Christianity 201

December 13, 2021

Christianity: Adding Other Spices to the Recipe

This weekend at a church lunch, I sat opposite a girl who is in middle school. Trust me, I don’t have too many contacts in that demographic, so the conversation we had was unique on that basis alone.

She had some things with her, including a book, and also two objects which are strongly identified with New Age practices. I thought that was rather odd, given what I know about her family. In fact, similar objects are sold at a shop where my wife has been making contacting with the owner recently, so given that, and given that I prefer the possibilities of a female offering counsel to another female, I decided to simply make her (my wife) aware and let her decide on what level to pursue further discussion.

In my heart though, I just felt sad. Sad because here was a young girl who had spent many years in church who was, to use a recipe analogy, mixing her spiritual ingredients, and was seemingly unaware that ‘this’ doesn’t go with ‘that.’

I find the wording of Exodus 20:23 interesting:

Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.(NIV)

The key is the word alongside. It’s not saying, ‘don’t make representations of other gods instead of me;’ but rather, it’s saying, ‘don’t make representations of other gods and worship them at the same time as you are also worshiping me.’

(Some translations use, “to rival me;” i.e. both in play, in competition at the same time.)

This isn’t stated in the shorter, standard “ten commandments” reading which occurs 20 verses earlier, in verse 3:

You must not have any other god but me; (NLT)

which appears to create an either/or situation. In verse 3 it’s going to be Yahweh, and nobody else, but in verse 23, it’s picturing a situation where there are competing gods both vying for attention at the same time.

There’s a word for this sort of thing, and that word is syncretism; but when I looked it up here, I discovered that in over 4,200 devotionals, we’ve only used the word once, just eight months ago in this article.

Years ago, an evangelist on television was speaking about this issue and described a survey in a part of Japan which yielded the statistic that 87% of the people in a particular province were Shinto and 86% were Taoists (note the percentages don’t add up to 100).  He stressed that so also do we in the west belong to two very different belief sets.

In the Japanese example, one is a religion that deals with the present life, the other deals with the afterlife; one is a religion for living, one for dying. The North American situation is somewhat similar. One of our faith worldviews might be Christianity, but our beliefs and practices also show a reliance on self-centeredness, or on materialism, or our hope in technology to save us, or entertainment to dull our senses into a quasi-peace.

Of those, an outsider might think that materialism is the one which dominates…

…Sometimes I will be part of a conversation where someone has mentioned their astrological sign. In an attempt at humor which I borrowed from some forgotten source, I will contribute that, “I don’t believe in astrology, but then again, us Geminis are naturally skeptical.”

More seriously however, the percentage of people in our churches who begin the day by consulting their horoscope would probably surprise us, as anything other than 0.00% should not be. The girl in the conversation said that one of her objects was related to her zodiac sign.

Continuing in Exodus, translations vary in their approach to Exodus 34:14. The Christian Standard Bible renders the verse that our God is “jealous by nature;” but many, like the NLT, NIV, NASB, etc. state that “jealous” is implicit in his very name: for “…you shall not worship any other god, because the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God…” (NASB)

Jesus explains best why syncretism doesn’t work.

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other…” – Matthew 6:24 ESV

In the rest of the verse, he makes clear that the other in this case is money, the aforementioned materialism…

…There’s more I could write about this, and obviously, with the girl in the story, a conversation needs to happen; but I hope it starts you thinking about other gods which are competing for first place in your own life, and also, if you know someone for whom Christian faith just ‘isn’t working,’ perhaps they are making Jesus share first-place with others.

You can’t add other ingredients, even other spices, to the recipe. God doesn’t leave you that option.

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. 1 Timothy 1:17

February 23, 2021

A Seriously Miscalculated Swap

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Once again, we’re back at the the blog My Morning Meal, written by Peter Corak. (For many of you, our blog would be called My Afternoon Snack!) I hope you’ll click the header which follows and read this on his blog. Because this was posted just hours ago, I’m going to close comments here to encourage you to encourage Peter there.

A Bad Deal

We made a bad deal. A poor trade. A seriously miscalculated swap. That’s what I’m taking away from one of the most depressing passages in all the New Testament, Romans 1:18-32.

Yesterday, I concluded my Romans 1 reading on a high — the good news of the power of God for salvation. A righteousness independent of our best efforts at trying to be righteous. Available for all who believe. Revealed “from faith for faith.” But there’s no need for such good news if there isn’t the reality of bad news. Cue the end of Romans 1, and Romans 2, and the first part of Romans 3. Heavy sigh.

In past years, it has been the repeated phrase, “God gave them up,” which caught my attention in this reading. It’s the response of God toward those who choose self-determination over God exaltation, He allows them to be more self-determined. For those who resolve to lean on their own understanding, who trust in their own wisdom above their Creator’s, God says, in effect, Go at it. Heavy sigh, again.

But this morning it’s another repeated word that catches my attention.

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

(Romans 1:22-25 ESV)

All creation points to the Creator. All that’s been made, a testament to the invisible attributes of the Maker. Every person a walking indicator of His eternal power. All of nature pointing to His divine nature. Everything declared to be good in the beginning a conduit towards knowing His glory in the present (Rom. 1:19-20).

But the propensity of fallen men and women is to exchange the glory for goods. To disdain invisible attributes for more tangible aspirations. To not see creation as a means towards knowing about the Creator, but as an end in and of itself. As something worthy of worship. Choosing not to distinguish man from birds from animals or creeping things. All the same. All idol worthy. Exchanging the riches of a supernatural reality “for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand” (MSG).

It’s equated to exchanging the truth about God for a lie. That, instead of “In the beginning, God,” we think we should rewrite the story, “In the beginning, molecules and matter.” Instead of God creating men and women in His own image, men and women imagined into being God for their own purposes. Rather than living in the here and now with a view towards a there and then, there is no there and then so do what you gotta do to be happy here and now. And the exchange goes on . . . and on . . . and on. Lies supplanting truth, thus mankind becoming increasingly out of sync with reality, as God gives us over to our own “wisdom.”

What a bad deal. Exchanging immortal glory for immaterial gain. Exchanging a revealed reality for a narrative of our own making.

Bad news. But that’s what makes the good news so good!

. . . but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

(Romans 5:8 ESV)

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved . . .

(Ephesians 2:4-5 ESV)

But God. How I love those two words.

We refused His glory shown through creation, but God shows us His great love through His crucified Son.

We traded in His truth for our lies, but God offers to redeem our lives by His amazing grace.

Yeah, we made a bad deal. But praise God for a better deliverance!