BOOK EXCERPT – TOBY SAID WHAT?

Toby Said What!?

By Joey Svendsen

Walking down the hall of our apartment, I heard muffled talking coming from the kitchen, but no one was in the kitchen. Was it a ghost? Was it my imagination? Was I going insane? Or was it Toby on the phone, in the kitchen closet, yelling vulgarities at his girlfriend like, “Shut the hell up. You make me sick. I can’t stand you. No, YOU shut up!

I have to be completely honest, what I was hearing had reached such a bizarre and climactic level of emotion that I was sure he was joking. Anyone who knows Toby also knows that he would do absolutely anything for a joke. Like the time he encouraged people to stay for the blooper clips after Saving Private Ryan. Or the Halloween he went to a frat party as a drunkard and literally brought noodles and beans in a bag which he would occasionally sneak in his mouth only to make a huge spectacle of throwing them up all over the place. Or the hundreds of times he’d eat a brownie and cover his two front teeth with a chunk of it in order to look toothless. So hearing this obscenity coming from the closet made me think that he was again doing anything to make his girlfriend laugh.

Until I opened the door and saw pure sadistic evil in his eyes. He immediately went outside, and I’m sure all of our elementary school neighbors could hear his conversation.

I was floored – I had never heard Toby talk that way to anyone. Actually, I’d never heard anyone talk to another human being like that. Later I approached Toby about his borderline criminal phone activity but he downplayed it – he didn’t want to deal with it. I’m not sure if we ever talked about it again. He may not even remember this.

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As I learned more about him I realized just how unpredictable and out of control he could be when he lost his temper. One time he and our buddy Joel Green (former bassist of Emery) were messing around on the guitar brainstorming how my and Toby’s band, Joe 747, could transition from the ending of one of our songs into the beginning of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” I came home and they couldn’t contain their excitement. They played it, then asked me what I thought, and I told them the truth: I didn’t like it. Toby immediately lost his temper and began mocking my bass guitar playing skills, as I was a very novice player. One time Toby told me that he would do or say anything to win an argument. He’d demoralize someone to get the upper hand.

Granted, this was over 12 years ago and Toby has matured significantly since then. He was certainly a Christian at the time, but he wasn’t producing any spiritual fruit of self-control. How often do we write someone off as a Christian because they aren’t acting like one? One might quote the scripture that says, “You’ll know a man by his fruit,” but doesn’t it take time for fruit to grow? What about when it’s still a bud, hardly noticeable?

Before we point the finger it’s wise to reflect on our own sin, which we tend to minimize. Do I worry? God says not to. Do I gossip? God says not to. Do I seek to meet the needs of my neighbor? God says to. Do I pray continually? God says to.

I certainly agree that one will know a tree by its fruit, but we will always struggle with our sinful nature while on this earth. No matter how much good fruit we produce there will always be a few rotten pieces as well. Remember, it’s Jesus who grows the fruit. This truth should compel us to fix our eyes on Jesus, not on people. The word says that, “He is the author and perfecter of our faith.” This means that He gives our faith in the first place and also perfects it, leaving us no room to take credit. If we cannot take credit for our spiritual growth and maturity, why are we so hard on other Christians who struggle with theirs?

None of us have arrived at holiness. Every day we need God to transform us into His image. Thus, in regards to a need for God, you are absolutely no different from your brother in Christ who is at an earlier stage of development than you.

People comment on our blog posts about how they are uncomfortable with letting go of a certain standard and can’t understand this freedom from the law. Their argument is as follows:

“If we aren’t good examples to others, we’ll be seen as hypocrites. Then no one will want to be a Christian because everyone will think we are so pathetic. This is why the Bible says not to be conformed to the pattern of this world. We are to look different.”

But look different how? By not sinning?

Since when were Christians not hypocrites? Since when were we not pathetic? Look at Steve Fee, Jim Baker, King David, and Peter. I’ve never seen a Christian who preached against sin, but didn’t sin himself. Let’s start with me. I encourage people not to have idols, yet I struggle with idol worship (sports, food, buying music, my image, and money, just to name a few). I counsel men to love their wives, but I’m not always a loving husband. I talk about the dangers of pride, though sometimes I lose the battle against this deadly foe.

Let’s be blunt. The very definition of hypocrite fits every Christian. And that’s not a bad thing. Sinful people being saved by a sinless savior brings glory to Jesus, and last time I checked, we are only supposed to be pointing to His glory anyway.

The only “bad form” of hypocrisy, so to speak, includes those who say, “I don’t struggle,” or, “I am a really awesome person,” or, “Look at my works,” or someone who tries to be seen as holier-than-thou and simultaneously never says things like, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner,” or, “what a wretch I am,” or, “God’s strength is made perfect in my weakness.”

Going back to the story of Toby giving his girlfriend a verbal ass-whipping; Toby never walked around with the notion that he had his stuff together, but he’s never been indifferent about his sinful habits. He wants to change, and when he does, I’ve never known him to take credit for it. He’s never claimed to be without sin. He knows how to apologize. I have heard him talk about how sinful he is and how great his Savior is. I have heard him verbalize his complete dependence on God. I have seen Toby change.

It looks like God really does give grace to the humble. Maybe this is also what God was talking about when he said, “Don’t conform any longer to the pattern of this world.”