2014 – At Chapel of the Holy Cross – Sedona, AZ
Poor old Dagon didn’t have a chance
1 Samuel 5: They were shocked to find Dagon toppled from his place, flat on his face before the Chest of God.
The people of Israel aren’t much more spiritually aware than are the Philistines. When the Israelites get into a difficult battle they think that bringing out the Ark of the Covenant will bring them luck. However, it doesn’t work out that way. They’re soundly defeated and their enemies take the Ark, their most holy relic. Now, the story shifts to the Philistine city of Ashdod, the shrine of the idol Dagon. Someone has the bright idea of putting their new religious prize on display there with their idol. After a bit of rearranging the Ark is in its new place. To their surprise, when they visit the shrine the next morning their Dagon idol has toppled face down before the Ark. “I wonder how that happened?” someone asks in an unsteady voice. Dagon is stood up again. The following morning the priest of Dagon peeks around the corner and it’s happened again! This time, though, poor old Dagon’s in bad shape. His head and arms are broken off and he’s once again bowing before the Ark. Something has to be done and the decision is made, not to start worshipping the God of the Ark, but to get rid of it so that they can patch up poor old Dagon and prop him up back in his place again. It sounds dumb and in a sense it is. Still, they believe in national gods and the God of Israel, in their thinking, can never be theirs. The Chest has to go. As I read this interesting account I’m reminded that everything in my life must ultimately yield to God Almighty. Also, God isn’t a good luck charm. He’s the real deal and he insists that I live in a relationship with him.
Take Away: Ultimately everything in my life must bow before the Lord.
2014 – Grand Canyon, AZ
The Golden Ephod
Judges 8: Gideon made the gold into a sacred ephod and put it on display in his hometown.
Gideon and his army have won a great series of victories and now he returns home to a hero’s welcome. When the people want to honor him he asks for some of the gold earrings that were taken from the slain enemy. One has to read between the lines a bit but it seems Gideon’s intentions are good. He takes that gold and uses it in making a priestly garment called an “ephod.” In the history of the Israelites the ephod was worn by the high priest. It appears that this ephod isn’t intended to be worn; after all, it weighs around 100 pounds. Instead, it’s put on display as a reminder of all the Lord has done for them through Gideon. If this understanding is accurate this fancy “reminder” isn’t all that bad. However, it isn’t long before this object of remembrance becomes an object of worship. In fact, Gideon, himself, leads the way in bowing down before the Golden Ephod. How easy it is for us to elevate things to supreme importance while overlooking that which really matters. We church people debate music styles or building plans and worry about who will clean up after the potluck dinner (none of which are bad in themselves) while forgetting why we came to church in the first place. All the while, God is calling out to us, “Here I am, over here.” We miss his call for attention because we’re busy buffing our Golden Ephod.
Take Away: Ultimately, it’s all about the Lord and our relationship with him.
2014 – Whidbey Island, WA
Now that I have your attention
Numbers 7: When Moses entered the Tent of Meeting to speak with God, he heard the Voice [of God]…He spoke with him.
One thing about these ancient Israelites: they know how to throw a party. The dedication of the Tent of Meeting lasts twelve days with each day having its own pageantry and symbolism. Each of the family tree groups gets a day of its own and as the days progress each family is connected to this sacred place. The offerings have been made and now Moses, instead of going up on the mountain to meet with God, enters the Most Holy Place in the new Worship Center to complete its dedication. In an awesome moment, there above the Covenant Chest and between the golden angels God’s Voice is heard. Wow! No longer will it take a trip up Mount Sinai for a meeting with the Lord. Instead, he comes to them, dwelling right there at the heart of their camp. It’s impressive to remember that this wasn’t Moses’ idea. The building and furnishing of the Tabernacle was initiated by the Lord, himself. The Israelites don’t have to figure out some way to get God’s attention. In fact, from the very beginning of their story it’s the Lord who has reached out to them, initiating a relationship with them. So it is to this day. It isn’t that I figure out just what I have to do to get God to respond to me. Instead, from the start, he reaches out to me, inviting me to be his very own. When I hear and respond I find that the Almighty is more than willing to allow me to connect my life to his.
Take Away: God has always been a communicating God.
2014 – Whatcom Falls Park, Bellingham, WA
Leviticus 10: Distinguish between the holy and the common, between the ritually clean and unclean.
It starts with another “fire” issue. Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu have failed to follow the Lord’s instructions concerning fire used in worship. The result is fire from Above! The fire of the wrath of God kills them. Things have calmed down a bit, and Moses warns everyone to not take the things of God lightly. Holy things must be treated as such; with reverence. If it’s possible to treat uncommon things as common and thus bring condemnation, it is just as possible to treat common things as uncommon. Our society specializes in that. Things that should be treated with absolute reverence are tossed aside as though they’re worthless. Silly things that are either simply common or worse are held up as shining objects of worship. My society does that with sports, entertainment, and so-called success. To treat the holy as common is sin that brings death. The same can be said of treating common things as holy.
Take Away: Priorities are critically important in all of life.
2014 – Dead Horse Point State Park, UT – glorious sunset
Exodus 34: God, God a God of mercy and grace, endlessly patient – so much love, so deeply true – loyal in love for a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin.
Sinai II is taking place. During Sinai I, while the people rebelled Moses was on the mountain having an awesome encounter with God. Seeing that the people rebelled against God and his ways before they could even get started Moses broke the tablets containing the Law. However, Moses still intercedes for them and God graciously gives them another chance. In fact, God is willing to reveal himself to Moses in even a more personal way than he did out in the desert in the burning bush or when he came to Sinai the first time. It’s during this indescribable encounter that the words that arrest our attention today are stated. Old Moses can hardly contain himself as he proclaims God’s mercy, grace, and patience. Nope! This isn’t Moses speaking. Instead, it’s God! So what’s going on here? I think I know. As the Almighty begins to create a people and works specifically with the man he’s chosen to lead them, he’s giving Moses a lesson in worship. And Moses gets it! He falls on his face before God. Maybe I need some worship lessons too. I’m glad the Lord is a willing Teacher.
Take Away: Thank God for Second Chances and thank him also for being such a patient teacher.
2014 – Arches National Park, Utah
Praise and worship service
Exodus 15: Who compares with you in power?
When Moses tells the people to “stand still” he’s more right than wrong. While it’s true that they need to “move forward” in response to what God is doing, it’s still God who provides their deliverance. They don’t exactly “stand still” but they never raise a hand in their own defense. It’s God who provides the victory. Now they’re celebrating. Moses leads the way with his song of victory: “Who compares with you among gods, O God? Who compares with you in power, in holy majesty, in awesome praises, wonder-working God?” Moses turns their hearts in the right direction. Even more than being about victory over the army of Egypt, this celebration is about God at work in their world. Obviously that victory is no small thing. Still, God’s incomparable, powerful, majestic, wondrous work is the real reason to celebrate, whether it has to do with Pharaoh’s army or not. After all, this is God’s story even more than theirs. In my life there are many good things to celebrate, but beyond all that is the Reason behind the good things. I’m glad to join Moses in this praise and worship service.
Take Away: Celebrate the good things but don’t forget to celebrate the Giver of those good things.
2013 – Watkins Glen State Park, NY
Something new: prayer!
Genesis 4: That’s when men and women began praying and worshiping in the name of God.
Things are really messed up. The human race is fallen. The Garden is gone. The first murder has taken place. It’s all falling apart. This “free will” thing isn’t working out very well. Eve has another son and names him Seth. Seth has a son and names him Enosh. Then a wonderful thing happens: people start praying and worshiping. I wonder how that came about. Is Seth so thankful for the gift of a son that he decides to start worshiping God? Is it Enosh who has a hunger for God and introduces praying and worshiping? I don’t know the answer but I do see here a change for the better; one that brought hope to a hopeless situation. So what does it take in my life? Does it take tragedy…or some great blessing? Does it take someone else finding the way and showing it to me? What does it take to turn me from a life being lived for self to one being lived in fellowship with God?
Take away: Prayer and worship is an “important discovery” for every person to make.
2010 – Goose Island State Park, TX
Sin, murder, and grace
Genesis 4: Sin is lying in wait for you…you’ve got to master it.
The first children are born to the human race, two boys. These boys become men and these men are worshipers of God. One is a dirt farmer and the other raises livestock. These two worshipers of God bring sacrifices to the Lord. To Cain’s dismay God likes his brother’s offering better than his own. I’ve heard a few sermons on the reason why. In fact, I’ve attempted to deal with the topic myself. Some people think it’s the lack of blood in Cain’s offering. Others pounce on the “firstborn” aspect of Abel’s offering and the writer of the book of Hebrews focuses in on the faith aspect of it. Deciding why one offering is more acceptable than the other is a hard call. After all, Cain brought from what he had, just as Abel did. Of course, we know that this passage isn’t here to elevate one type of offering over the other. This account is about sin, murder, and grace. When Cain’s angry with God about his brother’s offering the Lord warns him that he’s skating on thin ice. Being disappointed with God, apparently, isn’t sin in itself; but such an attitude attracts sin. The Lord speaks to Cain like a father talking to his son, warning him that it’s a dangerous road he’s traveling. This situation has potential for Cain to be humbled. If he responds to the Lord by asking for an explanation concerning why his offering is inferior to Abel’s we won’t have the mystery concerning it. Instead, Cain proves God right by doing the wrong thing. At this point, the score is Sin: one, Cain: nothing.
Take away: Some things that aren’t quite sin, can, if I’m not careful, open that door.
Lamb, Lion, King
Revelation 5: Look – the Lion from Tribe Judah, the Root of David’s Tree, has conquered.
The One who sits on the Throne has a small, sealed scroll full of mysteries to be revealed. However, not just anyone is qualified to open it. In fact, no one can be found and it appears to John as though his “revelation” isn’t going to happen. Then, he sees a Lamb that appears both weak and strong at the same time; bearing marks of death but with traits of unequaled wisdom and strength. John hears one of the Elders call this Lamb “the Lion from Tribe Judah.” We know about Judah. That’s the royal family tree of Israel. King David was of that family; so is Jesus. The One John sees looks like a slain Lamb that’s very much alive and powerful. This Lamb is also a Lion – a conqueror. He takes the scroll but at that moment no one’s thinking of the scroll. All heaven bursts forth in praise for the Lamb-Lion. It’s a thrilling moment as “thousand after thousand after thousand” of heavenly beings break forth in a song of praise. That group gets the first verse, then for the next one, all creation joins in. What a scene! There’s more to read, more to be revealed, and more to consider. For the moment though, as happens in this scene of worship I think I’ll just stop and join them in worshiping this Lamb-Lion-King.
Take Away: Worship of Jesus is at the heart of all Creation.
A different kind of “street service”
Hebrews 13: God takes particular pleasure in acts of worship…that take place in kitchen and workplace and on the streets.
We’re not sure who is the writer of Hebrews, but this chapter (and not just the Timothy, Italy, and prison references) feels a whole lot like Paul’s writings. As he closes the letter, as Paul does, the writer tosses in a lot of one line instructions. As a reader, what I get out of a chapter like this depends a lot on what’s happening in my life right now. Tomorrow I might read it again and have a different “one-liner” jump out at me. Anyway, the instruction to take our faith out of the church and into the streets stands out to me. Christians are to be generous people who not only respond to needs when we’re confronted with them, but who actively go out and seek those in need that we might minister to them in Christ’s name. I tend to think of “worship” as what takes place on Sunday mornings inside the church building. In this passage I’m reminded that God really likes it when I make my “sacrifices” (an Old Testament style of worship) outside the church building and into my everyday life; at home, at work, and out in the general public. In-church worship is important, a vital part of living in Christ. Out-of-church worship is just as important as I take Jesus in practical ways to those “out there.”
Take Away: Worship inside the church and service outside the church are both vital parts of Christianity.