Friday, February 15, 2019

"Worship Wars"

Worship is a life lived in Christ that expresses itself from the inside out through His very Spirit in us, not merely an emotionally engaging experience or event that evokes familiar feelings through outward expression or cathartic moments. Spirit, Life, and Truth are so much more meaningful and fruitful than emotion, music, and song! To me, substantive music & song are "overflows" and natural results of Life Worship NOT overly hyped substitutes for! Without Life Worship, sounding brass & tinkling cymbals are all that remain! And yet, so much emphasis and priority in popular "worship" culture are placed on brass, cymbals, expressions, emotions, events, and moments even in the absence of Life Worship that permeates every facet of our existence! True worship is evidenced in transformational life, not the emotional experience!  The religious environment I was raised in placed a premium on emotional experience, cliché-filled catchphrase preaching, and image-focused, fear-driven behavior modification. Worship was presented as a feeling, a style, and cathartic expressions in corporate settings, instead of a lifestyle. (Romans 12:1-2) Thankfully, the grace of God has helped me unlearn so much throughout my journey. I had to learn that It’s not about living FOR Christ, but rather living IN Christ. It is about an intimate relationship, identity healing, and Holy Spirit transformative, Kingdom living. You can’t live the abundant life that Christ came to give by “rote”, following principles, or behavior modification. Living as a son or daughter is so much more than an emotion or an experience. It is a reality that encompasses every aspect of life! Be careful not to confuse emotional expression or passionate conveyance with anointing. Our emotions can be manipulated by those who are skilled at creating “environments” and moments, leading us to confuse those “feelings” with the anointing. Anointing can’t be manipulated, nor does it manipulate the emotions. Although our emotions may be engaged as a result of an encounter or moment, the anointing brings a presence and power that remain long after the emotions from a cathartic moment or “atmosphere” are gone. This confusion has perpetuated “worship wars” within church culture, where denominations that facilitate and promote certain musical “styles” and corporate worship environments erroneously claim a sort of superior, more authentic anointing over another. An organ and a choir have no more anointing than a 21-year-old hipster on an acoustic guitar. The anointing transcends feelings or familiar “atmosphere”.
     I'm 49 years old, raised in a "church" environment for many years of my life, and I've observed trend after trend in worship music and styles. I really don't consider worship a trend or a style. Genuine worship is spirit & truth--not stylistic preference, or emotionally satiated "cathartic" experiences. The ultimate expression of worship is our life lived in Christ, honoring and glorifying Him by declaring His love, grace, and glory, and reflecting the heart of God to others. To me, it's just as much a worship song when it tells a personal, everyday story of a life lived In Christ, where happenings, occurrences, experiences, and circumstances--even "non-religious" sounding ones--are seen through the lens of our identity IN HIM, as it is when a song is written specifically to be easily sung corporately, where the lyrics themselves focus on theology, Christian terminology, and familiar catchphrases about God. Worship music is so much broader than a "marketable" niche, and a cottage industry within the church world. Our lives IN CHRIST shouldn't be "compartmentalized" and separate from what some would call "the real world", so why should the music we create, and the art we express? When one’s worship and church engagement becomes more about preferred, familiar cultural and traditional experiences and feelings than it does about life transformation, intimate connection to God, and reflecting the heart of Christ through cultural impact and deep community, you have lost sight of what “church” and “worship” are really all about. This reality seems painfully evident in the “Bible Belt” church and worship culture that I've observed for much of my life. Recreating feelings and experiences through “familiar” methodology and shallow connection are not what is at the heart of God for the mission and expression of His body in this world. It's puzzling how some people have to have certain familiar, comforting, even "euphoric" emotional experiences, in order to feel a "worshipful" connection to God. Their "goose bumps" or emotions HAVE to be continually engaged outwardly even if there are no signs of Spirit-led, inward transformative works taking place. They are constantly on a quest to re-create these moments & encounters, and oftentimes miss the ever-present presence in the day-to-day or what may be considered by many to be mundane, because of their obsession with the emotionally manipulated familiar. Some seem to reach a place where they "worship their worship". They appear to have an overwhelming allegiance to "worship nostalgia". When God desires to lead us into an unfolding adventure of Love & Grace, some have a tendency to resist, and even criticize those who would follow after Father instead of "fawning" after the familiar! Even when delivered from bondage, and the tyranny of slavery, the children of Israel reached a point of longing for the familiar of an enslaved existence... "In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, 'If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.'”(Exodus 16:2-3) Emotions are a natural part of who God created us to be, but how incredible and pure it is when those emotions flow from the inside out, uncontrived, natural responses to a growing love relationship with an amazing Savior, who daily unfolds His Life, His Kingdom, His Love, His power, & His revelation in us and through us--even in unfamiliar, unscripted, peaceful, & unconventional ways, and in wide open places! It isn't born within the stained glass & steeples. It's not conceived in a feeling or a song. True worship--It doesn't originate in the movement of chords or melodies. It isn't created in dramatic recitations of deep thoughts or religious philosophy! It flows from a relationship between almighty God and the apple of His eye! It's expressed and seen in His Love for His people, flowing through them to others, and through the "everyday" Kingdom life He invites us to live! Worship is a life, powered by His Spirit, energized by His Grace, and lived in abundance! A life of reflection, the reflection of ONE! The manifestations and emotional expressions are not orchestrated or manipulated, but rather, they are natural, overflowing praise responses to the finished, perfect work of ONE, and the amazing Life, Power, & Wonder found in the growing relationship with that ONE, Love Himself!
     Sadly, there are those who insist on rigidly holding to symbols and styles over the source and substance of worship. They exhibit a kind of self-righteousness and judgmental arrogance. They hold militantly to tradition and preference, while wrongly elevating those factors to the status of "truth" or "genuine" praise and worship. They equate spiritual depth, presence, and sincerity of a true worshiper's heart with a stylistic presentation, genre', structure, and emotionally driven performance. They display a religious spirit, bent on recreating and even preserving the old wineskins while discrediting any vessels of the new wine that do not conform to the old order. They refuse to acknowledge this, and instead, choose to double down on their seeming misunderstanding of the essence and meaning of worship, and insistence of holding on to their sacred cows and false "gods". Who are these next-gen “Pharisees”? Who are “they”? They are distracted, misdirected Christians engaging in…worship wars!