Sunday, February 23, 2014

Vanilla Price - Life Bringer

Last night, my wife and I took our two oldest daughters and a friend of theirs to the Toby Mac concert in Seattle.  The tickets were a very welcome Christmas present to our second daughter who obviously likes Toby Mac, but she also loves the star-studded cast of contemporary Christian artists/singers that were performing with him: Brandon Heath, Matthew West, Mandisa, and Matt Maher.

For those of you who have never been to a Toby Mac concert, it isn't what many picture as Christian music.  Other than the absence of pot and sexually explicit dance moves, it isn't that different in sound and performance quality from a typical concert.  It's loud.  It's energetic.  It leans toward what I would call hip-hop (though I'm not exactly and expert in that area).  It's everything that a preteen girl would want wrapped up in a parent friendly package.

Unless of course, you're me.  You see I really don't like crowds, and I pretty much hate noise.

I avoid the mall like the plague.  Places where other people actually pay money to go have fun make me want to pull what little hair I have left out of my head, one tiny strand at a time.  Fairs, amusement parks, sporting events, they all antagonize me at a primal level.

It's chaos of these places that gets to me.  I like order, and orderly and courteous behavior is almost impossible to find in a crowd.  I'm actually ok when I'm finally on the ride or in the game or maybe even in the store (probably stretching it with the store).  Once you're there, some semblance of order seeps in, but the walking around or getting to and from these types of places brings me as close to violent insanity as I get.  Just writing about this sets me on edge.  Heck, I don't even like making my way through the foyer at church. (Notice how I didn't say "Hell" when talking about church there?  Chalk me up a point for self control!)

Oh, I should also mention that I don't particularly care for contemporary Christian music.  I like to sing, and I like music as much as the next guy, but most of my experience with Christian music has been that it is bad poetry set to mediocre music sung by marginal talent.  To make matters worse,  we aren't really allowed to criticize it because the subject matter of the song is holy and the intentions are pure. Why is that though?  It doesn't apply to every other area of life.  Would you let a really mediocre carpenter with bad tools build your church and keep saying what a good job he did while you keep propping up the cross that won't hang straight because none of the walls are level?

So, you can probably see where this is going.  Even though I know that crowds and noise and I don't mix, I inexplicably decide to take my daughter into a noisy crowd to listen to music I don't really care for at a volume level that only would be necessary to play for a senior citizens center located in a concrete box buried 100 feet underground.  And even as I was driving there, I realized that it was possible I was escorting my daughter to the event where she would likely witness her last image of her father on this side of prison bars strangling some pimply-faced teenager with a glow stick necklace and a Jesus Freak t-shirt.

On that count, crisis averted.

To summarize: Christian music - not the best; noise - bad; crowds - horrible, but this is where you find yourself as a parent.  We go places where we would never go on our own, because our kids want to go, and we love our kids.  We watch cartoons and play with barbies and ride nausea-inducing kiddie coasters and teacups and Autotopia, and yes, take them to concerts.

So, that's where I found myself last night, and a funny thing happened: I enjoyed it.  I wouldn't put it at the top of my list of repeat experiences, but Toby Mac and the crew (I'm allowed to call them that) put on a great show. They were all pretty talented. It was inspirational.  The music was actually good, and after intermission when I found a little stand that sold sangria (yes, alcohol at a Christian concert), the eardrum-splitting volume didn't even bother me much.

I found myself engaging with the artists, clapping my hands, singing, even jumping and waiving my hands around like some early 90s rapper wannabe (you can call me Vanilla Price).  Needless to say, that was probably the moment where it ceased to be as fun for my daughter, but yo, when da beat's in da house, ya just got ta flow.

Anyway, all of that was to get the point that somewhere during the concert, Toby Mac was referencing something he had read by Brennan Manning.  The long and the short of his point was that there are no neutral exchanges in life.  Each one either brings life to or drains life from you and/or the person you are encountering.

I'm usually pretty skeptical, so at first I didn't really accept this and frankly, maybe his assertion isn't 100% true, but the more I think about it, the more I believe it is at least mostly true.  Just take a minute minute to play through even the most casual of interactions, the ones most likely to be neutral.  You are at the grocery store, checking out.  The checker makes small talk.  Do you engage?  Do you smile?  Do you reciprocate?  Do you ask her any questions? At the end of it, do you leave energized?  Guilty?  Annoyed?  Anxious?  More importantly, is she better off for encountering you?

If you are a Christian, it goes even deeper.  As Christians, we are representatives of Christ.  If we are ambassadors then, what is her impression of Christ from meeting you?  Does she even know she just encountered the Holy Spirit that lives inside you?

My first conclusion from this exercise is that, unfortunately, most of my interactions are life draining.

My second conclusion is that not only is the first conclusion unacceptable, it is sinful.  I just can't picture Jesus blowing me off because he is tired and might have had a tough day.  If this is true, if Jesus would not interact with people the way I do 90% of the time, then this behavior does not come from Him.  It comes from me.  It is selfish by nature.  It is self-centered.

Unfortunately, the problem with revelations is that once you have them, you can't pretend you don't.  Now that I can identify my interactions as either life draining or life giving, and I can clearly see which type Jesus would have, I can no longer drain life without recognizing it for what it is - sin.

And I can't just be sorry about it. Sorry doesn't accomplish anything.

Remorse alone doesn't lead to change.  In Craig Groeschel's book Fight: Winning the Battles that Matter Most, he says, "Remorse is a feeling based primarily on guilt (a selfish emotion), keeping our attention on the past.  Repentance is turning away from that wrong, turning away from the past, and turning our attention to changing our future."

Remorse, feeling sorry, keeps our focus on the past and on ourselves.  It sets up an alter of self-loathing for our sin.  On the other hand, repentance and Christ's forgiveness allows us to change our focus to the future and gives us the freedom to act as we ought.

Remorse without repentance leaves us draining life from others and ourselves, while repentance opens the door to Christ: the Way, the Truth and the Life.  He fills us with life so we cannot be drained of it.

So, I repent.  I am going to try to interact with others in life-giving ways.  I am going to try to be aware of others by avoiding the self absorption that I typically fall prey to.  In order to accomplish this, I am going to try to rely on Christ's life giving gift of the Holy Spirit rather than my own life-draining strength.

I know that by the end of last night, my daughter was more full of life than when she began.  Some of that was because it really was a good show, but I think a lot of it was because her parents love her and were willing to engage in life bringing relationship with her.

Next time though, I'm bringing my Hammer pants.  Can't touch this.

P.S. If you read this far, please take time to leave a comment.  If this post brings life to you, please bring some back to me.  Let me know where you are.  It is easier when we are in this together.


  1. Hi Joel, since I read all the way to the end I thought I'd leave you a shout out (or wait, is that too much noise?). ;) I'm in Sunday night book group with Kari and am really enjoying your blog so far, relatable and poignant!

    1. (I'll try to type in a whisper.) You are officially owner of the first comment on our Blog! No on can ever take that away from you. Thanks Sam. I'm really glad you are enjoying it.

  2. Great post, Joel! Toby's message about life-giving vs. life-draining moments struck a chord with me too, although I've already (just a few days later) fallen down into sin at least once in the last few days - most notably a co-op when I let myself get caught up in my small whirlwind of chaos for a while.
    You are so right to look at Jesus in this. He is the way, the truth, the life, and he wouldn't brush us off in the midst of his own personal chaos or weariness. He would, and has, given us his peace, his strength, and his presence.
    Let's rely on Him to give us the strength for live-giving interactions. :)

    1. Absolutely Tyrean. For the record, I was pretty horrible at "bringing life" yesterday. I guess you have to expect opposition. So far, better today. Thanks for reading.