In this video I sing a few bars and share background behind some of my favorite songs on the new album, “wait for the lord my soul.”
Give it a listen on all music streaming platforms or digital download. If you like it please pass it along!
Here’s a link to various places to find it:
This past summer I was asked to help teach a class at a conference for church leaders on training and investing in the next generation. There are different approaches and opinions when it comes to this topic in the family of churches I’m a part of (and in Christian churches in general).
One of the things I chose to talk about was when Jesus describes himself as a leader/trainer (using rabbinical language which the use of the term “yoke” denotes), he called himself “gentle and humble in heart” (Matt 11:29). This is something I feel we missed in our church leadership for a long time. Instead we had an ethic of being “forceful men,” a complete misinterpretation of the passage a few verses earlier (Matt 11:12; NIV translation has since been updated). To confess our sins as I see them, I feel that too often we were not like Jesus in our ministry training. Good was done in the name of Jesus but often we missed his character – gentle and humble in heart, self-giving, foot-washing. Jesus was concerned with SOUL-LEVEL spiritual health. Not simply behavior modification. Jesus’ leadership keeps first things first. Holistic. Spiritually/emotionally healthy.
I want rest for my soul. I want those I lead to have rest for their souls. This song reflects my own desire to follow Jesus, to rest in his presence, to learn from his leadership and character. [Below is the recording from my new album. I also posted a live recording of this song a few years ago here, shortly after writing it.]
In my time of meditation and prayer the other day, wresting with loss, I felt the Spirit whispering to me, “When are you going to learn to let go of things you can’t control?” So much of our human experience, even as believers, is filled with adversity or difficult circumstances we don’t understand.
There is a story of a situation like this in 2 Chronicles 20. King Jehoshaphat is facing a “vast army” coming against Judah that they have “no power to face.” The way he responds is great example for us when we encounter uncertain and troubled times. His powerful prayer to God about the situation concludes, “We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chron 20:12).
I wrote and recorded this song during the long months of lockdown, inspired by this biblical story. As I recorded the various tracks I used my iPad to record video. The song appeared on my recent album and yesterday I finally got a chance to edit the iPad videos together with it. (So this video is the footage of the actual recording of the song.)
I DON’T UNDERSTAND (2 Chron 20:1-2)
I don’t understand
But I know you love me
All is in your hands
even if I don’t know what to do
On your Word I stand
To your will surrender
Gonna keep my eyes on you
Like a mighty army
Coming down upon me
If what they say is true
But I’ve seen your glory
Yeah I know the stories
So I’m standing here with you
I can face the problems
Knowing you can solve them
When the war belongs to you
Lord you will deliver
You love is forever
So I stand and worship you
Your love endures forever
Your glory we praise
Your love endures forever
You’re coming to save us
Copyright J. Brian Craig, October 2020
Hey there, happy Monday! If you’re interested to hear some of the tunes I was writing in my late teens and early twenties, my first album is now available on streaming services. These songs were written over the five or six years leading up to 1996 when I recorded this in a campus recording studio. Many of the songs still stand up well and some of the synth programming and the Alesis HR16 drum machine still sound great, I think.
The title track, Nothing Else, comes from psalm 73, one of my favorites psalms as a teen (still is, actually). I related so much to the struggle of the psalmist with envying the world at times, yet when “entering the sanctuary” gaining an entirely different perspective of how wonderful it is to belong to God:
I’m always with you
You take my hand, you’re walking with me
You’ll take me with you, in glory
Whom have I in heaven, heaven but you
And being with you I desire nothing else.
Let me know what you think of the album!
Ross Lippencott is a gifted singer, songwriter, guitar player who has also worked in church ministry for a long time. He was instrumental in planning much of the worship at the recent “World Discipleship Summit” in which around 11 thousand Christians from around the world participated. We have an interesting conversation about his personal history in music as well as all that went into planning the congregational singing for the conference. We discuss such things as:
- Key objectives he considered in planning the conference music
- Important values we should hold to in our worship teams
- Ways we can bring the gospel to artsy people
- How generational dynamics can play into worship ministry
Starting in April, my wife and I took a three-month sabbatical from our ministry duties at the church we work for. (I spoke here to our church about the concept of sabbath and sabbatical just before we went.) Even though I had studied and learned the logical idea of sabbath, I feel like it was something in my head and maybe just a bit of my heart but certainly not yet in my body and my bones. It was so hard for me to stop! (The very word sabbath is derived from the Hebrew word for stopping.) As God was just beginning to form for himself a people-group unique in the world, Sabbath was given as a gift to this group of former slaves, whose very identity had been in their production value, the number of bricks they could bake on a daily basis. God says to them you have to stop! Stop and remember who you are. Stop and know you can trust in me. Stop and know that I am enough for you. All the festivals and feasts that defined the identity of the people were built on top of sabbath rhythms. Even the origin story of the cosmos had sabbath as its crowing moment and key literary organizing feature (the Bema and Bible Project podcasts have much more to say about this if you’re interested).
I realized that even though I had taken vacations before, it had been at least 25 years since I had let a Sunday or two roll by without being deeply involved in all the workings of the church. Even though I might leave town and worship with another congregation, I would set everything up for my local church, remaining intimately involved in everything going on while I was away. But taking three months away meant I had to let go. I set up a sermon series and preaching rotation for our time away and delegated various responsibilities and then I had to just step away. It was so good for me (and so good for the church). It was good for me to spend hours and hours in reading, prayer, meditation, listening to spiritual podcasts, taking long hikes in nature. And I also spent time recording music!
One of the books I read, This Beautiful Truth, has as its thesis that beauty and art and creativity is one of the answers to the question of theodicy. Like the mystics taught, God is so big, so vast, so endless that he can never be understood through purely rational and logical means. He has to be encountered in ways that go beyond–into areas of artistic expression and delight. (God’s own answer to Job is not to rationally explain but rather to point to aspects of his amazing creation.) When approached this way art can become an act of worship. As I meditated on this I realized I had become so hampered from releasing new music by perfectionism. This quote from the book rang true, and both inspired me and really hit me hard:
Every work of art reaches out across the centuries, and each is a vision that casts a flame into the darkness. The wonder is that one great light wakes another. The song of one wakens the story of another. The story she told became the poem he made that kindled the painting in yet another’s hands. Each is a work of obedience. No artist can cast their flame of vision without a twinge of fear that it will simply fade or even pass unseen. But each is also a work of generosity: precious, private worlds offered in a self-forgetfulness that pushes aside vanity, insecurity, and perfectionistic pride.Sarah Clarkson, This Beautiful Truth (p. 187)
I realized I had around 20 worship songs I had written over several years I hadn’t released because I wanted them to be so perfect, I wanted to get my amazing musician and singer friends to help me work on them and was always too busy to make it all happen. My own voice has limitations, especially as I age. My own recording abilities are not as good as other stuff out there. But my heart was not in the right place. Sabbatical reflection helped me to surrender and realize how I just want to be like a flower or a tree or a mountain that reflects the worship and God and witnesses to his amazing grace. Who cares if there are better or more professional ways to perform or release these songs. Who knows how God can use my “fishes and loaves” and do something better or bigger with them. So I decided to spend some of my sabbatical time recording the first batch of these songs–the ones that had been written during times of waiting or spiritual struggle, wrestling surrender to God’s plan and my own limitations. Many of these were written were written simply enough to be congregational songs, but also they were borne of journeys through darkness and coming through to the light of the other side.
The posture of waiting is the posture of worship. It is interested that the book of Acts starts that way–Jesus is talking about the kingdom of God and his followers want to know how it’s all going to unfold. Yet his answer? To WAIT. His Spirit is going to be the central character in the narrative to follow. Our job is just to wait and witness. We don’t have to have it all figured out, we don’t have to direct all the action. We can trust in his goodness and guidance and enjoy the ride. Yes we will need to speak up, to act in boldness and courage while participating in God’s mission in the world. But it all starts with our souls patiently waiting on him.
Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.
If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem IsraelPsalm 130
from all their sins.
Travis is a great songwriter, producer, and worship leader (part of the Denver Church of Christ). We talk about his current projects, how he sees the relationship between faith and art, has some great advice for worship ministries (especially in small churches): Go for excellence, have a good work ethic, play to your strengths, and create a culture where it’s fun! Get yourself out of the way. Here are relevant links to our discussion:
Travis Moore Website: https://www.travislmoore.com
Wild Goose Chase: https://songwhip.com/wildgoosechase
Always on My Mind: https://songwhip.com/aomm
Tuff Tuff: https://www.instagram.com/tufftuff.music
Denver Church Quarantine Worship Videos: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLDTLwuAmVj9wZGID94yn1kC_Al2xerqbc
Ties to the Light music: https://songwhip.com/tiestothelight
Yebba Tiny Desk Concert (warning: some explicit lyrics)
I haven’t posted in this space for quite a while. My wife and I were able to take a three-month sabbatical after 22 years of full-time ministry, and as part of that I stepped back from leading worship, speaking and writing engagements, and so I took a break from the blog as well. I hope to write more soon here about the concept of sabbatical and share a bit of what I learned. (I was also able to use part of that time to do some “devotional recording,” and here is an album I released of what I recorded; look forward to sharing more of that in the months ahead.)
After our sabbatical came to a close we ramped back up in preparation for an international gathering of the ICOC family of churches, the World Discipleship Summit, entitled “Renewed Vision.” (The Vision Conference in Orlando was originally supposed to have taken place in 2020, and we all know what happened with large gatherings that year.) Renewed Vision was an incredibly inspiring time together, like a festival of 9 days or so of joining in worship and prayer, sharing stories and scriptures. Towards the tail end of that week we had a get together for anyone involved in worship ministry that was there at that the conference. Around 200 worship leaders from around the world joined together for a time of singing, encouragement, and talking about the future of working together in the worship ministry of the ICOC fellowship of churches. What an amazing time! There is nothing like singing together with a room full of singers! We made a little fun of ourselves, sang a medley of songs written by members of ICOC, and had a time of trying out some new songs written by people in the group. (Thanks to Khalid James for recording this audio on his phone!) I think anyone who visits this blog would really enjoy listening to the whole two-hour session. Please add any comments below to join in the conversation as well.
As part of that time together we were able to introduce a few new congregational songs that are presently being written and shared among our congregations. Here are videos of these songs being introduced (videos courtesy of Erika Tan):
We are of course all praying for our many dear brothers and sisters at this dark hour. This is a video of us singing “Be with Me, Lord” at a leadership conference in Kiev years ago. As I watch this now it brings tears to my eyes thinking about how much the Russian and Ukrainian brothers in the Kingdom love one another so dearly, and how the “Beasts” of worldly powers seek domination via violent means. Praying desperately for peace. Praying for our Lord to be with our brothers and sisters and to hear their prayers.
The second verse is in Russian. I jumped in with these great Russian and Ukrainian musicians and it’s a mix of local and American singers on stage. The bulk of the audience was singing the whole thing in Russian (there were about 5,000 people there).
Can’t wait for the World Discipleship Summit this summer, entitled “Vision.” My best friend Marshall Mead is leading the church in Orlando and directing the conference. He recently recalled on a couple different podcasts how he had a mountaintop experience were he had an experience of hearing from God that he would direct the conference and it would be called “Vision.” Of course the small detail that what was “Vision 2020” would be postponed by a global pandemic and would later be “Vision 2022” was not revealed.
The last WDS was 10 years ago this summer and was called “On the Mountain of the Lord.” I recently stumbled across something that connects the two conference themes in a cool way. I hadn’t realized that the “Land of Moriah” where Abraham was tested (which would later be called the Mountain of the Lord and would be connected with the site of the temple) means “the Land of Vision.” And when it is translated “it will be provided” the literal Hebrew is “it will be seen.” Abraham literally says “God will see,” which is interpreted as he will provide. (The Bible Project has a released a really cool new app that has great podcasts and video-game-like guides that make some of these connections and themes; I’m loving it.) Anyway I just think it is so cool how the only two WDS’s that our family churches have ever had are joined in this way by this foundational story of testing. The Mountain of the Lord = The Mountain of Vision.
Anyway, on to sharing my song today. Collaborating with others I am sharing a song for the conference, “God Give us Vision.” We tried singing it this past Sunday with my Region of the LA Church and it seemed to go really well. (We recorded it live, so I’ll share that some time soon also.) The song is taken from several passages of scripture and is really centrally about the idea of praying that God will open our eyes to what he is already doing in the world and how he wants to use us. It has been said “I should not ask what kind of mission God wants for me, but rather what kind of me God wants for his mission.” I just want to be on the ride with God with whatever His Spirit is doing in the world – His will be done, His kingdom come. And I want to pass that along –I believe an important part of this conference is younger men and women “having vision and seeing dreams” for God’s kingdom, just as it was passed on to me by others who have gone before me. So that is what the song is about –standing humbly before the presence of the triune God (as we sing about in the bridge), asking him to open our eyes to what he wants to do in the world with each generation and how we can be a part of it.
1 Pet 2:9-10
Joel 2:28-32 / Acts 2:16-21, 32-33
1 Peter 1:10-12
GOD GIVE US VISION (lyrics)
God give us vision
Open our eyes to you
This is your mission
And we are joining you
Bringing your light and life
Lifting your name on high
God give us vision
God give us vision
From out of darkness into light
Our worldly nature crucified
You call us now to be a holy nation saved
To sing your praise
Death and the grave is overcome
Your Spirit poured on everyone
With each new generation, open eyes to see
Visions and dreams
Holy, holy, Lord Almighty
You are merciful and mighty
All your works will praise your name
In earth and sky and sea
Holy, holy, our King Jesus
By your blood you have redeemed us
As the prophets had foretold and
Angels longed to see
Holy, holy, holy Spirit
Breath of heaven draw us near and
Speak through us this great salvation
For those who believe
Bb / F / Dm / C
Dm / C / Bb / Bb
Dm / C / Bb / Bb
Dm / C / Bb C / Dm C/E
F / F / Csus / C (break)
Bridge 1 and 2
Bb / Bb / C / C
Dm / Dm C/E / F / F F/A
Bb / Bb / C / C
Dm / Dm / Gm / Gm
Bb / Bb / C / C
Dm / Dm C/E / F / F F/A
Bb / Bb / C / C
Dm / Dm / C / C (break)