September 26, 2010

To build an altar

“From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD.” Genesis 12:8 (NIV)

            On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered what is widely known to be the highest point of the civil rights movement in the United States.  Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, speaking to a crowd of thousands but heard by the entire globe, he boldly proclaimed, “I have a dream!” 
            The fact it was delivered at the Lincoln Memorial was significant as well, as it was built to honor president Abraham Lincoln who led the US during the Civil War and helped bring about the end of slavery in the country.  So as King spoke, he was standing at the feet of Lincoln (as a giant, seated statue stood behind him) as he expressed gratitude for the past, accepted the role of the present, and shared his hope for the future.
            The Lincoln Memorial was built in the form of a Greek Doric temple and has a large reflecting pool in front of it. It is quite striking on the landscape of a city known for its power, it’s history, and its memorialization of significant people and events in the country that has helped shaped it into the nation that it has become.  Millions of visitors experience this memorial every year.
            In the Old Testament, as the people of God moved from place to place, altars they built were a part of their experience and a part of the landscape.  In Genesis 12, as Abram traveled from Haran to Canaan, he built altars at Shechem and Bethel, and both went on to serve as major sacred sites in the history of Israel. John H. Walton writes, “At each one Abram builds an altar. What function do these altars serve? It is of interest that the text makes no specific reference to offering a sacrifice at either site (though that may be implied in his calling on the name of Yahweh in 12:8).[1]  Since we are looking strictly at what scripture says here, we will not delve into the sacrificial component of altars – simply the act of calling upon the name of the Lord.  In Genesis 12:6-7, it is written, “Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “to your offspring I will give this land” So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him.”
            Walton notes, “The building of the altars in the places where Abram settles are advances. God is bringing to the land, establishing him in the land, and renewing the promise of the land (e.g. 12:7).[2]
            Regarding the city of Hebron, he goes on to write, “Ancient roadways converge on this site coming east from Lachish and connecting with the road north to Jerusalem, indicating its importance and continuous settlement. The construction of an altar here, as at Bethel, transforms it eventually into an important religious site, and its subsequent use as a burial place for the ancestors established its political importance.”[3]
            These altars are places of remembrance where the promises of God are acknowledged that are built up by those who are in covenant with God.
            In many places in the Old Testament, people are recorded as calling upon the name of the LORD. Walton comments, “The phrase ‘to call on the name of the LORD’ is not unique. People call on the name of the Lord when they worship him at an altar or any other sacred spot. They call on the name of the Lord for deliverance. Calling on his name involves proclaiming his reputation and attributes.  It is equated to taking hold of him, aligning with his cause, and acknowledging him as one’s God.”[4]
            The value of calling up on the name of the Lord in conjunction with an altar is important because by building a memorial, one can remember both God’s fulfillment of a promise and man’s acknowledgement of it. It serves to be a significant place where beyond Abram himself, but the countless generations after him are able to be reminded of it and acknowledge the continued promises of God to their family.
            Our culture today still places significance as to defining moments in our culture for future generations to remember.  The Lincoln Memorial itself was built in honor of Lincoln, however, today when you visit it, a stone has been placed at the exact spot where Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his famous speech. A visitor can now stand where he stood, imagining the thousands he spoke to on that day many years ago, remembering both what the promise of his dream of racial equality was then, but since we are many years later, see how it has been fulfilled in so many ways.  Like Abraham was unable to see the fulfillment of God’s promise, and King was unable to personally see fulfillment of his dream, millions of people after them are able to look back and remember their roles in the process.
            In the very first instance of an altar being built in all of Scripture is in Genesis 8:20 where Noah, after emerging from the ark with his family and the animals that would eventually repopulate the entire earth, built an altar to the Lord.  It was not a part of a Mosaic law, nor are we told how or why he did it.  But we simply know that he did.  And throughout the Old Testament, we are presented with the construction of many altars with stories of how people many years later see what was built, and can still remember why someone had previously called upon the name of the Lord.  Even if one might have not known why, they would have at least known people were acknowledging the God of heaven and the fact he is pro-active in the blessing of mankind.
            God continues to bless us today and often we remember and acknowledge God for what he has done.  However, years, months or even days go by, and the excitement of that moment is forgotten.  When a new challenges arises, like a fading memory, the activity of God is not easy recalled.  We wonder where God is in the new situation.  But then he reveals himself and once again we praise him, but then we forget.  And the cycle continues.
            Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we ourselves had physical remembrances of what God has done for us?  Things we could look upon and remember of his continual presence, leading, and blessing in our own lives. However, it should be much more than that – it should be for our own families, our children, and their children could have continual reminders of God’s activity in our lives.
            While we may not have an entire countryside to ourselves in which we can build mounds of stones strewn across the ages, we can deliberately construct items – photographs, stories compiled in a book, videos, audio recordings posted on the internet – whatever seems most relevant in our cultural context which can remind us and all those around us that we serve a living God who keeps his promises to his people – and that we receive these blessings time and time again.

[1] John H. Walton, The New Application Commentary: Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 394.
[2] Ibid. 398.
[3] Ibid. 415.
[4] Ibid. 279.

September 24, 2010


I had a conversation over the weekend with the leader of our college ministry who was my successor in the job.  We were having an afternoon church activity and during our lunch before it began, a couple of the college students chose to not sit where we were sitting, and rather ate their lunch away from us.

I thought nothing of it, but Jon commented how he would have been "one of the guys" before he had assumed the position, but now that he is in charge, he is viewed in a different way.  He was slightly lamenting the change, however I told him that this was significant.

He sighed when I told him I was going to tell him about George Washington.  I told him, and now I will tell you. Luckily the internet doesn't tell me if you are sighing. Or actually even reading this.

In 1776, David McCullough quotes Washington, writing:

"Be easy . . . but not too familiar," he advised his officers, "lest you subject yourself to a want of that respect, which is necessary to support a proper command."

In doing ministry, this is a lesson that I have only recently learned.  If you want to have the ability to work with and influence a group of individuals, you can't simply be one of them. You must stand apart from them so that they will have a reason to follow you.

It's that mental note that people will naturally create in their heads--yeah, this guy is in charge. He always (seems to) know what he is doing. What does he think about that? Why is he telling me this?

This designation takes effort to create.  McCullough writes, "It was a philosophy unfamiliar to most Yankees, who saw nothing inappropriate about a captain shaving one of this soldiers, or rough-hewn General Putnam standing in line for his rations along with everyone else.  Nor was it easy for Putnam and others of the older officers to change their ways." (p.43)

Don't get me wrong here. I am certainly not saying that within the church, one must deliberately construct walls in the form of clergy and laity.  I'm not clergy. Jon isn't either. We are simply leaders.

An individual must be willing to be separate from the crowd to be a leader.  Otherwise, they won't be.

September 17, 2010

Going all in

Today I was reading 1776 by David McCullough which I've started for the third time but still haven't finished. It's not a bad book by any means, but just one of those it takes several times to jump before it gets rolling.  I'm hoping the third time's the charm.

Anyway, as I was reading on the bus today, I came across a few sentences about George Washington. Earlier this summer I read a biography of him (His Excellency by Joseph J. Ellis if you are looking for a good one) so his presence in the story is somewhat like watching a flashback of a character whose story you know so well, but now a part player in the context of others.

Washington's wealth and way of life, like his physique and horsemanship, were of great importance to  large numbers of the men he lead and among many in Congress. The feeling was that if he, George Washington, who had so much, was willing to risk "his all," however daunting the odds, then who were they to equivocate. That he was also serving without pay was widely taken as further evidence of the genuineness of his commitment. (pg. 48)

Washington's leadership was inspirational because if he was willing to put so much on the line for the cause, they who had relatively little to put up surely could do the same.

My initial takeaway from this was purely in the realm of leadership.  Those in the highest positions, those who are the most visible to the crowd have an extremely important role to play. The amount of themselves they are willing to personally sacrifice for the sake of a collective cause has a direct impact on how those below them will respond. If their leader doesn't appear to care or concern himself with taking a risk to face a seemingly insurmountable challenge, his followers in their relatively smaller capacities will respond in kind.

When those you lead do not appear to care about a mission that you personally believe in, it may be because you haven't truly displayed your personal commitment to it.

However, I then thought about Christ and His willingness to risk "his all."

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Philippians 2:5-11 (ESV)

Christ's sacrifice on the cross was a deliberate act of going all in and trading all he had for the sake of the cause of man. However in a far greater act of modeling, seeing the humility of Christ which God then exalted, we must also model our behavior as He did.

In James, it is written, "Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up." James 4:7-10 (ESV)

Our humbling of ourselves, rather our going all in for a cause greater then ourselves, is like a militiaman's sacrifice compared to that of George Washington. Well, sort of like that on a much different scale.  But if Christ was able to give up so much, who are we to equivocate?  And God Himself will then lift us up.

September 6, 2010

Summer Snapshots

So I apparently decided to give my blog the summer off. Even though it wasn't working, I certainly was.  Because I had taken a bunch of time off when Leilani was born, I spent the summer working to regain a stash of vacation days that I could once again utterly deplete.

That said,  fun was certainly had.  We took our very first family vacation to Williamsburg and Virginia Beach to celebrate our first wedding anniversary.  A weekend jaunt to Ocean City.  Various celebrations were attended.  Oh, and I also completed my Master of Arts in Religion.

Because a picture is worth a thousand words, I have decided to do my summer recap using photographs.  This collection was created by me going through iPhoto and selecting images from the start of summer to it's (apparent) end, though I will deny it until the first frost.

Check out the passage of time through the growth of one certain little girl.