Monthly Archives: August 2016

Trite . but Too True!

Blind Faith (No. 35, 2016)
Weekly Devotional for September 1, 2016
Trite . but Too True!

The following comparison is admittedly trite, but it is far too
true:

True Southern religious festivals begin this week and throngs
of followers are bristling with excitement. Most will be Sabbath gatherings
while a number of Latter Day and Second-Latter Day (Thursday) meetings will
convene. The faithful crowds will clamor for prime seating. Large sums of
money will be offered as part of the rituals. Many attendees will dress in
clothing that they wear only to such gatherings. Otherwise reserved,
dignified people will freely display deep emotional responses to the events
they witness.

The true Southern religion is football, of course. Pro football
almost doesn’t count. The truest of true religious rites – college games –
start the 2016 season this week. (Roll Tide! I confess that I am as guilty
as anyone of religious zeal for the sacred sport!) Bonds of allegiance to
one’s chosen team may be stronger than ties to family, friends, work, or .
church. College football stadiums will become the third or fourth largest
“cities” in their states for about four hours during the college games. On
high school Fridays, the gatherings will be smaller but the passion of each
team’s followers can be intense.

Gatherings of followers of Jesus – mostly occurring on Sundays –
don’t often generate such excitement or ardent support. Yes, some people
will wear clothes that are different from what they wear on other days.
Crowds will be near capacity in a few venues. Emotional responses will be
visible in a small minority of gatherings. Overall, however, the level of
anticipation about what will happen during the Sunday meetings will not
match that regularly exhibited at football games on Thursday, Friday, or
Saturday.

While little of the passion of football fans for their team
translates to their zeal for worship of God, unfortunately too many
attitudes do appear to carry over. Football fans do not have to subject
themselves to rigorous conditioning, honing their skills to offer their very
best during the game, or preparing themselves for the specific demands of
each meeting. They aren’t in the game, and they leave the grueling
preparation up to the people on the field. Still, fans leave bragging about
how “we really won a great one,” or how “we really stunk” if the team
suffered defeat. Churchgoers may adopt some of these attitudes regarding
what happens in the meetings they attend. They leave spiritual conditioning,
prayerful preparation, and hopes to present their very best gifts to God to
the worship leaders, instrumentalists, and the preacher. Most fans and
worshippers are content to be spectators, reacting positively or negatively
to the action before them but not getting personally involved in the
service.

Fans in the stands can choose to be very engaged with the
gameday experience, or they can remain much more passive. Everyone ought to
know the words to the fight song but don’t have to know much else. A chant
of a few words is usually all the response that is required. Many people in
church will know the first and last verses of Amazing Grace and perhaps a
couple other songs. They usually know when to stand up, when to sit down,
and when or whether to say “Amen.” On this account football fans and church
goers may be far too similar.

The day after the game many football fans will be able to quote
chapter and verse of the most minute plays of the game. They will eagerly
share what they have witnessed with anyone, anywhere – work, school, stores
and restaurants, airplanes . and church. They will buoyantly hope to
persuade others to convert to following the team they believe in. This
behavior does not seem to carry over to worshippers of God. Few churchgoers
will speak about anything that happened at church – unless it is an
especially choice morsel of gossip.

Some fans who easily could attend the game will instead choose
to watch it on TV. They may say that they can see better, or that they don’t
want to have to deal with the crowds, or that they don’t like to get all
dressed up (never mind the casual, come-as-you-are venues). Better still,
they can always get something from the fridge if their attention wanders.
Their gameday experience certainly will not be the same as those who share
their hopes and support with others in the stadium. Large numbers of people
take this approach to the worship of God, forfeiting the benefits of being
part of a supportive community with shared hopes, beliefs, and experiences
in order to watch a worship service with less effort and greater physical
comfort. Both fans and worshippers lose with this habit.

Worship of God is not intended to be a spectacle eliciting the
same responses as a football game. But some elements – the positive
anticipation and excitement – can translate appropriately from the stadium
to the sanctuary. Passionate following of Almighty God can instill hope for
celebrations that bring joy and encouragement to the faithful. Learning the
stories of God’s actions in the past can inspire hope for God’s blessings in
the future. Committing words and responses to memory can prepare followers
of Jesus to be ready to tell people anywhere and everywhere about his
victory over sin and death, and to become an active part of continuing
Jesus’ mission of love and grace.

Worshippers of God in their best days have gathered with
heightened expectations and confident faith. They have gathered as a
community to share the joys of following God’s way to overcome challenges.
Worshippers of God have become much more than spectators, finding their
greatest satisfaction by becoming true servants of God and of others. A
Psalm captures the ardent faith of the worshipping community assembled in
the Temple. The enthusiasm voiced in the Psalm should infuse our worship of
God:

O God, we meditate on your unfailing love as we worship in your Temple.
{10} As your name deserves, O God, you will be praised to the ends of the
earth.
Your strong right hand is filled with victory.
{11} Let the people on Mount Zion rejoice. Let the towns of Judah be glad,
for your judgments are just.
{12} Go, inspect the city of Jerusalem. Walk around and count the many
towers.
{13} Take note of the fortified walls, and tour all the citadels, that you
may describe them to future generations.
{14} For that is what God is like. He is our God forever and ever, and he
will be our guide until we die. (Psalm 48:9-14 NLT)

I hope your team fares well this season (unless they are playing
the Tide!). How does your fan behavior compare with your worship of God? I
hope that you will invest energy and anticipation as you participate in the
worship of God. Read the play-by-play accounts of God’s saving grace (the
Bible). Study the “game plan” for the worship service so that you can
heighten your expectations of what happens there. Pray for the “coaches”
(ministers and worship leaders) and the “players” (yourself and other
worshippers). Let the drama played out in the service show in your emotions
and in your accounts of God’s presence for days following the service. Let
the games be games and your true religion – your devotion to God – be
evident to all.

– J. Edward Culpepper