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American Idols

Message transcript of September 13, 2015 from Melvin Gaines:

On the hit television show, American Idol, people audition from all over the United States to earn the opportunity to face-off in a singing competition for the chance to win it all and be referred to as The American Idol.

The American Idol is more than just a television singing competition. It can also refer to an ongoing competition that you are involved in more often than you realize. You are not competing against another hopeful for a prize, but you are involved in a competition where the stakes are much higher. Your competition involves what you hold as important versus your relationship with Jesus Christ.

Who will win the competition? If you are honest with yourself, you will see that it is hardly a slam dunk that your relationship with Jesus Christ will come away as the winner. There are many obstacles that will hamper your efforts to remain in fellowship with Him, and that is because you also hold someone or something as one or more of your American Idols.

What is an idol? An idol, by definition, is a cultural icon, specifically a popular person, or it is an image or representation of anything that is revered and perhaps even regarded as having some sort of spiritual power. As you can see, an idol can be a person, a thing or even a god for some. In the King James Version of the bible, the term used is “graven image,” which is something that is engraved and revered in a form of worship. The Hebrew word for graven image is means literally “idol.”

In the event that anyone believes that an idol has some sort of spiritual influence, God has a very clear command about worshiping such images:

Exodus 20:4-6 ESV

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

 

Deuteronomy 5:9a ESV

You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God.

 

Isaiah 42:8 HCSB

I am Yahweh, that is My name;

I will not give My glory to another

or My praise to idols.

As God clearly declares that He will not give honor or praise to idols, then neither should we.

Worshiping idols is known as idolatry, which is worship and excessive devotion to a person or thing that effectively replaces God.

So, what’s the problem here? You may be saying to yourself right now “this idolatry thing does not describe me. I don’t have any carved images or statues in my house, and I don’t get into all of that silly stuff.”

Really? Let’s consider that there are many things that are going on in your life right now that not only replace God as being first in your life, but they also minimize Him in the same way that you can minimize a window on your computer and you would not even see Him, and maybe even forget that He was there. If this were a competition, you would have voted, even already written God off.

In the book Counterfeit Gods, Timothy Keller presents three different things that are idols that we can put before God: love, money and power. There are many more than these three, of course, because, by definition, an idol is ANYTHING that a person views as important and replaces the role of God in one’s life. These three, however, are significant in that they not only are substitutes for Him, but they can also cause serious damage to the people you know if they are unchecked and out of control. Keller notes, “An idolatrous attachment can lead you to break any promise, rationalize any indiscretion, or betray any other allegiance, in order to hold onto it. It may drive you to violate all good and proper boundaries.”

I. Love and Sex

There is certainly a difference between love and sex, but as we have often seen within our present culture, the two often go hand in hand, especially when it comes to how a person views love in his or her own way. The worldly view of love is not even close to the agape love that is the essence of God’s character (1 John 4:8). The worldly view of love values the relationship with a person over and above a healthy relationship with Jesus Christ—so much so that a person’s values and ethics are often compromised for the sake of preserving the relationship. For a believer in Jesus Christ, this should be especially troubling. Keller notes that “Making an idol out of love may mean allowing the lover to exploit and abuse you, or it may cause terrible blindness to the pathologies in the relationship.”

A single woman named Clarice has attended a church for several years where the biblical values of dating, relationships and abstaining from sex before marriage have been presented. Clarice, however, felt as though her biological clock was ticking, and decided to visit nightclubs or other social events in order to find a “good Christian man” that had values similar to her own—namely, settling down and getting married. Upon finding a potential suitor, even upon declaring him as a boyfriend, she began sizing him up to check all of the boxes in her mind. Is he employed with a future career potential? Is he able to provide for me? Is he sexually compatible? Note that none of these questions are crosschecked with what she was taught within the church. Of course, after reviewing these and other questions, Clarice decides that her present boyfriend won’t be a suitable mate; therefore, she breaks up with him and moves on to search for another that will check all of her boxes. This pursuit often leads to emptiness and dissatisfaction, and it is a disappointment to God when the efforts of finding security in a person give way to obedience, trust and reliance upon God’s method of provision. God is left well into the background. Her pursuit of love was her American idol.

Jonathan was always searching for the “girl of his dreams.” The problem was that each prospective woman would never meet his expectations. He also could not maintain a long-term romance because he lacked confidence in himself and did not trust that the women he tried to date would continue to find him appealing. In between these relationships, he would visit strip clubs or watch pornography. Jonathan never married. All of his relationships turned out to be empty and unsatisfying, but his expectation that something better was out there kept his focus away from relying upon God to be his ultimate matchmaker. His desire for romance above everything else was his American idol.

The pursuit of love and sex is idolatry. It is more than just minimizing God—it is a separation from God. This can also lead to unwanted pregnancies and the undermining of a person’s family or career pursuits. In extreme cases, an emptiness, or false intimacy, can lead to sexual addiction, which according to Harry Schaumburg, is “the self-centered demand to be loved and accepted regardless of the consequences, and a loss of vital relationship with God” and it “is a complex result of sin and human behavior.” The idolatry of love and sex is sinful and destructive for every relationship surrounding the perpetrator.

II. Money

One of the most misquoted passages of Scripture involves money. Money on its own is not a bad thing; yet, the love of it has caused many to stumble under greed, and it is idolatry.

1 Timothy 6:10 HCSB

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

Anthony liked having money in his pockets. He wasn’t particularly wealthy, either, and he didn’t handle money very well. He desired to earn more money and become whatever it means to be independently wealthy, but his pursuit came through working three jobs and playing the lottery every day–sometimes twice a day and also buying dozens of scratch-off tickets. When it came to paying the bills at home, his wife had to bear the brunt of the mortgage and the utilities, because Anthony never had enough money to help out with the bills at home. He was driven through the enticement of a “get rich quick” mentality. Even when he hit the lottery for $10,000.00, he bought a new car for himself and never bothered to share his winnings with his wife. Anthony was controlled by greed over money, and it would never be satisfied, especially since God was not in his plan of obtaining wealth. His love of money was his American idol.

In Counterfeit Gods, Keller writes that greed over money “uses powerful sociological and psychological dynamics,” and that “Greed hides itself from the victim. The money god’s modus operandi includes blindness to your own heart” (Keller, 2009). He also relates that greed over money will create jealousy and envy over what other people have, which creates an even greater divide in a person’s relationship with Jesus Christ. It is one of the more deceptive means of idolatry, and it affects people who have little or a lot of it. God reminds us, as believers, that we can’t have Him in a relationship and hold a desire for money to the same standard:

Luke 16:13 ESV

No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

 

III. Power

In America, our culture elevates politicians, professional athletes, Hollywood performers and music pop stars as having the ultimate wealth, status and power. They are deemed by the vast majority of people to have success beyond measure. With such success comes a measure of power. If it is used in the right way, the evidence comes out of a person with a humble approach to life and the desire to serve and glorify God. If, however, a person uses power to his or her own advantage, it creates an environment where power usage can be abusive…and sinful.

Even the noblest efforts that are presented in the spirit of doing what is good can still be twisted into idolatry. Keller notes, “When love of one’s people becomes an absolute, it turns into racism. When love of equality turns into a supreme thing, it can result in hatred and violence toward anyone who has led a privileged life. We can look at our political leaders as ‘messiahs,’ our political leaders as saving doctrine, and turn our political activities into a kind of religion.”

The desire for power is the culmination of a thought process that is independent of God’s involvement.

The people who audition for American Idol have one goal in mind, and that is to be seen as the best of the best singers in a popularity contest before millions of people. It begins with the desire to get a big break, but for all but one person, the contest ends without realizing the dream. Some contestants on the show honestly believe that they can be famous–even if they cannot sing very well. Contestants have been known to quit their jobs and leave their families in order to seek fame and fortune. It is more than just trying to win a recording contract—it is a quest for fame and influence. The desire for such power is idolatry.

Fame, however, is fleeting, especially when compared with the presence of God in our lives.

 

Isaiah 40:6-8 HCSB

A voice was saying, “Cry out!”

Another said, “What should I cry out?”

“All humanity is grass,

and all its goodness is like the flower of the field.

The grass withers, the flowers fade

when the breath of the Lord blows on them;

indeed, the people are grass.

The grass withers, the flowers fade,

but the word of our God remains forever.”

It is our nature to want to accomplish something or achieve something on our own, when we, as believers in Jesus Christ, should be fully aware that we cannot accomplish anything without His input (His movement or His allowance of it).

 

Luke 18:27 HCSB

He (Jesus) replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

So who, or what, is your American idol? Are you following a person instead of seeking Jesus? Are you searching for something in your life that is unfulfilling and empty? Are you putting Christ aside in order to fulfill your own desires? What idols are you holding on to?

Perhaps it is time for you to do some real soul searching and make sure that you are not in a competition against God because of holding on to idols. It is a competition that you will ultimately lose, because idolatry is sin…plain and simple. The only way to renounce these idols is to humble yourself and turn from your sin directly to Jesus Christ, and recognize that God is the One who delivers us from our sins. He became sin for us with His death on the cross in order to become righteous before Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Philippians 4:13 NKJV

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

 

Copyright © Melvin Gaines

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Sunday School Today: Witnessing to the Nation of Islam

Our Summer Sunday school session on the study of Christianity, Religions & Cults involves the comparative study of Christianity and its foundational principles to some of the world’s more popular religious organizations.  While knowing the principles of each, it is just as important to know how to witness to those persons who are members of a different religion as to the benefits of Christianity.  Today’s lesson was based upon a reprint of an article from the Winter 1998 issue of the Christian Research Journal.

EFFECTIVE EVANGELISM

Witnessing to the Nation of Islam

by Jerry L. Buckner

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan called for the Million Man March to take place in Washington, D.C., on October 16, 1995, and black men across America responded. The response was so enthusiastic that not even the march on Washington by the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., surpassed the crowds that Farrakhan was able to bring together. Why was the Million Man March so effective? Many saw it as a way the black community could stand together. Moreover, it encouraged black males to stand up and be men in their homes and communities.

The official membership of the Nation of Islam has been estimated to be between 19,000 and 30,000. Others have said they have 60,000 across America. Whatever the case, they have far more influence than their numbers would indicate, as the Million Man March demonstrated.

The Nation of Islam represents a serious threat to the Christian community. The growing presence of the Nation of Islam and their attacks on essential Christian doctrines make it difficult to continue ignoring them. The black church must awake to the challenge. There have been two problems the black church has faced in rising to this challenge: (1) the lack of evangelism in fulfilling its role to the community and (2) the lack of biblical discipleship for church members.

Meanwhile, members of the Nation of Islam have proven themselves to be highly motivated and successful in their outreach efforts in the community. Not only are they encouraging young black males to join the Nation of Islam, but they are also recruiting them from our churches. In addition, they have a strong presence in the jails and prisons. This was how Malcolm X and Mike Tyson were recruited. They are out in the community and on the streets training young black males in their peculiar version of Islam. Should we be afraid of the Islamic threat? No, but we should embrace this opportunity to sharpen our beliefs and strengthen our witness.

BASIC BELIEFS

Many African-Americans, including some Christians, regard the Nation of Islam as a Christian organization that is a positive motivating factor in the black community. A review of their basic beliefs, however, will demonstrate that the Nation of Islam is one of the fastest-growing American cults.

The whole basis of the beliefs or theology of the Nation of Islam is an attempt to answer two major questions: (1) “Who are we as a people?” and (2) “What is sin?” The Nation of Islam denies the essentials of the historic Christian faith. The following list of beliefs includes excerpts from the Nation of Islam’s own writings.

Polytheism. The Nation of Islam is a polytheistic religion. Several references in their literature point to a belief in many gods, and there is reference to a council of 24 scientist-gods who write history. One of them acts as God, while the others do the work of getting the future together for the Nation. Black men are themselves referred to as being gods. “You [the black man] are walking around looking for a God to bow to and worship. You are the God!”1

The Gods Are Not Eternal. According to the Nation of Islam, although the spirit of Allah (God) lives on, the gods are not eternal. “We all know that there was a God in the beginning that created all these things and do know that He does not exist today.”2

God Is a Man. They teach that Allah “came to us from the Holy City of Mecca, Arabia, in 1930. He used the name of Wallace D. Fard.”3 “God is a man and we just cannot make Him other than man, lest we make Him an inferior one; for man’s intelligence has no equal in other than man.”4

“Yakub Myth.” A basic teaching in their belief system is the “Yakub myth.” Yakub was one of the council of 24 black scientist-gods. He rebelled against Allah and the council, causing havoc. He created the white race as a race of devils to strike back at the black race. Elijah Muhammad said that black people are not sinners, but that the white man is at fault for their problems.

The Trinity. The Nation of Islam denies the Trinity. “The Christians refer to God as a ‘Mystery’ and a ‘Spirit’ and divide Him into thirds. One part they call the Father, another part the Son, and the third part they call the Holy Ghost — which makes the three, one. This is contrary to both nature and mathematics. The law of mathematics will not allow us to put three into one.”5 “Making the Son and the Holy Ghost the equal with the Father is absolutely sinful.”6

Deity of Christ. The Nation of Islam rejects the essential Christian doctrine that Jesus is both God and man. Jesus “did not consider himself to be God or a son of God or equal of Him….Jesus was only a man and prophet of Allah.”7 In a four-hour videotape of Louis Farrakhan’s 1994 Easter Service, “The Crucifixion of Jesus: The Imprisonment of Minister Farrakhan,” Farrakhan discusses the crucifixion and relates it to himself, saying, “I am hanging on the cross right now. I’m on Calvary right now and the more I suffer, the more our people are raised to consciousness….you don’t have to look for Jesus. I represent him. I was born to die for you and I love the thought of dying for you.”8

The Holy Spirit. The Nation of Islam denies that the Holy Spirit is God. They view the Spirit as a “spook.”

The so-called Negroes think of God in terms of something without form (spirit or spook) and they believe that His throne is somewhere in the sky….The teachings of Christianity have put God out of Man into nothing (spirit). Can you imagine God without form but yet interested in our affairs who are the human beings? What glory would an immaterial God get out of a material world? We also learn that a spirit is not self-independent; it is dependent upon air, water and food. Without it, the spirit can have no life. So how can a spirit be God?9

The Bible. Although they do make use of it when it does not contradict their own teachings, the Nation of Islam believes the Bible has been tampered with by the white man. “The Bible is now being called the Poison Book by God Himself, and who can deny that it is not poison?…the Book can’t be recognized as the pure and Holy Word of God.”10

Atonement and Salvation. The Nation of Islam rejects the essential Christian doctrines of atonement and salvation. “We know we have a Savior. In 1877 a Savior was born [i.e., Wallace Fard]….A Savior is born, not to save the Jews but to save the poor Negro….A Savior has come to save you from sin, not because you are by nature a sinner but because you have followed a sinner.”11

The Human Race. As we’ve seen, the Nation of Islam teaches a racist doctrine that the black race is divine and righteous by nature. They were the creators of the universe, and they are taught they are black gods.

Heaven and Hell. Members of the Nation of Islam do not believe in the hereafter, whether it be heaven or hell. “I have no alternative than to tell you that there is not any life beyond the grave. There is no justice in the sweet bye and bye. Immortality is NOW, HERE.”12 To the Nation of Islam, heaven and hell are regarded as special conditions here on earth now, not as special places to go after death. “The Christians say, ‘Confess the Lord Jesus Christ or you (who are other than the Christians) will burn in hell forever.’ That hell must not be so hot that one can burn in it forever and never burn up.”13

The Nation of Islam teaches other anti-Christian doctrines besides those that have been cited above. But the examples we have considered are certainly among the most significant and should be sufficient to acquaint you with their theology.

WITNESSING TO THE NATION OF ISLAM

African-American Christians and white Christians have different responsibilities in witnessing to the Nation of Islam. Much can be learned from the Nation of Islam itself. If the church can learn the things that attract people to the Nation of Islam, then they will be better able to witness to those in the group. The success of the Nation of Islam is not so much due to what the they are doing but to what the church has failed to do.

The Responsibility of Black Churches. The black church today has been passive and impotent in addressing racism as a sin. The church must address racism in the black community; if this is not done, then many black youths will be lost to the Nation of Islam. The reason why the Nation of Islam is extremely appealing to black men is because they address white racism and have a leader, Louis Farrakhan, who boldly defends black racism. The church must address these issues.

The church must develop a strong presence not only in the black community, but also in the jails and prisons — especially ministering to young black men. Jesus warned, “I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me” (Matt. 25:43, NIV).

The church must develop economic empowerment programs for the community. The Nation of Islam has a strong economic base and is very good at providing for the have-nots in our society. They have designed a system of economic education and empowerment for the black community. The church can do more than the Nation of Islam in this area, if Christians all work together. The church can develop economic education programs that will have a dynamic effect on the black community.

The church needs to be involved in the communities and clean them up. The Nation of Islam emphasizes eating better, avoiding drugs, alcohol, and smoking. They work on cleaning up the ghettos and slums by getting rid of drug pushers, prostitutes, and other negative elements in the community. The church can also do these things and more.

The Nation of Islam emphasizes a strong family structure — including fatherhood and black manhood. The church needs to provide mentorship and strong surrogate fatherhood to young black men who are without a good male role model. The church can have Christian black males work with young black males in the community in the areas of developing friendships, providing information, or obtaining jobs while helping them with housing and assisting with their educational activities or endeavors. The church needs to have more youth activities. Much can be done to get youth in the community excited about Christian activities.

The Responsibility of White Churches. It is very difficult for white Christians to approach members of the Nation of Islam in an evangelistic way. This is true because of all of the racism that has taken place. As a reaction to white racism, black racism took form. The Nation of Islam’s emergence was a direct response to racism. Nevertheless, even though it is difficult to approach a member of the Nation of Islam, there are things white Christians can do.

White Christians need to take an aggressive stance against racism in America. They need to join hands with the black church to fight against any form of racism, because it is a sin. They need to strategically join together in an evangelistic reconciliation, a Christlike endeavor, in order to break down the barriers of racism. They need to worship together — a black church coming together with a white church, even exchanging pulpits. They can join hands as co-laborers to reach people in the inner cities. The white pastor can preach sermons from the pulpit against racism. Every person who comes to the local church must be received with open arms, no matter what color he or she is.

The white church needs to work with the black church in developing partnerships around mentorship and surrogate fatherhood to black males in the urban cities. One pilot project in Houston serves as an example of successful mentorship. Several white suburban churches joined some urban black churches in an effort to do something about crime in the black community. Their idea was in direct correlation to the fact that most crimes in the black community were committed by young black males who lacked a positive male role model in their lives. The churches provided substitute fathers for many of the fatherless black youths in the city. Results were astounding. Crimes committed by blacks, especially black youths, dropped dramatically. Having a father image made a significant impact upon these black youths.

One thing is certain: We need to develop an agenda for reaching the black community.

Don’ts of Witnessing to the Nation of Islam. Don’t try to convince them to get saved through your own strength. Trust the Holy Spirit to convince them to believe in Jesus. If God could save the apostle Paul, He can also save Louis Farrakhan and members of the Nation of Islam.

Don’t become hostile with the members of the Nation of Islam. They are not enemies to be conquered. They are fellow human beings for whom Christ died on the cross.

Don’t overwhelm them with Scripture. They will not listen if they are overwhelmed.

Don’t use a King James Bible because, according to some Muslims, King James himself translated this version and corrupted it. I recommend using the New International Version or the New American Standard Version in witnessing to them. Don’t use a Bible in which you have written notes or made marks. This indicates disrespect for the Word of God to members of the Nation of Islam.

Avoid all pictures of God, Jesus, or other biblical personalities as white with blue eyes and blond hair.

Don’t use the word “Trinity” because this word often connotes the worship of three gods to the Nation of Islam. You can let them know from the Scriptures that God is indeed one Being, and this one Being exists eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — three persons.

In dealing with the members of the Nation of Islam, remove all offenses except the cross. They view Christian symbols as offensive.

Do’s of Witnessing to the Nation of Islam. Remember your greatest weapon in witnessing is prayer. This is true when witnessing to any cultic group.

Learn to demonstrate love and patience when witnessing. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35, NIV).

Know what you believe and why you believe it regarding the essentials of the historic Christian faith before you even begin witnessing. Know the original even before beginning to attempt to learn about the counterfeit.

All Muslim groups are different. Know which Black Muslim group you are witnessing to. Share the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as God manifested in the flesh with the Nation of Islam members. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life: No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, NIV). Remind those in the Nation of Islam that according to the Koran, “No true prophet of God can lie.” If that’s true, since they believe that Jesus is a prophet of God, then Jesus told the truth about being the only truth and way to God.

Let the Nation of Islam members know that true righteousness doesn’t come through man’s so-called righteousness, but through the righteousness of Christ’s perfect life imputed as a free gift to those who believe.

Elijah Muhammad told his followers, “The greatest hindrance to the truth of our people [members of the Nation of Islam] is the preacher of Christianity.”14 My message to you is, Keep on being a hindrance and telling them what is right. Be encouraged! There are many who have come out of the Nation of Islam to become strong Christians in the church.

Dr. Jerry L. Buckner has degrees from California Baptist College, Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, and San Francisco Theological Seminary. He is a pastor, counselor, lecturer, and the host of the Contending for the Faith radio broadcast on KFAX AM 1100 in the San Francisco Bay Area.

NOTES

1Elijah Muhammad, Our Savior Has Arrived (Newport News, VA: United Brothers Communications, n.d.), 35.
2Elijah Muhammad, Message to the Blackman in America (Philadelphia: House of Knowledge Publications, 1965), 9.
3Elijah Muhammad, The Supreme Wisdom, vol. 1 (Newport News, VA.: The National Newport News and Commentator, 1957), 11.
4Muhammad, Message, 6.
5Muhammad, Message, 1.
6Muhammad, Our Savior, 152.
7Elijah Muhammad, The Supreme Wisdom, vol 2 (Hampton, VA: U.B. & U.S. Communications, n.d.), 80.
8Videotape of 3 April 1994 Easter message by Louis Farrakhan delivered at Mosque Maryam, Chicago, Illinois, entitled, “The Crucifixion of Jesus: The Imprisonment of Minister Farrakhan.”
9Muhammad, Supreme Wisdom, vol. 2, 9-10.
10Muhammad, Message, 94.
11Ibid., 237.
12Ibid., 219.
13Muhammad, Supreme Wisdom, vol. 2, 42.
14Muhammad, Message, 18.

The Christian Research Journalis a publication of the Christian Research Institute, PO Box 7000, Rancho Santa Marguarita CA 92688; Phone 949.858.6100.