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

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)


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


By His Power and For His Glory

by his power, for his glory square.001Hey everybody, happy Monday! I use this space more for sharing worship-ministry-related content than my teaching/preaching work. But yesterday there was a bit of a crossover as I share a story about a disaster on stage for a church event and dig into some pretty deep concepts as to how to relate to using our talents for God —something critically important for anyone involved in worship ministry. So I hope you’ll take the time to watch the sermon and share any comments, or your own thoughts about my interpretation of this story Jesus told. This shift in perspective towards God and my own identity is really meaning so much for me personally, and something I believe can be very transformative in how we interact with risk, uncertainty, anxiety, and fear, especially as it relates to using our gifts for spiritual purposes. I’m sharing it with the hope that it might help make what you’re doing a purposeful joy rather than a cynical grind.


The Other Side (Live)

We lost a couple dear members from our local congregation this past month. Strong disciples of Jesus, they have crossed over to “the other side” to be with him in Paradise, but we sure miss them! Singing this song as a congregation was therapeutic for us as we reflect on our own journeys and what really matters.  (See here for an earlier posting of an album recording of this song.)  


It Will Be Provided

I wrote this song almost exactly 10 years ago for a conference that was to take place the following summer. As we have gone through difficulties as followers of Christ in various nations around the world, it’s good to be reminded that God has provided for us and will continue to provide for us. See Genesis 22 for context of the song, what the rabbis call the “Binding of Isaac.” The test of Abraham’s faith became a lesson about the provision of God. That is so true for my life, anytime I have been tested, God always comes through – he walks with me through hard times, he gives me just what I need at just the right moment. “On the mountain of the Lord it WILL be provided.”

This video is part of a “Regional” worship service, my congregation South Bay Church joining several of the other congregations of the LA Church of Christ. The young woman singing the song (Jayde Matthew) is a part of a great family, and her dad was appointed an elder for our church at the end of the service. Here’s the whole worship service. Here’s a video of the song when it was introduced at the conference back in 2012.


Not By Might

I had a few new worship tunes that I feel like the Lord gifted me during the many long months of Covid isolation. One of the songs was based on a cool passage from the book of Zechariah. Here’s the scripture and a bit of commentary on it (and I preached a sermon from this text last Christmas if you’re interested in hearing more):

6 Then he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts. 7 Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’”

8 Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 9 “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. 10 For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. – Zechariah 4:6-10 (ESV)

Zechariah is a pretty weird book to our Western ears, but here is a bit of context. It helps to also look at Haggai, a contemporary book. This is the beginning of what’s known as the “Second Temple” period in the history of God’s people. As this new temple was taking shape, there were some of the older folks who had seen the glory of Solomon’s temple in their youth and thought this new one just didn’t measure up (Haggai 2:3). But God’s message to them was “do not fear, I am with you, my Spirit is with you” (2:4). It wasn’t about the amount of gold or silver or even all the riches of the world —God has all that already (2:8) it is HE that will fill the temple with glory even greater than the former temple (2:9). So that helps us understand the Zechariah passage. It’s not about human might or power, it’s about what GOD’S SPIRIT can do and where HE dwells (Zech 4:6). Even a mountain can become a plain with God’s power (4:7, cf Matt 17:20).

I love the NLT translation for verse 10: “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” God was rejoicing just to see the work begin even with just the tape measure in the leader’s hand. Don’t make light of small victories – that’s often how God works! Little by little. Or with “little” people. There is a theme throughout scripture: God delights in the little. He chooses the weak and unknown. He lifts up the lowly. It’s easy for us to be down on ourselves, or to dwell on how we wish things would be, especially during times like this. But God rejoices in small beginnings. Let us take time to celebrate special moments like the first block in a new temple, or a newborn king in a humble manger. As we’re coming out of Covid hiding, let’s rejoice in every spiritual victory God gives us in his church. There’s a lot of big changes that need to happen in our world. God’s going to make a difference not by might, nor by power but by his Spirit (and perhaps by using our “small beginnings”).

NOT BY MIGHT (Zech 4:6-10)

Not by might
Nor by power
But by the Spirit
Of Almighty God

What are you?
Oh mighty mountain
Before us you
Become a plain
Only God
Can bring a blessing
In his Spirit
We proclaim

In His hands
A firm foundation
Jesus is
Our cornerstone
Joining hands
We build his temple
By his Spirit
In his name

In your hands
Our small beginnings
Through us you can
Bring change to earth
Use us now
To serve your mission
By your Spirit
Heal the world


Emptied All

Some think that Philippians 2:6-11 was an early hymn sung by the church, so I though it would be really cool to write a modern worship song using that section of scripture as the chorus. My exegesis of the surrounding passages led me to an idea that the hymn represented the center of a chiastic structure in Paul’s thought:

.  a Paul’s struggle (Phil 1:20-24)
.      b Paul’s relationship with the Philippians (Phil 1:25-30)
.          c Philippians’ relationships with each other (Phil 2:1-4)
.                d Example of Jesus (Phil 2:5-11)
.           c’ Philippians’ relationships with each other (Phil 2:12-15)
.      b’ Paul’s relationship with the Philippians (Phil 2:16)
.  a’ Paul’s struggle (Phil 2:17-18)

Here is a basic recording of the song.  Below that are the lyrics and a paper that provides more study of the biblical passage.

Emptied All – band demo

Philippians 2, 1-11 – Having the Mindset of Christ – paper

EMPTIED ALL

Verse 1
(from Philippians 2:1-5)
All that we’ve been given
Every blessing in Christ
we share
We should be like-minded;
We should be one
No selfish ambition
Putting others above ourselves
We’ll look to Jesus
in our minds

Chorus
(from Philippians 2:6-11)
Emptied all,
though He was fully divine
To the cross
humbled Himself,
there to die
So exalted be His name,
lifted high
He is Lord
Jesus is Lord
Jesus is Lord

Verse 2
(from Philippians 2:14-18)
So easy to argue
So easy to grumble, but
If we think like Jesus,
we’re gonna shine
Like stars in the heavens,
Holding on to the word of life
Though we be poured out
in sacrifice

Verse 3
(from Philippians 3:13-21)
Forget what’s behind us
Straining forward
to what’s ahead
We’re focused on a
heavenward prize
Not like those around us
Their minds set on
earthly things
We’re waiting for our
heavenly King

Verse 4
(from Philippians 4:4-9)
Be always rejoicing
Believing the Lord is near
And with thanksgiving
we will pray
Peace past understanding
Will be guarding our
hearts and minds
Whatever you think,
think like Christ


I Belong

Hey everyone… happy Monday! We met for church in person yesterday (outdoors) for just the second time since the lockdown over a year ago. It was so great to see everyone, to hear the voice of everybody. There is nothing like being in the Temple of the Lord (which is now the Church). God has taught us new lessons of what it means to be the church over this last year. Our connections to one another have been tested, along with our faith. We have had to work through divisions caused by the pandemic, racial tensions, and political upheaval… and, prayerfully, we have come through it all together in Christ. Thank God for his amazing church, his Holy Temple. There is no where I want to be except with God and with the people of God.

In keeping with this idea I wanted to share a song today called “I Belong,” inspired by Psalm 84. I share in the video a bit about the story behind the song. This video was the opening of a virtual workshop called “Belong 2021” happening today and tomorrow with ministers from our family of churches across the Pacific Islands and Southwest US.

I Belong
(inspired by Psalm 84)

You know all that I’m
Longing for, and my
Being cries out for you
I can’t wait to be
Where you are and see
Everything that you do

Singing praises, onward we go
Through the desert, make water flow
Like a sparrow has found a home
Next to you

I belong, I belong with you
I’m at home, I’m at home with you

Single day with you
Can’t compare it to
A thousand out in the world
May your son give light
May your spirit guide
Every step, every turn

Singing praises, onward we go
Through the desert, make water flow
Like a sparrow has found a home
Next to you

I belong, I belong with you
I’m at home, I’m at home with you

Hear my prayer
Let me stay here
Close to you, my God
Grant me favor
May I be where

Verse
C / G/B / Am / Am
F / C / Gsus / Gsus
C / G/B / Am / Am
F / C / Gsus / Gsus

Prechorus
F / F2 / C / Gsus
F / F2 / C / Gsus
F / F2 / C / Gsus
F2 / F2 / F2 / (break)

Chorus
C / C / G/B / G/B
Am / Am / F2 / F2

Bridge
Am / Am / F2 / F2
C / C / G / G
Am / Am / F2 / F2
C / C / G / G
G / (break)


Turning Sorrow into Song: Interview with Michael Aggabao

Michael Aggabao is a great friend of mine who is also a “man of sorrows,” losing his beloved daughter at a young age to a rare genetic disorder, a loss he carries with him every day of his life.  He’s also the most prolific songwriter I know, turning to God with both his joys and his sorrows, much like the authors of the biblical psalms.  He draws often from the language of these ancient songs to communicate and connect with our loving Father and to express his heartache and longing to see his daughter again in paradise someday.  And he writes really catchy songs!  

In this free-ranging interview we talk about songwriting, recording techniques, challenges of a global pandemic (Michael is also a health professional), and turning sorrow into song.

Subscribe to Michael’s youtube channel to hear new songs he is writing all the time:

Hear his albums on Spotify, Apple Music, or Youtube Music: