Tag Archives: sacrifice

These Are the Times that Try Churches’ Souls

These are the times that try men’s souls. Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, 1776

He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” Genesis 22:12-14

Abraham Isaac sacrificeDuring the American Revolution, author/philosopher, Thomas Paine, wrote a series of pamphlets called The American Crisis in which he challenged colonists at the infant stages of a revolution to stay resolved and to have hope. Considered a liberal (most such revolutions against such a long-standing government as the British empire are), he reminded the colonists that the war against Great Britain was a just war, with God on our side. He denounced any thoughts of compromise or of negotiated peace, but called the colonists to hold onto the values and principals in which their only hope lay.

Some would argue the U.S. is in another similar time of crisis. The political divisiveness of our current culture suggests as much. While I agree we are approaching a time of crisis, I think it is for different reasons than the current state of political divide. After all, is today’s divide truly deeper than the race fights of the 60s? The Vietnam War crisis? The fights over prohibition? Women’s suffrage in the early 1900s? The slavery issue and the Civil War? No, …

Being the Anti-Worshipper

Thursday Re-mix:

Come, let us bow down in worship,
    let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    the flock under his care.

Today, if only you would hear his voice,
“Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
    as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested me... Psalm 95:6-9

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1


??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????There are some of you reading this post who cannot believe there are still churches struggling with the “worship wars” of music and style and diverse forms of gathered worship.  You fought those battles years ago and have enjoyed a long time now of unity on that subject.  There are others of you who, frankly, cannot even imagine what it feels like to have that conflict in your rear-view mirror, because you are right in the middle of it now, with little hope for a friendly resolution.  Either way, whether those struggles are fresh for your church or long since forgotten, we all could use a gentle reminder about worship and what, exactly, are our objectives as we plan corporate worship.

The Psalmist from Psalm 95 does us a great favor, not only reminding us of the object of our worship, but also reminding us of what is NOT worship.  The references to “Meribah” and “Massah” in Psalm 95 relate to an ugly moment in Israel’s history documented in Exodus 17.  The people were complaining to Moses because they were uncomfortable…because they were not getting what they wanted.  There was a sense of entitlement in them…exactly …

Loving Against the Grain

Tuesday Re-mix –

You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”…While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.  Acts 7:51-53, 59-60

Learning to show love to a lost and broken world is hard enough for us as individuals…that challenge is magnified a hundred fold for the church corporately.  We, the church, must live in the tension between standing for holiness (separateness, not giving in to the ways of the world) and loving the broken people around us, who are still well-entrenched in the ways of the world.  It is tricky, isn’t it?

When I read Stephen’s amazing sermon in Acts 7, and I see him brilliantly making the case for the pattern of rebellion throughout the history of the Jewish people (it is very much like an intervention…laying out all the evidence in a rational and indisputable way) and then leveling his charge against the church leaders of his time by associating them with that same pattern…I think to myself, “Now THAT is definitely going against the grain and calling out an entire culture!”  I have seen churches who have no problem with walking against the grain…railing against our culture, screaming at all the sinners in the world and telling them they’re going to burn in hell, even telling them that …

What to Give the God Who has Everything

Tuesday Re-mix –

With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.   
Micah 6:6-8

gift-tieFather’s Day is nigh upon us…just a little less than two weeks away.  It is not too early to start thinking about what (for most of us) is the most difficult gift of the whole year to find.  What in the world will you give him for Father’s Day?  He is so very difficult to buy for!  Whenever he needs something, he just goes and gets it…what could I possibly get him that he doesn’t already have?  A tie?  Did I give him that last year?  Did I really give him a tie last year!?  How cliche is that!?  I am so embarrassed.

This passage out of Micah got me thinking about God and what He really wants from His church (from His bride) and what we could possibly give Him, and I wondered…What do you give the God Who has everything?

Some would answer we should give Him our very best gathered worship…excellence in music, in preaching, in communion, in corporate prayer…that we should give Him a truly amazing gathered worship expression week after week.  They might cite Psalm 22:3 (our God inhabits praise).

Others would answer the church should give Him our broken Spirits and contrite hearts…that what …

Welcome to Ministry. What Exactly Did You Expect?

Tuesday Re-mix –

When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”  Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Matthew 8:18-20

It seems to me that the scene has by now played out for me at least a hundred times.  I am counseling with a pastor who has been put through the wringer by his congregation and has been maligned and injured and his family has been as well.  He has fallen victim to the church at its very worst and he now has the scars to show for it.  He expresses to me his utter dismay and surprise and talks about how seminary simply did not prepare him for this.  His wife expresses shock that God’s own people could behave so badly and that this was NOT what she signed on for when she agreed to marry a pastor.  I listen, and I weep with them, and I grieve for them…and then I think to myself, “Welcome to the ministry.  This is it.  Welcome.”

Jesus was always pretty clear about the downside to following Him…the cost would be great, the sacrifice extraordinary.  He never sugar-coated that.  He was completely unapologetic about it throughout his entire ministry.  So, I suppose my thinking has always been, “If that is true for every follower of Jesus, how much more so for those called out to shepherd other followers of Jesus?”  Vocational ministry, in short, is simply not about comfort.  It is about ministering to a bunch of poorly-behaved, stinky sheep who bite and who hurt you and who get …

Stumbling over the “Stumbling Block” Metaphor

Tuesday Re-mix –

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.  1 Corinthians 8:9

I do not drink alcohol.  I do have plenty of friends who believe I should…and there was a time in my life when I did.  But when I got out of college and got married and began my “grown-up” life, I made the decision to not drink alcohol.  I did not make that decision out of any moralistic reasoning, or because of any misguided belief that God frowns on alcohol…I do not believe that at all.  I made that decision because, in my particular “flavor” of Christianity (the Southern Baptist church), there are still plenty of people for whom alcohol is a major “stumbling block” issue…people with whom I would lose my testimony if I did drink alcohol…so it seemed like a small price to pay to retain that ability to be a Godly influence in their lives.  Thirty years later, it still feels like a very small price to pay.

That issue (alcohol in the Baptist church) is about as close as I can come to a contemporary example of the “meat sacrificed to idols” issue Paul dealt with in the Corinthian church.  In that community, there was meat for sale in the market place at a discounted price, because it was surplus meat from pagan temples, i.e., meat intended to be sacrificed to pagan gods, but which was surplus and therefore sold into the market place for resale.  Given the Jewish history with pagan gods and all, there were plenty of “traditionalists” in the New Testament church who refused to purchase or consume that meat and who were fairly judgmental towards those who did.  These are the “weak-minded” people whom Paul is protecting when …

A Stunning Metaphor for Gathered Worship

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your comments and consideration.

If you watched the opening ceremony of last Summer’s Beijing Olympics, you saw a breathtaking and beautiful display of performance and pageantry filled with Chinese drummers, fireworks, acrobats, musicians and dancers. For me, one of the truly amazing moments was the 2,008 Tai Chi masters perfectly synchronized and presenting a stunning visual across the floor of the stadium. Check it out:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zffp2VPEEdc&hl=en&fs=1&rel=0]

As I was preparing for that week’s lesson on worship, it occurred to me (actually, it occurred to Kappie, from whom I shamelessly stole this metaphor) that this gathered Tai Chi performance gave us a nearly perfect metaphor for gathered worship. Here’s how:

Gathered worship should involve sacrifice. To do what these guys did required months of preparation and rehearsal…months of sacrifice in order to pull off a single moment together.

My friend Stephen, who plans worship at my church, reminds the choir often that it is their weekly sacrifice at Wednesday night rehearsal (more than the service on Sunday morning) which is their spiritual act of worship. For gathered worship to be truly effective, there must be this sacrifice, this “rehearsal” in order to do something together that is more than just multiplied individual worship. Tai Chi truly is beautiful. One Tai Chi master or even a small group would have been beautiful. But the hundreds of hours of work required to pull off 2,008 of them moving perfectly together was inspiring beyond words. The sacrifice was notable. Our sacrifice should also be notable.

In gathered worship we are necessarily connected to one another. These performers could have all just done their own thing out there with no connection to one another. That would have been beautiful (if …