A convention hall thronged with people in a thousand costumes: Iron Man, Daenerys, Princess Leia, the TARDIS, gathered to share their passion; queuing to meet their heroes.
The football stadium. The shopping centre. The board room.
Different gods, different temples.
But we are all worshippers.
So many things demanding our time, money, energy and attention. But these are not our gods. These are only our offerings to our true god.
Our one true god is Self, and Happiness is his prophet.
To deny oneself, to go against self-expression, is the great blasphemy in our society. Idols are images of what we worship, so it’s no wonder we take so many selfies.
We make our idols, our sacred images, not out of wood or gold but out of pixels and reputation. Social media feeds our self-addiction, allowing us to manipulate our image and keep score. I count my followers (not far off a thousand!) whilst compulsively checking for likes and retweets.
Advertising is our indoctrination into this creed. The real significance of adverts is not whether they get you to buy any particular product, but the subtle lie that runs through them all: you are what you consume; you are what other people think of you.
Most of us don’t directly worship, say, our iPhone. Instead, it aids in building a shiner image of ourselves that we then worship. Or perhaps you define your self-image by not being an Apple sheep (I’m an Android man, myself). Either way, whether following the crowd or being a maverick, we define ourselves by our consumer choices.
We build our self-image around many different things, because no one thing is big enough to give us ultimate meaning. The shows we watch, the team we follow, the gadgets we use, the friends we have, even the church we go to or ways we serve.
Even the Christian life can be infected by the idolatry of self-image. Going to church becomes more about being seen as an active member than it is about worshipping God. Serving others becomes more about making ourselves look and feel good, than it is about what we do for others. Even worshipping God can become about what we get out of it.
We can treat God himself as a means to the end of our happiness. Recently Victoria Osteen told people: “Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy.”
But Jesus said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Spot the difference.
Jesus’ words cut my conscience deeply. I’m as caught up in the worship of self-image as much as anyone. And it’s exhausting – always watching my words and actions. Always on the lookout for anyone stealing the limelight from me. Always wanting to be seen as the cleverest and the coolest. It’s unending work.
And Jesus says stop.
Forget everything and follow him. Die to image, reputation and self-esteem. Be free from the slavery of self. Be so taken up with Jesus that you count everything else a loss compared to him.
Why? Jesus is worthy.
Jesus is the beloved son of the Father from all eternity.
Jesus is the word who spoke the world into being.
Jesus is the one in whose image we are made.
Jesus is the servant who died on the cross for us.
Jesus is the risen King who will rule forever.
Because Jesus died for us, we must die to self. When we abandon self, we find new life in him on the other side.
It sounds scary. And it is. But only worshipping Jesus can free us from the worship of self. Only Jesus is worth our worship.