Tuesday, January 31, 2006

I Wonder

Over at Cerulean Sanctum, Dan was writing about life out in the country as a takeoff on my earlier post. It's a great read -- bonus points to anyone who quotes Three Dog Night, Rush and Psalm 8 in the same post! But Dan's post went in a little different direction, speaking of losing too many of rural spots in favor of the ever-expanding suburbs. But he really touched a nerve when he wrote:
We've lost our sense of wonder in the Church. We've packed the Lord and His glorious Creation away in one of Bloomingdale's Little Brown Bags and let our imaginations be filled with the perishing for no other reason than because we can. Isn't it easier that way?
Have we, the Church, truly lost our sense of wonder? Sadly, I think we probably have. At least that's the evidence I have seen far too many times. After all, we cannot sense the wonder of Almighty God if our interest is fixed upon the earthly.

Take for example, the case of this United Methodist church in Georgia. Infighting forced the conference (denominational region) to shut the place down. In the United Methodist system, the physical assets including the building officially belong to the denomination. Thus when the church was closed, the property did not belong to those members. This greatly upset the local folks who believed the building to be theirs. They even tried to have a "worship service" in the yard, but were escorted off the property by law enforcement. Now why didn't these few people meet in a home or another building? They were too worried about the earthly while ignoring the heavenly. In fact, if they were a little more aware of the heavenly perhaps they wouldn't have forced the conference to shut the doors.

But it's not just the extreme congregations. We take far too much pride in our stuff, especially our facilities. Taking care of what we have is one thing, but succumbing to a culture of materialism is quite another. If we are more concerned with the financial or physical state of our church than the spiritual state, we have no chance of seeing the wonder of God.

Beyond that, we have a set idea of what will please God. Usually that idea is based upon another church which is big and crowded on Sundays. We have a little bit of the "Keep up with the Joneses" disease in the church too. John Wilks does a great dissection of the disease from a youth ministry standpoint here. We get jealous, wanting what other churches have, just like everybody else does. If they can do it, we can too -- if we do it just like they do it. But it's not having similar programs or similar facilities which should require our focus, but the one Spirit we've been baptised into. A successful church is too often defined by it's ourward appearances, not it's inward desire. It's no wonder we have lost our sense of wonder.

Even in our worship services, we often find ourselves going through the motions. Our hearts are far from God when our focus is trying to figure out the harmonies of the songs or checking the clock to see how much longer until the service is over. Frankly, most of the time we go to a worship service with the primary thought of "What can I get out of this hour?" We're self-focused. We choose a church based on what we can get instead of what we can give. How are we supposed to keep a sense of wonder with this attitude?

Then there is our personal relationship with our Creator. How many churches downplay the Word of God by not reading it, quoting it or even encouraging people to read it? How many provide any accountability to keep people in the spiritual disciplines? I've remarked before how disheartening it is to tell a Bible study to turn to 1 Samuel only to watch people who have grown up in the church and taught Sunday School struggle for a minute or two before looking in the index to find the book! The Bible isn't a priority in the lives of most church members. And if the Bible isn't a priority, you can be sure that prayer is neglected as well. We don't even seek out or look for the miraculous anymore; we resign ourselves to helping each other cope with the disappointments without anything more than a token prayer.

Yes, I fear that the Church as a whole has lost its sense of wonder. We have stored up our treasures on earth instead of in heaven. We are so consumed with the temporary that the eternal is forgotten. God no longer inspires awe because we don't persue Him or consider Him without losing our place worrying about the new carpet or the new program or what's for lunch after the service.

But what can we do about this? I don't have the answers. However we need to have our minds renewed -- transformed from following the leader to truly seeking what God wants from us. And it's time we started believing in miracles because a miracle is what it's going to take.

Some may say I'm just being pessimistic or overly sensitive and maybe I am. But I see God as an afterthought in too many church decisions and actions. I wonder if we can see Him past the buildings, the songs and the youth car wash. And I wonder if we're aware of the fact that God is so much more than we can imagine.


Jennifer said...

Don't be such a cynic! Just kidding - great post. I agree with your sentiments. I am SO blessed to belong to a church that truly seeks the Lord and seeks to bring others to Him.

A Human Bean said...

I could not agree with you more. As I have made the spiritual disciplines more a part of my life the sense of awe had increased greatly. How can you have awe for a god you do not know? I have awe for the God I do know better and better everyday.

PJ said...

Hey, thanks for visiting my blog.
You are so right - I'm missing my church in KY where people weren't afraid to go to their knees during the music. (we just moved to Indy) It was genuine awe. I think its what the Psalmists were talking about. The more I understand the love of the cross and the mystery of his presence the more I find myself in complete wonder. Beautiful post.

julie said...

How wonderful that Pia's church experience in KY was meaningful. When we were in small town KY, the church we attended was a 'good ole boys club'(in my opinion). I guess it's not regional. It's just the differnece in acknowledging God, vs doing church.
Maybe these concerns would ring true at any time or place in history. People, unless they are vigorously seeking (thru spiritual disciplines) something bigger than they can accomplish, will always turn church into a program/routine. When we glimpse God, in His infiniteness (not a word, I don't think), all those things seem trivial.
I, like Jennifer, am part of a church that really tries to keep the important stuff important. Exactly like jennifer, in fact :)

Interesting diagnosis, Rev.

Jennifer said...

Hee hee! Hi PJ - fancy meeting you here!

Dan Edelen said...

A couple things:

I'm surprised that I didn't get more flak for "syncretizing" Three Dog Night, Rush, and Psalm 8!

I've been reading your blog via Bloglines and missed the big design change! But you have a problem. I'm running Firefox and your posts are starting almost 3/4 of the way down the page. There's a big gap between your animated banner at the top and where the post starts. I encountered this once before in Blogger and it has to do with tables. If you have an HTML table anywhere within your blog design, all the elements of that table MUST be on a single line with no carriage returns or other breaks. That runs against common "nice formatting" knowledge, but that's the problem. Hope this helps!

John said...

Just thinking outloud here:

1. For all of their faults, the emerging church strongly emphasizes wonder and myster. We should listen to what they have to say about the subject.

2. Maybe, just as we have annual revivals (depending on denomination) where we have altar calls and summon people to Christ, we need periodic special services which emphasize the mystery of God.

rev-ed said...

Not a bad suggestion, John, but if we spend the other 364 days a year living for the earthly how are we ever going to retain that wonder?