At whose altar do you worship? Many in the Asian world still bow at tangible shrines, but for us in the West this may sound like a very strange question because few actually worship at any physical altar anymore. Yet whether or not we bow before a particular deity, we all worship something—be it personal accomplishment, academic or professional success, wealth, fame, connections, or simply comfort or pleasure. We can’t help it; as human beings we prioritize life goals, typically ascribing far too much value to one of them and sacrificing everything else in its pursuit. Not only do we mentally dedicate the bulk of our resources to it; in practice we end up completely immersing ourselves in terms of time, money, and effort spent—and it becomes our idol.
“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me.” (John 15:4 CEB)
Christians are not immune to this; to the contrary, I think we sometimes don’t even realize we are doing it because it may be something inherently harmless, or even good, taken to an extreme. Ask yourself—if push comes to shove, if you are placed in a situation where one stays and one has to go: which will you choose, cling to, and refuse to let go? That is what you worship.
So, if you had to choose between keeping your spouse or remaining faithful to God, would you cling to your spouse? If it was your house or other wealth or job, and God, would you make up an excuse to choose the former? Maybe this seems obvious, so let’s look at it another way—what are you immersed in; what do you spend all of your free time doing? Even if you’re drop dead tired after you’re done with responsibilities, where do you go to “unwind;” what are you drawn to?
If I’m truthful, I’ll admit that for me it’s often online entertainment. Not anything most would call “bad;” just Netflix, typically. After I come home from my full time job, and have fed my family and cleaned up and finally gotten to sit down, I’ll open up the app on my phone and typically find some sweet, absolutely stupid romance, probably targeted to twenty-somethings. Yet several hours later, once I finally decide it’s time to get to bed, I realize I’ve spent so much time immersed—not in Jesus, the Person I claim I worship, but—in whatever that “innocent” program was teaching me.
So, what have I recently learned? Well, one program (Second 20’s) taught me that the husband who cheated on his wife for years got what he deserved when she went back to college, built her life, and found someone else who valued her—even though her husband had second thoughts after she became more interesting and would have been open to reconciling. Another program (Westworld) taught me that it’s a good thing that created beings realize they’re created and rebel against their creators. These are just two recent examples; there have been very many more lessons my viewing choices have tried to teach me.
And I realized something—I make excuses to disobey my God, my Master, my Lord. I say I “have to relax;” I say I’ve worked hard; I say reading the Bible, or praying, or participating in an online Bible study doesn’t relax me. But the truth is that my heart is in a wrong place, and I’m deceiving myself.
If you read the Bible, you eventually cannot help but conclude that God’s number one desire for us is that we love and adore and are immersed in Him and what He says above everything else—that He becomes our all, our life, our one true love—that we genuinely worship Him, that we remain in Him! That’s why the road that leads to eternal life is narrow and few find it, as Jesus said—because it’s something our human nature tends not to gravitate towards!
Remember the warning,
“Don’t love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in them. Everything that is in the world—the craving for whatever the body feels, the craving for whatever the eyes see and the arrogant pride in one’s possessions—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world and its cravings are passing away, but the person who does the will of God remains forever.” (1 John 2:15-17 CEB)
The mistakes and sins of the Old Testament Israelites were recorded for our benefit, so we don’t do the same things. Remember how they worshipped God in the temple at Jerusalem, but often also the various pagan deities elsewhere on the hilltops and shrines? Is that what we’re doing, as Christians? Do we show up in church on Sunday morning (or go online to our church’s site, now during the coronavirus scare), then watch entertainment later in the day that teaches us lies about life and reality and morality; that is the equivalent of worshipping at a pagan deity’s altar; that immerses us in the world’s life view; that draws us away from Jesus?
We are to remain in Jesus. Jesus warmed us that it would be hard. He said many won’t find the right way. Why do we lie to ourselves that everything is okay and we are “in Christ” if we’re not really staying in Christ via what we’re immersed in on a day-to-day basis? I’m not talking about losing our salvation, but about whether we have it at all. I’m not saying we don’t; I’m just really concerned about how dangerous it is to accept idolatry into our life—about how dangerous it becomes when we start worshipping at two altars—and I even question whether or not it can be done.
Remember that Jesus said,
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matthew 6:24 CEB) I don’t think you can love God with your whole being—with everything you are—and something else equally. You’ll prefer one or the other.
So, are you trying to worship at two altars? Don’t. Commit to one or the other—you probably have already, anyway. Just make certain it’s the right choice in light of eternity!
Please be my all, my most precious of all human treasures for which I am willing to sell everything else to acquire! Amen.