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Sermon: The Worshipping Community

Colossians 3:12-17

“What does your church offer that’s missing at the YMCA? … When you read your church’s bulletin and determine the invitation you offer, you will know whether your church is a community center or the globalizing, wounded arm of the Savior.”

Worship

Worship (Photo credit: Josa Jr)

So asked the late American pastor Calvin Miller in his ‘Letters to a Young Pastor’. Not that I claim to be young, you understand.

But it seems to be a good question. What is different about the church? Or, what could or should be different about the church?

And it seems good to ask it today, when we have so many visitors here for Emma’s baptism. I know some of you are churchgoers, but I expect a good number of you aren’t. You join us in the middle of a series where we are thinking about what our vision for a worshipping community is, and if you have any constructive feedback for us, please let us know.

It’s easy, of course, to find fault with the church, and often the fault-finding is deserved. While I sometimes recount that the famous celebrity who grew up along the same road as I did was Bruce Forsyth – and I play with ideas of changing the liturgy to begin with, ‘Nice to see you’ – another local lad was the late broadcaster Adrian Love. He attended the same grammar school as my Dad. Love was a churchgoer in his younger days, but gave it up because he couldn’t abide the persistent atmosphere of gossip in the church.

Against that background, it’s easy to have a romantic view of the early church, but the Apostle Paul would not have had to dictate the words of his that we read a few moments ago had everything been perfect then. So for the next few minutes we’ll consider those words on the basis that there is a gap the church needs to straddle, between how things are now and the vision of how things could be. This isn’t going to be an exercise in slating the church, but it is meant to be a time when we might become restless with things as they are, and develop a longing for how they might be.

Here, then, are three characteristics of a Christian worshipping community:

Firstly, love. I don’t think there is any other way to sum up the first three verses of the reading. Let’s hear them again:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Verses 12-14)

Love

Love (Photo credit: praram)

Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with each other, forgiving one another – all united by love. These are the qualities of love, of wanting to do whatever it will take for others to flourish. All of them could be taken as qualities of Jesus’ life – he was compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient and forgiving. Paul is calling Christians to love after the pattern of Jesus. It’s not real worship unless we love one another. Our relationships need to be whole, healing and authentic. If I say I’m worshipping God while I’ve got it in for my brother or sister Christian, then I am not truly worshipping at all.

But it’s a bit scary to speak about loving after the pattern of Jesus, isn’t it? Who could possibly do that? We know we fall short. The everyday reality is that we are fallible, failing, sinful people. We don’t make the grade. I was once at a conference where a seminar speaker asked us to take Paul’s famous words about love from 1 Corinthians 13 – ‘love is patient, love is kind, love keeps no record of wrongs’, and so on – and remove the word ‘love’, substituting our own names. Then we had to read it aloud. Most of us tripped into embarrassed laughter at the thought that we were patient and kind, keeping no record of wrongs. The speaker then asked us to remove the word ‘love’ and put in the name ‘Jesus’. Reading the words then made complete sense: ‘Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind,’ and the rest.

We are left, then, with this gap between the kind of people we sadly know ourselves to be and the sort of people we would aspire to be. And if we had to love like Jesus from a standing start straight to self-giving and self-sacrifice, we wouldn’t have a chance.

But it’s not like that. Paul starts with these words:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved … (Verse 12a)

He can call us to love, because of who we are in God’s sight. We are chosen, holy (set apart) and – perhaps most important of all, dearly loved. The love we are called to demonstrate is not something that is a cold obligation. Rather, Paul says, love because you are loved. When you know you are loved, does that not change the way you live? The knowledge that someone loves you gives you security, and you risk doing things you wouldn’t otherwise have chanced. When you know you are loved, you don’t walk with stooping shoulders but with your head held high.

It’s all that and more in a relationship with Jesus Christ. We don’t love in order to be loved by God: we love because we are already loved. Loved with an everlasting love, the Bible says. Loved to the point of death, death on a Cross. And when we know we are loved like that, we find through God’s Holy Spirit the beginnings of bridging that gap between our weaknesses now and the vision of loving like Jesus.

Secondly, peace. Now – the love we have just described puts us on the road to peace, especially when we bear with each other and forgive one another. We start demonstrating a measure of reconciliation that is deeply appealing to broken and suffering people.

But Paul speaks of peace in another way in verse 15:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.

Cristo Redentor, statue on Corcovado mountain ...

Cristo Redentor, statue on Corcovado mountain in Rio de Janeiro (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Paul says, ‘Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, the Greek word translated ‘rule’ is one that means an umpire or a referee. Christ’s peace is to blow the whistle in the church. When there are disagreements or even disputes – and we’d be naïve to think we won’t have them – then it is the peace of Christ that stops play or calls a foul. When there is something good – dare I say when we have scored a goal? – it is Christ’s peace that marks the fact and the style of our celebrations.

But if we really stretch the metaphor even further beyond what Paul had in mind, it might be worth asking, what kind of referee or umpire are we dealing with? Unfortunately, we often treat Christ and his peace like a football referee. We think we can argue him out of the decision he has made. We think we can show dissent and get away with it. And I know, of course, that Colin Stone would be deeply disappointed if I didn’t make an allusion to Chelsea players in this respect! How tragic it is that in the church we too often dissent from what the peace of Christ decrees. We don’t get our way, so we throw our toys out of the pram. Some aspect of church life doesn’t suit our tastes, so we break our relationships to go elsewhere. We don’t like what one individual does, so we bad mouth them behind their backs.

But what if we were dealing not with a football referee but a rugby referee, where dissent is punished by moving the kick ten metres nearer your goal? And therefore what if we allowed every aspect of Christ’s peace to rule our lives as a community? Not just peace in the sense of quietness, but the desire to overcome conflict, the desire to see harmony flourish, a commitment to justice in our relationships, strong resolve to work for healing in every area of life? I dare you to believe that spiritually we can hear Christ blowing the whistle on some of our behaviour, and that if only we were to treat him as the rugby referee whose will must be obeyed rather than the football referee who is constantly challenged, then we would take further steps towards being the worshipping community we long to be. We would be one in heart and mind as we come before God.

Thirdly and finally, thankfulness. When Paul finally gets onto the subject of worship in explicit words in the last couple of verses, note how words that suggest thankfulness (or gratitude) keep recurring:

And be thankful16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Verses 15b-17, italics mine.)

thankfulness is the soul that joy thrives in !

thankfulness is the soul that joy thrives in ! (Photo credit: Joshua Daniel O.)

Where do we fall short when it comes to thankfulness? This is serious, because thanksgiving is central to our worshipping life. But – when we are ungrateful for all the good things God has given us, something is wrong. When we take our material and spiritual blessings for granted, things are going awry. When we become so detached from our brothers and sisters in Christ that our first instinct is to look for what we can grumble about, then we have departed from God’s vision for us as a worshipping community. Sadly, some people in our churches are known for their expertise in moaning.

What would begin to change us? How would we grow in thankfulness as a Christian community? It isn’t enough to be told to be thankful: there has to be a reason. Paul’s answer is that it’s to do with ‘the message of Christ’. As we dwell on all aspects of Christ’s life and ministry, it leads us to thankfulness. We are grateful for his coming. We give thanks for his life and teaching. We express gratitude for his suffering on our behalf. We offer thanksgiving because he conquered the grave. It is a case of turning our eyes on Jesus. Reflecting on Jesus rather than on our own petty dissatisfactions will begin to transform us.

But how can we do that? Not on our own, according to Paul. It’s something where we need one another. He envisages the wonders of Jesus being embedded in every style of worship the church offers – psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. And he anticipates not our style of worship where it’s all led from the front and one person chooses almost everything, but a group of people who together say to one another, ‘I think this hymn (or psalm, or spiritual song) will encourage you.’

And from there, it starts to fan out to the whole of our lives. Whatever you do, says Paul, do it in thankfulness, is how he ends. Our life as the worshipping community doesn’t end when I pronounce the blessing at the end of the service. That is but the beginning. When we are thankful for all that Christ has done, a light shines on all parts of life.

In fact, there was a church where the exit had a sign over the arch. As the congregation left the building, there were the words, ‘Servants’ Entrance’. Because we go as a worshipping community from this place with love, peace and thankfulness into the world.

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Sermon: Worship and the Gifts of the Spirit

Continuing our sermon series on worship:

1 Corinthians 14:26-33

Nancy Duarte is something of a hero to me. She married her husband Mark at eighteen, and they planned to go Bible college and then find a church to pastor. Instead, Mark bought a computer, and set up a business which Nancy now heads. They design visual presentations for major international clients such as Apple. Their most famous work was to design the visuals for Al Gore’s film about the environmental crisis, ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. Nancy is a pastor, though – to her staff.

One of the key themes Nancy Duarte teaches about designing engaging presentations is that they must resonate with the hearers. There must be an empathy, a deep inward ‘Yes!’ to what the speaker is saying.

My problem with today’s passage was that initially I thought it might be difficult to get it to resonate with a good number of you. Some of you will struggle might be troubled by the references to speaking in tongues and prophecy. But it isn’t just that: Paul has a completely different conception of what a typical gathering for worship looks like from traditional twenty-first century Christian worshippers. We are used to most or all things being led from the front, but he assumes that everyone has a contribution. Not for him is the content all down to a trained expert.

So how are we going to appreciate what Paul says here about the common use of spiritual gifts in Christian worship? Well, one thing I need to do immediately is to take you out of the pews. In fact, not just out of the pews, but out of the church building. Because Paul was not writing to a congregation that had its own special religious space like us. The notion of church buildings is so ingrained into us, but it distorts what Paul is saying.

To put it more specifically, I once heard Professor Jimmy Dunn say that when we read that the early church met in homes, we can probably assume that they met in the homes of the wealthier members. Archaeological evidence of large homes in the Roman Empire suggests that we are talking about a space that could accommodate thirty, or at most forty people. It is neither like typical Sunday services as we know them, nor is it like the house groups of our experience.

But it does provide a context that makes sense of so much of what Paul teaches about worship in 1 Corinthians. For example, if you bridle at his command that women should keep silent, remember first of all that they are being allowed to learn in the early church (unlike other religions), but that they are probably saying, “What does that mean?” every now and again to their husbands in a confined space where that will be disruptive. Hence they are to keep their questions until they get home for the sake of good order. It also makes sense of the chaotic scenes at the Lord’s Supper in Corinth, if you read chapter 11.

And I suggest to you as well that a gathering for worship in a large home makes sense of Paul’s teaching here. See if some of what Paul says resonates more with you if I can ask you to imagine thirty or forty people crammed together in a large reception room. They are not all sitting on chairs; many are cross-legged on the floor, and others are reclining. For me, it means recalling a holiday I had with friends many years ago where we hired a villa on the Algarve. Imagine something similar – but definitely delete the pews and the church building from your thoughts this morning.

So – if you can picture this different style of gathering – let us ask three questions of the text to help us understand the place of spiritual gifts in Christian worship. Those three questions are ‘Who?’, ‘What?’ and ‘Why?’

Firstly, we ask ‘Who?’ The answer to this is, ‘Everyone’.

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. (Verse 26, italics mine)

It’s just the way of things in the early church. Paul doesn’t need to command ‘each of [them]’ to bring a contribution to worship: they do, anyway. This statement is indicative of the existing situation, and Paul doesn’t have any problems with it. After all, when he began his teaching about spiritual gifts in chapter 12, he soon used his image of the Body of Christ, where every member plays a part.

You may have heard some preachers say that church is often like going to a football match, where twenty-two thousand people in need of exercise watch twenty-two people in need of a rest. Over the centuries, we have deified forms of worship led by the experts – whether it is the more Catholic insistence on the need for a priest who can lead us into the presence of God, or the more Protestant emphasis on a sermon like this that makes teaching the Word of God more like a lecture. That, of course, comes complete with rows of seating. And as we sit in rows (whether in pews or on chairs), we reduce our sense of community and the congregation becomes passive, listening to the minister.

Now once you get beyond the numbers that were in a typical early church meeting, then the group dynamics change, and they certainly do if you go for a more formalised structure. But that is to beg the question of what to do when you grow – maybe instead of getting bigger a church should divide into two.

Of this I am sure: we have disabled many members of Christ’s Body from being able to contribute in worship. It is not to say that everybody has to lead from the front – Paul doesn’t assume that here – but it is to say that we have squashed people’s gifts. Sometimes we ministers don’t want the contributions of others. Sometimes congregations want to stay passive. Christians judge a church or a preacher by whether they were ‘fed’, but shepherds don’t merely feed the sheep, they also teach the sheep where to feed for themselves.

Hence, I want to announce something this morning that I have been thinking about ever since I came. Just as I have made a modest increase in worship participation at the communion services by involving our Youth Church, so I now want to increase adult participation, and I shall do that in the non-sacramental services. I am introducing a feature that runs in a number of churches, called ‘This Time Tomorrow’. The aim is to make the link between 10 am on Sunday and 10 am on Monday. I would like people who are willing to share (perhaps by being interviewed) what they do in the week away from church, how they approach it as a Christian, and what challenges they face for which they would like prayer. You can be in paid work, you can be retired or unemployed, you can be doing something voluntary in the community. If you would like to do this, please speak with me after the service, but I am on the lookout and will have a sign-up sheet available, too! The key is to connect our worship more clearly with every member, and through every member to the world in mission.

Our second question is ‘What?’ That is, what is every member bringing to worship?

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. (Verse 26, italics mine)

Here is why we can’t allow the rule of experts to disable the ministry of all God’s people. It’s because God has equipped not only the leaders but all of his followers. There is a wide range of gifts here. At one end are gifts that traditional Christians would easily recognise, such as ‘a hymn, or a word of instruction.’ At the other end are the gifts that unnerve some Christians, because they seem so far away from everyday life and conventional behaviour – ‘a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.’ Yet all good gifts are from God and are to be welcomed in a spirit of trust.

We shouldn’t trivialise this. The thought that someone can bring ‘a hymn’ should not be reduced to some kind of community hymn-singing, or just an opportunity to sing someone’s favourite hymn. It is all about the contribution that can be made to the overall act of worship. I would not be picking a hymn for myself, but for the sake of the gathered body of disciples. ‘A word of instruction’ is not the chance for someone to inflict their hobbyhorse on the congregation, but the prospect of someone who has been close to God in prayer and the Scriptures bringing a word that has the aroma of heaven. Likewise, the more spectacular gifts of ‘a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation’ are not occasions for Christians to show off some supposed spiritual prowess, but an opening to use something precious from God to bless his people.

But here’s where our disparity from the way the early church gathered makes it difficult for us to take this on board. Once you get beyond a certain size, only particular types of people are willing to speak up and ask for their contributions to be included. Sitting in rows doesn’t help, either. It has to be done in more intimate, flexible gatherings we have such as the house groups.

In public worship in our culture it would have to happen in a more controlled way, because we require that someone takes responsibility for ensuring that the content of worship is consistent with the Christian faith as the Methodist Church has received it. That person is the preacher appointed to take the service. But there is no reason why members cannot approach the preacher (in good time, of course!) and say they have something which they think could be of benefit to the congregation. Heaven knows, there are few Local Preachers and ministers who are highly skilled in every aspect of worship. That means the church as a whole is missing out if others do not come forward with their gifts and offerings.  I want to encourage you to break through the barriers that our current practices create, so that we can all be enriched by what God has given you. If that means you having a word with me to tell me you have something that could be a gift for our worship together, then I want to urge you to speak with me.

Our third and final question is ‘Why?’ Come back again to verse 26:

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. (Verse 26, italics mine)

So that the church may be built up. That’s why Paul goes on to give some instructions about how many people should speak, how what is said should be weighed, how some speakers should give way to others, and how generally those who offer their gifts should exercise self-control and demonstrate peace and good order. The gifts of the Spirit in worship are not about manufacturing religious superstars or launching careers in the Church: they are to be used with one motive in mind only, the building up of Christ’s church.

Or let’s see it this way. Never mind those who harbour the vain ambition to be big fish in the small pond of the church, we would probably all agree that the building up of the church is a noble goal for worship. But presently we leave that task of building up largely to one person – the preacher. Paul clearly believed that it took the actions of the whole Body to build itself up. There’s nothing particularly contentious among Christians about a goal to build up the church. But the idea that such a goal requires more than the diligence of the preacher is resisted in places. In one church it was said, “Why buy a dog and then wag your own tail?” Even in churches where there is a lot of participation in various areas of its life, there can still be a disturbing division. The minister is expected to do the ‘spiritual’ work, while the congregation does the ‘practical’ stuff.

Of course, some will ask, “How can I contribute to the edification of the church? I haven’t got anything worthwhile to offer.” To that I would reply in two ways. Firstly, either you already have some latent spiritual gifts you can offer that you haven’t noticed, or you could ask God to give you spiritual gifts that you can use for the benefit of the church. And the second thing I would say is to quote the Apostle Peter:

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

In other words, nurture your spiritual life and you will find that something grows in you that you can share. I talked last week about some of the opportunities we offer in KMC and which we have offered to help you grow in the life of the Spirit. The nub of the matter is that if you share in the view that worship should build us all up, then that implicates you in playing a part that contributes towards that goal.

Where does all this leave us? It gives us a radical view of Christian worship that departs from our traditions in some significant ways. But really it’s our traditions that have departed from the apostolic testimony. When the Holy Spirit is at work, that will happen in an apostolic way, not a traditional way, and if we are not careful we shall find that the new wine of the Spirit is poured into the brittle old wineskins of our traditionalism.

Ironically, that’s why I’ve ended up speaking for a little longer than usual this morning. It has been an attempt to lay out a more thoroughly New Testament vision for worship, one that depends on us all using our spiritual gifts for the maturing of the church.

Friends, we might have to choose between our cherished traditions and the growth of the church.

Sermon: A Lifestyle Of Worship

From a new sermon series on worship:

Romans 12:1-2

A modern Western worship team leading a contem...

A modern Western worship team leading a contemporary worship session. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was once taken to task after a sermon I preached on worship when I was a Local Preacher. Having confined myself to the question of worship when we are gathered together on a Sunday, someone wanted to know why I hadn’t talked about the worship of our daily lives.

Well, you can’t include everything in one sermon – although some preachers try! But my friend had a point. If you consider Christian worship, you have to see that it is about more than Sunday morning. We are called to a lifestyle of worship, and is what Paul does here. Romans 12 is about Christian lifestyle, but it is packed with words from the realm of the temple – ‘offer’, ‘sacrifice’ and ‘worship’ all occur in verse 1.

And so if we are to have a series of sermons on worship, we must think about our lifestyle of worship. We speak about some people who are ‘Sunday Christians’ – they come to a church service on Sunday, but have no connection with the church in the rest of the week and Sunday morning has no effect on the way they live from day to day. The early church would not have recognised such people as authentically Christians at all. The summons is to follow Jesus, and you don’t get any annual leave away from that calling.

But behind all this is the first of two questions that Romans 12:1-2 addresses: why should we worship? Paul puts it quite simply: ‘in view of God’s mercy’ (verse 1). More fully, he says,

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. (Verse 1)

We offer a lifestyle of worship to God ‘in view of God’s mercy’. The ‘Sunday Christian’ may not understand this. On occasion, I have asked congregations for ideas to include in the opening prayers of praise and adoration. “What reasons do we have for bringing our praise and worship to God this week?” I have asked. Often, my experience has been that the answers which come back have a lot to do with the goodness and beauty of creation, and for the sort of blessings that all sorts of people, religious or not, enjoy – good health, a new job, the birth of a new family member, and so on.

Now there is nothing wrong with any of those reasons. But what is missing? What we have is a collection of reasons to be thankful that are based on the goodness of God in creation, but what is absent is any recognition of the love of God in salvation. ‘God’s mercy’ is missing. Jesus and his Cross are absent.

Remember – this is Romans chapter 12. Paul has spent eleven chapters arguing why the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus change everything. When he says, ‘in view of God’s mercy’, he has in mind all the incarnate Son of God has done for us in giving his life and in being raised from the dead. If we are only Sunday worshippers, we have not grasped what God has done for us in Christ. Either we have not realised that Christ died for our sins and rose for our justification, or we are glad to receive his forgiveness but just enjoy the blessing without showing any gratitude.

In fact, Paul’s language is even stronger. He doesn’t simply say ‘in view of God’s mercy’, he literally says, ‘in view of God’s mercies’. It isn’t as though God was merciful to us in Christ at the Cross and that’s that, we’ve had our mercy (amazing as that is). No! God is consistently and continually merciful to us. How many of us have had second chance after second chance from him? How many of us can look at our lives and see him faithfully directing our steps? We remember the Old Testament words that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. But where do those words come from? Of all books, they come from Lamentations, where the author is grieving the judgement of God on sinful Judah in allowing Babylon to take God’s people into exile and cause devastation and destruction everywhere. Yet even the God of judgement can be merciful every morning. If he is merciful like that in the midst of judgement, how much more merciful is he in other ways?

So if we want reason to worship by the way we live each day, we have it in the mercies of our God. Surely a God who is merciful to us in the ways the Scriptures tell us is one to whom we should be deeply and consistently grateful. Surely we show that gratitude in the way we follow his Son.

Let me make this a little more specific, then: do you know that Christ died and rose for you? As you sense gratitude welling up to him for all that he has done and all that he continues to do for you, is there any particular way at present that he is calling you to give glory to him by imitating his life?

And let that lead us into the second of the two questions: how should we worship? Paul gives us two answers to ‘how’: firstly, with our bodies, and secondly, with our minds.

Firstly, then, our bodies:

[O]ffer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. (Verse 1b)

Now we might get nervous about what ‘sacrifice’ involves, rather in the way people assume that whatever they fear most is what God is most likely to ask them to do. If you don’t like the thought of going to remote regions of Africa, then God will definitely call you to be a missionary there. No wonder someone once said, “The problem with living sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar.”

Essentially, though, a sacrifice is an offering of something or someone over to God for him to do with as he pleases. When we say the Covenant Prayer at the beginning of each Methodist year in September, there is a fine balance stated over and over in different ways between those callings that might be congenial to our aptitudes and interests, and those which might not be. God is neither a sadist nor an indulgent grandfather. He is merciful to us, we give ourselves over to him and he deploys us for his kingdom purposes.

More specifically, Paul describes the sacrifice of our bodies with three adjectives. You may think that only the word ‘living’ is attached to sacrifices, but a more precise translation would be ‘sacrifices, living, holy and pleasing to God’.

So note that God wants living sacrifices, not dead ones. Just as you might put money into an offering plate, I invite you to imagine yourself putting your whole body on a huge plate that is carried to the front and dedicated to him. We ‘offer’ not simply our money, but ourselves. We ‘present’ our bodies. You may recall that when our previous hymn book, Hymns and Psalms, came out, some people made a fuss about the wording in the final verse of ‘When I Survey The Wondrous Cross.’ Instead of singing,

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small

the words were,

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were a present far too small.

Some Christians didn’t like the use of the word ‘present’, but I don’t think it was a bad one. We bring gifts unconditionally to those whom we love, and Paul urges us to do something similar with our bodies. Let us offer what we can do with our physical bodies to God.

Moreover, it needs to be a holy sacrifice. To be holy is to be set apart for God’s special purposes. There is nothing mundane or routine in the offering of our bodies. God has a special purpose for us, and it can only be accomplished if we dedicate our bodies to him. What can I do with my strengths and my talents? How can they be used for kingdom purposes?

Finally, these sacrifices are pleasing to God. Do not get the image that God is po-faced and stern in the face of our offering. As we put our bodies at his disposal, he is pleased! This is what he longed for. We can give great pleasure to God by offering a present of our bodies to him.

Secondly, we worship with our minds:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Verse 2)

To say that we worship with our minds may make some people nervous, like watching the news report in the week about a thirteen-year-old girl from Surbiton called Neha Ramu, who has an IQ of 162. If we have to use our minds in worship, some of us will feel we are not qualified.

But this is not about being intellectual. It goes more like this: a lifestyle of worship involves finding out God’s will and doing it, in order to bring more pleasure to God. But the problem we have is with tuning in to God’s will. Sin affects our minds as much as any other part of our being. For example, that is why science can be used for ill as well as for good: think of weapons of mass destruction or environmental damage. It is also about the way we try to deceive ourselves and deliberately twist our thinking to find something acceptable that actually isn’t. Every part of our humanity is affected by sin, including our thinking. It is therefore part of redemption that our minds are renewed in godly ways of thinking. That is not something exclusive to eggheads, but something we all need. We remember that Jesus said we were to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

So how do we allow God to renew our minds and thus transform us, so that we can do his will as an act of worship? Well, although ‘Be transformed’ is passive – it is something that happens to us – ‘the renewing of your minds’ is not. We need to be intentional about renewing our minds. That is why we promote daily Bible reading notes here, such as Our Daily Bread. That is why we have house groups. That is why we ran the Sacred Rhythms course to help people learn the practice of spiritual disciplines. That is why we promoted the Week of Accompanied Prayer.

But – we have to avail ourselves of these opportunities. It’s no good complaining that we can’t discern the will of God when we’re not taking our chances to let the Scriptures shape our thinking in godly ways. After all – which kind of believer would not be serious about knowing the will of God and walking in it? Would it not be the Sunday Christian again? There are plenty of other institutions in our world that want to shape our minds according to their values. Retailers and governments want us to think like consumers, not like disciples. It takes deliberate action on our part to put ourselves in a place where God can renew and transform our minds, so that our thinking and our believing is closer to his.

Friends, let us remember again that we are worshippers in response to ‘God’s mercies’. Think again about all the ways in which God has been merciful to you. Will you now consider these questions? How am I going to offer my body in devotion to Jesus Christ? And what steps will I take to allow God to make my mind Jesus-shaped rather than world-shaped?

How To Worship

With thanks to Andy Louisiana Swampbeast Richardson on the UK Methodists Facebook page – watch out for that kidney stone:

N T Wright On Worship Songs

Produced by The Work Of The People and found at Out Of Ur.

Engage Worship

Thanks to Krish Kandiah for highlighting this ministry: Engage Worship looks like an interesting resource to help churches with their worship. While some of the articles and resources on their site come from ‘big’ contexts such as Spring Harvest, others are translatable. Take a look at this video that promotes their Count Me In scheme for nurturing participation in worship:

I Could Sing Of Your Love On Sundays

And all I’d worried about was how the river could flow over the mountains and the seas.

Via David Keen.

Religion And The Entertainment Culture


Marshall Shelley
writes:

When entertainment is the air everyone breathes, it’s natural for people to respond to whatever worship media we use with either “I like that” or “I don’t like that”—even when liking it or not isn’t the point. That’s how you’re conditioned to respond in an entertainment-based culture.

Does this explain a lot of comments ministers receive about worship or other aspects of church life? As well as those comments, I recall turning up at one church as the visiting preacher to lead an act of all-age worship. Before the service, somebody said, “I hope you’re going to entertain us this morning.”

I replied, “I thought we were here to worship God.”

So – thoughts, anyone?

What I do know is that it reminds me of something that happened to me once. I had applied to my bank for a loan to buy a new car. As the staff member took me through the interview in his office, he had to fill in various details about me on the computer. When it came to the question of my occupation, there was no option for ‘minister of religion’ or anything similar. After a lot of deliberation, eventually he said: “I know what I’ll classify you as: entertainer!”

Public Intercession

There’s a useful post called Leading a Church in Prayer at Leadership Journal, by Kevin DeYoung. Any Worship leader, preacher of minister would benefit from reading it. What do you think of DeYoung’s advice? What would you add?

Are Worship Leading And Preaching Different Gifts?

Mike Bossingham thinks so. (PDF of article here; equivalent Facebook discussion here.) For my money, I think they are different, too, and I agree with Mike that the culture established in the Methodist Church where the worship leader is just Santa’s little helper to the preacher is all wrong. So too is the notion that if you can preach you can lead worship, but if you can lead worship you can’t necessarily preach. I have always thought my primary gifting was in preaching, but in Methodism that means I normally have to lead worship as well. At that point I break down for ongoing creative ideas.

The Facebook thread goes on to debate Mike’s idea of balancing contemporary and traditional elements in worship, but to me that’s a separate argument.

What are your thoughts?

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