Building Altars To God During Anniversaries
Building Altars To God During Anniversaries
For Pastor Tony Johnson’s Fifth Anniversary
At Mount Pleasant Church Of God
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 that the church anniversary and my anniversary are 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.
Today twenty-two 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 celebration commemorating what Jesus did for us on the cross, and feast on the Word of God!!! We should also celebrate ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Another important time of celebration is during 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 the 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 journey 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 and 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 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,’ 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).
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 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. 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 spirits. 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. Set up a worship marker, and return to that marker every year to celebrate God’s appearance to you as a church, through your founder and through your present pastor.
(Abraham also built this first altar for another reason:)
2. To worship Jehovah God for His appearance.
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.
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.
Anniversary time is a time to worship God, because of His appearance to the organizer of this church and to your present pastor.
(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.
In addition, 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.
At this present time in your history, I pray that God is giving you new promises, new horizons, a new promised land, through your present pastor. We should worship God for His precious promises, because faithful is He who promised and He will bring it to past!!!
(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 stranger in this world, a worshiper of God!!!
In addition to worshipping God as a way of life, we should live by the tent and altars of Abraham, i.e. having nothing ultimately important on earth and having our all-and-all in God!!!
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...”
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.
My thesis for this message is simple: Each year of anniversary, that you celebrate, 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.
You can build this altar of worship by bringing the three sacrifices of Hebrews 13:15-16:
1. The sacrifice of praise to God, i.e. the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.
· We praise you God for your appearance.
· We praise you God for your promises.
· We praise you God for bringing us thus far. Thus far has the Lord helped us!!!
2. The sacrifice of a lifestyle of doing good.
This is living the lifestyle of a Christian, as an act of worship to the God who has given His life for us on the cross.
3. The sacrifice of giving of our material to His causes.
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, and brought us safe thus 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!!!