ICOC Worship Collective

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):

Guilt to Glory – Jahson and Noelle Saunders (Broward Worship) | ICOC Worship Collective
Wait for the Lord My Soul – J. Brian Craig | ICOC Worship Collective
Your Voice – Tina Crawley and Joshua Taliaferro | ICOC Worship Collective
Psalm for the Soul (Hopeful) – Jahson and Noelle Saunders | ICOC Worship Collective
You Come to Us – Ross Lippencott | ICOC Worship Collective

Prayers for Ukraine

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).


God Give Us Vision

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.

Reference passages
1 Pet 2:9-10
Joel 2:28-32 / Acts 2:16-21, 32-33
1 Peter 1:10-12
Heb 2:1-4

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

Chorus
Bb / F / Dm / C
(repeating)

Verse
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

Bridge 3
Bb / Bb / C / C
Dm / Dm C/E / F / F F/A
Bb / Bb / C / C
Dm / Dm / C / C (break)


More than Conquerors

Hello everyone and happy Monday! I mostly share original songs on this blog but once in a while I might share one by another artist. This is one our church loves to sing by Rend Collective. I have written before about having different kinds of songs at church (like guy-type songs) besides deep and intimate worship ones (which I love). I believe a good worship service has a good mix of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs–different styles, upbeat and joyous and well as down-tempo and introspective. This is one of the upbeat, fun, party-at-church ones! Sunday should be fun as well as spiritually meaty, in my opinion. And banjo helps.


Wait for the Lord My Soul

Hey everybody, happy Monday! Wanted to share a new worship song I wrote this past year while in quarantine, called “Wait for the Lord My Soul.” The lyrics are taken from Psalm 130. This was our second time singing it with the church, and yesterday it was fun to have Alex lead it instead of me (first time I sang it was on our livestream a day after writing it). What a blessing to hear the voices singing it now in person.

We are just beginning an eight-week season as a church going through a book called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and a companion book Day by Day. Learning to wait, to be still, to trust in God’s forgiveness and salvation are coming up again and again in the materials we are going through. It’s hard for me to slow down, to breathe, to even spend two minutes in silence (as we are doing several times a day). I just want to do and do, go and go, keep producing, keep busy —tempted to value myself by what I get done. Yet I serve a God who rested —he knew when to say enough, when to stop (inferred by the very word Sabbath). The words of this psalm and new song are helping me to learn to stop, slow down, teaching my soul to wait for the Lord.

WAIT FOR THE LORD MY SOUL
(based on Psalm 130)

I wait
Wait for the Lord, my soul
I wait
Wait for the Lord, my soul
Like the morning

I put my hope
in Him, in Him
Redeem me from
my sin, my sin

His Name, His love
His word, His word
We cry, we hope
We serve, we serve

Israel, put your hope
in the Lord
For his love never fails
He himself
Will redeem our sin
We wait for him
We wait for him

WAIT FOR THE LORD MY SOUL
in D

Chorus
D/F# G2 / Bm A
D/F# G2 / A
(repeat)

Verse
Em / Bm A
Em / G A
(repeat)

Bridge
F#m7 / GM7 / Bm7 / A
GM7 / D A / Em / Em
A / break


Up to Now You Wondered Why

Hey everybody, happy Monday! Hope you had a great holidays. Yours might have been marked with sickness, like ours. I ended up with Covid myself and stuck in quarantine for a few days. Thankfully my symptoms were mild and I spend some time making some simple music videos for some of my Ties to the Light songs (and one for my daughter Cora). I thought I’d share one today called “Wonder Why.

Songs like this I try to keep kind of general enough in lyric for people to be able to own them and apply them to their own life and situation. But I’ll share with you guys a bit more detail. In this case the song was inspired by a specific campus conversion story. The person was praying that God would show them his way and his people (it’s it so cool how often that is part of people’s stories). They looked out their window and literally saw a sign for where the church was meeting. They came to church, studied the Bible and became a disciple of Jesus.

I love the idea that God allows different things in our lives to lead up to decision moments — turning points that make all the difference for the rest of our lives. Even difficult things, failures, or hardships… “life led regrets up to this moment.” God is there all along –in countless lives and spiritual journeys. God knows every heartbreak, hears every whispered prayer as we go through the ups and downs of life. If only everyone would turn to him. If only everyone would recognize, as this person did, “Love was looking out for you all along.”


You Are My Everything – Cora Craig

This is a song my daughter Cora wrote that a pulled from the live stream of our service just over a week ago, when the teens picked all the songs and led us in much of the worship service. This song talks about how really knowing God, really coming into the light allows you to truly be yourself. Cora has a whole album of great songs she has written (and we are working on recording a few more new ones).

Here are the words and chords:

I was such a fool, so blinded
In a dark room that you lighted

You are my, my everything
You mean the world to me

No I can really be who I am
Down this road you will see the horizon

You are my, my everything
You mean the world to me

Such a beautiful sight, you and I, and I
I get afraid when I cross that line

verse
Bm / G / D / A

chorus
Bm / G/ D / A

Bm / G / D / Em A


New Song: All of My Heart Belongs to You

Hey guys happy Monday! Hope you had a great Thanksgiving! Wrote a new song over the weekend, thought I’d share with you. Some of you are songwriters, and others are interested in the process of songwriting so I thought I’d share how this one came about since it just happened. This was one where the whole song just kinda pops out in like 1/2 and hour of working on it and I love those ones! (Other times its week or months of working on something and I still don’t like what I’ve got!). This is not a great recording of the song, I made it right after I wrote it, and my living room guitar happened to be in DADGAD tuning, kinda low key for me, but whatever – I’m trying to be less filtering of just sharing creative stuff out there. So, here’s how the song came about.

Sat morning I was listening to Taylor Swift’s album Folklore in the background while I was reading (I’m a big fan of that genre, love Bon Iver who helped out). The song “August” has these chord changes on the chorus that shortly after were rolling around in my head. The sentiment of the song (and a lot of Taylor’s music) is sad to me: the instability of dating relationships in the world, the pain of breakups (not meaning to be judge-y or anything but just listen to her songs). I was contemplating what an amazing thing it is to have a relationship with the Creator – he never lets me down. He’ll never ever break up with me. He deserves all of my heart. And the chorus melody and lyric just came to me (both together), “all of my heart belongs to you” –really catchy, kind of similar vibe and sentiment to the song “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever.” Then the melody for the verses (which you could hear is pretty influenced by the Taylor Swift song) and lyrics for the verses I just took down right as the melody was coming. Then for the bridge I wanted something kind of climbing, something kind of similar to like the bridge in “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever,” since the song was already sounding a bit like that one, and I really like how the bridge turned out and sets up the final choruses.

Anyway, I share these influences and song similarities because long ago I was a composition major in college for a time and had this view about music (and art school in general can have this idea) like I had to come up with something totally original, totally new, never been done before. So that caused me to be tentative, self-censoring, afraid to just make art. Thing is, does anything truly original even exist? Everything is a re-mix (see this Ted talk with that name)! Don’t be afraid to have songs you hear inspire new songs (or things you read art you see, etc)–don’t plagiarize, but allow your influences to be contributors to new art. That is godly gardeningas I have spoken about elsewhere—using already existing materials and weaving/shaping/molding them into something new and beautiful that glorifies our Maker. Anyway, if you have a thought about music or art or the creative process feel free to drop a comment below!

Tempted by
A world divided
Storms and violence
Fools deny the truth
The truth
Satisfy
Meet me in silence
Still my soul
Make me whole in you
In you
**All of my heart belongs to you**
In your story
For your glory
Ever more we
See you shining through
Shining through
Hope and freedom
Life and kingdom
Love and meaning
All is found in you
In you
**All of my heart belongs to you**
All these other things
Asking for my love
Not where I belong
Will never be enough
But loving you is like clean water
Take me down into your river
Where you are I wanna be there
On into forever
**All of my heart belongs to you**


Hallelujah! Forever, an Anchor for My Soul!

We recently had a marriage retreat with quite a few couples in attendance from various congregations of the LA Church of Christ (a network of a bunch of ICOC churches in the LA area). We had close to 500 people there and it was so fun and amazing to hear that many people sing (especially after so much social isolation)! 

This opening medley of three songs was focused on our security in God – “a mountain, firm beneath my feet,” “forever God is faithful,” an “anchor for the soul.”  The first two songs are written by a couple of my church songwriting “mentors,” Brenton Brown and Chris Tomlin.  (Both write songs that are simple, easy to sing for congregational participation — something I most often aim for with my worship songs.)  I hope this song medley in the key of G reminds you of God’s ever-present faithfulness and fills you with Gratitude on this Thanksgiving week!


How Personal Story Frames Our View of Worship: Joshua Taliaferro

I love chatting with and learning from worship leaders who are younger than me.  Joshua Taliaferro and I have had a few great conversations through the years (hear an earlier one here) about worship ministry.  He contacted me recently asking for my thoughts on some of the challenges of building an eclectic worship set, having disparate styles of music that reach multiple generations of Christians and still have it flow well.  We decided to record the conversation so that others might listen and join in with their thoughts or input.  Please feel free to comment, share, let us know what you think.

We ended up also talking about Joshua’s personal story, and how for each of us, our spiritual journey has so much impact on how we view worship.  We spoke about generational challenges in worship ministry, Joshua’s perspective on ICOC past, present, and future, a bit of what he is doing to build worship teams in his congregation in San Antonio.  We end with the perspective of learning to enjoy operating in an eclectic and diverse worship space, enjoying the process of serving those in our congregations, like giving a gift to someone that we know they will enjoy (even if it’s not our own personal taste).  Good gift givers have the recipient in mind and enjoy watching them unwrap it.  Hopefully we can have a similar experience on Sundays as we roll out the worship service we have worked to prepare.