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Posts tagged “spirituality

a worship question

Kirsten and I have been talking about a question re. worship.

Should worship leaders lead out of an overflow in their own lives?

Historically, this has been my philosophical conviction.

At the current moment, however, when I come to participate in worship, I often feel as “needy” as anyone else in the room. I’m not necessarily looking to “lead” anyone–I just want to meet with God, to lay my questions and struggles at his feet, and declare something in faith. Ideally, I would think this would be the kind of “lead worshipper” that Matt Redman talks about in his (excellent) book, as opposed to a “leader.

More and more, I desire to be as honest with God as I think he wants us to be (which is totally). The same goes with my relationships with other people, both inside and outside of a church setting (and I use that word in the “two or more gathered” context). Sometimes, this doesn’t look like leading out of an “overflow” in my life, or equipping others…sometimes the only encouragement I can give others comes from my declaring something in faith that I need for myself just as much as the other people in the room, and not out of an overflow of conviction.

But I know from personal experience and observation that it can be very dangerous for people to “lead” from a place of need/discontent with God. I think it is extremely foolish to give people a blank check, as it were, to shrug off all sense of personal spiritual responsibility. What’s the difference?

I tend to think it’s a combination of factors, including whether you’re looking for that time to be your healing, and (again) your honesty. Am I trying to present a front to anyone (including God!), or am I trying to behave a certain why to usher in a certain atmosphere, a certain set of reactions?

I think there is scriptural evidence that we are supposed to prepare and to come with the overflow of our hearts. I think there is also evidence that we are supposed to simply come with our needs and hurts…

Most of all, I conclude, we’re supposed to simply come and be completely honest with the one who knows everything about us. And while I think there are movements that have greatly abused the idea of “speaking things into existence”/”declaring”/”creating spiritual reality,” I think there is truth to be winnowed from the idea. Maybe the answer is to do it in humility, and not from a place of spiritual pride? From complete recognition of our need, that isn’t fatalistic or dramatic, but simply Honest?

What do you think?

two movies i’ve watched recently…

Tsotsi (a Golden Globe, Academy Award winning film from South Africa) was simply superb. Heartfelt–yet I felt it took enough unexpected twists to avoid cliche. I thought it handled the backstory with particular grace, explaining the characters without explaining away the consequences, and creating a deep sense of empathy for Tsotsi himself, without regarding him as a mere pawn in the grip of fortune or some other such nonsense. Moreover, the violence and language, while quite hard hitting, were never gratuitous or made to look “cool.” Watching the titular character encounter and react to a part of life that was finally able to break through his walls was truly sublime.

Brazil was the second Terry Gilliam film I’ve seen. I hated 12 Monkeys, so I approached this viewing hoping to walk away with a better impression…which in some ways I did, but I still ended up hating the “message” of Brazil.

The world that Gilliam creates in Brazil is truly madcap and humorous, with a cohesive visual style that rivals (and in many cases, surpasses) any of Burton’s more bizarre landscapes. The film exaggerates and satirizes the repressive elements of society to great effect, and occasionally even gives the viewer a life-giving glimmer of hope in the midst of the claustrophobia and paranoia. Robert de Niro’s character, for example, is truly cheerful and crazy at the same time (unlike his disastrously lame appearance in Stardust. Sorry) that gives the movie a much needed Robin Hood character.

Alas, Gilliam does not linger on redemption. Fatalism is his goal…not fighting athe stereotypical “the man,” not finding life in the midst of a nightmare, nor even finding a good death. We are pawns of each other and of destiny, he states, and he states it well with a satirical logic that is soul shaking and mind numbing.

It is a truth that fails to take into the consideration that there is a surrender that trumps surrender to the system. It is a truth that fails to take into account the glimpses of beauty that can alleviate the fallen nature of mankind. It is a truth that is a harsh, evil god…that cannot see the promise of heaven for the hell that is all too clearly apparent.

As Puddleglum said in that truly transcendent moment in Lewis’ The Silver Chair, “I’d rather go on living thinking that there is an overworld.” That simple story (I recommend you read it) sums up my reaction to this kind of art, no matter how good or how poorly it is made. I fear for my friends that have given any part of their being to the lies of the witch and have forgotten the previous reality of the sun and the friendship of the overworld for the depressing reality of the man-made lamp in the bewitched and oppressed underworld kingdom.

There is hope, Mr. Gilliam. While I acknowledge and appreciate your clever, even creative recognition of the darkness around us, I ultimately and wholeheartedly reject the lie of your fatalism.

Larry Norman kicked the can

You can read more here.

I encourage y’all to read it. If Phil Keaggy embodies all that is innocent and good about the Jesus Movement and CCM, Larry Norman personified all that was broken and frail…and captivating and beautiful. I had the privilege of seeing him a good six years or so ago and I remember being impressed that he was unafraid to challenge and love (for better and for worse).

Recently, his life and all its hideous sins and touching triumphs has in many ways come to sum up the Jesus Movement for me, along with the life of Lonnie Frisbee.

My parents embraced relationship with Jesus during their time (indeed, they were at meetings that LF was present at), so in many ways, I have much to be thankful for–and decipher. I find it fascinating to see how people encountered a genuine move of the Spirit during that time and how they responded (again, for both better and for worse).

I recommend anyone who is interested in finding out about that time to listen, read, observe, ponder…and you will, perhaps, understand the current faith landscape of our country a bit better.

EDIT: Randy Stonehill has released a statement via his myspace blog that is truly priceless…given the tumultuous history between the two, I find the forgiveness and reconciliation between them rather…well, beautiful. Speaking myself as someone who has lived through some pretty nasty crap between people, I agree with the growing hope of heaven and I resonate with the message of the hope for redemption.

fire and brimstone! …and math?

One thing that I’ve enjoyed (?) talking to about my friends is whether or not “fire and brimstone” sermons still have a place in the church.

I tend to think they do. Read your Bible lately?

Recently, this powerful rhetoric by a missionary named Paul Washer has been attracting a decent amount of internet buzz. I watched the entire thing, and I’m glad I did.

I think he has excellent points to make. Whether we like it or not, Christianity makes some bold claims and is inherently divisive on many points. Washer’s point that Christianity demands a narrow path as well as a narrow gate is completely spot on. I find that in my contemporaries’ reaction to religion and legalism, this can be entirely forgotten. He is entirely and amusingly right that so much of pop Christianity today is based more on song lyrics than the Bible. He is entirely right that the youth of America need a tough message and to embrace a self-discipline they’ve never even dreamed about…

But I think so cautiously. I’ve seen this kind of preaching abused time and time again. It’s as easy for this kind of rhetoric to become just as damaging as any cheap grace doctrine. And as much as he rails against a culture of personality, I am amused to find that an awful lot of the so-called “power” of his message relies on a dynamic presentation (again, which I don’t think is an inherently bad thing–charisma is part of being human. But boy! does it require accountability and humility).

Then why does the Bible contain scriptures that can be taken to support such opposite viewpoints? Does this disprove its message, as so many atheists believe?

It brings up an interesting point, which reminds me of some posts on a recent blog I read. I think the author is really on to something.

This is a bit of a stretch to explain, but I’m reminded of an interview I wrote a very long time ago with a gentleman who was a fairly brilliant mathematician in the NSA. It’s been a long while, but from what I remember, he talked at length about helping to develop a software program that would extrapolate the parabolic curve of a satellite path and refine it based on continually gathering and taking the square roots of the errors/deviations from its flight paths.

In the same way, I feel like we need to take multiple perspectives into very serious consideration when it comes to our faith. Balance and humility are absolutely essential to something that is of so much importance and requires such radical action from our lives!

(analogy switch here).

This is not merely keeping an open mind and turning a blind eye toward those who disagree with us. On one level, post-modernism (and humanism in general) seems to continually cycle and throw out the idea of truth as new discoveries are made and old stand-bys fail on one level or the other…and on the other hand, those who don’t understand what such thoughts are striving for (at their best) decry their weak-kneed worldview (often rightfully so) and are prone to resort to rigid legalism. I’ve seen this expressed in many conflicted ways within the church and society at large.

I find it downright hilarious. And sometimes very, very sad.

It is akin to saying that since calculus and higher math supersedes and plays around with mathematics, simple addition is no longer valid. On the contrary, the “higher” truths’ entire underpinnings rest on the truths of “simple” math…and for many, those simplicities will give them far more life than calculus ever will.

It is a matter of perspective and true, hard-won understanding. It’s why I have sympathy for those that believe in evolution and those that don’t, those that go to church and those that don’t, those that drink and those that don’t, those that believe in war and those that don’t…I’m trying to take the square root of the deviations and find truth, not because the old “simple” math is dead, but because it is very much alive and applicable.

And what is the truest, simplest form of math? Love (in every way that it is expressed and felt) must be what binds us together…a love for enemy and friend alike, ruled by a deep, peaceful love for God and His word. Everything else, including the very vital need for daily repentance that Washer is after, flows out of this.

Why I go to (an organized, institutionalized) church…some candid rambling

I have been deeply, personally hurt by the institutionalized church. I have been disgusted by the church. I have been mystified, disgusted, ashamed…there is no horror story that you could share with me that I haven’t seen, heard, or personally experienced.

But I still go to an institutionalized church. And I love it.


People are people, in church or outside of church, inside a relationship with God, or outside a relationship with God. Our common denominator is our fallibility and our ability to inflict harm on each other.

To be distant from God.

To sin.

Do the people inside the church have the ability to rip your guts out?

You better believe it.

Personally, I was raised thinking that church was wherever two or more people were gathered in his name. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s an idea to which I have adhered to since then. As a result, I don’t think I’ve approached church with the same expectations that many seem to approach Sunday morning (or any kind of organized fellowship). My disappointment, therefore, has been proportional to my expectations. The organized church is not Jesus, nor do they control access to him.

I’ve also been a bit of an independent thinker my whole life (sometimes to my detriment!) Consequently, rarely have I jumped through the same “group think” hoops that many people are experiencing bitterness with now, after experiencing the dramatic disappointments that organized institutions can bring. I never tried to look a certain way, act a certain way, be someone that I wasn’t. I think the contemporary, growing discontentment with the westernized church is often very misplaced. To a large degree, I hate endless criticizing and analysis. Our problem is not with the church, but with faith, discipline, and relationship with Jesus. Are we fulfilling his commission to us? Are we living lives open and surrendered to him, learning from him in a personal, dedicated way?

People are people.

So why do I go to church?


I think a lot of complaints with the church now are silly. Yes, silly. They remind me of my friends who are anarchists. There is no such thing as good government. I agree. I accept it. I am not even especially patriotic, to put it mildly. But governments are necessary, because they are a natural outgrowth of people interacting. They also help preserve and continue ideas. And they evolve and are even overturned as needed.

People are too quick to blame the idea for the problems. There is no such thing as a perfect church. But that doesn’t mean we should do away with them all together, anymore than it is to fix the problems of the government and the world by nuking the planet. That is never Christ’s vision (for either institution).

Both the Tabernacle and the Temple were ideas inspired and approved by God in the Old Testament. And then Jesus came and tore down the veil, became our great high priest, and put his spirit inside of us, for us to become his temple. It is trendy and “relevant” right now to duly acknowledge that Jesus met with people on the streets, in the markets…that if he were alive today, he’d probably go to bars and hang out on city corners. I am glad for this realization–it is long overdue.

Yet, in the New Testament, Jesus is depicted going to church (the synagogue) on a regular basis. His followers, well into Acts, are depicted going to the synagogue and meeting together on a regular basis. Not once is this discouraged. In fact, the opposite was preached.


Because they wanted to meet with other temples. Other believers.

People can have another common denominator, aside from their proclivity to destruction. And they have the potential to do good and testify to truth.

To me, church is just that. Meeting and fellowshipping with other people that have encountered God or want to, on any day of the week, anywhere. Nothing more, nothing less.

This has continued (imperfectly) for the last twenty centuries. The organization of how people have met together has evolved and been overturned countless times during that tremendous span of years. Organization is a natural, inherent, inescapable part of our frail humanity. Even the most stale of ceremonies today once had a rich, deep meaning to it that I still appreciate when I find it.

The problem with church is whenever we let our vision lose sight of the one who forms for the forms that we, in turn, create.

Then it is time to repent and choose a different way. To put new wine into new wineskins.

And that is true at school, work, around our dining-room tables, church…wherever.

Because people are people. All in need of forgiveness and change.

And so I continue to be part of church. As I meet in people’s homes, when I pray with friends I happen to meet…and yes, in a small building with a loud sound-system that finds it most convenient to meet on Sunday mornings. (My current church is not very traditional or institutionalized, btw).

I don’t blame the idea itself for its shortcomings. Like all conceptions of art, the form itself is a passive vessel that is shaped by the people who make it.

I have been blessed by the church. I have been moved by it. I have been challenged, provoked, loved….

Because people are people. And we are called to work at his work:

1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the house of Jacob their sins.

2 For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.

3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.

4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.

5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD ?

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness [a] will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

11 The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the LORD’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,

14 then you will find your joy in the LORD,
and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
The mouth of the LORD has spoken.

I will meet with anyone, anywhere, that loves Jesus and takes these words to heart.

“Love me with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength–and love your neighbor as yourself.” I will gladly meet with anyone, anywhere who wants to pursue and welcome this world-impacting love. We will then be having church.

It is possible (and good)…even in the organized, institutionalized church.