Eric Liddell

I’ve recently been observing numerous Christian agencies (camps, youth groups, schools, etc.) instruct kids to identify their points of idolatry, and then completely abandon the idol. I find this model troublesome for a variety of reasons. The primary problem with idolatry is not the idol itself, but rather the disproportionate amount of affection the idol receives from the idolater. If we are not careful, our attempts to rid ourselves of idolatry will lead us into cultural oblivion by undercutting our ability to grow producers. The younger generation, of which I am a member along with the high schoolers I teach, is consuming at a phenomenal rate, and producing at a phenomenally low rate. In an attempt to stop producing wood, hay, or stubble, we have stopped producing altogether. Of course, I don’t want anyone to arrive in eternity with 137 dumpster trucks of wood, hay, and stubble and only 1 truck of gold; however, if I arrive with 12 dumpster trucks of wood, hay, and stubble, and still only have 1 truck of gold, what has really been gained? We must learn to transform our vain activities into robust worship that will advance the kingdom of God – not cut them in the name of spirituality.

It is my great fear that our kids are being told that if they idolize an activity, it needs to be cut so they can go read John Piper or listen to Mark Driscoll. Don’t jump the gun here and think I’m against reading Piper or listening to Driscoll, for those are not the problem either! In fact, I think consuming from these sources is probably underrated in our Christian subculture. Unfortunately, this consumption is seen as the end itself. We are so far off track that interacting with Christian thoughts seems to be the highest ideal, yet the true purpose for consuming and interacting with those thoughts is to change your behavior and start producing fruit that will last. Maybe C. S. Lewis idolized writing, but I’m awfully glad that he didn’t abandon his production to spend all his time reading Jonathan Edwards to the exclusion of producing his phenomenally influential works. Perhaps Eric Liddell idolized running, or Tim Tebow has idolized football at some juncture in his life. But I, for one, am really thankful that they have persevered in working hard to produce something that is inherently not spiritual in order to redeem the athletic culture that is groaning for redemption.[1] Have you ever considered that Johann Sebastian Bach may have idolized writing music? Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, but all of Christendom rejoices that he didn’t eliminate his production so he could study Luther 12 hours a day.

Maybe it seems like I’m arguing for God to create 36 hour days so we can get all this production done – for certainly time constrains us from accomplishing all that we would like to do. For the record, if God thought 24 hours in a day sounded good, I think we are pretty safe in agreeing that 24 hours is most appropriate. But I’ll tell you where the people who have had the most Christian influence have made cuts – they cut the stupid crap that the rest of us waste our days on. I rejoice that Lewis dumped Twitter in time to write The Chronicles of Narnia. I’m thrilled that Liddell cut SportsCenter and Seinfeld so he wouldn’t be distracted from training hard enough to win gold in the 1924 Olympics against remarkable odds. Oh, did I mention that during his 4 year career as an Olympic athlete, he also completed a degree in Pure Science and became one of the most well-known preachers in all of Scotland? Maybe he had to cut Arrested Development too! (I urge you to read the footnoted article about Liddell).[2] Perhaps Christians should think on his famous words, “I believe God made me for a purpose. But he also made me fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure.” We will never know this for sure, but I suspect that J. S. Bach had incredible skill in Call of Duty – and like the others, I am tremendously thankful that he discarded this waste of time to create beautiful music, and articulately reflect, “Music’s only purpose should be for the glory of God and the recreation of the human spirit.” Here’s the point: cut the stupid crap, and redeem the skills God has given you by working your tail off to produce fruit in those disciplines for the glory of God!

So what happens when I begin to idolize the gift given to me by God? Odds are, I’m not actually idolizing the gift, but idolizing what the gift does for me. It seems like I’m idolizing my theatrical skills, but really, I’m in love with people telling me how good an actor I am. I need to repent of my self-worship, praise God for the good gift he gave me, and beg him to help me use the good gift he gave me for his eternal glory. Consider the parable of Matthew 25 – the servant was afraid he would mismanage the talent he was given, so he did nothing. “I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.”[3] Shouldn’t we rejoice that this servant didn’t make an idol of talent that had been entrusted to him? You might think so, but in so doing, you put yourself at serious odds with the God of the universe who replied, “You wicked and lazy servant! … To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”[4] Sheesh, those are some rough words for the guy who didn’t do anything so he would be sure he didn’t idolize the gift! Think on them – ‘wicked’, ‘lazy’, ‘useless’; the thought of the God of the universe describing my existence in those terms when I meet him in eternity is absolutely terrifying.

What are you producing? What are you consuming? We have more information at our fingertips than any generation has ever had before, and this gives us incredible ability for accomplishment in a variety of fields, but it also provides a massive temptation to fall into the trap of continual consumption. Ask yourself – what am I producing? What gifts has God given me, and how am I making much of Jesus through the gifts he has given me? You are not going to make much of Jesus in a vacuum. Lewis did it through literature, Liddell through athletics, Bach through music – how will you do it? I am certain of this, if you are not producing, you are not making much of Jesus. You may be consuming lots of spiritual content, and your church may think you are the greatest thing since the iPhone 3, but you aren’t making much of Jesus if you aren’t producing. Let us join together to be make much of Jesus by maximizing the gifts he has given us to bring glory to His name.

[1] Check out Romans 8:22 if you think the athletic culture isn’t groaning for redemption.

[3] Matthew 25:25, NLT.

[4] Matthew 25:26-30, NLT.