Tag Archives: American Idol

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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The Problem With Pedestals

by Michael J. Klassen

For over 20 years, Robert Young was one of the most respected men in America. Beginning in 1954, he played the role of Jim Anderson, an insurance salesman and father extraordinaire on the television program Father Knows Best. The Anderson family became the prototype for white, suburban American families with Robert Young as the measure of all good dads.

Nine years after his program concluded, Young made the jump to upper middle-class when he assumed the role of Dr. Marcus Welby on Marcus Welby MD. So believable was he that people sought him for medical advice off the set. His television program ran from 1969 to 1976. Over his 22 year run, Young garnered three Best Actor Emmys—two for Father’s Knows Best and one for Marcus Welby MD.

Who wouldn’t want to be Robert Young?

Well, to begin with, Robert Young. His ongoing bouts with depression and alcoholism, and frustrated by his inability to escape his “nice guy” persona and break into the movies, Young unsuccessfully tried to take his life in the early 1990s. He died in 1998.

I, for one, was astonished when I heard that Robert Young tried to commit suicide. He seemed so…put together.

Then five days ago, news surfaced about another personality who sought to take his life—this time successfully. Joseph Brooks is best known for writing the song “You Light Up My Life.” Beautifully sung by Debby Boone, the song debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts and remained there for a record-setting 10 weeks, earning Boone a Grammy for Best New Artist. With sales of over four million copies in the U.S. alone, the song ultimately became the biggest hit of the 1970s. It also became a film by the same name, earning an Academy Award for best original song.

Brooks was scheduled to go to trial for sexually assaulting four different women whom he had “auditioned” for movie roles that didn’t exist. He was being tried for 91 counts and charged with rape, sexual abuse, criminal sexual act, assault, and other charges. Other women were also stepping forward with similar claims.

Again, I was astonished by the accusations and his choice to commit suicide because the “nice” song he had written seemed to belie a man who really had it together. Assuredly, his “sensitive” persona as the result of his credentials drew women to trust him.

But that’s the problem with pedestals.

In our human condition, we try so hard to elevate people to a status that no one can really attain. We expect our leaders to make fair decisions and live perfect lives.

But standing atop a pedestal is a risky proposition. There’s nowhere to go but down and losing your balance is nearly a certainty. The laws of physics demand that standing on any top-heavy structure will likely lead to the person’s downfall. The problem with pedestals is that they fall down.

And yet, still we’re surprised when people eventually fall.

Why We Gravitate Toward Pedestals

After God delivered Israel from the hands of the Egyptians…

After he parted the Red Sea so his people could cross on dry ground…

After he closed the waters on the Egyptian army…

After supplying manna and quail in the desert for food…

After providing water from the rock at Massah and Meribah…

After granting victory to their completely untrained troops over the Amalekite army…

Still, Israel sought to place something on a pedestal.

In Exodus 19-31, Moses ascended Mt. Sinai to enter into a covenantal relationship with God on behalf of Israel. God gave Moses the 10 Commandments, but deeper still, he established the blueprint for how Israel would be his people. With almighty God as their God, idols were unnecessary.

And while Moses communed with God atop the holy mountain, the people below fashioned a golden calf which they worshiped (see Exodus 32).

All of us gravitate toward idols. We want a god we can see and emulate. We expect perfection (the calf was made of gold!). And yet the gods we fashion ultimately fail us. You could say it’s the law of spiritual physics: every idol we place on a pedestal will eventually fall down.

Granted, our leaders should be held to a higher standard, but we shouldn’t be surprised when they live well below our expectations. And media personalities like Robert Young and Joseph Brooks? Well, they’re just as messed up as we are.

Which just goes to show that pedestals don’t make good platforms. They’re nice for holding statues or plants, but they’re lousy at holding people.

And in the end, they’re good reminders that the idols we emulate will never compare with the God who loves us and desire for us to live as his people.

All other gods will fail you.

Michael serves as co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.


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The Glory of Self-Promotion

This week is the culmination of many television programs for the broadcast season. Lee DeWyze was voted the next American Idol, and Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussy Cat Dolls and her partner Derek Hough won the dance competition on Dancing With The Stars.

At some level, all the contestants on these programs promoted themselves. In fact, most recognizable personalities in our society draw their living from promoting themselves.

Is promoting ourselves a noble or self-absorbed pursuit?

Please join me as we explore this further.


2 Samuel 13:1-39
John 17:1-26
Psalm 119:81-96
Proverbs 16:6-7


2 Samuel 13:1-39. Like father, like son. Just as David had committed sexual sin, so Amnon followed in the steps of his father. Since he was David’s eldest son, Amnon was the heir apparent to the throne—a scary thought considering how Amnon treated his half-sister Tamar.

While David was furious with his son for raping his sister, we see no evidence of any retribution. Nothing is done to Amnon and Tamar is left in disgrace. Because of this, Absalom, Tamar’s brother takes justice into his hands.

Even worse, we see no evidence of David comforting his disgraced daughter. Because David did nothing, we read in verse 20 that she came under the care of her brother Absalom. Despite David’s brokenness over his sin with Bathsheba and the warnings of calamity on his household, David demonstrated a disturbing aloofness toward his family and the laws of Israel. This inactivity on David’s part likely planted the seeds of discontent in Absalom.

Following in the violent footsteps of his half-brother, Absalom killed Amnon and then fled.

This was fulfillment of Nathan’s words to David: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you’” (2 Samuel 12:11).

Like a chemical chain reaction, our actions affect others. Think about how many people were affected by David and Bathsheba’s sin:

  • Uriah, who was wrongly killed on the battlefield.
  • Other brave warriors who died on the battlefield (as Eugene mentioned yesterday)
  • Uriah’s grief-stricken family
  • The extended families of David and Bathsheba who were disappointed by the couple’s actions
  • The unborn baby who died in Bathsheba’s womb
  • Amnon—who learned sexual impropriety (to some extent) from his father David and was later murdered by his brother Absalom
  • Tamar—who was raped by Amnon
  • Absalom—who was enraged by his brother’s actions and father’s inaction. This led him to start an insurrection against David which eventually led to his death.
  • Israel—who felt betrayed by David’s actions (and inactions regarding his sons) which laid the groundwork for Absalom to rebel and steal the hearts of Israel from his father.

We may not serve in positions of influence like David, but I can name countless people whose actions have affected people—some of whom they never met.

John 17:1-26. This chapter probably gives us the best window into the way Jesus prayed and into the relationship between Jesus and his heavenly Father.

Of the many profound insights Jesus makes in this passage, one stands out to me. In describing his followers, Jesus prays: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” Jesus’ concern was that his followers would huddle together to the exclusion of people who don’t follow Jesus in order to avoid being stained by the outside world. This is assuredly a prayer Jesus continues to pray to the Father today.

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As a writer and occasional published author, I periodically experience seasons when I must promote something I’ve written. When my book Strange Fire, Holy Fire was released about 18 months ago, it brought to the surface a quandary that has plagued me for years. Amidst the marketing promotion my publisher organized on my behalf, I felt deeply uncomfortable about promoting myself. And to be honest, I wasn’t exactly diligent about marketing the book from my end. I subconsciously (perhaps even consciously) convinced myself that promoting my book was prideful.

This morning, reading Jesus’ prayer in John 17 made me realize that I was completely wrong in my assumptions.

Here’s what Jesus prayed to his father: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you…And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (John 17:1, 5).

Jesus was quite comfortable asking to be glorified because he knew that he would take that glory and return to this Father.

Here’s what I learned from Jesus this morning: receiving the adulation of others isn’t wrong, if we pay it forward to our heavenly Father. In fact, I’m coming to realize that promoting ourselves (or our work) isn’t wrong either, as long as we pay it forward to God. Actually, that “self-promotion” might actually be God-ordained.

It really goes back to what we do with the glory we receive.

If we keep it to ourselves, we place ourselves in the unenviable position of setting ourselves up for a fall (see Proverbs 16:18).

But if we genuinely reflect it toward God, then the glory we receive servers a greater purpose than just promoting ourselves.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. How have your actions affected others? How might decisions you’re making right now affect people in the future?
  3. What does it look like for you to “pay forward” the glory you receive from others to God?

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.

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So You Want To Be Famous?

Almost overnight, Susan Boyle became a household word around the world. A little more than a year ago, Boyle appeared on the UK television program Britain’s Got Talent and stunned the judges (and audience) with a powerful voice that belied her plain appearance.

Later, she released an album that, in only six weeks of sales, became the biggest selling album in the world for 2009, with over 8.3 million copies sold.  At last count, her audition of I Dreamed A Dream has registered over 347 million hits. This month, Susan Boyle was voted by Time Magazine as the seventh most influential person in the world—fourteen places above US President Barack Obama.

Part of Boyle’s appeal was that she looked so…so…normal. Yet she proved that almost anyone can get famous.

And many of us try.

The reality television genre has taken the world by storm. In fact, the pursuit of being famous has taken the world by storm.

But is this good for us?

Please join me as we examine the topic in today’s Daily Bible Conversation.


Judges 19:1-20:48
John 3:22-4:3
Psalm 104:24-35
Proverbs 14:22-24


Judges 19:1-20:48. Notice how the writer of Judges reminds the reader that Israel had no king (19:1). This tells us that the book was written during or after King Saul’s reign, because he was the first king. The phrase is usually used to preface yet another disturbing story (which is really a window into the everyday life of the surrounding nations).

Today’s disturbing story in chapter 19 focuses on a Levite who “took a concubine.” The Bible Background Commentary explains what a concubine is, especially related to this passage:

A concubine is a secondary wife who has probably come into the marriage without a dowry. Her children may only receive a portion of their father’s estate if he chooses to publicly acknowledge them as his heirs…It is possible that this sort of arrangement became necessary when the first or principal wife was infertile…however, in most cases in which a marriage contract is made with the father of a woman who will be considered a concubine, there is an assumption of a lesser status than a regular wife. Thus the Levite may have simply contracted for a sexual partner, since his social status would ordinarily have required a wife of certain attributes (see Leviticus 21:7). This may explain why he was in no hurry to bring his concubine home (Judges 19:2).

I don’t know what is more disturbing in this story: the fact that a group of men would terrorize the outsider or that the man would offer his concubine to be raped by them. The New Bible Commentary singles out one individual in the story as worse than the others:

The Levite himself, however, is the most perverted of all. After having thrust out his concubine to the mob he retired to bed and apparently gave no further thought to her until he found her dead or unconscious on the doorstep in the morning. Then, with almost unbelievable callousness, he told her to get up because he was ready to go (verses 27–28). This was the man who will summon all Israel to war in the next episode. In retrospect we can understand very well why his concubine found it impossible to live with him.

Then we read that this nameless Levite, the poor husband, callously cuts up his wife and distributes her parts around Israel to galvanize the rest of the count. Of course, the Levite fails to explain this his concubine was killed in part because he turned her over to the men.

Once the battle ensues, it becomes obvious that God intended defeat on both sides. Although far outnumbering their enemies, Israel needed three tries before defeating the Benjamites, at the cost of many lives.

So why include this story in the Bible? It demonstrates for the reader the moral depravity of Israel at that time and the need for a leader who would maintain order.

John 3:22-4:3. Perhaps the greatest model of humility in Scripture is John the Baptist. A powerful speaker who was generating a great following, he yielded everything to Jesus without hesitation.

Psalm 104:24-35. My heart resonate with the prayer of the psalmist in verses 33-34: “Oh, let me sing to God all my life long, sing hymns to my God as long as I live! Oh, let my song please him; I’m so pleased to be singing to God.”

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First, please understand that I’m not against Susan Boyle. Re-watching her audition today brought tears to my eyes. And, I must also confess that I sent in an audition tape to the television show Survivor back in 2001.

But in today’s reading, John the Baptist exhibited a sense of humility that would definitely prevent him from auditioning for any television reality show. John the Baptist was growing in popularity—the desire of many people then and now—when his followers gave him a shock. People were now flocking to Jesus. John was losing his audience.

Yet this man, the greatest prophet of all according to Jesus, responded to the claim by saying, “He must become greater; I must become less.” Other versions of the Bible translate this verse as, “He must increase but I must decrease.” The Message paraphrases John as saying, “This is the assigned moment for him to move into the center, while I slip off to the sidelines.

All of us fight a lifelong battle with self-absorption. Periodically, God gives us opportunities to work on it.

Perhaps you have no interest in becoming a media sensation. But all of us can still get our feelings hurt when people take credit for work we’ve done or we don’t get treated as we think we deserve.

The only way we can reach the point where we can say with all sincerity that “He must increase but I must decrease” is by taking advantage of the opportunities as they arise.

Not so ironically, this was the attitude of Jesus as well. Read John 17 and you’ll see Jesus wasn’t intent on making a name for himself. He lifted up his father in heaven, who lifted him up in return.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. Describe a time when you chose to increase rather than decrease. How did it affect you? What would you do differently?
  3. Describe a time when you chose to decrease rather than increase. How did it affect you? Where you content with your decision?

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.

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An Ancient American Idol

You can probably name the many stars that American Idol has produced since its inception in 2002: Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Hicks, Jordin Sparks, David Cook, and Kris Allen to name a few. Even second place finishers in the talent show have become overnight sensations and household names.

Reality TV is all the rage right now. Not only do they attract hoards of viewers, but they’re also fairly inexpensive to produce.

So what’s the allure of reality television, and this show in particular? Any person can become an American Idol. An extensive resume and connections in the music industry aren’t required. If you have the talent, you can make a name for yourself…

Which is part of the problem we’ll explore today.


Genesis 11:1-13:4
Matthew 5:1-26
Psalm 5:1-12
Proverbs 1:24-28


Genesis 11:1-9. Archeologists have discovered what many scholars believe is the Tower of Babel in what used to be Babylon. It’s a ziggurat, which means it was a temple of sorts. John Gibson comments that “The ziggurat must have been thought of not so much as a means by which the Babylonians could take themselves nearer their god, but as a means by which the god’s route to earth and to them was made easier, the shrine on the top being a kind of “staging-post” or “half-way house”.

Matthew 5-7. While Jesus very likely sat on the side of a mountain and taught his disciples, most scholars believe the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) was a compilation of Jesus’ teachings. Kind of like Jesus’ Greatest Hits. Debates have continued for thousands of years regarding their purpose. Are they a prescription of how to live or were they intended to show us our inability to live up to God’s standards (which shows us our need for Jesus)? Having spent time on both sides of the continuum, I prefer to live in the middle. They describe the life that we should pursue, while demonstrating to us our need for Jesus.

Matthew 5:3-10. The New Bible Commentary explains the meaning of the word “blessed”: “Neither blessed nor ‘happy’ adequately translates makarios, which is rather a term of congratulation and recommendation. These qualities are to be envied and emulated; they make up ‘the good life’.” Also, notice that verse 3 and verse 10 (the beginning and the end) conclude with the phrase, “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The beatitudes are the values of God’s kingdom.


As a child, one of the Bible stories we often gravitated toward was the account of the Tower of Babel. I don’t remember the point our teachers made with it, except that I assumed we shouldn’t build really tall buildings.

But the story of Babel is a pretty sobering story, and the more I meditate on it, the more relevant it becomes, especially when compared to Abraham’s call in Genesis 12.

So what was God’s issue with the people and the tower of Babel? One phrase from our reading stuck out to me this morning:

“Let us build…a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves” (Genesis 11:4).

The people wanted to be famous. For nothing. They wanted to be “Babylonian” Idols and receive the adulation that rightfully belonged to God. And, through their fame and hard work, they sought lives of self-sufficiency and independence from God.

Isn’t that the American dream, actually the dream of most countries in the world? Fame and financial independence.

Contrast that with Abraham in Genesis 12. Rather than pursuing fame and fortune, God promised that through him all peoples on earth would be blessed.

In my experience, churches often wrestle with the same temptation: making a name for themselves or seeking to bless others.

On a personal level—especially in light of the current trend in reality TV for people to make a name for themselves—I can live for myself or live for others. What’s the measure of true success? Being a vessel through whom God blesses the world.

That wouldn’t make us an American Idol, but it would make us more like God.


  • What stood out to you in today’s reading?
  • Is the desire to be famous a sin? Why or why not?
  • Which of the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10) do you find most challenging? To what extent are the beatitudes valued in our society? What do they share in common with Abraham’s call in Genesis 12:1-3 (compare with Matthew 5:16)?
  • In Matthew 5:33-37, Jesus tells us not to take oaths. We should let our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” be “no.” What oaths does our society ask us to take? In light of Jesus’ command, how should we respond?

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