To the woman He said… “…your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.” Genesis 3:16 (NASB)
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Genesis 4:6-7 (NASB)
I’m meditating this week on Genesis 3 and the “fall of man”. In my study, I tripped over Genesis 3:16, where God pronounces the “curse” on the woman, saying that, as a result of her sin, “your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” It seemed odd to me…the first part, that is. How, exactly, is “your desire shall be for your husband” a bad thing? Because I am not a Hebrew scholar, my first attempt to understand what exactly it means was to simply check a variety of English translations. Unfortunately, except for a couple, most of them translate it the same way: your desire shall be for your husband. Again, what could be wrong with that?
But here is where some light gets shed…and where we learn (again) about the limits of language to capture some concepts: Genesis 4:7 has very similar language, but the intent is much clearer. When God warns Cain about the bitterness raging in his heart, he says, “…if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” And so, we see what are apparently similar Hebrew words and phrases being translated the same way. In Cain’s case, “sin’s desire is for you” and in Eve’s case,”your desire shall …
The Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garmentsand be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. Exodus 19:10-12
Do you remember the first time a “Terms and Conditions” window popped up on your computer screen, requiring you to agree to a long, long list of conditions before you were able to download that particular app? I do. The lawyer in me leaped into action and I read the entire, long, dry, boring agreement, only to conclude that I had just wasted several minutes of my life that I would never get back. I will confess this to you right here and now…this lawyer never reads those things any more, except possibly to scan them for dollar signs, just to make sure I’m not agreeing to pay something. I may be lazy, but I’m also cheap.
When the Hebrew slaves were freed from Egypt in order to travel to Mt. Sinai to worship their God, they had their own “Terms and Conditions” experience. After three months of wondering through the wilderness, they landed at Mt. Sinai. Just as they clicked “Download” for the “Worship I Am” app, God’s pop-up window appeared to Moses with some pretty severe Terms and Conditions for Worshipping the great I Am. And all those harsh terms fall under one sobering category: REVERENCE. Any fair reading of Exodus (or pretty much any of the rest of scripture) renders the same …
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:5-8
It is an important question to ask ourselves as church leaders…is our church being effective? I do not mean that in terms of numbers. I think numbers of baptisms and numbers of people in worship and numbers of dollars in the budget are all important metrics for us…but nothing matters more than the question of whether lives are really being changed as a result of our efforts. That, after all, is what we are supposed to be accomplishing as a church: changed lives. And if we are NOT being effective, if we are rather unproductive and irrelevant, then what can be done about it?
As it turns out, for God’s people, making “relevance” all about music and worship styles and the latest trends in children’s ministry is a lot like making “quality” of a book all about its cover…it’s not that those things are not important, it is that they barely scratch the surface of quality, relevance and effectiveness. That is probably why, when Holy Scripture addresses genuine effectiveness and productivity of our faith, it doesn’t talk much about forms of worship, musical styles, youth curriculums or cool murals on the walls of our preschool space. Rather, scripture ties the effectiveness of the church …
Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.
Today, if only you would hear his voice, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me... Psalm 95:6-9
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1
There are some of you reading this post who cannot believe there are still churches struggling with the “worship wars” of music and style and diverse forms of gathered worship. You fought those battles years ago and have enjoyed a long time now of unity on that subject. There are others of you who, frankly, cannot even imagine what it feels like to have that conflict in your rear-view mirror, because you are right in the middle of it now, with little hope for a friendly resolution. Either way, whether those struggles are fresh for your church or long since forgotten, we all could use a gentle reminder about worship and what, exactly, are our objectives as we plan corporate worship.
The Psalmist from Psalm 95 does us a great favor, not only reminding us of the object of our worship, but also reminding us of what is NOT worship. The references to “Meribah” and “Massah” in Psalm 95 relate to an ugly moment in Israel’s history documented in Exodus 17. The people were complaining to Moses because they were uncomfortable…because they were not getting what they wanted. There was a sense of entitlement in them…exactly …
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’ “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. Jeremiah 7:4-7
The people of Judah in Jeremiah’s time and so many of us in the church today have all suffered from the same delusion…that genuine change begins in gathered worship. But, just like a genuine dating relationship doesn’t really begin until the SECOND date, genuine change in a Christ-follower’s heart doesn’t begin on Sunday. The real change begins on Monday. The people of Judah discovered that too late.
Young King Josiah had good intentions and a good heart. He had “rediscovered” God’s instructions about worship and about Holy holidays and festivals. He had even made great strides in destroying the idols and instruments of worshipping those idols. He had restored the people’s respect and reverence for the temple. All of that was good. But it was not enough.
And gathered worship is definitely good for the church today as well. Please don’t hear anything in this post saying otherwise. I believe we as Christ-followers should be participating in Spirit-filled worship as often as possible. It is where we celebrate together God’s activity in our lives. It is also where …
Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. Mark 14:4-6
Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” John 4:23-24
You and I can take solace in the fact that we would never do what “some of those present” did to poor Mary of Bethany in Mark 14. You and I are way, way too spiritual to ever do such a thing! Truly, all Mary was doing was loving Jesus with extravagance…pouring her very heart out with every ounce of perfume which left that container. She was oblivious to the awkwardness or to the social or political “incorrectness” of her actions…her heart was 100% for Jesus in that moment. That, my friends, was the very picture of “true worship”.
So, to scoff or to rebuke her for it…well, wow, that is just embarrassing. I’m just glad you and I would never do that.
There are actually a few other places I can think of in the Bible where people scoffed at or made fun of someone’s worship of God. None of those stories ended well for those scoffers. It seems that God really does frown on such scoffers. Worship, after all, is not for their benefit at all; rather, it is aimed only at God. What business is it of others …
So much of the conflict I see in churches today falls into a general category I call “Generational Issues”. I don’t hold myself out as an expert in the social changes ushered in by each of the last few generations, but I think any of you would agree that the various generations represented in the American church today are radically different from one to the next in terms of how they communicate, how they form and maintain relationships, and how they worship. Obviously, there are no clear, bright lines of division. Moreover, there are plenty of obvious exceptions to the prevailing preferences of generations (i.e., not all senior citizens prefer traditional church music to contemporary, etc.). But the youngest adult generations in the church are approaching God and the church so very differently than their grandparents did that it is bound to raise some difficult issues for us all to work through.
But the problem is never as simple as sitting down and figuring out who is right and who is wrong. Oh how much easier my job would be if it were that simple! No, the bigger challenge by far is getting each side of a generational issue to even care much about the other side. The problem in many (most?) of our churches, it seems to me, is the lack of relationship between and among the generations.
I see it often. A church begins to have serious worship style conflict, so they call someone (me) in to help them work through it. When I ask one side to articulate the fears and motives of the other side, they cannot even come close. They cannot do that, because they are not even trying to understand the fears and motives of the other side. All they can …
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 1 Corinthians 12:27
If the goal of worship is to connect with God, then there are only two “grades” you can give a gathered worship experience: “A” or “F”. It is pretty much a pass/fail thing. That is because there is no such thing as connecting with God and it being anything other than amazing and wonderful…and if you are in a worship experience and you are NOT connecting with God, then, well…fail. I had to get all that said before I take up today’s topic, just so you know that I know…because today I am giving our culture’s gathered worship experiences a grade somewhere between pass and fail.
Last year, I attended a corporate worship experience at a church in the town where my daughter goes to school. It was well produced, but lacking in one way. Other than my family, I did not know a single person around me. Sadly, that was still true even as we were leaving. That just seems wrong to me.
The truth is, it was an amazing worship atmosphere. Very contemporary in style (I am blessed to be comfortable worshiping in almost any “style”), with a casual feel and lots of technology to help the worshiper stay focused on the message and on the theme for the day…great, introspective music, wonderful sermon, innovative communion. To their credit, I thought the worship leaders did a fairly good job of keeping the focus OFF of them on ON the Lord. That’s not easy to do in this consumer-oriented culture. But there was one element missing for me…and frankly, it is missing in the vast majority of corporate worship experiences I’ve ever seen or heard about. …
Your church is not just comprised of people. It is comprised of relationships among those people. That’s an important distinction. It is the difference between a pile of bricks and a building made with those bricks. It is the difference between a jumbled wad of thread and a fabric woven with that thread. It is not just the people who make up the church…it is the specific ways in which those people relate to one another that either make them a New Testament church or not. More specifically, it is the Spirit of God living in those people and moving them into relationships with each other which make them a church.
I often describe the church as a fabric. Each of us is a single thread in that fabric. Every place my “thread” touches another “thread” is a relationship. And all of those relationships, together, form my local congregation.
There are always things putting pressure on that fabric…weighty objects (“issues”) which God permits to fall into the fabric of your church. Some of those issues are heavy and others are pretty light. But when one of those issues tears the fabric, it is not just a function of the weight of the issue. It is a function of the strength of the fabric. Churches which teach and practice Biblical interpersonal relationships constitute strong fabrics. They can handle lots of challenges. But churches who do not teach good relationships will eventually become littered with broken or damaged relationships, i.e., weak fabric. And where the fabric is weak enough, it doesn’t take much to tear it wide open.
Another metaphor that works here is thinking of your “fabric” as a latex balloon. When you inflate it and then hold it up to the light, you can actually see where …
There is a public park in Luhans’k, Ukraine where my ministry has gone to work with churches in the past. The park is in a “forest”. It is a beautiful place. But there is something eerie about it. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but there is something about it which just doesn’t seem right. You feel like you are out in nature, but not really. Then you learn the story…the “park” is a man-made forest built by the Nazis. The trees are all lined up! Then it’s not eerie anymore…it’s just funny.
I had a long conversation with “Thomas”, a church leader whose church was blessed with a diversity of people. The topic of the conversation was worship styles, but the principle at issue was much larger than that. When confronted with the reality that a variety of preferred worship styles (I usually refer to them as “languages”) existed in his church, this leader sternly refused to use any other styles other than the one they currently used, the one they had been using for many decades. His premise was this: in our worship we must stay unified, with a common “language” or style, because the more homogenous we are, the stronger we are…diversity only weakens us. Hmmm. It flustered me a little, because it was an entirely new argument for me. I honestly never thought anyone could make an argument against diversity among God’s people. Frankly, pictures of a Nazi forest came to mind.
I have always seen our diversity as an incredible strength. It challenges us, to be sure. It is difficult at times, to be sure. But it stretches our understanding of God and of one another. It is that whole “you complete me” thing. I actually am energized being …