Our Four Greatest Idols

Golden Calf

The golden calf as described in the book of Exodus

Here’s what’s been on my mind and heart lately: I’m sharing it as an equal – one who is imperfect and also just learning these lessons. I hope it encourages and challenges you in a gentle and loving way!  This is also a sneak peak about what I’m going to share at International Fellowship next week during my worship leading (my actual message is going to be entirely different, but it kind of fits with the overall theme):

Yesterday, I was having coffee with one of my really amazing Christian friends over here.  She’s a real gem, full of wisdom and also one of those rare people you meet who has such a genuine and gentle heart, yet can also stir you into conviction and challenge you.  While we were sipping our drinks, I started realizing something that I am certainly guilty of in my own life, but that I also think most people have fallen prey to.  The truth is, everyone is different, but I believe there are 5 types of people in particular, 4 of which are preoccupied with idols.

  • The person who idolizes the past.

I think we’ve all met these people and perhaps we have done it ourselves on numerous occasions (even if we aren’t that old).  Do you ever look back at your life and think “wow, those were the good old days?”  I find myself reminiscing a lot.  It can totally consume my thoughts for the day.  Sometimes I am tempted to complain about this or that and think “man, I never had this kind of problem in Canada.  Canada is the best country in the world.  These Scots are so complicated.”  Listen, that’s a bold faced lie!  The truth is, I faced the exact same problems in Canada as I do here.  I faced loneliness, discontentment, and heartbreak in Canada in pretty much the same ways I experienced them over here.  And I recently learned that the reason for this is because of my own need to surrender everything to Christ.  Changing geographical locations will do little for you if you aren’t willing to address what the root cause of your sadness or anxiety is.

Another way this problem often comes up is when we compare our generation with this current one.  We’re always tempted to say “ah, but when I was a kid we respected our teachers much more than they do nowadays” or “when I was younger we weren’t allowed to swear, get drunk, party, get pregnant out of wedlock… etc. to the extent that kids do today.”  Listen, that might be true, but what are you going to do about it?  Are you going to use it as a way to distance yourself from kids and teens and to judge them… or are you going to use it as a way to connect, offer support and evangelize?  There’s a reason things in our culture have shifted, and probably they shifted in our generation (or long before) without us even recognizing it.  One little compromise here and there can actually destroy an entire social structure!

The moral of the story: don’t idolize the past thinking you had it made, be honest with yourself.  Realize that wishing for the past doesn’t make it come back.   Think about how God can use you in your present circumstance and situation at this particular moment.

  • The person who lives completely in the past as a victim.

Every single one of us has gone through something painful, traumatic, and difficult.  Something no one deserved to have happen to them.  Something that really broke God’s heart in half.  Maybe when you think back to this event it causes you to be bitter and resentful.  Maybe you envy people around you who you assume haven’t experienced that type of pain.  Maybe you use it as a scapegoat and blame your addictions, depression, and disinterest in life on it.  Maybe you use it to justify why you walked away from God and the church and why you no longer care about the Bible.

Over the Christmas holidays at work, we were watching the new Cinderella movie with our Core Members and one line just really stood out and grabbed my attention, “she particularly seemed to enjoy wearing her grief.”  Some of us are like that.  We might not say it outright and we might not even be conscious that we are doing it, but some of us love to share our testimony for the wrong reasons (not to give God all the glory for delivering us from our past failures and mistakes, but because we love reliving those painful moments.  We love thinking that we were the ones who had wrong done to us.  We love thinking that we are completely innocent and those evil people took that innocence away from us).

Listen, I don’t mean to undermine your pain at all.  I know so many people who have gone through way worse things than I can ever think of or imagine.  My heart is broken for them and I am deeply saddened that we live in such a fallen and messed up world that permits these events to occur.  I know it is a result of the brokenness of our humanity, not at all the ideals Christ has planned for us.  I believe it is important to acknowledge your fears and frustrations, your hurt and discomfort.  I believe it is important to seek out support from your friends and family and to search the Scriptures and cry out to God.  But you need to understand this:

There comes a time when you basically need to give it over to God.  If the event happened years ago, then yes, of course, the pain is still there.  It doesn’t diminish entirely.  It will probably always affect you in some way.  But Christ has promised to set you free and He wants to make you whole again.  But first you need to be willing for that to happen.  Continuing to live in the past, deciding that you don’t like a certain month or day because it brings back all your past memories is intentionally choosing to speak a malediction on that day.  You know, it doesn’t have to be negative.  Christ can turn it around.  That one terrible day that holds all those painful memories of terrible things done to you or terrible things you’ve done to others doesn’t have to be one of unforgiveness.  It can actually be one of blessings instead.  Who knows?  Maybe God wants to  give you a new milestone – a positive one where you can look back on that day that was so disastrous 3 years ago and now you can say “ah, but this day has new significance to me.  It’s the day Christ completely healed me and set me free.”

So the moral of the story is: do not make your past pain, failures, and mistakes into an idol.  Instead recognize the healing and hope that freely flows from Christ.

  • The person who idolizes the future.

This is definitely the one I find our Western culture is the most fixated on.  We are a completely goal driven society.  When you’re a kid you get asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?”  When you’re old enough to apply for your first job you get asked “where do you see yourself in five years?”  When you graduate from university, they ask you on those surveys “what are you planning to do with your degree?”  Not only do we get asked these questions, but people also judge us based on society’s yardstick to make sure our goals measure up with what is acceptable for someone with our level of education or experience.

I personally really struggle with this as well and most of my friends have called me out on it at one point or another.  I am totally obsessed with goals.  I always want to be doing something new.  So I make a goal, I reach it, then I need to think of the next one.  I don’t like slowing down and savouring the moment of reward.  I just think, “that’s great.  What comes next?”

Listen, there is absolutely nothing wrong with having goals.  I believe that God wants us to be diligent and good stewards with our talents and education.  I also think that if we have the right motivations, God is very pleased with us for being ambitious.  Proverbs tells us that God hates a lazy person – someone who sits around and does nothing.  The Bible commends those who plan, budget, and work hard to achieve their dreams.  On the other hand, to what extent are these goals preoccupying your life and hindering you from living the life you are given at this particular moment?

The moral of the story: don’t idolize the future.  Don’t think the grass will be greener on the other side.  Water the grass that is in your garden – that is right in front of you at this moment, while you are reading my disjointed ramblings J

  • The lazy person who uses the future as a crutch for not taking action now.

Now this one sounds absolutely crazy, but I think it happens quite often.  We can often turn laziness into our idol.  Have you ever met a couch potato?  You know, one of these people who is pretty much useless.  They have no motivation in life.  They think someone else will do all the dirty work for them while they get to bask in the glory of the achievement.  Sometimes people will say, “oh, I can’t do that today.  I’m too busy, but I can do it tomorrow.”  But then before you know it, tomorrow because a week from now, then a month, then ten years later, and nothing ever happens.

Listen, this is not the type of life you are called to as a believer in Christ.  Christians are called to take action.  To be involved in their community.  To engage in ministry.  If you keep telling yourself that you aren’t ready to step in because you need more time, more training, more experience, more maturity… it’s just never going to happen.  There’s always going to be someone telling you that you aren’t the right person or you aren’t properly equipped to handle the challenge… but the truth is, no one is perfect, and if you’re waiting to become perfect, well, you will never get there.

The Bible praises those who don’t take no for an answer and who strive to do what is right in the face of incredible opposition.  It discourages those who build barns and store away goodies thinking they can be used tomorrow, not because we shouldn’t plan, but because it is incredibly wasteful when those goodies could be used right now to serve those around us and to glorify the Father.  It mentions that empty promises to do something are way worse than not making a promise, but then finding the time to help.

The moral of the story: Don’t make laziness and a television/Facebook life your idol.  Make the conscious choice to serve those around you who rely on your help at this moment.

  • The person who lives fully in the present, accepting each day as it comes and completely trusts Christ to reveal Himself in new ways to them daily.

This is the person we should all strive to be, but it is always easier said than done.  This is the person who has a healthy dose of reality.  They know how to relate stories from their past to others without it affecting their current emotional state.  They know how to take lessons from the past and apply it to their lives without falling back into their old patterns of life.  They also know how to look forward to the future with a healthy dose of respect for planning, but without making it an idol.  Ultimately they live in this present moment because yesterday is uneraseable and there is no guarantee of tomorrow.  These are the people we need to become and with God’s help it is entirely possible.

2 thoughts on “Our Four Greatest Idols

  1. Interesting thoughts. I’m reading a book right now about our obsession with the future. I haven’t gotten too far to read the criticism of excessive future thinking that I think is coming. The book is ‘Trees on Mars, Our Obsession with the Future’, by Hal Niedzviecki

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