News flash: People don’t like messy. I don’t like messy. Oh don’t get me wrong — I can live with the piles of messy on my desk. For a long time, in all honesty. But I’m talking about a different kind of messy: Like messy relationships where people’s feelings get hurt, expectations are not met, or words are spoken in anger that cannot be reeled back in. Relationships with spouses, children, parents, or friends that can be challenging and uncomfortable and sometimes much less than what you want. Or messy finances where you’re trying to figure out how to juggle the bills that are bigger than the amount of money that is coming in and which bills could slide until that next paycheck/paying customer/project comes in. Or the messy career path – you know the one — where all of a sudden there’s been a downturn in your industry and you keep looking around you at all the people getting laid off. Until one of those people… is you. THAT’s the kind of unkempt chaos I’m talking about.
Who wants any of THAT kind of messy? I’m 99.9999% positive that if I asked you if you wanted any of THAT sort of messy in your life, that your answer would be ummm, NO. NO, NO, NO, thank you very much, I would like my relationships, my finances, my career plans, my health, my… whatever… to be perfect. I want my life to always be looking up, always getting better, moving upward and onward to the next terrifically fantastic thing.
By now you’re wondering what in the world this post has to do with music or faith. Maybe you can see a tie-in to faith – “Oh, right, Cindy, I get it – you’re gonna talk about how we’ve gotta have faith that God is working out all things for our good, Romans 8:28 and all…” Well… yes… He HAS promised to work out good for those of us who love Him and have been called by Him. But that’s not my point.
My point is that while we don’t want life to be messy, God doesn’t shy away from the messy.
We want life to be a neat package wrapped up in a bow, always moving onward and upward, climbing effortlessly up that next hill (without breaking a sweat, of course). We want our faith to be like that. We want God’s salvation to come to us like that. Shrink-wrapped and sanitized and neatly packaged up for us with five easy steps to becoming a true saint . But the reality? Our faith IS messy.
And here’s where the music comes in. There’s this great song called “O Come to the Altar” by Elevation Worship – it’s a popular one among those that listen to contemporary Christian/worship/praise tunes, so maybe you’ve heard it.
I can wait right here while you go listen to it if you’d like.
It’s got this lovely, waltz-like, 6/8 beat that makes you want to sway to the rhythm.
with words that say, “O come to the altar,
the Father’s arms are open wide.”
Doesn’t that sound beautiful? welcoming? Can’t you just picture the scene of the prodigal son, where even after the rebellious son has blown his inheritance and rejected his father in the worst of ways, the father goes running to his son to welcome him back with open arms?
Or what about the altar? Can’t you just see the beautifully carved table, sitting in the front of the church building, holding the communion bread and wine, just waiting for us to come celebrate that Jesus lived for us, died for us, and is coming back again for us?
BUT. Hold on.
Let’s stop and think about that altar. Have you ever thought about what an altar looked like in the Old Testament? Now, I’m no Old Testament scholar. Believe me! I haven’t done any big (or small!) studies about the sacrifices. But here’s what I do know: back in the day, in the days of Moses or King David, when a bull was sacrificed as a sin offering, the priest sprinkled blood all sorts of places (“around the curtain of the sanctuary”), then dipped his finger into the blood and smeared it onto the horns of the altar. The priest poured out the bull’s blood at the base of the altar (Leviticus 4, among other places). The bull was ripped apart so that the organs and fat were burned on the altar and the hide and… other parts… were taken outside the camp to be burned. Ugggh. Can I just say… yuck?!?!
And on great occasions, when the people were going all-in with worship and celebration, it wasn’t just one bull. Some days, like when King David transferred the kingdom over to his son Solomon (1 Chronicles 29: 21), there were a THOUSAND bulls slaughtered and sacrificed as part of worship. So, back to that altar ? I’m thinking it wasn’t really so beautiful. I’m thinking it was MESSY. Are you ready to come to a messy altar like that ?
And the chorus continues:
“Forgiveness was bought with
The precious blood of Jesus Christ”
Just like our lives don’t get packaged up neatly, our salvation didn’t come packaged up in a neat bow. Our God has been in the mess with us, from the very beginning. God ordained messy, bloody sacrifices in the Old Testament for the forgiveness of sins. In the New Testament, we find out that God the Father sent Jesus to be born, in the flesh, as a human baby. And he lived in the broken, dirty, world of the Roman empire before being crucified on a cross as the perfect, bloody sacrifice that we needed for forgiveness of sins for all time and for all people.
So, go back and listen to the song again. It really is a great song. Just think about it, God is in the messy with us. He is not shying away from the messiness of our lives. So let’s come to the altar.
“O come to the altar,
the Father’s arms are open wide.
Forgiveness was bought with
The precious blood of Jesus Christ. Oh what a Savior, isn’t he wonderful?”