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A Time to Cast Away StonesA Time to Cast Away Stones
by Philip Gulley

    When I first stumbled upon Ecclesiastes, I did not know what it meant to cast away stones and why we should make a time for it. After hours of research, which consisted mostly of eating biscuits and gravy with my friend Jim at the Bob Evans Restaurant, I discovered that casting away stones had to do with tearing down altars erected to idols. In the Bible, idols were those objects that represented devotion to a false god. In those days the sure way to get zapped by God was to worship an idol.

    Today we still have idols, and they’re more sophisticated than mere graven images. Modern idols are those things we love more than God, including the obvious temptations like cars, fancy houses, and grand-sounding job titles. But we also idolize certain other things we’ve been taught to count supreme — good things like country and family and one’s reputation. If we value anything more than God, it is idolatry, plain and simple. When I care more about the good opinion of others than I do about God, I am an idolater, guilty of honoring self above God.

    Idolatry, it pains me to say is a sin. A whopper of a sin, according to the Old Testament. It kept Moses from setting foot in the Promised Land. Idolatry caused the prophets of Baal to be roasted in a fire. The warning against idolatry was number one in the Top Ten Rules: “You shall have no other gods before me.” In Exodus, God stipulated the punishment for idol worshipers: utter destruction. This was back when God was not the mellow, fair-minded deity we’ve come to know and love, before all that New Testament talk about grace and forgiveness.

    To be accurate, despite our indifference to idolatry, God still gets his dander up about it. God is funny that way — He wants to be first in our lives, not for the sake of his ego but for the sake of our joy. Thus, he commands his followers to worship God and God alone. Because all other gods, these little g gods, ultimately disappoint. They are straw gods who wither when life heats up. So it is for our joy that God commands our devotion. God alone is the one who is forever faithful, who never disappoints, whose love knows no end.

“You shall have no other gods before me.”
    Our money won’t last. Our houses will rot and be gone. Our jobs will move south. Our country will err. Our families will fracture. Our reputations can change with one sin or one slur. But the King of kings, the Rock of Ages, the Eternal Lover, is the Friend who never leaves, the Song that never stops, the Father whose door is always open, the Mother who gathers, guides, and guards her children.

    In all my years as a pastor I never met a worshiper of Baal, though I ran across idolatry most every day I saw it in others; I saw it in myself. I saw it when people yearned for money over holiness. I saw it when people chose prestige over humility I saw it when people picked religion over relationship. These are the stones we ought to cast aside, the altars we need to tear down. It is easier said than done, this loving God above all else, but it can be done.

    I see it in pastors who shun rich pulpits to minister to the poor and broken. I see it in parents who teach their children to esteem the rejected and despised. I see it in persons who yearn not for the approval of their neighbors, but only for God’s “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” We can love God above all else. It is possible. I have seen it done. It is simply a matter of knowing which stones to cast away and which altars to tear down.

    Remember the grand ol’ apostle John’s last words in 1 John!

Children, you must stay away from idols. (1 John 5:21)
      From the book For Everything a Season, by Philip Gulley. © 1999 by Multnomah Pub., used by permission.

      Title: "A Time to Cast Away Stones"
      Author: Philip Gulley
      Publication Date: September 27, 2001

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 About the Author
Philip Gulley is a Quaker pastor who ministers in Indianapolis. He is married and has two preschool sons. In addition to pastoring and writing, Gulley enjoys spending Sunday afternoons in his hometown.


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