Lights, Camera, God’s Presence

I read this comment on a report that caught my attention and made me consider some important issues regarding worship and connecting with God.

The sensory experience in many Charismatic churches is amazing.  Special lighting,
smoke, amazing sound and musicians, and video feed showing beautiful scenes accompanying our worship songs help our senses to focus on the Spiritual realms of God. These things help stimulate our emotions as well as endorphins in our brain that release pleasurable sensations.  Our emotions should be aimed at, and help us experience God.  Yet there can be a downside to this if we don’t equip people to connect with God beyond the meeting and the sensory help.

Understand that I am not an old naysayer who is advocating old or traditional ways of
worship from yesteryear. As a recently saved college student who was raised in a secular home (who attended my share of rock concerts), I helped lead a church into new expressions of charismatic worship.  I was a drummer, and we helped a church transition from singing traditional hymns from a songbook with one old piano, to a full-blown charismatic worship band leading great worship services.  I loved it and have never looked back.

That type of worship was rare in those days with only “new” churches experiencing it.  Now it seems as if everyone has jumped on the Charismatic worship style bandwagon. There is a wide proliferation of media and the arts being expressed in them which is wonderful.   If you want to be an “in church” you need to incorporate Charismatic worship styles, loud music, great lighting, video feeds, and trendy music.

Video feeds, smoke machines, special lighting, and loud music are helpful in connecting with God but they aren’t essential.

I love all those things but am also aware of a potential deficiency.  If those external sensory helps are the only way someone can experience the “tangible presence” of God then we are missing something important. Connecting with God in a real way must transcend all those external helps.  Worship and connecting with God is something that must go beyond the sensory and emotional sway of great music, lights, technology, and even coffee (Yikes!).  Emotions are emotions, but our connection with God and worship must be founded in Him alone.

Consider what the writer of Hebrews says about our connection with God

Hebrews 13:15-16 Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. (16) Don’t forget to do good things for others and to share what you have with them. These are the kinds of sacrifices that please God.

Note the attributes of worship from this passage.

  • giving thanks from our lips in all circumstances
  • doing good things in serving others
  • sharing with those who have needs

This type of connection says nothing about our senses being stirred.  Of course, it doesn’t mention loud music, smoke machines, video feeds, or special lighting to help us “feel His tangible presence.”  While these things can be helpful, they aren’t essential.

We must realize that sometimes our emotions don’t tell the truth.

I love it when my emotions are on board with praising God and sensing His presence.  I love it when I am motivated to serve others and feel a sense of satisfaction in doing so. But sometimes my emotions are not on board with those things, and sometimes they are even against it.  If it happens occasionally on a Sunday morning, what about the rest of the week?  I can’t call for a couple of hundred people, a loud worship band, video feeds, and smoke machines to orient my senses to God.  My life of worship must be bigger than that.

Consider some of the Biblical heroes of faith and God’s “tangible presence” 

Abraham:  Abraham probably didn’t feel much of the “tangible presence of God” when he climbed the mountain as he contemplated sacrificing the promised son for whom he waited so long.  I am sure his emotions were all over the map, but he obeyed as an “act of worship” (Gen 22:5).

Great men and women of God were not guided by their emotions, instead THEY GUIDE THEIR EMOTIONS like David did.  “Why are you cast down, O my soul and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5)

Job:  Job probably didn’t feel very tingly with God’s presence when he was sitting in the ash heap, scraping boils with pieces from a clay pot as he reflected on the children and possessions he had lost.  I am sure his emotions were running in different directions while rebutting his wife’s suggestions “are you still trying to hold onto what you believe, your integrity, your principles, curse God and die (Job 2:9).”  Yet Job trusted and obeyed as an act of worship with the mindset “though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.”

Paul:  How about Paul when he was beaten 5 times with 39 lashes, spending a night and day in the ocean after being shipwrecked, or in all the “frequent dangers” (2 Cor 11:24-33)?  There was no worship team, special lighting, or loud music to help him “feel God.”  Yet he continued in faith, offered the fruit of worship both in giving thanks and living as a sacrifice.

Stephen:  Stephen had a view of heaven and saw Jesus (Acts 7:54-60), then was stoned to death. Did His vision cause him to avoid pain?  Did he still feel the stones?  Of course, but he still gave his life as worship.

Let us make sure we are pursuing a connection with, and worship of God that is not dependent on all the sensory help.   This includes pursuing a life of worship and prayer that goes way beyond an hour or two in a corporate gathering with all the external sensory help.  Cultivate and discipline yourself for that connection in your private prayer life with God.

Romans 12:1…because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer.

PS:  There was a great sociological research study released by Katie E. Corcoran titled “God is like a drug” that describes the sensory phenomenon in a positive light.  It is worth a review.





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Pursuing a Platform or a Stage

We live in an online world of instant, but fleeting fame.  With the right 4-minute video going viral or a creative post people can become an overnight sensation.  People can develop a rising online addiction to the number of “views” or “likes” that gives positive feelings of significance or importance.

We even see it on trips or vacations (I just returned from one).  People used to define success or satisfaction based on the fond reflections and memories they carried as they came home from the trip.  Now the definition of success or satisfaction can subtly be affected by the number of “likes” or “views”  we get on the continual pictures we post.  Was it a good vacation…yeah we had hundreds of likes on all our pictures!

No one wants to live their life anonymously (no one’s ultimate goal in life is for no one to know they exist).  There is a God-designed element in us for significance but it must ultimately be rooted in Christ.   We want to live our lives in such a way that people do see Jesus in and through us.  We must be careful that we don’t confuse significance with current ideas of success.

Philippians 2:4-5  Don’t be concerned only about your own interests, but also be concerned about the interests of others.  (5)  Have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

A Platform or a Stage

People that genuinely begin to follow Jesus based on His amazing love and sacrifice start out with Christ-centered intentions and want to make Him known.  These Christ-centered intentions can get sidetracked with just an ounce of success or admiration taken the wrong direction.

I have been thinking about the difference between the idea of a platform or a stage.  A platform in its most Godly sense is a place of influence to communicate the goodness of God to others.  It may be our talents, a job, a position, or something that gives us influence with others. It isn’t about making admirers or followers of us, but admirers and followers of Jesus.

A stage, on the other hand, can be more about the admiration of others and followers of us.  It is a self-promotion that was the root of Satan’s original sin (Is 14:12-15).  He has been tempting mankind with it ever since.   C.S. Lewis, expressed it well in The Great Divorce, “Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from the love of the thing he tells, to the love of telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about him.”

C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, “Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from the love of the thing he tells, to the love of telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about him.”

Self-focus is Spiritually Dangerous

Anytime we get overly self-focused it leads to dangerous ground.  A couple of years ago my wife and I were taking a boat tour on the River Walk in San Antonio, TX, when our guide told us something that was very culturally revealing, “12 people had to be rescued from the river this summer because they walked into the river while staring at their smartphones.” Another revealing statistic I recently came across was from research released by Carnegie Mellon University (releasing a report at the end of 2016 indicating that 127 people had died in the past few years taking selfies).

Using God-given platforms and avoiding them becoming a self-promoting stage can be greatly helped by the acid test for loving God which is genuinely caring about, and loving others.  We all know His great love for us seen in John 3:16, but our love in return must be linked to the acid test of 1 John 3:16  “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”  One of the ways we love God and others is to help them come into all that God intends for them.

If we are truly affected by John 3:16 it will be evident by obeying 1 John 3:16 “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”

Myth of the “Self-Made Man

There is no such thing as a self-made man.  Woven into the creation order is our need of others.  Beginning with our conception and life in the womb we have a built in reliance on others to survive and succeed. Consider someone’s relational biography. Do your own. A relational biography describes people God has used to get others where they are today. If it is done in an objective manner we will be amazed how the influence of other people over the years has been essential to us getting where we are.  People are the main source of supply God used in our lives (Eph 4:16, Col 2:19).

If you are a Christian, someone, or several someones, helped you get to the place you are in God. They brought the message of Christ to you, helped you develop a walk with Him, and provided instruction and example of how to live for Him. People continue to influence and aid us in our walk with God.  They open doors to our destiny.  It reminds me of a quote from the angel Clarence to George Bailey from my favorite movie It’s a Wonderful Life, “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

Destiny Carriers

All through the Scripture, we see examples of people coming into their destiny through relationships.  People who cared about the success of someone else have always been God-given keys to people’s future in Him.  Joshua had Moses, Ruth had Naomi, David had Jonathan, Elisha had Elijah, Jesus had Mary, Joseph, and John the Baptist, Paul had Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, Titus, as well as others, and they had Paul.  The list goes on and on.

Instead of seeking a stage for your own personal advancement, or to gain admirers or followers, how about obeying 1 John 3:16 and helping someone else succeed in God.  Seek a platform to influence others and help them into their destiny, not a stage to gain personal notoriety.


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God Apologizes For His Word

God’s truth is eternal.  While His revelation came into the earth in various cultural contexts, His truth is transcultural, and transgenerational (involving more than one culture and generation).  His truth affects every culture across the generations.  We understand that much of the New Testament was written in the context of a first century Palestine and Roman culture. God’s goal is not to try to replicate that culture, but to see His eternal truth transform our culture.

Some of the cultural advancement from our perspective may be cultural decline from God’s perspective

We know civilization advances.  While we are not trying to see a return to first-century customs and civilization, we must beware of cultural arrogance. We never want to try to make God’s truth submit to any culture or civilization, including ours.  God doesn’t follow current culture.  Jesus and His truth stand outside of culture in order to affect it.

When we seek to apply God’s truth in any cultural context or generation it is good to keep in mind the fact that God chose when to send Jesus into the earth.  He chose what culture Jesus came into.  It is what the Bible calls the “fullness of times.”

  • Gal 4:4 NASB  But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law,

God doesn’t yield to any culture, He works to influence all cultures.

God could have chosen any culture or time to bring Jesus and the revelation of the New Testament into the earth, but He chose that one.  There can be a current cultural arrogance in which we try to superimpose our culture on the Bible (believing our culture is superior to the one in which the Bible was written).  We must be careful with this!  No culture is “the truth.”  He is the truth!  Some of what we consider cultural advancement may be cultural deterioration!  God doesn’t yield to any culture, including ours.

Here is a witty article with a hint of sarcasm that shows the absurdity of trying to make God yield His truth to our current culture.

God Apologizes For Gendered Language In Bible

November 15, 2016

HEAVEN—Remorseful for using terms that fly in the face of contemporary progressive sensibilities, God Almighty issued an apology Tuesday for the gendered language found throughout His Word, the Holy Bible.

“The fact that gendered language has been non-offensive for millennia is no excuse, since through my omniscience I knew that by the time the 21st Century rolled around it would no longer be considered acceptable,” the statement, miraculously delivered through a heavenly messenger, read in part.

“Please accept my deepest and most sincere apologies for using such offensive terminology when describing humankind and myself throughout the pages of Scripture, and feel free to edit the eternal Word of God so that it aligns more closely with your current, advanced understanding of the nature of things,” he continued, adding that it was never His intention to advance the agenda of the patriarchy.

“My choices were unfortunate and regrettable, and I have no intention of trying to mansplain them away. I will do better.”

Bible publishers worldwide reportedly began work Tuesday on new translations of the Holy Scriptures, removing any pronouns or phrases which specify a gender either directly or by implication.

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Restarting And Refreshing Our Internal Computer

I have the wonderful privilege of serving God with some great computer geniuses like Scott Parish.  On many occasions, I have had to, and continue to have to consult him about my issues, most of which or self-induced.  My computer skills are somewhat limited and trying to fix my own problems is sometimes like trying to climb Mt. Everest with no shoes or coat.  I appreciate Scott’s patience with me.

I often notice the problem when my computer freezes up or runs sluggishly.  It just begins to act weird!  It no longer works like it has in the past.

One piece of advice Scott almost always gives me at the beginning is, “have you restarted the computer?”  A second is, “have you hit the refresh button?”  Most of the time those simple steps takes care of the majority of my problems.

Prayer, praise, and worship are the way we zoom out of the emotional prisons and mental slumps we are in. 

There is a spiritual parallel in serving God.  Psalms 73 is a great example of going from spiritual and emotional breakdown to a restart and refresh. The psalmist’s emotions and perspective became bogged down and sluggish.  His emotional and spiritual operating system wasn’t working right.  We have all been there before.  We start to consider weird thoughts like the psalmist, “it would be easier not serving God…it is vain to serve Him…God doesn’t seem to notice or care about me.”  Like him we know deep down inside God is good but “as for me” we are not experiencing it right now, and wonder what the problem is.  This leads to considering very stupid ideas.

  • Psalms 73:1-28  Surely God is good to His people, To those who are pure in heart!  (2)  But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling, My steps had almost slipped.  (3)  For I was envious of the arrogant As I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  (4)  For there are no pains in their death, And their body is fat.  (5)  They are not in trouble as other men, Nor are they plagued like mankind.  (6)  Therefore pride is their necklace; The garment of violence covers them.  (7)  Their eye bulges from fatness; The imaginations of their heart run riot.  (8)  They mock and wickedly speak of oppression; They speak from on high.  (9)  They have set their mouth against the heavens, And their tongue parades through the earth… (11)  They say, “How does God know? And is there knowledge with the Most High?”  (12)  Behold, these are the wicked; And always at ease, they have increased in wealth.  (13)  Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure And washed my hands in innocence;  (14)  For I have been stricken all day long And chastened every morning.  (15)  If I had said, “I will speak thus,” Behold, I would have betrayed the generation of Your children.  (16)  When I pondered to understand this, It was troublesome in my sight 

Fortunately for him and us, we can restart and refresh our emotions and thoughts as we come into the presence of God.  Consider how he describes it.  He goes from, “it would be easier not serving God,” or “it is pointless to serve Him,” to “Your nearness is my good…nothing I desire on earth can be compared to You…You are the strength of my life.”  He saw his previous mental and emotional state as being “senseless and ignorant” (which is how we all feel after we come through similar challenges).  How did he hit the restart or refresh button, by spending focused time in the light and presence of God?

  • (17)  Until I came into the sanctuary of God; Then I perceived their end… (21)  When my heart was embittered And I was pierced within,  (22)  Then I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a beast before You.  (23)  Nevertheless I am continually with You; You have taken hold of my right hand.  (24)  With Your counsel You will guide me, And afterward receive me to glory.  (25)  Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.  (26)  My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever..  (28)  But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, That I may tell of all Your works.

Example of Paul and Silas

Acts 16 records a similar experience of Paul and Silas  They had been overcome by an angry mob who tore off their clothes, beat them, and put them in prison  At midnight instead of lamenting we find them doing something different that was restarting and refreshing their physical, mental, and emotional state,  “praying and singing hymns of praise.”  This triggered an earthquake that led to their release from bondage (vs 25-26).

When we get into emotional slumps it is usually because we have zoomed in on a problem or a messed up feeling.  We have focused on something we don’t like about ourselves or our circumstances.  Prayer, praise, and worship are the way we zoom out of the emotional prisons and mental slumps we are in.

Never let what is wrong with you keep you from worshiping what’s right with God.   

When we come into the presence of God with prayer, praise, and worship we zoom out of our emotional, spiritual, and circumstantial prisons and refocus on God’s big picture.  We see again the great thing that happened over 2000 years ago with Jesus that continues to bring life to us today and hope for the future.

Never let what is wrong with you keep you from worshiping what’s right with God.  Prayer, praise, and worship are about turning your focus away from what is wrong with you and remembering what’s right with God.  It is like restarting and refreshing you mental and emotional computer.

  • Colossians 4:2  Never give up praying. And when you pray, keep alert and be thankful.


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