In some ways it is very EASY to be a Christian in Naperville: no one is physically persecuting me, I have freedom to go out and talk to others about my faith (even if I get sneers or politely dismissive comments) and I have the freedom to meet publicly for worship on Sunday mornings (I do so at our church in downtown Naperville Cross of Christ Fellowship). On the surface, it seems like being a Christian in Naperville is really rather easy.
Yet, in many ways, I would argue that it is actually very difficult to live as Christian in Naperville. This is due to the biblical concept of idols and idolatry. An idol is anything we worship in the place of the one true and living God. It is anything we set our hope or ultimate identity in instead of God. In the words of the New City Catechism, it is “trusting in created things rather than the Creator for our hope or happiness, significance or security.” Idols turn our hearts away from worshipping God. They lead us to give our hearts to the created rather than the Creator; they enslave us instead of free us; they lead us into lies rather than the truth. They are a form of spiritual adultery where we leave God for “other lovers” (Hosea 2:5, 7).
John Calvin once wisely observed, that because of sin, our hearts are idol-factories. We are prone to make all kinds of things our god, instead of the one true God, who has revealed Himself in Christ and in the Bible. The idols which allure us in Naperville often show themselves to be good things we mistakenly elevate to the place of ultimate allegiance or priority in our hearts or lives. In my estimation, after living here for several years, I think we can identity 4 idols that seem to be most prominent in Naperville: COMFORT, CONVENIENCE, CAREER, and CHILDREN.
NAPERVILLE IDOL #1: COMFORT
One of the idols tempting us in Naperville is the idol of COMFORT. Many people move to the suburbs for the comfort offered here, and Naperville certainly has A LOT of comfort. Comfort in itself certainly isn’t bad—God Himself is the “God of all Comfort” (2 Cor 1:3)—and there isn’t anything wrong with placing some value in the comfort of a nice home, a good vehicle, a fun vacation, or keeping our family safe. The problem comes when we elevate “comfort” above God or doing what is pleasing to God. The idol of comfort can take over our hearts and lives: we see its effect when we are more shaped by the love of earthly comfort than the love and comfort that God gives to us in Christ, or when we place earthly comfort above honoring Christ. We see it when our own comfort is more important than holiness or treasuring God.
NAPERVILLE IDOL #2: CONVENIENCE
Another idol that allures us in Naperville is CONVENIENCE. Surely, convenience is a value that can be championed in the suburbs to an ungodly degree. We see it when we orient our lives on principally what is convenient for us, or we automatically overlook anything that threatens or challenges our convenience.
When we serve the god CONVENIENCE, we find our hearts subtly begin to value convenience above loving our neighbor or loving our God. The fact is, many things in the Christian life are NOT convenient, but they are good and righteous and beautiful. It may be more convenient to divert our giving away from the church to our next vacation, or give our early morning time to exercise instead of reading God’s Word, but vacations or healthy bodies alone will not feed or nourish our souls. Christ is far more glorious than earthly convenience.
NAPERVILLE IDOL #3: CAREER
A third idol we face in Naperville is that of CAREER. Because we live in a town that is so driven and so successful, we often find ourselves putting our career above God or above doing what is right. We see the idol in our lives when we overwork (working 70-80 or more hours a week) or when we neglect health and family or God to get ahead in our jobs. We see it when we make all of our decisions primarily in order to advance our career, even it means it will be destructive to living out our faith or disengage us from the local church. The idol of career makes us feel important, but it is a house built on sand and only lasts until our company is bought out or we get passed up at work or let go. The idol of career enslaves a person and makes them work harder and harder until they are ultimately crushed. This idol promises significance, but it can never give us lasting worth or value that only Christ can give.
NAPERVILLE IDOL #4: CHILDREN
A fourth idol in Naperville is that of CHILDREN. I love children and am blessed to have three, but it is easy to place the success or the comfort of our children before loving God. We can cut out church or serving others for our children’s sports, activities or things we believe they must have to succeed. We get tempted to set our value and reputation on how our children are doing, especially if they are doing better than others. If our children’s success is our idol, we will end up feeling destroyed when our children do poorly, or we will get overly elated when they succeed. We may also may put a crushing weight on our children to succeed, the result of which has led to an enormous problem of anxiety disorders and stress for youth in Naperville.
These idols—and others—work against living for and treasuring Christ here in Naperville. They are powerful, alluring, and can steal our affections. They are deadly and lead us away from God. They are false gods that crush us, enslave us, and hinder us from loving God. They don’t love us, they can’t. They destroy us and all who live for them. They don’t make Naperville a better place, but hinder it from flourishing. (Again: Comfort, convenience, career, and children are NOT the problem, the problem is making these our life or our god).
Yet these idols are not the only things which make living as a Christian in Naperville challenging, there are at least 3 other challenges to consider.