Identifying Your Idols
About the Guest
Are idols a thing of the past? Not according to Pastor Kyle Idleman, who's faced down his share. Kyle explains that just like Solomon, we're all trying to substitute something in the place of God, whether that's money, entertainment, sex or food. Kyle helps us identify our idols by asking us to answer some key questions.
Are idols a thing of the past? Not according to Pastor Kyle Idleman, who’s faced down his share. Kyle helps us identify our idols by asking us to answer some key questions.
Identifying Your Idols
Bob: Most of us are aware that our lives are lived in the midst of an ongoing spiritual battle. But pastor and author, Kyle Idleman, wants us to know sometimes the battle is with our own desires.
Kyle: You know, what do I complain about? Because if you’re really wanting to identify an idol in your life, look at what you’re complaining about. If you need help answering that question, ask the people around you. Ask your family members, “Okay, what am I complaining about?” Pay attention to your kids. What are your kids complaining about? Because it’s revealing something that they’ve put their hope in.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, September 24th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Are you aware of idolatry in your own life or in your family? We’re going to tackle that subject today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.
You know—you’re going to pick up a book to read about idols—you want the one written by Idleman; don’t you? [Laughter]
Dennis: He is the author of a book about idolatry.
Bob: I bet I’m not the first guy to make that joke, am I.
Dennis: No, I’m sure you’re not.
Kyle, welcome to the broadcast.
Kyle: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Dennis: Kyle Idleman—it’s not spelled that way, folks—is the pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. You and your wife Desiree are raising four children. You’re in the battle for their hearts, wanting to train them to go the distance.
Your book, Gods At War, is—not only a book for parents’ hearts and making sure their heart is ready to go the distance—but it’s also one that’s going to help a lot of parents, I think, in challenging their children, as they grow up, to deal with idols. You had a discussion with your daughter, one night as you were putting her to bed, that really illustrates how we have a misconception about idols today.
Kyle: I was putting my daughter to bed. She had memorized the Ten Commandments for a school assignment, I believe; and so she was excited to recite those for me. She made her way through the Ten Commandments. When she got done I, as a preacher, saw a teachable moment here—and never pass up an opportunity to deliver a little sermon—I began to kind of talk to my daughter about the Ten Commandments and “Had she broken any of those?”
I said to her, “Morgan, have you ever told a lie?” She nodded her head, “Yes.” I said, “Morgan, have you ever not honored your mother and father?” It was more of a rhetorical question—we both knew the answer to that one. I’m going through the list. She finally kind of sees where it’s going. She interrupts me; and she says: “Dad, I know one commandment I’ve never broken. I’ve never made for myself an idol in the form of anything.”
She saw idolatry as something that was for “back then.” It doesn’t seem relevant to her today. So, she kind of breathes a sigh of relief as she’s looking at the list of Ten Commandments.
But the truth is—for her generation and for, really, all of us today—I think it’s safe to say that God’s never had more competition. There are all kinds of idols pulling for our attention—trying to get onto the throne of our hearts. They may not be golden images / they may not be statues that have been carved, but they’re just as real.
I decided to wait and talk to my daughter about it a little bit later; but I just realized that, for many people today, they think idolatry is irrelevant and antiquated. In reality, we need to be aware of all the demands—that there are many options for us to align our lives, our time, our money around—many things that can steal our allegiance and our attention away from Jesus.
Dennis: John Calvin said, “The human heart is an idol factory.” It’s interesting—we are born, fully-equipped / fully-trained, in being experts at manufacturing idols out of our hearts.
Bob: Well, and it’s interesting, too, because there’s a movie coming out this weekend—that you’ve been involved with—it’s the movie, The Song. It’s a modern retelling of the story of Solomon. Here’s a guy who—the book of Ecclesiastes is all about his pursuit for joy and life apart from God; right?
Kyle: Right. The reason we have that in our hearts is because all of us have a desire for God—to know God. We will settle for cheap substitutes, oftentimes. You see Solomon trying to discover what the purpose and what the meaning of life is—but what’s he really doing? He’s trying to substitute something in place of God.
He goes down the path of love—which The Song really explores—where that leads him when he tries to put romantic love in place of love for God. He tries money, material possessions—he tries entertainment. We try to fill our heart with some kind of a God substitute, but it’s a cheap substitute.
In the end, it can kind of quench the thirst, temporarily; but it’s like drinking salt water. It just, ultimately, makes us realize how much more thirsty we really are.
Dennis: Give folks, who are raising children today, a working definition of idolatry. What does it look like? We’ve talked all around it. Bob talked about the affection of our hearts and something that takes God’s place in our hearts. How would you define it?
Kyle: I think a simple definition of idolatry is anything or anyone that takes the place of God in your life. If you think in terms of what God wants to do in your life—He wants to be your hope. Is there something or is there someone I’m putting my hope in other than God? God wants to be our identity. Is there something or is there someone that I’m finding my identity in rather than Christ?
So, we see what God wants to do for us; but instead of looking to God to do those things for us, we look to someone or to something else.
Dennis: So, for you, what’s one of your idols that you’re tempted by?
Kyle: In the book, I talk about all kinds of different idols. I don’t think I’m exempt from any of them! I talk, in the book, about sports—is one. I talk about entertainment. I tell a story about taking my daughter to see the Indianapolis Colts play. We went to church Sunday morning, before going to the Colts game in the afternoon. I realized, on the drive home, that I’d been to two separate worship services that day—one was in church, but one was at the stadium.
Dennis: Oh, yes.
Kyle: That might sound like not that big of a deal—but listen—my family would probably tell you that the most upset they’ve ever seen me is over a game or a sporting event.
Kyle: Some of that goes to pride because my team is losing or I’m losing. In the book, I have a chapter about money and possessions and how easy it is to define our success and our significance by the house we live in, or the car that we drive, or the title that we have at work.
There’s a chapter in the book about sex—that sex can become something that we turn to instead of God for comfort or for ultimate pleasure. Food is another example.
Dennis: I was thinking of the same question for myself: “What’s something that is a temptation for me?” I’m reminded of a quote I’ve shared, here on FamilyLife Today, on numerous occasions, by an old Southern Baptist preacher by the name of Ron Dunn. He said, “On my way to the Savior, I met service.” There are a lot of people who, on their way to following Christ, begin to serve Him. Service for the King can become an idol and take the place of the Person.
Kyle: And as a pastor, you know, I have to really watch that. It’s easy to allow my identity, as a pastor, to become more important than my identity, as a child of God. I think you see this with religion in general.
I mean, certainly, this was true of the Pharisees and the religious leaders—where they had found their identity / they put their hope in their rule-keeping and the religious rituals that they kept. Those things became a substitute for a Savior. So, when Jesus comes on the scene, they don’t really see the need for Him because their hearts’ already occupied—the throne of their hearts are already taken by religion.
Bob: It’s interesting that this issue of idolatry is a big deal in the Bible. John ends First John—in his letter—the last line, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” We tend to read that and think, “Well, they must have done a lot of that back in that day.” [Laughter] But the point is—we do a lot of it in our day; don’t we?
Kyle: Yes; it is the dominant problem in Scripture. Part of that is that it, in many ways, is the tree that so many other sins come off. It’s the root behind so many other sins.
So, I might look at something I’m struggling with and say, “Oh, well, I have a problem with greed,” or “I have a problem with lust.” Really, what I have a problem with is idolatry. I’m making something more important than God, or I’m looking to something other than God to satisfy me.
Bob: We mentioned that you and your church, Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, are connected to this movie that’s coming out in theaters, this weekend, called The Song—that tells the story of the life of Solomon in a modern setting. Solomon is a contemporary country singer, who writes a hit love song—just as King Solomon did, back in the day—and then who stumbles and who wanders.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon talks about his economic wealth. He talks about how his prosperity was a source of comfort for him. In fact, in Chapter 2, he talks about, “I built gardens for myself, I had slaves for myself, I did all of this for myself.”
But all through the book of Ecclesiastes, it comes back to one theme—and that is—everything Solomon pursued, he came up empty. It was vanity. When we go after idols, there is some temporary, immediate something we get—but it dissipates; doesn’t it?
Dennis: Yes. You refer to the god who offers us these idols as the “god of the bait and switch.”
Dennis: Explain what you mean by that.
Kyle: Well, it promises pleasure that, oftentimes, delivers great pain. It promises, but it cannot deliver. Think in terms of our culture and advertisements that we’re exposed to every day. We’re inundated, as a consumer culture, with consumerism. Every product out there says: “You’re empty. If you would just buy this…” or “If you would just experience this…” or “If you would just drive this…” or “…go on vacation here,” or “…live in this house…then you would be fulfilled.” We go down that path because that’s what it promises, but it’s a bait and switch.
It doesn’t, ultimately, deliver.
As parents, we can help our children recognize this truth—instead of having to go down the path that Solomon went down / instead of having to experience it the way some of us have experienced it—if we can help them see that real life is found in Jesus Christ and not in some of these other things, think about all the heartache we could have been saved from if it could have been impressed upon us, early, that this path is a dead-end road.
Kyle: I think that’s, in large part, why we have the book of Ecclesiastes—is you have Solomon’s journal, where he said: “Hey, let me save you some trouble here. Instead of pursuing all these other gods / all these other false idols, there’s only one God. The purpose of life,” he concludes, “is to fear God and keep His commands.”
Dennis: So you’re really summarizing what the Bible teaches. If you want to find life, you find it the way God designed it. You live it within the sphere of loving Him with all your heart and loving your neighbor as yourself.
You illustrate this in your book with a goldfish. I love this illustration because it wasn’t a goldfish that I illustrated this in my family—it was with a parakeet. But go ahead—our listeners have heard my parakeet story.
Kyle: [Laughter] Well, I tell the story of not one of my brighter moments; but my daughter really wanted to get a pet. We went with a goldfish, of course. They’re great pets—even when they die, it is fun to flush them down the—anyway, so we go to Walmart®. They have goldfish for sale there—at the time they were selling goldfish. There was a sign—someone had taken a marker and written, on a piece of paper, that there was a three-day guarantee—no questions asked on goldfish. I’m like, “Well, now, it’s poor stewardship not to buy it.” So, we buy this goldfish. [Laughter]
Bob: Three days! That’s quite a guarantee.
Kyle: It really is.
Dennis: We kill them pretty quickly at our place!
Kyle: It really is. So, we take this goldfish home. My daughter wants to play with it, but how do you play with a pet goldfish?
Well, you go swimming with it. I knew we couldn’t put the fish in the pool, so we got a little glass. I put the goldfish in the glass and set it next to the pool. We swam in the pool / the goldfish was swimming in the glass—everything was fine.
And then, at some point, I look over. I realize the glass is empty. The fish, that she had named Nemo, had flip-flopped out of the glass and into the swimming pool. I know I’m living on borrowed time here—this fish is not going to last long. In case you ever find yourself in this position, catching a goldfish in a swimming pool is harder than you might think. So, this fish is having—
Bob: No, no, no; this is simple. You just wait till the goldfish is floating on the top of the pool. [Laughter]
Kyle: Yes; at some point, it becomes very easy. It just floats right up to the top for you. [Laughter] But the point of it is—the point of it is—you have Nemo, swimming around in this little glass, looking at this big pool, thinking: “That’s what I’m missing out on. If I was just in there, it would be good.”
It’s having the time of its life, but in—really, the whole time, it’s slowly being poisoned. To me, it’s an example of what many of us do—that we think we’re having a great time / that we’re experiencing life. If we were still in the glass, we’d be looking at other people, swimming. We’d be feeling like, “Boy, I’m missing out”; but in reality, there’s this slow poisoning that takes place.
Bob: You think that’s happening to followers of Christ—we’re looking at the culture around us and saying, “If we could just be having fun like the pagans are having…”
Kyle: I think it’s disingenuous for Christians to talk about sin as if it’s not pleasurable for a season. You know—the Bible talks about this in James—that we’re tempted by our own desires. I think it’s not helping our children when we talk about sin as if it’s just not any fun and there’s no pleasure in it. The truth is—it’s like the fruit in the garden; right?
That it is appealing to the eye and tastes good with the first bite, but be careful because it’s not what it appears to be.
Dennis: As you were talking, I couldn’t help but think back to your movie, The Song, that’s opening this weekend, and what Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes—the phrase is—that is used in there that I think really describes us, as Americans, in this consumer culture we’re in. He writes, “And everything that my eyes beheld, I did not withhold from me.” In other words, if he saw it, he went and got. “If I liked it, it was good.”
That got Samson in trouble. He saw a woman that he liked and told his parents, “Go get her, for she looks good to me.” The eyes can betray us. It’s really the gate through which a lot of idols gain access to our soul.
Kyle: Yes, in fact, I’ve heard this generation called “the entitlement generation” —so that it’s not just “We want what we see,”—but “We deserve it.
“If we’re not getting something good that someone else is experiencing, then it’s not fair.” We don’t just have a desire for these things—we feel like we have a right to them.
We have this pursuit of happiness, and we think that the way we pursue happiness is by chasing after it; but in reality, the more we chase after these things, for an end in and of itself, the more elusive it becomes. I’ve gone down that path plenty of times—
Kyle: —where I’ve thought, “Okay, if I had this…” or “If I experience this, then I think I would be good.” Inevitably, that’s not what happens.
Kyle: One of the things I talk about in the book is just to try to ask yourself some questions because idolatry is one of the those issues that we don’t think we struggle with. You know, it just doesn’t necessarily ring true. Again, it just doesn’t feel that relevant.
I would challenge your listeners to kind of ask questions like, “What do I complain about?” Because, if you’re really wanting to identify an idol in your life, look at what you’re complaining about.
If you need help answering that question, ask the people around you. Ask your family members, “Okay, what am I complaining about?” Pay attention to your kids. What are your kids complaining about? Because it’s really revealing something that they’ve put their hope in. If we’re disproportionately disappointed with something in life, oftentimes, it’s because we’ve put our hope in that instead of Jesus.
Another question to ask yourself is: “Where do you turn to for comfort? One of the things that I think we see in Scripture is that Christ should be who we turn to for comfort first. It’s not just to show you some of the community / some of the relationships we have in life are invalid, but “Who do we turn to first?”
I remember—when my son was in kindergarten, he had this teacher that he loved—Mrs. May. She was the quintessential kindergarten teacher—he loved her. He’d come home from school, and he’d talk about her. My wife would never say it, but I could just tell she was a little bit jealous of how much her little boy loved this kindergarten teacher.
One day, my wife was at the school, volunteering and helping out. She was on the playground. She was standing next to Mrs. May while my son was playing on the playground and having a good time. He fell—got hurt on the playground. In that moment, he started crying. He turned and he started running towards where my wife / where his mom was standing next to the teacher. The question is—as he’s running, full speed, towards this teacher and his mom—who’s he going to run to?
Kyle: It’s going to be an honest moment. Whatever happens, it’s going to tell you something about his heart. Of course, he runs right into his mom’s arms. She scoops him up and comforts him.
But that is a test for us. When we have a rough day, when things don’t go our way, when we feel rejected—maybe by our spouse—when we’re hurting—where do we turn to for help first? Maybe we turn to food—that’s why we call it comfort food. Or maybe we turn to another person. Again, that’s not necessarily bad; but where do we turn to first?
That has a way of demonstrating who or what we’ve really put our hope in.
Dennis: Kyle, I really like what you’re talking about here. Our mission, here at FamilyLife, is to really encourage individuals, marriages, and families to stay in the goldfish bowl—to live life according to how the Maker designed us to live. Your book exhorts us to do that. Your movie—that’s coming out this weekend—I think illustrates, really, a great temptation that’s before a lot of people right now—calling people to stay in the goldfish bowl and don’t jump and go pursuing other things.
Share with our listeners why they ought to go—why they ought to take maybe some of their kids, ages 13 and up, to go see this movie and, then—have maybe a cup of coffee, or an ice cream cone after it’s over, or eat the rest of your popcorn after it’s over—and discuss the lessons of the movie, The Song.
I think the greatest threat to marriages today is idolatry—not adultery but idolatry—that’s where we put romantic love or we put our spouse in place of God. Think about the pressure that it puts on a relationship / what it puts on marriage when you say to your spouse, “I want you to do for me what only God can do for me.” When we look to them to be our ultimate source of pleasure, and satisfaction, and joy—and that they’re our purpose—that puts a lot of pressure on the relationship. Before long, it starts to create some cracks. It’s going to be inevitable.
You see this with Solomon—that he is in love—but it doesn’t take long for some of those new feelings to wear off. Then, we know from his life that he starts to pursue a lot of other romantic relationships, thinking that, “Well, if she doesn’t satisfy me, there must be someone else who does satisfy me.” But in reality and in his conclusion—it’s that God is the One who truly satisfies us.
In this movie, we have a real story played out for us of what happens in life—when we try to put someone or, for Solomon’s case, as portrayed in the movie, his career, or his fame, or his money—when we try to put those things in place of God, it shows us where that road ends and how destructive it becomes.
Bob: We have been showing the trailer, the preview of this movie, at our I Still Do™ one-day events for couples in Chicago and Portland, back in August. We’re going to show it, again, in Washington, DC, next weekend. The audience—you can tell—they watch this story and they can relate to Solomon’s story in this updated format. Of course, the movie starts this weekend in theaters, all across the country. We’d encourage listeners to make plans to go out, this weekend, and see the movie, The Song, when it opens in a theater near you.
I also do want to mention, Kyle, that we have copies of your book, Gods at War, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.
This is really a good book for couples to go through / for families to go through to talk about the subject of idols and to identify: “What are the idols that distract us?” “…that lure us away?” “…that compete with God for our affection?” Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link at the top of the page that says, “GO DEEPER.” You’ll find information about the book, Gods at War. You can order from us, online; or if you prefer, you can order by calling1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to continue our conversation with Kyle Idleman as we talk about how we identify and how we deal with the idols in our lives, and our marriage, and our family. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow. Hope you can tune in.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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