Marriage and Children: Idols?

Recently I was engaged in a discussion over on The Gospel Coalition about “child-free” marriages. The general thrust of the topic is that people who elect to be married but not have children are selfish and in sin (a pass is given if you are unable to have children). I realize this is a debatable topic among Christians, and I respect those who disagree with my position peacefully, but I believe that the decision to have children is a choice, like many others, in which we should seek the will of God. I laid out my reasoning many times in the comments if you dare dig through them, but essentially I believe this is another “bolted on to the Gospel” idea that is harmful to many people (especially when taken to the extreme view of “Quiverfull” that means you have as many children as nature/God allows).

But that’s not the thrust of what I’m writing about today. What concerns me is a comment from another person as we were discussing this topic. I’d specifically called out the plight of many singles in church who are treated like second class citizens because they are not married. This is related to the arguments regarding childless couples because I believe the church has turned marriage and children into an idol. Here is my original comment:

Every page of scripture drips with the truth of the Gospel, pointing toward or pointing back to the life of Jesus and what he did for us. By comparison, the scripture says very little about families and how they ought to be conducted, and even less about children’s place in them. The central person of our faith and the greatest evangelist/theologian in Christianity both remained unmarried and without children, further suggesting that marriage and child bearing are not central to what it means to be a Christian; yet those who are unmarried and/or without children find a difficult place in the church today.

The church needs to repent of this idolatry and re-focus back on the core mission: making disciples of all nations.

Here is her response:

. . . to suggest that those who urge married couples to keep to the procreative pattern that God created at the beginning of marriage are being idolatrous is kind of ludicrous, really.

This really bothers me. I completely understand that she and I are coming from different perspectives on what we believe is a “procreative pattern that God created”. She believes that marrying and having children is a prescriptive command from scripture and I do not. I can agree to disagree there. However, I think she goes too far by calling my position “kind of ludicrous”. By doing so, she’s declaring that family can never become an idol. The very idea is appalling in her mind.

So what about it? Can something like a family that is a sure blessing from the Lord become an idol? Can it become an idol to an entire evangelical subculture? I think it absolutely can. Not only can anything that is not God become an idol for us, I think Jesus DIRECTLY addresses this issue:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26, ESV)

Now just about everyone agrees that Jesus is not telling us to hate our spouses: if he meant that it would create a huge contradiction in scripture. What we generally understand him to mean is that he MUST come first. We must count the cost and be willing to put Jesus before absolutely everything, including our families. If we don’t, we are putting our families above Jesus; in other words, making them our idols.

But the second question is: have we done this? Are families idols in the evangelical world? This is a bit more debatable, especially since we’re talking about something as fuzzy as a trend. But I would come down on the side of “yes”.

In evangelical churches, talking about families is the norm, not singles. Events are structured around families, not those who are unmarried. If you are not married, it’s a little harder to fit in, and if you ARE married but don’t have kids, people are going to be asking when they are coming. The pressure is immense and intense. Is this true everywhere? No, and I can’t cite statistics, but I’d invite you to find the single adults in your church, or the adults without children, and ask them. Ask them if they feel included as a part of the community and welcome at church. If they are not, we are showing partiality, and that’s NOT a good place for the church to be.

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (James 2:1-9, ESV)

It’s true that in this passage James is talking about personal wealth, but clearly what is in view is not to set up divisions within the church. Single or married, children or not, we should feel welcome in the house of God. If we are not seeing singles over the age of 30 in our congregations, we are not doing a good enough job of “show no partiality”. All believers should feel welcome, without division and segregation.

I think in many cases, this segregation is not intentional. I believe many married Christians really do WANT singles to feel comfortable at church, but in many cases simply don’t know how to relate. I get it: people are busy, especially when there are children with sports, piano lessons, school, and a myriad of other things going on. It’s not an attack on singles, but mostly just a different world. But that’s the catch: if we are the body of Christ, our worlds should collide. We should be known by our love for one another. The single life and the married life may be very different, but we can find communion at the table of Christ. Yes, it takes being flexible and bending for people who aren’t quite like you. They are in a different place with different goals. You may not even like some of their choices. But the body of Christ isn’t about finding other people like us, but about finding other people who are brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.

I’ve heard that the church is a collection of families, but this simply isn’t true. The church is a collection of CHRISTIANS, brothers and sister of Jesus, adopted into the faith. Some of those believers are married, some are single. Some have children, others do not. But if they are in Jesus, they are beautiful in his sight. And that’s the key.

Folks, we can do better, and it starts by reaching out and tapping into lives of others, wherever they are in their journeys. And yes, the idea that we would place families above God should be “ludicrous”, but sadly it is the reality in many churches for many singles or childless couples. Please, let’s tear down those walls and realize that God is not only for the married with children, and that to truly come to him he must be first in our lives, above absolutely everything, even the greatest blessings he’s given us.

Good vs. Godly

Recently I had a discussion with a friend about a meme that was sent around contrasting “good” with “Godly”. Something about how the world seeks to be good while an abiding believer seek to be Godly. This struck a nerve with me, as I think the two are inherently the same: anything that is good is by nature Godly, and vice versa. God is defined by his goodness, or rather, goodness is defined by the nature of God.

Her rebuttal to me was that people seek to be good by doing the right things, but for the wrong reasons. Like the child who apologizes for doing wrong with no contrition in his heart. This is an important distinction, and I wholeheartedly agree that this is a problem. In fact, the Pharisees exemplified this: they would do all the right things (Jesus even pointed out how they’d tithe a tenth of their spices), yet they never did it with right motives. For me, I’d call this distinction “right vs. good” rather than “good vs. Godly”, but however you want to make the point, it’s certainly there. In fact, I’d say that the theology of the New Testament, and really the Bible in its entirety, is rooted in this idea that we don’t get by on the “rightness” of our actions, but rather the condition of our hearts. The foundation of the Gospel is that our own “rightness” falls so short before God as to condemn us, meaning we need salvation outside ourselves only found in Jesus.

There’s another side to this, though, that we need to be very careful about when we talk about our faith and contrast such things. A great deal of evil has been done in the name of Christianity. Steven Weinberg, Nobel Laureate in physics, has a quote that I think sums up how many unbelievers view faith:

Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion.

It’s sad, but he’s not far wrong. My own experience with how the church deals with abuse and divorce is a great example. By far there has been more “goodness” in the way unbelievers have dealt with me than the Christian community as a whole (though the Christians who “get it” have met me in a way no unbeliever has). If religion were not around, my life would have been far less painful, and I think that’s true of many events throughout history, and many much bigger than my own struggles.

Of course, I believe that religion is not the culprit, but rather false teaching within the church and wolves who seek to devour Christians. It’s no surprise that the NT writers (and Jesus himself) were very concerned about those who would lead flocks astray. Consider these words from Paul:

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:1-10, ESV)

There are many other scriptures like this one: there will be liars and deceivers who will lead people astray. Their consciences are “seared” Paul says, while he exhorts us to stay away from “irreverent, silly myths”. But many of these “silly myths” can appear to be “right” and yet have no value at all:

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23, ESV)

When we fall victim to this kind of asceticism, things that have “an appearance of wisdom”, we provide more fuel for the fire of men like Weinberg, who rightly criticism the false Gospel proclaimed with such lies.

How does this relate to “good” vs “Godly”? I think we need to be very humble when we start contrasting ourselves with the world. The world doesn’t distinguish between false and good teachers, all of whom claim to represent “Godliness”. Whenever we start drawing lines between what is “good” and what is “Godly”, we only provide more fuel for the flames the false teachers have started. When someone says “Don’t be good- be Godly”, my mind translates that into “Don’t worry about feeding the poor or helping the downtrodden- ensure that you always show up to church on time and study your Bible consistently without fail”. I know that isn’t the intention of the statement, but if I hear that, imagine how an unbeliever with an uncharitable view of faith will hear it. Just more confirmation that Christians aren’t concerned with doing good in this world, only imposing rules and regulations.

Good vs Godly? I don’t think you can put a “vs” between the two words. It’s the world that doesn’t see them as the same, but we should be working very hard to change that. We should not have an attitude of “I scoff at your ‘good’ and offer my Godliness”, but rather “Look at God in me and see what true goodness looks like”. And if the world saw true goodness in us, the Steven Weinberg’s of the world will have far less ammunition for their arguments against faith and the wolves would snare less victims.

When Worship Is Great

This morning I led worship alongside Laura Sully at our home church, Christ Church Suwanee. Normally we tend to have very full worship teams with electric guitars, drums, and the works. We have an amazing amount of musical talent at our church and it’s always wonderful to have the opportunity to worship with all of our many gifts, but this morning was a little bit different. It was just the two of us with our piano and guitar . . . and the people of God. It was fantastic and I’m so thankful I was a part of it. The intimacy and ability to respond to the congregation was special. As a worship leader, my primary goal is to be a “lead worshiper” more than a “director of worship”, and this morning that was so easy to do.

Something like that, for me, is like the “mountain top”. Worship is always honoring to God, but sometimes we “feel” it more than other times. These are the weeks we stand around after the service and talk about how great it was, always making sure to point out it was a work of God, not of us. But there’s a temptation when that happens, and this is where we need to be careful. We can look at these special moments, moments that are gifts from God, and try to re-create them. We can seek the spiritual “high” and try to program it. It’s easy for people to say “Remember that week with just piano and guitar?- It was so amazing I don’t see why we need the other instruments” or “I loved it when we sang ‘Our God’ we should do that song every week”.  I suppose that is the result of the problem solving gene (at least in me), but we can easily run astray here and turn a gift into bondage, or something even more dangerous.

Because really, you don’t program “great moments”. If you do, you end up seeking these great moments more than God. We always have to remember, we enter for him, not us. Even if we feel nothing or something is a little off, if our hearts are sincere and we are there to give God honor and glory, worship is great no matter how it seems to us.

There is an oft discussed passage in Leviticus concerning worship, and it’s an important warning:

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.(Leviticus 10:1-2, ESV)

People debate what all of the implications of this scripture are, but I think one thing is very clear. When we come to worship, we are not there because it is fun, cool, and exciting; we come because God has told us we are to worship him. While worship can be fun/cool/exciting, our primary purpose is to respond to God for who he is in our lives and we can never forget that.

I believe the great sin of Nadab and Abihu lies in their purpose for offering “strange fire” (yes, we DO have a song about this, thanks for asking!). They did something different from what God had asked for because they were so impressed by what happened in the closing passages of Leviticus 9 that they wanted to capture and re-create it. But they wanted to do so on their terms for their joy and happiness.

Leviticus 9 ends this way:

And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces. (Leviticus 9:24, ESV)

People were very impressed and affected when “fire came out from the Lord”, as well they should be. They fell on their faces with a holy reverent fear. And this, I think, is what our response ought to be when worship is “great”. When we feel God powerfully and he moves in a special way, we ought to remember who we are dealing with and who we are before him. We should, at least emotionally, be prostrate before him, reverent and humble. Saying “Thank you Lord for meeting with us this way”.

You can’t program fire from heaven. You can’t re-create it, and you don’t want to try. I’m not saying we don’t try to bring our best every week in terms of preparation. We certainly do. But at the end of the day, real worship is beyond instruments, format, and style. It is about God and how he chooses for us to experience him. And if we just blast on ahead without reflection, we can miss it. We can miss the reverent fear we ought to have in light of the work he’s done for us.

So my challenge to myself this week is to reflect on God with reverence and give him thanks; thanks for being worthy of worship, for accepting my worship, and for meeting with me in a special way I could never attain on my own.

Why I Love Being A Musician

I’ve always had music in my soul. Some of my earliest memories involve making up random melodies while I did whatever children do. In middle school I started with French Horn (at which I was terrible) and finally got around to guitar and bass in High School. At the time I thought I wanted to write more orchestral music, but I was always messing around on my acoustic guitar and making up songs. Ah, there were some truly bad songs that came out of my teenage angst and “deep” thoughts. In college I started of as a theory/composition major, but after two years (that I really enjoyed), I realized I could turn my other hobby, writing software, into a much more lucrative, and family friendly, career. So I switched majors and never looked back. But I never stopped playing music either.

The thing about writing software and writing music is that they have very similar skill sets. In both cases you accomplish the goal by assembling small pieces into something bigger, yet coherent. Abstract thinking, problem solving, and vision all play a part in writing both software and music, which is why I enjoy both so much. But there is one unique aspect to writing music that is not present in writing software: emotion. Music really is the synthesis between emotional and non-emotional creativity. A songwriter wants to convey a message, and a successful attempt not only conveys a meaning intellectually, but also emotionally by how it feels.

One of my not-so-secret personality traits is that I tend to be a pretty logical guy. Just sit down with me and talk theology or deconstruct Lord of the Rings and you’ll see what I mean. Whether this is exciting or frustrating depends on your own personality. I’ve certainly run into my fair share of folks who accuse me of “overthinking”. Whatever- I LOVE to dig deep and wrestle with ideas. That’s FUN for me. But this is where music comes in: it’s not just a way to convey ideas and logic; it’s a way of conveying the way an idea feels, which is something I don’t do enough in other areas of my life. So when you see me on stage leading worship or hear a CD I’ve recorded, there’s a part of me that only comes alive in those places. In a sense, music is an opportunity to be the whole person that God has created me to be.

I think this is part of the reason that music is wrapped up in the idea of worship in scripture. Certainly there are lots of examples of worship that don’t have any musical component, so we should resist the temptation to label music as the only form of worship, but music is certainly there. The psalms speak of the many instruments used in worship, and we are commanded to sing a “new song” to the Lord. I don’t know what that means in the lives of others, but for me when I sing it’s a chance to give God every part of me, even the emotional parts that sometimes have trouble surfacing at other times.

When I tell my stories, it’s amazing to be able to use more than just words. Whether it’s the aggressive guitars on Return to Eden completing the picture of the darkness of The Fall, or the light Hammond on “I Run” peaking through the music like a ray of light, every bit of it is designed to paint a more brilliant picture than words alone. The music is the vulnerable part of me you don’t see when I write blogs or speak, and I’m so glad that God has given me that.

No, I’m not a professional, and I’ve never once regretted the decision to focus my career in software development. I enjoy that job very much; but I enjoy even more the chance to share with people the emotional part of me, and I still get that opportunity even if I’m not touring around the world living out of a suitcase. Because for me, the fulfillment I get is not legions of fans adoring my music (though I won’t lie, if that happened I’d be pretty stoked!), but to know that I’ve connected to someone, even if it’s just a handful of folks, in a way through music I could never achieve otherwise.

love being a musician, even if I’m not a professional. I love it because nothing I can do comes close to what music can do in my life and the lives of those around me. It allows me to communicate the best way I can, this side of heaven, the ideas I have about life, love, and my Creator.

January 2014 Newsletter

Hey Steady On fans!

Happy New Year! We hope you had a great Christmas and are looking forward to 2014.  2013 was pretty exhausting for us as we recorded and released the new album, but we have great hopes to see some more live performances and promotion for Through The Darkness in the coming months. We also hope to create some more merchandise so you can support the band, so be looking for posters and physical CDs soon!

Christ Church Suwanee’s Christmas Party

We had a blast playing (along with many other musicians) at Christ Church Suwanee’s Christmas Party. For a small church, there sure is a lot of talent running around! We played a few of our tunes, but also Andrew Peterson’s “Labor of Love” which was such a treat to do.

The Blog Is Chugging Along

We hope you’ve enjoyed Jeff’s thoughts this month as he’s put out a new blog weekly. We know they aren’t exactly Steady On related, but as Jeff likes to write about struggles and victories in the faith in his music, the blog is following suit. If you have an suggestions or questions you’d like he or Jenny to answer, feel free to drop us a line and ask! In case you missed them, here are some brief summaries of what Jeff wrote this month:

The Evangelical Attack On Self : Jeff recounted his struggle with the ideas of “self” and “selfishness” and how often the evangelical church can feel like it is attacking the former in persuit of tearing down the latter.

What Makes A Great Pastor?: Bringing it close to home, Jeff talks about his own pastor and why he is such an encouragement

Celebrity Pastors: A discussion of the modern phenomenon of “Celebrity Pastors” and the good and bad that comes with it.

My Thoughts On Duck Dynasty: What blogger didn’t talk about this topic?

Dealing With Tough Cultural Issues: Jeff writes about his view of how to react when the culture and scriptural ethics do not align.

What’s Coming In January

We hope we’ll finally new promo packs with our music video and new photos from our recent photo shoot. We admit that we are not marketing geniuses, so we look forward to seeing what Chip Orton (who did our cover art for “Through The Darkness”) of Stellar Dog Media comes up with and hope that the new packs will help us book some live shows around the Atlanta area. We also plan to make them available to fans who are interested. Chip is also designing some posters, so look for those as well. Finally, we hope that soon we’ll be able to produce some physical CDs for “Through The Darkness” for those of you who are interested.

Final Words

Well, we’ve successfully put out our second newsletter; we hope you are enjoying the updates. As always, we love it when you comment and give us feedback, so head on over to the Steady On Blog to say “hi”!