We have all seen it before. Cars pulling into parking lots finding their customary parking spaces. People are getting out of their cars dressed in their Sunday finest and walk briskly into the church building to distribute children, middle school, and youth to their assigned destinations. No one has greeted these regular members to Sunday morning worship much less any new or visiting people who have chosen to come to THIS church either because they are traveling or they have decided to begin attending church and are looking for a church home. No one has greeted the person that has come racked with addictions that are not dressed “appropriately” and has dared to enter the hallowed halls of THEIR church.
After the distribution of the younger of the clans the adults either gather for their Sunday School or for the Message to be delivered in the sanctuary. Which ever the case may be, there does not seem to be any excitement of expectancy of anything great happening. It would seem that the “gathering” of people is more a mere tradition than an actual time of worship. In the sanctuary, the members gravitate towards the same seats that they have been sitting in for the last decade, if not longer and are somewhat astounded to find a visitor sitting in “their” seat! How dare they do such a heinous thing! Don’t they know that this member has been sitting in that seat for eons of time and that the cushion contained in that seat has been molded over time to precisely fit the ample buttocks that have molded that cushion? Does the visitor not realize who the person is that has sat in that seat for the last twenty years is a high ranking member of the elder’s board? Certainly, they must be put into their proper place and asked to move to another seat perhaps only to suffer the same angst again.
It does not seem to matter whether the music is time honored traditional hymns or the newest wave of praise and worship music, the tone remains somber. There does not seem to be any joy, no praise, no…well…worship. The pastor settles into a text in Leviticus and the time seems to drag by. Watches are being checked frequently to decipher if the pastor will finish in time to hit the nearest restaurant and make it home in time for the afternoon football game. The pastor finishes the sermon and waits patiently for any to come forward who have accepted the Lord Jesus as Lord and Savior over their lives. Instead of praying for the lost to come to Christ many are praying that no such person is among their midst so that they can get out of the building and carry out their afternoon plans. Several scowl at the junkie who has been relegated to the back row who is broken and in tears, daring him/her to go forward. The crowd disperses and the addict leaves without accepting salvation and no one to lead him/her never to return again.
Does ANY of this sound familiar?
Where is the love in greeting one another? Where is the encouragement among the ranks? What happened to the prayer of the righteous man? What happened to the concern for the lost? It was lost in tradition and programming.
In 2012 I was blessed to be part of a missionary team in Uganda Africa. We went into the Ugandan jungles to share the Gospel of Christ in little pole barns that served as the gathering place for the church. Folks, National Geographic didn’t make up a story with pictures of mud huts with thatched roofs. These people had nothing! They slept on dirt floors. They cooked (if they had anything to cook) on open charcoal fires. They drank water from horrid streams, rivers, mud puddles, and hog wallows. Yet, these people were the happiest people I have ever seen! They joy with which they worshiped was indescribable to the extent that I doubt it could be expressed in words so that the average American could understand. They loved US instantly and completely! It didn’t matter that we had bottled water (which we shared everywhere we went) or that we had “high fashioned” clothing or shoes that they did not have. They loved us and we loved them.
We we would arrive at our destination for the day to preach the Gospel we were met with joy, love, and the greatest esteem. We were given their places of honor and, on many occasions, they taught me much more than I could preach to them. Each and every time we would attempt to pray for THEM, they would interrupt US so that they could pray for us! When they sang they sang unto the Lord. It didn’t matter whether or not they had a beautiful singing voice. They sang with all they had! When they danced (dancing is a large part of their worship service) they danced as if no one but God was watching. They exuded pure JOY in their worship. Think an hour and a half is a long church service? Try three and four hours, which is the norm in Africa. Those people did not want to stop worshiping God! On Saturday nights they will gather to pray at dusk and pray together as a unit until almost dawn before going home to get a nap before returning to church services mid-morning and again Sunday night.
These people had NOTHING to lose and EVERYTHING to gain! They turned to the one force they trusted to get them through each day, God. They greet each other with genuine affection and love. They welcome ANYONE to worship. They offer thanksgiving and praise unto the Lord with genuine joy. They regret seeing church services come to a close.
Why can the American church not understand that? In Africa, I witnessed (I believe) what a true, last days, New Testament Church is supposed to be like. Put God first, love one another and love those who are not present enough to pray for their salvation. Let’s not play church. We should gather with the body of Christ to worship and praise a true, living God. By loving God and loving people we serve within His will. Our desires and our will in the flesh hold little strength for expanding the Kingdom of God.
In His Grip,