Fall 2010

Worship, Creativity and a ‘Sloppy Wet Kiss’

An interview with worship artist John Mark McMillan

One of the rising voices in the contemporary worship music scene is John Mark McMillan, a North Carolina-based songwriter whose new hit album, The Medicine, came out this summer and spawned the singles “Skeleton Bones” and “Death in His Grave.”

You may have heard McMillan’s song “How He Loves,” which is quickly becoming a staple in church worship services. McMillan wrote the song several years ago the day after his friend Stephen was killed in a car accident. A song about the immense love of God for us even in the midst of our brokenness, “How He Loves” has been covered by the likes of David Crowder, Kim Walker, Todd Agnew and Flyleaf. Watch McMillan describe the story behind “How He Loves” in this video.

McMillan recently spoke with Biola Magazine from his home in Charlotte, N.C., about his music, his mission and his thoughts on the contemporary worship industry.

Thanks for taking some time to chat. You’re probably a very sought-after person these days. Congratulations on the success of the new album!

John Mark McMillan 1

Yeah, I didn’t really know what to expect. Technically it’s a re-release, so I was a little worried about whether my core crowd was going to get behind it and push it, but they definitely did. It’s been a really good start.

How would you describe your new album to someone who’s never heard you before? Would you describe it as worship or Christian music?

Well, in my mind I don’t really differentiate. I think there is music, and there are people who make it, and I think people who make good music sing about what’s important to them. Jesus and the story of the man Jesus are important to me, so that’s why I write about it. I know I may be a little over-the-top here, but I really don’t like to describe music as “Christian” or “worship,” because I just don’t think they are very good descriptions of the music. I think they’re pretty good descriptions of people, or they should be.

How would you describe the sound of the album?

It’s got a little bit of a roots-rock feel. I like the sounds of old music. I don’t like a lot of new music. We tried to record it in a way that sounds like the old albums I really love — old Springsteen or Dylan albums. Springsteen was a huge influence on the album. I was listening to a lot of the “new folk” stuff a few summers ago — people like Ryan Adams and Conor Oberst. There’s also a little bit of new wave ’80s influence. The guitar player listens to a lot of the really early U2 stuff.

Do you currently, or have you ever, led worship as a job for a congregation?

Yeah, I do that a lot. A good bit of what we do is leading worship. We don’t do a lot of cover songs, but we do a lot of the songs that we have written, or older hymns. I love hymns. There’s a church in town that I attend — a church my father and I started a few months ago — which we haven’t marketed or promoted in any way. I don’t want people coming because it is “John Mark’s church,” but because it’s a relational place where people have an opportunity to grow with one another. I lead worship there, and we write songs for that crowd of people, and it’s fun.

You wrote the song “How He Loves,” which is now a major hit. Is it weird to you that a song you wrote is now being sung in churches throughout the world every Sunday?

It’s very weird. I think it’s awesome, but yeah — I didn’t even know when I was writing it what I was going to do with it. I was pretty disconnected from that whole world, and didn’t realize that song had such appeal. I wrote that song eight years ago, and played it for a few record company people and they said, “This will never be a single.” And I understood. So it’s really funny, especially this much later. We stopped playing that song a few years ago, and then Kim Walker recorded it on the West Coast and people started wanting to hear it again, so we started playing it again. And then we stopped playing it again, and then David Crowder covered it so we picked it up again. It’s not that we don’t enjoy playing it; it’s just that we played it and then it worked itself out of the set. But now that people are so excited about it, we’re happy to bring it back.

Is it true you wrote “How He Loves” the morning after your friend Stephen died?

Yeah, I was down in Jacksonville for a recording session. They were in the accident the previous night, and we found out they were in the hospital. But I didn’t find out the extent of it until late that night. I stayed up most of the night, woke up the next morning and didn’t have a lot to do. We were stuck in a house in Jacksonville. What do you do? You don’t prepare for those kinds of things. So I was just sitting around and picked up my guitar and my journal, and I saw a few lines that I had written and I thought they felt like right now, so I started singing around them, and the song basically came.

The song has different layers to me. I don’t ever think a song has to have one meaning, so when I wrote the song I wasn’t really sure what was going on. You sort of have this picture of someone meeting Jesus, so in my mind I guess it could have been Stephen meeting Jesus, or it could have been me.

Why do you think the song has resonated so much with so many people? I mean, it’s a very personal song to you, and yet so many people worship through it.

I think for me the real reason it’s connected with so many people is that the tone of the song has given people the opportunity to have a conversation in worship that maybe they haven’t had before. The tone of the song isn’t this happy, puppy-dogs-kitty-cats feeling. I wrote the song out of my friend dying, and the song brought healing to me, so I think it’s given a lot of people permission to have those sorts of conversations. It’s like, it doesn’t honor God to pretend like everything is OK. That’s the beauty of Jesus that so many people miss. The beauty is that he died on the cross for our sins, but also that he existed the way we exist. He understands what it’s like to lose a friend. He’s not unfamiliar with those emotions. He’s not unfamiliar with the difficulty of human life. To me that’s what makes Jesus as God beautiful. He totally understands. He went out of his way to prove to us that he understands our situation. So when he has something to say, it’s not coming from this high and lofty standpoint. It’s coming from this person who understands intricately the perils of human existence. I don’t know why people don’t celebrate this about Jesus. He was fully human and fully God. People often have a dualistic mindset where they say this is holy and that is impure, but the fact is, Jesus was born into a mess. He was a homeless kid at birth and they laid him in a nasty, dirty situation where he slept with animals.

I think the “sloppy wet kiss” lyric in “How He Loves” sort of gets at this idea. I found it interesting that in David Crowder’s cover, he changed that lyric because he felt like audiences might not be ready for “sloppy wet kiss” in a worship song.

I think ultimately there are two problems people have with the line. I think the major problem is that the line makes people uncomfortable. I think the whole idea that God would do anything sloppy seems to bother people. But if they read the Bible I don’t see why that would bother them, because I don’t think he does anything that isn’t sloppy to our human mindset. It’s never neat and clean. It’s never easy. It’s always uncomfortable. I think the other issue is the whole idea that that line, out of context, has a sexual connotation. When I wrote it I never thought of it that way. I thought of it more like Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. I thought of it like the waves meeting the shore. They connect. But I guess people can be squeamish, and if you have that line in another context — outside of church — they probably wouldn’t have a problem with it. But I think God exists both inside and outside of church, and if worship only exists in your life within your church activities, then it’s not really worship. If you don’t realize that you’re bringing everything with you into worship, then you’re kidding yourself, because you do: The good, the bad, and the ugly. And that’s OK.

John Mark McMillan 2

Is worship music in evangelical culture too narrowly conceived? Is there any way you would change, or broaden, our understanding of worship?

Yeah, I do think it’s too narrowly conceived. I’m actually learning more and more now that I don’t have as good of an understanding of the church at large as I thought I did. I played “How He Loves” for five years and never had a single problem with the sloppy wet kiss thing, but now it’s become this huge debate. I think one of the problems is that there’s sort of a worship of correctness, where it’s like the correctness of the words supersedes the heart of the worshipper. Of course I don’t want to lead people in the wrong direction, but if you look at the songs in the Bible, you read where David is angry at the Lord and says “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus is quoting this psalm on the cross. What if I walked into a church conference and opened with a song called “Why Have You Forsaken Me?”

I think people have this worship of correctness, and I think they’ve come to equate tradition with godliness. Now I’m actually a fan of tradition. But what gets me is when tradition is equated with godliness. People might say, “Worship songs need to be simple.” Where in the Bible does it say they should be simple? And most hymns are not simple at all. People get into these mindsets, and it really frustrates me. I think a lot of it has to do with wanting to pacify people and keep them in a seat. And I don’t want to sound too negative about that, because I understand from helping my dad start churches that the church is built on people, and if you offend people you’ll have no one to talk to and help you grow. I want to help people grow — I want to give them steps and create a bridge for them to step out into something else.

People might not know that they’ve actually created associations of certain sounds and certain words they call “worship,” which isn’t true at all. They’re just sounds and words. With my dad — some of the music he used to listen to when he was younger, like Hendrix, he can’t really listen to today because it reminds him of what he was doing when he first heard it. For me, I listen to Hendrix and just really like the guitar tone. My dad hears it and wants to forget what was going on in his life when he first heard it. So I’m trying to create new associations — not just new songs but new associations of what worship can be.

Should worship songwriters write from a more personal place rather than immediately trying to universalize the song?

The way I write is almost always from a personal perspective. I’m not a very analytical writer, at least at the birth of a song. I’m more just trying to communicate an emotion or a feeling. I’m not trying to ask myself at that point if this is a song people might sing as worship. For me, I would write songs even if it wasn’t something I did for a living, because it’s just something I love to do.

Do you have any qualms about making money off of worship music? Is worship something that should be commercialized? Should it be an industry?

I think first of all, worship is an industry because it is something that is super valuable to people. And any time you put value on something, money can easily be attached to it. Anything you are doing requires some sort of resource. If something is important to you, it should receive a lot of those resourses. Like, we have the best athletes in the world and they get paid the most in the world, because they’re the most valuable to us. The hard part is that those resources that exist to help you serve people often become the goal. It’s like creating a machine to serve people, but then it becomes a monster and you have to keep feeding the monster in order to survive.

Should you make money from worship music? I think from a biblical perspective, yes. Paul says a minister deserves to make a living from preaching the gospel. He says the ox should be able to eat the grain while he plows. Not because you preach the gospel to make money, but because you have to have resources to be able to take care of your family. I think there is a lot of money out there, but most of the people doing what I do don’t make the kind of money people think they do. When I recorded my album, my wife and I had our kid on Medicare. The government paid for our baby because we were so poor. We scrimped and saved to make that album, and at the time we did it with no money incentive other than to break even. So yeah, I think it’s OK that people get money for this. They’re not being paid to worship; they’re being paid to serve worshippers. They’re being paid for a service. And I think that’s totally OK.

Share

Subscribe to Comments

Comments

  • joy November 5, 2010 at 4:52 PM

    Praise God for you!

  • Joey Faulk November 5, 2010 at 7:46 PM

    "So I’m trying to create new associations — not just new songs but new associations of what worship can be."

    Right on...that's such a struggle for some people in the church. Some may associate guitar with honkey tonk or rock and roll or something, and associate piano and organ with church.

    Making new associations...that's a hard bridge to build. Some won't ever cross it. At least we can try to help them make the connections. Thanks for the article.

  • Derrick November 6, 2010 at 12:55 AM

    Astounding article. Pretty much said all that I was thinking and more. Very much turned me on to take a look at the life of John Mark McMillan. Praise the Lord for such a simple soul.

  • Donna November 6, 2010 at 5:02 AM

    I really enjoyed reading this article! Thank you. Haven't heard the song yet but will take a listen. A lot of insight and I like the focus on resources at the end. I recall conversations about what's more important the land or the resources. If we are "the land" our bodies, what we do, or perhaps the "church" etc. and "the resources" our worship, our giving, our lives... etc. or new associations.... There is a relationship between the two that feeds the other... communicating with God & with each other. I like this mag. I want to read more into this... definitely Thanks... : )

  • Irene Smith November 6, 2010 at 7:45 AM

    The first time I heard How He Loves was at the funeral of a young woman in my church that loved Jesus with all her heart. Hannah died at 17. That song has had continuing impact on my life as I consider that God loves us with such passion. I think that the phrase sloppy wet kiss is perfectly placed because to me it paints a picture of how much joy God has in His love for us. This song is a love song not just from Him to us but from us to Him.

  • Andy White November 6, 2010 at 8:36 AM

    There are many perspectives on this. We have discussed this thoroughly with youth, adults etc. The "sloppy wet kiss" in the writers mind is very artistic, "waves hitting the shore" but he distances himself seemingly will fully from the passion and pure lust that is evoked in a sloppy wet kiss between two very real, very hormone filled humans. Neither the beach nor the ocean are taught by Jesus to resist temptation, that even to look with lust is sinful. It seems than anything emotional is now termed Worship. But Worship is to love God in His self described Holiness, for who He is, and from the heart that He calls us to be. I'm not saying there is no relevance to the writers perspective, nor that there is ill intent, but very importantly that this issue can effect especially younger Christians in their developing perspectives of God and this one could really cause confusion and a warped sense departing from God's Holy Word and Will.

  • Donna K November 6, 2010 at 9:52 AM

    I agree with Irene and the sloppy wet kiss! How many times have we as parents given one to our children and those raspberries on their tummies that made them laugh uncontrollaby! Yes to helping people make sense of that and know that ! Agreeing with Andy that it is something to address with our youth and guiding them with the truth and not to avoid the discussion! When we look the other way, that's when we should be concerned! Well said by both of you!

  • Donald P Shell November 6, 2010 at 12:19 PM

    I first heard How He Loves Us on KLove covered by David Crowder Band. I cried when I heard how David Crowder cried, and then I heard the song and cried some more. I,m tearing up as I wright this, thinking back on it. Um... I didn't even wright it out as usual I just learned it by heart and still haven't arranged it for Church. I played it all summer in my park ministry. The Church Lady didn't seem interested so I didn't pursue it. I didn't even know about "The Wet Sloppy Kiss" part until they played it at my Saturday night Rock and roll church. I love this article and agree with probably every point John Mark McMillan made. May God bless and keep him and his family. In the name above all names Jesus Christ.

  • Jessica November 6, 2010 at 1:28 PM

    I work at a summer camp and this past summer this song kind of became one of our theme songs. Every camper and staff member loved it and we were all completely blown away by it the first time our worship leaders sang it with us in chapel. For us, the sloppy wet kiss part wasn't something that anyone took in the wrong way. Every time I hear this song I just think of a little child seeing their mom or dad for the first time after a really hard day and giving them the biggest kiss ever. It’s not something our campers ever thought of sexually either. We need to trust that our kids are capable of looking at God just like they looked at their daddy when they were little knowing they can run to him with anything and He’ll love whatever kind of kiss they give Him and always asks for another.

  • Ron Moore November 6, 2010 at 1:37 PM

    i am a contemporary singer/songwriter, and appreciate contemporary music. John Mark is to be congratulated here for his new work.
    When it comes to Worship, i would encourage any Christian to hear and experience the worship of the Early Christian Church which is still practiced every Sunday morning in Orthodox churches. They are still doing the liturgy from the year 500 A.D. There was only ONE body of Christianity for the first thousand years after Pentecost, and this is how they did and still do worship all over the world. Icons of Christ, the disciples, heroes/martyrs of the faith, stories from the Bible all over the walls. Incense like in the Temple. Gospel, Epistle and Communion every Sunday. (Communion is for Orthodox who have fasted and prepared. Blessed bread is given to anyone). There is a reverence that we rock and folk singers only come close to. This liturgy is 119 quotes from the New Testament, 97 from the Old. Music is acapella. Check to see if the service is in English (Orthodox Church of America and Antiochian Orthodox Churches are usually in English). Taste and see the richness of the faith as practiced from the beginning.
    Love in Christ
    Ron Moore

  • Diana VanLoon November 6, 2010 at 2:05 PM

    My daughter attended Morningstar and brought the cd home August 08. We drove from PA to TX with all our kids in a 15 passenger van, blasting How He Loves Us on repeat...love the rest of the album too..it was quite a trip.

  • S.L. November 6, 2010 at 10:08 PM

    One of my best friends introduced me to John Mark's music about two years ago -- and boy am I glad that happened! It's nice to get a different perspective on things like this, and his perspective was a very new one to me at that time.

    A new video of JMM talking about the story behind How He Loves was released with his re-released album. You have to pay for the video, but it's only a small price and it's definitely worth it. To see that he's still so affected by his friend and the message of this song after all these years is really something...

  • Pastor Doug November 9, 2010 at 9:51 AM

    Andy, just wanted to respond to your thoughts on "sloppy wet kiss"... I think what most people tend to miss is that the lyric itself says, "When HEAVEN meets EARTH, like a sloppy wet kiss..."

    It is imagery, not of 2 people (especially not God giving a sloppy wet kiss) of messy, over the top, extravagance which is not uncommon, as JMM said, with God...

    Psalm 23: He annoints my head with oil (cf. Ps 133:2), my cup OVERFLOWS...

    In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, it could actually be called the Prodigal Father... do you know what the word Prodigal means? Most people think it means "wayward" or something like it, but in actuality it means "extravagant" (extreme, unrestrained, excessive...)

    How about Psalm 2:12, "Kiss the Son..."? What do you do with that imagery in God's holy Word?

    Yes the Holiness of God is important, but equally important is the love and intimacy of God...

    I'm convinced after decades of Youth and College-age ministry is one of the main reasons we lose young adults (90% of them walk away from the church after high school; less than 1% of them are reached in college by church and para-church ministries), is because we (the Church universal) have focused so much on God's Holiness and become legalistic and fearful of sin, that it has driven our youth and young adults out of the church, because they come under such condemation and shame.

    We have not introduced them to a loving God, Who loves them in spite of their sin, who will love them out of their sin.

    This song has been doing just that, all over the world... drawing people back into the love relationship that God desires, not the "slave" relationship of serving Him and not the relationship that lives in "fear" of failing him

    Bravo JMM! Bravo!

  • Ted Adams November 9, 2010 at 10:10 AM

    I go to a contemporary church in Lubbock, Texas and I praise as loud as I can about the sloppy wet kiss part. I don't even flinch at that part. My Mom and Dad were both very affectionate and gave wet kisses all the time. My father was murdered in 1991 and my Mom was killed in an accident 4 years ago. What I would not give for a big ol sloppy wet kiss form them right now!! Your song touches me in a way that I could never fully describe to you. Thank God for those, including Jesus, that believe in such an affectionate and loving God that He is not afraid to give us all the SLOPPY WET KISSES even when we probably do not deserve it.

  • Mark November 9, 2010 at 10:25 AM

    I want to commend John Mark on the wisdom he shows - particularly on the purpose for worship music and worship leaders. I am fortunate to be able to lead worship and have a full time job that pays me well - so I won't take money for my leading. But for the vast majority of our worship leaders, this is not the case. We, the church need to support humble, loving worship leaders in the gift to speak to the heart of God - through salaries, buying music, and any other Biblical way.
    As for the words of "How He Loves", I can see both sides, but my problem with all of it is the discussion misses the point. The song points out so well that God loves us - in the clean times, the messy times, the happy times, the sad times, etc. Perhaps some can find offense in these words out of context of the song, but the focus should be on God not a piece of lyric. Satan celebrates when we nitpick each other.
    John Mark, keep your heart focused like it has been and may God bless you!

  • Jim November 9, 2010 at 11:13 AM

    I really really hate this song. It's not because I don't love Jesus, it's because when the group I used to worship with sings it, they sing "he loves us, oh how he loves us...." over and over and over and over again. I got tired of it. Then people noticed I wasn't dancing (not my way of expressing myself to begin with) and approached me, questioning my faith, telling me the devil was getting into me, etc. I've never been so judged by a group of "christians" before. That is what this song means to me. It represents "christians" having worship contests with each other, and getting onto those who don't live up to their own personal standard of worship. It symbolizes everything that is wrong in the church to me, it makes me angry at them, and I, for one, never, ever, want to hear this song again.

  • Gina November 9, 2010 at 12:13 PM

    This comment is to Jim. I don't know where you went to church to worship at but you were at the wrong place. No one should be telling anybody else how to worship the Lord. Yes, we should flow somewhat with others that are moving in the Spirit, but dancing in the Spirit is something that should be a person's own personal choice, IF the church you attend moves in that way. One the other hand, if one chooses to worship the Lord quietly in this atmosphere and decides not to draw attention to himself, he should FREELY have that option. You're right. You were judged. It's a good thing you left that church. Not every group of people in every church will condem a person in the way it happened to you. Don't give up on God, don't give up on other christians, just find another church to worship with and you just might feel a breath of fresh air, even when you hear that song again! And just to add a note, I do agree that sometimes worship leaders take a song for worship and draw it out sooooo looooonnnggg that it becomes monotonous and therefore, loses its intended flavorful purpose. Nuf said.

  • Jeremy Taylor November 9, 2010 at 1:49 PM

    What follows is from D.A. Carson's, "Worship by the Book:

    “In an age increasingly suspicious of (linear) thought, there is much more respect for the “feelings” of things - whether a film or a church service. It is disturbingly easy to plot surveys of people, especially young people, drifting from a church of excellent preaching and teaching to one with excellent music because, it is alleged, there is “better worship” there. But we need to think carefully about this matter. Let us restrict ourselves for the moment to corporate worship. Although there are things that can be done to enhance corporate worship, there is a profound sense in which excellent worship cannot be attained merely by pursuing excellent worship. In the same way that, according to Jesus, you cannot find yourself until you lose yourself, so also you cannot find excellent corporate worship until you stop trying to find excellent corporate worship and pursue God himself. Despite the protestations, one sometimes wonders if we are beginning to worship worship rather than worship God. As a brother put it to me, it’s a bit like those who begin by admiring the sunset and soon begin to admire themselves admiring the sunset.

    This point is acknowledged in a praise chorus like “Let’s forget about ourselves, and magnify the Lord, and worship him.” The trouble is that after you have sung this repetitious chorus three of four times, you are no farther ahead. The way you forget about yourself is by focusing on God - not by singing about doing it, but by doing it. There are far too choruses and services and sermons that expand our vision of God - his attributes, his works, his character, his words. Some think that corporate worship is good because it is lively where it had been dull. But it may also be shallow where it is lively, leaving people dissatisfied and restless in a few months’ time. Sheep lie down when they are well fed (cf. Psalm 23:2); they are more likely to be restless when they are hungry. “Feed my sheep,” Jesus commanded Peter (John 21); and many sheep are unfed. If you wish to deepen the worship of the people of God, above all deepen their grasp of his ineffable majesty in his person and in all his works.

    We do not expect the garage mechanic to expatiate on the wonders of his tools we expect him to fix the car. He must know how to use his tools, but he must not lose sight of the goal. So we dare not focus on the mechanics of corporate worship and lose sight of the goal. We focus on God himself, and thus we become more godly and learn to worship - and collaterally we learn to edify one another, forbear with one another, challenge one another.”

    What really jumped out at me was “worshipping worship.” Wow. I have to wonder, do I ever admire myself admiring the sunset? Carson has given me much to think about.

  • Will Rieske November 9, 2010 at 1:50 PM

    To Pastor Doug:
    "Prodigal" in the Prodigal Son story is more like "recklessly wasteful." But that's what Judas said about Mary's extravagant worship, so I don't know. I tend to identify with Judas in that passage, because I don't really understand it yet.
    It's funny how you're talking about a relationship with God not based on slavery or fear (which are both mentioned as good in the Bible, although under specifications), but reading the rest of Psalm 2:12 doesn't really make sense with this sighing, romantic picture of Jesus. "Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him."
    About college students leaving the church: maybe some of the young guys would stay if we didn't have songs including sloppy wet kisses. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSrZVF3FEUQ
    But I don't know, my aversion to that line is probably irrational. I feel like an old person.

  • Gina Palmer November 9, 2010 at 3:11 PM

    Perhaps some of you have not read Hosea. "Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor (trouble) a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt. In that day," declares the Lord, "you will call me 'my husband'; you will not longer call me 'my master'." (Hosea 2:14-16). The New Testament refers to the church as the bride of Christ. I, for one, think that sloppy wet kisses are quite appropriate for a bride!

  • Jeremy November 9, 2010 at 3:21 PM

    I clicked a link from facebook to get to this article so I am certain that non-believers and believers alike are reading these comments. Having said that, Its very difficult for me to read about a true worshiper that seeks God with no restraints, and then to see Christians go back and forth over something as trivial as "sloppy wet kiss?" Seriously? Here's something to talk about, he is the worship leader of a small church with his dad that he doesn't even promote as his church to boost membership! He also did his earlier album with just enough money to break even! I myself plays keys for a very well known band that most of you have heard of, so I know first hand about the sacrifices that come with creating an album and the time and money that is involved! His selfless actions reveal his character as far as I'm concerned. Instead of the "controversial" sloppy wet kiss line lets talk about the "if grace is an ocean we're all sinking" line or "I don't have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way he loves us!" These are the lines we should be dissecting with youth groups and embracing as adults and leaders. Unhindered worship is not a concept to examine, its a lifestyle that we should be demonstrating as we seek God in front of them. Don't labor under the delusion that "baby Christians" are going to somehow be confused by the idea of a loving father. The confusion comes from leaders trying to make sense of a relationship that they don't understand or do not have themselves. God is our father and he loves us unconditionally. Our power as believers comes in our ability to "touch and agree!" So lets agree that this is a powerful song that has allowed many to articulate through melodic poetry their hearts cry to their heavenly father. If your a non-believer I encourage you to seek God for yourself. He wants you to come WITH your brokenness so he can mend, damaged so he can repair, and unloved so that he can love you... because our God is Love <3

  • valerie neriah November 9, 2010 at 5:19 PM

    i totally get what he is saying...i've gotten some pretty weird looks when i tell people that Jesus is not only my saviour but my lover...of course I don't mean in some perveted sexual sense but as in "the bride of Christ". He is my consuming passion, my great obsession,and in his embrace is all my joy...Worship is all of me loving all of him all the time...

  • Dan November 17, 2010 at 8:39 AM

    I think this song, while well-intentioned, is terrible. The "sloppy wet kiss" line is atrocious, and other lines are nearly as bad. Someone above mentioned the line "if grace is an ocean we're all sinking." No, we're not sinking in grace -- it's grace that saves us from the ocean of sin. The metaphor is wrong. "He is a hurricane..." God is a hurricane? Really? Luke 8 says "He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him." So how do we reduce God to being a hurricane? It's another terrible metaphor -- one of many in this song of bad poetry. Just because the song was conceived in a period of grief and angst doesn't make it good (or theologically correct). Emotion-laden lyrics are not enough. Are we willing to accept these kinds of lyrics as an appropriate offering to the Holy God? I hope not.

  • tim November 19, 2010 at 9:58 PM

    hey Dan have you ever read Song of Solomon? or how about Psalm 137?

  • Dan November 22, 2010 at 5:58 AM

    Tim, yes, I've read Song of Solomon and Psalm 137. What does that have to do with bad metaphors?

  • Adrian December 8, 2010 at 12:54 AM

    Dan, I don't really see your point. And in retort to your counter to Tim, I say, what do bad metaphors have to do with worshiping God? I worship God with all of me, even the worst of poetry that I've spewed forth, and especially the misled ideas of who Christ even is.

    You're totally missing the point, I think, that God is bigger than anything we'll ever give Him, and it's okay that our offerings aren't perfect; they never will be. What matters is we do give our all, including the unfavorable metaphors or incorrect theology (which, by the way, I disagree with you on, but that is neither here nor there).

    If it truly mattered how good our worship was, we'd all be sca-REWED.

  • Dan December 20, 2010 at 1:02 PM

    Adrian, I agree – our offerings will not be perfect. You say "what matters is [that] we do give our all…” I agree, and that was my point (that you said you didn’t see). Then in your next statement you completely contradict yourself by implying that it's all right to offer God “unfavorable (sic) metaphors or incorrect theology.” Really? How is that giving Him our all? You ask what bad metaphors have to do with worshipping God. A lot. Our worship should not be slopped together. (Sorry – for some reason I have sloppy on my mind!) Like you, I have written poetry to God that was pretty bad. So I take a closer look and sometimes decide that certain lyrics are not well-written and should never see the light of day. I want to give God the best I can give. That’s where “How He Loves” does not measure up. The tune is fine, with a singable melody and 6/8 time signature that gives it a nice sea chanty feel. The theme, that God’s love is transcendent even when we don’t understand, is a powerful one. But the metaphors (and some of the theology) fall woefully short. Our current culture tells us that the only thing that's important is how we feel. That's a lie. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, MIND and strength. We should always strive to offer Him our best – and that includes making thoughtful music and poetry.

    (Note: I apologize for misquoting some lyrics. In trying to recall the song off the top of my head, I said “He is a hurricane” instead of “loves like a hurricane.” It’s still an inappropriate metaphor – there is no way the love of God is like a terrible, destructive, life-taking storm. That’s just wrong.)

  • Adrian December 27, 2010 at 1:02 AM

    Well Dan, I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. Sometimes our worst works are our best at the time. Yes, we should strive to give our all, but that includes the not-so-great stuff. I reiterate that our offerings are not perfect and never will be. What matters is that we ARE offering to God what we have.

    This man experienced brokenness and mourning during a valley in his life. He took his experiences, did what he could do best, which was this song, supposedly bad metaphors and all, and gave it to Christ. What's beautiful about grace is that God turned what you may see as a distasteful and inaccurate representation of Him into something beautiful for His people to utilize in worship.

    If I don't sing well, but I like to sing, God is honored when I sing to him. You may think I sound like a bag of poop hitting a wall, but to God's ears, my notes are pitch perfect, the melody is a sweet sound, and my voice brings tears of joy to His eyes. The same goes for writing. If you don't think the lyrics are the best, that's fine, but I'll be more than willing to bet that God in all His glory sees it as a masterpiece.

    Some of the best things we can offer are the simplest, not woefully thought-over prose and metaphor that's been revised a million times. Would a loving father critique his child's art with such harsh words as you have? I think not. Rather than claiming that it's not good enough, which is a claim we all know to be true, why not appreciate a brother's heart put into song? You don't have to like it or even listen to it. Respect it as an offering to Christ, just as Christ respected the widow's mite.

  • David March 3, 2011 at 11:24 AM

    I know I'm late to the discussion but oh well...

    Dan, perhaps you would prefer the metaphor of consuming fire? Or all the war imagery and military metaphors in the NT. The Bible as a sword perhaps...

    You are over thinking this. Imagery in poetry is determined by the writer, not the reader and this is true in biblical poetry as well. You are welcome to get hung up on what you think a hurricane symbolizes, but you will miss the point. I suspect you will have a difficult time navigating the Song of Solomon.

  • Arien July 5, 2013 at 11:49 AM

    I think bad metaphors can tend to distract people from worshipping. Every time the sloppy wet kiss line is sung in our church, my mom, brother and I look at each other and burst out laughing.

  • Carol July 31, 2013 at 9:43 AM

    I agree with Arien, and my reasoning is the same as Dan's. We sang this song at church. When the hurricane metaphor was introduced, my husband and I looked at each other in surprise.

    It's kind of like I was being asked to stir up emotions in me, instead of being stirred by truth. That's just an opinion, and others' mileage will vary, I'm sure. I'm not at all judging the heart of the one who wrote it, nor of those who love to sing it.

    My husband later on said it was kind of like singing, "You're love is like a tornado that ripped through Moore, Oklahoma." I think that kind of hit the nail on the head for me as to why I found the song so awkwardly hard to sing in church.



  • Monica August 20, 2013 at 11:55 AM

    I agree with Dan (and Carol and others) that some metaphors in this song are bad and make it difficult to use as an instrument to worship God. When I sing worship songs, I want to sing every word of the song to God as I worship him, not just saying the words because they're on the screen but singing them directly to God. "Loves like a hurricane I am a tree bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy." Where is God's mercy ever described as something like a hurricane bending a tree over? God's mercy is an unbelievable gift, lifting an unbearable weight off of our shoulders, not bending us over violently. I must admit I am in no way creative and usually struggle with poetry, so maybe I'm just missing something? Maybe those of us who are more "linear" thinkers just aren't getting the imagery? I just don't find it to be glorifying to God. The exact same thing can be said of the "If his grace is an ocean, we're all sinking" line. We're drowning in God's grace? I'm sure that's not what the author meant by the lyric, but when I read it that's exactly what it says and I have a hard time getting around that.

    Like I said, maybe this song is better understood by "creative" thinkers, but if that's the case I think it's best to be used sparingly in the corporate worship setting since the imagery is, at best, confusing for many of us. The most obvious understanding of what he wrote is that being loved by God is like a tree being bent over by hurricane-force winds, and God's grace is akin to drowning. I am certain that's not what the intended imagery was, and you can defend and give poetic explanations for the lyric, but I don't think there's any getting around the plainest understanding of what was written, which makes it very hard for someone like myself to sing with gusto to the Lord during a worship service. Just my two cents :)

  • Debbie March 8, 2014 at 4:03 PM

    I don't find any controversy about the 'sloppy wet kiss'. It is purely a nonsensical lyric and does not tie in with the surrounding lyrics to mean anything at all. It's simply disgusting at worst and laughable because it indicates very limited ability to use metaphors in a positive way.

  • dmdutcher April 9, 2014 at 8:33 AM

    My grandmother gives me sloppy wet kisses. I didn't like them then, and I don't think i'd like it if God slobbered over me too.

Post a comment

Your email will not be published as part of your comment.

Issue Highlights

Back to Fall 2010 Home

Biola University
13800 Biola Ave. La Mirada, CA 90639
1-562-903-6000