The Casual Approach

Exodus 25:31
“Make a lampstand of pure gold. Hammer out its base and shaft, and make its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms of one piece with them.”

Back in the day people would dress to the nines for church.  It was all about putting on your Sunday best to meet with the Lord.  Nowadays, we’ve adopted a “come as you are” philosophy.  Don’t worry about how you look; God doesn’t care.  If you want to roll up to church in cutoffs and a tank top, we’re cool with that.  This same attitude is trending in church building design as well.  Gone are the days when tall steeples, grandiose sanctuaries, and exquisite artwork were the calling cards of church buildings.  Current churches have jettisoned these sacred spaces for storefronts, warehouses, and casual coffee shops.

One read through Exodus 25 left me thinking we might be missing something in this casual, carefree approach to worshiping God.  The God of Israel seems committed to having things set up just so in the tabernacle.  He submitted intricate designs to the craftsmen and artisans; complete with detailed measurements and costly materials.  God clearly wanted the tabernacle to inspire beauty, place value, and inspire awe and wonder in those who were to encounter His presence there.  Has the privilege of gaining access to the very presence of God become lost on us?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that wearing suits and dresses equates to holiness, or accomplishes the same purpose as the tabernacle.  There are plenty of reprobates out there dressed in fine clothes.  It follows that any environment, or humble dwelling is a fitting place to worship God.  The higher the steeple, or more ornate the stained glass has little consequence upon a congregation’s ability to connect with God.  However, even as we have squashed the prudish, condescending experience from the church of yesteryear, have we lost something of the sacred in our push for all things casual?  After all, it still follows that when I take my wife out for a special occasion we get all dressed up.  Why?

Because it’s special that’s why.

I’m certainly not advocating a return to three piece suits and dresses down to the ankles.  The thought of that makes me nauseous.  Perhaps it’s more the loss of the sacred and holy.  We don’t experience these things through external appearances, rather, they are internal realities.  However, the external is often an indicator of what is happening internally.  I’m asking myself the question, “have I lost something in my casual approach to worship?”  What would it look like for me on the inside and out if I approached every encounter with God in awe, wonder, and with a deep sense of privilege?

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The Man and the Mountain

“You are to worship at a distance, but Moses alone is to approach the Lord; the others must not come near. And the people may not come up with him.” (Exodus 24:1-2)

Is it just me, or does God sound slightly inhospitable in this passage?  Why is Moses alone given the privilege to meet with God on the mountain while everyone else has to be content with watching from the cheapseats?  Whatever reasons we might come up with to explain the scenario on the mountain that day, one thing is clear; God was not content to let things remain this way.  In Jesus, he took on human flesh, drew near to humankind, and died for all of creation.  His death tore the veil in two, opened the way to God’s presence, and fundamentally changed how you and I approach our relationship with God (Hebrews 10:19-23).  Unfortunately, many of us continue to operate under the old way of doing things; we rely on someone else’s experience on the mountain instead of taking the journey on our own.

Experiencing God is amazing, but it also comes at a great cost.  It’s a whole lot easier to delegate the responsibility of spiritual growth to somebody else.  Often times pastors, authors, or other inspirational leaders are elevated to the status of Moses in our lives.  We would rather read and or hear from them, then take on the pesky responsibilities of reading the Bible, or spending considerable amounts of time in prayer.  We rely upon their passion to get us excited about action, their teaching to help us know what to think, or believe, and their vision to bring a sense of meaning to our lives.

Sometimes these modern day Moses types lead us well, but other times they fail us and the damage can be devastating.  In the wake of a fallen, or disgraced religious figure are a wave of victims, and many of those victims lose their faith in God as a result.  It’s a perfect storm that often leads a person vulnerable with no support system, or faith structure to lean on.  In the end, those who settle for a secondary relationship with God, not based on personal experience, expose themselves to the greatest risk.

Fortunately, God is not content to keep us at a distance.  His desire is to draw us near to him.  This is evidenced by the fact that when Moses returned from his second journey to the top of the mountain (his first return didn’t end well), his face was glowing with the glory of God.  However, Moses put a veil on his face so the people would not see the glory was fading.  It was a sign that the entire Mosaic covenant was never meant to be permanent.  It was fading away.  Ultimately, the veil in the temple was torn apart, the way to God made open, and access granted to all who dare to journey to the top of the mountain.  The reward for all who persevere is transformation into the image of God’s son with ever-increasing glory (2 Corinthians 3:12-18).  The risk vs. reward should be enough to motivate us to invest our time and take upon ourselves a personal responsibility to know God.

It kind of makes those daily devotions sound important, doesn’t it.