When Worship Keeps You From God

I have deceived myself into believing that I love to worship.

Man-Driving-AloneThis epiphany has arrived (and re-arrived) in my car. Given the choice to drive somewhere with friends or alone, I will often reveal my introverted portions by selecting solo. One of my simple pleasures is to sing along with a worship album, transforming my little Pontiac into a 21st-century Tabernacle on wheels.

When Worship Isn’t

On one particular drive, it dawned on me that the song I was singing was authentically and deeply prayerful. However, a second dawning followed: Minus the music of that moment, I found it very difficult to pray.  This is coming from a guy who thinks driving alone is one of the best available prayer times. This is also coming from a guy who believes that deep and personal interaction with God is essential to spiritual transformation. This is even coming from a guy who, on a significant level, enjoys that level of interaction with the One I call Father and Master.

hard-to-pray1But on that evening, silence made me squirm. I realized that I was wielding worship as a wand to make me–the real me–disappear.  The music was my mask, and the harmonies were my hiding place.

What do you do when worship is keeping you from God?

You strip.

Strip down the worship–it’s got too many layers.

large_19_agent_orangeTraveling Vietnam in 2008, we were amazed to see the lingering impact of Agent Orange. Most notably, the human toll of this wartime herbicide is seen in lingering birth defects and health damage, now five decades down the road. Geographically, it is observable by the obvious lines in the forests where all previous growth was killed off in the deforesting attempts at flushing fighters from their lush cover.

Beneath the ugliness of chemical warfare, there is a sound strategy here: Strip off the layers, and hiding becomes hard.

If your worship–whatever its form–has created enough nooks and crannies that vulnerability and honesty can be easily avoided, it’s time to strip down your worship. It has become a stumbling block.

And that’s the easy step. Step two…

Strip down the worshiper–he’s got too many layers.

Even more key than your habits is your heart, though be aware that you may need to hit your outer expressions in order to target your inner essence.

Somehow unguarded openness needs to be fostered. For many, this is where journaling becomes a powerful habit. Some will even say, “I wasn’t actually sure what I felt until I started moving my pen.” That’s a writer’s way of saying, “I know a way to strip myself down.”

Writer or not, do you have a way of unveiling yourself?

It might involve visiting with a mentor or trusted friend–somewhere where hard questions are asked and honest statements are made. It might be through music or solitude or exercise or gardening. I see few limits on method, but a means is mandatory. ChangeMinus some thought here, the average person will merely move with the worship currents of assemblies or masses. While important, these frequently fail to strip us down to a place where life-altering intimacy with our Maker unfolds.

And if worship isn’t changing you, it’s time to change your worship.

YOUR TURN: Have you ever felt the limitations of your worship to connect you with God? What do you do to create or foster authentic interaction with God? How do you combat the inclination to hide or limit vulnerability?

Leave a reply–your input betters this post!

 

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Six-Pack (47)

September long weekend: The start of school, the “end” of summer. Whatever you call it, it’s come and gone one more time.

Here’s the latest Six-Pack–faith-focused and ministry-minded pieces with a bit of who-knows-what!

On the heels of the holiday, two *Picks of the Week* provide an easy starting point, if you need some direction.

 

For a steady stream of such links, follow me on Twitter ( @JasonBandura ) to the right of this post.  Sharp quotes and solid articles are tweeted 3-4 times daily.

Today’s edition:

1) A Writer in 1964 Pretty Much Predicted What Life in 2014 Would Look Like
That writer was Isaac Asimov, and this is fairly wild.

2) How Richard Wurmbrand Spent Three Years of Solitary Confinement with Christ
I’ve received newsletters from Voice of the Martyrs for nearly fifteen years. Their founder Richard Wurmbrand is a pretty inspiring man, as this ten-minute video will show.

3) The Obedience of the Second Adam and the True Israel (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Don’t get me wrong: “Son of God” is an appropriate name for Jesus. But I’m not convinced it’s his most fascinating one. Two of those nominees are here for consideration.

4) Three Things You Don’t Know about Your Children and Sex (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Anne Marie Miller shares this parent-freaking piece. If you’ve got kids, this is worth your time. And after you read, pray.

5) What Makes Spirituality Christian: A Conversation with Dallas Willard
I cannot overstate the respect with which I held the late Dallas Willard. This brief interview gives some peek into his insightful mind and clarity of thought and tongue.

6) The Day Larry Bird Stopped the Pacers’ Practice in its Tracks
How fun is it when your team is run by an NBA legend? Paul George will tell you.

September brings with it plentiful opportunities. Move forward in faith and faithfulness, my friends.

YOUR TURN: Which link above was most intriguing–why that one? Direct others readers to the best of the bunch. Your input makes this post better!

[You can subscribe to this blog via RSS or email, in the upper right corner of this page.]

Losing Faith (Part VI): Less than Certain

NOTE: This post of an ongoing series titled, “Losing Faith”. Previous posts can be seen HERE.

certainty

I love certainty.

Great comfort arrives when pieces fit snugly together. If I have must have letters, let the I’s be dotted and the T’s be crossed. If I must have ducks, let them be in well-straightened rows.

That said, it’s easy for me to enjoy the opening chapters of Scripture. Genesis 1-2 contain the poetic telling of the world’s origins. In three words: Creator calms chaos. A state of lightless emptiness receives form and fill. Perfect pieces are shaped and snapped into one another. God called it good, and my order-loving self rejoiced.

However, Yahweh’s demolition skills are also exceptional when He notes the need. Genesis 6 begins the story around Noah, in which God unravels the intricate stitching of the Creation account. Re-creation is preceded by un-creation. I can sketch this logical need with clarity, but I failed to consider what such swirling floods would feel like when my own feet were swept away by the current.

Faith and Certainty

You see, the trouble is that faith and certainty are mutually exclusive. The quest for one endangers the other. More than that, the demand for one executes the other. The term “faith” is found 400+ times in the Bible (depending on translation used). In turn, one could reasonably conclude that certainty is therefore not a central experience to those who desire interaction with God. He has never dealt in that currency.

When Jesus called his first disciples, we read that they left behind nets and fathers and tables and what-not. They had no idea where Jesus was taking them or what would unfold along the way, but they held no illusions that they could both stay and go. There is no option of receiving without releasing.

Over the last few years, God has asked me to release my mind.

That sentence is begging for misunderstanding.

What I Do Not Mean

I am not speaking of believing blindly, of tossing aside one’s discernment, or becoming foolish or reckless or stupid. Our brains are glorious gifts, capable of shocking possibilities. I am certain that God wants them used to their fullest potential, and I am set on faithfully stewarding the one in my skull.

God’s nudge that I “let go” wasn’t a prompt to stop thinking. It was a loving lesson delivered vividly multiple times in the past four years. Even the slowest student starts to soak up a message after that type of immersion. What did I soak up?

My mind holds me back.

Trust me when I say that arriving at those five words required a climb-Mount-Everest type of trek for this fellow. Far easier to type it than to travel it.

Speaking of Typing

typingSurprisingly, the act of typing provided one of the breakthroughs. There is a sweetness to hitting one’s typing-stride. Keys are clicking, phrases are forming, and Creation ex nihilo is unfolding. My dust hands, tapping on Steve Job’s handiwork, are forming a never-seen-before reality. Wow!

But I have noticed something. I make more typing errors when I am thinking about the task. When eyes survey the keyboard, mistakes increase. Typing, at its fastest, happens more quickly than my brain can track. Demanding a mental log of the actions taking place is akin to tying an elephant to a Ferrari’s back bumper. Within this task, better to check the brain at the door and let muscle memory dating back to high school typing classes (Yes, I am old enough to have had typing classes!) carry the load. For here, my mind holds me back.

Typing is not the only such realm.

A Knowing Beyond Knowing

Within the spiritual dimensions, the mind—with all its power—can actually serve as anchor rather than compass. The demand for certainty is an inside insistence of one’s own sovereignty. Nothing in this post is a criticism of philosophy or science or religion or any other intellectual discipline. This is simply a statement of surrender from one man whose spiritual experiences have long ago left his head spinning. There is revelation beyond reason, and there is life above logic. And if one wishes to engage on those levels, his grip for control will have to break. One cannot stay and go simultaneously.

Mystery is the gap where Divinity lives. Strive ruthlessly to eliminate that space, and you will bulldoze the residence of the Divine in your life.

Or He might hijack the bulldozer and head your way!

1273bulldozer

 

Losing Faith (Part V): Invaded by an Uninvited One

This post is the fifth in a series on Losing Faith. All previous posts can be seen HERE, if context might prove helpful.

Somewhere near the end of our time overseas, we were home to visit. I must have been expressing some aspect of my changing perceptions on the Christian life. My slightly-older, significantly-wiser friend responded with a question.

O_Come_Holy_Spirit_by_LordShadowblade1“You’re not a cessationist, are you?”

The term felt awkwardly unfamiliar upon my ears, and my face must have said so. He clarified.

“You don’t believe the gifts of the Spirit ended with the New Testament, do you?”

For the first time, my mouth stated with my spirit had long sensed.

“No, I guess I don’t.”

This confession surely sent a unseen tremor through my tightly-wrapped-in-rationalism faith—a suspect form of faith, if there ever was one.

A Spiritual Sprinkling

Far more recently, it has dawned on me that my past version of a “Christian worldview” was actually a thoroughly naturalistic view, with a side order of God. According to Wikipedia, “naturalism commonly refers to the viewpoint that laws of nature (as opposed to supernatural ones) operate in the universe, and that nothing exists beyond the natural universe or, if it does, it does not affect the natural universe.”

abstract-word-cloud-for-naturalism-with-related-tags-and-termsMy particular version of naturalism was more personal in nature than Wikipedia’s. I have always been suspect of evolution as an adequate theory of how life originated, and I have long voiced that life’s richest realms are (relationships, art, love, dreams, morality, emotions, and more) fall somewhere beyond the horizons reached by verifiable facts.

My naturalism was a mutant.

I was convinced enough that God was real that He HAD to be part of my diagram, but I had no idea how to position the I AM within my tidy sketch.  So I simply placed Him on the fringe, where He wouldn’t mix up the other pieces.

And He had grown tired of that treatment.

Breaking Me by Breaking Free

In short, I have been forced, by a growing list of experiences and encounters, to acknowledge that my largely logical and rooted-in-reason approach to life is an insufficient processor for the reality in which I live. Its substance is too superficial, and it lacks the weight to grapple with life as I now know it. My former framework held fast so long as God respected my boundaries and operated within the office I had set up for Him. When He began to interact intimately with me and to surprise me through the lives of better-tuned instruments than myself, profound paradox unfolded. Logic imploded upon itself, as I was forced to admit my irrational inconsistencies, surely ever-present but now painfully exposed.

God of the Emoticon

In light of recent revelation, it would be intellectually irresponsible to insist upon the validity of my long-held worldview.

God has revealed Himself as undeniably present. In a shocking twist, the Supernatural invaded my naturalistic worldview, the world view that handed Him a long list of all He could not do.

In response, He has broken the door’s hinges with a one-line declaration: “Your naturalistic view is not nearly naturalistic enough, for it fails to handle life as you now know it. You will recalibrate, or your head will blow up and your spirit will bellow against you. But it’s your choice, right? Because you’re so in charge of what’s real and what’s not. ;-)”

(Yes, God used a winky emoticon.)
Imagine the unsettling nerve!

God showed up in ways that I could not explain and began threatening a cozy worldview, which had safe—and harmless—spots reserved for Him.

I have not simply lost my long-held faith; it was ripped from my hands!

 

Sunday Six-Pack (34)

Saturday escaped me, but the Six-Pack is rolling out before this weekend passes me by, all the same!

The best ministry-minded or faith-focused articles I could find this week? Here they are, with some grace space for a bit of who-knows-what.

If six options stuns you, start with my two *Picks of the Week*, and pick up steam from there.

For a steady stream of such links, follow me on Twitter ( @JasonBandura ) to the right of this post.  Sharp quotes and solid articles are tweeted 3-4 times daily.

Today’s edition:

1) Providential Accidents
Edward Fudge was writing about the doctrine of hell long before it became trendy. Here is an interview, with Scot McKnight, on his path and findings.

2) 42 Successful People Share the Best Advice They Ever Received
The Business Insider offers this pile of wisdom, much of which your mother may have shared with you back before you were paying attention.

3) Three Ways to Go Further, Faster (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Michael Hyatt offers the single most important move he’s made toward gaining on, and accomplishing, some of his life goals.

4) Why are Some Words More Persuasive than Others?
Lifehacker offers this piece on the psychology of language. Fascinating read for any communicator who cares about getting their point across as effectively or powerfully as possible.

5) The Most Overlooked Key to a Growing Church (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
In this short piece, Rick Warren reminds of a simple, easy-to-forget characteristic that should never be forgotten.

6) John Wesley’s Secret to Making Disciples
Gary Thompson‘s post shares the list of questions that used to guide Wesley’s “accountability groups” before the term even existed. Could this still work today to mature followers of Jesus?

Blessings on you, my friends.  May the week ahead be filled with God in ways that you can sense. Tune yourself in, and walk on!

YOUR TURN: Add a line below to direct other readers to the best stuff above or to highlight the piece that gave you something worth keeping.

Your input makes this post better!

[You can subscribe to this blog via RSS or email, in the upper right corner of this page.]

Jesus Calls You to Be Selfish

I confess, that title may be slightly misleading.

But only slightly.

All or Nothing

There is a common belief that anything less than absolute altruism somehow clashes with pure religion. While I understand the sentiment, how is anyone less than Mother Teresa expected to take even a step forward if this is true?

Desiring God (Piper)I believe the answer lies in “Christian hedonism“, a provocative phrase coined by John Piper in his 1986 book “Desiring God”.

If one can get past the shock of binding the terms “Christian” and “hedonism”, a wonderfully disorienting teaching awaits.

In one sentence, Piper lays it out like this: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”  Jeremy Taylor, a 17th-century Anglican cleric once said that “God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy.” The concept has also been linked to Blaise Pascal, C.S. Lewis, and Jonathan Edwards, among others.

Tuck away the historical figures that you may or may not care about. This post’s title suggested that Jesus himself promotes such a teaching. Is that true?

14-biltmoreMusical Chairs

Luke 14 depicts Jesus giving seating advice after observing wedding guests eagerly jockeying for the seats of honour. A surface reading would suggest that Jesus was teaching them how to be more effective in their selfish pursuits, as if to say, “If you really want to sit at the head table, let me show you a trick that you may have missed with your small-scoped view.”

This is where the “purity police” show up. If the driving motive behind an act is a desire to receive reward or get ahead, doesn’t that undercut the act’s honour from the get-go?

I think Jesus would say, “No.”

And here’s why.

“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” (Ps 103:13-14)

stock-footage-old-stopwatch-clock-gears-mechanism-with-tick-tick-soundOur Maker knows how we tick.

He is not shocked to learn that we are hardly altruistic. In fact, I will be hard-pressed to have one such moment this week, maybe even today.  Most would agree that a will to survive or succeed appears to be our first nature.

Even more certain is this fact: God wants to lead me. He wants to direct my life and form me into a man more centered upon Him than upon myself. How to do this?

Harnessing our Selfishness

I believe God taps our self-centeredness as a tool toward redemption. It would not be the first time that God has used something lesser for something greater.

If this rubs you wrong, the key truth to remember here is that this hardly makes obedience any easier.  It is not as if God lowers the bar by allowing us to “function selfishly”.

In treating my self-seeking nature as His classroom, God requires a leap of faith so great that most will never draw near to its edge.

Invisible > Visible

I can only pursue unseen treasure if I am willing to release what appears to be already in my grasp. The promise of rewards for goodness–either in an afterlife or in due time–has no power to motivate those who prefer “living for today”. This is delayed gratification to its max. Putting money away for retirement, saving sex until marriage, reading books rather than watching movies–these, and a thousand other examples, highlight the intense struggle humanity has with delayed gratification. To imagine faith as an ignoble pursuit because it contains offers of unseen and untouched reward–this is out of touch with the challenge of the spiritual life.  Such a critic has never tried to live by faith.

Following Christ’s call requires unbelievable guts. Most cannot muster them. It demands a constant loosening of one’s grip and a willingness to settle on rewards that often uncertain and counter-intuitive.

That is the life of faith: Crushingly costly and richly rewarding all at once.

Be Ready

dark_countryside_by_themagilla-d4vkqxm

They are up late.

The countryside was dark hours ago, and the chores are complete. On any other night, they would have headed to bed shortly after sunset, but tonight is no average night.

The master is expected to return.  He has sent word, and they will be ready for him.

This imagery is common to several portions of Jesus’ teachings. Luke 12:40 clarifies the point that lies just beyond the scene imagined above: “You must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.”

Any combination of “Son of Man” and “coming” quickly turn heads toward the end of time, the final coming.

And rightfully so.

However, it dawned on me recently that there is a message that resonates in another way as well.

Just as Christ’s final return is unknown, so too is every move of God.

  • A season of stripping off layers.
  • A time of trial.
  • A green pasture of rest.
  • A wilderness of discipline.
  • An unimagined opportunity.

Such pages of life are not bookmarked in advance. They arrive unannounced, just like the master to his household.  But when they do arrive, the readied heart can open the door to them, confident that the Creator comes with them, that He is eager to dance the upcoming steps with us, to fill us with His life-giving rhythms to the extent that we take His hand and engage with His movements.

But one must be ready.

It is oh-so-easy to live with eyes blinded to anything beyond the immediate, failing to even consider where the Infinite One is seeking to infiltrate our grocery-getting, rugrat-raising, marriage-managing, schedule-surfing lives.

But that’s the importance of being ready.

To tie readiness to Christ’s final coming is to suggest that there is one day when being ill-prepared would be costly.

Truth be told, there is cost in every moment that we press forward with eyes closed and hearts hard to the Constant Companion.

Today as you lay your plans, top the list with this: Be Ready.

Be ready to listen up.

Be ready to speak up.

Be ready to step up.

Your day will not be a rat-race of randomness. Your Master has mixed up its ingredients, and He reveals His presence and plans on His own schedule.

So be ready.