The Idols We Never Knew We Had: PART VII – Family

We only have a couple of weeks left in this series on idols, and I’ve chosen the topics for the weeks with a specific order in mind.  As we come to the end, the idols are perhaps progressively more subtle, more hidden.  What that means is that we’re typically more unaware of their potential danger, which, in some respects, makes them more dangerous.

One of the greatest blessings that God gives us in this lifetime is the gift of family.  Almost regardless of how smooth or troubled a person’s family life has been, regardless of whether they are a believer or unbeliever, virtually every single person on the planet will tell you that “family” is a beautiful concept.  When you see that type of universal praise, it’s obvious that a blessing is inherently wonderful.  What I’d like to challenge you to think about today though is whether or not it’s possible that family ties could be too close, whether or not family could be a very real idol to us as well.  And I’d like to do that by way of Bible illustration.

You might think that from a narrative standpoint, the account of Abraham in the Old Testament should end with the birth of Isaac, the long-awaited son.  Pregnancy had finally become a reality for his old, barren wife Sarah, and a son is finally born to Abraham.  It was a miracle!  The promised Messiah would come through this line and all nations would be blessed.  End scene.  Right?  But that’s not how the narrative ends.  It continues with one of the most heart-wrenching tests of faith in the Bible, one that more transparently than any other foreshadows God’s coming action in sending his Son to die for mankind’s sins.

In Genesis 22:2, God says to Abraham, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah.  Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”  What?!  Why?!  If you continue to read in Genesis 22, you discover that these seemingly natural questions don’t ever come out of Abraham’s mouth.  Clearly they must have gone through his head.  This is the son he had literally waited a century for.  And now God wants Abraham to sacrifice his own son?  It doesn’t seem to make any sense.  But, Abraham doesn’t challenge God, because he knows God.

In all of this,you see, God recognized something we sinful humans wouldn’t have.  A child that was as longed for as Isaac was could quite easily become the most important thing in Abraham’s life, the epicenter of his self-worth, his ultimate value.  And as children of God, nothing deserves that spot in our hearts and in our lives except God himself.

If a parent puts a child in the central spot in life, the love for child (a good thing) becomes idolatrous.  And interestingly, since this idolatrous love goes against God’s will for parenting, not only will the parent suffer a strained or broken relationship with God, but the parent, suffocating a child with a love that is disproportionate to love for God, will likely strain or destroy relationship with the child too.  It’s a tragedy that many well-intentioned parents are blindly unaware of (loving kids too much in relation to love for God).

Now, as we back up a step, we want to ask an obvious question: Did God really want Isaac dead?  Is that why he told Abraham to go to Moriah and sacrifice his son?  Answer: Of course not.  It makes no sense that God desired a human child’s sacrifice and that would violate his very own teachings on the sanctity of human life elsewhere in Scripture.  What God was doing here was challenging Abraham to see what he valued more – God or family?

It was understood in ancient Israel that, like all blessings, the blessing of family comes from God and belongs to God.  Abraham knew that.  The covenant of circumcision and dedication to the Lord was designed to show that.  Later, God would expressly state that “your family (as represented by your firstborn son) belongs to me” (Ex 22:29, 34:20, Num 3:40-41, 46-48).  So Abraham knew that God had every right to do with his firstborn son whatever he wanted.  But Abraham also knew the grace of God and trusted his holy and loving promises, promises which stated that many descendants would come through this son.  Consequently, even though Abraham didn’t understand God’s direction, he was able to faithfully follow God’s direction, trusting in God’s good and perfect will.  This is what allows Abraham the willingness to climb this mountain to do what a parent would generally deem unthinkable.

The story comes to its climax as Abraham demonstrates full willingness to sacrifice his son.  But with Abraham’s arm raised, knife in hand, God interrupts him, saying, “Do not lay a hand on the boy.  Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” (Gen 22:12)

God’s words here are perhaps a bit misunderstood.  It wasn’t as though God couldn’t tell what was in Abraham’s heart all along.  An all-knowing God whose vision penetrates the hearts of humans does not need an external proof of love to come to conclusions about hearts.  However, Abraham needed a pause in his life to discover that Isaac was NOT the most important aspect of his life.  God was.  So you see, operating the same way he does in our lives, God doesn’t provide this test so that he can see Abraham’s love, he provides this test so that Abraham can come to a realization of Abraham’s priorities.

This clarifying realization that God was the greatest love in his life, difficult as it was, enabled Abraham to love Isaac wisely.  In other words, had this incident not happened, Abraham likely would have been led to either overly control & discipline Isaac – seeking for him to be the perfect, flawless center of his life that he thought Isaac was, something Isaac would never have been able to live up to.  OR, had this incident not occurred, it could have led to Abraham spoiling Isaac – seeing only the good and ignoring the bad, fearing the rejection of his son and therefore failing to discipline him appropriately and as needed, which inevitably would have caused Isaac to grow up into a self-absorbed brat.

The point: No child, spouse, or any other family member can be your Lord or Savior.  And it’s entirely unfair to put him/her under the pressure of having to be.  If your family is your reason for living, when they fail you (and as sinners, they will), it will destroy you.  Only God is mighty to save.  God alone is all we need.  And understanding that allows you to love everyone and everything else in your life appropriately.

The story of Abraham and Isaac finds its culmination in Jesus.  God guides Abraham to a substitute sacrifice on that mountain which was to be slaughtered in place of Isaac.  A couple thousand years later another substitute sacrifice would arrive on those very same mountains.  It was not Abraham’s son, but God’s own Son who would be sacrificed.  Yes, God demonstrated willingness to temporarily part with family and see family suffer in order to make his family greater by means of addition.  And because he did, heaven is our home, and God is our Father.

Again, I hope you understand that family is a great gift from God.  Peace within family can make for more enjoyable earthly life, but it can’t redeem our lives or give us eternal life, which means that if our family revolves around our family and not around Jesus, it’s a temporary family.  However, if Jesus is at the heart of family, the joy of family becomes a perfected and eternal blessing.

The Idols We Never Knew We Had: PART VI – Politics

What’s the main problem with the world?  Think carefully.

If you insinuate that something other than sin is the main problem with the world, you’ll end up falsely suggesting that something which is not inherently bad is purely evil.  Likewise, if you insinuate that something other than Jesus is the answer to the world’s problem, you’ll end up foolishly “idolizing” something that is not inherently good.

For many people, this is the case when it comes to political ideology.

Remember that our working definition of an “idol” is a good thing that becomes the ultimate thing in our lives which we believe can answer all the problems and right all the wrongs of life.

When it comes to politics, it doesn’t take too much imagination to see how a good thing like patriotism, if pushed to be the ultimate thing in life, can turn into racism and imperialism.

It really wasn’t that long ago that the Western world had fairly high hopes for what was then called “scientific socialism.”  However, a quick glance at the Fascist, Nazi, and major communist movements of the 20th century will show you how corrupt such a system can become.  Upon the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, seeing the symbolic collapse of socialism, the world mostly came to a collective conclusion that free market capitalism was the solution – perhaps the thing that can end hunger and poverty in the world.

Notice, however, that something other than sin was perceived as the primary problem and something other than Jesus was seen as the solution.  Reviewing a little church history though will tell you that the early Christian Church in the Roman Empire participated in communal living (i.e. need-based wealth distribution), and they did so to such success that it was one of the more attractive qualities of the new faith to outsiders.

All the believers were together and had everything in common.Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:44-47)

Perhaps the method of wealth distribution isn’t the problem.  The de-Christianization of communist countries appears to be a greater reason that such a system would collapse upon itself.

Interestingly, in Adam Smith’s classic of economics, The Wealth of Nations, he refers to the free market as an “invisible hand” that guides people to act in ways that are best for the benefit of society.  Giving an ideology that kind of credit – that it compels people to do the right thing for others, outside of connection with God – seems to give a power to something that doesn’t truly have that power, i.e. it “idolizes” it.

Upon the housing market crash and global recession that began in 2008, which was driven at least in part by greed, we’re catching more than a glimpse that a free market is perhaps not the answer to all financial problems either.  I’m not at all suggesting it’s wrong.  I’m merely suggesting it doesn’t have the power with which it was once credited.  Free market societies, too, can collapse upon corruption.

What this issue all comes back to is how much credit we give to an ideology.  There are probably a few valid tests to see whether or not you’re tempted to deify political ideology.  For starters, if you can’t admit that there are going to be flaws in any political ideology, you’re likely giving a party, political leader, or ideology way too much credit.  Likewise, if you can’t admit that a party which is not your party, candidate who is not your candidate, or philosophy which is not your philosophy could have some really good ideas or legitimate concerns, but rather, he/she/it is viewed as pure evil, you’re likely giving your own party, candidate, or philosophy way too much credit.  At that point, you have blindness to any general points of agreement or common interest because the points of disagreement overshadow everything.

Finally, while Christianity in our country is becoming seemingly more ecumenical as churches merge together in non-denominationalism and general doctrinal indifference, American politics have become increasingly polarized and policy based.  What that tells me is that it’s possible that people have become more particular about their political messiah than their spiritual messiah.  Political policies have become more doctrinal than biblical doctrine.  And political activism has at times achieved near religious levels. In other words, it’s possible that for some, politics is a very real idol.

Let me show you how Jesus is better.

As mentioned earlier, the Christians of the early church were able to practice communal living in a remarkably attractive fashion.  The success was based in their demonstrations of Christ – their faith in action towards one another.  If you took Jesus out of the equation, it never would have worked.  So it’s not necessarily always that a system is flawed.  It’s that the people within the system are flawed.

Now let’s apply this to modern politics.  Here’s one example: A hot issue over the past couple of years has been the reform of health care.  Why have health care prices been driven up so drastically in recent years?  Well, there’s a host of reasons, but things like malpractice suits, patients not paying bills, drastically unhealthy living, and even the so-called “medical student syndrome” have all played big roles.  Every single one of these issues ultimately revolves around sin (greed, irresponsibility, poor management, and arrogance respectively).  And the smartest minds in D.C. are not going to be able to form policy that circumvents sin.

Politics, at its root, is a power and control issue.  But regardless of who’s in power or what we put into legislation, we can only control so much.

There is, however, a benevolent ruler whose power is limitless and whose control is truly authoritative, while at the same time he respects the integrity of human free will.  When he entered this world, the Son of God gave up his position of rule in the heavenly headquarters from which he  governed creation.  He humbled himself, relinquishing power, being subject to the laws made for men.  And yet he kept these laws perfectly, taking his righteous life to the cross to pay for our unrighteousness.  He died for those times which we lacked moral control.  And yet, on the third day he rose in power and glory to benevolently rule all things on our behalf.

Whether our earthly authorities are great or corrupt, they cannot solve all of the world’s problems.  But there is one who can.  And did.  He’s the one to whom these earthly authorities finally have to answer to in the end.  And only when we relinquish ultimate power and control from ourselves and from our political parties and recognize our life, times, nation, and this world are in His control, will we find peace, the ability to love and forgive, and no desire to oppress others.

1 Corinthians 2:6-8 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.  No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.  None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

The Idols We Never Knew We Had: PART V – Technology

Part V of the current series on The Idols We Never Knew We Had was scheduled to be dedicated to the hidden god of “technology.”  However, as I was thinking it through and taking some notes, I was arriving at some points/conclusions that sounded very familiar.  I eventually figured out that it was because 8 months ago I had written the same essential post that I was now writing, just without using the word “idol” in it.

So….instead of reinventing the wheel, and since I’m a little short on time this week, I’ll redirect you to the article from February 16, 2011, in case you didn’t get to catch it then.

Please check out The Answers to Everything

Thanks for reading!

The Idols We Never Knew We Had: PART IV – Sports

Whatever we give ourselves to in worship, this is our God.  Sometimes, because the word “worship” gets too narrowly defined, we assume that worship is merely a musical style or something that we do for a period of time on a Sunday morning.  The famous Christian pastor A.W. Tozer sheds some light on this topic though.  He once said, “If you will not worship God seven days a week, you do not worship Him one day a week.”  He’s right.  Idolatry is when we take something good in our lives, but we then misuse it by glorifying it to spiritually unhealthy degrees.  We then make sacrifices of other things as an expression of love and respect for that specific idol’s glory.

Any good thing can become an idol.  And if an alien (no, I don’t believe they exist, but they’re necessary for this illustration) came down from outer space on a Sunday and was gauging what people in America worshiped, my guess is that it might not be the God of the Bible.

Why wouldn’t it look that way?   Well, on Sundays, particularly the male populous, seems to run from Christian sanctuaries and toward television sets.  The most joyous feast does not appear to be that celebrated amongst Christians, but when the Dominoes delivery guy shows up.  The dancing and cheering seems to fall more in line with suited gladiators on a field rather than an unarmed gladiator on a cross.  And in the advent of greater technology, even the thoughts, daydreams, and fantasies of (mostly) men drift not towards a wonderful imagined life to come, but towards an imaginary fantasy football match-up.  And that’s only if these outer space aliens saw men sitting in their living rooms!

What if the aliens happened to hover over a major metropolitan stadium on a Sunday afternoon.  They’d see a billion dollar structure that dominates the landscape of the city (i.e. temple).  They’d see seats that are very expensive yet sold out every weekend (i.e. offering).  They’d see droves of people dressed in particular colors stuffing themselves with food and drink (i.e. special dress).  They’d hear loud music and chanting continuously blaring (i.e. harmonious praises).  They’d see scantily clad women standing near the main action leading people in cheers (i.e. what started as pagan virgin sacrifices and temple prostitution…, no comment).  In other words, the outer space visitors would probably be viewing a worship service as large, passionate, devoted, vocal, and generous as any other worship service in the world that day.

Now, if I’ve burst your bubble regarding your sports madness, understand that I’m a pretty big fan myself.  I’m not saying that any fan support in professional sports, football or otherwise, is sinful.  I’m saying that what most don’t seem to realize is that it can become sinful, idolatrous in fact.  It’s a matter of priorities.  It’s a matter of the heart.

I’m very loyal to my teams and don’t like to miss games.  I have my own fantasy football roster that I manage, quite skillfully I might add.  And I enjoy it all.  But, that passion has no place unseating passions for items ahead of it on the “most important” list in my life.  For every Christian, that list starts with Jesus our Savior.  From there on out, lists might vary, but the Bible gives us a lot of guidance on how that list is formed.  For instance, relationships generally rank higher than things, items that are directly spiritual rank higher than that which is material, eternal life ranks higher than the present temporal life, etc.

If you’re a football fan (or basketball, baseball, hockey, golf, etc.) and you’ve ever wondered if heaven will have football, I can’t tell you that for sure.  What I can tell you is about a scene in heaven that seems amazingly like the excitement of the home stadium atmosphere.  In Revelation 4 we find a group of 24 elders bowing down worshiping God for the greatest performance ever known, the most dynamic plays ever seen – the creation, redemption, and salvation of the world.  When you get to the next chapter, Revelation 5, a greater crowd has gathered – thousands upon thousands – a literal stadium of fans.  And they continuously grow louder as they just keep chanting for the MVP, shouting, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Rev 5:11).  And finally, it’s not just the stadium, but it’s the whole world, every radio and tv station, every fan, every single creature, singing, ” “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Rev 5:13).

The game is over.  The battle is won.  Jesus is victorious over sin, death, and the devil, which mean that we, as members of his team, can celebrate our victory as well.  So…….yeah, I think heaven might look a little like winning the Super Bowl.  But better.