In my naïve mind, I didn’t realize that there were a lot of responsibilities involved with being a music director at a church. There are rehearsal materials to put together, and all kinds of preparatory things to do for each Sunday service. What ends up happening is; a person gets so wrapped up in all these logistics, that they live Monday through Saturday in anticipation and preparation for Sunday mornings. I got caught up into this thinking while in this position, and basically became so disconnected from the culture around me that I no longer even knew how to strike up a friendly conversation with a cashier at a grocery store! Maybe there are other people in the church out there like this, who are so immersed in the bubble of Church culture, that they forget that Jesus Christ came for those in need of repentance, and not the righteous.
Basically, this period in my life was one of the least creative periods I’ve ever been through. I only wrote about six songs or so at the most during my entire time as a music intern, which was a period of two years. Most years I write close to twenty songs, some years I’ve even written closer to thirty or so. It was so ironic, because I thought the job would lead me to be more creative than I had ever been, but not so. I became a music machine that did whatever worked for the church at the time, which was my fault. Some would say that this was a good way to be a servant, to give up on selfish creative pursuits and learn to lead God’s people into worship. But I haven’t yet been convinced that it’s wrong to desire spontaneous creativity. I just know that whenever I’m going through a time of serious spiritual growth, I’m usually writing music about it. So I have to think that this was a time of spiritual staleness, because I was constantly frustrated. I think I was so caught up in doing religious things- leading worship, Bible studies, college group, church on Sunday, church office work, etc., etc…, that I forgot about the importance of a vital, living breathing relationship with the Lord Himself in every moment of my life. I forgot how to slow down and just be in God‘s presence.
When put together, I had no time for creativity or everyday encounters with people outside of the church. I barely had time to spend with my lovely wife, except for scheduled times once or twice a week! So as I write this, I realize that I dug my own hole. I didn’t know how to say no to people, and I thought that the more I did, the more righteous I was.
The prophet Isaiah wrote about his distaste for religious pretension without mercy for the spiritually hungry in the first chapter of his book. Granted, his situation was extreme, because Israel’s hypocrisy at that time was extreme. They were murderous, and selling out to pagan religion. But Israel was also involved in greed and oppression of the poor, sometimes by merely ignoring their pleas for help. And to make it worse they were continuing to participate in religious stuff without ever really falling face down in shame before God for their obvious inconsistency. And on top of all of that, much like I was as an intern, the people of Israel were in a frenzy. They were so busy, that they didn’t even have or make time to be still before God. How could they have heard His voice when they couldn’t even slow down? How could I have heard God’s voice when I was fueled by self-righteousness, religiosity, caffeine and aspirin?
I think the Church can lead people to be this way if we’re not careful. I think we as individuals convince ourselves to act this way because we think we’re being champions of Jesus. It’s easy for people to slip into the trap of hypocrisy, all the while keeping a guise of pious pretension to guard their vile hearts. People can easily drop a tithe check in a plate, worship the Lord with their hands raised in the air on Sundays, and go on having nothing but bitter hatred and condemnation for those outside the “evangelical mold”.
On the flip side, people can also do a lot of religious “things”, and surrender their lives to helping the poor. But without love, it’s worth nothing, as the apostle Paul said. It’s tremendously popular in this generation to help the poor and outcast as Christians, and it’s also popular to have jacked up theology and ignore the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. If we do good works but don’t proclaim the gospel, we’re missing the point as well.
Some brands of this busy religiosity resemble the Pharisee life-style, not the life of Jesus, who called out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. The Pharisees tithed a tenth of all they had but had hearts full of greed, malice and wickedness. The Pharisees criticized Jesus for hanging out with “sinners” on the margins, probably not only because of their rigid, legalistic religious laws that they added to the scripture. They also hated Jesus because they were jealous (ultimately because He was God and they didn’t know it). Messed up and broken people were drawn to Jesus, and He healed them. I imagine that messed up and broken people tried to stay away from the Pharisees as much as they could. Therefore, the hatred of the Pharisees just festered and boiled like an infected wound. And what did the Pharisees do to remedy the wound? Added to their “religious works”. Like so many young people today, they even made a show of any charity they performed, which Jesus spoke against in His sermon on the mount (Matt. 6:1-4). There are so many ways to be over-religious, but having peace in God’s presence, and out of joyous faith laboring for the Kingdom. That’s where the good stuff is. That’s where the suffering that’s worth something is. That’s where eternity in the Kingdom is revealed.