The Accepted Idolatry of Spouse & Family

Much has been said already in the blogs and youtube videos I follow- about how God has allowed for ‘the removal of our idols’. Sports, entertainment, leisure, restaurants, nonessential shopping…few mention church fellowship ties, or family ties, and how they can also become an idol before God.

If you’ve read my recent posts, you will see my insistence that we can still have church in our own homes ‘wherever one or two are gathered.’

Now I feel led to add an addendum to what I’ve already shared:

As humans we are very good at making other people into idols in our lives. With social distancing, it seems even that insidious idol has been revealed (for those with eyes to see and ears to hear). In many cases it has even been physically removed or threatened, as well.

We see horrible stories of infected people dying alone without family or spouse by their side. And I keep seeing news reports and stories of how spouses are willingly living separately and keeping their distance from one another to prevent spread of sickness. Particularly if they work in healthcare or had been traveling. Famous examples are in the news too. It was reported that Prince Charles stayed away from his wife during his illness. Oprah Winfrey insisted her long time partner stay in her guest house for fourteen days after he returned from travel.

This is, indeed, a very strange time. But I think there is meaning in what is coming through our news channels as well. I think these rich details, much like the rich details in scripture, are being put into the world for a deeper reason — for those who are willing to ponder it and pray about it.

In my own life the Lord has revealed my idolatry toward my spouse, toward my children and even toward those family members who once abused me in unconscionable ways. That last one took me a long while to see; as I was already keeping my distance! But idols grow in our hearts and physical distance is not always enough to knock them down. I also came to believe that one of the horrible effects of such acts of evil is to leave behind a type of bondage to the victim; which must be brought before God in order to be broken. And therefore I’m not convinced that we love and adore all our idols; sometimes we are fixated on an idol in ways we can’t even comprehend and need help untangling from. In this way we allow it to control us long after it’s initial evil attempt to control us!

It is our attitudes and beliefs which need to change, a turning BACK to God in full repentance and wholeheartedness of faith and love for Him, and trust that He will free us from whatever has us bound if we ask and seek that from Him–in this way I feel idols can easily be destroyed before God; through His power to save and sanctify us.

It was still a painful discovery, though, every time He showed me an idol I had made from another person. And inevitably, once I knocked it down, I healed a great deal. Other times my troubled relationship with that person I had made into an idol (particularly my spouse and children) then grew and improved. Because I was no longer trying to control their every move–as we tend to do with idols. Think of the super fan in the stadium or before the television. It is as if he can will his favorite team to a victory through his screams and clenched jaw and strong desire to control their performance.

Do we do similar controlling measures with our spouse, children, family members, church family?

I have certainly been guilty of that in the past!

1 John 5: 21 Dear children, keep yourself from idols.

Luke 9:59-60 He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Luke 11:27-28 As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

1 Corinthians 7:32-34 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs–how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world–how he can please his wife–and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world–how she can please her husband.

Luke 14:26  If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.

Right now the world is telling us we must be prepared to separate from a sick family member and die alone; in order to stop the spread of a sickness and, in essence, be able to live (to die another day).

God’s word has always been clear that real disciples are willing to lose everything, including parents, children, spouse, in order to gain Him.

Is eternity in His presence enough of a reason to separate our hearts from our idols; even  the idols we make of other people– which can seem so blessed and holy and not like idols at all?

Or will we choose to cling to our life here on earth– for who knows how long?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Golden Rule Can’t Be About Me.

smiling woman holding black smartphone
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I have an agnostic, leaning-toward-atheist, friend who believes all you need to do in life is to follow ‘The Golden Rule’. Always treat others as you would want to be treated yourself. She asserts that if you do that, you will get back out of life what you put into it. Furthermore, she’s been known to say that if everyone simply followed The Golden Rule, the world would not be the world as we know it (I think she meant ‘bad’ in general. But, IMHO: the world as we know it is increasingly narcissistic– we have become ‘lovers of self’, just as was prophesied by Paul to Timothy).

I agreed with her but added some thoughts of my own too. Since I believe all people are capable of evil, by nature–we need help keeping The Golden Rule. Such help comes in the form of Jesus, specifically His Word (Jesus IS the word!).

By the way, friend, God’s word/AKA Jesus is what gave us The Golden Rule…

And, not surprisingly, she didn’t believe The Golden Rule originated in the Bible. Citing chapter and verse did nothing. I’m not one to argue, I’d rather let the seed do what seeds do (die, or, lie dormant and sprout when least expected– six years later, in a crack that developed on hard cement). My Golden Rule friend is actually basing her life on two Biblical principles, without realizing it. The Golden Rule is one, and the idea that we get back what we give out is number two, i.e. we reap what we sow. (I didn’t even ‘go there’ on that point–seeing how the Golden Rule Bible verse played out!)

Anyway, I believe the key to understanding Mathew 7:12 (the famous ‘golden rule’ precept) lies in Matthew 7:11.

Jesus says in Matthew 7:11 that though we are evil, we still know how to give good things to those we love. How much more, then, does God the Father, (in Whom NO evil resides), KNOW how to give good gifts?

Sadly, I know the sin nature of people, myself included. We are capable of committing evil under the right (wrong?) circumstances. And I’ve also experienced what the devil is capable of as well–so there’s no doubt in my mind that the dark dude would LOVE it–say, for instance, if the recent earthquake in California had resulted in total annihilation instead of the fairly serious damage that was caused (sadly). The fact that this world is still, for the most part, orderly, and that many people enjoy long lives relatively free of major devastations, is one of those ‘good gifts of a righteous God.’ His hand still has sway over this world and is undoubtedly keeping order, IMHO. When that restraint is lifted, I believe it will get very ugly indeed–I just hope I’m not here to witness that!

But back to The Golden Rule. It struck me recently that we, in our selfish nature, have twisted even that genius summation of all the law and prophets. Time and again as I’ve been attempting to heal from PTSD, I have received advice and responses from professionals, friends, and family that have come from a place of ‘their experience’ instead of truly trying to understand, and respect, mine.

All too often, when we are faced with another person’s pain, we respond exactly as we presume we would want to be responded to (with all of our personal quirks, belief systems, dislikes and affinities) instead of listening and then selflessly responding as that person would like us to respond (or outright needs us to respond in truth, whether they want the truth or not).

I think we err in this way because treating others as we would want to be treated seems so noble and good. So… without reproach. So… Golden Rule-y! But if we overlook our own ability to be fallen and sinful (and self-focused), we could cause others more damage than help.

  • You are feeling sick and so I’ll just give you space, because I just want to be left alone when I’m not feeling well. (Perhaps the hurting person wants and/or needs someone to bring breakfast in bed–and then lunch and dinner too!)
  • I don’t like it when people talk bad about my family so I am not going to say anything bad to you about yours. (Perhaps the person recovering from abuse desperately wants to hear someone say her parents/siblings/uncles/grandparents are given over to evil!)
  • I don’t like physical affection so I will listen to you cry about this but I am NOT going to hug you. (Perhaps thats person wants a hug, or someone holding their hand).
  • Prayer makes everything better for me so I am going to stop on this sidewalk and pray right here, right now, over you. (Does the person even want to be prayed over right now, let alone in public?)
  • My minister said forgiveness heals and so you just need to forgive it. (even though David spent chapters of the psalms calling down curses on his enemies in order to purge and deal with his emotions!)

I could go on, and on, but perhaps others can add their own thoughts and examples of ways we respond to hurting people based on our experiences; not theirs.

I suggest we get better about asking.

  • What can I do for you?
  • What do you need right now?
  • Do you want a hug?
  • A prayer?
  • Some space?          

Honor the responses to those questions. Get to know someone who is hurting and treat them as they want to be treated. And please stop telling abuse survivors they just ‘need to forgive’. Most of the time they need to get good and angry before forgiveness can happen.

The Golden Rule is a wonderful precept! Yet it can go really sideways when we start seeing everyone else exactly as we view ourselves. Which leads me back to where I started: humans are becoming increasingly narcissistic. And it’s the ultimate narcissistic foible to forget that we are still…self-focused humans ourselves.

All of which makes me want to close with a word the early church used often:

Maranatha!

Smelled Like Funky Religion To Me.

blur close up environment incense
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I recently visited a healing room. The strong smell of incense, upon opening the door, warned there could be funky stuff inside…and my nose is rarely wrong. The room was filled with tulle and pillows and swords and crowns. Some visitors looked right at home while others looked a bit uneasy.

I wasn’t seeking a healing or praying for anyone else’s. I went there because friends invited us to an event. I also share some things in common with the proponents of healing rooms.

  • I believe in healings.
  • I believe the gifts of the Holy Spirit are at work today.

But there were things about this healing room that I found too weird for my personal comfort–and weird is not meant as a pejorative. I like weird. I am quite weird by usual standards. (Which is why I get these invites). Furthermore, I can’t stand incense. I get an instant headache whenever I get but a whiff of it. I avoid places that use it. Unless I’ve already entered the front door to an event where I was expected.

TOO LATE.

When we finally left I told my husband the experience ‘smelled like funky religion to me!’ Which confused him. He hadn’t even noticed the smell of incense. So while I didn’t actually see any sticks burning– at some point I know that room had burned incense.

I was leery of the healing room going into it, and leery of writing of the experience here, (lest I offend someone). In both cases I simply went for it. I even engaged in quizzical conversation with a leader there. She wasn’t sure, herself, what all the pillows and tulle was about, or the columns, or the sword stuck into a rock (I didn’t even ask about the other sword hanging on the wall)…some people had shown up one day and ‘decorated’ and she was as surprised by the outcome as I…as we chatted on, I round-about shared the pain of my family estrangement. She suggested a character in the Bible as an example in moving forward. God had shown me that same character in the Bible too.

That coincidence wasn’t enough to convince me to drop all my guard, though. Incense aside, I am biased against religious icons and props. Maybe my conservative protestant upbringing shows there. Mainly, though, I have healed enough to heed any feelings of unease in my spirit. At one time I would have gone into self doubt or blame and shame and, eager to please, gone along with whatever my friends suggested. This time it was clear what I was to do. Spirit checks urged me to keep some distance unless/until God leads me back.

Yet the incense lingered, as incense does…so I looked up several scriptures. I have been ruminating on Psalm 141:2.  May my prayer be set before You like incense, my uplifted hands like the evening sacrifice. 

Maybe God likes incense? The temple incense instructions are detailed in Exodus30, as well as stern warnings against offering ‘strange’ incense. I was curious if that incense had ever been recreated. The Bible’s version prolly smelled better than today’s stinky sticks. Either way, I suspect God likes heartfelt prayers and worship best of all.