We can’t do this by ourselves.
FEBRUARY 2, 2023
We can’t do this by ourselves. Let’s talk about it, on Key Life.
It’s for freedom that Christ set us free. And Key Life is here to bring you Biblical teaching that encourages you to never give it the slavery again. Our teacher on Key Life is Steve Brown. He’s an author, broadcaster, and seminary professor who’s sick of phony religion.
Thank you Matthew. If you’re just joining us, we’re looking at some themes from the book I wrote Laughter and Lament: The Radical Freedom of Joy and Sorrow. And yesterday we were talking about how not only do we identify with God in our laughter, in our joy and our tears and our weeping, but we also learned to identify and bond with one another. We saw yesterday how Paul had bonded with the Christians in Philippi and he wrote his letter from prison and he said that he thanked God for them. And in the letter he said.
Even if I am poured out on the drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith.
In other words, if I’m executed,
I am glad and rejoice with you all, likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
In the mix of death, rejection, pain, laughter, there is the amazing identification of Christians with one another. Took me a long time to see that, I was arrogant, selfish, narcissistic. Still am sometimes, but I thought I could do it by myself until I was broken and I realized I couldn’t, that I needed to be a part of a Christian family and they needed me to be a part of that because the place where we identify and bond is in the jokes we tell and the tears we shed. Recently, fairly recently, I was the guest of the Southern Gospel Music Podcast. At the time, it was the fastest and still is growing podcast in the country with over 200,000 listeners. In our discussion of the popularity of Southern gospel music and the reason for it, the discussion turned to J.D. Vance’s wonderful book, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis. The suggestion was made that gospel music connects with real people because and it was just like that book. Because along with country music and that book, there is a universal experience of light and darkness, of laughter and tears. There is a rawness about all of that that’s scary, but also refreshing. It’s scary because it seems so out of place and it’s refreshing because it is. It’s earthy quality has the ring of the genuine, in a culture where it’s hard to tell the difference between what is real and what is creative narrative or what is a sales pitch. It’s what it means to be human, but on a deeper level gospel music connects because it is Christian and Biblical. It is dirt under the fingernails music that reflects something we often miss, the three-way connection between a laughing and crying God, his people and their connection to one another. Listen, I’m not throwing rocks here, church is messy, and as Augustine suggested, she may be a prostitute, but she’s my mother. I’ve been a part of the church for more years than many of you have been alive, and I’ve seen it all, the church along with sausage and the law is not always easy to watch while it’s being made. I’ve often said to congregations where I was preaching, if you are new this morning, we’re glad you’re, but take some advice from the old guy and leave before you get hurt. We’re not nice people, but if you can manage to stay, you’ll find a family here, sinful, confused, needy, lonely, doubtful, and it will be the most important family connection you’ll have in this life. That’s why gospel music connects, it’s why the Vance book connected because it was raw, it was deep, it was profound, and it was authentic, and it was real. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still love the church, but last Sunday I became aware of something in the church of which I’m a part that I had not noticed before. Maybe it was God’s Spirit or maybe it was what I had recently read. In the Forward written by Michael Card, in his very helpful guide, The Sacred Sorrow Experience Guide: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament. Ken Cope, who is his co-author, wrote this.
We have a whole generation of people with unresolved issues, hurts and pains in their past that have been shallowly dealt with at best and at worst have been ignored and discounted completely. The result has been an increasingly shallow Christianity and a profound lack of understanding of the nature of God and how as his people we are to move and live in a fallen world. We do not know ourselves and while we know a lot about God, we do not truly know him. We have been unwilling to sit in our sadness and pain, and we have missed much of the intimacy which he longs to offer us.
I love the worship music in our church. The music is theologically correct, it’s filled with praise, but for the first time, I noticed something missing in the worship time. Genuine tears and joyous laughter, and a place in worship to express both. In fact, and it was unintended. The worship almost made that sort of thing impossible. Where in the world, if not the worship services of the church is a place where Christians can cry, gut wrenching tears, or laugh and dance with abandon? We don’t do that sort of thing in our church, and I’ll bet you don’t do that in your church either. I have a musician friend who during one of his concerts, stopped in the middle of the worship song. He and his band were performing. The audience was seemingly caught up in the worship, many raising their hands to God with closed eyes, swaying to the music. And my friend stopped and said, how many of you don’t feel the worship like everybody else? How many of you join in, but your worship and your hand raising is just something you do because everybody else is doing it, and it’s what Christians do. He then asks for a show of hands. And urged that they be honest. My friend told me that almost every person in that large auditorium raised their hand. Frankly, that would’ve been an appropriate time to stop the concert and to cry out to God in lament. But not only that, it would’ve been an appropriate time to laugh at how silly and phony they had been to try and fake something that serious. It would not be unlike the laughter of the crowd in Hans Christian Anderson’s folk tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes. The laughter there came from a realization that the pompous emperor was buck naked and everybody including the emperor had been conned. The church is the place where we should lament the pain and laugh at the silly pretense. There would be great freedom if that ever happened. It’s a problem, and I’m not sure how you fix it. Maybe we should just set aside a silent time during the worship for people to cry, and if they get the giggles, let them get the giggles. I do think there ought to be times when the church looks at the pain, and we’re going to talk about this later, and are allowed to cry real tears. Also, a provision should be made for the laughter of the redeemed. I love the church. I love my church and I love my pastors and I love the staff and the people and the leadership in the church. So, I don’t want you to, I don’t want you to think that I’m throwing rocks at something I don’t love. I’m a part of that place and I feel a part of it, and I rejoice in being a part of the church. But what I said is something we do need to consider, and that is in our worship, we should have a place of great sadness, a time when we’re silent and we remember the pain, a time when we shed tears, and a time when we make fun of each other and laugh. And when we do that, the God of the universe will laugh and cry with his people. You think about that. Amen.
Thanks Steve. And with that, we wrap up another great week of exploring the Biblical themes that serve as the foundation of Steve’s latest book, Laughter and Lament. If you missed any episodes, be sure to stop by keylife.org to stream those for free. And of course, tomorrow being Friday, there’s a good chance our friend Pete Alwinson will swing by for Friday Q&A, don’t miss it. So, you may be facing something hard right now in your life, something stressful or painful or difficult. Maybe it’s an issue you’re dealing with or maybe it’s someone close to you, regardless, believe it or not, Jesus identifies with you. We know this is true because in John 11, Jesus weeps for the loss of Lazarus. But why? Well, Steve spoke about this in a powerful sermon called When Tears Are All That’s Left. If you’re going through it right now, could we send you the sermon on a CD? Just call us at 1-800-KEY-LIFE. That’s 1-800-539-5433. You can also e-mail [email protected] to ask for that CD. If you’d like to mail your request, just go to key life.org/contact to find our mailing addresses. Just ask for your free CD called When Tears Are All That’s Left. Finally, have you ever considered partnering in the work of Key Life through your giving? Giving is easy, you can charge a gift on your credit card or include a gift in your envelope. Or just pick up your phone and text Key Life to 28950 that’s Key Life, one word, two words. It doesn’t matter. Text that to 28950. Key Life is a member of ECFA in the States and CCCC in Canada. And we are a listener supported production of Key Life Network.