Duffy Daugherty was the head football coach at Michigan State University when Dave Kaiser kicked the winning field goal against UCLA. The field goal gave the Spartans a 17-14 margin of victory. Daugherty noticed that when Kaiser kicked the ball he did not watch it go through the goal posts. When Kaiser came back to the bench, Daugherty mentioned this fact to him. Kaiser commented that he hadn’t watched the goal posts because he couldn’t see them. He had to watch the referee to see how he would call it. He had left his contact lenses back at the hotel. Feelings of shock and anger at first came over the coach, but the more he thought about it the more he calmed down. Were the contacts that important? Hadn’t his kicker practiced day after day for hours at a time from every conceivable angle on the field? Didn’t he know where the goal posts were without even being able to see them? It was the daily disciplines of practice that had made the difference when the football sailed through the uprights. Our continued attention to the Christian disciplines of moral behavior will also help us in pressure packed situations. If Godly living is a normal practice for us then times of moral testing will not cause us to crumble and fall. Successful Christian leaders are those who have fortified their lives with some basic habits which they practice over and over. They have ingrained into the fiber of their being some key values and Christian virtues which are rehearsed on a regular and routine basis. These disciplines are the foundation stones on which their lives are built. Daily disciplines are those things which when repeated on a regular basis provide the foundation for your Christian walk. Included, but not exclusively, they are such things as recognizing divine authority, practicing biblical obedience, showing proper restraint in difficult situations, bringing all aspects of our life under the control of the Holy Spirit. These daily disciplines/habits may or may not be visible to observers. Often such habits are so ingrained into the leader that he never talks about them or parades them for others to see. He may not even fully appreciate the value they have added to his life. In fact, the more successful the person, the less visible the foundation stones usually are. On the other hand, if such practices are observable they may seem mundane and tedious to the casual onlooker. The untrained person often misses them. They may even seem unnecessary and archaic. But, make no mistake about it, the power and steadiness to finish strong flows out of these consistent and daily disciplines. God established a daily routine – a discipline of worship in the temple in order to help people go straight. God knew the tendencies of humanity to go it on their own. He saw it in Adam and Eve and from them to their offspring. The human heart is desperately wicked – so much so that we cannot know our own mind. Self disciplines and safe guards help us maintain our spiritual equilibrium. The Old Testament gives several examples of these daily routines. The Altar of Burnt Offerings, which was in the court yard of the temple, was to contain a perpetual fire (Lev 6:12, 13; 9:24). Every day – on this altar, the lamb of the daily morning and evening sacrifice was offered. Also, every morning and evening, the Altar of Incense, which stood in the Holy Place, was used by the priests (Exo 30:1-10; 37:25-28). On a daily basis the work of the priests involved offering atonement, praise and prayers to God in behalf of the people. Furthermore, fathers were instructed to talk to their children about spiritual things when they got up, while they walked along the road and when they went to bed at night. And the Jewish believer was to place spiritual post-it notes on the door frames and their foreheads as reminders of God’s laws and expectations. They were not to let these spiritual things slip away. The twice daily sacrifices and constant personal attention to spiritual concerns has always intrigued me. What is there about maintenance of such schedules which is important for us? And is there any connection between the altars of the OT temple and the altars of the NT which are constructed on our hearts and lives? Does such teaching have anything to say to modern day pacesetters of non-profit agencies, corporations and churches? The altars of the OT Temple remind us of the altars of our own lives. Oh, not an altar of stone, but one of the human heart. Can you picture an altar of sacrifice and/or praise originating deep within you? Can you picture the symbolic fire of spiritual passion burning in your inner most being?
The importance of maintaining the perpetual fire cannot be missed. A fire gone out meant trouble for Israel – either the people were losing their spiritual fervency or the enemy had come and smashed their places of worship. And when the fires on our altars are not daily attended, it also spells trouble for us.
Here is why…
The zeal for the things of God dwindles. We may build a façade, but the heart for the things of God wanes. If we let the spiritual fire of our soul get dim, we also will lose our zeal and enthusiasm for godly things. It will be hard for us to get excited about reading the Word, praying, going to church, even listening to things that deal with the things of God. The Laodicean church is at best known for its tepid response to spiritual overtures (Rev. 3:15). As a result, God wanted to spit them out.
The sense of fellowship with God is lost. The symbolic Fellowship Offering is no longer offered. Along with the waning fire is the lack of fellowship and communion with God and with His people. When the altar is broken down and the fire has gone out there is little intimate and closeness with God. God becomes some far off nebulous entity with whom we have little contact or fellowship. Adam lost fellowship with God after He sinned.
We don’t have confidence with God. John in essence told us that lack of confidence before God leads to self-condemnation. Prayer becomes meaningless. We don’t want to ask for anything because there is the feeling that we don’t deserve it. “My heart is cold so what right do I have to come to the Father?” John reminds us that “If our heart does not condemn us then we have confidence before God.”
The Thanksgiving offering is not offered. As our spiritual fire dims, the spirit of thanksgiving for our material blessings begins to decrease and we begin to focus more and more on our own accomplishments. We tend to think we have gotten the blessings because of what we have done. The ability to see the hand of God in our blessings becomes clouded. There is no longer the deep seated appreciation for the wonderful plan of salvation freely offered to us. The joy of knowing that our sins are forgiven has been lost.
There is little desire, if any, to rebuild the altar. We know when the fire has gone out, but too often there is no desire or effort to rebuild the altar or have the fire relit. It seems like too much bother to go to the place of prayer for an extended time or to attend church more regularly where the fire could be relit. Other things seem more exciting and important.
We may attempt to offer impure sacrifices. (Mal 1:6-14; esp 10,14). Malachi 1:10 says, “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands. And in verse 14 his says, “Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the LORD.” To offer to God that which is impure, unholy, or improper is indeed a serious offense. To attempt to bring into the presence of God an unholy act of worship or impure sacrifice is unwise and sacrilegious. The two oldest sons of Aaron did not consider the seriousness of usurping their fathers rights as High Priest and callously and carelessly tried presenting the offering of incense (holy fire) before God only to have fire come out from the presence of the Lord and burn them up. (Lev. 10:1,2). When the fire has ceased on the altar of the heart, people make some really stupid decisions which fly in the face of divine teaching and which the person would never had done if they altar had been kept burning brightly. My wife and I were heart broken to hear that a godly woman who was committed to her husband and to her three lovely girls later left it all for a man twice divorced. While I do not know all of the circumstances, I can only imagine that the battle was lost months earlier when the fire died down from her lack of daily disciplines rather than the first time the suitor romanced her. The song writer found that the place of prayer helped him “Oft escape the tempter’s snare.”
There is little confidence in the power of God in our life. In the early years of his ministry, Dr. George W. Truett took the following verse as his text for a morning’s message: “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. ” (Matthew 18:19). Having quoted his text, Dr. Truett asked; “Do you believe it?” Of course he did not expect an answer, but he received one anyway. While he paused for effect, a very poor member of the congregation poor in this world’s good but rich in faith rose to her feet. “I believe it pastor,” she said, “And I want you to claim that promise with me.” “It staggered me,” said the pastor. “I knew I did not have the faith to claim the promise, but before I had time to answer, a big burly blacksmith in the congregation rose to his feet; “I’ll claim that promise with you, Auntie” he said, and together the two, the poor washer-woman and the blacksmith, dropped to their knees in the aisle and poured out their hearts in prayer for the salvation of the woman’ husband. The ladies husband was a river boat captain on the Rio Grande, a swearing, foul-mouthed drunkard, at that very time was home sleeping off a hangover.. That night, for the first time in many years, the old river boat captain was in the church and while the pastor preached the woman prayed, not for the salvation of her husband, rather she was thanking God for it, for she seemed to know it would happen that night. And of course when Dr. Truett gave the invitation for salvation, the profane mouthed captain came to give his heart to the Lord and he became one of the most dependable and faithful workers in that church.
The OT kings were to write a personal copy of the law and rehearse it daily. Deuteronomy 17:18 says, “When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. 19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees.” Peter and John were men who practiced daily disciplines for spiritual maintenance. Acts 3:1 says, “They were going up to the temple at the time of prayer – at three in the afternoon.” This was a daily practice of these men – not just because a revival had broken out. They needed to daily petition God and be reminded what they needed to know. From these Scripture at least once daily – if not more – the follower of God was to engage in times of study, reflection, worship, prayer, etc in order to be faithful in his walk. Malachi 2:17 says, “You have wearied the LORD with your words. ‘How have we wearied him?’ you ask. By saying, ‘All who do evil are good in the eyes of the LORD, and he is pleased with them’ or ‘Where is the God of justice?’” More Christian leaders end up spiritually shipwrecked because of carelessness than because of intentionally planning to sin. Hebrews 2:1 says, “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” Drifting in a boat is a stark reminder of the deceitful and illusionary problems when “not paying attention.” Drifting happens and the person is not even aware of it unless they look up and get their bearings every now and then. I used to take the kids out in a boat and just drift. I began talking with them while eating our lunch so they wouldn’t be thinking about where were. After 30 minutes I would ask them to look at the shore line. Invariably we had moved imperceptibly far from where we had started. I then engaged in my annual lecture about spiritual drift. I don’t know if it did any good, but it made me feel like I was being a good father. Israel was way out of plumb. Israel’s leaders wandered far from the faith of God. They didn’t know what truth was. They had become so calloused they didn’t know how sick they were. Until a straight moral line was setup, they did not know their wall was leaning badly. The spiritual leaders of Malachi’s day got drunk with the rest of the guys, said there was no problem in bringing defective and sick animals for sacrifice, refused to speak out against immoral behavior and tolerated numerous idols to Baal. The Prophet Amos was called to be a pacesetter in this kind of social environment. Truth leads to strong finishes. Walls of buildings constructed true to plumb help finishers build better houses. Christian leaders help society stay closer to God’s standard. We are well aware there are many voices which are contrary to Scriptural teachings. We have seen them on TV or listened to them on the radio. They are all around us. Many messages sent out are very contrary to the nature of God. At times it sounds very appealing to the secular mind and very gratifying to the people. But, it is far from truth. The Christian leader however, does not need to be led astray – he has the truth. God did not leave Amos alone to come up with his own teaching – He gave him a plumb line. He gave Him a standard for all of Israel to see. The spiritual and moral house they were building was leaning badly and they didn’t know it. The plumb line for us is the Word of God the Bible. Basically everything needs a standard: A pilot could never be sure of his elevation if there wasn’t a standard point of sea level and a periodic recalibration of his instruments with the barometric pressure. Every airport knows its elevation level and the equipment is re-adjusted to that point. A carpenter would have trouble building houses if there was not an accepted standard of measurement. The windows he ordered may not fit if the measurement they used was different than the carpenters. As God called Amos to declare the plumb line so he calls us to do the same. The plumb line is to be clearly displayed and presented. It is to be the measurement by which we gage our proximity to the will of God. Attention to the daily disciplines will be an incentive to developing a culture of Christian leadership. Millions of people have left churches which no longer clearly preach the Word and have started attending churches where the Word is clearly taught. People want to know what the Word says – not just some persons interpretation of the Word.