Should We Embrace Emotion in Worship?

I don’t really remember seeing anyone even raise their hands in worship until middle school. It wasn’t until I graduated out of Vacation Bible School and moved into the teen tent at camp one summer that I finally saw emotion exhibited in the church. As the teen tent began to sing, I was confused to see people raise their hands and belt out notes as loud as they could.

What were they doing? And why were they doing it? I eventually joined with them to find out and was quickly overwhelmed with both emotion and embarrassment. Breaking this emotional wall was so powerful that I then began to engage in all the other things people were doing: raising my hands, closing my eyes, kneeling, clapping along, even getting a little bit of a dance on. That summer became what was probably the first mountaintop experience of my life.

The fire in me grew as new retreats and giant conferences brought about new mountaintop experiences. I wasn’t entirely sure what the Holy Spirit felt like, but it seemed like I was feeling him when I expressed my love for him physically—and I loved it.

But then one day, a pastor questioned a bunch of us about what it was we were really feeling. Was it really God we were coming in contact with or were we just being swept up in emotion? This question, along with some other drama in my life, ruined me for years. As the question sank in I soon found that I couldn’t even raise my hands in worship anymore. I couldn’t focus on God because I was too busy analyzing myself. Am I just just trying to look spiritual to everyone else when I do this? Am I really experiencing God or are these tingles just my body responding to these acts? Is it wrong to have emotion in worship? Is it wrong to react physically like I’ve been doing?

I was ruined. I started overanalyzing every single emotion that came my way in worship. My joy turned into confusion and anxiety.

I was battling the enlightenment period. Everything became intellectual, scientific and rational. My engagement with the Holy Spirit was left to science. Soon I didn’t care if it really had just been my body reacting to physical movement in worship—I wanted my joy back! I wanted to be able to lead others in worship from the stage without wondering if I was authentic or not the whole time.

John Wesley had a similar fight back in his time. As people heard about the odd outdoor services he held and the things that happened in them, they decided to go check it out. They were in for quite a surprise, because these Methodists were being pushed to the ground by God and convulsing around on the floor.

Just as these kinds of acts of the Spirit offend people now, so it did back then. Many outsiders didn’t believe God had anything to do with any of this and that these Methodists were crazy or psychotic. But even some of these outsiders were eventually convinced. Wesley writes in his journal:

We understood that many were offended at the cries of those on whom the power of God came: among whom was a physician, who was much afraid there might be fraud or imposture in the case. Today one whom he had known many years was the first (while I was preaching in Newgate) who broke out into ‘“strong cries and tears.” He could hardly believe his own eyes and ears. He went and stood close to her, and observed every symptom, till great drops of sweat ran down her face, and all her bones shook. He then knew not what to think, being clearly convinced it was not fraud, nor yet any natural disorder. But when both her soul and body were healed in a moment, he acknowledged the finger of God.

A few days later, a Quaker in attendance at one of Wesley’s meetings, was growing angry with the craziness he saw going on around him. Wesley describes him as, “biting his lips and knitting his brows, when he dropped down as thunderstruck.” God personally settled the debate for this Quaker by knocking him down to the ground like he had done to so many others in Wesley’s ministry.

Wesley could have easily been accused of stirring up people’s emotions just as people still accuse the church of doing today. But that wasn’t what was going on. He was bringing people into the tangible presence of the Holy Spirit and letting God do whatever he wanted with them.

At my time of struggling with emotion in worship, I didn’t know any of Wesley’s experiences. I didn’t know the debate between emotion and spirituality had been around for so long. And I also didn’t know what to do.

So eventually, I just turned my brain off. And it worked! Yes, surely there had been times in worship where I was responding to emotion—but surely there had been times where I was also responding to God. I decided that  the ambiguity was okay. Having emotions and being the way God made me was much better than trying to analyze it all and live life as an unemotional Vulcan. It was incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to find joy when I was in a state of constantly questioning my emotions, so I stopped. Finding myself mostly free from this torment, I was able to engage in worship again.

Sometimes I respond to emotion, sometimes I respond to God. Sometimes God will give me emotion to respond to and sometimes I’ll be caught up in the way I was made. And I’m okay with that. I’ve learned to discern these experiences, not by overanalyzing them, but by allowing them to come. Joy and other emotions can hardly be analyzed. They must be felt. For what are emotions if they aren’t felt?

This is an adapted excerpt from my new book, “A Taste of Jesus.” Grab the Kindle version for $10 or a physical copy for $20.

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Serving the Poor

I’m often terrified to answer the church phone. There’s two different kind of calls I receive the most: (A) a robot from a 1-800 number or (B) a request for money.

I remember being a worship leader at my old church, sitting in my lead pastor’s office listening to the answering machine with him. It was loaded with tons of messages from people sobbing, asking for whatever money they could get. What are you supposed to do? How do all of these tiny churches pay for the hundreds to thousands of dollars worth of requests they get?

It was heartbreaking to listen to these requests as a worship leader, but terrifying now to listen to them as a lead pastor. They aren’t easy situations to be in. What if I have to say no? What if I can’t get the money to them by their deadline? What if our benevolence fund has already been wiped clean? Does that mean that I have to pay out of my own pocket to witness on an entire church body’s behalf?

On top of that, it’s just painful. People play with my emotions quite a bit when asking for money. They’ll butter me up one moment as though I’m the greatest person in the world and then snap at me if they don’t get what they asked for. I’ve been hurt probably about 50% of the time.

I remember a man stopped by and asked if he could weed the church’s front sidewalk and he’d take whatever we were willing to pay for it. I didn’t necessarily want to pay out of my pocket for it so I tried to refuse him. He didn’t play the nice-humble-guy-part very long. I was the new guy in charge at the time so he seemed to figure he could find someone else in the church to ask. He returned a few weeks later with the same request. This time when I refused he brought the Holy Spirit into it. “I’ve got a gift for seeing things in people. You’ve got a bad spirit about you.”

Another time a man drove a stranger to the hospital and gave him our church’s number if he needed anything. He called later that day. For whatever reason, I didn’t have money for the bus ticket he was requesting, so suddenly it was my job as the Christian and pastor behind the phone number to give him my own money. Afraid to make this commonplace in answering the phone, I told him we didn’t have any money. But he kept trying to get it out of me. I lost my cool a little bit and eventually he yelled, “Well I’m just going to die in this hospital then and when you get to Heaven you’re going to have to answer for it!” He then hung up on me.

More judgment on me and my character. I was furious and I was hurt. So I figured out how to get ahold of him and got him the money.

One woman wanted money for her apartment. I told her we could cover a portion of it and asked if she would be able to raise the rest so we weren’t just giving money to an apartment that was going to be taken away from her in the end anyways. I’m not sure how, but suddenly she thought I was calling her a liar and started yelling at me.

I gave another guy a 5 minute ride across town once for about 3 hours (try to figure that one out). He refused to get out of my car and started asking me for cash so he could buy what I’m pretty sure was drugs. He lied to my face and disrespected me over and over again. The other time I agreed to give a stranger a ride across town I noticed they were quite high on something. I couldn’t understand anything they were saying and they started yelling at me when I wouldn’t stop by the store while taking them home.

On top of being emotional, it’s time consuming. I spent hours once, driving around town trying to figure out how to legally pay some stranger’s electric bill.

Now it’s very easy to give money and time to people within our church who need it because there’s already relationship and trust there. But I gotta be honest: doing the same thing for strangers is often hard—partially because nothing seems to happen after you serve them. I’ve never had anyone attend our church even once after we helped them. Are they able to see Jesus in what we’re doing? Or is it just money or entitlement? Is this even witnessing to them?

And so at the end of all my complaining is that question, which brings me to the moral of these stories: I’ve served them as Jesus has asked me to. I’ve given time and resources. I’ve survived the emotional onslaught that often comes and I’ve (sometimes) done what was asked of me. I can only hope for a, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” and ask God to continue to use me in these strangers’ lives down the road and pray that some kind of seed be planted in them through these actions.

In the end, love and serve God and neighbor to the best of your ability. Our reward is found in God.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40)

The Earliest Attempt at a Church Split

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Many of us have heard the horror stories of church splits. Many of us have experienced them ourselves. Often something goes awry between pastors and one starts an uprising against the other. These church splits are born out of gossip and jealousy, raised in bitterness and eventually split by Satan.

It’s an old technique of the devil’s and it dates all the way back to Numbers 16. It’s there that a group of 250 well-known Israelites come together to usurp Moses’ leadership position. He may be the “head pastor,” but many of these usurpers are from the tribe of Levi and are therefore set apart to be the priests that take care of the ministry of the Tabernacle—that is God’s holy, sacred space among His people.

“We’re all holy!” they say. “God is among all of us. So what makes you so much more important? Why do you get to be in charge? Do you even know what you’re doing? Because last we checked, we were lost in the wilderness!”

You can see everything that has led up to this point seeping out of their speech. The gossip, the jealousy and the bitterness. They have even invoked God’s name and used spiritual logic to justify their point.

Somehow God is always of our opinion, isn’t He? He always seems to be a part of our own personal uprising. Perhaps that’s why some churches are torn apart so easily. We invoke God’s name and in doing so make ourselves to be a god. “Follow me because God is on my side. This other guy obviously doesn’t get it.”

I’ve done it. I’ve attended churches and felt like I had to offer my 2 cents in the other direction of whatever the pastor said for no reason other than to have someone think my thoughts were important. We especially love to do it to the worship band. Oh, I wouldn’t have played this song. I can’t believe they let them on the stage. He’s so flat today. They’re so loud. I can’t believe they’re wearing those clothes. I can’t believe they’re playing so many hymns. I can’t believe they’re not playing any hymns. I can’t believe they played just the right number of hymns. I could do all of this better than they could.

It’s in these small places that our uprising and bitterness begins. To some extent we’re probably all guilty of the seed of a church split. Water it enough and it’ll eventually take over. It grows very quickly.

The story found in Numbers 16 doesn’t end well for the mob. In the same way, church splits never end well for the church. It destroys our witness and abuses Jesus’ bride, leaving her blemished and beat up, trying to get back up on her feet.

Let’s check our pride at the door pastors. This is God’s church, not ours. And despite the fact that it’s our job to take care of His church, in the end He’s actually more concerned about her than we are. And He does not care to see her heartbroken.

On-the-Spot Prayer

“I’ll keep you in prayer,” we say as we walk away from a conversation, never stopping to think about it again.

Think of how different things would be if we prayed for people right there, on the spot. What would we start to see? Healings? Miracles? Testimonies? Tears? Nothing?

That’s just the thing—a lot of us don’t know because we never pray for people in person! A dead silence fills the room when the small group leader gets to the dreaded, “Who wants to close us out?” moment. As though talking to God on behalf of a group is the most terrifying thing we could ever do.

I remember asking a person in church once if I could pray for them, just to get a refusal. Someone refused prayer inside of a church! And it wasn’t an attempt to bring them before everyone so that we could all lay hands on them, but rather a side conversation in a lobby.

Jesus did ministry on the spot and often.

You have leprosy? Watch what happens.
You can’t see? Check this out.
You can’t walk? Stand up.
You have demons? Not for long.

This is how ministry works. This is how we were taught to do it. We watch the apostles pull the same moves as Jesus all throughout Acts.

Yes, all the heroes of the faith had closets where they lifted others up in prayer, but they also trusted in their God to provide for His children right there in that moment.

Don’t be afraid. If nothing happens, you will survive.

And if you can find the courage to do so, pray more than once! Why? Because even Jesus had to!

And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.”Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.” (Mark 8:22-26)

If God-in-flesh had to pray more than once, surely we can assume a few hundred prayers on our part might be worth it!

Have courage. God is the healer, not you. There is no pressure on you other than to ask God to give the good gifts He loves to give.

And if you do feel pressure, it may be because the need is less supernatural and more tangible. And in that moment God may be asking you to provide for your brother or sister.

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Spiritualizing Pants

Sometimes the things we spiritualize are just downright laughable. Remember what the Pharisees said in Mark?

Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” (Mark 7:1-5)

We’ve all been scolded by a parent to wash our hands, but probably rarely by religious figures for religious reasons.

“Ah, Peter—I didn’t see you using soap! You don’t want to go to Hell do you?”

We laugh, but we do the same things. To quote Jesus who quotes Isaiah in Mark 7:7b, we teach “as doctrines the commandments of men.”

“When you come into church, you better be wearing your best. What are those there on your legs son?”

“Oh. They’re called blue jeans. It’s a new thing. Everybody’s doing it these days.”

We see examples like this and we laugh. The fact that we could be classified as good or bad Christians based off of if we washed our hands, brushed our teeth, or showered that morning is about as ridiculous as it gets. I mean, sure, good hygiene is a pretty good practice to have, but to spiritualize it is as odd as spiritualizing what kind of pants you wear.

But the truth is, we’ve all been there. We all know what it’s like to be so upset with a person that we judge them by the stupidest things. We all know what it’s like to call our enemies out on the most minuscule of actions. We all know what it’s like to intentionally look for problems in a person we’re not getting along with.

And we’re also familiar with the awkwardness we feel towards people who have different practices than us. Strangely enough, that awkwardness causes us to question if they’re really a good person or not in the first place. Why didn’t they wash their hands? Why aren’t they living under our traditions and practices and doctrines?

We can spiritualize pants, people!* When we embrace the ways of the Pharisees, we find that there is nothing under the sun that we can’t spiritualize and judge people for.

To quote Jon Foreman in Fiction Family, “Put your God badge down and love someone.”

*Note the comma. “Pants People” are not a thing—to my knowledge anyways.

Spirit-Led Worship

I got a chance to preach about letting the Holy Spirit invade our lives and church services at Revive Worship Conference this past week. Thanks to Spring Arbor Free Methodist Church for having the video available.

An Accountable Community

Today, I gave one of the harder messages I’ve ever given, but I believe I did so Biblically and at an appropriate time to do so. Take a listen if you want a good challenge and want to deal with some of the harder passages in the Bible.