Communion Anxiety

Christians know all about Communion. Seriously, we’ve got it covered. Call it the Lord’s Supper, Eucharist, whatever you like, we know our stuff. We partake of little crackers and juice from plastic cups that look like shot glasses. The pastor reads a few verses we’ve all heard before. “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” It’s all pretty familiar, right?

Then the pastor says, “So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.”

Wait, what?

“Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup,” continues the pastor. “For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.”

Judgment? That sounds serious. I’d better see what the Bible says. That’s usually a good start.

Paul writes, “For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.”

Fallen asleep? That doesn’t sound so bad—unless by fallen asleep Paul means died. That does sound bad. Paul’s going all Mafia on us. “Dat’s why many o’ youse is weak an’ sick, see? Some o’ youse is fallen asleep, if youse catch my drift.”

So we, um, fall asleep if we eat and drink judgment on ourselves? And we eat and drink judgment on ourselves by failing to discern the symbolism of Christ’s death in the crackers and Communion cups?

Well, there’s no need to panic. I’ll just partake of Communion in a manner worthy of the Lord. That’s not so hard. Christians do it every Sunday.

Is anyone else stressing out in church today? I mean, everyone looks calm and earnest, like it’s no big deal. Except for that guy who has fallen asleep. Really fallen asleep, I mean, not…you know…fallen asleep.

It’s better not to think about that. Okay. Do this in remembrance of me. Manner worthy of the Lord. I can do this. Ah! The pastor is telling us to partake of the bread! Wait, please! I’m not ready! I’m too young to die!

All right, I’m exaggerating for dramatic effect. Slightly exaggerating. The Lord’s Supper is an amazing sacrament, a powerful reminder of God’s love in Jesus Christ. Communion isn’t really this nerve-wracking. Not quite.

What stresses you out in worship services? Let us know in the comments!


This post was originally published on August 24, 2012. TMTF shall return with new content on November 30, 2015!

Falling Asleep in Church

God loves the people who fall asleep in church.

This comes as a relief to me, since my thoughts sometimes wander to the ends of Earth during sermons. To borrow a phrase inadvertently coined by an acquaintance of mine, I tend to daze off during services—to slip into a blank state of mind somewhere between a daze and a doze in which I’m only vaguely aware of the message being preached.

I suspect the reason some churches serve coffee is to keep churchgoers awake during the sermon. Other churches, not quite so shrewd, make the mistake of serving real wine during communion services—there’s nothing like alcohol to make churchgoers drowsy.

One of my favorite stories in the Bible concerns a young man who fell asleep during church. Paul, the missionary who wrote about half of the books in the New Testament, was preaching in an upstairs room late at night. As Paul droned on and on, a young man named Eutychus fell asleep, plummeted from a third-story window and died.

It would have been awful if the story had ended there. The moral of the story would have been You fall asleep in church, you die. The story continues, however, and we learn two great things about God. First, he loves the people who fall asleep in church. Second, he has a sense of humor.

After Eutychus fell out the window, Paul rushed down to the street and put his arms around his dead body. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!” Eutychus revived, much to the delight of the people. Paul went upstairs, had something to eat—and kept preaching.

If I had been God, I might have considered not restoring Eutychus to life. “Let his death stand as a warning to all future sleepers in churches,” I might have said. Fortunately for churchgoers everywhere, the Lord is very merciful. Eutychus was revived and God’s love for all people—even people who fall asleep during church—was demonstrated.

(The story of Eutychus can be found in Acts 20:7-12.)

There are quite a number of funny things like that in the Bible.

There’s the poetic passage in which God described the stupidity of ostriches (Job 39:13-17).

There’s the tragicomic story of how King David’s murderous son Absalom was killed by soldiers after he rode beneath an oak tree, got his head caught in a branch and dangled helplessly in midair as his mule went on without him (2 Samuel 18:9-15).

There’s the account of how, during a contest between God and the false god Baal, the prophet Elijah taunted rival prophets with snarky remarks (1 Kings 18:22-29).

For all its seriousness—and it can certainly be serious—the Bible is sometimes pretty funny.


This post was originally published on December 14, 2011. TMTF shall return with new content on August 24, 2015!

367. Notes from the Road

Well, I’m back.

My journey to Wisconsin was refreshing, wonderful, exhilarating, highly caffeinated, occasionally uncomfortable, and a smashing success. Here, in no particular order, are some of my thoughts from the trip.

The pastor who invited me to speak at his church is a really cool dude.

Rev Kev, the pastor who invited me to Wisconsin, is a tough-looking dude with epic tattoos, pierced ears, manly stubble, and massive biceps. He could probably have snapped my spine with his bare hands.

Adam and Rev KevFortunately, the good Reverend turned out to be a true gentleman and total geek. He and his family—which included a dog, three cats, and a colorful assortment of friends and honorary family members—were welcoming and kind. I was treated not as a guest, but as a friend.

Rev Kev has an amazing story. One of the highlights of my trip was sitting in his dining room, drinking coffee and listening to his testimony. His faith and story inspire me.

In other news, Rev Kev has a wonderful church office. Surrounded by Star Wars and comic book posters, a large plastic Hulk stands on his desk, wielding an Adam West Batman action figure like a club. ’Nuff said.

My only concern about the good Reverend is that he might be a Sith Lord. No doctrine in Christianity states a person can’t be a Sith and a pastor, but I still consider it cause for concern.

Sith pastor

I drank a lot of coffee.

For all my jokes about coffee, I do really love the stuff. In two days of traveling, I drank roughly eight cups of brewed coffee, two bottled frappuccinos, a latte, and a double shot of espresso. I also drank a masala chai tea latte, because variety is important.

I ate the best burger I’ve ever eaten.

My humble road trip was transformed into a glorious pilgrimage by a quick stop at a tiny burger shack called Wedl’s. This burger vendor serves such good food that it was featured on the Travel Channel. Wedl’s grills its burgers on a skillet that has been in use for nearly a century.

Wedl'sA drunk driver once totaled Wedl’s and broke its skillet. Fortunately for all of humankind, the shattered skillet was repaired. Just as the broken shards of Narsil were reforged into Andúril in The Lord of the Rings, so Wedl’s skillet was restored to its divinely-appointed purpose of grilling tasty burgers.

Rev Kev and I discussed the legend of Wedl’s skillet, weaving a story of how the skillet’s greasy shards were held by a weeping maiden in a lonely meadow, only for a kingly elf to ride up on a stallion and pledge to restore it. He worked in secret, reforging the skill on a magical anvil, his furnaces blazing hotter than ten thousand suns—and it was done. Wedl’s skillet was resurrected, and its noble work continues to this day.

When I bit into my Wedl’s burger, my reaction was pretty much the same as Samuel L. Jackson’s in Pulp Fiction, but roughly seven hundred percent more excited.

Wisconsin has beautiful scenery.

On my way home, I following winding roads past green hills, lovely woods, and beautiful streams. It was fantastic. Indiana occasionally has nice scenery, but approximately ninety-six percent of the state is covered by cornfields. What I saw of southern Wisconsin was breathtaking.

I don’t know how I lived without a GPS.

As usual, I seem to be a decade or two behind everyone else in my generation when it comes to technology. I finally acquired a GPS, and it is amazing. It made traveling so, so much easier. My GPS, GLaDOS, is a gift of God.

Hell has a tenth circle, and its name is Chicago.

As much as I appreciate my GPS, I must quote its namesake, GLaDOS from the Portal games: “Remember when you tried to kill me twice? Oh, how we laughed and laughed, except I wasn’t laughing.” My GPS made two attempts to murder me by taking me through Chicago going and coming back.

I have an embarrassing fear of city driving. (My decision to buy a GPS in the first place was prompted by a stressful visit to Fort Wayne.) For all my travels, I haven’t done much driving in big cities, and I have long made a point of staying away from Chicago. Unfortunately, my GPS took me through Chicago twice.

The Chicago freeways were vast rivers of faded asphalt, channeling streams of vehicles over, under, and through an arid wasteland of concrete, weeds, and rusting metal. The summer sun blazed overhead. (My car lacks air conditioning.) The traffic was predictably slow. My trips through Chicago were all sweat, noise, fumes, desperate prayers, and hopes for the sweet release only death could bring.

This brings me to my next point.

It did me good to work through some of my anxieties.

Besides my fear of city driving, I’m stressed out by traveling alone, public speaking, and prolonged social commitments. My trip to Wisconsin consisted of driving hundreds of miles by myself, hanging out with new people for hours on end, and speaking in front of a church congregation.

My anxieties are silly and irrational, but also very real. I was forced to confront them, and I lived to tell the tale. As George Orwell wrote, “You have talked so often of going to the dogs—and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety.” I survived my anxieties, and that’s encouraging.

It was nice to get away from my typewriter monkeys.

For two glorious days, I didn’t see a single banana peel, hear a single explosion, or smell a single whiff of burning apartment. It was nice.

Now that the trip to Wisconsin is done, what’s next? I wish I knew. I suppose I’ll resume my quiet, caffeinated, day-to-day life, and daydream about my next road trip.

366. TMTF Hits the Road!

Meet Eliezer.

EliezerEliezer is my car. My old vehicle, an ailing car called Tribulation, began to show signs of imminent death a long time ago. When my older brother sold me his car before moving with his family to the Dominican Republic, I christened it Eliezer—which means God is my help—in the hope that my newer car would prove to be more dependable than my old one, which repeatedly lived up to its name.

Tomorrow Eliezer and I will journey from Berne, Indiana, to Jefferson, Wisconsin. A reader of this blog has invited me to speak at his church. Although I’m baffled that any pastor would deliberately inflict me on his congregation, I’m honored to accept his invitation. I’ll tell a few stories, read from the Gospel of Mark, and discuss C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, because that is how I roll.

I won’t lie: I love road trips, but they scare me. I felt less much anxious flying halfway across the world by myself than I feel driving long distances alone. When I flew to and from Uruguay and South Korea, in spite of all complications, all I had to do was board the right planes. If anything had gone wrong before or during the flight, I could have simply sat back and let someone else fix it.

When I go on road trips by myself, however, I’m responsible for everything. I’m on my own if anything goes wrong. Having faced car trouble repeatedly in the past few years, I’m nervous as heck.

Fortunately, this time, I’ll have some new equipment: my first ever GPS unit, which I’ve christened GLaDOS. I’ll also take along my usual assortment of traveling items: apples, coffee, iPod, headphones, and an emergency hard copy of driving directions. (I’m not sure I trust GLaDOS.)

My typewriter monkeys will remain at home. That said, I hope I still have a home when I get back. (I trust GLaDOS considerably more than I trust my monkeys.)

I’ll spend quite a lot of time on the road, and I have a number of other commitments, so I’ll be taking a one-week break from this blog. TMTF shall return on Monday, June 22… assuming I survive the trip.

I probably won’t update TMTF during the break, not even to recycle old posts. Fortunately, this is the Internet, and it has all kinds of cool people doing cool stuff. Here are my recommendations for cool sites to check out while TMTF is on break.

As always, Amy Green and Thomas Mark Zuniga have great blogs; if you haven’t checked them out, I recommend ’em very highly. My friend JK Riki just began a site about creativity and inspiration, and it’s off to a good start! If you like movies, Honest Trailers is an awesome (if occasionally off-color) series of trailers mocking popular films. (There are also Honest Trailers for video games, because this is the Internet.) Finally, the animator who made the lovely animation for TMTF’s three-hundredth post has a webcomic I finally got around to reading: Cyn Wolf, a comic about a cynical wolf and some quirky dogs. I really enjoyed it.

Now I should finish packing for tomorrow’s trip. If you’re a person who prays, I’ll be most grateful for your prayers this weekend as I travel, speak, and (I hope) make it home alive.

Thanks for reading! We’ll be back!

…Probably.

Adam Turns into the Hulk and Rants about Church Music

Caution: This blog post contains furious ranting. Sensitive readers, and readers averse to things being smashed, are advised not to continue.

Being a blogger is great fun, but it’s not without risks. In a small number of cases, frequent exposure to wireless Internet connections has caused bloggers to develop unexpected conditions. I am one of these unfortunates. I and at least one other blogger have become tragic victims of HBS (Hulk Blogging Syndrome).

What does this mean? Well, there’s really only one thing about HBS you should know: Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

That said, today’s blog post is all about contemporary church music, and the way classic hymns are rewritten with new music or lyrics. Well, rewritten may be too kind a word. Hymns are mutilated. They are trampled upon. They are… ugh… I suddenly don’t feel well…

I… I…

BLOG SMASH!

BLOG SMASH!

ADAM IS GONE. NOW THERE IS ONLY HULK. HULK HERE TO DISCUSS CHURCH MUSIC. AND TO SMASH.

HULK DOES NOT LIKE MODERN CHURCH MUSIC. ITS SONGS SEEM MUSICALLY WEAK AND NONDISTINCT. THEY ALL SOUND THE SAME TO HULK. THEIR LYRICS ARE OFTEN NOT VERY MEANINGFUL. THEY ARE SOMETIMES DOWNRIGHT STUPID.

(HULK DISCLAIMER: SOME MODERN WORSHIP SONGS ARE FANTASTIC.)

MANY PEOPLE LOVE MODERN CHURCH MUSIC. THAT IS OKAY WITH HULK. HULK DOES NOT WANT TO BE PHARISEE. WHATEVER MUSIC BRINGS PEOPLE CLOSE TO GOD IS GOOD MUSIC.

CHURCHES ARE WELCOME TO THEIR NEW MUSIC… BUT LEAVE OLD MUSIC ALONE!

SOME OF US LIKE OLD HYMNS. “IT IS WELL.” “AMAZING GRACE.” “BE THOU MY VISION.” “COME THOU FOUNT OF EVERY BLESSING.” THESE ARE GOOD SONGS. THEY ARE FINE THE WAY THEY ARE. SOME PEOPLE FIND THEM TOUCHING AND MEANINGFUL, FULL OF BEAUTY AND TRUTH.

STOP TACKING ON NEW VERSES, CHANGING MELODIES, ADDING UNNECESSARY BRIDGES AND MAKING POINTLESS CHANGES.

PLAYING OLD HYMNS IN NEW STYLES IS FINE. HULK LOVE HEARING HYMNS PERFORMED IN CONTEMPORARY STYLES. THAT IS AWESOME. OLD HYMNS ARE AWESOME. GO AHEAD. JAZZ THEM UP. BUT DO NOT CHANGE THEM.

HULK RECENTLY WENT TO CHURCH. CHURCH SANG “IN CHRIST ALONE.” THIS IS NOT OLD HYMN, BUT IT IS BEAUTIFUL IN EXACT SAME WAYS. “IN CHRIST ALONE” HULK’S FAVORITE SONG. EVER.

CHURCH ON SUNDAY CUT OUT AN ENTIRE VERSE OF “IN CHRIST ALONE.” WHY? ADDED BRIDGE WITH WEAK MELODY AND THESE LYRICS: “Oh, Oh, Oh.” HULK NOT MAKING THIS UP. THOSE WERE WORDS ON SCREEN. “Oh, Oh, Oh.”

THOSE WORDS NOT AN IMPROVEMENT OVER THESE WORDS:

In Christ alone, who took on flesh: fullness of God in helpless babe,

This gift of love and righteousness—scorned by the ones he came to save.

Till on that cross as Jesus died the wrath of God was satisfied,

For every sin on him was laid. Here in the death of Christ I live.

THESE WORDS ARE BETTER THAN “Oh, Oh, Oh.” WHY DID CHURCH STRIP AWAY BEAUTIFUL WORDS FROM HYMN AND REPLACE THEM WITH MEANINGLESS NOISES?

HULK NOT KNOW. HULK NEVER KNOWS.

HULK ASK ALL CHURCHES EVERYWHERE. PLEASE. LEAVE OLD HYMNS ALONE. THEY ARE FINE AS THEY ARE. PLAY YOUR NEW MUSIC. HULK GIVE YOU THAT. BUT GIVE HULK THIS ONE THING. MAKE ONE CONCESSION FOR HULK. YOU CAN HAVE NEW SONGS. DON’T RUIN OLD ONES.

PLEASE. PLEASE. HONOR BEAUTY AND TRUTH IN OLD HYMNS.

HULK OUT!

Whoa… I… what just happened? Why is there a mound of splintered wood where my desk used to be? Who ripped apart my shirt? Why are my typewriter monkeys fleeing in terror?

I suddenly feel sick, so I’m afraid I must cut this post short. Sorry. Now I’m going to yell at my monkeys for wrecking my bedroom, and then go put on some clothes.


This post was originally published on June 20, 2014. TMTF shall return with new content on April 20, 2015!

279. Adam Turns into the Hulk and Rants about Church Music

Caution: This blog post contains furious ranting. Sensitive readers, and readers averse to things being smashed, are advised not to continue.

Being a blogger is great fun, but it’s not without risks. In a small number of cases, frequent exposure to wireless Internet connections has caused bloggers to develop unexpected conditions. I am one of these unfortunates. I and at least one other blogger have become tragic victims of HBS (Hulk Blogging Syndrome).

What does this mean? Well, there’s really only one thing about HBS you should know: Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

That said, today’s blog post is all about contemporary church music, and the way classic hymns are rewritten with new music or lyrics. Well, rewritten may be too kind a word. Hymns are mutilated. They are trampled upon. They are… ugh… I suddenly don’t feel well…

I… I…

BLOG SMASH!

BLOG SMASH!

ADAM IS GONE. NOW THERE IS ONLY HULK. HULK HERE TO DISCUSS CHURCH MUSIC. AND TO SMASH.

HULK DOES NOT LIKE MODERN CHURCH MUSIC. ITS SONGS SEEM MUSICALLY WEAK AND NONDISTINCT. THEY ALL SOUND THE SAME TO HULK. THEIR LYRICS ARE OFTEN NOT VERY MEANINGFUL. THEY ARE SOMETIMES DOWNRIGHT STUPID.

(HULK DISCLAIMER: SOME MODERN WORSHIP SONGS ARE FANTASTIC.)

MANY PEOPLE LOVE MODERN CHURCH MUSIC. THAT IS OKAY WITH HULK. HULK DOES NOT WANT TO BE PHARISEE. WHATEVER MUSIC BRINGS PEOPLE CLOSE TO GOD IS GOOD MUSIC.

CHURCHES ARE WELCOME TO THEIR NEW MUSIC… BUT LEAVE OLD MUSIC ALONE!

SOME OF US LIKE OLD HYMNS. “IT IS WELL.” “AMAZING GRACE.” “BE THOU MY VISION.” “COME THOU FOUNT OF EVERY BLESSING.” THESE ARE GOOD SONGS. THEY ARE FINE THE WAY THEY ARE. SOME PEOPLE FIND THEM TOUCHING AND MEANINGFUL, FULL OF BEAUTY AND TRUTH.

STOP TACKING ON NEW VERSES, CHANGING MELODIES, ADDING UNNECESSARY BRIDGES AND MAKING POINTLESS CHANGES.

PLAYING OLD HYMNS IN NEW STYLES IS FINE. HULK LOVE HEARING HYMNS PERFORMED IN CONTEMPORARY STYLES. THAT IS AWESOME. OLD HYMNS ARE AWESOME. GO AHEAD. JAZZ THEM UP. BUT DO NOT CHANGE THEM.

HULK RECENTLY WENT TO CHURCH. CHURCH SANG “IN CHRIST ALONE.” THIS IS NOT OLD HYMN, BUT IT IS BEAUTIFUL IN EXACT SAME WAYS. “IN CHRIST ALONE” HULK’S FAVORITE SONG. EVER.

CHURCH ON SUNDAY CUT OUT AN ENTIRE VERSE OF “IN CHRIST ALONE.” WHY? ADDED BRIDGE WITH WEAK MELODY AND THESE LYRICS: “Oh, Oh, Oh.” HULK NOT MAKING THIS UP. THOSE WERE WORDS ON SCREEN. “Oh, Oh, Oh.”

THOSE WORDS NOT AN IMPROVEMENT OVER THESE WORDS:

In Christ alone, who took on flesh: fullness of God in helpless babe,

This gift of love and righteousness—scorned by the ones he came to save.

Till on that cross as Jesus died the wrath of God was satisfied,

For every sin on him was laid. Here in the death of Christ I live.

THESE WORDS ARE BETTER THAN “Oh, Oh, Oh.” WHY DID CHURCH STRIP AWAY BEAUTIFUL WORDS FROM HYMN AND REPLACE THEM WITH MEANINGLESS NOISES?

HULK NOT KNOW. HULK NEVER KNOWS.

HULK ASK ALL CHURCHES EVERYWHERE. PLEASE. LEAVE OLD HYMNS ALONE. THEY ARE FINE AS THEY ARE. PLAY YOUR NEW MUSIC. HULK GIVE YOU THAT. BUT GIVE HULK THIS ONE THING. MAKE ONE CONCESSION FOR HULK. YOU CAN HAVE NEW SONGS. DON’T RUIN OLD ONES.

PLEASE. PLEASE. HONOR BEAUTY AND TRUTH IN OLD HYMNS.

HULK OUT!

Whoa… I… what just happened? Why is there a mound of splintered wood where my desk used to be? Who ripped apart my shirt? Why are my typewriter monkeys fleeing in terror?

I suddenly feel sick, so I’m afraid I must cut this post short. Sorry. Now I’m going to yell at my monkeys for wrecking my bedroom, and then go put on some clothes.

Question: Should Hulk rants become a regular feature on this blog? Let us know in the comments!

202. Church Grumps

I am a grouchy churchgoer.

Every Sunday morning, I find myself griping about something or other: the music, the sermon or some other aspect of church culture.

For example, it bothers me that churches in America spend tens of thousands of dollars on unnecessary, self-indulgent stuff when Christians in poorer countries can hardly afford to rent tiny buildings for church services. (My favorite church in the world met in a disused soccer stadium: pretty much the only building it could afford.)

Instead of building a church gymnasium which will be used twice a week for potlucks and basketball, why not build five new churches in Vietnam or support ten pastors for a year in Colombia or feed thousands of children in India? Come on, fancy churches! There’s a world out there, you know, and it needs food and Bibles a heck of a lot more than you need new carpets or stained glass windows!

See what I mean? There I go: ranting like a madman, shaking my fists and being a church grump.

I miss the old hymns. (Many of the newer songs are, um, strange.) The lack of emphasis on international problems like poverty and religious persecution frustrates me deeply, and I’m appalled at the haphazard way the Bible is taught. Don’t even get me started on short-term missions trips.

I’m not usually irritable, and I’m not sure why church makes me grouchy. During college, I grumbled about mandatory chapel services and tried to avoid mainstream church culture. For months I’ve found something to bother me every Sunday morning.

Then, a number of weeks ago, as I mumbled my way through yet another contemporary song that seemed very emotional and completely meaningless, I remembered something.

The Lord Jesus once told a pleasant little story about two men, one of whom showed definite signs of being a church grump.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

All churches have problems. However, as I stand in self-righteous (and grumpy) judgment of these churches, I generally forget one all-important fact.

I have problems. I have a lot of problems.

As the Apostle Paul pointed out, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”

I have no right to be a church grump. Some of my complaints are legitimate, sure, but I don’t have much authority to make them. A man with a plank in each eye is hardly the chap to go pointing out specks in the eyes of others.

More to the point, being a church grump won’t help anybody.

Acknowledging my faults and trying to be humble seem like good ways to start. Then, perhaps, without shouting or shaking my fists, I can suggest how churches can be better.

Help, I’m a Christian! – Church

A church is supposed to be a gathering of Christians who meet together to worship God and serve others. Simple, right?

However, some churches have become cluttered, whether with hymnals and wooden pews or electric guitars and cinema-style padded chairs. The Christian faith is sometimes eclipsed by the traditions and cultures of its churches.

Another kind of clutter is the idea that churches are independent. There isn’t often much communication or cooperation between churches, even though they belong to the same God. We think of different churches as separate entities, not as parts of a single entity.

Worst, I think, is that churches are cluttered with prejudices. We Christians have a tendency to make two deadly mistakes: believing our opinions are infallible, and assuming anyone who disagrees must be a misguided sinner. I’m ashamed to say it, but Christians are often rude in God’s name.

There are so many empty traditions, so many dogmatic views, so many petty squabbles—to wit, so many kinds of clutter—filling churches everywhere that we can’t help but ask a question.

Is church worth it?

Yes, yes it is.

We can start by not giving up. I know people who have stopped going to church. They avoid the clutter, true, but they also miss the glorious blessings churches have to offer.

The Christian faith isn’t something we can live out individually. When we call God our Father, we acknowledge being part of a family—and we don’t get to choose our siblings, biological or spiritual.

Right from the beginning, Christians stuck together. Christ himself had disciples. After Christ’s departure from Earth, his disciples became a community.

Church gives us the opportunity to encourage each other, worship God together, serve our communities and learn from other believers.

We can choose not to lose sight of the big picture. In the midst of the details—the youth ministry events, the Wednesday Bible studies, the rehearsals for Sunday morning worship—we can remember why we do these things.

To repeat an invaluable lesson, we must understand the why of Christian living as we live out the how.

It’s important to recognize church as a community—not a social club, but a family. Some of my favorite congregations have met in houses, banquet halls and indoor soccer stadiums. There were no hymnals, no fog machines and hardly any formal programs. Members gathered simply to worship God and to encourage each other. It was awesome.

Being part of a community takes time, effort and patience. Church isn’t always what we want it to be. Sermons can be boringWorship songs can be unbearably silly. Other Christians can be irritating.

However, church is sometimes even better than what we want it to be. Sermons can be useful. Worship songs can be beautiful. Other Christians can be loving, hospitable and kind.

In the end, church is worth it.

Next: Obedience and Service

114. Communion Anxiety

Christians know all about Communion. Seriously, we’ve got it covered. Call it the Lord’s Supper, Eucharist, whatever you like, we know our stuff. We partake of little crackers and juice from plastic cups that look like shot glasses. The pastor reads a few verses we’ve all heard before. “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” It’s all pretty familiar, right?

Then the pastor says, “So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.”

Wait, what?

“Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup,” continues the pastor. “For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.”

Judgment? That sounds serious. I’d better see what the Bible says. That’s usually a good start.

Paul writes, “For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.”

Fallen asleep? That doesn’t sound so bad—unless by fallen asleep Paul means died. That does sound bad. Paul’s going all Mafia on us. “Dat’s why many o’ youse is weak an’ sick, see? Some o’ youse is fallen asleep, if youse catch my drift.”

So we, um, fall asleep if we eat and drink judgment on ourselves? And we eat and drink judgment on ourselves by failing to discern the symbolism of Christ’s death in the crackers and Communion cups?

Well, there’s no need to panic. I’ll just partake of Communion in a manner worthy of the Lord. That’s not so hard. Christians do it every Sunday.

Is anyone else stressing out in church today? I mean, everyone looks calm and earnest, like it’s no big deal. Except for that guy who has fallen asleep. Really fallen asleep, I mean, not…you know…fallen asleep.

It’s better not to think about that. Okay. Do this in remembrance of me. Manner worthy of the Lord. I can do this. Ah! The pastor is telling us to partake of the bread! Wait, please! I’m not ready! I’m too young to die!

All right, I’m exaggerating for dramatic effect. Slightly exaggerating. The Lord’s Supper is an amazing sacrament, a powerful reminder of God’s love in Jesus Christ. Communion isn’t really this nerve-wracking. Not quite.

What stresses you out in worship services? Let us know in the comments!

86. The Turnspike Emails: Misleading Church Leaders

TMTF solemnly presents another hellish look at life from a demon’s perspective. This is an email intercepted from the demon Turnspike to his colleague Goreflak; a previous email from Turnspike and TMTF’s commentary thereupon can be found here.

My Dear Goreflak,

I am curious, my dear devil, as to whether you can do anything without making a mess of it.

Your Patient has joined the leadership committee of his church. I am revolted by your attempts to excuse your mistake by claiming it is “not a serious problem” because your Patient “had been attending church anyway.” It is a very serious problem.

Whereas before your Patient sat harmlessly in a church pew and dozed through sermons, he is now seizing opportunities to work against us. Your Patient was previously a parasite, benefiting from his church and contributing nothing to it. He is now a dangerous enemy.

What we want is a world full of Christians who are contented to do as little as possible—but that is another topic for another email. At present, I must restrain myself to addressing your current blunder.

In dealing with your Patient and his newfound role as a church leader, you have two great tools.

First is lack of perspective. Followers of our Enemy—even those who are far advanced in his service—can become so blinded by the day-to-day minutiae of their lives that they overlook things a child could see.

For example, church leaders, if we put them in the right frame of mind, will devote thousands of dollars to a new carpet (which the church does not really need) without even pausing to consider whether missionaries, who serve our Enemy all over the world, might need funds for living more than the church needs a change of furnishings.

Let us consider an example on a grander scale. A prosperous church builds a gymnasium, where its younger members play games once a week. For the same amount of money, five churches could be built in a poorer country or hundreds of children treated for disease or thousands of Bibles given away. Such uses of the Enemy’s money would have devastating consequences—but, fortunately for us, the money goes to a building that stands empty all but a few hours every week, and our work continues unhindered.

When your Patient is entrusted with church money, let it never occur to him that poorer churches may need a new roof more than his own church needs a new sound system. Our ultimate goal in dealing with church leaders is to equip them with spiritual blinders, rendering them oblivious to the needs of any churches but their own.

The second tool you have in dealing with your Patient is pride. Millennia of study by our best researchers have not uncovered any sin more useful for destroying the Enemy’s workers. Let but a seed of pride be planted in your Patient’s heart, and you will have him doing whatever you please.

A common mistake among inexperienced devils (such as yourself) is to assume pride can only be applied to a person. Pride can be applied to anything. You need not make your Patient believe he is better than everyone else. It is enough to make him believe his ideas are better than everyone else’s ideas.

Of course, for all I know, his ideas might be. That does not matter. What matters is that your Patient believes his ideas, opinions and plans are infallible, and that anyone who disagrees with him must be either ignorant or willfully foolish.

Should your Patient begin to suspect that he is being guilty of pride, remind him that he is not exaggerating his own reputation. Make him think he is merely standing up for ideas that are sensible, correct and useful. Never let him suspect that sinful pride can apply to his own ideas as readily as it applies to your Patient himself.

So much of the strife we have sown among the Enemy’s people is rooted in pride. We convince many Christians that their way of thinking, and only their way of thinking, is correct.

When we get the followers of our Enemy to make outrageous, opinionated statements in the name of Jesus, we have won.

Our Enemy himself advocates humility. He commands his followers to listen to each other, to seek to understand each other and to accept each other in spite of disagreements.

In the case of your Patient, make sure that does not happen.

Do not think, my dear devil, that I will overlook your blunder in allowing your Patient to become actively involved in his church. I have already referred you to the secret police, the high caste of demons devoted to straightening out incompetent devils such as yourself. You may expect a visit from them any day now.

Your affectionate colleague,

Turnspike