It was a great weekend. No. Spectacular.
But only in hindsight.
Easter and Christmas weekends are when we push everyone to invite someone from work, family, neighborhood, etcetera, because, well, these are the times when people do their church-duty-thing and therefore an ideal time for us to clarify what it means to follow Jesus. On these big invitation weekends, I find myself getting weird. Antsy. Narrowed. Hyperpicky about techie-things. I feel bad for our staff. And, even worse, I get more inward-focused. I hate that; that’s the worse part.
You’d think I’d learn. Let me illustrate from a different life I once had.
I led worship at VCC for about a dozen years. Because of my church-orientation (word-of-faith camp) in the early days of my conversion, I thought that as a worship leader, if I hadn’t gone into hyperfaith and “prayed through” in the Spirit for thirty minutes prior to leading worship, then worship wasn’t going to happen. And if the worship wasn’t happening on any Sunday morning it was my fault. Back in the late eighties I worked a crazy job in a jingle-house recording studio outside the Vineyard as well as leading a couple of small groups and the worship on Sunday mornings. Going into hyperfaith was the “proper response” to my obsessive need to perform well for God in all those contexts (uh, plus a great way to burnout…). Only God and worship leaders’ spouses know the real performance anxieties as the worship leader asks this quintessential question on the car ride home: “How do you think worship went today?”—hoping to be validated in some way.
One Sunday morning as I was in hyperfaith on the way to lead worship, the Holy Spirit broke through and said, “You really think this thing depends on you, don’t you?” In other words, if I don’t pray just right, then God won’t show up—and I suddenly realized how sick I was, how creepily religious, how egocentric, how much it negated the body of Christ and the beauty and power of grace. As if this whole thing depended on me. Please. Talk about getting the wind knocked out. And so for the next month or so, I would drive to church on my way to lead worship with the local heavy metal station playing at 120 decibels—just to drive out the religious demons.
And I didn’t even like heavy metal.
There is so much performance mentality behind religious activity that it scares me now. The truth is, God loves us and enjoys our company so much and is frankly unimpressed by how well we think we do or don’t do. That doesn’t mean we become slack and shoddy, but that all of our activity is in response to His love for us, not in any effort to gain it, however subtle that may be.
So what does this have to do with my current Easter anxieties?
It’s just too easy to take everything extremely personal and forget that ultimately it’s not really dependent on us. Yeah, I know it’s my job to craft a thoughtful message that bridges the perception-gap of “church” that people who come twice-a-year have…and even more, hopefully present the message of the resurrection lucidly. And I know ultimately the buck stops here in terms of what gets included in the celebration. But if I’m not careful, that turns into a perverse performance mentality that cuts the legs out from under grace. It’s the same weirdness that crept into the Galatian church.
Anyway, it can make my enjoyment of the weekend weird. Face it: us pastors have peculiar issues.
So tonight Anita and I were eating at a local restaurant when we got a server who goes to the Vineyard. As we headed out the door, our server said, “There’s another guy who works here who goes to the Vineyard as well. Wait a minute.” She left and came out with “Bob”, a twenty-something who told us a great story. While in college, he got addicted to a prescription drug and then compounded his troubles by getting busted one night using a fake i.d. in a local bar. Even worse, he wrote a check with the fake name on the i.d. and ended up with two felony counts and some misdemeanors.
That’s serious; you don’t mess around with felonies. He hit the lowest point in his life.
When his trial came, the judge miraculously dismissed the felonies and left him with 150 hours of community service. Turns out, he was sent to perform them at the Vineyard and said it was the best 150 hours of his life. He did his time while Summer Of Service (S.O.S.—we host hundreds of kids and take them out serving every day for a week) and other things were happening and said his life radically changed. He was a lapsed Catholic and had always “believed” in God but it never seemed “personal”. That was two years ago and he’s been on fire since; he says he now lives to give Jesus glory.
I asked him how his family had responded to all this. He replied that they’ve started coming to VCC and this weekend his mom said, “I need to make a change in my life,” and walked down front to get the New Testament and Next Steps cd.
Wish I could enjoy those moments in the moment, but I guess it’s not half-bad with hindsight. She was part of a crowd of people who took that first step in the six celebrations.
I love it. Looking back now, of course.
Hope you had a great Resurrection Day...full of grace.