Over my first few years in the ministry, I’ve gained a deep appreciation for the profound thing that happens when Christians gather together in the name of Jesus. If Christians have the very Spirit of God living within them and speaking to them, then the gathering of those people becomes a fuller expression of God speaking among us. The more we are aware of and open to God’s here-and-now presence, the deeper our communal “church” experience will be. But my appreciation for this profound experience sometimes gets clouded by the busyness of life.
Imagine you were running at a dead-sprint and all of the sudden slowed to a walk and began to pay attention to the scenery around you. Sometimes entering into a church service feels this way. Encountering God as a community requires a certain attentiveness, a certain in-the-moment-ness. And going from a hundred to zero…can feel jarring.
So we need those songs. Songs that are easy to sing. Songs that help us transition from the sprint of life into the communal gathering of the Body of Christ. Songs that bring attentiveness and expectation for what God wants to do among His people gathered. Songs that, in a very literal way, call us to worship.
This is my attempt at one of those songs.
“I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”
-Jesus (Matthew 18:19-20)
As we gather together to meet with You / Let us hear Your voice, Lord / Let us worship in spirit and truth / As we gather together, Lord make us one / Come and bind us together in the name of the Father, the Spirit, the Son / Oh praise the Father, the Spirit, the Son
Come and meet with us / We are here, we are eager, we are listening / We are listening / Come and speak to us / Give us faith, give us ears to hear and eyes to see / Give us eyes to see
As we gather together, Lord humble us / Let us turn from our idols, may we give you our worship and trust / May we give you our worship and trust
May Your Kingdom come, may Your will be done among us
If you would have told me ten years ago that I was going to be a worship pastor I wouldn’t have believed you. If you told me that I would actually write worship songs, I might have laughed. But if you told me I’d end up writing a kid’s worship song…I probably would have smacked you.
The idea came mostly from necessity. At our church the children worship with the adults for twenty minutes or so before being released to their respective classrooms. Families seem to enjoy worshipping together for those few minutes, but we’ve noticed that sometimes the children don’t participate in the singing when the songs are tricky or unfamiliar. So what if just wrote our own? we thought.
It turns out that kids are pretty good at creativity. So one Sunday I had the opportunity to sit in with our fourth and fifth graders. We talked about what “worship” is and how music can be worship and why we sing a lot in church. Then we read several Scriptures that encourage us to “sing a new song to the Lord” and talked about why we sing new songs a lot. Eventually I asked them if they’d like to help me write a “new song to the Lord”? They were psyched.
So with a whiteboard, a dozen or so kids, a guitar and a Bible, we wrote this song together. We read Psalm 36 over and over as a sort of meditation, and started brainstorming phrases that could be lyrics. In the end, we had a full whiteboard and more lyrics than could fit into a song.
A few months later after I finished the tune, the kids helped teach the song to our congregation. Jesus says that in order to enter into His Kingdom we have to “become like children.” So we asked for some of their help in the process.
No matter where I go, Your love is with me / I climbed the highest height and You were there / Why should I be afraid if You are with me? / I faced the darkest night and you weren’t scared
Wherever I go, Your love surround me there / Wherever I go, Your love surrounds
Your love, oh Lord / Is wider than the mountains / Deeper than the oceans / Higher than the clouds / Your love, oh Lord / Is full of perfect justice / With mercy and forgiveness / You’ve never let me down
No matter where I go, Your love is with me / I swam the deepest depths and You were there / Why should I be ashamed if You are for me? / Within my worst mistakes You still cared
Co-written with the fourth and fifth graders of Common Ground Christian Church (West): Isaiah Alexander, Ella Sherck, Sarah Hanscom, Seth Keller, Carter McClure, Luke Smith, Ava Blanchard, Paige Burkett.
How we wrote it.
I brought a melody and Psalm 36 to the kids – that’s all we started with. I hummed the melody, and suggested we start brainstorming lyrics that would fit into the blanks, Mad Libs style. Within ten minutes the kids had come up with at least a dozen great lines. We could barely write them down fast enough. I took pictures of our whiteboard and began trying to cobble the lyrics together in a coherent way. Almost all the lyrics in the chorus were written by the kids.
Finding a verse and pre-chorus to match was the trickiest part. Thankfully, I had this little ditty left over from another song, although it had completely different lyrics. I tried writing the simplest lines about God’s ever-present love for the verses, lyrics that felt appropriate and relevant for kids to sing.
The lyric about the “highest height” was from a journal from about ten years ago. I lived in England for a brief time in my college years, and it was the first time I’d been away from friends, family, and the familiarities of American living. It was the time in life when I began to realize that God’s presence transcends space and time. The Spirit of God is everywhere, His love isn’t bound to places or people.
The family I stayed with lived at the top of the hill, a small mountain really. It was a short five minute walk to the top, where I once experienced God’s presence in the early morning in a profound way. So, while the lyric functions as a generality for most people singing it, “I climbed the highest height and You were there” is very literal and sentimental for me.
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About a year ago, the leadership at my church was discussing a nuanced doctrinal matter.
It wasn’t a core orthodox doctrine by any stretch, but it was an emotional and loaded topic for many. And I was part of that “many.” I went into the first meeting with journal pages full of Scripture references, questions, and defenses for my position. I tried to keep a lid on it, but I was cocked and loaded with an answer for every question I could think of. I had an embarrassingly large stack of commentaries, textbooks, and references in case I needed them. I was basically the church version of Leslie Knope, ready for a good debate.
At the beginning of our meeting, my friend Todd said, “Guys, I’m feeling like we need to read Jesus’ prayer from John 17.” Todd went on to read Jesus’ beautiful prayer for unity among his followers. In those opening moments, I began to feel a bit convicted. You’ve heard of “bringing a knife to a gunfight”? In terms of my attitude and posture, I’d brought an assault rifle to a family picnic.
That first conversation about unity significantly reshaped my posture from that point on. It was okay to have an opinion and even to be passionate about it. But it wasn’t okay to make adversaries in the process.
Over the course of several months, I learned what it looked like to approach the table with open hands. I had to give up my desire to win, my desire to be right. I had to give up the right to take my bat and ball and go home if things didn’t go my way. I was reminded that it’s okay to slightly disagree with someone and still worship together. I learned that certain doctrinal nuances that I held dear had become “top shelf” priorities while the doctrine of “unity” had become secondary. According to Jesus, I had my theological priorities out of line.
That week, I began to write out my prayers to the tune of this song I’d been working on for a long time. While I could never quite find the right lyrics before, these prayers of unity fell into place quickly.
Jesus’ final prayer before his arrest – and his longest recorded prayer in the gospels – is a prayer for unity among his followers. Allow me to go out on a limb and paraphrase his prayer by personalizing it for the modern church. May our unity reflect the glory of the God who is perfect unity, three in one.
“Lord Jesus make us one, just as you and the Father are one – as you are in the Father and the Father is in you. May we believe in you so that the world will believe you’ve sent us.
Help us to reflect your glory through our unity. Let us be in you like you are in the Father. May we experience such perfect unity that the world will be convinced of your love. We want the Kingdom to come, here and now, among us, and so reflect the love of God that existed before time and will last forever.
O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you. But Jesus does, and through Jesus we know you too. Continue to give us new revelations of your love and glory, and let us reflect that to the world.”
Come and humble us, and make us one / Come and humble us, oh Lord / Open our hands up, and teach us love / Open our hands up, oh Lord
Though sin divides us / Lord come unite us
Oh Spirit of God, drown out all the lies / For You are enough to fill our desires / Oh Spirit of God, come soften our pride / Awaken Your church to be unified
Come and build Your Church and Your Kingdom / Come and build Your church, oh Lord
Make us one / Make us one / Make us one, Holy Spirit
Co-written with Clint Reed & Scott Rice. Backing vocals by Melissa Hauger and Sonny Griffith. Arrangement by Tucker Krajewski.
“To believe anything with certainty we must begin by doubting.”
Writing a “worship” song about doubt seems sort of counterintuitive. But I’ve always resonated with people like “Doubting” Thomas in the Gospels. Thomas was always asking good questions. He really loved Jesus, but his skepticism always nagged at him. At one point, Thomas is trying to keep up with Jesus’ theological treatise and just gets exasperated. We don’t understand, Thomas says. And Jesus comforts them with one of the most beautiful things ever recorded:
“I am the way, the truth, and the life…”
Doubt isn’t a handicap in the Christian faith. It’s a rite of passage. Doubt is the means through which every Christian learns to really trust Jesus. By asking good questions and sincerely seeking to know the truth, we’ll find it. Or rather, we’ll find Him. I don’t think Jesus expects us to understand every possible nuance of theology. His disciples couldn’t even do that. And so “faith” seems less about retaining information, and more about trusting within the context of relationship.
I’ve taken a lot of comfort in a quote I once read from Rosemary Clement-Moore: “Faith isn’t the absence of doubt. It’s belief without proof, not without question.”
In those moments of doubt, the moments of questions without answers when we feel trapped in a downward spiral of unknowing…let us trust like children in those beautiful words:
“I am the way, the truth, and the life…”
When I’m empty and weak / And I don’t have the strength to stand / And despair cripples me / And the shadows consume my plans / Show me the way / Show me the truth / Show me the life, Jesus
When temptation surrounds / And I can’t figure out Your ways / And I’m buried in doubt / And I’m losing my grip on faith / Show me the way / Show me the truth / Show me the life, Jesus
I have no other rock upon which I can stand / You are my hope, You are my hope / Without you I confess I have no other plan / Where would I go? Where would I go?
When the grave comes for me / And I have no ambitions left / And I’ve said my goodbyes / I will breathe with my final breath / You are the way / You are the truth / You are the life, Jesus
Last fall a young man named Marshawn Frazier was shot near the churches offices where I work. My friend Jeff, a fellow pastor, is neighbors with the Fraziers and conducted Marshawn’s funeral.
Just a couple months later, Amanda Blackburn was murdered in her home just a few blocks away from where we live. Several of our friends know the Blackburns, and the story flooded the chaotic stream of national media.
These situations caused a lot of mourning, prayer, and fasting. But they also caused a deep anxiety in our community.
My wife was understandably freaked out. Most pastors wives were afraid. Most pastors were afraid. The community was juggling the dual blow of losing a beloved friend and being worried for their safety. It took me awhile to admit it, but for the first time I was legitimately scared for my family’s safety in our own home.
I wrote this song as a means of processing what was happening around me. The day Amanda died I sat and sang this song through many tears, grieving for the Blackburns and a community devastated by violence. The prayer of “come quickly Lord Jesus!” was very real in those moments. This song was cathartic in that it helped me to express hope even within those moments of hopelessness. My prayer is that it can be a song of redemption amidst violent communities, broken families, and the anxieties that plague our existence.
Would you join me in praying for your own community, that the Kingdom of God would advance the Gospel of peace in the spaces we occupy? Feel free to use the comments to write out a prayer for your community.
There’s violence in this city / There’s hate within these streets / There’s fear among this people / Lord we need Your peace
There’s worry in our spirit / Despair within our souls / There’s grief within our hearts / Lord we need Your hope
Let Your Kingdom come and flood this city / Pull us from the valleys we’ve made / Oh Jesus, Healer of the Nations / Bring us Your salvation in this place
There’s tension in our families / There’s pain within these wounds / There are lies within our stories / Lord we need Your truth
There’s peace within Your Kingdom / There’s truth within its claim / There’s hope among us it’s people / Lord we need Your reign
How I wrote it.
“There is violence in this city.” That’s the phrase that haunted me for weeks after Marshawn’s death. I never figured I could use it for a worship song.
About a month after Marshawn was killed, I was on a men’s retreat with our church. During some down time these lyrics started coming quickly. I’d forgotten to bring a guitar (major songwriter fail) so I started making notes of lyrics and chords I thought might work. I took a long hike, praying and journaling lyrics as I went. Most of the song was finished before I had a chance to get to a guitar.
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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.
I grew up in a very conservative, “bible-based” church. So naturally, I memorized insane amounts of Bible verses as a kid. Most of them were about the “love” or “salvation” or “grace” of God. To be honest, I had no experience of the love or salvation of God. I was more scared of him than anything. But I learned the verses all the same.
There was this test at the end of the school year with a handwritten and verbal component, testing how well we’d memorized the verses word-for-word. And if you got a good enough grade on the test, you got a free ride scholarship to summer camp.
To my recollection, I passed every year. Free trips to summer camp. I did the book work to appease the powers-that-be, pass the test, and make my parents proud. And in exchange I got to escape with my buddies for a week or two, stay up late playing pranks with shaving cream, and exploding flashlight batteries in a bonfire. Win win.
A guy named Tim Lambesis recently hired a hitman to kill his estranged wife. He paid the man a thousand dollars and promised another $19k once he’d confirmed his wife was dead. He gave the hit man specific times that his children would be alone with him, to be sure they were safe and that he had an alibi. When it turned out that the hitman was actually an undercover detective, Lambesis was arrested and sentenced to six years in prison.
This probably wouldn’t have made national news coverage, except that Lambesis was the lead singer for a popular “Christian” band.
Shortly before his trial, the singer gave an interview and explained how he and his bandmates had become atheists throughout their years of touring. In order to maintain record and concert ticket sales, the band decided to continue marketing themselves as “Christian.” In the interview, he shared openly about his struggle to be honest and the “cowardly” way he handled it. He talked about the Christian music scene and said “9 out of 10 ‘Christian’ bands we toured with weren’t actually Christians.” Lambesis’ cautionary tale reminded us of a gross reality within the Church:
You can totally fake it.
Actually, you can totally fake it and loads of people won’t even know that you’re faking it. Sometimes there’s a disconnect between who you really are and who you pretend to be on Sunday morning. And if Christian rock stars can get away with faking it, couldn’t worship leaders as well?
About a year ago, my wife and I sat in our living room and cried.
We couldn’t afford to send our son to preschool. My wife had quit her job so she could stay home with the kids and finish up her degree. We were getting used to our new financial situation and we crunched the numbers over and over. No matter which way we sliced it, there was no way we could afford the tuition.
We’d been so excited when we enrolled our son in preschool. We knew that it would help him socially and academically and we found a great school that loads of our friends recommended. We couldn’t wait for him to start. But as the first day of school approached, we knew we couldn’t afford it and we were pretty shattered. As a man, knowing that I couldn’t provide that for my kid was a terrible feeling.
Even for those who try and avoid celebrity gossip, the recent Miley Cyrus debacle was hard to ignore. I couldn’t look at Facebook the following day without seeing half a dozen posts about it. The Internet media had a feeding frenzy. The general public learned what the word “twerk” means. Parents and youth pastors everywhere decried the event and mourned the moral decline of our country, which is apparently “headed to hell in a hand basket.” And thankfully, my buddy Chris was telling people that “Jesus loves Miley Cyrus,” too.
So by Monday night, I figured I had to check it out. As my wife and I talked about our friends’ Facebook posts, she pulled up images from the VMA’s. At first we laughed at the absurdity.
“Well, this is the least surprising news of all time,” I said, considering the endless string of messed-up child stars that litter the tabloids, “She’ll be coked-out and checked into rehab inside six months, guaranteed!”
But as we investigated the pictures and the press coverage, I grew more disgusted. Truth be told, she kind of looked like a flat-chested thirteen year old in a toddler’s bathing suit pretending to have sex with a middle-aged Beetlejuice. The whole scene was a little nauseating. But then it hit me, and I got really sad.