Shield of God.

Using the pearls of His wisdom and the light of His truth to protect us in this world. Glory to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.

the web of astarte and mammon

This morning was something of an eye opener for me.  I realized something that probably never “sunk in” before.

I always heard, since I was a little girl, that man is with sin, corrupt and by his very nature sinful.  Fine.  I assumed that this was describing what man would be like if he was left “unbridled”.  So I understood that to mean that if there were no laws, no guidelines, no parameters, no principles and values – and of course no families, churches and schools  to enforce them – that man would steal, cheat, kill and “be sinful”.

Later on, as I grew older, I saw first hand the disastrous works of hate, envy, jealousy and greed.  So my understanding grew of what “sinful” meant and my big challenge was to be able to handle living among those sentiments.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I wasn’t a “holier than thou’ person.  It’s just that I lived in a very close-knit community where those sentiments were running rampant, with all the hypocrisy that goes with it.  I never recognized these sins in people, I lived alongside them.  I just felt the wounds, without understanding that there is envy or greed.

It wasn’t in my nature to be hateful, not just because I knew it was a sin. I really didn’t “know” it.  I was told these things, like most kids were then, but the message never really reached me. Why?  Because we never really knew how to distinguish hatred, envy, jealousy and greed – because we were living in it. Only the extreme cases were recognizable to us, not the subtle every day workings of these things in our community.

The American Dream, New Jersey 1991

The American Dream, New Jersey 1991 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My community was made up of hard-working immigrant families in the US, trying to assimilate, trying to achieve the American Dream, trying to provide for, and yet trying to amass all that they had been deprived of in their war-torn, impoverished country. They were religious, hard-working and family oriented.  There were no issues of stealing, killing or coveting another man’s wife back then in this group. Yet we all fell prey to other sins.

Life in this community, now that I look back, was experiencing living  on a Monopoly board for the first time. You can buy property! You can buy a house, houses, buildings! You can do all these things! Riches and comfort that were only for the elite in the old country were now within our reach. From a life of hopeless poverty and war, now they had a chance to secure their family, and with comforts and things unimaginable.  This was the message. And this message permeated the very  core of the community, church, schools, homes.  Which home would be the finest? Who would reach the finer neighborhoods first? Who would have the most successful business? Which church would be the most elaborate?  Designer clothes, expensive cars, small luxuries – that was the trap for thousands of families that came to the US from war-torn places.  You quickly get over the “basic needs” requirement and forget how hard it was where you came from when you are dazzled by the vast, elaborate and mind-boggling temple of consumerism.

You begin to live your life worshiping in that temple. You don’t realize that you are worshiping, but the more you strive to acquire, the more time you spend honoring mammon and you starve your spiritual self.  And lo and behold, greed and envy became part of many people’s nature as they sought to acquire all that they saw, thinking that once you reach luxury level, you have attained the proverbial house on the hill- you “made it” – you “succeeded”.

You can’t obey two gods.  Mammon drives people away from God.

You can drive up to your elaborate and expensively built church in your best clothes, in your “good” car, but chances are you may be worshiping Mammon and chances are that the “church” itself may be worshiping Mammon too.

But why did I go into this song and dance about my past?

To elaborate on a point. We don’t see ‘sins’ if we live among and within them.  And I realized that this morning.

I was watching television. I hardly watch television.  It was the role that TV played in dumbing down the population and the shallow values that turned me off quite a while ago.  I’m not claiming to be the virtuous one. I am a well seasoned traveler in this life. I have done many things I am not proud of.  However, I have come to an understanding that I must live in this world, and this world is constructed with twisted values. It’s very fibers are twisted.  ( My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. John 18:36)  We have reached the point where what is essentially good is portrayed as bad, and what is bad and evil is portrayed and presented as good.  So I work on “being in this world but not of it”.

Which brings me to the TV.   Here I am, after so long, sitting in front of the TV.    I put on a channel that focuses on travel.  What did I see? I saw a program that shows people who pack up their belongings from the “biggie”  countries (US, UK, Canada, Australia) and go to impoverished third world nations or to remote countries quite far away to start up a new life, building a new venture.  And the show focuses on their choice of homes in their new country – and we watch as they tour the different homes that are available – along with their real estate agent, and we see different homes all within their budget,of course.

And I saw a couple that dropped their life in one of the “big nations” to take up life in a Himalayan country, as they were establishing some sort of school/foundation/orphanage there, in conjunction with an already functioning school there.  I thought that this looked interesting, so I sat down with my tea interested to see their work there.  But that was hardly mentioned.  The show was focusing on the home the couple would choose to live in.  It was like a tiny one episode reality type of show.

So we see them touring homes and these homes were beyond luxurious compared to the horrid living conditions of the area.  Nestled in the squalor , perfectly hidden behind the street walls were beautiful homes in lush gardens with all of the amenities of the west.  And this seemed to be the  theme of the show, not “said” but “understood” : that there were little palaces to be had, in these terribly desperate and poor cities, hidden behind street walls, and quite inexpensive for westerners.  So, the desired subliminal message is : “With an investment much less than you could imagine, you can have a gorgeous home like this, in these countries.  How exotic.” An ode to mammon really, showing how the palace on earth is accessible, and that is what matters.  If you can live like royalty, blind to reality, how can you look up to the Kingdom of Heaven? You can’t see it from there!

I was watching them trying to make up their minds which house to settle for…and their issues were ‘spaciousness”, the guest bathroom is quite small, the pool is small, etc…  And then it hit me. If I were watching this a few years ago, I too would have been looking at those homes in the program, oohing and aahing at their beauty from the comfort of my couch – and interested to see which they would choose because that is how polluted I was then.

I don’t have an issue with big homes! On the contrary, there is nothing nicer than having spacious room for a family to grow…but it’s one thing to meet your needs, and another thing to need the excessive. Mammon creates needs, its part of the package.

I put my tea cup down, and realized that the show glossed over the squalor. It glossed over the fact that the people outside the walls of the villa have nothing to eat.  It was all about the pool and the bathrooms the size of a living room, when the people just around the corner have no sewers, no food, hardly a roof over their head. What deserved attention: the work that the couple were doing there helping others in the orphanage or the size of their bathroom and if the pool has jets? Okay. I was disgusted. I saw that we are marveling the luxury.  This morning I saw that the success and the allure of the program was just a manifestation of  the temple of vanity and the idols they worship there are astarte and mammon. Unknowingly we watch, applaud, marvel and live in this mindset, victims of this web of deceit.

I changed the channel and there was an “entertainment” channel, full of gossip and who is who.  I would have watched it years ago – and in half an hour I would have been a well versed expert about so and so’s tremendous party, where and when so and so was seen with her children and what they wore, so and so after her baby and she lost all the extra weight…these kind of things.   Today I saw similar things, but the glitterati involved were even more shallow than ever, and some appeared almost deranged.

We know that this celebrity lifestyle  displayed through the media is actually completely dysfunctional, scripted, full of substance abuse and riddled with psychological trauma. Yet they present it on the programs as glittering, alluring, they just show what they want you to see – bits and pieces of the celebrity life style delivered out of context from the rest of those people’s troubled lives.

Beautiful, Dirty, Rich

Beautiful, Dirty, Rich (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And young people are drawn to these celebrities as a result of the shrewd marketing, listening to them, copying them, following them, interested in everything they say and do.  They model their behavior and ideals after them, these celebrities literally have entered into the lives of the young people.  I realized that this is idol worship. We haven’t escaped the sins of the Old Testament at all.

You don’t need to visit a temple with idols like they did in the past, you just need to put on the TV  or read a gossip magazine.  You don’t need to worship the idols with sacrifices at the temple like they did in the past, all you have to do is follow their lead, copy them and try to model yourself after them – that is sacrifice enough! You have successfully pleased the god behind the idol.

Bloggers should never write long-winded posts. I apologize. I’m getting to the point!

. You sacrifice the sanctity of your very creation by copying much of the sordid values and lifestyles that prevail today.  You don’t need to visit the temple of mammon to worship it. All you have to do is put your energies toward seeking to get more, to have more,and to show that you have more,and  to feel the need for these things.

Children and teenagers are especially vulnerable to these pitfalls.  They easily fall into the traps of wanting to dress like celebrities, acting like them.  And the market (mammon’s high priests)  has cashed in on this vulnerability, conditioned these children and teens to think that they “need ” all different things that are being promoted, so we have little children with cell phones and teenagers that are more active in their virtual world than in their physical world, because the computer and online market (gaming, as an example) are tremendous.  The virtual world however is filled with many dangers.

So we are sinning constantly.

The majority of the population don’t view themselves as sinners.  Yet we visit the temples of mammon and worship idols throughout our day, like it or not.  We are being served glossy versions of something that is actually corrupt in nature.  It’s one thing to buy what you need, and it is another thing to fall prey to the conditioning that you “need” something more, something better – which you really don’t.  Greed hides behind consumerism.  You think you need things, but you really don’t, it’s an illusion.  Ask me how many designer pocketbooks I accumulated.  Seriously. I had a store a few years ago that sold makeup and accessories.  I, like so many other merchants,  was keeping the proverbial oil burning in vanity’s temple.  And I kept mammon happy too, making money off of the vanity of the women.

Think of the effort, time and thought that people put behind getting their hair done, their face and nails done, their wrinkles fixed, their suntans constant, achieving a certain “look”, getting into a certain social circle, being in the right places, trying to have influence, driving the “right” car, living in the ‘right’ neighborhood, or doing anything else that in their mind builds status.

All of that time to get these things was time WASTED.  All that time, they could have found God, they could have found His Son Jesus.  The road that leads to the temple of mammon doesn’t intersect at all with the road that leads to God. We are blessed though because Jesus is patient, and waits for us to get off the wrong road and to get on the right one.  But time is now short.

If you aren’t sure if you are on the right road, take a look around you. Is your road wide and easy to travel? Is it paved, smooth and is your ride just fun and games, with no worries? Is life a joy ride?

If it is, I suggest you turn around and head back the way you came. Until you reach an intersection with a really narrow road. This narrow road is bumpy, full of challenges, and the ride isn’t easy.

That is The Road. The Way.

Stop there. Find Jesus. Knock, He will answer.  Repent. (you may have never killed, stolen or cheated anyone – but we all have committed idol worship and mammon worship because it is the very fiber of this world). Forgive others. And keep on repenting, and keep on forgiving others.

You will then find yourself on the narrow road heading for the narrow gate!

Now, the challenge is staying on it and helping others find the road.

No one said it’s easy.

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