Lent 2009 – 32 Steps to the Cross


“For, said Peter, “it is written in the book of Psalms,

“’May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,’


“’May another take his place of leadership.’ (Acts 1:20)

Peter is continuing the conversation he has been having with the remaining disciples after they had confronted the betrayal by Judas (33 Steps). In Acts we see a Peter who is maturing as the Spirit has confronted his worst tendencies and worked His transformation. The Apostle now turns his attention to filling the emptiness among the Eleven and fulfilling their mission. His use of scripture is a turning point for Peter; he has put aside his raw emotion in decision making and is applying the Word to the situation at hand.

The lesson for us is plain. Our maturity as Christ followers is measured by those moments in which we put aside our self reliance and rely on the revealed Word and the Spirit’s direction in plotting our direction in life. Make note of the twin requirements: we must know God’s Word and discern the Spirit’s guidance. Growth in these areas only comes from devotion to study and prayer.

Do you need to renew your commitment?

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Friction Free Worship

As I’ve thought more about the impediments introduced by the church coffee shop and bookstore, I see a great deal of value in moving in the opposite direction of the “mall church” trend and instead designing a friction-free worship environment. This would be one which leads a worshipper directly from the narthex to the chancel (or in modern language, from the doorway to the altar) with as few obstacles as possible. Consider this passage from Isaiah as we reflect on the intentional design of our celebration event;

A voice of one calling: In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. (Isa 40:3)

and this one

And it will be said: “Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people. (Isa 57:14)

image Each of these verses serves the larger context of the passage in describing the movement of the Lord to the holy place in which He meets with His people. Because He is the King, his people’s desire is to smooth the way for their meeting by removing obstacles and straightening the path so that there is as little friction as possible in His movement toward the destination.

I’m getting the feeling that the ‘all-in-one’ church design is beginning to deter from the core reason for the Sunday celebration. We may not all agree but from the perspective of a pastor, my understanding of the Sunday (or Saturday or Tuesday as it applies) gathering is the corporate worship of God. With this objective placed properly in the hierarchy we can then clearly examine the effect that other activities might have on accomplishing this goal. For example, an issue I raised in an earlier post has to do with the distraction caused by the church coffee shop. It has a certain stickiness, an attractiveness that introduces friction on the path to worship. I am tempted to stop and enjoy a cup of coffee on my way to sanctuary, perhaps justifying it as fellowship, rather than moving deliberately toward the altar, physically and mentally.

When we introduce friction in this manner, we are placing obstacles in our people’s preparation and attendance to worship. Their minds can become distracted from the purpose of the gathering and thus, they become not fully present to God. Our task as the called leaders of the Church is reduce rather than increase any friction between God and His people. Must we do away with the coffee shop or the bookstore? No, they serve a purpose in the community of the church and the lives of the congregation. Perhaps we might consider closing them before and during the worship gathering and opening them afterwards to contribute to the fellowship and growth of the family of God. In doing so we accomplish two things. One, we establish the priority of the corporate worship event and practice in the life of the Christian and two, we make straight the path for the worshipper’s heart so that there is a frictionless path from the door to the altar. What do you think?

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A Bailout for Moral Bankruptcy?


The depths of moral bankruptcy seem to know no bottom, do they? We are inundated with opinion pieces masquerading as news in which a victim is portrayed as the aggressor in the Israeli-Gazan conflict. The newsreaders display their lack of principles as they attempt to portray some measure of moral equivalence between the culture of death which rules in Gaza and the democratic, peace-seeking culture of Israel. Will we soon see sympathetic portraits of the Somali pirates?

Sarah Palin was savaged mercilessly during her ninety days in the public spotlight. Her rise through public service was belittled and searched for scandal. The Palin family was trashed and portrayed as ‘Deliverance’ extras, pregnant in their mukluks with questions about lineage paraded across the front page. All this because she proudly stands up for her conservative principles. While all this was happening, the media at large happily avoided any difficult questions of the principles or beliefs of the next president that they so gleefully carried into office. Obfuscations dismissed, questionable relationships ignored, morality murdered.

Perhaps the most disturbing trend that has been developing for some time but is now reaching its zenith is the ascendance of the ‘celebrity pastor.’ These men (and women) have become consumed with self-aggrandizement and promotion. It is especially apparent in the blogosphere where their posts are couched in introductions in which they are “humbled” to have preached at four distant churches on one Sunday as they remind us of how great they have become. Shouldn’t people who have been redeemed and gifted through no aspect of their own character seek out a true humility? True achievement is recognized by others, not ourselves.

Is there anything left in the till for a bailout here?

Psalm 20 ~ Pray for the King

Psalm 20 reminds us of an often neglected responsibility for disciples of the Savior, to pray for our leaders (1 Tim 2:1-4). Whether you may have voted for a leader or find yourself in opposition, the Christian is called to exercise his or her intercessory moments and seek wisdom, guidance, and protection for the authorities recognizing all the while that God’s providence directs the course of history. This psalm was used to seek these God given tools for the king before he went out to war and can offer the same things to a current leader who faces an immensely complex world.

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.

May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion.

May he remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings. (vv 1-3)

The psalmist takes an interesting turn in his form in verse six. In exuberance, a liturgist proclaims loudly the truth of the psalm’s words, bursting forth with a proclamation of assurance for the effectual nature of the believers prayer. Our modern prayers can lead us to the same confidence if we approach them fervently and humbly, confident in God’s course and not insistent on our own ways.

Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he answers him from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm. (vv 6-8)

Gideon’s Legacy

No sooner had Gideon died than the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. They set up Baal-Berith as their god and did not remember the Lord their God who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side. (Judges 8:33-34)

Finishing well may be toughest part of life. Adrenalin and zeal can often set us off on a very high trajectory but if we come crashing back down, it is only the end that people are going to remember. So it is for Gideon. Despite his hesitant start, he served the purposes of Yahweh and gave Israel forty years of peace. The armies of Midian were turned back and the people, including Gideon, were able to settle in and raise families under the watchful eye of the Lord. We’re not told of the religious environment during this time but we can surmise that holiness may not have been an emphasis in the land.

What we read is yet another vignette of God’s amazing grace. Despite the Ephod and its distracting effect on the people, God granted them forty years of shalom when they deserved just the opposite. Should we bank on this as normative? Unlikely. Reading the remaining cycles in Judges shows Yahweh’s grace being constrained to shorter and shorter periods. Applying this to our own lives, we should not raise an expectation of continual grace based on our early efforts for God. Holiness is an ongoing effort that requires our continued attention; without it we risk turning our focus back to our idols and off of God. For His leaders, the emphasis is even greater because the legacy that you leave affects many more people than just yourself.

The Two Sides of Gideon II

imageNo sooner did we admire Gideon’s faithfulness to the covenant in turning down the monarchy then he seems to forget it in whole. The author of Judges writes in great detail now, hinting at the trouble to come as Gideon strikes an off-the-cuff request. “Give me an earring out of your spoils.” So, he’s trying to enrich himself as their leader. We aren’t shocked by this because of our modern perspective of those who govern us. The Israelites, acting out of their gratitude for being freed from the Midians, quickly respond, spreading out a cloak and filling it with golden ornaments and jewelry.

In yet another unexpected turn, Gideon takes the gold and fashions an ephod out of it. Whether we read this as a part of the high priest’s garments or a pagan idol, the effect is the same. Gideon has created an item of worship that draws the immediate adoration of the Israelites. We read that they prostituted themselves to the idol and, for at least a moment, the covenant was forgotten. The downward spiral  gains speed quickly.