Saturday, May 24, 2008

Why should the devil have all the good music?

Why should the devil have all the good music?

God must really love music. After all, he’s wired musical talents into the DNA of so many human beings down through history.

I’m not one of the lucky ones. When they were little, my two oldest girls would hold my hands down whenever our church’s worship director asked if a few more men would volunteer for the Easter or Christmas choir. Believe me, it wasn’t a temptation.

Still, God has blessed me with an appreciation for a wide spectrum of music. A few days ago, my wife, Renée, and I enjoyed Carmina Burana, which closed out the Oregon Symphony’s 2007-08 season. Halfway through the evening, director Carlos Kalmar reminded audiences that anything truly pleasurable either is illegal, immoral, or fattening. Carmina Burana isn’t illegal, he quipped, but certainly the other two. To prove the point, Kalmar juxtaposed Carmina Burana over against French composer Olivier Messiaen’s L’Ascension (The Ascension), four wonderful biblical meditations. Let’s just say the second half of the evening was a bit less heavenly minded than the first half.

For a number of years, I had the privilege of working behind the scenes to help bring popular and new Christian music artists to cities across the U.S. to perform in Luis Palau’s open air festivals. Often, the artists and bands were playing to huge crowds, including the nearly quarter million (over four nights) who jammed Portland’s Waterfront Park to hear Steven Curtis Chapman, Ginny Owens, Sixpence None the Richer, etc.

Of course, most of the time I’m not going to concerts. Instead, I’m surfing the radio and checking out CDs old and new. I find it doesn’t matter if I’m listening to classic rock or new not-on-the-dial-yet alternative Christian bands. If you listen carefully, you can find the soul’s longing for God everywhere. Even more prevalent is the soul’s anguish after leaving God—or deciding that God has walked out on them.

If you listen to Aaron Shust, Amy Grant, Andrew Peterson, Audio Adrenaline, Avalon, BarlowGirl, Bebo Norman, Ben Glover, Bobby Boyd, Bono, Brian Littrell, Building 429, Casting Crowns, Chris Rice, Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, David M. Edwards, dc Talk, Delirious?, Erin O’Donnell, FFH, Ginny Owens, Jars of Clay, Jeremy Camp, Jill Parr, the late Larry Norman, Margaret Becker (it was great to see her again a few days ago!), Mark Shultz, MercyMe, Michael W. Smith, Natalie Grant, Newsboys, Nichole Nordeman, Nicole C. Mullen, Phil Keaggy, Plumb, Rascal Flats, Ray Boltz, Rebecca St. James, Relient K, Rickie Lee Jones, Sara Groves, Selah, Shawn McDonald, Skillet, Solomon’s Wish, Sting, Superchick, Tait, Third Day, tobyMac, Todd Agnew, U2, and many others, you’ll find they have given voice to many of the key themes of If God Disappears through their music.

The same is true in “Amazing Grace,” “Be Thou My Vision,” and many of the old great hymns of the faith…and some of the new great hymns of the faith being written by Keith and Kristen Getty and others.

It’s also true in fully 70 percent of the Psalms in the middle of our Bible.

Why is it we can be so much more honest in our music than we can be with our family and closest friends?

If truth be told, we all face ongoing struggles to keep our faith. After L’Ascension, who doesn’t wonder if it’s all too good to be true? After Carmina Burana, who doesn’t worry he or she is missing out on the good life?

Thankfully, God loves music all kinds of music. Even Sting’s admission that he’s lost his faith.

One friend who used to be a Buddhist claims Jesus spoke to him while he was listening to Joan Osbourne’s haunting old hit song, “One of Us.”

The bass guitarist for a local band and I were surprised to see Jesus show up at a Rickie Lee Jones concert a few months ago. Her latest album, Sermon on Exposition Boulevard, inspired by The Words of Jesus is stunning. It’s the most reviewed album of the past year. Who would have guessed everyone from PBS to The Los Angeles Times would be talking at length about The Duchess of Coolsville and Jesus Christ?

You may disagree, but I believe God can use any kind of music to lead someone back to a stronger, more vibrant faith.

When you’ve felt estranged from God, has certain music spoken to your heart? If so, I invite you to add a comment or two below. Feel free to add links to your favorite artists, albums, songs, and lyrics, of course.

David and Margaret Becker, May 2008

Friday, May 23, 2008

What are the 9 reasons...?

In my new book, If God Disappears (Tyndale House Publishers, Salt River Press, September 2008), I addresses nine reasons 31 million Americans have left the church and no longer meet with any group of Christians, large or small. In many cases, they’ve not only lost their faith in the church, but also in Scripture and God himself. As the son of an atheist – and as someone who “paid his dues” studying atheistic doctrines under a German existentialist philosopher – I know there’s nowhere else to turn.

Thankfully, through my intensive study of Scripture, church history, and contemporary experience, I have become convinced that it’s not too late for someone to come back to God – whether he or she walked away from the faith or felt God was the one who left.

So, what are the 9 reasons people experientially lose their faith? And what are the 9 ways people can come back to God with a stronger, much more vibrant faith? You can e-mail me and I’ll be glad to send you both lists.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"The Man Who Learned Too Much"

"Lobdell, 47, is one of the area’s most important journalists. His voice has been carried in many local news venues over the course of two decades – from his early days as the editor of this magazine, to his time as the editor of the Daily Pilot, to serving as city editor for the Los Angeles Times’ Orange County edition. But his voice never carried the same reach and power as it did one Saturday last summer. After covering the religion beat for the Times from 1998 to 2006, Lobdell confessed his loss of faith in a soul-baring piece that ran in the Column One position on the front page of the newspaper. The sex scandals of the Catholic Church and the misdeeds of other religion-based organizations had extinguished his belief in God. His emotional revelation ignited an avalanche of emails – more than the paper had ever gotten for a single news story.

"'(I am) a reluctant atheist,' he says at one point, putting into words the angst this former evangelical Christian feels. And it seems to be the theme of his life these days."
Read the rest of the article, "The Man Who Learned Too Much" by Craig Reem.

What do you think? Are the scandals, secrets, and sins of the Church enough reason to shut the door on God?

And if you do keep believing, how do you keep your faith alive in light of the Church's dark past and current failings?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

After years of suffering

My good friend, Dianne, recently had surgery on her inner ear after years of suffering from vertigo. Here's what she recently told me about her recovery process (which includes adapting to losing hearing in one ear):

But even though I try to walk and act otherwise, my head is still 'swimming' and I have to work to focus my eyes. I cannot stand busy and/or noisy places.

Thankfully, I have been able to read since Tuesday or Wednesday. Scripture has ministered much to me. I also finished a book by a missionary woman who lived through the Japanese prison camps during WWII. Here are some of the lessons that she learned that spoke deeply to my heart:

God does not make mistakes.
He uses suffering to refine us.
Nothing is impossible for God.
He always chooses the best.
He does all things well.

Even after losing her husband and surviving nearly 5 years of suffering and deprivation, she could still affirm these truths. Hmm... This helped me face the doubts of wondering if I will ever feel 'normal' again by saying: 'Even so God does not make mistakes. . .' I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief!

Have you ever faced a time when you chose to believe that God does not make mistakes, even though the evidence seemed to suggest he had made a mistake? Like the man who brought his demon possessed son to Jesus, did you exclaim "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" (see Mark 9:14-32)?

Does God feel nearer or further away when you reach out to him in faith as this father, my friend Dianne, and the WWII missionary all did?