daily Broadcast

The Issue of Idolatry

From the series Gods at War

Martin Luther once said, “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God.” In this message, we begin a new series called “Gods at War” taught by guest teacher Kyle Idleman. He’s gonna define what idolatry looks like in the 21st century, and challenge us to consider who and what we’re really worshipping.

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Message Transcript

CHIP: Thanks, Dave. Well, I’m excited to introduce to you our guest teacher for this new series, Kyle Idleman. He’s the senior pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. And Kyle is a bestselling author, he’s a friend, you’ll probably recognize him from a number of books that he has written like, The End of Me, Don’t Give Up, Grace is Great, AHA, or for some of you, it’s probably Not a Fan that, I will embarrass you, sold over a million copies. And he’s married to Desirae and has twenty-seven years of marriage, four kids, and, uh Kyle, before we jump in and talk about Gods at War, what that is and that whole issue, welcome to the program.

KYLE: Hey, I’m really honored to be on this program. I listen to it, so it’s nice to uh be on it!

CHIP: Well, Southeast Christian is a church that I have deep respect, it has been exciting. I mean, it is probably is, despite the huge number of people, it’s one of the warmest, friendliest, godliest environments. and, of course, ya know the heritage there of succession and Bob and then Dave Stone and yourself. And I’m trying to remember, when was the very first time that we met? Because I think it might have been through our mutual friend Greg Diedrich, but I’m not sure.

KYLE: You know, the first time I think we met is when you came and you preached for us, I want to say it was in um… 2005 maybe?

CHIP: Wow.

KYLE: I’m not sure. It was – that’s what I remember very well. And you know what I remember about that is we would have this time between services where all the new people to the church come in and share their stories. And I love that time. Just listening to people go around the table and give a little bit more vulnerable behind the scenes look at what God has been doing in their lives. And you were and I think still are the only guest preacher we have ever had who has come in and sat down and listened to those stories. Do you remember doing that?

CHIP: I do. And I just thought how you and Dave would do that every single week. And I thought, What a model for churches. I mean, they met the teaching pastors the very Sunday that they came. And it was super exciting; it was fun.

KYLE: Yeah, well, and you know that keeps you inspired and connected to God’s Word when you get to see the way that it connects to real people right where they are. And so, yeah, we love doing that.

CHIP: Well, I have wanted to have you on our program for a long time. And two reasons. One is when I read Not a Fan, I was just, like, high-fiving. Those that are regular Living on the Edge listeners, maybe tired of me talking about Romans 12. I think some people think it’s the only chapter he really knows. But the reality is I feel like such a difference when people go all in, when they realize that surrender is, in fact, the channel to God’s biggest and best blessings. It is that place where we trust Him and He’s good and that’s when He really works. And then I read a book about ten years ago called Gods at War. And I don’t know, the title kind of caught me. And it’s about idols in our heart. And the good news, Kyle, is that it hit me right between the eyes and I really needed it at the time. And the bad news was it hit me right between the eyes and I really needed it at the time. And I really had to see a couple things that, you know, it’s in your book. You know, the god of success and the god of achievement. I had battled that for years and years and thought I had it behind me. And I had really substituted some kind of ministry success and achievement and they can be just as big of idols. So, anyway, what birthed that series, by the way? I would be interested, because I can’t wait for the Living on the Edge family to hear it.

KYLE: You know, for me, a lot of it came down to this realization that as a pastor/preacher I was so often treating what I would call “the symptoms” of people. You know, the week in and week out, I’m talking to maybe a young man and his struggle with pornography. I’m talking to a woman in her thirties who is struggling with her singleness. I’m talking to this married couple who are having these issues in their relationship and they don’t understand where it’s coming from. Or someone that I am going to visit in prison because even though he was really wealthy, he was found guilty of embezzling money from his company. All of those are examples of symptoms of idolatry. Like, the reason for those different struggles and challenges, if you scratch below the surface is that there is an idol that needs to be addressed. And so, what I found as a pastor is that I was so often treating symptoms but not really dealing with what is at the core of it. The metaphor I use in the book is, you know, if someone comes and they are coughing and they need help and the doctor finds out that they have lung cancer, the way that they treat that lung cancer is not with cough medicine.

CHIP: Right.

KYLE: And my experience as a pastor was that I’m oftentimes trying to treat lung cancer with cough medicine.

CHIP: Hmmm.

KYLE: And that if you look at Scripture, Scripture would point to idolatry as the cancer, that there is a cancer here that needs to be dealt with and the tendency is to focus on kind of the immediate symptoms. Here’s what is keeping me from sleeping. If I could just take this and feel a little bit better for the day, then problem solved. But it’s not the solution. You know? There’s something deeper happening. So, the book really came out of my experience as a pastor helping people get to really the root of a struggle. And let me say, for me too, personally, is underestimating the power of idols in my own life where sin struggles and selfishness and relational issues and things that I would have called, in my marriage, “Hey, this is a communication problem.” No, it was a pride problem. I was putting myself on the throne instead of putting Jesus on the throne. Or, you know, sometimes I was putting my wife on the throne. I was looking to her to meet certain expectations instead of looking to God to meet expectations. And that’s idolatry. So, I just recognized how in Scripture, this is the most discussed problem in the Bible, but it’s one that we tend to dismiss, we tend to think, Well, that is antiquated or irrelevant, because we don’t have, perhaps, some golden image that we are bowing down to doesn’t mean that we don’t struggle with idolatry. In fact, I would make the argument that God in many ways has more competition than He has ever had…

CHIP: Yes.

KYLE: …before. The Internet is many things, but one of the things that the Internet is would be a collection of idols. Right?

CHIP: Yes.

KYLE: Like, your search history tells you something about who or what is on the throne of your heart. And so, to understand that this is much more relevant than we realize, and it’s at the core of the struggles that so many of us are dealing with.

CHIP: And the subtitle, I really like. it’s, Defeating the Idols That Battle For Your Heart. And that that comes through as the real issue isn’t, you know, step up. You know, what’s wrong with you? You’re a terrible person. Shame on you. Overwhelming guilt. Why don’t you get with the program? And as you peel back the layers, and I like that you did it very, very gently. It really exposed, oh, this is the core issue. It really is there is a good and kind and loving God that wants the very best for you. And He is, He is jealous of being on the throne of your life and your heart so that He can protect us from evil and give us what is good. But idols are very, they are very appealing. And short-term, they are very satisfying.

KYLE: You know, it strikes me that ending a year, starting a new year, our mindset is often habits that need to change, things we need to do differently, and that’s fine, that’s good. But the difference between whether or not a new year’s resolution sticks is rarely about a habit. It’s almost always getting to the “why”. You know, why is this a struggle for me? Why is this a challenge? Why do I keep having these issues? Why do we keep arguing about these same things? Why do I keep putting myself in this same financial situation? Why is that? From my perspective that more often than not, it’s idolatry. But more specifically, one of the things that is odd to me is that we’ll expect God to bless His competition to put it another way. And so, you know, we will have this area of our lives that is really important to us. Jesus used money most often…

CHIP: Yes.

KYLE: …to talk this way to us, you know, that why would God bless you financially if He knows that your finances are His primary competition? Like, why would He do that? He’s not going to do that. And so, as a result, we oftentimes have the most frustration around some of our idols. You mentioned earlier when your idols are gods of achievement, gods of success, one of the ways you know that’s an idol is that you have this sense of frustration around those things where you’re never enough and no matter what you do, it still feels like you’re coming up short. And when God gets in His right place, then in some ways, it ends up, we end up experiencing what we were longing for all along, because now He has the freedom to bless it. Like, when Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you,” I think this is the idea, like, this area where you have the most frustration has the potential to be your greatest blessing. But it needs to be ordered rightly in your life. Like, it needs to submit to the lordship of Jesus.

CHIP: As you share that, you are just describing my college basketball career. And I was a gym rat. I mean, I practiced eight, nine hours a day and was doing all those ball handling drills before Steph Curry, because Pete Maravich was my hero. And I went away to school and as a freshman made the varsity and just so exciting. And then got a stress fracture in my foot. And then the next year I pulled a quad muscle completely out. The next year, I catch the flu right before the season, I’m in bed for ten days, lose sixteen pounds. Over and over, God thwarted basketball in my life. I remember it got to my senior year and it was a complete train wreck. And literally, I still remember, Kyle, going, “God, I give up. I’m…I…I have lied to myself and if I never pick up a basketball again…” And, it was, you know, and that sounds trivial to people, but it, what I really didn’t realize, even when I was saying that was it’s a part of me. My whole identity was, “Look at me. I work harder and longer. I’m the little, tiny, you know, short kid that’s playing at this level.” You know? And it was the overachiever, all those issues. And I remember putting that down and some things happened where we ended up, because we were worst, playing the number one team in the nation, probably had the best game of my life, you know, after giving it all up.

CHIP: And then I got a note in the mail about two weeks after the season, was invited by, it was called Sports Ambassadors at the time, a group of college players, invited to play. We played every Olympic team throughout all of South America, two or three games a day, shared Christ at half-time. I did that for two summers and then a winter with an Australian team through the Orient. And it was like God said, “Chip, it was never about basketball. I had no problem giving you a good thing. But I won’t have any competition.” And we all have those in different areas, don’t we?

KYLE: Yeah, and you know, what’s interesting about that example is you look back on them and you have clarity and then you find yourself doing the same thing in a different area of life. You know?

CHIP: Yes, I do know.

KYLE: And so, you find that there are different seasons where the idols change, but it’s almost always idolatry that is still at the root of it. So, you know, you referenced being in college and it’s sports and now, you look back on it, and it feels a little bit trivial and it’s like basketball, but at the time, that’s your identity. But you know what? Then you become a pastor, for me, as well, becoming a pastor of a church. I can easily find my identity in those things. I can, you know, you want to talk about ironic, I can let the work of God become an idol that replaces God. I mean, how, how backwards is that? That doing things that God has called me to do can actually become competition for Him. You know, in John 15, Jesus talks to His disciples and He says, “I am the vine, you’re the branches. If you remain in Me and I remain in you, you will bear much fruit. Apart from Me, you can’t do anything.” And in that verse, He identifies the reality that for those disciples who are being tasked to change the world, that production has the potential to become a significant idol for them.

CHIP: Hmm.

KYLE: The task that they had, the responsibility on their shoulders was such that it would be very easy for them to focus on production, but for Jesus, it was all about connection. It wasn’t, it wasn’t production and then connection. It was connection and then production. So, for me, this is what idolatry looks like. I get focused on production and I lose connection. And if I get this right, where I’m focused on connection, I’m the branch, He’s the vine, my job is to stay connected, then production will come.

CHIP: Yes.

KYLE: But the moment I make production my focus, then it’s idolatry. And then I get frustrated because it’s not producing the way that I want it to produce. And really, this is the, for lack of a better word, solution to idolatry. It’s not to stop worshipping idols, it’s to replace our idols with Jesus. It’s to allow our connection to Him to be our source of worship. So, you know, I have made the mistake personally of, certainly as a pastor, where I basically identified idols for someone and said, “Now, stop it! Don’t do that anymore!” And it doesn’t work very well. It is more about, it might work for a moment, it’s just not going to last very long. It’s more about understanding that Jesus completely – is the One who completes us, that it’s in Him that we find whatever we were looking for in this false god over here.

CHIP: Well, I can’t wait to get our series started. And before we do, what – one thing I have learned, it has been a really positive experience, I’ve heard people teach and it’s like that’s very, very helpful. And then I got to know them. And I got to maybe sit in the living room and watch them relate to their wife or watch them with their kids or play a round of golf and all of a sudden you got to know the person and um as I have gotten to know you and gotten to come even recently to Southeast and teach and be around you and our mutual friends, I want people to know, not just, okay, yeah, he’s a really good communicator, he pastors this big church, and he’s written a lot of books. Well, I mean, those are nice things, but those are production. God’s favor, I think, is on your life because of your heart. I think, I think His favor is on your life because in the midst of a lot of pressure, you are very imperfectly but very faithfully walking with Him. So, Kyle, tell us just a little bit about your journey, your family, your background, what do you do for fun? Where do you struggle?” Whatever you want to share, that as they kind of tune in to our next broadcast they would say, “Oh, I know that guy.”

KYLE: You know, I, as you mentioned in your introduction of me, I’ve been married for almost twenty-seven years, four kids. My oldest two are married. I love my sons-in-law. So, I am really thankful for God’s blessing on my family in this season. You know, it has been, especially the last couple of years where there has been so many things that we have been stripped of. You know, I am especially thankful for them. Um. One of the things that I, and you talk about Gods at War, as you talk about idolatry, one of the things that God has taught me, I think it took me a while to learn it, is to understand that His greatest gifts to me can also become…His greatest competition. So, when I look at my family and I look at my wife, my kids, and what He has taught me is that His gifts need to make me worship Him as the Giver, not be an end to themselves. So, I am really thankful that in this season, I am learning or God is showing me how His kindness to me through my wife and my kids and my family makes me love Him all the more. And you know one of the ways I see this, and I don’t know if you’ll relate to this, Chip, but the older I get, the more emotional these things make me as I pray. And, you know, I get, I’ll get a little teary-eyed praying for my kids and thanking God, when I worship, I’m more emotional than I used to be when I worship. And my understanding of God’s grace towards me, yeah, I don’t know that that is much different, I don’t know that that’s – I’ve had any new revelation on that, but my understanding of every good and perfect gift comes from Him…

CHIP: Mm Hmm.

KYLE: …is something I’m much more aware of. And so, I – and that’s so freeing to kind of operate out of that as His son, you know, that He is a good Father who has been generous. And so, you know, that’s how I like to spend my time. My wife is – she grew up on a farm in Kanas. And so, we started a new church in Southern California. And I told her when we lived in LA County, I said, “Hey, if we ever moved back to the Kentucky area, you know, we’ll try and find some kind of a farm.” And she remembered that and tucked that away. So, we live on, we live on a horse farm in Kentucky, and she runs a horse equine business out of that.

CHIP: Neat.

KYLE: So, it may surprise people to know that I am technically a farmer. I’m a farmer on paper, but I’m not a farmer in real life. But I love the sanctuary of it. It has taught me to love being outside. You know, I like to go out and spend some time clearing a path and using the chainsaw, I like to go out and spend a little time on the tractor. I never would have guessed that years ago, but now these days, I find that to be quite therapeutic. But we only have one left at home, my seventeen-year-old son, and so, I am making the most of this time with him. And really grateful for that. I’ll tell you, you know, to the point of the Gods at War and idolatry, I am amazed at, for a seventeen-year-old boy, how strong, you know, idols of our culture…

CHIP: Yeah.

KYLE: …are. I look at what he has to resist, I look at what he has to fight and I think, Man, when I was seventeen, if I had that kind of idolatry – those kind of idols that I had to contend with in front of me and always around me, I don’t know how I would have responded. But I am thankful in this season to have just the time to walk with him in that, and disciple him, and I’m really proud of him. So, that’s kind of the season of life that I am in.

CHIP: you know, you shared something. I think there’s a lot of parents that are very fearful. And whether it’s the technology, the fluidity of sexuality in our day, just the bombardment in the culture, I think sometimes parents are working so hard with such sincerity to, “We don’t want x, y, z behavior.” And find themselves very, very frustrated with the behavior of some of their kids, and then the focus is on the behavior and then, and you get this conflict that starts happening. And what I’m excited about, as we wrap up our time, is they are going to learn that there’s something behind the behavior. And I think what parents are going to hear also is we reproduce after our own kind, and our kids mimic and imitate. That if we will deal with some of our idols, that’s the key to helping some of our kids break through their idols.

KYLE: That’s so good.

CHIP: And so, I’m just going to ask, if you wouldn’t mind, to wrap up our time, would you pray for this series, pray for the Living on the Edge family? And then we will jump in and you’ll teach us for the next several programs.

KYLE: Perfect. God, thank You for being a good Father who has given us everything that we need. I thank You that in You we find the one hope that doesn’t disappoint. I know that even in the last year or two for many of us, idols have been stripped away from us, sometimes from the white-knuckled grip of our hands, they have been pulled away from us. And for people who have put their hope in in scientific advancement or political process, a lot of that has just been pulled out, our economic certainty and all these things that we tried to put our hope in over the years, just recognize that in a new way of not being dependable, not being what satisfies us. And so, I pray that this would be just the right time for these listeners to understand that their one true hope is in You, and that You would be put on the throne of our hearts and that You would give us the eyes to see and then the courage in our spirits to take some idols off the throne and put You in Your right place. And I know that when we do that, we end up finding what we really were longing for all along, that’s what we were made for. And so, I pray that we would find our true satisfaction in You alone. It’s in Your name, Jesus, we pray, amen.