Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Of Easter Eggs and Cotton Balls

So we visited another church this past Sunday.

This one meets in an old neighborhood church building on the other side of town. We arrived after the worship set had started and a kindly usher showed us to our seats . . . in the second row! Now, this was a smallish room with a sixties-style drop ceiling, and the band was pretty much deafening.

[Brief aside for discussion of volume issues in the church: everyone knows that young folks like things turned up loud, then middle-aged folks like it turned down, and then really old folks like to turn things up loud again. This is the way of all flesh. If you complain that something is too loud the goateed guys at the big panel of lights and switches in the back of the church, which I think is called a sound-board, will laugh and make old-fogey jokes about you behind your back (and on their blogs). Then of course there are the middle aged guys that dye the gray out of their hair, have recently gotten a tongue-stud, and always seem to be sucking in their gut when young women are in the vicinity . . . they like it loud too!]

OK, so back to our church visit. This was a smallish low-ceilinged room, very intimate, which made the double rack of spotlights hanging from the ceiling and the good-size amps on stage seem kind of, well, out of place. But that's how you do church, don't you know, and these guys were doin' church by the the book. Anyway, I could tell by the expression on my Honey's face that this second row positioning was not going to work, so we wound up defying the kindly usher who had showed us to these choice seats and clamored back to the rear of the church. That was somewhat better. I would have explained myself to the usher, but he wouldn't have been able to hear a word I said!

But enough of the pleasures of contemporary church worship! After that was over there came the sermon. The preacher, cleverly dressed in worn-out jeans and and un-tucked shirt-tails, leaped to the platform and flashed a smile that reminded me of none other than--I can't help saying this--Joel Osteen. He proceeded to deliver a pretty darn good message though. Based on the story of the rich young ruler who comes to Jesus asking, "What must I do to have eternal life?" The preacher unpacked the story nicely and concluded by asking everyone what comes first in your life? Is it God, or is it something else? Money, perhaps. Or gaming. Or work. Or health. But God wants you to put Him first!

I was all set to shout amen here, but then the sermon took an unfortunate turn. You see this church is about to put on a big Easter Egg hunt. And they're going to need volunteers to help fill several thousand plastic Easter eggs with candy. As a form of outreach, you see. To the community! And well, if you've been convicted about how you've not been putting God first in your life, but instead have been putting gaming first, here's your chance. Help stuff candy into plastic Easter eggs! We need all the help we can get, and you'll be serving God! John Newton may have preached to break the hard heart and to mend the broken heart, but our modern day preachers--this has been my experience--preach to sustain the production.

Now, well, ummm, I hesitate to say this, but it's kind of a fundamental point of mine . . . I'm not so sure that serving your church is equivalent to serving God. I think it's just, well, serving your church. Getting with the program. Being a warm body in the never-ending stage-presentation we call church.

If I had to think of a few ways to put God first I might come up with some different options:
  1. loving someone
  2. forgiving someone
  3. asking forgiveness of someone
  4. praying for someone
  5. loving someone (oh wait, I said that)
But stuffing candy in plastic eggshells might be on that list somewhere too, I suppose. Way down at, oh, number 348 or so.  And besides, everybody knows stoking kids with sugar is a harmless and wholesome activity!

I could say a lot more, and one thing I should add is that I got the feeling with this church that they are trying hard, as best they know how. Good for them. But they should have a little bowl of cotton balls in the vestibule . . . for us middle-aged types.

[UPDATE: In the mail today, a gift card for Dunkin'Donuts with $5 loaded to to it. A gift from the church I attended on Sunday. Their way of thanking me for the visit. How cool is that!]


Glynn said...

I've been following your church journey pretty closely, Bob, likely for a selfish reason - we know we're facing our own, and we keep wanting to put it off because of the energy it takes. But your posts -- and your telling of the good, the bad and the indifferent, have been a personal encouragement.

Bob Spencer said...

Glynn, I'm glad you're getting something out of these. It has helped me to pull away from the routines of church, to step back, and to think about what we're saying to one another in the church setting, Sunday after Sunday. In my survey of the local scene, we're simply saying, Get busy! And filing it under the much better-sounding label of loving God, or discipleship, etc. Anyway, I pray that, should you find yourself searching in much the same way, you would rest in the confidence that God can and will use you wherever you are. A final post in this series is on tap for tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

catchin' up.