Posts Tagged the kingdom

Behold Your King

I was reading in John 19 this morning where Pilate is interviewing Jesus. There was a phrase that struck me this time reading it. Pilate brings Jesus out to the crowd and sarcastically says, “Behold Your King.” All of a sudden I had “O Holy Night” in my head which uses that phrase in a much different way. It started me on the process of writing a song about the humiliation of Jesus, in his ministry, his trial and his death. He is our king and we follow him into that same process of humiliation.

Side note: I was using a thesaurus website at points to get different ideas and I found that Christians have a very different understanding of the words humble or meek. I often take it for granted that these are positive qualities even in our culture. However, the synonyms for these words reveal that our culture hates these qualities. No wonder this world despised and rejected Christ Jesus as well.

Here’s the song in the 1st draft form. No music for it yet.

Behold your king
Behold your king
Impoverished and despised
His kingdom is not recognized
By the Spirit’s power he’s led
With no place to lay his head
Born into our suffering
Behold your king

Behold your king
Behold your king
Arrested and abused
Now falsely he’s accused
He stands refugee from
A kingdom yet to come
But now stripped of everything
Behold your king

Behold your king
Behold your king
Tortured and alone
A suffering servant to atone
He exhales his final breath
The sun is shrouded in his death
His blood becomes our offering
Behold you king

Behold your king
Behold your king
Vindicated, glorified
He has risen! He’s alive!
His kingdom now reality
Death has lost it’s victory
Hear the nations stand to sing
Behold your king

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Come to #MusiCon15

simple_graphicNew City Music Conference 2015 is shaping up. We are getting registrations slowly but I fully expect 2/3 of the conference to register at the last minute. I’m so thrilled to have our line up of speakers and breakout leaders. It seems to get better and better every time we pull one of these together. If you haven’t done it yet, please check out the conference details and register at

Carrie Jones is the conference director this time. Carrie was involved in the 2011 conference we had here in St. Louis as the graphic designer and she created the conference notebook which was so full of information and resources that people wanted to get the notebook even though they couldn’t attend the conference. Carrie is also a long time member of NCF (@NCFStLouis) and as well as a highly qualified musician on our team.

The conference steering committee was made up of myself (@kirkwardmusic), my dad (@jcalvinward), and my long time friend, Michelle Higgins (@fast_foodie). We went out to lunch when my dad was here in March and hammered out the rough outline of who and what will be featured at this year’s conference.

I hope that you consider coming. If you are from the local region, we would love to meet you or connect again with you to be able to encourage each other in the struggle. If you are from out of town, we would to meet and connect as well and to hear what is going on in other communities. So much has happened in our nation this year that has served to break down our facades and to reveal the areas where we are divided and broken. The gospel has the power to heal communities when it is planted in soil that will let it thrive and produce fruit. Let’s live the gospel of reconciliation and justice that is available to us through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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New Song: “With Trembling”

This morning, I was reading Psalm 2 and this song came to me. I’ve been enjoying listening to Gary Clark Jr. these days, so I’m sure the blues sound is coming from that inspiration. I had originally intended to make the song a metric psalm but then the idea of a narrative verse about Nebuchadnezzar came to me. Spirituals and Blues have so much story telling in them that it seemed a natural fit. I’m not totally sold on the title but it seemed the only hook in the tune.

Psalm 2 is kind of hard to read through the lens of grace and personal salvation. It’s certainly a warning that we aught to look to the Son as our only refuge or else we stand condemned. However, it’s not the picture of the gentle  “Buddy Christ” that the American culture likes to cling to. This morning, Psalm 2 spoke to me about the sovereign rule of Christ over the nations to do justice and righteousness. The kings of the nations will not be able to stop the movement of this kingdom.

With Trembling

O, Great Son of David
Anointed forever as King
We serve You, Lord, in fear
and we rejoice with trembling,
With trembling.

Why do the kings of the earth stand against You?
Why do they rage and conspire in vain?
For all the earth is your possession
And from holy mount Zion You reign

All you kings who rule by oppression
You would be wise to take heed
Kiss the Son, lest he be angry
or you’ll be broken like pottery

to chorus

One day, old king Nebuchadnezzar
Looked out on the gardens of Babylon
He lifted his voice in pride and said
“See what my mighty hand has done”

But the Lord of Heaven was listening
and He laughed at the king and said
“You boasted in your own strength in power,
so now you’ll become like a beast instead”

to chorus

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Vision Trumps Everything: Core Values Part 1

Last week, my church celebrated it’s 20th anniversary. We also had a day of staff training in which we reviewed the core values of the Kingdom of God which we have embraced as an institution. As one of our pastors, Mike Parker, is always saying, “Vision trumps everything; the rest is strategy”. This phrase means that our core values and then how those values get applied to the unique vision of each ministry can over-ride or trump any strategic decision that the ministry has made. For example, if I am committed to a vision of reconciliation with the poor, but  I make a blanket statement that everyone in the music ministry has to be able to read music, then I am letting a strategic choice trump the vision.

Briefly, I want to share with you the core values of the kingdom and then how I apply them to our music ministry.

Gospel Power – Sonship

Romans 8:15 – For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have been given a new identity and freedom from sin and death.  We are once and for all time set free! As musicians, we are set free from the fear and shame that we’ve been loaded with by our past performance failures. We are also set free from the expectations of worship leaders to be sinless and holy-rollers. even from the “stage”, we can be honest about our sin because we are no longer “orphans”; we have been been full accepted.

Song examples: And Can It Be, In Christ Alone, Friend of God, Our Father , God Has Smiled on Me,

Reconciliation: The Bringing Together All People Under One Head – Jesus Christ

Ephesians 2: 13- 16 – But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

Through our adoption as sons and daughters, we now are one family of God. The sinful and oppressive lines of division that once existed between class, ethnicity, or culture have been erased in order that we made be restored to the beautifully diverse expression of God’s image-bearing humanity. As worship musicians, this unity is not invisible and theoretical, but living and active in the love expressed by sharing and learning music from the traditions of the saints in our community. The false dichotomy of “traditional vs. contemporary” music loses it’s meaning when we start to put the power of the gospel to reconcile us into practice.

Song examples: Jesus Shall Reign, Shout to the North, Jesus le Prince Glorieux, All Around,  I Need You To Survive

The Kingdom of God: Justice and Mercy

Micah 6:8 – He has showed you, O man, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

God has adopted us and reconciled us for a purpose: to demonstrate his love and power by acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with God. Caring for the marginalized and powerless is the obedient expression of our new life in Christ our King. As musicians, we have to place a priority on worship expressions that flow out of and then back into a daily life of justice and mercy. Worship services are not arranged to spiritually escape the world; instead we pray against injustice and we rejoice in God’s good works on the earth.

Song examples: O For a Thousand, Hosanna, I Give Myself Away, Fadhili Zake Ni ZA Milele, Hear the Call of the Kingdom

Stay tuned for Part 2: The Promises of God, Team Ministry: Functioning as the Body of Christ, Humility and Weakness, and Trials

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The Purpose of Suffering

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. – 1 peter 3:10


The body of Jesus Christ was dead, laid in the grave, sealed with a stone, rotted for a day, and then he was restored to become the first of the new creation.


Jesus Christ was accused, rejected, betrayed, and murdered. All that he said about himself and all the promised words of the Father appeared to be in questions until they were confirmed by the power of the resurrection.


Jesus Christ assumed a position of total dependence and humility with the Father. The fullness of his power was demonstrated by submission to being executed for crimes he did not commit. In the resurrection, his power was completely manifested over the curse, over death, and over every power in heaven and earth.


The finished work of Christ in his suffering on the cross and defeating death in the resurrection established a kingdom of light that will never pass away.


Suffering was the means by which Jesus became Lord and King. Now, as his sons and daughters, we participate in his suffering. The God of all grace has called us to his eternal glory in Christ, and so that these same qualities will be brought to expression in our lives, we are calling into suffering. His love for us and his purposes for us in his kingdom must include suffering.

Can you be restored without suffering?

Can you be confirmed without suffering?

Can you be strengthened without suffering?

Can you be established without suffering?

There is no short cut through Jesus words, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”


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Phoenix AZ, Food For The Hungry

This weekend, I have the rare privileged to take the New City Fellowship show on the road. A few of my NCF team members, Jesse Heirendt and Joshua Saleem, and I are flying to Phoenix this week to lead worship music for an event hosted by Food For The Hungry. I am super excited about being involved in this event because FH is an organization that is walking out the kingdom in real tangible  acts of justice and mercy. This weekend is a special conference for folks who are being invited into the vision of FH in order to become partners with them financially and spiritually.

Nathan Corbitt wrote a book called “The Sound of the Harvest” . The title refers to a story he tells about visiting a region that was suffering in a famine. When he asked a local friend if there was music being made this year, the man responded, “Bila mavuno hakuna kuimba” or “Without a harvest, there is no singing.” This reflects the same meaning as Psalm 137 in which the artists in oppressive captivity hung their harps from the trees instead of using them to rejoice. Food for the Hungry’s mission statement reveals that they are about more than charity for the sake of easing our Western guilt. They are about restoring communities to a state of balance with nature and with God in which their hearts and bodies are restored to their intended pre-fall condition. This act of restoration brings with it “the sound of the harvest” when new songs and new forms of worship are born.

It will be a lot of fun to travel and to participate in this event, but it’s also taking me out of my comfort zones. Instead of our usual 10-piece bands at NCF, we will be limited to a trio. I’ve also experienced a type of spiritual oppression leading up to this event in which my character, my experience, and my standing in Christ have been attacked by my flesh and the accusations of the enemy. I’ve shared in the past about the kind of spiritual warfare that can be involved with crossing into unfamiliar territory, and so if you are reading this, please take a moment to pray for me and my friends as we put our faith into practice this week.

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Why were there no angels in the stable?

Something occurred to me this weekend for the first time about the Nativity. There’s no angel at the stable. The angels, God’s appointed messengers or “heralds” of his kingdom breaking out were not at the stable, but out in the fields. I’ve never thought about it. Sunday, Tony Myles sermon brought up the fact that as the shepherds came to the stable bringing news of their run-in with a heavenly host, Mary pondered and treasured this message in her heart.

The angel, Gabriel, was there 9 months earlier to announce to Mary God’s plan. However, at the moment when Mary was going into labor and there was no home or inn available, God’s messengers were absent. If you were Mary and Joseph, wouldn’t it have been nice to get a little update from God, to touch base with the leadership, to make sure that this apparent set-back was not going to be a problem. Instead, Mary and Joseph had to trust in the messages they had previously received that despite the circumstances, they were still walking in the way of the kingdom.

How many times have I been super-excited about God’s kingdom, a feeling of direct confirmation from the Holy Spirit that I know what to do and where to be, and then 9 months later (or 9 minutes) I’m feeling lost and confused? I’d love to get a message from Gabriel right about then, “Yes, Jesus is on the throne, and you are in the right place!” Instead, I cry out for confirmation and the I’m met with “Sorry, there’s no room in the inn, but we’ve got a stable where you can have that baby.”

Still,  despite the absence of angels at the stable, God did deliver a message of confirmation to Mary and Joseph through the shepherds. They come to the stable looking for the sign of a baby lying in a manger. Upon finding the sign, the share with the new parents the announcement of the angels – a second hand confirmation of the kingdom. Often, the Lord uses a second hand confirmation through a fellow member of the kingdom who can see what you are doing and who shares with you their honest appreciation for how the kingdom is expressed in your life. I can often disregard these encouragements as platitudes or flattery. “If you could see things from my perspective, then you would know that this is not as ‘righteous’ as it looks” I think to myself.

The point is, I’m encourage to think of Mary and Joseph in a place of crisis in their “ministry” where they can’t see God’s kingdom at all. Then God sends encouragement in the form of fellow believers. So, maybe I need to look for more opportunities to encourage my friends with how clearly I can see the kingdom being expressed in them.

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Covenant and the Gospel: Mythbusters

Myths are designed to prop up the false reality of oppression in a culture. How do I justify racism? Racism is justified by leaning on myths that dehumanize the ethic group that I want to oppress. How do I justify greed? Greed is justified by leaning on the myth that prosperity is a God-given right that is accessible to anyone who chooses not to be lazy.

In worship, we bring people back to the covenant and back to the gospel. The covenant, a promise that God has committed himself to redeeming his very good creation through his own sacrifice, destroys the myth of the American dream of unrestrained prosperity, self-gratification and comfort. The gospel, the good news that despite the depth of my brokenness I have been forgiven and restored to be a son and a new creation, is the antidote to the myth of D.I.Y. righteousness.

Worship the Lord of the covenant and the gospel. Dispel the clouds of doubt and fear that our culture has fed us through its mythology. Take up your cross and lose your life in order to find true life in the riches of the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ. His kingdom is a glorious treasure so much deeper and richer than the empty promises of this world. Say “yes” to the Spirit and rejoice for Jesus reigns.

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Are you interested in how visual artists can serve the church?

My buddy, Mark Taylor, has been talking with me about how to empower the gifts of visual artists for service in the church. Mark is an artist, a teacher, an adoptive parent, and a hip-hop enthusiast. He studied at SCAD and ended up at New City Fellowship as he and his wife were looking for a multicultural church where their trans-racial family would find a home. We’ve been talking a lot about the use of art in the church. I’ve found that my church in some respects has been a bit aesthetically challenged. Part of the reason for this is a commitment to meeting the real physical needs of the poor. We’re not going to prioritize the use of our resources to create a swanky worship space instead of meeting basic needs of food, shelter, jobs, education, etc. This is why despite having a relatively large budget we still worship in a gymnasium on rusty, old folding chairs. But, applying some of the basic core values of our church, we know that the kingdom is not about how much resources you have, the kingdom is about small acts of love and grace. So how do artists in the church demonstrate small acts of love and grace. How do saints who are gifted in aesthetic skills put 1 Peter 4:7-11 into practice?

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.  Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Some churches invest these gifts into actual galleries or artist in residence programs. Some churches have artists in the worship service splashing paint on a canvas during the songs or the sermon. Some churches employ artists in the process of creating “sacred spaces” in which design and architecture are used better facilitate the experience of worship. I’ll be attending a conference next week that deals with just that.

For myself, as a liturgical musician, I have to confront these particular issues of the kingdom:

Is my art an act of service to the community? – I believe that “art for art’s sake” is not a kingdom value. Can music or art that is made without “love God, love your neighbor” as a central goal be a work of the kingdom? Beautiful sacred spaces are an offense to the Lord if they are lacking justice and mercy (Jeremiah 7). This comes from the Spirit and is a gift of grace.

Is my art a redemptive, salt-and-light instrument in my culture? If art is engaged with the culture in a way that takes the symbols of the culture in order to redeem them, then we are doing kingdom work. If our art is always sub-categorized into “Christian” art and left out of the market place, then we are no longer speaking into the culture.

Is my art a demonstration of humility? Artists have a sin tendency toward being self-absorbed. Humility is not an abstract concept; it’s a reality that has to be walked out. Art of the kingdom must reflect humility through cultural and economic reconciliation.

I’m still wrestling (or “wrassling”) with this stuff and I’d love to hear my sister or my cousin weigh in on this stuff as well. Neil, any thoughts?

If you are interested in joining in the process as we build a team of artists at New City Fellowship give me a heads up and I will pass your name on to Mark.


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Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:21

Joseph and Mary were commanded to give their child the name, “Jesus” as a sign and a symbol of his appointment to the role of Messiah. The Law of YHWH clearly stated that failure to remain faithful to the covenant at Sinai would result in exile and death (Deuteronomy 28) . God’s people had strayed from the covenant and had become idolaters and oppressors (Jeremiah 2). However, the promises that YHWH had made to Abraham would not fail. He would remain faithful even when his people were not (Jeremiah 31).

Our present-day understanding of the phrase, “save his people from their sins” is a little clouded with “alter call” rhetoric. We read into it a personal application that basically says, “I will get a clean record and clear conscience.” However, this would have a much larger and more powerful meaning to 1st century Jews like Joseph and Mary.  Instead of thinking of metaphysical absolution that would result in an after-life paradise they would be thinking of the salvation from the oppressive rule of Rome and the false kingdom of Herod and the return of YHWH’s presence to the Temple in Jerusalem. Salvation from sins was understood to mean the end of the curses that came from the covenant unfaithfulness. So as the Savior, Jesus would save (restore the kingdom rule of YHWH)  his people (Israel, the chosen instrument of YHWH’s righteousness and justice to all the earth) from their sins (their covenant unfaithfulness to fulfill God’s purposes in the earth.) You can see this understanding of salvation especially in the songs of  Mary (Luke 1:46-55) and Zechariah (Luke 1:67-79).

This means a lot to me today because I’ve been struggling a lot with sin lately. Not just my own sin (that’s definitely been a struggle), but also the power of sin all around me. That power looks like the brokenness in the community, my kids’ inability to just obey, the way that sin gets woven so strongly into our hearts and lives that it seems impossible to remove it without destroying everything else. Why does sin hold such power? Why can’t we just obey? You feel the same cry when you read the prophets. A desperate longing to see people turn from their sin and repent, to return to their Father and his gracious embrace.

The name of Jesus stands as a symbol of the zeal of the Lord to accomplish his redemptive purposes with his good creation. His name means, “No, sin will not win the day. No, death will not be the victor. No, the power of Rome and all other empires that are built on injustice and exploitation will not prevail. The curse that was laid upon Israel for her unfaithfulness to the covenant would be lifted by the mighty acts of Abraham’s son. Jesus came to fulfill the fullest expression of the covenant faithfulness that would redeem his people from the power of sin.

Come, Thou long-expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in Thee
Israel’s strength and consolation
Hope of all the earth Thou art
Dear desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart

Joy to those who long to see Thee
Dayspring from on high, appear
Come, Thou promised Rod of Jesse
Of Thy birth we long to hear
O’er the hills the angels singing
New, glad tidings of a birth
Go to Him, your praises bringing.
Christ the Lord has come to earth.

Come to earth to taste our sadness
He whose glories knew no end
By His life He brings us gladness
Our Redeemer, Shepherd, Friend
Leaving riches without number
Born within a cattle stall
This the everlasting wonder
Christ was born the Lord of all.

Born Thy people to deliver
Born a child and yet a king
Born to reign in us forever
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone
By Thine all-sufficient merit
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

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