There’s a casino here in Las Vegas we lovingly and cynically call the “sex hotel.” The young guys come in with hunger and expectation. I watched one guy in a restaurant start flirting with a waitress in a way that he fully expected her to take him in the back room for sex right there on the spot. It was kind of humorous, but sad too. The billboards advertise sex, so the guys come in expecting to get it, but it’s a phantom. They can look all around the main floor of the casino and restaurants and be sorely disappointed. They’re trapped by visions of their imaginations. Dangerous illusions end up in dangerous and destructive behaviors. Phantoms present themselves in all categories of life. I had my own phantom about a vacation.
My ideal vacation was a memory from my younger years—having a great time camping, fishing, and floating down the rapids on an air mattress. The image was pulling at me so much that I was getting really uptight, especially since everything I was planning, failed. What started as a simple desire, turned into lust and idolatry.
Lust, because I became obsessed with it; idolatry because I’d elevated the idea of a perfect vacation above almost everything else. When I realized this, I looked up the word idolatry and found that an idol is defined as a phantom. I told myself I had to let the phantom image go. Previous vacations with my family are great memories, but I couldn’t continue chasing ghosts.
Chasing phantoms doesn’t deliver the results we expect or want. The Bible calls it “vanity.” “Walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind” (Eph. 4:17). “Let him not trust in emptiness, deceiving himself; For emptiness will be his reward” (Job 15:31).
I was caught up in chasing the illusion—an emotional feeling I wanted from the perfect vacation. It was making me miserable and I didn’t want it to happen again. Being obsessed by this phantom made me act and feel like I was in a vise grip.
The dictionary defines a vise as “that which winds, consisting of two jaws opened and closed by a screw, to hold or squeeze with.” That’s exactly how I felt. The vacation mirage had me in its jaws and was squeezing. I felt pressurized and unsatisfied. The word “vise” can also be spelled “vice.” I realized that a v-i-c-e (defined as a fault or harmful habit) works the same way as a v-i-s-e with people’s minds. The vice gets a grip on the mind and it won’t let go.
God tells us He wants us to be free. Paul tells the Galatians: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1). A yoke is like a vise grip that keeps us from the freedom that comes with Christ and walking by the Spirit. The yoke that binds us is often merely a false image we’ve somehow believed.
The world is full of phantoms, and we’ve been bombarded with them since we were young—things we were led to believe were okay for us to seek and seize. They were presented to us through all kinds of media including books, magazines, TV, the internet, religion, our parents, teachers, peers, our cultural and ethnic backgrounds, to name a few of the sources of these phantoms. We have even combined what these sources put out, and developed our own versions of certain ideas, or pictures of how we think we’d really like things to be.
My dream was of a specific vacation I was idolizing and obsessing over. Another example comes from when I was twenty-one. I had the idea of having twelve kids. I figured since I really liked teaching Sunday School classes with lots of kids, I would love having twelve of my own. But that was my imagined scenario, and I didn’t check it out with the Lord. I also dreamed of being married by the age of twenty-five and I felt devastated when that didn’t happen.
One of my friends used to envision herself having one perfect job—one that she would absolutely love, and she would do it all her life. Women and men fantasize about their idea of their perfect mate and possibly miss the best one—the one God sends. People get an idea of what they see as their perfect family setup, then end up as a single parent, step-mom or a step-dad, and feel that their dreams have been forever shattered, and they have a hard time coping with the reality of the new family they’ve been given.
I’m sure all of us have had dreams we thought were our own, but sometimes those visions of what we think we want, come not from God, but from the world, and if we continue to pursue those things, our actions can turn very un-Christ-like. Paul says: “I warn you beforehand, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:21 AMP). Up until now, I never really understood that verse, but now I get it.
When we are chasing phantoms we can’t be at the same time enjoying the inheritance of God’s way. Paul doesn’t say if you get trapped by the world’s delusions you’re not going to heaven, you’re a horrible person and doomed forever. Yes, you are definitely doomed now, as long as you continue to seek the illusions, because those things put a yoke on you and they can be tremendously oppressive, and they will never really satisfy. But in contrast to seeking empty illusions, we have another choice.
We can choose the sure promises of God—promises that always deliver. When we have an image in our minds or hearts we can ask God for revelation about it: is it from God, or is it from another source? True visions come from God, not only from His written word, but they are also communicated to us through His Spirit which we have within us. As we endeavor to seek Him and His will for our lives in all our dreams, desires and hopes, He will not fail us.
By the way, that vacation I wanted—when I went to God and asked Him, He lined one up that was entirely different from what I’d imagined and it was the best vacation ever! And concerning the young guys who come to the sex hotel, I pray they wake up to God instead of some stranger.
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