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Jars of Clay

By Kirk Noonan

As a teenager Charlie Lowell had a realization that changed his life. It went something like this: No matter what, God loves and accepts me just the way I am. For a lad who felt like he had to constantly prove himself to gain acceptance from others, this brought welcome relief.

But as the years passed, Lowell realized he wasn’t just dealing with a bad case of teen angst. Instead, Lowell, keyboardist for Jars of Clay, was and continues to be in a battle for his self-esteem.

"I’ve always struggled with my self-image and have had a sense of being insecure with who I am," Lowell, 28, admits. "The industry that I am in breeds that because it’s so image driven. But when I remind myself that I am perfectly loved by Christ, and His love and forgiveness are not based on my performance, I can rest in who I am and know that I am loved."

Q & A with Charlie Lowell

Can a teenager have a calling from God to be in a Christian band?
Yeah, it can be a calling. I tell teens to find something they love doing besides music; if they keep coming back to the music then I’d tell them to go for it. It’s not quite all that it seems to be, but it’s an amazing thing.

How does the creative process work between all the members of the band?
There is something special that God does between the four of us when we write songs or hang out together. It’s deeper than a career or a friendship. There is a lot of prayer and trusting God. All of us have learned that we have to give up sometimes in order to see it all come around.

What will you do after Jars of Clay’s last gig?
I’ll be involved with music in some way, whether it’s writing songs or playing the piano on Sunday mornings at a church.

What’s the most effective way you have found to share your faith?
Being a good listener says a lot — relationships thrive on that. Just a believer’s presence, being there to hang out and being a friend, opens up all kinds of conversations. When people see that, they want to know more about us and that opens the door for us to share our faith.

Favorite Bible verses?
"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38,39, NIV).

It’s ironic that Lowell would have such a struggle. He is one of the founding members of Jars of Clay, a band that hit the charts in 1995 with their self-titled debut album that included the hit radio single "Flood." The album went double-platinum and before Lowell and his bandmates knew it they had etched themselves into the Christian and mainstream music markets as a clever band that had something significant to say through its music.

Grammy and Dove nominations and awards followed. Since ’95, more than 5 million albums have been sold. Jars of Clay has toured the world and shared the stage with industry giants. Their videos became staples on TV and some even started considering them pioneers who paved the way for Christian artists to take Christ’s message of love and hope to the masses. But all of the experiences and accolades only magnified a daunting truth for Lowell.

"I kept learning about my neediness," he says. "My neediness never goes away until I think of the gospel message. It always reminds me of how empty I am and how great my need is for Christ. I am dependent on Him to fill me up. My neediness is a gift. I’ve realized I need to need Him."

For many who taste the fruit of accomplishment and fame, the temptations of the world become overwhelming and ties to spiritual and moral moorings are either neglected or cut. Not so with Jars of Clay. Yes, they admit they have taken an unorthodox road for Christian musicians in spreading the gospel, but Lowell insists he and the others in the band have not wavered in their faith.

"Our vision is to use music to build bridges between the church and culture," Lowell says. "It’s our calling as sons of Christ to use our music to tell people about the freedom, acceptance and love we find in the gospel. If we didn’t do that we would be irresponsible with our gifts."

If their music were the evidence, their song "Flood," which is about forgiveness and one they are most popular for, reveals their need to give listeners glimpses of their faith.

Rain, rain on my face
It hasn’t stopped raining for days
My world is a flood
Slowly I become one with the mud
But if I can’t swim after forty days
and my mind is crushed by the
thrashing waves
Lift me up so high that I cannot fall
Lift me up
Lift me up - when I’m falling
Lift me up - I’m weak and I’m dying
Lift me up - I need you to hold me
Lift me up - Keep me from
drowning again

Or see "Liquid" on the same album. The song’s lyrics are proof-positive that the band aims to introduce others to their Lord and Savior.

Blood-stained brow,
He wasn’t broken for nothing.
Arms nailed down,
He didn’t die for nothing.

Lowell says helping shape culture through their music and using their music as a tool to lead others to Christ has always been and will remain the Jars of Clay way. But, he adds, doing so has not been easy.

"As much as we feel like it’s our calling, sometimes it feels as much a curse as a blessing," Lowell says. "But this is what the Lord has given us a passion for. There are going to be people who don’t agree with it, or understand it and that’s OK, but that shouldn’t keep us from our calling."

The arena is near capacity and the opening band is nearing the end of its set. In a room offstage, Lowell, lead singer Dan Haseltine, and guitarists Stephen Mason and Matt Odmark are sitting in a circle singing hymns to the accompaniment of a guitar.

"During our last tour we saw a big difference in how singing hymns prepared us to go on stage," Lowell says. "Spending time in worship readied our hearts for what was going to happen on stage and it became less about performance and more about welcoming the Spirit into the concerts."

The Eleventh Hour, which was released in March, is the band’s fourth album. It is self-produced and billed as a collection of emotionally charged anthems centered on the concept of human longing.

"We wrote this record to inspire people to dig deeper [spiritually]," Lowell says. "We want people to feel the depth, height and width of love and longing through this collection of songs."

Longing is something Lowell is familiar with, but it never lasts long because Lowell keeps racing back to the One who accepts him just the way he is.

Kirk Noonan is associate editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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