It’s easy to lose sight of God in our lives and when we do, we become vulnerable to idols. These days an idol isn’t a golden calf, it’s anything we become dependent on, other than God. In the book of Jeremiah, God warns that not only will we suffer if we choose worldly idols, but so will our children and even our grandchildren. That part about grandchildren really gets me where I live. Though I don’t hear this as punishment, but rather as a natural consequence. So, let’s consider some modern worldly idols.
A very popular idol is pleasure, which isn’t bad in itself, only when we turn to it instead of God. Pleasures we turn to when feeling insecure or unhappy can vary from sex to jelly doughnuts, but if they become a dependency they lead to adultery or diabetes or other equally bad consequences.
Another potential idol is financial affluence and while there’s nothing wrong with being successful, it can grow into a need that becomes the focus of our lives to the point of destroying our relationships.
An even sneakier idol is an attachment to social acceptance that leads us to surround ourselves only with people just like ourselves, which not only gives us a warped view of the world, but isolates us from those in greater need.
How can we protect ourselves from idols? It’s a discombobulating world and sometimes I feel like the child of Christian friends, who when told to wash his hands muttered: “Germs and Jesus, germs and Jesus! That’s all I hear about around here and I can’t see either one!”
One thing that helps me, I call putting on “God Glasses.” That means consciously working to see God in everything. Surprisingly, the beginning step can even come through finding God in the hard things.
When heart break or pain has kept me awake all night, the first glimpse of morning light coming through the window often brought relief. Recently, after finally getting over several weeks of insomnia from the pain of a broken shoulder, I would wake up momentarily at sunrise each morning remembering that feeling of relief and thanking God with quiet joy that morning had come again and yesterday’s sorrows were behind.
Ever since an ice storm left us without hot water for eighteen days some twenty years ago, whenever I feel that first marvelous spray of a hot shower, I treasure it for a few moments while thanking God profusely.
Some months ago, our hearts were heavy when a beloved grandchild stopped chatting and smiling because she sensed family conflict. Last weekend, she kept me awake once again cheerfully chatting about her favorite books and beamed with glee at trouncing Granddad at UNO. Now, as I go to sleep each night, I cup those memories in my heart with tears of joy and thank God.
Please, while you can still hear birdsong, stop and listen with your heart and thank God for it. Thank God not only for flowers, but the strength to water them and even to cut the grass. Thank God for the joy of that first taste of morning coffee or tea. Age can take all these away from you. Enjoy them now and let them bring you to God. Thank God for faith to pray. What a wondrous gift that is. And definitely thank God for laughter, which will be your saving grace in old age.
Watch, listen and thank. All these small things are the face and voice of God. And more and more you will experience the deep joy of finding Him in each moment. Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God. And joy trumps idols every time.
The day of my Spiritual Awakening was the day I saw, and I knew I saw, all things in God and God in all things. A quote from an unknown Author:
I never really wanted to go to heaven; just wanted to make sure I avoided going to hell, if there was one. The problem was that my personality likes diversity and change. I just couldn’t imagine any kind of heaven I would enjoy for eternity. (Eternity sounds like a very very long time.)
After a conversion from agnosticism complete with an experience of the unlimited, no conditions love expressed in Jesus, I felt pretty sure there was a heaven that would work for everyone, even me. But I still couldn’t imagine it.
Some years into my spiritual journey I had an experience of such intense and enormous joy, that from then on I was much more excited about going to heaven and not so concerned with the details.
My brother and I were traveling together and the experience was so overwhelming that we each simultaneously asked God to stop it for fear we would actually explode. I won’t go into much detail, because I think these experiences come about differently for everyone. We both experienced a moment of great clarity in which we felt, saw, heard and were a part of a crowd around Jesus singing praise in the presence of God. After sharing with one another, we decided that what we had each experienced was very similar, but also realized that there was no way to measure or compare. We both experienced as much joy as we were each able to bear at that point in our lives. So, whether it was an ocean of joy or a cup of joy simply didn’t matter.
Over the forty plus years since then, I have come to believe that the capacity for experiencing joy and the capacity for accepting suffering are linked. I don’t know if there is a cause and effect relationship or just some sort of spiritual law of balance. My instinct says that joy is the grace that gives us the freedom to accept heart break without dulling the pain through anger or depression or an addiction (even one to doing good or working constantly.) But my experience also has been that in accepting the painful darkness of sorrow, I find the peace that passes understanding. And that peace is quiet joy.
As the psalm says, “But then comes the morning, yesterdays sorrows behind.”
One of the most puzzling scriptures to me has always been Luke 16:1-13. Recently, I got some insight into what I think Jesus was saying.
The master was firing a dishonest manager for squandering his property. So the dishonest manager cut everyone’s debt to the master in half in order to be welcome in their homes when he no longer had a job. It then sounds like the master approves of what the manager has done “by being shrewd as the children of this generation are so that he will be welcomed into their eternal homes.” But then Jesus goes on about being trustworthy in the small things, so you will be trusted in the large. And from there he says that no one can serve two masters. You cannot serve God and wealth.
To me the overall message is, “If you think this life is all there is, then you might as well beat the worldly at their own game. Be shrewd: get jobs through kickbacks, win rich friends with insider tips, charge exorbitant prices, use other peoples’ retirement funds to cover your mistakes, do whatever it takes to get money and power in this life.
But if you want eternal life with God, watch out. That changes everything. Because this life is short and riches are uncertain, but the love of God is eternal and trustworthy. You have to decide. What is your bottom line? God or money? This life or eternity?
As much as I believe in the unconditional love of God and that hell would be never learning to love, I can’t get around the obvious fact that we do constantly make choices and the small ones lead to a pattern of life long ones and they have consequences.
I also know that some of us are weaker than others, seemingly from birth, but I know that faith opens a reservoir of both strength from within and external coincidences that help us make choices to give, rather than take because of our own neediness. We never become perfect, but we grow toward our individual potential, by turning to the reservoir of God’s love when our neediness keeps us from loving others. As we learn how to do this more and more in all circumstances, our cups can run over with love.
Jesus wept for his people because though he loved them with all his heart, he was unable to reach them to free them from the limits of the values of this world and lead them to that reservoir of grace for all circumstances.
I’ve taken a lot of classes that included processes for decision making. Several things have stuck with me in spite of my unreliable memory.
Perhaps the most important one is that we each have natural tools/gifts, but they are only part of what is needed for an effective problem solving process. Effective problem solving not only needs a team approach, it requires recognition of the equal importance of diverse gifts.
First, it needs a vision of the long term goal, not just the quick fix.
Second, it needs brainstorming that includes all possibilities, even seemingly “pie in the sky” ones.
Third, each possibility will have a down side. So, list and evaluate the down sides. Eliminate the ones with downsides that you feel you cannot live with.
Fourth, look at the practical problems needing solving for each possibility and generate reasonable solutions.
Fifth, Now re-evaluate, in terms of (a) personal values, (b) downsides, (c) actual resources, those possibilities that ended up having reasonable solutions for problems. Then make your choice, or if a group decision is needed, come to consensus.
Note: For believers in Jesus Christ as the perfect human expression of God’s love for all, this process would involve both communal and personal prayer for guidance at the beginning, at any conflict points or questionable areas, and at the final decision making point, and would include evaluations throughout in the light of the values fleshed out in the life and death of Jesus.
I found this quote on the blog, Make Believe Boutique. It’s Buddhist, but the only difference I can see between this and Christianity is our recognizing that we personally fall short of the glory of God and need the saving grace of Jesus. Otherwise it beautifully describes our human experience, hopes and spirituality.
From Waylon Lewis:
I love Christmas: I love simple, personal presents. I love coziness, and world-quieting white snow, which slows us all down and makes even bustling cities feel like they were Norman Rockwell 1940s landscapes. I love fires, and dinners, and parties with old and new friends and children and elders, people I wouldn’t ordinarily get to talk with much. I don’t see my family, these days, they’re all spread about the US, and money is tight, and that always tinges this time with emptiness. But I love sadness, as my mom’s Buddhist teacher said it’s the most genuine of human emotions though we’re not to covet it. I love, at this darkest time of the year, remembering that life is short, and it progresses quickly, and memory fades and all that really matters is being a good person, and making the better of two iffy choices every step along the way. It’s a wonderful life, after all. So let’s put the ‘holy‘ back in the Holidays. Let’s buy gifts that better the world, and support good people doing good things. Let’s put away our phones and laptops and TVs—if only briefly—and make some eye contact, and say the obvious: ‘I love you, and this is why.’ Or, ‘I’m sorry things have been funny between us. Let’s be genuine, and have a good talk.’ Because, before you know it, one third of your friends will have divorced moved away lost their hair become old people or even died of accidents or dis-ease or, you know, life. I’m still only 35, but I lose a friend a year, whether in China to an avalanche or right here at home, just a month ago, an only-recently-perfectly lovely healthy powerful friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer, stage IV. In Buddhism we say: this precious human birth is fragile. Make good use of it. Think about others as much as you do yourself and you yourself will find that elusive happiness. Meditate a few minutes, at least, each morning, before the ephemeral to-do lists that seem so important, the lusts and the anxieties, clutter up your snowy peaceful dozy mind. Don’t chase after the fast food of life: sex, bad food, money, big houses, cool cars. They don’t make you happy, the only thing that makes you happy is you sorting yourself out…