Hello God? Please Leave a Message at the Tone

Okay, so I have now finished two books by author Kyle Idleman.  I should probably break down and buy his t-shirt at this point.  His latest offering Gods at War seeks to show the reader that the world we live in is inundated with "false idols" and false gods, all attempting to take the #1 place in our hearts (and in so doing, pushing God out).  He makes some effective arguments for this truth in the book.  Idolatry in the modern sense, has little or nothing to do with worshipping Greek gods or offering human sacrifices. In fact Idleman suggests that these days, simple things like entertainment and work can actually squeeze God out of our lives. God must now "fight" for the top spot on our list of achievements.  No longer is He the trophy on our top shelf, but rather one of many (and in some cases, not there at all).  

But why are we all so busy?  Why do we sign up our children for so many activities?  Why do some of our hobbies take up just as much time as we spend at church (if not more)? Relax, this is not going to be a blog post making you feel guilty about not tithing enough to the church or giving enough of our time to volunteering at the local food pantry.  Instead, I want to examine what it might look like to run away from something as good and righteous as a God who loves us.  I have a feeling it starts small: habits we pick up from our parents or coping strategies we have devised throughout our lives.  Little twists and turns of the soul that say "it's okay everyone, I can do this myself... no need for help."  And certainly no need for God's help.  After enough running, I think it is safe to say that God can easily move from something awe inspiring, to more like a big brother in the background - and then finally to a mere paper entity.    

The confusing thing is that most of these false idols (as Idleman puts it) are in essence good things.  Working hard, making money, volunteering our time, becoming high achievers, etc.  So how do we make the switch between earning money and worshipping money?  How do parents go from desiring the best for their children, to desiring their children to be the best at everything all the time?  There is a disconnect somewhere along the way.  I am reminded of the pageant moms on the hit T.V. show 'Toddlers and Tiaras.'  It is difficult to say what they are worshipping on that show, but it definitely isn't God!

There is an interesting excerpt halfway through the book where Idleman writes, "How many times have we been so distracted that we've missed a divine moment?  How many things does God long to say to us, but he keeps getting our voicemail because we're too busy to pick up?"  I imagine it in a metaphorical sense, such as God calling first my home phone and then my cell phone.  Maybe even stopping by the house eventually, only to find me traveling for work or running here and there like some silly automaton.  Sorry Lord, just leave a message ... I'm doing stuff.  Stuff.  And like most people, I really do adore some of the stuff I'm doing!  Hobbies are fun, work can be satisfying, and watching my kids or friends succeed at sports are all good things.  I promise I'll get back to God if He just leaves me a message.  After all, can't He see I'm busy?

It's of equal interest to me how the author relates almost each chapter to something that can be good of it's own accord, but once moved to the center of someone's world - everything turns to chaos.  What if none of us are actually busy, and we are just distracted?  Is it possible to be spiritually distracted?  Examples in the book include people who seek comfort through food, people who look to sex for fulfillment, and even folks who hold good health as the highest priority in their lives.  Idleman says the symptoms are often similar: whatever we idolize will eventually isolate us, unless that something is God.  But it usually isn't God that we worship, it's typically our stuff.  

Matters get worse when we try to self-diagnose our situation.  We are used to going to the medical doctor and telling the nurse what our physical symptoms are.  We may get medication for pain or to help us sleep at night, but the cause of the illness sometimes runs deeper.  "But Doctor, why can't I sleep at night?"  We want to treat the symptoms caused by false worship instead of looking further upstream to find out why we have those symptoms in the first place.  Maybe alcoholism is ruining someone's life, and the answer is to stop drinking.  But why is that person drinking too much in the first place? 

And worse yet, we have symptoms stemming from other symptoms.  Many people will never read Kyle Idleman's book because they don't have time.  And if we do read it, will we even be clear-headed enough to self-diagnose?  I suspect that often the answer is 'No.'  And so it occurs to me that there is really no place to hide.  At some point, as the false idol of our misdirected worship begins to isolate us and demand more and more of our time, we will switch gears and search for a new idol.  The cycle continues.  If we are lucky, God will have pity on us and take away our first love in order to show us our own soul.  He may change our financial situation on purpose or alter our health in order to force us to look further upstream.  Most of us would rather not look upstream.  We are content pursuing symptom treatment.

As I write this I am smiling, because I think it may be easy for someone reading this to feel guilty (or as Christians call it, "convicted") when considering their own proverbial closet full of idols.  I smile because I felt that way as well.  The reason I am still smiling is because when I put the book down, I remembered that as a follower of Christ I am literally soaked in grace.  For every nuance I may screw up, God can restore me.  We are not in charge, God is.  We don't have to be perfect, because God is.  And for the Christian, Jesus has taken on our imperfection such that we will come out the other end victorious.  It's just that we need to answer our voicemail a little more often.  Or at least leave the door unlocked in case He decides to stop by.  



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