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(No More) McDonald’s and the Unmasking of My Idols

hearts

What are the idols in our hearts? Pastor Oliver encourages us to take this time of staying at home to unmask and unmake the idols that grip our hearts. 

This has been an interesting week. I was ordering lunch in during this Covid-19 “circuit breaker” period, and I came across McDonald’s in my online food ordering app. I thought “I love to have McDonald’s, but I can always order it this coming week.” After all, McDonald’s remain in my memory as food that is always available, and it brought happiness to my childhood days. The chicken nuggets and milkshakes were comfort food to me. But, on Sunday, April 19, all McDonald’s outlets and delivery services were closed temporarily. I know this is to combat the spread of Covid-19, but I grieved. 

On that Sunday afternoon, I had CG and had the privilege of receiving the grace of community. Though we could not meet in person, we made do with a meet-up over Zoom. During our Bible study and conversations, we talked about adjusting to this Covid-19 “circuit breaker” and how we long for things we once took for granted. I spoke for quite a bit about the closure of McDonald’s. Our reflections caused us to question why we mourn the loss. We realised that we had made some of these things into sources of our enjoyment and happiness. In other words, McDonald’s and other things we now are deprived off have become satisfying for us — to the point that we are upset when we do not have it. 

The Bible talks a lot about idols. In the Old Testament, idols were mainly craved images of “pagan gods” that the Israelites were tempted to worship. In the New Testament, the concepts of idols were extended to include anything we give heart-worship to other than God. Tim Keller helpfully explains that an idol is “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, and anything that you seek to give you what only God can give.” It can be a person, a relationship, a job, a social cause, a political position, or even material things, e.g. comfort food like McDonald’s and bubble tea. 

The Apostle John, concluded his letter of 1 John with verse 21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” I have always found his concluding command a little strange and out of place. I mean John writes in 1 John 5:20 that we have knowledge of Jesus Christ and fellowship with God. This is something that comes about when we trusted in the gospel of Jesus Christ. 1 John 5:20-21 forms a bookend with the start of his letter in 1 John 1:1-4. He writes at the beginning of his letter that when we receive and trust the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we have fellowship with God. It is this fellowship with God that leads to joy. Therefore, I would have expected the Apostle John to conclude with something like “keep in this joy.” 

But John knows our hearts. By divine inspiration, he knows that we have hearts that are prone to idolatry. We give worship to things we deem more important than God and seek our joy and satisfaction in them. We pursue idols of power, control, comfort and approval. And we grieve when we lose them — just like I mourn the loss of the comfort of eating McDonald’s. Either that or we get angry when we are deprived of them. Therefore, the Apostle John reminds us to keep ourselves from idols which can quickly steal our true joy in Christ. 

One of God’s gifts from this Covid-19 “circuit breaker” is that it allows believers the opportunity to shake loose the hold and unmask the idols in our hearts. Beloved friends, I urge you to trace what makes you upset or angry when it is withheld, to its roots in our hearts. I know my constant struggle is with the idol of comfort, and I need certain foods and drinks to feed my idol of comfort. For some, it may be the need for affirmation by others. Now that social interaction has decreased, they grieve over the loss of affirmation by other people. Some of us may pursue the idol of control. With the rapidly changing Covid-19 situation and the changing responses, we may get angry with the government authorities making changes. They serve as a convenient excuse to express our anger over our loss of control. Yet others may be grieving over missed opportunities for promotions and pay raises as their influence diminished. A desire for many of these things are not wrong, the problem is when we desire them too much. Idolatry happens when a legitimate desire becomes our ultimate driving desire. We want them more than we desire God. 

My friends, so what can we do? We can identify, repent of and replace our idols. Trace and identify the idols that have a hold on our hearts. Acknowledge and repent of them. And replace them. We replace them by seeing something more attractive and pursuing something more satisfying. This something or rather someone is Jesus Christ. Take this few weeks when we have to stay home, when we are denied things we usually take for granted, to cultivate a taste for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Spend this time reading the four Gospels, which show us Jesus Christ. Read the Gospel of Luke one or two times through. We are preaching through Luke as a church, so it is definitely helpful to have a big picture of the book. Read or re-read some good books. I’m re-reading The Prodigal God by Tim Keller, which beautifully explains the gospel. Another good book by Tim Keller that directly address this topic of heart idols is Counterfeit Gods. Another longer read is Idols of the Heart: Learning to Long for God Alone by Elyse Fitzpatrick. Take this grace-gift of having to stay at home during this “circuit breaker” to unmask and unmake the idols that grip our hearts. 

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