OK, I admit it. I like country music. I also like rock, Motown, jazz, pop, folk, gospel, and classical music. My brief attempt to deny my country background was, to quote an old family idiom, like putting earrings on a hog. So now I embrace my heritage with pride.
In addition to my chromosomal predisposition toward Nashville, I continue to foster a deep appreciation for the honesty of country music. It is one of the few safe places to discuss God and country and marriage and old-fashioned values without fear of politically correct busybodies getting their undergarments twisted. We all laugh at a few outrageously titled country tunes, but there are many songs that reflect exactly who I am: a proud father, a husband who married way up, a patriotic American, and an unabashed follower of Jesus. Not exactly attributes that would make me an A-Lister at elite inside-the-Beltway or Hollywood parties.
As dog friend Hannah and I walked recently a song by Montgomery Gentry caused me to reflect on my long and sometimes painfully erratic journey with Jesus.
The title track from their CD Back When I Knew It All resonated with me. The lyrics describe the passage for many of us:
Back when the world was flat and Mama and Daddy didn't have a clue / That was back . . . back when a pitcher of beer and a couple shots made me bulletproof / Back when God was a name I used in vain to get a point across when I got ticked off / Lord I'm learning so much more . . . than back when I knew it all.
I realize now how little I really knew about being a man and about walking with Jesus when I started out as a young believer many years ago. I had bad theology and bad motives, so it should come as no big surprise that I was a bad Christian in how I lived out my faith. I was judgmental because I knew exactly what those "sinners" should be doing. I didn't know their circumstances or challenges but that did not matter. I didn't care enough to pray for them or come alongside them to help. That would be too messy. I just knew they were wrong and I was better than them. I knew that because my brand of church had a list of things that you could conveniently check off to be "righteous". If you couldn't check off the things that were on my list then you were a sinner. Very easy system. And it is also heresy because it manages to overlook that little nugget that there is no condemnation in Christ (Romans 8). Perhaps we felt like Jesus was overlooking a great opportunity to bring folks to righteousness. I knew from my preacher back then that if I could try harder to be righteous then God would bless my great intentions and sacrifice. If He didn't bless me then I was not doing something right. I mean, God hadn't moved so it had to be me. Right? That was my theology back when I knew it all. Here is another part of the song:
I've learned that love is a woman that will settle you down / a Sunday sermon can turn life around / Man I can't believe all the answers I've found / since . . . back when I knew it all.
Yep. A Sunday sermon, reading God's Word and hearing some insights from fellow sojourners can turn a life around to the realization that my great intentions and sacrifice did absolutely nothing to achieve righteousness. I finally realized that righteousness is bestowed as a gift of grace from God. And finally figuring that out that truth made this passage real.
And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7 NLT).
I am grateful for how much God has taught me even after I "knew it all." The first step was realizing how untrue that statement was. Now I am amazed at how much I don't know. The second step was seeking the source of real truth. The journey I am on right now is to really trust that truth and not just know it. Knowing truth makes me a little smarter. Trusting truth transforms me. I am overflowing with thankfulness that God was patient during the time that I thought I knew it all. I am overflowing with thankfulness for all that Christ did for me when I did not deserve it. I am overflowing with thankfulness that living out of grace allows me to confront and resolve my sin instead of hiding in fear and shame. Author Randy Alcorn says most things better than me but he really nails the idea that grace can give freedom to sin. Here is Randy's quote.
"Any concept of grace that makes us feel more comfortable sinning is not biblical grace. God's grace never encourages us to live in sin, on the contrary, it empowers us to say no to sin and yes to truth."
Amen Randy! I am slowly learning to lean on grace to say no to sin and yes to truth. I am slowly learning that trusting truth really does transform me. Learning that is especially cool after all of those years when I "knew" it all.