Tuesday, September 1, 2015

When They Took Away My Gods

I open up my Bible and sip down my coffee and I stare at this story, again.  This story that has this ability to rattle my heart. I have read it dozens of times in this last season, and each time it's like looking in a mirror.

A very, um...unflattering mirror.

Sitting within the book of Judges is my story of late. I can't say I remember reading the story before, or perhaps never saw myself as the main character prior, therefore, I comfortably skimmed through it. Now, now the story slashes my heart and spills out my condition.

It's a story I heard from a retreat last April, by a speaker named Jenn Wilkin. (Highly recommend.) Here I was, surrounded by shabby chic decor and hundreds of good 'ol Iowa women.  The retreat smelled of a homecoming for me, as I sat down next to new and old friends I whispered a thanks to the God who leads, and redeems, and who had led Matt and I back to Iowa one year prior. 

The account in Judges speaks of a man named Micah.  Micah lived during a time when everyone made up their own definition of right and wrong, even God's people. Micah had plenty of religion.  He seemed to love it, even.  He had filled his home and his life with it.  He used him money to build himself a entire house of mini-gods, and even bought himself his very own priest.  The perfect strategy to ensure God's blessings on his life.

The problem is that none of this was done in God's design.  Micah, with all of his religion and his idols, and his sure fire plan for success, was packed full of disobedience and pride.

And perhaps he would have taken this lifestyle to the cold grave with him and his story never would have made it into the pages of our Bibles. 

But, often, God's desire to liberate us from idol worship, includes letting something walk through our lives and mess us up a bit.

A group of 600 men from the tribe of Dan marched through Micah's front yard and took his shrine and his mini-gods and even his priest.  They took off with his miniature idols and with it, his plan for the good life. 

Micah caused a scene and chased after the 600 men, who turned to look at Micah and in near-humor questioned him by saying "What is the matter with you?" 

And he said back to them "You have taken away my gods which I made, and the priest, and have gone away and what do I have besides?"

And there I was, unsure when I became the only person in the room.  My heart was pierced and the sin of idolatry was bleeding out.

Mini-gods... personal shrines, idols, my plan for a blessed life.... 

And Jen Wilkin looks right at me (pretty sure.) and asks:

What is it, if it were taken away, that would leave you in a dramatic posture, crying out "What do I have left?!"

I saw the altar of my heart,  by the power of God's Word and his love for me.

My shrine's name was ministry.  The thing I had always done, and loved. 

At a closer look, I saw what this 'shrine of ministry' consisted of:

It was the graven image I wanted for myself.
The golden image I desired for my husband.
The goddess was me.
The priest was the way ministry made me feel more acceptable to God.

If not purpose and reputation, What do I have left?!

If not people's approval, and exciting dreams-turning-reality, What do I have besides?

If you take away my plans and expectations for the good life, What else do I have?

And for the first time since high school youth group (When all our 'idols' was wanting a prom date...), grace has been teaching me about the false gods of my heart, and how they keep me from the freedom Jesus desires for me.

Grown up idols can be tricky. We disguise them, even within the costumes of religion, or benevolence. We place them up high on the mantle of our hearts and keep dust bunnies far from them. We care for them like beloved pets, or houseplants-- feeding and watering the roots of them, allowing them to flourish in our souls.

For those of us in the church, we would never dare have a 12 foot idol that we bow down to in the town square.  But 12 1-foot idols? That we can conceal within our homes? Within our hearts?

Gods that are easier to control than the Living God, I suppose. And so we quietly bend low to restrictive eating, compulsive exercise, precise budgeting or an etched image of having it all together. These dead idols that we fashioned ourselves breed a false security when they are ours, and mood swings when we fear we are losing them.

These mini-gods that I think about more than my Holy God, these selfish goals that I'm convinced will get me where I want to be, they only leave me tired, lonely, and so. very. grouchy.

When did life going my way nudge ahead of loving the God that loved me first?

Often we don't even see our idols until they are taken away. And we find ourselves throwing a royal temper tantrum until someone looks at us, eye brows high and neck straight and they say "What is the matter with you?"

(Someone tell me you have received that look before...Please.)

And our hearts harden a bit more, as we are sure that we are the victim because life took away what was rightly ours.

And the damage becomes evident in the next moment. When I notice that, up on my mantle, there is no longer enough room for the true God. He has been edged out by my handful of lesser gods-my strategies to obtain comfort, success, and security.

The speaker turned her Bible pages ahead to Psalms.

And she begins reading from Psalm 73, the prayer of David.

"What do I have besides?... What do I have left?..."

In my moment of great need, grace rescues me and brings me to the Living God.

David prayed: "Whom have I in heaven but You? And Earth has nothing I desire besides you."

And I more crumble, rather than bow, before His altar. The weight of being delivered, yet again, from my subtle rebellious ways, inhibits me from maintaining poise in that moment.

"Whom have I but you?"

How thankful I am that the Living God is not tame, or predictable, or bending with our every demand!  But He is powerful, He is faithful, and He is true.  And He loves us so very much. When we bow before Him, not to impress Him or earn his favor, but to show our messy need of Him, He is honored, and joy is ours.

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