Judges 8:22-35 (Part 2) – What Do You Speak Of First (Your Pastor? Your Church? or Jesus Christ?)

Posted: August 31, 2017 in Book of Judges
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Judges 8:22-35 (Part 2 of 3)
Gideon’s Sacred Ephod

Yesterday, we talked about how there seems to be a history of the epic fails of megachurch pastors here in the last decade. It always is a moral lapse of some sort that bring them down. It’s usually not just a singular moment of moral turpitude where there is just a momentary lapse of reason. The moral lapse stems from a pattern of a lack of accountability. There is usually a pattern of poor, ungodly decisions. And often a contributing factor is the fact that their own congregations develop this hero worship mentality concerning their founding pastor.

Yes, the churchgoers themselves are often a part of the problem and if that problem goes unchecked with constant reminders, it will become part of the problem. You see it quite often. Go to any megachurch, the members think that their founding pastor is the most awesome man ever. They clamor to have an audience with him. They applaud his preaching as if he is Paul himself. His every moment of crescendo preaching is met with wild applause and people standing and clapping at the height of the crescendo. He steps into meetings within the church building just to say hello and when he opens the door it is as if Moses had parted the waters. Meetings scheduled by non-founding pastor staff members may be lightly attended but if the founding pastor is the one holding the meeting it is packed to the walls. Let the founding pastor plug a ministry of the church from the stage and that ministry fills with volunteers suddenly. The founding pastor’s tweets are golden eggs. The founding pastors Facebook posts are liked out the ying-yang. Let a passionate staff member post a tweet or a Facebook post of something that is just right on point when it comes to our walk with Christ and it is mildly received. But let the founding pastor do something similar, and the whole church thinks it is the most original an most perceptive interpretation of Scripture ever. Yes, this is often the world of the megachurch pastor. Everything he does is loved by his thousands upon thousands of church members. They considered him trendy, edgy, and cool. They consider him the greatest prophet since Elijah. They consider his words, his sermons, anything he says as like this fresh air, this newness, this new way of looking at Scripture. The founding pastor of what becomes a megachurch can sometimes become an idol that his church members worship. He can even become an idol of people in the general public that don’t even go to his church that follow him from afar and think he’s this cool preacher that has the new vein of gold in a gold mine that has not been mined before. Yes, the congregations and the fans of a founding pastor of a megachurch can make him into an idol that they worship. Talk to a person that goes to one of these churches and if they talk about they pastor first before they talk about Jesus Christ and you may, just may, have some hero worship, some idol worship going on.

The same can be true for the church itself in megachurch situations. To be known as a person that goes to Newspring (Upstate South Carolina), to Elevation (Charlotte, NC metro area), to Northpoint Community Church (Atlanta, GA), to Gateway Church (Dallas, TX), to Hillsong Church (in New York), Life Church (Oklahoma City, OK), Willow Creek Church (Chicago, IL), Lakewood Church (Houston, TX), the Potter’s House (Dallas, TX), or Saddleback Church (Lake Forest, CA) is to think yourself of the trendy religious sort. To say you are a part of these largest megachurches in America is like a badge of honor. These are growing and expanding churches among the many that are dying out there. To be a member of the happening, new, wow, now, with it, church that gets it kind of church is to say to others that you are perceptive about faith matters. It’s like being to get into Studio 54 back in the 1970’s disco scene in New York City. To have the t-shirts and pullovers and merchandise from these megachurch bookstores are like having the latest Nikes from the store. To be seen where a cool t-shirt from your chosen megachurch is like saying to the world, “Yeah, uh-huh, I’m hip. I’m trendy. I go to x megachurch. It’s the cool new thing in Christianity and I am in the middle of it! Yeah, uh-huh!” Talk to a person who goes to such a megachurch and if they go on at length about the church itself and how cool it is to go to church there before they talk about Jesus Christ and how the church is reaching the world, then, you might have a little idol worship going on there.

My church, LifeSong Church, is not a megachurch but it is by standard church research definition a large church with close to 1,000 people attending regularly (not necessarily all 1,000 attend weekly but our draw of people that claim LifeSong as their church is about 1,000). Even though we are not a megachurch or anywhere close to it, we can suffer some of the same idol worship. Our founding pastor can be subject to the same hero worship as any megachurch pastor. LifeSong is the first church of its kind in our suburban area northeast of Greenville, SC and northwest of Spartanburg, SC. The Greenville-Spartanburg area certainly has its share of large churches of the “new church” genre. Redemption World Outreach Center in Greenville is a megachurch with 15,000+ members. Brookwood Church in Greenville with its 5,000 members is not far behind. First Baptist Spartanburg has exploded its membership to close to 5,000 with its “Hangar” services at the downtown airport and with its separate services for contemporary worship. And of course, there is the ever-present NewSpring Church with its campuses all over the upstate (one of the previously mentioned largest megachurches in America). But in our little suburban area in northwest Spartanburg County, SC which used to be a collection of mill towns but is now an up an coming suburban area for the fast growing Greenville area, LifeSong when it splashed onto the local scene 10 years ago was something new for this area. Sure, people here in Lyman-Duncan-Wellford, SC area had heard of “modern churches” over in Greenville and elsewhere but nothing here. So, bam, LifeSong was born here 10 years ago from the dream that God laid on the heart of founding pastor, Jeff Hickman.

Even in our church, a large but non-megachurch church, there can be hero worship of Jeff and there can be church worship of LifeSong itself. Our church building, people often say, looks like a large Harley-Davidson dealership from the outside when you approach it going from west to east on US 29 with its color combinations of black, orange, and white on the building. Locally, the church does great things and is well-respected for the fervency with which our people worship the Lord and help the community. Leaders in the community always enlist LifeSong when they need to get something done in the community. We are just that kind of church. LifeSong in our conservative, former mill town area is seen as new and trendy for sure. Jeff is seen as a new kind of pastor for the area. All of these things draw people to our church. However, we have to be careful to keep people focused on the game – reaching the lost for Jesus Christ. Our people can become susceptible to the same hero worship of Jeff, the same church worship of LifeSong, as any megachurch. I am always interested when I talk to people at church as to whether they talk about how they are growing in Christ at LifeSong first or whether they talk about Jeff, his sermons, his tweets, his Facebook posts first. I listen to hear whether they talk about how they love LifeSong Church and never mention Jesus Christ. We ain’t a megachurch but there are those that hang on Jeff’s every word and like everything he does and talk about him first before they talk about Jesus Christ. We ain’t a megachurch but there are those who are so in love with who our church is as the trendy church in the region that gets it before they talk about Jesus, if at all.

That’s the thing that came to mind this morning when I read through this passage for a second time. About how people can even today make something godly into a god that they worship rather than God himself. Let’s read, Judges 8:22-35 now, with special attention to v. 27:

22 The Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us—you, your son and your grandson—because you have saved us from the hand of Midian.”

23 But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.” 24 And he said, “I do have one request, that each of you give me an earring from your share of the plunder.” (It was the custom of the Ishmaelites to wear gold earrings.)

25 They answered, “We’ll be glad to give them.” So they spread out a garment, and each of them threw a ring from his plunder onto it. 26 The weight of the gold rings he asked for came to seventeen hundred shekels,[a] not counting the ornaments, the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian or the chains that were on their camels’ necks. 27 Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.

28 Thus Midian was subdued before the Israelites and did not raise its head again. During Gideon’s lifetime, the land had peace forty years.

29 Jerub-Baal son of Joash went back home to live. 30 He had seventy sons of his own, for he had many wives. 31 His concubine, who lived in Shechem, also bore him a son, whom he named Abimelek. 32 Gideon son of Joash died at a good old age and was buried in the tomb of his father Joash in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

33 No sooner had Gideon died than the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. They set up Baal-Berith as their god 34 and did not remember the Lord their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side. 35 They also failed to show any loyalty to the family of Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) in spite of all the good things he had done for them.

In this passage, in v. 27, we see that an ephod was a linen garment worn by priests over their chests. It was considered holy (Exodus 28:6-35, Exodus 39:2-24, Leviticus 8:7-8). Gideon probably had good intentions for making the ephod (a visible remembrance commemorating what God had done in their victory over the Midianites). Unfortunately, the people began to worship the ephod as an idol. Sadly, many today without realizing it worship their pastor or the church they go to and speak first of who their pastor is or what church they go to instead of speaking of God.

May we as leaders of churches, small, medium, large and megachurch, remember that it is not about us. Let us remember to point people away from ourselves, away from our church buildings, away from the idea that we are trendy or whatever, and point them to Jesus Christ. It never should be about anything less than or anything more than what leads us to Jesus Christ and to walk with him in our everyday lives. Let us remember that Jesus is the center of it all. If people start worshiping pastors or worship being members of our church, then, we as leaders have to redirect their worship. That was the failure of Gideon in this passage. He did not stop them from worshiping the ephod (because it was a sign of his own wealth and his leadership status). He should have redirected their worship to God, but he didn’t. We cannot make the same mistake as leaders in the new church movement. We may have the new, trendy ways of doing things that bring people in our churches and we may be the trendy spot to be but once we get them through the doors of our church, it can’t be about anything else other than pointing people to the cross of Jesus Christ and to growing them in Christ once they accept Him as their Savior and Lord. That’s the business we are in. Not selling t-shirts. Not selling a mystique. Not selling that trendy feel. We are in the business of pointing people to the saving grace of Jesus Christ and then growing them in the depth and width of their love of Him once they have been saved.

Amen and Amen.

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