The Second Commandment

If you’re a longtime follower of this blog, you know I address idolatry quite a bit. If you’re new, you don’t have to take my word for it; you can look through the Idolatry tag and see for yourself. I’ll try to be succinct here not because the material is unimportant but because I don’t really want to repeat myself to the point that you, dear reader, are bored with me.

So let’s talk about idols. Not tall statues cast in metal that are believed to be inhabited by a god. Not something we sacrifice for and offer to because we consciously think it’ll serve us better than God does. No, let’s talk about modern idolatry.

I’ll go first, in honesty and full disclosure. I spent almost two hours watching the NBA Awards on Monday night and have looked up prices on Finals gear and for jerseys and shirts of two different NBA players earlier this week. I have spent no time reading my Bible. When I was bored Tuesday night, I thought about watching an episode of The Joy of Painting or starting a painting of my own, but it never occurred to me to spend time in prayer. And just the other day, I was lamenting that there isn’t a Bruno Mars greatest hits album I can buy instead of having to hunt down all of the individual songs I like, yet I don’t listen to worship music outside of church when I’m picking the tunes.

I know it’s not exactly the same as physically bowing down before something, but I am mentally because they’re people and things that occupy my mind to the point that God is crammed in the back and wedged in a corner somewhere. I’m not sacrificing food or drink, but I’m sacrificing my time and money, both of which are limited for me. I’d never claim any of these idols to be what I worship, but my actions prove it even if my mouth won’t speak it.

“You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected – even children in the third and fourth generation of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands” (Exodus 20:4-6, NLT).

God tells us not to make idols because that’s exactly what we do. The commandments were spoken at a time when people made statues that were then turned into idols through rituals. The statues themselves weren’t bad, but people made them into a spiritual problem. Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with liking a certain sports team or band or with loving your spouse or with earning a lot of money. There is a problem with loving these things and people more than we love God, with focusing on them and pursuing them to the point that we worship them and reject God.

I think we romanticize jealousy. And I get it. If someone is jealous, they have to at least care, if not love. There are many other ways to demonstrate that care or that love, but jealousy is a definite way to get the message across. We all want to be cared for and to be loved, so many times we interpret jealousy as a positive thing. We forget about the anger or hurt that fuels it. We don’t think of how the one who’s jealous feels neglected. We don’t consider the consequences that come with jealousy.

When God says He’s jealous, He means the good and the bad aspects of it. We sing about Him being jealous for us with smiles on our faces, but there are no odes to the consequences of God’s jealousy. It’s very intense and almost scary, and it definitely makes me feel even more justified in not wanting to have kids lest they have to feel the weight of my sins.

This is a perfect picture of God: so filled with love for us (us!) that He’s jealous when He’s not on the receiving end of our affection. He asks us not to make idols because it hurts Him when we do. But we aren’t always aware of what we’re doing, and perhaps that’s the first step in the remedy – mindful worship, being aware we’re worshipping God and putting him first. Our hearts were made to love on thing the most, and if that’s God, everything else with fall into its rightful place.

By Carrie Prevette

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The First Commandment

When Alan started talking about toasters on Sunday, I thought he was going to talk about the toaster– the Golden State Warriors toaster.

Back in March, a fan brought a toaster with the Warriors’ logo on it to shooting guard Klay Thompson for him to sign. Although a couple of other players signed the toaster as well, all that really matters is that Thompson signed it because his reaction to being asked to sign a toaster was priceless, as seen below.



Signing a toaster is weird and funny, right? But since signing the toaster, Thompson and the Warriors have an overall record of 30-something and 2 and a perfect record at home, and this run includes the 2017 NBA championship. The toaster has become a legend, and since it’s sort of taken on a life of its own, Thompson invited the toaster guy to the Warriors’ championship parade, and yes, he brought the toaster.

So as Alan spoke of his own normal, non-mystical toaster, he said that he didn’t always need it, that he used it and then put it away. But the Warriors toaster has been at work, in a sense, for about three months now, so some toasters are more important than others.

Alan did have an excellent point, though, as far as every other toaster in the world is concerned. We use the toaster when we need it and put it aside until we need it again. And that’s often how we treat God.

“Then God gave the people all these instructions: I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other God but me” (Exodus 20:1-3, NLT).

This commandment seems simple enough. God is the one our hearts should turn to and who should receive our praise.

Then we move past the surface of this commandment. Do we look to God in our times of trouble? More importantly, do we look to Him when everything is fine? Do we seek Him for answers? Do we praise Him even when we think He hasn’t done anything for us lately? Is He always on our minds? Is He the reason for our pursuits because He is our ultimate pursuit?

Our biggest struggles with the first commandment are with consistency and exclusivity, and those two connect in a big way.

God is consistent. He is reliable and constant. He hasn’t lost any capabilities. He hasn’t changed who He is. He’s the exact same as He was when He spoke the commandments. He is steadfast.

I am not. I may seek His counsel on one issue in my life and not consult Him on a different one. I’ll believe Him to work miracles one day and take matters into my own hands the next. I’m not as faithful as God is, and I take comfort in knowing He loves me anyway, but the reality is that my heart wanders.

When it wanders, it wanders into the arms of another god, even if it doesn’t mean to. The other god wines and dines me, whispers sweet nothings in my ear. It looks longingly into my eyes as it brushes a strand of hair behind my ears. It gives me presents and compliments me while I’m ignoring God, who’s trying His hardest to reach me and show His affection for me. The other god leads me to believe that it’ll always be there for me and makes me forget that God always has been.

What God knows and what I find out is that something isn’t right. Conversations with the other god are dull as it only sometimes listens and never speaks to me. It attempts to show it cares but in shallow ways. It offers feeble solutions to my problems and doesn’t try very hard to comfort and console me when something’s wrong.

God always accepts me back when I wise up and return to Him.

God gave us this commandment because He loves us and wants a relationship with each of us. God created humans because He wanted companions. Not that He needed us but that He wanted us. He likes us and likes having personal relationships with us. And because our hearts are prone to wandering and loving one more than another, this works only when we have no other gods.

God also gave this commandment so we could avoid getting hurt. No other god can love us or do for us like God can, and it’s only after we try loving them the way we should love God that we learn this. Our hearts wander, but they hurt until we come home.

Idolatry is a hard habit to break and we can be sure that we’ll never be as faithful to God as He is to us. The good news is that He loves us and wants us anyway. Were salvation based solely on our abilities to keep this commandment, everyone’s afterlife would look grim. So I’m thankful that God looks at me, at all of His children, with love despite our faults, and perhaps He says about us what Atticus says about Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, “… she knows I know she tries. That’s what makes the difference.”

By Carrie Prevette

Persecution and Growth

While the opening chapters of Acts empower and equip the apostles and other believers, the following chapters demonstrate why that was necessary.

The first recognizable theme of chapters 5-8 is suffering. At every turn, it seems, the apostles are told to stop preaching the Gospel, to stop speaking in the name of Jesus. These weren’t idle irritations as they were arrested and stood before councils. They were flogged, which served as a consolation for the elders and authorities who wanted to kill them.

The authorities’ irritation at the apostles was due to how much they disliked Jesus, but their persecution was justified under Roman rule not because of their beliefs but because they didn’t want an uprising from the believers.

Because despite the public pursuit and persecution of the apostles, the Church was growing rapidly.

This is the context in which we are introduced to Stephen. There is an ongoing paradox here of persecution and growth, and Stephen proves to be the highest point of tension within that paradox.

Stephen was wonderful. He was full of grace and power. He was eager to do for God. He had charisma and his face was like an angel’s.

Not everyone was smitten with Stephen, though. Some people plotted against him and said he was speaking blasphemy. Stephen faced a council, and his case was damaged by false witnesses. They asked Stephen what he had to say for himself, and he went into what can be considered both a defense of the faith and a history of it. He ends by calling the council “stiff-necked” and “uncircumcised in hearts and ears,” and he said they “received the law as ordained by angels, and yet [they had] not kept it” (Acts 7:51-53, NRSV).

You would think that Stephen would take this time to make himself a more sympathetic, non-threatening character. Instead, Stephen uses this time to insult the people who are already wanting loud-mouth Christ-followers dead. Stephen believed what he said to be true, and we have no proof in scripture that the last minutes of his life were plagued with regret for what he said. The fact remains, though, that this did lead to the end of Stephen’s life because they stoned him.

While Stephen was being stoned to death, an ambitious and devoted man called Saul stood by monitoring the situation as everyone’s coats laid at his feet. Saul approved of them killing Stephen.

Then the floodgates opened.

The first three verses of Acts 8 are chaotic and disheartening. The persecution spread from the apostles to all believers, and people were dragged out of their homes to be thrown in prison.

But the story doesn’t stop there.

The rest of Acts 8 shows the growth and preserverance of the Church despite the danger of proclaiming the faith. Believers preached everywhere they went. Word of mouth was incredible. People came to listen and believe in groups. And believers were eager enough to share that they would go out of their way to witness to even one person, as Philip did when he left thriving Samaria to meet who turned out to be the treasurer of Ethiopia.

The point of all this summarizing and what we learn from this chunk of scripture is that God is always at work. Even in our suffering. Even when the world around us is crumbling and makes no sense. When we’re scattered. When we’re hurting. God is always working for our good.

It doesn’t make it easier. It doesn’t make our issues or troubles go away. It doesn’t even increase our understanding. But I refuse to believe that I’m the only one comforted by this.

The God who made you is pulling for you. He loves you. He believes in you. And He’s doing everything He can for you. All we have to do is ask and believe. I know that’s not always easy, but God will never leave us disappointed if we keep our eyes on Him.

The early Church was not perfect. It experienced new ground, new people, and a new era, and they had to learn how to navigate all that. As relentless as the persecution was, had the Church not been focused on God and the message of Jesus, they would have been easily snuffed out. But because they focused on God, they survived and prospered.

If you’re in a difficult season or if you’re spiritually weak or frustrated or confused, I hope you can find the same hope that I find in Acts 8. The Church’s story wasn’t over, and neither is yours.

By Carrie Prevette

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