Did you bring your God?

“And when the troops came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord see from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies”  (1 Samuel 4:3).

John Calvin wrote that “man’s nature is a perpetual factory of idols.”  That may seem a little harsh, but I think we prove it just about every day.  Certainly, we’re not out carving little wooden idols that we place on our mantel at home for worship, but the time and energy we’ve devoted to our smartphones alone ought to make us stop and wonder if they haven’t become our idols today.

The worst part is, we tend to turn the good things that God has given us into objects of worship, where we value the gift more than the giver.  If God grants us health, become obsessed with staying fit and looking young.  If God grants us wealth, how easy is it for that wealth to become a trap, where all we can think about is earning more money!  If God promises His presence will always be with us, we tend to idolize our own security, and we treat God as a cosmic genie who is there to do our bidding.

Consider, for example, the passage above.  The people of Israel had just been soundly defeated by the Philistines in battle at Ebenezer.  Losing over 4,000 men, the troops returned to the camp and the elders asked, “Why has the Lord defeated us today?”

Now any healthy amount of self-examination probably could have led to the right answer here.  The book of Judges offers plenty of help.  The people all did what was right in their own eyes (Judg 21:25).  They repeatedly turned their backs on God and worshiped the false gods of the surrounding nations. They ignored their heritage as the chosen people of God, a holy nation called out of slavery in Egypt and set apart for God’s glory. Any one of these might have been the reason the Lord handed them over to the Philistines in battle that day.

Instead of confessing the truth of their sinfulness, the Israelites in effect blamed God.  They reasoned that the reason they lost was because God must not have been with them in battle.  On the surface, that makes sense; when God fought on Israel’s behalf, their victories were overwhelming.  However, their solution demonstrated the heart of their problem.

Realizing they had lost the battle because God had not fought for them, did the people repent of their sins and seek the intercession of the Lord?  No.  Instead of turning to the Lord, the elders decided to find the Ark of the Covenant, the golden chest that represented the meeting place between God and man, and let that lead them into battle.  “Bring us the ark!” they cried. “Then those Philistines will get what’s coming to them.”

The ark had become for the Israelites and idol, or at least a good luck charm. Without giving any thought to their standing before God, the Israelites simply thought if they had the ark, that would be enough.

Sadly, they were wrong.  The Israelites were defeated, again, in battle.  The ark was taken by the Philistines, and Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phones were killed.  The glory of the Lord departed from Israel, until a time when the people would learn to once again reverence the name of the Lord.

What has become an idol for you?  What occupies your thoughts, your energy, your time?  Where do you spend most of your money? What one thing can you not live without? The answer to these questions reveals that which our hearts have created as idols.

Often, the biggest idol we have to deal with is our own misconception of God.  We take God’s promise of forgiveness as a license for indulgence – “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission…”  We hoard God’s blessings as though they were ours to cling to, rather than pass them along to those for whom they were intended.  Without listening to God’s voice, without obeying the teaching of Christ, we run headlong into temptation and sin, and then we wonder why God lets us fall on our faces in defeat in sin.

Israel learned the hard and slow way to cast down their idols.  And each of us must learn that too.  So fix your eyes on Christ, listen to his voice, and leave behind the idols of your heart that you might run after him.

SDG

Why I Love Theatre

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory,
glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
(John 1:14)

les mis cct

Opening night for the Cherokee Community Theater’s production of Les Miserables is just three weeks away, and over the next few weeks, I thought I would offer my thoughts on the characters and themes of this great story.  However, before getting into all of that, I thought I might step back and share just why I am involved in Community Theater in the first place.

Let me begin by saying how grateful I am to have a congregation and Session who support me in this endeavor.  Over the past 8 years I have been in Cherokee, I have performed in 8 shows and helped with tech on a handful of others, and have never heard a complaint from my congregation.  To be so involved requires a great balancing act between family, work, and the stage, but it has always been worth it to be part of such a great performance.

One of the things I love about theater is the friendship and connections made in the community theater setting.  Being a part of a show gets me outside of the church circle and into the community.  Coming together as a community to put on a show, to tell a story, to share a message, gives us a common purpose and goal.  I have made so many friends in the theater here, and have worked with some amazingly talented people.  It is such an honor to be able to share the stage with them.

I also love the theater, especially the musical, because it has always been a part of my life.  My father was a classical violinist, directed the church choir, and was often involved in musical theater.  One of my first memories was sitting in my dad’s conductor’s chair when he was directing “Two By Two.”  Throughout high school and college, with every musical performance, my dad would be there, playing in the pit.  I’ve performed in almost 20 musicals, and my father was a part of nearly all of them.  Even today, community theater is a family affair.  In this summer production of Les Miserables, I will be playing Jean Valjean, three of my children are in the chorus, and my wife is running the lights and sound.

That being said, there are those who argue that Christians should not participate or even attend the theater.  Sadly, very often, God is not honored on the stage.  For the actor, theater, by its nature, can easily feed sinful pride and vain-glory. Standing in the lights hearing the applause can quickly go to your head.

And yet, I believe theater can bring glory to God through a very powerful medium of storytelling. The stage allows an actor to step outside of himself and tell the story of sorrow and joy , brokenness and redemption… Every human experience, emotion, longing. Theatre can open you to the human experience in a way that no other art form can. It challenges the actors and the audience to confront issues and opens a forum for discussion.  Theatre helps an audience ask “what if?” and leads them to think about how to live before the face of God.

Plays are stories incarnate.  They put flesh on our ideas, our values, our struggles.  They can teach us to rejoice, that can lead us to repent.  And, by God’s grace, they can help us become better human beings.  We use story to communicate a higher truth, and in that truth, God may be glorified. Not every show, of course, but some, some of the best, even those that never mention God, cannot help but point us to God.

The story of the Gospel is a divine drama, God incarnate, the Word made flesh, to save a broken, fallen people through sacrifice and love. I take part in theater to communicate good stories, because in these stories I can help communicate truth.

While I may joke about being a diva, I really don’t need the spotlight, I don’t long for the applause, nor do I need the affirmation of men. I love being part of a cast and crew who, by using their talents and abilities given by God, can tell great stories and in doing so, share a glimpse of His great story.

SDG