The mood in the church was heavy as believers in my city gathered to mourn the horror of a racist demonstration in America and its deadly aftermath. As we united to grieve and pray, a question seemed to hang in the air: What does it mean to hope during days like this—when evil is on full display and when the justice of God’s kingdom seems far away?
“Sometimes, going to church just seems irrelevant. After all, we listen to sermons via podcasts and can live- stream a church service . . . in our pajamas. Personally, I enjoy having access to so many Christian resources at the swipe of my finger on my iPhone. . . . I also meet in Christian community on Wednesday nights for small group Bible study. That’s good enough, right?” Those words, from a thoughtful post by Lindsay Blackburn, reflect the ambivalence many people feel about being part of a local church.
Last summer, my city was embroiled, yet again, in a confrontation with the ongoing realities of racism in our nation. To protest the removal of a local statue honoring a general who fought to preserve slavery, some white-supremacist groups descended on our town. The pain caused by the hate-filled demonstration opened wounds that were hidden below the surface. In the US, we like to pretend that these issues are ancient history, but until we deal head on with these sins, we’ll never be healed of the evil.
Author Sarah Wells, in her blog post “Church, Why Bother?” writes, “On Sunday mornings, I have the keen sense of worshiping God with other believers in my community while other believers around my community, my state, the country, and the world also worship. All of those believers are strangely and mysteriously and powerfully connected to us by the Holy Spirit, and we are all together worshiping one God in a dedicated space at a dedicated time.”
During a visit to Melbourne, Australia, my hosts took me on a mini-tour of the city. Along the way, they pointed out some buildings that had been converted from churches to bars. I’ve learned that this is a common practice—not only in Australia, but around the world. Troubled, I wondered what the future held for places of worship. Imagine my elation when I read of a bar that’s reversing the trend and returning to its roots as a church!
The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” Answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” A student misquoted this as, “Our purpose is to glorify God and endure Him forever.” The mistake is funny, but isn’t that sometimes how we secretly feel about eternity? What will we do there except sing praise songs? How wonderful for the first million years. But . . . forever?
Every religion has its places of worship—places that are considered sacred. In the Old Testament, we read of three festivals for worshiping God at the temple in Jerusalem each year (Deuteronomy 16:16).
In the book You and Me Together, Francis Chan writes, “The problem many couples [have] is that they spend a lot of time looking at themselves and each other, but very little time staring at God.” These words point us to the importance of placing our focus on Him.
I once heard a speaker describe God’s unique nature in a memorable way. The word “God” was placed at the top of a PowerPoint slide, the words “Everything Else” at the bottom, and a solid line in-between. The speaker then stated that—as His creatures—we’re more like a worm or a cow than God. In His holiness, He’s separate, “above the line.”
For years, Denise referred warmly to her sibling Carolyn as “my little sister.” Carolyn faced significant cognitive challenges, but she loved life and brought joy to everyone who knew her. She loved Jesus too!
I once heard about a first-time author who came to Jesus due to the stunning success of his book. The way he saw it, God escalated the book’s accomplishment beyond the merits of his talent in order to get his attention. Humbled, the author responded by seeking God and ultimately believing in Christ. What makes this story so unusual is that success more often has the opposite effect; after initial demonstrations of gratitude, we tend to forget God in the midst of plenty.
Getting a group of people to move in the same way and at the same time requires a lot of skill. But more than 31,000 dancers in China made it look easy. Guinness World Records says that 31,697 Chinese women set the record for mass plaza dancing in multiple locations. The participants danced for more than five minutes in six different cities.
In 2016, the Chicago Cubs baseball team won the World Series (North America’s pro baseball championship) for the first time since 1908. After their win, people everywhere declared that “the Curse” had been lifted. The curse supposedly originated in 1945, when William Sianis tried to bring his pet goat into Wrigley Field during a game. Guards denied them access and Sianis reportedly said, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.”
The death of a king in 2016 elicited deep grief from the people of his nation. The news resounded around the world as citizens wept over the loss of their beloved ruler. One man said the monarch had been a caring leader for every person. Another woman was in such despair that she couldn’t even eat. This king was an able leader who helped bring political stability and economic development to the country for more than seventy years. The loss of his leadership caused many to look with fear toward the future.
Each Sunday my local church begins our service with a call to worship—a song declaring that we gather to proclaim God’s goodness and beauty. As we sing, we’re also affirming that we live as citizens of His kingdom. Although during most of the worship we encourage people to choose their own posture, in this opening song we always ask our people to stand. We want to open the service conscious of standing in God’s presence, reverently honoring the One who’s other than us.