Friday, July 10, 2009

Not a Domesticated God

"Our central lie is in the discrepancy between the language of worship and the actions of worship. We confess "Jesus is Lord" (Romans 10:9) but only submit to the part of Christ's authority that fits our grand personal designs, doesn't cause pain, doesn't disrupt the American dream, doesn't draw us across ethnic or racial divisions, doesn't add the pressure of too much guilt, doesn't mean forgiving as we have been forgiven, doesn't ask for more than a check to show compassion. We "sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" (Ephesians 5:19) expressing our desire to know Jesus, but the Jesus we want to know is the sanitized Jesus that looks a lot like us when we think we are at our best. "

Words that sting; not because they are untrue - but precisely because they are too true. This is the essence of Mark Labberton's book, The Dangerous Act of Worship. I came across this book and was struck by the title. What does dangerous worship look like? After carefully reading a few pages to make sure I wasn't purchasing a book that would have me handling snakes or some other theologically questionable activity, I discovered a gem that was certain to challenge me to reconsider the purpose, practice and influence (or lack) of worship.

We worship because we were created to worship. God alone is worthy of our worship and when we worship we reflect the glory of God. Worship is not narrowly defined by our choice of music on Sunday or our liturgical service, but is our life blood, the embodiment of what we believe about the God we serve. Through worship we unequivocally declare what God's power has accomplished. My heart echoed the words of the author, "worship is the one activity that sums up the scope of our lives and fundamentally alters the context in which we live." Amen!

The real question for me is not "what is worship?" but rather, why is the church (God's people) not reflective of worship that truly alters the context of our lives?

Mark Labberton challenges readers to reconsider our dwelling place- are we dwelling in Exodus or in exile? An interesting question that I never quite considered in that way before reading his book. Where we dwell - or at least our perception- carries with it all sorts of markers. Are we just biding our time, passin' through, or are we actively seeking the welfare of the city? I am fortunate to be able to hear my pastor's voice here - he is a faithful minister of the gospel to his sheep and so much of this book echoes his sermons.

Safe worship keeps us from becoming a peculiar people. It keeps us from ministering to those in need. The truly marvelous and mysterious is the realization that our greatest danger is our greatest need - "encountering the living God and responding with our lives." For no one who ever encountered the Living God was left unchanged.

One of my favorite quotes in the book comes from Annie Dillard:

"On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, making up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' hats and straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return."

I appreciated this book so much and would heartily recommend it to my fellow travelers.


  1. Thank you for letting me know about this book. It is what I need to read right now as this is what I am dealing with in my own life and the life of my church. This line
    was great

    "Safe worship keeps us from becoming a peculiar people"

    I just posted on "The Sin of Being Ordinary" and the persuit of being peculiar! Thanks for tying in with my own thoughts so neatly!

  2. I just read your post and left a comment. I continue to marvel at the goodness of God to allow us, with all of our frailties and failures, to partake in the eternal and be messengers of the gospel that shakes and uproots the foundation of our lives, awakening us from our perpetual sleepwalking. Thank you for your boldness to live life awake.