Mark Wagner: "Every day it really is a choice to die to myself."
Mark Wagner has had a clear vision for his music from the beginning. His first shows were at local coffee houses and music clubs in his native East Tennessee. His self-produced first album--While I'm Here--released in 2004, and since then he hasn't looked back. He grew as an artist to tour nationally year-round, and has performed with artists such as Brandon Heath, Paul Wright, and Rachael Lampa.
Four albums and 25,000 album sales later, Mark is still doing the very thing he loves most--playing music that inspires and gives hope. Mark has sung about that hope in front of thousands of high school students during his volunteer work with Young Life--an organization that lines up with Mark's vision of giving hope to the hopeless.
Mark's newest release, NeedLove is his fourth studio album, the next in a line of critically acclaimed and popular releases that have vaulted Mark into a realm of select musical company. But it is so much more than that. NeedLove pulls from Mark's love of pop music and blends perfectly his voice and arrangement, while bringing a fresh sound to the ears of his listeners. NeedLove is the product of a group of musically gifted professionals coming together to help Mark create an album that can stand up to any other Christian album. But it is so much more than that.
Mark Wagner's experience as a songwriter bursts forth from tracks like "Gonna Be With You"--a tribute to Mark's new wife, Kalle. Mark holds firm to the theme of God's incalculable love for us, the prayer that NeedLove sings throughout, best evidenced in the song "Hideaway", co-written with Ryan Long. "'Hideaway' comes from Psalm 27," Mark says, and his portrayal of the Psalm, and the longing and need for us to be with God, and how God is our only hideaway, rings out loud and clear. It is classic Mark Wagner. Pop with a purpose.
I had the great opportunity to interview Mark and his wife Kalle together about "Gonna Be With You."
Mark, Please describe the background message behind the song "Gonna Be With You."
Mark: Our heart behind releasing this song is to celebrate the sanctity of a Christian marriage. We recently celebrated our one-year anniversary. This last year for us has been crazy. We've gone through some things that have fast forwarded our marriage experience by about ten years. Right after we got married, Kalle got really sick and we were in the ICU for eleven days. I didn't think I was going to bring her home. We had all these plans for our first year of marriage and a month in, I thought I was going to lose my wife. We had some life-changing conversations with the Lord. When we decided to use the video of our wedding as the music video, we wanted to share our hearts and celebrate this relationship and also what God has already done in our marriage. He brought us into His reality. We had this kind of illusion of what marriage would be like. He said, I'm still going to be the Lord of your marriage. You've got to trust Me. The footage from our wedding was a great reminder that I made the commitment to my wife that "I'm gonna be with you always." In sickness, and in health. We had to jump right into keeping that vow the first month we were married.
Which Bible verses connect to the message of the song?
Ephesians 5:25-27: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish."
Philippians 2:14-16: "Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing."
John 3:30: "He must increase, but I must decrease."
Kalle and Mark, what's the main message of the song to you personally and for listeners?
Kalle: Mark gave me this song on the night of our rehearsal dinner. I was told I needed to be in the sanctuary at such and such time, and I came in and Mark was there with his guitar and his good friend and producer was there playing the piano. It was really special and it was like a dream. He had been making this album and I knew every song by heart and had learned the words to all seven songs. Little did I know at the time, that there was this eighth song that he had written. Deep down in my heart, I would kind of wish that he'd write a song for me, but I would never come out and say it. It was a really special, sweet and amazing gift. I cried a lot and it was really special.
Mark: I was in a small group with a bunch of guys for the year before we got married. Every week I would ask them to pray for me that I would learn to die to myself, every day. The essence of what Paul is communicating in that Ephesians 5 passage is that Christ died for the Church. To me, that's where my heart has been, especially in writing this song. My proclamation to Kalle is not only am I gonna be with you always, but I'm gonna live sacrificially and love you as hard as I can and let God be my guide on the journey. What that means to me in light of those verses, is that every day it really is a choice to die to myself. In all those little moments where there are temptations to be frustrated or annoyed, it is a chance to check myself.
God is calling me to die to myself in those moments when I'm on the couch half asleep and my wife is asking me to fold the clothes. You know those countless moments like that. In my head, I need to say okay Lord, You've called me into this covenant of marriage and that call is to die to myself, today, right now. The beautiful thing is that Kalle reciprocates that every day. One of my Professors in Seminary said that "marriage is a dim reflection of the relationship that God desires to have with each one of us." I really think that's what marriage can be. We can in no way fathom the depths of God's love, but when we are in a marriage relationship and choose to die to ourselves for the sake of the other person, that's the closest we'll ever get to knowing the depth of God's love for us.
Sweet Marie, you'll always be my summer girl
Barefoot walking, a flower in your hair
Take my hand, I'll kiss you in the moonlight
Oh, when I'm with you, everything's alright
And I'm gonna be with you always
Time knows that we'll make some mistakes
But our love will never fade
And I'm gonna be with you
I found you, and I promise I will never let go
Our love is true, the sweetest journey we will ever know
Through calm and stormy seas
We're gonna let God lead
This album was recorded after a year that brought Mark into marriage, graduate school in theology, as well as continued work with kids on the margins in the greater Seattle area. He has brought his fans a work of continued passion and musical talent that has its roots in the style of other pop artists like Coldplay, Dave Barnes and Bebo Norman.
Maybe C.S. Lewis was onto something when he wrote, "God needs nothing, and He loved us into existence anyway." Mark Wagner understands that, and he longs to share this message of Christ's love with the world. NeedLove is a look back and a look forward, all the while looking inside. Maybe we have needed NeedLove all along.
From the first listen, this song fired me up to be more diligent as a husband, father and follower of Jesus. As men, we often struggle with fear of failure and complacency. As Christians, we are called to be bold for Christ and to serve Him daily. We are also commanded in Ephesians 5:25 to "love our wives as Christ loves the Church."
When you look in Scripture you see two Adams. The first Adam was passive and watched his wife Eve eat the apple from the serpent. He was right there with her and watched it happen. We're still reaping that curse today. The second Adam crushed the serpent's head. That's Jesus. We need to be all about knowing Jesus and making Him known. The key to a biblical marriage is to keep Jesus at the center. I love Jesus, and I love my wife as Christ loves His Church.
It's time for men of God to show true strength and courage by igniting the passion that we have inside of us by the power of the Holy Spirit. The challenge for me in the song, and hopefully for other men as well, is every time I hear it, every time I sing it, I ask myself, 'What kind of man am I?' Not yesterday, not tomorrow, what kind of man am I today? Have I invested in my family emotionally, spiritually the way that God has called me to reach out to them and to lead them?
Posted August 07, 2012 | NRT Lead Contributor Kevin Davis is a longtime fan of Christian music, an avid music collector and credits the message of Christian music for leading him to Christ. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and three daughters.