Much of life is ordinary and routine.
Get up in the morning, get a cup of coffee, get the kids ready for school, go to work, come home, pay bills or mow the lawn, go to bed. Get up. Repeat.
But periodically, circumstances change unexpectedly, and unusually joyful events are interjected into our lives. Babies are born. Dear friends move closer. Vacations are taken. Children graduate from college. Houses are paid off. Milestone marriage anniversaries are reached.
And those events are (rightfully) noted and celebrated. In our family we like to celebrate many things: the end of a school semester might be recognized with a bowl of ice cream, the text announcement of an exercising achievement at the gym with a shower of “text confetti,” a daily expression of love with a hug or kiss, or a promotion at work with a tank of gas and a high five.
But big achievements are celebrated in big ways. A 20th anniversary gets significantly more attention than the 19th, graduation more than the first day of school, and a wedding more than a first date. That’s not just true of the home; it’s also true of the church — and it’s not just true of our church, but it’s true of the way God’s people have always operated.
In the Old Testament, there were daily sacrifices that were offered without overt fanfare each day; and then there were the three annual festivals of Israel (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles) when every able-bodied adult traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate and worship. In the New Testament the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper take a prominent position in worship. Historically, churches have recognized Christ’s birth and His death and resurrection with special kinds of worship, and they have also recognized the passing of significant historical markers in the church, as with the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in October, 2017. Significant achievements receive significant recognition.
In a similar manner, this month Grace Bible Church is recognizing the provision of God to us through 40 years of ministry. To be clear, our goal is not self-congratulatory, but our goal is to stimulate praise and gratitude that is God-directed. An Old Testament account provides a picture of our intent in this time of worship.
In an act of foolishness, the Israelites took the Ark of the Covenant into battle with them as something akin to a lucky charm that might assure their victory over the Philistines (1 Sam. 4). Not only did it not work, but the Philistines captured and took the Ark for themselves. When that didn’t work out too well for them (1 Sam. 5), they were more than happy to send the Ark back to Israel. After the Ark was received back by the Israelites, the nation repented of their idolatry, “removed the Baals and the Ashteroth and served the Lord alone” (1 Sam. 7:4). Following that repentance, they returned to battle the Philistines again, and this time defeated them, by the hand of God (7:10-11).
The author then writes: “Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the LORD has helped us’” (1 Sam. 7:12). The word Ebenezer means, “The stone of help.” The intent of Samuel was to establish a means of recognizing God’s provision of grace and help in a particular time of need. And the stone was a constant reminder to the nation that the subjugation of the Philistines was through God’s provision and help.
In a similar manner, we want to worship this month, and particularly this Sunday, in a way that recognizes God’s grace to sustain us in ministry for 40 years. The list of His kindnesses is immeasurably long. His sustaining grace for service has been unceasing. His wisdom for perplexing problems has been stable and Bible-based. His encouragement for weary souls has always been timely and uplifting. His use of weak and imperfect vessels to accomplish salvific ends in people’s lives has been a powerful reminder of His sufficiency.
For 40 years, the Lord has been showering this church body with super-abounding, overflowing grace — “grace upon grace” (Jn. 1:16). This Sunday we want to pause from our regular activities and our regular worship to contemplate what the Lord has accomplished through His people, and what He has accomplished for His people. Our worship, and some gifts we have prepared for the day are to serve as our “Ebenezer” — our reminder of His care for us.
This is His work that He has done. And He is worthy of honor for that work.
Join us for worship this Sunday at 9 or 11 a.m., and then stay for a celebratory meal with fellowship and prayer designed to stimulate our gratitude for His provision for our past, and our trust for His provision for our future. He is the Lord. He is our (only) help. We honor, give thanks, and worship Him.