Monday, April 17, 2017

“Welcome to da Faith” – Some thoughts for you

If someone handed you a roadmap for life, how would you react? I’m sure you would be happy. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that this album will guide you through life, but I’m pretty sure it can encourage you when life gets tough, and help you make steps toward being successful as a believer. Success as a believer is not defined as an easy, comfortable life, as the album art describes

Lyrics for the album can be found here: And I would say that these alone can potentially help encourage you when life gets tough.
So, my goal for this post is to do three things with each track that ended up on this album: first, share the Scripture that forms the background to it; second, excplain what events lay behind each track being written; third, how it specifically ties in to the theme of the album. John 15:5 has Jesus saying, “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.” This faith race that believers are placed in is a race of remaining in Him, knowing that apart from Him we are incapable of anything.
“Anthem” begins the album, and attempts to summarize the whole album. It attempts to be a fun, synthed-out/scratched-out, introduction that sets the tone for the rest of the album. It’s based on 2 Corinthians 5:7, where Paul writes, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” While the album has ups and downs of fun and serious, so does this track in lyrical content, and also the verse on which it is based. While everything might look dark, believers have the hope “post tenebras lux” (Latin for “after darkness, light”). I wrote this song a day before I recorded it, reflecting on the past seven years, and some of the lessons I’ve learned.
“Get Crazy” follows. As is clear from the first verse, it is based on 2 Corinthians 5:17, where Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.” I wrote this song during the summer of 2012, which in all honesty was probably the start of the peak of my walk with Christ so far. After I moved to Missouri about a year later, everything grew much more difficult. But, the point of this song within the theme of the album is as follows: as believers we need to act like we’re different. “Get Crazy” implies rejoicing. It also implies a total change in our life to the point where others can say, “You’re crazy.”
“Welcome to da Faith” is the title track. If you listen to it, it’s clear that it’s based upon Hebrews 12:1-2, where the writer says, “Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.” This one was written probably early spring of 2013, and I say that for two reasons: 1) I can’t remember precisely, 2) the line, “the best way to get over a breakup / is to fall for someone new” would have taken place around that point in time. Ultimately though, the point of the song is a theological look at the Christian race—what it consists of, what is important, and how to keep going when tough—and not so much a personal story.
The first interlude, given by Pastor Mo Khazaal of Sovereign Way Christian Church in Hesperia, CA, is included after the prior track as if to say, “the best way to keep going in this race is to join a local church.” I worried about people thinking that I was just saying, “Join my church”—well soon to be again my church—but no, what Mo does in this clip is explain what churches should look like—both leadership and fellowship. “I’m not saying you have to come to this church. I want you where God wants you.” And in the past few weeks I’ve become convinced that there are probably solid churches within driving distance of just about anywhere in the United States. (I’ve met people from two separate solid churches in my current area in the past three weeks alone.) The point being: join a local body of believers who can help you in this race.
“L.I.L.F.Y.T.R, pt. 2” is based on 1 John 4:15-17, where John writes, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God—God remains in him and he in God.  And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him.  In this, love is perfected with us so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, for we are as He is in this world.” I wrote it after writing my essay “Love Wins” found here, and after reflecting on the original that I released (hear it here). In the original, I focus on the “confidence in the day of judgment” aspect, but totally ignored the “one who remains in love . . . love is perfected” aspect. This new version is the core of my theology and exegetical hermeneutic. In the days since, I’ve realized that it is an extremely hard theology to live out, but by the power of Jesus it is possible.
The second interlude, given by Pastor Josh Ritchie of Sovereign Way Christian Church in Hesperia, CA, further elaborates and expands on the prior song. It is taken from a sermon on 1 John 4:13-21.
“Who I AM (is)” comes next and tries to paint a picture of God. It is based on the whole of the Bible, and seeks to paint Jesus as the same as Yahweh. We don’t worship a different God as believers in Jesus than the Israelites in the Old Testament did. I wrote this in the summer of 2012, at the height of my spiritual journey thus far. It fits with the theme of the album because as believers—running this race—we need to know Who it is we worship.
“Garden” comes from John 15, and also ties in Luke 8:4-15. I wrote this one in the summer of 2012 as well. John 15 discuuses vitality in the Christian life and relates it directly to intimacy with Christ—comparing Him to a vine. Since Jesus compares humans to seeds planted in Luke 8, I take them both together and ask that I would grow well, letting God prepare my heart to be the fruitful soil. I actually wrote the chorus to this song the week I met the Lord, back in 2010. It was one of my first real prayers. As believers, we must stay close to Christ and trust Him to grow us, even if some of His methods surprise us.
“Role Models” follows, because, it seeks to thank some people who have been invaluable in helping me to stay close to Christ. It is based on 2 Timothy 2:1-2, which says, “You, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.  And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” I wrote this song sometime before fall of 2013, before leaving the noteworthy (main portion of song) role models behind in Southern California. They are still the greatest role models I’ve ever had, and I’m excited to get back to them in about a month. The point: as believers we need people to train us up in the faith.
“Fear Is” is based on Proverbs 1:7, where Solomon says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and discipline.” I wrote this in 2011 or 2012 when I was coming to terms with the concept of sola fide (faith alone), and it encourages us to grow in wisdom by God. The greatest wisdom we can find is to be humble, admit our sinfulness, and turn to Jesus in faith to fulfill righteousness for us. The greatest theologians in history and modern day have this understanding.
“What to Do?” speaks of the need for evangelism, and living to back it up. It is based on 2 Corinthians 5:18, 20, “Everything is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation . . . Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” As I wrote on Facebook a few weeks ago, “Based on 2 Corinthians 5:19-21, if you don’t speak about the gospel as a believer—especially as a minister—and call for repentance and belief, you are actually actively muzzling Christ.” I wrote this song originally in 2013 after a breakup, when I found out that she hadn’t been a believer while we were together (which ultimately explained the breakup). This song has grown more and more pertinent to me throughout my last few years, as I’ve been at churches where the Gospel is not explicitly preached. As the chorus says, “there’s a million possible things that we can try, but only the gospel can change their life,” which means, we don’t need programs or fads; we need Jesus, preached in the gospel: bad news, good news, repent, believe! This explains the concluding note from Pastor Mo Khazaal. Paul said the same in 1 Corinthians 9:16: “woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”
“Ammunition” follows, and verse 1 picks up where the prior song left off. Satan doesn’t want the Gospel preached. Verse 2 elaborates on what the gospel actually teaches. And verse 3 is an extremely personal verse reflecting on the specific time I wrote the song. The song is based on James 4:7, “Therefore, submit to God. But resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.” We submit to God by drawing near in prayer and Scripture reading. By putting this in our minds, we have ammunition to use against the Devil’s lies.
“Get Out” is based on 2 Timothy 2:22-26, and I’ll admit straight out that I’ve probably confused Satan with my flesh in this song. The passage explains, “Flee from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.  But reject foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they breed quarrels.  The Lord’s slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient,  instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth.  Then they may come to their senses and escape the Devil’s trap, having been captured by him to do his will.” I wrote this song originally completely differently in the summer of 2012. I rewrote it about this topic in the fall of 2015, but it reached it’s final form (only verb tenses in verse 3 changing) after my breakup in March of 2016. As believers we have all we need to ignore the lies of the devil/our flesh, but too often we lazily prefer to follow our flesh.
The third interlude comes from Pastor Stephen Feinstein of Sovereign Way Christian Church in Hesperia, CA. In it, he proves my point above, about having all we need to resist Satan and temptation, and also leads in to the next song, speaking directly about the temptation I struggle with.
“Tearing Down the Walls” comes next. It is based on a whole lot of verses, but the one I’m gonna quote here is found in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5. “For though we live in the body, we do not wage war in an unspiritual way,  since the weapons of our warfare are not worldly, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments  and every high-minded thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to obey Christ.” I wrote and recorded this song in 2015, and it was quality enough at the time of release that I left the phrase “three years of longing to be sexually pure” as “three years” even though at this point it’s been 6 years of actively fighting, and seven years of knowing I need to. I don’t spend an insane amount of time reflecting on my sin; I try to lay out my understanding of Romans 7 in a practical way, which is further elaborated on here, and is due for an even lengthier treatment in the future. We must look to Christ, not ourselves, to overcome sin in our lives.
“No Fear” is based on Hebrews 4:16. “Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time.” The first verse was written on August 2, 2015 while listening to a sermon where the pastor had completely sucked the grace out of Psalm 51, which added to my depression because he was also the one “counseling” me on sexual purity at the time. The next two verses were written in the months that followed, reflecting on the grace that God offers at His throne of grace. God wants us to pray to Him; as believers, we must do it often.
“Trippin” is based on 1 John 1:8. “If we say, ‘We have no sin,’ we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” I wrote this one toward the beginning of 2012, probably one of the first songs from this album to be finished. As believers, we will never be free from sin entirely in this life. As such we must be honest about it. At the same time though, we aren’t excused from sin, because we have the Holy Spirit.
“What Did You See?” is not really based on any specific passage, though passages do show up throughout it. I guess the best verse to give that sums it up is Romans 5:10, “For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life!” The song, especially the first verse, is heavy, as my intro states. I wrote the first verse around the end of 2015 when I received news that an acquaintance from youth group as a kid had gotten in a car accident and died on the spot. It made me seriously think about my life and what I was doing with it. The last two verses were written in early 2016, reflecting on my treatment by a church over struggles I’ve faced for multiple years. The point of the song is ultimately that God chose us when we were dirty and as such He can handle our sin now; He’s in control and we can trust Him.
“Ask Me About My Father” is based on John 3:16. “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” That simply sums up my Father. In addition, my first idea for this song originated from my song, “Ask Me About My Savior,” from 2012. Perhaps “Ask Me about My Keeper” will come out in the future? It serves as a happy conclusion to the album, calling people again to believe in Jesus. It elevates the fact that believers are adopted. It plays off the line from “Welcome to da Faith” where I say, “We got the same Father, His name’s I AM.”  Believers must know God as Father.
“But, that’s not the last song on the album,” you protest. You’re right! “Somewhere, Someday” serves as a postscript. It’s based off Matthew 6:33, which is one of the hardest verses to practice in daily life. “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.” Verse 3 is the most important, and I thought about changing the last line from “the sooner the better—this is all true,” to “Your timing’s the best—this is all true,” but for several reasons I kept it how it is. Here’s why: there’s no sin in desiring marriage. First Corinthians 7 and Matthew 19 would agree with me. Keeping Christ my primary focus is extremely hard, and it comes out in that concluding line.
In conclusion, as believers, the key is to keep our focus on Christ. Everything we do must be done “by the Spirit, for the Father, through the Son / 1 Corinthians 10:31.” As you listen to the album, I pray that it would help you to fix your eyes on Jesus. If you don’t know Jesus, every song seeks to be evangelistic so I can welcome you to da faith; trust Him today. Also, in listening to the album myself, I found a factual error (the Bible says the exact opposite) in one of the songs. If anyone can point it out to me also, I’ll do something (though I’m still contemplating what). Maybe buy you lunch… J

Soli Deo Gloria.

Friday, April 14, 2017

“I Was There” – Some thoughts for you

So, as many of you know, the past two years have been two of the hardest years in my life. And that’s where this story takes place. In fact, I started writing it before it fell even farther south, and in my personal opinion, I felt like the story would work just fine being kept there—let’s say around the end of August 2016. So the attitudes and actions read of there, were—for the most part—how I was thinking in September of 2016. Before moving on, I would encourage you to read the story which can be found here:
I was broken up with just over a year ago, which totally threw away all the plans I had for my life at the time. In so doing, anger was uncovered in my heart—anger that was much deeper than just not seeing eye-to-eye with my parents and conversations getting loudly out of hand. Three months later I began talking to another girl, but that was a waste of time that I don’t need to get into here, except to say that after this I became extremely jealous and bitter about the relationships of those closest to me in my life. It was at this point that the introductory section to the story was written, and while it’s done by Good Friday 2017, my original goal had been Easter of 2016, though I don’t think it would have been the same kind of story if it had come out then, because the last six months of serious heart stretching would not have happened yet.
This was the hardest story I’ve ever written. When you write a sentence and you have to pray for forgiveness for each one because it is exemplifying your sinfulness, it makes it extremely hard to write. The inspiration for the story—besides just the fact that it’s the Easter season—was a song from Shai Linne where he raps,
[Jesus is] sent to Pilate, to Herod, back to Pilate
The violence of humanity at its finest
So now He stands before the crowd doomed to die
An angry mob who’s yelling out “crucify”
The way they treat the Lord of glory is debased and it’s foul
But you miss the point if you don’t see your face in the crowd
We see disciples sleep and mock today with a lot to say
But we do the same thing when we don’t watch and pray
Like Judas, we sell Christ out to get the treasure
Whether it’s the cheddar or forbidden pleasure
Like the chief priests, we want Christ to surrender
But we want Him out the way when He doesn’t fit our agenda
Like Peter, we have misplaced, fleshly confidence
But we’ll deny the Lord when faced with deadly consequence
Like Herod, we’re curious about Christ because He’s famous
But we quickly get bored with Him when He doesn’t entertain us
Like Pilate, we see Christ and find nothing wrong with Him
But when the world chooses the wicked, we go right along with them
Despite His kindness, we seek to do our Maker violence
The fallenness of humanity at its finest[1]
And, to take it even further, the sermon clip that Shai Linne includes at the end of the song from pastor C. J. Mahaney elaborates,
“‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord?’ the old negro spiritual asks. And we must answer, ‘Yes, we were there.’ Not as spectators only, but as participants, guilty participants, plotting, scheming, betraying, bargaining, and handing Him over to be crucified. We may try to wash our hands of responsibility like Pilate, but our attempt will be futile. Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, leading us to faith and worship, we have to see it as something done by us, leading us to repentance. Only the man or woman who is prepared to own his share in the guilt of the cross may claim his share in its grace.[2]
And it’s been my goal to write it for the past year, placing myself at the scene, putting myself back in the mindframe of an unbeliever, and reflecting on how I would have acted had I been there then. It was a very humbling experience. While most of my attitudes presented in the story were present in my mind in September of 2016, I also drew some parallels to attitudes that were much more prominent in 2010 when I was saved.
I italicize Mahaney’s sentence above, because when you see yourself beating on Jesus Christ—the Creator and Lord of heaven and earth, who holds your life in His hand, who could let you go at any moment—it is impossible to continue living as if nothing happened. When we sin we act like we’re still unbelievers (Romans 6:16), and it looks as though we want to crucify Jesus again, because every sin we commit is one that He was on the cross for already. Without getting into the crazy specifics, I believe Hebrews 6 may speak to this in verses 4-8, when it reads,
For it is impossible to renew to repentance those who were once enlightened, who tasted the heavenly gift, became companions with the Holy Spirit,  tasted God’s good word and the powers of the coming age,  and who have fallen away, because, to their own harm, they are recrucifying the Son of God and holding Him up to contempt.  For ground that has drunk the rain that has often fallen on it and that produces vegetation useful to those it is cultivated for receives a blessing from God.  But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is worthless and about to be cursed, and will be burned at the end (emphasis added).
The writer is explaining, “Look! Take a good look at your life and see what defines you. Is your life defined by rebellion against Jesus? If so, it doesn’t matter what ‘good things’ you may have done, because every time you sin you are telling Jesus to take another beating. If this defines you, you may be too far gone. But, if your life is faithful to Jesus, though you sin here and there—even daily (as we all do)—keep pressing on, watching out that you don’t make a habit of beating Jesus, because to continue in that lifestyle shows that you aren’t saved.”
When you realize the attitudes in your heart that pinned Jesus to the cross, you realize the areas of your life that need to be put to death (Romans 8:13). Repentance from a sin is completed when that sin is crushed and uprooted by the Spirit. Looking at Jesus on the cross, and seeing how you are responsible for that atrocity must necessarily lead to repentance.
So my question for you today is: Were you there? Do you see yourself in that crowd? Even if you have to go back to the day you were saved—and reflect on what He saved you from—can you see yourself there as one of the bad guys?
Or maybe you’re reading this but you’ve never even trusted Jesus. Do you realize you’ve sinned? Have you ever lied? Have you ever stolen anything? Have you ever disobeyed a parent? Have you ever practiced sexual activity outside of the covenant of marriage? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” then you deserve to be on the cross that Jesus was crucified on. You deserve the beating that He received.
But even more than the beating He received, you deserve what was going on in the darkness:
Jesus cried out in agony as well. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
Jesus groaned in pain, and His groans continued for the next several hours.
In my mind I wondered why He was groaning. No one’s doing anything to You now. The pain is over. You’re just up there now until You die.
He screamed. He wept. His teeth started grinding. He groaned again.
“You weren’t acting like this an hour ago!” I yelled. “What has changed?”
He kept yelling, crying, and grinding His teeth.
“What has changed?” I asked in the story. Everything changed. This is the reason why Jesus was sweating blood in the garden. And it’s the part of the crucifixion that is much too often skipped over in Christian circles these days, especially since it’s the most important part. Throughout church history many martyrs have died in much more brutal ways than crucifixion—even Peter was crucified upside down—so why would Jesus be so worried about facing the cross? It’s because while He was up there, for the second set of three hours, He drank the full fury of the wrath of God—the same that those who don’t believe in Christ will face for eternity in hell.
I don’t want you to have to face that. Jesus doesn’t either. It’s why He drank it Himself. However, you must believe that the forgiveness He cried for on the cross counts for you too. You have to see yourself murdering Him, and as such repent for the things that pinned Him there that you didn’t know you were doing (Luke 23:34). A parachute won’t save anyone who doesn’t put full trust in it and wear it when they jump out of the plane; the plane of life crashes for everyone at a different time, and the question is: have you put full trust in Jesus?
Soli Deo Gloria.

[1] Shai Linne, “Were You There?” The Atonement (Lampmode Recordings, 2008), MP3.
[2] Ibid. Emphasis mine