Grady Cole Center, Charlotte, NC, 1987. The arena was packed from top to bottom, brimming with vivacity and intensity. There was not an empty seat in the house. Strangely, the only time our rear ends would be in those seats was when we first entered the arena to claim possession of them, and just before the concert started. Shoulder to shoulder we stood, congested in the joy, sweat, and energy that filled the room. I was a young teenager and it was my very first live Christian concert. The artist on the stage was just beginning to gain huge popularity with the release of his latest album. His name was Carman, the album was “The Champion.”
Throughout the night, we heard music, stories about the Gospel, and sometimes we heard both interlaced together. It all seemed to crescendo to the epic ending…the debut of the song “The Champion.” “The Champion” is a song that talks about the epic battle between good and evil, Jesus and Satan. It takes a few theological liberties, but the premise of truth remains the same…in the end, Good conquers Evil, Jesus defeats Satan, and reigns forever. Everything is made new and restored. Jesus wins and He is the Champion! Because He wins, those who follow Him win! All things can be made new! Sins can be forgiven and life is brought to all the dead places. Death ultimately loses and eternal life in glory wins. It is the ultimate hope and good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
Throughout the rise and fall of the song that night, our emotions were dropped, lifted, dropped, and lifted to ultimate conclusion. I have never seen an arena shake as that one did that night. I have never been in any live event where the crowd has been louder. We cheered, raised our fists, fist-bumped, chest-bumped, hugged, shouted, clapped, and shouted even more!
I will never forget, sitting beside me was a friend from Youth Camp who struggled mightily with a cocaine addiction that was threatening to wreck so much of his life. He was also a bodybuilder. I’ll never forget watching him yell, scream, and pump his fists in the air throughout the entire song. When the song was over, he gave me a hug and chest bump that nearly knocked me to the ground. The force of that response was motivated purely by the hope of freedom. He needed to hear that Jesus was The Champion and could conquer his addiction. Fittingly, it’s the people who know what they’ve been forgiven of, and what it cost, that celebrate the most in worship. You can always tell by watching their passion.
I celebrated with my friend that night…with the same force. Honestly, I think all celebrations for Jesus should be done with force. Not that it has to be aggressive or knock people to the ground every time, but most certainly with intent and passion. Jesus is worthy of every single bit of it because He is The Champion.
This was the first setting where I had ever seen people get excited about Jesus. I grew up in a traditional church. It’s not that they didn’t love Jesus or weren’t excited about Him, but I don’t know that there was ever an avenue for passion or jubilance in worship. Our worship was sincere, but it was reserved and more personal. It is that way for many still today in churches. Many prefer that. I get it. I preferred it for the first half of my life. Sometimes I still do. I’m not saying it’s wrong. I just think there needs to be more room for passion, energy, and challenging ourselves to step out of our comfort zones in worship. Like love, I think worship is more a choice rather than a feeling or tradition.
I was exposed to this for the first time that night at a Carman concert. Up until that point, I never knew it was okay to be excited about Jesus. I thought reverence and awe meant standing still, and for the most part, unless you’re directed otherwise, to be mostly quiet and serene. I never knew that shouting, singing out loud, jumping, pumping your fist, high-fiving each other, and passionate responses could and should be part of worship, until that night. Once I experienced that, it had me…for life!
It wasn’t an emotion for me. It wasn’t about the show. It just finally clicked for the first time and made perfect sense. Why would I give anything other than my best in worship for the One who conquered sin, death, hell, and secured my eternity forever with Him in glory? He gave His all for me, I must give my all for Him…even when I don’t feel like it. Even in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was wrestling with the task before Him in the cross, He made a choice to go all the way. Why would I give anything less in worship?
Of course, it was a slow growth process for me. It took about another six years after that before I lifted my hands up in a corporate worship service. When I did…at last, freedom! I was free from my prison of hesitancy! From that point on, I never worried about what anyone else thought about me in worship. I only cared what Jesus thought. His pleasure was my effort, and I was always going to give Him everything I had in joy, or even if it was through tears and pain. I’ve been trying to lead others to do the same in worship ever since.
Sadly, and yet joyfully, Carman went to be with The Champion, Jesus in eternity this week after complications from surgery. He left an imprint on my life that remains to this day, and I am thankful to God for using him to reach me. It changed my life and my worship.
Strangely and humorously, last week, someone paid me what I think is one of the best compliments I’ve ever received after a worship service. Talking to someone else about me, the old codger said, “Great service! Where does he get all that #$%!@ energy!? He’s like a human pogo stick!” Expletive aside, it was one of my proudest moments.
Just so you know, I don’t naturally walk into restaurants and order food like a pogo stick. It’s a choice I make in worship, even when I don’t feel like it. It’s not about my personality type, my habits, my tradition, who I am, or who I’m not. It just seems the only rational and fitting response to Jesus the Champion, and I am better for it. Thankfully, I discovered that the more I step out of my comfort zone, the more comfortable I am being there. It’s an incredibly freeing place to be when you discover that. So I close with this…
Pogo Sticks wanted and needed at a church near you! Bring the passion! Jesus is The Champion!