Jump Start # 2408
2 Kings 16:10 “Now King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and saw the altar which was in Damascus; and King Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest the pattern of the altar and its model, according to all its workmanship.”
Last week, our preacher Jason delivered a great lesson from this story of Ahaz and the Assyrian altar. You can find that sermon on our website (www.charlestownroad.org). Israel and Syria formed an alliance and were getting things ready to attack Judah. Ahaz was the king of Judah. Rather than turning to God, he turned to the Assyrians. He robbed the temple and went to Assyria with the hopes of bribing the king to help Judah. While there, King Ahaz sees the impressive Assyrian altar, built to sacrifice to a pagan god. So impressed with this, Ahaz gets the plans and even a model and sends it home so a similar one could be built. Ahaz wasn’t intending to build this for Jehovah. It was for the Assyrian king and his god.
All of this makes us wonder about ourselves today. Impressed by error. Impressed by the wrong. Rather than grieving, being upset, we want to duplicate the same. We want a worship that models what others are doing, even if it is not Biblical. Smoke machines, state of the art light shows, coffee shops, book stores, cutting edge music with the best instruments and musicians—and some walk away from those places and wish we could have the same. They, like Ahaz, are impressed with the wrong altars. And, across this land, many younger folks gravitate to those modern churches that are simply “cool.”
The altar in Judea didn’t look anything like the Assyrian altar. The altar in Judea was designed by God and it was what God wanted. The Assyrian altar is what Ahaz wanted. The glitter of error can blind our eyes to some real principles that matter.
What impresses us too often is not what God wants. The leprous Naaman was like that. He expected a prophet to show up. He didn’t. He expected a prophet to wave his hands in the air. He didn’t. He expected the prophet to say great words. He didn’t. The prophet sent word via a messenger. Dip in the Jordan River seven times. He would be cured, but it’s not impressive. It’s not cool.
Our eyes can miss the value of substance, faith and truth, when we look at the outside of the package and fail to see that there is nothing on the inside. Great crowds are not a sign of success. Faithfully walking with God and teaching the word of God as He wants it is what is important.
Sometimes when our young people visit other places with their friends, they leave with eyes as big as the moon. What a cool experience. Impressive. Loved it. It rocked. Those are the things that are commonly said. The preacher had me in stitches. He was so funny. We could eat while we worshipped. It was just amazing. And, then what too often follows, “I wish we could do things like that. Our worship is boring.” The altar in Assyria is impressive. But the altar in Assyria didn’t honor God. The altar in Assyria was wrong. Large. Impressive. Expensive. Over-the-top. But it didn’t honor God.
Here are some lessons for us:
First, nothing much has changed through the years. All around us are things that are impressive religiously. I’ve been in Cathedrals in Europe. Large. Massive. Impressive. Old. The modern churches are trying to compete with Disney and the entertainment world. They don’t want to look too “churchy.” Come as you are, includes coming in ‘jama pants and house shoes. Want to eat? They have food. Need some coffee? Lots of choices. Want a t-shirt? Hit the in-house bookstore. Impressive…impressive…impressive. But what is strangely missing is a serious discussion about the Bible. Passages are lifted out of context. God’s pattern for organization and morality is ignored. Too often those that are teaching the Bible really do not understand it themselves. It’s all about the numbers. Big crowds. Big budgets. Big time. Nothing has changed.
Second, we must see beyond the hype to the reality of the Lord. When Moses was up on the mountain talking to God, Aaron was busy building a golden calf. People have always wanted visible over the invisible. We are to walk by faith and not by sight. We look not at things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen, is what Paul told the Corinthians. Smoke machines, laser lights and booming speakers gets us excited. It makes our hearts beat faster. It’s like sitting in a pep rally. But after one goes home, those things do not help you. There is nothing to them. They leave us as quickly as they came. There is no substance. The same goes for the cotton candy theology that is often preached. Cotton candy sells well at the ballgame. It looks great. You don’t even have to chew it– it just melts away. But after working all day in the yard, you don’t want a plate of cotton candy. You need some meat and potatoes. You want some substance. Light shows and smoke machines are not much help when there is a prodigal in your family. They don’t do much when you are facing the reality of death. They don’t help pick you up when you are discouraged. God’s word will. That’s what we need.
Third, there are some truths that the altars of Assyria will never tell you. The same is true in the modern churches today. You won’t hear lessons about Hell. Jesus said more about Hell than He did Heaven. That topic has simply evaporated from modern sermons. Sin—not talked about much these days. Purity? What about drinking alcohol? What about holiness? What about following the Scriptures? What about how the church raises money and uses money? The topic of Jesus loves me has been so abused that a person can do anything they want and proclaim, “Jesus still loves me.” He does. He always will. But that does not mean that He approves of your immoral and faithless ways. That does not mean He’s ok with you ignoring Him and violating His word. Sure Jesus loves you, but He wants you to be His disciple.
Fourth, we do not settle for cut rate, garage sale concept of serving God. I don’t buy into the idea that we are “uncool.” What we do, within the guidelines of Scriptures, is do our best to bring excellence to the Lord. There are some places that are pitiful looking. People would be ashamed to live in places like some of our church buildings. It has nothing to do with being small or having a tiny budget. It’s all about attitude and excellence. I’ve been in some church buildings where I have literally gaged because of the stench of mold. I’ve looked in classrooms and they look like episodes of a hoarder show. Pitch the junk. Clean the place up. Put some new paint on the walls. Brighten things up. It doesn’t take much more than some elbow grease and a whole lot of “wanting to” to make a difference. But we are not just talking about appearance, but our attitudes in general. Song leaders, give it your best. Preachers, do your best. Shepherds, do your best. We are serving the God of Heaven and Earth who gave His best. Done are the days of a song leader flipping through the song book looking for a song before he starts. He should have picked out his songs, practiced his songs and be ready when he walks through the front doors. The same for the man leading the Lord’s Supper. The same for the preacher. And, we don’t have to have smoke machines, but we can make lessons exciting, challenging and landing on our front porch. Too often, we preachers are answering questions that no one is asking anymore. Let’s think about what is keeping folks up at night. Let’s deal with those things. Let’s show people how following the Lord can really make a difference in their lives.
Upon the altar of Assyria sacrifices were offered, prayers were made and priests served. But none of that moved God. It was pointed in the wrong direction. Let’s make sure we are pointing in the right direction. It is upon the altar of God that we offer living sacrifices and lift up holy hands.