Posts Tagged ‘idol worship’

2 Samuel 2:18 – 3:1
The Death of Asahel

Recently, Elena and I had a very long phone conservation with a very dear friend of ours. Though we have not seen this friend in several years. He and his wife were so instrumental in our growth in Jesus Christ that we are intentional about staying in touch with them. He and his wife are a mile-marker kind of relationship for us. Profound is the word that I would use. To say that we love them both, both him and her is an understatement. However, in all the time that we have known the husband of this couple, he has made his relationship with his wife an idol. He was consumed with her. He lived his life trying to control her view of him.

Although he is a brilliant guy. He is kind of like my brother in that regard. He has detailed knowledge of so many things that you kind of feel like the dumbest person ever when you hear all the knowledge on so many things this guy has. I have surface knowledge of many things but he has detailed knowledge of many things. He has an eidetic memory like my brother. However, when it comes to matters of love, he became stupid when it came to his wife. He was so insecure in his relationship with her that he overcompensated. He was too much. He made her his idol. He somehow drew his value from how she felt about him. So, he spent all of their marriage trying to manipulate and control the responses that she gave him. When you are trying to please a god it is difficult at times to manage and manipulate the responses of the god. When you make a god of another human being, you will be constantly trying to curry favor and enough is never enough. When you make your spouse your god, you will be living an exhausted life because trying to manage their responses to you is like a drug. It needs to be refueled and re-appeased every day. Hour by hour and minute by minute sometimes.

That rollercoaster ride and constant emotional turmoil self-imposed in homage to his god actually drove his wife away from him instead of closer to him. But there is no excusing her responses to her husband making her a god. Infidelity is never a response that brings good. Their co-dependency has been so destructive for them both. She is the master and he has been the slave in their co-dependency. She had learned a long time ago that she could pretty much do whatever she wanted and he would respond like a dog seeking a treat. Her infidelity exacerbated his insecurity in their relationship and he was willing to put up with anything and everything she did just to be in a relationship with her. In the midst of trying to control her responses to him (appeasing his self-imposed idol), he ended up taking a wrong turn into porn (as place to control, in his mind, the responses of a woman). The marriage had become a train wreck of epic proportions. However, in the crux of it all was this co-dependence and idolatry.  Somehow, though he would dispute it to your face, he defined himself by being in this relationship with her. It was sad to watch him respond like a puppy dog to everything she did. He thought he could make her love him again and he would accept whatever actions or terms she set in front of him. The marriage was a train wreck. He has been a train wreck. It was just sad to see him go down this path of constantly pursuing what he could not catch. She was a drug to him. And even though everyone could see the self-destruction he was causing to himself, he had to have more of the drug.

The sad thing here was that I did the very same thing in my previous marriage. Every mistake he has been making. I know it because I lived it. Living at the mercy of another’s persons feelings about you and trying to control their responses by how you acted is idolatry at its finest. I lived it. It was a rollercoaster ride that someday you have to get off. Finally, in our conversation yesterday, he finally shed himself of the slavery of co-dependency. He finally has gotten to the point that he no longer sees her as a god in his life. The freedom in his voice was noticeable. The relief in his voice is noticeable. Finally, to get to that point, where you realize that you have been worshipping someone and built altars to them in your life and finally say “I can’t do this anymore!” is where we have to get. When we remove our obsessions and our idols that stand in the way of our relationship with God, there is freedom there. I have been there myself. That day that I finally smashed the idols that I had created of my previous wife was the day I finally felt free and could actually breath without wondering if she would approve of my breath patterns. There was such freedom in that.

Who knows what is going to happen between this dear friend and his wife. Their marriage is on the rocks and may not recover because of this war that has ravaged it. His obsession with her to the point of idolatry and her seeking affections elsewhere and refusing to fully give that up may have done too much damage to the relationship. But one thing is for certain, for my friend, to remove her as his idol, as his god, he has gained a closer walk with Christ in the process. Maybe in letting her go, maybe in releasing her as his god, they will find reconciliation in their future. God never gives up on people so I think that He does not give up on marriages either. Maybe with all the damage that has been done by the sins of idolatry, pornography and infidelity they need some time apart to heal.

This is not story book Christianity here where reconciliation is going to happen right away. There is so much damage to their relationship that has been done. It is going to take a long time for them to repair – if they are willing to repair it at some point. I love both of these two people. Maybe, who knows because of the consequences of sin, they may never get it back together. I cannot say. I wish I could say. However, I do know that when their marriage was not so damaged as it is now, they were an awesome couple for the Lord. They were plain out amazing together as a couple. It was this wife that lovingly led my wife to the cross. It was through this husband that I was challenged to grow up in Christ. He challenged me to be more than a Christ follower who thinks Sunday morning is it. He challenged me to make Jesus Christ my Lord and not just my Savior. He challenged me to make Christ the center of my world, 24/7/365. To see their marriage ravaged by sin, maybe beyond repair is heartbreaking. Even Christ followers can get turned sideways by idolatry and pride. We can ruin our witness and make ourselves ineffective for God’s kingdom when we follow Satan’s siren call.

That obsession with an idol whether it be a person or a prize or a goal or a job is what I thought of this morning as I read this passage, 2 Samuel 2:18-3:1. It cost Asahel everything. To pursue what amounts to the pursuit of pride destroyed him. Let us read this passage now:

18 Joab, Abishai, and Asahel—the three sons of Zeruiah—were among David’s forces that day. Asahel could run like a gazelle, 19 and he began chasing Abner. He pursued him relentlessly, not stopping for anything. 20 When Abner looked back and saw him coming, he called out, “Is that you, Asahel?”

“Yes, it is,” he replied.

21 “Go fight someone else!” Abner warned. “Take on one of the younger men, and strip him of his weapons.” But Asahel kept right on chasing Abner.

22 Again Abner shouted to him, “Get away from here! I don’t want to kill you. How could I ever face your brother Joab again?”

23 But Asahel refused to turn back, so Abner thrust the butt end of his spear through Asahel’s stomach, and the spear came out through his back. He stumbled to the ground and died there. And everyone who came by that spot stopped and stood still when they saw Asahel lying there.

24 When Joab and Abishai found out what had happened, they set out after Abner. The sun was just going down as they arrived at the hill of Ammah near Giah, along the road to the wilderness of Gibeon. 25 Abner’s troops from the tribe of Benjamin regrouped there at the top of the hill to take a stand.

26 Abner shouted down to Joab, “Must we always be killing each other? Don’t you realize that bitterness is the only result? When will you call off your men from chasing their Israelite brothers?”

27 Then Joab said, “God only knows what would have happened if you hadn’t spoken, for we would have chased you all night if necessary.” 28 So Joab blew the ram’s horn, and his men stopped chasing the troops of Israel.

29 All that night Abner and his men retreated through the Jordan Valley.[a] They crossed the Jordan River, traveling all through the morning,[b] and didn’t stop until they arrived at Mahanaim.

30 Meanwhile, Joab and his men also returned home. When Joab counted his casualties, he discovered that only 19 men were missing in addition to Asahel. 31 But 360 of Abner’s men had been killed, all from the tribe of Benjamin. 32 Joab and his men took Asahel’s body to Bethlehem and buried him there in his father’s tomb. Then they traveled all night and reached Hebron at daybreak.

Chapter 3

1 That was the beginning of a long war between those who were loyal to Saul and those loyal to David. As time passed David became stronger and stronger, while Saul’s dynasty became weaker and weaker.

In this passage, we see that Abner repeatedly warned Asahel to turn back or risk losing his life, but Asahel refused to turn from his self-imposed duty. We see nowhere in this passage that he was commanded by Joab or even given a word by God to chase down Abner. Persistence is a honorable trait for sure but only if it is for the right reasons. But if the goal is only personal honor, gain, glory or control, persistence may be no more than stubbornness, an unwillingness to see things that are important and an all consuming focus that blocks out all things that are important. Asahel’s stubbornness not only cost him his life but it also spurred unfortunate disunity in David’s army for years to come (see 2 Samuel 3:26-27 and 1 Kings 2:28-35). Before you become obsessed with a goal, let us make sure that it is a goal that gives God glory and does not become an all consuming idol in our lives.

Please thank God for my friend’s realization that he had made and idol out of his wife and realizes it now. That is spiritual growth that was sorely needed. Please pray to God that they can someday restore their marriage through repentance and humility before the Lord. If you are similarly situated, I pray that this blog about my friend and his estranged wife will help you see your life in its proper light. When we pursue that which is not God honoring, when we obsess over someone or something, we can make it our god. When we put things before God, whatever it may be, we bring destruction to our lives. I pray that you see it before it is too late if you find yourself there.

Amen and Amen.

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1 Samuel 10:17-27 (Part 1 of 3)
Saul Is Acclaimed King

NOTE before I begin…I apologize for my abrupt absence from my normal daily blog. Of course last weekend was filled with Christmas activities. But this past week, my wife and i got knocked down for the count by this year’s vicious strain of the flu the evening of the 26th and we are just now on New Year’s Eve beginning to recover from it. Your prayers are coveted that we fully recover very soon…

But now to today’s blog…

As many of you who have followed my blog for any length of time, you know that I am a huge fan of Clemson University’s intercollegiate athletic teams, particularly the football team. Today, on New Year’s Eve, it is the day before my Tigers play in college football playoff semi-final game against Alabama. As well, my friends here locally that are fans of Clemson’s archrival, University of South Carolina, are anxiously awaiting their non-playoff bowl game against Michigan in the Outback Bowl. College football is huge here in the South Carolina. We live it and breath it from September-January during the regular season and bowl season. Then, we talk about it the rest of the year. In the South, there are two seasons of the year not four. There is no winter, spring, summer and fall. No, the year is divided into “football season” and “not football season.”

I was a Tiger fan as a small child but didn’t really understand the interrelationships of all the teams, the national rankings, the conference standings, and so on. It was when I was about 12 that I really began to understand it all. So, I learned the history of Tiger football program and realized that in the 1950’s that they were a pretty good program and were nationally ranked frequently. Then the program fell on hard times in the 60’s and on through much of the 70’s. Then in 1977, things started to click again. From 1977-1992, Clemson was one of winningest programs in college football under the watchful eye of head coach Danny Ford. Then in 1990, Ford was forced out in a struggle with the administration over the priority of the football program at the school. During those years though 1977-1992, I was age 15-30. During those years, I thought the success would never end. Great season after great season. Upper tier bowl games were the norm. Winning games against bigger brand name programs were commonplace. There was the national championship in 1981. And there were the rest of the years where we were a top 5, top 10, and least a top 15 team at all times.

Then within 3 seasons after the departure of Danny Ford, it all fell apart. The program returned to the mediocrity of the 60’s and 70s. Just making a bowl game became a thing not what bowl game you went to. From 1993 to 2010, we wilted in the face of big games. Either we would lose the game when it mattered most or we would get blown out by an upper tier team. And sometimes, we would lose to teams we were weren’t supposed to lose to – the term, “Clemsoning” came into vogue as a result of things like that. I thought the glory years of Clemson football would never return – 17 long seasons (from my age of 31 through age 48), these were long years where the team became like that child that you love dearly but always lets you down by their constant underachieving against the potential that you know they have.

However, beginning in 2011, under current coach, Dabo Swinney, Clemson has had unequaled success. These are the new glory years of Clemson football. We have had 7 straight seasons now of at least 10 wins every season. Six of seven past seasons we have had at least 11 win seasons. We played for the national championship after the 2015 season. We won the national championship last year after the 2016 season. We are, this year, back in the college football playoffs for a third consecutive year with a chance for another national championship. Since the 3rd game of the 2014 season (after an overtime loss to Florida State), my beloved Tigers have a record of 49-4, a level of success that is only matched by University of Alabama. I luxuriate in the success of the Tigers right now because I remember the lean and mediocre years. It is an amazing time to be a Tiger fan.

However, one thing since my salvation in 2001, I must remember is that even things that I am passionate about including my dear Clemson Tigers can become an obsession. Living here in South Carolina, I get to see Clemson fans and University of South Carolina Gamecock fans the most. Clemson and South Carolina are the greatest of rivals. At birth or when you move here, you must make a choice to be either a Tiger fan or a Gamecock fan. In both camps, there are those who raise celebrating their love for the Tigers or the Gamecocks to the level of a religion. It is an obsession of the highest order with some fans. If you say something about Clemson that is negative or say something about the Gamecocks that is negative, it rises to the level of a personal offense. Although I am sad for the rest of the day on those Saturdays that Clemson loses I typically have let it go by the next morning, there are those who let the results of Saturday events in Clemson or Columbia or wherever the Tigers or the Gamecocks play effect their mood for a week. There are friendships ended because of the results of a football game. There those who build shrines to their Tigers or their Gamecocks in their man caves in their homes. It is, to some a religion based on worshiping something other than God. I love my Tigers but I must keep it perspective as what is sport and not life. It is not my reason for being.

It is that idea of loving something man-made more than God as exemplified by how people raise Clemson or University of South Carolina sports to the level of idolatry in my illustration is what came to mind as I read through today’s passage, 1 Samuel 10:17-27. Let’s read it together now:

17 Later Samuel called all the people of Israel to meet before the Lord at Mizpah. 18 And he said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, has declared: I brought you from Egypt and rescued you from the Egyptians and from all of the nations that were oppressing you. 19 But though I have rescued you from your misery and distress, you have rejected your God today and have said, ‘No, we want a king instead!’ Now, therefore, present yourselves before the Lord by tribes and clans.”

20 So Samuel brought all the tribes of Israel before the Lord, and the tribe of Benjamin was chosen by lot. 21 Then he brought each family of the tribe of Benjamin before the Lord, and the family of the Matrites was chosen. And finally Saul son of Kish was chosen from among them. But when they looked for him, he had disappeared! 22 So they asked the Lord, “Where is he?”

And the Lord replied, “He is hiding among the baggage.” 23 So they found him and brought him out, and he stood head and shoulders above anyone else.

24 Then Samuel said to all the people, “This is the man the Lord has chosen as your king. No one in all Israel is like him!”

And all the people shouted, “Long live the king!”

25 Then Samuel told the people what the rights and duties of a king were. He wrote them down on a scroll and placed it before the Lord. Then Samuel sent the people home again.

26 When Saul returned to his home at Gibeah, a group of men whose hearts God had touched went with him. 27 But there were some scoundrels who complained, “How can this man save us?” And they scorned him and refused to bring him gifts. But Saul ignored them.

[Nahash, king of the Ammonites, had been grievously oppressing the people of Gad and Reuben who lived east of the Jordan River. He gouged out the right eye of each of the Israelites living there, and he didn’t allow anyone to come and rescue them. In fact, of all the Israelites east of the Jordan, there wasn’t a single one whose right eye Nahash had not gouged out. But there were 7,000 men who had escaped from the Ammonites, and they had settled in Jabesh-gilead.]

In this passage, we are reminded that Israel’s true king was God, but the nation demanded another. Imagine wanting a human being rather than God as guide and leader. Throughout history, men and women have rejected God, and they continue to do it today. Are you rejecting God by pushing Him aside and acknowledging someone or something else as your “king” or top priority. That is what makes the Old Testament so compelling. It is a reminder to us, through the history of God’s chosen people, Israel, of how much we are like them. We must take heed of the actions of the people of Israel and choose to follow God rather than our selfish desire or rather than trying to be like the culture around us.

As stated earlier, here in South Carolina, there are those who want their king to be the football team of either Clemson University or the University of South Carolina. The culture says we should worship tangible things so the Tiger or the Gamecock fit the bill. What is your Tiger idol? What is your Gamecock idol? Do you miss church because you spend your weekends following a football team? Do you not give to God’s house as He commands because you would rather spend your money on a college football team booster club membership and everything that it costs to attend football games on Saturday? Do you miss church on Sunday because you’re so upset that your football team lost the night before that you cannot face people?

It doesn’t have to be football. Do you worship your stuff? Do you make your things the thing that you desire over God? Do you worship your job to the exclusion of God? Do sit in church worried about what you could be doing for your job or the things that you have to do at work the next day rather than worshiping God? Do you worship your spouse or significant other to the point that it gets in the way of your relationship with God? Do you live and die by what your spouse thinks of you? Do you worship or covet what your neighbor has that you do not? Do you worship celebrities? Do you worship celebrity figures in the Christian church world and devour their books but yet do not read your Bible? What is it that you desire more than God?

Let us examine our lives and see what we desire first in our lives. Let us examine our lives for what we worship more than God. Is it a sports team? Is it your job? Is it your spouse or significant other? Is it desires of the flesh? Is it celebrities? Is it material things? Just because what we desire more than God is not some carved and wooden idol does not make what we worship other than God any less an idol. Israel’s desire was to be like their neighbors and what they had rather than worshiping the only thing that matters – God! Let us be wise enough to read God’s Word and see how it applies to our lives in the 21st century and accept the Holy Spirit’s conviction for change.

Amen and Amen.

Judges 11:1-28
Jephthah Becomes Israel’s Judge

Have you ever had one of those circumstances where it seemed the most terrible thing at the time but turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to you? There are things that happen to us that knock down flat and we feel lower than low and wonder if we are going to make it through it but down the road when time has passed it becomes that pivot moment where life changed and for the better. It is that moment that could appropriate the Dickens quote, “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”

For me, that moment in time that seemed so horrible at the moment was the last two years of my second marriage. It was a rough period in my life. During that time, I made some stupid mistakes and lost my job that was the sole source of income for me and my family. It forced my second wife to have to go back to work. It was during a recession back in 2000 (when the internet bubble burst). It took me about 2 months to find a comparable job to what I had been doing. However, it was for less salary and my second wife refused to quit working. Where she was working, she ended up having an affair with someone there. It crushed me to the core. My second wife over the years had become the thing that I worshipped and I forsook everything to keep her happy and she would reward me for good behavior. Everything about life during those days was making sure that I stayed in her favor. So, this thing that happened, where she was staying out all night with friends that turned out to be an affair just crushed me. We ended up separating for nine months over it. However, I was still pining away for her during those nine months and lived a life of dark loneliness for the most part. Although after a few months, I was able to start dating again. There was that dark loneliness that permeated everything, because she, my second wife, was my god and I was still hooked on that religion of sorts. We got back together finally and I was so happy but when you worship gods things are going to go to crap again. It just does.

It was during that first separation that my oldest daughter had a falling out with her mom that was so bad that she came to live with me. So, when my second wife and I got back together it was me and my oldest daughter that came home not just me. There was always this seething, in the background jealousy between my second wife and anything to do with my past, particularly my daughters. It had strained my relationship with my kids to the point that there almost wasn’t a relationship at all. But my second wife was more tolerant of my oldest daughter this second time around or so it seemed. When it was time for my oldest to go off to college, for some reason, my second wife thought that we no longer had to support her since she was 18. She said I needed to cut the apron strings. My child was in college though. That couldn’t happen. And I would not let it. So, to help my daughter with all those college expenses that they don’t tell you about and just living expenses of being in college, I supported her without my second wife’s knowledge. I kept secrets. Because I was wanted to walk the tight rope of keeping my god, my second wife, happy and at the same time supporting my own child the way I knew to be the right thing. Keeping secrets never works. So, my hidden help for my daughter ultimately cost me my second marriage. It was over when my second wife found out about my secret financial help for my daughter. The marriage could not survive a second major crisis and it didn’t. Again, I hated the fact that the marriage ended. It was a big blow. And, I hated the fact that it seemed that my second wife forced me to choose between my child and her. Why did it have to be that way? I was heartbroken. It was tough to get beyond my grief over the ending of the second marriage. I felt like the rug had been yanked out from underneath me. I had to start life over. All of our friends were her friends first so I was alone and starting over AGAIN.

But looking back on the whole situation now some 13 years later. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I worshipped my second wife and not God. I did crazy stupid stuff to keep her happy. I walked on egg shells constantly. It is no life when you live your life to satisfy someone else. I no longer blame my second wife for being my god. It was a choice that I made to make something other than God my god. But now, because of the ending of the second marriage, I was able to begin to see life more clearly for the first time ever. It was because of not worshiping and idol that I was able to have peace and joy for the first time in my life. It was because of that ending that I was able to make a new beginning with my kids. It was because of that rejection that I was able to learn who I was and work on the things that I needed to make better about myself. It was because of ending idol worship that I began to develop my relationship with God that had started at the cross just a short while before the end of the second marriage. God was never really in the second marriage even though we went to church. I was a puppet on the worshiping a human being string. Looking back on the end of that marriage, with my willingness to forsake everything to please her (including my relationships with my children and anything to do with my past), it was the best thing to ever happen to me.

Without that end, my relationship with God would have never grown. We cannot worship God and a person at the same time. And without the split, I would have never saw that she was my god. I know God hates divorce but he hates idol worship more, I think. From the ashes of that marriage, God raised me up from it and began dealing with the spiritual baby that I was. Without that time to do all that in my soul, I would have never grown. Without all that happening, I would have never met Elena. Without all that chiseling away of the idols of my life, I would not have been ready for this marriage which is THE best thing that has happened to me. To have a wife that just loves me for me unconditionally is what marriage is supposed to be about. To have a marriage that has no egg shells. To have a marriage where we work together to make a good life and not just good times is so refreshing. We work together to make our finances great. We work together to prepare for retirement. We worship God together. We love God together. We make Him the center of our marriage. We just enjoy being together. We are best friends. We have peace in our home. We have grown in our relationships with Jesus Christ together. My wife is willing to support my following of God’s calling on my life no matter where it leads us. We live simply and have no desire to keep up with the Joneses. We are happy with simplicity and taking on only the debt we have to take on and paying it off as soon as we can. Because of the growth in my walk with Jesus and because of the influence of my frugal wife, we are, I am, in the best financial shape of my life. We together believe seriously that we need to live as simply as possible so that we can be generous, cheerfully generous, to our church and to the world around us and to our grown children. I know that I am living in a zone of God’s great favor and blessing right now so to be generous is the outpouring of our thanksgiving to God for the favor He has shown us.

None of these things could have ever happened before. None of it. Without the ending that was so crushing at the time. Without that ending, I could never experience the new beginning. Without that ending, I could not be standing in the sunshine as I am now. Without that pain, there would have been no gain. That was what I thought of this morning when I read about the story of Jephthah. How what seemed like a crushing blow and how God used after he was rejected, how God turned his defeat into victory, how God turned his rejection into something mighty. Would any of that ever have happened if the rejection had not happened. Let’s read Judges 11:1-26 now with that in mind.

11 Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a [a]valiant warrior, but he was the son of a harlot. And Gilead [b]was the father of Jephthah. 2 Gilead’s wife bore him sons; and when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, “You shall not have an inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of a prostitute.” 3 So Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob; and worthless fellows gathered themselves [c]about Jephthah, and they went out with him.

4 It came about after a while that the sons of Ammon fought against Israel. 5 When the sons of Ammon fought against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob; 6 and they said to Jephthah, “Come and be our chief that we may fight against the sons of Ammon.” 7 Then Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Did you not hate me and drive me from my father’s house? So why have you come to me now when you are in trouble?” 8 The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “For this reason we have now returned to you, that you may go with us and fight with the sons of Ammon and become head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” 9 So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “If you take me back to fight against the sons of Ammon and the Lord gives them up [d]to me, will I become your head?” 10 The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “The Lord is [e]witness between us; surely we will do [f]as you have said.” 11 Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and chief over them; and Jephthah spoke all his words before the Lord at Mizpah.

12 Now Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the sons of Ammon, saying, “What is between you and me, that you have come to me to fight against my land?” 13 The king of the sons of Ammon said to the messengers of Jephthah, “Because Israel took away my land when they came up from Egypt, from the Arnon as far as the Jabbok and the Jordan; therefore, return them peaceably now.” 14 But Jephthah sent messengers again to the king of the sons of Ammon, 15 and they said to him, “Thus says Jephthah, ‘Israel did not take away the land of Moab nor the land of the sons of Ammon. 16 For when they came up from Egypt, and Israel went through the wilderness to the [g]Red Sea and came to Kadesh, 17 then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, “Please let us pass through your land,” but the king of Edom would not listen. And they also sent to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained at Kadesh. 18 Then they went through the wilderness and around the land of Edom and the land of Moab, and came to the east side of the land of Moab, and they camped beyond the Arnon; but they did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was the border of Moab. 19 And Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, the king of Heshbon, and Israel said to him, “Please let us pass through your land to our place.” 20 But Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory; so Sihon gathered all his people and camped in Jahaz and fought with Israel. 21 The Lord, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they [h]defeated them; so Israel possessed all the land of the Amorites, the inhabitants of that country. 22 So they possessed all the territory of the Amorites, from the Arnon as far as the Jabbok, and from the wilderness as far as the Jordan. 23 Since now the Lord, the God of Israel, drove out the Amorites from before His people Israel, are you then to possess it? 24 Do you not possess what Chemosh your god gives you to possess? So whatever the Lord our God has driven out before us, we will possess it. 25 Now are you any better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever strive with Israel, or did he ever fight against them? 26 While Israel lived in Heshbon and its villages, and in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities that are on the banks of the Arnon, three hundred years, why did you not recover them within that time? 27 I therefore have not sinned against you, but you are doing me wrong by making war against me; may the Lord, the Judge, judge today between the sons of Israel and the sons of Ammon.’” 28 But the king of the sons of Ammon [i]disregarded the message which Jephthah sent him.

In this passage, we see that Jepthah, an illegitimate son of Gilead, was chased out of the country by his half brothers. He suffered as a result of another’s decision and not for any wrong he had done. Yet, in spite of his brothers’ rejection, God used him. Circumstances beyond his control forced Jepthah away from his people and into a life as an outcast. If you are suffering from unfair rejection, don’t blame others and become discouraged. Remember how God used Jephthah despite his unjust circumstances and realize that he is able to use you even if you feel rejected and hurt. Sometimes, God has to rip us away from our comfort and security even if that comfort and security is bad for us. When we are in the wrong path, God may rip us from it and it will hurt like a raw open sore for a while, but He does that sometimes so that we will learn to depend on Him solely. He does that sometimes so that we will see Him clearly. He does that sometimes for our own good. He does that sometimes to break us free from the idols in our lives.

He may rip us out of things that are bad for us and it may seem like the worst thing ever at the time. He may rip you from your addictions, from your poor choices, from anything that dominates our lives and has become our god instead of Him. He rips us from the things we cling to instead of Him. Going through idol withdrawal is a painful experience and it seems so horrible at the time. But we do come out the other side of it in a path that is filled with light and with peace and with God. He wants us to worship alone. He as Creator and the Eternal One knows what is best for us. Are you in that painful phase of being chiseling by God to let go of the idols that you worship? Are you alone and rejected because the idols that you have worshiped have failed you and left you in the mud face down?

God is right there. He has been there all the time. He has been waiting on you to see Him. Embrace Him and Him alone. He will lift you out of the mud. He will clean you up and set you on solid ground. One day you too will look back on this worst moment of your life and see it as the best moment in your life – that moment that you began to see God clearly and you began to live a life that was at peace with God rather than at war with Him.

Amen and Amen.

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.

Judges 4:1-24 (Part 3 of 3)
Deborah Becomes Israel’s Judge

It is not whether pain and suffering will come into our lives; it is a matter of when. There was a world of difference between how I handled my first separation from my second wife and the final breakup of our marriage. The first time that we split up was in February 2000 and it lasted until November 2000. The final time came in August 2004. In between the two breakups, I accepted Christ as my Savior and Lord in December 2001. In between December 2001 and August 2004, I did a lot of growing up. I learned during that time that in Christ I had value in and of myself. I learned that the world did not revolve around my second wife. I do not blame her for it now. As we have seen in my last two blogs, women often take leadership roles because men abdicate their role as leader of the home or they take leadership roles because no man is there to lead. I allowed her to take the leadership role in our home because I was afraid that leadership would endanger my access to her physical and emotional approval. In this extent, I made her my god. My value was drawn from whether she approved of me from moment to moment.

So, when she wanted and demanded a separation in February 2000 (after some stupid financial decisions of mine and secrets about them came out all came out), I was devastated. I literally had my reason for living, my reason for existence taken away from me. While she was out living the party girl lifestyle with her single friends from her new place of employment (after 5 years as a stay at home mom). On the other hand, I was an emotional and literal hermit. I lived much of those nine months as a hermit especially early on. It was work that kept me going but there was this aching emptiness that nothing could fill. Even dating was a lost cause because I was still withdrawing from having my god taken away from me. You would think that it was time that I would have cried out to God for real for the first time in my life. But no. That nine month separation in 2000 should have been when I saw the Lord. I was at my lowest point ever emotionally in my life at that time. But idol worship is a hard thing to break. I felt that if I just did what my god told me to do, we would get back together. I was waiting and pining away. If she said come home at any time during that nine months I would have come running. Do you or can you imagine how empty a life that was during those nine months. I literally felt empty inside and all I wanted to do was sleep, especially on weekends. It was the lowest point in my life. You would think I would have found Jesus then but the stranglehold of idol worship is great and we keep expecting our idols to satisfy our needs so we ignore God when we are not ready to see Him. It was only when her idol of flirtation and being validated by new and different people ran dry that we got back together. We were a sick couple. I worshiped her as an idol and her idol was constant validation from others that she still “had it” which meant that no marriage would last for her. We were indeed a sick couple who could not see God though we knew He was. Our idols were more important.

It was not until 13 months after we had agreed to live as husband and wife again that I accepted Christ as my Savior and Lord. It was only then that I began to see that I had made an idol of my second wife and to the exclusion of everything else in my life, including my children. It was not until life situations forced me to choose between my idol of a second wife and my responsibility to my oldest child (who lived with us) who was in college. Instead of being a man about it as a Christ follower should have been, I reverted to secrets and supported my daughter at college against my second wife’s will behind her back. It all came to head in July 2004 and we broke up for good within a month. This time, I was clear as to why we broke up and life this time was different. I actually began to mature as a Christ follower. It was a slow, slow process (oh my! How I look back and see how slow it was! It makes me shudder at who I was as a baby Christian and what I found as normal and acceptable!). But the slow process would have never started until God allowed circumstances to happen where I would have to choose between my idol, my second wife, and what was morally, ethically, and spiritually right for my child.
We make our own idols. They do not create themselves. They do not have existence outside the power that we imbue them with. They only take on the life and the power that we give them. And we give them up and we look back and see the stupid things we do and did to satisfy our idols we are amazed at our own stupidity. However, when idol worship is working for us, we won’t listen. When we are stuck in the spell of the idols of our lives, and, even when things are not going well, we keep expecting our idols that we worship to come back to us if we only worship them better and harder.

It is often only when we are presented the choice between what we know to be morally and ethically right (that God imprints in our souls when we are knitted together in our mothers wombs) and satisfying the idols in our lives that we finally see our idols for what they are. It is often though only when the cookie of our life has crumbled all around us.

Therefore, when we read through Judges and how stubborn and stiff-necked the Israelite people were, we laugh at them because they seem so stupid. They were God’s chosen people! How could they be so stupid as not to recognize Him. Look at your own life. What are you idols? Even after salvation, we still have our idols that God must remove from our lives, one struggle with us at a time. We should know God but even as Christ followers we try to keep our idol strongholds. It takes a lifetime of sanctification by the Holy Spirit for us to rid ourselves of all the things we place priority on instead of God. We are just as stupid as the Israelites. We have the knowledge but the Holy Spirit has to work hard with some of the idols that we refuse to give up. It usually comes down to when the Holy Spirit presents us with a choice between right and wrong, good and evil, that we can no longer deny, that we no longer can delude ourselves about.

Let’s read about it now as to why Israel did not cry out to God for twenty years with that idea of us not being ready to give up our idols that we worship:

4 Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, now that Ehud was dead. 2 So the Lord sold them into the hands of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. Sisera, the commander of his army, was based in Harosheth Haggoyim. 3 Because he had nine hundred chariots fitted with iron and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the Lord for help.

4 Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading[a] Israel at that time. 5 She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. 6 She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. 7 I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’”

8 Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”

9 “Certainly I will go with you,” said Deborah. “But because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 There Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali, and ten thousand men went up under his command. Deborah also went up with him.

11 Now Heber the Kenite had left the other Kenites, the descendants of Hobab, Moses’ brother-in-law,[b] and pitched his tent by the great tree in Zaanannim near Kedesh.

12 When they told Sisera that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, 13 Sisera summoned from Harosheth Haggoyim to the Kishon River all his men and his nine hundred chariots fitted with iron.

14 Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?” So Barak went down Mount Tabor, with ten thousand men following him. 15 At Barak’s advance, the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera got down from his chariot and fled on foot.

16 Barak pursued the chariots and army as far as Harosheth Haggoyim, and all Sisera’s troops fell by the sword; not a man was left. 17 Sisera, meanwhile, fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there was an alliance between Jabin king of Hazor and the family of Heber the Kenite.

18 Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Come, my lord, come right in. Don’t be afraid.” So he entered her tent, and she covered him with a blanket.

19 “I’m thirsty,” he said. “Please give me some water.” She opened a skin of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him up.

20 “Stand in the doorway of the tent,” he told her. “If someone comes by and asks you, ‘Is anyone in there?’ say ‘No.’”

21 But Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died.

22 Just then Barak came by in pursuit of Sisera, and Jael went out to meet him. “Come,” she said, “I will show you the man you’re looking for.” So he went in with her, and there lay Sisera with the tent peg through his temple—dead.

23 On that day God subdued Jabin king of Canaan before the Israelites. 24 And the hand of the Israelites pressed harder and harder against Jabin king of Canaan until they destroyed him.

Today in this passage, we see that, after 20 years of unbearable circumstances, the Israelites finally cried out to the Lord for help. However, God should be the first one we turn to when facing struggles or dilemmas. The Israelites chose to go their own way and got into a mess. We often do the same. Trying to control our own lives without God’s help leads to struggle and confusion. By contrast, when we stay in daily contact with the Lord, we are less likely to create painful circumstances for ourselves. This fact is a lesson that the Israelites never fully learned. When struggles come our way, God wants us to come to Him first, seeking His strength and guidance through His Word and through prayer.

When we do not read God’s Word and when we do not pray, we will continue to see our idols as OK and as OK to keep along with God himself. It is only through regular reading of His Word, His Alive Word, and through prayers to God and not at God that we begin to see what our idols really are.

What are your idols that you are still OK with? What do you not see now that you should be seeing? Even in your suffering right now, are you still worshiping your idol(s). Is your life being destroyed by your idol(s) and you don’t even see it yet? Open your eyes! Let God’s Word and God’s Voice shine upon it through the Holy Spirit conviction! Open your eyes and come into the Light! Beg forgiveness from the one who should be ruling your life – the only True God! The God with a capital G!

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 12:1-32 (Part 1 of 4)

The Lord’s Chosen Place of Worship

One of the indications of how seriously we take our college football in this state that is my birth home and where I have lived all but three years of my life are two old sayings. One is that “at birth, the doctor will make you choose between the Clemson Tigers and the South Carolina Gamecocks.” The other is that if you were born elsewhere, “they stop you at the border and force you to make a choice between the Tigers and the Gamecocks.” It is part of the fabric of life here in the Palmetto State. To be a small state by land mass and population (only 40th in land mass [30,109 square miles] and 4.625 million people at the latest estimates by the census bureau), we have two Division I football programs. Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia and Memorial Stadium in Clemson are both large football stadiums holding anywhere from 86,000 to 88,000 seats. The Tigers and the Gamecocks are big business in this state. The rivalry is heated and like none other. In other parts of the country, you live in bigger states with more population and the teams’ following are more regionalized through the states. For example, in Georgia, Georgia Tech fans are generally concentrated in the larger cities of Georgia and mainly Atlanta. Georgia fans are all in the rest of the state. Alabama is similar when it comes to Bama and Auburn. North Carolina doesn’t even count cause they are all about basketball. Tennessee doesn’t matter because the Tennessee’s in-state rival is a private school, Vanderbilt. Michigan-Ohio State doesn’t have the same passion since they live state’s away. Southern Cal-UCLA is passionate but outside of Los Angeles nobody gets bunged up about it. Penn State and Pitt don’t even play each other every year.

 

Here, in South Carolina, it’s the law. South Carolina and Clemson must play each other every year. There’s an actual law. Here, the rivalry is enmeshed in the culture. It is part of who we are as Sandlappers. Since we are a small state, Clemson-Carolina is proximity. It’s neighbor against neighbor. It’s co-worker against co-worker. It’s family against family. The rivalry can even be within families. For example, my family unit (me, Elena, my daughters [Meghan & Taylor], and Elena’s daughter [Michelle]) is a family divided. My family and my daughter’s birth mom’s family are all Clemson fans. Elena and her family, though 2nd generation Cuban/Venezuelan descent, are Gamecock fans. In fact, within our blended family unit, Meghan is a Clemson graduate and Michelle is a University of South Carolina graduate. Michelle, bless her heart, is passionate about her Gamecocks. My girls and I are passionate about the Tigers. Our moods for at least the weekend are determined by whether the Tigers win or not. For the past six seasons of 10 plus wins every season, I have been a happy man on weekends most of the time. However, living in the same household with my wife being a Gamecock fan, it has tempered the intensity with which I allow the rivalry and football in general affect my being.

 

There are some Tiger and Gamecock fans that take this rivalry and their respective teams too seriously. You see friendships ended and families split apart by flippant or down right disrespectful things being said about the others’ team of preference. It is as if we are personally Clemson and they are personally South Carolina. You are the Gamecocks. I am the Tigers. You can say anything you want to about my wife and kids but you dare not speak ill of Clemson or you dare not speak ill of the Gamecocks. Some people even get into fist fights over the Tigers and Gamecocks. People have been hurt over these arguments and allegiances. It is about class divisions that run deep and into history. Clemson was the common man’s school that the upper crust Carolina grads in the statehouse tried to prevent from even opening for about 50 years until Ben Tillman rammed it through the statehouse and it finally opened in 1889. It was class warfare for many years. The common man vs. the elitists. It was rural farmers against city types. Now, it’s just good ol’ fashioned hate. Hate that sometimes goes too far when people make each university’s football team their god. There are those on both sides that make their football program their reason for being. They live and die by the successes and failures of their football team. You may have heard that college football is a religion in the South. It can be. It can become idol worship. It can be something that gets in the way of our relationship with God.

 

That’s why I am in part thankful that God brought Elena to me – one of the many reasons. The fact that she and Michelle are Gamecock fans and the fact that I love them has given me new perspective on the rivalry. Over the last three consecutive years, Clemson has gotten the better of Carolina (with two of those victories being pretty good spankings of the Gamecocks) but I must live with a Gamecock and talk regularly with her daughter who is also a Gamecock. It tempers the need to rub it in. Knowing that they have to deal with a loss to the Tigers for another year and loving them makes me roll back the rhetoric a bit. We resolve not to bring up the Tigers or the Gamecocks other than a one-liner when we are together. No extensive diatribes about either school. That’s the way it should be. But, man, there are those out there that will literally spew venom toward one another over this rivalry. The schools have become their gods. It literally CAN get in the way of our relationship with God.

 

It was the Clemson-Carolina rivalry, the very base-level thing that is part of who we are as South Carolinians, and sometimes how these football programs can reach idol status for us is what I thought about when reading this passage, Deuteronomy 12, this morning. The Tiger-Gamecock thing is an illustration about what God warns Israel about. Let’s see how the Tigers, Gamecocks, and the Israelites have something in common here:

 

12 These are the decrees and laws you must be careful to follow in the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has given you to possess—as long as you live in the land. 2 Destroy completely all the places on the high mountains, on the hills and under every spreading tree, where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods. 3 Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places.

 

4 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way. 5 But you are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go; 6 there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. 7 There, in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you.

 

8 You are not to do as we do here today, everyone doing as they see fit, 9 since you have not yet reached the resting place and the inheritance the Lord your God is giving you. 10 But you will cross the Jordan and settle in the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and he will give you rest from all your enemies around you so that you will live in safety. 11 Then to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name—there you are to bring everything I command you: your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, and all the choice possessions you have vowed to the Lord. 12 And there rejoice before the Lord your God—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites from your towns who have no allotment or inheritance of their own. 13 Be careful not to sacrifice your burnt offerings anywhere you please. 14 Offer them only at the place the Lord will choose in one of your tribes, and there observe everything I command you.

 

15 Nevertheless, you may slaughter your animals in any of your towns and eat as much of the meat as you want, as if it were gazelle or deer, according to the blessing the Lord your God gives you. Both the ceremonially unclean and the clean may eat it. 16 But you must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water. 17 You must not eat in your own towns the tithe of your grain and new wine and olive oil, or the firstborn of your herds and flocks, or whatever you have vowed to give, or your freewill offerings or special gifts. 18 Instead, you are to eat them in the presence of the Lord your God at the place the Lord your God will choose—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites from your towns—and you are to rejoice before the Lord your God in everything you put your hand to. 19 Be careful not to neglect the Levites as long as you live in your land.

 

20 When the Lord your God has enlarged your territory as he promised you, and you crave meat and say, “I would like some meat,” then you may eat as much of it as you want. 21 If the place where the Lord your God chooses to put his Name is too far away from you, you may slaughter animals from the herds and flocks the Lord has given you, as I have commanded you, and in your own towns you may eat as much of them as you want. 22 Eat them as you would gazelle or deer. Both the ceremonially unclean and the clean may eat. 23 But be sure you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat. 24 You must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water. 25 Do not eat it, so that it may go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is right in the eyes of the Lord.

 

26 But take your consecrated things and whatever you have vowed to give, and go to the place the Lord will choose. 27 Present your burnt offerings on the altar of the Lord your God, both the meat and the blood. The blood of your sacrifices must be poured beside the altar of the Lord your God, but you may eat the meat. 28 Be careful to obey all these regulations I am giving you, so that it may always go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is good and right in the eyes of the Lord your God.

 

29 The Lord your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess. But when you have driven them out and settled in their land, 30 and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.” 31 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.

 

32 See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it.[a]

 

In this passage, we see God’s warning among other things. Today, we will focus on that warning. When taking over the land previously occupied by other nations, the Israelites were supposed to destroy every pagan altar and idol in the land. God knew it would be easy for them to change their beliefs if they started using those altars. Therefore, God required that nothing remain that might tempt them to worship idols. We, too, should ruthlessly find and remove the false worship in our lives. These may be activities, attitudes, possessions, relationships, places, addictions, habits, and even sports teams – anything that tempts us to turn our hearts from God and give our full allegiance to it.

 

What is your idol? Is it your wife or your husband? Is it your car or your truck? Is it pornography? Is it drugs? Is it your job? Is it your career? Is it the Gamecocks or Tigers? Is it your hobbies or toys? Is it sex? Is it seeking approval of others? What is your idol?

 

Smash it to pieces. Bust it up! Smash it against a tree! Tear it up, shred by shred! Repent and turn back to God.

 

What is your idol?

 

Amen and Amen.