Her hands shook as she covered her mouth, tears filling her eyes. She stood at the microphone and tried to speak but all that came was nervous laughter and apologies. The celebrity talk-show host, her idol, was just a few feet from her and waiting patiently to hear her question. As she continued to struggle, the tears flowed and her idol came to her, wrapping her in a hug. They parted and finally, the young woman spoke.

She spoke of her admiration for this star and described how she inspired her. When she finally got to her question, she asked the star for her best advice to a teenage actress wanting to make it in Hollywood. The host spoke kindly to her, and encouraged her to be herself. She talked about confidence and authenticity. She ended her remarks by advising her to “put it out into the universe” and say to that universe, “this is what I WILL do, not what I want to do.”

A few moments later, one of the celebrity guests that appeared on the talk show came back on stage. She had heard the question and answer backstage and wanted to give her own advice to this young woman. She continued the host’s train of thought. She instructed the young woman to “manifest” what she wanted from the universe. She said, “Thank the universe for the beautiful opportunity you’ve been given, for the amazing acting job, and for the cast and crew you’re working with.” She explained that she didn’t need to have any of those things, she just needed to believe that they already existed for her. That power of believing in herself and telling the universe what already “was” – not what she wanted – would manifest her dream into reality. She finished her heartfelt remarks by telling the young woman that this was what she did and her success spoke for itself.

The young woman expressed her deep gratitude to both actresses. It was clear this was an experience she would never forget.

As touching as it was to witness this young woman meet her idols and hear their personal, heartfelt advice to her it was equally heartbreaking. Heartbreaking not only for the young woman but for these two stars as well. To see them put their trust and hope into a universe with no name, telling it not only what they want but what they WILL HAVE by sheer determination to manifest it into existence themselves seemed so empty, so desperate, so hopeless.

__________

I was recently reading the story in 1 Samuel when the Philistines captured Israel’s Ark of the Covenant. The Word says this:

“After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then they carried the ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon. When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! They took Dagon and put him back in his place. But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained.” 1 Samuel 5:1-4 (NIV)

The Ark of the Covenant was a holy and sacred chest that God instructed Moses to build. It traveled with the Israelites while they wandered through the wilderness. It was not only a symbol of God’s presence among His people but the location from which God spoke to Moses and to the priests. It was the place upon which He was enthroned. A tabernacle was built to house the Ark until the Temple was built by Solomon in Jerusalem many years later.

After losing a battle to the Philistines, the Israelites decided to bring the Ark of the Covenant with them into battle the next day. The Philistines were terrified. They knew what the God of Israel had done to the Egyptians in order to set the Israelites free from captivity. But still, they fought hard the next day and ultimately defeated the Israelites, killing 30,000 of them and capturing the Ark.

What better place to put this sacred object than in the temple of their own god, Dagon. It seemed like the logical thing to do. But what they discovered was that their god made of stone could not stand upright in the presence of the God of Israel. Even after it fell once and they propped it back up when they arrived the next day it had not only fallen again but its head and hands had been broken off. And that’s not all that happened. Everyone in the city where the Ark was housed was afflicted with tumors (more specifically, hemorrhoids) and the town was overrun with rats. They would move the Ark from city to city and with every move came the affliction.

Finally, after seven months of this, the Philistine leaders realized they could no longer keep the Ark. It was devastating their people wherever it went. So they asked their own priests what to do with the Ark. Here’s what the priests said:

“They answered, ‘If you return the ark of the God of Israel, do not send it back to him without a gift; by all means send a guilt offering to him. Then you will be healed, and you will know why his hand has not been lifted from you. …Now then, get a new cart ready, with two cows that have calved and have never been yoked. Hitch the cows to the cart, but take their calves away and pen them up. Take the ark of the Lord and put it on the cart, and in a chest beside it put the gold objects you are sending back to him as a guilt offering. Send it on its way, but keep watching it. If it goes up to its own territory, toward Beth Shemesh, then the Lord has brought this great disaster on us. But if it does not, then we will know that it was not his hand that struck us but that it happened to us by chance.’ So they did this. They took two such cows and hitched them to the cart and penned up their calves. They placed the ark of the Lord on the cart and along with it the chest containing the gold rats and the models of the tumors. Then the cows went straight up toward Beth Shemesh, keeping on the road and lowing all the way; they did not turn to the right or to the left. The rulers of the Philistines followed them as far as the border of Beth Shemesh.” 1 Samuel 6:3, 7-12 (NIV)

The religious leaders and diviners of the Philistines recognized that the God of Israel was not a God to mess with. They saw how much more powerful He was than their god, Dagon. They knew that He was the force behind the tumors and the rats and the reason their god of stone could not stand in His presence. When the kings of Philistia were finally ready to concede they instructed them to not send the Ark back empty-handed. They had better include a guilt offering as well. They said, “We’ll know if the God of Israel is behind all of this chaos if the cows pulling the cart go straight back to Beth Shemesh.” And that’s exactly what happened.

What’s stunning to me about this story is that the Philistines continued to put their hope and trust in a piece of stone that kept on toppling over. The Ark wasn’t God Himself, it was a symbol and a place where God made His presence known. Even that symbol caused their god to fall prostrate before it. And even when they finally realized that the tumors and rats infesting every town the Ark traveled to were occurring because God’s hand was against them, it apparently didn’t occur to them they had chosen an inferior god to worship. Now I realize that it wasn’t exactly easy to “switch teams” back then. The gods of a particular culture were their gods. They weren’t a part of Israel so why would they choose to follow Israel’s God. But, many years later, even King Nebuchadnezzar, a follower of the Babylonian gods Nabu and Marduk eventually came around to see the preeminence of God Almighty, the God of Israel.

The comparison I see between this story of the Philistines and the video clip of two Hollywood stars giving the advice to put one’s hope in the “universe” is the weakness of the gods they’ve chosen. The “god” that these two celebrities, and many more like them, have chosen is one who doesn’t have a plan or purpose for their life, doesn’t know what’s best for them, or the gifts, talents, skills, and abilities with which they’ve been endowed. Instead, they themselves know what’s best for them and they can simply have their way by telling this god how their life is going to turn out. Admittedly, I am not well-versed in this kind of spirituality. But it seems as though their beliefs rest primarily on their practice and ability to “manifest” their dreams into realities. Their hope is placed in a nameless power that rewards their efforts of manifestation by giving them whatever they think is best for themselves. There seems to be an inherent weakness in a god who does what I tell it to do.

My point is not to denigrate the beliefs of many of those in Hollywood (and elsewhere). My heart breaks for them. I want them to know that the God and Creator of that “universe” they are putting their hope in knows them by name. He has created them and gifted them in a unique and special way. He was there as their very lives were formed before they took their first breath. He has a plan and purpose for their life which is BEYOND what they could ask for, imagine, or even think. They are special and precious to Him. His plans for their lives are not their plans… and that is a GOOD thing. He alone can fulfill their hearts’ deepest desires. It is He who planted those desires in the first place. He not only knows their name but He wants them to know His.

The God of the “universe” they are reaching out to wants a personal relationship with them. It is not about their ability to manifest their dreams into reality. It is the fact that He made Himself manifest to them by sending His one and only Son into this created universe. That Son, Jesus, had one purpose, to restore their relationship with God. Jesus did that by taking the blame for everything they’ve done that caused there to be a separation from God in the first place. Any imperfection in our human lives is an offense to a holy and perfect God. BUT, He made a way for those imperfections to be accounted for… Jesus. Believing that Jesus is who the Bible says He is, God’s Son, and that He died for the sins of the world so that we can be forgiven; that He rose from the dead three days later and He gives the gift of eternal life to us too is the key to that restoration with God.

We as believers in Jesus have the responsibility and the calling on our lives to be like that Ark of the Covenant in the temple of Dagon. God has made manifest His presence in us too by giving us the gift of the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. When our lives reflect the presence of God, the weakness of their gods will be revealed. We are the witnesses that He is real, that His love is real, that the sacrifice of His Son Jesus is real, that the resurrection is real, and that His individual, unique plan and purpose for each person’s life is real. Our God created their god and His deepest desire is that they turn from worshipping that which was created and turn to the Creator instead. They are weak, but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves them!

I know not many of us have access to elite Hollywood stars like the two I’ve mentioned in this post. But we do have access to many, many others who are searching for real answers in their life, searching to be known, people who have dreams and are seeking to put their hope in something. We can show them that there is a Someone to put their hope in. His name is Jesus, and He knows their name.

Dear Father, Almighty God, and Creator of this universe. I pray, Father, for those who are seeking hope and help. Lord, you are the creator of the very universe to whom many are reaching out. Help them to see the weakness of the gods they are seeking after and turn to the Creator instead. Help us to be a reflection of your presence in the lives of others who don’t yet know you. May we be a beacon of hope, a witness of your presence, a conduit of your love, and a symbol of the power that you have over every other god. Jesus, thank you for your sacrifice, your death, and your resurrection. Through you and you alone, we have a relationship with the Father. Thank you, Lord, for giving us the gift of your Spirit. May we be faithful to make you known to all those around us. In your precious name we pray, Jesus, amen.

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