Chisels for Priorities

This is the first sermon I preached at Brazospointe. The series was Chisels: Scriptures that God has used to shape us. I chose the Gibeonite story from Joshua 9 because it shows clearly how the enemy can use good things over time to take territory from the Lord in our hearts.   

Listen here:

Here’s the video:

Here’s the text for the sermon:

My son Kasen is a Jr at Brazoswood now, but he gave me permission to tell you about when he was 6. From early on He was very physical and sports came easy to him. He rode a bike without training wheels the same week that he turned 3. He was always one of the best athletes in every sport he played. However, when He tried out for the swim team at 6, it all changed. To make the team, he was supposed to swim across the pool with a “recognizable stroke.” He jumped confidently into the pool and . . . well . . . let’s just say it was not very “recognizable.” OK, It was bad, but it was fine with me. I didn’t really want to give up all our Saturdays for swim meets. If he made the team, it would have been great, but if he didn’t make the team, it still would have been great.

I didn’t really care, but Kasen was ready to quit. He wasn’t the best swimmer in the pool and it was hard, so he was discouraged and he was just done. In that moment however, something changed in me. I didn’t want a kid who quit anytime something was difficult. I didn’t care about the team, but I cared about my son and I knew this was a teachable moment – a formative moment. I wanted him to learn how to work for something – how to have a little grit. He agreed to practice every day for the next two weeks and when he tried out again, he killed it. He joined the team and then went on to so much more. He went to the State swim meet that same year. He currently holds the state record for 8 and under backstroke, and even got gold medals at a National swim meet a few years later.

More importantly, he knows how to work for something. He doesn’t quit when things are tough. He has grit. This summer, he is actually working as a swim coach on that same team.

Swim has been a good thing for our family. It has been one of the tools God has used for shaping us, and we are grateful for it. I couldn’t let Kasen quit, ‘cause I recognized how that moment could shape him and be important to his future. And it has been.

As the new Discipleship Minister at my church writing about chisels and spiritual formation . . . man this is like music to my ears! This is what my job is all about. And I think it’s important to remember that we are being formed, shaped, molded, and changed all the time. Something is formed in us every day – both good and bad. If I had let Kasen quit that day, it would have formed something in him too – just not the formation that I, as his father would have chosen for him.

We can’t avoid change. Spiritual formation is guaranteed. We will be formed. The question is not if we are being formed, it’s who has the chisel in hand. While God works to make us more like Him, this world aims to chisel away and distort the image of God within us. God wants one thing, the world tears it apart. God will win that battle every day that we abide in Him and give Him the space to work.

On the other hand, if we place our lives in the hands of the world, if we are apathetic about it, or even if we aren’t intentional, we are putting ourselves in danger of being formed into something other than God’s highest and best. This is where it gets tough though. I mean, this moment with Kasen was obvious to me. It was easy to see with his reaction to just give up. It was a clear moment that he could learn something. I saw the moment and I responded well (which I don’t always do.) But it’s not always so simple and easy. These moments can be tough to spot.  Sometimes they aren’t so obvious. Sometimes they’re subtle. Sometimes I miss it. I don’t recognize all the ways I’m being shaped. There are things that creep into our lives. Subtle things. Things that are good things. Things that gradually, bit by bit, grab tiny pieces of our hearts. And if they get too many of those pieces, they can begin to control us. In this way, these good things can become like little “g” gods without us even realizing how it happened. Good things that become like gods are bad things.

I’m going to share a story from the Old Testament today, that I believe is a similar situation. It’s a story about a formational moment that God saw for his children. You see, for 400 years, His chosen people in the Old Testament, the Israelites, had been shaped and forged into slaves in Egypt. God saw them there, as they were, and loved them, but He wanted more for them. He wanted them to represent Him to the entire world, so He miraculously rescued them from slavery and had a plan to bring them into a new land for a new start. Unfortunately, with their slave mentality, they weren’t going to represent Him very well.

God needed to form them and shape them to look more like Himself. (That’s the point for us too.) All of this meant they had to be holy – set apart and spiritually pure. So God had to keep them to Himself. He had to be their only influence. He had to keep them away from distractions or anything that might hinder their holiness. So as they entered the new promised land, God told them not to make any treaties with the people that occupied the land. He even told them to destroy them. . . Destroy the kings and idols that they find in the land. Destroy the distractions.

By the way, this is still God’s desire: You and I are still called to destroy the kings & idols that are found in our hearts.

Destroy the distractions that hinder our holiness.

Now, let’s think a minute about these distractions – the kings they were to destroy. What is a king? Kings hold authority over a specific location or people. They are sovereign within a certain territory and hold power over its’ people. God tells Joshua, (He’s the leader of God’s people at this time.) God tells him to remove all the kings in the land and to destroy them because God Himself would be the only King. He alone is King. He alone is in control. He will not share His authority. If they were going to represent Him to the world, He had to be first place in their lives.

An English writer from the 1800s named John Ruskin says,

“God will put up with a great many things in the human heart, but there is one thing that He will not put up with in it – a second place. He who offers God a second place, offers Him no place.”

As Christ followers, we must remove all the kings and idols that once occupied territory in our hearts.” We must clear the land and offer our hearts to Jesus, the one and only King and then continue to protect and defend God’s territory.

Our church uses a resource called, “Rooted” for small groups. Week 5 is the “strongholds” week. The whole evening is focused on some of the obvious kings that need to be removed from our hearts. Things like fear, pride, bitterness, control, despair, sexual immorality, insecurity, deceit. . . These are clear and easy to spot. As he entered the promised land, Joshua had won battles against some obvious enemies like this at Jericho and Ai. They were strongholds. They were obvious enemies. They were hard to miss.

But the ones I want to talk through today are less obvious. They’re subtle enemies. They are kings that pretend to be friends. These subtle kings are much harder to spot.

Before reading he Scripture below, remember that God is forming His people under the leadership of Joshua. They are former slaves who need to become holy so they can represent God Himself. God has told them to destroy the Kings and idols in the land. At this point in the story, they have done well. Joshua has listened and obeyed God at every turn. They have defeated both Jericho and the city of Ai in some miraculous and incredible ways. Joshua and the people are in a good place when all this goes down. 

Joshua 9: 1 Now when all the kings west of the Jordan heard about these things . . . 2 they came together to wage war against Joshua and Israel. 3 However, when the people of Gibeon (who also live in the Promised land) heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, 4 they resorted to a ruse: (They disguised themselves) They went as a delegation whose donkeys were loaded with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, cracked and mended. 5 They put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy. 6 Then they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and the Israelites, “We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us.”

7 The Israelites said to the Hivites, “But perhaps you live near us, so how can we make a treaty with you?”

(remember: God said no treaties)

8 “We are your servants,” they said to Joshua. (These are lies. They really want Joshua to serve them.)

But Joshua asked, “Who are you and where do you come from?”

9 They answered: “Your servants have come from a very distant country because of the fame of the Lord your God. For we have heard reports of him: all that he did in Egypt, 10 and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan—11 And our elders and all those living in our country said to us, ‘Take provisions for your journey; go and meet them and say to them, “We are your servants; make a treaty with us.”’ 12 This bread of ours was warm when we packed it at home on the day we left to come to you. But now see how dry and moldy it is. 13 And these wineskins that we filled were new, but see how cracked they are. And our clothes and sandals are worn out by the very long journey.”

14 The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord. 15 Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath.

Wait!?! What?!?! Joshua is a Bible hero. He’s not supposed to do this. He’s supposed to do it right and be our example. Yes . . . but he was deceived. He was tricked. The Gibeonites weren’t obvious kings. They were subtle kings. They deceived Joshua by pretending to be from another land.

Did you notice how he messed up? Where he made his mistake? Did you catch it? Look at vs 14.

Joshua did NOT inquire of the LORD.

Joshua undermined the whole thing by just powering through on his own. The Lord had given him success in two huge victories. He was confident. He was on a winning streak. He thought he was in control. He relied on himself.  He relied on himself.

Alright. So. . . let’s get personal here.

What are the deceptive kings in your life?

Who are your Gibeonites? What is fighting for more territory in your life? If you’re a Christ follower, then Jesus is the one and only King over it all. It’s all His territory. What kings have tricked you? What relationships or habits or activities have crept into your life and consume you? These aren’t “bad” things. They might even be good. These aren’t obvious kings. These are Gibeonites – the subtle deceivers.

I’ve got more of these than I care to admit, but I’m gonna tell you about one.

Actually, in some ways I’ve already told you about it. My story about Kasen and the swim team is where it all started. Over the years, that amazing formational moment with swim has grown into a Gibeonite king. Today, that king goes by another name though: Waterpolo.

Don’t get me wrong. We love waterpolo and the community of people that we have become a part of is amazing. It’s just that it’s not always a great and Godly endeavor either. Both school and club waterpolo have occupied territory in our lives that was once the Lord’s.

We have missed worship services for tournaments. We have spent money on hotels, food, gas, and fees, for tournaments, and practices, and waterpolo experiences. That money could have been used for eternal/kingdom purposes. We have spent emotional energy, shed tears, and been angry over waterpolo drama – not to mention when a ref makes a bad call. I will jump out of my seat screaming and waving my arms around like a fool. I can get caught up in the moment and completely lose control of myself. Just last season, I found myself yelling at a ref so obnoxiously that from the deck of the pool, he yelled back into the stands at me saying, “You think you’re a better ref?” Then he pulled out a little notebook to tell me what dates I could come to referee training. But, it didn’t slow me down. I just kept yelling. When the game was over, a friend said, “You know it’s a bad call when the guy wearing that shirt is screaming.” I looked down at my shirt. It said, “Be Kind” in big bold letters. I felt really small. I didn’t exactly reflect Jesus to that ref. I am a walking contradiction.

Anyway, a bad call is like the fast track for anger to become my king. Anything that can do the things that waterpolo can do to me, probably occupies more of my heart than I really even know.

To be clear, waterpolo is not all bad. There are great and Godly things that have happened too. God has used waterpolo to form us into His image.  We’ve had spiritual conversations with people who aren’t church people and we’ve been able to be a steady and consistent witness with many people in that community.

What I am saying is this: We’ve been on both sides of the line between what glorifies God and what doesn’t.

My guess is that this has happened to you too. It’s probably not waterpolo, but there’s some sort of Gibeonite in your life too. Maybe it’s another sport, or a relationship, maybe social media, or a habit, or something that has become an addiction. I don’t know, but whatever it is, it’s a subtle slope. Slow and seemingly unpredictable.

My family was shaped by a series of tiny decisions. When we started, there were no games on Sundays. However, as my kids got older, schedules got more demanding and one Sunday, we said, “The team is counting on us. We can’t let them down. It’s just one week. Our kids are still connected to the body of Christ.” We justified it. Each decision was small enough that it was easy to write it off.

Like Joshua, we were deceived and like Joshua, I didn’t “inquire of the Lord.” I thought I didn’t need His help ‘cause it seemed like such a small decision. I relied on myself

Author, Mark Lawrence says,

There’s a slope towards evil, a gentle gradient that can be ignored at each step, unfelt. It’s not until you look back, see the distant heights where you once lived, that you understand your journey. (from Emperor of Thorns)

That’s where I’m at right now. I’m looking back where we’ve come from and where this path is headed. This is my fault. I can see it clearly now and I’ve got to do something different.

So where do I go from here? How do I fix it? Do I tell my kids it’s over. We’re done with waterpolo? Do we kick waterpolo out of our lives? Sometimes, I think that is the answer, but this time, I don’t think it’s that simple. I think it’s more complicated and nuanced than that. It’s too nuanced for me, so let’s go back to Joshua. What did he do?

After he figured out how he had been deceived: That very same day.

Joshua 9:27 “That day he made the Gibeonites woodcutters and water carriers for the assembly, to provide for the need of the altar of the Lord.

Do you see it? He didn’t go back on his word. He didn’t break his treaty. He didn’t kick them out. Instead, Joshua made them servants of the Lord. It’s genius really. 

He put God back in His rightful place as King. He put the Lord over the Gibeonites!

I think that’s my answer. I think it’s your answer – the answer for all of us. No matter if your Gibeonite is waterpolo, or social media, an addiction, a relationship, or whatever.

Man, we gotta put God back on the throne. We gotta make Him King over it all. He deserves to sit in His rightful place, which is never 2nd place. In the ways your Gibeonite serves Him, you’re good. In the ways that it doesn’t, well. . . those are tougher decisions, but they are decisions that we know the answers to. They’re just decisions that we don’t like. We’ve got to repent and turn back to God. The issue here is more about having the courage to make the right decision. How will we choose to be shaped in those moments?

Will you choose the chisel in God’s hand or the one in the hand of your Gibeonite?

Here’s what I know. We’ve got to do something different. We can’t just keep doing what we’ve been doing. We’ve got to be intentional. Like my son Kasen, it’s gonna take hard work and grit. When God swings the hammer at His chisel, it will be painful. It hurts to cut these things out of our lives, but they will be worth it. We will look more like him as we create new practices and habits so our reflex is to make Jesus King.

There are things we can learn from Joshua’s mistake. We must:

  • Be Wise: Inquire of the Lord. Don’t be deceived.
  • Be Ready: Refuse to rely on yourself.
  • Prioritize: Make Jesus King over everything – especially your Gibeonites.

This is our church core value: Jesus over Everything. Right?

By the way, I should finish the story. In the next chapter, the Gibeonites call upon Joshua to protect them. Who do they think they are? They want him to serve them because of a treaty they tricked him into. Joshua doesn’t abandon them. (which is what I would have been tempted to do thinking now they’ll get what they deserve now) Instead, Joshua comes with his whole army and defends the very people who deceived him. That’s crazy to me. But Joshua did what Jesus would do years later.

As the true King, Jesus rescues you in spite of your sin. Even if you come to Him pretending you’re someone else, He forgives you and saves you and protects you. He isn’t fooled. He knows every part of you and still makes an irrevocable treaty with you. Are you hearing me? He knows every part of you and still makes a treaty with you. This treaty is authorized by His work on the cross and it’s signed in blood. It’s an everlasting treaty and it gives you full rights as a child of the King. The King who will rule and reign forever. If you invite other Gibeonites into His territory, He will subdue them. In Him, there is only victory. Let Him be King of your heart and your life. It’s the best decision you’ll ever make. Jesus is King! Jesus is King! Jesus is King!

Prayer:

Dear God, We thank You and praise You that You are King. You rule and reign over everything. The heavens and earth declare Your glory. The planets were formed and move around their orbits at Your command. The wind and the waves, they listen to You. All of creation responds to You with a resounding, “Yes!” And yet Lord, when I look at my own heart, full of kings and idols, hardened and distracted. I have the audacity to tell You “No.” Lord, forgive me. Turn me from these ways, back to You. Teach me to inquire of You at every turn. Give me courage to choose the chisel in You hand. Send Your Spirit to lead me to destroy the distractions so that I might be holy and represent You well. Lord, You are King over everything. Today, may You be king over my heart too. AMEN.