Sunday, March 27, 2016

The cost of a supernatural experience learned from comic books

People are hungry for an experience of the supernatural. I was, too, until I found out what the cost was.

I grew up reading about UFOs, alien encounters, psychic séances, ghost hunting and anything that wasn’t what normal life offered me. Edgar Allen. Poe was my spirit guide and Charles Fort was my prophet.

Super powers

Bored with the reality I knew, I consumed science fiction and fantasy from Asimov to Zelazny and comics from Atom Ant to to Zod. My innocent personality believed a world of apparitions built by people's minds with false gods which didn't understand the world I was in. As I understood the literary purpose, these super heroes were supposed to teach us about ourselves but they ended up creating a new ideal world.

We crave these stories of comic book heroes with a super power. Supernatural power is alluring. But it is better tolerated in our unsupernatural life when we believe in innate energy instead of something supernaturally bestowed. So you see characters empowered by nuclear accidents and mutants by birth rather than average people used by God for unbelievable events. And the mysteriously protected spy/secret agent/military good guy never seems to miss a shot with his superhuman skill. But real heroes, like David (1 Samuel 17), are mixtures of skill and defending the honor of God.

The popularity of the comic book character brought to life in film is the result of my generation taking our child role models and putting them in adult stories. Stories have gotten less innocent and more emotionally complex just like growing up does to your life. Gods and religion are showing up more often as ways to relate to the aging audience that is coming to grips with a life ending soon. The X-Men are certainly a modern pantheon of gods now with the semi-religious film, Apocalypse, releasing this May.

The risk

The seduction is not so fun when you think there’s a never-ending price to pay or a lender never satisfied. The price to pay seems like it should be the limited struggle or pain that you, the protagonist, had to endure. Then the power is the reward for what this life has put you through. After all, the labors of one of the original mythological heroes, Hercules, made him a virtuous man so famous that he achieved god status.

We are willing to risk much for a supernatural experience. Even risk that might not be the right kind of supernatural, if we even know what that means. A risk is easier taken when the cost is not fully known but could have a few obvious side effects. For superior power, we can tolerate the occasional unglamorous body transformation or energy sapping like many comic book heroes.

The way we prevent too much risk is not to have to think about whether there is an ulterior motive to this supernatural intelligence. When we don’t worry about our lives being influenced by that kind of controlling force, the risk is minimal. If it requires us to follow another set of rules, then there is a controlling factor that is contrary to why we want to have that power.

Having control

The ability of doing something significant with a super power is the ability to be in control. We want to ignore any kind of authority of an outside force. What good is having a power that is not going to succeed because someone else fails you? That wouldn’t be a super power. Super implies dominance and winning. I can have the power to wash dishes. But that doesn’t allow me to win at anything.

Is it pride that keeps us believing that there is a power in our virtuous selves that can win over anything? Do we display this kind of dominance by establishing our position over other people without asking their help? Do we feel that if it is possible to attain that position of power, we have earned the right to be the masters of our own life? If we can live life as a super hero in a movie or book then can we believe we can live life as masters of our own lives?

A touch from the supernatural can help us feel good about ourselves when we reach out for that world. Feeling good like that is just another way to say we are controlling our life without any help from an outside force. We tap in to a universal power source for our energy. The miscalculation comes when people touch that world and find out that it comes with a price.

The cost

I know in my life there has been no time whatsoever that when I desired to contact the occult world that there wasn’t a reply back from that “Phantom Zone”  that altered my life. When I asked for any kind of experience I got it. It was stimulating, interesting, unique and real. But in most cases, I also lost part of my life in the process. That life was the part of me that was able to get out of bed and live the day. I felt like a backwater filled with sediment. It led me into various escapes from that loss of life and worsened the spiral into frustration at not being able to control my life.

At some point, you have to give up when it's obvious there’s a better way. I found that the Lord God is the supernatural force to give you back life. You stop wanting to have your own supernatural experience and the God of Abraham provides you with life that is supernaturally real just like his life was. The price is giving up control and being obedient.
“Come now, and let us reason together,”
         Says the LORD,
         “Though your sins are as scarlet,
         They will be as white as snow;
         Though they are red like crimson,
         They will be like wool.
“If you consent and obey,
         You will eat the best of the land;
“But if you refuse and rebel,
         You will be devoured by the sword.”
         Truly, the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
Isaiah 1:18-20

Power and anointing

So no, you can’t have a super power. Not in the real world at least. There is no super power except where God is able to provide it because it is His power that will bring Him glory and we don't get to mess it up. Do you want a permanent anointing or a mantle? What kind of super power from God are you asking for? Do you want a gift of God’s Spirit to bring honor to His works, or are you just wanting a scripturally correct super power? How do you think you are able to distinguish the difference?

The super power person is one who wants glory and does what they want with the ability. Do you want the power to call down the vengeance of the Lord God from heaven because you know that certain people deserve punishment? Or maybe to speak in tongues because you’ve heard that this is a power to pray in the language of heaven which gives you a way to ask God for what you want? What more is there that the God of this universe loves you, hears your plea for creating a clean heart in you, and when He finds an obedient and repentant follower, is able to ignore the amazing stupidity of your mouth up to now?

The super power you desire is God’s privilege to provide and use in you as a witness for His power. The service you to desire to give, is an office of our Lord, who will give it to whoever will be His choice for the best witness to Him and to His glory.

Don’t cheapen the gift. It comes with a price of obedience and waiting. Don't make it an idol. The power of God in my life through my obedience is greater than any super power that the world can offer. No relationship is more fulfilling that my day to day knowing how to walk side by side with God in this life. Your relationship is not with the super power.
“I said to their children in the wilderness, ‘Do not walk in the statutes of your fathers or keep their ordinances or defile yourselves with their idols. ‘I am the LORD your God; walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and observe them. Sanctify My sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the LORD your God.’ Ezekiel 20:18-20

Alternate super powers

Many kinds of super powers are available to replace the obedience serving to witness God’s power in this life. You can be a god yourself. Why be obedient when if you are acting as your own god, you can have whatever you want? The world can show you how to get anything you desire, you just have to follow the 12-step plan to success. If you aren't a god yet, get some more training.

Maybe you’d just like the power to read other people’s minds so that you can tell them what they already know. Then you are seen as a person who can find out secrets and be feared that you might reveal something you shouldn’t. God already knows those secrets so I’m not sure what favor you are doing God. It's just a demonstration of a super power and asserting your status as a demigod.

Maybe the power is foretelling the future or interpreting visions. Both reveal information that hasn’t been told before and can be useful as warnings to protect us. The motive can be good because many people would listen to you testify to God's greatness. But you could be seen as a visionary seer with a super power and people would come to have their fortunes told. That's the business of asking the supernatural world to give up secrets which could be wrong messages from spirits taking your life in a completely wrong direction.

We must have our life aligned to God in total obedience because a crack of the vessel that allows sin to enter in and spoil the contents will change the people that eat or drink from that vessel. So if you are an influential congregation leader, you have to be absolutely sure that you have committed your life to be without any obstacle of sin.

“When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you.
         But the wind will carry all of them up,
         And a breath will take them away.
         But he who takes refuge in Me will inherit the land
         And will possess My holy mountain.” And it will be said,
         “Build up, build up, prepare the way,
         Remove every obstacle out of the way of My people.”
For thus says the high and exalted One
         Who lives forever, whose name is Holy,
         “I dwell on a high and holy place,
         And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit
         In order to revive the spirit of the lowly
         And to revive the heart of the contrite.
Isaiah 57:13-15


Soften our hearts, Lord God of the universe, so that we can become Your chosen testament to Your power. Let us not think of any of our ability to exalt ourselves with any power other than the power that will give glory to You, HaShem. For in this power, You have given us life, and life with a full enjoyment that comes through being with You in this world. We celebrate this day for all the blessing you have given us.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Worshiping God at the Golden Calf nightclub

Nightclubs and music are partners in escapism. Worshipers of God and music are partners in praise.

Nightclubs represent a congregation of believers in themselves escaping the life they now have looking to find something better for the evening. Houses of worship and prayer are people praising God and lifting prayers of blessing for the life that they are living now.

The need for clubbing

Bars and clubs are a way to bring a personal relationship to a needy soul wanting to escape the day filled with a lonely impersonal meetings and endless data that means nothing to them. They are worn out making choices about things with little relevance to them. The nightclub forms a commune of lonely souls made stronger by real emotions and opinions more easily communicated through the drug of choice whether alcoholic or chemical. They encounter meaning here when daily life seems to have none.

People want to escape to an alternate experience in the darkness, to shape their life through a new acquaintance, perhaps meet a lifelong mate, and forget the meaningless rat race that is outside the mesmerizing repeated refrains on the dance floor. Maybe a rave, maybe a club or bar, but these venues become significant because like-minded people can have a life changing experience there enhanced with intense feelings.

That excitement and effervescence of the music propels you into a shrine of people who wage a battle against the quiet mechanical daily grind. It's a release that attracts emotionally drained people. For many, they easily call the nightclub their church as they look to find an emotional connection. It’s not hard to understand why the extended metaphor was used in Hozier’s “Take Me To Church” for a love that was like religion.

The nightly music scene is about rebellion against the weekday. The weekend becomes the release. Even the anxious The Weeknd, that Grammy award winning singer with an Eastern Orthodox background and Ethiopian parents, identifies with the needy hurting masses of people much like one of his major influences, Prince, who converted to a Jehovah’s Witness in 2001. Musicians are in constant struggle to pull down the veil of a counterfeit life and sing about what they see. Much of it is painful, however, like in The Weeknd's "Can't Feel My Face", his love song to drugs.

The dance floor is welcome to all walks of life. Nobody kicks you out because you dress wrong. You can do almost any activity short of a major crime and people tolerate it. People understand a culture of grace here. Add in the specialized reason for the club’s existence, whether a style of music or a style of culture, and you have a powerful reason to feel like you belong with a strong loyalty.

God’s nightclub

So, what’s the difference between that mix of humanity and the place where we should be worshiping? The club has no values limiting what you can do. You bring your own. God’s values are found in His people coming together to worship Him. It should be a place to welcome all people, a place to get excited about worship, and a place to find refuge.

So should a house of worship take on the club atmosphere because it has the club’s equality of membership, the desire to be there, and a feeling of protection from the world? Darken the room, flash the lights, turn up the sound and it's hard to tell a difference.

The priest or rabbi is a role model for their community of believers. Many have taken on the role of educator as well, so much so that in some congregations, study notes are handed out before the sermon. They set the values for the believers and if you don’t like their music you go elsewhere. Some have traditional ceremonies and vestments, others find a connection by talking like one of the gang and wearing their wrinkled shirt untucked like a twenty-something. All are there to provide a place where God is honored.

It’s the role of the congregation to provide the flora and fauna of a unique multitude of ways God can be worshiped. It is out of the context of our lives that we find ways to recognize a blessing. It is out of the context of our life where we see God working in our behalf that we find reasons to praise Him in song. We hear the blues in a bar where people gather to find solace in each other’s stories of misery. But we are lifted not through the shared struggles of each other but through our victories that the Lord has won, our personal blessings.

The weekdays provide us the groundwork for having blessings. Our worship is not our blessing but a praise to the one who has brought us out of our turmoil and into a better place. Ceremonies help provide a meaningful way to help us relate back to our life experiences, those of our family, and to blessings we've all received.
The singers went on, the musicians after them,
         In the midst of the maidens beating tambourines.
Bless God in the congregations,
         Even the LORD, you who are of the fountain of Israel. - Psalm 68:25-26

The experience

In the nightclub, we follow our own desires and other’s hearts but in the house of God, we follow one voice. We come knowing it is our Lord calling us to come together so we can agree together and be a part of all the other people He has granted His salvation to.

The music is not our salvation and the experience is not our salvation but in the nightclub it will do for the evening. We don’t assemble for the music. We assemble for our Lord God who has created and put the universe in harmony. We don’t assemble for the experience. The experience is in Him who is righteous and will be a part of our lives every day.
Serve the LORD with gladness;
         Come before Him with joyful singing.
Know that the LORD Himself is God;
         It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
         We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving
         And His courts with praise.
         Give thanks to Him, bless His name - Psalm 100:2-4
We come to our assembly place to worship the God that made our life possible and not through a portal of heaven. It could be a pile of rocks, a tent, or an office meeting room. We come with praise to give and don’t expect to have to be encouraged to praise and swept up into a wave of revelers by music too loud to talk over. Our place of worship is a portal of God’s awareness. We share life’s struggles with each other and find the release when we understand who is in control.

A golden calf

We don't follow a golden calf that leads us to our promised land we visit every week. We have a leader who gives us the assurance of a salvation if we but follow God’s very particular advice. We have His words of truth which by living them out every day, we stay under the shadow of His wings and bring a blessing on us. And we have people who build relationships to holiness where the battles we endure and sufferings that befall us are but bridges to their understanding of why God can be so good and why He asks us to find His goodness in our lives also.
And You did not forsake them.
Even when they made for themselves
         A calf of molten metal
         And said, ‘This is your God
         Who brought you up from Egypt,’
         And committed great blasphemies,
You, in Your great compassion,
         Did not forsake them in the wilderness; Nehemiah 9:17-19
The golden calf was a placeholder for the Lord God that the sons of Israel worshiped. They knew who had brought them through the plagues and finally to Mount Horeb. But it was hardly enough to admire for the party people following their own desires to eat, drink, and sing during a new holiday. Those kinds of festivities devoted to an idol, even one representing the Lord God of Israel, made His anger burn.

Let us give up our idols of God, those things which are necessary in order to have a proper festival or ceremony for God that we take pride in (Ezekiel 7:20). He needs none of that. Let’s find God through the daily goodness of His mercy in each bite of bread and each breath of air. For when we take that for granted, we lose the sovereignty of God and His ability to transform those simple things into life that brings meaning into every day. And let us find Him in the praise that we bring to our gathering place as well as in the brethren alive in Him we meet each day.

Follow me on Blogarama