When I was a junior in high school, I purposefully wet my pants in front of my whole chemistry class to prove a point. My teacher never allowed anyone to go use the restroom during her class because she felt like students simply used it as an excuse to dodge schoolwork and kill time in the hallway. She was right — that’s usually the reason we wanted to leave class. Nevertheless it sent us all into an uproar because using the restroom is an integral part of life and we felt like she was using her authority to control us. In a full blown power play, I showed Ms. Kimball that she couldn’t control me. She could control whether or not I left class to go to the restroom, but she couldn’t control whether or not I went. I have made an idol out of control my entire life.
That stunt actually reveals another idol of mine — attention. My classmates thought my power play was legendary and it was the gossip buzz for years to follow. Unfortunately, seven years after high school its still the first thing mentioned when I run into any old classmates. (That went over well when I was on a first date with a guy and we happened to run into an old classmate who wanted to reminisce.) But attention has been intoxicating to me my entire life. At 17, negative attention was better than no attention at all. I was willing to urinate on my classroom floor just to be noticed. Self respect is a small price to pay if your god is to be recognized… even if that’s just as a non conformist who’s too cool for rules. I was going to assert myself and do whatever I pleased because my idol was myself. If I wanted to rebel, I would rebel. If I wanted to act out sexually, I would act out sexually. If I wanted it to be with a girl, it would be with a girl. If I had to suffer consequences then I would suffer consequences, but illusions of power and control were my god. I was a rambunctious little rascal.
Then I met Jesus and everything began to change. I started going to church and reading the Scriptures and saw portraits of the Christian all-stars. The all stars were the ones with the deep theological insights and the ones who abstained from immorality. So I stopped the sex, weed and booze and started reading guys like Luther and memorizing Scripture. Everyone was so impressed with my profound life changes. They were amazed when I told them all the dark stories from my past and they just gushed about all the positive changes they saw in this blossoming little woman of God. I basked in their praises and got my attention itch scratched in a holy way this time around. I was just as intoxicated by the celebration of my abstinence as I had been from the praise of my high school escapades. Good behavior was my new avenue to the same old attention fix. This was simply a more socially acceptable form and it looked so Christian.
Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to Jesus Christ who broke through all my facades to get to the heart of it all. He looked down on both my bad behavior and my good behavior and saw what was at the heart of it all — a desire to make myself look good at any cost. I simply realized what behaviors would receive the most applause from the particular group I was involved in, and devoted myself to that end. Grace, grace, grace bombarded my life when I was bent on self-glorification rather than acknowledging God as the one to be worshiped at all times. When I rebelled against authority to gain control, grace whispered to me of a greater God. When I used holy behaviors or ministry work as a way to feel good about myself and to make up for all the shame I felt from the rebellion, grace cried out that even holy deception can be washed away if only confessed!
Constant confession is the only defense to the deceptive idols of my heart. I no longer keep track of how many days or weeks it’s been since the last time I masturbated so I know I’m not in danger of the holy boasting, but what about the pride that comes from identifying the sin of my old self deceptive ways? This is not about how “bad” I am or how “good” I am or how much I recognize the depravity behind all my good and bad behavior. All of those mindsets are about me! Is it any better to make an idol out of goodness as opposed to an idol out of sinful behaviors? Or to make an idol out of recognizing the sins of the heart as opposed to simply worshiping the One who intersects all of those paths with GRACE! An idol is an idol!
Here’s the crazy thing: I can identify all those past idols as idols and I can confess them and eradicate them and praise God for grace… and create new ones today. I dress them up in different outfits, hoping no one will notice it’s the same little idol with a different style. Sometimes I make idols out of food and I make a bee line for the closest ice cream store, fantasizing about the soft serve yogurt meeting the tip of my tongue every step of the way. Sometimes I make an idol out of my body and I obsessively work out and stare in the mirror to see if I’m any leaner or toner. Sometimes I make an idol out of being “beyond externals” and recognizing the beauty of ceasing from striving and “just “being” rather than being a slave to such frivolous duties. Sometimes I make an idol out of women and desire to be like other women so much that it turns into a desire to be with them. Sometimes I idolize knowledge because if I can flaunt some fact that another might not know then I feel superior to them. Sometimes I idolize contrived “humility” because I know its more affable than arrogance. Same idol, different outfits. All I can do is praise God for the grace to identify them as such, and for the grace to stop the self-focus and fall on my face in worship.
There’s nothing wrong with ANY of those things in themselves! Everything I’ve mentioned is beautiful when I’m praising God with every breath. Exercise and good food and knowledge of His creation and recognition of self-deception are such awe-inspiring things if Ill see them as gifts straight from the hand of a loving Father. Even the attention I was seeking when I was a rambunctious teenager was at heart a desire to experience a God-given aspect of real relationship. And the good behavior that I turned into self-glorification has the capacity to be the overflow of a worshipful heart to the one who’s rescued me from the sin of self! The desire for intimacy with women is a God-breathed desire for genuine relationship because He created us to thrive in healthy community. Everything in my life can at one moment be a tool of worship and the next moment twisted into an idol. It doesn’t matter what it is, if it’s a created thing that replaces the Creator as the ultimate one worshiped, then its an idol.
I have nothing to stand on save grace and grace alone. At some point in my life, I’ve turned every good gift from God into a celebration of myself. Idolatry continues to be a moment by moment battle for me; the only remedy is to seek a spirit of constant praise and adoration. As long as I’m swept away in worship then I don’t have time to twist them into self-glorifying things. When I exercise, grace offers a mindset that says, “Thank you Lord for legs and movement and fresh air” rather than “If I don’t push harder then I’ll never look good.” When I have good food with good friends, grace gives me the opportunity to say, “Thank you Lord for laughter and for taste buds and pleasure” rather than, “I’ll pay for this tomorrow” or “One more sip, just one more!” When I’m able to line up my life more closely with the Way of Jesus, grace enables me to say, “Thank you God for mysteriously blazing a trail in my heart that sets me on track with the rhythm of your way because I’m incapable of doing that without your Holy Spirit.” Idolatry is my attempt to steal Gods thunder, and Christ meets this thief with grace. What response could I possibly have, than to take every moment and every image and every gift as another opportunity to burst with wonder and gratitude and praise to God, the creator of every good gift and the giver of the grace to truly receive them?