Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Sports Just Might Be An Idol if .....

Most of us have heard of Jeff Foxworthy’s “You just might be a redneck if …”, where he gives a list of indications of being a redneck.  Well, in that vain, I want to give a list of “Sports just might be an idol if …” 

I am observing more and more Christians devoting a ton of time and energy into sports.  This is especially true in the south (where I live and enjoy my DAWGS) with SEC football. SEC football is so big not that an entire TV station is devoted to it.  It is big time down here.  But I lived in Wisconsin for 18 years, so you Packer fans (which I am one!) are not off the hook either! The bottom line is that sports is big wherever you go these days.

Now, let me be clear.  I enjoy sports and it can be great fun and fellowship to attend or watch games with friends. It can even be a great form of outreach.  However, it is so important we all keep this in proper perspective.  The Apostle Paul said, “All things are lawful but not all things are profitable … all things are lawful, but I will be mastered by nothing.” (1 Cor. 6:12). Balance is the key, and I am very concerned that many are out of balance today.

We often think of idolatry as people worshiping a golden calf or some statue of Buddha.  And those things certainly are idolatry, but the Bible describes idolatry as putting anything or anyone before God in our life.  Therefore, sports just might be an idol if:
1.     You have greater affections for your team than you do for the God who loves you and sent His Son for you.  You can shout on Saturday but not sing on Sunday?  Something is wrong with that scenario. 
2.     You spend more time with your sports’ team than you do with the God who longs for you to know Him.  Calculate the amount of time watching the game, reading the articles, searching online for anything about your team, and then compare it to the time you spend with God in the Word and prayer.  Ouch.
3.     You spend more money on your team than you give to your church or world missions.  Which is more important to God?  Which is a better investment in eternity?
4.     You are emotionally derailed when your team looses, instead of the joy of the Lord being your strength.  This past Saturday, Georgia lost a heart breaker to UT in the final second of the game. Many fans have been in severe depression ever since.  It is really sad when you can sense the mood of the congregation on Sunday, depending on the outcome of the Saturday game. 
5.     Your relationships with others are adversely affected based on the outcome of games.  While pastoring in Wisconsin I served as a police chaplain.  I learned that the local police department would receive the fewest calls during a Green Bay Packer game.  And they received the most domestic violence calls after a Packer lose.  How sad.  I know of churches in Alabama where the Auburn fans sit on the opposite side of the sanctuary from the Bama fans. This is taking it way too seriously.
6.     You get greater joy when your team succeeds than from the God who eternally saved you.  I have seen people’s entire emotional stability come from the outcome of their game.  They are on top of the world after a victory, and in the pits after a loss.  I heard a UGA fan call into a radio talk show after a tragic loss, and literally sound on the verge of suicide. The talk show host said, “Do you realize you are putting your entire emotional stability into the hands of a bunch of 18-21 years olds?”
7.     You read more about your team than you do God’s Word.  When your spare time is spent on your team instead of your God, this is an indicator of a heart problem.
8.     Your thought time is more centered on your sports team than the Lord who calls you to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).  What our mind dwells upon is a great indication of where our heart is.  Ask anyone who recently “fell in love” with someone who they think about the most, they will tell you it is that person. 
9.     You can memorize and quote all kinds of stats on your team, but you cannot memorize verses from God’s Word.  I have people tell me all the time, “I just don’t have a knack for scripture memory.”  But moments later they can quote all kinds of stats about their team.  The problem is not the mind, but the heart.  "From the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks" (Mt. 12:34).
10. You are more focused on what is temporal than what is eternal.  Having an eternal perspective is the one thing that that has helped me the most in this area.  Often I ask myself, “Who will even remember the outcome of this game in 3 months, much less 3,000 years, much less 300,000 years?”

So if you are now seeing that sports just might be an idol in your life, or quickly headed there, I offer the following suggestions:
1.    Confess your sin to God.  We begin to change by admitting that we have a problem.  Agreeing that this is an issue is the first step toward healing.  “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9).
2.    Ask God to change your heart.  I remember asking my daughter how she gained a hunger for God, and she said the key was simply admitting to God that she did not have that hunger, and then asking Him to give it to her.  This is a prayer God loves to answer.
3.     Stir your affections for God by spending time in the Word, prayer, worship, fellowship, reading Godly material, fellowshipping with Godly people, etc.  This is the principle of positive replacement.  The best defense against an idol is a good offense of pursuing God.  How is that for a sports’ analogy?!
4.    Ask someone to hold you accountable.  Give a Godly person permission to ask you how you are doing in this area.
5.     Wean yourself from excessiveness.  An idol is like an addiction.  We get so accustomed to being absorbed in it, that we need to discipline ourselves away from it, lest it increasingly occupy our life.  You can do this by setting some limits to the amount of time and energy you devote to sports.  For example, set a time limit on how much TV you watch; turn off the “ESPN alert” on your notifications; and/or pledge to spend equal amounts of time with God as you do with your games.
6.     Watch this 6-minute video by David Platt about the cross and sports and allow it to further challenge you.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ve9jPfJeT2k

“Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as you are already loving yourself.”  Mk. 12:28-32

Monday, September 26, 2016

Paying the Love Price in Hosea 3

Love keeps going to a deeper and deeper level in the book of Hosea.  As if it wasn’t enough for Hosea to marry an unfaithful whore (Hosea 1).  As if it wasn’t enough for Hosea to remain with her despite her whoring around (Hosea 1-2).  As if it wasn’t enough for Hosea to pursue her even in her waywardness (Hosea 2).  And now he is called to love her again when she not only has been whoring around, but also is “loved by another” (3:1).  It is terrible enough to just be a prostitute for money, but now she appears to be in an actual relationship with a man.  And yet, Hosea still loves her.  God loves us in the same manner!

Gomer is so destitute and washed up in her sin that she is for sale for only 15 shekels of silver.  Hosea’s wife is on the auction block.  The normal price for a slave in that day was 30 pieces of silver.  Her sin had taken its toil and she wasn’t worth much.  Our sin does the same to us.  “The wages of sin is death … what did you benefit from that which you are now ashamed of” (Rom. 6)?

With all of this background, Hosea/God pays the price to purchase his own wife.  “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for His friends” (Jn. 15).  Jesus bought us out of the slavery of sin with His blood!  “For God hath redeemed us, not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of the Lamb” (1 Peter 3).

And with this purchase, comes a needed conversation about where the relationship goes from here.  Hosea tells Gomer that the days of whoring around are over (v. 3) and that it is time to dwell with him and put aside all other relationships.  In other words, for this marriage to work, it requires exclusivity!!  And God says the same to us.  If we are going to have a healthy and growing relationship with God, we must repent of our sins and forsake our other “lovers.”  Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

For more on the great sacrifice Jesus has made to purchase us out of slavery, and the 6 essential ingredients that go into a healthy relationship with God, listen to my sermon on Hosea 3 at http://www.livinghopeathens.org/category/sermons/

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

God Pursuing the Sinner

In Hosea 2:14-23 we have this amazing picture of the pursuing God.  Gomer (representing Israel and us!) has gone astray from Hosea (representing God).  She has gone after other lovers.  She has turned her back on her husband. 

In Hosea 2:1-13 we saw God bringing loving, but firm discipline upon Gomer.    He is surrounding her with thorns and having her hit a wall.  This was all designed to be a wake-up call to her. But there is no response yet. 

So what does God do next?  He would have every right to bring total judgment and be done with her.  He could turn His back and say, “It is over.”  But yet He doesn’t.  Instead, He allures her!  He comes after her and seeks to romance her back to Himself.  Then He takes her into the wilderness and “speaks tenderly to her.”  The original Hebrew here means, “speak to her heart.”  And this is what God does with us.  In the midst of our sin and rebellion, He wants to speak to our heart.  He wants to go to the very root of why we are doing what we are doing. 

Then the passage says three times, “I will betroth you to me”.  God initiates restoring the marriage in the very midst of Gomer’s adultery.  What amazing grace and love.  At the very time we deserve judgment and condemnation, God comes after us to renew the marriage.  And He does this by saying “I will betroth you to me forever.”  Our marriage with God is eternal and cannot be broken.  And it is all because of what Jesus did for us at the cross.

For more on this amazing love and union with God that occurs through Jesus, check out my sermon at http://www.livinghopeathens.org/gods-love-song/

Friday, September 16, 2016

Walking in Humility and Openness to Correction

This week (on Sept. 15) I was reading Proverbs 15.  By the way, reading the numerical Proverb that corresponds with the day of the month is a great habit.  Anyways, several passages spoke to me about the importance of walking in humility, teachability, and receptivity to the input (even reprove) of others. 

“A fool despises … instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent.”  15:5
“There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way; whoever hates reproof will die.”  15:10
“A scoffer does not like to be reproved; he will not go to the wise.”  15:12
“Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisors they succeed.”  15:22
Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.”  15:32
“The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.”  15:33

These truths were put to the test in my life that very day.  A fellow pastor confronted me about something I said.  At first I was defensive and thought I had done nothing wrong.  I know I am the only one who ever responds that way.  Ha ha.  Then I took time to get alone with God and pray about it.  The Holy Spirit showed me I needed to repent.  I had to repent not only before him, but also before a group of people.  Not easy.  But afterwards, I had a clear conscience.  That is worth a lot!

Think about it:  if we walk in absolute humility and constantly open to what God may need to point out to us, then there is nothing He cannot do in us and through us.  “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).  Who would not want all the grace from God they could get?  And who would want to miss God’s “good, acceptable and perfect will” (see Rom. 12:1-2) in their life?

Be bold to ask God to give you a humble heart.  Be receptive to people speaking into your life.  Be approachable so that when people come with a concern, you don’t get defensive.  Take all things to the Lord in prayer. And repent of any and everything you are convicted of. And then walk in the forgiveness and power that Christ gives through His Holy Spirit.  If you do this, you will spiritually succeed.