Category Archives: worship

Baptism ABC: B is for Belonging

When my grandson was baptized on Sunday it was a family celebration. His parents, aunts, grandparents and friends were present to publicly welcome the tiny newborn into God’s kingdom. Though Jack slept the entire time, his baptism was filled with praise and promises.

Occasionally as a pastor I am asked to do a baptism outside of Sunday worship. I generally decline because one of the central themes of baptism is that the baptized person becomes part of the Christian community. Baptism is not an isolated event between God and the baptized.  Baptism is a community event in which the family of God, the church, welcomes and receives the newest member of the family.

In the book of Acts we see a clear expression of this. After Peter preached his first sermon about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in Acts 2, the people who heard it were cut to the heart and said to Peter, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter responded,

“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven and you will receive the Holy Spirit (see last post). For the promise is for you, for your children and for all who are far away”. . . . Those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added (Acts 2:38-40).

(Side note: I often wonder how they did 3000 baptisms that day. Did they use a fire hose, a supersoaker or the Jerusalem municipal swimming pool?)

The key verse comes next. The newly baptized did not wander back to their old communities and ways. Instead they formed a worshipping community. They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42). The apostle teaching became what we know as the New Testament of the Bible. The fellowship they shared involved more that drinking coffee, but actually sharing their possessions with one another. The breaking of bread is a reference to the bread of Holy Communion or Eucharist. And prayer is prayer.  All are elements of a worshipping community.

The expectation is that the newly baptized needs the community to grow in his or her understanding of God’s grace and love. We do not live our faith in isolation; the community brings us strength, support, correction and comfort.   Jesus modeled this by living in a community of at least twelve disciples.

A wonderful moment for me at Jack’s baptism was when the pastor asked the entire congregation if they promised to support and encourage Jack as he grew in faith. The congregation joyously responded, “Yes, we do!” Jack’s home and family has just grown by a factor of ten.

How does baptism help you stay connected to God’s people?

 

Lord Jesus, Thank you for providing me with your fantastic family.

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Where Do You Find God?

Door of the Duomo (cathedral) in Siena, Italy

A recent post by Opreach asked the question, “Where do you find God?” Many of us might first think of churches and cathedrals, places dedicated to God and utilized as gathering spaces to worship God. Over years these buildings can grow in holy significance as we baptize, confirm, marry and bury members of our family and community inside these structures. Candlelight Christmas Eve worship, Easter celebrations and numerous Sunday gatherings add to their spiritual aura.

But the danger of such concentrated focus on a building is that the building can become a box in which to contain or limit God. One must go to church to meet God. Sure, we may believe that God is not limited to the building, but our behavior and practice seems to limit our interaction with God to such spaces. How many of us have other places and practices for prayer, scripture reading or meditation? Do we behave as if God is with us wherever we go?

Tomorrow I will be preaching on King David’s desire to build God a temple.

The king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent” (2 Samuel 7:2).

Prior to David, God’s presence had been linked to the tent of meeting, first used by Moses and the Israelites when they wandered in the desert for 40 years.  Now at David’s request Nathan gives him his blessing to build God a house, but that night the Lord God redirects Nathan,

Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” (2 Samuel 7:4-7)

Friend Dave celebrating as he ran Twin Cities Marathon

The key phrase in the text is “whenever I have moved about among all the people of Israel.” God tells Nathan, David and us that God will not be restricted. God is on the move among us, whether we are running a marathon, buying groceries, finishing a spreadsheet or washing dishes. Is it possible to create behaviors and practices that help us recognize God’s presence in our daily lives?

Lord Jesus, thank you for the safe harbor of my church, but be my pilot as I sail out to sea each day.

Lobby Love

In our men’s Bible Study this morning we were discussing 2 Peter 1:5-7 and the characteristics that support our faith. Peter strings together a long list:

For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love.

The list moves from faith to love.  The Greek language of the New Testament had several different words for love: phileo, eros, storge, agape. In this list the last two characteristics both center on love: phileo and agape.

Phileo was a more common word for mutual affection.(Philadelphia, city of brotherly love, is named for this virtue). I imagine two friends working side-by-side to accomplish a task. An example might be offensive linemen on a football team, striving together in protect their quarterback. A strong team has a sense of phileo.

Agape was not a word used as much in Greek, prior to the New Testament. When 1 John 4:7 states “God is love,” the Greek word used is agape. C. S. Lewis in his book, The Four Loves, describes agape as Gift-love and is the unique domain of God. For God so loved that he gave, (John 3:16). The other loves (phileo, eros, storge) are Need-loves which are expressions of our human need for affection, friendship and intimacy. Lewis puts priority on agape, but sees the value in all the other loves as well.

After Bible Study I had a brief discussion with one of the men in the church lobby. He shared how he missed being at church last Sunday. I responded, “I bet you missed both what happened in there (pointing to the worship space) as well as what happen here (indicating the church lobby).” He nodded his head.

Lobby Love is not restricted to the church lobby but was a key part of our Harvest Festival

I have discovered (somewhat begrudgingly) that what draws many people into the congregation is not simply “great worship,” but also “great fellowship.” The opportunity to visit, talk, converse with friends and family after worship is as significant to them as what happens in the worship service itself. The mutual affection (phileo) is a critical part of Christian faith today. In other words, Lobby Love (phileo) can support Worship Love (agape).

This does not mean that Lobby Love can stand on its own. People would not come for the coffee fellowship alone. Church coffee is not as good as Starbucks. Good worship is a key component to good fellowship. It reminds us once again that we are God’s children, cherished by God and that reminder flows into the lobby after worship. We may not speak directly about the Bible text we read that morning, but our kindness towards one another can be a reflection of the loving kindness experienced in worship.

How vital is mutual affection to your faith and love?

Lord Jesus, guide me into deeper fellowship with my brothers and sisters

Citizens with the Saints

Eight youth and two adults from Resurrection Lutheran Church are on their way to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) National Youth Gathering in New Orleans. They will join more than 36,000 participants from across the country for five days of service, study, and worship. They will gather under the theme of Citizens with the Saints, based on Ephesians 2:14-20:

Jesus is our peace. In his life and death on the cross, Jesus broke down the dividing walls so that we are no longer strangers and outsiders, but we are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God. The foundation of God’s house was built of apostles and prophets, and Jesus, the cornerstone, holds it all together.

Like many of the participants, this will be a mile-stone for our youth. Growing up in a congregation like Resurrection, where their confirmation class is from 15-20 classmates, our youth often perceive the church as a small intimate group. Gathering with several thousand other youth will expand their vision of what the church is and can become. The Holy Spirit power of 36,000 youth singing and rocking the Superdome will energize and renew the faith of many who attend.

A couple of years ago, I attended a similar Christian gathering called Catalyst. About 10,000 young adults gathered from across the nation in a small arena in suburban Atlanta. The packed arena of singing, cheering, stomping, passionate followers of Jesus Christ made my heart sing.

I am so proud of how Hannah Koehler, our first-year youth director, has worked to make this mission trip become reality for our youth. She attended a National Youth Gathering several years ago and the experience transformed her life. She and others on the trip are writing their own blog to keep our congregation informed.

I invited you to join me in praying for all the youth in New Orleans this week as they discover their place as Citizens with the Saints.

Lord Jesus, bless, encourage and nurture all the youth who have gathered in New Orleans this week.

Work, Play and Worship

This week starts a new ministry at Resurrection called Four Square, named after the popular playground game. The four squares of the ministry are explore, play, serve and grow. The children will explore the Bible, serve various needs in the community, play games like four square, and grow in their faith and relationship. Today they actually painted a Nine-Square court in the church parking lot for all to use.

The “play” part of Four Square made me think of a comment that I explored somewhat last year. The idea is that in our American culture we confuse worship, work and play. We worship our work, work at play and play at worship. I know that I can be guilt of each attribute at times.

First we tend to worship our work. Especially men in our society can make their careers the center of their lives. Our whole identity can revolve around our careers and how successful we are within it. Careers often have a clear hierarchy of who is moving up the ladder and who is not. Though God calls us to work in God’s creation, God does not call us to place our career success at the center of our lives. I confess that I can place MY pastoral status ahead of my faithfulness to God’s mission and calling. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be yours as well” (Matthew 6:33).

Second we can work at our play. In our American culture, we can turn our leisure into a new work obsession. Whether it is fishing, hunting, golf, running, tennis, gardening, woodworking or biking, we can turn what is meant to be restful and renewing into competitive, stressful work. I know that I have at times turned my love of running into an obsession when I am training for a marathon and my whole life begins to revolved around a rigorous training schedule. I have this elusive goal of qualifying to run in the Boston Marathon someday, but my fixation can rob me of the joy of simple running. My recent use of the Phil Maffetone training method has helped me slow down and to enjoy the playful act of running.

Finally we can play at worship, or, in other words, turn worship into entertainment. We measure how effective worship is by how popular the worship service is or how people felt during the service. We get confused about the focus of worship. Worship is not about the worshippers, but about God being central to our lives.

God is not my “cosmic therapist” who makes me feel good about myself, but rather my Creator, Savior and Guide before whom I bow in wonder and adoration. God is God, ruler of the universe. True worship helps me remember and live with God at the center. “God is spirit and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).

So today, let us live with God at the center, in our work, play and worship.

Lord Jesus, remain Lord of my life in my work, play and worship.

Go In Peace?

Every week at the end of worship, I walk to the back of the worship area and after the last song I say, “Go in peace. Serve the Lord.” The congregation responds, “Thanks be to God.” I have said those words over a thousand times in a variety of settings. I believe in the power of those words, that the congregation is sent into God’s world to be God’s ambassadors of light, hope and love. I proclaim the words with enthusiasm and hope.

Last week I was at our Synod Assembly, where representatives of the 115 congregations of the Saint Paul Area Synod of the ELCA gathered to do the business of the church and to reflect together on what it means to Live Lutheran. We started with worship and at the end I heard the words again, “Go in peace. Serve the Lord.” Of course, we were going “nowhere,” but remaining at our table and chairs for the Assembly. The oddity of the phrase triggered deeper reflection on the words, especially the idea of going in peace.

Peace in the Biblical sense is wholeness or fullness. The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, means that you have everything you need to be whole in your relationship with God, neighbor and self. To “go in peace,” means the worship has filled your cup of blessing and you leave worship whole and empowered to serve.

However in our culture, peace often simply means the absence of struggle or conflict. We are often use peace for a sense of calm and almost passivity. A peaceful lake is calm and tranquil. There are times in our lives when each of us needs a place of tranquil peace.  But such peaceful waters have the danger of becoming stagnant and dead if no outflow occurs.

I wonder if the word “peace” communicates what God truly wants from us? Could it be that instead of going in “peace,” God would want us at times to go with PASSION, the fullness of God pushing us out the door to serve with passion, energy and conviction? The energy and life of a cascading river might be a better picture of what God call us to be in the world.

God’s peace is not passivity but passion.

Go with passion. Serve the Lord.

Lord Jesus, energize my soul with your power and grace to serve you and your world.

Acting Out

Yesterday I was excited as I taught the children to “leap” with praise.  In worship we read Acts 3, the story in which Peter and John healed a crippled beggar outside the temple gate and the man entered the temple with them, “walking and leaping and praising God.” The children and I enjoyed leaping up to give God’s praise. Their energy got me ready to preach.

The original healing and leaping gave Peter the opportunity to preach as well. The miracle caused such a commotion that Peter had to address the crowd to direct the crowd’s attention away from John and himself and back to Jesus Christ. He called the crowd to repent and turn to God (Acts 3:19).

This is Peter’s second sermon in the book of Acts. After the first, on the day of Pentecost, the crowd asked what they needed to do. Peter respond, “Repent and be baptized;” three thousand were baptized that day (Acts 2:38,41). Marvelous fruit for one sermon.

Peter’s second sermon had a different effect: the priest and officials of the temple arrestted them because they were proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead (Acts 4:1-2). Peter and John were “acting out” against the norms of their temple religion and had to be quieted in some way. So the leaders questioned Peter and John by whose authority they were teaching and healing. Peter, by the Holy Spirit declared to these religious officials,

Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead (Acts 2:10).

Nothing is keeping Peter from proclaiming Jesus with all boldness, even to the gang that had Jesus executed.

May we each have such boldness to proclaim Jesus Christ.

Lord Jesus, give me courage to speak your name, even to act out when needed.