Worship

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I remember the conversation as though it took place yesterday. Yet, time marches on and one day turns into the next. The weeks turn into months and before you know it, the seasons come and go. One calendar year changes to the next. In reality, it all goes by so very quickly.

 

So how long ago did the conversation take place? Surprisingly, my best guess is that it was twelve-to-thirteen years ago. Yet, I remember the question and I remember being surprised when it was asked. It was a simple question, but I sensed the man had a rebuttal ready for me without even hearing my answer. Sometimes being the pastor of even a small rural church carries with it the opportunity to be the bulls-eye when folks want to express their disdain about the church. When I didn’t provide the answer he anticipated, it neutralized the potential for disagreement. He was speechless.

 

The question asked of me was: “How would going to your church make me a better person?” How would you have answered that question? I told him truthfully that going to my church wouldn’t make him a better person. He seemed startled by my answer to his question. I said, “We don’t go to church because we’re perfect or anticipate that this side of eternity we will be. We go to church because we are broken and God opted to love us anyway. His Son died on the cross that our sins might be forgiven. We come to church out of a sense of gratitude to God to Worship him and relate to our family of faith in an effort to support one another.

 

Attending church helps us focus on our need for that which only God can provide. He has a plan for our life and attending church reminds us of our rightful dependency upon God. There is no substitute for Christian fellowship and our need for community within the family of faith. We were created to live in community with both God and man. That’s important. Let me repeat it: We were created to live in community with both God and man.

 

I don’t remember where I read it or specifically when I read it, but it had to have been at least 30 years ago. Somehow it stuck with me. From out of nowhere it came to mind as I considered my thoughts for Sunday morning’s message. Let me hasten to say, I don’t think it is reflective of our typical worship service. Someone in a very different setting other than Henly described the typical Sunday morning church experience like this:

 

“We come to church –

  • We talk about God and how good he is.
  • We talk about sin and how bad it is.
  • We talk about the world and what a mess it’s in.
  • We sing a few songs, share a prayer or two, listen to a sermon and go home.

We come back next week where once again –

  • We talk about God and how good he is.
  • We talk about sin and how bad it is.
  • We talk about the world and what a mess it’s in.
  • We sing a few songs, share a prayer or two, listen to a sermon and go home.

 

 

What is worship? Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher said. He wrote: “When we come to worship, we generally feel as though the preacher and other ministers are the performers, God is the subject of the performance and we as the congregation are the audience. Authentic Christian worship is just the opposite. We are the performers. The preacher and other ministers are the directors of the performance. God is the audience. Everything we do is directed to him.”

 

Sometimes (maybe I should say oftentimes) my sense of the right way to do something is challenged. I struggle with the fear that I carry some of the characteristics of being antiquated, opinionated, narrow minded (maybe closed minded is a better term) and old fashioned. Sometimes I even wonder if maybe I’m out of date and no longer relevant.

 

After spending over 3 ½ decades coming for corporate worship in the same place, I don’t have a lot of experience with the way other churches orchestrate worship. I clearly remember  attending church with my son and his family after they moved to Camp Lejuene, N.C. was a little unsettling for me. They joined First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, N.C. It looked like a big typical Baptist Church from the outside of the building. Trust me, their style of worship was very different from anything I’d ever experienced.

 

For one thing, the sanctuary was mostly dark, the lighting illuminated the people on the platform and there were four of five people playing guitars, electric guitars, drums, you name it – if it could be used to make music, they had it.  I’m sure that it was because it was too dark to read from a hymnal inside the church that they thoughtfully had the words to the songs illuminated on a large screen at the front.

 

It took me a while to figure out who the preacher was. The tall guy who looked like a character off of Duck Dynasty stepped to the microphone. He was wearing jeans and an un-tucked long sleeve green shirt. He was carrying a cup of Starbucks coffee in his hand. I guess it was a typical workday for him.

 

I was like a fish out of water. Yet I emerged from the experience with the thought that I had just shared time with God. The entire experience spoke to the needs of my heart. I think that truly meets the definition of worship.

 

Some folks occasionally mistakenly assume that the quality of their worship experience where I go to church has something to do with whether I’ve held the congregations attention and shared anything worthy to note. However, under the best of circumstances, one’s experience of worship is a matter of the heart. It is their heart and not mine.

 

It’s interesting, when someone tells me they can hear better preaching on television than they hear in our church, I don’t try to convince them otherwise. My response is generally. “Of course you can. For that matter, you can probably go to any other church and hear better preaching. That really isn’t the issue.

 

One basic misconception is that if you can find better preaching on television, you are better off to stay at home. Yet, that should serve as a danger sign. Corporate worship isn’t optional. The experience of Worship can’t be fully replaced by watching a worship service on television. If you want your faith to stay active and viable, it takes continual fellowship through the experience of worship with the family of faith.

 

Years ago I read the story of a pastor who went to visit church members who’d been away from the fellowship for an extended period of time. When he arrived the pastor noticed a roaring fire in the fireplace. Without explanation or permission, he walked over, took fireplace tongs and removed one of the logs away from the flames.

 

He then visited with the family without making reference to what he had just done. Of course, the log removed from the others soon appeared a charcoal ruin rather than an active burning flame. Without comment, as he was bidding farewell he walked back to the fireplace, taking the tongs and returning the log to the fire. It immediately became part of the flame.

 

No comment was made, but the next week when the family returned to church, they told the pastor that his unspoken message regarding the fireplace had vividly made a point. They would be present in the future.

 

When it comes to worship, the remote on the television isn’t the best option available.  People need to live in community with both God and man.

 

All My Best!

Don

 

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