Death of Independency

Monday was Laurel’s and my one-year anniversary! (Woo!) What a crazy year it has been. The first half of the year we barely saw each other because we were both so busy with school and work. This pandemic started during the second half of the year and now we can’t get away from each other.

The brilliant revelation that I have received from my whole one-year of marriage is that marriage is hard. It is a wonderful joy and blessing, but it takes work.

I think what makes marriage difficult is simply the fact that growth is hard. Marriage only works if you are both willing to grow together. Personal growth in a marriage is not enough because it leads to one growing apart from the other. A marriage is strengthened when both parties make the conscious decision to grow with each other.

To complicate matters even more, Christian couples are not just growing with each other, they are growing with God. In the preface of their book The Zimzum of Love, Rob and Kristen Bell ask the question, “How is it that flawed, fragile, flesh-and-blood human beings can relate to each other in such a way that they show each other the divine?” (p. viii).

This is not a question that is unique to marriage. Every human being is made in the image of God and has an aspect of God to show the world. My best friend Hunter (not myself, another Hunter – I promise), has one of the strongest drives for ministry that I have experienced. He desperately desires to walk alongside people in order to connect them with God and to help impact their lives for the better. My friend Hannah might be the kindest, most compassionate person I know. She is a clear reflection of the compassionate love of God.

One of the ways we learn about God is through our relationship with the children of God (aka. every human being). Marriage gives us a unique and enhanced version of this. One of the reasons I married Laurel is because of how I saw God through her. She has a deep desire to help others, which is why it is no surprise that she is studying to be a Marriage and Family Therapist (she is helping her first client as I write this and I am incredibly proud of her). When we see families out for a walk she often says, “That makes me so happy!” In Laurel, I see and experience God’s joy when it comes to social relationships being in a state of shalom. Her desire to help maintain and restore relational shalom is inspiring.

Marriage is (or should be) the deepest human relationship one has. You come to know this person better than anyone you have ever known before and thus, you are pointed to God in ways that you never have been before.

In this process of learning about God and learning about your partner, you are also learning about yourself. Again, this is true of all relationships and again marriage provides a unique view. It was not until this first year of marriage that I recognized one of the largest struggles I have in my relationship with God. I discovered it because it is also the largest struggle I have in my marriage.

I reject dependency.

Until marriage, I had not been faced with a tangible transition from independency to dependency. But that is what marriage is, a death to independence and the birth of a new, dependent life.

Genesis 2:24

For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

Marriage is the process of becoming one flesh. As I am finding out, that is a process which includes many growing pains. Becoming one flesh is not the loss of self-identity. Becoming one flesh is the process of two people growing together so that their lives become intertwined in such a way that their actions are harmonious. But in the broken state of the world, harmony does not come easily.

I want to determine the things that I want to do and I want to do them when I feel like it. I want to make the choices that impact my life without needing permission. I want to have control over my destiny.

But that does not lead to a healthy marriage. Selfish independency is telling Laurel, “My friend is going to stay with us for a week.” Harmonious dependency is asking Laurel, “Would it be ok if my friend came to stay with us for a week and if so, when would it be best?” There is a partnership that needs to develop. My actions depend upon needs and requests of Laurel, and vice versa. The immediate and future plans for our individual lives change as we develop new immediate and future plans for our combined lives.

Our lives are no longer our own, our lives are each others’. Our lives are our lives.

Until marriage, I did not understand the difficulty I had giving up an independent life for a shared life. But marriage was not the first time I needed to make that transition. Being a Christian means giving up your independent life for a shared life with God.

In his devotional book, My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers talks about the necessity of the death of independency.

Jesus has prayed that you may be one with the Father as He is. Are you helping God to answer that prayer, or have you some other end for you life? Since you became a disciple you cannot be as independent as you used to be.

May 22

The prayer he is referring to comes from the book of John. It takes place right after Jesus talks to his disciples about the Holy Spirit and right before Jesus is arrested.

John 17:20-21

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

“May they also be in us.” Jesus prays for a combined, harmonious life between us and God. Paul picks up on this idea in his letter to the Galatians.

Galatians 2:20

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Once we become Christians, our life is no longer our own. Once we become Christians, our independency is dead. In marriage, we work to become harmonious with our spouse. In faith, we work to become harmonious with God. We keep our self-identity, we keep the person God created us as, but we are no longer walking through life as our own. We must learn to kill off our own thoughts of what is right and what is needed so that we can live into what God says is right and needed.

This is hard for me. The struggle I have in marriage about autonomously making decisions is the same struggle I have in my faith. God has given me a brain to reason. God has given me skills to accomplish things. But in my desire to remain independent, I have fooled myself into believing that trust in the abilities God has given me is the same thing as trusting God. But it is not. Trusting in the abilities God has given me is still trusting in what I can and cannot do.

This is why the words of Chambers hit me squarely in the chest.

Many of us do not go on spiritually because we prefer to choose what is right instead of relying on God to choose for us. We have to learn to walk according to the standard which has its eye on God.

May 25

While I do struggle, the times I have allowed my independence to be dead in my marriage have allowed me to do more and be more than I could be on my own. The support from Laurel empowers the continuation of my Master’s program. The work I put in is cognitively and emotionally draining. If I was on my own, I would not have the refreshment and rejuvenation that Laurel selflessly gives. My hope is that I do the same for her. Harmonious dependency in marriage strengthens the members as a couple and as individuals.

The same is true when we learn to be dependent on God. Again and again throughout Scripture, we are given examples of people who find their strength in the Lord.

Hosea cries out to the people, “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,” (Hosea 14:1a). When they choose return, when they choose a harmonious dependency on God, God says, “I will be like the dew to Israel, he will blossom like a lily,” (Hosea 14:5a).

God is the giver of life. God is the giver of all God things. To enter into a harmonious relationship with God is to acknowledge that you are dependent on the Creator of the universe. When you give yourself up, when you let go of your own desires and strengths and thoughts, and you allow God to fill you with God’s desires and strengths and thoughts, you will step deeper into the righteous ways of God which lead to healing and restoration and growth.

Comment with any thoughts, ideas, or questions! I would love to hear what you think!

For Each Other

A few weeks ago my mother-in-law came to Nashville to visit Laurel and me. One of our conversations turned to a hymn that has come to irk me. We were talking about how I would deal with the hymn if I was leading a congregation. If a member wanted that particular hymn sung, would I allow it?

I spent most of the conversation explaining why I wouldn’t allow the hymn sung during a service. It comes into theological conflict with the direction I would be leading the church. In fact, I believe the hymn, or at least how many people understand the hymn, is in conflict with the trajectory of the biblical narrative. It minimizes the mission and hope that Jesus promoted.

Needless to say, I felt justified in my defense. It’s not like I would plan to criticize someone who asked for the hymn to be sung, or look down upon those who sing it. I almost welcomed the opportunity to start a fruitful and kind discussion about the meaning behind the hymn and the teachings of Jesus.

This was all hypothetical, a great exercise to toss around what-if scenarios. But now, here we are, in the midst of a pandemic which is changing many hypotheticals into real concerns.

In reaction to COVID-19, we are faced with difficult decisions of how to respond as Christians and churches. Before many churches moved to online, we were faced with the question of communion. Here is an act where, depending on how you practice communion, potentially hundreds of people come into contact with the same object and then immediately touch their face. Do we adjust our tradition to protect our members, or do we step forward in faith that disease won’t travel via the church? And do we have to apologize for our decision?

Do we forgo a friendly handshake with our fellow brother or sister in Christ? Is it easier to complain about a change in our routine rather than face the reality that maybe our 60 seconds of greetings during service has become surface level interactions to check off the fellowship box?

As services move online, do we really need to sing in a room, alone or with our family, or can we just tune in for the sermon? Is participation necessary for a church service, or can I watch an online service without getting out of bed, just like I watched Netflix the night before?

What was once a theological musing now requires action.

As these hypotheticals begin to take real form, I have begun to reconsider my position on that particular hymn. I think that my planned course of action might be wrong. My concern led sound theology to stand above the other. This is the same thing that Jesus criticized the Pharisees for.

Luke 6:6-10
On another Sabbath, Jesus went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” So he got up and stood there.
Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”
He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored.

One of my professors said that sometimes, we sing for the other. That hit me. Sometimes, we change our way of connecting with God so that others can better connect with God. Sometimes we sacrifice our preferences and comforts for the other. Is it better to release our particular tradition to save life or cling to our selfish ways and put others at risk?

I had always asked that question religiously, but now that is a very physical question too. I like taking communion and the physicality it brings as we step into communion with God. I like shaking hands and hugging my church family to physically reinforce that we are one body. I like going to church and being in community with fellow Christians.

These are comforts, and I also see them called for in Scripture. But so was honoring the Sabbath. Jesus reminds us the purpose of Scripture. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:37-40)

Honor God with every part of yourself. Respect and cherish one another as you want to be. This is what Scripture calls us to do. This is what Scripture teaches us to do. When we make these two things are our goals, then we will do good instead of evil and we will heal instead of destroy.

So I had to ask myself, would forbidding some singing a hymn to God be doing good or evil? Would it be helping them honor God with all that they have? Would it be respecting them and their way of connecting with God? I came to a fruitful decision: No.

It is no secret that COVID-19 is reshaping our society. God has created us to be resilient and we will adapt, I have no doubt in that. As we are adapting, we will come across countless crossroads, opportunities to honor God and respect others or to honor ourselves and disregard others. My prayer is that we hold each other accountable to doing good instead of evil. That each of us strives to heal instead of destroy. In this trying time, I pray we learn to how to sacrifice personal comfort for each other.

Comment with any thoughts, ideas, or questions! I would love to hear what you think!

Reminders From Nicaragua

June has been a busy month: getting married, going on a honeymoon, unpacking our new apartment, and leading a mission trip for my youth group.

Everything has been exciting, but busy can get stressful. That is especially true when you’re helping plan your wedding AND a mission trip (that timing might not have been my best decision ever). But I am alive, married, and didn’t leave any kids in Nicaragua so I feel like I’m killing it over here.

I went to Nicaragua four years ago while I was interning at a church in Florida so I felt like I knew what to expect. No one told me how different it is when you are leading the group.

Between fundraising and passports and flights, I was close to being burnt out before ever leaving Tennessee. I had never planned something this big which meant I was just faking my way through it.

If anyone in my youth group is reading this, I can now admit to you that I was just as nervous as you were while we were traveling. I had a general sense of what we needed to do once we landed in Nicaragua, but I was still stumbling through everything. My heart screamed Hallelujah when we saw Travis and Mindy from Misión Para Cristo. It meant I was a little less in-charge and I could physically feel some of the responsibility rolling off me and onto them.

But of course I couldn’t let any of that show at the time. As a leader, I very much needed to be the example of confidence. Transparency is good as long as you know the right time to share it.

Once we were on the bus from Managua to Jinotega, I was able to relax and open my eyes (spiritually). I had trusted God and leaned heavily on the support of my wife, and now it was time to let the Holy Spirit show me what He needed me to see.

And boy did He do that. On that two hour and a half hour bus ride I saw the attitudes of my youth group change from nervous to excited. Then to watch and listen to them throughout the week as they lived out the gospel was moving.

I imagine the feeling is similar to what parents feel watching their kids grow. I was so proud watching them take what we’ve been discussing at church for the past year and put that into action. It made every stressful moment worth it.

As a leader, I feel like that week was double rewarding. I got to watch my kids grow and I got to grow myself. God took that week to remind me of some things I often forget.

1. You don’t have to know everything.

Our mission team from Cheap Hill Church of Christ

As I mentioned above, this was my first time leading a mission trip and I felt woefully unprepared. I’m 23 years old, I don’t think that I’m old enough to be in charge of other people’s lives in a foreign country, I’m barely old enough to be in charge of my own life. But yet, the worst that happened is we got a little sick.

I don’t have to know what I’m doing, or be fully qualified, in order for God to know what He’s doing.

Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

This past week was a huge reminder that I don’t have to have everything under control; I just need to trust that God will carry me through.

That is such an important reminder for me. As Laurel and I are preparing to begin our Master programs, we’re trying to figure out what the future looks like. How long will we live in Nashville? What career paths do we want? Will we need to take out loans for graduate school?

Life is full of question marks. We can’t know the future and that can leave us feeling scared or nervous or excited or a mixture off all that and more. We can plan, we can guess, we can curl up in a ball and hope for the best, but there will always be a sense of lack of control. And that’s ok.

God will sustain.

Even when we’re nervous.
God will sustain.

Even when we think He’s forgotten us.
God will sustain.

Even when the storm clouds feel like they will never pass.
God will sustain.

Often times I feel like Peter when he stepped out upon the water. I concentrate on the wind and the waves and I lose sight of Jesus and I begin to sink. Then I cry “Lord, save me! Don’t let me drown.” And like a foolish man, I believe that God called me out so He could watch me drown.

This week was a reminder that God is always there to pull me out of the water and that He will walk arm in arm with me over the water.

2. God will make connections.

Travis and I as we said goodbye at the airport. God is clearly working through Travis and Mindy as they are working with Misión Para Cristo. I have been blessed with this great connection.

I love new things. If you are any bit familiar with enneagrams, I am an almost perfect example of a type 7. The Enneagram Institute describes type 7s as “The Busy, Fun-Loving Type: Spontaneous, Versatile, Distractible, and Scattered.”

I have a tendency to jump to new activities before the current activity is finished. That’s because I want to do everything, so if this thing is basically done, then it’s time for the next thing.

This means that I don’t always have a lot of in-between time. The in-between time kills me. I could be experiencing something awesome, so why am I lagging around.

One large flaw to this mentality is that it’s easy to miss connections when you’re running around like a chicken with its head cut off. I enjoy meeting new people and building relationships, but I sometimes miss important connection moments because I just don’t take the time to wait for them.

If you take that time to slow down instead of being in a hurry all the time, some amazing things can happen. You allow time and space for the Holy Spirit to guide you to different connections that God has laid out for you.

On Wednesday we spent the day at schools playing with the kids. Felipe and Louis were driving us back to the mission for lunch and siesta before we went to a school in that afternoon.

Normally I would be the first one up the stairs but instead I was lagging behind. As the leader, I wanted to be the last one up so I could make sure we didn’t leave anyone behind.

As I was waiting everyone to go up the stairs, Louis and I began talking. At first it was just small talk but it quickly took on a small theological thread. We started talking about relationships and forgiveness.

It’s not that that either of us had giant relationships in our lives that were we were refusing to extend forgiveness. The conversation simply helped further our understanding of what forgiveness is and why we forgive.

It was an encouraging example of what happens when you slow down and provide room for the Holy Spirit to guide you.

3. Let a change of plans be an opportunity.

Our team after a long day of making bricks.

This is a hard thing to do if you’re a planner. I am not naturally a planner. My dad’s motto is “you need a plan to deviate from.” My motto is “let’s see what happens.” I gravitate to living life on the fly and only planning when I get super stressed.

But I have been working on growing. Following my dad’s example, I have been working on being better at planning. With that I have learned one important fact: few things are more frustrating than when a perfect plan derails.

And that is exactly what happened on Monday.

The plan for Monday was to split into two groups, one heading to construction and one heading to schools. But that Sunday was Father’s Day for Nicaragua and there was an announcement that all schools would be canceled on Monday. The new plan? …construction and building bricks.

I could tell my youth group was disappointed because I knew how excited they had been to play with kids, but I was impressed by how well everyone took the news.

Instead of pouting or complaining, everyone seemed pretty joyful to change their plans. For many of the ones who went to construction, it was their one day to serve in a way that wasn’t interacting with kids. For those of us that made blocks, it was a day to begin connecting with Louis and Marvin.

Yes, the same Louis that I talked with on Tuesday. Monday was Louis’ first time helping make blocks, he normally helps with taking groups to the schools to play with kids. That change of plans kickstarted my friendship with Louis.

When you allow a change of plans to be an opportunity, you provide space for the Holy Spirit to lead you.

4. Take care of yourself so you can better take care of others.

One of our team members breaking apart rocks.

Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, illnesses began to pop up. By Thursday evening there were only two or three of us that were feeling pretty good. It was a rough stomach sickness that came in waves.

Thursday I was on construction. We were using rocks to build a wall to stop the erosion of a stream before it toppled Carlos’ house (one of the workers at Misión Para Cristo).

We were there to serve and I would have felt terrible if I couldn’t go help. So I got in that unhelpful mindset of ‘rub some dirt on it and move on’ and headed out to help with the wall.

We had run out of rocks nearby to use, so Thursday consisted of driving up the mountain to find more rocks. On the first trip we picked up all the loose rocks we could grab and loaded them on the truck. The next two trips consisted of using a sledge hammer and giant metal bar to break apart large rocks into ones that we could haul onto the truck.

Needless to say, my stomach was not prepared for all of that. I felt virtually useless. I would move two rocks, exhaust all my energy, rest for 10 minutes, and then move two more. At least I was helping some but it wasn’t much.

I was reminded that a level of self-care was needed in order to effectively serve others. We see this throughout the gospel as Jesus would spend the night away from the crowds so he could pray and come back refreshed.

5. Just because people are different doesn’t mean they are different.

Working side by side with Miguel and Ricardo.

Nicaragua is a very different country than the United States; the government it different, the culture is different, the foods are different. Nicaraguans have a different skin color than me and speak a language that I was supposed to have learned in high school but didn’t, it would be easy for me to fell disconnected from them.

But we laughed at the same jokes. We played the same sports. We worked side by side each other on the same projects. One of my favorite quotes from a fellow chaperone was “I could see myself being friends with Ricardo back home.”

So often we see people who look different than us, or that speak a different language, and we classify them as ‘not us.’ They don’t have all of my hobbies, or they don’t do things exactly as I do, so they must not be as good, or cool, or smart, or ________ as me.

Or maybe it’s because they sin different than me. I only lie but he cheated on his wife. I claim the work of my coworkers but at least I don’t get drunk every night like she does.

When we are unhappy with who we are, we find ways to make ourselves feel better about being us. So we find the differences between us and others and we use those to prop ourselves up at the expense of others.

And this is so easy to do as long as we keep the other person at least an arm’s length away. But when we begin to work alongside of someone, when we begin to share are life with them, we begin to see the similarities between us.

We begin to realize that they worry about the some of the same things we do. They have hopes just like us. When we share our lives with others, we stop living as ‘us’ vs ‘them’ and begin being we. It is with that we mentality that God’s children begin to live as a family, and that is a beautiful thing.

My heart fell in love with the people of Nicaragua four years ago and it was such a blessing for God to bring me back. If you want to learn more about the mission we worked with you can click here.

Misión Para Cristo does work in many different fields, and one of those is the education and care of children. Through their program Kingdom Kids, Misión Para Cristo is impacting the lives of hundreds of children. If you feel called to help in making a difference, click here to find out more information about sponsoring a child.

Comment with any thoughts, ideas, or questions! I would love to hear what you think!

How to Listen to Music

This week we are taking a break from our emotions series for a how to guide. This how to guide is adapted from a lesson I recently did for an FCA Fields of Faith event. Hope you all enjoy!

It’s a little longer, so if you want to listen to it instead, scroll to the bottom of the page, grab a cup of coffee, sit back, and hit play!

God, Yahweh, Jehovah, Elohim, the I am; there are so many different names and titles for God. Each one displays and highlights a different aspect of who He is. Today, I want to focus on God the Creator, one of my favorite titles for God.

This aspect of God is the beginning of our story, and the beginning of the biblical story. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created…” These words echo through and form our story just as God’s words echoed through nothing and formed the universe.

God is the original creator. Out of nothing He imagined and created the heavens and the earth. He filled the sky with stars and the world with plants and animals.

And then he created us…

But He created us different than everything else. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” We too are one of God’s creations, but we were created different. We were created in the image of God, created to mirror and reflect God.

And then He breathed His life into us. The breath of God is within us, it is what gives us life. In the New Testament we are told that His spirit dwells inside of us as well.

Being made in the image of God and having His breath and spirit flow through us means that we also contain the ability and desire to create.

Psalms 19:1 says “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

God’s creation points to Him and glorifies Him. We see pieces of God in all that He has made. Since we are created in His image, and He dwells within us, all that we create should point to Him as well.

If from the beginning we were made in His image, and if our very life flows from His breath within us, then everyone, including those who do not claim to follow God, bears the image of God. Sometimes we do a really good job at reflecting God, sometimes we do an absolutely terrible job. But no matter how well we are reflecting Him to others, we were created in His image. His breath is within us.

Which means that whenever anyone creates, whether or not they are a Christian, they are creating as an image of God. And whether they mean to or not, they put a little bit of Him into their creation.

And tonight, we are going to use music to help us practice how to see God reflected in all of creation. There are clips of songs embedded in this blog for us to discuss.

I haven’t experienced many Christians or churches intentionally teaching how to listen for God in music. Most of my childhood I was told, “just don’t listen to that, do you really want that filth entering your ears?”

Now, there is some truth to that. And especially at a very young age, I was not cognitively capable of separating the good from the bad. So, for a time, it was better for me to not listen to certain songs at all.

But there comes an age when you should be trained how to listen to music.

As Christians, we shouldn’t ignore other people because they curse or drink or are mean. These are the people we should seek out to love. But Paul was right when he wrote that “bad company corrupts good character,” (1 Corinthians 15:33).

The lost and ungodly are included in the people we are called to love and to serve, but we must have a strong Christian community to keep us grounded in the ways of God, to remind us to always reflect His image. We are not called to stay away from ‘bad people,’ we are called to interact with them in intentional ways.

Maybe music is similar. Maybe there are Godly lessons we can learn from artists even when they are not singing about God. Because that part of God inside of them, whether they recognize it or not, is impacting them.

This song is a great one to start with because there are some very direct connections scripture.

In this song AJR talks about the embarrassment he felt from the stupid things he did when he was drunk, he talks about the loneliness and sense of failure he felt when no one showed up to his concerts, he talks about his broken heart when his girlfriend dumped him, he bares the troubles of his heart and soul in this song.

Line after line he shares all the terrible things that happened to him. Yet, in the chorus, he rejoices. He realizes that all the things that happened to him, the good and the bad, make him who he is. 100 bad days makes 100 good stories. These stories are what make him interesting; his past led him to his present and his story is unique and powerful and interesting.

As you are reading through these upcoming scriptures, see if there are any connections to the song that catch your attention.

Jeremiah 29:11
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Philippians 4:12-13
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Matthew 6:25-34
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Bad days and bad times are going to happen in life. If we focus on just the now, and hold on to all of these problems, they will drag us down and leave us feeling defeated and hopeless. But, if we hand them over to God, and understand that they fit into a larger picture of life and humanity as a whole, then purpose, understanding, or at least acceptance can normally be found.

Matthew tells us not to worry about life. That yes, there are things we need to live, but that we should trust our creator to provide for us. He knelt beside us and breathed life into us, will He not also sustain us? Jeremiah, often known as the suffering prophet, reminds us that even when we can’t see any hope in our future, God has plans for us to prosper; plans for us that should give us hope.

Paul drives this point home when he wrote, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Throughout his life, Paul was imprisoned again and again. He was beaten and shipwrecked. So when he writes about knowing both need and plenty, he was greatly familiar with both. He had 100’s of bad days. But he knew that his hope and strength came from God. That, through God, he can change those 100’s of bad days to 100’s of good stories that would inspire and strengthen billions of people.

I know that this may not be one of Taylor Swift’s most popular songs, and yeah, it’s a little dated now, but it shares a lot about what it means to be a Christian.

Of all of the genres of music, love songs are the easiest for me to see intersect with the image of God found within all of us.

Colossians 1:15-16
“[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.”

         The love of the Father for the Son compelled him to create for His son. The love that is found within the trinity is so strong that it compelled God to create so that others might know that love too, so that we might know that love.

1 John 4:8 says that “God is love.” We see that God is not just someone who loves, but that love is one of the very centers of God’s personality, God’s identity. Creation flowed out of God wanting to share that part of Himself. More than that, God wanted to instill that same personality of love into His creation, into us.

Our desire to love and be loved comes from us being created in the image of God. In this song, Taylor Swift starts by talking about how her and her boyfriend got in a huge fight, it was so big that she expected him to leave and break up with her. But instead, he stayed. He didn’t just love her through the good and easy times, he loved her through the hard times, the ugly times, the times when she was so mad that she threw stuff at him.

That reminds me a lot of what Paul wrote about love to the Corinthians. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

Whether Taylor Swift meant to or not, she describes the same kind of love that Paul describes. A love that is patient when the other person is mad, a love that is not easily angered when the other person is throwing things, a love that is kind and forgives, a love that never fails, a love that stays.

But sometimes we display the wrong type of love, sometimes a love doesn’t stay.

Love is a serious thing, it binds us to others. Our love is modeled after God’s love, a love that never fails, a love that always stays. When we love others, that love is supposed to be a similar love, a love that never fails. Genesis 2:24 says “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

Unfailing love bonds us. But if that unfailing love does fail, it rips apart that love and leaves a nasty wound. In this song Danielle Bradbery, does a wonderful job at expressing the damage that failed love causes. Unfailing love trusts all of its secrets to the one it loves and preserves and protects all the secrets it receives from the one it loves.

In this sense, two people in love become human diaries for each other. They share and protect each other’s secrets. They share the good and the bad without judgment, with only love.

But when that love fails, and one person leaves, all of the secrets and dreams and trust of the other leaves too. The two that have been bonding into one are ripped apart and left with pieces of the other still attached to them.

Love is a beautiful thing. But love done wrong can be devastating.

We’ve gone over a lot of good examples, so are there any bad examples? We’ll, I’m glad you asked. Our fourth song is a perfect bad example.

Before we get into this song, I’ll go ahead and admit that I like Ariana Grande as an artist. Her beats are popin and sometimes, just like her, I feel like a dangerous woman. But, when we take the time to stop bouncing along to the beats, and we actually listen to the lyrics, we see that they speak to the human condition. But is it a condition that we want to model?

We see this song spawning out of the situation that Danielle Bradbery was just singing about, failed love. The song came out just 3 months after her break up. In 7 Rings, Ariana says she’s “been though some bad shit,” and “she’s wearing a ring, but ain’t gon’ be no ‘Mrs.’”

Needless to say, Ariana isn’t in the best headspace, but, who is after a big breakup. In this post-breakup time, we see Ariana turning to her money as comfort. She sings “I’d rather spoil all my friends with my riches, Think retail therapy my new addiction.”

She might be spending a lot of that money on others, spoiling all her friends and stuff, but that isn’t how charity goes. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Giving isn’t meant to be proclaimed in the streets or blasted through car radios. The purpose of giving isn’t to be noticed, it’s to help those in need.

And, as Ariana continues, she jokes about retail therapy becoming an addiction to her. Throughout the song she brags about how much money she has, saying that her receipts are as long as phone numbers.

It reminds me of what Paul wrote to Timothy, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

When devastation hits us, we grasp tightly to what we think protects us, what we think will never fail us. If we turn to money, we will be disappointed, for money fades. God’s love is what will never fail us. God’s love is what will sustain us, because it is what created us.

We’ve looked at songs that we should model after and one that we shouldn’t model, but what happens when you come across a song that’s a little good and a little bad?

The truth is, most songs will be like that. Most songs will have things that reflect God right next to things that are opposite of God. We see that in this song.

In DNA., Kendrick writes about his life growing up. This song is rough because his life growing up was rough. It talks about cocaine because his dad and uncle sold cocaine. It talks about violence because he used to be violent. It is dirty because he is singing about the dirty places of our society.

He talks about how all that he’s done, all that he grew up with, weighs on who he is. He says “I’ve got dark, I’ve got evil, that rot inside my DNA.” There are parts of who he was and what he was around that eat at him. Terrible things that ruin part of who he is.

He says “I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA.” With the poison and pain in his life he talks about still having joy. Paul writes, “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

Similar to what we talked about in AJR’s song, the bad things in our lives challenge us, but focusing on God, leaning on God, remembering that he created us and will not leave us, allows us to persevere through our sufferings and gives us hope.

What Kendrick also does in this song is open our eyes to places in our society that we might be blind to. Jesus’ ministry was all about reaching out to the needy and broken and sinners. Kendrick talks about “Burners, boosters, burglars, ballers, dead, redemption, scholars, fathers dead with kids.” He paints a picture of a rough life with much hatred and violence.

But within all of that, he mentions redemption. He provides hope to those who find themselves in the same situation he was once. He also calls to those of us who do not find ourselves in a similar situation. And that call is to reach out and help. To find the needy and do as Jesus did: love and restore them.

Before this blog post comes to an end, there is one more point that is essential to make.

We talked a lot about how to look for God in music, but He is not just displayed in songs. God can be found in moves and tv shows and paintings, but most of all, He can be seen in other people. One of the most important aspects of learning how to find God in songs is that it trains you to find God in everyone that you interact with.

The homeless person on the street corner, your neighbor that brags about expensive car, your coworker that is always rude to you; somewhere in them is the image of God. Our job as Christians is to love them and help bring out that image of God that they have buried inside themselves.

Comment with any thoughts, ideas, or questions! I would love to hear what you think! I you have any specific songs you want me to dig into, I would love to listen to them!