IDOLS | 40 Days of Focus, Day 9

 

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
(Exodus 20:4-6)

The second of the 10 Commandments is a prohibition against crafting an image of a created thing in order to bow down to or worship it. Remember, the Hebrew people have just spent many generations in the land of Egypt which was overrun with idols and images. They were everywhere! If you go to Egypt even today and look at the ancient ruins, there are temples and idols and statues and carvings everywhere you look. They depict the pharaohs and the gods, retelling their collective stories in which they found their identity.

Some pharaohs ramped it up to eleven, like Ramses II who loved him some Ramses II. He built statues and shrines to himself right alongside those of Ra and Osiris and Horus.

“Stop doing that,” God says.

The question is, why?


I think there are many reasons God would give this command, but let’s look at two. First, it’s a little ridiculous to worship the Creator by ascribing to him an image of a created thing. Second, we already have an image of God walking around – human beings. We’ll get to that more in a moment.

I mentioned Isaiah yesterday. I want to draw your attention to what he actually says about the lunacy of idol worship. It’s a longer passage, but well worth it.

The blacksmith takes a tool
and works with it in the coals;
he shapes an idol with hammers,
he forges it with the might of his arm.
He gets hungry and loses his strength;
he drinks no water and grows faint.
The carpenter measures with a line
and makes an outline with a marker;
he roughs it out with chisels
and marks it with compasses.
He shapes it in human form,
human form in all its glory,
that it may dwell in a shrine.
He cut down cedars,
or perhaps took a cypress or oak.
He let it grow among the trees of the forest,
or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow.
It is used as fuel for burning;
some of it he takes and warms himself,
he kindles a fire and bakes bread.
But he also fashions a god and worships it;
he makes an idol and bows down to it.
Half of the wood he burns in the fire;
over it he prepares his meal,
he roasts his meat and eats his fill.
He also warms himself and says,
“Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.”
From the rest he makes a god, his idol;
he bows down to it and worships.
He prays to it and says,
“Save me! You are my god!”
They know nothing, they understand nothing;
their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see,
and their minds closed so they cannot understand.
No one stops to think,
no one has the knowledge or understanding to say,
“Half of it I used for fuel;
I even baked bread over its coals,
I roasted meat and I ate.
Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left?
Shall I bow down to a block of wood?”
Such a person feeds on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him;
he cannot save himself, or say,
“Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?”
(Isaiah 44:12-20)

God, the Creator of everything, cannot be contained within or represented by anything we humans can make. God made cows – how are you going to represent him as a cow? God made the sun – how are you going to represent him as the sun? There certainly are things about God’s nature that we can learn from his creation (Romans 1), but any created image will fall short in fully representing God’s power and glory.

But it’s really difficult for us humans to focus on what we can’t see. We often need something on which to fix our gaze. That’s one of the attractions and also the dangers of idol worship. I heard a quote recently, but I cannot remember who originally wrote/said it: “The soul takes the shape of that which has its attention.” We are an increasingly image-based culture. We communicate through emoji, gifs, and memes. We don’t call or send text messages, we SnapChat and post to Instagram Stories. We don’t read books, we wait for the movie. We don’t read magazine articles, we watch YouTube videos.

Gathering around the TV to stream Netflix does not look much different in practice from gathering around the household shrine and telling the stories of the gods. Going to the movies does not look much different in practice than making a pilgrimage to the temple.

Living in an increasingly post-text, more image-based society leads us to think more strongly that “seeing is believing.” You can’t believe or know or experience that which you can’t see. So we create our own gods and form our new religions around celebrities, sports teams, and superheroes.

God says, “Stop it.”

For we live by faith, not by sight.
(2 Corinthians 5:7)

Second, God already has micro-images of himself walking around. Remember on Day Six God created mankind “in his image and likeness.” That makes me think about the time Jesus was at the Temple and some of the religious leaders wanted to trap him. They asked about paying taxes to Caesar. Jesus’ response is brilliant.

“Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
(Matthew 22:19-21)

First of all, they weren’t supposed to have that kind of coin in the Temple because of this Command Number Two. But then Jesus asked about the image and inscription. If Caesar wants to put his image and inscription on a coin to mark it as his, then give it back to him. But God has placed his image and inscription upon each person. You are not your own. So give the coin to Caesar, but give your life to God.

We don’t need to create images to bow down to and worship as a representation of God. God has already done that work for us! Not that we worship human beings, but we see each other and know God is present among us. John words it WAY better than I can.

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
(1 John 4:11-12)

If the soul takes the shape of that which holds its attention, then let us set our attention on love. May the love we have for one another be the image of God among us. And may we together in love fix our eyes on Jesus, the ultimate representation of God with us.

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
(Hebrews 1:3)

Do I think it’s wrong to have paintings, sculptures, and images adorning our church buildings? No. Art can certainly direct us toward God and connect with us on an emotional level. But we must always remember that the created thing is not to be worshiped or revered as “divine.”

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Why do you think the visual arts are so effective at connecting with us emotionally?


Does your church building utilize art to draw people’s attention to God? Or is your worship space more bland and bare? Why? How effective is it?


Why do you think humans are so prone to worship a created thing rather than their unseen Creator?

Biblical Enneagram Types: FOURS

Do you have that friend who’s just a bit different? They’re the ones with the unique hair styles, kinda “out there” clothing choices, who listen to bands you’ve never heard of. They are outside-the-box thinkers. They don’t like to be labeled or categorized.

In fact, if they think “I’m not any of the Enneagram numbers. I’m my own number!” then they’re most likely a FOUR.

Maybe this describes you or someone you know. Fours, often called the Individualist, are, in fact, different. According to some experts, there are probably fewer Fours than any other number. Fours fear being “normal” or just like everyone else, but they also deeply desire to belong and feel accepted. That’s the tension of Fours. They want to be accepted as part of the group while maintaining their own individual identity.

This all leads to the vice of Fours: envy. They see the life everyone else has – their perfect and pretty Instagram lives – and they want that. Everyone else seems so normal and happy, why can’t I be? If Fours aren’t careful and self-aware, they can let their envy drive them to really dark places – which is where Fours like to hang out, anyway.

It’s been said, “Fours don’t have feelings. Fours are feelings.” In this way, they couldn’t be more different than their Three neighbors, who are feeling repressed. Threes have difficulty accessing and expressing their emotions. Fours have trouble NOT accessing and expressing them.

Fours see the world in a way that is profoundly concerned with beauty and truth and art. A lot of Fours are poets and artists and mystics and song writers.

One famous Four was a King.

No, I’m not talking about David. He was probably a Seven. I’m talking about King Saul. You can read his story in the book of 1 Samuel.

Saul’s life was full of twists and turns, highs and lows, and ultimately ended in tragedy. From early in his life he was signaled out as different. He was “head and shoulders” above everyone else – literally. He was a tall, stately man. But like many Fours he was full of shame and self-doubt. When the prophet Samuel first met Saul, here’s how that conversation went:

“And to whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and your whole family line?”
Saul answered, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?”
(1 Samuel 9:20-21)

Self-doubt and self-degradation are snares for a Four. Saul had no confidence in his own abilities. He had trouble seeing in himself the things that other people saw. In fact, the very next chapter records the story when Saul actually gets publicly chosen to be king – and he hides!

Finally Saul son of Kish was taken. But when they looked for him, he was not to be found. So they inquired further of the Lord, “Has the man come here yet?”
And the Lord said, “Yes, he has hidden himself among the supplies.”
They ran and brought him out, and as he stood among the people he was a head taller than any of the others. Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see the man the Lord has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people.”
(1 Samuel 10:21-24)

Saul is different than everyone else – a head taller than all the others. He was gifted in ways he didn’t even see in himself. He was unsure and lacked confidence in his abilities. And Samuel says the most “Four” thing ever – There is no one like him among all the people.

Things went ok for Saul in the beginning, but it wasn’t long before his kingship took a turn for the worst. There was a time when he achieved a victory over his enemies, the Philistines. Samuel the prophet told Saul to wait until he arrived in order to offer sacrifices to God. But Saul didn’t like that idea. He waited for a while but grew impatient.

He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.” And Saul offered up the burnt offering. Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.
“What have you done?” asked Samuel.
(1 Samuel 13:8-10)

If some numbers on the Enneagram are prone to ask “Why?” Fours are prone to ask “Why not?” Why not me? Why not Saul? Why couldn’t Saul just go ahead with the sacrifices? Why do we have to wait for Samuel? What’s so special about Samuel? Why not me?

The envy of a Four can start out so small, but it can escalate rapidly and grow out of control. Envy cost Saul his kingdom. And envy would ultimately cost Saul his life.

Things when from bad to worse as Saul continued to spiral toward the darkness. Fours are comfortable in the melancholy and the sadness. But don’t make it where you live. Unfortunately, that’s exactly where Saul found himself. After a string of bad choices and rash misjudgments, we see a tipping point for Saul:

Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.
(1 Samuel 16:14)

The king’s officials brought in musicians to help calm his mood or cheer him up. It didn’t work. Saul just continued to lash out at the innocent people around him. David was one of those musicians. Saul tried multiple times to kill him. Saul even threatened his own son, Jonathan, for befriending and helping David.

In times of stress, Fours really tend to struggle with jealousy and envy of others. David was the new, rising star among the people of Israel. The people even made up songs comparing David and Saul. Unhealthy Fours are constantly comparing their lives to others – and the others always have it better than they do.

Fours, for better or worse, are outside-the-box thinkers. They will come up with solutions to problems that others never would even consider. In Saul’s life, however, this didn’t really do him much good. One of the most interesting stories from his life is when he paid a late night, costume-clad visit to a medium’s hut. (If you have a friend who suggests going to a fortune teller for fun, they’re probably a Four…)

He dawns a disguise and calls upon this witch to summon the spirit of Samuel, who had passed away some years earlier. The ghost of Samuel tells Saul that because of his sinful choices and actions, both he and his son would die in the upcoming battle. Sure enough, the next day Jonathan fell in battle. Saul witnessed it all and fell on his own sword, taking his life.

Fours have a tendency to wallow. Especially if they are unhealthy, Fours can go to that dark, sad place and have a hard time getting back out. I think that’s why Fours like to surround themselves with art and beauty. Beauty gives us a reason to hope, and hope drives us out of despair.

Saul had cut himself off from all beauty and hope, being driven by nothing other than his envy toward David. That envy fueled his own insecurities, shame, and self-doubt, ultimately leading to his demise.

Fours, your life doesn’t have to be a Shakespearean tragedy! You don’t have to live in the drama and the melancholy. Those places are fine to visit, but you don’t want to live there. Don’t settle in. Find out what is bringing on those feelings of sadness or depression and deal with them. Don’t blame it all on other people or circumstances beyond your control. Saul blamed all his problems on David instead of taking ownership of his own idiotic choices that got him into the mess.

Fours – find things that bring you true joy in life. Don’t worry so much about fitting in or being unique or whatever it might be on any given day. Focus on finding true joy and beauty in your ordinary, everyday, mundane, routine life.

Believe me, you make our lives so much more interesting just by being you.
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Beginning

It is my general understanding that almost everything we need to know about God can be discovered within the opening chapters of the Bible. Genesis 1-11 are some of the most controversial, most hotly debated chapters in Scripture. Are they literal 24 hour days during creation? Was there really a Garden in Eden? Did Adam and Eve have belly buttons? How could Noah fit all the animals on the ark? Could there really have been a global flood?

Many of these narratives have been passed off as Sunday school flannel board stories. Rarely do we revisit these chapters as adults to try and figure out why are they in the Bible? Why did God choose to open the most important book in all of human history with such outrageous sounding stories? Or maybe they’re not so outrageous if we just tweak our own modern/postmodern worldview a bit.

So let’s begin in the beginning.

Genesis 1:1 — “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Thus begins the greatest story ever told.

Now for a little English lesson. The verb in this sentence is “created.” The subject of the sentence is “God.” The Bible begins by letting us know that God’s first act in history was creating. Now, I can go outside, nail some wood together, and build a birdhouse. Then I can come inside, mix up some flour, sugar, etc. and bake a cake. I can then proceed to pick up and clean up around the house to get things in order. But at the end of the day I have not “created” anything.

When God creates, He is intentional, He is purposeful, and His creation is perfect. God’s act of creating brings to mind an artist who slaves over mixing just the right color and using just the right brush stroke until his masterpiece is completed. Hours upon hours may be spent in the tedious labor, but the end result is a priceless work of art that can never be replicated.

If you look back into other creation stories at the time this was written, you’ll see a themes of chaos (roaring oceans and terrible storms) or battles between other gods or some other way in which the earth was simply an accidental by-product of some disaster.

But in this story, a singular God took his own time to create, purposefully and intentionally, the heavens and the earth and everything between and within.

Just reflect on this verse for a moment.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

In the beginning

God created

the heavens and the earth.

Our God is not a god to be feared and appeased but one to be worshiped and embraced. He is not up there somewhere looking for an excuse to strike us down or destroy the world. That would be as absurd as Leonardo da Vinci throwing darts at the Mona Lisa or Michaelangelo taking a jackhammer to David.

In Ephesians 2:10, Paul tells us that we are God’s poiema, from which we get our word poem. We are his workmanship, his creation, his masterpiece. Every single person is God’s creation. That means that you and I and everyone of the 6 billion people on this earth has value, has meaning, has a purpose.

If that’s not good news, I don’t know what is. All I know is that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth and you and me.