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May 6, 2018, 12:00 AM

The Problem of Idols

In our Epistle text we see Paul distressed by the idols around him. I think this is something that many Christians today can connect with. I hear all the time from people who talk about the idols in the lives of people around them. The next comment is usually a notation that these people need to get back to church and why don't they recognize the value of church. Thankfully the text does not stop there but tells us what Paul did about this and it is a little thing known as apologetics or explaining the faith and here using the terms of the community in which he found himself.

Paul was given an opportunity that we might we not have when he got to explain himself in a pubic forum. Sort of the first revival meeting in a stadium if you will. Most of us can be thankful for the example but even more thankful for the opportunity to practice with a friend or two instead of a whole stadium. Working from what he had seen and what distressed him he also picks up on what they find they don't understand or what they are lacking.

So let us start by considering the following. What are the idols of our time for many people. The easy ones are things like money and possessions. But what were these idols Paul saw? They were representations of gods and the gods were providers if you will. You might go and pray to one god about fertility and another about abundance for your crops. Therefore, the gods were those things upon which the people depended for provision or if you prefer the superhuman spirits or beings having power over nature or fortune.

Let us consider the idols of our times. School sports is a tricky one because there are many good things about the youth going out to play. But, for instance, when someone starts to let games and practice rule their lives and insists that the youth must work hard, trusting that this will lead to the scholarship for college and thus looking to it for the provision of their finances if has become the idol. They have come to view the sport not as a competition that is fun and good for our health but instead something that dictates their days because it might dictate their fortunes.

Some of the other idols in our society might be college/education, jobs, a house, security, stocks, monetary savings, or even ourselves and the vision of the perfect life with the thought that we control all the pieces necessary to make it happen. Again some of these are difficult because there can be positive aspects to them but when they or our ideas about them become the controlling force of our existence then we tend to worship them. At one point I could have been taken to task for my view of university. I have both university and apprentice education, Christa went through a vocational training program in High School and yet when I thought the fortunes of one of my daughters might be dependent on the fortunes of one who was going to trade school, well that was just not acceptable and I had passed this on to my child as evidenced by the conversations helping her, at her prompting, to figure out how to convince her boyfriend that he needed a proper education with a bachelors degree. Thankfully, my parents helped me to undo this view and I put her future in the hands of God and my stress levels surrounding that returned to earth. The good news is that she eats, has roof over her head and seems reasonably happy.

Enough talk about the idols of our society or if you prefer the ills of our society, let us move on to talk about the solution to the evils or ills of our society. And that my friends is a place where we of the church world have something to share. In church we learn to place our trust not in the stock options, which as at least one among us can testify may go away unexpectedly, but instead in God and the provision that is assured to us. In church we learn to place our trust in the ground of all being, our creator not the perfect job and the money that it will bring for our future.  In church we learn that not school sports, not the perfect education and not ourselves but God is in charge of the universe and thus the provision of our future. Think about it a torn ACL can end the career of an athlete but God will still provide for that person, I have a bachelors in engineering and physics, which helps me to understand how to repair the copy machine in our office and God has provided for me in ways that do not ordinarily involve either. Much as I would like to think myself the director and if all the pieces would just do what I said the show would all come off perfectly and my life would be awesome this has not proven to be true but instead I am much happier when I say my prayers and ask for some direction.

So, we know the ills that are a problem and we know the solution to those ills is to trust in God. One reason I think this is challenging at moments thought is this little force known as temptation, the primary tool of evil in the world. Madonna has a song in which there is a refrain that says, “I want more.” She talks about all the things and then what else could there be and the answer is more. We are talking about that counter to that point in the middle of the Lord's Prayer where it says give me today my daily bread or if you will permit a longer translation, give me for today enough bread for this day. That is not what we want we want to know that the money is in the bank plus the home that we own will assure our future and we are much more comfortable trusting in 1 million dollars for tomorrow than we are in having just enough for today and the trust that what we need will be there tomorrow and yet if you want an example of how this can go another direction I simply point you to Venezuela, where all the money in the bank is effectively worthless if held in the local currency and this is not the first as I remember the stories from Ecuador of the late 90's before they dollarized the economy. So, while counting blessing, I know I have enough for today and will trust that God has tomorrow in hand is better insurance even than an earthly idol. So, we know the solution is to trust in God.

So knowing the problem and the solution is great but we must share that if it is to help others. Thus we get to the part we have been commanded to do by Jesus and that is sharing our faith with others. We now get to discuss helping people to see how it is that God through Jesus will positively impact their existence and in fact more so and better than the idols they currently worship. This is one of the places that communities of faith can be truly helpful. First, they provide opportunity to learn the stories of other people of faith. Like I demonstrated a few moments ago, we can learn the story of fortunes lost and how when it happened to a person of faith they continued to be provided for. We can learn the story of how sometimes our medical system can not fix the problem but prayer and the support of a community does far more good. We can learn the bible stories that help us to explain like the one that talks of how well the lilies of the valley are clothed and how well the birds of the air are fed without doing anything more than being part of creation. And yet learning all these and never sharing does not help our neighbor.

So, we have the problem in idols, we have the solution in God, we have the need to share the solution with others, we have the way to share in the stories of the faith community. we also have the story that the faith community is one of the places that God uses for the provision and for us we have the example of Paul. What is this example, Paul time and again looks around at his surroundings and then reexplains them in light of his faith. This is where we get to evangelism that works. First there is the living of life as an example. Second there is the learning about a life of faith. Finally, there is the sharing what we have seen with people around us. That is right effective evangelism, at least the most effective evangelism for those who are not already in a church. Evangelism may be no more complicated than and most effective when, it is you sharing with another person in need the solution to your problems you have found. That my friends is a kind of evangelism that is truly special, the evangelism that reaches the lost sheep. The evangelism that brings people who have never known or those who have fallen away into the fold.

So, to close, learn to live in faith with trust in the ground of all creation, also known as God, identify the idols in the world around you, learn the examples of other faithful people and then share all of the love and knowledge you first received with those around you but especially those around you in need.

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