Posts Tagged ‘honesty

23
Aug
10

Is that really worship?

What would you call a relationship between two people where only ‘positive’ feelings such as happiness, hope, excitement, passion, etc. were shared, but no ‘negative’ feelings including frustration, anger, sadness, bitterness, etc. were part of the discussions of the two people involved? “Shallow” seems to be the obvious word that comes to mind.

At the numerous churches I’ve attended over the years, I’ve heard the phrase: “worship is an expression of our relationship with God” countless times. If that’s really true, then I’m afraid a lot of church-goers are caught in very shallow relationships with God!

I believe corporate worship can be a place of honesty, and a beautiful expression of life, but in the majority of the churches, I’ve visited in the 40 countries I’ve been to so far, I’ve more often had the feeling of the little boy in Hans Christian Andersen‘s fairy tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes, who is the only one who has the audacity to express the truth about the Emperor in the parade through the city: “The Emperor is naked!“. I’ve often felt like that. This is so empty. This is not what it’s supposed to be, or even what it could be. I know from my own life, from people in my counseling office, and from countless conversations with discipleship training school students and the average person in our churches that none of us have this happy-clappy-life-is-always-great-relationship to God that we often sing about. It simply doesn’t exist. Life isn’t like that. We end up fooling ourselves. And surely the God of the Universe who knows all our thoughts and feelings must at times be as bored with our charades as I am…?

I’ve heard much teachings over the years about what worship is, and I’ve always sat in the pews with a feeling and a thought of: “there is more to this, than what I hear here”. This simply isn’t as good as it gets. To me, worship boils down to one word: HONESTY! I believe that God, above all else, is looking for us to be honest with him. Honesty is the key factor in any relationship. If you are not honest with somebody you call your friend, and you feel you have to fabricate certain feelings in order for the two of you to be okay, it’s a shallow and empty relationship. I fear that too many of God’s children see God that way. When you examine the lyrics of  most of the popular worship songs each Sunday in our churches, it’s hard to see most of them as expressions of honesty. We have to keep up appearances. We must be happy. We must rejoice, even when we’re depressed. We must this, we should do that, we ought to feel this…..all of this points to an Old Covenant/Law mentality and understanding of who God is.

The God I know, love, and serve is interested in who I really am, and how I’m really doing. He wants to be known by me, and he is inviting me to let him know me intimately. He who is all Truth, desires nothing more than to see me live and breathe and express what I really believe, feel and think to him.

Therefore, I believe the following to be true about worship:

worship songs about God’s true character and nature are always relevant and appropriate

– worship songs about my feelings towards God are great as long as they express all different kinds of feelings I may have. Again, a relationship where I can only express what I deem to be ‘positive’ and ‘okay’ feelings, is extremely shallow

worship songs about my promises to God (“I’ll do this and this, and I’ll NEVER do that or that”) are irrelevant, since I have no clue how I’ll react in whatever difficult situation I may face in the future. On the contrary, my relationship to God is built on HIS promises to me (“He’ll never let me go, leave me or desert me!”), and that’s worth singing about!

– worship songs – and there are lots of them these days – that describe a relationship to God in sensual terms that belong more in private bedroom conversations between a husband and his wife are inappropriate and show a misunderstood view of what real intimacy with God is

– worship songs that talk about promises that God never made are obviously tragic, especially since the average church-goer doesn’t know the Bible very well, and often gets a lot of his or her theology from worship songs

– worship songs that teach Old Covenant-realities to New Covenant-believers make no sense and keep people in fear-filled relationships to God (I often New Covenantify songs that we sing at different churches – I refuse to keep inviting God to come, since he’s already in me, and I refuse to ask that God won’t take his Holy Spirit away from me, since he has joined his Holy Spirit to my spirit and would never do that!)

– worship songs that preach what God demands of us are misunderstood. God doesn’t demand anyone to know him and share life with him. He invites me to know him intimately and to be completely known by him. But the nature of any real invitation is that I can choose to say no to it, and I’m still okay with the person (God) who extended the invitation

– worship songs that teach that God doesn’t care about the consequences of our choices or isn’t mourning our sin and the death (Romans 6:23) that we experience because of that are un-biblical and filled with lies

worship songs that hint at an understanding saying that ‘negative’ emotions are a problem that we just have to get over ASAP, so we can show God our ‘positive’ emotions, end up creating guilt and shame in God’s people who need space to be honest and real

– worship songs written by people who haven’t personally experienced what they’re writing about is….a waste of time!

worship songs that don’t show that forgiveness is something God already has given to his children (IT IS FINISHED!), and not something we only get if we ask for it and repent in the right way, don’t understand the freedom of the New Covenant, and the peace and rest that Christ wants his children to know and live in.

Blessings, Torben – you’re – as always – free to comment, agree, or disagree with my words on worship!

16
Jan
10

Hard To Get

I’ve been sick these past few days. It only served to highlight the gray place I feel I’m in. Personally. Ministry wise. It all looks very gray. Not absolutely dark or black. Just gray. I feel stuck. I feel God is far away. I know he is not. But I feel overwhelmed by my feelings. I’m often, as someone once pointed out, a black and white thinker controlled by my emotions. That’s the case these days. And tonight I thought of one of my all-time favorite songs. Considering the fact that many artists have covered a multitude of Rich Mullins’ songs over the past many years, it strikes me as remarkable that I can only find one person, Phil Stacey, who has taken it upon himself to make a cover version of one of Rich’s most honest and powerful songs, Hard To Get.

I guess I understand why. It’s a brutally honest song. We often think, we are not supposed to feel the way Rich feels in the song. But we all do at times. Some of us more often than others. You become very vulnerable if you express these feelings to other people. So most people hide them. We put on a happy smile. We fake it. And we hope these feelings will just disappear. We don’t invite God into them.

This song is an invitation. An invitation to God. A series of questions thrown at God. There are some accusations. Not unfair accusations. It’s not a matter of right or wrong. This is real life. This is not polished-up religion or keeping-up-appearances. This is raw, felt reality. And God is the one who needs to answer. You can’t answer for me. I can’t answer for you. God needs to answer. And he will. I trust that he will. So did Rich. That’s why he wrote the song. He wasn’t afraid to get naked in front of God with the mess that was his life.

I’m there too. I feel lots of things right now. Most of them don’t lead to life. These feelings steal life. I am tempted to agree with them and agree that myself, God, other people and life are all more or less hopeless. But I choose not to do that. I choose to direct my questions to God. My concerns. My hurts. My wounds. I’m walking wounded. And life hurts right now. I feel alone. I feel abandoned. I feel lost. But I turn to God, and ask him to show me the way out of this mess. I trust that he has led me so far, and I trust he’ll continue to lead me. I don’t understand his ways. His path almost always seems to be more complicated and longer than the one I would have preferred. But that’s okay. I surrender the mess that’s me to him. He is the Shepherd, I’m the sheep. Lead me, Jesus. I don’t know where I’m going. And I feel lost.

Hard To Get

“You who live in heaven hear the prayers of those of us who live on earth? Who are afraid of being left by those we love and who get hardened in the hurt.

Do You remember when You lived down here where we all scrape to find the faith to ask for daily bread?

Did You forget about us after You had flown away? Well, I memorized every word You said. Still, I’m so scared I’m holding my breath, while You’re up there just playing hard to get

You who live in radiance hear the prayers of those of us who live in skin? We have a love that’s not as patient as Yours was, still we do love now and then.

Did You ever know loneliness, did You ever know need? Do You remember just how long a night can get, when you’re barely holding on, and Your friends fall asleep, and don’t see the blood that’s running in Your sweat?

Will those who mourn be left uncomforted, while You’re up there just playing hard to get?

And I know You bore our sorrows, and i know You feel our pain, and I know that it would not hurt any less, even if it could be explained. And I know that I’m only lashing out at the One who loves me most

And after I’ve figured this, somehow, what I really need to know is: If You who live in eternity hear the prayers of those of us who live in time. We can’t see what’s ahead, and we cannot get free from what we’ve left behind.

I’m reeling from these voices that keep screaming in my ears all these words of  shame and doubt, blame and regret

I can’t see how You’re leading me unless You’ve led me here, to where I’m lost enough to let myself be led

And so You’ve been here all along I guess, it’s just Your ways and You’re just plain hard to get”

Written by Rich Mullins for the majestic album, The Jesus Record, which is definitely on my all-time top 3 list!

I couldn’t find the original Rich Mullins-version anywhere on Youtube, but I appreciate this Phil Stacey-cover version:

Blessings, Torben

26
Mar
08

Honesty and laments

Honesty is a hard attribute to find when we all want to seem like we’ve got it all figured out” Lifehouse sing in their song Trying.    

Honesty…..transparency…..being real…..openness…..vulnerability……All these words are very popular words in the churches of 2008. And Hallelujah that there is a growing awareness of the importance of being honest, transparent, real, open and vulnerable! It’s much to prefer from closing down everything, shoveling everything under the carpet, keeping up appearances, having a straight religious face and other similar alternatives, but there is still much confusion about what these things mean.                                                

Over the years I’ve met many young people who claim to be real and honest and who unfortunately get respect from other people for being so. You know the types, I’m sure. Often they’re categorized by being very honest and real especially about all the negative things they see in others and in their church, missions organization, etc. Very rarely do they have anything positive or constructive to say. They seem to be convinced that the Spiritual gift of discernment can be boiled down to noticing what’s wrong with everybody else and then talking to all other people about somebody’s issues or problems. They don’t have much interest in changing, because as they say “I am just the way I am” (which probably has to be my least favorite statement from a Christian’s mouth. A Christian who claims to have the Spirit of the living God in him….!). They rarely learn anything, because they’re convinced that they know most things already and really should be teaching the world. They don’t take responsibility for how they affect other people, they seem to think that they can do whatever they feel like and other people need to change if they don’t like it. They like to hide behind their hurts which have made them the way they are today. Often they claim that they have been healed of their problems, so I’m the one who have a problem if I still claim that they’re hurting….                                                                           

In my four years working with discipleship training I have met quite a few people who match the description above. They have many different skin colors and passports, so it’s not a problem that can be nailed down to one country or a certain part of the world.                                                             

It’s true that God wants us to be honest, open, vulnerable, real and transparent. No doubt about that. A true disciple rests in who he or she is in God and has no problem sharing about defeats, shortcomings, weaknesses as well as victories, gifts and strengths. He is a broken cup, and he knows it. No pretenses are necessary. He is broken, he knows he is and will always be and he trusts God to be the one living and loving through him.                                                                             

My Mac-dictionary tells me that to lament is to: express grief, sorrow, disappointment, regret, complaints or frustrations. I have been thinking about laments these last days since Saturday where I met up with my wife Jeannette’s Bible School group and read through the two books of Samuel. What stood out to me was king David and his life. So full of so many problems. He was on the run from Saul who wanted to kill him for 8-10 years hiding in the wilderness. Where did David get the strength from to not take matters into his own hand and kill Saul on the different occasions where he had the chance? A Bible teacher I heard yesterday suggested that we need to look to David’s Psalms of lament to find the answer.                                                                             

David used the Psalms of lament to vent to God, to get his hatred, frustrations, anger, feelings of loneliness, etc. out. He was not afraid to invite God into all his feelings and thoughts both the good, the bad and the really ugly (look at for example Psalm 109 if you want to see some ugly-looking feelings). The Psalms of lament was David’s journal. He was writing directly to God, telling him exactly how he felt, and then he left it to God to act the way he chose to be best. I love this approach. I love that we see this brutal honesty in David’s prayer life, which I’m convinced is one of the main reasons David had the wonderful title a man after God’s own heart. How could an adulterer and a murderer be a man after God’s own heart? He could because he was brutally honest, real and never afraid to face the consequences of his actions. He knew how to ask for forgiveness. He didn’t hide his sin, minimize it or tried to explain it away or blame others. He took responsibility for his own wrongdoings. David laments openly to God. He doesn’t hide a single emotion or thought, but he always comes back to who he knows God to be. He always comes back to the truth, and this is something our generation of young people trying to be honest can learn a lot from.    

Too many (young) Christians, including myself often (!), are good at the first part of sharing feelings and thoughts no matter how ugly they look, but we also have to acknowledge the good things in our lives. We have to learn to come back to the giver of life and focus on who he is and point to him as the ultimate solution to our problems and other peoples’ problems.                           

“I have a really bad day. I am so irritated at this person who keeps hurting me with spiteful comments. I feel like taking matters into my own hands and seek some kind of revenge, but I bring the situation to you, God. I want to punish him and fight back, but I offer him to you. And I acknowledge that you’re much wiser than me and you know what’s best for him and for me”.                                                                                  

I have learned to love journaling, but if you saw many of my entries you probably wouldn’t want to spend much time around me or get to know me more. It’s often not pretty. It’s messy. It’s raw. It’s unedited. It’s real emotions. And I offer it all to God. I offer my good-looking days and my bad-looking days. I offer the days where I judge myself to have failed and the days where I feel like a success. That’s real, honest, transparent, vulnerable relationship. Nothing hidden. I offer it all to God, and I trust that he will continue to work out his life in me. I hope to become better at resting in God and who he is and not be so prone to anger, irritation, loneliness, self-hatred, etc. But I trust that God knows what he is doing. I trust that his timing is perfect. And I trust that as long as I cling to him and continue to stay real with him and obey him and go where he wants me to go everything is going to be okay.                                                                    

Openness without hope of more and better life is not Christian openness. Honesty that doesn’t acknowledge that I am the way I am today, but I trust that God will change me over time more into who he has called me to be, is not real honesty. Being real is always being real about both the things we like and the things we dislike in our lives not one or the other.                                               

These were a bunch of somewhat scattered thoughts. And I offer them to you, dear blog reader, to make some kind of sense out of if possible 🙂                                                                                               

Torben – who is somewhat nervous about his medical check up this Friday at the Clinic for Oil-Refining Industry of Ukraine…..did they understand that I’m a person and not a car?




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