WORDS FROM W.W. July 26, 2016
In my years as a pastor I can identify a number of things that became sacred in the congregations I pastored. In one great church…Wait for it!…forks became revered! The morning after any church potluck or meal the “fork-keeper” would stop by to count the forks. Kind of like a bank teller’s money drawer, if there was a discrepancy…if one or more were missing…there was hell to pay!
In another congregation filled with wonderful loving people, one of the most serious issues we dealt with in my fifteen years concerned the removal of the organ pipes. Let me clarify! These were fake organ pipes! Think painted long cardboard tubes! There were speakers in some of them for the electric organ we had at that time. When the sanctuary was renovated the fake pipes were repositioned behind the chancel area wall by our baptistry. It wasn’t so much that people couldn’t see the pipes anymore, but rather that they had been given to the church thirty years before by a family. They were seen as being a sacred memorial.
Sometimes people of God unknowingly, or perhaps on purpose, ease God out of the spotlight in order to worship something or someone else.
Someone? Yes, there are Christian personalities and celebrities that become the spiritual version of LeBron. Anything they say is written in stone as the Ten Suggestions. And let me point out that it isn’t necessarily the celebrated person’s fault. Mega-church pastors are put on pedestals because they lead mega-churches. And then when one of them has a problem that surfaces the “worshipers” are beside themselves.
There ARE those Christian personalities that are fine with people bowing to them. I was always amazed at how many people worshiped Reverend Ive with his flaunting wealth and opulent lifestyle. I could never quite connect the suffering servant image of Jesus with Reverend Ike’s matching diamond rings on a finger of each hand. In like manner I could never quite understand the flocking to see Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. Was it really the will of God for their dog to have an air-conditioned dog house? I just didn’t get it!!!
But back to where we live! The people of God exalt unbelievable things. In some places there would be a greater uproar over missing Sunday morning donuts than there would be if the pastor decided not to give the sermon. One lady in a church I pastored told me that I shouldn’t let people know when we were having a guest speaker because attendance was always down. How did that make me feel? Not good! It was a sign to me that the lens on our congregational glasses needed to be wiped off a bit. I would say that almost every pastor does NOT want to be the only voice that his/her congregation is listening to.
I’ve seen mission organizations worshiped, youth group leaders bowed down to, church budgets deified, and technology praised.
It’s so easy!
I was reading in 2 Kings 18 this week about Hezekiah, King of Judah, getting rid of some of the pagan shrines, but he went even further than that. In verse 4 of that chapter it says, “He broke into pieces the bronze snake that Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. It was called Nebushtan.”
The snake that Moses had made, you know…way back when! Can you hear the comments? “But we’ve always had the snake!” “It just won’t be the same!” “Some of my most spiritual moments have been when I’ve burned some incense, prayed to Nebushtan, and had a deep sense of peace about things!”
The snake even had a name! I’ve just returned from a week of church camp. A number of kids, youth, and leaders are now thinking of Quaker Ridge as a sacred place of worship. They are thinking of those moments on Soldier’s Peak where they received communion.
I think of going to Green Lake, Wisconsin or Lake Louise Baptist Camp in Michigan. They are places that I burn incense to in my mind.
Hezekiah made the bold decision to get rid of Nebushtan. The snake had fulfilled its purpose generations before. It had long since become a distraction, a relic.
It makes me think about what happens in our places of worship today. What has become a distraction? What needs to be broken into pieces and moved to storage, or even to the curb? What have we given names to because they still grip our souls?