Politics: A Christian Perspective

October 29th, 2012

Few things are more polarizing in life than politics. Is it me or is the vitriol and outright disdain expressed on the air waves, television, and social media getting worse? I was shocked to find that a Facebook friend who simply stated, “I support ____________” was followed by over twenty comments, much of which offensively questioned my friend’s intelligence and character. In today’s politically charged climate, it’s impossible to state your political persuasion without losing someone’s respect and being labeled a bigot, ignorant, or a buffoon. This is troubling. It’s one thing to voice your political support for a particular candidate. It’s quite another to down-right hate and despise those who disagree with you. Long forgotten are the days when even if your candidate doesn’t win, you still respected the President because you respected his office.

According to Tim Keller, the polarizing effects of politics are symptoms of idolatry.  They are symptoms of hopes and identities that have been inordinately wrapped around a politician, cause, or party. This is why we immediately befriend those who are “on our side.” This is why we immediately villainize those on the “other side.” Those who disagree do much more than just disagree. They ultimately threaten our hope, our identity, and our livelihood. They ultimately attack “our god.”

Is it possible to be passionate about politics without being polarizing? Is it possible to support a candidate without hating the other party? I believe so. It can happen so long as we understand where our ultimate hope and identity lie. It can happen so long as we understand that our greatest enemy is not the opposing party. It is not outside us, but inside us: the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I. No legislation, no politician, no government can ever defeat the sin that lives within me. Only Jesus can. Only Jesus did. As a result, he is my greatest hero. He is my ultimate hope.

As a Christian I will do my best to be faithful in my civic duties and do my part in making this country great. At the same time, I understand that this world is not my home and that a better country awaits me with a much better king.


Monkey See, Monkey Do

October 9th, 2012

 

As a father of three, I am increasingly beginning to realize just how much influence I have over my children, especially my boys. My boys look up to me. My boys want to be me. I see this in their mannerisms, their speech, their sense of humor, and even their cheering interests. They instinctively know to root for the Dodgers and anyone playing the Giants. They instinctively shout, “USA! USA!” whenever they see soccer on TV. As the saying goes, “monkey see, monkey do.”

The Bible also talks about this phenomenon, but in this case, the relationship is not between a father and his son, but an idol and its idolater. Psalm 115:4-8 says this:

 “They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.”

The Bible declares that the more we worship our idols the more we begin to look like them. The more we revere them, the more we reflect them. Or to put it in G.K. Beale’s words: “We become what we worship.”

This principle may be cute between a father and his kids, but absolutely devastating with idols and their idolaters. Why? As the Psalmist reminds us, idols are not alive. They are un-human. They cannot speak, see, hear, smell, or touch. As a result, the more we worship our idols the less human we become. Idols devolve us.

These dehumanizing effects can be seen in the power-obsessed husband who acts like an animal when threatened or the bone-skinny anorexic who looks less and less human. How many people spend countless numbers of hours each week staring at a computer screen, counting cards at a table, or vegging in front of the TV? Does this make us feel more alive? When we turn off the monitor, walk out of a casino, or get off the couch, do we feel existential satisfaction? Does it make us feel full? God did not design us to live for entertainment, leisure, or sports. He did not design us to worship the creation. He created us to live for him. As a result, many people exist but many do not quite live. Idols never give life. They take life. They leave you half-empty.

Thankfully, this is why Jesus came. He came to rescue us from our life-sucking idols. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). With Jesus, the principle of becoming what we worship actually works for us. When we bow down and live for the Creator rather than the creation, when we feast upon the Bread of Life, when we drink the Living Water, we become more human. We evolve.

We experience unspeakable joy, enduring peace, and soul-satisfying grace. This is the Jesus effect. We begin to talk like him, act like him, and love like him. Life is never more fully lived than when walking in the footsteps of the one who is the Resurrection and the Life. That deep ache in your soul will not be satisfied with a shiny fast car or a beautiful pair of shoes. That deep ache can only be satisfied by Jesus. Only in Christ will we understand the words of Psalm 16:11, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Join us at New Life and find out how you can experience this fullness of joy.


How to Crush Someone You Love

May 15th, 2012

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?

March 27th, 2012

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

March 20th, 2012

 

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.