This was originally a Facebook post but I wanted to leave it here for my own benefit later. I hope it helps some of you as well.
Being three is hard. Parenting a three year old is hard. This morning was just one of those moments where worlds collide and I headed out the door frustrated.
Coming home I was greeted at the door by a little girl who apparently also realized the morning was rough. She wanted to try and make things right and so I was welcomed with a sidewalk chalk greeting, a card she spent an hour on, and freshly baked peanut butter cookies.
I had mixed emotions. I was thankful and proud that she wanted to make things right. I was upset that she had worried about it all day. I, too, wanted to make it right.
So, tonight we had an impromptu daddy-daughter date. Blue Marble, Wendy’s (her favorite), and the Dollar Tree for a toy. We talked and we laughed and hopefully by the end of the night all was right in her world.
Today I learned several things, but I am thinking a lot about repentance. I don’t believe for one minute that God wants us to make ourselves miserable thinking about how we mess up, but I do believe there is great joy about wanting to change. Talk is cheap. Actions matter. I’ve got a lot of work to do, but I’m thankful for a little girl who teaches me to try harder every single day.
(And my Dollar Tree prize? A picture frame for the card so I will always remember this day)
Growing up in a mostly typical baptist church and having spent all of my life in a baptist setting, it seems that more often than not the real trinity worshiped has been the Father, Son, and the Holy Bible. Sure, we might actually say the Holy Spirit, but we don’t know what to do with it. If we know a lot about the Father and the Son, the Spirit is more like the second cousin in that we know there is some relationship to be acknowledged, but it is hard to actually explain how it all works. I say this not to mock or discredit or devalue the importance of scripture in our lives, but instead to point out something many of us lack in how we pursue kingdom work.
There is a word that I’ve used consistently for most of my life that perhaps shows my own participation in this injustice: Coincidence. Things happen in my life that are eerily related, the timing works out perfect, and I just throw it up into the category of “well what are the odds?” and move forward. I am, sometimes to my own detriment, practical by default. I like to explain logically how and why things happen as it gives me some form of control. It makes me feel better to have a reason to know the ins and out of how things work and when I can’t I just go ahead and chalk it up to coincidence.
For example, many years ago I would drive up to Northern Kentucky on my way to a Reds game and on multiple occasions I would point out churches that were on the way and joke with Jenni about how cool it would be to serve at a church that close to Great American Ballpark, but nowhere seemed like a logical fit so I assumed it was a pipe dream. A few years down the road, at a time when I least expected it, I received an email from a church in a place called Fort Thomas, Kentucky asking if I would be interested in being considered to serve as pastor. I didn’t realize how desperately I needed it at the time, but the church ended up being exactly what my family and I have needed at a pivotal time in our lives. Yes, being close to Reds baseball is great, but it is the church that has me excited for the future. I believe God has called us to do something transformative and we are positioned to do that. It just so happens that along the way I get to spend time doing something else I love at baseball games.
For most of my life, I would have chalked it up to coincidence. Now I realize that it is the work of the Spirit.
A few weeks ago I got a call from our administrative assistant telling me that our utility bill had gone through the roof and we were on pace to spend way more money than we ever imagined. With a smaller congregation and a…umm…vintage building, I immediately felt an impending sense of doom. We feel called to this place, but the gas bill might do us in. For about 45 minutes I sat at Fort Thomas Coffee dejected and defeated.
Then, I saw an email arrive in my inbox. A generous individual who works with energy conservancy reached out to let me know that he was coming to the church two days later to help us walk through the church to figure out how we can make the church more environmentally friendly and lower our bill along the way. This person had no idea that our bills had just skyrocketed, but had felt a calling to help churches using his giftedness. We had talked about doing this work a few months prior, but up until that moment nothing had actually materialized. When I read the email, I knew that help was on the way and the burden was lifted.
For most of my life, I would have chalked it up to coincidence. Now I realize that it is the work of the Spirit.
I have no idea how to grow a church. I have theories. My social media feeds are filled with pastors that provide “300 Easy Steps to Quadruple Attendance and Budget” that might help generate their personal revenue, but aren’t practical to my current ministry context. I am interested in experimenting and seeking out new models for churches to thrive but most days I feel like I am left with more questions than answers. With that said, I am increasingly convinced of is this:
If we do not acknowledge the work of the Spirit in our lives and in the lives around us, any and all of our efforts will be a waste.
Our church is embarking on a process to rework our bylaws and imagine what it might look like to do church in the years to come. The danger in doing this work is that we sometimes trick ourselves into believing that it is up to us to create the perfect structure to get the type of results that we desire. If only we do this, this, and this, then we’ll be successful. If we can just do what other successful churches do, then we’ll be fine. If only we go up to those not involved in a church and say a few basic sentences, they’ll immediately believe. We seek the silver bullet of programming, the next sure-fire thing that has been boxed up and is ready for us to explore.This is dangerous thinking.
Pastor and author David Fitch speaks often about the goal of “opening up space for the Spirit to work.” Structures are fine, but only if they push us to constantly be open to where the Spirit is leading. When we see the Spirit at work, we join in. When we feel the Spirit nudge, we follow.
To get there, I have to change the language I use. For the past year I have encouraged our folks to do something that I am working on as well: stop talking about coincidence and start talking about Spirit. By doing this, we remind ourselves that we have a great power working in and through us and that none of the results will truly be up to us. It’s still a challenge for me. I’m not mystical by nature and part of this is practicing things I largely still don’t understand (how’s that for a faith statement?).
But…it’s exciting. Because I acknowledge the Spirit leading the way, the outcome is going to have better moments that I can possibly imagine. There is freedom because instead of creating to control, I am only charged with being faithful in the moments where I feel God’s call and with creating rhythms in my life that leave me open to see where the Spirit leads. There will still be heartache and defeat and days where it feels like there is impending doom. There will be times where I think I’m following the Spirit but it’s really just my own mess. But, there will also be great moments where things line up perfectly…where things happen with the kind of timing that simply make me laugh.
And where I used to say coincidence? Well, that’s the Spirit. Thanks be to God.
In my closet (or, truthfully more often in a pile somewhere in the bedroom) is a special shirt. When I found out that we were going to be having a little girl named Crosley, I knew that I wanted to have a shirt with her name on it that I could wear on the day she was born. It has now been one that I more often than not where on special daddy/daughter events. She knows the shirt well. When I wear it Crosley inevitably smiles and says “Daddy, my field!”
Last week I decided to take some vacation time. The blessing was that we got to spend more time together as a family. The struggle was that we got to spend more time together as a family. If you’ve been around small children, you know what I mean and that I’m kidding…mostly.
One of our adventures for last week was to go visit the site where Crosley Field once stood. I had talked to Crosley about it and personally I had always wanted to tour the full area. On a beautiful weather day the plan was to pack up the kids and head that direction. The plan was to go mid-morning and then end up grabbing lunch somewhere.
Easy enough, right?
On that morning, chaos did everything it could to take over our house. A day of fun now felt at risk. The brothers were crying and Crosley was doing what toddlers are known to do. We played out the stereotypes as she defied the rules and ran around like crazy while I caught myself yelling out threats I never thought I’d say:
“Stop that or we aren’t going! Do you want to be in trouble? Stop messing with your brother! I know you want to do that, but daddy said “No!””
At some point it was my turn to get dressed for the day and I went into the bedroom, picked up the Crosley shirt. This was a Crosley day, how could I not wear it? But, I put it down. I looked for something else to wear. My patience had been tested, she had been a stinker, and I was not going to wear it. Nope.
In that moment I heard a voice. Not an audible voice (they hadn’t driven me THAT crazy), but I felt the Spirit talking to me and I was reminded of these truths. I love that little girl more than anything, even on her crazy days. I am proud of her. When we go out in public I want everyone to know that she is mine. Even when she is being a stinker, I want only the best for her. I want to see her grow, and I know that even though she might acting right in the moment, she is still mine. Because of that, I put the shirt on.
In 1 John 3:1 we read “See what great love the Father has lavished upon us, that we should be called children of God!”
As I continued to get dressed, I couldn’t shake these thoughts from my mind. God the Father’s love is not given reluctantly, but lavished on us with joy! As children of God we celebrate that His love is not stingy or contingent on how we do on any particular day. Instead, we rejoice in the truth found in Lamentations 3 that those mercies are new every morning. I believe God gets frustrated with us when we don’t obey, but only because He knows that following His way is the key to life abundant. I imagine there are times where God wants to scream “If you would only do it my way!” But in the midst of our mess, His grace abounds. Even when we are screwing up, He is planning good things for our lives.
Of this I am confident…even during our moments of rebelliousness, God is wearing our names on his t-shirt and he is doing so with pride. That’s my boy! That’s my girl! Our challenge is to believe it and to take comfort in it. It’s not about us, but about God’s love for his children and because of that we press on.
Over the past week you have probably seen the report out of Houston regarding a widespread issue of mishandling cases of sexual abuse among leaders with the Southern Baptist Convention. This week I am preparing to preach out of Philippians 3, in which we see Paul call back to his credentials that qualify himself as having done all of the things that his Jewish background would have considered the most important, even referring to himself as a “Hebrew of Hebrews.”
For my entire life, I have been a part of a Southern Baptist Church and for close to 9 years I have served in churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Church. I spent time in every Lifeway VBS program, did all of the camps, and have been to just about any conferences or retreat you can imagine. By some standards I could brag about being a “Southern Baptist of Southern Baptists.”
Except, as the years have gone by, I find myself increasingly less welcome. The denomination has changed. I have changed. We don’t always see eye to eye. Part of my baptist heritage is a belief in autonomy of the local church. I think our disagreements can help us learn from each other and in the process of that we find ourselves closer to the real truth found in scripture. I preach with the expectation that everyone in my congregation might not agree with me and I think that is how it is supposed to be.
Nevertheless, I have maintained that the last thing the world needs is more Christians arguing with each other. I believe that there is good work being done in the Southern Baptist Convention and I am thankful for missionaries, pastors, and other leaders that have been faithful in serving around the world. We partner together where we can and leave the rest to God.
A few months ago, my congregation was given an ultimatum. If we continued to partner with another Baptist organization, we would no longer be welcome at the state level. There was no face to face conversation, but instead a public campaign of self-righteousness to say that this division can and must be created because of the importance of preserving doctrine and standing for biblical truths. While we disagreed with the decision, we respectfully decided to remain quiet as once again I believe that more division is not the answer. A relationship of over 100 years was ended with a letter.
This brings us back to the report regarding sexual abuse cases plaguing Southern Baptist Churches. This isn’t a comforting thought, but the fact that the abuse happened was not surprising, simply because when you have this large of an organization there is bound to have sin take over in places. The unfortunate result is people get hurt in the one place on earth where they should feel safe, valued, and loved.
Something disheartening is that there has been a general unwillingness among the convention to take a stand against sexual abuse and say that those caught in this sin will no longer be able to serve in leadership positions of the church. I value grace over judgment, but there are simply some things that we cannot allow from our leaders. While God will offer forgiveness, on earth there are consequences for our sin.
I cannot think for the life of me, why an organization so proud of standing up for what they call biblical truth and scriptural authority is so reluctant to say what EVERYONE else knows: sexual abuse is wrong and cannot and will not be tolerated. My church was kicked out of a fellowship solely because we refused to end a partnership with another organization even though our actual positions and actions never changed.
As a father, I worry about the world that my little girl will grow up in. I know that I cannot protect her forever. It pains me that an organization that I have served with my entire life feels compelled to remind her that God cannot call her as a minister but then also says that they don’t have enough authority over churches in their denomination to help make sure that if she attends a Southern Baptist Church she can rest assured the leadership won’t have a convicted sexual offender.
Still, I maintain that there is good work being done by the Southern Baptist Convention. I have friends and family members serving in roles and I know that there will be a mess by folks that did not partake in this mess. That, too, is unfortunately a consequence of fellowship. I’ve felt that myself.
So why am I sharing this? The time has come for the Southern Baptist Convention to take a stand against sexual violence and take real steps to implement real change. For too long autonomy has been a way to protect them from having to do hard things while at the same time being ignored when they have another agenda to pursue.
I’ve spent thirty years in the convention and I hope to continue that relationship in the future, but can only do so if there is an attempt to live out what they demand from others: honesty, accountability, and a willingness to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.
This morning marks the second Sunday in a row that we have had to cancel services at the church. It’s the right decision but that doesn’t always mean it is easy. We meet every week and it is healthy to take breaks, but this feels different. It wasn’t planned. It wasn’t really in my control. Last week when we cancelled the services I couldn’t quite figure out what I miss when we have to cancel. I’ve thought about it and here are a few things:
I miss walking into the church first thing on Sunday morning, with many folks greeting us at the door. From the time I was a child, I remember Mr. Gary that would hand out the bulletins and I would make my way to Mr. Ken, who had the donuts. The names have changed and now I’m bringing the little ones, but it still feels good to come into a place where you are welcomed.
I miss saying hello to other folks as they make their arrival. How are things going? Did you have a good week? Can you believe the Cats pulled it out last night?
I miss worship. I miss singing songs of praise. I miss watching my little girl twirl and cause a scene at the front. I miss joining with others singing a variety of songs that have impacted our lives in different ways throughout our lives.
I miss our weekly time of prayer. On most Sundays at First Baptist we have a time to voice prayer concerns, to share updates from our lives. We go before the Lord and we pray together and know that when we speak we are speaking to people who are rooting with us.
I miss opening up the Bible together. I am thankful for the privilege to preach, but I am most thankful that the Lord speaks through my mess and the Spirit works on the hearts of those gathered, mine included.
I miss leaving with the song “God Be With You Til We Meet Again.” This is a new tradition at the church, but one that I love because we go out in song, aware that our lives each week must be fully reliant on God.
While I miss those things and many more, I take comfort in knowing that while we do not gather as a corporate body for worship this morning, each person in their own way will continue to praise and worship throughout the week. We will still check in on each other. We will pray. We will serve. The Shakers on Sunday would not go to church, but they would go to the Meetinghouse. The distinction in saying that was an awareness that they are the church and the Meetinghouse was simply a place to worship.
I’ve seen a picture on Facebook that reminds us that a church is not the only place to praise God and that you can also praise God in cars at 2am, coffee shops, and gyms. This is true and this important.
BUT…missing our Sunday services the last two weeks has reminded me of something that I hope we never forget. We need to gather together. We are commanded to gather together. We need to spend time with other believers. Yes the church will go, but it is in the gathering that we prepare ourselves for what is to come. It is in all of the things that I have mentioned that I miss and in all of the things that the Spirit does that I never even realize that my faith is strengthened. We need to meet together. Church must be a priority. When I meet with God’s people, I am reminded that we are called to something bigger than ourselves, that we can’t do it on our own, and that we are able to relish in the grace of a God who loves us more than we can comprehend. I am reminded of my responsibility to the kingdom. Today will be a day with family and I will thank God for the blessing that they are. We will gather as a church next week (Lord willing). I can’t wait.
Right about the time that we found out we were going to have twins…after the shock period…it became apparent that Jenni and I were going to be minivan people. It’s the kind of thing that you hear happens to other people, but you never think it will have to happen to you. Growing up, my family never really had what most would consider a nice car. The cream of the crop was a 1987 Chevy Astro…a beautiful machine that was driven off the lot at least a year before I was born. By the time I was sixteen years old, the ceiling fabric was all but gone, the cassette player had long disintegrated, something happened in the motor that caused the whole vehicle to shake. No a/c? No problem. One of the blessings that came out of that van was that I’ve never really known what it means to have a brand new vehicle and for the most part I don’t really care. As long as a car is reliable, that’s fine for me. Fast forward to 2018 and the time comes to look for a minivan. The criteria we had for the most part was this: it needed to be reliable and it needed to be affordable. Jenni wanted cruise control. Aside from that, finance mattered as much as just about anything else. After a few months of looking, I got the call from a dealer that they had just received a really nice 2013 Honda Odyssey that was going to be near our price range and very low mileage. We stopped what we were doing and drove to Florence to check it out. Our salesman was a nice person. He was recommended as being trustworthy and honest. He was also good at his job and his goal was to sell us on this van. Well…in addition to being low mileage…this van was loaded. We’re talking leather heated seats, an entertainment system, sunroof, bluetooth, a cooling box (basically a fridge that I don’t know what to do with), and a few other cool perks. I did not care. Is it affordable and is it reliable?
We bought the van with the heated seats, backup camera, and all of the other gadgets but I was convinced the best part was that we got a good deal. I didn’t need and wasn’t sure that I’d even use those details. Over time, something has happened. My 2011 Chevy Cruze isn’t what you would call “loaded.” It drives just fine. It has no car payment. It does everything that I need it to do. It’s a good car. Sometimes, when I am backing up I have to do something weird…I have to pay more attention to my mirrors. I have actually TURN and look behind me to make sure I’m not hitting anything. My seats? Not warm… just the temp that has been determined by the weather.
On the van, I can change the volume on the radio with a switch on the steering wheel. When we bought the van I couldn’t imagine why anyone would be bothered by having to actually reach to the regular dash. Now in the Cruze I swear someone has moved that radio dial a few feet away and when I want to change the volume I sometimes just flip the cruise control switch on the steering wheel. Both cars are great. Both cars get the job done. But something has changed. I think that if we aren’t careful, we fall into the trap of what it might mean to have “fully-loaded” church. Because of the privilege we have to worship freely and because so many of us have never really experienced need, we have been able to add things to our churches that we don’t really need. They are nice. They make life enjoyable. They still are not necessary. What slowly starts to happen is that in the process we find that we are the ones being changed. Sure, we think we can worship anywhere, but once you have experienced worship in a certain way, it is hard to go back to what we had before.
This can be venue, music style, bible translations, order of service, worship times, format, etc. etc. The problem we face is that out of our abundance we have become harder to please. We feel called to share the good news, but it has to be on our terms in our own ways and it has to be done comfortably. We all have preferences. It’s okay to have preference. I believe that God has created us to be able to worship uniquely with different passions and I believe that God is working through churches of every size, shape, background, and is doing so for God’s glory. What things have you included in how you “do church” that could be considered a luxury? Are you holding onto it for your own comfort? Anything that we are unwilling to give up for the greater good of the Gospel is an idol. I’m going to enjoy my heated seats and backup camera. I’m also working to be more content in my paid-off, does what I need car. In worship? I’m going to be more intentional about not letting the preferential things get in the way of the most important thing. If we can commit to doing that together, I believe the best things are still to come.
Today I write something a little bit different than my traditional style for this blog; but as I prepare for Sunday’s message I see something happening that has left me frustrated. It isn’t where I intend for Sunday to go, but even if only for my own sake I wanted to get these thoughts out. This Sunday we are going to talk about the infamous flight to Egypt by Mary and Joseph in Matthew 2 after getting word from an angel that Herod was out to kill Jesus. A family, facing persecution, flees to another country with the hope of being welcomed and safe. Hmm…
Jesus was a refugee! Right?
No wait…Jesus was a refugee?
In our current news cycle with so much consideration given to the immigration crisis, the treatment of families at the border, and rulings from our court systems, this passage feels like it is filled with landmines for believers. We have been trained that every issue is an either/or situation. You have to choose. You perhaps need to find those who line up with your ideological spectrum and go from there. Having served in a range of church traditions, I have a pretty diverse group of friends. I have spent time in more conservative, literalist churches. I have also spent time studying and serving with more progressive believers who push to ask deeper questions, examine context, and talk about listening to the Spirit. Forgive me if these seem like broad, judgmental strokes as it does not apply to each person. But for the general theme seems to have fallen along these lines and the end result is that we have two groups of believers that spend lots of time talking ABOUT each other, but rarely WITH each other.
So…what does that have to do with the passage about Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt?
In almost a stunning twist of events…my progressive friends have taken the verses about Mary and Joseph fleeing with baby Jesus at face value. Sure sounds like a refugee to me! Jesus was a refugee and so the Christian response to immigration issues is to welcome everyone. Case closed and anyone that has opposite views is just being judgmental and heartless.
As I have scanned the internet reading various interpretations, I have found many from a more conservative background that say that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were NOT refugees. One person online noted that really Egypt was a Roman territory and so they weren’t REALLY fleeing persecution as refugees. And then…to talk about the immigration crisis we are expected to turn our attention to Romans 13 where it is pretty clearly laid out that we are supposed to follow the laws of the land. So Romans 13:1 is to be taken literally, but we really need to ask more questions about that Matthew passage? I write this not to share my views on this issue, but to draw our attention to what is happening when we use scripture to figure out how to handle these issues and it seems best to do it through the discussion on immigration: -For a minute, the progressives seem more like literalists and the more conservative folks want to start looking more at context and ways to contort scripture to say what they want to say. Please never forget that anytime we read scripture, we bring our own biases to the conversation. We WANT scripture to say something and it can become tempting to twist it and use it to prove our point. Having biases is not necessarily a bad thing and they can even be helpful, but only IF we know that it is happening. We must rely on our experiences, backgrounds, and ideological leanings to have true discussion. This is why it is so important to read scripture together. We talk it out, we ask good questions. There are places in scripture where I wish my more progressive friends would choose to be more literal. There are many places where I wish my more conservative friends would look at the context, ask better questions, and trust the Spirit’s guidance (affirming women in ministry would be a great place to start).
Rich Mullins once said “I think if we were given the scriptures it was not so that we could prove that we were right about everything. If we were given the scriptures it was to humble us into realizing that God is right and the rest of us are just guessing.”
That statement is enough to make me lose some of you. I get it. If that is true, how do we know that things are true? Do we not trust the Bible? What about the slippery slope? Oh no! It is possible to believe that the Bible is 100% true and also be aware that none of us are gifted to understand everything 100%. We read the scriptures, but we do so with humility. We do it with no agenda other than of being transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we can fulfill God’s will. We read together, aware of our biases, and we trust that through genuine conversation we will begin to live lives that are honoring to God.
So…what do we do with something like the immigration? Sit down. Talk to someone who understands things a bit differently. Figure out why you have come to your conclusion. Find out what in their experience has led them to theirs. Dig deeper.
And through that, we trust that the Spirit will guide us all.
Perhaps there is a way to be welcoming of those who are in danger and at the same time honor the laws of the land? I really don’t know. It’s time to ask better questions.
Most people that know anything about me know that I can be a bit of a Grinch when at Christmas. If you ask me, I would say it goes back to working a few years of retail at the mall during Christmas season.That will change a man I tell you.
Anyway, due to various reasons, even the last few Christmases have been different than expected. They weren’t bad and we’ve made memories that will last a lifetime, but major things have happened. Twice we were in the middle of moving houses which meant limited time to decorate as it just felt like extra work when packing up. This year, things already feel different. It began on Thanksgiving. I know…I know…we are supposed to focus on Thanksgiving and THEN start Christmas. If anyone loves that rule, it’s this guy. In my experience though, one of the things you do on Thanksgiving is watch the Macy’s Parade and wait for the grand finale as Santa Claus himself comes down the street to welcome in the season of commercialism….I mean Christmas! Crosley will turn three in February, which means she is finally at an age where she really is starting to get a grasp on Christmas, Santa, Advent, and everything in between. In early November she declared that she finally was not scared of Santa and that he could bring her presents on Christmas. As we had the parade playing, when the end was near I told her to stop and watch the screen. What happened next is a memory I will never forget. “Crosley, who is that?” “It’s Santa! Look! Hi, Santa! Daddy, take his picture!”
And she ran to the TV, jumping up and down, waving as if she was seeing a friend she had not seen in years. She beamed and what I saw was nothing but pure joy. And yes, as it unfolded, my heart grew at least one size.
This Christmas is different because I get to experience it with someone who I love that is experiencing it all for the first time. Every Santa sighting, every reindeer, every gingerbread man, every baby Jesus in the manger is a reason for celebration.
I think churches can learn something from this. For too long, too many of us have gathered with the same people doing the same things for so long that we have lost the passion that brought us together in the first place. We want to reach out, but we get bogged down by year after year of traditions that sometimes feel like an obligation rather than a privilege. Perhaps this Christmas season, the best way to remember the joy in what we do is to try and experience it with someone who is doing it for the very first time. Who do we know that would benefit from hope, peace, joy, and love in the ways only found in the Good News?
This year when I see something Christmas-y, my thoughts are less “Bah humbug” and more “I bet Crosley would love this.” Who are you inviting to worship with you? What relationships are we cultivating? I believe that the joy of Christmas will only come when experienced with others, especially those doing so for the first time.
Increasingly I am being convinced that the advent is a reminder not just that we get to to feel love, peace, joy, and hope but that we are called to be agents of those things to a world that is so desperate for them. Advent might best be experienced by helping share those things with others. Make this Christmas one to remember, not for all that you had to do, but for what you got to see God do.
Like any good church kid growing up in the 90s, I was all about the wave of CCM music. Unlike many folks, I still find myself going back to those songs from time to time. Jars of Clay, Third Day, Audio Adrenaline, and the Newsboys were personal favorites. I was in hook, line, and sinker. These days I find myself focused on more recent CCM artists,
favorites being Andrew Peterson, NEEDTOBREATHE, Chris Rice, and more. In college I discovered more and more about Rich Mullins and few folks have shaped my life more than the legacy of Rich.
I tell you this because no matter how my moods might have changed, one things stayed the same: I did not like Steven Curtis Chapman. At all. Looking back on it, I’m not sure why exactly. As CCM music changed over the years, I started to see what I believe to be his squeaky clean image and thought SCC was a prime example of everything that was wrong with the industry. The music wasn’t terrible, but usually I would play it more of a joke to my wife. “Saddle up your hoooorrrsess…” ..”I’m diving in…oh ohhh woaah ohh” It was a throwback, but not always an appreciated one.
To be honest, I knew nothing about the man other than what I saw from a distance. Jenni would often tell me how much I was missing as she knows how much emphasis I place on lyrical quality when choosing what I should listen to in any scenario. I would have none of it. SCC was not for me.
This year for Father’s Day, I asked for the gift that everyone would probably expect from me: two tickets to see Steven Curtis Chapman in concert for his upcoming solo tour. And I cannot wait. What changed? Two years ago, SCC released his autobiography, “Between Heaven and The Real World.” Having known a little about his story, I was interested, but I was not prepared for what I found.
In his book, we get a glimpse of what was really happening in his life at the time that many of his biggest hits were hitting the airwaves. Struggles with finances, marriage, raising kids, the loss of his children, and so many more things helped put his life into a new perspective. While I am sorry that he has walked through so many tough times, his candor in sharing his story made me start to see things in a new way. As I read the book, I became more involved in listening to his music and really going back to look at the words. I could see how SCC was faithful in letting the Spirit lead him to write music out of his story. As I understood him more, I felt a connection. I’ve never been one to score high on an empathy scale, but as she shared I found many places where I could relate Some of his music helped get me through a rough year and at just the right time this year he released a new song that helped me celebrate life with a new perspective. I write all of this with no expectation that SCC will ever see this, but I felt like I needed to say this publicly: “Steven Curtis Chapman, I’m sorry.”
I’m sorry that my judgment kept me from connecting with your music sooner. I’m sorry that I looked at the polished exterior of public image and thought for a minute that you were anything less than honest. I’m sorry for putting folks like Rich Mullins on a pedestal because of their ability to be raw while at the same time holding others like you to a standard that I myself can rarely manage to uphold. I share this because I think there is a reminder that I need and I suspect others can benefit from as well. Whether it is in church, at work, in a restaurant, at a ballfield, or wherever life brings you…let’s stop assuming things about people based on public image. Let’s not forget that we all have our struggles and burdens and we never really know what is happening behind the curtain. The truth is, I shouldn’t have had to read this book and hear his stories to come down from my place of judgment. I’m sorry that it took me so long.
To open up and share the parts of your life that don’t seem to match up to what others expect from you takes courage. The fact that that last sentence is true is more of a condemnation on the church than it is on any one person. We should expect, welcome, and even demand moments where we don’t just say “I’m fine,” but instead, “Well here’s where I’m struggling right now.” I am thankful for the authenticity shared in his book and I believe it serves as yet another reminder of how important it is that we share stories. We all have things going on. How much stronger and more connected will we be when we decide to let others in? I’m excited to sit and listen to a show next week. I’m thankful for a new world of music that has been opened to me and the way that it has ministered to me. I’m thankful for the reminder that I need to stop with my own preconceived notions of others. And oh yeah: I’m sorry, Steven Curtis Chapman.