When Music Led to Crime: My Neighbor’s Story

record player

My second home with my husband was a two-bedroom apartment in south Orlando. We were there for two years, and over the course of that time, we had developed some relationships with our neighbors, particularly a man named “Joe” (not his real name.) We would greet him whenever we saw him, and he would respond with a big smile and a wave. We would comment about the weather, or other “fluff” conversation, to see if it led anywhere. Our mission and purpose was clear…we wanted to influence our neighbors with the gospel, and would search for open doors.

The door opened with Joe. The longer we were living there, the more we interacted with him. He would often smoke outside his apartment and we would take the opportunity to engage him in conversation. Eventually we invited him to church, and it became clear that he knew we were Christians and yet remained open to continuing to dialogue with us. Eric eventually asked him to meet with him over coffee and talk about Jesus. He gladly agreed. When they met, Eric heard some of his story. He was a former felon, had spent time in and out of jail for drug related charges. He would deal drugs on and off (and swore he currently wasn’t) yet his Mom had raised him right. They attended church as he was growing up, and he had wandered away from his faith when he entered his teenage years. He asked for prayer for himself, and for his girlfriend, also a former felon, who was currently in rehab.

Eric and I discussed what we could do for them, and how to best serve them. We talked to Joe about coming over for dinner, along with his girlfriend, where we would pray for them. He again gladly accepted, and picked her up from rehab to come have a meal with us. “Jane” was also friendly and outgoing. As soon as we sat down to eat, we couldn’t get them to stop talking. They opened up about their past, and their present struggles with drugs and alcohol and clubbing. They opened up about their upbringing, both from single-mom households, both dragged to church when they were kids, both getting lured away by friends who introduced them to what they called a “gangster” style of life. Jane told us about her daughter who was being raised by her grandmother, because Jane couldn’t keep herself out of trouble. They talked about how they both knew that they needed to get out of this lifestyle, and their inability to be able to make the right choices to do so, especially since it was so hard for them to get a job, let alone keep one.

We were able to share the glorious gospel with them, about how we understood their inability to choose any other way of life. We told them about Jesus, who could help them, about the Holy Spirit, who could empower them. It was an incredible night. It was obvious that they both really wanted to hear it; they soaked it up. Jane cried, and asked for prayer. Joe would say things like, “I know I need help. I know I need to change. I just can’t.”

What is my point? I’m setting this up for a particular reason. I asked them this question:

“Can you point to one particular thing that led you to this type of life? What was the entry gate?”

They could have said growing up with no fathers. They could have said the wrong friends and peer pressure. They could have said the first time they did drugs.

“Music,” Jane said without any hesitation.

“Absolutely. Listening to hip-hop,” Joe replied.

That was the last thing I expected to hear. There we were, with our apartment complex’s drug dealer and his girlfriend in our home, listening to their sad story of a life wasted to drugs and gangs, and they unequivocally blamed music as the entry into it all.

Jane went on to explain how as a young girl, hearing lyrics of the glories of a certain lifestyle, the wealth and prestige, influenced her to want that type of life.

“It was subtle at first. But as my girls and I listened, it no longer became something we wanted. It became what we were living. And it’s not all it was cracked up to be. It ruined my life. It led to doing drugs. It led to shoplifting and stealing, because we wanted to support the type of life we heard about, but never could afford. I’m in rehab because now I can’t get away from it, and it’s controlling me.”

I’m not making this up. I know you’re sitting there reading this, thinking, “No way. No one actually blames music for how they messed up their life. That’s just silly.”

Yet I’m here to tell you that that is exactly what they said. And it shocked me, too. You can make the argument that lyrics don’t affect you; that you just listen to the music. That not all hip-hop is bad, because seriously, Lecrae is a hip-hip artist isn’t he?

Look, I’m not here to bash hip-hop; of course not all hip-hop is bad, and every style, including some Christian music, has its vices. What I am saying is that you can’t make the claim that you are unaffected by what you hear. That’s just not a biblical concept. The only way we can understand anything spoken to us is because we hear it and interpret it. “Faith comes through hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)

James speaks often about the power of words, specifically about the power of the tongue (James 3). The only category for music in the Scriptures is that of singing praise and giving glory to God, so much so that even if we as Christians are silent, the rocks and trees would praise him (Luke 19:40).

I think there is a definite use for non-Christian music. You can sing about the love you have for you significant other, and it can be glorifying to God. You can sing about righting social wrongs and it be glorifying to God. You can sing about the sacrifices of our military, or the pain and suffering after 9/11, or the pain and sadness after a break-up, and it be glorifying to God. What matters is how we interpret these things. Through what filter are you listening? The filter of a secular worldview that finds ourselves as the arbiter of truth? Or the filter of a biblical worldview that sees God as the giver of all things good, the One who is behind the love you have for your spouse, the one who ultimately will makes all things right, the one who is with you when you are broken? All things are empty without Him, and that emptiness is on full display when what we listen to is devoid of Him.

So let me challenge you, next time you turn on Keith Urban, or Elvis, or Macklemore…listen with ears that can filter out the truth from the lies. Do what Joe and Jane couldn’t do. Listen and point to the One who gives the good gift of music. And if what you are listening to is in direct rebellion to the character of the God we worship, for crying out loud…turn it off.

Originally posted here.

Modest is Hottest, or Something Like That

“Oh, great,” I can hear you say. “Another post on modesty.” And you click away from our blog and go read something more interesting.

I’m not saying there isn’t something more interesting to read on the Internet (including more interesting posts on this blog, even) and I actually I agree with you. A lot has been said, blogged or preached about this issue. I grew up with a “modesty checklist” some people I deeply respect came up with that included guidelines about how short a skirt should be or how low a blouse should plunge. I vividly remember having a discussion in ninth grade with two of my best friends; we were talking about how awful it was that girls wore bikini’s in middle school (we really were utterly scandalized.) On the other end of the spectrum, I came across a meme a few days ago with a bare-chested woman painted with the phrase “Still not asking for it.” It was obviously a take on the rape culture, but the discussion following it was one on modesty. One person was talking about the necessity for modesty in how women dress to make it easier on the men around us, while the other side was saying apparel should always be a personal decision.

And what about the men!!!? Men should be modest, too! Why is the impetus always placed on the women? Why shouldn’t a man have to wear a shirt at the beach or pool? Women struggle with lust just like men do. Sheesh.

The pendulum is always swinging. It swings so far one way sometimes it is in danger of flying across the room. Just fifteen years ago my friends and I were appalled that girls even younger than we were wearing bikinis. Now most of my friends have no problem with it.

So who is right?

In danger of sounding like Switzerland, I won’t say, “both sides are right.” I will say it like this: modesty checklists and nude women aside, a modest disposition of the heart will show in the way women AND men dress, interact and live. It really is a heart issue…and always will be.

Modest dress is a worthy discussion (after all, the Bible does talk about it!) but modesty includes far more than what can be seen on the outside. In fact, the definition of modest is not “Women who dress culturally appropriate.” Rather, the definition is “the quality of being modest; freedom from vanity, boastfulness, etc.” I didn’t see “Modest is hottest” anywhere in that definition either. The definition goes on to say, “regard for decency of behavior, speech, dress, etc.”

Ultimately, modesty is an issue of self-control. Titus 2:11-14 says:

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
In essence, self-control is wrapped up in the gospel. We are to live our lives renouncing what the world says, and live for our Blessed Hope to return to us, which involves living in self-control and not self-gratification.
Our behavior, speech, and dress should reflect this truth: a modest, self-controlled approach to how we adorn the gospel. Jesus was humble, self-controlled and modest. Philippians vividly paints with this looked like…the Son of God did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing. That is our model for behavior, not what our friends or culture do or say.
My friends who are comfortable wearing bikinis at the pool or beach are not my standard. I shouldn’t strive for that type of self-expression. My family members who are more outspoken and confident in their opinions than I are not my standard. I shouldn’t strive to express myself as well as they do. My co-workers who go out and jump out of planes, climb mountains, and travel the world aren’t my standard. I shouldn’t strive to be fearless like they are. My standard should be Christ, the ultimate standard, who demonstrated in public nudity what our lack of self-control cost: his own brutal death. The only perfectly modest One who ever lived has clothed our immodest nakedness and shame with his robes of righteousness.
That is what modesty is about. So the pendulum can swing as far left or right as it wants to. Debate away, but remember that where we fall on this issue will either adorn the gospel or show a watching world that we are compromising — and that the power of Christ only goes as far as our “personal preference.” The fact is Christians shouldn’t be pursuing whatever is hottest but whatever is most holy.