Spiritual Worship

clc-pic

We hear a lot, these days, about “Spiritual Worship”.

Several miles down the road, there’s a large church that guarantees 45-minutes of “Spirit-filled” worship on Sunday evenings. Many of us imagine that “Spiritual Worship” is going to be filled with lively music, heart-touching testimonies, an occasional altar call; and, of course, a pastoral message that inspires and ignites passion in the lives of God’s people.

But, the worship of the Church isn’t always exciting, is it? Many churches that people would label as “liturgical” use the same service each week; and often, they only change the setting of the service several times each year. Many churches offer a service that is filled with the moving and inspiring music of praise bands, while still other churches like more traditional forms of music that’s played on an organ. But one of the things we need to realize is that the music, the mood, the lighting, and the moving testimonies are only a part of “Spiritual Worship” – at least according to the Bible. And that’s what this week’s message is all about.

St. Paul describes “Spiritual Worship” in the first two verses of the 12th chapter of his letter to the Romans (Romans 12:1-2). In “Spiritual Worship”, we offer all that we are and all that we ever hope to be as a “living sacrifice” to the God of the Universe. As we come to understand “Spiritual Worship” more clearly, we come to see that, as we present ourselves to God as a “living sacrifice,” the day-to-day activities in our lives become as precious to God as the work of a priest performing sacrifices in the Temple (or a church). In “Spiritual Worship”, the “daily service” of “renewed minds” becomes the ministry of God’s people – both as individuals and as churches. St. Paul is quite clear when he tells us that “Spiritual Worship” is far more than what happens inside the walls of a building on Sunday morning (or Saturday night), because “Spiritual Worship” happens as we live-out our faith in uncertain times, and as we work together to proclaim the truth of God’s love in a world that often teaches us to be content with divisions, hatred, bitterness and even public expressions of rage.

Read Through the Bible – Week 26

prayer-page

Welcome back to “Read Through the Bible”

This week, we come to the mid-point of our journey through the Bible! We’ve read some familiar stories from God’s Word as we’ve worked our way through the books of Genesis and Exodus; and we’re, presently, reading yet another account of Christ’s ministry in the Gospel of Luke. We’ve read the story of Job (a man of great faith who showed us a Godly way to move through times of struggle and adversity) and we’ve plunged head-first into some of the deep theology that’s contained in the letters of St. Paul. And now, we’re going to begin our journey through a rather short book of the Bible called Philippians.

Philippi was named after Philip of Macedon – the father of Alexander the Great. In 42 BC, Mark Anthony and Octavius wrestled Philippi from the hands of Brutus and Cassius, and transformed the entire region into a Roman colony. Philippi was frequently visited by people who were traveling through the region; and, thus, it was a strategic place for St. Paul to visit as he continued to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the entire “world” of his time.

St. Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians while imprisoned in Rome.

Throughout his ministry, St. Paul supported his own ministry by continuing to work in the “secular” world. However, we do know that St. Paul received encouragement from the Christians in Philippi when he was visiting Thessalonica (Philippians 4:16,18) and when he was visiting Corinth (II Corinthians 11:9). The letter to the Philippians that is contained in the Bible was carried back to the church in Philippi by Epaphroditus, who had nearly died while bringing an offering of love to St. Paul while he was confined in prison (Philippians 2:25-30). As you are reflecting upon Sunday’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, spend some time thinking about Philippians 2:5-11 – an early form of the proclamation of the Christian Gospel.

Here are this week’s readings:

Sunday: Philippians 1-2 – Monday: Leviticus 7-9 – Tuesday: 1 Kings 19-22 – Wednesday: Psalms 75-77 – Thursday: Proverbs 7 – Friday: Ezekiel 13-18 – Saturday: Luke 15-16

 

Christ’s Church for All People

diversity

Mary was most certainly a committed Christian. She cooked and delivered meals for Meals-on-Wheels, set-up the altar for worship services, regularly attended our Bible studies at the church, and served on several church committees. Mary was a great lady! But, even after many years of friendship, Mary and I couldn’t agree on one single thing.

I allowed my dogs to live in the house, but Mary thought that they should live outside.

And that simple difference of opinion can help us to better understand the Gospel that’s set before us this week; because, in Jesus’ time, Jews didn’t allow dogs to come into their homes, while Gentiles welcomed dogs with opened arms and treated them as valued and cherished members of the family. And it worked in the same way with people.

“Those kind of people” (openly called “dogs”) were kept away from “our kind of people.”

People who don’t go to worship are often looked down upon by people who do attend worship – and many pastors won’t baptize the children of the “un-churched.” Many of our churches define people by “who belongs to our church” and “who doesn’t belong to our church” – and ministries are often built around “our” needs and desires. People who struggle with mental illnesses and depression, teenagers who are being victimized by bullies, and people who struggle with addictions can often find the doors of the church closed when they get there. People – even in the Church – can separate themselves into smaller and smaller groups by agreeing that the sins that “those kind of people” commit are worse than the sins that “our kind of people” commit – and, when that happens, the “dogs” are driven away and need to learn how to find what they need in their life – or in their journey of faith – somewhere else.

This week’s message, “Christ’s Church for All People”, is a message that points to the fact that the House of the Lord is a house of prayer for ALL people. God opens the doors of the church to both “those kinds of people” and “our kind of people.” God opens the doors of the church to people who are struggling with mental illnesses, the after-effects of bullying, addictions, and even sin. In this week’s message, “Christ’s Church for All People”, we are challenged to see that we are “Christ’s Church for All People” – a House of prayer and worship where ALL PEOPLE can discover the warmth of welcome and embrace, where ALL PEOPLE can be heard and cared-for, where ALL PEOPLE can be nourished and spiritually fed, and where ALL PEOPLE can be equipped and empowered for both life and ministry in today’s world.

Read through the Bible – Week 25

prayer-page

Welcome back to “Read Through the Bible.”

We’ve been traveling through the Bible together for 24 weeks; and, in the process, we’ve covered nearly half the contents of the Bible. I hope and pray that you’ve had a chance to learn and grow as you’ve been reading God’s Word with us, that you’ve had a chance to reflect upon some things that you believe about God, and that you’ve take some time to pray. In my own journey of faith, I’ve seen many times what the writer of the letter to the Hebrews meant when we wrote: “The word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword.” (Hebrews 4:12) God’s word is alive and active, and changes lives.

This week we’re going to encounter one of the most important (and most misunderstood) statements of Jesus. Next Saturday’s reading will include the words: “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27) And as we read those words, I’d like to challenge you to think about what they mean to you.

Some people believe that an illness that they are facing is their cross to bear. Some folks believe that a “cross” has been thrust upon them when they lose a job and live through a time of unemployment. Many of us consider almost any challenging time in our lives to be the “cross” that God gives us to carry, and some even try to comfort others by telling them that “God will never give you more than you can bear.” And, at least to me, that’s cruel – and even spiritually abusive – because it shakes people’s faith and causes people to picture God as a God who piles more and more burdens upon our shoulders because He wants to see how strong we are. Wow! Now that’s a tough and rather cruel God!

So, let me ask you a question: What do you think Christ means when He calls us to “take-up our cross and follow Him”?

  • First, notice that the “cross” Christ calls us to bear is one that we “take-up” – it’s not one that a cruel God thrusts upon us as a test of our strength and fortitude.
  • Second, remember that the “cross” was taken-up by Christ for the sake of others – it wasn’t taken-up by Christ is prove His own strength and ability to face discomfort.
  • Third, remember that the “cross” Christ bore was redemptive to other people – it was a “cross” that released the burdened and brought new life to the world.
  • Lastly, remember that the “cross” Christ bore was willingly taken-up by a man who refused to be silenced, who refused to stop speaking God’s truth to people who were enjoying their positions of power, who continued to speak in total solidarity with the poor and the oppressed, and who continued to remind the “religious” people of His time that religious rituals and rules become empty when they’re devoid of love.

And so, let me ask you: “What cross are you bearing right now?” Have you voluntarily taken-up a cause, and invested time and energy in something that’s important and that ignites passion in your heart? Have you voluntarily taken-up a cause that has a positive impact upon the lives other people, and that lifts-up people who are burdened by harsh and cruel realities in their lives? How does the cause that you’re investing your time and energy in proclaim new life and peace with God to burdened souls? How does the cause that you’re investing your time and energy in speak God’s truth to people in power who are using their position of influence in an ungodly ways and call-forth the best in God’s people in a world where religious experiences and convictions can be both empty and devoid of love?

Here are next week’s readings:

Sunday: Ephesians 4-6 – Monday: Leviticus 4-6 – Tuesday: 1 Kings 14-18 – Wednesday: Psalms 72-74 – Thursday: Proverbs 5-6 – Friday: Ezekiel 7-12 – Saturday: Luke 13-14

 

Step Out of the Boat!

Peter on Water

I’ve always enjoyed sailing. I enjoy that moment when I first push the boat from the dock, catch a breeze, and feel the boat start to move through the water. I enjoy tacking into the wind, feeling the rudder-board vibrate beneath my feet, and feeling the absolute silence and total peace that I experience during long runs toward the down-wind side of lakes. But, when storms come out of nowhere and when my small boat is caught in open water, the fun quickly deteriorates into scary chaos.

We’ve all experienced different levels of chaos in the last few weeks. The sword-rattling between the United States and North Korea has kept our eyes glued to the television. We’ve watched a group of White Supremacists descend on Charlottesville, Virginia, and we’ve seen expressions of fear on the faces of people who were trapped in a church as they gathered for a prayer service. Chaos comes in many forms. And, as the forces of chaos surround us, we’d do well to reflect upon a story of chaos in the Bible that takes us right into the middle of a situation filled with life-rattling fear.

“Step Out of the Boat!” is a challenging message that’s designed to make us think about how we, as Christians, respond to chaos. Peter is trapped on the water during a ferocious storm and water is splashing over the sides of the boat. Peter is surrounded by people who are filled with consuming fear; and, when Jesus first appears, the disciples are even more frightened because they think that Jesus is a ghost.

And yet, even in the midst of the stormy chaos, Jesus invites Peter to “Step Out of the Boat!” and to walk across the water. I’m sure that it was scary to release the gunwales and stand-up in a rocking boat. I’m sure that it was hard to throw your leg over the side of the boat and put a foot onto the water. Can you imagine what it was like when Peter first put both of his feet onto the rolling waves and stood up? Imagine what it was like to take a first, faith-filled walk across the water – to feel fear starting to fill your heart as the wind continued to blow – to realize that you’re sinking into the sea – and to feel the hand of Jesus grab you (at just the right moment) and lift you up.

It’s scary to “Step Out of the Boat!” in the midst of a storm. It takes courage to denounce the teachings of a pastor who believes that American leaders have the God-given power and authorization to destroy North Korea with nuclear weapons. It’s not easy to speak-out when little children are being detained in prison-like conditions. It’s not at all easy to stand-up and clearly proclaim that the Church is a place for ALL of God’s people. And it’s certainly not easy to openly denounce the cancerous racism and bigotry that was openly displayed in Charlottesville, VA over the past weekend.

As Christians, we must “Step Out of the Boat!” in times of chaos. We’re going to need to learn, again, how to let get of what’s comfortable and certain before God can use us to change the course of the world. And we need to remember that, even as we’re looking for the strength and courage to do what God’s calling us to do, Christ journeys with us – always opening us up to new and exciting opportunities in our lives and ministry.

Read Through the Bible – Week 24

prayer-page

Welcome back to “Read Through the Bible”

This week, we will begin what (at least for me) is one of the most difficult books in the Bible. The book of Leviticus is packed with rules and regulations. We’ll begin by reading rules about burnt offerings, grain offerings, and peace offerings. We’ll read rules about sin and guilt offerings, about clean and unclean types of animals, about purification rites that women should perform after childbirth and about boundaries that God’s set in place to define healthy sexual relationships.

But rules are sometimes hard to follow, aren’t they?

Last week, when I was on vacation, I almost always set the cruise control on my car to 5 (or even 10) miles-an-hour over the speed limit. I’ve been known to run into a store and hurry things along, so that I can return to my car before someone notices that I didn’t put any money into the parking meter. I, sometimes, break God’s rules by refusing to forgive people who have hurt me, and the words that come out of my mouth aren’t always kind and up-lifting. I, perhaps like you, used to worry about the fact that there might be a big balance in the sky where God weighs all of the bad things that I’ve done and all of the good things that I’ve done – all in an effort to determine my eternal destiny.

Rules are important and the book of Leviticus is an important part of the Bible for us to read; but, as you’re working your way through Leviticus, I’d like you to continue to ask yourself an important question: “What makes me ‘right’ in the eyes of God?” The God of the Bible says, “You shall therefore keep all my statutes and all my rules and do them, that the land where I am bringing you may not vomit you out.” (Leviticus 20:22) But, in the very same Bible, St. Paul writes: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” (Romans 3:21)

How do you make sense of that? How do you live in “community” with other followers of Christ in a world where some Christians want to argue that the Law means nothing – and where other Christians still argue that “good people go to Heaven and bad people go to Hell?” How do you balance the Law of God with the Love of God? And, perhaps just as importantly, how will you “use” the words that you read as we work our way through the book of Leviticus? Will you highlight certain verses and use them to point-out the sin in the lives of other people, or will you struggle to make sense of what it means to live in a world where the God who writes rules continues to love us and forgive us?

Here are next week’s readings:

Sunday: Ephesians 1-3 – Monday: Leviticus 1-3 – Tuesday: 1 Kings 10-13 – Wednesday: Psalms 69-71 – Thursday: Proverbs 4 – Friday: Ezekiel 1-6 – Saturday: Luke 11-12

Read Through the Bible – Week 23

prayer-page

“Read Through the Bible” has been created to help you to read the entire Bible over the course of one, short year! We hope that you’ve been traveling with us, but want you to know that you’re free to jump into God’s Word and read along with us at any time! And, if you miss a day or two (or even a week) along the way, it’s not a big deal. Don’t worry about what you’ve missed! Just jump back into the schedule – knowing that other people all around the world are reading the same passage that you are.

This week, we’re going to tackle an entire book of the Bible named Lamentations.

Lamentations is a book that was written by a person with a broken heart. The writer had most certainly witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem and its aftermath. We can see the author moving back and forth between horrifying confessions of sin and appeals for the kinds of help that can only come from God.

Lamentations is written in an “acrostic” style. Chapters 1, 2, and 4 contain twenty-two verses – corresponding to the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. In the original Hebrew text, each of these verses begin with a different Hebrew letter – and all of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet are used in order. Chapter 3 is written in the same way and consists of three blocks of twenty-two verses; however, even though Chapter 5 of the book of Lamentations returns to the twenty-two verse pattern, no acrostic is present.

We don’t often experience a genuine lament in the 21st Century. However, the Jews use the book of Lamentations to mourn the destruction of Jerusalem to this very day.

Here are next week’s readings:

Sunday: Galatians 4-6 – Monday: Exodus 37-40 – Tuesday: 1 Kings 5-9 – Wednesday: Psalms 66-68 – Thursday: Proverbs 2-3 – Friday: Lamentations – Saturday: Luke 9-10

Blessings!