July 29, 2013

the reason why

i will never forget a story that one of my high school youth ministers told me when i was a senior in high school. he had visited with a woman in her home in alabama in order to study the bible. the specific subject that they had decided to study was baptism. during the bible study, he read several different verses that indicated that baptism was essential for salvation. after he finished reading those verses, the woman spoke up and said, "you won't find those scriptures in my bible." puzzled, my youth minister asked her what she meant, and she handed him her bible. as he flipped through the pages, he discovered that whole passages were missing. the woman had taken scissors and literally cut out the scriptures that she didn't believe in or agree with.

through this story, i was introduced to the term "proof-texting:" using scriptures from the bible in a way to prove a point that we have already decided to be true. this includes both ignoring certain verses in GOD'S word and taking other verses out of their context in order to defend whatever it is that we believe or are practicing. and i believe proof-texting is something that we all do, regardless of whether we physically cut out certain passages or not.

being the daughter of a minister and a member of the church of CHRIST, i get asked a lot of questions. the question that i receive most often is why i choose to worship in the way that i do. why do i not use instruments when i sing? why do i feel it's not appropriate for me or other women to lead the LORD'S supper or a prayer during a service? why do i think the LORD'S supper must happen once a week? why do i get so dressed up for worship? why do i act so formally and reverently during worship?

but recently when having this very discussion with someone, it became more like a battle of proof-texting. despite the fact that i was the one being asked the questions, i felt as if i was having to defend an argument. for every verse that i offered, another verse was given to "refute" it. the other person's opinion was already determined, and no scripture that i suggested was going to be accepted because it had already been proof-texted out of his/her internal, personal truth.

so i then took scripture completely out of the discussion, and instead i created these analogies for why i choose to worship GOD in the way that i do. and these actually made an impact, so i share them for the purpose of us all reconsidering how and why we worship the way that we do.

you know the feeling all too well. it's your birthday or christmas, and you're unwrapping your presents. you begin to open one from a very dear friend who is standing right beside you. this friend knows you so well, and he or she just knows that this present is the perfect gift for you and that you will just love it. but then it happens: you unwrap something that isn't anything that you would ever ask for or pick out. you have no use for it whatsoever. it does not match or coordinate with anything in your home. you immediately begin thinking of who you know that could use it instead. and while you are so grateful for the time, energy, and thought that went into this gift, it wasn't what you asked for at all.

let's take it a step deeper. it's your 16th birthday, and all you can think about is your upcoming party. your family will all be there. your friends will all be there. that certain guy or girl that you have the biggest crush on will be there. the setting of the party will be formal, and everyone will be dressed in dresses and suits. there will be an extravagant meal and evening entertainment. and because you love broadway musicals so much, you have asked a friend to sing ballads from different musicals throughout the evening. you don't set specific parameters for your friend's performance, but you assume that your friend can conclude that because it's a formal setting and you've asked for broadway musicals, that she will try to look her best and will perform the songs in the same style as the original broadway singers.

this day is all about you. it's about celebrating your life and giving you the perfect party. but your friend who will be performing decides that she just really doesn't enjoy singing broadway tunes but that she will make an exception since it's for you. but in order to improve the quality of the performance, she decides she will bring her banjo since she feels it's her true gift. she also really doesn't like wearing formal clothing, and she just knows that you won't mind her being more comfortable.

so on the evening of your 16th birthday party, in the presence of all of the guests that you have invited who are all dressed like it's the royal wedding, your friend walks out on the stage in jeans and a t-shirt with her banjo in hand. and she begins playing your favorites, "think of me" from "phantom of the opera" and "i dreamed a dream" from "les miserables," on her banjo with a nice, deep country twang. she has the audience start swaying and clapping to enrich the experience, and you watch as your sweet, little grandmother is lifted into the air and is crowd-surfed across the room.

let's take it just one step deeper. it's your great-grandmother's funeral. she was a very religious and devout woman, and she could always be found wearing a dress and heels, even to the grocery store. she touched the lives of hundreds of people, and she was the sweetest and kindest lady that you ever met. and for her funeral, she made the simple request that the song "i'll fly away" be sung during the ceremony.

when you arrive to the funeral, you see that most of the crowd is dressed in black and acting somberly, but one group of people has decided to honor your great-grandmother by wearing matching t-shirts that read, "keep on rocking, granny." they are smiling from ear to ear and laughing at stories of funny things that she did, and there is a rock band at the front of the auditorium who is jamming out to "i'll fly away" as people find their seats.

how do you feel right now? uncomfortable? shocked? mortified? hurt? angry? repulsed? vengeful?

are you hurt that the friend buying you a gift didn't know your taste at all or didn't look to see what you had actually asked for?

are you mortified that your friend considered her pleasure and preferences above yours in determining her performance at your birthday party?

are you enraged that people were totally defying the essence of your great-grandmother at her own funeral and acting totally irreverently and inappropriately toward her death?

these stories may be just a little dramatic, but isn't this what we do to GOD?

when it comes to giving GOD our gifts, why do we think that we know GOD so well that we can make adjustments to worship and just know that HE will be pleased with them? is GOD saying at the end of our services, "I appreciate the time, energy, and thought, but it wasn't what I asked for at all?"

when it comes to celebrating GOD and JESUS'S sacrifice on the cross and worshiping our LORD, do we put our enjoyment, improvement, feelings, gifts, likes, and knowledge ahead of what GOD has asked? do we find ourselves asking why we shouldn't do something or why we should do something? do we find ourselves pushing the boundaries to see how many of our preferences and opinions we can bring into the mix so that our sacrifice will still be acceptable, or do we put GOD first and weed out anything that HE hasn't asked for or has forbidden so that we might offer the best sacrifice?

do we demonstrate greater reverence at a funeral than we do in a worship service? do we forget that we are to take the LORD'S supper in remembrance of CHRIST'S death? is our worship so entertainment-driven and emotionally uplifting that we seek to feel good after it's over and that we hope we don't hear anything that might actually convict us or allow us to feel bad?

there may be a whole lot of gray area. i might be allowed to do certain things. my preferences might still be acceptable. i might be able to stretch the boundaries to fit in my personal pleasure and enjoyment. but why would i want to?

worship is all about GOD. it's not about me, and it's not about my preferences or opinions. it's not about proving a point or engaging in an argument. i can proof-text all day long, and if i do, i am even more likely to yield an unacceptable sacrifice. i might sacrifice my time, energy, and thought to giving to GOD, but it might not be at all what HE asked for or what HE was expecting.