Thursday, April 28, 2016

Why Go to Church?

Why should believers go to church? There are a lot of excuses one could give for blowing it off:
  • Church folk are nothing but hypocrites
  • Their idea of worship is not my idea
  • All they do is ask for money
  • It's too irrelevant, too loud, too impersonal, too ________...
  • I am not genuinely needed, wanted and won't be missed
  • I've got better things to do
  • When else can I shop or do my household chores?
There are some reasons, which traditionally have been offered, as to why we should go:
  1. to maintain social cohesion
  2. because of necessary, clerically performed rituals within the context of structured liturgies
  3. to derive a benefit from what is offered there
  4. because it's the "right" thing to do.
I submit that none of the suggested excuses for not going, nor most of the traditional reasons cited for doing so are valid. They are mere rationalizations without any spiritual merit.

The scriptures tell us that together we are the body of Christ, and the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. So...
We gather as the church because we are connected with unseen bonds.
We gather as the church because we acknowledge the truth of how God sees us (as one in Christ).
We gather as the church because we need the gifts of others and we need to be the vector of gifts for others.
We gather as the church because the Bible tells us to do so.
If someone is so disillusioned with church that he or she doesn't want to go anymore, that one should do some serious soul searching. Has he or she been going for the right reasons in the first place? Has that one given his or herself fully to being a benefit to the church rather than deriving a benefit from it? Does that person believe that God changed his mind about this whole issue?

If someone is not motivated enough, or too occupied or distracted with discretionary things to go to church, he or she needs to change. Church exists because God selflessly loved us enough to do something about our lostness. Christ has called us to himself and to each other for all eternity. If we're not grasping that and are capable of treating church like we treat the choice of which grocer to use, we don't understand Jesus--not his plans for us, not what he calls us to, and not what he's making us to be.

Maybe we don't truly believe in Jesus at all! 

I am a pastor committed to church, but I have also been a lay person going to church reluctantly. I know what it's like to go to church hoping for inspiration only to find frustration. I know what it's like having a bad week and wanting to hibernate, or what it's like to have an option that seems better to the flesh. I even know what it's like to feel as if you've disappeared into the background of an impersonal institution and that it's of no use anyway.


I also know that the trying of our faith brings forth a peaceable fruit. In life on this side of eternity nothing is perfect. Church is not, church people are not, and pastors are anything but. Despite all that brokenness, perseverance in church going is God's will for us. When we faithfully commit to it, despite the drama and flaws, we become a blessing to others and blessing comes back to us.

Wait a minute... blessing in the midst of brokenness... on second thought, that sounds exactly like what something that's of Christ should look like on this side of eternity.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Worship As Fellowship

"...I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever. I will give You thanks forever, because You have done it. And I will wait on your name, for it is good, in the presence of Your godly ones.   Psalm 52:8-9  NASB

Psalm 52 is a study in contrasts. It begins looking at the evil person (as summarized in v. 7) and ends looking at the faithful, godly one. The boasts of the two are contrasted, as is their desire, their faith, and the reaction they get from God. A remarkable feature of the godly one is that he gets to hang out in the presence of God with other godly ones and worship. 
Worship as fellowship, imagine that!

Worship is fellowship with God

The faithful one is cast as a green olive tree in the house of God. That would seem a rather passive symbol, but there's much to recommend it. It is green, which means it is full of vitality. It is a tree, so its place is its place of abiding--trees don't come and go--it dwells in God's presence. It is an olive tree which means its fruitfulness provides oil which produces both sustenance and light.


An olive tree planted in the Temple grounds is in the happy situation of dwelling in the light of God. There it flourishes as a result of hanging out in the presence of God. It has abundant life flowing within and productive life blossoming and ripening without. It is alive as live can be, resting in the lovingkindness of God, but is there any action? 


Yes, there is--praising. "I will give you thanks" (as in the NASB above) would probably be bettered rendered as "I will praise you" (as in the NIV). The Hebrew word underlying the English translation comes from a root which means "casting" or "throwing" and which came to be used figuratively of the act of praising. In worship we cast our thanks, we cast our wonder, and we cast our submission to or upon God. 


When the faithful one is fellowshipping with God, planted like a tree in his presence, that one showers God with love and gratitude. Not a surprising response, given the wonder of who God is, it could hardly be helped. To fellowship with God is to break out in praise. Maybe we could jump to the conclusion and say by extension: to truly worship is to fellowship with God.

Worship is fellowship with God's people

That green tree planted in the temple of God is not alone. Others are present as well, godly people looking to God. Praise can be done alone, but is not something reserved for solitude. As for the individual, so too for the group: faithful people in the presence of God can hardly keep from breaking forth in praise. To truly worship in congress is to fellowship with God and man.


I think our fellowship with one another is missing something without genuine worship being part of our shared experience. Not all of our fellowship has to be centered around worship, but it is a dynamic that is healthy for us as individuals and as a body. Together, we are the temple of God. Worship is our fellowship.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Worship as a Response to God

Like all things truly spiritual, worship doesn't have its source in the innate goodness or wisdom of the human being. Would mankind even have a notion to worship, let alone worship along the lines God desired, without some impetus from God? I don't think so. True worship, as I see it, is something that results from the Spirit's input into the sons and daughters of Adam's race.

"Then Moses and Aaron went and assembled all the elders of the sons of Israel; and Aaron spoke all the words which the Lord had spoken to Moses. He then performed the signs in the sight of the people. So the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord was concerned about the sons of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed low and worshiped."   Exodus 4:29-31 NASB

Worship is inspired by hearing God's word. Faith is inspired along the same lines: it makes sense that worship would be part of the package. When the Holy Spirit attends the Word of God, so that the human can hear it with perception, understanding dawns on that person and response to God's word becomes possible. Faith is the primary, necessary and effective response, worship is the consequential one.

It is not the mere fact or existence of God's word which elicits a response, but the content. A later prophet would seem to rely on the same factor. When the Holy Spirit attends the Word of God which reveals that God has plans for people, plans to prosper them and not harm them, people touched by the message respond. Among other possibilities, they worship.

Followers of Jesus have such words from God. Since they are, by definition, spiritual people capable of spiritual appraisals, Christians would be expected to be people who exude worship in response to such promises. Christians unmoved to worship, Christians unresponsive worshipfully to God's goodness, or Christians unbowed before the mighty and merciful God would seem a contradiction in terms. Christians who don't worship might not be Christians at all.

Worship finds inspiration in the acts of God as well. The crucifixion and resurrection of Christ are perhaps the most notable among the acts of God, but they are not the only ones that inspire worship. Past acts other than those, and present acts serve to inspire worship too. Any act of God that communicates that God is with us, that God is for us, and that he has seen our misery and is concerned for us inspire those that believe to bow down in worship.

When one hears God's words of concern and promise and sees God's acts of deliverance and blessing, and believes, worship in response to God is practically automatic. So, listen to the words of God and see his acts of wonder and let a reaction rise within you and spill out as worship.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Worship as an Expression of Faith

Worship is about homage. It is the respect or regard paid to that which has power over one's life. Not everyone would acknowledge belief in the supernatural, but I think everyone worships something. Everyone give props to that which they see as having the power to affect their lives for good. If one truly believes in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, worshipping him is just part of that package.

"God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."         John 4:24  NASB

Worship is really an expression of faith.

At its heart, it is a reach, a stretch, wherein a person of conviction dares to seek and see God as he is. God is breath (spirit) and so he is beyond the physicality of this world and all that's in it. His essence is the essence of the soul, of personhood--self-awareness, consciousness, purposefulness. Therefore, that seeking which is worship must engage those same qualities within the seeker. That which is spirit must be worshipped in spirit.

Worship cannot be circumscribed by the merely physical nor the superficial.

Historically, Christian worship has fallen short in both regards. Arrangements of "furniture," postures of bodies, and recitations and intonations done virtually without thought have very little to do with worship. The contemporary fixation with worship as entertainment or a perfunctory preliminary is no better, maybe even worse. The very essence of our spiritual being must be engaged in seeking and revering God, or all we've done is gone through some empty motions.

The very essence of who we are as persons must bow before the very presence of the person of God in order to worship.

Worship is, literally, "kissing towards" the object of reverence, which by use referred to bowing or prostration before the worshipped; that is, doing obeisance or acknowledging superiority. So, at its heart, worship is about surrender. If we have not come to a point of surrender to God, deep in our souls, we have not worshipped. Worship, such as this, is not a duty that can be done from a distance, it can only be accomplished "up close and personal."

Worship must be sincere.


There's no place for illusion in worship. Often the reference to truth in John 4:24 is misinterpreted to refer to fact and logic (i.e., knowledge), as if true worship engages both emotion and intellect. Certainly, heart and mind are part of what makes a human essentially human, but the reference to truth in this case has more to do with integrity than it does to knowledge. Possessing a theologically accomplished mind doesn't qualify one as a worshipper to any degree whatsoever, whereas honestly bowing down does.

Though our publications and practices would seem to suggest it, it has not been left up to us to fashion what worship of God could or should be. Oh, people can do that sort of thing, but they shouldn't expect the result would be considered worship by God. Jesus has told us, clearly, what God is looking for in worship, and what worship of God must be. Worship is an expression of faith, it must come from the essence of what we are as people, it must express surrender to God's authority over us, and it must be unfeigned.

If what you call worship isn't accomplishing this, it's not worship.