A Good Friday
Lord, please show this testimony as witness to your power and not pride on my part, for I am nothing and you are everything. Amen.
I've been looking forward to this day for quite a while. There's something about Good Friday which appeals to me, not because of the death of Christ, but rather the death of sin.
If you haven't been reading my blog, God's been working on me pretty hard lately. I've just been feeling his presence all around me really pulling at my heart and I feel like I really turned a corner in my walk tonight.
I think I mentioned this before but we go to a "Mega Church" which means contemporary Worship music, the raising of hands in worship and all kinds of other things that would seem unusual to traditional church attendees. I have never raised my hands in worship - I have always thought that worship is done with a bowed head and clasped hands. Perhaps I never distinguished between prayer and worship. About a year ago, our church had a series on "Worship 101" and one of the things they talked about was raising hands in worship and how often the Bible talks about raising hands in worship. The Pastor even mocked those who claim they won't raise their hands in worship because they don't want to be "one of those types of Christians". They don't want to be "charismatic Christians". The jab stung me in particular because I guess I did feel that way. Still, I thought that if I forced myself to raise my hands in worship that I would be a hypocrite or feel like one.
Again as I mentioned before, I've been listening to a Worship CD, "I Could Sing of Your Love Forever" and on that CD is a song called "Once Again". I'd been listening to it on the train this morning and thought to myself that I wouldn't be surprised to hear that song at Worship this evening. I had previously excused myself from raising my hands in worship because I didn't know the songs. In the car on the way home, I pledged to myself (and to God) that I would raise my hands in worship if I heard this song tonight because I knew it well. I could sing it with my eyes closed.
The church elders handed us all black pieces of paper as we walked in. During one of the sermons, one of our pastors asked us to write (figuratively, not with pen) all of our sins on that piece of paper. Later, another pastor said he really hoped we "put the really bad ones on there". I did. I listed out my pride among my friends, my lust for women that I will never know, my impatience with my children, my anger and frustration with my job and coworkers and my inattention and selfishness to my wife. I came up with others as the service went on. Then our head pastor asked us - only if we felt so moved (in other words, an altar call - another one of my past dislikes from mega church practices) - the pastor asked us to bring our pieces of paper up to the stage and leave them in one of three baskets at the foot of the center cross on the stage. As he explained to us, the man to Jesus' left died "in sin", the man to his right died "to sin", and Jesus died "for sin". Therefore, the sins belong with Jesus if only we will let them go. As much as I don't like altar calls, I stood up. I walked up to the stage and knelt at the cross leaving all my sins in the basket and said (as we were requested to say) : Thank You Jesus for dying for my sins. As I walked to my seat, I thought to myself - is that it? Did I really just do that? There was no shame, discomfort or embarassment that I had felt when I had ignored previous altar calls. As I walked back to my seat, I noticed that almost everyone in the entire church was participating in this altar call.
Then as I sat down, God called me out on my pledge. I was shocked at the timing of it, but I knew immediately I had a bargain to fulfill. I recognized the opening words of the song immediately...
"Jesus Christ, I think upon Your sacrificeYou became nothing, poured out to death"
I closed my eyes, raised my hand as if I were testifying in a court room and began to sing.
"Many times I've wondered at Your gift of lifeAnd I'm in that place once againI'm in that place once again"
I expected to feel warm, even hot from the public humiliation of 100 people walking past me as I raised my hand in worship. My eyes were closed so I couldn't see them anyways, but I still felt like I should have been self conscious...but I wasn't. Not only was I not ashamed or embarassed but my hand actually felt cool as I reached outward, cool in a soothing way.
"And once again I look upon the cross where You diedI'm humbled by Your mercy and I'm broken insideOnce again I thank YouOnce again I pour out my life"
I've always been ashamed of public displays of emotion but there I was holding up both hands now, singing the song with my eyes closed, tears running down my face. I wasn't the least bit self conscious or concerned with anyone else's opinion of me or my methods of worship. I've been reading CS Lewis' "Mere Christianity" and at that moment I remembered something he said : (Paraphrased) Repentence is not a prerequisite for going to back to God - it is simply what going back to God is like. I took great comfort in those words.
"Now You are exalted to the highest placeKing of the heavens, where one day I'll bowBut for now, I marvel at Your saving graceAnd I'm full of praise once againI'm full of praise once again"
"Thank You for the crossThank You for the crossThank You for the cross, my Friend"
As I opened my eyes and walked out of the church, I was acutely aware that something was different. I can't explain it other than it just felt like calm. I have beaten myself up a lot over my sins, internally, that is. And I no longer felt like I had anything to beat myself up about. Not that I felt like a perfect person by any stretch of the imagination (far from it), but rather that Jesus had actually accepted my sins as if they were tangible objects that I could give him and he would never ask me to take them back.
And it felt Good.