When I was about 10, my idol was Bobby Orr. He was perhaps the greatest hockey player of all time, and I wanted to be just like him. Even though I could barely skate, I tried to do everything like he did.
I worshipped Bobby Orr. Even to the point of wanting sore knees, in solidarity with my idol. Alas, as his career ended prematurely due to those knees when I was about 14, I realized that I was already taller than he was. And I was just a kid!
I was also a basketball player, due largely to my height, and the fact that I didn't need to learn to skate. I was so much taller than my peers (not to mention little Bobby Orr), I began to look for someone else to idolize. And that's when I first started watching Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Kareem was 7'2", and I liked to think of myself as almost that big, but still growing. As an extraordinarily tall man, Kareem exuded calm and cool, along with a grace and fluidity that a awkward teenager as tall as me could only dream about.
Anyway, as time passed, and I played more, I realized that my game was never going to have grace, fluidity or the devastating effectiveness of the man who became the NBA's all time leading scorer. (Also, I topped out at 6'4".)
As I entered the working world after college, my idols diversified. There were businessmen (Paul Fireman, founder of Reebok and Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric and a fellow UMass alum), and then there was Larry Bird. Though Larry was a sports megastar, similar to my childhood idols, I was already past the dream of being a player. This was different.
What I loved about Larry was the swagger. The stories of how he would talk big to someone and then back it up. Or someone would say something foolish to him, and he would shut them up on the court. For Larry, swagger was to be a 'badass' and have the talent to deliver any way he liked. Jumpshots go in, or not, but swagger is forever.
I grew to understand that people were people and were all different. Wanting to emulate them, while understandable, especially for kids, usually runs counter to what the Lord created us to do. He created some people to shoot a zillion sky-hooks and some he did not. That's not why He made me, and probably not why He made you either.
Human idols are prone to failure, leading to a letdown for their fans (see O.J. Simpson and many others). Having been stung, perhaps multiple times, we get more sophisticated (and secretive) in selecting our idols. Or we think we're more sophisticated.
Some of these idols include:
'success' (I will win, at all costs, in whatever 'game' I'm playing),
'wealth' (Am I greedy or just a good earner?),
'comfort' (I like things just as they are, and I will not change),
'drugs' (I am at my best while I am taking xyz...),
'porn' (Really, it's just harmless fun...Isn't it?),
'heroes' (Some continue to idolize other people no matter how old they are)
In biblical times, people literally worshipped idols. As gods. There was the famous golden calf that the Israelites made during their journey to the promised land, but many tribes and groups worshipped, as gods, all kinds of inanimate objects. They would make something out of wood or clay, coat the outside with gold or silver or bronze and start praying to it.
As I have been reading the book of the prophet Jeremiah, one of the things I am getting is that God - the real one, the living God, the actual creator of everything - hates it when we worship idols a lot. A real lot.
As His wayward people - Israel - repeatedly drifted away from Him and worshipped 'idols' instead - He was furious. He warned them. A number of times. A lot of times.
Through His prophet, Jeremiah, who the authorities apparently got tired of because his prophecies were always right, He urged His people to turn back to Him. He gave them every chance to repent and come back to following His law. He told them what would happen to them if they didn't return. But they didn't listen, despite a growing history of God following through on his threats through the ages.
They continued to worship their idols until God followed through, and as He did, things happened. Like, Jerusalem was completely plundered and destroyed by the Babylonians. Like, most of the people living there were killed by the invaders. Like the survivors were marched off to Babylon to be slaves for the conquerors. Like, the King of Israel was taken along too, as a slave, with no more rights than anyone else. Like pretty much every awful thing God said would happen through His prophet, Jeremiah.
There was some good news, though, for the Israelites: God doesn't give up on His people. He didn't give up then and He doesn't give up now. Not ever.
So when the Israelites cried out for help, God helped. God didn't say, 'I told you so' or berate them for their failings. They'd already suffered a great deal. He welcomed them back. Happily.
Sounds like ancient history, right? Well, the details are ancient, but the problem is as contemporary as right this minute.
Are we focused on our job to the exclusion of God or family?
Do we obsess about how much we have in the bank or at the brokerage?
Do we fret about our home being too small, too old or just not as nice as our colleague? Or that we don't have a vacation home?
Are we jealous when we are passed over for a promotion?
Do we feel a need to keep up with 'the Joneses'? (Note: These Jones's, whomever they are, must be doing alright! So many want to keep up with them.)
The whole point is, when we are guided by earthly things, we end up lost or betrayed or disappointed. Chasing money, sex, competition, adrenaline, expensive toys, drugs or heroes only leads to 'dead' ends. Sooner or later, all earthly idols fail us.
What leads to 'live' ends, then?
Trusting the God of second (and 3rd, 4th, 5th and so on) chances, the God who doesn't care about what you did before.
He is the God who made you to love you. The God who wants nothing more than to spend eternity with you and your brothers and sisters in heaven.
He is the God who sent His only son, who was and is completely without sin, to die in your place, taking the punishment for your sins.
Does that sound like He cares about you? I believe it does.
Like the Israelites, many of us today are lost too. We have sinned so long that we don't even remember why what we do is wrong. We've convinced ourselves, often with convoluted logic and repetition, that what we're doing is okay with God. We've followed our own plans in defiance to God and have no idea what to do next.
The famous parable of the Prodigal Son, about the ungrateful kid who demanded his inheritance before his father died, blew it all on the wild life and then came back, tail between his legs, and just asked to be one of his dad's slaves. Instead, the father rejoices that his boy has returned. All is forgiven! Everyone let's celebrate!
Jesus used this story to illustrate for his listeners that God is like this father. No matter what you do. Even if you have been worshipping some other god, or if you've ignored Him or if you've justified the sins you have committed, He does not hold that against you. He forgives your sins. He welcomes you back. Joyfully.
He's just glad to have you home. It's all you can give to Him. He has absolutely everything else.
Your love. It's all He wants.
God bless you.