Category Archives: Worship

Dear Me by Nichole Nordeman

I bought Nichole Nordeman’s recent album, Every Mile Mattered, as a gift for my wife. We both love her depth and probing questions implied or directly stated in her lyrics from previous albums, so it was an easy decision.

I bought it, but I didn’t actually listen to it. The songs sat on my iPhone and iPad, untouched, although I occasionally placed them in to playlists for Christian music or perhaps nice background music for writing.

I had the latter on shuffle when “Dear Me” came up. It caught my attention–demanded it, really. I stopped what I was doing, googled the lyrics, and felt the message resonate with my being. Her mixture of idealism and sorrow stirred up some old things in the kettle of my heart.

The song captures what I want my faith to look like, and hits me hard because of how often I know I haven’t measured up, how often I believed the convenient party line about God’s blessings for me, instead of the messy and difficult stuff involving loving others sacrificially.

Growing up in church, how many times have I seen the “magic words” of Christian marketing pass like a wave through American middle-class suburban church culture? Whether it’s a WWJD bracelet, or a Prayer of Jabez keychain, or a Purpose-Driven Life merchandise blitz, or some new study or some new worship album or some new website that is the cutting edge of everything God is doing…

How often has the mystery and the transcendent sacred been distilled into the merchandise and the catchy slogan? How often have I gone right along?

When has my faith looked beyond what Christ is and does for me? Do I believe He came so I could live my best life now, or do I believe He called me to live His life in the here and now?

Time and again in Scripture, we see a God who is concerned about the orphan and the widow, the homeless and the prisoner. We see His people judged, not simply because they broke some religious law or strict code, but more often because of how they treated–or ignored–the plight of those less fortunate.

The prophets tell the people of Israel that God is sick of the rituals, the displays of so-called worship, the sacrifices and the religious checklist they maintain. Isaiah 58 is a prime example. “Is this not the fast I have chosen?” God declares, then lists off what He considers real worship: fighting injustice, breaking oppression, feeding the hungry, sheltering the poor, clothing the naked, reaching out to others.

I don’t want to get political here, but maybe if we hear those things and think, “Now we’re getting political,” then it says something about our politics and how they line up with Scripture.

Dear me:

Maybe what you’ve been told to believe about Jesus and what He would or wouldn’t do isn’t the same as what your book says He did.
Maybe there are no magic words in there, but there are life-giving words instead…
Ones that aren’t just meant to bless you, but to extend the blessing to the ones God says He cares about the most.

It Is Well

I had the privilege of filling in on keys for the base Chapel service last Sunday (and for the next few weeks). The gentleman choosing music picked a song I hadn’t heard before, and it has a bit of a timing shift that makes it non-standard… so I needed to practice more than usual.

This past week, my daughter married her fiancé, and this coming week, she moves back to the States with him in preparation for his enlistment in the Air Force. She’s our oldest child, so this is a huge transition for Mom and me.

The message of this song really ministered to me in the midst of the struggles of accepting drastic changes, and all the bittersweet mixture of celebration for their love and separation from someone we love.

The waves, the wind, and all the storm of emotion within me–all of these still know His name, and know to fall silent when He commands “Peace, be still.”

Through it all, because of Him, it is well with my soul.

Whatever your storm, I hope this ministers to you as it did to me.

Numbering Days

This month, I turned 40. While that number itself doesn’t seem like some monumental change or drastic milestone worthy of a mid-life crisis, I do find myself thinking of a familiar passage from Psalm 90.

“The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
‭Psalms‬ ‭90:10, 12‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Well, that’s bad news. At best, I’m at the half-way point… and I’ve never been super fit or strong, so let’s be honest about those odds!

Obviously, this is biblical poetry and not some literal maxim about the extent of human aging. Thanks to modern medicine and the progress of civilization, we have folks who live much longer. Sadly, we all know people who never reach 70 years of age.

I can’t find the source of the quote, but there’s a phrase that comes to mind: 


To be clear, I post this without any morbid contemplations of aging or death, without any fear of a life wasted, or opportunities missed. It’s just the thought that comes to mind as I considered my birthday and the significance of turning 40. 

Going back to Psalms, the only day that’s guaranteed in life is your last, and there’s no telling when it comes. Like a game of Russian Roulette played with years or decades, sooner or later, that final day arrives, whether you’re 17 or 70 or 107.

I focus on verse 12–its reminder that there is an impending finality, its encouragement that wisdom is found by living in light of that truth. Not that I believe I can number my days, at least not with any fidelity… but I can remember that, however many there may be, that number is ticking down.

This forces a refocusing onto what I believe matters. My faith; my relationships; those I love; the sharing of good times and fellowship; ministering love and kindness and connection; sparking laughter in a heavy heart; simply being present in a hard time. 

I’ve spent more time lately planning out tabletop games than writing fiction, because to me and several friends of my family, that connection and shared enjoyment around the table is something magical and exciting. Planning a role-playing game also scratches the creative itch of the writer in me… except I’m writing for an audience of 5 or 8 players instead of blog or book readers.

The pragmatic in me says “Yes, but isn’t this a grand waste of time?” (At least, what little pragmatism hasn’t been defeated by perpetual procrastination and my playful, lazy nature.) 

But it’s not about the game; it’s about the people. Shared humanity and my faith both lead me to see lasting value where others might not.

For now, I still need to learn to number my days so I can live wisely. But I know that 80 > 70. So I’m off to the gym to hop on a bike, plot out some interesting stories for the next gaming session, and work on that “by reason of strength” thing.
What do you do to “number your days” or invest in what matters? Let me know in a comment – maybe it’s an idea I could use too!

Walking by Starlight

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” which is a much more congregational song. Majestic and purposeful, it celebrates the greatness of God with reverence.

Your power wakes the dead again,

and Your love destroys the grip of sin.

There’s no other name,

There’s no other name like Yours, Jesus…

As the function I’m playing and singing for has a lot of older members in attendance, the hymnodic quality of the song seems fitting. I can picture it pairing well in a mix with the relatively old praise and worship chorus “No Other Name.”

Or maybe that’s just how I’ll play it at home.

I shared these songs with my wife, who wasn’t as impressed as I expected. “You know, don’t a lot of these songs sound the same? Those seem very similar to the ones I just shared on my Facebook page.” She echoed many of my concerns about the factory-produced feeling this genre all too often conveys.

Turns out she had found and shared another Starlight song, “Take Courage.” Not surprising that it sounded similar, coming from the same album.

She played the song for me to prove her point, and I was struck by how much the lyrics sound like a modern version of a Psalm… something like Psalm 42 & 43 with the repeat refrain asking “Why so downcast, oh my soul? Put your hope in God.”

Take courage, my heart… Stay steadfast, my soul…

He’s in the waiting… He’s in the waiting…

Hold onto your hope as your triumph unfolds…

He’s never failing… He’s never failing…

I’ve been richly blessed by just these three songs, and I have another ten songs waiting on the album. I figured I’d throw it out there in case anyone’s looking for some new music perfect for personal reflection and worship.

Throwing it out there for others who might be interested.

#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.

Heed the Whispers

I was bored in line at the Post Office and decided to play with my FridgePoems app.


The frustration actually came after the poem. While I was waiting for my teen and my middle schooler, I got bad news from work that spun me up about how people make decisions at the last minute. 

The poem’s a little (ok, a lot) emo, acting like the writer is facing the end of the world. But in the middle of the chaos and storms of life, there’s a still, small Voice calling us to a place of serenity. We all have these things that set us off… and I firmly and fully believe it’s up to us how we react to them.

I did in fact heed the whispers, make some time, and sit and worship at the piano. I just didn’t realize I was writing this for me when I put the words together.

(Plus I made tacos for dinner. Tacos fix pretty much everything.)

The Same Love

We played this song for our worship set at church a few weeks back. I liked it well enough when I first heard it–sounded kind of like U2 (and the chord progression blends right into With or Without You).

But the words emphasize the universal aspects of the Christian faith, the stuff that reinforces what’s common to all of us. It speaks to the widespread nature of God’s love, the human condition common to us all, and the far-reaching call, with a central focus on the cross of Christ.

As I back off a bunch of political debates and frustrating arguments with fellow believers and non-Christians alike, I’m reminded of what’s important to me.

In this place at the foot of the cross, the same Love calls out to all of us, wherever we are.

The same love that calls to the poor and says, “I will be your treasure” is the one that calls to the rich, points to the poor, and says, “Treasure what I treasure.”

The same love that calls to the weak and says, “I will be your strength” calls out to the strong, points to the weak, and says, “Be my hands to lift their burden; be my arms to defend them.”

The same love that calls to the outcast and marginalized and says, “You are welcome here forever and always” is the love that says to the popular and the in-crowd, “Treat them how you’d like to be treated. Go out into the furthest reaches and love them as I have loved you.”

The same love that died for all lives and declared that all lives matter must point our attention to injustice and oppression in the world wherever it is found, calling out that those particular lives in danger matter right now.

The same love that paid the price for all sin and paved a way for all sinners is the one calling us to drop our pretenses and hypocritical standards, fling wide the gates, and let whosoever will come.

Because most often, out there among them is where you will find Him.

Under Illusion

I saw this political image making the rounds on my Facebook feed this week, and it got me thinking. Or rather some of the responses did.


One pastor seemed quite incensed that “under God” wasn’t in this version. To that individual, this image shouldn’t be shared as a result… despite the image caption making clear the intent of showing the Pledge as originally written.

In fact, the original Pledge by Francis Bellamy is even more different: I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. 

I thought about the power of those two words, “under God.”

In Supreme Court decisions on the subject, the Chief Justice argued that “under God” is an acknowledgement of the religious heritage of the nation but is at this point essentially a secular declaration.  

The ‘God’ referred to is generic and devoid of any religious context. You can say it’s a monotheistic God, so it’s probably tied to an Abrahamic religion. But I don’t think that’s the Court’s intent or point.

I think they recognize, like we should, that two words in a pledge do absolutely nothing to impose any religious standard of behavior or belief upon anyone. No one draws nearer to God in a spiritual experience by reciting the Pledge. It’s not a hymn or worship song, it’s not a prayer to say by rote like Our Father Who art in Heaven or Hail Mary.

Yet the Righr, ever fearing that War on Christianity, focuses attention on those two words in the pledge, as though they constitute some magic cute to social ills that concern us.

Maybe if kids say “under God” then it’ll show what a good, Christian nation we are–regardless of the immorality we approve, condone, or even actively participate in.

I don’t think it works that way. Not on a national level, where we claim some divine favored status–spiritual immunity perhaps?

I’m positive it doesn’t work this way on an individual level, where so long as I say the right words now and then, all my faults and failures get a wink and an understanding grin before being brushed aside. 

After all, I’m part of the good Christian club, right? I ‘liked’ that image that 93% wouldn’t, and shared that poem about footprints in the sand. I voted for the guy who quoted the Bible in his speeches. And I totally got behind defending “under God” from those atheist social justice warriors. 

To paraphrase Jesus, perhaps today He’d tell us, “On that day, many will say, ‘Lord, did we not post in Your Name? And did we not block the atheists on social media, and fight against the growth of Islam in Your favorite nation? Did we not defend the Christ in Christmas, and stand up for the massive cross monuments on public property?’ 

And I will say to them, ‘Depart from Me. I never knew you.'”

It’s easy for me to sit and criticize. So I’ll be honest and admit that I’m just as in danger of missing the whole point as those whose opinions I decry here. I just don’t want to be content flailing about in a cloud of religious / cultural chaff and controversy. 

If I really believe what I claim, then it’s too important to get hung up quibbling and griping over minor details, caught under some illusion that I’m fighting the good fight for the faith.

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.