Move to the rear, please

Excuse a picky point, but as a writer I know that an individual word used correctly can be powerful and used incorrectly can entirely lead one astray.

So it is with the word stage which I have noted being used twice lately to refer to the part of the worship center (sanctuary) that used to be called a chancel.

Now, I know that chancel is not necessarily understood, especially by those who worship in non-liturgical churches that are light on symbolism.

According to Wikipedia the chancel is ‘the space around the altar in the sanctuary at the liturgical…end of a traditional Christian church building, possibly including the choir.”

In other words, it the space in the front where the pastor preaches, the choir sings, the band plays, mini-dramas are produced.

Or, in more common, contemporary terms it is the stage.

Except, it is not.

Again, according to Wikipedia, a stage is “a space for the performance of theatrical productions.” I suppose you could substitute musical for theatrical and still maintain the same definition.

And therein lies the problem.

A stage is something used in an entertainment venue. It’s where the actors act, the musicians play, the expert lectures. And all of the focus is on the stage and the people and events that take place there. While a drama, a concert, a speech may bring to mind things outside, the people or events on the stage are what draw attention and stay in our mind.

Which is not what our corporate worship is all about.

We assemble in a church, an auditorium, a large hall to worship the Lord God Almighty and his redeeming activity through Jesus Christ. We are there to remember Him, to proclaim His mighty acts, to hear His word, and to commit ourselves to Him.

No more, no less.

While the actors, musicians, speakers, films etc. are the focus of attention on a stage, God, our father is the focus and recipient of our worship.

Yes, there are people up front in worship. They lead us in worship, encourage our singing of praises, guide us in prayer, preach the Gospel from His word, and offer us a time of commitment.

But they are merely directors, enablers, behind-the-scenes technicians. Their job is to motivate us and lead us through the entire worship experience which is directed only at God.

So, here is a thought. Might it not be better to place at least some of those leaders out of sight so that we are focused only on God and not on those leading?

Many churches with classic architecture placed their magnificent pipe organ on a balcony at the rear. Around it is often an area for a choir if there was one.

So, here is a novel idea to think about: Instead of watching a choral group sing and dance, or band strumming away up front, could we consider placing our instrumentalists of any type in the back of the auditorium, leaving the front, chancel, stage (if you must) free from distraction and allowing us to focus on the Lord himself?

Perhaps the less we focus on the front area and the activities of people there, the more we will get away from the concept of a stage and the better we will, indeed, enter a time of praising God, worshiping Him, hearing His word, and committing ourselves to Him.

Please feel free to leave comments on this site. Those comments posted through the button on this page will be posted if appropriate. Comments sent directly to me are welcome and I will respond, but they will not be posted. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button at the top of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com.

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Of Like Mind

Philippians 2: 1-12

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in the spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross.

Therefore god exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

And so, God’s word tells us…right to our faces, if you have received these blessings from Jesus Christ, then be like-minded:

  • having the same love,
  • being one in spirit and purpose,
  • doing nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit ,
  • considering others better than ourselves.

Now, don’t be distracted by this business of being like-minded.

It’s not referring to everyone thinking or believing the same things; nor is it referring to us becoming homogenous in our congregational makeup; it’s not about us all switching and becoming Anglican or Methodist or Baptist or Pentecostal; it’s not about putting aside the uniqueness in which God made us; It’s not about becoming all generic vanilla or chocolate or lemon or cherry

It’s about:

  • Striving to be like Christ
  • Having the common disposition to work together
  • Focusing on what is crucial in the eyes of God
  • Serving one another.
  • Being set apart

It is, as we read in that blockbuster verse, about having the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus (Verse 5)

Oh man…now that’s probably among the most difficult challenge verses in the Bible—along with Matthew 5:48. Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Give me a break, you say. Be perfect just like Jesus Christ? My attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ?

Oh my goodness. Most days my attitude isn’t that good. In fact, much of the time it stinks if I’m going to be perfectly honest.

I want things my way. I don’t like the way that other guys does it. I did it that way growing up and I’m going to continue doing it. Like that Frank Sinatra song, I’m going to do it my way.

I know what’s important. I know how it should be done. And if they don’t want to do it my way, I’ll take my marbles and go play somewhere else.

“Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.”

Being like-minded, being one in spirit and purpose.  In an age of individualism and pluralism it gets more and more difficult to find that common ground.

But, the Bible says, we can do that by putting away certain behaviors.

  • Do nothing out of selfish ambition
  • Or vain conceit (That is, does it have to be my way, does it have to serve my wants and desires every time? Or can it be done someone else’s way?)
  • But in humility—humility—consider others better than yourselves. How easy it is to judge others—their behavior, their beliefs, their life style, their decisions
  • Folks, each of us should look not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others.

In other words, our attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus

And we have 1,001 opinions that range from green to purple, from black to white, from pink to blue to sky-blue-pink, and to put all of them into practice is just, absolutely impossible.

And so some of us shout and some of us pout, some of us step to the front and others go into hiding, some mumble and some sing. And on it goes.

And in the midst of all that God cries out with a mighty voice from His word, make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.

Please feel free to leave comments on this site. Those comments posted through the button on this page will be posted if appropriate. Comments sent directly to me are welcome and I will respond, but they will not be posted. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button at the top of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com.

Good News plus The Good News in Latin America

The news out of El Salvador these days is discouraging. There were 635 homicides last month, running at a rate of about 20 a day. It seems that this beautiful country is facing difficult days ahead.

As I wrote in an earlier post, the problem lies mostly in conflict between rival gangs that entrap young men (and women) into a life of greed and violence that leads ultimately to their death at an early age.  And, as I wrote in that same post, most people will agree that the only way out of a gang is either death or the much higher route of accepting Jesus Christ as Lord. Gangs, in spite of their gruesome violence and life-style, recognize the changing power of the Lord in a person’s life.

But there is good news about the Good News coming out of Panama where the gang problem isn’t as severe and a group of wise business people have found a way to incorporate former gang members into constructive work. Now, young men who made much of their living previously by robbing tourists in Panama City’s historic Casco Viejo neighborhood are, instead, giving those same tourists guided tours of the area including their former gang hideouts.

It seems that businessman K.C. Hardin decided that rather than go into battle with gang members squatting in an old, dilapidated building that he bought to turn into a boutique hotel, he hired them, giving them a place to live, income and an element of self-respect that they badly lacked.

He also saw the need for a spiritual transformation and involved evangelical pastors in the project. He also helped to open The Union Church of Glory in a corner of the building.

The article reports: Instead of evicting gang members or demanding they be jailed, Hardin said, he and other community leaders decided to include them, providing jobs and helping them start small businesses. That was coupled with a concerted effort to restore and upgrade many of the Casco Viejo’s neoclassical and Art Deco buildings.

“A rising tide has lifted their boats as well,” Hardin, 41, a former corporate banker from New York, said of the gangsters. “The neighborhood has totally changed.”

Parts of the Casco Viejo went from being dangerous to virtually crime-free.

Kudos to Mr. Hardin and his colleagues for having the wisdom not only to address the gang problem positively, but also for recognizing that the only real answer to the young men’s search for meaning is the Lord—their path from the oppression of violence to the richness of life with Him. (For more click here)

Across the sunny Caribbean, there is some very encouraging news out of Cuba recently. The Washington Post reported on the fast-growing church on that island nation and the changes that seem to be coming in part because of the upcoming visit of Pope Francis. The articles also highlighted the loosening of restrictions against all churches and the movement of the Holy Spirit among believers.

The rapid growth of the Evangelical church there has been well documented for at least the last decade. Churches are bursting at the seams and, at the same time, struggling with overcrowded buildings and other restrictions that prevented them from expanding facilities or ministries.

When Polly and I visited Cuba several years ago to present a workshop, we heard about the severe restrictions in force at that time which prevented churches from enlarging their building. One believer told us of a church which “arranged” an accident by having a car run into a wall thus damaging the building. While the church could not get permission to expand, they did receive approval to repair the building which they did by enlarging the edifice as part of the “repairs.”

Now, with the coming of the Pontiff, even leader Raul Castro seems to be much more open to allowing freedom while at the same time exploring his personal recognition of his need for a relationship with the Lord.

After a meeting at the Vatican, Reuters reported: Castro said he came out of the meeting with the pope “really impressed by his wisdom and his modesty”.

“When the pope comes to Cuba in September, I promise to go to all his Masses and I will be happy to do so,” he said, adding that he reads all of the speeches of Latin America’s first pope, who has made defence of the poor a major plank of his papacy.

“I told the prime minister if the pope continues to talk as he does, sooner or later I will start praying again and return to the Catholic Church, and I am not kidding,” he said.

Both of the Castro brothers were baptised as Catholics.

Now, that is encouraging. I pray that as the Cuban leader begins to attend church (if he does) that he will hear the Gospel fervently preached and the Lord will move in his heart in a genuine, personal way.

We know that the people of Cuba long for a day when they can worship and be involved in ministry fully.

I well remember one man who talked to me after one of the workshops I led in Havana. He said that they had asked for the training so that they would be prepared to own their own facility for ministry. I reminded him that such a dream was not possible currently by law. With tears in his eyes he looked at me and said, “Not now, but some day when we are free.”

Please feel free to leave comments on this site. Those comments posted through the button on this page will be posted if appropriate. Comments sent directly to me are welcome and I will respond, but they will not be posted. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button at the top of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com.