Committed to Balanced Christianity
Wendell Winkler used to tell the story about a man who walked into a worship service just as the minister was starting his sermon. A few minutes into the message the visitor said, “Amen!” A little while later the man hollered out, “That’s right!” When the preacher made his next point the said, “Praise the Lord!” And that’s when the man sitting behind him tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Sir, we don’t ‘Praise the Lord’ here.”
I like that joke, but to be honest, it makes me a bit uncomfortable because it hits closer to home than I would like to admit. Over the past 150 years our fellowship has tended to be more comfortable with the intellectual aspects of religion than we were the emotional aspects. Maybe you can fully understand that. I admit that I am hardwired in such a way that I am much more comfortable discussing the errors found in the doctrine of premillennialism than I am embracing my emotions.
I have noticed over the past 20 years of doing ministry that most of our fellowship has a tendency to want to shut our emotions down or at the very least suppress them, especially during worship. Maybe it’s because we’re afraid of what will happen if we don’t. I was fed a steady diet of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14 that worship was supposed to be done decently and in order. I was told, often, that if we were to get emotional we could become all “Happy Clappy” or worse.
I wonder if we have made it a bad thing to be seen as a little bit too enthusiastic or excited about what God has done for us. I wonder if it is a bad thing to get a little too carried away with our relationship with God. I mean only the fanatics or holly rollers get into all of that emotional stuff. Worship is serious business, and we must be very serious and stern when we gather to worship. It was ok to laugh and joke outside the building but once we say the opening prayer then it becomes taboo. You know somewhere the Bible it says that we were not allowed to enjoy church. Okay maybe that’s not really there, but I sure grew up around good christian folks who believed it was there, written in red letters.
The problem with this line of reasoning, the one that says emotions are bad, is that it’s basically anti-scripture. Emotions are a part of who we are. They are an essential element in the way God put us together. They are part of what makes us like God, because God is filled with emotion. The text that was read for us this morning we see in red letters the greatest commandment, the most important command is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)
I was raised in churches that had the mind part down. We have always made the best arguments, the most logical explanations that were based on scripture. As a matter of fact, I have read dozens of debates and I can say the restoration folks do a really great job at the intellectual side.
And we do a pretty good job with the soul part of the command. Over our history we have been pretty faithful. In times of stress and turmoil we are at our best, because we have a pretty good faith level.
It’s the first part of the scripture that troubles us; loving God with all of our heart. Just so I didn’t take all of those classes for nothing; the Greek word here is καρδ?α (Kardea) and the word actually means that we are to love God with all of our emotions, desires, appetites, passions.
What would it look like if God became our passion? We tend to get very emotional about the things we are passionate about. Our passions lead us to cry, jump up and down, get angry, laugh, rejoice, and even get depressed. I believe it was Kyle Idleman who once asked, what would your church look like if we treated worship like we treat a football game? Can you imagine someone getting up to read Isaiah 40 and the congregation cheering as we hear the prophet describe the greatness of God? Okay, let’s not get too carried away.
The fact is God is the one who thought of giving us emotions in the first place. We can feel happy, sad, mad, and glad because God gave us the ability to feel those things. Not only do we have those emotions, we worship in ways that bring about emotional responses. Even the songs we sing bring about an emotional response in each of us. So it just makes sense that we would use those emotions to worship God as well.
Emotions have always played an important role throughout the Bible. People got emotional around Jesus and Jesus got emotional. The gospels paint a picture of Jesus using a variety of brilliant emotional colors. Jesus felt compassion; He was angry, indignant, and consumed with zeal; He was troubled, greatly distressed, very sorrowful, depressed, deeply moved, and grieved; He sighed; He wept and sobbed; He groaned; He was in agony; He was surprised and amazed; He rejoiced very greatly and was full of joy; He greatly desired, and He loved.
There have been times I have been guilty of overlooking His emotions and it effected my relationship with Him. Jesus shows us what it means to be fully human and His emotions reflect the image of God without any deficiency or distortion. When we take our emotions out of the equation, we not only diminish our ability to worship God, but we diminish our ability to be a person as well.
Think about it thins way; imagine if I said that I loved Trista, and I was willing to do anything she needed done. Imagine if I was willing to make sacrifices so that she could have what she needed, that I was willing to sacrifice so that she didn’t have to go without. And imagine that at best I was cold in my interaction with her. Imagine that I never got excited when she walked in the room or when my phone rang. Imagine that while I would meet her physical needs I refused to laugh with her or cry with her. If that was our relationship, you might say that I was committed but you couldn’t say I truly loved her. There would be something missing in that relationship.
Sadly, many times, that describes the relationship that I have had with God. While I was firmly committed to serving Him, I would have done anything He asked me to do, there was no feeling, no emotion. I refused to get too excited in my praise and I made sure that I didn’t get too sad at the thought of the cross or find joy in the truth of the resurrection. I might say that I loved God but there was something missing and my relationship with God was catywampus.
We need to find balance in our relationship with God. While we need to love God intellectually and His will for our lives; we also need to allow that deep understanding to evoke the proper emotions in our life as well. Balanced Christianity is able to think reasonably and rationally about what God has done for us and about what God wants us to do for Him. And at the same time we must love God with more than just our minds. While we must be committed to the Bible there is more to being loved by the Creator of the universe than simply reading about it in the pages of the Bible. Love that isn’t felt may be real, but it’s not complete.
Sometimes we get into the habit of loving God the same way we would a great painting. Back in High School I had the opportunity to go to a showing of some of Andy Warhol’s paintings. The exhibit had some of his most famous works on display, including the Campbell Soup Cans. But the more famous pictures were kept at a distance. There were signs that warned us of the consequences of getting to close to the paintings. There were these ropes that kept us out of reach of the paintings. There were these security guards standing by to make sure that everyone obeyed the rules. And just to be safe, the paintings were behind a glass enclosure.
The result was that those of us who were there to see the paintings were mere spectators. While that is sufficient in an art gallery it stinks when it comes to our relationship with God. Being a spectator is not adequate when we gather to worship God.
When we gather to worship, we are called to love and worship God will our emotions. That’s what we see Jesus do, and that’s what we see the early christians do, and I believe that’s what Greenbrier needs to do as well.
We come to God and worship through Happiness
The only sermon we have recorded that Jesus ever preached can be found in Matthew 5-7. We call it the Sermon on the Mount and it is a beautiful treatise about how to live a life that is full and pleasing to God. But have you ever stopped to consider how Jesus starts that great sermon? He begins with the beatitudes: happy are the poor in spirit, happy are the meek, happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. He even says that we can be happy when we endure hardships and we are persecuted.
When we love the Lord with all of our hearts we understand that our happiness is not based on what happens to us here. We are not merely happy when things go our way, we are not merely happy when we get a break, or receive some kind of reward or recognition. We are happy because we have God living in our heart. It just stands to reason when happy people get together, our happiness multiplies.
Another way of saying that is to say we rejoice. Happiness naturally leads to rejoicing, but it’s not something that can be forced. Rejoicing comes out of the overflow of our hearts. Have you ever noticed that Paul starts the letter to the church in Philippi by giving them instruction on being servants. And then he spends the rest of the letter instructing them to live a life of joy. At least 10 times in this short letter Paul instructs them, and us, to rejoice or have joy. We talked last week about being committed to service and Paul would remind us that serving others leads to a life of joy.
In Luke’s account of the of the Beatitudes, found in Luke 6, he writes Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! I like that, Rejoice and leap for joy. Now how many of us would ever do that in public, or go a step further how many of us would do that in a worship service? I know there are some folks out there that jump pews and we have names for folks like that. I mean you jump just one pew when you were in your 20’s and you get labeled for life.
As the sons and daughters of God we have the greatest reason in the world to rejoice. Our worship should be filled with rejoicing because of the love we have for God and for one another. We should rejoice as we share and express our love for each other, we should rejoice because we have been given the wonderful opportunity to be Children of God and to worship our Creator and Redeemer.
We come to God and worship through Sadness.
When I first started counseling I noticed that when someone would start to cry I would just shut down. I had this aversion to tears, my tears, your tears it didn’t matter. But that’s not a problem that Jesus had, or has. In the scriptures we see that Jesus was often moved to tears. While you might immediately jump to the story of Lazarus in John 11:35 where we read Jesus wept, that’s not the only time that Jesus wept or was grieved.
The story we call Jesus' triumphal entry in Luke 19, we see that Jesus rode on the colt of a donkey into the city of Jerusalem. A crowd of poor people and children cheered Him on His way. But Luke doesn’t want us to miss the emotion Jesus is feeling as He gets near to the city is grief. in verse 41 Luke writes When Jerusalem came into view, He looked intently at the city and began to weep.
Jesus’ was very familiar with grief, but we treat tears like some sort of plague that must be avoided at all costs. I grew up around an Americanized version of the gospel that offered quick fixes, easy solutions, and suffering-free discipleship. That has not been my experience. The man who knew God most intimately and fulfilled His will completely was described by Isaiah as a suffering servant.
I vividly remember February 2001. We had just suffered a miscarriage and two days later my grandfather lost his long battle with cancer. I left Trista in Atlanta with her mom while I traveled to Mississippi to speak at the funeral of a man who poured so much compassion and love into my life. The funeral was on a Sunday but before we could go to the funeral, when the clock struck 10:00 we had to go to worship. I didn’t want to be there, I wanted to be with my wife, I wanted to be with my mom’s mom at the funeral home, I wanted to be in the woods by myself. Anywhere but in a building with a bunch of folks croaking out, When We All Get to Heaven. I cried through the whole service, I couldn't sing, pray, or listen to the sermon. I didn’t take communion or read along with the scriptures. But something happened in that place as my tears rolled down my face. It was there that I found a strange sense of peace. God was and is not afraid of our sadness, He offers to redeem it if we are only willing to bring it to Him.
We come to God and worship through Praise and Thanksgiving
More than anything else we need to learn how to worship God in a spirit of praise and thanksgiving. Praise is a natural result of a heart that is thrilled to know God. Praise happens when we understand that our relationship with God is a privilege, not a right. When we only approach God through our intellect we miss that we have been given a great privilege to even be able to pray, or sing, or worship, or love God. If we miss the privilege, there is no praise because we have no understanding of how great God truly is.
There have been times in my life when I intellectualized God so much that my worship was dry and bland. I only sang because God told me to sing. I only prayed because God told me to pray. I forgot what a a great honor and a privilege we have to be in His presence. Without thanksgiving there can be no joy without understanding we will never be able to offer God praise.
Thanksgiving is one of the things that makes us different from the world. While the world thinks about how they deserve what they have, and that they worked for what they got. Christians understand that everything we have is because of God’s Amazing Grace. We live a life of thanks and praise because we acknowledge that we are surrounded by Christ’s love. As a result praise happens, and our hearts overflow with thanksgiving.
We have so much to be thankful for when we assemble together we cannot help but to be joyful. When we understand what God has done for us, we cannot help but love Him with all of our heart. Worship should be a place of rejoicing and praise. And until we learn to love God with all of our hearts our worship will be a solemn sad occasion.
This morning I want to encourage you to love God with all of your heart and enjoy your faith. Love God with all of your heart and enjoy God’s grace and love. Love God with all of your heart and enjoy His family.