Vulgar Worship

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It’s been a few years since the whole “sloppy wet kiss” debate began happening. Most churches have safely landed on the phrase “unforeseen kiss” as opposed to the original “sloppy wet kiss.” To them, “unforeseen kiss” seems less vulgar (even though by using the phrase “unforeseen kiss,” I get the image of a surprise and I don’t like surprises). Churches want to sing “How He Loves” without the image of messiness as portrayed in the original version of the song.

This piece is not meant to bring up the whole debate again. There’s no use beating a dead horse. I use it as a reference because it shows a greater truth about modern worship music in the evangelical church: we don’t like vulgar worship.

The word vulgar was originally used to describe the language of common people. Today, it is generally used to describe something lacking good taste or referring to coarse and rude language. When I use the word, I’m talking about the language of common people.

Modern worship seems plagued by “Stepford Wife” theology. We say to people that even in the darkest of moments, they should still praise God. To, basically, put on a mask and sing words to God that you don’t mean. In doing this, we have robbed songs and hearts of authenticity. In the evangelical church, songs are sung each week that deal with God’s love, Christ’s love, God’s power and strength, grace, etc. Anytime we deal with dark themes, the song will inevitably redeem that darkness. It is uncomfortable for us to sing songs that do not resolve. But the Psalms seem to paint a completely different picture. For instance:

Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem. We put away our harps, hanging them on the branches of poplar trees. For our captors demanded a song from us. Our tormentors insisted on a joyful hymn: “Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem!” But how can we sing the songs of the lord while in a pagan land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget how to play the harp. May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I fail to remember you, if I don’t make Jerusalem my greatest joy. lord, remember what the Edomites did on the day the armies of Babylon captured Jerusalem. “Destroy it!” they yelled. “Level it to the ground!” O Babylon, you will be destroyed. Happy is the one who pays you back for what you have done to us. Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks! – Psalm 137

I love this psalm. It portrays such depth and anguish. Even when they talk about rejoicing, we shudder at the thought of babies being smashed against rocks.
Psalm 22 is another psalm that is dark and yet still manages to worship God. It aptly describes the feelings of the author:
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help? Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief.
And then is able to worship God in those feelings:
Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. Our ancestors trusted in you, and you rescued them. They cried out to you and were saved. They trusted in you and were never disgraced.
I am not advocating that our songs become morbid and depressing. I am advocating, however, that songs begin to echo the feelings of the common people. This is one of the things that I love about the Episcopal church. It is able to capture all of these emotions in one service through liturgy. There is nothing more humbling and beautiful than to say “Lord, have mercy” over and over.
There are several Sundays I do not want to sing about God’s grace because I feel like I have abused it and have lost the privilege to sing those words.
There are several Sundays I do not want to sing about God’s strength because I do not see it in the atrocities happening around me.
There are several Sundays I do not want to sing at all. I just want to sit in silence and repeat, “Lord, have mercy.”
Evangelical services carry with them a component of happiness. We want people leaving feeling energized and ready to take on the world. But as I have been rereading the Psalms, I see something different being sung.
I understand that worship isn’t about me and that it is about God. But you cannot say that all of these forced songs of happiness are about God. They are about us feeling better. They are about us escaping troubles. They are about us trying to assimilate the people into thinking/feeling the same way about God.
If worship is truly about God, then one will understand that there are several different words that need to be said. Not just words that point to happiness and satisfaction. Words that point to discord, words that point to anger, words that point to sin, words that point to abandonment, etc. These words need to be said because they are all part of the human experience with God.
Through these vulgar words, we will discover the greatness of God.
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Resigning From the Church is the Best Thing I Have Ever Done

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ImageI was a little bit nervous as I handed the senior pastor the letter. It felt like I was walking away from doing what was right. I didn’t want to give up just because I was tired. But I was tired. I was exhausted. As soon as I handed him the letter, I was immediately at peace with my decision. That was a weird feeling. My resignation brought me peace.

Now, almost a week after the decision to resign, I am beginning to see the fulness of what that position had done to me.

It made me cynical toward the Church.

It made me see some of my brothers and sisters in Christ as the enemy.

It made me scan the Bible looking for ways to prove myself right.

It made me wish Johnson would’ve offered Political Science courses.

It made me want to leave the ministry.

It made me see the need for a church in this area.

Most importantly, it made me see what I did not want to become.

During my internship at Central, I remember a leadership talk given (I can’t remember who gave it) that said that sometimes we learn the most out of bad situations because we learn what we don’t want to become. I never thought those words would be so true.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad. I enjoyed so much of it. But you can only see the damage when you leave

You can only see the damage done when you leave.

That thought made me think quite a bit. How many of us are in unhealthy situations but do not know it? How many of us are hanging by a thread but do not know it? Is it right to continue in a position that is slowly killing your drive? I fear that many of us are in these unhealthy situations but refuse to walk away because we think we can change things. We cannot change that which is refusing to change.

I tried to change the music. Music is something that causes more problems than it should. But seeing how music directly influences your salvation, we must pay it a great deal of attention. I tried changing something that refused to be changed.

Perhaps you are a minister who is trying to change the mindset of your elders and they refuse to change.

Maybe you are a youth minister who is trying to change the perception of what youth ministry is but people are refusing to accept the new ideas.

Maybe you are a small groups minister who is trying to change the structure but no one wants to do it.

I don’t know your situation, but what I do know is this: one cannot change that which refuses to change.

When I graduated college, I had this idea that I was going to change the world, one church at a time. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t realize that I can’t change something that refused to be changed. Whenever we try to change something that refuses to be changed, we destroy ourselves.

I don’t know what to do in these situations. I don’t know if what I did was completely right. But what I do know is this: resigning is the best thing I have ever done.

Perhaps you’re in a similar situation. Remember these 2 things:

1.) You cannot change that which refuses to change.

2.) You can only see the fulness of the damage when you walk away from the situation.

God Isn’t Holy…Anymore

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If God was not holy, what would change? Honestly, what would truly change? 

Simply put, I guess we could say that He would cease to be God. If holiness is synonymous with divinity, then God would cease to be God and instead become a god. 

If God lost His holiness, we would be worshipping a normal person. We would become a cult (in some aspects, we may have already achieved this status). Christianity would no longer be different from any other world religion.

Wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t everything change? Unfortunately, we are beginning to find out…because God isn’t holy anymore. 

Or at least this is how we behave (I had you thinking I was completely heretical). Lately, I have been reading “God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism” by Abraham Joshua Heschel. While reading the book, one thing has continually struck me in every chapter: the Jews see God holier than Christians do.

Take a look at some of our songs:
“I am a friend of God. I am a friend of God. I am a friend of God. He calls me friend. Who am I that you are mindful of me? That you hear me when I call? Is it true that you are thinking of me? How you love me? It’s amazing.”
“I want to know you. I want to hear your voice. I want to know you more. I want to touch you. I want to see your face. I want to know you more.”
“Come closer closer to me. Find me broken. Find me bleeding. ‘Cause I need more now than a fairy tale, a God who lives in a book. I need someone real. So would you come?”
“And he walks with me. And he talks with me. And he tells me that I am his own. And the joy that we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”

 Songs aren’t the only thing. So many times, I have said, and I have heard others say, “I just want to hear something from God,” or “I wish I could see God,” or something along those lines. We desire this dramatic relationship with God. These thoughts and attitudes and thoughts formed the “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs. Fortunately, we’ve moved away from those a bit, but I still think we have removed the holiness of God.

In Heschel’s book, he says, “the gift of prophecy was not a goal for which the prophets strove…revelation occurred against the will of the prophet. It was not a favor to him, but a burden of terror…Moses hid his face…When called, the prophets recoiled, resisted, and pleaded to be left alone” (page 224).

We desire some intimate relationship with God where we are bffs and talking about our weekend plans, but the prophets viewed what they did as a burden. Their communication with God was terrifying. Hearing God speak caused them to say things like, “Woe is me! For I am lost” (Isaiah 6.5). Jeremiah practically hated his life for what he heard from God. Ezekiel was also terrified of what he heard from God. Rereading the prophets, one sees that prophecy was not a gift that was desirable. For when God spoke to the prophets, they were burdened with carrying out the word of God. 

A professor in college, Dr. David Reece, would always say that preaching was not something we should be excited about or want to do, it was something that we had to do. It had to be something that we had to get off our chest. Much like how the prophets felt.

I think that our eagerness to follow God has removed His holiness. Holiness is no longer something that we fear. We now replace fear with excitement. We no longer fear what God may ask of us, but we get excited at what God will do through us.

Excitement has destroyed the holiness of God. 

Don’t get me wrong, I think that we are excited to follow God. I think that there will be excitement. We are taking part in something greater than ourselves! What isn’t exciting about that? At the same time, however, it is terrifying. It is truly terrifying. God entrusts us with the Gospel? That’s a daunting task.

Recognizing God’s holiness has to evoke fear. Not terror. Fear. Good fear. The kind of fear that reminds you that God is great and you are not. The kind of fear that reminds you that God is in control and you are not. The kind of fear that reminds you that the task at hand is great and not to be taken lightly. There is joy in serving God…but there is also fear.

So the next time we say, “I want to see you, God,” remember that God blinded Paul. Or the next time we say, “I want to hear you, God,” remember that it caused Isaiah to say “Woe is me!” and it caused Moses to say, “Don’t send me! Send someone else!” The next time you begin to pray by saying, “Hey daddy,”…well, just don’t do that. It’s kind of weird, actually.

We have removed God’s holiness in the way we communicate with him. We think that because Jesus came and did what He did, it meant that we no longer had to view God as holy as Israel did. However, this is far from the truth. God is still holy and still needs to be viewed as holy. It is time that we restored His holiness in the way we interact with Him.

Jesus is Unemployable

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A church of 500 wants a new music minister. Qualifications desired? 12 years of music experience and a Masters in Music.

A church of 150 wants an associate pastor. Qualifications desired? Masters in Bible, proven success in a previous church, and correct answers to several questions about the relationship with your wife.

A church of 150 wants a senior pastor. Qualifications desired? Experienced preacher.

A church of 50 wants a senior pastor. Qualifications desired? A wife with musical abilities.

A church of 500 wants a youth minister. Qualifications desired? 7 years of experience in a church of 500 or more and a Master of Divinity.

A church of 200 wants a preacher. Qualifications desired? 5 years experience.

A church of 150 wants a youth minister. Qualifications required? 5-7 years of experience. Musical abilities. Bachelor’s Degree.

I think you get the point. As I began looking for churches to serve in while pursuing my M.Div., this is what I ran into. It seemed like every church I looked at had high qualifications desired. Some were as ridiculous as 12 years of experience for a church of 100!

My favorite out of the examples given had to be the one that said: “Qualifications desired? A wife with musical abilities.” How is that a qualification?! I guess that’s an easy way to narrow down the playing field.

As I was looking through all of these churches and what they were looking for in a candidate, I began to laugh. I thought to myself, “Jesus couldn’t even get hired at this church!” Wait. Does that sound right? Jesus couldn’t get hired at a church?

Was he married? No…
Did he have musical abilities? According to “Jesus Christ, Superstar” he did…
How many years of experience? Well…3 years of ministry…
How about education? He had it…we can assume…
Did his wife have musical abilities? Refer to the top…

It is quite startling. Isn’t it? Somewhere in the history of the church, we began placing higher and higher qualifications on ministers. Part of me is not opposed to this. I value education. I believe that we should educate ourselves as much as possible.

But as for the ridiculous years of experience…that is a little out of hand. There used to be a time when churches gave chances. That is one thing I love about my home church. They desire to hire someone without experience. They want to be able to give those years of experience to someone.

Churches seem to no longer want to take chances. Perhaps that is because they have been burnt. Perhaps it is because they are concerned about numbers. Perhaps it is because they think they are at a level where they deserve the best.

I want to work at a church one day that takes chances. I want to work at a church that looks at experience on paper and says, “So you don’t have a lot. But tell me what you think you can do.” The church needs to begin taking chances again. Not just within hiring pastors; but chances in general (another topic for another time).

So, if you are a church and you are reading this, give someone a chance. Take a risk. Isn’t there some sense of ego in desiring someone with 7 years of experience? Have we, as a church, begun to think of ourselves as advanced as needing that? Do we think we “deserve” that? It is rightfully ours? Is it okay to desire that because we are so big? The answer to all of these questions: yes. Because one person can destroy the Church. Christ’s bride is doomed if you hire someone inexperienced. Because those ministers involved in the affairs, embezzlement scams, and porn searching were all inexperienced ministers….weren’t they? Or were they ministers who worked on gaining years of experience and neglected integrity.

I’m happy that God looks at the heart and not at anything else. It gives me comfort. Whenever I read Hebrews 11, I am reminded that God does not desire 7 years of experience, a M.Div., and a wife with musical abilities. He desires us to want to be used.

So how is this doable? This sounds pretty, but it is not realistic. This would take too much time. We would have to call all these candidates. We would actually have to carry on conversations with them. We would have to treat them like people rather than numbers. In reality, we would have to give more attention to who we are hiring. And who knows…if we stopped looking at the years of experience a typical workplace desires, maybe we would hire Jesus (figuratively, of course…I’m not being literal. You see how this all connects to the beginning. It makes sense, right? I hope so.).Image