If I say “worship” or “religion”, what’s the first image that pops into your brain? If you’ve been a part of the Christian community for even a nanosecond, this is probably what you’re envisioning:
Looks amazing! We’ve all been here. Expensive, colored, sometimes pulsing lights, atmospheric smoke, trendy, attractive people on stage fueling the compliant crowd into an emotional experience. Eyes are shut tight, hands waving, bodies swaying in musical accord. Musicians expertly playing state of the art instruments. The service ends and expensively dressed congregants file out of such a “worship” service feeling energized, yet longing for the next religious personal “experience” as soon as this one fades.
What if I told you that this isn’t worship. This is not true Biblical religion. You’ve been fed an indulgent half-truth and the whole Christian world believes that this, THIS is true worship. True religion.
Yes, yes, the Psalmist talks about singing to the Lord a new song and that is great! Let’s do that! Raising holy hands, yes! Awesome! Have at it! I’m all about some great Christian music. Lights, smoke, etc…nothing inherently sinful about these things….
What I greatly fear has happened in Christian churches worldwide, is that this brand of worship has produced an experientially focused, overfed, overindulgent brand of believers. It breeds prideful performers and esurient, entertainment seeking congregants…people who are so focused on sentient religion that they fail to comprehend what God has instructed us, through Paul, as to what pure, unerring religion is.
The early church didn’t have lights, camera, smoke, action, glory, accolades….. No, my friends….. Their religion had simple hands, traveling feet, unending suffering, total sacrifice, pain, and many times, a bloody martyrs’ death.
What concerns me greatly about the seeker-friendly focus of churches is that this type of experiential worship is NEVER mentioned in the New Testament. Never. In fact, James addresses what true religion is, very clearly and explicitly:
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” James 1:27
Wha?!?! No flashing lights? No smoke, come on! For Pete’s sake, where’s the smoke machine? How can I worship God without conjuring up that wondrous, sparkly experience?
So, let me get this straight….. you’re telling me that true religion is this:
And not this?
Yep. According to the apostles. The persecution and sacrifices they endured and God’s calling qualified them all to teach with the utmost, tip-top, religious authority.
I have this strange feeling that if James or Paul were alive today, you wouldn’t find them on stage riffing away in torn jeans, you’d find them in the gutters and street corners, hands dirty, picking up filthy, abandoned infants, praying with widows, ministering to the homeless. You’d see the scars on Paul’s back, a split underneath his eye from the stoning he’d recently walked away from. You’d see the bloody chafe marks on his wrists from the chains that attempted to paralyze him from proclaiming the glorious gospel of Christ.
I wonder what Paul, and the other great saints of old, think when they look down at our churches right now….and you know they ARE looking. At you. At me. At this church of Jesus Christ.
Maybe you’ve had some sort of ecstatic religious experience, my friend, and that’s great! But I’ll let you in on a lovely secret…..Ready?
God meets you when you’re here, at the bottom, weeping because of the lost souls in those dirty rows of cribs….He gathers your tears as you gaze upon the abandoned child in your arms….as you stroke their thin, sore covered neck. God meets you in your painful longing to bring Christ to as many lost, broken, difficult, RAD, sleepless, defiant, sick, hopeless, damaged, sweet images of God as you possibly can.
God meets you in the broken, not in the mighty.
Recently, my husband was in India on a business trip. There were two sisters who slept on the sidewalk outside his office building every day. One can’t help but wonder what these children would think if they walked into one of our churches today….at the colossal amount of money wasted on entertaining the masses of “believers”.
My heart weeps because we are all living for the NOW, not the eternal. We aren’t really broken up by this photo. We are numb to it. I am numb to it. You are as well.
When you meet a lost soul here and there is no fanfare, no accolades, no lights, no atmospheric music, no “likes” on YouTube…. this, THIS is where you will find pure religion. Perfect, silent, heart-broken worship. This is where you see God move mountains, miracles happen, healings take seed.
I’ve been here before and it’s heart wrenching. It’s gut twisting to be snatching little ones from the jaws of hell. It’s horrible, frightening, and down-right terrifying to invite the unknown into the rest of your life…into your family…..
and I want to be here again because this is where you meet God.
What makes this religion real? It’s real because orphans and widows cannot give anything back to you. Pure, perfect, holy religion! There is no mar in it, no thought of self, no consideration of how it’ll give back…what you can gain from it. Christ-like, sacrificial, wholly pure religion.
Let’s get back there! Let’s be so radically on fire for Christ that we may have to hide amongst the dusty bones of the catacombs, picking up abandoned ones from the gutters.
Let’s go there together, you and me.
Because Jesus said, “ For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’
Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’”
If you’ve read this far, then I beg you to wrestle with this question….where would you like to meet God?
Let’s gather in the gutters and meet God.