Saturday, August 25, 2012

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good
His love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say this...
Psalm 107:1-2a

         I could hardly believe my ears.  True, the radio station I was listening to was not one I listen to often.  In fact it’s one I try to avoid because I usually get steamed up by comments made by listeners and “shock jocks” alike, often ranging from ignorant to offensive.  But the station is popular enough to make me pay attention.  There are plenty of people out there who like it, so I’m sure it represents a certain way of thinking not uncommon in our world today.
          My ears perked up when I heard words like “Jesus,” “Easter,” “worship,” and “resurrection” enter the conversation on this very secular radio station.  The dj was trying to get reactions to a news story about an elementary school student who was reprimanded for passing out flyers explaining “the true meaning of Easter” to his classmates.  I heard the usual kinds of responses.  One caller thought the student should have the right to pass out the flyers (and conceded that a Muslim or Scientologist should have the same right).  Another caller felt that since the child was so young, he was obviously being coerced or manipulated by his parents. 

          But then came a call from a man whose words really took me by surprise.  He was so outraged, not just that someone would try to share or explain their faith but by the very idea that people would want to practice their religion at all.  “Why do these people go to church, anyway?” he asked.  “I mean, what’s the point of it?  Do these Christians get some kind of high out of it?”  The dj, who did not think much of  religion himself, suggested that some people might want to go to church to feel a part of something bigger than themselves.  “I think they go to find spiritual fulfillment,” he suggested.  The disgusted caller could only respond, “Sounds like stupidity to me.”
             I had to turn off the radio.  It left me stunned and breathless, like I’d just witnessed an accident and was staring into the crash victim’s open wound.  But there it was — all the naked pain, all the confusion and soul-killing emptiness of a heart turned away from God.  I’ve known people like that, and probably you have too.  We know we can pray for them, but is there any way to get through their defenses and help them see the God who is good and loving and, first of all, real?
            Our outreach team at Atonement has been looking into this very issue.  Many people aren’t looking for a church because  they don’t yet know they need God in their lives.  But today’s “spiritual” person who has an inkling that there is some power or force that directs the universe might not even think of attending a church in order to connect or understand that higher power.  Today’s world seems unaware of the entire concept of worship — what it is or why people need it.  
          First off, worship is not about a spiritual high or a good feeling.  It’s about meeting God.  When Solomon finished building the temple, the first building ever dedicated to the worship of God,  the people gathered there with prayers, offerings and sacrifices, and God showed up in a way that made everyone know He was there.  “All the Israelites saw fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple.  They knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground and they worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying, ‘He is good; His love endures forever.’” (II Chronicles 7:3)

            In worship, we come face-to-face with the very one who made us.  There in the presence of the God who loved and saved us, we are given the chance to open up and express our gratitude and thankfulness for life and all its gifts.  The truth of what’s in our heart includes the painful realization of our sin, but even more so, the wonderful awareness of the forgiveness we have in Christ and the new life we have through the Holy Spirit. 
             How do we communicate this to someone who doesn’t know God, doesn’t trust Christians, and has probably never in their life had a healthy experience in church?  We have an idea you can help with.  The outreach team is considering the creation of a website dedicated to explaining and exploring worship — why we do it and what it’s about.  We invite your ideas and input, thoughts and experiences about what worship means to you and how we might explain it to someone who’s never come to church, never opened their heart to God, never truly given thanks to the Lord whose love endures forever.