Matt Papa has been writing and recording songs for more than a decade. His latest CD, Look & Live (a title inspired by a passage in Numbers), has been called “a loud and liberating call to people everywhere to break the chains of boredom, addiction, and idolatry” by experiencing the beauty and glory of God. At the heart of Matt’s ministry is a vision to see the nations worship the One True God; and to that end, he radically leverages his life, his ministry, and his music.
Matt and his wife, Lauren, along with their three daughters, Paisley, Stella, and Sofi live in North Carolina. He serves as an Artist-In-Residence and Worship Leader at The Summit Church in Durham.
Which came first, your love of reading and sharing the Word or your desire to write and make music? What was the catalyst for the two coming together in your life?
I think they actually came together about the same time. When I was a kid I would “tinker” around on the piano. I suppose in a similar way I would tinker with God . . . praying when I needed something, being spiritual when I felt like it. When I was twelve, I believe I truly embraced Christ and chose to follow Him, and about the same time I picked up the guitar. I loved both, and soon after was thrilled to find I could love Jesus with my music. I had two wonderful youth pastors who discipled me and allowed me to lead worship for the youth ministry. They taught me how to love Jesus and people more than music.
Have you ever experienced a “divine detour,” a God sent redirection to your path that changed your life for the better?
Yes. I’ve had so many and I’m certain there’s some I am not even aware of. My conversion would obviously be one. My parents’ divorce when I was fourteen was a crucial point for me, which caused me to really lean into God and His world . . . to know God as Father. My marriage to Lauren and our three children have been “divine detours” of sorts, with those relationships helping me continually die to myself and become a man who loves and serves others first.
Look & Live is a concept album centered around how addictions and idolatry are broken in our lives only when we get a vision of the beauty and glory of God. The title comes from Numbers 21, where God’s people are in the wilderness, grumbling and complaining. God punishes the people with a brood of snakes, which begin to bite them. They cry out for mercy and God responds. He comes to Moses and tells him to get a snake, hold it up on a pole, and whoever sees it will live. Now why do that? Couldn’t God have just said a word and fixed it all? Or turned all the snakes into cute little puppies? Well, we find out why in John 3 where Jesus says, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life.” That’s why God did it this way. It was a parable.
We are people who are hopelessly addicted to our own glory, to the stuff of this world, and we aren’t just sick, we’re dying. The venom of idolatry is coursing through our veins. We can’t get better by trying harder or getting religious. No, we need a vision of majesty. We need a vision of glory that eclipses the world. We need to see Jesus and to see that He is better than money, sex, and fame. Then, and only then, will we let go of our idols. Lesser pleasures lose their power, not by religious suppressing, but by experiencing a greater pleasure.
What was the foundation song for the project? Which is the most fun to perform live?
Probably the most important song to me on the record, as it relates to the concept of the album, is The Ocean. The song is based on a quote by Jonathan Edwards that I can truly say has changed my life. Edwards said, “The enjoyment of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, to fully enjoy God is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, children, the company of earthly friends . . . these are but shadows, God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, God is the sun. These are but streams, God is the ocean.”
This quote is important because it teaches us the biblical, God-centered, joy-gushing way of looking at the world. On the one hand, the quote destroys a kind of false religious uber-conservative escapism . . . where we run from the world . . . totally avoid the world. On the other hand, the quote destroys a kind of world-loving liberalism by telling us that God is better than the world. The middle ground here is this . . . don’t run from the world, and don’t become captivated by the world . . . look through the world. Idolatry looks at the world in utter amazement. Worship looks through it.
The most fun song to perform live is probably . . . Gethsemane. The song is so dramatic and intense, and doesn’t even begin to capture the intensity of the moment I’m describing. I poured a lot of myself into the song and when we get to play it live I feel a little like the chariots of fire guy who said, “when I run, I feel God’s pleasure.”
Musical heroes: Keith Green, Rich Mullins, J.S. Bach
Personal music style: Preach Rock
Thank you, Matt. It’s a pleasure to have you as a guest at DivineDetour.
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For more information about Matt, visit his website.
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