A while back I wrote about the use of secular music in church (see blog “Is this Controversial?”) and it raised a few more questions. In my blog I mentioned that I do not believe that we should be rewriting the lyrics to popular or secular songs to change them to “Christian” songs, but that we should be creative enough to use the gifts God has given us to come up with our own songs.

This statement not only sparked a small conversation on our Facebook page, but also in our own house. One of our Facebook followers mentioned the that many of the hymns we sing in church were taken from bar tunes of the time. This is something I have grown up hearing and have even used this argument myself defending the use of certain types of songs or music in the church today. I wanted to make sure that what I had been hearing all my life was actually the truth so I set out to do some research in order to defend my belief. What I have found has helped me better understand the history of church music and also help me discover the story behind the music.

Many of the hymns in our hymnals today were written by John or Charles Wesley or by Martin Luther. Many people have called them the fathers of modern church music, but did they just take the popular songs of the time and put new words to them? The answer I have found is a resounding “NO!” “What?!? How can this be?!? I have spent most of my life making the argument that they did and now I am finding out this is all not true?” These were my first thoughts. Then I continued reading and discovered that the reason for this popular belief. These hymn writers set out to write songs for the church that the common man (and woman) could sing. They wanted their songs to be easy to learn and remember. You see, much of the church music at the time was considered “High Church,” not something that the everyday man could easily sing along with (think opera music). The hymn writers of the 18th and 19th century wanted people to sing God's Word and internalize His truth in a way that was easy to remember and had some sort of repetition and rhyme similar to the popular music of the day. It would be easy to make the assumption that they just used the bar room songs and changed the words since their songs were similar in style and rhythm.

There were, however, some writers that did use traditional folk melodies popular at the time, one of which was William Booth, who wrote many of the Salvation Army songs. He is the one who was first quoted saying, “Why should the devil have all the best tunes?” These songs, however, were also not songs sung in bars or music halls, they were the cultural folk songs that people had grown up singing.

So after all these years here is what I take away from this conversation:

  1. Don't believe something just because everybody says it's true. Do your own research, dig, study and come up with your own opinions. You may be surprised to find out the real truth!

  2. Hymns were not written using the melodies of bar songs at the time. Yes, they were written in the same style or format, but neither of the Wesley brothers nor Luther used songs that were already written and then changed the words.

  3. God made us creative beings. He wants us to grow, develop, create & recreate, and use the gifts He has given us to bring Him glory! He gave us a HUGE imagination and wants us to use it!

  4. Like I stated in my previous blog, I am not against using secular music in a church service as long as it has a purpose. I do, however, think that we shouldn't be taking a popular song, changing the words and turning it into a worship or "Christian" song.

I would love to hear what you think about this! I want to know what some of your favorite songs are, please leave them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. Thanks for hanging out with me today!  

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About a year and a half ago we went to Disney World in Florida. We were there for a Children's Ministry conference, but took some time to go play at the park for a few days. As we were walking around Animal Kingdom we noticed that they were doing some renovations and upgrades. Along the walls built to keep us safe and out of the construction areas were quotes from Walt Disney. I read most of them and just walked on, but one grabbed my attention.
It reads...

When I read this I immediately thought of the church. Not a specific church, but the church as a whole. I thought of the many conversations I've had with church members, pastors, and worship leaders about this very idea.

Many times the thought is by making changes to the service, worship space or format it will make the church the “hip & cool” church or it will “bring in new people.” You see, every church wants to be on the “cutting edge” and wants to “stay current,” but I believe there is something that we can learn from Walt Disney's statement that he didn't even intend.

If you have ever been to Disney World or Disneyland, you know from the minute you step on the grounds you know you are in for something special. The technology, the artistry, and the overall experience is second to none. They are constantly creating, innovating and discovering new ways to engage their audience. They are on the forefront of entertainment. However, they are also very aware of one very important aspect of their industry; where they came from.

As you wander around a Disney park you can experience the latest, newest and coolest rides, but you can also ride the “It's a Small World” ride or the “Mad Tea Party” spinning cup ride, both of which have been there since the beginning. What I believe Disney excels at is pushing the envelope and creating brilliant new rides, but also remembering and holding onto the things that helped them create the environment of wonder and excitement we have all come to expect.

In my opinion the church could take a page out of Disney's handbook. Yes, we need to look forward. We need to create and develop and push the envelope, but we can't do that at the expense of the foundation that helped create what has been built. Sure, the “It's a Small World" and “Mad Tea Party” rides have been around for a long time, but people still love them! What they have done, though, is keep these classic rides and continue to improve them. As the technology improved, so have the rides, but they are still the simple ideas that the park started with. Disney is great at keeping the nostalgia, yet continuing to grow, improve and push the boundaries, that is what has kept them at the top of the entertainment world and will for years to come.

There are churches out there that are bridging the gap between old and new. Churches taking old hymns and giving them a modern feel and sound. Churches that are taking old sanctuaries and updating the sound and media systems, but keeping the classic feel. Churches that are using traditional liturgy, but updating the language. There is a way to push forward, try new things and engage the congregation with todays technology, but we shouldn't do that just because we want to be the “cool, hip church” or because “everyone else is doing it.” We should do that because that's what we feel is the right thing for our church at this time.

I know, it may sound like I am talking out of both sides of my mouth, however, like Walt Disney, I think the church needs to “keep our aim constantly focused on the future”, but also, as Disney does so well, remember the foundation on which we were built.

Those are a few of my thoughts this week. I would love to hear yours! Feel free to leave a comment below or on our Facebook page! Be sure to share this with your pastors and church leaders! Thanks for hanging out with me today!

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This weekend we get an extra day off. We invite our friends and family over and grill hamburgers and hotdogs. We put on our red, white and blue and enjoy hanging out at the pool, lake or river as we celebrate our freedom. 

Our freedom, however, was not free. Our freedom has cost much more than most of us could ever imagine paying. So this weekend as we celebrate our freedom, our country and what make the U.S.A. great let us all pause for a moment and remember the countless men and women who have fought and continuing to fight to keep us safe, secure and FREE!

Jesus told the people who had faith in him, “If you keep on obeying what I have said, you truly are my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  - John 8:31-32

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As we travel across the country leading worship we get to see and do some exciting things. One of our favorite things to do is take some family time and find points of interest along our route. One of the things we have discovered that we love to experience is Presidential Libraries. We all enjoy getting a peek into history and learning more about the people who have lead our country, and the person in our family who loves it the most is Gabi! She enjoys finding out about the presidents family and what their favorite food was and why they wanted to become president. It is as wonderful experience for all of us!

Recently we had the privilege of visiting the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and it was fascinating! Michelle and I did not know much about Nixon other than the Watergate scandal, and even that we weren't too familiar with! As we “walked through history” we learned all about President Nixon, his family and how he grew up and were also able to tour his boyhood home! Just a few steps away from his family's home is his gravesite. He and his wife, Patricia, are buried right there on the grounds. We paused for a few moments to reflect and honor President and Mrs. Nixon when I noticed the epitaph on Mrs. Nixon's gravestone. It reads... "Even when people can't speak your language, they can tell if you have love in your heart."

I cannot say for certain if Mrs. Nixon was a Christ Follower, but we did learn on the tour that she had an incredible heart for people and love experiencing different countries and cultures. One thing she obviously understood was that people have a strong desire to be loved.

In my opinion, the phrase on her gravestone speaks to the very heart of Christianity. We can see this same idea in Paul's letter to the Corinthians where he says in 1 Corinthians 13 “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”

Paul goes on to tell us that love is patient and kind, it is not self seeking, proud or boastful. That love rejoices in the truth and always protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres. He finishes up chapter 13 telling us, “Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

There is another quote that Mrs. Nixon's epitaph reminds me of from St. Francis of Assisi. He said “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” I believe that Mrs. Nixon understood this idea and that she was a wonderful example of how we can express love, God's love, to everyone. Express His love to people who may be different than us, have different values than us, a different ideas than us, or who may even speak a different language than us.

You see God's love isn't earned, it is a free gift, and we are called to share that gift with everyone!

I hope you will be inspired by Mrs. Nixon like I have been. I want to challenge you (and me) to let God's love shine though you this week so that everyone you come in contact with will be able to “Tell that you have love, God's love, in your heart.”

Thanks for hanging out with me today! I would love to hear your thoughts! Please leave a comment below or on our Facebook page!

 

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If you have ever been in Los Angeles and walked down Hollywood Blvd, you know that you can see all sorts of interesting things. The street is full of people in costumes waiting for you to come up and take a picture with them and then give them a tip. What a crazy business! I will give them credit though, they out there working and making a living pretending to be Spiderman, Marilyn Monroe, Jack Sparrow or even the guy from the Halo games. We were walking down the street a few months ago and came across this guy. At first I wasn't sure what was going on, but looking closer I was pretty amused.

Here is a guy dressed like Jesus, all the way down to the crown of thorns, playing the guitar and singing on the street for tips. He was playing everything from AC/DC to Neil Young, and he was pretty good!

We stood and listened for a bit and I had to take a picture because I didn't think anyone would believe me if I told them that I saw Jesus playing the guitar on the street in Hollywood. Now, I have no idea if this guy is a Christ Follower or if he was doing this just to get a reaction, but it got me thinking about the way that express my faith. Do the people that I come in contact with everyday know by the way that I act and the words that I say that I am a Christ Follower? Would they know by the way I treat my family and the people around me that I love Jesus? Here is a guy literally being (or pretending to be) Jesus on the streets of Hollywood and sometimes I find myself afraid to say too loud what Christ has done for me. It was just a bit of a wake-up call and I wanted to challenge you this week to live out your faith. No, you don't have to dress up like Jesus and stand on the street corner or carry a cross down the highway, just be aware that you can show people who Jesus is by the way you act, speak and treat each other.

I would love to know if you have a caption for this picture. Leave it in the comments below or on our Facebook page! Thanks for hanging out with me today!   

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Just over a week ago I had the privilege of going "Over the Edge" for Make-A-Wish of Central and South Texas. (See my previous post "Over the Edge" for more details) I wanted to give you an update on my experience and the money raised that will bless these amazing fighters. 

It was amazing! Right from the start the Make-A-Wish team was there to greet us and make us feel like a part of the team and safety, of course, was their number one priority! We arrived early so we could make sure we knew what we were in for and to cheer on the other's who were rappelling. It was an awesome sight to see people dangling off the side of the building knowing that I will be up there very soon. 

As we waited we were able to meet some of the kids who had been given Make-A-Wish trips. It was so encouraging to meet these brave kids and  their families! 

As I got to the top of the building, all strapped into my harness and looking down on the people  below, who looked like ants, I realized what I had gotten myself into and I was very excited for my turn!  Once I was hooked into the ropes and standing on the edge of the building, I was so encouraged to hear my family and friends cheering me on from below. 

It took me just over 15 minutes to make it 38 stories/480 ft. to the bottom. Exhausted, sore and full of adrenalin, I was grateful to be back on solid ground! After I was unhooked, I got to take a picture with a Make-A-Wish recipient and was greeted with hugs and cheers. It was an experience I will remember the rest of my life and I am so honored to have been chosen to go Over the Edge for Jaxon's F.R.O.G. Foundation! 

 

Make-A-Wish was able to raise just under $500,000 to grant 98 wishes and we were also able to raise $1000 for I Am Courageous! We are so excited to continue to encourage these brave fighters and their families through uplifting music! And YOU were a part of that! YOU are the ones that help us make that happen. Every time you purchase a Spirit Stick, an I Am Courageous t-shirt, or donate to I Am Courageous, YOU are helping make a difference in these families lives! We could not do it without you! Thank you for your generosity and believing in the ministry God has called us to! 

Here are a few more pics of the Over the Edge event. Thanks for hanging out with me today! 

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Considering the crazy challenge I have ahead of me this weekend (see blog "Over the Edge"), I had to stop for a minute today to share something very cool. We received an email the other day telling us that there is a church near Manchester, England that is using our song “Strong and Courageous” with their children's ministry! This is not the first time we have received an email like this, but most of the time I forget to share this exciting news! We also know of a kid's ministry in Russia, ministries in Cambodia and the Philippines, churches in Australia and people all across the U.S. who are using and singing this song! How crazy is that!?!

We never imagined what we thought was just a silly little song written for a Sunday morning would have such an impact. We receive emails and notes through Facebook fairly often letting us know how this song has helped a child or family going through a tough situation. People tell us that this has become their family theme song, that it has helped them through a difficult time, or that it has encouraged them to overcome something that they didn't think they could conquer.

It is such an incredible blessing to know that people are using our music and, even though we may not know where, that God is using our songs to uplift, encourage and impact lives all across the globe.

If you don't know our song “Strong and Courageous” or just want to hear it again check out the video below!

We would love to hear how "Strong and Courageous" has encouraged you! Please leave a comment below or on our Facebook page and tell us your story!

Thanks for hanging out with me today!  

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I would consider myself a little bit of a dare devil. I love that nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach when I'm about to do something that is a little daring, a little scary, and a WHOLE lot crazy!

This coming Sunday I get to do just that! I have the honor of representing Jaxon's F.R.O.G. Foundation at the Make-A-Wish “Over the Edge” fundraiser! (You can learn more about it HERE.) When our sweet friend, Lenzie, contacted us and asked if Michelle or I would be interested in rappelling down a 38 story building, Michelle quickly said “Sure! Justin will do it!” My first thought was, “Yeah, that's great! I would be happy to do this! I've been rappelling before, no big deal.” Then Michelle reminded me that I would be rappelling from a 38 story building. Wait...WHAT! 38 STORIES?!? That's over 450 feet in the air!! When I realized what I had agreed to and caught my breath, I became very excited about being asked to go “Over the Edge” for Jaxon's F.R.O.G Foundation! This annual fundraiser helps Make-A-Wish grant wishes to kids from Central and South Texas who are fighting life threatening disease. We know many families who have benefited from this amazing gift and I am so excited to help raise awareness and funds to continue bringing hope to these brave fighters and their families!

The coolest part about this event is that it falls right in line with our very own “I Am Courageous” ministry! This is the ministry that was birthed out of the Murata and Davis families generosity as they shared our music, especially our song "Strong and Courageous," with other kids and families going through treatment at the same time as their children. Music is such a powerful tool and can lift your spirit, give you hope and encourage you in your journey and that is exactly what we wanted to do for these precious kids and their families. To date we have donated over 1,000 I Am Courageous CD's to kids all across the country. We currently have 600 CD's ready to donate that we are raising funds for. It only takes $5 to send one of these CD's to these brave kids and we are asking for your help! In conjunction with the “Over the Edge” fundraiser, we are also trying to raise $5,000 for “I Am Courageous." It won't be hard to reach our goal if everyone simply donates $5 or $10. That small gift will help send these amazing kids music that will lift their spirits and encourage them to be “Brave, Strong and Courageous!” Check out the flyer below to see how these funds will be used and then share it with your friends! With your help we can make a difference, give hope and let these families know that they are not alone in their fight! We only have one week left for this fundraiser so help us spread the word! Go to www.JustinGravesBand.com/IAmCourageous-home to learn more about this ministry and donate today!

I will give you an update and share some of the pictures from my adventure in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!

Thank you for your help! Sing it with me now..."I'm gonna be brave, I'm gonna be strong and courageous!"  

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