I had the privilege to be a part of a service, a celebration, as a pastor was moving on to a new season of ministry, and the church he was leaving was entering a new season of their own. My good friend Bob Kilpatrick had served The Tree Christian Fellowship for four years. His was a prophetic ministry which served to make the eternal and mysterious reality of God’s actual presence a tangible reality in the lives of that small congregation. The time had come for Bob to move on. There was no problem, no issues; in fact, everything was wonderful. It was just time. And it was time to celebrate.
Obviously there was the bitter aspect because no one likes to leave people they love or see those they love leave, but it was also a beautiful time of celebration. Guest musicians, speakers, dancers, and a pot-luck all provided a perfect sampling of what Bob’s four year pastorate felt like and of what Jesus had been doing among that fellowship. There was a lot of love in the room, and a great appreciation for what God had done… and a sense of expectation looking ahead to what God will do in the future. God wants us to celebrate: to remember, and to look ahead, and I think we miss that.
So much of what God commanded his people to observe were celebrations. Those celebrations served to recall God’s faithfulness and to praise Him for what he had done. The other aspect of it was to hold up the hope of God’s faithfulness to fulfill all He has promised to do still. Pentecost looked back on God’s faithfulness to provide a harvest, a home, and the Law of Moses. It also was an acknowledgement of God as provider, not just to the Jews, but to all people. In fact, traditions tells us that Pentecost came to commemorate the giving of the Law and that there were 72 elders standing around the base of Mt. Sinai facing outward representing the (then) 72 nations of the world. Later, Jesus would say (in reference to Pentecost) the harvest plentiful but the workers are few and then (Luke 10) sent 72 out to preach and carry the good news. Finally, at the day of Pentecost in Acts all the languages of the world were spoken and heard as the Gospel was proclaimed to a representative sampling of “all nations.” God has been faithful, and we need to celebrate that with gratitude. God is faithful, and we need to confess that and be strengthened by it. God will be faithful, and we must celebrate what we have not yet realized as an act of faith and hopeful expectation, “for who hopes for what he already has?”
This area of celebration is an area where I struggle and often fail. I get so focused on the task, on the work to do, that I’m either moving on to the next thing in the hopes that will work, or focusing on the next task in order to take another step. God commanded his people to stop working and celebrate! To fail in this area is disobedience and we are hurting our ministries, and our hearts. We must keep the person of God before us, delighting in his heart — his face — before seeking his hand (what he can do for us). This isn’t a business and we aren’t employees. I hated working for people that never acknowledged a job well done, or even consistently done, but only made their voice heard when they were unhappy about something or needed more than we were currently giving. If we truly love God at all (let alone with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength), then we absolutely must make time to stop working, set tasks aside, and celebrate.
A church that celebrates is a joy-filled church. A church that celebrates is a content and grateful church. A church that celebrates is a church of honor. A church that celebrates is a secure church. A church that celebrates is an expectant and hopeful church. A church that celebrates is a loving church, a faithful church, an obedient church. Let’s be that church!