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Monday, July 16, 2018

The Word Go project

Several years ago I started to notice something about myself. I enjoyed my pastor's message on Sunday morning, but often by Sunday evening I had forgotten most of what he said! I found this upsetting. I didn't want to lose all of the great information I was hearing from my pastor on Sundays! I started listening to the recordings of past services in my church's podcast, and I started taking notes of the things that lit up inside of me when Pastor said them. I wanted to listen to the Holy Spirit speaking to me in my heart, and I write down the things that seemed important to me, important for my life.

The experience has been a great success for me! I usually come home with only three or four notes from the service, but I put them on my bedside table and review them throughout the week, trying to really take hold of what the Holy Spirit is trying to say to me. But I wondered if there might be an even better way to help others absorb the truths of the Word of God throughout the week!

Memorization is something that I have been interested in ever since the summer during my college years that I spent selling books door-to-door. They told each of us college students to memorize a whole script, many many pages, of what to say when the door opened. It's a terrific sales tool, and the bonus was that it taught me how to really commit things to memory! Putting something into your long-term memory typically doesn't just happen to you - it is something that has to be deliberately done. But there's one exception: can you think of a TV commercial jingle that you heard decades ago, but you can still sing it as though you just heard it five minutes ago? Did you grow up, as I did, in the Schoolhouse Rock generation who can still sing "I'm Just a Bill" and "Conjunction Junction"? We know those things by memory because of one thing: repetition.

I started to wonder if there was a way to make it easy for people to repeat the same information from the Bible over and over in the course of a couple of weeks, and really absorb that information from the Word of God. I knew it was going to take some music, but that was fine by me because I've been writing music for my whole life! As I thought it through, and as I listened for inspiration from the Lord, I came up with this idea: I would write a devotional, containing plenty of Scripture verses and very little editorializing, with three main points. For each of those points, I would write a song covering the same material. I might even record different versions of that song in different genres. The idea is to give people as many options for listening to the same material as possible so it doesn't get boring, doesn't get old, and it is easy to repeat over and over.

About six months ago I wrote my first version of the script. I recorded it and showed it to a couple of people, and one of my pastors gave me some terrific feedback. "This is like a college course!" he said. "This is so much information to absorb! Maybe cut it down a little?" That was great advice - my first version was VERY dense with information! I cut it down about half, And also slowed down the pace of my speech, and the result was SO much better. Then I took my three points and wrote three songs. Over the course of the next six months, I learned so much about instrumental and vocal recording and production techniques! There sure is a lot to know! In the end, I came up with three songs that I feel really good about.

And that brings us to today! Today, I am thrilled to announce that The Word Go Project is live! You can experience it yourself at WordGoProject.com. When you go to that site, preferably on a mobile device, you'll find a big old play button. You can listen the material couple of different ways, or you can even read the speech in text form, but the main thing is to hit the play button and absorb the message from the Word of God. The message that was chosen for this first episode is Love. How's that for an obvious, but really good choice? So visit WordGoProject.com, find out what this episode has to say about love, and soak it in! I hope you enjoy, and I hope it changes your life!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Song Thoughts: "Great Are You Lord"



It's Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise, pour out our praise... - "Great Are You Lord"
And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. - Colossians 1:17 ESV

Every time we sing this song and I get to the chorus, and take a deep breath to belt it out, I think, "Jesus, You're putting this air into my lungs. And you're putting this worship in my heart."

You do realize that every time your heart beats, it's because Jesus made it beat, right? Every time you wake up, it's because He gave you another day to wake up in. Every time your muscles make your body move, every time your eyes blink, every time your body turns food into fuel to keep you alive - it's because Jesus did it.

But more than that: the worship He put into your heart actually belongs to Him in the first place. When we say "You are worthy of praise" it doesn't mean the same thing as it does when we, say, make flattering statements about a successful athlete or celebrity or even our family member or child.

The worship actually belongs to Him, and always has.

As worshipers, we are a vessel to deliver back to God something He entrusted us with, something that belongs to Him. Because nobody but Him deserves it. He put the breath in your lungs, He put the worship in your heart, and when you use one to give another back to Him, it's simply completing the circle, bringing you closer to Him.


You give life. You are love. You bring light to the darkness.
You give hope. You restore ev'ry heart that is broken, and great are You Lord!

It's Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise, we pour out our praise!
It's Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to You only!

And all the earth will shout Your praise. Our hearts will cry, these bones will sing, "Great are You Lord!"

Friday, July 8, 2016

Knowing

(This is not me, by the way.)
I have a daughter who is eight years old, and sometimes she's a real pest.

I'll be in the spare room, working on something on the computer, and she'll come in and want to talk about a new Barbie doll she heard about. Or I'll be up early, just trying to eat a bowl of cereal and get the groggies out of my brain to start the day, and she'll want to make a silly joke (OVER and OVER and OVER...) Or maybe I'm actually trying to do something with her, read a book or watch TV or play a game, and first it's of critical importance that she gets a drink of water, or a blanket, or a trip to the restroom.

Frankly, sometimes I get a bit grumpy. I may growl out some crabby passive-aggressive sort-of-ironic thing, like "You know, I told you thirty minutes ago that we were going to do this now. Maybe you could have gone potty then?" I can be a big old grouch sometimes. (I know, on the Internet I'm a super nice guy every day... aren't we all, on the Internet?)

In real life I'm a serious introvert, and I'm pretty sure if I went to a doctor who knows about it, I would be diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. What that adds up to is that if I'm not thinking about it, my face often has an expression on it that does not show much emotion. Even when I feel perfectly fine and happy, sometimes you wouldn't know it from looking at me. I'm not an easy guy to read.

But you know what? It's crazy, but for some reason that never seems to bother my 8-year-old at all. No matter what crabby thing I just said, no matter whether I'm smiling or even frowning, she has no trouble diving right in for a hug. Even if something she did is the reason I'm being all gruff in the first place! It doesn't bother her a bit, because she knows that no matter what, I love her, and she belongs to me. And she loves me too, so why not give me a hug?

So, what I'm wondering is this: why don't we believers in Jesus, members of God's family, feel that way about God? We really have even less of a reason to be intimidated by God than my little girl has to be intimidated by me! After all, if she does something wrong, it's my job to administer punishment... but Jesus has taken the full punishment from God for any sin we ever have committed or will commit. We are more blameless and perfect before God than a little kid could ever be before her earthly father.

Hey, why don't you go in for a hug right now? God loves you; he wants to commune with you. He won't ever be grumpy or passive-aggressive or even regular aggressive to you. He calls you His child. Every child has time for some cuddles! So grab your blanket and a quick drink of water if necessary, and then close your eyes and say from your heart, "I love you, God!"

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Song Thoughts: "How He Loves"



He is jealous for me...

STOP RIGHT THERE!

Stop singing for a second. Yeah, I do notice that we only finished the first line. That’s because that first line totally wrecks.

Do you remember your first crush? Maybe you were in junior high school, or elementary school, or wherever. I’m talking about the first person your age who totally made your heart go pitter-patter.

Remember how you felt the first time you ever saw that person talking to someone else? Maybe they were even laughing? And it looked to you like your chance with that person was completely gone?

Remember how that felt?

THAT IS HOW GOD.

FEELS.

ABOUT.

YOU.

Close your eyes for a minute and take a deep breath and think about it for a second. I’’ll wait right here until you get back.







OK, done?

Now, go ahead and sing the rest. If you can!

He is jealous for me.
Love’s like a hurricane, and I am a tree bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy…
When all of a sudden, I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory, and I realize just how beautiful you are and how great your affections are for me!

And oh,
How He loves us, oh…
Oh how He loves us!
how He loves us, oh!
We are His portion and He is our prize, drawn to redemption by the grace in his eyes.
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking!
So heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss, and my heart turns violently inside of my chest…
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way He loves us!

Oh how He loves us!
Oh how He loves us!
Oh how He loves!


I've blogged about this song before! Click here to see.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Song thoughts: "Friend of God"



I am a friend of God!
I am a friend of God!
I am a friend of God! He calls me "friend"!
-lyrics to Friend of God by Michael Gungor & Israel Houghton
When this song was new to most people, a worship leader friend of mine told me something that surprised me. It seemed that she was getting pushback from members of the congregation who didn't like the almost chummy way the phrase "friend of God" feels. Presumably they felt that God was their Lord, their King, their Father... but never just their plain old "friend."

The problem is that the Bible itself says otherwise. The inspiration for the song was James 2:23, which says "...and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God."

"But that's Abraham," you might say. "He's a special case. He's like THE father of faith!" Well, I would disagree with you that Abraham is a special case, but let's talk about a group of people who essentially started the body we now call the Church. Jesus' twelve disciples are the "us" in the Gospels. They were just people who loved Jesus, like us, and Jesus said to them, "No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." (John 15:15)

Guess what? In those very same Gospels, Jesus revealed to us that same information that qualified His first 12 disciples as "friends." God called Abraham his "friend" and He called His disciples "friends"... and He calls you His "friend" too!

Who am I that You are mindful of me, that You hear me when I call?
Is it true that You are thinking of me, how You love me? It's amazing!

I am a friend of God!
I am a friend of God!
I am a friend of God! He calls me "friend"!

God Almighty, Lord of Glory, You have called me friend!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

I Can Do It!

Despite clear evidence in the Word of God to the contrary, we Christians seem to think that we need to do a bunch of good stuff to be right with God. How much clearer can it be than Romans 5:1: "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ"? It's almost a no-brainer! And there's no Christian that will try to tell a nonbeliever that they have to "clean up their act" to become a Christian.

And yet somehow there is this idea in the back of our minds that we are not doing what we are supposed to be doing so that we and God will be on good terms. I'm not just talking about sin, either. Am I supposed to be on the mission field but I'm not? GUILT. Was the Holy Spirit telling me to give that panhandler five dollars bu I didn't? GUILT. Did I stay home from Sunday School last weekend? GUILT GUILT GUILT!

Those are not things that come between you and God... not unless you let them. If you do something that you know or think wasn't right, and then you hide from God like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, well then yes, your actions have come between you and God. But it's not really your actions that are the problem; it's your refusal to be with God because you think they did! You might not have even done anything wrong - maybe the Holy Spirit wasn't instructing you to do this or that thing. In that case, all that is coming between you and God is your own ignorance.

But let's talk about sin for a second. As a Christian, does sin come between you and God? Well, that's up for debate on one level - I am of the school of thought that says that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all of our sin, past and future, once and for all when we make Jesus our Lord. Others feel otherwise. But if we are eternally secure in Him, then that means that not even blatant sin is a barrier between us and God. (Lack of repentance is, though, so repent for crying out loud!)

Now, the flip side of this whole discussion is that you cannot do anything that will get you closer to God in any way that is meaningful to Him. You can do actions that help you to focus better on Him, so you might feel closer, but it's not because you are more righteous in any way. Again, the blood of Jesus instantly provided you and me with all of the righteousness that will ever be available to or needed by any of us. Your good works are not currency with God.

I have a family member who used to own a restaurant. The first time I went there to eat, I placed my order with him and then pulled out my wallet. "Your money's no good here," he told me. It's not that I didn't have any money, and it's not that the money itself had no value - it's just that the meal was not for sale. It was a free gift.

So, why do we get the idea that anything we do has any relevance to the way God sees us? I have some thoughts about that, but they'll have to wait for next time. Stay tuned!



Monday, June 20, 2016

Song thoughts: "Fierce"



Like a tidal wave crashing over me, rushing in to meet me here,
Your love is fierce!
Like a hurricane that I can't escape, tearing through the atmosphere,
Your love is fierce!
- Jesus Culture
"This phrase, 'Yet once more,' indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire."
- Hebrews 12:27–29 ESV
The first time I heard the song Fierce, I instantly thought of friends back home. I'm from Louisiana, where hurricanes and tidal waves aren't things that happen to people "somewhere else." I was living in Tulsa when Katrina hit, but I have family and friends who have been personally effected by Katrina and by other hurricanes over the years. My first thought when I first heard the chorus of this song was not, "That's a beautiful expression of how strong God's love is for us!" My first thought was, "This is a song that will really upset people who have been through an actual hurricane!"

It seems strange to describe the love of God as a destructive force - we usually think of love as something that does good things, not destructive things. But according to the Word, God's very presence does indeed contain destructive power. Which frankly seems a little scary!

The key fact here is this: the thing that is destroyed by God's presence is impurity. Sin. Fortunately for us, because Jesus decoupled us from our sinfulness on the Cross, our sinful actions do not cause us to be destroyed. Any sin in the area when God arrives is destroyed, but His people are not.

If we cannot be destroyed by the nature of God's love, but our sin can be destroyed by it, then that means that anything that tries to stand between us and God cannot stand! There is nothing that can withstand the force of a tsunami or a hurricane, and there is nothing that can withstand the force of God's love. It breaks down every barrier! God's love is on the way in a hurry, and there is no escape! (But why would we want to?)

Before I call, before I ever cry, You answer me from where the thunder hides.
I can't outrun this heart I'm tethered to, when every step, I collide with You!

Like a tidal wave crashing over me, rushing in to meet me here,
Your love is fierce!
Like a hurricane that I can't escape, tearing through the atmosphere,
Your love is fierce!

You cannot fail! The only thing I've found is, through it all, You never let me down.
You don't hold back, relentless in pursuit. At every turn I come face to face with You!

You chase me down!
You seek me out!
How could I be lost when You have called me found?