Does Your Idol Speak Louder than Jesus /Spiritual Meditations

Why is there an intense fascination with celebrity?  29 million people in the United States watched the wedding pageantry of British Prince Harry to Megan Markle, an event which affects none of them personally.  Magazines like People and TV shows like TMZ or Entertainment Tonight provide details into celebrities’ comings and goings far beyond what is of any practical value to anyone.  Professional sports players and politicians are lifted as role models and heaped with praise while parents, teachers, godparents, and friends (whom are far more important to a person’s moral development) are hardly acknowledged. 

When we hear the word idol, we often think of statues and objects reminiscent of those worshiped by pagans in ancient cultures. However, the idols of the 21st century often bear no resemblance to the artifacts used thousands of years ago. Today, many have replaced the “golden calf” with an insatiable drive for money or prestige or “success”. Some pursue the high regard of others as their ultimate goal. Some seek after comfort or a myriad of other passionate, yet empty, pursuits. Sadly, our societies often admire those serving such idols.

We support politicians and self-professed leaders. We media-stalk and try to emulate celebrities.  We buy shirts displaying the names of our sports heroes. We behave as though these are infallible and worthy of our devotion. If only we were as wealthy, talented or beautiful as they are, we would receive more attention which appeals to our sense of vanity. Since those dreams are not likely to become reality, we settle for the next best thing – we consider ourselves a part of their ‘flock’. We mimic their rhetoric and make it our own and the more we repeat it the more we are emotionally bound to it.

They become our idols when they absorb our heart and imagination more than God; when we make then more important than God; when we follow their voice like sheep

Of course, we can make idols of possessions, careers, relationships, hobbies, sports, entertainment, goals, greed, addictions to alcohol/ drugs/ gambling/ pornography, etc., but today I’m just talking about people we admire…maybe admire a little too much.

Who are Our Models?

I’m not a “fan”.  I don’t consider anyone more significant than another, but I believe admiration is appropriate when a person demonstrates characteristics consistent with the Golden Rule or as extoled in the Bible.   In my mind, the “A list” of desirable traits is produced by the fruits of the Spirit.  Think of someone famous today, someone that you support, and then compare them to the following:

Envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:21-23)

How did your celeb measure up?  No, nobody is perfect and thank God for His grace, but how many of these traits does your favorite politician, hero or celebrity exhibit?  What does their history and lifestyle say about them?  If they profess to be a follower of Christ, are the fruits of the Spirit evident in them?  Can they be a positive influence or model if they aren’t manifesting some of them?

In many cases we see both wealth and poverty as deserved: wealth as the reward for their virtuous behavior and poverty as the reward for their vicious behavior.  With this in mind you may confess that you think that “he / she would never have become great if the fruits of the Spirit were important to them.  They were justified in pushing a few people aside to get where they are.” 

But what is so great about where they are?  If you answered their money, their power or their talent, you are missing the point of Christ’s teaching or have compromised your beliefs to be part of their flock.  What do they have that is of value to the Kingdom of God?  

Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave;  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:26-28)

Are your celebs serving anyone besides themselves? Don’t know? Here are some examples of how they can use their fame.

God, as revealed through Christ, is the only One truly worthy of our devotion, our service, and our love.  Those earthly beings that we put on a pedestal are nothing compared to Him.  Although the Holy Spirit seeks each lost sheep, God rejoices in those who listen to His voice and work within His will.  Each person must decide if they want to be part of God’s Kingdom or a part of the world’s pollution.  One can’t be both.

“Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me. (Matt 12:30)

Wisdom as a Prerequisite to Leadership

Wisdom isn’t necessarily required for a rock star or actor, although it wouldn’t hurt, and some have delved into the spiritual. But for a political or military leader, wisdom is prized though, unfortunately, rare.  According to scripture, these are a few ways to determine if someone is wise.

  • They accept correction when they know they were wrong.
  • “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)
  • They have godly integrity.
  • They are not easily offended
  • They are not obsessed with being ‘right’. When pride comes, then comes dishonor, But with the humble is wisdom. (Prov 11:2)

Again, in Proverbs, the wisdom book:

“For wisdom is better than jewels;
And all desirable things cannot compare with her.
“I, wisdom, dwell with prudence,
And I find knowledge and discretion.
“The fear of the Lord is to hate evil;
Pride and arrogance and the evil way
And the perverted mouth, I hate. (Prov 8:11-13)

If We Aren’t Part of the Solution, We are Part of the Problem

Maybe I’m being too hard on our idols when it is we who are elevating them to this status.  The first commandment is clear.

Thou shalt have no other gods before me

We know this but don’t always realize it when we are creating our idols.  We are so easily led.  It is no wonder that God so often refers to us as sheep as in Psalm 23.  Regarding the jumble of lies and facts surrounding politicians, we know that we don’t know everything and, therefore, accept what our friends and the media tell us; it’s easier.  We usually have the resources to obtain our own answers, but we don’t take the time to do the research. Instead we acquire new opinions that augment or conform to what began as one idea or experience…a small sample of life and perhaps an insignificant one.  With the accumulation of the like thoughts we select, that initial idea grows into a mantra and manifesto.  Now it is hard to see truth; much easier to rationalize it away; more comforting to jump on the “band wagon” with our tribe; less threatening to our egos to continue in our chosen stance.

The Lord is My Shephard

When Jesus referred to us as sheep, He was talking about our vulnerability and His compassion for us. Jesus loved humanity so much that He pushed Peter to an emotional response, making it a point Peter could never forget.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" "Yes, LORD," he said, "you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He answered, "Yes, LORD, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "LORD, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. (John 21:15-17)

But why this crazy metaphor of sheep of all animals?  Here are just a few of the characteristics we have in common: 

*Sheep can’t defend themselves. When a sheep is frightened, the only thing it knows to do is run.  People can “fight” as well as “flight” but both reactions are based in fear, something God tells us repeatedly is unnecessary. Politicians are notorious for creating fears and then trying to convince us that only they can resolve them. But God is the only defender we need. “The LORD is my defense; and my God is the rock of my refuge” (Psalm 94:22).

*Sheep aren’t intelligent. Sheep are not known to be smart or cunning animals when it comes to safety; rather, they are susceptible and tend to wander away from the protection of the shepherd.   Compared to the wisdom of God, which is all knowing and all loving, human intelligence is miniscule.  (1 Cor 3:19).  People tend to wander away from God and bestow their affection on their idols.

*Sheep are Directionless.  Not only are sheep wanderers, but they get lost easily. When even one sheep goes astray, the shepherd goes after it and restores it to the flock. As Isaiah 53:6 indicates, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way.”  If a sheep wanders off from the rest of the herd, it will have a hard, if not impossible time, finding its way back. They have no sense of direction. So it is with those outside the Lord, there is simply no sense of spiritual direction in their lives.

*Sheep follow the voice of their own Shepherd (no other shepherd). The Bible says the sheep know the voice of the shepherd. They follow the one whom they know. You may never have a complete understanding of your circumstances with all the answers to the questions of life, but you will understand the love of God and the importance of following the Lord to the green pastures and living water.  Likewise, the shepherd leads the sheep. The sheep know their shepherd, the sound of his voice and follow him. This is also the way that the sheep are separated into separate herds after grazing or sleeping together. The shepherd calls the sheep and they come. They need no markings to distinguish them – all they need is the sound of the shepherd’s voice.

*A Sheep is a Personal, a Prized and a Precious Possession. This sheep belonged to the shepherd, he paid a personal price to own it and won’t stand idly by while it is lost. (Ill. The price Jesus paid for the sheep – Ill. Calvary – 1 Cor. 6:19-20)- This sheep may have been no different from any other ordinary sheep, but it was special to the shepherd. Despite their differences every sheep was precious in his eyes. So it is with the Lord. He loves all His sheep equally.

*Sheep must be led to grass, just as the Holy Spirit leads us to what we need. If left to themselves sheep will graze in the same place until all the grass is gone. A good shepherd leads them to the best places to graze to keep them healthy. He leadeth me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Conclusion

There are many people out there vying for our attention and hoping we will contribute to their income.  They want our political donations, votes, ticket buys, and endorsement purchases among other things.  Granted, a little entertainment gives us relief from a stressful world, but let’s consider the source of that entertainment before we count ourselves as a member of its flock.  No person should be made an idol or be blindly followed.  We must open our eyes to who they really are. Only God has our best interests at heart and deserves our devotion.

What do you think?  Are the celebrities, heroes and politicians who you endorse worthy of you? You – one of God’s children?  Whose sheep do you choose to be?  I’m hoping you will answer “Jesus’”.

If you find this article interesting, informative, inspiring or useful, please share it.

Relevant Scripture

You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.  You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. (Ex 20:4-6)

 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revelings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did ]forewarn you, that they who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.  Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned;  and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Peter 2:1-3)

 Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue;  for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God. (John 12:42-43)

Like a roaring lion and a rushing bear
Is a wicked ruler over a poor people.
A leader who is a great oppressor lacks understanding,
But he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days. (Proverbs 24:15-16)

A fool always loses his temper,
But a wise man holds it back.
If a ruler pays attention to falsehood,
All his ministers become wicked. (Proverbs 29:11-12)

The words of the wise heard in quietness are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good. (Eccl 9:17-18)

Your rulers are rebels
And companions of thieves;
Everyone loves a bribe
And chases after rewards.
They do not defend the orphan,
Nor does the widow’s plea come before them. (Isaiah 1:23)

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. (John 10:11)

References

“Five Reasons Why God Calls His People “Sheep””  by Bethany Hayes 

“Why Does God Call Us Sheep? on For His Service

“Why is Idol Worship Such a Powerful Temptation?” on Got Questions

“Why Do We Admire Celebrities?” with Jon Murphy 

the word fear crossed out with marker by hand

Fear-the Hidden Poison of Politics | Spiritual Meditations

There are many things that motivate us. But the most powerful motivator of all is fear.  Yet scripture tells us not to be afraid….God will be with us.

Fear is a primal instinct that served us as cave dwellers and still serves us today. It keeps us alive, because if we survive a bad experience, we never forget how to avoid it in the future. Our most vivid memories are born in fear. Adrenaline etches them into our brains.

Cultural norms also teach us whether something should be feared or not. Think, for example, about how certain social groups are feared and persecuted because of a societally-created impression that they are dangerous.

Nothing makes us more uncomfortable than fear. And we have so many fears: fear of pain, disease, injury, failure, not being accepted, missing an opportunity, and being scammed, to name a few. Fear invokes the flight or fight system, and our first reaction is often to flee back to our comfort zone. If we don’t know the way back, we are likely to follow whoever shows us a path.

Marketers use fear as a motivator as often as they can. They present a scenario they hope will invoke our sense of fear. Then they show us a solution – a path back to our comfort zone – that entails using their product or service. Fear is used to sell almost everything: cars, tires, and life insurance are classics. But clever marketers also use it to sell breakfast cereal and deodorant. As a result, we purchase all sorts of things that a generation ago were considered unnecessary: antibacterial soap, alarm systems. The list goes on and on. To use fear successfully as a motivator, a solution must be offered with it. A new path to follow.  (Robert Evans Wilson Jr. Psychology Today 9/23/09)

Politicians Manufacture Fear

And that is exactly what many political candidates do. If we buy into the ‘new path’ they are attempting to steer us into, through the fear-based scenario they present as likely, if not imminent, the only benefactor is the politician or political party that is doing the steering. Instead of being sucked into a belief in the politically proposed picture, let’s do our due diligence, use our logic and come to reasonable conclusions about the likelihood of the various threats and promises presented to frighten us into voting for them. Be confident in your spiritual beliefs of what is right and wrong, don’t let them manipulate you and then look for those who are honest in their speech and actions.

The Media Creates and Distributes Fear

Just as the government functions like any major conglomerate, as stated by Peter Vanderwicken, “Journalists and politicians have become ensnared in a symbiotic web of lies that misleads the public.” Some so-called news programs repeatedly sensationalize and create baseless hype for the purpose of entertaining, maintaining and controlling their audience. With self-interest and manipulation, their goals are not to inform the public but rather to make money from the public. Their stories often revolve around politics with a slant in the direction they have decided will excite the most attention and keep the viewer coming back for more.   If you have ever been aware of a news story first-hand and compare it to what was reported in the media, you know that there are usually discrepancies that can greatly change the readers conclusion.

Paul H. Weaver, a former political scientist (at Harvard University), journalist (at Fortune magazine), and corporate communications executive (at Ford Motor Company), states that we have become addicted to this culture of lying. Weaver states, “The culture of lying is the discourse and behavior of officials seeking to enlist the powers of journalism in support of their goals, and of journalists seeking to co-opt public and private officials into their efforts to find and cover stories of crisis and emergency response. It is the medium through which we Americans conduct most of our public business (and a lot of our private business) these days.”

Another tactic that we must beware of is the use of the sound-bite or snippet. Used by both politicians and the media to excite, entice or anger, it is a short poisonous phrase taken out of context. Look for the whole story by finding that news source that is complete and balanced in its reporting. If the announcers are pushing extreme opinions, this is probably not the one you want to listen too. Be assured that God is a better guide and don’t let them manipulate you.

How to Avoid the Hidden Harm of Politics

Yes, I know finding the truth takes some research which can be time consuming and requires tenacity. Unfortunately, it is easy to throw our support to whomever our friends or relatives have chosen, opinions often based on no more than the opinion of their friends or relatives….an endless chain, possibly based on misinformation and snappy slogans with no substance. Or, worse yet, a desire to be part of a ‘team’, possibly the same ‘team’ your authority figure is on, just to be a part of the contest without any real interest in the ‘players’ or their background and abilities. We all want to belong, but don’t let them manipulate you….do your own research and use the ‘golden rule’ as your gauge.

So how can we avoid being the politicians’ patsies? Remember: very little that a political candidate says can be considered the whole truth. Nothing fans anxieties like an absence of solid information, and nothing resolves anxiety like concrete data.  If the statements in a news story lead you to believe it could impact your life, don’t worry, but investigate the facts provided by a non-media source.  Preferably from someone directly involved or an expert on the subject.  If it is available, check the candidates’ voting record. If it isn’t available, ask yourself “how realistic is the picture he or she is painting”. Take an objective look around you; does your experience support their assertions? Self-monitor your fear-feelings (usually exhibited as anger) to determine if you are being taken in. We can also check the numbers candidates make up or exaggerate, thinking that we won’t check. But you are capable and can find the real statistics.

Fact Checking Resources

Here are a few sites that can help with ascertaining the truth. If you are aware of others, please share them in the blog post comments where readers can access them. Comments on Facebook will not always be available.

Politifact (fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials and others on its Truth-O-Meter) https://www.politifact.com/

FactCheck.org (The special interest groups behind the TV ads and more) https://www.factcheck.org/search/

Washington Post‘s Fact Checker (Checking the truth behind the political rhetoric.) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/

OpenSecrets (Data on Campaign Finance, Super PACs) https://www.opensecrets.org/

The Sunlight Foundation (Making government & politics more accountable & transparent) https://sunlightfoundation.com/

Snopes https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/

FactChecker (for India) https://www.factchecker.in/

FullFact (regarding European politicians and media) https://fullfact.org/europe/

AfricaCheck (sorting fact from fiction)   https://africacheck.org/

Your Good Stewardship

Why bother with all this research? Good stewardship. God has created a world full of the wonderful creatures, the people He loves, the most beautiful scenery, an exciting universe, and a very sophisticated ecology. We, humans,  do not always do our best to sustain it; sometimes out of ignorance….many times, because of a greedy use of resources and thoughtless dumping. And in war-torn areas, environmental issues are a low priority. We aren’t necessarily doing this damage ourselves, but we are putting people in positions that make a difference; good or bad.

This is why your educated vote and involvement is important in sustaining and restoring the world that God made for you and your children. Instead of letting the politicians and media manipulate you with their fear tactics, research whatever issues concerns you. You are capable to take the road less traveled instead of being part of the frightened herd.

If you are trying to guess what political party or candidate I support, let me be very clear that I try to listen to God and support those who act as though they are following the teaching of Jesus. Verbiage meant to solicit the religious vote does not qualify. Do their actions show that they love God and love their neighbor as themselves? If they are attempting to frighten us into a particular vote or support, this is contradictory to scripture which repeatedly tells us to “fear not”. As my friend, Pastor Nathan writes in the following excerpt, ‘shine a light on it’, whether it be fear created by politicians or the media or something more personal.

Dealing With Fear

One of the modern classics of horror is Stephen King’s “It.” Anyone who has seen it and analyzed it can tell you that, as much of King’s work is, the movie serves as an extended allegory for what fear can do to people, groups, and even whole towns. What ultimately can defeat IT (fear), is laughter, even love….Much like the movie IT, fear itself becomes the monster inside of us, paralyzing us, hurting us, eating away at us, until it nearly kills us.

God tells us over and over again in the scriptures (365 times or there about) “do not fear.” And we hear later that “perfect love casts out fear.” Yet, IT happens to all of us from time to time. Small fears, or big fears creep into our psyche and play against our minds, hearts, and wills. Much like the classic horror films I used to watch, the unseen monster only hinted at in our imagination is the enemy, but who or what is the vanquishing hero? Classic Sunday School answers work here, I think. Jesus, God, love, laughter, yes all of these are good at overcoming fear.

But I think something else is a great place to start. Light. Shining light on the enemy within is a great starting point. Naming it, illuminating it, and facing it head on helps us to get a handle on it. Most of what we are afraid of will never happen, and if it does happen, most of the time it’s not as bad as we imagine it, and even if it is, we often find that we have more strength to get through it than we thought we would.

It’s amazing then, isn’t it, that love and light are but two ways Jesus gets described in the Gospels? I don’t think it’s any accident. I don’t know what you’re facing this week, or month, or year. Perhaps you have big fears, maybe only small ones.… But trust in God, lean on Jesus, shine some light, be filled with God’s love, and let God lead you through.   –Pastor Nathan

Relevant Scripture:

Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (Luke 12:1)

  I went past the field of a sluggard,
past the vineyard of someone who has no sense;
thorns had come up everywhere,
the ground was covered with weeds,
and the stone wall was in ruins.
 I applied my heart to what I observed
and learned a lesson from what I saw:
 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest—
and poverty will come on you like a thief
and scarcity like an armed man. (Proverbs 24:30-34)

Again, I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed—
and they have no comforter;
power was on the side of their oppressors—
and they have no comforter. (Ecclesiastes 4:1)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Phil 4:6-8)

Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. (John 3:20)

For “Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech.
They must turn from evil and do good;
they must seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”   Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?  But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” (1 Peter 3:10-13)

References:

Theo Tsaousides, Ph.D. is a neuropsychologist, assistant professor, and author of the book Brainblocks: Overcoming the Seven Hidden Barriers to Success. Article in Psych Today   https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/smashing-the-brainblocks/201511/7-things-you-need-know-about-fear

Paige Gilmar, B.A. English Literature & Journalism, McGill University (2019)