Sunday, March 6, 2016

Worshiping God at the Golden Calf nightclub

Nightclubs and music are partners in escapism. Worshipers of God and music are partners in praise.

Nightclubs represent a congregation of believers in themselves escaping the life they now have looking to find something better for the evening. Houses of worship and prayer are people praising God and lifting prayers of blessing for the life that they are living now.

The need for clubbing

Bars and clubs are a way to bring a personal relationship to a needy soul wanting to escape the day filled with a lonely impersonal meetings and endless data that means nothing to them. They are worn out making choices about things with little relevance to them. The nightclub forms a commune of lonely souls made stronger by real emotions and opinions more easily communicated through the drug of choice whether alcoholic or chemical. They encounter meaning here when daily life seems to have none.

People want to escape to an alternate experience in the darkness, to shape their life through a new acquaintance, perhaps meet a lifelong mate, and forget the meaningless rat race that is outside the mesmerizing repeated refrains on the dance floor. Maybe a rave, maybe a club or bar, but these venues become significant because like-minded people can have a life changing experience there enhanced with intense feelings.

That excitement and effervescence of the music propels you into a shrine of people who wage a battle against the quiet mechanical daily grind. It's a release that attracts emotionally drained people. For many, they easily call the nightclub their church as they look to find an emotional connection. It’s not hard to understand why the extended metaphor was used in Hozier’s “Take Me To Church” for a love that was like religion.

The nightly music scene is about rebellion against the weekday. The weekend becomes the release. Even the anxious The Weeknd, that Grammy award winning singer with an Eastern Orthodox background and Ethiopian parents, identifies with the needy hurting masses of people much like one of his major influences, Prince, who converted to a Jehovah’s Witness in 2001. Musicians are in constant struggle to pull down the veil of a counterfeit life and sing about what they see. Much of it is painful, however, like in The Weeknd's "Can't Feel My Face", his love song to drugs.

The dance floor is welcome to all walks of life. Nobody kicks you out because you dress wrong. You can do almost any activity short of a major crime and people tolerate it. People understand a culture of grace here. Add in the specialized reason for the club’s existence, whether a style of music or a style of culture, and you have a powerful reason to feel like you belong with a strong loyalty.

God’s nightclub

So, what’s the difference between that mix of humanity and the place where we should be worshiping? The club has no values limiting what you can do. You bring your own. God’s values are found in His people coming together to worship Him. It should be a place to welcome all people, a place to get excited about worship, and a place to find refuge.

So should a house of worship take on the club atmosphere because it has the club’s equality of membership, the desire to be there, and a feeling of protection from the world? Darken the room, flash the lights, turn up the sound and it's hard to tell a difference.

The priest or rabbi is a role model for their community of believers. Many have taken on the role of educator as well, so much so that in some congregations, study notes are handed out before the sermon. They set the values for the believers and if you don’t like their music you go elsewhere. Some have traditional ceremonies and vestments, others find a connection by talking like one of the gang and wearing their wrinkled shirt untucked like a twenty-something. All are there to provide a place where God is honored.

It’s the role of the congregation to provide the flora and fauna of a unique multitude of ways God can be worshiped. It is out of the context of our lives that we find ways to recognize a blessing. It is out of the context of our life where we see God working in our behalf that we find reasons to praise Him in song. We hear the blues in a bar where people gather to find solace in each other’s stories of misery. But we are lifted not through the shared struggles of each other but through our victories that the Lord has won, our personal blessings.

The weekdays provide us the groundwork for having blessings. Our worship is not our blessing but a praise to the one who has brought us out of our turmoil and into a better place. Ceremonies help provide a meaningful way to help us relate back to our life experiences, those of our family, and to blessings we've all received.
The singers went on, the musicians after them,
         In the midst of the maidens beating tambourines.
Bless God in the congregations,
         Even the LORD, you who are of the fountain of Israel. - Psalm 68:25-26

The experience

In the nightclub, we follow our own desires and other’s hearts but in the house of God, we follow one voice. We come knowing it is our Lord calling us to come together so we can agree together and be a part of all the other people He has granted His salvation to.

The music is not our salvation and the experience is not our salvation but in the nightclub it will do for the evening. We don’t assemble for the music. We assemble for our Lord God who has created and put the universe in harmony. We don’t assemble for the experience. The experience is in Him who is righteous and will be a part of our lives every day.
Serve the LORD with gladness;
         Come before Him with joyful singing.
Know that the LORD Himself is God;
         It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
         We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving
         And His courts with praise.
         Give thanks to Him, bless His name - Psalm 100:2-4
We come to our assembly place to worship the God that made our life possible and not through a portal of heaven. It could be a pile of rocks, a tent, or an office meeting room. We come with praise to give and don’t expect to have to be encouraged to praise and swept up into a wave of revelers by music too loud to talk over. Our place of worship is a portal of God’s awareness. We share life’s struggles with each other and find the release when we understand who is in control.

A golden calf

We don't follow a golden calf that leads us to our promised land we visit every week. We have a leader who gives us the assurance of a salvation if we but follow God’s very particular advice. We have His words of truth which by living them out every day, we stay under the shadow of His wings and bring a blessing on us. And we have people who build relationships to holiness where the battles we endure and sufferings that befall us are but bridges to their understanding of why God can be so good and why He asks us to find His goodness in our lives also.
And You did not forsake them.
Even when they made for themselves
         A calf of molten metal
         And said, ‘This is your God
         Who brought you up from Egypt,’
         And committed great blasphemies,
You, in Your great compassion,
         Did not forsake them in the wilderness; Nehemiah 9:17-19
The golden calf was a placeholder for the Lord God that the sons of Israel worshiped. They knew who had brought them through the plagues and finally to Mount Horeb. But it was hardly enough to admire for the party people following their own desires to eat, drink, and sing during a new holiday. Those kinds of festivities devoted to an idol, even one representing the Lord God of Israel, made His anger burn.

Let us give up our idols of God, those things which are necessary in order to have a proper festival or ceremony for God that we take pride in (Ezekiel 7:20). He needs none of that. Let’s find God through the daily goodness of His mercy in each bite of bread and each breath of air. For when we take that for granted, we lose the sovereignty of God and His ability to transform those simple things into life that brings meaning into every day. And let us find Him in the praise that we bring to our gathering place as well as in the brethren alive in Him we meet each day.

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