Sting vs. Small-Time Worship Leaders

Okay, it’s official, Sting has one of the best voices in rock ‘n roll. On Monday night I went to see The Police in concert, and I must admit, it was pretty incredible. First of all, Sting is like 142 years old and is still way cooler than I’ll ever be. He had an untrimmed neck beard for crying out loud! Only Sting could make that look cool. In addition to being cool, Sting is simply an unparalleled musician. His bass riffs and vocal runs were simply off the charts. The concert was great.

At one point during the concert, Sting was leading 13,000 adoring fans in the passionate singing of the following profound lyrics: “Do Do Do Da Da Da, Is all I want to say to you.” In that moment I couldn’t help but think of my friend Luke.

Every other Wednesday night Jen, myself, and six other couples gather together in someone’s home for a time of singing, Biblical discussion, and good eats. Luke leads the singing on his old, beat-up acoustic guitar. In one sense there’s nothing particularly special about the singing. Just a few people quietly singing to the Lord. Compared to Sting and The Police, it seems tame, boring, almost insignificant. But in reality, what Luke does is far greater and more glorious. Luke is truly great in God’s eyes. Why? In Matthew 20:26-28 Jesus put it this way:

But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

In the world’s eyes, Sting is great. Everybody wants to be with Sting and like Sting. But God isn’t impressed with rock ‘n roll heroes. God is impressed by servants. Those who are great in God’s eyes are those who are nothing special in the world’s eyes. Quiet, humble, faithful servants. People just like Luke.

Not many people see Luke leading worship on Wednesday nights. But God does. I want to be like Luke when I grow up.

The Evolution of a Worship Song

Today Sovereign Grace Music releases an album entitled “Psalms”, which, as the more intelligent readers may have guessed, is comprised of worship songs based on specific Psalms. I had the privilege of writing two songs for this project and hope that they serve many local churches.

But what you hear on the album is often very different (in a better way) than what was originally written by the songwriter. My songwriting process usually goes something like this:

_Stephen writes a song and immediately thinks it’s brilliant – possibly the best worship song ever written.

_Stephen plays the song for his dad, who points out the chorus is boring and cliche, and that the verses could really use some more work.

_Stephen goes back to the drawing board (well, writing board actually) and attempts to correct the above problems. Stephen then plays the song for his dad again, who again helps him to refine the song.

_Stephen finally comes up with the ‘finished’ (note the quotation marks) and then records a very rough demo. Trust me folks, my demos are really rough. Don’t believe me? Click on the player below and listen to one of my original demos from the Psalms project.

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_Stephen then sends the rough demo to men who are much more musically gifted, such as Bob Kauflin, who then suggest further changes to improve the song. After another round of changes, the real final version of the song is given to the producer, who takes my really rough demo and creates something that actually sounds good. Click on the player below to hear the album version of the song.

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So there you have it folks. That’s how a song goes from idea to album in a nutshell. I’m so grateful to work with Sovereign Grace Music and guys like my dad and Bob Kauflin. I hope I can do it for many more years.

FYI – You can download a free song from the album by clicking here.

Dreams and Expectations

God has given humans the incredible ability to dream.

We can imagine the fun we’ll have on vacation, or hitting the ball over the fence and rounding the bases. We can imagine heaven, seeing Jesus’ face and hearing the thunderous waterfall of the praise of multitudes. We can imagine our children growing up to serve God. What an amazing gift to be able to hope and dream.

But we must be on guard, for our idol-factory hearts can so easily turn dreams into demands. Our hopes can easily begin to drive our lives. We can subtly shift from living for God’s glory to living for our idols.

We can unconsciously embrace certain ideas of the way the world is supposed to be. We can buy into the “American Dream”, and then when life doesn’t turn out the way we think it should, we can become disillusioned, depressed, and an easy target for temptation.

Our dream might be as simple as thinking when we turn 16, we’ll get our driver’s license. Or that we’ll graduate from college, marry, have children, a home and minivan. Our expectation might be a long, healthy life.

But what if these things don’t happen? What if we never marry or we lose our health or our job? What if we retire and our wife gets Alzheimer’s?

A member of our church for years dropped out when his son got a girl pregnant and then they got married. “It wasn’t supposed to be this way,” he said. “I did everything I should and look what happened.” He had a certain EXPECTATION that if he did everything right, his children would grow up perfect. When his dream failed to materialize, he became angry at God.

Though Scripture contains many promises that give parents great hope their children will follow him, it doesn’t guarantee a painless pleasure cruise.

Remember:

• God doesn’t owe us our dreams. He doesn’t owe us long life, health, wealth, a marriage partner, godly children, or anything. In his lavish kindness he gives us many of these blessings but he never owes them to us.

• Our dreams will never fulfill us even if we achieve them. Only Christ can satisfy. He alone must be our portion.

• We shouldn’t be surprised when we suffer in this fallen world. Things break, people get sick. We sin, our children sin. Others let us down.

• God’s dream should be our dream. God’s dream is to glorify himself through a rescued people who are increasingly enjoying Jesus and becoming like him. We can live for this dream no matter what our circumstances are.

So who’s dream are you living for?

photo by au ro

God Glorifying Speech

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How many words come out of your mouth in one day? What percentage of your words effect people in a God-glorifying way? What percentage have the opposite effect?

Lately I’ve been thinking about my own words. I’ve been challenged by the words of C.J. Mahaney in his book Humility. He says:

A lot of language is flowing out of our mouths every day and having an impact on those around us. But how much of that flow is fulfilling God’s intended purpose for our speech?

I tend to speak without thinking. Or, more precisely, I tend to speak without considering how it will affect those around me. And I rarely give thought to God’s intended purpose for my speech.

What is that purpose? Ephesians 4:29 says: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

God-glorifying speech does several things:

  • It builds others up. Words that glorify God are words that build others up. If I speak in a way that glorifies God, it will have a refreshing effect on others. They will be more aware of where God is at work in their lives. They will be encouraged. And hopefully they will be laughing at some point.
  • It’s appropriate for the occasion. Some people are weary and need to be encouraged. Others need to be corrected or challenged. Still others need to be exhorted. Godly speech fits the occasion.
  • It gives grace. Godly speech is a God-ordained means of imparting grace to others. As I seek to encourage and exhort others, they will truly experience the grace of God.

I want to grow in God-glorifying speech. I want my words to impart grace to others. I don’t want to waste my words. As C.J. says:

Through each and every interaction, however casual, however brief, I want to impart grace through my words, for that’s God’s purpose in granting us this gift of speech.

Praise God that he’s not done sanctifying my speech yet.

Wall*E: The Definitive Review

Several weeks ago I called upon faithful and sagacious readers to provide me with their opinion of the latest Pixar film Wall*E. The responses were mixed, some joyfully raving about the movie, others harshly criticizing it. This past Friday I decided to find out for myself. It was time for a definitive review (okay, maybe the word ‘definitive’ is a bit strong, but I’ve always wanted to say that something I did was definitive).

Now the moment you’ve all been waiting for. After seeing Wall*E with my own eyes, I came away…insert long extended drum roll and 21 gun salute…distinctly DISAPPOINTED. I was disappointed for several reasons.

As a general rule of thumb, Pixar movies are a glorious combination of humorous dialog, hilarious sight gags, and a moderate dose of cuteness. Wall*E however, relied primarily on what I call ‘The Cute Factor’. For example:

  • For a significant portion of the movie there was zero dialog, focusing instead on the silly/cute antics of a robot named Wall*E. Some of it was mildly amusing, such as when Wall*E watches something on a video iPod, but not nearly as funny as the one-liners delivered by Billy Crystal in ‘Monsters Inc.’
  • Partway into the movie a ‘female’ robot named Eve arrives on the scene. Wall*E desperately wants to hold Eve’s hand – a theme that gets repeated approximately 497 times in the movie. Cute, but nothing compared to Frozone in ‘The Incredibles’.
  • Wall*E and Eve say each other’s names in cute robot voices again and again, which was kind of amusing the first fifty times, but lost a bit of ‘oomph’ after that.

I will admit, there were some humorous moments when Wall*E was aboard the space station, but these didn’t carry me through the movie.

There you have it folks, the definitive review. A cartoon movie critically reviewed by a grown man…my parents would be proud.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I’d like to hear where you agree or disagree.