Mike Donehey: "He is before, behind, and all around. Over. Underneath. Inside. In between. We need to live big for God. That’s what the song is about."
Rarely has a new band delivered an album with more emotional punch than Tenth Avenue North’s 2008 debut Over and Underneath. Musically inventive and lyrically compelling, the collection helped earn the band the New Artist of the Year accolade at the 2009 Dove Awards and placed them in headliner status on its fall tour. Needless to say its 2010 follow up album was one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year. With one listen to The Light Meets The Dark it is obvious Mike Donehey, Jeff Owen and Jason Jamison are taking a bold step forward on their musical journey. Once again the songs are poignant and powerful, and in recording the new tunes, the band brings a more seasoned level of musicianship and intensity, honed from relentless touring.
“It’s been kind of crazy I guess when you think about it,” Donehey says with a smile. “In a lot of ways, we don’t feel like anything has changed. When we get up on a stage, more people are there to see us play and more people are familiar with the songs, but the objective really hasn’t changed. The objective is for people to encounter truth and be changed.”
Tenth Avenue North meets that objective head on with the music on The Light Meets the Dark. “I’ve sort of stepped back and looked at this group of songs and really I feel like it’s a continuation of this last album,” Donehey says. “I’m not trying to blow people’s minds. I’m trying to take them to the next step. Over and Underneath is a call for the gospel. This next record is more like ‘Okay, now if you believe that, let people see how messed up you are. Are you ready to confess? Are you ready to have all your masks taken away?”
I got the great opportunity to interview Mike Donehey in-person at Creation Northeast about their hit single “You Are More.” Here are the answers to the questions I asked Mike.
Please tell me the personal story behind writing this song.
Maybe this song won’t be a revolutionary thought for you, but it has been for me. Probably for the last two years or so, this is the thing I have felt that God has been teaching me. Or should I say, the thing that He has been beating me over the head with. Truth is a person. Jesus says in John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by me.” The Gospel started as Good News. It has been passed on that Martin Luther used to preach the same sermon week after week to his congregation and when they asked him why he preached the Gospel every week, he answered, “because you forget it each week.” The Church needs to believe the Gospel. The “choices we make don’t reflect who we are.” Do you remember the scene in Batman Begins when Batman is standing by a window and Katie Holmes is looking at him and she asks him, “Who are you?” Do you remember what he says? With that icy blue stare he looks at her, and in that absurd gravely voice he bellows, “It’s not who I am, it’s what I do that defines me!” That is so sad…and so wrong.
Please tell me about any Bible verses that you used to write the song?
2 Corinthians 5:17-21 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come…
...For our sake he made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
What do you consider to be the takeaway message for listeners?
Not that the promises of God aren’t true all the time, they are. But the thing is, just because we have promises, it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s answers. At least, not the way we’re looking for. And that’s why God tells me to feel it before I try to fix it. “Weep with those who weep. Rejoice with those who rejoice.” That’s what I’m called to do. Before I try to know everything and have a solution for everything and everyone, first I need to learn to sit down and weep with people. Before I try to put a band aid on their wounds, I need to actually feel the wound myself. I mean, isn’t that what Jesus did for us? He felt before He fixed. He hurt before He healed. He became flesh and dwelt among us. And so, this changes things. This means that it doesn’t matter how much Scripture and philosophy I know, what matters is what I do with it. Ironically, having a lot of information about Jesus can often be the very thing that keeps us from Him. We delude ourselves into thinking that Jesus is nothing more than a fact on a page. An idea to comprehend, a moral to ascribe to. And believe me, He’s much more than that. He is our life, our breath, and the pulse within our veins. He is before, behind, and all around. Over. Underneath. Inside. In between. We need to live big for God. That’s what the song is about.
Here’s Matthew Henry’s Bible commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:16-19: “The apostle proceeds in showing the reasons why they did not faint under their afflictions, namely, their expectation, desire, and assurance of happiness after death, and deduces an inference for the comfort of believers in their present state, and another to quicken them in their duty. Then he makes an apology for seeming to commend himself, and gives a good reason for his zeal and mentions two things that are necessary in order to our living to Christ, regeneration and reconciliation. In conclusion Paul says that, for the believer, circumcision or un-circumcision is of no importance. What does being a Jew or a Gentile matter, as long as one is a new creature in Christ?”
We must examine Jesus for ourselves-others cannot do it for us. Then, if we believe Jesus is who He says, we will want to speak up for Him. “You Are More” is a great song celebrating the freedom we have in Christ when we are born again. Christians are brand new people on the inside. The Holy Spirit gives us new life and we are not the same anymore. We are new creations and we need to live under God’s authority. Are you excited about God’s hope inside of you? Have you humbled yourself and asked Jesus to make you a new creation? I love that Truth “behind the song” that we are “more than the choices that we’ve made, more than the sum of our past mistakes, more than the problems we create, as Christians, we’ve been remade.” Amen!