Get free email updates as I write new articles:

The Greatest Songs, We Write from Brokenness

It Is WellWhen Paul and Silas were beaten and jailed for the crime of healing a young girl and freeing her from slavery in Philippi, the Bible says “at midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” (Acts 16:25 NKJV)

When (the future) King David had lost his family, his wife, his mentor (Samuel), his home in the palace with King Saul, and his best friend (Jonathan), he hid in a cave, scratched out a meager life alone for a while, and wrote the 142nd psalm, “I cry out to the Lord with my voice; with my voice to the Lord I make my supplication.” (Psalm 142:1 NKJV)

When Jonah was trapped in the belly of the great fish for three days and nights, having exhausted his effort to run from God’s presence, he wrote a song, “I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, and He answered me.” (Jonah 2:2 NKJV)

Horatio Spafford lost his son to scarlet fever, his livelihood in the great Chicago fire, and all four of his daughters in the sinking of the SS Ville du Havre. His wife, who survived the sinking telegrammed him the simple message, “Saved alone…” While Spafford crossed the Atlantic himself to meet up with his grieving wife, he wrote, “When peace like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know, It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

The greatest songs history has ever seen have been written from the depths of loss and pain. From the depths, the valleys, the darkest moments in life and history, God’s people have found comfort enough in God’s character to cry out to Him. It reminds me of the title of a message I once heard Kenneth Bobo preach – From Sighing to Singing.

There is a modern movement within evangelical Christianity toward a gospel of prosperity in which our comfort, “blessing,” and happiness replaces every other objective God might have for His children. It is offensive. It is dangerous. It is not the gospel but rather a cheap counterfeit. And it devalues every song ever written from the heart of one clinging to the eternal, unchanging character of God in the most desperate moments of life.

Our witness to the glory and saving power of God comes not from our comfort, our success, or our ignorant bliss surrounded by a world of suffering. Our witness comes from our living in and often swallowed up by suffering ourselves. This is the way of Jesus, Himself, who was willing to suffer with us, for us, and as us on the cross. And from that cross, Jesus cried out Himself, “It is finished!” Or more literally, “Paid in full!”

When It Comes to Worship, Don’t Hold Back!

Christians like to talk about church music and call it worship. Church music usually is a means by which Christians worship. But worship is much more than music. We even have our own “worship wars” in which we decide what “style” of worship is right, wrong, or most biblical. I still see the phrases “contemporary worship” and “traditional worship” plastered on church signs, as though worship can be defined by such descriptors.

In our debates about the biblical nature of worship, we usually ask questions that are fair enough…

  • Is this about Jesus? Or is it about the performer?
  • Are the lyrics theologically correct and deep? Or are they shallow?
  • Are people participating? Or is this a one-way performance?
  • Can we use drums? Smoke? Colored lights? Can it be loud?
  • Is it still worship if we use drums, smoke, colored lights, and it’s really loud?

We’ve missed the point. When I read about acts of worship in the Bible, I find myself asking different questions…

  • Are we increasing our adoration of King Jesus?
  • Are we being real and authentic?
  • Does my life back up what my lips offer up?
  • Is this a witness to non-believers?
  • Is there as much room for my brokenness in this act as there is for my joy?

We had only been in town a month or so to start planting Grace Hills when I first met our Worship Pastor, Neil Greenhaw. I sat at lunch with him and asked if he would consider leaving his role at a great, successful megachurch to start from scratch with no promise of success. I had never heard Neil sing or play guitar at that point, but I knew in his heart he wanted to lead people in authentically expressing their praise to God and raise up a generation of worshippers to impact our culture.

Thankfully, Neil said yes in response to God’s calling, and he’s taught me a great deal about worship. Consider the lyrics to one of his singles, Not Holding Back.

Hands raised high, reaching to the One I gave my heart, my life
Head held high, knowing that You love me and my sin I resign
Jesus is the King of Glory

I’m calling for You, my Savior
begging for You, and Your Spirit
waiting to move, I’m consumed by You

Not Holding Back, I’m giving it all to You
worshiping now, in spirit and truth
Your only Son is coming for us
Your Kingdom come, Your will be done
I’m Not Holding Back, I’m giving it all to You

Heart made right, only through the blood and power
Jesus Christ, crucified, now You’re alive

The heart of that song set the tone for one of our core values at Grace Hills. Namely,

We won’t hold back when it comes to worship. We will express our love for God freely so that our passion for him is obvious to a watching world. Jesus is worth it!

As we engage in worship corporately on Sunday, our atmosphere is one of freedom, but not of chaos. I often look around and see people standing and others sitting. Some are raising their hands with eyes closed while others are politely lip-syncing (and I’m sometimes among them). We never say things like “let’s all smile” or “leave your worries at the door.” We recognize that people worship from places of brokenness as well as places of triumph and we welcome both. Worship is our offering to God, but He uses the worship conversation as a time to minister to our needs.

The bottom line is, we try to spend very little time looking around and far more looking up. From our brokenness, we praise the Healer. From our sin-filled, forgiven past, we praise the Forgiver and Redeemer. And with our grace-appropriated, blood-bought future ahead, we praise the coming King. And all the while, we are thankful that such a holy, holy, holy God accepts and relishes in our authentic worship.

Neil Greenhaw’s Newest Single Is Out

Not Holding Back by Neil GreenhawI had the rare privilege of reading the lyrics to Not Holding Back when Neil was writing them, and then heard the song during it’s time in production. I can tell you that Neil agonized over this song, making sure its theology was well rooted in Scripture and that its message was needed by today’s church.

I’ve watched Neil lead Grace Hills in worship, but I’ve also had many behind-the-scenes conversations with this genuine, authentic worshipper. I can tell you that he means these words. He leads us in giving it all to God every Sunday and has a passion for leading us to live “all in” between Sundays as well.

I’m proud of Neil, I’m excited about this song, and I’m praying the church adopts it with enthusiasm.

Preview and Buy It On iTunes

The Natures: A Bushel of Really Cool Music!

This weekend, The Natures performed at Saddleback. Pastor Rick preached on The Word of Forgiveness, a sermon he intended to preach as part of his “Seven Words from the Cross” series leading up to Easter, but was unable to do so then. It was a message of forgiveness from the guilt of sin.

The Natures sang their song Come On and Celebrate which includes the lyric “Jesus done washed my sins away.” Don’t judge the music by the grammar – their style is modern folk, earthy, and energetic. They brought the message of the cross to life in a great way.

The Natures

I gather, from the website, that they’re just getting off the ground, and I hope they go far. I loved their sound. Being from Kentucky, I enjoyed the slightly bluegrassy, folksy feel. Being in California, I could appreciate the earthiness of it. Their music is an excellent mix of the two.

After the service, we bought their CD – 5 songs for $5 and played it on the way home. Good stuff! You should buy it too over at their website. And perhaps you might even consider having them perform at your church or some other venue near you.

And thank God, “Jesus done washed my sins away!”