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.

What is love? Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me no more: Part 1

So I decided to name this post after a 1993 song for two reasons. First, its a stinkin awesome song! If you haven’t heard go download it and dance the night away. Secondly, (and obviously more important because I am not going to write about dancing anymore), is the fact that most of the people reading this website are in the young adult category. Seeing as the majority of people I work and talk with are young and that I myself am a young person, this question about what is love comes up pretty frequently. Everyday, I either hear or see someone struggling with this question as far as dating goes. So I wanted to share some of my perspectives on this topic. Obviously, we will need to look to the Bible for our ultimate guidance with this question.

When I first started writing this I was hoping to make it into one post, but instead I thought I would make it a 3 week series in order to be a little more thorough. So in order to talk about dating, I thought I would break it up into a men’s and women’s section and then close with the whole purpose behind dating and marriage. Again, I am no expert! I am just a young person looking for answers to questions. I hope my insights can help some of you who are looking but feel like you are still not finding. I also hope that as we seek we would look first and foremost to Jesus Christ.

I will start with the ladies because I want to be a gentleman, (guys take note!). Now I am not a woman so I can only speak from my perspective. Ladies, if what I say here is way off base, then let me know. But ladies also remember, this is the perspective I have. Whether or not this is reality, this is the image that I feel most girls put off and thus how most guys feel about them.

I feel like girls naturally have a deeper level of insecurity than boys. Thus, many girls look at dating and marriage as a type of security blanket that can protect them. In China, this is why young girls will marry much older men. It is usually not for money, but rather that these older men have jobs, homes, cars, etc. The older men look like a much safer and secure choice than a young man just out of college looking for work. I also feel that because of this, many girls rush ahead and like the first guy that gives them attention. Instead of waiting to find the right person, many young girls fear being alone forever and thus date a guy who is not good for them. Also, I feel like girls, in order to find a guy, spend much of their time worrying about what others think of them. Why do girls like to be told they look good? Men don’t usually seem to need that reassurance, yet because women have a deeper insecurity they are constantly comparing and worrying.

So what advise do I have for the girls out there? First, girls you need to guard your heart. Don’t just fall in love with the first guy who gives you attention. Proverbs 4:23 says “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flows the springs of life” and Song of Solomon 8:4 says “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that you do not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.” This is obviously a problem for girls, (which is why you see daughters and not sons in verse 4), and something that girls need to remember as they look to date. Just because a boy asks you doesn’t mean you need to date or marry him. Girls, it is ok to have some standards in what kind of guy you are looking for. Even if the guy seems really great, keep that guard up because men are masters of acting polite at the beginning in order to get what they want in the end.

Secondly, instead of spending so much time and energy worrying about your appearance, spend more time on your character. A great place to read is Proverbs 31:10-31. Take special note of verse 30: “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Girls, you may look outwardly beautiful now, but that won’t always be the case. Add 20-30 years and you most likely won’t be quite as good looking as you are today. Again, this is why girls are always comparing. I usually don’t hear about girls comparing themselves with other girls on generosity or servanthood. Rather, it is about hair, style, and whose butt is bigger. I feel like this worry is demonic and causes women to be preoccupied with things that will ultimately fade away. Yes girls need to keep up their appearance, but I don’t feel they need to be so preoccupied with it. Don’t find your value in your appearance, find your value in Jesus.

Thirdly, my personal advise for girls is that you find a balance between guarding your heart and getting to know boys. I feel like it is the man’s responsibility to pursue and ask a girl out, so ladies, let the men do their jobs. But I also feel like many Christian girls have gone to the opposite extreme. It’s not good to be a flirt, but it’s also not good to be cold. Spend time with boys in groups. Be friends with boys and with girls. Let’s stop saying the whole, “I am dating Jesus” thing. It sounds ridiculous and silly. Guard your heart, but do so in a way that builds up the body of Christ. But also remember that these men are your brothers. Again, don’t isolate yourself with any guy except your husband, but group activities and study’s with groups of boys and girls is a great way to get to know the opposite sex.

Lastly, I feel like the root of insecurity is a lack of desire in Jesus alone. Ladies, is Jesus enough for you? I mean is Jesus really enough? I know God has put a motherly instinct into the hearts of women, but that doesn’t mean that we change the Gospel. The Gospel does not say Jesus and a husband, children or beauty. The truth of the Gospel is that Jesus is more than enough for us. Check out Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Jesus doesn’t say go find a husband and you will find rest. He doesn’t say have children and that will be enough. Jesus says HE alone is enough. So ladies, my last bit of advise is that you would seek Jesus alone. Stop looking for a boyfriend or husband in order to be satisfied. If you think those things will fill this lonely feeling you have now you are wrong. Jesus is enough and HE alone can satisfy you. So ladies, if you struggle with insecurity and loneliness, come to Jesus. Come and see that Jesus is more than enough for you and all your needs and longings.

So I tried to be delicate with the ladies out there. Men, you are next week and I will not be as nice. So get ready guys cause I have a lot to say to you all next week!