Aug 29 2012
Free Book! Here's the Link

We've been talking about the book Surfing for God.

You can download it - for a limited time - for free. 

Click here to get it!

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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.

Jul 23 2012
The Evil of Denial

Watching coverage of the crimes at both Penn State and a Colorado theater, it becomes apparent:  There's stuff you're supposed to say, and stuff you're not supposed to say.

"Tragedy" is okay. "Mentally ill" is okay.  "Evil", with a capital "E" - not so much.  

This is because acknowledging evil is allowing that there exists something beyond our tangible, test-able world that wants to do us in... and that means our whole western edifice crumbles.  And so, instead, we resort to the language of neurology or we talk purely about upbringing, or we change the subject to safer ground, talking about preferred go-to explanations, like weapons policy or parenting failures.

Having the fortitude, in a culture that fancies itself "rational", to acknowledge evil, is not easy.  But you know what?  It might be easier than the alternative, of trying to explain holocausts, mass-murders, planned starvations, sexual abuse of children... with a vocabulary stripped of the words to to acknowledge the presence of actual, spiritual evil.  Denial may be natural, but that doesn't mean it's simple to pull off.  It can take years, not to mention, say, thousands of professors, to help us get past our barbarian suspicions that something transcendent is afoot.

Even Christians are embarrassed by it.  Some, of course, blame the devil for everything - that's one error - but others don't want to blame him for ANYTHING.  We're embarrassed, I think, because we don't want to seem so...so... backward, so out-of-step with our modern, western culture.  (Funny, isn't it?  In almost all other parts of the world, people have no problem whatsoever acknowledging realms of spiritual evil. And the same westerners so intent on cultural openness will immediately reject the idea of spiritual evil as backward. Same thing happens in discussions of sexuality.)

But eliminating the vocabulary of evil, the reality of Evil, doesn't leave us in a more enlightened world.  It does the opposite.

Timothy Keller:

The Gospel is the only approach that truly is not simplistic, that looks at the messed up families, looks at messed up hearts, looks at messed up neighborhoods and says, "There's biological problems, there's sociological problems, there's psychological problems, there's moral problems, there's spiritual problems, there's demonological problems...we're going to look at all of those things, we're going to deal with all of them. All of them!" ... Until you embrace the Christian understanding of evil, you are reductionistic, you are simplistic. You'll either make the liberal mistake of underestimating cosmic evil, or the conservative mistake, frankly sometimes of just saying we can't do a thing.

Of course, there is a stream of the Christian religion, in the west, that happens to be embarrassed by any aspect of the Bible that contradicts our reigning culture, and - guess what? - decides that the culture pretty much has it right, actually.  And there is another stream that embraces The Devil as all-explanatory, from why I caught a cold yesterday to why the sink got clogged when we were in a hurry.

As C.S. Lewis points on in The Screwtape Letters, both outlooks, themselves, may be suggestions of the Enemy.  The Gospel, thank God, actually gives us the resources to call evil for what it is, and provide a context for it that keeps us from being frightened.

Bad news:  Evil actually exists.  Even if we modern westerners might try to ignore it.

Good news: God knows it.  He does not escape it.  He sees it.  He does not detach Himself from it.  And He tells us that not only CAN it be defeated, not only are we to play a part in that, it WILL be defeated.  For now, we mourn with those who mourn, but joy comes in the morning.

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