Reflections of a Worship Pastor: Part III

Reflections of a Worship Pastor

Part III: Good Enough?

My previous post in this series addressed my struggle with pride as it relates to leading worship. And so, perhaps fittingly or perhaps ironically, in this post I’d like to consider the issue of insecurity. The all-too common voice inside of us that thrives off destructive comments like “you’re not good enough,” or “why aren’t you better than this by now,” or “really? That’s who you are and that’s what you do?”

Masking Insecurity

I’ve heard it said that pride is hardly ever the real issue. It is usually merely a symptom of insecurity. We use pride as mask to cover our feelings of inadequacy. And this is true for me as well. Underneath my rather shallow issues of pride resides deeply rooted questions about myself: do I have value? Do I have worth? Am I any good at what I do? Do people really like me, and would they STILL like me if they really knew me?

And so to combat these fears and anxieties I put up facades that are designed to communicate self-confidence. I try to convince people I have it put together, that I know what I’m doing, that I’m not plagued by doubt and fear and shame and guilt. Or I hide behind what I do, and I pretend that what I “do” is the same as who I “am.” On Sundays I sure LOOK like I’m a spiritual person who has lots of good things to say, I sure LOOK like I’ve got it put together. And so I let you think that, because that’s better than you knowing the real me.

Ugly Purple Carpet

Confession: I love to watch shows on HGTV with my wife. One of the things I’ve learned from the likes of Carter Oosterhouse, David Bromstead and Vern Yip is that in older homes it’s not uncommon to rip out that ugly purple carpet only to find beautiful original hardwood flooring underneath. And the designer (as well as the homeowners) find themselves appalled at whoever thought it was a good idea to cover it up! However, on the flip side, it’s also true that sometimes they rip up that carpet and find mold, or termites, or even more of mess than they expected. And you almost wish they’d just lay back down the ugly purple carpet and walk away.

Usually, for me, my pride is like that ugly purple carpet. I put it there because I’m convinced it’s better than what was already there. Of course, even the worst-minded designer can see my ugly purple carpet for what it is: ugly. But I’m convinced, should I rip that away, what’s left underneath is even uglier… all my issues of insecurity, doubt and fear. I’m convinced I’m not good enough, I have too many faults and issues, and that I’ve masterfully convinced people all these years that I’m a reasonably decent person (when I know fair well that I’m not).

Marble, or Gold, or Something Else

What God is trying his divine hardest to teach me, though, is that underneath the ugly purple carpet, and underneath the termite-ridden molded flooring, is a foundation of the purest most beautiful marble flooring, laid long before I was born. Or perhaps, if you don’t like marble floors, imagine them gold (like the streets of the New Earth will be). If you don’t like gold, at this point I don’t care… you get the metaphor.

God is wanting me to begin to believe that what I think is at my core (insecurity, fear, etc) is NOT really at my core. That is NOT who I REALLY am. Those are things I have put there, those are things I have allowed the enemy to put there, to cover up the beautiful reality laying underneath: that I am a child of God. That I have been adopted in to God’s family, and stand in harmonious beauty alongside God’s other Son, Jesus.

Greatest Commandment

When asked, Jesus said the greatest commandment is to “love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” (Matt 22:34-40). But then he did this radically awesome thing, he said “the second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Woah. Backup. So you’re saying that loving our neighbors like we love ourselves is “like” loving God? So much so, that you say it’s the second greatest thing we do as humans? And in order for us to love our neighbors like we love ourselves, doesn’t that imply that we, well, love OURSELVES?

There’s so much that can be said here, but I’ll defer my thoughts to the thoughts of one whom I have the utmost respect for.  In “Naked Spirituality,” Brian McLaren shares a story about how he was out for a jog, listening to a sermon, and the preacher quoted Abraham Lincoln: “I desire to so conduct the affairs of this administration that if, at the end… I have lost every friend on earth, I shall have one friend left, and that friend shall be down inside me.” And then Brian says this,

As I heard those words, it was as if the Spirit took them and pierced me to the core with them. Out of the deepest part of me, I felt a sob erupt. I had to stop running for a few minutes and found myself hunched over in the middle of the trail, feeling that in some mysterious way God was speaking to me and it was a matter of life and death that I listen. And the message that came to me was the realization that, deep down inside of me, I had an enemy, not a friend.
If a friend made a mistake, I would tell him it was okay, that nobody’s perfect. But when I made a mistake, I would constantly beat myself up and mercilessly take myself to task. If a friend was working too hard, I would tell him to relax, to take a day off and go fishing or play a round of golf. But down inside me was a cruel taskmaster who was never satisfied. If a friend had some weaknesses, I would be gracious and compassionate. But not so with myself. And so that day I felt the Spirit using a quote from Abraham Lincoln to tell me that if I was going to last, I actually needed to follow Jesus’ words about loving others as myself, which required me to first be a friend to myself.

Being Friends with Myself

I love this perspective. I love contrasting how I would act or think or talk towards a friend versus how I typically act, think or talk to myself. And Brian is right, usually it’s radically different. And in God’s eyes, that’s not cool. That’s not God’s intention for me… or for you.

And so when I naturally have doubts about myself, wondering if I’m any good or have any value, wondering if I deserve this awesome job I have or the amazing family I have, and when I’m struggling to believe that people might actually like the real me, I will now try and think of what I would tell my best friend: Dude, you’re crazy. Of COURSE you have value! You are amazing, gifted, talented, and they are lucky to have you just as much as you’re lucky to have them. I like you, the REAL you, and I can list off so many people who like you too that your head will spin. You are not only an incredible person, but you are a child of the King, and that means everything! Pull your head out of where you’ve buried it, hold it high, and believe in yourself as much as I believe in you!

Something tells me I’d struggle less with insecurity if I became friends with myself.

Jesus in Revelation

Typical understanding of Jesus in Revelation

I’ve been reading Brian McLaren’s newest book, “A New Kind of Christianity,” and I was very moved and encouraged by some of his thoughts on Jesus in relation to how he is portrayed in the book of Revelation.

I’d love to give you the full context and background of his thoughts, but I’ll just let you buy the book and read it for yourself. But I DO want to share this bit with you because I found it brilliant and challenging.

He (Brian) is addressing one of his critics who accused him of recasting Jesus as a “limp-wrist hippie, with a lot of product in his hair who drank decaf and made pity Zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes.”

Brian’s critic countered with the following characterization of who HE thinks Jesus is:

“In Revelation, Jesus is a prize-fighter with a tatoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is the guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.”

To which I say, “Why the Face?!?!” (Don’t get that reference? Check it out here…)

But, moving on.. Brian then quotes the Revelation passage the above critic was referring to, 19:11-16

11I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war.12His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on himthat no one knows but he himself.13He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.14The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen,white and clean.15Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.16On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

Brian then goes on to offer a different way to understand this passage. You’ll have to get the book for that… But I would like to share then his thoughts about how contradictory it would be to view Jesus in Revelation as his critic above does (and many others, even if it’s not so crude and outright) in light of who Jesus was and what he said during his earthly ministry. It’s fairly long, but worth the read…

To repeat, Revelation is not portraying Jesus returning to earth in the future, having repented of his naive gospel ways and having converted to Casesar’s “realistic” Greco-Roman methods instead. He hasn’t gotten discouraged about Caesar seeming to get the upper hand after his resurrection and on that basis concluded that it’s best to live by the sword after all (Matt. 26:52). Jesus hasn’t abandoned the way of peace (Luke 19:42) and concluded the way of Pilate is better, mandating that his disciples should fight after all (John 18:36). He hasn’t had second thoughts about all that talk about forgiveness (Matt 18:21-22) and concluded that on the 78th offense (or 491st, depending on interpretation), you should pull out your sword and hack off your offender’s head rather than turn the other cheek (Matt 5:39).

He hasn’t given up on that “love your enemies” stuff (Matt 5:44) and judged it naive and foolish after all (1 Cor 1:25), concluding instead that God’s strength is made manifest not in weakess but in crushing domination (2 Cor 12:9). He hasn’t had a change of heart, concluding that the weapons he needs are physical after all (2 Cor 10:3-4) or that the enemies of the kingdom are flesh and blood after all (Eph 6:12), which would mean that the way to glory isn’t actually by dying on the cross (Phil 2:8,9), but rather by nailing others on it.

He hasn’t sold the humble donkey (Luke 19:30-35) on eBay and purchased chariots, warhorses, tanks, land mines, and B-1s instead (Zech. 9:9-10). He hasn’t climbed back to the top of the temple and decided he made a mistake the first time (Matt 4:1-10), or concluded that from now on he’d be smarter to follow Peter’s Greco-Roman “human” strategies (Matt 16:23). He hasn’t decided that the message of the cross is a little too foolish after all (1 Cor 1:18) or that Christ killing his foes is way more exciting than that lame, absurd “hippie” gospel of “Christ crucified” (1 Cor 2:2).

He hasn’t decided that my loyal critic was right, that nobody can be expected to worship a king they can beat up (Matt 27:27). He hasn’t decided that a tattoo down his leg would look a whole lot toughter and macho than scars in his hands, feet, and side (John 20:27). He hasn’t decided to defect to the Greco-Roman narrative, since the majority of people who claim adherence to the religion that bears his name seem to frame their lives by it rather than by his good news of the kingdom of God.

Revelation celebrates not the love of power, but the power of love. It denies, with all due audacity, that God’s anointed liberator is the Divine Terminator, threatening revenge for all who refuse to honor him, growling “I’ll be back!” It asserts, instead, that God’s anointed liberator is the one we beat up, who promises mercy to those who strike him, whispering, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). The suffering, serving one who bled on a cross–not the one with a commitment to make others suffer and bleed–is the King of kings and Lord of lords. In response to the crucified one’s name–not Caesar’s or any other violent human’s–every knee will gladly bow.

You may or may not agree with all the points above, but hopefully the big picture is something worth considering. If we DO anticipate Jesus returning to destroy and crush people, then we must wrestle with how that can line up with all that he did and taught. Will he, in the end, change his mind about the way of peace, mercy, forgiveness and grace?

New Brian McLaren Book is Almost Out

Just four days left until Brian McLaren’s newest book, “A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions that are Transforming the Faith” is released!

McLaren’s work (especially A New Kind of Christian, Generous Orthodoxy, and The Secret Message of Jesus) has been monumental to me in sifting through what it means to be a follower of Jesus. I’m indebted to his work and passion for seeing the Dream of God (aka, His Kingdom) be accomplished on earth as it is in Heaven.

I’m also grateful he got a new artist to design his cover… His last few have left much to be desired…

For more info on Brian, you can check out his blog here.