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Nothing to Something : Moving from comparison to cELEBRATION

“Nothing to Something” is a collection of my recordings over last year. While each of these songs were recorded individually without an over-arching concept, the themes throughout resonated with me deeply. As I neared the completion of the last song, I realized that this collection of songs chronicled my personal growth over the last year and a half — Beginning with the death of a close friend last February and finishing with a reflective and relaxing cruise to celebrate the 10th anniversary of my marriage. Over the next month, I plan to explain my thoughts for each song — as well as the cumulative growth that has resulted over the time this album was recorded. Feel free to read below... I hope you enjoy this record!! 


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5. THE OVERLAP

"We're so surprised when we realize that we're deftly skilled in the very vices we swear off violently. Still at the crux of the worst in us, the hope is hiding. I lift my gaze from my wicked ways and sing" - Dustin Kensrue from "What Beautiful Things"

  Left to Right: Chris Rowe, Joel Brown, Christopher Dean

Left to Right: Chris Rowe, Joel Brown, Christopher Dean

We’ve finally made it to the final song on the EP! The Overlap was actually the first written song on this album. I wrote it in February of 2017 throughout one of the most trying seasons in my life. Leading up to mid-February, our church was in a busy season prepping for our 1st “Night to Shine” event. NTS is a prom for those with special needs with the goal of highlighting their God-given dignity and beauty!  Needless to say, the logistical planning and support needed for this is considerable... When it finally happened, NTS was a success! Watching the smiles on the guest’s faces, and interacting with their families was a HUGE encouragement. After months of preparation, I could finally exhale and rest... or so I thought. Days after the event I received some horrible news - Chris Rowe, one of my best friends had suddenly passed away. 

Chris had been attending and serving with me at Riverbend from our start in 2009. Chris, his wife Laura, son Christian, and Daughter Mikayla were a huge staple in our tight-knit community, continually serving and helping when needs arose. Even before Riverbend had a space to call our own, Rowe would tow his small, humble trailer to the hotel gathering space each Sunday at 7 AM to unload and prep gathering equipment (with no complaining or expectation of anything in return). I remember late night worship team sessions held in his basement, bonfires with our good friends Joel and Clemens, frequent recording sessions at my place, and countless talks about Faith, family, work, life, etc. 

  Lifting with Rowe!! 

Lifting with Rowe!! 

In 2015 our friendship deepened as we began lifting together throughout the week. (The official beginning of the Wolf-pack! *referenced in Nothing to Something) We would often end our sessions with a trip to the Golden Gate Diner for further discussion over coffee, eggs and bacon. I always had a general understanding of Rowe’s journey to faith, but in these settings I gained a much deeper appreciation for his unique experiences and how they often informed his personal struggles - as well as a care for those in similar situations that did not know Christ. My wife, Samantha and I would often have him over to our home to eat and hangout... so frequently that our daughter Natalie began calling him “Uncle Chris”! He would help Sam with small house projects. (a necessity with my lack of home-improvement skills) Rowe was a staple in my life, a brother that I could be honest with, a daily source of encouragement, and a tangible reminder of God’s grace and blessing for me and my family.

  Chris with my daughter, Natalie

Chris with my daughter, Natalie

In the next two years, Chris had many encouraging moments of growth in his faith, as well as many moments of brokenness and failure. The truth is, his frequent struggles made his life much more complicated than it had to be. In his last few months, our meetings and hangouts became less and less frequent - I remember making multiple concerned calls to hopefully challenge what I considered to be increasingly unhealthy behavior. My growing fears for Chris were confirmed when I received a call one dreadful morning in Mid-February. 

The song “The Overlap” was birthed from my personal grieving as well as my interaction with Chris’s family and close friends leading up to his memorial. After a tragedy like this, we often ask the question “what more could I have done?” The answer is spelled out in Micah 6:8: 

“He has shown you, O mortal, 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.”

  1. Be present. Recognize those God has placed in your path. What are their hurts and needs?
  2. Serve them. Meet their needs. Point them to Jesus.
  3. Don’t be offended or take responsibility for their actions. 

I went through many emotions after the initial shock of his death - but was eventually able to thank God for Rowe’s close proximity in the last few years of his life.

Time has passed and we are now in the midst of planning our 3rd Night to Shine! The event always kicks off with each valued guest making their way down a red carpet lined with crowds cheering them on. It is important that they know how valued they are in the eyes of God regardless of their special need or physical struggle. I like to imagine that Rowe received a similar reception as he passed from this life. Chris’s value and worth did not stem from his personal conduct, but from the recognition of his brokenness and need of a Savior in Jesus Christ. I’m looking forward to meeting him again one day. :) 

 

Thanks for those of you who read to this point! If you would like a free download of my full E.P. -- CLICK HERE!!


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4. SAVIOR OVER ALL

"Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory?" - Luke 24:26

  "The Three Crosses" - Rembrandt van Rijn  (title added)

"The Three Crosses" - Rembrandt van Rijn  (title added)

In my preparation for this EP, It was a hard decision to keep this song in the final track list. In my attempt to create songs, my intention is to craft music that doesn’t resemble the Christian mainstream. This song isn’t that. I remember playing an early version for a friend, continually feeling the need to defend and explain why I recorded it in the first place. This is a pure-bread church song designed for corporate worship — The simple lyrics and repeating chorus follow in the tried and true Tomlin traditions of radio-friendly song making. Beyond that, the title “Savior Over All” is jarring for those who do not follow Jesus. Is anyone still reading? I feel I’ve delivered a pretty solid case against this song. :) After my album was finished, I noticed the common thread of personal growth that led me to record in the first place - and this could not be left out! This song addresses my growing conviction about the person and character of Jesus Christ.

Where does one begin with the most influential person in history? In the last year, I’ve been contemplating the stark contrast between the characterization of God in the psalms and the biblical account of Jesus Christ’s life. In Psalms, David continually wrote about an infinite Being demonstrating ultimate power, uncompromising righteousness, and authority over all. This view was consistently held throughout the Old Testament. At the time Christ walked the earth, the Jewish people were under Roman rule. In the midst of this cultural tension, it is understandable that they were looking for a strong and triumphant Messiah who would overcome their enemies and physically deliver their people. In this state, they largely overlooked Christ’s foretelling in Isaiah 53:2, “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”

  Left Pic: Jesus as depicted by History Channel's "The Bible" Series    Right Pic: Jesus as depicted by forensic anthropologists   (using cultural and archeological data)

Left Pic: Jesus as depicted by History Channel's "The Bible" Series

Right Pic: Jesus as depicted by forensic anthropologists (using cultural and archeological data)

Christ was largely misunderstood based on limited views and immediate circumstances. Though we find ourselves in a much different place and time, his true life and example are still fundamentally unrecognized. We will often “fit” Jesus into a convenient box, relegating his influence to a comforting quote when we feel scared or slightly uncomfortable. Though Christ intimately cares for the daily tensions we feel, he is so much more than a personal source of comfort. For those who are looking to follow in his example, we are often called out of our comfort. In every aspect of his being, Jesus Christ was uncompromising in his righteousness while demonstrating an ever-present humility through the act of “downward mobility”. 

His state was divine yet he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave and become as we are; and being as we are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross. - Philippians 2:6-8

Throughout the course of his ministry, Jesus showed us what true humility looks like. No one in history had more of a right to “Lord” their power and majesty over everyone. Yet he did not use his power for personal gain, but leveraged it for the betterment of those around him. This lifestyle culminated in an ultimate act of love — He became the perfect scapegoat in God’s righteous judgement against man’s brokenness. 

Those of you who are painfully aware of your brokenness can appreciate the weight Jesus took on his shoulders for you. Consider the way he lived. If you have chosen to follow him, what does his continual example of “downward mobility” mean for you and your daily life?  In what way can you leverage your gifts and abilities to elevate those around you? Finally, thank Jesus - who being EQUAL with God, saw fit to seek and serve a broken world so that we could experience freedom.

 

Thanks for those of you who read to this point! If you would like a free download of my full E.P. -- CLICK HERE!!

 

I look forward to posting about the last song in my album, “The Overlap” in the near future!


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3. FOOLISH, HEADSTRONG, DISCONTENT

“Little by little we human beings are confronted with situations that give us more and more clues that we are not perfect.” - Fred Rogers

A “grocery adventure” with Natalie.

My daughter Natalie turned 4 in June. It has been quite a journey with this little girl so far! My wife Samantha always jokes that Natalie is 90% me - my little doppelgänger. I will often scroll through our family library of pics and videos, fondly remembering special milestones in her life. These captured moments remind me of the love and joy she’s brought our family, as well as the crazy amount of change she’s gone through in a relatively short time. As Natalie has grown, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to adjust to new seasons in her life. With continual leaps in comprehension, motor-skills and communication, I’ve noticed a direct relationship with her growth in competency and her desire for control. 

This is on display every time we walk into a grocery store - 1. She must have her own kiddie shopping cart 2. She wants full control of the cart, even with frequent “calf-crashes” (journeying quickly and confidently into the back of my legs when I’m unprepared) 3. She needs to collect her grocery items and put all of them on the conveyor belt at checkout. These 3 steps will easily add an hour to any grocery trip. Any opposition or assistance in these “non-negotiables” is met with pouting or even a tantrum on extra special days! Needless to say, I am learning to be patient throughout the parenting process, and my love for Natalie informs (mostly) a spirit of gentleness in the midst of these power struggles.

I imagine my frustration in these moments is a small sample of God’s frustration when I take on more than He asks of me. The 31 additional years of experience I have over Natalie gives me insight and wisdom she cannot yet hope to possess. Yet she continues to insist that she alone execute many of life’s processes without help. Likewise, The accumulation of all my knowledge and experience pales in comparison to the infinite knowledge and wisdom of my Creator. In every situation, I need to learn to seek and grow in my dependence on Him. Which brings us to the verses that informed this song...

“Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves.”

Psalm 127:1-2 

This passage gives me comfort in the many situations outside my level of competency and comprehension. When I fully realize that everything I’ve received is given by God (and not a result of my personal achievement), than everything I’ve received becomes an expression of God’s provision and grace. It is this spirit of humility that allows me to join God in his work - from a place of REST! As I’ve re-read this Psalm over the last few months, I’m slowly learning to daily relinquish control, and grow in child-like dependency on God.

"In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps."

Psalm 16:9

 

Thanks for those of you who read to this point! If you would like a free download of my full E.P. -- CLICK HERE!!

 

I look forward to posting about my next song, “Savior Over All” in the near future!


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2. NOTHING TO SOMETHING

“You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.” - Psalm 139:3-4 

  THE WOLF PACK :  Top left picture - Steve Klase, Michael DeSelm, Evan Mair, John Velarde, Mick Nicholas, Christopher Dean

THE WOLF PACK : Top left picture - Steve Klase, Michael DeSelm, Evan Mair, John Velarde, Mick Nicholas, Christopher Dean

In the last year, I’ve been blessed to have a group of people in my life who frequently invest in me. My workout crew, affectionately named “Wolf Pack” chooses to sit with me day after day, patiently ministering to me and pointing me to wisdom (after we’ve completed our burpees). These individuals share a love for community, a passion to learn from one another, and a drive toward personal integrity. As we’ve journeyed together, I’ve witnessed an integration of faith in new areas of their lives - as well as a posture of humility when they stumble. Nearly every morning at 6 AM we meet to share our daily agendas, victories and struggles. As trust and vulnerability has grown, I’ve found that my once crippling fears have dissipated in times of uncertainty as we encourage and pray over one another. 

In January of this year, We were discussing unhealthy personal habits that emerged in seasons of increased workload and stress. As I thought through my last few years, I was able to pin-point repeating patterns of behavior that led to periods of self-deception and lack of discipline. For me, these habits served as coping mechanisms often flying under-the-radar. The frequency of these behaviors would compound over time without anyone else’s knowledge... After a while, guilt would eventually “crescendo” in a moment of acute conviction, resulting in a time of honesty, accountability, and healing. 

How can I stop this cycle? The loving accountability in my church, morning group, and family is helpful and needed… In fact, I highly recommend that everyone reading this post find a group of trusted individuals to walk beside you. That said, these are all poor substitutes for the trust that stems from an intimate relationship with God. I need a continual sober understanding of my Creator. If I truly believe He is ALL-POWERFUL, ALL-KNOWING, and EVER-PRESENT then my actions and overall integrity should reflect that reality.  So why don’t my actions always reflect this truth? I’ll allow the apostle Paul to sum it up with his dizzying intellect... 

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.”

Romans 7:15-17 

...Just as in Psalm 139, the song “Nothing to Something” is a personal conversation and rehearsing of God’s ultimate power, presence and unfinished plan in my life. While I still struggle with full integration of His truth in every area of life, I have faith that God will continue the good work He's begun in me. In the meantime, I can rest on the fact that He fully knows and fully loves me in my weakness. This morning our group read Isaiah 44:22, which reminds God's children of His unchanging promise: “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you." Reflect on this promise. Let the grace extended to you fuel your desire for wholistic integrity.

 

Thanks for those of you who read to this point! If you would like a free download of my full E.P. -- CLICK HERE!!

 

I look forward to posting about my next song, “Foolish, Headstrong, Discontent” next week!


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1. COMPARISON, YOU DIRTY THIEF

“Comparison is the thief of joy” - Theodore Roosevelt

  LEFT: Cruise for honeymoon RIGHT: Cruise for 10 year anniversary!

LEFT: Cruise for honeymoon RIGHT: Cruise for 10 year anniversary!

Though this is the first song on the EP, it is actually the last song that I wrote and recorded.  The idea for this song came from nearly a week without access to social media. My wife, Samantha and I celebrated our 10 year anniversary by taking a cruise to the Caribbean this past June. As we were in international waters, we were limited to activities on the ship with no access to internet or cell service. The first few days I missed my iPhone terribly! I continually reached for it in every moment of silence. After a while I became conditioned to my new reality, finding that my time with Samantha was more intentional and focused, our conversations were more satisfying and meaningful, my thoughts were less fragmented, and that I slept like a baby (without the ever-present temptation to stream podcasts or scroll through instagram). This time was truly restful... and SHORT LIVED! Though I recognized the palpable difference in my thoughts and overall demeanor — I quickly returned to the practice of seeking constant stimulation upon our return to New York. I’ve realized that I have FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). I am deftly afraid to be “left behind” while every one else advances their personal brand within these digital communities.

Before I fully jump in, let me state my position — I love the internet. I don’t think it’s wrong to connect with others online... I feel it’s generated new levels of understanding and communication to those who have been separated by geography and other circumstances. I love face-timing with my family and friends across the country, Learning new abilities through helpful tutorials on YouTube, and leveraging the tool of technology to promote worthy and just causes to the masses. But that is how it should be used... as a tool, not a DRUG. The accessibility and immediacy of social media is SO ADDICTIVE! We get the feeling of connection with others without true intimacy, devotion, and accountability that comes from traditional relationships in the flesh. 

In addition, these social avenues breed an environment of continual comparison to others.  Everyone, in-turn, posts carefully manicured moments that show an unrealistic highlight reel of their lives, to an ever present, ever judging community. This is an unhealthy social cycle leading many of us (me included) to a decline in self worth, outside of a few short lived moments of relief from half-hearted likes due to a successful personal submission. This practice, with no time for intentional respite, has sequestered our minds to a prison of endless envy and judgement toward others and ourselves! 

I am a creative arts pastor at a local church, and I have realized that my mind has been racing with the addiction for my own personal recognition and other’s continual approval. In an effort to quench this need, I have rehearsed the beginning of Psalm 46:10 over and over — “Be STILL and know that I am God”. 

In the few moments of stillness and silence I lived on my journey to and from the Caribbean, I experienced a connection and intimacy with those closest to me — those who have entered an unending relationship of love and care for me, regardless of my behavior. My wife of 10 years, Samantha Dean and my savior, Jesus Christ. I expect to gaze lovingly into their eyes, and not the bright lights of a screen, in my last moments here on Earth. Don’t forget those who are journeying beside you. I am not calling for the end of social media, just for planned time of intentionality to poke our heads up from our screens to spend time with those who truly love us.

 

Thanks for those of you who read to this point! If you would like a free download of my full E.P. -- CLICK HERE!!

 

I look forward to posting about my next song, “Nothing to Something” next week!