#SundaySong 3/8/2015 – Oh the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus

It’s #SundaySong time–even though my SundaySong post has crept into the wee hours of Monday morning!  LOL!

In today’s stroll through Centered, let’s take a look at “Oh the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus.”

(Shameless plug: Doxa‘s live debut album is available now via all digital outlets, including iTunesAmazon, and Google Play.)

Lyrics
This is a traditional English hymn that my husband Aaron Johnson reimagined for our context at Epiphany Fellowship.  The lyrics were written by Samuel Trevor Francis, a bivocational minister who once contemplated suicide on a bridge over the Thames River–but God met him there in his deepest despair.  That short historical note gives this song so much meaning.  Just imagine–what if the author thought back to that moment when he wrote this song?  Rather than focusing on his deep despair in that moment of contemplation, what if God gave him deep waters as a word picture to describe His vast love for him at the point of his deepest need?  Mercy!!

Music
Introducing an English hymn to a varied urban context like ours means making artistic choices that include considering who’s attending our gatherings, as well as who we would like to attend.  While our context is not comprised solely of African-Americans, a large number of our attendees and residents of the surrounding neighborhood are.

I think the minor feel of this song speaks to the history of African-Americans.  Much (not all, but much) of Black history is steeped in injustice, tragedy, suffering, loss, grief, etc., and those stories simply can’t be fully communicated and experienced with major scales.  By the same token, African-Americans have experienced joy in the midst of pain, and we have tasted hope and victory in the midst of adversity.

We need both the black keys and the white keys as a robust musical palette to paint the spectrum of our human experience.  And in a song with hopeful, heavenward lyrics like this one, isn’t it good to experience the promise of the major chords in the midst of the minor ones?

I think Aaron’s arrangement captures a great perplexity and breadth of the human experience.  He kept the original melody and gives it a rich bed of harmonies to relax in.  The accompaniment includes piano (with jazz flavor by Brett Kinard) and organ (common in African-American church contexts, like the ones in which my husband learned to play), as well as guitar (with a rock edge by Harry Wilson).  And the horns?  Even more ear candy.

In our gatherings
As are most hymns, “Oh the Deep” has a simple, easy-to-learn melody that makes it a great fit for corporate worship at Epiphany Fellowship.  We might place this song in the middle of our opening set–it is mid-tempo, but has enough movement to keep the momentum from the first song going (always a mid-to-up-tempo selection).  And the mood set with the lyrics and arrangement are a great setup (both theologically and artistically) for wherever we land with the final song in the set list.

I am always thinking of ways to communicate the love of God through Jesus Christ to believers and unbelievers.  Depending on the flow of songs on a given day, I might introduce this song by pointing to our depravity to show the depth of our need for God’s love.  And I might end the song by exhorting us to consider the expression of love in Jesus’ death in our place on the cross, to bask in and celebrate God’s great love for us (in light of our depravity), and to share that love with others using both our lives and our words.

How it speaks to me
I am called to a life of love, yet all my attempts at loving are marred by my brokenness.  I need the love of God to dictate and direct my affections so that a Godward focus allows me to love people as He loves them–as He would if He were in my body.

I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless, I live; and the life I now live, I live by faith in the son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me (Gal. 2:20, loosely quoted).

The essence of my loving well is completely wrapped up in my identifying with Jesus’ death for me, allowing the Holy Spirit to apply Jesus’ death and life to me, and sharing that love with everyone I encounter.

How it can speak to you

Let’s worship the Lord as we consider a few ideas from “Oh the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus” and apply them to our lives:

  1. Do you think of Jesus’ love as big, broad, deep, vast?  Do you see His love as being for you?  for you?  Or do you feel like you aren’t a candidate for that love, maybe because something you’ve done (or are doing) that isn’t pleasing to God?  Confess. Repent. Embrace the love of God!
  2. How can you “spread his praise from shore to shore” in practical ways?  Is there someone in your sphere of influence with whom you can share the good news about Jesus?  How is God raising you up to be a goer and/or a sender in local, national, and international missions?  Pray for an open door  (Colossians 4:2-6) to share the gospel with someone this week.  And pray that God would clarify the role He’s calling you to participate in  for the spread of Christ’s fame in missions.
  3. Are there other loves in your life that is attempting to compete with Jesus for your nearest and dearest affection?  What are they, and what are you willing and able to do to put these lesser loves in their rightful place?

Centered was released on 1/30/2015, by God’s grace.  Thanks so much to everyone who has already supported the project and spread the word to others!

Leave a comment below and let me know what you think about the album or about today’s #SundaySong, how God is using it in your life, etc.

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#SundaySong 3/1/2015 – Hosanna

It’s #SundaySong time!!

In today’s leg of our walk through Centered, I’d like us to consider “Hosanna,” the single from the album.

(Quick plug: Doxa‘s live debut album is available now via all digital outlets, including iTunesAmazon, and Google Play.)

Lyrics
The original version of this song had only a verse and chorus, but additional lyrics were written to expound on the character of God.  The original verse speaks of God’s holiness, power, and might.  The second, of His eternality, immutability, Triune nature, wisdom, and truth.  Verse three hits hard with the sovereignty, righteousness, jealousy (for His own glory), and justice of God, as well as His wrath.  The final verse articulates that God is gracious, patient, faithful, kind, and loving.  These attributes aren’t exhaustive by any means, but they begin to paint a beautiful picture of how God has revealed Himself in Scripture.

The title of the song comes from the chorus:

Hosanna!  Hosanna in the highest!

But what does the word hosanna mean?  It’s not a term that made it into everyday English discourse, is it?  This Desiring God article gives a great summary of the way the word morphed in meaning over the years, as well as how we can embrace it in our own life of worship!

Music
I absolutely LOVE the flute intro by Drew Zaremba–what a light and airy feel it brings to the song!  It makes me feel like I’m on a summer cruise to a tropical island!  (Lord, hear my cry in these single-digit temperatures and negative double-digit windchills!)  The horn arrangements by my husband Aaron Johnson and fellow servant-leader Brian Kilpatrick are a full, bright complement to the low-end of the rhythm section.  And the musical breaks at the end? #dead and #done!

In our gatherings
We go *in* for this song at Epiphany Fellowship gatherings.  We might place this one at the end of our opening set as well, just to give us some room to marinate as needed.  I love how the Holy Spirit will move us during corporate worship to respond to God’s character and works.  He will bring conviction of sin, freedom from sin’s bondage and the enemy’s condemnation, and celebration of the redeeming work of Christ in all of creation–particularly in our own hearts.

How it speaks to me
I need to consider God’s attributes, both the ones He shares with His creation and the ones that belong to Him alone.  I need to remember that I am not God, and that He is.  I need to submit my will to His.  I need Him!

His eternality > my temporality

His power is perfected in my weakness

His holiness & righteousness > my feeble, tainted self-righteousness

His justice > my self-vindication

His perfect love casts out fear

…and so on, and so forth.

When I get lost in the sauce of Me, Myself, and I, I need to be reminded of who He is…not simply as a counterpoint to my waywardness, but simply because GOD IS.

How it can speak to you
Here are a few points of reflection as “Hosanna” points you to worship the Lord today:

  1. Are there any aspects of God’s character in the song that you are unfamiliar or less familiar with?  Take some study tools–concordance, Bible dictionary, English dictionary, etc.–and look up one of them.  Ask a friend to let you borrow a study resource if you don’t have your own, or check one out from the library.  Share your findings with your mentor, discipler, or ministry leader/pastor.
  2. Read the article on Desiring God’s website about the word “hosanna.”  At what times in your life have you used each meaning?  How can you personally embrace it now?  Who in your circle of influence needs to know the Lord in that way?  Pray for an open door  (Colossians 4:2-6) to share the good news with him/her.

Centered was released on 1/30/2015, by God’s grace.  Thanks so much to everyone who has already supported the project and spread the word to others!

Leave a comment below and let me know what you think about the album or about today’s #SundaySong, how God is using it in your life, etc.

#SundaySong 2/22/2015 – Trinity (Spoken Word)

The #SundaySong actually isn’t a song today–it’s a poem!  In today’s edition of our walk through Centered, let’s take a look at the “Trinity (Spoken Word)” track.

(Quick plug: Doxa‘s live debut album is available now via all digital outlets, including iTunesAmazon, and Google Play.)

Lyrics
I had the choice of either writing a 25-page research paper or submitting a creative project for Dr. J. Scott Horrell‘s Trinitarianism class in 2006.  I had been doing my coursework with Philadelphia as a context for mission, so for me it was a no-brainer.  The spoken word piece was born.

The challenge before me:  take the arguments for the existence of God and put them into a culturally relevant art form.  I worked through my notes and attempted to translate them into words and rhythms that might draw in a spoken word audience.  I thought about my own experiences, the challenges in that urban context, and the barriers and open doors that might hinder/help people consider the existence of God.

Music
I recorded the poem and submitted it for my class without music, but I knew that if I ever performed it, I’d need something simple that wouldn’t compete with the lyrics.  Fast forward to 2014–as we rehearsed the piece for the live album recording, Troy Chambers started playing this ridiculous accompaniment on the Rhodes–my husband Aaron was excited!  The steady drumming by Vernon Mobley and percussive highlights by Robin Williams push the rhythmic flow of the poem.  Chris Stevens‘ horns and Harry Wilson‘s guitar licks add a perfect balance of brightness and texture to the warmth of Troy’s chords on the Rhodes.

In our gatherings
I have done this piece a few times at Epiphany Fellowship on a Sunday morning.  We placed it right before the sermon as a way to encourage the congregation engage with God intellectually.  Our hope is that this spot prepared our hearts to hear, receive, and respond to the Word of God as it was preached.

How it speaks to me
As I wrote “Trinity,” I was challenged to get beyond the walls of seminary, of church, and think about how to communicate with someone who might never attend my class or my church.  What do they listen to?  What are their concerns?  How can I help them to see God in a way that is meaningful to them, that doesn’t make them jump through cultural hoops to understand Him?  The process of writing challenged me to think missionally, to love people I had never met, to think more highly of God, and to be more concrete in my thoughts and speech about Him.  Doing theology isn’t simply an exercise in tossing around philosophical terms in a bubble–it’s humbly accepting that I don’t know everything, but lovingly communicating what I do know, while I hopefully and prayerfully consider how God might use it to transform the life of another.

How it can speak to you
Here are a few questions to reflect on as you listen to “Trinity” today:

  1. If a 5-year old asked you to explain the Trinity, how would you do it?  Would the answer be the same for a 19-year old girl with language barriers and emotional scars?  What about a 34-year-old housewife and mom?  A 77-year-old recovering addict?  What do you need to know about God and about people to tailor your speech in ways that communicate love to different types of people?
  2. Although the Bible doesn’t expressly use the term “trinity” to explain God, where does the Bible speak clearly about the three persons of the Godhead in context with each other?
  3. How can you orient your life to engage with God at a deeper intellectual level?  What tools do you need?  What people can help you on this journey?

Centered was released on 1/30/2015, by God’s grace.  Thanks so much to everyone who has already supported the project and spread the word to others!

Leave a comment below and let me know what you think about the album or about today’s #SundaySong, how God is using it in your life, etc.

#SundaySong 2/15/2015 – Jesus Is

Hey now!!  It’s time for the #SundaySong!  In today’s edition of our walk through CenteredI’d like to reflect on my second favorite song on the album:  “Jesus Is.”

(Quick plug: Doxa‘s live debut album is available now via all digital outlets, including iTunesAmazon, and Google Play.)

Lyrics
This song doesn’t have a bunch of lyrics, or thick layers of theological jargon to sift through.  It’s simple.  Clear.  Concise.  We often need reminders of the simple truth about God, don’t we?  We need to hear that God exists, that He’s in charge, that He is beyond the realm of the temporal challenges we face, and that He has given us the honor, privilege, and responsibility of proclaiming Him with everything we are.  Jesus is.  So simple.  So profound.  So necessary.

Music
“Jesus Is” has a very simple melody (like our other songs), which means the accompaniment that the melody lays in can be more intricate–they won’t compete with each other.  This song was originally recorded live by Hillsong London, and later covered in the studio by Sound of the New Breed.  Our take is an expanded live arrangement of New Breed’s version.  I think we’ve combined the best of both worlds–the energy of a live recording with singing and music more reflective of the context in which we minister.

In our gatherings
We love this song at Epiphany Fellowship.  There is something comforting about corporate worship through song.  We are together being reminded that Jesus is “glorious / the greatest of all”–and what person doesn’t need to hear that on a regular basis?  Our liturgy has an opening set with three songs at the very beginning of the gathering.  To sing a song like this at the end of that segment of worship through song leaves “breathing room” for us to linger in the moment, responding to God intellectually, physically, emotionally, and volitionally.  Just as you  hear on the live recording, we will often reprise the chorus and marinate in our corporate experience of God as we worship together.

How it speaks to me
I am a recovering idolater.  I am prone to wander.  My heart needs to be continually challenged to relinquish its old affections and embrace the new ones to which Christ has granted me full access.  I need to be reminded that if I see anything glorious in the world, it’s because Jesus made it that way.  When I see the evidence, hear the echoes, and feel the reverberations of God’s creation as it glorifies Him, as a created being, I need to join in creation’s song!  I was made for glory, but not my own–I was made for Christ’s glory.  And my enjoyment of Him is central to enjoying everything else.  So, “Jesus Is” reminds me of who God is and our joyful response of proclaiming Him in light of His weight in the universe.

How it can speak to you
Here are a few questions to reflect on as you listen to “Jesus Is” today:

  1. We all need reminders of the everyday glory around us so we can join with all of creation in proclaiming God’s handiwork (Psalm 19).  How can you take time to stop and smell the roses, so to speak–to recognize God’s creative power, His attention to intricate detail, His transcendence above and beyond galaxies, etc.?
  2. How does knowing that God is the most glorious Being in the universe change your disposition toward other people and things that compete for your attention, affection, and worship?
  3. How does knowing that God is the eternal, sovereign Lord and King change your disposition toward temporal adversity?

Centered was released on 1/30/2015, by God’s grace.  Thanks so much to everyone who has already supported the project and spread the word to others!

Leave a comment below and let me know what you think about the album or about today’s #SundaySong, how God is using it in your life, etc.

#SundaySong 2/8/2015 – Our Dwelling Place: Psalm 84

Woo-hooooo!!  It’s #SundaySong time again!  And I can’t even hold back my excitement on this leg of the journey, because today we’re going to reflect on one of my FAVORITE songs on Centered:  “Our Dwelling Place: Psalm 84.”

I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that it was written and arranged by my favorite man aside from Jesus–my dear, hard-working, fun-loving, joke-cracking, meat-and-potatoes-eating husband, Aaron D. Johnson. My Chocolate Prince Charming and my one and only true love.

(*insert butterflies here*)

(By the way, Doxa‘s debut album is now available via all digital outlets, including iTunesAmazon, and Google Play.)

Lyrics
Unlike the first two songs, this one doesn’t have a traditional English hymn structure or melody.  Still, its simple basic structure (verse, pre-chorus, chorus) is accessible for people who aren’t professional musicians.  The words are also helpful for Scripture memory, since the lyrics were extracted from the text of Psalm 84.  Understanding that the whole Bible speaks about Jesus (Luke 24:13-35) also helps us celebrate and enjoy Him as we sing the chorus’ pinnacle:  “Oh, how lovely is Your dwelling place, O Lord! / Jesus is our Dwelling Place, O Lord!”

Music
“Our Dwelling Place” has a simple melody–great for memorization, like our other songs.  If you haven’t heard it yet, I don’t want to give away too much–especially since it’s my favorite song on the album (and not just because I married the songwriter).  It’s really a surprise hidden gem.

In our gatherings
We actually haven’t sung this in our corporate gatherings in a while, but we would typically end our opening set with a song like this…that placement gives us some freedom for responding to the Lord and staying in the flow of what God might do in culminating that phase of worship through song.

How it speaks to me
I love the journey that this song takes me on. It moves progressively from quiet anticipation to jubilant exaltation! I’m reminded of Psalm 90, where Moses writes that God has been “our dwelling place throughout all generations.” And I’m encouraged to find my rest, shelter, protection, refuge, etc., in the Lord.

How it can speak to you
Here are a few questions to reflect on as you listen to “Our Dwelling Place: Psalm 84” today:

  1. What does your soul yearn for at the deepest level?
  2. What is encumbering your press to spend time with the Lord? (Examples: busyness; don’t know how to get into the Word or have a devotional life with God; preoccupied with other less important things; imbalance between time with others & time with God, etc.)
  3. I asked this in my last two #SundaySong posts:  Are you living each day with a living hope (1 Peter 1:3) in Jesus’ return?  If you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, how does knowing that you’ll spend eternity with God frame how you cultivate your relationship with Him now?

By God’s grace, Centered was released on Friday 1/30/2015…and in a week’s time, debuted at #18 on Billboard’s gospel albums chart! Thanks so much to everyone who has already supported the project and spread the word to others!

Leave a comment below and let me know what you think about the album or about today’s #SundaySong, how God is using it in your life, etc.

#SundaySong 2/1/2015

It’s time for the #SundaySong!  We will continue our trek through Centered, Doxa‘s debut album (available for preorder on iTunes and Amazon) with “Our Treasure Is Christ.”

Lyrics
There are 4 verses of this modern-day hymn, and again, the structural/theological concepts in each stanza help with memorization.  The first verse is a call to worship God for His great character and works.  Verse two celebrates the humility of Christ in His incarnation.  In verse three, we declare the purpose of the priesthood of believers.  The final verse welcomes the return of Christ.   Between each verse is a repeated refrain that echoes the text of Psalm 16:11:  “At His right hand are pleasures forevermore.”  And the chorus is the welcome and necessary reminder that Jesus alone is to be our chief satisfaction, joy, and delight.

Music
“Our Treasure Is Christ” has a simple and hymnic melody–great for memorization, just like “You Alone Are God.”  The harmonies and background music both incorporate elements of gospel and jazz.  It’s mid-tempo, but has a moveable pulse.

In our gatherings
Because of its hymnic form, this song can be joyful to sing for people who are “musically challenged” (see my last post). We typically use this at the start of our corporate gatherings as a call to worship to direct our thoughts heavenward–the distractions are many from the car to the building where the church gathers!

How it speaks to me
My favorite verse of the song is the final one, which mentions Christ’s return and our freedom from both the presence and the power of sin.  It’s so easy to get “lost in the sauce” of life:  family responsibilities, errands, leadership, discipleship, miscommunication, physical challenges…I could go on.  I don’t know about you, but I need to remember that Jesus’ return is sure and imminent!  I need the hope of being with Jesus in eternity to anchor me while I live in the hustle and bustle of the here-and-now.  That’s the “woooo-saaaaah” that my soul needs!

How it can speak to you
Here are a few questions to reflect on as you listen to “Our Treasure Is Christ” today:

  1. We all fight idolatry in our hearts.  If you are honest with God and yourself, in what things are you seeking your soul’s deepest satisfaction, joy, and delight? (examples:  your spouse/future hope for a spouse, stability/comfort, food, physical fitness/appearance, social status, family relationships, etc.)
  2. Are you gathering regularly with a local church body to worship God?  Why or why not?  Are you doing it out of duty or out of delight?
  3. I asked this in my last #SundaySong post:  Are you living each day with a living hope (1 Peter 1:3) in Jesus’ return?  Also, what does the surety of Jesus’ second coming awaken in you:  hope and comfort and rest?  Or fear and doubt and worry?

By God’s grace, Centered was released on Friday 1/30/2015. We can’t wait for you to hear it!  Leave a comment below and let me know what you think about the album or about today’s #SundaySong, how God is using it in your life, etc.

#SundaySong 1/25/2015

Whoopsies–I’m a day late with the #SundaySong!  We will kick off our trek through the track listing of Centered, Doxa‘s debut album (available for preorder on iTunes and Amazon) with a look at the intro & “You Alone Are God.”

Lyrics
There are 5 verses of the song–it’s bit long, but the concepts in each stanza are helpful for memorizing them.  The first verse describes the eternality, immutability, and Triune nature of the Godhead.  Verse two hints at the creation and fall of man.  In verse three, we sing about the incarnation of Jesus.  Verse four celebrates the personal conversion of believers.  And the fifth verse explodes in worshipful commitment to walk with Jesus in obedience and faith from now through eternity.   Each verse ends with a statement affirming God’s character:  unique, all-powerful, holy, and faithful.

Music
“You Alone Are God” uses a call-and-response format, a method of singing common to the African-American slave tradition. The melody is simple and hymnic.  The background music incorporates elements of gospel (the organ!), big band (the horns!), and rock (the guitar!).  It’s mid-tempo, but the head-nodding pulse of it lends a great energy.

In our gatherings
Because of the hymnic melody and call-and-response format, this is a great song for people who are “musically challenged”–i.e., for whom picking up melodies and/or rhythms doesn’t come as naturally as it does for some others.  When I lead, I’m conscious (especially in the first 1-2 verses) of teaching the melody and rhythm to people who aren’t familiar with it (e.g., visitors & occasional attenders).  We typically use this at the start of our corporate gatherings (a call to worship) or before the sermon.  Both placements help direct our minds and affections to the Lord in preparation for later elements in the liturgy (including and especially our discipleship in the Word).

How it speaks to me
My favorite verses of “You Alone Are God” are the last two, because they call me to remember the regenerating work of Christ in my life and to renew my commitment to walking in submission to His Word and His will.

How it can speak to you
I love the idea that music can be used didactically.  I hope that individuals and families will play this song and discuss the rich theological ideas in the lyrics.  Most of all, I hope those ideas move us from head knowledge to heart application!

  1. What does it mean for you to know that God is eternal?  Does that change your focus on the time-bound challenges you encounter?
  2. How does the incarnate ministry of Jesus Christ impact your life today?  How is God compelling you to love and model a particular aspect of Jesus’ character in obedience to the Father?
  3. What aspect of God’s character can you celebrate right now?  His faithfulness?  Holiness?  Might?  Uniqueness?  Transcendence?  Immanence?
  4. In what way can you joyfully and volitionally submit to God’s Word and will?
  5. Are you living each day with a living hope (1 Peter 1:3) for Jesus’ return?

By God’s grace, Centered will be released on Friday 1/30/2015. We can’t wait for you to hear it!  Leave a comment below and let me know what you think about the song, how God is using it in your life, etc.