Don’t Compare Your Debut Album to Someone Else’s Greatest Hits.

The formula for writing hit songs and having great faith

4 minute read

You’ve probably heard the song “Hallelujah.” You know, the song that’s been covered by everyone from Bob Dylan and U2, to the man singing in the subway. There are literally hundreds of recorded covers of Hallelujah, but oddly enough no one ever seems to get sick of the song—It brings down the house every time. Some have even called it the perfect song—but like most great works of art, the story behind the song may be better than the actual song.

Hallelujah was written by Canadian songwriter and artist, Leonard Cohen. The original date it was written is unknown because Cohen constantly tinkered with it. Cohen was a mad artist—he would pace around his hotel room in his underwear into the early morning hours never satisfied with the lyrics or arrangement. It is purported he wrote as many as 70 verses, but no one knows the true number.

After five years of tinkering, in 1984, Cohen recorded Hallelujah on an album so unappealing his record label wouldn’t release it, so Cohen released the album independently with little fanfare. You may have heard the original Cohen version of Hallelujah, but most likely you haven’t. It’s not that good. It’s dark and slow, a far cry from the crowd pleasing version covered by so many.

One night, while performing at the Beacon ballroom, a man named John Kale heard Cohen sing Hallelujah and loved it. He asked Cohen for permission to record his own version, and to send him the lyrics—Cohen faxed him 15 pages.

Kale, changed some lyrics, the tempo, and most importantly the “feel” of the song. and recorded his version on a Leonard Cohen tribute album, “I’m Your fan.”

Cohen’s tribute album wasn’t popular, very few people purchased the album, but a young aspiring singer named Jeff Buckley heard the song at a friend’s house one night and decided to record his own version.

In 1994, Buckley recorded his version of Hallelujah,” that’s the version you’ve probably heard, It’s the famous one, just a man and his guitar, with a slight hint of desperation in his voice. Every subsequent cover of Hallelujah has been a cover of Kale, covering Buckley, covering Cohen.

Ironically though, no one really paid attention to Buckley’s version when the song was released in 1994. It wasn’t until Buckley died in a tragic drowning accident in 1997 that his music garnered mass attention, propelling “Hallelujah” into the spotlight—15 years after Cohen’s first recording.

Five years of writing and rewriting, three failed albums, three different versions, and a tragic death was all it took for everyone to discover the perfect song.

I bring all of that up, because it made me think about the verse in the Bible where Paul said that God is the author and perfecter of our faith. I love when God initiates faith in me. Initial faith is inspiring and exciting. It brings with it dreams and hopes, but the perfecting of faith, the tweaking, is agonizing.

Great art is usually recognized in hindsight; faith is much the same. Perfect faith is a process. Failures, revisions, time, wins and losses, and the Bible is filled with little verses, usually unnoticed by the average reader. Verses like Genesis 15:1.

Genesis 15:1
“Some time later, the Lord spoke to Abraham in a vision.

It’s those first three words, “Some time later” that is so telling. It’s the life lived in between the stories in scripture that say so much. Genesis 41:1 is another one.

Genesis 41:1
“Two full years later Pharoah dreamed…”

The frustrating part of perfecting faith is that it’s different for everyone. Sure, there are patterns God uses, but he is unique with every individual, and most of the time it feels like he moves faster with everyone else.

There’s a story about a time when Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan were having dinner in a café in Paris one day, and Bob Dylan told Cohen he really liked his song, “Hallelujah.” He asked Cohen how long he had worked on it. Cohen told Dylan 2 years because he was too embarrassed to admit the answer was actually 5 years. Cohen told Dylan he really liked his song “I for an Eye.” He asked Dylan how long he had worked on it. Dylan told Cohen he wrote it in 15 minutes.

I want great faith; I bet you do too. I want the first draft to be the finished version, but God loves to take his time, he’s a mad artist perfecting me, and he’s never finished until my life is finished.

There is a sign that hangs on the wall in my barbershop that says, “Great haircuts are not cheap and cheap haircuts are not great.” I think faith works the same.

Don’t compare your debut album to someone else’s greatest hits.

God is perfecting you, and he is perfecting me too. I’d be willing to bet the people you could list right now that you consider to have great faith are either much older or have gone through an incredibly trying season in life. I wish it worked the other way, that great faith was found in youth and prosperity, but it’s not.

The world is filled with one hit wonders, but God has different plans for you. He will keep tweaking, perfecting and rewriting, but we can be confident “he, who began the good work will continue his work until it is finally finished.”

*I took details about the history of the song “Hallelujah” from Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, “Revisionist History” episode “Hallelujah” on July 27, 2016

Digital Devotion: When You Find The Donkey Donkeys You’ll Find Your Destiny

1 Samuel 9:5-6

3 minute read

1 Samuel 9:5-6
“Saul said to his servant, “Let’s go home. By now my father will be more worried about us than about the donkeys!” But the servant said, “I’ve just thought of something!

In 1954 a milkshake salesman named Ray Krok was traveling the country trying to sale his “Milk Shake Multi-Mixer.” Sales were plummeting, so it got Ray’s attention when a burger stand in San Bernadino California purchased eight of his multi-mixers.

Digital Devotion – Forgetful Faith and Answered Prayers

1 John 5:14-15

3 minute read

1 John 5:14-15
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.

I’m willing to bet you’ve experienced “The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon” many times in your life, you just didn’t know what to call it. The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, coined in 1986 by Terry Mullen, is when a concept or thing you just found out about suddenly seems to appear everywhere.

Digital Devotion: God Is Able, But So Are You

Genesis 6:21

3 minute read

Genesis 6:21
“And be sure to take on board enough food for your family and for all the animals.”

Tony Campolo was once a guest speaker at a mission rally, when he was asked to lead in prayer for a missionary doctor the group supported. The goal of the prayer? That God might provide the $5000 urgently needed for the medical centre the doctor ran.

Tony informed the congregation that he would not pray for a miracle. He knew his audience was made up of people who were materially prosperous. So he declared he would pray only after everyone in the room gave all the money they had on them that day. The congregation was stunned, but when Tony started emptying his pockets they knew he was serious. After some hesitation everyone started following suit. What started as a prayer for a miracle turned into a prayer of thanksgiving; by the end of the giving they had collected $8000, much more than was needed in the first place!

It’s crazy to think civilization rested on Noah not forgetting to stop by the grocery store on the way home, isn’t it?

In Genesis 6, society had taken such a dire turn for the worse God decided to flood the earth and start over with Noah, his wife, and three sons. Over the next 100 years, Noah built an ark to the exact specifications God had given him. The Ark was 510 ft long (that’s long enough to hold three space shuttles) and 50 ft tall (the equivalent of a four-story house.) The completion of the Ark was supernatural, no doubt, but don’t mistake supernatural intervention for the absence of work ethic, talent, and study.

God could have easily spoke an ark into existence saying, “Let there be an ark,” and voila, Noah would have been the captain of the finest vessel on the sea. Noah probably suggested the creation option to God after a long day’s work looking at the blisters and splinters on his hands, but God didn’t speak a boat into existence, He spoke an idea into the heart of a man, which brings us to verse 21 of Genesis 6.

The first time I read this verse, I literally laughed out loud. Think about the lunacy of the words God spoke to Noah. After 100 years of faithful, hard work and ridicule from peers, God ends his conversation with Noah by adding, “Oh and by the way don’t forget to take enough food on board for everyone.” If I understand God’s instruction correctly, I think it means survival hinged on ramen noodles and PB&J sandwiches. Can you imagine if after 100 years of faithful obedience and hard work Noah didn’t survive because he ran out of food?

I have a love-hate relationship with Bible verses like this one. I love them because it reminds me I play a key role in God’s most miraculous endeavors. I hate them because it reminds me God rarely provides supernatural help for something I can do naturally. Which raises the question, “How often do you ask God to do something you could have done yourself?”

God can heal a marriage that refuses to go to counseling

God can lift a family out debt who won’t live on a budget

God can speak to someone who forgets to pray

God can deliver an addiction in secret

But more often than not He chooses to produce extraordinary miracles through ordinary obedience. What if God has already done the hard part he’s just waiting for you to do your part? Is there something you could do that seems ordinary, but once God does his part, it could become extraordinary? Stop waiting. No more excuses. Pray hard but work harder. You never know what might happen, just about the time you think you might run out of food, God may turn a few fish into a meal for 5,000.

Why our small church gave a megachurch $1000

4 minute read

Every pastor, no matter the size of your church, has experienced the frustration of someone leaving your church for something “bigger and better.”

During those seasons it’s easy to feel like your leadership and church is “less than,” and the rich are getting richer. Before you know it bitterness and jealousy creep into your heart and we start making excuses why other churches are growing and ours is not. We assume that anyone who is experiencing results—results that we secretly wish we were experiencing— has cut a corner or sold their soul; We take cheap shots at the megachurch in our town; or make broad generalizations about growing churches and their lack of biblical commitment. When we’re angry, bitter, jealous, and discouraged, we’ll say or do anything to make ourselves feel better about our insecurity.

When the World End: How to Know Who To Believe

How to Know Who To Believe

5 minute read

If you spend much time reading the parts of the Bible having to do with the end times, it’s easy to assume you are living in the last days.

You may be. We will only know in hindsight, but what’s interesting is that every generation of Christians since Jesus ascended to Heaven has believed He would return before their death. My great grandfather believed with all his heart Jesus would return while he was alive because in his opinion sin was rampant, there were wars and rumors and wars, and the government was assigning social security numbers.

“I can’t afford it” and 5 other bogus reasons Christians don’t tithe

5 minute read

I still remember like it was yesterday.

I was 16 years old sitting in my youth group on a Wednesday night when my youth pastor began to do what he always did at that point of the service. He grabbed an offering bucket and began to walk around the half circle of chairs laid out in the small room.

When he got to me, he stood and waited for me to put something in, I hadn’t given much thought to my offering that night, and I certainly wasn’t prepared to give anything so I reached into my pocket hoping to find a few dollar bills to throw in the bucket. I was out of luck, no cash only a few coins, so I shuffled them around and gathered them together to give in the offering. My youth pastor did something no one had ever done, and I’ve never seen done since. He looked at me and said, “Keep it. God doesn’t want your spare change.” A preacher turning down an offering, go figure.

Why Do Christians Only Follow Some Old Testament Rules?

4 minute read

Have you ever wondered why Christians dismiss certain Old Testament laws but cherish others?

Maybe you’ve tried to have a conversation with someone about their lifestyle or behavior only to have a defensive accusation returned to you because you “only follow the parts of the Bible that are convenient.” Maybe you’ve had that conversation with yourself.

The World Needs Less Will Ferrels

Why sarcasm is for suckers

3 minute read

The other day a buddy of mine sent a group text to me and another guy that said, “I love you guys.”

I stared at the phone for a few seconds a little rattled; I wasn’t sure how to respond. Obviously, the appropriate response was, “love you too.” And if we had been face to face I would have had no problem saying “I love you” back, but for whatever reason, at this moment texting “I love you” to another dude was intimidating. It felt like the equivalent of sending heart and kiss face emojis.

The Best Way to Have More Of Your Prayers Answered

2 minute read

Recently I bought a new car, a 2008 Maroon Ford Escape. I’m sure this has happened to you too, but after I purchased the Escape I see other cars exactly like mine everywhere!

I never noticed maroon Ford Escapes before mine, but now I can’t not see them. I’m not crazy, it’s neuroscience, it’s called “The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon” coined by Alan Bellows.