From the album "Seasons"
In every life there are many seasons. Some seasons find us joyous and with those we love, others are times alone in the desert. Each situation is a part of the journey that the Lord orchestrates in each of our lives. We may not understand all the "whys," but God is still in control.
Years had passed since I had parted ways with my best friend from childhood. I really never understood how such a great friendship could just fall to the wayside. I had made life choices that took me on a path toward ministry, she walked a road that led in quite another direction. My heart was broken from this loss. I couldn't understand what the Lord was doing, nor could I change the situation. Would we ever cross paths again?
Though the path of sin leads to death, I know that the road I am on leads to life. My friend may or may not see this so clearly, but I pray that someday we will look up to see one another at the fork of the road as she will realize the error of her ways.
As I walk with the Lord I realize more and more that His hand is guiding and directing me as well as those people and circumstances around me. There is not one thing that is by chance. Those friendships that once were so tight, now drifting apart, only the Lord knows if they will ever meet up again. If, in the end, we are following Jesus we will most certainly find our paths joining for all eternity.
I was on the road. We had just spent the night camping in a Walmart parking lot and I had taken my guitar out to practice a few songs, when I remembered a dear friend of mine. I had opened the invitation for him to come on tour and play electric guitar for me, but days before we were to leave he declined. My heart ached for him. His talents were his thorn in his side. He struggled with who he had been and who he was now and how music fit into the whole equation.
As I reflected on his life, I began to pound out the chords to "I Know" and the words flowed out like water. Within minutes, the song was written holding more meaning to me than would be understood by the average person taking it in. I had witnessed a first hand account of the power of shame, guilt and God's willingness to forgive, but my friend only found himself paralyzed by each new situation. His past was a weight that he chose to wear, though Christ was longing to set him free.
God knows our lives from beginning to end. Nothing surprises Him. That is the most amazing thing about grace. God knew every stupid sinful thing I was ever going to do, and He still chose to make a way for me to be a part of His family.
"I know your name, I know, I know. . ."
I am very grateful that each day I can wake up and start again. It is true that the circumstances may not change quite as fast, but with each new day comes a new perspective and opportunity.
When this song floats through my mind, I can't help but remember that no matter how hard life seems, no matter how hurt I feel or how much pain I am enduring, the Lord is there and He understands. When I step back, my circumstances look rather silly in comparison to what Jesus went through in his short time upon this earth. Have I been scorned? Maybe. Have I been betrayed? Possibly. Have I died in the place of sinful humanity? Hmm. No. Have I provided a way of eternal peace only to be spat at and rejected? No.
It is so easy for us to get caught up in our own lives and problems and fail to look at the big picture. This life is not about us. It is about Jesus. Our situations grow our faith, and in turn more of Jesus is allowed to shine through us. So, as we walk this road, often laden with suffering, we must remember that Jesus is the King of Suffering yet He is also the Victor of all victors!
"And though it seems so many times, we walk this path alone, remember the King of suffering is leading us home. . ."
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Life isn't always predictable, but God is always the same. Our lives spin at a dizzying pace, loose ends are left undone, and at every turn we find a new challenge. No matter what, it seems that we are facing an uphill battle. We strive, we race, and when we have exhausted our own strength, it is then that we finally call out to the Lord.
I am sure glad that we serve a patient God. How many times have my sights been focused on temporal situations, impossible probabilities, and things that I have little to no control over. It is then that I realize that there is only one constant in this life.
"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." Hebrews 13:8
In a world where we are taught that everything is constantly changing and in a state of fluctuation, we must remember the Truth. God has been consistent from day one. He does not change, nor does His Word. There is nothing new under the sun, and the Creator of that very sun is the same now, as He was then. Our lives may continue to change, but Jesus does not.
Many seasons come and go as we walk through this life. As young children we learn that spring follows winter, then summer and finally autumn before we return to winter again. Each season has it's own unique attributes, and predictably, each season drifts into the next.
In our lives, seasons come in varied lengths and intensities, but just like the natural seasons, they always find their resolve in the coming of a new season.
Most of us instantly understand when winter is upon us, yet as spring dawns we are found stronger for our perseverance. Many times during the course of winter we feel like we have been all but abandoned, but the Lord is there. Sometimes it takes us until the spring, as the cold winds and snows of winter have passed, that we realize the path we have walked has been trod by the Lord Himself.
Let us always remember that no matter what season we are in, the Lord is there. His hand is on us and He knows the pain, joy, sorrow, and growth we are experiencing every day.
Every season has its nuances. Winter is seen as cold, dark, and ominous. The leaves have dropped to the ground, and the signs of life all but disappear. There is a sense that this season of dying may, in fact, be the end of the end. Will this be it?
I am blessed to be single, and it is in this place that I find myself alone. What fascinates me the most is how the Lord never ceases to meet me on those cold, dark, December nights. As I am tempted to wander in my thoughts or languish in self-pity, it is there that the Lord reminds me of my purpose and His hand on my life. I am much like the seed that falls to the ground as the fruits of harvest come to their end -- my frail life finding its place in the soil as the harsh winter sets in. It is after much perseverance that the spring arrives and the long winter months finally give birth to life that has been tucked away so perfectly. A new day, a new season, a new facet of life.
Though the winds may be lashing at my face, and the ice all but freezes my being, I know that this season is meant for my growth. It is a concept that I fought for so long but now embrace. Though the winter is never easy, I cherish the lessons to be learned and the spring that is sure to come as the snows melt away.
I am ever amazed how time passes, lessons are learned, and how God's hand orchestrates the people around us in order to better explain Himself. I have been blessed to encounter a few such people who have been able to speak the love of Christ into my life, each time another piece is set in place in the puzzle that is Truth.
Many times, throughout the course of my life, I have found myself doubting -- wondering how in the world God could look on me in His understanding and show me mercy, grace, and love. Many of these same moments have been accompanied by the outstretched arm of a friend making real the very things that I failed to understand. As time has passed, those questions have all but faded away with the gentle reassurances of those in whom I confide.
This song, though it may be understood in a number of ways, is meant to be a song of thanks to those who have shown the love of Christ to me. Thank you.
I remember growing up in church and not understanding the things that were being taught. I could read the Bible, but I could never seem to comprehend the reason for the passages and stories. It wasn't that I had low reading comprehension, rather my ears and eyes were unable to comprehend the mysteries of God until the moment He opened them. I was left believing in part, based solely on what others said was the truth, but deep inside I was confused and empty.
"Worth It" is a reflection on a time in my life where things were not so clear. How many times have we tried to convince ourselves of the words that others attempt to speak into our lives, and yet we don't even know if they are Truth or not. I believe that there are many today who attend church, yet their heart is not the Lord's and some of these same people may not even know why they are there at all. I can only guess that, for some, it is the gentle pats on the back and words of affirmation.
It is true, God is love. One thing that we must remember is that nothing I, nor you, have or will ever do, will make us acceptable before God. It is only by the blood of Christ that we are worthy. The miracle of grace is found in the fact that we are sinful, broken and worth nothing, yet God still chose us.
As a friend once said, "When you place value upon the object of God's redemptive love you diminish that love. It was not our worth that drew salvation's plan; it was God's unsearchable glory. Man continues to explore ways to glorify himself, but in the end all true believers will bow in heaven before Him whose very being is the beginning and the end of all value."
If Jesus had died on the cross because we were worthy, then that atonement would have been made as payment for a debt that He owed us. God was not obligated to die for sinful man.
"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God." Ephesians 2:8
I have been accused of being stubborn, and yes, I do dig my heels in from time to time. As I have grown in my walk, I have found that surrender is usually what the Lord is asking of me when I find my fist clenched and my teeth grinding. Oh how hard it is to let go.
The seen and the unseen wage war with one another. My mind says, "This is how it is, and this is how we will deal with it," but only the Lord holds complete understanding of the situation. I cry out for justice, yet I fail to see that justice is in the hands of God, not me. I want my life to change, but I refuse to give God the reins. How can I, with my finite insight and knowledge, attempt to solve the world's ills and bring peace to my own life? Only the Lord can bring about these things, and I can only experience His hand when I release my grip.
Surrender means, "to cease resistance to an opponent and submit to their authority." That definition hits me between the eyes. We are supposed to be walking with God, not opposing Him. When I fail to surrender, I am not just being stubborn, I am resisting His will for me. Amazingly enough, every time I choose to surrender, I find greater love, a more perfect peace, and a sense of freedom that I had not known before.
"Oh when I let go, like a bird I am free on the wind. Seeking my only refuge in Him, where peace flows forevermore."
It was the morning of September 11th, 2001. As time seemed to stand still, Joy Russell sat down at her piano and began to write a song that would forever remind us that eternity holds the hope that our current world lacks.
As we travel through this life, it is easy to get caught up in the tears, the tragedy, the drama that plays out in our daily lives. The great news, for those who know Christ as their Saviour, is that this world is not the end. When we pass from this life, we will go to a place where there will be no more pain, no more tears, no more suffering, no more fear, no more death. Our focus will be completely on the worship of our Lord, and there will remain nothing to distract us or challenge our faith.
That evening, we opened the doors to the youth center to all who would come, and many did. As the evening wore on, the moment came for "Eternity". As Joy and I played the song, I instantly felt the intensity of the truth it held. From that moment until now, I have carried this song with me, and now I share it with you.
"And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." Revelation 21:4
From the album "HYMNS: His Grace Untold"
Grace Greater Than All Our Sin
It is always interesting to think back to your childhood. I can vividly remember the sights and sounds of church when I was young -- the hymns board on the wall, the wooden pews, the organ on one side and the piano on the other as the choir led the congregation in worship, and no matter the occasion the service order was always the same. "Grace Greater Than All Our Sin" was a song we sang quite often.
I have carried this song with me most of my life, the chorus looping through my thoughts every so often. When the decision was made to record an album of hymns, it was one of the first songs that came to mind. Up until that time I had never read through the song. It was really, like a lot of songs, something I took for granted and didn't give much thought to.
When I look upon the song now, reading line by line, I understand the message. Grace. It is nothing that I asked for, and yet God gave it to me. What hope would I have without grace? As an imperfect person living in a sinful world, without grace and mercy I would be destined to hell. There is nothing in me that could purify me, nothing that could wash me of my sin and iniquities. Only Christ holds the power to save and redeem. How blessed we are that we have a Saviour that freely extends His grace to us without us having to prove our worthiness to Him!
"Grace, grace, God's grace. Grace that is greater than all our sin!"
When I think about hymns I rarely link them up with my own testimony, but when I encountered "I Once Was a Stranger", I did just that. Though it is not a song that we regularly hear in church, it is a powerful song speaking to the work of Jesus in our lives.
I believe that there are many who have occupied seats in their local congregations for some time, but who may not really know Jesus. I did. How easy it is to intellectually know the Bible, to understand when to say and do certain things, even to feel genuinely grieved as the passion play is presented on Resurrection Sunday. I spent most of my life attending various churches. I went to Sunday school and Bible camp, memorized scripture, sang the songs, and bought the t-shirt. I truly believed that I was saved and on the road to heaven. I actually believed that I didn't have any sin. I can remember going to camp one year and thinking that I didn't have a testimony because I had always been good and that there was nothing God really had to save me from. In retrospect I see my own youthful ignorance and wonder about the some of the youth of today.
As an adult, my eyes were opened to the grace of God. Just like the writer of the hymn, it was as if my world was flipped upside down. Everything that I had believed over the years became real. Christ was not just part of my religion, but was my Saviour and my life. I was taken by the realization that I was nothing without Him, that He did not need me, rather He wanted me to be with Him. It was grace that awoke me from my religious slumber.
O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus
When I was growing up I spent a week every summer at Bible camp. Though most of the things I remember from those warm summer days have nothing to do with the Bible, I know that the Lord was working during those times. One thing that still sticks out to me were the campfires. In our shorts and T-shirts huddled up against the fire to keep warm, we would sing songs and hear testimonies. One song that we sang was "O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus". I remember it most often being sung in a round, as the minor middle eastern tones carried the tune. The song was one of my favorites.
As an adult, I re-entered the camp scene as a summer staff member and counselor. Years had passed, yet when campfire arrived I found once again "O the Deep. . .". The song holds a nostalgia of sorts. Not only for my past, but to the origins of the song. The following is the behind the song from the life experience of Samuel Trevor Francis back in 1890.
It was a cold winter's night, his hope all but gone as he walked across London's Hungerford Bridge. Full of sadness and weary from loneliness, he gazed down at the churning waters below tempted to give in to the whisper telling him to jump. It was at that moment that he heard God's reassuring words speaking to him, cutting through the dark lies that taunted him. On that bridge, Francis put his complete trust in Christ.
"O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus" came out of this transformational experience. It is also a reminder of Romans 8:38-39: "For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
My Lord, I Did Not Choose You
As I travel down the road of life I find myself constantly refining my knowledge of Christ, the Bible, and my Christian walk. I guess that is just the nature of maturity. One topic that has always been of interest to me is grace. For years I struggled with the idea of grace freely being given to me despite who I was or what I had done. It wasn't until recently that I began to grasp the full implications of what the Bible spoke about grace.
From salvation I had known that I was saved by grace and allowed the privilege to be with Christ forever, but the word grace was a troublesome word. Initially my stumbling over grace was because I never felt good enough. As I came to understand that nothing I could do would cleanse me enough to be acceptable apart from Christ and His atoning work on the cross, the word became less and less of an issue.
A while back the word grace reoccurred in my study of the Bible. It was in Romans that I came face to face with true grace once again. The words were not only a reminder, but an awakening of sorts. I began to see how God's grace was not only for the moment, but that He had implemented it for our use long before we even physically existed. He chose us to be His. He extended His grace to us because He longed for us. He made a way that we could not make for ourselves.
When I began searching out hymns for the project, "My Lord, I Did Not Choose You" stuck out. I know that I had nothing to do with my salvation. It was the Lord who did the work in my life.
"You did not choose Me, but I chose you." John 15:16
I Will Sing of My Redeemer
Sometimes the best telling of behind the song is the real story. . .
On December 29th, 1876, during the post Christmas season, Philip P. Bliss and his wife were returning by train from Rome, Pennsylvania, where they had been visiting his mother. Philip, a well known singer/songwriter, had a meeting on the following Sunday scheduled at Moody's Tabernacle in Chicago. As the train approached Ashtabula, Ohio, a bridge collapsed, plunging seven rail cars down the 60 foot ravine and burst into flames. This tragedy resulted in the loss of 100 lives. However, Bliss managed to survive the wreck by climbing out a window. Although he had survived, and was safe, he immediately returned to the burning wreck to rescue his wife Lucy, and both lost their lives in the flames. Neither body was ever recovered.
Ironically, their travel trunk survived the wreckage, and this hymn text was found amongst his belongings on a manuscript he had been working on. It first appeared in print in 1877 in 'Welcome Tidings: A New Collection of Sacred Songs' -J Church and company compiled by Ira Sankey, Robert Lowry, and William Doane.
All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name
I find it almost puzzling that for years I sang this song, but for the life of me I couldn't tell you what the words were. I actually thought the song was called "Crown Him Lord of All" for most of my life because that was the only line I could remember. It seems that a lot of songs that I was raised with are remembered this way. I think part of it is that we were always reading the words out of the hymnal and not really learning the words and meanings of those words. As an adult I find myself looking for answers more than just following along, which has opened my eyes to the wealth of truth hidden in older songs and writings.
Even in my ignorance, I remember knowing that this song was a majestic song of worship. It was always sung boisterously by the choir and congregation and the arrangement always spoke of God's authority. So, even as the lyrics eluded me, the message broke through. He is the Lord of all. He chose us to be His own. He is more than deserving of our worship!
"To Him all majesty ascribe, and crown him Lord of all. . ."
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
There are moments in worship that we are forced to pause and remember the sacrifice that Christ made for us. "When I Survey The Wondrous Cross" is one of those songs for me.
As the song progresses, I can't help but imagine the anguish of the cross and remember that it was my sin that put Him there. It is only by His grace and mercy that I can be with Him forever. Even in the somber tones of this hymn I am filled with joy. For it is not just a telling of his gruesome death, but of our release from the shackles of sin and our sentence of death.
A few years ago I had the privilege of visiting the U.K. and taking a Christian heritage tour. I walked John Bunyan's Pilgrims Progress, stood in the room where John Newton composed Amazing Grace, and one afternoon I was able to walk through the shared residence of Sir Thomas Abney (and his wife) and their long time houseguest Isaac Watts. Outside of Abney House there is a garden/park where Watts would sit and compose poetry based on scripture. These poems would become some of the greatest hymns of all time.
Watts had been a poet since childhood. As a teen he found that the songs in church were too hard to sing. At his complaint, his father said, "Well, you write some that are better." A challenge maybe, but for the next two years, Isaac Watts wrote a new hymn each week. At times in his life he would write a song a day. In the end he would pen more than 600 songs, all based on scripture, including "When I Survey The Wondrous Cross".
This is one of my favorite hymns of all time. Some might argue that it is merely because I have a bias toward celtic songs, but I would have to say that it is far more than that (even though I do have a weakness for uilleann pipes!).
"Be Thou My Vision" is a song I hold close to my heart. Lines from the song could be my prayer on any given day. I long for Christ to be everything in my life, yet daily I find myself caught up in distractions. When I finally step back from what I am doing, I realize how much I have missed.
Christ longs to be our vision, our wisdom, our battle shield, our everything. We must come to understand that we can do nothing as well as He can and that He is best left in charge of everything. I know that sometimes it seems like we need to help God out, but the truth is, we are the ones who need the help. The Lord is all-powerful, all-knowing and can see all of the pieces that we can only speculate on. As hard as it is at times, we need to put our complete trust in Him. He has our best interest in mind!
The Church's One Foundation
I really never thought I would see a day when this song would spark such controversy. We live in a culture where Christianity has been redefined and watered down and even gone the way of heresy, even though we all claim to follow Christ. The questions begin to fly when we start laying out our doctrines and theology side by side. Who really is following Christ? What does He ask of His Church? What is the foundation of His Church?
Time and again, over the course of history, the Church has come to this place. It is a defining moment where the body of Christ must stand up on the doctrines of scripture, without which we cannot know Christ who is the foundation. It is easy to get off track and find our focus on something trivial, or even just centering our energies on works and not on Christ. "The Church's One Foundation" is a song of unity, but without compromise. It is not saying to unite at all costs, but that we (the Church) are defined by a certain set of doctrines as laid out in scripture. We are to bind ourselves to those who are of this same faith and persevere together until the end.
The real story behind this song is a testimony in itself.
In October of 1871, a wealthy businessman named Horatio Spafford encountered the first of two life altering events, as the Great Chicago Fire stole away his livelihood and ruined him financially. The second would come just a short time later when all four of his daughters would die at sea as a result of a collision with another ship. Several weeks later, Spafford's own ship would pass by the place where his daughters died, and the Holy Spirit would inspire the lyrics that we all know today. The music was penned three years later by Philip P. Bliss who, ironically, died in a tragic train wreck shortly after writing the music.
Though the song is laced with tragedy, it stands as a reminder of the hope that the Christian has when faced with adverse situations. Nobody ever said that life would be easy, but the Christian knows that he is not alone and that there is a greater plan in play. Even when it seems like the walls are crumbling to the ground and there is no hope left to be found, believers know that someday they will be in glory forever with Christ. There, all of life's worries will fall away and everything will be just as it should be.
From the album "We Cry Out"
Worship songs. . .what are they really? Sometimes I think that some believe a worship song is only worshipful if it is orchestrated in such a way to make us feel a particular feeling or experience a sense of peace. I have found that worship songs are not about us, nor do they truly come about by us. “Come and Adore Him” is one such example.
One evening, for worship, there was a guest leader who asked the regular worship team to accompany him. I soon discovered he was trying to create a spiritual encounter. Every song seemed to focus on our emotions and as the songs went on, the focus on the leader grew. Soon, every song seemed to fall apart or showcase someone’s musical weakness -- everyone but the guest leader. As the time of “worship” was winding down the leader broke into prayer and I dove for the backstage curtain to make my escape. I was not only embarrassed, but frustrated at how hard we were pressed to create a “spiritual” environment.
I got my guitar from the office and fled to one of the rooms along the auditorium. It was there, in the dark, I began banging out chords and, in a frustrated voice, singing the words, “Come and adore Him on bended knee. . .” Before I could even figure out what was going on, I was playing, singing, and writing it all down on the dry erase board. The more I played it, the calmer I became. It was not about me anymore, or my feelings, or even about how crazy the last 40 minutes had been. . . it was about Christ. It was nothing more than humbly falling before the Lord, my King.
As long as man is man, he will seek praise and adoration. It is important that we not make worship into our image or the object of our worship. Also, we must guard against exalting those who lead us in worship to the place reserved only for the Lord. It is a continual heart check. When we understand worship is not music or a song but is, rather, the way we live our lives before a holy God, it is easier to not make "worship music" into an idol or an emotional experience. We have to continually turn away from the flesh, and all the emotions therein, and worship the One worthy of praise.
Holy Is The Lord, Most High
This song was written by Joy Russell, so the exact story behind the song is not known. However, I do know that it was inspired by Revelation 4:8-11 where the four living creatures were worshipping and casting their crowns before the throne of God.
For me, there is a great reverence and awe that accompanies singing this song. You can't help but be focused on the majesty of God. I just imagine the day when all believers will be together as one, with one voice, worshipping the Lord in all purity, humility, and reverence. Until that day, I pray that our hearts and minds will be devoted to worshipping the Lord for all that He truly is. He is deserving of all our praise.
This song is my all time favorite song written by Joy Russell. It's simplicity is the secret.
Every once in while you find a worship song that allows you to really think about the Lord and who He is. In this song you can't escape it. There are no flowery expressions describing the attributes of God that can distract us from our worship, just the bare facts. For me, this song is unique because it is not just about the attributes of God, but a simple picture of the Trinity.
The Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all parts of one whole, is a concept that most Christians don't venture near. It is often too hard for us to wrap our mind around logically, and it is even more difficult to explain in common language. In "You Are God", we are not picking a person of the Godhead to worship, but the whole of them all. The song is an acknowledgement that the Lord is God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three are the One we worship and the One who is Lord of all.
". . . that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Philippians 2:10-11
I remember back to the day that "We're Crying Out For You" first hit me. I was working with a youth group at the time and songs were flowing out of the students, myself and some of the other leaders. Overwhelmingly, the songs were heart-filled cries to the Lord. Many were using music as their cry for healing of the hurts in their lives. The majority of the songs were personal and not really conducive to corporate worship. A friend of mine asked me if I had or could write a worship song that could be used in the "we" sense. I told her that I didn't really know if I did or not, but I would look over some of my worship songs and let her know. As my mentor she gave me an assignment: If I found that I didn't have a corporate-friendly song that I needed to write one and bring it in.
I went home and began sifting through songs. There was not one song that fit the bill. Fear and dread rested upon me. Anyone who knows me at all will tell you that I am not one to take the time to write songs or to mull over every part of a song. My songs usually just come about, and are not the product of a decision to write a certain song about a certain thing or idea. The last thing I wanted was to craft a song of worship that was just good poetry and not the song of my heart.
Later that weekend, as I sat around, I began playing a chord progression and singing what would become the chorus of "We're Crying Out For You". The rest, as they say, is history. As the somber chords rang out, the words poured forth. It was both a song that came from a deep sense of longing to worship the Lord and a song that fit the place that a lot of the students were writing their own songs from. Once again the Lord had provided the right words and music to fill the situation.
Sometimes songs sneak up on you. In the case of "You" I had no idea that a little walk would end up in a song of worship.
I had actually decided that I was going to have an "alone" day. I was trying to get away from everything, including worship. It was one of those days where I set out to wander, so I headed to the mall. I soon found myself walking down the street that ran behind a few of the stores. Not thinking much of anything, a song started to run through my head. It was "You".
I was instantly taken with the lyrics and tune and desperately searched my pockets for a pen and something to write on. I had nothing. The song continued to circle through my mind as I rushed down the block and into a clothing store. Most likely I freaked out a few of the workers as I frantically asked for a pen and some paper, but I was oblivious. A song had been birthed that no amount of time slaving over music and lyrics could have produced. In that moment of trying to escape life and whatever else, God reached out to me through a song, reminding me of who He was and how I could not escape His hand in my life.
"You" is a special song of worship. To me it is a reminder that God is never far from me, and that I owe my worship to Him for being my atoning sacrifice.
"And You are the only One who saves me, and it serves only to remind me I'm a sinner saved by grace. . ."
It is a corporate cry and a longing to see the promises that rest just past our line of sight. Jesus, free us from the past and deliver us into all you have for us. A simple cry, from broken hearts, in a world of uncertainty.
Like a lot of songs written around this time, the lyrics are sparse. What was happening in the congregation was an awakening of passion for the Lord and understanding of Him. At times, words failed, but "We Cry Out" came to be. The haunting melody and simple heart cry refused to let go of us, and this song would soon signify a place in time where life seemed to stand still as the longing for healing, freedom, a greater knowledge of Him was our only purpose.
"Father, we cry out for Your freedom. We cry out for Your healing. We cry out for You, Jesus. We cry out for You. . ."
This song was written by Joy Russell. Amazingly simple, just a few chords and words, yet the words and melody bring you into the heart of worship.
There are times in worship where the praising stops and the worship begins. "Lord I Come" is one of those songs. As I think about the times I have sung this song, I can't help but think of how solemn and reflective the mood begins and yet how powerful it ends up.
I the simplicity of this song allows us to reflect on who we are and who God is. As we humbly fall before Him, we declare Him as Lord of all. He is the reason we can be saved. He is the only One worthy of our worship.
It is an awesome thought to think that we can come before the throne of God and worship Him. He saved us from our sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus, setting us free to live the life He created us to live. May we not forget His sacrifice and His work in our lives.
"Oh Lord" is a desperate cry. Standing as both a corporate and personal song, it cries out from that place of "we've been here before." Over the course of our lives we find ourselves circling back from time to time. Sometimes that returning is because we have lost focus, other times we lack understanding, and other times still it is the result of complacency. Whatever the cause, when we come to we realize that change is necessary that change can only come through the Truth.
In Christian settings it is easy to forget people are real, that they trip and fall and burn dinner like the rest of us. Many people who "get saved" by way of a service approach their new life thinking everything is going to be good from here on out. It doesn't take long before that idea is turned on its head. At church, the response is usually to act as if you are okay. It is through this that our isolation, from our God and others, grows. It is a lot like a moldy piece of cheese. If ignored, the cheese doesn't get less moldy, rather the mold grows and spreads and possibly reaches other things close by. If we take that cheese and cut off the mold, a good chunk of the cheese can be salvaged for later consumption, but if it is left untouched it will only corrupt. When we realize that there is a "moldy" place in our lives we need to face it and allow the Lord to heal us and our relationship with Him.
"Oh Lord" is not about begging the Lord to accept us, but rather the realization that we are in a sorry state. We need a new understanding of His grace, of His love, and of our relationship with Him.
Have you ever just wanted a total makeover? When we get saved that is exactly what happens. In the spirit, the old "man" is rendered dead and the new "man" is alive to Christ. "Redefine Me" can be understood in both the context of initial salvation and in the constant renewing of our mind to the ways of God.
It is by His grace that we are saved, not by the works of our hands. We come to salvation by His grace and mercy, not because we have cleansed ourselves and begged Him to save us. As Christ's love pours into our lives and we understand that we simply "are" because of His grace and mercy, we are then redefined. We begin to understand the significance of His hand in our redemption.
"Redefine Me" is about coming to that understanding that we "are" because of who He is. When we grasp that simple truth we realize that He is the God of all, in control of all, unmoved by any person or thing, and able to extend Himself to even the worst of sinners. As we surrender more and more of our lives to His will, we are continuing to redefine how we see ourselves and the role the Lord plays in our lives. May we find that we are constantly changing our definition to closer match that of the Lord's.
"I give you control and I surrender, to Your will. . ."
I was at work one day, when I felt compelled to jot down a few words. Those words were "Eyes Wide Open". In haste I e-mailed them to my friend Joy Russell and asked her if she would put music to them. To this day I am not sure why I did not just save those words for after work and see what I could come up with, but I am glad that I passed them on. That day Joy had music to match the lyrics. It was one of those moments where you could never have tried to do it, the Lord just made it happen.
This song is a picture of a time in my life when I had decided that the only way to have a real relationship with the Lord and with others was through complete vulnerability. I found that this type of openness started with my being honest with myself. It was a gut-wrenching time, but a necessary revelation. What I found was that through my public disclosure I was actually becoming more of a witness to the work of the Lord in my life. As I allowed Christ into my dark corners, His light permeated my life and was able to shine forth to others.
Each of us are vessels that the Lord can use. Everyone has a road that they have walked down, and each of those stories is a witness to what the Lord can do in our lives. Some of those stories are incomplete and we may not understand how God can use these times as of yet, but others are a great testament to what the Lord has brought us through. Our testimony comes out of the broken places in our lives and shines the glory of God into the world.
"Let Your glory fall, let Your love flow down, for the world to see, flow through me. . ."
This worship song came out of a time of reflection. As I pondered the struggle between living in this world yet being not of it, I found myself crying out to the Lord to help me give my all to Him. Like so many times, I took hold of my guitar and began to sing whatever words flowed out. Meant to be nothing more than a prayer, this song was not just a commitment to what my heart so desperately desired, but also a reflection on the times when the Lord waited on me.
So often, even when we are spending large amounts of time at church, we can get sidetracked and distracted from our relationship with God. We get busy with activites that are about God, even spend large amounts of time "worshipping" Him, and yet we can miss the very essence of who He is and who we are to be to Him.
As Christians, we are in an intimate relationship with Christ. In earthly marriage it would be unthinkable to spend your time waxing your spouse's car, but never spend time with them or talk with them. Unfortunately, this happens all the time in our relationship with the Lord. We spend time in service to Him, but not in relationship. To worship God is to be a constant activity in our lives. In Colossians 3:17 we are told "And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." It is interesting that what follows this verse is a list of submissions, to husbands, wives, parents, etc. It is a reminder that our daily actions are worship to the Lord and that they are God given. It is all of us that the Lord desires.
In "All That I Am" we find surrender of ourselves into a life of submission to the Lord and a desire to be in true relationship with Him. It is also a reminder that the Lord is always there, even when we ignore Him and are driven by our flesh. He knows that we are a part of Him and that we will eventually come to our senses and find that we have neglected our true relationship with Him.
As I was working in high school youth ministry, I met a young lady that was unlike the other teens in our group. At the ripe old age of sixteen, she was ready to take on the world for the Lord. "Just You and Me" is a song that Chelsea brought to me one day in hopes that I could put down chords for her. I instantly identified with the lyrics as she sang and I followed along on guitar.
When I sing through these lyrics I see two pictures. On one hand I understand it from a deeply personal level, where my heart is longing to walk side by side with Jesus. To take Him as my one love in life and devote myself wholly to Him. The other picture is more bitter sweet. I remember the glowing life that Chelsea seemed to take hold of and her passion for the Lord and how she impacted those around her. I also think about her as a young lady taking off for a foreign land and then disappearing into the world, almost as if all that came before did not exist.
From the times that I spent with her, I know that she was struggling to balance the expectation of being a role model and yet never feeling like she could completely connect with her peers. She was under immense pressure to know everything and yet, she felt as if she knew so little. Many nights she would allude to her struggles, yet she tried to present herself as strong and confident. Her life as of now is quite differnet than what came before. I pray that the Lord would touch her heart. Please pray for her if you feel led to do so. I will update if I hear anything.
From the album "On The Inside"
I remembered back to a time before I started walking with the Lord, the days when I thought I could find my peace and approval from God by attaining some sort of perfection at my own hands. Little did I know then that the Lord was calling me, longing to have a relationship with me, even in the midst of my selfish and thought-filled life.
During this time, it was not unusual for me to take off on my bicycle and be gone 4 to 6 hours. I would take my journal, a sketch pad and find a quiet place to sit out in the vast nature of Northern California. I thought that by being in the creation I would be closer to God. I understood this time as a creative outlet, but it also served a sort of spiritual purpose at the same time.
Looking back, I find it interesting how intellectually minded I was before I started walking with the Lord. "Who Am I,” though written years after the experience, is a reflection of the day it dawned on me that there was nothing in me that deserved God's favor. There was nothing I could say or do to prompt God's love and grace and mercy. It was only when I looked to Him that I was able to grasp the depth of His love. Sure, when I was in nature I could partake of His creation and see how awesome God is, but His creation is only an expression of Himself, which explains why I always had to go out into nature to feel like God was near. In hindsight, I witness my longing in action. I was searching for God, everywhere but at the Source. It wasn't until I came to the end of myself, my longing and striving to "find God,” that I found the Truth.
He gave EVERYTHING to save me. I didn't have to find Him, He found me before I knew I was lost. He knew every part of me, my comings and my goings, and even my name, yet chose to take the penalty. I did nothing that was deserving of His salvation, but He gave freely.
In life, I have found that erecting high walls isn't always the best way to assure that the enemy won't breach your fortress. In fact, I have discovered just the opposite to be true. As a very private person from early on, my logic said that being unemotional, uncaring, and driven were the keys to success. Keeping everyone and everything at a distance, my distractions were few and my goals were met with ease.
When the Lord took hold of my life, I struggled greatly with the question, "How vulnerable and transparent must I be?" To let down my walls meant that I would get hurt, that my thoughts would become public domain, and I no longer would have control of any part of my life. I found the latter to be true, but not in the disturbing way I had envisioned. What I discovered was in letting go of my control I was actually allowing the Lord to control my life and take me through the course of healing that He had for me. At times that did mean feelings of hurt and rejection and failure, but it also opened the door to loving and caring for those around me.
To be vulnerable and transparent is not about putting yourself out there to be scourged, but to be real so that the Lord can use your life to touch others.
One of my passions is Identity in Christ. If you hide behind walls you don't understand your value in Christ. In Christ, we are all equal, all loved, and we are all meant to work with one another for the glory of Christ. There are no us and thems, no climbing the church ladder so to speak, or protecting ourselves from everyone we encounter. When we surrender our self-made security, we are trusting the Lord to guard and protect us. In Christ we are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), and He is the power in our life to bring victory.
"On The Inside" opens the window to fear, pain, pride, brokenness, restoration, and salvation. It is like walking into a picture of sorts...It is dim where I stand. As I begin to strum the opening chords, I am standing in the rear corner of a grand auditorium as a string ensemble is warming up on stage. As I begin to sing it is almost as if the players on the stage unknowingly join in. The resolve comes as the guitar and vocal are left open and vulnerable, unmasked and creeping out of the shadows. One could almost imagine the ensemble putting down their instruments and listening.
As I think of “On the Inside,” I remember myself in what seems a distant memory. I recall days that I thought would never end. I remember hiding all of my feelings and thoughts, afraid of what people would think of me, but now I know that it is the Lord who is in control -- I am not caught in the crosshairs of their fiery darts. Then there was the season of rebellion, proving that I could and would do just what I wanted and was capable of. I know now that the only way to succeed is to walk in step with God -- not out front and not behind. I also remember hours of brokenness, straining to understand why every day felt as if I were trapped under a landslide, clawing my way to clean air. Today, I know that God was drawing the new self out and leaving the old one behind.
The Lord knows our hearts. He has seen every moment of our lives and loves us. Our lives are not our own. Our castle walls were not built by God, but by us. Whether we know it or not the world is watching, trying to understand why such beautiful castles sit in isolation. We may wave our Jesus flag from the tower, but it will never be understood until we let down the drawbridge, walk out of the shadows, and walk into the world that needs the light.
There have been many dark nights in my life. I remember being consumed by fear, driven by guilt, and longing for some sort of escape. As I sat alone in the darkness I would wonder if anyone else really could understand me and my life. On the outside, I appeared to be a bit quirky, but normal nonetheless. Inside, I was tortured by my mind. Nobody knew my past or my struggles.
The biggest weight that I carried was of being date-raped. I had a lifetime of trust ripped from me in an instant. I was fearful of others and of allowing others to see into my world. I succumbed to my own private world of hurt and pain where I would go to when all other escapes were gone. During those dark moments I failed to see or even understand that the Lord was there. I struggled with the thought that God allowed me to go through this experience and yet somehow He loved me. As I sat through Bible classes at my Christian college I failed to grasp an answer to that nagging question.
One day the Lord reached out and took hold of my life and I began to understand. The Lord loved me before I loved Him. He knew that I would endure pain, but this pain was because I was seeking to find His love in the love that others had to offer. He allowed me to be hurt knowing that I would be able to show His victory in my life to others, and that many others have endured similar experiences.He knew the pain I was going through all of those dark nights, and He was longing to heal me of that pain and to bring me into the light.
I have always been drawn to the life of Paul. He is real and I identify greatly with his life and writings. A while back I was thinking about how to express the journey from growing up in church but not being saved, to a life in the Body of Christ and true salvation. I came up with nothing. My words seemed to only make things more confusing than they already were. Then it was like a light bulb went on. . .Paul.
As I think about the apostle Paul, I quickly understand him. I grew up in church learning the Bible stories, he grew up in the synagogue with the Torah. I went to Bible college and questioned the teachings of my peers and professors, Paul spoke out against those who followed the teachings of Jesus. Christ met me one day in my dormroom, Paul was met on the road to Damascus. From that moment on, we were never the same.
The Lord took two people from two different times, places and points in their lives and reached down and chose them to walk a common path. I know that I will never fully comprehend the wisdom of God. Why would he choose to save those who once persecuted and doubted Him? It is amazing to think about.
When I think of the grace and mercy of God, I can't help but remember the testimony of Paul's life. As he rises from Saul persecutor of Christians to Paul the apostle of Christ, it is hard to deny that the Lord is sovereign and mighty. I pray that all our lives and testimonies could be used as his was and continue to be.
At the point where Christ becomes real, the old nature and the new find themselves at odds.
As I began to walk with the Lord, the Godly conviction was immediate, like a red flag waving in front of my face. I knew that playing devil’s advocate with those around me was not glorifying to God. I also saw my bitterness toward life was counter to His heart. There were many people I needed to forgive and free from the chains I had bound them in. Yet, the hardest thing to come to terms with was that God loved me – broken, wandering, tired and torn, and longing for something more. God knew that something was Him. I thought that if I acted fine I would be fine. As I began to walk with God I tried to apply the same principle. Maybe if I acted holy I would be such.
My attempts to compartmentalize the Lord were a great grievance to Him and left me empty. Every time I tried to place God in a location like church – where I could walk in and out at will – I felt empty. It was not until I realized that every moment of every day was the Lord’s and His hand was in it all, that the person of Christ became real. When I felt alone, He was there. When fear consumed me, He was by my side to comfort me. When I was marred by my own sin, He was there reaching out his hand to help me get up and move on. Deep down I knew that the Lord had chosen me and loved me despite my failures and weaknesses.
I think the greatest revelation is to realize that the Lord is not asking for our religion or our striving for perfection. He is seeking our heart. Even when we are trying to be fine, He knows our hearts. He is the one drawing us, not us tugging at Him. So, when the mask goes on and the show begins, know that you are only fooling yourself. And as our hearts cry out “Lord rescue me from myself. . .” know that the Lord is there no matter where you may be. He already knew where to find you.
A few years ago I came to a point where I knew that I was holding my life too tightly. I was determined to have my own way, to succeed at my own hand, and to not allow anyone into my world. To those standing near, I appeared to have it all together and be on the path to fame. As time went on, I began to realize the prison I had put myself in. In anguish, my heart cried out to the Lord. I wanted so much to love and serve Him, but there was too much of me standing in the way.
"Break Me" was my real prayer that day. I hope it is not a song that dumps people back in a dark place, time and time again, but that it is a mere reminder of the past. I think back and I am thankful for where I am today.
When we put on a mask and act a part, it is just that, an act. The whole time we are projecting our character, the real person has to be hidden away. Out of fear that someone might not like you for who you are, you hide away behind your wall -- a prisoner. The darker your world gets the darker your thoughts, the harder it is to see the light, and the harder it is to know you are in the dark. As I did, you adjust your thinking and begin to buy the lies of the enemy in order to live in some sense of peace. Deep down there is no peace though, and in the end you cry out to the Lord. It is there that true peace can be found. In that place of brokenness and surrender healing can begin.
“I’ll Forgive You” came from an ordinary experience. I had planned to go to lunch with a few friends. Somewhere between the church parking lot and the restaurant, plans changed, but no one told me. I arrived at the restaurant, and one of my friends arrived. He saw me, walked past me, looked for the others, and -- upon not seeing them -- headed back out to his van and drove off. The others never arrived. I was confused, and felt unloved and abandoned. A lot of misunderstandings were taking place, but that incident sent me to the park with my guitar.
As I sat on the hill, I found myself broken. I prayed that God would save me from how I was feeling. I didn’t want to mope, but I felt like that was all I was capable of. I began to cry out to God from the depths of who I was. I felt so alone and rejected. Then God began to speak to my heart saying, “Take the pain and rejection you feel. Now multiply that by the biggest factor you know. That is how much I hurt when My children walk away from Me.”
My heart broke and a new understanding overtook me. To think that the God of the universe came and gave up His life so we could live eternally, and yet so many hear the Truth and walk away.
As I sat in the park that day, “I’ll Forgive You” came to me. It is the heart of Jesus poured out in a plea for the world to surrender their lives to Him and allow Him to forgive them. This song is a song of hope and of reality. God hurts. . .He cries for the lost. . .He is always ready and waiting for them. . .they just have to come to their senses and find He’s the only Way (2 Timothy 2:24-26).
Many of us have heard the hymn "Nothing but the Blood", but have we taken the time to think about what it says? A friend of mine, one day, challenged me to pick an old hymn and "modernize" it. I was at a loss as to what song I even wanted to try to tackle. Later that weekend another friend of mine was talking about the importance of the blood of Jesus (the Lamb of God) and how the Jews knew that without the shedding of blood (lambs' blood) there was no remission of sins. The old hymn got stuck in my head. I went home and looked up the words, seeing as how I only knew half of the song, and read them over and over.
As I sang back the melody in my head with the new verses, I was overwhelmed by what the Lord had done for us. There was nothing we could do to save ourselves or make us whole, nothing that could wash us clean or atone for our sin, nothing that we could do for ourselves, nothing that could grant us peace and hope and righteousness outside of the blood of Christ. Simply put and all wrapped up in one little song, this was the song for my assignment. I began to play chords that sounded good while singing the melody of the song. I wanted to stick close enough to the original that it was recognizable, but then I began singing the "nothing but the blood" part that was not a part of the original song. What stuck is the version you find here. To this day I don't feel like I finished the assignment because there wasn't a whole lot of work put into it. . .just a little time of worship. =o)
Many years ago, while working at a Christian youth summer camp, I met a troubled young girl. I had no idea how important our meeting would become. At the time, I was struggling with Christianity and really didn't understand much of what the Bible had to say. I wondered how I could be used in this situation. If I only knew. . .
It was the norm for the staff to do their laundry at night and also to grab late-night snacks in the dining hall. So, like other nights, I headed to the dining hall. To my surprise the lights were all off and the other staff members weren't hanging out as usual. It was there in the dark that I met her. She was sitting on the washing machine. At first I didn't recognize her, but then I remembered her helping to serve up lunch earlier in the day. She was a junior staffer (those who were earning their way to camp for the following week). I sparked up a conversation and as minutes turned to hours, her words turned to tears. All of her young life had been spent striving to be accepted. Though on the outside she was smart, quiet, well churched and appeared to have it all together, inside she was lost and alone, broken and crying out. Most of all, she just wanted to experience true love.
Over the years, we have both grown. Her journey has continued and I have been given the privilege to walk alongside and speak into her life -- through the dark times of depression, self-hatred, searching for love, believing lies, to the days of overcoming and small victories.
I had no intention of writing a song to this young lady, but one day -- as I reflected on a letter from her -- these lyrics came to mind. It serves as a reminder to all of us that the Lord is always there as our refuge and shelter in times that are less than ideal. We just have to come under His protection. His perfect sacrifice was given so that peace would be ours through Him.
The word freedom tends to get abused these days. I can't even tell you how many times I have heard Christians mis-quote the apostle Paul and explain that as Christians we are free to do what we wish, as long as we don't make someone stumble. Some even going as far as saying that Jesus liked to drink and party so we shouldn't frown upon it. To clarify, I am not a legalist as anyone who knows me will attest, but I do think that as Christians we are to be a testament to the work of God in our lives. So, why fight for something trivial to feed the flesh?
It is so easy for us to try to justify our flesh when we use words like freedom and liberty, but the meaning we find in scripture gives us a clearer picture. We are to be bondservants to Christ (Ephesians 6:6) and in doing so we are made spiritually free.
"For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteous-ness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 6:20-23
The song "Freedom" stems from this very concept. I want to be free in Christ. Free to walk in the way He has set before me. Free to have childlike faith. The freedom to run into the eternal life that He has granted me. My freedom is not a license to do things that some might find questionable, but rather the opportunity to grow closer to my Lord. As I walk with the Lord, in His freedom, I find peace and wholeness that nothing this world has to offer could ever fill.