Monday, May 29, 2006

a stranger in court

verily i say unto you...

if exclusion is anti-love then hell is the most exclusive club in town.

it is the nightclub with all the lights and none of the warmth of human conversation- a place where everyone is waiting for someone else more interesting to arrive.

it is being utterly alone in a cold crowd and unable to leave, yet aware of a really great house party just across the street

to what degree does the house of God feel like this to the stranger seeking the taste of hope and the sound of love?


you know what i find interesting?
this began as a leftover on another blog- a short metaphor about hell with one little line of question at the end for the institutional church- and turned into something else in the comment box.

In the end though, the ball falls in both courts...people need to walk into a church and not have an invisible "bar" which all churches are expected to meet. they also need to know that things don't happen overnight. -cinder

okay, this was about hell first, BUT if we are going to see the last line as the point, then let's deal with this idyllic 'stranger' at face value...

the stranger at the end is seeking the taste of hope and the sound of love... one earnestly seeking these things has already come to the net in the 'both courts' analogy and is standing with a hand outstretched, not realizing that we shake hands at the end of a game.

this person is new and doesn't know the rules. this person has come more to hook up with some new people, learn a new game and develop some new aspects of his or her character than to actually win anything. here he or she stands looking and feeling a bit socially awkward, and wondering why the people with whom he or she has come to play are always standing outside the court, poised and ready for a serve instead of coming to the net to greet.

honestly? the fact that the newcomer has even found our little tennis club is a pretty amazing thing, considering all the opposition that has been leveled against him or her from everyone in the spiritual realm who sees even the investigation of a tennis match as a threat.

okay, enough analogizing... i'm getting bogged down and i think i have something to say.

we are sometimes guilty of expecting everyone to know everything about this weird environment called 'church' before they get there. it is very unnatural for people to go to a place in order to investigate an ideology or a theology or a whateverology... especially in canada where we have this fear and mistrust of institutions in general and authority figures in particular. introduce an institution like church with its sovereign authority figure (and all the noisy little subordinate ones like me) into the ongoing life-dialogue of a canadian and then see how ready that canadian is to go to a meeting. as cinder was stating, different people do come bringing with them different experiences which inform everything that happens next, colour everything they perceive and prompt their every action.

so this is where the current rhetoric of the 'go-to church' versus the 'come-to church' links up with our social reality. the church needs to go to the people, not expect the people to come to it. (i think that societyVs has said this once or twice in his social gospel of justice and active love, yeah?) the people of the church need to recognize that if their meetings are the only thing that they do on planet earth then they might be falling a little short of the great commission- no matter how high quality their meetings are.

our church is learning this- she is taking a long time because there were a couple decades under a number of different leaders where the status quo was to just flip the switch on the holy tractor beam and suck the seekers into her midst, but she is indeed learning. she is mobilizing. she is initiating. she is engaging. there is hope for her.

but any canadian who comes in the door has already gotten up, chosen clothes, rearranged sunday breakfast/brunch habits, in some cases battled family before during and after battling traffic lights and the clock which brings them ever closer to the eleventh hour (or whatever- you pick the time), found parking and made their way up the steps and through that door... in the face of, along with everything else, the canadian ethos.

they've already come a long way to meet in the middle.

so to what degree, after all that, does the church feel like "the nightclub with all the lights and none of the warmth of human conversation- a place where everyone is waiting for someone else more interesting to arrive"?

that's the ache i feel. just as societyVs was saying in his comments, i pray that when someone does get here that they will actually want to become part of this fellowship. i pray that, having overcome all of that (not to mention countless other spiritual and psychological missiles launched in the spiritual realm) in order to get to a building marked for the purpose of glorifying God, that the meal at the end of the journey and the laughter and warmth around the table reflect God's love and welcome for that person in every way.

but with all this thought about how to get people to come to the church, i am constantly trying to dream up meaningful ways to leave it.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

cracking codes?

"Some of these clowns even seem to misrepresent scripture and take it way out of whack..." (societyVs)

yep, one of the main reasons why many people choose to disbelieve is because it's just too hard to buy into what some are selling as a Word from God.

kinda like driving in a blizzard- it's a whiteout and you nearly hit the ditch on your right, so you crank the wheel and head over to the ditch on the left. it's keeping it between the lines that keeps you alive and moving ever closer to the end of the journey, yeah?

recently i was sitting in a bible class being held at our church on correct interpretation of scripture- ie: equipping people to not only NOT misinterpret what scripture is saying in their own personal quiet time with God, but also providing them with some tools to discern just what is scriptural and what is a load of self-driven personal hooey.

our teacher is a seminary professor giving us a heckuva deal on some awesome bible-school teaching just because he wants the church to be able to read the bible 'for all its worth.'

(the name of the textbook for the course

so anyway, to illustrate a point about wrongly interpreted conclusions, we turned to the book of nahum and then watched a video clip...

nahum 2.4 says "The chariots storm through the streets, rushing back and forth through the squares. They look like flaming torches; they dart about like lightning."

well, this guy on tv proceeded to enthusiastically explain how the prophet writing this passage is really foretelling fast'n'furious-type streetracing in the final days, rather than the sacking of the city of nineveh some eighty years later...

it appears as though scripture can be much like statistics: you can use it to say just about anything if you have the imagination to do so. the classic approach of proof-texting (coming up with an idea and then finding scriptures to be taken out of context in order to validate the idea, while ignoring others that contradict) is a great example of how scripture gets misused regularly by well-intentioned people. often, like in the passage cited above from nahum, people focus on some connections while completely disregarding other contradictory ones that exist. one thing that scripture doesn't do is contradict itself in the bigger picture. the contradictions we find therein usually have more to do with us than with scripture- with our read on it rather than what we're actually reading in it...

the correct handling of scripture is a sacred task to which we are all called in our discipleship. however, those charged by God with teaching or preaching ministries have even greater responsibility there because they are using scripture to lead others onward. taking this responsibility seriously allows our stories of God to be more than simply theological gossip.

okay, i can't take it anymore- i have to mention da vinci code (don't worry, only briefly, and as an example of what i'm talking about). take the whole grail/chalice theory...

for me, it's important to remember that the grail/chalice theory is a theory... and not a particularly theological one at that. it has more to do with conspiracy, paranoia and politics than with God.

am i saying that this theory is 'a load of self-driven personal hooey'?
nope. not qualified to make that call.

lee strobel and gary poole have written a book called exploring the da vinci code... i'm not saying this is the only book to read on the theories put forth in the recent novel and even more recent film- i haven't read it... i'm just saying that, among the plethora of reactive books having been written on this topic, the strobel/poole book promises to be responsive by virtue of its authors. strobel has brought us strong and balanced reads like a case for Christ; a case for the creator and a case for faith)

i'm saying that we need to be regularly studying and sorting through God's word so that we know what is actually in scripture and what these scriptures tell us about God himself.

in attempting to develop one's own personal theology, it's important to be active without necessarily being activistic- to remember that personal theology is personal... there's a good one to shoot for. we don't need to march around with placards proclaiming for all and sundry that we are militant, underthinking, over-reacting ethnocentrics with an agenda of conquest. we have to come to a decision for ourselves, sorting out what is figurative and what is literal and how these passages studied are set against the larger whole of scripture and history.

let's dig into the theories about God that are all around us and use scripture in order to seek the truth about God in this or that context. let's identify what about any theory impacts our faith, and be willing to thoughtfully consider the ideas of others in the light of scripture. in doing so, let's be both willing to consider scripture in such a way that it can still be the revealed word of God (even if this means changing one's traditional and time-honoured interpretation of a passage) and also intentional about discerning from the original context, genre and apparent intent of the scriptures being set forth as evidence, whether a theory is biblical or merely fanciful.

here's an example. i know i've told this story before- perhaps you've even read it on this blog- i don't remember... all apologies. anyway, during my educational internship, we decided to hold a creation/evolution debate with eighth grade students. notes went home to be signed and off we went. sadly, the creationists used only the bible in their research, while the evolutionists used the whole library. at the end of the debate, we had an anthropologist and a lutheran minister come in on two separate days to share their perspectives with the kids.

the minister began his comments by saying 'i think you've been reading this book (bible) wrong- remember, it was never written to be treated like a science textbook. it was not written to tell us what happened, but who did it." yada yada yada

the anthropologist came the next day (it was early december- blizzard season) and said 'i think you need to rethink the role of science. if you are driving a car in a blizzard and it breaks down, you can pray if you like, but it probably won't make the car start- use science for that. however, if you are looking for the meaning of life in that moment, science has no wisdom to offer.' yada yada yada

making sense of this physical experience called life on fallen planet earth has largely to do with viewing things through the right lenses. once we've figured out what we believe then we can shine that light into the everyday context of our relationships because there are probably people all around us who are seeking the truth and hoping that we'll help them find it.

i'm to be a candle shining in their darkest night
not a blinding flash of light

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

lest ye be

"It is too easy to judge people anyways, were idiot humans that know less then we think yet percieve to have all the answers because some book said so." (SocietyVs)

yes- to presume to have arrived is to make plain how great the distance yet to travel. my gosh, i hate it when i sound like a fortune cookie!

what i mean by all that drivel is simply that i agree... especially with the 'too easy' part. nobody's got it all together.

a friend of mine and i were talking recently about whether the difference between judgement and condemnation is simply semantics... you see, we are all reminded again and again from others that we mustn't be quick to judge- however, these statements usually come from people who are busy judging pastors and the like as being too judgemental. i grow frustrated with this whole reverse bigotry thing that leaps to the conclusion that, by trying to understand the behaviours of another in order to help them move ahead in their faith journey, a pastor is sitting in judgement over a parishioner. it's more a case of trying to walk alongside someone, offering some coaching.

in my view, judgement is being able to weigh facts justly and make a decision towards a resulting plan of action. our judgement should be a good thing, an endowment.

what qualifications must a judge in a court of law have? i don't know, but i imagine that, apart from very specific credentialling, things like extensive personal legal experience, a keen understanding of the laws of the land and an awareness of precident all have to be part of the deal. there is, however, one more thing: wise decisiveness. the ability to use all of the information available in order to set out a plan which, through due process, intentionally brings justice back into balance.

i'm not talking about corruption and i'm not talking about abuse of an office- we know those things happen and we know that they are wrong. i'm just acknowledging that in our culture, where the judicial process is still somewhat respected, the judges are not typically suspect- it's the lawyers that often bear the burden of our mistrust, largely because of our huge need for them, and the suspician that arises out of needing someone and having to place our faith and our cash in their integrity as they interact within a system that we find completely alienating due to its jargon and rhetoric alone, much less its power to which we are subject... (but that's a whole nother blog.)

where it breaks down for people is in confusing judgement with condemnation. i think that when we flippantly quote the bible to each other 'judge not, lest ye be judged' we need to be very clear as to what we are really saying and to ensure that we are not implying the condemnation of others. most of the time, when people remind us of how we are not to judge another, they are speaking about the importance of not condemning... sadly, they are often doing simply that to those whom they presume to admonish- defaulting in their suspician to the notion that anyone who uses their endowment of God-given judgement does so in order to condemn others and move ahead in some line.

the easy condemnation call is a dangerous default that hurts people who are just trying to live their lives, attending to the needs made evident to them. perhaps it would help if we spoke of active discernment (in the non spiritual-gift sense) and the importance of applying that discernment in those moments where we are tempted to condemn another.

have i been hurt by this default of suspicion?
maybe once or twice- does it show?

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

left, left, left right left

we were talking about this whole holy-militia approach to social issues. a good question came up:

are believers supposed to march or simply stand?

i mean, you can have your own stand on a social issue without marching around trying to spiritually bully people.

next up for incineration- the harry potter series... but narnia is fine.
and we can only drink milk from a christian cow.

onward christian soldiers
marching as to war
with the cross of Jesus
going on before...

i know that the brown shirt variety of believers make it very hard to even briefly consider that the God they serve may be valid, however they are hard right minority and like their islamic counterparts the al qaeda network, they don't speak for us all... they just think they do.

matt7.21-23 comes to mind... it's better to let God do the judging.

but everywhere we look, it becomes apparent that people are getting really tired of a bad-news gospel. take my friend fredcall... please! (jokes)

if i remember correctly, the conversational thread that led to fred's story about his younger brother began when he sent me a note that had been written proudly by a mother whose elementary school-age child had torn nearly the entire book of leviticus out of a bible because of basic justice issues arising from a literal misinterpretation of the scriptures.

i made a remark about this jefferson bible maneouver being simply an anti-religious expression of the same mindset that has books like catcher in the rye and huckleberry finn removed from schools and burned.

and, well, off we went, exploring together the differences between theology and ideology.

Ideology and spirituality are not one and the same. Unfortunately what is passing for fundamentalism (Christian, Judaic, Islamic, Scientologists and Moonies for example) are basing their beliefs on ideology, not spirituality...

Theosophically (or philosophically or politically or scientifically or whaterver) understanding what you are talking about goes a long way toward something along the spiritual line of tackling life's situations. Manchurian Candidate ideology is far short of anything I look upon as spirituality. If you (figuratively you) are marching to war, do you understand why you are marching to war, or are you wound up by an invisible hand- turned key. -fredcall

if i read his attitude towards most things correctly, he is interested in people's ability to sort things out for themselves rather than the simple adoption of a company line with regard to topics of ultimate importance. although fred's approach is confrontational and mildly unorthodox, his quest is the pursuit of enlightenment- not only for himself but for others- and it is fueled by, among other things, love and frustration.

love for his younger brother (which could be pretty much anyone who has been drawn into a faith that has robbed him or her of the capacity for reason amidst the faith) and frustration with empty words and pat answers in an increasingly complicated world.

One time I playfully asked my kid brother what he thought about Free Will versus Determinism (as bandied about by Dante and Milton and lots of others). My kid brother got this far away look in his eyes before saying, "Let me think about this before I answer." To which I said, "Sure, take your time." He went back to his (church) Elders with my question and they told him point blank rote what to say to me. He came back with some kind of response that were not his words. He didn't even understand what he was saying. He had memorized what he was told to reply without the foggiest clue what it all theosophically meant.

I had to bite my tongue cause he's my little brother and it's not my place to embarrass him in front of his fundamentalist friends. I just nodded and left the discussion at that having learned a lesson that I can't engage this (church) ideological bunch in a theosophical discussion.

well, now that is one heckuva playful discussion topic.
yeah, let's keep it nice and light and then we'll go wrestle in the backyard!

yet so much of our take on what's happening with regard to the big questions (and, might i also say, others' big answers) has to do with how we've managed to sort through this one in order to sleep at night.

in the last month, not prompted by anything circumstancial or situational or relational, I have been reading job. interesting book- especially as we read behind the dialogue that takes place between job and his friends. I really believe that these friends love him and that they are sincere, but their theology continues to take them around the horn to one particular notion: job has done evil and is refusing to acknowledge it.

we, the readers, have a pretty nice little role in the story: do nothing and learn all there is to learn vicariously. we read job's words to his friends and feel his frustration. we read his friends' words and hear the conventional, cause-and-effect wisdom. yet we have the luxury of knowing before the whole thing starts that God is in charge and job is, in fact, righteous. the discrepancies and the real spiritual danger for job lie in the fact that these dear friends are being used to cause job to doubt himself, his heart and his life, considering the possible integrity questions that are inherent in the statements that these guys make in order to defend himself against them. when they could be bringing strength, they are instead bringing doubt.

the book of job is a pretty good example that this kind of discussion has been going on for as long as people have been trying to sort out why so many bad things happen to good people in a world created and overseen/manipulated (big fork in the road right here) by a God who is supposed to be sovereign.

but will one man's answer ever really satisfy the longings of another man's soul? hmm.

i was thinking about an interesting quote by brian d mclaren from his book finding faith and decided to try to google it in order to cite his words correctly. i ended up at the site of a blogger whose online handle is based upon the same quote by cs lewis as my own... (
well anyway, whether by free will, determinism or just a goofy coincidence, this guy has a post dealing with the emergent church... citing and acquiescing with, in particular, one guy's (a certain tim challies) misgivings with mclaren's take on the emergent church in the postmodern world:

The faith McLaren commends is a faith that always questions, always doubts. It seems that the only faith McLaren hates is the faith of a person who knows what he believes and is convicted by Scripture and by plain reason that what God has revealed is truth--true truth. As others have observed, the real enemy of the Emerging Church is conservative, biblical Protestantism.

well, regardless of challies' feelings about brother brian, the description cited is exactly what makes the work of mclaren resonnate with me. since when is questioning wrong? although Jesus likened people to sheep, i don't think that he intended for us to adopt the orwellian animal farm sheep's characteristic blind, unthinking ascent. Jesus also said that we are to have the faith of a child and, as you know, little children ask a million questions a day because it is in seeking answers to questions that people grow. if there's any point at all to this, it is that our asking of questions is as crucial to our brother's journey as it is to our own.

a friend of mine is a successful financial planner who was once a seminarian and decided that he just had too many questions of God to continue. well, whether he missed some sort of calling or not is between him and God, as he seems to be doing quite well managing other people's fortunes for fun and profit. i like going out for a guinness with him because the conversation is always engaging and always challenging.

i once said to him that if he were to ever meet someone who could ask him questions that stretched him and ripped conversational remote control from his hands long enough for him to begin searching for the answers, his faith journey might resume. you see, he knows that no one can respond to his questions with answers that satisfy his reason, so he does not have to change or grow.

i think that the primary factor at work in the heart and life of the 'questioning faithful' is that person's desire to actually discover the answers to the questions posed. sometimes we just ask questions to make points. who has time for all that rhetoric?

as for all this marching, standing, and burning things, there is nothing wrong with being activistic. however, sometimes we can be so convinced that we are the only ones who are right that everyone left is a liberal or heretic. the important spiritual, not ideological, discernment helps us to determine whether to march or to stand still to listen to the message on the wind. (yep, that's a fredcall soundbyte)

how much love is there in calling anyone an anything?

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Monday, May 08, 2006

i see dead people

ethnocentricity... the self-medicated attitude or philosophical position of being members of the only party that knows the way everything is supposed to be done. group arrogance.

well we certainly get tagged with this one from time to time... especially we pastor types

in the 70's and into the 80's there was a christian band called daniel amos that epitomized the phrase mainstream alternative for a bunch of us christian kids who were looking for something artistic and Christ honouring (at the time it was basically an either-or scenario... if you wanted to be 'spiritual' then you pretty much had to check your aesthetics at the door). originating at calvary chapel under the spiritual toutelage of rev. chuck smith- but don't hold that against them- this band started as an eagles-esque cowboy band, moving through three or four creative stages in as many albums, hitting some really satisfying homages to their influences (beatles, bowie, electric light orchestra,b52's and talking heads a'la eno) along the way. (

there was a song on volume 1 of the alarma chronicles that addressed the whole worship ethos and its inherent ethnocentricity from a satirical, new wave point of view
(note: i've focused on the content aspects of the lyrics, and have cut out the stuff that only works on record...)

you might not recognize, the truth gets colored by
wrong things, bad things do disguise
afraid you might despise the real thing
the real thing...

down in southern cal we don't wear shoes
we lay it way back
when someone with charisma tells me "don't wear shoes"
i tell them "go back- where did you get that?"

down in africa they beat the drum
they like the big beat
white man through the p.a. says "don't beat that drum"
they tell him "go back- where does it say that?"
the real thing...

down at the little church they all wear hats
they feel they're doing right
over at the big church they hate those hats
it get's them uptight- now is that right?

you might not recognize, the truth gets colored by
wrong things, bad things do disguise
afraid you might despise the real thing
the real thing...

-terry taylor

the whole worship style discussion is so totally old that, about halfway through its history, even Jesus got into it. remember the whole whip-wielding 'house of prayer/ den of thieves' (citing isa56.7/jer7.11 in matt21.13) thing? what was it really about- making money off of the poor or turning tennets of worship into something to be done for fun and profit? i think that it was the latter.

the poor were being exploited by everyone before, during, and after Jesus walked the earth. Jesus even spoke to the disciples about it at bethany (in matt26.11 and mark14.7) it's not that he didn't have a heart for the poor- his acts of mercy (healings, feedings, fellowship and the like) are examples of this heart for social justice. however, Jesus also didn't go through the temple with a bullwhip on behalf of the poor who could not afford the extortionate prices of sacrificial animals or the over-the-top exchange rates... he tore the place apart on behalf of Holiness because the temple was meant to be a place of worship and communion with almighty God according to scripture, and the temple officials who had seen an opportunity to turn something that was to be about God into something that directly benefitted them had carpe diemed their way to the bank. Jesus' anger burned because they were stealing from God, not from each other.

scripture records some pretty powerful examples of similar attitudes and actions in the name of piety... it's usually messy. (1sam2-4; acts5) it seems that embezzling from God is a pretty serious deal. why? because in this thievery we see satan's agenda clearly. anytime someone slips some of God's glory into his or her own back pocket, satan's lurking around there somewhere.

okay, so here's where i'm going: is our self-centred flippancy towards the things of God within our contemporary worship experience so great that we die over it? perhaps not to the point that we are actually aware of it, but is awareness definitive? do we have conditions placed upon us that exist before we are aware of them? think of the incubation period of a disease or virus, dormant or remissed cancer cells, arterial blockages not yet diagnosed.

remember the bruce willis film 6th sense, or a close celluloid relative called the others starring nicole kiddman? in both films, people are carrying on life as usual and we only discover through a couple of fun little twists that actually they've been dead the whole time and didn't know it. there is a form of reverse dramatic irony here, which my son and i refer to as a shyamalon twist (after the acclaimed young director of 6th sense, unbreakable, signs and the village) where the audience joins the principal characters in not knowing the crucial piece of truth around which the whole story is wound until a revelation in the final reel.

well what if we are all struck spiritually dead the moment we embezzle from God and, because we don't experience a lightning bolt from on high or something, we think that we're fine?

it is conceivable. in genesis 3 (yep, i'm back there again) the snake whispers that eve won't die if she samples some rebellion. whatever her inference or understanding of death (after all, literal interpretation of the scriptures holds that nothing had died yet) she tastes, looks around to see if anything has changed and then, seeing that she is fine, kills her life's partner too. no worries- he doesn't know it either.

but in that instant the physical and the metaphysical are rent apart. physical bodies begin to die and perspectives begin to cloud. it is now only a matter of time until the body catches up to what the soul is already experiencing and dies too. from that moment on, death becomes part of worship and sacrifices are offered, that the purity of the perfect animal can be exchanged before God for the sin of the one offering the animal- bringing new spiritual life and a fresh new day for the sinner.

Jesus railed in the temple because these religious capitalists were dead people making the very house of God an abomination in the eyes of both God and man. they were taking something that God had set up to ford the gap between the holy and the common and were turning it into something that would repel anyone who had not been raised in that tradition. it's like everyone knew they were dead except them- everyone knew that this place was no more the house of God than the public baths were a place to get cleaned up.
the romans knew it.
the greeks knew it.
the homosexuals knew it.
the prostitutes knew it.
the addicts knew it.
the lepers knew it.
even the blind who begged at the city gates could see with their sightless eyes what the ethnocentrically religious could not... that their so-called worship was an embarrassment to everyone and everything holy because it was all about themselves.

the same is often said of the church today. the hypocrisy evident in the body of Christ is still the most cited reason for achristians to remain that way. in a recent study published over easter in our local paper, i read how only 17% of canadians interviewed in the week prior to holy week admitted to regularly attending church, but that 62% agreed with the statement "through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God provided a way for the forgiveness of sins." why the numerical discrepency? it appears as though the majority of canadian people still believe in the God, but have trouble believing in the value of a corporate worship experience. are we a nation of beer-drinking mystics, or do we just tend to mistrust other people... particularly when they are part of something institutional? whatever the reason for it, the discrepency between those believing and those joining with others who believe is one with powerful implications upon both the unity of the body of Christ and the potential impact of this body upon the darkened world to which it has been trusted to bring the light of the gospel.

however, this is nothing new. we all know this.

as part of the comment box that spawned this post, curious servant made a typically poignant and poetic observation:

Today, on this spinning ball of dirt, there are a lot of folks who worship our Lord, pray to our Lord, tell stories of our faith, in many different ways. We have Korean churches, and Catholics, and messianic Jews, and the 1,001 other approaches... In the past there was the early church, the medieval churches, the Renaissance, the modern age, the post modern era... and someday we will all share a single reality together. Heaven will be diverse.

So, if we are uncomfortable with some folks speaking in tongues, and others singing very serious, dirge-like hymns, what will happen in our hearts and minds when we are mixed together in one huge congregation?

Are we ready for it?

good question. i think that it is one that believers in Christ need to sort out for themselves. for me the answer has been found in a prayer and personal worship discipline. you see, when i wasn't listening to daniel amos, i was learning how to worship with the recordings of john michael talbot. (

a song that i use regularly as a prayer a quarter-century later, particularly in times when i am tempted to ethnocentrically judge and therefore embezzle, is one of his:

create in me a clean heart o God
let me be like you in all my ways
give me your strength
teach me your song
shelter me in the shadow of your wings
for we are your righteousness
if we've died to ourselves and live through your death
then we shall be born again to be blessed in your love

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

the cut of one's ephod

we all go through periods where we ask the heavy questions. who we ask and how we ask often determines the kind of response we receive, as well as whether the response is a satisfying one. people are emotional beings and often the emotions of a moment add so much colour to the events taking place that we start to lose track of what we are really about as people. i received this email from a friend who has a longer story than there is room (even on this long-winded blog) to tell.

short version? he felt disaffirmed when he was spoken to one day by the lead pastor about the importance of considering time and place when exploring worship expressions- being challenged to ask whether this demonstration is impactive or distractive in bringing the larger group closer to God. although he felt like he was being censored, he was, in fact, being invited to take greater responsibility for his role as one of the worship leaders within the assembly.

we are all worship leaders to some degree. our active or passive pursuit of the sense of God's presence affects everyone around us in some way. this is why it is important to understand the differences between corporate and private worship expressions. whether our heart is in the right place or not, the cut of our ephod can be a distraction to others and we need to prayerfully consider them as well, for corporate worship is done together with, not in spite of those around us...

"I can sing praises to my God any way I want. I can't sing praises to your
God any way I want. (My wife) and I do not want to be part of a church that
worships a God like that.
Christ Rules (and likes my style of singing!)"

paul addresses some public worship issues in 1 corinthians 12 and 14... here's the first bit of scripture- it is general and deals with the importance of unity and diversity as directed by the Holy Spirit, who presides over all worship expressions and gift employment:

(I corinthians 12.4-27)
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

the second passage is more directly related to worship expressions. it follows a 25 verse discussion of the importance of speaking words of prophesy and tongues in the right ways for the right reasons:

(I corinthians 14.26-33)
What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.
Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.

(friend) the reason i am sending these scriptures to you for your consideration is that i think that you may be misunderstanding (our pastor's) words to you about singing in church.

no one is telling you how to sing or how not to sing- in fact, i remember a conversation in my office last year where i had just written a song and you showed me how you would sing it... then you said 'but i know that that is probably not the right thing for a morning service.' you have a good sense of humour, and you made a joke about people running for the doors, which caused us both to laugh together.

i am not sure why you feel differently now. there is nothing wrong with being able to identify the right time and place for something. it's called discernment, and it's totally important today just as it was in paul's day. the passage in 1 corinthians 14.26-32 echoes this, maintaining that the purpose of our worship times together is to be the strengthening of God's people (for the spiritual battle that awaits them the other 6 days of the week?)

the passage here deals most specifically with the gifts of tongues and prophesy. i don't go around telling people this, but so that you may understand my heart and the ideas i am trying to communicate here, i need to speak from my own experience... the Holy Spirit gave me such a prayer language to be used for his glorification. the holy tongue that the Spirit blessed me with has in it words which i have never uttered in the open hearing of other people, believers or otherwise. it is a holy thing.

although it is clearly a gift of God that i could have never just conjured up on my own, and although there are times when i am tempted (yes- it's the perfect word, for the temptation comes from hell to use a blessing of God to be a distraction to the body) to utter these words while worship leading, or while praying at the microphone, i choose to remain silent in this way at those times, speaking only words in english within the hearing of the people.

the decision is mine, as a man who loves God, concerning what to do with the gifts that he has entrusted me with. i do not believe that my prayer language would be taken away, were i to use it carelessly, but it would confuse the people in the church. i don't want to do that. when we come together to worship, i want to worship with my friends, not in spite of them... every time i step up to the microphone, there is temptation and there is decision.

(friend), i love you, man- you know that. but saying "i can sing praises to my God any way i want" and speaking of God as being a different person for you than he is for your friends at (our church) is not biblical.

satan wants to steal God's glory away by trying to pollute your heart with regard to worship- don't let him. satan would love for you to 'behave' and be angry about it. he would love for you to put your own preferences first, in spite of the people who might be distracted by that in a small room like the sanctuary on a sunday morning. he doesn't really care whether you are loud or silent... he just wants it to be about you. he wants you to be haughty. he knows that will deflect the glory away from God, and that is his goal.

don't let him succeed. be Christ's and Christ's alone.

much love

although there were a few weeks when my friend did some crowd surfing at some other churches, he eventually recognized that there are already many people who love him and his wife for who they are right here, and building those relationships again elsewhere would not only take time, but would carry with it no guarantees either. he continues to celebrate God's goodness to him in our fellowship, whooping and hollering in the loud parts and falling on his face in the deeper, more intimate parts- which is inspiring to those around. we all grow by knowing one another, yeah?

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