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.
“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