Experiencing Faith Part I: There Is Something Wrong With Our Worship

I want to get this out of the way before I say anything else.

Before I was a full time youth minister, I preached for a small congregation in the Pacific Northwest. I worked alongside one of the most thoughtful ministers, worship leaders, and Christian men I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. On a weekly basis, we could be found meeting and discussing plans for worship services that were still far down the road. Discussion could last for hours about the order of worship, song choice, scripture reading(s), message, illustrations and a million other little details. We tried hard to make sure that every service was thoughtfully considered with the intention of creating a good experience. I think the work we did was important. I think all services should be prepared thoughtfully and with consideration for wether or not it allows the participants of the service to express their appreciation and love to God. Now that we’ve established that:

I read a lot of blogs about a wide topics. Theology and/or ministry is towards the top of that list. As a result, I run into the ongoing debate about the “worship experience”. Depending on the background of the writer a debate on worship experience can range from the lighting of the auditorium to the benefits of hymnals over projectors. I’ve read it all. The debater will usually suggest that 1) there is something wrong with worship services as they exist now 2) people are looking for x, y, or z in worship services 3) as long as the Church fails to change x, y, or z about their worship services, the Church will die. I believe this line of thinking is dangerous. I plan to do three posts on this topic over the next few days. Lets begin with point one.

There Is Something Wrong With Our Worship

You know how that one guy sings off key every time your Church does that one worship song? Remember how much better the preacher before this one’s sermon slides were? How about that spelling mistake in the scripture on the screen? Wasn’t last week’s service so much better because so-and-so didn’t lead a closing prayer that rivaled a congressional filibuster? Did the communion bread taste “off” to you this week?

We’ve all heard these comments before. All of us. If you are a part of the Church and you’re old enough to have even most of your adult teeth, you’ve heard these things. Most likely you’ve uttered words like them before. It’s a universal thing, we all notice when something goes wrong or is different. We all know when the person leading worship gets the lyrics to our favorite song wrong.

No matter how well thought out, intentional, and prepared a service may be, you can count on one thing: people will make mistakes. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but the Church is comprised of people. People make mistakes. I can’t tell you how often I’ve planned a lesson for weeks only to get to the delivery and botch it because I skipped an important point. A point in my notes. A point I underlined. A point I knew I needed to make, but for one reason or other it just didn’t happen.

If you are looking for a worship service without flaws, a worship service in which everyone executes their duties with erudition, a worship service with perfectly seemless flow from one moment to the next, you will always be disappointed. Before we can venture any further into a discussion of worship, lets just cement this idea in our heads: if you are looking for a worship service that has the polish of a multi-million dollar production, and anything less will draw you out of your holy communion with the most high, you’re looking for a performance.

Worship will never be flawless. Worship services sometimes falter and stumble because of a bad projector bulb or someone getting larengitis. But God does some amazing things through and because of (not in-spite of) our stumblings.

Tomorrow we’ll be looking at point 2: People Are Looking For What We Don’t Have.

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Stop It

My senior year of college was crazy! I was preaching full time, directing theatre and teaching for a small christian school, traveling with the college’s drama ministry, and serving as chapel coordinator. Oh, yeah, I was also married and we were expecting our first child! Life was good, but I felt like I was always rushing to get to the next thing. I put on a lot of weight, and felt my health starting to deteriorate. I was a wreck.

The thing is, there wasn’t a single one of these things I didn’t love (well aside from the health and weight thing). They were all good things. I’d chosen the mess I was in. But something had to drop. I came to the realization that I was trying to accomplish all of my life goals at one time.

Sometimes, in ministry I think we do this. We go to a conference and absorb all sorts of great ideas, then we try to implement them all at once. Or maybe it’s a slow-burn buildup: agreeing to do this thing here, take that suggestion there, become involved in that ministry we’ve seen from a distance… And while we have great intentions for all of these things, and they’re all admirable, we can’t possibly hope to do them all well and still stay healthy. Something has to give. When we become over committed we can often find ourselves struggling physically, emotionally, or spiritually.

With that in mind, I want to encourage you (and remind myself) to evaluate what is on your plate. How many ongoing activities are you involved in? When was the last time you had two consecutive day’s off? ONE day off? How much time are you spending with your family? How much time do the activities you’re involved in allow for you to spend alone with God?

Now, are you comfortable with your answers?

If not, it may be time to cut some of the cruft out, or to delegate responsibility for a few things to someone else. One of my biggest struggles as a minister has been putting a ministry I’ve nurtured into someone else’s hands, but it’s important to realize that we don’t need to carry every program, Bible study, or ministry on our own.

Make sure you’re taking days off; taking your vacation. Jesus said that “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.” While we aren’t required by the New Covenant to take a day of rest, clearly God thought it was beneficial for man to do so. 

Of course, all of this can apply to anyone, you don’t have to be a minister to be overcommitted, but: “Write what you know.”

Being Dad

imageIt’s the hardest job that I do on a daily basis. It takes every ounce of strength; every bit of courage; all of my patience; and in my best moments I think I do a pretty good job… but not always.

When I found out five years ago that we were having a little boy, people told me that “boys are easy”, “all they need is a little discipline”, “give him a ball and a stick and he’ll practically raise himself”. When we found out that we were having a little girl two years ago, everyone assured me that “little girls just need loves”.

But here’s the deal: my kids require so much more of me than I ever expected. They’re emotional. They’re messy. They want my time and my energy. I have to talk to them and listen. I need to discipline them and show them grace. They expect me to be gentle when they’re hurting, and they need me to be tough when they’re afraid. Of course they do. They’re children! More importantly, they’re human beings. Messy, demanding, emotional, grace-needing human beings.

But here’s the kicker: even if I do a bad job, they love me. And that may be the most painful part. Because I make mistakes. There are days as a dad when I fail, and they come to me and hug me and kiss me and tell me they love me. Even when I don’t deserve it. And it’s in those moments when love hurts. When I know how undeserving I am, but they love me anyway.

There are few experiences in this life more humbling than the love of a child after you’ve messed up. Forgiveness from your two year old when you raised your voice over something stupid. Kindness from your son when you were stingy with your time.

For me, being dad has been a learning experience in being gracious. I’m going to get a lot of things wrong between now and the day my children no longer need me (which I hope is many decades from now), but I hope the thing I get right is reciprocating the grace they’ve given to me.

Considerate… Loving

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When I saw this post on XKCD the other day, it got me thinking about the difficulty of loving your neighbor.

Jesus tells his disciples that we are to “Love (our) neighbor as (ourselves).” He also tells us that we aren’t just supposed to love our neighbors, but we are supposed to “love our enemies.” He points out that loving those who love us isn’t particularly remarkable, as anyone can do that, but loving people who wish us ill, despise us, and actively seek our demise is our true calling.

I get that I’m supposed to love people, but if I start loving the hard to love people, what’s next?

We find ourselves asking, “WHERE DOES IT END, JESUS!?!? Do I have to love–” And Jesus interrupts us with a simple “yes”. “But, Jesus… I didn’t put any qualifiers on it yet.” “I know,” he responds, “Everyone.”

It doesn’t matter what descriptor we put into the question, the answer is always the same.

What Is “The Word of God”?

If you sit and listen to a Christian talk about the Bible for any length of time, you will invariably hear them refer to it as “The Word of God”. This includes myself. I say it all the time. We appeal to a passage in scripture saying something along the lines of “The word of God says..”. I’ve put a lot of time and though into what I’m about to say, and it may come off as heresy, but I think it needs to be said. I don’t believe the Bible is “The Word of God”.

Now that I’ve (possibly) offended every follower I have, let me explain what I mean. And yes, I’m gonna get Greeky. Continue reading

To Be Loved and To Love In Return

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Like many, I have seen this video a number of times. It’s heartbreaking, triumphant, and beautiful. What a beautiful story that is being told. Imagine the empathy these children will learn, and the change they might make in the world because they have known the love of a father.

Paul tells us in Ephesians 4 that there is a marked difference in the qualities of a worldly person and a Christian person, but in Epeshians 5 he makes it clear why this difference exists:

Therefore, let us be imitators of our God, as children who are dearly loved

-Ephesians 5:1

Christians don’t do good because we are inherently better. We were just like the world. We are guilty of the same greed, selfishness, and hardness as anyone else. The only difference is that we’ve been given an example of what real love looks like, and in our reciprocation of that, we live like the Father.

Parents Are Crazy

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I absolutely love this video (and I’ve been sitting on it for a few weeks just incase that opinion changed). Yes, I know it’s a commercial. Yes, I know it’s for a soft drink. Yes, I know it’s supposed to play on my emotions as a father. Yes, I am strangely intrigued by the green label and “Coca Cola Life” bit. Setting all of that aside, though…

I love being a dad. My kids are messy, noisy, and absolutely needy in almost every way. And they’re the most awesome people I know. My wife and I could have easily told you this when we only had one child, but we were still thrilled to know that our second was on the way. My son is going to be five in eight days. My daughter will be two in twenty days. I wouldn’t trade either of them for the world.

Having kids makes you crazy. All of the fun stuff you enjoyed before is still nice, but all of the things you valued before become diminished in comparison to the crazy joy that ragouts introduce.

This video gets that. I mean, yeah, I was pretty cool before I had kids. My clothes were generally stain free, I had collections of cool things, and my house was clean and well furnished. But I wouldn’t take any of that back if it meant giving up even a part of my messy, noisy, needy blessings. Nothing beats coming home, stepping on a lego, being tackled at the knees, and having brutal tickle fights with my kiddos!

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