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.

Tweets of the Week: 09|06|13

How Could a Loving God Harden Pharaoh’s Heart?

poferamsesSometimes grace finds you in roundabout ways.

Recently, I was discussing the Exodus story with a couple of Ekklesia staff members, and one of them brought up a common question about Pharaoh. In Exodus, God says of Pharaoh, “I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go” (4:21). What is that all about? How could a loving God harden someone’s heart to keep them from belief? Why couldn’t God just let him be?

It’s easy to freak out when we read about the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. But if you think about it, this sentiment assumes if God hadn’t hardened Pharaoh’s heart then he would’ve had a heart of gold. In the end we’re all reasonably good people, right? Shouldn’t God at least give Pharaoh a chance?

But later we read that Pharaoh also hardened his heart (8:32). Now we have God and Pharaoh hardening the same heart. How do we reconcile the two? Maybe you don’t need to.

We’re all hardened people like Pharaoh. If given the chance, we would choose to harden our hearts too. What’s surprising is not that God hardens some hearts but that he doesn’t harden all of them. That’s the crazy thing about grace. God chooses to soften a heart that wants to be hard.

“And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.”
—Ezekiel 11:19

How to Lose in Sports

I hate losing. It doesn’t matter if it’s a card game, a touch-football game, or Scattergories. Losing is like being forced to drink a tall glass of cottage cheese while watching your puppy get kicked by the opposing team.

One of the worst days in UO history.

One of the worst days in UO history.

I know that sounds slightly extreme, but it used to be a lot worse for me. Whenever I’d lose or my favorite team would lose, it used to depress me for days. Not minutes. Not hours. Days. The worst was whenever my beloved Oregon Ducks would lose a football game.

Growing up, the Ducks used to lose often, so fall was always a rough time for my heart. But once I hit high school, winning became a regular thing for the Ducks. It got to the point that in my freshman year of college—attending the University of Oregon, of course—the Ducks were well on their way to go to the national championship game, led by the Heisman-trophy-candidate quarterback, Dennis Dixon.

But while playing Arizona, Dixon’s knee gave out, a season-ending injury. Without their starting quarterback, the Ducks flailed and lost the game, forfeiting all national championship aspirations. They limped through the remainder of the season.

Needless to say, I was devastated. This was the worst loss of them all. I wasn’t just depressed, I was angry. I felt like this had been some sick cosmic joke, to come so far over the years just to fall flat. It was unjust.

Trying to cope with the loss, some friends wanted to watch a movie. If something else occupied our minds, then maybe we would feel better. Someone chose the movie Blood Diamond, which had come out on DVD not too long before. If you don’t know, Blood Diamond is a movie about conflict diamonds and how they are used to fund rebel armies who use child soldiers to wage their wars. It’s a gruesome but very well-made film.

There’s this one scene in the movie where the rebel general invades a village looking for new boys to join his army and slaves to mine for diamonds. The general massacres much of the village and rounds up all the males, boys and men. Hands get chopped off. Mothers get shot. It’s horrible.

I remember watching the scene and feeling disturbed because the crimes committed were so wrong. But then I suddenly felt more disturbed. I realized that although I was moved by this injustice, I was not angered by it—not like how I was angered by the supposed injustice of the Duck game. I was more furious about a football game than I was about an evil man brainwashing children to kill people. I remember thinking, I am a horrible human being. Football doesn’t matter as much as people.

Jesus took me to the mat for that one. Thankfully, from that point on I’ve had a sobered perspective on losing. Sometimes I have an initial emotional reflex, but it’s always tempered with that memory.

A couple years later, the Oregon Ducks actually ended up going the national championship game but we lost because of a last second field goal. I was fine. Watching the game was actually one of the most fun experiences of my college career.

I’m not saying losing should be easy. I understand the pain of losing a game. In a high school soccer playoff game, I missed a penalty kick that would’ve tied the game. Instead, we lost because of me. The pain is real, especially for the players and coaches. I’m not going to take that away from anyone. But I do know that sports is just a part of life, not life itself. While we’re losing games, people are losing loved ones. We should consider ourselves blessed when the most traumatic event in our life is just losing a game.

At the same time, we shouldn’t devalue the losses. Don’t pretend like they never happened. They’re tools to teach us, grow us. In many ways, you learn more when you lose than when you win. There is such a thing as getting back on the horse, stepping back into the ring, and the come-from-behind win.

Everyone is going to lose at some point, definitely in sports but also in life. The question is not if you will lose, but how will you react.