An Introverts Survival Guide to Worship Time

For those of you who don’t know, I work at an Assemblies of God church, which is a Pentecostal denomination. If you know nothing about Pentecostals, here’s the basics: we believe that the gifts of the Spirit (the ones given to the disciples on the day of – wait for it – Pentecost) are still active in the modern-day church. That’s the one thing that unifies all Pentecostals, but every church is different. I’ve been to churches that go off the deep end into “charismania,” but I’ve also been to quite a few that you wouldn’t even know were Pentecostal if you went to a regular Sunday morning service. 

I’ve been part of a few different denominations in my 23 years here on earth, and although there is variety among Pentecostals, they are generally a bit more, well, extraverted compared to others, especially when it comes to worship. What I mean by this is simply that in many Pentecostal churches, there are more expressions of worship: there’s more hand-raising, clapping, dancing, occasional flag-waving, stuff like that. So if you want to fit in, you do those things. But if you know me at all, you know that I’m not normally an outwardly expressive guy, so to do those things would make me really uncomfortable under most circumstances, and maybe you feel the same way. 

And you know what? It’s ok to not worship exactly like everyone else. God isn’t worried about who’s singing the best or who’s clapping the loudest or who can dance more elegantly or who’s raising their hands the highest. In fact, if you’re worried about those things, then you’re making your “worship” more about you than about God. Give God your best, but don’t worry about how your best measures up to the best of anyone else. 

In Mark 12, we see Jesus waiting and watching where temple offerings were given. Many rich people walked by and put in large sums of money, but then a widow came up and placed two copper coins into the offering. At this, Jesus spoke to His disciples, informing them that, despite appearances, this widow offered more than anyone else because she gave all she had. And I would argue that this principle holds true for any form of worship, not just monetary giving. Whether you’re just not a very extraverted person or you’re just having an off day, don’t feel like you *need* to engage in specific behaviors during worship, just give what you can authentically give. 

However, I’m not saying that just because you don’t feel comfortable raising your hands during worship that you have a free pass to participate to a lesser degree. There is definitely something serious and intimate about becoming physically involved with worship, so if you’re feeling it, don’t let your insecurities stop you from doing something that will enable you to experience God’s presence in a way that you’re not used to. And even if you don’t do it, that’s not an excuse to not push yourself to be actively engaged in worship. 

I guess that’s what I’m really trying to get at here. Engagement. It doesn’t matter how you appear during worship, but it matters how much you engage with God during it. “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” If you engage better with God by jumping and shouting, do it (but please, don’t intentionally cause disruptions, that’s just annoying to everybody); if you engage with God better by quiet reflection on the words you’re singing, do it! But don’t think that just because somebody engages differently than you automatically means they’re being unauthentic, and whatever form your worship takes, that doesn’t guarantee authenticity either. You need to actively pursue God no matter what way you worship. 

So the next time you enter a time of worship, whether that’s later tonight, Wednesday, next Sunday, or any other time, let go of your worry about how other people will perceive you and just be present with the God of the universe. 

Advertisements

The Power of Offense

It seems like everyone is offended these days. It seems that you can’t hold an opinion on almost any topic without offending someone. And that’s utterly ridiculous. When did we become so fragile? When did we become so incapable of hearing an alternate viewpoint? When did we, as a culture, decide that it was more important that we appease our own emotions than that we tell the truth?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but the result of them frightens me. Our culture is being strangled in the name of “tolerance.” Many – not all, but many – of the left have tried to transform the meaning of this word. It’s intended to mean the acceptance of the existence of ideas that are contrary to your own, but now it’s being used as a way of saying “we accept those who you don’t accept, but we don’t accept you,” which is not the same thing. They’ve made an instrument of peace into a weapon. And please understand me here, I’m not trying to put down liberals. That would be the height of hypocrisy after just talking about what tolerance is supposed to be. There are people out there of all political beliefs that believe in true tolerance. People who don’t hate you just for looking at the world differently. Sometimes they’re hard to find, but they’re out there, I promise.

Unfortunately, those people don’t seem to be the norm. Instead, we see what appears to be a large (or at least decently-sized) portion of the population that refuses to even pretend to listen to an alternative point of view. And this happens on both sides of the aisle (the only point favoring the right is that they don’t shout “Tolerance!” as their battle cry, so they at least avoid that hypocrisy). Instead of having a healthy discourse between alternative viewpoints, anything contrary to what we believe gets shut out. We’re practically begging for groupthink to become the dominant form of communication here in America. And if that idea doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will.

We need the voice of dissent. Part of what makes America so great is that we’re made up of so many different parts. Our unity only lasts so long as the one who thinks differently is allowed to speak. As bad as things seem now, if the power of offense is allowed to fester and grow, the United States is going to continue to polarize. We’re going to see an escalation in violence between ideological groups. And I’m not talking about extremists here. We’re going to see friends and family turn against each other over the smallest of things, because we’re idolizing our views, allowing them to become more important than the people we’re fighting for.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t stand up for the rights of those who can’t stand up for themselves. On the contrary, I think more people should! But we can’t allow our passion for the causes we take up to cause us to forget that those we argue with are people too. They have their reasons for believing as they do, most likely having to do with experiences they’ve had or the testimonies of people close to them, just like how you came to your beliefs. So to spout wide generalizations or rude names at people simply because of a conviction they have is absolute folly. Not only is it most likely not true of the person – no matter how despicable their views seem to you – but by behaving in a hostile manner, you’ve effectively cut off any chance of actual communication with this person, giving you no chance to let them change their minds on their position.

If all you want out of your arguments is to make some noise and give yourself a pat on the back for putting someone in their place, then go ahead, keep being offended. But if you want to change people, if you want to see the world become a little bit brighter, it needs to start with you. Even when other people are trying to start arguments with you, when they’re intentionally pushing your buttons, take it as a challenge to keep a cool head and respond with wisdom, not anger. “Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.” Allowing offense to control your words will only bring you to your own ruin.

The peaceful road is a hard one to walk. It requires humbling yourself, allowing others to attack without striking back. Forgiveness without seeking retribution. Turning the other cheek when all you want to do is leave that one snide comment to “destroy” their argument. It isn’t easy, but it becomes easier with each person we convince to join us. So join me, and let’s become better people together.

A Bit of Rambling

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted on here. There have been plenty of posts I’ve wanted to write, but none have them have managed to get finished. Even the one that you’re reading right now has been around in my head for weeks now. I hope to get to my almost-finished ones at some point too, but for now I can only write what’s on my mind, so let’s jump right in.

I got fired twenty four days ago.

This is the first I’ve posted about it anywhere publicly, so unless you heard it from me personally, that’s probably a bit of a shock for you. Let me tell you, it was for me too. I’d held that job for over four years. There were reasons why I got fired. Not necessarily reasons that I agree should’ve ended in termination, but there were reasons. I want to say that I was devestated. I want to say that it shook my world. That it caused some sort of dread or pessimism to overtake me. These all feel like things that I’m supposed to say, but I can’t say them and remain truthful like I promised I always would be here. I did shed a few tears. It was a bittersweet day. Bitter because I already missed those crazy kids I was looking after and the coworkers who were like another family to me. But sweet because I was finally free of all the stress that came with that job.

I knew I had been stressed out (cue obligatory Twenty One Pilots reference). I absolutely loved my kids, but elementary schoolers were defintely not my forté. For my first three years at the daycare, I’d always played the role of the assistant, helping out the lead teacher. And I was good at that. I liked working in tandem with another teacher. The only issue was that, since I technically wasn’t leading the class, I often got pulled to other rooms. So I desperately started hoping and praying for my own room to have. And I got my wish. As this past summer was coming to an end, I was offered a position as the sole before- and after-school 2nd grade teacher. I wasn’t entirely sure that I was ready to take on a room by myself, but I’ve never been very good at saying “no,” plus it was so close to what I’d been looking for, so I agreed to it. I’m not going to say that was a terrible decision to make, but it definitely came with higher costs than I anticipated. 

From the first day, it was a tough job. Throughout my time at the daycare, I’d spent time with kids everywhere from two year olds to kids just about to go to middle school, but most of my time was with the fourth and fifth graders. Transistioning from that to only being with second graders was an adjustment that I knew in my head would be rough, but for months I couldn’t alter my expectations of them to where they actually were developmentally. It caused a lot of stress between me and my kids, and I know it’s one of my biggest failings from my entire tenure there.

Eventually, though, things started to smooth out. There were still a few flare-ups, and I’d never say that I handled every situation perfectly, but I was learning how to deal with their different, not-quite-as-mature-as-I-wanted-them-to-be personalities, and they were learning how to deal with my normally-but-not-always patient nature. There was still a fair amount of disrespect in the air though, aimed both at me and fellow students, so I tried to emphasize kindness – even when the other person didn’t deserve it. It was a hard sell, and only a  couple of them really seemed to get it. Not that they were perfect at it, but you could tell they were trying, and that was enough. I finally felt like I was starting to get through to my kids about things that were important for them to understand before they really started exploring this world that they’re inheriting, and then I was out the door without a chance to say goodbye.

I’m really just rambling now, but I guess what I really want to get across to you, my friend, is that despite everything, I’m not moping. I’m not discouraged about my lot in life. I could very easily turn this into a time of “woe is me” and just play the victim. But I won’t. Because I’m not a victim. In fact, I’m very lucky to be in the position I am. I’m still living at home, so I’ve been able to save up enough money that this past month without work hasn’t completely drained my resources. I’ve still been able to give money to my church every week (although that’s the subject for another post). I was able to buy plane tickets to visit my mom for her birthday in a couple of weeks. I’ve been sleeping better than I have in months. I’m actually writing again (just in case you hadn’t noticed). I’ve read eleven books already since I got fired. I’ve even got a couple of potential jobs lined up to hold me over until I finish the credentialling process so that I can become a youth pastor. Life may not be perfect, but it is pretty decent.

All is not lost. There’s a lot of good going on in the world. Don’t focus so much on what’s going wrong that you miss out on it.

True Sacrifice (Part 1)

If you could boil Christianity down to a single action that encompasses everything a Christian should do, it would have to be sacrifice. Here on Earth, our life is meant to serve God and to serve others. We’re supposed to emulate Christ, sacrificing for others like He sacrificed for us. But what does sacrifice truly look like? I think that in our modern-day American Christianity we’ve really forgotten what it means to sacrifice. We’ve become too used to our cushy lifestyles, we’ve lived too long with having everything we need (even if we don’t have everything we want). To us, sacrifice looks like giving up an extra hour during the week to go to a midweek service or giving our tithe or holding our tongue (or even our hands) when all we want to do is lash out. And while these are all important things to do, they’re not really all too much of a sacrifice. At this point, you may be wondering, “Well, Kyle, if that stuff doesn’t count as a sacrifice, what does?” And if you’re asking that, I’m really glad, because it means that this post was worth writing for you. So to answer your question, let’s take it back to the basics and look at some examples of true sacrifice from the Bible.

First, let’s take a look at the very first sacrifice recorded in Scripture. If you don’t already know, the first sacrifice we hear of comes from the recounting of the tale of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4:3-5. It reads, “In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord has regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell” (ESV). So here we see two kinds of sacrifices: one that God approves of, and one that he doesn’t. So what’s the difference? Why does God appreciate Abel’s offering more so than Cain’s? Is God just like the rest of us and prefers meat over pretty much anything else? Well, there are plenty of other Scriptural references of God accepting crops as worthy sacrifices, so that isn’t the issue. So what was the key difference between them? The Bible tells us that Cain brought “an offering of the fruit of the ground,” and that Abel brought “the firsborn of his flock and of their fat portions.” Did you catch it? The difference is right there: Abel brought the firstborn; Cain did not. But why does that matter? Why would God care if you sacrifice what comes first or what comes later, so long as you actually offer up to God what He deserves? Because one of the things that makes a sacrifice a sacrifice is that it is an act of trust. When you give up what comes first, you aren’t garuanteed what comes next. If you get paid and immediately set aside your tithe from it, that money won’t be there if you end up needing it later to buy that new gadget or fix your car or pay for a doctor’s visit or anything else.  It’s gone, handed over to God. And if you sacrifice some of your precious sleep to get up early and read your Bible and pray every morning, you can’t get that back either. But if your “sacrifice” doesn’t require you to put your trust in God, how much of a sacrifice is it?
Thus concludes part one of this two part post. Look for the next part next Sunday, where we’ll take a look at a couple of other examples of Biblical sacrifice and come up with some ways we can change how we look at sacrifice and how it affects our relationship with God.

Follow Through

It’s been two and a half months since my last blog post. I have seven different posts currently in the draft phase that I’ve at least put some thought into, but none of them have gotten finished. It’s not that I don’t have the time. I mean, I am busy, but not so much so that I couldn’t put an hour or two into writing pretty much every day if I felt like it. But that’s exactly it: I haven’t felt like it. I want to write. I absolutely love writing. I wish I did it every day. I want to write things that resonate with people, make them think, make them feel, make them look at the world around them a little differently. And I have a lot of ideas floating around in my head that could potentially change a lot of lives. But none of that matters if I don’t actually doanything about it. It doesn’t matter if I have all the time and creativity in the world at my disposal if I don’t sit down and actually write something out about it. And even if I do sit down and write, if I don’t finish the thought, it will never go any farther than a few sentences on the screen in front of me. Instead, I spend my free time watching shows, playing video games, and scrolling through my various social media feeds. And it’s not that any of those things are inherently bad – or even detrimental to productivity. You can’t be efficient if you’re always being productive. You need to have down time where you aren’t doing anything other than recharging. But having the capability to work with 100% efficiency means nothing if the work being done is zero. So I’m reorienting a bit. I’m placing less of an emphasis on the things that are less important, and a bigger emphasis on the things that are more important. Or at least I’m trying to. I’m still going to fail, I’m still going to spend too much time on things that didn’t earn it, but I’m moving in the right direction. I’m trying to be a little less of a procastinator and to be a little more proactive. I’m going to follow through on what I’ve started.

So now that this is out of the way, I’m going to start working on my next post, which you’re going to see on Sunday. Because that’s when I’ll be posting for the foreseeable future, every week. And if you’re looking forward to these posts, please bug me about it. The best motivation to continue writing is to know that people actually want to read it. I started this blog mostly for me, but it’s about you too. So pester me with comments if you need to, ask me my thoughts about different things, and together we’ll figure out how to stop hiding behind the blurs and just be truthful about what’s going on around us.

In Case You Were Wondering…

Earlier this week I made a post, and 24 hours later I took it back down despite the fact that it was already one of the most popular posts I’ve had so far. Unfortunately, the whole reason I wrote that post in the first place is the same reason why I had to take it down. Which is frustrating, especially when you take into account the whole reason I started this blog. It’s called “Behind the Blurs,” loosely based on the Twenty One Pilots album Blurryface. Basically, the idea behind the name is that we all put on a mask that blurs our true feelings to match those around us in order to avoid offending people or because we’re afraid what people will think of us or because of any other of a myriad of reasons. And this blog is supposed to be a place where my mask comes off, no matter what other people think. But this was one very specific instance where that wasn’t in my best interest. This isn’t going to be a normal thing, and it doesn’t mean I’m going to start shying away from hard topics. I’m not changing the name of the blog, and I’m not changing its purpose. 

I’m still glad that I wrote that post even if it can’t stay in a public space. At the very least, it opened the conversation for those of you who got the chance to read it and I also actually wrote a blog post for the first time in months, which hopefully will kickstart me into a more consistent writing schedule. So to those of you who didn’t get a chance to read it, I’m sorry, but I’m looking forward to sharing much more with you in the future. And if you want to talk more about that specific post, I’m more than willing to do so, just in a not-so-public forum. Thank you for your understanding, I can’t wait to continue on this journey with you. 

Standing Solo (Part 1)

I originally had a much longer title for this, but I like this one because (1) alliteration and (2) Star Wars. It is a little vague though. My original title was more along the lines of “Jeremiah Went Through a Heck of a Lot More Than You Ever Will and Still Lived Out God’s Calling For His Life, So You Should Too.” It’s much more specific than Standing Solo, but there’s no alliteration and no Star Wars references, so I changed it. But now you know the original title too, so I guess you get the best of both worlds, lucky you!

As you probably noticed, this post is only part one. This is actually a sermon that I got to preach last week that I’m adapting for my blog. I was going to put the whole thing in one post, but that would make it way longer than anything else I’ve posted before, so it’s getting split up into probably three parts. So look out for the next part in a few days!

Anyways, back to the task at hand. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m talking about the prophet Jeremiah today. Here’s a little background in case you’re not caught up on your Biblical history: Jeremiah was a prophet to the kingdom of Judah (the southern kingdom). He started his ministry in 626 B.C. which was about 100 years after Israel (the northern kingdom) had been captured by the Assyrians, and he continued to minister up until Judah fell to the Babylonians about 40 years later. The reason why Israel fell and the reason why Judah was about to fall was pretty obvious: they turned their backs on God and worshiped idols. Jeremiah was God’s last effort to reach out to His people before He turned them over to their enemies. But no pressure. 

So let’s start right at the beginning: Jeremiah chapter 1. Verses 4 and 5 should be pretty familiar to you if you’ve grown up in church: “The word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.'” Now then, we may not all be called to be prophets to the nations, but we do all have a calling on our lives. Most of us, though, tend to respond exactly the same way Jeremiah did in verse 6: “‘Alas, Sovereign Lord,’ I said, ‘I do not know how to speak; I am too young.'” Maybe I’m alone here, but that sounds a lot like me. Not necessarily being too young, but when God wants me to do something, my immediate reaction is to tell God why I can’t do it. It doesn’t matter how cool of a thing it is that God’s asking me to do, I’m never good enough. And what does God think about that? “But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, “I am too young.” You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,’ declares the Lord” (v7-8). You see, God already knows every excuse, every reason, every shortcoming you have. He knows your weakness better than you do, but that didn’t stop Him from calling you. He knows exactly what will cause you to fail, and He’s already answered it: “I am with you and will rescue you.” Now then, that doesn’t mean it’ll be easy. God also says “Do not be afraid,” and the only reason why He would say that is because there’s something to be afraid of. For Jeremiah, it was “them.” Who is the “them” God refers to?  Well, it’s actually the people that he’s ministering to. So right off the bat we can see that Jeremiah isn’t going to be having a great time. I mean, just imagine this situation for a minute: Hey Kyle, I really need you to go work at this new job. I know that you don’t really have the qualifications necessary for it, but don’t worry, I’ve got it covered. Ok, I guess I can do that. Oh, and whatever happens, don’t be afraid of the customers. What? Why would I be afraid of the customers? Well, they’re probably not going to be very happy that you’re doing your job. But like I said, don’t worry about it. Just follow my instructions and don’t worry about how they’ll react, I’ll take care of it. Oh…ok. Super encouraging, right? But Jeremiah went ahead and did what God told him to despite his fear, which is what the rest of the book is about. So when God puts something on your heart for you to do, be like Jeremiah. Face up to the fact that there are things that are worth fearing, but realize that the only power they have over you is when you allow them to paralyze you.