The things we serve

idolatryLast night at our home we were meeting with the group who wants to help us start the church (Grace Pres.) in Worcester.  We were talking about idolatry – the worship of something other than God and used the following statements and questions to get us thinking:

Where do I look to happiness other than God?
When life gets hard this keeps me going…
My life has meaning because…
When I daydream or my mind wanders, I most easily think about….
I most worry about…
I feel worth when I have this and am depressed when I do not…
I am willing to make sacrifices and endure pain (emotional, financial, relational etc.) for…
I am willing to break God’s commands for…

The above picture captures some of our results.  I’ll start with three broad principles that came out of this discussion.  Tomorrow I’ll write on  three prominent idols – performance, control, and belonging – and some ways our church should relate to these.

Broad Principles
1.  Wisdom & nuance:  idolatry is the corruption of a good thing by making it an ultimate thing.  For example, a sense of belonging is something healthy that each of us should experience.  Wanting to belong becomes problematic when we elevate it as THE thing we need.  Needing to belong can take us down all sorts of dark paths (acquiescing to peer pressure, covering up abuse or corruption, racism, lying etc).  While it is easy to recognize these extremes, in the moment it  can be hard to see the ways in which the good things in our lives become unhealthy and destructive.  Add to this the fact that our church is in a place where many are skeptical of organized religion.  So if we speak in broad platitudes or miss the nuances of idolatry through unwise speech we’ll simply confuse or turn off (unnecessarily) the people we are seeking to reach.  But, if we confront idolatry with wisdom and nuance I think there is a great opportunity to grow in our own understanding of what Christ has done and communicate it to others.

2.  Engaging the Gospel:  We must keep coming back to Jesus who both exposes our misdirected worship and provides the real thing.  For example, people here (and in many other places) want to be in control of life, have things go according to plan, be able to weather difficulties, and make what they want happen.  When we think about the idolatry of control and look to the scriptures, they do two things.  First they show us how little control we have over anything and pride associated with such illusions:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” James 4

But then they speak of a God who is good, strong, and wise – working all things for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.  Jesus’ love assures us that we can trust such a God and when we feel out of control we can look to the cross and see how the most terrible, surprising events move God’s good plan forward.   In looking at idolatry we can never do so as a detached observer but as one who must also turn to the true God.  The idolatries “out there” tend to be the same ones we struggle with and so we can stand beside those we are trying to reach and look together towards Christ.

3.  Felt needs:  When you put regular unleaded fuel in a diesel engine you have problems.  It is the same with human beings.  When our lives are centered and run around something other than God, there are consequences.  Since our first parents turned from the God who made them for himself, there has been an incredible toll.  When we begin to understand the different ways that people turn from God to idols we will have a better idea of their felt needs, the ways they experience this world as broken.  Some people will “feel” a spiritual vacuum and long for the true God, but for most it will be something like loneliness, anxiety, fear, boredom, relational breakdown, aging, poverty, and countless other things.  These felt needs are avenues to connect to people, care for them, and in some way tell of what life is meant to be like when God is at the center.  As we understand the idols of our area we are better positioned to serve the community in ways that they need.

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