How Then Should We Worship?

I have been a church member almost my entire life.  More specifically, I have been a Baptist church member most of my life.  Attending church every time the doors were open was a priority for my family.  Not only that, but we attended neighboring revivals, camp meetings, church retreats, tent meetings, and vacation bible schools.

I have had, therefore, the opportunity to observe many church services, forms of worship, various types of singing, church leadership, church government, and pastors.  It does not make me an expert, but it has created in me areas of concern. I will address these areas of concern and try to work through to a satisfactory conclusion or at least a direction.

When all is said and done, there is only one reason I go to church.  That reason is obedience.  God said to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together as believers, and that is that.  No questions asked.  Period.  It is not for fellowship.  It is not for networking.  It is not to hear good preaching, good singing, or to be entertained.  It is not to “get something out of it.”  It is not to make friends.  It is not for my kids.  While these are all  good reasons, important reasons; the bottom line is obedience. Truth be known, there are many times that obedience is the only reason I go.

However, because I do go to church, I do expect certain things.  Not getting my expectations met, will not keep me from going, but there are some issues that cause me grave concern.  I have considered that it might be, on my part, a reluctance to change with the times.  Culture does change, and the way we relate to it changes. For the most part, I have learned that whatever the vehicle of worship happens to be, I can use it.

Maze Jackson, an evangelist who did much to influence my life when I was a teenager, taught me that I can praise the Lord no matter what kind of church service happens to be going on.  My body is the temple of the Lord and my heart is His sanctuary.  I am at home with the Lord at all times in my heart, and nothing but my own sin can hinder my worship of God.

Having said that, why then as I sit in the contemporary worship service of today, does my heart feel heavily burdened, and my desire for something more, something long gone, sits unrequited in the depths of my soul?  Something is missing.  Something is gone.

Perhaps we need to consider a bigger picture.  As we sit in our luxurious pews, our feet on carpeted floors, our ears entertained with the pleasing sounds of pianos, guitars, and drums, our minds stimulated with Bible trivia, relating to corny jokes meant to break the ice of preppy minds, have we lost sight of what is happening in the spiritual domain as the war between good and evil intensifies and the battle for souls is waged?  If we really believe what we say we do, would we be doing what we are doing?

Is there not a cause; a cause that is not about us? It is not about our entertainment or fellowship.  It is a holy cause.  C.S. Lewis describes the deep longing in our hearts for something more as a desire for another country, a better country.  We are not home yet.  We are pilgrims and strangers in a foreign land.  How dare we claim this as our own!  We are not here to acquire status symbols, prestige, fame or wealth.  That is not our purpose. We have a cause.

The Bible says a man’s gift makes room for him. This gift can be used in the secular world or in the Christian ministry. Using this gift in the secular world in order to minister Christ is noble, although at great risk for compromise leading to contamination. It would take the absolute surrendering to God of every faculty in a man to keep him at the place of humble useability. Otherwise pride and the seduction of the world would destroy him. But then, this is also true of the same man using his gift in Christian ministry. The infection of sin is constantly a threat in either case. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels…”to be sure.

But still, is there not a cause? What right have we to take our gift for ourselves? Should the gift not be subject to the Lord’s purpose?

Should the church not be subject to the Lord’s purpose? What right have we to take the church unto ourselves? What right have we to use it in any other manner expect a holy manner? How the lines have blurred between the holy and the unholy!

One could argue that it is not sin to use the arena of church to have fun, entertainment, and recreation. But is this the purpose of the church which is pictured as waging war against the gates of hell? Is there not a greater cause than fun, entertainment, and recreation in the name of Christ? All things are lawful, but all things are not expedient.

I concede that there is a great battle for the minds of our young people. Pizza parties, camping trips, and dancing to Christian rock music may not be the best venue in which to reach our children. Chanting seven words eleven times plays games with the mind and opens the doors to emotions mistaken for the Holy Spirit. And still our batting average for saving our young people remains very low. This is a battle entered too late, for it is first fought and won in the home before the age of six.

Do we think we can make the Holy Spirit more user-friendly by separating the family and congregation into age specific worship? The family lives together; can they not worship together? Would that not promote family relationship and cohesiveness? Would they not relish the memories of witnessing together God’s work among the congregation? We have fragmented the family of God in the effort of user friendly worship.

We all in our deepest core desire a greater purpose outside of ourselves to serve and worship instead of being focused on ourselves and our enjoyment. I submit that young people are much more likely to rise to the challenge of training for missions and evangelism, and in doing so become more like Christ, than they are to be changed by line dancing in the youth department.

I concede that the most effective evangelism is friendship evangelism. We reach out to our neighbors and the ones whose lives we touch. We love them with the love of Christ and pray for their souls, watching for that opportunity to give an answer when asked about the hope within us. I am not saying that having fun with friends at church is wrong. It does have its place.

What is missing is intentional evangelism in our activities. What is missing is the manifest difference between the holy and the unholy, the clean and the unclean, and the wise and the unwise. We are called to be a peculiar people. While this may be subject to interpretation, it obviously calls for a definite delineation between the saint and the sinner. Are we raising rock stars and dancing queens or people who would lay down their lives for others for the sake of the gospel?

The eye is no longer single, we have a perverted purpose. We have learned that we can safely make a decision for Christ without any kind of life change. We have believed without repentance. Gone are the days where we come to the altar to mourn our sins and repent. I can remember a revival meeting when I was a teen in which the evangelist preached a message on “My Sins.” His message addressed the verse about being less concerned with the mote in our neighbor’s eye and more concerned about the beam in our own eye. He emphasized the enormity of our own sin and the call to repentance and forgiveness. The power of God was felt and evidenced in so much that people flocked to the altar in repentance and then got up from their knees and went to their neighbor to ask forgiveness. I remember fathers going to their children, husbands and wives reconciling, and friends asking forgiveness for offenses. There was weeping, and there was great joy. It was indeed one of the most beautiful services I have ever witnessed. That was only one of the many memories I have of the altar being filled with people weeping and rejoicing.

The lack of emphasis on repentance in the church has given birth to a shallow Christianity that is satisfied to leave the doctrines of the hymns and sing songs that talk about worship and praise, chanting lines over and over until people are worked up emotionally. We have substituted this created emotion for the work of the Holy Spirit. It was Isaiah who said in the presence of the Lord, “Woe is me for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the Kind, the Lord of hosts.” That would more than likely be our response in the physical presence of the Lord. We would be struck with our unworthiness to even be in His presence, a far cry from singing over and over that we worship and praise Him, and I am sure that at that moment we would know what true worship and praise really is.

The lack of emphasis on repentance in the church has also given birth to a people who can walk out of church on Sunday and feel that God will bless their efforts no matter what they are. So then, we end up with young people entering any profession expecting that God will help them and approve.

II Chronicles 7:14 says “If my people who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. What a promise! What an answer to the sickness in our lives and in our nation! This indicates that the answer does not originate in reforms of government or a promising presidential candidate, but in the repentance of God’s people.

This is not a call to stop enjoying God’s gifts to us. We are not called to legalism where women are targeted as the spiritual thermometers of the church according to their submissiveness and dress, and where the men are expected to attain to an authoritarian headship where wives dare not question and children are alienated. This kind of self-righteousness has done nothing to draw people to give “their utmost for His highest.”
It has also driven away our young people and destroyed our marriages.

Once you have experienced the convicting power of God in a worship service, you can never forget it, and you long to see it again for that is where lives are changed and the world sees God. It is not only where people are saved, but it is also where Christians are sanctified by His truth.

This is a call to fasting and praying, seeking God’s face. Did not God say, “Is not this the fast that I have chosen: to loosen the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke.” Many of the old preachers, such as Spurgeon, attributed the blessings of God on their preaching to the hundreds of people praying for them, even while they were preaching.

The pendulum has swung from law to grace…from legalism to liberality. Balance the most important word in the christian language.

Carol

http://townhall.com/columnists/michaelbrown/2013/01/03/whats-right-and-wrong-with-american-christianity-n1478711?utm_source=thdaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=nl

My Journey to the Way- Part 5 – Lent

I joined in about 2 weeks late, but I fasted for Lent, giving up dairy and meats.  It was not easy.  My body reacted by making me ravenously hungry. And I can’t say I read every label and completely followed every element, but I did pretty good.  I went into it not knowing really what was the purpose of Lent.  I knew part of it is to identify with Christ in His sufferings. I am still not clear about all of it, but the self-discipline of it, the denial of self, the focusing of our energies of Christ, makes us better followers of God .  I felt that.  I am eager to do it again next year.

Not just the fasting, but also the services. I attended all I could.  It is amazing how the worship services are so saturated in scriptures.  Two of the services were approximately 2 and half hours in length.  We read all of Psalm 119 in one service and several long passages in the gospels in another.  I managed to attend the Monday night Matins of the Bridegroom about the 10 virgins, the Friday night service about Lazarus, the Holy Saturday Matins, and the 11:30 pm service that lasted til 3:30 am.  We went back then for the 1:30 Sunday service.  Quite an exhausting experience, but spiritually refreshing as well.

Father Timothy had walked me through it during my session with him, so I knew some of what to expect.  There were beautiful aspects of it.  I was very moved with the icon of Christ being taken down from the Cross.  We marched around the church like a funeral procession led by the icon of Christ being borne above the heads of 4 men.  They stood in the doorway of the church still holding it high while we passed under the body of Christ and kissed the Word of God as we entered.

Time stood still as we commemorated the death and resurrection of Christ.  We stood with Mary and John there in Jerusalem at His Cross.  We went with Joseph as he brought the body of our Lord to the tomb.  We watched the stone being rolled into place and the guards set.

The lights came on, the  priests wore white, the people rejoiced as they sang “Christ has risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and to those in the tombs bestowing life!” over and over.  Jerusalem shone and Mary was radiant.  We felt all that as that sacred moment in time stood still.

We rejoiced further to realize once again that as Christ called Lazarus’s name and he came forth alive from being in the grave 4 days, so He will call His own by name some day and we will also come forth to live with Him forever.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

The most important event ever to take place was celebrated.

I felt so much closer to the people after that.  I want to be closer still.

There is the matter of confession.

to be continued…

MY JOURNEY TO THE WAY- PART 4 – more hope

Father Timothy said he will interested in my thoughts about Lent.  The saturation and poetry of the scripture readings went straight to my soul where they steeped in the deep waters of my being.  I had never experienced Easter in that way before.  It was a journey with Christ from Lazarus  to the Resurrection in Holy Week.  I loved it!

An act of love I will also never forget was that of Nadine sharing her umbrella with me, holding it more over my head than hers so that she got rained on and I did not.  I felt so bad, but she insisted.  I was unworthy of such an act and so receiving that gift was extremely difficult.

The fast itself was difficult at times as well.  Part of it was that I still have yet to grasp the significance of it.  I am willing to learn.

My favorite part of Holy Week was the Friday service where the Lamentations were read.  You know that author who actually puts into words the thoughts in your mind?  This is Lamentations for me.  It is full of the echos of my soul.  I absolutely loved it!  It included Lamentations in the Bible but also had the journey of Christ to the Cross, to Hades to the Resurrection in beautiful language.

There was something special about the Lazarus story that struck my soul. Jesus called to Lazarus  after he was in the grave for 4 days.  Lazarus was indeed dead. No doubt about it.  When they removed the stone, the smell of rotting flesh must have escaped the tomb. There were people standing outside the tomb, as the icon depicts, with their hands over their nose, not in wonder, but because of the smell.  That is reality.

But what strikes me is that Lazarus had nothing to do with Jesus calling His name.  He did not ask for that to happen.  He was helpless to respond. He was dead. He did not want to respond, but neither could he refuse to respond.  He was dead.

The same principle is shown in the story about the 4 friends who let down their sick friend through the roof to the room where Jesus  was.  The story says nothing about the sick man’s desires, condition or status.  It says nothing about his morals or his righteousness.  What it does talk about is the concern and action of his 4 friends.

There is hope, therefore, for the one who has strayed from following Jesus, and cannot even see that they are dead in their sins.  They may be blind in the darkness in which they are walking and may not even have a desire to change.  Worse, they may have deceived themselves and really believe that God would have them happy in the lifestyle they have chosen.

The hope is that the prayers and faith of the ones who love them may be effectual and may avail much.  God may have mercy, give sight to the blind and cause their spiritual awakening and salvation.  This is the hope for every parent who grieves over a lost child. The hope for every lost or wayward soul who is loved by one who knows God.

My Journey to the Way-Part 3-Hope

Hope – “This day you shall be with me in paradise.”  The grace of God is obviously not limited to those who have taken the Orthodox way of Chrismation, Baptism and the Eucharist.  The thief on the cross experienced none of these and yet Christ made this statement to him.  Christ looks on the heart. I suspect there are many hearts outside of Orthodoxy that belong to Christ.  He is a God of mercy and grace and He loves mankind. I believe that “He will keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.”

Father Timothy said there is disagreement within Orthodoxy on some of the issues.  They seem to be pretty laid back on many things, but strict on others.  I hope as I become more familiar with Orthodoxy that I can discern which ones are which.

Human nature is the same across the board in whatever church one belongs, and it takes a miracle to change human nature.  I am grateful to have observed the change that God can make in a person’s life.  I saw it  in my mother first of all.  She was not perfect, but instead of displaying bitterness and hate which she had many reasons to do so, instead, I remember hearing the sound of her voice  praying in her room. I knew that is how she survived.  I had great reason to follow her example many years later.

I see the difference in my thinking of my children when they choose the way of darkness over the way of light; the way of Christ over the way of self.  I see the struggle in them, and I hope I can always say of them, “at least they struggle.”

I see the wisdom of those in my life who have followed God and the difference they have made in the lives of others.  I know there is light in some, and darkness in others.  Some despair. Some have hope. Some live by the dictates of self. Some live by the dictates of God. And it is obvious. There is also a difference between those that are good, and those who are good because of the light of God in their lives. The difference is the reason, the motive, their philosophy of life. The light of God shines from their eyes.  They are happy, and they have peace.

One of the greatest disappointments I encountered as a teenager, was finding out that there were those in the church who did not truly follow Christ.  I define it as “the end of childhood.”  It is a transition that is more severe for some than for others.  However, one of the greatest joys I encountered as a teenager was finding out that there were those in the church who truly loved Christ and showed this by loving others. For instance, I was the oldest of 6 children, and we did not have much money, to say the least.  There were a couple of women from church who would take me shopping for shoes, or invite me along to see a play; take time  out of their day to notice me and take an interest in me. How great was the difference I saw back then between those who loved Christ by loving “the least of these,” and those who were more interested in image.

I believe with all my  heart that there are those in other denominations who have been regenerated by the life of Christ within them.  God meets us where we are.  He met the thief on the cross while He was on the Cross, so He meets us in our  pain, our place of misery and aloneness, because He has suffered as a man and sees fit to lift us up to dwell in Him.

What in the world would I have done as a child, with all I went through, had I not known Him?

So I am comforted.

“I know Whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.”