My Sunday drive (isn’t as bright as I’d like)…

I participated in a conversation with some of the members on my worship team recently about what’s on our hearts and minds as we’re driving to church to serve in leading worship on a Saturday evening or Sunday morning. Words like anticipation, excitement, and humility came first, followed by deeper explanations of the electricity in the air one vocalist usually feels, followed by the yearning for a profound encounter with Christ for himself and the church from a bass player in only the second year of his journey with Christ. Another member shared, then another. The table was scattered with affirmative grunts and amens, echoing the overly positive sentiments being verbalized.

Then I shared.

I shared about the stress I normally feel on my way to church on a weekend. I shared about how my every thought is consumed with the logistics of “pulling off” the weekend. Trying to remember all the words to the new worship song as well as the incredibly wordy special music tune that’s kicking the entire service off. Hoping and praying against the inevitable phone call from one of the other venues that’s having an issue with the software we use to run our click tracks and sequences. Suddenly remembering the three chord charts I have yet to create for the three new songs we’re doing over the next three weeks, not to mention the sequencing and click tracks for those as well. Expressing my frustration at my guitar tone not being “there” recently in spite of the money I’ve been putting into it. Plus my brakes started acting up again right as I was pulling out of my driveway, and I just spent eight hours in my friend’s driveway replacing the parts myself in order to save a few bucks.

My Sunday morning drive often feels harried and anxious. On occasion, it’s been downright miserable.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had some incredible Saturday evening and Sunday morning drives to our venues. I wrote & started production on a new song earlier that week, creative planning projects were completed on time, my wife brought home really good news from grad school, old friends were in town.

But I don’t always feel the joy, joy, joy down in my heart, as the old Sunday School song goes. I find I’m having to catch myself before I say something out of frustration in front of a team of musicians and worshippers that are looking to me for guidance and direction. I forget the words to songs I’ve sung at least a dozen times, and it feels even worse when it’s a song I penned myself. I feel the pressure of a position that puts me squarely in everyone’s sight, and sometimes I just want to shrink into the background until I feel a little bit better about things, about myself, about my relationship with Jesus.

About two weeks after that first round-table discussion, I was in the green room at my church’s main campus with other worship pastors and leaders from the local community at our monthly Worship Cohort meeting. The worship pastor from a local gospel church was sharing about the true heart of the worship leader, about being bold and brave enough to let the Light of Christ reveal the hidden junk in our lives, the sin lurking in our hearts, and how difficult it has been for him to fully let go and let God in these areas of his life. He shared a passage written to the Hebrews of the first century AD:

So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for He faced all of the same testings we do, yet He did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it the most. ::Hebrews 4:14-16

Jesus is fully aware of the turmoil in my heart when I’m driving to church. He understands the unworthiness I feel as I gather my things early on Sunday morning. I think He would rather I experience the peace of the fewer cars on the road, the sunrise painting the backdrop of the neighborhoods I drive past on my way in. He would rather I cast those cares on Him instead of shouldering them on my own. I am a sinner saved by grace, and He would much rather I acknowledge that and let Him do what He does best, which is love and care for me in my current condition, not because of anything I’ve done, not because I’ve asked Him to, but because He hasn’t condemned me for my condition (Romans 8:1). I am in Him, and He is in me. I am only able to live and breathe and serve His Church by His indelible grace, and that is why I should worship Him, not just in song in the auditorium on Sunday morning, but in the car as I’m driving to the auditorium.

I am encouraged, because I know there is nothing I nor anyone else can do to be torn away from His grace and mercy. I know that when I finally step onto the stage in front of the community I’ve been tasked with leading, I am justified because He has sanctified me. I can be honest about myself in front of my community because we are all the same:

We are all sinners saved by grace.

Who are we leading?

I created a post back in August talking about fear and how we represent the message of Christ, and upon a closer review realized that my thoughts didn’t quite make sense.  I was challenged by a friend & colleague to take another stab at articulating my thoughts.  Here are the reflections I had by the time my brain had stopped…

I picked up Craig Groeschel’s most recent book The Christian Atheist during the Leadership Summit.  Before you freak out at the title, let the subtext put the title into proper perspective for you: believing in God but living as if He doesn’t exist. Reading it has reminded me of countless previous church experiences I’ve had where the church completely misrepresented the Gospel.  So often the church misses the whole point of knowing and sharing Christ and what it means to follow Him.

Don Cousins, the director of ministries at the church I work at, shared in a staff meeting recently how so many churches “take the gospel only so far.”  A pastor teaches about the spiritual gifts and how important it is for each and every person to find their gift and develop and cultivate it, and the congregation gets all excited about it and fired up and wants to find their gift and develop it, and then the pastor ends his message by saying, “… so go find out what your gift is and develop it.”  …  And that’s as far as the church leadership takes it.  No coaching, no assistance, not even a half-hearted point in the right direction.

Only a fraction of the people in church that day may actually go out and try pursuing what their gift is.  A few may even stick with it for more than just a few days.  But they’re expected to find their own way into a world that is strange and sometimes frightening because they’ve never been there before, and they don’t get any further because there is no one there to lead them, to help them.

So often I find I expect people to engage to a certain level during corporate worship.  I desire for the entire room to have their hands raised, fully immersed in the Spirit, voices raised so loud you can’t hear the band.  For a long time I talked about my desire for there to be a buzz of anticipation about what’s going to happen that day during service, a “what’s God gonna come and do” on the lips of every person who’s gathered at each venue.  I expect every person who’s shown up on that particular day to have experienced the incredible and undeniable mercies and miracles of God that week.  I expect to find people whose faith is like mine, people who are basically just like me…

Worship leaders and musicians, as passionate and emotive Christ followers, fall victim to this tendency pretty easily.  We’re driven by the emotion and passion in music, we feed off the energy and excitement in the room as we lead worship.  And, while there’s nothing wrong with that as long our hearts are leading from a place of authenticity and adoration of Jesus, we get frustrated when we don’t receive that feedback.  I know I do.  Having played major concerts in huge venues and been in edgy rock bands where everyone’s jumping around and “rocking out” to the music, I love getting caught up in the response to the vibe being created by the music.  But not everyone knows how or wants to plug into the musical experience that way.

Imagine you live next to a well with the clearest, purest and most revitalizing drinking water on earth, and it’s your job to tell all who pass by about it and provide it for them.  The only catch of this particular well is, you’re the only one in the area who knows how to use the machinery that lowers the bucket down to the water and then bring it back up.  You’re so excited about the well and about your job as the well’s official announcer that you walk around with a bullhorn telling all within hearing range about the well, pumping a big sign up and down in the air with the words “FREE WATER, TAKE AS MUCH AS YOU LIKE” painted in huge, bold letters, but you never actually set down the sign and work the bucket machinery or even take time to teach someone else how to work it…

I forget that people show up to church without knowing why they’re there or even how they got there.  I forget that people show up as they have for years and years because that’s what people are supposed to do every Sunday, and then they leave God in the parking lot as they drive to Panera Bread for lunch.  I forget that people only had enough gas in their car to get to church and have no idea how they’re going to get back home.  I forget that people show up with hearts that are hurt, angry, bored, shamed, bitter, full of sorrow and confusion and questions.  I forget that the church is made up of people who are completely different from me in every single way.  People with stories that would make my skin crawl and my heart snap in two.

I forget that I’ve been hurt, angry, bored, shamed, bitter, full of sorry and confusion and questions.  I forget that I’ve led worship from these same desolate places, I’ve had to guide a congregation to a place of joy when all I was feeling was painful sorrow.  But the beauty is, these are the places where so often God is able to work in us the most.  That’s been very true for me in the past.  When everything else falls away, I finally reach that place where He’s the only thing I have left, and then I realize that He’s really all I need.

Expecting everyone in the room to have reached the exact same checkpoint in the race we’re running like the apostle Paul talks about is absolutely foolish.  We must remember that people from all walks and stages of life and faith come through our doors every single week.  Next to the person with closed eyes and raised hands who is singing words that have become as familiar to their heart as breathing, there stands someone whose eyes flicker around the room trying to figure out what’s going on, whose hands are buried deep in their pockets, and who hasn’t said a word other than “hello” to the usher who handed them their info guide.

We did the worship exercise a few weekends ago where our worship leaders encouraged the people in worship to try changing their posture, to try to experience something more, something deeper, to encourage the churchgoer who is nervous, or angry, or broken to take a baby step in a new direction toward the person of Christ.  Remembering those challenging times in our own stories and communicating the realities both of those challenges alongside the authority with which Jesus can conquer those challenges is what allows us to help that person who is nervous, angry, and broken find the high, wide, and deep love of Christ their Saviour.  Sometimes when all we see is a person standing completely still instead of “responding to the worship experience,” that person is in the midst of the deepest connection with their Creator that they’ve ever experienced.

We can only lead from a place where we’ve been ourselves, and that rings true both for where we are serving as leaders in our community as lead worshippers, and for all the valleys we’ve struggled through along the course of our journey.  If you’re a leader in your church, your community, wherever and whatever it is, remember that Christ created the church to serve all who are seeking to deepen their relationship with Him, from the ones who have devoted every waking moment of their lives to seeking and serving Him to the ones who have never before set foot inside a church.  Our role is to help usher them all into the presence of God, so let’s do it as a people who have experienced His saving grace and are daily in need of it.  Let’s know who we are in Him so we can come to Him in earnest, seeking His heart and His love and His promises.

The Art of Biblical Subtext (or, How Do Other People Pick Up On Things I Can’t Seem To???)

Genesis 22.  God calls on Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac to Him on a mountain in Moriah.  Abraham obeys, he doesn’t take Isaac and runs for the hills.  He willingly goes, bringing his as-of-yet clueless son with him.  As they climb the mountain, he says to the servant with them, “Stay here, for we will return.”  But the scriptures don’t explicitly say Abraham had no fear.  Isaac asks him where the animal for the sacrifice is, and he replies simply, “God will provide.”  He doesn’t deviate.  He doesn’t question.  And at the very last possible moment, or “right on time” in God’s Timing (something else that just baffles my mind), God intervenes and provides a ram for the sacrifice.

Now, it seems there are two possible explanations for Abraham’s statement: “Stay here, for we will return.”  The “we” indicates Abraham’s faith that God would let him keep his son.  On the one side, there’s the theory that Abraham knew God would provide an “out” for Isaac to be spared altogether, hence the ram in the thicket at the opportune moment.  “Oh look!  There’s a substitute for you, Isaac my boy!  Let’s get you out of these ropes and binds, shall we?”

But it seems to me that a more reasonable “human” response would be to delay, linger, procrastinate as much as possible to quell the nearness to the actual act of sacrifice, to put off tying Isaac up, or at least make the bonds loose so he could get free.  But no.  Isaac was bound tight as a drum in inescapable bonds and placed on the altar, like a turkey ready to be roasted.  This gives way to the other school of thought: Abraham believed God would resurrect his son and send him back down the mountain with him.

Reasonable, yes.  But how can we possibly read into Abraham’s mind when all we truly have to glean from is a play-by-play of the events as they occurred?  There’s no post-sacrifice wrap-up, no interviews with the individuals involved, no instant replays with close-ups of Abraham’s face looking for a tell of some sort.  Did he look around desperately as he was raising the knife to plunge into his son, praying fervently for a replacement?  Or did he expect to see his son walking down from higher up the mountain after being sacrificed, not a scratch or a burn on him, in a completely new body?

I plan on asking Abraham that someday.

Sulfur rain and pillars of salt…

I’ve heard it said the Bible is too goody-goody, too sunshine and rainbows to be real.  Only someone who’s never read it could say that.  Right from the get-go, there’s murder, debauchery, arrogance, selfishness… the list goes on and on.  Billions of people throughout history who thought they’re too good for this world and therefore can do whatever they want.  Not so.

Abraham had a nephew named Lot with whom he was very close.  However, Lot seemed to end up in situations where sin crept in all around him, trying to destroy him.  He lived with his family in the city of Sodom, a city of extreme wickedness and debauchery whose neighbor Gomorrah was more of the same.  Through Abraham’s pleading to the Lord to keep Lot and his family safe, two angels are sent to Lot to get him the heck out of Dodge, as it were, as God was planning to essentially nuke the two cities and wipe them and their sin-crazed inhabitants from the face of the earth.  At the last minute, the angels grab the hands of Lot and his family and virtually have to drag them out of the city to spare their lives.  For whatever reason, Lot’s wife looks back at the city longingly (what was she longing for?) and turns into a pillar of salt.  Personally, I don’t quite know if I believe she turned into a literal pillar of sodium chloride.  I think she was more likely consumed so quickly by the raining flames of fire and burning sulfur that she turned to ash almost instantaneously, hinting at the appearance of being turned into salt.  An entry I found on Wikipedia offers a different explanation, but I think the two could easily intertwine.  (However, explaining it requires knowledge of how high heat would affect a human body, and I’m not Temperance Brennan.)

I’m both fascinated and disheartened by our history.  The years gone by are filled with all kinds of adventure, mystery, heart-stopping drama and divine miracles, the stuff of legend and stories.  But there is often more heartbreak and hurt than good, and pretty much always as the result of someone’s choice.  A single small decision can tremendously change the course of our lives both for good and for worse.  Like a tiny rudder steering a ship, even the most seemingly insignificant choice can set incredible events into motion.

What kind of choices am I making?

Holy contradictions…

I’ve been writing a song over the course of the past year and a half that reflects on Jesus’s fascinatingly contradictory nature, the way He lived and demonstrated life by doing the exact opposite of society’s norms and expectations.  Touching the untouchable in the leper, loving the adulterous prostitute, breaking bread with crooked tax collectors.  His bold actions went against not only cultural taboos, but against many of the laws of the day.  After He ascended, His disciples, who became the first leaders of the “modern” church, discovered the reasoning behind and hope within why Christ lived like that while here on earth.

I’m reading through James again at the suggestion of a colleague and friend, and I just started writing what came to mind as I read.  Enjoy…

  • When faith is tested, endurance will grow.  When endurance grows, it will make me stronger.  Not on my own, but by His strength.
  • Is my loyalty divided between God and the things in this world?  Am I truly putting my faith in Him alone?  Where am I falling short when it comes to seeking and asking Him for wisdom?  How do I tell the difference between what I’m coming up with on my own and what He is inspiring?
  • The rich should show humility for their blessings, and the poor should boast of how God is honoring them.  They have all they need in Him, as long as they are making Him all they need.
  • God never tempts us, He never puts things in front of us to test our faith in such ways.  But He allows it so we may be blessed by enduring it!
  • In spite of how mankind has continued to abandon Him, His heart still beats for us.
  • There is a distinct difference between my anger and God’s righteous anger.  I need to defer to His anger when I’m angry or frustrated, and I need to be open to letting Him in to dispel it, including when it’s offered by a friend.
  • I need to not just read & listen to the Word, I need to live it.  I need to practice it!  Daily!  I need to have it on my mind so I truly know it.
  • James 2 is hitting home.  I find myself judgmental of people purely by their appearance, and I remember a time when I didn’t.  That’s the world’s influence on me.  I think this is one of the really tough areas for me to grasp.
  • The law that sets me free will also judge me, so I should live according to that law of freedom and enjoy the freedom I have in it!
  • James 3.  As a leader in the church, I will be judged more strictly.  I’ve already felt the sting of poor decisions, and it is the least important reason I need to guard my heart and mind.  The most important is the tremendous freedom in Him, as mentioned before.  Why do I need anything else?
  • Humility humility humility.  Draw close to God, He draws close back.
  • James 5… Prayer is powerful.  Prayer is conversation.  Prayer with others is uplifting and revealing.

Location: Here…

I sit in this booth at Bonefish Grill with my wife, and as she journals in her leather-bound notebook, I take a few moments to reflect on the events from the weekend. We had incredibly moving services all weekend, each one receiving a true spirit of quiet reflection and celebration of our God and King. Hearts moved, refreshing encounters with Jesus, and all our efforts directed to this one purpose.

Yet I’m somewhat unsettled. I have a lot going through my mind right now, thoughts of the upcoming week and of the years beyond that, mixed with fear of and for that future, our future, my future.  I hear echoes of the many compliments, reassurances and thanks that I am serving God right where I’m supposed to be right now.  While I’m honored to receive those words of encouragement, they are also waged in battle against the deeply set desires in my heart to pursue other dreams I have yet to reach, other goals that have yet to be fulfilled.  But plans don’t always go the way you think, and I admonish myself to remember that I’m still living the dream job many people would give everything up for.

Before we fled our house in favor of catching dinner rather than cabin fever, my wife and I were watching The Sound Of Music.  Yes, while it’s not entirely accurate as far as what the actual Von Trapp family experienced, it’s still a timeless classic.  It’s not just music and happy colors and needles pulling thread, it’s a very sobering look at the lengths a man is willing to go to save his family and his own life.  In the face of an impossible future, Georg Von Trapp led his family over the mountains, fleeing an enemy that sought to force him to serve an evil purpose or face death. Some would call it cowardly; I call it courageous, an effort to continue living lives of peace and choosing not to serve under the oppressive thumb of a murderous Reich.

I’ve always been fascinated by the events of World War II.  Life for millions of people became anything but business as usual when the Reich began its expansion.  And yet, there’s been an invasion on the hearts of mankind since the beginning.  Perhaps this is my fear, that I won’t live in the fullness of what I’ve been called to, what I have passion for.  All the more reason to surrender everything to God, and that makes me pretty fearful at times as well.

So while I’m here, I’m going to try to surrender things one by one.

Godless decisions…

I’ve just reached the point in biblical history when Abram (later to be known as Abraham) and his wife Sarai went to Egypt due to the famine in Canaan (Genesis 13).  Abram fears for his own life at the hands of the Egyptians due to Sarai’s beauty, but instead of asking for God’s help and protection, he devises a ruse that Sarai is his sister rather than his wife, persuading her to go along with it.  She does, and for a very short time Abram receives many gifts and blessings from the Pharaoh in honor of Sarai.

But suddenly God rains down terrible plagues upon Pharaoh and his household, and somewhere along the line God reveals to Pharaoh exactly why he and his family are suffering: the woman he’s been infatuated with is, in fact, married to the man who claimed to be her brother.  I wonder how God chose to reveal this to Pharaoh…  Furious at being deceived, Pharaoh summons Abram and lambasts him for not being truthful about his relationship with Sarai, casting him, Sarai, and all their people, livestock and possessions out of Egypt.

It seems that Pharaoh would have accepted Abram as Sarai’s husband had Abram trusted God’s protection over him.  It also seems that God wanted to be particular in how He got His message across to Abram that he should have trusted Him in the first place rather than taking things into his own hands.  What’s worse, though: seeking God and then not going by His instruction, or leaving Him out of the equation entirely?  I’m guessing both are equally foolish.  Why we ever think we know more than the One who knows everything is beyond me, yet I know I make such decisions pretty much daily.

Furthermore, others suffered because of Abram’s scheme.  Not just anyone, mind you, but the flippin’ king of an entire nation!  A king who, again, perhaps would gladly have accepted Abram and Sarai as they were into his community!  At the very least, Abram could have just asked for some degree of protection from God, and any attempts to cause him or Sarai harm would have failed.  I wonder what the situation would have looked like if Abram had sought God’s wisdom and protection.  I wonder how the future of Abram and his descendants could have been set on an entirely different course.  All because we try to cover our own hides rather than seek the One who knows best.  A simple lesson, but the most difficult to learn.

In the beginning, there were many questions…

I wonder how Adam & Eve figured out the whole “sexual-relations” thing… was that on their own?

Did God not accept Cain’s gift purely as a lesson?  What did it mean that God didn’t accept his gift?  Did He mean for Cain to go back and try again?  Did Cain neglect to bring the best he had from his crops?  Was he meant to be an example because of his poor response?

What was going through Abel’s mind as Cain attacked him?  Cain seemed to cry like a baby when God banished him, taking zero responsibility for his actions, even going so far as to blame God for his situation.  Even in the beginning, we were trying to cast the blame off ourselves!  First Adam blames Eve, then Eve blames the Serpent, then Cain blames God Himself.  What gall… but then, how often do I do that?…

What was the mark that God put on Cain when he banished him to warn others who might try to kill him?  And where did those others come from?  Where did Cain find his wife?  What’s her story?

It’s incredible how many of Cain’s descendants are responsible for being the very first to do certain things: Jabal, Cain’s great-great-great-great-great-grandson, was the first to raise livestock and live in tents, and his brother Jubal was the first to play the harp and the flute.  Did they just figure it out, or were they taught somehow?  And did God return to Cain’s family even though He initially banished Cain from His presence for his murder of Abel?

Lamech, Jubal & Jabal’s father, was an interesting guy.  Genesis 4:23:

One day Lamech said to his wives,

“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
listen to me, you wives of Lamech.
I have killed a man who attacked me,
a young man who wounded me.
24 If someone who kills Cain is punished seven times,
then the one who kills me will be punished seventy-seven times!”

What in the world was he talking about???  Was he simply being boastful or proud?  I wonder if he was the first to get drunk on wine… bizarre.

Okay, people wonder about the beginning of time, how long the earth has been around.  At 130 years of age, Adam had another son named Seth with Eve.  He then lived another 800 years… that’s nearly a full millenia!  Looks like Noah was the 12th generation after Adam… fancy that.  I love how God works.  But I’m curious as to how many years after he did the flood was.  Doesn’t seem like that many… at least not if you view a century as not being that long a time.  But it still pulls into question how many years ago God actually created everything.  I recall finding a graph online that someone created to spell the whole thing out.  I’ll have to try to find that again.

And here’s another question… six days to create the earth, one to rest.  Six days as in twenty-four hours?  Or six days as in six thousand years?  2 Peter 3:8:

… A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day.

… and Psalm 90:4:

For You, a thousand years are as a passing day,
as brief as a few night hours.

Hmm.  So, is it possible that creation actually took six thousand years, give or take a few centuries?  I recall reading about an experiment the scientists running the Hubble Telescope did a number of years ago.  Essentially they were using Hubble to help determine exactly how old the universe really is.  The results staggered their minds: Hubble’s results showed the universe was formed only about 6,000 years ago.  It seems those results were only briefly published before they were dismissed and/or buried in favor of a “God-less” explanation, currently putting the age of the universe at between 12 and 13 billion years old.  However, something those scientists may not be accounting for is the fact that the speed of light has decreased in its speed quite significantly since the beginning of time.  Today, the current speed of light is ten or twenty thousand miles-per-hour slower than it was only 15-20 years ago.  So, to me it’s quite possible that the results they’re getting now are false positives due to the failure to accurately determine how long it has actually taken the light from distant celestial objects and bodies to reach us from afar.  Of course, there’s also the defense that the speed of light’s decrease in speed proves that the universe was formed through such a great cataclysmic event as the “Big Bang,” because why else would light be slowing down if it didn’t come into formation through the largest explosion in history?  To me, that’s precisely why it still falls under the jurisdiction of the unexplainable except by only one way.  It’s a difficult question, but I know God has it figured out already anyway.  Heck, He made everything.

I think that’s enough questions for now… my brain’s starting to freeze up.

A spirit of fear…

Ever been to a baptist youth camp?  There’s a running joke within the church world about the last couple days of one of these week-long retreats: the Do-You-Know-That-You-Know-That-You-Know question:

“If on the way home from this retreat tomorrow, your van got into a car accident and you didn’t make it, do you know that you know that you know that you know that you know that you’re goin’ to heaven?”

A valid question.  Macabre, perhaps, but valid.  But it’s as if the youth leaders & counselors at these events have forgotten how permanent the bond between God and His children is.  John 10:29 (The Message): “The Father who put [my flock] under my care is so much greater than the Destroyer and Thief.  No one could ever get them away from Him.” Basically: once saved, always saved.

But what’s their motivation for these questions?  Did someone guide them through the “Sinner’s Prayer” and either forget or mix up a couple words?  Was their conversion based purely on the emotions they were feeling at the time due to the worship music?  Were they just trying to impress the cute boy or girl next to them and praying for them?  There’s an air of dread in their hearts and minds, and if this child ends up not going to heaven it’s all their fault.  So they backtrack, they prod and question with the relentless mantra: “Do you know that you know that you know???”

Fear.

Fear of the powerful hand of a mighty and jealous God.

Fear of the desperate and judging eyes of the parents of each of these kids for not doing enough.

Fear of the reality of hell.

I picked up Craig Groeschel’s most recent book The Christian Atheist during the Leadership Summit.  I’ve only gotten about twenty pages in and I’m already unsettled by how we as the church have so often misrepresented the Gospel, how we’ve completely missed the point of knowing Christ and what it means to follow Him.  The subtext of the book’s title sums it up perfectly: believing in God but living as if He doesn’t exist.

It’s like living next to a pond with the clearest, purest and most revitalizing drinking water on earth and never drinking from it.  You just set your little plastic lawn chair up right next to a big painted sign that reads “FREE WATER, TAKE AS MUCH AS YOU LIKE,” and you plop yourself down in your little chair, proud to stake your claim that this is where you call home in spite of never having tasted the water from the pond.

I’m thirsty.  I’ve been in this desert for long enough, and I’ve decided to keep looking for oasis after oasis until I finally hike between the mountains and cross the Jordan.  When I find that pond, I want to drink and drink and drink as if my life depended on it… because it does.  I want the courage to keep going back to it, constantly refreshing my body, my soul.  I don’t want to live as if I’ve already done enough, because I never could do enough to sustain my own life.

I want to live a life that not only says my God exists, but He is the very reason I exist.

Both Audience and Leader…

I’ve always felt that worship should be done without a stage, without a platform.  The purpose of worship through music isn’t to perform songs that are fun to sing together to the folks that showed up at church on any given Sunday, it’s to proclaim adoration and love and awe to the Creator of the universe through the medium of melodies and song of His creation.  I’d much rather the band and vocalists leading in worship weren’t elevated on a platform, instead being on the same exact physical plane as the crowd.  Worship gatherings I’ve been a part of where this is the practice have always seemed more conducive to directing the focus of our praise through singing and playing to God rather than just being shouted forward at the stage and the blaring speakers.

So here’s a thought.  We’re all on the same level.  Who’s leading everyone?  Me?  Well, I can play guitar and sing and coach and prod and guide and bring people along with me into the presence of God to a point, but I’m not worthy to usher an entire room of people into the throneroom of His Grace.  There is such a tremendous gap between us and our Father, and there was only one person on earth in all of history who could close that gap.  Christ alone was worthy to intercede for us, and when He ascended into glory He gave us the Holy Spirit, our mediator, who intercedes for us now.  The Spirit is the very presence of God around us, upon us, within us.  Who better to lead us to the throne of grace than the Spirit?

Going back to Matt Redman’s The Heart Of Worship Files, he talks about this very idea of the Holy Spirit being the “real worship leader.”  Philippians 3:3 says, The real believers are the ones the Spirit of God leads to work away at this ministry, filling the air with Christ’s praise as we do it. We couldn’t carry this off by our own efforts, and we know it…. That last statement is the key.  Our worship without the Spirit is empty.  Our words and thoughts are meaningless without the means to communicate them to God.  So the Spirit inspires the words, providing to us the realizations we are meant to discover as we sing and as we pray.  It’s not about how well we feel we communicated a song from the stage, or if there was any vocal cheering that accompanied the claps at the end of the worship set.  It’s our being open to the Spirit leading us in what to say and how to say it, in what kind of posture we hold as we proclaim His goodness and claim His love and promises.

The Spirit’s leading doesn’t exonerate us from our responsibility to prepare ourselves in leading, however.  As lead worshippers, we still have to learn our songs accurately, taking the time to practice & hone our craft of playing an instrument or using our voices to ensure we don’t create distractions for the crowd, being conscious of what’s happening in the worship gathering and directing the flow.  But ultimately, we are partnering with the greatest worship leader in the universe when we invite the Spirit to guide us into His presence.  Takes some of the pressure off, doesn’t it?