This is my final article spinning out of scenes from the Christmas cult classic, A Christmas Story. The Old Man, the name given to Ralphie’s father in the movie, entered a contest to win a prize. And he won! The prize came in a giant box labeled “fragile.” Upon seeing “fragile” on the box, the Old Man said, “Fra-gi-le. It must be Italian.” He was excited, barely able to contain his excitement. He clamored to open up the box.
When all the packing materials were removed out came a plastic leg. Not just your normal, everyday plastic leg. No, this leg was a leg lamp with fish net stockings. The Old Man wanted to put it right in the middle of the front room window, so that everybody going by the house could see it. After positioning the lamp exactly where he wanted it, the Old Man exclaimed, “Oh, look at that. Will you look at that? Isn’t that glorious? It’s indescribably beautiful. It reminds me of the 4th of July!”
A little over the top. It’s easy for us to acknowledge that the old man’s behavior when he opened the leg lamp was utterly ridiculous, but we do the same thing. Only not with leg lamps. Our idols are much better disguised.
John wrote one of my favorite letters and the Bible. He concluded his letter, which we know as 1st John, with the statement that we are to keep ourselves from idols. John’s letter emphasizes love. It is one of the harshest letters in the Bible. Not because loving is harsh, but because he tells us what is the punishment for not loving. In it we see John tell the readers that if they don’t love the people around them then they don’t love God. And if they don’t love God, God has no room for them in His family.
It seems a little weird for the letter to end in a command to keep ourselves from idols when the rest of the letter didn’t even talk about idols, but John knew what he was doing. We cannot properly love when we have idols in our life. But let me clarify what an idol is. An idol doesn’t have to be some gold statue or special relic from long ago. An idol is anything that prevents us from focusing on what we’re supposed to be focused on.
This leads me to ask, “What is your leg lamp?” What is your idol? What is it that you have in your life that you focus on, that you find beautiful, and that really controls your life? Because if you are focused on the wrong thing, then you have an idol. It doesn’t matter how good that wrong thing is; if it’s not the right thing, then it’s an idol.
Let’s test it with a completely good thing, the Bible. The Bible is a tool for us to get to know God. Unfortunately, I’ve seen many people turn the Bible into an idol. It transforms from being a great tool to show us God and relay His will for our life to being the end all of our faith. When the Bible becomes more important than Jesus—when the Bible becomes more important than loving our neighbor—when knowledge of the Bible becomes an end to itself, we have missed the point. We have turned the word of God, which we are so richly blessed with, into an idol.
Now if this can happen with the word of God, then it can also happen to anything else in our life. We have to be careful.
The idols in our life don’t come wrapped in a giant box and appear to be a useless leg lamp. The tricks Satan uses on us and our own self-deception are more covert than that.
Jesus came into this world, as we remember this time of year, to free us from sin. We might not have a leg lamp, but I guarantee that we do have idols. As John concluded in his letter, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21 ESV).