ABIDE IN ME
During the COVID-19 pandemic we have constantly been encouraged to socially distance ourselves from family, friends and loved ones. We’ve been reminded with signs entering any store or restaurant, we’ve seen illustrations all over the ground with arrows pointing us to the appropriate direction of traffic flow, and I’ve even seen illustrations of eagles and bears in park entrances showing wingspans and lengths reiterating the fact that we must stay 6 feet apart. I recently went on a nice walk with my family and on one particularly narrow trail, it suddenly turned into a one way path to avoid breaking this rule we’ve been reminded of over and over again for months. In the midst of these constant reminders, God has been reminding me of something as well.
As we continue to socially distance ourselves from others, God continues to do the opposite. He draws near.
God draws near to us daily, and it is up to us to either distance ourselves, or draw near to Him. In John 15, we see what happens in our lives when we abide in Jesus, and we see what happens when we don’t.
The Vine and the Branches
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. 9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
So what happens when we do not abide in Jesus?
Jesus says in verse 6 that, “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers, and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”
During the busyness of prepping for Easter services last year, this passage of Scripture became more real to me than ever before. After one of our pastors shared this exact passage during our week of prayer leading up to Easter, it hit me that night as I lay in bed restless, that I have not been abiding in Christ. This tends to happen naturally every Easter and Christmas if I am not careful. With the relentless pursuit of organizing services, teams, songs, rehearsals and overseeing how we will visually share the Gospel, I quickly find myself feeling like a branch that is withering away. I get so bombarded with the ‘to do list’ that I fail to observe and acknowledge the fact that Christ is present with me and drawing near to me in the midst of the chaos.
When we do not abide in Christ, we wither away and it becomes evident to not only us but everyone around us that we have not been receiving the proper nourishment we need to bear fruit.
After hours of trying to fall asleep that night, I got out of bed and went downstairs to pray (with the accompaniment of my guitar). It was in that moment where I heard the song “Abide in Me” sung over me. Now, I am very reluctant to say that God gave me this song and that I heard him sing it over me. I’ve had many artists tell me God gave them songs and when I listened to them my first response was, “well you better give it back.” “Maybe he wasn’t finished writing it?” Or quite honestly, “Don’t you dare blame God for this!” All that being said, I cling to Zephaniah 3:17 that declares that God is present, that he quiets me with his love and that he “rejoices over me with singing.”
That night I feel like I heard the song He was singing over me. In that moment my soul was realigned, and I found myself exactly where I needed to be: at His feet.
What does it look like to abide in Jesus?
In verse 10, we get a glimpse of what this looks like. Jesus says, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” What are the commandments Jesus is referring to in this moment?
In Matthew 22:37-39 Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
I believe that first commandment is the foundation of the second. When we love God with all our hearts, souls and our minds, that overflows into loving our neighbours as ourselves. Everything stems from this love. When we love God, we observe his leading, acknowledge his presence and obey his commands.
What happens in us and through us when we abide in Jesus?
We see the fruit of love displayed in our lives. This fruit is a testimony to the world around us that we are connected to the Vine.
Love is not the only fruit that grows on us as simple branches when we are connected to the Vine. Jesus says in verse 12, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” So we also receive Joy! Not just a temporary joy, a complete joy!
Thinking about the love and joy we receive when we are connected to the Vine makes me think of Galatians 5:22 where the apostle Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit.
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Without being connected to the Vine, we have no nourishment to bear fruit.
I encourage you today wherever you are at to realign your heart to His. I pray you can have a moment just sitting at his feet. Not doing anything, just being. Acknowledge that he is present with you in whatever situation you find yourself. Observe the reality that he has led you to this place and that he will continue to lead you to the next place he has in store for you. Obey his command to love Him and love your neighbour as yourself.
So, as we keep hearing that we must stay 6 feet away from those outside our bubbles, know that Jesus is in your bubble, drawing you closer and closer to Himself. Social distancing does not apply to the Lord, so rest at His feet and Abide in Him today.
-- Andrew Marcus
Andrew Marcus's new single "Abide in Me" is available now. With six critically acclaimed recordings to his credit, including his BEC RECORDINGS debut album Constant featuring writing and vocal collaborations with Leeland and Paul Baloche, Marcus continues to write powerful prayers to encourage his local church community in Canada.
Growing up I have had a different childhood than many. I say this knowing I have been blessed with my circumstances, yet still understanding it has been different. I have an older brother named Caleb who has severe autism, muscular dystrophy, and other disabilities. I often say despite the challenges his disabilities bring every day, he is the light and center of our family. Especially through the process of writing and recording my EP “Hold Fast,” I have realized I would not be the person I am today without the impact and influence my brother has had on me - all without saying any words to me. I have learned and been told that the best songs often come from a place of pain or deep emotion. So I write my songs and music from these experiences of growing up with a brother who I wished I could talk with, or wished I could play with, or wished I could see him suffer no longer from these mental and physical disabilities.
Also growing up, I have had amazing examples of love, service, and patience from my brother, but especially my two parents. I feel they have helped ground me in my faith and in the Word and it is often from scripture that I draw inspiration to write my lyrics. This is especially true with my EP “Hold Fast” as it is a collection of songs combining contemporary worship with my own style of acoustic, intimate, and folky styles. An example of my lyrics being inspired by scripture can be heard in my second track on the EP titled “Blessings Poured on Us.” This song was written from Psalm 32 discussing how we receive blessings by our transgressions being forgiven through Christ.
Jaron Micah Bundy is a 17-year-old musician, songwriter, and producer. His passion is music and what drives his passion is creating something that can reach and impact others. Listen to “Hold Fast” by Jaron Micah out now on all digital platforms to stream or download.
I struggled with emotional and mental illness for about a year and a half. It was really overwhelming for me because like many may feel in that space, it felt like God was nowhere to be found. Until I came across this incredible scripture in the book of John chapter 11 verse 35 -- “Jesus wept.” Reading that validated so much for me. It made realize that I serve a God who doesn’t dismiss human emotion, he sees it, he validates it even when he himself knows of the goodness to come. Sometimes we don’t want to be told we’re going to be okay, because we know we will be. We want to be seen, known, and heard… and invalidating an emotion almost feels like you refuse to acknowledge that the problem exists.
That’s why I wrote Sanity -- to reflect the process of feeling known, heard and seen by the father. Expressing those raw emotions in the song itself so the depths of God’s love could be understood on the level he expressed it to me. He wept with me and empathized with my heart. He brought healing to what I felt would be permanently broken within me and I wanted the same for whoever struggled with the same feelings and emotions.
Sanity is a “song hug” it lets us know He sees , He knows , He hears and through that He Validates and brings resolution.
The overarching collective grief shared across generations and cultures during our current international crisis is truly something I haven’t experienced in my lifetime.
Having been saved almost 12 years ago, I consider myself someone who lives each day with a great deal of hope – however, even I have had moments these last few months where I find myself sinking into despair, wondering what next month or even next week will look like for my family and loved ones. As someone who has struggled with addiction, and still wrestles through daily thoughts of relapse, it is a curious thing to look around and realize that perhaps the rest of the world has finally caught up to the craziness in my head.
Like most songwriters, I often find myself responding to what I see and feel about the world with a guitar, a piano, and a pencil. So as I began to walk through the early days of the pandemic, I knew in my heart that my response to it all needed to be a song. So I took some old melodies I had been working on in years past and began penning what became our new single OUT OF MY GRAVE. Thematically, it certainly isn’t much of a departure from some similar themes that we often explore through our musical project The War Within. Light in the darkness; hope against despair; beauty within brokenness; love for the hurting; grace for the furthest. Singing about the valleys and the mountaintops; the joy and the pain of living here in this broken world waiting for our Saviour to come is sort of the lifeblood of our whole project. But I knew with this song, we wanted to take it even one step further and really explore the desperation of feeling like all hope is truly gone, to the point where we are “barely surviving, sinking beneath the waves”, setting the stage for God’s promise to come roaring back into our lives, our hearts, and our headspace.
On the surface, it is kind of crazy to see my testimony of addiction and grace as sort of a metaphor for what the entire world is experiencing; but doing so unlocked probably the most honest lyrics I’ve ever penned. But I think the most important part of this song (like any The War Within song) is the Jesus moments. The moments where we know that even in light of every hurt, every addiction, every sin, every heartbreak and every deep soul craving, Jesus Christ is still waiting to take our hand and bring us back into a vibrant life with Him. A life of hope and grace. A life where we can take our brokenness, our pain, and even our pandemics and put them in their correct place: beneath God.
My favourite line in the song is in the chorus. “When I was in my grave, You raised me up to sing and dance upon the promises You made.” When Jesus comes back, THAT is where I want Him to find me: singing and dancing upon His promises. I hope and pray that this song helps you enter that place of trust and celebration in His promises as well.
I remember lying on the ground with my heart beating out of my chest. Staring at the ceiling seemed to be the only thing I was capable of doing in an effort to calm down from the intense panic that gripped not only my mind, but my body. It felt like I couldn’t breathe. The last year or so hadn’t been the easiest. I had struggled with fear, insomnia, anxiety, and food allergies that left me unable to eat much of anything.
It was that moment that I knew that I had to commit to change. I had let my emotions of fear, worry, frustration, build inside for years and never set any boundaries to pursue wellness in my soul; that is, until it fell apart with a series of anxious breakdowns. As I lay on the couch for the next several months I made a commitment to get to know the Lord. I felt Him nudge me that my physical and mental healing would be found in being with Him. Not that I had to strive to be good enough for Him; this was a new way of relating to God for me. Just a commitment to show up with an open heart every day and talk to Him. As I did, the truths about how much I’m loved and how I don’t have anything to prove began to solidify in my life.
This is where my album “PERSPECTIVE” came from. It’s a collection of songs about healing with God. It’s about how our fears and worries are not what we think they are, and nothing can ever take away what Jesus has done for us. What if you knew that everything was going to be okay? Would you live differently?
The songs “fight,” “no worries,” and “trust” explore this concept: not that the goal of life is ease or comfort, rather that it will be filled with difficulty, but we have the comfort of Lord and Savior in the midst of suffering. “slow down” talks about assessing what’s important in life and stepping away from needless hurry. The album takes the listener on a journey considering what’s really important. I used to think I wanted an easy life, but I don’t anymore. I want a good one. And everything I will ever need is found in knowing Christ. I got to watch Him unravel all my fear anxiety with His constant peace and kindness, and no circumstance can take that away.
- Sajan Nauriyal
There’s a lot mystery around us
There’s a lot of mystery to our faith
I’ve been a Christian most of my life and I’ve been at my current church for over 30 years, yet if I’m totally honest I often feel like I know less now than I’ve ever done. As a teenager I was a passionate believer and saw everything black and white, I thought I had it all worked out. As I’ve grown older I’ve experienced grief, loss, pain, disappointment and a ton of interesting and difficult situations.
When the rubber hits the road you really know what you're made of.
Through it all I’m certain that God is good, God loves us, God is faithful and God is with us. However I don’t fully understand why some things happen.
I firmly believe that God is with us in the suffering, the pain, the highs and the lows
God is with us in the mystery
God is with is in everything we face
Eight years ago I had a fresh revelation of my union with Christ. It changed my life.
I lived as a well-meaning, devoted yet somewhat confused believer. Sometimes I thought I was close to God, then other times I thought I was distant.
If I messed up I thought I was far away from God and that I had to grovel and somehow earn my place back at the table.
I thought my actions could bring me close to God.
Finally, I got set free from this thinking
The mystical reality that I am one with Christ, went from my head to my heart.
The beautiful reality is that God is always with me . I’m already in the presence of God, what’s absent is my awareness.
Galatians 2:20 says ‘I’ve been crucified with Christ, It is no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me’. Christ lives IN us.
Colossians 2:9-15 (AMP) says; For in Him the whole fullness of Deity (the Godhead) continues to dwell in bodily form [giving complete expression of the divine nature]. And you are in Him, made full and having come to fullness of life [in Christ you too are filled with the Godhead—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—and reach full spiritual stature]. And He is the Head of all rule and authority [of every angelic principality and power].
Romans 6: 5-6 says; For if we have become one with Him by sharing a death like His, we shall also be [one with Him in sharing] His resurrection [by a new life lived for God].
We know that our old (unrenewed) self was nailed to the cross with Him in order that [our] body [which is the instrument] of sin might be made ineffective and inactive for evil, that we might no longer be the slaves of sin.
We were nailed to the cross with Him. We are one with Him.
In Him dwells the fullness of the deity and we are in Him
We are in Christ, if we feel it or not - We have been mystically joined to Christ
In the mysteries of life and faith we are not alone. God is with us.
What a huge blessing, what a hope.
by Ian Yates
I was 17 when my mom died after a 5-year battle with breast cancer. It was one of those “expected but not expected” scenarios.
One day she was at work, and the next her doctor told us the stage 4 metastatic breast cancer had consumed her liver and she had less than 3 weeks.
Three weeks ended up being less than 24 hours.
We live in a beautiful world, but tragedy seems to be around the corner or in our face (i.e. screen) every day. And especially now, during a global pandemic, we’re all losing something. A person. A job. A relationship. A sense of normalcy. Security. We are all dealing with grief in different forms.
Life and death are often right next to each other. The death of an organ donor who provides the miracle for a person in need. An elated family with a newborn in a hospital while a patient slips away from cancer one floor below.
It’s impossible to separate the sad, tragic parts of life from the beautiful moments.
But I believe both need a voice. If we try to simply “get over” our pain or “move on” from difficult emotions, we’re ignoring part of what it means to be human. Grieving a loss is important.
Jesus, knowing he could and would raise Lazarus from the dead, stopped and WEPT over his friend’s passing. He took time to grieve, and he was 100% certain of his friend’s future in eternity.
In other times and cultures, you’ll see mourning last much longer than the typical funeral service window we see in our modern society.
This was the inspiration behind my latest project – “Stages of Grief” Ep. The 5 songs are based on the 5 Stages of Grief penned by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.
She initially used these stages while working with terminally ill patients to help them process their circumstances and what was to come, but it has since been adapted to help anyone understand what’s happening during grief. There has been controversy in recent years surrounding these 5 stages, primarily because they have been misunderstood as a linear formula. They are not meant to be sequential stages that lead to Acceptance where all is resolved. Instead, you may experience these stages in changing waves through different seasons of life.
At some point, significant loss will be a part of all our stories, if it’s not already. Because we are human, we are always in the process of learning, growing, and living with grief. It’s not about arriving. Be kind to yourself and others who experience grief. The best thing we can do is be present and often, silent. Don’t rush to “fix” someone who is grieving.
Of all the lyrics in these songs, the ones from Acceptance best represent why recognizing grief is so important – my hope is still healing.
My desire for these songs was to create space for people to grieve what they have lost and give words to what can often be hard to say.
I hope these songs give words to wherever you are. If you’re like me and learning to hope again, know you’re not alone.
To listen and read more, visit https://frankieorella.com/
I don’t know about you, but this whole season of dealing with COVID-19 has been pretty wild for me. Even as I sit down to write this, I have an undeniable feeling that I will be learning from this season for many years to come. There is something deeply unsettling about our routines being shaken up and this is really my first time experiencing something like this as an adult. Now, I’ve never been a particularly anxious person, but I have to admit, I have experienced some anxiety over the past few weeks and I have had to have some pretty honest conversations about it with myself and with God. I can’t say for certain if there is an overarching theme or lesson to be learned for this season just yet, at least for myself, but it seems to be in the small things where I have seen God the most recently.
After a few weeks of being quarantined to my home, a particular date was swiftly approaching, one that I dread year after year. It is the date that reminds me every year just how fragile life can be. On April 14th, 2004, my dad, my hero, passed away from a rare cancer. I would have to write a book on what I have learned and am still learning through that experience but suffice to say, as much has God has taught me, April 14th is still my least favorite day of every year. I woke up on April 14th, 2020, just a few weeks ago, only to find the main level of my house covered in more than an inch of standing water. There is no expression, no meme nor any idiom that could capture my feelings in that moment. It was almost comical that on this particular day of all days, something like this would occur. I had to dig deep. I realized in that moment that I had two choices. I could look down or I could look up. I could either focus on myself and wallow in self-pity, or I could look up and recognize where my help comes from!
Now I want to be very clear, this is easier said than done. I do not wish to over-simplify the decision to be made here in looking to the Lord but in His grace and strength, I looked up and recognized that I was not alone. My sister and brother-in-law had stayed at my house that night and they immediately sprung to action. My wife came home at 8am after working a night shift and hugged me and assured me everything would be ok. My grandfather came over and stopped the water. I could go on, but my point is this: in the midst of chaos, God is ever constant and unchanging. Sure, you’ve probably heard that before but there is no substitute for God’s peace that passes all understanding, which is why it is all the more important to remember in this season! There is no feeling that can match the truth that God’s presence is surrounding us, even now. When I fail to look up and recognize Him, I lose focus so quickly! The world starts to become more and more about me, and less and less about Him.
To whomever finds themselves reading this, please know this: you are loved. You are seen and you are heard. Your voice matters. Your presence matters. The same God who constructed the universe put breath in your lungs and what a blessing it is to use that breath to worship Him. You are not alone. God’s promises to do not fade. Now more than ever, it is important to make the distinction that worship is not music. Music is part of worship of course but that is not where it starts or ends. Worship is the position of our hearts. The more we can learn to look up and recognize God, the deeper we will move into worshiping Him in spirit and in truth. I know these times are crazy, but we are in this together and we serve a God that we can always, always trust.
by Lance Asher of Foothills Collective
Shaping Season is a two-volume project of songs that I wrote roughly between mid-2016 to mid-2018. The first volume was released April 17, 2020. The second volume is set to be released toward the end of 2020 or by the beginning of 2021. What follows is a track-by-track breakdown of Volume 1.
I actually named the album after the album art. The art is of a tree that straddled my next-door neighbor’s yard and my own. In Spring 2018, my neighbor (whose name I shamefully still do not know although to be fair to myself it’s partially because he does not speak English) was in the middle of removing the tree and I thought it was a fascinating sight to see the tree being stripped of its branches. It looked almost symbolic of what Jesus was taking me through, but it also just looked like something out of a storybook. I decided to snap a simple iPhone picture, choose a nice filter, and the rest is history.
Aside from the art, the deeper reason for the title Shaping Season is that the timeframe in which I wrote these songs was one of the most difficult of my life. In Summer 2016, I began to experience unexplained exhaustion and achiness, which over time would lead to constant bloodwork, an MRI, and a trip to the neurologist. The ultimate diagnosis was a thyroid disease and adrenal fatigue. There were times that summer where I thought I was dying. My physical exhaustion also opened me up to fits of depression and sadness that I had never experienced before. Not only were there times when I thought I was dying, but there were times when I wanted to die. And the scariest part was not being able to explain either.
The songs had already started coming before my body started fading. But songwriting as a mode of catharsis wasn’t enough. I took no pleasure in reopening wounds when I wrote songs that simply expressed how I felt without anything more. To quote the wonderful Levi the Poet, “The release is never as satisfying as the promise to fix what’s been sewn.” Man, is that true. It was in understanding that I had to write not just what I felt—for that is an inevitability—but also what I needed that songwriting became less of a venting process and more of a tool for personal sanctification. With music, the Lord was not only giving me something to work on, but He was giving me something to work through. Through songwriting, He gave me an opportunity to bring the hard questions before Him humbly and honestly and to, like the psalmist, endeavor to hope in Him whether or not that question was answered.
This was all where Shaping Season began to take shape as an album. But the season itself kicked into high gear in 2017. It started spiraling that May when my beloved dog Darcy died suddenly in my arms. I drove around listening to the Paramore record After Laughter when it dropped that night. That same record would end up being the last record my close friend Blake and I would drive around listening to a month before he killed himself on September 30, 2017. My mom would break her back less than 48 hours later. Three months after that, in January 2018, she landed in ICU after dire complications during back surgery. We were in ICU with her for three more months. For all my wrestling before this point, it was during all of this that I found out what a panic attack was.
I don’t share these stories as a sob story. I have no desire to make trophies of my tribulations, as tempting as it can be when you are suffering. This is simply the back story behind Shaping Season, a story that is less about the trials themselves and more about the One Who works all things together for the good of His children:
Track #1: The Aching
The Aching feels like an appropriate opener to this project. Not only does it introduce key themes of depression and anxiety, but it also introduces the three key subjects of my songs: God, others, and myself. Each verse addresses each subject one by one beginning with God and ending with me. The final lines are the most important to me. I wrote them after my associate pastor preached a sermon where he compared rejoicing in tribulation to how the sun reflects off of the moon. We may not perceive that the sun still shines while it’s night, but we see evidence of it right in front of us in the glow of the moon. For that we can rejoice always (Phi. 4:4).
Track #2: Fall, Sky
I wrote this song in April 2017. Looking back, it feels eerily prophetic of the days to come. I surely didn’t know what I was asking for with the words of this song or I would have never written them. This song is about welcoming the way everything around us inevitably crumbles in order to embrace the One Who never will. When all around you fails, remember the words of Peter in John 6:68: “Lord, to Whom else shall we go?” Sometimes we need the false gods of our hearts stripped violently away one by one until only the true God remains. It’s a process. Lean into it. Celebrate it even while you’re weeping.
Track #3: Inside My Shadow
Depression. It’s a word that’s used liberally now in our mental health conscious society. I’ve already used it a couple times myself out of both habit and necessity. But strangely, for all the ways we speak of it as reality, it’s a pretty ambiguous term. I often wonder if our insistence on speaking vaguely about the giant all-consuming monster of depression instead of isolating the various components that make up said all-consuming monster is actually more detrimental to our spiritual, mental, and physical health. But I digress. This song is about that monster. And it’s about what happens when that monster becomes so prevalent that Stockholm Syndrome sets in and you think you might make friends with it despite the deepest parts of your soul screaming, “This is not home.” Thankfully, I find that no matter how far I get from home, home always tends to come after me. So endures the relentless love of Jesus Christ.
Track #4: Tax Day (Blessed Be)
This is the first song I wrote for this project (along with a song called “Cell Towers” which comes at the very end of Volume 2). I wrote this in May 2016 after seeing a dear family friend (who we call our “aunt”) for the last time in the hospital before she passed away. At the time, I was still working through college and was taking a world history class. As we went through the Holocaust, I found myself going on a dark rabbit trail of pictures taken during that time. Between the personal loss I was feeling, and the unimaginable loss of the Holocaust, I found myself wrestling with the age-old dilemma of theodicy (the problem of an all-good, all-sovereign God in a world where evil exists). This song was my answer.
April 15th (aka Tax Day) is the day two of my grandparents passed away (my mother’s mother in 1997 and my father’s father in 2010). I’m the youngest child of youngest children, which means the age gap between me and my grandparents was enormous. My last surviving grandparent (my Grandpa) was 93 when he died in 2010. I was 16.
Track #5: Homebody
“Homebody” was one of the first songs I wrote for this record and the very first song I wrote on the piano. This was written as I was emerging from the very bottom of that first hole in Summer 2016. It was the first time I ever contemplated suicide in a very real way, and though I’m still not sure I’d say I’ve ever been suicidal in the sense that the choice was ever realistic or felt imminent, I remember how terrifying it felt to even crack open that door for the first time. When I talk about writing what I need, not just what I feel, this song was the turning point in that. I’d gotten to such a heavy place I couldn’t afford to just wallow in my feelings. I had to speak truth or I wasn’t going to get up. The ending of this song is a paraphrase of Philippians 1:6, which is my favorite verse and has brought me back to reality time and time again.
Track #6: Alone*
An asterisk is typically used in writing to denote further information that the text doesn’t present on its own. For me, it’s that, but it’s also a nifty shortcut to making a common song title a little more unique (I’m a bit OCD about choosing song titles that have been used a lot). The refrain at the end serves as the metaphorical asterisk to my loneliness. No matter how alone and isolated my surroundings make me feel, I’ll never know what being alone is like the way my Savior does. And He is with me.
A side note: When I wrote this back at the beginning of 2017, it was the first song I wrote where I felt like I’d established my ideal sound. I couldn’t stop listening to the demo, not because I thought it was the greatest song ever, but because it sounded like exactly what I wanted to sound like. That was pure magic and a prime example how even writing a heavy song can be joyful if you just flat-out enjoy what you’ve written. I still refer to this one as my favorite on the record even in its fully recorded state.
Track #7: Don’t Be Shaken
This song is simply a retelling of the prodigal son story. I especially took inspiration from the image of the father running to meet the son while he was still a long way off. The love of Jesus is so hard to comprehend. The ending refrain contains the third verse of “It Is Well with My Soul,” which is probably my favorite verse of any hymn. Shout out to Esther Anderson for providing the cellos!
Track #8: Life Noise
I wrote this song after attending an Andy Gullahorn house show in November 2017. I absolutely love his songwriting and I guess I was inspired by the way he seamlessly merges humor with dead seriousness in his songs. I wanted some levity. Plus, I’d written most of the songs for this project and had already aired out my pain and insecurities, but hadn’t talked about my fear of the songwriting process itself. It felt like a good fourth wall break in the album: a song about writing songs. One of my deepest desires in putting music out is to encourage and bear up underneath others with my songs the same way guys like Andy, Levi, My Epic, and Andrew Peterson have done for me. But the tension comes when the means I’m using to encourage necessitate vulnerability on my part, which is basically what songwriting is. I always fear the brutal honesty will cancel out the comfort. But then again, where are comfort and truth without vulnerability? And what comforter’s arms am I trying to usher people into? God’s? Or simply my own?
Track #9: Kalmar’s Song
I don’t want to spoil it, but Andrew Peterson has an incredible book series called The Wingfeather Saga. This song is entirely inspired by the third book in the series called The Monster in the Hollows. There’s a character in the book whose story resonated with me so deeply that I wanted to write a song around him. It was also a way to pay direct tribute to Andrew Peterson’s work. His music has had a bigger impact on me than anyone else’s and it’s the reason any of these songs exist. I feel like he’s discipled me with his music similar to how one of my pastors has discipled me with his friendship. It gave me the courage to start writing and the desire comfort others through my work the way I’ve been comforted through his.
Track #10: Lifted
The outro of “Kalmar’s Song” that I wanted separate from the track just so there weren’t three five-minute songs on the back half of the record. This one is all Allen Odell, my too-close-to-classify friend who produced this record and made all of this happen. If you like how this album sounds, thank him.
Track #11: On Fallen Things
There is a man named Paul David Tripp whose sermons really helped me grow during this period. I built this song around this one snippet of a sermon on YouTube. The moment I heard it I knew it had to be in a song. It also gave me an excuse to bless others with someone’s words that aren’t my own. It’s a personal respite to just sit back in the latter half of the song and listen to Tripp do his thing.
Track #12: Shaping Season
I wrote this three days after my mom entered ICU in January 2018. We didn’t know what was going to happen next. I was home alone. It was 3am, maybe 4, and I couldn’t sleep. This is the only song I’ve ever written in the middle of the night and I can’t tell you how it came about. I can only tell you that it did. At the time, I think I was trying so hard to process what was going on around me and wanted to condense the events of the last couple days into a song. The first verse is about the spiritual pep talk I got on the way to ICU. All I knew was things had taken a very sudden turn for the worst and my associate pastor drove me because I was so distraught I couldn’t see straight enough to drive myself. The second verse is about my family. I won’t get into it here, but there are stories about what the Lord showed us as a family in those times that are remarkable. I consider the chorus (“There is not a hole too deep for us…”) to be the thesis statement of the album, so it made sense to make this the title track. I consider it the centerpiece of both Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 rather than the end of Vol. 1. And it’s blessed me to see the ways this song has already blessed others around me.
Track #13: Nosebleed
There is a place about 25 minutes away from home in the small suburb of Grayson, Georgia called Grayson Coffee House. This is where I did much of my studying for school, a good portion of my songwriting (both there and in the park across the street), and where I played my very first gigs around Gwinnett County. It’s one of my favorite places in the world. It’s also usually what I’m referring to when I talk about a coffee shop or doing coffee with a friend. This one particular time I was meeting there with my good friend Zach who had just come back from his mission field in Nepal (it might have been an accidental meet up because we both had a knack for studying there at the same time). We were having one of those much-needed iron-sharpening-iron kind of talks when my nose suddenly started gushing blood. Since we were outside, he had to run in to grab napkins and by the time he came out there was already blood all over my face. For the rest of the conversation, he kept having to interject where there was still a little blood that needed to be wiped off. I thought, “Life is like that sometimes,” and wrote a song about it. I don’t know where I’d be without faithful brothers walking me through my darkness and teaching me how to live. Many of my songs are built off of conversations, but this particular song is basically a compilation of many different ones. The concluding lines are both a paraphrase of 2 Peter 1:3 and based off a conversation I had with my associate pastor soon afterward (that faithful associate pastor who seems to keep coming up is named Jess Arnds by the way). The line about “chasing ghosts” is from a counseling practicum class I took online, where one of my class partners was counseling me for my anxiety and introduced me to that term. The first verse is where I started writing the song: my friend Gary’s house out in rural Jackson County, Georgia. He gave me that first line so I ran with it (Gary’s house is also where Allen and I recorded the stem for “Tax Day”—the only other recording place apart from our church and Allen’s house). This was also the last song I wrote for both Volume 1 & 2.
Two years ago when I began recording these songs with Allen, I never thought that I’d be releasing this album during a worldwide pandemic that would separate me from all of my friends. Some of these songs feel extra bittersweet because they remind me of times of suffering, but that suffering was done in community. Now it feels like all of that has been taken away. But it also feels appropriate that the Lord would place me in a position where I truly have to rely on Him as I put out a record that’s about just that. Be careful. If you pray for holiness, He will make a way. And that way is not always easy.
I’m looking forward to continuing the story (Lord-willing) within the next year. I’m really excited about this next batch of songs and a few of them are my very favorites on the entire project. If anything, I hope you enjoy the music itself. But my deepest prayer is that these songs invite you into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. He entered into the sin and death that looms over us only to conquer it and cast it off so far that it will be a distant memory. My pastor friend Jess recently said to me over the phone, “When we get home, the water we perceived to be up to our necks will have shown to barely touch our ankles.” If there’s one thing I want you to take from this record, or this blog post, it’s that. Paul wasn’t lying when he wrote in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
The suffering is real. But the stories are true. Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.
Daily Communion was a song written out of a critical heart towards the ritual of communion. A little bit of background about me.... my father was a Baptist minister and church planter from 2003 to 2015. I was raised in the church and grew up pretty critical of it. And one of the observations I often had growing up was that the activity of communion just seemed like a really dry and lifeless exercise exuded by a ritualistic prayer and complemented with dry paper wafers and shots of Welch’s grape juice. I never really understood this community exercise. My personal experience in the church had led me to believe this was often more a drab ritual rather than an act of true genuine intimacy, especially when we see Jesus at the last Supper sharing a meal with his closest friends and even calling out someone's betrayal.
So this song is a counterpoint to what I've experienced and a reclamation that daily communion with one another -- with our lovers, with our family, and with God is such a tender and personal and intimate exercise where we can become vulnerable and have ultimate liberation in that vulnerability. As I was writing this song, the imagery of the parable of the Lost Sheep connected with me the most -- that we can rest in the arms of a lover that in reckless abandon, takes care of us without judgment or fear and celebrates when we are gathered back together.
Music-wise, I finished writing Blue Ridge State around that same timeframe and in this weird guitar tuning (EADGAD), and Daily Communion was written centered around the chorus - a declaration of my desire to be with God and to participate communing with him.
All of my life I have loved the Lord. I have always walked with him, worshiped him, and relied on him. Even when I would start to wander, nothing compared to who he is for me. But you know those times, within our humanity, that we can’t seem to get certain things out of our heads? Whether its confusion, trauma from the past, fear of the future or the present, ect.? I was dealing with one of those moments one day when we were, at the time, in the middle of the recording process for my latest EP All I Need. I naturally started to talk to the Lord about it, picked up my guitar, and in a desperate manner began singing the now bridge, “Only you can make this right, make me clean, heal my sight.” I very much so did not want to let my mind continue to go through its continuous cycle, always coming back to the things I had dealt with in my life that were causing fear and depression for my future and present. Out of that simple bridge came the rest of the song. The verses and chorus’ became the melody of the pattern my mind had fallen into for so long. This song became my release into my healing. It sings the words I needed to confess my emotions and grab hold of the understanding and faith that all I needed was to let the Lord become present in this area of my mind and it would all be made right.
As I mentioned before, we were in the middle of our time recording the EP when the basis of this song was created. Prior to this moment, I had each of the songs I had written for this project chosen and ready to go. I was so set in my choices and vision, but of course it’s just like God to turn things around in the simplest and biggest ways to change what you thought you had going. I believe that for artists, if God gives you a song He doesn’t just want you to sing it, he wants you to learn something from it and live it out. I was living in that reality with the songs we had already recorded so when the Lord gave me the song Make This Right, I knew we needed to make the necessary changes in order to get this song into the project. The song fit perfectly, and was just what I, and the project, needed.
Whoever is reading this today, I want to encourage you to have faith that God is all you need in your time of trouble. Whether it’s a physical trouble or mental. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purposes.”
Check out a new Q&A below with Elevation Worship's Chris Brown and Jenna Barrientes as they discuss their new album, Graves Into Gardens.
You all are such gifted writers. Talk about the process of what that looked like for creating GRAVES INTO GARDENS album and what was one of your personal discoveries in it?
CHRIS BROWN: Some of the songs on this album were written a couple of years ago. Some of them, like “The Blessing” and “RATTLE!” were written in the last couple of months. But, I love that this collection of songs feels very authentic to who we are as a church, from the music to the emotional passion that was captured, and of course, the spiritual message in the songs. We work hard at writing the songs that bring us deeper in our faith with God. And, we come around them as creatively in the production. But, I really feel that our church as a whole helped create the sound that was captured on this album. We did it together. We made this project together. The months of writing, rehearsing and imagining the production was a huge part of the process, of course, but the night we shared together with our people at the live recording is one of the most special things about this album. You can hear and feel the energy and passion for God in these songs.
On this new project, you collaborated with a few different artists like GRAMMY® nominee Brandon Lake from Bethel Music, GRAMMY® nominee Tauren Wells, GRAMMY® nominee Kari Jobe, and Cody Carnes. What was it like to work with these artists and how did they help shape this new record?
CHRIS: We’re grateful to have good friends with a similar passion and mission. We’ve known Tauren for years and have collaborated with him before. And, the poppy, RnB-esq “Never Lost” just begged to have him bring his voice to it. Brandon was a part of writing a few of the songs on this album and became a good friend through the process. We’ve toured with Kari and Cody before and have gotten close, but our first time writing together was the very end of February of this year, only a couple of weeks before the pandemic became a reality here in the states. It’s apparent that God had orchestrated our time together that day to bring about “The Blessing” as we’d unknowingly head into this crisis only two weeks later.
GRAVES INTO GARDENS is the new album. That is such a statement title. Talk about the meaning behind it.
CHRIS: Many of our songs come from sermons that Pastor Steven preaches. The title track in particular launched from a message of his called ‘The Mystery of Potential.’ He was in that 2 Kings passage which details that after the prophet Elisha died, his story didn’t end there. Two Israelites were near his gravesite about to bury another man. When they saw a band of enemy raiders coming, they threw the man’s body into Elisha’s tomb. As soon as the body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet (2 Kings 13:20-21). Elisha still had a resurrection miracle left in his bones, and God is still in the business of bringing dead things back to life. If we’ll trust God even with the seemingly dead areas of our lives, if we’ll believe in the power of God, if we’ll declare resurrection power over everything we sow, nothing will be wasted. Nothing is over. God can turn any situation around.
Elevation Worship has brought so many powerful anthems of worship songs to the church over the years such as “O Come to the Altar,” “Do it Again” and now “The Blessing.” What do you hope in light of the current pandemic that these songs bring as a source of comfort and strength to those who listen to them?
CHRIS: Our greatest hope is that we’re writing songs that will activate and encourage your faith. Whether it’s just a few notes, lyric lines, or the entire album, we want the music and message to encourage your faith to believe in the resurrection power of all the dreams, hopes, and promises you’ve sown. And to be reminded, that in every season and every circumstance, God is able to do more than we could ask or imagine when we trust Him with our present and future.
Speaking of “The Blessing”…you co-wrote that track with Cody Carnes, Kari Jobe, and Pastor Steven Furtick and planning to release it on the upcoming GRAVES INTO GARDENS album. What was the inspiration and story behind this song? Why do you think its resonating so well with listeners and making such a huge impact on the world right now?
CHRIS: It actually feels very difficult to describe how that song came about. Almost like, I don’t want to over-explain it for fear that I’ll take away from some of the mystery of how it came into the room. What’s interesting is we were turning in the masters for the album the same day we were writing with Kari and Cody. So, there was, of course, no plan of including any song we may write that day on this current project. But, the best I can say about it in short is that we were finishing up the day and starting to demo another song we’d written with them, and Pastor Steven began mumbling and fiddling with singing the Benediction from Numbers 6. After about ten minutes of us coming around the idea, we decided we’d press pause on the other song and shift focus to this one…and from that point on, it kind of began to pour out rather quickly. We just wanted to be careful not to ‘over-write’ it or over think it, but just let God download the song. A couple hours later, we left with a demo in hand that had us in tears the next day (Friday). And, we decided to introduce it to church that weekend. And so, two days after it was written we were singing it as a church and the recording we’ve now released is from that very first weekend we’d sung it.
JENNA BARRIENTES: You never know what songs the Lord will choose to have His hand on in a very specific way. I think with the state of our world as this song was being released, a time when all of our faith was (and still is) being tested, it serves as a reminder that God isn’t just the God of my past, He’s the God of my future and my family’s future and no matter how unstable our surroundings may seem. He’s constant and faithful through the ages. I also believe there’s something so powerful and sacred about declaring scripture out loud. It’s a truth that we don’t have to overthink or debate but something we can all trust in.
What makes the songs on GRAVES INTO GARDENS different from other projects Elevation Worship has released in the past?
JENNA: I love that this album showcases so many different expressions of worship and it’s a beautiful representation of the people in our church. Some like rock, some like gospel, others like CCM, and this album truly hits home for so many different types of people who are in different seasons of their journey of faith. My favorite part was getting to incorporate our choir - that’s us, that’s who we are as a church and I hope people catch that same spirit as they’re listening.
Right now, in our county and the world at large, there is so much fear, uncertainty, and even depression that people are dealing with regularly. How would you encourage others to be expectant and to look for life that can be in the seemingly dead places we are facing now?
CHRIS: We’re clearly in such a unique and quite unstable time for our world right now. And, I think we’re all trying to figure out how we face each day, how we respond to the reports we hear every single day. But, I want to remind us that God is unshaken by any of this and His plans are still good. And, the weapons we have to fight with each day, the weapons to fight the battles in our minds or the anxiety that's trying to creep in our spirits, those weapons we fight with are not weapons of this world. Praise is our weapon, and worship is our sword. So, when we choose to worship instead of worry, It’s our way of throwing a counter attack on whatever the enemy is trying to bring against us. We can be confident that we are not having to fight for victory, and because of Jesus, we’re fighting from a place of victory.
Community is also something that’s key for everyone at this point in time. What are some ways that you hope Elevation Worship’s music can bring people together?
JENNA: We see so many times in scripture, specifically in Acts where power is released when a body of believers come together with the same heart and mind, and we pray that as the Church starts singing these songs of the faithfulness and power of God, unity would begin to happen.
Creatively speaking, as many of us are having some more downtime, what are some ways we can use our creativity proactively?
JENNA: I keep hearing this common theme of people feeling more distanced physically but have never felt more connected than they do now. I think this is such a unique time in our lives where we get to connect with people that maybe we weren’t able to before. And, we are seeing so many collaborations, more people stepping up to lead and different worlds colliding - which has been such a beautiful thing to witness. I would just encourage people not to fall into the comparison trap and put an insane amount of pressure on yourself but be intentional and make goals that you want to achieve. One practical goal I’ve set for myself is to do a better job at sharing my experience in leading worship and teams with other church leaders so that looks like me taking Zoom calls, doing Q&A’s, recording encouraging videos, etc.. Just make some attainable goals and be consistent and faithful enough to stick to them.
Is there anything else you want listeners to know about the upcoming album?
JENNA: Our greatest hope is that this album will cause your faith to rise. That you will let the words and melodies settle deep in your soul and produce real, genuine change - change in how you live your life, but also that it would challenge your expectations and idea of who God is. He’s worth trusting, and He’s just as faithful now as He’s ever been. We pray that these songs would not only unlock a greater dependence on God, but will also remind you of the power that He has placed inside you. That your soul would be reminded that Christ’s resurrection wasn’t just an event that happened a long time ago but that same power is still active and available for us all today.
I’ve always needed some time to muse about the nature of what I want to commune and share with people every single time I have the privilege to be invited to expose myself as I’ve generously been by Jesus Freak Hideout, who recently offered me this “carte blanche” opportunity. It’s even more special for me, as after more than 10 years of being part of the pretty singular and evolving entertainment world, it is the very first time I express myself on a Christian-faith oriented website.
To be honest, I have never been too concerned with the media I would be invited to share with nor too preoccupied with the brands supporting or sponsoring any of those. I have neither been troubled with the political agenda that the groups could be associated with or not. My vision, maybe naive, has constantly been to look beyond the labels, the tags, and the uniforms. Beyond all differences usually designed to maintain an obvious separation between groups, there is a person, whom I’ve learned to look at without the judgmental assessment of my own values, misunderstandings, and prejudices... Even when it’s hard to see through those differences.
In fact, it’s that continuous attempt at reaching out to others that has led me in all sorts of wonderful places and that offered me the blessing of meeting incredible individuals, from whom I’ve probably learned more than I would like to admit or can even understand. Paradoxes are strange and bizarre reflections of our world views. We can learn a lot about ourselves from those, and maybe that’s why I'd rather see the world from under His bright light than from my shadowy perceptions... Or at least, that may be why I am fascinated by human nature and why I am so inspired by what made us who we are - or so we like to think and believe.
And it’s with that perspective that I wrote my album “Windows in the Sky”; in order to mourn, understand the vibrant faith and honor the life of my lost father, a complex man who was a very singular and unique person. A former alcoholic, depressive, unreachable person who completely turned his life around the second he became a Christian, another one who was taken too fast by cancer, but who was tremendously excited to finally be with his true love in Heaven. I have never been there much in his life, but I was at his bedside the moment he passed away, broken as a man but peaceful as a believer. It troubled me, to be honest, and for several reasons. The evolution of my own faith, the reflection this moment had on my own mortality, as much as how it suddenly put my sole existence into a different context... It wasn't his death that hurt the most, but my inability to feel anything about it, an emotional black out of sorts, perfectly exposed when I fronted my band and headlined a 90,000-person music festival in Taiwan less than 5 days after my father's passing. The next 3 years would see me in that same state, miserable at best, and in total denial of the reasons beneath it.
I found my way back into the light when I finally decided to let go. I was then living in the dazzling city of Tangier, where I had found refuge of my own, alone, and where I ultimately stayed for 2 years. How ironic is it for me to say that I’ve been able to grieve my Christian father in a Muslim country? I told you, paradoxes are a way to see through your own darkness. I wrote a lot in Tangier, reflected on life… Mine, my father’s, that of the people I know, as much as that of passers-by... After 10 years screaming in a microphone, I was able to listen, to admire the simplest of all details... From the silent contemplation of my new personal journey to the cathartic noises of life being lived in the streets of what seemed to tourists like an ancient lifestyle. There’s kindness to be found in hopelessness, as much as there’s freedom in faithlessness. It’s at that point in time that I realized that my trust in what was "absolute" was in fact a need for security, and it’s only when I started to free myself from all those religious clichés I had holed myself in that I started being able to feel again, to emancipate my heart and spirit, to see what had been invisible for me all along…
I left Tangier with less answers than I thought I was entitled to give others about their lives, but it felt good. I went home and finished what would become my album “Windows in the Sky” by writing a song called “The Hunter (By the Seaside Window)”, a song that adresses that inner struggle we all have, at different stages of our lives, actualized in different ways. The essence of being the hunter or the prey, when we are both at once, trying to figure out what to make out of our existence and the emotions that come with it. It’s a song that reflects on our intimate doubts as much as the comfort we find in Him, the turbulences of insecurities, the disturbing motions that lead to the establishment of the cultist religion of self rather than the honest admission of our fragility and need to be consoled, dispossessed of that invitation to be real. Whatever it means for ourselves or others, we are disoriented, our identity is lost, and illusions take place, so close to the model they are copied from, but still only make-believes… until we let go. There’s no defeat in abandonment, no fatalism in kneeling down, no condemnation in confession. Those are some of the undertones I wanted to illustrate in the song. The self-preservation with which we feed our so-called security, dealing with our own contradictions and their confrontational nature also illustrates that by denying our humanity, we also deny God’s divinity and therefore His identity, may it be towards our struggles or daily life devotionals.
I have often seen “acceptance” as surrendering. That is, I guess, the real challenge we all have, especially nowadays; to admit our fear in the storm, our weakness in time of unknown. We live in a society that praises highly performances and results, and confessing our real state of heart and mind is seen as being either a lack of faith or character. It may be even more true within the context of the Church, where “performances” are the ultimate temptations, from raising kids into wonderful adults, to cultivating a fulfilling marriage, up to being exemplary employee and employer. No one wants to be the prey, but we rarely take care of the hunter that lives within us. And this might also explain why it took so long for some “scholars” to see mental distress for what it is; a need for help, not a reflection of how spiritual or not a person is. It is ok to confess just how out of breath we feel. Can we have faith and be scared? Can we believe in God and admit we are fearful for what tomorrow may be? Well, reading the Bible tells me that not only it is ok to be tired, but it comes with the fabulous promise of being welcomed and discharged… How amazing is that? But how complicated do we tend to make such a blessing as we become more atoned with our religious culture and become somewhat blasé with the simplest of all miracles - the one we can see everyday in the mirror? Is it due to a fatigue after seeing so many miracles and no longer recognizing them?
I guess, in retrospect, looking at my father laying down on his deathbed, utterly joyful regardless of the tiny fraction of strength he had to fight the implacable enemy that is cancer, that this has been the most impacting image my heart could have been imprinted with. Even if he was unable to articulate a word at this point, I knew what his kind and passionate light blue eyes wanted to tell me: “Let go, Alex… Let go. It’s time get back home and be healed now”. It took me 5 years afterward to be able to say: “I love you dad. Thank you for everything. I am home now.”
Again, I would like to thank Jesus Freak Hideout for their generous carte blanche invitation. I do hope, even though there would be so much more for me to share and commune with you, that my personal testimony has not only been an encouragement for those who needed some, but also a consolation for anyone looking for as much as an opportunity to let go. We all need to do so at some point in our lives and for so many different reasons, regardless of the present relational structures we are all intermingled in and so often lost within, social distanciation or not.
Wishing to have another opportunity to chat with you all.
Be safe and peaceful,
Join Alex Henry Foster & The Long Shadows in the church-studio for 60 minutes of live music on May 1st at 9pm: https://www.facebook.com/prog/videos/1514162032079476/
Co-Creating With God: A Scriptural Approach to Songwriting
I don’t know that I’ve felt a pressure quite like what I experienced during my first few co-writes (songwriting with others.) Sitting in a room with more experienced writers, feeling like I’m being sized up. Feeling insecure about bringing ideas of value to the room and the song. Feeling obligated to express my opinion about every facet of the song: the chords, the production, the theology, the melody, the structure, the content. And that’s not to mention the silence! The deafening moments where people appear to be in deep thought, and I’m hoping it’s not about me. I bet I’m not the only one who’s experienced these things.
Everything about how I approached these moments in the writing room changed when I heard a beautiful story about a songwriter who had what some call a “near death experience.” The writer said he went through the gates of heaven and began to worship then realized that they were singing a song he’d written. He said to an angel, “You’re singing my song!” (Can you even imagine?!) That’s when the angel responded, “No, we let you hear one of our songs!” He was then sent back, and he lived to tell the story.
Wow. All that pressure I had carried thinking that creativity was dependent upon me seemed to vanish. I realized for the first time that I could lean in and listen to the Creator himself. No one has better ideas than Him! In fact, I believe if we listen to Him in the early morning hours, it’s no different when we sit down to write or co-write with others. It’s amazing how He will tell us what He wants us to say and how He wants us to say it when we give Him the room… the way He moves when the focus is not on us (what we are contributing, what others are thinking of us, etc.) but on HIM!
We can’t depend on ourselves to be that creative, consistent, imaginative, inventive, fresh, deep, prophetic, or profound. But we can completely depend on Him to be those things. We just need to listen.
Proverbs 3:5-6 The Voice Translation
Place your trust in the Eternal; rely on Him completely; never depend upon your own ideas and inventions. Give Him the credit for everything you accomplish, and He will smooth out and straighten the road that lies ahead.
Lord, teach me to listen. I want to know your heart. Not just for my songs, but for life. Help me remember that the best way to create is to co-create with you.
-- Krissy Nordhoff
Krissy Nordhoff is a professional songwriter, co-founder of the Brave songwriting community, author, and creator of The Writing Worship Course. A Michigan native, Krissy grew up in a Christian home, learning a love for church music from her pianist grandmother. That love carried through the years as she attended Anderson University, studying songwriting with the legendary Gloria Gaither and later as Krissy taught piano and performed as an indie artist.
I once had a pastor give me this advice when dealing with those we serve: “Kevin, the church is a bunch of sheep, and sheep are dumb.” I was 23 at the time, and whether you find this phrase offensive or not, I just took it to heart and tried to learn from it. On one hand, it did help me to not take comments of people too personally (both positive and negative), but on the other hand, it subliminally caused me to distance myself from my flock. While it’s true that sheep are not the smartest of creatures, and Jesus refers to us as sheep, our Good Shepherd never holds our abilities against us but leans in constantly to love us.
As worship leaders, we can be fragile creatures. We design worship services and can wear our hearts on our sleeve, as if each Sunday we ask, “Did you like it?” Now, there’s a whole lot of gospel missing from this scenario, but nevertheless, it is the experience of many worship leaders all over the world, and it has been mine for years as well.
By God’s providence, I have been placed frequently in church bodies that have wide generational demographics. There is so much beauty in this, and I believe it is how the church is meant to be, with older generations mentoring younger and younger serving and loving the older. However, this can commonly lead to a “sides” mentality and especially when it comes to worship. As a young worship leader, I felt caught in the middle of a war I had no idea how to win. As any green worship leader might do, I looked to popular influences for answers. Those seeming answers were “be cool, and they’ll like you,” “create an experience, and it’ll work out,” or “the old people just need to get over it and realize they’re not in anymore.” While no one overtly says these words, it can be written in between the lines all over our culture. And so I would lead worship with a bit of forced passion, eyes-closed, hands raised, and hoping the “experience” would copy and paste to the congregation. Well, that was clearly an epic fail.
What is the outcome? You start to receive prayer cards that become a suggestion box with comments like “TOO LOUD” or “Your guitarist wore a T-SHIRT. A T-SHIRT!” or “Choir members swaying? What are we? Holy Rollers?” (All of these are actual comments I’ve received). On the other hand, when you do something people approve of, you get comments like these, “I just love when you do the old hymns,” which can be a back-handed way of saying, “Do more hymns.”
All of this can make for an easily embittered worship leader and a disgruntled and distrusting congregation. So what are we to do? How do we become a conduit of unification for a body of people that range from newborn to over 100? We put down our battle sword and stop crying “Follow me!” and point to the cross and say, “Follow Him!” The difference here can make or break the health of your heart and your church. Why? Because if I’m relying on my charisma, my talent, or my ideas that I perceive are so full of innovation, then I will tire myself seeking the approval of others and finding my identity in my work. The congregation will feel that, and I would have not treasured Christ in any of this. To be an under-shepherd under the Great Shepherd means I spend my energy, gifts, and creativity pointing to Jesus. Suddenly, your worship sets are not first an experience but rather a retelling of the Gospel and a beholding of Jesus, and people know the difference. Though we may be sheep, we’re not that dumb. Jesus is the one who can change a heart. He is the one who can convict of sin, and He is the one who can (and wants to) unify His church in worship.
The apostle Paul writes in Colossians 1 “To them God has chosen to make known…this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” You may have heard it said that the church is the hope for the world, and here it is evidenced. Christ in you is “the hope of glory.” It is the church that Jesus has enjoyed imparting the task of advancing the kingdom, being ambassadors in His name, and making disciples. It is also the church that he prays for in John 17 that we would be one with the Father as He is. Jesus LOVES the church, and it is this love that fuels it to health and mission. As his under-shepherd, then, it is my task and my joy to do likewise.
The church is the place where you will experience the power of God in the presence of people. You will encounter elderly couples who have generosity of time and resource beyond what you can fathom. You’ll experience families who welcome the lonely into their homes. You’ll see college students forsake a promising career for the mission field. You’ll watch children sing and learn to love Jesus. It is truly a marvelous place. It is also the place where you, as a leader, may incur some of the deepest wounds. However, the beauty of the Gospel is that Jesus perfectly follows the command to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) that we can fall into his nail-scarred hands, see His spit on face, and find the grace to love the church, as Oliver Cromwell would say, “warts and all.” Jesus understands what it is like to be mocked, to be betrayed by those close to him, and to hold out your heart to your people and be utterly rejected. However, it was still the “joy set before him” (Hebrews 12:2) that caused him to endure the cross, and while he hung there, he saw generations of future believers and “was satisfied” (Isaiah 53:11). It was for a joyful and worthy cause that Jesus laid down his life for the church, and it is to our joy that we do the same.
We are commanded to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22). While in the midst of a season of heart-wrenching conflict in the church body, this can seem like a daunting and threatening word. However, what God commands, he surely has the grace to provide. Praise God it is not from my effort that I love from a pure heart, but it is that hope – Christ in me – that causes me to say, “This is my beloved” as Jesus would. All His commands are for my joy and for our good.
This is the heart behind the new Grace Worship “Christ Be All” EP. I and the members of Grace Worship desire to craft songs that serve to unite the church to treasure Jesus. It is out of a love for the church that these songs were born. The church is a family of worshipers, and they are worth loving and giving yourself for. I have dug to the end of the well of seeking acceptance and self-exaltation, and that well was ugly dry. However, “there is a river that makes glad the city of God” (Psalm 46:4) and that well of Living Water never runs dry. I pray that these songs, which intentionally draw from the historic church as well as modern influence, cause you to treasure your Savior, and allow for generations to stand side by side and worship together with joy. May Christ be all!
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Kevin King is the worship director at Grace Worship, which is the worship ministry of Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Peoria, IL, a church that is passionate about making the gospel known through song and story. Drawing on its 150-year church history, Grace Worship brings a multi-generational focus to its debut EP Christ Be All. The EP, which is available to preorder now at https://slinky.to/ChristBeAll-EP, is centered on Jesus' prayer in John 17 for the body to be “one” and honors the rich heritage of Christian hymnody while incorporating modern anthemic choruses and pop hooks.
Creating From A Place of Thankfulness
It was one of those conversations I didn’t want to have because it was unexpected and hit close to home. My husband had asked how many of my actions are motivated purely by guilt. I had never really thought about that and honestly didn’t want to. But I felt prompted to examine my heart. So, I sat down and began journaling… not only is journaling how I work through my own two-way conversations with God, it’s a powerful tool in the creative process.
The more I journaled, the more I realized what an underlying foundation guilt had played throughout my life. I believe it began in childhood, when as the oldest of four kids, I always tried to make sure things were “equal” amongst us. If I felt I had more or was shown more favor than my siblings, I felt guilty, something that carried into adulthood.
I often talk about the pitfalls of comparison with the songwriters I mentor, usually from a “they have more than me” perspective. Comparison – weighing our gifts and successes against others – kills community, which is essential to our spiritual and creative wellbeing. What I hadn’t realized was that comparison was still operating in my life in the form of guilt. I came to realize, with God’s help, that my greatest gifts in life, like my husband, children, ministry, and music gifts were all things over which I carried guilt. Why? Because I knew others who wanted those things. And I just couldn’t make it equal!
Ultimately, I believe this way of thinking is a form of pride. It appears as humility, but it actually keeps us focused on self. So, I prayed and asked the Lord to help me form a fresh foundation no longer influenced by guilt. He replied, “The opposite of guilt is thankfulness.” Wow! Thankfulness gets the focus off us and back on Him.
I also realized that when the Lord gives us a gift, the way we receive it matters. If we receive a gift with thanksgiving, it becomes a blessing. If we receive it with guilt, it can feel like a burden, a boulder in the path of our relationships with Him and others. And if you are a songwriter, musician or artist, it can become a boulder in your creative path.
These verses helped me understand a little better.
1 Timothy 4:4-5 ESV
For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is RECEIVED WITH THANKSGIVING, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
Colossians 3:17 NIV
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, GIVING THANKS to God the Father through him.
Lord, let thankfulness be the foundation of my life. Help me to stop comparing myself with others and instead receive every gift that you give with thankfulness so that it becomes the blessing it was meant to be. Let everything I do be done out of thankfulness too, not out of guilt, so that you remain my focus. Thank you, Jesus!
-- Krissy Nordhoff
Krissy Nordhoff is a professional songwriter, co-founder of the Brave songwriting community, author, and creator of The Writing Worship Course. A Michigan native, Krissy grew up in a Christian home, learning a love for church music from her pianist grandmother. That love carried through the years as she attended Anderson University, studying songwriting with the legendary Gloria Gaither and later as Krissy taught piano and performed as an indie artist.
In my own life, and I know for many others’ as well, 2020 has been an absolute roller coaster. I just released a brand-new album with Gateway Music titled “All Glory,” and I had so been looking forward to releasing it. And also, in January I asked my girlfriend’s dad if I could have his daughter’s hand in marriage, and he said yes! We got engaged in February and began all the exciting phases of wedding planning before COVID-19 suddenly struck and has seemingly taken over the world, causing me to hit pause on some of the most monumental things I’ve ever done in my life. I’ve even had some distant family members contract the virus and end up seriously hospitalized — and although they live out of state, for me this thing is hitting a little too close to home.
So the big questions I keep asking myself deep down is, “How do I stay steady right now? How do I stay full in my spirit? And how in the world do I thrive when the world has seemingly been thrown off its axis and into chaos?”
The one thing I keep going back to is what Paul said in Ephesians 2:6, “For He (the Father) raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.” In times like this, it is really good to know that my spirit man, the most important part of my being that has been born again (John 3:1-21), is at this very moment seated alongside God and is united with Him where He is in Heaven. This is a deep deep thought — but it sure highlights the importance of being born again — and in unprecedented times like these, it is sure good to know (thanks to the Holy Spirit) that I can hold onto this truth over all others.
As I listen back to some of the songs I wrote with some good friends of mine for this album I just released, one thing I can’t help but notice is that so many of these songs remind me of the worship that happens in Heaven as recorded by John in Revelation chapters 4 and 5. This is in no way a sales pitch, but I want to encourage you to fill your home and your heart with songs like these during this time. Whether it’s my album or somebody’s else’s, I believe it is vitally important as believers that we fill our hearts and homes with the kind of worship that John said is happening in Heaven right now. COVID-19 is begging for us to dwell in fear, but what we really need to do is fill our atmospheres with Ephesians 2:6-worship that focuses on the eternal, immovable, unshakable and steadfast King that we serve.
1 Samuel 30:6 talks about a time when young King David was in great danger and had much to fear, but he “ found strength (encouraged Himself) in the Lord his God.” I believe as we begin to focus on Heaven while the world begs for us to focus on fear, we will find the sustaining strength that we need and emerge from this season stronger in the Lord than ever before.
God bless you!
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About Phil King:
For much of the last decade, Phil King honed his craft, working with Jennie Lee Riddle (“Revelation Song”), Leeland, Lauren Daigle and many other influential singers and songwriters. He also sang on two Michael W. Smith albums when he was younger and traveled with him as a vocalist. King further released his pro-life anthem “Not Forgotten,” which was written last year in response to a New York law that permitted late-term abortions. The song caught the attention of FOX News, CBN, EWTN and Focus on the Family, which tapped King to lead the song as the closing anthem for 20,000 people in Times Square at its “Alive from New York,” the largest pro-life event ever held in New York City.
Hailing from Turlock, CA and now based in Dallas, King has led worship at conferences around the world, written a book on worship and released an independent album, Giants & Oceans, in 2014. After leading the worship department at Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas, he is now a full-time worship pastor at Gateway Church. His aim is to carry the Presence of God everywhere he goes and the message of loving God with all that we are. the music artistry of Gateway Church. The album is available now at digital and streaming outlets globally through the link, https://smarturl.it/AllGlory-PhilKing.
“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)
I’m an angry person. I’m prone to impatience, jealousy, pride, and all sorts of ugliness. Heck, if I’m honest – old Matt was kind of a jerk. But I always tell people that it’s irrefutable evidence that God exists that I am no longer defined by these characteristics!
Only by the Grace of God could I ever be released from those traits. I do my best every day to allow myself to be sanctified, and now through Christ I am able to speak and respond with a spirit of gentleness, patience, and understanding. But of course, I screw up. I still say things that I shouldn’t and I respond poorly from time to time. But I am absolutely a different person since I first declared with my mouth and believed in my heart that Jesus Christ is Lord.
In John 16, Jesus says “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment…”
Here, “the Advocate” Jesus is referring to is the Holy Spirit of God. When we come to know Jesus as Lord, the Holy Spirit indwells us. He convicts us daily, refining us, growing us, and sanctifying us. In Him we can be released from our sin, our shame, our anxieties, our hurts, our character flaws, our addictions… This is such a beautiful Truth of the Gospel, how can we not share this with the world?! We no longer have to be defined by who we once were, but rather by who God is. And by who we are in Christ.
This is the heart behind the song “Released”, the opening track on the Collective Worship album. God loved us so much that He made a way for us to be forgiven, to have relationship with him, to be made new through Him, and to be granted the reward of eternal life – even though none of us deserve it. We were dead in our sins, but have become resurrected to life again with Christ.
by Matt Adler
Matt Adler – Released (Official Lyric Video): https://youtu.be/SG6P9spGki8
It’s not an easy task to humble ourselves. This takes putting aside our pride and accepting a loss, correction, guidance, etc. However, being humble is usually connected with becoming meek or maybe stepping into the background a bit more. Being humble is often equated with stepping out of the limelight and taking the attention off ourselves. Let me tell you, God truly changed my outlook on what being humble truly means when I was thrust into the lead position of a band.
I grew up being surrounded by performers, especially my father and older sister. They were musicians who loved using their talents for God. Standing on a stage in front of hundreds, or even thousands of people, was like second nature to them. For me, it was straight up the most terrifying thing you could ever ask of me. I would only sing at church if they would turn off the lights, shine a spotlight on the cross, and let me sing from the back. Sounds dramatic, but I would freeze. My biggest fear? That people would see me and not Jesus. My other biggest fear? I would screw up.
I finally joined a band with my family (Light Up The Darkness) after many years of begging from family and friends. I didn’t want to sing, scream, or do anything out front if I could help it. I had a double stacked keyboard and I gladly hid behind it. After more begging, I finally settled and did some vocals here and there, but came up with countless excuses to get out of it on the regular. Fast forward many years later - the family band is no longer together, and I’m now the lead singer/screamer of World Breaker. It took a good year of my husband begging me before I agreed to the position.
There have been moments where I wanted to quit and never look back. However, God has had a different plan and that plan has humbled me in a way I never knew existed. I thought I was being humble by not making it about me and sinking into the background. Here’s the problem - how in the world would Jesus have a chance to shine through me if I was hiding? God showed me pretty quickly that in order to humble myself, I actually needed to step into the spotlight instead of out of it. I was too hyper focused on how others would perceive me, that I forgot that God was in control. He gave me those talents so I could turn around and give Him the glory.
Sometimes, we have to humble ourselves in reverse - let go of our fears, stop hiding, and shine bright. God will handle the rest.
by Shannon Graham of World Breaker
“Peace, You give me peace. Blessed assurance to fight every battle down on my knees. Love, You give me love. Calming the doubt in my mind every time the journey is rough. I will not fear to follow your lead, Lord You provide all that I need. I don’t have to run from what I can’t see. Because You are near, I will not fear. (Excerpt from “I will not fear” by Ovation worship)
Growing up, my family was controlled by fear. My father passed away when I was six years old which left us a broken family for many years. While the community really came together to support us, the enemy would often come in and try to convince us that one either my mom, my sister or myself were going to die; or that something was going to happen to us.
I remember one day, I was working at a store and a “prophet” came in and told me that either my mom or my sister were going to die in 2 years. He told me that when that happens, I was to move to Minnesota and help him form a church. I was, needless to say, pretty shaken. This was an extreme example of the spiritual attack against my family but it was a definitely part of the onslaught against my family causing us to worry about the future.
One night, my mother was at a prayer meeting and prayed to be delivered from fear. I do believe that the Lord delivered her. However, the devil wasn’t going to give us up that easily. That night, around 2:00am, our security system went off. My sister and I ran into my mother’s room. As soon as we arrived there, we heard the sound of a gun shot from our kitchen. Panicked, we ran to the bathroom, crawled out the window and ran to our neighbors house in our pajamas. Our neighbor immediately called the police as we waited to hear the report of the criminal who had disturbed our perfect night sleep. However, after 20 minutes, the police came to find us at the neighbor’s house and asked us to accompany them back to our house. Once inside, they showed us the large plastic light cover that had come loose and fallen onto the tile below. Now I’m not one to look too deep into coincidences. But the timing was, and is, enough to convince me that the enemy of our soul was trying to keep control of our family.
God had delivered us, and he wasn’t ready to give up.
Ephesians 6 tells us that we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers… The struggles that we face are not with people, but with the spiritual powers working in and through people. So how do you defeat a spiritual enemy? With the supernatural power of God. In Exodus 15, we read that the Lord is a Warrior. The word “warrior” comes from the Hebrew word lacham. This word means to “do battle” or “engage in war.” The context is that God is a God who fights our battles for us.
As my family grew closer to God; His presence moved ahead of us, fought our battles for us and freed us from the grip of fear. We serve a Supernatural God!
This is the heart and testimony that went into writing the song “I will not fear” by Ovation worship. This song, along with the other 4 songs from Ovation’s first EP “Ovation worship Live” can be found on every major streaming platform. Our prayer is that these songs will help connect you with the life changing power of God on a day to day basis.
For more information on all or our products and songs, checkout www.ovationworship.com
Note: Download Ovation Worship's song "I Will Not Fear" for free on the Free Indies Page.
Hebrews 4:16 says: 'Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.'
God is an immovable God. He loves us deeply and generously lavishes His love and grace on us. The key part in this Bible verse for me is 'let us draw near.' When God created the universe He already loved us before we were even born. Loving and following God is a choice that we have to make. God never stops loving us and never leaves us. We need to choose to draw near to our Father and let Him heal us and restore us to how He created us to be.
I wrote 'Grace' a couple of years ago from an outflow of realising how deeply kind and loving God is. There is a very simple structure to my song: only two verses and a chorus, because I wanted this song to communicate the emotion through the instrumentation and allow time for people to reflect upon and receive God's love and Grace. God never moves away from us. It’s us that move from Him because of our choice to follow the ways of the world and get stuck in sin. We can think that God is distant but we are the ones that push ourselves away. God is always there to pick us up when we fall down. When we fully realise His unrelenting grace, it changes us completely. Despite all the wrong things we have done in this life, God still chooses to love us. There is nothing we can do to that would make Him love us any less.
Romans 5:8 'But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.'
I want to focus on Verse 2 of 'Grace' as I really resonate with the meaning behind it. God knows the depths of my sin, yet He cleanses and heals me so deeply. These ideas came out of Romans 5:8 with God's love being revealed through the cross. God did not have to sacrifice His son for me but because He loves me, He made that sacrifice. God will not go back on His word. I know that when I call on His name, He will pull me out of deep water and restore me. When I grew to know this truth, it deeply impacted my life, specifically in my identity and my songwriting. I know that my singing and songwriting is an overflow of God's grace upon my life.
Every song I write is a thank you to my saviour who loves me with an everlasting love.
By Jemimah Paine
Note: Download Jemimah Paine's song "Grace" for free on the Free Indies Page.
Sometimes, we just need a reminder.
Growing up in a Christian home and attending a Christian school, I heard the many truths from Scripture at an early age. I recited memory verses and quoted various passages of Scripture, committing as much as I could to memory. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve seen so many of these verses become a reality in my life, using Scripture to get me through a multitude of situations and trials.
However, even though we have Scripture to guide us through anything we may face, it seems as though the “right” answer is sometimes the last thing we want to hear when we’re in the middle of something difficult. “God has a plan,” “God is with you,” “He’s fighting for you,” and on and on. As believers, we know these things, but it can be so challenging to accept and believe them as truth in the moment.
I recently had the opportunity to record an album, and one of the songs, called “Remind Me”, is an honest, broken cry to God. As you listen through the song, you’ll hear about struggle, the hard and difficult ground we walk and the heavy cross we carry, and you’ll hear the cry, “I know You’d never leave, but why do I keep forgetting that You’re walking with me still?”
Do you ever feel like God doesn’t hear you? Like He’s left you to fend for yourself for a while? He hasn’t. But again, that’s sometimes not what we want to hear.
This song was actually inspired by some conversations with people in my church, and it’s amazing how God has used it already. After we get through the verses and choruses of the song (the pain and struggle), we arrive at the bridge, a declaration of our new-found strength and encouragement.
I won’t look back; I know you’re right here with me
I won’t give in; I know You’ve gone before
Come what may come; You crumble mountains for me
I won’t turn back; I know You’re holding me up
Whenever you find yourself wondering or asking where God is, listen to this song and be encouraged. He’s closer than you know. And He’s holding you.
by Adam LaVerdiere
Note: Download Adam LaVerdiere's song "Remind Me" for free on the Free Indies Page.
Addiction is a thief and liar! It is like grave clothes wrapping us in death, and keeping us from moving towards the voice of God. My heart is broken over all who are deceived and tricked into giving up their destinies. The voice of the enemy tells us to escape, but it traps us in a never ending blur of trying to fill a hole that is bottomless. We long to feel good but the allure of addiction is a counterfeit good. God is the only source of good, because it’s His name and nature. If you’ve ever desired good, you’ve longed for Him. Without Him, we are stuck a perpetual cycle of seeking something we can never find. For some, the battle ends in an overdose or prison. For others, they hear the voice of the Lord calling them out of the tomb, to take off their grave clothes and put on the resurrected Life of Christ.
I was in addiction for years. At thirteen, I started down a path of heavy rebellion with cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana. At fifteen, I turned to cocaine, pills, and selling drugs. By seventeen, I was a full fledged crystal meth addict, using almost every day for more than five years. To make matters worse, I was the guy who hated Christianity! I would have cussed you out at the mention of the name Jesus. Ultimately, someone gave me a book about Jesus, and that I accepted it without an incident, was a miracle unto itself! One night, around 3am, As I set in my bed, with drugs next to me on the side table, I encountered the Presence of the Living God! We begin to have an internal dialogue that went something like this, “Stephen, I’m real, good, and have a purpose for your life. What are you gonna do about it?” I remember crying out, in response, “God! I want to give You my life! I want to leave behind the life of addiction, depression, despair, and darkness, I’ve known for so long, but I can’t do it!” Suddenly, the Holy Spirit spoke something into me that changed my life. He said, “Stephen, you won’t do it. I’ll do it!” Immediately, I took God at His word, and fell to my knees and gave my life to Jesus. I went from addiction to redemption, from meth addict to worship, because I heard the voice of Life call me out of the tomb. He beckoned me to His resurrection, so I shed my Grave Clothes, the old and dead things that had defined my life too long. Who would have ever imagined what I thought would mark my life with shame would actually mark it with God’s glory!
Today, I am walking out Gods good and beautiful plan for my life, because I responded to the sound of His voice and power, all those years ago. However, many of my friends from those dark days, are either dead or in jail. This has sparked a fire in me to see as many as possibly come to Christ. I believe something is happening in the earth, right now! There is a revival of redemption from addiction, and at the same time there is an escalation of addiction. Right now, stop and respond to God’s voice! He is calling you out of the tomb, to shed your grave clothes and put on His resurrection, put on the fullness of life, which is your Kingdom destiny!
by Stephen McWhirter
When I was asked to write a track-by-track breakdown blog post about my new album, Unfall, my reaction wasn't, "Oh gosh, what can I say?" but rather, "Oh sheesh, how do I narrow it down?" If you've read my reviews or heard me on the JFH Podcast, you've probably noticed that I can be quite... verbose. Sometimes, I honestly think I could pen an entire book about this album. But I realized that I would love to take this opportunity to hone in on one specific topic: Unfall's relationship to Christianity.
If you've listened already, you potentially thought, "Is this really a Christian album?" You never heard the name of Jesus sung, and the two passing references to "God" seem kind of cynical. To be forthright -- no, it's not exactly a Christian album. As in, I did not create this album to be Christian music for Christian listeners. I created it for my friends, my family, my church, the Nashville emo/pop-punk scene, the readers of Chorus.fm (my favorite secular music site), and myself. Each one of those groups includes a mix of believers and non-believers, and I didn't necessarily want to "preach" to them with this record. (Also, I do not mean to give "preaching" a negative connotation there.) However, because I am a Christian, everything I do is informed by my faith.
So this post will be a deep-dive into the ways that the Christian worldview plays into each song on Unfall. I hope you will find this post interesting, illuminating, and informative, and may God be glorified through everything a Christian does or makes, whether that thing seems explicitly, marketably "Christian" or not.
The chorus of the opening track transitions from listing things that don't truly "matter," in the grand scheme of things, to that which matters eternally: people, one another, you. But why is this true? Because I want it to be? Because I say so? Am I speaking this truth into existence or imbuing you with value because I decided that you are valuable?
No. You matter because you were created by God in the image of God and are loved by God. I could have used the instrumental bridge of the song to write more lyrics and to suss this idea out -- this is, by the way, the album's shortest and simplest set of lyrics -- but I don't think that was necessary. Generally speaking, you rarely have to prove this to people. Scripture helps us understand why this is true, but without God's revelation, we still tend to know and feel how true it is. Romans 1 tells us that some basic truths, such as the existence of God, were built into the universe. It's why, with some sad exceptions, a mother doesn't need to be taught that the baby in her arms is a more important collection of molecules than the wood in the stove or the rocking chair she's sitting on. It's why the drafters of the Declaration of Independence had the bravura to assert, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights."
Undoubtedly, the lyrics to "Matter" have a romantic/marital slant to them, but so much about healthy family, friend, church, and romantic relationships is about learning to value and treat others with the worth they were given by God. Also, while our worth might not need to be factually proven to one another, there's a difference between knowing something and feeling what you know to be true. I wanted to write this song because it's so easy to not feel like we matter, to forget the objective worth we have in the sight of God and the relative worth we have in the eyes of one another. Often, we struggle with feeling this truth because we are forced to face with our brokenness; but even our brokenness can teach us of our worth when we remember that "while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly" (Romans 5:6). It reminds me of a line I love from the modern hymn "My Worth Is Not in What I Own": "Two wonders here that I confess / My worth and my unworthiness / My value fixed - my ransom paid / At the cross."
Search for Myself
This is one of two songs on the album (the other being "Honest Tree") that truly deal with Christian ideas in explicit, focused fashion. The gist of "Search for Myself" is that modern psychology, be it prescription medicine or personality tests or therapy/counseling, will never be enough to give us the sort of self-knowledge we're looking for. In recent years, I've been troubled by the ways a "know-thyself" mentality has permeated social media and popular art, as if the solution to all of our problems is to grow in self-knowledge and to be true to ourselves. Yet not only can this type of knowledge come exclusively from our creator, but we are also too broken and too limited to truly understand it. Instead, we should find our identity in Christ, the savior of the world, through whom and for whom all things exist.
In a sense, this song runs parallel to popular songs like Housefires's "Good, Good Father" and Lauren Daigle's "You Say," about finding our identity in what God says about us. However, in another sense, this song is saying the opposite; I sing here that we should take the focus off of the ever-shifting sand that is our self-identity and focus instead on the never-changing character of God. In this life, we will be constantly changing, in ways that are good, bad, productive, sinful, neutral, etc. God will sanctify us, life will challenge us, and sin cannot be completely removed from our mortal bodies, as they continue to break down by aging, sickness, and cancer. So when we look at ourselves honestly, what is there to learn except for our very real, desperate, moment-to-moment need for a God who's actually there with us? What we think we know about our un-glorified (pre-glorified?) selves will not stay true forever, but the knowledge of God is a firm foundation.
Worth the Wait
"Worth the Wait" is chiefly about the difficulties of walking away from our past sins. Will we ever be able to forgive ourselves for our mistakes? Will other people be able to look at me the way God sees me through Christ -- with grace and forgiveness -- or will the knowledge of my past forever skew how I'm seen and treated?
Without removing your ability to interpret these lyrics differently, I wrote this song to investigate these hard questions through the lens of someone sharing his sexual history with the woman he's hoping to marry. The narrator is measuring himself up to God's standard, seeing how he's fallen short, realizing that he would've been better off living the way God tells us to, and recognizing there's nothing he can do except hope that his beloved will have grace toward him.
I think this concept is truly important in today's modern era. The #metoo movement brought about many wonderful and necessary things, but in some aspects, the pendulum has swung too far to the other side. Now, instead of merely punishing the men who are proven to have committed sexual misconduct, many are being ostracized and villainized at the first sign of sin, with zero hope for redemption. But redemption is exactly what they need. And while some sins absolutely justify criminal punishment, there is simultaneously no crime too heinous to be forgiven through the blood of the cross.
Programming the Soul
1 Corinthians 15:26 says, "The last enemy to be destroyed is death," and later in verse 54, "Death is swallowed up in victory.” When my former pastor was preaching on this passage, he said something like, "Death swallowed me whole, but then Christ swallowed death whole." That essentially became the first line of this song (with lyrics that were also inspired by podcast episodes from The Briefing with Albert Mohler and Reel World Theology), which is the first of a handful of highly conceptual tracks on the album. Boiled down, this song is a critique of moral relativism.
Here, our narrator has been told that his conscience will not lead him astray, that whatever he feels is right is right. But what if he loves hating? What if, to him, murder is not only acceptable, but even good? The conscience is a good thing, for sure, yet the conscience is not infallible. God's Word, God's law, is infallible. Good, evil, right, wrong -- these are not ideas that society gets to invent for itself. Absolutely morality is based on God's absolute character and the ways in which he chose to create our universe.
Throughout the song, the narrator is faced with the dilemma of people telling him that he can decide what's true for himself, while those same people turn around and hate him for doing what he loves. So which is it? At the end, he asks a very valid set of questions: "Who am I to decide what's good and what's evil? / But who are you to tell me that I'm wrong?" We do have a duty to teach others, to correct and rebuke and discipline, but we do not arrive at this authority by voting to see whose idea of morality is most popular. We appeal to the highest authority: our Creator.
For one year, I met with a biblical counselor every week. If you just read the blurb for "Search for Myself," you might have assumed that I'd be opposed to or cynical toward counseling. (Ironically, even my performance of this song makes it sound like the counselor-character, with his onslaught of questions during the verses, is the "bad guy.") Specifically, I'm opposed to any claims of the full sufficiency of counseling. In practice, I think counseling is part of a pastor's job description, and I'm very grateful for the year that I had with my counselor.
That said, I composed the original version of this song the day before I'd be meeting with my counselor for the last time. What I was hoping to accomplish through writing this song was to set in stone some of the things I'd learned through my years of appointments: to have his questions and insights memorialized, for me to keep reminding myself of for years to come. And much of this comes down to the interrogation of our desires: What do you want? Why do you want it? Does this conflict with something else you want? Which desire is better? The chorus of this song is reminiscent of Romans 7, where Paul states, "For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate."
The life of a Christian, saved by grace and filled with the Holy Spirit, is one of growth, struggle, repentance, and sanctification, as God transforms us "from one degree of glory to another" (2 Corinthians 3:18). We have a new self that is at war with the old self (Romans 7 & 8 are an excellent exposition of the battle between flesh and spirit), and often the desires of the old will beat out the desires of the new. However, by the power of Christ, there is always the possibility for the new self to win, for the spirit to beat the flesh; as Galatians 5:16 says, "Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh." In the meantime, as we continue to fail and fall short and require forgiveness from both God and one another, may we remember that we aren't alone, that we're in this together, that God is close, and that love covers a multitude of sins.
I am not married. I hope to be one day. God has not promised me a wife, and if he does bless me with one, he also has not promised me an easy marriage. Martin Luther referred to marriage as the "school for character" -- the relationship/ministry in which you shall be tested and stretched to your core. As we are taught quite counter-culturally in Ephesians 5, marriage is not about finding our soulmates, fulfilling our romantic/emotional/physical needs, or even about creating the best habitat for procreation; marriage is about picturing the gospel and proclaiming the love of Christ to the world. It's less about two people being super in-love or super-compatible and more about choosing to lay our lives down for one another, even when that's hardest to do.
"Lonely Saints" (which, fun fact, was written on the same day as "Counsel") is a projection into the future: a cautionary tale about what my hypothetical future marriage could look like if I were to stop caring, stop serving, stop laying down my life. It's a portrait of how my own selfishness could tear my wife and me apart, without even leading to divorce -- a galaxy apart while living in the same house. And that's exactly where the original version of the song ended, with the husband mourning the loss of the days when he still cared.
However, when I was looking at my demos for the album and discerning which ones needed to rewritten, I realized this song needed a new ending, because the wife we see in the second verse is a wife who prays, a wife who cries, a wife who hasn't given up. And what is the gospel if not the story of a God who continues to offer grace and mercy to "hopeless" cases? So while I don't mean to suggest that spouses should always stick it out, regardless of how unhealthy or dangerous a marriage becomes, I did decide that I wanted to end the song with a picture of a Christlike wife, who loves as much as she ever has, even when she's being loved less than ever before.
Of all the songs on the album, especially the more conceptual ones, "Humanizer" is the candidate most likely to be interpreted in a manner that doesn't seem to align with mainstream/traditional Christianity. That's because, in this song, a male vocalist is wrestling with the flirtations of a male character, trying to discern whether his intentions are good or evil. What's more is, in the final version of the lyrics, I decided to leave it completely up for interpretation as to who or what the "he" is (a male suitor? a predator? God? Satan?), whereas the original version revealed explicitly that he was an anthropomorphized metaphor for the future.
What I really wanted to explore and examine in this track was something called the "male gaze," concerning how male desire and pursuit often starts with his eyes, where he will stare after the object of his desire in a way which, for the person on the receiving end, is at best awkward or uncomfortable while at worst predatory and downright terrifying. This is a serious problem, one which reveals how all lustful sin is predatory by nature, and I wanted the final version of the song to honor the anxiety-inducing reality of being objectified in such a manner, while also still allowing for metaphorical interpretations.
Crafting a song where the "he" could be Jesus or Satan or a man or just an idea was certainly an arduous task. I don't totally know whether I accomplished it. But for those who don't yet know Jesus, his pursuits can be undesired and scary, just as much as the tricks and temptations of demons can seem charming and attractive. When a woman notices a man looking at her from across a room, how is she to discern whether welcoming his pursuit will lead to a loving marriage or a destructive disaster? Intentions are hard to read, and the perplexities therein are clear.
Do any of you remember Sanctus Real's album We Need Each Other? I loved that album back in the day, and it's still my favorite SR release. The title track, though, was an uneasy listen for me initially. We don't really need each other, do we? All I need is Jesus, right? It took me a while to wrestle with this and realize that I was wrong: we do need each other. Why? Is Christ insufficient? Emphatically, no! He's not. But we need each other because that's exactly how God designed it to be.
I had bought into the lie of American pseudo-Christian individualism, when in fact, nothing in Scripture is about God saving self-made go-getter loners with a "me+Jesus" mentality. The redemptive story we see in Scripture is one of God saving a people for himself, of Christ building a church that, at the end of time, God the Father will present to his Son as a bride. And even better, we don't lose our individual selves by being part of the church; to the contrary, we discover more about ourselves and who God made us to be by being part of the body, the church, the bride.
That said, "Cave" presents the exact opposite, with a narrator who has started to live life all by himself, inside his "cave," while we watch him fall further into his descent of self-delusion as he becomes convinced that, not only is he fine by himself, he's actually better off being alone. This is one of the greatest lies we can believe or practice. Even if we're using our solitude in a good-natured attempt to better follow God, like the medieval monks, this is a perfect recipe for becoming susceptible to warped beliefs, selfish practices, and problematic interpretations of Scripture that could easily be amended through being in tune with community, church history, and loving accountability.
We've reached the album's second and final track that I would consider to be explicitly faith-based. "Honest Tree" finds its greatest inspiration in a regular practice that my home church promotes. We call it "Walking in the Light," based on 1 John 1:7, where we take dedicated time to gather into small groups of the same gender, confess sin to one another, and prayer for each other. Whatever sin you confess to that brother or sister gets immediately prayed for... and that's it. You won't be given advice or recommendations or unrequested accountability. We take it to the Lord, then we bury it; and we don't bring it up again unless you ask us to, simple as that. As far as we know, in the church's decade-plus history, the sanctity of this confidentiality has never been broken. And there have been powerful prayers and profound healing in these instances of stepping into the light, for "if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin."
The lyrics of "Honest Tree," then, detail how necessary yet how difficult this level of honesty can be. Wouldn't it be easier to continue living within the fiction of everything being okay -- "How are you?" "Good." -- rather than dealing with the reality of our weaknesses, shortcomings, failures, and needs? Yes. It would be easier. But following God and doing what's right has never been synonymous with doing what's easiest. And what we risk by not being honest with one another is, ultimately, finishing life having never been honest with ourselves or with God. This is the lifestyle and heart posture that can lead someone who thinks they've been serving Christ all along to approach the throne and be told, "Depart from me. I never knew you."
So where is our assurance? Where lies our confidence that we know Christ and that Christ knows us? It's not found in our strict adherence to tradition, in our record of good-works, or even in our zeal for expressions of worship. In a manner that is confounding and comforting all at once, one of the greatest assurances we can have of our salvation is not that we never sin but rather that we mourn when we do keep sinning -- that our sins sadden and anger us, make us want to pray for forgiveness, stir within us a desire to confess and repent. As James 5:16 tells us, "Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed."
A very careful thing that I've attempted to do in small spurts throughout the album, without directly teaching or preaching to people, is helping provide them with the tools of how to discern truth and how to analyze the world correctly. Even though this song is primarily (as the title suggests) about falling in love, and how hopeless it can be in the search for someone to fall in love with you, too, the second verse of this song is dedicated to deconstructing a logical fallacy: that one single shred of evidence falsifies a "never"-based argument. We can ignore the evidence, or try to pretend that the evidence is just an exception to the rule, but if we want to be honest, truthful, and consistent, then we must accept when a "never" statement gets disproven.
Paul deals with this exact type of logic in his letter to the church at Corinth. 1 Corinthians 15:12-14 says, "Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain." I've seen this logical error come to play in evangelism, as well. Recently, a pair of unitarians visited my best friend, hoping to convince him that God is only one person and that Christ cannot also be God. As part of their argument, they shared the easily disproven (yet oddly popular) misconception that no one believed in the Trinity until the Council of Nicea in AD 325. So my friend pulled out some books and showed them historical, indisputable documentation of early church fathers speaking in trinitarian terms, prior to the year 300. After the duo admitted that what they were looking at was trinitarian belief prior to Nicea, my friend asked them, "So now that you've seen this, do you realize that, if you ever tell someone the Trinity was invented at Nicea again, you'll be lying?"
The hope I'm trying to offer in this closing track of the album is that, if someone has ever loved you, you can no longer say that you are unlovable or that you have never been loved. You don't get to believe that falsehood any longer. For the sake of thematic consistency, I kept the song limited to the romantic potential between only two people (the narrator and the person being sung to), but in an earlier draft of the lyrics, I had a line about how the ultimate thing that destroys the lie that you are unlovable is that God loves you. And better yet, he set his love upon you long before you could have done anything to earn his love -- which means that you can't do anything to lose his love, either. So while I unfortunately needed to cut that line from this song, the fact remains true: "We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19).
by Chase Tremaine
A goal that I've always had as a songwriter has been to write an original Christmas song. I feel like writing a Christmas song in some ways can be more difficult than writing a "typical" worship song; I think this is in part because there are already so many established Christmas standards that it’s a little intimidating. I mean, how often do artists just opt to put new spins on the songs we already know? But we felt we had our own story to tell and were eager to get it down and share it!
Verse 1 and the first part of Verse 2 come from John 1, as Jesus is the light of all mankind and the glory of the Father. One of the goals of this song was to point out specific characteristics about some of the “characters” of the Christmas story, such as in the second part of Verse 2 with the shepherds (Luke 2) and how their place in society was described as being lowly.
In verse 3, in talking about the kingdoms bracing against the siege, that’s in reference to King Herod (Matthew 2). And I love how Matthew describes Herod as being “disturbed” by what he knew was the coming and one true Kingdom through of the birth of Jesus. And so he sends out these magi who were considered to be full of wisdom and mystical and are even referenced as types of kings themselves to find Jesus and report to Herod where he is so he can worship him - which we know is not really what Herod was going to do. But yet when they find Jesus, these wise Magi realize they are in the presence of the King of Glory and they bow to him.
So you have these two sets of characters, the shepherds and the magi, coming from two very different standpoints in society finding themselves in unity together in one common purpose and that’s to worship at the feet of Jesus. And then in Verse 4 the focus shifts to more on the prophecy of what Jesus came to do, which was to become the savior for all of mankind creating a new establishment and the singular way to eternal life (Isaiah 53).
And then there’s the chorus, with the first part as a call to all of heaven and the angels rejoicing and lifting a cry of praise at this (Luke 2:10-14) and the second part of mankind beholding the coming victory through Jesus (Psalm 68:18, Ephesians 4:7-8).
Overall, we were so happy with how the sound came together and our prayer is this song resonates with the listener, and points them to the truth of love, Grace, mercy, joy, power, and hope that is only found in Jesus!
-- (the autumn)'s Chris Shalter
‘25 “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?’ Matthew 6:25-27 (NLT)
Do not worry… I don’t know about you but so often I find that my desire is to live out these words. To live free from worry, free from anxiety, and yet so often that freedom is not what I feel. But the words in this scripture are exactly that… freedom.
My song ‘Still Place’ was written at a time when there seemed to be a lot of reasons to worry, my brother and sister in law were waiting to hear whether a visa would be granted for my brother in law, the future seemed unclear. The worldly reasons to worry, to be anxious seemed high, and yet I was reminded of the beautiful words from Psalm 46:10 ‘Be still and know that I am God’. That truth felt so important to declare over that situation and the words “He is God and He’s on the move’ followed as I began to speak to my soul through this song. When the burden feels heavy on our shoulders and it seems like we are carrying the weight of the world, we can know that is not from God. It is in His power and His strength that we are called to live. He is after all the ‘Waymaker’ He is the one making our way, the weight is not on our shoulders, but rather on our God’s. HIs yoke is easy and His burden is light..
I have throughout my life had a tendency to fall into worry, to forget that I am a child of my Heavenly Father, that my life is of enormous value to Him. I take enormous encouragement from the Psalms, that David would acknowledge where he was at but speak to his own soul, bringing it into line with Gods truth.
‘Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.’ Psalm 43:5 (NIV)
‘Still Place’ is a song of myself speaking to my soul, telling it to come into alignment with what I know to be true, a song to be declared over the lives of others. We seem to be at a time when anxiety is prevelant in so many, yet we know that in His presence these things fade away. I pray that this song brings people into a place of stillness and trust in God similar to a great song that came before it…
‘Fix your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of the world will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace'
by Jamie Pritchard
We live in a world today where music is all around us and almost any possible song, album or tune is available at the drop of a hat. This is wonderfully convenient and we are lucky to have all of this digital technology around us, but isn't there something inherently organic about listening to tracks on vinyl? There is this warm energy and sense of rawness that vinyl records produce that is almost indescribable that digital ones just don't have.
I love seeing live music and going to shows. Whether it be a major star at an amphitheater, someone playing at a bar or smaller venue, or even local artists playing downtown on the sidewalks. I love seeing an artist portray his or her craft to the audience. There is a certain kind of closeness you feel when you see a musician perform live and in person. When I can't make it to shows or concerts, there is only one other place to feel this closeness, and that is on a vinyl record. I listen to vinyl records almost every day; it is my preferred method of listening to music.
Of course I still purchase CDs and do use iTunes for digital purchases--it is almost impossible not to. Digital music is a powerhouse in the industry today. Almost anyone with a computer can create music if they wanted to and I think this is fantastic. Music is the best way for an artist to express to listeners what they are going through. Their pain, bitterness, happiness, etc.; it is a perfect outlet and can be very therapeutic. However, digital recordings just seem to take away from the authenticity of these sentiments. If an artist is hurt, you can feel that hurt on vinyl. If an artist is smiling, you can feel that smile on vinyl. The feelings are just more genuine. Now I know not every single artist out there has the ability to produce vinyl records and that is okay, we are still listening! Keep doing what you are doing.
But I think part of it is that there is just a simplicity to analog recording that makes it so beautiful. When an artist or band records an album meant for vinyl--generally this happens in a recording studio--the sound produced in the studio is transferred to a tape called the master recording. It is then ready to be transferred to a lacquer. A lacquer is placed on a special machine designed to take electric signals from the master recording and engrave a channel or groove into the lacquer as it rotates on the special record cutting machine -- hence the spiral-looking design on a vinyl LP. This lacquer is then sent to the production company for mass pressings of the vinyl record. A metal stamp is made from the lacquer by taking a mold from the grooves on the lacquer and then used in a hydraulic press to create the finished product. Now you can stick the finished record on a record player, drop the needle and enjoy!
Digital recording is a bit different. In digital recording, you are basically converting a sound wave into numbers to create a replica of the played sound. The sound waves travel through an analog to digital converter to convert the soundwaves into a number sequence and is then sent through a digital-to-analog converter to change the number sequence back into a soundwave for listening purposes. Seems tricky right? It is. Though digital recording makes it easier for any musician with a laptop and recording software to make music, it is easy to lose the music's sincerity with all of the conversions. Digital music is great because it makes it easier to store, transfer and listen to music, it is however a tad inorganic.
If you have not listened to a song or artist you enjoy on vinyl before reading this, I urge you to do so. Find a cheap record player or ask around if you do not have one and drop that needle. Whether you are a huge music guru or not, it will transcend you. It will be like listening to your favorite song for the first time but better. You will hear the songs in a way that will make you think differently and it may inspire you make your own art. No mater how you look at it, digital music and technology will continue to advance and that is a good thing. However, vinyl is still being produced for a reason and I strongly encourage you to do your ears a favor and listen to a vinyl record.
- Jessica Kane is a writer for SoundStage Direct, the number online source for the best vinyl records and turntables.
From the album "Your Grace Finds Me" - Matt Redman
Over the years I've had the privilege of visiting some very impacting places around this globe. I've been to townships in South Africa, a leper colony in India and shown around NASA by an astronaut. I've been to Buckingham Palace, and toured the White House. I've had the joy of leading worship in grand old venues like the Royal Albert Hall in London or the Ryman in Nashville. But there's one space I've been to which far outshines all of these other places and has had agreater impact on me than any other location ever could. It is Calvary, the place of the cross.
"I will kneel in the dust at the foot of the cross
Where mercy paid for me."
I've lost count of how many songs I've written about the cross of Christ over the years - but the reason is simple. It is the difference between life and death, between inescapable chains and eternal freedom. It's where love and justice kiss, and holiness and mercy meet. It happened over two thousand years ago, yet the event of the cross is standing just as strong and tall over history as it ever was. And take a look into the throne room of heaven, as described in the book of Revelation, and we're reminded that we shall be singing about it for all eternity:
"Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In aloud voice they sang:
'Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!"
The cross, and to be specific, what our awesome Savior accomplished in that place, will forever lead us into wonder and mystery. How quickly we seem to lose the wonder of things in our lives. When man first set foot upon the moon it was athing of wonder. Everyone sat glued to their television screens, completely wowed by the marvel of what was occurring - for here was ahuman-being treading where we never dreamed could be possible. Now, several decades on, it's still an interesting and impactful historical moment - but you could argue that the sense of wonder has diminished a little with time. There may be several reasons for that - for one thing, we've got used to knowing about it. And perhaps another reason is that technology has advanced even further, so that humans are now living out there in the cosmos for extended periods of time, on the International Space Station.
When it comes to the cross of Jesus, it's an altogether different story. It's unlike any other moment in the unfolding of the years. Here is the very Son of God laying down His life in love, obedience and sacrifice. He who gave us first breath, breathing His last breath for our salvation. It's the most meaningful, costly and substantial act in all of history. The cross of Christ shall never lose its power, and never cease to be the most relevant and life-changing act mankind has ever seen. It can never be outdone, added to, or improved upon. Let us never cease to be awed by the sheer scale of grace and love that we discover in that place. As this song 'Mercy' prays:
"May I never lose the wonder, 0 the wonder of Your mercy. "
-- Matt Redman
Behind the song video:
The Power of One
by Jeremy Vanderloop
When I was eighteen I spent some time in Mozambique, Africa living with three hundred orphans. While sitting with some of the poorest people on the planet, I learned about the portion of God’s heart that is about individuality. Christ’s heart is to stop for the one, the proof is in scripture. In Matthew 18:12-14 Jesus tells a parable of a man who has a hundred sheep and one gets lost. He states that the man leaves the ninety-nine in search for the one that went astray. When the man finds the lost sheep, he rejoices over it more than his ninety-nine that had never gone astray.
Some might say that it seems unfair for God to love the one who went astray more than the ninety-nine that stayed faithful. The truth is, we are all the one that went astray. There is none of us that have not strayed from God’s heart. In fact, we are born astray, desperately needing his tender touch to draw us back to His heart.
As a Christian recording artist and minister, it is very easy to get caught up in numbers. To be transparent, I have to make a continually conscious effort to remind myself to stop for the one. The reality is that ninety-eight percent of my ministry is off-stage. The core of ministry is not about playing or speaking in front of thousands of people, but how well we stop for individuals. A common practice with my ministry is to sit and talk with people--whether it is with the front desk attendant at our hotel, the barista at my local Starbucks, people at the merchandise table, or a homeless guy on the street, everyone has a story and everyone is crying and craving for attention and love. We, as people, simply want others to stop and listen, even if we do not know or admit it to ourselves.
There is a story that comes to mind that is a beautiful example of this in play. I was recently on a tour with some other artists when our bus broke down. We were on an extremely tight schedule, quite frankly, it was a major inconvenience in which we could not afford to lose time. Yet, we were stuck none the less. Instead of complaining, I asked God for the purpose of the bus breaking down. After no response was given, we walked to a BBQ joint to grab some dinner. When we finished eating, another artist and I began to speak with the waitress. It is quite amazing when you lend an ear how people begin to open up and tell you the struggles of their life. We were conversing with the young women for quite some time, then out of curiosity, her manager walked up.
The manager and I began to have a simple conversation, one thing lead to another and he was spilling his life story to my lent ear. An important fact to take note, when ministering to people, it is more valuable to listen than to speak. This man was what I would describe a manly guy, tatted from wrist to neck, and could clearly hold his own if he were ever threatened or challenged. I quickly perceived that he did not make it a common practice to open up to people, let alone a complete stranger wearing skinny jeans and Toms. But God had a desire to reveal Himself to this manager and to let him know that He was listening.
The condensed version of the story was that his wife had just left him and taken his kids to another state. The man was heartbroken and felt completely helpless. He had just finished praying to God and asking Him if He was even listening, or real. The Holy Spirit gave me the proper words to encourage him with and had me pray for him. After the prayer, he felt God’s indescribable peace and love. I felt an impression from God to tell him that the sole purpose of our bus breaking down was for me to be there at that time to prove to him that God was listening and is in fact real.
Shortly after saying this, we began to walk back inside and were met by the other artist and waitress who had just finished their conversation. Come to find out, God had spoken the same thing about the bus breaking down to my friend who was speaking with the waitress. Consequently, God was glorified, and these two people were intimately touched by God and were met in the middle of their questioning.
The sole purpose of this blog post and the stories within are for you to be inspired and encouraged to live each and every day for the glory of God. Take value in every circumstance and situation in which you have the opportunity to be the light and love of Jesus. I have been blessed to have played and ministered in front of thousands, as well as spent time with broken individuals. Both are rewarding but, in my opinion, you have to learn how to minister to individuals before you can effectively minister to the thousands.
-- Jeremy Vanderloop
Singer/songwriter Jeremy Vanderloop's latest album "All Creation Sings" released October 2, 2012 and is available on Amazon and iTunes