The Johnson'swere running late. As they walked into the church behind the usher, their concerns were justified. Their regular pew in the back of the church was already full. Ellen quickly whispered to Jim,"the only seats left are down front; let's go get a cup of coffee and come back for the secondservice". Jim nodded and motioned to the usher that they were leaving. Over coffee anddonuts, they decided to take the day off. and go to a craft show instead of church
At movies, concerts, lectures and other public gatherings, people rush to fill the frontseats first. Everyone wants to see and hear as much of what is going on, as possible. In manychurches, the most desirable seats seem to be the back rows. The first two rows up front oftenremain empty. In a sense, the rear becomes the front, if the audience becomes the 'show'. Thepulpit view of many congregations is also a paradox. People get up early on their day off, dressin their Sunday best, arrive early enough to sit in their pew, and greet each other with friendlysmiles, waves and conversation. When the service begins, an almost 'Jekyl and Hyde' transformation takes place. Somber faces, unresponsive eyes, rigid posture and 'closed' bodylanguage evidence a joyless ritual. It is as though a booming voice blared out, "it is now time toworship God ... will everyone please stop being joyful and happy". Afterwards, thecongregation dutifully files by the pastor to tell him how much they enjoyed the service.
Perfunctory attendance at receptions, social functions ... and church, sometimes producea type of joyless, but socially graceful boredom, among people who would rather be somewhereelse. After one's duty is performed, many breathe a sigh of relief and return to preferred activitiesand more comfortable friends. God wants worship to be a joyful, preferred activity with himselfas our comfortable friend and Lord. There is little difference between offering lame sacrifices inan Old Testament synagogue (Mal 1:8) and offering joyless, obligatory worship in church. Godhas never been pleased by religious duty, the sacrifice of goats and bulls, perfunctory churchattendance, empty ritual or fruitless programs (Hos 6:6, Heb 10:4). God seeks joyful relationship with those who worship him in Spirit and truth (John 4:23-24). Believers know that! Still, the motions ofreligion are sometimes allowed to replace true worship, as though God did not know thedifference. Even true worship is not cause for recognition, but only our rightful response to aloving God (Lk. 17:10).
If church visitors were handed $20 bills, our churches would be packed with invitedguests. Something needs to happen to get church members as excited about what is happening inchurch, as a free $20 bill. If that happened, there is no telling what might happen in ourchurches, homes, neighborhoods and nation. The living God calls his sons and daughters to dailyrelationship, not to weekly religious ritual and mealtime prayers. No meaningful relationship,including our relationship with God, is maintained by a few perfunctory words and actions.
Instead of "Wake Up Oh Church Victorious", the theme of many churches seems tohave become a boring rendition of "Sleep-On, Oh Church laborious". Lukewarm, complacentreligion is unacceptable to God (Rev. 3:14-18). Let us Joyfully bring offerings of praise andthanksgiving to the altar of the living God, and leave our blind, lame goats at home. (#112)