“Entrust your loved ones to Me; release them into My protective care. They are much safer with Me than in your clinging hands. If you let a loved one become an idol in your heart, you endanger that one – as well as yourself. Remember the extreme measures I used with Abraham and Isaac. I took Isaac to the very point of death to free Abraham from son-worship. Both Abraham and Isaac suffered terribly because of the father’s undisciplined emotions. I detest idolatry, even in the form of parental love.
When you release your loved ones to me, you are free to cling to My hand. As you entrust others into My care, I am free to shower blessings on them. My Presence will go with them wherever they go, and I will give them rest. This same Presence stays with you, as you relax and place your trust in Me. Watch to see what I will do.”
I used to think that Christians were all boring and that idolatry meant to literally worship pop culture icons and celebrities. “Psh,” I thought to myself, “Please. It’s not like I have a shrine that I bring offerings to for Katy Perry in my room…that whole second commandment thing is SO not a problem for me!” And I went on my merry way, continuing to listen to all different kinds of music and living the dream working for a couple of different radio stations where I had the opportunity to meet celebrities including Justin Bieber, Jason Aldean, Billy Currington, Miranda Lambert…and the list goes on. I was having a blast being on-air, working concerts and promotional events, and coordinating meet-and-greets for contest winners, all while maintaining a healthy dose of faith in God as God and making sure to give him a healthy dose of my time – more, at least, than I was spending spinning Lady GaGa’s “Fame Monster” album on my iPod.
As time progressed and celebrities came in and out of the studio, I began to realize that they’re just people too, just like any of the rest of us. The main difference is that their lifestyle is much more fast-paced than any of ours and they typically have zero privacy. This realization came after I spent some time playing Pac Man with Justin Bieber during August of 2009, the summer before he got HUGE. Little did I know, after my producer approached me at 6:30 a.m. that day, my life would never be the same: I would never be “starstruck” again.
“Hey, Allison, wanna go grab our studio guest from the elevator lobby? We have someone visiting today,” the assistant producer told me.
“Sure! Who is it?” I asked, surprised and full of anticipation.
“This kid named Justin Bieber…apparently he’s a pretty big deal on YouTube, I think Usher is sponsoring him, see, check him out!”
And I peeked over his shoulder at a kid singing in his living room on YouTube – the vid had like seven million hits.
“Whoa…somebody likes him!” I said. “Yeah, there is a lobby full of girls waiting to see him right now I guarantee it,” my producer said. “Seriously?” I said. “Yeah,” he said. “Go see for yourself!”
So, not knowing what to expect, I headed for the elevator lobby on the 11th floor. As the doors opened, I was met with a little dude, an older dude with stickie-uppie hair and an attitude, and a mom.
“How’s it going?” I asked the group as they stepped off of the elevator.
“Good!” the little dude squeaked.
“Where’s the studio?” his spiked-hair 20-something manager asked as he swept past me into the elevator lobby.
“Right this way!” I said as I led Justin, his manager, and his mom into the studio.
Not only did he look like he was seven years old, but J Biebs was totally just a kid. He ran ahead of me into the studio and totally blew past his manager who had to pull him back to set up his guitar.
“Hey, man, set up your gear! Get ready to play,” the manager said.
“I’ll be sitting in here, honey,” his mom said as she went into the production suite and had a seat. As Justin got hooked up in studio, I got to get her water and have a great conversation with her about where they’re from (Canada), how much Justin likes music (a lot, and has been singing since he could talk), and how crazy the national radio tour they currently were taking was (they had just come from California, and had been getting up at like 4 a.m. every day for two weeks) and how lucky she was to be able to travel along with him on this journey, because it was his dream coming true. After Justin finished playing in the studio (he was good), my producer told me to bring him down to the conference room where two lucky girls from the lobby would be chosen to come up and meet him and take pictures with him. As we walked, I asked how he was doing and if he was having fun. “Yeah,” he said.
As we went into the conference room, Justin’s eyes lit up. “PAC MAN!!!” he exclaimed as he ran over to the other side of the room and started playing. “Come on!”, he said as he turned around to see if I was still behind him. “Let’s play!”
I laughed next to his manager and snorted in spite of myself as the manager responded for me.
“Justin, be cool! C’mon man, be cool.”
And Justin, somewhat hesitantly, turned around, looked at me, and became a balla instantaneously. “Aw yeah, sorry, do you like, want me to sign a poster for you? They’re for my new CD! It comes out soon,” he said. “And let’s get a picture too, yeah?”
My jaw, like, dropped. Haha, I thought to myself, this is a perfectly trained future pop star. What a stud. We posed for a picture, then time went into fast forward. The two teenagers who had been selected from the crowd came into the room, screamed, cried, and posed for pictures with him. Then he was gone, as quickly as he’d come.
“So, you think he’ll last?” the morning show host asked my producer.
“I give him six months…maybe eight,” my producer responded.
“Seriously, how old was he? There’s no WAY he was 14…maybe 12. And that’s a maybe!” the show’s co-host chimed in.
“He’s from Canada, right? I think I heard his birth certificate might be faulty,” the host said. “He’s a young one.”
And now, two years later, Justin Bieber is a household name and international superstar. Goes to show, nobody knows the future – my show’s hosts were wrong about his stardom. More importantly than that, I’m pretty sure he still enjoys playing Pac Man, just like any other 13-year old guy in the world.
I was right back then – Katy Perry and Justin Bieber are not and have never been “idols” in my life, but their music was. What I didn’t understand then that I do now is that it’s not so much the artists you’re worshipping – it’s the themes and lyrics that jump into your ears and mind. The more you listen to artists’ music, the more their ideas proliferate your mind and lifestyle, whether you like it or not. Therefore, while I wasn’t putting money at shrines for Katy Perry or J Biebs, I was letting their music get in my mind and warp the way I saw relationships, culture and life in general. Depending on what you choose to fill your mind with, their musical ideas can lead you into sin like no other.
Every time you turn on the radio or the TV, the overwhelming message is that lust = love. The need to be needed is a sinful desire in and of itself, and people have sex like it’s no big deal all of the time on soap operas, MTV, in music videos. “She Bangs”… “Get Freaky”… “Sexy Chick”… the list goes on. :-/ Physical lust isn’t the only thing that’s glorified in culture, though – emotional dependency is just as prevalent and just as dangerous. Themes of people trying to “fix” someone or telling yourself someone else “needs” you are all damaging thoughts to have, and are all ones that are present in lyrics of almost every top 10 Billboard single ever made (Lady A’s “Need You Now” to name a pretty poignant recent one). Because I love music so much, I’ve been listening to these themes all of my life, but I wasn’t able to recognize the negative effect it was having on my relationships until recently. Unfortunately for me, I found out a little bit late that I had been making relationships into idols my entire life because I didn’t know it was wrong to do that. Culture told me loyalty, exclusivity and dependency were beautiful and amazing qualities to have in a relationship, but my personal experience with the pain and brokenness that results from pursuing culture’s vision for the “perfect” relationship told me otherwise, and as a result, I’m definitely still trying to figure out what love really means.
The truth is, I would be completely lost in this journey if it weren’t for the leading and mentorship I’ve had from numerous individuals over the last 12 months. I finally understand what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus, and it’s something I used to mock and laugh at. Please, I thought to myself. A “relationship” with God? How are we supposed to be “in love” with Jesus? That’s just weird…isn’t it? And it does sound weird…from the outside. It’s not until we have our own personal experiences with the divine that we’re able to truly embrace what it means to be loved by the creator of the universe. But when that realization happened for me and I embraced it, it changed my life forever and it’s been a roller coaster ride ever since.
Because I have held people and relationships especially near and dear to my heart all of my life, it was especially hard for me to come to the realization that I was completely worthless as a friend without placing Jesus at the center of my relationships. I had screwed up myself and others totally and completely, and I was worthless without the cleansing blood of Christ. This realization hit me like a ton of bricks, and I became a broken mess, sobbing for hours, wondering how I would ever redeem the toxic relationships I was in, if at all. The relationships in my life had become my idols, and I’d buried Christ almost completely as a result, replacing his love with lame substitutes – lust and dependency on myself and others. This false belief had led me into relationships filled with jealousy, envy, anger, temptation and sin, and it sucked. I was searching for answers, but terrified to let go of the relationships I cared so deeply for because I didn’t know what would happen to them. How could the love that I felt for them be so wrong?
The answer to my predicament came from one of the most insightful individuals I’ve ever encountered in my entire life: “AJ, God loves them WAY more than you ever could. Do you trust Him in that?”
I didn’t. How crazy! That I didn’t trust God. Who did I think I was?? That I could handle my relationships better than he could. Sha right! There was the idolatry in my life – my relationships were more important to me than God. Cuz I could handle it all on my own.
So, as I have begun to realize I need to truly let go of my friends and entrust them to God instead of trying to sustain connections on my own strength (which is a work in progress, even still), my relationships have been evolving into something more beautiful than I ever could have planned on my own. The theme of letting go that has been coming up over and over again in my life, and seeing EVERYTHING as a gift that could be taken away at any moment has been a very difficult but important realization for me to come to. Every relationship I had was a gift that God gave me, and He could take it away in an instant. As it’s written in James 4:14, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” Did the Lord will the relationships I was currently involved in, or was I pursuing my own selfish desires in them?
It has been one of the most painful experiences of my life, but the lessons I have learned about relational sin and dependency during my lifetime have been beautiful in their own right. The lessons I have learned in the process of falling and being redeemed have been invaluable, and I now find myself identifying with Abraham’s call to sacrifice Isaac more often than not as I develop new relationships with friends with Christ as the focal point. As I have become more and more dependent on Christ instead of myself to enrich my relationships, I have rediscovered that caring for others deeply is the most beautiful gift God has granted us, but we must hold onto those we care for with a loose grip because they don’t belong to us – they’re God’s creation. Our existence as relational beings is an amazing thing – but relationships can be easily exploited or become harmful when we’re seeking to love others outside of Christ, or hold them closer than we ought. In today’s culture, selfish needs and desires often take the place of serving the other in love (what’s in this for me?), and as a result, it’s nearly impossible to define what love really is anymore without using the Bible as our strong and sure foundation. This is the truth, because really, in the end, God is all that matters. I get up every morning and thank God for the blessings of relationship in my life because every relationship we have is a gift from God, and His will will be done with them, whether we like it or not – we can’t take them with us when we go, and we can’t fix or control others.
Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and friends for creating captivating music that has instilled in me visions of relationships that have the capacity to be beautiful but actually are unrealistic and harmful when pursued to their utmost fulfillment outside of Christ. I would also like to say that the artists listed in the Christian Hits section of my iTunes library has grown exponentially in the past year or so, and I believe that’s a huge reason why I am blessed with so many incredible friendships today, at this point in time – because I have chosen to fill my mind and heart with Christ’s positive influences via real life people and choices of hobby (i.e. what kind of music I listen to). I now see relationships and people completely differently than I did ever in the past, and value them for completely different reasons – for their worth in Christ. I am learning what it means to let go, and it’s not as scary as it used to be at first. I wouldn’t have known if i hadn’t stepped out in faith and tried it, but when we let go and let God, He will provide us with exactly what we need when we need it. It’s sometimes not when we think we need it, but dependency and trust in Christ is beautiful – the most beautiful thing in the world.
Basically, I now every day make it a point to offer up all of my relationships to God. In asking Him to provide me with people, opportunities and relationships with which I can glorify Him, I have been blessed, just like Abraham was when He offered His only son to the Lord. In the same way, I can now safely say all of my relationships are in God’s hands, and I’ve never felt better.
“When the reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son…because you have done this, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
Genesis 22:9-12; 16-18
Third Day: “Nothing Compares”
“Nothing compares to the greatness of knowing you, Lord” – no relationships, no food (not even a deep fried candy bar from the state fair :P) – nothing!!! Seriously. It’s not too good to be true