I Miss Reverence

Call me ‘old fashioned, but in today’s church, I miss good old fashioned REVERENCE.  I’ll clarify that by saying, it can be missing from many churches.

I worshipped my first 20 years of life in Grace Methodist Church of Jackson MS.  Sadly, like calm and respectful reverence, Grace Church is no more.  Where I learned to grow close to God is now but an empty lot.  I feel that emptiness today.

But that’s me. 

I make no apology for the following ‘old fashioned’ definitions. They’re necessary for you to understand what I’m attempting to say -and the true meaning and understanding of those words I will use. 

REVERENCE is defined as: honor or respect  felt or shown; profound adoring and awed respect.  Reverence implies that this profound respect is also mingled with love and devotionThat’s heavy – isn’t it?

Synonyms of reverence are: respect, honor, homage, and deference. 

RESPECT means: expressions of high or special regard.

Yes I know – you’ll say that folks express respect differently today.  Differently does not necessarily mean better.  Consider the fact that public school classroom demeanor is different today. 

Generally, most weddings even today are basically respectful and reverent in nature, much as were Sunday church services way back when.  And, most brides today wear white, want order and dignity in their marriage ceremony, and prefer to be the center of attention.  This was how it was in the 50s each Sunday when we honored the ‘Biblical Bride-Groom,’ our Lord Jesus Christ.  Then we better understood a holy respect of and for our surroundings.

But, you say, there are laid-back weddings and laid-back church services today.  Yes there are.  

So I ask – why can we have a reverent marriage ceremony on Saturday afternoon, and in the same church sanctuary it’s a (Christian) rock concert Sunday morning? 

HONOR means respect and esteem shown to another. It can apply to the recognition of one’s right to great respect or to any expression of such recognition.

DEFERENCE implies a yielding or submitting to another’s judgment or preference out of respect or reverence.

HOMAGE adds the implication of accompanying praise.

I mentioned a (Christian) rock concert above. 

At some point in time, ‘praise’ became firmly welded to ‘worship,’ as if the two were one and the same.  This is not true.  (Think about it.)  But that’s another study.

First of all, praise and worship should only be directed toward GOD!  To do otherwise is idolatry – if not bordering on it.  Correct?  Think about this also.

That said, although I well understand that Psalm 100:1 says “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.”  I do not believe that every time we direct praise and worship to Him, that it must be at full volume.   1 Kings 19 tells us that God didn’t speak to Elijah in the wind, earthquake, or fire… but in a still small voice.  

Praise and worship cannot be measure with a decibel meter.  Should it be?  The presence of God’s Spirit cannot be controlled through the sound board. 

Because my ‘quiet’ praise and worship is (and should be) directed toward God (and to him only), no other individual has the ‘right’ judge my praise.  (That right and privilege belongs to God’s alone.)

‘But you should be an example to others,’ I hear. 

 I think not.  In most instances yes.  In praise and worship, no.  Why?  If I lift my voice with ‘drummed-up’ vocalizations – when my true praise is more quiet in nature, I’ll be exhibiting false praise – and that would not be good.  Doesn’t God want our true and genuine praise?

This brings up the question –does our Lord really need cheerleaders?  If the ‘fan’ needs a cheerleader, he’s not much of a fan (of the home team – or of God!) True?

We hear a lot about ‘sanctuary cities‘ today – cities set aside and apart from the laws of the nation – cities which harbor illegal aliens. 

The house of God is also a sanctuary.  It is a place set aside for the explicit purpose of instruction, prayer, praise, and worship of God.  It may be a multi-purpose facility, where areas (or times) are set aside from everyday activities.  But during ‘church time,’ when that area is set aside for GOD – it should be a place of focus totally upon HIM.  I like to think of it as barefoot church, where He wants to meet with us on a skin-to-skin personal level, just as He did with Moses at the burning bush, when He instructed Moses to take off his shoes.

Before we have guest in our home, we wish to make them feel comfortable.  We want to present a feeling of both comfort and cleanliness.  We vacuum the carpets. This is done out of our deference to them.  Yet if it is raining or snowing outside, and they take off their shoes at our door, they’re doing so in deference to us.  These are simple acts of shared respect.

Should we not at least show similar respect and deference to the house of God?  In truth, we should show more respect and reverence for HIS ‘house!’ 

Consider funerals, where the deceased is the one being honored.  We EXPECT reverence and respect to be displayed by one and by all, regardless of age. 

Doesn’t the Lord of All, The King of Kings, The Almighty, the living GOD HIMSELF warrant the same honor, homage, deference, respect and REVERENCE as poor ole Grandma in the coffin – or as a daughter at her wedding altar?  Why can we not expect reverence in the house of worship, no matter where/what that might be?

In 1960 we had teenagers, guns and schools.  The difference between 1960 and 2018 is that teenagers in 1960 who had access to guns – went to school and left their guns at home – or on the gun rack in their truck in the parking lot.  Sadly you know what many teenagers today have done with guns at school.

The common denominators in 1960 and 2018 are: teenagers, guns, and school.  The difference is: In 1960 we had self respect, respect for others, respect for teachers, parents, laws, country… and our future.  We had a true reverence for life!

Have we really lost it altogether?  

This is why is miss reverence.  It seems to be so difficult to find today. 

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REMEMBERING GRACE METHODIST CHURCH

Grace Church copy

©2018  Bill Murphy

Grace Methodist Church sat diagonally across the street from George Elementary School, on the north/west corner of Winter and Union streets.  Why is it that you fail to take a snapshot of those people or places you most want to remember?  Above is a photo taken by my mother sometime in the very late 40s, of a George School activity.  I suppose I’m in there somewhere.  Behind us is the old church building, before it was remodeled in the early 50s.  The parsonage is immediately to the right.  The white frame structure to the far left is the adjoining Sunday School rooms.

Grace was a neighborhood church, with no church parking lot.  There was ample parking on the streets for those who drove.  I walked to church many times.

This was my home church for my first 19 years.  Dad was on the Board of Stewards, and Mom was Superintendent of the Primary Department.  I sang in the choir when in high school.

Our family was always there – dependable, we were.  Sometimes we did miss a Sunday or two, but only for a valid reason… such as vacations.  Driving to Quebec, lower Florida, Vancouver, or deep into Mexico… on those pre-interstate 2 lane highways, you needed all the travel time available.  But our family attended church as we traveled – so that my sister and I could still be in the perfect attendance category.  One Sunday morning in Utah, we couldn’t find a Methodist Church anywhere – so we attended a Mormon service held in the Bryce Canyon Lodge.

I dearly loved Grace Methodist Church.  I am who I am today largely because of the instruction, foundation and examples I received from Grace Church.

I’m blessed to have participated in many memorable, spirit-filled, soul-jarring, life changing worship services in other churches over the years, yet I can truthfully say that none of those ‘pinnacle’ services compare to a typical service at Grace Church.  How? Why?

Because Grace Church was what it was!  I miss those wonderful days there, the place we thought of as “God’s House.”  We considered it to be a Holy Place.  And why did we feel this way and why did we feel such awe in simply entering the building?  Because… as small kids, we were taught that it was not just a building.  We were taught that it was “The House of God,” as if He dwelled there!  We learned to reverence it, respect it, and love it.  It was special… very, very special.  And because of this, we expected Him to be there with us and among us each time we entered that Holy place.

Were we lied to?  Was this some adult trick or ploy to make us behave?  Hardly.  Scripture plainly tells us that where two or three are gathered together in His name, then He is there! (Matthew 18:20).  And we knew to respect and reverence not only His presence which actually was there, but also His ‘house.‘  It was all real, very real.

Grace church was never locked when I was a child.  It was alway open to those who wished to enter, to feel His presence and love, to come kneel and pray.  There was a water fountain in the hallway of the ‘education’ department… and on hot summer days, we kids often entered the church to cool off and drink.  Although just a hot and sweaty pack of 8, 10, or 12 year olds, our parents may as well have been watching over our shoulders.  When we passed over the threshold, our very countenance transformed, automatically.  Why?  Because we knew to respect and to reverence that place, be it Sunday morning during church service or Tuesday afternoon.  We had been taught to give honor where honor was due… and God’s ‘house’ was due our honor and respect!  We neither talked loud nor ran in the hallways.  We had ingrained respect for where we were – because we’d been taught to have that respect.

I appreciate those life-lessons more and more each day that I live.

We didn’t have a ‘praise and worship leader’ at Grace Church.  But we had praise… and we had worship.  We had both in bountiful measure.  We had a choir director, but his duty was to direct the choir, not to serve as a cheer-leader.  We didn’t require a cheer-leader, because we knew that God was there, in our midst.  One could not help but feel His presence.  It was easy to worship Him at Grace Church.  This was His House!  And we respected it.  We hallowed it.  I think that it was this ‘attitude’ of respect and reverence that we brought with us to church that made it so easy, so natural, to worship.  We passed through the door expecting to meet Him inside!  And we were never disappointed!

My very favorite memories of Grace Church were the Sunday night services.  After 2 or 3 songs, and the announcements were read, the pastor gave his message.  Then we sang another hymn.  The lights were lowered, giving one just enough illumination to see, and then the pastor told us that the altars were open for those who wished to come and pray.  I always went forward.  There, in that darkened and quiet time, in that Holy place, it was as if I was not among dozens, but rather, alone with God.  It was so easy to feel His presence, His loving hand on my shoulder, His breath on my cheek.  It was just the two of us.  I worshiped Him.  And He filled my young heart with His presence, and His love.  It was like Heaven on earth.  I treasure those memories.  To think that the creator of the universe paused long enough to spend quality time with me!  A reverent soul is but putty in the hands of God.

Alas… Grace Church is no more.  Even the new building grew old… and time marched ever onward.  Folks prospered and moved away to bigger and better things.  Due to his strong work-ethic, Dad continued to get promotions at Jitney Jungle.  He and Mom moved away from Evergreen, to a larger, nicer home in north/east Jackson.  The congregation of Grace Church began to dwindle… until it was no more.  Sitting unused and uncared for, the leaking roof began to collapse.  A few years ago, the building was leveled.  Where the House of God once stood, and where heaven once opened its doors to a young boy… is now but a vacant lot.

Grace Church may be gone – but Grace Church is not forgotten!  Not in this heart anyway.

 

 

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GUILTY AS CHARGED

moses-573811_640© 2018 Bill Murphy

The past few months, an issues of spiritual importance has weighed heavily on my heart.  I’ve found myself asking hard questions, and pointing fingers.

Suddenly, I find myself guilty of my own ‘sin.’

This week, our church is having a form of vacation bible school – but this is a one day affair.  Judging by the amount of effort being put into it, one would think it was a full week (or 2 weeks) event!  The props and decor, which include a life-size, hand painted, cut-out figure of Goliath – are nothing short of fabulous.

My contribution was Jonah’s whale, with a cut-out in the side revealing the (living) character dressed as Jonah – sitting inside.

There was technical difficulty, a mix-up in communications, and I received the construction parameters late, which only left a limited time for construction.  Whew… I made it!

Then, late the night before we were to leave the following afternoon for a 6.5 hour trip to Mississippi, I received a call.  The tablets of stone, the 10 commandments, were too small! Could I make new ones?  I wanted to say no… but I said yes.

My dilemma was… I had to ‘design’ these props, gather and or purchase the supplies, and then construct them – all in the time remaining to arrive in Mississippi at least by midnight the very next night.

I actually did it!  I got to work the following morning – but I took a short-cut.  I made things more comfortable for myself.

You see… the 10 commandments are a somewhat lengthy read.  That would have required quite a bit of lettering on my part.  My reasoning was that I didn’t have the time – and that this is for a CHILDREN’S program anyway.  I opted out and located kiddie-friendly versions of the 10 commandments.  Instead of: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s… mine just said, “Don’t want other’s stuff.”  We got to our Mississippi destination by 10:30.

But while on our way, it came to me… guilt.  I was guilty of the same thing which I’d been seeing in others!

For months now I’ve come to realize that we’ve come to make corporate worship far too ‘comfortable.’  And this comfort has pushed aside and thoroughly muddied our concepts of respect and reverence for what we once called… The House of God.

Folks my age remember what was called ‘Sunday clothes.’  Today, in order to welcome the weak, the poor, the huddled masses – dressing for church is a thing of the past. What’s good for Monday thru Friday – and even Saturday – is good enough for God!

And dress is only the tip of the iceberg!

But how can I call the kettle black?  Didn’t I cut a big corner?  Didn’t I save a few minutes (or hours) to make it convenient for myself?  Didn’t I put personal comfort and desires above the Holy Laws of God?  Yes, I did.  I’m guilty as charged!

P.S. I my defense, I still refuse to wear a hat inside and during a church service.  There are usually several (male) hatted heads in my laid-back place of worship.

 

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