The Season Of Giveaways

Good-Christmas-Gifts-For-Your-BoyfriendAs the holidays stretch around the corner, we often get the charity season revved up.  And this can cut many ways.

Prepare to be generous as charity workers come looking for support. Also: Look for ways that we can be Jesus to people, offering a drink, a meal, an extra coat, and more. Let’s be generous for the right reasons.

Often churches aim to leverage the holidays as an opportunity to draw people in if they give something out. It might be toys for Christmas, meals for Thanksgiving, clothes, shoes, backpacks at the beginning of school and many more ways to give things away in an attempt to win people to the faith. We end up mixing two aims into one—the aim to love and the aim to witness become seen as the goal to grow our church.

I was recently talking to the pastor of an inner-city church that our church, The Connection Church partners with on a regular basis to see both churches extend their reach and the mission of the Church with a capital C. We were talking about the plan to help them with a toy drive and giveaway over Christmas. The fact we are working toward a Christmas event that includes giving away toys should demonstrate that our perspective includes a value for giving and showing love.

Pastor Perades, a long-time veteran of serving in the inner-city of South Central LA, shared his straight talk with me. Let me pause to say, I appreciate straight talk, especially when it comes to partnering. We cannot have true partnership if one side is holding back. This straight talk helped articulate the problem with mixing goals.

Pastor wanted me to be aware that we can give toys away, and they would be glad to receive them for a Christmas event. He said we can fulfill the mandate to love our neighbor in this way. As he talks to his people, we must have an attitude of generosity, to give as we have been given so much. In this, however, he wanted to caution me, and I believe more than only me as we look toward being the church, filled with compassion, mercy, generosity and love at Christmas. Why are we doing what we do? There are plenty of good, Biblical, and laudable reasons to participate in charitable activities at Christmas. Let’s just stay within these reasons and not hope that what we do will also turn into new salvations.

His caution came to limit our expectations. We can be a people that loves our neighbor or those less-advantaged. We can aim to bless others, but let’s not see this as an evangelistic opportunity. He went on and on to say he hasn’t seen these giveaways as evangelistically fruitful. He just hasn’t seen people come to Jesus because of a freebee. Maybe that happens, but more as a consequence of the church being the church, and the Holy Spirit doing his work.

Why?

In today’s society, He explained, people are sophisticated enough to find the giveaways and show up for the free stuff. People know how to get what they want and not stick around for more than that. People know how to see through the façade that the giveaway is the carrot at the end of the stick. They know how to go through the motions to come away with what they want. Pastor shared his conviction that he has not seen these acts of charity to double as an evangelistic tool. The savvy person sees easily through ulterior motives. It is sad to put it in these terms, as a person who wants everyone to know the love of God and finds it hard to see that as a negative. But we can be clear with love and don’t have to be sneaky about evangelism.

Yes, we should love, we should be generous to those less fortunate, we should give. If I could say it in my own words. Let us be loving and giving people with no strings attached.

Maybe this can be a good reminder as the season of giving comes. Let’s give not to feel good about who we are. Let’s give without an expectation that our giving will translate into new converts or new members into our church. Let’s give and give sacrificially simply to be an extension of God’s love to this broken and desperate world.

Have you seen this kind of giving? Where have you seen it done well?

Getting “Saved” Pt.2

In my last post, I began to talk about this thing called salvation and how we expect the good news of God’s saving grace to affect people. You can catch it here.

Here goes the next thoughts with a story to illustrate my question.

Why has the church or large portions of the Christian community in the Western world gone to a place of almost enticing people into salvation? It is as though we are saying, pretty, pretty please just accept this guy Jesus into your life. C’mon, it will make me happy, and maybe you too. Yeah, yeah, smile, ‘cause Jesus loves you.

He certainly does, and his love compels us to a new life. His love drove him to great lengths that he could take our old life, the sin, the darkness, the bitter misery, the blasted state of our being and exchanges that sorryness for joy, beauty, hope, newness, and far more than a few words could even say.  His love wants to reach into our soul and make it alive, make it sing like never before of the glorious things he will fill our life with.

Some talk about faith being a journey, both a journey to faith and a journey to growing in the Lord. I don’t see this as mutually exclusive with the distinct conversion experience.

I am all in on the journey analogy and finding milestones or markers along the way that draw us closer to God, but I also know there have been far too many examples of an instantaneous conversion moment like Zacchaes had. A moment that says, he got “saved”.

Why don’t we expect this anymore as we witness of Jesus’ goodness in our life. Why do we feel a need to make it almost wimpy. I remember a student in one of my Bible classes in Thailand asking if we bait and switch people when we take them from a decision to the story of the Cost of Discipleship. Do we tell them how wonderful this decision will be, so they will say yes, and then give them all the gory details later? Why not tell them how wonderful life with Jesus is and expect the depth of our conviction, joy and authenticity to pull them into a place of conversion. Why not expect the grace of God to be at work as it calls people to a place of repentance. Why not believe that people can be touched by God in a powerful way. Why not from our vantage point, decidedly hope for people to get “saved” from the old, dead self into a new, alive self.  I don’t know. Maybe our faith in what God can do for a person is too low, and we feel the need to help him out a little in this business of salvation.

I am not saying, we need to beat salvation over people’s heads. I am not saying we should move back to the Bible-thumping, fundamentalist days. What I am saying, we need to take a posture of confident expectation of what God can do in a person.

At the same time, we should still be keenly sensitive to where people are coming from, and work hard to insure the only offense people receive from us is the offense of the cross. It is not easy, mind you. I get that there is a delicate balance of how we communicate with care and believe with fervor for God to work in people’s lives.

2588347942_bbbd09c5f3_z

I recently read a short story that reinstilled this conviction in my heart. This story comes from the mid-point of the last century in a small, Dutch town. A young man who believed God had the missionary call on his life decided to make his workplace his mission. First, he needed a job, so this uneducated, son of a black-smith and veteran of an unpopular war to defend his nation’s interests in Indonesia started working at a chocolate factory. The environment of his workplace was as foul of a place to work with crude language, abusive co-workers (girls who treated him hostilely), and simply poor conditions. But this was his mission field. He was sure that God had him here for a reason.

This missionary in training, Andrew, connected with another Christian, a teenage girl working behind a booth in another part of the factory. Together, they began witnessing, starting prayer meetings and taking people to evangelistic meetings.

The workplace did not change immediately though. One girl, Amy, blind and working the conveyor belt with Braille, routinely made mistakes. Her  situation was such an invitation to mocking to the point where the ringleader of these nasty girls who worked the factory floor, Gretchen, laid into Amy for dropping her materials. She picked on her ruthlessly and routinely.

At this point, Andrew, a shy Christian trying not to receive the brunt of the cut downs piped up felt the voice of God prompting him to speak. But he was not sure he should say what he heard, yet he did.

He spoke up with boldness saying, “Shut up!”, and I mean shut up for good. Stop putting everyone down. Stop being so cruel to everyone.  And not only that. I want you to go with us to our meeting Saturday. The bus leaves at 9 am; be there. I want you to  be there with us. And she listened. She showed up for the bus to the meeting.

She went along with the Christians, less than excited, but she was there. After sitting through the meeting nonplussed and partially checked out, they returned to the factory where the bus let them off. Now, everyone would go their separate directions. However, Andrew wanted an opportunity to follow up with Gretchen in the moment.

A thought came to him. He invited Gretchen to go home with him on his bicycle. He could easily take her on his way. She hesitated but acquiesced after some gentle urging. On their ride, he thought he might give her the final push into salvation, but again he heard that voice prompt to do something, something that again seemed like nonsense. However, he began to know this voice was the Lord’s and he should listen and follow what He says.

He felt urged to say nothing, nothing about the gospel of Jesus, but only to talk about the scenery. He did, and they enjoyed small talk on the way home.

The next morning at the factory, Andrew’s Christian friend asked him what he said to Gretchen on the way home. He said, nothing… why, nothing at all?

Then he looked across the warehouse floor to see Gretchen beaming with joy, and even helping Amy pick something up off the floor. He went to investigate and ask Gretchen what gives.

Gretchen explained how the previous day went in her mind and her apprehension to get a ride home from him. She feared that Andrew would push the Bible on her. She had her walls up, her barriers, but he simply showed care and consideration for her. She began to think about the whole day and the joy that exuded from the people at the meeting, the testimonies, the story of Jesus. She reflected and thought what if God is real. What if she was wrong. She prayed to God and thought if he is real, he could come and give her that joy too.

She explained how God came and flooded her heart and changed her bitterness for goodness, and complaining for mercy and kindness. God came into her life and completely transformed her from one night to the next day. Not to say the sanctification process was complete, but the conversion was sudden and distinct.

I read this story in God’s Smuggler, the story of Brother Andrew who smuggled millions of Bibles behind the communist’s Iron curtain. His story was incredible, but this story of a girl in the factory caught my attention. She got “saved”. And I thought, why don’t we expect the good news to do this in people today? What changed in our approach, our posture before God, our desire to see people changed?

There is not an easy answer, but it makes me think. Does it make you think?

Getting “Saved”

light

I know we don’t use this word much in evangelistic conversations anymore, and I understand why it slipped out of our vernacular.

I don’t want to talk about this word in any of the ways it might be confusing to a non-Christian or a pre-Christian. I want to talk about this word in the very Christianese way we once knew it.

This word carried such strong connotation within the church when we talked about conversion, and I mean true conversion. I can’t fully convey the weight of meaning in “saved” through writing. One needs to think of a stereotypical evangelist who would give the term the necessary emphasis and oomph when using it to communicate a complete salvation and serious amount of sanctification in seemingly a moment of time.

I would hear the word and know that someone had been utterly transformed. The reality of conversion had taken place. Now a sinner had been turned into a saint, a person stepped out of darkness into the marvelous light, ashes were turned into beauty…a true and deep change had taken place. .

Well, it is not always that drastic that a person seemingly at odds with God and goodness steps out of a life of brokenness and despair into a life filled with joy and marked by gentleness, peace and mercy. The salvation process looks as different as each person is uniquely distinct.

Sometimes this process takes time, a long time; other times this conversion process happens more immediately, suddenly and even supernaturally. Well, to be honest the supernatural always plays a role in the change from darkness to light—a bigger role than we often expect or contend for.

Talking about people getting “saved” like we did in Pentecostal passion seems to be more nostalgic in my mind rather than normative today.

As I reflect on this distinction of conversion, I have found that we don’t talk about things like a sinner to a saint or calling people from darkness to light very often anymore. We almost soft peddle this thing called the gospel as though we might talk someone into accepting the good news into their already good life to make it more good. As we aim not to offend people we also try to cover up the offense of the cross too. We keep everyone happy as we keep hoping they will continue to go deeper with God…at some point down the line.

What? Is this the story we read in scripture? Is this what we saw happen again and again as missional movements swept through history and context. I think of the Awakening, the Great Awakenings that spawned from John Wesley’s preaching that called people to an encounter with a Holy God. This awakening that marked the revival came as he wrote in his journal again and again of a visible change in countenance when people came to faith.  One might say they were saved from death to life.

I love how Tim Keller talks about Jesus’ mission. He says, ‘Jesus did not come to make bad people good but dead people alive’.

But somehow, we have gotten to a place of almost being ashamed of the gospel. We allow people to secretly accept Jesus into his life. We let them wave a hand in the air or maybe even simply glance at the speaker to acknowledge their desire to be in the club, socially speaking. How does that line up with Jesus’exhortation to acknowledge him among men and he will acknowledge us before his father? Are we hoping that later, a little further down the road, these new believers will muster up the courage to openly profess their faith? I don’t know why things have denigrated to such a sad state of hope by the proclaimers of so called good news. But I would like to see a return to a belief that the gospel holds sway over people, powerful sway that changes them from the inside out. And that this gospel could suddenly and dynamically alter a person, many persons to the point this Good News shifts the culture around us.

This post has quickly bubbled into quite a big thought on this topic. The story I planned to share will have to wait until part 2.

Do you find this issue resonating with you? Why did we make this shift?

Ready and Willing: A Church That Serves

serveI would like to be ready when called upon. Ready to serve that is.

I notice that we call the military the uniformed services; implying a strong sense of servant inside the colors of the Army, Navy, Marines or Air Force.

Also: The police are known by a motto: To serve and protect.

Serving is valued and admired in many parts of our society. However, I wonder if it is valued by many as it should be in the church. Are we known by serving the way the military is. Do we get people coming up to us regularly saying, thank you for your service. Well, maybe that is taking the analogy too far. We don’t do it for public recognition.

But shouldn’t this same attitude of serving be emblematic of the church. Shouldn’t we be known by our love and not our divisions, Our charity and not our self-focusedness, compassion and not our protests, mercy and not condemnation, by our good deeds and not our holier than thou attitudes, our graciousness on  social media posts and not our complaining or divisiveness, by our serving and not our preaching? Shouldn’t this be what defines the people of God. I know it did define many of those in the “Hall of Faith”. God called David his servant, Moses his servant. Even Jesus said he came to serve and not to be served.

Now, I know the stereotypes are not true of every church just like codifying a generation as the Millennials likely poorly defines any one individual in that generation. And yes, there are many churches and good Christians who embody what it means to be Christ-like and serve their neighbor, their family and their community.

I am fortunate enough to be part of a church that has this as their ethos. #LoveServeConnect

The Connection Church in Lake Forest has worked hard to not only serve but earn a reputation of serving. When two years ago, we tried (before my time here, I was still in Thailand as a missionary) to get into city events to serve our city, we were told no. We tried repeatedly, but continued to get a closed door. Finally, we simply served by picking up trash after city events, quietly living out our value of serving or being Christians In Action (CIA).

Eventually, after doggedly working to serve the community God placed us in, the city called back. Another club could not fulfill their commitment, and the city event had become shorthanded.

The city told us we could serve under one condition. No preaching. This is a city event. And rightfully so, we would come alongside what the city was doing and serve the people of Lake Forest.

One event turned into another and another until we started getting a reputation with our bright orange Connection Church hats which pegged us as the church that cares for their city.

At a recent city council meeting where one of our staff pastors gave the invocation before the meeting, the Mayor stopped the meeting to tell the 100’s of people waiting to receive their prizes from the 4th-of-July parade that this pastor was from the Connection Church, the church that serves in all the city stuff.

Now, here is the kicker. Last weekend was the Autumn Harvest Festival. Yes, the event that happened to be the first event we tried to get into. We tried again last year, and again we were told no. The city had begun allowing us into some of the events, however, this one had plenty of volunteers from the different clubs at El Toro High School. But this year, things were different.

Scheduling conflict. Uh oh, and the city was scrambling. Why?

The Homecoming dance fell on the same night as the Harvest Festival, so the city was down some 40+ volunteers. With only a few days’ notice, they called us. They called us. I thought I should write that twice for effect.

Out of the clear blue, unsolicited, and without any notice, the city called us to ask for our help. When they were in a pinch, who did they turn to? They turned to the church. The church who has earned a reputation for serving. Isn’t that simply the coolest thing ever.

They called us, a church. Yes, a church and asked for help. These are the same people who used to tell us no for whatever reason. I tend to think  it was likely not trusting churches to be about serving anything but themselves now called on us, a church. Why, because they have grown to know we are about serving God in every way he asks us. Whether it is cleaning the parks, the waterways, being a part of events that we could be ambivalent about, or being a part of everything else they do. The city knows we care genuinely for the well-being of the city and not merely what gets us butts in the seats at our services or events. They know we are selfless and trustworthy.

They called, and we rallied our forces as best we could do last minute. Sure we wish we had more people available or could have done more, but what people wouldn’t want to always do more to serve the kingdom of God and the community in which they live.

All we could do is be ready and available for when the call came. We could simply be obedient servants of Christ to our world.

Sometimes God meets us at our point of obedience. And sometimes he doesn’t. We are simply to be obedient.

We might serve our heart out and say, what was the point. Often it is hard to quantify the point of serving. We just serve. We serve with the reality there is a balance that we do not run ragged or exhaust people in the process. We serve strategically and to our fullest capacity and not beyond.

All that to say, we served and saw some big wins:

  • We have gained great favor from our city. The future benefits cannot be imagined. God has opened a door for us that rarely gets opened to any church in any city.
  • We had people come to serve who saw a rough day turn into a good memory as they served their hearts out. They can see that the church and God are connected to them being a blessing to their city.
  • We connected with people in our community that we have lost relationship with. But because we were there, they saw us and reconnected relationally.
  • We allowed the city to keep their event open. At the end of the event, I talked with the city’s point person, their recreational specialist (a title I would love to obtain one day). I told her as our church’s point person, I apologize for not getting more people to turn out. Last minute, we just had a ton of scheduling conflicts with our people. She was more than gracious. What she said in reply warmed my heart more than words could say. She said, because we came, they could keep the activities open. Let that sink in a moment. They might have had to close down parts of their big harvest party that draws out tons of families from their normally isolated, individualistic  suburban rhythms. Children and parents might have walked away disappointed or worse.

But because a church had earned the reputation they had, the city could rely on the Connection Church to be there when needed. It takes a lot of work to earn a reputation, and sometimes when it feels like what is the point, God opens up an opportunity. It is our responsibility to step into the void and answer the call.

Let’s be people who embody the core value of Jesus found in Phil 2—a servant.

What are ways that you work to serve people?

Get Out Of The Way

We all want to see the power of God move, right. Well, maybe not all of us. But you know who I am talking about. Many of my friends talk to me saying, we want to see God move in our midst. We want people to encounter God in a real way, which raises the question… Then why don’t we see God move more. Or maybe you ask, why doesn’t God move like he once did? I postulate that first, God is moving, and second, we get in the way. One word comes to mind, control.

pentecost-jpg

Coming back from Asia, I find we Americans love this little word, control. We love to have it, be in it, and get more of it. We plan, strategize, think, and develop structures. We find ways to empower people or to empower ourselves. We love to take charge or know who is in charge. As Americans, we do one thing well. We take charge. We don’t wait on others, we go for it. When it comes to the church world, we bring our Americanism right in with us. I wonder if we really think we can put God in a box and control the outcomes. It is as though we think if we plan a meeting well enough, we can see God do incredible things. I am not against planning, but I was recently in a meeting listening to a lot of experienced leaders talking. One leader from Central America said, in the past he remembered the missionaries and pastors praying a lot. Now, he observes them planning a lot. Think about that, we went from praying to planning. Now, we have exported that to the rest of the world. We almost plan so tightly that we squeeze God right out of the picture.

Over the past few years, we have seen worship services expressed with great diversity. As missionaries, we visited a lot of churches while itinerating. Our whirlwind tours through the churches were a real treat as we saw all different sizes and styles. But I will never forget what one pastor told me. Now for context, this church was rather large and had four services on a Sunday—three in the morning and one in the evening. The three morning services were each 65 minutes with only a few minutes wiggle room to let people in and out. I asked the pastor how do they get everything in such a short time. His response captures our American ideal.

He said, one mentor once told him that if God doesn’t move in 90 minutes, he is not going to move. I thought, hmmm, that is an interesting perspective. First, I believe God is always speaking and always wanting to move. The onus is not on him to move, but on us to be ready. We come in with the baggage of stress, tension, family issues, work dilemmas and more. Yet, we blame God for not moving when perhaps we were not ready. But sadly, we think we can create a moment in which God will move. The reality is that God wants to move, we just need to get out of the way. As we served in Thailand, leading Our Home Chapel, we found the best thing we could do is develop an environment in which he could move. We wanted to create space for God to move with a ready heart. We needed to contend and press in to meet God. In no way am I saying that every time we gathered that we met God or felt his presence in power. But neither did we blame him for not moving. It’s just too complex to think we can manufacture an experience with God. Sometimes we have to wait a bit longer than 90 minutes. And that means getting a little antsy as we wait. Let’s be honest, it is tough waiting. But when we get right down to it, God moves on his schedule and not ours. The quick example comes when the disciples waited in the upper room 10 days before they encountered the Holy Spirit in power. If we want to see God move, we need to wait, hunger, and anticipate God doing something in our midst. We need to get out of the way and give him space to move. Space to move in his way and in his timing.

Do you have any examples when you felt God moving in a powerful way? Explain.

Living Servant-leadership

I don’t know a more nebulous term than servant-leader. It is almost a paradox that we don’t easily live in. Is it more servant or more leadership. Often, I feel we throw around this adjective ahead of leadership to help soften leaders that run roughshod over those they lead.

fs logo

You know the type, more boss than leader. They use the phrases, “too many chefs in the kitchen” or “too many chiefs for the tribe”.  These leaders throw around their weight and ask us to listen not because of their ideas or vision but because they are the leader. For them authority flows out of position and not personhood.

What do we do with leaders like that? We add an adjective and hope that makes them think more like Jesus. You know, more servant and less tyrant. We have all worked for bad leaders. I don’t have to name names. And yet, we still want to write more and more books on leadership.

Why?

The Bible talks far more about being servant than about being leader. Yes, leadership is a gift of the Spirit, so why don’t we trust the Spirit to move through those he has gifted to lead? Well, that is a question that moves away from my story.

My story illustrates the servant side of leadership. You know, the side that sees serving as primacy to leading. The part of leadership that says, I have the best interests of those entrusted to me. The kind that Jesus talked about in Mark 10:45 in serving and laying down his life for them.

Jesus always turned things upside down. As King, the subjects are supposed to give their life for him and the kingdom. But as king, Jesus gave his life for his people and the kingdom. How often, does a leader say, not my way or vision, but yours? These are true tests of a leader who says he is servant.

But I have a living picture of servant leader. Recently, I was in some high-level meetings with our movement, The Foursquare Church. I spent time hanging out in and out of the meetings with dozens of servant-leaders. I did not expect to have any meaningful interaction with our President as I am way down the totem pole or hierarchy. Yet, I was surpised. Our President, Glenn Burris came alongside of me in service like I never anticipated.

Who am I? I am just a young guy with no position. I was one of the strategic thinkers in the room, sure. But the room was chalk full of bright, brilliant people with more gravitas than I. I am known by our president, but he is supremely gifted in relational intelligence and knows everyone. And everyone wants to push back on our meetings and grab the ear of our leader. They have a greater need than I to have time with the president of our church.

Well, one of our last breaks, I happened to have a sidebar with the President. As we talked, he asked if I wanted snacks. (You see, as the blind pastor who writes this blog, I do need serving from time to time, more than the average guy). I nicely said it is okay, I can get another leader here to help me out. But he insisted. So I insisted further that he did not need to spend his valuable time on getting me a plate of snacks.  But how much can you insist against a good leader?  So after a little back-and-forth, I acquiesced.

Glenn not only got me a plate of yummy snacks, he asked me what I wanted and listened to what I said. He served me with a gift of hospitality often not exercised by leaders of such high capacity. He grabbed me all the good veggies I wanted and dobbed loads of hummus dip on another plate. He carried the two plates and a bottle of water back into the room. He even found my seat and moved my computer to insure I could snack with ease.

I was so touched, I turned to say to him and those around me, we can talk about servant-leadership all day, but I just experienced it.

Wow!

As long and intense meetings came to a conclusion, our leader paused to help serve a guy that had plenty of other gracious people all around willing to help. Our President grew in my eyes not for his vision or capacity, but for my trust and relationship. I go to bat for a guy like that. Why, because I know he has my best interests in mind. Not to say I agree with everything a leader does or says, but that is part of being a strategic thinker and in the room. I will say, I have grown in respect for our leadership, and this is just one little reason why.

I have been impacted on this topic by Duane Elmer’s book Cross-Cultural Servanthood.   Grab and ransack it for practical helps even in your own community.

Fearless Worship: Worship As Mission 3

When I lost my eyesight, I did a lot of things differently, including worship. That is until I learned a bit more how to live as a blind person.

 

One time, I was visiting a friend and his youth group when I really stood out in the worship service. Maybe you could say I left an impression. The story got told at our wedding when this friend (the youth pastor) performed the ceremony.

 

The day went down in infamy, because I had fearless worship. During this painful season in my life, I simply wanted to connect with God as passionately as I could. I had yet to learn mobility and orientation, so I often made mistakes as I aimed forward with all my heart.

In this case, I couldn’t orient myself by sound to the front of the room, so I kept slowly turning and turning until I began facing backwards. With my arms raised and singing (if you could call what I do singing) loud enough for heaven to hear, I gave praise to the Lord.

 

The image left a comic and indelible mark.  But that is okay. It reminds me that too many people are looking at what we are doing as we keep the corner of our eye peeled to see who is watching during worship. We like to have worship safely in the walls of the church building or worship center. Beyond that, we barely want to get out of step or even backwards from what everyone else is doing. Is that how worship was conducted Biblically?

 

This brings me to my next case study in worship as mission. In this story, I look at Abraham to draw out the understanding of worship and its missiological implications

 

In Genesis 12, as Abraham follows God’s call to set up a new people, he modeled something that Isaac, and Jacob followed in setting up altars in the places he settled and the places where God spoke to him. The altar became a marker for God’s people to indicate remembrance and thanksgiving from his people. As God’s people developed around the way of God, YHWH gave detailed instructions to the use of the altar by his people. Even still Joshua set up altars in the way Moses instructed. After Joshua led the people to a victory over the city of Ai on their second try, he set up an altar for worship and remembrance in the sight of all Israel and those foreigners sojourning with them (Josh 8:30-35). The altar as a place or center for worship stood erect at all times in plain view of anyone. The altar was hardly invisible much less private as God’s people presented their worship in authentic yet public forums.

Now let us unpack this precedent the father of the faith started through setting up altars to worship God. Abraham entered into a covenant relationship with God when he was called by God to move from his home in Ur to a land he did not know (Gen. 12:1-3). In his senior years (75), Abraham gathered his belongings and took some of his family with him and set out on a new journey with God. He entered a geographic region, the land God would promise to his descendants. On his southward journey, Abraham arrived in Heron moving towards the Negev when God stopped him to declare this land one day will belong to his offspring. I can only imagine the faith Abraham had at this time as he pondered the idea of his offspring. Nonetheless, Abraham pauses at this place when God says he will give the land to his descendants. At this place, Abraham erects an altar before God (Gen 12:7. But this is not the last time that this faithful wanderer still struggling with working out his call, stopped to establish a place of worship.

 

The altars continued. As he journeys toward the Negev, Abraham builds another altar between Bethel and Ai. Again he set up an altar before God. Without getting into every place and purpose that Abraham built an altar, I again observe the open air nature of these altars. I cannot help but wonder if people like Abimelech who marvel at Abraham’s life with its remarkable blessings flows out of him observing an ongoing worship relationship between Abraham and God (Gen 21:22-23). When we sanitize our worship to allow others a comfortable approach to God, maybe we miss out on allowing them to see the genuine article of a worshipper caught up in real worship with God. I wonder if there is something missing in our worship that someone from ancient times like Abraham can offer us. We don’t merely offer a message or a deed to people but we reflect our God to them in all aspects of our life, including worship.

 

I bet we’ll have a hard time getting to the fearless place of worship that Abraham exhibited if we can’t stop worrying about how the people around us worship, or how they view our own worship. We must get less inhibited while still not distracting others as we press into worship.

 

What can Abraham teach us about worship in the 21st Century?