Watching Church

WatchingChurch

In these days of Coronavirus, churches have been unable to meet together physically. However, this has not prevented churches from seeking other alternatives. Most of the larger churches across our nation have simply live-streamed their worship services, encouraging those in the congregation to log in to watch church.

This means that across our land, worship bands are playing to empty auditoriums. And pastors are preaching to empty pews. All the while, people are at home, on their couches, idly watching the participants on the screen worship God and preach to them. Admittedly, something is lacking in this dynamic.

When people attend a worship service on a Sunday morning, they are able to engage. They can sing together with the throng. “I will thank you in the great congregation; in the mighty throng I will praise you” (Psalm 35:18). They can amen the preacher. They can fellowship with those who attend the service.

In other words, worship services aren’t merely vertical toward God. They are also horizontal. You talk with people on the way in. You interact with people on the way out. You are encouraged by others. You seek to be an encouragement to others (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Sadly, all of this is lacking in the live-stream experience. We know this. There’s a big difference between watching church and being engaged in church.

A Sign of Love

Facemask

We are in the midst of fighting the coronavirus pandemic. The COVID-19 has spread rapidly around the world. We are currently doing all we can to stop the spread of the virus. This includes lockdowns and social distancing and face masks.

Historically, face masks have been used as means to prevent the getting the disease. However, due to the nature of COVID-19, this has changed. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that studies have revealed that “a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”) and that even those who eventually develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms. This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity—for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing—even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms” (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cloth-face-cover.html).

This means that we all need to change our perspective on face masks. Face masks are not just for those who want to prevent sickness. Face masks are also for those who might be sick and who might transmit COVID-19. Thus, “CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission” (ibid).

For face masks to be accepted in our culture, we need to begin understanding that those in public with face masks on are not trying to protect themselves, but are actually trying to protect others. In this way, they are actually showing love to all of us. Face masks are a sign of live.

This is similar to the cross of Christ. The cross was an emblem of sin and shame (Hebrews 12:2). Yet, Jesus went to the cross as an act of love for us. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). It was upon the cross that Jesus “bore our sins in his body” (1 Peter 2:24).

For those who don’t believe in Jesus, they need to change their perspective about the cross. It’s not a sign of sin and shame. It’s a sign of love.

We! (not me)

We-Not-Me

I pastor a small church (a little over a hundred people). This means that if any ministry is accomplished, it’s either me or one of our small group of volunteers. With this in mind, consider the representative conversations that I have had with some who attend larger churches.

  • “We sent missions teams to over a dozen nations last summer!”
  • “We go to the jail for ministry every Tuesday evening and every Saturday afternoon.”
  • “We planted three churches over the past decade.”

As a small church, we cannot possibly hope to do even a portion of these things. Our resources are simply too thin. Each if these things take much manpower to accomplish.

When I have inquired a bit, I have often found out that the one I’m speaking with has had no involvement in any of these ministries personally. They haven’t gone on a missions trip. They haven’t been to the jail. They haven’t even visited one on the churches that they planted. Yet, they have boasted in what “we” have done. The “we” in this case doesn’t mean “me.” It means “the church I attend.”

I think it’s great that the Lord uses larger churches to minister on a scale that smaller churches can only dream of doing. Yet there is a great danger to those who attend these churches. It can easily be the case that they are actually doing little, while thinking they are accomplishing some of these great things.

I guess my observations simply come as a warning to those who might think that they are doing great things for the Lord, while doing nothing. Just because their church is doing wonderful things doesn’t mean that they are doing anything. May they not be deceived.

Perspicuity

Perspecuity

Theologians often talk about “The Perspicuity of Scripture.” That is, the clarity of Scripture. Theologians use this phrase to explain how the Bible is plain for all to read and to comprehend.

To be sure, there are some passages in the Bible that are difficult to understand. Even Peter agrees on this point. He commented on Paul’s letters by saying, “There are some things in them that are hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16). Further, there are many passages that speak of the spiritual blindness (Matthew 13:11-13; 1 Corinthians 2:14).

Yet, for the most part, the Bible is very easily read and understood. It is filled with many stories of heroes and villains, which are easily grasped by children. It tells plainly of how to be made right with God: through faith in Jesus.

How ironic that theologians have chosen such a difficult word (perspicuity) to explain how easy the Bible is to understand.

Betcha can’t eat just one!

BetchaCantEatJustOne

In the 1960’s the Frito-Lay company introduced it’s famous slogan, “Betcha can’t eat just one!” They popularized it by a very successful advertisement campaign both in print and on television.

We all have experienced it. We eat one potato chip and it tastes so good that we crave another one. This often leads to many more chips being consumed. There’s something about the fat and the seasonings on the chip lead us to crave more and more. Even when we aren’t hungry, once tasted, the chips can seem irresistible. It’s called “hedonic hyperphagia,” eating for pleasure.

The same is often true with sin. Rare is the time that we only commit one sin. Sin will often lead to more sin, either because we desire the pleasure or because we are forced to deal with the consequences.

This was the case with Adam and Eve. She sinned by eating the forbidden fruit. She further sinned by enticing her husband. They both sinned by trying to hide their sin from God. You can read about it in Genesis 3.

This was the case with king David. He sinned with Bathsheba. It didn’t stop there. It continued on with his cover-up plan. When Uriah didn’t go along with the plan, he ended up having him killed in battle. Then, more and more deceit as David refused to acknowledge his sin. You can read all about it in 2 Samuel 11-12.

The solution is to be aware of this tendency of our hearts and confess our sin quickly. David explained his trouble. “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long” (Psalm 32:3). But when he confessed his sin to the Lord (Psalm 32:5), he found great blessing (Psalm 32:1-2).

Show Me!

MissouriWelcomeSign

Willard Duncan Vandiver of Missouri served in the United States House of Representatives from 1897 to 1903. In the middle of his service, in 1899, he gave a speech at a naval banquet in Philadelphia in which he said, “I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.” And ever since, Missouri has been known as, “The Show-Me State.”

In fact, it’s their state motto. They are known today as “The Show-Me State.” It’s an attitude that is held by those in Missouri. They are not a gullible people. Regardless of how fine-sounding your argument may appear, they won’t take your word for it. They need sufficient evidence to believe anything.

In this way, those from Missouri share a characteristic of a Biblical character named Thomas. He’s the one who has come to be known as “Doubting Thomas.” You might easily call him, “Thomas from Missouri.”

After the other disciples had seen Jesus, risen from the dead, He was the one who said, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25). In effect, he said, “Show me!” Eight days later, he had the opportunity to see!

Truly, it was a great blessing to Thomas to be able to see and believe. Yet, the greater blessing belongs to those who believe without seeing. Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

Lighthouse

Lighthouse

A typical lighthouse is a tall tower built near dangerous coastlines to help those navigating boats near the shore. Before the days of GPS, they served an essential role for those at sea. They stood as a warning to ships approaching the shore, as maritime pilots could see the light on the shore. In times of low visibility, they were able to create sound using horns, bells or cannons. Another purpose was to provide a navigational aid, as those on the sea were able to identify them by their varying stripe patterns. They also provided light for navigating into shore.

In the same way, Jesus is our lighthouse. His words warn us. His words guide us. Jesus warns us of dangers self-righteousness (Matthew 23) and the vanity of pursuing the world (Matthew 16:26). Jesus guides us in the ways of life, safe in the harbor. How appropriate that Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).