Lost the Plot

What are we doing?

It’s a good question to ask ourselves from time to time. Few people start off wanting to move away from the central point of glorifying God. Instead, it happens almost imperceptibly. And if we continue to fail to train ourselves to stop and look around every so often and honestly question why we’re doing the things we do, that imperceptible drift becomes almost inevitable.

This may be old news to a lot of you, but a few days ago I somehow came across an interview from a few years back, talking about the Newsboys scandal of the late ’90′s. The article is linked to there if you want to read it rather than me explaining it, because if I went through something like that, I’d want to be able to tell it in my own words too, rather than having the story told in someone else’s words around the internet. The important part is that one of the members became involved in illicit sin, was asked to leave, and then the official statement was that he was leaving to do church ministry. (Thank God that that is in the past, and He seems to have restored the folks involved.) Ironically, around that same time, they released a song containing these lyrics:

“Are You still listening
Because we’re obviously not.
We’ve forgotten our first love
We have lost the plot.”

Now I’m not really a Newsboys fan. I remember owning some albums in the ’90′s, mostly due to the fact that I was 10 years old, and 10-year-old little boys from Christian families listen to the Newsboys. I have to admit still listening to those ’90′s albums; I’m not sure if it’s because I subconsciously associate them with my childhood, because Jody Davis is a fantastically tasteful guitarist when they let him play, or because ‘Going Public’ is basically U2′s ‘Zooropa’ with more compression and overtly Christian lyrics. Probably a little bit of all of those. But I do know for sure that part of the reason is lyrics like those above. Not every song had them…but some of the ones that Steve Taylor helped write, had an honesty found often in the Psalms, and not often in Christian music.

Interestingly enough, in the article I linked to, the former Newsboys member refers a couple times to ‘losing the plot.’ I checked the liner notes, and he did not have a hand in writing or singing that particular song. But perhaps it was making an impact on him as he left. And it’s making an impact on me, or rather bringing to point something that has been brewing for a while. The last couple years for me have seen a lot of church scandal, both locally and nationally. Leaders who have failed. Pastors who have done the unthinkable. People wrecked with doubt over believing themselves to be have been healed of an ailment by someone, only to find out later that while they were healed, that person had had a secret life contrary to God. And then to combat that ever-growing doubt, we scramble to get closer to God, to bring on more elders, to increase accountability, to change our church by-laws…etc., etc., etc. And I’m glad we do that. But statistically, it’s not really working to bring about less scandal.

David slept with Bathsheba, and thousands of years later, despite our most valiant (and I mean that sincerely) efforts, nothing has changed. This has really hit home for me in the past two years, as I’ve seen six churches within my home town go through this. Mega-churches. Mid-sized churches. And small churches. Non-denominational and ultra-denominational. All the things that I’ve said over the years…’Well, that’s the problem with the charismatic church’, or ‘Well, that’s the problem with a congregationally-run church’…they just don’t matter. I’ve seen it happen everywhere.

And as I got to thinking about it, I started to wonder if this will ever change. Meaning, as long as we live in a sinful world, will this ever change? What if Peter had been the pastor of a church? His church would’ve melted after he denied Christ publicly. Moses killed a dude. Abraham slept with his servant. James and John wanted to be at Jesus’ left and right hands. All things that perhaps would’ve disqualified these guys from ministry for at the very least a few years by our current standards.

For those of you getting a little worried about me after that last paragraph, don’t worry; this is not the point where I say, ‘Well…everyone fails, nothing you can do about it, so let’s live and let live and keep on preaching the Gospel!’ Not in the slightest. We live in a real world where there are consequences that God has set up for some very good reasons. Pastor embezzles money? I’m gonna have a hard time giving money to that church. Elder mistreats and neglects his wife? I can’t send my younger friends to him for pre-marital counseling. Rockstar sleeps around? Gonna have a real hard time listening to him sing about the contentment found in Christ alone. Real world consequences, real world stepping out of ministry. It’s just how it is.

But…this is the point where I talk about our culture’s fascination with church leaders, church rockstars, church authors. See, if history has taught us anything, it’s that people will fail. Christian leaders absolutely not excluded. And that brings consequences for those people. The issue is, that it also brings consequences for hundreds, thousands, millions of people around them. The scandal is not that someone sinned. The scandal is that people were trusting this person not to sin. This person was romanticized, made into a hero, thought to be above sin, looked to for answers and purpose, and then they crashed and burned, wrecking all our hopes and faith along with them. And that is what I believe needs to change: a culture where we look to people instead of God.

Of course, we don’t often put this into words. If someone asked us why we went to church, we would say for God. But this culture of subtle hero worship is defined not through our words, but through our actions. For instance, I quite often hear, ‘Ah man. Did you hear what Chan said in his latest podcast?’ And let’s be clear, nothing against speakers with podcasts. Those are great. But, and I could be way off here, if what he said made a lasting impact on your spiritual life, wouldn’t you be more apt to say, ‘Ah, man. I can’t believe what I learned about God this week!’ It’s a subtle difference, but if the podcast and the pastor are only the means to the end of glorifying God, wouldn’t we have just a few less instances of people getting excited about the means, and a few more instances of people getting excited about the end result? In many ways, Christianity has become slightly less about people loving God, and slightly more about a passion or a hobby. Some people like the Denver Broncos, and discuss all things relating to football; but not for the end result of playing football…just simply because they’re a football fan. Others like listening to preachers on podcast and discussing all things related to ministry and theology; but not for the end result of how that theology can help us glorify God more…just simply because they’re a Christian. And if we were a little less hero-focused, and a little more God-focused, I think we wouldn’t necessarily have to change what we say, but that what we say would flow naturally from the fact that we’re not viewing these preachers as anything more than guys trying to get us closer to God. And I’m going to assume that the majority of these preachers would agree (hopefully), and would be overjoyed to see their names ‘trending’ less on Twitter, but the Godly concepts they helped bring to light, trending more.

Another thing I hear quite often is, ‘Dude! That Hillsong concert rocked!’ or ‘The new Elevation Church album was so epic!’ Again, nothing wrong with that. Hillsong, thank you for rocking the concert, and Elevation Church, thank you for epicly producing another album. I just think that if the focus were worship of God, you’d hear a lot more often than you do, ‘Dude! I’ve never worshiped God so freely before’ or ‘Last night I just sat in my room, turned on this album, and lost myself in prayer. It was epic.’ And I just don’t hear those things too often. I hear so much about the heroes, who are supposed to be…if I can use a very Christian metaphor here…the donkey on which Jesus rides into Jerusalem. That’s our role, and the role of all Christian celebrities, or heroes, or whatever you want to call them. The plot is about Jesus. And we are supposed to celebrate Jesus. And we pay upwards of $40 to celebrate Him sometimes. I’m not saying paid worship concerts are bad; but we market them as worship with posters of people lifting their hands to God, all the lyrics are pointing towards God, we call it a worship concert, but then we pay $40 to see a band. If that’s for entertainment, or art that’s God-centered, then cool. But if you market it as worship, then we should probably be attending in order to simply worship, should talk afterwards about God and not the band, and pay our $40 as an offering to help pay for the band’s gas or plane ticket. And if it is all about worshiping, then maybe we have to ask ourselves why we spent $40 instead of just going to a local church worship night for free. So maybe it’s not exactly all about worshiping, and is somewhat about the band and the celebrities. Which is not sinful or wrong, and maybe that band does give a great experience where you can let go and worship God; but a $40 experience? If it’s the presence of God we’re looking for, I think He’s also at the local church worship night, our late night Bible-reading, our visiting a friend in the hospital, or in taking care of a wife or family who may need us. We might need to admit that these paid concerts are for more than just God’s presence. Which could be fine…I’m all for concerts, and it’s not bad or sinful to enjoy a worship band for art’s sake, or entertainment’s sake with a positive message; but it does go to help prove the point that we do tend to be a very celebrity-driven culture, and church culture.

It is this very celebrity-driven culture within churches that causes people to become so wrecked after church scandals. Rather, what if we all saw each other as human, and somberly prepared for these scandals? And definitely dealt with them Biblically when they arose, but also were so real about them, that we set church and Christian culture up differently so that everything did not rest upon the charisma of one person, or one worship band, or one movement? But it rested upon Christ alone, and the glorification of Him as the main plot, which everything else supported. Ironically, we might even see less scandals. Worship albums, Christian books, podcasts, pastors, paid worship concerts…keep them all, if you want. But keep them in their proper place of mere support beams for this glorification of a huge God of which we may have lost sight. Nobody starts off wanting to replace God with a concert, or a person, or a culture. But as we use these things with good intentions to glorify God, sometimes they become all God is to us. And that needs to change. It’s a subtle shift in our mindset. But a shift that puts God back in His rightful place in our lives and our culture, and downgrades people, celebrities, and ideas to tools in the quest to love and glorify that God, is a shift that could have universal consequences.

“Once we could follow,
Now we cannot.
You would not fit our image,
So we lost the plot.

Once we could hear you,
Now our senses are shot.
We’ve forgotten our first love.
We have lost the plot.

When I saw You for the first time
You were hanging with a thief
And I knew my hands were dirty,
And I dropped my gaze.
Then You said I was forgiven
And You welcomed me with laughter.
I was happy ever after.
I was counting the days
When You’d come back again.
We’ll be waiting for You
When You comin’ back again?
We’ll be ready for You
Maybe we’ll wake up when…
Maybe we’ll wake up when
You come back again.

Lies.
Let’s be blunt.
We’re a little unfaithful.
What do you want?

Are You still listening?
‘Cause we’re obviously not
We’ve forgotten our first love
We have lost the plot.

And why are You still calling?
You forgave, we forgot.
We’re such experts at stalling
That we’ve lost the plot.
Lost the plot.”

As always, I’m a person; so as such, this could be dead wrong. But I think there’s some merit to it. I’m not against any of this stuff; on the contrary, I’m for it in it’s proper place…with the glorification of Christ alone as its purpose. The plot is God’s glory, and if we don’t like the answer to the question of ‘What are we doing?’, then it may be time that we, myself included, brought Him back into it.

Karl.

34 thoughts on “Lost the Plot

  1. I think you’re spot on Karl. I’ve had experiences, not quite like the Newsboys singer, but suffice it to say my life has fallen apart in a Christian community, and been built back up. And now I am happily involved in a community again, but sometimes find that I am doing lots of things, i.e ministry, but not stopping and listening to God. And I wonder what separates my current experience from my previous life, where I was totally away from God. Back then it was outright deeds of wickedness, now it is subtle self-righteousness, self-deception–but they are both offensive to God. I’ve found that it has to do with what we’re willing to lose, what we’re willing to hold up before God with open hands, to let him take away. When I’m not willing to do that, I get locked in to a slow course towards destruction. It’s like driving on railroad tracks (those special cars they have for that), and there’s no turning off of it, because no matter where it leads, it leads to death, and not life.

    I find it interesting that that guy was so well-known, yet so little known, i.e. so alone. I remember reading an interview Jennifer Knapp gave not that long ago, and if I recall correctly, she had a similar sense of loneliness.

    Anyway, all this also reminds me of what the Desert Fathers used to say, “He today, I tomorrow.” Some humility keeps us grounded, realizing that none of the growth is from us, but rather, is a gift from God.

  2. To bring more perspective, I grew up in Nashville and one of my buddies lived this house and had a backyard that touched the backyard of John James’ house. We saw him mow his grass! (right at the time of the Take Me to Your Leader album).
    That little community felt broken as well, yet upheld him in prayer. It was a very interesting, touching time.

  3. Good stuff. You pretty much summed up the Old Testament. Adam messed it up. Noah, drunk and naked, just like Adam. Abraham… Could the guy work any harder to give away the means of God’s blessings? David and his sons after him… The whole purpose of the OT is the brokenness of humanity and need for Christ. The step that you made – that we need to make more often – was to see our day as a reflection of the OT, also pointing toward Christ. How easily we forget…

  4. I used to put that song on repeat during road trips.

    Your post is also right on … we’re definitely at a dangerously consumer-driven stage of American (Western? Can only speak from what I see) Christianity right now. There are definitely exceptions, but the overall landscape can be pretty scary. Not only does it hurt the church internally when a leader falls, but it further damages her witness to the watching world. If blasphemy means misrepresenting God, making light of Him, dragging His name through the mud … who is more guilty of blasphemy, the people poking fun at Christianity or God in movies/TV shows/etc or today’s cultural Christianity?

  5. “a culture where we look to people instead of God.” We are all so fragile when we are left to our own devices. How can we love without the love of God. How can we accomplish anything that matters without knowing the heart of our Savior. Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit (we need a culture shift to Him away from our “heroes”) we might as well just eat, drink and be merry. We are all in a special band. We are the instruments at the forefront of God’s army. May God guard our hearts and minds to not lose “the plot”. Be blessed and don’t be afraid to use the voice that He so graciously has given us.
    Bret

  6. Sal–absolutely agree. :)

    Caleb–great comment! I too tend to struggle with those inward prideful sins, which can be just as bad if not worse than the outward ones. Thanks for sharing that, brother.

    Larry–I’m glad the community was able to support him through that. Must’ve been a difficult time for sure.

    Andrew–so true…how easily we forget. We’ve got a lot of examples in the Bible, and then we still forget, and think our situation is different from any ever experienced. Our need for grace is huge.

    Rapha–great post, and I totally agree. Overall, we are definitely fairly hero-driven in our church culture. And I agree on the misrepresentation of God in media…even sometimes from the ones claiming to represent Him.

    Matt–thanks, man.

    Dhbret–great point as well. We need to be closer to the heart of God, and further away from all these things first invented to get us closer, but that have now come to at times take His place.

  7. When you titled your post after one of my favorite modern prophetic calls, I knew you would not disappoint. You did not.

    Thank you for saying what needs to be said, Karl. The heart of God is grieved over our self-elevation, and weeps for our return to worship in spirit and truth.

  8. Karl,

    This was exactly Paul’s point in 1 Cor 10.

    Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. (1 Cor 10:11)

  9. Very well put. I tried to help a church plant move away from the worship leader stage set up once and they just didn’t understand what I was trying to do. I think what you mention also brings up a problem with “Ageism” or however someone will decide to spell it. I never like the idea of pushing away elders that are worship leaders just because someone thinks they need a younger look.

  10. Ok first things first, Newsboys were and still are one of my favorite bands (and no I’m not a 10 year old).
    Now that the mood is lightened. I found myself struggling with “enjoying” worship as it felt like I was not treating it with proper reverence. I read Desiring God by John Piper and realized that we are made to enjoy worshiping and serving him. There should be a gap between Christian Pop music and Worship. It is fine to be entertained by a Christian artist for entertainment sake. That said we should enjoy worship, not be entertained by it. As worship leaders/facilitators we should strive to insure that our worship is enjoyable and not just entertaining.
    As far as stumbling, I believe that the fact that it is seen as the norm is alarming. We should live to higher standard and be set apart. The fact that we are human and are prone to fall should not make it “ok”.

    Lost the Plot is both one of my favorite songs and a great title for a generation brought up on do what ever feels and right and deal with the consequences later.

    Matt

  11. the harder we try, the harder we will fail. it’s inevitable … but by living under the grace of God daily, we can live this life without worry of failures.

    great post bro!

  12. It’s like we are setting up bands and people as modern day idols. The thing is, we don’t even relise it.

    Speaking from experience, sometimes we (I) substituted things that appeared “godly” for God.

  13. Rich Mullins was so conscious of this back in the 80′s/90′s and spoke publicly about it. He said, “What musicians do is they put together chords and rhythms and melodies. So if you want entertainment I suggest Christian entertainment because I think it’s good. But if you want spiritual nourishment I suggest you go to church or read your bible or something. And let this [i.e., this performance] entertain you, but look beyond this for what you really need in life.”

    Also, he said, “It’s so funny being a Christian musician. It always scares me when people think so highly of Christian music, Contemporary Christian music especially. Because I kinda go, I know a lot of us, and we don’t know jack about anything. Not that I don’t want you to buy our records and come to our concerts. I sure do. But you should come for entertainment. If you really want spiritual nourishment, you should go to church…you should read the Scriptures.

    I always liked those quotes.

    Great post Karl.

  14. Thanks for reminding me of this song. I have all lyrics memorized of the Newsboys albums. (Yes, I think Taylor put the bite in the lyrics.)

    God, help us set our eyes on You.

    @nate – that is a great Mullins quote. So important to remember the diff of the genres “entertainment” and “nourishment.” So wise.

  15. I have to admit that I had to look up the song on youtube. I thought I was too cool for newsboys at that age when it came out. Great lyrics.
    Isn’t it amazing how many of us miss the stories and deep meanings behind what so many of what our favourite songwriters and authors say? We recognize that we like them but we are not sure why. Perhaps the seeds of truth in those words resonate with what God is trying to say to us.
    The longer I do this journey, the more I realize that we are responsible for ourselves and that we should struggle and wrestle and surround ourselves with those who have gone further down the road if we hope to do so ourselves.
    I’m going to take Rich Mullen’s advice and stop now and go and read the Word instead.
    (You might be interested in this blog on Mystery and doubt http://vickybeeching.com/blog/return-to-mystery/ and the ensuing discussion about what we are following. )

  16. Great post, Karl. And, Nate, thanks for the Mullins quotes.

    We have 4 Christian radio stations where I live, and 2 of the stations feel like (at least to me) Christian entertainment, while the other 2 feel like worship. I think they both serve a purpose, but I’ve only recently realized that there is a significant difference.

  17. 2 Kings 2:19-25
    New King James Version (NKJV)

    19 Then the men of the city said to Elisha, “Please notice, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees; but the water is bad, and the ground barren.”

    20 And he said, “Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. 21 Then he went out to the source of the water, and cast in the salt there, and said, “Thus says the Lord: ‘I have healed this water; from it there shall be no more death or barrenness.’” 22 So the water remains healed to this day, according to the word of Elisha which he spoke.

    23 Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up the road, some youths came from the city and mocked him, and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!”

    24 So he turned around and looked at them, and pronounced a curse on them in the name of the Lord. And two female bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.

    25 Then he went from there to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.

  18. Exceprt from Matthew Henry’s Commentary:

    Now in this, (1.) The prophet must be justified, for he did it by divine impulse. Had the curse come from any bad principle God would not have said Amen to it. We may think it would have been better to have called for two rods for the correction of these children than two bears for the destruction of them. But Elisha knew, by the Spirit, the bad character of these children. He knew what a generation of vipers those were, and what mischievous enemies they would be to God’s prophets if they should live to be men, who began so early to be abusive to them. He intended hereby to punish the parents and to make them afraid of God’s judgments. (2.) God must be glorified as a righteous God, that hates sin, and will reckon for it, even in little children. Let the hideous shrieks and groans of this wicked wretched brood make our flesh tremble for fear of God. Let little children be afraid of speaking wicked words, for God notices what they say.

  19. Justin–thanks, man. And I totally agree.

    Andrew–cool, thanks. :)

    James–hmm, great point on ageism. I find this to be one of the saddest things going on in modern churches. We’re more than happy to take their tithes, especially as they are usually the more consistent tithers, but we’d really prefer not to have them on our worship dvd recordings.

    Matt–great stuff! Yep, it’s very sad when stumbling becomes the norm and we’re okay with it. I do however, believe that we should not live in a vacuum. There is a balance I think that allows us to deal swiftly and firmly with stumbling, while still not setting up a system that places all of its faith and trust in a person who may be prone to stumble. And I love what you said about pop and worship music! I absolutely agree that Christian music and Christian worship music should be two different things. They’re not right now, because worship is what is selling. Great comment, bro!

    Rhoy–thanks, man! Love what you said about grace.

    Sam–ah, great stuff. We certainly love what feels ‘Godly’, and often do not take the time to look at what ‘Godly’ means, or the logic behind ‘Godly’ only being desirable because of the root, ‘God.’

    Nate–wow, that’s great stuff from Rich Mullins. Thanks for posting that!! I remember that coming crashing down on me when I got to college, and found my old MxPx cd’s…guys that I had looked to for spiritual mentorship through their music and lyrics in my junior high days. And I saw the pictures of them and some of the stuff they said, and realized that these were just some high school kids who grew up in church and put a band together. But I had looked to them as pastors, due to their spotlight features in CCM magazine and such.

    David–totally. I have a hard time getting into Steve Taylor’s music anymore, but I continue to put his albums in every once in a while because they always convict me really hard.

    Mark–I agree, we can definitely miss the meaning…often because we’re not really looking for one. I know for me, because I’m too interested in what pedal he’s using for that sound under the lyrics. :)

    Kyle–totally! I’m in absolute agreement. Nothing wrong with Christian entertainment. Maybe something wrong with Christian worship that does more entertaining than worshiping, yet still uses the worship of God as its marketing centerpoint.

    Caleb and Kyle–sorry…I probably should’ve used a less controversial passage as an example. Some commentators use a bunch of translations and research to explain that the kids were not kids but older, and Elisha was justified. Others say that this was wrong of Elisha, but God still granted the prophet’s request. I do appreciate your guys’ bringing this point up, and as I’d prefer this post to stand alone on its issue, rather than on the separate issue of Elisha and the bears, lol, I’ve edited the post.

    Thanks, guys. And feel free to continue discussing that, but I’d hate for folks to miss the point of the post due to my poor choice of examples. That’s bad writing on my part. :) For what it’s worth, here’s a couple slightly differing/conflicting commentaries:

    http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2010/11/12/feedback-elisha-little-children-and-bears

    http://www.evidenceforchristianity.org/how-can-it-be-ok-for-elisha-to-call-down-bears-to-maul-42-children-for-calling-him-baldy/

  20. @Karl – I saw that there was a Steve Taylor tribute album out. Starflyer59 did a track, as well as some others… maybe that will make the good lyrics have a better candy shell. 80′s post-punk is tough to listen to…

  21. Great post Karl. You’ve put in words what I’ve been feeling lately – far better than I ever could have. Absolutely spot on. I wish I could get all my church friends to read this. Thanks for saying what needed to be said.

  22. Such a great post, I appreciate your ability to point out the Church’s areas for growth without condemnation. This blog is great – keep em coming

  23. Caleb–ha! Thanks, man.

    Kyle–sure, bro! Thanks for yours as well.

    David–right on! I think I’d heard of that one and then forgotten. Definitely gonna listen. Starflyer is still really good. They get better with age for me. :)

    Justin–I’ll have to check that one out too!

    MikeZA–thanks, man. That’s hugely encouraging to know that others are feeling this same way. I feel like things need to change.

    Art–thanks so much, bro!!

  24. I probably lost the plot… But I was just on TGP looking at the “worship boards” and I almost threw up everywhere from some of the… artwork?… on some of the boards. I won’t point fingers, because I might hurt people’s feelings… But… If I ever become a walking cliche, guys, you have the right to come, knock on my door, and punch me in the face. Thank you for your time.

    Also, Karl, I had never read that story before. Thanks for sharing. I like it a lot. Subsequently, I’ve also been seeing the term “lost/losing the plot” pop out ALL over this week.

  25. Thanks, bro. And I agree with ya on some boards, sometimes mine included. I’m really hoping that God is doing something in us as a whole in regards to our losing the plot. :)

  26. Thanks man. That’s really encouraging. I’m hoping changes are on the horizon, and if we can be a part of bringing them, then I’m hoping for it.

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