Success, Money, and Achievement
About the Guest
What is an idol, really? Pastor Kyle Idleman, author of the book, "Gods at War," explains that an idol is anything or anyone we put our hope in other than God. Our culture worships achievement, but success can easily become an idol, and only leads us to worship ourselves, rather than God.
What is an idol, really? Pastor Kyle Idleman, author of the book, “Gods at War,” explains that an idol is anything or anyone we put our hope in other than God.
Success, Money, and Achievement
Bob: You know the first of the Ten Commandments; right? “You shall have no other gods before me.” But Kyle Idleman says, in our culture, there are thousands of gods begging us to worship them.
Kyle: Everything around you—the advertisements / the commercials—they are promising satisfaction. You think, “If I could just have this!” Maybe you’re experiencing some frustration—you’ve been asking God, perhaps, to bless a certain area of your life—maybe to bless you financially or to bless your love life. Look, God’s not going to bless His competition. If you’re looking to something or someone to do for you what God wants to do for you, don’t expect Him to bless that. Instead: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, September 25th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see today how one way we ought to deal with our sinful desires is to have something we desire a whole lot more. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition. It occurs to me that the guy that we’re interviewing today is, not only a pastor of a large church—one of the largest churches in America—a well-known author, he’s also an Executive Producer. Are you an Executive Producer of this movie that’s coming out—
Bob: —in theaters this weekend? It’s called The Song: The Story of the Life of Solomon in a Modern Retelling. He has successfully graduated from The Art of Marriage® video series that FamilyLife has made.
Dennis: Yes, he even recalled one episode!
Bob: He did recall one episode. [Laughter]
Kyle: I’m not going to tell you which one that was! [Laughter] For those listeners who have gone through that—
Bob: They probably can—
Kyle: —they probably know.
Dennis: Well, Kyle Idleman, welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for writing this book, Gods at War: Defeating the Idols that Battle for your Heart. Welcome to the broadcast.
Kyle: Thanks for having me.
Dennis: Let’s start with kind of recasting what an idol is. I think, when we speak in religious circles, we typically think of an object.
Bob: I think of Buddha statues or I think of golden calves.
Bob: That’s what I think of.
Dennis: Yes, but that’s totally missing the point; isn’t it?
Kyle: It is, but that’s not too far off—it’s just different today.
Kyle: You know, they serve, in some ways, the same purpose. An idol is anything or anyone that we look to do for us what only God can do for us—so, anything or anyone we put our hope in rather than God.
I was looking at some pictures that a friend of mine brought back from his mission trip to India. He was showing me some homes where he had visited. They had put a golden image in the center of their home where they carefully aligned the seats so that they would all face this golden image. He was telling me about how idolatry was more prevalent in that culture. [Laughter]
I was thinking to myself, “Well, we don’t have that problem today.” Then I went home, and I sat in my living room. I started to notice that the chairs were in a perfect circle and centered around a television.
Bob: That glows.
Kyle: Yes. So it’s not that different; right? [Laughter] It’s when we align our lives, our time, and our money around something other than God. Really, the motivation for this book came after I wrote Not a Fan, which is a book that calls people to follow Jesus in a more completely committed way. Bill Bright was someone who really inspired me to look at the Christian life differently—to follow Jesus more wholeheartedly.
What I discovered, after writing that book, is that there are many churches full of Christians who really do long to follow Jesus in a more committed way. As I would visit these churches, I would hear of these commitments and then I would sit and talk with these Christians.
What I discovered—and it’s certainly been true for me—but what I discovered was that—oftentimes, though they really want to follow Jesus, their lives were completely aligned around following something or someone else.
It makes it very hard to follow Jesus if your time, your energy, your money, and your resources are all aligned around following these other things. It hit me, “That’s idolatry!” So it may look a little different, but it’s never been more relevant.
Dennis: There are “temples” that you speak of in your book. I really do like how you kind of separate them. The “temple of love,” which is relationships—and these can be good relationships—they have just gone to the wrong place.
Bob: They’ve gotten too big.
Dennis: That’s right—“the temple of love,” then—“the temple of pleasure,” which can be entertainment/sex—I mean, this is an entertainment culture. But the one I want to talk about today is “the temple of power,” which is—I think Americans are seduced by on a daily basis.
Kyle: I think back to when we were children. The way that we identified ourselves, oftentimes, was by our accomplishments / by our success. So, if you would have come into my room, as a kid in grade school, I could have shown you the trophies that I had mounted on the wall. I could have shown you, you know, my report card from school—these different measures of success, which is one of the significant idols in the temple of power—are the ways that we identify ourselves.
Even, as a Christian, I can identify myself by success / by power by saying: “I have done these things,” / “I haven’t done these things,” instead of identifying myself as a follower of Jesus—as someone who’s been saved by His grace. We’re kind of conditioned, I think, early on, to find our value, as men and as women, in our success and our achievement. Other people put us on a pedestal, and that’s what makes our lives matter.
Bob: There’s nothing wrong with being successful or having accomplishments; is there?
Kyle: No, in fact, those are opportunities for us to give God glory. You know, the Bible warns us—not for a moment, to think that it’s by our hand that good things happen—but it’s an opportunity for us, in those moments, to recognize God’s grace—to humble ourselves before Him and realize that it’s only by His hand that we’ve been blessed with the opportunities that we have.
Oftentimes, it leads to putting ourselves on a pedestal—
Kyle: —and filling us with pride.
Dennis: I’ve been giving some thought to this, around an unusual thing, recently. I go online to my Twitter account—I look at my name—
Dennis: —and it has a brief description of who I am.
Dennis: The first thing that was listed was President and CEO of FamilyLife. I looked at that and go: “No! I am, first and foremost—I want to be, at least—a follower of Jesus Christ.”
Dennis: “I want to be known as an ambassador for Him—for whatever He gives me—and to represent Him in how I speak.” But I think, for a lot of people—they’ve never stepped back and say: “Who am I? What is my identity?”
Bob: What defines success? How would the Bible—what direction would it point us in terms of trying to accomplish real success?
Kyle: Well, I think what’s scary is—for this upcoming generation—the way they identify themselves is, oftentimes, who they are on social media.
Kyle: Who we are on social media is kind of the best version of ourselves. We put that out there for everybody to see—it’s not really who we are. What happens is—we start to read the comments of how other people perceive us to be, and we start to think of ourselves in that way. Then, we see the best versions of other people; and we think, “I need to put an even better version of myself out there to match up with what other people see.”
Kyle: It makes it difficult for us to find our identity in Christ because we’re constantly kind of focusing on putting out this image or this portrayal of success, of power, of “We’ve got our act together,” “We’re not struggling,” “We don’t have problems.” That keeps us from really experiencing God’s love and God’s grace in our lives the way He intended.
Dennis: Kyle, we can come into this temple called “the temple of power” through three different doors. We can come in through the door of achievement, money, and success. You’ve undoubtedly done a lot of biblical thinking around the subject of success.
If you had a young man / a young woman—single, perhaps, but maybe married—and they came to you—they are just starting out their life—they just graduated from high school / gotten back from service / from college—and they’re beginning their place of work, how would you—in light of our conversation here around idolatry—how would you define what success truly is?
Kyle: Well, success is identifying” “Okay, here’s what I want to commit my life to,” or “Here’s what I want to pursue and chase after,” and then chasing after it, and making sure that what we’re chasing after / what we are pursuing—where we want to be successful—will reflect the Kingdom of God.
Dennis: Kyle, I want to add one little twist to what you just said there. You quoted Bill Bright—or you mentioned him earlier.
Dennis: He used to have a definition of what was success in witnessing or success in sharing the Person of Jesus Christ with another person.
Dennis: He used to say, “Success in witnessing is simply sharing Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and leaving the results to God.”
Kyle: I like that.
Dennis: I would just change that definition about witnessing to life.
Dennis: Success in life is sharing Christ, as you go through life, with all that you can in the power of the Holy Spirit, and leaving the results to God.
Dennis: It is living life to the fullest ability—with the Kingdom of God, like you talked about, in mind—and realizing we’re going to give account to God in terms of how we’ve used the gifts, the talents, the time, the treasure that we have to honor and glorify Him.
Kyle: What I like about that is that it’s measuring success by faithfulness. We offer it up to Him, and what He does with it—that is up to Him—the fruit that He brings out of it—that is all Him. So, whatever good comes—He gets the glory. If it doesn’t go the way that we thought it would—that’s alright because success is measured by faithfulness.
Bob: You’ve got people in your church—and your church is a big church—20,000 people—you’ve got some, who, by society’s standards, are very successful. They’ve got high-paying jobs, they live in really nice houses, and they got what they need. You’ve got other folks who are scraping to get by in the church.
If you were talking to them about success, how would you try to recalibrate? Because the truth is—both of them could be missing the right thing, even if they’ve achieved or failed to achieve economic success; right?
Dennis: Or both of them can be successful if they’re being faithful to do what God has called them to do.
Dennis: It’s not the amount of money in your bank account—.
Kyle: That’s right.
Dennis: —or your title that determines whether you’ve been successful. It’s back to faithfulness, that you’ve talked about.
Kyle: Yes. What will inevitably happen is that you will be put in a position where you have to choose in some way. You know, one of the most consistent words, connected to idolatry in the Bible, is the word “choose.” You know the classic example, of course, of “Choose you this day whom you will serve”; but you go to Jesus and the rich, young ruler. The rich, young ruler might reflect someone who’s powerful, successful/wealthy, by our standards. Jesus says to him: “Go, sell all you have.” A lot of people think that that passage is about money, but that passage is really about idolatry.
Kyle: He’s choosing between this and between following Jesus. That’s why, a few chapters later, you have Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus wasn’t told to go sell everything he had.
Kyle: But he was challenged, and he responded with generosity.
But what you’ll find and what I would challenge the folks in our church to understand—that you are either at a crossroads or you soon will be, where you will have to choose between this and between Jesus. There are a lot of different ways that that choice might be lived out. It might be through generous giving / it might be through serving in a humble way—but you will have to choose.
Bob: You tell the story, in your book, about a trip that Ruth Graham—Billy Graham’s wife—made to the Caribbean. It illustrates what we’re talking about here.
Kyle: Yes, she was visiting this Caribbean island. They were with a man who was
75 years old. He was wealthy, but he was also miserable. You know, he was the one whom everybody else on the Caribbean island envied and wanted to be like; but he wasn’t happy.
After spending the afternoon and having lunch with this very wealthy, powerful man, Billy and Ruth spent some time with the pastor of the local Baptist church. He was the same age as this wealthy guy—he was 75 years old. He didn’t have—in his words—“two pounds to his name.” But he said to Ruth Graham—he said, “I’m the happiest man on the island.”
Billy Graham, as he tells the story, relates that he asked his wife after they left: “Who do you think is the richer man?” The Bible talks a lot about the riches in Christ that, in Him, we find a much deeper fulfillment and a much deeper satisfaction than anything that this world could offer.
Dennis: You know, as we talk about idolatry, I don’t think we have talked enough about the One, who once we see Him for who He really is, everything else is looking just a little bit like a junk sale. Jesus Christ—once you see Him for who He is—you’re compelled to say, “If you are who You claim You are, nothing else matters!”
If He be Lord, crown Him King. Follow Him and get busy in this Book—getting to know Him—and asking Him to live His life in and through you to touch other people.
Kyle: That is so true. That’s why, in the Old Testament, you just read again, and again, and again, and again, and again that the problem is idolatry. Then, in the New Testament, Jesus is introduced. We’re told a lot about Jesus—that’s because, in order to defeat idols in our life—they’re not defeated by removing them—but by replacing them with the real thing.
Kyle: I challenge parents with this. I know, as a parent, one of the things I try to do is I try to guard my kids against idols and against these different influences. Sometimes, I can put a lot of emphasis on what they need to stay away from and warning them constantly—but if I can get their hearts and their eyes set on Jesus—that’s really how you guard your heart against idolatry.
Kyle: It’s not by just removing these idols—it’s by putting Jesus in His right place. In some ways, just focusing on the idols can make them even more powerful. It’s like research that shows—if you go on a diet, you can, sometimes, gain more weight because you’re constantly thinking about food. Well, that’s true of idolatry as well. The focus should be quickly put on Jesus because He is the One who ultimately delivers what all of these other things can only promise.
Bob: And that reminds me of a well-known quote from C.S. Lewis, who said: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
I think that’s why we pursue idols—because we’re half-hearted creatures—and they’re shiny and they glitter. We’ve lost sight of that which is infinitely more valuable.
Dennis: I grew up in southwest Missouri—so did Kyle. He’s from Joplin, which is the big city. [Laughter] I was from a little town called Ozark, Missouri, which is now maybe bigger than Joplin.
Dennis: But I remember religion growing very stale and basketball glittering very bright, as a teenager. So, I gave my life to that. I wasn’t good enough to really get a full scholarship to college or certainly to do anything beyond that because I wasn’t that athletic—I was too short and too slow—but as those things kind of went their way, and I realized I wasn’t going to be able to center my life around them, I then had to realize, “So, who or what must I center my life around?”
Fortunately, I ran into a great church—University Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas—and a pastor there, H.D. McCarty, who made Jesus Christ the issue on campus. He was determined, not in necessarily eloquent words—although he was a very articulate preacher—but he had determined he wanted to make Jesus Christ as clear and as evident in who He was and the claims that He made about Himself and about me.
As a result of seeing Jesus—hearing about Jesus / reading about Jesus—I ultimately surrendered my life to Him and said: “You know what? For the rest of my life, I want to serve Him. Anything else would be a waste of my life.”
There may be somebody, who’s been listening to us, Kyle, who’s on the outside, looking in. Maybe their life is surrounded by idols. They’re not kneeling before a rock or something shiny, but their lives have characterized that.
They have never seen Jesus Christ. Could you introduce that person to the Savior and how they can have a personal relationship with Him?
Kyle: You know, I love the way Jesus introduces Himself to people, who are in that same place.
Kyle: I think of several examples in Scripture: John, Chapter 4—the woman at the well who is thirsty. She has a physical thirst, but Jesus has come. He introduces Himself as “the living water.” If she drinks of Him, she’ll never thirst again. In John, Chapter 6, you’ve got the feeding of the 5,000. The people had hungry stomachs, and Jesus gave them food; but the next day they wanted more food. Jesus says: “What about Me? Am I enough?” He refers to Himself as “the bread of life” that truly satisfies.
There’s a wonderful passage in the Old Testament that says, simply, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” I know that everything around you—the advertisements / the commercials—they are promising satisfaction. You think, “If I could just have this!”
Maybe, you’re experiencing some frustration—you’ve been asking God, perhaps, to bless a certain area of your life—maybe to bless you financially or to bless your love life. Look, God’s not going to bless His competition. If you’re looking to something or someone to do for you what God wants to do for you, don’t expect Him to bless that. Instead: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
You know, I can just speak personally on this and say that I’ve studied the Bible, at great lengths, on these issues but nothing to me is as powerful, in some ways, as what I know to be true / what I’ve experienced—where I have gone down different paths. I’ve searched, and I’ve looked, and I’ve thought: “This would quench my thirst,” or “This would satisfy my hunger.” Ultimately, you’ll find that in the person of Jesus. So, take a bite to taste and see that the Lord is good. You can keep going down these other paths but, ultimately, you’ll find that they don’t satisfy—that it’s a dead-end. The invitation is to come to Jesus and to let Him be on the throne of your heart.
Dennis: Kyle, I want to thank you for being on the broadcast; for your leadership there at the church; for writing this book; and, also, for giving leadership to this new film being released this weekend, called The Song. In fact, before we’re done here, I want you to come back here, at the end of the broadcast, and just share with our listeners why they ought to go to that this weekend.
Bob: Yes. If folks are interested, by the way, in seeing the trailer of the movie, which we’ve been showing to audiences in Chicago and Portland, at our I Still Do™ events—and we’re going to show it again in Washington, DC, next weekend—if you’ve like to see the trailer, we’ve got a link to it. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the button that says, “GO DEEPER.” You can see a preview of the movie, The Song, which, as you said, opens this weekend in theaters.
You can also find information about Kyle’s book, which is called Gods at War—all about the issue of idolatry. Defeating the Idols that Battle for your Heart is the subtitle.
You can order, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. Again, click the button in the upper left-hand corner that says, “GO DEEPER.” The information about the book and the trailer for the movie are available right there. Or, if you’d prefer to call to order the book, call 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329. Ask about the book, Gods at War;and we’ll send it to you.
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Dennis: Well, Kyle Idleman has been our guest. Kyle, I’ve enjoyed chatting with you. I hope you’ll come back again.
Kyle: It’s been fun for me too.
Dennis: We had to schedule this twice to get you here. I’m glad it finally worked out.
You are the co-creator of the film, The Song. It’s being shown this weekend. Share with our listeners what it’s about and why they ought to go.
Kyle: The Song is a modern-day adaptation of Solomon’s life. It takes the books of Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon, which are two books that are so relevant to our culture today, and it puts those books together and tells Solomon’s life in a modern-day context. Why I am so passionate about this movie is because we are just surrounded with messages in our culture—music that we listen to, the movies we watch, the magazines, advertisements. All are trying to talk to us about things like love, and sex, and marriage, and dating, and romance.
But, look, God is the creator of these things!
He designed them—He owns the copyright. No one knows more about them than He does. What I love about this movie is that it explores what happens when we listen to our culture instead of our Creator. It reminds us that God really knows what’s best—let’s surrender these areas of our lives over to Him.
Bob: Well, I’ll tell you what—tomorrow, we want to introduce our listeners to the star of the film. Alan Powell is going to join us. Kyle Idleman is going to be back with us as well. We’ll talk a little more about the movie tomorrow. I hope our listeners can be back with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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