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.

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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?