There may be no better time to actively share the hope found in Jesus Christ than today. While it doesn’t make the news with any references to God, we daily see that “the sorrows of those who take another god for themselves will multiply” (Psalm 16:4a, CSB).
So far, the 2020s have offered society a reality check. While some choose to ignore it, many are recognizing the truth that our idols have failed us. And people are looking for answers.
Searching for answers in
Money hasn’t prevented a pandemic, hurricanes, wildfires, or racial divides from rocking this nation. To top it off, the money we have today is worth much less than it was a year ago.
Those who turn to sex without boundaries can’t ignore the tidal wave of #MeToo stories of how perverse our nation has become with this infatuation. Before the pandemic, the U.S. set records 6 years in a row for the number of cases of sexually transmitted diseases. Even in the midst of COVID-19, 2.4 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis were reported in 2020. And a new pandemic—monkeypox—has begun spreading most rapidly through sexual contact.
People live in constant fear of losing political power. At the national level, both major parties have taken turns holding the White House and majority control of Congress in recent years. Yet, neither has delivered a panacea much less given their followers any sense of contentment. Instead, ongoing panic has sparked constant incivility on social media and in other communication in society.
Knowledge has delivered some amazing wins, but it’s always a step behind the antagonists that threaten our society. War, natural disasters, pandemics, societal strife, and death itself are not being solved by the immense knowledge we’ve accumulated and continue to expand.
Lockdowns and quarantines during 2020 reminded us how much we enjoy things in our culture such as sports, arts, travel, and restaurants. When those were taken away, it became clear none are worthy of us building our lives around. We are grateful to be enjoying these activities again, but they often fail to measure up to the hopes we had for them.
Similarly, changes in most people’s work remind us not even this is worth our ceaseless pursuit.
The deceit of idols
None of these things are inherently evil. God wants us to work, have fun experiences, grow in knowledge, respect those He places in authority, enjoy sex in marriage, and exchange money for goods and services in a fair manner.
The evil tendency inside every one of us is to raise up one or more good aspects of life to be the ultimate thing. We don’t come right out and say that, and we deceive ourselves into believing it’s just the ultimate thing for the moment. But then we continue to pursue it tomorrow and the next day with an obsession that it doesn’t deserve. Only God deserves our passionate devotion, and only God has shown us faithful love.
The church’s message would be much more difficult to share if the idols of our day were actually satisfying people’s needs. But they’re failing miserably. Maybe the church is missing this missional moment because we too are reeling that our idols are lacking what we had hoped they would provide.
The idols among us
As the church begins to share the benefits that the one true God offers, we must have the same conversation within our churches. Pastors notice followers of Christ in their congregations turning to the same gods the world is turning to. Sixty-seven percent see their people influenced by the idol of comfort, 56% by control or security, 55% by money, 51% by approval, 49% by success, 46% by social influence, 39% by political power, and 32% by sex or romantic love.
On any given weekend, a portion of a church’s members are not present for worship services—often half to two-thirds of them. A few are homebound, caregiving, or sick. But the majority of them are simply doing something else they believe will bring them more comfort. It could be sleep. It could be a football game, sailing on the lake, or having a family gathering. It’s not a problem that those things bring them comfort. The problem is that those comforts have taken God’s place in their lives.
Control or security
Countless churches have funds for ministry, but their congregations don’t want to spend them. They value security so much they’re reluctant to pay their pastor well, invest in outreach, or hire a part-time youth minister.
Jim Elliot wrote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Wasting money and needlessly risking it is foolish. But too often we’re reluctant to spend money on ministry at all. This stems from a fear of losing it. We should seek to understand how God wants to use His money personally and in our churches. When we hear His direction, we cannot lose.
Some who are not present in weekly worship services are working instead. Some of these jobs serve our society. And some are just taking their turn or didn’t bother blocking off that shift. Others are simply trying to get ahead, believing that more money will satisfy their longings.
“No one can serve two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money,” (Matthew 6:24, CSB).
Approval and success
Our society tells us that whenever you decide to pursue something, you are expected to not just enjoy it but max it out. You need to have the best or latest or most or else you’re really not into that hobby, fashion, sport, or décor at all. Why did we buy those? Why did we want people to see we have them?
Ouch! The question “why?” cuts to our hearts. It’s the question God asks about everything we do. He cares about our hearts. Too often our hearts (or our social media posts) reveal we are seeking approval on society’s rating system.
The treasure worth abandoning all for
As we consider the many things we hold dear, consider a pair of short parables Matthew recorded where Jesus communicates there is a treasure that satisfies. Whatever it is that we think we want to pursue, He offers something so much better.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure, buried in a field, that a man found and reburied. Then in his joy he goes and sells everything he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he found one priceless pearl, he went and sold everything he had and bought it,” (Matthew 13:44-46, CSB).
When was the last time we invited our congregations to let go of everything they hold dear? Have we encouraged them instead to obtain the treasure from God that is priceless? Some may need to be reminded that the free gift of salvation is to be grasped with both hands, not with one hand still holding our idols.
Every alternative god continues to fail us.
Now is the time for our congregations to choose whom they will serve. Now is the time for us to introduce our neighbors to someone worth pursuing with abandon, worth selling all you have to acquire, worth maximizing your time with, and worth making the focus of your affection. Although our other pursuits have fallen short, Jesus Christ will not disappoint.