All posts by thenabeam

The Dramatic Reversal

On this Easter, 2018, I am overwhelmed with amazement. Easter is the day Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. But it’s also the day that that recalls a moment in history that changed things forever. When Jesus died on the cross and was laid in the tomb, it looked like the end. What had seemed like the coming of the promised Messiah, turned into the most hopeless moment his disciples had ever known. But in another moment, just 3 days later, Jesus returned to life. What had looked like game over completely reversed, and Jesus – God in human flesh, rose himself back to life, defeating sin, death and the devil, once for all. (1)

As I think about this most dramatic reversal, I am awe-struck at how the entire Bible truly is about one thing: Christ. I see how over and over again the dramatic reversal of his death and resurrection was pictured throughout all of scripture, years before Jesus was ever born. I remember the book of Esther, and how at just the moment when it looked like God’s chosen people, the Jews would be annihilated, the tables turned, and the they gained the upper hand over their enemies. (2) This turn of events occurred because one person was willing to risk death for the sake of the many. Jesus not only risked, but died to save us from our sins. (3) What a beautiful picture of Christ’s redemption of his people we see in the life of Esther, kept for us in God’s holy Word.

I remember Abraham, and the moment he raised the knife to sacrifice his son Isaac, in obedience to God. In that very moment, God stopped him, providing a ram to be the sacrifice instead. Caught by its horns in a crown of thorns, the ram was a picture of how Christ would suffer, many years later: he would step into human history, step into our condemnation, hang on a cross in our place, wear a crown of thorns made to mock him, and take our judgment upon himself. (4) He did this because of his great love for us. 

I remember Moses, who at God’s command led Israel out into the desert to journey to the promised land – only to have the Egyptian army corner them at the sea. It seemed again like the end for God’s chosen people. But at the very moment of their dire need, God miraculously parted the sea, making a way for them to pass through to safety. Their deliverance was through the waters – a picture in itself of Christ – his body, torn in two for us, just as the veil in the Jewish temple was torn at the moment he breathed his last. It opened that we might freely enter the Most Holy Place, into a personal relationship with God. (5)

And I remember Joseph, whose own brothers sold him into slavery. As the years went by, they assumed him dead. Famine fell on the their family, and again it looked like God’s chosen people would be exterminated. Little did Joseph’s brothers know that he had risen to second in command of Egypt, and that he – one person, would provide the food that would deliver their entire family. To them it must have seemed as if Joseph had been resurrected from the dead. Joseph too was a picture of the dramatic reversal that would ultimately be fulfilled in Christ. They faced death, but instead found life. And they found that life by the one they had thought dead.

All these historical accounts were pointing toward Christ, and it is almost too wonderful to comprehend; how the God who made us all could coordinate the real lives of people, over thousands of years, in order to tell one story. It is the story of those who recognize the condition of their soul is hopeless, lost, and stained with sin. It is the story of those who faced condemnation, who seemed doomed without an escape – but were saved, by the One who come to die, and live again. Through his death we put our old selves to death; through his life, we are raised to a new life in Him. (6) We all have failed to measure up to God’s holy standard. (7) But he knew that, and in his graciousness, the very God who made us, saved us.

The first dramatic reversal came in the garden of Eden, when sin entered the world through the transgression of the one – that is Adam. Yet even at the beginning of the story of us all, God gave the promise that a seed – Jesus, would come, to deliver those who are his. (8) Throughout all of human history that seed has faced extinction – we see that in all of the pictures of Christ in the Bible. Yet through another One, the sin that had entered the world would be forgiven, for all who turn to Christ, placing their trust in him. (9)

There is yet a final dramatic reversal to come, and we who know the truth of Christ look toward it with hearts yearning: the day when Christ will come again. Then what was completed at the cross will be fulfilled, and the sin, death and the devil which have held us in the grip of mortality, will be swallowed up in life. (10) Then we will sing with the hosts of angels, “Death is swallowed up in victory! O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

Scripture References:

1. Through death he destroyed the power of death – Hebrews 2:14-15
2. Esther’s dramatic reversal – Esther 9:1
3. Death in Adam, Life in Christ – Romans 5:12-21
4. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us – Romans 5:6-11
5. The full assurance of faith – Hebrews 10:19-20
6. If we have died with Christ, we will live with him – Romans 6:5-11
7. All have sinned – Romans 3:23
8. The promise of the seed who would save God’s people Genesis 3:15
9. For God so loved the world – John 3:16-17
10. Mystery and victory – 1 Corinthians 15:50-56

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But God Was There (My Testimony)

My story starts, more or less, with the death of my sister. Chloe was my best friend. I remember looking up to her as my older sister, and how sweet she was to me. I was 3 and a half, the night she fell out of the top bunk. I heard a loud noise next to me, and saw her lying on the floor. The way she was laying there looked strange to me. I suddenly felt afraid, and as I ran to my parents room, my whole world seemed to be narrowing around me. I remember yelling over and over “something bad happened to Chloe!” Chloe spent the next week in the hospital in a coma. She had sustained internal bleeding to her head. When my parents came home from the hospital I asked my mom, “When is Chloe coming home? She said, “She’s not coming home – she’s gone to be with Jesus.” My response was, “He can’t have her.” I felt jealous of Jesus – that he would get to be with my sister, and I wouldn’t. My mom and I had a good long cry together. 4 days later, my sister Marianna was born. As I held her in my arms, I remember thinking, “I have to be the big sister now,” followed by the thought, “I can’t.”

I felt so overwhelmed. As a 3 and a half year old, I was trying to process that Chloe was gone, and that I had a new little sister. I knew God was real, and that He loved me. But I also was learning that bad things can and do happen. I knew Chloe was with Jesus. She had loved to talk about Him, and said she wanted to be with Him in heaven, just a few days before her fall. But although it wasn’t rational, I began to think that it was my fault she had died. And even though I believed God loved me, and was mostly good, I wasn’t sure if he was always good.

But God was there. 

My Dad was a PCA Army Chaplain. When I was about 6 years old, we were stationed in Germany. One night, I had a dream. In the dream I saw a bright light with a voice, speaking to me. The Voice told me that Jesus was God, and that He was the only way to God. He told me that I was His, and no one would ever take me away from Him. He told me that He was my Shepherd, and I was His sheep. When I awoke from the dream, I rubbed my eyes because they were sore from the brightness in the dream. My heart leapt with a joy I’d never felt before, and I remember thinking “That really happened.” I know I didn’t yet understand the good news of what Jesus had come to do.

But God was there. 

During our time in Germany we went to Switzerland in the summers. My parents had lived there at L’Abri with Francis & Edith Schaeffer, before I was born. I have wonderful memories of our summers in Switzerland with the L’Abri folks. Years later, my Dad told me those childhood trips were intentional on his part. He recognized that he had withdrawn from Marianna and me when Chloe died. Those trips we took as a family were a way he could create a sense of togetherness, as best he was able.

One of those vacations was to Greece, when I was 7 years old. While we were there, I kept teasing my younger sister, Marianna and being mean to her. Finally, I got to the point of exasperation, asking my mom, “Why do I hurt Marianna when I love her so much?” She explained to me that I was a sinner, but that Jesus had died so that I could be free from slavery to sin, and be forgiven. We prayed together in a restaurant on Santorini Island. When we stepped outside, my Dad and sister were waiting for us with ice cream cones, at a sunset that looked like the edge of the world set on fire. I felt the Holy Spirit, making my heart clean.

And God was there.

When I was about 13, I started to become depressed about my sister’s death. I don’t think I’d really been able to process it until then, because I was so young when it happened. I became fixated on the idea that I should have died instead of her. I felt the pain of missing her. I began to think about killing myself all the time, and the different ways I could do it. Then, for some reason (I can’t recall) I read the Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis. The book’s dialogue between one demon and another, on how to entrap humans, helped me to see that I needed to fight against those thoughts, with prayer. It was difficult and exhausting to take every hopeless thought captive to the Lord. But after several months, I came out of the darkness.

And God was there. 

During my teen years, we lived in New York, and I was pretty evangelistic and outspoken as a Christian. Although I had been homeschooled from 3rd through 7th grade, I began attending public school in the 8th grade, because there were no homeschoolers my age in the area, and I was hungry for social interaction. I kept abortion pamphlets in my locker, just in case I had a conversation with someone on the topic. I did have a talk with one classmate who was considering an abortion, and was able to convince her to keep the baby. Later, in 10th grade, I was so outspoken in my science class that I challenged my teacher about the theory of evolution in front of the entire class.

During that time I also made friends with a girl in my gym class, who confided in me that she was suicidal, because she was constantly seeing spirits. I told her that she needed to put her trust in Jesus. She asked me whether the apparitions would go away if she trusted in Him, and I told her that I honestly didn’t know – but I did know she would be protected from them. Eventually, she professed faith in Christ – and the spirits did go away. During those years I was so zealous for the Lord. I felt like He was “lucky” to have me on His team.

But God was there.

When I was 17 I got into a relationship with a guy who I thought I loved, and wanted to marry. He wasn’t a Christian when we started dating, but had supposedly accepted Christ on one occasion, when we prayed together. We were physically involved, and he kept pushing me to go further. He finally pushed me to the brink, and I was about to lose everything to him, when I suddenly had a strong sense of Jesus with me, and his sadness at what I was doing. By God’s grace, I was able to stop from going further. Soon after that, I broke things off. That experience was a wake up call to me, spiritually. I was devastated to realize how weak I was; how ready to compromise, sin, and betray God. I repented and made a new commitment to follow Him. I couldn’t see at the time that it was He who was committed to me, and that no level of commitment I could give Him would ever be enough.

But God was there. 

When I was 18, I attended a Precept Ministries summer Bible Study Camp in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where I met some guys who wanted to start a band together. After prayer, and with my parent’s blessing, I left Monterey, California where we were stationed, to move to Tennessee, to be in the band. My mom made the drive out with me, in the family van, which my folks had gifted to me. 

The morning we left, we had gotten as far as Bakersfield, when a white truck sped up beside us on the freeway. We ignored him at first, although he seemed to want our attention. Finally, he yelled “flat tire.” We pulled over to the side of the road, as he pulled over in front of us. He was an older man, looking to be in his mid-80’s. Immediately he started to work on changing the huge rear right tire of my 2-tank van, loaded to the max. While we talked to him and watched, I remember thinking, “he seems unreasonably strong and fast for someone so old.” When he’d finished, my mom and I were standing at the back of the van putting things away, and I told her, “I’m going to go thank him.” When I walked around to the front of the van – he was gone. The freeway stretched on for miles in a straight line, with no exits. There had been no sound of his car restarting – nothing. And it had only been a few seconds since we had seen him. My mom walked around to the front of the van, and said, “he’s gone.” We both got back in the van without another word, then prayed a prayer of thanks to God for His protection. In that moment, I felt God encouraging me that I wasn’t leaving Him in California – He was going with me.

And God was there. 

When we got to Chattanooga, I didn’t have more than a couple hundred bucks, and basically had no plan. I just had peace that God wanted me to move to Tennessee, whether the band succeeded or not. Within a few weeks, The Johnson’s, who lived at Precept Ministries, took me in. I had met them during the summer Bible camp, but I’d never met anyone like them before. People said Karen was a “prophetess,” and she seemed to know things about me no one else did. I lived with her and her husband for about 3 months, until I could get a job and save enough money to have a place of my own. During that time, I encountered a lot of charismatic things I hadn’t seen before. On one occasion, when Karen took me to a small country church revival, I experienced what is known as getting “baptized in the holy spirit.” I trusted the Johnson’s, and so I accepted a lot of their ideas about Christianity at face value. Although my parents challenged my experiences in our phone conversations, I felt those things must be of God, because they felt good.

But God was there. 

During the time I lived in Chattanooga from about 1996-1999, I lived in a small loft apartment by myself. Once, when I was praying for my future husband, I felt the Lord impress it upon me that he wasn’t a Christian, and I needed to pray for his salvation. The thought that my husband might not have grown up in a Christian home had never occurred to me. So I started praying. Years later, when I met Ted, I learned that the time when I was praying for him was the time of his salvation.

And God was there. 

While I lived in Tennessee, I worked in retail, selling shoes, first at the mall, then as an assistant manager of a Birkenstock store. The band had only lasted about 6 months before we went our separate ways, but that acted as the catalyst for me to write and perform my own songs. On my nights and weekends, I performed anywhere I could – from coffee shops and bars, to festivals, radio stations, TV shows, church retreats – you name it. I loved that period of my life – writing and growing as an artist. And I loved living alone, getting to spend so much special time with the Lord. But after 3 years, I hit a wall artistically, and my musical mentor, James Ward, suggested that I go back to school to study jazz. I prayed that if it was God’s will for me, he would provide a summer music ministry opportunity, to help me transition from full-time work to school. Soon after that, on one of my gigs, I met a vocalist who told me about a Methodist music-ministry in Panama City Beach Florida, called Noah’s Ark. I contacted the Ark, and got the job working there for the summer. The Ark was literally a huge boat-shaped building, right across from the beach. I was there for about 2 months, performing 2 shows a night, 6 days a week. That’s where I met Shirley, another musician in the Ark’s ministry band.

Shirley and I quickly became inseparable. We lived together in a girls dorm in the Ark, and were basically together every waking moment. We became very affectionate, in ways I had never experienced with a girl before. It felt strange and different, but I didn’t admit to myself that what was going on might be inappropriate. As our friendship progressed, she made her feelings for me more clear. But we never talked about the fact that something different was going on between us. 

After my summer at the Ark, I applied to several jazz schools, and got into the jazz program at USC in L.A. I didn’t know USC was an expensive private school when I applied, so when I realized that was the case, I was upset that I’d spent so much money applying, because I assumed it wasn’t a possibility for me. But Tierney Sutton, the head of the Vocal Jazz department convinced me that USC was where I should be; and God provided – in financial aid, and in my grandmother’s last minute offer to pay my rent, so long as I was in school. In my freshman year, Shirley came to visit. I loved being with her, yet I felt a dark, evil presence closing in all around me. After she left town, I prayed to God to help me to walk away from the relationship.

And God was there. 

I dated a few guys here and there, but never for long. I always returned to a place of loneliness in the end; and my sense of isolation was growing. By then I was leading worship at a large, emergent church in L.A., called Mosaic. During my Junior year of school, I was away for a weekend leading worship at a women’s conference for the church, when I met a girl, who also played in the retreat band. We quickly became friends, but unlike Shirley, Lila was aggressive, and immediately open about her feelings for me. I was at a low point emotionally. I felt alone, and I was beginning to wonder if God really did have a man for me. I was starting to think that it might be better to be loved by anyone, than to not be loved at all. I felt like men had let me down, and caused me pain. I felt desperate. Although we were secretive, we were together. And although I felt a strong sense that what I was doing was wrong, my need to feel loved was being met. One night when we were together, I suddenly saw a picture of myself in a dark red valley, and sensed God there with me. I then saw myself turn my back on Him, and begin to walk away. That broke me. Being confronted with the reality of what I was doing woke me up, and enabled me to make the choice to follow – to keep following the Lord. I told Lila that what we were doing was wrong, and that we needed accountability. She agreed to seek help, and we each chose a woman at our church, to confide our situation to, and ask for accountability and prayer.

And God was there. 

That winter when I came to Sacramento for Christmas, I told my mom about my relationship. She listened quietly as I fumbled through my words. When I’d finished talking, I waited, assuming the worst – that she’d be angry and condemn me, or tell me how horribly I’d failed. But that’s not what she did. I will never forget what she said. “It’s ok, Thena. God forgives you.” She didn’t make a big deal about it. She knew I needed grace. God showed me, through her response, that I really was forgiven, and that my sin didn’t define me, if I trusted in Him.

And God was there. 

In the meantime, I performed regularly with my own band in L.A., working to build my music career. I won a national singer-songwriter competition and got to meet the CEO of a major label, but nothing came of it. Then there was a small Christian label and a major label in Nashville that were interested in signing me – but again, nothing. I worked with Tupac Shakur’s former manager, trying to get music deals – but every opportunity fell flat. My senior year, I auditioned for an MTV show that featured singer-songwriters in L.A., including Sara Bareillas. After 9 months of call-backs, I made it to the final cast of artists. When it came down to the wire, the show never got off the ground, but through that process I met my manager, Sally. 

For the next four years we worked together to get a record deal and an album produced. We worked with various Grammy-award winning producers, but in the end, every door shut. During that time, for about a year, I had some wealthy real estate guys investing in me, basically paying me to just “be” an artist and write songs, with the goal of signing a major deal. I met with the representation for major artists, and major label heads. And while the powerful people of the music industry expressed interest in me, it was contingent on my willingness to be molded and sexualized. I could see that what the industry was about was in opposition to my Christianity. But I believed I could somehow exist in that world, without compromising my faith. I thought I could be the one to break the mold. So I kept on trying.

But God was there. 

Towards the end of my senior year, God began to encourage me that I was ready to know what love was. I still struggled with feelings of resentment toward men, but God graciously helped me to see that if I cut men out of my life, I would miss his plan for me.

The summer after I graduated – I met Ted. He was unlike anyone I’d ever met. With him, I could be myself completely. No trying; no awkwardness – and no shame. I felt God’s peace. Within a few months we were engaged, and within 6 months, we were married. I struggled with fears about making such a huge life decision, after all the tumult of my past relationships. But somehow, God assured me that Ted really was who he seemed to be. It was a time of wonderful excitement, joy, and change.

We got married on May 1st, 2004. I didn’t remember it, but my mom reminded me that it was on May 1st, 1985 that I’d placed my trust in Christ, 19 years before, on Santorini Island.

And God had been there – all along.

In our first year of marriage, we wanted to find a church closer to where we lived in L.A. We found a very small, pseudo-emergent, non-denominational charismatic church in our area. We immediately connected with people there, as most of them were young artists and married-couples, like ourselves. The main pastor was a very controlling person, who made it clear that if you didn’t agree with him, you should leave. And many people did. No matter now many folks came or went over the years, the church stayed at about 40 people. We couldn’t see it at the time, but the church was stunted, because it was based on man’s word – not God’s. 

In the meantime, after four years of working with my manager, God made it clear that I needed to move on. Around that time, my old mentor from USC, Tierney Sutton, contacted me to see if I would be willing to teach at the Los Angeles College of Music, where she was taking over as the vocal department Head. For the next four years, I taught vocal rock and pop, private lessons, and founded the songwriting department at the college. I absolutely loved teaching, and it was good to get the focus off myself, and become invested in the artistic growth of others.

After 7 years in our small church, Ted and I felt spiritually lost. The pastor had told me that I was the most prophetic person in the church, and that I should relay all the supernatural messages I was receiving, to him. Suddenly, I felt pressure to “hear from God.” In my attempts to come up with spiritual insight, I practiced centering, or contemplative prayer, and my quiet times began to devolve into sessions of emptying myself, and repeating mantra-like phrases. A girl at church taught me how to spin a pendulum to answer questions, similar to how you’d ask a ouija board. Not surprisingly, I got answers. Because it was coming from a fellow Christian, I didn’t understand it was an occult practice. But after spinning just once, I knew I was doing something wrong; so I stopped. I began to have the horrible experience of waking in the night with something invisible pinning me to the bed, choking me. I was experiencing so much darkness around me, and a dark presence was always there.

But God was there

By this point, Ted and I were so confused spiritually, that we became desperate for answers, and began to cry out in prayer to God for help. We started to read our Bibles in search for what were essentially doctrinal questions we needed answers to; and God did answer us, in His Word. After about a year of reading scripture and working through our beliefs, we realized that our church was Biblically-off. The pastor made it clear that because we were in disagreement, we should go. When we left, the friendships we had built over an 8 year period were basically severed overnight. The loss was difficult and painful.

It was hard to come to terms with the fact that we basically had no community in L.A. Our son was about 2 years old, and raising a child in L.A. without any support was a challenge. We started to pray about moving, and the possibility of living closer to family. By then, I had become open to the possibility of moving away from the music industry. The more my mind had been transformed by Christ, the less appealing it was to me. Teaching had become a challenge too, because so many of my students wanted to know the secret to “making it big.” Now I didn’t even believe that was a goal worth pursuing. Yet, I still loved teaching, and the thought of leaving my job was difficult. After a lot of prayer, Ted and I decided that he should start looking for a job in Sacramento. Within a week of looking, Ted found the job he still holds today, 5 years later. We both handed in our notice, and 2 weeks later, we moved to Sacramento.

And God was there.

Since moving here, Ted and I have continued to work through our theology. God has been faithful to reveal His truth to us in His Word. The gospel has become so much clearer. So much of my past was based on the fear of punishment – that God’s love and affection for me depends on how well I feel I am doing. In the past when I had a bad day, I felt like God was disappointed in me, because I’d let Him down. And on those days when I was on a spiritual high, I was sure that God was especially pleased with me. But now I know the freedom that comes from being loved unconditionally. Because I know that nothing I do can add a single ounce to my justification or worthiness before God. Romans 1:16-17 was the verse that busted everything wide open for me, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

I’ve realized that my relationship with God isn’t about being righteous enough. I know I’m not righteous. And that no matter how hard I try to be good, I fail every day, and I’ll keep failing, until the day I die. My life is a testimony of that. But I also know that when God looks at me, He doesn’t see my sins – past, present or future. He sees His righteousness – the righteousness of Christ, covering me like a robe. Is there anything more amazing than that? Is there anything more sweet, or comforting than to know that when I lose my temper with the kids, his grace it right there? That I don’t have to punish myself until I feel I’ve paid the penalty enough – I can just confess my sin, receive forgiveness and move on? Because there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” I didn’t used to understand that verse. But now I know that because my standing with God isn’t based on my ability to keep the law, but on Jesus’ perfect fulfillment of it, I’m free. He already loves me, so I don’t have to prove my love to Him. Like a little child, I just have to trust Him, because I know Him – and I know that He is good, and that He has always been there, protecting me when I’ve begun to stray.

When my sister died, I was angry at God. 10 years ago, I went back to Union, Missouri, where her ashes were scattered, praying that God would give me peace and closure. When I got there, I was overcome with sadness, because I realized there was no gravestone – nothing tangible to mark that she had lived, or died. In that moment, God pointed me to Psalm 103:15-18, which says, “As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.” God graciously gave me a peek into eternity that day. I can’t explain how, but by His Spirit, I was finally able to see that He really had always been good. I saw that this life is a blip in the static of the universe. I saw that to God, Chloe’s life wasn’t cut short, but lived to the full. It was just hard for me to see. Because unlike God who is in eternity, I am bound by days, weeks and years. And although my grief feels tedious at times, none of it will matter, when I am with Jesus, forever.

But life is still a challenge. And as I share what God has brought me through, I know there will be more that he will take me through.

Recently, Ted and I learned that our sweet, voracious little 7 year old, has Aspergers. As I understand it, Aspergers is the highest-functioning level of Autism, on the Autism spectrum. We’ve been in shock. But we also feel so much relief, having an explanation for why he is the way he is. We feel so grateful to God for his mercy in revealing to us the nature of his particular struggles. And I have been humbled. After the difficulties I went through as a child, trying to process my grief, I wanted so badly to understand my children – to be able to give them what they need, on a soul level. But it has been hard to understand him. And although Ted and I have been acutely aware that he has trouble with social interaction, I realize now how much I have yet to learn in my understanding of him.

But God is there.

I’ve learned (and I’m still learning) that Christ is all I need. I’ve learned that I don’t have to carry the crushing burden of pursuing worldly achievement or success. I’ve learned the deep comfort that comes from holding everything up to the Word, and being ok with letting things fall away. I’ve learned that I don’t need to fear dark, unseen forces, because Jesus has already defeated sin, death and the devil, at the cross. And I’ve learned that God is, and will make me the woman he’s ordained me to be – because He is able.

And because He is there.

Saved from Success

I was looking forward to seeing her sing again. The performance was taking place at the Los Angeles College of Music, where I taught vocal performance and songwriting. As she took her seat on a stool on stage, no one seemed to be watching. My husband arrived, taking a seat at the back of the room. We sat apart, waiting for the show to begin while people milled around, talking casually. 

As I looked on, I saw something unimaginable. My friend’s eyes, usually a beautiful sky-blue, went completely black. I couldn’t see the whites of her eyes at all. It was as if she had been completely saturated by darkness. 

1: Sight

Later that night when my husband and I were talking, he brought it up: “Did you notice anything strange about your friend tonight?” I told him then what I’d seen, and he confirmed: he had seen it too.

At that point in my life, I was already familiar with the reality of the supernatural realm. I had seen another friend become possessed, and I myself had experienced some demonic attacks from hostile, unseen forces. But I had never seen something this blatant before. Up until that moment, I had never seen anyone manifest the demonic with visible, physical signs.

Seeing my friend’s inner-darkness was a game changer. Suddenly, my eyes opened and I could see that she was a prisoner. Something, someone else ruled her, and any earthly success she had was overshadowed by it. She had everything, except one thing: freedom. Freedom that only comes from knowing the truth that sets you free. (1)

I knew I was under the protection of Christ, so it wasn’t fear for myself that I felt. But I did feel fear for her. All at once, the truth that her soul needed saving became palpable. I’d been praying for her salvation for years. I knew she was afflicted by the evil one and without the hope of Christ. But now I had seen what her lostness looked like: utter darkness.

My paradigm had shifted. Now, this friend whom I’d admired in so many ways, had nothing to offer me. My eyes were opening to the comfort, stability, and infallibility of God’s Word—the Bible. I was starting to take God at His Word. I was starting to trust that He would teach me everything I needed to know.

2: Success

In my early 20s, I moved to Tennessee to pursue a career in music. Although my ambition was filtered through the lens of “music ministry,” my head and heart were filled with delusions of grandeur. After about 3 years in Tennessee, I moved to L.A. to study jazz at the University of Southern California. Although I had a goal to reach people for God through my music, I was too much of a purist artistically to wrap my mind around the realities of the music industry. I naively believed that because I was Christian, I was immune to the worldliness that surrounded me.

For the next four years I put all my energy into school. Shortly before graduation, I got connected with the woman who would become my manager through the audition process for an MTV reality show. I spent nine months in call-backs and made it to the final cast of artists. There were some super-talented people in that bunch, including Sara Bariellas. But when it came down to the wire, the show never got off the ground.

For the next four years I worked with my manager to try to get a record deal and an album produced. We worked with one of John Mayer’s producers, one of Michael Jackson’s producers, a Grammy-award winning producer, and a famous jazz producer. I won a national singer-songwriter competition and got to meet the CEO of a major label. At one point, we had some wealthy real estate guys investing in us. Another time, there was a billionaire interested in our project. Another time, we played my music for Jimmy Iovine, head of Interscope Records. Like a lot of industry folks, he expressed interest, but only if I was willing to be molded. Then there was HBO, Myspace, and more…but every opportunity fell flat. No matter what I did, nothing worked.

Finally, I became consumed with feelings of disappointment and inadequacy. Why hadn’t God opened the right door? Why wasn’t I making it? When I’d first set out in my musical career, I’d assumed that God would magically open the heavens, blessing me with a platform to reach the world. I imagined myself famous, all the while maintaining my humility (of course). Where others had failed, I would succeed in breaking the mold, proving to the world that you can have both worldly success and a pure faith in Christ.

But I hadn’t yet come to terms with the fact that as a Christian, the rules are different. I hadn’t worked through a biblical theology of success. I hadn’t wrestled with passages like James 4:4, which says, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” 

At the end of the day, I had bought into the world’s ideals. To be sure, I had tweaked them to meet my Christian beliefs and personal needs. But at the core, I was left with the same idea: that success is doing something noteworthy, to garner the attention and approval of others. But my pseudo-Christian idea of success was even more insidious: that success is gaining God’s approval, on the basis of something I have done.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Because it wasn’t my doing God was concerned with, but my trust in His doing, for me. I didn’t yet understand the gospel. I couldn’t see that because I am sinful, nothing I do apart from Christ is acceptable to a holy God. It’s only Christ’s work on my behalf that is good and acceptable in God’s eyes, because He alone is perfect, and therefore worthy. I couldn’t see that admitting my own culpability as a sinner was actually a wonderful thing because it meant that I could receive the free gift of God’s forgiveness. He’d bent heaven down to earth in the God-man Christ to give me that gift: Himself. 

But when I saw the gospel unveiled, I was set free. I no longer had to live under the crushing burdens of achievement, success, or trying to be good enough. I’d been forgiven from my sin. Because of Christ’s perseverance, not my own, I was acceptable to God. Yet I was set free to do good—not because I had to, but because I wanted to. Finally 1 John 4 made sense to me, that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (4)

For Christians success looks different: it looks like Jesus. Although He “was in the form of God, (he) did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.(5)

3: Rest

True success isn’t in doing – it’s in resting. It’s understanding that Christ is our sabbath. (6) It’s not needing to prove anything, because Jesus has already done it all. It’s believing His words on the cross, “It is finished.” No more trying to gain God’s approval, forgiveness or love. And certainly no need to work to gain the world’s approval. Because I have His love, I am free to serve Him. But here’s the kicker: because my faith rests in what He has done for me, it ultimately leads me to do good works. By sheer grace, God allows me to know and serve Him.

With the exception of Biblical Christianity, every major world religion can be summarized as a set of rules to live by. Whether the end goal is self-improvement, societal-rehabilitation, or personal holiness, they all rely on doing to get there. But the Christian’s worth isn’t found in anything they do. We know that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.(7)  We know we can’t climb our way to God, and we revel in the joy that He descended to us. (8) We needed a ladder, a door to get us back to the Father. And that’s who Jesus is: He is the ladder; (9) (10) He is the door. (11)

It’s counter-intuitive to think that nothing other than faith is necessary for salvation—and that even faith comes from God. It seems too simple. Our natural inclination is to rewrite the gospel to say “you are good enough.” But that’s not good news. We know we aren’t making it. Even by our own standards, we constantly fail. (12) The way to truth isn’t in us—it’s in God

Every one of us is born into sin (13), and so we are all part of the problem. But Jesus is untouched by sin. He existed from eternity, long before He entered our sphere. Yet He was, and remains, one of us.

The world will tell you there is no sin to be guilty of. But living in a state of denial about how bad things are, how bad we are, will never change a thing. All that has the power to do is keep you enslaved, trying to prove your worth on the basis of what you do. The Christian knows true freedom from guilt – not because we are innocent, but because the One who is took our guilty verdict upon Himself.

4: Saved

God saved me from success. He spared me from “opportunities.” He saved me from self-reliance and the pride of accomplishment. And in their place, He gave me the priceless gift of rest in Him.

When we put hope in our own ability, we are unable to receive the grace of God. Because grace is a gift, and gifts are free. Those who believe they can be good enough through their own efforts don’t really need God. Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (14)

Success is simply this: being a child of God. When God looks at me, He doesn’t measure me up like the world does. Instead, He sees the righteousness of Christ, clothing me “with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness.” (15) 

In God’s eyes, I am perfect because Jesus is perfect, and His righteousness is mine. Now I know that I am a success.

The Poem that sparked this post: Saved From Success

Scripture References:

1. The truth will set you free – John 8:31-32
2. Friendship with the world – James 4:4
3. “Hurt” – NIN cover by Johnny Cash
4. Perfect love – 1 John 4:18-19
5. Jesus emptied Himself – Phillipians 2:4-10
6. Jesus is our sabbath rest – Hebrews 4:4-11
7. All have sinned – Romans 3:23
8. The Word became flesh – John 1:9-14
9. Jacob’s ladder – Genesis 28:10-17
10. Jesus is the ladder – John 1:50-51
11. Jesus is the door – John 10:7-10
12. I don’t do the good I want to do – Romans 7:18-25
13. All are born in sin – Psalm 51:5
14. Only the sick need a doctor – Mark 2:16-17
15. Clothed with the righteousness of Christ – Isaiah 61:10

Bowie’s Blackstar: A Star With No Light

After initially posting this article, I realized that I may not have been as clear as I could be. I am not saying that Bowie knowingly poured all the meaning into this song that I am implicating. What I am saying is that there my have been dark forces working through Bowie to send a message. Bowie had an obsession with the occult, including occultist Aleister Crowley, who was a very dark individual and practitioner of magic and demonology. Bowie was also deeply fearful of evil spirits, and used various occult methods to ward them off. Whether or not each of us personally believes in a dark supernatural realm, Bowie most certainly did. As he said himself, “Rock has always been the devil’s music, you can’t convince me that it isn’t. I honestly believe everything I’ve said—I believe rock and roll is dangerous… I feel that we’re only heralding something even darker than ourselves” [DAVID BOWIE, Rolling Stone, February 12, 1976, p. 83].

Like many people, I recently heard the news that David Bowie had died. I decided to check out his final album entitled Blackstar, released a week ago. What would his final message to the world be?

What I found was alarming: a farewell address so dark, so disturbing, it would seem connected to a diabolical realm. I wrestled with my observations and decided that the best way to distill these thoughts was an analysis of the song. Is there a sinister presence underlying the elements of Bowie’s parting work? You decide.

The title track Blackstar begins with these lyrics:

“In the villa of Ormen, in the villa of Ormen”

The word Ormen is the Norwegian word for serpent and also the name of a village in Norway. Apparently there was a Viking king there who cursed the name of Christ. Based on the historical context, this seems like a reference to the Biblical depiction of the serpent of old, also known as Satan. If you want to take the meaning more literally then, the lyric would read,

“In the villa of the Serpent,” or “in the house of Satan”

Unlike many of Bowie’s lyrics which were artistically nonsensical, this song’s vision seems intentionally conceived. I realize the video’s director Johan Renck denies the song was trying to convey a particular message, and I accept that. However, if that is the case, why do both lyrics and images not only follow Biblical texts, but seem to be attempting to reverse them? Whether or not the meaning was intentional, the meaning comes through.

One of the opening scenes of the video is that of a deserted, gloomy planet. In the background is the sun, blacked out by another sun – or star, which covers it up – the blackstar.

Scripture calls Satan the “Day Star,” who was cast out of heaven. Scripture also refers to Jesus as the light of the world, as well as the literal light source in heaven, transcending even the concept of a sun. In this visual metaphor then, Satan – or the darkness, would be obscuring Jesus – or the light.

blackstar shot

Like the blackstar, Satan has no light of his own but can only try to cover up the light of Christ that already exists, by heaping lies onto the gospel of Christ.

The song’s lyrics continue:

“On the day of execution, on the day of execution
Only women kneel and smile, ah-ah, ah-ah
At the centre of it all, at the centre of it all
Your eyes, your eyes”

Overlaying these lyrics we again see the planetary scene and a woman walking up to a lifeless astronaut’s form. She opens his mask to reveal a skull adorned with elaborate jewels. She then removes the skull and carries it through what appears to be the ancient city of Jerusalem. High above the city on a hill, we see a modern, tower-like structure, with light emanating from behind it.

Jesus was crucified on a hill just outside of Jerusalem called Golgotha, which means “the skull.” Could the song be making a connection between the skull and the physical location of Christ’s crucifixion? In ancient pagan history, sacrifices and worship often took place on the “high places.” If this is a reference to the place where Jesus died, it is interesting that all we can see is a new monument, obscuring the cross from sight.

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The light emanating from behind the new structure echoes the image of the blackstar covering up the sun. The contrast of the new buildings against the ancient city also seems like a reference to something “new,” versus something “old.” Could this be a commentary that Satan, the new, is replacing Jesus, or the old? We know from scripture that Jesus alone establishes the new, through the power of his blood and resurrection.

Another image we see in this section of the song, is that of a group of women gathering together for some kind of occult ceremony. The women begin to shake as if possessed as they dance and kneel before the skull. The song’s lyric says:

“on the day of execution only women kneel and smile.”

These women are not sad, but happy on this day of execution, seeming to be witnesses of something great.

In the Biblical account of Christ’s crucifixion we also see a group of women present, who follow Jesus, weeping after him. Later, some of these same women are the first to witness Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. How interesting that while they were witnesses of the life that overcomes death, the women in this song are witnesses to death only. At one point the women begin to levitate together – a clear reference to witchcraft and the occult, which amounts to rebellion against God. Could this also allude to a different kind of “rising,” in contrast to resurrection from the dead? 

  • Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 12.40.18 PM

The lyrics continue:

“Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried (I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar)”

The video now shows Bowie with his mask off, as he raises a book with a pentagram blackstar on the cover. He shifts in the opposite direction, holds his position, then shifts back. This is the clear, pivotal moment in the song and seems to signify that some kind of positional transference has occurred.

The lyrics describe someone who died, rose, then stepped aside. I believe this is a clear reference to Jesus, while mocking his resurrection by claiming that that he merely “rose a meter.” This would imply not a raising from death to life, but a rising of an object a short distance. The image of Christ on the cross, being lifted a few feet off the ground comes to mind.

Again, as with the image of the blackstar positioned in front of the sun and the new monument positioned in front of the cross, we now see the concept stated blatantly: Satan positioning himself in front of Christ. It’s also interesting that as he assumes Christ’s position, the blackstar makes a declaration of himself. How very different from Jesus’ example, humbling himself by taking on human form, and being obedient, even to the point of death on a cross.

The lyrics continue:

“How many times does an angel fall?
How many people lie instead of talking tall?
He trod on sacred ground, he cried loud into the crowd
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar, I’m not a gangster)”

Scripture describes Satan as the first angel to fall. The description of him trodding on sacred ground paints a picture of one who mocks what is holy. The blackstar’s declaration of who he is in disrespect of who God is goes even further in the next section, saying,

“I can’t answer why (I’m a blackstar)
Just go with me (I’m not a filmstar)
I’m-a take you home (I’m a blackstar)
Take your passport and shoes (I’m not a popstar)
And your sedatives, boo (I’m a blackstar)
You’re a flash in the pan (I’m not a marvel star)
I’m the great I am (I’m a blackstar)”

If the meaning of the song wasn’t clear before, it is now. In the final statement, “I am the great I am,” the blackstar makes the overt, blasphemous claim to be God. This is a direct reference to Exodus 3, where we learn that the God of Christianity is the one true God, whose name is the great “I Am.” Jesus also claimed to be “I Am” and one with the Father.

When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, he offered him the the kingdoms of the world in exchange for his worship. Satan’s attempt to take God’s position is nothing new. Indeed, it is the original lie the serpent told Eve in the garden of Eden, when he said that she could be like God.

In the rest of this section the blackstar tells us that we should follow him blindly “home.” If the blackstar is indeed Satan, then this home would refer to hell. The mention of passport and shoes makes it clear that this is a long journey, and “sedatives, boo,” to me implies that where those who follow the blackstar are going, drugs won’t help alleviate pain. The blackstar’s taunting statement “You’re a flash in the pan,”reveals that he, like Satan, cares nothing for our lives.

I also find it interesting that the echo-statements of “I’m not a filmstar… popstar… marvel star,” etc. are, in fact, being sung by a bona fide pop star in the person of Bowie. The blackstar no longer minces words: while we may think that what we’re beholding are pop and film stars, or the gods of our culture –  what we’re actually gazing upon, even in this song, is Satan himself at work.

The final lyric I’d like to address is:

“I’m not a pornstar, I’m not a wandering star
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar)”

The book of Jude specifically mentions “wandering stars,” as those who teach lies, and as such, have been sentenced to gloomy darkness forever. How interesting that the blackstar is another kind of star – yet he too will face eternal punishment in the lake of fire.

At this point in the video, we see three scarecrows hanging crucifixion style. They gyrate seductively, straw spilling from their clothing. Their eyes too, like Bowie’s, are covered with gauze. I think this crucifixion scene is undeniably another reference to Christ. The fact that “Jesus” appears in the form of a scarecrow implies that he is powerless, nothing more than a joke. The straw filling implies that Jesus is empty, but we know that all the fullness of God is in him. And while the mask implies Jesus is blind, we know that he actually came to open the eyes of the blind.

At the end of the video we see a demonic looking rope-creature approach the scarecrow “Jesus” and bow before him mockingly, the scarecrow in turn spewing back. The rope-creature then strikes his heel with a hand resembling a scorpion’s stinger, and the scarecrow cries out in agony. The Bible refers to Satan and his demons as serpents and scorpions, whom Christians have power over in Jesus name.

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This calls to mind the biblical prophecy that Satan would strike Jesus’ heel and that Jesus in turn would strike his head. How interesting that one injury is a temporary setback, while the other is a fatal wound. How amazing that we as Christians have assurance that the victory belongs to Jesus! How amazing that God had a plan of salvation, from the very beginning!

This video and song come as no surprise. In this life, we can expect to encounter attacks from the evil one. Yet, it is not people we contend with, but spiritual beings. As Ephesians 6 says:

“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

In conclusion, dear brothers and sisters, I ask you: should we admire an artist or stand with a culture that promotes such things? Or should we, as scripture says, stand apart? Is the content of this song tame or ambiguous? Do you think my interpretations are outlandish? Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I ask you to prayerfully search your hearts with these questions. Because a time is coming when anyone who calls themself “Christian” will have to take a greater stand than this.

Merry Christmas from the Beams

1 Christmas EP CPver Final

This year I wanted to record a few of my favorite Christmas songs and give them away as gifts. I have spent the last month or so working on these three songs, singing and playing them the way I hear them.

So here they are. Listen, download, and share them with your friends this Christmas…
And a Merry Christmas to you from the Beams!

 

 

 

A special Thank you to Samuel Mazur, drummer extraordinaire, for his contributions on The Little Drummer Boy. You play a mean wine carafe.

Little Drummer Boy cover: Battle of Balaclava Drummer Boy by Richard Buckner

Silent Night cover: Snow and Crow by Ryohei Tanaka

O Come O Come Emmanuel cover: Winter in Volkovskoye by Vitaly Gubarev

Why I’ll Be Wearing The Armor Of God This Halloween

When I was a kid, like most people, we celebrated Halloween. And I loved it. I mean, what kid doesn’t like to dress up and gorge on candy? My first memory of Halloween was in Germany, when I was about 6 years old. They call it Fasching there, and people wear masks and have a parade through town. That year I was a sorcerer, and my outfit was replete with a magic wand, a wizard’s hat, and a robe, covered with moons, suns and stars. It wasn’t until some years later that our family stopped observing Halloween, making the switch over to the “Fall Festival” themed celebration. But I had been exposed to the occult. I had been introduced to images of evil in the context of light-hearted fun.

As I grew up, I encountered the occult periodically in different ways. When I would go to sleepovers, the other girls would play “light as a feather, stiff as a board,” play with ouija boards or chant “bloody Mary” into mirrors. I didn’t fully understand that levitation was an actual occult practice. I didn’t grasp that the Ouija board and bloody Mary were conduits for spiritual contact and opening oneself up to demons. But I knew those things were bad, so I didn’t participate. My parents probably gave me that impression – but I also just knew. I had trusted in Jesus at age seven, and the Holy Spirit was living inside of me, convicting me and protecting me from harm.

But I would be lying if I told you that I came to the conclusion to not observe Halloween, purely on the basis of the Word of God. While the words God has spoken are enough, and must be enough for the believer, sometimes it does take an encounter with the demonic to sober us up into reality – God’s reality; the true world that is seen, not with natural eyes, but spiritual ones. The apostle Paul said, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (1)

Despite the fact that I was a Christian as a child, I still encountered the demonic. When I was about eleven, in the weeks leading up to her salvation, my sister went into a trance, saying the word “Beelzebub” repeatedly – another name for the devil. It scared me, but I prayed to Jesus, and clung to him in my fear. On another occasion, I was sharing the gospel with my best friend, and a similar thing happened. One minute we were carrying on a conversation, and the next minute she was somebody else, with a different voice and different movements. I didn’t understand it at the time, but she was possessed. The demon in her spoke disturbing words about blood and death. I fell to my knees and cried out to Jesus. That night she became a Christian. A few years after that, I had another friend who confided in me that she saw spirits constantly, to the point of becoming suicidal. Sometimes she would call me sobbing, saying that her doors were opening and closing, and closet lights going on and off… She was torchered and scared, but I prayed for her as best I knew how. She too put her trust in Jesus, and from that point on the visitations stopped. Years later, I also learned about the reality of Satanism, through a friend who had been trafficked for ten years as a child, and forced to partake in Satanic ritual abuse. She saw babies murdered, and other things too terrible to mention. Sadly, I have another friend who had a similar experience as well.

I realize that for many people, these things are hard to grasp. I understand the difficulty in wrapping your mind around the reality that this stuff goes on all the time. And many people just don’t believe it. But it’s real. It’s so real, that we have to face it. The Bible says that the devil “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (2) But do we believe that, brothers and sisters? Do we believe that Satan is hell-bent on destroying us and stealing souls? Yet we needn’t be afraid of him, because Jesus has conquered our enemy, and it is finished. Jesus taught us so much, when he told his disciples, “…do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (3) As amazing as it is that we are fully-equipped to stand against the evil one, it is even more wonderful that we are bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus! And there is literally nothing Satan can do to take us away from him or to change that. We belong to the Lord for all eternity.

There are many more instances I could refer to, but I don’t want to be gratuitous in the details of these accounts. I don’t want to draw any more attention to Satan than he is already getting at this time of year. But I do want to draw out the fact that while there may be a lot of cutesy depictions of the occult this October, as Christians we need to be sober minded, on guard, and remember that the spiritual realm is real. It’s not a joke or a game – its an all out war. If you wear the name Christian, then you know that when the Son of God walked the earth, he cast out demons as often as he worked healing miracles. As he said himself when he quoted the prophet Isaiah, he came to set the captives free – not just from bodily illness, but from spiritual bondage: the lies of the enemy that attempt to squash the truth of Christ. (4)

In my post My Life As A Christian Mystic, I talked a lot about my own involvement in the occult, and what it was like to be traumatized by spirits. But I didn’t talk about how hard I tried to fight the enemy, for so many years. I tried casting demons away from me, I tried “claiming” my healing – I even tried telling Satan off (which isn’t a Biblical method, by the way). I would find prayers for the purging of specific spirits, and pray them, in hopes that by saying some special series of words, God would finally free me this time. I didn’t understand that by the very fact that I was seeking methods, I was necessarily using magical thinking, not a regenerated mind. It wasn’t until I finally understood that all I need for spiritual warfare is Jesus, that I experienced freedom. I was grasping for a fix, but I didn’t get the gospel. All we need for warfare is right there in what Jesus did! He already conquered Satan, so we don’t have to! We just have to believe that Jesus did it, and rely on him and what he accomplished. Trusting Jesus to save me from the evil one has set me free. I don’t need a particular prayer. I just need to believe that Jesus conquered death and Satan on the cross, and put my faith in him. We have such a treasure in God’s Word, and when Jesus taught us how to pray, he told us to daily ask God to “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (5) Jesus was not only teaching us how to talk to God, but emphasizing how serious, how imminent and how present evil is. We would be foolish to overlook it.

But while we may be able to make certain decisions for ourselves, it can be nearly impossible to shield a child from everything out there that could be categorized as evil. What I’m not advocating is the sheltering of our children to the point of absurdity. But I am exhorting us as Christians to take it to heart that Halloween is a holiday that exalts demons, witches, darkness and evil. We need to prayerfully consider the passages of scripture that plainly describe those things as detestable to God. (6) (7) And we need to pray about the very real possibility that Satan, if he could have his way, would love for Christians everywhere to let down their guard, even if for just one day. Wouldn’t he be thrilled if Christians took a break from lugging around that unweildly spiritual armor, and made excuses for him – just this once?

I remember a friend of mine telling me of an encounter she had on a plane once. She happened to sit next to a very friendly Satanist, and proceeded to have a conversation about both of their religious beliefs. I was shocked to hear of one thing in particular that the Satanist disclosed to her. They said that the Church of Satan was praying corporately for Christian marriages to fail.

For me it comes down this: I have experienced so much darkness in my life – why would I ever want to return to it again? As the apostle Paul said, “now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” (8)

Halloween evokes images of hell, and seeks to draw me back to that hellish space I used to exist in. But now that I am in the light, and the light is in me, I want nothing to do with the darkness anymore. “For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?(9) Let’s not lift up the things that are set against our Lord. Let’s lift him up, unashamed to stand apart from our culture. We don’t have to have a separatist attitude. We don’t need to look down our noses at the world. But we should freely and joyfully proclaim the power of the gospel, making no excuses for doing so. And we should pray for the strength to do it. Daily, we should put on the whole armor of God:

“… that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (10) 

In the words of Romans 13:12, “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”  This Halloween, I’ll be wearing the armor of God.

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If you want to hear a fantastic lecture on the reality of evil from a Biblical perspective, listen to this talk by the late Walter Martin.

Scripture References:

1. Put on the whole armor of God – Ephesians 6:10-13
2. The devil seeks to devour – 1 Peter 5:8-10
3. Don’t rejoice that the spirits are subject to you – Luke 10:17-20
4. Jesus came to set the captives free – Luke 4:16-21
5. The Lord’s Prayer – Matthew 6:5-14
6. Divination, magic and demon worship is an abomination to God – Deuteronomy 18:9-13
7. You can’t drink the cup of God and demons – 1 Corinthians 10:20-21
8. Don’t be enslaved to the world once more – Galatians 4:8-9
9. Light can’t fellowship with darkness – 2 Corinthians 6:14-18
10. Putting on the whole armor of God protects us from the evil one – Ephesians 6:10-20

My Life As a Christian Mystic

The minute I started seeking an experience, I stopped seeking God. The minute I started trying to make God speak, I stopped hearing his voice. The minute I started searching for what is hidden, rather than what is revealed – that’s the moment I began my life as a Christian Mystic. But let me back up and tell you how it happened. Because I never thought it could happen to me.

When I was 18 years old, I left home and moved to Tennessee to be in a band with some friends. My hunger for God and his Word was insatiable, and the joy of my salvation was real. With just $200 to my name and a two-tank Ford Club Wagon, I left California and headed east. I was optimistic that I could serve God through music. I was trusting him to supply all my needs. And he truly did. He took such good care of me in a new town with few acquaintances. Yet, I would make choices that would lead me down another path – a different one than the one I had originally embarked upon.

When I first arrived in Tennessee, a woman and her husband were kind enough to take me in until I could get a place of my own. I had heard her referred to as a “prophetess” – a term I was unfamiliar with at the time. She seemed to see into my soul. I trusted her, and her relationship with God. She and her husband were very kind to me, treating me like their own daughter. Over time my respect for this woman grew, and I came to believe that she was not only wiser than me, but that she had a closer connection to God than I did. I began to rely on her insight, and “words” from the Lord. I didn’t see the subtle shift at the time, but I had refocused my trust from being wholly in God, to her. I began to look to her for guidance.

One night, this woman took me to a revival at a small country church so that I could get “baptized in the Holy Spirit.” She explained to me that I had not yet been filled with the Spirit to the fullest measure. I had been under the impression that since I was already a believer in Christ, I had been filled with the Holy Spirit. But I was at a point in my life when I wanted desperately to follow God and please him. I wanted as much of him as I could get. If there was more of God to know, and he was going to be at this revival, then I was going to be there.

Inside, the church was very small, consisting of one room with about 20 pews on each side and a small stage at the front. At the podium stood a traveling minister, doing something very peculiar. As each person came forward to receive the “baptism,” he touched them on the forehead between their eyes. As he did, they fell backwards into what seemed like an altered state of consciousness. The woman told me that the people were being “slain in the spirit.” I remember praying to God as I walked up to the front, saying, “If this is of you Lord, I want it.”

But I didn’t know what I was praying. I didn’t understand that I was putting God to the test. And I couldn’t see that I was already placing myself in a position to willingly receive whatever spiritual stuff was being dispensed that night. I had essentially already decided: I wanted to be touched. I wanted the “spirit.” I wanted to know what all these other people seemed to know, possess the secret knowledge they seemed to possess, and join the ranks of the truly spiritual. I wanted more.

When the preacher touched my forehead, it felt so light – as if his finger had barely grazed my skin. Immediately I felt a wind-like magnetic force blow my body over, pushing me backwards, down to the floor. I tried to get up, but I felt as if I were glued there by an unseen hand. I couldn’t even lift my head. So I gave in, surrendering to the experience. Waves of intense peace washed over me, like I had never experienced before. It was a little scary, yet exhilarating. As I lay there, I heard the mantra repeated over me again and again, “I love you, I love you, I love you…”

My “baptism in the Holy Spirit” proved to be life altering, and not just in terms of the experience I had that night. From that point on, I began to sense things, “see” things, and “know things” about people. As I went through my daily life, I would often see people – complete strangers, and hear words that I felt strongly compelled to share. I felt so sure that it was God speaking to me, and I believed that he wanted me to demonstrate my faith by speaking forth the words that he gave. There were times when I would tell a person something God had “told me,” and they would just start weeping. Sometimes I would just see pictures, like a flash, when I was looking at someone or praying for them. But whenever I shared “words,” people would respond affirmatively. I came to believe that God had given me the gift of prophecy. Little did I know this was just the beginning of a painful journey that would take years to unravel. A long chapter in my life that I am now re-reading, deciphering, and holding up to the light of God’s Word. In many ways, the end of that chapter would bring me back to square one in my faith. Yet I am grateful to God for delivering me from the evil of that false spirituality.

As I embraced a more charismatic Christianity, I needed to add experience to scripture in order to further validate my faith. Faith in the finished work of Christ alone was no longer enough. I needed to constantly “hear from God,” in order to feel that I was in his will. Perhaps most insidious of all, I viewed myself as more spiritual than what I perceived to be other more nominal Christians. (1) As my need for access to the spirit realm deepened, I began to experiment with my spirituality. I didn’t realize it then, but I had entered the Kingdom of the Occult. For the next seven years I heavily pursued the supernatural, all the while thinking that I was seeking God’s face.

My quiet times moved further away from God’s Word, and became sessions where I would sit with my Bible open on my lap, asking God to direct me to passages that would speak to me “prophetically.” Sometimes in an attempt to hear from God, I would do automatic writing. Pages would flow, as I wrote down “God’s heart for me.” I had a vague awareness that this was a technique used in the occult, but I rationalized that I was using it for good, because I was a Christian. How sad that I sought something better, when I already held in my hands the treasure of God’s Word. At other times, I would practice “centering prayer,” repeating a word like a mantra, emptying my mind and receiving subsequent words and visions. I didn’t draw a connection to Jesus’ admonition to “not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.(2)

When I met my husband, things began to change. Although a professing Christian, he was not as comfortable with the idea of going up to complete strangers and sharing words from The Lord. I began to retreat into myself more, and speak out less. Yet I continued to hear words, see pictures and have visions and dreams.

For the first 8 years of our marriage we attended a church in L.A. that we initially felt had a strong sense of community, but that we eventually came to believe is a Bible-based cult. In addition to many manipulative, relational dynamics, the church had a mystical view of God, with a particular emphasis on maintaining an emotional high based on experiential faith. The emphasis on doctrine was weak, and the poor teaching I received there taught me a worldly version of Christianity that made room for a lot of sin, impurity and half-truths. It was during this time that much of my involvement with the occult transpired.

On several occasions, I engaged in guided imagery, in an attempt to achieve emotional healing from past hurts. A friend who called herself a Christian led me in the exercise. At the time, I didn’t see any problem with the fact that she also had psychic abilities and read auras. In these guided imageries I would see “Jesus” appear in my childhood memories, helping me to work through the years of pain. Although I couldn’t admit it at the time, something about this Jesus felt terribly off. I didn’t understand then that guided imagery is an occult technique used by mediums, new agers and the like. It wasn’t until I read two good books – The Seduction of Christianity, and The Beautiful Side of Evilthat I was able to see this method for the counterfeit that it was; a replacement for the authentic healing work of the Holy Spirit.

During this time period I developed a lot of health problems, and sought the help of “doctors” who used a kind of divination method in order to pinpoint my physical issues. By asking “yes” or “no” questions, they would read my body, with magnetism techniques and energy charts. During this period I also opened myself up to practicing divination on my own, spinning a pendulum over my palm. A girl from our church had shown me how to do it, and I tried it several times on my own, with much success. I didn’t know then that I was engaging in divination, but I felt convicted that I was seeking answers outside of God, so I stopped. Yet I still had little discernment. And I continued to seek help from methods, rather than from God himself.

In the last several years in our church in L.A., my ability to “hear from God” became stronger than ever. Almost daily, words and pictures would pop into my head from out of nowhere. They began to make less and less sense, and were often either bizarre, or in the realm of the outright occult. At our church, the pastor had told me that I was the “most prophetic person” in our congregation, and asked me to share with him any words, visions, dreams or insights I received. Yet he did not have the discernment himself to test the spirits, or to question where my information was coming from. He gave me no Biblical instruction or parameters. It was the blind leading the blind. In my desperation to “hear from God,” I fell deeper into darkness.

Eventually, the sum of these experiences brought me to a place where my spiritual encounters no longer felt benevolent, but actually became hostile in nature. I became more and more disturbed in my spirit, even as I also became aware of an evil presence that seemed to always be with me. Strange things began happening to me. On one occasion, I heard an audible whisper of a mocking voice taunting me. I felt its hatred palpably. On several other occasions, I woke in the night pinned down in my bed, being choked by an invisible force. More and more I was tormented by evil beings that surrounded me, and the relentlessness of their presence. Why was this happening? How could I make it stop? I prayed to God to make them go away, but nothing seemed to work. I believed I was supposed to be a victor in Christ, but I felt like the living dead. (3)

Unable to take it any more, my husband and I finally cried out to the Lord for help. We had reached our end. We began to admit that something in our lives was terribly wrong. We didn’t know what it was yet; but we could see that what was happening in our lives did not match up with what scripture teaches about a full, free life in Christ. We began to actually read the Word, and submit to God’s wisdom, rather than our own reasoning. We prayed for God to take away all the confusion and lies, and to help us see Truth.

Then something amazing happened. We began to find freedom! As we started to understand the gravity of the deception and spiritual darkness we had exposed ourselves to, we were able to repent and shut the doors we had opened, one by one. Through reading the Word, I was able to re-learn who the real Jesus is. I was able to see that the spirit I had assumed was “Jesus,” was a fraud. I was able to begin to understand that the reason scripture over and over again emphasizes the importance of the Word, is because there are so many other spirits and lies that come in Jesus’ name, pretending to be him, to be the truth. The only way to know who the real Jesus is, is to know the Word. Personal revelations are not enough; we must hold up everything to scripture. (4)

As the truth about my involvement in the occult became increasingly clear to me, I began to research the practices I had engaged in. I learned that my experience of being “slain in the spirit,” was identical to a practice in Hinduism, where the guru touches the “third eye” on the forehead of the disciple, in order to awaken their “Kundalini power,” also known as the “serpent power.” I learned that the goal of this experience, as is the goal of yoga, is to awaken the individual to personal divinity  – i.e. the “god within,” thereby creating a sense of oneness with God and all things. I learned that much of what I experienced as a direct result of my own “awakening,” including the prophetic propensities which I developed, are well documented as typical supernatural phenomena for those involved in the occult. (5) I learned that sensations of deep peace and well being are common in the new age and many occult practices; yet they are almost always accompanied by evil encounters that follow the initial bliss. I was finally able to distinguish between the physical, almost drunken sense of well being I had experienced – and the true peace that only comes from the security of salvation by faith in Jesus, and his finished work on the cross. I learned that methods of materialization are cheap magic, inviting demons to “play house” in the theatre of our minds. I learned that the contemplative prayer traditions have no root in scripture, but make use of pagan ritual as a way of conjuring – rather than praying to God. All the practices I had engaged in had not drawn me closer to God, but pushed me  further away from him.

The word “occult” means “that which is hidden.” In a nutshell, that’s what I had been striving for, all of those years. I had called it “God,” and “Jesus.” But like most of us, I didn’t want truth that was free and available to all, as plain as the words on a piece of paper. I wanted something that was mine alone. I wanted something secret. I wanted something more. I didn’t really want to have to pray to God and wait on him for an answer; I wanted an instant granting of my requests. In the Old Testament, this practice is referred to as sorcery, witchcraft, divination, fortune telling and magic. It is forbidden by God, because it clearly seeks to circumvent him and his sovereignty by taking control into our own hands. Just like the gnostics of old, my quest had turned away from seeking God, to seeking power; power that comes from having privileged information.

In the Bible, we see the contrast between the way diviners, sorcerers and false prophets seek answers through magic, versus the way God’s people seek him through relationship. Abraham, the father of our faith, “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (6) What is faith, but to put your trust in another? And again in Hebrews 4:14-16 we are encouraged by the sacrificial love of Jesus who, “…in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” The approach of the world has always been to do things on our own, apart from God. But this is diametrically opposed to what God commands of us: to acknowledge him and come to him, making our requests known, leaving the outcome in his hands. Whereas the way of sorcery teaches that one achieves results or gains the information they desire by following a set of steps or rules, God says “Come now, let us reason together… though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow…(7) It’s such a simple litmus test, but it’s reliable: if something requires you to use a method or ritual in order to gain knowledge, wisdom, peace or health, it’s not from the true God.

I find it fascinating that so many people falsely perceive Christianity as primarily about keeping a set of rules. Nothing could be further from the truth. While as believers, we desire greatly to do the things that please God, we understand that nothing we do can save us, improve us, or make us acceptable to God. It’s not about rule-keeping, because we know we cannot keep the rules, because we are fallen and sinful, and will therefore always break them. But thank God, we rely on Jesus – the one who kept the rules perfectly, in order to justify us. We have the joy of being able to come to him, fully approved and cleansed from all our evil and failures. We have the privilege of being able to be in a relationship with the very God who created us. And we know that while we still follow the law, we are no longer bound to it; because Jesus alone could fulfill it, and he has.

By God’s grace he has brought me out of the christian-occult. By his grace, he has brought me out from under weak and false teaching, and shown me the gloriousness of his Word and the finished work of Christ. By God’s grace he has taught me the difference between seeking him alone, and seeking hidden knowledge. And isn’t that the original sin? The lie the serpent told Eve, that she could know what God knew? It tempts us all in our pride – in our presumption to question, “Did God really say?” We all fall for the Lie, when we seek to be like God. We all fall into deception when we fail to take him at his Word(8)

The question that is now ever before me is, “Is God enough?” Will I be fully satisfied in him alone? Or do I need something more than God? Do I need some other version of Christianity, that makes promises to me that I can’t even find in my Bible? Will I believe what God teaches: that we are called into a relationship with him, to know and love him by receiving the pure gift of salvation, through no good works of our own? Or will I believe what the world teaches: that we can gain knowledge, wisdom, peace and health – not through relationship or a gift of grace, but through the effort of method and practice? Will we prefer to have our itching ears scratched with the lies we crave to hear? Or will we desire the truth that calls us to pick up our cross, and follow Jesus? Do we prefer a secret that makes us feel like one of the privileged few? Or do we want the good news of the gospel, proclaimed from roofs and hilltops for all to hear? (9) Will we seek added revelation to God’s already revealed Word? (10) Or will we trust him? Every wrong path seeks not God himself, but knowledge. Only the narrow path will lead to life. (11)

Scripture References:

1. All Christians are equal in Christ – Galatians 3:26-28
2. Don’t pray with empty phrases & repetitions; The Lord’s Prayer – Matthew 6:5-14
3. You can’t drink the cup of God and demons – 1 Corinthians 10:21-22
4. Not every spirit is from God – 1 John 4:1-6
5. Christian Counseling and Occultism – by Kurt E. Koch
6. Abraham’s faith was counted as righteousness – Genesis 15:1-6
7. God calls us to reason with him – Isaiah 1:18-20
8. Satan’s lie: we can know what God knows & be immortal – Genesis 3
9. The good news is good – Romans 10:14-15
10. Don’t add to God’s Word – Revelation 22:18-21
11. The broad road leads to destruction; the narrow road leads to life – Matthew 7:13
12. Slaves to righteousness – Romans 6:15-19

Live in the Light

False teaching is no joke: it has the power to keep us in spiritual chains, locked away from the freedom that Jesus bought for us with his blood. It was the apostle Paul who said, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (1)

If we call ourselves Christians we should take to heart the fact there there is warning after warning in scripture against deception and false teaching. Jesus’ first response, when asked what would be the sign of his return, said “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.” (2) We would be naive to take an attitude that says, “As long as they preach Christ, isn’t that enough?” On the contrary, we are commanded to “…test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (3) Time and again we are cautioned to beware of false teachers. The Bible describes them as those who “secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction… in their greed they will exploit you with false words.” (4)

I believe we all have to make the choice: are we going to rely on our own reasoning when it comes to matters that are difficult to understand? Or are we going to pray and look to scripture, asking God for discernment and truth? Is our starting point going to be “what makes sense to me”? Or will it be God’s Word, revealed by his Spirit? Who do we believe has the corner on truth? Is it some guy standing on stage who needs a spotlight to point him out? Is it our well meaning friends and family, whom we care for deeply? Is it the daily blogosphere, or the pop-philosophies of a godless culture? Or will we turn to the God whom we claim to worship and serve? Paul said, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test.” (5)

God makes it clear in his Word that his wisdom is not like ours. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if it’s logical to your human mind, chances are that it’s not the way God thinks. Because his thoughts are not our thoughts, and our ways are not his ways, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (6) God has destroyed the wisdom of the so-called wise, since “in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, (therefore) it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” (7).

I don’t know about you, but those are sobering words that make me want fall on my knees and pray to God for mercy—to see his truth, know his wisdom. Jesus taught us to pray “Deliver us from evil,” (8) and apparently even his close friends were susceptible to it, as in the case of Jesus telling Peter “Get behind me Satan.” So wouldn’t it therefore follow that we are all desperately vulnerable to wickedness, and need God to save us from deception? Or do we really think we are so masterfully wise as to outsmart the schemes of the evil one by relying on our reasoning alone? I for one do not think I am that strong.

It all hinges on the message of the cross and Christ crucified. If we aren’t hearing that message clearly preached from our pulpits on a regular basis, then we aren’t hearing the gospel. We are hearing something else—something manufactured by men. Jesus himself said, quoting the prophet Isaiah, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”(9)

We all have doctrine. We all form a belief-system from the influences that surround us. We all choose what to let in and allow it to shape our lives. Some people argue that Biblical doctrine is a waste of time; that only actions of social justice matter. But actions that are untethered from faith in God are just good works, and scripture says that, “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (10) And again in Romans 3:20 we learn that, “By the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight.”

The Bible makes it clear that it is only the works of those who live by faith that please God. That means that all the well-meaning, good stuff being done out there to “make the world a better place” brings no pleasure to God. God’s wisdom is not like ours alright. I don’t know about you, but if I’m being honest, that concept is disconcertingly counter-intuitive to me. Yet we know that Christ always and only could do the things that pleased his Father. Likewise, it is only through Christ that any believer is able to please God. Apart from him, we can’t even approach God, let alone please him. But praise be to God that “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (12) It is only in Christ that are we are able to draw near to the throne of grace with confidence. (13)

My prayer for myself, for the Church, and for you my friends is that we turn back to scripture, and there discover an abiding relationship with the one true God. He has gone to great lengths to reveal himself to us. Don’t buy the lie that you cannot know truth. It is possible to know the one who knows us, and created us to be known by him. I pray that we will have a revelation of his holiness, knowing that our good works, pontifications and even “common sense” can’t save us. I pray that we will stop grasping for a faddish, ethereal experience, but instead reach out for the grounded-ness that is the reality of Jesus, and the good news he died to bring. And I pray that you won’t take my word for it. Because I don’t have the truth; only God does. I pray that you will seek God to see what he says, what he thinks, what he wants. And I pray that believers everywhere will live in the light, and cling to the cross of Christ alone for the power and strength to do so.

1 John 1:5-10 says it best: “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

Scripture References:

1. Only one gospel – Galatians 1:6-9
2. False Christs will come – Matthew 24:3-8
3. Test the spirits – 1 John 4:1-6
4. False teachers – 2 Peter 2:1-3
5. Examine yourselves – 2 Corinthians 13:5-6
6. God’s ways are higher than ours – Isaiah 55:6-9
7. God has destroyed the wisdom of the wise –1 Corinthians 1:17-31
8. We need God to deliver us from evil – Matthew 6:9-13
9. The futile, man-made gospel – Matthew 15:8-9
10. Only faith pleases God – Hebrews 11:6
11. Works can’t save you – Romans 3:9-31
12. In Christ we are new – 2 Corinthians 5:17
13. In Christ we can draw near to God – Hebrews 4:14-16
14. Walk in the light; live in the truth – 1 John 1:5-10

An Open Letter To Erwin McManus

Dear Erwin,

It has been a long time since I have seen you. Ten years, in fact. Before I get into this letter, let me just say that I care for you and wish only the best for you and your family. In my time at Mosaic, you and Kim were always kind to me. You both took a personal interest in me and gave me many opportunities. While I did have a falling out with leadership regarding my decision to not take on my own worship band at the time, things remained amicable for the most part, until I left Mosaic. The concerns and criticism I am putting forth in this letter are not meant to be a personal attack but to focus on things you have said that I sincerely believe have caused damage for many. Although I am going to speak plainly, my prayer is that you will hear my heart, which is to speak truth in love. My desire and purpose is not to tear you down. But I take God’s Word to heart, and there is precedent for confronting those who claim the pastoral office and yet do not faithfully preach God’s Word. What you have spoken, you have spoken publicly. And so I am responding to you with this open letter.

[I would also like to say a quick word to anyone attending Mosaic: this letter is not meant as a criticism of you. I still have friends whom I dearly love who attend Mosaic. It is my sincere hope that you will be able to discern the intent and tone of my heart in this letter.]

When I heard about the release of your new book “The Artisan Soul,” I went and watched your promo on YouTube to get a sense of what it was about. The message is a typical one for you: the idea that at our core, we are all artists. I heard that same message over and over again in my time at Mosaic LA from 20002004. Again and again I heard the message that artists are more fully-realized people and that realized people are more artistically and creatively in tune. The focus was on creativity, and the talented individual was held in high esteem. And I loved it. It stroked my ego at a time when my identity was completely wrapped up in my artistic ability. I was in my early twenties, and was insecure and looking for purpose in life. But I didn’t hear much about Jesus. What I heard about mostly was myself.

Then several months ago I listened to the message you gave at Gateway Church in Austin, Texas, entitled Created to Create (20:58). In that sermon you talked a lot about our “intention” as humans—i.e., that our intention, or purpose in life, is to be creative beings. But you also talked about something else that I want to discuss, and by way of that discussion, bring up my other concerns. You shared a story about an artist friend of yours who had committed suicide. Most of us who attended Mosaic LA for any length of time in the last 15 years will know who you were talking about – a man who was an amazing fine artist and all-around remarkable guy. I remember the first time I attended Mosaic, he was on stage painting a 6-foot tall cross during the service. I reconnected with him about 3 years ago, just a few months before he ended his life. I wanted to collaborate with him on a music video for my song “Man of Sorrows.” He had been excited to work together. When I heard the news of his suicide, I was in shock. I kept asking myself, “Didn’t he hear the gospel? Didn’t he know that Jesus came to set him free?” Sadly, as you demonstrated in this sermon, I can only wonder whether you ever shared the gospel with him. In your account, I heard no words of hope at all. This caused me to further reflect upon your teaching in my time at Mosaic, and I realized that I had, in fact, never heard the good news of the gospel from you either. In fact, I cannot think of a single time that the topics of justification, atonement, or repentance of sins were clearly stated. This is the reason I am writing this letter.

In the sermon you gave at Gateway Church, you shared about your artist friend, giving your assessment of what went wrong:

I remember years ago I was talking to an artist. He was always depressed, which is sort of redundant. And I remember sitting down with him, and he said, “I’m having a hard time getting a job,” which is also redundant. And I said “Why?” and he goes, “Well, everybody who wants to hire me wants me to prostitute my talent.” I said, “What do you mean?” And he goes, “Well, they don’t want me to use my art to speak things that are real.” I said “Why?” He goes, “You know, like pain, despair, brokenness, sorrow, violence.” I said, “Well, what do they want you to use your art to communicate?” He said, “You know, things like hope, happiness, joy, love.” I said, “Can I ask you a question?” He said, “Sure.” And I said, “Is it possible that emotions like happiness even, could be real? That hope or love could be real? That joy could be an authentic human emotion, inspiring art?” He paused, and thought for a long time, and I’ll never forget what he said. He said, “That thought has never occurred to me.”

See, the reason it seems as if all honest art comes from the dark places of the human spirit is because most of us have not allowed our lives to be transformed, so that joy is an authentic human experience. So that hope is an authentic human experience. Twenty years later, before he turned forty, that friend of mine took his life because he could find no reason to live. One of the most talented artists in the world. Because you can only create out of your essence, and that essence must then come in alignment with God’s intention. I love how everything God creates has intention….Only humans have the highest intention, and can live without our intention. We can live against our intention. You wonder why you’re miserable? Why you feel unfulfilled? Why you feel this internal angst? It’s because as a human being, your intention is so divine in its nature that you can forsake it. Because that intention must be chosen. That’s why we keep asking these questions, “What is God’s will for my life?” If there’s beauty in my soul, if there’s hope in my soul, if there’s light in my soul, if there’s love in my soul, that’s the world I will create. If there’s bitterness, anger, envy, despair, that’s the world I will create.

This friend always seemed like the textbook “tortured artist” type to me, and it seems he did to you too. As someone who has also struggled with the weight of portraying truth, I identify profoundly with what he expressed to you in that conversation. It was clear from his response that happiness, joy, and hope were not real to him. And it was not in his nature to fake it but to express only that which he knew. It is also clear when you observe his art itself, that he placed the utmost importance on honesty. His response to you was essentially him saying, “I don’t know happiness, I don’t know joy, I don’t know hope.” As you pointed out, people can’t preach what they don’t know. So he wasn’t able to make “happy” or “uplifting” art because he didn’t have hope. But he needed it. Desperately. And he was reaching out for it.

But in that moment, when his disappointment and despair was laid bare before you, what hope did you offer him? Did you share with him the good news that although we are all born dead in sin and at enmity with God, (1) Jesus came to make peace with God on our behalf? (2) That because of our sinful condition, punishment was justly deserved (3); yet Jesus, who had done no wrong, stood as a substitute in our place and said “take me instead”? (4) That because he’s cleared our debt, we no longer have to go on living under the crushing burdens of our successes or failures and the unsurmountable injustice and pain of this world? That through his death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus made it possible for us to bury our old self (5) and be born again as a new creation, the way God always intended us to be? (6) That because of that, we don’t have to strive anymore to earn God’s favor or to be “good enough” because he has already done everything that needs to be done? (7) That no amount of effort to improve ourselves or to be happy or positive can save us because our trying always shifts the burden of salvation back to us? That either we can save ourselves or we can’t—and if we cannot, then we need a Savior to literally come and rescue us from ourselves? That we are therefore finally free from the lie that we have to change ourselves in order to be good or acceptable; that it is only God’s love and goodness that matters, not our own? That nothing can give us hope or transform the human soul, except to place one’s faith in Jesus and all that he’s done for us?

No. Instead you suggested that he “allow” his life to “be transformed so that joy is an authentic human experience.” But what gives us the power to transform our nature, Erwin? In your sermon in Austin, as well as in every sermon I have heard you preach, you never explained how that transformation is to take place. As it has always been in your preaching, the focus was not on God but on human potential. When listening to your teachings, we are left to assume that we are each responsible for changing our own attitude from bad to good. But how do we do that? This view of things puts us at the center and all the burden of transformation squarely on our own shoulders. But the gospel says that none of us can ever measure up or change ourselves—and we don’t need to; because Jesus lived a perfect life for us, and he has promised to change us.

Additionally, in your conversation with him, you completely disregarded his assertion of the reality of suffering and pain in this world. Instead of acknowledging his cry for help, you pontificated with “what if” questions. “What if joy is just as real as pain?” you asked. I’ve heard you speak enough to recognize that your worldview is based on “the truth within,” rather than objective truth, found outside of oneself. On one hand there is you, talking about the truth you see inside of yourself as one single person; on the other hand there is God, and the truth he has divinely spoken through his holy Word. I would argue that unless you are openly submitting your teaching to the Word of God, then your own heart is your barometer for truth. But scripture says “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (8) He saw injustice in the world, as we all do, and he wanted answers. Answers that would satisfy the deepest longing of his soul. But instead of pointing him to what Jesus had done for him, you essentially told him that his negative worldview was his own fault.  Instead of acknowledging that injustice is not only real, but that ultimate justice has been met in the person of Christ, you implied that the ills of the world could be reduced to a personal choice to stifle one’s own beauty or light.

Which leads me to this question: what is your definition of sin, in a worldview like this, where we can rid ourselves of all evil by simply willing to do so? And does sin only exist within the individual, or also in the world, outside of human beings? And if it does exist outside of the individual and the choices they make, then can we ever truly get rid of sin, evil, darkness, or negativity? I would sincerely like to know where you get this teaching from because I can’t find it anywhere in the Bible. Your philosophy does not seem any different from the gospel of the world, which has always said, “If we just put our minds to it, we can do anything.” We see this concept, which is alive and well today, presented centuries ago in the passage of the Tower of Babel, where God said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” It was never God’s intention for us to accomplish wonderful things on our own, apart from him. The idea of “human potential” is meaningless in the light of the utter human failure that is sin. Our potential was fatally compromised in the Garden of Eden. But when we trust in God, who is not merely “potential,” but who is Himself the very accomplishment and fulfillment of all things (10), then and only then do we we live in the light. As the Psalmist says, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” (11)

Let me pause for a moment to be clear: I am not implying that you are responsible for this man’s death. Taking his life was his own decision. But that you would use it as a means of casting yourself in a wise, knowing light is reprehensible. He was in a sinking ship. But instead of throwing him the lifeline of the gospel, you threw him the bricks of your own philosophies. As saddened as I am by his suicide, it saddens me even more that he was not given the truth.

I am aware that you do not consider the Bible to be the ultimate authority on matters of faith or life. You have gone on record before stating that “I build my life not on the Word of God, but the voice of God” (Relevant Magazine, September 23, 2005). During the time I attended Mosaic, I would have had no problem accepting a statement like that. At that time, I was a gnostic and a Christian mystic, dabbling in the occult without even realizing what I was doing. I was deceived into mistaking another voice for God. I emptied and opened up my spirit to what I thought was God and Jesus but eventually learned were impostors, voices of demons. I learned the hard way that only God’s Word is life and truth. (12) In my own experience at Mosaic, you always went to great lengths to keep scripture out of the conversation. Although in your preaching you would read texts and portions of the Bible, you poured your own meaning into them. Rather than asking “What does this say?” you focused on your own opinion, vision, thoughts, and words.

In your promo video for The Artisan Soul you said “I think it’s the most important message of my life,” and that you could teach people the “process for how to craft your life into a work of art.” But where does a life like this artist’s fit into that scenario? Was his life a work of art, or not? And if so, then why do you think he was compelled to end it? Or is true art defined only as that which promotes a positive message? And who, in the end, is the judge of what is good and worthwhile, and what is not? I have to be honest Erwin, when I heard this, it truly saddened me. You could have made the gospel the most important message of your life!

As you pointed out in your sermon, Jesus said that “only God is good.” (13) Yet instead of understanding that Jesus was teaching us that we desperately need his goodness because we have none in and of ourselves, you concluded that, “Everything is good because God is good.” Such a statement reflects a pantheistic worldview that walks hand in hand with the new spirituality and human potential movements, which teach that God is in everyone and everything. But this isn’t what the Bible teaches. It’s a Christ-less Christianity, hardly distinguishable from the “christ-consciousness” teachings of the high-profile, pagan gurus of today. Jesus himself warned that in the last days many would claim to be the Christ, but would not be, and instead be posers, deceivers, and ultimately, anti-christ. (14)

Your message of human potential kept me in bondage for years. Your message that, as you say in the YouTube promo, “people all over the world are waiting to be awakened to the deep God-given potential that is waiting to come to life. Every one of us are artists; we all have the artisan soul.” For years I believed that unless I did something outwardly impressive with my life, my gifts, and talents – my life would fall short. You had so built up this idea that we have to “do something big” that I became desperate for success. Pursuit of career became confused with pursuit of God, and my hunger for God was slowly choked out, replaced with a lust for the things of this world. That burden of transformation was all on me; and I was sinking under the weight of it. You didn’t tell me that no matter how hard I tried or what I accomplished, it would still fall short of the glory of God. You didn’t tell me that Jesus had already met the mark for me, so I don’t have to. You didn’t tell me that I don’t need to change the world because Jesus already did. But when the true gospel gripped my heart, I finally understood that because Jesus succeeded, I am still accepted by God when I fail. Now I know that my worth isn’t found in what I do, but in Jesus, and putting my faith in him.

Don’t tell me that I am amazing, Erwin. Tell me the truth about Jesus, and him crucified, buried, and risen for me. That is true human potential: what Jesus alone did on the cross. None of us could have done it, but the God-man, fully divine and fully human. Biblical human potential requires that God act on man’s behalf because our humanity equals sin and death. The Bible teaches that we are sinful at our core. But you teach that every human being is an artist at their core. When you say, “Everyone of us have creative potential that is to be unleashed for the good of the world,” where does a cross or a Savior fit into that scenario? As far as I can tell, in a world where we can make things better on our own, there is no need for a Savior.

Scripture makes it clear that God is saving us out of the world, not calling us to change it. (15) His purpose is not to “release everything inside of you and me, our passions, our intellect, our imagination, our creativity…to make the world more beautiful, to make the world a better place, to create an extraordinary future,” (The Artisan Soul ). His purpose is to seek and find that which was lost and adopt us into his family, so that each of us can share in Him and His inheritance.  We were never meant to build a kingdom here in this world. Hebrews 11:16 says that those who have faith, “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” It is those who look to the here and now, rather than to eternity, for whom the message of human potential rings true.

I thank God he saved me from a false gospel. He has shown me that there is infinitely more power in the Word he has already spoken in scripture, than in the word I hear within. He has shown me that he exists objectively outside of myself and is not merely something I sense spiritually with my own inner compass. I am desperately grateful for the gift of his Word, by which we can test all who claim to come in his name, as the Bereans did, and were commended for doing so.

In the years since I left Mosaic I have found it troubling that you self-apply titles like “futurist,” “cultural anthropologist,” and “cultural architect.” In your recent message in Austin, you used a new self-applied title, “expert on humans.” Yet ironically, when faced with the hardest questions and most primal longings of the human soul, you were unable to give anything more than empty platitudes. Instead of sharing with him the fantastic news that Jesus died to set him free from slavery and bondage to darkness, you told him to make happy art. When I attended Mosaic, your primary message week after week was, “Live the life God dreams for you.” From what I have heard in your recent preaching, and now your new book “The Artisan Soul,” your message has not changed. Your emphasis has remained on the creature, rather than the creator.

Maybe people do have God-given gifts. Maybe God even uses them. But the greatest gift, and the only one that really matters, is the gift of eternal life in Christ. Without the power of the message that we are sinners in need of being saved, all of your heartfelt attempts to be profound and meaningful are empty—like clouds without rain. You use a lot of words as the backdrop for your passionate and persuasive language, words like “soul,” “potential,” “dreams,” “passion,” “intellect,” “beauty,” “creativity,” “imagination,” and “materialization.” And although you are able to captivate your hearers, your message is foggy. What you are saying isn’t so important as the power of the emotional response you are able to draw out of people. Your lofty teachings may have a sort of power, but they do not have the power to save. Ironically, you fail to acknowledge that which makes us not only most human, but truly beautiful: God’s saving grace.

I earnestly pray that God would reveal truth to you, Erwin. I pray that his Word would cut through to your heart, as with a double-edged sword (16). I pray that you would work not to further your own kingdom, but the kingdom of God—which is not of this world. I pray that you will be undone, in the kindest, most merciful way. I pray you will hear The Lord calling your heart back to himself, and not harden it, but heed with surrender. Then your life will be truly epic. Then you will become a part of the most powerful movement since the dawn of time. Not one that sprung out of the mind of any man, but the one that the only true revolutionary, Jesus, began, and that he alone can accomplish and finish. I pray you will finish the race with your eyes fixed not on yourself but on the one who bled and died for you; not to affirm the “beauty and light” of your own soul, but so that your sins could be removed as far as the east is from the west and so you could be made a new creation in Him. I pray for you, Erwin, that you will hear the words of this letter, and if you find your heart pricked, repent.

For his glory—broken, yet alive to Christ,

Thena

NOTE: Although I published this post a few years ago, I was recently saddened to hear the news of Erwin’s cancer diagnosis. My prayers are with him and his family now more than ever. It is my sincere hope that he would turn to God in humble repentance, and live his life – not for the designer-Jesus of his own making, but for the one, true Christ revealed in scripture, known by the saints for millennia. May God’s wonderful mercy and blessing be with Erwin and his family. 

Scripture References:

1. Born dead into sin – Romans 5:12-21
2. Jesus is our peace – Ephesians 2:13-22
3. The wages of sin is death – Romans 6:20-23
4. He stood in our place – 2 Corinthians 5:21
5. Buried & raised with Christ – Colossians 2:8-15
6. In Christ a new creation – 2 Corinthians 5:17-19
7. He has done our works for us – Isaiah 26:12-13
8. The heart is deceitful – Jeremiah 17:9
9. Tower of Babel – Genesis 11
10. All is summed up in Christ – Ephesians 1:9-10
11. In his light we see light – Psalm 36:9
12. All scripture is God-breathed – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
13. No one is good except God – Mark 10:17-18
14. Many will claim to be the Christ & lead many astray – Matthew 24:3-5
15. The Parable of the Weeds – Matthew 13:24-30
16. The word of God pierces the heart – Hebrews 4:12

Why I Started This Blog

THIS BLOG has been a long time coming. Partly because I am a terrible procrastinator and partly because, well, for the last four years my life has been in a state of constant change. Pretty much anything that could change, did. The big life changes, they say, are the death of a loved one, loss or change of a job, moving to a new city and the birth of a child. With the exception of the death of a loved one, three of these have gone down in my world, along with the inevitable stresses that accompany them. But change is good: especially when you’re stuck.

My husband and I met and fell in love in Los Angeles almost a decade ago. He had just moved to L.A. to make it as a singer-songwriter. I had just graduated from college with the same goal. The first time we ever met we talked for hours about God, music, our faith as Christians, culture, and where they all intersect. We didn’t know it at the time, but our lives had inextricably intersected too, at a point of no return. Within six months we were married, and the road lay before us.

But we were naive. We made assumptions about this “Christian life,” “walk of faith,” – or whatever the Christianese term for it is. We assumed that if it wore the label “Christian” then is must necessarily be Christian. And in our mind’s eye that path wasn’t narrow as Jesus described it (1), but broad, accepting of a wide range of views. We sincerely believed that the way of Christ was as big as our dreams, as big as we needed it to be in order for us to define our faith on our own terms. We failed to recognize that God should be the one to define our faith. (2) We were Christians – yes. But we were so stuffed full of our own ideas and those of the people around us that we lacked spiritual discernment on a basic level. We couldn’t have heard God’s voice if he’d used a megaphone to break through all the noise. But he didn’t need a megaphone. He’d already spoken the words of freedom we so desperately needed to hear. He’d given us his Word. But we didn’t compare the words of people to the Word of God. We didn’t check our Bibles, we didn’t test the spirits, and we just – kept – going.

In L.A. we found no shortage of churches peddling the Christianized Hollywood-works-righteousness gospel – and we found ours. For eight years we were promised the best of both worlds: earthly success and successful Christian living. We could have it all. All we had to do was try really hard to be really good. That, and to meet the particular, extra-Biblical expectations within our church community. The notion that we could engage with the world on nearly every level, yet remain unpolluted by its darkness seduced us, hooked us, and then began to slowly, steadily reel us in. Disappointment made us numb as our faith was reduced to a social club whose members poured every last ounce of energy into maintaining a facade of Christian virtue. On the outside we were the ideal Christian community: religiously progressive, stylishly staged. But inside there was a struggle raging. Because deep down we knew we were running after the wrong things, the things Jesus told us not to seek. We were working so hard to do things right and earn approval. In Mark 8:36 Jesus said, “What does it profit a main to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (3) He goes on to say that the one who tries to save his life will lose it – but the one who loses his life for the sake of Jesus and the gospel, will save it.

Losing it hard. Change is hard. And if we take God at his word, then choosing a life in him means turning your back on the world. But to choose him is to choose life. The life that is truly full and free and victorious. The life we all want more than anything, if we could just swallow our pride. Jesus said the message he came to bring was hard. Isaiah the prophet told us years before Jesus was born in the flesh that he would be a stumbling block to many (4). But that’s why he came. He came to divide: truth from lie, life from death, his works from our works. And there were times when he preached, that many abandoned him.

This last season has been hard: leaving an abusive church; walking away from dreams and ambitions that had enslaved us for years; admitting our sinfulness, and the part we had played in being deceived. But the more we understand the difference between Law and Gospel, the greater our joy and freedom. Because true freedom comes from knowing that Christ has done everything for us that needs to be done. (5) And while we do desire to keep God’s laws, our faith is no longer about a set of rules to keep. What a relief it is to realize that we therefore no longer need to “try” to be good, perfect, model Christians. We are free to fail. Because Jesus was perfect, we are free to be imperfect. Because Jesus was extraordinary, we are free to be ordinary (6). And we are free to live unto God alone, not people. We are learning to hate sin like God does, and to discern his truth – as those who were blind, but now can see.

I know I was a Christian before. But I never really understood the gospel until my life unraveled. I’m so thankful it did. Because change that unearths rotten, dead beliefs, and plants seeds of real faith in its place will last, will live. These days, I’m in constant shock when I think about what Jesus has done for me. I’m giddy with gratitude. It’s so hard to fathom that there’s nothing God needs from me. I don’t need to progress or improve myself as a Christian; I don’t need to try harder; I don’t even need to “find my purpose.” And he’s not disappointed with me or waiting to punish me for failing to meet his standard. Because his love is perfect, and has already been made perfectly complete in Jesus. (7)

I’m thankful for change. Thankful to be unstuck. I’m thankful to have found an anchor for this vessel in the Word of God. Because I’m tired of being tossed to and fro by the waves, carried about by every wind of doctrine. (8) I don’t have the truth. But God’s Word does. His word is the truth, and the gospel that alone has the power to save. I’m not exactly sure what the focus of this blog will end up being. But I want to share honestly. And my hope is that whatever thoughts I’m sharing, I’ll speak the truth in love.

Scripture References:

1. The narrow gate – Matthew 7:13-14
2. Pure religion – James 1:26-27
3. Gaining the world but losing your soul – Mark 8:34-36
4. Jesus as a stumbling block – 1 Corinthians 1:20-25; 1 Peter 2:7-8; Isaiah 8:14-15
5. Christ has done our works for us – Isaiah 26:12-13Jeremiah 23:5-6
6. The Gospel Coalition, “I’m Addicted,” by Tullian Tchividjian
7. Jesus’ work is complete – John 17:1-4; John 19:28-29
8. Tossed about by winds of doctrine – Ephesians 4:14-15