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Tenth Avenue North: In Passionate Pursuit

  • Kevan Breitinger
  • 2008 14 May
Tenth Avenue North:  In Passionate Pursuit

New Reunion Records recording artist Tenth Avenue North is preparing for the release of its debut, Over and Underneath, releasing May 20.

In between tour dates opening for MercyMe and David Crowder Band, front man Mike Donehey took the time to introduce the band and its new record.

Visit from now through May 20 and enter the code tenthlovesccm to redeem a free download of the band’s hit single, “Love Is Here” from the debut, Over and Underneath.

CMCentral:  Thanks for making the time to talk today, Mike. I spent the day yesterday with the new album and read a lot on your web site. It seems to me that you have the heart of a teacher.

Mike Donehey (Tenth Avenue North):  You would be fair in saying that, yes. I think I have a heart for helping other people understand things that really moved me or helped me. If I grasp a new truth and it changes something in my heart, then I always, naturally, want other people to experience it.

Well, that is the heart of a teacher. You’re doing most of the writing for the band, aren’t you?

Well, on this record [Over and Underneath] I did most of the writing, although I also wrote with a few outside writers. But we composed all the music together. It’s just the lyrics I wrote on my own.

So in having a teacher’s heart, are the lyrics more crucial to you than the music?

They say the melody is like the first date, and the words are what keep the relationship going with the song. So I recognize that without a good melody, no one’s going to want to hear what you have to say. But for me, ultimately what’s most important is what we’re saying, not just how we’re saying it.

I read that your mission was to know Christ and make Him known, so I thought you might feel that way.

Westminster Catechism says that the chief end of man is to enjoy God and glorify Him forever.

The album is so worshipful, and I found that very provocative considering your mission. Do you believe that authentic worship can pierce the heart of an unbeliever and reach him for God?

Colossians says, “Whatever you do, do with all your heart,” and Romans 12 says, “In view of God’s mercy, offer your body as a living sacrifice. This is your spiritual act of worship.” So I think when an unbeliever sees not just worship, but worship that is driven and fueled by God’s mercy, I think that is what opens people to the gospel.

There is a worship that is pretentious and “put on,” motivated by a desire to be seen, and then there’s the authentic worship that Romans 12 speaks of: “In view of God’s mercy, offer your body as worship.” So the focus for me in worship is to give people a clear picture of Romans 1 through 11, of justification by faith, through grace. That statement, about offering your body as worship, hinges upon viewing God’s mercy and the 11 chapters that preceded that statement. So that’s why our worship [needs] to be worship that teaches, if that makes sense.

That does make a lot of sense, and I can relate to it because I am somebody who really came to Christ initially through experiencing worship music. I didn’t understand the whole message immediately, of course, but my spirit recognized its authenticity. So when I read your mission, I thought maybe that’s where you were coming from.

The Bible says that David played for Saul, and the evil spirit that tormented him left him. So we can never underestimate what goes on when music gets played. I’m not sure I understand it completely.

If we think we understand it completely, it shows how little we know.

Yeah, like Psalm 32 says, “The Lord is enthroned, or inhabits, the praises of Israel.” I don’t even get that, but I know supernaturally, somehow when we praise in response to what He’s done for us, He is there in it.

Oh, I so love that verse! So I read a story telling how you got serious about music following a car accident?

Actually, I hadn’t even played guitar before. In my senior year of high school, I was thrown out of a flipping vehicle, and broke my back in a couple places, and my head. I was in Intensive Care; they thought I was going to die and all that. So I was laid up for a month on my back and thought, I’m not gonna be able to play sports my whole life. Maybe I should think about playing an instrument. So I asked for a guitar for Christmas, and that’s how I got started.

But you were a believer at the time of your accident?

Yeah, the summer before that I actually had a really significant spiritual experience. I grew up in Christian school, which can really promote a lot of lethargy in you somehow. But I went to this magnet art program for a month that summer and was surrounded by non-believers. Well, I shouldn’t say non-believers because everyone believes in something. But I was surrounded by people who don’t believe in Christ, and I found myself defending my beliefs very strongly.

It forced me to see how much I really believed it. Right after that real spiritual wake-up that summer, He sealed the deal by showing me, “Remember, you can die anytime that I want you to die.” So my life verse after that accident was from Job 34, where it says, “If God withdrew His spirit and breath, all mankind would die.” People say to me, “I wish I had an experience like that,” but to that I say, “If you’re here, the only reason you’re alive is because God is saying, ‘Breathe.’”

Well, I guess that explains the strong theme of surrender that runs through Over and Underneath.

I think it woke me up to the fleeting nature of this world and everything in it. In Hebrews 10, it says that Moses regarded the reproach of Christ to be of greater worth than the treasures of Egypt because he was looking forward to the reward. The Bible says, “Consider, oh man, that you are just a vapor.” We’re here for just a little while, and when you really start to grasp that, it’s easier to place your treasure in things other than this world. It’s a treasure-delighting issue, at its very core.

We are made for pleasure, you know. Blaise Pascal even said that everything that a man does is motivated by his desire for joy. Even a man who kills himself does so because he thinks that’s going to give him freedom. To quote C.S. Lewis, “It’s not that our desires are too strong; they are too weak, for we are far too easily pleased.”

Wow, you love to talk about the Word, don’t you?

Oh, come on.

That’s a beautiful thing. I know you’re doing some writing now, too. I guess it’s the overflow of your heart to teach.

And here’s the temptation: why do I write? Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are thirsty, out of you will flow rivers of living water.” Is my writing, my song-playing, a grateful reaction to the mercy I’ve been given in Christ? Is Christ using me, or am I using Christ? As we get more attention, I’ve found that is the temptation. Now I can put it on cruise control, and I can use Christ to write songs and get popular and make everybody love me. One of the songs on the record is called “Satisfy,” and it says, “Satisfy me in the morning with Your unfailing love.” Otherwise I’m going to look elsewhere to get my validation and satisfaction.

I know exactly what you’re saying, and I think we all struggle with that question to some degree. I can become tricked or lured into spending so much time checking my own heart, that without realizing it, my attention can become completely focused on myself. I finally had to come to the point of trust, of trusting the Lord Himself to keep me in check.

The point of the gospel is not to think higher or lower of yourself. The point of the gospel is to think of yourself less.

Exactly. That’s real humility, focusing more on Jesus than ourselves.

My friend always says the world is like a magnet, pulling you away from God and on to yourself, but Christ frees us finally from that constant struggle.

I wanted to close, Mike, by congratulating you on your engagement. That was a beautiful story that you shared online about your proposal, and I hope it’s OK to ask you this, but did you really wash her feet in the course of the evening that you proposed? I was really moved that you recognized the spirituality of that moment.

Yes, I did because it says, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church.” Christ washed the disciples’ feet, so if I’m going to love my wife the way that Christ loves me, then I need to out-serve her.

That’s the right attitude to go in with. When are you getting married?

May 4.

Oh, awesome, congratulations!

Thank you, I’m very excited.

© 2008  All rights reserved.  Used with permission. 

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**This interview first published on on May 14, 2008.