Wednesday, June 13, 2012


It happens with regularity. It's happened this week. I've read it on some blogs. I'm just glad the blogs were not written by any one I know. That way you'll know what I'm writing isn't personal. It's just personal!  You get my meaning! 

When Christians join with a segment of our society in getting excited about a sporting event like an NBA finals run as a Thunder fan, [or Heat fan]  or a national championship run as a Sooner or Cowboy fan, or even getting excited about seeing their children or grandchildren play baseball when the summer rolls around, some preachers begin to label those Christians who join with them in the excitement of the sport, idol worshippers, because what they're doing takes so much time and money.  [This is especially true if their game falls on a Sunday.]  Because it has become obvious, to the blog writer at least, that they are putting those things before the Lord in their life.  [They skipped going to church of all things and that's bad, but not giving an offering before they skipped is worse.  LOL]  

Such thinking is based on a hierarchical list of things to be done by any Christian with God number one, then church attendance, family, job, or a varied alignment of things deemed important. And, to top it all off, if God isn't first, those preachers say, He won't bless. And until and unless He is first in a Christian's life, He won't be pleased. [And, boy is He ticked with those sports fans right now.]

Well, YES!  Idolatry IS wrong. About that there is no argument. It is certainly seen that way in scripture. Also, sports CAN  become an idol to a Christian, most definitely!  Declaring something an idol in someone else's life, however, presents at least a two-fold problem as I see things.

One problem is that calling something an idol may__all too often__be based on what the accused [ other Christians] are doing with their TIME AND MONEY as opposed to what the accusers [blog writing preachers] are doing with their TIME AND MONEY. But is that wise?

You see, I'm not sure but what time and money spent in costly traveling from conference to conference or from one pastor's meeting to another in churches, might, for a pastor, and I know this from experience, often begin to take priority over having a real personal relationship with the Lord. When this happens, it's no less idolatry than is sports for someone else, by their own definition. 

Then I have my own personal definition of what constitutes an idol and mine varies from their's a little. I believe it's often easier to WORK for God than it is to KNOW God and anything that becomes a SUBSTITUTE for knowing God is an idol__ by my definition. That would include, potentially, church attendance and even giving of money. You can even see that, by my definition, one's "preaching ministry" can become an idol. It did for me.  I said it this way, "One day I discovered I loved preaching about the Lord , more than I love the Lord about whom I preached." Who would have thought that preaching could become my idol. But it did!

I'm even wondering if church attendance and giving__especially when used as a measuring stick for spirituality__might not be a BIGGER form of idolatry than sports for some. This would be because that particular idol tends to allow for an elevation of the guilty party to the place of God in the lives of others. [judging/condemning them]. 

When you read this you will need to remember that I pastored for forty years and enjoyed it all the while__ including the pain and problems that occur within the pleasure of pastoring__and I'm not without the experience of low attendance and a great need of finances as an organization. But this isn't about going to church or to a sporting event. Neither of those is evil within themselves. It's about making them idols and both can be made that as I will show.  

You see, I'm wondering if church attendance and giving [time/money] to an organization called the "church" for many of us who have pastored or are presently pastoring, or even people who measure their spirituality by their service to that organization, have not become idols in our lives. 

This is because church attendance and giving an offering are not biblically SYNONYMOUS with being a Christian or even with being spiritual. One can actually do either of those and not even BE a Christian. And, AS a Christian, they certainly can become a poor substitute [idol] for the experiencing of a real relationship with the living God that is a moment by moment experience whether you choose to go to church three times a week or not. 

The second thing I see as a problem with the before mentioned declarations of idolatry by blog writers is that those kinds of statements are__ all-too-often__ made with words that reflect FEAR and a kind of RETREAT from the "world" [society] rather than a true love for the Lord, His people, and even the world. [People outside His Kingdom.] It certainly reflects people who've lost a desire to be light and salt where they live. Retreat and fear are two things that are the antithesis of what biblical Christianity is all about. 

What that means is for a Christian [or blog writing preacher] to RETREAT from culture out of FEAR of being tainted by sin, is as far from what is seen in the life of Jesus in the New Testament as anything imaginable. The FEAR of being tainted, being worldly, losing reputation, or even yielding to temptation, is still FEAR driven, and "perfect [mature] love casts out all fear" according to scripture. 

In those same scriptures the fact is made clear that the opposite of faith is not unbelief, but fear. "Oh ye of little faith, why are you so fearful?" was spoken by our Lord to a boat-load of disciples that were doing what they were doing because they were afraid. 

Our faith isn't to drive us AWAY from our culture because we're fearful of it, but, rather, we're, in fact, driven INTO our culture with our faith intact so that our Lord can make a difference in our lives everywhere we find ourselves.

So I have two suggestions that will help shed some light on all this and, if heeded, might at the same time keep us from idolatry, whatever form the idol takes. [In other words__able to be in the world but not of the world whether it's the secular world or the sacred world, which is a misnomer by the way as I will show next time.]  

I will elaborate on those suggestions in the next couple of posts.

Paul B.


Aussie John said...


There is so much valuable wisdom in what you have written, that I must share it with some of my brethren.

I'm certainly pleased to see you making a point about what those who are the finger pointers, including "[blog writing preachers] are doing with their TIME AND MONEY."

Your point about conferences is one which is not seriously considered by conference junky pastors (and congregants).

Your personal definition goes well with me, as does the comment regarding church attendance and giving.

You've certainly hit the bullseye with"Retreat and fear are two things that are the antithesis of what biblical Christianity is all about."

The stand alone comment is,"Our faith isn't to drive us AWAY from our culture because we're fearful of it, but, rather, we're driven INTO our culture with our faith intact so that our Lord can make a difference in our lives everywhere we find ourselves."

Looking forward to your elaboration!

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

I appreciate your thoughts on what I've written.

I'm like you, I know, and would not want to pass lightly over anything that can lead to idolatry, but, that said, you and I would want anyone who condemns another of idol worship to be sure and understand the possibilities in their own walk.

It's amazing that the people who get angry over any particular issue generally have that very same issue lurking in their own life and seem to be totally unaware of it.

But, we're not surprised are we!

Victorious said...

Thank you so much for this wise and timely post about idolatry!

...from a hockey fan

Paul Burleson said...


In the interest of fairness and transparency___I'm an OKC Thunder fan and we're playing the Miami Heat in the NBA finals right now. LOL

Avnirvana Bonovika said...

I agree with you, but, you also forgot to mention that this inspires some athletes to commit crimes against humanity as a reason for sports & sins being synonymous. Even Marilyn Manson, (I do realize that this is a christian blog)has brought this up in a discussion about teen violence.

Paul Burleson said...

Avnirvana B,

Welcome as a first time commenter. This is a blog that is for people, christian or not, who are willing to follow the guidelines that allow discussion with respect. You've certainly done that and come back often.

My thoughts only, but I sometimes wonder if what a person already REALLY is on the inside is seen on display, rather than created, when given a platform of any kind that allows personal expression freedom, whether it's sports, theatre, politics, etc.

It's probably the same wondering we have about personalities, in other words, are the produced by nature or nurture.

But, your right...crimes are committed by many when they are put on display and idolized.

Paul Burleson said...

By the way, please note that I know it should be "you're right" instead of "your." I know better, just missed it. LOL

Scott Leonard said...

Wow, good stuff, Paul.  One of the best books I’ve read on idolatry…errr….the only book I’ve read on it…is Counterfeit Gods,  The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters, by Timothy Keller.  Really good, I thought. He points out that idols are usually good things that become ultimate things in our life. Things that, if we were to lose them, we would virtually cease to exist, or not want to exist. A spouse, a child, a career, a reputation, and, ahhhhh the ministry!  It was an idol in my life, and I think it would be staggering to know how many pastors are guilty of that.  I don’t know if for me it was more the ministry or being known for my ministry.  If we are blessed, God graciously shatters our idols and shows us that nothing comes close to providing the peace, satisfaction and sheer delight of knowing Him and fellowshipping with Him and being real with Him. 
Then I am free to enjoy everything He gives me, including the capacity to delight in my child or root for my favorite team!  Thunder up!!!
It is not fair to judge whether another man idolizes something, because only God knows his heart. I am a horrible judge.  But I think Keller said that you can look at yourself and ask where your thoughts run when you have free time.  I think what is most on our lips or in our emails could be a clue, but again, God knows the heart.

Paul Burleson said...


Good comment.

I've not read the book by Keller, but I think he's right on with this... "He points out that idols are usually good things that become ultimate things in our life."

I remember the brass serpent where it is said in 2 Kings 18:4 that Hezekiah the King "broke in pieces the brass serpent for in those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it." In other words they had begun to worship the good thing God had given instead of the God who had given the good thing."

It had been the brass serpent that brought healing from the bites of the serpents when Moses was told to build it and the people told to look to it. He did and they did and 500 years later they worshipped it instead of Jehovah.

I think Conventions, ministries, sports, churches, people, health___you name it___can become an idol. But it takes the One who knows the heart to make that call.

Like I said, good comment.

Scott Leonard said...

The scary thing about idols is that it seems that I can only sell out fully to one thing—whatever seems to give me ultimate peace and joy. If it is my career that does that, then I can’t fully surrender to God, because He may ask me to do something that could alter MY plans for that career, and I couldn’t stand that! The only solution? (It’s crazy to have to say this…) Believe that God is GOD!! Get real with the fact that if He created you, the universe, every pleasure zone in your body and your brain, and DIED for you, there is only one logical thing to do: Get to know him and ENJOY the fact that He is the only one worthy of your trust, the only source of true joy and peace, and repent of your insanity!! I love the one verse parable of Matthew 13:44—“"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” Oh, that’s the parable about selling out! No, that’s the parable about SEEING the treasure! That guy was ecstatic to go sell everything he had! We serve idols and hold back from God for one reason: We haven’t seen the treasure! It’s why Paul said his constant prayer (Eph 1) was that we would have a Spirit of revelation, so we would KNOW….the hope, the riches, the power. If we saw him for five seconds, the greatest thrills of this world, the biggest idols, would look TINY compared to being in his presence, hearing him, getting to know him and worship him. That’s how you really THUNDER UP!!!

But seriously, THUNDER UP SUNDAY!!!!

Paul Burleson said...


Again...good thoughts. This especially..." If we saw him for five seconds, the greatest thrills of this world, the biggest idols, would look TINY compared to being in his presence, hearing him, getting to know him and worship him." Great comment.

I do have a thought about the parable of the treasure that is a bit different of late. See what you think.

I'm wondering if that parable might not be describing what the Lord thinks of us. [With no merit within us, simply because of who HE is.]

He sees us as a treasure, for reasons known only to Himself, worth selling His all to purchase out of this world in grace and mercy. To buy us [redemption] that way means He sees us as precious to Him. [For whatever reason which is far beyond my understanding.]

I'm wondering if the parable of the pearl and the net following in Matt 13 might not be saying the same thing.

1 Peter 2:9 talks about us being, among other things, a "peculiar people." That's the word from which we get "pecuniary." [monetary] In Gk it means a high-priced possession. That's what we are to God. Maybe those parables are illustrating that.

What do you think? I won't stake my salvation on my thoughts about it, but I've found it to be pretty interesting to reflect on. How much does He think of us? This much!! [I'm stretching my arms out far apart.]

Scott Leonard said...

You're not at all alone in that thought about that parable! It is a great picture if it is speaking of us as the treasure in the "field" and God as the purchaser. Like you, I wouldn't hang my salvation on it either way! Some of the language seems to me to point more to the treasure being the kingdom or, more specifically, Christ. It seems to say that it is the kingdom of heaven that is like a treasure (NASB & ESV), rather than us, and then I wonder if "...a man found and hid again/covered up..." truly sounds like a description of the action of God, rather than of a man. Either way, I love the parable! (and, it should be sufficient to chase away our idolatry!)

Oh, and.....THUNDER UP!!!!!!!!! (love the Charlton Heston picture, but the bad news is, I checked with God and you're in trouble for messing with that story. MGM is not happy either.)