|Photo courtesy of gloriaheid|
For the past twenty-six weeks in Bible study we have been looking at one book of the Bible per week, beginning with Genesis and working our way (some day) to Revelation. The point of the study, the idea for which I shamelessly stole from my friend and former pastor Paul Crews, is to give people a thumbnail sketch of each book of the Bible. Hopefully then, at the end we will have a basic idea of what the Bible is about and be better prepared to understand God's unfolding plan of salvation throughout history. This week we will be looking at the book of Ezekiel. As with so many of the books in the Bible, it is almost ridiculous to try and boil Ezekiel down into one 45 minute overview. The visions of the prophet alone could take years to fully understand. In spite of that we are going to try.
As I began to read Ezekiel this week God was so gracious to speak directly to my heart through His words to a prophet of Israel some 2500 years ago. All that God has shared with me I will not take the time to explain at this point. However, one thing did stick out to me this morning and it raised an interesting question in my heart and mind. The passage I'm referring to is the first portion of chapter six, exemplified in the verse above. Here God begins to explain to Ezekiel that His judgement is about to fall on His people and why that is. As had happened so many times before, the Israelites had turned to other gods and tossed the one, true God aside in favor of the latest and greatest religious fad. As a result God was about to punish them with captivity and the destruction of Jerusalem. In His word to Ezekiel God makes the gruesome statement that their dead bodies will lay at the foot of their chosen altar of a false god. When I read that this one solitary and painful question entered my mind
What altar would we die in front of?
As I said, this is a painful question because it causes us to consider the things we worship and value as "holy" in our lives and culture. Now, some of the examples that I want to give are coming from a Western/American perspective but I believe the principle is universal. Here are some options that I think we need to careful consider.
1. Wealth: This is perhaps the most obvious false god that we worship in our culture. It is obvious because it has been a problem since very early on in the human experience. Jesus even categorizes money as a false god in Matthew 6:24 when He says;
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth (mammon) NASB.
Many contemporary translations of the Bible translate that final word as "wealth" and some transliterate the Greek or Aramaic and use "mammon." Either way the personification of wealth as an object of worship is clear. Just as mankind has always taken to worshiping inanimate object like wood and stone, so we can just as easily begin to worship wealth. This is nowhere so clear as in our American culture. Even many of our "Christian" preachers have fallen into this trap. Wealth is what we strive for and it is seen as the highest goal and ideal in our society.
Now, I am not suggesting that we, as Christians, should not seek to make money. That, of course, is something of a requirement for survival. We need monetary resources in order to gain other resources necessary for life. However, when that search for wealth overpowers our search for truth and God's Kingdom we are already well on our way to finding the "$" carved into our headstone. Would the altar you die in front of look strangely like a bank?
2. Fame: I use fame as a general term but one could just as easily insert "notoriety" because the type of fame in view here is not only the platinum record kind of fame but just that people know who you are. The throngs of people that show up for American Idol tryouts or The X Factor auditions is a great example but we can step it down even further. What about the trend we see on the internet with people doing all kinds of mindless things and posting them on YouTube in the hopes that their video will go "viral" and the whole world can see how idiotic they are? What about pastors and church leaders who are more concerned with building a cult of personality around themselves than they are about humbly serving God's people. Will the altar you die before look like a star on the Hollywood walk of fame?
3. Tradition: This is a touchy issue because there is certainly some good in maintaining tradition in our society. John Wesley even said that tradition was one of the four pillars of the church. However, one does not have to look too far in the gospels to see that Jesus was not a traditionalist. In fact, it was His total disregard for empty traditions that lead to His execution. Are the traditions that we are upholding pointing people to the God who gave them to us, or are they hollow like a chocolate Easter bunny (speaking of empty traditions)? If the religious elite of Jesus' time were willing to kill the Son of God in order to maintain tradition, are we any less likely to kill God's Church or God's people over it? Would the altar that you die in front of look like a church pew?
4. Nationalism: As we dive into this one I'm sure to ruffle some feathers. In fact, it ruffles my own if I'm being perfectly honest. I love my country and am fiercely patriotic to boot. However, as Christians, we must realize that God's Kingdom is far larger than one nation's real estate. Are we Christians first, or are we Americans first? The answer to that question is very important, especially in our day in age. Too often we wrap the cross in the American flag and try to blur the lines between being American and being Christian. Friends, can I tell you in love that being born in the United States does not make you a Christian. There will come a day, and I fear it is closer that we want to believe, when we will have to decide which is more important; God or country. The truth is the two are more and more at odds. Finally let me say this; there are hundreds of thousands of men and women who have died for our country. They should be honored and respected to the highest degree because they have sacrificed their lives for us. One of the most moving things in the world is seeing a flag draped coffin and hearing a twenty-one gun salute. That is not at all what I am getting at in this section. It has far more to do with where our deepest allegiance lies. Is it with God or country, should the two call in different directions. Will the altar that you die at the foot of look like a national flag.
5. Pleasure: This is really one of the greatest threats to Christianity today. In our society we are encouraged to do whatever makes us feel "good." In deference to that ideal we redefine morals and values and try our hardest to bend the commandments of God. We are told to do whatever we want so long as it doesn't harm anyone else. Sadly, the prohibition on harming others with our pleasure is also being erased. If you don't want to have the baby that was a result of your pleasure then just "terminate" it. This rot is deep seated because it is painfully difficult to convince people to give up their own pleasure. The truly unfortunate part is that Christians have done a very poor job of letting people know the immense pleasure that comes with following God and His commands. All of God's law was designed to maximize our pleasure here on earth and in eternity. Will the altar that you die in front of look like a pornographic movie?
For now I think this list will suffice to get the point across. We are offered a myriad of different altars and false gods to worship in our world. From the lust of the eyes, to the lust of the flesh to the sinful pride of life the option are out there. Let me encourage you to search your heart and soul and let God reveal to you what your own altars look like. In the end our deepest desire should be to be found dead at and altar that looks strangely like a bloody, beaten, worn cross.