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Come and Make Us Free EP - RELEASES TODAY

Cages. We’re well pedigreed engineers of them. We construct them, we think, for comfort. We believe they will save us, either by protecting us from the cruel blows of the world or by protecting the world from us. They keep the world in check, or they keep us in check. Either way, they are wrought-ironed evidence of humanity’s slavery to self-salvation, self-justification. Riffing on Calvin: the human heart is a cage factory, skillfully engineering ten thousand self-made prisons.

Come and Make Us Free is our latest five-track EP exploring our cage-making obsession, entertaining every theme that sits between its diagnosis and deliverance. To get right to the point, the album is about the slavery of sin and the freedom of the gospel. It plays like a mini worship service:

Invocation: “Come Witness this Gospel to Me”

Confession of Sin: “Come and Make Us Free”

Confession of a Savior: “Christ Surrendered All”

Assurance of Salvation: “It is Finished”

Summary & Praise: “Gospel Doxology”

A New Path in Songwriting 

Those who have followed my recording journey over the last five years will note (no surprise) that I love hymns. I’ve spent the bulk of my energies recasting those old gems in new settings. Come and Make Us Free is my first album where all the texts are original (except for the third verse of the doxology). As I said to a friend recently, “It feels like I’ve been now bathing in hymns long enough that I can begin stepping out of the water with the confidence that I’ll honor the heritage.”

Therefore, you’ll hear some songs that are very hymn-like. They’ve got older, poetic language and odd words like “Remembrancer” (thanks, Charles Wesley, for that theologically loaded descriptor of the Holy Spirit). Other songs, though, are a move toward deeper enculturation—pop melodies and more immediately accessible lyrics (“It is Finished”). In any regard, a heavier hand at lyric-writing is probably a sign of where I am headed, though I will never quite be able to let go of hymns (or, probably more accurately, they won’t let go of me).

Probably the principal reason I’m able to step away from the lyrical safety net of hymnody is because I have a great songwriting partner in my co-leader at Coral Ridge, Julie Anne Vargas. She has given the album a lyrical and musical focus and tightness, which have made all our songs sharper. In the craft of putting a song together, she’s the better technician.

I Believe in Every Song

There’s no track on this one that I consider filler. Not every song will fit every context, but I think there’s something for everyone. We taught four out of the five songs to our LIBERATE 2015 attendees last week, and they were all picked up quickly and sung passionately. That gave me great confidence in their integrity.

I also think the production on this album is more consistent than previous albums of mine, largely because of the help of one of South Florida’s best musicians, Matt Calderin, whose own show-stopping bluesy funky rock everyone should check out.

The first track, “Come Witness This Gospel to Me,” is a classically influenced poem that gets at the heart of what I think true “charismatic” worship really is. The middle three tracks are pop-rock worship songs all built on drums, bass, and Rhodes. The final track, “Gospel Doxology,” is a short anthem weaving pipe organ and strings into a big rock ending. In the weeks to come, I will post song stories and descriptions that delve into the music and theology of each track.

For now, please enjoy the album, and tell your friends about it! Gift the album to people you know who are weary of the do-more-try-harder “Christianity” that leaves us all caged and exhausted. Point them to the finished work of Jesus!


Buy the Album

Bandcamp | iTunes | Amazon 

Full Songbook

Lyrics, Charts and More

"Come Witness This Gospel to Me" lyrics | chord chart | lead sheet | piano

"Come and Make Us Free" lyrics | chord chart | lead sheet

"Christ Surrendered All" lyrics | chord chart

"It is Finished" lyrics | chord chart | lead sheet

"Gospel Doxology" lyrics | chord chart | lead sheet


How the Doxology Shapes Us

One drop of water on a rock has little effect, but a steady dripping will eventually wear a hole into seemingly impenetrable stone. Singing the Doxology every week is like getting a steady drip of life-giving Trinitarian water over hardened hearts.

James K. A. Smith, in Desiring the Kingdom, reminds us that the very form and rituals of worship have a shaping effect on us.  We don't just become more godly by learning the theology of the songs and imbibing the propositional content of the sermon.  Our desires and habits, as we move along the path of the liturgy, are shaped to more subconsciously and instinctively move along the direction of that path.   For instance, I have been in a context where I have experienced the same weekly liturgy of Confession, Assurance, and Repentance for over ten years now.  I now find that I have new instincts and desires when I slip into sin.  With nearly Pavlovian certainty, my heart drops into its knees, I acknowledge it before God, I preach the good news to my heart of God's assurance of my pardon through Christ, and I find greater strength to turn and re-commit myself to God's service.  Repeated liturgy makes you love it and live it every day of the week.  There are many things that we could point out about the shaping effect of the Doxology.  I will mention three.  

First, the Doxology shapes us into whole worshipers.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him, all creatures here below;

The first line gives us the "why" of worship (because of what He does).  But next is the "who."  First, "all creatures" are summoned to God's praise, and suddenly our minds are blown about the fact that worship is not merely a human activity.  It is an activity of all creation.  Before the fall, somehow all creation was more attuned to the worship of God, and there was a sense of solidarity between human beings and creation in the act of worship.  "Praise Him, all creatures here below" is a summons toward fall-reversal, saying to the earth, "Return, and worship the One who made you."  

When we realize this, singing this weekly shapes us into a people dissatisfied with a hyper distinction between sacred and secular.  We become a people who grate against our society's bifurcation of our private, personal religion and our public self.  God's demand for worship has equal authority in our schools, homes, and workplaces as it does in the sanctuary.  Our worship is whole, because the summons isn't "Praise Him, all Christians here below."  We become a people who are passionate about the reclamation and return of all of the earth's worship to its rightful Owner and Object.

Second, the Doxology blows open the supernatural nature of worship.

When we begin worship, I will often start by reminding congregants that today's worship attendance numbers are larger than they appear.  If the folks tallying our worship count were really being honest, every week, they'd write "myriads upon myriads."  Revelation 4-5 reminds us that when we enter into gathered worship on earth, we step into the already moving stream of the perpetual worship of heaven--the elders, the heavenly beings, the white-robed martyrs, the saints that have gone before.  In the Doxology, we sing:

Praise Him above, ye heavenly host.

The Doxology does not allow us to tally worship attendance based on who is seen physically in the room.  We are forced outward and upward.  The Doxology shapes us into heavenly worshipers.  The antiphonal, back-and-forth calls bounce from heaven to earth: "Hey angels, praise Him!" "No, you earthlings, you praise Him."  It's an inspiring vision that is not without effect.  The Doxology tunes us in to heavenly worshipers, shattering our culture's implicit naturalism.  We're no longer allowed to be a people who can stomach the notion that all we see is all there is.  We are a people who have been places you cannot see and touch, but are nevertheless just as real as our terra firma (or perhaps, as John Jefferson Davis would argue in Worship and the Reality of God, even more real).

Third, the Doxology makes us a Trinitarian people.

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Is the Trinity just an esoteric theological construct, or does it have existential import?  In other words, what good is it to us in our day to day lives that our God is one, yet three?  To tease out just one implication, it reminds us that because God exists in interdependent community, so should we.  The Doxology challenges our American rugged individualism. It shapes us into a people who crave community and authentic relationship, because such desires reflect the heart of our great Triune God.  The Doxology beats "Lone Ranger Christianity" out of us.  Each week we sing it, our individualistic selves receive another blow that reminds us, "You are not enough."  The Doxology makes us more instinctively Trinitarian, and therefore instinctively communal.  This, in turn, helps us to deal with sin and to grow in Christ.  Authentic community just does that.

So how can we worship leaders allow this shaping to take greater effect?  If we lead and sing the Doxology weekly, we can pause for twenty seconds before we sing it and share one insight like some of what's above.  We can perhaps send out a "value added" email to our congregation during the week about what the Doxology does to us.  And we can certainly minister the Doxology to folks in our one-on-one meetings and pastoring.  Things like these help make the implicit shaping turn into more explicit formation.   Who knew that so much could be packed into four lines?


Singing Theology So That We'll Eventually Believe It

The band and I recently rocked the faces off a few hundred kids several weeks ago as we led music for our church’s Vacation Bible School (VBS). It’s a fun time where we musicians are able to get a little flamboyant and wacky, where our inner rock star (rightly suppressed on Sunday mornings) can come out.  We had a blast, and the kids really loved it.  Since VBS, my family has been bumping that music in our car as we tootle around town in Denver.  I recently looked in the rear view mirror on one such drive to find all my kids singing along to great lyrics—scriptural quotations, actually.  Couple this with my preparations for my lecturing in Hawaii on Worship and Spiritual Formation (which happened a few weeks ago), and suddenly I realized that I was witnessing the ancient truth of lex orandi, lex credendi in action.

The phrase can be translated, "the law of prayer is the law of belief."  In other words, our worship both shapes and reveals what we believe about God and His world.  In yet other words, doxology is theology.  I've heard it often said, "Show me a man's checkbook, and I'll tell you where his heart is."  Similarly we might say, "Show me how you worship, and I'll tell you your theology."

It may not be intuitive to us as pastors, worship planners, and worshipers, but what we sing does more than articulate our theology.  Our song shapes our theology.  Here's a sad example.  Think of the church whose songs are only happy all the time.  This church celebrates, and celebrates, and celebrates.  God is the consummate joy-giver.  No sins are corporately confessed, and no lamentations are sung.  It is only shiny, happy Jesus music.  The flock, while being a joyful people, is persistently being shaped to view God in one way--as One who solves all their problems and only gives Christians good, happy, prosperous lives.  Lex orandi, lex credendi.  But then that day comes when Joe Churchgoer has a crisis--loss of job, cancer, death of a family member.  Joe stops coming to church, becomes reclusive, starts doubting his faith, and eventually starts doubting whether God even exists.  Why has this happened?  Ultimately, it is because Joe's church's songs have so shaped his views of God that he has no categories for suffering.  And when that happens, he starts to doubt that his other theological categories (God's goodness, God's power, God's justice) are even true.

Having your theology shaped by song is a slow, steady process.  Think of it like eating.  If your body is out of shape, you don't see any "re-formation" after your first healthy meal.  It is only the faithful, perpetual consumption of healthy food that yields your body's new shape.  So it is with sung theology.  We're often eating of it long before we really believe it and are shaped by it.  Chew, swallow.  Chew, swallow.

Going back to my kids, right now we're in the middle of slowly memorizing portions of the Westminster Shorter Catechism put to music by Cardiphonia.  (I'm actually bribing them at $0.50 per song.)  Now it would be foolish to expect that my seven-year-old son, who chants back that "God's works of providence are His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all their creatures and all their actions," actually knows (much less believes) what he's singing.  But, because I'm a believer in lex orandi, lex credendi, I'm very comfortable bribing him to shove big forkfulls of theological leafy dark greens down his throat because I really do believe that it will one day show up in the figure of his soul.

So it is with us, children of God.  We sing in order that we may one day believe.  I can sing Newton's great line "He has hushed the law's loud thunder / He has quenched Mount Sinai's flame," but I know that there's a part of me that doesn't really believe the fullness of what that means.  Nevertheless, I sing it.  I shove that fork in my mouth, so that one day I might look at myself in the mirror and say, "Goodness, that looks more like Jesus than I remember from a year ago."

Some final orandi-credendi takeaways:

  • Worship leaders: 
    • If you're not at a place where you are conversant in the major tenets of Christian theology, you need to work on it.  Ask your pastor or a trusted mentor for some starting places for study.
    • If you want to get more serious about seeing what your church's diet is like, compile the song lyrics from the last three years of worship, sit down with a team, and chart out what your people have been eating.
    • If you don't care about either of the above, please find another job.  
  • Pastors:
    • Be invested in your worship planning.  Too much spiritual formation takes place to neglect that.
    • If you're hiring a worship leader, don't just look for some young, pretty face who has a "commanding presence" and good musical skill.  Look for someone who thinks theologically and leads pastorally (or who has a teachable spirit to be trained to do so).  Again, too much is at stake to blow this.
  • Worshipers:
    • What have you been singing?  Who is the God of your song?
    • Where do you still want to grow in your faith?  Perhaps alongside that great Bible study, book, or small group curriculum, you can find some songs to sing.  Ask your pastor/worship leader for some suggestions here.



Christmas Day 2011: Forcing the Issue of Ultimate Allegiance Between Sunday Worship and Family Traditions 

Starting around six months ago, there began a flurry of exchanges among worship leader Facebook groups, email groups, and online forums.  “What is your church doing for Christmas Day this year?”  The subtext of the dialogue was largely, “Are you going to have a worship service or not?”  There was at least a small amount of panic about how this could all possibly work.  People aren’t used to going to church on Christmas Day.  But many are very used to their tried and true family traditions.  (“We always open presents on Christmas morning.”  “We always have Christmas brunch together witht the family.”)

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CCM Artist Challenges Modern Worship to Write Better Songs and Embrace Liturgy  

Fernando Ortega has always behaved as one cut from a different swatch of the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) cloth.  His instrumentation has almost always been a bit more folky and “classical.”  His melodies have always been a bit more lyrical.  His albums have always shown an awareness and embracing of the Church’s hymn tradition. 

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Why the Gospel Shines Brightest in Worship

If you know me, then you know that I place myself in the camp of those folks who are big on the Gospel.  I’m one of those obsessed evangelo-philes that can’t get enough of the good news.  I’m convinced that evangelicalism has inadvertently over the years done some diminishing of the Gospel’s scope and depth, and I’m on board with those (like the Gospel Coalition) who want to reclaim it for all its power, beauty, and worth.

What I don’t hear talked about much among the Gospel-lovers is how the context of corporate worship is uniquely qualified to convey, proclaim, preach, and minister the Gospel.  The Gospel is certainly brilliant in and of itself, but it seems that God has ordained that it shine brightest and purest in the context of worship.  Where else can the Gospel be preached in the context of the gathered people of God?  Where else can the Gospel be displayed uniquely in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper?  Where else can the Gospel be rehearsed by the people of God in one collective, sacred liturgical act?  Where else can Gospel-borne community so aptly summarized and pictured?

The Gospel is like a diamond.  It’s beautiful and captivating all the time.  But a diamond’s brilliance and color is at its peak when it is placed in the right setting, viewed under the best lighting, prepared with the ideal polish, and observed from an optimal angle.  God has ordained that worship be the Gospel’s most perfect display case. 

The Gospel is like medicine.  It heals and restores sick and wounded souls.  It shows no favoritism.  If Christians and non-Christians truly receive it, the effect is the same—healing and growth.  But medicine is most effective when it is prescribed in ideal dosages and administered rightly.  Worship is God’s authorized pharmacy for the Gospel.  Sure, the medicine works whether you get it from the black market or the drug store (that seemed to be Paul's point in Philippians 1:12-18).  But the Gospel’s dosage and administration are at its peak potency and effectiveness in the context of worship.

There’s something missing from the discussion if, in speaking of the Gospel, we are subtracting from it its ecclesiological and doxological contexts.  The Gospel is not a nebulous, free-floating message.  It is the good news of Christ given to the Church to give to the world.  So the Gospel has an ecclesiological (church) context.  Furthermore, its message is uniquely displayed by the Church in her worship.  So the Gospel has a doxological (worship) context.

Some might argue, “Well, Jesus didn’t have an ecclesiological and doxological context when He communicated the Gospel.”  But this is creating a false dichotomy, for Christ was and is the fullness of ecclesiology and doxology.  We must first think about the fact that the four gospel-writers went to great lengths to communicate that Christ was the fulfillment of the people of God.  His successful forty days in the wilderness mirrored Israel’s failed forty years in the desert.  His selection of twelve disciples mirrored the twelve tribes of Israel.  His “I Am” statements throughout the first half of the gospel of John are intended to communicate that He is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament feasts and festivals.  So as Christ was ministering the Gospel, He was His own ecclesiological and doxological context.

Secondly, we must remember that Christ sent His Spirit to the Church (Acts 2) in order that the Church, filled with His very Presence, might be the true “body of Christ” to the world.  As some theologians have put it succinctly, in many ways, “Christology is ecclesiology.”  If the Church is the body of Christ, and if Christ is the head, then it makes sense that the Church actually exemplifies Christ’s own earthly ministry of the Gospel best when she is gathered as one body, because she displays Christ most fully when she is together, en masse. And while the Church may gather at other times, her prescribed and sanctioned convocation is weekly corporate worship.

Therefore, we might say that the Gospel is uniquely manifested most acutely at the intersection of Christ, His Church, and worship.  If this is true, then there are many implications for our worship, for both how we view it and what we do in it.  But that's for another day.