The Idolatry of the ‘Perfect’ Past

Some of you may be tiring of my incessant Screwtape inspired ramblings, and you are forgiven for those feelings. But allow this one last dalliance through The Screwtape Letters and the creative genius of C.S. Lewis. I’m pulling my thoughts from letter seventeen where the sly demon Screwtape describes an elderly woman who is manipulated by a demon named Glubose. Screwtape mischievously writes:

“The woman is in what may be called the ‘All-I-Want’ state of mind. All she wants is a cup of tea properly made, or an egg properly boiled, or a slice of bread properly toasted. But she never finds any servants or any friend who can do these things ‘properly’—because her ‘properly’ conceals an insatiable demand for the exact, and almost impossible, palatable pleasures which she imagines she remembers from the past; a past described by her as ‘the days when you could get good servants’ but known only to us as the days when her senses were more easily pleased and she had pleasures of other kinds which made her less dependent on those of the table. Meanwhile, the daily disappointment produces daily ill temper: cooks give notice and friendships are cooled.”

Lewis imaginatively strikes upon the demonic tactic of encouraging humans to idolize the past and trivialize the present, which jeopardizes the future. I call it the idolatry of the perfect past. This can be actualized in dozens of little ways. For some, it is manifested as a longing for a better time that actually never existed. We, humans, have a tendency to remember things through the fuzzy lens of what we wish they had been. This often obscures the painful realities of the distant past and ignores the fact that we too have changed. If you don’t believe me, imagine living without heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer.

Undoubtedly, some things were better in the past, but they certainly were not perfect. Furthermore, different doesn’t always equal bad in the same way that new doesn’t always equal better. In essence, what we call perfection is usually a preference or a philosophical proposition. And there’s nothing wrong with having preferences unless our preferences become an idol.

Lewis speaks of an elderly woman who can’t enjoy food or fellowship because she perceives that nothing is prepared as perfectly as it was in the ‘good old days’. This may or may not have been the case. But her sin had nothing to do with her preferences, she had a right to those opinions up to a point. Rather, her sin was realized in the resulting mistreatment of the people around her due to her displeasure with the present. In other words, her idol made her ‘ill-tempered’. Beyond that, idolatry had blocked her vision so effectively she was incapable of recognizing the good or even—dare I say—the better things of the present.

Nasty temperament is the primary way you can tell that a preference has become an idol. Let’s take this discussion to church for just a moment: If you can’t worship in a service because your favorite song from yesteryear wasn’t featured you’ve probably turned the past into an idol. And, if it makes you mad and ill-tempered check your spiritual temperature because you have a fever. And, if you just threw your computer across the room its time to pray through. Now, having said that, you might be right! The new song you don’t like might not be as good as the old song you do like. We all have preferences, partialities aren’t the problem. However, if we can’t enjoy the good things or —dare I say—the less good things of the present because of the past we are in serious trouble.

I feel compelled to pause and state clearly that I love many things from my past. I even love things that predate my lifespan by hundreds of years. For those of you who might be wondering, I am not a hymn hater. In fact, I’m an old soul. I’m hopelessly old-fashioned. I have all kinds of preferences that go unmet on a regular basis, in and out of church settings. Let’s be honest, my preferences are better than your preferences. I’m just kidding. The point being, I’ve learned not to elevate my preferences above unity and personal relationships. The only exception to this rule is when my preferences are properly aligned with God’s Word and someone else’s preferences violate Scripture.

Let’s stir the pot and complicate the conversation for a moment: there are other similar types of idolatry that are equally dangerous. Brad Titus capably identifies one as The Idolatry of the Future. In this variation, peace can never be found in the present because something better is always in the future.

There is yet another variant, I call it the ‘idolatry of the present’. This mindset idolizes the new, the current, the ‘latest thing’ above all else. It marginalizes the past and robs the future of the depth and richness that can only be found in a healthy reverence for the good things of the past.

Young people who carry this idol exacerbate ‘the idolatry of the past’ within the hearts of elders. Their derision for the ‘old fashioned’ inflames reactionary passions. Meanwhile, those suffering under the miserable weight of ‘future idolatry’ sit around and long for better days that always seem just out of reach.

As you can see, disunity and strife are the real demonic agendas behind these three particular brands of idolatry. When saints elevate petty preferences above maintaining right relationships with people; churches become war zones rather than houses of worship. And, when people idolize what lies ahead nothing of value is accomplished in the present.

We smash these idols by honoring the past, celebrating the present, and embracing the future. This can be done. It must be done for the sake of unity and revival. Thriving churches honor the past without living there, celebrate new things that are good, and intentionally prepare for the future. 

“But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient. In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will (2 Timothy 2:23-26).”

IMG_2407

img_2111

img_2252

File Oct 23, 10 05 19 PM

img_1699-2

img_1683-1

file-jan-12-1-50-49-am

6 Dating Standards for Apostolic Singles

Singles seem to fall through the cracks in our churches. That’s an observation, not a criticism. It’s one of those hard to avoid problems that just naturally occurs. If you’re single and reading this you’re shaking your head in agreement right now.

It’s not that churches don’t care about singles – they do – but being single isn’t a characteristic that necessarily unites people into well-structured little groups. For example, you can be 18 or 88 and be single; 18-year-old singles have a completely different set of needs than say… a middle-aged single adult.

All the good and bad excuses aside, churches need to talk more about how Apostolic singles should approach dating and relationships. I see singles struggling to navigate dating and serving God faithfully at the same time from all age groups. With that in mind, these six dating standards are directed towards every age group. Some of these standards are solid biblical truths, while others are personal opinions based on years of counseling and observation.

Let me start with a few statements of fact: Being single does not mean that you are less valuable than married people, and it’s far better to be single than married to the wrong person. Having said that, it’s a natural God-given desire to long for a spouse. You should pursue that desire on God’s terms, which leads me to point number one…

1. Apostolic singles should never consider dating anyone (and I mean anyone) who is not Apostolic. There is nothing more important to any relationship than walking in spiritual unity. How can you have anything truly in common with someone who isn’t in full agreement with the most defining aspect of your life (Amos 3:3, 2 Corinthians 6:14-17, 1 Corinthians 15:33, 2 Timothy 3:5)? Spiritual and doctrinal disagreements impact every aspect of a married life.

Now, I’ve heard all the arguments and excuses for why “this” person is the one good exception to that rule, and the story almost always ends in heartache or backsliding. I’ve observed countless situations where someone pretended to be serious about God just to be in a relationship with an Apostolic guy or girl. In those situations, the entire relationship is built on a lie. Hardly a good start to any long-lasting marriage. Dating someone into the Church is a bad idea – the happily ever after success stories are extremely rare. Beyond that, it’s a question of the heart. Why would you be attracted to someone who isn’t Holy Ghost filled, holy, and zealous about their faith?

2. Mr. Right will attract a Mrs. Right and vice versa. Most singles have a mental (and maybe even an actual) checklist of what they want the “right” one to be like. There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily (depending on what’s on the list). However, you should spend more time making sure you’re everything that you should be. You won’t attract the right kind of person if you aren’t working to be the right kind of person. Singlehood is a tremendous opportunity for self-improvement, preparation, spiritual growth, and maturation.

3. Apostolic singles must trust that God is guiding their footsteps (Romans 8:28, Proverbs 3:5-6, Proverbs 16:9, Psalm 37:23). Fate is not a biblical concept. God orders our every step if we are faithful to Him. That’s something every Apostolic single should believe wholeheartedly. God will guide the right person into your life at just the right time.

You might look around your church on any given Sunday and think, “If these are my only options I’m gonna die alone.” But remember, we walk by faith not sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). If you trust God and guard your integrity, God will orchestrate your future in ways that you can’t possibly plan.

4. Speaking of guarding integrity, Apostolic singles should create and maintain protective boundaries in their relationships. I’m confident the average Apostolic single doesn’t enter a relationship planning to be promiscuous, indecent, or sexually immoral. Nevertheless, if you don’t have defensive boundaries in place lines can be crossed very quickly. Carelessness leads to sinfulness in a hurry.

So, let’s talk dating and relationship boundaries for a minute.

Under no circumstances should a man and woman – unless they are married to one another – be alone together in a house or bedroom. There’s too much opportunity for things to go too far in that setting, and even if nothing happens it looks wildly inappropriate.

It’s important for dating couples to spend time with groups of people. You need to see how that person interacts with others and with the people who are already a part of your life.

Dating couples should always have a plan. Don’t just get together and kill time. Boredom and too much free time is a dangerous combo for two people who are attracted to one another.

Singles of all ages must be open and accountable to spiritual authority. Singles should talk to their pastor, family, and trustworthy spiritual mentors BEFORE becoming too emotionally invested in a relationship. Singles who remove this boundary are dodging godly counsel.

When dating, singles should ask lots and lots of questions. Don’t take it for granted that you know what someone believes just because they warm a church pew. There’s always a Judas hanging around Jesus. Talk. Find out what they really believe deep down. Talk about hopes, dreams, plans, goals, and aspirations. Find out if they are growing spiritually or dying spiritually.

When dating, watch how they respond in church services. If they sit in church like a dead frog you know something is spiritually off balance. If they’re totally uninvolved and out of touch with their local assembly… run.

Stay modest, even when you’re not together. Texting, social media, video chatting, and tons of other forms of technology have changed the modern dating scene. If it would be immodest for you to show it or wear it in person, you shouldn’t be showing it or wearing it digitally either.

5. Don’t date someone who isn’t marriage material. Never date just to date. I’ve received a lot of pushback on this piece of advice over the years. I stand by it anyway, dating isn’t a game or a way to kill time. Dating shouldn’t be a temporary fix for loneliness. Dating is two people evaluating whether they are compatible and capable of truly loving one another for a lifetime. And by the way, spending all your free time with a member of the opposite sex is dating whether you call it that or not. If marriage is out of the question, stop dating that person immediately.

6. Know your worth. You are incredibly valuable. Don’t let anyone or anything convince you otherwise. In a culture of casual sex and careless relationships, Apostolic singles are set apart by God for better things.

Finally, marriage is by far the most life-impacting decision a person will ever make. Be prayerful, be accountable, be faithful, be prepared, and seek wisdom. Know that God cares about your happiness. God is in complete control of your future. Let the Lord lead you.

img_1959

file-feb-22-12-52-02-am

File May 09, 5 37 38 PM

img_1647-1

File Jul 01, 5 39 36 PM

img_1675

img_6284-3

img_1645