Tag Archives: music

Walking by Starlight

Happy Easter, dear readers!

While picking up some old, nostalgic Hillsongs praise & worship albums off iTunes, I spotted the latest release from Bethel Music:

Starlight

Since I’ve started playing music for the base chapel again, I decided it might be worthwhile to get some current music.

While I have my concerns about the praise & worship industry and the seeming endless stream of albums it churns forth, I admit I like finding powerful music that conveys an age-old truth in a fresh way.

I picked one of the song titles to get an idea of some of the album’s music, and went with “Catch the Wind.” The keys caught my attention at once, airy and flighty but energetic and driving. The message of the chorus hit home as exactly what I wanted:

Your faithfulness will never let me down

I’m confident I’ll see Your goodness now

I know You hear my heart, I’m singing out

There’s nothing that can stop Your goodness now

The song has flowing, rhythmic verses and a deliberate, declarative chorus on the beat, a nice contrast that I enjoy both musically and spiritually. It’s not really a “sing this in church with the congregation” song in my mind, but it’s a great meditative song I’ll listen to in the car or in my personal quiet time.

I also listened to “There’s No Other Name” and discovered a favorite in
“Take Courage.” To read about those two (and catch a video of the latter), check out my original post here at my new website address and give it a follow for more.

#NewyearmoreHim

My wife and I posted a LiveStream video of some instrumental worship songs today.

We played an old favorite of ours, Grace Like Rain (Todd Agnew). Then, we played You Are My All in All (Dennis Jernigan), which was the first church worship song I played and sang once I rededicated my life to Christ shortly after coming to Japan as a young servicemember. Wonderful, Merciful Savior (Selah) is a family favorite of my wife and my mother-in-law, and also a beautiful song that focuses on each Person of the Trinity in turn. Finally, we added in Mary Did You Know (Mark Lowry) mixed with Greensleeves a.k.a. What Child is This, as a final touch of Christmas.

You can find it on our Facebook page, FreeWorship Music.

On top of that, while out for a spontaneous walk today, I remembered a song I’d written years ago that captured how I felt about my spirituality of late. I started singing that softly as I meandered around the neighborhood, and realized it could flow right into Set a Fire (Will Reagan). The wifey and I put together some harmonies and a bit of a round in Set a Fire, while she figured out some violin parts to play in my song.


I’m not one for New Year’s Resolutions, nor do I look at January 1st as the magic time to start a gym habit or creative pursuit. If something’s worth doing, it’s worth starting at once, not at some socially-accepted date known and ridiculed as a train wreck of ridiculous but futile effort towards failed self-improvements.

But I did end up starting a couple things near the New Year… Probably because I saw articles about them that were written to suggest or encourage “here’s a neat habit for a resolution.”

I’ve been trying out a Bullet Journal – especially useful since I work in a facility where I can’t bring personal electronics into my office. And I’ve been practicing a version of the Miracle Morning, with a more Christian bent than the vague and flexible option I first found. As part of that, I’ve spent more time in the Bible and in prayer, and it’s both a step in the right direction and toward some personal aspects and characteristics I’ve allowed to languish.

Yesterday, my wife and I caught some of the songs and sermons from Passion 2017. Today, we watched one with our kids, then tried to have a discussion about the message and how to apply it. On top of that, we took time for Communion–something we meant to do but missed at Christmas or New Year’s Eve/Day.

The music, the worship, the message, the ritual–all this we did in remembrance of Him. It felt like reconnecting to what matters in some small ways. It felt good, and right.

Even with cracked matzos on a paper plate and grape juice in tiny Dixie cups.

Lyrics:

I Need More

Only You can meet my deepest needs

Only You fulfill my heart’s desire

I’ve pushed away by doing what I please

But now, O Lord, I welcome Your fire
I want more, more of You in my life

Nothing compares to the joy I find in You

I need more, more of You in my life

And I’ll lay it all down to be closer to You

Nothing I desire, nothing satisfies

It’s You that I require, Your love gives me life

I need more, more of You.
Your love, Lord, is sweeter than wine

A day with You much better than a lifetime all my own

The glory of Your presence so sublime

I find in You much greater joy than I have ever known

 

My life cannot go on without You Lord

Your love sustains me and I desire more

FreeWorship Music Page

Hey all,

My author page on Facebook has a cover photo with a whole mess of various items related to my interests and creative pursuits, one of which is a piano keyboard (on the GarageBand app on an iPad).

Oh, look, here it is.

Maybe I should update this with some new interests, like my books and writing in general.

I also have a guitar in that picture but I can barely play for personal amusement, let alone any sort of public performance, so we’ll leave that alone for now.

I chose that as a cover picture because over the course of this blog, I’ve written several times about most if not all of those hobbies and interests. 

All that to say, I haven’t always focused or publicized the music side of my creativity. I’ve posted occasional songs, but with social media and modern technology, there are so many options and ways to put ourselves and our talents “out there”  for others to enjoy. Here’s a step in that direction:

My wife and I have started a Facebook page titled FreeWorship Music where we’ll post videos or livestreams of us playing and/or singing. We have just a few posted for the holidays so far, but we’re working on more songs and sets to post.

On the Record

My writing word count spreadsheet mocks me. So many zero entries in the last week! I just finished a 6-week Mandarin Chinese refresher course, which might explain some of the lack of effort–except there was hardly any homework to occupy my off-duty time.

No problem, I told myself. I’ll do amazing writing things over the 4-day weekend for Memorial Day. 

Yeah, not so much.

Problem-but-not-really 1) Overwatch is amazing and I want to play it just about every waking moment even though it’s basically run into battle, use whichever character’s amazing powers, then die and do it again. 

Seriously, it’s fun. Evil fun. Like “lock up the PlayStation 4 so I will maybe write a word in the near future” fun.

Problem-but-not-really 2) I did some other creative things instead. A couple weeks ago, I picked up the handy talnts app (which I keep reading as ‘taints’ and I really don’t like that mental image but there you have it). It’s basically LinkedIn for creative people. The app has an option to share YouTube videos of which I had none. But a family friend asked me to record a worship song for her, and I marked “pianist” as one of my talents in the app… kill two birds with one stone? Sure why not!

Indescribable
While my Christian friends might appreciate the rendition of Indescribable, I have a lot of other friends who won’t care. But I know there’s a special fondness in the heart of many gamers for the music of Final Fantasy VI, particularly the Opera Song. So here’s that one too.

Final Fantasy VI Opera Song
All in all, my word count is shameful to behold over the last week, but it was a nice break. I’d already written more words in May than in any previous month this year, so I don’t feel too bad. 

Saturday Night’s Alright

I’m so excited. 

Our base chapel started a Saturday evening service, which works well for lazy old feeble folks like me that want that slow Sunday morning. 

And they have a choir director who has been filling in playing keys but doesn’t particularly want to do that.

They also have this poor, unattended grand piano.

And I have a wife who plays violin…

So last week, I stepped up to say “You know who’s got two thumbs and plays some good piano? This guy.”

It’s a small, intimate service, but it’s contemporary and the music is pretty much everything I enjoy.

I know I shouldn’t pick a church based on what I like / what suits me. But I’m not going to complain at the chance to serve and contribute something missing to this small part of the Body of Christ.

Off for now, it’s time to jam!

Radical Focus on Wrong Things

When does making music not involve playing actual music?

When you’re a “Radical Christian,” apparently.

I hope you all have perfect pitch...
I hope you all have perfect pitch…

A gent named Wes McAdams has a couple blogs that popped up on my Facebook feed. His site is titled “Radically Christian – 1st Century Christianity in a 21st Century World.” One post calls into question why some churches feel musical instruments are a necessary part of the worship service. The next challenges the idea that instruments have any place in today’s church at all.

It concerns me when people assume they’ve found the secret, the missing spiritual link, the one thing that every “good” or “true” Christian should be doing (or not doing) in order to show how much more Christ-like they are than everyone else.

Usually that’s the road to heresy. Because if Jesus isn’t the One Thing–if your message becomes “Jesus and (fill in the blank)” instead–then your Gospel isn’t the good news of grace anymore. It becomes all about doing something to prove your faith and earn your reward. Or it becomes yet another self-righteous way to show how much better you are than the benighted and corrupted so-called Christians in every other church.

However, since I have been a lead worshiper at times in the past, and since one of my passions is worship (to include specifically the musical part often done in church gatherings), I wanted to give Mr. McAdams’ points due consideration.

(thinking…)

At best, he’s being silly and nit-picking, but generally harmless. At worst, he’s way off Scripture, and his condemnations foist an assumed truth based on misunderstandings upon his readers.

He makes important points about what worship has become to many churches. It can be a spectacle or performance with little or no heart. It can be focused on the congregation without giving due regard to the God we’re supposedly worshiping. It can be a misguided attempt to draw more people who otherwise might not be interested in church. And it can feel like a talent show where people get attention.

Those faults are also potentially true of everything else we do in church. But we don’t stop preaching even though I’ve heard people talk about what a powerful speaker a pastor is. We don’t stop giving to the community for fear that someone might do it to be seen doing good. We don’t stop sharing the Gospel even though some Christians talk about the converts they’ve made like an ace pilot keeps track of his kills in combat.

McAdams’ post questioning whether we need instruments in worship makes so many important points that I wish I could share it for all that’s right in his assessment of modern worship. He mentions so many causes for concern that I personally share. Modern worship runs the risk of becoming a distraction, a business model, a Play-Doh fun machine churning out tepid and indistinguishable songs onto albums to create dollars instead of devotion.

But the critique goes awry when McAdams takes a logical point (you don’t need instruments to worship) and makes it a mandatory stance (churches must not use instruments to worship). He does this even while pointing to scripture that tells us to do whatever we do for the glory of God.

In so doing, he throws the grace out with the guitars.

The second post I linked is McAdams’ case for why instruments ought to be forbidden in church. He uses the example of ordering a pizza. If he orders a pizza with Canadian bacon and pineapple, those are the toppings he expects to receive, no more, no less.

The analogy is, if God in the New Testament only mentions making music with our lips and our thankful hearts, then those are the only “toppings” God wants on His praise-pie. The New Testament makes no mention of musical instruments, only psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

And McAdams argues, that silence is a prohibitive restriction in the same way that I don’t need to say “No green peppers” if I order his pizza as described earlier.

The logic is flawed.

What would 1st century hearers possibly think when told to sing psalms and hymns? Would they possibly think of the psalms of David and others recorded in scripture? Would they see it in a way appropriate to their culture? Was music with instruments forbidden as an expression of worship for the Jewish people?

Hardly.

Psalm 92:1-3 “It is good to give thanks to the LORD… with the ten-stringed lute and with the harp, with resounding music upon the lyre.”

Psalm 33:2 “Give thanks the LORD with the lyre; sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings.”

Psalm 81:2-3 “Raise a song, strike the timbrel, the sweet sounding lyre with the harp. Blow the trumpet…” (all references NASB)

That search took all of two seconds. And there’s plenty more.

McAdams makes the case that the Old Testament doesn’t apply here, just like the pizza order I made last week may not be the toppings I want today. We’re under the New Testament, so what God orders in the New is all that matters.

But the OT informs the NT, and gives us a perspective on the understanding 1st century hearers would have. Otherwise, let’s strip it out of the Bibles, because we only need what is recorded in the NT, right?

By definition, “psalms” and “songs” could be logically assumed to involve music with instruments. The counterpoint to his pizza analogy is that—without specifically saying so—he expects his pizza toppings to arrive placed upon a crust covered with sauce and cheese, because that’s what a pizza is.

IMG_0924.JPG
I guess you don’t want these, because you didn’t specifically ask.

The difference between his misguided focus and my rant is this: grace.

Self-righteousness likes to tell others where they’re going wrong. But Grace is big enough to say “If you worship without instruments, praise God! If you worship with instruments, praise God! Do everything for the glory of God!”

A radical thought, I know… but one that’s big enough for us all to come together.

Tastes Old

Inspired by my thorough enjoyment of a recent visit to the symphony, where the wifey and I scored free box seats for “Cocktail Hour: Music of the Mad Men Era,” I picked up an album on iTunes today.

20140327-152013.jpg

It’s Frank Sinatra’s Nothing But the Best remastered collection.

My kids (and some readers) might say “Ugh, what is that?” Is it proof that I really truly am now old?

Bah.

I’ll tell you what it is. It’s called taste in music.

Say Something

From the first time I heard A Great Big World’s song, Say Something on the radio (yes… I still listen to the radio), I had a driving question: What happened?

In case you haven’t heard it, here’s the video, and here are the lyrics:

Say something, I’m giving up on you
I’ll be the one, if you want me to
Anywhere, I would’ve followed you
Say something, I’m giving up on you

And I am feeling so small
It was over my head
I know nothing at all

And I will stumble and fall
I’m still learning to love
Just starting to crawl

Say something, I’m giving up on you
I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to you
Anywhere, I would’ve followed you
Say something, I’m giving up on you

And I will swallow my pride
You’re the one that I love
And I’m saying goodbye

Say something, I’m giving up on you
And I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to you
And anywhere, I would have followed you
Oh-oh-oh-oh say something, I’m giving up on you

Say something, I’m giving up on you
Say something

This song, these lyrics… This is storytelling. This is jumping into a life-changing moment in a character’s story, trying to figure out how we got there and where we’re headed.

Is it a toxic or abusive relationship? Is the singer the one person who still stood up for the person being addressed in the song, and now finally even “the one that I love” is just too far gone or too far over the line to hang onto?

Is this a case of “You can’t receive love if you don’t love yourself” and the person in question is locked in a spiral of self-destruction? Are we dealing with an alcoholic or drug addict who can’t stay away from their addiction? Or something less obvious but equally painful, like self-loathing or inability to cope with the demands of life?

Is this the last time the lover reaches out to try to help? What is the backstory to this?! I need to know, because my mind demands an answer, and every time I hear the song, it starts writing a story to figure this out.

Which may not be a bad thing. Creativity sometimes needs a spark of motivation. A song like this does that well.

The writers explain their motivations in this interview, and tell a touching story from a comment where someone had a brother in a coma, who they kept hoping would “say something.”

But hey, maybe you don’t want to know. Maybe it can just mean whatever you want.

And that’s the power of the song. Without any doubt, it says something.

Let’s Go

This little gem is one of my workout favorites; it’s like a motivational speech put to song. And it’s just what I need.

(I gather it’s a Calvin Harris song, and maybe there’s some other version of it, but this is the one I like.)

I don’t count myself as a fitness guru, but I blog about it sometimes because the perspective of a fat guy striving to improve at the gym is probably very relatable. And also, it’s part of what’s going on in my life.

Right now, I am just starting getting back to the gym after bone fusion surgery. It’s challenging and painful, but I know it’s part of the healing process.

I get disappointed while hobbling around, or easing myself onto a bike, or gingerly trying out the elliptical. It’s frustrating to watch the fleet-footed runners on the track, gliding as if on the winged feet of Hermes. It’s hard not to try to keep up with the cardio crazies on the machines, pushing and pulling the arms of the elliptical in sprints that seem to last half an hour. And I miss Spinning, with its jumps and hills, isolations and single-leg work.

Part of me wants to look back and think, “I was once a Spin instructor.” I was able to hang with those guys. I could powerwalk a sub 12-minute mile (no easy feat for a fattie!) and own the cardio machines for hours.

I wasn’t gritting my teeth back then, lurching around the track like Frankenstein.

The song reminds me, “It’s not about what you’ve done, it’s about what you’re doin’. It’s all about where you’re going, no matter where you’ve been.”

Part of me looks to the road ahead and sighs, ready to give up. Physical therapy sessions, strenuous exercises, strict dieting, pushing to increase speed just to get back to where I was before… the future looks like hard work.

But the song keeps me in the now. “Let’s go. Let’s make it happen. Make no excuses now, I’m talking here and now. Your time is running out.”

Today is what matters. This workout should be my best. Yesterday’s done, nothing I can do about that. And tomorrow’s problems can wait until then.

Let’s go.

What’s your motivational song? When everything inside says “take it easy,” what kicks you into action? Let me know in a comment, so I can go get some more music.

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Side note: If you’re in the Omaha area and need some screws drilled into your feet, or any other kind of orthopedic care, Dr. Jon Goldsmith is the guy to see.

Glee Worship

My wife and I are admitted “Gleeks” since about the end of the first season. For whatever reason, this current season isn’t doing it for us. We half-watched the most recent episode (where the boys of the Glee Club produce a male model calendar to raise money), and my wife and I discussed our feelings on the show. Her assessment was:

“They made it all smutty. That’s what you do when you don’t have any real ideas.”

It’s the easy kill. When you don’t have a character-driven plot, you can rest assured: Sex sells.

So what does this have to do with a Wednesday Worship post?

Simple. As worshipers, we need to make sure we’re not going for the “easy kill.”

The great thing about worship music is that it touches the emotions so powerfully, which is also the worst thing about it.

As worship leaders, we can chain together a number of moving choruses, maybe working in some sweet transitions so that one song flows into another smoothly. We know how to build up excitement and how to bring things down into intimacy. We know how to drive the beat with energy and how to slow things down with passion. We can orchestrate emotional highs and lows, playing the congregation like another instrument in the band.

We must never do this. That’s what you do when you don’t have any real ideas.

Louie Giglio (yes, the one that didn’t get to speak at the Inauguration) tweeted something on Sunday that I really appreciated. “Preparing to lead others in worship instinctively requires some worship of our own.” My worship pastor’s wife posted something similar: “When you’ve been in the Word all week at home, worship at church is WAY sweeter!”

I used to think, “Man, I hope the worship team does something awesome on Sunday to get me motivated.” Then I learned, when I was already excited about what God was doing, I didn’t care what songs they played — I was just happy to respond to Him.

I’ve seen this on a larger scale in churches where much of the congregation sticks around after the service just to sing praises and celebrate who God is and what He’s done. I’ve had to play for over an hour after the official close of the service just because people are still eager to respond to God’s love. (I say “had to” but it was a privilege.)

It wasn’t anything we did as a worship team; it’s what people focused on, and it was our commitment as a church to seek God and not just a good time.

Worship is not about doing what sells, hitting the right chords to pluck the heart-strings of the congregation. It’s about a meaningful relationship, a set of songs that matters and communicates truth, an expression of love and gratitude that helps us come in line with what God is doing in our midst.

Any decent worship team can go the Glee route and perform the current Top 40 hits to manufacture a response. But that’s the easy road, the equivalent of smut episodes during May sweeps.

I want to be sure that my worship is authentic. I want the plot of my worship to be character-driven, coming to know God’s character and seeing my own reshaped to match His.

If I realize I don’t have any idea what that is, it’s not time to play songs for cheap thrills. It’s time to get some revelation.