Friday, May 24, 2013

Worshiping your way out of idolatry

Worship is the default mode of our hearts. We were made to worship. It comes naturally. No one needs to be taught how to worship. However, there is a problem. Our hearts were made to worship God, and that is no longer their default mode. Instead, our hearts will look for and find anything other than God to worship. As John Calvin famously said, "The human heart is a factory of idols". What comes naturally is no longer worship of the Creator but rather worship of created things.

Identifying Idols

The deceptive thing about these idols, these false gods we worship, is that they rarely take the form of a little golden statue (at least not in our culture). But they are here and we worship none the less. When we look to a created thing to provide for us what only the Creator can provide (meaning, significance, acceptance, approval, ultimate joy, comfort, security), not only do we set ourselves up for disappointment, but we commit idolatry in the process.

Here are just a few questions to help you identify potential idols in your own life:
  • What do you brag about?
  • Where do you go for comfort?
  • How do you explain or identify yourself?
  • What do you want more than anything else?
  • What do you sacrifice the most for (in time, money, sweat)?
  • Who's approval are you seeking?
  • What gets the best of your attention, energy, creativity, and effort?
  • ...for a more extensive list and explanation, click here.

Good things turned into god things...

After working through those questions, a shock often comes at the realization our idols are usually good things. A spouse, a job, children, a passion or hobby, your church, your position in that church, your health, your looks, your skill and talent, the list is endless. But one thing that almost all idols have in common is that we begin to form our identity around that thing. "I'm a Red Sox fan." "I'm a mother." "I'm a Deadhead." "I'm a Calvinist." And, as Mark Driscoll has said, "When a good thing becomes a god thing, that's a bad thing". When our idol begins to become our identity, other questions are even better at helping us pinpoint those "functional saviors":
  • What, if it was taken from you, would shake your faith in God?
  • What would make you angry at God or question his love?
  • What would you give up everything else for to keep from losing?
  • What do you fear the most?

Worshiping Your Way Out

We're all idolators. We're all worshiping functional saviors that give us our identity instead of Jesus. But if many of our idols are good things, then the answer isn't that we must cut it out of our lives like a cancer (usually). So how do we get out? We get out the same way we got in.

We worshiped our way into idolatry, we must worship our way out of it.

When we worship idols, we turn to them to provide for our deepest needs, save us from our deepest fears, and satisfy our deepest longings.  In the same way, when we worship God, we turn to him to provide for our deepest needs, save us from our deepest fears, and satisfy our deepest longings. And if we're honest with ourselves, only God is big enough to deliver on any of it. If we are going to worship our way out of idolatry, we must begin at the very place our most deeply-held idols end up: our identity. This must change or all the other work is in vain.
  • Identity - Quite simply, are you "in Christ"? Scripture tells us that in Christ we are loved by God, forgiven of sin, justified before God, we are new creations (you can read more here). Only by faith in Christ can any of this be true of you. But if your deepest identity is "in Christ", you can begin worshiping your way out of your other idolatry.
  • Acceptance -  In Christ, you are completely accepted and completely loved by the greatest and most important being in the universe. This frees you from the idolatry of individualism (which is often a fear of rejection) and the need to hide the shameful things of your life. This frees you from the need to be loved by everyone, and gives you the ability to speak the truth in love to those closest to you.
  • Significance - In Christ, you are a child of the king. You've been adopted into the royal family of God and you are a co-heir with Christ! This frees you from the idolatry of importance, always needing to be in front of people, always needing to get the credit you are due. This frees you from the burden of building your own empire so you can "leave a mark" or a legacy.
  •  Approval - In Christ, you have received the perfectly righteous life that Jesus lived and you have the unmitigated approval of the God of this universe. This frees you from being a doting parent who wilts at the thought of an unhappy child. This frees you from being destroyed by the slightest critique or criticism. And this frees you from pride when everyone starts telling you you're as great as you already think you are.
  •  Comfort - In Christ, we have available to us a "peace that passes understanding". We are given the Spirit of Jesus which is called "the comforter". This free you to not run to the fridge for comfort food when something goes wrong. This frees you to step out of your comfort zone and do something brave for the gospel of Christ.
We could go on indefinitely, but you get the idea. At the heart of everything we worship is something we want from that thing, and something that we ultimately can only get from God in Christ. We must worship our way out of idolatry. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Show of hands: who bows to peer pressure?

I was standing there alone in the middle of the room, and everyone was waiting for me to decide.

Although it happened more than two decades ago and a full two thirds of my life has since passed, I still remember the incident vividly. I was in second grade and the teacher had written a brain teaser up on the chalk board along with two different answers. One answer was on the right side of the board, the other on the left. One answer was right, the other wrong. Then she had everyone stand up and gave one simple instruction.

"Walk to the side of the board that you think has the correct answer."

One by one my classmates made their decision. And one by one, they all walked to the same side of the board. But I stood at my desk frozen. Frozen because no one stood by the answer that I was knew was the right answer. I was certain I was right, which meant I was certain all of my classmates were wrong.

And my second grade brain exploded. Not only with the logic problem on the board, but also the sociological problem forming before me. I was weighing risks and rewards. Being right all by myself would be awesome, but being wrong all by myself would be humiliating. Siding with the rest of my classmates would be safe, whether they were right or not.

In the end, I sided with the crowd.

I played it safe. And I hated myself for it. Sure enough, the entire classroom (myself included) had walked to the wrong side of the board. The bag of candy for the students with the right answer instead went back into the teacher's desk. But the agony of missing out on some free candy was dwarfed by the angst I felt at the realization that I'd made my decision based not on what I thought was the right answer, but rather based on what I thought was the socially safe answer.

My heart idol is human approval.

Lee just preached on idolatry this week, and I realized that I've still got the same idol that I had all the way back in second grade. When you're a kid, they call it peer pressure. When you're grown, they call it being a people-pleaser. But now I see it for what it really is. For me, it's an idol. It's my functional savior that I run to to find my self-worth, my validation, my meaning.

When I worship at this false god, I want the approval of my peers more than I want what I know is right. Nowadays it's not so much that I'm choosing to be wrong with the crowd rather than be right alone. Instead, I make the decisions that are socially safe, rather than the decisions that I know are best. Deep down, when I worship at the idol of human approval, my first question is not "What will God think of this decision?" but rather "What will others think of this decision?"

All of us have our own idols.

Most of them aren't bad things. A job. Your spouse. Your kids. Even "sex, power, and money" aren't bad in themselves, despite what you may have heard. But as Mark Driscoll has memorably said, "When a good thing becomes a god thing, that's a bad thing." When we look to a created thing to provide for us what only the Creator can provide (meaning, significance, acceptance, approval, ultimate joy, comfort, security), not only do we set ourselves up for disappointment, but we commit idolatry in the process.

Do you know what your idols are? Do you know how to go about finding them? In closing, I'll share a clip from my pastor's sermon on how to find your idols.

As you discover your idols, however, don't despair. There is an answer and it's the one Pastor Lee closes the video with. We worship our way into idolatry, we must worship our way out. But more on that next time.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Sudhir Kavuri's Testimony

Here at Redeemer, we talk about a life of following Jesus as a continuous cycle with three stages: encounter, grow, and serve. We'd like to start sharing these unique life stories we have here at Redeemer. If you have a story you'd like to share, please contact Jared Totten!