“Be strong and of good courage, Be not frightened nor dismayed
For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9
In 1981 my young family of five arrived in Dallas, TX from the Midwest in the aftermath of being enveloped in a cult for eight years. My wife and I were emotional and spiritual wrecks seeking a safe harbor of some kind to calibrate the peace in our lives, should there be any. Our three small children had never experienced Christmas celebrations or birthday parties – that’s how their lives began due to my messed up decisions driven by my own search for fatherhood.
Coming out of that misplaced cultic Christianity was a time of terrible transition, trying to learn about a freedom of thought and independent decision-making that had eluded me in the earliest stages of my adulthood. Many Americans do not understand the dimensions of appeal that a cult can have for a potential adherent, but that is a topic for another time. Suffice it to say that deep interpersonal relationships provided the glue that held the framework together on a foundation of crumbling clay. Such a foundation was comprised of my own insecurities, lack of confidence and fear of rejection that was expressed in my own senses of insignificance and incompetence.
Long before we arrived in the Dallas area, my own spiritual search led me to a conclusion that I was to grasp onto a charge that the Lord delivered to Joshua, Moses’ successor, as leader of Israel. Stated above, this verse seems to be a command: BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS. In my self-assessment, I was the furthest from such. I questioned my own manhood which brought into question any possible capability of being a father someday…let alone knowing what a good husband meant. Yet, Joshua 1:9 became my “life verse” of which I knew not how to be. How was I to respond to such an impossible mandate? I thought of the biblical conversation that the Lord had with his servant, Job. “Brace yourself like a man, I will question you and you will answer me (Job 38:3).” What structure would Job be able to lean upon to sufficiently brace himself against the questioning of Him who rides on the winds and shakes mountains? Though many might regard the command to Joshua to be a softer admonition, I took it as a command that had real tensile strength. From where would I get the necessary strength and courage to be the man competent to lead my family into a “new land” and new life? Fortunately for me, the Lord of all spirits is very much the initiator, which leaves me to be, largely, in the role of a responder.
As we were getting acclimated to our new surroundings in Texas and were trying to integrate into a healthy expression of Christ’s church, opportunities came our way. The church was experiencing a lot of growth from families relocating to the DFW Metroplex; so, the local congregants were seeking out ways to help these new families get integrated into the larger life of the church. Someone discovered that I played the piano (a bit.) An invitation was extended to me to accompany a young vocalist who was to perform at a type of talent show. Foolishly, I agreed to take on the challenge. I was provided with the sheet music to start practicing. My musical gifting was meager at best, but I guess that I was so hungry for relationship that I agreed to try. A combined rehearsal was called to review all the acts on the agenda. I went to the rehearsal where I watched a man play the piano who had taught at Julliard, a man who had played 2nd chair violin in the Chicago symphony and his wife who was a concert pianist. Panic set in. I was looking for a way out. The intimidation factor was too much for me to bear. What was I doing in that kind of company…still carrying deep scars from my cult experience. My incompetence was soon to be put on display, but I could not find an excusable reason to escape the room. Before I knew it, our turn had come. I sat at the piano nearly paralyzed with fear, but started to play anyway. The vocalist could hardly sing to my wretched attempt to accompany her. As we persevered through the song, I thought that was it. I would leave, and suggest that someone else should accompany her. Before I got up from the piano bench, the man coordinating the practice said, “Let’s hear that again.” I’m thinking that this guy is a masochist or tone deaf. He certainly was not a musician. So, we played through it one more time. His comment this time was, “That’s sounding better.” I knew that was a lie, but I didn’t argue. Once again I was ready to get up when he said, “Let’s hear that one more time.” What’s wrong with this guy? He doesn’t even know me, yet he must know how uncomfortable I am. I thought this was a “Christian” outfit…has he no mercy? Nevertheless, we played through that song again. He said, “That is sounding much better.” Though I cannot say when it happened or remember exactly how many more times he made me play the song – something did happen. When I walked our of that rehearsal, I felt like I could have gone to Carnegie Hall to play that song even though it still was not that great of a performance.
What happened? I responded to the Lord’s command (in that rehearsal) to “be strong”. I stood in the face of my extreme fear, my insignificance, my insecurities, my incompetencies…and the Lord put courage in me. He had selected this choice servant (who was assigned to put together this talent show) whose primary gift was ENCOURAGEMENT to deal with my “inadequacies mentality.” Rich Raad was not a musician (thankfully), but an encourager that changed the trajectory of my life nearly 40 years ago. Subsequent to that time I still have not really had much formal musical training, but have lead worship teams, written music and formed bands over these years. In fact, I have written an entire Easter Cantata with eleven of my own compositions.
Encouragement means to put courage into. For me, courage had to be placed inside of me from an external force. During the process, Rich Raad loved me enough to face down my fears by being willing to make me uncomfortable with those fears in front of others. I attribute whatever musical accomplishments that I have enjoyed over the past four decades to that moment in time. In my case, I had Job as an example, looking for a way to brace himself in a confrontation with his God. This was a confrontation that has become a lasting legacy in my life that has brought me immeasurable joy, satisfaction and relationships of which I would otherwise have never experienced. Praise be to God and thanks to Rich Raad.
To sample one of my compositions: The Wind and the Whisper
(This is not a professional recording, but hopefully, you can get a sense of my own thankfulness toward the Lord to allow me this joy.)