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.

What Does Worship Really Mean?

worshiphim“Worship is when all God’s people get caught up in love and wonder and praise of God. It is not the performance of the few for the many.” – Dr. Ben Witherington III

Several times, I have mentioned here that I have had a sense that we, as the wider Christian church, need to get back to our roots. The decline of Christianity in the western world has led to an almost panic-like push to find the best ways for the church to do what it has been doing for about the last 2,000 years. Some say we should get back to using a traditional style of worship service while others say that we should put aside ancient rituals in favor of contemporary styles of worship. Some say that worship means having an organ and a preacher wearing a robe and stole while others say that there should be the feel of a rock concert and that the preacher should be wearing a flannel shirt and skinny jeans. The church is good at a lot of things and having debates such as these seems to be one of them.

Let me go ahead and state that this is not about advocating for traditional or contemporary worship. This is not about robes or skinny jeans or whether any of these things are right or wrong. Instead, this is about us remembering that worship is not about us. Worship is not for the people sitting in pews or chairs. Worship is not to please any person at all.

Worship is about God and is for God.

When we get bogged down in these debates, we lose sight of the real point of why we gather together and sing, pray, hear a message, and depart to serve. Regardless of what music or liturgy is present, the worship service can often take on the feel of a performance meant for the entertainment of the congregation. If this is what worship becomes, we’re doing it wrong.

The quote at the top of this post is from my New Testament Intro professor from a lecture he was giving on the theology of worship. Dr. Witherington was essentially telling us during this lecture that we worry so much about what we get from worship or what others get from worship. The thing we ought to be most worried about, however, is what God receives from our worship. Is God receiving our adoration and praise or is he receiving lip service in favor of self-serving, feel-good acts within the walls of the church?

Church, we have lost our way.

Scripture is filled with instruction on how we are to worship. One of my favorite passages on worship is Psalm 150. “Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heaven!” There and elsewhere is nothing about the style with which we worship or about worship being primarily for us. We need to remember this.

Another source of instruction on worship is courtesy of Methodism founder John Wesley.

“In divine worship, (as in all other actions,) the first thing to be considered is the end, and the next thing is the means conducing to that end. The end is the honour of God, and the edification of the Church; and then God is honoured, when the Church is edified. The means conducing to that end, are to have the service so administered as may inform the mind, engage the affections, and increase devotion.”

— John Wesley, from his commentary on the Roman Catholic catechism

Should the church and those who make it up be built up? Of course. One of the things that worship should do is to draw us closer to God and make us think. Worship should give us the spiritual food that we need to go out and serve God in the world. But first and foremost, worship should be about and for God, directed at him as the primary reason and audience of worship. It’s alright to prefer a certain type of music or a certain preaching style but the first consideration that should be made about worship is whether or not the worship is directed to and dedicated to the glorification of God.

In the end, the how does not really matter as much as the audience. The audience is not us! The audience of worship is God. We need to remember that worship simply is not for us and that our preferences on music, the color of the carpet, and whether or not there are hymnals or projected lyrics should not matter in the end. Unfortunately, we seem to have allowed “worship wars” to take over. We have lost our way.

We need to get back to our roots.

Send Me to Kansas City

li17_promoslide_speaker_720x486If you follow me on social media, you may have seen that yesterday I started and shared a GoFundMe page. If you didn’t read it, the reason I’m asking for some help is so that I can attend the Leadership Institute at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City. Over the years I have heard nothing but great things about this time of learning and everyone I have ever talked to about this conference all have the same response: “Go!” So, I hope to do just that.

Why a GoFundMe page, you ask? Jessica and I are very blessed in that we are able to pay bills and live in a nice house (it’s a parsonage provided by the church if you didn’t know). However, this does not leave much money left over for things like the Leadership Institute. I’m in seminary and, needless to say, seminary is expensive. I do things on the side such as umpiring and such but this is money that we would rather put toward paying down things such as student loan debt. Anytime I have been able to attend a conference recently, these have been of little to no cost to me and have been within driving distance. This particular one will be a bit different, in that I will be better served by flying and that this conference will be a bit more expensive than the others I have attended. However, I do feel that this will be a valuable time of growth and, if at all possible, I would very much like to go.

The goal I have set will pay for airfare, hotel, rental car, meals, my registration fee, and the other expenses associated with attending the conference based on my estimates. Anything left over or raised in excess of my goal will go toward my seminary expenses and/or my student loan debt.

Some advice I heard a few years ago was that pastors should try to attend at least one conference every year that will help to transform their leadership. I feel that L.I. is such a conference. While I am in seminary and I am learning a lot about theology, the practical side is something that seminaries just are not very capable of teaching effectively. L.I. will help me to learn some practical things I can do as a pastor to be the best leader for my congregations that I possibly can be.

Your help is greatly appreciated. If you can’t donate funds, I certainly understand. Any other help you can give, such as your prayers and sharing the GoFundMe page, are just as appreciated and needed. Thanks for taking the time to read this. I will post an update soon.li2017_simplelogo_small

Prosperity at What Price?

ZomboMeme 09052017204148“[When I die] if I leave behind me ten pounds . . . you and all mankind [may] bear witness against me, that I have lived and died a thief and a robber.” – John Wesley

One of the great things about subscribing to satellite radio is that I have access to all sorts of music. I can listen to anything from acoustic music you might hear in Starbucks to Broadway show tunes. Additionally, I have access to several channels of news and other information. There are even several religious channels where I can listen to programming from contemporary Christian and southern gospel music to sermons and talk shows dedicated to faith.

One such channel is the Joel Osteen channel.

Now, let me stop right here and issue a preface: I know that a lot of people find inspiration from people like Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes, and Joyce Meyer. I have to admit, they do sometimes give some nuggets of truth in their writings and messages. If you fall into this category, know that my intent is not to offend you, but you should also know that the body of their work is very much contrary to orthodox Christian teaching. This is an opinion piece based on my opinions and convictions. Please know that that is the place where I am coming from.

When I drive to and from Asbury, I have anywhere from one to two hours to kill and I flip through the channels (when safe to do so, of course). Tuesday I landed on Osteen’s channel and a message that he gave at Lakewood Church was playing. I decided to give it a listen to find out just why so many people were drawn to him and similar prosperity preachers. I listened, found myself groaning and wanting to throw things a few times, and shaking my head. They played another one and I thought it sounded very similar to the one I had just heard.

Yesterday I went to town to run an errand and my radio was still on the channel. Yet another message was playing – yes, a different one than either of the previous two I had heard – and I again thought that it sounded very similar to the ones I heard on Tuesday. It was then that I realized what the secret is. Allow me to give you a run-down of the anatomy of a prosperity gospel “sermon:”

A funny story
A scripture that is taken way out of context
Another story
Perhaps another scripture that is taken out of context (which was not named)
A closing story
Sprinkled throughout is some sort of “you can do it!” phrase which is repeated over and over.

As I mentioned above, an occasional truth was expounded but the essential point of all of the message was that God wants to bless us with material wealth and all we have to do is believe that we can receive this wealth. More than anything, what was proclaimed was a belief in oneself as opposed to a message of rebirth, transformation, and sanctification through faith and obedience to God.

In other words, the prosperity gospel treats God as nothing but a means to an end involving the wealth and success of this world.

Very little of what I heard was kingdom minded. It tells the hearer nothing more than what they want to hear – that they are special, that God wants them to be wealthy, that God wants them to be successful, and all one has to do is have faith and God will give them these things.

The prosperity gospel is a gospel of self, not of Jesus Christ.

Jesus spoke about money more than any other subject. One of my favorite verses that we should all use to check ourselves is, “19 Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” (Matthew 6:19-21 NLT) A couple of verses later, Jesus says this: “24 No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.” (Matthew 6:24 NLT)

Jesus makes clear that the pursuit of money and stuff should not be our number one priority. Note that Jesus did not say that having wealth in of itself is a sin, but he did say that we are to be good stewards of our money and to be generous with it (see Matthew 19:21). Indeed, making money into an idol and basing our worth in God’s eyes on the size of our bank accounts can actually be detrimental to our souls. If we place money on the same level as God or have the audacity to somehow think that holiness is measured by wealth, we are guilty of idolatry.

While prosperity preachers may tickle your ears and help you to feel better about yourself, know that there is little if any interest in the condition of your soul. I actually encourage you to follow some advice that Joel Osteen gives at the end of his messages: Find a church where the Bible is believed and proclaimed. Don’t go to a church that proclaims God as simply a means to material wealth, but one where you will find out the good news that Christ has died, Christ has risen, and that Christ will come again.

Remember: Christ died so that we can have eternal life, not earthly wealth.


Is Healthcare For All a Christian Principle?

healthcareBy now, you have heard that the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that essentially repeals the Affordable Care Act, also known as “ObamaCare.” Among the impacts this law has are the rolling back of protections for people (such as myself) with pre-existing conditions. There is some speculation in the media that the Senate will not pass the bill (at least not as easily) but who really knows what will happen when the bribes campaign contributions from insurance companies start rolling in. I suppose we can only wait and see.

I can attest to the difficulty people with pre-existing conditions may encounter if “TrumpCare” becomes law. When I was a child I had ketotic hypoglycemia. Based on my memories, it seems that there was a constant battle with insurance companies over coverage of my care related to this disease. I no longer battle this disease but I do have some issues. Granted, some can be dealt with through weight loss but there is at least one condition that I will likely have for the rest of my life regardless of my weight.  To think that an insurance company may potentially be able to deny coverage to me simply because of a disorder that I can not control is quite concerning.

Unfortunately, this may potentially apply to millions of American citizens, all because some politicians chose what was best for their interests rather than what is in the best interest of the citizens they serve.

There is debate among some about whether or not the provision of healthcare for all people is in line with Christian teaching. I must be honest: I’m vexed that this is even a question. I believe that there is no question that the expectation of healthcare for all people is indeed a tenet of living out our discipleship. Throughout scripture, there are multiple examples of the people being healed and instruction for God’s people to take care of one another. Jesus taught that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (and I’m pretty sure we all want to be able to receive care when we need it), he taught of the Good Samaritan caring for an injured man whom he did not even know, he teaches about healing mercy in Matthew 25. There is simply no way that anyone who claims to be a disciple of Jesus Christ can claim that anyone should be denied access to affordable, quality healthcare.

The prophet Ezekiel denounced the leaders of ancient Israel whose failure of responsible government included failure to provide health care: “you don’t strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays, or seek out the lost; but instead you use force to rule them with injustice” (Ezekiel 34:4). The United Methodist Church, therefore, affirms in our Social Principles (¶ 162V) healthcare as a basic human right and affirms the duty of government to assure health care for all.” (Taken from the UMC website). In the earliest days of the Methodist movement, John Wesley felt that part of our Christian duty was to provide care. He set up countless free clinics in England and when Methodism came to America, clinics continued to be established. To this day, there are numerous hospitals and other systems connected to Methodism.

I have no problem with doctors, hospitals, and other entities being paid for their work, just as we would expect to be paid for other work we undertake. But I also believe that healthcare should be affordable for all people and that all people should have equal access to quality care regardless of circumstances such as pre-existing conditions. To go against this is simply not right.

If we are to dare to call ourselves a Christian nation, one of the things we must provide for affordable healthcare for all people.

Final Thoughts on #WCAMEMPHIS

17190692_1317897651589772_5539392738647395563_nFirst, an apology for my post taking so long. What can I say, life has happened (remember: I’m in seminary).

I have now had a few days to reflect on the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s conference in Memphis. You may remember in my previous post that I indicated that I did not hear anything outright calling for a split or other things that some people may have expected to be said or done. The second day of the conference was also very good, but there was also some words stated that could be perceived as calling for a separation.

I have to admit, this did somewhat concern me and put me off.

I understand that separation may happen and I also acknowledge that a split could ultimately be the best way forward for the Methodist movement in America. But I believe that this is something that should be considered in the future. I stand by my opinion that a separation should not be on the table as of this moment.

Perhaps I could have misunderstood or my perception was otherwise off but it felt as of some comments made by Dr. Andrew Thompson and Dr. Billy Abraham were calling for a separation of factions now rather than waiting for the work of the Commission on a Way Forward to be completed, and for the special called session of General Conference taking place in 2019 to vote on a proposal. Again, it’s possible that I read too much into their words but I could not help but feel that in their minds a separation soon was the way to go.

Aside from those concerns, I found their speeches to be thought-provoking and timely. I agree with Dr. Thompson that holiness is something that we have lost as Christians and as the church. Perhaps it’s more accurate to state that we spend more time debating about what holiness looks like rather than actually practicing it. Dr. Abraham’s message was mainly on Methodists getting back to being Methodist. Again, I feel this is something that we spend way too much time debating and not nearly enough practicing. It’s certainly right to figure out what these things look like but we should not spend all of our time talking.

It’s time to start doing.

Rev. Carolyn Moore spoke on the church regaining the vision that the apostles had for the church after Jesus ascended. As I have reflected on this, I have come to the same conclusion that I did on holiness and “being Methodist:” We talk a lot but do very little. I’ve been preaching for the last couple of weeks with a central theme of “waking up” to the reality of what being a Christian is instead of simply going through the motions. We need to wake up from our stupor and stop claiming to be the church. What we should do is to concentrate more on being the church.

Rev. Shane Stanford’s message during the closing service of holy communion was incredible. I actually used this story in my sermon on Sunday (I will post it here later) because it spoke so well to the meaning and significance of the sacrament.

As I have reflected, I have found that I continue to be concerned about having litmus tests for one’s faith. I feel that one of the things one really needs to decide is what truly are the essential beliefs of the Christian faith. Where is the line between legalism and ensuring that we have the right beliefs? This is something I continue to wrestle with.

#WCAMEMPHIS was not really what I expected. This is actually a good thing, as I was pleasantly surprised in several ways. The leadership of WCA claims that they are committed to the unity of the church at this time. I hope they truly are. As for me, I will continue to wait, pray, watch, and see how all of this plays out. Then and only then will I act.