SONG #5 OF 50: “FORMED IN YOUR IMAGE”

SONG #5 OF 50: “FORMED IN YOUR IMAGE”

There is an inextricable link between the ideas of “worship” and “justice” in the Scriptures. Unlike modern church communities that are usually segmented into “worship ministries” and “outreach ministries,” it seems that God’s plan was that the two are one in the same. Two sides of the same coin. In the Old Testament and New, we see God suggesting that you can’t have worship without justice, and vice versa.

Most of the harshest words in Scripture were reserved for those who were pious and zealous about worshiping God, but negligent when it came to showing His justice and mercy to the world around them. Sometimes I wonder if we live in a similar culture, that has compartmentalized “worship” and “justice/mercy” to the point where (we think) we can have one without the other?

It’s a sobering and harrowing thought: we can’t claim to be “true worshipers” of God unless we are willing to be the carriers of His justice and compassion.

May our worship propel our heart for justice and our justice propel our worship of God.

Lyrics.

Lord give us eyes that see like You see / Lord give us ears that hear like You hear / Lord give us minds that think like You think / Lord give us hearts that feel like You feel /

Let us be righteous, let us seek justice / Let us take care of the needs of the poor / Let us be peaceful, loving our neighbors / Let us be formed in Your image, Lord /

Lord let our worship, married with justice, be a pleasing sound to Your ears / Lord let Your Spirit reap of the harvest of seeds we’ve sewn through the years

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SONG #4 OF 50: “LIKE A BEGGAR” (REMEMBERING THE FAITH OF THE THOMAS FAMILY)

SONG #4 OF 50: “LIKE A BEGGAR” (REMEMBERING THE FAITH OF THE THOMAS FAMILY)

About a year and a half ago, a family in our church shared some gut wrenching news. Laneia Thomas, along with her husband Jon, told us that she had just received a pretty serious cancer diagnosis.

We were all sitting together in a prayer meeting, so we did the logical thing. We prayed. But it didn’t end there. For the last couple years we’ve been praying for Laneia’s complete healing. We’ve prayed together in prayer meetings. We’ve prayed in homes. We’ve prayed in private. We’ve prayed in church.

And you get to a point where you’ve been asking God for the same thing over and over in desperation, and you just don’t care if it feels like begging. You ask, like a little kid who keeps asking their parent over and over for something. Even if you don’t understand exactly how God’s healing works, you quit trying to understand it and keep asking Him for healing over and over and over.

Throughout their journey, the faith of the Thomas family has influenced our church beyond what they even realize. They’ve been the most tangible example of what faith-in-crisis looks like. Sure, they’ve voiced plenty of doubts and fears and anxieties. But amidst the tears, Laneia keeps saying things like, “I just want everyone to know that God is good. No matter what happens to me, God is good.” Hearing our sister who is suffering through cancer praise God is inspiring. Singing things like “blessed be the name of the Lord” and looking out to see Laneia shouting with her arms outstretched is sobering and faith-building.

Laneia’s trust and love for God trumps her fear of sickness and death. Andy every Christian would like to think they’d praise God even if they were stuck with tragedy. But it’s another thing to have to actually do it. In the end, we’re all beggars within God’s economy. It’s just that some situations force us to realize that more than others.

I believe songs are like alters, they’re special ways to remember important things. Here’s to remembering the faith of the Thomas family, who have reflected the glory of God even amidst the darkness of cancer.

Please join me in praying for the continued healing of Laneia for the glory of God.

Lyrics.

You have heard us as we pray / You have answered us in unexpected ways / You have been with us always / But we need Your healing presence here today

Like a beggar with an empty hand hungry for food / Like a pilgrim in a distant land searching for truth / Like a traveller in the desert we are thirsty for You / Thirsty for You

We have journeyed on in faith / We have heard Your winsome voice among the waves / We’ve been desperate for Your grace / Lord, to be within Your presence is to change

Jesus we believe, but help our unbelief / Come redeem this story / That we may become like mirrors to the sun / And reflect Your glory

Credits.

Co-written with my wife, Melissa Morrow.

How we wrote it.

One day I was reading Psalm 63 and free-writing some potential lyrics. The Thomas’ had been on my mind a lot, and I thought, “Maybe I could write a worship song for the Thomas’?” The first verse and the melody for the chorus came really quickly, but other than the “traveller in the desert” line I was stuck.

A few minutes later my wife came home, so I shared my idea with her and asked for her help. Pretty quickly she came up with “like a pilgrim” line, and together we finished out the rest of the song. She also suggested using the “mirrors reflecting God’s glory” metaphor from 2 Corinthians, which became one of my favorite lines to sing.

Musical influences.

Jackson Browne, Tallest Man on Earth, Nick Drake, Bob Dylan.

The night before I wrote this song, I’d been listening to Jackson Browne, and shortly after I recorded a voice memo of the opening verse melody. The next morning the rest of the song rolled out pretty quickly. Sometimes extensive listening of one artist can inspire new songs for me.

Further reading.

2 Corinthians 3:18, Psalm 63, Mark 9:14-29.

Interesting fact.

The day before I wrote this song with my wife, I’d starting writing a completely different song based on Psalm 63. I wound up scrapping the entire first song, and the “traveller in the desert…thirsty for you” idea was the only thing that survived.

Subscribe to the “Fifty Songs” project in the field to the right and get a new song every week in your inbox. I promise I won’t sell your email address to marketing companies, unless they offer me a lot of money or some Noble Roman’s breadsticks.

“YOU’VE GOT TO SCATTER THE SEED, MATE…”

“YOU’VE GOT TO SCATTER THE SEED, MATE…”

Last week I released my third demo for the “Fifty Songs” project, “Humble Us, Oh Lord.”

When we first introduced this song at my church, I worried that it was too wordy to be a good worship song. After trying it out with the congregation a few times, I decided to chuck it, thinking it maybe wasn’t the most helpful tune for worship. You win some and you lose some, I figured. And I’ve always held that songwriting and creativity should serve the church, not the songwriter.

A couple months later my buddy Clint says, “Hey man we’re playing your song Sunday morning!” Clint leads worship for another church in our network, and we’ve done some co-writing and song sharing over time. I hadn’t told him that I quit playing the song, but was excited to see someone reviving it. The week they introduced the song, I got some nice texts and emails from friends. A couple of the pastors told me that it had been a really meaningful song for the congregation. Eventually it became a regular song in their worship rotation.

All this after I’d decided to toss it out.

I’ve heard stories of temperamental writers out there. Apparently when Bruce Springsteen first heard the mastered version of “Born to Run,” he tore the record off the player, tossed it out the window, and said it was garbage. I also heard a tale from Matt Redman that he didn’t think “10,000 Reasons” was a great song, but his producer convinced him to record it. Dave Grohl once said in an interview that the Foo Fighters didn’t realize that “Everlong” was such a good song until it started getting wildly popular. Apparently a whole lot of songs have nearly ended up in the garbage bin.

Artists can be a temperamental bunch. It’s safe to say that we lose any sense of objectivity quickly, if we ever had it to begin with. We have a tendency to place way too much stock in the opinion of other people, and second-guess ourselves ‘round the clock. And I wonder if there’s a greater truth in that, that we all have a hard time being objective about our lives, our goals, our actions, our accomplishments? Having solid people around us to help us stay grounded and objective seems vital.

I spent some time in England in my early twenties. I had a vicar there who was also named Nick. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Nick was one of the best mentors and spiritual directors I’ve ever had.

One day we were talking about my plan in life. I was trying to navigate some big decisions about my future. I don’t remember the exact details of the conversation, but I’ll never forget Nick’s response. I can still remember his words, his expression and his strong British accent:

“You’ve got to scatter the seed, mate.”

He went on to tell me about this story Jesus told about a farmer planting seeds. The farmer scatters a bunch of seeds all over the place, but only a fourth if them grow into maturity. The others fall into poor soil, or fall on the road or in the weeds. They never grow into plants. And we could point out the fact that this farmer needs a few lessons in agriculture, but that’d be to miss Jesus’ point. The point, Nick said, is that while we’re busy working and living and “scattering seeds” everywhere, some of it will flourish and some of it just won’t. We have to be okay with that. We want to know for sure that our plans are going to succeed, but that’s just not possible. So we play it safe, play our cards close to the chest.

“Yeah, I know, it’s bad theology,” I told Nick.

“It’s not just bad theology, it’s bad living, mate!” Nick said with a smile.

Touché.

I’d never heard the parable used for that application, but over time I’ve seen the truth behind the wisdom. Our job is scattering seeds. But we can’t make them grow, that’s God’s job. And no one can predict which of their “seeds” is going to be a success or failure. We don’t get to dictate which seeds grow and which don’t, the speed of growth, or the conditions. 

May we continually give up the desire to control how the seeds in our life grow. May we continue to faithfully scatter seeds, wait patiently, and trust God with the growth process. May He become more, and we become less.

SONG #3 of 50: “HUMBLE US, OH LORD”

“Humility, as we all know, is one of those virtues that is never gained by seeking it. The more we pursue it the more distant it becomes. To think we have it is sure evidence that we don’t.”

-Richard Foster

I’ve heard it suggested that worship songs shape people’s theology more than sermons. After all, people usually only hear a sermon once, and we sing some worship songs hundreds of times. And sermons are definitely important, but I can’t help but wonder how formational our worship music is, for better or worse.

I was looking for a song of confession for our church’s observance of Lent. Something that would necessitate a posture of humility in singing it. But outside of a few older songs, I couldn’t find anything that fit the style and content I was looking for. So using pieces of John the Baptist’s testimony and Jesus’ own challenge to his followers, I wrote “Humble Us, Oh Lord.”

May He become more, and we become less.

Lyrics.

Oh Lord, you know our ways / Like blades of grass we sway / Whichever way the wind it blows / But you see right through our hearts / You know our every thought / Much deeper than we know our own / Father, forgive us / Remember your love

We’ve been proud and we’ve rebelled / We have lived to serve ourselves / We created our own hell / Now we crawl to you for help / You call us to come and die / That we might discover life / So give us life and to the full / Come and humble us, oh Lord / Come and humble us, oh Lord

Oh Lord you know our ways / We once were lost in shame / Addicted to our brokenness / But you came at the right time / Put your love on the line / And raised us from death to life again / All our debts were paid / On that gruesome day

May you become more / May we become less / Come guide our steps

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SONG #2 of 50: THERE IS NONE LIKE OUR GOD

Here’s the second installment of the fifty-song challenge. This tune “There Is None Like Our God” has become a personal favorite among the songs I’ve written over the years. Enjoy, and bask in the glory of our God who is indeed King of all kings past and present.

Lyrics.

Who holds the earth beneath His feet? / Who wakes the dawn up from the east? / Who walks the floors of oceans deep? / Who calmed the waves and split the sea?

No one can comprehend or take His place / No one that can contend or steal His fame

There Is none like our God, who makes the darkness flee / There is none like our God, who is the King of kings / There is none like our God, who sets the captives free / There is none like our God, none like our God

Who came to earth to set us free? / Who was crucified between two thieves? / Who died to save His enemies? / Who swallowed death and stole the keys?

Who is restoring everything? / Who will return as trumpets ring? / When all creation will proclaim / That Jesus Christ is Lord and King!

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SONG #1: “THERE IS A RIVER”

Today marks the beginning of my journey toward writing, demoing, and releasing fifty songs in one year. I figure I’m already one-fiftieth of the way there. It’s pretty much downhill from here, right?

Here’s the first one, called “There Is a River” and based off Psalm 46.

Lyrics:

Come and remember the works of the Lord / Stand in His presence, speechless and poor / Be still and know that He is God / Be still and know He is our shelter and our guard 

There is a river filled with joy / In the city of our Lord / It can’t be shaken or destroyed / And He will reign forevermore

Even if mountains crumbled to dust / Even if oceans swallowed the earth / Be still and know that He is God / Be still and know He is our shelter and our guard

There’s no other hiding place / No other King to end all wars / There’s no shelter like our God / The nations tremble at His voice

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FIFTY SONGS IN ONE YEAR?

FIFTY SONGS IN ONE YEAR?

Fifty songs in one year. That’s the goal.

Let me explain.

Until recently, my Venn Diagram of “Jesus & Music” never overlapped much. I grew up in a house that didn’t allow any non-Christian music, and in my creative rebellion I swore off “Christian” music forever. I used to be the guy who stood in the back of the church sanctuary with my arms crossed, terrified that someone might see me singing along to the worship music. I played in the worship band growing up, but I rarely sang along. And if I ever saw anyone from outside of church, I wanted to crawl under a rock.

During my high school years I survived on a steady diet of Pop-Tarts, Cherry Coke, and back-issues of Rolling Stone that I borrowed from the library but never took home. I heard The Beatles (“White Album”) for the first time my junior year and freaked. I became an obsessive songwriter. And as my love for well-crafted pop music grew, my appreciation for church music shrank drastically. In my mind the two were mutually exclusive.

But as my love for Jesus grew, a certain restlessness starting brewing. I was discontent to have such a disconnect between my music and my faith. The tension started mounting, but God was kind to me. I began to find Jesus in places where I wasn’t even looking for him. Slowly, God began to reveal something I hadn’t even known myself: I love worshiping God through music.

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"Worship is the strategy by which we interrupt our preoccupation with ourselves and attend to the presence of God."

-Eugene Peterson

ONE HUNDRED PIANOS

ONE HUNDRED PIANOS

I used to be notorious for complaining about the music in church. Not that the musicians were ever bad. I’ve always been blessed to be surrounded by good musicians in church. It was always the songs I couldn’t stand. And I had my reasons.

I didn’t like how almost every song sounded like a bad rip-off of a U2 song. I didn’t like how most of them sounded like Disney jams from 1997. I didn’t like the lyrics that sounded like 8th grade poetry. I didn’t like how high the vocals were always mixed. I didn’t like the dramatic key changes and vocal gymnastics that seemed impossible to hang with. I didn’t like that most of the lyrics felt like they were plagiarized from Scripture with no real honesty behind them. I didn’t like how some of the songs seemed to be bad knock-off versions of other bad worship songs. I had all sort of reasons I thought the music in church sucked.

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WHAT DOES IT MEANS WHEN YOU SAY “I LOVE YOU”?

WHAT DOES IT MEANS WHEN YOU SAY “I LOVE YOU”?

Sometimes when I tell my wife I love her she asks me, “Are you sure?”

This happened recently, and I realized perhaps we were working from different definitions of the word “love.”

In many ways, my wife’s life is a miracle. Her parents struggled to have children for years, and suffered through more miscarriages than anyone should have to endure. Eventually the doctors told them that having children was not in the cards for them. They began fostering children, and finally adopted a baby boy. They’d given up all hope that they would ever have children of their own.

And then a few years later my wife was born. Baby Melissa Anne vanSpronsen, 8 lbs. 3 ounces.

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