Are We Shortchanging God?

Two things have converged for me today.  First, I am in the midst of teaching about worship, namely the purpose and character of worship as our response through celebration of who God is and how He has revealed Himself to, in, and through His people throughout the previous week.  Second, I am currently reading “The Rise of the Nones” by James Emery White.  In it, he writes this:

“Historian Christopher Lasch has christened ours ‘the culture of narcissism,’ saying that this is the new religion – a religion in which we don’t actually want religion proper but instead, personal therapy. And it is just this spirit that has invaded our thinking and gone to war against the church. Eavesdrop, for a moment, on our rhetoric: ‘I want to go where I’m fed’ – not where we can learn to feed ourselves, much less feed others. ‘I need to be ministered to’ – as if ministry in the life of the Christ follower is something that happens to us instead of something we make happen through us for others. We walk out of a worship service and say, ‘I didn’t get anything out of it,’ as if its purpose is our edification instead of our worship of God.

Such a consumer mindset only looks at the church in terms of how it caters to specific felt needs. This from a people whose Savior said, ‘[I] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give [my] life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). A Savior who said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last’ (Mark 9:35). A Savior who said, ‘Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant’ (Matt. 20:26). A Savior who said to the Father, ‘Not my will, but yours’ (Luke 22:42). Yet a spiritual narcissism has invaded our thinking to the point that the individual needs and desires of the believer have become the center of attention.”

And that got me thinking about the “typical” worship gathering that happens on a Sunday morning.  The “typical” worship gathering is only truly around 50% about celebrating God.  The other 50% is about teaching people from the Bible.  It’s about education in the subject of God and following Him, not celebration of God.  In looking at it this way, the purpose for a worship gathering has been watered down and given multiple purposes when it should only have one.  God is being cheated and people are being cheated opportunities to share how God has revealed Himself to them during the week which would then cause even greater worship by those gathered.

It is who He is and our experience of Him that should drive us to celebrate Him in worship.  True worship emanates from intimacy and encounter.  Seeing Him and His presence and activity should excite us to such a point that we cannot help but celebrate Him through worship.

When a group of believers (a church) gathers together in Jesus’ name for the expressed purpose of worship, each voice matters.  That means the experiences and heart that are behind that voice.  In order for the worship to be as deep and rich as is possible, two things, and two things only, must be the focus of this time: God and how He has revealed Himself to His people.

As I have considered this, what if celebrating God was, once again, the sole purpose of the gathering and a teaching time was done afterwards?  What if, for one hour, the people gathered to celebrate who God is, share how He has revealed Himself to them during the past week, and then celebrate that?  That would make people take notice throughout their week of how God has revealed Himself.  They would need to be intentionally looking for Him.  That means that they would need to be continuously tuned into God and who He is during the week so that they are able to come and help us celebrate Him.  It would mean that each worship gathering would be different because we would be celebrating different things each week, depending on what God had done that previous week.

Then, after say a 15 minute break because I’m sure there would be those who wouldn’t want to stay more than 60 minutes and they could leave at this time without disrupting anything, there would be a 20-30 minute teaching (sermon) time.  So, all told, if a worship gathering began at 10:30AM, it would wrap up anywhere from 12:05-12:15.

I know that, to some, this probably sounds radical, but what is the purpose of worship?  Is it to celebrate God, who He is and what He is currently doing, or is it about us listening to someone teaching?  Teaching is important, don’t get me wrong, but worship is about celebration of God, which is focused on Him, not education, which is primarily focused on us.

Adding something additional, no matter how good and important, to the purpose of worship is taking away from celebrating God and is shortchanging Him.

I now have possibilities swirling in my head.

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A Misapplication

To many Christians, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 is a well-known passage.  “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which you have from God, and you are not your own?  For you have been bought with a price.  So then, glorify God in your body.”

The common application and use of this passage is to inform us what is or is not an acceptable use of a person’s physical body.  These two verses have been used as proof that a Christian should not get body modifications such as tattoos and piercings (though I’ve always wondered why those we are of this position have no problem with a woman getting her ears pierced.  Isn’t that also a “body modification?”  But I digress.).  The Today’s New International Version of the Bible has even gone so far as to change words in the original language in order to match and support this application.

The problem with this application is that it is not what Paul is saying whatsoever.  He is not calling a person’s physical body the temple of the Holy Spirit.  In the Greek, the pronoun is plural, while body is singular.  The main problem in the church at Corinth was disunity and warring factions.  It is a fractured church.  Paul, at different times leading up to these words in these two verses, combines the plural pronoun with singular nouns such as body and temple and building and land.

Paul is attempting to convey and convince these Corinthian believers that their disunity and fractured existence is actually diminishing and taking away from something special that occurs when they are living in unity.  It is actually taking away from their collective identity.  Each one of them is a building block, which, when put together, becomes the temple.  One block does not equal the temple just like one 2’x4′ or one window or one door doesn’t equal a house.  That’s why it is so important for them to be united.  Otherwise, that temple becomes unsafe and the glory of God is unable to dwell in it.  If you wouldn’t live in an unsafe building, why would we expect God’s Spirit to live in one?

I believe that when Paul was writing these words, he had in his mind the original temple which Solomon built.  We are told that when that temple was completed and dedicated to God, God’s shekinah glory came to rest in it.  It was evident to those who were there that day.  So, Paul saw the collective gathering of Christians, the church, as the new temple where God’s Spirit and glory would now dwell.  That is why he is so adamant about how they view and treat each other.  Each one of them is a building block, an important part of that new temple of God.  It is their dismissing the importance of their unity which Paul states is the reason why some of them have been partaking of the Lord’s Supper unworthily.

The reason I have revisited this topic is because of my study for this Sunday’s sermon.  From Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:19-20 and Paul’s in the above passage, there is something extra special and supernatural that happens when we come together in unity and worship, which does not happen when we are apart or fractured.

I have had people tell me that they can worship on their own and not join together with other Christians in order to do so.  And I agree with them, BUT, that extra special and supernatural thing does not happen.  It is not possible because it is only one and not more.  That means that gathering for worship is important and crucial because a situation is created and the presence of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God’s glory shows up in a way that is reserved only for these types of gatherings.

Transformation, not Information

The goal of the church is not information but, rather, transformation.

This is not to say that information isn’t important, because it is, but information does not change us unless it is put to use in actual situations.  As my Greek professor in college told us, “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it!”  Information that we retain best is that which we use in real situations.  It is reality that much of what we learned in school we no longer remember because we haven’t used it in our lives.

I remember one day about 4 years ago.  I was sitting at the dinner table.  My youngest daughter (a high school sophomore at the time) was also sitting at the table doing her math homework.  She looked up from her book at me and said, “Dad, our math teacher told us today that what we were learning today was important because we would use it in life.  Is this true?”  At that point, she slid her textbook over to me.  I took a look at the page, looked up at her, and said, “Honey, not only have I never used this in life, I have no idea what this even is.”

Information learned in a vacuum and which stays in that vacuum is lost and eventually pointless.  This is not the goal of the church, yet many times the way the church has structured what it does, this becomes the ipso defacto goal.  The common structures of the church are geared toward communicating information in a vacuum and then hoping that the one receiving the information will, first, remember it, second, conceive of ways to apply it in order to be transformed by it, and third, actually carry through on it.  It’s no better than a farmer throwing seed into the wind hoping that the field will be planted.

The true goal of the church is transformation.  This transformation has two different aspects to it.  First, there is the aspect of having a person literally transformed from the old into the new (2 Corinthians 5:17). This is the supernatural and immediate work that God does when a person believes in Christ which then brings that person into adoption into the family of God as a son or daughter of God.  Immediately, at this point, God sends forth the Spirit of His Son into that person’s heart as the Spirit cries, “Abba, Father.” (Galatians 4:4-7)  So, the church must have the goal of leading people to belief in Christ by introducing them to Him and sharing what God has done through Him.

The second aspect of transformation is now assisting these people in realizing their new identity and nature.  This part does not mean that these people are transformed into something they are not already.  That work has already been done.  What it means is that we help people realize the reality of this transformation which is done through relationships and real-life situations.  It is not accomplished in a vacuum.

One does not learn that he is truly loving in his new nature just by taking a class or even role-playing situations.  It is done through experiencing the nitty-gritty situations and encounters found in life and relationships.  He realizes his new nature by returning love to a person who has just acted unloving in some fashion toward him.  When a person becomes a new creation in Christ, has had his old nature crucified with Christ (meaning God killed it; it’s dead), and now has as his new nature, Christ, this is how God knows us.  This is how He sees us.  This is what He knows our true identity to be.  So, He now gives us real life situations as opportunities to experience what He has already placed within us.

The church needs to be structured in such a way that people are able to experience their new found identity with all of the characteristics of that new nature in, first, a safe environment and then, second, out in an “unfriendly” environment.

In a sports metaphor, it’s the difference between practice performance and game performance.  It has often been said that the speed of the game in practice does not match the speed of the actually game.  That is very true.  Practice is very important, but the skills practiced must be translated to the field/court/diamond.  Otherwise, it’s just a waste of time.

Unfortunately, it is far too common that the church isn’t even structured in such a way to allow for practice, let alone the actual real life “game.”  It is more common for the church to be structured in such a way that it is the “position meetings” which are emphasized, meetings where the game plan for the upcoming game, skills needing improvement, and actions that must cease are discussed.  The church then hopes that each person in that meeting would somehow take what was discussed and figure out how to use it in order to have a fuller and deeper realization and experience of their true identity and nature in Christ.

This is the principle undergirding my goals for 2015: not information, but transformation and realization.

My focus for 2015

I have been led to center 2015 around a passage familiar to many Christians.  It is from Paul’s letter to the believers in the city of Philippi.  He wrote that he wanted to “know [Christ] and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, sharing the likeness of His death, if in some way [he] may attain unto the resurrection which is from death.” (Translation mine & [pronouns changed from first to third person])

It is my desire is that the experiences God allows me to have in 2015 would take me deeper in that awesome power that was at work in Christ’s resurrection.  What’s exciting to realize is that, from his words in Ephesians 1, Paul says that this power which energized Christ’s resurrection, that power which surpasses greatness, has been made to work unto and toward and in those who have believed the message of Christ.  So, the power is already there which is exciting, but I long to experience a deeper level of that power this year.  I long to see God do powerful things that just blow me away, things around me, toward me, and in and through me.

It is my desire that the experiences God allows me to have in 2015 would give me a deeper appreciation for Christ’s own experience while on this earth.  It is my desire that God gives me a deeper understanding and experience of what it means to have been “crucified with Christ,” (Galatians 2:19) since I have been joined at the hip with Christ in His death and have had my old nature crucified alongside of Him.  That means having a deeper experience of the new nature which is mine because the Spirit of God’s Son, when I believed, was sent forth into my heart (Galatians 4:6).  And I view this as a type of resurrection since Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “yet no longer do I live, but Christ lives in me; and now that which I live in flesh, I live by faith, that of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

So, here’s looking forward to year of experiences that will take me deeper in experience of what I have been given through and by Christ.

One thing I do know; with God, it is rarely a dull ride!