Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Recently I was invited to preach a Sunday morning service in a small country church pastored by a friend. He's a wonderful fellow with a real heart for the downtrodden and is a faithful worker in prison ministry.
In a month of study on the Glory of God in Preaching (using Piper's book as a guide), my heart was greatly impressed by the absolute primacy of God's Glory in all that we do, preach, how we live, how we conduct ourselves among other people, in church and out. I guess that's stating the obvious....but it's one thing to believe that in one's head and quite another thing to have God impress it upon one's heart.
So, I delivered the message and as much as one can tell, it seemed well received by both the pastor and the congregation. We had the traditional "dinner on the grounds" (It was Homecoming Day) and after lunch returned to the auditorium for the traditional "singing."
The first group to perform make the oft-heard remarks of how their goal was to "lift up the Name of Jesus" and "glorify Him" etc. Immediately following these protestations of piety came 7 songs totally bereft of any mention of the Gospel, the Work of Christ, or the Glory of God. At that time I thought I'd remember all seven titles and record them somewhere for posterity, but my failing memory leaves me only with a hint of the first 3 titles: "I'll Never Be Ashamed" "I'll Never Turn My Back" and "I Need One More Miracle" (or words to that effect). Three more equally Christ-less examples followed, capped off with a popular chorus, "On Holy Ground" which does have at least a hint of the Lord of Glory......but only a hint.
We were able to escape after that set and I drove back home really stunned by what I had just experienced. Now, these people are not evil; they are local folks, good church members, moral, honest, friendly, and would tell you in a heartbeat of your need of Jesus Christ. I love that pastor out there for his testimony of God's great grace intervening in his wicked life at nearly 40 years of age, for his burden for the outcasts of our community, for his devoted ministry to prison inmates.
But they, like the fools Paul excoriates in Romans 1, have traded in the Glory of God for an idol. Rather than a stone or carved wooden idol, this 21st century group has an idol not just "resembling mortal man" but, in fact the mortal man himself. We are so often the focus of our worship. In the vernacular of this culture: It's all about me!
As I discussed this situation with my wife the Monday morning following the event, I wept over the state these folks are in. They simply don't get it.
This is dangerous territory. I do not want to sound "holier-than-thou"...for me, I barely get it. I'm just beginning to understand a little of God's view of His glory. I've been trying to put together an analogy which would picture how I feel.......
I am driving my car through a dark valley. A friend sits beside me in the front seat. Now and then, in between the peaks of the hills which surround us on all sides, I catch a glimpse of the brightness, the radiance, the glory of the Sun. It is overwhelming! There are no words adequate to describe to anyone what I see during those too-brief seconds of Light.
I turn to my friend to share the wonder of what I've seen......Wow! Did you see that? "What" he says. "I saw nothing. What are you talking about?"
And, he doesn't see it. They don't see it. Why does someone not see what is evident to me, and to others? I do not want to use the word "blind" in my analogy here because of the spiritual implications. "Blind" people are lost. I don't want to label any of these people as "lost"; I don't think they are all lost. But, why do they not see? Maybe my friend has the sun visor down and it blocks his view. Maybe he is reading a newspaper and will not look up. Are they distracted? Is something blocking their view?
What will it take to clear their view?
Where will we see the Glory of God?
For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.