Thursday, September 27, 2007

Emotions & other subjective things

A funny thing has been happening recently. I've started to really enjoy worship again...

It isn't that I haven't liked worship up until now, it's just different from what I was used to. Different, but good. Different, not just in style, but in content.

Pentecostal worship music is more touchy-feely, more emotional. It was also considerably longer.

Services that lasted 3-4 hours weren't all that unusual. The praise and worship portion of the service could run for a good hour (sometimes more) at the beginning, and then they'd do more at the end. It was intense. The worship leader didn't just lead the music, he preached a bit, "coached" you to do things or say things, etc. It is easier to "feel" like you're participating in worship (rather than just observing it) when you have time to warm up & encouragement do something (raise hands, shout, dance, whatever). I began to wonder whether what I had enjoyed for so long was truly fellowship with God or just some well orchestrated warm fuzzies.

The services at my current church are upbeat, but not manipulative. I've appreciated that from my very first visit. I've always enjoyed the music... but lately, I've caught myself slipping into that place that I used to call "real worship" again. It's hard to describe if you haven't been there. For me, it's when I'm singing a song and the words come alive, even tho I've sung them a million times before. It's the point where I'm singing not because everyone else is singing--not because I like to sing--and certainly not because someone else wants to hear me--but because at that very moment those particular words have brought to life a powerful reality about God in a way that I can't ignore. I might as well be hearing them for the first time. It's a "wow" moment.

When I stopped going to charismatic/Pentecostal churches, I thought that maybe those "wow" moments were just warm fuzzies or moments that were created by emotionalism and manipulation... and that needed to be left behind. I'm glad I was wrong.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Benny Hinn?

My church recently kicked off a new season of small groups, little Bible studies that meet in people's homes, and I decided to visit one this week.

Any time a new group of people get together, there's always some awkward and uncomfortable moments. The group leaders were trying to fill those gaps with conversation and attempting to get to know the people who were there. One of the couples mentioned that they were going to a Benny Hinn crusade.

Now granted, Benny Hinn isn't a traditional Pentecostal. He gets criticized by many on the Pentecostal fringe for being too ecumenical, although even then people tend to be careful of what they say because of the "don't touch the Lord's anointed" clause. There's plenty of scare-lore out there about what happens to bad little boys and girls who laugh at the eccentric evangelist. He also gets criticized by those on the other side of the spectrum for being too "fringe."

I guess it just surprised me that someone in this church would find Benny Hinn pallatable, let alone appealing.

It was also strange because it wasn't like the conversations I had in the past with more "fringe" Pentecostal friends. When they talk about going some distance to see a famous minister, it's full of expectation for getting their breakthrough or receiving a healing or "getting a word" from God. There's a spiritual purpose in making the trip, not to mention a significant emotional investment. For them, it isn't like going to six flags or a football game. It's a pilgrimage. Their faith might be misplaced, but it is nothing if not sincere.

So this raises a couple of questions for me.

First, how can someone sit in the same church as I do, hear the same sermons that I hear, and still want to go to a Benny Hinn meeting? Second, why would someone want to go to a Benny Hinn meeting purely for the entertainment value?

I have no answers...

Friday, September 14, 2007

Just for kicks

Just for kicks I read some stuff from a "revival" discussion group today. I'm going to visit a friend of mine who is in revival this weekend, so I guess I wanted to do my homework, find out about the latest buzz, etc.

There's some scary stuff out there... and it is amazing how easily these folks get into arguments with one another. Most of the discussion involved people attacking eachother in spiritual-sounding language, while simultaneously speaking about the need to love other people in other threads.

That's a major red flag to me now when I'm looking at any organization. If the people involved, especially the leadership (self-proclaimed or otherwise), can't handle basic questions without getting defensive or resorting to "because I said so" (or in the case of churches/ministries, "because God told me so")... I back WAY off. People who get defensive or rude in response to honest questions... major red flag. It's just not worth the stress. People who can't get along within their own organization, but talk about a desire to unite with other organizations... red flag.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The buck stops here

The car saga continues... I'm still having issues with it. It's a tight spot to be in financially... but I'm definitely not alone in that. I don't think I've spoken to anyone in my church who isn't going through some sort of financial tight spot... some very serious. Many are accompanied by significant health issues, family issues, or other complications.

It's still a little "weird" to me to have an open, honest conversation with other Christians about this stuff. There's a significant part of me that still feels the need to hide the struggles... that it's not possible to be a good Christian (or at least one with any amount of faith) if you're struggling with these things. In the "name it and claim it" economy, if you talk about your problems, you'll just get more problems. If you keep your mouth shut and just talk positive, you'll get the positive.

The problem with this way of thinking is that it tends to isolate people. How can we comfort one another with the comfort we have received if can never admit that we need to be comforted? How can we bear one another's burdens if we don't know that someone has a burden?

Over the weekend I had an opportunity to hear someone share about the struggles their family was experiencing, and I was able to share how I had also been going through some difficult times. There were no profound answers, no supernatural reassurances that everything would be OK... but there was strength in knowing that we were two believers who could pray for eachother. When I left, my car was not supernaturally repaired. The money to repair or replace it didn't supernaturally show up in my mailbox. But I'm richer today because that relationship is stronger than it ever could have been if we had both just smiled and pretended that nothing was wrong.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Car Woes Continued

I spent a lovely few hours at the mechanic's shop again this morning. The car was "fixed" Thursday, but when I picked it up, the service engine light came back on. The shop was closed by then, and I didn't have a ride, so I had no choice but drive it home. Yesterday and today, the service engine came on 3 out of 4 times that I'd start it. It was on for the entire trip from my house to the mechanic this morning... but, of course, it didn't come on again when the mechanics started it up.


The car needs more work... but I don't know if it's worth it. I've probably kept the thing on life support for too long anyway. I'm kinda stuck -- I've spent so much repairing this car that I don't have too much to put into buying a new one. So I keep pushing it a little further -- $400 here, $150 there... hoping that it will run long enough for me to get ahead. It's a losing battle.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Embracing the Hurt

The Purpose Driven Life devotional caught my attention again today.

"Have you ever considered that heartbreak is part of God’s plans for you, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”? (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV) We put so much energy into avoiding the hurt when God would have us embrace it. He wants us to know that he can heal our hurts, even use our hurts for his benefit, and for us to faithfully believe that sometimes the circumstances we think are harming us are actually positive situations God is engineering."

That's a tough one... I don't know if I've "embraced the hurt." At this point, just being honest about it seems like a huge step in the right direction... and I haven't exactly mastered that step yet. My knee-jerk reaction is to hide the pain and pretend everything is OK. But I like the idea that pain and harm are not the same thing... and who defines harm? Just because we think something is harmful, that doesn't necessarily mean that it is...

The author goes on to say "avoiding the pain in our lives is actually an act of faithlessness. God calls us to faith in him during difficult circumstances; we’d rather place our faith in avoiding the circumstances."

Umm, ouch. It's tough to imagine having faith during the difficult circumstances when you've been taught that true faith is your ticket out of the difficult circumstances.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Car Woes

My car broke down today. Nothing big or dramatic, it's an older vehicle and it's definitely showing its age. I pulled into a parking lot and called a friend to pick me up. It's just a potentially costly inconvenience... but with the timing, I can't help but wonder...

Over the last week or so, I've been working on this "Recovering Pentecostal" website. It hasn't even launched yet, really... I've just been setting it up, writing some background information, trying to sort out what I really want to say... It's been an opportunity to look back and think about a lot of things.

So now these negative things happen, and my knee-jerk reaction is STILL to wonder what I've done wrong: Did I miss a tithe on something? Is there some horrible sin in my life? Did I let my quiet time slip? Or the worst of the guilt trips: Is God punishing me for working on this site?

This is a perfect example of what a Recovering Pentecostal is. I'm in a great church now, and they don't teach anything even remotely similar to the concept of guaranteed divine protection for those who tow the line. I've been away from that sort of thing for over a year. I've done some study on the subject, and I know that the prosperity/protection teaching is deeply flawed. So why am I STILL jumping back to that mindset as soon as something bad happens?

Welcome to my world.