Jennifer’s printable graphic and the brochure for Christ EPC’s Women’s retreat
Sometimes a book comes along that lines up perfectly with what God has been whispering to your soul. In fact, you almost wonder if the author spied on your innermost thoughts, took notes, and then transcribed them to the page. But she didn’t. What she did do was allow God to search her own heart and reveal the idols holding her captive. She believed His promise of something better, took the keys He offered to unlock her cage, and walked free.
She could have stopped there, reveling in sweet deliverance. She could have pretended those idols never existed, because who wants to admit sin and selfishness? But she knew there were lots of other people locked in the same cage, and God had showed her the way out. So she swallowed her pride, gathered her courage, and stepped bravely into the light.
That’s how Love Idol was born.
If you struggle with a constant need for approval, then please read Jennifer Lee’s wonderful, honest, liberating book. Read it, and believe what God has declared about you. Because the truth is, we really are pre-approved by God. We’re adopted, cherished, known, and loved — His works of art created for His pleasure and glory.
But that’s not all. We’re also called to serve and build each other up in love, and as long as we’re spending all our time and energy trying to build ourselves up by feeding an insatiable desire for other people’s approval, we’ll never be free to love others well.
This is the thing God has been laying on my heart over the past few months. And now Jennifer’s new book has landed on it all like a big, fat exclamation mark.
Here’s the deal. The best way I know to learn something is to try to teach it to someone else. And apparently God really wanted to teach me about this, because I was asked not once but twice to speak at women’s retreats this spring on the topic of women nurturing other women — to examine and expose what hinders us from really loving Christ and each other well.
The remainder of this post contains photos I took during one of the retreats and edited excerpts from my speaking notes. I share them here in honor of Jennifer’s excellent book (which you should read and believe), and in gratitude for the way God reinforces His beautiful truths again and again.
2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels.” Only problem is, our treasure gets buried under layers of junk.
We live in two kingdoms. We’re in this world, but not of it. We’re citizens of earth, but we’re called to live here as citizens of God’s upside-down kingdom, and the two operate on opposing principles and laws. We may know what God’s Word says about us — that we’re created in His image, covered by the shadow of His wing, held in the palm of His hand, fearfully and wonderfully made, and chosen in Him before the foundation of the world — but thanks to mass media, we’re constantly bombarded with the world’s ideas about what our life should look like.
Think about the headlines on the magazines in the grocery store check-out line. What are some of the messages our culture sends to a woman? She should be thin, young-looking, rich, powerful, in charge of her life, pretty, fashionable, well-educated, independent, equal to men, sexy, sexually uninhibited, reproductively free, economically productive, athletic, confident, assertive, and free to pursue her dreams no matter what they are.
And there are plenty of industries and businesses determined to make sure we buy into those messages, including plastic surgery, diet products, clothing, make-up, jewelry, home decor, automobiles, fitness products, organic foods, etc.
Are all these things bad? No. Can any of these things become a distraction or, worse yet, an idol? Yes.
God always looks at the heart. If we’re motivated by culturally dictated lifestyle goals, we’ll be much too busy trying to achieve them to pursue the kingdom of God. We need to recognize that our culture is selling us lies. Even though many of these things are not necessarily sinful, none of them will bring peace, satisfaction, or purpose.
But culture isn’t the only culprit. And here’s where it gets personal. Our treasure is also hidden behind the masks we wear. Consider these questions:
Do you have secret sins or habits that you hide from your Christian friends?
Do you feel like those friends would no longer like or respect you if they found out about your secrets?
Do you struggle with guilt, shame, or embarrassment over things you did or that were done to you in the past?
Do you ever feel like you’re the only person you know who can’t seem to get victory in your particular battle?
When people ask you how you’re doing, do you lie because you don’t want them to know what’s really going on in your life or relationships?
Do you feel like most of the other people at your church have their lives all put together and only yours is a mess?
If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, the first thing you need to understand is that you’re not alone. In fact, I think it’s safe to say the majority of Christians struggle with one or more of these things on some level. We wear masks, because we don’t want people to know how broken we are, and yet the church is the very place where we’re supposed to be real with each other.
Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” And what is the “law of Christ”? Simply this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And here’s the problem with all this hiding behind masks. The only way we can love well is if we bear one another’s burdens, and the only way we can bear them is if we know what they are.
Our treasure is also buried under selfish ambition and competition. The pursuit of personal success is a birthright in the western world. Parents push their children to excel, telling them they can be anything they want to be if they’ll only work hard (or, in some cases, cheat well or kiss up to the right people). It’s unrealistic and sets people up for disappointment rather than encouraging them to actually discover their real abilities and find contentment in pursuing them.
If we embrace the law of the upside-down kingdom, instead of selfish ambition, we’ll pursue compassionate service. Instead of competition, collaboration. Consider others as more important than ourselves. Work together for the good of all. These values are all over scripture, but they’re sadly lacking in way too many Christian homes and churches. Lots of people want to do “great things” for God, but few want to handle the messier, hidden tasks — to love the unlovable, to listen to the lonely, and to serve the least.
Compassion is the law of the upside-down kingdom, and when it’s real, it’s knocks the teeth out of selfish ambition. Collaboration is the law of the upside-down kingdom, and when the body functions as a body, the work of the kingdom is accomplished. But when we’re all competing for the spotlight, nothing of eternal value gets done.
Selfish ambition can be tough to spot in ourselves, but a good diagnostic is the presence of jealousy. If I feel envious or jealous of another person’s role in the body, chances are good I need to ask God to replace competition with compassion for those He desires to love through me, and to replace envy with intercession for those He has placed on the front lines of ministry.
And then there’s comparison.
Comparison either says God short-changed me or God short-changed you, and neither of those is the truth. God created women in all shapes and sizes with all sorts of personalities and talents, and in every single case, He knit them in their mothers’ wombs and knows their thoughts and numbers their days. In every case, He looks not at the external things but at the heart.
Comparison by its nature takes our eyes off of Jesus and puts them on each other, not for the purpose of loving and serving, or learning and imitating, but for the purpose of elevating or demeaning. As long as we’re measuring others and striving to measure up ourselves, we’ll never love well. But when we ask God to open our eyes to the beauty of diversity, and we choose to look for His creativity in others instead of comparing ourselves to them, we’ll be free to embrace our own gifts and purposes and to celebrate His glorious design for others. And what’s more, when we learn to see as He sees, we’ll start looking beyond the externals to the heart, and we’ll realize that, in the things that matter most, we’re more alike than we ever imagined.
One more layer of junk burying our treasure is entitlement. This, too, is rampant in our culture. It’s all about standing up for our rights. It’s the spirit of entitlement that makes us furious when someone cuts us off in traffic, or when someone else receives the promotion we felt should have been ours, or pretty much any time we mutter under our breath, “How dare you!” Entitlement is so much a part of our society, we may think it’s a good thing. It may sound like fairness or justice, but what we really mean is, “Fair is when I get what I think I deserve, and justice is when you aren’t allowed to get in my way.”
And the cure? Well, this one is actually the biggie. It’s the ultimate cure for all of these diseases. The cure to entitlement is remembering what we really deserve — death and separation from a holy God — and that Christ took our place on the cross. The cure for entitlement is dying to ourselves, our rights, and our expectations. It’s knowing we’ve been bought with a price, and we are not our own — that we’ve received mercy instead of justice and grace upon grace.
The cure to entitlement is taking our eyes off of ourselves entirely and setting our minds on Christ and His kingdom. We have no right to ask for anything, and yet we’ve been given eternal life with God and untold blessings this side of heaven.
The more we die to ourselves, the more we live to God, and the more we live to God, the more joy, peace, satisfaction, and true contentment we find. Yes, it’s upside-down. And it’s glorious. God pre-approves sinners. He adopts rebels. He redeems us while we’re His enemies and renames us His friends. And He gives us the beautiful gift of genuine friendship with each other — a gift we miss all too often because we can’t get our eyes off the mirror.
So, what if we really believed the truth? That we’re loved? That we matter? That no one else can fill the shoes He created just for us to fill?
What if we smashed our idols, and walked out of our prisons, and made it our one aim to love Christ and each other well?
We’d turn the world upside-down. And I can’t think of a single thing the world needs more than that.