Parable of the Broken Laundry - June 7

The Spirit of the Lord God (Hebrew worship song) from Isaiah 61 - YouTube
Isaiah 61:1-4 Shared by New City Kids - YouTube
Marshall Hall & Friends - 'Tis Burning in my soul - YouTube
Children's Bible Hour Choir - He's Able -YouTube
Parable of the Broken Laundry

Some Concerns

A few weeks ago, when we first announced that we would again begin regularly scheduled Sunday morning worship services, the announcement went out that those who were sick or feeble should stay home.  I understood the caution, the warnings from authorities about the dangers of COVID-19, why some folks should stay home, but something just did not sit right with me.  We were trying our best to minister God’s word while following government guidelines, but something seemed missing.
Jesus said to John's followers in Luke 7:22-23, "Go tell John what you have seen and heard: The blind can see.  The crippled can walk.  People with leprosy are healed.  The deaf can hear.  The dead are brought back to life.  And the Good News is being told to the poor.  Great blessings belong to those who don't have a problem accepting me." 
If Jesus came to minister to the sick and the lame, it just did not seem right that we seemed to be telling some folks that they should be excluded from sharing in the fellowship of his love if they were not strong and healthy.  I am not saying we were doing the wrong thing, but it seemed contrary to what Jesus might have done.

New Testament Signs

Last Sunday we celebrated Pentecost Sunday.  We were reminded how God sent his promised Holy Spirit with unmistakable signs.  It was proof that Jesus had accomplished his mission on earth and was now at the right hand of the Father.  We began to learn that signs can be important.
In the early chapters of Revelation, we see in John’s visions two different pictures of the risen Christ.  In Chapter 2 we see the glorified Christ standing in the midst of the seven churches of Asia, represented as candlesticks. He is holding seven stars, the messengers to those churches, in his right hand.  He knows intimately all there is to know about each church individually and has specific advice for each.  There is a closeness of relationship with rewards and consequences and the symbolism in his vestiture speaks to his character in relationship to the churches. 
In Chapter 5 we see a different vision of the same Christ. He is described differently in the throne room of God, at God’s right hand, given authority over all.  He is set apart as uniquely qualified to take the sealed scroll from God the Father and open the seals.  All other beings of symbolic importance in this scene bow down and worship before him.  We are treated first to a vision of a Christ who is compassionate and present and then to a vision of the same Christ who has been granted all power to administer his compassion.

Today’s Signs and Symbols

In our churches today we often use symbols of Christianity that are supposed to help us with our understanding.  Years ago, most Christians attending churches were illiterate, and could not read.  Churches used symbols to help with the message like stained glass windows that told the whole gospel story in pictures.  I remember visiting Peachtree Christian Church in Atlanta, Georgia where the church offered tours after morning worship to celebrate the beauty of the stained-glass windows that told the gospel story in pictures.
Symbols of a dove descending, a flame of fire, a fish, and a tree planted by a stream are Christian symbols that have meanings to those who understand them.  But, like words from a foreign language scribbled on a page, they are meaningless without understanding. 
Candles lit during a worship service were introduced in many churches to remind folks that where two or three are gathered, He is in our midst.  The acolyte carries a lit flame from the back of the church sanctuary to light a candle or candles at the beginning of the church service and then at the end of the service snuffs out the candlelight to carry the lit flame out of the service as the congregation follows.  The number of candles lit differs, with different meanings, but the lit candles are there to symbolize the presence of God in our midst when we gather to worship.  There is nothing in scripture to indicate that Jesus ever lit candles when meeting with his disciples.  The New Testament carries no instructions for lighting candles and there is no indication in scripture that the early church lit candles when they met. The symbolism thrives in churches everywhere, but how many know its significance?

Many things that have become traditions of worship today were modern innovations to help tell the message at the time they were introduced.  Are the same traditional symbols that may no longer be cutting-edge communication methods still as valid today as they might have been in the past?

Events of the past weeks have caused me to think about what is important for sharing the gospel in today’s world.  It has been said by some that to expect change while continuing to insist on doing the same thing again and again with no results is insanity.

The Laundry Incident

Well over a month ago we had a laundry incident in our home in Catlett Virginia.  My wife was concerned that our Samsung electric dryer was not drying our clothes.  The dryer appeared to be working. All the controls functioned.  Lights would come on and the drum turned tumbling the clothes, but the clothes would not dry.  I checked and the dryer was not producing any heat. This dryer was just over five years old and was pretty much state of the art; it included a steam sanitize function with lights and sounds to apprise of its progress.  I did a little internet research and learned that when everything else worked but the dryer produced no heat there were three possible parts that were most likely the cause of the problem.
I ordered the part that was cheapest and most likely to be the culprit.  When the part arrived, I followed instructions to disassemble the dryer and replace the suspected part.  I did not bother to run electrical tests to check for continuity on the potential problem parts but just went for the most obvious solution.  When I put the dryer back together and plugged it in, nothing had changed.  I was frustrated and was in no mood to take the dryer apart again to fool with it.  My dear wife, Yvonne, was very understanding and said she could wait.  She would dry clothes out in the sun on our deck on nice days or by hanging them over the tub in our bathroom when the weather was not so good.  If worse came to worse, she would bring wet laundry to our home in Martinsburg to dry when we came on weekends for church service.
Several weeks went by with no dryer progress from me.  Our daughter had a similar dryer that had also recently gone bad.  Her husband fixed her dryer for her and he offered to fix ours.  (He has master’s degree in electrical engineering.)  He checked it out, told me which part was actually bad, and I ordered the part.  Two weeks later he installed the replacement part and the dryer has been working like new ever since.
The laundry situation made me think.  The dryer with all its fancy options, the extra bells and whistles, and the steam sanitize function had all the right movements.  The lighted symbols of its superior drying capabilities all worked, but there was still no heat.  One might say it had the form of ‘dryerliness’, if that’s a word, but denied the heat thereof. 
I think that’s when the song “‘Tis Burning in My Soul” came to me.  Maybe the church of today has all the right bells and whistles functioning, symbols of that heavenly fire spoken of in the song, but without the “real fire in the soul.”  Maybe some of the religious symbols and traditions so meaningful in years gone by have lost their relevance in our modern world.  With no fancy electronic digital lights or buzzers clothes will still dry outside on a sunny day.   Maybe the fire of heavenly love can still burn brightly in the hearts of individual men and women who have been exposed to the simple teachings of Jesus without the religious symbolism-symbolism that may not be as meaningful in today’s world as in the past.

In Times Like These

The apostle Paul wrote to his disciple Timothy (English Standard Version):
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.  Avoid such people.”
Do the conditions of the last days that Paul describes to Timothy sound anything like conditions we are seeing and hearing about today?
2 Timothy 3:5 (King James Version) says, “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.”  The big question is, do we as a church or as individuals have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof?
In times like these we need answers.  Our churches are shrinking and have been for a while.  Now, after having been deprived of our usual modes of worship for more than eight weeks what do we most long to recapture as we begin meeting again?  Is it the traditional order of worship, singing of hymns, responsive readings, printing of bulletins, organ music, lighting of candles, feet washing, fellowship, prayer time, pulpit preaching, communion with bread and wine, or just meeting together in a sacred building? 
If the church was not growing before the COVID-19 shutdown, how much of what was traditional is essential to a growing church in the future.  Should we continue just as we were before?  Maybe its time to change our thinking about some of the traditional things we do.
Leaning on the Ever Lasting Arms - Accapella - YouTube
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