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!

Awake – The Ember Days (2013, More Than You Think)

click on image to listen to song for free.

This post is primarily about our constant need for spiritual renewal.  This song is a battle cry and a prayer for each of us to embrace on a daily basis, no matter how numb and complacent we may feel today.  If you are open to these things, then you should genuinely feel nervous and excited at the same time, because the Holy Spirit of God is not harnessed and He is not safe.

The Ember Days is a quintet from New Zealand seeking to push the limits of contemporary worship music.  Their sound is indie and moody and beautifully intimate (something like The Cardigans meets Explosions in the Sky…maybe?).  Their lyrics are consistent with their purpose: to bring the created close to our Creator.  “Awake” is a simple song that everyone can relate to and probably on a daily basis, if we’re honest.  Listen with humility and openness to your own need for revival.

Bring me back again, let me see again,                                                                                all that You lay down for us, we are Yours forever,                                                        clothed in righteousness, You gave nothing less,                                                            grace keeping me whole, love making me free,                                                              You’re the fire inside that makes me come alive,                                                             awake my heart, awake my soul, revive me Lord,                                                             come and make me whole, awake my soul

Bring me back again, hope that never ends,                                                                    given all for us, You have our devotion,                                                                             taste and see Your love, coming from above,                                                                      Holy One that redeems, I fall at Your feet…

I need You my God, I need You to breathe,                                                                      come now oh Jesus, awaken my soul to sing,                                                                      all that You gave, Your life for me, Lord I am yours,                                                     awaken my soul to sing,                                                                                                  awake my heart, awake my soul, revive me Lord,                                                          come and make me whole, awake my soul.

The beauty of this song is not its theological depth, but rather it’s emotional depth.  It places a simple request at the feet of Christ (a desire for spiritual awakening) and then expectantly awaits upon the One True sovereign God to fulfill His promises.

The energy and intimacy of the song is a force in and of itself that epitomizes what worship music should be – a truth brought to life.  Just like a painting puts color to an idea.  It is certainly something to get caught up in – as long as that something is grounded in Gospel truth.  The result is always a changed life and a real faith.  The awakened Christian feels deeply, ministers holistically and prays powerfully.  The awakened Church reaches out to the lost corners of their communities and brings Jesus to the broken.

The Ember Days is associated with a ministry called “Come&Live!” who simply gather worship bands and speakers together for the purpose of living out a genuine and vibrant faith among the broken and needy.  They can be uncomfortably charismatic at times (depending on your background), but their mission and method appear to be biblical and Christ-like.  The truth is they are reaching young people within the cracks of our society that very few other ministries are effectively reaching.  And that is a very good thing.

Jesus had a similar strategy in His days on earth and when He ascended to Heaven, He left us with instructions to do the same as Him unto the ends of the world (Matthew 28:18-20).  A commission like that starts with an awakening of our own hearts.

May you pray for personal revival each day and may you carry the banner of Christ’s love for yourself and those hurting around you, indiscriminately and without reservation for what God might choose to do through you.  May you be truly awake!