Tim Tinsley, during his sermon on Sunday at Chattanooga’s First Presbyterian Church, hit a home run when he talked to us about idols. We’ve all got some, he said, and pretty specifically revealed that God doesn’t much appreciate idolatry as we enter Holy Week.
To beautifully illustrate his point, the pastor said that he has made a sport of sorts out of asking visiting missionaries, who come here from foreign lands, what they find different about our United States. As he spoke, there happened to be a very attractive woman sitting in the pew nearby and I watched her face dance as Tim revealed the Top Three phenomena that visitors to our country find startling. She was delighted with Rev. Tinsley’s findings and only after the service did I learn that she and her family had come here not long ago from Germany with Volkswagen. She confirmed what he said!
You know what missionaries say is the No. 1 idol in America? Our stomachs. Seriously, it seems there is a restaurant or fast-food franchise or grocery store on every corner. Foreigners cannot get over our country’s obsession with food. You know that it is true; we eat too much. Obesity has been epidemic in the United States and with juvenile diabetes rates soaring, we can hardly wait to try a triple patty bacon burger with three different kinds of cheeses. Every gasoline station has a Food Market.
Number Two on the list is our unquenchable lust to be entertained. Just look at March Madness, the college-basketball bonanza that requires four or five networks to televise every game – both men’s and women’s. We idolize sports and rock concerts. We pay big bucks to go to the latest movies like the one just out about North Korea attacking The White House (Morgan Freeman gets us out alive, don’t worry).
While we have stopped reading books, taking hikes, and spending time with each other because we’ve got to watch a key exhibition game before Major League baseball starts in earnest next Monday. And idols? There are more cars in the Chattanooga area right now bearing the distinctive “A” of the University of Alabama than the orange “T” of Tennessee. We are fickle, fierce and protective of our teams, and will actually fist-fight over our zany loyalties.
But the best of all is when they talk about our chairs. “They walk in our houses and look at our chairs … every chair is facing the television!” he said to the giggling congregation. “Some houses have a television in almost every room. If we wanted to visit with one another, to talk with our families, the chairs would be facing the other chairs but, no, each one is facing a talking box. It dominates our homes and people from other countries think that’s funny.”
Of course, he went on to say that God wants us to idolize Him, to give praise and adoration for the blessings He has bestowed on us. “But, sadly, we have so many different idols we don’t often enough leave room for Him. Someone gets a terrible illness or if there is a tragedy … none of the idols can help,” smiled Reverend Tinsley and, oh, he was so good.
You don’t believe it? Several years ago I had a chance to eat lunch with my two children at a restaurant. We greeted one another warmly, ordered off the menu then, as we were visiting, it suddenly seemed I was dominating the conversation, which I am wont to do. I studied each of my grown children and they both had their faces turned downward, their fingers and thumbs furiously tapping out text messages on the “idols.”
That is when I promised I would never, ever text unless it is an emergency. People get mad because I don’t answer my phone, instead checking messages whenever I have time to do so. I refuse to be a slave to a cell phone, forget the fact I have one functional arm and the addendum that when I talk on the phone as I drive, nothing holds the steering wheel. Other drivers never fail to notice.
Idols are everywhere. For some it is money or a boat or far too big a garden. Far worse, it might be alcohol, drugs, porn, ambition, pride, or other “deadly sins.” Face it, we have all got idols, “false gods” in our lives exactly like the golden calf the Israelites had built that caused Moses to break the Tablets. Are you kidding me?
According to Tim Tinsley – who has been keeping score – they are food, entertainment and chairs. And there is not a thinking person in the country who today isn’t a slave or sorts to one idol or another. Please, Tim is the preacher – not me – but it seems to me all of us can do a little better than that.