Sunday, August 30, 2009

looking up at you from the flat of my back

This past weekend, I drove with Mim and Jeanne to attend the Hillsong United Encounter event in Miami.

To be honest, I have had a lot of trouble over the past few weeks adjusting to life back in Orlando. Don't get me wrong: I've much enjoyed re-connecting with family and friends. I enjoy $2.50 movies and cheap books and ChickFila and quality salads and good Mexican food. I love late nights with with friends on front porches and not having to explain what LOST is to an Aussie for the millionth time.

But over the past couple of weeks, the sharp contrast between American and Australian culture has simply irritated me. Depressed me, even. America just feels the annoying neighbor that's just loud and flashy and rude. I've also felt creatively dry. Every time I've sit in front of my piano or with my guitar or in front of a computer screen, I feel like I am forcing myself to be profound and interesting, and have simply turned up dry. I haven't been blogging because I quite honestly do not feel like I have a whole lot to say, or at least anything that people will find remotely interesting.

I love my church community here in Status, but sometimes I feel like the the significant attitude and paradigm shifts that I felt like I was beginning to catch a glimpse of while in Australia have simply slipped away, swallowed up once again by a cynical, let's-hold-God-at-an-intellectual-arms-length-so-we-can-be-simultaneously-being-cool-and-articulate-mindset (wow, that's a lot of hyphens). The vibrancy of the hopeful, believing, life-changing attitude that seems to pervade the entire Hillsong Church--and it really is infectious--seemed to dissipate within a few weeks of being back home.

In essence, the very thing I was afraid of since coming back to Orlando was coming true.

On top of that, I still have no job. There are a few prospects that are promising, but since I have been looking for a job since June, the strain of uncertainty and unemployment has begun to wear on me. And it shows. I've felt emotionally fragile. I've sobbed. I've overanalyzed. I've become anxious.

I had a moment earlier this week when I felt refreshed and I was secretly grateful that this moment came prior to going to Hillsong Encounter. I did not want to rely on an event or a program to lift my spirits or give me an "emotional high." In His own way, God reminded me that He is still sovereign.

But by the time Friday hit, I was ready for Hillsong.

Going to Miami this weekend felt like I was momentarily teleported to Sydney. Seeing leaders like Brian and Bobbie Houston and the Hillsong United team, it was like being back at the City campus in downtown Sydney. There was something comforting about Aussie accents and even hearing them talk about the city and church in such a familiar way. I attended all the worship sessions and even attended a couple of breakout sessions, one on songwriting with Joel Houston, Brooke Ligertwood and Matt Crocker, and the other with Jad Gillies (worship leader of the Hills campus) and the entire Hillsong United team for an in-depth discussion on worship leading.

Saturday night, they closed the event out with an intense three-and-a-half hour session of praise and worship and a message by Scott "Sanga" Samways, who absolutely KILLED it. He preached with such passion and authority on the significance and power of the blood and sacrifice of Jesus.

Saturday night was basically a Hillsong United "Greatest Hits" love fest. If you have never been to a Hillsong United concert or event, let me warn you: it involves hopping. Lots and lots of hopping. And punching the air with your first.

Superficially, at least.

It also involves God knocking you on to the flat of your back.

Take Saturday night. They played all of the really high-energy, fist-pumping songs like "No Reason to Hide" and "Your Name High." They also did the epic songs like "Tear Down the Walls" and "With Everything", songs that have become personal favorites and anthems over the past couple of months. Hillsong also did well-known faves like "Mighty to Save" and "Hosanna."

Toward the second half of the set, they started playing "From the Inside Out."

This song has been shelved recently in my iPod playlist, mostly because it's an earlier song and because there are lots of new songs to be excited about. I kind of forgot it used to be one of my favorites, along with "Hosanna." So when they re-introduced the song, complete with a funky new riff, it came as a surprise.

I was not prepared for what happened in the next few moments.

It was as if all the uncertainty and disappointment and emotion of the past few weeks came crashing down on me during the song. The lyrics took on a whole different meaning for me as I stood there next to Jeanne and Tiff, underneath the brightly colored lights.

The lyrics, which I have heard dozens and dozens of times before, go like this:

A thousand times I've failed, still Your mercy remains
Should I stumble again, still I'm caught in Your grace

A thought suddenly struck me. Although I felt like I was experiencing a fantastic--even exhilarating time this weekend, something within me was unsettled, unhappy with my own attitude, knowing something needed to shift. In this moment, I felt my attitude completely stripped down. I became intensely aware of my flaws and weaknesses and insecurities, the reality of which has been laid heavily upon my soul lately. I constantly see my selfishness play out, a sharp contrast to the selflessness and life of service I believing the Spirit of God is continually molding me toward. Combine this with the fact that I had just heard Sanga preach passionately about the sacrifice of Jesus, I felt like a new believer again: in wondrous amazement that I could ever be included in anything significant and redemptive that the Lord was doing in the world. I have felt the suffocating, stomach-turning weight of failure, and I realized for the thousandth time, how much I am in need of grace that can only come from God.

Your will above all else, my purpose remains
The art of losing myself in bringing You praise

One of the major things I came away with from Australia was a call to re-enter the worship leading sphere, this time with more focus and purpose. Over the weekend, I have become intensely aware of my need to learn. Listening to Brooke and Jad and Joel and the rest of the team speak about their experiences and perspective, I realized that despite all of my experience and knowledge and background, I have so much to learn musically and spiritually. I sensed the Spirit once again returning me to a place of humility and unknowing. I feel completely inadequate and completely in touch with the extent of my brokenness.

Everlasting, Your light will shine when all else fades
Neverending, Your glory goes beyond all fame

By the time we sung these words, I was absolutely bawling. And although I have cried a few times in the past few weeks, I absolutely cannot remember the last time I have been in utter tears while singing to God, and BELIEVING what I'm singing to Him.

These words suddenly seemed alive and pregnant with meaning. They seemed to articulate all of the struggles I've had recently with remembering Australia, holding on to the things I've learned, and being worried that I wouldn't change. Or the truths that I've become so confident and sure of would simply fade away in time, leaving no real mark upon my life.

For the past few weeks, I have struggled immensely with the idea of leaving Australia--particularly Hillsong Church--behind. I remember even a couple of weeks ago, Jeanne expressed to me that she missed Australia. I casually shrugged and said I didn't miss it. And I didn't. At the moment anyway. Because I wasn't thinking about it. Or maybe I was trying not to think about it.

But since then, I've realized I have become so attached to the way I see faith expressed and lived out in the hearts and lives of the people I met and observed. The atmosphere there is absolutely charged with belief in transformation. I've had many conversations lately with a few close friends on the possibility of transformation. In Orlando, it's harder to believe that change is possible because a spirit of doubt and cynicism seems to prevail here sometimes.

I sense God doing something powerful and miraculous in the midst of the church in Sydney. I have become so inspired by and attached to the positivity, the vision, the vibrancy, that I forget that the purposes and glory of God far outweighs cultural differences and preferences. Even hearing Brian and Sanga and others talk this week, I see how passionately committed they are to the community in Sydney. The deep love and commitment they have for the church back home is so incredibly apparent.

Those lyrics instantaneously made me remember that the glory of God far outweighs and exceeds even Hillsong Church. I have been relying so much on this church for a sense of purpose and connectedness to God. The hope and vision and perspective imparted to me on a consistent basis really did help elevate my awareness of the Lord. I realized the fallacy of my thinking in letting Australia and Hillsong fade from my memory, from my grasp. The glory and fame of God far outweighs the platform and reach of even Hillsong Church. As far-reaching and influential as that church is, it pales in comparison to the power and possibility in God. In a sense, God stripped even Hillsong Church away from me in this moment, and overwhelmed me with the magnitude of His presence that is eternal and steadfast and infinite and beautiful.

And the cry of my heart is to bring You praise
From the inside out, Lord, my heart cries out

With no true, extended amounts of alone time for the past six months, I realized that that has significantly altered my ability re-engage intimately with God. As a result, I haven't approached Him as often or as honestly or relationally as my soul obviously needs Him through continual acts of worship and devotion. It's not simply time clocked in or things I need to do: it's a complete attitude shift. Although things I need to do are clearer: in terms of worship leading and serving and investing in people, I remember over and over again how important it is to stay bathed and immersed in the Source. Every act of love or service I do is rendered meaningless if I am not doing this as a result of intimacy with and worship of God, through Jesus and with a sensitivity to the Spirit.

God did something significant in my own heart the final weeks we were in Sydney. I was reminded this weekend that vision is a long-term thing. Something that will require commitment, perseverance, patience and prayer. So much of the transition back here has been governed by my feelings and preferences, and I have to remember that God's perspective of His kingdom is so much grander and beautiful than my own.

And that these things are possible.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

From Shantaram

"The starving, the dead, the slaves. And through it all, the purr and rustle of Prabaker's voice. there's a truth that's deeper than experience. It's beyond what we see, or even what we feel. It's an order of truth that separates the profound from the merely clever, and the reality from the perception. We're helpless, usually, in the face of it; and the cost of knowing it, like the cost of knowing love, is sometimes greater than any heart would willingly pay. It doesn't always help us to love the world, but it does prevent us from hating the world. And the only way to know the truth is to share it, from heart to heart, just as Prabaker told it to me just as I'm telling it to you now."

-Lin from Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts