Category Archives: Discipleship

Authentic Worship Is Not A Therapy Session

Is worship all about our therapy, to feel good about our problems?  Is the Sunday morning service primarily for focusing on getting rid of our metaphorical burdens and chains?  We approach Sunday mornings as if it is all about “having an experience with God.”  And those experiences all too often (if not every week) turn into us dwelling on how God can free us from our discomfort and pain.  I know that where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom, but there’s gotta be something more to worship than always being about our situations.  I just don’t seem to think worship therapy is what discipleship is all about.  Am I wrong about that?  Honestly, I really would like to know.  It seems all this singing in church is all about us and not about God.

Beginning a sermon series in the Book of Daniel, our pastor referenced “cultural Christians” this Sunday.  Like a “Summer Soldier” or a “Sunshine Patriot” these “cultural Christians” only follow Jesus when it’s easy.  When there is pain in the Christian walk, they do not obey God.  Our pastor said that it is impossible to be a cultural Christian and experience the real victory or the authentic joy of the Lord.  Cultural Christians are about an outward profession of faith, but inwardly they have compromised with the world because they prefer to be at ease.  They are not fooling God.  They are only fooling themselves, and perhaps, their fellow church goers.

My pastor’s sermon got me thinking how church services are often unwittingly geared toward making cultural Christians comfortable in their compromise.  As mentioned above, the worship service focuses on “having an experience with God.”  The songs chosen, the lighting, the use of multi-media, the strategically placed encouraging words, are about how God meets our needs, and is all we need, and can heal our pain.  The music, the congregation, the environment produce an emotional high that lifts the spirits of these cultural Christians so that they feel they can go on with their lives for another week.  Then, after their lives of compromise during the week get them feeling down, and burdened, we’ll do it all again at the next Sunday’s worship service.

The cycle continues, week after week.  No one is experiencing authentic joy or real victory because there really is no true repentance, or true worship.  Inauthentic worship leads to inauthentic experiences.  But, because emotions are emphasized in a feminized church, the authenticity of experiences is judged by how they make us feel.  After focusing on ourselves in worship, instead of God, we gather around people at the altar, in group hugs, maybe with some crying, and we feel that God is in it all because of the way we feel. (And we think that those who question these worship therapy sessions are just judgmental, and quenching the Spirit, because they make us feel bad.)

Some object. “Shouldn’t we want to have experiences with God?”  Or they might say “Isn’t being freed from chains a good thing?”  Of course we should want to encounter God.  Of course being freed from burdens and chains is a good thing.  I know that God does change some people’s lives during Sunday morning services.  I am not challenging the good in experiencing God or in freedom from chains.  But, I submit that those things are merely by-products of authentic worship, and should not be the focus of our worship.  When the priests came to the Temple to worship, they brought a sacrifice.  Sacrifice is what our worship services tend to lack.  Instead of coming to the altar of the Lord with our sacrifices of praise and service to others, we merely offer our petitions for relief from our problems.  Real worship acknowledges God for who he is, not just for what he has done or can do for us.

Discipleship is measured by how we deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus, not by how easy the Christian life is for us.

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I Am Loved So I Must Love

Christs love

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?… For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:35, 38-39

As I live my life with the purpose of knowing God and making him known, I look for opportunities, even if ever so brief, to get people thinking about God.  Today while running I saw an older gentleman ahead of me on the path around my neighborhood.  He was walking briskly, carrying his water bottle.  As I approached him I simply sensed the love of God for him.  When I caught up to him, I said “Good morning” so as not to startle him.  Then I pronounced a blessing on him “May the love of God embrace you today.”  He received it gratefully and returned the blessing.

It was a simple gesture, for sure, but our words have more power than we know.  I felt good about myself.  And, sure a blessing is a nice gesture.  But, actions speak louder than words.  How had I really improved his life?

The very next song on my playlist was “Loved” by Kutless.

The chorus affirms:

I’m loved, by the One who’s seen the corners of my soul, 
I’m loved, by the One who reaches out and calls me home, 
so loved, by the One who chose to give up His life, 
I may never know how deep and how wide, I’m loved.

Because we see through a glass darkly (I Corinthians 13:12, found in the “Love” chapter), we do not fully appreciate just how much God loves us.  Then I began to think, how does God show us that he loves us?  We Christians know in history that love drove Jesus, the incarnate God, to die in our place to take the punishment for our sins.  “But, God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8.  God shows us his love by demonstrating it.

We sense special blessings that give our lives joy.  We, as Christians, attribute those special blessings to God.  But, we live in a physical world and we do not understand all of reality.  Christians can hardly comprehend the unseen spiritual realm, much less the lost.   So how will those who are lost know the love of God?  I came to realize that God most often demonstrates his love through the people in his Church.  How can a dying world know the love of God?  When God’s people show them love while they are yet sinners.

A friend of mine recently asked me what I thought the purpose of the Church is.  I thought about it for a few seconds.  The scriptural passage that came to mind was the one about the Great Commission.  “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”  Matthew 28:19-20.  The Church has not done a very good job of making disciples.  We are good at making shallow Christians with our emotional appeals during Sunday morning “therapy” sessions we call “worship.”  The melodic music and the sweet lyrics generate an emotional response in the seeker that produces a hope for a better life.  But, what happens when the music is done, the benediction is complete, and the service is over?  The emotions dissipate like the effects of a dream.  They go home to the same hunger, financial needs, loneliness.

remember the poorDon’t get me wrong.  Sure, people have emotional needs.  But, they also have intellectual needs.  They need not only feel emotionally good about the love of the Father.  They need to intellectually know it, so when the emotions fade, the truth of God’s love will remain.  We as a Church need to demonstrate the love of the Father more than simply telling people about the love of the Father.  We will do a better job of making disciples by demonstrating love than simply saying “God loves you, be at peace.”  The unloved, the needy, the widow, the orphans have physical needs the we are commanded to meet.  Not through the coercive power of government, (For our welfare system IS NOT CHARITY. It is actually theft.), but through the people of the Church sacrificing of ourselves, going to the least of these, and getting dirty.  That is pure and undefiled religion before God the Father. James 1:27.  That is the first step in making disciples.

“Oh, bless me, lord!
Bless me, lord!”
You know, it’s all I ever hear!
No one aches,
No one hurts,
No one even sheds one tear
But, he cries,
He weeps,
He bleeds,
And he cares for your needs
And you just lay back,
And keep soaking it in
Oh, can’t you see such sin?
’cause he brings people to your door,
And you turn them away
As you smile and say,
“God bless you!
Be at peace!”
And all heaven just weep,
’cause Jesus came to your door,
You left him out on the street.

(This post is also directed to me.  What have I done to help the least of these?  I need to be obedient to the commands of Christ instead of making excuses.  I must have the attitude, no matter how much I’ve given, and sacrificed, that what I have done is not enough and I need to do more.)

The Passion of a Disciple

collegefootballidol2

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
-Luke 14:26

collegefootballidolI don’t know if this photograph is real or photoshopped, but I do know that the situation in our churches make that photograph plausible.  The South is no longer the “Bible Belt.”  It is the College Football Belt.  But, the idolatry of sports (especially college football) pervades the Church across America.  I came to this conclusion back in 2012 when we moved to Warner Robins, Georgia.

Every new Air Force assignment for me requires a move to a new location and that means we have to find a new church wherever we move.  One Sunday in November 2012 we visited a church in Warner Robins.  The song portion of the worship service was typical of what I had seen all over the country: people showing up late, men standing in the sanctuary with their arms crossed or with hands in pockets, women holding coffee cups, hardly anyone singing.

I tried to ignore them. I was there to worship God, but it does put a damper on your attitude of worship when your supposed brothers and sisters do not appear to be as enthusiastic about worshipping Jesus as you are. (I am not saying this in self-righteousness. I am simply describing that the outward posture of the people in that church demonstrated a lack of zeal for worship.)  Anyway, I wanted to worship God.  I was disappointed when the obligatory three songs were over and we were told to be seated.

Then the pastor took the stage.

That’s when the congregation appeared to be more animated.  The silence from the congregation when we sang worship songs was erased by “cat calls,” jeers, whistles, and the random “Roll Tide!” from the crowd.  You see, this Georgia pastor just happened to be a ‘Bama fan, and that Sunday just happened to be the day after Texas A&M defeated Alabama 29-24.  The congregation was giving the pastor quite a ribbing because his team lost.

The pastor then spent 15-20 minutes of his sermon time talking about the game and college football.  Whereas before, the congregation appeared bored and uninterested to be there, they now came alive.

What motivated them?  The Almighty, Infinite God?  No, not hardly.  College football motivated them.  The difference in the congregation was stark.  They had more passion for Saturday afternoons than for Sunday mornings.

And this difference in passions occurred in church no less!  So, perhaps you can understand why I harp on this idolatry in the Church.  I see more “Roll Tides” and “War Eagles” and “Go Dawgs” from Christians in my Facebook newsfeed than I do songs, and hymns, and spiritual songs.

I do not single out anyone to tell them they have a sports idolatry.  I simply speak in general terms to address the issue, hoping people will honestly evaluate themselves.  I get a lot of push-back, though.  No one seems to have a problem, yet nothing changes in the Church.  I love my brothers and sisters.  I know that most of them are sincere in their faith and do not want to worship idols.  I have to trust that they are being honest with themselves and with God.

collegefootballreligionMeanwhile, my Facebook newsfeed continues to be filled with people’s sports passions.

In the Scripture above, Jesus spoke to a multitude of people about the cost of discipleship.  Being a disciple of Jesus means that we are to be so devoted to Him that our passion for other things is to seem like hatred in comparison.  Discipleship requires sacrifice, following Jesus, laying down our lives, our passions for the sake of the Gospel.

The disciple of Jesus demonstrates his passion by bearing his cross.  As disciples of Christ, perhaps one of the things we need to nail to the cross is our passion for college football.