Praise & Worship

Their roles in our relationship with God 

© 2018  Bill Murphy

PREFACE

Praise and worship are both meaty and meaningful subjects, to be considered thoughtfully… and prayerfully.  Praise and worship are not only things we do  –  they are, I believe, also an important part of who we are.  

This is a fresh look at the very old subject of praise and worship.  Looking backward for answers and understanding, the closest we can come to the original truth is found in God’s Word.  Here we can weigh what we may think by what God says.  When I did this, what I found was amazing.  It compelled me to re-think my understanding of praise and worship.  

Has our concept of praise and worship changed?  Perhaps it has.  All one has to do is look, and listen.  Today the terms praise and worship are usually grouped together, as when a particular part of the church service is referred to as the Praise & Worship part.  And, the terms are also often used interchangeably, as if they are one and the same.   But, are they?  Are the two fundamentally the same?  Are they scripturally the same?   

But why make an issue of this?  Does it really matter?  And, does it even matter, even if it could be misleading?

At the very root of the matter is a simple, yet complex thing we call ‘vocabulary.’  

Vocabulary is nothing more than the words we use to express our thoughts.  When we use a word that it not true to the thought we are attempting to express, the result is misunderstanding, and confusing.  This is true with the spoken word, as well as the written word. 

When we’re repeating or sharing a thought given to us by someone else, we must be certain that we never cloud or confuse the issue by using words which don’t convey the original thought.  Countless are the occasions when friendships have been damaged or destroyed by just such inaccurate sharing of thoughts.

So, is it not all the more important to be as accurate as humanly possible when repeating to others what God has said in His Word?  I think we all understand that there’s a fundamental difference between joy and happiness.  So, does it really matter, if we incorrectly use joy instead of happiness?   Can such sloppy use of our speech be excused, when it leads to errors in interpretation? 

In the case of praise and worship, I believe it can and does matter.  Happiness and joy are emotions we feel.  Praise and worship deal with our expressions of devotion to God.  Are tithing and giving the same?  And does it really matter if we confuse those two?

I write this to bring to the Christian’s attention the fundamental Biblical differences between praise and worship.  I would be derelict in my personal Christian duty not to share this.

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I noticed in scripture that praise appears to speak of an expression of approval, the lifting of hands, hearts, and voices upward to God.  On the other hand, worship appears to define a bowing down, as in reverence and submission.  Is it possible that praise and worship can be considered as directional?  WOW!    

Praise feels good!  Praise is a celebration.  Praise takes us to the mountain tops.  And, praise is contagious.  On the other hand, genuine worship is of a more serious nature.  True worship sends us to our knees.  Worship in depth, is up close and personal with God, and can lead us to see ourselves as we really are, as weak and needy mortals, alone before the Almighty God.    

We can praise alone.  But praise is most often a group activity.  And we can Worship in a group setting.  But worship, in depth worship, is something personal, a one on one with Him experience.   

The truth is: we are more inclined to praise without worship than we are to worship without praise.  This is because of the basic dynamics of the two.

I considered this.  I questioned it.  So I studied.  And I also asked, does it really matter?  Really?  And more importantly, what does God think about it?

Jesus encountered questions such as this when He taught the people.  He didn’t stop short when telling them that they should love one another.  No.  He carried His teaching much farther by going into detail in explaining to the people, and to His disciples, exactly what love really is!  How could they obey if they didn’t understand what to obey, and how to obey?  If praise and worship really are expressions of LOVE to him, should we not strive to understand these concepts?

As a child at Grace Methodist Church, we sang the old standard, “Stand up, stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross!”  That’s praise.  But true Christianity is not simply, standing up and lifting our hands and hearts to Him.  Oh yes, Jesus dearly LOVES our praise!  He cannot (as we say) get enough of it. 

But, He requires our worship.  We cannot praise only.  We also must worship, real worship, deep worship, true worship.  What we ignore, Satan will invade.  

Now, or later, EVERYONE will worship.  As scripture says, every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess.  Just as NOW is the time to worship, NOW is also the time to praise.

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First of all, notice that there are TWO words involved in the phrase Praise & Worship.  Have you ever paused to wonder, ‘why two words?’  Are they the same?  Or can they be only similarFaith and hope are very similar.  But are they the same?  Joy and happiness are also similar.  But are they the same in meaning?  

Today, praise and worship are generally used interchangeably, as if these two words share the same meaning.  Yes, the are very similar, but they are also different , especially in application.

Consider this: It would have been a simple thing for God (who created us) to have created us  ready made to serve and love Him.  But God didn’t want mindless robots scurrying about perpetually doing His will.  He wanted relationship.  And the relationship he wanted, and created for us, is that of parent and child.  Amazing!

Praise and worship are simply parts or areas of this heavenly relationship between God and mankind.  For want of a better term, think of praise and worship as ‘channels of communication’ between God and each of us – and they are!  In this way, praise and worship are very much like prayer.  

It’s true that one-way communication can be a good thing in certain circumstances, but as a general rule, two-way communication is far superior.  It was in scripture that I saw direction to praise and to worship… our two-way communication with God.  One could call this a ‘directional relationship.’  Consider the following scriptures:

And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the Lord.   Psalm 27:6

It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the Lord, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever….  2 Chronicles 5:13

Notice the mention of direction as applied to praise in these two above scriptures.  The first says ‘mine head be lifted up,’ and the second example, ‘when they lifted up their voice.’  The implication here is that praise is directed up, from the heart of humankind, upward to God.  Therefore, praise originates within ourselves, within our own filled hearts, and then flows outward and upward unto God. 

Yes, praise is inspired by God Himself!  When we recognize His greatness, His goodness, His loving kindness, His might and His power, we turn our heads, eyes, hands, hearts and voices toward Heaven and offer up praise and gratitude unto Him.  Praise overflows from a fullness within us, and erupts like a geyser of love and joy upward to Him who is the object of our praise.

Among the words often used in place of praise are:

Accolade

Acclamation

Admiration

Adoration

Celebration

Esteem

Exaltation

Glorification

Gratitude

Homage

Honor

Tribute

Ovation

Regard

I chose to think of praise as a personal celebration of our love toward God.  It can be likened to cheering for our Lord and Savior.  My praise is my gift of gratitude, from my heart, to His.  As that old carole of Christmas says, ‘Oh come let us adore (praise) Him.’ 

When we look at early Hebrew text, we find that the word translated into modern English as ‘praise’ is:  halal.  Halal mean ‘to shine.’ Usually translated as ‘praise’ –  halal actually means ‘commend.’  However, commend is an abstract word.  Hebrew thinking was in more concrete terms, rather than in abstract terms.

Think of it this way.  The North Star is the only star in the heavens which remains motionless and stationary.  Because of this, it is used as a guide for earthly travelers.  In the Hebrew mind, we offer up praise to God for being our faithful guiding light (star) that leads us in the correct direction.

We look upward in gratitude in order to praise.

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The ‘flip’ side of the coin of praise and worship is worship.

O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker.  Psalm 95:6

And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother,  and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.   Matthew 2:11

Notice in these two scripture examples the downward posturing of reverence, honor, and respect of mankind towards Deity.  In the first scripture it mentions kneeling and bowing down as we worship.  In the second example, the worshippers are said to ‘fall down’ and worship.

When our hearts are filled with the wonder and love of God, we open those floodgates and allow praise to flow out of us, and upward toward God.  But when we’re stopped in our tracks, and when we pause and recognize and realize the awesomeness of His presence, when we realize that we are in His Holy and Royal presence, then we tremble at the thought of how small and weak and needy we are before Him.  We cannot jump to our full height in celebration of what and who He is… not when we pause and consider, not when we compare who and what He is as opposed to who and what we are.   NO!  We bow before Him in humility, awe, reverence, and deep respect.  

Do we recognition the truth that there is no comparison between God and ourselves?  Do we pause and consider and understand – and know that we are in desperate need of Him?  Do we accept the fact that He is our only hope?  If we do, we cannot help but bow before Him in devotion and submission, confessing our need of Him and for Him, in love and in worship.

Among those words often used instead of worship are:

Awe

Devotion

Homage

Humility

Prostration

Resignation

Respect

Reverence

Submission

Supplication

Surrender

Veneration

Shahhah is the Hebrew word which is translated into English as worship.  In truth, there is no Hebraic word which means worship as we understand it.  Shahhah actually means ‘to bow’ or ‘bow down.’  Shahhah is found 172 times in Hebrew text, but is translated as ‘worship’ only 99 times – when it is referred to as an action toward God.  When used as an action (of bowing) to another human, it is translated as ‘obeisance.’ 

Scripture plainly defines worship as directional – shahhah – bowing down unto God! 

Although praise and worship both share other dissimilar characteristics, we fail to recognize these differences when these two expressions of response to God are grouped together as if they are one in the same. 

As a child, one of my favorite Bible stories was the one we celebrate on Palm Sunday – that of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem….

And they brought the colt to Jesus, and cast their garments on him; and he sat upon him.  And many spread their garments in the way: and others cut down branches off the trees, and strawed them in the way. And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest.   Mark 11:7-10

I can envision it now, I can hear the happy shouts of praise from the crowd.  It must have been a truly amazing event!  How many were in the crowd?  I can image hundreds.  This joyous Bible story perfectly illustrates the fact that praise is contagious! 

This is why we have cheerleaders at football games.  And this is why churches have praise leaders.  Once the praise gets started, others tend to join in.  Someone was the first to cut down a palm fond and wave in the air around Jesus!  Then the multitude joined in.  

Because praise is contagious, it is easily and readily a group activity.  Praise can be spread, and multiplied.  When the quarterback runs 99 yards for a touchdown, you don’t need cheerleaders.  How much more did Jesus do for us than to win a football game?  You see what I mean?

On the other hand, because worship originates from deep within our hearts, and because our relationship with God is such a wondrous and unbelievably amazing one on one thing – worship is (or should be) an intensely personal thing.

Look again at the list of worship synonyms.  See how they can be intensely personal, such as devotion, submission, and surrender.  We are devoted every day to many various things and individuals.  We’re devoted to our family.  We’ve surrendered to the fact that the grass in our yard will continue to need mowing.  We’ve submitted ourselves to the bank and agreed to make the house and car payments.  

When we decide to devote our life to God, we surrender our life to Him, and we submit to His will for our life.  And why?  Because we know that He knows what’s best for us, and because we love Him.  But, devotion, surrender, and submission is not always easy.  God does not take away our personal will – it’s up to us to hand it over to Him – voluntarily.  And that is never a group activity!  That is intensely personal.

True worship, deep worship, commitment worship, is a thing between you and God.  It’s up close and personal.

Yes, one can personally be involved in true worship of God in a crowd.  But let’s face it, we strive for intimacy with Him, even in the physical presence of many others.  We strive for that heart to heart connection with Him, as if we were physically alone with Him.  True? 

This brings up another ‘worship’ word on the list – reverence.

A super bowl game doesn’t equate with reverence.  Super bowl games are the ultimate in celebration (praise).  So how can we think that an exuberant, wall-shaking praise service is in any way reverent?  

Praise celebrations are enjoyable, they’re up-lifting, especially to us!  They fill us with joy and good feelings.  In that light, a praise celebration almost sounds, selfish!

Reverence, which leads us to personal introspection and soul-searching, doesn’t usually fill us will gleeful joy.  Sadly, our tendency is to be prideful people, so bowing down in reverent worship goes against our natural inclination.  Reverence leads us to search our hearts, perhaps to bring on ‘Godly sorrow’ and repentance.  It is far easier to see the light of God when we’re looking from inside the darkness of our own souls.  That comparison is astounding!   

Yes, reverence can bring us face to face with God.  But the journey to that glorious spot is not always a glory road of joy.  Worship is not always pleasant (to us).  But worship of God surely makes Him very, very happy.  It’s not just the thing to do, it’s the thing that He commanded that we should do.  Remember, this is His world.  He allows us to live here.  

There are two more words that we often use interchangeably, and inaccurately – want and need.

We want those newest running shoes on the market.  We want an update on our smart phone.  We want a new automobile.  But we need water, food, and warmth.  We have a choice about wants.  There’s no choice concerning needs.  Needs are necessities.

Just as I stated when I first began this discussion on praise and worship, sometimes the lines of division in understanding them are often blurred.  Sometimes it’s best to view how things operated from the standpoint of application.

That said, I think you know where I’m going with this – that praise is more of a want and worship is a sincere need.

I’ve come to this conclusion by observation.  We pick and choose which sports stars, which entertainers, which politicians we support, which ones we cheer on, which ones we praise

History describes the practices of idol worshippers, and it clearly demonstrate that much of their worship was based upon perceived needs.  There is probably no greater human love than that of a mother for her child.  And yet, hundreds if not thousands of infants and young children were given up as human sacrifices to appease angry, hungry, pagan gods.  Were these children offered up through desire, through a ‘want’ to kill the child – or through a perceived need to do so?   I think you will agree that this ‘act of worship’ was done through a sense of perceived necessity.

But what of us today? 

When do most people come to God?  When do most people turn to Him?  As long is life is going our way, as long as we’re happy, content, satisfied, when everything is right with the world, the altars of our churches are seldom full.  But when calamity comes, when the tornadoes of life destroy, when the bombs of war begin to fall, we run to those altars.  When need arises, we fall to our knees.  When we’re in need, we’re not compelled to praise.  When our hearts are emptied, they need to be filled, and that filling comes down to us in the form of worship.

There is a scripture that has always especially intrigued me.  I’ve always had a difficult time really getting my head (and heart) around it completely.  Now I believe I understand it clearly.

By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually,  that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.   Hebrews 13:15

Now wait a minute.  Didn’t I just state that sacrifice is an act of worship?  But here scripture is equating it with praise.  Is my understanding all wrong?

I don’t think so.  

Our God is an awesome God. Everything about Him is beyond description and beyond human understanding.  And, He is the master of contradiction.  He uses the weak to defeat the strongest, illness and death to proclaim and exhibit health and life.  He turns shepherd boys into kings, and causes fire not to burn.  And Jesus walked on water.

I believe that Hebrews 13:15 is just such and example.  And, I believe the key to understanding this verse is the word ‘continually.’

We ‘continually’ need water, food, warmth.  These are needs.  And I said that ‘praise’ is a want.

I also said that pagans sacrificed due to a perceived need.

So why this supposed ‘contradiction’ in this scripture? 

I believe that this verse is telling us that ‘By him,’ that is, through His strength and leading, that we should – through a sense of need other than through simple desire, offer up praise unto God.

I believe that this verse is telling us that God wants us to praise Him through a sense of our need to do so.       

A sacrifice has always been understood to be the best thing we can offer God, something valuable, something personal, something treasured.  God wants our praise to Him to be this also, something valuable, something personal, something treasured.  I believe this is what this scripture is telling us – that He desires our praise to not be just something we ‘want’ to do – not to be just a celebration that makes us feel good – but He desires our praise to be on par with our needs.  He wants our praise to be a sacrifice!

It’s possible that as you read through this, you may have suspected that I believe that worship is more important than praise.  I hope these final few paragraphs convince you that I assuredly do not.  

Praise and worship are not the same thing.  Yes, they share similarities.  But we can never claim that one is more important than the other.  God commanded us to worship and to praise.  I believe He also wants us to understand (from His viewpoint) the difference between the two.


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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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