What Do You Worship?

What Do You Worship?

What do you worship? Notice that I didn’t ask “if” but “what.” Webster defines worship as “homage paid to something bigger than you are.” The word “homage” means reverence. 

We live on a river, and every Sunday morning, we see boats going by containing people paying homage. The worship of salmon, pike, and perch is as far as some people go in paying homage. On our way to the church building, we see multiple cars and trucks pulling boats, most of which are headed for Lake Michigan. At the lake itself, we can see people who worship the lake by spending massive amounts of money on elaborate yachts.

For those of us who aren’t blessed with massive amounts of money to spend on material luxuries, there is still a need to be careful about what we worship. There are eight different Greek words in the New Testament used to describe worship in a negative framework. 

Doxa – Luke 14:10 – Worship to gain honor from human beings

Eusebeo – Acts 17:23 – Objects made by humans to show a person is pious.

Therapeuo – Acts 17:25 – To fulfill an ego need of God, not for our benefit.

Threskeia – Colossians 2:18 – Ceremonial use of angels, spirits, visions, etc.

Latreuo – Acts 7:42 – Astrology – Worshiping celestial objects.

Proskuneo – Matthew 2:2, 4:9, 8:2, 28:17, etc. (59 times) – “To kiss the hand forward.” Worship of the physical Jesus here on Earth.

Sebazomai – Romans 1:25 – Worship of nature or animals.

Sebomai – Matthew 15:8-9, Acts 19:27 – Preacher worship, reverence for a spiritual teacher. (See also Acts 8:9-11.)

James 1:27 and Matthew 25:31-40 describe what God wants. Worship is for our benefit, not God’s. What do you worship? The materialist is continually struggling for more until either their resources run out or death comes no matter how much they spend. Acts 2:42-27 describes the activities of the ordinary people in worship. They devoted themselves to teaching, fellowship, unity, prayer, and communion. They met daily for spiritual growth and addressed the needs of others. 

Worship brings the joy of sharing and giving and knowing that we have nothing to fear at death because a better existence awaits us. Worship is not for show or because God needs us. It is a personal time with just us and God – not angels or objects. It is a daily activity seen in what we do, not what is done to us. It is a way of life that blesses those with whom we come in contact. 

What do you worship? Worship God today and here and now. God will open doors for you to give and to bless, and life will be full of contentment. 

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Potential Problems of Prayer in Public Schools

Potential Problems of Prayer in Public Schools

As a public high school science teacher with 41 years of experience, I have watched with interest the struggle over school prayer. We recently reported on the United States government easing restrictions. At the same time, we must be cautious about potential problems of prayer in public schools.

At one time, I taught at Jackson High School in South Bend, Indiana. The school was aware that I traveled on weekends giving lectures on why I believe God exists. They decided to allow the students an opportunity to hear my presentations. There were some atheist attempts to get me fired for doing that, but they had failed. Even though I traveled on weekends, I never missed a day of school because of the lectureships. I also never brought my material into the classroom. I was hired to teach physics, chemistry, and earth science, and that is what I did. I gave my presentations during what was called “mini-courses” during the homeroom period. The students could choose to hear me in the school auditorium, or use the swimming pool, or shoot baskets in the gym, or attend a class on ballroom dancing, or play cards in the cafeteria. The school enrollment was around 1600, and we had over 1000 who came to the auditorium.

Contrast that experience with what has happened in recent years. We have mentioned cases where students received disciplinary action for mentioning their faith in graduation exercises. Coaches have been fired for kneeling in silent prayer before or after a game. All of this has prompted the Family Research Council (FRC) to draw up what they call the “Declaration of Religious Rights in Public School.” The document says that students do not lose their constitutional rights of religious freedom and free speech when they step onto school grounds. As long as it does not interrupt instructional time:

1) Students can pray, read their Bible and other religious material, and talk about their faith at school.

2) Students can organize prayer groups or religious clubs and promote the meetings.

3) Students can express their faith in classwork and homework.

4) Teachers can organize prayer groups and Bible studies with other teachers.

5) Students may be able to go off campus to have religious studies during school hours.

6) Students can express their faith at a school event.

7) Students can express their faith at their graduation ceremony.

I’m sure that the FRC had lawyers involved in preparing this, and many of their ideas are very good. But they may be an invitation to potential problems of prayer in public schools. They may not understand what goes on in a public high school like James Whitcomb Riley High School in South Bend, Indiana, where I taught in for 41 years. For example, how do you control students going off campus? Maybe their religion promotes free love and rejection of parents. Are kids allowed to go for all religious classes? If not, which ones? Is the school facility going to be used to have meetings of religious clubs, and, if so, who is responsible for what goes on? If one student expresses their faith at a school event, do you have to allow every student who has a faith of any kind to share it? These are a few of the potential problems of prayer in public schools.

Jesus made it clear that the Church is not to be a part of the state (Matthew 22:21 ). If the state is providing education in math, English, science, etc., it cannot become an arena of religious conflict. A politician can have a religious faith, but the floor of the congress is not the place to promote doctrinal principles. The public school cannot be that either.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Loving and Praying

Loving and Praying for Enemies

On Valentine’s Day, the word “love” gets overused. When people around the world are demonstrating hatred for one another, do we even understand what love is? I am reminded of two incidents that happened in 2015 that involved loving and praying.

In the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris, many people posted that they are praying for the people of France. However, an international affairs columnist for a major Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail got media attention when he tweeted that praying for the French people was both “cruel” and “selfish.” He said that “modern European values were built on the ending of religion.” He blamed the mass murders on “religion” in general. He said that “cheering on the belief system that’s causing murder” by urging people to pray was “selfish and inappropriate.” He also wrote, “I am sure the guys in there attacking are praying. To the same God, too.”

Much could be said about the statements of that columnist, but were the attackers really praying to the same God? If the God who created the Earth and the people on it wanted to kill masses of innocent people why would He need terrorists to do it? Couldn’t He destroy anyone He didn’t like? I think the terrorists must be praying to a different god. The god of destruction must be different from the God who created us. I choose to be loving and praying to the God of peace for everyone to come to know His love.

A second incident occurred that same year. After the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, the New York Daily News ran a cover story with the headline “God Isn’t Fixing This.” The story was critical of Republican presidential candidates who expressed sympathy and prayers for the people affected by the tragedy. The newspaper was taking the view that God can’t fix the problem of hatred and violence that is destroying our civilization.

So what was the solution suggested by the editors of the New York Daily News? They suggested that the solution was more laws. But we have tried laws. We have laws against murder, and we have hate-crime laws. Laws don’t get to the real problem. The problem is in the hearts of men and women, and only God can fix that. (See Romans 8:3.)

Jesus gave us the solution, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Then He told the Parable of the Good Samaritan to show that our neighbor is anyone we can help and serve. In other words, the neighborhood has no limits! Then He showed us the true extent of God’s love through the ultimate sacrifice of Himself.

Those who serve a “god” of hatred and killing as they seek to destroy anyone they don’t like or don’t agree with, are really only serving themselves. The Creator gave us life, a beautiful Earth to live out that life, and the instructions for how to live. Let’s accept God’s solution to our destructive behavior. Start by allowing Christ to change your heart and then loving and praying for others—even for your enemies. Tomorrow we will look at the New Testament words for “love.”

–Roland Earnst © 2019

Creativity, Worship, and Thankfulness

Creativity, Worship, and Thankfulness
Three the things which separate humans from our animal friends are creativity, worship, and thankfulness. Humans, created in the image of God, display that image in our own creativity. We express creativity in various artistic and productive ways. One important area of human creativity is music. Birds sing, but all individuals of any species of bird sing the same song, and they have for as long as we have known that species. They are singing the song they were programmed to sing. The only exceptions are a few birds that imitate various sounds or imitate the songs of other birds. Imitation is not creativity. Humans sing and play, many different styles of music, and we are constantly creating new songs. We even combine worship with our creativity in music as we sing to honor God. Music moves us, excites us, and touches us deeply, making it a natural outlet for worship.

Thankfulness is another area that separates us from the animals. A couple of years ago, my wife and I were leaving a sandwich shop where we ate lunch. An elderly woman with a smile on her face came up to our car window holding a sandwich. I rolled down the window to see what she wanted, and she said, “Are you the ones who paid for my sandwich?” She said the employee in the store told her that a person ahead of her had paid, so she didn’t owe anything. I told her that I was glad for her, but we were not the ones who had done this generous act. As she went away, it was evident that the small kindness had made her day, but she was disappointed that she didn’t get to thank her benefactor.

There is something about humans that makes us want to express gratitude. Our pets are loyal to us because we feed them, and they get excited when they see us open the food container. But only humans are motivated to express true gratitude. We often show thankfulness toward each other, but our greatest debt of gratitude is to God. G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “the worst moment for an atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank.” One evidence of God’s existence is that not only does He give us many good things, but He also has given us the desire and ability to say, “Thank you.”

Creativity, worship, and thankfulness are human traits. I am thankful for the creative ability God has given us. I am thankful for the ability to use that creativity in art, music, and worship. I am also thankful for the ability to express gratitude to God.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Kneeling Controversy and Freedom

Kneeling Controversy
During the U.S. football season in the fall of 2017, we have had a national kneeling controversy. It centers over whether the players have a right to kneel in protest during the national anthem. There have been enough varied opinions on this issue to fill a massive number of talk shows and ESPN commentary sessions. Many argue that “freedom of speech” is the issue, even though not a word is spoken.

This debate has ignored the right of coaches to kneel–including high school football coaches. Two years ago a Bremerton, Washington, high school coach named Joe Kennedy was fired for kneeling in prayer on the field after football games. There is no indication that players participated or were asked to participate. Kennedy appealed, and the Ninth U.S. Court of Appeals ruled against him, The court said he: “Took advantage of his position to press his particular views upon impressionable and captive minds before him.” Kennedy served 20 years in the marines, and he says, “I just want the same rights as everyone else. What applies for one should apply to every American.”

As the kneeling controversy continues, I know many middle school and high school coaches in my area who have a moment of silent prayer or meditation before a game starts. If someone objected, that would probably be forbidden also.

In a C-SPAN interview, Senator James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) said that we must “be able to determine where we are as Americans. If we are going to honor all free speech and all free exercise of religion, we need to be able to honor that universally.” We agree wholeheartedly.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Gathering to Worship

Gathering to Worship
Gathering to Worship

We get emails rather regularly from people denigrating worship. Some come from people who attend a church but “don’t get anything from going.” Others are from skeptics and atheists who describe worship as “a supreme waste of time and energy.” Both of these responses are at least in part due to a failure to understand what worship is and its purpose. The biblical concept of worship is not having an entertaining service by a skilled performer. James tells us in James 1:27 “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep himself unspotted by the world.” The purpose of worship is to help us do that and to be strengthened by our time together so that we can serve.

The Church we read about in the Bible did several things as acts of worship to equip themselves to do God’s will. Our problem seems to be that we don’t always understand how that happens. We are told to pray (Philippians 4:6; 1 Timothy 2:1; Colossians 4:2; Ephesians 6:18). Our prayers are not to inform God or to build up His ego. Prayer is vital for us to learn to focus on something beyond ourselves and to be able to petition God to help us have the strength to do what He calls us to do. We are also told that giving is an act of worship (1 Corinthians 16:2; Acts 20:35; 2 Corinthians 9:7). The giving is obviously not because God, the creator of all things, needs our money. Learning to give cheerfully is a grace that helps us learn how to get the most out of life in relationships and our attitudes. The best of love, sex, work, learning, and security comes when we learn how to give. Singing is another part of worship to help us get the best out of our relationships with each other and God. Singing is not to entertain ourselves or God but to express our joy, unity, and fellowship (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Romans 15:9; and 1 Corinthians 14:15). Our personal connection to God and to one another as we struggle with the problems of life is supported by our communion service, remembering the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16 and 11:23-28).

Worship is not to be entertained, but to participate. It isn’t to admire one another’s talents, but to be blessed with the opportunity to tap into a power beyond our own, and to learn how to live in a way that fulfills our purpose in existing. If someone is not “getting anything out of it”, the reason is that they came with the wrong expectations and for the wrong purpose. Worship is meaningless only if we do not have a relationship with God.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Illegal Prayers

Hands Of Praying
Let me give you a hypothetical situation. In Irving, Texas my daughter lived near a housing development that was bought, built, and developed by a Muslim businessman. He did not allow any non-Muslim to purchase property or build a house within the development. This man even built a mosque on the property for the use of the residents. The development is run by a group of Muslim commissioners who manage the finances and make decisions about maintenance and new construction. This group meets once a month and opens each meeting with a prayer which is led by one of the commissioners.

So far this discussion is factual, but now let us suggest the hypothetical part. Let’s suppose that one of the owners within the development converted to Christianity. He goes to a development board meeting which is opened by a Muslim who leads a Muslim prayer. The Christian is offended because it was not a Christian prayer, and so he sues, claiming that allowing the Muslim prayer is preferring one religion over another.

Now back to the factual. In an Associated Press headline dated February 16, 2017, we read “Court Says County Prayers are Illegal.” The board of commissioners of Jackson County, Michigan, begins each meeting with prayer led by one of the commissioners. All of the commissioners are Christians. One man who has been attending the meetings was offended by the prayers and filed a lawsuit. The man lost in U.S. District Court, so the case was appealed. What the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled is that “prayer invocations can be legal” but the Jackson County Board of Commissioners couldn’t just have Christian prayers. Suggesting that board members who are of one faith should lead a prayer of a different faith not only is somewhat ludicrous but would be offensive to most religions. If a Muslim ran for the board of commissioners and was elected, that person could lead a Muslim prayer. The offended man was described in one news story as a “pagan.” How would he not be offended by any prayer? Requiring that no invocation could be given would be tantamount to the government endorsing atheism. The founding fathers gave us the blessing of freedom of religion and the separation of church and state, but they never intended to turn America into an atheist state.
–John N. Clayton © 2017