I recently had the privilege of filling the pulpit at Community Covenant Church for four weeks. Rather than creating a series of topical messages, I preached from the Revised Common Lectionary. You can listen to each message below or subscribe to CCC’s sermon audio podcast.
“Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.”
The words for Draw Your Lines were written on the heels of one of the most wonderful and nerve-wracking experiences of my life. Draw Your Lines is one of the last songs I wrote for Flight Metaphor’s new album, and even though I had a good idea of what I wanted to do with it musically by the fall of 2013, I didn’t have a single usable lyric until July of the following year. And it all came at once.
In the summer of 2014, I spent some time in Israel taking a historical geography course through Sioux Falls Seminary and Jerusalem University College. For three weeks, my classmates and I traveled throughout the entire country learning about the land and its history. I maintained a daily journal with photos from nearly every site we visited, and you can read it right here.
The timing of my visit was somewhat unfortunate, however, as tensions were rising between Israel and Palestine at the time. I arrived four days after the controversial kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers who would later be found dead. The event sparked an increase of military violence between Israel and Palestine, eventually leading to the 2014 Israel-Gaza Conflict. The program I was enrolled with did an excellent job of keeping students informed and adjusting our itinerary for everyone’s safety; while we were aware of the threat, it very much felt like we were isolated from any unrest. It was a reality tucked in the back of our minds as an unlikely worst-case scenario, and it remained that way for the majority of our stay.
On my final day in Israel, I was waiting to check my bags the airport in Tel Aviv, and I became very confused as a siren began to sound. Immediately the security staff on duty began ushering everyone towards the basement shelter. I stood up from my spot on the floor, looked out through the airport’s large front windows, and saw two white streaks in the sky:
Israel’s Iron Dome had shot down a rocket over Tel Aviv, one of the 25,373 rockets fired into Israel from Gaza over the past 15 years. On July 8th, 2014, the day I departed from this incredibly beautiful and sacred land, I came face to face with the violence that has plagued the Levant for millennia. While the threat was dealt with in a matter of minutes and the whole ordeal was over in less than an hour, it’s something that has stayed with me ever since.
One of the first things they teach schoolchildren in Israel is that they need to keep themselves within 15 seconds of shelter at any given moment. To them, it’s the equivalent of a tornado or fire drill. Is that the kind of world we want to live in?
Before I get ahead of myself, I want to make it clear that I’m not making a statement in support of or against Israel, Palestine, or anyone reading this post. I’m just finally putting into words what I’ve been mulling over for a couple of years now. Sharing this story has always been difficult for me, because I don’t want to come off as too sensational or too political or whatever. Any time I’ve tried to discuss it, I’ve found myself at a loss for words. At the very least, this blog post is somewhat of a catharsis.
The statement I do want to make is that war sucks, and it’s not what God intends for us. For several weeks before my trip, I spent hours upon hours marking up a set of maps for the class I was about to take. A vast majority of the markings dealt with war, conquest, exile, or occupation. As I learned about the land, it was necessary for me to also learn about its violent history. To be curt, in Israel, I believe things are as they have always been.
Yet in the midst of all this war and death, God’s people put their hope in an audacious promise, found in Isaiah:
“…There will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.”
– Isaiah 19:24-25
Despite the conflict that has plagued Israel since its foundation, the followers of Yahweh look forward to a day when all Middle Eastern peoples will live in peace. And if it’s possible in the Levant, it’s possible anywhere!
As a Christian, I believe this peace cannot be attained by the sword, but rather through reconciliation made possible by Jesus’ blood. In the face of political and religious persecution, Jesus Christ chose not to engage the broken system of violence with more violence. Instead, he disregarded the world’s way of solving its problems and gave himself over to the powers that be. The crucifixion was not only an act of atonement (although that would be more than enough); it was also a mockery of the world’s way of dealing out “justice.” When left to our own devices, we become so deluded that we believe murdering God is somehow justified.
So sure, Draw Your Lines is a war protest song, but not in the traditional sense. It’s over and above our petty conflicts, the lines we draw in the sand or on maps. It’s about the belief I have that one day, by the grace of God, all human conflict will be put to rest. People have been stabbing, shooting, and bombing each another for thousands upon thousands of years, yet somehow world peace has yet to be achieved. There has to be a better solution, and I believe that solution is found in Jesus. God has made a promise – even now it’s hard to imagine a “highway from Egypt to Assyria” – but if there’s one thing I know about my Lord, it’s that he keeps his promises.
You can read more about my time in Israel and Jordan here.
When the smoke trails stretch across the sky
In the hiding, we cannot forget
We are more than merely flesh and bone
We are body, mind, and spirit, all
There’s an ever-coming day
So much closer than before
When the borders that we draw
Are a distant afterthought
Draw your lines now, hope is biding time
Even hardened hearts can turn from stone
No one’s ever too far gone
Hope is singing her resilient song
And a highway in between
Bringing everyone to see
That we’ll finally live as one
Every daughter, every son
I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
– Romans 7:21-25a
This song could easily be called Story of My Life, but we already went down that road with Let It Go, didn’t we? (I actually called this one “Old Man” for a while before renaming it. I’m bad at song titles…)
The Fight is a reference to the inner struggle every Christian faces with sin. We’ve all prayed that infamous prayer – that we’ll never do it again. Whatever the “it” is this week or this year, we occasionally have moments of clarity when we say to ourselves, “I’m a Christian! Jesus has given me victory over sin! So why on earth do I keep messing up?!”
If I’m honest, it’s kind of embarrassing how much I can relate to Paul in Romans 7:15 when he says, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Deep down, I truly love God and want to do what is right, but the smallest thing can set me off or distract me for long enough to lure me away. In the words of Robert Robinson, I am prone to wander.
And then I get confused. I try to will myself into becoming a better person, like I can be faithful to God by my own strength. But it’s only by surrendering to Jesus – acknowledging that I’ll never be strong enough on my own – that I have any hope of conquering my sin. That’s not to say that I’m giving up on fighting temptation or trying to do good! Rather, I’m giving in to God, asking him for intervention and regeneration.
In the midst of it all, God is patient with me. No matter how many times I fail, the Lord welcomes me back with his unconditional, unending love. As I grow closer to Jesus he redirects my heart, conforming my will to his. So I fix my eyes on him and persevere. Even if it takes my whole life (ok, it will take longer than a lifetime), he deserves everything I have to offer. After all, he gave me himself first.
Sooooooooo yeah. I love Jesus. And this song is about that.
Don’t look now, I missed the mark again
How could I let this happen?
I told myself never again
But this old man, he’s creeping up
And I’m not sure I’m strong enough
To ward him off, he’s powerful
And I know I said that I would change
But the more I try, the more I stay the same
I fought it off for as long as I could
And all this time I told myself I’d be good
But I’m so tired of fighting alone
I’ll never be strong enough on my own
But then you came along and you changed it all
You got me outside myself
And it’s wonderful surrendering
You change my outlook, redirect my heart
You give me a brand new start
You always do, and it’s beautiful
And this time, I know that I have changed
In my bones I know I’ll never be the same
So I’m giving in, but I’m not giving up
I’m laying it down for the one I love
Because I’ve found a reason to live
And you deserve everything that my heart can give
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
– Hebrews 12:1-3
Hold Fast is a song that I sat on for a couple years before I did anything with it. Even then, I thought that it had an old school Remedy / Remedy Drive vibe, so I was elated when David Zach agreed to contribute his vocal talents on the recording. David is a good friend, and Flight Metaphor has shared the stage with Remedy Drive several times over the years. It was awesome to finally work together on something!
This song is a special one for me because I wrote it with one of my students, Connor Anderson, in mind. As a youth pastor, I’ve had the privilege of seeing many young men and women mature from snot-nosed 6th graders (God love ’em) into thoughtful, upstanding adults. When I started working on the lyrics to Hold Fast, I decided I wanted to encourage my students to stand firm in their faith as they transition from high school into adulthood. However, as I wrote, I found myself thinking specifically about Connor. I’ve known Connor since he was in pre-school, and over the years I’ve come to view him not only as a student but as a dear friend. Hold Fast was penned in the months leading up to his high school graduation, so I decided to dedicate the song to him.
It’s a fun pop rock tune – so much so that we were calling it “The Woah Song” leading up to the album’s release. Hold Fast is a fine title, but I’m still somewhat partial to just writing “Woah Song” on our set lists.
As for Connor, I’m happy to report that two years later his head is still screwed on straight, and he continues to pursue a deeper faith in Jesus 🙂
Hold fast, you’ve got to keep your feet planted
Dig in those heels
Sometimes it gets so hard to endure
But you’re not alone
Come on and face the light, give it another try
Give words to what your heart must sing
You never were alone, your life is not your own
Lean in to what the future brings
Focus, I think you’re getting distracted
Don’t lose your mind
Purpose is found in every moment
You’ll see in time
Open your eyes
Don’t walk away
Your story still remains unfinished
There’s more to say
Don’t cut it short, don’t rob yourself
There’s so much potential
Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
– Matthew 18:21-22
There are a few things you need to know about this song:
- Let It Go is the oldest song on the Flight Metaphor record (excluding Heaven Is My Home)
- Its original title was Off the Hook, which is just as bad as Let It Go
- We were calling it Let It Go as early as 2012, a full year before Frozen was released
Ok. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about the meaning of the song.
I’ve always said (with my tongue firmly in my cheek) that it’s easy to obey Jesus’ commands until we don’t want to. Forgiving others is an excellent example. Let It Go is a song about forgiveness, or perhaps more accurately, my inclination not to forgive.
At the time this song was written, I was recognizing unhealthy patterns in a few of my closest relationships. This song is an honest acknowledgement of my sin. When I first sang this song, I was confessing that I was the one who needed to change.
As a whole, the song is an allusion to Ephesians 4:22-27:
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
The line, “If I’m to save my soul, I’ve gotta let it go; before this monster eat me alive,” has nothing to do with one’s eternal destiny, but the fact that when we are unwilling to forgive others, it eats away at us. Until I actually forgive my brother or sister – holding nothing against them – it weighs heavily on my soul. In this situation, only I have the power to save myself from that kind of grief. No one else can do it for me.
Oh, bitterness is in my bloodstream
It’s like I’ve got a disease
I’ll never let you off the hook
For what you did to me
If I’m to save my soul, I’ve gotta let it go
Before this monster eats me alive
If I’m to save my soul, I’ve gotta let it go
In anger I cry out for justice
Without regard for amends
I can’t show the grace which I require
To put this thing to bed
Before the setting sun, let’s get it over done
I need to make amends to survive
If I’m to save my soul, I’ve gotta let it go
You can stream and purchase Flight Metaphor via Bandcamp.