I have had many spectacular worship experiences in my life. I’ve had several wonderful, inspiring, awe-filled worship moments. I’ve broken down in tears while praying with a group of fellow ministers at the Western Wall of the temple mount in Jerusalem. Praying to God at that sacred place where our Lord actually appeared to his people, where his glory filled the temple and where his voice shook the hills, I was overcome with emotion. “God was here! He was actually here!” And I just wept.
I’ve recommitted my life to Christ with 15,000 worshipers at the state fairgrounds coliseum in Tulsa. Fifteen-thousand of my brothers and sisters worshiping God, singing praises to God, listening to Rubel Shelly preach about our forgiveness in Christ, about our right standing with God, challenging us to truly live into the realities of that righteousness. And the singing was just indescribably beautiful. Powerful. “God is here! God is right here speaking to me, talking to me, changing me.” And I made promises to God that night, standing right there on the coliseum floor, “Lord, I belong to you. Thank you, God. Please, do whatever you want with me. I’m yours. Thank you, God.”
I’ve marveled at the majesty and power of God at that first 4Amarillo gathering at First Baptist five years ago. I was stunned, I was overwhelmed at the gracious glimpse of heaven we got that night. Presbyterians and Methodists and Baptists and Church of Christers, singing to the Lord, holding hands, making promises to each other, loving each other in Christ. There were no barriers, no obstacles, nothing between us at all. I thought, “This is heaven! This is God’s perfect will being done on earth just as it is in heaven.” Christians from every denomination, from every stripe of the faith, worshiping together, one in Christ Jesus, united in the Spirit. And I was paralyzed in awesome wonder.
I’ve had a lot of amazing worship experiences in my life. Not too many of them have been at church.
You’ve had some great worship experiences in your life. On top of a mountain on Trek. Around a campfire at Bluehaven. On a mission trip in a foreign country. (I’ve heard people describe what they call life-changing worship on a KLUV cruise, which proves that one man’s heaven is another man’s hell.) We’ve all had what we would call great worship. And we think it ought to happen more often at church. There’s something inside us — an instinct, a deep desire, we just know — church ought to be a place where really awesome worship happens all the time.
But it doesn’t.
The songs are not my favorite and not everybody’s singing. The sermon is mediocre and not really relevant to my life. The prayers are uninspired. The room is dingy.
How as church today? Was it long today?
It’s always long.
And we all think the other church across town does it better. Something happens at that other church. The worship is awesome, the sermon is practical, the prayers just soar, and all the people are full of joy at that other church.
Two-thousand years ago, a congregation of Christians had the same problem. Just thirty-five or so years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, a group of Christians, probably in the capitol city of Rome, also had worship disappointment issues at church.
So a preacher had to remind them about what’s really happening at church. He tells them about the unseen realities of what’s going on in corporate worship. There’s more happening there/here than meets the eye. And he wants his church to hear it.
Hebrews 12:22-24 is a powerful passage about those unseen realities: divine beings, eternal souls, everlasting blood, the holy presence of Almighty God. These three verses go a long way in reshaping our views of and expectations for what happens in the worship center on Sunday mornings.
We’re going to look more closely at this familiar passage over the next two days. Why don’t you read it a couple of times today and tonight and then come back tomorrow to dive into the rich realities together.