On #Eclipse2017, a song to celebrate the majesty of our Creator

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Eclipse day is here, and my hometown of Nashville Tennessee has gone absolutely crazy with people staring at the sun through paper glasses. It really is a once in a lifetime event, and the whole thing has had me thinking a lot about Psalm 19:

1The heavens declare the glory of God;

the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

2Day after day they pour forth speech;

night after night they reveal knowledge.

3They have no speech, they use no words;

no sound is heard from them.

4Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,

their words to the ends of the world.

In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.

5It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,

like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

6It rises at one end of the heavens

and makes its circuit to the other;

nothing is deprived of its warmth.

“What a Glorious King” proclaims the greatness of God the creator. The Bible says that the heaven’s declare God’s glory. Footage from this video was taken from NASA’s time lapse project filmed aboard the ISS.

Lyrics:

I saw the sunrise
Stretch its arms over the earth
And the mountain reach toward heaven in praise
A vast creation
By an uncreated God
Who was here before we counted the days

All the things You made and said were good
Just glimpses of Your greatness and glory

So sing to the magnificent Creator
What a Glorious King
What a Glorious King
Join all of heaven worshiping the Maker
And together we sing
What a glorious KingYou scattered starlight
Over infinite space
And You chased away the darkness with a word
And there with one breath
You gave life to every man
Who You formed out of the clay of the earth

And every single breath that you give to me
Is evidence of your love and mercy

Oh let my every heart beat
Oh let my every word
Be a reflection of the love You deserve
Of the love You deserve

Song written by Wes Pickering. CCLI #7070191

Song added to Spotify’s “Ultimate Christian Alternative” music playlist

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My dear friend Brettan Cox and I wrote a song called “Hound of Heaven” together for her album Blood Red Blooms, and this week Spotify added the song to their “Ultimate Christian Alternative” playlist. I’m so proud of the amazing writer and artist that Brettan has become!

Two years ago, Brettan brought this great chorus to our writing session based on Francis Thompson’s classic poem of the same title, the idea being that God pursues us no matter how far we run from Him, like a bloodhound on the scent of an escaped convict. No matter how far we run from God, we cannot escape the relentlessness of His love. Brettan and I wrote the verses and bridge together, and began recording.

After recording only an acoustic guitar and vocal, she left for tour and I continued working on the song. The lyric has this timeless Old World feel to it (“I fled you down the days…”), but the music I heard in my head was modern with all kinds of pop sensibilities. I decided to follow that gut instinct and put together a track I wasn’t entirely sure Brettan would like because it was entirely different from the direction we started in, even completely ditching the original acoustic guitar. Layer by layer, I tracked loops, drums, guitars, bass, synths, and background vocals, meticulously working on it for days, and I was very nervous to play it for her the first time! “You might totally hate this,” I told her before she listened. Thankfully, Brettan didn’t hate the track!

When you put the finishing touches on a song and send it out into the world, it’s incredible to see the places those melodies and sounds land. My prayer is that hearing Brettan’s “Hound of Heaven” would give the listener a fresh glimpse of how faithful the love of Christ is.

Thank you, Brettan for allowing me to be a part of your musical journey for so many years! Thanks to Spotify for including our little song on your “ultimate” playlist!

Urgent update on our Precious Lorenzo

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Our sweet Lorenzo is scheduled to have a second surgery on July17th, and @hannahpickering and I are reaching out to raise $4,000 to cover the expenses. Please donate to Mission Discovery’s “Medical Needs” fund at http://missiondiscovery.kindful.com to help meet the urgent medical needs of kids like Lorenzo at Jamaica Christian School for the Deaf.

We were with him at Jamaica Christian School for the Deaf two weeks after his first surgery, and it was AMAZING to see the transformation in his body and in his emotions. He is confident, happy, gaining healthy weight, and beginning to engage with his fellow students for the first time. The first surgery removed 15 years of toxic buildup in his digestive system, confirmed the diagnosis of Hirschsprung’s disease, and took a biopsy sample. Thankfully the biopsy came back and Lorenzo does not have cancer or any of the other life threatening complications that come from untreated Hirschsprung’s.

The first surgery did confirm that Lorenzo’s large intestine has large sections with no nerves or muscle tissue, which essentially renders it paralyzed and unable to fully process food. The second surgery will be a colostomy, removing the bad portion of his intestine, and Lorenzo will require a colostomy bag until his 3rd surgery can be completed. They will also take a 2nd biopsy, to make sure they have enough good tissue to reconnect his entire digestive tract.

Three prayer points: 1) Pray that we will raise all the funds necessary to cover the entire 2nd surgery. 2) Pray for there to be enough good intestinal tissue that Lorenzo will not have to use a colostomy bag for the rest of his life. 3) Pray for total and complete healing for Lorenzo.
Hannah and I love this kid like a son. He is our treasure, and we want to see him living a happy, healthy life. Satan has tried to steal so much from him, but God’s love pierces through all darkness. Lorenzo is a child of the King, and God has a plan for his life.
Please join with us and donate to Mission Discovery’s “medical needs” fund for Jamaica Christian School for the Deaf. Go to http://missiondiscovery.kindful.com and choose “Medical Needs” from the dropdown menu underneath “Jam. Christian Sch for the Deaf.”

Sharing the Gospel Without Fear

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I watched the police and court-appointed repo-men pry open my neighbor’s door and begin piling his belongings on the front lawn. Ryan was only 27, but his alcohol addiction had already destroyed his liver and kidneys. He couldn’t function at work and had no way of paying his mortgage. His eyes were yellow, his body thin and frail. Ryan desperately needed Jesus.

My hands shook as I drove him to the Rescue Mission. In that moment, I knew God was telling me to talk to Ryan about Jesus, but I felt nervous and clumsy about sharing my faith. I started the only way I knew how, and prayed that God would give me the right words to say.

“Ryan, I know you’re hurting, but you don’t have to go through this alone. No matter how much you fail or how many times people let you down, God is always faithful and He loves you so much that He sent his Son to die to pay for all of your mistakes…”  My words weren’t eloquent, just the simple Gospel we learn in Sunday School classes. God doesn’t need an army of orators—he just needs people who are willing to obey.

Sharing Jesus with others, even people who desperately need Him, can be a scary proposition.

Perhaps more than any other weapon, the enemy uses fear to keep God’s children from sharing the Gospel. Throughout the Bible, it’s very apparent that God knows this. From Genesis to Revelation there are hundreds of verses about fear.

How do we overcome fear?

“Be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  Joshua 1:9

“The Lord is for me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? With the Lord for me as my helper, I will look in triumph on those who hate me.”  Palm 118:6-7

Scripture reminds us time and again: God is with us, and with Him, we have nothing to fear. As believers, we need never worry that God will abandon us — He promises to never leave or forsake us. We can boldly carry out his calling on our lives, knowing that the Creator and Ruler of the universe is on our side.

 “For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.” 2 Timothy 1:7

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18

A common theme throughout the New Testament is that God’s love overcomes fear. When we find ourselves afraid to speak up for what’s right or nervous about what others may think of us, we can pray for God to fill our hearts with his love.

When I shared the Gospel with Ryan, it was because God’s love and compassion overtook my fear. God’s love for Ryan was far bigger and stronger than my own nervousness.

“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!”  Romans 8:38-39

  • Have you ever been afraid to do something you knew was right? Did you give in to fear or do the right thing? What were the consequences?
  • Is there anything in your life that you know God is calling you to, but you’re afraid to do it?

Lean into God’s perfect love and allow Him to overshadow the things you are afraid of. Ask God to help you to experience His love for the people around you. When we are compelled by love to share the Gospel, fear simply cannot stand.

How to be a Leader When You’re Not the One in Charge

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Being a leader and being in charge are not the same thing. There is a misconception in both Church and secular contexts that being a leader means that you have some sort of title and you’ve been given responsibility for other people. Leadership, however, is simply creating a pathway for other people to follow, and that doesn’t require a job title or for other people to give you official recognition as a leader. As a matter of fact, it’s important that you learn how to lead before being put in charge of something. With that in mind, here are some ways you can begin leading right where you are:

  1. Honor your leaders, even when you disagree with them. Whether your context is church, work, education, family, etc., you have a God-given mandate to honor your leaders. I can hear somebody out there saying, “Well, my leaders don’t follow God, and they make bone-headed decisions.” That may very well be the case, but they still qualify for your honor. Take a look at how the prophet Daniel honored King Darius after the king threw him in the lion’s den:

    At the first light of dawn the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. When he reached the den, he cried out in anguish to Daniel. “Daniel, servant of the living God,” the king said, “has your God whom you serve continually been able to rescue you from the lions? ” Then Daniel spoke with the king: “May the king live forever. My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths. They haven’t hurt me, for I was found innocent before Him. Also, I have not committed a crime against you, my king.” Daniel 6:19-22 (HCSB)

    “May the king live forever”?!? Are you kidding me? Darius was an evil man who committed many atrocities, and Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den for not bowing down to worship this despot. But Daniel responded to Darius’s evil with God’s good, and he honored his leader even when his leader wasn’t worthy of honor. As a result, Darius saw the power of God on Daniel’s life and he turned away from his sin. Even though Daniel wasn’t in charge, his honor and Godly leadership influenced an empire.

  2. Leave negativity behind. People rarely ever get criticized into doing a better job, and situations rarely improve because of complaining. Whether you are in public or in private, in person or on social media, don’t buy into the world’s way of thinking that the one who complains the loudest makes the biggest impact. Complainers only drag others down with them. Think about the Israelites in the wilderness: complaining turned a 40-day journey into a 40-year nightmare. Complaining cost an entire generation their opportunity to enter the Promised Land.
  3. Be an encourager. Encourage both your leaders and your peers. Look for the good things God has implanted in the people around you, and let your words draw out the best in them. Remember, your words carry the power of the Holy Spirit. Make sure you’re covering your team with blessings and not curses.
  4. Work hard. Don’t wait for an important job before you begin working hard. Remember, you are ultimately working for God, not for the person in charge. Every assignment you have deserves your utmost. Jesus said that your works are what makes your light shine on the world. “Let them see your good works, and praise your Father in Heaven.” Every job you have is an opportunity to showcase the glory of God.
  5. Offer advice sparingly. Many people believe that becoming a leader involves inserting themselves into situations above their current pay grade. The truth, however, is that nobody enjoys being around a know-it-all. Let the wisdom of God inform and influence the tasks you have been assigned to, and when your leaders and peers see how successful you are at everything you set your hands to, you won’t have to go to them with advice; they’ll come to you.
  6. Don’t self-promote. Again, let your actions speak for themselves. Remember whose Kingdom you belong to. When the disciples argued about which one of them was the greatest, Jesus told them that being great in God’s Kingdom means being the servant of all. You don’t have to talk yourself up or herald your own successes. In the book of Genesis, Joseph started his career as a slave but he ended up being the 2nd in command of all of Egypt. He didn’t get there by constantly reminding other people of his qualifications and accomplishments. No, his leaders noticed that everything Joseph touched succeeded. You don’t have to highlight yourself. When it’s time for promotion, God will always highlight you.
  7. Choose your battles. You might not agree with every decision your leaders make, but only things that violate your core principles as a Christian warrant defiance. Remember the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They served alongside wizards and satanic spiritualists under King Nebuchadnezzar who was the ancient-world equivalent of Saddam Hussein. They served this terrible man with great honor, and we only have two accounts of defiance. The first was when they were commanded to eat food that was sacrificed to idols. The second was when they refused to bow down and worship Nebuchadnezzar’s idol. In both cases, God backed up their righteous defiance with His power. As a result, God changed the empire of Babylon and even saved Nebuchadnezzar.
  8. Be the solution to problems. It’s easy to find faults and identify problems, but a leader is somebody who is willing to be the solution. A good rule of thumb is to always come up with a solution before pointing out a problem. Be willing to be the person who works extra to fix broken things.
  9. Pray for God’s blessings on your team and your leaders. When the Israelites were in Babylonian captivity, God instructed them through the prophet Jeremiah to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city” where they were exiled. When we intercede for our leaders, whether or not they know Jesus, God’s blessings are set into motion. When they are blessed, you will also be blessed.
  10. Help others succeed. The Kingdom of God is not a zero-sum game. When somebody else succeeds, it doesn’t mean that you are losing. True leaders bring out the best in everyone and help those around them win. Ditch the spirit that says you have to get ahead by dragging others down. Be the catalyst that sets others up for success.
  11. Celebrate your team members’ victories. Even when somebody else gets the promotion or credit you were looking for, rejoice in their victory as if it were your own.  We have the opportunity to partake in other people’s victories, but we miss out when we refuse to praise God for his blessings on others. Jesus said to “Rejoice with those who rejoice.”
  12. Be a learner. Effective leaders never assume that they have it all figured out. They are always learning, always bettering their craft, always gleaning wisdom from others. Learn from your team members and friends. Have a teachable spirit. Often, you will find that things you assumed you knew better were not actually the best way.

Joseph, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: none of them were the person in charge. They all started in places of absolute subservience, but they led from where they God placed them. God gave them influence because they didn’t wait for a better position before taking on a mantle of leadership. You don’t have to be the pastor or worship leader to shift the atmosphere in your church. You don’t have to be the boss to change the leadership culture of your workplace. You don’t have to be the patriarch to see God move in your family. You don’t have to be the principal to transform your school into a thriving environment.

Remember, whoever is faithful with a little will be trusted with much. Don’t bury your talents in the ground while you wait for a better position. Use every opportunity God has given to you to display His wisdom and glory. When you stop chasing a position and begin leading right where you are, leadership opportunities will find you.

“Lord Have Mercy” Live at Christ Church with Jenn Crider

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A powerful spontaneous moment from Christ Church Nashville’s Ash Wednesday service. Every year, Christians around the world burn the ashes from the previous year’s Palm Sunday service and place them on their foreheads as a sign of repentance (See Daniel 9:3-5). On this side of the cross, we can sing “Lord Have Mercy” with gratitude and confidence that He has already given it to us. We simply turn our faces towards Him and walk in the light of His glory and grace.

Come Thou Fount – Live on Ash Wednesday

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This past Ash Wednesday, I had the honor of leading worship with the Christ Church Choir in Nashville TN. These men and women truly worship God in spirit and in truth. Ash Wednesday is part of the traditional Church calendar and is observed by millions of Christians around the world as a day of repentance and reflection. It is the first day of Lent, a season of fasting before Easter.  The ashes that Christians wear on their heads is a sign of repentance and is traditionally made by burning the previous year’s Palm Sunday branches.

In Daniel 9 we read this:

So I directed my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed and said, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and extends lovingkindness toward those who love Him and keep His commandments, we have sinned and committed wrong, and have behaved wickedly and have rebelled, turning away from Your commandments and ordinances. Further, we have not listened to and heeded Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.

I am thankful that we serve a God who is faithful and just to forgive sins.   Ash Wednesday provides a time for us to reflect on what is passing away and what is eternal.  To learn more about Ash Wednesday, you can watch the entire service on YouTube, which includes a special sermon from Pastor Dan Scott and a presentation of artwork by my wife Hannah.

Song by Song: Do You Hear What I Hear?

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Written during the peak of the Cold War, a time when many Americans feared for the future of their nation (and perhaps the world itself), Gloria Shayne and Noel Regney gave us this beautiful parable, using one of the Wise Men as the backdrop for a story about the Prince of Peace.  In this hour, once again, there are many who fear for the future, but take courage! Peace be with you!  “The Child, the Child, sleeping in the night—He will bring us goodness and light!”

Don’t forget to let your prayer be accompanied by worship! The Psalms do an excellent job of teaching us the model: praise to God is never far from David’s lips, even when he is on the brink of calamity. Regardless of your circumstances, “Come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!”  He is the Way Maker!

This song is from the album Glory: A Call to Worship at Christmas, available for purchase now.

Song by Song: Humble King

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People inherently love a good rags to riches story.  We like tales of humble beginnings that end with success and achievement.  Jesus managed to flip the concept on its head and inside out, voluntarily laying aside all the glory of being God in heaven and coming to earth as essentially a nobody.  No one regarded His parents enough to give them proper shelter on the night he was born, though He deserved a palace and a royal welcome.  No one regarded or respected his occupation—in Matthew 13, Jesus’ neighbor’s discredit him asking, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?”  Nobody regarded His hometown— In John 1 one of His own disciples first dismissed him saying, “Nazareth? Can anything good come from there?”

Jesus gave up any kind of earthly glory of His own volition and accomplished more than any other success story in history from the position of a servant.  He taught that the path to greatness is to humble ourselves serve the lowest of the low as if they were the highest of the high.  Jesus led by example, consistently forgoing human honor and instead thriving on the glory bestowed on Him by the Holy Spirit.  All the while, creation itself trumpets how majestic and wonderful He really is!

This song is from the album Glory: A Call to Worship at Christmas, available for purchase now.

Song by Song: O Come O Come Emmanuel

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God’s promises don’t expire.  Neither do your prayers.  Jesus birth came at the end of a 400 year period of silence from God between the Old and New Testaments, a mirror image of Israel’s 400 year time of captivity in Egypt.  What do you do when God promises things but they don’t seem to come to pass?  You hold on to the promise, because God always keeps His word!

The famous “Hall of Faith” passage in Hebrews 11 even highlights Biblical heroes who “died in faith without having received the promises, but they saw them at a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth.”  Yes! We remember the heroic faith of people like Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob in part because they remained faithful even when God’s promises didn’t come to fruition during their lifetime. They lived for something bigger than themselves.

Likewise, our prayers before God don’t expire.  A great example of this is a story closely connected to the Christmas story: Zechariah the priest and his wife Elizabeth.  It seems the elderly couple had almost forgotten that they had once prayed for a son.  Look at Zechariah’s exchange with the angel Gabriel from Luke 2:

But the angel said to him:
“Do not be afraid, Zechariah,
because your prayer has been heard.
Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son,
and you will name him John.
There will be joy and delight for you,
and many will rejoice at his birth.
For he will be great in the sight of the Lord
and will never drink wine or beer.
He will be filled with the Holy Spirit
while still in his mother’s womb.
He will turn many of the sons of Israel
to the Lord their God.
And he will go before Him
in the spirit and power of Elijah,
to turn the hearts of fathers
to their children,
and the disobedient
to the understanding of the righteous,
to make ready for the Lord a prepared people.

“How can I know this? ” Zechariah asked the angel. “For I am an old man, and my wife is well along in years.”

Zechariah didn’t even believe the word from God until Gabriel took away his ability to speak until his son John was born.  This story has a lot to teach us about endurance and long-term faith.  Very often, our timing isn’t the same as God’s timing, but that doesn’t mean that God has forgotten about us or ignored our prayers.

We must cling to the promises of God’s Word, never letting go of what God says about us.  By faith, we must worship Emmanuel, “God with us,” and rejoice in every circumstance, knowing that God is always true to what He says.

This song is from the album Glory: A Call to Worship at Christmas, available for purchase now.