Monday, August 17, 2009

Reverent or relevent?

Isn't it great that we've advanced in our church culture so much that we're not so stuffy about how we act in church? Forget the church of our parents and grandparents - I mean COME ON. Get with the times, man. You've got to be now, today, cutting edge, and (the buzz word today) relevent. Okay, opening sarcasm is finished.
The question is: are we still reverent? Do we still show respect while we are in the sanctuary? It is called a sanctuary no matter what it looks like. The root of that word is the Latin sanctus, which means "holy". Do we feel like we are in a holy place?
First, let's make a distinction between appearance and behavior. I'm not faulting any church for looking modern or contemporary. I'm glad we do not take the puritanical approach that being uncomfortable is to be equated with holiness. We are fortunate that we have air-conditioning, heat, comfortable pews or chairs; and that's just the basics. I won't even get into all the high-tech, state-of-the-art media, etc. that many churches have. Different discussion. And what about dress code? I'm glad I can wear jeans and a t-shirt and sneakers if I want. I think it's great to see people with piercings, tattoos, crazy hair, and the variety of slices of society coming into church. A church that is welcoming to the full spectrum of people is doing the right thing. So don't misunderstand me on those points.
Where I think we lose it is on how we behave in church. Do we need to walk in with our Starbucks? Is it not enough that churches provide coffee and snacks in the lobby or some room? We have to bring it in the sanctuary and act like we are at a baseball game. Although that does explain why many church-goers are merely spectators - but that's another subject also.
The cell phones. Come on people. We show more respect in a movie theater than we do in church. Seriously. A movie theater makes an effort to play the humorous clip to instruct the audience to be quiet and turn off their phones so that everyone has an enjoyable experience. What about experiencing the presence of God? Is that important? Are we afraid to ask people to turn their phones off for the next ninety minutes because we might offend their personal freedoms? And who are you getting a call from on Sunday morning anyway? Are you a brain surgeon on-call? Then set it to vibrate. Do you have friends who don't go to church on Sunday? That's fine, in fact that's great: I hope you have some non-Christian friends. Tell them you go to church Sunday morning (or whatever day you go - I realize alternative days are becoming popular). Texting? Don't even get me started. Just lump it in with having your phone ring during service. Let me make it plain: it is rude, disrespectful, irreverent, and shows a blatant disregard for the presence of God and His holiness. To go to church is to worship the Lord and focus on Him. When you are involved with your phone or whatever else, you are focusing on you. You don't need to get that phone call during church. You are not that important. If you think you are, then the wrong person is on the throne.
"But I meant to turn it off, I just forgot" you say? How about not bringing your phone to church at all? Inconceivable? Then how about having the ushers frisk everybody on their way into the sanctuary and taking everyone's tech junk, and only giving it back when the service is over? Simply hire some airport security and give them usher badges.
It's all of these careless actions together that do not paint a pretty picture of our view of God and His presence. Casual dress and modern conveniences are one thing; acting like you're at a coffee shop in the mall is another. Jesus made a whip and chased out money changers in the temple and knocked over their tables of doves and other religious items. I think if Jesus were here in the flesh today, He would do the same thing with our coffee shops, book stores, and all the Christian paraphernalia that is so rampant in our churches today.
I go to church to worship the Lord, not to be entertained or be pampered like I'm at a day spa. Maybe churches mean well when they provide over-the-top amenities, but it's back-firing. It sends the wrong signal about Christianity and teaches people an erroneous view of God. Whatever happened to fear and trembling? Awe? Bowing in reverence? "Take off your sandals, Moses, for you are standing on holy ground"?
We may be rightfully free from the bondage of religious "works", but God is just as holy as He has always been - He doesn't change. While it is good that we've grown to realize that trying to earn God's approval by performing religious duties to minute perfection is wrong, it is just as wrong to believe that we can appoach His throne with a non-chalant carelessness. God is King. The King of kings. You don't appoach a king with a latte in one hand, your laptop in the other your blue tooth attached to your head, and walk up and say,"Yo, whatup, dog?"
Let's bring back the spirit of holiness to church. I don't mean the kind of so-called "holiness" that worries about hair length, make-up, clothes, and other petty things. The spirit of holiness refers to an attitude, a mindset. We need to have a healthy understanding of things that are sacred. Having a proper perspective of our relationship with a Holy God will enhance our walk with Him. Let us all strive to bring back reverence to the house of the Lord.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Newsflash: Jesus Not into Politics - Prefers People

What would Jesus say about the Health Care Reform issue? I think He would stoop down and write in the dirt. There are higher priorities in the Kingdom of God. If you have a home and food to eat, be content. Focus on sharing the love of Jesus to a hurting world. Go on a missions trip and get some fresh perspective. Let's not get caught up on majoring in the minors.
I agree we as Christians need to be vigilant of things going on wherever we live. There are issues where our voice needs to be heard. I'm not suggesting we should stick our head in the sand about decisions our government is making that will affect us in some way. But I am suggesting that sometimes we get so caught up in getting involved with political things, that we inadvertently stick our head in the sand to the world we're supposed to be reaching. People aren't going to be drawn to the Lord by our rants and raves and bumper stickers on issues. They'll know we are Christians by our love (sing it with me).

Trust me, I've been guilty of this common fallacy in Christianity myself. But when I finally turned off Rush, Hannity, O'Reilly, or even my favorite preacher, and turned my eyes upon Jesus, the things of this world became strangely dim. That's how it's supposed to be.
The homeless person doesn't have health care either way. He's more interested in finding a hot meal, or a place to sleep (please don't assume that all of them just want drugs or alcohol). They would be more appreciative of you taking time to look them in the eyes and hold their dirty hands and treat them with respect and dignity, than they would about your position on the latest legislation. Or for that matter, your well-off boss whose family is falling apart would appreciate your prayers more than your well-thought-out debate methods.
I'm afraid that we want American Christianity to be seen as a political juggernaut. We should be seen as a tree full of the fruit of the spirit. You know: love, joy, patience, etc. (see Galatians 5:22). Let's throw the government a curve ball: let's say, "who cares" and move on with life - our really good, spoiled-rotten life in America. Let's show love to people who are sometimes called our enemy. That'll make their heads spin.
The Jews wanted the Messiah to be a political giant who would come in great power and "stick it" to their oppressors and enemies. He didn't come that way, he came as a baby, born in a barn, son of a carpenter. I don't think we learned the lesson yet. If we're still waiting for that perfect, "Christian" president, congress, judiciary: forget it. It ain't gonna happen. We don't need to look for a Christian hero. WE'VE ALREADY GOT ONE - his name is Jesus.

When you get to the point where you can say, "I don't care who is president, which party is in power, or what my local public school allows: I'm going to spend my time worshipping the Lord, and bringing glory to Him by sharing His love", then you will be an effective Christian. Until then, you are just going to be an angry Christian, mad at everybody and everything. And people will see that, and they won't even want to talk to you or listen to you.

"When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field'." Matthew 9:36

Neil Coates
Nashville, TN