3 Life Traps to Avoid

Idolatry is a trap.

An idol, as we saw last time, is something that makes big promises, takes all it can, and gives nothing in return. This video from I Am Second featuring hit singer Tori Kelly does a fantastic job illustrating this point. Check it out:

Tori Kelly was promised the world. She was promised everything she could want – fame, fortune, success as a singer. But her “idol” deemed her not good/pretty/bubbly enough. So long, see you later. Next!

She had to learn not to tie her identity to anything other than Christ. Kelly had to learn to let go and gain her freedom (remember the Monkey Trap?).

THE THREE TRAPS

If idolatry is a trap, it’s helpful to know what kind of traps to specifically be on the lookout for. The Bible identifies three main traps, and life has confirmed this to be true. Here’s exactly what we need to watch for:

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

Did you see the traps? 1) Craving for physical pleasure, 2) Craving for everything we see, and 3) Pride in our achievements and possessions. These are the tools Satan uses to draw us away from God and trap us in idolatry. We fall for them all the time. Every single one of us has been trapped by at least one of these tricks. And they are literally as old as human history.

LITERALLY, THE OLDEST TRICK IN THE BOOK

The Bible opens with the story of creation in Genesis 1 and 2. God creates the world and everything in it. God crowns his creation with God’s masterpiece – humanity, God’s own image bearers. God places the first man and woman in a garden called Eden. It’s a paradise – free of sin, pain, death, and I assume mosquitoes. They have one God-given rule, only one! Don’t eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. That’s it. There’s one tree you can’t eat from. Everything else is fair game. How could they possibly mess that up?

The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”
“Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”
“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”
The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves. (Genesis 3:1-7)

Did you see the traps? Look more closely. She saw that the fruit 1. looked delicious (cravings for physical pleasure), 2. looked beautiful (cravings for everything we see), and 3. would grant her the wisdom that she wanted (pride in our achievements and possessions). The Serpent (aka Satan) pulled out all the stops. He set all three traps in place, and she fell for every single one.

**Notice, by the way, that she gave the fruit to her husband “who was with her.” Adam wasn’t some innocent bystander. It’s not like he was off somewhere else completely unaware of what was happening. Adam was fooled just as much as Eve.**

And with all three traps set and then sprung, sin and idolatry entered the world.

At the end of Genesis 3, however, God makes a promise that some day one of Eve’s offspring would crush the head of the serpent once and for all.

BREAKING FREE

Fast forward to the 1st Century CE in Palestine. A Jewish Rabbi is on the scene named Yeshua (or Jesus to us Westerners). Jesus is baptized by his cousin John in the Jordan River. As he came up out of the water, the heavens part and the voice of God could be heard proclaiming “You are my Son whom I love. With you I am well pleased.” And the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove. This is a literal re-creation story.

And just as with the creation story in Genesis, so it is with Jesus. He is immediately led into the Judean wilderness where he fasts for 40 days and faces temptations from Satan. Imagine fasting for 40 days! That’s about the limit for the human body to survive without food. Some of us get hangry after 40 minutes without eating. Picture being on-the-brink-of-literal-starvation-hangry…and then literal Satan shows up. Ugh…. Just read this passage while I go get a snack.

Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry.
Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone.’”
Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. I will give it all to you if you will worship me.”
Jesus replied, “The Scriptures say,
‘You must worship the Lord your God
    and serve only him.’”
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say,
‘He will order his angels to protect and guard you.
And they will hold you up with their hands
    so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’”
Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’”
When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came. (Luke 4:1-13)

Ok, did you see the traps that time? Really, Satan couldn’t make it any more obvious. It’s the same three traps as he used in the Garden all those thousands of years before.

  1. Turn these stones to bread = cravings for physical pleasure
  2. I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the world = cravings for everything we see
  3. Throw yourself down from the Temple in front of all these crowds of people, proving to everyone who you truly are and what you’re capable of = pride in our achievements or possessions

However, where Adam and Eve failed, Jesus successfully avoided the traps and exposed them for what they truly were – empty promises.

UNHOLY TRINITY

These three traps can be thought of like this:

“Cravings for Physical Pleasure” = Self-Centeredness – only caring about my needs, my physical cravings, my appearance, my schedule, my success, me – me – me

“Cravings for Everything We See” = Greed – never being satisfied with what I have, always wanting more things, new, shiny, latest and greatest, trendy, jealous, more – more – more

“Pride in Our Achievements and Possessions” = Pride – success, achievement, and being the best are the only things that matter. Second place is first loser. I have to be the best me, and I need other people to know it. Failure is not an option, win – win – win

Self-Centeredness, Greed, and Pride are the core tricks of the trade for Satan. They are the main ways our idols keep us trapped. Here’s what that looks like in real life.

My relationships become an idol when I make it all about me – what I can get out it, how my needs are being met, how that person make me feel.
Relationships become an idol when I’m greedy – always wanting more time, more devotion, or simply moving on to the next person if you aren’t good enough for me anymore.
And relationships become an idol when I become prideful – I have to have the best relationship, or at the very least we have to appear successful. I keep score of who does more for the other person and become resentful when the other person isn’t pulling their weight.

Work can become an idol when I’m self-centered – looking out for my own interests instead of the good of the company, doing anything to get more money or more promotions, making everything a competition with my coworkers.
Work can become an idol when I fall into greed – working longer hours for more overtime to bring home a bigger pay check to a wife and kids I never see so we can buy more stuff we never use.
Work can become an idol when I let my pride get in the way – making sure everyone knows how good I am, making myself indispensable, getting jealous of anyone else who gets promotions, always self-promoting and emphasizing my own achievements and successes.

FOLLOW THE GUIDE

These are the traps of idolatry. They aren’t always easy to see. Sometimes navigating life feels like that scene in Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade. The only way we know how to avoid the traps is by learning from those who have gone before us. Self-centeredness, Greed, and Pride can suck you in, keep you trapped, and totally derail your life. Maybe now that we know what to look out for, we can follow in the steps of Jesus and avoid these snares of life.

Which of the three traps is most difficult for you to avoid? How might these traps be lying in wait for us even in the church? Let me know in the comments below, and don’t forget to subscribe so you never miss a post!

No More Idols

I’ve never worshiped an idol. I’ve never bowed down to a statue or offered sacrifices to a foreign god. I’ve never set up a shrine to anyone or anything. I’ve never carved or chiseled an image to represent a deity.

But I’m an idolater.

And so are you, probably.

I’m starting a new series on Wednesday nights with our teens called “No More Idols.” Over the next couple of months we’re going to be rethinking idolatry, reevaluating our lives, and purging any idol worship we may find.

Why?

This seems like a weird topic for 2018. Idolatry is such a churchy word, and idol worship seems so foreign or even primitive to our sophisticated, Western, enlightened minds.

Here’s why:

They worshiped their idols, which became a snare to them. (Psalm 106:36)

If you’ve ever seen the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, you are practically an expert in snares. A snare is a trap. For a trap to work, there has to be some bait – something that is appealing, alluring, desirable. The animal is lured into the trap by the bait, and when the moment is right the trap springs, catching the animal inside the cage or in its grip. Sure, the animal gets what it wants, but at the cost of its life.

Idolatry is a trap.

Do you know how to catch a monkey? This real life metaphor, popularized by Robert Pirsig’s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, has been spread widely over the last few decades. It’s called the South Indian Monkey Trap. We think monkeys are cute and would make great pets. But in some parts of the world, monkeys are pests. They are a nuisance to have around. So they must be trapped and removed. But how?

The trap is incredibly simple – just a hollowed out coconut or gourd with a small prize inside, like rice, fruit, or something shiny. A small hole in the side allows the monkey to slip its hand inside and grab hold of the object. But once the hand is in a fist shape, it cannot be pulled back out the hole. The monkey must either let go of its treasure or remain trapped.

Idolatry is a trap.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, we must all understand what we’re talking about and why it matters.

So what is an idol?

At its most basic, an idol is “an image or representation of a god used as an object of worship.” We find idols in nearly every ancient culture and civilization – from the Egyptians to the Greeks to the Mayans. We find them today among the Hindus, the Buddhists (although Buddha is not a god who is worshiped), the Sikhs (their holy book is revered to nearly divine status), and a few others.

An idol is a statue, carving, engraving, painting, etc. that is revered and worshiped as a representation of the divine.

What’s the big deal, though?

Let’s take a quick refresher course on the first two of the Ten Commandments:

And God spoke all these words:
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.
“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:1-6)

The first two commandments are 1) You shall have no other gods before me, and 2) You shall not make for yourself an image to bow down to and worship.

Remember that God is giving these commands to a newly freed Hebrew people. They have been living as slaves in Egypt for the past several generations. The only religion they have known and practiced would have involved the Egyptian pantheon. The ancient Egyptians had dozens, if not hundreds of gods. They had major temples built to Osiris, Isis, Horus, Thot, Hathor, Set, and more. The Hebrews would have been all too familiar with idol worship and polytheism (the worship of multiple gods).

Then YHWH shows up, sends Moses to deliver them, and brings them to the base of this mountain to set the record straight. YHWH is your God, your only God, and YHWH will not be depicted by any image of a created thing. This would have been completely revolutionary to them. One God? No idols? Okay, we’ll give it a try… (they would soon fail at all of that, but we’ll get to that later).

God begins his story with his people by prohibiting idol worship. And the New Testament ends with the same instruction!

Among the latest writings of the New Testament are the letters from John. First John ends abruptly with this instruction:

Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:21)

Why? Because idolatry is a trap.

An idol is…

  • anything that takes the place of God.
  • that which promises greatly, takes everything, and gives nothing.
  • anything apart from God to which we cry out, “save me!”
Let’s do a little activity! Take a look at the expertly made bracket. We all love brackets, right? You will see 32 items, and we’re trying to find what is most important to us. For each pairing, ask yourself which of these two is more important in my life? Be real. Be honest.
What was your winner? Was it family? Friends? Significant other? Career? Video games?
What decision was the hardest for you to make? Did you have to choose between money and your friends? Did you have to choose between church and video games? Did you have to choose between your family and your significant other?
Here’s the point. Every time we say “Yes” to something, we are automatically saying “No” to something else. For every yes, there is a corresponding no. You may have to say yes to sports and no to drugs. You may have to say yes to your career and no to taking vacations.
Most of these things are not bad in and of themselves. The fact is that you cannot say yes to everything. Life is full of choices like this. You must learn to say yes and no wisely.
What’s going to benefit you and others the most? What’s the best use of your time and resources? What is going to be the most fulfilling, most life giving choice? What are you going to regret NOT doing at the end of your life?
Idolatry is a trap because it promises that which it can never offer. Idols necessarily overpromise and underdeliver. They give you just enough to keep you trapped, giving you the illusion of getting what you want – like the monkey in the coconut trap.
But when you say yes to God and no to idols, you are set free from those traps and cycles (we’ll look at these more in the coming weeks). Through Christ’s death we are set free from the bondage of sin and death. Idols may promise the world, but the world is only God’s to give – and it’s already promised to the meek (Matthew 5).
Idolatry is alive and well in America.
Take a look at the most important things in your life – those things that made it to the semifinals in your bracket. Could one or more of these be taking over as an idol in your life? Ask yourselves these questions:
  • how might this idol pull you away from God?
  • what do people sacrifice in worship to this idol?
  • what does this idol promise that it can’t actually deliver?
The life worth living is one in which we say Yes to God and no to idols. What God has promised, God will deliver.