The Worst Birthday Party Ever

After looking forward all week to the festivities, I walked into Chuck E. Cheese’s and looked for the guest of honor.  He sat, tucked away in a corner, nearly hidden from view by the beautiful decorations, signs, and balloons which had been carefully arranged around the table.

As guest were arriving, there were hugs and laughter and everyone was genuinely glad to see one another. The mood was festive as the children were handed cups of tokens to use in the arcade. But the guest of honor sat quietly, lost amid all the activity.

And then… the music!

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls! Please return to the party area to celebrate our special guest!”

The children rushed back to the tables, the adults quickly found their seats as the party started with blaring music from the Chuck E. Cheese band.  The crowd would sing along and shout out the guest of honors name at all the appropriate times in the song. The entertainment was well received and ended just as the pizza arrived!  Parents and children alike dove into the pizza and seemed to really be enjoying themselves, except for the guest of honor who still sat quietly, overshadowed by the noise and decorations.

Then, things got, well, weird.  First, party planner extraordinaire (Mom), quieted the crowd and began to speak:

“Thank you all for coming!  Wow, what a party, huh?  I think it turned out pretty well! (the guest cheered in approval) I spent weeks planning this, so enjoy yourselves!”  The crowd cheered and thanked her for her hard work. It was indeed a beautiful party.  And the guest of honor sat quietly on the sideline.

Next up?  The Manager from Chuck E. Cheese!  He thanked everyone for coming and marveled at the beautiful party. The most impressive he had ever seen in his store!  And then he did something truly odd:

“Chuck E. Cheese is built around making every child the guest of honor at their party!  And to that end, we’re expanding the size our store to nearly double it’s current size!” (And the crowd cheers)  “It’s going to be EPIC!  We’re adding more games, and more than 10 jumbo screens to enhance the party experience.  We’re also adding more than 50 new employees to facilitate this growth! How ’bout that?!?!?” (And the crowd showed it’s enthusiastic approval.)  And the guest of honor sat quietly on the sideline.

And they came, one after another; guests to speak about how the guest of honor made them feel, the cooks to talk about the pizza, the baker to talk about the cake, and a dozen talented musicians and singers taking turns performing songs about the guest of honor with tremendous skill and passion. And through it all, great festivity and great fun.  And the guest of honor sat quietly on the sideline.

Finally, the mother wrapped up the party:  “Thank you for coming! I hope you enjoyed yourself. Let’s have a hand for all those who made this special day possible!” (applause)  “Isn’t it wonderful to celebrate someone we love so dearly?”  (applause).

And with that, the guests smiled, hugged, and left.  And the guest of honor sat quietly on the sideline.

For all the trappings, and mentions of his name, he was overshadowed by the activities, the festivities, and the entertainment.  All good things, but shameful when used to overshadow the guest of honor.  For all the fun, it was… The Worst Birthday Party Ever

And yet, this scene plays out Sunday after Sunday in some of the largest, most “successful” churches in the country.  People gather for the purpose of honoring the one deserving of all honor, and we spend so much time with entertainment, with speaking about the interworking and program of the organization, focusing on our gift bags, and enjoying the party itself that, well, apart from a few mentions during the singing  (which is often about how He makes us feel) and a verse or two of His word, we forget to actually focus on the guest of honor.

Talented musicians, tremendous programs, entertaining and humorous speakers, and beautiful campuses; All good things. But if we can spend 10 minutes on intro, 30 minutes on blazing guitar riffs and angelic special singing, time for humorous stories and jokes, and time to sell merchandise.. how then do we skip entire sections of His word due to time constraints? I’ve actually heard speakers say “Time doesn’t allow me to read the entire chapter, so I’ll unpack the following verses:” How do we stand to read God’s word only to be met with 10 minutes of story telling, not to explain the context of the scripture being read, but setting the narrative into which we will drop a verse or two out of context?  When we leave do we know more about the “party” and the “planning” than about “the guest of honor”?

Lord, forgive us for abandoning our first love.  Forgive us for making time for every manner of program and entertainment and only giving you a round of applause and a nod of the head as we spend less time working through your word than we do on talking about explaining the logistics of our next event.  Do I think the people at the birthday party love the guest of honor? Of course I do. Do I think they meant harm? No, I don’t. But at some point they lost focus. They forgot why they were there.  Let’s return to our first love.

I know that I’m sometimes perceived as “negative”, a “hater”,  or “nitpicky”.  I understand that, I really do.  I’m not saying the activities of the party are bad.  What I’m saying is that I truly love the guest of honor.  I came to spend time with him and to make it about him… and to see him pushed into the corner as we speak about the party?  It breaks my heart.  As a wise man once said;

So if you are somewhere where there is a focus on reading and learning the Word of God, you are truly blessed. I attend a service every week where I hear the reading of large portions of scripture, often entire chapters in context; feeling both the weight of the Law, and the grace of the Gospel.As an example, in a recent service we bowed our head to confess sin, to read together Christ’s words declaring us forgiven, confessed our faith together, read large portions of 3 chapters of scripture, had the gospel of repentance for the forgiveness of sins clearly presented, and met together at the Lord’s Table where we received His body and blood. And, yes, we worshiped together in song.  Certainly not any tremendous vocal performances, no melt-your-face-off guitar solos, no performances of any sort actually. But we worshipped. Together.

In an hour.

Does your church have time for multiple solo performances and none to spend actually reading the text of God’s word?  Do you spend more time on announcements than on scripture? Are you getting a verse or two which serve as nothing more than an amplifier to a story about the speaker, or merely a nod in His direction as you sing songs that could just as easily be about your boyfriend as they are about the Savior? If so, you’re too much party and not enough guest… and it may be time to leave the party.

I’m sure you love the party, who wouldn’t? It’s FUN! You love the other guests! The music is FUN! The people are FUN! The entertainment is FUN!  But do you love that fun more than the guest? Nobody at the birthday party would have ever said they loved the party more than the guest of honor.. but their actions spoke volumes. Nobody wants to leave a good party, especially if it’s aimed at our enjoyment.  If you leave the party, you may end up with a few less balloons and decorations, and you may hear grandma doing an off-key rendition of  “happy birthday” instead of the Chuck E. Cheese band, but our “guest of honor” deserves all honor.

Marc