Idea Worship

I stood across from a crowd of young faces, framed by tassels and caps. “Speak as if my own children were in those chairs,” I told myself, while approaching a wooden podium where I would deliver the commencement address to a graduating class of 2019.

I congratulated them, honored their hard work and welcomed them into the raw joy and pain of adulthood. “I only have fifteen minutes,” I said, “which I love, because I’m a big fan of getting to the point a little quicker these days.”

Here’s what I shared with the graduating class at a small Christian School in Toledo, Ohio on May 25th. But it wasn’t just for the students. This is a message I needed to write for my own heart. 

Chances are, you’ve heard the term “idol worship.” For me, the term sparks mental images of false gods from the Old Testament like Baal and the golden calf. I see Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom

Manmade idols remain the focus of sincere worship in some cultures, but western culture has mostly whittled them down to souvenirs. Like those little Buddha statues that you can buy for your garden, or the decorations in The Enchanted Tiki Room at Walt Disney World that sing back up for the birds. It’s not lost on me that consumer Christianity has done the same to Jesus at times.

Idol worship seems an ancient thing, but it’s very much alive today. It has simply shapeshifted into something that fits in with us. I could give you a long list of modern idols, but today I want to focus on one, that I believe to be the most fanatically worshiped idol of our time. 

I believe our culture’s idol worship is idea worship.

We lose ourselves over new sensational ideas from celebrities, public figures, social media influencers, self-help gurus, authors, podcasters, prosperity preachers and professors. Owning the latest, greatest idea about life, love or spirituality is money in the bank. 

“Do you see a person who is wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them.” Proverbs 26:12

The self-proclaimed wise and woke are all around us, and the popular majority of them bluntly mock the Christian faith, sneer at conservative values and scowl at those who dare to hold on to absolute truth. Even though absolutes are what truth is made of to begin with.

Today’s big ideas go beyond dismissing people of faith and traditional values. They often abandon science, biology, measurable facts and data in the pursuit of absolute acceptance of ALL popular new ideas. And it’s no longer enough to truly accept others in love, you must also love to accept their ideas as truth. Bow, fear, respect and admire them, or risk being displaced in our evolving society. 

I firmly believe that every person on God’s green earth should be treated with love. We are all made in his image. We are all his creation. But let me be clear – You can love and accept people well… wait for it… without affirming or accepting their ideology. It’s true. 

There was a time when people could disagree and still embrace one another as friends and neighbors. I fear those times are slipping away from us. I hope that I’m wrong.

 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3)

Itching ears long to hear what’s easy to accept. Accepting truth is hard. But truth is the anchor for mind and soul when your own heart and emotions seek to deceive you. People say, “follow your heart.” But the Bible reminds us, “the heart is deceitful above all else...who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

Timothy Keller has said that the opposite of love is not hatred, but indifference. Indifference is a luxury the soul cannot afford. Life will demand that you choose, either bow to your culture or bow to your creator.

Some of you will bow to the culture. Some of you already have. Believe it or not, you are loved by God and he will never stop pursuing your heart. My prayer is that when the wisdom and pleasures of this world leave you unfulfilled, that you, a beautiful creation, will find your way back to the place where you have always belonged – in your Creator’s arms.

To those of you who will choose your creator over your culture, don’t grow weary in doing what is good. (Galatians 6:9)And don’t believe the lie that you cannot love people well without loving their position or embracing their ideas. 

I’ll close with some words from 1 Corinthians, chapter one. Listen close. Take it to heart. Remember where true power and wisdom comes from.

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”(I Corinthians 1:27-31)

 God bless you. Go and love well.

I Care Too Much About Things that Matter

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had something to say about what I believe is important in the world. 

It’s why I became a songwriter. 

Even as a sixteen-year-old boy, I cared about communicating a meaningful point through music. But in my early years, an elusive and poetic lyrical style appealed to me. 

As I learned to craft my voice, I discovered a greater love for words. That love, that hunger to write, could not be boxed into a repetitive, pop-rock song. Those four minutes began to feel more like four walls. 

Over time, the messages in my song lyrics became more focused and clear to the listener. The themes evolved from angsty teenage feelings into musings on life and faith. As I became a husband and father, my desire to be a better man began to run from my veins and through my songs. 

Being a good man at home and in the world became something of an obsession for me. In my upcoming book, Lead Me: Finding Courage to Fight for Your Marriage, Children and Faith, I wrote about how difficult that process of change can be.

“The pain of spiritual and emotional growth can feel more real than physical pain at times. Your whole inside aches as your new self is ripped away from the old. Sanctification can really beat the hell out of you, both literally and metaphorically.”

I can’t help but write about this stuff. I was born for it.

In 2010, my son, Bowen, was diagnosed with heart disease and I started a very personal blog called Bowen’s Heart (bowensheart.com). I couldn’t stop typing about our family’s struggle with chronic illness. In that same year, my band released a song I had penned, called “Lead Me,” about being a better father and husband, that rose to the top of the Christian Music charts. 

I didn’t expect it, but millions of people engaged with what I was writing.

Stories from around the world filled my inbox. I saw the power of words and music to touch peoples’ lives in a mysteriously powerful way. More and more, every word mattered. 

Yes, every word mattered. It still does. That’s why I write. And why I write more carefully every day.

But now I find myself in a strange position. My passion for writing about important things in the world is still growing. And sometimes I worry that I care too much about the things that matter. 

I know. That sounds crazy. 

But the world is so polarized, and there are so many ugly and loud voices in the world, using too many words in too many harmful ways. 

I work hard to write about important issues in limited words, in a thoughtful voice. But I’ve noticed, that even writing one word related to something that matters, like “abortion” for example, can send people into a fury. That one word, a very important word, written or spoken, can paint even the most thoughtful voices into a corner with radical irrationals and the loud provocateurs.

Even harder for me to digest, I get the feeling sometimes that what people want from me is to make them feel good, and not bring to light the things that are difficult in the world.

Many of the issues impacting our culture don’t feel good to talk about. And it feels even worse to engage them in the public square. 

So, I wonder. Am I making a difference? Does it even matter if I use my voice? Does anyone care? 

At the end of the day, I have to remember why I write. As a Christian, father, husband and leader, my God-given gut says, “You’ve been given this voice for a reason." 

I don’t want to be the man who knows the good he’s meant to do and fails to do it.  (James 4:17)

Even if it means I feel alone. 

Even if people try to paint me into the wrong corner. 

Even if I take it on the chin for standing up for controversial convictions. 

I will care too much. 

I will write on. 

Even the Petty Prayers of Parents Matter

 “It’s all I want for my Birthday, dad. I won’t ask for anything else.” Claire, my eleven-year-old daughter appealed to me with those irresistible eyes. She was talking about tickets to JoJo Siwa’s D.R.E.A.M. tour that was coming to Nashville. 

I didn’t know much about JoJo, except for what Claire showed me. JoJo’s image is sixteen going on eleven, and she sings fun songs about high-top shoes and staying positive when others try to tear you down.

I was in. Until I looked up tickets. JoJo had announced that the tour was sold out, but it wasn’t sold out to fans. It was sold out to ticket resellers, who knew the power of daddy’s little girl pulling on his heart strings. Less than good seats were $400 per ticket.

But I was determined to find a way. I searched every D.R.E.A.M tour venue in America and found decent seats in Salt Lake City for $49. And I had airline miles to get us there. 

Fast forward. Salt Lake City. Claire and I flew in a day early to make sure travel delays wouldn’t thwart our plans that were months in the making. We checked into our hotel to drop off our bags and then walked to City Creek Center mall, across from the hall where we would see JoJo in concert the following night. As we approached City Creek, several tour busses pulled up along the sidewalk. I could almost feel Claire’s heart beat out of her chest when someone with a D.R.E.A.M. Tour crew shirt stepped off one of the busses. We kept walking, but I could see Claire’s JoJo radar going wild.

 For two hours, I walked the mall with Claire. We had dinner and some ice cream. She needed some new shoes, so I bought her a pair of classic converse high-tops. We were having fun, but Claire was distracted the entire time. I knew she had one thing on her mind. It was the same thing she had been talking about for months. “Dad, what if we meet JoJo? What if get a picture?” She almost squealed.

 “I wouldn’t count on it, baby girl, but you never know.” I told her, in a skeptical yet hopeful tone. 

 In that moment though, my father heart was torn in multiple directions. First, I wanted to explain to Claire that JoJo was a normal person, maybe try to govern the starstruck meter a bit. But then I thought about when I was a kid, and how much those things meant to me back then. I remembered my first Monkees concert and how exciting it was to see my favorite band from TV in person.

 Ultimately, I didn’t want unrealistic hopes or expectations to leave her disappointed. But that’s life sometimes. “Tell you what,” I said, “If we see her, I’ll tell her we flew all the way from Nashville, and I’ll ask her to take a picture with you.”

“Lord, this prayer seems so petty,” I whispered in my heart. “But you delight in your children, and you made me to delight in mine. This is such a small thing. A meaningless thing really, in light of what matters most in the world. But I want to come through on this little thing for my little girl. Jesus, please send us JoJo.” 

 Yep, a grown man prayed those seemingly ridiculous words over and over, earnestly, “Jesus, send us JoJo,” in hopes of giving my daughter such a simple thing, that would make her feel loved by her father. 

 We left the mall to walk back to our hotel. Tour busses still lined the side walk. No one was around. “Dad,” Claire whisper-yelled in an urgent tone, ”It’s JoJo!”

 Sure enough, there she was. Her dad stood in her tour bus door as JoJo glided in circles across the sidewalk in front of us, on a scooter. 

 “Hey!” I said in a friendly tone, “We flew all the way from Nashville to see the show!” 

“I like your bow!” JoJo told Claire, who was wearing one of her signature hair bows.

 Claire could barely muster a word to say, so I asked JoJo, “Can we take a photo?”

 JoJo put her arm around Claire, and I snapped a quick photo. We thanked JoJo and her dad and that was it. We went on our way. As we walked the streets of Salt Lake, the joy that overflowed from Claire’s heart filled mine too.

In that moment, I heard a heavenly whisper in my heart, reminding me of how much God delighted in giving me such a simple thing, that would make me feel loved by my father. Reminding me that what I see as petty prayers may not be so petty at all.

 

 

 

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