Monday, January 11, 2021

Our Modern Idols

Many years ago, a pastor told a story of a fellow pastor whose turn it was to preach that Sunday.  The man walked quietly up to the pulpit.  He held both sides of the podium in his hands, looked out at the congregation and said, "Jesus."

Then he sat down.

I could simply do the same thing today with my blog.  I could type "Jesus," and hit "publish."    He is what we need now, more than ever.

But, I would like to weigh in on last week--my heart is broken at what culminated at the Capitol.  Just seeing the people scaling the walls, the people moving angrily and the young woman climbing through the transom window in the Capitol, only to be shot in the back of the head and falling to the floor with blood streaming from her mouth, caused me great anguish.  

I was stunned to see a standing President behind bullet-proof glass while a riled-up mob surged below him.  It felt like anti-Christ moment.  "Anti-" in Greek means "against" or "instead of."  

NO, I do not mean THE Anti-Christ.  I mean, that at that moment, the adoration, acclamation, and admiration of the crowd and the arrogance, attitude and approval of the man standing there, should be for Christ alone.  

But this cult of personality is not just conferred upon our President.  It is conferred upon pastors.  How many people talk about, "I go to So-and-So's church!"  (I have heard this.)

How many people leave an area to follow a pastor to his next church? (I know of several.)

How many people will divide an existing church by leaving en masse to follow a pastor to his new church? (I saw this.)

Why have churches become dynastic in who leads them after the founder dies, with the son taking over (who may or may not be called) because he can continue the brand?  (I know of several of churches like this.)

Why, when scandals arise, the boards of these churches are stymied in their efforts to exert discipline--because they know that if the pastor goes, so does the church?  Or they try and the pastor responds with a victim mentality instead of humbling himself and accepting discipline?  (This has happened.)

Why are people so loyal to a human being?  Whether it's a political leader or a pastor, the results are the same:  People are willing to defend the person no matter what (it's his enemies that are causing this!) or they resist anything that gets in the way of their need for this person.  If disturbing information, bad behavior, inflammatory rhetoric or questionable ideas/theology come forth, people defend this leader--why?  To quote a friend of mine who attends a church that has not taken enough steps to protect the congregation (the pastor now has Covid, sad to say): "I need it."

There it is:  "I need it."  We may love Jesus, but we follow our pastor.  We pray to Jesus but when our pastor wants to do something, go somewhere or start a project, we defer to him, even if we have misgivings, because, after all, he's the pastor and is tight with God, right?

We love Jesus but we bask in the warmth and charisma of our pastor.  We love the Word of God but allow the pastor to wrestle, interpret and show us its meaning each week.  He meets a need in us:  to be loved, respected and made to feel special. 

So many men in lives have let us down--fathers especially, so a charismatic pastor or president can take that role in our lives and fill a need for male approval.  We love that this person knows our frustration, our pain and our longing.  Or so we believe. 

We love Jesus but want more and more of this person--he has become an "Instead of Christ," i.e. an anti-Christ.  

Jesus taught of wolves in sheep clothing.  The wolves know the sheeps' need to belong, to be safe and cared for by someone who is greater than they. It is interesting that Jesus was speaking of leaders, of false prophets, who come to exploit the natural needs of the sheep:

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. (Matt. 7:15-20)

Ultimately, the truth will out and that's when the sheep face a decision:  Do I ignore the rather lupine behavior of this sheep, make excuses and defend him, or do I seek God and His wisdom about this person?

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. (James 1:5-8)

Now, I have a choice:  Do I leave or stay?  Do I remain loyal or do I step away?  John gives us the answer: "Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God's place in your hearts." (1 John 5:21 NLT) 

In the Greek, it is translated: "keep yourself from idols."

In other words, stay away from people or things that have become "Instead of Christ."

No one wakes up and says, "I am going to follow a wolf.  I am going to replace my loyalty to Christ with a loyalty to a leader.  I am going to stop questioning this leader and allow him to think, feel and believe for me, because I feel so complete in his presence.  His leadership is helping me to be a better person.  I can't leave or be disloyal."

The process is insidious.  The charismatic leader will tap into us deeply, make us feel special and when issues arise, we defend that person, angry that others do not see him the way we do. 

In America, we seem to be gravitating more and more to strong, charismatic leaders who speak for us, feel for us, and make us feel that he gets us. 

We love Jesus, but when the push comes to shove, we turn on our TV, or go to church, looking for answers and grabbing hold of the words coming from that leader.

We should be sitting quietly with Jesus, reading His Word and asking Him for wisdom.  Once He dispenses it, we need to obey, even if that means standing alone.

Let us not demean our God by nodding to Him on our way to following an idol. 


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