There is this concept taught about in Christian circles of something called "idolatry". For many, this is kind of an elusive topic, not fully understood in context to scripture. For most there is this hard and fast rule that it implies to making any type of graven image and then praying to or worshiping that image. They would not be wrong because scripture clearly declares, "No carved gods of any size, shape, or form of anything whatever, whether of things that fly or walk or swim. Don’t bow down to them and don’t serve them because I am God, your God, and I’m a most jealous God, punishing the children for any sins their parents pass on to them to the third, and yes, even to the fourth generation of those who hate me. But I’m unswervingly loyal to the thousands who love me and keep my commandments." (Exodus 20:4 MSG) Going a little further into scripture, we find God's main objective in declaring these "carved" or "graven" images off-limits for Christians is the tendency we have to try to "connect" with God THROUGH these objects. God's only connection is through Jesus - so if we substitute anything between God and us other than Jesus, we are clearly not connecting with God as we were designed to. One other way to look at this topic is through the command to have no other god than God himself. This command immediately precedes this command to not erect any graven image. So, God was really telling us to stay focused on him, nothing else - for nothing else can give us the fulfillment and purpose of this connection.
You can be sure that using people or religion or things just for what you can get out of them—the usual variations on idolatry—will get you nowhere, and certainly nowhere near the kingdom of Christ, the kingdom of God. Don’t let yourselves get taken in by religious smooth talk. God gets furious with people who are full of religious sales talk but want nothing to do with him. Don’t even hang around people like that. (Ephesians 5:5-7 MSG)
On another train of thought, we find this topic of using religion or things as a means of what we can get out of them. As outlined to the Ephesian Church, Paul describes the idea of this being variations of idolatry. I doubt most of us would ever make this connection because there is no "graven image" here. Yet, if we consider this in context with what all of scripture says about idolatry, we can understand where Paul was going - we are using people or religious status to get what we want rather than connecting with God personally and allowing him to show us what it is he wants us to do, have, and commit to in this life.
Idolatry is often the idea of THINGS being the end of all that we need - I think this is why God was so very specific about this topic of allowing anything to stand in the way of our relationship with him. THINGS have a way of gaining our attention - attention which really belongs to God. If you haven't figured this out yet, God is a very jealous God - he doesn't like us to focus on stuff instead of him. In fact, he wants us to focus on him first and let him bless us with the things which will be beneficial for our lives instead of us trying to use things to find satisfaction.
There is this concept of "vain imaginations" also spoken about in scripture. I have to liken this to trying to turn something or someone into something or someone they are not. In other words, we elevate something or someone to a level that they become "godlike" in our focus - our attention directed toward that object or person is out of balance. We get way to involved in the thing or the person - forgetting the most important of all relationships. So, idols and "images" (imaginations) can actually turn our affection away from God. This is crux of the warnings against idolatry in scripture.
There are idols and images we need to deal with in our lives - things that are keeping us from what we should be or what we should be pursuing. We cannot make people be what we want them to be - we have to learn to accept them as they are. We cannot make any "thing" substitute for the satisfaction we will find in no other place than in relationship with Jesus - anything else is just short of what we really need. There are images in our past that might just be keeping us from being who God wants us to be today. We have to deal with these issues of "imbalance" in our lives if we are ever to be as "connected" with God as he intends.
Here's something we seldom do - we don't allow the information we know to penetrate our images, imaginations, or "idols". It is truth which sets us free, is it not? When we get clear information about any imbalance in our lives, it is time to sit up and take notice of where we are being pulled off-balance. These are problematic areas where God wants to bring healing and return us to balance. God seeks to define our relationships with each other and the things we bring into our lives - not the other way around. Too many times, we want to allow our relationships or the things we possess to define us. This is opposite of what God desires and will cause us much grief because of the imbalance this will ultimately create in our lives.
This time of year, I usually stop to reflect about balance in my own life. It is easy to get out of balance with all the rush and bustle of preparing for Christmas, family gatherings, and gift-giving. It is easy to get caught up in the gift and not in keeping our attention focused on the one who has already given us more than we could ever deserve or imagine! So, as we stop to consider the balance in our lives, my hope is that we remember the reason for the season - it is the gift of Christ. Just sayin!