For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. (1 Corinthians 10:1)
They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. (1 Corinthians 10:2)
They all ate the same spiritual food (1 Corinthians 10:3)
and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:4)
Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. (1 Corinthians 10:5)
Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. (1 Corinthians 10:6)
Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” (1 Corinthians 10:7)
We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. (1 Corinthians 10:8)
We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. (1 Corinthians 10:9)
And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. (1 Corinthians 10:10)
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:11)
So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Corinthians 10:12)
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. (1 Corinthians 10:14)
Well, this is week 2 of a series I’ve entitled “Everyday Idolatry – The Empty Promises of Counterfeit Gods”.
And last week we laid down some foundational truths to get us all on the same page:
- Everybody worships
- We are surrounded by gods
- Anything can be worshipped
- Most idols live in your heart
And as I’m sure you can see on your handout, this weeks subtitle is: Cosmic Disappointment.
And I want to take a quick minute and explain what I mean by that and why I think the topic of idolatry is important.
A big part of being a pastor is attempting to live my life in a way where I notice things that are hurting you, and then hopefully being connected enough to God to actually offer you some sort of help.
And so here’s what I’m seeing. I’m seeing more and more people (young people, old people, and everywhere in between) disappointed with their life because they’re bought into the lie that things like relationships, money, success, and power will somehow bring them lasting happiness and the feeling of significance that they’re after. Which is complete non-sense.
I remember when I was in youth group, 25 years ago, there was a big phrase that took off in youth groups. “There is a God-shaped hole in all of us.” And that was a cliche thing to say then and it’s a cliche thing to say now, but the point is right on. That apart from God, you will only feel incomplete and unsatisfied.
And you can spend your entire life trying to fill that hole with all kinds of things from this world only to find that you’re never happy and never satisfied.
And I’m hoping that this brief series near the beginning of the year can be an opportunity for you to invite God in to your life and honestly assess where your heart really is.
If idolatry is the problem, what’s the solution? What do we “do” about the issue? Well, there’s 2 steps, are you ready?
You have to Find Them and Replace Them. And you’re probably thinking “Hello Captain Obvious” but it’s the truth.
- You have to find them, so you have to recognize where you have an idol
- Then, you have to replace them. Which is to say, replace the false God in your heart with the real one.
And I feel like there are some idols that are specific and unique to a person. Specific things that you tend to treat as ‘ultimate’ in your own heart, but then there are other universal idols that I think many if not most of us struggle with that I want to briefly go over.
And you might be thinking “What if these don’t all apply to me?!”
There’s no such thing as irrelevant word from god. God’s word is bread.
- Some bread you get is bread for you to eat.
- Then some bread you get is bread for you to share.
If you only listen to words that you think are relevant for you, the only person you’ll ever be able to help is you.
So I’ve got 5 “everyday idols” that are your fill-ins. Are you ready?
1. The Idol of Love
The desire for human love is in just about every movie, every show, and every song. It’s literally everywhere.
But did you know that human love, as wonderful as it is, can become an idol?
Like we said last week, an idol is taking a good thing in most cases and turning it into an ultimate thing. And that’s certainly true in the case on human love.
How Do I Live Song
I’d like to read you some lyrics from the 1997 hit song “How do I live” by LeAnne Rimes.
The song set a new record for becoming the longest-running song on the Billboard Top 100 chart, at 69 weeks on the chart.
The song was named the best song of the 1990s by Billboard magazine.
If you want to see human love gone wrong, this song really spells it out for us.
How do I get through one night without you
If I had to live without you
What kinda life would that be
You’re my world, my heart, my soul
If you ever leave
Well, baby you would take away everything
Good in my life
How do I live without you?
How do I breathe without you?
How do I ever, ever survive without you?
There’d be no sun in my sky
There’d be no love in my life
There’d be no world left for me
I’d also like to point out that LeAnne Rimes was 15 when she recorded this song, and she sounds 15. “If you ever left me, I would JUST DIE.”
Nobody deserves that level of adoration and nobody can live under that level of pressure.
Michael Bublé covered an old song with this line:
You’re nobody ’til somebody loves you
See, this is exactly idolatry. Finding your ultimate sense of self in something other than God.
People will say “We live in a Godless society.” – Eh. I know what they’re saying, but that’s not exactly true. We live in a society of false Gods. And one of the primary false Gods of our society is the Idol of Love.
There’s this book called ‘The Denial of Death’ by a man named Ernest Fe Becker. I hate the book, because I wish I wrote it.
One of the things he talks about in the book is how humans attempt to find significance now that they don’t believe in God. Years ago, most everyone believed in God, now that more and more people believe that we’re a cosmic accident, how do they find significance. Look at what he says:
He (the modern person) still needed to feel heroic, to know that his life mattered. If he no longer had God, how was he to do this? One of the first ways that occurred to him, was the “romantic solution”. All that he needed, he now looked for in the love partner.
The love partner becomes the divine in which to fulfill one’s life. All spiritual and moral needs now become focused in one individual … In one word, the love object is God. Needless to say, no human relationship can bear the burden of Godhood.” (Ernest Becker)
It’s not about loving people less, it’s about loving God more.
My Wife So look, I love my wife with all of my heart. The life we get to share together is so amazing. I’ve told you this before, and I don’t say this to brag, but it’s just the truth: We get along better than anyone I know. My life is SO MUCH BETTER because she’s in it.
But look, my life does not depend on her. She doesn’t complete me. And look, that’s not about me loving her less, it’s about me loving God more
My Daughter My 5 year old daughter. My goodness. I’m a big pile of goo in her hand. Being her dad is one of the great joys in my life. But she can’t be a God to me. Because it’s not good for me, but you know what? It’s not good for her either. She would crumble under that weight. They’re not supposed to carry that for you.
Parents, don’t put your well-bring on the shoulders of your children. It’s not good for them. And it’s not good for you.
And if that kind of talk makes you nervous, it’s because the world tells us ‘I’ll die without you.’ is romantic. It’s not romantic, it’s creepy.
Human Love Gone Wrong
What does that look like? Well, it looks like:
- ‘My whole life is wrapped up in this person.
- ‘If I ever lost that person, I’d lose my will to live.
- I have a healthy sense of identity BECAUSE they love me.
- I don’t know what to do with myself if they’re not with me.
- I’m not complete if I’m not in a relationship.
- I lost someone I love, so now my life has no meaning.
Human Love Gone Right
- Because God has made me whole, and God fulfills my deepest need for validation, I can love unselfishly. Not as a way to complete myself, but as a way to express the self-giving love that God put inside of me.
- God, thank you for blessing me with wonderful people in my life.
(Jesus:) ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ (Matthew 22:37)
This is the first and greatest commandment. (Matthew 22:38)
And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:39)
See, my love for other people, is underneath my love for God.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25)
Ok, so I’m trying to love my wife the way Christ loves the church, and to “give myself” for her. It’s not about me getting it’s about me giving.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
God loved so much that he “gave”. Ok so I love so much that I GIVE. It’s not about ‘If I didn’t have you I couldn’t make it through the night. No, it’s about ‘I love, so I give.’ It’s about giving.
2. The Idol of Money
Friedrich Nietzsche, who was a philosopher and the proud owner of the best mustache in history tells us this:
What causes a man to cheat in a financial transaction, or to set his house on fire after having insured it for more than its value? What gives rise to all this? It is not real want—for their lives are by no means insecure. No, they are urged on day and night by a terrible impatience at seeing their wealth pile up so slowly, and by an equally terrible longing and love for these heaps of gold. What once was done “for the love of God” is now done for the love of money. (Friedrich Nietzsche)
Here Nietzsche rightly predicts that money will become one of the primary idols in the Western World. Which of course it has.
You know, one of the interesting things that happens in the life of a pastor is that people come to you and confess their sins. We believe that that’s a good and godly practice.
Over the years, I’ve had people come to me to confess just about every kind of sin.
Almost. But listen to this, I have never ONCE had someone come to me and say “Pray for me Pastor, I’m greedy. I spend too much money on myself and I think my love of money is hurting the people around me.” That has NEVER happened to me.
Why is that? Well, it’s because people don’t see their own greed. And they justify their greed by comparing themselves to people who are more greedy than they are. “Well yeah, but I don’t live like so-and-so. THEY’RE greedy. Not me.”
Did you know that only 2% of Americans consider themselves upper class? That’s funny. Delusional, but funny.
The rest of the world is not fooled. When people from other parts of the world come and visit here, they’re often shocked at just how much materialistic comfort the majority of Americans consider a necessity.
Greed is not just a problem with rich people. It’s a problem for all people. It’s trying to get something from money that you’re supposed to be getting from God.
Jesus warns people about greed more than he warns them about sexual sin, more than he warns about witchcraft, more than he warns about drunkenness, yet almost no one thinks they are guilty of it.
That’s why I feel like the base case for all of us should be: “This could easily be a issue for me.”
Then he (Jesus) said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15)
That’s interesting. That you have to “Watch out” that you’re not guilty of greed.
Think of another classic sin – Adultery. Sex that happens outside of a marriage.
Jesus doesn’t say “Be careful that you aren’t committing adultery!” He doesn’t have to! If you’re committing adultery, you know it! If you’re in bed with someone else’s spouse, you don’t stop half way through and say “Wait a second, I think this is adultery.” If you’re committing adultery, you know it!
But it’s amazing, most of us would agree that we live in a society filled with greed, but almost no one thinks it’s true of them.
Just briefly, greed can take many forms:
- Spending excessive money on yourself is greed.
- Obsessively saving and hoarding money can be greed too.
- For some people, they don’t want a fancy car and fancy clothes, but to have lots of money in the bank, that’s where they get their security. That can also be an idol.
But in every case, the heart is the same. It’s trying to get something from money, that you’re supposed to be getting from God.
Greed is not a financial issue. It’s a heart issue.
Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless. (Ecclesiastes 5:10)
Money Gone Wrong
- “I wake up and I’m thinking about money. I go to sleep and I’m thinking about money.”
- “Why would I give my money to a ministry or a non-profit? That’s MY money. I earned it.”
- “Of course I feel secure! Look how much money I have in the bank.”
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:10)
Money Gone Right
- “God, money is great and all, but I’ll never let it take the place of you.”
- I won’t compromise my integrity to get it.
- I won’t neglect my family to get it.
- I won’t sacrifice my calling to get it.
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (1 Timothy 6:17)
Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. (1 Timothy 6:18)
3. The Idol of Success
Madonna Some of you may have heard of a pop singer named Madonna. I mean, by all metrics, pretty successful. You may or may not like her, but you have heard of her. It’s like Jack Sparrow “You’ve the worst pirate I’ve ever heard of.” “Yeah, but you have heard of me.” That’s pretty much Madonna. She’s one of the most famous people on planet earth. And you’d think if anyone could be content with their level of success it would be her. But look at what she says:
“I have an iron will, and all of my will has always been to conquer some horrible feeling of inadequacy. I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being and then I get to another stage and think I’m mediocre and uninteresting. Again and again. My drive in life is from this horrible fear of being mediocre. And that’s always pushing me, pushing me. Because even though I’ve become somebody, I still have to prove that I’m somebody. My struggle has never ended and it probably never will.”
For someone like Madonna, success is like a drug, where you get a hit of it, and then you’re happy for a little while, and then it starts wearing off, and you need another hit to keep you satisfied.
“Achievement is the alcohol of our time… These days, the best people don’t abuse alcohol. They abuse their lives… You’re successful, so good things happen. You complete a project, and you feel dynamite. That feeling doesn’t last forever, and you slide back to normal. You think, ‘I’ve got to start a new project.” You love the feeling of euphoria, so you’ve got to have it again… An “achievement addict” is no different from any other kind of addict. (Mary Bell)
Story – Me Leaving the Band and having an identity crisis.
You may or may not know this, but years ago, I played lead guitar for a rock and roll band called ‘Old Man Shattered’. And I don’t want to toot our own horn, but we were pretty successful, in the context of a local band. We played some really big shows and big festivals, we had a tour bus, we played the House of Blues in Disneyworld. We opened up for Jessica Simpson. I’m not sure why, but we did.
Well, after doing that for I don’t know, 12 years or so, I felt like God was telling me it was time for something new and so I quit the band.
And I remember when I did that, I had a full-blown identity crisis. I didn’t know who I was anymore. And I remember just crying and feeling like “What have I done?!”
Here’s why: I had built my identity on being a popular, cool musician. And you take that away, and I’m like what Jesus talked about when he talked about the house on the sand. I just crumbled.
Here’s what I did then, (that I hopefully don’t now): I worshipped the idol of success. I found who I was by being successful instead of finding who I was as a son of God.
And you wanna know something really tricky? Our band, was a MINISTRY. So I told myself “I’m not in this for my own glory, I’m in this for your glory, God.” I was deceived. Point being, just because it’s a ministry doesn’t mean it’s not an idol.
And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. (Ecclesiastes 4:4)
Your fill-in is actually something Mark Twain once said:
“_Comparison_ is the death of joy.” (Mark Twain)
Success Gone Wrong
- Without being outwardly successful, I feel like a failure.
- My identity and self-worth are attached to what I accomplish.
- My identity and self-worth are attached to whether or not people see me as successful.
- I feel humiliated if my child is acting up. I need people to see me as an incredible parent.
- I only feel deserving of love if I’m standing above everybody else.
- I will earn God’s approval by doing great things.
It’s Peter in Matthew 16, when Jesus says “Guys, I’m gonna be killed.” And scripture says Peter “rebuked” Jesus and said “Never Lord! This shall never happen to you.” And it almost looks noble, but you have to understand that this would make Peter and the rest of the disciples look like failures in the eyes of people. “Jesus can’t die. Jesus can’t look weak. Because I need to look great in front of people.”
Success Gone Right
- God, everything I have comes from you anyways, so I’m not gonna get all weird and insecure about how “successful” I am.
- God, real success is being faithful to what you have called me to do.
- God, I’m performing for an audience of 1 – you. You’re the one I’m trying to please. So I’m gonna do everything with excellence. To the best of my ability. And that will come from a place of worshipping you, not trying to fulfill some void in myself.
And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3)
Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:4)
… whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, (Matthew 20:26b)
and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— (Matthew 20:27)
just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)
- So God, my success is not about me being served, it’s about me serving.
4. The Idol of Power
Now before I get you mad at me on this point, I just want to remind you what I said at the beginning of this series: Just because something can be an idol doesn’t make it automatically bad. In fact, the better the thing, the more likely we are to idolize it and think it can satisfy us.
And so when it comes to politics, I am most certainly not trying to persuade you one direction or the other. And I’m not trying to dissuade you from “political activism”. Even if that’s just yelling at your TV and posting on Facebook, look you do you.
No, as a pastor, I’m more interested in helping you manage your expectations.
And I want to make a simple point, that if you follow Christ, you almost certainly agree with:
“The main problem in the world is sin, and the only solution is Jesus.”
An alternative to this view is to identify something other than sin as the main problem with the world and something other than Jesus as the main solution.
Al Wolters (philosopher):
The great danger is to single out some aspect or phenomenon of God’s good creation and identify it, rather than the alien intrusion of sin, as the villain in the drama of human life. This “something” has been variously identified as: the body and its passions, culture in distinction from nature, institutional authority, technology, human power-structures, and corrupt leaders. The Bible is unique in its uncompromising rejection of all attempts to identify part of creation as either the villain or the savior.
And you can see this play out in both the positive side and the negative side of people’s emotions.
- People have overblown hopes when their people come into power.
- People have overblown fear and despair when their people lose power.
You know I like to tease people that are all amped up about something that happened in American politics : No political development is worthy of that much hope or that much fear.
I come from a generation of people who are VERY motivated to bring about Social Reform.
With all the love and respect in the world: Social Reform without Jesus is a Band-Aid
Band-aids are cool. I use bandaids. My 5 year old is obsessed with band-aids. We buy bandaids by the truck load. I probably have a Toy Story band-aid on me somewhere. When you have a tiny little cut, a band-aid is perfect. But when you have a serious issue, lets say a brain tumor, a band-aid is not going to cut it.
And something that really concerns me right now is that people are working really hard to find solutions to the problems of the world other than Jesus. It’s not going to work.
You might be the best band-aid applier in the world. But at the end of the day, if your “message” isn’t centered around the message of Jesus, it can still bring change, but it won’t be the biggest change.
And don’t ever think that without political power, God can’t do his work. That’s silly.
Power Gone Wrong
- If so-and-so gets elected, it’s all over for Christianity!
- Woo-hoo my guy or girl won! Now we can FORCE people to act Christian!!!
- This world is going to hell in a hand basket and it’s all the BLANKS fault!!! – (Oh really? It’s the
Power Gone Right
- God help me to be the best earthly citizen I can be while remembering that my truest citizenship is in the Kingdom of God.
- God we pray for our leaders that you would help them, and lead them, and give them wisdom.
- While I’m disappointed with that election result or policy decision, God I believe you are still Lord, you are still King, and my hope lies in you, not in the power structures of this world.
It’s Jesus in Mark 13:
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Mark 13:31)
So God, your words are higher than any king and any kingdom of this world. You are so much greater than any one or any thing down here.
It’s Matthew 6:13:
For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. (Matthew 6:13)
5. The Idol of Comfort
Something you should know about me. I wear shorts and flips year round. I have a STRONG preference for being comfortable. I joke that if you see me wearing a suit, you know somebody died or is getting married.
Now again, just because comfort can be an idol, doesn’t make it automatically bad.
I am not talking about ‘Comfort’ in the sense that scripture says God will comfort the wounded. Or when it talks about God being “The God of all Comfort” That is a different use of this word. What I’m talking about is the idol of being comfortable.
How can being comfortable become a God? Well, it can become a God when you find yourself too often choosing the comfortable thing instead of the right thing.
“Can you give me some examples?” Yep!
- You too often choose to just stay and relax at your house, even though you know your friend needs help with something.
- See? You chose the comfortable thing over the right thing.
- You too often choose sleeping in over coming to church, even though you know going to church is the right choice.
- You too often choose sitting on the couch over exercising, even though you know your body is a temple of the holy spirit.
- You too often choose not having the hard conversation with your spouse even though you know having the conversation is what would be best for your marriage.
- You too often choose to scroll through instagram on your phone while at work instead of doing the work you’re being paid to do.
Notice I said “Too often.” – Because I don’t think sleeping in, vegging out on the couch, avoiding a hard conversation, or scrolling through instagram at work is a sin.
But you need to know this:
Following Jesus will, at times, be uncomfortable.
And you might be thinking “I don’t think that’s really true.” To which I’d reply “I don’t think you’ve really ever read the testament.”
Comfort Gone Wrong
- “I don’t see why I should have to help. It’s not my problem.”
- “I know Jesus said to feed the poor. But the poor smell bad.”
- “I know Jesus said to help those in need. But it’s Saturday. It’s my day. I’ve got my own problems to worry about.”
- ”I know Jesus says to pray for the sick, but I don’t like going to hospitals. It makes me uncomfortable.”
- “I know scripture says to ‘Do all things without grumbling or complaining’, but I had to wait in line for 15 minutes at the grocery store. What a bunch of idiots.”
- “I have to look at my phone every 2 minutes so I never have to face the fact that there are some things in my life that need fixing.”
Comfort Gone Right
- “God, thank you for the amazing life you’ve given me. God, I want to spend my time on this planet serving you and helping others. Give me opportunities to get out of my comfort zone to do things that really matter in this life.”
The author, John Eldridge talks about how every boy is asking the question “Do I have what it takes?”, and every girl is asking the question “Am I lovely?”
Now I don’t know if those kind of broad gender stereotypes are a great idea in 2023. But both of those questions – “Do I have what it takes?” And “Am I lovely?” – are just 2 ways of asking the same thing: “_Am I worth anything?”_
My daughter Grace, who’s 5 and a half, well, she’s very into all things fashion and beauty. She likes makeup, the likes long nails, she likes high-heels, she likes accessories, and she likes to cut off her shirts to make what she calls “belly shirts”. It’s like “You can’t even open your own car door, and you’re ready for belly shirts?!”
Well, a couple weeks ago, I took her to my nephew Evan’s ice hockey game. There’s gonna be other kids there, and so Grace is all dressed up, with cool clothes, and accessories, and mascara, and fake nail.
And we get to the hockey arena, we get out of the car, and she stops, and looks at me, and I look at her and she says “Dad, do you think I’m pretty?”
I looked at her, and said “Well, I figure you’re probably the most beautiful thing in the whole world, inside and out.”
And so she nodded her head, stood up straight and walked right in there like she was the star of the show.
And of course the idea is that as long as she knows, that her dad think she’s beautiful, she doesn’t need to go to all these other places looking for that validation.
And that’s exactly how it is with God. If you can get to the place where you are secure, in the love, and the adoration of the father, then you won’t need to be looking to money, to power, to success, to earthly love to feel OK with yourself.
And so if you’re able to see your own tendencies to try and find validation in things like relationships, money, success, power, the invitation is to draw near to God and let him reestablish your identity in him.