Called Home, Over The Rhine (2013, Meet Me at the Edge of the World)

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Living in the dead of winter is my favorite time of year.  Sure, I love the Spring and Fall, too.  Summer is grand, make no mistake about that.  But the real gem of all seasons is that January through March when the holidays are over, the sky is bleak and gray, and life couldn’t possibly feel more depressing.

Am I serious or being sarcastic?  I am serious…dead of winter serious!  Let me explain.

We enjoy and prefer things in life based on their differences from other, lesser things.  We only like warmth because we have felt the sting of cold.  We only ache for love because we have learned how to hate and be lonely.  And our favorite moments in life are usually right when we rise out of darkness into light or when we are just coming up for air after being underwater for so long.  You might even say that anticipating that moment is more thrilling than the happy relief itself.  For when you finally realize that the bad is ending and the good is coming, your stomach catches into your throat and your eyes widen with mirth and delight!

In the dead of winter, there is provided an opportunity to anticipate and long for the relief of Spring.  The snow melts feverishly, the birds sing happily, and the sun breaks through with color and heat.  It is finally March, and I feel that anticipation deep inside.  I have braved the majority of this winter onslaught, and soon the rewards of change and life and perseverance will be reaped. It is this moment of the year that I cherish the most.

Therefore, the dead of winter is my favorite place to be.  The dead of winter, spiritually speaking, is a place I call home, as well.

I have had it on my list to write about this next band from the very beginning.  Well over 20 years ago, Over The Rhine began its musical journey and I have had the privilege of following them for almost the entire way.  I would be hard pressed to find a more satisfying and influential music group on my life than these fine folks.

Last year, Over The Rhine released a new double album that featured the themes of home and end of life.  Over The Rhine, comprised primarily of the happily married couple Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist, live in southern Ohio on an, old small farm.  The song we are featuring talks about two themes: the place that we call home today and the anticipation of being called home for eternity.

For OTR, their farm has become a refuge and a safe haven.  Music and life have arisen fruitfully from Nowhere Farm, as they like to call it.  They are not the landscaping type, as you might guess from many of their songs.  I listen to them speak and sing about the peace and rest they find at home and I find myself very jealous.  But this song also talks about a state-of-mind-place called home that directly ties itself to the Christian’s anticipation of eternity in Heaven with God.  Have a listen:

Just shy of Breakin’ Down
There’s a bend in the road that I have found
Called home

Take a left at loneliness
There’s a place to find forgiveness
Called home

With clouds adrift across the sky
Like heaven’s laundry hung to dry
You slowly feel it all will be revealed

Where evening shadows come to fall
On the awful and the beautiful
Every wound you feel that needs to heal

And silence yearns to hear herself
Some long lost memory rings a bell
Called home

Old pre-Civil War brick house
Standin’ tall and straight somehow
Called home

Mailbox full of weariness
And a word of hard won happiness
Called home

Leave behind your Sunday best
You know we couldn’t care a less
Out here we’ve learned to leave the edges wild

And stories they get passed around
And laughter – it gets handed down
Read it in the lines around a smile

Our bodies’ motion comes to rest
When we are at last
Called home

The song is comfortable sounding and lyrically inviting to all who are seeking rest and acceptance.  There is a quiet confidence concerning the things that matter most: where do I belong? and where will I end up?  These resolutions can only be found in Jesus.

Even though we Christians struggle, suffer and slip at times, the promise of Heaven through God’s grace always remains.  Standing under the shelter of these truths is the place that the Christian should call home.  Listen to Paul talk about it in 2 Corinthians 4:

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies…

…We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to Himself together with you. All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!  So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”

All of this text reveals of the guts of true hope.  Just like in the dead of winter, we rest in the fact that Spring always comes and it is always good.  Where I live, we have broken snow and temperature records this year, but none of that deters my belief in the near arrival of Spring.  The more harsh our winter is, the more sweet the relief will be when Spring finally comes.

So it is with the believer’s inheritance in Christ Jesus!  He is coming soon and when He does all will be made right again.  Justice will be exacted; wounds will be healed; the dead will rise again; the pain will permanently subside and perfect joy will be rewarded to all of God’s children!

And for now, the believer who dwells and meditates and rests upon this reality has a true place to call home.  We strive and struggle through all of our winter moments in this life in order to maintain a spiritually healthy home in our hearts…until God finally calls us to our true Home – A New Heaven and a New Earth!

Consider taking this March – this dead of winter time – to allow Christ to call you home: both in growing your trust in His promises and actively anticipating that glorious moment when we are finally called home.

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It’s Not Enough – Dustin Kensrue (2013, The Water & The Blood)

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Truth in Tunes returns after a long hiatus to bring you a breath of fresh air in the world of worship music.  This post doesn’t reflect my freedom to write again as much as it reflects the unstoppable drive of the music and truths that simply need to be proclaimed.

Enter Dustin Kensrue.  Do you ever feel that the vast sea of current worship music has become creatively stagnant and theologically watered down?  So does Kensrue.  Dustin, who I have blogged about before, is worship pastor at Mars Hill Church in Bellevue and frontman for the rock group Thrice.  Last year, Kensrue released a new album of songs called “The Water and The Blood” intending to give the body of Christ an injection of lyrically rich and musically fresh tunes.  When I saw that he was doing a worship album I was skeptical because of today’s climate of praise songs: a massive machine manufacturing lollipop versions of half truths that feel sweet and warm, but hardly ever enrich the soul or challenge the mind.  The exceptions to this standard are very hard to find, sometimes.

Along similar lines, Mars Hill Music’s website had this to say about Kensrue’s new album:

“Kensrue laments the fact that most worship music seems to have fallen into a creative rut and has no engagement with the surrounding culture. ‘Our God creates with excellence, and we should as well,’ he explains. Beyond taking issue with the musical monotony, he also has strong feelings about the lyrical content of many popular worship tunes. ‘Growing up and going to church, I felt despair while singing. No matter how flowery or nicely it was stated, the majority of worship songs were essentially just a big dose of Law, of what I needed to do for God. Without first soaking in the good news that Jesus has done it all, that ‘It is Finished’ in him, the Law is condemning because we simply can’t fulfill it.’ These worship songs, creatively stale and theologically lopsided, spurred in Kensrue the desire to write better songs for the church to sing.

Although it can be somewhat vexing to write faith-filled lyrics that are exciting, theologically sound, and easy to digest, Kensrue does it well. But creating that balance wasn’t easy. ‘You can have people that love Jesus and are doing great music as far as the actual music,’ he explains, ‘but if the lyrics aren’t constantly pointing to the sufficiency of Jesus, I think you can unwittingly be causing great harm.’ With all of this in mind, his album The Water and the Blood was created.”

The entire album accomplishes this focus on the sufficiency of Jesus in such a potent way and I recommend every single song on it.  I highly recommend that each reader at least listen to “Suffering Servant” as a prime example (I hope to blog about it at Easter)  But for now, let us focus on our selection for today: “It’s Not Enough”.

Listen to the song by clicking the image above, selecting the right track, and then following the lyrics listed here:

Though all the wealth of men was mine to squander
And towers of ivory rose beneath my feet
Were palaces of pleasure mine to wander
The sum of it would leave me incomplete

Though every soul would hold my name in honor
And truest love was always by my side
My praises sung by grateful sons and daughters
My soul would never still be satisfied

It’s not enough, it’s not enough
I could walk the world forever
Till my shoes were filled with blood
It’s not enough, it’s not enough

Though I could live for all to lift them higher
Or spend the centuries seeking light within
Though I indulged my every dark desire
Exhausting every avenue of sin

It’s not enough, it’s not enough
I could walk the world forever
Till my shoes were filled with blood
It’s not enough, it’s not enough
I could right all wrongs, or ravage
Everything beneath the sun
It’s not enough, it’s not enough

To make me whole
It’s not enough, it never was
Awake my soul
It’s not enough, it never was

It’s not enough, it’s not enough
I could walk the world forever
Till my shoes were filled with blood
It’s not enough, it’s not enough
I could right all wrongs, or ravage
Everything beneath the sun
It’s not enough, it’s not enough
Though all would bow to me
Till I could drink my fill of fear and love
It’s not enough, it’s not enough

I’m such a sucker for songs with dramatic crescendo movements and lyrics with tons of absolute statements.  Jesus can be sung about in so many different ways: a quiet, intimate lullaby about His companionship; a loud, triumphant anthem declaring His victory; or a rock ballad offering Him as our rescuer.  Well, how about a song that finds every way to say that Jesus is simply everything that we need!  This truth is the implication to Dustin’s pronouncement that all other pursuits, even when fully realized, are not enough to quench the thirst of our soul for meaning and significance.

The Gospel is not a call to love and justice.  The Gospel is not an inspiration to become a better spouse, parent or person.  The Gospel is not a contract with God to make it into Heaven.  The Gospel is not even a relationship with God that was restricted from us because of our sin.  The Gospel is first and foremost news.  Good news.

What I mean to say is that the Gospel is primarily the arrival of Jesus Christ.  And His arrival, both in flesh and in connecting with us on the cross, marks the key moment in human history when the human soul was no longer alone.  Of course, the Gospel leads to that list of things mentioned above, but before we race ahead to manifestations and effects, let us first consider what the human soul needs and what Jesus exquisitely did for us at Calgary.

Psalm 73: 25 – 26, 28 says,

“Whom have I in heaven but You?
I desire You more than anything on earth.
 My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
but God remains the strength of my heart;
He is mine forever…
 But as for me, how good it is to be near God!
I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter,
and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things You do.”

Ecclesiastes 12:1,8 says,

“Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, ‘Life is not pleasant anymore’…’Everything is meaningless,’ says the Teacher, ‘completely meaningless.’”

And then John 1:1-3, 14 says,

“In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through Him,
and nothing was created except through Him…                                                                   So the Word became human and made His home among us.                                            He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.”

These Scriptures emphasize that real satisfaction in life can only come from being near to God; AND that the nearness of God can only be accomplished by God in Christ coming near to us.  This is the Gospel.

Yes, of course, the Gospel leads us to other fruitful, righteous realities such as redemption, spiritual maturity, a calling to moral values and human justice, and so on.  However, the Gospel begins and ends with satisfying a holy God and satisfying a hungry, empty soul that can only be filled with Jesus – and it accomplishes this contentment all in one glorious act.

When Jesus was on the cross, He not only paid our penalty, He joined with our pain.  When Jesus was unjustly sentenced to death, He not only covered our sin, He took our shame.  When Jesus hung on that tree next to criminals, He not only sacrificed for you and me, He became fully connected with our souls, so that the writer of Hebrews (4:15-16) could then say,

“This [Jesus] of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”

The message of the Gospel is that you do not have to be alone and your soul does not have to stay empty, lost and unfulfilled.  Then, out of that connection and satisfaction in Christ comes the rest of the Christian life.

Dustin Kensrue’s song provides a poetic lament that every single human being feels, whether they admit it or not.  Sometimes it takes a while for life to show us our own dissatisfaction, but it always does – sooner or later.  We don’t always feel the blood in our shoes even though it is indeed flowing as we keep trying to walk the whole world in search of God knows what.

In all of your travels and seasons of life, as you search and search for meaning and significance, always remember this: it is not enough.  But the Gospel is simply Jesus stepping towards our very center of who we are and saying to us, “I am enough.”

The Weight of Glory Second Edition- Heath McNease (2013)

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There are a lot of firsts in today’s post: first total album post, first hip-hop music post, and our first C.S. Lewis – themed post.  All very good things to initiate into Truth in Tunes.

Heath McNease is southern boy who somehow grew up on both Bob Dylan and N.W.A.  As Christ got a hold of his heart, his music stayed true to both his varietal styles and his deep faith in God.  One of those deepening influences on McNease has been C.S. Lewis.  So much so, that he made an entire album dedicated to Lewis’ written works.

This album is entirely creative and impressively comprehensive.  Most all of C.S. Lewis’ major works are represented on this 12 song collection.  From theological treatises such as Mere Christianity and Weight of Glory, to spiritual introspections such as A Grief Observed and Surprised By Joy, to fictional masterpieces such as Narnia and Perelandra…and many, many more.  Each tune is like a personal rap of the cliff-notes version of each book (or book character).

The album doesn’t stop offering there.  You can tell that Heath treasured this project because he made two versions of the album: the first edition captures his singer/song writer side and this second edition remixes the same genius with his hip hop nature (with the help of Greg LaFollette).  In addition, each song is eloquently explained through a brief video featuring Heath McNease on his Youtube channel.

I appreciate his energy and versatility in all of his music.  I also admire his generosity of offering his work to fans without price.  So, if you dig this drop, be sure to give him props (there, that’s my feeble attempt at rhyme).

Finally, a word about the works of C.S. Lewis put to music.  He was truly blessed with a great gift (much like our favorite musical artists) to deliver God’s truth to us in a special way.  He helped all of us see better – both the beauty of simply truths as well as the brilliance of complex doctrines.  Yet, one of his greater gifts was always this ability to be humble in the midst of his legacy.  He knew he was just a vessel for God’s glory and that he wasn’t perfect.

His other great gift was to remind his readers that our ultimate satisfaction can only be found in God.  Specifically, he helped me to see that all of life, good and bad, points forward and outside to a place and a time that true believers in Jesus constantly look to and long for.  This high hope is what holds us together while we’re here.  Thank you Lewis, for your writings and thank you Heath for your tunes.

“The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them,and what came through them was longing.

These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols,breaking the hearts of their worshippers.

For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”  – C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Brave Ruth – Before the Brave (2012, Great Spirit)

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Hoping to find a place where your burden is lightened?  Need a respite from the weight of the world or even just the weight of your own life?  Look no further.  A song can deliver these things, and song bearing the absolute truth of God’s mercy delivers emphatically.

Before the Brave is a folk quintet from San Francisco.  Their sound is familiar but ever original with a real sense of chemistry and personality.  Led by Jason Perry Stevens, this up and coming group has certainly brought something special to the table of unplugged-heartfelt-worshipesque music.  I probably sample a half-dozen bands like this almost every week, it seems.  But Before the Brave separates themselves greatly with their newest EP from last year, called, “Great Spirit.”

In particular, the song Brave Ruth, struck a cord with me.  I’m not sure if it supposed to be about the biblical character/story of Ruth or something else.  Nevertheless, the spiritual input from these lyrics as it applies to anyone’s faith in Christ is unmistakable.  Listen to the sound of your heat voiced in a simple, yet striking tune about being brave enough to be touched by God’s mercy:

I’ve been looking for You all over this town,                                                                           I’ve been looking for truth but truth won’t come around,                                                     now my head’s in the highway and my heart’s in the clouds,                                                   and I’m glad it was You that came lookin’ around                                                                and I’m glad it was You that came lookin’ around.                                                    

so break my bones and hold my tongue, and shed my skin after all I have done,             You washed my feet in the river so sweet, I’m a restless soul trying to find who to be,           and I’ve looked for days upon days upon nights,                                                                     I’m sick of the taste of the failure to fight                                                                             now You made the Spirit to dwell in my bones,                                                                   and I want to fly over all that atones for good, 

so break my bones and hold my tongue, and shed my skin after all I have done,              and You wash my feet in the river so sweet, and I’m a restless soul trying to find who to be, and I hear Your voice as I’m sleeping at night,                                                                     He tells me to be brave, be brave I just might.

Superb lyrics, the likes of which I have not come across in quite a while.  “I’m sick of the taste of the failure to fight” stirs my lukewarm soul in a way that is painfully good and awakening.  The core of this song is the message to be brave enough to respond to God’s mercy with a kind of striving gratitude that changes your life.

We sometimes feel relief when God is merciful to us.  Relief because somehow we thought that His mercy is deserved or earned.  Other times, we feel a numbness because of the disbelief in our hearts.  God could never actually be kind to me, could He?  Still, in other times we might even feel so uncomfortable, so caught off guard, that mercy never sinks in – never wraps itself around our prideful hearts, because we won’t let it.

After all that we have done to spit in the face of God through our sin, we still have the gall to respond to God’s loving act of utter sacrifice in these pitiful, self-centered ways.

This song simply testifies to the battle of being brave enough to properly thank God for His love, mercy and grace by striving to give to Him a living sacrifice.  The beauty and the rest that we receive as Christians is that even these battles are already won by God’s great Spirit – who finishes our faith for us!

The Cross is what humbles us deeply and truly.  The Cross is what shows us how unclean and unholy we truly are.  But, the Cross never tells us to move “beyond” this place of mercy.  The Cross never teaches a life outside of dependence upon the Spirit of God or even outside of being in dire need of God’s unmeasurable mercy.

“And I want to fly over all that atones for good” (I hope I have that line right) – I take this to mean that he feels so ashamed of how much mercy he needs from God to be made righteous in His eyes, that he just wants to be done with justification/sanctification already.  But the Christian life (at least this first part here on Earth) calls us all to be brave enough to constantly hold together our need for God’s mercy and our proper response of gratitude and trying to give back.

Of course, we have nothing to offer to God – nothing except but what God created us to be: vessels of mercy and worship.  To be God’s vessel for His own glory is both the most humbling and honoring position in existence.  To be a vessel is to become a citizen of Heaven!  And yet one of the keys to being a vessel of mercy is to be brave.  Brave enough to admit my own depravity.  Brave enough to accept God’s offer of complete mercy and love.  And brave enough to live completely for Him, by living completely through Him.

When you lay in bed tonight and all the world reaches that moment of silence before you drift off to sleep, ask yourself if you can hear that Voice telling you to be brave.  Remember that His is a voice of mercy and love.  His is a voice of tenderness when we only deserve severity.  His voice is telling you and me to be brave.

Why Good People Suffer – Stavesacre (2002, (stāvz’ā’kər))

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Hot Topics series continues with a hard rock look at a tough question that all of us ask: why do good people suffer?

Stavesacre has been storming the scene of rock and roll since the mid-90’s and their sound has always been a shining gold star among the Christian attempts at loud music.  Their self-titled (or pronounciation-titled?) album was one of their most critically acclaimed and within it, they tackled this subject head on.  “Why Good People Suffer” is an honest and humble dialogue about what this perplexing question should cause us to really think about, listen:

i tell you what i want to
never more than what is safe
i show you what i want to
and the rest i hide away
sometimes i can feel myself leaning
towards the basest of things
am i just a liar? or a killer? or a beast?

should i sit in judgement?
do i have to judge me?

(chorus)
i couldn’t tell you why good people suffer
i couldn’t tell you why the bad ones run free
God showers blessings
on the righteous and the wicked
i only know that that covers me

do i feel like screaming
when the weak fall to the strong?
would i trade my freedom for a cheap thrill?
right for wrong?
and if i could just rid the world of all the evil within
would that include me?
i guess that would depend

who am i?

When you write a song about such a difficult issue it is important to set a tone.  Stavesacre is clearly out to answer a big question with another important question: Is there anyone out there who is really good?  Smartly, he points the finger at himself first.  There is an empathy for those who burn with the flame of injustice.  But the overarching theme to this song is that none of us are “good” enough to judge who should suffer and who should be blessed.

What does the Bible say about this question?

Psalmists write several times about similar questions that they have for God:  God, why do my enemies flourish while I am dying?  God, why have you abandoned me?  God, why is my righteousness not rewarded?  But in each case, the psalmist praises God despite still having unanswered “why” questions.  Job stands in the position of first-in-line, in terms of people who deserve to ask God these kinds of questions.  Yet, his summary of these things is to say, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21b)

How does Job get to this conclusion and is it the right one?  Let’s allow Apostle Paul to help answer this from Romans 9:

14 Are we saying, then, that God was unfair? Of course not! 15 For God said to Moses, “I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.”

16 So it is God who decides to show mercy. We can neither choose it nor work for it.  17 For the Scriptures say that God told Pharaoh, “I have appointed you for the very purpose of displaying my power in you and to spread my fame throughout the earth.” 18 So you see, God chooses to show mercy to some, and he chooses to harden the hearts of others so they refuse to listen.

19 Well then, you might say, “Why does God blame people for not responding? Haven’t they simply done what he makes them do?”

20 No, don’t say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? 22 In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction. 23 He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for glory.

Heavy words to go with a heavy song and a heavy question.  The summary of it all is this:  Why does God allow good people to suffer?  First, none of us are good on our own – not good enough at least to have the right to even ask God this question (see verse 20).  Second, all of us deserve to be called “vessels of wrath”, BUT God has chosen out of His love and mercy to show us His grace.

He shows His grace to the entire world every day by holding back the full potential of evil and destruction.  Things could and should be a lot worse.  He also shows His complete grace to those who believe in His Son.  He promises to all true believers an eternal future of perfect joy and a pain-free, tear-free life with Him in paradise.

These answers don’t necessarily make us feel better about today’s troubles.  Sometimes, we even feel like shouting back at God and saying, “Hey!  I need more from You!  More answers and more help!”  Feeling this way is OK.  The Psalmists and Job and others obviously did the same thing.  Acting upon those feelings is a different story.

Just remember one thing: at the end of the day, God is more merciful than we could ever imagine.  He is not cruel, He is holy.  You and I wouldn’t really want a God who didn’t stand up for Himself.  Today, people suffer (good people and bad people alike).  Tomorrow, the heavens will open wide and Jesus will call home His own.  That is a real hope to cling to, no matter how many “why” questions are left unanswered.

Legal Kill – King’s X (1990, Faith Hope Love)

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Part Two of “Hot Topic Songs” addresses the issue of abortion.  If homosexuality is a polarizing topic, then this might be the only issue even more divisive in our culture today.  Imagine, then, the idea of writing an artistically crafted, beautiful song about it.  At first, it sounds like a terrible pairing; but then, after some good thought we realize that maybe there is power in the idea of sending the right message at the right time for the right reasons.  A song carries a weight that few other forms of communication possess.

The crux of the debate surrounding abortion is that it is ultimately an argument over life and death – even for the pro-choice person.  No matter when you or I believe life truly begins our society must decided and regulate exactly when we go from right to murder and from choice to child.  Today, an American court/jury decided that one abortion doctor (Dr. Kermit Gosnell) was guilty of murder because of his handling of certain late-term abortion botches.  So, clearly no matter where you land on this issue, we cannot deny the fact that we are governing the sanctity of human life in our opinions and laws.

The truth in this matter is simply this: according to the Bible, God created each human life/essence/person-hood/being even before any one of us were conceived.  He knew us and formed us before egg and sperm ever existed.  Who are we to challenge that authority?  Who are we are to toy with the idea that a life in the womb is somehow less valuable than any other life?

If biblical standards are indeed the absolute truth on this matter, then it is indeed a modern day holocaust that we have on our bloody hands.  It is never easy to digest this reality.  But I propose a song here that has struck a cord with my heart on the matter of abortion in the strongest way possible.

King’s X is a longstanding hard rock group with great acclaim and who have shown Christian values in their music, particularly in the early years.  I cannot speak positively about all of their convictions.  Whatever the case may be, this ballad stands alone as one of the best songs ever written about the atrocity that is abortion, listen:

I only know what I believe
The rest is so absurd to me
I close my eyes so I cant see
But the picture just gets clearer everyday

I read somewhere to learn is to remember
And I’ve learned we all forgot
There was peace in her before
But that was yesterday

But I can see the beauty that is here for me
The chance to live and walk free
From a legal kill

I know your side so very well
It makes no sense that I can tell
The smell of hell is what I smell
And you hand it out with handshakes everyday

I have trouble with the persons with the signs
But I feel the need to make my own
Yes there are two ways to be
And truth does not depend on me
But I can feel the fight for life is always real
I can’t believe its no big deal
Its a legal kill

I appreciate so many things from this song that I will simply list them:

1. Despite how angry abortion can make us feel (really on both sides of the issue) this song achieves a sense of calm beauty, clear reflection and poignant logic.  There are too many mad, sign-carrying vigilantes out there who really aren’t helping their cause.

2. The singer realizes how blessed he is to have the gift of life.  Like me and many of you, these guys were born in a world where most places have legalized abortion.  I survived Roe vs. Wade because I was lucky enough to be born by a mother who wanted to keep me around (Happy Mother’s Day, mom!).  There are millions of people (yes, people) who have not been so fortunate.

3. The singer remembers the forgotten player in all our bickering over abortion: the women who have been through it.  There is sympathy and concern for how these women have had to deal with the reality of their decisions.  It is incredibly difficult to be a woman with a pregnancy that she is not prepared for.  Most of us never see how much hurt and shame they have to deal with for the rest of their lives.

4. The singer finally reminds us all that truth depends on someone other than us.  Implying God and His sovereignty and justice; and how one day He will make things right for the innocent who cannot even speak for themselves or cry for help.  If you listen carefully, at the end of the song the tune for “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” is played briefly – highlighting the lyrics: glory to the newborn.  What an amazing, yet subtle reminder that Christ can redeem all of our murder and ignorance and that even He came to Earth as a fragile baby in order to save us!  Powerful use of medley.

There is so much to be done on this matter: standing up for truth, trying to change our laws, helping troubled, pregnant women, etc. No matter who you are, you can make a difference!

This truth and this tune reminds us that we cannot stay numb and we cannot stand still and allow this legal kill.  Enough is enough!

What Matters More – Derek Webb (2009, Stockholm Syndrome)

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Today’s post marks the beginning of a new series (throughout the month of May) for Truth In Tunes entitled: Hot Topic Songs.  The goal will be to explore music that covers important social/spiritual issues of today.  And our first entry comes out of the gate firing on all cylinders – even addressing two hot topics at once: cursing & homosexuality.

A brief reintroduction of the artist – Derek Webb (who I’ve blogged about before) is a pioneer among Christian artists today.  He continues his involvement in the popular band, Caedmon’s Call.  His work with Noisetrade is also worth mentioning, as it serves as one of the best ways for artists and listeners to connect directly and appropriately.  He has been writing music for a long time, including solo projects for the last decade.

“Stockholm Syndrome” was indeed a controversial album, both in content and style.  Webb explored a more techno-based sound, which was a departure from his folk music orientation. But the real “Daniel” moment came when he included a song on the album that was so polarizing, the record label took it off the album.

The song includes what I would consider some mild curse words, so use your own discretion as you read/listen to “What Matters More” by Derek Webb:

you say you always treat people like you’d like to be
i guess you love being hated for your sexuality
you love when people put words in your mouth
about what you believe
make you sound like a freak

‘cause if you really believed what you say you believe
you wouldn’t be so damned reckless with the words you speak
you wouldn’t silently consent when the liars speak
denying all the dying of the remedy

tell me, brother what matters more to you
tell me, sister what matters more to you

if i can see what’s in your heart by what comes out of your mouth
then it sure looks to me like being straight is all it’s about
yeah it looks like being hated for all the wrong things
like chasing the wind while the pendulum swings

‘cause we can talk and debate till we’re blue in the face
about the language and tradition that he’s coming to save
and meanwhile we sit just like we don’t give a shit about
fifty thousand people who are dying today

There is much to say here about this song and the topic of homosexuality, so please bear with me.  First, about Derek Webb and the song, here is a helpful interview that he did explaining the song and the album.  It would be important to consider his own words before making any judgments.  The bottom line is that Webb felt strongly about saying something to the Christian community about how many of us have been treating the gay/lesbian community in recent times.  The song is a challenge to ask ourselves what we value more: being right or being Christ-like?  As Webb has stated many times, he is not commenting on the morality/theology of the issue of homosexuality, but rather he is expressing his frustration with the lack of compassion and love that homosexual people have received from the Christian community.

The response to his song from the Christian world proved his perception on the matter.  The blogosphere ripped him for using curse words in a “Christian” song.  Christian leaders criticized him for not clearly stating the biblical stance on homosexuality being a sin.  Meanwhile, the last verse of “What Matters More” proves itself over and over again by the general response the Christian world gave to Webb’s controversial tune.

Here we are, only three or four years later, and the state of affairs in Christianity (particularly in America) as it regards homosexuality has only gotten worse.  One of our most prominent preachers, Rick Warren, has gently but clearly taken a stand against homosexuality.  Recently, when his mentally-ill son committed suicide, some members of the gay-lesbian and liberal communities lashed out against Warren with cruel criticism and heartless words amidst his time of grief and loss.

When our country passes new laws giving rights to gays, the social media outlets are flooded with Christian one-liners condemning homosexuality and people declaring that our nation is heading to hell.  Not once, have I read a Christian tweet or status offer any sort of balanced perspective on the issues with a tone of kindness and respect.

Sports stars are starting to reveal their gay status publicly and when one sports analyst simply stated the balanced, appropriate Christian response to homosexuality he was labeled as intolerant and ESPN was forced to apologize for him.

Are these examples of how evil the world is and how Christians are hated because we represent Christ and truth?  That is a difficult question to answer.  In one sense, the Bible says it will be this way for true believers, but I do not feel that this represents the whole story of what we are seeing today.  In fact, I would go as far as to say that the main reason why Christians who stand against homosexuality in America are hated so much is because we hated homosexuals first.  Maybe Rick Warren and ESPN analyst Chris Broussard aren’t personally represented in that statement, but the general Christian community certainly is and all of us have caught the fury of the world’s outcry against our lack of love.

Back to our song of the week: here is an artist expressing his frustration with his brothers and sisters in Christ for not loving sinners better and here we are, simply missing the message and continuing to draw battle lines with a dying world – as if the time to love like Christ is over and Armageddon is upon us.  The simple truth is we need to ask ourselves whether or not each of us is balancing the volume of our Christian messages of truth, love, grace and holiness.  Some voices have been too loud for too long, while other voices have only been whispers at best.

There is a big difference between denying biblical truth about sexual sins and reaching out to sinners with the grace of God without condemning them first.  It is NOT loving to just tell someone he/she is broken and condemned while we keep our distance, never learning what it is like to step into their shoes and feel their struggles.

So, did Derek Webb cross the line with this tune?  If Derek Webb were an established local church, then yah, perhaps he did.  But Webb is just a person, an artist, and one brother in Christ speaking out to the rest of us with a tone that, frankly, we needed to hear.  The real question is whether or not you and I listen to this song and become more bothered by our own lack of compassion to homosexuals rather than the song itself.  Do we care more about him saying “shit” in a song or about our own heart attitude towards that gay coworker, neighbor and relative?

The real question for all of us is: what matters more?  Who did Jesus condemn and yell at? Religious leaders.  Who did Jesus eat with, teach, heal and love into the truth of His Gospel? Sinners, of which we, brothers and sisters, are foremost – even now.

Conclusion: Yes, of course, the Bible clearly teaches that homosexuality, along with any other sexual sin, is wrong.  Anyone who says that the Bible teaches differently is simply missing the truth.  And, yes, it’s OK for Christians to make absolute statements like that, because it is our core doctrine that the Bible is the only source of ultimate truth and wisdom.  HOWEVER, (please, please listen to this part) the WHOLE truth goes on to embrace the love and grace of Jesus who calls us to reach out to all people in relationship and mercy.

I am grateful to Webb for shaking me up in my own complacency and insensitivity towards gay-lesbian people and I pray that my brothers and sisters will also be convicted to adjust the volume of our message to better reflect the harmony of holiness and grace.

We have been too harsh for too long and it is time to ask ourselves: What matters more?

Reason to Sing – All Sons & Daughters (2013, Live)

click on image to listen to song for free.

Sometimes worship songs sound incredibly fake and unrealistic.  This reality presents a true dilemma for the Christian.  The Bible calls us to worship our God in spirit and truth, but sometimes we simply don’t feel like a praise song.  Maintaining some level of purity and authenticity in our singing to God is not easy.  In many ways, the real value of worship is blocked off from our hearts because of this tension between holy expectations and the everyday reality of our humanity.

Enter All Sons & Daughters, once again, to build us a bridge between what sometimes might feel impossibly too far away for us to reach.  This is my second time writing about their music and I’m excited to come back to them, especially concerning this issue of transparent worship.

The element that keeps our hearts glued to our God amidst our worship is the element of art.  Of course, theologically speaking, the Holy Spirit is the One who actually accomplishes worthy worship giving within us, even when we ourselves are incapable of offering it.  But on a more tangible level, it is the art of song and prose that deliver a variety of vehicles for us to enter the presence of God, no matter how we feel or what we think.

Please don’t misunderstand.  A song is not a license to just sing whatever you want and call it worship.  It has to be real and it has be right.  But here, we also recognize that different tunes offer different moods and styles so that we can find the one that matches the place where our worship is coming from today.  The Psalms is the bedrock example of this principle.  Their are several kinds of prayers (or songs/poems/etc.) in the Bible, such as songs of praise, lament, royal psalms, imprecation and reflection.  Each style of song, or art, comes out of different seasons of life – and not all good ones!  You can successfully pray and worship when you are sad, mad and bitter.

Sometimes, worship in the lower moments of life is exactly what God uses to help bring us out of the depths of the valley and into His marvelous light.  Listen to All Sons & Daughters in their new, live version of “Reason to Sing”:

When the pieces seem too shattered
To gather off the floor
And all that seems to matter
Is that I don’t feel You anymore
No I don’t feel You anymore

I need a reason to sing
I need to know that You’re still holding
The whole world in Your hands
I need a reason to sing

When I’m overcome by fear
And I hate ev’rything I know
If this waiting lasts forever
I’m afraid I might let go
I’m afraid I might let go oh

Will there be a victory?
Will You sing it over me now?
Your peace is the melody
With You sing it over me now?

I need a reason to sing
I need to know that You’re still holding
The whole world in Your hands
That is a reason to sing

I will sing, sing, sing to my God my King, ‘fore all else fades away;                                        I will love, love, love with this heart in me, for You’ve been good always.

The beauty of this song for me is that it couples together (like many psalms also do) words for the wind with words of timeless truth.  Words for the wind are those thoughts and phrases that don’t necessarily reflect absolute truth, but they capture how I might feel today.  “I need a reason to sing” almost sounds like flat-out disobedience to the Scriptural command to praise God at all times in all circumstances.

Why would we sing to God about needing a reason to sing to God?  It is not because we are trying to defy Him or belittle Him, instead we are expressing our feelings to Him, “God, I don’t feel like I have a reason to sing praises to You today.”

This is perfectly OK to do and God wants to hear your heart, no matter how it sounds.  David says in the Psalms, “God, why have You abandoned me?!” or “God, why are all my enemies improving and I am left to suffer?”  David doesn’t mean these questions literally.  He knows that God never leaves Him and his enemies will not have victory in the end; but he chooses to say to God how he is feeling at the moment and then he lets those words fly away with the wind.

Then our song, just like David, comes back around to the words of timeless truth: God does have the whole world in His hands, including me.  Even in the midst of feeling alone, abandoned, hurt and confused – we can claim God’s infinite truth over our lives.  We can ask God to lay His sovereignty and grace over our broken hearts and lives like a galactic-sized security blanket.

God is both intimately concerned about our true thoughts and feelings as He is about our trust in His character.  We have an endless number of reasons to sing to Him – and some of them include our self expression of both the good and the bad within our true self, the worthy and the pathetic of all that makes us who we really are.  The idea of worship is that you stay connected to Him: head to Head, heart to Heart.

Let music be your tool to keeping communion with Abba, Father and always keep the true you in your tunes for Him!

The Days To Come – The 77s (1990, Sticks & Stones)

click on image to listen to song for free.

In the wake of last week’s terrorist attack in Boston and other tragedies, I decided to dig into the archives for a song with a helpful message.  Responding to evil and disaster is a difficult and sensitive topic.  It is at least part of the biggest reason why people choose to turn their backs on God.  Why devote yourself to a Being that allows so many bad things to happen in this world?

The elusive answer to this question has been written across history for centuries.  Merely stepping back and getting a bird’s eye view will show that these tragic events are not new, nor are they an indication of what is to come.  However, we ought to admit the fact that it is hard to remember this ageless cycle of violence when we are hit in the face with a new wave of evil’s thorns.  It feels so unnecessary, uncalled for, and unimaginable.  The amount of “how” and “why” questions that I heard asked throughout the last few days reflects this challenge.

Therefore, I’ve called upon a voice from the past to encourage us with the old, but ever-new message: forget the past, and prepare for the days to come.

The Seventy Sevens (77s) dominated the rock scene throughout the 80’s and into the 90’s.  Led by front man, Michael Roe, they began as a ministry-based quartet.  Their integrity of both musical style and lyrical power lifted them into the hall of fame of Christian rockers (if there is such a place).  I certainly cut my teeth on their sound in my early years.  Like a surprisingly large amount of 80’s bands, they still play and tour even today and you can listen to their entire discography at the link above.

Today’s song comes from their best album (in my opinion), “Sticks & Stones.”  Listen to the balance of a sensitivity to pain, as well as the encouragement of the future:

Something tells me that we’ll come out of this
With a healing compassion or a scarring bitterness
Don’t revive painful times, let them rest
Don’t drag a net through the sea of forgetfulness

The cut was deep, the blood was warm
I can’t deny what it’s done
But if we don’t release the past
We’ll slap the face of the days to come

There’s a hand at the door refusing to leave
Its pulse is throbbing, its heart on its sleeve
It’s a new tomorrow waiting to be received
By somebody ready and willing to believe

The cut was deep, the blood was warm
I can’t deny what it’s done
But if we don’t release the past
We’ll slap the face of the days to come

Remember this melody
Don’t ever let it go away
Sing it to your heart
Day after day after day

The cut was deep, the blood was warm
I can’t deny what it’s done
But if we don’t release the past
We’ll slap the face of the days to come

The “days to come” obviously refer to the promise of Heaven and all things being made new in Christ.  It is the time when the kingdom of God comes to reclaim and remake everything that was once lost and broken.  The crux of these future days, as it relates to current evil, is that God has promised to put an eternal end to every evil, every sorrow, and every tear – for those who are found to have true faith in Jesus.

The informed Christian sees the news headlines from last week and thinks, “Come, Lord Jesus!”  And this is all well and good, but the fact remains that Jesus didn’t pick yesterday to return and rescue His people from woe.  That day is still to come.  Today is still a day filled with pain, regret, anger, restlessness, loneliness, and fear.  What can we say the grieving and hurting people who need help?

The bottom line, as insensitive as it might sound, is these things are simply the inheritance of our human ways.  Yes, there are positives to be celebrated from last week, such as the heroes who helped the injured, saved lives and captured the bombers.  And yes, we are not all like those who would destroy innocent life for any reason.  But, our human heroes are not our saviors; and our bombers are still our neighbors and fellow sinners before the Cross. All of the “how” and “why” questions are found in each of our hearts.

Do not be surprised by the clutches of evil in this world, for as severe as it seems at times God is actively holding evil at bay.  Do not linger upon the tragedies of the past, for they will repeat themselves again and again until the White Horseman rides down from the clouds.  And do not lose hope amidst the ashes of this world, for there are better days to come.

“3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.[a] He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.”                    – Revelation 21:3-7

The Valley – The Oh Hello’s (2012, Through the Deep, Dark Valley)

click on image to listen to song for free.

Last week, we entertained the idea of revival and spiritual awakening.  Today, we revisit the reason why we, human beings, have a dire need for such things in the first place.

May I introduce to you Maggie and Tyler Heath (siblings), otherwise known as The Oh Hello’s.  This group proudly hails from Texas (does any Texan not have pride in their state?) and are self-described “intentionally independent, self-produced music makers.”

Speaking of “self” our subject today is original sin and total depravity, or in layman’s terms, the smell of humanity.  As already mentioned, our spiritual odor is the reason why we need to be washed by the blood of Christ.  But more than that, we are so filthy and stinky that we need to daily enter that baptismal of spiritual renewal that is only found in God’s Son.  We have stunk so badly for so long, we tend to forget the stench is even there.

Any media outlet (no matter it’s level of quality or bias) you choose to monitor will remind you of that – somewhat hard to forget and hard to remember – aroma that is the fallen-ness of humankind.  It follows us everywhere like a skunk spray times infinity.  Within the core of our beings we each carry the potential to be as awful and ugly as a Hitler or a Marylin Manson.  We were all born this way and none of us can simply shake it off on our own.

Listen to a song that is the opener for The Oh Hello’s concept album put out last year designed to explore and express personal reflections about the fall of people and a single response from God:

We were born in the valley of the dead and the wicked
that our father’s father found and where we laid him down
We were born in the shadow of the crimes of our fathers
blood was our inheritance, no, we did not ask for this

Will You lead me?

We were young when we heard You call our names in the silence
like a fire in the dark, like a sword upon our hearts
We came down to the water and we begged for forgiveness
shadows lurking close behind, we were fleeing for our lives

Will You lead me?

Still You lead me, never leave me, never leave me

That last line actually comes from a reprise at the end of the album, along with a lingering refrain from the famous hymn “Come Thou Fount.”  The line from the hymn that our song highlights is a human confession of our ever present tendency to wander away from God, back towards the land of human filth and pathetic-ness.

It is as if we are standing in river current that constantly pulls towards the depravity that plagues every member of the human race.  Even when we relax and do nothing, we will simply drift back towards all things putrid and rebellious.  The Christian knows that it is his/her lot to strive against this undertow on a daily basis.  But the Christian should also know that Christ will be the One who leads us upstream and away from the valley.

Here’s how Paul explains the battle within himself (Romans 7:14-25):

14 So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. 15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate…

18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong…

24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord…

The entire album by The Oh Hello’s does a great job of exploring this topic and you can enjoy the whole thing at the link on the image above.  I appreciate their efforts to join Paul in humbly admitting that our depravity is still here – even for those who have been washed clean by the love of Christ.  Some might have trouble with that statement, wondering how could being born again in Christ still leave this odor of sin all over my heart and hands?

I think when we are all honest with ourselves, it isn’t that hard of a truth to accept.  The hymn writer felt his proneness to wander – while he was worshiping his Savior and leading others to do the same.  Paul taught his churches of his own struggle – in the midst of teaching them about the Gospel’s saving power, as well.  You and I know in our heart of hearts that our striving will only cease when this flesh is dead and gone.

But until then we must remember where we have come from, where we still live and where we are headed.  We came from the valley of death, sin and destruction.  The valley of spiritual wretchedness still exists in our nature (even for believers in Jesus), but it will end on the mountain top of that final victory awaiting all those who truly embrace the Christ.

He will lead us through the deep, dark valley!