Make us gods who will go before us

“When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

Exodus 32:1

At the moment, I’m saving up to pay for a summer holiday in the USA, and also a honeymoon after I get married. I’m not very good at saving – that seems to be something that is common to lots of young people in the UK today. Just after the iPod came out, a friend of mine began saving up to buy one. He was not very good at saving either, and so when another company bought out an MP3 player for less money than the iPod, he thought it would be a good idea just to buy that one. It would mean he would not have to wait so long to get one! Unfortunately, the cheap MP3 player turned out to be rather useless. It really wasn’t what he wanted, so he ended up selling it for less than he bought it for, and saving for an iPod anyway. His foray into the world of cheap electronics actually meant that he had to wait even longer!

In Exodus 24, God calls Moses up Mount Sinai to receive the commandments. Moses instructs the Israelites to wait for him. He ends up spending forty days and forty nights up the mountains, and the Israelites get bored waiting for him. Eventually, fed up with being stuck in the middle of the desert, they ask Aaron to make them some new gods to lead them out. He made them a golden calf, built an altar to it, and declared a feast day in honour of their new god. God sees all of this, however, and sends Moses back down the mountain. Moses is extremely angry – but not as angry as God, because his beloved people have turned against him.

There is a tendency today to strive for short term reward and pleasure. People look at the promises of Christianity and think that they would be better off living for the now, and building their own “golden calves” in the form of wealth, possessions and experiences, which become the gods that they worship. No-one becomes a Christian for short term gain, but in the long term, the benefits of living for Christ far outweigh those of not doing so. Following Jesus, we have a God who cares for us, who loves us, and knows what is best for us. He supports us and guides us in the here and now. Jesus gave his life for us so that we could be reunited with God the Father. He died and rose again so that we could have eternal life in God’s heavenly kingdom. Is it really worth turning our back on all of this, simply for short term pleasure now?

Family Ties

“Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”

Exodus 20:12

I don’t know why it should be, but there’s one holiday that I had when I was a child that I remember better than most.  For some reason, the holiday my brother and I had with my parents in York has stuck with me.  I remember taking the train to York.  I remember the hotel, and especially the restaurant (where my brother got the nickname ‘Marvin’!)  I remember the museums we visited.  And I remember visiting York Minster.  It was a really great holiday, and a wonderful family time.  I think we all grew closer together on that holiday.

That holiday in York is just one, small thing that I have to be grateful to my parents for.  They have done, and continue to do, so much for me.  They made plenty of sacrifices when we were little so that we had a wonderful, idyllic childhood.  Even today, at the age of 30, they still watch out for me and offer me support and encouragement, even though we live over a hundred miles apart.

I have many reasons, therefore, to look up to my parents, and to cherish and respect them.  In today’s verse, that is exactly what we are told that we should do – we are expected to honour our mother and father, to treat them with respect and to look after them when they need us to do so.  Jesus obviously thought that this one of the ten commandments was particularly important, since he chooses to refer to it in our current Mark Marathon passage.  Many people in Jesus’ time had chosen to give money to the temple rather than to use it to look after their parents in old age.  Jesus warned them about neglecting their parents, and actually tells them that they have “nullified the word of God” by doing so.  This makes good, sound sense, though; if we all look after those in our own family who are needy, whether it is our parents, our grandparents, or even our brothers and sisters, we will be showing them love, just as God showed us his love by sending his closest family member, his son, to be with us, and ultimately die for us.

Reflect today on how you think about your family.  Do you show your father and mother the respect they deserve?  Do you look after them?  Do you look out for your siblings?  Do you care for your grandparents?  It is God’s love that you are displaying if you do.

The Importance of Rest

“Six days you shall labour, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the ploughing season and harvest you must rest.”

Exodus 34:21

Sometimes there have been times when I have had to work for a period of over a week without a break.  For the last two years, I worked as a Resident Tutor in a boarding house at a school, which meant that I was effectively on duty twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  Sometimes there would be occasions when I would have to work through the whole weekend without any time off at all.  It was physically and mentally exhausting, and I was certainly not at my best at work, and when I finally got some time off, all I wanted to do was sleep!

In our current Mark Marathon, Jesus incurs the wrath of the Pharisees for letting his disciples pick some grain.  They seem to equate this with work, which, they believe, is forbidden on the Sabbath.  Over the centuries, however, they have got very legalistic about this, drawing up a long list of things that must not be done on the Sabbath.

Jesus tells them, however, that the Sabbath was created for man, not man created for the Sabbath.  This is groundbreaking stuff, since it suggests that keeping the Sabbath, in fact, is not a legalistic ritual, but is something that God ordained for the benefit of mankind.

Clearly God wants what is best for his people.  He wants us to have a day off once a week to relax and refrain from work.  I know from my own experience how not taking time out can affect a person!  He also, as Matthew reminds us in his article, wants us to think about God and his act of creation, and to spend some time responding to this.

When one looks behind the rituals constructed by man, one finds a deeply loving God – a God who made us, loves us, and wants us to respect both ourselves and him.  Isn’t that fantastic!

Why Will Won’t Last

Last night we saw history in the making – a new pop idol was born. Already tipped by the bookies to beat consummate idol and heart throb of girls everywhere, Robbie Williams, to the all-important Christmas number one slot, and with the support of over four and a half million of us, how can he possibly fail?

Last night was truly a momentous occasion – a truly national event. An estimated twenty million people switched on to ITV to see cheeky chappies Ant and Dec present the final Pop Idol show of the series. Eight point seven million people phoned in to vote for their chosen idol – so many that, according to BT, the sheer volume of calls threatened the national network, and they were forced to limit the number of calls that got through (I wonder whose calls they prevented from getting through!). The National Grid even called ITV to check the times of the commercial breaks amid fears of a power cut caused by huge surges in electricity demand.

It’s been fascinating over the last few months watching the Pop Idol judges and audience whittle down the thousands of contestants to the final fifty, then the final ten, then the final two, and then, of course, to help us make our decision as to who to vote for in the grand final. Like in many other homes throughout the UK, everyone in my house was glued to the television throughout the series, even holding a “Pop Idol Party” complete with a Chinese takeaway (with fortune cookies!) on the night of the final. The sheer quality of the singing of the final few contestants was absolutely brilliant, and as far as I’m concerned, Will and Gareth are both stars. It will be interesting to see which of them does the best in the years to come (Gareth has been offered a recording contract by judge and record company boss Simon Cowell). I offer my congratulations to both of them, and wish them every success in their careers.

But does winning Pop Idol really guarantee success? Some of you may recall a while ago a similar programme was aired on television called Popstars. This programme, rather than producing a single pop star, produced a band – a band that went on to be known as Hear’Say. After initial successes, the band has hardly done brilliantly, with a couple of disappointing singles, and a pretty disastrous second album release.

There are many reasons for Hear’Say’s fall from grace. We live in a society obsessed with the cult of celebrity. Every day, the tabloid press (and frequently the broadsheets too) are full of stories about pop stars, film stars, footballers, and their lives, loves, successes and failures. Britney Spears is scarcely ever off the front pages. The number of celebrity magazines and the ever increasing number of celebrity news television programmes is testimony to our insatiable appetite for the innermost secrets of these people. But the key to celebrity status is that we have to perceive these people as being different from ourselves. People just aren’t interested in reading about the lives of “ordinary” people. We’re happy for “ordinary” people to have their five minutes of fame (does anybody remember Maureen Rees, the star of Driving School? Or Jeremy Spake, one-time airline employee and star of Airport?), but after that we’re just not interested. We know about these people. We know where they came from. They’re just “ordinary.” They don’t have the mysticism of proper stars, like Robbie, Kylie, Madonna and the like. It is precisely for this reason that Hear’Say have fallen from grace. We know they’re not really celebrities – they’re normal, just like you and me! And it I precisely for this reason that Will, I’m afraid to say, will also disappear. After all, he’s just an ordinary person pretending to be a pop idol! He’s not really famous, is he?

The mysticism of the cult of celebrity is easy enough to understand – after all, we all need someone to look up to. We all need someone to respect. We all need someone to worship. But people who get too caught up in their adoration of their pop idol miss the point, and fall into a potentially dangerous trap.

We are specifically warned against the cult of celebrity. In the second commandment, God commands us not to worship idols: “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or on the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:4-6). I’m sure that most people would deny bowing down before or worshipping a pop star, but it is certainly worth thinking about. How many of us are happy to say that we idolise someone? Surely that implies that we have made this person an idol, and have therefore broken a commandment of God? Even the name of the television programme suggests that this is the case – Pop Idol. The programme set out with the specific intention of creating an idol.

Celebrities may come and go. Will may get the coveted Christmas number one this year. Hear’Say may have totally disappeared by Christmas. But there is something that we’re promised that lasts forever. Something that not only lasts forever, but will fill that hole in us that makes us feel we need to worship something. This something is far greater than any wannabe from a TV game show. This something is something far greater even than the real pop idols – the Robbie Williamses of this world.

This something is the creator of the universe. This something created us. Created the earth we live on. Gave us the food we eat. The water we drink. This something sent his only son so that we, sinners that we are, can have eternal life. This something is God. His son is Jesus Christ. This is whom we should be idolising. Jesus died for us. I don’t know about you, but he’s the only person who has ever done this for me. No matter what I do, no matter who gets Christmas number one, this someone will love me just the same.

So, when Will’s debut single, Evergreen/Anything is Possible, is released on 25th February, rush out and buy it, and give Will the number one that he so rightly deserves. But at the same time, remember the one who has done infinitely more than Will will ever do for you, and give him the love, respect and attention that he so rightly deserves.