Recently I attended my first Christian conference. It was in a work capacity, as ‘exhibitor’ mission spot. There was my first error. Trying to put God into my ‘working life’ box.
From media conferences, to trade shows that span 42,000 square metres, 500 exhibitors and 50,000 attendees, I was riding high on event management muscle memory. Comparatively, this was a weekend of 1500 attendees with eight other mission exhibitors in attendance. How hard could it be? There was my second error. Pride.
It ought not have been hard at all. Yet I forgot God doesn’t fit in any box. Plus as soon as you get complacent, the Horned Mother Trucker (HMT) likes to come out and have some tempting fun.
My mistake was treating it commercially. Whilst I have a ‘sell ice to eskimos’ capacity, there was something I shuddered over in regards to selling Jesus.
You see, it wasn’t any old corporate, secular conference. It was Christian. With great preachers speaking to youth from all over Australia, who would take the opportunity to either reaffirm their faith in G&J or embrace them for the first time. The weekend was set to be a powerful display of light overcoming darkness. Of course the HMT was going to object.
But I was in work mode. Too busy getting stuff done. So that sneaky HMT tried the back door. Whilst I was focused on work, he pressed buttons to do with my pre-Christian, personal walk. And, boy, didn’t he do it well.
As I’ve blogged before, I spent a great deal of time in the new-age, motivational space. The thought-creation, positive thinking, rune-reading, angel-card dealing, crystal-gazing, alien-channelling, reiki-healing, sage-burning space.
I failed dismally at new-age. I could never thought-create perfectly enough and got sick of all the self it encouraged me to aspire to. Oh, the courses I attended. You can go broke fixing yourself. Then I added some eastern philosophies on non-attachment. Big mistake. We are joyful, relational beings and trying so hard not to feel left me depressed and sick.
The joy of G&J is how they accepted me, exhausted by all by new-age and yogic wanderings, and replaced it with a lighter yoke. It doesn’t mean I don’t have a new-age hangover though. Which is what the HMT so cleverly exploited.
Today, put me in a stadium with anyone on stage and I will deconstruct the timing, the tone of voice, the music and language used. If the speaker says x, if the band plays y, then z will happen. I will doubt, question and push-back against anything and anyone trying to manipulate my limbic brain.
The first morning of the conference I awoke with two lines of a song on repeat in my head: Calvary covers it all. My sin and shame, don’t count anymore. “What are You sending me that for?” I wondered. “I know that about you and Jesus already!”
God was throwing me something to hold onto. He knew what was coming up.
That night, in a packed venue of 1500 people, 100+ youth re-affirmed or made their choice for G&J, just as I had done 18 months before during my own personal response to His call.
Yet rather than joy, it shoved me straight back to memories of new-age/motivation/ change your thoughts, change your life stadium messaging. Recall, I’ve not done ‘big stage’ church before. To date my G&J experiences have been small to medium venues and personal. Intensely personal.
So in the horned mother trucker surfed on a doubting vitriol of lava. “Is this real? Or just mood music, good lighting and a clever call to action that’s messing with their limbics? Maybe it isn’t God and Jesus at all,” the HMT whispered.
HMT is always going to get us through pride. My prideful weak spot is my communications skills and PR abilities. “You can deconstruct what you’re hearing,” the HMT continued. “Go on. I’m sure you can pick this apart as an engagement exercise. Spot the smoke and mirrors that are being employed to encourage people to think and feel a certain way.”
At a time when I ought to have been sharing in the joy of all these people getting to know G&J – after all, haven’t I experienced the truth and beauty of that new relationship? – I was irrationally pissed.
I have listened to plenty of sermons in the past without wanting to analyse and deconstruct them for hidden manipulation and agendas. Yet put me in far larger venue with screens, music and lighting and there I was, ready to bundle G, J and scripture in with my new-age hangover and scorn the experience.
The Smart-Alec Pastor (SAP) was also in attendance. In my blackness I suggested he could get a gig as a studio audience warm-up pastor channelling Anthony Robbins. I’m amazed he didn’t pin me down, start some sort of exorcism prayer and submerge me in holy water there and then.
I went to bed that night still black. And G&J awoke me again with the same lyrics. Calvary covers it all. My sin and shame, don’t count anymore.
I wish I could write that the lightbulb went on immediately. But the black lifted to grey as I reached out and G&J filtered back through my morning prayer. “I’m being gnarly and ungracious and I don’t know why,” I told them. “I don’t understand why You are pushing that lyric at me. So I’ll do my best to sit with this and pay attention. I’d appreciate Your help.”
It is no God-incidence that I sat in two sessions that day where the first preacher reminded me how songs and lyrics deliver us a two-way vertical moment with God. Calvary covers it all. My sin and shame, don’t count anymore.
My shame at being seduced into thinking new-age was a way to God. Faced now with what I know to be true in His gift to me in His son, it is a poor and awful comparison.
Then the second preacher cut though the stage show, musicians and videos to talk about the small church at Colossae that grew with faith and purpose without the need for fancy stagecraft and mod cons.
And my grey heart cleared.
I sat in awe-full tears through the rest of his sermon.
G&J don’t need mood lighting. They simply need our ears to listen and our hearts to open. For me to stay faithful. Even when – especially when – the HMT is pushing my buttons.