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Belief, Emersion & Stretchy Pants

Sunday I made a decision I had been wrestling with for awhile.

Back story: I was baptized at the age of 11, during a revival at the church I grew up in.  All the kids around my age were getting baptized and “saved” (which brings up theological issues that I don’t have the desire or patience to unpack here) around this time.  While I don’t necessarily question my 11-year old sincerity at the time, I have often questioned my understanding of what exactly it was that I was doing.  I had been in church all of my short 11 years and while I knew “church” very well and had been inundated with all degrees of religiosity, legalism and opinions and personal preferences sold as “doctrine”, I know for a fact that I did not know or “get” the Gospel.

In the denomination I grew up in, salvation wasn’t presented as by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8) in Christ ALONE, but rather it was sold as a proverbial “get out of hell, free” card.  The salvation I grew up understanding and embracing wasn’t based on the cross, but rather on my ability to follow the formula, be good enough and adhere to enough rules that I would be acceptable to God which, from my experience, resulted in a whole lot of arrogance, self-righteousness and spiritual pride. THAT’S certainly not going to be a popular statement, but it is my story, nonetheless.

Looking back over my journey in the 23 years or so since then, I’ve gotten a lot of perspective and had a lot of time to think about what all that meant.  Do I believe that I was “saved” to the greatest extent of my ignorance at that time? Yes. Do I still hold that experience as being sufficient and definitive of what it means to be a Christ follower in my life today? No.

A few months ago, someone asked me a question that is not all that uncommon in Christian circles, especially when you’re first getting to know someone.

“How long have you been a believer?”

My reply: “that’s a loaded question.” At that time, I was right in the middle of this whole season where Jesus was showing me my heart and subsequently wrecking it.  Through a series of events which I have discussed quite candidly here, as well as some I haven’t talked about yet, my life had been wrecked and I understood, quite possibly for the first time in my life, exactly why I needed a savior.  When I was asked that question, I realized that on one hand I had been a believer since 11 years old, but on another hand, and more importantly, perhaps only a few months.  Over the course of the previous few months, the Gospel had dawned on me and I understood it in a way I never had before.  Sure, I had “believed”, but NEVER like this. I realized that Christ’s goal wasn’t for me to stop going to the movies, wearing shorts or listening to rock music (don’t get me started), but rather to intentionally, passionately, relentlessly apprehend my heart.

Last week, Pete Wilson sent a tweet that said:

The pain of self-awareness can be the beginning of spiritual transformation. Stop dodging yourself.

If ever there was a statement to encapsulate the past several years of my life, it was that one.  All the painful and heart-wrenching months that had led up to right now were also transforming me in ways I could see and some I can’t yet. And yes, I had been religiously and methodically dodging coming face to face with myself for so long.  When it finally happened, it undid and changed me.

All of that leads up to the present. For the past couple months I’ve been contemplating and wrestling with the idea of getting baptized again.  I wanted to do it to mark this particular moment of my life in a public way and to say to God, “I am doing THIS, with understanding and gratitude of what You did and are doing.”  So why was I wrestling with it?  It’s simple. Pride. I was so afraid of what people might think, possibly not knowing my story, wondering why I’m JUST getting baptized, etc. I mean, SURELY, by 35 years old… I’ve already done THAT! God forbid anyone think I’m not who they perceived me to be!!! #pridesucks #faithfail

I wrestled with it for weeks, discussed it with some close friends but eventually talked myself out of it, though in my heart I knew I really wanted to do it. I knew that Baptism Sunday was coming up at Cross Point, but I just couldn’t bring myself to commit and follow through.  I woke up this past Sunday morning a little upset with myself that I couldn’t seem to move forward past this stupid pride and fear and just do it.

As I was sitting in the 10am service, Blake Bergstrom brought a powerful message about the love of the Father, His passionate pursuit of our heart and jealousy for our affection… a theme I’ve recently been stuck on and blogged about.  As the message ended, the worship team started to lead “How He Loves”. As soon as I heard them sing “He is jealous for me…”, I broke and knew today was the day.  While I stood there and worshipped God, watching others be baptized, I decided that I would kick the pride and just do it. TODAY.

After the 10am service I shared with Blake what I wanted to do and why. I stayed for the 11:30 service and when it was time, I took the step, moved past my fear and stepped into the water with an understanding of what this meant and was baptized.  I am proud to say that no stretchy pants were used in my baptism.

We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:4)

I did it for me. I did it for my heart. I did it to publicly identify myself with the death and resurrection of Christ and what that means in my life every single day.

What is your fear or pride holding you back from?

 

John Mark McMillan “The Medicine” CD Giveaway

You may not know the name John Mark McMillan yet, but chances are you’ve heard his worship anthem “How He Loves” being sung somewhere. “How He Loves” is such a powerful song that my friend Lindsey Nobles recently did a guest blog series, asking various people to chime in with their thoughts on how the themes from the song play out in the impact of God’s love in their lives.  If you haven’t read those blogs, you should.

The lyrics alone are incredible and sometimes I can hardly get past the opening line, “He is jealous for me…”.

John Mark’s new album, “The Medicine”, released last week and it is nothing short of brilliant.  Not only is John Mark extremely prolific and relatable as a songwriter, but “The Medicine” is easily one of the most profound and piercing projects I have heard in a long time.  Equally daring and disarming, the songs on this album have brought my heart back to a place of wonder that I feel like I lost somewhere over the past few years. 

I’m excited to be partnering with Integrity Music, to give away 5 copies of “The Medicine” to AnIdolHeart.com readers!

You can learn more about John at www.thejohnmark.com and follow him on Twitter @johnmarkmc.

Also, check out the brand new edition of Integrity Music’s new Digital Music Magazine. It’s dope!

This CD Giveaway has already ended. The winners are listed here.

 

[im]perfect Timing

[Yesterday at Cross Point, Justin Davis delivered a very moving and powerful message about the parable of the mustard seed, the yeast and God's timing that strongly echoed the theme of a piece I wrote over 5 years ago, which I want to share with you here today. I don't know exactly what God is saying right now, but it sounds something like, "I know what it looks like, but I'm not finished."  Be encouraged.]

I watched the sun come up this past Saturday morning. Somewhere around 3:30 or 4 a.m., I picked up the book I had been reading, Fresh Faith by Jim Cymbala, and began reading at the top of chapter 7, “Faith Runs on a Different Clock.” I got four pages into this chapter and was really struck by the way that Pastor Cymbala told the story of the birth of John, as told in Luke 1. Basically, he was bringing the reader to focus on the truth that many times God works on a much different time table than we do and that our challenge as people of faith is to not throw away our confidence in the meantime, bearing in mind that it will be richly rewarded (Hebrews 10:35).

One particular line that stuck with me was:

“Many of our struggles about faith have to do with timing. We believe, at least in theory, that God will keep His promises—but when?”

He approached the foretelling of the birth of John the Baptist in such a unique way that I soon found myself reaching for my Bible to read this account more indepth for myself. After reading the account detailed in Luke 1:1-23, I was immediately struck by several things.

First, in verse 6 we are told, “Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations.” So, we would assume that surely God honored their faithfulness by blessing them with a full and fruitful life. However, verse 7 says,

“They had no children because Elizabeth was barren, and now they were both very old.”

For many generations, it had been prophesied that the messiah would be born of a woman, so every woman in the lineage of David had a hope and an expectation that her baby just might be “the one.” Being barren in those days meant that you were disqualified from even being a candidate. Barrenness carried with it disgrace, reproach and a deep sense of rejection and exclusion. So, before we go any further, when you put verses 6 and 7 side by side, you can’t help but see that in spite of the disappointment and disgrace that this couple experienced (Luke 1:25), they were still faithful, obedient and righteous in the eyes of the Lord. That’s saying a lot right there.

It’s not just that they were disappointed in general, but verse 7 tells us that “now they were both very old,” so they had been disappointed for a long time. We aren’t told exactly how old they were, but I believe the fact that the Bible makes it a point to say that they were “very old” is significant.  In fact, it is likely that they had grown so accustomed to their situation that they figured that it wasn’t going to change. But verse 8 says,

“One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple …”

Isn’t that something?

Disgraced but faithful
Disappointed but not distracted
Unfulfilled but undaunted

While Zechariah was serving on this day, “an angel of the Lord appeared, standing to the right of the incense altar” (v. 11). “The angel said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! For God has heard your prayer, and your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son! You are to name him John’” (v. 13). This is incredible to me, especially in the context of what we read in verses 6-8, seeing that Zechariah was faithful to serve, with an unrealized hope and unfulfilled dream tucked away in his heart. He may have even forgotten about his prayer, but God didn’t.

When you look at the scope of the series of events that preceded and eventually led to the birth of Jesus Himself, we see that the delay in the answer to Zechariah and Elizabeth’s prayer was not really even about them at all. It was all about God’s timing. It couldn’t have happened any earlier. It had to happen how it did and when it did, in order for the prophecy to be fulfilled and John to be the forerunner to Christ Himself (v. 17). The story is encouraging and redemptive on its own, but still pales in comparison to the small part it played in the larger story of the birth of Jesus and how the world would never be the same as a result.

Reading this story, I was forced to ask myself the hard question: “Can I still serve, be faithful and trust God even when I don’t get what I think I should have when I think I should have it?” Even harder, “Am I willing to accept the possibility that the time I am spending in wait might not even be about me?”

We are so spoiled today. When we don’t get the job, the car, the promotion, the house, the spouse or even the pair of shoes that we want, we have the audacity to lose hope and let our confidence that God is working on our behalf. This selfishness is magnified even more when we look at the time lines, unrealistic expectations and demands we put on our faith. When thinking of the things that we give value to and the relatively short time restraints we put on God “coming through” for us, we can quickly see how our attitude and impatience paint a vivid picture of a shallow faith that is often built around our entitlement and on having what we want when we want it.

How long have you been waiting?

Zechariah and Elizabeth waited a really long time, but they were still faithful and trusted in the Lord. I pray that I can develop that same kind of focus and tenacity to remain faithful, hopeful and trusting even in the face of an unrealized hope or desire.

God has not forgotten you, but faith runs on a different clock. Don’t lose heart, but in between the asking and the fulfillment, keep serving. Stay faithful. Be obedient. Unplug your clock and trust in the perfect timing of the Lord. Back up from your situation and begin to ask God for a view of the bigger picture and how the hope in your heart today fits into the greater story that will play out tomorrow.

 

Moving Forward

Over the past few months since I started blogging again, I think I’ve been pretty open and transparent about my story and this season in particular.  From sharing my story publicly for the for the first time, talking very frankly about coming face to face with my pride and entitlement while embracing this next chapter of life, to discussing the condition of my heart that led me to this point… I’ve pretty much put it out there. Each post has been increasingly difficult to write, largely because I’m still walking it out.  My story has not yet resolved and I still grapple with what that looks like every single day.

I’ll be writing more about this concept very soon, but it all comes down to this… my heart needed a detox.  I had become intoxicated with career, high on image, and sick with success.  As I’ve shared before, once I became aware of the condition of my heart, I very quickly wanted absolutely nothing to do with my career in the music industry.  I wanted out as quick as possible, and out I got.

I do want to be clear about one thing: while every industry struggles with its own varying degrees of dysfunction, the place I ended up had very little to do with the industry I worked in and everything to do with what I looked to it for.  The industry didn’t wear my heart out.  I wore my own heart out by leaning into my career and work in the industry, looking for it to define and give me worth and identity… something it is ultimately ill-equipped to do.

For most of the past 6 months, the very thought of going back into the music business has almost given me anxiety. I was afraid of it. I wasn’t afraid of the “big, bad industry”, but rather of the “big, bad me” who I became in trying to find who I was in the context of the industry. I was afraid of becoming “that guy” again.

After recently sharing this with some close friends, I was challenged to understand that my reluctance to even consider reentering the industry was entirely a fear-based decision.  I realized that if I choose to live out of a fear-based approach to life, that is actually unbelief in the work God is doing in my heart. My fear to move forward in my career was based on leaning on my own ability to not become “that guy” again, rather than leaning on God’s strength and power to mold and shape my heart daily.  My decision and reluctance may appear noble, but it is nothing but reliance on self instead of the work of the cross in my life. That was a pretty sobering realization.

In his book, Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller uses the context of human love to paint a striking picture of the way idolatry deceives our hearts:

If you are so afraid of love that you cannot have it, you are just as enslaved as those who must have it. If you are too afraid of love or too enamored with it, it has assumed God-like power, distorting your perceptions in your life.

Dang.

That’s real talk. While Keller may have been talking about human love, the same principle was certainly at work in my life as I went from being too enamored to being afraid in a matter of days.  Thinking that walking away was enough, I failed to see that living in fear of something is just as controlling and idolatrous as living in adulation of it.

I suppose the best way to sum up where I am right now is to say that after months of wondering what was next for me, running from the “monster”, trying to get jobs in anything BUT the music world, my heart has finally turned a pretty significant page.

I’m not afraid anymore.

So now you may be asking, what does that mean, exactly?

It means I have finally found a place of peace with regard to what my heart thought it had to have and what it then was terrified to have.
It means whether I ever have it again or not, I’m not afraid of having it.
It means I know what defines me and what doesn’t.
It means if I do ever have it again, I’m not afraid of IT having ME.
It means I am moving forward.

Does that mean I’m taking a job back in the music world?  I don’t know.  At this moment there aren’t any jobs on the table to talk about.  However, what it does mean is that whether I ever take another music job or not, I’m no longer afraid of what that might mean if it did happen.

If I believe 1 John 4:8

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

… and if I believe Hebrews 12:6

“The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”

… then I have to believe that God allowed the bottom to fall out of my world because He loves me and wants to realign and awaken my heart to who He is.

In his book, Plan B, Pete Wilson says:

God will allow suffering, pain and crisis in order to detach hope from other things and attach it to himself.

That is 100% what has been happening in my life. Does that mean the struggle is over? Absolutely not. But it does mean I am more equipped to navigate the murky waters of my heart every single day that I wake up.

I’ve loved this song for a long time, but it has recently taken on even greater meaning in my life…

Israel Houghton - Moving Forward
You make all things new, and I will follow You forward…

Is there something in your life you need to move forward past?


 

He Is Jealous For Me – Guest Post At LindseyNobles.com

My friend Lindsey Nobles is in the middle of a series on her blog called “How He Loves”, inspired by John Mark McMillan‘s epic worship song of the same name.  She asked several folks to write around the central topic of how we are each beautifully, uniquely and often messily (if that’s even a word) loved and pursued by God.

Lindsey invited me to contribute and I’m honored to have the opportunity to add my voice to those of Tam Hodge, Sarah Markley, Justin Davis, Bianca Juarez, Trisha Davis and Alece Ronzino in discussing our various takes on the passionate, incomprehensible and irrepressible love God has for us.

For my guest post on Lindsey’s blog, titled “He Is Jealous For Me”, I decided to drill down a little deeper into my personal story than I have before publicly.  I first had the opportunity to really share my story on Justin & Tricia’s blog a few months ago, and have since taken it a few steps further like here, here and here.

It is my belief that our stories are not just for ourselves, but also for those whose lives crash and bleed into ours in beautifully unexpected ways.  I hope that something I share from my own story will encourage, challenge and remind you of the God who relentlessly pursues your heart.

Thank you, Lindsey, for inviting me to be part of the great thing God is doing with your blog through this series.

“He sees the way your heart flutters when it catches the gaze of the latest would-be suitor who speaks eloquently of security and promises hope; and He sees you lying broken on the floor in a pool of disillusionment, as once again, disappointed, dejected and detached, you struggle to pry your heart away from another broken promise and unfulfilled dream that you foolishly tried to replace Him with.  He sees it all… and yet He waits… and loves in spite of your whorish heart’s attempts to attach hope to something it can see.” (excerpt from He Is Jealous For Me)

READ MY GUEST POST: He Is Jealous For Me


 
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