Category Archives: belonging

Fatal Attraction: All That Glitters is Not Gold, Part 2

Anaconda

Cross-posted from Gospel Centered Discipleship

I’m a sucker for the occasional B-movie escapism. Replete with a low budget, painful dialogue, and a severely undefined story arc, it can be the perfect silliness for a Friday evening. Enter Anaconda. As only 1997 could deliver, the film chronicles a documentary crew headed into the jungle to shoot footage on a mysterious Indian tribe. On their way, they pick up a stranded man who then takes the team hostage on his quest to capture the world’s largest and deadliest snake: a record-breaking green Anaconda.

The thrust of the storyline in one sentence (spoiler alert!) is: people scanning the crest of the river to determine where this deadly snake might be. That’s it. You can imagine the dialogue: “Is that it?” “Did you see that?” “I think I heard something” “Watch out, I see it coming!”

I’ve been thinking lately about the ways we pursue happiness and my drifted to Anaconda. Though most of us wouldn’t articulate it this way, we stroll through our human existence, scanning the surface of our hearts until we find what we think we are looking for. Our time, our energy, our attention, and even our money is devoted to a quest of self-assurance and self-significance.

The Great Hunt

We want to be loved. We want to belong. We want to make a difference. We want to feel important. And we’ll look endlessly until we have found something we think might satisfy us—much like the documentary crew looking for what lies at the crest of the river. But the fruit of our self-salvation projects lie at the surface of a greater hunt in our lives.

Want happiness? It’s important to identify what is at the surface of our hopes and desires. In order for us to find real satisfaction, we must start here. We must ask, “Is that it?” “Did you see that?” “I think I heard something” “Watch out, I see it coming!” The Bible calls this self-diagnosis idol detection (1 Cor. 10:14). Today, we discussing step one of this self-diagnosis: unearthing those idols that lie on the surface.

Many times these idols are easily discernible. You can identify them by listening to your prayers. What do you ask God forgiveness for? Maybe it’s an anger problem. Maybe it’s an issue with lust. Maybe you have bitterness in your heart towards another. Anger, lust, and bitterness are exterior sins indicating deeper root sins. These are branch idols. You can see them easily but the root sins are what’s actually feeding them.

Hunting for Your Idols

Here are some questions as you look for your surface idols.

  • Do I need to be esteemed by people?
  • Do I demand order in my world?
  • Do I compare myself favorably to others?
  • Am I angry or defeated if things are not accomplished immediately?
  • Do I have to be the center of my family life, my job, or my church?
  • Do I dictate that people must submit to me?
  • Do I think my opinions are all-wise and correct?
  • Do I do whatever pleases me?
  • Is my appearance—whether religiously or physically—ultimate?
  • Do I desire to be accountable to no one?
  • Do I have to win at everything?

If you notice, these questions require a sense of self-awareness. Tim Keller says that one way you can identify your surface idols is by looking at your most uncontrollable emotions.

Just like a fisherman looking for fish knows to go where the water is rolling, look for your idols at the bottom of your most painful emotions, especially those that never seem to lift and that drive you to do things you know are wrong . . . when you ‘pull your emotions up by the root,’ as it were, you will often find your idols clinging to them.

So what are your surface idols? Look at where the water is rolling on the crest of your heart and you will locate them. It’s an essential first step to reversing the fatal attraction of idolatry in our lives.

Next time, we will look at why we can’t stop at just identifying our surface idols if we want to find true significance and happiness. To find real peace and contentment in life, there is something that lurks beneath the surface that we must address because our surface sins are only symptoms of much deeper sins.

The Guest List of our Lives

invitation

My daughters received an invitation to attend a birthday party for our neighbors recently. If you’ve ever wondered how screams could be collected for energy (see Monsters Inc.), you’ve never been in the same room when young girls receive soul-thrilling news in the form of an invitation. My daughters’ hearts could have burst and their shrieks could have powered a small village—easily.

Ecstatic joy flowed out of my daughters so naturally, I felt like I was being let in on something. We like to be invited to things. It makes us feel loved. It makes us feel like we belong. Jesus once told a parable about an invitation. It was an invitation, not to a birthday, but to a dinner—and at its core, it was a very unusual invitation.

The Parable of the Great Banquet

In Luke 14, Jesus first tells the Pharisees that when you give a banquet or a dinner, don’t invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors so they will invite you in return. Jesus instead says when you give a feast, invite the typically uninvited—the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.

Now, this is counter-intuitive because the Pharisees and scribes felt a sense of supremacy in their separation from those on the fringes. When the Pharisees and scribes would throw a party, they would only invite the people who could invite them back. In other words, the Pharisees manipulated hospitality for their own self-glory and reputation. Parties were about raising your social capital. Only those who could further that agenda were welcomed.

But the marginalized—those on the outside looking into the cultural upper echelon—had no way of doing this. In fact, if they were invited, they wouldn’t accept the gesture because they knew they would be required to repay the courtesy and they knew they couldn’t do that. It would be too humiliating to accept that type of invitation because they did not have the means to reciprocate, so they would refuse.

To further make his point, Jesus launches into a story to illustrate his teaching with the opening line, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many.” This was going to be a huge event thrown by a very wealthy man. The Jews would have understood this. To be at this party would be the height of social recognition. In fact, when you were invited to a large dinner like this, you would typically get two invitations. The first invitation acknowledged you as an honored guest. The second invitation would come to alert you that the party was about to officially begin.

Now, when the second invitation comes in this parable, we go from the invitation to excuses. Every single person highlighted in this passage says, “I can’t come.” All of them. The Pharisees would have said, “Nobody would do that. This is disrespectful. This is uncivilized.” But in Jesus’ story, they all decline. So the wealthy man does the unthinkable. He tells his servant to go out and seek another group of people. He tells him to bid the outcasts to come to the banquet—the poor and crippled and blind and lame.

In the minds of the Pharisees, the first group wouldn’t turn down the invitation and the second group would never have been invited. But in this story, the master says go and bring them in. In Greek, the verb bring in highlights that they would have to be taken in because they would resist. So they would have to be forced to come. And they knew the etiquette—they would have to pay the master back with an even greater feast if that happened. And that would be impossible.

Head over to Gospel Centered Discipleship to read the rest of this article and see how Jesus pushes us to go even further missionally in our pursuit of the outcast.