Spiritual Worship

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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.

Christ’s Church for All People

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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.

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.