“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.”
Matthew 6:24 NLT
Marcellus Shale tycoon, Aubrey McClendon, died at age 56 recently in a car crash described by police as a lone vehicle crash driven “straight into a wall” at high speed. According to the Post Gazette, “The crash came one day after the co-founder of Oklahoma City based Chesapeake Energy Corp. was indicted on a charge of conspiring to rig bids to buy oil and natural gas leases.”1 Our sympathy and prayers go out to his family. Chesapeake remains one of the top shale gas producers in Pennsylvania. McClendon was alone in his car on March 2 when it slammed into a concrete embankment shortly after 9am. According to Oklahoma City Police Captain Paco Balderrama, “it appears that he drove into the wall after swerving left of center, went through a grassy area right before colliding into the embankment. There was plenty of opportunity for him to correct and get back on the roadway and that didn’t occur.”2
McClendon was suspected of masterminding a scheme between Chesapeake and another energy company from December 2007 and March 2012 (while he was the CEO at Chesapeake) to rig bids on natural gas leases then share an interest in them with each other. It is important at this point to state that the evidence seems to point strongly in one direction regarding Aubrey McClendon’s death, however, his state of mind and his intent at the time of his death are unknown to us. Our God is loving and just and He alone will be his judge.
What I hope to express in this article is that Aubrey McClendon’s death may be a tragic example of a businessman whose heart was overtaken by a merciless false “god” who led him further than he ever intended to go. Jesus said in his famous “Sermon on the Mount,” quoted above, that no one can serve the two masters of God and Money. The movement of our hearts will be in one direction or the other. It will be towards the love and worship of God or the love and worship of money. We are a culture that has exalted money and material things to the place of worship. Jesus was speaking of the love of money, looking to it for our security rather than Him; delighting in what money provides for us rather than relying on God as our provider. Money may be the greatest source of our pride and sense of accomplishment. For us as men money may be a way of “keeping score.”
We don’t talk about idols much in the 21st century. We think that idols were created objects or gods that uneducated people worshipped in the ancient world. In the Bible these gods had names like Baal and Dagon as well as female deities like Asherah and Diana.
Kyle Idleman gives clarity for us. “What if it’s not about statues? What if the gods of here and now are not cosmic deities with strange names? What if they take identities that are so ordinary that we don’t recognize them as gods at all? What if we do our “kneeling” and “bowing” with our imaginations, our checkbooks, our search engines, our calendars?” 3
Today, it is helpful to think of an idol as someone or something that we lift up as the source of our significance, security, deep comfort or identity in the place of God. It is where we do our kneeling and bowing.
This person or thing can be a good gift from God, as money or sex within marriage can be in our lives. By placing them at the center of our hearts, however, our heart becomes corrupted and the false god battles for control, dethroning God. When we serve the god of money and materialism we become enslaved to a cruel master. He is never satisfied with us, always leading us to see what we don’t posses. His cruel tentacles of emptiness, coveting, and anxiety can go deep into our hearts. Jesus was saying that we would have to choose our master; money or God. The context of His words in the Sermon on the Mount further reveal that He is speaking not just about the threat of being enslaved to money. He is warning us about trying to serve God along with any false god like lust or religious self-righteousness.
The Jews knew well that the unspoken one, Yahweh (from the Hebrew sacred 4 letters transliterated YHWH), was a jealous God requiring their whole-hearted worship. God had made a covenant of steadfast love to his people and would not tolerate any rivals to Him in their hearts. The first and second commandments made this crystal clear:
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me.”
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image…You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Exodus 20:1-2
These two commandments make a few things very clear to us as Christians when understood in the light of the New Testament. I use the word Christian from its historic meaning in Acts 11:26, meaning those belonging to Christ. The Lord our God revealed in Jesus Christ has rescued us from our slavery to sin just as He delivered Israel from their slavery to Egypt. They were taken out of a culture in Egypt that worshipped a multitude of false gods with similarities to our idols in America today. God’s covenant with his people has always been one of steadfast love. This unconditional love would take our place in receiving our judgment for sin at the cross. This love was fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah. God through the new covenant, secured through the atoning death of Jesus on the cross and glorious resurrection, has revealed his “steadfast love” to all people. Through faith, His blood shed for our sin breaks the curse of inter-generational sin’s power over us. Because God has paid it all in rescuing us from sin and death He is zealous for our whole-hearted worship of Him.
In marriage, we understand the rightful nature of such a claim. My wife and I have been married for 33 years. I am zealous for her to give to me all the emotional, spiritual, and sexual intimacy a husband should expect. If she is giving that to another man in any way I am going to war with my rival. How much more will the Lord Almighty go to war with His rivals for our heart’s loyalty?
As Kyle Idleman puts it in “gods at war” the god of money and material things seeks to kick Christ off the throne of our hearts and replace Him with the “god of Me.” The god of achievement is a “close cousin” to the god of money and works in the same way. Achievement is a good thing until it begins to become our source of identity, significance, and purpose.
All of the false gods ultimately seek to replace Christ as Lord in our lives with the “god” of me.
How can we know if our hearts are being overtaken by the god of money and material things? Answering a few questions with some careful reflection can be very revealing.
What brings you the greatest joy in your life? Is it found in relationships or stuff? In achievements or knowing and serving God?
Where do you get your buzz? Do you get it from a momentary rush over an influx of cash or buying something new? Or do you get it in a daily dependence upon the Holy Spirit who produces fruit (i.e. love, joy, peace, patience) in your life? (Galatians 5:22-23)
What do you look to for your security? Is it your checking account balance? Retirement nest egg? Salary? Or is it in Christ and his righteousness? Is it being reinforced daily in God’s word, through prayer and through God’s people?
Where is your sense of identity established? Is your net worth and your material possessions a way of keeping score with others around you? Or is the deepest measure of your identity in the cross of Christ and his gospel (Galatians 6:14)? Is it in being a beloved “son” of God (Romans 8:15-17)?
If the Lord has revealed to you that in your unbelief a false god has the place of Lordship in your heart. Or being a Christian an idol has toppled Christ from His place on the throne of your heart, pray with me.
“Father, I come before your throne through the mighty works of Jesus Christ, your eternal Son, who loves me and died on the cross as payment for my sins. I believe that you raised Him from the dead and by faith in my heart I know that His resurrection life is now in me. I confess that I have given my heart to false gods, I name them here________________ to repent of them.
I renounce their claim and power over me. They are usurpers to the throne that I yield to you alone Lord Jesus. I confess the weakness of my flesh, my inability to defeat them. Holy Spirit fill me with your power so that I may break the sin habits whereby I have given authority and power to these false gods. I commit to building a relationship with a group of godly men who will walk with me in this battle for my heart. I pray all these things in the name of Jesus Christ, my savior and Lord.”
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 3, 2016, p. A-5.
“gods at war”, Kyle Idleman, p. 12