March 3, 2015

It's Here! "From Good to Grace" Releases Today!

It's here! Today is the official release date for my new book, From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel! I'm thrilled to offer this book to you, and my prayer is that, first and foremost, God would be pleased, because He's written its message on my heart. My other prayer for this book comes from Isaiah 61:1, 3: Jesus came to proclaim that we're no longer bound, the prison doors are open, and that we don't have to live with a garment of heaviness. It's my hope that this book will usher those who read it to the One who offers the lightness of grace and freedom.
Hopefully by now you've read the excerpts, such as "Unity or Uniformity?" and "The Spirit and Spiritual Disciplines". I've asked you to consider what the goodness gospel is and if it affects your life. And I've told my own story of living by the goodness gospel by sharing the first chapter of the book.

But how do you know if this book is really for you?
In the book, I describe those who will resonate most with this message:

"I imagine that you know about God, and you can roughly paraphrase the main points of Scripture and/or theology. I imagine that you are a dutiful person, trying to live life right. You take your friends meals when they have babies, and you make sure your kids have clean socks. You go to church, you pay your bills, and you give to the needy at Christmas. A few times a week, you sit down and read your Bible because you know it's good for you, but you often desire more out of that time. Late at night, when you can't sleep, you wonder if you're just going through the motions, if there is any of the promised abundance in all this rote, mundane, religious life. Mostly, you wonder if God truly loves you, if you are good enough for Him, or if you're doing enough for Him. More than anything in the world, you long to know God, have a deep relationship with Him, and comprehend His approval."

I know you. I know you, because I know me. I've lived that life, but I've discovered grace and how it applies not just to salvation but to my everyday life. The heavy weight of guilt and condemnation and rote religion has been lifted in my life. I'd love to share with you what I've learned in the pages of this book.

Want to help?
I'd love your help in getting the word out about the book! There are number of things you can do, and even the littlest things help. Need suggestions?

  • Read it and write a review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Christianbook.com.
  • Talk about it on Facebook.
  • Pin the cover image from this post on Pinterest.
  • Share a picture of the book on Instagram.
  • Tweet about the book using the hashtag #fromgoodtograce.
  • Tell your mama and your BFF. Word of mouth is best!
  • Put the book on your Goodreads list.
  • Consider gathering a group to read the book together. I've included discussion questions in the back of the book for that purpose. I will also be hosting an online book club this summer. I'll be sharing more details about that a little later.

Hear the message live!
If you happen to live in Texas, I will be speaking about the message of the book at several churches this week. Join me?

Houston's First Baptist Church: Tonight! Register here.
Central Baptist Church in College Station: March 4 at 7 pm in The Gathering
First Baptist Church's South Campus: March 5 at 6:30 pm

Finally, thank you. Thank you for celebrating this book with me and for being a faithful reader of my blog. I'm grateful to be walking alongside you in this life of faith. Now, what are you waiting for? Go get yourself a copy of the book and get to reading! I hope you love it.

February 26, 2015

The Spirit and Spiritual Disciplines

The following is an excerpt from my new book, From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel. If you want to read more, you can find the book on AmazonBarnes & Noble, and Christianbook.com.

Knowing that we have a Helper--as Jesus calls Him--in the Holy Spirit gives us a fresh perspective on spiritual disciplines—everything from Bible-reading, prayer, fasting, giving, and church attendance.

As I was coming to recognize my goodness obsession, I didn’t know quite how to view spiritual disciplines. For many years, I looked to spiritual disciplines as a checkpoint of how I was doing as a Christian. I was a “good” Christian if I did them and a “bad” one if I did not. But this to-do list way of practicing spiritual disciplines, I discovered, is self-oriented. I created them. I set certain standards for myself, and I used them as a type of formula for spiritual maturity.
In this scenario, God was a supporting actor and I was both director and main actor. I could, in effect, practice spiritual disciplines without actually relating to God. And those disciplines in themselves could not change my heart or cause me to grow spiritually. In all my efforts to effect change in my life, something was missing.

That’s because spiritual disciplines are not intended as replacements for the Holy Spirit. They are intended as ways to ask for and receive help from the Holy Spirit. God is the director and main actor. We belong to Him. Spiritual disciplines, when practiced correctly, place us in positions of submission, acknowledgement of need, and ready receptors when the Holy Spirit moves, leads, speaks, or convicts. I am essentially using spiritual disciplines like a door, opening my heart to God, ready to receive from Him. They are a means of continual receiving.

Knowing the role of the Holy Spirit actually elevates the spiritual disciplines beyond a to-do list, because they are our way of asking for the Holy Spirit’s help. 

Prayer, for example, becomes a vital connection to God. If, as we’ve established, the Holy Spirit is the only One who can reach into the heart of man and if, as we’ve established, we can’t control or affect heart transformation, our role and responsibility in partnership with the Holy Spirit is to pray for Him to act.

For me, this comes into play often as I consider how to help my children know God and trust in Him. When my first son was born, a struggle with fear was also borne in my heart. In the beginning, trivial fears gripped me: What if he won't sleep when the book says he should sleep? What if he cries like this for the rest of his life? What if I never shower again? But when he was diagnosed as having autism, the realities of motherhood and the weight of profound fears landed hard. Would he ever speak? Was his future a hopeful one? Would he ever enjoy relationships? Would I be able to parent this child how he needed to be parented?

What I soon realized was that all moms struggle with fear at some level. Every mother wants their child's emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being, and every mother wants to do right by her child. Every mother fears that she might not be enough, or that life might be a big bully to the one she loves.

I recognize my fears as a mother, and I also recognize my typical responses to those fears. I either anxiously feed the fear and am motivated by it, or I attempt to tamp down the fear through my own effort.

My primary method of handling fear is the second response—the control of fear through effort. And what do I fear most? I fear that they won't know and be assured of what God has done for them in Christ. I fear that they won't love God or love others well. So I set goals of what I want to instill into my children. I make lists of activities to help them grow. I write down ideas that other mothers share. I scour blogs and Pinterest. I pack the schedule with opportunities. I help them pursue friendships. I peel open the Bible every morning after breakfast and read it to them.

This doesn't sound so bad, so why is this response to fear such a bad thing? Being purposeful with my children is not inherently bad, but if it is motivated by fear, it is sin (Romans 14:23). It’s sin because, if we believe that our efforts are the way to protect our children or produce heart and character transformation in them, we're saying that we are God. We're saying that we can control life and circumstances. We're saying that we have the power to do what only God can do. This is why controlling our fears through effort is so dangerous.

I've been thinking a lot lately about my typical responses to fear as a mother and recognizing that, truly, my children belong to God, and that I have no ability to produce character in them. I can teach them and lead them to this end, but only God can actually do it. Wouldn't I much rather allow Him to protect, provide for, and work in the hearts of my kids? A million times, yes.

So what is our response to the fears we have as mothers and in any area of life, for that matter? He gives us a way to ask for help and for things to change: we can pray! We are to pray fervently for our children and ask the Holy Spirit to do what only He can do. And we not only pray, but we trust the answer that He will give, which is so often different than what we think it will be or should be.

We must also be obedient to put the structure in place that He asks us to put in place in our families, but we recognize that it is not actually this structure that will do anything. It's Him, and it's only ever been Him.

This is true for anything we are concerned about, whether it’s marriage, career, ministry, relationships, or suffering. The change or growth we desire can only be done by the Spirit. So instead of controlling, we pray. Instead of self-sufficiency, we pray. Instead of trusting in behavior modification, we pray. Instead of fear, we pray.

We have a Helper, after all, whom Jesus promised would help us when we call on Him.

This is, in fact, the posture of a child who looks with complete security and assurance to her father for help and guidance. We are now children, brought to the Father’s table, and, because we are no longer orphans, we don’t have to act as orphans who must take care of themselves. Jesus said, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). How did He come to us? He came to us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our guide and our sufficiency, and by depending on Him, we are looking to our Father for help and for our needs to be met each day. The Holy Spirit leads us to the Father-heart of God. 

February 24, 2015

Unity or Uniformity?

The following is an excerpt from my new book, From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel. If you want to read more, you can find the book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Christianbook.com.

When the alarm clock went off the morning after my wedding, I immediately bolted out of bed and dashed off to take a shower. We had a plane to catch, and I had to get the room straightened in preparation for check out (because everyone does this, right?), so I was shocked when I returned from the shower to find Kyle fast asleep, awaiting the second or third call of the alarm. I didn’t know people actually used the snooze button, but evidently I had much to learn about my new husband.

After several mornings of this routine, Kyle turned to me during breakfast and said, “Do you always do that?”

“What?” I, of course, did everything right so I couldn’t imagine why he sounded so mystified. 

“Do you always pop out of bed like that? You are practically out of the bed the second the alarm goes off. It kind of scared me the first time. I thought something was seriously wrong when you jumped up like that.”

We gaped at one another, his snooze button philosophy coming toe-to-toe with my up-and-at-‘em philosophy. Who knew we’d experience our differences so early— literally and figuratively—in our marriage? We quickly uncovered more. He squeezed every ounce of toothpaste from the tube by carefully flattening and rolling as he used it, while I just squeezed from wherever felt convenient in the moment—top, bottom, middle, whatever man.

He constantly asked how long to heat his leftovers in the microwave, which, of course, drove me crazy because, really, how can you mess that up? Just pop it in and give it a go. Add a few seconds more if necessary. Or just blow on it if it’s too hot. Whatever man.
It was tempting to label one another’s preferences and customs as “right” or “wrong”. It was also tempting to assume that once we made our rational, persuasive arguments for how we thought things should be done, the other one would see the brilliance of our position and immediately come to his/her senses. 

Despite our best efforts, that pretty much never happened. After several disagreements, surviving the first set of holidays, and making it through our first year of marriage, we eventually settled on traditions and ways of doing things that worked for the two of us as a fledgling family. But we learned lessons about one another and about our families that have served us well throughout our marriage, the main one being this: Different isn’t wrong. Different is just different. And different is even quite beautiful.

Unity or Uniformity?
When I stopped striving to earn grace and simply received it, I noticed an abrupt change in how I perceived and related to other people. What I had learned in our early months of marriage also informed my response to the unique ways God compelled those around me to love and serve others: Different isn’t wrong, different is just different, and different is even quite beautiful. God’s grace allows for this, because God’s grace brings profound unity among believers but also allows for freedom in how we respond to that grace we’ve been given. In Christ, there is unity but not uniformity.

All of this sounds well and good, but in reality, the application of this is where we—the goodness obsessed—have trouble. Too often, as we “run the race that is set before us”, we look around at everyone else who is running alongside of us instead of “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:10). We look to other Christians in order to determine how we’re supposed to live or what our personal convictions should be. We look at their uniqueness and think it should be ours too. Or we look to other Christians and think they should be doing what we’re doing. We turn our unity in the Beloved and like-minded purpose as Sent Ones into disunity and division, because we believe that the goal is uniformity.

When I walked according to the goodness gospel for a good portion of my Christian life, I believed in uniformity. By its very nature, the goodness gospel requires uniformity, and it leads us to judgment, huddling up according to our convictions, and isolating ourselves from others for fear of being judged. Because it’s greatest virtue is behavioral uniformity, the goodness gospel does not allow us to give grace to believers who are different from us.

This is why we too often find churches full of bitter, back-biting people. Believers can be cliquish according to their personal convictions and choices, unfriendly to outsiders, and critical of those who look or act differently than their chosen uniform cause. These characteristics are ungodly, a blatant sign of people who have never come to understand God’s grace and love for them personally. They may know it intellectually, but refuse it intimately, and, therefore, cannot extend it to others. 

Attitudes of ungraciousness betray an ignorance of God’s grace, because His grace isn’t selective, nor is it selfish.

We are in good company, however, in our struggle to understand that the goal of God’s grace is unity rather than uniformity: the apostle Peter also had a goodness gospel problem. After Jesus’ resurrection, after He commissioned the disciples to go into the world with the gospel as Sent Ones, Jesus and Peter had an interesting and important interchange, one we can learn much from. As a sign of Christ’s restoration of Peter, Jesus asked Peter three times, “Peter, do you love me?” And each time, Jesus equated Peter’s love for Him with loving and serving others. Having fully restored him, Jesus then prophesied somewhat ominously that Peter would die a difficult death in God’s name. We see a clear progression of grace: Christ gave grace, Christ called Peter to give what he’d received, and then Christ gave Peter a specific way to respond to what he’d received.

Almost immediately, Peter turned around and looked at John: “But Lord, what about this man?” In other words, Peter wondered if John would die in a similar manner: “Aren’t you calling him to the same thing?” Jesus’ response to Peter is the same to us when we look around at others to compare or contrast our unique callings and convictions with theirs: “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me” (John 21:22).

We see from this interchange that receiving and giving grace means that our focus must remain on Jesus, that He will give each of us specific and unique ways to respond to that grace, and that He will often give other people different ways to respond to His grace.

His goal is our unity, not our uniformity.

A Terrible Dysfunction
What caused Peter to question His unique calling? He turned and looked at John.

Have you ever tried running next to someone while looking at them rather than straight ahead? Maybe it’s just me, but I have to look at where I’m going. If I don’t, I trip, fall, and end up in someone else’s lane. 

We can’t run our race well unless we look ahead to where we’re going. Jesus is where we’re going; He is our Finish Line. He wants us to look to Him and run the race He’s marked out for us. When we do that, we can’t look around and compare. 

We tend to assent with our minds that we are loved by God, that we are indwelt by the Spirit, and that we are approved by Him, but we don’t see how that applies to our relationships with others. We still compare and try to prove ourselves. We get our feelings hurt because people don’t understand every nuance of our lives, our personalities, our circumstances, or our choices. We get frustrated and even offended that people aren’t passionate about what we’re passionate about. As a Church, we fight over the most trivial of things. All because we’re looking at our fellow runners and not at our Finish Line.

We call it something else. We call it a struggle: “I struggle with people-pleasing”. We call it personality: “I can’t help it. I’m a competitive person.” We call it gender: “I’m a woman and women tend to compare themselves with other women”. We call it personal conviction when it’s really pride: “I am right and she is wrong.” We call it low self-esteem: “I am nothing compared to her”. 

These are lies and have nothing to do with the gospel. The goodness gospel, yes. But the gospel of Jesus Christ? Absolutely not. However, as long as we continue to return to the goodness gospel, we will be enslaved to it, enslaved to a law that we cannot ever perfect, and enslaving others to a law that they can never perfect.

February 19, 2015

Much More

When I read Romans 5, the words that have always stood out most to me are "much more", like in 5:17: "For if because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ." I underline "much more" and "how much more" anywhere I see it, which is mostly in Romans and Hebrews, but especially Romans 5.
In verses 8 and 9, Paul says that when we were unrighteous, God loved us by sending Christ to die. When we receive that gift by faith, Christ’s action on our behalf justifies us before God. Being justified simply means that we are in right standing before God. We are free from guilt and the penalty due for sin.

After this declaration by Paul, we get our first “much more”: “Much more then shall we be saved from wrath through Him.” The wrath spoken of is God’s present wrath. The tense seems vitally important. Paul is saying that if Jesus is able and willing to make us just before God at a point in our past when we believed, is He not able and willing to save us presently from God’s wrath toward sin? Paul is addressing life after salvation. He is grabbing my face and your face and trying to make us see: Everyday of your life, Jesus stands between you and God so that when God sees you, He sees you through the blood of Christ. Instead of wrath, you are approved and beloved just as Christ is to His Father. There is no more room or need for condemnation for you.

We see another “much more” in verse 10: “We were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” This mirrors 5:17: “Much more those who receive abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness will reign in life through Jesus”. Whereas before, Paul draws our attention to the death of Christ for us, these verses draw our attention to the resurrection of Jesus for us: His reign over sin and death, His power, and His authority.

Why this distinction? The aim of Christ’s sacrifice was our justification and our reconciliation to God at a point when we believed, but the aim of His resurrection goes way beyond just our salvation. This is His grace toward us. Grace is not just the removal of sin. It is the adding on, the giving of gifts we don’t deserve, the power and motivation for living. As believers, we receive Christ’s resurrected life in us, which means we receive His Spirit to empower us to live the Christian life. The Bible says that this is the same power that raised Christ from the dead.

Receive is the operative word. It’s a word we need to understand as Christians. We tend to understand that we receive our salvation, but we struggle to understand that we are also intended to receive by faith what comes after salvation. We know salvation by faith, but we believe sanctification comes through our own efforts. This is why Paul continually uses the words “much more”. He is reminding us that, yes, Christ has justified and reconciled us, but He does so "much more" for us. He gives us everything we need for life and godliness! That's, well, everything, and it's why he says that we who receive abundant grace and the gift of righteousness are able to reign in life. Because of Christ in us.

Our spiritual growth, our sanctification, is not self-directed, it is Holy Spirit-directed. We receive His leadership in our lives through Scripture, and our job is to respond. We receive. Then we respond. He reigns over sin, for example. So as we surrender to the Holy Spirit’s leadership, as we receive His leadership, He will lead us to righteousness, to what pleases God, because, as Galatians 5:16 says, “I say then, "Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”

I think this is why I love each and every "much more" in Scripture. Christ didn’t just die. He was resurrected so that we would have the “much more” of the Holy Spirit. We follow a God who offers us abundant gifts of grace for our everyday Christian lives.

February 17, 2015

Why We Don't Often Experience God's Power

"We create strategies, make to-do lists, choose activities, and organize ourselves within an inch of our lives based upon what we see online or what influential people tell us we should be doing. We’re striving with everything in us toward goodness, toward making an impact, driven by the expectation of what our lives should look like."

That is quote from my new book, From Good to Grace, and summarizes succinctly what I've been thinking about lately, namely the word should. Should is a "what" without the "why", a standard to keep without ever engaging the soul, a joy-crusher in the name of right behavior.
Because should typically leads an individual to behavior modification. To squeezing into a mold. And then guilt and condemnation. Does God really want our behaviors minus our joyful motivation? That's like asking if my husband wants my dutiful love. Yes, dear, you can kiss me. It is my duty as your wife.

However, what I've really been thinking about is how our individual shoulds become corporate shoulds, how we put our shoulds on one another, and how those shoulds thrown around too freely have unintended consequences. Like division, fear, judgments, and false assumptions.

But the main problem I see with trying to be good is that, by definition, we have to hide our weaknesses and failures from one another. It's more important that we impress one another. So we create whole churches where weakness is not welcome. We hold impossible standards of perfection for one another, especially for our leaders, and we struggle to trust that grace is the basis from where we're all coming toward each other. Because sometimes it's not.

I heard yesterday of a friend being attacked for the very existence of their unwanted wounds. And I thought about how we struggle to find a place for past failure and weakness and sin that's been repented for in the church. We have standards and we judge those who don't meet them, often without any backstory or benefit of the doubt. Because of the shoulds.

I'm not talking about being flippant with or overlooking sin. I'm talking about making rush judgments about others.

I wonder what would be said about some of our beloved Bible characters if they lived in the age of Twitter or if they came to preach in our churches? Hosea, can you believe it, married a prostitute. Paul was an ex-con. Moses could have said things a little better. Rahab had a sketchy past. Those are factual statements that miss the heart of each person and, even more, how God redeemed them and called them to a specific ministry.

The people God uses most are those with a broken heart--broken over their sin, broken by circumstances, broken by the wounds of others. They are people who are not just broken and contrite, but who have allowed God's redemption to heal their brokenness. Broken yet emboldened, because they've seen the power of God made perfect.

What is it that Scripture says? The power of God is made perfect in our weakness. In our past. In our difficult circumstances. In our current wrestlings. In our inability to be perfect and meet others' standards for the "good" Christian.

Maybe this explains why we don't often see God's power in our lives. We don't like brokenness.

Aside from powerless living and powerless churches, you know what else thrives when we attack the wounds of others or we lead with our shoulds? Shame. Shame throws its weight around in our churches when we're maintaining our images. Shame maintains silence when stories of redemption need to be voiced. Shame says that brokenness is wrong, that only the unbroken is right with God or can be used by Him.

We're afraid to put away the shoulds, to cheapen grace. But the longer I live, the more I recognize that life never works according to a formula, and the more I search for and cannot find the end of God's grace toward those with a broken and contrite spirit. Praise Jesus!

His power is made perfect in weakness. So let us give each other room to experience that power. Let us invite one another to experience that power. Let us speak of how that power has been made perfect in our own weakness. Come, Lord Jesus.

February 10, 2015

Do You Live By the Goodness Gospel?

The subtitle of my new book is "Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel", which has prompted people to ask, "Just what is the goodness gospel?" One friend called and said, "I read the first chapter wondering what the goodness gospel is and came away realizing that I live by it in ways I didn't even know."

The goodness gospel is the name I give to the slimy underlying belief we innately hold that if change is going to happen, it's up to us. I say it's innate because it's the way the world works: what you get is what you've earned, behavior must be modified, and lives must be pulled up by their boot-straps. Dependency and neediness are dirty words; self-sufficiency is celebrated.
The trouble comes when we attach these innate beliefs to our God, and that's just what I'm trying to get at with this book. We like to mix our self-effort with what Christ has done, and if we're not careful, it eventually becomes gospel. The goodness gospel. Preached from pulpits, counseled by friends, wrapped in words that appear wise. Where salvation is a begrudging gift from God and everything after--whatever spiritual growth, whatever spiritual fruit, whatever joy and love and forgiveness--comes from self-effort and as an attempt to prove His gift was justified. We're trying so desperately to be good for Him, or perhaps it's not for Him at all. It's for ourselves, to feel in control and assured. And it's for others, that we might be validated and approved.

The goodness gospel infests and we aren't even aware, but we feel it. We live with low-grade condemnation, shame, guilt, bitterness, and depression. We feel pain from the shackles of not being enough or doing enough. Every once in a while we wonder, "Didn't Jesus promise the abundant life? Didn't He say there would be joy and peace?" We feel as if something is not right, but we keep going through the motions because we're sure we're the only ones. But we need to listen to those feelings, because these are the bad fruits of the goodness gospel, and they're trying to tell us it is no gospel at all.

I know the goodness gospel, and I know how it plays out in the realities of life, because I was its greatest devotee for decades. I worshipped at the altar of goodness and it caused such dysfunction in my heart (oh the pride and the guilt), in my relationships (oh the judgement and the simultaneous fear of being found lacking), and, most of all, in my relationship with the Lord (oh the joyless, robotic duty). People spoke to me of the love of God, but I'd typically grow agitated and uncomfortable, unable to hear what I was certain was not true.

But God...

Aren't those the greatest words that could ever be? They certainly were for me. In the book, I share through stories and Scripture how God tenderly taught me the true gospel and how I stopped stiff-arming His love for me. I will be sharing some of those stories in the next few weeks during this season of the book's release. But for now, I want you to consider: do you live according to the goodness gospel?

If you're not sure, consider if you'd answer "yes" to the following questions:

Do you often feel separated from God and unable to get to Him?
Do you often find yourself thinking, I'm not a good enough Christian?
Do you often criticize yourself and others?
Do you often find yourself wanting to be known and recognized for your good works?
Do you often find yourself serving without any inner motivation to do so?
Do you often find yourself doing things to look good to other people?
Do you often feel guilty?
Do you often assume that other Christians condemn you?
Do you feel like you've never experienced a life of joy and freedom?
Are you quick to understand God's rules and judgment but slow to understand His love?
Do you struggle to forgive or to let go of bitterness or grudges?
Do you often question whether or not you have the Lord's approval?

The goodness gospel feels like bondage, doesn't it? Galatians 5:4 describes it as being estranged from Christ.

The good news (which is the definition of "gospel", by the way) is that trying to be good after salvation isn't the true gospel, and the enslaved life is not what our God offers. He offers grace and freedom. So let us, I say, move together from good to grace. 

If you are living according to the goodness gospel, I invite you to journey with me into the riches of God's grace through the pages of my new book, From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel. It's my prayer that God will release the captives from unnecessary prisons, just as He did for me. 

Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing excerpts from the book, as well as details about a summer book club opportunity. I think this is a book best processed with others, so you may want to think about inviting your friends and neighbors to read along with you. 

Finally, if you resonated with the description of the goodness gospel and think others you know might benefit from this book, would you consider sharing about it on social media using the hashtag #fromgoodtograce? Feel free to tweet me (@christinehoover), tag me on Instagram (@christinehoover98), Pinterest (christinehoover) or use the hashtag on Facebook (#fromgoodtograce). Or just tell your BFF and your mama. Thank you!

February 6, 2015

Christ in Our Darkness

Good worship leaders are hard to find. Can I get an amen? When you find one, you grab on tightly and don't let go. At least that's what I'm doing with our church's worship leader, Joseph Holm.

Joseph is gifted at leading others to worship. He says things in a way that resonates with people, myself included. But in my opinion his greatest gift is song-writing. Joseph writes music for our church, and his songs have truly become the heartbeat and the soundtrack of our community together.

A few years ago, I remember tagging him in my Facebook status: "Where is the 'Joseph Holm' Pandora station?" I wanted to listen to his songs anytime I wanted. I begged and cajoled him to record. Fortunately for me (and for you), he has recently released his first album. Pandora, Schmandora. I listen to the cd from start to finish multiple times a day. My kids beg to listen to it. My husband is humming the songs around the house. Simply put, I can't recommend it enough.

I asked Joseph to sit down for an interview about his writing process and about the themes behind his music. He's also made a whole song available to sample the album, which follows the interview. 

Q: Congratulations on releasing your first album! That's quite an endeavor and quite an accomplishment. As a writer, people often tell me that they would like to pursue making art (writing, dancing, making music) but they feel foolish, insecure, or like it's frivolous to follow those desires. Assuming you've worked through those feelings yourself, what have you learned about pursuing passions as a Christian?

JH: Thank you! I feel like sometimes you hear the arts and faith addressed in a way that makes it sound like it’s more complicated to pursue the arts as a Christian. You know, the whole “it’s not about me, but yet this is kind of about me” conundrum. For me, though, I think faith simplifies the pursuit. First, my faith has placed me in relationship with people that have helped make it even possible to make a record. And secondly, my faith gives me a context in which I can make a “Joseph Holm record” but do it for other people, not just to make myself seem cool or something.

 Q: Your album is entitled "God of the Sea and the Sea Monster". What is the significance behind that title?

JH: The title comes from an essay written by Jonathan Martin of the same name. When I look at the album, I hope it can be a lens through which people can see this world for what it is: a place of pain and a place of joy. I think life will teach us we have to hold these two very different truths, and it takes a little bit of help I think to not lose our minds in the process. Anyway, Martin’s essay has helped me, and I wanted to pay tribute to its influence on the Spirit’s movement in my life.

Q. Your songs are often about the tension of suffering while also having faith in Jesus. I personally love how you give words to the pain and difficulty that we all face but you draw attention to hope. What have you learned about God as you've put these songs together?

JH: I’d certainly say what I’m learning is an ongoing process, but I’ll say this: God isn’t afraid of darkness. And no matter your theological leanings, Christians seem to agree that Christ, the hero of the human story, can be found there in the Scriptures, in the teeth of darkness, fighting for us. Whatever your thoughts on sin, God had a plan to destroy it.  I seem to think that goes for other kinds of darkness, too. So there, in the darkness, in the worst of it, we look to the brave Christ.

Q. My favorite songs on the album are the ones we sing at church (Father of the Forest, Beat, Voices, Yes). What is your favorite song off the album and why? What does that song represent for you?

JH: In the context of our people, I’d have to say “Voices”. And that’s because in the loudest parts of the song we basically yell out loud that we have a sin problem and that we have spiritual schizophrenia, but yet Christ is greater than what is broken in us. I love that we will shout in song what we won’t even admit otherwise, and I hope it can teach us to humble ourselves so that the good news can lift us up.

Q. What do you hope people who listen to your music remember, think about, or learn?

JH: I think, because of our baggage, and our poor way of handling it sometimes, we become introspective. We look inward, we lock the outside out, we cut our losses. My hope was to write some songs that originate from those locked up places where we keep the hurts, the secrets, and then set them free. And freedom is looking at Christ, talking to Christ, giving the hurt to Christ. So I think what I’d want to remind people is: don’t fall into the trap of thinking that because you have pain and sin you need to focus on it. Look to Christ, open up to him, let him interact with the darkness. 

Sample Joseph's album below and then (because you're going to want to) purchase it on Amazon or iTunes. You can find Joseph online at www.josephholm.com.




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