Monday, March 25, 2013

with my hands lifted high?

There's a worship song that features the line "with my hands lifted high" and, every time the congregation sings it, hands raise on cue. Pavlov would be proud. There's a part of me that feels rebellious not lifting my hands while my lips sing out. And, in this wrestling, I'm learning to worship.

Two lessons come to mind:

First, there is value in hand-raising. Actually, there's a value in any body-movement in worship. One Jewish writer reflected that the "body should pray as well as the mind." For this reason, Jewish worshippers often rock back and forth, rhythmically engaging more of themselves in the act of seeking God. Likewise, when the Christian raises his hands, or claps, or stomps her feet or dances or kneels, they make an intentional effort to engage all of themselves in worship.

Hand-raising was a common expression of worship in the Bible:

Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary.--Psalm 28:2

So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.--Psalm 63:4

Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!--Psalm 141:2

Now as Solomon finished offering all this prayer and plea to the Lord, he arose from before the altar of the Lord, where he had knelt with hands outstretched toward heaven.--1 Kings 8:54

“Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the night watches! Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint for hunger at the head of every street.”--Lamentations 2:19

In each instance, the person lifting their hands into the air communicates one or more of several spiritual virtues: humility [raised hands are a sign of surrender]; trust [willing and eager to receive from the Lord]; openness [vulnerability before God]; and affection [expressing a "reaching" or longing for God]. Each of these virtues gives me a good reason to raise my hands, whether or not the songs says I should or not.

The second lesson I'm learning is that my heart/will takes a while to catch up with my mind. Sometimes, the best act of worship is to do what I know is good, though my will is not sure it wants to go the distance. To say it differently, if I wait for my heart to catch up to what I know is true, I may miss out. But, if I "just do it"--knowing the value, though not fully embracing it yet--my heart will often follow suit. This is true, not only of worship, but of many things in the spiritual life.

This is how church works.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

how church works: loving those who leave

[NOTE: A year ago, I took blog break. I quietly stopped typing in order to turn my attention to other things. Today, I woke up from my long winter's nap.]

For the last several weeks, I have been preaching a series on "How Church Works." It's a handful of sermons that gets back to the fundamentals of why and how the church gathers. How do we listen to a sermon, take a communion , give, worship and connect with one another? Surprisingly, many Christians do church, but have never been taught how.

Last Sunday, I taught on how to leave. There is an increasing migration in and out of church--people who leave for a variety of reasons. Some reasons are "healthy" [career transitions, corruption in the church or God's ministry calling to a specific place]. Other reasons are less so [unresolved conflict, change, or conviction, to name a few]. While we talked about the "if" and the "how" of church transitions, the most important principle is unity.

In Ephesians 4, Paul commands the church to "live a life worthy of the calling you have received" [v. 1]. That is, to live a God-centered, gospel-saturated life that proves itself in the humble, gentle, patient, loving character of Jesus toward one another [v. 2]. These virtues protect our unity [v. 3]--a oneness based on the commonality we have under the love of the Father, the sacrifice of the Son and the transformation of the Holy Spirit [v. 4].

While these principles are important to prevent people from leaving churches so easily, they are also important after the fact. We--the church--have a responsibility to maintain unity with those who didn't hold the same value. We "make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" by speaking well of them, praying for them, honoring their memory and being ready to reconcile should their hearts turn home. Unity isn't something we experience only when we're together; It's the kind of heart disposition toward each other when we're not together that would make it possible for us to be together again.

This is how church works.