The Idol of Immorality, Impurity, and Greed

Scripture: Ephesians 5:3, 5
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed…For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

Reflection: The Idol of Immorality, Impurity, and Greed
By John Tillman

Paul, in Ephesians 5:3-6, describes three qualities that the church must not allow a “hint” of—immorality, impurity, and greed. (We have a tendency to ignore that greed is in there…)

Why is it, according to Paul, that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the kingdom? “Such a person is an idolater,” Paul says. Modern sophisticates that we are, we have trouble admitting to idolatry. We think of idolaters as foolish primitives staring into the light of a sacrificial fire, not children of the technological age staring into the lights of our devices.

We are correct when we assess idolatry’s primitive nature. Where we are wrong is in thinking that our modernity exempts us from its allure.

This past week many articles were written about the death of Hugh Hefner. There is much for our culture to idolize about him. His story of rising from impoverished roots to become the multi-millionaire-magnate of a publishing empire would be irresistible in our culture even without the added sex appeal.

Hefner was the high-priest of a uniquely American religion of erotica, venerating sex as the chief marker of identity, as the chief goal of individual self expression, and as the ultimate pathway to self-actualization and self-worth. There is nothing holier (worth protecting) in secular culture than sexuality and sexual expression. When it comes to sex, we have all become Cameron Frye.

“She will have given him, what he has built up in his mind as the end-all-be-all of existence.” — Ferris Bueller.

But Paul reveals to us that what is truly at the root of sexual immorality, is exactly the same thing that is at the root of greed—selfishness.

We worship this idol, by making an altar of our own bodies and sacrificing the bodies of others upon it. Yet just as with every other form of idolatry, the benefits we seek at the feet of an idol can only be found in the true God. Carved stone rain gods can’t bring rain, and our photoshopped gods of sexual expression leave us just as dry—alone in a loveless drought.

In the end we must recognize that the reason Paul connected sexual immorality and greed is that the two forms of idolatry are identical. They each are concerned with “getting mine” without regard to what the costs are to other humans.

Reclaiming sexuality as an honoring celebration of God’s image in our physical bodies and as a unique emotional and spiritual union for couples is a difficult, and narrow path. When we walk this path we will be marked as strangers and aliens in a foreign land.

A Reading
…not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This man, I tell you went home again justified… — Luke 18:13-14

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 8 (Listen – 10:23)
Ephesians 5 (Listen – 3:42)

Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer From Argentina :: Worldwide Prayer

Scripture: Ephesians 3:14-17
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

This re-imagining and expansion of the Lord’s Prayer as a step-by-step confession of our weakness is a model for us to follow as we pray, not just the Lord’s Prayer, but the Psalms, Christ’s other prayers in Scripture, or prayers that we read from believers throughout history. May our insufficiencies always bring us to the feet of the sufficient Savior and may our hearts continue to be shaped by the indwelling and empowering Holy Spirit. — John

Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer From Argentina :: Worldwide Prayer

Our Father in heaven

We want to pray, “Hallowed be your name.”
For we acknowledge your holiness.

We want to pray, “Your Kingdom come:
But we behave as if this was our kingdom!

We want to pray, “Your will be done”
But we so easily put our will before yours!

We want to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread”
But we desire the bread for tomorrow as well!

We want to pray “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”
But we do not even forgive unintentional debts!

Lord, have mercy on us.
Help us to follow your example of forgiveness.

And because “Yours is the Kingdom”
Give us concern for all human beings…

Because “Yours is the power”
Help us to proclaim your Word with power.

Because “Yours is the glory”
May our lives reflect that divine glory

In the name of Jesus, name above all names, we pray.

Amen.

*Prayer from Hallowed be Your Name: A collection of prayers from around the world, Dr. Tony Cupit, Editor.

The Request for Presence
Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; let these who love your salvation say forever, “Great is the Lord!” — Psalm 70:4

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 6 (Listen – 5:10)
Ephesians 3 (Listen – 2:41)

Putting To Death Racial Hostility

Scripture: Ephesians 2:15-16
His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

Reflection: Putting To Death Racial Hostility
By John Tillman

In the ancient world, every race and people claimed supremacy. Supremacy of race or of country is an ideology that is based on one of the oldest, perhaps first, sins: pride.

The secular vision of evolution does not posit equality as a trait or as a policy. In fact evolutionary biology is the source of much of the past century’s eugenics-based racist thought.

Our culture’s concept of human equality is based not in science, but in Christ. The wellspring of the concept of racial equality is the cross of Christ as described in the above verse from Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church. The first voice in history crying out for racial equality and the end of slavery was a Christian one.

This is why it is such an enduring tragedy that throughout history the church has struggled to keep various strains of racism from infecting and crippling the church and its work. Every era of the church is touched—and sometimes scarred—with this struggle.

While it is true that without Christian abolitionists, the abomination of racial slavery would still be common, it is equally true that many Christians also stood on the other side. Many lent support to slavery as a legal institution—allowing economic needs and cultural norms to force an ungodly twisting of their theology. (Economic needs and cultural norms fuel today’s illegal slavery crisis—including sexual slavery and secular society still has no answer to the problem.)

Idolatry takes many forms and modern Christians are just as susceptible to them as our first century counterparts were. We must not let nationalistic pride become the idol that keeps us from pursuing the death of racial hostility through the cross of Christ. Only at the cross can we drop our pride, let our hostility die, and take up the new life of unity that Christ died to give us.

Christians must take the lead in racial issues because we have the only viable ideology that, if we let it, will counter the ideology of hate. We cannot grow weary. We cannot tire of addressing the issue. We have the only answer.

Because so many Christians haven’t yet learned, these words of Paul must continually be proclaimed—that in Christ the barriers of race, language, culture, and social class are all transcended. For man to put up these superficial fences truly reflects the superficiality of his humanity. — Dr. Nelson Hayashida

The Request for Presence
Be seated on your lofty throne, O Most High; O Lord, judge the nations. — Psalm 7:8

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 4-5 (Listen – 7:21)
Ephesians 2 (Listen – 3:04)

Love, Suffering, and the Struggle for Racial Equality

Scripture: Galatians 3:28
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Reflection: Love, Suffering, and the Struggle for Racial Equality
By John Tillman

Racism was not “solved” in the 60s during the civil rights era. As we read from Dr. Hayashida’s remarks from forty years ago, we see clearly the struggle was still ongoing in 1978, and we must acknowledge that it is still ongoing today.

I believe ethnic minority Christians need encouragement. For although they are Christians, the biting reality remains that they are still ethnic minorities, people who continue to contest for equality in all phases of American society….

Laws are changing. But laws and societal restructuring represent mere surface modifications. Many living in American society are experiencing no great transformation of racial attitudes. It’s easier to melt steel than it is to soften the rigid sinews of a warped heart. Because of slow-changing racial attitudes, then, I feel ethnic minority Christians must be encouraged to understand their spiritual identity in Christ Jesus.

Dr. Hayashida goes on to encourage minority Christians to study 1 Corinthians 13 and to embody the “suffering” verbs in the King James translation: suffereth, beareth, believeth, hopeth, and endureth.

It is this bountiful love of God that powers an individual to endure his hurts.

I’m not suggesting that Christians stand idly by while evil and injustice run rampant. But a Christian is asked to endure while actively working for justice, which I recognize is often slow in coming. We must suffer for Christ’s sake—a task for the strong, not the weak.

Racism must never be thought of by Christians as a problem solved by some previous era or some significant historical event. History has taught us that racism springs to life anew in each generation. In the current racial struggles that our world is facing, denial equals complicity.

When we work for racial equality we are not doing political work—we are doing God’s work. We must struggle and suffer together with God as we engage in his work of bringing freedom and equality to every people. As we do, God suffers and works with us.

The Bible reveals a God who shares in the travails of his people…I know of no other religion that makes such ado about a transcendent God who grieves for and with his people (the saints) and all people (non-believers, as Jesus weeping for the stiff-necked city of Jerusalem).

As God suffers for mankind, learn to share his sensitivities. God truly identifies in your sorrows. You are not alone. God is with you. May we be with him.

A Reading
…Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me. Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it. — Matthew 10:38-39

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 23 (Listen – 5:38)
Galatians 3 (Listen – 4:39)

The Responsibility of Racial Reconciliation

Scripture: Galatians 2:11
When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.

How can a careful study of Scripture help the Anglo-American find a base of support from which he can launch out to become a courageous instrument of God’s peace? Can a more defined awareness of the worth and dignity of a human being contribute to a healthier racial attitude? What can you do, as a white American Christian, to demonstrate the love and work of God in your life? — Dr. Nelson Hayashida

Reflection: The Responsibility of Racial Reconciliation
By John Tillman

In Stormy Road for This Pilgrim, written in 1978, Dr. Nelson Hayashida includes a chapter titled, “A Challenge to Anglo-American Christians.” His first recommendation for White Christians struggling to understand and deal with the racial tensions of the time was to study the confrontation of the early Apostles with racial groups.

One of the most radical elements of Christianity has always been its assertion of racial equality. But that is not to say that the church has not struggled to assert this truth in our segmented and divided world. The New Testament is full of battles and arguments along racial and cultural lines—each step of the way moving the young faith closer to full acceptance of all races as being united in God’s kingdom.

It is notable that Greek Christians made little headway in being accepted on their own. They relied on their Jewish brothers and sisters in the faith to speak up for them. It was Paul, the “Hebrew of Hebrews” who was the most ardent spokesperson for the Gentile believers who were being marginalized and forced to, in essence, convert twice—once to traditional Judaism, and then, following that, to the Christian “sect” of Judaism.

In today’s racial climate, many seem to put the burden of overcoming societal barriers on the immigrant, the minority. But Dr. Hayashida was prophetically clear in 1978 that the unresolved racial strife of his time would not be solved by actions undertaken by the minorities themselves, Black, Asian, or otherwise.

Anglo-American Christians must be out in the forefront in the drama of this battle. They are the ones entrusted with the major responsibility for enhancing the evolution of a societal atmosphere in which equality, justice, and respect abound for all Americans.

It is the responsibility of the more powerful party to ensure the equitability of any reconciliation. And it is up to White Christians today to not grow complacent or be in denial about the very real struggles that disproportionately affect our racial minority brethren.

Reconciliation requires both parties in any conflict to participate and either party can make the first move. However, if one party refuses to acknowledge the conflict and maintains their innocence, there can be no forward movement.

The Call to Prayer
Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. — Psalm 31:23

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 22 (Listen – 5:22)
Galatians 2 (Listen – 3:44)

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