Courage, Christ and the Lands Of Minds & Business

Passage: Joshua 1:1-9

1:1 After Moses the Lord’s servant died, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant: 1:2 “Moses my servant is dead. Get ready! Cross the Jordan River! Lead these people into the land which I am ready to hand over to them. 1:3 I am handing over to you every place you set foot, as I promised Moses. 1:4 Your territory will extend from the wilderness in the south to Lebanon in the north. It will extend all the way to the great River Euphrates in the east (including all of Syria) and all the way to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. 1:5 No one will be able to resist you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not abandon you or leave you alone. 1:6 Be strong and brave! You must lead these people in the conquest of this land that I solemnly promised their ancestors I would hand over to them. 1:7 Make sure you are very strong and brave! Carefully obey all the law my servant Moses charged you to keep! Do not swerve from it to the right or to the left, so that you may be successful in all you do. 1:8 This law scroll must not leave your lips! You must memorize it day and night so you can carefully obey all that is written in it. Then you will prosper and be successful. 1:9 I repeat, be strong and brave! Don’t be afraid and don’t panic, for I, the Lord your God, am with you in all you do.”

Soul Search Essay:
Remembering that this thread of essays is for the older believer (not a person new to salvation) is important in following the rationale in these devotions. As new believers, we have new experiences and possibly strong emotions moving us and supporting us. As older believers, things often become more muted or even muddled. What typically drives us as we age as Christians (if we are honest) is more about comfort and familiarity than newness and passion. Or at least that is what happens until a storm arises. Storms come in the forms of crises, traumas, challenges or even new recognition of truth. This devotion is about a new recognition. In essence, to this point in the thread progression, these are a storm bringer essays.

As an American Christian, it is quite likely that no one (no preacher, no teacher that you know) has ever said, “God requires specifically you to be courageous in relating to him.” Perhaps you have heard something about courage in passing, in a sermon as a general statement or on a TV preacher’s show, but has the courage requirement ever been directly applied to you? You may have been told to be brave and evangelize, but has anyone told you that relating…in the privacy of your own mind…to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit will require courage?

Most people that I have mentored or counseled do not really want this kind of personal, internal application of the need for courage. If pressed, some will admit avoiding this expectation, because of fear that God will ship them off somewhere, make them be a missionary, or in some other way appreciably alter their external life as a way of altering their internal life. In essence, this is the core of this passage – internal and external life intersecting and the fear of change. Are the fears that I describe realistic? God did send Joshua into danger. There are two answers – “No” and “Yes.”

As humans, as people we tend to import future fiction. At some level, we think “If I (me, myself and I; all three of me) trust God, he will ask me to do the impossible! I mean LOOK at Joshua! AND! That means God is moving me to Borneo as a missionary where I will die of yellow fever!” Is this true?

God is not likely to send you to Borneo and have you die of yellow fever. He could, but then there would be millions of missionaries in Borneo dying of various fevers. After all, the church is filled with baby Christians avoiding Borneo. Anyway, where would all the graves go? So, I don’t think so. He does ask you to the do the impossible though. So yes, your fear of God’s expectations is more than likely correct in terms of being asked, but not in terms of what is specifically asked of you. This scenario that Joshua faced is kind of the classic worst case becoming real that an older, immature Christian fears facing. How could God ask this?! How can this jive with felt in my early Christian life?

You may have been told in your early Christian or even pre-Christian years that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!” Enough crap (Yes, I said crap) has happened in your life, however, that you are a little suspicious of the “wonderful” part or you have bought into the “God’s love means comfort” mentality. In which case, you are busy trying to manufacture grace and blessing as bricks and mortar to shore up the required comfort in the world around you. Well, is “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” a lie? No, it is an incomplete truth. It is a truth that ignores the fact that salvation inherently and unavoidably involves tension and a war.

Joshua is being charged with literally invading a massive geographical area with the offspring of seriously spiritually dysfunctional parents (remember the parents died in the wilderness due to their idolatry and rebellion). What an ideal scenario for Joshua! SIGN ME UP! Piece of cake! Right? I want to be JOSHUA! Oh, maybe not.

Joshua’s life is a picture of Christ’s task in the world. Christ came to start a war. He said so. In fact, the opening scene of his ministry after his baptism is one of direct and personal battle. God’s directives to Joshua are also a picture of your personal battle tasks. There is ground within your soul, your mind, your behavior and your emotions to be invaded and redeemed. Yes, salvation, your salvation is assured, but your sanctification and your legacy involve a war that is intimate and that is personal to you.

After salvation you see, you still have worldly, idolatrous, lingering influences in your soul. You are wholly righteous in God’s eyes. Your salvation is secure. Yet, you are not wholly, completely changed by God. This is the reality every convert faces. Our redemption requires participation.

You see there is this pesky little fact, you have to participate in taking the ground just like Joshua did. You get to do this with an idolatrous you. It is your idolatrous nature that reserves “God free zones” in your soul, in your thinking and in your behavior. Just as Joshua was tasked to clear out the current inhabitants of the Promised Land, you must be present at your own clearing of your strongholds and evil. Ouch!

Frankly, I really, really do not like that. My idea? Send in the Navy Seals! Follow on with the Marines! Tell me when it is over! I’ll show up then! God’s reply? “I will not abandon you or leave you alone. Be strong and brave! You must lead these people in the conquest of this land that I solemnly promised their ancestors I would hand over to them.” Aargh! Oh, if you missed that he says it again, “I repeat, be strong and brave! Don’t be afraid and don’t panic, for I, the Lord your God, am with you in all you do.” Wow! I really have to be present AND participate? Seriously? Yes.

The truth is that the world and you are inherently tainted, shot through, riddled with evil. Salvation therefore means that a war is only avoidable by avoiding maturation. If you stay a baby Christian, you will actually not avoid the war, but you will have lots of inducement to criticize, howl, scream and generally trash what is in you and around you. Remember Joshua’s soldiers’ parents? The were not happy people. They whined, complained and blasphemed. Then, they had lunch. On God’s tab (manna). Then, they did it all over again. Avoiding intimate participation with Christ, Yahweh and the Holy Spirit in removing the strongholds in your life guarantees unresolved pain, bitterness, grief and strife. Oh, it screws up your children too.

The only way out that honors God’s investment in you, that redeems your behavior and thinking is going through the war. There it is. Truth. It really bites you. It hurts. Yes, participation is required. You are not a new believer. You sense there is some or perhaps a lot of truth in what is written here. Pursue that truth. Discard any error on my part as the essay author. Do not give up. The reward for going through the war is great. There is a real promised land in this life. There was in Joshua’s life. There is in yours. It just looks like nothing you have more than likely imagined. You may not even have the categories needed to describe this promised land. Jesus will supply those. Let him in. It will be a hell of a ride.

Deadly Career Choices

Passage: James 5:1-6
5:1 Come now, you rich! Weep and cry aloud over the miseries that are coming on you. 5:2 Your riches have rotted and your clothing has become moth-eaten. 5:3 Your gold and silver have rusted and their rust will be a witness against you. It will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have hoarded treasure! 5:4 Look, the pay you have held back from the workers who mowed your fields cries out against you, and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5:5 You have lived indulgently and luxuriously on the earth. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 5:6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous person, although he does not resist you.

Soul Search Essay
Why would the reality of who Jesus Christ is provoke James to such a strong statement as this passage? Why would the life of Jesus that James observed provoke such confrontational words? Why would the death and resurrection of Jesus demand from James these assertions?

Think seriously about these questions.

If you cannot offer a meaningful answer to each question, your grasp of Jesus’ life needs to grow. It needs to grow significantly. Jesus came to radically alter what? Everything. Society. Work. Culture. Career. Perception. Morality. Community. Health. Wealth. He came to radically alter inner human worlds (that place in our mind where we live out our inner thoughts) and even to alter the external physical world. If you cannot answer each question above, then has he radically altered you? You have been saved, but have you thought deeply enough about Christ, his teachings and God’s plans to grow meaningfully? Where does he fit in your business life? Has Christ radically altered you business behavior? Consider the following.

Who is James confronting? Those who are successful in the first century. Those who have succeeded in life, those who have “won.” In their winning, they accumulated wealth. Are you successful? If so, James is forcefully stating that you are in grave danger. In fact, he is holding people just like you up as a powerful, potent warning to others. Why would he do that? Your success, whether in work, money (the scenario James used here), the church, or society is the deadliest type of trap that exists. James also strongly points out that these traps are the milk of evil.

How can this be true? Success is proof of God’s love! No. Success apart from your intimate participation in God’s plans is not proof of his love. Without his intimate participation, your success is proof of something else. It proves serious time and attention have been given to advancement within this corrupt world, given to climbing Satan’s ladder (Satan rules the current human world), given to acquiring more of Satan’s tools. You have given serious time and attention that did not go to God’s plans, to his grace or to his love. (FOOTNOTE: Success as part of God’s intimate interaction with you is not part of Satan’s ladder and you are not acquiring Satan’s property and tools. Before you quickly claim this fits you, recognize that deep introspection is required. Have you done intimately participated with God? Really?) What does this indicate? Idolatry.

Idolatry is the reliance on anything other than God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit for your safety, sustenance, security and life path. The intimate participation of God means that he participates in your path decisions due to your daily invitation to involve him in them. Success apart from his involvement, however, very easily breeds, incubates, and sustains evil while trapping you in this evil. It does this not because of arrogance, but insulation. Success shields you from dependence on God. You issue no invitations. This insulation and shielding is the natural terrain of idolatry. So, success makes it easy to avoid painful truth (truth about who you actually are) and in avoiding that truth, you pursue evil.

I am reasonably sure most people do not consider themselves evil nor do they think they are pursuing evil. To recognize the evil within us requires spiritual maturity. It requires brutal, deep honesty. People pursuing advancement in this corrupt world on their own terms tend to lack these qualities.

To avoid idolatry and evil while experiencing success is exceptionally difficult and exceptionally rare. It can be done, but it requires a deep level of intimacy with God and a profound vulnerability to him. Most successful people avoid even casual vulnerability. Profound vulnerability is way, way off the radar. Successful people seek to overcome vulnerability, not embrace it. To be told not only to embrace, but actively explore it? They do not just avoid vulnerability. They run from it.

Often safety and security needs are core drivers in the pursuit of success. Yes, pleasure plays a role, but there are usually powerful negative drivers as well. Success often comes from driveness to succeed. This driveness is usually primarily avoidance of something. There is some pain, longing or need that colors many pieces of the successful life at a deep level. That ache has to be soothed and success seems to provide the answer. Unfortunately, it is a trap and not a solution. Equally unfortunate is that the avoidance of vulnerability requires the avoidance of personal awareness. So, avoiding evil while pursuing success in the worldly, anti-Christ system known as a career or society in modern America is impossible without God’s direction and intimate participation. Without God’s direction, evil will advance.

Again, without the direction and intimate participation of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ and Yahweh in any career, business, investment, social climb, etc., you will foster and advance evil within your soul, evil in your family, evil in your community and evil within your business. You will be seduced by success through your pursuit of it, whether you reach what you define as success or not. Powerfully unpleasant words.

Why would I say this? Read the sentence again, “You will be seduced by success through your pursuit of it, whether you reach what you define as success or not.” What is the critical phrase? It is “…what you defined as success….” Where is the intimacy of Jesus Christ, of the Holy Spirit or of Yahweh in that phrase? Where is intimate participation in Yahweh’s plan?

Too often, it is absent.

Jesus Christ demands that you become a career Christian. It is not a suggestion. It is a demand. (If you believe I am incorrect, read the Gospels. Refute me from them.) Your career is in Christ and Christ alone. Christ requires us to be career Christians. Without the “my career is Christ” mindset, you will assume James’ statements do not apply to you. You will fail to recognize how much faith you put in money, status, control, power, and other worldly solutions. You will remain numb to your idolatry; unaware, yet actively idolatrous. This is why you cannot deeply answer my questions in this devotion.

Intimacy with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit continually alters who you are. This is a definitive statement. It is absolutely not saying, “Intimacy with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit can occasionally alter who you are.” It does alter you. It alters you continually. Spiritual growth is consistent, ongoing God directed change. You can only avoid the altering by avoiding the intimacy. In avoiding intimacy, you are the plaything of evil. In fact, you are a participant in evil by actively advancing it. This a very ugly truth. The truth is that evil is very ugly. I pray you will read the following devotions and consider how to escape.

Awareness & Expectations

Passage: James 5:3-4
5:3 Your gold and silver have rusted and their rust will be a witness against you. It will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have hoarded treasure! 5:4 Look, the pay you have held back from the workers who mowed your fields cries out against you, and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.

Soul Search Essay
The prior essays have been very hard. They challenged your assumptions about your work, your career, your goals and the things you trust. Many Christians fear deeply a couple of things – personal awareness and God’s expectations.

We fear awareness, because we know or at least sense at some deep level that we are seriously idolatrous. We know that while we have accepted Jesus as our savior, there are areas where we do not, do not trust him. Often, if we are successful, the numbness of success blocks our recognition of our personal idolatry. It pushes the awareness away. There is, however, often still some sense of the things we do not want to entrust to him; areas we do not feel safe with Jesus accessing. These are things, unfortunately, that we do not want to be aware of ourselves except on very, very rare occasions. We like the absence of awareness.

In fact, we aggressively avoid this awareness, because we know these things do not meet God’s expectations and are not worthy of Christ’s sacrifice. To allow ourselves to be conscious of them would be to know and admit our double mindedness, which would be very painful; perhaps even debilitatingly painful depending on the depth of our double mindedness. So, we carry on in life; avoiding a Christ career, avoiding God’s expectations and building elements into our lives that are beyond ironic. We act as if this is our life and our time. It is not.

“It is in the last days that you have hoarded treasure!”. “…the last days….” Why does James focus on that? The last days are days when the opportunity to add to the Kingdom of God still exists. Hope is still possible. Love can still be extended to others. With the summation of the last days that opportunity will end. Those who have not joined the kingdom will be lost.

Now is the time to be actively engaged in a Christ career, because the opportunity to expand the kingdom is uniquely now. Now is the time to accept that Christianity is a participatory faith. Now is the time to accept that participation is daily, hourly and continuous. Now is the time to accept that life is not about you. It is about Jesus and you. It is about Jesus’ plan…not your agenda. Life is also about us plus you. Christianity is a community faith; not a lone wolf effort.  Can you see what I am describing?  Now is the time to change how you see…not just what you look at.

How do silver and gold, careers, status, power, prestige, etc. “…witness against you?” E witness is in the meaning we give them. They are meaningful in a destructive way. They became evil means within your life. Evil enters through the eye, because it is what you focus on that consumes you. Your career, work, money, or social status cannot save or free you. They cannot save those around you. They consume you and others through your focus, through how you choose to see, what you see and how you act on that sight. They consume. They do not give. They are solutions that are not answers. Why? Because they are very destructive solutions.

“…and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.” Whose ears have been reached? Yahweh’s. Does this matter in the age of grace? Yes, it does. This letter was written in the era of grace to people living in grace. This is not the Old Testament.

Even if the book of James were in the Old Testament, all, all of the law and the prophets were summed up in loving God and loving others. These two paths of love must extend into every facet of life. Love must invade your business, must invade your society, must invade your family and more. It must radically alter the things within your sphere of influence. If you have succeeded in the worldly, anti-Christ systems of business and society, if you have done this without Jesus’ intimate participation, you do not see your workplace or relationships as a Christ-careered person would. Do you? Are you that rare exception in the church that senses and follows the Holy Spirit faithfully and consistently in the corridors of business? Praise be to Christ if you are! If not….

“It will consume your flesh like fire.” When you do come to understand the years of your idolatry, it will burn you like a fire. You will know that you have been a fool. You will know that this foolishness burned others through how you deprived them of time, attention, investment, and care. You will experience some of their pain. The foolishness burned you as well. Am I talking of purgatory in the age of grace? No. I am talking about awareness. I am talking about Christ-like eyes cast on your full life of actions, intentions and motivations with you unable to turn away. I am talking about unvarnished awareness.

I sat with a dying man when he chose a different way to see. It took his impending death to rip away the millions he had earned and for him to see the mockery that had been his life. It was hard to watch the pain in his eyes as he wrestled with what he had instilled in his children. He was horrified. He saw differently and finally knew that the evil tendrils sunk deep in his life had been what he passed on to his now adult children. He finally could see it in his life and theirs lives. He finally had the eyes of Christ and knew the grief of Christ. Yet, it was so late in his life and he was so mechanical of a Christian that he could not warn those children. He had the opportunity given by unvarnished awareness. His embarrassment and shame sadly overcame his love. He only told me; not his children. Do not follow this man. Do not.

Endure the pain of removing the tendrils now. End the accumulation of new evil. End, please, the passing on of evil. Become a Christ-careered person. Stop wasting love and grace. Invest in a career in Christ! There is no path forward to do this other than through the fire. Removal of evil is painful and embarrassing. Do it.

Christ came to knit us together into a radically different community. He came to enable us to be a radically different business person. He came to make life truly, truly meaningful. He came to bring true joy. Accept the meaningful life. Begin the removal of the idols. Participate with the Holy Spirit. Endure the pain and be transformed. Move toward true joy. Take something new into the corridors of business. Take love to those that share these corridors with you. Take the Kingdom into your business.


Passage Colossians 2:6-8
2:6 Therefore, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 2:7 rooted and built up in him and firm in your faith just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. 2:8 Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

Soul Search Essay
I have worked in a variety of work environments and businesses – for-profit, non-profit, entrepeneurial, established businesses, family businesses, etc. I have read many business and management books. Only a very few of these books are based in scripture. Fewer secular business environments actually reflected Christ like influence. Many of the environments I worked in were populated with a scattering of Christians (I live in the Bible Belt), but from what I could tell the race to influence mentioned in the prior devotional essay was being lost by these believers. Most did not seem to know a race was even happening.

In any new social environment there is a race between you and the environment on who will influence whom more. Yes, your entry into the environment, your shared thoughts, your actions, etc. are having an impact, but are you not also adjusting your thinking and actions based on the responses to you from the environment? You are. This means you are changing, even if you do not realize it. OK, maybe you are in management and you may be a strong leader making an observable impact. Even you, however, are not unchanged by others in that environment. You do not have sufficient power to impose your will with no impact on you by other’s behaviors, even if you are the CEO. Also, your observable impact may be more in line with human tradition than Christ.

Consider your work history. How often were the relationships you have now and those you have had at work been infused with Christ-based input coming to you (again to you, not from you)? What where all the influences that you experienced? Were there Christ-based influences impacting you that were both pervasive throughout this history and defining of these environments (See footnote)? Why in the world would I ask these questions of someone in a secular business environment? Do I not understand the trends in America today? The removal of Christianity from many American forums. Do I as an author have no clue about this distancing in American businesses, whether small, medium or large? This distancing is precisely the trigger for this essay.

Since most Christians work in secular business systems led and staffed by non-Christians, these believers are at least strongly influenced and sometimes strongly controlled by evil. Whoa! Am I saying all business is evil? No. I am saying all businesses (unfortunately even ministries) have many, many deep tendrils of evil running through them.

To believe that Satan ignores or is excluded from business culture and philosophy is foolish. It is laughable. We live in an unavoidably fallen world. Falleness dominates the world. Why? Satan is the current ruler of this world and his goals are spiritual. Satan is committed to lying his way to the destruction of anything Christ-based and/or Christ-connected. Anything. One of his most effective tools at insinuating his lies into your life is your work within a business. Why?

Business offers power, money and status. These are powerful ways “…to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” The modern American business is founded on human traditions. If you disagree with me, take a serious look at your workplace. Really look hard. How many things in that environment influence you to “…continue to live your lives in [Christ], rooted and built up in him and firm in your faith just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness?” Many? Maybe a few, but do you work in an environment that actively supports your spiritual development? Or does it offer other solutions? For the vast majority of the answer is “No, it does not support my spiritual development.” Yet, work and business definitely offer solutions. Do you recognize the solutions you are being offered? The solutions are too often destructive and therefore are tremendous threats to you.

So, what is the greatest threat to your being “…rooted and built up in him…?” Success.  Success itself.  Continue in the essays to understand why I say this.

FOOTNOTE: Notice that I did not ask you if you worked in a Christian ministry. This devotion essay has nothing to do with working exclusively in a church or ministry. Most Christians do not work in ministry delivery businesses. I am addressing Christians in the secular business world, which is where most Christians work.

Emotional Safety in a Box Canyon

Devotional Passage:  Isaiah 41: 21-29 

41:21 Set forth your case, says the Lord;
bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob.
22 Let them bring them, and tell us
what is to happen.
Tell us the former things, what they are,
that we may consider them,
that we may know their outcome;
or declare to us the things to come.
23 Tell us what is to come hereafter,
that we may know that you are gods;
do good, or do harm,
that we may be dismayed and terrified.
24 Behold, you are nothing,
and your work is less than nothing;
an abomination is he who chooses you.
25 I stirred up one from the north, and he has come,
from the rising of the sun, and he shall call upon my name;
he shall trample on rulers as on mortar,
as the potter treads clay.
26 Who declared it from the beginning, that we might know,
and beforehand, that we might say, “He is right”?
There was none who declared it, none who proclaimed,
none who heard your words.
27 I was the first to say to Zion, “Behold, here they are!”
and I give to Jerusalem a herald of good news.
28 But when I look, there is no one;
among these there is no counselor
who, when I ask, gives an answer.
29 Behold, they are all a delusion;
their works are nothing;
their metal images are empty wind

Soul Search Essay

(While the focus of this thread of posts is on the older Christian in the business environment (i.e. An “older Christian” is someone who has been a Christian at least 4-5 years or more), we need to begin in the larger Christian sub-culture.  This essay deals with what we depend on in a broader scope than just the business environment.  So, let us begin with the giant of the Old Testament – Isaiah.)

If you have never been exposed to God’s (YHWH’s – YHWH means “I AM” in ancient Hebrew; in Hebrew words were strings of consonants with vowel pointing, so YHWH is the short version of the name God gave to Abraham; it is also written as Yahweh) sarcasm in preaching or teaching, the fact it exists may be surprising. Scripture documents an incredible range of God’s emotion and some of it is uncomfortable to witness. We often focus as an American Christian sub-culture on the “good” or “positive” emotions and avoid the harsher emotions in Scripture. (This is true across many denominations even though it is subtle in some.)  In doing this, we miss the encouragement of emotions such as sarcasm. Encouragement?

How in the world can sarcasm be uplifting and encouraging? Is it a model to be used in our interactions with others? Jesus is extolled in the next section of Isaiah as not “extinguishing a burning wick.” Sarcasm is an emotion that extinguishes many, many things. So, it seems that sarcasm is not being offered as a tool for our use. So, why is sarcasm used here in Isaiah?

It is offered as YHWH’s strong, legitimate emotional response to the total absurdity of idols. Why are idols absurd? Idols have no actual power. Fundamentally, this is God’s point. Idols are human made from natural materials and have no ability to impact the natural world or spiritual world. If an idol cannot move, cannot act, has no supernatural power, then it is merely an object. Yet, in Israel’s population, this reality was strongly, strongly disbelieved. In fact, idols formed a core element of the foundation of emotional safety for Israelites. How can a powerless, inert object provide emotional safety?  Delusion.

An idol’s power to give assumed safety lies in the perceived control it provides. Idols were and are created as a result of human will. A human wanted an idol.  He gave value in cash or barter for the idol’s creation. If the person is wealthy, the idol could be enhanced by using a better material than wood such as stone or perhaps a person paid for overlaying wood with silver or gold.  So, human creation and natural materials gave power to the idol via investment of a little or a great amount of financial value, but that was not the major source of an idol’s emotional power. The idol’s greatest power came from it being a culturally defined mechanism to manipulate a needy god.

The gods of Canaanite culture, Assyrian culture, Babylonion culture, in fact all of Mesopotamia god’s were not supreme beings. They were petty super beings. These cultures (as well as the Greek, Roman, etc. cultures’ gods) were understood as a conflicted group of powerful beings that needed food, drink, shelter and rest. They fought, whined, plotted and schemed. Most of all, these gods had needs. Those needs made the gods susceptible to human power. A human, such as a priest or worshiper, could provide for a god’s need and hopefully receive a positive answer to a request. Alternately the human could seek to build a reservoir of good will by faithful gifting to the god’s needs or perhaps building a resting place for the god (a temple).  It was believed that a reservoir of such goodwill gave a human the power to influence one or more super beings. The assumption was that this influence might bring safety. Did it?

For an idol to be effective for your use, the following must be true – the god must exist, the god must have needs, the idol must be an effective mechanism to meet a god’s needs, then you must attend to those needs in an effective way, the god must accept your attending, then when you have a need god must decide to act in alignment with your influence (vs another human’s influence or even another god’s actions), and finally the god must have actual power to accomplish the change or action in the natural world. Wow! What an impossible chain of events!  Even if most of the chain were true, you always, always risked being out influenced or left to rot due to some multi-God squabble.

Israelite and Canaanite idols seem preposterous as an effective safety mechanism to modern thinking. If we really think this through, we completely get YHWH’s sarcasm!  How could anyone believe this chain of events causes safety? How backward and unsophisticated these people are!

It is not like someone believing that safety comes from success, that success comes from acceptance in the right social circles, that social acceptance comes from going to the right schools, that doing the right work in the right job at the right time leads to promotion and that promotion brings wealth, status and success. After all, wealth, status and success make us safe, right?  No! That is equally preposterous!

Success, status, and wealth are simply idols. They are built by humans and rely on influence based in the needs of other, more powerful humans. The fact that our idols are derived from human social and business structures does not make them more than idols.  There is no safety in these objects.  No emotional safety.  No actual safety.

How does YHWH’s sarcasm bring encouragement?  Sarcasm from a loving, real God can surprise us.  It is unexpected.  Perhaps it even shocks us into considering the source of our emotional safety. It is in this act of considering that the truth of our foolishness can become apparent and in that apparentness we can choose. Choosing matters.  Sarcasm can create the chance to choose.  In those moments, long after our salvation decision, we can choose to abandon idols for the true power of Jesus Christ.  The power available since our rebirth.

Idols are box canyons. The only way out is to turn and leave. Yet…yet.. the very falseness of idols keep us climbing the crumbling wall of success, chopping in the forest of status, hammering the gold of wealth; seeking safety in things, rather than in one specific person. These walls, forrests, and hammers are not safe in themselves.  They can cause harm directly.  There is no real safety created by them either.  None. Only YHWH provides safety. That safety is born of God’s character expressed in the life of Jesus Christ.  Success will not teach you God’s character.  Status cuts you off from YHWH, leaving you alone in a forrest of stumps cut by others forming idols. Hammering creates noise through which a soft, calm, quiet voice does not penetrate.  There is no safety here.

Abandon your idols. Embrace the Jesus you accepted long ago.

Personal Experience

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