You’re My Home

It was like Billy Joel was haunting me from New Jersey this past week. Everywhere I went there was a Billy Joel song playing – once while sitting at a piano I was asked to play “Piano Man” because of course I was, I always am. Which even for a Billy Joel fan like myself is a very particular kind of hell. But nobody wants to be surprised with Billy Joel, that’s cruel. A pleasant Billy Joel listening experience is one you’ve chosen for yourself and not one that has been forced upon you while you sit waiting for your beer or otherwise. Like every good pop-music artist Billy Joel wrote songs – he’s mostly stopped writing pop music since his 1993 album River of Dreams – that stick in your head like a brain parasite eating away at the gray matter. But today I’ve chosen to listen to Billy Joel.

Though preferring albums like Streetlife Serenade, Glass Houses, or The Nylon Curtain today I’ve been listening to Joel’s sophomore album Piano Man. Why not? And there’s this tune “You’re My Home” that’s been playing on repeat in consideration of yesterday’s service.

The song opens:

When you look into my eyes and see the crazy gypsy in my soul it always comes as surprise. When I feel my withered roots begin to grow… well I never had a place that I could call my very own but that’s alright, my love, ’cause you’re my home.

First off, let’s all agree that “crazy gypsy in my soul” is just great. Now, let us get on to the point. The idea isn’t anything fresh, lover as home, considering the first love poem ever written (This is now bone of my bone / and flesh of my flesh) was followed with the admonishment that this is why a man leaves his home and is united with his wife – to form a new home. Wherever I go on God’s green earth if Alyssa is with me there I’m home.

This past weekend we sang two songs that were essentially different Psalms set to music. Mackenzie introduced an Audrey Assad tune called “Lead Me On” based on Psalm 23 which we then followed by singing Matt Redman’s 1995 classic “Better is One Day” paraphrased from Psalm 84.

I’m not going to say that the theme of our singing was necessarily home but, yeah, it was.

Psalm 23 and 84 feel related in their reading, like they’re cousins. Both, from different vantage points, speak of the comfort of the House of the Lord and they follow a similar form. Psalm 23, maybe the most beloved liteary achievement in history, talks of being actively led to the House of the Lord. Psalm 84 about the blessing in having already been led to His dwelling place.

With our impending move back to my hometown I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be home. In some sense I’m plagued with nostalgia – an ailment Alyssa knows all too well that I suffer from. I look forward to writing poems and reading novels at Café Domani on Highland Ave just east of the Fox River, spending lazy Sunday afternoon with cousins watching our kids play in the park, taking Alyssa out to all of my favorite places, spending warm summer evenings with old friends around the fire out in the country. I’ve mentioned before that I’m hobbit, yeah?

Last month an article from PBS popped up in my FaceBook newsfeed: “Can You Really Move Back To Your Hometown?” If I believed God spoke through obtuse signs and internet algorithms I’d think it timely. But, I don’t. I prefer the Spirit’s methods of leading through His word, the counsel of Godly people, and wisdom found only through prayer and listening for when I make big decisions. Anyways, in the article Larry Jacobson, a retirement navigator with Buoy Coaching in San Francisco, is quoted:

Nostalgia is one big reason [why people move back to their hometown]. It’s like a comfort food. For people who left when they’re young, it may be a strong draw to recapture something. I have a client whose eyes almost glass over when he talks about the tiny town he grew up in in Connecticut.

Home is where we’re safe, protected, and provided for. Where we’re brought in from the cold and warmed by the fire. Where our “wounds get dressed” as Josh Garrels sings on his most recent album. Home is where we’re healed. Where we’re named and known.

But still we’re restless. There’s a longing for home we all experience. We desire to “recapture something” as quoted earlier. Fantasy author Lev Grossman in a 2011 blog post titled “What Is Fantasy About?” writes:

We can lay claim to a certain amount of longing.

Longing for what exactly? A different kind of world. A world that makes more sense – not logical sense, but psychological sense. We’re surrounded by objects that we don’t understand. Like iPods — they’re typical. They’re gorgeous, but they’re also really alienating. You can’t open them. You can’t hack them. You don’t even really know how they work, or how they’re made, or who made them. Their form is abstractly beautiful, but it has nothing to do with their function. We really like them, but it’s somehow not a liking that makes us feel especially good.

The worlds that fantasy depicts are very different from that. They tend to be rural and low-tech. The people in a fantasy world tend to be connected to it — they understand it, they belong in it. People in Narnia don’t long for some other world (except when they long for Aslan’s Land, which I always found unsettling). They’re in sync with it. (iPods and Macs kind of mock us, don’t they, the way they’re always sync-ing with each other but never with us.)

This longing for a world to which we’re connected – and not connected Zuckerberg-style, but really connected, like a dryad with its tree – surfaces in a lot of places these days, not just in fantasy.

We’re longing for a different kind of world. “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come,” the author of Hebrews writes. In his Confessions Augustine asserts, paraphrased, that “You, O Lord, have made us for Yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”

And thus we’ve found our way back to Billy Joel. The final verse of “You’re My Home” concludes that if I travel all my life and I never get to stop and settle down [as] long as I have you by my side there’s a roof above and good walls all around. Our restless, crazy gypsy souls are wandering around looking for a city that is yet to come where our withered roots can begin to grow. In our travels we’re led through the Valley of the Shadow of Death and the desert Valley of Grief to the table prepared before our enemies in the courts of the LORD.

Where we wander we long for a home that is not a place but a Person. And in Him, we’re safe, protected, and provided for. We’re brought in from the cold and warmed by the fire. Our wounds are dressed and we’re healed. We’re named and known.

Better is one day in your courts
    than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
    the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
    from those whose walk is blameless.

Lord Almighty,
    blessed is the one who trusts in you.

Psalm 84.10-12

The Heavens. August 11, 2013. Rich, Flickr. Some Rights Reserved.
We sang this weekend the following songs:
  • God is Great by Hillsong
  • Lead Me On by Audrey Assad
  • Better is One Day by Matt Redman
  • Lord I Need You by Matt Maher
  • This I Believe by Hillsong

Per usual – here’s a playlist with Sunday’s songs with some of the tunes mentioned in this post and more because why not? Go buy them:

You’re My Home

My Favorite Music of 2015

Back in June or so I wrote up a reflection of what I thought was the best music I had been listening to in the first half of the year, My Favorite Music of 2015 So Farand since the year is coming to its end I thought I’d roundup the music I enjoyed the most for the whole year.

Honorable Mention

  • A Head Full Of Dreams, Coldplay. My sense is that lyrically, like most of Coldplay’s catalogue, it will be mostly trite with a few winsome moments. But I’m predetermined to love disco and Coldplay so I’m digging what I hear thus far.
  • Floodplains, Sara Groves. I like Sara Groves a lot and was greatly looking forward to this album. When it initially released I listened to it once or twice, it’s good. It feels grown up in some ways but her music has always seemed more mature then some of her contemporaries. But I’ve not been tempted to go back for many listens. Though I’m sure I will in time.
  • Live at Coral Ridge, Chelsea Chen. One of my heroes in the worship leading world is Zac Hicks, his blog has been hugely influential to my worship ethos. His church released this contemporary organ concert earlier this fall. It’s super cool – it doesn’t at all sound stuffy like you’d imagine a church organ concert. I really appreciate his church’s sincere effort to bridge tradition and contextualization. This album of organ music did not feel out of place with anything else I enjoyed this year.
  • Coming Home, Leon Bridges. Earlier this year my little brother showed me a track from this album and I thought it was nice, if not a little bit derivative. After Bridges’ performance on SNL this past weekend I decided to give the album another try and I’m enjoying it immensely. I’ve had it on repeat for the past three days or so. It’s good enough to be on anybody’s year end, Best Of list…
  • All We Need, Raury. Sonically, I adore this album. The folk, hip-hop, jazz fusion is really something else and alone worth the price of admission. That being said, I find it to be lyrically irritating. Thank you, Earnest-19-Year-Old, I didn’t realize that love will fix the world. I’m glad you figured that out for us with your totally original philosophy.
  • So There, Ben Folds. This is classic Ben Folds, which I really enjoy – though less than when I was in high school/college. I chuckled like a nerdy 8th grade band geek at some of the prophane Music Theory double entendres. The three-movement concerto at the end is frustrating because it’s the best thing on the album but it’s so disjointed from everything else. I wish Folds had released it seperately but I get that he’s trying to bring symphonic music into the pop realm in a serious way so I’m torn.
  • 1989, Ryan Adams. Seriously, he made T-Swift even more sad. I wouldn’t say he improved what she wrote but Adams definitley highlighted her strengths in a unique way.
  • Carry The Fire, Dustin Kensrue. Maybe I had been expecting a worship album from his second solo outing so wasn’t prepared for what he released. But, and I mean this kindly, Kensrue released an incredible Bruce Springsteen album.

My Favorite Albums in the Second Half* of 2015

The Best “Pop Worship” Album of 2015 – Bright StarAaron Strumpel.a3693472148_10

I’ve been sort of listening to Aaron Strumpel for a few years now. His lyrics are great and his voice is unique but up until Bright Star I’ve had a hard time latching on to what he’s doing. I say “Pop Worship” lightly because it’s too broad of a definition. There’s been strong outings this year from Bethel, Hillsong, Tomlin, and other great big name bands with songs I’ve actually used in worship but there’s something musically and lyrically special about this one. It’s not as clean and accessable as those other albums but it’s much richer. This sounds how the Psalms feel. In fact, much of it is inspired by the Psalms.

The Best “Grown Ups Have Feelings Too” Album of 2015 – The Burning Edge of DawnAndrew Peterson7ab5224593af4756df517434_610x610

To understate it, towards the end of the summer and start of autumn I was particularly blue. I rode that wave through October when Andrew Peterson released this album. I wouldn’t say it healed me but the Holy Spirit used it in a major way (along with Psalm 42) to minister to me. Peterson’s musical, artistic, religious, and work ethos are aligned with my own as far as I can tell. This collection of songs, in a very grown up way, addresses life’s creaks and aches in a way that doesn’t reduce them to sensationalistic and ultimately shallow dramas. The language is rooted and earthy.

The Best “Seriously, Can You Guess How My Theology Informs My Politics?” Album of the Year – BrotherThe Brilliancebrother.jpg

The Brilliance are easily some of the best musicians in Christian music. These tunes are liturgical, radical, will challenge how you approach prayer, and just all around incredible. There’s some repeats from their earlier album which is why it took me so long to listen to it fully. But when I did I found some lyrics (I was already sold that the music was exceptional) that were in the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount and rooted in the liturgical language of the church. If we sang the title track in church I wonder what would happen. Anybody want to listen and weigh in?

The Best “My Hometown Library Wrote and Recorded an Album” Album of 2015 – Sermon On The RocksJosh Rittersermon.jpg

Josh Ritter is one of the best songwriters I’ve ever heard. Full stop. He’s exceptionally literate and that’s reflected in the lyrics. This album from beginning to end is laced with Biblical allusions, wit, good storytelling and more. Seriously though, it sounds like growing up in a well-read small town. Which, you know, that’s kind of my thing. These are the kind of songs I wish I was writing.

The Best “Music With a Message” Album of 2015 – Socially Just, NomiSa0527011412_16.jpg

Where I think Raury failed above in being too preachy, I think NomiS succeeds. This is album is not just a call to action but it’s an actual call to something. The world is a broken place, marred by the curse of sin. The last thing anybody needs is cheap, overwrought hippy platitudes and on the other end of the spectrum we don’t need a 10 Step Plan to Being Better either. The music is as good as the message. The tune Love God, Love People is dope as hell. Go support my friend NomiS now!

And now, what you’ve all been waiting for…

My Absolute Favorite Albums of 2015 (Ranked)
10. Bright Star, Aaron Strumpel
9. Brother, The Brilliance
8. Home, Josh Garrels
7. The Burning Edge of Dawn, Andrew Peterson
6. Carrie & Lowell, Sufjan Stevens
5. I Love You, Honeybear, Father John Misty
4. Sermon On The Rocks, Josh Ritter
3. Socially Just, NomiS
2. Psalms, Sandra McCraken
1. The Phosphorescent Blues, Punch Brothers

Aside from Sandra McCraken (there’s an All Sons & Daughter’s cover) all the artists I mentioned in this list and my mid-year list are included in this playlist:

*Not necessarily released in the second half, but all the same…

My Favorite Music of 2015

Worship Review 10.18.15 – Rejoice! Again I Say Rejoice!

I just realized something: These worship reviews are functionally digital mullets. Business in the front, party in the back?

The Mullet Strategy. John Phillip Green. Some Rights Reserved.
The Mullet Strategy.  John Phillip Green. Some Rights Reserved.

The Business

The setlist from this weekend:

  • Unstoppable God by Elevation Worship
  • Dear Refuge by Trinity Grace Church
  • Open Up Our Eyes by Elevation Worship
  • Rejoice by Dustin Kensrue
  • God is Able by Hillsong

Here’s a Spotify playlist but do me a favor, please, please, please buy these tunes (if you haven’t already) to support the artists who have worked so hard crafting, recording, and producing songs suitable for the Church to sing.

The Party?

I promise the work of a worship pastor is very spiritual and I spend most of my days praying, reading the Bible, communion with angels, my mind and heart in the Heavenlies, getting direct revelation from the Holy Spirit. But, last week when I was planning the service I most definitely Googled “Unfailing Love Bible.”

Love birds. Serena. Some Rights Reserved.
Love birds.  Serena. Some Rights Reserved.

I found this picture and a bunch of Psalms with that particularly frutiful Google search.

God is good.

As I read through the Psalms I noticed a recurring theme with each instance of “unfailing love.” All the Psalms I was finding were wacky depressing. Each Psalm had a pattern of love being the climax or the culmination, but very rarely the motivator. The motion wasn’t from glory to glory, joy to joy, but rather crushing sorrow to unfailing love.

Psalm 13 landed particularly hard of my heart, and I don’t like to use the platform I’m responsible for to minister to myself, but I decided to give myself some grace and plan a personal setlist this weekend.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Psalm 13.1-2

As a person prone to naval-gazing introspection, and the occasional nostalgia induced melancholy I read this and was like: “Oh yeah! How long do I have to wrestly with my thoughts?!” It’s hard to admit this, since in some regard my spiritual life plays out on the stage – more on that in a future post, but I’ve been feeling dried up for awhile. Like God is far away, and if not distant, hiding.

We introduced a few weeks back a hymn by Anne Steele, “Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul” (Music by Kevin Twitt, additional chorus/arrangement by Zac Williams), that has been my prayer in this dry season: “Dear Refuge of my weary soul/ On thee when sorrows rise/ On thee when troubles roll/ My fainting hope relies/ To Thee I tell each rising grief,/ For Thou alone canst heal/ Thy Word can bring a sweet relief,/ For every pain I feel”

Though my emotional reality has been dour “Thy Word has been a sweet relief.” Opening up the Scriptures to find God’s man David begging God the same as me has been a comfort. To be instructed in prayer: How long? How long? In God’s timing, but while wating beg and claw towards mercy and relief.

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

Psalm 13.3-4

I’m always strucked by the tenancity of David. It is preposterous of David to demand, “Look on me and answer, Lord my God.” But, the demand is awesome – “Give light to my eyes.” Look on me and give me light. David, me, you, we’re unable to look up of our own volition. We need God to remember us, to light up our eyes that we may see His love endures forever.

As we sang in “Open Up Our Eyes” we need God to open up our eyes and surround us with His light so that we can understand that His love never fails. Otherwise, without the hand of Divine Providence peeling back our eyelids it’ll seem that our enemies of self, emotion, and circumstance will surely defeat us and rejoice in doing so.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

Psalm 13.5-6

I’m not saying that when all around looks gray that the antidote is to try harder, never that, never try harder but always persevere. When the enemy is prevailing, do not retreat but charge in. Trust in his unfailing love, rejoice in his salvation.

Rejoice! Again I say rejoice!” Paul instructs the church in Phillipi. It’s not a slight “Cheer up, everything is gonna be a-ok” or “You should feel bad for feeling bad, so feel better”… It’s rejoice because “The Lord is near.” Rejoice in the good, rejoice in the bad, rejoice always because God has not forgotten you, he’s not hiding, he is near.

Though it may seem foolish, or impossible, when the enemy is pressing in on all sides trust in His unfailing love, rejoice in his salvation, sing the Lord’s praise, because “There is blessing in the battle,/ so take heart and stand amazed.”

Worship Review 10.18.15 – Rejoice! Again I Say Rejoice!

How Majestic Is Your Name (A Poem)

How Majestic Is Your Name

You bind Your glory
in a high place above
the multitudes of multitudes.
Like a yellow foam ball
and paper plate cutout
You hang the sun and the moon with twine
a mobile twirling above
our sleepy heads.

When I consider Your craftwork –
the finger painted 6am sky and
glow-in-the-dark evening stars –

What is Man?
What is our striving and work?
What is our anger and waste?
Why such violence?
Why do we grind our faces in gravel?
Why do we kill each other in church basements?

When I consider the Heavens –
What is man that You are mindful of him?
What do you care?

And yet!
You drag Your fingers through the dirt
gathering atoms into cells
binding them together with
skin and bones,
reason and feeling,

What is the Son of Man
that You care for him?
You place him, for a moment,
a little lower than the angels.

And yet!
You crown him –
first with thorns,
but then with glory and honor.

You have given him dominion over all of creation –
winter white birches,
dry summer creeks,
the blue jay on the fence,
the leviathan below the depths,
the behemoth with a gun.

Under his feet You place
every creeping thing,
all that swims in the sea,
that flies through the clouds,
that kills on the ground and
his heel has crushed
the head of all our strife,
and trying, terror, and death.

We beg for mercy:

Lord have mercy,
Christ have mercy.
Forgive us.
For what we have done.
For what we ought to have done.
We’ve not loved You with our whole hearts.
We’ve not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
Forgive us our fear mongering,
forgive us our white privilege,
forgive our suspicions,
our blaming,
our excuses.

As we run toward Hell,
restrain us, hold us back,
lift our heads, and peel open our eyes
so that we may consider Your handiwork:

…..O Lord, our Lord,
… majestic is Your name
… all the Earth.

How Majestic Is Your Name (A Poem)

Worship Review 6.14.15 – Dragon Skin

An honest confession: I’m incredibly proud of yesterday’s service.

There were two moments where that made me proud as an artist and a pastor.

The first was the Oasis trailer. One of the goals for the Oasis Conference is that we’d all be refreshed by the end. So, I decided to play up the beach theme and there you have it…

As the video was drawing to a close I heard audible sighs of relief and then people giggling as they realized that multiple people sighed.

That was a nice, proud moment.

Oasis is going to be amazing. The conference is Thursday and Friday, August 6th and 7th from 3p-9p. The cost is $25 which covers dinner both nights, snacks, printed materials, liscencing and more…

Right now, while you’re thinking about it, register here:

This weekend we sang:

  • “Psalm 100” by Chris Tomlin
  • “Glory to God Forever” by Fee
  • “If You Wash Us (Psalm 51)” by Tommy Welty (New!)
  • “Forgiven Forever” by Glenn Packiam
  • “This is Amazing Grace” by Phil Wickham

Please consider purchasing these to support the artists. Well, except for one. If you’d like to listen to it this week email me at for a VERY rough demo.

There’s a line in “Glory to God Forever” that makes all the hands go up in the air: “Take my life and let it be all for you and for your glory!” Which is a great and dangerous prayer. But to be honest, it makes me uncomfortable.

There are times when I’m singing that line where I think to myself, “My life has a special purpose.” That’s right, as I’m worshipping God I’m tempted to think about my life and its great purpose. #ironic

But when I encounter the glory of God a spotlight shines deep into my heart and reveals all the uglies that I hide deep down there. God takes my life and I’m first undone, it is too unbearable to behold.

God’s glory shouldn’t first lead to mission, but to confession. Or, it should. It might not be God’s glory if it doesn’t. It might just be emotions.

I wrote “If You Wash Us (Psalm 51)” years ago and have been too nervous to introduce it for two reasons. First, I’m a coward.  Secondly, the lyrical content is a tough pill to swallow. Every week I try and add an element of confession or an acknowledgement of sin, but usually it’s couched in the lyrics or a prayer. And usually I try and soften the blow – also cowardly.

As we were singing I felt the weight of my sin pressing me down. There was no room to think, “Hey! This past week I did alright. I’m a pretty okay guy. Aren’t you impressed God?” No softening the blow.

But as the bridge (“For the sake of Your son, Jesus Christ, have mercy and forgive us…”) built to its climax and released into the Doxology (“Praise God from whom all blessing flow…”) I felt the catharsis of the Spirit revealing my sin and showing me the Cross that removed it from me.

I was reminded of a scene from CS Lewis’ “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader:”

“Then the lion said — but I don’t know if it spoke — You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was jut the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.  You know — if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place.  It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” said Edmund.

“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass, only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on — and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. . . .”


Bryan Chappel writes in his book, “Christ-Centered Worship:”

We run to his arms with our sin-sick hearts because we know that there is grace sufficient, boundless, and free already there. We repent because we are forgiven, not to gain forgiveness. In our confession we experience God’s love because we confront out sin with the greatness of mercy that is already ours through faith in Christ, but we do not earn, gain, or force God’s pity by the words or weight of our confession.

So we sang “Forgiven Forever” to remember there is nothing we do, or leave undone, that can separate us from the love found in Christ Jesus. No angel, no devil, nor my best effort could. Because of the blood of Christ shed on the cross we are forgiven forever.

Worship Review 6.14.15 – Dragon Skin