My wife and I are admitted “Gleeks” since about the end of the first season. For whatever reason, this current season isn’t doing it for us. We half-watched the most recent episode (where the boys of the Glee Club produce a male model calendar to raise money), and my wife and I discussed our feelings on the show. Her assessment was:
“They made it all smutty. That’s what you do when you don’t have any real ideas.”
It’s the easy kill. When you don’t have a character-driven plot, you can rest assured: Sex sells.
So what does this have to do with a Wednesday Worship post?
Simple. As worshipers, we need to make sure we’re not going for the “easy kill.”
The great thing about worship music is that it touches the emotions so powerfully, which is also the worst thing about it.
As worship leaders, we can chain together a number of moving choruses, maybe working in some sweet transitions so that one song flows into another smoothly. We know how to build up excitement and how to bring things down into intimacy. We know how to drive the beat with energy and how to slow things down with passion. We can orchestrate emotional highs and lows, playing the congregation like another instrument in the band.
We must never do this. That’s what you do when you don’t have any real ideas.
Louie Giglio (yes, the one that didn’t get to speak at the Inauguration) tweeted something on Sunday that I really appreciated. “Preparing to lead others in worship instinctively requires some worship of our own.” My worship pastor’s wife posted something similar: “When you’ve been in the Word all week at home, worship at church is WAY sweeter!”
I used to think, “Man, I hope the worship team does something awesome on Sunday to get me motivated.” Then I learned, when I was already excited about what God was doing, I didn’t care what songs they played — I was just happy to respond to Him.
I’ve seen this on a larger scale in churches where much of the congregation sticks around after the service just to sing praises and celebrate who God is and what He’s done. I’ve had to play for over an hour after the official close of the service just because people are still eager to respond to God’s love. (I say “had to” but it was a privilege.)
It wasn’t anything we did as a worship team; it’s what people focused on, and it was our commitment as a church to seek God and not just a good time.
Worship is not about doing what sells, hitting the right chords to pluck the heart-strings of the congregation. It’s about a meaningful relationship, a set of songs that matters and communicates truth, an expression of love and gratitude that helps us come in line with what God is doing in our midst.
Any decent worship team can go the Glee route and perform the current Top 40 hits to manufacture a response. But that’s the easy road, the equivalent of smut episodes during May sweeps.
I want to be sure that my worship is authentic. I want the plot of my worship to be character-driven, coming to know God’s character and seeing my own reshaped to match His.
If I realize I don’t have any idea what that is, it’s not time to play songs for cheap thrills. It’s time to get some revelation.
For this Storyline post, I thought I’d introduce a villain. I’ve had the idea of the Bloodsworn for quite some time, but they were a faceless foe and an alien culture to the characters in the Bordermarches. There’s no fun in that. It’s more interesting to see life from the villain’s perspective now and then (at least to me). So, allow me to introduce the new Chronicler of the Bloodsworn, D’Ten.
From the Eldest, life was given to the Newborn;
To the Eldest, life is given from the Bloodsworn.
The Ancient Rede filled D’Ten with pride as he drew the sharp side of his hook-dagger along his forearm. His eyes widened as pain seared his nerves, but he kept silent as he finished the cut. Blood ran down his upturned palm, warm and wet, to drip off his fingertips onto the stained stone altar. A collective roar went up from the gathered crowd on the steps below, and D’Ten looked out over the masses.
Over my people.
They would follow him now. They would look to him as they once looked to Kasheta; they would trust his wisdom as they once hung on her poisonous words.
He raised a glittering goblet in his left hand, and the blood began streaming toward his elbow. Kasheta abandoned the old ways. She forsook the sacrifices meant for the Eldest Ones, dismissed the power and truth of the Rede. Under Kasheta’s guidance, D’Ten’s people were docile, quick to retreat and slow to respond as the bastard children of the Cerune Empire once again came across the mountains.
“Not the will of the Life-givers,” she would say whenever he pressed her to attack. “This Cycle will end in trouble enough for all; we need not add to it. We will depart, and not engage them.”
Kasheta was one of many Chroniclers to interpret the Rede in a figurative sense. She taught the people to give their lives–their time, their resources, and their energy–in service to the Eldest.
But D’Ten learned the truth. He knew how wrong she was, and the trouble that would come. He even knew the will of the Life-givers. One of them spoke to him directly, granting revelation about the long-forgotten paths his people once followed.
Blood was required, for the blood was life. For centuries, the devout among the Bloodsworn offered up a portion of their lives back to the Creators, a fitting tribute and offering of thanks for what the Eldest Ones first gave to mortals, a completion of the cycle that satisfied the Life-givers and turned away Their wrath.
D’Ten shuddered as he held the goblet aloft, almost spilling its precious contents. If the cycle was ever broken–if blood was no longer offered to the Eldest–then the Creators would return to undo what they began. The world would be shattered, all life extinguished… for those who gave life could surely take it away.
That must never be.
Kasheta had led the people astray. It was time to correct her error.
“Offerings shall be made once more,” D’Ten called out, “now and forever, in accordance with the Rede and the ancient ways, and in accordance with the words of the Eldest.” He tipped the goblet until a steady stream of crimson splashed across the altar, mingled with his own blood. Another cheer burst from the crowd, but D’Ten’s deep voice rose above them all.
“To the Eldest, life is given from the Bloodsworn!”
The words of the Life-giver’s visitation echoed in D’Ten’s mind as he poured out the last drop of Kasheta’s life from the goblet.
Who said that the offering had to be your blood?
As his people cheered, D’Ten grinned widely. They were focused on their ritual, but his mind wandered west, to the mountains where the Dunnestanni and their Cerunae allies swarmed like gnats in spring.
The offerings to the Eldest had been neglected for so long; D’Ten was certain he could feel Their anger.
You will have sacrifices. Many sacrifices. We will give You life for the life You granted us. The cycle will not be forgotten.
I’ve been sitting here playing Diablo III long-distance with my brother for a little while. Finally I realize I need to stop, and get started on actual projects instead of pointless video games. I commit to start writing a new blog post, and to start the rewrite of the first chapter of my Kaalistera book.
But first, I want some caffeine and some water.
So I go to the kitchen and find that the coffee pot has shut off. The coffee is room temperature now. I like iced coffee, and I love a steaming cup of hot coffee. But not this.
So I look for the diet Mountain Dew I bought yesterday. Then I see that I forgot to put that in the refrigerator. A cold soda would hit the spot. “Kind of slightly not warm” isn’t really what I’m looking for here.
“You are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot.” – Jesus.
Revelation 3:14-21 has a challenging letter to one of the early churches, and in that letter, Jesus makes that statement. He also says that “lukewarm” makes Him want to spit, or vomit.
Lukewarm isn’t, “well, I guess this will do.”
Lukewarm is sickening.
So where do I find myself on God’s thermometer?
I mean, I know how I feel about my spirituality. “I’m not Billy Graham or Mother Theresa,” I might say. But I’m not cold.
I suppose I can find an example of a really cold person, someone who is opposed to God or who is completely apathetic about what Christ has done for us. And then I can say “I am hot compared to him.”
Or I can find someone that is certainly “lukewarmer” than me, if I want.
If I can at least stop comparing myself to others, I’ll probably end up deciding that “I am not as hot as I could be or maybe should be, but I’m hot enough.”
Enough is a funny word. Merriam-Webster’s defines it as: “occurring in such quantity, quality, or scope
as to fully meet demands, needs, or expectations.” The definition begs a question:
That question is, “Whose?”
Whose demands are to be met?
Whose needs are to be satisfied? Whose expectations are being used to determine what exactly is “enough” in this case?
I say I’m “hot enough” or maybe “not super hot, but warm enough” in my faith. And Jesus says, “I wish you were hot or cold.”
This is what Jesus Christ wishes.
I can wish for things, and I can talk about what I want things to be like, and what I wish they were like. But God isn’t really asking for my two cents on these subjects.
He says plainly what He desires.
I WISH YOU WERE HOT.
Well, yeah, or cold, but let’s ignore that for a second because I don’t want to be cold.
The problem, the real issue, is that I want to be “warm enough.”
God help me, but that’s it. If I can just be “warm enough” to not make God sick to His stomach… if I can just be “holy enough” so that I don’t have to go confessing to God or feel guilty all the time… if I can just be “committed enough” so that I can say that I am “doing enough” so that I can say no to the really painful duties that I’d rather avoid… if I can just read “enough” of God’s Word, or pray “enough” and so on.
But let’s be clear here.
That is not hot.
There is coffee or tea that is “warm enough” and then there is “hot” and the difference is very clear. There is soup that is warm enough to not make me queasy, warm enough so that the grease doesn’t congeal on the surface, warm enough to be edible… but a hot bowl of soup isn’t just “edible.” It can be “delicious” or “satisfying” or it can “hit the spot,” but it won’t just be “edible enough.”
My daughter likes to help with cooking dinner. She has started making some pasta dishes now and then, and the first few times, I wondered why in the world the noodles tasted so strange. They were soft, but sticky like glue. They mashed together and I thought I was eating paste with pasta sauce. What happened?
I watched her the next time, and found the problem.
“Deborah, you have to get the water boiling hot before you put the noodles in. You can’t just toss them in warm water and say that’s good enough.”
Pasta paste is edible. But it’s never a culinary goal to aim for.
Likewise, God doesn’t want His people to aim for “enough.”
What does it matter, though? Maybe being lukewarm was a problem for that particular church, but what threat does it pose for us today? God knows we’re all busy; many of us in the church probably have a schedule completely full of “Christian” activities. When we’re doing all that, maybe we don’t have time to get “boiling hot” anymore. Maybe lukewarm just has to be enough for now.
There’s a problem with that.
It is dangerous to be lukewarm because we think we’re still warm.
(Not that I ever do this… and don’t ask my wife, but)
When you sit in the bath for a long time, the water cools. But it still feels fairly warm, and it feels a lot warmer than getting out of the bath. If we get out for a moment and see how cold it is, it’s easy to get back in and feel a sense of warmth again. We won’t notice that the water is quite a bit colder than it was at first. We just care that it’s not as cold as the air outside.
We get complacent. We sit for a while doing the same thing, trusting–or even overconfidently knowing–that it is hot enough to serve a purpose. We get comfortable, “knowing” God has done a lot of work in our lives, and brought us some distance along this spiritual journey. And so those moments when God knocks on the door of our hearts (or the door of the bathroom), the altar calls that are more about discipleship than salvation, or the messages that address our behavior precisely–those, we think, are for someone else who “really” needs God badly.
We probably know exactly who that person is. In the old days, we’d get a cassette tape of the sermon for them. Now maybe we post a link on their FaceBook wall, or send them a podcast. We might think, “Man, I hope they get what God is saying to them, because He sure hit their nail on the head. Now I’ve done a spiritual good deed. I’ve done enough.”
Are we past-tense or present-tense?
If you walked, that doesn’t mean you’re walk-ING.
If you experienced, that doesn’t prove you’re experienc-ING.
If you did and saw and heard, great. But are you still do-ING, see-ING, and hear-ING?
If you burned for God in the past, that doesn’t mean you’re burn-ING for Him now.
You might have even been hot when you filled up the bathtub. But it’s been a while. What is God accomplishing here and now through your current obedience?
“Well I was X, Y, and Z at my old church. I did my time.”
That’s great. But you’re here now. Don’t look through rose-colored glasses at images of past glory and decide that you have achieved “enough.” God has more.
Exceedingly abundantly beyond what you’ve heard, seen, thought, dreamed… beyond what is considered possible or reasonable.
Far beyond any concept of “enough.”
He doesn’t aim for that.
Pastor Gary Hoyt of BCC preached on this passage while I was in Omaha back in 2008. Full disclosure: He probably deserves more credit than that for this blog post, because the notes I took on the passage and the subsequent personal thoughts were inspired by his sermon.
On that day, Pastor Gary talked about how we often deal with situations where some product or business is advertised in glowing terms, promising life-changing amazing results. Then we find the product is mediocre at best.
It was perhaps “good enough” for its purpose, but it certainly didn’t live up to the hype.
It’s a shame when something over-promises, but under-delivers.
Pastor Gary offered his standard grin and challenging gaze, the “I really hope you get this point” look, and he asked this question:
“What if maybe God is One who under-promises, but over-delivers?”
What if the hype doesn’t — indeed, CAN’T — live up to God?
Am I too complacent to consider the possibility, the consequences of the “something more” God has?
Should I be content with a “warm enough” relationship with God?
My coffee has been heating up while I type this.
I couldn’t stand the thought of drinking it before, but I’m going to fill my cup now that it’s hot.
Over the years, I’ve had friends ask me why or just make the comment that “Christians are crazies looking forward to the end of the world.” The Left Behind series and its immense popularity (as far as Christian fiction sales go) is a good example from a few years back. There’s always a curiosity about “the end” even if we know it’s not really the end… a pastor makes a rapture prediction that becomes a news story, and the Mayan calendar ends in 2012, and what about those asteroids out there that are supposed to pass close to Earth in the next decade or so? The end of the world holds our interest, and it seems like Christians are actually seeking it.
Apocalypse is defined as:
1. A writing prophesying a cataclysm in which evil forces are destroyed.
2. The name of a book of the Bible
Cataclysm is: a violent change or upheaval.
The English versions of the New Testament often use the word “revelation” for the Greek word “apokalupsis” (which also is the Greek title of “The Revelation of John”).
1. an act of revealing
2. something revealed; esp. an enlightening or astonishing disclosure
The Greek word “kalupsis” is translated into English as “veil.” It is also defined in the phrases “to hide, cover up, and wrap around.” In the way that our skin covers our inner body parts, it serves as a “kalupsis.”
Apo-kalupsis is simply adding the prefix that means “off or away.”
The word apocalypse has been transformed as the years have gone by into the meaning as defined above. Taking the title of the last book of the NT and applying it to other similar texts may have started the trend, and as such trends go, the meaning is further distorted when people assume their definition is correct. Apocalypse is now often used as if it means “the end of the world,” or at least “a terrible catastrophic situation” (which is close given the “cataclysm” reference in the definition and the events portrayed in the Apocalypse). All this is simply meant to say that the word apocalypse carries a very negative connotation.
Interestingly enough, looking from a Christian perspective, many people view a literal apokalupsis as a cataclysm in their lives. When the veil is taken away (2Cor 4:3-4) a person has to face who they really are, what’s “under the skin” within their hearts and minds. This is true of both Christians and nonChristians. Few want to face their own failings and weaknesses. But such an apocalypse is necessary in order to grow. You cannot change the problem you are not aware of.
Jacob’s apocalypse on the day he wrestled with God’s Angel is a great example. Before he could receive “victory” he had to acknowledge all that he had been… “What is your name?” His name is Jacob. Supplanter. Schemer. Trickster. Swindler. In recognizing who he is, he becomes someone he is not… Israel.
But he had to lose his ‘skin’ to get there. Notice the violent manner in which this change takes place. This is a cataclysm in the life of Jacob. It really is the end of the world as he knows it. It affects him both physically and figuratively for the rest of his life.
What’s my skin, I wonder? What stuff from my past is keeping me from the better things God has in store? What about the church at large? Where are we missing the mark? Where are we walking around blindfolded or veiled?
Maybe it’s time to pray for an apocalypse in the Church of Christ. An uncovering. A violent upheaval. A complete change. Revelation of who we are.
Maybe even the end of the world as we know it. One can only hope. And pray.
The home of David M. Williamson, writer of fantasy, sci-fi, short stories, and cultural rants.