We Are Not at War

The war rhetoric is for revenue-based blog hits, while the Jesus we claim to follow had compassion even on those that killed Him. But compassion is quiet, and in our culture, quiet doesn’t sell.

What if we assumed everyone was a possible Christian, instead of assuming an impending battle with them? If we believe that everyone is built with an inherent need for God, than why don’t we view everyone as a soul seeking God, rather than an enemy combatant? The way we treat people that our same God created and wants to love is absolutely ludicrous. And very simply? It needs to stop.

We need to start actually seeking out how the God we claim to follow would have us act, and let those trying to use a war-time version of Christianity for blog hits and advertising money, see that anger and recrimination against those we claim to be trying to save, doesn’t sell to Christians anymore.

In all sincerity and love,
Karl

You Can’t Just Cut Out the Parts of the Bible You Don’t Like…

…but if you can explain them away, that’s totally cool.

We are all human. And as such, true scholarly criticism of our own thinking strongly suggests the almost near impossibility of reading or learning something without unconsciously injecting something of our own thoughts, bias, or experience into it. So then at what point do we start to question our own reading of the Bible? In other words, how many theological backflips before we start to go, ‘Hold on here.’

In my lifetime, I have seen huge changes amongst even the most fundamental churches in how we explain Jesus’ teachings on divorce in Matthew 5, Paul’s teachings on women pastors and just women in general, and the Levitical office of priests according to how it pertains to our pastors today…just to name a few. In order to explain them in their current interpretations, a great deal of “exposition” is needed. It is completely dishonest and disingenuous to say that we believe the Bible in its entirety, but use the loophole of “exposition”, or the current trendy phrase “unpacking”, to in essence get rid of the passages we no longer like or that no longer coincide with culture.

It is true that many things in the Bible need deep study. The problem is when the conclusions from that “deep study” change so constantly, when we are always so fond of quoting our last year’s trend or interpretation as absolute infallible truth, and “praying for” the poor souls who dare to question the interpretation. And more often than not, just a few short months later, we’re championing a new interpretation as infallible truth, forgetting about all the people we stepped on or turned off from God by calling truth that which we now believe to be heresy.

It’s time that us general lay Christians learn the simple basics of scholarly criticism, and not only apply it to the Bible, but what may be infinitely more important, applying scholarly criticism to our own reading and our denominations’ reading, of the Bible. If the Lord does not change, as stated in Malachi 3, then what He is trying to tell us through the Bible is either right or wrong. Pretending that our theology is complete, constant, and unchanging, while using exposition and theological “backflips” to explain away the lack of completeness and constancy, is extremely disingenuous, and we are quite quick to point out those inconsistencies and hypocrisy in other religions. If God is truth, then that truth should be able to stand up to the most trying of critical methods of study. It shouldn’t need us to explain things away. We need to start being critical (in a scholarly sense) of our own interpretations, those who interpret it, and the way the Bible was compiled. This is not news to most theologians today and in history…but to us lay Christians, this may be new territory. For some reason, we’ve been taught not to question our faith. We say this is the most important being and the most important book to ever exist. And we so often act as if they’re anything but. Some even go so far as to say our criticism of the Bible and the church are evidence of us leaving the faith. On the contrary, I believe they are evidence that we are finally starting to take it seriously.

Sincerely,
Karl

P.S. As alluded to in the post, I am using the word “criticism” in a literary sense, to mean “the analysis and judgment of the merits and faults”, as opposed to the more colloquial meaning of baselessly deriding something.

Why Science is More Respected Than Christianity

It’s not because people hate God. It’s not because of the “war on Christianity.” And it’s not because somehow thousands and thousands of scientists are involved in a conspiracy to discredit our religion.

The truth is rarely exciting enough to make it on a meme, or a catchy sermon one-liner. And the truth is that the majority of what is considered scientific theory is peer-reviewed. That’s it. The very simple idea that one person or one research team or one school of thought cannot logically be trusted without multiple perspectives lending their expertise and diverse viewpoints. Meanwhile, the church takes each and every word of its pastor’s sermon as infallible truth; a sermon that has been reviewed by no one, and that often times (go back and listen to older podcasts) contradicts previous sermons that were also thought of as infallible truth. Simply because a prayer was said asking God to speak through the pastor. And we assume that He has, even if there are contradictory statements with previous sermons, with the Bible itself, or with the other pastor down the street who has also prayed that God would speak through him.

What is worse, that we as a church also often hang a great deal of our theology on whatever Facebook meme or out-of-context book quote we have just come across. Again, with little to no reviewing (probably no reviewing, but I’m trying to give the benefit of the doubt) by differing perspectives, or even the same perspectives. We attribute these words as the mind and will of the Creator of the Universe, without ever even double-checking, let alone putting them through a scholarly review. It’s madness.

Science has Christianity beat, and I don’t know why. If we truly believe this God deal, wouldn’t we want to make sure we were saying and learning and believing as close to the truth as we are capable? I think it’s high time we brought back the peer review in our churches, podcasts, and books, and stopped basing our week’s theology off of 140 characters and an half an hour message put together the night before. Perhaps even, structuring our entire study of the Bible as a peer review, instead of the focus on just one person whose spiritual giftings of teaching and possibly shepherding do not necessarily preclude a Tony Robbins style of church.

We continually claim to hold the keys to life, and continue to take that claim so incredibly lightly. I love you, church; and we can do so much better.

 

Midnight, January 19th, 2015

Have you ever had someone genuinely curious about your religion, and by the end of the conversation you’ve realized that what you thought was a following of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth was actually little more than a socio-economical peer group following select Pauline writings?

Most of my friends are incredibly respectful of my religion; just amused at how much more they thought it would mean to me.

We can do better, and we must do better.

Christmas

I just want to wish you all a merry Christmas.

I don’t want to wish you a happy advent, or come up with a new and more marketable way to say Christmas, I don’t want to fight a ratings-boosting media war on how we wish each other cheer, and I don’t want to rehearse O Holy Night so much that we miss the lyrics for the high notes, or the meaning for the modulation, and I wish that last part didn’t alliterate. I don’t want to buy Christmas, I don’t want to sell Christmas, and I certainly don’t want to buy Kirk Cameron’s coffee beans so that he can tell me Christmas isn’t about commercialism. And I don’t want to try so hard to make memories that my only memories are stressing out by trying so hard.

I just want to hold my family close, maybe see a few lights, and tell God thank you by giving to my fellow inhabitors of this earth. Thank you, Jesus, for another year passed, and blessings had, by your grace.

Merry Christmas to you all!
Karl

P.S. If rehearsing O Holy Night, Kirk Cameron’s coffee beans, or stressing through events actually does help you focus on God, which they very well might, then by all means go for it. It’s not about dogmas; just about each of us making a personal choice to worship God and Him only. And no one can make that choice but us. I hope we do.

I Am Ephesus

“To the angel of the church of Ephesus write,

‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.”

We have so many things right. We’re focused on trying to come to a sound theology, we’re now trying not to just stay within the four walls of our churches, and we probably work harder at ministry than other culture before us. But our problem remains, as it has for countless other cultures before us, idolatry.

I think the root of our constant struggles with idolatry can be summed up in these words from T.S. Eliot: “Life is very long.” It is very difficult for us humans to remain truly passionate about anything for an extended period of time. Our marriages, our hobbies, our families, our jobs, even our simple likes and dislikes. Much less an invisible God. So we turn to what is visible…lights, stages, churches, worship bands, pastors, flow charts, jump-cut-edited-videos with delayed piano notes over a washy guitar and floating lyrics from podcasts, and call them God.

When was the last time we were truly excited about God? Just God. Apart from worship bands, apart from the podcasts of pastors we always refer to as just their last name as if they’re a quarterback, apart from the warm feelings of togetherness at church, and apart from guitar tone. ( ;) ) I’m truly asking you to ask yourself this. Because when I did a couple years ago, I knew I was still excited about God. And when I asked again. And again. It took me a few times to truly bare my soul and realize that I thought I was excited about God because I had started calling all the elements of which we serve Him, by His own name. And that is idolatry.

What I had to finally ask myself was to remember a time when I was passionate about Jesus when it wasn’t connected to something in our culture. When was the last time I came home from church and talked about God? I would say, “God really moved through the worship music”, or “You’d never believe what my pastor said!” or “It was so good to see that person!” Is that bad? Yes, if I never seem to have an experience about just God. We have a culture of worship leaders who only worship when they’re in front of people. Worship leaders…when was the last time you worshiped God when not on stage? When not in front of people? Without a guitar? Pastors…when was the last time you studied the Bible without thinking of it in terms of a sermon or church authority? When was the last time we listened to a podcast without thinking how exciting “Chandler” is, but how amazing God is?

In our culture, God almost doesn’t exist apart from worship bands, church corporations, podcasts, and the occasional political rhetoric. When we think of God, it is almost always in those contexts. And we use the excuse, “Well it’s not perfect, but at least people are coming to God.” I’m just not satisfied with that anymore. Can people come to God and at the same time we have a proper view and passion about Him? No more excuses…I think we can, and I think it’s high time we started trying to do that, instead of hiding behind ministry as an excuse for our lackluster and rockstar-driven approach to all things God.

Our entire church culture is saturated with distractions. Distractions that were originally intended for good…and then the props became the thing itself. And then we actually pray from the stage that God would “allow us to look past all this, and just see Him.” I’m not buying that anymore. If I am having trouble in my marriage because I can’t seem to focus on my wife’s needs due to work, even though I am working for her and out of love for her to support her, it would be pretty horrifying if I were counseled to just look past it all and work harder for her needs. No, the logical and Biblical thing to do would be to go to the root of the problem and start cleaning house so that I could be passionate about her again.

It’s time to clean house. Turning over tables and smashing everything our Christian culture sells? If it’s keeping us from being passionate about just God, our first love, then yes. That may seem drastic, but so does plucking out your eye…and Jesus espouses both of those, as uncomfortable as we may be with those sentiments. We must find a way to be passionate about Jesus. My regular friends have a far different, and more often than not, better idea of what Christianity should be. They assume we recklessly follow the teachings of Jesus and are in love with Him. Because that’s what we say. It would be nice if it were true.

Just God. Not just God, and here are the super cool things we call God. The Creator died for us, and if we believe that, it should make us passionate enough to live it even when not on stage. If I haven’t worshiped Him, just me and Him, apart from music, church, podcasts, and an inviting culture, than I have left my first love.

Splendid.
Karl.

Reflections Upon Leading a Worship Service for the First Time in a While

Since quitting my career as a worship pastor about a year and a half ago, all my musical endeavors have been outside of worship music, and all my worship service leading has been in a home setting. It’s been super nice to keep musicianship and giving God praise separate for the time being. My mindset for all worship leading in a home or small context has been, “How can we worship in the simplest, least distracting and least selfish way possible?” Which has led to the worship taking precedence, and the music’s only purpose being to support the melody so that we can sing together. Oddly enough, as is often the case, that simplicity has actually taken more musical skill than any guitar solo I’ve ever played. It’s just that the skill is mental and comes prior to the actual worship leading.

So when it came time last weekend to lead worship in a production setting for a retreat that I had committed to a year and a half ago, it was an interesting experience to try to balance making the music just the backdrop for the worship, with standing on a stage in front of hundreds of people. And sure, we always say the music is just the backdrop, but then we go on to spend so much time getting all the stops and beats right and the band tight, that we rehearse right on through prayer time. And then we throw in a 1 minute intro and a 30 second guitar solo, leaving only a couple minutes for lyrics we tried to make so artsy that they’re barely recognizable as God-centered. And then we judge how many people gave God glory with how loud the applause was after our big concert ending, rather than asking folks afterwards if they felt God was the center. Honestly? I’m tired of all that and I think we’re bordering on blasphemy.

It was a very difficult balance to walk, and I’m pretty sure I screwed up more than a few times, and not just in playing the wrong chords…which also happened. ;) A few of my observations…and yes, we’re back to the beloved/hated bullet posts:

  • I tried very hard not to use prayer as a “transition tool.” And you know what? The world did not implode in the five seconds it took me to put down my electric and grab my acoustic.
  • We rehearsed up to the point where the song wouldn’t fall apart, and no further. After that, it was worship only. Incredibly freeing. I could actually worship. I’m not sure Capitol Records would’ve signed us, but then trying to land a record deal shouldn’t really be the point of worship, should it.
  • I definitely took too many guitar solos. The tone got to me and I self-indulged a few times. Failure. And I could feel from the folks singing that they really just wanted to sing to God more.
  • The mic shocked my every time I put my lips on it. Made things more interesting. ;)
  • Over 150 people came up to me and said that worship was pretty good, but would have been much better had the delay been with a Timeline instead of my Echo Park. Nope. That didn’t happen.
  • We did lots of accapella. Pretty much overshadowed all the times we were playing with the full band.
  • I played with my Matchless because it didn’t sell yet, and it was wonderful. I know that you shouldn’t need a multiple thousands of dollars amp to worship…not in the slightest. Yet at times I felt that you do. Yikes, I’ve got a long way to go.
  • The musician in me is a transition fiend. I like flow and beautiful sounds. So I had to force myself to allow song choices to not flow if the theological content called for it. Meaning we jumped keys and tempos and styles and had abrupt changes so that we could do only songs that glorified God implicitly. And oddly enough, though I felt the clunky transitions, as soon as we started in singing the God-centered lyrics, the clunkiness was immediately overshadowed.
  • In choosing songs, I realized that there are a lot of modern worship songs that I’m not sure we would even classify as ‘worshiping of God’ were they not done by ‘worship bands.’ There are many, many songs, and even hymns, focused on us and our feelings almost exclusively. Are our feelings bad to focus on? No. Is it bad that sometimes we miss entire worship services because none of the songs have the intent of glorifying God? Yes.
  • You know what mattered most to everyone? Not our impeccable musicianship. That we treated the sound guy nice.
  • Oh yes, and our musicianship was far from impeccable. ;)

It was a great experience to try to lead worship in a God-honoring way, or a way that couldn’t be mistaken for anything else. It’s a mental shift of course, but a mental shift that isn’t worth anything if not accompanied by some tangible changes. There were also a lot of failures, and there’s a long way to go. I still feel as if it might have been better if we just chanted some psalms. But the journey is on, and this is where I document it. Take it as you will, but at the very least, let’s remember that worship is not a platform for our musical skills or even our feelings. It should be about God, and if anything seems like it might not be, scrap it.

Splendid.
Karl.

Reflections on Fatherhood

And no, that doesn’t mean I just bought a new amp.

(I mean, I did, but that is not what this post is about.)

My wife gave birth two months ago to a very healthy (and incredibly strong…was lifting his head up on day one…vegan power, baby) baby boy. He is awesome. And he was born at the most inopportune time imaginable. We had just restarted our lives on faith alone (read: not on money…at all), and suddenly we have three to feed. I mean, technically Jesus did say that you can eat faith, but I’m still trying to figure that one out. ;) And yet…we are still here. The three of us, pretty much just surviving on God’s grace and an upbringing that thankfully stressed dogged hard work as a matter of Christian integrity. As such, I haven’t had much time to write, or even think thoughts other than please let this diaper hold. But tonight I find myself waxing poetic……

First off, I haven’t had the experience that everyone said I would have. Namely, that becoming a father finally helps you understand God’s love for us. Nope, I still don’t understand the Creator giving His life for mine. Super thankful for it, but don’t understand it. What I have felt is the very real instinctual desire to take care of my son and keep him alive at all costs. But to love him…in the Christian (Christ-ian) way…is definitely a choice. I could definitely walk out that door, away from the new responsibilities, and continue to live a much more free life. My instincts might war against it. But I can feel the sinful, selfish desires just as I can with every other temptation. I’m learning that integrity is never instinctual…integrity is a choice.

Secondly, I realize with crashing ferocity the effect that every act I make will have upon him. Not just the decisions for his life and well-being…but how much he will emulate and look up to or not look up to the things I do. Once again, there is no price or substitute for integrity. My son will ask me why I do the things I do. And I want to have an answer for him. My son will imitate the things I do. And I want to have an example for him. I’ll of course make mistakes, and mess up his psyche in my own special way; but I want him to have the example of following God and not man, even when it hurts and hurts bad. In that way, I realize he may have been born at the absolute perfect time. Because I spent a good deal of time pleasing man while telling myself I was trying to please God. I’ve been aware of that for about two years, and living the correction for about one now. It’s a tough road…but we were never promised anything other.

And thirdly, I used to get down on parents who just had to keep their child’s bedtime at all costs. I was always like, “Come on, the kid can handle a few extra hours up.” And I realize now that yes, the kid can handle a few extra hours up. It’s us parents that can’t. ;)

Sleep well tonight, little man. We choose to love you with our lives, which is all we can give. To be a better man than your father is what I can hope.

Karl.

Jumping the Shark

There’s this scene in Happy Days. In the later years, when it was all falling apart, as great shows tend to do. (See: Steve Erkel cloning himself, the cast from Everybody Loves Raymond not being able to get a line out because of the audience cheering so loud when they would run on stage with a weird look, etc.) And Fonzie, The Fonz, inexplicably enters a water-skiing contest, and subsequently jumps over a shark. And that was the day people realized that the show had somehow faded into irrelevance.

It was a couple years ago, now. I was sitting in a meeting, as the 28-year-old wonder kid worship pastor at one of the fastest-growing churches in the city. All my life I had been praised for being advanced beyond my years, mature beyond my experience. So when I decided at eighteen years old that my life’s goal would be to serve God by being a vocational worship pastor, no one stopped me. Instead, they praised me for the spiritual wisdom seldom seen in someone my age. The problem was, someone should have stopped me. Someone should have looked at the lights, and the amplified guitar sounds pumping through the best venues in town, and the stages, and the subtle prestige only expounded by humility, and really everything we call ‘worship’, and talked to this eighteen-year-old kid in depth, asking him if this would still be his dream if the church were to change tomorrow, and his vocation of ‘worship pastor’ went back to playing an organ from a hymnal in the back, or starting the countdown for the congregational accapella chant. But no one stopped me. (Or at least if they tried…I didn’t listen whatsoever.) Because I was living the American church dream.

To be a rockstar, a CEO, or a famous personality, but it’s also a righteous endeavor because you’re ‘doing it for God?’ That’s a very enticing offer, especially for a young person like me who struggled with an inferiority complex. Looking back, I realize that I truly believed that my motives were pure. My heart was in the right place. But like so many people in history whose hearts were in the right place, I was also dead wrong.

So here I am, ten years later, watching a sermon from a famous pastor. One now marred in scandal, and one with whom I have been very vocal about disagreeing. And he was teaching on how Jesus is our prophet, priest, and king. Not necessarily a doctrine I have a problem with. And then I listened in horror, as Jesus Christ, the savior of the universe, was reduced to nothing more than a flow chart. Rather than the face value of being our guide, our intercessor, and our master, He was now just an example of whom to hire in your church. Three categories that really would have really stretched the imagination as a Biblical exposition; except that I had been taught them before…in the corporate world. But now we were bending Bible verses so that this flow chart had ‘Biblical’ authority.

To me, it was at best, logical fallacy, at worst, outright heresy. I spoke with people in person and with various peers later. I said I believed that when the Bible mentions Jesus as king, the subtext is that we should obey him, not that we should hire more administrators in our 501c3 church institutions. Interestingly enough, some told me that I really didn’t feel that way, but that I was just a ‘priest’ (i.e. “feeler”) who was just upset because the pastor preaching the sermon had used some word like ‘pissed’. And therein lies the problem. We’re concerned about piss. And we’re not concerned about twisting the words of the Bible.

After hearing that sermon, after months and years of questioning why we do what we do and how if we had really used the Bible as our basis we had ended up where we’re at, …… I made no decision whatsoever. This is where you’d think I would’ve felt as if we’d as a universal church jumped the shark. But you have to remember, that this was the only life I had ever known. I have friends and people who have lived as Christians far longer than I have, who agreed with this sermon. And the last time I said I disagreed with a nationally renowned pastor, I was berated, both in person and on this blog. So I’m sad to say, I walked out too afraid to, right then and there, say something is terribly wrong with the majority of how we as a western civilization run our churches, if this can pass for nationally recognized church doctrine and practices. Rather, it was as I went about the rest of my work day, that I realized that church aside…I personally had jumped the shark.

I looked at the rest of my schedule for the day, and it read fix lighting, test sound system, change out songs in church playlist, re-string guitar, buy new delay pedal, make new graphics for signage, edit intro video, and a hundred other things that bore little relevance to my love for God and what was over the last couple of years my newfound desire to actually worship Him…not put on a rock concert that subconsciously stroked my ego, but worship: react to…God. God. God. My life, ministry, and occupation, had slipped into irrelevance towards the things I wanted to do most and the things we humans desire deep within ourselves…selfishness, and the constant lust for power, prestige, and affirmation. And I had let those things, unbeknownst to me, take a hold in my life by burying myself in an institution that I had mistakenly confused for God Himself.

Remember God. Remember that church only exists for His purpose. Remember that pastors, even nationally renowned ones, are fallible human beings; a fact that becomes all too apparent after the scandals, but a fact from which we seem to never learn the next time. These, among other things, have renewed my faith in God over this past year…and hopefully caused me do a backflip back over the shark…or something like that. ;) Has the church jumped the shark? Maybe not; but we’ve certainly put on the leather jacket and entered the water-skiing contest. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I fully believe that we have to stop making church into a god, we have to stop making servants and shepherds into rockstars, we have to stop making worship into a Coldplay show, and we have to start learning and obeying the Bible at face value rather than being “tossed to and fro by every new doctrine”, or in our case, every new podcast before it even has a chance to become doctrine. And this is coming from a guy who passionately lived those four follies, and finally took a step back towards just plain and simple…God.

Splendid.
Karl.

P.S. For clarification purposes, I have no problem with new and original takes on Biblical doctrine, provided the following: 1) that the goal for the doctrine remains to be true to the Bible as opposed to being new and original for the sake of being new and original, for the sake of shock value, or for the sake of YouTube ratings, 2) that new doctrine be researched, tested, and peer-reviewed much like it is in the academic world, rather than being “insta-authority”, 3) that logic, reason, and common sense prevail and that people would actually be encouraged to question new ideas rather than being chastised for opposing a thought from a famous personality, 4) that corporation and psychological ideals we happen to like (i.e. Meyers-Briggs) not be re-purposed with a quick Bible reference underneath, and 5) that the doctrine remains expository…i.e. “What is the Bible saying?” as opposed to “I want to say this, and what verses can I find to back it up.”

 

Here You Go, Way Too Fa-a-ast…

The perfectly hued lights cast shadows in all the most dramatic places on the worship leader’s face as it is stared at by thousands on the video screen as they chant the lyrics they know so well from who has been described by themselves as their favorite band from the cd being sold in the lobby, and the music swells to a screaming crescendo as the guitar player trem picks open the ears of heaven so at the perfect moment the worship leader can scream, “I must decrease so He can increase!” Downbeat stop lights out. Punch in full lights. And the crowd goes wild.

Curious culture we’ve made for ourselves.

Not all of it is bad, but I think we need to pull it back a bit and ground ourselves once again in who it is we’re worshiping, before we come to a crash. The most frightening thing is that if we don’t, I’m not even sure we’re going to realize it when we do crash.

Splendid.
Karl.