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Monday, July 14, 2014

WWJD? about the borders, and Praise and Worship

This will be a couple of posts...maybe three. I think we have long-ago lost contact with what Jesus would actually do or what being near Him might really be like.
Here are my thoughts...

                                                    What if Jesus were here?
I get accused quite frequently of becoming a curmudgeon. I suppose I am. But I am also a man of intense belief and passion. I am passionate about doctrine and liturgy and adhering to what our earliest fathers gave us as the basis for our Faith.
I get burdened and sometimes –many times- angry at what I perceive are slights against the Faith we were entrusted by those fathers. It’s easy to do when we see how it gets misused and mistreated these days.
I was thinking this morning about what modern Christianity has become. We interpret Jesus in our own way and make him fit our needs. This is dangerous. One of the most effective and impacting books I ever read was In His Steps by Charles M. Sheldon. The book’s subtitle is actually more well known. “What would Jesus do?” It became a force for living out the gospel when it was written over 100 years ago and has sold 30,000,000 copies. It was resurrected about 20 years ago with a movie and a soundtrack and a crass marketing program, replete with all the latest trendy things including those stupid silicone wrist bracelets that said “WWJD?”
There is an inherent problem with answering that question for ourselves...we can easily decide the answer, regardless of the facts we have to back it up. Jesus isn’t physically here to ask. I have an image of Jesus in scripture and I know how I want Him to be in any situation, therefore I can extrapolate what it is I think he might do and decide to say emphatically “This is what Jesus would do!” The problem is, there is often no basis in fact or in scripture for my decision. I have created a Jesus of my own making and I have put my words in His mouth and I have declared that my answer to “WWJD?” is accurate and since it’s what Jesus would do, if you don’t agree with me, you aren’t just against’re against Jesus.
Two situations bring this to mind and demonstrate this issue. One is the various forms of “worship” that are prevalent in the Church today. The other is the current border crisis.
I want to address both.
First, and perhaps easiest, is worship. I’ve said this before, so it’s no surprise to readers here...most praise and worship makes me sick. Seriously, internally, queasy. Like “I need to run out of here before I puke and / or punch someone / something right now.” Nothing  enflames my suspicions like the trusty phrase “Ushering in the presence of God” or “Feel the presence of the Lord.” This is always spoken by a pastor, either a “worship pastor” or a “senior pastor” (not to be confused with a “resource pastor” a “buildings and maintenance pastor” a “Kitchen pastor” or a “stewardship pastor” –the guy who counts the money and keeps the records of tithes- or any of the other pastoral positions created by the senior pastor to give a cushy, tax-break-providing job to a buddy) But this is the very guy who will also remind you that God is omnipresent. His presence is everywhere at one time. So he was already here, and you needed this emotionally driven, pabulum-and-breast-milk flavored music to remind you of this.
The lights go dim...or are always dim, causing your focus to be affixed on the stage and it’s performers. The music comes up, cued by a “worship leader” who tells you to “stand to your feet this morning!” No thanks, snapperhead, I’ll get to the standing part after lunch. Then he outlines how worship is supposed to look on his watch. “Put your hands together!” or “Lift your hands and praise Him!” or “Lets come into His presence!”  Thanks pal, I thought I was going to a car wash until you reminded me.
Then the swaying begins. The glassy-eyed, hand-waving like a teen-aged girl hearing a ballad at a Selena Gomez concert. Who can help but to feel all “worshippy and praisy” when this music / setting / lighting is happening all around you?
Me. That’s who.
I’ve always wondered and frequently imagined what it would be like if Jesus actually showed up in the flesh. If He walked into the twenty-somethings in their praise mosh-pit or got bumped in the head by the arm of a swaying dervish caught up in the enraptured emotion of worshipping. (This has actually happened to me, I got smacked in the head trying to get to my seat)
I’ve wondered what my reaction to seeing His face would be.
It won’t be this:

I think if Jesus were to walk into a room on a Sunday morning, my first reaction would be to fall flat on my face and lay silent and still. What could I say? What words do I have to add to this moment? What can I add to the presence of Jesus? Nothing. It would be obscene to try. yet that’s what we see Sunday after Sunday...”worship leaders” trying to “usher in” the presence of God, forgetting that it never left, and then trying to orchestrate our response to it. It’s not a Justin Beiber concert. It’s the presence of Jesus Christ. Imagine He is standing here where you can see Him...physically touch Him. Now...start singing one of those songs about how you’re his buddy and how you long for Him and how desperate you are for Him. Declare that friendship you keep bragging about. I don’t know about others, but I find it hard. I would find it hard to do anything except fall to the ground, lay out flat, and be entirely silent. Because I might miss something...anything. I don’t want to speak over Him. I don’t want to babble to Him about our relationship. If I am truly in the presence of the King of Kings and the One who allowed himself flayed open like a side of beef for my sin...then my response is wonder, and wonder is too big for words. I’d weep. I’d smile. I’d tremble. I’d be so quiet and so still I could hear Him breathing. I’d wash his feet with my tears.
But I wouldn’t react like I was on a contact high at a Grateful dead concert.
And NOBODY would dare tell me how I should respond.
The presence of God brings AWE. Awe is not a word you use on a roller-coaster at a theme park. Awe is what a blind man would say if he awoke one morning to find himself standing on the shore of the Atlantic and he suddenly could see. Awe is what I felt the night my daughter was born. Awe is peering through the Hubbell telescope at the heavens that you knew were there, but could never conceive in your mind.
That is what worship is like.
I’ll close with this (sadly) true story...A friend of mine was in church during the worship time and felt the urge to go to another friend and give her a hug. She approached this woman and wrapped her arms around her. (For the record, they were VERY good friends so this was not some random occurrence) The woman hugged her and said “I love you” and the other woman turned to her with a hideously angry look and hissed “Don’t you EVER interrupt me when I’m worshiping!” My only comment here is that she was worshiping just wasn’t God she was worshiping.

I think I’ll leave the borders for tomorrow. Because I have a lot to say there too.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Birthday, Land that I love

So...this just poured out in the last 7's sappy I suppose but it's me.

                                        Happy Birthday America
238 years ago, a brave group of Godly men literally risked their lives and fortunes (a bet that most of them lost, by the way) to give birth to a new nation. Think of that by itself...starting a country. I've started two businesses in my lifetime...I can't imagine the wisdom, instinct, courage, and boundless FAITH it took to get together in a room and decide that you were undertaking the start-up of a nation. I literally got tears in my eyes as I wrote that, because in fifty years I have never thought about it like that before. They had to know the trouble this was going to cause. They had to see down the road and understand where the bumps were. And what they could not see, or predict, they allowed for, by building into this country's Birth Certificate, the necessity of Faith. And that's what the Declaration of Independence is...our National Birth Certificate.
They risked it all and took a stand and something called "The American Way" was born.
In the 238 years since, great men have risked their own lives to back the play of those 56 original Americans. That's what they were...the very first "Americans."
In the years that followed, great men like my grandfather, who was a Sea-Bee in the Pacific Theater in WWII. Many of my uncles, including two who fought their way up Iwo Jima from opposite sides, neither knowing the other was also on the island. My father who spent two tours in Vietnam. My friend Tim Lee, who lost both legs to a land mine in Vietnam, and the thousands who served every conflict in between, have risked their lives to make good on the check those 56 first Americans wrote. Every time they went into battle, they said to the world "I'm here for George Washington" or "I'm here for John Hancock" and so on.
I can't even put into words -and I'm a wordy guy- how much I love this country. Maybe it's the immigrant-grandson thing, or the "Last Innocent Age" thing, or the time and place and people I grew up around. But I love her more than almost anything or anyone...certainly more than myself. She is sacred to me. Europe is not. South America is not...even Italy or the Ukraine (the nations of my heritage)  are not. But America is. We say "God Bless America..." but we have long forgotten that this is a plea. A desperate request. A heart-cry. "God...please bless America. We started with You in mind. Many times we have forgotten that, but never more than we have of late." Happy Birthday to my sweet Homeland. I dearly love you.