Smashing Idols

I celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of my conversion in a very appropriate place: I attended Prison Fellowship International's Convocation in Toronto, where I was surrounded by people from 105 countries who minister in prisons. They were living evidence of God's amazing grace over these thirty years. I learned about a home for prisoners' children in Nepal and of a Colombian prison being run by Christians. I heard of ministries begun in closed or hostile societies like Mongolia and the Middle East. The conference left me deeply humbled and feeling so close to God. Reflecting on what God had done, I wondered: Why me? I never developed a grand strategy for this, never expected it. Why would He bless us so? The answer, as I thought about it, has much to do with the kind of people we minister to. Scripture teaches that Jesus has a special passion for the poor, and who is more impoverished than a prisoner? The Beatitudes in the gospel of Luke talk about the poor -- people who have nothing. Matthew, by contrast, describes those who are "poor in spirit." Now most of us prefer Matthew, because we can rationalize away this verse as a command to just be humble. But in Luke, I think, Jesus really means poor, those who live in poverty. God favors them not because He is sorry for them, but because they have an increased capacity for purity in their faith. Many of the idols that stand between us and our Lord have been stripped away for the poor. Tim Keller, pastor of New York's Redeemer Presbyterian Church, argues that many of us have a middle-class spirit. Yes, we want Jesus to redeem us from our sins and give us eternal life. But we're hardly dependent on Him -- we don't need to be. We've got our 401(k)s and savings accounts. When the car breaks down, we get it fixed. If we get tired of our furniture, we buy new furniture. Are we depending on God or the idol of our own affluence? I suspect the latter. I have to admit that as hard as I try, I have many, many idols. A few years ago I took my two sons and my daughter to Peru to visit our ministry there. We met a man who lived in a hut atop a garbage dump. He had almost nothing in the way of material possessions -- yet his eyes sparkled as we visited in his home. He had a quiet dignity. He was living in abject poverty -- yet, his love for God was deep. Fewer obstacles stood between him and the Lord -- because he had no one and nothing to trust except God. The great danger of a comfortable lifestyle, on the other hand, is that we may worship idols unawares. The answer, as Keller argues, is to vanquish our middle-class attitudes and adopt the spirit of the poor -- to seek after that purity of love in our relationship with Jesus that I found on that garbage dump in Peru. I left Toronto convinced that God blesses ministries like ours because we minister to the poor for whom Jesus has a special affinity. Of course, we're the ones who end up being blessed because their faith and dignity rub off on us. There's a good lesson for all of us here, especially in this wealthiest of nations: It's wonderful to have all of our creature comforts, of course, but with them come idols. And to get close to God, we must vanquish the idols. For further reading and information: Learn more about Prison Fellowship International. Visit Redeemer Presbyterian Church's website. Charles Colson and Mark Earley, Six Million Angels (Servant, 2003). BreakPoint Commentary No. 030812, "One Night in a Driveway." "Politics and Eternal Things" -- Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) stands as a modern-day example of someone who is standing firm in the post where God has placed him. His advocacy on behalf of persecuted Christians, women and children victimized by sexual trafficking, and others subjected to human rights abuses made Sen. Brownback a natural choice to be the recipient for the 2003 Wilberforce Award. In this special "BreakPoint This Week" broadcast, Sen. Brownback discusses his work in the "reformation of manners" in today's world.


Chuck Colson


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