Well, it was really good to have a weekend off to be home. Unfortunately I also got sick. While I definitely wasn’t 100%, we did make it through the shows this weekend. Friday, I was actually away from the tour doing a show with the reunited Big Tent Revival in Turlock CA. It was a beautiful day in a beautiful part of the country. Big Tent was also on Ardent the generation before I was. So we spent the day trading stories about the studio and our experiences there. It was a really wonderful time. And I really loved getting to hear them play again. I pulled my own little stunt by closing my set with my favorite Big Tent song, The Ballad of Arlis Richards.
The other great thing about Friday night was that it was a fundraiser for Prodigal Sons & Daughters, which is a recovery ministry there in Turlock. They are a wonderful group of people with an exciting ministry. It was really great getting to know them.
Then Saturday I rejoined Jason and the guys in Tulsa. It was a unique show to say the least. It was the closing of a women’s conference. A first for me, but apparently Jason does it all the time. But it wasn’t actually part of the conference. I think. But most of the rest of Tulsa didn’t know about it. So it was a really intimate show. Also, we were in between two wedding receptions both with blaring DJs. So there was a weird background music behind everything we did. But it was still a neat night with some great people. They were very kind, able to focus on what God was doing amid the distractions.
Looking forward to a great weekend in Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio.
Well, 7in7 was tough this year. In case you don’t know, 7in7 is an exercise some of my friends started in which we write seven songs in seven days. You have to start from scratch every day. And you have to finish. It’s a really draining process, but I did better than in years past.
This year was hard because I was leading worship on Sunday, it was my one week home in the middle of tour so I really needed to be plugged in with the family, and I got sick halfway through. Still, I ended up with 5 mediocre songs, two good ones, and one really cool piano part that I’ll save for later.
The interesting thing this year was where the songs came from. One came from studying that I’ve been doing for almost half a year getting ready for this song. So that makes sense. One came straight from the Bible but to finish it, I ended up doing a lot more studying on how the Bible describes a man who is blessed. Another was a worship response to a verse in the Bible. One was a response to a very difficult study my wife and I are doing right now. It ended up digging into topics that I would have never attempted to write a song about. All in all it was once again an awesome experience.
If you’re a songwriter, keep track and we’ll announce the next time we do it. Maybe you can take the journey with us.
Well, today was the first day of 7in7. For those of you new to the idea, each fall many of my friends and I go through the exercise of writing 7 songs in 7 days. You have to start from scratch every day. And you have to finish every day. It’s a really difficult but awesome experience. And it started today.
So I’m not sure how much I’m going to blog about it this year. I think my focus needs to be on writing not blogging. But I’ll try to write at least a couple to keep you in the loop. I started on Day One with a song that’s been simmering for a while. When we were on the Austin Stone Writer’s Retreat, Aaron showed us a Polish short film called Most. It is a commonly told story about a bridge controller whose son wanders into the gears, and the father must sacrifice the son in order to save those on the train. The film is really powerful. And at the time, I really wanted to explore the idea of the grief of God, but felt it was too heavy of a topic to address without preparing both studying and praying. So I’ve been doing that.
But today was the day I dug back into the idea. I really love what came out. I just so often overlook how painful it must have been for God to sacrifice his Son. I don’t think I could do that. I don’t live in recognition of those feelings. I paint God as this selfless, emotionless being. But His selflessness actually came at great emotional cost. And most days I miss that. The song starts, “You gave Him for us, Your only child, only son.” What a huge statement, what a truth.
Well, we had another great weekend. We might be getting too comfortable with each other, because we’re starting to interrupt each other and take up extra time with jokes. But it makes us laugh and have a good time. Hopefully, it doesn’t cause too much distraction from the show.
Anyway, we started this weekend in Elizabethtown, KY. We played at the State Theater, which was a great venue with some cool folks. I tried out the heaven set again and it went a little better this time. We had a great crowd, including some good friends from both the Gray and Agnew sides of life. I also received one of the more unusual compliments in my life thus far: “Todd, you remind me of Rich Mullins in two ways: in your humility and in your body shape.” Body shape? I must admit that as much as I love Rich, I am not familiar with his body shape. Oh well. I’ll just assume it’s a good thing.
Next we moved to Titusville FL for a couple of shows Friday and Saturday. Titusville is outside of Orlando, near the Space Center, and there are two churches merging, New Venture Church and Rocketown Church. They brought us in as one of their first events as a joint body. And so of course, on night #2, I had to open with what? Right… old Michael W. Smith. It was awesome. But really we had a great two nights there. Ate rock shrimp at Dixie Crossroads due to some advice we received on Twitter. Also awesome. And we saw some wonderful friends from Hutchmoot.
Hopefully, the next wonderful friends we see will be you. We’re taking this weekend off, but then we’re back to it, starting in Tulsa on the 27th. See you there.
I’m frustrated with Apple. The company not the fruit. They make cool products but they also plan for them to be obsolete in a year or two. And if for some reason, they still work then they update it to the point that it no longer functions. Now don’t get me wrong. I am both an Apple fan and asupporter. I have a Mac desktop, laptop, iPhone, and iPad. I ran my laptop into the ground. It was great. But I have both an iPhone and an iPad that while not being the newest models, still work okay, except that with all the updates, they barely function. Half the apps on my iPad work, and my iPhone is so slow that it’s almost useless. Now, this isn’t an Apple bashing session. I suppose it’s just a different business model than artisans of the past. People used to take pride in their work, making things that would last. Now we make things that are very shiny, but are never intended to be long term.
As I was getting angry about my Apple products, it started me thinking about other things where this can be true as well. Ministry, for example. It is really easy to get sucked into the idea that we have to have the biggest, loudest, coolest methods and machinery in our ministry, when we’re not really building things that will last. I think this is especially true in youth ministry. Sometimes we can try so hard to attract students, thinking we must use so many tricks to keep their attention, that we can fail to really grow disciples. There is a reason that many students leave the church when they go to college. They have not grown into a mature faith.
Another area is parenting. It is so easy to focus on today. I have a tendency to want to pursue immediate obedience, possibly at the cost of what would actually be best for my kids. One decision that causes immediate change might hurt our relationship, closing the door to future influence. It is easy to want a child to act a certain way, but I might not be helping them become the kind of person that would choose that path.
I just wonder in our lives what decisions do we make that cause today to be better or easier instead of investing in something that lasts.
We had a really great weekend. It takes a few days to settle in to tour, to the rhythm of travel, to remembering how to play your songs, to develop relationships within the group. But this weekend, we really found our groove. I hope you get to see this tour because it’s already one of my favorite tours I’ve ever done. It’s really intimate, but still quality. And Jason just has wonderful songs. You really need to hear them.
We started the weekend in Lombard, IL, which is a suburb of Chicago. I’d love to say the highlight was our show, but… we talked our driver into taking us to Portillo’s to get hot dogs. Awesome! But the night was good as well. I tried something I’ve been wanting to do for quite a while, and used my whole first set to look at the concept of heaven. How that hope affects our lives here. I don’t know if anyone else liked it, but I enjoyed trying it. Then we headed to Salt Lake City for a great show. We had a great Q&A beforehand that kind of altered the approach to the show. It was a very intimate, almost confidential show, although it was the biggest show of the tour so far. Then we were on to Phoenix, playing at Grand Canyon University. It was my first time to play in a bowling alley. But again the vibe of the show was really cool. I took a different approach again and let my whole first set be corporate worship. It really set the stage for the rest of the night. I must admit being a little distracted because the Longhorns were playing WV on the TV in the bowling alley. Oh well. We finished up the weekend in Midway NM, which is right outside of Roswell. You may be asking yourself, “I wonder if Jason Gray talked everyone into going to the UFO museum?” And you would be correct. Pictures can be found on Jason’s instagram account. But it was a cool show too. Really relaxed and a lot of fun. I really love the guys we’re traveling with and I think that’s obvious from the stage.
Anyway, thanks to all who joined us this weekend. Hope to see the rest of you soon. Check the tour page to see if we’re coming near you.
Well, we got to go to two of my favorite states for the first weekend of fall tour, Oregon and Texas. Because they’re so close to each other.
I love Oregon. It is so beautiful. It is one of the places that just looking around causes me to worship. And the people are wonderful too. Thanks to everyone who came out to the shows in Bend and Philomath. And it’s always good to be in Texas. Had to take Jason to Whataburger. Didn’t have time for mexican food. And what a great crowd in Weatherford! Thanks so much for worshipping with us.
Well, it was a typical first week of a tour. God did what He wanted to, and I tried to remember how to do what I’m supposed to. Played a different set each night. It’s a really unique tour. I play a short set, then Jason plays a short set. Then we take a break and come back and play all together for a while. That second set has been great every night so far. I’m just trying to figure out my first one. I haven’t played a short set in a long time, and it’s slow to come back to me.
We build the second set by what seems to go well together. So that means for the first set, I can either just quickly run through the rest of the hits, or I can play stuff from the new record, or I can just see what story can be told well and quickly and risk everyone being upset because I didn’t play their favorite song. So it’s a bit of a strange conundrum. But it’s been better each night. Sorry, Bend. You were first so you were the guinea pig. We really should apologize to the first and last show of each tour. Because the first night, we have no idea what we’re doing. And the last night of tour is usually prank night, which also affects the quality of the show, just for different reasons.
Anyway, it’s been a lot of fun so far. Really looking forward to being in Illinois, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico this weekend. Because they’re close together. If you’re nearby, come and join us. If you want to see if we’re coming near you, check out: http://toddagnew.com/tour-dates/.
See you soon.
Well, we’ve made it. We have made a cursory beginner’s dive into Paul’s letter to the Romans. And we arrive at chapter 16, as Paul instructs us to greet all his friends that we do not know, and that died almost 2,000 years ago. Which makes greeting them difficult at best. But as we move through the chapter one simple verse stood out to me.
“For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.” Romans 16:19 ESV
Be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. This is a statement we have almost flipped in the current era. In an effort to be relevant, we have attempted to be wise about what is evil. We express and explore things that are not good for us. We walk along the edge of evil, calling it an exercise in freedom. We try things that are unnecessary. Are we free to do so? Most of the time, yes. But is it wise? That’s another question. We have seen how close we can get to the edge, rather than pursuing innocence and holiness. Purity has become something we are more comfortable making fun of, than encouraging. People are embarrassed that they are a virgin, or that they’ve never had alcohol, or that they haven’t done something else. And others are embarrassed that they know too many Bible answers, or have too many verses memorized.
But Paul says to be wise about what is good. And to be innocent of evil. It’s fairly simple and it sounds like a good plan. Maybe even a starting point. Know more about good than evil. When I was in college, I was a philosophy major (well, technically I was a music composition and philosophy double major, neither of which I finished which in the end makes me a dropout. But for the purpose of this story, I was a philosophy major). I studied what many different thinkers had written about life and our world. As I sat in my car one morning, waiting for class to start, God challenged me. I realized that I was spending way more time learning what people thought than I did pursuing what God thought. I was spending way more time studying the lie, than I was the truth. But I justified it by saying, “Yeah, but it’s homework.” That doesn’t matter. So, I had to start studying my Bible more than I studied philosophy. To spend more time in the word than I spent on my homework. It turned out to be a lot. And it helped.
I’m not telling you what you have to do in your life. I’m just noting that Paul said to be wise about what is good and innocent about what is evil. It’s a simple two-pronged goal for the end of a really complicated letter. But it’s a place to start. And that’s what I need. Because otherwise, learning becomes stagnant, if it does not affect how we live. So I’ll start here.
“Raw” and “honest” are strange words to use when describing a record written from the viewpoint of an imaginary science fiction character. But that’s exactly how Leonard the Lonely Astronaut feels. Leonard is the new record from my friend Andrew Osenga. If you are not familiar with Andrew’s work in The Normals or his later amazing solo efforts, you might know him as the co-writer of two songs on my latest project, Don’t You Think and House of Boxes. The idea of a sci-fi epic may or may not appeal to you as a listener but I promise you will connect with these songs. Because they aren’t songs about spaceships and aliens, they are songs from the point of view of a guy who has left everything that ever meant “home” and has been alone for a long time. And loneliness and distance are concepts we all understand. But this isn’t just an introspective moody record either. Andrew explores multiple musical styles as he explores the heart and soul of this lonely astronaut. To be honest, I’m finding it hard to put this record into words. It’s something you need to listen to. It’s a record you need to carve an afternoon out of your life and to just sit with it. Because otherwise, I think you might miss it. I know, I know. You don’t have that kind of time. Because you’re so busy. Which is why you’re never lonely and won’t relate to this record. Oh wait, you’re still lonely in the midst of all your busyness? Right. I think we all are. And I think that’s why Leonard hits home. And that’s why I’m so glad Andrew Osenga made it.
That’s all before we get to the fact that Andy built a spaceship. And recorded the whole record inside it. In a spacesuit. And I’m not even kidding. Awesome. Not as awesome as the songs, Out of Time and Hold On Boy. But awesome. I hope you get the chance to check it out.
If you’ve already listened, thoughts?
“For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy. As it is written, ‘Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name….’ May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” – Romans 15:8, 9, 13
Hope is hard. Some days it is difficult to look at the future and see positive things, much less to see great things. But this passage says we can hope because of what Christ has done. He came to show God’s truthfulness. In His life, He showed what God’s truth really is. He is the Truth. He came to confirm His promises. He fulfilled all the prophecies in the old testament. And in doing so, He showed that we can trust every single thing He promises to us. And He came to show His mercy. The Gentiles get to glorify God for the mercy He has shown them. Christ died for us all. If He has paid for our past, then we have hope for our future.
I think many times hope is hard to come by, because we look at the days ahead through the lens of our own abilities. I don’t have the ability to make tomorrow any better than today, so why would it be? We see tomorrow through the lens of today’s troubles. Today they seem insurmountable. And if I can’t get past this, then how could tomorrow have any value? But just like the story of David and Goliath, when we stare at the giant, we are impressed by His strength and in fear of His power. But David looked not at the giant, but at God. He saw a God whose power is immeasurable, beside whom the giant is nothing. That gave him hope. And we have the same opportunity. We can look at Jesus. We can see how He showed God’s truthfulness, so we can believe. We can see how He fulfilled God’s promises, so we can trust. We can see how He showed mercy, how He gave good where none was deserved, and we can hope.