Our society is in trouble. It used to be that drugs were a problem in communities materially less fortunate than most. Now illicit drugs are a growing problem in materially affluent communities. People are turning to drugs and illicit sex to fill the void, numb the pain of unfulfilment, and dull their despair. The root cause of this void, pain and despair is a gross lie - that life has no meaning. But the Life-Giver has designed that our lives are meaningful when we work, worship, wonder and love. Each endeavour contributes to what defines us as human beings. Anyone who does not work is depriving themselves of the very thing that can give them dignity, satisfaction, and fulfilment. But the same is true of the dignity, satisfaction and fulfilment that comes from the worship of the One True Life-Giving God, the wonder of who God is and what God has done, but especially from loving and being loved. There is one place (that is much more than a 'place') where each of these aspects come beautifully together.
¶ I love you more than I can say.
Because I'm madly in love with you,
They blame me for everything they dislike about you.
Psalm 69:9 THE MESSAGE
Before every Sunday morning worship service, the worship and pulpit teams meet in my office for team-talk and prayer. For a couple of years I had a separate white-board sign that said-
"We work so others can worship.
Our work is our worship."
Jesus, the perfect man, the happiest man, was the greatest example of work (Jn. 4:34), worship (Mtt. 26:30), wonder (Acts 14:3), and love (Jn. 13:1). His death on the Cross was the means by which He could establish the 'place' (which is really the people) where the best work, worship, wonder and love could be done. It is impossible to overstate how hard Christ has worked to establish and extend His Church, inspire worship, create wonder and foster love. Christ's churches come in different sizes, different kinds of people, different venues, with different meeting times, music styles, and leadership structures.
¶ Husbands, love your wives,
as Christ loved the church and
gave himself up for her
The New Covenant House-of-the-Lord, the Church, is one of the greatest sources of blessings that God offers to the world. While not technically correct, Bill Hybles often quoted statement - "The local church is the hope of the world" (the local church declares that Christ is the hope of the world) has a powerful sentiment behind it. I have seen, felt and heard of Christ's supreme passion for His church time and time again. The Word of God promises that those who are planted in the House of the Lord will "flourish" (be abundantly blessed). I was very recently reminded of this powerful truth when two of our church family who had been looking for work in the field of their professional training volunteered at our church. Within a week or so of volunteering they both had secured employment. They are both now flourishing just as Psalm 92 promised.
They are planted in the house of the LORD;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
It is in the community of believers that Christ has established to foster work, worship, wonder and love, that Christ calls us to learn these fundamentally human aspects. From this growing broad community of the church, men lead their own families as 'micro-churches' and foster in their children what work, worship, wonder and love should look like. Fathers especially carry this ministry of the church to their sons by showing them what work looks like and that work necessarily involves doing things you don't want to do. (We need a generation of young men who understand and exhibit the qualities of self-discipline and self-motivation undergirded by a willingness to accept responsibility.) The family home becomes the seed-bed for fostering worship (adoration of God, attention to Scripture, audible praying). Parents promote, rather than hinder, a deep wonder of the natural world which God has created for us to enjoy which is why school work has far to do with worship than it does with textbooks and exams.
And it is in the family home where children are trained in the art of love.
We have now almost returned to some Ancient Roman values of marriage, family and sexuality where women are viewed as objects, children as accessories, and sex as a recreational sport. Today the "Pornography Industry" is the largest 'industry' in the world! Conservative estimates place it at several hundred billion dollars in annual turnover, but it is almost certainly closer to a trillion dollars a year! Economist Doug French reports that at least 28,000 internet users view online porn every second! Is it any wonder then that young men view women as objects of their gratification rather than as people who need a man to commit exclusively to them for life and truly love them for better or for worse?!
"The foremost danger to marriage in our time is the wholesale degradation of women in the popular culture," Shmuley Boteach, The Jerusalem Post
It is from the family home that children learn to love. They witness their Mum and Dad hugging. They hear their Dad talking respectfully to his wife and their Mother. They experience the stern rebuke of their father when they have been impolite to their Mother or sibling - because a loving father is a father who disciplines his children (Heb. 12:9). They feel the loving comfort of their mother when only a mother's caress will soothe. And ultimately they learn that true love comes from God and is gladly expressed toward Him by meeting together with other God-lovers in the House of the Lord each week. The result is that children get the idea that love is not merely a feeling but a willing commitment to another for their highest good which produces these feelings.
¶ O LORD, I love the habitation of your house
and the place where your glory dwells.
I'm concerned. I'm deeply concerned. We have a generation that does not work, wonder, worship or love, as it should. Instead, it works to avoid work, senselessly amuses itself 24/7 (rather than engaging in the holy art of scientific wonder), worships the created rather than the Creator, and gladly buys the delusion that love is something you make rather than something you give. These things are utterly destructive to the human soul - in fact, destructive to the core of what it means to be "human". Is it any wonder then, that the world's second largest global industry is now alcohol and illicit drugs. And in what must be an ironic metaphor of our day, the affect of heroine is best felt the first time it is used and creates a craving for more and with each subsequent hit of heroine or cocaine the 'high' is nowhere near the same. In fact, in a recent Ross Kemp documentary, where he interviewed crack addicts in Chicago, he was repeatedly told by them that they had never re-achieved the initial high they felt when first trying the drug that would soon master their lives. These addicts all said they were addicted to these drugs after just three days of use and that each hit to satisfy their craving was merely to help them feel "normal" (not to get 'high'). And this is the illusion of what the world offers when it cons people into thinking that right work, wonder, worship and love will not satisfy the human soul.
People, whose souls are being destroyed by these lies, need to see and hear an alternative. It is possible for God to set someone free from the destructive lifestyles of crime, drugs, idleness, and promiscuity. God does this regularly. The Giver-of-Life has sent His Son to pay the price of our guilt and shame and to set us all free and give our lves hope and meaning. This hope is now proclaimed through the local church. Are you in bondage to despair, idleness, drugs or sexual addictions? Jesus Christ can save and deliver you. You are one prayer away from beginning your journey to freedom. This is the kind of prayer that confesses failure and mistakes. It is the kind of prayer that confesses our need for forgiveness by and reconciliation with God. It is the kind of prayer that asks God for help to live the way we should. Will you pray this kind of heart-prayer?
It is in the House of God that we learn the true value of working, how to wonder, the inspiration to worship as we should, and how to love others. It is from the local church that draw the principles for raising our families. This is why society needs strong, vibrant, local churches to help foster strong, healthy marriages which produce strong, happy, fulfilling families. This is why, as Bill Hybels puts it, the local church is the hope of the world. In this sense, I believe it. And, I must confess, I love my church for being it.