With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #21.
Of all the 52 churches we visited, this one deviated the most from current church practices: the shofar to start the service, teaching that included interaction, truly worshiping in God’s presence, and enjoying extended community afterwards.
I suspect this version of church is more in line with what the early church practiced when they met together, spurring each other on and encouraging one another (see Hebrews 10:24-25).
This church had a unique service, which is sad, because it should be normal.
The song said, “We lift up our hands.” Except for my wife, no one else in the church service moved, not even me. It seemed disingenuous to only raise my hands when the song told me to. Shouldn’t I have already been doing that?
We all sang the words, but we failed to do what our words declared. I wondered what God thought about our supposed worship; we said one thing but did another.
I was still agitated by our disconnected praise to God when another song declared “down on my knees.” No one knelt. Why did we profess we were doing something we refused to do?
Raising our hands to God is a sign of adoration, while kneeling before him depicts reverence. Our worship of the Almighty was half-hearted, claiming one thing with our words but then denying them through inaction. We were lying to God.
Our third strike came at the end of the service when we sang, “I surrender all.” I thought I meant it but wondered if I really did. After all, I didn’t actually lift up my hands when I said I was or literally kneel when I claimed that in song, so was my surrender in words only? Was I really surrendering all to God or was I holding back, only surrendering in part? Did I again lie to my Father in heaven?
May I be like David, who says he will “live what I sing every day.”
What about the other 200 people present? They lied to God about raising their hands and about genuflecting. Was there any reason to suspect their claim of surrender was genuine?
Even more convicting, did they bother to consider the words they sang? That might be a worse affront to God, to mouth the words with unthinking routine, to simulate worship when their mind was elsewhere.
That might be an even bigger lie and a rut I fall into too often.
God, forgive us for lying to you in song; grant us focus when we sing.
Last week I wrote about Tamar and her lustful half-brother who raped her. I spent three weeks reading and re-reading this story, meditating on it and trying to make sense of it. Despite that, five perplexing verses still mystify me. Surely there’s some historical context I don’t comprehend, still I’m left with the feeling there’s more to this story. Consider:
- “Amnon became so obsessed with his sister Tamar that he made himself ill. She was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her,” (2 Samuel 13:2). First, she’s his sister. Second, what difference does it make if she’s a virgin; it’s still wrong? Third, what acceptable thing could he do if she wasn’t?
- When solicited, Tamar said, “‘Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you,’” (2 Samuel 13:13). Again, they’re brother and sister; they can’t get married. Is this a ploy to escape or is she open to marriage?
- After he raped her, “Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her,” (2 Samuel 13:15). True love cannot immediately turn to intense hate, perhaps lust can, but not love.
- Tamar’s response: “‘No!’ she said to him. ‘Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me,’” (2 Samuel 13:16). After he rapes her, she wants to stay with him. Why? Is she trying to make the best of a bad situation?
- “Her brother Absalom said to her, ‘Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you?’” (2 Samuel 13:20) Absalom doesn’t ask, “What happened?” He assumes the perpetrator is Amnon. If he suspected Amnon’s intent, why didn’t he protect his sister?
Like these five verses, the Bible contains many passages that perplex us. We need to accept that we can’t comprehend all of the Bible’s nuances and embrace what we can understand; that should keep us busy the rest of our life.
With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #20.
Although I’m uncomfortable in situations where language differences make conversation hard, if not impossible, something about this church draws me. Despite not knowing Mandarin, I want to return. My language limitation did not limit my worship of God. He was present and his presence enthralled me.
Experiencing the singing in Mandarin provided a time of deep worship. I wonder if this is unique to Mandarin or this congregation – or if perhaps hearing God worshiped in any language would affect me the same way.
If I do return, I’ll first ask friends to pray I’ll be able to supernaturally understand the message. It seems like a big, bold request to make, but God can do that, of this I’m confident. And if he doesn’t, it will still be a wonderful time because our focus will be on him regardless of the language we use.
When visiting a church with family, the minister prayed, “God you know we need a new building.”
I recoiled at his claim. They don’t need a new building; they merely want one. There’s a difference between needs and wants, something we must distinguish.
What this church needs is to throw aside assumption. They need to look at their situation with a creative eye, not follow what other churches do and society expects. They need to read the books When Not to Build and When not to Borrow. Seriously.
One of the things I like about this church is that they rent space on Sunday and aren’t shackled by an expensive building that sucks away mass amounts of money and is underused most of the week. I don’t want to attend a church that will assume a million-dollar debt just to have a nice place to meet on Sunday.
Instead, what if they would commit the same fervor and funds to help those in need or send missionaries around the world? That would be a holistic cause, a righteous stewardship of money. I could go to a church that thought like that; I could support a church that acted like that.
If this church builds a new facility, I doubt I’ll ever go there again. I want to attend a church committed on making a difference in the world around it. We already have too many churches housed in grand edifices or erecting self-serving monuments to their view of success.
This church doesn’t need a new building; what they need is a new perspective, God’s perspective.
The story of Tamar is a tragic one. The beautiful daughter of King David caught the eye of her half-brother, Amnon, who lusted for her. At the advice of his cousin, Amnon feigned illness and manipulated Tamar into his bedroom.
Once alone, he grabbed and solicited her. Three times Tamar refused. When her pleading wasn’t enough to stop him, she talked about the implications: her disgrace and him appearing as foolish and wicked. In desperation, she even suggested they ask dad for his permission to marry. But Amnon refused to listen to her. He raped her.
Then his supposed love for Tamar immediately turned to an even more intense hate. When he told her to leave, Tamar refused, saying that him kicking her out would be an even greater insult. Amnon had her forcibly removed from his presence.
Tamar then went to live with Absalom, her full-brother, in desolation.
(Absalom later killed Amnon because of what he did to Tamar. Absalom also named one of his daughters Tamar, perhaps in honor of his sister.)
With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #19.
We’ve visited many small churches on our journey. Except for this one, all these tiny congregations desperately desired to grow numerically. Although this is partly for survival (a church needs to maintain a core base of people to function and pay their bills), striving to be larger buys into society’s unshakable conviction that bigger is better.
However, evaluating the significance of a church based on their size is man’s perspective, whereas God judges success by a different standard. This pastor is one man who truly understands this. His focus is on growing the kingdom of God, not his congregation. His goal is to help all of Jesus’ church, not just one branch. We need more ministers and more churches with this perspective.
What is it to worship God? Ask different people and receive different answers. To worship God is to:
- Go to church
- Sing hymns
- Give money
- Serve in some area
These are all facets of worship, but there’s more. Worship is as much attitude as action. To worship God is also to love him and be devoted to him; to show him respect and adoration; to honor and admire him. It’s one thing to go to church to “worship” God for an hour on Sunday, but do we really show him our love, devotion, respect, adoration, honor, and admiration while we’re there? What about the other 167 hours of our life each week?
The Bible talks a lot about worship, about worshiping the God of creation: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Starting with Genesis and all the way through to Revelation, the Bible mentions worship in 162 verses, giving instruction and examples of worship offered to God.
In one of these verses, John tells us to worship God in spirit and in truth. It is imperative; we must do it. While I don’t fully comprehend what it means to worship God in spirit and in truth, it’s something I strive to do as a lifelong pursuit. What I am sure of is that worshiping God in spirit and in truth requires a lot more than spending an hour in church each Sunday.
Today, and every day, may we worship God in spirit and in truth.
What does this mean to you? How do you worship God?
Abigail is an intelligent and beautiful woman. In contrast, her husband, Nabal, is surly and mean; his servants call him wicked and Abigail confirms his name means fool. Nabal is wealthy, with thousands of livestock.
David and his men protect Nabel’s herdsmen and flocks, anticipating he will appreciate their efforts and one day reward them, but Nabal disrespects David’s messengers, sending them back empty-handed. Roiling with anger, David desires vengeance and prepares to kill Nabal and his men.
When wise Abigail hears what happened, she takes immediate action. She prepares food for David’s army. She assumes responsibility (while professing innocence), wins David over, and stops the massacre.
Nabal is incensed when he learns what Abigail did, has a stroke, and dies. David receives this news with glee, seeing it as God’s vengeance on his behalf. David asks Abigail to marry him and sends for her, but if their union is for love, affection is not mentioned.
Abigail becomes David’s wife. She and David have one son together, named Daniel . There is no other mentions of Abigail in the Bible.
[Read about Abigail, David, and Nabel in 1 Samuel 25.]
With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #18.
We’ve now been to three liturgical services (Church #5, 17, and 18), and I’ve struggled at each one. I’m quite sure God is present, but we don’t connect. I could blame the church, the priest, or tradition, but it’s no one’s fault but my own.
The people arrive silently, worship subtly, and exit quickly. Without interaction, connection, or community, I leave feeling alone and isolated. The ritual and rhythm of Catholic practices intrigue me, but the impersonal nature of their gathering discourages me.
God, may I learn how to connect with you in all settings and circumstances. May my worship be sincere and true, regardless of the style of church service.