Facing My Failures

I’m broken. I really wish I meant something along the lines of embracing my deep brokenness and my desperate need for Jesus. But I mean broken like messed up, malfunctioning, jacked.

I really can’t decide what I’m more frustrated about. I’m a big jumbled mess of insecurities, uncertainties, and stuck-in-a-rut-ness. Even writing this blog post feels like a well-practiced exercise of futility, almost like I’ve said all this before and my words are nothing but the echoes of something I have or someone else has said before.

“Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!”

I feel like I gutter balled my heart sometime back and I oscillate between not caring, not seeing it all, or living in some baseless belief that I’m going to jostle out of the gutter. But I’ve bowled enough to know that last one won’t happen: gutter balls don’t hop out of the gutter.

At least, not on their own.

What’s the real problem? Well, I really suck at stream of consciousness writing, that’s for sure. I spend too much time thinking out my words before they even hit the keys to really be as raw as I feel.

Regardless, I know part of it is facing failure, something I don’t do well. I’ve been largely successful in most of my ventures in life, though I’m not sure that’s so much a product of anything beyond always being sure to pick the types of things I was sure would lead to my personal success. So, it was really more about choosing the right paths than being an inherently successful person.

The other problem is that I don’t feel like I can hit the bottom of me. There are times when I get inklings of what’s really wrong with me, where God the Spirit grants me an insight into the true nature of my soul (usually through the means of my wife’s prophetic voice). And then I try to chase that inkling down and plumb the depths of my motivations and wickedness and fears, usually feeling like I get a good picture of my current state. But then hours or days or weeks later, something else comes along that pummels me a little more and shows me that I really didn’t get it at all.

I really feel like Eustace, scratching off his dragon scales but never getting deep enough to peel of the despicable dragon flesh to find the new man beneath. Just like Eustace, I need the mighty Lion to peel my dragon skin off for me, even though it’ll hurt. Except I’m missing something crucial here. Either I’m still so stuck in my rebellion that I’m blindly running away from the very healing I need. Or I need to ask for it, and I just haven’t because I don’t really ever ask God for anything. Or I’m just plumb afraid that the pain’ll be more than I can bear.

This uncertainty drives me nuts. Is this what a mid-life crisis feels like? Is it simply wondering if everything you thought mattered doesn’t and what you’ve always driven toward is a mist, so the only recourse is to make a hard left into different or weird or stupid? The uncertainty would bother me less if I felt like it were just some internal struggle that I needed to push through. But if I’m honest, I know the effect it’s having on everyone around me. I particularly mean my family. My listlessness is like a cancer around here. I pendulum either to complete inaction because I don’t feel like I can make a Spiritually wise decision about anything or I just shoot from the hip, being the most erratic, emotional man to walk the earth.

This seems to be a truth recently unveiled because of the recent failure of our church, indyEkklesia. I moved to Indy to start a house church. And that house church died. It has become abundantly clear that I was trying to be Kevin Costner hearing that creepy voice saying “If you build it, they will come.” I staked my entire family, reputation, glory, and hopes on this church that “God told me” to go build on the back of my own ingenuity, charisma, and better-than-everyone-else-ness. So dissolving iE was in a very real sense the destruction of the foundations of my invisible, though very real, Bill-idol. And it was pretty epic.

And since, the mess that I’d been pushing to the side (both consciously and unconsciously) over the last six years has been rising to the surface as my whole Indy life has come unraveled. Frankly, it’s been mainly painful and awfully embarrassing to finally start seeing myself more realistically, pretty much exactly like the physical version of me that has slowly gained weight over the last ten-ish years which I’ve dealt with by barely looking in mirrors and trying to avoid ever having my picture taken. Why deal with what I can instead just ignore?

And since then, God has been kind to wound me deeply, forcing me to sit down and actually look at my fat pictures. I’m a lot uglier than I thought, though I kinda knew it the whole time, ya know? So, I’m now having to face my anger–no, rage–that surfaces more and more, but has really always been tucked in my back pocket. I’m having to try to rebuild a marriage that I’ve sacrificed to the adulterous woman of fulfilling my own dreams of being the guy that makes a successful house church (probably should say “large network of thriving house churches”).

I’m having to confess that my kids don’t get much of a dad because their dad has used the inner excuse of “other important things” to allow avoiding deeper relationships and affections, instead settling for occasional lectures, angry outbursts, and/or grace-less “love”. And I’m scared out of my mind, because I’m pretty sure the pictures I’m looking at are blurry and out of focus. I have to simply admit that when I’m not fueled by self-glory or annoyed anger, I am captive to a fear of rejection and disapproval and disrespect.

But somewhere in this mess, I feel that God is paving the path to repentance for me at the same time, each brick arriving right before my foot hits the ground. I’m overwhelmed at the enormity of who I’ve become and my innate inability to really do much about it. Frankly, I’m still scared even to write all this, because I think I’m shamming more hope than I really feel. But I also do feel some measure of real hope, too, because I really just can’t think of any other reason Dad would be hitting me with all this unless he meant to shame me in my stupidity so that he can once again rescue me from myself and take away the very shame that is rightfully mine to carry.

There are times when life feels like it just keeps spiraling and spiraling toward…I don’t know, something not good. But there are other times when it feels like things are right on the cusp of change, like it’s just around the corner. But my faith isn’t in my good Dad, who can and will work all things together for me and my family–because of his grace. My faith has been in my ability to do all “this” and do it well. That success isn’t happening, my mess is emerging, my self-hope is being dashed against the rocks, and I’m left with some caricature of my own vision of myself. And while that’s got to be a good thing, it’s alarmingly disconcerting. I feel stripped and naked–and I hate it.

I hate it so much that in rare moments of clarity I can see that I’m fighting the grace that God is dispensing toward me. The grace is too bright and too glorious–it’ll tear me apart. Which is exactly what he wants for me, but not remotely what I want for me.

God, have mercy on my soul. Change my desires and hopes. Grant me faith to believe that you want a far greater good for me than I could ever pick for myself. Grant me the courage to a true man, ready to take his licks and chart a new course at the command of his captain. Have mercy.

Trails of Grace: Mrs. Brown

I’d say I was probably a pretty typical (dumb) boy growing up—I didn’t really think things through, usually just acting hyper and stupid and irresponsible. At the same time, I seem to recall being fairly well liked by most of my teachers and was probably given more latitude than was good for my soul.

Enter fifth grade and my social studies class. We had a rather large assignment where we supposed to prepare a presentation for one of the states. We were given several weeks to prepare this, with the understanding that the project was a large portion of our grade. When the time to start the presentations came, I watched other students give their presentations, completed with research and frequently with poster boards and the such.

Well, my family didn’t own any encyclopedias at home. And this was obviously before the days of the interwebs. So, in some part of my ten-year-old brain, that struck me as an insurmountable barrier. Thus, when my turn came, Mrs. Brown called on me to give my presentation, we had a conversation that went something like this:

Me: I didn’t do it.
Mrs. Brown (after a very long pause): Why not??
Me: Because we don’t own any encyclopedias.
Mrs. Brown: Why didn’t you just go to the library??
Me: Oh. I didn’t think of that.
Mrs. Brown: Well, I’m going to give you a zero for this assignment since you didn’t complete it by your due date.

I say this was part of God’s grace to me because it was the first time I remember really ever having to take responsibility for a dumb decision I made. What’s still funny to me is that I really thought it was okay that I didn’t do the assignment (which, consequently, really does help me in parenting two boys who are both around that age right now!). Regardless of how dumb tween boys are, this was so important to me because Mrs. Brown didn’t make excuses for me or extend my deadline. I was given an assignment with a deadline, and when I missed it, there was no, “aw, shucks, Billy, that’s okay”—there was simply the consequence of not doing the work on my side to overcome any obstacles.

So, I give thanks to God for Mrs. Brown, who taught me that I have a responsibility not only to meet expectations, but also that many of my incredibly reasonable excuses were really just lame. It stung and I deserved it and (as you can tell) I never forgot it.

Trails of Grace

Here recently, I’ve been thinking more and more about the different people that God has weaved into the tapestry of my life that have shaped me in significant ways. These folks have left trails of grace in my own story (and I suppose I’ve done the same for others, though I wouldn’t really ever know methinks). And pondering the impact these people have had has made me realize a few things.

First, I tend not to think much about my past and the way that God has shown me grace. I tend to be very forward-oriented, much to the neglect of seeing the many acts of kindness and mercy God has shown me in the past. Second, I’ve not really ever expressed me gratefulness to many of these people. I’d really like to change that. Third, I’m incredibly prideful and tend to think of myself in terms of all I’ve accomplished on my own, as if I don’t stand on the shoulders of the many people who have invested in me. Giving credit to the folks who have loved me over the years will hopefully humble my big-headed self-aggrandizement.

So, in that light, I’m starting to write several posts that will detail the trails of grace through the people God has placed in my life. Some have been believers, some haven’t–but all of them have helped build me and were gifts from the Father. I look forward to doing something very different for me, especially in writing: reminiscing and giving thanks.

Being the Church

“Go Be the Church”

I saw that on Instagram on a friend’s shirt. Before I start, let me give the quick caveat that I know what they mean and what they’re going for. And for the most part, I dig it. So kudos to my friend and his church for wanting to live out the realities of the redeemed life as a real thing and stop treating church like a place.

Having said that…

I wonder if this “being” language just adds a layer of confusion to a term that’s already pretty jacked up.

The word translated in most New Testament versions as “church” is the Greek word ekklesia. Now some who know more about Greek might want to try and parse the word ekklesia into its components: ek– as “out” and –klesia as a derivative of “called ones”, leading to the say that the church is the “called out ones”. In the first place, breaking a word into its component parts just doesn’t always work: just try it with “butterfly” …

But secondly, this approach ignores the way the word is used in New Testament times. When we look at first century usage broadly and the core usage of the term ekklesia in the NT, ekklesia generally just means assembly or gathering. There are usages that show how the apostles took the term and began to use it as a way to refer to all those who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus, regardless of whether they can actually physically gather or not. But even then, I think the term points forward to the future reality of the whole church gathered before the throne and crying out, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain!” Regardless, the most common usage for ekklesia is the gathering.

Which is to say that “church” is an ordinary word for people who get together for a purpose.

We, as individuals, are part of that church. We’re either part of the church which Christ “loved…and gave himself up for her (it)” (Eph 5:25) or we’re part of the church that meets somewhere, like at Priscilla and Aquila’s house (Rom 16:4-5) or at Nympha’s house (Col 4:15) or Apphia and Archippus’ house (Philemon 2). In the first case, you’re part of the church if Jesus died for you. To say it differently, if you believe in Jesus, you’re part of the church (universal, if you prefer) whether you really know it or want it or whatever. It doesn’t matter how you feel about it or what you do: you are part of the church because Jesus bought you by his blood. In the second case, you’re part of the church if you do what the church, by definition, does: you gather with them (the local church, in some traditions).

In either case, I don’t think that’s what “go be the church” was intended when it was printed on a t-shirt. And yes, I know this is largely a game of semantics—and I really despise the whole semantics game. But what concerns me is that in calling a building a “church” and saying things like “it’s time to go to church”, we’ve completely killed the NT usage of the word. But in an effort to recover the term and make better use of it, we make it mean something else which also isn’t what the NT meant and still end up killing the term. How can you “be” an assembly of people?

Either way, we’re missing the what the apostles meant when they used the word ekklesia (or “church”). We keep warping the word so that when we go back to read our source documents in the Scriptures, we still keep reading the term and making it into something else entirely. In the larger sense of the word, you are part of the church because Jesus has you and no one can snatch you from his hand. In the narrower sense, you’re part of the church through gathering.

Where this long line of reasoning leads me to is a conclusion I really never thought I’d come to since abandoning the institutionalized, Americanized, popularized church: gathering is of vital importance. And at the core, it’s what bothers me about this “go be the church” business. Because I presume the meaning there is that we should go out and be lights to the community, that we should show the love of Jesus everywhere, that we should find avenues of fellowship outside of scheduled gathering times. And all of these things are so true—we should be compelled by the love of Christ to do these things.

But they are not remotely the same thing as “being” the church. If we want to “be” the church, we have to gather. Because church = gathering. Being active in our neighborhoods and circles, serving others and being a light is just being a disciple. Being a church requires gathering together.

The implications of this are more than just “go to church every week” (though there’s a whole list of implications of that phrase, too!) nor does it have anything to do with (corporate) worship. I’m really trying to get at how modern usage of “church” is something we read backwards into the New Testament all the time. And our modern translations don’t help much either. The church is not a building or a state of being, but actual souls redeemed and joined together by the blood of Jesus. The church is a community, a family, that exists in unity through Jesus. And there is a vital, physical connection that can’t be ignored.

Waiting for the Flip

As seems to happen a lot, Seth Godin got my brain juices pumping with a post about the way people flip from one way of doing things to another. In particular, he’s talking about how resistant we are as humans to better knowledge or technology or solutions, even in the face of evidence that refutes our prevailing view.

At this point, I feel like I’m somewhere around eight years into waiting for that flip to occur with the church. I’ve been trying to illustrate and teach and demonstrate that the church of Jesus is supposed to be something both far more profound and far simpler than what goes along with the term “church” in America: buildings and paid pastors and staff and screens and bands and worship wars and big budgets and overhead and bureaucracy and merchandising and marketing.

The church is the bride for whom Christ died. And that ought to be powerful enough that we don’t need to add to it. The church is the assembled saints who belong to King Jesus, both now and throughout all time.

Yet there’s been a strong tradition of architecture and budgets and business-y elements that really have no place in Scripture. And while they don’t need to be bad things (there are lots of things in the modern world that we use and adopt freely that the Bible says nothing directly about), they frequently turn the church into some grotesque caricature of what Jesus intends for it to be.

Whether that persuades or not isn’t really my point (I’ve written about this kind of stuff elsewhere anyhoos). I’m still convinced that this message is right. Yet I feel so isolated waiting for the flip to happen, for others to see what I’m talking about. And I feel desperate for it. Why?

Because it makes me feel like I’m either crazy or wrong.

If I’m wrong, then I simply want to be shown from the Scriptures and I’ll move on. Show me how I’m off my rocker and bring me back onto the reservation.

So far, it hasn’t happened.

Yet, I’m also not making much progress toward the flip. I’m loving me some Francis Chan for popularly putting into words some of these same struggles (though, granted, I’ve never made any substantial money from books or had a successful megachurch under my belt!). Even with all the platform he has, it still doesn’t feel like we’re getting anywhere. And this is a flip I banked my whole family on, moving us into a new city with grand plans for changing the face of Christianity in America.

Not that I would’ve ever said that out loud, but that’s really the crux of it.

So here I am, waiting. And wondering if maybe I’m just wrong, if I’m looking for a flip that’ll never come. And sometimes I just want to quit–even if I am right!–because this waiting feels too hard and the goals which were once crunchy like Frosted Flakes are now soggy in the bottom of the cereal bowl.

I believe the flip needs to happen. Some days I believe it will. I’m just not sure I’m strong enough to wait it out.

(And yes, I fully acknowledge that God regularly had his people wait much longer than that to bring about deliverance or put a plan in motion. I know I’m being dumb and dramatic–I’m just trying to do it openly.)

Adopting Loneliness

I really ought to say this up front: if you love Jesus, you really need (yes, need) to read The Babylon Bee regularly. They’re like The Onion, but centered around Jesus. It’s satire the way satire is supposed to be: both funny and painful. And they’re equal opportunity cutters, but they do it from the perspective that the Bible is a true story and Jesus is the only hero of that story. Seriously, check it out. Now on to our regularly schedule programming…

I write a post like this with some trepidation. And for a guy who tends to have writings that are “weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing”, that’s saying something. But The Babylon Bee had a satirical post called “Report: 95% Of Christians Agree The Other 5% Should Keep Adopting” and it obviously caught my attention. Here’s the infographic from the fake report:


Of course, I’m a big ol’ sinner because I read it and responded like I overheard a killer “Yo Momma” joke in the schoolyard. “Ohhhhhhhhhhhh–SLAM!!!” I might’ve even said it out loud. Like I was back in elementary school.

Because being an adoptive family now, we’re clearly in a position to judge the crap out of everyone that hasn’t done it. Isn’t that how it works with adoptive families and ministers and missionaries? We’re the chosen few who get the God-given privilege of looking down on everyone else.

And so my first thought after reading the post was, “Dude, I totally need to put that on social media. That’ll stick it to the non-adopters!” But once the dust from explosive, self-righteous pride settled, I didn’t. Instead, I left the post untouched, because at the end of the day, I really don’t want to be inflammatory. Nor do I want anyone to know how self-righteous I really am.

But a few months later, here I am posting it anyway. And I truly hope and literally pray as I type that it’s not to guilt trip, but to bring up something that most of us adoptive families dance around. My wife has already talked about it some, but I want to expand a bit. Here’s my thesis: adoption is really hard, but one of the reasons it’s so hard is because so few of us are doing it.

For instance, marriage is hard. Parenting is hard. Being a light in a dark world is hard. But in each of these things, they’re common experiences. So, they’re hard–but we have a community and shared stories built around it. I can share a struggle or you can tell the difficulties you’ve faced, and we all go, “Yeah, I know exactly what you mean.”

But with adoption, it doesn’t work that way. Instead, we share our struggles and difficulties, and we get one of three responses: horror (“How could anyone ever feel that way about a child!?”), pity (“I can’t even imagine how hard that is!”), or awe (“It is so incredible that you all have adopted kids from hard places–you’re true heroes!”). The first just hurts, the second is nice but ultimately not very helpful, and the third feels really cool but does nothing but enforce my personal Superman complex. But more importantly, all three responses have a distance, an otherness to them.

The fact is, it’s hard to adopt because it’s so incredibly lonely. Our church–the people who are closest to us in our mess–fight for us in every way they can, but it’s still from the outside. And I don’t mean that as a critique, but as a statement of reality. And they’ve listened as we’ve tried to explain the ugliest parts and excruciating struggles, coming as close as anyone in our lives to truly understanding our struggles. So I don’t write this as a critique of them, because they are in it with us in every way they can be.

But they’re the exceptions. Most of our brothers and sisters in Jesus can’t figure out what to do with us or other adoptive families. And that’s a lonely place to be. As I sit here and think about it, I’m sure that’s what overseas missionary families or pastors’ kids or adult singles or divorced believers all deal with. The otherness and loneliness of experience is just plain hard to shake.

Then I circle back to the article I linked to at the beginning of the post. Because I also get angry. Unlike the overseas missionaries or pastors’ kids or singles or divorcees, caring for the fatherless is something every believer is actively called to. So in my worst moments (or maybe my best), I’m angry because we ought not be alone. Caring for the fatherless isn’t some new, hot trend. That’s an oldie.

What would it be like if 50% of Christian families adopted? 60%? 75%? How many of the fatherless would have fathers? How much community would be built? Would adoption finally tip from weirdness to commonality? What would it be like for a confessed struggle to turn from “Oh, really?” to “Yes, me, too!”?

On our parenting blog, we’ve not hidden the struggles. We’ve not done the pretty thing and given the impression that the best thing we’ve ever done for our family was adopt. I still don’t think I can say that. But that doesn’t mean I think we made a mistake. The call to come and die sounds painful, because it is painful. We’ve had to die and die and die again, day after day, to graft four wild branches into our tree. The lessons and parallels to my own adoption in God’s family are myriad, deeper and richer than I would ever have imagined. The rebellion toward the good will of my new father, the desire for the old way of life, the memories of brokenness and ruin–adopting kids has re-colored my own adoption.

I just wish you knew that, too, the glory and gory. I wish we weren’t so alone.

An Integrated Life

One of my core convictions in Jesus is that we’re to live integrated lives. And by that I mean lives that aren’t separated, that aren’t compartmentalized. And as best as I can tell, there was an entire generation (or two) that approached life as separate compartments on purpose. Work doesn’t interfere with home life. Home life doesn’t interfere with work life. Churchy stuff is only at churchy times and nowhere else.

elastic-bands-2229753_1920But I don’t buy it. Not at all. There are certainly times for things. There’s a time to go to work and a time to be at home. And there’s a time when there are pressing concerns in two different realms and a decision has to be made to prioritize one over the other.

But that’s not the same as placing dividing walls between components of our lives. I follow Jesus. That’s part of me no matter where I am or what I’m doing. I’m a husband: My wife doesn’t disappear for eight hours each day while I’m at the office. I’m a dad: I don’t stop being a dad when I walk out the door to commute to the office. I’m an employee: Just because I leave the office doesn’t mean that everything is done or that I won’t have other things to take care of.

Would it be easier if I could segment my life? Oh yeah–you bet it would. To only have to follow Jesus here and there? That’d be way easier. To only be at work or only be at home? That’d be nice.

But it’s a delusion. It’s much clearer when you look at my wife, a stay-at-home mom with ten kids she homeschools. Where are her compartments? When does she stop being a mom and start being a teacher or a wife or a servant to neighbors? When? Simple. She doesn’t. Life is one continuous loop, with a big blurry mess of all her responsibilities and spheres constantly overlapping.

If it sounds messy, it is. But I don’t see how it’s anything less than exactly the way God designed us to be. I feel like the compartmentalized life was just another effort to build our high places where we define what honoring the one true God looks like instead of letting him make that call. Cuz ya know–God.

I want my life to be integrated. One of the big reasons we homeschool our kids is to help them learn everything they learn in the context of family and home life. I want them to grow up seeing their spheres overlapping and crashing into each other. I want them to see the Spirit of Jesus as central to every breath, not just Sunday School and youth group.

I want that for my church, too. I want that for my neighbors. I want the kingdom life that says family and work and service and ministry and church and recreation are all part of the rubber band ball of life. I want moms and dads to teach the faith to their own kids. I want to serve Jesus just as much on Sunday as I do at the office as I do at the park with neighborhood kids. I want one life, centered on Jesus, filled with his Spirit, headed toward our one Father.

I suck at it, but it’s the goal.

Gleaning Principles

wheat-field-1490000804lzAIn the Old Testament, God the Father gave provision in the law for the poor, widows, and foreigners to be able to glean the crop from the edges of the landowners’ fields:

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen.Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God. (Lev 19:9-10; also 23:22)

When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this. (Deut 24:19-22)

God’s provision for the poor or afflicted was gracious and free, but not effortless. While it was there for the taking, they still had to go get it.

We’ve had times in the past where we’ve given money to those who couldn’t afford to pay their bills, only to have that happen again a month or two later. And then again. And then again. I wonder if this “gracious gift of ours” (ha!) wasn’t gracious at all because it replaces need with privilege.

Of course, it’s not like I’m exempt from the principle. I really can’t count how many times the grace I’ve been shown has then turned into entitlement and ungratefulness. What I see is that our hearts are wicked and find it far too easy to confuse gifts with wages and donated with deserved. So there’s that.

Regardless, I do wonder what the 21st century American version of this gleaning principle might be. I hate the idea of giving money with strings attached. That feels like some kind of contract or deal, which I don’t think is the point. How could we leave the edges of our field unreaped? What does it look like to leave a commodity available, but in a form that requires some impetus from the receiving party to get it?

I really don’t know, but I feel like there has to be something better than a welfare state or pan handlers or church benevolence fund shoppers.

Pushing Through

I don’t remember when it started, but “pushing through” has become almost a life motto somewhere in the parts of my brain I tend not to examine even though I follow their incessant advice. Life’s hard? Push through. Tired? Push through. Not sure what to do next? Just push through.

But I gotta admit it’s flat out tiring. Always pushing means constant effort, if not necessarily always constant movement. Where’s the rest in always moving forward? When’s the time to slow down? And the trouble with slowing down is that it might just mean you miss something.

So the real question comes down to a matter of risk: Which one’s riskier–plowing ahead on fumes or pulling off at the next exit to fill up but missing the event?

I’m really not one for dwelling on missed opportunities. I have too many and I’d rather not think about them than to possibly drown in a sea of self-doubt. But even in admitting that, there’s a part of me that always wonders if I’m about to miss the real thing coming my way. I’m not sure what this ephemeral “real thing” is, but I’m sure it’s a thing and I’m sure it’s really out there somewhere, beneath the pale blue sky.

I serve a Savior who ministered on the Way, taught on the Way, lived on the Way. His pace of life exhausts me. And I’m never sure whether I should chalk that up to “he’s Jesus and I’m not” or “time to be like my big brother.” Either way, I know that movement is as certain as the earth making another revolution each day. So the movement isn’t bad.

The problem comes when I’m pushing through to get to the endgame, ignoring everything on the way. Shoot, even at the end when Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem, he still stopped along the way to heal and to teach his disciples. His destination never got confused with his passage–both were important and he didn’t neglect either.

I, on the other hand, push through Now to get to Then. Even taking the time to write this almost feels torturous because I feel like I need to do something more, like I’m not driving toward a goal. I’m just writing and it’s as meander-y as this blog’s namesake. I forget that King Jesus could meander like nobody’s business. A sharp turn into random never seemed to bother him. He could meander with purpose. Or perhaps he could aim with freedom.

I’m just afraid I’m not brave enough to follow in those particular footsteps.

Cultural Habits of Worship

In spending a great deal of time trying to unpack a theology of worship for New Covenant believers, one thing that’s lacking is a strong biblical argument for the worship service. (This from the guy who has been a worship leader/pastor more than once, so I’m making this argument from the inside, not the fringes.) The fact is that worship services are simply a given. “Of course, the church comes together to worship.” Of course? “Clearly the church is a worshiping community.” Clearly? “The new covenant community gathers for one purpose: to worship.” Really?

When something is so ingrained, so assumed, so automatic, we don’t realize there’s something we need to work around. There’s nothing to change or so we think, because it’s never occurred to us to question it.

I’m a trained classical singer. While the vocal cords and resonance chambers are the instrument of the singer, an easily overlooked aspect of singing is the fuel behind the cords and chambers: air. As I watch my wife teach voice lessons in our living room, one of the most basic things she does with new students is teach them how to breathe.

Now, that seems silly, doesn’t it? Don’t we already know how to breathe? Isn’t it an autonomic process of the body? It certainly is. And easily ignorable. Unless we get choked or run a marathon, we rarely give a bit of thought to breathing. It’s just what we do. And most young or inexperienced singers think about the sound they hear or the pitches or the timbre of their voices but completely ignore a core component of any sound-making device: something has to cause sound waves to vibrate.

So my wife teaches new singers to breathe. And I think they all kind of think she’s crazy. Why are we talking about breathing? I’m here to sing. “But,” my wife says, “you sing by using air and you’re singing like you’re a car running on fumes. Your car works best with a full tank of high quality gasoline. Your voice is like that car and your breathing provides the fuel.” And finally, they start to believe her.

But even then, the change isn’t instantaneous. Over and over and over again, she has to remind, “Full, deep breath” or “use your air” or “keep your rib cage expanded so that your lungs can take in even more air”. The reminders are constant, because even though the singers have been taught and even convinced, they still forget over and over and over again.

So it is with church services and worship services and worship in the church. We take it for granted. It’s like breathing. Of course we worship on Sundays. What’s there even to talk about? So like the inexperienced singer, breathing is just something they never think about because why would they? And for most believers, who would even ask the question? There’s no reason to.

But say a believer gets a good solid teaching on John 4 or Romans 12 (something I’ll expand on later), does that mean they immediately make the connections and worship takes on new meaning? Again, like the singers, the old habits slip back so easily. Old habits die hard. And we have not only experiential barriers to overcome (because even nonbelievers know that churches are buildings that have services on Sundays), but we have generational and cultural barriers to overcome. Imagine trying to convince America to drive on the left side of the road. Or– heh–how about getting America to adopt the metric system instead of the imperial system?

When our culture and our personal history have written such a strong-storied habit, there’s a lot to overcome. But being people of the Word, cultural habits and traditions aren’t our standard. I think there’s more to see of what the New Testament in particular shows us about the transformation of worship than we’ve really pieced together with our practice. It’s time to see our theology really drive our practice here, because we’ve let the habits run the show for a very long time–old habits that die hard indeed.