Seven Idols Christians Worship

They mingled with the nations and adopted their customs. They worshiped their idols, which became a snare to them~ Psalm 106:35-36 NIV

Whatever book I happen to be reading in the Bible tends to have a discernable impact on my writing. However, I usually only see the impact in hindsight.  Last summer I studied Jeremiah. Looking back, I clearly see that the blogs I wrote during those months tended to be glum, cynical screeds against the evils of the culture. While I was writing a devotional on Galatians I frequently wrote about the wonders of grace and the hazards of legalism, racism, hypocrisy and self-righteousness. The difference between those blogs and this one is that this time I am intentionally connecting a biblical topic I have been studying with a cultural phenomenon we are experiencing in the church.  

So. 

I have been reading the book of Hosea. A key theme of Hosea is idolatry. Hosea got me thinking about idolatry and how contemporary idolatry tends to differ from the standard bow-down-to-a-creepy-little-statue variety of idolatry we see throughout the Old Testament. 

While I was reading Hosea, Joshua Harris (author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye)and Marty Sampson (writer for Hillsong) both abandoned their faith in Christ and “came out” as unbelievers (Marty Sampson has since back-peddled a tiny bit). The book of Hosea and other prophetic books make a clear connection between the act of idolatry and the act of apostasy (Hosea 13:2, Zephaniah 1:3, 2nd Kings 17:11-13). In the Bible there is not a single case where apostasy occurred in a void. No person or nation just up and decided to stop believing in God. Apostasy always followed a lifestyle of idolatry. 

Some idols we worship today are unique to our generation. Some tend to more of an issue among Christian leaders while others affect most Christians in some way. The idols we worship are directly related to the apostasy we are experiencing. When we get a handle our tendency towards idolatry we may see fewer people leaving the church.  

Sadly, there is something in the following to offend pretty much everyone. Beginning with:

 Ambition- 

Ambition is not sinful until it becomes THE primary motivating force in our lives. If ambition is not kept in check it swiftly mutates into covetousness.  Covetousness then becomes an all-consuming focus on whatever it is we long for.  Ambition is particularly dangerous in the church world because unbridled ambition often disguises itself in Christians and Christian leaders as a healthy and godly desire to see churches grow and Christian beliefs spread. However, sometimes ambition for church growth is really just a ravenous appetite for celebrity and recognition.    

Success-

Christians have merged worldly measures of success with Christianity. Being wealthy, sought after and liked is perceived to be success in our Christian culture; although the biblical standard for success is vastly different (Isaiah 66:2, Matthew 22:36-40, Hebrews 11:36-38).  A person who has made success into an idol will do anything to hang on to the attention, money and adulation that comes with success. This includes compromising what they believe or even renouncing their faith in Christ so they can increase the size of their audience and number of followers. 

Grace- 

 God is insanely complex. He is good, merciful and kind. He is also unapologetically judgmental. Like it or not, God judges any person who declines to humbly repent and embrace Him as the sovereign Lord of everything (1st Corinthians 6:8-10, Jude 14:16-18, Revelation 20:13). When we insist on making God out to be all lollipops, sunshine and good vibes we aren’t really worshipping God anymore. We are worshipping the grace God offers only to those who choose to repent (Matthew 4:17, Acts 3:19, Acts 17:29-31). We know grace has become an idol when we buy the lie that a loving God cannot or will not judge people who refuse to play by His rules.   

Judgment- 

There are Christians who really, really want God to smite the daylights out of anyone who has committed certain acts of wickedness. They also want Him to do it without so much as a smidgen of mercy. If the notion that God would withhold judgment from someone just because they have repented bothers you; you just might worship the judgment and wrath of God rather than God (Ezekiel 18:23). 

Marriage-

In Mark 2:23-27 the Pharisees chastised Jesus and his disciples for picking grain on the Sabbath. This was a technical violation of Exodus 16:23. Jesus informed the Pharisees that the Sabbath was intended to be an institution that benefited and blessed people rather than an institution people became a slave to. I am not “soft” on divorce. I believe marriage is critically important and that most marriages could be saved if both people in the marriage would simply stop sinning. That said, I also believe many contemporary Christians make the same mistake with marriage that the Pharisees made with the Sabbath. We worship marriage when we put the institution of marriage above of the welfare of the people in the marriage. 

Freedom-

Freedom (especially where sexuality is concerned) is an idol that has been worshipped with wild abandon in Western culture for decades.  In recent years Christians have followed suit. Those who worship freedom do not believe even God Himself has the right to tell anyone that old-fashioned ideas about gender, sexuality and marriage are true and that some behaviors are simply unacceptable. 

Youth- 

1st Timothy 3:6 cautions Church leaders against placing new converts in positions of leadership. This is because when new converts become leaders they also become prideful. Eventually they may even begin to believe that they have more wisdom and insight than other Christians and even God. A twenty-year-old is by the nature of their age a new convert (even if he or she was raised in the church). Joshua Harris was nineteen when he wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbyeand twenty-one when the greater Christian community dubbed him a leader. Marty Sampson was barely out of his teens when he began leading worship and writing music for Hillsong.  In one sense it is not surprising that these men have decided that they have moved beyond Christianity.  Until we stop elevating every young kid with talent or a good idea into “a leader” we will continue to have problems with those leaders as they age. 

Idols need to be cast down and ours are no different. The only way to cast these particular idols down is a return to Bible study and prayer. When we study the Bible, it enlightens our minds and empowers us to see life the way God sees life. Prayer ensures that the attitudes of our heart truly reflect the heart of God. 

Why Saved People Still Need to do Good works

It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do~ Ephesians 2:8-10 NIV

If you are a Christian and reading this blog-post you can count yourself blessed because God has granted you the privilege of living in the age of Grace.

This simply means that Jesus’ death on the cross and subsequent resurrection paid the penalty for your sins (Acts 13:38-40, Romans 6:23, 1stPeter 3:18).  You do not have to follow a bunch of rules, preform weird rituals or submit to the Old Testament law to get God to like and accept you (Galatians 2:19-21, Galatians 3:1-6, Galatians 5:6). If you have trusted in the finished work Jesus did on the cross and repented of your sins, when God looks at you He sees the righteousness, virtue and goodness of Jesus and that is more than enough for Him (Romans 10:10, 2ndTimothy 1:9). 

He totally digs you. Happy sigh. 

For the average Christian this is not exactly new news. Contemporary Christians have been inundated with the message that it is grace rather than works that save us from our sins and make us right with God. This is not in and of itself a bad message.  It is critical we remember that good works cannot save anyone from anything (Isaiah 64:6). During the Middle Ages the church lost sight of this vital truth and as a result the church (and the people in it) also lost sight of its purpose in this world. The spiritual and ethical chaos that resulted from this error is still being felt in our world today.

Sigh.

 That being said, humans tend to be creatures of weird extremes. We rarely do, think or believe anything in a halfhearted fashion. As a result, the current emphasis on grace has caused many Christians to view good works as an optional activity for Christians at best and as an affront to the grace of God at worst. Some Bible teachers and Pastors have inadvertently encouraged this flawed thinking by leading people to believe that salvation is an end rather than a beginning. Many Christians sincerely believe there is nothing left for us to do but glory in our salvation and wait for heaven once we have become Christians.  

Nothing could be further from the truth. 

God could not be clearer in His word: we were saved by grace but we were created for the express purpose of doing good works (Ephesians 2:9-10, Matthew 5:16, 1stTimothy 6:18, Hebrews 10:24). Those good works include (among other things) living righteously, building the church (body of Christ), providing for the physical needs of the poor, sharing truth, loving the lost, fighting for fairness in an unfair world and helping Christians and non-Christians who need help. Today I want to make a biblical case for good works. Not so that we can get saved but because we are saved. Christians should do good works because:

Good works reveal who we are- 

In Genesis chapter 24 Abraham sends his most trusted servant to find his son Isaac a wife. The instructions Abraham gave the man were insanely hazy and vague. Mostly, Abraham did not want Isaac’s wife to come from outside of his clan. The servant very wisely prayed that he would find a woman who voluntarily did good deeds (my words) for strangers. He prayed that he would find a woman who would offer him (a complete stranger) water and be willing to water his camels as well (a time-sucking act of kindness that went above and beyond prevailing social expectations). Abraham’s servant understood that our behavior towards others (especially strangers) reveals our inner nature more effectively than words ever could (Matthew 12:35).  When Christians do good deeds for the right reasons (because we love God) it shows the world that there is something different about us and they tend to find that difference intriguing, perplexing and appealing (Matthew 7:18).   

Good works reminds us of who we belong to and what we are all about- 

Anytime we choose to go above and beyond for someone our good deeds also serve as a reminder to us that we are not called to live for ourselves. Rather, we are called to live beyond ourselves for the glory of God and the good of others. 

Good works point people to a good God- 

Human beings are for the most part motivated by selfishness, impure motives and greed. Because humans are self-serving and greedy good deeds that require personal sacrifice are a rare and noteworthy occurrence in our world. When Christians are open about being Christians and they do good things for no other reason than God wants them to do good things, our acts of righteousness inevitably point people to Jesus. 

Good works are a way to say thank you for a gift we could never earn-

It is simply a fact that no quantity of good deeds could ever make up for our innate sinfulness and pride. We needed Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins so that we could enjoy the benefits of salvation both now and in eternity. When we choose to do the good deeds God commands us to do (Deuteronomy 5:33, Matthew 25:31-40, Luke 6:27-36, Romans 12, 1stCorinthians 10:24, Galatians 2:10) it is a small way to tell God that we appreciate the sacrifice that was made on our behalf. 

Another Major Church Peeve

 

 My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge~ Hosea 4:6a NIV

 There is a really weird debate taking place right now.

 A growing number of elite female athletes are contending that transgender women (men identifying as women) should not be permitted to compete against women who were born women in athletic competitions. These women assert that women who were born men have some distinct physical advantages over women who were born women. Those advantages include greater overall physical size, superior muscle mass and improved lung capacity.  

 Those who argue for allowing transgender women to compete against biological women in athletic competitions maintain that when a man declares himself to be a woman he is a woman and no one has the right to dispute his interpretation of himself.    

 This is a very weird argument for several reasons:

 First, a generation ago no one would have believed that rational human beings would even be entertaining this discussion. As little as ten years ago it would have been considered utterly daft to argue that a person can change who they are simply by making a declarative statement. Period. It really is that weird. Furthermore, clear-headed people know in their heart-of-hearts that declaring one’s self to be something does not (nor, will it ever) affect reality or change that person’s situation. The fact that this discussion is taking place at all goes a long way towards proving exactly how far we have fallen down the rabbit hole (metaphorically speaking) as a society. Lastly, these crusaders are arguing for something and they have no idea what they are arguing for but they are managing to do it quite well.

 They are arguing for the existence of objective truth.

 Those arguing against allowing biological men to compete in female sports are attempting to hold up two fairly rudimentary standards of objective truth. The first being that men and women are fundamentally different. The second is that desiring something to be true cannot and will not alter the reality of what is true. The problem with these standards is not with the standards, the standards are both perfectly reasonable and demonstrably true. The problem is that all this truth telling is just a little too little and a little too late. The secular world has been denying the existence of objective truth for several decades now. The longer a person (or a society) chooses to believe a lie the less likely they are to believe the truth when they are confronted with it. In other words, the secular world is in no mood to be set straight after a half a century of being allowed to party it up in the land of make-believe.

 Sigh.

 Okay, so here’s the thing:

 It is easy for good Christian people to look at this situation, roll their eyes and feel superior to those who have willingly bought into obvious chicanery and are now paying the price for it.

 However, some of the same disdain for objective truth has crept into Church world.  It is not at all uncommon to hear Christians of all ages use the terms “my truth” and “your truth” as if there are versions of truth that all have equal validity and should be taken equally seriously. It is true that people can interpret the same event in two entirely different ways but only one of the interpretations can actually be true. It is also not uncommon for Christians to say things like “that may be true for you but it’s not true for me”. It is true that there are times when God convicts a Christian that a behavior not forbidden in Scripture is wrong for them, because that thing could become a gateway for them for truly sinful behavior (Romans 14, 1stCorinthians 8:9-13, 1stCorinthians 10:23-31). However, that is an entirely different breed of cat from one person deciding that they should not be held to the same moral standards as every other believer on the planet because they have chosen to believe that God’s judgments on moral issues are wibbly-wobbly and open to interpretation (Judges 21:25). In most evangelical churches love has been held up as the highest value (and for good reason) but we have forgotten that love not built on a foundation of truth inevitably devolves into a puddle of messy, inarticulate sentimentality.  

 All of this really comes down to a weird form of willful ignorance.

 For at least two decades now, Christians have been told that what they believe is irrelevant so long as they really love Jesus and other people. Some teachers and preachers have even argued against the attainment of biblical knowledge because they have misunderstood 1stCorinthians 8:1. Some have taught that Paul was criticizing all biblical knowledge as something that puffs people up with pride. Paul was simply stating that the Corinthians (who are a prime example of Christians who lacked love) (1stCorinthians 11:20-22) “knowledge” concerning the fact that idols are nothing had made them prideful. Their understanding of truth was causing them to ignore the needs of those who had not reached their level of understanding concerning THAT PARTICULAR ISSUE.  If Paul were asserting that biblical knowledge inevitably leads to pride he would have been refuting his own teachings about knowledge found in Ephesians 4:13, Philippians 1:9, Colossians 1:9 and 2ndTimothy 2:25.

 Church world needs to do some intense soul searching on the subjects of truth and love and come to a more balanced conclusion soon, or it will only a matter of time before even evangelical churches fall down the same rabbit hole as the rest of the world.

Seriously.

 

Another Church Peeve: Why Some Kinds of Churches need to Die

His (God’s) intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord~ Ephesians 3:9-10 NIV

Okay, so, a fun fact about me is that I have been a Christian for decades, but I was not raised in church. I attended a mainline Protestant church (with my Grandmother) a handful of times prior to converting to Christianity as an adult. Because I converted to Christianity rather than being born into it I tend to have a slightly different “read” on church than some of my peers who have lived their entire lives in Church. 

For the record, no one is born a Christian, anyone who wishes to become a Christian must repent of their sins and put their faith in Jesus Christ (Mark 1:15, John 1:12, John 3:36, Acts 17:30). That said, I have observed that the conversion experience of someone who became a Christian in their early twenties (like I did) tends to be markedly different from the conversion experience of someone who attended church for the first time during their first week of life (like all of my kids did). 

Church has changed radically in the years since I became a Christian. Some of the changes were much needed and not at all wrong or sinful. There is no reason I can think of to ever return to the bad-old-days of mauve carpeting, sweaty, scream-y preachers, uncomfortable pews, unfettered legalism and Bible translations no one really understands. 

Sigh.

By far, the biggest change has been the rise of the seeker-friendly model of church. Champions of this model have sought to make church easier to understand for those who might be “seeking” God.  Some of the efforts to make church more user-friendly have been good. Others have (in my opinion) stripped away some of the mystery and much of the beauty of the church experience. In some cases, church has become so simple and so easy to understand that nobody on the outside is the least bit curious about what’s going on inside the church. I put much of the blame on the rise of seeker-friendly model of church. There are at least five reasons this model ought to be abandoned:

The seeker-friendly model has filled churches with people who don’t get church-

In any given American church at least half the attendees don’t pray, don’t give, don’t serve, don’t forgive, don’t love, and don’t even routinely attend services. Obviously, none of those things make one a Christian. However, those things are the defining marks of a Christian (Romans 12:12, 2ndCorinthians 9:6-7, Matthew 6:15, Matthew 5:43-46, 1stJohn 2:10, Hebrews 10:25). Churches teeming with unsaved people would not be a bad thing if most church leaders were aggressively encouraging folks to join discipleship groups and insisting on seeing at least some fruit in the lives of people before allowing them to take leadership positions. However, the seeker-friendly model aggressively avoids any and all judgment where lifestyle is concerned and has actively encouraged a “less is more” approach to teaching and training in the church. I fear we have made the same error church leaders made when the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity.  We have opened our doors wide and filled our churches with pagans (a good thing) but now those pagans are converting the church to their way of thinking rather than the church converting them to God’s way of thinking. 

The seeker friendly model assumes that non-Christians are numbskulls incapable of learning anything new or overcoming a less-than-ideal church experience-

The first time I attended an Evangelical church service, pretty much everything was a flaming-hot-dumpster-fire of a mess from a seeker-friendly standpoint. The service was too long (nearly two hours). The sermon was straight out of the super scary part of Revelation. The pastor talked about hell, and no one bothered to explain terms or goings-on most non-Christians wouldn’t understand.  It was clearly not the best service for a clueless unbeliever to walk into (I was more than a bit mystified by the whole thing).  I do not believe churches ought to begin modeling their services after that one (at the very least churches should explain confusing terms). All that being said, it’s important to note that I did not run screaming for the door, nor was it my last visit to that particular church. Sometimes church leaders underestimate both the curiosity and intelligence level of human beings as well as the power of the Holy Spirit to draw people when that is His intent.

Seeker friendly churches tend to produce shallow believers who have no root- 

Churches are supposed to produce mature believers who are capable of discipling others. They also supposed to teach believers how to stand strong when times get tough and their faith is tested (Matthew 28:18-20, Matthew 7:24-25, Ephesians 4:9-16). The very structure of a seeker-friendly church makes these aims nearly impossible to achieve. In seeker friendly churches services are almost always limited to a one-hour time frame, teaching is intentionally inoffensive (shallow) and most of the small groups are focused on fellowship rather than growth. Without a background of solid teaching most Christians flounder, cave to heresies or drop-out altogether when times get tough or they are confronted with false teaching. Anyone who has not been equipped with solid teaching will be rootless and in constant danger of drifting away (Matthew 13:6, Hebrews 2:1).

Seeker-friendly churches have transformed church into a consumer experience-

Perhaps the saddest aspect of the seeker friendly movement is that it has transformed three generations of church-goers into customers rather than investors. A customer is constantly on the lookout for a better experience and is therefore willing to leave if at any point they become disappointed in a church or the people in the church. An investor is in it for the long haul and will only leave if they can clearly see that the church (and the people in it) has deviated from biblical truth.  

The seeker-friendly model has been tried and found wanting. It’s time for churches to let it die and move back to the biblical model of discipleship.  When we do that we will see the church (and the people in it) become strong and healthy again. 

Five Ways We Have Failed Epically at Loving People

 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love- Ephesians 5:1 NIV

There is simply no subject that has been more thoroughly discussed or more hotly debated in the church today than the subject of love. My personal library contains at least a dozen volumes on the subject and hardly a day goes by when I do not come across an article or blogpost encouraging (sometimes even shaming) church people into behaving in more loving ways.

That being said, it could easily be argued that the Church is failing epically at this very basic and fundamental task (Matthew 22:36-40). The comments section of articles pertaining to hot-button issues (abortion, homosexuality, the death penalty, immigration) reveal that most people view church people as a horde of angry, hard-hearted, insensitive meanies. 

Christians clearly have an optics problem when it comes to the subject of love. 

This problem has created angst in the hearts of most Christians and with good reason. It is simply impossible for those inside the church to convince those outside the church that God loves them if they do not first believe that Christians love them. Unless people believe that God loves them they will reject God; and willfully rejecting God’s love never ends well for anyone (Matthew 25:46, Romans 2:5-11, Hebrews 2:1-3, Revelation 20:11-15). 

Sigh.  

Our current optics problem came about as a result of some missteps on the part of Christians. Most of those missteps are not a result of deliberate mean-spiritedness; just a sad combination of obliviousness, biblical ignorance and misplaced zeal (Romans 10:2).  There are five mistakes Christians make that the cause the world to see us as fundamentally unloving:  

We do not love each other-

In the Christian world there is a huge emphasis placed on loving non-Christians. There is nothing at all wrong with Christians loving non-Christians. Loving non-Christians is without question a good and necessary thing. However, God also wants Christians to love each other. God intends the church to be a place where believers treat each other with the utmost love, grace, respect and patience (John 13:34-35, Romans 12:10, Ephesians 4:2, 1stPeter 3:8) so that our churches are a safe place for baby Christians to grow. God also wants churches to be places where unsaved people can clearly see the love and respect Christians have for each other. When unbelievers see authentic love and grace in our church communities they will want what we have. Sadly, many Christians are not always loving, patient or even courteous towards their brothers and sisters in Christ. Instead, many Christians publicly criticize their churches and treat other Christians with open contempt.  This breaks the heart of God and God will not bless the Western Church with revival until His people repent of this sin.  

We lack patience-

1stCorinthians 13 is basically just a treatise on loving like God loves. The very first thing the Apostle Paul tells us about love is that it is patient (1stCorinthians 13:4).  Too often we forget that genuine love gives people room to grow and develop and does not demand that people mature on our timetable. It is critical we correct those who are straying morally (2ndTimothy 3:16, 2ndTimothy 4:2). However, it is equally critical we temper our corrections with the patience, kindness and grace of God (1stThessalonians 5:14). 

Our corrections lack context- 

 In my experience, most Church people are good people who love God with all their heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37-28). However, there are some church people who are a bit overeager when it comes to getting and keeping others on the straight and narrow. Church people forget sometimes that correction is best done in the context of relationship and should NEVER be attempted on church visitors, strangers or in front of a group. Period. It does not matter what the person is wearing or how many piercings or tattoos these folks happen to have. The only truly loving thing to do when someone shows up at church is to celebrate the fact that they are attempting to connect with God on some level. Their appearance (even if it’s inappropriate) should be irrelevant (Luke 15:15-31). 

Too many Christians think tough love is always the answer- 

Sometimes tough love (and tough words) really are the answer. There are situations in life where people need to be told the truth in a loving but straight-forward-no-holds-barred manner (Ephesians 4:15). However, most of the time a kinder, gentler method is far more effective and should always be attempted before tough love is applied (Proverbs 15:1 Titus 3:1-3, Galatians 5:22-24, Hebrews 5:1-2). 

We avoid truth telling- 

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of Christians in this world. The ones who say too much about the subject of sin and the ones who say nothing at all about the subject of sin.  Sadly, the ones who say nothing often feel justified in doing so because of the damage done by the ones who have said too much. Further complicating the situation is the fact that we have been conditioned by our society to believe that telling people the truth about their behavior is mean. That said, it is a fundamentally unloving thing to lead people to believe that they can continue to sin without consequences (Galatians 5:16-21).