The Idolatry of Success
God's Blessings Through Our Failures


When is it that we choose to glorify God?  And when do we choose to withhold those blessings?

Tough questions.

We like to think that we will bring our praises and honor to Him through all circumstances of our lives, but reality falls quite short of intent.  Just give us one good bout of illness, or one good marital struggle, and what do we do?  We tend to cower down in a bunker mentality and try to struggle through things on our own.

You might think of this as normal human nature.  Even pastors and church leaders (i.e. the ones who should know better), find ourselves hunkering down, ignoring God's prerogatives, His will.

While I attended Northwest Baptist Seminary we knew that it struggled financially.  But they were sitting on a piece of property that could have netted them millions of dollars had they chosen to sell.  The rationale behind this would be that they could sell their current property, occupy a much more affordable piece of real estate, pay it off completely, and still have a nest egg for 'stormy weather' left in the bank.  The property really is quite valuable.  The seminary board and president instead chose to stay put and ride out the storm.

Not what the world would consider a wise choice given subsequent events.

During this whole tempest in the lives of the seminarians, Amazing Grace struggled with a different storm.  We had been, not of our choosing, evicted three times from various properties.  The reasoning for the last 'request to leave' was most succinctly put, we just did not fit.  I could go into all the gritty details, re-live each and every pain and hurt, but ultimately it doesn't matter.  What is, is what is.

A very practical and spiritual attitude, by the way.

It was during our latest eviction that we became thoroughly convinced that God was working in our lives (even though we are equally sure that He helped us weather the two previous storms).  It's not particularly pleasing to stand before a congregation and tell them that we have been asked to leave because we do not fit (can someone tell me what that even means?).  And then further explain that the church may live, or the church may die.  And in either eventuality we will praise God for what He has enacted for His glory.  This can be a tough sell but it was made easier knowing that ultimately we depended upon His will.

This really is a story of God's glory.  I've detailed the move in our Grace Notes section, entitled A Long Road Home.  We successfully made the move to south Tacoma, and have been growing modestly since then.  Praise God for His providence!

But there are lessons to be learned here.  I have a friend who made a FB post recently on the pending sale and move of what used to be Northwest Baptist Seminary.  Yes, the seminary failed financially, they gave themselves whole-cloth to Corban University.  And as I understand it, Corban, smart fellows that they are, chose to sell the property and re-locate back to Salem.

Tresa and I spoke about the situation this evening, and she reminded me that when your life is being torn apart then that's the time to get excited.  Because God is actively working in it.  He will be busily answering the prayers that you have been pelting Him with.  You just may be too myopic to see His answers.  More on that in a minute.  So the first lesson;
    Get excited for what God is about to do!  It may not be what you expect, but it will be His doing.
But what if the church had failed, as had the seminary?  Would it do me any good at all to mourn over its loss?  Absolutely not!  And if I had mourned, or become angry, or just plain checked out?  What would I be saying about God's will?  What if I had second guessed my every little decision, looking for a flaw, until I had worked myself into a deep depression?  Where, then, would my faith and trust in God be?  Going there would mean that the church, or the seminary, is more important than God, more important than God's will.

Bad news.

That would be what you call idolatry.  If we get so entangled in the institutions of man, if their success or demise can wrap us up so thoroughly, then we have essentially deleted God from the equation.  And so the second lesson might best be seen as;
    Go along with what God has in mind, He certainly knows better than you.
And let me add.  We may have tried to the best of our ability, may have called our best shots for the church organization, and been "wrong".  Wrong in our eyes, but if we were faithful and doing our best, was it especially wrong on God's eyes?  Moving on;
    We need to learn from our experiences.
We need to look at each storm as being distinct.  That would be our third lesson.  If we find ourselves in an endless cycle of recrimination and blame, of pain and second guesses (the whole "what-if" cycle), or even of self-pity and suffering, then guess what?  We probably are not learning much.

But if we step back and blink our eyes a few times because that really, really hurt BAD.  And then we go back to God and ask Him what He had in mind for us to learn?  Then we begin down His path toward understanding, toward His wisdom.  We are but clay in the Master's hands.  Let Him mold us as He sees fit.

Let me close with this.  I see three kinds of idolatry emanating from situations like this.
  1. The first would be an idolatry of the building, or the organization.  If they become more important than God then we have stepped far away from Him.

  2. The second would be an idolatry of mourning, or grief over its loss.  In this, we have refused the lessons of the first order and continue with them.

  3. The third idolatry would be that of expectations.  If success, or man's version of success, has so overshadowed our expectations then where does that leave us?  Success has become our God.  And when we fail?  Then we are left godless and without.
A very bad state of affairs.

soli Deo gloria


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