Tag Archives: worship

Cleft of the Rock

So, here in Iraq, there are times the enemy wants to lash out in their death throws so they lob things at us. We have amazing systems to deal with such things so its not really an issue. When we know it’s coming we run for the bunkers which are placed strategically around the FOB. These bunkers sometimes are built up and reinforced like this Hesco behemoth:

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But mostly, they are like this one, a concrete tube. Sometimes they have sandbags and sometimes, like this one, just the tube. What they all have in common is the small opening you have to get through in order to get to safety. IMG_20160318_163634

There is literally a “cleft in the rock” though which is safety.

On Sunday, we sang this:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy wounded side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure;
cleanse me from its guilt and power. 

 

 

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It’s been a tough week…

Ok. Take a deep breath.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Think about good things.

Really, I meant it, breathe out. Let it go…

Some really bad things happened this week. Really bad.

A general was laid to rest after giving his life in service to his country.

A Missouri town is in terrible upheaval.

A family is without their son.

Robin Williams. THE Robin Williams. The “Carpe Diem” said in a horse whisper, is dead.

And, of course, SFC Hairston died in Afghanistan this week. As have thousands.

And we should not forget those suffering in the hands of ISIS extremists.

And there is always Gaza.

It’s been a tough week.

Maybe, this night, as we prepare for tomorrow’s worship, we could all just remember that everyone is suffering their own hurt. That each person’s tragedy is their own, their pain is their own, and our pain is not their pain.

This is important. Grief is important.

This week, I’ve seen some “tragedy shaming” making its inevitable rounds. The memes showing images of graphic suffering with a “my tragedy is worse than your tragedy” theme. Hey everyone – its tough out there, people are hurting, you are hurting, I am hurting – shaming each other for not making your tragedy as important as their tragedy isn’t terribly helpful.

I’m sorry you are hurting. I am too. Each of the above events impact us in different ways. I’m not going to lie, there was a moment when I was about done hearing about the General, as great as I’m sure he is, thousands have died in the last decade – THOUSANDS. What makes his different? Rank?

But you see, that is exactly it – I am, in that moment, comparing my suffering and other’s suffering. A pointless and hurtful enterprise. Unhelpful at best. Painfully shaming at worst.

As we prepare our hearts for entering the Sacred Space tomorrow, may we focus on where we are grieving and think about how our fellow saints are grieving so that we might minister to them the healing Gospel.

Life is hard. We, as Christians, at our best, can make life easier by hearing the pain and offering the Grace needed for healing to begin.

“Bear you one another’s burdens and so fulfill the Law of Christ.” 

Amen

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…you know you’re in a two pastor home when…. Part 2 – needing two copies

Its Friday, it dawns on me while still at my office that I have yet to choose the call to worship and haven’t given any thought to the pastoral prayer. No worries, I think, I’ll just grab my handy-dandy copy of Chalice Worship and… Wait….

Its not here.

(Furiously search office. Sit in chair. Spin.  Wonder where it could possibly be. Mindlessly surf Facebook. Oh, well that’s interesting, yes how did they know I’d be interested in a real light saber?? I mean, a real light saber?? Think about what I could… Shoot. What am I doing? I needed to find something for something I needed to… What was it? Oh, hey, look at that! Is that a real…. Worship! That it!)

Still no book.

(Light comes on) Sara needed it for her class. Right. Its at home.

Of course, I am, like I imagine all other pastors to be, a creature of habit. Therefore, I expect my procrastination to be completely covered by remembering to do stuff at the last minute. But when my books don’t reside exactly where they are supposed to, my procrastination turns into a blissful Saturday of ignorance followed by a mad dash on Sunday morning.

Then, I just pick out a pleasant sounding psalm for the call to worship during the prelude.

Cause that’s life in a two pastor home. Gotta get two copies of everything…

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Kids in Worship.

We’ve got three kids. 5 (going on 12), 4, and just turned 2. It can be tough sometimes finding a church where we fit in. I have a value of my children attending a regular service. There is nothing wrong with kids church, I’m a fan – I just also value our children experiencing the significance of the adult service.
It can be challenging bringing kids to church. I too have not been above appealing to the paint function on an ipad (or that really awkward moment when the theme to “superwhy” that plays whenever the app opens rings out loudly in the middle of the sermon). It’s especially bad in my little church where the historic building has one bathroom that can only be accessed via a door off the main stage. Yeah. That’s right, you have to take your child down the middle aisle, right in front of the pulpit, where I am “breaking sacred bread” in order to let potty-training kiddo use the bathroom. If you listen closely, you can even hear the ancient toilet flush.
Even with all that, I still believe it’s important to bring your kids into the service. I’m a preacher and it does not bother me or phase me, or interrupt my train of though to have kids talking and coloring though the service. I do a kids message before my adult sermon that ties into concepts with the message and (when I remember) I also include a coloring page. None of these will keep a kids still for 20 minutes so if someone cries, they cry. No. Big. Deal.
All that said, I read this article today and thought it had some great ideas for making that transition from kids church to adult church.
Let your child get comfortable in the worship space.

1. Attend a child-friendly church.

A church that invites children to attend worship, that has a children’s time during worship or a service in which children are included, will not mind the noise and commotion that comes with having young children in worship.

2. Bring your child to church on a day other than Sunday morning.

Call the church office and make an appointment with a pastor, Christian education director, or church school teacher. Go on a tour of the church facility, and locate the Sunday school rooms and bathrooms as well as the sanctuary. Let your child explore the sanctuary, see how it feels to sit in the pew, and leaf through the Bibles and hymnbooks. Look behind the pulpit, Communion table, and baptismal font, and explain the use of these.

3. Take home a worship bulletin and go through the service at home.

Show your child that there are times to sit, to stand (and in some places, to kneel), to sing, to pray, and to listen. If the Lord’s Prayer is used, write down the words and let your child practice at home. Prepare offering envelopes and let your child put money in the envelope, and explain why the offering is important.

4. Play “Let’s go to church” at home.

Practicing the worship service at home will help your child feel more comfortable with what happens in worship.

5. Read the Bible and pray at home.

Purchase an age-appropriate Bible for your child and read the stories. Let your child handle the Bible and encourage questions. You can explain that the Bible is where we learn God’s story, and how we are part of that story. If you let prayer be a part of your everyday life, not just something you do at church, your child will understand its importance.

6. Sit near an aisle, near an exit.

If your child needs to go to the bathroom, or is feeling overly stimulated or having a disruptive day, don’t be embarrassed. Walk your child out of the sanctuary until she can work off a little energy, and then come back in. This is much easier if you don’t have to crawl across a row of other people in the pew!

7.  Be prepared with a worship notebook or bag.

Many churches provide materials for children to use during worship, but if not, bring your own supplies. Colored pencils can be used to mark the parts of worship in the bulletin as you go through them one by one. Get to church a few minutes in advance and use a bookmark to mark the hymns that will be sung that day. Have some coloring pages from a Bible coloring book for your child to color, or some blank pages for doodling. This is not disrespectful, and can help your child listen more attentively. Have the words of the Lord’s Prayer printed on a page for the child to follow, if he or she is of reading age. Let your child draw a picture of the anthem or hymns being sung, or the sermon, and give this to the choir director or pastor afterwards.

8. Teach basic church etiquette.

Speak to people before and after worship, and teach your child how to shake hands and greet others. If your child is shy, don’t force it, but practice at home and let your child see you greeting others. Let the child put the hymnbook and Bible away after use, and be sure to take your bulletin with you, rather than leaving it in the pew. Meeting other people and taking care of the church facility helps a child feel that “This is my church!”

9. Get to know the pastor.

Pastors of child-friendly churches love to get to know the children of the church. Introduce your child to the pastor after worship, and participate in other church activities so that the pastor becomes a friend and not a scary adult.

10. Don’t give up!

It may take awhile for your child to become comfortable in worship, and to learn how to sit quietly. The best way for this to happen is to attend worship on a regular basis. There may be days when it doesn’t go well, but don’t let this stop you from coming the following week. Practice makes perfect!
Inspired by Rufus and Ryan Go to Church! by Kathleen Bostrom, illustrated by Rebecca Thornburgh (CandyCane Press, an imprint of Ideals Publications).

Thanks to Ministry Matters

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Kings, Generals, Humility, and Grace.

2 Kings 5:1-18 – Read it this week. You’ll be glad you did.

This is a disaster. An unmitigated, unpredictable disaster. The powerful king of Aram (incidentally, this ancient kingdom in middle Syria includes the modern day city of Allepo) had sent his highly successful and valued general to the tiny, struggling, village kingdom of Israel for a healing.

I use the word disaster because this sounds to the king of Israel very much like a pretext for a war that the little kingdom could ill afford and would be very likely to lose. When he gets the message, he tears his garment (an ancient demonstration of grief), and despairs for his life.

And he should. The Aramites were a warring people, strong and proud. They looked for fights and usually won. Their children’s children would be a challenge for Alexander the Great’s Greeks and the later Roman legions. Naaman, the mighty warrior coming “to be healed” meant that he would be bringing his personal guard which might mean a few trusted warriors or it might mean a legion to skilled Soldiers for which the weak king of Israel had no match.

Israel is suffering from the ramifications of it’s own civil war. The split that came after King Solomon left the Northern tribes in a weak position and that kingdom quickly degenerated back to it’s tribal village roots. They had become prone to invasion and oppression with each king getting weaker and weaker.

But Israel had a prophet. Elisha was the man of God. The prophet held an interesting place in ancient Israel. He (or she) not only spoke for God, they also were something of a diplomat. They could be a powerful representative of the king or one that stirred the people against him. They were individuals in a world where only households mattered. Others would not know “you” in the ancient Mediterranean world, they would know your family, your house. But the Prophet – if they were a true prophet (false prophets are villains in Scripture and dealt with accordingly) – everyone knew their name! They operated above the political sphere as a balance of power to both kings and priests. Non more so than Elijah and his protege, Elisha.

Elisha hears about the predicament that the king is in and comes to his aid. “Send him to me” he says, “and he will learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” A bold statement from a man know is confident in his God.

So confident is he that when the mighty warrior comes, the Prophet does not even come out to meet him. He sends his servant.

We Americans love to think of ourselves as the supreme equalitists. Everyone rises or falls on their own merits. Everyone has the same chance to succeed or fail. Everyone has to put on their pants “one leg at a time.”

At least, this is the myth we tell ourselves.

The truth is that we very much tend to pander to power. Humans always do. Whether out of fear or love – even the chance at our very own “15 minutes” – we all love to be around powerful people.

The Army does this really well. Let it be known that the new Colonel so and so, Command Sergeant Major so and so, the new General whatever is coming and stress factor goes through the roof. Protocol gets called, impromptu inspections happen, latrines get cleaned and food that never gets eaten is brought out.

Elisha sends his servant… to the guy that commands thousands… to tell him to take a bath. Yeeahhh, that happened.

General Naaman is not impressed.

I’ve been around leadership when they get bad news before and I’m guessing that the writer here chose to leave out the more colorful language. The General is not used to candor and he is not used to being ridiculous orders given by lesser people.

“What is wrong with my rivers?” What is wrong my my lands?” The General rightly asks. Insult is added to injury. Elisha does not come out. Does not offer the respect due the man.

What is Naaman expecting here? What is he wanting?

Ritual. Holy. Sacred. Ritual.

He wants the Prophet to come and do what prophets do. Wave his arms, put him in a stressful position, make him drink some kind of nasty drink, sacrifice a bull or two. Make a show, make a spectacle. This is what prophets do!!

The General is used to a certain way of doing things. He is, as we are, resistant to change and takes pleasure out of things being done in a complicated and powerful way. He has a skin condition that has bothered him for years and this prophet tells him to go wash?? Common!! At least give me a show!

Ritual does that for us. It gives us a connection to the past and the “warm fuzzies” that it’s all going to be ok. By they way, it does not matter what ritual a person ascribes to, it accomplishes the same thing. I enjoy and connect with ancient rites of worship, confession and pardon, robes, stoles, call and response, etc. There was a time in my life when I connected with loud, epic worship music, lights, drums, production value. Ritual is ritual. We like what we like for whatever reason it connects with us.

The problem is when we attach significance to the ritual.

As though the ritual itself is what matters.

Naaman, the Aramite, worships the God Rimmon, the chief Aramite deity – the God of storm and war. You can imagine what kind of ceremonies would be necessary in the worship of the god of storm and war!

Elisha speaks for God. Yahweh is the God of gods. Elisha speaks the Word of God, a word of promise and command. A word that demands not ritualistic dancing about but obedience. A simple command costs the proud General more than he is willing to pay.

He must humble himself, take the word of the servant as the word of the prophet, as the word of Yahweh, and go take a bath in a sub-par river. Simple, direct, devoid of ritual and symbolism, easy and terribly difficult.

What a symbol of God’s grace! Forgiveness is not something to be worked for or attained through struggle – it is asked and received. The cost is pride.

We humans love to put a price on it though. It is never enough to just be forgiven, we need to pay a little first. Maybe it’s because I’m a prison chaplain right now but daily I witness the destructive nature of our refusal to forgive. Inmates can’t forgive themselves, Christians will not forgive other Christians, children will not forgive parents, parents will not forgive their children.

Forgiveness cannot be earned, else it it not forgiveness.

This is not to say that people are not to be held accountable, they must be. This is not to say that people should not experience the natural consequences of their behavior – they should. I am saying that the call to forgive frees us from carrying that burden.

Forgiveness is given freely, without restraint, or it is not forgiveness. It is a debt that has been re-payed not forgiven – its just that the terms are changed.

Forgiveness is an act that takes place with the offended not the offender. Rage is carried by the offended. Anger is nurtured by the offended. Thus forgiveness, the releasing of the offender from their debt, can only happen with the offended.

It is freely given by God.

If we confess. If we humble ourselves. If we seek it.

Saints, there is no twelve-step program, 40 day Bible study, degree or special book that can give us peace of mind. It is simple seeking out of forgiveness and accepting that it has happened. We’ll still have to live with the ramifications of our sins but us and God will be ok. Clear.

I love this story. I love the human element. The proud general getting convinced by his staff that maybe it’s worth a try. The despairing king getting bailed out by the prophet confident in his God. The young handmaiden who just wants her master’s most valued general to be healed. The greedy servant (oh it gets better…)

The best parts of our faith are the simplest. They are stripped from the dogma we surround them in. They transcend the cultural rituals that we wrap them in. They say the same thing no matter the story – God loves all of us. God is willing to extend grace to ALL of us. We need to swallow our pride and obey.

Epilogue: As an aside to this story, the General claims Israel’s God as his own. He does ask for one exception though from Elisha – when he goes home to serve his King, he’s going to have to worship at the alter of Rimmon (since that is still the chief deity in Aram) – would that be ok? He asks the prophet. “Go in peace.” Is the answer. Elisha seems to give him the clearance to worship this other god since it’s a necessary part of his role as a general to his king and country. Isn’t that interesting…

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Christ the King and how we fail to live that truth.

Procurator Pontius Pilate was a career statesman. His star was rising when he got the assignment to Palestine. He was the fifth prefect to oversee the land and after a brief stumble early in his career had shown some talent in leadership. Legend has it that his mother was a pictish girl from Scotland and his father a minor Roman official. Whatever the story, getting the assignment to rule in Palestine was potentially a step towards greater things in the Empire. I wonder how coming from humble stock, scrapping your way to the top of the heap impacted his style of rule. What little we have of his leadership show a man who is capable of exercising force though not the shrewdest of politicians.

Pilate was the leader of an occupying force in an occupied land. He was sent by Rome for one purpose, rule the little known, little understood, but somewhat important little land of Palestine. He was the face of the mighty Roman empire. He spoke for the Emperor, Tiberius. His hold on the land was not strong. Only a foolish leader would think that they could rule in that area without some struggles but so far it had not been terrible. As occupied lands went, Israel was not the best nor the worst that he had been involved with over his rising career as a statesman.

Our text this morning finds him in Jerusalem, overseeing the chaos that was Passover. Thousands descended upon the city from all over the world making it a melting pot of potential danger. Last year had been a bit of a disaster. There had been unrest during the celebration which had boiled over into violence. The Procurator, dealt with it as he had the power to, putting it down with the force he was comfortable wielding. It was not remembered kindly by the populace, Luke would remember it as the day that the “blood mixed with the sacrifices…” It would become the signature event of Pilate’s time as Prefect – insurrection put down with violence. He has to do so several times, each with more energy until finally, it was an insurrection put down with such force in Samaria that resulted in his getting called back to Rome.

There would be no such bloodshed this time. He was convinced that he could hold the city from itself. These Jews were a volatile people. Why couldn’t they just settle down and become Roman? Others had. It seemed like those that he served with, the other prefects, none of their lands had the kind of unrest that his had. Every year it was something else. Someone else. Rising up and rebelling. All they had to do was pay their taxes. Really. That’s it. At the end of the day, Rome was not interested in the Jews becoming Roman, of worshiping their gods and taking their traditions. Tiberius, as all Caesars before, was interested in one thing – money. Bring home the tribute. In exchange, we’ll give you peace. The Pax Romana – Roman Peace – was to be the payoff.

To accomplish this, Pilate had been given several Legions to command but most of his forces were auxiliary forces who, scorned by their brethren, served the occupying Empire. He had brought them with him to Jerusalem. He would have Romans by his side. He was not confident in the Auxiliaries to do exactly what they were told. He had paid a political price for that last year when the riot was put down during Passover. The Jewish face of the Empire, Herod, had smeared his name a bit in court as a brutal man though his rule was no more or less violent than the last. He wished Herod would get it into his head – Tiberius would never trust a non-Italian to speak for him. So Herod served Pilate and Pilate served the Prefect of Syria and he served Tiberius. This is the way of Empire. This is the way of the kingdom of the world. Everyone serves someone and everyone serves themselves.

Peace and money. This is all. This is all anyone ever wants. Money to do as they will and the peace to pursue it. The way of the world, the way of kings and kingdoms. So had it been for centuries and so it would remain for eons to come. Money and peace. The latter to be thrown to the side in pursuit of the former.

It was that peace that was threatened the day that the Sanhedrin came into his hall to condemn this peasant carpenter from Nazareth. They knew his weakness. They knew that his hold on the city was tenuous at best – in they came with their accusations of zealot, rabal rouser, and rebel. What was he to do? He had heard the reports. This Jesus, Yeshua they called him, had been notorious for some time. He had spies and informants moving with this crowds as he had drawn closer to Jerusalem. Herod had some dealings with another prophet of sorts, John the Baptist, and it had not gone well so Pilate was understandably treating this Yeshua thing with kid gloves.

He had stood by and allowed the Prophet to enter Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. He had heard the back brief from his centurion about how the poor and slave class saw in the peasant carpenter some kind of King. He heard how they brought out branches and even threw their coats – the only outer garment they owned – on the ground so that the feet of the donkey would not touch the ground. Such was their devotion. Perhaps there was something to what the Sanhedrin was saying. He never trusted them. They claimed allegiance to Caesar and the Empire but he knew better. They cursed the ground he walked. It was always like this. In trying to maintain some semblance of “what used to be” they tried theological arguments, trickery, archaic legal arguments under their religious law, character assassination but in the end, they capitulated to the only real power in the world. Roman power. They brought their theological issue into the very seat of secularity to be judged by a secular Prefect. What little respect he might have had for their monotheism, their puritanism, their law-abiding, was blasted as they called upon all sorts of arguments to get him to “do something about that carpenter.”

And what had Jesus done? Healed some people? Called them names? Pointed out their hypocrisy? How did Jesus’ teachings hurt them in any way? People were paying their taxes – not just to Rome but also to the Temple. They were getting theirs. What they were not getting was respect. Yeshua was calling them out for what they were – power hungry, greedy, abusive. People liked Jesus. It threatened their power. It threatened their place in society.

None of this really mattered. Who really cared whether or not some widow put money into the temple tax box? So what if these men in their clerical class lived off the poor? As long as the tribute was paid to Rome, peace would come by the sword. Peace would remain in Jerusalem. These Sanhedrin only mattered to Pilate as they stood in the way of another peaceful Passover. They would play their part in the pageantry was was Jerusalem and he would play his – at the end of the day, money went into the chest and the chest went to Rome. If religion was a part than fine, whatever gets the job done. That is the kingdom of the world. That is the kingdom of mankind. That is life. So be it. Jesus would come to court.

He had tried to pawn his problem off on Herod but the crafty politician would have none of it. He could not pass the issue up the chain or the Prefect of Syria would put a bad word before the Emperor. Perhaps Pilate could not do the job, perhaps he should be replaced. No, he would deal with it. Here. Now.

Jesus enters the court. Pilate saw the abuse. He saw the blood, the bruises. Whatever had taken place last night had not been kind to the peasant. He looked exhausted. Caiaphas had been clear in his accusation – Jesus had threatened the rule of Roman Law. They could not execute him, only the Romans could do that. Pilate saw through it, he knew their charges were bogus and false. He called them out, “Judge him according to your laws.” But they would have none of it. They wanted death. Death was to be the price of peace.

Pilate goes straight for the jugular – “Are you king of the Jews?” Silence reigns. Everyone hears the real question – are you a rebel? Are you a zealot? Do you claim leadership of the Jews? Jesus looked at him in the silence. Quietly, through bruised lips he says, “Are you asking me this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate smiles. Only these people would respond like that. You can’t get a clear answer from anyone in this miserable land.

“Do I look like a Jew? Your people and your high priests turned you over to me. What did you do?” Pilate is annoyed. There is no danger in this man, give me something, anything and I can toss him in jail for a little while, protect him from these priests who want to kill him and wait till the whole thing blows over. He didn’t bite.

“My kingdom,” said Jesus, “doesn’t consist of what you see around you. If it did, my followers would fight so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. But I’m not that kind of king. not the world’s kind of king.” Pilate stares at him. What was he talking about? Two kingdoms? Man’s kingdom? What other kind of kingdom could their be? Money, power, land, respect – that’s the only kind of kingdom there was and everyone, including these religious leaders, wanted a piece of it. But he wasn’t a part of that? He didn’t want money or power? What?

“Are you a king or not?”
“You tell me. Because I am King (not a king), I was born and entered the world so that I could witness to the truth. Everyone who cares for truth, who has any feeling for truth, recognizes my voice.”

More opaque comments. What is wrong with these people? Why kill? Why did he ever want to be a leader? He could have been a farmer, comfortable on his land in middle Italy, sending grain to Rome for festival but no, here he is in dirty, dusty, smelly Jerusalem discussing truth with a poor Jewish carpenter prophet.

Exasperation. “What is truth?”

There was no saving this man. He wouldn’t even save himself. In a last ditch effort he offers the crowd a murder or the harmless Jesus but they take Jesus. Let him die than. Let him die for peace.

Two kingdoms. Pilate is king of one. It’s the sexy one. The grasping one. The one people dream and work toward. Its the one where you work hard, please who you have to please, pay your dues and maybe one day, you too can retire to the beach somewhere and tell your stories. This kingdom is marked by constantly searching and seeking for wealth and glory. It is temporal. It is subjective. It is here. Now.

The Jewish leaders wanted it. They wanted it to remain status quo. They had abandoned (as Jesus was so fond of pointing out) their obligation to care for the community, the poor, the widow, the orphan, to establish a high caste. A learned caste of scholars and clergy. A class separate from the poor they were supposed to serve and instead very focused on how many miles a person could walk on the Sabbath. What? healing a man on the Sabbath? This has never been done – it does not matter that it helps people, it violates some obscure interpretation of an ancient law – anathema. “Kill him,” they said. What threat was he to them? When had he ever threatened their lives? Perhaps their livelihood but never them, never their families. They had tried to get rid of him through theological arguments. They planted people to question him publicly, they called him out, drug his name through the mud but in the end, they couldn’t stop him. They couldn’t change what was clearly changing. Life, as they knew it, was never going to be the same. They were becoming irrelevant. “Kill him,” they said. So they went to the Law. If all else fails, we can use the secular courts to maintain the past. We’ll lobby congress, we’ll throw money at it, we’ll make laws and change laws and throw out the bums that won’t get it done. We’ll make mountains out of molehills and destroy whoever stands in our way. But their heart showed out. Their hatred marked them and instead of their legacy being that they cared for those around them, that they represented the best of the Kingdom of God, that they showed the world what it was like for a people to commit to God, they demonstrated that they were just like everyone else. They were just as corrupt. They were just as depraved. The lusted for power and killed to hang on to it.

Have you made the connection yet? The Church does the same. At it’s best, it is the kingdom of God. At it’s best, it cares for those that are in need, for all that is holy and right. At it’s best it is the body of Christ in the world. When people come into contact with a Christian, they come into contact with Christ. But then, they get lost. They get entranced. They get sucked into the lie that money means influence and influence means power. They take the calling of God to serve and twist it to be that by making money on the backs of others I am serving them. By having power, I am serving them. All is fair if Abortion is at stake. I can hate others, be spiteful and destructive if it just keeps two people of the same gender from “getting married.” (contracting with each other for tax benefits etc) What are we doing? What is truth? What kingdom are we serving?

Who are you serving? Live your convictions. Live what God has called you to be and do but my friend, do so in the reality of God’s kingdom – a kingdom of love, care, peace, joy, patience, gentleness… – do so in a kingdom marked by sacrifice and love rather than hate and animosity.

Christ is the King. We are his servants. Let our service be marked by the fruit of the spirit rather than the fruit of the world.

Amen.

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Work and Worship

A thought this morning from Sufi Islam as translated through a street vendor from Senegal:

“Work as though you will never die. Worship as though you will die tomorrow.”

It is reminiscent of the “protestant work ethic” I grew up with. All things, to include our work, is done in service to God. We do what we do to benefit ourselves and society as a whole – all as an act of worship to God. The question I am asking this morning is: does my work benefit me, society as a whole, and can it be worship to God?

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Col. 3:17

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Addictive “Worship”

So, my brother, who is a worship leader, brought this to my attention this week. Its an article that theorizes that “mega-church worship” has qualities that can be highly addictive.

“Through the influence of our consumer culture we’ve come to believe that transformation is attained through  external experiences. We’ve come to regard our church buildings, with their multimedia theatrical equipment, as mountaintops where God’s glory may be encountered. Many of us ascend this mountain every Sunday morning wanting to have an experience with God, and many of us leave with a degree of genuine transformation. We feel “pumped up,” “fed,” or “on fire for the Lord.”

No doubt many, like Moses, have an authentic encounter with God through these events. But new research indicates another explanation for our spiritual highs. A University of Washington study has found that megachurch worship experiences actually trigger an “oxytocin cocktail” in the brain that can become chemically addictive. The same has been found at large sporting events and concerts, but attenders to these gatherings don’t usually attribute the “high” to God.

“The upbeat modern music, cameras that scan the audience and project smiling, dancing, singing, or crying worshipers on large screens, and an extremely charismatic leader whose sermons touch individuals on an emotional level … serve to create these strong positive emotional experiences,” said Katie Corcoran, a Ph.D. candidate who co-authored the study.”

I found this article interesting on the level that someone is questioning the validity of “mountain-top” experiences. However, I would note that these types of experinces have exsisted throughout time and that they are part and parcel to the human interaction with the divine.

What I most liked was my brother’s response to the article – I thought it so good, I include it here in it’s entirety.

1.  I hate the Yankees, they have all the money, players and fans.  Easy to be a mega church hater.
2.  The same argument could be used for any worship style: Liturgical, Catholic, Old Fundamental KJV Hymn singers.  Any time we only look for God in a system or specific place its off.
3.  The most dangerous view may be that you can find God in all of those places and more.
4.  God says if you seek Him, you will find Him and I’ve found that to be true.  When I don’t seek Him, I can get way off track and only see darkness.  When I do seek Him, I see Him everywhere.  Kinda like a Rich Mullins song I used to listen to.  “And everywhere I go, I see you…”
5.  Even in the dark I see Him if I seek Him.  The face of a chinese orphan who will probably never hear of Him, a rock in Scotland, a good story, a piece of art, the devotion of a muslim.  See?  Told you that was dangerous.  But God is dangerous and His stamp is everywhere.
6.  We all have those warm fuzzy places where we go to find the divine.  Some, its a mega church rock and roll show.  Some?  Bill Gaither.  Still others?  A quiet place in the woods dressed in camo. Me?  I like a good secular concert.   I love it when I meet someone who “gets” this concept.  They are a cool person.
7.  That article makes me hate my job.  I’ll never make anyone happy.  Maybe the debate will get the author some speaking gigs and his wife will be able to buy that dress from Abercrombie.

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