My oldest son, Ryan, attends Johnson University, a Christian college located about ten minutes outside Knoxville, Tennessee. Johnson is a small, private school that has an on-campus attendance of approximately 1,000. Ryan is a sophomore there, lives in a dorm, plays on the baseball team, and is double majoring in Bible and Physical Education K-12. He plans to be a P.E. teacher and coach. I’m mentioning him attending Johnson because it factors into the story I’m about to tell.
Ryan turned 19 on June 17th of this year, and for his birthday present he wanted to do something he had never done: attend a concert. I have to admit that I’ve tainted both my boys during their formative years by having them listen to my “old” music as we’ve ridden the roads together. And what is my “old” music? It’s the music that I grew up listening to: Journey, Styx, REO Speedwagon, Blondie, Bob Seger, Fleetwood Mac, Jackson Brown, Bad Company, Queen, Billy Joel, etc., etc. etc. I’m talking about, you know, the classics from the 1970s and 1980s. I could get all pious here as a preacher and say that the only songs I know and listen to are hymns and contemporary Christian songs, but that would be a lie. Don’t you hate it when preachers lie?
Anyway, in the days leading up to Ryan’s birthday he had me scouring internet sites to find a concert for us to attend. It had to be reasonably local, affordably priced, and feature a great act. The best I could find in the month of June was Pat Benatar playing at my alma mater, Appalachian State University. That seemed like a pretty good way to go because Ryan would be out for summer break and Boone is only an hour’s drive from our house.
But then I got the idea to check on who might be coming to Knoxville sometime after Ryan moved back to school in August. And, low and behold, Styx was coming to play at Knoxville’s Tennessee Valley Fair on September 15th. Now we were talking. Pat Benatar is great, but Styx is, well, Styx. I first heard them in 1978 when my cousin Lisa told my parents to buy me an eight-track of “Pieces of Eight.” I was 12 years old. That’s how far back I go with Styx. Of course, in the years that followed I learned their pre-1978 stuff as well as everything that came after Pieces of Eight.
So, I went online and purchased two tickets to the concert. Since my wife Tonya teaches school, and the concert was on a weeknight, she had absolutely zero interest in going. My younger son, Royce, is a sophomore at Mitchell High and would loved to have gone, but he couldn’t because he too had school the next day. That meant that I had to drive the two and a half hours to Knoxville by myself to meet Ryan and attend my first concert in almost 30 years. The good news was that Tonya and Royce not going allowed us to splurge a bit on the tickets and get some better seats down toward the stage.
Well, the concert started at 7:30 and Ryan’s baseball practice ended at 6:00. That meant that we had an hour and a half for him to take a shower and then begin the precision plan of us wolfing down some McDonalds, driving the fifteen minutes to the fairgrounds, finding a parking spot, making our way to the outdoor arena, and locating our seats. It was around 7:15 when we officially sat down as an opening act neither of us had heard of was playing on stage. Ryan decided that the fifteen minutes of waiting would be better spent buying a souvenir tee shirt from the stand just to the right of the stage. He bought a nice one (with his own money) and had hardly gotten back to his seat before Styx hit the stage. Their opening song was “The Grand Illusion” from the 1977 album of the same name and away we went.
What followed was two hours worth of wall-to-wall Styx hits. The band sounded great, a beautiful full moon hung in the nighttime sky over the outdoor venue, I got to be a teenager again for a little while, and Ryan’s first concert became what he would later describe as the best birthday present he ever got. To top it all off, Styx’s lead singer, Tommy Shaw, threw just one Styx tee shirt into the crowd that whole night. Guess who caught it. Ryan. That thoroughly convinced me that he and I were exactly where we were supposed to be that evening.
Okay, so why have I shared this personal story that seemingly has nothing to do with being a Christian, going to church, reading the Bible, praying, or any other religious activity? I’ve done it as exhibit A of my evidence that you can be a devout Christian and still get out there and enjoy life. Ryan and I weren’t drinking at that concert. We weren’t smoking pot. We weren’t banging our heads and making the “devil’s horns” hand signals. We didn’t drag out a record player afterward and play a Styx album backward to see if there was any hidden Satanic message in it. We didn’t even engage in a discussion about how in Greek mythology the river Styx separates the world of the living from the world of the dead. All that happened was that I drove Ryan back to campus, he went to bed, and then he got up the next morning and went right back to his religious classes. As for me, I drove back home that night, prayed for much of the trip, and listened to preaching on the radio for the rest of the way. And I had a perfect peace about all of it, including the two hours spent at the concert. Go figure.
I’ll be the first to admit that Christian liberty can be taken to a sinful extreme and used to falsely justify plenty of bad behavior, but the answer isn’t to throw it out altogether and become good little legalists. The apostle Paul taught in several passages (1 Corinthians 6:12, 1 Corinthians 10:23, Galatians 5:13, Colossians 2:6) that Christian liberty is a good thing when used rightly. For example, he says in 1 Corinthians 6:12, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” Trust me, Ryan and I weren’t brought under the power of Styx that night. To us, that concert was just a great time of a father and son getting to hear a band whose music we both enjoy. If we tried to make it anything more than that, we’d just be blowing it out of spiritual proportion and bringing ourselves under false man-made guilt.
And it is with that in mind that I’ll leave you with some more words from Paul, this time from 1 Corinthians 10:31. There he says to the Christians of Corinth, “…whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Paul’s quote means that the only question that Ryan and I had to get settled before that concert was, “Can the words ‘whatever’ and ‘all’ include attending a Styx concert to the glory of God?” Well, as you’ve figured out by now, I believe that under the right circumstances they can. And just to get right down to it, I know in my heart that we came in line with those circumstances that night in Knoxville. I can’t speak for anyone else who was at that concert, including the band, but I’m positive that Ryan and I exercised our Christian liberty without sin. If you don’t believe me, ask him. He even has the tee shirt straight from Tommy Shaw’s hand to prove it.