Songwriting Tip: The Holy Spirit Doesn’t Write Bad Songs

Occasionally in a songwriting workshop, when I’ve pointed out a weak lyric or poor melody, someone has replied, “But that’s the way the Holy Spirit gave it to me.”  My first thought is usually, “Then the Holy Spirit isn’t a very good songwriter.”

Our songs are not “inspired” in the same way Scripture is INSPIRED.  Every word of Scripture is God-breathed; we can’t make the same claim for our song lyrics.  That D minor 7 chord in the chorus is not the one and only chord the angels are using in heaven.

I’ve recently been trying to write a funeral song for Sovereign Grace Music’s “Resurrection” project.  So far I’ve sent in at least 6 different versions.  Finally last night I started from scratch and completely changed the lyrics and music.  After I sent it in, my friends Bob Kauflin and Sal Oliveri each got back to me suggesting alternative melodies to mine (and they were both better than mine).

Songwriting is primarily about rewriting.

If a song doesn’t immediately grab someone – if they say they think they’ll have to “get used to it,” it’s probably not that good.  Don’t defend your song like you defend the inerrancy of Scripture.  Go ahead, you can change it.  You can actually scribble out the words and write new ones.

So write, rewrite, then rewrite again.  Play it for someone.  Then rewrite some more.

photo by Olivander

The Home Repair Skills of a Monkey

I have the home repair skills of a monkey. A somewhat intelligent monkey, yes, but a monkey nonetheless.

Point in case: my bathroom sink.

My bathroom sink has been dripping for the last two months. Now, lest you think I’m a total hobo deadbeat, I did try to fix. Through my highly trained powers of home repair deduction, I determined that the leak was coming from the cold water faucet. So, I tore apart the faucet, removed the stem, and went to Lowes to purchase a replacement.

Lowes and I don’t always get along so well. Anytime I go to Lowes there is a 66% chance that I will leave feeling like a total moron. I go in and see contractors staring thoughtfully at various items and hear them saying things like, “Yeah we’re going to need to replace the number four valve on the defibrillator so that we don’t get a combustion leak.” Meanwhile, I have to walk up to a Lowes employee and say, “Can you help me find another one of these sink thingies?” Embarrassing.

After a small amount of searching I found what I thought was the right piece for my sink. They were the same color and everything. Turns out I was wrong.

So I came up with a temporary fix that involved replacing an old rubber washer with a new one. And by temporary I mean about three hours. Then the sink started leaking again.

But I’m a survivor, and after a few minutes of fiddling with the sink I came up with another temporary fix. If the cold water was quickly turned off and on three times, the dripping would stop.

This fix seemed to work okay for a while, but as time wore on it got harder and harder to stop the dripping. Something had to be done.

On Monday I decided that enough was enough. I went out to Lowes, humbly asked for the help of an employee, who ensured that I purchased the right piece, and then came home, ready to fix the sink. I turned off the cold water and then disassembled the cold water faucet. As I was fixing the faucet I realized that I needed to look at the hot water faucet to see how everything went together.

So I began taking apart the hot water faucet as my three year old daughter, Charis, watched. She sure would be proud when she saw her dad, Mr. Fix-it, put everything back together.

Everything seemed to going smoothly until I unscrewed the piece that held everything together. The second I unscrewed it, the faucet exploded. Hot water blew out of the faucet, hitting the ceiling and soaking the entire bathroom, including me and Charis. She sprinted out of the bathroom, unsure of what was going on. I dove under the sink, scrambling to turn off the hot water valve that I had forgotten to shut off earlier.

When all was said and done, I was soaked, Charis was soaked, and the bathroom was soaked. Charis told Jen that it was like a shower.

I spent the next thirty minutes cleaning the bathroom and trying to fix the sink. Finally, everything was clean and I replaced the broken sink piece. Everything was in order and fixed. Eat your heart out Bob Vila.

Thirty minutes later the sink was leaking again.

That’s my embarrassing home repair story. What’s yours?

Don’t Worry About Your “Ministry”

Over the years, I’ve occasionally had first-time visitors inform me within minutes of meeting them, that they had a teaching “ministry.”

When I hear this I think, “We have a ministry of setting up chairs that has a spot just for you.”

I’ve heard people encouraged to “find their ministry.”  There are “spiritual gift assessments” so that you can figure out your particular gifts and potential ministry.

Here’s my advice: Forget trying to figure out your ministry.  Pursue Jesus and start serving wherever you can.

As a young believer I was concerned because I didn’t know what God was calling me to in life.  A wise man told me: “Take care of the depth of your character and the Lord will take care of the breadth of your ministry.”

Have you ever considered that David was 30 when he was installed as king?  What was he doing till then?  Building his character in obscurity.  For many years he faithfully served his father by watching sheep – not exactly a glamorous calling.  Then he spent a long time on the back side of a desert fleeing from Saul, cultivating qualities like trusting God, patience, and faithfulness.

Before God used Moses to deliver Israel from Egypt he spent 40 years in the desert, also tending sheep.  Little did Moses suspect that his “ministry” would be to lead God’s flock for 40 years in the desert.

Do you feel like God has somehow “set you aside?”  Do you feel like you’re not being very “useful” or “successful” in the kingdom?  Don’t focus on your success, usefulness, or ministry.  Focus on Christ.  Pursue him.  Serve wherever and whenever you can, no matter how insignificant the service.  God saved you for his glory – he’ll make sure he fulfills his purpose for you.

photo by Reza Vaziri

How Do I Know When I’m Really Understanding the Gospel?

How can I know when I am really, truly understanding the gospel?

When it seems too good to be true.

The more astonished I feel at the gospel, the more I’m understanding and applying the gospel. The more I find myself saying, “This is just so hard to believe!”, the more I’m getting to the heart of the gospel.

Because the gospel cuts against everything that feels true. It feels like I should have to give something to God in payment for my salvation. It feels like I must be able to, or required to add something to Jesus’ finished work. The idea of receiving salvation as a completely free gift feel so…unnatural.

And the gospel is unnatural. It’s supernatural. Only God could come up with a plan for salvation where he gets the glory and we get the grace. The gospel seems almost ridiculous it’s so good.

So how does the gospel strike you today? Does it seem to good to be true?

Don’t Call Me “Reverend” (But “Your Highness” Is OK)

It always surprises me to hear what people assume about me because I’m a pastor.

Hanging out with some guys from the church recently, one told me that for a long time he thought of me as being on a different plane than most, like I must spend most of my time praying, that I never watch TV, and constantly quote Bible verses in King James English to my wife. That’s not true.  I quote them in Greek.  Sometimes Hebrew.

Another guy said he thinks people get ideas like that because they only see pastors for an hour on Sunday preaching, and of course they’re talking about God and spiritual topics.  “But I share my sins and foibles to show I’m just like everybody else,” I said.  “Heck, last week I even shared how I wanted God to let fire and brimstone fall on the hood of the car behind me when they laid on their horn when I cut in front of them.  Not enough fire and brimstone to hurt them of course, just enough to burn up their engine.  See, I’m just a normal guy like everybody else.”

Obviously, I can’t be cool and hip like Mark Driscoll – I’m too old and I began to lose my coolness around 1983 – or 1973.  When you hit my age (60) you can’t possibly be cool, even though I was cool and using the term “cool” back in 1964 when most of the world hadn’t been born yet.  I can’t wear checkered tennis shoes and stretch jeans.  I can’t spike up my hair.  Wispy, thinning hair spiked up is not a good look.  Especially spiked up around my bald spot.  And I have a slight dread even as I write, that spiked hair is totally out of it while I still think it’s “in”.  I can’t be a hip cool young preacher, but I can fight pastoral stereotyping.

I do my best to not seem “pastoral.”  First of all, I don’t let anyone call me “Pastor,” or “Reverend,” or “Monsignor,” though I do accept the title “Your Majesty” from my wife.  I tell people that “pastor” is my job description.  I say, “If you’re going to call me ‘Pastor Mark,’ I will call you ‘Carpenter Bob,’” which is odd when the person I’m talking to is a female physical therapist.

At our church we try to avoid “pastoral” lingo, like calling the communion bread and juice “the elements.”  The elements?  What?  Are we having chromium and manganese for communion?  We avoid saying things like, “Please join the brethren today after the liturgy to partake in a pot faith lunch.”

I don’t put pastoral bumper stickers on my car – even though if I stuck a “clergy” sticker on my car I could get special parking at the hospital.  (No offense to all you who have clergy stickers on your bumpers).  To me, putting a clergy sticker on my car would be like putting a “Scrabble Champion” sticker on my car.  Or a “Proud parent of a computer nerd” sticker.

Pastors, here is a simple test to see if you have become “pastoral.”

  • You say “released,” a lot – for example, “Those of you serving in children’s ministry may now be released to go to your classes.”  Or “Be sure to thank your wife for releasing you to come and serve us this weekend.”  What?  Were you in a cage and your wife let you run free?  Be released from that language.
  • You say, “Mmmmmmm” and nod your head with a deep meditative look on your face, when someone shares a Scripture or an encouragement.
  • You call everybody “brother” or “sister.”  “Brother Ted, Brother Bob, could you come forth with the offering baskets now?”  “Sister Jane, this tofu is absolutely divine.”  You feel really hip when you call someone “Bro.”
  • All your TV illustrations are from Leave it to Beaver or The Andy Griffith Show.  Eddie Haskell is your supreme example of a sinner, and Beaver’s Mom the supreme example of a godly wife.  And you talk kind of like Wally.
  • You say, “Us Christian folk.”  For example, “After the meeting we’ll be having coffee and donuts in the fellowship hall, because us Christian folk love to eat.”
  • You think it’s funny to say, “Please turn to Hezekiah 8:88.”
  • You think you’re really relating to the teens when you tell them about the Carmen concert you attended once.

If you find yourself doing any of these things, you are probably a stereotypical pastor.  Bro, be released from these things.

Help us out here dear reader.  What other “pastoral” habits do us clergy fall into?  How can we become more hip and relatable to all you common folk who live down there in the valley?

photo by lizadanger

Subscribe to the Blog and Get 8 Free Scripture Songs

We like giving away free stuff.

So we’ve decided to give away eight scripture songs to all of you who subscribe to the blog. A scripture song, if you’re wondering, is a verse from scripture set to music for the purpose of getting that scripture stuck in your head. It works like a charm. If you’ve ever had a song stuck in your head for hours, you know what I mean.

  • If you haven’t subscribed to the blog yet, click here to do so. Once you’ve subscribed, you’ll be able to access the free downloads from inside your blog reader.
  • At the bottom of each blog post there will be a download link. NOTE: This link will only show up if you are reading the blog posts in a blog reader, like Google Reader.

SPECIAL THANKS: My dad is the one primarily responsible for these scripture songs. To get more, visit his website.

A Surprising Twist, An Eye-Popping Metaphor…

Songwriting Tip: Push yourself to write creative lyrics.

Don’t settle for “You saved my soul and made me whole.”  Put a new suit on timeless truth.  Surprise us.  Turn our heads.  Pray, then lower your bucket deeper in the well.

I attempted to do this in “Emmanuel, Emmanuel”, on Sovereign Grace Music’s “Savior” CD.  Here’s part of verse 2:

We were blind and lost and godless
Wandering a trackless waste
Then hope arose, a glorious beacon
Like the star the wise men chased

“Wandering a trackless waste” (Ps 107:40 “he makes them wander in trackless wastes”) paints a more striking picture than “we were dry and empty.”  “Hope arose, a glorious beacon” outshines “you gave us hope.”  And “chased” sure beats “followed.”

Here’s part of verse 3:

You who with a word created
Sun and moon and seas and sand
Lay there sleeping in a manger
Cradled by Your mother’s hand

Much stronger than, “You are God who became a man.”

Check out this great song, “Completely Done” by By Jonathan and Ryan Baird and Rich Gunderlock. Creative lyrics convey the timeless truth of justification – and they don’t even say “justified.”

What reason have I to doubt
Why would I dwell in fear
When all I have known is grace
My future in Christ is clear

My sins have been paid in full
There’s no condemnation here
I live in the good of this
My Father has brought me near
I’m leaving my fears behind me now

Chorus
The old is gone, the new has come
What You complete is completely done
We’re heirs with Christ, the victory won
What You complete is completely done

I don’t know what lies ahead
What if I fail again
You are my confidence
You’ll keep me to the end
I’m leaving my fears behind me now

These lyrics are smoking they’re so fresh!  “I’m leaving my fears behind me now” – Why couldn’t I have thought of that?

Don’t be satisfied with your first draft.  Find a better word, a surprising twist, an eye-popping metaphor. We need you to write great lyrics!

You can get a free download of “Completely Done” here.

photo by dklimke

Does Using Apple Products Make You A Better Christian?

There have been times when certain individuals have made fun of me and my love for Apple products. In my interactions with this individual, who happens to be pastor I work with, I have chosen not to retaliate. Why? Because I know one, simple, profound truth: Apple products actually make you a better Christian.

Is this really possible, you ask? Yes it is. It’s more than possible, it’s true. Here’s just a few reasons why:

Apple Products Don’t Tempt You to Anger and Despair

You’ve been working on an important presentation for the last hour, furiously typing away on your PC. Suddenly, without any provocation from you, a mysterious error message appears on the screen. Due to you pressing the enter key too many times, your computer must now shutdown and erase all the work you’ve done over the last hour. You want to scream. Then you do. You momentarily contemplate hurling your laptop out the window. You’re angry at the world, then at your computer, then at Bill Gates. Then you sink into a pit of despair as you realize that you must recreate what you just lost.

Apple helps you flee from temptation.

Apple Products Are An Evangelism Tool

You’re sitting in a coffee shop, sipping on a latte, when you see a hip looking guy a few tables over reading a Bible and writing in a Moleskine journal. You can tell that he’s puzzled, and you ask him if he understands what he’s reading. “No I don’t,” he says. “Can you help me?” You grab your backpack and sit down at his table. He tells you that he’s reading in John 1, and you say that you’ll pull it up on your Bible software. You pull out your Dell laptop and place it on the table in front of you. The hip guy looks at you, then looks at your computer, then says, “You know what, I think I’ll just keep reading myself. Thanks.”

Apple helps you be missional.

Apple Products Reflect God’s Creativity

Take a moment and look at that HP laptop sitting on your desk. What words come to mind? Behemoth? Clunky? The size of battleship? A clear result of God’s curse upon humanity? Uglier than a wookie? Now look at your iPod. Sleek. Beautiful. Possibly unaffected by the fall.

Apple helps you see God’s creativity.

Apple Products Give You More Time For Prayer

How do Christian PC users spend approximately two-thirds of their days? Booting and rebooting their computers. They would pray but their prayer list was on their computer, which just locked up. And caught fire. Time to reboot.

Apple furthers your devotional life.

Apple Products Are Biblical

Let me connect the dots for you. How did Eve sin? She ate fruit. What is Apple’s logo? An apple with a bite out of it. Coincidence? I think not. Clearly, Apple is seeking to do some culture making and restore what was lost in the fall. They are redeeming the apple.

Are you seeing my point? If you want to grow, go get an Apple product.

Do any PC users care to defend themselves? Do any Apple users want to add to the list?

Let’s Hear Your Premarital Advice

Okay all you married sages, here’s your chance to dole out your wisdom to the next generation. What 3 pieces of advice would you give a couple preparing for marriage?

It may be wisdom like: Don’t kid your wife like you kid your friends.  Not good to say, “Hey, I see you’re putting on some tonnage there.”  Or someday when your wife is screaming and writhing in labor it won’t encourage her to say, “Remember honey, you wanted this baby.”

So what pearls would you give a couple preparing for marriage?

Here are three things I’d tell them:

  • Make your top priority to glorify Jesus.

Your top priority is not to be satisfied or fulfilled or happy. Or to have your needs met.  Or to have a clean house with rosy-cheeked children running happily through a manicured lawn. Or any other thing. If you always ask Jesus, “What should I do right now that would glorify you?” all you really need will be supplied.

  • Make your next priority to be a servant.

Whether it comes your sexual relationship, or handling the chores or finances, determine to be the biggest servant in the house.  Not a good idea to sit at the table after dinner and say, “I’ll have my coffee now, dear.”

  • Prepare to have your sinful heart exposed.

James 4 tells us that the source of all conflict is our cravings and desires – we want something, but don’t get it, so we quarrel and covet. As Dave Harvey* says, in marriage God brings two sinners together who tend to “hook each others’ idols.”

Above all, we must apply the gospel to marriage.

We need the blood of Jesus to cover our failure to glorify God, or to be a servant and to cleanse us when we give in to our sinful cravings.  And we need the power of the Spirit to obey God and to change.  (Oops, I think I gave 4 pieces of advice).

Obviously, there are more than 3 things we’d tell a couple about to be married.  So what sage advice would you offer?

*When Sinners Say “I Do” by Dave Harvey

photo by mharrsch

How To Prosecute The Legalist Within You

Last week you took the legalism litmus test. But what should you do if you are a legalist? How can you effectively fight legalism? By becoming a prosecuting attorney and putting your legalistic conscience on the stand. When your conscience takes the stand, drill it with these questions:

Question: Who has justified you?

Answer: God has justified me.

Q: How much has God justified you?

A: Fully, totally, and completely. I can never be more justified.

Q: If God himself has justified you, who can condemn you?

A: No one can condemn me. If God himself won’t condemn me, then there is certainly no one else who can.

Q: If no one can condemn you, then why do you keep wallowing around in your guilt?

A: Because I don’t really believe the good news of the gospel. I don’t really believe that God has fully, completely justified me. I feel like I still need to contribute. Like I can add something to my salvation.

Question: What does God require of you?

Answer: Complete, total, perfect obedience. He requires me to love him with every ounce of my energy, and to pour out my life for my neighbors with the same intensity that I love myself.

Q: Have you ever, even for five minutes, loved God as he deserves? Have you ever lived a single day in which you loved your neighbor like you should?

A: No, I have never met the demands of God’s law, and I never could meet the demands of God’s law.

Q: If you can’t meet God’s demands, why do you keep acting as though you can instead of flying to Jesus, who did meet the law’s demands and now offers to give you his righteousness?

A: Because I don’t see the depth of my sinfulness and my total desperation apart from the gospel.

Question: What kind of savior do you need?

Answer: I need a savior who will completely save me. I need someone who will completely pay my debt, totally forgive my sins, and bring me into perfect fellowship with God. I need complete and total rescue.

Q: Is Jesus that kind of savior?

A: Yes he is. Hallelujah, what a savior!

What other questions would you use a prosecutor?

+photo by sketchblog