Don’t Expect Applause
Ridding the town of Baal isn’t immediately seen as good news by the townsfolk. It is seen as sacrilege, economic sabotage, a security breach worthy of grim punishment. This is worth some reflection. I think any Christian and any church that really, truly, fully practices radical obedience and surrender to God will be as much of a threat as a hero. They will be seen, even with thier own faith communities, as rabble-rousers, troublemakers, heretics. Blasphemers of the compromise we’ve made with the powers that be, contract-breachers of the middle position we worked out with the gods of the age. One of the most glaring examples we have of this in North American Christianity is a recent survey done of a wide cross section of young adults at Christian university. They were asked if they would consider a vocation in cross-cultural missions, and many said they would. But when asked what their primary obstacle to that was, most said their parents. Their parents want them to finish their degrees so that they can get good jobs so that they can be like everybody else. Don’t expect that when you defy the gods of the age everyone in your town will come out cheering. Idols don’t always fall to the hurrahs of the crowd.
Not that higher education or a good job are idols, at least intrinsically. I have both. I see my education and my job as gifts of God and tools of God. But some things–almost anything–can take on idolatrous proportions when we cherish them at the expense of what God desires. We should be suspicious of anything that rivals our devotion to God, anything that distracts us from our pursuit of His kingdom. Anything. And we should subject all of our evasions and rationalizations to the most thoroughgoing scrutiny.
I have a friend in church whose son, soon after graduating from high school, moved to the Bronx to minister to children at risk. He gets paid a pittance–food money, basically– and gives himself body and soul to the task. Every day, he walks some of the most dangerous streets in the world. I asked my friend if this is what he dreamed for his son. “Couldn’t have imagined it,” he said.
“Does it bother you?” I asked.
“I couldn’t be prouder,” he said.
“Are you afraid for him?”
He looked pensive and answered slowly, “You know, I’d rather my son died young on the streets of New York serving the kingdom of God than stayed safe, lived long, and died rich, but only served himself.”
I could smell the smoke of burnt idols on him as he spoke.
Deal With It, For Your Own Sake And The Sake Of Others
Idol wrecking, it so happens, has a butterfly effect: one war of liberation in Gideon’s back yard reverberates until the whole nation is living free.
And interestingly, the first person set free is Gideon’s own father. The Baal alter and Asherah pole actually belonged to his father, Joash. Gideon’s is the heir, the son of the man who presides over the cult. But it’s Joash who belongs to the generation of those that hate the Lord. He’s the architect of this mess, the tribal chieftain of this misrule. In a sense, Joash has the most to loss by Gideon’s defiance. It puts him out of a job. He loses status in the community. It’s his altar that’s destroyed, his bull that’s sacrificed, his livelihood that’s derailed.
But the man, it appears, couldn’t be happier with the situation, or more proud of his son. I think he stopped believing in Baal a long way back, saw through the chicanery of his promises, but lacked the personal integrity or courage to do anything about it. He just kept on keeping on, foing through the motions. Caught in the inertia of a false belief of diminishing returns that he thought was too entrenched to change. Until his son acted, he saw no way out of the status quo. Now that his son has acted, he sees no going back.
It has become standard fare, since Freud and probably long before that, to blame our parents for our sins. My father was an angry man, and my whole life I’ve battled anger. It’s the easiest thing for me to pin the blame on him, to justify the way I am because the he was.
If the excuse works for others, it doesn’t work with God. God holds Gideon liable for his own sin and appoints Gideon to deal directly with it, regardless of its pedigree. I often hear from people with various besetting sins–pornography, waywardness, alcoholism, destructive gossip, violent temper– that they are merely repeating thier mother’s or father’s behavior, as if that absolves them of any responsibility.
Gideon’s story instructs us otherwise. It says deal with it. Deal with it for your own sake. And deal with it for your father’s sake, or your mother’s: they might just be the first people freed by your freedom. The whole creation, Paul’s says, waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. Others await our taking hold of liberty. Your own forebears might be waiting in such eager expectation, without even knowing it until they see it, but when you live out your glorious freedom under the fatherhood of God, walk in the authority and inheritance of your true adoption as sons and daughters it will beckon them to freedom, too. I have seen this a hundred times: men and women come to Faith in Christ, break their bondage to decay, throw off idols of their childhood, and soon after their parents do the same.
Expect that when you defy the gods of the age, break and burn their altars, some will want your head, but many others will be set free–maybe first from your own household.
God may be calling you to take a risky step of Faith. That step may require more courage than you think you have. It may involve taking a stand against something, or someone, in your own household or workplace or social circle. It may take the moral support of a few good friends to carry it out.
But maybe it’s a step you need to take, not just for your own sake but for the sake of the one you must defy.
Or maybe you’re the father. Or the mother. Or the older brother. Or the foolish companion. Maybe you’re the one being defied. Maybe there is someone in your household–a child, a sibling, a spouse– in your midst — a colleague, a friend, a fellow church member — who seems to heavenly minded to be of any earthly good. You just wish they’d dismount from their high horse and get with the program.
But maybe the program isn’t the kingdom of God. And maybe God put that person in your midst, in your path, messing with your idols, for your sake as well as their own. Maybe he or she is a child of God, and God’s revealing them so that you can be set free too.
The Book of Judges contains what God wants us to know of the story of Gideon (Judges 6:11-8:35). It is the highlights of his life. We are introduced to Gideon in a most extraordinary way as he was separating the wheat kernels from the rest of the crop in a wine press. See, Israel was being oppressed in the worst manner from the Midianites (Judges 6:1-10) so all of the Israelites had to be careful.
Looking back over my life there have been many Baals in which God has defeated in my life. Baals of my interest — I wanted to be an U.S. Air Force pilot when I was in my elementary years, rollerskating when I was a teenager (and I was good as I could roller skate backwards better than I could roller skate frontwards), before I turned eighteen I was attempting to fit in so much as possible without compromising the Word of God. On the fleshly side, I miss those days. The days of earthly fun. Sure, I had my problems, but doesn’t every human being?
One of my first jobs, I took care of shagging carts as a carry out for Shaw’s Supermarkets. In that job I got to meet all kinds of people from different areas on the economic scale-from the very rich down to the very poor. I thought I’d do what Jesus would do and show no preferential treatment to the rich or the poor. Yet the temptation of money always surrounded me. Many times I saw people that were financially well off as my eyes would light up and immediately I would asked them if they needed help bringing their cart to the car or truck. Seldom would they say no, meanwhile I was hoping that they would take notice of how polite I was and possibly give me money or something. This went on for a while.
Then one day–maybe a Sunday morning or evening when I was in church, or maybe playing with my friends, or maybe I was alone outside enjoying the beautiful nature– I had this gnawing to open the Bible, and I let the Holy Spirit turn me to the The Rich Young Man in Matthew 19:16-30. Let’s read it together:
The Rich Young Man
And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (ESV)
As with pretty much all of us, I was caught in the attitude of “potential earthly riches” while forsaking heavenly riches. I pray, whenever this attitude comes over me, to remind me of this passage. However, there are many good things which to can become gods. Anything!
As an example, while I was still in my freshman year at college, I had an acquaintance draw me a picture of Jesus on the cross the way we thought He looked, not some wimpy kind of a man that you often see. When my acquaintance was through he gave me a picture of a muscular Jesus dying on the cross. After 1-2 weeks of having this absolutely beautiful picture, it became my idol because I was more impressed with the drawing until the Holy Spirit reminded me that Christ isn’t there anymore because He wants to be worshipped in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:23-24). Immediately, I removed it with urgency down from my bedroom wall.
Maybe I touched a nerve when I recalled both incidents from my life? The Holy Spirit knows, and maybe pointing to something that you need to tare down, get rid of, eliminate it from your life because He is not a God who takes second place to anything or anyone as the first one of The Ten Commandments as found in Exodus 34:14.
Darren L. Beattie, The Soul Blogger