Getting Beat Up By Your Idol

This week I got beat up by my idol. I stubbed my toe, broke my nose and limped away pathetically. Right now, it still hurts like the dickens.

You might think I’ve got a little stone god in my house with more arms and eyes than humanly possible. You might think I tripped over it during a midnight run to the fridge and smacked my nose on the coffee table on the way down. Or, you might think Carrie Underwood stopped by to club me repeatedly with a brick-filled Versace hand bag.

But, reality is stranger than fiction. I got beat up by an idol of my own making, without even knowing I had made it. I can’t see it, smell it, hear it, or touch it. But it is real. And it’s got to go.

What Happened?

The short version is that I made a presentation at work and it wasn’t well received by the one person I needed to persuade – the person whose opinion I valued most in that situation. In fact, rather than persuading him, I made him angry, angry enough to berate me in the meeting.

I responded calmly enough, and we worked through it, making progress over the next day.

What’s Happening?

But, despite behaving professionally on the outside, I was withering with self-doubt and insecurity on the inside. Am I a loser? Am I incompetent? Am I clueless? This may never happen to you, but I’m an average man trying to be significant in the world. And the thing I fear most of all in life is being useless – not having enough competence in something, anything, to make a meaningful contribution to the people around me.

And that fear can be just plain dangerous.

Tim Keller, a pastor and author from New York City, teaches that both blessing and hardship are tests that reveal the idols of your heart. These tests show us – despite what we say we believe – what we’re really depending on to feel significant, secure, important, happy, or loved. This situation showed me that too much of my sense of significance and security rests on my belief in my own competence. It revealed that I’m depending on my own competence as my functional savior, despite my profession of faith in Christ.

Physician, Heal Thyself

The trouble is that even though I know all this, I can’t help myself. I can’t tell myself to stop clinging that idol. My mind and will are powerless because it’s got a hold on my heart. My head says, “Just stop depending on that idol; you know it’ll never give you permanent satisfaction.” But my idol says, “Oh, you can’t be free. You are mine and you know it.” Just as Saruman, the White Wizard in The Lord of the Rings, had a hold on Théoden, the King of Rohan, my idol won’t let me go. I need a deliverer.

It’s Sunday Morning

And so, in an hour I’m going to church. I go to worship my Deliverer. I go to confess the idol of my heart – my functional savior. I go find grace to help in the time of need. I go to be delivered from my own creation. I go to hear the gospel and be reminded who my real Savior is.

God has given me His Son, His Spirit and His Church that I might experience a free, satisfying and significant life. But, I’m an average guy, and just like Jesus’ first twelve disciples, I’ll be nagged with fear and doubt for a long, long time. My need for a Deliverer won’t be a one-time deal. I’ll need a weekly reminder, a weekly course correction, a weekly re-orientation toward Jesus (at least). And no doubt, over time I’ll discover even more idols in my heart.

So, I’ll keep going to my Deliver. He’ll keep dressing my wounds and reminding me that He already purchased my freedom.

Three Hours Later…

As I worshiped and confessed, I found the grace I needed. Jesus said,

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners… – Luke 4:18

Yes, Lord Jesus. Your word is enough.

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Following Jesus is Easy…or Hard…or Something Like That…

You’re hiking – first time on this trail. You’re having a beautiful time, following the markers easily. But then, you come to a place where the path diverges and the markers confuse you. What do you do? Turn left? Right? Go straight? Go back?

(I hate it when that happens…)

Thankfully reader, in the journey of life there is a path marked out for Jesus’ followers that is perfectly clear at every turn. You just have to learn to recognize the markers.

The Markers

For most of 2010 I’ve been pondering over two unlikely markers, or symbols, Jesus chose to illustrate what it means to be His follower. I say “unlikely”, partly because they don’t initially seem very welcoming at all, and partly because Jesus introduced one with a warm invitation to the masses, and the other with a cold, hard warning to His disciples.

The path of Jesus is marked by two common, implements of wood – a yoke, and a cross.

An Invitation to All

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. – Matthew 11: 28-30

A Warning to Followers

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. – Matthew 16:24-25

The first is warm and welcoming; the second is all sacrifice and suffering. The first invites me to find rest for my soul; the second warns that I will lose my life. Following Jesus is easy…or hard…or something like that…

Objects & Symbols

I began thinking about the yoke and the cross as physical objects. A cross is easy for me to imagine: roughly hewn, no thought for the comfort of the bearer, an instrument of death. A yoke is similar: an instrument of bondage, of servitude and oppression, a bar across the neck to exploit the strength of an ox, or a pair of oxen…or a slave.

Crosses and yokes both awakened extreme negative connotations in the minds of Jesus’ Jewish audience. A cross was used to torture individuals and intimidate conquered nations. It reminded the Jews of their humiliating subjection to Rome. Likewise, the yoke recalled their forced-labor slavery in Egypt, and centuries later, their shame and exile in Babylon. The “yoke of bondage” was the common phrase. They thought of crosses and yokes the way we think of Pearl Harbor and 911, times a thousand. So, why did Jesus use these symbols to mark the path behind Him?

Transformed Symbols

The Jews thought of themselves as under the yoke of Rome, which they hated. They also thought of themselves as yoked to the teaching of their spiritual leaders, which wearied them with hundreds of hoops to jump through in order to earn God’s favor. But the path of Jesus is marked by a new kind of yoke, one that brings freedom and rest instead of bondage and endless labor. He invites me to learn from Him, to put on the yoke of His teaching and follow Him. It marks a path of freedom that physical bondage can never enslave. On that path I experience an unconditional welcome from God because Jesus did what I could never do to earn that welcome for me.

He earned it on the cross, the wooden implement of torture and death. The Jews thought of the cross as a cursed place, where God pours out His wrath on the guilty. And Jesus, being innocent, bore that curse for His followers so that His path might be marked by a new kind of cross, one that brings life to those who will carry it. He warns me that the path may cost me this life, just as it cost Him. But He also promises that I’ll discover a far better life, one that lasts beyond the scope of this world.

If you’re not finding rest for your soul, if you haven’t found a life that’s worth dying for, then maybe you haven’t found the path yet.

It’s an easy path to follow…or it’s hard…or it’s something like that…


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