I hate it when God “shows up.”

I remember when I used to go to Christian retreats/festivals/revivals/conferences. I used to love them so much. They were quiet times of reflection, a time to spend in unabashed and unashamed camaraderie with fellow believers. More importantly though, they always had great music. I knew without a doubt that the evenings would be intense. It would be a kamikaze of blue lights, key changes, tears, sweat, and a 23 minute rendition of  Michael W Smith’s Let it rain.  It is a collusion of blood, bone and brain matter; fused with flickering lights, heat, glowsticks and D-chords. The synapses are firing. The skin is getting prickly. It would leave me on my knees, my chest heaving  and my body crumpled on the floor because I could not stand the weight of the glory of God in the room. The air was too thick with it. It was too much for my heart and legs to bear.

In the aftermath, in the stillness with our spiritual afterbirth, we would reflect on the experience as we rode home in the dark in buses and vans. It was a quiet time of holy reverence for what we had just gone through. As we came out of our shells and began to talk,  we would always agree on the same thing, that the music was awesome and that “God showed up.”   Later on during the next morning service, the Pastor would call up one or two of us teen representatives on stage to talk about our time there. We would invariably share the same thing, that it was a fantastic life changing experience, and that ” God showed up”.

But why did we say that? Its because since we were little, we’ve been conditioned by the Church and the purveyors of modern evangelicalism to believe that emotional experiences are equated to a spiritual experience. That they are interrelated and interchangeable. That if you have an emotional response to a song or to an atmosphere, that God is there and at working. I can’t remember a time when that wasn’t taught, either explicitly or tacitly. They might not outright say it, but their actions scream it. Music is a powerful thing, all the much more when it is consecrated with the Holy Spirit and imbued with spiritual words and meaning. That’s why I can remember how I felt every single time conference,  but I can’t tell you what was preached on. I could walk someone through minute by minute of a two hour worship set during certain retreats, but I couldn’t you what scriptures they used to preach on for 15 minutes afterward, other than 2 Chronicles 7:14 [but only because everyone always uses that verse]

Do I think God shows up? Absolutely, but listen- he ALWAYS SHOWS UP. God is there at every Church service. Every prayer group. Every congregational meeting. Every Bible study. God is there and has shown up, and he has shown himself relentlessly faithful to do so. He is an omniscient, omnipresent deity whose Spirit lives inside of us, present in nearly every way possible as we gather together as believers and as his children.  It is a wonderful, beautiful and precious thing, and yes, that can be an emotional thing. But he is never far from us. So why is it I’ve never heard anyone say that God “really showed up” during a Bible study through the book of 1 Samuel?  Why is it that no one says that God “showed up” during a Sunday school lecture on the penal substitution atonement?

Why is it that God only “shows up” when we’re jumping up and down with arms raised? Why does he only “show up” when our hearts are beating fast and when we’re engulfed in a heightened emotional state? Is it a more powerful manifestation, or a more palpable iteration? Why make these artificial distinctions when there is no objective basis for doing so? I’ve heard some of the most idolatrous, blasphemous things said at certain conferences where God “really showed up”. I’ve bit my lip during certain songs that contained the most vilely irreverent lyrics where God “showed up”. I’ve heard heretics bastardize the scriptures and manipulate them into every theological grotesquerie at retreats where God really, really “showed up”. What has “showing up” come to mean?

Why is there so much emphasis on getting people to this emotional state and then constantly reinforcing the meaning and significance of this state? Why is so much money, energy, and ministry resources dedicated to creating occasions where people can have these experiences? Are these experiences spiritual by virtue of their very existence? How can this constant reinforcement of “experience = meeting God” be healthy for anybody who wants to grow and be sanctified? What happens when the thrill, the flush and the buzz go away? What theological monsters and biblical confusions are being created in the mind of a man who can’t distinguish them, and in fact doesn’t want to? What happens when they get tired of chasing the high and come to the conclusion that loss of experiential high means that they’ve been abandoned by God? That the burnout means that God is no longer showing up? That the angst and terror of depression and spiritual desolation is proof positive that they’ve been severed from Christ and betrayed by His love?

What happens then? Will God “show up” or will He show up?

Posting Domestic Abuse Hotlines In The Ladies Bathroom At Church?

I know of a large Church where a church committee made up of both men and women wanted to post a domestic abuse hotline in the ladies’ bathroom at the church.  The committee approached the pastors and the elders for their approval and the pastors denied their request. In response to hearing about this, certain people have become visibly upset, saying that this demonstrates all sorts of evil intentions, specifically that the Church doesn’t care about women, that they are tacitly encouraging abuse, that this is evidence of male headship and submission gone awry, and a host of other things. Their reasoning for these charges is simple[ish]; they don’t believe there could be a good reason for the Church leadership [all men] to deny their request.

What do you all think? Are there legitimate reasons why the church might deny their request? Do you think its a good idea to post something like this in the bathroom? If they denied the request, does this necessarily mean that they are tacitly encouraging abuse?If you were on that committee how would you feel? Discuss!

Seven Misconceptions about Submission

Mary Kassian has a great little article about the misconceptions about submission at her website. I like Mary a lot and find her articles to be generally quite excellent. It’s worth the read here

Misconception #4: Submission is a right—a husband has the right to demand his wife’s submission.

A husband does not have the right to demand or extract submission from his wife. Submission is HER choice—her responsibility… it is NOT his right!! Not ever. She is to “submit herself”— deciding when and how to submit is her call. In a Christian marriage, the focus is never on rights, but on personal responsibility. It’s his responsibility to be affectionate. It’s her responsibility to be agreeable. The husband’s responsibility is to sacrificially love as Christ loved the Church—not to make his wife submit.

Singing Ozzy Osbourne in Church?

A few months ago Newspring Church@ Florence, one of his multi-church video sites, had the idea to Play Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” as part of their praise and worship set. Newspring is no stranger to this sort of controversy, having infamously played ACDC’s Highway to Hell as their opening song on Easter Sunday. When asked about that particular choice, lead Pastor Perry Noble said that the reason he played it was to “p*** off the religious people”. Other songs that have been sung by the band over there have included Kelly Clarkson’s “I do not hook up“, Taylor Swifts “Love Story,” the Darkness’ “I believe in a thing called love” Christiana Aguilera’s Hurt, Metallica’s Enter Sandman, and a host of others. In regards to this specific song, I’ve embedded the video below

In terms of what people think about this, I know several people who think this is one of the coolest ideas alive. They believe  part of the Church’s mission is to be attractional and that anything they can do short of sin to get people into Church is a good thing. A certain subset of this groups also believe part of the Church’s mission is to be entertaining, and so anything short of sin that can be done to keep the congregation members from getting bored while they are in Church is a good thing, as this also ensures repeat visits. With regard to playing these specific songs, I imagine that  much of it revolves around the Churches ability to be culturally hip and relevant, with the idea that playing this type of song will draw people in and then they’ll be able to experience Jesus while they’re here. Another group thinks this is a horrible idea, and that it is some mixture of blasphemy and idolatry as people replace worship songs with classic rock and roll in a desperate bid for relevancy. They would say that this type of mindset and everything that goes with it is what makes a goat factory that produces unbelievers with spiritual convictions of the most shallowest depth.

While I would fall somewhere near the latter category, I want to focus on how something like this blurs the line between praise and worship, and something else altogether. I certainly don’t like the idea of them playing these songs during Church, but if you watch those videos of those others songs you’ll notice at least that they are merely singing them.  They don’t have the lyrics posted up on power point for people to sing along. There is some nuanced division between song A and songs B, even if its hard to see and is very minute. At the very least this represents some sort of delineation between a rock and roll song meant to entertain, and a psalm, hymn or spiritual song, regardless of which side you take.

But this song was different, because in this case they projected the lyrics up on power point for the congregation to sing along.  On this particular Sunday morning there was no delineation. There was no separation from the Ozzy Osbourne song and the worship songs. They flowed naturally into each other and people were encouraged to sing along with the Ozzy song  and then jump right in with fare like “Revelation Song” and “It is Well”. That blurs the lines, if not completely decimates it. I’ve written before how the worship music is in and of itself a sermon. I made the case  that

“When we worship, we are saying things about the Lord. We are teaching, rebuking, professing, declaring, correcting and confessing based on the revelation of God in Christ as revealed in his word.  That is the function that our praise and worship lyrics have. Paul says that we ought to teach each other the words of Christ using hymns and spiritual songs- the intent being that this is how the words of Christ will dwell richly in us. That is how we will know more about God, and how we will know more about the words of Christ and how he works through his words. That is a sermon.That is preaching.So when we listen and sing lyrics, we need to ask ourselves “what are we teaching others? What sorts of things are we expounding upon? Are we accurately reflecting God’s character? Are we accurately teaching the words of Christ?  Are we teaching the scriptures?” We also ought to ask ourselves if we are preaching deep, thoughtful sermons through our music, or if we are singing light, breezy, unclear, muddled, mindless, vague sermons?

At the time I was arguing against vapid christianish songs, but how much more true is that when you throw in a secular song like this? When your praise and worship set is 6 songs long, and one of those songs is by someone known as “The Prince of Darkness” shouldn’t that be enough to send up some red flags? I hope that irony is not lost on people. When we consider the breadth of the lyrical content and some of the satanic, hypersexualized songs that Ozzy and his former bands have sung in the past,  I suppose on one hand I should be thankful that they did not choose other songs to be sung, and wonder how many people will think the Church is tacitly or overtly encouraging the listening of this artist? Or perhaps I should be thankful they did not  change any of the lyrics to make it more christian-y… i.e. “I’m riding on the rails of the Jesus train…”. Is it wrong to secretly hope that someone would have thrown a dead bat on stage during that song, just to see what would have happened?

Which brings us to a few questions, what do you think about singing these sorts of songs in Church? Is there a difference between the band singing them solo and having the congregation join in via lyrics on power point? Does this blur the line between worship and secular songs? Lastly, if Newspring had enough money, and Ozzy was coherent enough and willing, do you think they would have brought him in to sing live and would that have been a good idea?

Being prophecied over- an early death and a heart for missions.


When I was in my teens I went to a youth conference of sorts. It was a church-led evangelical shindigs- but at the end there was something special. The pastor introduced us to the weekends guest speaker, a woman who we were told was a modern day prophet, gifted in miracles and visions, and that she was going to prophesy over us individually. I found myself enraptured by this idea. At the time I was having a hard time in my faith. I was confused, struggling with private sins, biblically ignorant, and the prospect of having someone who heard directly from God- from someone who was far more spiritual than I, was a prospect too tantalizing to forgo.

There was such a need there- such a strong desire to see what God had to say. I spent my formative Christian years in the quasi-charismatic/pentecostal movement and so it was not unfamiliar to see other people prophesied over, or to go to an event like YC and be told that we were all history makers, and that we were going to change the world and take the nations for Christ [there was a bit of a dominionist streak there]. I had seen adults come up and be prophesied over, but never from a woman, and never for me personally.

But this was my chance. They asked everyone who wanted to hear a word from the Lord to come forward. I jumped out of my seat and charged forward. The air was electric, the music thudding, and my blood was on fire. It was one of the most exciting moments of my life. About 15 of us stood at the altar and as I was on the opposite end I had to wait my turn. She would put one hand on the persons shoulder, lift the other hand up, speak in tongues for a minute or so, and then speak quietly to the person whose hands she was upon.  Some people would start sobbing. Others would get slain in the spirit the minute she touched them. I stayed upright, waiting…waiting….

Finally she came to me and smiled. This was it! This would give me direction and purpose in my life! I was about to hear directly from God in as audible a way as humanly possible, and I was scared out of my mind. What would God say? I had no doubt that it would be from God. After all, earlier in the night, she had stood up after the worship and said “Thus says the Lord, I am coming like a river. I will wash over your land and make everything new. I will bring healing, thus says the Lord, and I will bring blessing and riches to my people”  I was primed, pumped, and ready to go.

She spoke a few words in tongues, looked into my eyes, and then told me

“I see that you have a heart for missions, and that you are called to go. Do not be afraid, even if God calls you where you don’t want to go. He will be with you. The Lord is also telling me that you have fewer decades than most, that is your time is short, and so you can’t delay. You must reach them soon before it is too late.” [or something extremely close to that, but not exactly verbatim]

And then she moved on to the next person.

Predictably I was floored, at first that God was speaking to me through her, but also that she had just prophecies my imminent [or at least early] death. Decades fewer than most? Most people lived to be in their seventies, so did that mean that I was going to die in my Fifties? My Forties? And what was this about a heart for missions? Other than having gone on a “Missions Trip” to Mexico when I was younger , I really had no interest in them at all. What a confusing, perplexing experience. It left me all the more troubled, even morose than before, and instead of being a sure word I could hold onto, made me bitter and angry that God wanted to take my life. In fact, it made me feel like God didn’t know me at all.

Looking back, almost a decade later, Its not difficult to see the massive problems and blasphemies that were taking place that night. I hadn’t thought about that night for a long time, and in fact hadn’t shared that with anyone until I told my wife a few days ago, when the issue of prophecies and visions came up. Do I believe her prophecies were legitimate and that she was hearing from God? Not at all. Do I think I will have “fewer decades than most”? No. Like most people I don’t think of death often and have an overly optimistic mentality about my own mortality. Odds are I’ll live to a ripe old age, but If I die early, if the Lord takes me, it will not mean that this womans prophecy came true. Likewise I don’t have any particular interest in missions, much less being a missionary, but if that too should change it will not mean that this woman’s prophecies were reflective or biblicly sound.

 

Agree? Disagree? What do you all think? Have you even been prophecied over? What was it like? Was it accurate? If you had the chance, would you like to be prophecied over?