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“You got Jesus. We got Joe-Pa!” (Penn State t-shirt)
Riddled with shame, the legacy of an iconic leader crumbled. Crumbling idols crush the worshippers bowing before them. Gathering the shards to create a lasting legacy is worthwhile. The life of Joe Paterno touched millions; reducing it to rubble benefits no one. The value of every life matters; failing to remember that brings devastating results. Ask Paterno worshippers; they know. Ask the victims of Paterno’s power; they know. Allowing the light of truth to penetrate the idol worship of Joe Paterno is the only way to let the man’s life replace the idol. It is the only path to rebuilding a legacy of worth.
The prophet Isaiah spoke to a nation whose idol worship left them broken and despairing. Idols do that—leave you hurting--because the only foundation able to support the weight of life through eternity is TRUTH. Lives—and legacies—built on lies crumble. Hard work, great character, exceptional intelligence and lofty dreams inspire us but they cannot sustain us. It is not that they are not truth but they are only partial truth. The complete revelation of Truth is Jesus Christ: love that sacrifices self for the good of others. Idols flip truth on its head: sacrificing others for the good of the idol.
Paterno’s career began with a good objective: build a football program that supported the academic pursuits of the university. Statistics—with or without NCAA endorsement—reveal remarkable achievements toward that goal. Millions donated to PSU academics; sports accolades earned and game victories recorded. The Paterno football program brought honor, money and respect to Penn State in powerful ways. His vision, work ethic and leadership produced success that led to a deadly result: fans began to worship him.
The objective gradually morphed into an idolatrous goal as the success of the football program and its leader, Joe Paterno took priority instead of the university. The people’s idolatry began to blind and deafen everyone involved with PSU Football. As workers prepared the Paterno statue for removal, a devoted fan cried out, “Paterno is all PSU represents: respect with honor!” Blinded to truth—that shame, not respect or honor--had decimated the Paterno legacy and Penn State itself, fans continue to worship. The key to restoring any honor to the man requires removing the idolatry.
The tempest building in the NCAA brings the possibility of healing and future good. Isaiah shared God’s promise to build up the nation of Israel if they would choose Truth. Lives and legacies built on truth have foundations of sapphire and towers of rubies! Such lives impact generations to come: the LORD instructs descendants and peace reigns. Joe Paterno lived a life of tremendous impact. As truth emerges, the broken pieces of the idol can become jewels in the hand of God. Exposed lies open the door for Truths to emerge.
Truth is that Joe Paterno’s life mattered to millions. Truth is every life matters. Any pursuit of a goal that fails to value lives along the path is a journey toward an idol. That truth will bring more victories to lives that the Nittany Lions can ever win. Earthly victories do not create lasting legacies. The win count for Joe Paterno needs to be lives determined to value others and embrace Truth!