When I was in elementary school, it was common practice to proclaim your affections for a girl by passing her the customary note of intent. This note was quite simple in content. It was a question: "Will you be my girlfriend? Check YES or NO." This method was simple and to the point. I witnessed many moments of joy when the answer was YES...and I saw the gloomy response to rejection when she checked NO.
For the record, I witnessed all of this secondhand...basically because I was shy and never got the courage up to write one of these notes! I can also tell you that after nearly ten years of marriage to my amazing wife, I have no regrets about being a chicken in grade school! I can assure you that it all worked out!
Anyway, I have been thinking about how we relate to God lately and I see some similarities between us and these schoolyard lovebirds. I remember watching fellow third and fourth graders refer to each other as boyfriend & girlfriend. This was a big deal! This was a way to be labeled or titled among your peers. You had somebody who claimed you as their own...and that was a good feeling! However, most of these romances were very limited. Many of these "couples" only saw each other once a day on the playground. I remember some that referred to each other as "going out" that NEVER actually hung out at all! Their relationship was just a way of being identified. In all honesty, there really was not much of a relationship at all.
You can probably see where I am going with this. Many people in our churches today are quick to identify themselves as being in a relationship with Jesus. However, many of these "relationships" are not very deep or healthy. Imagine trying to date someone but you never spend any time with them. Think of it this way: What if you spent the same amount of time with your special someone as you do with Jesus? For many American Christians, this boils down to an hour or two on Sunday and maybe another hour on Wednesday. I can tell you this. If I only interacted with my wife for that amount of time each week, our relationship would be in serious trouble!
Your walk with the Lord is a relationship. It is so much more that checking YES on your note from God...or repeating a prayer so you will be identified as a Christian who will go to Heaven some day. It is a real relationship that, just like any other, will grow deeper and sweeter with each moment you spend together! When I am traveling and have to be away from my wife and kids for any amount of time, I begin to miss them like crazy. Last summer, while in Nicaragua on a mission trip, I even found myself talking to pictures of them on my phone! I missed being with them...I missed that fellowship! It should be no different when it comes to your relationship with Jesus. As you grow in your daily walk with Him, you will crave that time with Him and miss spending time with Him when you haven't done it.
So...How do we get to this point in our relationship with the Lord? James 4:8 says, "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you..." If you want to know God in a deeper way, you must spend more time with Him. This is primarily done through reading the Bible (His Word to us) and through prayer. Prayer is basically having an honest conversation with God. The Bible tells us to seek Him out and He will make Himself known to us. He loves you and He created you to have a relationship with Him. Will you draw near to Him today?
If you have any questions about any of this, please feel free to contact me through this site or by finding me on Twitter: @thenealhartley
Well here we are... With just over a week until Christmas, I wanted to take a moment and reflect on what this time of year means to me.
I love Christmas! I love the lights, the food, the gathering of friends & family, and I love the music! Some of my fondest childhood memories come flowing back to mind when I hear songs like "O Holy Night" or "Go Tell It On The Mountain." I also enjoy getting to introduce NEW Christmas music into the mix. This year, I wrote a new song called "Let Us Come, Let Us Go" that I will be singing at various events and I just released a fun new single called, "Baby It's Christmas!" for download on iTunes. I am humbled by the sweet response to these new tunes from many of you!
Christmas music is a big deal in the Hartley house. Amy and I have to try hard to hold back from playing holiday tunes too early! It is especially fun getting to teach these epic songs to our children...and hearing them humming them in the hallway at random times!
I loved Christmas as a child but I REALLY love celebrating it as a husband and father! It is such an awesome honor to sit down with our kids and tell them of the true story of the Messiah coming to earth as a baby many years ago to save us from our sin. I wouldn't trade this for anything!!
The Christmas season can be bittersweet. It is a time of reflection on the past year and it is a time of remembering those loved ones who have passed on. For some, this is a happy time. For others, it is a struggle to make it through to January. Regardless of where you are in all of this, let me offer some encouragement. Christmas is a time of hope. This is because Christmas is all about Jesus. He came so that we could have an undeserved gift of eternal salvation. This is a gift that no one can ever take away from us! If you build your Christmas around people or things, you will be disappointed! If you build your Christmas around Christ, you will experience His hope that lasts long after December. My prayer is that you all can know the Savior personally in this way!
God Bless & Merry Christmas from Neal, Amy, Will, Addie, and Baby Nate!
I am especially proud of the origin of this song. As you may or may not know, I have spent most of the last seven years serving on staff at various churches working with teenagers and college students. My ministry in the local church has never been a separated area from my music. "Who You Are" is a great example of this.
In June of 2010, I took a group of students and adults to Birmingham, Alabama for a week of mission work at an M-Fuge student camp. Early on in the week, I encouraged my group to write down what God was showing them each day and I would take these thoughts and put them in a song. Each night, I would recieve little slips of paper with various thoughts, verses, and phrases. Some people actually wrote rhyming lyrics and poetry. It blew me away to be reminded of how big and creative our God is. Each idea submitted was unique to that person and completely different from the others.
At first, I was overwhelmed with the task of making all of these individual parts come together in one song. In fact, it seemed impossible to do so. And that was when it hit me...that this was the point. God reminded me that He knows each of us intimately and is moving in each of our lives personally. From this thought came the idea for the chorus that is repeated over and over throughout this song..."Who You are is making me who I am." My identity is tied up in who God is in me. I am literally defined by Who He is! I am not just a number to Him. Instead I am His child...fearfully and wonderfully made for His pleasure.
Even though the individual written responses were different for all thirty-something of us, we all could identify with this truth. We are who we are...because of who He is.
A few days, after returning from camp, I wrote this song using as much of their material as possible in the verses. It is basically a list of who God is in our lives: Healer, Forgiver, Savior, Friend... All of this was ultimately tied together with the "who You are/who I am" theme.
Within a few weeks of returning from camp, I was joined onstage by my youth group to share this song with our church. It was a very cool thing!
- written on July 8th 2010
- features a killer guitar solo by the legendary Will McFarlane (http://www.willmcfarlane.com/bio.html)
- written with the help & support of the ONEWAY Student Ministry of Central Baptist Church in Henderson, NC
This song has a history for sure. It was actually one of the first couple of songs I ever wrote. In fact, there was a version of it completed back in 1999 when I recorded my first demo of original stuff. If you go back and listen to that version of the song, you would probably agree with me that something was missing. Looking back, I think the missing element was "experiencing life."
I was around 18 when I began writing this song and I wound up completing it over 10 years later. Over that period of time, so much happened. I went to college, worked student camps, got married, had kids, worked on staff at churches, and went through all kinds of joys and sorrows that come with the ups and downs of life. It was after years of just living life that I was able to really complete this song...and actually begin to understand the message within it better.
The whole idea behind "Though I Can't See" is that God is here among us moving and working in our lives even when it feels like He is light years away. We have to learn to trust that He is here and that His ways are always better than our own. We come to a point where we echo the line that says, "I'll trust Your heart...and not my eyes." It is surely a step of faith that always pays off when we put everything in His hands.
At the time of this writing I am nearing my 32nd birthday and I can say that this song is true for my life over the last decade. It is my prayer that I will live these lyrics as I continue on the journey that He has placed before me.
- Began writing this as a teenager in the late 90's...completed it over 10 years later.
- Features the vocal talent of my sister, Audra Hartley (who also sings on "Be Near Me.")
- Came close to including it on my first album, "Lead On..." but felt it still lacked something.
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I started working on this song around the time I moved to North Carolina for seminary. I initially came up with the first line and got stuck after that. Typically, my songwriting process starts with the lyrics. I keep spiral notebooks all over the place where I jot down song ideas and work through the writing process over time. This particular song kept coming back to me from time to time and there are fragments of it in various notebooks. About 6 years passed between when I started this song and when I finished it. In fact, I literally completed it within days of recording it.
The song is all about the Gospel. The chorus echoes what Jesus proclaims in John 14:6 when He says, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (ESV) The Bible says that it all comes down to Jesus.
When I started writing this song, I was wrestling with how to respond to those people that call Jesus' claim to be the "only way" as being offensive or narrow-minded. These people ask, "How can you Christians claim that your way is the only right way?" Ultimately, whether it offends or not, the truth is that we point to what Jesus says in scripture.
As far as being offensive...I think it all comes down to how you look at it. If my life or my eternity was truly in danger, I would want to know it. I would rather be offended or made uncomfortable than to believe a lie and perish. I like the analogy of a burning building: If you were in a crowded building, like a shopping mall or a school and it were to catch fire, you would want to get out rather than burn up. Imagine that you are in that fiery situation and someone starts yelling, "all of the exits are blocked but one...and I know how to get us there." Are you going to be offended by the fact that there is only ONE WAY out of the building? I don't think so. You are going to get to that exit no matter how hard it may be! It is not offensive to you at the time because it is your key to freedom and life.
The claims of Jesus will be offensive to you if your religion, tradition, or belief system tells you otherwise. But if you were wrong, wouldn't you want to know? If you were putting your hope in a lie, wouldn't you want to know the truth? I would rather be offended now than suffer for eternity! This is the message of this song. Jesus is THE WAY.
- Writtten over a span of 6 years...completed in November of 2011
- Although it was the last song to be written on the EP, it wound up being the title track
- Originally, I intended for there to be 2 other songs set to this tune to go with it called "The Truth" & "The Life."
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BE NEAR ME:
- I wrote this song back in my college days around the time I wrote the material for the "Lead On" album. I recall walking around Jones Lake at Brewton-Parker College in Mount Vernon, Georgia...as these lyrics began to roll through my mind. I think it started out as a response to the recent 9-11-01 terrorist attacks.
I have always seen this song as "My Hymn." It is a prayer that I need to pray daily to remind myself of my need for the Lord. Over the years, I have seen the truth in the words of this song displayed all around me. In 2005, Amy and I were living in Mobile, Alabama when Hurricane Katrina unleashed her fury on the Gulf Coast. We had just spent the summer in Chicago doing a youth camp and were getting ready to return to the Gulf when the storm hit. After the hurricane hit, we were not able to return home for a few months. In that time of waiting, I believe God called me to seminary. In a weird way, God used a bad situation like a devastating hurricane to change my course and use me in a new way.
We all face storms in life. It is just part of it. I mean...Jesus actually guaranteed we would go through trials. In John 16:33, He says that in this life here on earth, "we WILL have trouble." Fortunately, He goes on to say that He has conquered this earth and He will be with us wherever we go! He truly is my shelter through the storms of life...and He will be for you also wherever your life may lead.
So...what should our response be? In "Be Near Me," I proclaim, "that I will praise You forever...and follow You all of my days." That is my hopeful declaration to the Lord. No matter what happens or what storms come through...I want to give God the praise and glory He alone is worthy of. It is a thankful response to the One who will always be near to those He loves!
- I wrote this song sometime around 2001-2002
- Initially, I didn't think this song was good enough to include on a recording. Hence the reason why it didn't make the cut on "Lead On." However, this has always been my wife's favorite song of mine...and she insisted I start playing it when I sang places. Low and behold, this has become a constant favorite with people all over...and it proved that I should always listen to the wisdom of my wife!
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As a songwriter, I have always been fascinated over how certain songs came to be. Whenever I hear about the origin of a song, it makes me listen to it in a deeper way. I am able to connect with the artist on a greater level.
So...over the next few days, I will be sharing the stories behind the songs featured on my new EP "The Way." It is my hope and prayer that these stories and insights will be a blessing to you!
- This song began with the phrase I sing in the bridge: "Why do I run from the One who loves me?" That idea alone stops me in my tracks all the time. It seems so silly how we do this. As a dad, I see this played out in a very real way. I can't tell you how many times I have been somewhere like a crowded theme park or near a busy highway and noticed that my son was wandering away from us...into danger. Of course, I would call out for him to come back our way...and what did he do? He took off toward the danger! In the midst of his little rebellion, he has no clue about the danger surrounding him. In fact, in his mind he sees me as a threat to his plans. We do this with God all of the time!
We are all runaways... We set out to prove that we can do it all by ourselves...and wind up proving how hopeless and pitiful we are without God. Over the course of my life, I have learned this lesson and re-learned this lesson many many times! Fortunately, I have a patient Father in Heaven!
- I wrote this song in 2011
- I remember writing out these lyrics in the youth building of Central Baptist Church using a pool table as my writing surface.
- My son knows the words of this song better than I do!
DOWNLOAD IT TODAY...
In the last few months, I have been reading various books and articles on "Youth Ministry" and "Youth Culture." A startling theme found in all of these sources has to do with what happens when teens graduate from high school, move on from the youth group, and move away to college or a career. Recent surveys have found there to be a huge drop-off of students who leave home...and leave the church.
When "church" kids were surveyed by organizations like NSYR or National Study of Youth and Religion, (www.youthandreligion.org/research ), the findings showed that students were quite talkative about all kinds of areas of their lives...except their faith. When it came down to explaining what they believed as followers of Christ, they were largely silent. This means that one of two things is happening. Either these students are not really believers...or...they are believers in Christ who cannot articulate what that means!
As someone who has been primarily responsible for 7th-12th graders in a pastoral role for over 6 years, I take this to heart and wonder what part the church...and student ministry have played in these statistics. Obviously, there is a disconnect somewhere. So I ask, "What can we do to combat these things and encourage real growth and maturity in the lives of our students?"
Personally, I think it is important to go back and help our students "reconstruct" their testimonies. Right now, I am leading my group through this process. My hope is that, along the way, some students will be strengthened in knowing/expressing what they believe God has done for them in their lives. At the same time, maybe some students will realize that they don't have a testimony because they have never really connected with the saving work of Christ...and they will respond to His call.
Our new series on building your testimony is called, "Who Are You?" Below, I have listed the basic outline topics. In coming days, I hope to expand on each of these to provide a resource that others can use...
Part One: I SIN (acknowledging that all have sinned and realize how God view this)
Part Two: I REPENT ( I must turn FROM my sin and turn TO God)
Part Three: I BELIEVE (understanding what Christ did for me...as well as being familiar with Christian doctrine)
Part Four: I CHANGE (transformed by God in my life - Regeneration)
Part Five: I GROW (the process of Sanctification & Glorification in the life of a Christian)
Part Six: I GO ( the Commission and Calling for ALL believers to share Christ with the world around us)