Towers and Temples

There are two things in the Christian life that I tend to build.  One is a tower.  The other is a temple.  The problem with towers and temples is that they don’t make Christ look great.  They make me look great.  Christianity is about glorifying Jesus and building his kingdom.  Towers and temples don’t do that.

In Genesis 11, the people of the world came together to build a skyscraper with their names engraved on the side.  Genesis 11:4 says, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a great name for ourselves.”  Instead of honoring the God who made them, these men were trying to make themselves look great and glorious.

Modern day “towers” are anything that we do to try and make ourselves look better than God.  It might not be a huge building with our name on the top, but it might be advancing in our company, getting a raise, buying a new car, pleasing people, or putting our hope in our kids’ little league games.  I’ve been asking myself, “What towers do I build?”  The list is ugly.  But I trust that just as the Lord destroyed the tower of Babel, he will destroy the tower of James.

Later in 2 Samuel 7, David starts drawing blueprints for God’s temple.  His motives seem pure enough to us, but the way God responds shows that there’s at least a hint of religious pride in David’s heart.  God tells the prophet Nathan to say to David, “Would you build me a house to dwell in…did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’” (v. 5, 7).  God continued by reminding David who he really is, “I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince of my people Israel” (v. 8).  You are a dirty shepherd David.  A small nothing.  I did everything for you.  Never forget that.

Modern day “temples” might be leading two Bible studies, giving 40% of our income, having a 2-hour quiet time, or leading a summer mission trip each year.  When I ask myself, “What temples do I build?” my heart is crushed.  The list is just as ugly as the towers.  Again, just as God humbled David, I trust he will do the same for me.

Most things that have potential to be a tower or a temple are good things.  Tim Keller said, “When good things become ultimate things, they become idols.”  What towers are you building for your own kingdom?  What temples are you drawing blueprints for?  Jesus gives freedom and everlasting joy.  Towers and temples, however, will only lead to pride or depression because they are just things, and we know that things will never satisfy.


The Folly of Idolatry

We have heard over and over again that anything can be an idol.  It’s not only a sculpture, a carving, or a cast-iron statue.  It’s been jammed into our brains.  But how many of us believe it?

Isaiah 44 shows how foolish it is to worship an idol.  Isaiah’s logic goes something like this: a carpenter cuts down a tree, he cuts it into a log.  He uses half of it to make food and keep warm.  He uses the other half as a god to worship.  How stupid!

Well, that’s primitive and we (21st century people) would never do such a thing. Or would we?

Consider this: instead of cutting down a tree and worshiping it, we use “half” of our job, if you will, to give our families warmth and food.  We use the other “half” to obtain worldly success and fame and the praise of man.  What we are actually doing is sacrificing our family and our spiritual life so that we can worship at the altar of profit and recognition.

More than that, think about what we “love” (i.e. worship).  We “love” sports teams so that we can feel good when they win, and have an excuse to have self-pity when they lose. We “love” people so that they can be an avenue to get what we want.  We “love” our jobs so that we might receive the praise of man and get a fat paycheck to suit our ridiculous life-styles. We “love” food so that it can be a comfort to avert our attention from the sadness and depression in our lives and around the world. We “love” movies because it puts us into a fairytale story where life always ends up rich, happy, safe, or in love.  The list goes on and on.

Idolaters have fooled themselves into believing that idols can make their life fulfilling and satisfying. Instead, an idol is a life-draining, murdering, deceiving thing, because true idol-worship is actually self-worship.  We worship idols for our benefit.

These functional saviors cannot and never will deal with our greatest problem: sin.  Idols merely expose our sin and pride and desire to worship ourselves rather than God.  And the worst part is that when we get so deep into idolatry, we are like this man in Isaiah 44 who “cannot deliver himself or say, ‘Is there not a lie in my right hand?’ (v. 20).

Jesus is the only Savior who can bring satisfaction and happiness.  He said, “I came that you may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b).  Jesus made this promise, and he still delivers today.  Every idol makes that same promise everyday, but not one has ever come through for anyone.

Life Theology

Idolatry and Grumbling Are More Closely Related Than You Might Think

In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul warns his Christian readers to not be idolaters (v. 7) and not to grumble (v. 10) in the same breath.  At first glance, these probably don’t seem like related sins.  But if we zoom in on the context, Paul is clear: you grumble because you are an idolater.

The story of the Israelites, Paul says, was written for us as an example (vv. 6, 11).  The Israelites did little right as they made their way through the wilderness.  Their perspective was limited.  Their hearts were not inclined toward God.  They constantly looked to creation instead of Creator — which is, in essence, idolatry.  Instead of looking to their future Messiah, they participated in pagan festivals (Ex. 32:6).  Instead of seeking pleasure in God, they sought pleasure in sexual relationships with Gentile women (Num. 25:1, 9).  Instead of looking to Christ as their sustenance, they complained about the manna and lack of water (Num. 21:5).  Instead of praising God for being delivered from slavery, they grumbled about wandering around in the desert (Num. 14:2).

Created things were never meant to satisfy our hearts and longings.  Created things, from the beginning, were meant to point us toward the Creator, who gives us life, breath, and everything (Acts 17:25).  If we worship idols (anything other than God), we will always grumble because they will always let us down.  Whether that idol is a sexual partner, food or drink, the American dream, or anything else you can think of, it will let you down.  And when you get let down, you will grumble.  I see it in my life — even in the smallest details.  When I put my hope in people, I get let down.  When I put my hope in organization or situations running smoothly, I get let down.  When I put my hope in my own merits and talents, I get let down.  When I put my hope in anything other than the person and work of Jesus, I am disappointed.  But praise be to God that Jesus will never let us be disappointed (Rom. 10:11).

Let’s look to Jesus.  If we do, our perspective will change.  We will be able to honestly rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in every circumstance (1 Thes. 5:16-18).  If we seek Christ, our hearts will find true satisfaction.  Creation was never meant to provide that.

Truly our hearts are restless until they rest in You.
– Augustine