Experience the Horrible in Light of the Holy

We commonly live as though the bad reality must end before the good reality begins.

We say, as soon as this season/this job/this conflict/this illness is over, then everything will be good.

I just need to get through hard time/sad time/lonely time, then I’ll be blessed.


What’s the problem with thinking or living like that?

It’s not Christian.


Christianity says, goodness can be experienced in the midst of brokenness.

Christianity says, blessing can happen right in the face of hardship.

Two different realities happening at the same time.

The practical question is, which one will define the other?

One reality will take the lead,

         One reality will define the other.

         The defining reality will be whichever one you’re looking at.

         The defining reality will be which ever one has your attention.


In the record of Stephen’s murder (Acts 6 and 7) the violence does not end, the conflict doesn’t stop.  Because it’s real.  It’s really happening. It’s a reality.  And the message isn’t ignore this or pretend this doesn’t hurt.

But the reality of the brokenness is defined by an even greater reality, which is the fact that Stephen sees Jesus standing for him.        

         Jesus has Stephen’s full attention.  And that changes the way Stephen experiences all other reality.

The fact is, Stephen’s experience of the horrible

         is informed, and even defined, by

                  Stephen’s experience of the holy.   May ours be as well.

(Mis)understanding Heaven

There are two potential misunderstandings that can creep in when we contrast the way things are now (on Earth) with the way things will be (in Heaven).

The first is misunderstanding the importance of here and now, the remarkable degree to which this life matters.

The second is misunderstanding Heaven as ultimate and complete arrival where there’s absolutely no further progress.[1]


In other words, we can misunderstand Heaven as astatic destination – like the “and they lived happily every after” ending of the movie.

We know that “happily ever after” means everything is going to end perfectly, so we don’t think much about what we’re going to do when we get there.


The common (mis)understanding of Heaven

is that when we die or meet Jesus when he returns,

         we are changed in the presence of God,

                  and no more change ever takes place.                 

Heaven becomes a picture, frozen in time.

But I don’t think that’s what the Bible says.


Complete does not mean comprehensive.


Of course, on one level, a remarkable change does happen “in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye” at the resurrection.[2]         

Typically, when we think of Heaven, we think of how different everything will be there: no more sin, no more suffering, no more grief.

What we can fail to realize is the extent to which life after death is a very real extension of life before death.

The difference can seem radical because one of the realities that will not exist in Heaven is sin. And sin is such a permeating reality here on Earth.

          Sin/selfishness/brokenness affects everything:

                  our relationship with God,



 And the absence of sin is a really big deal.

The absence of sin will affect everything.

         So it’s easy to see why we think of Heaven as so different.


         Rather than everything being broken as it is here,

                  everything will be whole there.


But, it’s important to realize: whole does not equal infinite.

(In Heaven we will be whole but still finite – we don’t become God).

When Paul says we will know fully even as we are fully known,

he means we will know accurately, truthfully, without deception.

He does not mean we will know absolutely everything about everything ever,

         or that we’ll be omniscient like God.

         We’ll see clearly, but not comprehensively.

         Our knowledge, though free from the corruption and deception of sin,

                  will not instantly reach the level of exhaustive mastery of nature, art, history, philosophy

                  and certainly not of God.


What’s the point?

The point is in Heaven we will continue to learn.


We will lack nothing.

But at the same time, there will be so much more to learn.


[1]In a Gallup poll of people’s perspectives about Heaven, only 18 percent thought people would grow intellectually in Heaven. Quoted by Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang, Heaven: A History (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), 307.

[2]1 Corinthians 15:52

[3] For instance: disease, disorder,decay.

It depends on which truth you believe.

What if you were really known?
What if the whole truth about you were to be exposed?Image

Everything from your past.
Every detail of your present.

What would that kind of exposure feel like?

It depends.
Not on what you’ve done.

It depends on which truth you believe.

It depends on whether or not you’re really living
in light of the resurrection.

It depends on whether Easter is something that happened
or is still happening.

It depends on whether or not you believe the new truth about you: you are totally known and you are totally loved.

Gathering to Change Things

A word about worship as event: the gathering in which you participate, in this specific place, at this specific time, with these specific people, for these specific purposes.

When Christians gather together and worship we participate in:

1. the central and most clearly defined piece of the common life of the people of God throughout the past[1], and

2. the central and most clearly defined piece of the common life of the people of God throughout the future.[2]

Therefore, if we want to bring light into the darkness now, if we want to battle against the evil in our world here in the present, if we want to experience resurrection, if we want to participate in the Kingdom coming to Earth as it is in Heaven, not just as an historic event and not just as a future hope, but as a present reality experienced here and now,

we should



with others

for the express purpose of


The worship event might just be the most effective means we have of bringing God’s Kingdom to Earth.



[1]The Bible is full of scenes of people gathering for worship.

[2] Heaven is described, in John’s revelation, as an ongoing worship gathering.  

Your church-free Christianity is like my fantasy football team.

You’ve seen those shirts that say, “Football is life…”

And you understand that for some, football spreads over all of life, colors all of life, becomes a pervasive reality, is always on their minds…

But you also understand that, at the core, football is a very specific and well-defined experience. The game literally happens in a dedicated space: there are boundary lines drawn on a field, there’s a clock that marks the start and completion of the event. There are rules, strategy, specific roles (positions), real effort, and a clearly defined purpose.

Worship is like that. Worship can, and absolutely should, spread to all of life. But “worship as life” must be rooted in “worship as event.” The believers gathering for worship fuels the believers scattering for worship.Image

Remove the “worship as event” part and the “worship as life” part slowly dissolves into self-serving fantasy.


All in

I don’t read anything in John’s vision of Heaven (see Revelation 4 and 5) that sounds anything less than whole-hearted, full-bodied engagement. It makes me wonder if we understand what worship is. It makes me wonder if we know how to do it.

Once I was at a high school football game and a woman sitting a few rows in front of me was reading a novel.

At a football game.Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 8.14.01 AM


Crisp fall Friday night.

Middle of a big loud crowd.

Blaring down-and-distance announcements every few seconds.

A novel.


My point is I’m not sure why she was there.

I remember thinking, I don’t think she gets “high school football game.”

She apparently decided to go to a football game.

But I’m not sure she understands how to participate in this experience once she arrived.


Instead of “going to church” I urge you to worship Jesus whole-heartedly.

Sing to Jesus.

Pray with passion.

Choose to open your life to the Word and the Spirit of God.

Ask for mercy.

Extend grace to those gathered alongside you.

Put your heart into it.

The old communion liturgy begins, “Lift up your hearts.”

And the people respond by saying, “We lift them to the Lord.”

If church is something you “go to,” you’re done once you get there.

You get up

and get a shower

and get dressed

and get coffee

and get the kids

and get in the car

and get through the yellow light

and get parked

and get to your seat

and you’re done…

And then you totally miss the point.

I see it every week.

You’re tired. You’re just trying to make it. And I have a lot of grace for you.

I get it.

And now what you need is to worship Jesus.

It’s ironic, but sometimes we forget that that’s why we’re here.

So, if, in the craziness of getting here, you’ve forgotten why you’re here, then I simply want to run up alongside you and be the voice in your ear that says, “You’re going to make it. Don’t give up! Oh, and since you’re here, with others, at a place and a time set apart for this specific purpose of worshipping God, be here, now…

Put your whole heart into this.”


Please stop “going to church.”

When we gather with others for worship, we simply must do whatever it takes to fully-engage our hearts, minds, bodies and souls in this thing we sometimes casually refer to as “going to church.”

Because we’re not just “going to church.” (That phrase has got to be the safest, most impotent, most anemic, most reduced-to-the-lowest-common-denominator scrap of religious vernacular).

We are Christians gathering to worship God!

I want to permanently erase the phrase, “going to church” from our vocabulary. It is pitifully incomplete.

It should be tossed and replaced with words that are far more intentional and descriptive of what we’re going to do once we get to church, words that call us to actually do the thing for which these 90 minutes are designed.

Yes, there are other things we do at church: we serve, we build relationships, we learn, etc. But there is a main thing, a primary thing.

Is the primary point of “going to church” to … go? No! That’s why “going to church” is such a lame phrase. The point is to worship.

It’s actually quite clarifying to just say it.