The Wastefulness of Worship

It has been a long time since I’ve written in this space and don’t know how many people would even read this.  This is actually an odd post to start a resumption of my blog

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I must admit that this post is a response to a write up I read by Hugh Halter in Outreach Magazine.  Now admittedly, I don’t know the man and don’t regularly read anything he writes, so I’m not qualified to make any broad assertion about what he thinks and how he interacts theologically with the issues he raises in his post.  With that disclaimer in mind, I found myself responding a bit negatively to what he says. but since I was inspired I thought I’d strike while the iron is hot, so to speak.

He says a couple of things to which I agree wholeheartedly:

In other words, worship on Sunday is only going to be as deep as our worship the rest of the week.

I agree with this.  Worship is intended to be a whole life response to God, not just a weekly musical concert with a lot of emotional content.  However, he then continues to assert:

Depth through song, liturgy, spoken word and preaching is only going to be as meaningful as the level of meaning we bring to others around us.

Whoa!  That’s where my caution meter kicked in.  Depth through song, liturgy, spoken word and preaching is only going to be as meaningful as the level of meaning we bring to others around us?

This is, in my opinion, quite an erroneous statement and a misapplication of the biblical admonition to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and your neighbour as yourself, which he cites as support for his assertion.

He mentions:

The average church spends well over 75 percent of their time and financial resources keeping the “house of worship” open for business. How can minimize the consumer tendency, justify the expenses or at least find a balance that brings glory to God?

He then goes on to make some quite interesting suggestions geared towards minimizing the consumerism that threatens to creep into the life of the church — something that I believe NEEDS to be combated fiercely.

My problem though is at another level, and again, I’m not attacking the man, his motives, nor really even his good intentions towards the reform of the church.

My issue is that worship is inherently wasteful.

Significant sections of the entire book of Leviticus and Numbers are given over to description of elaborate ceremonies, costly garments, excessively expensive structures that God commanded to be constructed for the sake of his worship.  A huge waste of materials, time and resources.

All of Israel was required to pay tax (tithe) to support a whole tribe of people whose sole job was maintenance of the worship apparatus.  These people literally did nothing but conduct religious services.  How wasteful (and unfair!).

Sacrificial ceremonies required people to travel quite some distance to offer the first and best of their produce and flocks as worship to God.  In a subsistence agricultural context, this is very costly — indeed wasteful.

Israelite boys were required to be cut in their most vulnerable parts a mere eight days after birth without anesthetic, without antibiotics and in a context where infant death was very common.  Also a wasteful act.

Of course these are all Old Testament references, which does not of course invalidate them though many Christian effectively behave as if it does.  Rather we ought to look at the Old through the lens of Christ.

In this light, Mr. Halter’s words seem stunningly familiar.  There was another disciple who decried wasteful indulgence of worship while insisting that the money would be better spent on the poor, or in Halter’s words:

put the same amount of money into serving the poor, equipping people to go out in missional communities or simply giving the money away to smaller church plants that can’t even afford to buy a portable Bose sound system.

Of course Judas was a thief and betrayed Jesus.  I’m not suggesting that Halter is either a thief or a betrayer.  I am merely observing that their suggestions are virtually the same.

Christians shouldn’t be wasteful and extravagant and wasteful in a consumerist fashion, spending only on themselves and their entertainment, and it is far too easy for the apparatus of worship to become that. Agreed.  The larger point though is that everything concerning worship can be considered wasteful or extravagant.

By a drum set? Wasteful.

Pay the musician? Wasteful.

Have a carpeted sanctuary? Wasteful.

It is all waste — depending on your point of view, the money can always be spent on something more ‘worthy’.

God save us from a Judas spirit.

(Cathedral picture from: http://worshipvj.com/church-architecture-worship/)

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What happens to a dream deferred…?


Some of you who have followed this blog may remember a rather odd posting some time back wherein I recounted an even odder dream starring Eugene Cho and Wayne Park. Here’s the recap:

In the dream, I and Eugene are walking through what appears to be conference center of some kind, but which really looks like a student center on a college campus. As we walk I am explaining to him something about this “event” that we are apparently both a part of and which I am evidently in charge of coordinating. While walking through we pass by a number of rooms in which various student gospel choirs are preparing themselves for a concert. We also passed by one of my current student who I recognized only from the back of his head, as he was busy studying. Then (this is really weird) we passed by Wayne Park, who I have also never met, but who is sitting with his laptop typing something. Eugene greets him, and I am surprised they know each other, but say nothing as I remember that they do indeed know one another. All the time we’re walking, I keep thinking to myself, “Eugene is a lot shorter than I thought he would be,” and “wow, his hair is really interesting.”

We finally arrive at “the room” where Eugene’s presentation is to take place. It is a very nice room set up amphitheater style with large red very modern sofa type seating arranged in a semi-circle. Eugene comments that it is just like his church, but I am confused because I thought his church met in some other kind of space, but again I say nothing. Of course I’ve never seen his church either. He leaves the room to go get some “equipment,” and I again wonder why he isn’t taller than I thought he would be. My last thought before waking? I really like this room.

Well this dream is a dream deferred no longer as I had the opportunity (nay only a few short moments ago) to actually meet Eugene Cho while he was at a conference in Knoxville. Some of the interesting similarities:
– the conference he was attending was on a college campus
– the conference was in a city in my “territory” (i.e. I could be thought of as “hosting” him)
– Eugene is shorter than I thought he would be (which is weird because I had no idea of his height whatsoever)
– his hair is really interesting
– we ate a restaurant with red chairs

Perhaps I’m a prophet!!!

Anyway… it was great fun meeting Eugene in person. We had some good conversation simply getting to know one another in person as opposed to through the blogosphere and I left the conversation feeling a bit sharpened in my own journey. We discussed some people we know in common, and reflected a bit on the temptations of valuing the appearance of wisdom (or spirituality or depth) over actually being wise. I hope to soon travel to the west coast to take him up on his offer of coffee.

The massive irresponsibility of my blogging absence explained

I don’t have very many readers to this blog, and likely have far fewer now that I’ve neglected to update in nearly 3 months (or is it 4?), but those few readers ought to know that I have not been entirely unaware or absent from blogdom.

Indeed, as St. Jude would say, I have had every intention of writing, but have often found myself at odds with myself over the content that I want to communicate. It is rather difficult at times for me to put into words the concerns that I have had and to clearly lay out some of the recent thoughts I have had about various topics political, theological, ecclesiological, and otherwise. So… just as a way of whetting (or perhaps dampening) the appetite, here are a few things I’m thinking of writing on:

Are ALL Asian American Christians sellouts
(a response to the post at nextegenerasianchurch)

Further thoughts on women in ministry leadership (an exploration of history, hermeneutics, and sociopolitical considerations)

Black Asian dialogue (just wanting to know if we have anything to teach each other)

Are there any other suggestions?? Asian Christians and homosexuality? Preaching in the Asian church? Am I a sellout for going to an Asian church?

Depression

Generally speaking, I am not an especially “sad” person. On most days, I wake up and go through my days relatively happy or at least busy. Those who do not know me well would be surprised to know that I have, for as long as I can remember, struggled with intense bouts of periodic melancholy. I hesitate to use the word “depression” because it carries the connotation of a medically or psychologically diagnosed condition. I’ve never been clinically diagnosed that way, but I would be unsurprised if such diagnosis were ever applied to me.

When I was a teenager it was not unusual for me to have episodes of intense emotional distress (i.e. weeping and/or being perpetually on the edge of tears) for hours on end, though my outer demeanor betrayed none of that and my parents were absolutely unaware that crying myself to sleep was not at all uncommon. I was rather ashamed to tell them that. Experiencing such depth of emotion seemed to me to be “weak” and I didn’t want to 1) embarrass my parents for having such a punk for a son, 2) make them feel badly for raising a son who couldn’t keep it together, or 3) admit that how terrified I was of the intensity of my own emotions.

To cope with all of this, I became outwardly a very emotionally distant person who was charming and yet in possession of a biting sarcastic wit. The painful shyness of my youth was covered up well under a veneer of impassibility and a stubborn inward decision to never be dependent on anyone. I never asked for help for anything; a habit that still persists to this day. In the leadership I rose to in college, I was extremely competent and utterly independent, but also very distant and uncompassionate to those around me. I could with no emotion whatever humiliate and crush someone who opposed me without any sense of real guilt.

Over the years, I’ve mostly matured past many of these sinful behaviors, constructed as they were to prevent me from dealing with the inward depression I periodically experienced. They will always be strong temptations to me. God has been gracious to me, and I pray he has repaired the damage I undoubtedly caused to many people through the years. Even so, I still struggle with depression, though thankfully not as in previous years. When it comes, it no longer washes over me like a tidal wave, but rather seeps in and creeps up, like a slowly rising flood slowly stripping me of desire or passion or motivation. Once it has fully come, simply getting through the day feels like a major accomplishment, though there is a grace that seems to come when I must minister to others. When that grace lifts, I rely on the discipline of obedience and steadfast trust in God to carry me through. Sometimes this barely feels like enough.

I do not write this in pity, nor in regret. I do wonder for those who have this struggle and minister to others especially how you cope with it.

Cold Shower

A cold shower has often been recommended as a quick way of dampening the overly ardent passion of young men. As a single man, such advice strikes me as dubious at best, and it is advice that I’ve never taken, at least not intentionally.

Perhaps our Lord believes that I need more encouragement towards good and godly thoughts as my water heater has apparently broken. So now all my water is cold. However, since it broke back in April, and I spent the summer in less than first world conditions, and its hot here, I’ve actually grown accustomed to colder water. Oh how pressing the luxuries of life seem when they first go missing, and how unimportant they are upon further reflection.

Post-mission Mission

I write this post from a nice comfortable guest bedroom in the home of a friend in Gentilly, a suburb of Paris, France. Just a few days ago I was in Ghana on mission, doing all the things that short term missionaries do, and some that they don’t (like discussing with our ministry partners what kind of woman I need so he can find me a wife). Now I am relaxing in Paris for the next several days – almost 10 full days before I return to my normal life and responsibilities. Hence the blogging hiatus since late May. Thanks Wayne for checking in on a brother.

As I rode the train from Amsterdam to Paris yesterday, I began my process of debriefing my summer experiences in mission. Anyone who has gone on missions knows, or should know, that how you re-enter your home country is as important a part of the trip as anything else you do. I debated, given my tiredness, if I was perhaps foolish to set aside quite so much time for recovery and “vacation.” There are lots of other things I could and maybe even should be doing. And I miss the students who were part of the team. But I also know that rest is important, and I have no choice now, since my plane tickets are already purchased. So I am stuck here until time to leave, and I have no agenda. I will see what I want to see and there may be many things I do not see. My priority is rest and refreshment in the Lord’s presence here in the capital city of the eldest daughter of the church.

In Amsterdam and subsequently on the train to Paris, I had many uncollected and random thoughts as I tried to piece together my experiences and my surroundings. Some observations…

The first observation, a recollection really, is just how big Dutch people are. I mean, they are just really tall and big people. I am six feet tall and easily at many points was the shortest person in the crowd. There were many women who were taller than me. It makes me wonder what the heck they’re feeding them.

The second is that Europe is far more diverse than America. The world was present on the train and in the Metro station – people of varied nationalities and cultures mixing and intermixing. There are lots of mixed race children around.

The third and easily the only really disturbing one is that for all the wealth and luxury of Europe (and it is indeed wealthy and luxurious – have you looked at the dollar/Euro exchange rate lately?) it is a spiritual and communally desolate place compared to Ghana. The reality of spiritual oppression in some communities in Ghana were idol worship is practiced is nothing compared to the oppression of a godless and unarticulated spiritual depravity that stalks the land here. I do not mean to suggest that God is absent; He is never absent. And amazingly I met someone on the train who quite likely is Christian, as he explicitly asked me about attending the Hillsong – Paris church after I told him I had come from Ghana on missions. He also mentioned that some of his American friends were coming to do church planting in Paris. No, the gospel is alive and well, and the kingdom is steadily advancing in quiet and not so quiet ways. But in just this short stay, the words of I Timothy seem even more prescient to me, “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.” More thoughts on this later, but can it be that the very wealth of nations is a spiritual placebo, plastering over our spiritual destitution with the appearance of security?