First DisclaimerThe last song on the new album represents one of the most important moments of my spiritual journey so far in life. Out of the 130 songs written for this new project, if I could only pick one song to be on the album it would be this one, What Do I Know of Holy. Its significance for me is deep and personal and with the help of an incredibly talented song writer, Alli Rogers, I was able for the first time in my life to capture such a special moment with God in an actual song. So, this entry is not for the faint of heart. It is long. And I could have made it shorter and more entertaining, but I had no desire to do so. If you are so inclined to read it, I hope it will mean something to you. But if you are at the end or beginning of a long day and want to skip this one, I won't blame you! Easter Bunny Sunday Everyone looked beautiful yesterday at church. Pastels. Hats. New dresses. Sweater vests. Palm trees and crosses draped with flowers. The perfect sermon: God’s love, our sin, the cross, and new life. It was the perfect service. Flawless transitions, great music (ala Addison Road), good message, great, big million-dollar facility, and a lot of pretty people.
We have it down don’t we?
Church Culture I have been a Christian for as long as I can remember. I was basically born in the church and I have spent my entire life within the safety of all that is “Christian.” Christian movies, music, camps, books, Bible studies, friends, coffee houses, and even clothes. On top of that I have been indoctrinated with theology, ‘absolute’ truths, right, wrong, heaven, hell, acceptable, unacceptable, ‘Christian’ and unchristian. And on top of that I have been taught to meet God. Who he is, what He thinks, what He looks like, what He wants for me, what He wants for the world, why He sent Jesus, and how the scriptures can answer all my questions about life and God.
We, the church, seem to have an answer for everything. A system. This system defines God, defines spirituality, and defines many of our lives. It is not a bad thing, it serves a wonderful purpose as a place for community, growth, and a starting point for us to come together so that ultimately we can go out into the world and represent Jesus. But the church is not the whole of God. Neither is the Bible. Neither is anything else that is apart of our church ‘system’ or church culture.
These are but glimpses of God. Ways that we can see Him and know Him here on earth. But the truth is, at the end of the day, we believe in a God that we can never understand. That we can never grasp. That we can never absolutely define with our finite hearts and minds.
Absolutes And that is hard for us to accept. We want to speak in absolutes. We want definitive answers. We want black, white, and no room for grey. We give answers as if we were God himself and we shirk from questions that might cause us to doubt or second-guess something that we have always believed to be true. People war over the words of scripture, its meanings and its inerrancy. And we have countless books telling us exactly what ‘true’ theology is, what to think, what to believe, and what to do with our lives. Why? Because we want Jesus and God to make sense, we don’t want any holes; we want security. Spiritual security. Thus, we have church culture, all figured out for us and completely safe, it is a clear definition of God for the masses.
And church culture is not bad. Hear me say that. I myself am a product of it. Within the walls of church, bible drill, youth group, camps, Christian concerts and sitting on the beach learning how to pray and listen for God’s voice…this is where I fell in love with God. Being in these places made me realize that He loved me and that I was made to love Him. But at the end of the day, is that all there is to God?
What do I know of Holy? With everything so perfectly figured out in our church culture we are tempted to not ask questions. We are tempted to believe that we have God all figured out. We are tempted to replace awe and wonder with calculated beliefs and redundant practices.
We are tempted to take the Holiness out of the Holy.
But what do I know of Holy? What do we know of Holy?
My Disclaimer I have not been to seminary. And I do not speak seminarian. I am no theologian. I am no Biblical scholar. I am no great debater, nor would I debate you.
I am just a girl who believes that at the end of the day our church culture is good but so very limited. It is such a small, small glimpse of God. At best it draws us closer to the creator of the universe, at worst, it tarnishes His holiness and befuddles God with man-made rituals, rules, and condemnations. I am a girl who believes there is more to God out there than we have ever seen or known. And I am a girl who is a bit worried that we are so good at church, theology, programs, and spirituality that we have convinced ourselves we have it all figured out. We have God figured out.
Roots This summer I had a soul changing experience with God. A preacher by the name of Dr. Dennis Newkirk taught an 8 a.m., Friday morning, camp bible study to a bunch of tired, sunburned, beach bummed students. I was in the room. And though not sunburned, it was the 6th week of camp for me and I was tired. I was tired of leading worship, of being away from home, of "camp" food, and really just tired of church. When he walked in that morning I don't think there was a single person out of the 500 of us packed in the room that thought, this morning my heart will radically change.
But I don't think one of us left as the same person.
Dr. Newkirk spent the next hour talking about what it means to behold God. Not the kind of God we have imagined for ourselves in our churches and pop Christian culture, but a more Holy, pure and powerful God who transcends all of heaven and earth and reigns with infinite glory, love, and wisdom. He led us verse by verse through Isaiah chapter 6 where Isaiah actually sees God. The heavens open up and he looks up to see the essence of God in all of His Holiness. The passage says there are angels surrounding God. Big, magnificent, majestic creatures (quite unlike the idea of my angels who were more like Tinkerbell's with halo's and pixie dust)...no, these are the most beautiful creatures to ever exist. Next to God, they are the closest beings of perfection to exist. And these glorious angels cannot even look at God. The scripture says that they cover both their eyes and feet with their wings because they cannot even bear to see God or to stand in His presence. With two wings they keep themselves a float and in a SHOUT, not a whisper, they continuously worship God by saying, "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty. The whole earth is filled with his glory."
They see God and all they can do is worship Him. Isaiah sees God and the King James version says that all he could was fall to his knees and become undone.
Coming Undone In that moment, with the true God, he made no promises and he was not talked into to saying a certain prayer or even to confessing his sins. He didn't get out his checkbook and he didn't even start singing joyfully...he was so overwhelmed, he could do nothing but come completely undone. And at this point God begins to come down to earth, the temple shakes, and a smoke fills the room and God begins to speak to Isaiah. It is truly an amazing passage.
Dr. Newkirk said...what if that God walked in today. The one that the angels revere. The one that leaves you speechless. The one who is shrouded in Holiness. In power. In glory. In love. In mercy. In strength. The one who is praised and worshiped every minute of every day, who we cannot even bear to see because He is so much perfection. Is that the God you know? Is that the God you sing these trite songs to? Is that the God we worship with our precise, mundane, predictable Sunday morning services? Is that the God you make lame promises to that you know you will never keep? Have you seen the real God? Have you caught a glimpse of Him? Have you ever truly come undone simply because you have seen God's Holiness?
I realized I had not. My God had largely been man-made, much like a cute grandpa that hands out candy at church and praises me for doing good things and wants me to live my best life for Him and for the world!!! Yes. I have worshiped. I have loved Jesus. I have tried to understand God. I have lived my life in the church. I have prayed. I have walked with Jesus and heard His voice countless times. Those things were not invalidated. But in one moment I realized that my God was so very small. I had never known the God that Isaiah saw that day. I had never really dropped to my knees in awe and reverence of the creator of the universe.
You could have heard a pin drop. It was like God himself, the real God, entered the room. And Dr. Newkirk said to respond to God in that moment however we needed to respond. He followed that by saying, "Jenny will lead us in worship."
Jenny will not lead us in worship, I thought. I fell to my knees. Stunned. Broken. Overwhelmed. Acutely alive. I felt the awesome presence of the most Holy of Hollies touch my very lips. And I came undone. For the first time in my life God revealed His true Holiness to me. Not all of it, just enough of a glimpse that my heart and my soul could never be the same. I saw something bigger than I had ever even known existed. I caught a glimpse. On my knees, on my face, on that stage completely undone before something so incredibly big, I realized that this person I had learned about was more than I could ever possibly know. And I came undone. Not a word to sing. Not a word to utter. Not in a state of shame or guilt either. Just completely in awe. Completely overtaken by the waves of the most high God. I saw His face. I felt His countenance.
The room was silent. People were weeping. People were sitting there looking stunned, as if a ghost where among us. People stood up on their chairs raising their hands as high as they could. People fell flat on their faces on the ground. And this is a Southern Baptist camp here, these were not typical responses, this was not emotional, this was a dry, 8 a.m. in depth Bible study...but this was real. God was very much in that place. He showed up. He reveled His Holiness. And we, we had not the means to even take it in.
And for the first time I felt like He said to me...Jen, sweet child, you have no idea what you are dealing with. You have no idea how much power and Holiness I contain. You have no idea the scope and the breadth and the depth of me. You don't have the slightest notion. No one does.
And this was the most awe-inspiring, comforting, real, fresh, reviving, invigorating thing I had ever heard from the Lord. For a girl who has dreaded dying "too early" for a long time and has never desired to get to heaven too quickly, I wanted to be taken up in that moment and become an angel right then. And the aching desire has not left. I want to be with that God. Every morning I wake up, every breath I breathe, and the second I leave this place. I want to be with Him. I want to be His worshiper. I want to go to church for Him and Him alone. I want to be a "Christian" a Christ follower, for Him and Him alone. I want to, as Isaiah said, be sent anywhere to do anything for Him and Him alone. If that is the real God, I am His. Every ounce of me. Nothing else satisfies now. Not since I have seen the real thing.
Candy Coated Christianity I don't want a pop-Christian-American-feel good-program driven, watered down, less than Holy God. I have no desire. I want, I need the real thing. The Holy of Hollies. The mysterious, all powerful, all loving, all majestic God. The God that, truth be told, we cannot have all the answers to, we cannot have figured out. I want a God who I can know, but can never fully understand.
So this song, What do I know of Holy, was written about that moment and the million minutes that have followed since where my heart feels like it might explode. My most sacred of experiences with God came to life in the words of this song and I hope that it brings you to your knees. I hope it reminds you, as it does me, that God is far beyond us. And this is a good thing! Because He is the Holy king who will save this world...He is the only who can.
At the end of the day....what do I know of Holy? What do we know of Holy?