This week, I am attending my third denominational annual meeting within the last month. What I have noticed at each meeting is homage to the past as well as hope for the future. This is a good thing. We need to remember where we came from as we look to where we should go.
However, this is not always an easy thing. Especially for denominations.
Often times, denominations want to hold on more to the past than they want to reach for the future. Only when the pain of remaining the same grows greater than the pain of changing do many denominations actually move forward. Sometimes the root of this strong desire to stay the same can, unfortunately, border on idolatry if we are not careful.
Both personally and as a denomination, we tend to long for the good ole days. Many times, however, those days really weren't that good. They were just comfortable. That comfort becomes our desire instead of doing what God has commanded regardless of the discomfort.
These last few weeks brought to mind this excerpt from my new book Subversive Kingdom.
I've seen lots of idols in my time. From statues in India, and masks in Africa, to ancestral markings in South America, idols exist in all shapes and sizes. All forms of idols fill gaps. Man was designed to worship and will worship something. And as strange as these items may appear, it's not hard to notice their power. They capture the identities of those who are so connected to these attachments from their culture and history.
Yet strangely enough, my idols are not strange to me.
They call to me. Personally. They appeal to me from my past. They make their persuasive case for why I need them so badly and how much they can do for me. They try to convince me that we can all get along here in one place together, that I can share space with both them and my Christian devotion at the same time, and that God will understand.
So my idols are much more personal than a piece of stone or a block of wood. Anything from my past or present that shapes my identity or fills my thoughts with something other than God, especially on a regular, ongoing, irresistible basis, is an idol. Idolatry does not count the cost of worshipping anything but God. And although few of us could ever imagine worshipping a picture of ourselves, the reality is--we are either worshipping God or some form of ourselves. When we are driven by physical and emotional appetites rather than being led by the Spirit of God, we are worshipping the idol of ourselves. Paul spoke as a prophet on fire to the Colossian Christians: "Therefore, put to death what belongs to your worldly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry" (Col. 3:5).
Both a king and his kingdom exist in every person's life, creating within us an impulse or desire for something more than we have right now. Even many God-given desires can turn into idols when we become too urgent to satisfy those desires. But every idol is a competitor. Our kingdom calling will always be mutually exclusive with the conniving appeals of other gods. We must never forget that we are in "rebellion against the rebellion" of the world's system, that we are commissioned by God to live with different loyalties from those of the world--and that, in fact, part of our motivation for choosing this singular existence is for the sake of those who are caught in the enemy's trap.
We're just subversive that way, aren't we?
Because if we allow idols to occupy living quarters in our hearts--especially on a consistent, unquestioned basis--we will never be able to develop the integrity and discernment necessary to challenge the oppressive values of the broader culture. We'll be too distracted and self-absorbed to notice the many examples of pain, doubt, confusion, and injustice happening in people's lives right around us. We simply cannot serve successfully as agents for the kingdom of light while simultaneously harboring pockets of darkness in the shadows and corners of our hearts. Just can't. Doesn't work like that.
Idols. Divided loyalties. Split personalities. These are things we cannot tolerate if we hope to remain subversive.