Several weeks ago I wrote a rather lengthy blog about a few words in the popular worship song “How He Loves” by John Mark McMillan.
The song is kind of old now (for some of us), but it continues to draw attention as artists cover it and feature it on their worship projects (artists including Flyleaf, Eddie Kirkland, David Crowder Band, Israel & New Breed, and Jesus Culture / Kim Walker).
Five years ago when I took the new role in our church as our primary worship leader & director of the worship department it was one of the few songs we sung on our first Sunday. It’s been a part of my story as a follower of Jesus, a pastor, and a worship leader.
People who think words don’t matter have dramatically underestimated them. The response to that blog alone indicate just powerful our words are.
Thanks to John Mark, the post itself was viewed over 8000 times in the first day it was posted. It was read on countless radio stations in the US who wanted to offer a perspective to their listenership on the lyrics. I guess it struck a chord somewhere.
That’s not why I wrote it, though.
I wrote it as a defense, not so much of the words, but of John Mark himself.
I wouldn’t call John Mark my best friend. My best friend from high school, college, and the years since is one of John Mark’s good friends. Josh has always been very proud of his friendship with me and has created moments for me to spend time with John Mark over the years. So, I guess you can say that we’re friends through a strong connection.
There was a period of time after I finished my degrees in bible & theology, Christian Ministry, and education that the Jesus I knew didn’t make sense any more. I was working in a low-performing school with special education students. Their lives were broken messes. Their homes were tornadoes of dysfunction. There were moments that cried and broke because the clean, sterile Jesus that I came to know didn’t make sense in their worlds.
Clean-cut answers don’t always make sense.
I started discovering a messy Jesus, a Jesus I couldn’t figure out. This Jesus was full of mystery & grace, and I was unlearning so much of what I filled myself with earlier.
Every day I looked into the eyes of my students, I was breaking to let the Jesus of scripture, the Jesus who came to lost & broken, emerge in my life. I needed a reshaping and that’s exactly what I got.
During that time Christian music in general, and worship music specifically, seemed remarkably inadequate to reflect the complexities of the world that I was learning to navigate. The answers coming from Christian music seemed so sterile and trite. I’m not saying they’re not true, I’m just saying they didn’t fit.
Then came John Mark. And his music was filled with tension that I felt: the tension that exists between a broken world & a beautiful God.
This music felt like home. It wasn’t comfortable. It provoked response and longing. It was challenging, emotional, beautiful, and broken all at the same time.
I remember telling a friend of mine “he’s going to be the greatest songwriter in this genre in our lifetime … just wait.” They didn’t share my sentiment; they listened to Christian radio, and at that point were quite comfortable with what they were hearing. What they heard in John Mark was unsettling and new.
Last summer when John Mark and I spent some time together during my best friend’s wedding, we spoke about his music. I ask a lot of questions when I get around people, because I enjoying learning and gaining a greater perspective. So, obviously I bombarded him for an entire day with questions about everything from his experiences in the music industry to song writing to how his songs were being used in churches. He was gracious, patient, and answered them kindly.
At one point we were talking about the theological problems people have with His songs. I offered a few perspectives on some of the arguments that had emerged about some his lyrics, and John Mark said jokingly “I’m just going to refer these people to you from now on.”
I basically agreed to write a defense of the “sloppy wet kiss” line then; it just took me 10 months to get around to it (for good reasons).
In our world, where we have thousands of twitter followers & facebook friends, where many of us crowd together in church with hundreds of people we don’t know … we’ve lost what it means to be a friend.
In Genesis 9, Noah plants a vineyard, harvests some grapes, and presses the grapes. Noah drinks the wine and gets hammered[i]. Not just a slight buzz. The dude ends up passed out naked.
One of his sons notices his father naked. His response: go tell everybody.
Two of his other sons notice their father naked: Their response: to help him.
These two sons took a garment, approached their father backwards (as not to embarrass him by seeing him naked), and covered his nakedness.
In the end the son that simply tells about his father’s nakedness is cursed and the two who do something about it are blessed.
This moment is a window into the heart of what it truly means to be a friend to someone. In a world where faux relationships can exist over thousands of miles through 140 characters, it’s important to realize friends don’t simply talk about their friend’s needs.
Friends do something.
The reason I wrote the “sloppy wet kiss” blog was because John Mark personally means something to me and I can’t sit silent while people raise their voices to criticize.
Maybe you have friends that you’ve been more than privileged to see their struggles and brokenness. You’ve seen their “nakedness”. Are you simply telling people about it? Even in the hopes that “someone else can fix this problem”? Or are you doing something about it?
Friends don’t simply watch and talk about their friend’s struggles.
Friends get involved. They do something.
* * * * * * *
Just as a few notes on why I DIDN’T write the “sloppy wet kiss” blog:
- I didn’t write it because I like John Mark’s version more than the other recordings. I rather enjoy listening to different artists take the core of a song, adapt it, and apply it to their local setting. That is the job of a worship leader in a local church.
- I didn’t write it because I feel like changing words in songs is sinful, wrong, or just in bad taste. There are songs that we use in our church where we alter the wording of the song. Most of the time it’s my pastoral decision, because the lyrics can be interpreted in an erroneous theological way. One of most sacred responsibilities as a pastor is steward the beliefs our people are embracing. Worship music (in modern & historical settings) has long been one of the most effective tools for conveying truth. With all that said, I think there is a place to change lyrics. Every time you do, however, it does speak to something you’re uncomfortable with. I’m totally ok with being uncomfortable with teaching our church false beliefs, and I think Jesus would affirm this as a righteous concern.
- I specifically want to clarify that David Crowder is a phenomenal worship leader, Christian writer, and an influence that we all (worship leaders, pastors, and people who love Jesus) can benefit from. I own his books, his albums, and attend his concerts. His works played a significant role in my development, both spiritually and as a worship leader. The original post was in no way directed at him or his recording.
- Lastly, I didn’t write it as a super-spiritual, all-knowing, yoda-type. I wrote that post simply to offer a defense for something that has been significant in my life.