"Ours" Not "Mine"

The ego is such a delicate thing, isn't it? Recently, mine was deflated when I was told to head a project at work and when all the critiques were hurled back at me and the deliverables were made under the weight of strict guidelines, the project was rejected for not being good enough. Not being good enough? I didn't put this weight of guidelines on my back, did I? In the middle of my incredulous protest and agape frustrations, the Holy Spirit whispered through my dejection and gave me a reality that is very hard to face. 

I am working under authority.

Really, it's a simple phrase but it relates to all the areas of our life, not just our performance-based areas. And through the Holy Spirit, I realized that it was my job to take the weight of guidelines and critique (helpful and harmful to my result) and under it produce great work. Even when I am instructed to do something that I don't see as helpful, it is my job to take that instruction and turn it into something even better than before (instead of just ignoring it in entirety). 

There was a time when someone gave me a chance and hired me in the first place. There was a time that I wasn't given this amount of responsibility. But authority decided to give me a job, give me responsibility, and now I am to respond to and listen to that authority. So let's take this concept to Church.

Serving and being in the Church is definitely a unique concept because in a traditional setting, there are people on staff (smaller in number, usually in leadership) and there are volunteers (larger in number, and usually report to staff) instead of a corporate organization where most everyone is paid. So at Church, a lot of people are doing this for free. Many of Sunday Services around the world are done by people giving up their time and resources to feed into the local hope of Christ with no monetary reward. 

So- what is our reward?  

I believe this question reveals a lot of the heart of why people serve at Church, and why people serve Jesus at all. If the desired reward is to be heard, seen, and praised, then the tendency is to ignore authority. Why? Because if you do something under authority, it is no longer "yours", it becomes "theirs" or- in the context of the Church, "ours". This means that the worship song you lead or wrote is no longer "your" worship song, it becomes the praise of the Church to raise back up to God and not to you. This means that the photo you took or the church promo post you created is no longer "yours", it becomes the image of the Church to invite people to God and not to you. This means that the small group you lead is no longer "yours", it becomes the gathering of the Church to bring people together to experience God's heart and not yours. 

Being under authority means that people aren't always seeing what we do behind the scenes. Being under authority means that people don't always hear about what we did to make something happen. Being under authority means that people won't praise our name, even if we had a big part in doing something great for Jesus. Because the reward is not to be seen, heard, or praised. 

"The fire will test and prove the workmanship of each builder. If his work stands the test of fire, he will be rewarded. If his work in consumed by the fire, he will suffer great loss" -1 Corinthians 3:13b-15a TPT

When we are serving in the Church and we come under fire, whether it be about our musical, creative, administrative, leadership, or technical abilities, it definitely feels like a slap in the face. Especially if you're doing this thing for free out of the kindness of your heart! But 1 Corinthians reveals that fire tests our work and toil. If we can stand through the fire of authority (good or bad), the fire of criticism, the fire of not getting picked, we can be truly rewarded. But if we completely go against authority, if we ignore all criticism, if we lash out because we weren't picked to do what we wanted, we're actually losing out on what Church is really supposed to be about. 

"For it was only through this wonderful grace that we believed in him. Nothing we did could ever earn this salvation, for it was the gracious gift of God that brought us to Christ! So no one will ever be able to boast, for salvation is never a reward for good works or human striving." -Ephesians 2: 8-9 TPT

It is only by Jesus' grace that we can receive the Holy Spirit to believe in him in the first place and it's only by his grace that we get to be a part of his family. There's no work we can do, no worship song we can sing, no creative thing we can form, nothing we can lead, that could earn us the right to be a part of God's saved kingdom. God's pretty gracious to have picked us at all to bring us to Christ. Our reward for serving the Church is to see of and hear the salvation of and praise Jesus. It's basic. It's foundational. God is not out to make sure our church experience is us receiving everyone's gaze. God is not out to make sure our church experience is us being heard by all. God is not out to make sure our church experience is us getting the accolades and praise and attention that belongs rightly to Him. 

Under authority, our ability to brag is stripped away. And to be real, that hurts. But luckily we get to get healed of ourselves. Our sweat and straining and tears can be healed under the shadow of the wings of God's authority. Our striving and frustration and pushing can be healed and we can find rest under the protection of His command. The tension in the muscles of our performance mindset can relax. The tearing of our working mind can be mended. The restlessness of our hunger for praise can be satiated and fed not by men's compliments, but by God's graceful kindness. 

The ego is delicate, but God's authority is so much stronger. I praise Jesus that he is carving out of me the rebellion that would tear me limb to limb spiritually. When I am critiqued and under the weight of authority, I am being refined under a helpful fire. And through this, I am always deemed enough in Christ. My success is not "mine", but for the glory of "us" to share to find God, not others to find me. In the middle of my incredulous protest and agape frustrations, the Holy Spirit whispers through my dejection and gives me a stunning reality that is gentler, kinder, and is ultimately about his salvation as my reward. 

 

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Peace is a Promise He Keeps: a Word to Anxiety

With the arrival of Hillsong Young and Free's new album, III, we're getting a refresh of their hit single from last winter, Peace. So far, Amanda Cook has led the song in Bethel's school of worship, and the words, prayers, and lyrics that went into the song speaks to something deeply rooted in this generation:

Anxiety.

As the words of the song go, "There's a peace far beyond all understanding // May it ever set my heart at ease // What anxiety fails to remember is peace is a promise You keep." This is a direct reference to Philippians 4:7 that says "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (ESV). In Psalm 29:11, there is a promise of peace saying, "The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace." Isaiah 54:10 asserts this, "'Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,' says the LORD, who has compassion on you." 

It's easy to read these words and think that it's cool that God promises peace, but what does peace actually look like in our daily lives? We often define peace by how we've watched other people experience peace. A friend of mine wakes up at 6 in the morning every day to pray. Another friend keeps and tends to house plants- and as she waters each one, she prays for her friends who don't know Christ yet to come to know Him. It's easy to envision peace as this quiet, still, calming time with coffee and plants and worship music playing in the background. Which totally can happen, and it's crucial to cut out time in your day to have quiet moments to listen to God and his Word. But where do you find peace when anxiety strikes?

Anxiety can come in a variety of moments. For me, I could be in transit in a loud subway car, I could be at work with a large list of tasks in front of me, I could be on the phone having a difficult conversation with someone I care about. I need peace most in the moments that are loud, the moments that cloud my thoughts, the moments that are hectic and complex. When the heart rate quickens, when the breathing gets constricted, when thoughts blend and blur together like slop, God promises peace. 

What anxiety fails to remember is that peace is Jesus. He is the Prince of Peace. Anxiety fails to acknowledge that Jesus wins every war our thoughts may wage.  If Jesus is around us, so is peace- right in reach, a breath away. It's not about earning or acquiring an emotion of what we perceive peace to be, but just accepting that "Jesus is here. Jesus is peace." We wrap up the concept of peace to be an emotion of calm, but more realistically, peace is an "I know that I know" truth that if Jesus is near, so is peace. And that peace was created for us. 

Anxiety's hands are trying to grip the throat of our generation- trying to cut off our breath. We all know a friend or relative who battles intense moments of anxiety. Maybe you deeply know the daily struggle of keeping that kind of breathlessness at bay. There are ways to fight this battle- with counseling, with a support system, with Jesus. When the mind is under siege, peace is a promise God keeps. He won't let you down. He is not far off- He is so close to you, waiting for you to just reach out to the peace He holds with an open hand. All you have to do is reach out.

Listen to Hillsong Young and Free's hit single, Peace

Why is the Worship Team just so cool?

Far and wide across Church culture is the desire to be on the worship team- so what makes this such a "coveted" platform to be on to spread the Gospel? From the choir to the band to the people leading "Oceans", a worship community can get confusing and is often highly criticized. So let's dive into where musical worship comes from and what it can feel like today.

The first ever mention of musical worship in the Bible is found in Genesis 4- "Adah gave birth to Jabal, who was the first of those who raise livestock and live in tents. His brother’s name was Jubal, the first of all who play the harp and flute" (Verses 20-21, NLT). This is a brief mention in a genealogy of Cain- which is an interesting direction for this passage to go. The first time music is ever mentioned comes directly from the bloodline of a murderer and someone who entirely left his home community from shame. Jubal was the great great great great grandson of the first murder and the first runaway, so his family name wasn't perfect- but he invented music. 

I'm not going to dive into what his name means in Greek (The Ram, in case you're wondering), but I do find that in all cases, worshippers are not perfect people. Worshippers don't have to come from perfect churched families. Worshippers don't have to have a great, obedient, clean past. Worshippers don't have to maintain a perfect image. How often do we gaze upon our church leaders who lead musical worship and perhaps wonder at their qualifications, their imperfect pasts, or the motivations behind who they are today. 

The Old Testament has numerous stunning accounts of musical worship- Moses' sister's tambourine song to praise the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea, Trumpets knocking down the immense walls of Jericho, Gideon's percussion ensemble beating an entire army into chaos, David calming Saul's demons, the choir that went before an army that seemed to be in defeat that sang their way into victory. These moments were when music was absolutely necessary for a real offense against an enemy- music broke down stone walls, beat entire armies, and rid people of demon torment. Pretty intense.

These instances showed entire bands of people in a desperate attempt for God's presence to come and change impossible circumstances. It was not about one person being seen or heard. It was not about the people of Israel looking to a singer who really had their life together. In the same way, today's Church should regard the act of worship as a combinative effort to pursue the presence of God to come into a place and shift circumstance to do things that are unnatural, unexplainable, and just awesome. Those moments are not about the worship leader at all- their life is only being used as a tool to carve out the working of the Holy Spirit in a given place and time. 

Given this, worship is not really about a singer, a guitarist, or even a team- it is a move forward in desperation for God to respond, and to praise His name no matter the outcome. Because of this, of course the worship team is cool. The role they play in the vast landscape of church servitude is beautiful, meaningful, and essential to communal victory in the Church. The worship team is not for individuals to be seen and heard- and though worship communities may lean in this direction over time, we can be reminded by Jubal that being perfect is not a requirement to being a worship leader. Leading musical worship is humbling, builds relationship, and builds the Church. No wonder it's just so cool. 

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