Four Questions to Discover Your Idols

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Here’s one more follow-up post from my message on idolatry last Thursday night with Kaleo, the young adults group here at Eastbrook. In his book book Counterfeit Gods (pages 167-170), Tim Keller shares four questions you can ask yourself to discover your idols.

  1. What are we dreaming about or imagining? As William Temple said, “Your religion is what you do with your solitude.”
  2. How are we spending our money? As Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there is your heart also” (Matthew 6:21).
  3. What are we truly living for – what is our functional master? Tim Keller writes: “When you pray and work for something and you don’t get it and you respond with explosive anger or deep despair, then you may have found your real god.”
  4. What are our most uncontrollable emotions? Again, Keller says, “Look for your idols at the bottom of your most painful emotions, especially those that never seem to lift and that drive you to do things you know are wrong.”

If you are willing to do so, I’d encourage each of us to spend some time prayerfully asking these questions through our week. We may learn some important things about our idols. We may need to clean house.

Tim Keller: Categories of Idolatry

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Last Friday night, I gave a message to our young adults at Eastbrook as part of their series on idolatry. Drawing upon Exodus 20 and 32, as well as Psalm 115, and 1 Thessalonians 1:8-10, I attempted to paint a picture of what idolatry is, what it does to us, and how God set us free from idolatry in Christ.

Tim Keller offers a very helpful overview of categories of idolatry in his masterful work Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. This overview is tucked away in the footnotes of the book, found on pages 203-204. On a side note, if you read Tim Keller’s books but don’t read the footnotes, you are robbing yourself of some of the best material in his writing. Do yourself a favor and read his footnotes, and then read the books that Keller is reading to understand where some of his best thinking is coming from. Okay back, to the categories of idols:

  • Theological idols: Doctrinal errors that produce such distorted views of God that we end up worshipping a false god
  • Sexual idols: Addictions such as pornography and fetishisms that promise but don’t deliver a sense of intimacy and acceptance; ideals of physical beauty in yourself and/or your partner; romantic idealism
  • Magic/ritual idols: Witchcraft and the occult. All idolatry is in the end a form of magic that seeks to rebel against the order of a transcendent reality rather than submitting to it in love and wisdom
  • Political/economic idols: Ideologies of the left, right, and libertarian that absolutize some aspect of political order and make it the solution. Deifying or demonizing free markets, for example
  • Racial/national idols: Racism, militarism, nationalism, or ethnic pride that turns bitter or oppressive.
  • Relational idols: Dysfunctional family systems of codependency; “fatal attractions”; living your life through your children.
  • Religious idols: Moralism or legalism; idolatry of success and gifts; religion as a pretext for abuse of power.
  • Philosophical idols: Systems of thought that make some created thing the problem with life (instead of sin) and some human product or enterprise the solutions to our problems (instead of God’s grace).
  • Cultural idols: Radical individualism, as in the West, that makes an idol out of individual happiness at the expense of community; shame cultures that make an idol out of family and clan at the expense of individual rights.
  • Deep idols: Motivational drives and temperaments made into absolutes: a. Power idolatry…b. Approval idolatry…c. Comfort idolatry…d. Control idolatry.

Image and Idolatry

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A quick search online reveals that a lot of us have image problems. Not only do you and I have image problems, but it seems like every category of person, career, human activity, and individual has an image problem.

The Satanic Inversion of the Image of God

As I mentioned in my message this past weekend, “I am More than My Image,” the deepest root of our image problem is the Satanic inversion of how God created us in His image. In Genesis 3:1-7, we can see three aspects of this inversion within the dialogue between the serpent and Eve:

  1. Satan questions the truth of God (“Did God really say?…”) – something which humans in original innocence took for granted as true and good
  2. Satan questions the motivation or rationale of God’s truth (“You will not certainly die…for God knows…”) – something which humans in original innocence took as in their best interest
  3. Satan questions the human relationship with God (“And their eyes were opened”) – the original harmony (shalom) or relationship is no disrupted

The opening of eyes gives more than humanity bargained for as this taints the image of God within humanity. That image is still there – an amazingly good reflection of God in our lives – but it is fogged over and cracked like a damaged mirror.

Human Dissonance about Image and God’s Guidelines

As we look at the story of the Bible after Genesis 3 we see that humanity tends toward putting the self at the center. Not only that, but we construct the world in a way that lifts up images outside of us and inside of us that are contrary to God and His ways. This is a direct reflection of the dissonance we experience as a result of the Satanic inversion of the image of God in Genesis 3. Read More »

Creating Our Own Gods

In my readings for Through the Bible 2011 this week, I came across one of the most memorable stories in the Old Testament: Aaron and the Golden Calf. Every time I read this story, I am dumbfounded by what is happening.

Here is Moses, the God-ordained leader of the people, meeting with God on the mountain to receive God’s direct guidance for the people of Israel. I will admit that he is gone for a long time: “40 days and forty nights” (Exodus 24:18). Still, he is on the mountain speaking with God on behalf of the people, and a visible cloud has descended upon the mountain in full sight of the people (24:16-17). Even before this trip up the mountain by Moses, the people had seen the power and glory of God revealed in thunder, lightning, thick clouds, billowing smoke, and loud trumpet blasts (19:16-19). It was such an overwhelming revelation to the people that we are told, “everyone in the camp trembled” (19:16). If anything, it was an experience to remember.

However, Moses has now gone up the mountain and, from the perspective of the people, it is confusing. They say to Aaron, “As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him” (32:1). Perhaps they thought he had died in the presence of God. Whatever the case, they felt the need to move on. So, with Aaron’s help, they gather their gold in order to make gods for themselves. Perhaps, they thought that if Moses was gone then his God, Yahweh, had also left them. It was time to move on and make their own way. And boy, do they ever move on.

So, even though they had seen the wonders of God’s glory, the make their own gods. They craft a golden calf, build an altar in front of it, and then feast and “indulge in revelry” all around it (32:2-6). Things start to get fun and crazy because, well, that’s what happens when you make your own god.

Every human being is tempted to create their own god. We may not literally bow down to a god every week, but we do worship our own created gods: finances, power, influence, sex, relationships, and more.  We love to do this because when we create our own gods we are free to control our own destiny. Our personal gods reflect our own greatest desires. We set those desires up as gods and then we pursue them with a sense of legitimacy.

It is interesting to consider that when God called Moses to deliver His people, Moses didn’t really want to go at first. And when God called the Israelites into freedom from Egypt, they weren’t actually all that keen on going. What happens when the Living God enters into your life, however, is powerful. It’s hard to argue with God. When you realize that you are not God and that you do not control your own destiny, it is frightening and unnerving at first. You realize that you are the servant and God is the Master.

When the Living God comes into our lives, He will not stand having other created gods taking His place. Why? Because it is a mockery of who He is but also of what it means to be a human being. We are neglecting Him, but also defiling our own lives with self-directed desires that cannot truly satisfy. When we follow after God, as the Israelites had in their journey out of Egypt, and then we turn toward created gods, we are adding injury to insult for the Living God. He has come with grace but, if we do not let Him take those gods away, He will come with anger.

Once, when talking about a human god of choice, Jesus said: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 16:13).

Looking back at Exodus 32, we see that to be true. When we follow God and then create our own gods, we are looking for trouble.

[For more posts on this topic, read Categories of Idolatry or Four Questions to Discover Your Idols.]

When the Opposition is Strong (pt 2)

This is the second of two posts related to my message at Brooklife Church this past Sunday, July 25, entitled “Beyond Ordinary…When the Opposition is Strong.” My message looked at 1 Kings 18, where Elijah confronts Ahab and the prophets of Baal and Asherah on Mount Carmel.

I focused my message in on three aspects of this episode in Elijah’s life. Today, I’ll look at the third things we can learn from Elijah about moving from ‘ordinary’ to an ‘extraordinary’ life in God. You can read the previous post on my message here.

3. Prayer and Opposition: In James 5:16-18, Elijah is remembered as an ordinary person who experienced God’s extraordinary power through prayer. Here are five things I see we can glean from Elijah about prayer from 1 Kings 18:

  • Elijah was motivated in prayer by faith in a great God (1 Kings 18:36; 1 Kings 17:15)
  • Elijah’s goal in prayer was that God would be seen and known so that people would turn to Him, not for his own ease or glory (1 Kings 18:37)
  • Elijah’s wording in prayer was simple and straightforward, forming quite a contrast to the noise and frenzy of Baal’s prophets (1 Kings 18:36-37; cf. 1 Kings 18:26-29)
  • Elijah’s attitude in prayer was humble and persistent (1 Kings 18:42,43)
  • Elijah’s life outside of prayer was marked by absolute obedience to God; his life outside of prayer was consistent with his life in prayer (1 Kings 17:5, 10; 18:2)

A question worth considering as we learn from Elijah’s life of prayer is this: what one apparently immovable thing in our life do we need to bring to God in prayer like Elijah?

You can listen to the message here or subscribe to our podcast online here (iTunes / RSS feed).

You can view my accompanying presentation slides below.