Tag Archives: praise

Remind Me

A few weeks back, I wrote a song — something I haven’t done in quite some time — based on a similar theme coming to me from several angles.

I had been reading “Accidental Saints” by Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran pastor I had seen popping up on my YouTube feed. I don’t agree with everything she has to say, or how she chooses to say it… but when she starts talking about the grace and love of God, she is so on point.

Additionally, I had been playing keys for worship at a few churches, and singing songs like “Who You Say I Am” or listening to songs like Lauren Daigle’s perfect “You Say” which capture the theme of our identity in Christ.

Contrast that with the reality that I know how messed up I am and how often I blow it, how often I miss the mark, how often all my striving or all my lazy giving up just isn’t enough. And yet God’s love is there, even in the midst of my abject failure.

I thought of a great picture I saw where an artist captured the constant sense of “I should be doing X” whenever I am doing Y. I should be blogging, so I blog… but then I think I should be getting my work stuff done, so I get on that… but then I think I should be going outside and getting fit, so I do… but then I realize I should be at home spending time with my family, so I do… but then I remember I meant to write more of my book, so I do… but as I’m writing, I realize I don’t get enough sleep, so I go to bed early, but then I wake up and realize I should have been blogging…

It’s easy to dwell on all the voices in life that whisper ‘should’ and tsk-tsk every time I don’t. It’s easy to constantly reach for the next thing and the seemingly better thing and miss all the good things going on around me. It’s easy to think my worth is found in what I do and what people think or how many likes or shares or retweets I get (and thus it’s easy to despair when I don’t see those).

In those times… heck, at all times, I need Someone to remind me of what’s true.

Remind me of Your mercy, remind me of Your grace

Given to the undeserving, who are welcome in this place.

Remind me of Your patience for the weary and the faint,

Remind me of Your favor toward us sinners You call saints.

 

Keep me in that place of awe and wonder

Where the power of Your grace still pulls me under

Awash in Your mercy, lost in the thought

That the very One who died for is the One my soul fought

Yet You heal and restore me, the sinner that You sought

And transformed in Your glory, the life that You bought

With the blood You poured out for me, my sins have been washed

And exchanged for Your righteousness there upon the cross…

 

Remind me of Your promise, and of Your faithfulness.

Remind me that nothing I do will make You love me less.

Remind me of Your calling, and what You called me for.

Remind me that nothing I do will make You love me more.

Remind me of Your favor toward us sinners You adore

Remind me who You are

Remind me who You say I am

Compliments and Confidence

I had the privilege of singing the Japanese and American National Anthems for my unit’s Change of Command ceremony this week. It went well. I didn’t make any significant mistakes (that I’m aware of at least). I received several compliments. Some people seemed genuinely surprised.

It got me thinking about the distance between compliments for a job well done, and confidence that we can do a job well.

I spend a lot of time in front of other people–public speaking in the form of leading mission briefs and planning discussions, public singing and musical performance in church bands or for secular functions, and of course… writing.

At a recent writing group, we talked about how hard it can be to accept the compliments or to truly believe “My work is of sufficient quality.” People give compliments to be polite, right? It’s easy to shrug those off or downplay them… after all, that’s the humble thing to do, and no one likes an arrogant jerk, right?

“Oh, it’s no big thing, you know, I’ve been doing this for years… just another day to me. Glad you liked it.”

The reason these thoughts came to mind was because then someone didn’t say something to me about the performance. Immediately doubts and questions arose. Did they not like it? Did they think I sucked? Was I off key? Were they not impressed? Do they care at all? Do they know how good I am? Am I not that good? Why didn’t they say something when all those other people did? What did I do wrong that they didn’t like?

The truth is, none of those things are true.  I didn’t do anything wrong and I did just fine if not awesome (if the compliments are to be believed). Yet that brief moment of silence creates so many questions where none are necessary.

Early on, in singing or speaking or writing, I needed those compliments – I need some praise and assurance. “You are good at this.”  That can become a crutch, a dependency that nags at the back of my mind when I check site views or book reviews. When I participate in a critique group and put my work out there to other writers, I might come at that experience looking for validation instead of constructive feedback.

“Oh, you’re so good at this!”

*fake blush* Thank you, I know…

On the other hand, I don’t want to become arrogant or overconfident about how good I think I am. That’s the danger of believing the compliments a little too easily: acting as though I’ve mastered a thing when I’m really only an amateur.

So I presume and hope that there is a comfortable middle ground—a  place where I can be confident in my abilities while remaining grateful for the praise I earn. Something like the prophets in the Bible following the phrase “Don’t look at their faces.” Don’t try to figure out how everyone feels about what you’re doing–figure out how to do it, and just go for your best.

That’s a place where I’m not dependent on what others think to find my own validation. A place where I know I do pretty fine at X, Y, and Z… but I still want to get better at them.

Today, I’ll be signing books at the Base Exchange and shaking customers’ hands. I have no illusions about how minor a thing it is to get a story published in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book. It’s not the first step to becoming a Stephen King or George Martin.

But a company paid money for my words and put them in print. Salespeople suggested “What if you came and signed books?” Maybe some people will buy it, even if just as a novelty.

So it’s something. And today, that’s enough.

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.

A Mouthful

Monday Morning Snack

My mouth is filled with Your praise
And with Your glory all day long.
Psalm 71:8 NASB

What sort of “snack” are we giving others to eat?

I saw this verse, and the question popped into my mind: “What is my mouth full of?” Maybe it’s because I’m dieting, but I thought of a mouthful of food.

How does that “mouth full” taste to the people around me? How does that “mouth full” taste to me?

Let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. Hebrews 13:15 NASB (emphasis mine)

What comes out of our mouths? Is it fruit that will delight our God and satisfy another’s soul? Or is our fruit rotten and withered by pessimism and unbelief, moldy and putrid because of bitterness and anger?

James drives this point home in writing about the power of our words:

8 But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. 11 Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh. James 3:8-12 NASB

We all slip up and say things we know we ought not to say. All of us can think of a time where we said words we wish we could take back. We may never be perfect in our choice of words, but we must still aim for perfection.

This prayer of David is one of my favorite in the Psalms, and it reminds me to be careful about the “mouth-fulls” I allow:

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14 NASB

So… what’s in your mouth?

Worship Leaders?

Spotlight on, set list prepped, intro video fades, and drummer clicks us into the opening riffs of the popular song to get the crowd clapping.

It’s worship!

No, really. Trust us. (Maybe it’s the warm-up to worship? Will you buy that?)

It’s a Wednesday Worship post, at least.

Okay, I hear cool worship blogs have all the videos and teh YouTubes. I guess I should try that.

Right, so… what’s the problem there? (Kidding.)

That’s how we often come across. There’s a nugget of truth in any joke. The video addresses a lot of elements of “contemporvant” church services, but I’m of course thinking of the portrayal of worship.

What about contemporary church worship makes us come across as fake? What makes it seem like we’re just revving up emotions and holding a concert instead of seeking a genuine encounter with God?

It’s all about Him… but keep looking at me.

For one, I believe it’s the thought that there’s a Worship Leader, and then there’s Everyone Else.

We sometimes put these men and women up in front of the crowd, and the attention of the entire room goes onto their words, expressions, and gestures. “A thousand people are watching you intently. No pressure. Be godly.”

At our current church in Bellevue, we’re instructed and reminded that all of the singers, musicians, and technicians who get up on stage are actually worship leaders. And when we use that term, I get the impression we’re talking about “lead worshipers” instead.

It seems like semantics, but Matt Redman makes a really good point in his book, “The Unquenchable Worshipper.” The concept is, when you talk about a worship leader or leaders, you are emphasizing the person in the front, the individual who is guiding and directing all of us in our singing and praising God. When you change the order of the words to talk about lead worshipers, you emphasize that we have some folks up front on the stage who are worshiping God, and we all want to go along with them where they’re headed.

This is a fantastic book.

Redman points out that the Holy Spirit is the real Worship Leader, if anyone is. It’s our job to tune in and figure out where God is going, and then point the way as we pursue Him. We’re not leading anything. We’re following. We’re just up front for everyone else to see, so that they can follow too.

Our Worship Pastor emphasizes this well. He reminds us, “You are all worship leaders. When the congregation looks at you on stage, they’re watching to see how you’re worshiping. But they keep watching when you step off the stage, when you pray before the service, when you mingle with people after the service. You’re showing them how to worship God at all times, not just when you stand up on stage.”

Like I said in last week’s Wednesday Worship post, “worship” is whatever we do to express God’s worth.

It doesn’t end when you set down the mic or put up your guitar. It doesn’t stop when your worship team steps off the stage or the lyrics fade off the screen. It’s not over when the person in front finishes praying and invites the congregation to be seated.

If you’re on a “worship team,” understand that you are a lead worshiper. You are a visible reminder of God’s presence. Some of your fellow church members are probably paying close attention to what you do and how you live.

And if you’re not on a worship team, if you’re “only” a church member, please understand that your worship is just as vital and necessary. All of us are on the worship team in God’s eyes. All of us are created and called to express His worth in the world.

Now there’s some growtivation!

Worship Defined

What is Worship?

Though this is not the first post on my blog about worship, this is the first Wednesday Worship post. Because worship music is a passion of mine, I hope to use this weekly category to cover some of the myths and truths about how we do worship in the Church.

BCC Worship prep
Part of worship, yes.
All there is to worship? No.

Since we usually mean “singing and playing music” when we talk about worship, that’s going to be the main focus. But there is much more to worship than just the songs we perform on Sunday morning.

So what is worship?

Merriam-Webster gives a few applicable definitions:

1. reverence offered a divine being or supernatural power; also: an act of expressing such reverence.

2. a form of religious practice with its creed and ritual

As a verb, it is to perform an act of devotion, honor, or reverence based on the above.

The word comes from the concept of “worth” or “worthiness.” It’s an act that says “You are worth this much to me.”

That goes way beyond mere singing and playing music, doesn’t it?

So, what is worship?

In a way, it’s everything we do, to the extent that we do it for God’s glory. Worship is our expression of God’s worth, of our respect and honor and reverence for Him.

If I do a good job at work because I believe I am to work as unto the Lord, my work becomes worship.

If I bite my tongue instead of biting off my co-worker’s head because I realize that God calls me to forgive others and treat them with love, that is worship.

When we cheerfully give in the offering plate or cheerfully meet the needs of others, we are worshiping God as much as when we sing hymns and songs of praise.

When I have no words to say, let alone sing, and I simply fall to my knees before God, pouring out my heart’s burden of grief or sorrow, that is worship.

Paul tells us that living our lives as sacrifices offered to God is our spiritual act of worship.

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. (Romans 12:1 NASB)

The Messageparaphrase puts it this way:

A Lead Worshiper
Worship is service as much (if not more) than it is singing

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.

There’s definitely a place for singing and playing music as an expression of our hearts and of God’s worth. And that will occupy the spotlight in my future posts about worship, because that’s an important part of who I am and what I’m gifted to do.

But I want to be clear from the outset about what worship really is.

Because if you think about it, and you trust what the Bible reveals about God, then there’s a lot more He wants from us than a song and dance at church.

These thoughts make me consider the following questions:

  • In what ways do I enjoy worshiping God?
  • In what ways can I improve?
  • Is there any part of my “everyday, ordinary… walking-around life” that is not placed before God?
  • How can I more fully embrace all that God does for me?

Song: How Great You Are

Link to song on SoundCloud: How Great You Are

Friday night, I got to spend a little time banging on the keys, playing and singing songs to worship. Some were to prepare for Sunday, and some were simply because I enjoy them.

I found a few chord progressions I liked, and started putting some lyrics together for a melody that formed in my head. Then I realized I could combine these lyrics and the music with the words of the old hymn, “How Great Thou Art.”

That hymn is a favorite for my Dad, who is 100% Swedish. A young Swedish pastor penned the lyrics after a stroll through the woods experiencing the glory of God revealed in nature. Like many hymns, it quickly turns attention to Christ’s sacrifice and atonement for our sin on the Cross, followed by a reminder of the glorious hope of eternity with God.

The bridge I added, the part with “Sing my soul how great this God,” was meant to be the crescendo of praise in the song. I wanted the music and the words to be something that builds up to a point where I throw everything I have into worship, into the music, into my relationship with God, into living for Him. After all, what good is a song that sounds great right now as I sing it but does not remind me or challenge me to continue living out its message?

How Great You Are

Verse 1
      O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
      consider all the worlds Thy hands have made
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder
      Thy pow’r throughout  the universe displayed

Chorus

Then sings my soul   My Savior God to Thee
How great You are
God, how great You are to me
Praises bring to the matchless King
God how great You are
How great You are

Verse2

And when I think             that God His Son not sparing
Sent Him to die, I             scarce can take it in
That on the Cross             my burden gladly bearing
He bled and died to        take away my sin

Bridge

Sing my soul how great this God    Everlasting      Ever  loving

Sing my soul how great this God   Never ending  Never failing

God how great You are   God how great You are

Verse 3
When Christ shall come      with shouts of acclamation
and  take me   home what joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow               in humble adoration
and then proclaim “My God how great Thou art!”
Now sings my soul, my Savior, God, to Thee

 

Use Your Words!

Just do it carefully, it’ll be fine!

Sometimes you know exactly what you want to say, but you can’t quite find the words.

(Usually they come to you ten minutes after the conversation in which you wanted to use them.)

Add in a language barrier, and you’re in trouble!

In 14 years living in Japan, I utterly failed at learning to speak Japanese. I say this to my shame. It would have made for so many better interactions with the Okinawan and Japanese people I and my family encountered during our time there.

The one thing I learned to do was to sing songs in church in Japanese. We had a number of songs that had been translated, and we were given the “rumaji” — Japanese words in romanized alphabet, like this:

Shuyo ten wo hiraki ima chiwo yusabiri

I studied Vietnamese (and later Chinese), so I understood the importance of getting the pronunciation right. I learned to hold the ‘n’ the length of an additional syllable, like “te-n” in the example above. I tried really hard to imitate the “r” that sounds more like a soft “d” or “l” (hence the racial stereotypes about eating flied lice and such).

At first, I was nervous. How am I going to sing and not understand what I’m saying? Won’t everyone tell immediately what a pretender I am?

But the chance for our Okinawan and Japanese members to sing in their own language brought them so much joy that I quickly overcame my fears. Maybe I sounded like “Engrish” to them, but they welcomed my attempts and we worshiped together.

My wife and I played a special set of songs for a Women’s Conference, and the first two songs were strictly English. The Okinawans seemed to enjoy it; they clapped, they smiled, they lifted hands, and so on. But when we started singing Matt Redman’s Blessed Be Your Name, I had a Japanese copy prepared. We got to the pre-chorus, and I sang out, “…When the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say…”

Shu no mina o homeyo…

There was a visible and near tangible wave of emotional reaction. The ladies’ faces lit up with joy and gratitude at the chance to sing their words, and not the words of another.

I want to create moments like that as often as possible.

At one point, I wrote a song that was popular in our church, but we wanted to make it available to others on the mainland. I was able to find a translator–oddly enough a tall Scandanavian girl named Naomi who spoke fluent Japanese–and we worked together to find the right phrases.

That word… I don’t think it means
What you think it means.

A lot of songs get translated, but the words don’t always match up to the original, or in the effort to make a perfect translation, too much gets shoved into the timing of the music.

Naomi talked about how a lot of translated songs bothered her, because the two sets of lyrics really didn’t communicate the same message.

Ours did.

It wasn’t possible to get a word-for-word translation, but I had Okinawans tell me, “I was really happy to hear that the English and Japanese matched up so well.”

When I studied Chinese Mandarin, I had an idea for a song, and again I aimed to get it right. I love singing in another language, providing people the opportunity to worship in the familiar, in what they understand.

This is our Savior and King, the righteous Lamb of God slain for us.

This is our God, who calls us to Himself and makes our relationship possible.

This is a message I want to get right in any language.

我的神 / Wo de Shen (Link to SoundCloud where you can listen to the song)

你是我的神
在你的面前
因你的伟大
我只好跪下
你不但是神
也是我的王
你让我过来
因此我崇拜

耶稣 哦 耶稣
神的公议羔羊
耶稣 我的救主
你是我爱的王

Lord, You are my God
Here before Your face
I can only kneel
Because You are so great

Not only are You God,
You also are my King
It’s You that I revere,
for You’ve called me to draw near

Jesus, oh Jesus
Righteous Lamb of God
Jesus, my Savior
You are the King I love

Song: My Savior's Love

Oh, no, another “modernized” hymn!

Maybe you’ve noticed this trend in Praise and Worship music over the last several years.

A treasure trove of worship ideas for us today…
…and connection to the church in generations past.

About a decade ago, Matt Redman writes about how the hymnal is a treasure trove of song ideas and powerful lyrics. Then everyone’s changing old favorites to accommodate guitar rhythms and incorporate new choruses. (Truth be told, I’m sure others had the same idea, not just Matt, and I’m sure it was happening from time to time before he wrote it.)

The first one I really remember is Todd Agnew’s remake of Amazing Grace, titled “Grace Like Rain.” He puts the hymn in a minor key, and adds a chorus in between each verse talking about how our sinful stains are washed away in the rain of God’s grace. It works.

My wife and I love to play a duet on that. She has a great violin accompaniment and I have a special riff I like on the piano for the third verse.

Then I recall “The Wonderful Cross” with Matt Redman and Chris Tomlin from Passion: One Day 2003 (maybe). “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” is combined with a driving beat and a powerful chorus that borrows from Bonhoeffer:

“When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”

There are others. “Jesus Paid It All” is on a recent Passion album, with a powerful buildup and a passionate cry for us to “Praise the One who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead.”

Chris Tomlin put out a version of Amazing Grace called “My Chains are Gone” with a chorus that sounds like the heartcry of a man released from his cell after years of imprisonment. “My God, my Savior has ransomed me… and like a flood, His mercy rains unending love, amazing grace.”

David Crowder Band has a version of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” that starts with a soft minor key chorus about singing to the passionate God who rejoices over us… before the drums kick in and guitars scream in between the verses of the familiar hymn.

Sometimes the bandwagon gets it right.

Who am I to argue?

The hymn, “My Savior’s Love” was a theme song for one of the conferences my wife and I attended several years ago on Okinawa. It seemed like we were constantly being told “Go into My Savior’s Love and let’s just stay there for a while.” (We had pretty flexible worship musicians, so we could be told, “Do this song for a bit” and it all worked out.)

Years later, I was looking at a hymnal and found the song. I remembered how much I loved the emphasis on the marvel of God’s love…

Here in the present as “I stand amazed” and “wonder how He could love me.”

In the past as I think of how “He bore the burden to Calvary and suffered and died alone.”

In the future as “through the ages”  I will “sing of His love for me.”

I also like the minor key – which to me speaks of reflection and wonder – that leads to the major key – which calls celebration and joy to mind.

Here’s a link to the song: My Savior’s Love… (I fear my singing is a bit pitchy in parts.)

And here’s the lyrics –

1  I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how He could love me, a sinner, condemned, unclean.

How marvelous! how wonderful! and my song shall ever be: 
How marvelous! how wonderful! Is my Savior’s love for me!

2  He took my sins and my sorrows, 
He made them His very own;
He bore the burden to Calvary,
And suffered and died alone.

3  When with the ransomed in glory
His face I at last shall see,
’Twill be my joy through the ages
To sing of His love for me.

Sing a song of praise to God above So amazing to think of
How wonderful, how marvelous is our Savior’s love

How marvelous! how wonderful! And my song shall ever be:
How marvelous! how wonderful! is my Savior’s love for me! 

You Stoop Down

Ever thought of a piggy-back ride from the Creator of the Universe?

Let strong arms and steady shoulders lift you higher than the level you’re used to

There’s a verse in Psalms that talks about God’s gentleness and humility making us successful. There’s something powerful about the thought of Him lowering Himself in order to pick us up and bring us up to a new level. That’s not pride speaking; it’s not saying, “Look at me, I’m awesome, I’m important, God is lifting me up.”

God is the One choosing to do the lifting. Not me.

It’s not about my merit; it’s about His grace.

“You protect me with your saving shield,
You support me with your right hand,
You have stooped to make me great.” Psalm 18:35 NCV

I wrote a song based on that last phrase, called You Stoop DownThe link brings up a SoundCloud window with the music.

You stoop down to make me great

This I cannot comprehend

God of heaven and of earth

You chose me as Your friend

 

You stoop down to lift me up

This I cannot understand

Exalted over all the earth

You hold me in Your hand

 

Jesus the humble King

You gave Your life for me

To give me hope

Now I will sing

Of all You’ve done for me

 

You stoop down to save the lost

Redeeming people with Your blood

Reaching out to sinful men

To bring us near to God

 

You stoop down to meet with us

As we sing our songs of love

Simple though our praise may be

It’s You we’re singing of