Worship at Christ Church Suwanee

Jenny and I had a great time leading the worship at my home church this weekend. Supported by Mike Carthon on bass, Mick Crylser on drums, and Ken Clark on acoustic guitar, it was an exciting opportunity to bring our style and some of our favorite worship songs to the worshipers at Christ Church Suwanee. We got to debut a new song I just wrote entitled “O My Soul”, along with doing some favorites we’ve done acoustically before, but never with a full band. We received some amazing positive feedback from the church, and I really appreciate the flexibility that worship pastor Jeff Wreyford gave us in choosing the songs and letting us run with the service, including allowing me to read Psalm 43 which (along with Psalm 42) was the basis for the new song we played.

I’ve always viewed Steady On as a performance band, playing songs that I’ve written that “tell the story” of my faith and encourage others who listen. My songwriting doesn’t tend to be very congregational in terms of melodies or lyrical content, and I’m OK with that (though “O My Soul” is perhaps a step in the direction of congregational writing). But from the moment Jenny and I started singing, I’ve always known her passion was to lead worship. Because of that, I’ve tried to include some worship songs in our sets and look out for gigs that might allow us to lead people in worship. I’m so glad that she has brought that to the band, because this morning was truly amazing. She is a wonderful worship leader and I love to sing with her. She has such an infectious spirit that draws people in, gets them energized, and directs them toward God.

The band really nailed it today, completely in sync. There were definitely a lot of moments for me where I just let go and let the music happen, focusing my attention on Jesus and the words we were singing to him. I remember afterward Mick telling me that he missed his cue on “In Christ Alone” because he was just in the zone, and all I could think was “sometimes, it’s better to miss a cue” (and I doubt anyone in the congregation even noticed). I’m so grateful for all the hard work that every musician (and the tech team at Christ Church Suwanee) put into this morning, and I have to say, every minute was worth it. God was lifted up, and I am reminded that this is just a dim taste of what awaits us beyond the grave.

Here’s hoping that we will have many more opportunities to lead worship in the future; it is, after all, part of what we were created to do, and Jenny and I are blessed to play with musicians who know how to bring a musical offering to God that is both skillful and spiritual.

Listening To Our Hearts: Frozen and Tangled

Warning: there will be spoilers about both Frozen and Tangled in this post.

Note: this entry has been  revised after a reader helpfully pointed out my complete misinterpretation of an article on The Gospel Coalition that I’d originally linked.

I can’t say enough good things about the movie “Tangled”. I think it’s a brilliant movie because it deals with something very close to my heart: leaving an emotionally abusive relationship. Anyone who has made that difficult journey will be moved by the scene where Rapunzel vacillates violently between joy and shame over defying her mother. Ultimately, the decision is vindicated and she gets her real family back, with a handsome rogue by her side to boot, but along the way it is not an easy journey.

“Frozen” is a little bit different. While the heroine’s decision turns out for the best in the end (these are Disney movies, after all),  she is not quite as inspired as Rapunzel: she gets engaged after only one day with a man. This leads to a blow up  that ultimately plunges the world into an eternal winter and causes her sister to fatally wound her.

Rapunzel and Anna have a lot in common. Both were isolated and weary with unhealthy, intimate family relationships. The difference is that in Rapunzel’s case the relationship is with an abusive, evil person, and in Anna’s case it is with a good, but equally unhealthy and hurting person. However, from either woman’s limited perspective it would be hard to know the difference. Both spent years with their emotions neglected and decided to deal with their pain when opportunity presented itself. That takes more strength than pretending the pain doesn’t exist, and that for me is the great takeaway from theses stories.

I like both movies because they are about unhealthy people wrestling with and overcoming years of abuse and neglect. Rapunzel learns how to take control and responsibility for her own life and become and adult, while Elsa and Anna find that they are stronger together and the value of sacrificial love (amazingly, not found in a romantic relationship, but a sisterly one). I’ve recently been reading the book Boundaries by Townsend and Cloud, and in it they discuss the important of being good stewards of ourselves. When we ignore or stifle our emotional pain, we are not tending well the gifts God has given us.

Sometimes when we give voice to our pain, we break free from people who hurt us like Rapunzel did. Sometimes, like Anna, we ultimately get to work things out and grow close again. Elsa was attempting the impossible by stifling her identity, and in the end she found acceptance and love in her sister that empowered her. Anna received the relationship she’d longed for with her beloved sister.

For better or worse, even when we get it wrong (like getting engaged in only a day), it is better to do the hard work of digging into our pain and discovering it is trying to tell us than it is to pretend it doesn’t exist. Perhaps our pain is telling us that our relationships are not what they should be. Perhaps it is telling us we are being abused. Or perhaps it is telling us that we are selfish people who are fighting against God’s will. But we will never know if we don’t engage and deal with them. We must be good stewards over our bodies, and that means dealing with anger, pain, and all of the other emotions God has given us. It takes strength to do that kind of work, the kind of strength that Rapunzel and Anna both show through these two delightful movies.

Christianity: A Centered Set

Many things about faith cause me to struggle. I’m not a guy who claims to have all of it figured out: while there are a few beliefs I think are important enough that I’ve put my stake in the ground regarding them, there’s a lot, even things that are very important to me, that I hold in fairly open hands. One of my bigger challenges are those Christian churches with a wildly different set of beliefs from my own. What do I do? Do I embrace them even though I think some of their beliefs are dangerous (and they no doubt think the same of mine) or put them on the “outside”, labeling them a “bridge to far”? Or what about when I disagree with something taught at my own church? It can be challenging to both be open mind while having a passion for pursuing the truth.

I was introduced to a concept recently believe has a lot of promise: it’s called a “Centered Set”. The idea is to differentiate between “bounded” and “centered” sets. The first kind of set is fairly familiar: you draw boundaries, and everything that is outside of them does does not belong to the set. Think of a farmer with cattle. He puts a fence around them to identify which cattle belong to him. But say that farmer has too much land to build a fence, so instead he builds wells that attract the cattle. The cattle aren’t bounded, but rather they are grouped by the points that attract them. Centered sets are identified by movement in relation to a point rather than movement within a boundary, and that is a very different way of looking at groups of individuals.

The visible church (made up of those who are externally identified as Christians) operates a lot like a bounded set: members confess doctrines/creeds that identify them as believers and they are defined by these professions of faith. The problem with this is that we can’t agree on the boundaries, and even if we could, we don’t really know the true state of a person’s heart, whatever he or she confesses. Because of this Christianity has long held the notion of the invisible church: real Christian who truly have faith and belief. The visible and invisible churches may line up a great deal (one would hope), but they will not always coincide: there are those who fall within a bounded set by profession that are not true believers, and those who are outside the bounded set yet truly do have real faith. This is where I think the concept of the centered set becomes compelling.

I believe the real key to someone’s faith is answering this question: is he or she moving toward Jesus? Not distance, but direction. If someone seems close to Jesus but is moving away, that person is not part of the centered set, unlike someone far away who is moving closer (note: when I say “moving away”, I mean permanently; not someone who is going through a season of struggle- often those kinds of struggles may look like walking away, but are really about drawing closer to Jesus than ever before). I would say it is reasonable to identify Christians as those moving in the direction of Jesus and pursuing him.

I was reminded of this today as my personal study and the Sunday morning preaching collided. I’ve been reading through Judges, and the awful behavior exhibited by many of these leaders has caused me great pause. For example, Samson neglected his wife, broke his nazarite vows, and slept with a prostitute. There’s no record of repentance for these actions, though God used him in mighty ways. It is true God that can use sinners and unbelievers, but Samson found his way into the great hall of faith in Hebrews 11 (the verse we studied this morning), so he is the real deal.

But this morning’s text had one verse in particular stood out to me:

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6, ESV)

The emphasis here is just what I’ve been thinking about with centered sets. The measure isn’t the righteous acts a person has accomplished or the ability to abstain from evil, but rather the overall direction. Did Samson believe in God? Absolutely he did. But believing in God is not enough, we must seek him, even through our sin. No matter how far or close we are to him, we need to turn and walk toward him. Samson did a lot of terrible things, but he also ultimately sought to do the Lord’s will, sacrificing himself in the end.

I’ve begun challenging myself to think in terms of a centered set, not bounded one, when it comes to Christianity. Certainly I have my own set of bounded beliefs, and I don’t think that’s wrong. That is the fruit of study, prayer, and experience. I would be foolish to not try to make sense of my own faith and place limits on what I think is good and true. However, I think the takeaway is that I should not be quick to assume someone within my same bounded set is a brother or sister in Christ, and someone without is not. I probably can’t see the true trajectory of the heart, and that means I should be humble, speaking the truth as I know it, but not quick to judgement of others.

The personal challenge for me is not to measure my distance from Jesus, but whether I am drawing nearer to him. Am I going a direction that centers him in my path, or somewhere else? It can be easy to rest comfortably within a bounded set of beliefs and behaviors others deem acceptable, but such does nothing to protect me or give me hope. The only real hope is my destination and center. And when it comes to other believers, I can accept when we don’t agree, even on big doctrines, if it seems we are ultimately headed after Jesus. And those who do agree but behave in ways that concern me, that should send up red flags. How all of this works out in practical terms is still a challenge for me, but I think I’m drawing closer to the kind of unity and discernment God calls me to in scripture.

Experience Counts

There are two archetypes I consistently see portrayed regarding people of faith. The first the believer whose faith is based on experience, constantly chasing after the next spiritual high and snubbing his or her nose at those who dive too deep into theology. The second is the flip side of the coin: those who discount experiential faith, remind others that the heart is deceitful, and are always pointing to knowledge of scripture as the only real way to know God. Of course, most people are not this extreme in either direction, but these archetypes exist for a reason.

I’m not an advocate for completely experiential faith, but I do strongly believe that we should not discount it entirely lest we miss an important tool God has given us in the process of our sanctification. The scripture is quite clear that our experiences matter and God uses them for our growth:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4, ESV)

Trials are certainly experiences, and God uses them to test our faith and grow us. Yes, we understand them in the light of scripture, but we still have to experience trials to have the spiritual maturity, perfect and complete, that God desires for us.

I remember when I was going through my divorce that I had many questions I’d never asked before. To answer them I sought wise counsel, dove deep into scripture, and prayed a lot; I cannot think of a better picture of James 1:2-4. I was going through a trial, it tested my faith, and it produced a stronger, more informed set of beliefs. But there were many who questioned what came out of that trial. “Would you hold the same beliefs about divorce if you hadn’t gone through it?” they would ask. I understood the subtext: they were questioning my objectivity. The implication was that I was not biased.

Well, it’s true that I was not biased. My experience ran up against a lack of understanding in scripture. My limited view on divorce theology did not include what I was going through and the answers I had before my trial were not sufficient. I needed to see how the love of God and his truth made sense in my situation.

But bias is not the silver bullet that destroys a belief. If it did, we’d all be sunk: every one of us comes at questions with bias. The real issue is whether our bias drives us to seek deeper truth and wrestle until every piece fits, or whether it causes us to ignore truth all together in favor of what we want to be true. I think it is no accident that the very next verse in James tells us God will give us wisdom if we seek it with a sincere heart:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5-8, ESV)

If we truly seek truth when we are in trials, we will find God’s heart, bias or not. My experience not only helped me to dive deep and wrestle with scripture, but it gave me empathy for others I’d never had. When the subject of divorce and remarriage comes up, I can always tell when I’m talking with someone who hasn’t experienced it: his or her understanding and theology are very surface level, very often parroting well worn ideas entrenched in the church that fall short of addressing all the needs people have when going through divorce. I know these ideas well because I used to hold them.

I admit, I struggle a bit with feeling shame that I had to experience divorce in order to really understand it. I feel like I should have been informed enough and studied enough in scripture that I knew it all before I went into it myself. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?

Well, no, it isn’t. James 1:2-4 tells us that God uses trials to grow us and make our faith perfect. Why would we think we could be good enough to understand everything simply by studying ideas we never put into practice? Certainly the scripture is our rule of faith, but our understanding is perfected by our trials. To deny that is to take the life out of faith, because Christianity is a faith to be lived, not just thought about.

Experience counts. It’s not the only part of our faith, but we should not be ashamed of it or try to discount it. We should embrace it, whether joyful or painful, and use it to study, grow, and pray bigger and deeper.

March 2014 Newsletter

Hey Steady On fans!

The  big news this month is we’ve launched a Kickstarter Campaign to get CD pressed for our album “Through The Darkness”. Rewards include free concert tickets, posters, CDs, or even a live performance from Jenny and Jeff! Please consider pledging for this and/or sharing with your friends.

We’ve been practicing with the full band and cannot wait to play for those of you in the Atlanta area. We’ll be leading worship on the 30th this month at Christ Church Suwanee with the full band, so if you are in the Suwanee/Buford area, we’d love to see you visit and worship with us!

We’re also gearing up for the Boudreaux’s concert on May 18th. Remember that tickets are $10 for single entrance, or $15 for a group pass. You can also get a free group pass by pledging to our Kickstarter Campaign.

February Bog Articles

Jeff added four blogs this month:

Teaching The Rebellious To Rebel: Checking our motivations. Are we really interested in transformation, or is apparent “righteousness” just another manifestation of a rebellious spirit?

The First Act Of Grace: Considering our created need for vulnerability.

The High Cost Of Free Will: When the people we love make bad choices.

Stage Diving Without A Net: Jeff is inspired by the rash act of his four year old!

Final Words

This is newsletter #4- thanks for supporting the band. We hope you too see you at the blog and our shows!

New Kickstarter Campaign!

Hey folks, we are really excited to announce we’ve launched a new Kickstarter Campaign: click here for more info!

The goal is $1500 to get physical CDs printed for our latest album “Through The Darkness”. We have some great rewards, including free tickets to our upcoming show in May for those who are local. 

We really believe in this CD and its potential to encourage people who have been through a difficult time, and having it in physical form will make it that much more accessible. Please consider backing us and sharing this with your friends!

Stage Diving Without A Net

Today my heart nearly stopped in terror. It was after church and I was having a conversation with a few guys on the worship team. I was standing in front of the stage (we meet in a high school auditorium) which is at about the level of my shoulders. My four year old son had gone around to the side, climbed up the stairs, and walked up to the edge of the stage. He loves to jump into my arms (off of play equipment, usually) and indicated that’s what he wanted to do. I lifted my hands up to tell him that I’d catch him, but he shook his head and stepped a few steps to the side where no one was standing. I told him not to jump and then stopped paying close attention. He’s smart enough to know not to jump off of a stage without someone to catch him.

Or so I thought. He took a flying leap- not feet first, but head first, arms outstretched. There was no hesitation at all- he absolutely knew I would catch him. I did manage to react in time and step into his flight path, but I can tell you it scared me to death. He really had no clue that I might not have made it. To him, I was “daddy” and that meant I can catch or stop anything. I can protect him from any kind of danger. One of these days he’ll realize I’m not that powerful, but thankfully today wasn’t that day. He went on, oblivious to how much danger he’d been in, even when I reprimanded him and he got in trouble. I could see in his eyes that he had no idea the stakes of his poor choice.

Reflecting on this, it made me think of our relationship with God. How sometimes even though he’s told us over and over again the consequences, we just don’t get it. We go off the deep end and make horrible choices, expecting that he will catch us. In his grace and mercy, often he does. Praise him for that! But how much better would it be if we trusted him when he tells us “That course of action is bad”? I recently saw a cartoon of a character leaping over a “fence”, only to realize it was a guardrail protecting him from going off a cliff. This is so true about how we think about God and his “rules”. We resent them, even though they are there for our good and protection. Alex had no clue that when I told him “no” that he was in danger; he just saw it as a place to push a boundary. Some day I hope he will learn that my guidance and direction are for his good, not to limit him. And I hope I will learn that about God as well.

But there’s another aspect to Alex’s aerial adventure that gives me heart. There is no doubt in my mind that he would have never attempted what he did without me standing there. No one else in the world gives him the confidence to leap with complete trust that he’ll be caught. Was his trust misplaced? Of course, and that’s something he’ll have to learn. But the truth his, he believes in me. He believes in my goodness and he trusts that I will always desire to protect and love him. That is the relationship of a father and son, and anyone who knows Alex knows he feels that relationship deeply.

This moves me, because this is how the scripture describes our relationship with God. We are grafted into the body, and God is our Father. We have that intimate relationship with him where he invites us to trust in his love and provision. We may misuse this at times and do our own share of leaping off the stage, but this itself is a testament to the real connection we have with the Creator of all that is. We revere and fear God, but we are also close to him. Close enough that we can trust he will catch us when we fall, protect us when enemies attack, or even be there when we take a header off a stage.

I praise God for his grace and goodness. I hope that as I am sanctified I will learn to trust God more in the right ways, not test him with risky behavior. But most of all, I’m grateful that I am his son and he is my Father, for that relationship is the most important one I will ever have.