Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lead Us Not Into Temptation...

I’ve been praying and pondering the line from the Lord’s prayer – “Lead us not into temptation” quite a bit lately.

Most of the time when I have thought of this line from the Lord’s Prayer I have tended to think more of the obvious temptations out there like lust, lying or cheating. No doubt these are temptations each of us face daily in a world that is so supersaturated with sex and deceit, but I think there is a scarier type of temptation that we are not typically nearly as wise to.

The Gospel of Matthew records (Matt 4:1-11 ) that just after Jesus was baptized, he went into the wilderness for a time of fasting, testing and temptation, a time of direct confrontation with Satan himself. What is interesting to me is that Satan didn’t tempt Jesus with the obvious evils of illicit sex, lying, or hedonism but rather he tempted him to use his power as God in a way that was counter to the Father’s plans. Another way of stating this would be that Satan tempted Jesus with autonomy.

First Satan tempts a hungry Jesus (he’d been fasting for forty days) to make bread. This may not seem like that big of a deal. It’s not like Satan was asking Jesus to break any of the ten commandments. Then he goes on to tempt Jesus to prove that he’s really God’s son by jumping off the temple and letting the angels catch him. Again this temptation was not towards anything overtly sinful (anything at least in the books of the law). Then finally Satan tempts Jesus with getting everything he came for – all of the kingdoms of the earth if he would bow down and worship before Satan. Now this temptation was to engage in an activity that would no doubt be considered sinful – worshipping Satan. However, even this temptation was tied into what Jesus came to do. Jesus had come for the very thing that Satan was offering, and Satan was offering the express-line, which didn’t involve the pain of the cross that would await him on his current trajectory.

Philippians 2:5-8 (The Message ) says this,
 1-4If you've gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don't push your way to the front; don't sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
 5-8Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. (Philippians 2:4-8, The Message)

You see, Jesus did not use his God-ness as something to be exploited to his own advantage. He refused to use the very power he had access to and instead humbled himself as a human and lived in complete harmony with the Father’s will. Jesus faced Satan not as God but as a man and as such began to wrestle back the authority man had given to Satan when he chose autonomy in the beginning.

Perhaps the temptation we need to be most mindful of is the subtle temptation to use our power, our resources, our position and prominence in a way that dominates, coerces, uses, and objectifies others. Sometimes we can so easily do this and find a scripture to justify each of our actions. But just remember that even when Satan was tempting Jesus he offered scripture to justify autonomy from the Father’s will.

What might it look like to live in a stance of humility today, to serve others rather than looking to others for gain or as objects that exist for “my” agenda?
What might it look like to not give the other guy the thing he deserves and what you have every right by law to repay him with for the wrong he committed against you?
What might it look like to live completely for the Father’s will today instead of in autonomy?

I think these kinds of questions can help us into a deeper understanding of “lead us not into temptation” and perhaps more of life as God intended it for us.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Performance, Worship Leading, and American Idol

I have not put out too many blogs recently but I have several in the works. I’ve been thinking about something that I mentioned on a blog a couple of months ago – “Perhaps our biggest enemy is our own experience.” So I’ll explore this idea from another angle today.

On this last season of American Idol I found it interesting that more than half of the last 12 finalists were either worship leaders or sang in church on a regular basis. No doubt there are many who are elated that Christians are breaking into the mainstream a bit and finally getting their due. I think it's pretty cool myself. However as one who has lead worship in the church for years and played music outside of the church quite a bit I find that it brings me some conflicting emotions because I know just how easy it is slip from heartfelt worship to slick performance, to move from worshipping God into the idolatry of the adoration of the masses. Now before I go on, I am in no way passing judgment on the Christian contestants for making it into the final round. For all I know they are all devout and sincere and totally devoted to Christ. If anything I am considering my own journey as a worship leader, as a musician, as a performer who has spent considerable time wrestling with the dynamics of worship and performance. So this is just one of the few examples in popular culture where we see worship leaders taking big strides into the arena of performance and as such offers us a good opportunity for dialogue on this subject. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing, but certainly raises questions concerning worship leading and performance, questions which deserve some wrestling with, which is what this blog is all about.

There’s a very real sense of being scared to death when one leads worship for the first time in front of people. It’s a good kind of fear though because it indicates that one is taking it seriously. It’s the kind of fear when one is attempting anything from skiing to cooking to public speaking for the first time. But it is so easy the more one learns about music and worship and what works in a service to lean on what you know rather than “who” you know.

I am a big fan of worship musicians taking the craft of music seriously and not just turning out something second rate because they have good hearts but are too lazy to put the effort into getting better musically. I am also a very big fan of worship leaders taking theology and study of the word seriously. However when one learns how to play the songs right and to say the right things it can be so easy to just coast on autopilot and the truth is no one out there will even know the difference… well at first at least.

I once heard a pastor talk about how when he started a church years ago in a small warehouse with a small group of Christians how they were desperate for God to show up because if God didn’t show up the whole thing was over. He noted though that over time as hundreds of people started showing up and they got a good sound system and lights and good musicians it didn’t matter if God showed up or not because it would still be good. This is the same struggle that we face as musicians and worship leaders (really as anyone endeavoring to follow Christ). We can simply lean on what we know works, on our own experience up to this moment, or we can humbly and sincerely seek to connect with God and lead others with our gifts.

There is a fine line between a heart-felt and passionate rendering of a worship song and just another good performance of that song, a line that is so easy to cross without anyone knowing your heart is not in it. And that should scare us a bit. We ought to remind ourselves regularly of the story of Israel in the Old Testament. The worst parts of their history, when they slipped into idolatry and neglected the poor, were when things were going great, when the blessings were pouring in, when nothing seemed to be going wrong. Too often when things are on the up and up we lose the plot, we drift, we lean on what we know rather than “who” we know.

So I’ll end this blog with these questions and I really would like to hear how some of you might wrestle with these ideas.

1. What does a Christian need in his or her life to consistently live from an authentic place?
2. What place is there for performance in worship leading?
3. How can we do a better job as Christ followers to support artists, musicians, and those in ministry in a way that fosters both excellence and authenticity simultaneously?