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 …
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. …
“Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.” Hebrews 3:1
I have been blessed with only a limited amount of genuine grieving in my life. Frankly, I’ve done a whole lot more consoling of others than I have needed consoling myself. But you don’t have to be an expert on grief to know that it has a profound effect on our ability to see truth. In fact, a part of the healing process is learning to look through the pain to some larger truth which, difficult as it may be to grasp in spite of the pain, still has a way of guiding us.
But did you know that the grief process is not reserved only for individuals? Churches grieve also. They grieve the loss of a much-loved leader, the loss of a ministry or program, the loss of a “way of doing things”, the loss of unity…all of these can cause a type of grieving process for a church. And like the grieving process for an individual, a church’s grief can be unpredictable and unrelenting. It can last a few days or a few years, perhaps even an entire generation. It can cause the church to do and say things it doesn’t mean to do and say. But most of all, just like the grief process for anyone else, it is painful…unbearably so.
Moreover, grief has a way of disorienting us, both as individuals and as congregations. It turns up into down and right into left. It leaves us not even knowing which way to look for direction. It is chaotic and complex and confounding.
So, it is in the pain of real grief where we are often left with little orientation …
Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.
Biblical Scholar, Dr. Richard Halverson has said, “When the Greeks got the Gospel, they turned it into a philosophy; when the Romans got it, they turned it into a government; when the Europeans got it, they turned it into a culture; and when the Americans got it, they turned it into a business.”
In this country, we are a part of a 200-year-old experiment in religious freedom. The hypothesis of this experiment might have been this: given absolute freedom to grow churches of any kind with little or no interference from government and with a wide open playing field for all manner of thoughts and philosophies about how to “do church”, the church will look more and more like what WE want it to look like as opposed to what God wants it to look like.
I suspect our little experiment is proving that hypothesis pretty well so far. The church is looking more and more like what WE want (which, in America, is a thriving, successful business) and less and less like the revolution Jesus started some 2,000 years ago. What happens with the emerging church–if that term describes the next generation of Christianity in America–over the next couple of decades will be telling. I suppose it remains to be seen whether this next generation of church leaders will be able to recognize the course we have been on (I believe they have) and whether they will be able to right that course.
Getting it right is not all that cut and dry. After all, good stewardship demands that we be wise, shrewd investors of God’s resources. Some of our best wisdom in that regard surely does …