ef·fer·ves·cent

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
ef·fer·ves·cent19 years old, visiting with relatives for the weekend, I was seated within the sanctuary of a large church in Durham, NC. I was taking in the scene around me: men, women, boys, girls…most singing, many clapping and swaying…some running…some speaking in languages other than English…a large choir on stage with various musicians and other singers. In spite of the frantic energy in the room, I was feeling the seconds being slowly peeled away from the unknown remainder of the service.
As I sat pining for the lunch awaiting me (the only reason I attended here), I tried to distract my focus from waiting out the unyielding worship leader on the stage and began to note the elements of the environment that frustrated me, that shouted at me, “Look over here! No, look at this! Wow…have you noticed me yet? How could you have missed this one?”
The choir and musicians swelled into a key change, foreshadowing a second wind, and the congregation responded as if they were floating atop carbonated waves….”I want to be washed in the blood of the Lamb! I need a cleansing from the fountain!”
The heaviness of perfumes in the air underscored the loud garish colors shouting from the dresses and hair accessories of pious women intending to present themselves in modest dress while cajoling around the room in dramatic fashion. Men in stark white dress shirts tucked within shells of dark suits shouted and cheered. Pumping their hands and fists in the air. Shiny belts, polished shoes, awkward ties. The choir whipping up the room into a frenzy of steamy fabrics, misty perfumes, and billowing hair sculptures.
Sigh…such misguided people.
Internally, I was weighing it all harshly and with much frustration bordering on anger. Externally, I smiled and kept time with my foot patting dark carpet and one hand softly tapping a knee. This was my extent of my polite participation while my physical form sat anchored to a pew by a spirit in protest. I encouraged the steadiness of my bankrupt heart with images of chicken and cornbread and mashed potatoes.
I honestly cannot provide an explanation for what happened next. It was as if a television program’s broadcast signal was abruptly disrupted causing an entire scene from the show in progress to be lost…missed…unseen…and the signal suddenly returns, the show is restored, and nothing you’re seeing makes any sense now.
My awareness of sitting in judgement was truncated and suddenly, like a slight of hand magic trick, I find myself suddenly conscious of my body fully erect, both arms sticking up as rods towards the sky, my face turned to the ceiling, eyes pinched shut, hot tears pouring, and the sound of my voice jockeying for position among the congregation singing the words, “I want to be washed in the blood of the Lamb! I need a cleansing from the fountain! My soul is hungry, I’ve got this aching within! I wanna be washed in the blood of the Lamb!” And I knew that I meant them. I don’t know how, but I knew that these words were, and are, my deepest-to-date plea…my sudden and unexpected surrender to a Christ with Whose story I had been immersed in and fed all of my life.
Much of the remainder of that day’s events are now a blur. I can only recall being baptized at the conclusion of the service. I recall walking out of the church with new eyes, a new mind, an unfamiliar gnawing hunger, and a zealousness for pleasing the LORD that was ef·fer·ves·cent.
That was some 22 years ago. Looking back, I am amazed and humbled by my Jesus. I was attending a college I did not desire to attend. On a scholarship that I did not want. Newly majoring in a field of study that was awkward and causing me much distress. Living a life of scathingly enduring people.
Ironically, within a year’s time of that conversion, I was called into Christian ministry…worship of all things..working with people…an occasional and residing phobia. The one thing that I sat despising in the lives of others…God destined me for it.
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
‪#‎mytestimony‬ ‪#‎bornagain‬ ‪#‎spiritualrebirth‬ ‪#‎thensingsmysoul‬ ‪#‎surrender‬ ‪#‎confess‬ ‪#‎befree‬ ‪#‎loveofChrist‬ ‪#‎compassion‬

From Our Heart to His; A Worshipper’s Preparations for and Reflections Upon Corporate Worship

“The Forsaken One”Forsaken(18)
Psalm 22, Mark 15:34-35
Week One

For many years, I have loved times of reflection upon the crucifixion of Christ more than I have loved times of celebrating the resurrection. Don’t read me wrong, I am forever grateful for the resurrection! That single act affirms everything Christ said, did, and will do. Hallelujah!

However…

Being invited, with others, to corporately reflect upon the death of an Innocent….how can I not be moved? Being asked to admit, with others, that the death of this Innocent, was all because of and for us…how can we not be emotionally stirred and thoughtfully reflective?

My pastor, Rev. Chris Justice, will be preaching a series of messages throughout March regarding Christ’s moments of physical, mental, and emotional anguish as He experiences tragedy, mortality, and the consequence of sin. He has entitled the series, “The Forsaken One”; a direct reference to Christ’s declarative recitation of Psalm 22. You can listen to Pastor Chris’ sermons by clicking here.

Today in worship, we offered:

“Crown Him (Majesty)”, Chris Tomlin
Listen here

The mind/heart/soul connection for me:

“Awake my soul and sing of Him Who died for me.” The heady lyrics of this song pummel any mind that cares to focus on each word as the lips form and expel them for the purpose of audible declarations of truth. It struck me that this particular line was an attempt by the composer to say to the person singing, “Soul! Wake up! Do not be lethargic in this moment. Someone died for your peace. Engage with Him! Sing!” Personally, when I see worshippers attending worship service, leaning on chairs with posture that is anything but engaged, or sitting with an obvious look of disconnectedness while the congregation sings of the death of God’s child, it causes angst in my spirit. “Awaken soul! Engage with the One who made you for His engagement!”

“O the Blood”, Gateway Worship
Listen here

The mind/heart/soul connection for me:

“The blood, it is my victory.” I know what my life would look like had Christ not offered Himself for me and had I not accepted this offer and pledged my allegiance and loyalty to Him. Nothing in me, that is good, is because of me. It is all because of the blood of Christ and my baptism in His Spirit. It is not humiliating for me to admit that I am nothing outside of Him. Because I know Him, this admission gives me an extreme amount of comfort that is indiscernible by this world.

“Oh what love, no greater love, grace how can it be, that in my sin, yes even then, He shed His blood for me.” When our pastor’s wife, Becky Justice, sang these words with the choir, I was reminded that I know who I am and that I am in the ongoing process of knowing Him. When I consider the One who fully knows Himself AND fully knew me before I ever was…man, I smile when I sing these words. Amazing love! When I was an unabashed sinner, saying, doing, and thinking horrible things, Christ, knowing these things, intentionally laid Himself upon an instrument of fatal tragedy. Why would He do that? Because He wants to own me forever. I want Him to own me.

“Speaking Out of Turn”, Max Lucado, Donna Rodgers
Dramatic monologue

The mind/heart/soul connection for me:

Excerpt from the script – ““To take away the sins…” I’d never thought about those words. I’d read them but never thought about them. I thought You just, I don’t know, sent sin away. Banished it. Just like You did to the demons…just like You did to the hypocrites in the temple. I just thought You commanded the evil out. I never noticed that You took it out. It never occurred to me You actually touched it–or worse still, that it touched You.

That must have been a horrible moment.. I know what it’s like to be touched by sin. I know what it’s like to smell the stench of that stuff. You remember, don’t You? You were the one who found me. I was lonely, I was afraid. Remember? I felt so confused, so desolate. Sin will do that to you. Sin leaves you shipwrecked, orphaned, adrift. Sin leaves you abandoned…”

I reflected during this moment of the script, “Is that how I think about my own sin? Do I think of it as a stink? Am I so aware of sin that I can feel it when it “touches” me? Or am I so accustomed to my sin that it feels like my own skin and I’m completely unaware of it. When is the last time I REPENTED of a sin rather than pout over the effects of someone else’s sin?”

“Day of Darkness”, David Hamilton, Deborah Craig-Claar
Listen here

The mind/heart/soul connection for me:

This song is a beautiful poem dressed with a beautifully haunting melody. The poem, curiously, leaves Christ in the tomb. It leaves the listener (meaning, someone actually listening; someone wrestling their inner thoughts should they be at war with the Spirit and His moment, even while seated in worship) to reflect upon the despair of that day…that specific moment in time when Christ was taken from the cross and laid in the tomb. This song does not resurrect Christ as most of the songs in our worship tradition do. It leaves us with the imagery of His body in the tomb, a lonely hill punctured with an empty cross, and a dreary raw Creation. I admit, I am guilty of romanticizing Bible stories like this one. I need songs like this that help me to engage cerebrally and emotionally. I have a vantage point as a current day Christian that those first Christians did not have. I can look back upon Easter as one with a complete, printed, and leather-bound Bible accompanied by years’ worth of Sunday morning messages, Sunday School lessons, Easter suits, and large congregations declaring exuberantly, “He is risen! He is risen indeed!” But what must it have been like to stand there that day, not having these things, and looking upon a bloody cross, a drained and mutilated body, and having experienced the raging of the earth and sky?

Oh what a Savior…

Some quick thoughts on Art, Pleasure, and Purpose

I’m, by a nature, an outdoors person.  Whether I’m walking, running, kayaking, hiking, canoeing, or SITTING, I love communing with my mind, my God, and my heart within the sanctuary of nature.  It is not so much an escape as it is a cleansing and filtering of the day; conscious and subconscious.
While walking the nature preserve next to my neighborhood, enjoying its vibrant and teeming ecosystem, my mind wandered to the subject of art, pleasure, and purpose.  So, as I am prone to do…I meandered.

Please note, these thoughts address the arts from a Christian perspective.  They are the opinions of an individual who serves his Christian community with and through artists and the arts.

Art, generally speaking, provides an emotional and/or reflective experience for an observer because it is typically birthed from a bed of emotion and/or thought within the creator.  The work of creating an artistic expression is an inner collaborative process of the maker’s psyche; mental, emotional, and spiritual, partnering with the maker’s physical efforts to create a tangible and/or experiential product.  Simply put, an artist is compelled to get the idea(s) out of their inner selves and put it outside of themselves for someone else to receive.

The act of intentionally presenting art for public consumption should be compelled by a desire to promote and/or achieve a higher purpose within the individuals or the community; either an elevation of thought or the illumination of understanding.  If the originating purpose of presenting a work of art is rooted in an exclusive desire to achieve nothing other than personal pleasure or gain, then the artist (defined as one having a gift to weave thought and emotion for the purpose of compelling sensation) has abandoned the programming of Original Design and is pandering to and promoting self-love which destroys Christian community and embraces atheistic humanity.  There is no legacy.  There is no worth.  There is no significance.  There is nothing more than an undulating emotional wave that will break itself in time leaving no trace of good…but potentially helps to pave the path for others to pursue the same destructive course of self-love.

In the corporate worship experience of the Church, the enduring artistic works have come to represent altars of remembrance of God’s grace, mercy, and presence in our lives’ circumstances. This is an effectual gift of God to us.  How many times do we hear songs, or read poems, or view images that result in an edifying “flashback” of interventions in our lives we know to be the work of God?  There is a risk, however, in sequestering these works and our creative artistic efforts for this sole purpose.  We must work to avoid permitting the arts to only PRESERVE a culture of faith.   If they cease to do more than safeguard anthropological exercises of preferred religious ritual, then we are back to self-love and a sense of godlessness in the things about which we become passionate.  The arts in worship should always present a God that is ALIVE and PRESENT; presently engaging the culture for the purpose of redeeming it and restoring it.

Therefore, it should not be our desire, the artist or the worshiper, to offer each other, or our God, the same songs, same offerings, same gifts over and over for they begin to cost us nothing in spirit, thought, or effort.  Such a practice is the result of ignorance to Truth and an absence of Relationship.  In the Old Testament, you will find that offerings presented in worship were offered, left, and consumed. To come again meant to come with something new and, important to note, something that was the result of purposeful effort, process, preparation, and thought.

Brief aside:  Regarding the contemporary and modernist trends that have been developing in Christian art and corporate worship for decades; though I do not believe that the arts should archive history, we should be careful not to reject the works of the past.  It is important to recognize the significance of their testimony.  No act of God is disposable and, therefore, no work of art conceived from His intervention in a believer’s life should be either.  Consumable?  Yes.  Disposable?  Absolutely not.  Though we know His mercies are new every morning, yesterday’s mercy delivered the morning to us.