Idols,  Missionary Shenanigans

Awkward as a Fat Idol in Church


She stood behind the last row of chairs, alone, with beautiful brown eyes taking it all in.

I had never seen her in there before, though I knew she was a native. Our church does not carry the best reputation for being the most friendly bunch to outsiders so I figured I should welcome her.

But how? Maybe extend my hand? Show her around? Point out the restroom? Ask if she needed translation?

I didn’t care that she was black; I’m not brown like the locals anyway. Maybe we could become outsiders together, bonding over ice cream.

We get lots of visitors to our church and they all tend to look the same. Unnecessary long skirts on the ladies, short-sleeve button-ups on the men, and shy kids with bright bibles.

There was something so different about this one though. Maybe it was her ridiculously long lashes. Or maybe it was her udder.

Yeah, definitely the udder.

My knowledge of cow behavior is about as vast as my beanie baby collection, but she looked a tad nervous. Not flat out scared—more like cautious.

If she asked me to put myself in her shoes, I guess I would act nervous too. Loud hoofs? On a concrete floor? In a church? All alone? Free to roam but nowhere to go?

Plus a hundred or so people dressed in native missions clothing, a fussy baby, kids trying not to run, an energetic dude on drums, plastic offering buckets going back and forth and charismatic flag-wavers?

Poor heifer.



She’s used to humans, of course, otherwise they wouldn’t have picked her out of all the options in the valley. But I could tell her jam was more grass and less chairs.

Our community’s “three degrees of separation” can have any farm animal in your front yard in a matter of hours.

And our church has just about seen it all.

Want a goat for a bible story? Easy. I had to move one by the horns in front of 150 women at an outreach once. He did not like me.

Care for a loud sheep with nappy wool? There’s an authentic herder out on the nearby hills with dozens, but the one we had in church came from down the road and got slaughtered in the service during missions month. Gulp.

Looking for a cock-fighting rooster? I know two different guys who could help. Our black lab did a number on a male domestic fowl once and sent me knocking on our neighbor’s gate with $200 pesos to replace the dang thing.

Need a horse with or without a saddle? A handful of them have waltzed by our church theater seats, some displaying the Mexican flag, some just peeing.

We’ve also seen dozens of rats on stage, grasshoppers (deep fried of course), a donkey, rabbits, chickens, dogs (because the doors are always open), ants on a platter and a much-too-long snake.

Holy Cow

India’s most worshipped animal is the cow. The Hindu religion says they’re holy, revered, and honored. They roam the streets, block traffic and are welcomed in stores. But that’s in India.



Down here in Baja they’re just cows.

So when our pastor decided to bring one to church as a visual aid for Missions Sunday, the mixed reactions fell right in line with the mixed personalities.

The well-dressed city-folk held their noses, sat on the far side and kept looking back…

The simple country-folk smiled, walked wide and focused forward…

And the cowboys grabbed shovels. Especially when this happened:

But at the end of the service, nobody talked about worshiping the visitor. Such an idol seems bizarre in our Western culture.

A couple decades ago I never thought I had any idols in my life. I hadn’t traveled to the Middle East and brought home a totem for our mantel and we didn’t own a stone statue of anything, anywhere. Idols in my mind consisted of disgraceful things. Sometimes evil even, but definitely something our Sunday School teacher put in the “bad” category.

So when our old pastor gave a sermon about modern day idols, I figured I might tune out and make my grocery list.

Silly me. His idol examples included things like shopping, TV, celebrity news/gossip, a little sippy sippy, friendships, our kids, work, possessions, food, movies, self image, success, books….

In and of themselves, not evil. When we spend an excess amount of time using, watching, playing, or revering them though, they can quickly become idols.

In Nancy Pearcey’s book, Finding Truth, you’ll find this:

“Scripture treats the topic of idolatry far more subtly.

An idol is anything we want more than God,

anything we rely on more than God,

anything we look to for greater fulfillment than God.

Idolatry is thus the hidden sin driving all other sins.”

I don’t worship cows, I don’t bow to carvings, and you will never find a Buddha around my neck. Oh no, my idols are much more classy. More classy, less smelly and incredibly subtle. Exactly the way I like them.

How Now, Brown Cow?

Please don’t make me name them.

Oh, come on, seriously? Why me?

Can’t you just be encouraged and make your own list?


Okay, fine—I’ll go first. No judging, amigos.

  • Now and then I’d rather skip church and stay home—with no intention of having my own little service.
  • I think about food more than I think about orphans down the road. Or missions in my backyard. Or widows in need.
  • Most days I would rather write a blog post or work on my book than read the bible.
  • Occasionally I want to watch a movie. And then another one. And then sleep.
  • Yesterday I prayed and read a devotional for about ten minutes. Maybe seven. Then I worked on my book for five hours.
  • I could spend a whole day with my closest friends. And then wake up and do it again.
  • Spending a whole day with God sounds… long.

Ugh. That burned.

Probably took you about 20 seconds to read my list, yes? Took me about ten agonizing minutes to write it and 20 effortless years to develop it.

Don’t have a cow; I still love Jesus. Still qualified to be a missionary, too.


Check out how simple but convincing 1 John 5:21 looks in three different translations:

“Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (NIV)

“Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.” (NLT)

“Little children (believers, dear ones), guard yourselves from idols—[false teachings, moral compromises, and anything that would take God’s place in your heart].” (AMP)

So apparently idolatry still tries to work its way into our lives and distract us from worshipping and obeying God. Being aware of it is a nice first step; what I choose to do about it is key.

Hasn’t this been fun? You can tell I’m about to pass you the baton, right? Not because I’m moooving on from this area in my life; more because I’m excited to hear how you might want to identify a possible idol in your life and deal with it swiftly. You know—pretend it smells and start shoveling.

I’m staying right here, cheering you on till the cows come home.



White boy, runnin’ the sound booth, trying to ignore the stench. 



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