Daily Archives: February 17, 2012

Accidental (American) Idols: What We Can Learn From Whitney Houston

Some things you shouldn’t get too good at
Like smiling, crying and celebrity


Only 6 days ago, we discovered that Whitney Houston died in her guest room at the Beverly Hills Hotel in glitzy Beverly Hills, California. Details about her exact cause of death are sketchy, but we do know she was laying underwater in her bathtub when hotel personnel broke into her room. Ironically enough, at her final public appearance she sang “Jesus Loves Me.” Today, she’s in the presence of the man whom she sang about. Rest in peace, Whitney.

Whitney had it all: One of the greatest voices of all time. A life of luxury, the result of selling over 170 million records. Such overwhelming fame that her death caused a total restructuring of the next day’s Grammy awards television program. And, she reportedly had a faith in Christ and recently completed an appearance in a Christian oriented film.

Yet it wasn’t enough. Whitney struggled with addictive behaviors that ranged from alcoholism to cocaine abuse.

Accidental (American) Idols And The Cult Of Celebrity

With Lent beginning in five days, I want to explore the concept of accidental idols— practices and beliefs that may unintentionally stand in the way of us encountering God in a fuller way. Last week we looked at the fallacy of personal rights.

With Whitney Houston’s death staring us straight in the face, I thought I would offer another accidental idol that entices so many of us, including me.

The desire to be rich and famous.

The title of the hit TV show American Idol is by no means a misnomer. We all know the premise: an unknown but talented young man or woman sings before a panel of judges who awards the best performer with a juicy music contract. Former American Idols include Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and Jennifer Hudson (who sang a moving tribute to Whitney the next day at the Grammy Awards).  American Idol is the embodiment of the American dream—talent, fame and the life of luxury.

That should guarantee happiness, right? Just ask Whitney.

Society emulates people like her. And if we lack her talent, we still seek her luxury and fame. Just look at people who are famous for being famous like Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton, or the incomparable party crashers Tareq and Michaele Salahi. Incidentally, Tareq is suing Michaele for divorce and $50 million after she left him for someone more famous than him (Journey guitarist Neal Schon).

The fact that we know these names proves that our culture has gone crazy.

Even Christians Bow Down To These Accidental Idols

And, I must confess, the Christian community is no different. We emulate famous Christian speakers, pastors, and personalities. Nearly a year ago, my colleague Eugene Scott and I attended a conference for church planters (we co-pastor The Neighborhood Church, which we planted three years ago). One after another, the conference organizers marched famous authors and megachurch planters in front of us, offering us secrets to building an enormously successful church. And what was the measure of success? Big and famous. By the end of the week, I fought feelings that I was a failure because our church attendance hadn’t even surpassed 100 every Sunday.

Believe me, I fall into that trap more often than I’d like to admit. The idea of multitudes of people hanging on my every word–and cashing in on that influence–sounds pretty enticing. And isn’t that how we so easily define success?

Jesus, on the other hand, operated from a different set of values than most of us.

Before launching his ministry, the Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness for forty days where he was tempted by Satan. Not surprisingly, he offered Jesus the American dream–power, influence, and the life of luxury:

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'”

Luke 4:5-8

Did you notice  Jesus’ response? The son of God, sent by God to save the world, didn’t seek to accomplish his purpose by being famous. Nor did he desire the life of luxury. It’s empty. Demonic.

The apostle Paul, who probably wouldn’t have been invited to my church planters’ conference a year ago, wrote, “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6).

Do you believe it? In my heart of hearts, I think I do.

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. When he was a child, he envisioned himself one day becoming a healing evangelist.


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