Wednesday, December 28, 2005

But Is It A Tree?

C.S. Lewis pointed out that one of the distinguishing marks of the Christian faith was the existence and work of the Holy Spirit. No other religion, he said, has anything approximating the Spirit and His work. A lot of ink and blood has been spilled over exactly how the Spirit works and moves. I will quickly confess to any and all that I don't know the answers. However, several incidents in my life have given me insights you might find interesting.

I had worshipped one morning with a small group of believers in a town in the west of Scotland. They did everything the way we do things -- the five acts of worship, etc. They had even imported American songbooks and sang our traditional hymns. The worship seemed formulaic and there wasn't much in the way of spirit there. No worries, though. I knew that God could do things I didn't know about so perhaps that worship helped some there to get through their week.

That night we were invited to attend a worship service held over a barn in its loft. The people there, we were told, had left denominations and were looking for pure, simple Christianity. I took a member with me and we climbed the steps to the loft where we were warmly greeted. They used an acoustic guitar while they sang. Several danced during the songs. The Lords Supper was offered with wine in the cup and a huge dinner roll as the bread. Tears flowed down their cheeks as they took in Christ's sacrifice.

I left that night very troubled. Raised in a very conservative branch of the church I was still its loyal son, but I could sense a seismic shift occuring as I wondered: We have been told to worship in spirit and in truth. We worshipped in truth this morning, but there was no evidence of the Spirit. They worshipped in the Spirit this evening, but they didn't hold to the old paths and the ways I considered the truth. So... would God condemn them for not having the truth but spare us when we didn't have the spirit?

Somewhat like the scrubbed nativity scenes I discussed last post, I think we have done the same with our worship. We have scrubbed them, made them clean, orderly, clinical and sterile (in every sense as they do not seem to produce baby Christians very often). Perhaps it is because we tried to discover -- in a scientific fashion -- the basic facts and then put them on display in a clear, minimalist way, just as we do the nativity scene. When we do so, do we have worship as God intended?

The mighty redwood tree is made up of less than thirty types of element/compound/ or substance. If I were to isolate those compounds through diligent study, place each in a jar, and then arrange those 28 different jars in front of someone and declare: "Behold! The mighty redwood!" you would fit me for the funny jacket and fling medications at me. I have the elements of a tree... but is it a tree? When we do the same to our faith and worship and bring those elements in front of the crowd and declare "Behold! Worship pleasing to God!" is it really? Just asking.

Without diligent study, though, we can go "all spirit all the time" and end up, not with God's Spirit, but with our own. We are warned to test every spirit to see whether it is from God. While we invite the Spirit into our worship and life (and ask Him to bring life to us, to fill us so that we seem drunk to the world), we must make sure that what we are being led to do agrees with the story of Scripture. God may lead us in many directions, but the devil is also poised to lead us while wearing a poorly designed "God suit." We search the scriptures to make sure that we are hearing the same voice the apostles heard. And then we ask the Spirit to come and revitalize us, take over our sterile and lifeless forms, to kick over the tables where we've kept the jars, and bring us the power and joy of the Lord.

It takes more than the elements. It takes the Giver of Life. Without Him... is it really a tree?


At 12/28/2005 03:40:00 PM , Blogger David U said...

Patrick, let me just say AMEN! And then AMEN again! :)

Powerful post, bro. Like so many bloggers, you need to write a book!



At 12/28/2005 03:45:00 PM , Blogger DJG said...

I'm not at all sure you answered the questions you posed. But you voiced much of what is rattling around in my head.

How do we find it? How do we get what we are so thirsty for without a) compromising what we consider truth and/or
b) just burning out.

At 12/28/2005 06:10:00 PM , Blogger That Girl said...

Wonderful thoughts! Thank you!

At 12/28/2005 06:44:00 PM , Blogger PatrickMead said...

DJG, you are right. I am just finding the questions right now so the answers aren't there yet. Maybe we can help each other on the journey. I plan to write more on this in a few days.

At 12/28/2005 09:19:00 PM , Blogger Keith Brenton said...

I've begun to discover that the old paths are of no particular value if they lead in the wrong direction.

I'm not trying to pick nits (oh, all right, maybe a couple - but not with you), and I have to agree that "we are told to worship in spirit and in truth." But Jesus didn't tell us to. He just assumed we would (at least, in the phrasing He used with the woman at the well of Sychar in John 4). So many of us have grown up with a command-based religion, we've seen virtually everything He says or that a New Testament writer says as a command.

I think His point is: the kind of worshiper God seeks and wants is the worshiper who does worship in spirit and in truth.

And since I've begun to see Christ's vision of His kingdom with less coloring of the "commandment" lens, I've also begun to wonder: Does He really expect us to be right about everything? Or to depend on His righteousness? Does He want us to know all of the correct answers? Or just be willing to admit that we are wrong, and repent? And when these aren't "either-or" questions, then what's the balance He desires in our character? Some things are commands, clearly. Some are options. Do we know the difference? Do we have to? Or are we intended to meditate upon their value and be grateful for them as centerlines and guard rails on the road of life?

Sorry, but I'm ending up with more questions than answers, too.

At 12/28/2005 10:34:00 PM , Blogger jettybetty said...

Several years ago, God gave me this *Methodist* friend--now, I had believed that she was not *saved*, but then her life manifested all kinds of spiritual fruit--that was the beginning of some changed thinking for me.
I used to think I had the answers--now I know I don't have many at all. I will look forward to your insights!

At 12/28/2005 11:20:00 PM , Blogger PatrickMead said...

Exactly right, Keith. This might be a fun discussion. Just remember everybody -- play nice!

At 12/29/2005 12:00:00 PM , Blogger Cheetah, the cheetah said...

Your questions echo so many of mine! I get weary of them screaming around in my mind and it helps to hear that others are having the same questions and struggles. I'm still waiting for answers to those questions too....I hope you and your readers offer some answers.

At 1/02/2006 11:31:00 AM , Blogger KentF said...

Excellent post Patrick. I wonder if many feel the Great Commission really means having the world emulate a North American cofc worship style? And, if so, is it being effective?

Seems that most of us "here" have lots of questions, while those over "there" have not had a question in decades - just lots of "truth". I'll end now - my synicism is mounting to an unhealthy level.

At 1/02/2006 12:10:00 PM , Anonymous swiley said...

Scott Wiley here

Hi Patrick,

We've crossed paths at the Kalamazoo, Bristol Rd, and through the E. Allen congregation. I don't expect that you'll remember me, but I've developed a soft spot in my heart for you.

You wrote:
"I wondered: We have been told to worship in spirit and in truth. We worshipped in truth this morning, but there was no evidence of the Spirit. They worshipped in the Spirit this evening, but they didn't hold to the old paths and the ways I considered the truth."

I found this comment particularly interesting. It seems you are judging both groups on an a priori regarding "spirit". Could you elaborate as to why the evidence you presented indicates a proper expression of worship in spirit.

I worship w/a small congregation full of farmers and coal miners, in a small rural town, which is waaayyyyy over represented by introverts. Folk who think nodding your head more than twice is being a chatter box.

The old saying, "Still waters run deep" applies here. Not real experessive of emotion nor particularly excitable, or such, but great in depth.

I suspect, from your comments, that you'd view our folk as lacking in spirit, due to their non-demonstrative personalities. [I think I recall you saying something to the effect you are not real expressive yourself

Perhaps you've known these other folk for a long time, but from what little you posted, it seems that you are judging the quality of the hearts and inner man, [of both groups] on the externals, and a preconcieved idea of what worshiping in spirit should look like.

Could you unpack your comments a bit more?

Scott P. Wiley


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