On the Plains of Moab Blog
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April 1, 2016, 7:22 PM

From the April 2016 Newsletter

Let me tell you an interesting, true story told by Edith Bajema in her book on worship, “A Family Affair.” She begins, “years ago while visiting in Solvang, California, our family went to a small Presbyterian church in the community. We were just entering the front doors when we heard the whirring, choppy sounds of a helicopter approaching. Looking up, we saw several helicopters circle above the church and land in a nearby field.

As we watched, ten or fifteen men got out – followed by the President and First Lady of the United States. They walked past us into the church, smiling and shaking hands. We followed in a daze.

Every eye was riveted to the pew in which the President sat. Every ear listened to the sermon with speculation as to what the President thought of it. We were keenly aware of his presence during the singing, during the responsive reading, during the time when everybody turned around to shake hands with neighbors.

I remember little of that worship service, but I will always carry with me this:  the [clear] awareness of the presence of the President of the United States.”

Surely, having the President and First Lady in your presence is a thrilling experience, but the point of Mrs. Bajema’s story is that Christians are in the presence of greatness every Sunday when they gather for worship. When Jesus spoke about the Church, he said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20). When we gather together week after week, we do have a very distinguished guest among us and He is greater than the President of the United States. In fact, he is greater than all 43 of ’em put together! (N.B. Grover Cleveland, served as our 22nd and 24th President).

The King and Creator of the universe is among us in our worship service today. Do we ever wonder during the service, “What’s He thinking about the sermon?” “What does He think of our prayers?” “Do you think He’s moved by our singing?” How about this one: “Do you think He believed my half-hearted response in the liturgy?”

The Third Commandment says, “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name” (Exodus 20:7). We get rightly upset by the extensive use of profanity in movies and even in public discourse. We rightly believe God is dishonored by using His name as a cuss word (no example necessary!) or an expression of surprise (Oh, my God!). But then, we come into the sanctuary on Sunday mornings, sit down and tune out, not realizing that we too are just as guilty of breaking the Third Commandment!

The Puritan writer, Thomas Watson expressed it well, he said that we violate this commandment “[w]hen we worship [God] with our lips, but not with our hearts. God calls for the heart, [cf. Prov.23:26] … When we seem to worship God, but withdraw our heart from him, we take his name in vain.”

We misuse the Lord’s name when we sit in a worship service and just go through the motions, mouthing words mindlessly. His name has become an empty shell. Think for a moment of what you do during church. What are you usually thinking about on Sunday mornings as you sit there? Are you just bravely bearing it with patience? Are you carrying on a conversation with a “neighbor” during the service? Passing notes, doodling? What’s your body language saying? Are you looking wistfully out the window?

In my days as a state employee, I attended a lot of meaningless conferences. I developed this pensive stare, so that it looked as if I was totally absorbed in what the speaker was saying. My co-workers thought I was the most devoted person on the payroll! My gaze was so penetrating at conferences, I was known as the 5th man on Mount Rushmore. In reality, I was miles away.

Is this what we do when we come to church? Are we just faking it? Are we sneaking glances at our watch (i.e. the Baptist salute), eager for 12:15? If that’s the case, we are guilty of taking the Lord’s Name in vain!

Maybe the problem is that we’re a little unclear as to what worship means. Maybe we practice “fuzzy” worship? Perhaps the real problem with our worship is that it’s far too passive. We treat worship as if it were a noun, when in reality, it’s a verb!

In the Bible, there are generally two ideas at work in the concept of worship. The first idea is that of bowing down in honor to one who is superior. It’s recognition of greatness in the one we’re honoring while at the same time, acknowledging our own smallness. But there’s another important idea involved in worship. It’s that of laboring or serving. Worship is a job! It’s hard work! Now if worship involves our bowing down and our hard work, then if a particular worship service is “dead,” we have no one to blame but ourselves! Not the preacher, alone.  Not the choir, alone. Not the choir director, alone. Not the praise band, alone. It’s you and me!

Too often, I think, worship becomes a spectator event. We go to church in much the same mindset that we would go to the theater, or even a sports event. We think that we’re supposed to be entertained. Those who are running the “show” have the responsibility to “feed” us and ensure that we’ve gotten our money’s worth. Have you ever heard someone say, “I didn’t get anything out of the service this morning,” or “That sermon didn’t speak to me,” or “Boy, the music was sure flat today.” The question you should be asking after a worship service is NOT, “What did I get out of it?” But, “How did I do in my worship today?” “How was my serve?”

C.S. Lewis, that great part-time theologian from Cambridge and Oxford, wrote one of his many books on the Psalms. In his Reflections on the Psalms, Lewis wrote a line that has helped me immensely in my thinking on worship. I hope that it will be as much help to you. He said, in essence, that our weekly worship services are merely practice sessions for the big dance in heaven. We are getting prepared on this side of glory for the heavenly throne room. So, if you’re having a bad Sunday, not to worry, there’s always practice next week. Your worship doesn’t have to be perfect Sunday after Sunday, but still give it your best. The old cliché, “practice makes perfect,” sure applies here.

Remember. Always remember, somebody greater than the President of the United States is here among us when we gather for worship.

Coram Deo,

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