Building Altars To God During Anniversaries1
Building Altars To God During Anniversaries
I have been pastoring for the past twenty-two years, and for probably the first ten years of our existence, I would not allow any anniversary celebrations whatsoever. I took this polarized position for a number of reasons:
1. Because of the abuses that I had seen;
2. Because I didn’t want to tax the people;
3. Because I didn’t want to be seen or perceived as a greedy preacher.
Not to mention the fact of the confusion caused by the church anniversary and my anniversary being on the same date, since I organized the church.
That was good for us at the beginning, and where I was as a young man. But looking back there was a better way of handling this. Rather than not having anything because of someone else’s abuses, I should have taught the congregation the proper way to celebrate an anniversary. We don’t stop using the Bible, because someone is misusing it. We simply use it correctly.
Today twenty-two-and-a-half years later, I believe that I understand the importance of celebrations, memorializations, the opportunity to reminisce, the opportunity to say thanks, etc., etc., etc.
We all know that worship is a very important element of the New Testament Church, but we probably don’t make the connection between worship and celebration. Well “celebration” is actually a synonym for worship, i.e. a word which has the same or nearly the same meaning. But the word “worship” deals much more with the substance of worship, while the word “celebration” deals much more with the outward observances, rituals, and ceremonies of worship. The word "celebration" also denotes the festive, merrymaking, grateful, happy aspects of worship.
God has been showing me that humanity needs celebration.
He has been showing me that celebration is a very important part of the Christian life!
He has been showing me that celebration is of special significance and importance to African-American Christians.
In short, we need to fellowship together in festive celebrations commemorating what Jesus did for us on the cross, feasting on the Word of God!!! We should also celebrate the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but there is another important time of celebration: anniversaries.
(How should we celebrate anniversaries?)
I would like to talk to you about how to celebrate an anniversary, by looking at the life of Abraham. Would you turn with me to Genesis 12:1-9. Let me read this aloud for us.
This is the familiar story of Abraham, i.e. Abram before his name was changed. God told Abraham to leave his father’s house and go to a land that He would show him, after he left. Resting on these commandments were three promises:
· I will make you a great nation;
· I will bless you; and
· I will make your name great.
After Abraham obeyed the commandment of Jehovah God, Jehovah appeared to him and gave him another promise: “To your descendants I will give this land.” The next action of Abraham is very instructive. At this point, Abraham built an altar to the Lord who appeared to him.
In the next verse, Abraham journeyed about 20 miles further and pitched his tent, or set up camp. At this point, Abraham built another altar, and this time he called upon the name of the Lord.
If you continue to read the book of Genesis, you will see a very important pattern develop in the life of Abraham. What is that pattern? There is a pattern of building altars to the Lord, i.e. Jehovah God.
(Before we can discern the purpose of this pattern of building altars, we need to determine the significance of building an altar to the Lord. So, why did Abraham periodically build altars to Jehovah? What were the major reasons that Abraham was building altars to the Lord?)
Time will not allow us to explore all the situations where Abraham built an altar to the Lord or to determine all of the appropriate reasons, but we can look at the major reasons that Abraham built these two altars to the Lord.
(Abraham built the first altar to Jehovah:)
1. As a memorial to the presence or appearance of Jehovah God.
Altars were built as a sign of the presence or appearance of God.
“Here in Shechem, Jehovah assured Abraham of the future possession of the land of Canaan for his descendants. The assurance was made by means of the appearance of Jehovah. Abraham understood this and ‘built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him” (Keil & Delitszch).
On his journey to the promised land and on his journey through life, Abraham would need some reminders of the times and places where God had miraculously appeared to him.
As Abraham memorialized the time and place of the appearance of Jehovah God by building an altar and worshipping the Lord, every time God appears to us, through the direction of His Word and Spirit, we need to build an altar to the Lord. We need to memorialize the time and place in our lives, that God appeared to us.
There are times when God manifests Himself to us in a very dynamic way through His Word and the power of the Holy Spirit. His internal voice is very strong, or the Words of Scripture jump off of the page, or the Words of a sermon strike us very deeply. These times seem to correspond to the divine purposes of God, and not our own wants or whims. When God manifests Himself to us in a significant way, we need to build a memorial to him in our lives, in our souls. We need to set up a worship marker that will remind us of the appearance of God. How you choose to do this is idiosyncratic, but it needs to be done.
On this journey through life, to the spiritual promised land, we all need memorials, i.e. reminders of the times and places where God manifested Himself to us. One of those memorials, for this church, should be anniversary celebrations. I praise God that you have set up a worship marker, a time of celebration. Return to that marker every year to celebrate God’s appearance to you as a church, through your pastor.
(Abraham also built this first altar for another reason:)
2. To worship Jehovah God for His appearance.
Abraham “built an altar in Shechem, to the Lord who had appeared to him, to make the soil which was sanctified by the appearance of God a place for the worship of the God who appeared to him” (Keil & Delitszch). In the passage before us, Abraham worshipped God for His appearance. He not only memorialized the appearance of God, He worshipped God for that appearance. This spot of His appearance became holy ground! And people in the Bible, acted differently when they approached holy ground. This is incumbent upon the worshiper, but it is also stipulated by God. Jehovah God told Moses, “Take off your shoes; you are standing on holy ground!”
The fact that there is a church here means that God appeared here, to the organizer of this church, at some time in the past. That means that this is holy ground. Every geographical, historical, and chronological place that God appears becomes holy ground. Therefore, we should approach these places with an attitude of holy celebration. We ought to do as God commanded Moses and take off our shoes. Why? The song writer captured the reasons well:
We are standing on holy ground,
And I know that there are angels all around.
Let us praise Jesus now.
We are standing in his presence on holy ground.
Now, we don’t just celebrate by just marking the spot or the day of God’s appearance. We must sacrifice something! The Hebrew word mizbeah, ‘altar,’ means a place of sacrifice. (Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions [London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1961], p. 408). Sacrifice is one of the major ways of worshipping and thanking God for who He is, and for what He has done.
You are thinking, “What should I sacrifice?” New Testament sacrifices are summarized in
Hebrews 13:15-16, “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing; for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
There are three categories of sacrifices here:
1. The sacrifices of our lips.
The sacrifices of our lips are praise to God and thanksgiving to His name. With our mouths we magnify the God who appeared to us.
· We praise you God for your appearance.
· We praise you God for your promises.
2. The sacrifice of our lives.
The second sacrifice is doing good. With sacrifice our lives and lifestyles to God by doing good to everyone, everywhere we go. With our manner of life we magnify the God who appeared to us.
3. The sacrifices of our living.
The third category of sacrifice is sharing of our material living. Out of our means and beyond our means, through faith, we share our material to magnify the God who appeared to us.
I know some of you are asking, “Share with who?”
· Share with the poor of the world; glorifying God with evangelism in mind.
· Share with your pastor; the one who labors among you and should be honored with respect and remuneration.
· Share with your church; the memorial place and reason that God appeared in the first place.
Let us dedicate the financial offerings that we give every Sunday, but particularly on this day, as an act of worship to God who has appeared to us, given us promises.
Anniversary time is a time to worship God, with praises, right living, and giving, because of His appearance to the organizer and pastor of this church.
(Abraham also built this first altar for another reason:)
3. To worship Jehovah God for His promise.
The altar was, no doubt, also to worship God for His promise concerning this land. The first three promises that were given to Abraham, when he lived with his family in Ur of the Chaldeans, did not specifically promise the land as an inheritance to his posterity. God said that he would show him a land to travel to and God said to Abraham,
“I will make you a great nation; I will bless you; and I will make your name great;”
but He does not specifically promise the land as a perpetual inheritance to Abraham’s posterity. This is what God does in verse seven. God’s revelation is progressive. He reveals more to Abraham as he needs to know, and as he obeys. So, Abraham, worships God for this promise.
Likewise, we should worship Jehovah God when He gives us a promise or the assurance of a promise.
At anniversary time, we worship God for His past promises and His present promises. When this church was organized, God gave the founder some promises. We should worship God for His precious promises, because faithful is He who promised and He will bring it to past!!! People today are talking about Promise Keepers, and it’s all good. But Jehovah God is the Promise-Giver and He is the Promise-Keeper. Somebody ought to worship and praise Him!!! Whatever He promises He will bring to pass!!!
(We find additional reasons for Abraham’s altar-building, when he builds his second altar. The next reason was:)
4. To worship Jehovah God for the blessing of reaching this point in his journey.
Here Abraham pitched a tent and built an altar. Here we see two great features of Abraham’s character: a wayfarer or stranger in this world, and a worshiper of God!!!
The tent represented the fact that Abraham had no permanent place on earth. He was a wayfarer, a stranger, a pilgrim. He was a nomad looking for a city whose Builder and Maker is God. Abraham had nothing ultimately important on earth. His all-in-all was in God, in heaven.
We should first recognize that we are wayfarers, strangers, pilgrims, on our way from earth to glory. We don’t tarry too long in any one place and we don’t become to attached to anything down here, because this is not our home. But at anniversary time, we need to pitch a tent, i.e. we ought to stop long enough to commemorate what God has done by building an altar!!! Satan is tricking us in America. He keeps us so busy that we don’t stop long enough to acknowledge the work of God in our lives!!! But there are times when we need to slow down, stop, reminisce.
How I got over, over my Lord.
My soul looks back and wonders how I got over.
When we reminisce we ought to realize:
Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come.
T’was grace that brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.
Abraham not only pitched a tent, but He built an altar. We have already seen that an altar denotes worship. The worship of Jehovah God, through the object of an altar, would later include offerings of thanksgiving. Worshipping God by offering sacrifices would eventually evolve into total burnt offerings, sin offerings, trespass offerings, peace offerings, thanksgiving offerings, etc. The offering here is an offering of thanksgiving.
Perhaps we see a similar situation, when the Lord fought for Israel, against the Philistines, at Mizpah. After Jehovah God thundered against the Philistines and confused them, and Israel routed them; we read this in
1 Samuel 7:12, “Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the LORD has helped us.’”
I like the KJV here,
“Hitherto, the Lord has helped us...”
The stone was a memorial, a marker, an altar of celebration and sacrifice, because of what God had done.
Likewise, during anniversary time, you should build an altar of worship to the Lord, for the blessing of bringing you safe this far on your journey to the promised land; and you ought to proclaim for the world to know: “Hitherto, the Lord has helped us!”
We have come this far by faith leaning on the Lord;
Trusting in His holy Word; He’s never failed me yet.
Crying, “Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh, We can’t turn around!”
We’ve come this far by faith.
My thesis for this message is simple: Each year at anniversary time, you ought to pitch your tent¾that is stop for a period of time¾and build an altar of worship to Jehovah God to memorialize His appearance to you and to worship Him for His appearance, promise, and blessing in bringing you to this point in your spiritual journey.
At this very significant time in the history of your church, join together and build an altar to the Lord;
· an altar to memorialize the appearance of the Lord to you;
· an altar to worship Him for His appearance;
· an altar to worship and thank Him for His promise; and
· an altar to worship and thank God for bringing you this far.
So, I implore you. Pitch a tent here and now. Slow down long enough to build and altar of memorialization and worship to the Lord. Thus far He has helped us!!!