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.”


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.


Be Still My Soul

We had a memorial service yesterday afternoon for Mia Steburg, a dear sister in our fellowship who passed away from leukemia a short time ago. Her husband requested we sing this song, which was one of her favorites. It had been a long time sing I sang this song, and I was struck anew by its powerful words, especially during times of grief, hardship, and struggle. The way I play it I attribute to Kevin Darby, who a recorded a version similar to this years ago with his team on an album of the same name (I’m playing it in E but I think he did it in G… I notice my keys are dropping as I get older). I hope in any struggle you may be going through, the words and melody of this classic hymn may minister to you. Chord charts and lyrics are below.

BE STILL MY SOUL

Be still, my soul, the Lord is on thy side
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide.
In every change he faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul, thy best, thy heav’nly friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul, thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as he has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul, the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while he dwelt below

Be still, my soul, the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul, when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall be at last.

E / A / A / E
E / A / A / E
E / C#m / C#m / F#m / A
E / F#m / G# / C#m / C#m
C#m / F#m / A / E / B

E / A / E / A


One Day Every Knee…

I posted this song around a decade ago (and I’m not sure how much older that video was) but I thought I would share it again today with a new video recording. It’s going to fit the theme of our worship service this Sunday so we plan to sing it this week. It was originally written for a campus ministry conference many years ago with the theme “The Whole World Will Know.” I had two musical ideas and this was one of them (the other was from the David/Goliath story, which is where that phrase originates–see a music video I made of that song here).

I like the some of the theology of this song and singing it today was a reminder of God’s patience, “not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). I want to continue to join him in his mission, in whatever way I can.

EVERY KNEE WILL BOW
The whole world will know
We’ll sing it loud
We give all to crown you now
The whole world will see
As we see you now
One day every knee will bow

O God you make us sing
You’ve giv’n us everything
To you our all we bring in royal praise
In this dark world we’ll shine
Until the end of time
We’ll tell the world to find your saving grace
To seek your face

Since Adam’s ground was cursed
Children of Eve been birthed
The dragon to the earth in fury hurled
But still you had a way
Your only son you gave
Your kingdom here to save, so loved the world
The whole world

Now give us strength to tell
Push back the gates of Hell
By your love we are compelled the gospel preach
Now make us brave and bold
Help us achieve the goal
That one day every soul your grace will reach
Your word we speak…


Don’t Travel Alone

Hey everyone, happy Monday! I met someone this morning who is a rapper; we were talking about music and positive rap, and our conversation reminded me of some work by an awesome rapper from our sister congregation in San Diego, Rayshon Roberts (see rayshonmusic.com –please follow his music he has some great stuff). He contributed to a song of mine I’ll share today, called “Don’t Travel Alone.” I wrote this song back in 2013, around an infectious synth riff and some thoughts about friendship in the church, and some who had decided to leave our circle of fellowship, cutting off some of those that loved them the most (or at least it felt that way to me). Sin can separate us. So can tribalism and ideology, loyalty to movements of men rather than the kingdom of God. It’s frustrating to me that lately some have allowed their party politics or social ideas to come between them and their brothers and sisters in Christ. We need each other. We need community. We need spiritual friendships. No other way to make it on the journey. Here is the somewhat cheesy rap that I wrote for this song (no longer on the recording, it was replaced by Rayshon’s lyrics):

The best of us is a mess, but trust 
that on the road long
You need someone to hold on for the journey
I think its tragic
when losing friends is symptomatic 
Recovering addicts need a sponsor
–think its time you had it
Life instead, marrow deep and red
Gotta re-tread, and be led
back to where your warm and well-fed
Rewind
Travel back to our time
Draw a clean line and you’ll find
We’ll be waiting

VIDEO: DON’T TRAVEL ALONE (by Ties to the Light)

This is outside the norm for this space where I mostly share congregational worship songs. But this song is fun and I especially love how the music video turned out — The amazing Joshua Strauther let me use his fun skating videos to make this. (Joshua is himself an amazing musician and worship leader for the Westside Church congregation here in LA and we used to do music for conferences and camps together years ago.) “Wherever you’re going… don’t travel, don’t travel alone!”


Generational Opportunities and Challenges: Interview with Space Makers

SPACEMAKERS ON INSTAGRAM

Hello and happy Monday everybody!  I have spent my whole life in a family of churches known as the International Churches of Christ (ICOC).  There are some young people from a few of our congregations who have recently made a podcast called Spake Makers with a stated goal to “make space for intergenerational and hard conversations about controversial topics.”  They invited me on the podcast to share about my experience growing up in our church, and we ended up talking about quite a few different topics along the way, such as 

  • Generational challenges in our church
  • Reactionary dynamics in church structure and history
  • Bad scriptural interpretation in our past
  • Engaging culture appropriately (as Paul does in Acts 17)
  • What I appreciate about young people
  • Challenges of Covid and isolation
  • Faith vs. fear in building the church
  • Social media, new platforms of communication
  • Worship ministry and music

I went on quite a few ramblings and I might have said a thing or two that is controversial—I’d love to hear from you if you agree or disagree with anything I had to say; feel free to leave a comment or reach out.  I really love our church and feel like in many ways it a better church than its ever been as the Spirit continues to work on us.  When I talk to young people about the future it really gives me hope for the days ahead.  A wise poet once said “I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way…”  

Space Makers on iTunes

Space Makers on Spotify


New Songs and Worship Styles: Interview with Broward Church Worship

Hello and happy Monday!  Today I would like to share a great interview I was able to record recently with my friend Tony Fernandez and his team at Broward Church (browardchurch.org).  Broward Church Worship has been releasing some awesome new worship songs, and they share a few of those and the stories behind them. We  also had a great conversation about navigating different church worship styles and some of the congregational dynamics that go along with potential changes in forms of worship expression.  Additionally, we spoke about online promotion, and the whole space of social media and how to think about that from a kingdom perspective. (I have been on a two month break from social media, just now getting back to it, and so that part of the conversation was helpful for me to think about at this very moment.)  Take the time to listen to the interview and please comment or add your $.02, either here on the blog or on the youtube posting.

Thank you for loving God, loving his church, and loving the music of the church!

website:  browardchurch.org

facebook:  facebook.com/browardchurch

Click here for lots of Broward Church covers of popular worship songs

Click here for new songs by Broward Worship


Songs That Take You High and Low

Album cover for Ties to the Light - Songs That Take You High and Low.

Hey everybody! This little space on the Internet I’ve had going for over a decade now has really been about sharing resources, ideas, thoughts, and experiences as they relate to worship ministry. And I think most of you who read this blog serve in that arena in one way or another. Crossing into this space occasionally are also thoughts about creativity, and the arts in general, and today’s post is along those lines. If you read on, please indulge me in hearing a bit of my artistic and creative journey the last few years.

I appeared on a friend’s podcast recently and spoke quite a bit about the connections between how I view myself as a creative person, an image-bearer, and how my relationship with God connects to all that. Whereas before becoming a disciple of Jesus creativity was much about self-expression, when I submitted to the Lordship of Christ my art became more about worship, and offering the best of myself to his purposes and for his kingdom. This even caused me to shift majors in college. I had started out as a fine arts major (I make paintings and illustrations), but my visual art at the time was so inward-focused I chose to move to music (eventually getting a music degree with an emphasis in audio engineering) which for me was more outward in expression. I made music in those days that was alternative rock, played some shows around town and on college campuses (we even one the “battle of the bands” back at CU Boulder, due not in small part to the frenzied CU campus ministry in the audience). And my friends and I would regularly play rock sets of popular tunes and my own songs for campus retreats.

Later I started writing some songs for the church to sing (mostly because I was tired of some of the songs we were repeating so frequently) and made it my goal to write simple, catchy, easy to sing songs that could be sung at a campus gathering or baptism, or also could be scaled up and done at a conference or big worship service. By God’s grace he gave me some great songs, some of which caught on and spread around our fellowship of churches.

I still always had my alternative rock musical foundations though, and a while back I started writing songs again in that vein, partially with hopes of playing out around town in non-church environments, just to meet wholly different categories of members of my community, to reach out and meet new people. Artistically, it was also fun to branch away from worship music, even as the message of many of the songs came from a worshipful perspective or a place of commentary on the spiritual journey. They were songs about people falling away, getting spiritually numb, finding God in campus ministry, needing community, striving towards Christ, feeling distant in secular culture. But the lyrics are all couched in metaphorical terms with universal themes that hopefully everyone can relate to. In order to distinguish the material from the worship music most people knew me from, I released the songs under the band name “Ties to the Light.” (Here’s the new Facebook page for that music.)

Worship music has to be simple, easy to sing, musically uncomplicated, not dependent on a certain groove or instrumentation (at least if it’s going to be easily sung by average church members and shared amongst diverse congregations). In particular my goal has been to share really easy songs, as much of modern worship music feel radio/performance driven, in my opinion, more than being about congregational engagement (of course there are some great exceptions of easy-to-sing songs). Conversely, my Ties to the Light songs could be more about artistic expression and my own musical and production technique exploration, even whilst still being vehicles of spiritual messaging. My recordings of worship songs were made primarily for the purposes of sharing the songs themselves, so I used whatever audio technology I had available at the time, without getting overly concerned with production value. So while I still love the songs, some of the recordings are not so great. With my Ties to the Light stuff though, in order for it to stand beside commercial releases it had to be higher production quality, so I invested in paying to have some of the songs mixed and trying to learn newer recording techniques and equipment.

Just this past week I am now releasing the second album of Ties to the Light music (three of the songs on this new release are cowritten with Geoff Fawcett, which is cool). Because it’s under a new artist name and not my own name, almost no one knows about it. So for example while I have a decent number of listeners who listen to “J. Brian Craig” on Spotify, for Ties to the Light there are 9. Actually now it’s up to 11. So if you’ve read this far, you probably are a supporter of my music and ministry so I’d like to ask you–can you help me get the word out about Ties to the Light? Listen on streaming devices. Download and/or rate and review on iTunes. Like and follow the Facebook page I just set up (and share the videos that are on there). And, if you like the music, tell your friends about it! Because I get feedback that some of these songs would be great for sync purposes (like behind a commercial or TV show or some other media vehicle) I’ve included acoustic and instrumental versions of the songs on this one.

By the way, with the time I spent the last few years finally getting that Ties to the Light music up and running and out into the world, I’ve been building up a backlog of new worship songs that God has been giving me. So I have at least two albums worth of newer worship songs I need to get decent recordings of and release. Some of these I have posted in this space or shared in one way or another — more introspective songs like Let Me Rest, I Belong, Only In the Cross and more upbeat songs like Heavens Declare, Emptied All, and Worship You My King. There’s even a worship song that acknowledges climate change called Every Rock and Tree. Please pray for me that I can make time to get all these songs recorded and share them; there are some songs my local church really loves singing or the kids at camp totally love belting out, and I feel a calling to share them with a wider audience. One cool thing is I’ve been getting faster and better with mixing and production, learning Logic along the way doing Ties to the Light stuff, and especially all the virtual choir worship videos I made during the lock down. So hopefully I’ll be able to work a little faster getting the material released.

Thank you so much for cheering me along on this musical journey, and thank you for all the support that so many of you have given me through the years!