Worship is Active Work, Not Passive Consumption

liturgysermonseriesslideOne time I overheard a conversation between two people who were discussing their churches. From what I could pick up, one went to a church within the mainline denominations and the other went to a non-denominational church. The topic of their worship services came up and the man who worshiped in the mainline congregation was describing what sounded like a service that included a lot of ritual (think a traditional Methodist or Episcopalian service – it seemed to be along those lines). His friend said, “Well, that sounds nice but I don’t believe in all that ritual and, what’s the word, liturgical stuff. We don’t do that at my church.”

Oh, yes you do.

Every worship service has a liturgy. The word “liturgy” at its core derives from Greek which is translated “public work.” Another way to say it is, “the work of the people.” Further derivations of these words become “minister.” All of this to say, the work we do in the public setting of the worship service is a liturgy. So, it does not matter what the name on the sign of the church says, all churches have a liturgy.

It’s in keeping with this notion that all worship services have a liturgy and the origin of the word that I bring this next point: The word worship is a verb. The definition is, “to show reverence and adoration for (a deity); honor with religious rites; to take part in a religious ceremony.”

Worship is meant to be an active means of grace. It’s meant to be more than sitting idly in the pew or singing with very little effort. We are called to give our entire being to the worship of God, to engage all of our senses (yes, even taste, by means of Holy Communion) and our intellect into pouring our praise for and awe of God. We should engage our passion into worship and find joy in the worship of the risen Christ who died and rose again for us.

But I do want us to remember something: Worship, liturgy, is work. Work is not always fun and work is something we do in order to accomplish an important goal. Work also means that we often have to do things that are not our preferred way of doing them. But even more important than having our preferences met is knowing that we direct our worship to and only to God.

Worship is, indeed, work, but it’s holy work and work that we do for God. Do we take it seriously? Do we remember that worship is an active engagement of our entire being and not just a passive activity we do our of sheer obligation or tradition? We must be honest with ourselves and ponder these questions for ourselves and act accordingly.

Perhaps what needs to change is not the style of worship in our churches but our attitudes toward worship. Worship is work and the work is not done by us for us.

Worship is work done by us for God.

On the Election

Lots of people want to know if the Bible has anything to say about an election. Some say that it does. I agree. So, here are some verses I would like you to keep in mind tomorrow as you go to the voting booth:

“No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8 NLT)

Jesus: “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. 30 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’[g] 31 The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-30 NLT)

“If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it;[a] but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NLT)

These are the most important things we need to remember as we prepare to vote. I don’t have to tell you that the rhetoric that has been spread throughout the campaign has been nothing short of toxic. The nation is polarized more so than it has been in my entire life. I don’t know about you but I’m tired and am looking forward to an end to all of this garbage (although I know that regardless of who wins there will continue to be toxic speech from the other side). Frankly, we have been anything but Christlike to one another. We have not been kind. We have failed to show grace to one another and we have been judgmental of our political stances.

No one is going to Hell for voting a certain way. One’s salvation is not demonstrated by which candidate they vote for or by which political party they align with. God is not a member of a political party. God is not on the side of one candidate over another. God is on everyone’s side. All people – be they Republican, Democrat, or whatever – are equally loved by God and are of sacred worth. No one is going to be condemned to a lake of fire because they vote for certain political parties or candidates. To suggest otherwise is not Christlike and unbiblical.

Above all, pray. Pray that God will guide you as you cast your vote. Ask God to give you grace for your part in the election fray. And show grace to everyone, especially those with whom you do not agree.

Being a Strong Witness

92b8c584afb491d0c703b3ddc3244926What does it mean to be a strong witness for Christ?

What does it really mean to be a strong witness for Christ?

Throughout my life I have often heard preachers, youth ministers, evangelists and countless others encouraging their hearers to bear a strong witness. How does one do this? Often a “strong Christian witness” is thought of in these ways:

  • Being able to quote the right scripture at the right time and completely from memory
  • Displaying symbols such as crosses, the “Jesus fish” and other images
  • Being very vocal about what they God are is against
  • Explaining everything under the sun as “God’s will” (especially tragedy)
  • Vocally and passionately articulate their political views (“God’s on my side here!”)

Now, let me be clear: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of those things so long as they are done in a spirit of charity and grace as opposed to one of domination and attempting to belittle someone or their views. I believe that bearing a strong witness for Christ involves much more than our political leanings and the stickers displayed on our cars.

Being a strong witness for Christ is a lifestyle which must be lived, not one that is merely talked about.

For my Missional Formation class today, I have been reading a keynote speech that was given by Dr. Christine Pohl at the Wesleyan Theological Society’s annual meeting in 2006. One of the takeaways I have gained is that simply being hospitable can bear a strong witness for Christ. But what is hospitality? It’s more than cooking or offering our friends a place to sit. Hospitality means we have to open our tables and our witness to everyone, not just those we love or who have something to offer. From the transcript of Dr. Pohl’s speech:

Based on the biblical passages of Matthew 25:31-46 and Luke 14:12-14, Christians were expected to offer hospitality to those most likely to be overlooked, anticipating that it might be Jesus they were welcoming. According to Jesus’ instructions, when followers welcomed people to their tables, it should be the poor and infirm, those who seemed to have the least to offer.

Perhaps one way to look at this is that we should extend hospitality to everyone we come into contact with. That doesn’t mean we have to invite everyone over for dinner but it does mean making space for people to meet Christ through us right where they are. We can not be brash and demeaning in our witness; if we think that such an attitude will win anyone to Christ we are delusional at best and just plain crazy at worst. Instead, we are to show everyone a generous and loving spirit of grace. We have been given much grace therefore we should be quick to give it ourselves. I know that I don’t always make God happy but I also know that God loves me and forgives me so long as my trust is in Christ. Just as God is quick to love and slow to anger, we should be likewise (see James 1:19-27).

Be hospitable. Be loving. Above all – through your everyday living – offer Christ to everyone you encounter regardless of who they are, how much you disagree with them or what they lack.

Jonathan