Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Awe (Revised Post)

Romans 1:18-23

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Romans 5:8
8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

This is going to be a long post. 

My son and I saw this recently:

After I watched this inspirational video extolling how fortuitous it is that we human beings evolved the ability to sense awe, to be awestruck, and what a benefit that ability is to our species, something finally fell into place for me.

What I discussed with my son after viewing the video with him was, “Why do you think we are capable of experiencing awe? Is it a fortuitous accident of biology? Is it just an experience to be sought for the sake of the experience? Why do you think it affects our brains as it seems to do? Is that just a fortuitous thing? Should it bother us that he claims they can measure biological benefits in our brains and our emotions and how we feel in response to being awestruck?” 

We are hard-wired, created even, to worship. How sad it is that this video which is meant to inspire fails to look high enough at the awesomeness the speaker thinks he’s appreciating. How depressing to consign it to mere evolutionary selection. How much more awesome to begin to understand that God created us to worship, gave us the ability to be awestruck. We are able to be awestruck at the incredible glory of the created world, and that ought to point us to the One who created such awesome beauty. If I am awestruck at a beautiful sunset or the Grand Canyon or at the wonder of the universe which we can only glimpse through our telescopes, how much more awesome and worthy of worship is the One who spoke these things into existence by the very power of His Word? If what we can see is so awe-inspiring, and we are capable of being awed by it, that ought to drive us to our knees in wonder at the immensity of the One who created it and instilled in us the very ability to be awed by it, and ever more so, by HIM

Taking this further, this awesome God, who hard-wired us to worship, not only spoke the universe and all it’s beauty and wonder into existence, He spoke revelation to us in His Word, in the Bible, that we might know Him. Not just to know that He is, but to actually know Him, know who He is and what He expects of us, and how to be reconciled to Him and to know His love for us and to be drawn into right relationship with Him, that we might express our awestruck wonder at His glory rightly. And not only that, this awesome God condescended to come down to us, put on human flesh and walk among us, fully God and fully man, God With Us, Immanuel, Jesus, and identified with His fallen and sinful and rebellious people. He fulfilled the law of righteousness that we have hopelessly broken, we wandering sheep who every one of us has gone astray. He Himself fulfilled that law for us. As Jesus, the Word made flesh, was dying on the cross, the perfect Lamb bearing the wrath we deserve because of our sin and rebellion and our refusal to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength in awe of who He is, cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” What amazing compassion and love He shows us!  Friends, the more you think on this, this is awesome, and worthy of our most serious attention.

Ponder deeply your sin, and when that causes you to tremble, look to the cross and ponder deeply the immensity of the love and mercy and grace that put Jesus there in your place to bear the penalty your sin deserves, and be struck with awe, truly awestruck that God would do such a thing while we were yet sinners, He died for us. And He rose again. To those who repent and believe this, He is the resurrection and the life! 

As I thought after watching that video and talking with my boy about how sad it is that what this speaker thinks is inspiring when he chooses to worship the fortuitous nature of evolutionary selection rather than turn to be struck with awe that we have such a gracious Creator who would even grant us the ability to worship Him and how short this video falls in understanding the true impact and nature of awe, what fell into place for me was that I finally realized what it is about so much of today’s brand of evangelicalism that is off the mark. 

We have lost our sense of awe.

Take, for example, so many of our conferences, concerts, retreats. Too often, I fear, we have exchanged emotionalism, sentimentalism, and experience for awe. So much of the time we think we haven’t worshiped if our emotions haven’t been whipped up into some kind of experience. We aren't convinced of the sufficiency of Scripture and are always looking, looking, looking for something more. There is an energy generated in rock concert like settings with lights and guitars and drums and performers on a stage all taking on the posture we expect that says, ‘worship,’ and lots of expectant audience members already emotionally prepped to ‘feel’ a certain feeling. But, honestly, if you don’t hear the words, the same experience can be had at a secular concert sometimes. Experiential emotional highs aren’t the same as being awestruck in true worship. 

What I mean is, we settle for emotionalism devoid of thinking. We allow shallow, repetitive, self-centered and often theologically off songs and teaching to be the bulk of what we fill our minds with and it never really gets our attention off of us and our ‘felt-needs’, never calls us to repentance, never deals with our sin, teaches us to demand our best life now and to love ourselves, but never really turns our attention to God in a way that engages our intellect to ponder how awesome He is, and we’re never really left awestruck over Him, but are left thinking about ourselves too much and Jesus too little, or, if we’re thinking about Jesus it’s to want what He can give us like a spoiled little kid wanting more stuff. Let’s face it, if your worship song can be confused with a love song to a boyfriend or girlfriend, you’ve missed it.

I think a lot of the arguing in the so-called ‘worship wars,’ misses the real point in arguing over styles of music. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a more modern sound to music or with drums and guitars in and of themselves. It’s the content of the stuff that’s a problem. With more modern sounding music, we left doctrinal soundness in a whole lot of cases, and what scares me is that so many of us don’t seem to miss it or to even care as long as we ‘like’ the music or the teaching makes us feel good. I really don’t see that a more modern feel to the music has to reduce it doctrinally, but that’s, unfortunately, where we are now with a lot of it, and the teaching in books and from a lot of our ‘celebrity’ pastors has also been reduced to sound-bite feel-goodisms and pop psychology without much true and in depth biblical instruction and right application in a lot of cases, and we evangelicals are suffering for it. We wonder why so very many evangelical youth leave the faith? They probably never had it to begin with. They probably didn’t hear the gospel preached explicitly and applied often and well. I’m sorry if that’s harsh. I believe it’s the truth.

To be awestruck by our God is to be in awe of who He is and what He has done in creation and in the Gospel, and it is to love Him because He has first loved us. It doesn’t stop with, “He loves me, loves me, loves me, I love Him, love Him, love Him.” WHY do we love Him? Who is He? What is the gospel? Yes, He loves us, Oh, how He loves us! But it's not a gushy sentimental love, it is love that doesn't leave us in our sin, but makes us whole and counts us righteous because of what Jesus has done so that we can truly love Him. It's a love that draws us into true communion and fellowship with this awesome God. We have lost our sense of awe when we dumb down our songs and our preaching and our doctrine. We only begin to be in awe of Him when we are encouraged and led to ponder who He is and what He has done in a real and biblical way. It’s not so much that our modern praise songs or preachers are necessarily saying wrong things about God, they just aren’t saying much at all, and that’s where I think we miss the mark. We rely on great guitar solos and harmonies and emotional singers and much repetition to generate a mood and sound-bite, shallow teaching that glosses over sin and doesn’t dig deep and rightly into the Word rather than inform our intellect to respond to the greatness of our God.

And I’m not only talking about music. You know how I’m always going on about cutesy/stupid church signs? Hello. How in the world are we to expect the lost and dying world to take us or our message seriously when we demonstrate so blatantly that the church isn’t in awe of God by being so very flippant and silly about Him on our public signs out front and in the goofy and heretical things we blindly forward in e-mails and on our Facebook pages? Let us not mistake comfort, good feelings, sentimentalism, and emotionally charged music and teaching for worship. If it’s about me and how I feel and we don’t get past that, we haven’t yet turned our gaze where we ought to and are in danger of breaking the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me.”

When was the last time you were left trembling when you really thought about who God is, and how incredible it is that He would love you and draw you to Himself and cleanse you from sin so you can love and worship Him? 

See, we are created to worship. A rocking concert, while it may be fun and okay in its place, very seldom leaves us with a true and right sense of awe. I’m not saying ALL modern songs and preachers are that shallow, that NONE point us toward awe because there are a few good ones to be found once in a while, and when we do we are wise to think about what we’re singing or reading or hearing and apply it, not just gobble up whatever has a Christian label on it without engaging the idea behind the words and taking it to heart. But seriously, I think we rely on the emotionalism of a super worship concert driven by the energy of a crowd who desperately want to feel something to instill in us an emotional experience way too often. 

We’ll either worship God, or we’ll substitute music, sports, people, celebrities, pop culture, politics, creation, or even a certain type of emotion or experience, or something else, because we are wired for awe. Let’s make sure when we enjoy God’s good creation or good music or art or whatever it is that moves us that we let it turn our affections to Him and not stop and settle for less. Let's make sure we are not seeking an emotional high or sentimentalism more than we are seeking God Himself . How is it that we are often emotionally charged by something we enjoy but are not truly in awe of the God we want to worship? Take a hard look and it will break your heart. At least, I hope so. 

I suspect that much of what we call worship isn’t really worship of God at all. Many of our songs, preaching, books are too much about us and our feelings and wants and desire for a good life now and not nearly enough about Jesus. We want to feel good, but do we really, truly love and want Jesus? Do we treasure HIM? We want heaven, but do we want the One who makes heaven heaven? We spend too much time demanding our best life now and way too little thinking and being completely awestruck by the immensity of the awesome grace of our God who loved us while we were yet sinners, and died for us. Again, I’m pointing my fingers at myself and I am guilty. I need this message, too. My heart breaks at how much I need this message, too.

I have sometimes found myself singing ‘worship’ songs, and stopping in the middle and praying, “Lord, are you pleased at all with this?” I want desperately to worship Jesus in spirit and in truth. I don’t want my ‘worship’ to be something that in actuality dishonors Him because I focus too much on my self-esteem and too little on treasuring Him for who He is and the great love and compassion He showers on us. I want to be awestruck by His glory. I want to be faithful, because He has saved me from my wretched sin. 

We desperately need to recapture a deep and abiding and biblically high view of preaching and worship. We need to be deeply in His Word, properly preaching the gospel - conviction of sin before holy God and repentance and faith in Jesus alone. Instead of being cute or talking about how we feel about God, we need to be teaching ourselves and others His word and helping people to understand who He is rightly so that we and they can be drawn to worship Him in Spirit and truth. We need both. I’m convinced that if we rightly understand how awesome God is and how kind and loving He is, we won’t have to work to gin up emotion. We will be moved to worship Him, by His Spirit working in us as our understanding is opened through His word.

Our God is awesome and holy and He has saved us to do the works He has prepared for us to do. Let’s honor the gift He gave us in the ability to be awestruck and turn our attention to Him and allow our awe of Him to stir us up and encourage one another to share His message with a lost and dying world. 


Kay said...

Very well said, my friend! I have come to the (unpopular and unspoken) conclusion that churches would be much better off if music were excluded from the title 'worship'. And perhaps even excluded, period. It would cause men and women that would shout from the rooftop during a song to have to be still and seek the God they dance and sing and 'feel good' about. I know that's an unpopular stance, but like you, I struggle with where things are going...on so many levels.

Rebekah said...

Thanks, Kay! I can totally see that point. I do think music is a gift and it is a good gift. I just wish we'd be more careful when we choose our worship songs to be sure our worship music is reverent and points us away from our shallow self-centeredness and toward our God. Music can be very effective in helping us worship when it is biblically sound, and there is good stuff out there. I think we rely too heavily on certain worship music 'artists' and try to sound just like them because we 'felt' so moved at a conference or listening to their 'worship' CDs. I just wish we didn't think we had to turn worship services into rock concerts in order to 'feel' like we've worshiped. I do wonder how much of the dancing and shouting, etc. is more in response to just liking the excitement of the music and not so much in what we're supposedly singing about. I was watching a Youtube video of a song from the Passion conference, and watching the people on the stage just felt off to me. It feels contrived, not real. And as I listened to the words of the song, I kept thinking, "I don't even know what that means! But they sure are emotional singing it!" I'm not saying they aren't really worshiping - I don't know their hearts. But it feels contrived, like, if we are emotional up here and feeding off the energy of all the people here who want to feel something, then surely what we feel is worship. That contrived emotion feels like we are trying too hard to generate a certain mood, and I just think it's dangerous because then they start to worship the mood itself and when they come home and don't feel that intensity in every single worship service, then they start saying things like, "Why isn't God speaking and moving here?" And that's because they start equating that hyped up emotion with worship. So, yeah, I don't like the way things are going, either. :-/