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Sunday, May 17, 2015

True Worshippers ... Aren't Late

I'm sure I'm going to get a backlash for writing this.  Let me just acknowledge that up front.  I'm going to call out something so central to Christianity in our culture that someone will have to berate me for it.  "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."  Or, "Who are you to judge?"  "Judge not, lest you be judged."  Yes, I will get those emails for today's blog.  I fully expect to get some that will remind me that it's better to get there late than not at all.  But I am not persuaded.  After all, it is my blog.

Jesus said, "You Samaritans worship what you do not know ... Yet a time is coming ... when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.'  (John 4:22-23)

Maybe I'm taking it a bit out of context here, but what kind of worshipers do you suppose Jesus had in mind here?  What does it mean to worship "in spirit and in truth?"  Does our heavenly Father really seek worshipers at all?  And if He does, what is it about worship that particularly pleases Him? 

Psalm 99 (1-9) sets the tone for me.  "The Lord reigns, let the nations tremble ... let the earth shake.  Great is the Lord ... He is holy.  The King is mighty ... Exalt the Lord our God and worship at His footstool; He is holy.  Exalt the Lord our God and worship at His holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy."  And that tone is set in the beginning of the Bible and it continues to the end of the Bible.  Just about every single book of the Bible seems to give me clear direction on how I'm supposed to regard the Lord, my God. 

But it's not a tone that we seem to embrace in our regular weekly worship of the Lord.  It happens in my church.  It happens in many churches.  The music starts, the worship begins --- and people stroll in.  They saunter in, quite casually.  In many American churches they have their coffee in hand, or maybe a cold drink. 

Others around them are worshiping the Lord, but they interrupt their worship to greet their friends and give them a hug.  Or they interrupt the worship to get the seat that they want.  I'm truly not judging them.  But for me, there is something going on. 

I HAVE AN APPOINTMENT WITH THE KING!  How could I consider being late?  It's an ordained time, when people whom God has called to lead me are prepared and ready to take me to a fresh encounter with my Savior.  Honestly, it feels disrespectful not to be early. 

If I have concert tickets or tickets to a sports game or a play, I always get there early.  If we're going to a movie, we always make sure we're there in plenty of time to get our popcorn and get seated during the previews.  Is not the Lord as important as the latest movie or sports game? 

I said that the tone is set in the Bible.  Listen to how it ends.  Look at those worshipers Jesus said the Father is looking for.  "Day and night they never stop saying, 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty.'  Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne ... the twenty-four elders fall down before Him ... They lay their crowns before the throne and say, 'You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor ...'"  (Revelation 4:8-11)

Are these the kind of worshipers that you sit beside in your church?  My wife and I, we make it a habit to get to the church on time.  We're usually seated before the music starts playing.  Our church even starts with a song before the worship - and displays a stop watch, counting down the time until the worship will begin.  Usually this is to empty seats.  We often remark how empty the church is.  But then it fills up.  Somehow, between the time that the worship begins and the time that the sermon begins, the 'big house' fills up. 

But was God really honored?  Did He feel the love, while the worship leaders sang to empty seats and the worshipers getting their coffee, dropping their kids a their Sunday school classes, and greeting their friends? 

I want to stop people and ask them, "Do you know who God is?"  I'm teaching a class at my church right now and we recently talked about people whose God is too small.  I suspect that may be the God that most of us are worshiping.  For if we realized His true magnitude, could we dare not be in our seats and ready to give Him praise at the appointed hour?

I love my church and I love its people.  I love my fellow Christians in other churches.  But seriously folks, we are getting this wrong.  Is it possible that we are not the worshipers that our Father wants, but rather that He's being relegated to the worship we want? 

If you're a pastor or worship leader, please consider this an exhortation to confront the bad behavior that you see in your people.  (And I know that you see it!)  Don't be afraid to offend them.  They will be truly offended if God discards them because they never really knew Him.  Don't be afraid to offend them, when they are offensive to Him. 

I'm not saying you have to stop the service and rebuke the late comers.  But maybe you could preach on the subject, and then announce that "from now on," the doors will be closed when worship begins and people can only be seated late during the transitions (from worship to teaching, etc.). 

I remember attending Kensington Community Church in Troy, Michigan many years ago.  That's exactly what they did.  There were television monitors in the lobby and late comers could watch the worship on the monitors, waiting for a chance to join them.  You were only late once, and you realized you were missing out on something important.

I also remember worshipping at Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago.  I was amazed to see people lining up at the locked doors to the worship center.  When the doors opened, it was like a contact sport to see who could claim the seats down front.  (It was very exciting to imagine people that interested in declaring God's greatness!)

But alas, I don't attend those churches.  I attend my church and your church, and the one around the corner.  I attend that church that wants to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable, like they matter.  But I worry that in the process, we make God feel the opposite.

Can we as true worshipers, knowing the one true God, ever afford to be late?

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