From Sacred Worship to Sacrilegious Whims

Under King David the tribes of Israel were united like no other time before.  Solomon, his son, expanded the territory of Israel in ways that were once unimaginable.  Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, tore the kingdom apart in just a few days.  The people felt over-taxed and over-worked.  They asked Rehoboam for a little relief.  After speaking with both his father’s advisors and his friends, he sided with his friends, and taxed the people more and worked them harder.  Ten tribes broke away from Rehoboam and set up Jeroboam as the king of Israel, while Rehoboam ruled Judah (only the tribe of Benjamin stayed).

God had promised Jeroboam (the 10 tribes’ king) blessings if he would follow God and do as he said.  Sadly, Jeroboam did anything but follow God.  What we see in 1 Kings 12:25-33 is a shift that Jeroboam led Israel through: from sacred worship to sacrilegious whims.  What we see in 25-27 is the doubting of God’s promises.  God promised blessings, but Jeroboam couldn’t understand how those blessings could come if the people were tied to Jerusalem.  “Jeroboam said to himself, ‘The way things are going now, the kingdom might return to the house of David.  If these people go to offer sacrifices in the LORD’s temple in Jerusalem, the heart of these people will return to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah.  They will murder me and go back to the king of Judah’,” (1 Kings 12:26-27, HCSB).  Jeroboam focused on the circumstances he was facing at one moment in time rather than the promise of God.  He was focused on his own following rather than following after God.  So often we tend to do this very same thing within church.  We focus on a following rather than following.  We focus on the immediate and urgent, rather than on God’s faithful promises.  When that happens bad choices follow.  Jeroboam’s solution was to fuse sacred worship with pagan practices.

Jeroboam, having sought counsel (though not godly counsel), had two golden calves built.  “‘Going to Jerusalem is too difficult for you.  Israel, here is your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.’ He set one in Bethel, and put the other in Dan,” (1 Kings 2:28-29, HCSB).  This would remind any Bible student of Aaron’s great sin, as high priest leading the people to worship an idol.  Here the king does the same.  However, many believe that Jeroboam was not making a graven image, but more of a seat.  He was simply replacing the Ark of the Covenant with these pedestals.  God was invisibly seated or standing upon them.  He set one in Bethel near the border of Israel and Judah and one in Dan one of the most northern cities in the kingdom.  This made worship easy.  No one had to travel far to sacrifice, and even then they only needed to go on special occasions, seeing that Jeroboam also set up high places for regular days.  Everything seemed harmless enough, but a little leaven leavens the whole lump.

So often we tend to do this very same thing within church.  We focus on a following rather than following.  We focus on the immediate and urgent, rather than on God’s faithful promises.

God had stated exactly how He was to be worshiped.  It was to be in Jerusalem at the temple with sacrifice and incense and such.  It was not to be on high places and not to be in Bethel or Dan.  It was not to be on any pedestal but the blood was to be sprinkled on the mercy-seat of the Ark of the Covenant.  A little change here, a little change there.  Yet the change was sin because it was opposing God’s direction and law.

It was also confusing.  Baal was depicted as a bull.  The Canaanites worshiped Baal, not Israelites.  To have the bulls as pedestals (or idols if they were), would be too much for either Israelites or Canaanites.  The worship of God was looking way too secular for both peoples.  There was nothing holy–sacred or different–about the worship of God.  The sacred worship was being taken over by the sacrilegious whims of Jeroboam.  Everyone would be suffering and sinning because of it.  “This led to sin; the people walked in procession before one of the calves all the way to Dan,” (1 Kings 12:30, HCSB).

A little change here, a little change there.  Yet the change was sin because it was opposing God’s direction and law.

The syncretistic nature of Jeroboam quickly turned into false worship.

Jeroboam also built shrines on the high places and set up priests from every class of people who were not Levites.  Jeroboam made a festival in the eighth month on the fifteenth day of the month, like the festival in Judah.  He offered sacrifices on the altar; he made this offering in Bethel to sacrifice to the calves he had set up.  He also stationed priests in Bethel for the high places he had set up.  He offered sacrifices on the altar he had set up in Bethel on the fifteenth day of the eighth month.  He chose this month on his own.  He made a festival for the Israelites, offered sacrifices on the altar, and burned incense, (1 Kings 12:31-33, HCSB).

There were no true priests, no true festivals, and no true sacrifices and so there was no true worship.  It began with a doubt.  He doubted that God would do as He promised to do if Jeroboam would obey Him.  Jeroboam felt the need to make worship easier, closer to home, more interesting, more palatable.  In the end, worship wasn’t worship and the sacred became sacrilegious.

It would seem many churches are taking their lead from this king rather than God’s Word.  It is easiest to point fingers toward those churches that seem to have more of a rock concert than a worship service or those churches that forego having Communion.  But it is also in churches that are “traditional” in nature.  Many of the tradions are not biblical traditions, but secular traditions.  Their traditions may date back to the 500s, the 1500s, or to 1950s, but not to the text of Scripture.  What is often decried by “traditional” churches as the secularization of the church is true, but as the old 90s Just Say No commercial pointed out they “learned it from watching you.”  It is difficult to remember how syncretistic the churches were in the 50s and 60s because at that time, the young members and new churches were simply trying to reach the lost.  The problem for everybody–Christian and non (or churched and unchurched?)–is the confusion of what is sacred and what is not.  What belongs in worship and what does not.

Jeroboam felt the need to make worship easier, closer to home, more interesting, more palatable.  In the end, worship wasn’t worship and the sacred became sacrilegious.

For the record, I am not against “contemporary services” or “traditional services.”  I am simply saying that we use extreme caution in our pursuit to express our worship.  It is not so much about our likes as it is God’s likes.  If we were to cook a meal in honor of our spouses, we would hopefully choose foods that they enjoy eating, not what we enjoy eating.  Whether or not we like the way the meal is prepared or food that is placed in front of us, we can at least enjoy the company we have.  If we were to throw a party for one of our kids, we would not seek to decorate with our delights, but with the delights of our children.  We wouldn’t decorate with “over the hill” balloons for our 4 year old, but rather Jake and the Neverland Pirates or My Little Pony balloons.  We go to worship–not our selves, but our God.  Let us give and do what delights His heart.

The problem for everybody–Christian and non (or churched and unchurched?)–is the confusion of what is sacred and what is not.  What belongs in worship and what does not.

Children, the Church, and the Pastor

I love children. I’m just not that good with them.  I love my own children, and I seek to do my best in showing my love and support to them, as well as discipline when and if needed.  But I’m not good at getting down on their level.  I try, but I usually fail.  The other day I was reading Stone Soup to a class of first graders at our local elementary school.  I tried to teach them what it meant to “think outside the box.”  I quickly realized that I had not been called to teach first graders.  That being said, I still love children and I love to see them in big church.  I get why churches tend to go for children’s church and nursery.  Which, by the way, we offer the nursery.  Children are wiggly.  They can and usually are noisy.  They can be distracting.  But that’s children.  That has always been children.

Children can be taught to be quiet, but it is almost impossible to teach children to be completely still.  For that matter, how many adults do I see wiggling around during worship service?  Legs cross, arms go up, seats are adjusted, bathrooms get walked to, notes are written, Bibles get flipped through, and sadly some statuses are checked and updated on social media.  Children just haven’t learned to fine art of refined wigglement.  They will though.

Children are wiggly.  They can and usually are noisy.  They can be distracting.  But that’s children.  That has always been children.

Here is the thing with children though.  Children are natural explorers.  They want to learn.  The reason babies put so much in their mouths is not because they are tasty, but because the mouth is their mode of exploration.  They want to learn about an object in their hand so they explore it with their mouths.  Children are interested in just about everything, including Jesus and God.  Why do we do what we do?  Who are these people we cannot see, but give so much devotion and time to?  What are these big books in the pews?  We were all there at one point in time.  At one time it was all fresh and new and confusing and great all at the same time.  We’ve lost much of the excitement and wonder that comes with worship service.  And children get it.  They may be noisy about it, but excitement tends to be a bit loud (just watch me watch the Atlanta Falcons play).

When Jesus’ disciples wanted to push the children to the side and not bother him with such as they, “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven’,” (Matthew 19:14, ESV).  Jesus would not allow the children to be treated as second class, but elevated their status by healing them and defending them.  I bet that these children were much like our children.  They clamored and they wiggled and they talked above a whisper.  Jesus said, “do not hinder them.”  Children need Jesus as much as adults do.  While children can be distracting and easily distracted, adults ought have the maturity to  block out distractions.  We do so in our cars (hopefully), we do so at our jobs, we do so in all areas of life, and so we should not be so shocked when we may be called upon to muster up the will to block distractions caused by the wonderment (and sometimes boredom) of children.

Personally, as a pastor, I find it hard to be distracted.  I rarely even notice noise or bathroom-goings.  I’m in a zone.  Perhaps I owe that to my mom.  When I was a kid playing recreational basketball, she would tell me to zone out the shouts from the bleachers and heckles from the opposing players, and concentrate on what I was doing.  That’s what we need to do as adults.  Zone out what is going on around us and zone in on what we are doing: worshipping and part of that being the hearing of God’s Word expounded.

While children can be distracting and easily distracted, adults ought have the maturity to  block out distractions.

I am thankful that my church gets it.  I have not heard complaints from our members on having children in the service.  They get the need for children to hear and receive God’s Word.  Praise God for the people who will not hinder the children from coming.

As always, I’d love to read your comments.  All comments will be published as long as they are respectful.  If you liked this post, by all means share it.

There’s a quaint saying in churches, especially smaller churches.  We like to say, “It’s not all about the numbers.”  It sounds spiritual doesn’t it?  Numbers are cold and dead.  We are about the souls, warm and living.  We don’t care about putting notches in our belts.  We want spiritual growth, not necessarily numerical growth.  But here’s the problem: the Bible uses numbers to tell God’s story.  It uses numbers to tell of the spiritual growth of the church.

If we go to Acts, we see first: “While He was together with them, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father’s promise,” (Acts 1:4, HCSB).  Who is the them?  Verse 2 tells us it was the apostles whom He had chosen (minus 1 of course).  That’s 11 of them.  In fact, these apostles are named in verse 13, and then more are added to the 11 when it says that the women, Mary, and Jesus’ brothers were with them.  Obviously Luke was keeping track of numbers.

The Bible uses numbers to tell God’s story.  It uses numbers to tell of the spiritual growth of the church.

Within the 10 days of Jesus’ ascending and the descending of the Holy Spirit, the apostles picked another apostle to join them.  The number who were with them at this point was 120 people (that’s a number)!  When the Spirit came and the tongues were preaching the word, we find out at the end of chapter 2: “So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them,” (Acts 2:41, HCSB). More numbers!  But it gets worse!!! At the beginning of chapter 4 we see, “But many of those who heard the message believed, and the number of the men came to about 5,000,” (v. 4, HCSB).  What’s with all the numbers?  How could Luke write something so unspiritual?

Of course, by this time, the church in Jerusalem was growing exponentially, and the numbers drop off of Luke’s radar.  But what it would seem Luke was doing was showing how the church was growing.  In fact, he even said such in chapter 2.  The new Christians were “praising God and having favor with all the people.  And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved,” (v. 47, HCSB).  The health of the church (praising God and having favor with all the people) seems to be linked to the salvations that were happening.  In other words, spiritual growth produces numerical growth.

I know this is not a hard and fast rule.  I have heard of matured Christians going to be missionaries and seeing no success.  But that is the exception that proves the rule.  We ought to be surprised when God doesn’t bless the matured believer with fruit.  We should be scratching our heads and bowing our knees and asking God for fruit, for the salvation of souls and the growth of the mission church.

I am encouraged by our church’s numerical growth.  To go from 21 as a low in 2013 to nearly double that in 2016 is a praise!  It confirms that God is doing something within this body.  It confirms that spiritual growth is happening (we are not the gimmicky type).  What visitors often see is that Highland View is a small church.  Some don’t mind, most do.  What they do not see is that Highland View is a growing church and a growing church (that grows for the right reasons) is a church about which to be excited.

The health of the church (praising God and having favor with all the people) seems to be linked to the salvations that were happening.  In other words, spiritual growth produces numerical growth.

So while it is not all about the numbers, some of it most definitely is about the numbers.

I’d love to hear from you.  Send me your thoughts; as long as they are respectful, I will post them.  You don’t have to agree; just be kind.  If you liked the post, share it.  Thanks!

 

The Beatitudes for Marriage: Part 8

Those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Matthew 5:10, HCSB

No one in their right mind seeks persecution.  While Jesus warned that His followers would be persecuted, He never told us to go and look for it either.  Persecution is simply inevitable when two opposing forces are wanting to occupy the same space.  If the kingdom of heaven is seeking to occupy space that belongs or belonged to the kingdom of darkness, you better believe God’s people will be persecuted (sadly, God’s people have also done their share of persecuting).

If, in a marriage, there is a believer and an unbeliever, the believer had better be ready to face persecution (I use persecution very broadly, and in fact, am not referring to abuse at all.  More on this later).  A spouse may not believe that going to church is necessary.  They may speak against your church, the people you love, and even your faith.  They may mock you–and what’s worse–do it in front of your children!  They may seek to bring your children to their side.  There is much more to say than I can put in a blog, but let me give you some biblical encouragement:

  1. Read 1 Peter! The entire book is about persecution and suffering for the faith.  This is something that you should regularly read, whether experiencing persecution in marriage or not.  Chapter 3 deals with persecution within marriage.  It mainly deals with wives since wives tend to be the physically weaker of the couple.  In Peter’s day, women were not much more than property.  Jesus and His followers changed all that, elevating women to the equality of men (that is not to say that women can or should do everything that men can and should do).  I will write about chapter 3:1-7 below.
  2. Know that God is using you.  Paul wrote that Christians were not to divorce their spouse, but stay with them (unless the unbelieving spouse chooses to leave).  Why?  “For you, wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband?  Or you, husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife,” (1 Cor 7:16, HCSB)?  That isn’t a promise of salvation, but it is an encouragement to the Christian that God can and does use a believing spouse to bring the other to salvation, no matter how hopeless.
  3. Pray and have people pray.  Peter wrote,
    Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your care on Him, because He cares about you.  Be serious! Be alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.  Resist him and be firm in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are being experienced by your fellow believers throughout the world, (1 Peter 5:6-9, HCSB).

Satan is looking to destroy marriages.  He doesn’t play around and neither should we.  If you are serious about having a godly marriage, then be sure to take it seriously and pray seriously about it.  There are others out there struggling in their marriages.  Pray for them, and ask them to pray for you.

Now let me get to 1 Peter 3:1-7.  In this passage Peter tells the wives to remain silent in order and in hopes of leading the husband to the word without a word.  This fits well in with the idea of preaching the gospel and if necessary use words.  I am not a fan of that doctrine, but it is true at times. Peter says that when it comes to the gospel it may be best to keep silent.  “In the same way, wives, submit to your own  husbands, so that, even if som disobey the Christian message, they may be won over without a message by the way their wives live,” (1 Peter 3.1, HCSB).

He has set up people’s positions in society, masters and slaves (today: employers and employees).  He has set up people’s positions in the homes.  God created Adam and then Eve. From them came children.  So there is a sense of authority within the family.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of the woman, and God is the head of Christ,” (1 Cor 11.3, HCSB).  I’m not a fan of the way this verse was translated by the HCSB team, for the idea that Paul is conveying is that of husband and wife, not just any man and any woman.  But what we see is that even in the Trinity there is a sense of authority.  Christ did everything that the Father told him to do.  He spoke as His Father said.  He acted as His Father said.  The husband answers to Christ.  Christ is the head of the husband and if he does not submit himself to Christ he will answer for it.  At the same time, the wife is to submit to her husband.

The subjection in once sense is through silence.  Your husband may not love Jesus.  He may despise Him.  Remember that this is being written while the first generation of Christians is still alive.  That means that men and women were already married when they became believers.  It wasn’t that Christian men married pagan women and vice versa, but rather two pagans or two Jews would already be married and one would follow Christ while the other didn’t.  We know that Paul would go on to write not to get married to an unbeliever, but at this point the couples were already together.  And that still happens today where one person within marriage follows Jesus and the other doesn’t.

Men and women tend to act differently when they have life changes.  Men tend to give a quick synopsis to people who will listen and then continue on.  Women tend to talk about it.  They want to share what has happened with them in detail.  Men are all about big picture; women: about the details.  This can be grating to a guy.  What happens then is that rather than being more interested they become less interested.  The husband begins to get pushed away from the topic of discussion.  They want to shut the conversation down.  They will either argue about it or they will walk away or they will just simply tell you to stay quiet.  And so Peter tells the wife just to stay silent.  Pique his interest by not saying a word.

This goes against the desires of a woman to speak.  There is a war now within that the woman has to now fight in order to not say anything.  So there is suffering from within.  The husband may have already been a jerk about her faith by telling her to keep it to herself, and so there was suffering from without, and now that she is staying silent she is suffering within.  But if the wife is wanting to suffer well she will go to war with herself.  She will give the respect that God requires of her to her husband.  She is to realize that God has, in His great unknown design and plan, set that man to have authority in her life.  So by respecting him, she is respecting God’s prerogative.

How then is she supposed to win him over?  By having a changed spirit.

They my be won over without a message by the way their wives live when they observe your pure, reverent lives.  Your beauty should not consist of outward things like elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold ornaments or fine clothes.  Instead, it should consist of what is inside the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable in God’s eyes, (1 Peter 3.1b-4, HCSB).

Peter of course isn’t saying that you can’t look nice or wear jewelry or do your hair.  What he is saying is that your husband’s adoring eyes ought to first look to the soul of his wife and not her hair or clothing or jewelry.  A husband should wake up in the morning and think he is the luckiest man in the world, not because he has a pretty wife, but because she has a beautiful spirit about her.  What once concerned her: her looks, her clothes, her accessories no longer concern her.  Her spirit is now in tune with God’s Spirit and it shows in how she responds to her husband.

If your attitude change, your body language changes, and your voice changes, then your husband will notice.  It may take a while, but it will soon get the best of him, and he will want to know why.  Now is the time to speak up.  When he asks you what is different about you, or why you’re different, then is the opportunity.  He asked the question.  He wants to know.  He’s ready to listen.  He may not want to hear everything, but that’s okay.  Give him the gospel until he walks away.  Then start the process over again.  Be silent, be of gentle spirit.

A husband should wake up in the morning and think he is the luckiest man in the world, not because he has a pretty wife, but because she has a beautiful spirit about her.

And find solace in the Lord.  “For in the past, the holy women who put their hope in God also beautified themselves in this way, submitting to their own husbands, but as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.  You have become her children when you do what is good and are not frightened by anything alarming,” (1 Peter 3.5-6, HCSB).  Peter wrote that these women found their hope in God.  It was not in their husbands.  It was not in their own dignity even.  It was in God.  They found rest and solace–hope in God.  That hope resulted in subjection.  Just as the citizen is subjecting himself for God’s sake (1 Peter 2:15), and just as the slave is subjecting himself being mindful of God (1 Peter 2:19), so the wife is to subject with the hope of God.  This was why Peter wrote earlier that you are to prepare, “Therefore, with your minds ready for action, be serious and set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” (1.13, HCSB).

Everything within you says that it is not worth it.  Everything in you says that you are not appreciated.  Everything within you says to strike back, to quit, to walk away.  Why?  Because everything within you is hoping for something better, or maybe someone better.  Peter told us to hope in God—to hope fully on the grace that is to come.  Some wives put their hopes in their arguments, their jabs, their nags, their pleas.  Peter says to hope in God.  Be silent.  Be of good spirit.  Find solace in God.  If you do so, there is no need to fear: no need to fear that you will be taken advantage of, no need to fear what submitting may do.  The lack of fear is evidence of a life that fully hopes in God and the grace that He brings.

Husbands don’t get off scott-free.  Peter has some admonishing words to them as well.  “Husbands, in the same way, live with your wives with an understanding of their weaker nature yet showing them honor as coheirs of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered,” (1 Peter 3.7, HCSB).

In the same way.  With the same thought and practice as the wives have toward the husband.  Just as the wife should love and respect her husband, and her way is to show it through following well, husbands should love and respect their wives, and their way is to lead well.  How do they do this?  They do this by treasuring their wives.

Physically speaking women are generally weaker than men.  There are exceptions, but generally speaking this is so.  At the time when Peter wrote this, women were little more than property.  They were rarely consulted, rarely thought of as having importance.  Peter wrote that the Christian man will never see his wife this way.  This is why the Christian man ought never to demand submission from his wife.  This is God’s work in her spirit, not the husband’s work in breaking her spirit.

Husbands are to honor their wives.  They are to treasure them.  They are not property. They are not objects.  They are more than just the mother of your children and your servant that gets you a drink and makes you dinner.  They are first and foremost the daughter of God, and if you are a believer then they are secondly your sister-in-Christ.  You and she will receive an inheritance.  Again, in that day and age women would not receive an inheritance.  There had to be a court case to get a woman an inheritance.  Peter told the husbands that with God this is not so.  She is equal in all respects to the man, and how the husband treats his wife will be judged on how he treated Jesus.

Remember all believers are a part of the body of Christ.  He identifies with them so much that He not only said that how you treat the least of these you have treated me, but upon stopping Saul on the way to Damascus to throw Christians in jail, Jesus appeared to him and asked why Saul was persecuting Him.

They are first and foremost the daughter of God, and if you are a believer then they are secondly your sister-in-Christ.

Peter warned that if you are not treating your wife with the respect that a daughter of the King deserves, then your prayers will be hindered. Husbands, if you ever hope to have answered prayer, treat your wife with the greatest of dignity and respect and love. This goes to the husband of an unbelieving wife as well.  You still show her respect.  You still give her honor.  Do not force her against her will to do that which God has not yet called her to.  Otherwise you’re just messing things up. You’re praying for her salvation, but you’re treating her in a way that repels her from the gospel.

I know this has been a longer than normal blog, but let me close with this: abuse in a relationship is unacceptable.  If one can remove themselves from the situation they must do so.  The Bible allows for divorce in certain situations, and abuse for whatever reason is not one of them.  But Paul would allow for separation.  While Paul would encourage a wife of an unbeliever to stay in the marriage, he allows for separation, but wrote, “But if she does leave, she must remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband,” (1 Cor 7:11, HCSB).  The hope in it all is to reconcile, to get help for both the abused and the abuser, and then bring them back together when they are well and ready.

Once again, I would love to hear from your whether your agree or disagree.  I only ask you to be respectful in whatever you say.  If so, your comments will be posted asap.  If not, they will be deleted.  If you know of anyone who would benefit from reading this, feel free to share.