God first

20151106_175754It’s an old marketing principle: If you want to sell it, sexualize it. So I was surprised to find headphones for sale not using sex as a hook, but religion.

The label read: “turn it up headphones.” Underneath were printed these four words:

Music is my religion.

Let’s be clear. Music is one of life’s good gifts. I’ve never been one to think that God put all the trees in the garden off limits and only allowed Adam and Eve to eat from one. Rather, it was the serpent who attempted to twist the LORD’s words in this way, asking husband and wife: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’ ” (Genesis 3:1, NIV). Music is one of the trees that God encourages us to explore. Art, drama, science, sports – there are so many pursuits in this life that fill our days with meaning and that can bring glory to God.

What crosses the line with the “music is my religion” slogan is simple. It puts something else at the center of our lives instead of God. Any pursuit – even an otherwise wholesome one – that displaces God and takes center stage in our lives is an idol.

Football – what Americans call soccer – can take on religious overtones. While doing postgraduate study in Manchester, England, I often took bus 42 downtown to the John Rylands library. As I looked out the window one day, we drove by a small sign along the side of the road. It depicted a soccer ball with a halo over the top. Underneath were these words: “Worship the game.” As God is crowded out of the lives of many and fewer people are part of a community of faith, will vocabulary that before was reserved for the divine be co-opted by lesser things?

Here’s a quick priority test. Other than food, water, clothing and shelter, which human beings need to survive, what other things are there in our lives that have become such a part of our daily routine that to lose them would cause us pain? The Christian discipline of fasting can help us put them back in perspective. Calculate the time you spend on your smart phone or playing games on the internet. Now, for the period of one week, cut one of those out of your life. Instead, take 10% of that time and spend it talking with God. When you reach for the cell phone to send yet another SMS or to check FaceBook, or you reach for the remote on your TV to watch your favorite sport, instead sit quietly for two minutes and listen for God’s voice. This exercise will help us tear down idols and put God back at the center where He belongs.

I only have one religion, and that is God. No other pursuit – no matter how wholesome – must take the place of my pursuing Him. Let’s keep God at the center. Let’s keep God first.

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