Experiencing teaching as worship

(With special thanks to my pastor, John Boulet)

For much of my Christian life, I considered the more musical portion of the service to be when real worship would take place, but the sermon, the message—whatever it was called, the “talking” by the pastor was something else. Now I realize that this time can indeed be filled with worship, and we as the congregation can reverently focus on God, encounter Him experientially, and be transformed.

Perhaps my new frame of mind is due to wonderful teaching I’ve sat under, which focuses on Scripture, relates what God has done for us in Christ, and centers on the assumption that God, not ourselves, should be the center of our attention. Sunday morning is probably not the place for tips on becoming better parents, seven ways to be more successful in life, or other similar concerns. Perhaps Oprah or Dr. Phil can tell me such things. Or maybe a TV preacher. Or even my own pastor. But not on Sunday morning.

Fine biblical teaching from the likes of Tim Keller, John Piper, and a host of others can be found online, and your pastor is probably not as good as they are, but that’s not the point. Something special happens when we physically gather as the body of Christ that isn’t duplicated by listening to podcasts.

A company of people drawn together by God hears what cannot be heard by individuals in isolation. There have been many occasions when a good teacher has presented a piece of the Bible I’ve read, perhaps a hundred times, but only through the preaching of the Word has it truly resonated, provoked me to worship, and changed me.

It’s very likely that God simply won’t allow us to get everything we need through our own study, or podcasts, or other alternatives to the actual physical assembly of his people. As writer Marilyn Robinson has said, “I go to church because there are experiences I can have nowhere else.”



Thoughts about heaven, so often wrong

Many common notions regarding heaven have little to do with what’s actually in the Bible. First of all, Scripture doesn’t imply that people in heaven become angels, sprout wings, play harps, and hang out on clouds. We remain humans, and angels are an altogether different species that most often are portrayed without harps and in the Bible are never presented merely lazing about.

While I do love the old Ray Charles song, I’m pretty sure we aren’t going to be like that “lucky old sun with nothing to do but roll around heaven all day.” Much activity awaits the heaven-bound, beginning with a lot of awe-inspiring worship, because we’ll have unbroken, open fellowship with God himself.  While some sort of eternal Sabbath rest for God’s people is promised, the details are a bit sketchy, and some parables indicate we may even have responsibilities and real work to do, only it’s not freighted with the toil we often endure in this life.

When you get right down to it, some clichés about heaven seem rather prissy and downright boring, almost like an eternal punishment more than a reward.  That could be part of the reason why Hank Williams Jr. sang, “If heaven ain’t a lot like Dixie, I don’t want to go.” I’ve been down south a lot and like much about the region, but it’s also mighty humid and home to countless chiggers, water moccasins, and mosquitos, so I’ll opt for heaven as my eternal abode instead of some place south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Nonetheless, when considering heaven, we’re probably more wrong than right in our thinking. Despite its eternal perspective, the Bible actually reveals little about the place, and what is shown to us is shrouded in symbolism and mystery. The Bible does hint that it is beyond our wildest imaginings (I Corinthians 2:9), so whatever we think is going to happen there falls way short of the wondrous truth.

The most important feature of heaven is God Himself, and for those who know Him, that pretty much settles the issue. We want to be wherever God is, and we can trust Him with all the details in the hereafter because we are trusting Him in the here and now.

The older I get, the more I understand the grace of martyrdom. Denying Christ is inconceivable to me because an earthly life without Him is empty, and a heavenly life without Him is impossible.  Instead of chucking away my faith, I’d rather be dead, and it’s unbearable trying to live for heaven without having a relationship with God right now.

Mere hope of some vague future blessing does not provide enough motivation for holy living, but eternal life starts whenever we truly come to Christ, and Jesus Himself defined eternal life as knowing Him and His Heavenly Father (John 17:3). In a sense, heaven is already here, but we only have a mere preview of what is to come. It will be worth waiting for, whatever happens.