Today's Reading: 2 Kings 12-13; 2 Chronicles 24
Summer is the season of amusement parks and amusement parks are the proprietors of carnival rides and booths.
In the mid-20th century, fairground stalls offering shooting matches, ring tosses and other games of "skill" gave out cigars as prizes. (Obviously, the only ones who were to be playing these games were men; or perhaps it was believed only men could win at these stalls!)
As contestants would gather to play, the Hawker would stand as advertiser, peddler and judge over the games. As the ring missed the peg or the bullet the bull's eye, he would yell, "Close, but no cigar!"
In our scripture readings throughout the books of the Kings and Chronicles, we see many righteous people getting "close, but no cigar." Time and time again, the kings who are "doing what is right in the sight of the LORD" fall just short of a successful outcome and end up getting very little if any progress from their efforts.
Despite the dream of rebuilding temples or reinstating the worship of God, there is always left the roots of idol worship. Ashera poles are still standing, some cultic places of worship are still attended or a priest from a false god still remains.
It is hard for us to get to the root of our idolatry. We clean up our behaviors, we shine and polish our outward appearances, but somewhere in the heart of our temple, the seeds of idolatry still remain. We are like our sister, Rachel, who steals her household idols from her father's house as she runs off to marry a man of God. We hide them, we protect them, we have trouble giving them up. We sit on them, denying their existence.
Thus, the prayer, "Create in me a clean heart, O God," is such an amazing prayer. It acknowledges, first and foremost, that the heart is dirty. It then acknowledges that a creation needs to take place by the only creator. And it acknowledges that I cannot do this for myself, only God can.
I might get close, but I will never win the cigar. My aims will always be futile. I will always miss the mark. I can't clean my heart. I can't rid the temple of the idols. I can't tear down my Ashera poles.
It takes a work from God. It takes the refining fire of the Holy Spirit. It takes the cleansing blood of Christ.