Aug 12 2012
"Why Aren't There More Songs Telling Us Not to Sin?"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a question from Facebook: "Why aren't there more songs telling us not to sin?  There's lots of the happy stuff, God loves you, etc. but the Bible is full of warnings not to sin, so why aren't there more songs like that?"

A fine question.  I'll try to answer, and then guess what the responses would be, based on years of conversation about this very stuff with Christian radio listeners.

Q: Why not have lots of Christian songs that are telling people to stop sinning?

It won't work, for one thing.

Q: Ah, you mean it won't sell!  People just want the happy-encouraging fluff stuff, and so when we take a stand for truth, it just won't sell. That figures, because our culture is just so messed up.

Nope, that's not what I mean at all. Oh yes, it can sell. There's part of us that WANTS to feel guilty. We'll hear something and think, "Wow, that's spiritual. What a moment. I'm so convicted."  I listened to a Steve Camp album years ago, and he was big on that. Honestly, it made me feel kinda good about myself to sing songs about how disgusting we all are, how ashamed we should be. Weird, but true. I'd feel so sorry for my sin, and then keep sinning, and feel even worse about it, and I felt like feeling worse about it somehow made God happy. There's a huge market for "I'm-not-doing-enough" in books, too.

Q: But shouldn't we use music to correct people?  Maybe musicians and radio stations just want to take the easy way out and avoid speaking to Big Issues, and confronting people.

Actually (I love being "Actually Guy") there are few things EASIER than "confronting people" with books, or speeches from a stage, or on the radio. Telling people they oughta do this, oughta stop that right now, oughta be better, oughta pray more, oughta be MORE RADICAL RIGHT NOW, or oughta quit lusting or whatever?  Easy. 

It's not relational. It costs you nothing.  And, in an affluent Christian culture that often welcomes it, it can actually help you GAIN things.  Like notoriety, respect, and money.

Yes, there needs to be loving correction, and even loving confrontation, in the church. We need to encourage people to put off the things that slow them down, and tie them to their old lives.  But let's quit replacing the hard work of actual relationship with hoping a guy with a guitar on the radio does it for you. 

Q: But bands have done it before. Why, I remember back in the early days of CCM, they took a STAND every night, every concert.

And then went on being humans, often cursing each other, getting in fistfights with each other, and then trotting right back on stage to do a scripted altar call. And many made good money doing it. When you don't know the people on the stage, when you don't really see into their lives, into their families, they risk nothing in telling you what you ought to do. But when someone from your actual life, your actual I-see-this-person-in-real-life actual life dares to do this, well, that person is risking something. 

In many cases, the very fans who loved that the artists were taking "stands against sin" were battling the exact same sins in their own lives, and wondering why they can't just work up the resolve to get past them.

Q: What about taking on a prophetic role?  You know, like the Old Testament prophets, who told people to quit sinning?

I'm not sure you would like that. The prophets spoke into the religious culture of the day, and blasted the refusal to give their hearts to God, in the interest of selfishness, money, control...

I do think that would be entertaining. I was just reading in Micah today, about how religious leaders would support people as long as those people were under their control, but the minute someone questions them, they'll turn on them. I do think that would make a great song. Or later on, where God's angry at how Israel's priests will only do their thing if they get paid, all the while talking about how "dependent on God" they are.

Jon Foreman from Switchfoot did "Instead of a Show", borrowed directly from Isaiah 1 and Amos 5, about how God hates our religious meetings and festivals and talkfests, when we're so slow to actually be merciful and pursue justice. That makes for an interesting listen. I know other artists do this kind of thing, too.

I like that he sticks with the Biblical text, both letter-and-spirit. The danger: It's really easy for those of us with chips on our shoulders to consider ourselves "prophetic".  But honestly, when people say, "We need more songs about sin," I suspect they don't mean songs about corporate sin, or songs challenging a religious establishment.

Q: Well, if we can't sing about sin, we're missing the point of the Bible.

Oh, we can sing about sin. Many of our artists do it, but they tend to start with their own. This said, though, amazingly, sin is not the point of the Bible.

Jesus is. 

He's the first Word, and the last one. He's the point. 

I hear people saying, "Yeah, yeah, I hear about 'all this grace stuff', but we need some real Bible-preaching, and..." - and I'm amazed. Like we've all absorbed "this grace stuff". Like we've mastered it. Like it's just a bit part of a larger story, and just a way to help us get our acts together.

Like it's all just about us.

Like grace is the "milk" part of the Gospel, but the real "meat" is more law. Like Heaven - the Kingdom in its fullness! - will be about more rules, just doing them right-er this time. Like we've so conquered the challenge of extending grace and mercy to people, that now we can move on to the better-and-higher stuff, telling people to stop doing stuff they already know they shouldn't be doing.

Plus, let's face it, "Stop doing that!" isn't an awesome hook for a song.  

Q: But good songwriters could do it.

Good songwriters go for the heart.  Heck, good art goes for the heart.  But moralism does not. Moralism never gives poeple goosebumps.  Grace does. Moralism is a mask; grace unmasks.

Grace makes for a great song. This isn't surprising, because it's His love that brings us to Him.  No wonder people are aching for grace.

Q: But don't songs that tell people not to sin help people stop sinning?

I was very convicted by Steve Camp's music. Over and over and over. And I kept sinning. If our message can be boiled down to "stop sinning", we'll wind up in one of two places:  Despair, or delusion.

Q: So there's no hope.

Now we're getting somewhere.  It's almost like we need someone to step in and save us, huh?  Someone to stand between us and the wrath of God.  Someone to cover us.  

There's something wonderful about reaching the end of your resolve, reaching the end of your hope that you can get your act together.  Something incredibly humbling, incredibly freeing, and - most shocking - incredibly not about me.  

It's about Jesus.  Here's to songs that remind us of that.

Jun 13 2012
The Good News About Your Guilt

 

Brant,
    

I listen to your show on a regular basis and have noticed that you tackle a lot of issues and thoughts that most people avoid when discussing Christianity.  I really appreciate your honesty and thought provoking commentary on Jesus.  In saying that I thought you might have a thought on something that I am struggling with.

In the Bible Jesus says "My yoke is easy and my burden is light"(Matthew 11:30) I feel like my walk with God can be really difficult at times.  I know Jesus paid for my sins but I constantly feel guilty about bad decisions I have made in the past as well as the daily struggles I face as a human.  I guess in a way I don't understand how God can constantly extend His grace to someone who messes up so much.  

Thoughts?

Jacob

-----

Hey Jacob!

GREAT question.  I've certainly felt this way, before.  I think most have.

An odd thing I noticed:  When The Passion of the Christ, the movie, came out, I remember so many people saying, "Why'd Jesus have to put up with ALL of that?  Why was it so bad?  Why did he have to be flogged, and mocked, and spat upon, and beat up, and nailed up in front of everyone, and then speared, and…"

And then, later, when we're considering our sinfulness, we find ourselves asking, "Can God REALLY forgive me?  I've done so much wrong, and over and over, and…"

We should connect those two things. When we consider our sinfulness, consider what God has done for us.  Is there anything left, anything He didn't cover?  Are we so bad that Jesus needs to suffer again?  Did he not go far enough to cover MY rebellion?  Or yours?

No way. I'm not that special, and neither are you. There's not one thing left undone, not one more punishment God has to take on our behalf, to meet the demands of the Law.  Nothing.  

"It is finished," Jesus said.  The Law has been fulfilled, completed. Done. And if that was too subtle, the curtain that divided God from the sinners, was ripped in two.

And this is why, too, Jesus said those needing rest could come to him, and find it.  People are positively beaten down with guilt, beaten down with the demands of religions, including the Christian one, and feeling like they can NEVER measure up.  This is because they can't.  But Jesus can.

He fulfilled the Law, on our behalf.  The work is done now, and it's not about what Jacob does, or Brant does, but about what Jesus already DID.  Price paid, and in full.  There's nothing left.  Some people won't like this.  They're afraid if you believe this, if everyone believes this, everything will turn to chaos. They think once you realize how good God really is, you'll be out of control. They'll say, "Now grace is great, but..."  Grace, BUT...  Beware those people.  There is no "but".  If you've put on Christ, there is no. more. condemnation.  And as we grow in love for God, as we realize we are no longer under law, but led by the Spirit, good stuff flows from us!

His "yoke" is easy, and the burden is light, for those who understand this.  It does not mean that living a life of love will always be easy – forgiving others never is.  It does mean that Jesus' "yoke", His teachings, are not the complex, here's-how-you-keep-the-law-better teachings that so many rabbis offered.  Love the Lord your God with all you have, and love your neighbor.  That sums it all up.  That's how He wants us to live.

And your "righteousness" isn't the issue.  His is.  Final answer.  Weirdly, this is also a blow to those of us who grew up suspecting that we weren't pleasing God UNLESS we felt kinda guilty.  We want it to be about us. But it's not.

Use your guilt to drive you back to Jesus, to drive you back to this truth, that for those in Christ, there is no condemnation.  Use your guilt for that... and then drop it.

The pressure's off.  Soak it in.  Take a deep breath.  You know what?  Letting go of all that guilt, because of the Gospel, the "news that brings joy", can free you up to be even more of a blessing to people.  

And you will be!

Best,

Brant

Tags: , ,
Categories:
Actions: Permalink | Tell A Friend! | Comments (31) | RSS comment feed Comment RSS

May 13 2012
Pride, Pain, and the Price of Gas

This story is simple. It's about me, being an idiot.

I did the following:

1) Bought a new car. First time ever. Still not sure it was a good idea, but we did it. Gets 50 mpg, because it's a diesel, which is interesting because

2) I filled it with regular gas, and that's interesting, becuase

3) That kinda destroys all the fuel lines and stuff, and that means

4) That'll be $7,000, which I don't have, so

5) I rode my bike, carrying extra stuff to work while going uphill and

6) Managed to injure my back, rendering me bedridden for several days, and in excruciating pain, and 

7) I'm an idiot.

And so we come full circle.

-----

I felt dumb. And guilty. And stupid. And like a failure. And some other stuff. 

As I rode my bike in difficult weather, I thought, "I deserve this." As I lay on the couch, in pain from my bike injury, I thought, "This is what I get for what I did. I'm paying the price for my screwing this up."  I was doing penance, and I deserved it.

...and then Volkswagen called, with the total cost, including towing, tax, everything:  $0.

Nothing. The service guy said the parent company was paying for it. It wasn't a warranty thing. We couldn't make them do it. They just did it, in hopes of winning long-term customers, I guess.

ZERO DOLLARS.

I was happy about this, but here's where it gets weird:  Something in me wasn't elated. There was a part of me - there's STILL a part of me - that wanted me to pay a price for it.  Yes, on one level, this makes no sense. Maybe you've never felt that way. Simultaneously thankful, and... strangely helpless.

I blew it, my wife knew it, and she didn't begrudge it. I blew it, and the repair guys didn't make me feel stupid.  I blew it, and did something harmful, and didn't pay a dime. What I got, for my idiocy, was free towing and fixing. And I got a free detailing of the car, and they changed the oil, too. That's what I got.

I had to figure out why this didn't sit entirely well with me: It turns out, I hadn't been "paying the price" at all. I had no control over this. I'm not being held responsible. Even feeling guilty didn't help. There's nothing about me in this, at all.

And that's the problem. It's not about me, not about Brant Hansen.

At. All.

In sports, there's the guy on deck in the bottom of the 9th. He's struck out four times, already, but he has - as they say, all the time, in sports - "a chance to redeem himself," if he gets to the plate. He can still be the hero, and win the game for his team.  

A chance to "redeem himself."

But I'm the guy who struck out four times, waits on deck for his chance... and doesn't get to the plate. The guy in front of me hits the game-winning homer. We win! We're the champions! He did it, not me. I didn't redeem myself. Now, I'm sitting in the locker room, and I should be celebrating with everyone else. 

-----

Truth is, we find this very, very hard to accept, but we can't redeem ourselves. Oh, we like to think we can, deep down, so it's still about us. Carrying around guilt? Still about us. Feeling stupid? Still about us. Feeling like a failure? Still about us. Turning our guilt into seemingly productive energy, seemingly "right" things to do? Still about us. Seems so... so... so "righteous", and yet, when we can't take our eyes off ourselves to celebrate the win, it's just plain about us. That's pride.

And pride always hurts, but it's positively deadly when masked by our attempts to pay our own way with our religious activity. 

The game is over. We're in the religious locker room, still trying to redeem ourselves.

And God is popping the cork.