I’m an idolater. No soft intro tonight folks. I at times worship, functionally, a false god. No different than the moon worshippers on the tropical island. No different than the celebrities who worship their own fame. No different than the baller lifestyle that worships the pursuit of ever-increasing pleasure. Exposed before my eyes in the last few weeks has been my idol: the pursuit and need to be taken seriously. I know, not quite as dangerous as having a physical idol on a pole or platform, but dangerous and wicked nonetheless.
God had began to reveal my idolatry a few weeks ago, and it came to a head recently. Someone told me “no matter what you do, no matter what, you’re always going to be perceived, viewed, and received as ‘the kid’ around here.” In the words of the prophet John Mayer, push it in and twist the knife again. I could feel my soul cut in half with those words. Inside, my visceral response was to respond “Kid? I’m 30 years old, an ordained and licensed minister, I have two advanced degrees and am a matter of time from a PhD, I’m a published author, have written for nationally read networks, been a retreat speaker, have had a book publisher contact me about submitting proposals, have received adjunct faculty appointments at two universities, and get consulting calls often from other student ministers.” But (thankfully) before those words could come out, I realized that what was happening was my pride being exposed for the ugliness that it is, and in that moment my only response was to sit there and take it.
Before that mostly I had been aware of my idolatry but had always come up with a way to dismiss it. First it was because I was usually the youngest in any job or organization I was part of – so my rationale was that it was a byproduct of being younger, and the response was a drive to be the best regardless of age. Then it revealed itself in my disdain for the stereotype of the “youth guy,” which I hate still. The response there was to call myself a student pastor, and emphasize the pastoral nature of the work (rather than the stereotypical Peter Pan boy-who-never-grew-up event planner who was known more for stupid antics than anything substantive). Then it revealed itself in my callous reactions towards what I felt were insults because of my age or professional experience, where I always felt I had to prove something. And along the way it’s led to a cynicism, bitterness, and largely unhealthy work ethic and drive. It’s caused spiritual conflict, caused me to expect things because of the letters before and after my name. In the pursuit of being taken seriously, perhaps at times I’ve done more damage to that cause than profited it?
But through it all I would keep coming back to what has become a theme verse for my life, Philippians 3:8 (ESV) Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. I’m reminded that all my achievements, all my formal education and publications and opportunities and the like are worth nothing. Later Paul will use the word “rubbish” to describe them, which is more accurately translated “the contents of my son’s most recent dirty diaper.” In light of Christ and His work, that laundry list of things is worthless. I sat in a pastor’s conference yesterday surrounded by men much older than me, many of whom did not have nearly the education I do. Most had a college degree, if that. Yet they had value and qualifications I do not, nor will for a long time: they had been tested and found worthy.
We’re reminded of the silliness of idolatry in Isaiah 44, where the idolater is described as the guy who cuts down a tree and saws it in half. With one half he makes firewood, and the other half he uses to fashion his god, that he worships. And the subtle humor in the passage is that God is asking the idolater if he’s using the right half? And so it is with my idol – in the end I’m left with a long list of qualifications, education, and an ax. But in reality, it’s nothing. I’m left with a mute piece of wood with me bowing down before it hoping it can satisfy. So before the cross I bring my silliness and my vanity. And here it is, my catharsis of the soul.