Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Cross Has Made You Flawless

If you follow me on social media, you caught some pictures of the Jeremy Camp and MercyMe concert I attended over the weekend. If you follow me on Twitter specifically, you caught some amazing quotes from them that I simply couldn't help but share. But these two artists did so much more that evening than give a couple of quotes and sing a couple of songs.

I honestly wish I had more faith than I do. Some of those audience members in the same crowd at the same time came to the concert fully prepared to worship and minister; fully prepared to feel God's presence and experience a shift in their relationship with him. I was among the population who bought a ticket to hear some good music and raise my hand in worship a couple of times.

Two songs into the evening, Jeremy Camp decided to pray. I bowed my head and closed my eyes with the rest of the crowd. After all, it wasn't particularly unusual to do such a thing at those concerts. Contemporary Christian artists often pray and preach briefly between songs. We'd be concerned if they didn't. And this was a pretty generic prayer. Lord be with us, and fill this theatre with your presence, and allow something great and impactful to happen this evening for each and every person in this room, yada yada yada. Every Christian and non-Christian church go-er has heard that prayer at least once a week.

So there I am sitting in the third row thinking yeah yeah, save the poor soul in the back who's going through more pain than I am and needs you tonight, God. Nothing too tragic was happening to me as far as I was concerned, so that prayer could be used for someone else. I hate that my prayers become so lethargically fabricated, but I can guarantee I'm not the only one who's sat down praying a cookie-cutter prayer out of obligation simply to move on with the sermon or activity on hand. I expected people to come to Christ. I expected some to rededicate their life and vow to read their bible more. I expected to hear about faith and salvation and righteousness and saving grace.

I didn't expect to hear about beauty distortion. And I certainly didn't expect to be brought to tears over the verbal truths spoken by the band and the quiet reassurances of the Spirit.

Jeremy started talking about our fallen world (again, not a particularly uncommon topic with the fabulous politics, kindness, and basic humanity present in today's society), and I was only half listening. I had sat down and almost tuned out when I heard it. And I quote:

"Today, we are told that there is a certain way we have to look and a certain way we have to be in order to be happy. And I am here to tell you that that is nothing more than an absolute LIE from the enemy, because you have the unfailing love of Jesus Christ and nothing should make you happier." 

It was gut-wrenching. And I don't mean that in a graphic, narrative, God-saved-my-soul sense. I mean I could feel my stomach churn. The pang in my heart wasn't masked one bit. That statement was meant for me, and I knew it.

Turns out, the girl in the third row who thought she was fine was struggling more than she knew, and in that moment, she was reassured that she was not alone. Not only was someone (not just someone...but her creator) right by her side to help her through healing, but there were friends and readers who were silently struggling right there with her. She was anything but alone.

We Christians talk a lot about spiritual gifts. I always thought patience and teaching were just about all I had to offer. I'm quickly learning that communication is one of mine as well; that my thoughts are easily turned into words, which are easily turned into journal entries and blog posts. I wasn't going to waste this moment. I was at a concert in one of the largest music pavilions in the local area, taking notes about the relationship between beauty distortion and salvation on my phone because my thoughts were coming too fast to wait. God was speaking right then, and I couldn't miss it.

Now, let's make sure we go back to that quote. {Seriously. Go re-read it. Right now. I'll wait.}

Let it sink in for a second. Everything we hear in today's world about the way we should look and act and simply exist are not merely lies, but are lies from the devil. Why have we not thought about this before? It makes perfect sense to me now. The devil is angry because he was originally the angel of beauty. He was the most beautiful creature up to date... Until God created woman. 

He got angry. Very angry. Even poisoning woman with fruit to ruin her happiness (sound anything like Snow White, anyone?) wasn't enough. He didn't seek to make her fall. He sought to make her miserable. And since she was the crown of creation, specifically designed to be the most intricately beautiful creature on Earth, the only way to take her down was to convince her that she was not beautiful. 

Let's all gasp together. How dare he! But more disquietingly... How did he? How did he even manage to accomplish such a diabolical sabotage?

How could he possibly convince someone who was literally designed to be stunningly captivating that she isn't even pretty? 

Well, dear reader... He changed the definition of "pretty." He distorted beauty and deceived reality. He introduced sex icons, made objectification appealing to our men, and created a one-size-fits-all definition of beautiful rather than flourishing in the intricate diversity of beauty so that comparison literally killed the soul of the victim. Killed the soul of women.

Killed the soul of you.

"God knew you before you were in the womb," Jeremy continued, "When you feel alone and unlovable, you are not alone, and you are loved beyond compare. You can trust God with your heart. You can trust Him to break down those walls you've built too high for anyone else to climb. He will find you, He will heal you, and He will save you." 

I couldn't breathe. There was no place to go for fresh air; we were outside and I had all the air in the world. And yet, I felt as though I was living in a vacuum. How was it possible that I was at a concert with thousands of other people and this message was for me? 

How could a contemporary Christian artist I'd only heard on the radio know that I never trusted anyone? Because I don't. Not with my plans, not with my heart, and not with my life. But Jeremy didn't know. God knew. Those walls I've built are too high for anyone else, but not for him. Not for my Father, the King of all Kings. I might be a Princess in a tower, but the Prince of Peace has come to save me. He already has saved me.

So what the heck am I doing, still allowing myself to hurt from my mistakes? Still allowing myself to hurt from mistakes others made against me? Why do I allow myself to nurse old wounds? Why is it so hard to move on?

Because the devil doesn't want us to.

It's as simple as that. Why else would we cling to our past when it holds absolutely no power over our future? I know I'm not the only one who does that. And I'm not saying it should be easy to move on, or that we are failures for guarding our hearts as we were commanded to do. But if we don't open up a little, if we refuse to let people in, we won't be able to empathize. We won't be able to heal. It would become literally impossible to love and support and witness to others, and that's our primary command. To love others as He has loved us. 

That's pretty hard to do when your heart is boarded up with wood. And bricks. And chains and nails and monster glue... I know my heart is sealed up pretty well in a solid effort to avoid getting hurt. But that fear and insecurity is holding me back more than potential pain ever could, and that's exactly what the devil wants.

Nothing will hold you back more than your own insecurities. Don't give them that power.

I took a breath. I'd realized more about myself and my struggle with beauty distortion in those fleeting moments than I had in the past year. Surely it was over. Surely that was enough.

It wasn't.

Ten minutes passed while the stage transitioned from Jeremy Camp to MercyMe. Five songs in, the band had a similar message. I tried to decipher it. I tried to make additional connections. But it was so straight-forward and self-explanatory that I couldn't. There was no point in seeking to elaborate or embellish it any more. It had to be a message straight from God, smacking me upside the head in the middle of a concert because I wasn't taking the time to listen in my everyday life.

"I spent a lot of time dwelling on everything I did wrong, and all the pain I'd experienced, and every way I was falling short. But here's the deal. The Father of the universe chooses to forget your sin and love you, so maybe you should give it a shot." 

Self love at its finest, I thought to myself, God worked so hard on us. Why is it so hard to enjoy the life and the body and the world he gave us? 

"It's hard to love yourself when the enemy is right behind you whispering in your ear, telling you that you're disqualified," MercyMe continued. 

Oh. Well thanks for answering that, God.

"You may look in the mirror and hate what you see, but God is right there behind you telling you that you are the most beautiful thing he's ever seen. Not because of what you haven't done, but because of what he already did on the cross for you. The cross has made you flawless." 

Let's all read that again together.

The cross has made you flawless. 

This ministry opportunity led them straight into one of my all time favorite MercyMe songs, and I sang every single word. I'd always loved it. I'd always related to it. But it held a completely new meaning now, so I'll leave it with you before I sign off for the day. Because you are treasured, you are sacred, you are His. You're beautiful. 

I want to personally thank Jeremy Camp and MercyMe for giving me and the rest of Northwest Arkansas an amazing, life-altering, and confidence-instilling concert at the Arkansas Music Pavilion on July 30th, and for allowing me to share this song for all my readers who couldn't be there.

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