Friday, June 26, 2009

American Idol vs. Indian Idol

Wow, the past two weeks has been a roller coaster ride. Last week Mark and I had the great opportunity of getting to spend time with some of the American "workers" here in our town. This was a great experience. We were really encouraged by their words and experiences here. We also enjoyed the American company too. They have now all left to go to Thailand for organizational meetings so Mark and I are the only American workers here with our organization. Immediately after they left I got sick. I think it was something I ate your drank. I ended up staying in the apartment for 4 days. I am recovering now and I feel much better. Thank you so much for all your prayers. It’s so good to know that there are so many people lifting me up around the clock. Being sick in an unfamiliar culture really adds a lot of stress to already being sick. But I can say I did learn a lot about having to stop and wait and be still and rest. It's easy to focus only on doing and when you are forced to stop it really requires you to rethink and reassess where you are.

Last Sunday we were able to meet with all the American workers one last time for a house church meeting before they left for Thailand. During this meeting we were sharing some things we were learning. We began talking about idols and all the idols here in this culture and how people are so dedicated to worshiping a piece of stone or wood or a tree. This got me thinking about idols, what they are and how we as humans have a tendency to fashion them. When you look at India's culture, their idols are obvious. There are shrines on every street corner, parades in honor of their idols; people even stop their cars in the middle of the road to say prayers in front of the shrine of their god. Why though? I mean come on it’s just a piece of stone or wood. Don't they know that it's just man made and has no power? At one temple here people will literally trample each other to be the first one "seen" by the idol when the temple doors are opened. Why would people act this way? How did this idol gain so much power over living, breathing image bearers of God? As I thought about this, I realized that they act this way out of fear. They can't imagine their life without being able to worship their idols. If their idols were taken away they would be gripped with fear because their idol is their connection to their success and well-being in this life and the next. This is why people create a human stampede to be the first to the god. They are afraid of what will happen to them if they aren't the first one there. As I continued to think about this, the American instinct in me said, "Thank God we do not act this way in America. It's just illogical and uncivilized." But knowing human beings and that they are generally the same all over the world, sinful, I realized that we are probably not as guiltless as I hoped. So I started trying to work through some of the ways we as Americans and even more specifically followers of Jesus Christ, fall pray to worshiping idols. I think we've probably all heard a sermon on "American Idolatry". It’s common to hear pastors say things like "Contrary to popular belief we do worship idols in America. They're called TV, the golf course, new clothes, the latest gadgets, ect. . ." Now I do think these things can become idols in our lives, but I don't think it is the main problem. As Christians it is easy for us to look at the list of American idols and just make sure we don't buy into them. Some people will even where this like a badge. They will make sure people know they agree with what the culture’s “into”. So then there is a legalism that is created that says, "If you buy these things or partake in these activities your are idolatrous." And as long as you don't do whatever is on the " idol list" then you are ok. Right? I don't think this is the main issue with idolatry in the heart. Because it is completely possible for someone to outwardly appear righteous and free of having idols in their life but inside their biggest idol is making sure people think they don't have idols. Jesus said people like this have already received their reward for their actions. By this he meant that people who want to appear righteous before men but not be transformed on the inside have gotten exactly the reward they wanted. They have pleased man by their outward appearance and nothing more.

So how does one define an idol in the heart? I think an idol in the heart will cause fear and the idol will continue to be an idol as long as it has the element of fear over the person. I don't mean that idols in our heart are scary but they do grip us with a certain amount of real fear. We ask ourselves "What would my life be like without this thing." You fill in the blank whatever the thing might be. We become afraid that if we do not have our idols, then we will not survive. See, just like the idol worshipers here in India, there is a fear that your life and your welling being might cease to exist without your idol. We are really no different. Big surprise! We will go to great lengths to protect and nurse our idols and if anyone tries to take them away, we may be viciously defensive. After all, it's our right. So in light of this definition of an idol I think it is much easier to see what may actually be our idols and why we have them. Sadly, the church today is not much different. For many it's the idol of appearing righteous or humble or like they have their life in order. What happens when you take these idols away? It causes fear. What does a person do when they've based their whole understanding of following Christ on making sure they have kept the rules of Christianity and you take away their rules; their idol? They become afraid because following the rules was their livelihood. It was their righteousness. It was what they trusted for their well being. This is why we are commanded never to put another god before the Almighty God. Every other god in our lives is insufficient for us to trust our lives with. God knew that idols would only distract us from understanding and experiencing him. God wants us to trust that he provides everything for us, not some idol we worship. A good way to test your heart for idols is to ask “If God was to take this away from me, would I be afraid for my livelihood and well being?” That is why we must pray like David, “Search me and know my heart.” Our idols will never provide for us, just like the stone carving I see people bowing down to everyday do nothing for them. We would think that it’s so obvious here, but our own eyes have been blinded to our idolatry. Lord create in us clean hearts!

Grace and Peace

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