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
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.
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!
Click here for lots of Broward Church covers of popular worship songs
Click here for new songs by Broward Worship
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
Can bring a blessing
In his Spirit
In His hands
A firm foundation
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
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!
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.
(from Philippians 2:1-5)
All that we’ve been given
Every blessing in Christ
We should be like-minded;
We should be one
No selfish ambition
Putting others above ourselves
We’ll look to Jesus
in our minds
(from Philippians 2:6-11)
though He was fully divine
To the cross
there to die
So exalted be His name,
He is Lord
Jesus is Lord
Jesus is Lord
(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
(from Philippians 3:13-21)
Forget what’s behind us
to what’s ahead
We’re focused on a
Not like those around us
Their minds set on
We’re waiting for our
(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
Good morning everyone! We’ve just had our third in-person worship service in a row, which has been great, and I got to attend an outdoor dinner party with no masks (everyone was vaccinated) last week. But we are still a looooong way off from being back to normal (and who knows what “normal” will even look like going forward). Even as we get back a few of the things we lost I know a lot of us are still pretty shell-shocked from the last year, maybe grieving, maybe our world has been pretty rocked in one way or another. I am so very thankful for my grounding faith, my hope in the enduring word of God and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Here’s a great old hymn with this sentiment, and a recording I made with my version of it back in 2012.
By the way I love new takes on old hymns, and I have about an album’s worth of them I plan to release this year. If you have a favorite new version of an old hymn, or even just a hymn you’d like to plug in general, please add a comment below.
MY HOPE IS BUILT
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand
When darkness veils his lovely face,
I rest on his unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil
His oath, his covenant, his blood,
Support me in the ‘whelming flood
When all around my soul gives way
He then is all my hope and stay
When he shall come with trumpet sound
O may I then in him be found
Dressed in his righteousness alone
Faultless to stand before the throne
E / Bsus / A(add2) / A E
E / Bsus / A(add2) / A E
E / A(add9) / c#min / Bsus
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.
(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
Hear my prayer
Let me stay here
Close to you, my God
Grant me favor
May I be where
C / G/B / Am / Am
F / C / Gsus / Gsus
C / G/B / Am / Am
F / C / Gsus / Gsus
F / F2 / C / Gsus
F / F2 / C / Gsus
F / F2 / C / Gsus
F2 / F2 / F2 / (break)
C / C / G/B / G/B
Am / Am / F2 / F2
Am / Am / F2 / F2
C / C / G / G
Am / Am / F2 / F2
C / C / G / G
G / (break)
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:
Michael P. Lovett invites me onto his podcast to interview me about creativity and my walk with God. Our conversation includes:
- Being an mage-bearer, identity
- What makes you feel like “I was born to do this?”
- Leaning in to your strengths rather than always focusing on your weaknesses
- What way are you uniquely gifted?
- What way are you a “gardener”?
- Everyone has a unique way they have been designed to build the kingdom
What does the idea of being “image bearers” have to do with creativity? What parallels are there between “gardening” in Eden and being artists in our time? In this podcast interview with Michael P. Lovett, we discuss such questions and how they relate to our spiritual self (particularly as men, but I’d expect women will enjoy our conversation as well). When leaning to use our gifts is part of active worship (Rom 12:1-2), such creativity becomes part of the rule and reign of the ever-expanding Kingdom of God. It’s about Him, it’s for Him.
This allows us to be vulnerable. This allows us to fail. Because it’s not about us, it’s for God’s glory. We can let go. Create, express, build, invent, design, dream. As men in particular, we don’t have to be afraid.
I share in the podcast how this ties in to my walk with God. I briefly pass along a few of the things I gleaned from the book With by Skye Jethani. Unfortunately, we often accept these lesser postures (which the book describes) in our relationship with God because we’re afraid of the world and we want control. (I speak much more about these concepts in these Sunday lessons: “With,” Part 1; “With,” Part 2.) On the podcast, Michael and I end up talking further about suffering: God’s presence within suffering, and dealing with the unanswered questions that happen in hard times.
Bottom line: the more you know God, the more you understand your proper identity. The closer you are to Him, the more this guides and directs your life, and the many roles present in your life (including being a creative person).