Thursday, December 29, 2005

But Is It A Tree -- Part Two

Continuing from last post....

When we place the bits and pieces of a tree in one place, we don't have a tree; we just have bits. They may be interesting, but they are not alive. My fear is that we might have done just this with our faith and worship. We might have scrubbed it clean, dissected it, and brought it into one place, but is it alive? Is it worship?

We sometimes hear that we should "just read the Bible and do what it says." This is problematical on several levels. What if Joseph, when troubled at finding his brothed pregnant and possessed of a non-standard explanation for said pregnancy, got the advice from others to "just read the Bible and do what it says"? He would have had to take Mary out into a public place and stone her. (for more, see the sermon Josh Graves and I gave last Sunday. It is at Instead, he listened to God via the angel and Mary was spared, Jesus was born, and you know the rest of the story.

Don't respond by saying "The Jews had lost the right to capital punishment by this time. It was against Roman law for Joseph to kill Mary..." The rejoinder would be that we have always taught that God's law supercedes all laws of man so Joseph is not off the hook!

But I'm glad that he didn't just gather the rules in one place and declare it God. Instead, he was still willing to hear what God wanted done in his life, in his situation. I am comforted by this, but also troubled: in what other situations may we go with the spirit instead of with the truth? (I am using these terms loosely, as has been our tradition)

Or how about this one? I grew up with the teaching that not only was standard among us -- it was one of the reasons we existed! It was that we were never allowed to tweak or modify anything, anytime, anywhere and the flannelgraph figures employed in the teaching were those of Nadab and Abihu. They just switched types of fire -- we were told -- and God killed them. So don't be adding... (fill in the blank here). This was in the Jule Miller filmstrips, VBS literature, and sermons. It was foundational.

But... what about the synagogue? When the Jews couldn't get to to the temple (sometimes for the very good reason that it was gone, kaput, kicked over by the invader du jour) they developed -- without any authority that we can find and certainly none in Scripture -- a whole different way to worship. It set aside pretty much all of Leviticus as priests and sacrifices weren't part of it. People gathered in an egalitarian sort of way and the Bible was read, songs were sung and, when Jesus came, he joined in! Never, ever, can we find God getting upset at this. Makes you think Nadab and Abihu's problem was deeper than getting their fire from Wal-mart rather than Sears.

Maybe it was a heart problem? Maybe their spirits were dead? I've heard some speculate that the boys were involved in some pagan practices. Maybe, but so were a lot of people in the Bible whom God did not kill with fireworks. What was the difference?

It seems to me that the answer to all of this is in our "spirit and truth" discussion. Keith had a very good point in his comments to my last post in that we tend to read the Scripture as law rather than story. He is correct, of course. Is this why we don't have a Book of Worship that lays out which songs are acceptable, when or if raising hands or clapping is all right, etc?

Let's keep this going. Kindness all around, please. Extra points for humility. If I don't comment as quickly as you'd like it is because I am recovering from some tummy troubles. I either had a bug or I ate some Democrat food. Why 'Democrat'? Because it had no problem going in but immediately insisted on finding an exit strategy. I'll say no more than that....


At 12/29/2005 11:46:00 PM , Blogger Scott Gampp said...

Great two post. I've heard the "just read the Bible and do what is says" statement several times lately in our Bible classes and I'm amazed at how simple that can sound... just have faith to move a mountain... just love your enemies... sounds so easy. I love the tree analogy.
Hope your tummy gets better soon.

At 12/30/2005 04:14:00 AM , Anonymous Renee Cutts said...

I not too long ago found this blog, prior to having had Patrick speak at our church, but haven't been here in a while and never posted before. I am a Christian; part of the church family that meets in Tabernacle, NJ. I'll warn you I am long-written.

Twice this past week I have pondered some of the same thoughts you have brought out in your post, however, it is not the first time for me that these questions have come to mind.

This past week, while singing Christmas carols at a retirement center for the elderly, in a mixed group of children and adults, I noticed that most of us rarely looked up from the printed words of our handmade song books, even the songs we most certainly knew by heart.

My young daughter who can't read as yet insisted on having a book and exhibited the same behavior, even the songs I knew she knew by heart. She was distracted by making sure she was on the right page. That bothered me somehow.

I think sometimes we are distracted in our worship by trying to make sure we are on the right page. Honestly, some of the songs, particularly those that had multiple verses, I had to look down and read the words while I was singing but I felt such joy in singing about the season and for such a joyful reason as what the coming of Christ meant to the world, that I made a point of looking into the eyes of the elderly people listening to us.

I was met with eye contact from a few and you could tell it meant something to them to just be seen. A big part of my brain was trying to stay on key with everyone else, not an easy feat for me as I am a struggling singer at best.

I saw the glazed look of a few that didn't seem to be there at all, but then you would see their lips moving trying to voice a long remembered word here and there. That made me smile. I saw some singing in weak voices every single word from memory staring off like they were somewhere we couldn't see. That made me cry. I saw some fighting back tears in memory.

In looking up, and responding to those sweet souls in what I can only define as my spirit, my singing felt different than the head down approach. I felt it was something I was doing with them, for them but not exactly to them or by myself.

I also tried to catch the eyes of the few in our group who were also looking up and around. It was a challenge seeing as my three year old was running in and out the door with a large jingle bell and my six year old was tugging at me to help her with her book.

I often feel this way in worship with my children, it is a challenge to stay focused on what I am trying to do being there and teaching them to sit or stand still. I know they are listening when my six year old asks me each Sunday when she will be allowed to be baptised, despite her wiggling body, something is getting into her head and her heart.

I've got to tackle that one with her. How can you keep saying "not yet" to a six year old who seems to know what she needs to do and why? Most would think her age inappropriate for coming to that decision, but how can anyone judge that for her? How can we judge the things of another person's heart? There seems to be so many lines of appropriateness we place on ourselves.

Back to that night, I could tell by some glances in my children's direction that some were annoyed or at least distracted by their movements, but the elderly people enjoy the presence of children so much, and I think the Lord must also.

At church I was taught that the environment of worship is to expect children to be seen but not heard, and if heard too much, to be taken out, which is why I spend most of my worship, out, rather than in, the main auditorium, that and helping with nursery or children's worship after communion where they are allowed to move more and taught on their level.

But I have wondered off topic yet again. I was purplexed that my husband made the comment to someone standing near him, that complained of the words being so small, saying "he couldn't read a word anyway" but as he was singing, I noticed he was still looking down at the book.

At worship that following Sunday, singing some of the songs I knew by heart,I looked up feeling like singing and smiling but saw very few rarely looking up. I questioned that maybe I should keep my head down in solumn reverence to the words, smiling in my spirit only,looking up now and again to catch a glimpse of the song leader's que.

I pushed away thoughts of what some stranger entering into our midst that Sunday might think of us singing such beautiful, joyful, or sorrowful words with little outward expression save the beautiful music we were making.

Most of the singers around me were right on note, gorgeous voices blending wonderfully together. Maybe I should try harder to be a better singer instead of showing how I felt on the inside on the outside. I should instead concentrate on the meanings internally and keeping pitch and words in harmony with others as perfect as possible.

But then I resented having to concentrate on being on note for lack of ability. Why did so many Christians have such beautiful talented voices but I was left with so little? Was it for my lack of my effort or perhaps I was unworthy and not really as Christian as I thought. Maybe only "real" Christians got blessed with good voices, or it was more important to them and through effort gained their talent. Maybe God expected us all to gain this talent by sheer effort.

In my heart I thought that couldn't be right, and I thought of Moses, but those thoughts had crept in anyway while I was sitting there singing and evaluating our singing as a group, and mine individually.

I had feelings that others might consider my voice was unworthy and I should keep it down so that I didn't clash with those that had more talent than mine. I sat there pondering all this and realised that I was so worried about what others were doing or not doing and how they were doing it and how I was doing it that I couldn't possibly be worshipping God in the process.

However, I also felt that just reading with my head in the book and supressing any sign of joy or sorrow or feeling about what I was singing felt wrong, too. I didn't want to make a spectical of myself but I wanted to be able to cry if my spirit felt like crying and smile if my spirit felt like smiling, and sing louder when I felt moved or softer when I was humbled, but I really didn't see that when I looked around. We certainly sounded beautiful but little expression went with it. Maybe the view was different from the front, afterall, I was sitting in the back with two distracting chidren.

So, I decided I would try to instead find words not expressed, sort of like layering "amens" and "praise the Lord" and "I'm so sorry" silently in my heart so that maybe God would see my smiles and my tears. Maybe this is what God wanted us to do, in our hearts, not so much of an outward expression.

I could live with that, maybe that is what everyone else was doing, too. But how would it feel, how would God feel, how would the stranger feel, if our singing was more outwardly expressed? Would it be a distraction, unorderly, entertainment, or give rise to the potential of a false show?

Later, I remembered my daughter coming home from camp this summer after a retreat where one church group in particular was more lively than the others in their singing. I remember how some of the teens were really angry that they had exhibited such "irreverence", dare I say, "spirit" in their singing.

My daughter asked me what was right and what was wrong? My only answer was that I didn't think we are in a position in a case like that where different church families are coming together to judge another's act of worship. I took out my Bible and read to her of David when he danced and sang, in his undergarments no less, and when cried and shouted with joy or sorrow in his worship and songs to God and also of his wife's comments and punishment when she had thought him foolish for such a outward display with the commoners.

I told her while some may feel worship should be in reverant, quiet, perfect as possible, on key, heads down, with little movement; other's have a need to express their worship differently.

I'm lost somewhere inbetween on what is appropriate; if there can be such a thing. One I feel may be too introspective and the other may be too extrospective. What's a Christian to do when we come together in worship and fellowship, singing and making melody in our hearts?

I have homeschooling friends that worship at other non-denominational churches, that are baptised but have various points of views on this commandment as far as what it does, but the largest differences are instrumental music and being a little more lively than us in worship.

I have a very hard time not considering them my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ even though I would not choose to use instruments in my worship at my church family. I take every opportunity to explain why I don't but I haven't been able to judge them for doing differently. Some would take offense that I feel this way. Am I in danger of judgement for not judging or taking stronger measures to correct them? Am I wrong for thinking our worship might be a little too proper and lack spirit just because I can't see what is in a person's heart if they don't show it on the outside?

At 12/30/2005 09:03:00 AM , Blogger DJG said...

OK, you don't have to post this comment but you spelled betrothed--brothed and I thought you were saying brother...did a double take on the brother being pregnant.

This is great! I am enjoying it.

At 12/30/2005 09:32:00 AM , Blogger PatrickMead said...

DJG, good catch. I am trying to find something or someone other than myself for the spelling mishap. So far I've come up with global warning or the Episcopalians...

At 12/30/2005 10:14:00 AM , Blogger Amy said...

These two posts and everyone's comments are right where I am these days. It is exciting that so many are discovering the joy and beauty of living a life led by the Spirit. And how this Spirit-led life harmonizes with scripture rather than being dictated by it.

At 12/30/2005 11:23:00 AM , Blogger Dee O'Neil Andrews said...

Sorry you're feeling bad, Patrick. But, I've got to tell you, you had me laughing out loud with your comment on "Democrat food." Too funny. I'll have to send that to my son in Virginia. He'll greatly appreciate it.

As for the discussion - first rate. I especially like what you brought up about those among us who think that "we should 'just read the Bible and do what it says.'" That fits right in and ranks up there with the phrase my mom and I were discussing over the phone the other day that we "should" - "speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent," whatever THAT'S supposed to mean.

That leaves a whole lot of uncovered territory, it seems to me (and my mom) to do or not do things in truth and spirit as we see fit as we seek wisdom in dealing with things in our lives and in our worship.

How it came up with me and my mom was that she was telling me about when my dad was an elder both in Abernathy, Texas and at Palo Verde congregation in Tucson, Arizona. She said that in the vast majority of cases where members came to the elders with questions about things they wanted to do, or had done, or planned, or whatever, as Christians, the elders would always tell them, "well, this is our 'opinion'", that the elders were always very careful in not imposing their personal and/or collective views and their opinions as being "THE word" on things, or of "Biblical authority," (whatever that means) or "THE way" things "should" or "shouldn't" be done.

As for all you were saying Renee, you have raised some very good and needful questions and issues which show you are using your head to think through spiritual things, which is what we're supposed to be doing. I applaud your efforts to think through things as a Christian seeking to do all God would have you do based on Biblical principles. (You note I say principles, not rules!)

As far as your questions in your last paragraph - "Am I in danger of judgement for not judging or taking stronger measures to correct them? Am I wrong for thinking our worship might be a little too proper and lack spirit just because I can't see what is in a person's heart if they don't show it on the outside?" - those are excellent questions, but I don't think (in my opinion!) you need or should be worried about being judged for not being judgmental yourself as to how others worship. No, indeed.

As far as our worship goes and what all we "should" be doing, Jesus simply told the woman at the well that soon we were to worship in "spirit and in truth" without laying out, as Patrick pointed out, any "Book of Worship" or list of rules to follow.

All of these things I've talked about here came out when I was talking with my mom about a young Christian blogging friend of mine who brought up some questions about giving and how that is measured by God, as opposed to other Christians, etc. In his case, a fellow Christian apparently equated a certain level of giving of money and the regularity with which it was given and to whom, specifically every Sunday to the local congregation, or else one shouldn't be coming to that congregation or to consider themselves a member there any more! (Which I'd love to hear YOU discuss, Patrick.)

My friend's (position) feelings were that the giving of money (and giving of a lot of other things besides money) and how and to whom it was given (he is doing a whole lot of direct giving to people he knows who are in great need) shouldn't have anything at all to do with church membership, you know?

I asked my mom her thoughts, which is how we got on the worshipping in spirit and truth as opposed to the idea that we "speak where the Bible speaks," etc. She was saying that many Christians, including many leaders, try to rely on some sort of "authority" to impose conditions upon members, i.e. that members "must" give (I'm talking about strictly money here) and on each and every first day of the week. Like that's Biblical, or something.

She points out that the only reference made in the New Testament on this subject (aside from Annanias & Saphira, who were told they were not under any orders to give all they had) is when Paul wrote to tell some of the Christians he'd converted to ask them to set some money aside for the Christians who were in Jerusalem who desperately needed help so that when he came by to see them on the way to Jerusalem, he could take the money with him to give to the fellow needy Christians.

We have a perfect example of that right now with the Hurricane Katrina aftermath (which we're deeply mired in, of course) where Christians from all across the U. S. and around the world are gathering goods and money together to bring down to this devastated area to distribute among all of these Christians here who are in such need.

Not only are other Christians all over bringing truck loads of goods and supplies, they are coming themselves to help out. Which is what we're supposed to be doing.

Does the Bible give us "rules" for how to go about that or how, specifically, to do it? No. In fact, each congregation and/or group in all the different places is doing what they can and AS they have planned. As is "expedient" my dad would have said. (Expedient was one of my dad's favorite expressions and one I heard him use many times as an elder and as a Christian leader and teacher).

I, like Renee, could write lots more here, but will stop for now. But, I appreciate you bringing up these things up, Patrick, and hope we'll keep talking about them.

At 12/30/2005 11:26:00 AM , Blogger Larry said...

Many Christians "go to church" to worhip God on Sunday morning and encounter a highly structured traditional service that is cut, dried, and void of even the faintest semblance of spirituality.

Worshipping God is not just meeting for an hour on Sunday morning sitting in a traditionally structured "worship service," but a 24-7 affirmation of our love and thankfulness to our creator.

Even in a "worship service" where little spirituality is manifested we can still be spiritual.

"For where two or three are
gathered in my name, there am
I among them." ~ Matt. 18:20

Surely on a Sunday morning there are two or three that are spiritual, if so .....

We should walk daily in the spirit (and that will be different for each one of us) and not allow ourselves to be saddled with the traditional man-made rules many churches insist we must follow to please God.

At 12/30/2005 12:31:00 PM , Blogger Cheetah, the cheetah said...

Whew. Great conversation.

While I can worship God in many settings, my heart really explodes when I feel free to worship as my heart calls me to worship. I am a hand-raising-tears-running-down-cheeks-worshiper. Recently my husband and I went to church at a congregation with beautiful sounding music but with little or no expression of what was inside. While I believe you can't look at someone and know their "level" of worship or whether it's "joyful" or "reverent" worship that stirs their heart, my husband commented to me later that he felt like an Ohio State fan at a Michigan game.

To me, worship is a matter of the heart and I hope a day will come when all of us can feel free to express our love and worship to God in a manner that best expresses it individually--and without judgment from others.

One thing that makes me shake my head is Patrick's comments about spirit and truth and about not adding things....I know you didn't grow up where I did, but what you are saying is so THE SAME as my upbringing it is amazing to me! :)

At 12/30/2005 01:23:00 PM , Blogger Lynda Bee said...

Patrick - hope you're feeling better. I thank God for you and Josh and especially our Elders for making our church "home" one where we are free and comfortable to worship in the manner that we feel we're being called. And the fact that great pains are taken to accomodate everyone. Thank You!

And to Renee Cutts.... you wouldn't happen to be married to Chris Cutts - and went to Harding way back in the 80s are you...?? :-)

At 12/30/2005 08:59:00 PM , Blogger Keith Brenton said...

I'm going to cut to the Reader's Digest version of what I want to say:

I think many of us grew up in churches where our religion was purely in the head. It was logical, it beat science at its own game, it was structured and foolproof and absolute. It was modern.

We've matured to the point where we realize life isn't like that, and our religion therefore cannot be, either. There are strong and deep elements of mystery, conflict, contradiction, and hands-raised-tears-running-down-the-cheeks emotion. It may not be post-modern, but it ain't modern.

I've been dealing with that for a while, and have come to the conclusion that it isn't an "either-or" choice. Christianity should speak to the heart as well as the head. It should captivate both.

Otherwise we're only halfway involved in it - and that has been my greatest challenge all my life.

At 12/31/2005 04:03:00 PM , Anonymous Renee Cutts said...

Lynda, That's me (us)! You have a great memory! Are you, or were you, known by Lynda Benton, in the same club as Lamonda? I'm so terrible with names, forgive me if that's not you.

At 12/31/2005 07:58:00 PM , Blogger LEM'S Politics said...

If you run your car in a ditch, you can be called careless, If you have no plan to get out you can be called stupid

At 12/31/2005 08:15:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I either had a bug or I ate some Democrat food. Why 'Democrat'? Because it had no problem going in but immediately insisted on finding an exit strategy. I'll say no more than that....
God helps those who have no plan to help themself, It is a strange thing that. he gave you an exit for bad food, He gave the Republicans , Democrats to watch over them. A long time Church of Christ Democrat, God bless you and your tongue.

At 12/31/2005 08:30:00 PM , Blogger Lynda Bee said...

Renee - yep! that's me! you've got a better memory than I! :-) It's Saxinger now - 3 kids later (4, 6 & 9) Patrick - you can refer to them as the Wise Man with the serious limp, the star, and the donkey! (Had a great Christmas eve program!)

Renee - pls drop me a line when you can to catch up. Take care!

At 1/01/2006 10:34:00 AM , Blogger Sara Barton said...

I'm reading a wonderful book, Seeking A Lasting City by Mark Love, Randy Harris, and Doug Foster at ACU. Get this paragraph, which I think pertains to your comments save the one about Democrats. I'm not sure what to say pertaining to that comment . . .

Imitating the New Testament church is less about resetting the scene in exacting detail and more about living out the meaning of God's story. Like those exiles who returned to the land under Cyrus, the church cannot be content simply to reproduce literally the specific chracters, actions, locations, and practices of the past, nor would it be possible to do so. Rather, the church lives the often-improvisational art of extending the meaning and action of the story in its own time and place. . . .
Some might object that efforts to extend God's story in new ways diminish the importance of biblical details and make the witness of Scripture less important to the task of being the church today. Just the opposite is true. To continue living the story in faithful ways requires deep and prolonged engagement with God's word. . . . p. 44

Sara's comment - I prefer deep and prolonged engagement with God's word to dissecting it piece by piece and basing our "big issue" theology on small statements taken out of context. Taking the core issues of my heart - love, patience, goodness, self-control to the God's word, along with my diverse community is much more complicated and open-ended than than an approach that says if we follow a pattern exactly, we'll be people who are right with God.

Happy New Year Patrick. Thank you for all you do.

At 1/01/2006 02:41:00 PM , Blogger Jeff Slater said...


Are you the same Lynda Benton from the Royal Oak Church of Christ (way back when)?


At 1/01/2006 11:01:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Patrick, your posts certainly make me think.

I’ve never liked calling the things we do at church the “5 acts of worship” because that seems far to limiting. My whole life is my spiritual act of worship (Rom 12:1-1). This is not to discredit those acts but amplify the whole state of worship.

Still, in the context of the assembly, these still apply:
In was noted that worship is a matter of the heart. I agree, but not only the heart!
Keith Brenton noted that worship should include both mind in heart. Amen! But, don’t stop there! It is our actions and our soul too! “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength and all your mind.” Certainly, we are “loving” the Lord when we worship Him!

Still, there are many different forms of expressing love, appropriate to the type of relationship; one form of expression between brothers, another between husband and wife and yet another between parent and child. Worship seems to be the appropriate expression of love, between the created their creator.

However, each person can only speak for his or her own heart, during the worship service. To mandate crying or some other emotional expression is to judge the heart of others who may not express emotion in this manor, publicly. If the truth is present but the “spirit” is lacking…perhaps it is lacking only in you (generic ‘you’)? God can see and judge the heart of a man, but it often gets us in trouble when we judge someone else’s heart or motives. And, it would equally be wrong to look down on those who do express emotion since we are commanded to love the Lord with all our heart!

I have not understood why we divide acts of worship from the whole of our life, why we divide between mind and heart, when it should be both, plus body and soul. Why do we divide between spirit and truth when, yet again, we are called to both. And, I do not understand why we separate between grace and truth. Some want only grace and deny the truth while others want only truth and deny the grace. In Jesus we find both (John 1:17) not one without the other.

To say that the Bible is more than just a list of rules is not to say that rules are not important. I find it interesting the Pharisees were not instructed to ignore the latter and practice the former but to “practice the former without neglecting the former” (Matt 23:23). Yet, they were missing something very big…Justice, Mercy and Faithfulness all central aspects of God’s nature. Did they know the God they claimed to serve?

Jeremiah 31:31-34 suggests: “knowing the Lord”. We certainly have opportunity to know the Lord better than most in the Old Testament because Christ came in the flesh. We can know the Father through the Son (Heb 1:3 and John 17:6).

Rules certainly teach us something, The Old Testament is said to be a tutor. Right and wrong, what God wants, what is good (Rom 7:7) etc.. Yet, if the Pharisees had sought to know God and not just a list of rules, perhaps they would have known “what it means ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice” (Matt 9:13, 12:7) and therefore, they might have been able to apply this principal, this knowledge of God, to those situations.

Furthermore, the rules should point you to Christ not obscure your view (Gal 3:24).
“One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” Psalms 27:4

Intended in love,

At 1/02/2006 10:03:00 AM , Blogger Jason Coriell said...

Repubican food would be that which directs the vast majority of its nutrients to the nutient richest of tissues - thus widening the gap between the rich and poor...tissues.

Good post!

At 1/02/2006 04:17:00 PM , Blogger PatrickMead said...

Scott, you have a valid point. While I wouldn't consciously judge others in their worship there is no doubt that I have done so unconsciously. I love your description of your congregation and I would have to agree that they are probably showing as much spirit as they can... but that isn't exactly what I meant. I was referring to the group I had met with that morning who yawned their way through the Lord's Supper and mumbled their way through the songs.

But... even then... perhaps I am judging things I have no right to judge.

At 1/02/2006 10:22:00 PM , Blogger Hoots Musings said...

We attend a wonderful congregation, and we run the multi-media room once a month. The entire hour is scripted to the nth degree. My husband has a pentecostal background and has mentioned many times how the CofC just cannot cut loose and let the spirit lead them in worship.

God forbid we don't have a song in que, or a scripture up for any spontaniety.

Excellent post dear brother.

At 1/03/2006 09:34:00 PM , Blogger Bob Bliss said...

Patrick, if Joseph had listened to the Bible he could not have taken Mary out to a public place and had her stoned. There has to be two or three witnesses to the violation (Deut.19:15).

At 1/11/2006 10:04:00 AM , Blogger don said...

Bob, I think the witnesses to the violation would be anyone who saw her pregnant before the wedding. If she is in this state, there was either a violation of the law or it was a supernatural occurrence.


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