The Importance of Gathering

I look forward to Sunday mornings and the worship hour that takes place then.

But of course I do, I am a pastor!

Even when I was not the pastor of a church I looked forward to Sunday morning worship times.  I did so because of the fellowship.  I did so for the singing to my Lord (who does not care if I am off key or not).  I also looked forward to what I could learn from a sermon.  I deeply enjoyed having communion and experiencing the presence of the Lord during that time of remembrance.

However, when the attendance was down at a worship service I can remember the feeling that something just wasn’t as upbeat or as fulfilling as it was when the church membership was in high attendance.  There is a let down when you realize that others do not make attending worship a priority.

We are told that church attendance is down all across the country.  We are told that church is not that important to people anymore.  This is a disturbing revelation.

Well maybe if church were more entertaining or if it placated our wants and desires then perhaps people would attend more.   Maybe we need to give people gifts every Sunday for attending or have a meal every time we meet.  After all we modern people don’t have time to sit around for an hour on Sunday.  We have too much we want to do.  Surely God understands.

The church is a gift of grace.  It is a shelter in the storms of life when they come (or it used to be).  Church is about a covenant community that comes together to serve one another not just a gathering to be served.  These are things that are missing in our culture.

There are still some places where people do look forward to going to church.  There are places that many people still make the church a priority in their lives.  Every church still has the possibility to be like this – for now.  The question is will its members understand the importance of what true church is all about?

Wow, just five days till it is time to come again and worship.  I can hardly wait.

The Labyrinth and Weeds

As Winter grudgingly begins to give way to Spring those problematic, opportunistic weeds begin popping up just where you don’t want them to do so.  Last week I notice that  there was a full scale weed attack going on in our church labyrinth.  Something needed to be done.

So today, my wife and I loaded up our rake, hoe, and sprayer of Roundup and set out to do battle with the weeds.  When we got to the labyrinth was I was stunned to see that the weeds had doubled since last week.  We had a job on our hands.

We decided the best way to approach this task was to follow the path of the labyrinth.  So step by step, turn by turn, weed by weed we began to clear the labyrinth of the infestation.  We would take turns at hoeing, raking, sweeping, pulling and other tasks related to our work.   It was work, hard work, but since we followed the path of the labyrinth we were able to see the efforts of our work emerge in a beautiful and graceful way.  The results allowed us to see a contrast between where we had been and where we were going.  It also let us know this task had an end goal that we would soon realize.

The labyrinth is a tool for reflection.  It is a tool the offers us a way to reflect on our journeys in this life.  Many times our particular life path gets infested with weeds; weeds of worry, weeds of want, weeds of waste, weeds of weariness.  These weeds can distract and depress.  Still they are weeds and weeds can be overcome.  Working at removing these distractions and hindrances can take time.  We do not have to work alone.  Our Lord is more than willing to work with us.  The Holy Spirit is more than willing to guide us step by step and help us to see where we have been and where we are going.  All it takes is for us to decide, “Something needs to be done.”

Christian Community

I serve a church in a denomination that views baptism as an entrance into what we call a covenant community.  It is because of our belief in a covenant community that people of all ages may be baptized.  Baptism is seen as an entry point into the community.   Entrance in the covenant community is not salvation.   Salvation still only can be obtained by being born again (event or process).

As I serve in local churches I am becoming more and more concerned about the state of spiritual health of our covenant community.  We believe the covenant comes to us from God.  It is a great privilege to be in covenant with God.  Being in a covenant community means that God has made promises that God most assuredly will meet.  However, being joined in covenant has its responsibilities as well.  There are expectations.  Most important of these expectation is that we are faithful to God.

The problem: faithfulness to God is not in fashion.  In fact, I am afraid that God gets very little thought much less obedient faithfulness from the vast majority of God’s covenant community.  I dare not say that I know the emotional state of the divine but I know that it breaks my heart.

In a recent discussion a friend asked me what percentage of our local covenant community was active.  By active he meant that they attended our Sunday morning worship gathering on a regular basis.  I had to answer that was pretty sure it was less than 15%.  If we were talking about the percentage who are involved in the financial support of the church and actively involved in the mission of making disciples I believe the number would drop to less than 5% (and I am being optimist).

Human beings flourish the most when we live in well organized and active communities.  This is true of us in secular as well as spiritual definitions. When a covenant community, a spiritual community, is organized and active there are the added benefits of spiritual gifts and strength to meet the challenges that come from living in an environment that is hostile to our existence.  I believe the weakening of commitment to the covenant community is going to have frightening consequences in our culture in days to come.  I believe that if were not for God’s prevenient grace these consequences would have already overwhelmed us.

Those of us who care about our current condition could probably name many reasons for why we believe this lack of commitment to the community has evolved, but reasons to often become excuses and excuses do nothing to change the situation.  What can happen is that those who are faithful can work to make the cords that bind us even stronger.   There is a reason God has created the community.  We need to be sure we are ready when it becomes evident what this reason is.

Cosmos (redux)

The new television series Cosmos began tonight.  It was a visually attractive work of television art.  However, as I listened to the narration and experienced the unfolding of the story I could not help but feel I was hearing a old secular apology, polished up, and being offered up in a new more digitized format.  I also felt there was a significant anti-religious undertone.

I am not a scientist.  I am a person of committed religious faith.  However I do believe that truth is truth and that modern scientific advances have made human life better.  I do not feel there must be tension between true science and true faith.  I also think that scientism makes for a terrible religion even though it claims that it is not “religious”.  Is the “new” Cosmos just a new version of the scientism sacraments?

Human knowledge can easily become an idol that is just as ignorant as any idol made of wood, stone, metal, or plastic.  We human beings are very limited in what we can know about creation (a truth that is acknowledged but sugar-coated in the first episode of Cosmos).   We only know what we have recorded and what we can verify and even then we must do so only in faith that we have perceived correctly.  Modern science came out of a world view that there exists a God who is predictable and orderly.  The current version of Cosmos (likes its predecessor) seems oriented against such an idea.  In the first program it takes a significant amount of time to tell the story of a “mystic” who was rejected by the church.  While the story may have had historical accuracy, the way the story was played utilized a lot of imaginary license (which was prejudiced against the church).  Propaganda is propaganda and is not science.

I do not expect Cosmos (redux) to be based on religious teachings.  The story of the mystery and majesty of what science has discovered can be told without a pro or anti God basis.  However I cannot help, as was stated earlier, that the anti-God attitude is what the producers of Cosmos are hoping to accomplish.   I am hoping the ratings will reveal this is not road they really want to take.

This mode of propaganda was not that effective before and I do not believe this up-scaled version will fare much better.  I will continue to watch Cosmos and marvel at the imagination involved and then feel sorry for those who feel they must engage in a not so subtle subversion of the traditional value of religious faith (especially Christian).