Archive for the ‘Perspective’ Category

Instead of a Show

Posted: August 30, 2012 in Jesus, Musician, Perspective

As some of you may know, I’m a musician who has sung a lot of songs about God, to God, and for God. Some of those publicly, and many times privately. Growing up in ‘church culture’ I’ve noticed a lot of nuances about the language we use to describe expressions and acts of our faith. One word that is commonly tossed around, and is often directly associated with music, is worship.

Since coming to college, I’ve thought about this topic a great deal. I’ve come to the conclusion that the majority of us in the 21st century American Church haven’t a clue what that word really means from a biblical perspective. Beyond finding a more accurate definition, I’ve pondered how that affects how I worship God. I’ll be honest; my whole perspective has been changed.

In short what I’ve learned is that there are a three main words that refer to worship in the Old Testament. One of them ‘aboda refers to temple worship such as offering sacrifices and keeping Jewish rituals. The word thusia also used referring to temple sacrifices, and Paul used it when refering to Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice for all the world’s sins (Ephesians 5:2). The other word used is shachac– which is the physical posture of bowing down, which symbolizes reverent fear, submission, and a commitment to obedience.

In koine Greek, they refer to ‘aboda as latreia. In the New Testament this word was sometimes portrayed in a negative sense, because the then Jewish leaders thought it to be an act of service to God to kill Christians.

In koine Greek, they refer to shachac as proskyneo, and it more or less means the same thing- bowing down, reverent obedience.

Paul, in the New Testament also uses the word leitourgia, which basically means an act of service or sacrifice to God, many times through helping other people (especially Christian brothers and sisters).

Here’s a few sources that explain all the language origins better than I could, and they are written by people who have done A LOT more research and formal study than I have:

Alright now that you have all that information, I’d like to share a bit about what our culture (21st century American church to be specific) tells us.

  • Worship happens on Sundays and Wednesdays, or any other day of the week, right before a sermon is preached.
  • Worship is a synonym for singing songs to and about God.
  • Worship is a genre of music.
  • Worship is confined to a time period and a place.
  • Worship is lead by a Worship Leader- a guy or girl on the church staff or volunteering who picks and leads the songs, often on a stage facing an audience (aka congregation).
  • A worship experience is best when the band is playing well together, there are dramatic but timely light shows coordinated with the songs, Powerpoint slides with the lyrics up on a big screen so you don’t have to memorize them all, and when the crowd is really getting into it (hand-raising, clapping, singing loudly, kneeling, lots of praying, maybe some tongue speaking and dancing if you’re of the Charismatic persuasion).

It doesn’t take a genius to notice the differences. Unfortunately, what I’ve gathered and learned from the Bible, and fellow Bible studiers, there’s a disconnect between what the Bible teaches and what Western Church culture reinforces. Worship in the Bible is clearly about honoring and glorifying God in words, deeds, actions, and thoughts. It is an all-encompassing spiritual posture of humility, acknowledging that we are nothing without God and that he is worthy of all praise and honor and adoration. While the 21st century Western culture does a good job of honoring God with words and lyrics, we do a poor job of honoring God with our thoughts, deeds, and actions (especially outside church walls). And maybe it’s not even about how ‘good a job’ we do, as much as it is about the condition and honesty of our hearts.

Don’t get me wrong. I love singing songs to and for God. And the Bible even says God delights when His children sing songs of praise to Him (Psalm 147). But I am deeply saddened by the extent in which we’ve sold ourselves short on experiencing and living a life of worship. I honestly feel that many of us are missing out on a part of the faith that is not only crucial and necessary, but life changing.

After about a year of staying off the music stage, I acted as the song leader for a local campus ministry at my college last night. It was really fun, and to be honest I was mentally all over the place trying to find my way to praising and thanking God for who He is and the amount of trials he’s brought me through recently. Afterwards, I was met with several congratulatory and encouraging comments- “Good job.” “Hey you did a great job tonight at worship.” “I really enjoyed your singing.” “You had an awesome presence up there.” While I realize everyone who said these things had the best and kindest intentions, I couldn’t help but feel extremely wrong and uncomfortable by these remarks. Like I was getting some kind of undeserved attention. After all if I was really up there to “lead worship”, wouldn’t we be more thankful to God for another opportunity to worship him, and not the singer? Heck I’m not even supposed to be the worship leader. According to the Bible that role belongs to the Holy Spirit. It’d be like someone thanking the grounds crew at an NFL game for the offense scoring so many touchdowns due to mowing the grass and painting the end zone correctly.

I’d like to get back to the heart of worship. And like the well-known Matt Redman song goes, it really is all about Jesus. Not about God fixing our problems. Not about the skill of the musicians and singers on stage. Not about the song choices. Not about an emotional reaction or connection to the event/show. Not about meeting at a specific time or place. It’s just about Jesus. It takes form in pausing to awe and fear and/or actively glorify Him (through service, sacrifice, reverence, prayer, adoration, etc.).

Can worship and praise happen through song? Yeah probably. But to be honest, I’d like to see a little more variation in how we (the church) worship God. The result of us continuing on this path, is believing in a counterfeit view of something God intended to be very authentic and life-changing.

So next time you see someone in emotional or physical need…worship God. Next time you get a moment to pause…worship God. Next time you see someone who is lonely and needs a friend that genuinely cares…worship God. Next time you pray…worship God. Next time you get the opportunity to encourage and hang out with other Jesus-believers…worship God. You don’t have to be in a church gathering setting, and you don’t have to have a musical instrument or a microphone, or even a singing voice to worship God. You just need your heart, which is coincidently the hardest thing to give.

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” Jesus (Matthew 15:8-9)

28 “But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. 30Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go.

31“Which of the two obeyed his father?”

They replied, “The first.”

Then Jesus explained his meaning: “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do.  (Matthew 21:28-31)

I want to publicly confess. In my past, I have not been very consistent in obeying the commands of God (you know, when it gets down to the nitty-gritty). Can anybody relate? I read the following verses…

“If you love me, obey my commandments.” John 14:15

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.”  Matthew 7:21

….and I cringe. I think, ‘geez that doesn’t make me look like a Christ-centered believer. Are you trying to tell me something, God?’ Maybe there’s a little something within us all that can relate. It’s easy to accept the love and grace of Christ. Who doesn’t want to be loved? Who doesn’t want to be forgiven for their past? But when I think about the usual response to grace, I tremble with fear. Yes,  I shutter. It’s not uncommon for me to be on my face in tears begging for forgiveness for myself and my human brethren. It’s also not uncommon for me to read a passage out of the Bible, hear sound preaching & teaching, or even hear the Holy Spirit’s whispers; and reject applying it to my life because it makes me uncomfortable. It’s a constant internal battle between deciding to live out God’s wisdom or my own selfish desires.  See the problem?

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

How about another example (I love illustrations)?  It’s like a gardener who is trying to clear the rocks around a dying plant. A few stones have limited the plant’s efforts for it’s roots to grow deeper. The gardener thus seeks to uncover and remove all the stones and surrounding weeds getting in the way. These stones are stubborn stones.
I was thinking about how much I don’t really show God how much I love Him. Though I strive to have a continual heart of worship (just being in awe and reverence to God’s presence all the time), I have noticed that I’m spiritually cripple. I’m like the little-leaguer who gets so excited about getting in the game and pleasing his coach, that he forgets to tie up his cleats before rushing out of the dugout, and consequently trips over his own feet upon chasing a simple pop fly.  I have a hard time walking with Christ without falling, without failing. I confess that I need rehab, and a lesson on spiritual preparation. The best way to train is by spending more quality time with God, reading about his loving and life-changing commandments.

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 25 But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. (James 1: 22-25)

Sorry blog-world for not giving a life update on how life has been post-graduation, or how some plans have changed. Those that know me, know what’s going on. You know about my triumphs, struggles, and continual posture of waiting. You are also the only likely ones to read this blog post lol.

I got a chance to meet this dude recently. Marcus (FLAME) is definitely servant of the Lord!

Dear Warrensburg,

Words cannot express the times I have had abiding here. I came to you a naive, confused, self-conscious 18-year-old kid who thought he had his adult life planned out perfectly. I came to you in chains- dragging along my religious, personal, and emotional baggage. It was here, that I gained the closest friends I’ve ever made. It was here that I learned to accept who I am, and be at peace with that.  It was here that the moral-system I upheld so zealously (and blindly) was continually challenged and transformed. It was here that I experienced some of my lowest points. It was here that I realized how utterly broken I was, so that I could accept the grace-rooted life of Jesus Christ. It was here that I laughed, cried, hugged people, ate, played music, sported like 8 different hair cuts, helped people, dated, started protest rallies, drank lots of coffee, philosophized, socialized, made a bazillion Taco Bell runs, and learned how to truly share life with people.

In the last four years there have been a number of people who’ve invested in me and spoke wisdom into my life. These people have had made a difference in my life by how they live and how they interact with others. (Disclaimer: none of these people are perfect, nor would they prefer to be put on any kind of pedestal).  Most notably Roger Brant, Sara Johnson, Mark Bliss, and Carson Conover.

Carson and Roger were one of the first few people I met here at UCM. Carson was a senior and a student leader at the BSU. Roger was the new campus minister at the BSU. (They knew each other before-hand). I always kinda looked up to Carson because he was a few years older than me. It was one of the first times I had met a young Christian who lived the Christian life with a non-judgemental, loving attitude everywhere he went. Not to mention he’s a pretty intelligent dude (though he tries to hide it with quirky humor). Carson, obviously didn’t stick around long because he graduated in 2008. I did however get the chance to hang out with him and chat a handful of times later down the line. Every one-on-one conversation we had was profoundly meaningful and surprisingly casual. This helped set a foundation for many other things to come.

Onto Roger…Roger is a very peculiar man, but one I’ve grown to love and respect. He’s got a lot of deep layers to him, that I’m not even going to begin to tackle. Roger is someone who has seen me from the day I was a freshman to the day I graduated. He saw how I changed, struggled, and grew. He was never someone who tried to spoon feed me all the right answers, but instead tried to ask the right questions. Roger helped me look at my faith seriously and honestly. He is no longer at the BSU, but instead the “leader dude” at Wayfare Church in the Warrensburg. This is another community I’ve gotten the joy of being a part of since Sophomore year (2009). I will dearly miss Roger, and his wisdom, quirky/sarcastic humor, and mandolin skills.

Sara Johnson was my Residence Hall Director/Boss in Fitzgerald Hall and Nickerson Hall, while I was a CA in those buildings. I can’t honestly say that I was always completely open with Sara (til the last month lol). But her humble, hard-working, optimistic characteristics were an inspiration for me. I admire her persevering faith. She taught me to “Choose my ‘tude” daily. She taught me to not overload myself, but to roll with my creative inspirations. She was always a great listener and always someone I viewed as a friend just as much as a boss.

And Mark Bliss…Oh Mark. Dude, I’m gonna miss you. Jam sessions. Waiting on you to show up somewhere. Sociology classes. Solving the universe’s problems inside Java Junction. Though you may not be the most organized person, you are definitely a friend I can count on to lend a helping hand (as long as I call you spontaneously and not ahead of time lol). I admire your heart and respect you like crazy man. Best of luck to you on whatever you end up doing in life.

…like I said there are a TON of other people who’ve invested in me, loved on me, and been a huge part of my life. Every year here (and almost every semester) has been different. It’s been a blast. So thank you to everyone else. It was the people at UCM that made my college experience special and memorable.

So long UCM! So long Warrensburg! I’m gonna miss you like crazy. Seriously.

Next time I return I’ll be Alum… Weird.

You ever hear that Jesus parable about the two men praying in the temple- one, a Pharisee, thanked God for how good himself is; and the other, a tax collector, beat his chest in shame crying out to God for mercy. Jesus went on to say that it was the tax collector, not the priest, who was justified before God. Check it out–>> Luke 18:9-14

Over the last 3 or 4 year I have really tried to have a humble posture and attitude within when approaching the throne of God in prayer. Honestly, it’s not hard when I start thinking about the brokeness in my life. Most of my prayers start with (or are completely) a mixture of thanking God and asking forgiveness. The following hymn comes to mind:

I will not boast in anything: no gifts, no power, nor wisdom. But I will boast in Jesus Christ; His death and resurrection. “How Deep the Father’s Love For Us”

This part I am not ashamed of me, and is an attitude I will continue to live and strive for.

I however would like to pose an interesting twist or thought, based on something I occasionally recognize in myself. What about those times when I nonchalantly brag about “boasting in God”? As if to say I am better than the next person because I acknowledge the awesomeness of God (pst. even the demons do that- Matthew 8:28-31).

What about the times when I go through the motions  or ritualize a prayer intro? What about those times when I’m not honest with God? When I feed him half-hearted praises born out of frustration(s) and confusion.

We all do it to some extinct. Lately, I’ve been noticing it in the speech of my fellow friends and believers and in occasional moments in my prayer-life. If you are the type of person who wants to combat this form of pride, good luck. This a muddy water to travel through. On the one hand the person may be verbally boasting about God in the most elaborate and convincing way they can think of. On the other, the depths of their heart is revealed in the manner and body language they communicate. Sometimes it’s painfully obvious. For me, it’s pretty easy to tell when someone means what they say. I just see it in their eyes. I hear the passion in their voice. I note their humble smirk; their non-judgmental eyebrows.

Someone who boasts about how much they boast about God seems like the “teacher’s pet” version of Christians. They can say all the right things, and sweet talk the Teacher. But something about how they condescendingly interact with their classmates, makes the Teacher a little weary of trusting every drop of flattery they utter (though they may continue to get gold stars). I find it interesting that in elementary school, its can be cute when little kids suck up. However in college, professors hate it.

As we mature in our faith, we strive to become more humble and more reliant on what God puts on our hearts. Though it is good to lift up God’s name and worship His being, I challenge you (& myself) to make it more than just words. I hope it is a true reflection of your heart and mind.

Jesus said (in a number of different ways),

“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me….you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.Mark 15:1-20

(WARNING!! This is a loaded post. Brace yourself, because I’m about to go all over the place.)

So much of my life gets caught up in movements, in ideas, in moral values. I think it’s safe to say that most people around me get caught up too. It’s a certain religious belief, or  a sociological theory, or the viewpoint that ‘being gay is okay’; it’s critiques on society’s increasing reliance on technology; it is  “for or against” a bureaucratic society at large and in everyday life; it’s capitalism or socialism, pro-life or pro-choice, conservative or liberal, radical or moderate, Pepsi or Coke… this list could go on for a long time.

In my everyday life I am confronted with issues in our world, and a large part of me feels incline/encouraged to choose sides. In the midst of all this chaos, may I ask, who is right? What is truth? Who among us can reveal truth in a genuine and humble manner? Those are questions many (including myself) often wonder? I don’t know anyone who does not, deep down, want to know truth.

I often wish I could just be able to sit in the presence of God, and listen to Him audibly explain the mysteries and depths of his kingdom, and of the world. Most Christians will roughly say (and I’m not necessarily denying this) that the Bible emphatically explains the heart of God; and his heart/Word was personified through Jesus (being both God and man simultaneously). Jesus himself had quite a number of things to say about truth. Once he said “I am the way, the truth, the life; and no one comes to the father except through me.” Another time Jesus told Pontius Pilate (the Roman Governor of Judea at the time),”You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Pilate’s response (much like many of us) was, “What is truth?”.

Many of you know where I stand, and what things I have stood up for (if not feel free to ask). However I must confess, it is very easy for me to get caught up in day-to-day discussions (which are not necessarily bad) without keeping into account what (I believe) truth is. It’s easy for me to get into arguments with people about human rights, sociological theories, and musical taste; based on my personal opinions. And it is even easier for me to try to persuade people to believe the way I do. But what do my opinions matter? Do they really hold that much weight? Do they convey any truth? In the context of pursuing truth, how I go about pursuing truth is going to look a little different from how my neighbor pursues truth. Are all these paths righteous? That is not for me to determine. But who am I to judge how someone else pursues truth, even if it is inherently wrong? Who am I to judge is someone wants to ignore truth? These are hard questions to cope with, because it is very easy for me (and others) to scrutinize the journeys of others. We all ask the same big questions: Who am I? What is my purpose? What direction should I take? We just seem to react to these LARGE questions in an infinite amount of ways. In the context of this truth journey, even though I stumble a lot my focus and underlining goal is grow closer to God, and to know/love him better. Given that most journey’s are defined by the object or person being sought after, my journey is defined by God (Father-Spirit-Son). How I’ve gone about that journey, seeking after Him, isn’t necessarily a suggested way or anywhere close to the ‘universally perfect way’ of seeking after God (truth). I also don’t believe there is one cookie-cutter path we should all adhere to. If we are in the pursuit of righteousness (which is only attained through divine grace), and more so truth, then God will guide our individual journey’s so that we can each understand the depths of his love.

I don’t really have a big conclusion or theory to wrap this post up. However I will say this: if I am going to pursue Jesus (truth), I want to pursue it in a loving and humble way. If I have ever tried to convey my opinions or convictions in a contradictory way, I am sincerely apologetic. My heart aches for the injustices and self-righteous judgements I imposed on my friends and peers. The best way I know how to right my wrongs is to show love for the people I come in contact with from here on out. The grace that I’ve been given by God is far greater than anything I deserve; and for me to misrepresent that love Christ has instilled in me, is wrong. So whatever that looks like as I continue my journey with Christ, I can’t predict. I just know  I want to take every step with love in my heart.

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.”
Paul the Apostle (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

just a few thoughts I’ve been having lately:

– Tennessee barbeque rules. well actually, pretty much any food here rules.

– I never want to live in Montgomery, AL. Too much racism there…on both sides.

– I feel like I have an explosion of words to say, but no way to eloquently and cohesively saying them.

– Everyday for the past month seems like a new set of crossroads. All kinds of decisions being made that could potentially be life changing. That is both exciting and scary. I’m  sure most everyone around my age goes through something similar.

– I feel like I’m just continuing down one path (Student Affairs, working with college students as a career), just waiting for God to snatch me up and thow me on a new path. I mean I like college students and student life stuff. Just don’t know if I’m cut out for it long-term. I’d rather be playing music for a living and doing mission work in foreign countries and making t-shirts that raise money for kids in Africa. blah….but I continue on, with a blindfold over my eyes and a forceful hand on my back and an eager ear waiting for the whispering voice of direction.

– Life is hard. For Everyone. Why not ease the load for someone else?…that is if you can handle carrying anymore yourself.

– There are many days when I doubt whether people truly love me. I can see it in their eyes. Hear it in their voice. It’s not hard to tell if someone authentically loves you for who you are. Whether out of pride or shyness, I’m not one to beg for friendship. But, community and friendship so valuable. It provides a sense of home and belonging. I don’t really have a “home”. I’ve moved around from place to place all my life. They say home is where the heart is. Well, I’m not really sure where my heart is.

– I don’t plan on dating this year. Not enough time. I’m leaving town for who-knows-where in a year. Not to mention I’m broke. Ladies, I’m off-limits. Sorry.

– I want to start writing songs again. Unfortunatley, I have writers block (refer back to bullet point 3).

– I want to learn more Blues chords

-I need to read my Bible more. seriously.

-I also need to excercise more. Me and Sam are going to do P90X this semester. Sixpack? naah.

– Sometimes I get frustrated when no one reads this blog. I see the stats. But then, I think “Well, I really hate promoting this blog. Promoting is so vain, and overrated. Plus, I’m more vulnerable on this blog than I am in real life. What to do..”

-Thank God for music, and how it can communicate volumes to me every day. And thank God for skilled lyricists.

Monday morning I was up really early…5am early. And I was feeling pretty awake. Not sure what got into me, but I guess my body decided I had gotten enough sleep throughout the weekend. So I was not in the least bit “having a case of the mundays”. Around 7:30am I headed over to get some breakfast and coffee from the Hornet Express on campus, then I headed over to the ResLife office to check and see if I had gotten any mail lately. While there I said hello to Cass, the ResLife Director. He’s a pretty cool guy. We casually talked about how the summer was flying be so fast, and how I only had a week and half left in Emporia. I then joked that I hadn’t really been keeping up with my P90X like I had planned to this summer. Big Surprise. As I was about to depart from the office I said, “I guess maybe I’ll go work out or something,” thinking out loud of something to do during my empty morning. And what Cass said in return took me way off guard. He kind of switched from casual buddy mode to teacher/sensai mode. He said (and I can’t remember the exact quote), “Now when you say that, use more direct and firm language. Don’t make casual plans that you know you don’t really mean. Say what you mean. And do what you say. Now, what are you gonna do again?” Jokingly and afraid to make any commitments I didn’t want to be held to so I remarked with a snarky sip of my coffee, “I’m gonna enjoy my coffee.” And with that he smiled and said, “Enjoy your morning, Jordan.”

WOW! Slap in the face. But a much needed one. I’ll be the first one to admit that I make a lot of personal plans that I don’t live up to (it’s embedded in my e/INFP personality). I either wimp out or get too lazy to actually complete my goals.  If it needs to get done, I’ll usually get around to doing it. But I’m rarely proactive or use my time productively. (((Food for Thought: How often have I done this to God? How often has my laziness got in the way of carrying out God’s plans?))) Cass’s comment also taught me to be more firm and direct in the things I say; not passive and wishy-washy. By being more direct in my decision-making and acting on what I say, I become a person of integrity and a person worthy of respect- two things I have not been in a while.

Needless to say, I’ve had a pretty productive week so far. 🙂