Monthly Archives: May 2011
Some of you remember my friend Mikey. Like 2 years ago he was given 3 months to live. Today he found out his cancer is in remission! FTMFW!! [For The Many Faceted Win, you dirty minded people that are scouring for something to judge… don’t worry, I’m sure by the end of this post you’ll have at least 5 other things]. I’m so stoked! It’s awesome. But his FB profile has been flooded with people talking about answers to prayer, and praise for Our Powerful God. He’s talked about how hard he’s prayed for this. One of my other good friends wrote about feeling guilty for not believing, deep down, that God would actually save Mikey. Don’t get me wrong, I wept huge, real, tears of authentic and ecstatic joy when I read the news, but the follow-up has left me hurting. It seems other people have this amazing push-button Saviour that they use. If they just push hard enough, everything will get better.
Can I have your Jesus? Mine’s broken…
I can remember when my Jesus Button broke. It was when I lost my cat.
My wife and I had to leave the country for several weeks. It was the dead of winter, and it got away from us as we were bringing it from the car to the friend’s house where it was going to be watched. We chased it for hours until it disappeared and we had to get to the airport or miss our flight. We prayed. We sought God. We read scripture. We prayed more. We prayed hard. We prayed with faith. We believed that God could, and would, return our cat to us when we got back. The cat did not come back. WTF? [Yes, that F means what you think it means].
Since then, the button’s been dropped, kicked around, sat on, run over, and fallen in the toilet over the course of five miscarriages. We believe that life begins at conception. Alongside our beautiful son, we’ve had five babies that died. Five. Figurative hands up if you believe that we didn’t pray our metaphorical asses off. One of them died at 9 weeks. We didn’t find out until 12 weeks when we had an ultrasound that showed a very still baby with no heartbeat. The pregnancy was at 17 weeks before the miscarriage was completed and I held my tiny, inch-and-a-half long Sayuri in the palm of my hand. In those intervening weeks we PRAYED. We believed that God would work a miracle and we’d go for a confirmation ultrasound and they’d be like “hey, a heartbeat… our bad”.
Seriously. I’m pretty sure I learned in Sunday School that if you pray for something and really believe that God will do it, he will. Unless it’s important for our discipline. If God wants to teach us a lesson, then he’ll say no. Because it’s not In His Will. Real people say that. Well meaning Christians will stand next to someone wracked with grief and tell them not to worry, because it’s Part Of God’s Plan.
To which I now respond: “Bite Me.”
Don’t tell me it was God’s plan to kill my baby. Don’t tell the mother left paraplegic after being hit by a drunk driver that it’s her fault she can’t walk because she just doesn’t have enough faith in God. Don’t tell the 5 year old with the dead father that if he had only prayed and believed, his dad would still be around. That’s bullshit. That’s exactly what you’re saying every time you credit fervent prayer to God as the reason for a person’s recovery. It mocks and belittles the prayers of all those who have gone before, who have died or been left bereaved waiting for a God who never came. God doesn’t work that way. He’s not sitting up there waiting with his Grovel-ometer to see if we’ve reached a sufficient level of begging to warrant his attention.
How can I even be a Christian then? How can I be a pastor who doesn’t believe that God answers prayer? Well, for one thing I never said I don’t believe that God answers prayer, and shame on you for drawing that conclusion. Nor did I deny the healing power of Christ or the reality of miraculous intervention. I just don’t believe that they have anything to do with the force of your conviction or the number of times you say “Lord God” in a three-minute interval.
Scripture tells us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” [Romans 8:28]. It doesn’t say that all things are good. It doesn’t say that God causes those things for our good. It says that in them, in our time of bitter grief, God is with us, caring for us, and working in the background for our Good. That’s what lets me be a Christian. It’s not having some vending machine god that I can put a prayer coin in and pop out a happy day; It’s belief in a Christ who was known as the “man of sorrows”. It’s having a God who has suffered ultimate loss, betrayal, and pain walking beside me through mine.
For anyone out there reading this who has felt abandoned by God, because you sought him in your hour of need and he was nowhere to be found, when you were battered and beaten, when you had a loved one on their death bed, when you were waiting for a miracle that never came, I’m sorry. My heart goes out to you. Here’s the hope I offer you, and while sometimes it may feel empty, it isn’t: God’s heart goes out to you too. He has compassion. For anyone that needs a vocabulary lesson, that means “With/Alongside Suffering”. God suffers with us. He is the friend who sits with us in the dark when all we can do is cry. He’s the hand that holds our hair while we’re puking. He’s the strength in our legs that lets us crawl and the force in our lungs that keeps us breathing when we can’t even do that anymore. He is the reminder that there is more. There is light. There is hope. We are not alone. We are loved. Having that is more important to me than having a button to push. That’s my Jesus.
Hopefully more Funny next time. I’m just not feeling it right now. Mikey, I really hope that when you read this it doesn’t bring you down. Be happy. Praise the God who’s carrying you through this. I definitely am!
So most of my readers know I’m a pastor… ish. I’m a youth pastor. Well, I’m a youth pastor when I’ve got a job as a youth pastor. Okay, I’m an unpaid volunteer with the skills and education of a youth pastor. So I know what I’m talking about… ish. I talk about God because he’s pretty important to me. I talk about faithlife because it’s what I’m immersed in. This is my place to ramble when I feel like rambling and respond to people that never knew I heard what they had to say and will never read my response. Mostly it’s rambling responses. So here’s the succinct intro to my rambling response: Shut up and stop complaining about “Jesus is my Boyfriend” songs.
The above sarcastic demotivator is the kind of crap I see on blogs defending the “purity” of worship. The right way to sing. The right songs to sing. To some degree, they sometimes have a point, but more often then not it’s superior douchebaggery (kind of like this blog, but less mine). David Crowder, who is pictured above (and it should be pointed out that he hasn’t changed his hair-style since he hit the scene in 1998) gets cited for propagating songs like John Mark McMillan’s How He Loves, which sings passionately about (dun dun dun) how God loves us. It reminds me of the story of redeeming love found in Hosea. It reminds other people of singing like “Jesus is my Boyfriend” … songs like Arms of Love, or In Your Hands (so close, I believe, you’re holding me now, in your hands I belong, you never let me go), or The Power of Your Love (hold me close, let your love surround me, bring me near, draw me to your side) hold the hallmarks of what’s hailed as a “Jesus is my Boyfriend” song.
I was watching a youtube video that popped up on my FB feed (okay, I was listening to a youtube video that my wife was watching that popped up on her FB feed) from a friend that showed a pastor ranting about how in his church they don’t sing songs that make it like Jesus is my Boyfriend. They don’t “sing songs about us”. They sing songs about God, because that’s where the attention should be. They “don’t sing songs that go beyond what people are REALLY feeling,” like “If ever I loved thee, my Jesus tis now”. A lot of Evangelicals seem to be agreeing with this. Apparently there’s an underground backlash that our metrosexual worship leaders are unaware of, carrying the feeling that it’s inappropriate to sing songs to God that talk about our feelings, or our perceptions, or our commitments. Sure, it’s embarrassing when we’re singing “I’m falling on my knees” and we look around and notice that no one (including ourselves) is falling on their knees, or “As we lift up our hands” and see that most of our hands are firmly seated in our pockets. Hell, a few weeks ago I was leading worship at a small church and felt a rosy warmth spread across my cheeks as I began If We Are The Body (“It’s crowded in worship today”) with a congregation at about 10% of building capacity. But there’s a heart, a core of the song that touches Truth. We get mired in details so often that we miss the greater truth that God is bigger than the song. Any song. Anything we sing can only touch on the outskirts of who God is, as it’s reflected in our vision.
“We don’t sing songs about us”… why not? Is it unBiblical? Unspiritual? What Spirit do you sing to that’s unconcerned with you, or your feelings, or your experiences, or your desires? What Bible do you read that doesn’t give example after example of “I will”s, or “I am”s?, or “Please will you … for me”s? Take a read through the Psalms and checklist how many of them fail to go into, at some point or another, the situation of the author, or their feelings, or their desires. Then consider that these songs, sometimes national, sometimes personal, were held up as examples of worship for the Community of God, and YOU HAVE ALREADY ENDORSED THEM AS THE AUTHORITATIVE WORD OF GOD. Sure, most of the time when we’re singing “I could sing of your love forever,” we realistically, you know, aren’t. But someday we will, and isn’t that worth singing about? Maybe we’re not physically falling on our knees, but there’s a greater spiritual reality that reflects the humility that it takes to sing it. We’re not bowing down before our Lord and King, but, really, shouldn’t we be? What’s wrong with holding up the ideal? Waving the banner? Pushing us towards getting our hands out of our pockets?
Songs like this call us to identify with a moment of an artist’s heart. Those artists are sometimes super-spiritual people, but even they have days when they don’t feel like they could sing of God’s love forever; when they’re very firmly NOT falling on their knees. That can be tough, because what are us normals supposed to do with that? Most of us don’t have artist’s hearts.
Art elevates us. Art shows us something higher than ourselves. It’s not the songwriter’s fault – it’s not the worship leader’s fault – that so many of us need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the presence of God. I take comfort in knowing that King David, a man after God’s own heart, sinned. Then he wrote powerful praise music about personal repentance. Then he sinned again. Just because singing that we’ll never again turn away from God is patently untrue is no reason not to sing it. Because it should be true, and maybe, with the right music, just for a second, in our hearts and minds, it is.
We have a God that cares about US, and what WE think, and what WE feel. He doesn’t need to hear about himself, although I’m sure he appreciates it. Worship is about our relationship with our Redeemer/Creator/Sustainer/Lover. It should reflect a state of evolving relationship. If we’re being led, let it lead us towards a deeper, more intimate relationship that says I love you, because God wants our hearts more than he wants verbal statues erected each Sunday.