Pastor’s Devotion #112

“EW”

“In view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God –

This is your spiritual act of worship.” Romans 12:1

 

So, the new year, 2021, is upon us. Where have you found your thoughts drifting? This might sound kind of strange, but have you found your “Word” yet? Yes, a “Word” for the year. I had a conversation with my daughter, Jeriah, yesterday. She reminded me of our family conversations during Christmas breaks over the past few years about discerning a “Word” for the upcoming year that would bring greater focus, meaning and intentionality. Recent research and studies have shown that a guiding word can provide empowering thoughts and focus as we move forward. So, Jeriah asked if I had a word yet. To be honest, it hadn’t crossed my mind. I was driving in my truck as we talked and my mind was suddenly racing down a path, seeing if a word might pop up. At first, my mind was a blank canvas. Then suddenly, surprisingly, I realized that yes, I did have a word to guide me into this new year. I actually talked about it in a sermon a few weeks back. So, I thought for this first devotion of the year, I might recast my word, and perhaps it might be a word to be adopted by our church. Whether you personally adopt this word, or not – perhaps there is another word that God might use to Call you out and Call you into a growing, deepening relationship with Him.

My word for the year is “Worship”. Not only worship but using the anacronym “EW” – “EVERYTHING WORSHIP”. When we hear the term, worship, I think most of us think of a Sunday morning gathering at church. Other thoughts might include personal worship early in the morning, or in our car singing to the radio. Usually, worship revolves around some kind of music and singing. Many non-denominational churches use language such as this; “You should attend our services – we have great worship and teaching.” In language, worship has been relegated to 30 minutes of singing with a praise band, followed by 30 minutes of teaching by a pastor. In our Lutheran tradition, we are pointed to consider worship as a bit more complex experience, (yet some might argue more pedantic) to include a confession of sins, confession of our faith through the historic creeds, scripture readings, a sermon, Holy Communion, prayers, and much more – you get the picture. Yet, that picture of worship is still vulnerable to narrowly centering itself at a church, on Sunday, and participated in, typically once a week.

I have come to the conclusion that I/we need to continue to expand this picture of worship. What if we viewed worship as something we celebrated every day? How about every hour? What about every moment? As I drove further down this path of pondering, I came to the conclusion that “Everything” ought to be an act of worship. Everything we do, everything we say, everything we are, ought to be an act of worship unto God. “Everything Worship” is not to be confused with “Worship Everything”. That’s our problem. We worship and give our hearts away to a lot of troubling things and in areas that cause great sorrow. The greatest commandment we have been give is to “Love” (Worship) the Lord our God, with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength. Our hearts are not to be surrendered nor attached or controlled by anything “in this world”, but we know the truth all too well. As Christians, we are to hold lightly the things of this world, in order that we might lift everything in enduring worship to God.

So also, we are not to confuse EW with EIW – “Everything Is Worship”. Not everything is worship. We can even sit in the third row of the sanctuary, let alone in a cold car in December and not worship. Worship involves the condition of the heart. Worship engages the focus and intent of the mind. These qualities of worship are highlighted in Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4. In his dialog with the outcast woman, he acknowledges that a time is coming when all true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth. (John 4:23) Jesus shifts the focus from arguing about the true place of worship being a particular physical location at the Temple in Jerusalem, or as the Samaritans believed at their temple on Mount Gerizim. Rather, he points to a spiritual location, in the heart of every  individual who surrenders and acknowledges God, with heart and mind, in Spirit and Truth, as true worshippers.

If someone asked you the question, “Why did God create you?”, what would you say? Most of us would panic in the moment, as I did when Jeriah asked me her question. Our minds would search or shut down, and we would probably be left muttering, “Um, Um, Um, I’m not exactly sure.” Our human natural instincts would probably drive us to focus upon ourself. We might stumble into words and phrases such as: “To reach my full potential”; “To serve others”, “To be Kind and loving”.

But the truth is, God has created us to be “worshippers”. Our primary task is to worship the God who created the heavens and the earth. We have been physically born on this earth, to be spiritually born by the Holy Spirit, and then to be born anew eternally in God’s Heavenly Kingdom – in order that we might WORSHIP HIM!!

Paul states in Ephesians 1:12, “We, who were first to hope in Christ might ‘BE’ to the praise of his glory.” Paul says that our very “being”, our very existence and essence is to live to bring God praise. That folks, means worship. And it points to the truth that “everything” in our being – is to be directed toward bringing God praise – our act of worship.

Listen to how Paul describes worship in his letter to the Romans. I have discerned that Romans 12:1, is my Bible verse for the year. This is the way I’m thinking about it: there are 12 months in the year. 1 is the first place to begin the new year: first day, first month: Romans 12:1.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.”  

Let’s parse this Bible verse. Our spiritual act of worship begins “in view of God’s mercy”. We will never desire to worship Him until wisdom and revelation both move us to recognize and receive God’s mercy through Jesus Christ. When we truly come to realize that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly” – that means you and me – God’s gift of mercy will change us.  We worship God because of His amazing, astounding, undeserved grace expressed to us through the life, death and resurrection of his dear Son, Jesus Christ. If not for the understanding of this Truth – the best we can offer is to turn to him in “duty” – something that we have been told is a good idea or trained and told to do so- but duty is a far cry, and light years away from desire – where true worship resides.

Paul tells us that true spiritual worship involves living bodies and living sacrifices. The Jewish nation had focused its worship upon dead carcasses laid upon an altar of stone. Jewish worship involved priests sacrificing animals and the shedding of their blood for the sins of the nation, among other material sacrifices. The people of Israel would bring their unblemished animals to the professionals and watch them “worship” God. Even with Moses, Joshua, David and Solomon, there was too much watching. Spiritual worship focuses upon living bodies of believers lifting up sacrifices of praise to Him who have been forgiven by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. The author of Hebrews states, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us “continually” offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess his name.” (Hebrew 13:15). Take note of the word, “continually”, it is a kissing cousin to the word, “everything”.

Then Paul directs our attention to the words, “Holy” and “Pleasing”. Spiritual worship is to be holy and pleasing to God. The term, holy means to be “set apart”. Our lives are to be “set apart” from the world. There is to be a stark and recognizable difference between how a believer in Christ carries him/herself in relation to the rest of the world. The church is to be set upon a hill, giving forth light, not for light sake, but to shine light upon the Truth of Jesus Christ. The Christian is called forth and challenged to be “in the world” while not being “of the world”. We are to continually keep our eyes upon Jesus Christ, the author and perfector and model of our faith. The mercy of God, that initiates our spiritual worship, in Jesus, is to be seen, heard and expressed through the life of a believer to those held captive in a world caught up in judgment and condemnation. Paul continues to describe this “holiness” in Romans 12:2. Paul writes, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. This spiritual worship is to take us beyond the natural, self-focused attitudes, actions and perspectives constantly revolving around us in the world. Currently, we can clearly see these worldly attitudes and actions in play in the politics in our Congress. Christians are to transcend the judgments, moods and perspectives that promote control, division, greed and egotism.

Finally, can our worship be “pleasing” to God? Hebrews 11:6 succinctly states, “And without faith, it is impossible to please God.” Therefore, trust in God is the posture of spiritual worship which pleases God. Once again, we are vulnerable to our natural instincts and human responses. We quickly look to rely upon our own strength, intellect and insight – yet Proverbs 3:5-6 drives home a different response; “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and he will make straight your paths.” 

For the past 12 years, our church has held up E3, as words to drive the direction of our ministry: Encounter God, Encourage Believers, and Extend God’s Kingdom. For the next 12 months, I’m going to add “EW” to my list. “Everything Worship!” You are welcome to join me if you feel led. Jeriah told me today that she has climbed on the worship train with me. She said that this word helps to elevate and point her to God, rather than herself. Whether the word strikes a chord with you or not, may God guide us to a deeper, broader, higher, longer and richer understanding of worship. May every day, in every way, washing the dishes, walking the dog, pulling the weeds, talking to the neighbor, paying the bills, driving the car, buying groceries and yes, talking to God – let it be “Everything Worship” and praise to God our Father, Jesus Christ, His Son, and Holy Spirit, our comforter.

Looking forward to worshipping with you throughout this whole Happy New Year!

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark