Thursday, November 12, 2009


I was in Exodus 20 this morning for my devotional time (as I'm following along with our study guide this week) - reading through the Ten Commandments. What struck me today was the emphasis on idolatry in the first few commandments - God is serious about making sure that we understand that He is the only real God and that we don't bow down to any other idols in our lives. I wrote in my journal today that if I can root out the idols in my heart (by His grace), then I will be in better shape to follow the rest of His commands.

I've been reading Tim Keller's new book Counterfeit Gods recently, but trying to do it slowly so that I could personally reflect on the observations that he is making. In his chapter on money, I was struck by the following insight on the hidden idolatry of greed - see if it resonates with you:
Why can't anyone in the grip of greed see it? The counterfeit god of money uses powerful sociological and psychological dynamics. Everyone tends to live in a particular socioeconomic bracket. Once you are able to afford to live in a particular neighborhood, send your children to its schools, and participate in its social life, you will find yourself surrounded by quite a number of people who have more money that you. You don't compare yourself with the rest of the world, you compare yourself to those in your bracket. The human heart always wants to justify itself and this is one of the easiest ways. You say, "I don't live as well as him or her or them. My means are modest compared to theirs." You can reason and think like that no matter how lavishly you are living. As a result, most Americans think of themselves as middle class, and only 2 percent call themselves "upper class." But the rest of the world is not fooled. When people visit here from other parts of the globe, they are staggered to see the level of materialistic comfort that the majority of Americans have come to view as necessity. (pages 52-53)
Ouch. May God open our eyes to see what we truly worship.


Brent said...

I tend to struggle with the balance of materialism and "enjoying the fruits of labor." Both are biblical, to be sure.

There's certainly a trend in Christian literature right now to make the average Joe reconsider what they're spending their money on. You know, do you keep your subscription to cable television while, for the same amount, you could dig a well in Africa. Or, like the Advent Conspiracy movement where you de-emphasize the materialism of Christmas and give to a significant cause with the money.

Surely that's good.

But there's Paul talking about knowing what it's like to have plenty and to want. There's wisdom from Solomon & other writers of Proverbs. Sure, if you worship the "stuff," obviously that's a problem.

But I find it hard to listen to conference speakers wearing $600 worth of the latest fashions telling me I need to stop drinking lattes or subscribing to cable.

Brent said...

I guess my point is that the key is to be content no matter your circumstances. And, well, being content implies to me that it's "okay" if the circumstances provide a few more material things than others (given that you don't "worship" them).

And, what would this make of writers/conference speakers trying to create an environment of believers who are now discontent with what they should be content with?

It's an interesting question, that's for sure.

Keith Ferguson said...

I think you raise a good question with the issue of contentedness. Keller doesn't address lattes or cable TV - he just addresses the fact that we can be lulled to sleep to the condition of our hearts toward money because we live in a society that enjoys such wealth. But he's not focused just on money - he talks about sex, power, success, religion, and lots of other things that can turn from good thing to ultimate things. One of his best quotes on this topic is "it is not easy to draw an exact line between ascribing value to something and assigning it absolute value." I think his call is just to look deeper than the behavior to the source of the behavior and to be aware that it could be idolatry.