The Idol God Is Breaking in the American Church


Previously, I’d commented on an article that posited a slightly different idol that afflicts Americans:

Idol #1

But after recent political upheavals that left a lot of Christians wringing their hands, I read a different article a Christian friend posted:

How Cruz’s Dropout Exposes the Corruption of the American Soul

The sheer brazenness of the title was enough to suck me in, plus it’s CharismaNews, so it’s bound to have hyperbole galore.

I was not disappointed.

Or, actually, I was.

Like far too many articles in Christian sources today, the foundation rests on fear. Despite the fact the Bible tells us over and over NOT to fear, Christian media love to fan the fear.

And the fear this article fans is one I see rising everywhere: The fear of not having power.

I’d use the polysyllabic word powerlessness instead, but the “not having” carries a nuanced interpretation I think must be stressed. This is about control too.

Right now, American Christians of many stripes are scared to death that both they and the American Church are not in control of power.

Consider the following:

  1. Declining church attendance
  2. A string of losses in high-profile national, state, and local legal battles and protections
  3. A presidential race where no clear “Christian candidate” remains, in fact, the remaining candidates seem the polar opposite

Most interesting is the swiftness of this reversal of fortune. And it has been a dire and fast fall.

But here’s the thing…

We Christians look at patterns of events in the world and in the Church, and while we’re good at noticing them, we’re terrible at providing solutions because we misinterpret what is happening behind the scenes. Only later does it turn out that what we thought was A proves actually to be B.

So while gloom, doom, and The End get bandied about by Christian Chicken Littles driven by fear, I want to propose that our fear of judgment on America is wrong, and that the actual judgment is on the Church. I want us to consider that all these dark happenings are good because God may be breaking an idol in the Church.

Broken idolAnd what is that idol? Well, I mentioned it already: Power.

But not all power. Instead, I think that God is forcing the Church to stop investing so much time, effort, and devotion to man-made, secular power.

The #1 form of secular power obsession in the American Church for the past 40 years has been political power. Guess what? The previous couple elections punched in the face the idea of the power of the Christian voting bloc, and the 2016 presidential race shot it in the head.

To this I say, good. I also say that Roe v. Wade didn’t just turn America into a wicked charnel house, but it ingrained in the Church the wrongheaded idea that the godly response must come primarily through political maneuverings, which may have set the progress of the Christian Church back by 40 years. I know that’s not a popular opinion, but in the wake of recent events, it seems crystal clear.

Some of that failure in politics comes from a declining church attendance. With that has come the fall of the über-pastor, and with him/her, the importance of the über-churches they pastor. And what accompanies that fall? A loss of man-made power. The media stops focusing on the same old Christian faces, and instead shoves microphones in the faces of other 15-minutes-of-famers.

Where does this leave the American Church? Pretty busted. Heck, we can’t even keep pervs out of bathrooms.

All that man-made, secular power? Gone.

And I firmly believe God has purposefully taken it away. Good for God.

So Christian, stop blaming this on the devil. Stop blaming this on evil groups and people. Stop blaming, period.

You see, a Church that relies on man-made, secular power is no Church at all.

This is the Church:

Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.”

—Zechariah 4:6

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

—Acts 1:8

Where is real power, Christian? In the Spirit of God. And honestly, in a supposedly charismatic generation, the Spirit of God and the power He alone brings has been #2 for a long, long time. God’s not going to let that be the case anymore.

This is a good thing.

The reason all the man-made, secular power sources are now failing Christians is because God wants them to fail so Christians will start getting serious about living by the Spirit, and not by manmade, secular power.


Feel a little naked right now? Honestly, that’s where we are as Church. Naked and exposed. Because we’ve been doing it wrong. And for a long time.

I hope a lot more starts to fail for us. Because perhaps then we’ll get serious about what it means to have no power in ourselves or in other men yet have all the power of the universe and beyond available to us.

We haven’t seen that in this generation. Heck, we haven’t seen that in a few generations.

Better start learning what it means to cultivate humble, Spirit-driven power, because that’s the only power that will get us through the days ahead.

Therefore, We Will Not Fear


God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
–Psalm 46:1-3

Broken mirror, fear“Therefore, we will not fear…”

I don’t know why so many Christians today live in fear. But then again, I do know.

It is American to want to be in control. Our national psyche reflects maintaining what we have accumulated for ourselves. Protecting. Guaranteeing.

You see it on days that celebrate our soldiers, both those living and those dead. We console ourslves by saying they made the sacrifice to ensure freedom. The oddity in this is that ensuring freedom is also ensuring control.

It is also true that one man’s freedom is another man’s control, and nothing drives fear into our hearts more than to see our control give way to what another man considers his freedom.

And then the mountains begin to move, and both men realize that control is an illusion. And now both fear.

I don’t know when Christians in America began to fear so much, but I think the postmillennialistic triumphalism that was the hallmark of the American Church of the 19th century was disabused by the events of World War I. That the world could descend into such madness despite all our positive work to better ourselves! We lost control and failed most inhumanly. I think that nothing has been the same for us as a Church ever since.

Here’s the thing: Christians, more than anyone, should be sober people. We understand the nature of fallen men. We understand evil. We have a Gospel that tells us that we were incapable of controlling ourselves in a way that could save us. Only God in Christ had that level of control. Our salvation, even though He looked like us, came from outside of us. We could not save ourselves. We are not in control.

There is something about the American Church of the last 50-60 years that has been loathe to admit that we are not in control, even though we should understand this better than others. The Culture Wars we waged were always more about maintaining control than they were about actual sin.

Even today, as we see God’s symbol of the rainbow co-opted by those who rail against Him, their victories portrayed as our supposed losses, we are as fearful about what this loss of control means as we are about the sin that fuels it.

Into this, God speaks to the Christian soul and reminds us that even moving mountains should not be a cause for fear. His perfect love casts out all fear. He reminds us that fear is, indeed, the opposite of love.

Christian, never fear.

I can tell you that with words, but what is true is that drawing closer to God is they only way to live without fear. Draw close and trust. God is never surprised, and He is in control. Only He remains unmoveable, and when we abide in Him, we are as well.



George stood at the bus stop and muttered a prayer under his smoking breath that the bus would arrive before his feet froze solid. Even his wool socks were claiming they’d met their match.

“Lovely weather,” said a tall woman trying to warm her hands on a steaming coffee. “Counting the degrees on one hand makes it easy for everyone.”

A couple folks laughed, but not George. He hadn’t laughed much in the last three years.

“Where’s that damned bus?” an elderly man whispered to no one.

George figured the man for about 77. He thought that would be him in 17 years. He wondered if he would still be taking the bus to the clinic every day. He wondered how everything could go so wrong so fast, and in that moment, 17 more years felt a little more like jail.

Living in a city that was home to several Fortune 500 consumer packaged goods companies was a boon to a packaging engineer such as himself, but life is odd, and when his firm offered him early retirement due to increased competition from overseas, he and Jeannie thought their nest egg sufficient for a longer-than-expected retirement. They had some money, a pension, could even handle their daughter Lynn’s college payments, and the company hinted they might throw some consulting work George’s way now and then. Retirement at 57 seemed perfect.

Five months later, while he and Jeannie walked through the bright gold and red of their neighborhood’s autumn leaf fall, a blood vessel burst in her brain.

That was 2½ years, $2.7 million dollars in medical bills, and their retirement home ago. All gone. To keep his daughter on track for graduation, George sold his car and Jeannie’s. Then he got a bill from the college announcing a 15% tuition hike.

George called in some markers at his old workplace and they gave him a basement office and paid him for two days a week. Competition hadn’t eased, but George had been someone once, and the old guard did what they could, shaking their heads at the injustice of it all.

So George caught the 7:55 bus each day. On his two work days, he walked from his 8’x8′ office to the extended care clinic and held Jeannie’s hand. On good days, she’d fix her eyes on his and he could see the light still in them. No one could make out what she said, but George told everyone they were words of love. God help them both if they were something else.

George didn’t talk about the bad days. He’d read to his bride even when her eyes were cloudy glass and no Jeannie seemed present. He didn’t know what else to do. Read, hold a hand, and watch the bank account dwindle to nothing. Sometimes George hated himself for what he thought on the worst days.

Where’s that damned bus? he thought now. A glance at his wrist: 8:08.

Some anxious young turk in clothes three sizes too big spat one of those words that always grated on George’s ears. People didn’t talk like that when George was younger, and whenever he heard someone curse, something inside him died a little m0re. What is wrong with people today? What happened to propriety? George heard someone else spout the same ugly word: the tall woman, her coffee gone.

The sound of a diesel engine. Every head turned to peer down the street. Suddenly, life entered the small collection of people. The bus. Finally. Even from a tenth of a mile away, George could see the “sorry, folks” look on the driver’s face.

When the bus pulled up to the curb, George let others board first, though he and the elderly man exchanged proferred hands, each insisting the other go ahead. Wisdom prevailed, as the senior gave up the battle of politeness, boarded, and George walked into the anticipated warmth of the coach.

Except none greeted him.

He looked at the driver, perplexed.

“It’s why I’m late,” the driver said. “The cold took down two other buses completely. At least this one runs.”

George looked that the mass of people on board and wondered where all the body heat was. The bus stop felt warmer.

“No heater? I’ve got a half hour ride,” he said to the driver.

“You and most everyone else” was the reply.

A half hour of frozen misery.

George sat down next to the largest person he could find and hoped for the best. By the time his stop came, all theories about hoping and the warmth of people of immense size had been chucked out the moisture-frosted window.

Goodbye, frigid conveyance. Hello, old semi-workplace.

The lobby stairway proved a difficult walk when one cannot feel at least one of one’s feet. George wondered if this was what being a pirate with a wooden leg felt like. Arrr.

His office didn’t have a door, so on arriving in the basement, he immediately noted the envelope on his beaten, 1950’s-era desk. A lone envelope. An omen. He opened it, hands trembling.

Numbers flooded the page, and George inhaled sharply at  the sight of them. What they said: Health care costs would now be subtracted from pension payouts. George looked at the number at the bottom of the side column. He flopped into the desk chair, which groaned along with him, and with his back to the doorway, cried.

“You okay, George?” came a voice from behind him.

“Jeannie had a bad night is all,” he said to the wall before him. His reliable, catch-all answer. Anyone would understand it.

“Sorry to hear that,” said the voice. “Hope things get better.” A reliable, catch-all answer. Everyone knew the dance steps. Everyone.

When no further words came and George felt his eyes grow dry, he walked out the door and wandered to a stack of recycling. Toward the bottom of the pile he saw a phone book and grabbed it. Back in his office, he dialed a number.

“Metro. How can I direct your call?” said a voice on the other end of the line.

“My bus didn’t have any heat this morning,” George said. “It’s five degrees outside. I’m 60 years old.”

The woman had a pleasant voice, and she said something pleasant and reassuring.

At the end of the day, George walked to the extended care clinic and found a dull, wrinkled face staring at nothing. He held the hand that belonged to the inert woman in the bed, read from The Psalms and something from a Max Lucado book. Jeannie had liked that author once. At 6:45, George called it a day and caught the—thankfully heated—7:05 back to the two bedroom apartment that was all that remained of once big dreams of retirement.

The 7:55 arrived on time the next morning—without a working heater.

George gritted his teeth.

At the office, he hit redial on his phone.

“Metro. How can I help you?”

“The 7:55 on Erie still doesn’t have any heat,” George said.

Reassurances. Promises. Pleasant talk.

“Can I speak to a supervisor?”

Reassurances. Promises. Pleasant talk.

Hang up.

Work. Extended care clinic. Home.

The cold morning ride racked up more days. George spent those days, in full, at the clinic.  One day of light in the eyes, but nothing the rest.

The next week, the 7:55 still had no heat.

“What’s with you people?” George yelled into the phone at the woman with the pleasant voice. “I want to talk to a supervisor. Can’t you fix the damn heater? This is the 21st century. It’s a damn heater. Fix the damn thing, damn it!”

Reassurances. Promises. Pleasant talk.

Work. Extended care clinic. Home. A letter was in the mailbox. The next pension check—so much smaller. Again, the tears.

And the next morning, the 7:55 felt like a Siberian mausoleum on wheels.

“Look,” George said into the phone. “My heart doesn’t pump like it once did. I know the economy isn’t great, but c’mon. The heater. We’re all freezing on that bus.”

Reassurances. Promises. Pleasant talk.

More days of cold.

When the 7:55 was a couple minutes late the following week, George ran all the scenarios. He kept coming back to a fixed heater. Please, God. Please.

What he got that morning was a bigger surprise. Something was different about the 7:55. Sure enough, on the side it read: Bio-diesel-powered. And George’s heart leapt.

A smile on his face, he waved the elderly man on board and stepped inside.

To an all-too-familiar cold.

“Heater doesn’t work,” said the bus driver.

“What the hell?” George yelled. “Can’t anyone please fix the damned heater? Anyone?”