Moving on to Toxic Influences, Groeschel points out 4 major influences that are toxic for us, and discusses how we can combat them with God on our side. The 4 major influences are: toxic materialism, toxic culture, toxic relationships,and toxic religion.
“Our culture oozes with toxic materialism. A lying spirit tells the masses that more money and better things are the two tickets we need for admission to the life we desire. If we have the right labels, the new gadgets, the best techno-toys, the latest luxury cars, the nicest custom-built houses, and the fattest 401k’s, then we’ll be happy, secure, and significant.”
Let’s unpack this idea that materialism can bring happiness, security, and significance. First there is happiness.
“Let’s talk about the false promise of happiness. This lie is a strange one, but people believe it by the millions. What’s funny about this lie is that you can ask someone, ‘Does money buy happiness?’ Most people I know would say without hesitation, ‘No, money doesn’t buy happiness.’ But if I then asked them, ‘Do you think a little more money would make your life better?’ they would instinctively respond, ‘Yes, of course.’ Can you see the hypocrisy?”
It is such a slippery slope to think if only I had a little more money, because where does it stop? It is very easy for money to become your idol which is why the Bible warns us against it. In Matthew 6:24, Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” I love what Groeschel says about this verse. He says,
“This verse captures one of the most toxic exchanges in history. People reject God’s truth with its power to liberate and satisfy our souls and instead embrace the pursuit of material items.”
How true, and how often do we give in to the lie that money will make us happy? So the question we need to ask ourselves each day is, “Who am I going to serve today? God or money?” I believe that we need to be mindful of this struggle, and choose each and every day when we wake up to find our happiness in God and not how much we have stored up for us here on earth.
Which brings us to satisfaction. Groeschel says,
“You might feel better wearing the right pair of jeans, or telling another mom that your kids are in the exclusive private school, or explaining that you live in the neighborhood with the gated entrance. And if you’re wearing your no-name jeans, or making excuses why your kids don’t go to the exclusive school, or avoiding the name of your gateless neighborhood, could it be that you’ve believed the lie? Your things and your money don’t make you significant, but you believe they do.”
I might be wrong, but I feel like everyone of any age can relate to this quote. where a middle or high schooler might feel better wearing the newest name brand clothing, the mom might feel better talking about the exclusive private school, and the middle aged man might feel better pulling up in his brand new sports car.How sad is it that this is what we place our significance in? These are the things that make us feel better? Oh how sad it must make God to know that we are placing our significance on such earthly things that will perish one day. That we aren’t finding out significance in Him. I know how hard it is to live in such a materialistic world and not buy into thinking these things can make us more significant.
Last but not least is finding security in money. Oh wow, this one is huge! This is a struggle that my husband and I fight all the time, living off of one income and providing for a child. So often we find ourselves saying, “If you (I) got a raise then we wouldn’t struggle so much. We could finally breathe and not live week to week.” On this issue, Groeschel says,
“After getting counseling for my irrational financial fears, I finally admitted the truth. I trusted money to provide more than I trusted God.”
Oh how I feel my heart sink reading these words of truth. For so long I have trusted, my family has trusted money more than God. “God, please forgive me for trusting money and not you. Please help me to trust in you to provide for me in all things because you are so good and gracious and You are all I need. I’m sorry for believing the lies that materialism has sold me. I love you and I am so thankful for your love, mercy and grace. In your name, Amen.”
I want to end this section on materialism with this:
“To really heal from the materialistic toxins, I encourage you to say the truth to yourself over and over again. Money and things will never fulfill me…You are who God says you are. You are his child. You are a joint heir with Christ.”
We live in a media centered culture, it is hard pressed to go anywhere and not encounter media. There is probably 1,000’s if not more versions of smart phones, IPod, IPad, Kindle, Tablet, lab tops, TV, movies, social media sites and the list goes on and on. Since we consume media so frequently I think that it is easy for us to not even give thought into it. When Groeschel was writing this book, the movie The Hangover was still very popular so when he asked a friend for a movie suggestion they told them that he just had to see this movie. He asked his co-workers at the church and they agreed it was such a funny movie, but when he looked at an online Christian review he found that the “F” word was said 91 times! In Wolf of Wall Street (which I didn’t see and don’t even remember seeing the commercial for) the “F” word was said 569 times! This movie was nominated for many academy awards. Guys, this, THIS, is the culture in which we live! Not just the words that are said, but our culture is one that is very accepting of all media forms that are high in sexual and violent content.
Disclaimer, I am someone who struggles with the toxic culture I live in. I don’t have it right and I am just as guilty, if not more guilty then others on this in the things that I have allowed myself to consume.
“If we’re serious about our spiritual house cleaning, then there must be no exceptions. We must take the images, language, and stories we allow into our minds and hearts very seriously. We must disinfect our hearts with the germ-killing power of the truth…Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.”
The first part of the second quote is my problem, and I am willing to bet the problem with many other Christians, which is that we have become well-adjusted to our culture and without even thinking we not only openly accept what is put in front of us, but we also consume it!
I want to make a challenge for us as we fight to seek God in such a heavy consumer world. My challenge is that before we put on a show, read or book, or listen to a song or station that we would consider how this will or will not bring God glory and honor. Remember that Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14, “For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.“
I love that Groeschel says, “Don’t expose yourself to anything that will distract you from God’s best.” He also gives us questions that I think we should ask every time we sit down to watch or even listen to something:
“Am I being entertained by sin? Is this pleasing to God? Does this lure me away from Christ?”
“The people closest to you will hands down be your greatest spiritual asset or your worst spiritual curse.”
How true is this statement! When I was in high school, although I was a very straight laced girl, my best friend was a cursing and pot smoking girl. Thankfully it didn’t hurt my presence in church and in youth group, but it did hinder me spiritually. At my last church I didn’t make tons of friends but there was one woman who was there for me at a very vital time in my life (after my son when I was struggling with post-partum depression) and she was there for me and became a mentor and huge spiritual asset. Every time we spoke or emailed one another she would always point me back to God and encourage me in His truths. 1 Corinthians 15:33 says, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character’ “
So, may we be mindful of the people we choose to associate with and befriend. This is not to say that we shouldn’t befriend non-believers, but we should be careful as to the amount of time we are spending with them and the amount of influence we allow them to have on us. Groeschel has so many great things to say on toxic relationships and how we should go about dealing with indiscretions (ending a relationship as a last resort, especially in family or marriage).
When Groeschel discusses this he is not referring to religion as believers of Christ, but rather believers in the legalism and what-not.
“Some scholars even argue that the root of the word religion means “return to bondage.” Rather than progressing to spiritual freedom, man-made religious rules lead straight to a spiritual prison where people die a lonely godless death…Religion requires a behavior-oriented path toward pleasing God. These people, often well-intentioned, focus on an outward expression rather than an inward transformation. Religion is our effort to close the gap between sinful humans and a holy God. Sadly, it reduces the beauty of the gospel to a checklist of do’s and don’ts. Rules regulate religion…We are sinful people who need a savior. We don’t need religion. We need Christ.”
Take note on that very last sentence. It’s only 3 word’s long but its impact is huge! We NEED CHRIST! Not we need to do X,Y,Z and follow A,B.C laws, just short and simple, WE NEED CHRIST.God gave us the law not to show us what we must do, but to show us how desperately we need a savior. One more quote from Groeschel and I promise I will leave you alone to enjoy the rest of your night.
“Toxic religion tries to add extra buttons, patches, and badges to the perfect and completed garment of Christ’s righteousness. Religion is Christ plus anything. In Galatia, some thought it was Christ plus circumcision. In our world, it might be Christ plus church membership. Or Christ plus tithing. Or Christ plus “the right” doctrine or theology. But the gospel is Christ plus nothing. The final work of Christ on the cross is everything we need. To be made right with God, we only believe in his Son. By faith we enter a relationship with God through his risen Son, Jesus.”
I can’t speak for others, but I know that I struggle in each of these aspects of toxic influences in one way or another, but through this book I have been gently reminded or pointed out where I fall short and encouraged in love to seek out God in these problems. I honestly feel like anyone could benefit from this book all the while being pointed back into the loving arms of our Lord and Savior.