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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Stop Going to Church

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church-at-night-iceland_00449588Whenever I hear the phrase, “I need to start going to church” or “I go to church,” a little piece inside of me dies. It’s not that I don’t want people to be a part of the church. On the contrary, I believe everyone should be a part of the church.

But instead of people being a part of church, most people just go to church.

One of my fears as a pastor is that many people in the western evangelical world have the tendency to view church as a service to attend. Because of this line of thought, we focus extraordinary amounts of energy on crafting a service that people will want to attend. I’m not arguing against excellence. I do believe that we should do things with as much excellence as possible. As a person who has been involved in theatre, being a part of something done well draws me closer to God. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong about pursuing excellence in preaching, singing, teaching, or any other aspect to the gathering.


 But instead of people being a part of church, most people just go to church.


But church cannot be confined just to people gathering to view a service. It has to be so much more.

I, like many of you, have been guilty of using the phrase, “The service wasn’t that good today,” or “The service was really great today.” Our view of church is primarily based upon the quality of the songs or the emotional weight of the sermon. Because of this, our involvement within the church is shallow, at best. What I mean by this is that when things change or when a particular church doesn’t meet our standards, we are quick to abandon.

We treat the church like numerous whores with whom we divide our time.

There are various reasons we do this:

  1. We don’t like turmoil. We have an unrealistic utopian view of what the church should look like.
  2. We like to be surrounded by people with similar beliefs and opinions. It makes us feel more comfortable.
  3. Church is more of a hobby than a defining characteristic in our lives.

Church isn’t something that we can attend. Church is something that we must be. In our own lives, we all have good and bad days. There are days we wish that we could go back and and redo. There are days we celebrate milestones. There are days we mourn over missed opportunities. There are days we curse God. And then there are days we praise God.


 We treat the church like numerous whores with whom we divide our time.


And just like in our own lives, the church often functions the same way. Which is why we cannot just attend church. This is why church is something we must be. When we are the church, then we work together to prepare the bride for her bridegroom.

Christ is calling us to be part of the bridal party…not just attendees of the wedding. He wants us to be active. He wants us to serve. He wants us to remain faithful. But many of us are just sitting in the crowd waiting for the wedding to start while the bride remains in the back waiting for her faithful bridal party to join her in preparation for her big day.

Perhaps I am a bit optimistic in my belief that people can still gather and disagree yet partake of the Eucharist together. But wouldn’t that represent the Kingdom a bit more than what we have today? Wouldn’t Christ’s prayer in John 17 be a bit sweeter if we did that?


Christ is calling us to be part of the bridal party…not just attendees of the wedding.


Here is what I propose: we stop going to church.

We stop attending and we start participating. We stop sitting in on a service and we start helping. We stop looking to the church as a place and we start looking to the church as a people. Just like we have our good days and our bad days, so the church has her good days and her bad days. We wouldn’t abandon our own lives, so why do we abandon the life of the church?

In an age of consumeristic driven churches where there is a brand for everyone, we spend too much time shopping around and not seeing the damage that is doing to the bride. I said it before and I’ll say it again: we treat the church like numerous whore with whom we divide our time. This is the problem with simply going to church. It makes it easier to leave. It makes it easier to separate oneself from the life of the church (and I’m not talking about potlucks and game nights). It makes it easier for one to abandon when things get rough or when things don’t go “the right way.”

I have “left” 2 churches in my lifetime. I was heavily involved in both churches. One, I was active in the youth group. The other, I was serving with the worship team. Whereas both circumstances may have seemed right on paper, I cannot help but think, “is this what Jesus had in mind when He established His bride?” I never left the Church but I have left local churches. And how we view/treat local churches determines what our view is of the Church.

Just like all throughout the Bible, the life of the church (both local and universal) is going to be messy. There will be disagreements, fights, uneasiness, and pain. But aren’t these the signs of the earth groaning in labor? Aren’t these the signs that the Kingdom is “now but not yet?”

If we all stopped going to church and started being the church, perhaps things might change. If we remembered that Christ called us to serve His bride, perhaps reconciliation before desertion would be our first thought. If we remembered that one day we will be united in the Kingdom with the Church, perhaps that would change how we treated one another. Heaven could be awkward for many of us (myself included).

Let us begin serving through disagreements, fights, arguments, uneasiness, complacency, apathy, and anything else that stands in the way of us preparing the Bride for her Bridegroom. Let us begin being the Church that Christ called us to be.