Song Explanation: You’re There

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
– Psalm 139

I am terrible at writing worship songs. Allow me to explain:

Part of my job at Community Covenant Church is evaluating and selecting appropriate music for our worship services, and it’s something I take very seriously. There’s a (dated) saying that goes, “If you want to know what’s important to a person, look at their checkbook.” Well, it’s kind of like that with a church’s theology: if you want to know what they believe, look at their songbook.

Consider these words from Constance Cherry in her book, The Worship Architect:

The persons responsible for song selection are accountable to God for what they ask the community to sing. Selecting music is a holy duty that carries the weight of great spiritual responsibility. The implications for our choices are enormous because…song selection wields tremendous influence on singers…Selecting song texts, then, is one of the most significant things that worship architects do because they are shaping their congregations’ theology (and therefore worldview) by the texts they select. It is an awesome responsibility. (182)

This is a very high standard! If I’m responsible for putting words in the collective mouth of the congregation I serve, then I want to be sure that I’m selecting songs consistent with our theology. The music that’s popular on Christian radio or churned out by mega churches isn’t always a good fit for us. If I’m not careful, I can inadvertently use songs that confuse people or lead them to believe the wrong things about God. I need to be careful, mindful, and most of all, faithful.

Of course, when evaluating a song I’m also mindful of practical concerns: is the song congregationally-friendly? Is it easy to pick up on the melody? Is it in a singable key? What’s the melodic range? Is it in a style or genre that works for my church, and if not, can I adjust it? Does the instrumentation make sense for our team? Is it worth pushing musical boundaries for the sake of good theology? Etcetera, etcetera.

So what does this have to do with You’re There? Well, You’re There is a worship song, and it’s one of the only worship songs I’ve written that I actually like. Most of the time, I overthink it. If I sit down with the goal to write a worship song, I get bogged down asking all of the questions listed above before I write a single note or lyric. What comes out is something clunky, or too heady, or so mind-numbingly simple that it sounds like a poorly written Tomlin knockoff.

So what was the difference this time? I threw my “worship rules” out the window, and, instead, tried to write an honest song that doesn’t suck. Does this mean that my concerns about congregational worship don’t matter? Hardly! But what I realized is that if I’m a follower of Jesus and I care about good theology already, it will naturally be reflected in the songs that I write. Will I always hit a homerun? No, but not every song that I write needs to be sung by my church. I just need to keep trying to write good songs, and once they’re complete I can evaluate them based on the criteria that’s important to me.

I recognize that this entry is more about my philosophy of songwriting, but I figure some of you might appreciate having the curtain drawn back a bit. This is the kind of stuff that worship leaders and songwriters are thinking about all the time!

Fun Fact: You’re There is used as the opening music for the Husker Football Fan Podcast. It’s the kind of thing that happens when one of the co-hosts is in a band 🙂

When I’m surrounded by friends, you’re there
When I’m alone in my bed, you’re there
Through the night and the day
When asleep or awake
I will not be afraid, ‘cause you’re there

Oh, you’re everywhere
And you’ve made my heart your home
Yeah, you’re always there
And I will never be alone

When I’ve figured it out, you’re there
When I’m scared by my doubts, you’re there
When the world’s crashing down
And there’s no one around
Still your mercy abounds, ‘cause you’re there

You can stream and purchase Flight Metaphor via Bandcamp, iTunes, and Spotify.

Song Explanation: Redirection

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
– 2 Corinthians 5:17

2012 was a watershed year for Flight Metaphor, and it started with Redirection. I recorded an acoustic demo of the song in December of the previous year, but it wasn’t until we started working on it as a band that things really came together. The result is one of my favorite songs that I’ve ever written, and I think it’s the best representation that exists of Flight Metaphor 2.0 (Me, Bill, Cody, and Brad). Bill’s drumming plays off of Brad’s bass line, and they carry the song as Cody’s lead guitar dances on top of everything. What I’m playing on rhythm guitar takes a backseat to what the band is doing, which really isn’t something I could say about our earlier work.

We started playing the song at shows the following spring, and it was incredibly well-received – more so than any new song we’ve ever introduced. We had just started planning for a full-length album, but when people started asking us how they could get ahold of Redirection, we knew it couldn’t wait. We changed our plans and recorded the Redirection EP right away.

Lyrically, Redirection is a snapshot of who I was five years ago. I look back on those days and see a lonely, clingy mess; someone who was unwilling to accept change, someone who kept coming back to the same wells long after they’d run dry. By the grace of God I can sing this song in hindsight, but I think one of the reasons I still enjoy it is because throughout my life I’ve found myself asking God for mini resurrections. The joy of knowing Christ isn’t that I was “saved” only when I first asked Jesus into my heart – his salvation is as real and as necessary for me today as it was over 20 years ago. His Holy Spirit continually works in and on me, redirecting and sanctifying me all the days of my life. I may mess up from time to time, but my hope is in Jesus’ resurrection. The old has gone; the new is here!

BONUS: Listen to and download the original demo of Redirection below.

Where did I go wrong?
I’m off the beaten path once again
I need a redirection
A tiny resurrection in my soul
‘Cause I get so distracted
I find myself attracted to what I
know will never pay off
But still, I always come back to it

Redirect my heart
Resurrect my soul

Give me better vision
Help me see what matters in this life
‘Cause there is no division
Between the so-called sacred and profane
I need to learn to let go
But man, I’m used to holding on so tight
When everything is changing
But you have never left me to myself

And I know that every empty feeling passes
In time you’ll do your healing
And I’ve put my hope in who I know is steadfast

You can stream and purchase Flight Metaphor via Bandcamp, iTunes, and Spotify.

Song Explanation: The Fight

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

You can stream and purchase Flight Metaphor via Bandcamp, iTunes, and Spotify.

Rambling on the Resurrection

On Easter Sunday, I shared this tweet:

The passage referenced reads, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” (NIV).

NT-220-medOur hope is in the resurrection. As Jesus rose from the dead, so too will those who put their trust in him. But to what end? The Christian response to Jesus’ resurrection is to become like him in his death. That means self-denial. That means seeking God’s purposes instead of our own. That means deferring to God when his Word is at odds with our sensibilities.

If Easter is nothing more than an amnesty party, we’re selling God short. If Jesus’ resurrection has no impact on our lives the week after Easter, or the week after that, and the week after that…then what’s the point? Thieves and murderers often return to their old ways after being released from prison; what makes us think we’re any different? No, unless we are willing to say “yes” to Jesus and “no” to everything else, we too will return to our folly.

Too often, we forget that God requires something of those who say, “I am a Christian.” If we’re only given a half-Easter half-Gospel this sounds like a bait-and-switch, but obeying God’s commands is not a burden for those who know Jesus! If we’re doing it right, if we truly understand what it means to die to ourselves and live unto Christ, it becomes be a joyful, life-giving act of worship.

This is what I know: the old is gone, and the new has come. We need a bigger appreciation Gospel, and a bigger understanding of the Kingdom of God. Thankfully both stretch far beyond our wildest imaginations.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” In Jesus’ own words:

[Jesus] said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.
– Luke 9:23-24 (NIV)

All I’m asking is that we consider what that means. If we want to become like Jesus, there’s no other way.