Ministering Before Idols

  • Ezekiel 44:12 Because they ministered to them before their idols and became a stumbling block of iniquity to the house of Israel, therefore I have sworn concerning them, declares the Lord GOD, and they shall bear their punishment.

Do we minister to the people before their idols? This means that we share their idols. It means that we are either in willful rebellion or that we are oblivious to our shared idolatry.

Matthew Henry comments,

Those who have been treacherous are degraded and put lower those Levites—or priests who were carried down the stream of the apostasy of Israel formerly, who went astray from God after their idols (v. 10), who had complied with the idolatrous kings of Israel or Judah, who ministered to them before their idols (v. 12), bowed with them in the house of Rimmon, or set up altars for them, as Urijah did for Ahaz, and so caused the house of Israel to fall into iniquity, led them to sin and hardened them in sin; for, if the priests go astray, many will follow their pernicious ways.


In my mind, I saw three things as I read this verse today: 1) A mega-church preacher standing in front of a plasma screen, 2) a health and wealth preacher standing in front of a million dollar stage setup, an 3) I’ll leave you to guess at the other one…

The good news is that Christ too ministers before our idols; but, rather than endorsing them, he tears them down and replaces them. He is our true Icon (Col. 1:15).

Image from stuffchristianculturelikes.com

Return of Snippets (Until Someone Proposes a Better Name)

I mentioned last week that my writing is lagging behind as I attempt to meet my dimwitted goal of reading a novel a week. Since that is the case, I’ve decided that I will start posting some small Bible-based thoughts a couple of times a week. I did this semi-regularly a few years ago, calling them ‘snippets.’ I don’t particularly like the name, but I don’t know what else to call it. I suppose with our ocean-related theme we could call them droplets or something of the sort, who knows? Does it really matter?

I have a weird Bible-reading rotation. Every week I have my personal reading (I don’t like to call it devotional) in the Old Testament and New Testament daily, which goes in a four-month cycle (I’m finishing up Malachi and Revelation on Monday). Plus, we have our family reading, which is us simply reading from front to back (we’re in Ezekiel at the moment). Plus, I have whatever I am studying for a sermon (right now I’m preaching through Judges) and Sunday School (doing a series on how major characters of the Old Testament point to the Lord Jesus Christ). I spend so much time in Scripture, and preaching and teaching Scripture, that I actually find it hard to write about it. My sermons and Sunday School lessons are outlines that no one would be able to follow without actually hearing them preached and taught, so I can’t really share those here. So, I suppose it might be helpful to take random verses from those various readings and give a couple of thoughts. I’ll try to keep them short and pithy.

Anyway, the point is that when you see short posts on verses of Scripture start showing up, now you know why.

Tension and Attention in Turning Pages

You’re reading a book – or at least you call yourself reading it. You zone out. You’ve turned two pages and come to the realization that your eyes have covered the words on those pages but hardly any of them has moved from the eyes to the mind.

I was reading a book while my kids were taking a bath. They came into my room and started talking. I was half reading the book and half listening to them. After turning a page I realized that by half reading and half listening I wasn’t actually listening or reading at all. Not a word on the pages registered and not a word my kids said registered. Perhaps this is a metaphor for life?

It goes back to an idea I’ve discussed on the blog before: ignore-ance (not ignorance). Ignore-ance is the conscious decision to ignore something. I needed to decide in that moment which object was a) more worthy of my attention and b) more worthy of ignoring. I found both to be worthy of attention and neither worthy of ignoring. The net result was the opposite of what I intended: they both got ignored.

We flip through pages without the words penetrating our souls. We flip through life without people penetrating our souls. And we are surprised to find that we are shallow in our intellects, emotion, and experience.

52 Novels (15): The Sense of an Ending

My goal is to read a novel a week in 2015. I’ve made it to 15.

Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending

I saw this one on a book list and thought it looked interesting. It is indeed.

The story follows a group of friends passing from adolescence into adulthood. The focus narrows to a couple of relationships: boyfriend/girlfriend; breakup; girlfriend begins dating ex-boyfriends friend; enmity and bitterness ensue.

Tony, the main character and narrator, is he boyfriend who is quasi betrayed. He writes a scathing letter to his former-friend, who is now dating his ex-girlfriend. He has no idea of the prophetic powers carried by his own words of cursing.

The book is an intriguing exploration of the power of words in the form of self-fulfilling prophecies and maledictions. It reminds us to choose our words wisely. I’ve heard someone say that we should make our words soft and sweet in case we later have to eat them; but the fact of the matter is that others have to eat our words all the time, even when we ourselves don’t have to.

The story is also an interesting look at how we remember our own lives. The book is filled with flitting memories and self-conscious introspection: am I remembering that event rightly or is my memory only serving my own self interest? Why do I suddenly remember things that had been suppressed from the memory for so long? The theme of such remembering is introduced in a maxim about history that is repeated throughout the book:

History is the certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.

History, the narrator says, is much easier to study when it is distant:

Perhaps I just feel safer with the history that’s been more or less agreed upon. Or perhaps it’s that same paradox again: the history that happens underneath our noses ought to be the clearest, and yet it’s the most deliquescent.

The big question the narrator is faced with is his own failure to accomplish anything in life. His friend had committed suicide, which was, perhaps, a valiant act. What had he ever done besides accumulate dust?:

We muddle along, we let life happen to us, we gradually build up a store of memories. There is the question of accumulation, but not in the sense that Adrian meant, just the simple adding up and adding on of life. And as the poet pointed out, there is a difference between addition and increase. Had my life increased, or merely added to itself?

That suicide turns out to not be quite so valiant as he thought, but I won’t get into that. Let me point out a couple more highlights:

Barnes uses beautiful descriptive language. Like the way he describes a suburb:

They lived in Kent, out on the Orpington line, in one of those suburbs which had stopped concreting over nature at the very last minute, and ever since smugly claimed rural status.

Or the way he describes a woman’s choice of shoes:

I wondered about the fact that she never wore heels of any height. I’d read somewhere that if you want to make people pay attention to what you’re saying, you don’t raise your voice but lower it: this is what really commands attention. Perhaps hers was a similar kind of trick with height.

Aside from a surprise ending that will leave you reeling and make you want to go back and read the story again to see what you have missed, the main things I’ll take away from this book are the power and subjectivity of memory, and the power of words. The story ends with unrest. The Hebrews have always spoken shabbot (rest) and shalom (peace). Speak words of blessing. Keep your words soft and sweet because people are constantly eating them whether you yourself have to or not.

52 Novels (14): Girlfriend in a Coma

My goal is to read a novel a week in 2015. I’ve made it to 14.

-Douglas Coupland, Girlfriend in a Coma

Ah, postmodern stories. Girlfriend in a Coma starts out as a moving narrative about a young woman who falls into a 17 (or so) year coma. Strangely, she had foreseen that something was going to happen. The first half of the story chronicles the lives of her friends during the time of the coma. Her boyfriend, as he floats from job to job and battles alcoholism, seemingly numbing himself as he hopelessly waits for her to wake up; her child being born while she lay unconscious in the midst of the coma; another becomes a supermodel; another a doctor; two are drug addicts who eventually take up heroine; another is a vagabond who floats across the United States in search of who knows what.

And then the narrative turns into zombie apocalypse. Well, not exactly. People simply start falling asleep and dying, leaving this group of friends to watch the world die; leaving them as the only remaining survivors on the earth; leaving them to be guided by the ghost of a departed friend who will point out their emptiness and lead them on the right path, or something.

It’s an interesting story about a fragmented and meaningless world; like Ecclesiastes, except everybody dies at the same time. Karen, the girlfriend in the coma, awakes to find this soulless world; and she, as an outsider, as it were, has a more acute sense of it because of the distance in time afforded by the coma:

“Okay, but answer me this: Would you have believed in the emptiness of the world if you’d eased into the world slowly, buying into its principles one crumb at a time the way your friends did?” She sighs. “No. Probably not. Are you happy now? Can I have my body back?”

A few choice quotes:

“The future’s not a good place, Richard. I think it’s maybe cruel. I saw that last night. We were all there. I could see us—we weren’t being tortured or anything—we were all still alive and all … older … middle-aged or something, but … ‘meaning’ had vanished. And yet we didn’t know it. We were meaningless.” “What do you mean, ‘meaningless’?” “Okay. Life didn’t seem depressing or empty to us, but we could only discern that it was as if we were on the outside looking in. And then I looked around for other people—to see if their lives seemed this way, too—but all the other people had left. It was just us, with our meaningless lives.

Next,

He sat on the bed. “Don’t you understand, Richard? There’s nothing at the center of what we do.” “I—” “No center. It doesn’t exist. All of us—look at our lives: We have an acceptable level of affluence. We have entertainment. We have a relative freedom from fear. But there’s nothing else.” I felt I was getting the bad news I’d been trying to avoid for so long.

Next,

“I know—I remember when I first woke up how people kept on trying to impress me with how efficient the world had become. What a weird thing to brag about, eh? Efficiency. I mean, what’s the point of being efficient if you’re only leading an efficiently blank life?”

Next,

“I thought back in 1979 that in the future the world would—evolve. I thought that we would make the world cleaner and safer and smarter, and that people would become smarter and wiser and kinder as a result of all the changes.” “And …?” “People didn’t evolve. I mean, the world became faster and smarter and in some ways cleaner. Like cars—cars didn’t smell anymore. But people stayed the same. They actually—wait—what’s the opposite of progressed?” “In this case, devolved.” “People devolved.

Next,

“Hamilton,” Richard says, “tell me—have we ever really gotten together and wished for wisdom or faith to come from the world’s collapse? No. Instead we got into a tizzy because some Leaker forgot to return the Godfather III tapes to Blockbuster Video the day of the Sleep and now we can’t watch it. Have we had the humility to gather and collectively speak our souls? What evidence have we ever given of inner lives? Karen perks up: “Of course we have interior lives, Richard. I do. How can we not have one?” “I didn’t say that, Karen. I said we gave no evidence of an interior life. Acts of kindness, evidence of contemplation, devotion, sacrifice. All these things that indicate a world inside us. Instead we set up a demolition derby in the Eaton’s parking lot, ransacked the Virgin Superstore, and torched the Home Depot.”

Interestingly, the idea in the end is like a reverse It’s a Wonderful Life (or like a reverse A Christmas Carol). The apocalypse has allowed them to see life without the world:

“Uh-huh. You’ve all been allowed to see what your lives would be like in the absence of the world.” Silence while everybody bites their lips. “This is like that Christmas movie,” Pam says, “The one they used to play too many times each December and it kind of wore you down by the eighteenth showing. You know: what the world would have been like without you.” “Sort of, Pam,” I say, “but backwards. I’ve been watching over the bunch of you ever since Karen woke up, to see how different you’d be without the world.”

It’s not, How different would the world be without you? but, How different would you be without the world? The apocalypse allows them to see what life is like without neighbors. And in the end they’re afforded a second chance to actually try to have a positive impact upon the world.

What does such a transformation look like? I love this line:

She has never been able to help others, and the sensation is as though she had opened her bedroom door and found an enormous new house on the other side full of beautiful objects and rooms to explore.

I love the idea of opening a door into the same house, but finding that the house is different than you remembered it. I’ve felt like that almost every day since I became a Christian.

A Defense of Sneezes

I have met people who hate to sneeze. They Google it. They try to hold it in. They try to choke their noses. Sometimes they are successful. It will not come until the restrainer be removed.

They pinch their noses and the sneeze comes out like a high pitched dog whistle. Sometimes they walk around in circles, or perform an anti-sneeze dance. They pinch their lip. They grab their ear or their rear. What do you have against something so whimsical as a sneeze? Embrace the whimsy. It may be the last whimsical thing you do.

I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a sneeze.

I know a man whose sneeze could wake the dead. He sneezes and mummy tombs swing open. He sneezes and magical doors begin creaking. He sneezes and loud benedictions begin pouring down.

Sneezes are like the return of Christ. Sudden and blessed. And I say, Come.

Blog Update (April 2015)

So, I’m basically writing this to explain the fact that my posting will be sporadic for a while. (I never know whether I need to explain things like this). If you don’t see a post for a week, it doesn’t mean that I’m going away.

My feng shui has recently been messed with by a change in jobs and extra preaching opportunities. These are good things, but my routine is in shards. I have had a set daily routine for about five years. I didn’t even let a return to college mess up that routine. My wife says I’m like a robot. But now, with my new job, I’ve had to make some changes. I am working more hours and getting up earlier in the morning. In the past I was able to stay up way later than I should have in order to read, study, and write while my children were asleep. Nevermore.

I still have time to blog, but my new-year-goal of reading a novel a week is challenging and has forced me to cut down on the amount of nonfiction I am reading. Hence, less to blog about.

I’m a month into the new schedule and I still haven’t really settled into it. It’s going to take some time. It may be two weeks or it may be two months, but during that time I will probably only post once or twice a week and it will mainly concern the fiction I’m reading. I’m always willing to have discussions in the comments, whether or not they relate to the post (within reason).

That is all. Anybody want to recommend a book? Preferably modern, and less than 300 pages would be a plus.

Of course, this means I’ll suddenly get inspired and start posting every day.

52 Novels (13): Slaughterhouse-Five

My goal is to read a novel a week in 2015. I’ve made it to 13.

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

This book reeks of death. So it goes. And goes again and again.

It gives you vertigo. It broods over you as you read it. You lay on your back and hold the book over your face like a dark cloud. It’s like the Eye of Sauron staring at you, and you can’t stop staring back. It makes your mood like fog, dark fog, with a tinge of light that you’re not sure is light at all.

When you’re finished reading it perhaps you want to repeat the famous epitaph, ‘everything was beautiful and nothing hurt;’ but you know you can’t say that. And that’s the whole point. And so you just give yourself over to its quiddity.

It’s a beautiful book in its own way.

Aside from aliens and time travel, it’s about Dresden. If you don’t know about Dresden, you should. It’s a book about the ugliness of war. Something that we cannot eradicate. A fight we can’t win. And yet it seems that we should try.