Stop Trying to Make Me Cry

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  Emotions are a powerful force. They can cause us to doubt, get married, get divorced, love Jesus, hate Jesus, etc. If we aren’t careful, our emotions will overrun our lives and cause us to do the most illogical things. 

Some people will say that this isn’t a bad thing. One should listen to one’s heart (or whatever other pop psychology one believes). We focus heavily on the way we feel rather than the way we think. How does this make us feel? Or “I feel like…” 

The American evangelical church is good at gauging feelings. And unfortunately, it is also good at manipulating emotions to get a desired outcome. Think about it:

That one song with the huge build in it is played after an emotional story is told in a message. 

The lights are are dimmed low during a powerhouse song. 

The speaker begins to speak in that tone. 

Pictures/videos are shown that would make even the hardest of hearts break down. 

We are good at this. If this doesn’t sound familiar to you, just go to any church youth retreat and you will see something along these lines played out. Emotions run amuck with teenagers. 

I was once at a youth conference where the pastor got up and said that God had told him on the way here to change his message. So he threw out his old message and was now just going to use the Spirit to preach. It was incredible how the Spirit also cued up the music at the right time in his sermon. Or how the Spirit caused slides to be created on the spot. Or how he Spirit miraculously provided police tape for an illustration hat was just given to him. A lot of people were crying at the end. People were shaking uncontrollably. People were making promises they couldn’t keep. It was emotional manipulation at its finest. 

At first, this doesn’t seem too bad. It is, after all, causing hearts to change. But how long does that change actually last?

Until the emotions run dry. 

This is why it is so difficult for emotional decisions to take root. But that doesn’t stop us from trying to create a space for those emotional decisions. We do everything we can to “set the mood” for the Spirit. And because of that, we are left with a vast number of people who consider the Spirit to be a purely emotional being. So when you don’t feel those emotions you felt on the 5th time through “Our God,” then you must not be open to the movement of the Spirit. 

Thus we create a theology that is based purely on our emotions. If we cry during worship, the Spirit is moving. If something doesn’t feel right “in our heart,” it must mean that God is calling us to do something. And if we are weeping uncontrollably, then maybe it’s time to accept Jesus and get baptized. 

Emotions aren’t inherently wrong. But when manipulated to cause change, I think we cross the line. We either are conduits for God, or we are trying to play God. 

What we end up creating is an addiction. People become addicted to those emotions rather than reliant upon God. They become addicted to the emotion that song causes or that message evokes or those pictures create. But, as with any addiction, soon something more will be needed. No longer is this good enough. 

We have to step it up and add different creative elements. We have to yell longer in our message. We have to sing more songs that get really quiet, have a long build, and then ends with a deafening chorus. 

When we no longer feel those emotions, our faith in God crumbles. God must be distant if I don’t feel as passionate as I once did. My relationship with Him must be on the rocks. 

But none of this is even close to the truth. 

I like faith being compared to a journey. When I was road tripping back from Las Vegas to Illinois, I remember there being some monumental moments. There were some awe-inspiring terrains. I got scared in moments driving through some difficult weather. Boredom set in about my 2nd hour into Kansas. And there were even moments I couldn’t stop laughing at random things. There were a variety of emotions that made up my road trip. But not one emotion was meaningless. Not one moment should be thrown out. 

What would happen if we began looking at our relationship with God like this? I think we would begin to see a change in faithfulness. Spiritual disciplines may not seem appealing, but they are part of the journey. Intellectual conversations might seem above our pay grade, but they are part of the journey. Miles of endless deserts in our relationship with God might seem deathly, but they refine us. Not everything can be the gorgeous mountain or the beautiful sunset. Something has to be the roadkill. Something has to be the car accident. Something has to be the stretch of land without civilization. 

And each moment is just as important as the other. 

Unfortunately, we try to create those awe-inspiring moments all the time. So we become conditioned to believe that unless there are tears, it’s not been genuine. The sad part is that emotions are one of the ways we connect with God. Why can’t our services (in the American evangelical church) employ all the different emotions? 

Why can’t we have a service where we get upset over the racial injustices?

Why can’t we have a service where mourn our sins done to others?

Why can’t we have a service where we focus on the fear of God?

Why does each service look like we are trying to set the mood for tearful decisions?

Church: not everything has to be more emotional than last week or last year. Tears are not a sign of a successful service (it is sad that we even consider our worship to God as either successful or unsuccessful). Decisions are not even the sign of something done well. God is the sign. And He has promised to show up, so we don’t need to worry about that. He has promised to move if we step out of His way. And He has never failed us before, so stop trying to create a back-up plan. Stop using hell as leverage for decisions. 

Let God do His job in us. Stop trying to create an emotional experience because you think that it is helping lead people to Christ. There may be a few that accept Him; but for the most part, we create a group of people that are addicted to the emotions that they felt rather than the God that moved. Emotions happen on their own. And there are a vast number of them that God uses. Luckily, we don’t need more lights, louder music, and weeping preachers. We just need God. And He has promised to be there. So step aside and let Him work. 

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What We Forgot On Memorial Day

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Question: If you went to church last weekend, what holiday, if any, did your church acknowledge? If your church is like mine, you acknowledged Memorial Day and, hence, the U.S. military. Across the country last weekend, church projector screens donned digital American flags, choruses of God Bless America filled the rafters, and prayers were uttered thanking God for “those who, like Christ, have given their lives so that we might worship here in freedom today.” For many people and churches, this is standard operating procedure for patriotic holiday weekends, and it would seem strange, even offensive, not to honor those who have served in the military on such occasions.

Here’s my question, though. When we gather together to worship, as whom are we gathered? Are we gathered as citizens of the United States who happen to live in the same area and worship at the same church? If so, by all means let us salute our flag and thank God for our soldiers.

However, if we are gathered as citizens of the Kingdom of God (Col. 1:13-14), a Kingdom that transcends national borders and unites the Church as one people regardless of nationality, socio-economic status, or gender (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11), we are a new community—a counter-culture—that operates not by power, violence, and coercion, but by humility, meekness, and death and resurrection (Romans 12:14-21). As a people baptized into this new community, we worship God and God alone in our assemblies. Our new identity in Christ supplants prior allegiances, and the King of kings becomes the sole object of our worship (on Sunday and every other day of the week). Any other power of this world, including nations and their soldiers, we choose to honor in our assemblies is, quite simply, an idol.

Honoring a power of this world in Christian assembly detracts from the worship of God and introduces a competing allegiance to that of the Kingdom of God. To honor the United States or any nation in Christian assembly is to lose sight of who we truly are—we are followers of Jesus, baptized into his new community, no longer defined by worldly socio-political boundaries. Thus, when we salute the American flag, sing patriotic songs, and adorn our sanctuaries with red, white, and blue, we divide our allegiance to God and his Kingdom and we make an idol out of the worldly kingdom in which we live. Our Kingdom, however, is not of this world (John 18:33-38).

Now, back to the holiday question. What I find perhaps even more disturbing than the blatant nationalism displayed in many churches last Sunday is the special day most of these churches failed to acknowledge. There was another day, a holy day, on the calendar last Sunday. At least it was on the liturgical calendar (our calendar). Last Sunday was Pentecost Sunday.

Most evangelical churches do not acknowledge or operate by the liturgical calendar (outside of Christmas and Easter), and many would dismiss it as antiquated or too “Catholic.” I couldn’t disagree more. (Well, I guess it is kind of Catholic, but I disagree with that being a bad thing.)

The holy day of Pentecost, which coincides with the Jewish Feast of Weeks (Lev. 23:15-22), occurs 50 days after Easter, and on Pentecost Sunday, Christians celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire upon those gathered for the Feast of Weeks in Jerusalem after Christ’s ascension.

In more liturgical traditions, Pentecost Sunday is a day of great rejoicing and celebration. Festive, colorful processions make their ways through the gathered people of God as the church universal experiences anew the story of the Spirit descending upon those assembled in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. I worshiped with an Episcopal church on Pentecost Sunday one year, and at a certain point in the service, about twenty people in the congregation stood and simultaneously read aloud a passage of Scripture in different languages to incarnate afresh the coming of the Holy Spirit and the empowering of the people to speak in tongues at Pentecost. This was one of the most memorable and impactful moments of any worship service I have ever experienced.

Calendars carry formative potential. Calendars shape us. Think about how the weeks leading up to Christmas alter your mood (either positively or negatively); so, too, with other holidays. The liturgical calendar is no different. The season of Lent is a time of purging, penitence, and preparation before the celebration of Easter. Holy Week, the last week of Lent, is a time of special reflection and meditation on the last week of Jesus’ life. Advent, the four weeks prior to Christmas, is a time to both remember and give thanks for Christ’s first coming and eagerly await and pray for his second coming.

The liturgical calendar reminds us who we are. It reminds us where we’ve come from and, with God’s help, where we’re going. For some (myself included), it even acts as a subversive alternative to the American calendar. I love Arbor Day as much as the next person, but disciplining myself to observe the liturgical calendar and its special days and seasons helps me further solidify my identity in Christ, my connection to the communion of saints, and my allegiance to the Kingdom of God—a Kingdom whose soldiers carry crosses, not guns.

Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.  –A prayer for Pentecost Sunday from the Book of Common Prayer

Top Ten Ways to Get the Holy Spirit in Your Church

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Are you tired of going to church and not being able to feel the Holy Spirit?

Does it seem like your worship is empty and boring?

Is the preaching uninspired and emotionless?

Could your church benefit from the life the Holy Spirit brings?

If so, read the following ways that you can achieve exactly just that!

1.) Lighting. This is probably the most difficult for us to achieve. There are many churches that do not have the equipment necessary for accomplishing this. If you are one of those churches, I apologize. However, if you have the ability to lower the house lights to almost pitch black level (dark enough you can’t make out your neighbor’s face, but not dark enough to cause a lawsuit), then you can manufacture the Holy Spirit. Just lower those house lights and have bright lights on the stage going back and forth throughout worship. This does wonders for envisioning the Holy Spirit. The quicker you move the lights, the better. Periodic strobing is encouraged as well (not too much as this can cause seizures in some people).

2.) Play emotional songs with long musical interludes. Obviously you have to have a band to accomplish this one. This can be very powerful if done well. Make sure all the instruments are together throughout the musical interlude. It is preferable to use an interlude with a nice build. You want to go somewhere with the music. Make sure it is not too long, though, otherwise people will start sitting down or checking their text messages. If you see this happening, look at number 6 for some help.

3.) Speak loud and fast. If you are a preacher, this is a must. The louder and faster you speak, the better. Here is why: people won’t understand what you are saying and this allows you to say things that aren’t really powerful, but they are said in a way that causes people to think they are powerful. Also, if you speak loud and fast, it makes you seem more confident and full of the Spirit. This will excite people.

4.) Speak slow and soft with some emotional music playing behind you. This is especially beneficial during the invitation/altar call. It helps drive home a point with people. Without the music, people won’t attach to the points you are trying to make. With the emotional music, your points will become automatically powerful, even if they don’t make sense.

5.) Get the people involved by getting them to say “amen” frequently. The more you can get them involved, the better. “Amen” is a good one to have people say. I have also heard a church use “go God.” This seems like it gets the job done as well.

6.) Randomly say “Jesus” in a song. This will help you in moments that you see people zoning out during worship. It redirects them to who you are singing about. Give it a try. It works every time…because people can’t argue with Jesus.

7.) Use the phrase “God has laid it on my heart…” This is something else people cannot argue with. Oh, they might try, but if God lays something on your heart, then it is inarguable. This can give you the liberty to say anything. So use this phrase carefully. Don’t say anything that will cause you to be struck dead.

8.) Pray for “God to come and fill this place.” God has already promised to be where we are. And if God is omnipresent, then He is everywhere. So really, this prayer is asking God to do something that He has already promised to do. That is not the point, however. When you pray this, people will be able to feel God enter a place.

9.) Talk about hell. The quickest way to God is through fear.

10.) Eat a bad burrito the night before church. When all else fails and you can’t “feel” the Holy Spirit, eat a bad burrito before church. This will get your stomach stirring and you will definitely “feel” the Spirit by the beginning of service.

My hope is that these are beneficial to you. Put them into practice. You will not regret it.

**This is satire. Please do not take it literally. One does not need to manufacture the Holy Spirit. We would be better off if we stopped trying to create “experiences” where the Holy Spirit would move. The Spirit will move in spite of us and our efforts. We do not have control over that. Just because we create something emotional does not mean we have created a movement of the Spirit. So please, stop trying. Seriously. Stop.**

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