The devil is so cunning! He made me feel like Abraham the other day. He really tricked me into doing something that I was always VERY careful about not doing. I still can’t believe I fell for this. I walked away from a situation saying to myself no less than one hundred times, “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” Yes…that’s the only word I was able to keep muttering to myself that Sunday morning. So now I feel I have to write about this as a warning to everyone else out there who have strong convictions about something, to show you how easy it is to get duped into doing the complete opposite. So for that…I must start at the beginning.
After recommitting my life to God about twelve years ago, I have made steady growth. I began by going to church for Sunday morning services, showing up only at 11:00 am. I didn’t go to Sunday School. I didn’t return back to church for evening services, nor did I attend midweek services either. But slowly and surely, over time, I incorporated those church services into my life until I eventually was attending all the services, including Sunday School.
But before I began making services a priority in my life, I would do other things during those time frames. I would visit people. I would play golf. I would go to baseball or hockey games. I would do just about anything else. I would make it so that church fit into my schedule of everything else that came first. If at any time church conflicted with planned activities, church lost out over said activities or I’d maybe attend the evening service if I was “busy” in the morning. I made sure church was a convenience. And that’s how it was until I developed a strong conviction that church came first before all else.
It finally sunk into my head…then made it to my heart…that God had to be first place in a Christian’s life. He is to have preeminence. The Bible says in Colossians 1:18, “And He is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in ALL things might have the preeminence.” That verse is speaking about Christ, as the Head of the Church, which is comprised of individuals, like you and me. So if the Church should give Christ the preeminence in all things, it has to be each one of us on the individual level giving Christ the preeminence. That includes giving Him our time, before anything else, in order to let Him teach us from His Word as our pastor brings it forth to us.
The Bible puts things another way in Exodus 20:3, “Thou shalt have NO other gods before me.” It’s likely that none of us bow down and worship a statue. It’s likely that none of us pray to gods the way the ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks did. It’s likely that very few true Bible-believing Christians worship Mary and pray to Mary and other “saints” the way Catholics do. Yet this verse is Number One on the list. It’s the first commandment. I’m not saying it’s more important than the other two commandments that God reserves for Himself, and I’m not suggesting that the commandments are set up in descending order of importance. I’m simply saying it’s the very first one God listed…maybe it was the foremost thought on His mind at that time, and still is today.
So this verse is still relevant to Bible-believing Christians today, even though we readily and willingly worship the God of the Bible, and not false deities like Mary, Buddha, or Thor, or any created being like cows, the way the Hindus do. So where can we go wrong with this “other gods” verse? There are many! But for the purposes of this lesson, I’ll say that anytime we opt out of church for any reason WE choose and God does not sanction or create in our lives is when we are guilty of idol worship and putting some other god before God.
My job has me on the road in my car most of the day (that fact played a big part in me being duped, as you’ll see soon). When I listen to the radio, I hear offers for free tickets to events such as plays, ball games, and many other forms of entertainment. All you have to do is be the right caller and you win those free tickets. What I do before I even begin dialing and redialing is I check the date of the event. If it falls on my midweek service or on a Sunday, I don’t even bother trying to win them, because I won’t use them. Why? Because I do not feel right choosing to go to a baseball game while I should be at church. I’m better off paying for tickets for a game on a night that doesn’t conflict with church.
If I choose to go to a ballgame, hockey game, or anything else for that matter that I can attend any other day, I am putting God second to whatever I am skipping church to do. See, we’re not simply skipping church. We’re skipping another commandment in Exodus 20:8, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Holy means consecrated and set apart. You set something apart because it is special in some way. So God says that spending time with Him in corporate worship is something special, and to skip out on that to go to a football game makes that football game more special than spending time worshipping God. Thus the football game (or whatever else) takes the place of God and gets the preeminence…even if it’s just for that week…and that is sin according to the standard God gave us in Exodus 20:3, 8.
For years now I have been very careful about doing anything other than be in church during those times when I should be in church. But here’s what happened. My car, that I use everyday for work (on the road salesman) is over fourteen years old and has about 170,000 miles on it. It’s long been paid for, but has required several major repairs over the last few years. The CD player no longer works. The driver side sun visor won’t stay put. The air conditioner doesn’t work anymore. The fans that blow the heat in the winter only work on the two highest settings. And randomly, when I unlock the door or pop the trunk, the alarm will go off. The car has quirks that show its age. But I rely on that car for my job…a job that I truly believe God provided for me.
Now I have committed to God that I do not want to finance another car. I believe God would have me NOT do that, as He has convicted me greatly about our debt over these last few years, and though taking out a loan is only warned against in the Bible and not forbidden, I don’t believe it is the right thing to do for my family. So I have basically told God that I would be patient and wait for Him to somehow, someway, give me a car, because our finances being as they are, we are not able to pay for a car outright. So I am committed to that plan.
Well, recently, I was driving down the highway and noticed a sign from a car dealership in the state that was giving away a free car. No purchase necessary. No hoops to jump through. No gimmicks. Simply fill out an entry form and drop it in the box. That was it. I dismissed it at first like I usually do when I see those types of things. I figure the chances of me getting my name picked from a barrel among hundreds of other entries aren’t very good. But I kept seeing that offer on many different billboards as I drove. Now my head got involved and not my heart.
I said to myself that this may indeed be the way God was going to “give me my car.” So on the Friday before the drawing I drove to the dealership and filled out an entry form. The drawing was to be on a Sunday morning at 11:00am (the time of morning services). I inquired and found out anyone who wins the car had to be present to win. I remember thinking to myself that it was odd that if God wanted to bless me with a car this way, that I’d have to miss church Him to do it. But after all, I surmised that God knew the rules of the giveaway and must be sanctioning me missing church for the opportunity to bless me with a new car I didn’t have to finance.
So instead of helping my wife with an unruly Sunday school class (we teach Sunday school) I headed out to the dealership at 10:15am. As I’m there waiting, it all of a sudden hit me…like blinders had been on my eyes and were suddenly removed. What on earth was I doing!?!?!? Why did I think, up until that very second, that God would have blessed me with a car and have me skip church to do it? I mean, come on, are you even serious? It all of a sudden became very clear to me that God didn’t need a giveaway on a Sunday morning that took me away from church to bless me with a much needed car. Nope! I think the devil very subtly got into my head and messed up my thinking.
Like ballgames and other forms of entertainment that I don’t skip church for, I should have said this to myself about the Sunday morning giveaway, “Being at church is more important than possibly winning a car, so God will have to bless me with a car some other way that doesn’t involve me missing church.” But instead, my thinking got messed up, and I put the possibility of winning a new car as a priority over going to church like I should have…because I was convinced (wrongly) that God was behind this. How stupid! I remember feeling like Abraham in a way.
God promised Abraham a son, but looking at the present circumstances (the age of Abraham and the barrenness of his wife Sarah) it seemed like some other way than through Sarah this child would have to be born. So Abraham and Sarah tried to help God by convincing themselves that a child must come to them through the handmaiden Hagar. Like me, they mistook the current conditions that presented themselves and thought they “knew” how God was going to bless them with a child. So they decided that Abraham was to go into Hagar and bare the son they thought God wanted to bless them with. Obviously in hindsight they saw the error of their thinking, the way hindsight showed me the error of my thinking.
I still can’t believe how I was duped! I didn’t go to this giveaway because I didn’t want to be at church. I wouldn’t have gone car shopping on a Sunday during church. I simply went because I wrongly looked at the situation that presented itself, and like Abraham and Sarah who desperately wanted a child, I wanted a new car and just “knew for sure” that God sanctioned me missing church in order for Him to bless me with it. Again, in hindsight, how stupid of me.
So I got back to church around 11:30 in that same blue 2001 Pontiac Sunfire that I left in. I sat outside the church in the courtyard and sulked and verbally chastised and berated myself, uttering the word “stupid” over and over and over again. I know that I have since been forgiven for that miscue. I know God wasn’t happy with my misguided thinking, but I’m not sure exactly how disappointed He was with me. My heart followed my misguided thinking, and like Abraham and Sarah, my motives behind being at the giveaway and not a church were honest and sincere. I can’t even say I was being selfish in my motives. I wanted to be at church of course. I just believed I HAD to be there in order for God to do what I thought He was going to do. The devil is cunning!
The great thing about messing up like this is the addition to the learning curve. I can draw back on this experience the next time something like this presents itself and can say “NO” instead of sulking again and saying “STUPID!”