Rookie Mistakes: Five Lessons for Young Christians

It’s been almost seventeen years since Jesus interrupted my selfish little existence and woke me up from sleeping death. Seventeen years since my eyes were opened to the meaning of life, to the beauty of Jesus, to the pleasure of knowing and being known by God.

As I look back on my earliest years walking with Jesus, I feel so much gratitude and joy. I also wish I could go back and talk to younger me and steer him away from so many misunderstandings about God, life, and himself. I’m sure that seventeen years from now I’ll have much to say about what I’m currently missing. But for now, here are five lessons I wish I would have known as a younger Christian that might help you in your walk with Christ.

1. The Lord loves baby steps.

For my first four years as a Christian, I waged a seemingly useless war against addiction to pornography. I danced the moral two-step toward God. With every step toward Jesus, it seemed, I took one step back toward lust and darkness. How frustrating it was as a new believer to finally be eager to do good for the Lord — to finally put away pornography — only to find with the apostle Paul that “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Romans 7:18). I was sure that God would only love the post-porn version of me. I was wrong.

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The Sanctity of Unwanted Life

Today marks the 44th anniversary of the infamous Roe v. Wade decision by the United States Supreme Court. Since that Monday, January 22, 1973, just under 60 million babies have been legally executed in our country. That’s roughly 3,000 little lives lost every single day. 

I’ve struggled with how this modern holocaust continues in a nation where over 3/4 of the population are professing Christians, and where access to the Bible, which so clearly affirms the value of human life (Genesis 1:27Psalm 139:13–16), is always only a finger-swipe away.

Even if we were to set aside our religious convictions, science itself objects. Modern advancements in technology and molecular biology make it impossible to argue that a baby inside a mother’s womb is anything less than a baby. So, if Christianity and modern science stand opposed to the legitimacy of abortion, why does the slaughter continue?

Three words: self above all.

These three words are the engine under the hood of the pro-choice movement. But they are also the touchpoint where the abortion issue confronts even the most passionate anti-abortion activitsts among us. One moment in Jesus’s life illustrates the point.

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Kelly NeedhamComment
Dying to Make God Famous

How do you measure success in your life? As an artist, I’m tempted to assess myself in all kinds of wrong ways.

“Why am I not selling more records?”
“How is that artist doing so much better than I am?”
“Why wasn’t I called to play at that event?”

Likely, your questions are different from mine, but the heart behind them is the same.

“Why don’t I have more followers on social media?”
“How did he get the promotion over me?”
“Why are her kids more well-behaved than mine?”
“Why haven’t I been able to bring more people to faith?”

In our culture, numbers are king. It’s increasingly difficult not to see growth as our surest sign of God’s favor. As Christians, the questions can be even more frustrating because our motives are often for noble causes like advancing God’s kingdom and making him famous in the world. How could God say no to that kind of ambition?

Well, he seems to. All the time. And his word helps us begin to make sense of his decision to do so.

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Kelly NeedhamComment
Five Natural Ways to Get to the Gospel

Think of evangelism like a road trip. Every trip you take has a beginning and an end. You determine your route not only by your destination, but also by your point of origin. 

As Christians called to preach the gospel, we always want to wind up at the person and work of Christ. But depending on where the person is today, we may need to take alternate routes — sometimes longer, sometimes winding, sometimes even taking a dreaded detour — to get our news to their hearts.

Most of us spend our time navigating clumsy conversations without obvious opportunities for the gospel. If Christ is the only hope for the world around us, why does it feel so impossible to connect him to actual people and their circumstances without coming off canned or irrelevant?

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Jimmy NeedhamComment
The Real Battle for Sexual Purity

I used to look at pornography nearly every day for a decade. But for the past twelve years, by God’s grace, I have not visited a single porn site. 

For many battling addiction, that sentence embodies what we’re striving for. That sentence, however, is not a success story. 

As we all know by now, lust manifesting in addiction to pornography is rampant in our tech-savvy culture, and sadly it’s little different among Christians. I’m in weekly conversations with college guys at our church who are fighting hard against lust and porn addiction. 

It’s interesting for me to hear how people talk about their struggle. Often when they share, they frame it in terms of “how long it’s been” since their last encounter with porn. The room rejoices with those who haven’t had an incident in a while, and we spout off advice to the ones who have. You can almost see the ranking system build before your eyes: The most recent sinner cowers on the bottom with the lowest score, while the one with the longest record of abstinence stands tall at the top. 

But we may have it more wrong than we think. Why? Because our actions don’t always reveal our hearts.

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Jimmy NeedhamComment
Advice for Better Bible Memory
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Experiences or stories like that always inspire us. As soon as we hear it, we rush to our Bible with fresh zeal, open it to our favorite verses or chapter, and get to work. “I can do this!” we think. That is, until we realize that, “These verses sure do repeat themselves a lot.” And, “Was it will or shall?” And, “There’s how many more verses to go?!” What started as a forest fire of excitement and resolve gets snuffed out by the heavy rain of reality: Memorization is hard work.

Many of us know how valuable it is to memorize God’s word. But we often don’t know where to start. We get discouraged. We burn out quickly and move on to something less taxing. I’ve wrestled with these frustrations for years now. As a performer and worship leader, I’ve had to develop techniques so that I don’t drop the ball when I take the stage. I want to share a few of the methods I use regularly when memorizing God’s Word. More could always be said, but I have come back to these principles most often to help make the words stick.  

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Jimmy NeedhamComment
The Doctrine of Election Saved Me from Depression

A.W. Tozer wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

For many years, what immediately came into my mind when I thought about God crippled me. Depression was a constant companion. Fear about the genuineness of my conversion haunted me like a ghost. I couldn’t see it at the time, but my feelings were symptoms of my misguided theology. God was small. Worse than that, he was weak. Worse even still, he was fickle in his love toward me. It led me into despair.

About five years ago, as I spent more time in the Bible, I began to see a bigger vision of God. He was not only big and strong, but merciful and steadfast in his love toward me. It changed everything. My depression started to unravel before my eyes, and I rediscovered joy in God.

My understanding of God’s sovereignty in suffering, evangelism, and salvation underwent the greatest and most needed change. For years now, this big God theology has proven to be an antidote for despair. I can’t help but think that there are some reading this right now who have been searching for that kind of comfort, freedom, and stability. 

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Jimmy NeedhamComment
Christmas Morning Without Competitors: What If Jesus Was Like Santa?

Yesterday my four-year-old daughter asked me the big question. No, not that question. I heard from her car seat behind me, “Dad, is Santa coming to our house this year?”

Many Christian parents of young children, like me, shudder hearing these words. We’re moved by a deep conviction as believers to keep Christ as the centerpiece of Christmas. But we also can’t help feeling the immense pressure from the media, and even friends and family, not to be our kids’ killjoy when it comes to ol’ Saint Nick. How do we deal with Santa in light of the gospel?

I am not necessarily anti-Santa. It’s entirely possible there are God-fearing families who have found creative ways to redeem him in their Christmas traditions in order to point to Christ. What I am against is any message that undermines the unrivaled depth and sweetness of the gospel of grace.

We must be clear, Santa is preaching a message, too. It’s heralded every year on television and in children’s books. On the surface it seems innocuous, but up his red and white sleeves is a worldview that fundamentally competes and conflicts with the good news of Jesus. As Christian parents we must subject every worldview that enters our households to gospel scrutiny. In that spirit, let me point out four ways that Jesus’s news outshines Santa’s this Christmas.

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Jimmy NeedhamComment
A New Kind of Sermon

Words matter. God reveals himself in a book of words. His spoken word created the universe. It’s the word—God’s Word—that’s “able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12), and is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). Jesus himself wants us to understand him in terms of words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).

Maybe that’s what caused a sold-out crowd of a 1,000 people to gather in downtown Dallas last month, where we listened to a group of four poets stand before a mic and shake us to our core for two hours—using nothing but words.  

Permanently retire your perception of underground poetry recitals featuring beret-donning beatniks playing bongos and waxing about the way the number eight feels. Imagine instead the most hard-hitting sermon you’ve ever heard—then imagine it rhyming. You’ll start to get a sense of what we experienced that night.

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Jimmy NeedhamComment
God, Frankensteins, and More: The Opportunity for Generosity on Halloween

Last year on Halloween night, over eight hundred trick-or-treaters showed up to our house on Sleepy Hollow for candy. Even though we lived on Sleepy Hollow, we had no idea when we moved in four years ago that Halloween was such a massive holiday in our neighborhood.

It put us in an awkward position as Christians. We weren’t excited about joining the neighborhood legacy of boasting in violence or in darkness or in evil. But we also reallydidn’t want to be the type that draws their curtains in fear and disgust at the end of October. We wanted our neighbors to know we cared about them whatever day of the month or year it was. Eventually, our family decided we were going to engage our neighbors on Halloween with radical generosity.

And so, for the past three years, we have exclusively given out king-sized candy bars to every visitor. The first year we gave away three hundred. Last year, eight hundred. We’re stocking up as we speak and expecting a thousand people this year.

Now, your family may not be financially able to give out a thousand candy bars (the college students we work with through our church help fund our inventory), and you likely won’t have a thousand people knocking on your door this Halloween. That doesn’t mean you can’t create a culture of radical generosity right where you are with what you have.

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Jimmy NeedhamComment
School Buses, Limos, and Christian Art: How to Appreciate 'War Room'

Last week I took my wife on a date to see the recently released Christian film War Room. I went on the recommendation of more than a couple people in my church, people I trust theologically and artistically.    

Like most Christian movies, War Room was received with a mix of critical disdain and audience acclaim. Films like these can be incredibly polarizing. People either come out singing its praises or shouting an artistic “anathema!” over it. This is even true in the church. Christianity Today tore the film to shreds in a recent review. Yet even as I write these words, two women are sitting behind me talking about it. “Wasn’t it fabulous?” one says. “Yes! My whole family needs to see this!”

My Artistic Dilemma

As an artist, I entered the theater admittedly skeptical. And, as expected, on an artistic level I was sadly left wanting. There were even some occasional theological fumbles that had me less than enthused (I squirmed as many likely did during Priscilla Shirer’s “get behind me Satan” rant). And yet, to my surprise, the film’s themes still resonated. I felt convicted regarding my prayer life. I was reminded of the daily battle for my family that’s being waged. I sensed an urgency to fight against spiritual attack. And I was often moved to tears at the gospel themes portrayed. 

As I left the theater that night, I sensed an interesting mix of disappointment and encouragement. I find that, like so many, I want to write off a movie like War Room as bad art, but I just can’t escape the fact that it’s done some real soul-level good for me. How should we reconcile this tension?

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Jimmy NeedhamComment
Learning to Linger in a Spotify Age

Humans were made to gaze. God uses long, loving looks at Christ in the gospel as a primary means to our sanctification (2 Cor. 3:18). Experience confirms this intent in my own life. My greatest times of growth and dependence on God have come when I’ve taken an extra hour, day, or week to wrestle with a passage, meditate on a truth, or enjoy a promise. I remember pinning the apostle Paul to the ground one Sunday afternoon as a junior in high school, trying my hardest to understand what he meant by “the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension” (Phil. 4:7). 

The best things in life don’t come in an instant but over time, which means we must cultivate the ability to wait, listen, and linger.

Our age, though, is one of short-form content. We live in a world of bits and bytes, snippets and sermonettes, scores of one-liners—140 characters or less if you please. In the early 2000s, as the capacity for greater bandwidth grew, a new era of audio and video streaming services was born. The internet exploded with on-demand songs and shows. Today, streaming music services are even closing in on iTunes for the lion’s share of the market. Spotify, easily the most popular and largest of these services, has more than 75 million users and boasts a whopping 30 million songs in its database. The real kicker is—so long as you’re okay with advertisements—this can all be yours for free. Any takers? 

As good as this sounds, I lament the popularization of streaming services.

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Jimmy NeedhamComment
Our Odyssey Against Sexual Temptation

In high school, and even into college, I weighed 260 pounds and was not even six feet tall. I was addicted to pornography — had been since I was nine. The appetites of the human heart are often insatiable. Whatever we want, we want a lot, and quick. It’s great when it comes to Bible reading, or prayer, or loving other. Not so great for tacos.

The message of the gospel collided with my appetites when I was fifteen. I was saved; I was washed; I was made new. Even so, as a young Christian I was losing battles with my gluttony and lust. My problem wasn’t with my ability to flee from sin. I was taking every possible physical measure to “flee youthful lusts” (2 Timothy 2:22). But I wasn’t tasting real freedom — not yet. Looking back, my war against the cravings inside of me was a lot like the The Odyssey.

Ulysess’s Will Power

Ulysses and his crew were on a long and dangerous journey. On the way, they sail by an island where Sirens lived. Sirens are beautiful-bodied, sweet-voiced temptresses who lure passers by with their songs. The sailors are lulled to the island and they crash their boats ashore. When they do, the Sirens destroy them.

Ulysses knows this temptation, so he has the others bind him to the mast. As they sail by, he loves the Sirens’ songs and desperately wants to go in closer. But he’s restrained. He can’t follow his urge — the overwhelming appetite. In his battle against temptation, he had won, but he wasn’t free.

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Kelly NeedhamComment
An Update on My New Albums

Dear family,

 

By now I’ve received more than a few inquiries about the status of my Christmas EP as well as my upcoming record.  I’ve been deliberately slow to respond until now as I wanted to write this news only if necessary.  It would seem that now is the time.  I regretfully will not be able to release the Christmas EP before this season is over. 

About 2 months ago I did some very serious damage to my voice while attempting to finish the vocals for my upcoming record.  The damage hasn’t only inhibited from singing, but even speaking has brought acute pain.  Any singer will tell you, vocal pain is never a good thing to push through as it can do permanent damage to your voice.  I have rescheduled my vocal session 3 times now and have failed each time to execute in studio.  I have had to cancel 4 performances so far, much to my disliking.  A few weeks ago we recorded the music for all the songs on the Christmas EP, and although the music turned out wonderfully, I could not get through the singing part. 

As it pertains to my new album, we are only a few vocal takes away from completion.  It was scheduled to be finished in August but that didn’t pan out.  I’m hopeful that I can finish out the remaining songs sometime before the New Year but am trying to be sensitive not to overstrain myself as well.  Regardless, sometime this Spring you will have the new record from me, Lord willing. 

I want to be writing and singing songs for God’s glory and your joy for many more years to come.  These hard decisions have been made with that in mind.  I’m grateful for any grace you could extend to me in light of falling short of my commitments to you this year. 

Here’s what you can be sure of:  I am militant about my recovery.  I have a fairly light singing schedule until the end of the year, and I am utilizing as much down time as possible to rest my singing voice.  I’ve committed to weekly therapy sessions with a very experienced speech pathologist.  All of my doctors are optimistic about my full recovery and I’m already feeling better.  I’m confident my heavenly Father will work even this inconvenience for my greatest good and yours.  I can’t WAIT to finish both the Christmas EP and especially the new album.  I’ve poured everything I have into this project and it’s become some of my most focused, musically unique and Cross exalting work I’ve ever been privileged to create.  Maybe that explains all the attack!  I will keep you updated as we progress, and when we have some firm release dates for both projects, you’ll be sure to hear about it.    

You’re prayers for my full recovery are sincerely needed.  Thank you for standing with me through all these ups and downs.  You really do feel like family to me. 

 

Yours and His,

 

Jimmy

P.S.

Be on the look out for details on the new album including the title announcement and debut of the cover art! 

 

 

 

Jimmy NeedhamComment
Redeem Halloween: Being Missional on Fright Night

My wife Kelly wrote this years Halloween blog.  It was so good I thought you all should see it too.  See more from her here.

And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:2

Tonight, we will turn our porch lights on, set out a sign, and be handing out king sized candy bars to hundreds of kids, moms, dads, and teens.  Some will grumble that we receive sinners.  But they said this of Jesus too.

LIGHT OF THE WORLD
Many Christians believe that handing out candy on Halloween is not a good idea.  They assume, “if I hand out candy, I am advocating all this day stands for and will therefore compromise my witness as a Christian.”  Yes, Halloween can stand for some really wicked things.  Yes, it is a day that people worship Satan, demons, and spiritual darkness.  Yes, it is an excuse for unrepentant sinning. But we are the light of the world!  Light is intended for darkness.  “Does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket?”

The darker the day, the more the light stands out.  “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”  Who needs to see the light of Christ?  Saints? Or sinners?

And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?”And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners. Mark 2:15-17

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is for sinners.  And how did Jesus, the physician, engage those who were sick? He hung out with them, engaged with them, ate with them.  If our Master, Jesus, spent time with sinners in this way, how can we think ourselves too “holy” to do the same?  It was the Pharisees who saw themselves as too holy to engage with sinners on the ground level.  Let us be like Jesus, not like those spiritually arrogant pharisees.

MISSIONAL HALLOWEEN
For a moment, let’s imagine Jimmy and I are missionaries in a foreign country.  We have just moved in and are still getting a feel for the culture and daily life of this country’s inhabitants.  Very few know about Jesus, and ancestral worship is the most common religious practice.  We have been praying about a way to get to know more people and have some opportunities to share about Jesus.  Then, we hear about a large ancestral worship festival in which all of the city will be out.  If you will only turn on your porch light, they will come to your door singing songs of praise to their ancestors.

As missionaries, we’d thank God for such a great opportunity!  Instead of spending days looking for a single moment to get to know someone and talk about faith, we now have many who will come to our door with their mind already on spiritual things!  I can’t imagine a more perfect opportunity to get to know these foreigners and talk about my faith!

This is exactly what Halloween can be for the Jesus-followers in this country!  We should be missional in our neighborhoods already, seeking to reach our neighbors with the good news of Jesus.  So what a perfect day to get to know the families that live around us!  On top of that, there is already an air of spirituality on this day.  Yes it has an evil spiritual feel, but it’s a perfect springboard to bring up the topic of life, death, hell, heaven, and a Great God who has defeated Satan on the cross through the unbelievable grace of sacrificing His Son on the behalf of sinners like us!

Jesus received sinners, so likewise, let us receive sinners today.

TURN IT FOR GOOD
There is a way to engage people on Halloween, without actually celebrating the day itself.  We are very careful to not have any traditionally Halloween decorations, like ghosts, spiderwebs, monsters, etc.  Instead, we are trying to brand ourselves as the “crazy-generous” house on our street, to make a statement about the gracious nature of our God through sending His Son!

There is a song we love to sing at our church called “Sovereign Over Us” by Aaron Keyes that says, “Even what the enemy means for evil, you turn it for our good, you turn it for our good and Your glory.”  Halloween is a day that Satan has intended for evil, but God in us is leveraging it for the good of others through sharing the Gospel and the glory of God by pointing to His grace.

You see, Halloween is kind of a big deal on our street.  Every year, we have 100s of people come to our door.  Last year that number was 700!  This year we purchased 1,000 king sized bars (anticipating a growing crowd) and have our college homegroup helping through prayer, handing out candy, welcoming people at the bottom of our stairs, and looking for opportunities to talk about Jesus. After being loved, welcomed, and blessed with king-sized bars, each person will be pointed to Jesus through signs on the way out proclaiming Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

WE ARE SINNERS TOO
Let us not forget, that the only reason we are saved is because Jesus condescended into the filth of our life, met us where we were at, and extended grace and love to us there.  We are no less sinners than those we seek to reach.  We are simply great sinners with a greater Savior!  Let us not fall into the trap of the Pharisees, thinking in our religious arrogance that we are better than those who don’t know Him.  For Jesus Himself said, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you [religious leaders].” Matt 21:31

“It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.” 1 Tim 1:15

Let’s remember our Lord’s charge to us on nights like tonight, not to run from darkness but charge toward it with the loving light of the gospel.  “And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” Mark 16:15

Jimmy's pumpkin carving: John Calvin.  Happy Reformation Day!

Jimmy's pumpkin carving: John Calvin.  Happy Reformation Day!

Jimmy Needham Comment
Dialing it Back: Why I'm E-Going Away for the Summer
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister

Last week I had a dream.  I was in a giant field of grapevines during sunset.  Green grapes the size of small tomatoes hung there.   The sun silhouetted the leaves and shone through the grapes like they were translucent balloons.  The wind blew everything in slow motion - it was all so picturesque.  And there I was, in the middle of it all, watching the whole thing through my iPhone screen.  I never looked up.  Never took it in.  I just snapped pic after pic, excited that I had capitalized on such an "Instagram-able" moment.  As the dream ended I remember thinking, "I never saw it with my own eyes."  It made me sad.  

That wasn't the only dream that week.  The night before I dreamed my television started to speak, mocking me and boasting that it had me under it's control.  There are even more but I'll spare you.  

It doesn't take the Prophet Daniel to crack the code on these puppies.  These dreams typify something I've been feeling in my spiritual gut for some time.  An unsettledness about how I'm handling my cyber-life.  And so, I'm unplugging this summer.  I don't know exactly for how long or to what degree but it's happening, and I want to tell you why.  

1.  It has cooled my affections for Christ.

There is a quote that has haunted me since I read it a few years ago: 

“If you don't feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.” -John Piper, A Hunger For God

It's scary to me because it's true.  Things, good things, can often be the means of our undoing if we linger over them longer than God.  Let me be clear:  Things haven't been terrible between me and God.  But there has been a slow fade over the past months toward 'dull'.  And having tasted both, I think I prefer terrible to dull.  At least with terrible I can feel something.  Dull is the spiritual equivalent of leprosy:  numbing, eroding, putrid.     

I want a mind that wanders to Christ.  And a mind on a screen cannot drift toward it's King. Maybe I'll use that in a song one day.  ; ) 

2.  It has distracted from my main missions.

This leads me to my next reason.  I feel so distracted.  As a Christian.  As a husband and dad.  As a songwriter.  I'm tired of calling distractedness "writer's block".  Maybe we artistic types feel so stifled in our creativity because we leave no mental space with which to create.  And I don't like that my wife and daughters have to work so hard to get my attention because my face is glued to my phone.  I don't want the acceptable sin of technology addiction to be a legacy I create for my family.  

Bottom line here is I want to give both God, my family and you my very best and I'm just not doing that right now.  

3.  It has made me want something from you, instead of something for you.

"Promoting self under the guise of promoting Christ is currently so common as to excite little notice." -A.W. Tozer

A.W. Tozer wrote that in 1948.  I guess some things never change.  

Just being honest, it's really hard for me to remember that my main job as an artist is to share something with you, not take something from you.  For that, I'm sorry.  I want to write songs to stir your appetites for God, not to get rich off you.  And I want to tweet my favorite verses to encourage you on your lunch break, not to see my "followers" go up and up.  I know I'll never have perfect motives in anything, but I do believe my heart could use a motive reboot.  A season away will be helpful in that. 

 

What I'm Not Saying

It's important you hear from me that It is not necessarily a sin to be online, use social media, check your email, etc.  Technology is morally neutral.  It is our hearts that are the issue.  In the words of my friend Ben Stuart, "legalism says 'No one can check their social media.'  Wisdom says 'I can't check my social media.'"  

 

What to Expect from E-Me

I am recording 2 new records this summer.  It's a lot of work as you can imagine.  I suspect that much of the early parts of summer I will be absentee on social sites.  Yes, you will still see posts from me, but they will likely not be in real time.  I will write them in advance, as has occasionally been my practice anyway.  The real difference will be that I will defer checking my Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts to my team.  This way my heart and mind can stay out of the whole matter.  If there are pressing things that need responses, they have full authority to speak on my behalf.  At some point I'll let you know when I'll return...just not sure when exactly that will be.  

I love you guys and love sharing my music with you all.  I love painting the beauty of the gospel in fresh ways for you.  I love that for almost a decade I've gotten to challenge, encourage and entertain you with my art.  I love what I do and I want to do it even better.  I want to see many more years and many more songs to come.  Pray for me if you will.  That I can be the husband, father, artist and Christian that the Lord is calling me to be, only by His grace.  And pray for yourself to, that God would expose in your heart any and everything that is robbing you of a full life in Christ.  "Anything I put before my God is an idol."

Peace,

J

 

 

 

 

The Bad in Our Good

 

What if I told you that one of God’s biggest goals for your life was despair?  As Christians, we’re trained to despair of our sinful behavior.  That’s because it’s relatively easy for us to see the bad in our sins.  No will argue that lust, pride, gluttony, hate, murder, gossip, etc. aren’t on the naughty list.  We feel it inside as our conscience sounds the alarm.  But we have a more insidious problem than our bad deeds that’s keeping us from God:  Our good deeds. 

Consider the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18.  They both went to the temple to pray.  The Pharisee spent his time thanking God for all the good he did and the bad he avoided.  However the tax collector humbly cried, “be merciful to me, God, the sinner!” He, and not the Pharisee, went home that day justified.  What was it that kept the Pharisee from being forgiven?  Not his bad deeds but his good ones!  The man was convinced he had a righteousness apart from the one God gives, and he therefore saw no need for forgiveness.  He was his own savior. 

If, in the final analysis, we can appeal to our moral record as grounds for God accepting us, then we become the champion of our salvation.  God’s pardon becomes a wage instead of a gift.  Gratitude is replaced with presumption and there is no marveling at mercy.  We earned it, after all. 

So here’s your litmus test.  Do you feel more worthy to be in God’s presence when you obey the rules?  Do you feel slighted by God when you when you’ve been obedient and things still don’t go your way?  Is your happiness in a day directly linked to how well you performed your Christian duties?  If you’ve answered yes to these questions, you need to repent, not just of your bad deeds, but of your good deeds that you’re relying on to make you righteous, worthy and whole.  God has made you righteous, Christian.  Not by your doing but by Christ’s.  “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us…righteousness…so that just as it is written, ‘let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” (1 Cor. 1:30-31).  May you despair of your own efforts so you can fully enjoy Christ’s efforts on your behalf.  This is the good news of the gospel. 

Jimmy Needham Comments
Bad Santa?
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I got a beef with the Claus.

Let me be clear.  I am not necessarily anti-Santa.  At least, not in the traditional sense.  The big guy gets a bad wrap for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is his alleged connections with pagan traditions.  I'm not here to fight about whether the charges are true.  He's a grown man and can hire his own lawyer.  And may I say it's a real shame to have a moniker whose letters can be rearranged to spell "Satan" (I should know, with a last name that endorses pork consumption).  It's also not fair for me to write Santa off since there are probably plenty of God fearing families out there who have found a way to redeem the use of him in their Christmas traditions (see my Halloween blog).  So I am not necessarily anti-Santa.  I'm just pro-gospel.  

The more I've thought about it, the more I'm concerned that the Santa message is at odds with the gospel message.  To be sure, Santa has a gospel.  It's heralded every year in the media, in children's literature and even our own living rooms.  This is a big deal to me.  As a parent it's my chief concern that the good news of salvation find few road blocks on it's way to my daughters' hearts.  So if anything in our home muddies, confuses or contradicts it, the gloves come off.  What's the Santa "gospel"?  Moralism.  Essentially Santa teaches us a performance-based righteousness, that right moral behavior is the key to acceptance, reward and happiness.    This is a deviation from the Christian faith, which is not built on the back of our labor, but Christ's labor on our behalf.  Don't write me off as a kill-joy or nitpicker till you hear me out.    Below are some examples of how the Christian gospel and the Santa gospel diverge.

Santa Claus:  If you do good, you get rewarded.

Jesus Christ:  You can't do good, but because I did you get rewarded.

 

Santa:  If you do bad, you're punished with coal.

Jesus:  You did do bad, but I took the "coal" of God's wrath for you on the cross.

 

Santa:  I'm constantly watching you to judge your performance.

Jesus:  Because of my perfect performance, you never have to worry if you're on the naughty list.   

 

Santa:  Behave so you can sleep peacefully knowing your reward on Christmas is secure.

Jesus:  Because you're accepted, you can now obey out of gratitude, not guilt.

 

At this point you may object and say something like, "You're taking things too far.  No decent parent gives their kid coal, no matter how bad they are.  Isn't that a picture of grace?"  To this I say yes, it is a picture of grace, just not gospel-grace.  Gospel-grace cost Jesus His life in order to secure our pardon.  Santa-grace pardons without payment. It's the same as saying to a child, "it doesn't really matter what you do, you'll always be let off the hook in the end, lil buddy!"  The truth is our actions do have consequences.  Eternal consequences.  And God in His mercy sent Jesus to take those consequences on himself so we could receive the reward of life with Him.  Any ethical view that doesn't have this Truth at it's core competes against the gospel of Jesus.  

So as my kids begin to age into the Santa years, we are beginning new traditions from those of our parents.  We're allowing the gospel room to be glorious without competitors.  We are not snubbing our nose at Jolly Ol' Saint Nicholas, we're just choosing the better news for our children to hear.  You deserved nothing but coal, but God loved you so much that at His own expense He gave you the greatest gift of all, Himself.  

Jimmy Needham Comments
Haunted House Makeover: How We Leveraged Halloween for God's Glory (Without Being Obnoxious or Heretical)

Last year on October 31st, 400 kids and teens came to our front door wanting candy.  400.  I want to take a nap just typing that.  If you're wondering why, it's due in large part to the fact that our house is on Sleepy Hollow Drive.  Halloween sort of comes with the territory around here.  In fact, when we moved in, our neighbor's first comment to us was, "You know about your house on Halloween, right?"  "No."  I replied.  "Kids circle the block just to get there.  Yours is the haunted house!"  Of course he meant that the previous owners turned the place into a spooky extravaganza every year.  All I heard was that the pressure was to keep up the hype. 

As you can imagine, this put us in an awkward position as Christians.  We weren't excited about boasting in the demonic and violent elements that haunted houses usually necessitate (good ones, at least).  However, we REALLY didn't want to be those crotchety religious types that draw their curtains at the end of October with a sign on the door that says "good luck in Hell."  Even worse, the ones who give out gospel tracts instead of candy for Halloween.  Those folks should just be slapped in Jesus' name.  It occurred to us that this could be our chance to redeem the holiday and leverage it for the glory of God.  Our solution:  King Size candy bars.

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Every kid who made the climb up our front stairs (it's a fairly long climb since we're on a hill) got the shock of their trick-or-treating life as we dumped massive Twix, Snickers, Baby Ruth, Kit-Kat's and more into their bags.  We had so many visitors that we ran out of bars, even though we had 300!  It was such a cool thing to have our whole neighborhood literally right on our doorstep.  The mission field came to us!  We felt such a joy seeing the surprised faces of kids and parents as we gave them the goods.  You know why we loved it so much?  Because it generated one of the best questions in the universe for the lost world to asked the found:  "Why?"  And what an answer we have for that! 

I don't know what your position is on Halloween.  In fact, until the age of Twitter and Facebook, I didn't really know any Christian's position.  Maybe you call it "Fall Festival", maybe you reject it altogether, maybe you haven't taken much time to consider the implications of participating.  Maybe you just like candy and even though you're 18 you show up at my door wearing NO costume and demanding sweets.  If that's you...yeesh.  Wherever you are on this issue, my prayer is you would see this night not as something to flee from but something to engage with the gospel.  God has been on a mission since the beginning to redeem His creation.  He's gone into the dark world to bring a bright light.  If you are a Christian reading this, it means He has sent you on that same mission too.  Every moment should be seen as an opportunity for redemption for us.  "Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31)

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This Halloween we'll be ready.  Our church group helped us raise enough money to buy 640 King Size bars this year.  Tonight we'll be handing them out with the help of 25 college students from our home group.  Signs lead the way as you go up the steps.  "When You Get To The Top, There's King Sized Bars, Cause There's Not a King As Generous As Ours!"  On the way down, trick-or-treaters will see this verse:  "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23).  We have students posted at the bottom of the house welcoming folks.  Students at the top helping me and Kelly pass out candy and engage them in conversation, looking for opportunities to boast about Jesus to them.  The house that was once known for being haunted on Halloween is now filled with the loving, giving Spirit of Christ and everyone who comes will encounter a little glimpse of Him, even if it's through an Almond Joy.

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P.S.
Here's a picture of the pumpkin I carved this year.  In honor of "Reformation Day", may I present my homage to Mr. Luther.  : )

 

Jimmy Needham Comments
Titanic Mercy

A few nights ago Kelly and I sat down to watch Netflix's newest addition, Titanic.  Confession:  I saw this movie 4 times in theaters as a kid.  Sigh.  

It was called "the unsinkable ship".  The largest people mover the world had ever seen, Titanic was the trophy of Humanism.  We said proudly with iron and steel, "nothing is impossible for man!"  It's maiden voyage on April 14, 1912 turned that exclamation point into a question mark.  Today The hunk of decaying metal slumps on the ocean floor, forever remembered not as the greatest ship ever made, but the greatest irony ever recounted.

Though perhaps not for those who perished, for many who came after including ourselves the sinking of the Titanic is a peculiar mercy.  It is a mercy because it is a warning.  It is a warning because it is a parable.  "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." (James 4:6).  In the final analysis, God levels all who lift themselves up before Him.  Before we get in fisticuffs about God's sovereignty over calamity, let's not miss this point.  Titanic happened.  And there's a lesson for us if we're wise.  

This is not an unfamiliar tactic for God to leverage a tragedy to drive home a point.  Remember Jesus' seemingly unmerciful response to the news that a tower had collapsed on some sorry chaps in Siloam?  Jesus told the crowd, "those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:4-5)

Here's the rub:  5 seconds after we die there will be no more mercy for the enemies of God.  No more examples, no more red flags.  Only judgement.  Only the great white throne of God.  Only our lives laid bare before His penetrating gaze.  What will we say on that day?  That we didn't know any better?  

God permits Titanic failures to happen for a billion different ends, not the least of which is lesson we learn as we reflect.  It is God's intention that we come weak and needy before Him.  The boastful will always be brought low and God will lift up all those who humble themselves. Until we despair of the of the strength our ship, the might of our iron and the beauty of our boat, the cross of Christ will only baffle and insult.  The cross says of us, "Your ship has sunk".  But it says something else as well.  It beckons us aboard the Mercy Ship of Jesus to sail onto the shores of eternity, if only we'll board in lowliness of heart.

Jimmy Needham Comments