The High Cost of Free Will

I believe that humans have free will. For those who want to argue this with me (knowing I’m a Calvinist), that is a discussion for another time and place. This is not a theological post exploring how the sovereignty of God and human free will can co-exist (though I believe they do); rather this is a personal post about the sad choices we make with our free will and how much damage we can do.

Most people, especially in the U.S., place a high value our autonomy. We want the freedom to do great things, or by contrast self destruct if that is what we choose. We are fiercely protective of this freedom, both for ourselves and others. The problem with is that no one lives in isolation; we cannot make bad choices without hurting those who love us.

When the people we love choose to self destruct, I can say from firsthand experience it is easy to wish we had control over their lives. The answers are so clear, if they could just make good choices so much pain could be avoided. The song “How To Save A Life” by “The Fray” really captures the helplessness so well. The truth is, none of us can save someone who does not wish to be saved. It is out of our hands.

I’ve had the conversation this song describes on multiple occasions. It’s painful to lose friends to bad choices. More than being painful, it’s so helpless. You just want to get into their heads and help them see what you see; know what you know. You will do anything and everything to save them, but you cannot.

This is the high cost of free will. People will make bad choices that hurt us, and we will make bad choices that hurt others. Is it worth it? I believe it was God’s good pleasure to give us the freedom to sin, and I trust in his goodness. But where I really want to focus right now is how this pain brings clarity to our relationships with God. When I watch someone I love self destruct, I can understand a small part of what God must feel when he watches us walk into the sin that destroys us. When I’ve had to put up boundaries and say goodbye to my good friends who have become unsafe, I can see God establishing his own boundaries as he expelled Adam and Even (and all of humanity) from the Garden. We have broken his heart so much. So much.

It’s so easy to focus on the human side of the equation when we read scripture. How much we’ve lost in the fall and how we’ve repeated the sin of our parents Adam and Eve ever since. How much pain we’ve received from the wars we’ve fought that were only necessary because of human rebellion. But we should never miss that God created something for us perfect and we walked away. That he gave Israel a law for their blessing, and they broke it repeatedly. That ultimately he suffered the very effects of this sin by taking on human form and dying on a cross.

Every person has the stamp of God on him or her. No one who walks away from God does it without doing damage to a life that is valued and worth an immeasurable amount to its Creator. The cost of free will is indeed high, and that point was driven home to me again recently. I hope that as I struggle with my own sin and poor choices, I can be reminded of how this must feel to God, watching me walk down roads that hurt myself, him, and the ones I love.

I praise God for the Gospel and that there is no condemnation for those in Christ, but it does sober my heart to remember that there are consequences for the choices we make. It makes we want to do better, not because I want to earn favor with God, but because his way is good and his path leads to the greater, more abundant life he desires for me.

The First Act of Grace

What was the first act of God’s grace recorded in scripture? I would argue (really, R.C. Sproul would argue it and I’m just lifting his exposition here) that it is found in Genesis 3:

And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. (Genesis 3:21, ESV)

Clothing was God’s first gift of grace to us after the Fall. Before the Fall, humans were naked and unashamed. We were completely vulnerable, physically, spiritually, and emotionally, hiding nothing from God or one another. After the Fall, everything changed. We had shame. We felt shame. We became fearful of others not only knowing what we’d done, but who we were. And thus God, in his mercy, provided clothing. He covered our physical nakedness, but in so doing he also demonstrated a covering of our spiritual and emotional nakedness as well.

I believe this speaks volumes about how we were designed, and also why we need the Gospel so much. We are a people created for intimacy. We require vulnerability to function properly. In a broken world of sin, we can no longer expose ourselves with the freedom we need, and yet in the proper created order of things, we could be honest about ourselves without fear of God or others. There are always people trying to push the limits of vulnerability, exposing themselves more than others, but it is not a comfortable thing to do (borrowing from R.C. Sproul again, he says there is a reason it’s called “streaking” instead of “strolling”!), not for the one exposing or the people who have to observe the vulnerability. We have become separated from one another by sin.

This is one reason marriage is such an important institution for humans. It provides a relationship where two individuals can get closer to our created state of vulnerability than any other, but with it also comes a danger. In a healthy marriage, physical, emotional, and spiritual exposure results in unparalleled acceptance and grace: a husband and wife bound in intimacy can show all of their flaws and be found loved, respected, and cherished. In an unhealthy marriage such exposure can result in abandonment or abuse, which is why marital violations are so hard.

I’ve been thinking a lot about masks recently, and while everyone seems to decry masks in the church, more often than not people are punished for not having them. If we do not show the right kind of spiritual life, or if we are too vulnerable with people, we can easily make them uncomfortable and not want to be around us. And in a sense, this is a place where we need to take a cue from God’s first act of grace: though in a perfect world we were created to be vulnerable, it is appropriate to cloth ourselves and shield some of our nakedness. Does that mean that we should happily put on masks and live out false lives before others? I don’t think so, but it does mean we need to respect boundaries and realize that not everyone needs to be subject to every intimate details of our lives.

But having said that, as a church I do think it is our charge to make people more comfortable with vulnerability than they are in the world. When someone enters into a worship service, they should feel more open, not less, to letting people in. Looking at the life of Jesus, one episode (recorded in all four Gospels) stands out:

One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves,“Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:36-50, ESV)

What strikes me here is the vulnerability of this woman and the discomfort it causes others. She comes before Jesus giving herself over to him, and the Pharisee is concerned about “what sort of woman this is who is touching him”. The Pharisee is wearing a mask, and she has none.

We need and crave intimacy. It is part of our DNA and how we were created. If we spend our lives surrendered to making our outward appearances match expectations, we will never be completely whole. We will constantly live in fear of being found out and rejection. We will never be able to truly live out the Gospel, which says we are free based on a foreign righteousness. This woman accepted that she was vulnerable before Jesus, and she came with everything exposed. He knew her sins (as did most, it seems), and he accepted and loved her. He even commended her ability to love.

The Gospel sets us free from the curse of sin. Though we are still making our way through this broken world and that means we will never in this life be able to get to the true kind of vulnerability we were created to need, we must strive to be a people of intimacy: a people where we can invite honesty in worship, service, our relationships, and every other area of our lives. Because while God’s first act of grace was to protect us in our vulnerable state, it was also to accept us as we were, broken and sinful, in need of his restoration.

Teaching The Rebellious To Rebel

Recently I had a conversation with some friends about some very popular teachers in the evangelical world who we believe are teaching false doctrine, and we considered why these men are so popular. Why do people flock to hear these teachers who claim to represent classical Reformed Theology, and yet seem to undercut it with their applications, returning to a very works orientated type faith?

This post is not about those teachers so I’m not going to name names, but about us and why we find them compelling. Why do so many of us (and I say “us” because I know I’ve been guilty of this) like to follow and trust men who will teach us how to earn our way into God’s grace, when the Bible makes it clear that such a thing is impossible and that our works are of no value toward attaining salvation?

Personally, my suspicion is that it has everything to do with the American ethic of ego and rebelliousness. By that, I mean that that it is very much in the typical American D.N.A. that we want to one up each other and just prove how tough we are. We want to stand out among the crowd and be seen as rebels who fight the system, proving our importance; nothing serves such a spirit as well as a tough works-righteousness message: “Show me the hard rules, pastor, I can take it- and I’ll do it faster and better than anyone else”.

Wait a minute, how is following rules rebellious? Surely I picked the wrong world there? Legalistic certainly, but rebellious? Nah.

No, I mean rebellious, and I’ll illustrated with a true story from my past.

Several years ago I was involved in a very powerful youth ministry. My band led the music for the Sunday evening youth service at a small church, and the youth group absolutely exploded within months. The youth pastor had a radical vision for growing his ministry, and it worked! Fun games? Nope. Pandering to their tastes and cultural designs? Not that either. What then?

It was a simple plan: he preached the scripture expository style, we spent hours in prayer with the youth, and we focused on worshiping God. There was nothing else. The focus was pure and awesome. I was hooked, and so were the youth. This was not a typical youth group, and we all knew it. The youth pastor just kept on preaching and more and more youth came.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? It did seem that way at the time. It seemed like this was the recipe for success. How could anything so purely focused on God be wrong? And yet, there was a sleeping dragon; I never saw it coming. Disunity grew between the youth and the adults. The youth pastor grew increasingly dissatisfied with the church, “abandoning” everything except for his own ministry. He convinced many of the youth that their parents might not even be saved. In his mind, the adults certainly didn’t have authentic worship. And then one day, the youth pastor didn’t show up to church. His wife came instead, and said he wasn’t coming back. The youth group fell apart completely after that, many returning to (or adopting new) bad habits.

What happened? I was bewildered. We were doing all the right things. We would spend hours in prayer with these kids, preaching directly from the scripture, line by line (and make no mistake, they were good sermons- for all his faults, the youth pastor was a fantastic expositor), and we didn’t pander to “entertainment”. How could that have ended so wrong?

I posed this question to the Senior Pastor of the church, and his words will remain with me forever: “It turns out that it is no great trick to teach teenagers to be rebellious”.

And that’s when it clicked: I got it. There’s no doubt that we were doing all the right things: the prayer, the preaching, etc. I wouldn’t change a thing if I went back. But we were deceived about our “success”. We didn’t grow because of the attractiveness of these things (though undoubtedly there were some who genuinely saw the value in what we were doing), but because we were counter-culture. We were different. We were rebellious. And what attracts a teenager like rebellion? Whether it is rebellion against parents or rebellion against the norms of the world, in those angst ridden years nothing pulls in a teenager like the idea of doing something different and radical.

And so, the truth was, we attracted many who liked the idea of rebellion, and that it was rebellion in the name of Jesus probably didn’t matter than much. And as the group grew and the youth minister attributed our success to the righteousness our methods were cultivating, a feedback loop began because he started pitting youth against their parents. When that happens, boy then you really have an attractive ministry. As the youth grew, more contempt for the adults came right along with it. Of course it all fell apart, because the hearts of the youth weren’t grounded in Christ, they were grounded in rebellion.

Was this an indictment against our methods? Hardly- what we did was good. But where we erred was believing our success was due to our methods. A heart of humility would have gone a long way toward preventing the breakdown of the ministry. We shouldn’t have been so naive as to believe that the group “got it” and measured ourselves by such success. If we had been a little more humble, no divide between the youth pastor and the parents would have occurred; instead, the families could have grown together, with parents leading their teenagers while we added the meat of authentic worship and serious Bible study.

So what does this have to do with why popular teachers are able to mislead so many? It’s because for many of us, as much as we’d like to think we’ve left the rebellious years back in the past, rebellion is still attractive. We love to prove our worth through how counter-culture we are to the world. We can show that we are big and strong by the “hard teachings” we are willing to endure “for the sake of the Gospel”. And there’s no doubt that some of these teachings are good, but I can say from experience that often my motives stink.

When you add into the mix a false teacher who will provide even more rules and a higher standard in order to receive God’s grace, then our rebellious natures kick in to overdrive. We don’t want to settle for average or what everyone else does. We want to be the big bad Calvinists (or pick any other doctrine people argue about) who can proudly speak of how awful our sin is and how we don’t know anyone as bad as us. Our self images might as well be in leather jackets and eye patches as we growl at those who won’t live as righteous a life as we do. False teachers just egg this on, allowing us to be proud of how different we are and how much disunity we can sow between ourselves and the world. Because really, they are just teaching rebellious people to be rebellious, which is not so great a trick.

What is a great trick is to humbly teach people how to work out their salvation in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, not rebelling against the world in contempt, but lighting the way for those who do not yet have the truth. Yes, part of the Christian life is living counter culture, but not to add battle scars we can brag about, but rather to increase the light around us. We are not leather-wearing spiritual soldiers destroying everything in the culture that opposes us, but rather a redeemed people rising out of our rags with humility and loving the world as God does, so much that he sent his son to die for it.

Let’s be careful about allowing ourselves to be motivated by rebellion; even if the methods and cause is right; if our hearts are proud and ready to fight, we are missing the point. This is my own struggle and I’m a susceptible as anyone, but my prayer is to be a person of a different nature, transformed and operating to a new code, not one of rebellion, but of meekness and grace, finding strength and power in the giver of all life.

February 2014 Newsletter

Hey Steady On fans!

Already 2014 is flying by. It seems like we just did Christmas and already we are gearing up for Valentine’s day! (quick random fact: February 14th is Jeff’s Birthday!)  We didn’t play out this month, but we did practice for some new shows we’ve booked, including one with the full band. We’re really excited about being able to do some of the songs the way they were recorded on the CD.

We also got some of our photos back, and it’s safe to say that Jenny is overjoyed to have a picture where she’s smiling! Those of you who have seen us play live know that original pic we were using from the video doesn’t characterize her bubbly personality at all. So now we have some better photos. And coming soon: a poster! We’ll let you know when that’s available.

We are still working out plans for printing physical CDs for those who are interested, which may include creating a small Kickstarter campaign. Be on the lookout for more info on that in the next month or so.

New Dates On The Calendar

We have two new dates coming up. The first is that we will be leading worship at Jeff’s church on March 30th.

The second date is a the full band concert mentioned above at Boudreaux’s on May 18th. For more info check out the event on Facebook. Please share and invite your friends: tickets will be $10 or $15 for a “group pass” (for couples, families, or whoever wants to come in as a group).

More Blog Madness

Jeff continued to write weekly, this time writing a little bit about the joys and challenges of being a musician along with examining some trends in the evangelical church. Here’s brief recap of the last month:

Why I Love Being A Musician: Jeff talks about the great joy he has writing and performing music and why it’s so important to him.

When Worship Is Great: Reflecting on his experience as a worship leader, Jeff discuss our focus in worship and the struggle to keep the main thing the main thing.

Good Vs. Godly: Stemming from a conversation between friends, this post explores whether “good” and “Godly” can be opposing ideas.

Marriage And Children: Idols?: The most popular blog entry thus far, Jeff questions the focus of the church on family to the point that people who don’t fit the profile can be left out.

What’s Coming February 

We hope to finalize plans for printing CDs as well as start promoting our concert in May. Also more rehearsals with the full band, so we’ll try to post some pics! Posters might possibly be coming, but we’ll be sure to let you know if/when that happens.

Final Words

This is newsletter #3- we’ve seen a few more visits and shares for the Steady On Blog, so keep em coming along with the comments.

Marriage and Children: Idols?

Recently I was engaged in a discussion over on The Gospel Coalition about “child-free” marriages. The general thrust of the topic is that people who elect to be married but not have children are selfish and in sin (a pass is given if you are unable to have children). I realize this is a debatable topic among Christians, and I respect those who disagree with my position peacefully, but I believe that the decision to have children is a choice, like many others, in which we should seek the will of God. I laid out my reasoning many times in the comments if you dare dig through them, but essentially I believe this is another “bolted on to the Gospel” idea that is harmful to many people (especially when taken to the extreme view of “Quiverfull” that means you have as many children as nature/God allows).

But that’s not the thrust of what I’m writing about today. What concerns me is a comment from another person as we were discussing this topic. I’d specifically called out the plight of many singles in church who are treated like second class citizens because they are not married. This is related to the arguments regarding childless couples because I believe the church has turned marriage and children into an idol. Here is my original comment:

Every page of scripture drips with the truth of the Gospel, pointing toward or pointing back to the life of Jesus and what he did for us. By comparison, the scripture says very little about families and how they ought to be conducted, and even less about children’s place in them. The central person of our faith and the greatest evangelist/theologian in Christianity both remained unmarried and without children, further suggesting that marriage and child bearing are not central to what it means to be a Christian; yet those who are unmarried and/or without children find a difficult place in the church today.

The church needs to repent of this idolatry and re-focus back on the core mission: making disciples of all nations.

Here is her response:

. . . to suggest that those who urge married couples to keep to the procreative pattern that God created at the beginning of marriage are being idolatrous is kind of ludicrous, really.

This really bothers me. I completely understand that she and I are coming from different perspectives on what we believe is a “procreative pattern that God created”. She believes that marrying and having children is a prescriptive command from scripture and I do not. I can agree to disagree there. However, I think she goes too far by calling my position “kind of ludicrous”. By doing so, she’s declaring that family can never become an idol. The very idea is appalling in her mind.

So what about it? Can something like a family that is a sure blessing from the Lord become an idol? Can it become an idol to an entire evangelical subculture? I think it absolutely can. Not only can anything that is not God become an idol for us, I think Jesus DIRECTLY addresses this issue:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26, ESV)

Now just about everyone agrees that Jesus is not telling us to hate our spouses: if he meant that it would create a huge contradiction in scripture. What we generally understand him to mean is that he MUST come first. We must count the cost and be willing to put Jesus before absolutely everything, including our families. If we don’t, we are putting our families above Jesus; in other words, making them our idols.

But the second question is: have we done this? Are families idols in the evangelical world? This is a bit more debatable, especially since we’re talking about something as fuzzy as a trend. But I would come down on the side of “yes”.

In evangelical churches, talking about families is the norm, not singles. Events are structured around families, not those who are unmarried. If you are not married, it’s a little harder to fit in, and if you ARE married but don’t have kids, people are going to be asking when they are coming. The pressure is immense and intense. Is this true everywhere? No, and I can’t cite statistics, but I’d invite you to find the single adults in your church, or the adults without children, and ask them. Ask them if they feel included as a part of the community and welcome at church. If they are not, we are showing partiality, and that’s NOT a good place for the church to be.

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (James 2:1-9, ESV)

It’s true that in this passage James is talking about personal wealth, but clearly what is in view is not to set up divisions within the church. Single or married, children or not, we should feel welcome in the house of God. If we are not seeing singles over the age of 30 in our congregations, we are not doing a good enough job of “show no partiality”. All believers should feel welcome, without division and segregation.

I think in many cases, this segregation is not intentional. I believe many married Christians really do WANT singles to feel comfortable at church, but in many cases simply don’t know how to relate. I get it: people are busy, especially when there are children with sports, piano lessons, school, and a myriad of other things going on. It’s not an attack on singles, but mostly just a different world. But that’s the catch: if we are the body of Christ, our worlds should collide. We should be known by our love for one another. The single life and the married life may be very different, but we can find communion at the table of Christ. Yes, it takes being flexible and bending for people who aren’t quite like you. They are in a different place with different goals. You may not even like some of their choices. But the body of Christ isn’t about finding other people like us, but about finding other people who are brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.

I’ve heard that the church is a collection of families, but this simply isn’t true. The church is a collection of CHRISTIANS, brothers and sister of Jesus, adopted into the faith. Some of those believers are married, some are single. Some have children, others do not. But if they are in Jesus, they are beautiful in his sight. And that’s the key.

Folks, we can do better, and it starts by reaching out and tapping into lives of others, wherever they are in their journeys. And yes, the idea that we would place families above God should be “ludicrous”, but sadly it is the reality in many churches for many singles or childless couples. Please, let’s tear down those walls and realize that God is not only for the married with children, and that to truly come to him he must be first in our lives, above absolutely everything, even the greatest blessings he’s given us.

Good vs. Godly

Recently I had a discussion with a friend about a meme that was sent around contrasting “good” with “Godly”. Something about how the world seeks to be good while an abiding believer seek to be Godly. This struck a nerve with me, as I think the two are inherently the same: anything that is good is by nature Godly, and vice versa. God is defined by his goodness, or rather, goodness is defined by the nature of God.

Her rebuttal to me was that people seek to be good by doing the right things, but for the wrong reasons. Like the child who apologizes for doing wrong with no contrition in his heart. This is an important distinction, and I wholeheartedly agree that this is a problem. In fact, the Pharisees exemplified this: they would do all the right things (Jesus even pointed out how they’d tithe a tenth of their spices), yet they never did it with right motives. For me, I’d call this distinction “right vs. good” rather than “good vs. Godly”, but however you want to make the point, it’s certainly there. In fact, I’d say that the theology of the New Testament, and really the Bible in its entirety, is rooted in this idea that we don’t get by on the “rightness” of our actions, but rather the condition of our hearts. The foundation of the Gospel is that our own “rightness” falls so short before God as to condemn us, meaning we need salvation outside ourselves only found in Jesus.

There’s another side to this, though, that we need to be very careful about when we talk about our faith and contrast such things. A great deal of evil has been done in the name of Christianity. Steven Weinberg, Nobel Laureate in physics, has a quote that I think sums up how many unbelievers view faith:

Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion.

It’s sad, but he’s not far wrong. My own experience with how the church deals with abuse and divorce is a great example. By far there has been more “goodness” in the way unbelievers have dealt with me than the Christian community as a whole (though the Christians who “get it” have met me in a way no unbeliever has). If religion were not around, my life would have been far less painful, and I think that’s true of many events throughout history, and many much bigger than my own struggles.

Of course, I believe that religion is not the culprit, but rather false teaching within the church and wolves who seek to devour Christians. It’s no surprise that the NT writers (and Jesus himself) were very concerned about those who would lead flocks astray. Consider these words from Paul:

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:1-10, ESV)

There are many other scriptures like this one: there will be liars and deceivers who will lead people astray. Their consciences are “seared” Paul says, while he exhorts us to stay away from “irreverent, silly myths”. But many of these “silly myths” can appear to be “right” and yet have no value at all:

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23, ESV)

When we fall victim to this kind of asceticism, things that have “an appearance of wisdom”, we provide more fuel for the fire of men like Weinberg, who rightly criticism the false Gospel proclaimed with such lies.

How does this relate to “good” vs “Godly”? I think we need to be very humble when we start contrasting ourselves with the world. The world doesn’t distinguish between false and good teachers, all of whom claim to represent “Godliness”. Whenever we start drawing lines between what is “good” and what is “Godly”, we only provide more fuel for the flames the false teachers have started. When someone says “Don’t be good- be Godly”, my mind translates that into “Don’t worry about feeding the poor or helping the downtrodden- ensure that you always show up to church on time and study your Bible consistently without fail”. I know that isn’t the intention of the statement, but if I hear that, imagine how an unbeliever with an uncharitable view of faith will hear it. Just more confirmation that Christians aren’t concerned with doing good in this world, only imposing rules and regulations.

Good vs Godly? I don’t think you can put a “vs” between the two words. It’s the world that doesn’t see them as the same, but we should be working very hard to change that. We should not have an attitude of “I scoff at your ‘good’ and offer my Godliness”, but rather “Look at God in me and see what true goodness looks like”. And if the world saw true goodness in us, the Steven Weinberg’s of the world will have far less ammunition for their arguments against faith and the wolves would snare less victims.

When Worship Is Great

This morning I led worship alongside Laura Sully at our home church, Christ Church Suwanee. Normally we tend to have very full worship teams with electric guitars, drums, and the works. We have an amazing amount of musical talent at our church and it’s always wonderful to have the opportunity to worship with all of our many gifts, but this morning was a little bit different. It was just the two of us with our piano and guitar . . . and the people of God. It was fantastic and I’m so thankful I was a part of it. The intimacy and ability to respond to the congregation was special. As a worship leader, my primary goal is to be a “lead worshiper” more than a “director of worship”, and this morning that was so easy to do.

Something like that, for me, is like the “mountain top”. Worship is always honoring to God, but sometimes we “feel” it more than other times. These are the weeks we stand around after the service and talk about how great it was, always making sure to point out it was a work of God, not of us. But there’s a temptation when that happens, and this is where we need to be careful. We can look at these special moments, moments that are gifts from God, and try to re-create them. We can seek the spiritual “high” and try to program it. It’s easy for people to say “Remember that week with just piano and guitar?- It was so amazing I don’t see why we need the other instruments” or “I loved it when we sang ‘Our God’ we should do that song every week”.  I suppose that is the result of the problem solving gene (at least in me), but we can easily run astray here and turn a gift into bondage, or something even more dangerous.

Because really, you don’t program “great moments”. If you do, you end up seeking these great moments more than God. We always have to remember, we enter for him, not us. Even if we feel nothing or something is a little off, if our hearts are sincere and we are there to give God honor and glory, worship is great no matter how it seems to us.

There is an oft discussed passage in Leviticus concerning worship, and it’s an important warning:

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.(Leviticus 10:1-2, ESV)

People debate what all of the implications of this scripture are, but I think one thing is very clear. When we come to worship, we are not there because it is fun, cool, and exciting; we come because God has told us we are to worship him. While worship can be fun/cool/exciting, our primary purpose is to respond to God for who he is in our lives and we can never forget that.

I believe the great sin of Nadab and Abihu lies in their purpose for offering “strange fire” (yes, we DO have a song about this, thanks for asking!). They did something different from what God had asked for because they were so impressed by what happened in the closing passages of Leviticus 9 that they wanted to capture and re-create it. But they wanted to do so on their terms for their joy and happiness.

Leviticus 9 ends this way:

And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces. (Leviticus 9:24, ESV)

People were very impressed and affected when “fire came out from the Lord”, as well they should be. They fell on their faces with a holy reverent fear. And this, I think, is what our response ought to be when worship is “great”. When we feel God powerfully and he moves in a special way, we ought to remember who we are dealing with and who we are before him. We should, at least emotionally, be prostrate before him, reverent and humble. Saying “Thank you Lord for meeting with us this way”.

You can’t program fire from heaven. You can’t re-create it, and you don’t want to try. I’m not saying we don’t try to bring our best every week in terms of preparation. We certainly do. But at the end of the day, real worship is beyond instruments, format, and style. It is about God and how he chooses for us to experience him. And if we just blast on ahead without reflection, we can miss it. We can miss the reverent fear we ought to have in light of the work he’s done for us.

So my challenge to myself this week is to reflect on God with reverence and give him thanks; thanks for being worthy of worship, for accepting my worship, and for meeting with me in a special way I could never attain on my own.