Nations: An Interview with Michael Watson

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Michael Watson is Ekklesia’s worship pastor and we have been so blessed to have him here! He previously was the frontman for the Christian band, Above the Golden State, with Sparrow Records. ATGS has now become Nations and they have recently released a new worship album self-titled, Nationsand it is amazing! We actually sing a few songs from the album in the Ekklesia gatherings and so many people have commented on how they have been blessed by those songs.

I recently got to talk to Michael about his experience creating this worship album, his background in music, his heart for the nations, and so much more.

How did you get into music in the first place?

My parents both play and teach music for a living. Eventually I grabbed a guitar sitting around the house and asked them to help me out. I think I was 12 at the time.

Writing a worship album sounds like an insanely personal process. What inspired this new album? Why write a worship album? What ties the songs together?

I knew I wanted to record another record. I’d written over 100 songs the past 5 years. A number of them I felt confident were worth being shared.

Over a year ago when I sat down to pick out songs for the new record with Steve Wilson (producer of Above The Golden State), neither of us had any idea what this record would sound like or what it would be called. The further we got into production, it was obvious to us two things: 1. It was a worship record and 2. It didn’t exactly sound like an ATGS record.

A theme that I believe comes through in a number of places is the idea of a the sunrise — light over taking darkness. Another theme seems to be “death to life.” As stated above, neither were intentional but both reflect the sort of things that I’d been thinking about and/or God had been teaching me about through scripture and life experiences.

“My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is steadfast and confident! I will sing and make melody. Awake, my glory, my inner self; awake, harp and lyre! I will awake right early, I will awaken the dawn! I will praise and give thanks to You…” Psalm 57:7-8

What song [from Nations] is resonating with you the most right now?

I think about the song “My Side Of Town” and “Middle Of The Fire” a lot. Both involve the heart of God for restoring justice in our lives and those around us, meaning right relationship with God, creation and people. I like the fact that there’s no “fairy-tale” ending to both stories… faith and trust must take action!

I’m currently reading a book by a friend, Ken Wytsma, called Pursuing Justice, which looks at justice in the character of God and its implications for us, the church, in helping restore justice on our street, our city, this nation and around the world. Eugene is a great starting place.

What has God taught you through writing and recording this album?

Practically, and this may seem strange, but I believe God is training me through this experience to write better worship songs. I’ve been able to apply a lot of these things to more recent songs I’ve written. Hopefully we’ll all get to hear those sooner than 2 years from now. Haha! I’m taking donations if anyone is interested? 😉

What are your hopes for this album? How will you measure its success?

Albums can sell a lot and do nothing for the Kingdom of God, so I hope it will further God’s kingdom wherever it is heard. It’s sort of difficult to track that but not impossible. To everyone that owns the album, please share it with anyone you know! You have my permission.

What is it you want the listener to take away from listening to your music?

I really hope people learn more of depth of God’s character, especially in regards to this life. I say this referring not solely to the lyrics… but I desire the music to convey these things as well.

For you, what makes a song a “worship song?”

A “worship song” gives worth to something. It could be about anything, or anyone. The reason I felt this album should be considered a “worship album” is because of the frequency of songs that have lyrics directed as praise towards God. Along with that, there are songs of justice, which according to God is a required element of worship.

Why the name change from Above the Golden State? What does “Nations” mean?

I think it’s twofold — to the nations and from the nations.

God’s message and goal throughout the scriptures is to be in relationship with all people from all nations. From the calling out of Abraham to the sending out of the apostle Paul, we are being sent to the nations! (Gen.12:3, Acts 9:15)
We are telling the world of this God who is love… praising Him among the nations.

The gospel (Jesus is Lord) has in many ways successfully reached the far corners of the earth and continues to do so today. Point in case, here I am 2000 years later on the other side of the world singing and sharing about the love of God… using electric guitars and computers. Ha! So now the message is coming from the nations too (Ps.57:7-11, Matt.28:19, Rev.7:9). Amazing!

How have things changed for you now that you’re a worship pastor?

I feel like my whole life has led to this moment. Every piece from my first job in ministry at Solid Rock in Portland as it was just starting, to Above The Golden State, to getting married and going back to school to finish a degree in Theology. I absolotely love doing what I’m doing. I have less time to write and record, but I think that will change as I go further along in the job. The new songs are definitely piling up.

You can find Michael Watson’s new worship album, Nations, on iTunes. Also if you’ve never heard any of his other stuff, check out Above the Golden State and Strangers & Pilgrims. Follow him on Twitter at @atgs and @Nations_music and like him on Facebook.

Out of Context: Matthew 18:20 – Where Two or More Are Gathered

carpool_sign_500To continue our series looking at commonly taken out of context verses, I wanted to take aim at one of the most famous of them all, Matthew 18:20.

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Typically, I’ve heard it quoted in church services by pastors and worship leaders praying in front of the congregation: “Lord, thank you so much that You are here with us right now as we worship. Your Word says, ‘Where two or more are gathered, there I am also.’ We have at least three hundred here just to be safe, so we know for sure you’re here.” I’ve also heard it in small prayer meetings: “God we know you can hear our prayers right now because Sebastian and Helga are praying with me.”

It’s used as an encouragement to the others listening that God approves of their worship. We know something really extra-special and spiritual is going down because God is actually here with us.

I’m definitely not innocent in my use of this verse. This verse is so commonly used that it’s become another prayer-ism that people naturally say along with “Heavenly Father,” “Place a hedge of protection,” “Bless this food to our bodies” (Because you know, of course, nutrients only travel through your bloodstream if you pray—especially fast-food), and “In Jesus’ name.” Sometimes we don’t even think about it. We just say it.

This is a public service announcement to not take all our Christian-ese as given truth. We need to think through what we say and do in the Christian life, even if it’s been said or done by pastors, and see if what we’re doing is actually founded on the Bible. If it is, then that’s great! If not, then we need to reevaluate our spiritual habits.

(1 + 2 = God) is an equation we really don’t need.

THE CONTEXT

Here’s the context to Matthew 18:20. It’s a little long, but stick with me.

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Jesus here is teaching His disciples how things are to work in His kingdom, in His church. He has just finished teaching the disciples about true greatness (18:1-6), how to fight sin (18:7-9), and God’s heart for the lost (18:10-14). Then in verse 15 (our context), Jesus transitions to talk about how we deal with others who sin against us. Justice is not found in taking matters into our own hands but in an orderly system of checks and balances, and in restoration. Jesus gives the disciples four steps to follow in such a situation.

1. Talk about it

Jesus tells His disciples that if they’ve been wronged by someone else in the church, first and foremost they are supposed to confront that person one-on-one (18:15). Not gossip. Not put passive-aggressive statuses on Facebook. Lovingly face-to-face. The goal in all of this is restoration and redemption.

2. Take one or two witnesses with you

If for some reason the perpetrator does not believe you or is not sorry for their sin, you must take one or two people to again confront them (18:16). This shows the person proof that the accusations are not the result of a grudge but in reality seen by multiple people. Jesus says, “every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (18:16). Does that number sound familiar?

3. Have the leadership confront them

If the perpetrator again rejects your loving correction, Jesus says you and the witnesses are to bring it before the “church” (18:17). I don’t have time to explain it all, but I take this to mean the church leadership and not the entire congregation. Hopefully having all the pastors confront the person will make them see the severity of their sin.

4. Send them out of the church

If they still won’t repent, even after multiple confrontations, the church is to send the person out because they are willfully rebelling against God’s Word (18:17). They will bring others down if you don’t (1 Corinthians 5; 2 Timothy 2:16-19; Titus 3:10-11).

Then Jesus ends this sermonette with a reassurance, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (18:18-19). He’s saying, if you go through this process correctly then God agrees with you. This is encouraging because proper church discipline is not a fun deal for anyone.

As a part of His encouragement Jesus ends saying, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (18:20). Remember that number? It’s the same amount of witnesses needed to properly confront a person in sin. Jesus isn’t saying you need two or three people praying to Him to have Him present. Jesus is encouraging believers that if they go through this process of church discipline properly then He supports their decision.

It’s almost hilarious how different this is from the common misinterpretation of this verse.

IMPLICATIONS

So, is Jesus present when two or more gather in His name? Yes.

He is also present when only one gathers in His name. Or none. God is always with you (Psalm 139) and you can call out to Him at anytime or anyplace. He wants you to. He’s not waiting for a magical number of people to appear.

If that were the case, then what do you do if you have two people gathered but one secretly and nefariously has not gathered in Jesus’ name? Is fellowship broken? No.

Instead, we can come to Jesus at any time, knowing that He is ready and excited to hear from us.

Other Out of Context posts:
Philippians 4:13 – Can I do all things through Christ?
How to take a verse out of context

Love and Basketball—and God

With the NBA Playoffs rolling along and baseball season in full swing (pun definitely intended), I was thinking about our love for sports—how we can love sports too much. I was reminded of this excerpt from Matt Chandler’s book, The Explicit Gospel, which smashes me over the head with conviction every time I read it:

As I write this, March Madness is going on. It’s the greatest sporting event. (I say that because it’s also the last athletic venue in which David can still beat Goliath. There’s not really another venue like it where a college you’ve never heard of that has, say, eight hundred people in it can upset superpowers in the basketball world.) But here’s the thing about fallen men and women who love March Madness. All over our country, fans are nervous. I’m not joking. They’re nervous in their guts, they want their team to win so badly. They watch the games and yell at their televisions: “No! Yes!” Kids are crying in fear, wives are running for more nachos—it’s chaos. It’s madness. With victory comes elation and surfing a thousand websites to read the same article over and over and over again, and with defeat comes destitution of spirit and days of mourning and moping, angrily arguing on a blog and about who really deserved it or an official’s botched call.

Every bit of those affections, every bit of that emotion, and every bit of that passion was given to us by God for God. It was not given for basketball.

Where is the nervousness in our guts when we’re coming into an assembly of those pursuing God? Where is the elation over the resurrection? Where is the desolation over our sins? Where is it? Well, it’s on basketball. It’s on football. It’s on romance. It’s on tweeting and blogging.

Are you really going to believe we’re not worthy of hell?

Thank God for his response to all this blasphemous nonsense: the wrath-absorbing cross of Christ. (51)

Matt is not saying that sports or even enjoying sports is a bad thing. Sports are a good thing—a gift from God. But, as Mark Driscoll would say, when we take a good thing and make it a god thing, then that is a bad thing. It is called idolatry.