I haven't felt very inspired to write any original content in the last few months. It's
been tough - because I love to write! However, in the midst of a struggle, I sat down and just
started writing. There was no form and no intention for this writing to become a song. I just felt
the need to express how I was feeling on paper as a means of "self therapy." When I reflected on what
I had written, I realized that my thoughts made very little sense. I wondered if this is what God hears when we come to Him so heart-broken and troubled. Maybe it is, but He wants us to come to Him anyway. This song was born from that thought. Maybe all we need to do in our time of distress is call out to Jesus. Maybe all we need to do is humble ourselves before Him and acknowledge Him. God's Word tells us that there is power in the Name of Jesus. Even if I can't find the words to say to Him, I know that I can find an over-powering feeling of peace and security when I call on His Name.
A good friend of mine, Doug Spires, was participating in a song-writing challenge. He was tasked every month with writing a song based on a set of guidelines given by the forum administrators. One month, the challenge was basically to write a worship song that's all about God. Seems easy enough, right? However, the challenge was to leave "us" out of it. I accepted the challenge with Doug because I wanted to see if I could do it. Without the use of "I," "us," "we," "my," and other personal pronouns, as well as personal feelings, it was difficult to pen a worship song! I was made very aware of how often I inject myself into my worship of God. Things like "Lord, I need You" or "I have a friend in Jesus" are perfectly fine to say, but what if you had to write a song in which that couldn't be said? The result was
"Praise Him! (Three in One)."
"Everything to Me" is a song that was co-written with Doug Spires. Also as part of the song-writing challenge, the guidelines for this song were to simply c0-write it with another person. No stipulations were given as to how much either party had to contribute with lyrics or music. Doug began writing lyrics and didn't stop until they were all written. The idea behind the lyrics was for us to be brought back to that initial feeling of joy we felt when we first received Christ as our Savior. Also, it is to remember that we find all we need in Jesus. No thing or person needs to be added if we have Jesus. When he sent it to me, my goal was to write the music. I was very impressed with the lyrics and a melody formed in my head almost instantly as I was reading through them. Once I made some minor changes for meter and rhythmic purposes, I pulled out my phone and just recorded what came to me. I wrote it all out and sent it back to Doug. After Doug made a few minor changes, we agreed that the song was complete and I went straight to my studio to record "Everything to Me."
In 2021, there was distress in the Southern Baptist Convention. There was a lack on confidence in leadership and in dealing with some issues. This caused people to scramble for the "right" actions to take. Unfortunately, we are all sinful people and some of the actions taken did not reflect the Lord's leadership. Divisions and factions arose. Harsh words were spoken. Plans were devised. As I read about what was going on, the idea for this song came to mind. A battle cry can be heard all around us (Christians) - a call to be men of God, rise up against adversity, strive to do good and love one another. I started writing what I felt in free form. There was a rhyme scheme and a loose meter in the beginning, but as I considered what I had written I realized that this song would be different from my typical writing style. I had a lot that I wanted to say. I thought to myself, "what genre of music allows for a lot of words?" The answer is rap. I am by no means a rapper, but I felt that I had a strong enough grasp of the concept from my younger days that I could pull it off. After formatting the lyrics of the verses to fit the genre, I needed a chorus. I pulled out my 1991 Baptist Hymnal and found a song that is rarely, if ever, sung anymore. "Rise Up, O Men of God" lined up perfectly with the message I was trying to communicate, so I formatted the lyrics to fit my song. Once I recorded a track and laid down the vocals, I realized that it still needed something. It needed an urgency, something to get everyone's attention, something that said "this is serious." I scoured the internet looking for the perfect sample to add and found a siren for the very beginning of the track. After adding that siren, I felt that the song was complete.
God is so patient. If we only had the patience that He has! Seeing us in our sin and despair, God sent His Son to be sacrificed on our behalf, providing payment for every sin that has ever been or will ever be committed. You would think that every soul, upon learning this Truth, would immediately accept this free gift and turn from his or her sinfulness. So many of us had (or have) to rebel against the Truth, though. We put-off, deny, or reject His redemption. A man being rejected once may turn away. A man being rejected twice is even more likely to turn away. However, God never turned away from me - no matter how many times I rejected Him. He continuously called to me, pleading for me to let Him save me. That's what this song is all about ... but there's more. The lyrics of the first verse say, "You pick up the pieces as I throw them down again. I'm messing it all up; the cycle never ends. But Your love never falters; it's forever the same. You speak softly to me, even though I'm to blame." Rejection isn't just a simple action taken by unbelievers, exclusively. Believers, alike, reject God every time we refuse to submit to Him, go our own way, or allow our sinful natures to overcome the leading of His Spirit. Yes, He has patiently waited for me to accept Him as my Savior and that is amazing. But what is more amazing is now that I have Him as my Savior, He still patiently waits for me to mature. He still forgives. He still calls to me. He still loves me.
This is a song that I actually wrote over 10 years ago. It was among my very first Christian songs. I had been a Christ-follower for several years, but writing Christian songs was still a new concept. I didn't have a deep theological understanding. I didn't know all the details of the doctrines Southern Baptists profess. However, I understood that all Christians should want to be closer to God. Where did I learn that idea? Actually, I learned that from the hymn "Just a Closer Walk with Thee." But more importantly, Scripture proclaims that it is good to be close to God. James 4:8 tells us to "draw near to God and He will draw near to you." Psalm 145:18 says "The Lord is near to all who call on Him." Psalm 73:28 says that it is "good to be near God." After reading these passages, I wrote the chorus as my personal prayer. Two verses followed and I needed a bridge. I thought, "what could be better for a bridge than that old hymn, 'Just a Closer Walk with Thee'?" So I used the chorus of that hymn as the bridge to tie it all together.
This one was very hard to write. In 2020, my church was devastated by the death of a teenager. Cole was the kid to be jealous of in school, although everyone seemed to only admire him. He was extremely intelligent, funny, athletic, and kind-hearted. A few years before, I put a great deal of ministerial emphasis on developing musicians for a student praise band. Cole was in this group. He played the keyboard and had taken lessons for years. "180 Band" had reached the point that they no longer needed my direct supervision and were regularly planning and leading worship for their own Wednesday evening gatherings. They had even begun leading worship for other student functions in the area. Cole had a condition that his parents were unaware of. He had a couple of episodes that prompted a diagnosis and they began to treat the condition. Unfortunately, during a tennis match, Cole collapsed and was taken to the Emergency Room, where he died shortly after. His family, like many Christian families, wanted to have a "celebration of life" service for him. I had talked to and ministered to several of his friends and family members. So many of them shared the same thought: "We are just glad that we got to be part of his life." The first line of the song that I wrote was that of the chorus, which says "Thank You, God, for sharing this life with us." It was truly a blessing - even though it didn't last very long - to share life with Cole. I geared the verses to minister directly to his friends and family. The bridge was written as a reminder of an old, old truth: God's ways are higher than our ways and we aren't meant to understand everything He does. Once the writing was finished, I asked Gavin Cole (the leader of 180 Band and a very close friend to Cole) to record it with me.
Several years ago when I was serving at Woodlawn Baptist Church in Vicksburg, I recall Bro. Kent Campbell telling me that he would be starting a new sermon series about the "I Am" statements. He told me this on Monday morning so that I could use the information to plan. At the time, I strived to plan the music toward the message as closely as possible. If the sermon was about Jesus being our friend, we would sing "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." If the sermon was about God as our Father, we would sing "How Deep the Father's Love for Us." But the sermon series was about the "I Am" statements. I had nothing, nothing that pointed to all of them. So I sat down to write. I started with the chorus because the whole point was to tie together all of the things that Jesus claimed to be. He is the Bread, the Light, the Gate, the Resurrection, the Good Shepherd, the True Vine, the Way, the Truth and the Life. The "I Am" that ties it all together was when Jesus said in John 8:58, "Very truly I tell you, before Abraham was born, I am!" I was a little concerned that I would have difficulty making these statements rhyme and fit into a meter, but surprisingly, the chorus only took me about 30 minutes to format because the material was already there! I continued writing and was finished with all of the lyrics by the end of the day. I sang this song for the first time that coming Sunday to begin the sermon series.
At the beginning of 2020, the world we knew completely changed. COVID-19 officially entered the United States. People were afraid. Things were uncertain. Actions led to reactions. Then, we found ourselves in a mandatory quarantine. During this time at home, I wanted to write. I wanted to write something that would encourage others - and myself. I could have written a song with my own words exclusively, but it probably wouldn't encourage me or anyone else the way God's Word can. I went to a few of my go-to verses that I frequently read in difficult times for ideas. I read several passages, but Proverbs 3:5, Isaiah 41:10, and Matthew 6:26 stuck out to me the most. Instead of "basing" this song on these verses, I decided to write the verses into the song. All three verses are rewritten versions of these Scriptures. When I began writing the chorus, I was thinking of what I needed to hear. I knew that God is still here, we are not alone, He still loves us, He is still in control, and He leads us every step of the way if we allow Him to, but I wanted to actually hear that. I felt like others needed to hear it, too, as a reminder and encouragement to hold fast. After a few writing sessions and plenty of coffee, "Not Forsaken (You're Still Here)" was ready to be recorded.
The life of a Christ-follower consists of laying down the old self and putting on the new self. This is a daily battle that rages within us. It doesn't happen over night and it isn't a "one and done" kind of thing. This song reflects that overall message. When we lose ourselves, we come closer to God. I added one little nugget from my childhood to the song, as well. In the chorus, I added the line "show me things that are greater than I've ever seen." I had a phenomenal children's church teacher as a child. Her name was Kerri Kiddie. She had a knack for taking Scriptures, word for word, and setting them to music. Her tunes were not like "The Lord's Prayer," for instance. They were fun, bouncy, relevant, and kids loved them. More importantly, kids loved to sing them and learned the Scriptures through her songs. One such Scripture is Jeremiah 33:3. "Call unto me and I will answer thee and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest now." Kerri set the song with a "boom-chick" accompaniment and only used the tonic, subdominant and dominant chords for the progression. The melody was pentatonic. It was a simple song, but because it was simple we were able to learn it quickly and remember it forever. I can still sing and play that song today. That message is a promise, much like Proverbs 3:6 ("In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths"). Call out to God and wait. He can show us things and do things that we have never seen.
Isaiah 40 is such a powerful chapter in God's Word. Most folks are familiar with the end of the chapter - youths growing weary, God giving us strength, and "soaring on wings like eagles." Man, we love that part! That is the climax of the chapter. But what about the rest of it? This chapter shows us a picture of who God is, who we are, and how He relates to us. No one can be compared to God because He is so much higher than any other. We are as temporary as the grass of the fields. In our failures and troubles, God speaks softly to us and tells us that the battle has been won for us because of what He did for us. With these thoughts in mind, I began writing. I could almost call the result a "Draw Me Close, part 2." It has much of the same thought process in the chorus. I want God in my life and close to me. I want to feel His hand resting on my life. I want to see His goodness through my strife. Having Him close will not make my troubles just disappear, but it will give me peace - the perfect kind of peace that only God can give me. This song has ministered to me so much in the last few days and I hope that it will minister to you, as well.