A week or so ago I had lunch with Pastor Ken Kraft from Kingsley, Iowa. Typically, there are a handful of fellow pastors who meet but, on this particular day, it was just Ken and I. Ken has been a friend for nearly 10 years or so. He is a soft-hearted man and yet, he calls it the way he sees it. As we were wrapping up lunch and a conversation filled with a variety of topics related to ministry, he asked, “Are we any different than those in the Bible who worshipped Asherah poles?”  I thought about it for a moment and answered, “I think I know what you mean. For instance, there are poles of various sorts throughout the world of sport.”
Before we proceed, let’s stop and discuss worship. There are many, even in the Christian church, who are confused about worship. Some see it is an activity confined to a church building within the context of a public meeting called a worship service. Associated with that, worship is often partitioned in mind and practice and therefore limited to a particular time and place or completely excluded. However, in John 4, Jesus speaks of worshipping in spirit and in truth. In fact, “worship” (proskuneo) means “to fall down before” or “bow down before.” Furthermore, it‘s both private and public. Actually, we are to worship God in every activity not limited by time and location. In simple terms, worship is honoring with extravagant love and extreme submission (Webster's Dictionary,1828).
Now let’s get back to pagan worship and poles. The Canaanites, not unlike Americans, worshipped many gods. But, just so you know, an Asherah pole was a pole that was erected to honor the pagan goddess Asherah, also known as Astarte. Worship of Asherah was well-known in ancient times for its sensuality and ritual prostitution. The priests and priestesses of Asherah also practiced magic and fortune-telling.
What did the Bible say about this practice? In Deuteronomy 7:5 and 12:3, the Israelites were commanded to cut down these poles. In conjunction, Deuteronomy 16:21 commands the Israelites not to set up any wooden Asherah poles of their own. And then, in Judges 3:7, “The sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth.” This isn’t surprising given Israel’s failure to completely conquer the land of Canaan as they were commanded, allowing Asherah-worship to survive and plague Israel (Judges 2:13).

Now getting specifically to Ken’s point, I latter pondered a few questions. My first question was, “Can a person enjoy sports as a past-time without actually worshiping sports or leisure or entertainment?” It’s possible but, from personal experience, you have to know what worship truly is and be on guard. My next question was, “When does a person cross the line and actually worship other gods?” The line is crossed for sure when we violate the first two of the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me.” And we must add the words of Jesus here, Matthew 22:36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.” Now to the second of the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them . . .” In any case, God alone is worthy of our worship. He alone is worthy of first place. Be careful. Watch out for the poles!

The next day, my mind was consumed with a couple more questions. The first one was, “Can a person who calls himself a Christian, even though they routinely attend worship services with other Christians in honor of Jesus Christ, also worship other gods in the context of sports, leisure or entertainment? Well, it’s unfortunate and dreadfully sinful but, yes. If we’re honest, most if not all have rationalized its acceptability. Because, after all, we claim to worship Jesus. Well, at least some of the time. Okay, when we’re not busy with other things. Is this a case of saying one thing and our actions proving something else? I also wondered for a moment, “Is it possible for those who claim to be followers of Christ to marginalize their faith by offering God the left overs or the afters. Afters? You know, after I go here and there and do this and that I might have the time and energy to contribute to the fellowship, worship and work of God’s kingdom. In all honesty, the offering of leftovers and afters is routine and is ushering in the demise of the local church.
A pole, in and of itself, isn’t the problem. It’s what we do with it. Moreover, what it represents. For that matter, a sport in and of what the sport is, isn’t the problem. The problem is the priority, time, energy, focus and meaning you give an object or activity. Let’s get real. If you cross the line, admit you crossed the line and repent. If you are worshipping other gods, then repent and return to the Most High God. But isn’t it interesting that the once highly venerated “Asherah” has morphed from goddess to wooden pole to obscurity?  Where are her worshippers now? All the while Father God, Creator of the universe, has never changed! My friends, seriously, watch out for the poles. You might find yourself in a crowd of pagan worshippers.
A Work in Progress,

Pastor Gene

Gene StocktonComment