The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual Gifts are some of the greatest tools Christ has given his followers, and sadly one of the most misunderstood topics in the Church today.

The Debate

Of all the discussions, sermons, and Bible classes I’ve encountered, there seems to be one main focus: the ability of the gifted. These “studies” often devolve into the mechanics/prohibitions of Gifts, or cessation/continuation discussions. “Is it possible for someone to have the gift of _____ today? If not, which gifts do we have today?” This always seems to be the driving force behind these discussions, with great argument given as to why they have or have not ceased to exist in the church.

The Purpose

This completely misses the Biblical point of Spiritual Gifts. Spiritual Gifts are never about the person with the Gift, but always about how that Gift can bless the Body of Christ. This is the discussion we need to be having.

Let’s consider two different passages by Paul to two different churches related to this topic.

I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.

Romas 1:11-12 NIV

Notice that in verse 12, the purpose of Gifts are clearly defined by Paul. It doesn’t matter what specific Gift Paul wants to impart, the purpose is mutual encouragement by faith.

In another passage, Paul discusses the gifts that Christ has given to the Church, his Body.

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…

Ephesians 4:11-12 NIV

Notice again that the purpose of these “gifts” are the building up of the Church.

Gifts in community

Gathering with a Body of believers is incredibly important. Spiritual Gifts aren’t for isolated personal use, but serve the purpose of building up others. To put it another way, Spiritual Gifts require interdependence among believers. There may be instances where a Spiritual Gift could be exercised in private and bring blessing to that individual, but this is like receiving a beautiful Ferrari only to keep it a garage. The purpose of the car is not to be admired in private, but rather driven in order to enjoy the journey, and get you to your intended destination.

To illustrate the need Paul places on interdependence when it comes to Spiritual Gifts, I want to look at the first two Gifts mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit,

1 Corinthians 12:7-8 NIV

Notice again that the point is not to bless an individual, but “the common good.” This is to bless the community.

Notice also that the gifts mentioned have to be shared. The Corinthians highly valued wisdom and knowledge. These qualities, so it was believed, were only held by the elite. The pursuit of wisdom and knowledge, therefore, was one of the noblest endeavors. Paul knows they value the Corinthians place here, and reminds them that this only puffs up (1 Cor. 8:1).

Instead, the Gifts Paul mentions here are not wisdom and knowledge themselves, rather it’s the sharing of this wisdom and knowledge that make the Spiritual Gift. That is to say, the gift is not wisdom, but rather the “utterance” (ESV) of wisdom. The gift is not knowledge, but rather the “utterance” of knowledge. Wisdom and knowledge kept within ourselves is not beneficial. Applying and sharing these, however, is a Spiritual Gift in the mind of Paul.

This is why it is so crucial for believers to gather together. In the age of COVID this “gathering” may look significantly different from in ages past, but we must gather nonetheless. The communal benefit/blessing of Spiritual Gifts is negated when we attempt to pursue a relationship with Christ in isolation.

Members of the Body

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:12 NIV

Together we make up the Body of Christ. If we are no longer connected to the other members, how can we be part of the Body? If my finger is detached from my body, it no longer serves my body. It is no longer part of my body. Yet many Christians feel that this is completely appropriate when it comes to their relationship with other Christians. I have met many who profess belief in Christ, but have not gathered to worship with other believers in years, even decades.

I really have to ask, is this really how Christ intended his Body to work? Is this really how Paul envisioned many parts being formed together into one body?

Lots of reasons, legitimate and not, can be given for not gathering together. But even from my couch in quarantine this week I was able to “gather” with saints at my own congregation, one in a different time zone, and one on the other side of the planet. Is this ideal? No. But it keeps me plugged into the Body until I can be there in person.

The purpose of Spiritual Gifts are to build up the Body. And even though it doesn’t feel the same coming through a computer screen, it doesn’t cannot happen at all if I separate myself from the rest of the Body.

Final Thoughts

To those in quarantine (like me), stay connected. To those who are part of the Body, search for those who have fallen away. And if you’re reading this thinking you can pursue your faith alone, in isolation, you’ve just proved my point by reading this article. It took someone else (me in this particular case) to write what you just read. For you, that required another part of the Body. For me, I receive a blessing when you read this.

The Church (which in Greek simply means “gathering/assembly”) isn’t possible in isolation. And it may just be the case that you are missing a Spiritual Gift you deeply need, and may or may not realize it.

Online or in person, it’s time to gather. It’s also time to share what God has given you with others. Satan loves to tell us we aren’t good enough to use our Gifts to bless others. Again, Spiritual Gifts are never about the person with the Gift, but always about how that Gift can bless the Body of Christ. Your song (no matter how out of tune) can cheer another. Your offering (no matter how small) can bless another. Your words (no matter how few) can encourage another.

Spiritual Gifts are never about the person with the Gift, but always about how that Gift can bless the Body of Christ. So go and bless the Body.

Warmth and Light

As I observe human nature, it’s noticeable how the cold and the dark propel us to the warmth and the light. It’s like an involuntary obedience to an ancient command found in our DNA. The pain of being cold and the fear of being in the dark send us searching for even the smallest portion of warmth and light.

On a cold winter’s night, we do what we can to survive until morning breaks and the glorious sun appears to fill the world with warmth and light.

“In the beginning, … the Spirit of the Lord hovered over the waters. The Earth was dark and empty.”

(My adaptation of the opening lines of Genesis.)

How dark a place it must have been. How empty and cold…until the warmth of His breath brought forth light.

He spoke the words, “Appear, Light!” And light appeared, just as it was commanded.

Centuries later, after generations of cyclical battles between light and dark, the warmth of His breath brought forth The One True Light to this dark, cold world.

He spoke these words to an unwed Jewish teenager, “Light will appear unto you.” After further confirmation, Mary spoke the echo which must have resounded through the atmosphere all those centuries ago, “Let it be as You have said!” And The Light of the world appeared, just as He had been commanded.

How dark the night but how bright the Star!

How cold the stable but how warm was His glorious presence!

The star. The stable. The Savior!

Even now, all things are held together by the power of His mighty command (Hebrews 1:3). Gravity. Phases of the moon. Seasons changing. Seeds growing. Sunrise over a dark horizon. Babies being born. A beating heart. The breath of life. It’s all under Jesus’ command.

Centuries ago, creation obeyed His command and brought forth light. 2000 years ago, an unwed Jewish girl obeyed His command and brought forth The Light of the world.

What about you? Have you obeyed His command? Have you been out in the cold, dark world, hovering with no sense of purpose or direction – formless and empty just as the Earth was before our Creator spoke to it? Have you been doing whatever it takes to survive out there on your own, in the darkness?

Let the pain of being cold and the fear of being in darkness propel you to the warmth of the One True Light.

Obey the command resounding through the atmosphere and even in your DNA right now – “Let it be as You have said. Jesus, I come to You. Jesus, I bow down to You. Jesus, I give up all my pretensions of making myself warm or creating my own light. I can’t do that anymore. It’s not enough to sustain me. It doesn’t last. I end up right back where I started, cold and dark. Jesus, fill me with Your light! Fill me with Your warmth! You are the everlasting, the never ending, the eternal One. You never slumber or sleep. YOUR LIGHT NEVER GOES OUT. Fill me with THAT light, dear God, and I will never be dark or cold again. By the mighty command of Jesus’ power, let it be.”

Today’s article is written by my wonderful wife, Jennifer Stidham. Jennifer is a graduate student at Hardin-Simmons University in the Clinical Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy program, pursuing her LPC and LMFT certifications. Jennifer is the mother to three beautiful children, and caretaker to a host of cantankerous pets. She is a homeschool teacher, and ministers to our church and our community in many ways.

Christ: The King

“I have issued an edict that throughout all the dominion of my kingdom people are to revere and fear the God of Daniel. “For he is the living God;he endures forever.His kingdom will not be destroyed;his authority is forever.He rescues and delivers and performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth.He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions!”

Daniel 6:26-27 NET

DEVOTIONAL

Yesterday, the first Sunday of Advent, was Christ the King Sunday. One of the themes in Daniel is the unreliability on political powers, especially in chapter 6. Here the narrator informs us 122 political leaders are conspiring to have Daniel killed by the king.

The king, who is basically Barney Fife with a crown, is so inept he cannot detect his subordinates manipulating him. Once he does discover what is happening, he is powerless to go against his own edict. There is no hope found here.

Darius is hopeful that Daniel’s God has the power to save Daniel, a power that Darius only wishes he had. When Darius discovers that the living God has rescued Daniel, he immediately executes 122 political leaders, their wives, and their children. This is not a stable king that anyone should place hope in.

The concluding edict shows us that even Darius sees the need for his kingdom to place their hope in “…the God of Daniel. For he is the living God; he endures forever.”

Nebuchadnezzar didn’t last as king.

Belshazzar didn’t last as king.

Darius won’t last as king.

But God has an eternal kingdom.

This leads nicely into Daniel 7, which tells us of the “son of man”, a human who is able to ascend to the presence of “the Ancient of Days”, and be given all authority over every nation. This is the imagery Jesus activates in the hearts and minds of the listener every time he refers to himself as the Son of Man.

Our hope is found nowhere else, but in the true King and his eternal Kingdom.

PRAYER

Father, forgive us when we place our hope in anything other than you.

Too often we turn to political powers and authorities, to the god of financial security, the god of entertainment, the god of sex, or the god of pharmaceutical companies… Lord, we place our hope in so many things other than you.

But as the story of Daniel reminds us, it is only you, the living God, who has ultimate authority.

It is only you who rescues and delivers.

It is only you who performs signs and wonders.

It is only you who has an eternal kingdom.

All these other things will pass away, but it is you, the living God, who endures forever.

Father, help us to worship you with our time, our energy, our finances, and not these other gods. Help us seek after you, and your glory, not our own. And in doing so, Father, please bring us the unity we long for, where we all walk together hand in hand to praise and serve you and your Son.

Through our Savior, Jesus. Amen.

You Don’t Deserve This!

But then one of the seraphs flew toward me. In his hand was a hot coal he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Look, this coal has touched your lips. Your evil is removed; your sin is forgiven.”I heard the voice of the sovereign master say, “Whom will I send? Who will go on our behalf?” I answered, “Here I am, send me!”

Isaiah 6:6-8 NET

DEVOTIONAL

Isaiah quickly realizes that his sin should not allow him to be in the presence of God. Yet as Isaiah comes to this realization that there is nothing he can do, his “evil is removed” and his “sin is forgiven,” not because of what Isaiah did, but by what God is doing. God has a mission of proclamation, and Isaiah is forgiven to do that work.

The majority of sermons I have heard over the years focus heavily on the idea that Jesus died to set us free from our sins so that we can one day live with him. While this is true, it ignores the “now what” question. I’m saved now, and later I’ll get to enjoy being in the presence of God, but what now?

Just as Isaiah has a role to fulfill for God, Paul reminds us of the same thing (Ephesians 2:10, 4:11-13). We play an important role in God’s mission in the world (Matthew 28:18-20), but that isn’t by our own power or our own righteousness. The abilities we have are gifts from God, the mission we have is a mission created by God.

We humans like to rank ourselves higher than others based on our own merits. But we must never forget that in the Kingdom of God, there is only one king, and we are not it. Our goodness is not a crown we get to wear, rather our mission is to point to the only One worthy of being called good.

PRAYER

Father, forgive us when we think more highly of ourselves than we ought. The story of Isaiah reminds us that we do nothing to earn our forgiveness. We do nothing to deserve the removal of our sins. Forgiveness of sins is something you, and you alone do for undeserving sinners.

Lord, please help me realize that I stand no more deserving in your presence than anyone else. Though I like to think my sin isn’t as bad as others, my sin deserves death, and you are the only one who can remove the death penalty.

Help me remember that Jesus died for all people, even those nailing him to the cross. So help me to show the same love and mercy to my sisters and brothers as you have shown for me.

Help us realize that we have not simply been saved from something, but rather you have saved us for something. So use us as instruments of your truth and grace to everyone we meet.

Through the name and power of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. Amen.

The Worst and Most Successful Prophet Ever

But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

Jonah 4:10-11 NIV

DEVOTIONAL

The short little book of Jonah is one of the most skillful literary masterpieces of the entire Bible. Every word it seems is a glowing hyperlink to another Biblical text. The more you explore, the more funny and pointed the story of Jonah becomes.

Jonah refuses to go to Nineveh because he doesn’t think they deserve being saved. The funny thing is that God has already given undeserved grace to Israel under the reign of Jeroboam by extending Israel’s borders to the largest they ever were. And he sent that message through none other than Jonah son of Amittai! (2 Kings 14:23-25).

The least godly person in the entire story is the prophet of God: he sleeps when he should be praying, the offers thanksgiving for his “death” inside the great fish, he preaches the shortest and most pitiful sermon in all of history (only 5 words in Hebrew), has the greatest repentance of any missionary ever, and then is angered by the fact that the people are doing exactly what God hoped they would do!

He’s the most upside down prophet that ever lived, and the sad thing is I can see a lot of myself in Jonah. If we’re honest, those of us who claim to follow Christ often wind up being the least Christ-like person in the room because we start acting like Jonah. This short little story deserves much reflection by all who claim to represent Christ in this world.

Prayer

Father, forgive us when we value stuff more than human life. Especially in this heated political climate we tend to value our stuff, our comfort, our ideas, our way more than other humans made in your image. Please forgive us of this sin.

Help us remember that you care for all people, regardless of what they think of you. Lord forgive us for having the spirit of Jonah, where we think of ourselves as better and more deserving of your mercy that those we meet.

Help us see this world as you see it. Help us love our neighbors as ourselves, and please remove the hatred, bigotry, racism, and sectarianism from our hearts.

Lord, have mercy on us for we are sinners.

Through the name and power of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. Amen.

My Father’s House?

Luke is a master when it comes to dropping subtle clues in his writings. From the beginning of his Gospel, Luke wants you to know that Jesus isn’t just an ordinary man. He is human, yes, but he is also God in human form. And Luke shares this with us in many ways throughout the early chapters of his Gospel.

In Chapter 2 we get a story that no other Gospel writer tells. I believe Luke must have gotten this from Mary herself, especially since he relays Mary’s inner thoughts (see 1:3, 2:51). Jesus disappears from the family caravan at Passover. Mary and Joseph cannot find him anywhere, so they return to the city of Jerusalem and find Jesus in the temple courts discussing Scripture with the teachers.

What really stands out to me is the way Jesus responds to the question from his mother.

When his parents saw him, they were overwhelmed. His mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” But he replied, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2005), Lk 2:48–49.

Did you notice Jesus’ words here? Compare the words of Mary to those of Jesus. Who is the “father” of Jesus? According to Jesus, he was exactly where he was supposed to be…in his Father’s house.

The word play here isn’t accidental. This is just one small example of how Luke fills his Gospel with subtle (and some not so subtle) ways of reminding us of the true identity of Jesus. Next time we’ll look at the words of Elizabeth and what they tell us about Jesus.

(I’ll be dropping some of these every week since I will be reading this Gospel a lot between now and the time I start preaching through it in December. If you’re looking for a reading plan that will drill down on Luke’s Gospel before the end of the year, you can join me. Here’s a reading plan for Luke that my Small Group is going through, and here’s what I’m reading in addition to that.)

Peace and Quiet in the Chaos

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

1 Timothy 2:1-4 NIV

Paul writes Timothy in Ephesus who is ministering to a church that seems to be divided around ethnic and cultural lines. Men are fighting instead of praying. Women are one-upping each other in dress and allegiance. One woman is violently lashing out in some sort of teaching scenario. It’s chaotic to say the least.

Paul reminds everyone that we are to live “quiet” (ἡσύχιος) lives. Paul uses this word three times in this chapter alone. All throughout the chapter, as well as the chapters that follow, Paul advocates for peace and quiet in our lives…not silence…the Gospel is never silenced, but our attitudes towards others and towards the world is one of peacefulness and quietness in all godliness and holiness.

We don’t fight to get our way, we pray so Christ’s church can be an example of radical unity, and of godliness and holiness in the noisy and chaotic world around us.

Prayer

Father, our world is in turmoil and our nation is divided. Sadly, Father, our churches seem divided too. But Lord, you have called us to live peaceful and quiet lives, not lives of bickering and name calling. You have called us to be one as you are one.

So Father, teach us to pray for everyone in authority- our presidential and vice-presidential candidates, the leaders of other nations, our congress, our senate, our governors, our state representatives, our mayors, our city councils, our HOA boards…not so our will is done, but so that “we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

Help us not divide among party lines, but rather show the world a radical unity founded in our commitment to one another because of your son Jesus. And Father, when we live this way help us to reach those lost souls around us whom you want to be saved as well. Through the name and power of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. Amen.

Unity in a Divided World

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Ephesians 4:2-6 NIV

Devotional

Paul writes Ephesians to a church that seems to be divided around ethnic and cultural lines. Gentiles coming into the faith along with Jews makes for difficult church potlucks. Paul reminds us that no matter our background, ethnicity, social status, etc., we are all saved in the same way by the same Savior sent by the same God.

For three chapters Paul reminds his readers that all the barriers that once divided these two diverse groups have been destroyed through Jesus. “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…” (2:14) Paul was adamant about this diverse group of believers being unified in Christ.

Today Christ’s church finds itself divided by politics, polity, worship practice, ethnicity, and a multitude of other issues. If Paul were writing to the church in the U.S. today (or any other nation for that matter), what would he say about our unity? I believe it would sound very much like Ephesians. May we seek a unity within the body of Christ that amazes the world around us and glorifies our Father in heaven.

Prayer

Father, our world is full of proud and boastful people. Our national leaders seem to do nothing but provoke division and slander one another. Lord, help us to remember that you have called us to be different. Your Spirit inside of us should unite us above and beyond whatever could divide us. I pray that your Church will truly be one body, divided only by physical location, but never divided in purpose, mission, and fellowship. May we base our unity as one body in the common Spirit, Lord, Faith, and Baptism we share. And may our unity be a witness of your salvation to the world around us. Through the name and power of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. Amen.

Name It And Claim It Doesn’t Quite Cut It

To be honest, I never quite know what to do with the story of Hannah.

On one hand I’d love to preach a sermon that says if you simply pray hard enough just like Hannah did, then God will give you the desires of your heart. After all, Hannah did pray earnestly and the barren woman did have a son. David also prayed earnestly and lost his son. I can give you examples of people in my life who have experienced both Hannah and David moments. Name it and Claim it doesn’t seem to cut it with this text.

On the other hand I could say that Hannah’s story is an example of God blessing a faithful woman, and so the answer must be to have a strong faith and God’s blessings will come. Job also had a strong faith, and was blameless while losing all his children. Just have more faith doesn’t seem to cut it either.

Perhaps the struggle I have is not so much with this text, but rather trying to make God predictable and controllable, or perhaps make him out to be a cliché. It seems to me that we always want to be able to nail down exactly how God will act. We almost would prefer a genie that is obligated to give us our three wishes rather than the living God of the Bible who acts according to his nature and for his glory all the while being bound to flawed human beings through covenant.

Hannah’s prayer in particular sets up themes that the rest of Samuel will address. Let me give an example of what I’m talking about before returning to Hannah’s story. Most Christians are familiar with the idea of God not changing, and we usually get this from James. Samuel gives us a more detailed look at this concept. The Hebrew word in question is nakham. Let’s look at it in context.

The Preeminent One of Israel does not go back on his word or change his mind, for he is not a human being who changes his mind.

1 Samuel 15:29 NET (emphasis added)

Both places in the text that are italicized are the translations of the Hebrew word nakham. It means to change one’s mind. God doesn’t do that according to 1 Samuel 15:29. It tells us this twice in the same verse! But now let’s look at two other verses that occur before and after verse 29.

I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned away from me”…but the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel. 

1 Samuel 15:11, 35 NET (emphasis added)

Both times the word regret is used is the Hebrew word nakham. God does not nakham according to verse 29, but he does nakham twice in the same chapter. So what does all of this have to do with Hannah? I think the key to understanding this textual confusion is in verse 29. The text tells us that God does not go back on his word. NIV translates this that God does not lie.

In other words, I think Samuel is teaching us that God will nakham based on the actions of the covenant people to whom he has committed himself. Saul turns away from God, so God nakhams. But from God’s own ultimate purpose and character, he will never nakham. Both can be true at the same time. I believe this teaches us that God will always act consistent to his character and purpose in the world, even though that means the details of how he interacts and carries out that character driven purpose in the world might vary.

Back to Hannah. When we look at her prayer we notice quickly that this isn’t a prayer of God’s intervention in one person’s life, rather a prayer of national, even cosmic thanksgiving as God displays his character in the world. And notice the contrast and consistency present in how God acts in the world.

The bows of warriors are shattered, but those who stumble find their strength reinforced. Those who are well-fed hire themselves out to earn food, but the hungry no longer lack. Even the barren woman gives birth to seven, but the one with many children withers away. The Lord both kills and gives life; he brings down to the grave and raises up. The Lord impoverishes and makes wealthy; he humbles and he exalts. He lifts the weak from the dust; he raises the poor from the ash heap to seat them with princes and to bestow on them an honored position. The foundations of the earth belong to the Lord, and he has placed the world on them.

1 Samuel 2:4-8 NET

Do you see the contrast? He weakens and strengthens, feeds and starves, gives fertility and infertility, gives life and takes life, gives wealth and poverty, exalts and humbles. God will never nakaham from his mission, his character, and his promises. But the application of this in the world will vary. Hannah testifies to it. Samuel recognizes it. And we are often uncomfortable with it.

And still I find comfort in this text. Bit by bit we are reassured that we serve a God who hears us and knows us. Hannah poured out her soul to the LORD, the LORD heard Hannah, and remembered her. Hannah reminds us that the LORD is a God who knows.

I don’t know why Hannah can pray for a child and God miraculously intervenes. He is a holy God and there is none like him. And at the same time I don’t know why a faithful, childless woman can earnestly pray for years and no miracle comes. He is a holy God and there is none like him.

We sit in the tension. We wait in the discomfort. And that’s where we meet Hannah. She faithfully poured out her soul to God while weeping bitterly, and did the same with rejoicing at the dedication of Samuel. In lack and abundance, in need and in blessing, Hannah poured out her soul to God, and God heard her.

Our God does not nakham. When we pour out our soul before God, our prayers will be heard. We may or may not receive everything we ask. But the LORD is a God who knows. And in that I find great comfort.

Idolatry and the Church

Late Saturday afternoon I was paralyzed with a thought…a realization…an all consuming alarm going off in my head, and a knot in the pit of my stomach that just wouldn’t let go. This same thought had floated through my mind on and off over the course of the last 6 months, but today it hit me like a ton of bricks. And I can’t ignore it any more.

I’ll be preaching from Exodus Sunday morning from a text most people think they are familiar with. After God performs many signs and wonders against Egypt, after Israel crosses through the sea, and after God provides for them in the wilderness, the people arrive at Mount Sinai. A beautiful and powerful covenant ceremony takes place…a wedding if you will between God and the people of Israel. This is where we receive the 10 Commandments in the Exodus narrative. They begin like this:

20:1  God spoke all these words: 

20:2 “I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you from the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery. 

20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me. 

20:4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or that is on the earth beneath or that is in the water below.20:5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, responding to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children to the third and fourth generations of those who reject me,20:6 and showing covenant faithfulness to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. 

Ex 20:1–6 NET

After we read the 10 Commandments, we hear the voice of the nation of Israel speaking to Moses:

“You speak to us and we will listen, but do not let God speak with us, lest we die.”

Ex 20:19 NET

Did you follow that? The first thing God wants them to do is recognize that He is the one who brought them out of Egypt. They should not worship any other deity, nor try to capture or constrain Him to some sort of created image. That’s what everyone else in their part of the world would do, but this is not what they are called to do. And their response is that they don’t want to hear directly from their Savior. The Creator of heaven and earth is willing to speak directly to them, and they don’t want to hear it.

After God finishes talking to Moses, the very next thing to happen after this wedding scene is sin. Aaron (co-leader of Israel along with Moses and Miriam, the priest who just finished dining in the very presence of God) makes a golden calf idol for the people to worship. But notice what the text tells us:

Then they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” 

32:5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it, and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow will be a feast to the LORD.” 32:6 So they got up early on the next day and offered up burnt offerings and brought peace offerings, and the people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play. 

Ex 32:4–6 NET

Do you hear the Garden of Eden narrative ringing in your ears within this story? The very first directive God gives Adam and Eve is to not eat this fruit. What’s the first thing they do? They eat the fruit.

The first directive God gives Israel is that He is the one who brought them out of Egypt, so don’t worship any other gods or make an image of him. What’s the first thing they do? In their own context, they eat the fruit. God wants his people to be a “kingdom of priests” who are different from the world around them in order to lead the world to God. But Israel chose to be just like the world.

Now fast forward to today. COVID plagued election season in America.

God has called his church to be a “priesthood” so that we might “proclaim the virtues” of Christ and lead the world to him. But just like Israel, the church has chosen to be just like the world. “Christians” are routinely bowing their knees to a golden donkey or elephant while proclaiming that this is the only hope our world has.

The church has bowed to a golden calf instead of humbly leading the world in worship of our Savior, Jesus the Messiah. Instead of pointing to the cross and the empty tomb, we’ve been pointing to our chosen candidate as if they were gods.

We are also good about pointing to ourselves saying “look what we have made!” When it comes to reaching the lost we focus on programs, and music, and skilled speaking, and comfortable buildings, and coffee bars, and awesome children’s wings, and flashy websites, and social media…the list goes on and on and on. And don’t hear me saying that those things are inherently bad. They are not! Very good things can come from all of them. But when we start thinking that the power to reach the lost comes from that list of things instead of the Holy Spirit’s work on the hearts of the lost bathed in the prayers of the saints, we have bowed our knee to the golden calf.

When did we stop trusting God? When did we stop believing in God’s active role in our world? When did we trade our mission of being the hands and feet of Christ for the cheap substitute of producing an entertaining show?

The last word that Jesus has for the disciples in Matthew’s Gospel is to “Go and make disciples.” And we are all too often comfortable with sitting inside of a nice church building and politely whispering “Ya’ll come!” And now that God has allowed our world to be upended, and our worship routines to be disrupted, our instinct has been to immediately return to the “Ya’ll come” comfort we had in February.

But instead of focusing on how we can get people back at the church building post-COVID, maybe we should focus on how we can get out membership out of our buildings and reach the lost in our communities. Perhaps one of the byproducts of us all dealing with this routine altering plague is that God is sick and tired of our routine!

Sisters and Brothers, it’s time that we stop being just like the world around us. Trusting in the trappings of this world in order to save the lost is worshiping the golden calf. We must be the people of God who get outside of the building and shine His light in the darkness of the world that surrounds us. It’s time that we obey our Savior’s voice and “Go and make disciples,” not stay and wait for the lost to show up. It’s time to stop putting our hope in routines and resources of our own making, and begin prayerfully pleading for the courage and wisdom to fulfill our mission to the lost.

Long story short: Stop bowing to the golden calf.