Celebration vs. Obligation
In two weeks we will celebrate the biggest day of the year in Christian circles; the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Men, women, boys, and girls of all ages will finish opening their Easter baskets, finish off those chocolate eggs and marshmallow bunnies, and will proceed to the closet. They will put on their Easter outfit (often times purchased just for this special occasion) and they will head to a worship service. At that service they will celebrate the single greatest event that has ever taken place in the history of mankind – the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sadly, for many this is the only time of the year they choose to celebrate the resurrection. As I was beginning to think about this Easter I couldn't help but ask myself the question that so many great men of God that have gone before me have asked – Why? Why are there so many people that attend Easter services that choose not to attend any other time of the year? What is it about Easter that sets it apart as the one service that people don't want to miss? You say, that's easy – it's the resurrection; that is, people go on that day because it's a day of celebration vs. a day of "normal" church.
And my response to you would be this: There should never be a worship service that is not a time of celebration. Everytime I get up to preach I do so celebrating the fact that Jesus has come, lived, died, and risen again victoriously as the King of King and Lord of Lords! The reality is that Jesus is alive in mid-July just as much as He is on Christmas day, and death is defeated on Halloween weekend just as much as it is defeated on Easter Sunday. As a matter of fact, the apostle Paul reminds us of this in 1 Corinthians 15. He says that the resurrection of Christ is the very reason we can and should worship. He says that if Christ is not alive then we are wasting our time, we are the biggest idiots on the face of the earth, and we need to go drive our car off a cliff (Ok, that's a bit of a paraphrase, but you get the point).
So if every Sunday should be a time of celebration, then why is it not? Well, I believe the answer is this – most people see church as an obligation, not a time of celebration; and believe me when I say this – there is a HUGE difference! For instance, nobody reading this gets excited when they fill out their taxes and realize they owe the IRS money. Nobody says, "Awesome, I've been looking forward to this all year – I finally get to pay the government. I've been anticipating this day since I was a small child!" That just doesn't happen. Why? Because paying taxes is not something we celebrate, it's something we are obligated to do.
On the other hand, there are many things that we celebrate – the birth of a baby, the graduation of a student, the uniting of a couple in marriage, retirements, birthdays, anniversaries; all of these are moments we celebrate in life. Now we may differ on how we celebrate these momentous occasions, but I do believe there are some common factors that we all embrace, and some important things that we should consider as they relate to the difference between celebration and obligation. As I look at what is going on in the church and I observe the attitudes of typical "church-goers," the behaviors I see are indicative of the fact that many times we DO NOT view worship as a time to celebrate. Instead, my fear is that many people view church as an obligation, and this mindset has dealt a destructive blow to the cause of Christ and the power of the Gospel. It has limited the influence we have on the lost world, and has robbed the local church of its passion and vision. So, I believe there are some things that we should seriously consider. Below I have identified 4 things about celebrations that I believe we should reflect on and some questions that we should ask ourselves in regards to how these aspects of celebration reflect our involvement/activity towards the church.
- Celebrations are ANTICIPATED – When there is a big event coming up you start to get excited about it; especially if it's an event you are heavily involved with. Think about how it was those final days before your wedding. Do you remember the anticipation? Do you remember how you looked forward to the big day? Ladies, I know you remember how you had dreamed about the day for all your life! Guys, how about you? Don't lie, you know you were looking forward to the wedding. You didn't have to get your nails, toes, hair, eyebrows, stomach, arms, ankles, knees, lips, nose, dress, elbows, and knuckles done to get ready, but you at least combed your hair and threw on a suit; and you looked forward to walking your beautiful, fully adorned, wife down the aisle. So let me ask you a question – how does our anticipation and expectation of what God is going to do on Sunday compare to our anticipation and expectation of those special moments in our life? Do we really expect God to show up and SHOW OUT? I mean, after all, any given Sunday could be the BIGGEST DAY IN SOMEONE'S LIFE. You never know what Sunday somebody will finally move from death to life, and will forever be saved. As long as we consider church as an obligation rather than a time of celebration, then we probably won't look forward to these things happening; and chances are, they probably won't.
- People are INVITED to attend Celebrations – Nobody expects people to just show up to a birthday party if they aren't invited. How RIDICULOUS would it be to pick a restaurant to celebrate your birthday at, show up at that restaurant, and expect that people you know would just sort of show up looking for a place to eat and go, "Hey – I didn't know you were gonna be here – happy birthday, let's celebrate." The reality is that nobody does that – obviously. Why not? Because if you did that, you would always wind up celebrating alone. So, why do we do that in the church? I mean, we show up to celebrate a God who defeated death, Hell, and the grave. The pastor gets up and passionately preaches a message that says God has provided salvation for a lost world, and that lost world desperately needs Jesus. We meet with the ONE who was, and is, and is to come. We lift high the NAME ABOVE ALL NAMES; the name of the ONLY ONE that anybody will ever find hope in……. But each Sunday, we just show up and wait. We wait for people we know to just wake up and decide that they might need to try the whole church thing out. And we wonder why our churches don't grow! Question – what are you doing to actively INVITE people to come be a part of the celebration that you are taking part in this Sunday? And maybe you're not celebrating. Question – Why? This is my invitation to you – come CELEBRATE with me – Jesus is alive!
- Celebrations are EXCITING – When's the last time somebody timed your birthday party? I mean, nobody does that, right? Nobody says, "Sorry guys, I know the birthday boy is not done opening presents yet and the cake hasn't been cut, but this party is scheduled from 1:00-3:00 and it's 2:58. So, thanks for coming – have a good day." NOBODY DOES THAT. Why? Because celebrations are meant to be exciting and fun, not boring and timed. So why do we treat church that way? Why does tradition tell us that church is supposed to start at 11:00 sharp, end at 12:00 dull, and that we need to make sure we're doing everything we can to keep the environment as dead, serious, and unentertaining as possible? That's just craziness! We should be having a GOOD TIME in church. You say, "well we've never done it that way before."….. Sorry, I couldn't resist. Some of you have no idea what I'm talking about. That's fine – just go with it. Haha, ok….. Moving on. Think about it like this – when your favorite sports team wins a big game, you have fun celebrating; and typically, you don't care if they went into OT to get the win…… NEWSFLASH – Every Sunday we have the incredible opportunity to celebrate the GREATEST VICTORY in human history – the victory over sin and death. So, "Celllllllllll-e-brate good times, c'mon!"
- Celebrations are MEMORABLE – Have you ever noticed that people talk about celebratory events in their life? Whether it's a wedding, a birthday, an anniversary, or a good game – people like to talk about it. They're passionate about it. They remember it well. How well do you remember this past Sunday's service? How much have you talked about it with your friends and family? How passionate are you about what God did in your church? I mean, you're not expected to be able to list every point, sub-point, sub-sub-point, and poem (sorry, Baptists) in the sermon; but you should at least be able to remember more about the sermon than "it was about Jesus." What are you doing to intentionally engage yourself in the message, let the Word of Christ dwell within your heart, and grow in your walk with the Lord? What are you doing to actively share with those around you what God is doing in your life and the life of your church family?
Here's the deal – God has given us obligations in life that we are responsible for upholding. But church is not one of them! Worship is not an obligation to be endured, it is a celebration to be enjoyed! So celebrate those weddings, congratulate those new parents, thank God for another year of life, and by all means – cheer on those HOGS (sorry Alabama fans) – but above all, CELEBRATE the risen King of Majesty, Jesus Christ!