Idol Blog Series: Part 3

The only bone I’ve ever broken has a pretty gruesome story behind it.

My family heats our home via woodstove, and we’ve done so for years. Until he passed away, my dad was the one who would acquire the wood for it, whether he went out and chopped it himself (which was usually the case) or if a friend helped him out. My brother and I usually helped him cut it, move it, and stack it. One winter, when I was 15, my brother and I were splitting and stacking wood in front of the basement door while my dad was tossing it down the hill to us. I was a little nervous that he was going to accidently hit me, so I turned around to glance at him really quickly. Being the idiot that I was and still am, I did it in the middle of swinging a mallet to hit a wedge into a piece of wood. I don’t remember if I hit the wedge at all, but I certainly remember hitting my thumb.

I jumped and howled in pain. I thought I’d just smashed it. My dad asked if I was okay. I began to say, “No,” when I looked down at my thumb and saw it was bleeding profusely. I did as my dad told me and ran inside to my mom. She cleaned it off, but we noticed that it wouldn’t stop bleeding. After keeping it in cold water for a while, we realized not only that it wasn’t going to stop bleeding, but also that the bottom of my thumbnail had popped out from under the skin. So we went to the emergency room.

As it turned out, I broke the tip of my thumb, so there was nothing they could do to really fix it. I had to wear a splint for two or three weeks. In regards to my thumbnail, it was going to fall out.

But first, it had to be pushed back in.

I wish I could sit here and tell you it wasn’t as bad as it sounds, that I took it like a champ, but it was so painful. I grimaced and groaned while it was happening. When the doctor was done and my thumb was still sore from the whole experience, I sobbed.

The point of me telling you that lovely story is to make the point that sometimes we must endure a terrible amount of pain to really be healed.

The same is true with our idols. In order to serve God and God alone, to be healed of our heart’s habit of serving other gods, we’re going to have to endure some really painful experiences.

The Israelites learned that really fast. Their first test after following God and following Moses out of Egypt was a pretty big one. They had just been chased by Pharaoh’s men, horses, and chariots across the Red Sea. Pharaoh’s men and property were floating in the sea and the Israelites’ pulses were dropping back down to normal as they headed out to Shur. There they spent three days walking around in the wild and not finding a single drop of water. Then they came to Marah, and they finally saw water.

I imagine the Israelites were not only relieved, but happy. They ran for their lives between two walls of sea only to realize that was the last time they’d even see water in a few days. And here, finally, is some water.

To quote “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” “Water, water everywhere / Nor any drop to drink.”

Before the children of Israel could get their cups out to fill them up and gulp down the water, they discovered that the water was bitter. As rough as life already was, it would’ve been even worse to drink the water.

Talk about a test and perhaps even a moment of panic. If there was ever temptation for the Israelites to turn to their idols, whom they felt had provided for them before, it would’ve been then.

I can hear them now. “We narrowly missed drowning and now we’re perishing. What kind of provision is this?”

“Why did He bring us out only to let us die in the wilderness? Hardly seems fair. What’d we do to deserve this?”

“My old gods would’ve had sorted all this out already.”

The first scare in our attempt to serve God is arguably the worst. God told us He’d take care of us, but in that moment we wonder where He’s at or if He’s capable of coming through. Then we recall our idols. They came through for us. Always there when we needed them, always satisfying us.

But in reality, idols give us just enough to make us think all of that. They never give us real fulfillment, just appeasement and comfort masquerading as fulfillment. It’s enough to make us look nowhere else, but not enough to keep us from longing for something more and something better.

The gods we serve aren’t enough to kill our longing from wanting to find and serve the One True God.

The Israelites complained to Moses; Moses talked to God. God showed Moses a piece of wood, and when Moses threw it into the water, it changed. It became sweet.

Their problem was solved by talking to God.

All they had to do was practice turning to God in their moment of need. Is it really that difficult? Harder for some than others, I’d say, once you get started. To start believing in God above everything else – everything that’s worked before, everything that’s stuck by you – is most difficult.

After sweetening the water, God established an ordinance and issued the children of Israel a challenge. “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in his sight, and give heed to his commandments and keep all his statues, I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians for I am the Lord who heals you” (Exodus 15:26, NRSV).

God’s basically saying, to them and to us, “If you’ll let me be your one and only God, I’ll heal and take care of you.”

God always seems to have a way of reassuring us when life’s less than perfect. If leaving our idols were easy, they wouldn’t be our idols. So God will be there – through every step, bump, and fall – to help us keep our hearts set on Him and pursue Him.

By Carrie Prevette

Idols Blog Series: Part 2

I have one of my favorite professors from college to thank for turning me into a Rolling Stones fan. I took “Philosophy of the Mind” with Dr. Hoyt my sophomore year to fulfill a requirement for one of my minors, and it was a great decision because it was one of the best classes I took at Western. At the end of class one day, Dr. Hoyt told us there was a song by the Rolling Stones that discussed 1950s housewives taking valium, called “Mother’s Little Helper.” If you know me well, it won’t surprise you at all that I was very interested. So right after class, I went back to my room and looked up the song, and of course, I loved it. After a while, I listened to more of their songs, and now I actually love the Rolling Stones. (The fact that young Mick Jagger was very attractive doesn’t hurt either.)

Our wonderful pastor mentioned the song “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” two or three times on Sunday. (Any sermon that references a Stone’s song will be a favorite of mine.) The point he was making was when we look for something or someone other than God to fulfill us, we won’t find satisfaction.

As I mentioned in the last Idols blog post, the things we turn into idols weren’t made to be worshipped. We build them up to idol status, but their faulty and imperfect nature remains the same despite how much faith we put into them. We see them as being better than they are, so when they fail us, we’re heartbroken.

But it’s not exactly easy to de-idolize something.

Tony Nolan, one of my all-time favorite preachers and people, said something similar in a sermon. I was at Winter Extreme in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, with my college group from church when I heard the sermon. He was talking about what we hold onto instead of letting go and holding onto God. He gave the example of exchanging a penny for a much bigger bill (I think it was a $20 bill, but I’m not entirely sure). He said that’s what it’s like when we exchange whatever we’re holding onto, whatever we love the most, for God. He said, “I know what you’re thinking. ‘But Tony, this is worth a lot more to me than just a penny.’”

Maybe it’s just me, but when I talk about my idols to people who don’t have the same idols I do, I start to feel really stupid. If I’m being honest, my biggest idols are usually bands. Only a few of my friends like the same bands as I do, but I don’t think any of my friends like them as much as I do. So if I’m talking to someone about this band, they usually just let me ramble and say something like, “Okay. That’s nice.” They don’t light up and bubble over with excitement like I do. They don’t really engage in conversation with me, so it’s more like me giving a monologue about this band to someone who doesn’t really care. So I’m left there thinking, “Wow. I look and sound so stupid right now.”

Other people may see my idols as a penny, but to me they’re worth millions.

Why is that? Ultimately, I serve idols that make me happy. Different idols produce different kinds of happiness, but it’s the result of all of them. Being successful produces a deeper happiness for me than the feeling I get when I go shopping, but both make me feel good. My happiness means a lot to me (as it should), and I keep the people and things that make me happy close to me. And there’s nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be happy. But idols are a result of keeping something that makes you happy too close to your heart.

God has so much more to offer us than mere happiness. He gives us joy that never fades, unconditional love, more mercy than we can ever know, a purpose for living, and so much more. To trade what I know makes me happy and comfortable for the unknown and unfathomable plans and ways of God feels like a gamble, but I know it’s not.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with loving people and things that make you happy or that have always been there for you. God’s given them to us for a reason. They’re a gift of His love. They are meant to point us back to Him, but sometimes we spend too much time looking at the gift instead of Who is giving it.

How are we supposed to dethrone an idol? There’s no need to eradicate whatever it is from your life completely (unless you feel that God’s telling you to do so). You just need to make it less of a priority in your life.

The next time you need a pick me up or help or an escape, instead of turning directly to an idol, turn to God first. Spend a moment in prayer or reading a passage from the Bible. It doesn’t have to be anything long, and it could even be something you’re already familiar with. Talk to God about it, and give Him the chance to talk to you and provide for you. How is He supposed to bless you if you never even give Him the chance?

So easy, right?

Not always. We’ve become so used to our idols, so comfortable with them, that they’re now our first reaction. We must make a conscious decision to start putting God first.

Jesus told us that’s what we’d have to do. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24, NRSV).

As the Rolling Stones said in another song, “You can’t always get what you want.” We may think we’ve found just as much fulfillment in whatever it is we’re worshipping as we have in God, but we’re wrong. If the god we think is perfect for us and the God that actually is aren’t the same, we have a decision to make. God has a jealous nature. He said not to put any gods before Him and not to make anything into a god to put before Him (Exodus 20:3-5). We can’t serve two gods; we have to pick one. Do we serve this idol that gives us a shallow version of what we think we want or do we serve God, who gives us what we really want and need?

Sometimes following the will of God means giving up what we love. People have been giving up the most important things in their lives to pursue God and His dreams for them since the events we read about in the Bible were considered current affairs.

Maybe you’re sitting there thinking, “Carrie, I appreciate the concern and all, but I just can’t give this up. You say your idols are worth millions, but my idol is priceless. I can’t live without it. It’s my whole world. It’s more than that; it’s my whole life.”

Go back and read Luke 9:24 again. Jesus says if we’ll lay down our lives for Him, we’ll be saved. He knows it’s no easy task, giving up our loves and obsessions. Scour the Bible from beginning to end, and you’ll never once find where anyone said that serving God was a piece of cake. However, you’ll find countless places where it proves that it’s worth it.

By Carrie Prevette

Idols Blog Series: Part 1

Yesterday’s sermon, the first of a four-part series called Idols, was one of the best sermons I’ve heard since I’ve been at Abstract. If you weren’t there, you missed something wonderful.

If you read the blog I ran during my internship with New Spring Church, you may remember the series I wrote on Gods at War by Kyle Idleman. This sermon series says some of the very same things Idleman does in his book, but it certainly has something unique to offer, concepts that Idleman didn’t touch on. It’s similar, but not an exact replica.

And to clarify, this blog series isn’t going to be the very same as the sermon series. It’s simply my take or expansion on something that was said or read during the sermons.

One of the scriptures from yesterday’s sermon is Acts 17: 16-34. I won’t discuss the entire scripture here, but I do recommend that you read all of it.

We find Paul in Athens, soaking up a lot of the culture. Rome, and Athens in particular, is known now for their philosophy back then. I’m sure the names Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, all of whom come from Athens, ring some bells. So Paul is walking around the city, and he sees all of these idols that the people there are worshipping.

I took a class my senior year in college that was about eastern religions, and the very first religion that we covered was Hinduism. While I’m not going to convert to Hinduism, I think it’s fascinating. At the end of that section of the course, we watched a very old video of a British man going over to India and talking to Hindus about their beliefs. In reality, Hinduism is more of an umbrella term for hundreds of different belief systems, some of which aren’t even really that similar. (Think of it as an easy way for the British to categorize the people according to their religion when they arrived.) So the man encountered several different types of Hindus. Some of them had statues in their homes that represented whatever god they worshipped. (It’d be like you having a statue or painting of a crucifix in your home.) The British man automatically assumed that the Hindus worshipped the statues themselves. In fact, he assumed it so strongly that the people had to keep telling him that the statue wasn’t an idol.

This is not the case with the people of Athens when Paul was visiting. They were worshipping the items and images before them, and they had altars built to even more gods than that.

The Athenians thought Paul was crazy, of course. I’m sure more than a few people whispered about how many nuts and bolts had come loose in his head over the years as he talked about the One True God and this guy named Jesus. “What’s he even talking about?” “Where did this guy say he was from?” “Seriously? The guy came back to life? He expects us to believe that?” They had no clue what Paul was saying, so they asked him to explain.

Paul says, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.” (Acts 17:22-25, NRSV).

Paul continues to explain the Gospel and Christianity to them, but I’m going to stop here.

Paul was the perfect person to explain all of this to the Athenians. I know that all of God’s plans are perfect, but I really wish I could give Him a high five on this one.

Before his conversion, Paul was “extremely religious” himself. Paul (or Saul, as he was called then) didn’t just go around killing Christians for the fun of it. He thought he was doing what was right, what was truthful. He thought he was happy and fulfilled in his service to his old religion.

It took one fall, being struck blind, and a short conversation with Jesus for Paul to realize how wrong he’d been.

We’ve all changed and looked back on who we were, what we were, and shook our heads. How could we have been so stupid? How could we have been so blind? Whether it causes us to chuckle or cringe, the one thing that’s for sure is that it seems so obvious to us now that we were wrong back then.

Saul’s religion was the center of his entire life. Where he went and what he did was based solely on his beliefs. Because of that, Paul was compelled to spend the rest of his life preaching the Gospel, making whatever amends he could and paying the price for his old life.

Perhaps Paul felt that he was looking into the past when he looked at an Athenian. So wrong, but of course, they wouldn’t believe it. Hadn’t he been that stubborn once?

Paul knew better than anyone the emptiness that comes with worshipping the wrong thing.

Idols will always leave us empty and disappointed. They weren’t designed to be held up, to receive undying devotion. Idols are created by humans and are therefore below them. If something is made by a human, it’s not to be worshipped by a human. What is created is subject to the creator.

Which makes everything subject to THE Creator.

You may be wondering how this applies to you. “Carrie, this is great and all, but I don’t worship any idols. I’m proud to say that I’ve never bowed or prayed to any image or statue.”

Good on you, I say. But idols are much more than carvings or brush strokes. An idol is anything that someone puts before God, knowingly or not.

How well do you function without coffee? Would I rather walk down a dark alley alone than meet you when you haven’t had a cup? Are you a connoisseur, if you do say so yourself? Then coffee may be your idol.

Maybe you’re really into music, especially this one band. You have a song of theirs set as your ringtone and a different one set as the alarm on your phone. Your heart rate goes up when you watch their music videos. You literally think about them all the time. You’re obsessed. Such love and adoration often point to worship.

How determined are you to be successful? Perhaps you’ve plainly planned everything out and you’re carefully taking the necessary steps. Setbacks absolutely gut you. Hang-ups and failures do more than frustrate you; they really mess you up mentally and emotionally. You won’t stop until you’ve achieved your goals. The idol of success has many worshippers.

The list goes on and on of things, people, and concepts that we so easily turn into gods. Idolatry is just as rampant and relevant today as it was when Paul was in Athens. It’s just taken on much different forms.

By Carrie Prevette

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