Thursday, April 3, 2008
Home Runs & Roller Coasters
"Why do you look for the living among the dead?" -- Luke 24:5
This question was asked of the women who came to Jesus's tomb on the third day after His death. They found His tomb open and empty, and two angels appeared, challenging them to remember Jesus's words about how He would rise again. These women were looking for the right person, but looking in the wrong place. They weren't going to find Jesus in that tomb.
Have you ever found yourself seeking something good, but looking in the wrong place?
A stable relationship, in a bar?
Intimacy, outside your marriage?
Financial peace, at the scratch-off counter?
Relief from hurt, at the bottom of a bottle?
Self-worth, through neverending hours at work?
What about our worship? Don't we all seek more meaningful worship? Don't we all want a more intimate relationship with God? These are good and noble goals, but where do we look to find these things? Are we looking in the right places?
There are two significant moments in my life that illustrate something important about the nature of worship.
The first occurred in October of 1988. It was Game 1 of the World Series. My beloved Dodgers faced the powerful A's, and weren't given much of a chance to win. The end of Game 1 became a classic ESPN moment, as Kirk Gibson gave the Dodgers the victory with a dramatic home run in the bottom of the ninth inning.
The second occurred in the summer of 1993. I took my first ride on the famous Texas Giant roller coaster at Six Flags. It was an awesome ride! Just intense enough to get your heart pumping, but not scary enough to ruin the experience. I really enjoyed it, and couldn't wait to ride again.
If there were snapshots of my face at both of these moments, I think my expression would be about the same: Jubilation! Smiling, shouting, screaming for joy! All the excitement you would expect for both situations.
But, if you could take these two snapshots and lay them down side by side, the question would be: Are these two moments really the same? Are these identical facial expressions really expressing the same emotions?
The answer is a definite "no". These two moments are actually quite different from each other, and have very little in common, aside from the facial expressions that resulted from them.
The last pitch of Game 1 of the 1988 World Series was much more to me than just the moment you would have seen had you been with me that night. To this day, I get a lump in my throat just thinking about it. And, seeing the replay is almost more than I can take.
Why is this moment so significant? It's something only a lifelong Dodger fan could understand, and perhaps not even all of those.
To give you a little background...
You didn't hear my dad's stories of the excitement in L.A. when the Dodgers moved to town from Brooklyn in 1958, or of "his" Dodgers of the '60s, led by Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, pitchers who were nearly unhittable in their prime.
You weren't there with me during the 1981 World Series, feeling the fear I felt when Goose Gossage came to the mound to pitch for the dreaded Yankees.
You never heard me recite the Dodgers' lineup as a child, remembering the players as if I knew them personally.
You weren't lucky enough to enjoy a Dodger Dog with me, sitting in beautiful Dodger Stadium, hearing the organ music.
You didn't see the afternoons I spent in my backyard pitching tennis balls at the house, pretending to be a right-handed Fernando Valenzuela.
You've never seen my autographed baseball from former Dodger first baseman Steve Garvey. It's still on display in my office today.
You don't know about the times I secretly took a transistor radio with me to bed so I could continue listening to the Dodger game after my parents told me to get to sleep.
You didn't hear my childish prayers to God that the Dodgers would rally to win an important game.
You didn't feel my heartbreak in the 1985 National League Championship Series, when the Dodgers lost Game 5 on an unlikely home run by Cardinals' shortstop Ozzie Smith.
You didn't live through the frustration I felt as the Dodgers suffered through miserable seasons in '86 and '87.
You didn't feel the surge of hope I felt as the Dodgers retooled for the '88 campaign, picking up outfielder Kirk Gibson, who would later hit that famous home run.
Your mind is not programmed to hate the Giants.
You can't possibly understand the frustration and disconnect I feel at the Dodgers' inability to return to playoff greatness since that magical 1988 season. This season marks 20 years, and that's a long time.
Devotion is the only word that comes to mind to capture all this history. A lifetime of devotion. That's what came bursting out of me that night in October of 1988 when Gibson's home run cleared the fence. It's also what never could have come bursting out of anyone else who had not loved this team with their whole heart for so long.
How do you package devotion? How do you put it in a jar and hand it to someone? The answer is simple: You don't. You can't. There's no shortcut to it. There's no microwave package that will be ready in a couple of minutes. The only way to experience the joy of devotion is to give yourself to someone or something, without regard for what you might get in return, and maintain that embrace no matter the cost. Ask a couple celebrating a 50th anniversary how to get what they have, and see what they tell you.
So, what about the Texas Giant? What can be said about that? I paid for a ticket to the park, stood in line, and rode the ride. That's about it. It was a great ride, but it was just a ride. I rode it once, maybe twice more, never again finding it as fulfilling as I did the first time. It was just never the same. And, how could it have been?
"God is spirit, and His worshippers must worship Him in spirit and in truth." -- John 4:24
Again, the question: What about our worship? Many Christians desire something more meaningful than what they currently experience. Something more moving, that touches them deeper.
Of the two moments discussed here, many Christians desire the worship equivalent of Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. That's a good thing to want. But, in our search for that, are we actually climbing aboard the Texas Giant and waiting for something to happen?
By default, most of the discussion surrounding meaningful worship has to do with what is planned and presented up in front of a church audience. The discussions tend to focus on worship format, which songs to sing, how to sing them, type and length of preaching, physical layout of the worship area, lighting, technology, etc.
All these things have their place, and need to be discussed. Every worship assembly should be designed and planned prayerfully, with the goal of glorifying God and keeping the attention on Him. A poorly planned or sloppily executed worship assembly is painful to endure, and draws more attention away from God than turning on ESPN would do.
But, as important as those discussions are, they do not capture the most important question. The question becomes a matter of what our worship really is. Is it something that happens to us, or something we give of ourselves to God?
If it is something that happens to us, then we are right when we think the path to more meaningful worship leads directly to the stage in front of the church audience. Then, it is a matter of who presents what in front of us on Sunday. Then, the way to achieve that elusive experience we're desiring is to get whatever is hip to get, and use it until it is no longer hip. It's someone else's responsibility to give us Game 1 of the 1988 World Series while we climb aboard the Texas Giant.
However, if worship is not something that happens to us, but rather, something we offer to God, then the path to more meaningful worship leads directly to the mirror. Worship becomes a product of the life we live from Monday through Saturday, not just an intake of what someone prepared for us on Sunday. Worship becomes something we offer to God from the depth of our hearts, without the slightest regard for the hipness or non-hipness of anything anyone planned or presented from the stage in front of us. Worship becomes directly linked to the level of devotion to God in our daily lives. It becomes our own responsibility to create the conditions conducive for Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. And, we realize that a ride on the Texas Giant, or any other roller coaster, can never match a home run like that. We give up on that thought entirely.
Are we prepared to take personal responsibility for the worship we offer God?
Will we abandon hope that the Texas Giant can give us Game 1 of the 1988 World Series?
Will we devote ourselves to God every day, and create the personal history with Him that will bring about those home run moments that put a lump in our throats, and bring tears to our eyes?
We have the right destination in mind. Will we understand that there is no shortcut to get us there?