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So, we’ve spent nine weeks looking in some depth at the subject of worship, and what have we learnt?

  • Worship is more than what we do on a Sunday morning: it’s about our whole life, seven days a week.
  • Worship from the very earliest days included singing and musical instruments.
  • God is present with us at all times, but he wants to be with us in a special way in our worship, because he wants us to be transformed by the power of the Spirit as we engage in worship.
  • Music engages our hearts and our emotions, but we were reminded of the dangers of simply being so swept away by great music in worship that we focus on the worship itself rather than on the Lord who should be the focus of our worship.
  • Then we learnt that, if we are to be completely surrendered to God in worship, we can also use our bodies in worship – by kneeling, by raising our arms, sometimes even by clapping and dancing.

One of the greatest plays in the English language is Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Early in the play, Hamlet’s friend, Laertes, is about to leave home to go away to study, and his father, Polonius, delivers a long speech in which he gives his son some wise advice on how to live. Parts of his speech are often mistaken by people as coming from the Bible, because they sound like Biblical wisdom, and the speech ends with these lines:

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

If it doesn’t sound too heretical, Shakespeare can sometimes be every bit as wise as the Bible. One of the characteristics which Jesus is particularly condemning of is hypocrisy; what he wants above everything of you and me is honesty, integrity, authenticity. That’s what Shakespeare meant about being true to yourself: he wants us to be authentic worshippers…and Romans 12 is a fantastic guide to Christ-like living.

Paul begins by encouraging us to present ourselves as living sacrifices which is our reasonable worship. If Jesus has sacrificed himself for you and me, than how can we do any less than surrendering ourselves wholly to him. The rest of the chapter unpacks what this surrender should look like.

  • Renewed minds

Have you ever asked God for guidance over something and you’ve heard absolutely nothing from him? Well, let me tell you what God is saying to you in that frustrating silence: “Because you’ve chosen to follow me and want to do my will, I’ve renewed your mind through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, so use that mind which I’ve given you and make your own decisions! Make your own mind up and I’ll bless your choices.” That was my experience when I went to theological college. (I know some of you already know this story) Margaret and I had visited two colleges, we’d been offered places at both, so we just asked God to show us which one to go to. He didn’t! We had to make up our own minds, and we know that God blessed the decision we eventually made. We should not expect God to give us some direct answers to every decision we have to make; sometimes we need to just get on and use our renewed minds.

  • Mutual respect

You may remember how unhappy Paul was with the factions which had developed in the church at Corinth: I’m a follower of Paul, I’m a follower of Apollos, I’m the super-spiritual one because I’m the follower of Christ! It’s incredibly easy for a local church to breed factions where those with a different point of view from you are seen as somehow not quite so spiritual, or even just plain wrong. Christians have rejected other Christians over doctrinal issues, such as whether you should or shouldn’t baptise babies; over ecclesiological issues (that’s church practice) such as where a minister should stand when he’s celebrating communion; and, especially in recent years, on socio-cultural issues, such as LGBT relationships. Riverside is quite an umbrella church with a wide range of differing views on a range of issues, and we may disagree profoundly with each other sometimes, but we’re called on to respect each other. You and I are going to be in heaven together one day, so if we’re going to be together for eternity, it’d be good to show respect for each other for the few years that we’re together down here.

  • Exercising gifts

When I was teaching, one of the requirements of every school was that we made sure that we catered properly for students who were described as gifted and talented: they were estimated to be the top 10% or so of the students. Church is different! Every one of us without exception is gifted: God has equipped every one of us to serve him in some way or another, whether it’s working with young people in Junior Church or the Brigades, reading the Bible or leading prayers, visiting the sick, making coffee, preaching, singing and playing music, cleaning the church, manning the Toy Library and Time for Tots, serving in the café, putting up new light bulbs, welcoming people when they arrive, praying at home, leading a home group, and a dozen other services which I’ve probably forgotten to mention. What matters to God is not whether you have a better gift, because there’s no such thing. What matters is that we exercise the gifts which God has given us to the best of our ability.

  • Genuine love

That special word, agape, which is used for love in the NT, is not about an emotion, it’s about love in action. It’s the love which Jesus had for us in dying on the cross for us. We don’t have to like one another, but we are expected to love one another, which is about doing the loving thing for people when they’re in need.

  • Spirit-filled enthusiasm

A few years ago now, someone from our congregation, who’s since left, came up to me and told me she had a word for me from the Lord: it was simply, “Curb your enthusiasm.” It’s always a bit worrying when someone has a word for you from the Lord, especially when you haven’t a clue what they’re talking about! Was she encouraging me to go and watch the TV comedy show called “Curb your Enthusiasm”, which was all about a guy who got into all sorts of scrapes because he wasn’t very good in social situations and was always putting his foot in it? That’s certainly been me at times in the past! Or was I being too enthusiastic in my preaching? Well, I’ve never been someone who’s preacherly, who waves his arms around, shouts all the time, and stomps around whilst preaching. Several years on, I’m still at a loss to know what the Lord was supposed to be telling me. Of one thing I’m sure, from our passage this morning: God wants us to be enthusiastic about our faith. We should be enthusiastic to see people coming to faith in Jesus; we should be enthusiastic to grow in our discipleship; we should be enthusiastic to come and worship a God who loves us and has adopted us as his children. How can we not be enthusiastic about such a great God?

  • Generous giving

The Bible tells us that God loves a cheerful giver: the word for cheerful is hilariosfrom where we get the word hilarious! Giving isn’t just about money, though sometimes God calls us to dig deep into our pockets; but it’s also about giving of our time and our gifts – and I don’t just mean in church. I think church leaders can sometimes be responsible for heaping guilt on people because they’re not doing enough for church. If worship is a 24/7 thing, then what you do to serve your neighbours, your family, your work colleagues, may be far more important than giving more time to church activities.

  • Sympathetic caring

When we look at the world around us today and we see the millions of people who have been displaced from their homes by war, the hundreds of parentless children just across the Channel at Calais, the hundreds dying every day from suicide bombings, the tens of thousands who have been trafficked in this country alone into all sorts of slavery, the growing numbers of homeless on our streets and the hundreds of thousands having to use food banks because of poverty, most of us are incredibly blessed. If you follow all this on our daily news bulletins, you may well be like me and find yourself suffering from what’s now called compassion fatigue: the needs of the world are just too big for me to be able to do anything. I’m reminded of a children’s chorus I used to sing that included the line, “You in your small corner and I in mine.” Mother Theresa used to talk about how an ocean was made up on lots of individual drops of water, and every little individual bit of caring contributes to healing our world. We may not be able to change the dreadful situation for the people of Aleppo, but you might be able to lend a listening ear to the person sitting next to you who just needs someone to talk to; you might be able to provide a welcoming smile and a bag of food or clothes for one of the refugee families who might arrive in Sleaford.

  • Peaceful living

We’re called to do all we can to live at peace with all people. Irrespective of how you voted in the EU referendum, as Christians we should all be concerned at the rise in hateful racist attacks on black and minority ethnic groups in our country. We’ve even seen it here in Sleaford, where a mum with her young daughter were told to go back to where they came from because they weren’t wanted in our country. Peace is part of the fruit of the Spirit, and in Isaiah’s prophecy Jesus was called the Prince of Peace. We should be at peace with one another, we should promote peace in our communities, and we should be those who stand for peace in the world. In fact, in the afternoon of 18thSeptember, which is Peacemaking Sunday, we, along we hope with other churches and faith communities in Sleaford, are holding a stand for peace in the Market Place, and we hope that lots of us will join that gathering to identify with all who want to see peace in this troubled world.

What a challenging chapter Romans 12 has been. But to bring you back to the opening verse, Paul says that presenting ourselves as living sacrifices is our reasonable worship. In other words, there is nothing exceptional about renewed minds, mutual respect, exercising gifts, genuine love, spirit-filled enthusiasm, generous giving, sympathetic caring and peaceful living. May these reasonable demands on us as Christians be a template for us as we seek to live out authentic worshipping lives for God.

  • 2 Corinthians 10:17-18

    “But, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.”

Wed Aug 17, 12:00 -
Wednesday House group
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