Wineskins Archive

February 11, 2014

Worship Breaks Out When We Fix Our Eyes on Jesus (Sep-Oct 2002)

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by Mike Cope
September – October, 2002

One of Satan’s greatest allies is the Church. At least that was the opinion Screwtape offered to Wormwood, his demonic understudy (in C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters). Wormwood was in charge of keeping one human on the road to hell, but this man had become a Christian.

Not to worry, Screwtape insisted. “One of our greatest allies at present is the Church itself.”

He hastened to add that he didn’t mean the real church, the historic church spread through all the ages, “terrible as an army with banners.” Rather, he referred to specific congregations—full of people with Attention Deficit Disorder, untuned voices, and untidy lives.

“Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman. The Enemy [God] allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavor. It occurs when the boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by Stories from the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek. It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together. In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing.”

It is easy to be disappointed in the church, isn’t it? The gap between what it (we!) ought to be and what it is—well, we could call it a grand canyon. “The church doesn’t pray like it should.” True. “The church doesn’t evangelize like it should.” Equally true. “The church doesn’t worship like it should.” Bingo. “The church isn’t accepting of people; it’s the only army that shoots its own wounded.” Again, bullseye.

I’ve been in thousands of conversations through the years with people, especially with university students, who are distraught over the church’s failures: its harshness with struggling people, its “we’re right-and-everyone-else-is-wrong” attitudes, and its inability to own up to the message of reconciliation.

Enter the Hebrews writer. “We are the house of God” (Heb. 3:6). The house of God? A storage shed, perhaps–smelly, dirty, leaky. Or maybe a pup tent. Or a dorm room. But, the house of God?

Yes, he insists. For you are the “holy brothers and sisters who share in the heavenly calling.” Sometimes we reflect that life in godly living; at other times we don’t do so well. But we are primarily holy because of God’s decision to redeem us and set us apart in Jesus Christ. “And by his will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:10).

That group of people gathering around a table with bread and a cup is “the house of God.” The windows may be cracked; a few shingles might be missing; perhaps it could use some paint. But the foundation is solid and the presence of God fills every room!

In his same breath, the writer of Hebrews encourages us to fix our eyes on Jesus. Not on the church. Because when that happens, everything looks wrong. We become fascinated with things that are not at the center of the message. On one hand we start elevating one little group as “the true church,” while on the other hand we can’t stand the actual people even in that group.

But when we fix our eyes on Jesus, the priorities get rearranged in a way God intended. And sometimes, amazingly enough, we begin to love the church of Jesus more. We hear better the joys, the griefs, the fears. That is when worship truly breaks out. With our eyes focused on Christ, we learn to “continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise–the fruit of lips that confess his name” (Heb. 13:15). O But when we fix our eyes on Jesus, the priorities get rearranged in a way God intended. And sometimes, amazingly enough, we begin to love the church of Jesus more.New Wineskins

Mike Cope

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