Posts Tagged With: corporate worship

God Is With Us Always: IV. Sacred Space, Sacred Time

“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Solomon dedicates the temple. By James Tissot (1836-1902), public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Our previous post reminded us that God is everywhere and that we can worship Him everywhere. Some people find locations that have strong spiritual significance in their lives, which become “thin spaces” where they encounter God in a powerful way.

Jacob’s thin space, where he had a dream in which God promised to be with him throughout his journey, eventually became a prominent place of worship for his descendants, Bethel (Hebrew for “the house of God”). We can indeed meet God anywhere, but sometimes God’s people are inspired to set a sacred space apart specifically to worship Him.

Centuries later, one of Jacob’s descendants, King Solomon, built a temple in Jerusalem. This became the place to worship God. The Scripture verse above is part of the prayer he said while dedicating the temple.

Solomon acknowledged that his building, no matter how grandiose it was, could not contain God. The Lord is bigger than the universe. If the universe cannot contain Him, neither can a building that was only about 90 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 45 feet high.

Artist’s rendering of ancient Jerusalem with the temple. Public domain, from the Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons.

So, why would God have commanded Solomon to build a temple? Why would He want us to gather in churches now? Should we have church buildings?

First of all, we need to worship together:

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23–25).

The Christian life is best lived in community. When life gets difficult and the entire world seems to be turning against the believer, we need each other. We need to stimulate one another to love and good deeds; we need to be challenged; we need to be encouraged. We need reminders that our God is real. Without fellowship—without recognizing that my God is the same God my brothers and sisters in Christ worship—I can easily begin to worship a figment of my imagination, a god that I have created in my own image.

We need each other. We need sacred time and sacred space to worship together. Ideally, a church building will be a sacred space that God’s people have set apart to remind ourselves that He is always present. We can indeed worship God anywhere, but those who have met God in a church setting will be more likely to seek His presence outside church.

It will be a sacred space, set apart specifically for His worship. A sad feature of much modern worship is the way it can resemble a concert or a lecture. Many churches, in an attempt to seem “relevant” to the culture, replace the altar with a stage. The worship band is front and center. The pastor takes the microphone and takes center stage after the lead singer is finished. They are the stars. Other churches are set up to look like a lecture hall, well-suited for an introductory psychology course in college. One is a concert where the audience is entertained; the other is a lecture where the audience is instructed and informed. A person is the center of attention. There is no cross, no altar. The minister has claimed the central focus that should belong to God alone.

Interior of St. Patrick’s Church, a small church in Kickapoo, IL. A church does not have to be elaborate to be a sacred space to worship God. Photo by Arthur Greenberg, Environmental Protection Agency. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

I would encourage all pastors and worship leaders to look at their worship space and ask, “Is God really the center of attention?” Let them pray like John the Baptist: “He must increase, and I must decrease” (John 3:30). Let that sacred space be a reminder that we worship a God Whose glory far exceeds all that we can imagine, One Who is worthy of all our attention.

We need sacred time as well. Yes, we can and should worship God anytime—not only on Sunday morning. In the Old Testament, God told the Israelites to hold several “holy convocations.” Some were annual, including the first and last days of Passover, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), Rosh Hashanah (the Feast of Trumpets), and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). However, every Sabbath was also a holy convocation. While the Sabbath was a day of rest, it was also a time for God’s people to gather together.

God’s children still need space and time. Corporate worship serves several important purposes for our daily lives:

First, it reminds us that God is holy. He is not to be taken lightly but deserves all of our devotion.

Second, it reminds us that all of our lives belong to Him. My worship with my brothers and sisters in Christ, in the house of the Lord, begins my week. It also propels my life for the rest of the week. It sets the tone for my everyday life.

Third, it reminds us that everything else belongs to God as well. A church building is sacred because God’s people have set it apart for His worship. God’s children can set aside other parts of our world as holy ground.

Your living room, including its television, can be holy ground. Your computer can be holy ground. Your desk at work can be holy ground; even if you cannot pray or read your Bible there, you can do your work “as unto the Lord.”

Let our daily walk with Jesus be grounded in worship on holy ground with His people in such a way that our worship in church guides our lives throughout the week.

How has holy ground and holy time shaped your daily walk with Jesus? Feel free to share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Majestic Attributes, Omnipresence | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Holy Week and Social Distance

Get ready for the strangest Holy Week we may have ever seen.

Easter is one of the two biggest days of the year for attendance in most churches, and many churches normally have several special services in the week leading up to it. Palm Sunday can be particularly festive: church members receive palm branches, which we wave in celebration, perhaps singing “Hosanna in the Highest.” My church has a special service on Holy Wednesday, called Tenebrae. Then, there is Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday in some churches, when we commemorate the Last Supper and the institution of holy communion. My church has two services on Good Friday, including a three-hour afternoon service where four members share personal testimonies of “What the Cross Means to Me” and we reflect on how Jesus took our sins upon Himself by dying for us. The week’s worship can be very intense, ranging from celebratory and joyful to somber and repentant to reflective and meditative.

Photo by Michael E. Lynch

Then comes Easter Sunday, a day of great celebration in most churches. While every Sunday should be a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection (indeed, every day should be), Easter is especially glorious. Some people come to church only twice per year, on Christmas and Easter. My church can be standing-room-only on Easter.

However, this year will be different. The coronavirus pandemic has canceled services throughout the country. Here in the New York City metropolitan area, “ground zero” of the outbreak in America, gatherings of 10 or more people are currently prohibited. Instead of a packed house, our pastor and a small group of worship leaders will have a service with no congregation, to be streamed online for those who choose to watch. It will be one of the few churches on Long Island to provide communion: congregants will drive up to the front of the church to receive the bread and a blessing. We will also receive our palms with communion today, and will also live-stream the other Holy Week services. Our church includes a foot-washing ceremony as part of the Maundy Thursday evening service: I am not sure how that will play out online!

Many churches are live-streaming their worship services like we are, but few are offering communion. Some churches may find it difficult to minister to their people at all.

Holy Week will have a big hole in it without corporate worship. I feel like an online video worship service with curbside communion is better than nothing, but it is not the full worship experience. There is something about being in the church, surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ, uniting in praise and worship, especially when some of us are going through hard times and need to be surrounded by friends.

While many of us are used to speaking of our personal relationship with Jesus, social distancing reminds us that it really is more of a familial relationship with God. My relationship with God is not separated from others’ relationships with Him. While it is true that we can worship God alone, there is an added benefit when we worship Him with the rest of the family of God.

We need each other. We inspire each other. We challenge each other. We pray for each other. In spite of our differences, and sometimes especially because of those differences, we gain a blessing through corporate worship.

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version).

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).

The biblical account of Jesus’ last week reminds us that humans are social beings. We live, worship, eat, and survive in a group. Jesus entered Jerusalem with His disciples. He cleared the money changers from the temple as His disciples looked on. He spent almost every moment of His final week with those 12 men, including that Last Supper. Perhaps a particularly painful part of His crucifixion was that fact that He died almost alone. One disciple betrayed Him, one denied knowing Him, and most of the rest scattered into hiding and left Him alone. Only His mother, Mary Magdalene, and John stayed with Him until the end.

Jesus’ last week also reminds us that we can be powerfully influenced by our social group, for good or ill. On Palm Sunday, the crowd welcomed Him with shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9). Five days later, the crowd would change its tune and shout, “Let him be crucified!” (Matthew 27:22-23). We can only wonder how many people were in both crowds, inspired by the disciples on Sunday but swayed in the opposite direction by the chief priests and Pharisees on Friday. We think of peer pressure as a problem that affects only young people, but all of us can be affected by those around us, for good or ill.

As we approach Holy Week altered by social distancing, we must each decide how we will remain connected to the Body of Christ. Perhaps you can call a friend on the phone or set up a Skype session so that you can encourage one another during this stressful time and pray together. Some people are using Zoom or other online apps to gather a group virtually. Social distancing may force us to adapt how we fellowship, but it does not have to force us into spiritual and emotional isolation. It may change how we worship during Holy Week, but it does not have to keep us from worshiping God at a time when we really need Him most.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.




Categories: Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Current events, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Walking in the Light of the World: II. Filled with the Holy Spirit

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:15–20, ESV).

Adventskranz 3. AdventThe previous post in this series discussed several priorities for walking in the light of Christ, spelled out in  Ephesians 5:15–20. This is essentially how we can reflect the light of Jesus, exposing the darkness around us and radiating Christ’s love to those who need it. We are called to make wise use of the time and opportunities that God gives us, and to seek His will in every area of our lives.

God is relational. He does not merely give us a list of tasks and obligations, demanding that we do our job right. He draws us into relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. A major element of that relationship is the presence  of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We cannot walk in the light without being led by the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, to effectively shine the light of Jesus around us, we must allow the Holy Spirit to overflow in our lives. “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” Some people think this is mainly an injunction against alcohol abuse. However, it goes deeper than that.

Most adults are only mildly affected by a single alcoholic beverage. One 12-ounce bottle of beer or a single glass of wine has little impact on most people’s behavior; they might feel more relaxed, but that may be all. However, after several drinks, things change. When a person is heavily intoxicated, the alcohol essentially takes control of their behavior, and they may do things that would never do while sober. Frequent abuse can lead to alcoholism, which essentially negatively alters the drinker’s personality.

The Holy Spirit can and should have an opposite effect. Many Christians are willing to invite Him to have just a mild impact on them; they will pray and worship God until they feel good, and then leave His presence. God wants more, though. He wants to fill us with the Spirit, immersing us in His presence and power. He wants the Holy Spirit to alter our behavior; indeed, He wants His Spirit to transform our personalities and lives.

This is not accomplished all at once. God wants us to enjoy landmark occasions in our lives where the Holy Spirit makes a memorable impact. We should seek a baptism in the Holy Spirit as a defining moment in our lives. However, after that experience, we should tap into His presence and power on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour, and minute-by-minute encounter. There are several ways to experience that power in our lives. The above passage provides a short list of ways to experience the continual infilling of the Holy Spirit.

Foremost is praise and worship: “Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” Music affects our souls in unique ways. The unified blend of melody, harmony, rhythm, and lyrics has a way of grasping our emotions and drawing our minds in, emotionally transporting us to distant times and places. Earlier this week, I was singing along with a song on a CD and felt emotionally transported to a time in my life nearly 20 years ago. The song grasped me in ways that a conversation never could. Good music has a way of doing that to a listener.

Nowadays, Christians can enjoy a wide variety of spiritual music. The musical genres range from traditional hymns, to southern gospel, black gospel, rock, pop, folk, rap, and virtually every other musical genre imaginable. Find some music that you enjoy, with lyrics that glorify our Lord and draw your entire soul into an awareness of His presence. A spiritual song that stirs your soul will keep the Lord’s presence at the forefront of your attention.

This should not be restricted to your time alone. Ephesians 5:19 tells us to “{address} one another” in song. We often treat music as only a source of entertainment. Many churches seem to use music to make people feel good. Music should encourage, admonish, and teach us. It should be a tool by which we minister one to another. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

Corporate worship is important. It is virtually impossible to consistently walk in the power of the Holy Spirit without it. We do not sing in church merely to feel good. We are there not for entertainment, but to encourage and bless one another. Good worship music is part of that.

Finally, we should remain thankful in all circumstances, “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” True biblical thankfulness does not deny reality. Instead, it views all of reality from the perspective that God is always working in our lives (Romans 8:28).

Even in difficult circumstances, we should give thanks. Times may be difficult, and things may not go as you planned, but the Spirit-filled believer seeks to know how God is at work through the problems. Even if we cannot see what God is doing, we can acknowledge that He is working all things together for our good. We can trust Him to bring forth a result that exceeds our expectations and brings forth His fruit in our lives. For that, we can and should be thankful. For more thoughts on the subject of thankfulness, see this post from several years ago.

Jesus calls His disciples to be the light of the world, even as He is the light of the world. We are called to reflect His light into the darkness around us. Our lifestyle, worship, and witness can be His vessels to draw those who have been lost in darkness into the glorious abundant light and life He gives. We have a noble calling as His servants. Let us go forth in His name to conquer the darkness of sin and death with the light and life He alone can give!

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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