Modern Idolatry

I think sometimes when we read the Bible and it’s warnings against idolatry we can become a little conceited or arrogant. Because we read things like Exodus 20:4 that says, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”

Our modern, “enlightened” ears find it hard to believe that people would create something and then call it their God. We see it as complete foolishness and folly like Isaiah did in Isaiah 44:16-17: “Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”

And while there are many places that still worship something they themselves have made, most of us would never be won over to this kind of faith. We understand that God cannot be made by our hands lest we be God for making Him. So maybe many of you, like me, saw the countless warnings of the Old and New Testament a bit redundant and unhelpful.

But recently I have been doing a group study by a pastor named Timothy Keller and he shared some thoughts on what idolatry truly is. So I wanted to share some of the bits I picked up from it with you because I think it will help us see this dangerous sin lurking in each of our lives.

First, because we do not make carved images like people of ancient times, we must identify our idols. Carved wooden images of before have been replaced with our more modern idols of status, possessions, fame, acceptance, approval, work or even independence. We have not, like we wish to believe, become more intelligent and enlightened than our ancestors. Rather, we have just exchanged the idols of old for new ones to fit our modern culture. So while idols may continue to be something we can hold, (money, possessions, a person), they are more likely something we dream of, want, wish to attain or strive for.

For each person the idol may be different, but if you look deeply they are there. You can find your idol mainly in two ways. First, think of the thing you are most afraid to lose and that is most likely your idol. So for example, if you are worried about people not liking you, then your idol is most likely approval. If you are most worried about your job or career not working as planned or becoming a failure, then you may have a work idol. Secondly, look where you spend your time and money. If all of your time and money is spent trying to make yourself look good, (clothes, make-up, the gym, etc..), then your idol is probably your appearance. If you spend your time and money on a specific social cause, then that may be your idol.

The thing about idols is that not every one of them is inherently bad. Social justice, people liking you and being successful at work are all good things. But they become idols when they take the ultimate or supreme place in our lives. This is why God’s first commandment was “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3). Because idolatry is a sin we must take this seriously. I hope that each of us can take a long look at our lives, (our greatest fears, our greatest desires, where we spend our time and money), and try to identify which of these modern idols are taking hold in our life.

Secondly, once we have figured out which idols we struggle with, we need to smash them. Just like God commanded the Israelites to smash the idols in their midst, (Exodus 23:24 for example), we too must smash our modern idols. But doing this may be more difficult than it sounds because there is nothing physical to smash most of the time. If you idolize your appearance it doesn’t mean you need to beat yourself up. And if you idolize approval it doesn’t mean you need to be a jerk so people won’t like you. Rather, smashing idols is moving them back down to where they belong and putting God back up where He belongs.

How can this be done? Hard work, will power and trying your best won’t suffice, especially if this particular idol has had a hold on your life for a long time. Also, if you remove this idol it is likely another will fill it’s spot, (many of us struggle with multiple idols so if we take down one another one will pop up quickly). So we must displace the idol or idols in our life with something greater: God.

God alone can and deserves to take the highest place in our lives. He alone is able and He alone is worthy. In order to do this, we first must repent. We must confess to God our idols and not pretend like they are not a problem, (“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” 1 John 1:9-10). One we have confessed and recognized this idol in our life, the idol starts to lose it’s power and hold over us. So we first must come to God in humility and confess whatever it is we have placed above Him.

Next, we need to work at replacing the idol with God. This is done by spending more time and money focused on God than our prior idol. This is done by spending more time in prayer and studying God’s Word than on whatever idol took that place before. This is also done by finding greater joy and peace in God alone and recognizing that this idol can never give us the joy and peace that God alone can. And as we continue to do this we begin to see God reigning in our lives where He alone belongs.

Now this isn’t some quick two step process to get yourself idol free. This is something that takes years and will have to be done over and over and over again as new idols pop up in our lives. But if we continue to confess and repent before our Great God and daily crucify our desires and misplaced joys then we can start to have victory over these idols in our life by, through and for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So I hope that we can all come to realize what idols are holding power in our lives right now. Look at your time, your money and your fears and see what thing, (maybe even a good thing), is wrongly taking the place of God. Then repent, confess and go back to God for His help. May we not be so arrogant as to think the warnings of idolatry were only for those in the ancient world. May we see these dangerous modern idols for what they are and daily displace them with He alone who is worthy to be Lord of our life.

Everything to Everyone

I remember when I was growing up I used to listen to a song called “Everything to Everyone” by Everclear. It’s not a Christian song but it did make me think how we are so prone to do just what the song describes. In the song they use terms like “jump through the hoop” and “play all the right games.” Doesn’t that sound like us and our relationships? And so today I wanted to talk about the right way to be “Everything to Everyone”, (yes there is a right way!) and the wrong and sinful way.

We’ll start with the sinful way because I feel like this is where most of us are. Being “Everything to Everyone” can look different for each of us. Maybe you are a people pleaser. You will do whatever it takes to make those around you happy, even if it isn’t Gospel-centered. Or maybe you’re a yes man. Even if someone is wrong you’ll always say yes or agree to keep them happy.

And what about those chameleons? You are a completely different person depending on what group you are in. I find this one especially prevalent in youth groups and among Christian University students today. You put on your “Christian” colors when at youth group but then change out of those and put on your “jock” colors with the athletes or your “stylish” colors with the beautiful people. We change our appearances in order to please others and be accepted by them.

Even Peter struggled with this. “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:11-14). For those that don’t know, Cephas is Peter in Aramaic.

We all struggle with people pleasing, being a yes man or acting like a chameleon sometimes. But those are only symptoms. The true sin inside of us is much deeper than just these symptoms. They allow us to see what sin we are struggling with but in order to overcome these sins we need to get at the root of them. You can’t just take the top off of a weed and hope it doesn’t come back. You have to dig the root out.

The root causes of trying to be “Everything to Everyone” are numerous. But I believe most, (if not all) boil down to two main roots: fear and vanity. Even these two are closely related and sometimes the line between them can be a bit blurry, but for the sake of our argument let’s say they are different.

Fear tends to cause us to people please because we are terrified that we aren’t good enough to be accepted just as we are. So we act in a way we would never normally act in order to be approved. People who operate out of fear tend to follow the stronger personalities in the group and don’t really want to be alone. Rejection, loneliness and depression are other common symptoms that go along with fear.

The sin here is that you are putting your worth and value in others opinions of you rather than Christ’s. When we seek the approval of man we forget that the only approval that really matters is that of God in Jesus Christ. Paul tells us “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10).

Or some of us people please out of vanity. We already think we are amazing, (I know you’d never say it out loud), and want others to share in our praise of ourselves. We want to make everyone happy so they will in turn make us happy by telling or showing us how great we are. This attitude feeds our ego’s and thus we crave more praise. And while this can also be fear based I put it in it’s own category because I feel like there is a possibility that the motivation for this type of vanity is in vanity itself.

Our world has become consumed with self-love. Many people believe that you can’t truly love others until you love yourself. This idea has snowballed into billions of dollars spent on marketing the idea that we need to love ourselves first. People don’t buy BMW’s because they really love their neighbor. And so we people please and change our colors to feed into our ever increasing desire for self-love. The Bible, however, isn’t very interested in self-love. Read Matthew 22:34-40. Notice self love doesn’t even make the list. So basically in Jesus’ view our love should look like this: 1. God. 2. Every other person on the planet. 3. Last and in this case least, ourselves. Bet you won’t see that in any marketing campaign anytime soon.

So whether it is fear or vanity based, this “Everything to Everyone” approach is sinful and needs to stop. I know that is easier said than done, but I think the answer comes by looking at the Biblical way to be “Everything to Everyone.” In 1 Corinthians 9:22-23 Paul sums up why he tries to be “Everything to Everyone.” “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the Gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”

And this is how we are set free from our sinful people pleasing. Rather than trying to be “Everything to Everyone” out of fear or self-love we try to be “Everything to Everyone” for “the sake of the Gospel.” This doesn’t mean Paul was a Christian with some people and cursed like a sailor with others. It means that no matter what group of people Paul was with he would treat them and act around them with the goal to “save some.”

Which is where I want to leave you all this week. Stop living in fear that others will reject you if they only knew the real you. Stop loving yourself as much as the world tells you you need to. Rather love God and love others. Be willing to adapt to those you’re around not like a chameleon but rather as a respectful and loving ambassador of Christ. And remember the motivation is always to see God glorified and to see more share in the blessings of the Gospel. May we all be set free to live in such a way this week.

Just Playing in the Wind

Is anyone feeling any kind of letdown after Valentine’s Day this week? I feel like holidays are often a catalyst for feelings of letdown, depression or doubt. We get so hyped up for the holiday that when it comes and doesn’t meet our impossibly high expectations we feel like we missed something. This often leads us to feel a kind of post-holiday depression or drought. And while Valentine’s Day may not give you that post-holiday longing for more, I am guessing Christmas, your birthday, or even the weekend does.

Yes the weekend is an amazing break from work, but it never lives up to our expectations and only leaves us feeling down Sunday night that it has already gone so quickly. And yes Christmas is an amazing celebration each year, but the day after Christmas feels like nothing special even happened that entire month leading up to it. So why do we do this to ourselves? Well I think Ecclesiastes has some answers for us.

Multiple times in the book of Ecclesiastes you see the writer describe something and then call it “vanity and a striving after the wind.” (1:14, 2:17, 2:26, 4:16). I have just named four places where you can find this term, but it appears over ten times throughout the book. And I feel like this is our ailment. We are all just content playing in the wind.

Here’s what I mean. We continually try to find something to put our hope for happiness and pleasure in and then this thing inevitably leaves us feeling empty and unsatisfied. Our chase for happiness is as foolish as a child chasing after the wind. Sadly we look in all the wrong places than wonder why happiness continues to allude us.

We are so consumed chasing after minor pleasures or something as silly as happiness when true joy awaits us. C.S. Lewis put it like this:

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

So what’s the cure? How can we be satisfied rather than have this continual longing that can never be fulfilled? Well the simple truth is that we need to change what we are chasing after. We need to stop pursuing these lesser pleasures that the world says will make us fulfilled and instead choose to pursue Jesus Christ and His mission.

What the world says will fulfill you can easily be seen everywhere. Wealth, fame, physical attractiveness, a comfortable life, a successful job, sex, abundant possessions, food and drink or whatever else you have set your hope on. All of these can basically break down to self-indulgent pleasure. The world says that for us to be truly satisfied we need to reach a point where our pleasure, (whatever it is we do to get pleasure), can be carried out uninhibited. For example, if we find pleasure in eating, then we can eat whatever we want whenever we want. If we find pleasure in possessions, we can buy what we want whenever we want. If sex, we can sleep with the most beautiful or handsome people whenever we please. If fame, then people will all praise and worship us when we want.

And for many of us these things look like a great life. However, the truth is they are merely “vanity and a striving after the wind.” Why do people who use drugs continually look for harder more dangerous drugs? Why do rich people need even more money? Why is one brand new BMW not enough? Why do people cheat on their supermodel wife? Because we believe satisfaction can only be found in more, but we forget that more is never enough.

Jesus offers us an alternative to this never ending quest for more. “Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14.

Jesus offers us such an amazing gift. Satisfaction. He offers us the ability to be satisfied in him. This means we don’t have to keep striving after things that only leave us feeling let down in the end. This means we don’t have to compare ourselves with others. And the second half of the verse makes it even more incredible. Once we know Jesus, we will have such an overflow of satisfaction in Him that we get to go and share it with the world. Thirsty people who have been chasing after the lesser pleasures of this world can come to us and we can share our satisfaction in Jesus with them.

And this is why we must store our hope or our treasure in the right place. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay u for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and were thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.” (Matthew 6:19-21).

So my hope is that all of you will seek Jesus as your ultimate treasure. I hope that you will stop seeking after the pleasures this world offers, that you will stop chasing the wind of happiness and vanity and instead drink deep from the well of joy that comes from Jesus alone.

What is love? Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me no more: Part 3

This is the third and final week in this little dating series. I also feel that this is the most important of the three because if you don’t get what I say here, the previous two posts will be worthless. While we need to understand men’s and women’s shortcomings and roles in dating, the most important thing to understand is why. What is the purpose behind dating and marriage? Anyone who is married or has ever dated knows all the difficulties involved, so why do we put ourselves through it?

Culture tells us to go through with dating and marriage because it will make us happy. Terms like “soul mate” “better half” and “what I have been missing all these years” make it sound like finding our spouse will finally make us feel complete or happy. So, many people want to date or marry to find joy. They feel like finding a mate will fill that void in their life and make them happy. But is that all dating and marriage is about? Happiness?

Actually, this is what has gone so drastically wrong in our world. Almost every movie, TV series or song now has something about affairs, one night stands, or sleeping around. In fact, many movies and shows even show cheating and sleeping around in a positive light! Our culture tells us that dating and relationships are only about what you can gain from it. And this is what we have become. Every time I turn on the news or get on Facebook I see another affair, unmarried pregnancy or some guy bragging cause he hooked up with another hot chick last night. Sadly, the movies and the TV shows have become our world’s sinful reality.

People no longer view a relationship as it was meant to be but rather as a means to satisfy their own desire for happiness. The cultural thought is “If she makes me happy I love her, but if someone else can make me more happy then I will run off with her.” This is extreme selfishness. We may care and even consider the other person, but ultimately it comes down to what makes ourselves happy. Culture has taught us to pursue happiness and pleasure above all else, even if it hurts others. Affairs and one night stands are at all time highs because people no longer care for others but only for their own pleasure or happiness.

So if culture is so wrong, where can we find the right answer? The Bible of course! The first thing we have to learn about dating and marriage is that it is not about you and your happiness! The most important reason we date and marry is to represent Jesus and the Church. Ephesians 5:22-33 is probably the best section in the Bible about marriage. Throughout these verses Paul shows how the way a husband and wife relate to each other is a representation of how Jesus Christ and His Church relate. Men are to love and sacrifice everything for their wives just as Jesus did for the Church, (Verses 25-28), and women are to follow the leadership of the husband just as the Church follows the leadership of Christ, (Verses 22-24).

This is a much different call than that of culture. While culture tells us to live for pleasure and for self, the Bible tells us to sacrifice for others and represent Christ. Think about it guys. Our job is to represent Christ! People get all excited if they get to represent their company at a meeting or their country in the Olympics. Men, we get to represent Jesus Christ in how we relate to women! And women, you get to be his pure and perfect bride. Instead of being that hot girl with a new guy every week, you get to represent sinless perfection and submission in your relationship.

Secondly, we need to know where joy and happiness comes from. If you are looking for a boyfriend of girlfriend because you are lonely or because you think it will make you happy, STOP! It may bring you momentary happiness, but at what cost? You cannot possibly find pure joy in another person. While non-Christian marriages may seem happy and joyful, they will not and cannot ever possibly be as fulfilling and joyful as a Christian marriage. This is not because Christians are better people, but because Christians will seek their joy in Christ first, and their spouse second. Matthew 6:33 says “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Lastly, the reason we date and get married needs to be mutually beneficial. When I say mutually beneficial I do not mean that I make her happy and she makes me happy, but rather that I help her to see and serve Christ more and she helps me to see and serve Christ more. I believe happiness is a fairly natural result of this. This is why Paul warns about being “yoked with unbelievers” in 2 Corinthians 6:14. When looking to date and marry we need to find someone we can work together with that will cause each of us to grow closer to Christ.

They have found that two oxen yoked together can actually do double the work of two oxen individually. So who we decide to yoke or join ourselves with in dating and marriage will be very important as to the service we can do for Christ. We will all have tough times and struggles. In those down times we need our spouse to be able to pick us up and push us towards Jesus, (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). If our main concern is pleasure or happiness it may cause us to marry someone who is there in the good times, but gone when we are really in need or hurting.

I hope you all understand that while dating and marriage are important and can bring you a lot of happiness, that is not the ultimate purpose for love. So what is love? 1 John 4:16 tells us that “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” May we all come to see that dating, marriage and love are all about God. Stop following the lie of culture that tells you pleasure or happiness is the goal of love. Realize the goal of finding a spouse is not self-satisfying but rather God honoring. May we all live for and represent Jesus and the Church in our relationships, and may we find our joy and pleasure in Jesus above all else. And finally, may we all find someone who will help us know, honor, love and serve Jesus Christ more.