It’s been a long time since I was here, because life happens. We have been dealing with medical issues at my house since last spring. We finally seem to be on the downhill side of that. Thank you, Jesus! So now it is time to start working on all of those extra things again. This blog is one of those extra things. I make no promises, but I hope to have a fairly frequent and regular appearance here.
I guess a good place to start, since I have nothing better to say at the moment, is with the topic of my sermon last week. The sermon was based on the words of Nehemiah 8:1-10 and the subject was worship. I have received a lot of comments on it. I don’t think that it is any secret that most mainline Christian denominations are declining in the United States these days. I’m pretty sure the same can be said for much of the world, but I am not up on those statistics. It has made me, and a lot of folks a whole lot smarter than me, ask the question “why?” To date there is not a really good, broad-based answer. If there was I think a lot of churches would be flourishing where they are not and some people, again those who are a whole lot smarter than me, would be more than a little bit wealthy.
Of course I don’t know the “answer.” However, it is probably true that there are a lot of reasons. One of those, I think, is that we have forgotten – or perhaps were never taught – what worship is supposed to be about. Somewhere along the line we forgot that worship is supposed to be all about God. Somewhere along that same line, a lot of someones decided that worship needed to be about entertaining the congregation. In my opinion that is where we have gone wrong.
Don’t misunderstand me, entertaining worship has a place. It is one thing that attracts people and makes them come through the church doors to begin with. But when content and context are sacrificed in the name of entertainment, then I have a problem with it. Worship should be about giving our thanks to God for God’s provision of our needs and for God’s grace and mercy that are always forgiving our sins and our mistakes. It should be about coming to learn God’s Word as contained in Scripture, to recognize where we are falling short of than, and to be convicted toward becoming more like Jesus Christ everyday. Worship should be about having our internal tanks filled with God’s love so that we are refueled, refreshed, renewed, and ready to leave the church building and go to work for God’s kingdom. For those of you who are reading this and are not schooled in the “words of the church,” that means we are supposed to go be like Jesus Christ in our communities and beyond. We are supposed to love people and care for their needs. At the same time we are supposed to help people to recognize the sin in their own lives for themselves (without judgment and condemnation on our part), to make changes, and to learn and grow from their mistakes. Because believe me, everyone – and I mean EVERYONE – has sinned and made mistakes. We can entertain the masses, but there must be a healthy dose of all the other parts as well.
The problem with worship is that everyone who gathers is different. What works to refuel, refresh, and renew one person in worship will likely be off-putting to someone else. That is one reason why a worship service has so many different parts and pieces. What you absolutely hate in your weekly worship service is the one thing that speaks to someone else’s heart and vice versa. It is why worship looks different at different times and different places. Remember this the next time you want to complain that something in the service isn’t working for you. Worship is not about you and your entertainment. It is about God and our response to the things God has done and continues to do. When we come to church on Sunday morning, or Wednesday evening, or whatever day of the week we worship, we should be there solely for those reasons listed above. We should be there to give thanks to God and to worship God’s name. We should be there to learn and grow. We should be there to expect to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
This leads me to a few of questions that I asked in my sermon on Sunday: When is the last time that we were excited to read Scripture just to find God there instead of just quickly breezing through today’s devotional because it is on the calendar? When was the last time we looked forward to coming to worship so we could be moved and surprised by the Holy Spirit instead of socializing with our friends? When was the last time we approached God like we were going to the biggest and best party of the year? And this leaves me pause to ask a couple more questions. Why are we in worship in the first place? Is it just for us, or is it for God? These are questions that we all need to answer for ourselves, and yes, that include me.
So, let’s ask the questions. If the answer points to anything other than worshipping God for who God is and what God does it may be time for a change of heart and attitude. This week why don’t we try coming to worship just to worship. Let’s try coming with hands raised and faces bowed before the Lord. Let’s try coming with joy and an eagerness to encounter the Holy Spirit at work in our midst. Let’s turn our focus toward God and away from ourselves and see what happens. I think we will all be pleasantly surprised.
And that is all I have to say this week.