New Life Irvine Basketball Camp

It has certainly been a long time since I’ve last posted. The reason for the delay is that we are currently in process of updating our web-site, particularly this blog-site. In the mean-time, I’d like to promote one of the many ways our church is trying to connect with the community. We discovered that one of our children’s ministry teachers is a very gifted and talented basketball player/coach. We thought we’d take advantage of him (in a good way) and host a free basketball camp for kids in our community. If you or someone you know may be interested in this free event, please e-mail me at jeff@newlifeirvine.org.

 



How to Crush Someone You Love

This may sound counter-intuitive, but if you want to crush someone you love, if you want to ruin a relationship, then all you have to do is love them too much. Place them on a pedestal. Make them the center of your life. Derive your significance, well-being, and happiness from them and you will succeed. You will destroy that relationship.

I think of “Lennie” from Of Mice and Men. Lennie was a well-intentioned, often misunderstood character. He never meant anybody harm. But seemingly everyone who crossed his path ended up getting hurt if not killed. He constantly made a mess of his relationships, whether it’s the woman who tried to befriend him or a puppy that he loved. His uncontrollable, over-the-top emotions, wreaked more havoc than good.

Like Lennie, we don’t intend to hurt those we love. But when our love for others takes on idolatrous overtones, when we elevate our relationships to the pedestal of God, that’s when we make a mess of them. There’s a difference between desiring someone’s happiness and living for their happiness. There’s a difference between desiring someone’s approval and living for their approval. The former is biblical. The latter is idolatry.

People were not created to be the center of our universe. That role belongs to God. God alone can give us lasting significance, fulfillment, and joy. Living for anyone else besides God will lead to inevitable disappointment, anxiety, frustration, and failure. No one, no matter how perfect they may be, can fill the shoes of God. There’s no wonder why so many buckle and crack under the high pressure environment of an idolatrous relationship. We essentially place god-sized expectations on mere humans, sinful ones at that! It’s like trying to catch a mighty marlin with ten pound fishing line. The ten pound fishing line isn’t designed to withstand the power and force of a marlin. It’s only a matter of time before it snaps. The Bible makes clear: he is God and we are not. When this line is blurred, people end up getting hurt.

The effects of relationship idolatry are not hard to find. How many marriages end in bitter divorce because unlike Jerry Maguire, he/she in-completed me? How many teenagers rebel and run away because they can no longer handle the pressure of an obsessive, smothering parent? How many feel controlled and suffocated by a jealous loved one who watches every move and interaction like a hawk? When someone becomes your functional god, the slightest remark or passing comment can either depress you or enrage you. What they say or don’t say becomes disproportionately important. That is, everything they say or do takes on god-sized proportions.

However, when the gospel shapes your identity and significance, when the gospel becomes your center of gravity, your relationships will flourish. When first things are first, second things thrive. The gospel frees you from overwhelming and suffocating others. It frees you from the temptation to control and dominate others.  It enables you to accept criticism and complaints directed against you since your hope is found in Christ’s performance, not yours. It protects you from crushing disappointment when others fail to reciprocate your love. In other words, the gospel helps you to love others unconditionally. A gospel-soaked life produces other-centered love—love that is no longer about you, but about them.

If you really want to be a blessing to your loved ones, then cling to the gospel. There alone will you meet a lover who never fails and never disappoints. There you will meet a lover who cherishes you perfectly and declares you of infinite significance and worth. Only then can we grow healthy relationships that edify, honor, and encourage those God has placed in our lives.


Who’s Your Master?

One of the more subtle, yet devastating effects of idolatry is the role reversal that takes place between man and his idol, or should I say the idol and his man. What began as a harmless pursuit of happiness ends with self-destructive, guilt-compounding slavery. We pick and choose our idols thinking that their presence will better serve us and enhance our quality of life. The lure of money, beauty, or respect calls out to us, promising us that deep fulfillment and significance will soon be ours. The idols appear as servants that exist for our benefit and our well-being.

This illusion is short-lived. We soon realize that these idols do not serve us. We serve them. Once our idols become entrenched in our hearts, once our good desires become god desires, they assume the position of power. The roles are reversed. They are now the masters.  We are the slaves. They now call the shots.

What makes matters worse is that our idols are cruel, unyielding, and relentless masters with no conscience, shame, and mercy. Their requests have no limits. Their demands know no boundaries. With such a stranglehold over our lives, we find ourselves saying things we never thought imaginable, doing things we never thought possible.

For example, how many of us have worshipped at the altar of dominance? The desire to win an argument is present in all of us. We love to be right. We love when others recognize that we are right. But when this desire becomes a god desire, the consequences are devastating. When a spouse refuses to back down, when a spouse refuses to admit defeat, the idol of dominance takes great offense. It convinces us that we must win at all cost. In that moment, nothing is more important than winning. The once sober, level-headed discussion quickly escalates into a verbal barrage where our aim is to shame our opponent into submission. Drawing upon our insider knowledge, we intentionally fling arrows that sink deep into our spouse’s heart. If not shame, we will use intimidation and fear by raising our voices and showcasing our strength by throwing objects, punching walls, and slamming doors. The spouse we vowed to love and cherish now trembles in fear, emotionally broken and spiritually bruised. “We won! We won!” our idol gloats shamelessly. But at what cost? Was it worth it? Deep in our hearts we know our idol and master does not care about us. It is selfish and could care less about the damage our servitude brings so long as it gets what it wants.

There is one master, however, who is not cruel but kind. He is not selfish but selfless. He is not harsh but gentle. His name is Jesus. Unlike the masters of this world, he came to serve, not be served. He came for our joy, our peace, and our well-being, even though it required his misery, his loneliness, and his suffering. His aim is to bring wholeness to your life as well as to those around you. His goal is to give you life abundant. What master in this world can compare to Jesus? No idol loves you as Jesus does. No idol treasures you as Jesus does. No idol bore the wrath of God for you as Jesus did. He is more beautiful, satisfying, and lovely than any idol in this world. Nothing compares to Jesus. He alone is worthy of your affection, praise, and worship. So then, between Jesus and the idols of this world, who will you serve today?


Broken Glasses

 

For those of you who wear eye-glasses, what happens when you eat a hot, steaming bowl of ramen? Once your head emerges from the bowl of delicious goodness, you discover that you cannot see! The steam has so fogged up your glasses that you are virtually blind! Such is the effect of idolatry. Idolatry is like wearing a broken pair of glasses that compromise and blur our perception of this world.

In Ezekiel 14:3, God gives us a glimpse of idolatry’s power when he says, “Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces.” The idols of Israel are like blocks before their faces. They obscure, distort, and obstruct their vision, causing them to stumble around. That is a scary thought. This is what we call the “principle of inescapable influence.”

For example, idolatry affects the way you view and relate to other people. If beauty is your idol, if it is foundational to your identity, significance, and well-being, then it will inevitably affect how you relate to someone who is more beautiful than you. You may find yourself secretly envying her, stewing in your jealousy, as you simultaneously exaggerate her personality flaws as a way to make yourself feel better.

If your education is an idol, a source of self-righteousness, then you may feel superior to the colleague who “only” graduated from high school. Your sense of superiority shows itself by the way you ignore him or dismiss him inside the office and outside. Will you go out of your way to be-friend this colleague? Probably not.

On the other hand, you will go out of your way to befriend an accomplished CEO or mega-church pastor if career success is your idol. You’ll do your best to sit next to them when at a dinner party. You will listen more carefully to what they have to say. Such a success story is more worthy of your attention than others. There is no denying that our idols influence and shape our perception of others. How you judge, view, and relate to others often says more about you than it does about them.

Another way to identify your idols is by turning the tables and evaluating how others feel when they are around you. If people in your life complain that they often feel used by you, then chances are the idol in your life is power. You feel most alive and significant when you are winning and succeeding. Therefore, other people are unconsciously reduced to mere pawns to help you in your pursuit.

If people in your life complain that they feel smothered by your constant need for attention, then chances are your idol is approval. Your significance is tied to how others esteem you so you are constantly bombarding them with ways to please them and win their affections.

If your idol is comfort, then the people in your life will likely feel neglected by you. Life is good when you are able to relax and enjoy your creaturely comforts. When the needs of others disturb that comfort, then more often than not, they will be ignored. Your comfort is more important than their discomfort.

Lastly, if others often feel condemned by you, then chances are your idol is control. Any time someone acts contrary to your expectations, you tend to punish them by disparaging them verbally or withdrawing from them emotionally. You must keep them in check when they fall out of line since your significance is tied to your ability to control.

I’ve intentionally given you many examples mainly because it is difficult to see how our idols manifest themselves. We know idols exist inside our hearts. We just don’t know how they look on the outside. Sometimes we need someone to spell it out for us so that we can connect the dots.


American Idols

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.