American evangelicals are bored with Jesus. Whether it’s the SJW crowd crowing that Christians must be all in on social justice to be real Jesus followers; the seeker-friendly church searching for the next relevant sermon series and accompanying gimmicks; the new church plant marketing itself as having the best worship and community in town; the prosperity preachers; or the “piratical theonomists” setting grass fields on fire, the message is the same –Jesus alone is boring. If He’s not about transforming society into our image of justice NOW, He’s boring. If He’s not there to wow us every week with titillating messages that uplift our hearts and give us hands-on advice, He’s boring. If He’s not at the forefront of the latest and greatest cultural trends, He’s boring. If He’s not going to fill my life with all kinds of success and victory, He’s boring. If He’s not my general leading me to battle against the culture, He’s boring. For a movement whose primary designation is colloquially the equivalent of “the Good News People,” it seems ironic that the only news we really have for our non-believing neighbor is that the Good News about Jesus is boring.
God is Not Amused
God is not amused by our boredom. In fact, He makes it clear at the beginning of the Ten Commandments how He feels about it.
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me."
See, God has shown Himself to be the only true God in many ways, but most especially and particularly in redeeming us. So, for theological and redemptive reasons, God expects us to worship Him and Him alone. There is also the fact that a people who have been redeemed from slavery and death should only want to worship the One who redeemed them.
Why Do We Do It?
Tim Keller and others have done a good job helping us see how idolatry works on a personal level; how idols such as money, fame, love, success, are stand-ins for the true God in our hearts. Keller would say that an idol is anything that we make an ultimate thing. So, even good things like love or work can become idols when they become the ultimate thing in our lives. All of this is well and good, but we also have to acknowledge that idolatry is most commonly experienced in Scripture corporately—God’s people collectively deciding that God as He is, is not enough.
What might surprise us is that the root causes for Israel’s idolatry are not all that different from our own.
A major reason the Israelites worshiped idols was fear. Their world, like ours, was full of all kinds of dangers. Weather, disease, foreign powers, economic ups and downs, and so much more made the Israelites, like us today, anxious. The nice thing about idols is they give us something to do. You see, God doesn’t give us much to do to earn His blessings. We are to listen to His Word, follow His ways, and trust Him. But like us, the Israelites wanted more; they wanted to be able to do something to try and allay their fears and gain some sense of control, however vain it was. The idols they worshiped gave them lots they could do—they could sacrifice their children, perform magic incantations, visit soothsayers, participate in all kinds of rituals and festivals, join special sects, and more. The empty spaces in their lives that gave room for fear to claw its way into conscious thought and deep panic could be filled with endless acts to the gods.
Gods Like the Nations
A second reason idols were so tempting to the Israelites is that it’s what everyone else was doing. The Israelites eagerly embraced idols because they admired certain aspects of these cultures and peoples and wanted to emulate them. When surrounding nations met with famine what would they do? They would engage in religious rituals to placate the gods and bring the rains. If the Israelites met with famine, what options did they have? Just prayer. No fertility rites, no special rituals, no incantations, just prayer and patience. When surrounding nations rose up around Israel with their impressive cities, their temples, their statues of gods and goddesses, their religious texts, and so on, how easy would it have been for the Israelites to want to emulate them?
We are No Different
Fear and a desire to be like others drive the American evangelical church to feel that Jesus alone is boring. Just like those around us, we fear being insignificant, and so we flock to churches that make us feel excitement. We fear being weak and so we adopt a Christianity that makes us feel strong. We fear being poor and so we wrap Jesus in a gospel of personal victory and achievement.
We don’t recognize it so much because we spend all of our time arguing with one another over whose camp is right and whose camp is wrong. In the end all we are actually arguing about is whose idols are better.
God’s Glory Will Not Abide With Us
In Ezekiel 8 God gives the prophet a vision of Jerusalem that exposes all of the idolatry going on in the city. The people seem to think that what they do is unbeknownst to God, but of course God sees all of it. Just a short time later, Ezekiel witnesses the glory of the Lord depart from the temple.
In our case, one must admit that it is a true marvel that despite all of the advantages the American evangelical church seems to have humanly speaking, we seem to be so weak in spiritual fruit. Look at the growth of the church in China over the last sixty years, what have they? Look at the growth of the church in Iran, what do they have that we lack? I believe it is the glory of God.
When the church in one way or another says, “We are bored with You,” God says, “OK, have it your way,” and His glory departs. We cannot on the one hand act as if we are continually bored with God, and then on the other hand expect God to do much in our midst.
How to Have an Awesome Christmas
I recently heard my first Christmas song for the year, in a Vietnamese restaurant of all places. Every year when this season approaches, I think to myself, “How can I truly celebrate a Christ-centered Christmas this year?” My answer ties back into everything I’ve just said about being bored with Jesus. Christmas will be boring too if we are bored with Him. Yes, we will do all of the typical festivities—the cooking, the baking, the family get-togethers, and all the rest, but Christmas itself will feel quite empty if we’re bored with the One it’s all about. So how do we have an awesome Christmas?
Worship Jesus. The way we worship Jesus is personally through time in His Word and prayer. But I believe even more importantly, the way we worship Jesus is by immersing ourselves in His Church. The Church is not just a tangible collection of people who believe in Jesus in one place, it’s also the spiritual body that God has pledged to pour out His blessings upon. We will stop being bored with Jesus and start feeling our hearts and minds deeply stirred with affection for Him when our lives are immersed in His Life, which is poured out into the Church. This happens when His people gather together for Lord’s Day worship, when they serve alongside one another in making Jesus known to their neighbors, and when they engage in the typical habits of discipleship as a community.
Find a local church that isn’t bored with Jesus. One that believes its whole purpose for existence is to worship, serve, and know Him together. Find a church like this and stay there, even when you go through a season of discontentment. When a church like this becomes the center of your life, then Jesus will be at the center, because the Church exists to worship, serve, and know Him. And if you want an awesome Christmas, make this a time where you focus as much time as you can on being involved in the life of your church. Do holiday cookies, Christmas tree decorating, family get-togethers, but try to spend as much time as you can immersed in the life of your church. If you do, I believe it will be one for the record books.