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Biff lay on the hotel bed, wondering where it all went wrong. His brain was quickly replaying the highlights and decisions of his life quicker than he was changing channels on the remote.
Mable, his wife of 25 years, had just kicked him out of the house. She found out about the adultery that he committed with a work associate while on a business trip. Biff had known Marge for a couple of years. She worked at the corporate headquarters in Dallas.
They frequently spoke by phone and developed a friendship. Biff liked how playful Marge was – always joking and living life to the fullest, so it seemed. After a sales meeting, Biff found himself alone with Marge during happy hour. He couldn’t (did not want to) resist Marge’s charm and beauty, and he ended up being intimate with her.
Biff’s conscience bugged him, but he loved his sin more. He felt alive for the first time in years. He figured it was the perfect set-up: Marge lived 1000 miles away; she didn’t want a serious relationship, and he thought he could hide it from Mable.
He started to have a whole new view of those boring quarterly sales conferences in Dallas. Though adultery wasn’t as “quick and easy” as pornography, it was a lot more invigorating.
Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned (Proverbs 6:27)?
At home, Mable was busy raising their three daughters, helping out at the church, and dealing with changes in her life that come to all women nearing the half-century mark. Despite being surrounded by her girls, neighbors, and friends from church, she felt alone and discouraged. Biff and she had grown apart. Her beauty was fading.
She also saw her parent’s health decline and felt like her body was resisting her, too. She used to be a strong Christian, but her growth was distracted and partially limited due to the lack of spiritual leadership from her husband.
Biff would attend their church meetings and profess Christ, but he seemed to keep the church folk at a distance. He wasn’t the best husband, but he did provide for the kids, didn’t drink excessively, and seemed to care about them.
He came across as disinterested as far as being a leader in the home. Mable didn’t realize how disinterested he was until she got a phone call from the hotel where Biff stayed during the conference. The woman working the front desk informed her that the maid had found a pair of women’s earrings on the nightstand in the hotel room.
The employee assumed they were Mable’s; she must have been with Biff during his stay and left them in the room. Mable was confused, trying to understand what she had just heard. Things clicked when the clerk asked if Mable enjoyed her stay and if the room service met expectations. Through quivering lips, Mable told the clerk that she wasn’t with her husband and hung up the phone.
When Biff arrived home from the airport later that night, Mable was waiting at the front door. Through tears, she told Biff that he was not welcome in their home any longer. After a few words, Biff grabbed his suitcase, headed back to his car, and checked into a local hotel.
After flipping through all the cable channels a couple of dozen times, he found himself watching a show about Native Americans carving totem poles. He thought it strange how they would mount these carved images as a way to represent themselves and their tribes. What Biff didn’t realize was that he had a totem pole of his own making.
What Are Totems? – Different cultures with specific social traits reflect those things in their creations, i.e., totem poles. For example, a bear would signify the strength they desired, so they would have carvings of bears, also called totems, to reflect their affections. Eventually, the tribe would come to worship the animal, which is nothing more than a symbolic representation of the tribe’s values, traits, and desires.
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen (Romans 1:21-25).
Biff was like these tribes. He had cravings in his heart, and Marge was the totem that fulfilled them as he sought pleasure, happiness, and freedom. To understand Biff’s modern-day version of a totem pole, you have to look into the past at his shaping influences and the things he “carved into his mind” from his childhood, teen, and early adult years.
Worship – Biff was born in the sixties and hit puberty during the seventies. He was fascinated with the Apollo moon shots. He and his two brothers pretended to be astronauts. They converted their little tent into an Apollo space capsule; they would drink Tang.
Love – During the seventies, he became exposed to Playboy Magazine while searching for empty beer cans in nearby apartment dumpsters. He liked what he saw and craved female attention. He didn’t understand fully why Hugh Hefner always wore pajamas, but he was jealous of the attention he got from the ladies.
Materialism – And then he started and graduated college in the eighties, and began to see the amount of money that people made on Wall Street, the lavish parties they attended, the “power cars” they drove.
But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. – James 1:14-15
These hidden and insidious desires were shaping him. What he craved was not represented in animals but in things he wanted from his culture: people worshipping him like they did the astronauts, sexual pleasure from women, and the power that materialism provides.
Biff picked out things that he thought were good and desirable for him (Genesis 3:6). He chose things that he felt would spur him on to success–a life where he would be comfortable. His “totem pole” reflected his heart and became the identity that he has always craved, even from a backward, shy youth.
Biff got his degree, married a pretty blond, and started to climb the corporate ladder. He accepted Christ while in college but never developed his theology beyond “punching his ticket to heaven.” He did not faithfully serve the Lord. Though never stated, he was hoping the Lord was another way to give him what he craved.
He poured his heart and soul into his work. Kids came along, and he enjoyed being a dad when his girls were young. But as they approached their teen years, he began to feel as though his dream was slipping away. He felt like a loser.
Last year, after he turned 50, he started thinking about all of these things. Instead of being thankful for all God’s blessings, he only saw that his life did not look like his dream totem pole–worship, love, and materialism. He was a middle-class man, driving a mini-van, balding, overweight, and his wife was not the woman of his youth.
Biff believed he was missing out on life. He had worked too hard to settle for what he had. He decided to double down and re-apply himself. Despite his wife’s counsel, he bought the sports car that he always wanted. He also bought the latest exercise fad and lost 20 pounds. He revamped his wardrobe, started wearing a gold necklace, and was feeling like a new man.
When Marge found him physically attractive, it affirmed that he did miss his dream, but now he could recapture it with her. Mercifully, God interrupted Biff’s plans for self-destruction. Mable discovered his sin, and the things he had never dealt with from his past were now front and center in his life and marriage.
But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out (Numbers 32:23).
He fell asleep all alone in his hotel room. His worst fears were crowding in as he thought about not being smart enough or handsome enough to live the life that he wanted. To compound his self-made disaster, he realized that he couldn’t even make it as an “average Joe.” His most profound and darkest fears were real: he was a failure.
After a couple of days apart, Mable agreed to let Biff come home if he would go to counseling. They met with their pastor immediately, and over the next several months, they walked the long road to redemption. It was hard for both of them.
In time, God broke through the hardness of Biff’s heart and let him see himself through the lens of Scripture. God’s Word affirmed the thing that Biff feared the most: Biff was a failure; he was an awful person, which was not good news at the beginning, not to a person whose totem pole revealed his hedonism.
As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one (Romans 3:10-12).”
The pastor talked to Biff about his fallenness and how Biff’s sin had separated him from God–leaving him exposed, fearful, and full of shame. Rather than running to God, Biff turned inward and sought to redeem himself through self-reliant efforts as he chased the image that he carved for himself.
So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf (Exodus 32:3-4).
Biff missed the point of the gospel–the bad news is supposed to motivate you to desire the Good News. Biff ran the wrong way. He began to see how his totem pole was his foolish attempt to make himself feel better about life.
He was worshipping created things–things that he chose as valuable. Biff was worshipping himself, or the idealized view of himself. Just like the pagan Indians of old, Biff saw what he wanted in the natural world and talked himself into becoming that image. The image was the person he always wanted to be rather than the Christ he professed to believe.
The pastor told him about a better, more accurate “pole.” He began to show him the redemptive purposes of another tree—the cross. The pastor showed him a Savior, Jesus Christ. The more Biff came to terms with the gospel, the more his walk as a Christian began to look different.
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life (John 3:14-15).
Armed with this new gospel awareness, God began to change Biff’s heart. He started to reconcile with Mable. Despite the hurt he had caused her, she could see God at work in her life too. By God’s grace, she forgave Biff.
It was hard for Mable at first, but the more Biff pursued God, the more she realized God was giving her something better than what she had before. But Biff did not stop there. He started leading his family.
He began engaging his children. He taught them how to see things through the eyes of the Lord rather than personal self-interest. Though he stumbled in his walk with God, he was a more authentic reflection of the Savior than ever before.
Rather than craving the things of the world and bending his life to reflect those lustful things, he wanted Christ and began transforming his life to image Him.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:15-17).
Though their marriage was far from perfect, for the first time in many years, it was real, and it reflected more authentically Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:25). Biff cut down his self-made totem pole. He knew now it was just an expression of his hidden desires for self-exaltation.
For his 52nd birthday, Mable and his girls surprised him with a gift. They had taken his Playboy necklace and exchanged it for a ring, but not just any ring. On the face of the ring, there was a cross. It was a “metaphoric picture” from ruin to redemption.
Biff’s eyes swelled with a mixture of happiness and sadness when he received his gift. He was sad for all the hurt he had caused and all those wasted years chasing his false gods. But he was thankful his Lord was a God of restoration. He knew his ring would always be there as a reminder for him to remember the only thing worth worshiping was a living Savior.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).