Yesterday I bought a gleaming gilded lamp for our living room. The light can be adjusted every which way and its intensity varied to suit the reader. My wife and I have looked for this kind of illumination for years. At last we have it!

When I padded downstairs this morning, my first act was to snap on this golden lamp. Then I stepped back to admire it and its almost magical effect on our recently remodeled living room. Even though the lamp is an inanimate, manufactured product, I came dangerously close to bowing down and worshiping.

As I slid into the easy chair under its soft light, with an effort I tore my mind from the lamp to my Bible. It dawned on me that for the moment the lamp was more inspiring than the Bible. And in my devotions I read the words of Jeroboam in First Kings 12:27–29: “If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam King of Judah, and they shall kill me.… Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto [the people], It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods.… And he set one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan.” Was I also finding it easier and more exciting not to go up to Jerusalem and worship the one true God? Was I being dazzled by what I could see, hear, smell, taste, and touch instead of by the unseen presence of the Spirit of the living God?

As I ambled into the kitchen to have breakfast, the mental picture of those two golden calves bothered me. I listened to the radio while eating. Within ten minutes I was urged to “have fun” with a new motor boat. I was told that “the leading automobile dealer” had a superb car for me that is more than mere transportation—it’s solid driving comfort. The virtues of a costly ham were depicted in a way to set me drooling. A luring baritone made our television set seem like a product of the dark ages. In honeyed tones I was urged to take a local plane to Detroit and then fly by jet to Florida—all on the installment plan. All powerful appeals to the physical senses—and all “golden calves” of a sort!

Most of us live much nearer to Bethel or Dan than to Jerusalem. Our world is full of marvelous material “things,” and it is easy as baking a frozen pie for us to become—heart, soul, and pocketbook—church-going materialists. Superfluous merchandise is forced on us, but few try to “sell” us on the merits of Christianity. We can buy a roomful of fine furniture on thirty days’ free trial. But what about the free gifts of God? It is easy to love those things that add comfort and pleasure to the lives of those we love and to our own also. But it is far from easy to love and serve the invisible God.

Daily the Christian is bathed in the perfumed aura of materialism, the lure of golden calves. We worship God or Goods through the insistent urges of (1) our needs and (2) our desires.

Consider our needs. How they have changed! It is obvious that we need food, clothing, housing, education, transportation, medical care, and relaxation. In the satisfaction of any of these needs, however, we all too readily step across the line and buy what we desire instead of what we need.

A banker friend recently died. He was an odd duck for these times! He never owned a car; he walked to church and took a bus to work. For fifty-six years he was treasurer of his church, wisely and sensibly helping to advance its programs. He gave liberally to missions. This gentleman may have desired more “eating out,” expensive clothing for himself and his wife, a finer home on a fashionable street, and luxurious transportation. But he worshiped few if any “golden calves.” He and his wife satisfied actual needs and gave the rest to the Lord.

It is our desires that shatter our Christian fortitude and cause us as a nation to spend more for cigarettes than for world missions. We plunge into long-term debts for homes, cars, boats, furniture, appliances—and then there is no tithe left for the Lord. Yet the Christian should begin his budget from the tithe.

Few of us, no matter how devoted, would care to go back to the life of half a century ago. I remember those days well. Their luxuries have become the “musts” of today, and products then undreamed of are now common. Of course we must live in the world of Now—in it, as the Bible urges, but not of it—but do we? Where do we draw the line between what we require and what we desire?

Dr. John C. Slemp, editor of Missions magazine, tells of a trip he made to Japan in 1952, when “a spiritual vacuum” occupied the lives of these people. In 1961 he returned to Japan and wanted to know whether the vacuum had been filled. “ ‘Yes, it has been filled,’ missionaries and nationals alike told me,” Dr. Slemp said, “but not by Christianity. Rather, as is all too true here in the United States and other lands, it has been filled by sports, television, material goods; by golf on Sundays, excursions, hiking.… Now the people were carefree, and their one aim in life appeared to be the pursuit of a good time.”

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Our days are filled with tangibles. God may have become only “an ever present help” in time of trouble. The divine glow of the Christian life does not go out suddenly; it just fades out because we cannot touch, sec, taste, hear, and smell the Lord’s presence.

To the question, “How may I become less material and more spiritual?” there is only one answer. It batters down the door of selfishness. It makes the transition from our boots to the other fellow’s shoes a delight. Love for God and for our neighbor is the answer.

Golden calves, like our lovely lamp, often lose their luster. But those who are constrained by the love of Christ will not set their hearts on things.

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