would search him and expose any hidden wickedness.

Praise God that “Justification” means God sees Christ’s righteousness, rather than our own sinfulness.  Still in more than one letter to believers we are instructed to confess (agree with God about) our sin.  Confession is part of the Lord’s model prayer and should be a routine in our devotional life.  But I wonder if, just like dust bunnies under the couch, there is sometimes sin in our habits or thought-life that we overlook.  

This issue came up this past Sunday in my class as we discussed communion.  What does it mean to “eat and drink in an unworthy manner?” (1 Cor 11:29)  Contextually it looks like it had to do with profaning the table itself by selfish conduct during the meal, so I can’t suggest that Paul meant we should sweep the leaven-cobwebs out before we partake.   That said, unacknowledged sin (blind spots) will certainly impede our fellowship with the Father and our effectiveness in service.  

I will be so bold as to ask if not prior to communion, then when?   We all need to have a time of deep contemplation/confession as part of the warp and weave of our lives.  Not to earn or secure our salvation, but to secure  productive service to our Savior.  Remember a boat doesn’t sink because it’s in the water; a boat sinks if the water gets  into the boat!  Checking for leaks needs to be routine in our lives! 

Yours in His Service,

Pastor Scott

The Gospel – July 1, 2022

If I feed the hungry and do not share the Gospel; I could leave a person satiated yet hell-bound

If I heal the sick (Christians did start the hospital systems) and do not share the gospel; I could leave a healthy person hell-bound.

If I solve poverty and do not share the gospel; I could leave people well-off yet hell bound.

And if I convince 1000’s of pregnant moms to keep their babies and do not share the gospel; I could leave generations of living children hell-bound.

The GOSPEL, not the issue, MUST be the focus – feed, heal, rescue but remember life is eternal; the Gospel makes our eternal future bright rather than TERRIFYING!

Blessings,

Pastor Scott

Life’s not fair! Jun 24, 2022

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.  

I don’t have any Idols! 

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!

Pastor Scott

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.

idols in America

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.

5. Guns

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.”

Really?

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).

Final Word

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).

By Howard Snyder

Holding Ranks – June 10, 2022

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. 

Anon.