What The Lion King Teaches Us about Future & Present Worship

The Lion King

Last Thursday my wife and I decided to go see the new live-action (technically “photorealistic computer animation”) The Lion King film. My wife has always been a huge fan of the Disney classics, watching each possibly hundreds of times. I saw them once when I was a kid and was content with that. But I’m always game for heading to the theater, so this is the movie we landed on.

The new film was really well done, receiving mostly positive reviews. The script stayed pretty true to the original, with some clever 2019 updates and embellishments. The music, of course, is undeniably spectacular, as most Disney music tends to be. Without question though, the most fascinating aspect of the experience for me was going back and watching, as an adult, a film that I hadn’t seen in 25 years. Processing a work of art as an adult after you did so as a child can be a startling venture. You see things. You pick up on subtleties, messages, and themes that you originally missed.

For instance, what struck me instantaneously was the classic opening scene. As the sun rises over the horizon, all the animals from across the Prideland come and gather around Pride Rock. Elephants, giraffes, hippos, monkeys, antelope, birds of all sorts, and critters that scurry across the ground – these are creatures that generally don’t get along. These are natural enemies. They rank on various tiers in the food chain hierarchy. And yet, when they hear that opening anthem, that call to gathering, they drop everything they’re doing, lift their heads and turn, and proceed to march together in unison. Some are traveling on one another’s backs. Some are hitching a ride on the elephants’ tusks. Creatures from all over the known world, who aren’t supposed to go together according to the world’s divisive categories, are gathering as one. 

Why? Well, something special is clearly going in the world on this day. When we arrive on-site, we see that a wise old baboon, who serves as something of a high priest over the Serengeti, is hoisting a lion cub, the prince, the Son of the King. The king is named Mufasa, and this new king is named Simba. The high priest baboon, Rafiki, lifts Simba up into the air and all the creatures unite to praise him in perfect harmony. Not only that but after their initial vocal burst of celebration, they bend down before their King in reverence. This is worship.

Obviously, The Lion King isn’t a distinctly Christian movie. In fact, there are lots of non-biblical concepts taught throughout. But like all great film and literature, the Messianic allusions throughout the movie are hard to miss when you’ve become conditioned to looking for such things. So, for instance, the very first piece of advice that Mufasa (Father) gives to Simba (the Son) is that the people don’t need a typical king found in this world. They don’t need a king who takes, but a king who will give of himself. Clearly this is a story of a Sacrificial Savior as King. 

Today, what I want you to see primarily is how this iconic opening scene is an overwhelmingly accurate picture of the worship that will take place at the end of time, and then reflect on what the ultimate picture of worship teaches us.

Worship at the End of Time – Revelation 5:5-61214

See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne … In a loud voice they (i.e. the elders and all creatures from all nations, tribes, languages, and cultures) were saying: 

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and praise!”

The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

Application 1 – Public Worship is directed toward a Lamb on a throne who was slain for you

According to what John sees in Revelation, worship at the end of time will have all of its energy and all of its focus directed toward a Lamb on a Throne Who was Slain for Us

Now there are lots of interesting specific details about the worship that’s going on in this vision. There are lots of stringed instruments (Rev. 5:8). There are sweet smells (Rev. 5:8). There is diversity (Rev. 5:9). There are countless participants (Rev. 5:11). There is undeniable intensity and passion (Rev. 5:12). There is appropriate posture (Rev. 5:14). Etc. 

And yet, while there are actually many details, the style is nonetheless nebulous. Somehow the style is fitting for “persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Rev. 5:9) This should teach us that the culturally conditioned stylistic preferences that we use in our worship services probably make don’t matter too much. We have no idea what the style will be in heaven and therefore should never consecrate a human style. Objectively, the one detail that we can know for sure that will take place is that all of the concentration will be on a Lamb on a Throne Who was Slain to take away our sins. 

Consequently, it stands to reason that in our own worship services, we would champion music that primarily directs us to the Lamb on a Throne Who was Slain.

Additionally, it also means that the primary thing someone like me, a pastor/worship leader, should ever be doing in worship is directing you repeatedly to a Lamb on a Throne Who Was Slain for you. Hold your ministers accountable to this. I’ve told my congregation that if I’m ever primarily giving you life advice, teaching you personal empowerment and self-worth by any means necessary, or offering 5 Ways to Become More ________________, you need to get rid of me and get a different worship leader that WILL point you to the Lamb on the Throne Who Was Slain. I’m not suggesting that preaching would never contain practical life advice. The Bible is chock full of wise and godly life lessons and teasing out the implications is also part of preaching. But John’s Revelation tells us that true Christian worship is ultimately and fundamentally aimed at the Lamb on the Throne Who Was Slain for us.

Application 2 – Worship in your daily life is directed toward a Lamb on a throne who was slain for you

You’ll notice in Revelation 5 that it doesn’t tell you what day of the week it is. We have zero indication that John is describing a scene unfolding at 10:30 am on a Sunday morning (assuming that were even possible in eternity).

This teaches us that every day of salvation will be directed towards the praise of a Lamb on a Throne Who Was Slain for our sins. Not just Sundays. Therefore, the more the other 167 hours of the week are directed the same way, the more heavenly-aimed and godly our days become.

What does this look like? Well, when your ego bleeds a little as you forgive someone who has wronged you, you’re directing your day towards the Lamb on the Throne Who Was Slain for you. When you resist temptation as an innocent lamb, you’re directing your day towards the Lamb on the Throne Who Was Slain for you. When, despite the chaos of the circumstances surrounding your work, your health, your relationships, you remain calm because you know exactly who is sitting on the throne powerfully ruling all things on your behalf, you’re directing your day towards the Lamb on the Throne Who Was Slain for you. 

Eternal worship WILL BE incredible. But the worship here today can be otherworldly, heavenly too. Just point it in the right direction.

6 (Sometimes) Unpopular Things Christians Do With Their Money – PART I: Tithe

Can’t entirely explain it. I’ve had the overwhelming urge to write about money management recently. It might be the fact that my church will soon be partnering with a generosity/stewardship consultant for the upcoming year. Or, it might be the consumer freakout that is Amazon Prime Day – an important annual holiday in which we American consumers are reminded not to pay full price for pressure washers, flatscreens, and survivalist party straws like idiots, when we could be saving 16% off. And this all with that Amazon doomsday clock ticking down in the upper righthand corner of your browser. Yes, the digital sales Rapture is more panic than excitement; more an opportunity to brag to others of the deal you got rather than fill a legitimate need in life.

But this is the sickness of American consumer mentality. It’s literally an addiction. A paranoia. An apocalypse.

So, yeah, the idea that we Christians probably need some financial guidance is warranted. And considering the climate, the idea that some of the Bible’s directives may possibly offend the consumer shouldn’t surprise us either.

Here goes…

1) Tithe

Why not begin with the point that will likely be most controversial?

The first thing that probably needs to be said is that in the history of God’s people, a “tithe” (a giving away to God of 10% of what has been received as blessing) has not been controversial to God’s people. Even prior to the Mosaic Law, Abraham gave “King Melchizedek, Priest of God Most High” a tenth of everything he had (Gen. 14:18-20). Upon receiving a vision from God at Bethel, Jacob promises to give God a tenth of everything God blesses him with.

The tithe system is later codified into Mosaic Law for God’s people in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. From the regularly collected tithe, God provided for worship celebrations, for the Levites (who had no allotment of land in Canaan), and for the marginalized of the believing community (i.e. widows, orphans, foreigners, and poor). You can read all about this in Deuteronomy 14:22-29.

For a few thousand years, God’s people got into a regular rhythm of giving to the Lord their tithes, their firstfruit offerings (Lev. 23:9-14), their best. This didn’t come naturally. The Children of Israel needed to be taught to express gratitude and trust in the same way that your children do. No one thinks it’s legalistic to teach a child to say “thank you” when someone gives them a ride or holds the door open for them. We understand that gratefulness is a necessary, learned attitude and behavior. So God programmed opportunities for his children to grow in this way. The tithe was one of these chief opportunities. The tithe was what God said was an appropriate way for believers to express 1) GRATITUDE for all that the gracious Lord had already poured out into their lives, and 2) TRUST that this same God would continue to meet all of their needs moving forward.

The tithe wasn’t controversial for Old Testament believers, but that doesn’t mean they always liked it. In one of the most scathing, but nonetheless hopeful, rebukes in Scripture, God says through the prophet Malachi:

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”

Malachi 3:8-10

No question. For the Israelites, tithes were good. And necessary. And blessed.

The question for modern believers, however, is “Does this still apply to me?”

The tithe fell under the Old Covenant of God’s people. This included Sabbath regulations, dietary restrictions, guidelines for circumcision, etc. Most Christians are (rightfully) not overly concerned with obedience to such commands. Why should the tithe be any different if it’s baked into that Mosaic code?

The transition from Old Covenant Judaism to New Covenant Christianity is admittedly a challenging study. For our purposes here, however, as a general rule, the New Testament specifically and overtly mentions the aspects of of the Old Covenant that were culturally conditioned for that particular time and place. So, for instance, the Apostle Paul makes it clear that festival regulations and dietary restrictions and Sabbath rules are no longer necessary for God’s people when he says, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.” (Col. 2:16) Or, Stephen and Paul make it clear that Temple treks and special ceremonies are no longer necessary when they say “(God) does not live in temples built by human hands”. (Acts 7:48; 17:24) The writer to the Hebrews makes it clear that special sacrifices are no longer necessary when he says, “Unlike the other high priests, (Jesus) does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” (Heb. 7:27)

These are big changes. No Temple. No sacrifices. No diet restrictions. No worship day regulations. No circumcision (Gal. 5:1-12). Massive changes.

But when you come to the issue of tithing, you notice something fascinating, from the Man himself. During Holy Week, in the midst of one of Jesus’ fiesty interactions with the Pharisees, he calls the hypocritical religious leaders out on their financial management. He says:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 

Matthew 23:23

Notice that the Pharisees were really fastidious about their tithing, right down to offering a tenth of the herbs out of their spice racks. Jesus’ rebuke here is that they used their tithing as an excuse to not feel guilty about overlooking care for the poor and needy. But look at what he says next: “You should have practiced the latter (i.e. mercy), WITHOUT NEGLECTING THE FORMER (i.e. tithing).”

Far from abolishing the tithe, Jesus appears to uphold it.

And even if one is still convinced that the tithe is strictly an Old Testament command…fine. Consider nonetheless the very premise of the tithe. God, at one point in the past, said to his people, “On the basis of all the grace you’ve received from me, it is appropriate for you to give a tenth of all you are blessed with as a way of expressing 1) gratitude for blessings that have been received and 2) confidence in future blessings that will be received.” Well what about us? As a New Testament, New Covenant believer, on the other side of the cross of Jesus Christ, have we received more or less grace than the Old Testament believer? I don’t know how one could argue we’ve received less grace. And if 10% was the appropriate expression of gratitude and faith for the Old Testament believer, how does that become anything but a starting point for New Testament believers?

I have zero doubts that some might consider me legalistic for even mentioning a percentage to Christians when it comes to their offerings. To that, I’d say, for starters, that I think we have very different definitions of legalism. I’m certainly not suggesting that someone is saved by their tithe. That’s ludicrous. I’m simply pointing out what makes sense in light of the gospel. It’s no different than when the Apostle Paul tells the Thessalonians to not grieve over deceased loved ones who have passed away in Christ in the same way that the pagans grieve for their departed. He basically says, “That doesn’t make gospel sense. You’ll see these people again! You’re not acting in line with the gospel!” (1 Thess. 4:13) Paul again uses the same technique with the Apostle Peter when Peter is guilty of racial insensitivity in Syrian Antioch (Gal. 2:11-13). Paul is not trying to shame people. He’s simply telling them that they’re not acting in line with liberating gospel truths.

What is the gospel truth about our financial management? It sounds like this: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9) The idea that the king of heaven left his throne, to come and pour out his riches at the cross, so that I, who have spent so much of my life hoarding and thieving his planet, could be forgiven and now set free to live in eternal riches…that’s the crazy economics of the gospel of Jesus. And it radicalizes your finances. At that point, the only sensible thing to do then is “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, (knowing that) all these things (i.e. worldly needs) will be given to you as well.” (Matt. 6:33)

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Too Distracted To Be Evangelized?

One of the more important books I’ve read in the past year is called Disruptive Witness by Alan Noble. The premise is essentially that Christian witnessing to a non-believing world has become more difficult in the 21st century, not so much because the world has become increasingly hostile to the gospel, but that those who would be potential candidates for witnessing are less available for engagement. 

Why? Fewer and fewer people are asking the primary philosophical questions: 

  • Where did we come from?
  • Where are we going?
  • What determines good & evil?
  • What is the meaning of life? 

It’s tough to sit on any of those deep questions for any length of time when your phone is chirping every 42 seconds, your email alerts are popping up, and all 9 seasons of The Office are available for streaming on Netflix for a limited time only. 

The average person is so incredibly distracted by life, that they’ve run out of time to broach the existential questions about the meaning of life. 

Noble writes:

“Distraction and secularism have shaped the way modern people tend to find or create meaning in their lives. … a culture of technological distraction inclines us to look for meaning in preoccupation, novelty, consumer choices, and stimulation. So long as we are moving on to the next thing, we feel that our life has some direction and therefore meaning. 

Noble, Disruptive Witness, pg. 62

The end result is that the average person has so many devices to help them feel better that the most readily available solution to “feeling bad about myself” today is not the grace of God, but the scrolling of Instagram or falling deep into a YouTube hole, which offers its own innumerable assembly of prophets and vloggers who will share with you their vision for the good life. Thus, what your feed is most likely telling you is that the problem with your life is not that you’re sinful and need the grace of God, but that you’re simply doing life wrong and need to troubleshoot. Try these 3 steps. Do you. Life hack. Feel better. And if that doesn’t work, the reasonable solution is to track down a better 5-star iTunes podcast or doorstep-in-two-days Amazon Prime product that offers a greater shot at success.

The well of potential life solutions is deeper than it’s ever been. And it seems that people won’t listen until they’ve drawn from the bottom.

And in case you weren’t sure they didn’t want to listen– read the room– the AirPods literally plugging their earsfrom your interaction should be sufficient signage. 

My favorite new example of how traditional evangelism techniques might not accomplish the desired results in the modern world came the other evening on The Late Show. Host Stephen Colbert was asking guest Keanu Reeves about his current projects, including the upcoming Bill & Ted Face the Music, the third installment in the highly successful series which began in 1989. Reeves explains how the predictably wacky premise of the new film revolves around the two main characters writing a hit song in order to save the universe. At around 9:45 in the clip linked below, Colbert then asks, “What do you think happens when we die, Keanu Reeves?” The audience laughs, amused by the sudden shift of conversational gravity. Reeves breathes deeply and muses, “I know that the ones who love us will miss us.”

At this point, the audience pauses, laughs, and then cheers as Colbert and Reeves shake hands to end the segment. 

Since then, the clip has gone viral on Twitter, logging millions and millions of views. Clearly, the response was welcomed by the watching world. 

The problem is that, while resoundingly applauded by the American public, the response doesn’t make much sense. And herein lies the perfect microcosm of shallow, distracted American spirituality – i.e. that which is applauded is sweetly sentimental but nonsensical. 

Colbert’s question to Reeves was “What do you think happens when we die?” This, or some close variation, was actually one of the main leading questions in evangelism tracts of the 20th century. Clearly, the implied point of the question, as Colbert states it, was to ask what happens TO US when we die. Reeve’s answer, however, said nothing about what happens to the deceased. The thing that he said happened is that those who love us will miss us, which should be obvious, and assumed by anyone who has ever been to one funeral. 

But with a slight misdirection, responding to an incompletely asked question, Reeves was able to take a devastating, divisive, life-altering question (which worked for years) and turn it into a saccharine notion lapped up by an adoring audience. Seriously, who asks a question about the inevitability of death and generates a response which causes people to sound like they’re fawning over newborn puppies?! 

How does one even begin to evangelize in this climate? 

Satan has burrowed deep into a society that has somehow seemingly become inoculated to life’s most pressing questions, distracted to the point of disinterest. What can we do?

When Jesus came down from the Mount of Transfiguration, a mute and deaf demon-possessed boy was brought to him. Typically the disciples had been equipped to carry out this ministry by this point – the healing, and demon-driving power that Jesus had anointed them with. But this time they found no success. So after Jesus drives out the demon himself, the disciples, perhaps perplexed, perhaps embarrassed, ask him privately:

“Why could we not cast it out?” 

Jesus replied, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer (and fasting).” 

Mark 9:28-29 (ESV)

This comment by Jesus is admittedly a bit peculiar, but most commentators take it as suggesting the disciples had started to believe that their ministerial success was dependent on their own gifts and methodology. Jesus therefore points them to practices (prayer and fasting) which represent total dependence on God. 

As the environment for evangelism has become more difficult in America, we want to balance two things: 

  1. The fact that we need to be faithful, thoughtful, humble, and courageous in being willing to augment methodology. Just because something became an effective method for doing ministry in years past doesn’t mean it’s equally valid today. Cultures change. The spiritual forces of the world attack from new angles. The Apostle Paul was willing to share the gospel by presenting formal teaching in the synagogues (Acts 17:10-15), conversational dialogue at riversides (Acts 16:11-15), hymns sung in prison (Acts 16:16-40), or academic presentations in educational settings (Acts 17:16-34). That’s the type of contextually appropriate flexibility we want to emulate. 
  2. That said, we also need to be comfortable with the idea that the primary goal of evangelism is the glory of God, not the affecting of humans. Old Testament prophets, one after the other, seemed to often lack effectiveness in their messaging. The lack of change caused to their once faithful society was not due to the messengers’ lack of faithfulness, but due to the stubbornness of the audience. In other words, it’s entirely possible that you could pray unceasingly, preach fearlessly, and do so in the most thoughtful, culturally sensitive style imaginable, and not a single soul be converted. Since you’re not the one that grows the plants, but rather the sower who scatters the seeds, you can be perfectly faithful despite not a single plant sprouting. If the societal soil is well worn and depleted, it’s even possible that the blooming is less likely. But in that fruitless scattering, God is still glorified by your sowing. 

Jesus doesn’t need you to accomplish spiritual results. 

That’s his job. A farmer certainly pays attention to fruitfulness as an aspect of wise management, but he also understands that his job is to faithfully carry out the process, not deliver the results. 

In a culture where the soil to cultivate souls appears hardened, the results might be fewer and far between, but the opportunity to glorify God is as ripe as ever. 

So witness to his grace. 

Unapologetically tell them that you are certain what will happen to you after death because you know that your Redeemer lives. Do so with the fierceness of a martyr and the sweetness of a sinner saved by grace. And then let Him do his job. 

Image Credits Creator: Scott Kowalchyk Credit: CBS copyright: ©2019 Scott Kowalchyk/CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.