Sore no more

Anger abounds in Exodus 32. First, God is angry with the people. God says they have become corrupt. This is when Moses went up the mountain to be with God. The people got uncomfortable with his absence. So, they convinced Aaron to make the golden calf. Fashioning an idol means they are now giving glory to other gods for their salvation. God wanted to let his anger burn against the people and destroy them.

After Moses convinced God to relent, he went down to see for himself what the people were doing. The same anger that burned within God now “burned hot” within Moses. Imagine everything Moses went through, all he did to lead the people out of slavery. At every point, he directed them to the power of God. To see them drunk and giving praise to other gods probably would have angered you, too.

Ask a regular churchgoer what their congregation’s golden calf is. They’ll know what you’re talking about. They’ll know they have something they hold on to that isn’t all that much about God’s glory. Now, when I point those things out, please know I’m not criticizing you or your faith. I’m trying to strengthen ours.

At some point, preaching to and leading a congregation means you see things others do not. In those moments I’m called to address who we are or what we’ve become. I’ve noticed a lot of people don’t always appreciate that. And I understand why. It feels like you’re being criticized. I recall early on rehashing things people said to me. These were words offered as constructive criticism, but I took them to be something else.

I had to learn to not be so sore. It takes a lot for someone to be willing to tell you what you need to hear. If they could muster the courage to tell me, I could be courageous enough to listen. Slowly, I realized what they saw and what it could mean for me if I reflected on their wisdom.

That said, we understand why Moses destroyed the golden calf. Why would we want to keep that around? But why do you think he destroyed the tablets containing the commandments?

Remember, his anger burned.

So, was it a sudden act of anger? Was it justifiable anger? John Wesley said of this text that, “Those are angry and sin not, that are angry at sin only.”

Do you agree?

Before Moses destroyed the golden calf, he destroyed the tablets. Even in his anger, I take his act to be symbolic. The people had lost their blessing, God’s word, because of their idol worship. They had to realize that first before it made sense to get rid of the idol.

As we reflect on this dramatic scene in Exodus 32, consider a few questions. What’s your church’s golden calf? What’s yours? Is it just one calf? And what blessings do we lose because we aren’t willing to let them go?

Stay blessed…john

It’s not worship without this

Worship is at the heart of who we are as Christians.

But our definition of what worship is needs fine-tuning. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to a gathering of saints and someone leading says something like, “Okay, church, let’s stand and worship.”

That sounds harmless enough. The implication, though, is that worship means standing up to sing. Of course, singing is a part of worship. But only a part. That’s one of the reasons the worship wars are so silly. We get riled up about one small aspect of worship.

While we gather for corporate worship, most of our worship doesn’t happen then. On Sunday mornings, we pray together and listen for God’s voice through scripture. Of course, we sing and give our offerings. Again, those are all aspects of worship. Our true worship is connected to those practices. 

But our true worship happens when we leave. Worship is more than liturgy and holy days. Our worship of God is our willingness to live according to the ways of God. Obedience is worship.

Particularly throughout the Old Testament, God’s call is for obedience. Instead, the people turned to idols. Now, they still said the right things about God and participated in religious services. But they didn’t live according to God’s measure of righteousness. If they did, they would have taken care of one another. They would have provided for the widows and orphans. Justice would have been at the forefront of their relationship with the world. Their idol worship hardened their hearts and perpetuated their self-centered lifestyle. 

In Isaiah 1, God says to a disobedient people, “I hate your New Moons and your appointed feasts. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them” (Isaiah 1:14). I wonder how many of our worship gatherings are a burden to God.

We see both these aspects of worship in Exodus 24. God told Moses to bring the elders of Israel up the mountain with him. Moses was to go near to God and the elders were to “worship at a distance.” What do you think their mountain worship looked like?

After this, Moses told all the people what God told him. The people’s response is what we’re considering today. They said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” Their obedience would be their worship. 

So, when you’re with your church family on Sunday morning (or whenever you meet), you bring your worship of God with you. In our gatherings, we glorify God and offer our lives as living sacrifices together. From there, our true worship is living as if all that we said about God is true. So true that we will live like it is.

Stay blessed…john

The secret’s out

I don’t find myself at the mall very often.

I’m not a big shopper. Most times that I do go it’s with family. A few years ago, they got me to go with them. Keep in mind that I’m done looking at the store’s merchandise in a fraction of the time everyone else is. So, I tend to pay more attention to fixtures and store layouts. As I meandered through the store, a small display caught my attention.

To me, this display summed up all our problems. I didn’t want to forget it so I even took a picture. It read: Give me what I want.

As much as we know what’s wrong with that approach to life, if we’re not careful that becomes our life pursuit. We’ll work ourselves crazy to get what we want. Time with our family, time with our Lord gets cut as we do what we need to do to get what we want.

Not only is that a selfish way to live, but it’s also tiring. Is it any wonder so many of us feel exhausted, frustrated and on edge? What’s more, many people who spent years pursuing what they thought they wanted to have, come to find out it wasn’t worth the effort. Better said, it wasn’t worth what they gave up in their pursuit.

So, what will we let their experience teach us?

What I want to learn from them is something Apostle Paul communicated with the Philippian Christians. He called it “the secret to being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.”

I’m not sure why the NRSV translates it as a “secret.” You tell someone a secret. What Paul is prescribing is something you need to learn.

But you can’t buy Paul’s lesson. It isn’t meant to be packaged or marketed.

What’s his secret? What has he learned that has helped him go through his life? Two things, actually. One is contentment. Being happy with what you have. I guarantee you won’t ever find that advertising at the mall! The second is knowing God’s power. Paul goes on to famously say, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Chances are, you and I have missed something about that verse that is a powerful part of the lesson. Paul is speaking to a group of Christians who have encouraged him. They’ve supported him in prayer and helped him with finances while he was in jail. One of their own sent their gift and was a help to the apostle as well.

I get the impression Paul learned his secret lesson in the Christian community. Any need he has had, God’s people have been God’s response.

I hope you and I learn that we don’t need everything we think we want. And we certainly don’t need to let our lives be guided by that pursuit. Instead, Lord, help us to learn to be content and to be strengthened by your power.

Stay blessed…john