This past Sunday I launched a new sermon series entitled “American Idols” (click here to listen). Sorry to disappoint but this series does not center on my musings and evaluations of each contestant on Fox’s hit show (go Heejun Han!). Rather, this series discusses the important topic of idolatry.
What is an idol? Much more than what you see in Indiana Jones movies. An idol is anything you believe you need, apart from Jesus, to make you happy, satisfied, or fulfilled. Let me flesh this out for you.
First, anything can be an idol. We are all familiar with the destructive power that money, drugs, and sex have in our culture. But did you know that comfort, financial security, love, and even children can be idols too? What makes an idol an idol is not so much what you desire but how much you desire. An idol is a good desire that morphs into an ULTIMATE desire. It often innocuously begins with “I’d like to have _________”, evolves into “I want to have_________”, and finally ends with full blown “I MUST HAVE_________.” Your life feels incomplete, insignificant, and insecure without it. In other words, an idol is anything we expect to give us what only God can give.
This is why so many of our idols fly under the radar. On the surface, our idols look harmless, if not noble, respectable, even biblical. There’s nothing wrong with wanting your husband to appreciate you. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to financially provide for your family. There’s nothing wrong with wanting just recognition in the work-place. But when you are eaten up by bitterness, when you’re so anxious you can’t eat or sleep, or when you’re consumed with jealousy and anger, than you know your good desire has morphed into an idolatrous one.
They call idols “counterfeit gods” for a reason. After all, what is the difference between a good counterfeit and a bad one? Let’s take a dollar bill for example. A good counterfeit will look like a genuine U.S. minted bill. A bad one will look like monopoly money. The closer you are to the original, the better the counterfeit. Satan knows this. He isn’t stupid. He knows that the best idols to entangle us are those that look most godly—idols that garner the understanding if not the respect of your peers.
How many mothers out there have indefinitely put their relationship with God on hold for the sake of caring for their children? How many husbands have sacrificed the spiritual well-being of their families for the sake of financial security? How many pastors have become depressed or prideful because they have idolized their ministries? In C.S. Lewis’ classic work, The Screwtape Letters, the head demon gives the following advice to his apprentice:
You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick (Letter XII).
I hope this post helps you to be more cautious of the idols that threaten us each day. We are all aware of the destructive effects of idolatry. However, let’s not forget one of idolatry’s greatest dangers: its disguise.
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