Reconsidering Worship

So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. — 2 Corinthians 5:20, NRSV

When I use the word “worship,” most Christians envision what we call “church.” This is the designated, weekly time we set aside to sing songs, pray prayers, hear a sermon, and sometimes celebrate Communion or Baptisms. It’s a time when we do what we believe to be pleasing to God, namely saying or singing things about Him that we think He would like or appreciate.

Is this what the faith is about? Verbal praise? Sanctioned times and places when we acknowledge God before going about our typical lives?

I don’t think so.

In chapter 5 of the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, Paul refers to himself and the other leaders of the church as “ambassadors for Christ” (5:20), as God is “entrusting the message of reconciliation to” them (5:19). While Paul may have been talking about the leadership of the ancient church, the same idea applies to all believers. When Paul, in verse 21, says God “made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” he means all of us, when reconciled to God through Jesus, are to be that righteousness in the world. As such, we are all to be “ambassadors for Christ,” representatives of His message in the world, sharing the love that we experience.

So what does this have to do with worship?

It’s been my observation that many believers opt for the comfort of praising Jesus as opposed to the struggle of following Him, as if the two are separate. It’s easier to passively experience the reconciling grace of God in a pew than it is to actively imitate and share that grace in a hostile world. We can kneel and apologize every week, participating in the beautiful ritual of the church; we can raise our hands and sing along with the talented contemporary Christian band; we can hum our agreement to a perfectly tweetable sermon. Yet all of this is only part of the greater work of representing Jesus in a world that needs Him.

Now, am I advocating for a guilt-tripping attempt at perfection? Of course not. We aren’t going to “nail it” every time, and you should already be aware that I am just as guilty as everyone else. But transformation is found in the effort of faithful living.

Just as we have received the gift of reconciliation and rightfully praise God for it, so we are also to “pay it forward” and live in honor of Christ daily. We are called to act with love and self-control with regard to that co-worker, classmate, friend, or family member we just don’t get along with. We are called to support the cause of justice, treat all others with the dignity befitting children of God, and work to bring comfort to those in need. Such practices are difficult, costly, and inconvenient, but the best we can do is to never stop trying.

We have each been gifted with reconciliation to God, as well as the invitation to participate in His saving work in the world. This is an unparalleled gift that deserves every bit of our praise and gratitude, but it also places on us the responsibility to get busy loving as Jesus did (and still does). When we start to practice the grace we have received, our worship becomes complete, and we honor the One Who has truly given us an “indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15).

Peace be with you!

The Art of Watching One’s Mouth

From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. — James 3:10, NRSV

This will by no means come as a shock to anyone that knows me, but one of my biggest problems is my mouth. I am sarcastic by nature, and a childhood of being soft-spoken and easily flustered led to a seemingly necessary development of quick, cutting remarks offered up at the drop of a hat. But while my sharp humor has been the source of many laughs and good times over the years, it’s also gotten me into trouble. I’ve hurt feelings, damaged relationships, and completely disrespected the God I claim to love and worship.

I’m not saying you can’t have your quick comments here and there, and God loves a sense of humor, but there is a serious problem with the overlap between “faithful” people and those who fail to mind their words and the effects they can have. We live in a world that emphasizes shock value, and it has become fashionable to actually TRY to insult people and hurt feelings because we are technically free to do so. After all, look at how many people voted for the current president because he “tells it like it is.” What they mean is they like that he doesn’t care how his words might affect others, and that’s how they prefer to operate. Not to be outdone, even those who scream on behalf of political correctness do so in a manner that serves to demonize their fellow human beings. It’s a true testimony to the fact that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)!

For the Christian, political correctness is no reason to guard the tongue. There may be overlap, but we can’t base our speech and actions based off of what the world finds acceptable. What has changed my approach in recent days is understanding my words as a form of worship.

I know when we think of worship, we think of set aside times and spaces, separate from the rest of our lives, but the life of faith is not that way. Living out The Way of Jesus is a ’round-the-clock effort, and our treatment of others, whether they are around us or not, is a testimony to how highly our relationship with God is ranked. This is why James issues his correction in 3:8-12 saying, “but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.” All people are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), whether or not we like or approve of them. As such, our treatment of one another is an act of worship… or blasphemy.

It’s hard to tame the tongue. We are surrounded by bad examples being exalted as funny or bold, and sometimes the people in our own lives just suck.. It is vitally important, however, that we learn to honor God by taking a different road in order that our worship may be complete. Perhaps it’s changing what we decide to share on social media. Maybe it’s diverting or not engaging at the dinner table when the conversation takes a turn for the worse. What if we meditated, prayed, and took time to journal, processing our feelings in a way that won’t inject more negativity into a world already choking on its own malice? I think these are options worth exploring, and I hope you will join me on this new, challenging, and transformative road.

Peace be with you!