Our neighbors have a lovely, lace-y, wispy tree. It’s a willow-y type of some kind that graces their back yard. I can see it from my yard. This past fall it was a glorious mass of red and gold. Surrounded by ruddy bark dust and ornamental rock it also shades a small, concrete Buddha who looks out at the golf course with a perpetual grin surrounded by double chins and elongated ear lobes.
It is a stylized, magazine inspired “Asian” landscape concept for the generic American yard.
It has been whispering a message to me that I cannot, for the life of me, quit thinking about.
Now my neighbors don’t offer this small piece of concrete fruit or burn incense to it. In fact, I think they’ve completely forgotten about it because the tree has died. It didn’t survive the winter.
But not making it through a long, gray, cold winter is not the comparison that springs to mind.
The image of the dead tree gracefully arching over a small concrete Buddha challenges me about the things in my life that look “spiritual” but are, in fact, poison.
You know, things like bitterness carefully disguising itself as discernment, isolation slyly pretending to be a sabbatical, or fear pretending to be caution and wisdom. Poisons like the vague sense of having a “spiritual” experience which, in fact, denies the reality of the righteous, one true God who doesn’t buy the line that everything I do from my perception of “good intention” should be blessed.
But there are other areas which I believe are toxic to Biblical faith and most include worship of anything that is not God.
Worship: To express devotion, unconditional love and adoration for. Also means to regard with a deep and rapturous love. Worship.
Worship, in our day to day life, is comprised of those things that occupy more of us, our time and our effort than that which is offered to God.
You know… Like those weird things we call “ministry” in the church today. Ushering ministry, sound ministry, bulletin ministry, clean the toilets ministry. Like using the word “ministry” makes simply being in a place to help things run smoothly holier than just being willing to help out. Because no body does that anymore. Just helps out. We have to “feel” better about doing it. And, most of the time, we need a title or recognition.
We are being spiritually poisoned by those things that get in the way: Things like the issue of when being a parent is more important than spending time with God. When keeping our house clean to perfection (not something I struggle with), maintaining a rigorous schedule of meetings, committees and occupational obligations happen at the expense of any time devoted to reading and understanding the Bible.
We can even make an emotional shrine to the idealized notion of what a perfect romantic relationship ought to look like with our spouse! We will work so hard to create, preserve and perpetuate the fantasy that we lose sight of the gift in the reality in front of us. We forget or never learn that God didn’t give us a spouse to meet our every need. He gave Himself for that. Our spouse is just another flawed human doing what he can, what she can, to build up something that lasts and endures.
What deserves your unconditional, deep and rapturous love? What doesn’t?
WHO does? WHO doesn’t?
What or who we worship, like the rudder on a ship, will dictate the direction of our effort, our energy and our purpose.
What are some other poisons?
Are there extra-biblical thoughts and beliefs that have crept in and taken deep root in your faith? Is the Messiah enough? Or have you added some more cosmic “spice” to your life?
Are you being fed a spiritual diet of emotional and moral relativism where what you determine as Truth is based entirely upon the emotional response you experience when any concept is presented? Concepts and situations that feel good are “God” and those that don’t are a “spiritual attack”? How about an adoration of creation that denies or belittles the importance of a Creator?
God is not a respecter of persons. He doesn’t have favorites. I believe He looks at us, in our fallen state, our weak natures, our flawed humanity and is overwhelmed by the hope and purpose He has for each of us. Us. We are little more than animated piles of dust and opinion. But He chose to breathe life, His Life, into each of us. He gave us intelligence, emotion, free-will. All three in proportion to what is needed to both seek and find Him. A mind to see, a heart to need, free-will to choose or not to choose to identify, respond to and walk beside an infinite Being with a man-size heart.
We are able to grow and flourish beyond where we have been planted only by serving Him first and wholeheartedly.
Only by living according to His Truth, not our perception or pre-conceived ideals of “truth”, will we ever be more than dead trees covering an image of “spirituality” that is steadily leeching toxins into the very roots of who we are.