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!

Advertisements

Sing, O Heavens! O Earth, Rejoice! – CPC (2013, Angel Harp & Human Voice)

click on image to listen to song for free.

Good Friday has come and gone.  All the Earth is quiet, still and dark as night.  What has happened to our Savior?  Jesus was supposed to save God’s people and now He is dead?  These questions surround the heartbreak of His disciples and friends as they wait for God knows what.  Meanwhile, in the spiritual realm everything has slowed down to a crawl – awaiting the most pivotal moment of all time.
It was as if a volcano was about to erupt and every being, good and evil, fixed their gaze on His grave waiting in anticipation and holding their collective breathe before the biggest moment in salvation history.
Then, on Sunday, Immanuel bursts forth from the dead holding the keys to redemption and eternal life!  And the harmony of praise that He receives from the Heavens and the Earth – angels and humans together – catapults high and loud for all of creation to witness and proclaim!
The resurrection and Jesus’ ascension to honor and authority in Heaven is the subject of our final song for this collection of posts about the Lent/Easter season.  Christ Presbyterian Church in Alabama combined their efforts with some of the folks from Red Mountain to create this album and this tune.  Listen, meditate and celebrate along with the Heavenly hosts!
Sing, O Ye Heavens! O Earth, rejoice!
Angel harp and human voice,
‘Round Him, as He rises, raise,
Your ascending Savior’s praise,
Hallelujah!
All His work and warfare done,
He into His heaven is gone,
and beside His Father’s throne,
now is pleading for His own,
Hallelujah!
 
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Asking gifts for sinful man
that He may come down again
And the fallen to restore
In them dwell for evermore
Hallelujah!
Sing, O Ye Heavens! O Earth, rejoice!
Angel harp and human voice,
‘Round Him, in His Glory, raise,
Your ascended Savior’s praise,
Hallelujah!
Jesus would rather die than live without you.  But when He rose again, showing that His love for you comes with supreme power, that was the moment of true victory!
Hallelujah, He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!
And the army of God’s warriors of Heaven play their harps and raise their mighty voices shoulder to shoulder beside you and me…
Listen to John the Revelator paint the scene that inspires our song and hearts:
Then I saw a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered, but it was now standing between the throne and the four living beings and among the twenty-four elders…He stepped forward and took the scroll from the right hand of the one sitting on the throne. And when he took the scroll, the four living beings and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb…And they sang a new song with these words:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
    and break its seals and open it.
For you were slaughtered, and your blood has ransomed people for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation.
10 And you have caused them to become
    a Kingdom of priests for our God.
    And they will reign on the earth.”

11 Then I looked again, and I heard the voices of thousands and millions of angels around the throne and of the living beings and the elders. 12 And they sang in a mighty chorus:

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered—
    to receive power and riches
and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and blessing.”

13 And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang:

“Blessing and honor and glory and power
    belong to the one sitting on the throne
    and to the Lamb forever and ever.”

– Revelation 5:6-13

In Christ Alone – King’s Kaleidoscope (2012, Asaph’s Arrows)

click on image to listen to song for free.

Monday, we invited our hearts to embrace Holy Week with a simple plea to the person of Jesus through a scratchy demo with one voice and one instrument.  Today, we appeal to the depths of the theology of Easter through many voices, instruments and arrangements.

In other words, it is time to let the fullness of the resurrection of Christ crash against our minds and hearts until we are indeed full.

King’s Kaleidoscope is another extension of Mars Hill Church.  Specifically, they are an “indie rock worship band made up of about a dozen musicians, including a string trio, a horns section, two drum kits—and definitely a cymbal or two.”

The song, “In Christ Alone” was written by the sultans of modern hymn composers: Keith Getty and Stuart Townend.  Many people have covered this instant classic, but this version entails a richness and celebration that is appropriate to the doctrine of the resurrection.

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm

What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless Babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save

‘Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again

And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Could ever pluck me from His hand
Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand

The true power of Easter lies in the fact that all victories center around one event – an event that no other person or force in this universe has ever or will ever accomplish. Yeah, those are several absolutes I just used in that sentence…but for a good reason.  Think about it: only Jesus did what He did –

1. Being entirely God, put on flesh and became entirely human while still being God.         2. Lived a perfect, sinless life while facing every struggle and temptation possible.                3. Bore the sins of the entire human race while enduring temporary separation from His Heavenly Father and the torments of torture, death and hell.                                                  4. Conquered death, satan, sin and every evil entity that has ever existed.                            5. Rose back to physical life.                                                                                                    6. Ascend to the right hand of God and to the position of ultimate glory, authority and honor. 7. Still stands there, extending unlimited and irresistible grace to any believer, while preparing a place for them in paradise that will be an eternal state of joy, rest and satisfaction!

Christ alone has done these things and nothing could ever undo them!  This is what Holy Week  and Easter are all about.

Listen to Paul as He teaches the Philippian believers how to better understand this Jesus and how we can be encouraged to be more like Him:

2:1 Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though He was God,
    He did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, He gave up his divine privileges;
    He took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When He appeared in human form,
    He humbled Himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Therefore, God elevated Him to the place of highest honor
    and gave Him the name above all other names,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Let our hearts reflect as best as we can what Easter really is about – because we both  desire to and we are compelled to by His absolute and singular worthiness.  This Sunday, let us be truly found in Christ…in Christ alone.

Jesus – Rich Mullins (1997, the Jesus record)

click on image to listen to song for free.

We’ve come to Holy Week and the time to reflect upon the cross.  In this series of posts throughout the week, we will major on two things: the resurrection and our response to Jesus.  I may go back and forth, but be sure to come back frequently, for I hope to blog several times this week.

Let’s open with a rough diamond that I have treasured for many years.  This would fall mostly in the category of response and reflection and I offer it first for one simple reason: our personal heart response to the cross is what matters most during this week.  God’s Son did not die for any other reason than to glorify His Father through bringing people close to Him again.

But we have a tendency during the Easter season to zero in on things like cross, resurrection, salvation, etc.  These are central and colossal matters in scope and depth and its so easy to get lost in doctrine and rhetoric.  One thing that might get lost in the shuffle is the pure, stripped down truth that a man named Jesus loved us so much that He died and rose again on our behalf.

Rich Mullins is exactly what we need to capture the angle of Easter that reminds of a love from a man that is so intoxicating, we simply cannot resist.  This song is actually just a poor recording that was released posthumously.  Mullins died in a car accident, but shortly before his death, he went alone to a small chapel and recorded a demo of songs for his next project.  The plain, scratchy sound seems to perfectly reflect a lonely, human heart aching to be attached to the sparkling, yet approachable heart of the Son of God.

Listen to the magic of a song without fanfare and frills:

Jesus
They say You walked upon the water once
When you lived as all men do
Please teach me how to walk the way You did
Because I want to walk with You

Jesus
They say you taught a lame man how to dance
When he had never stood without a crutch
Well, here am I Lord, holding out my withered hands
And I’m just waiting to be touched

Jesus
Write me into Your story
Whisper it to me
And let me know I’m Yours

Jesus
They say You spoke and calmed an angry wave
That was tossed across a stormy sea
Please teach me how to listen, how to obey
‘Cause there’s a storm inside of me

Jesus
Write me into Your story
Whisper it to me
And let me know I’m Yours

Jesus
They drove the cold nails through Your tired hands
And rolled a stone to seal Your grave
Feels like the devil’s rolled a stone onto my heart
Can You roll that stone away?

The hint of the resurrection at the end of the song connected to our personal struggle to be revived is truly palpable.  Sometimes, our Easter meditations become too disconnected from our every day lives.  Yet, no one could ever accuse Rich Mullins of promoting such a disconnect.  He reaches across the gap and pulls us into the realm of the authentic and the honest.

I wanted to include another song from this “album” because it takes this issue even further.  Listen to an excerpt from the lyrics of “Hard To Get” by Rich Mullins:

Did You ever know loneliness
Did You ever know need
Do You remember just how long a night can get?
When You were barely holding on
And Your friends fall asleep
And don’t see the blood that’s running in Your sweat

Will those who mourn be left uncomforted
While You’re up there just playing hard to get?

And I know you bore our sorrows
And I know you feel our pain
And I know it would not hurt any less
Even if it could be explained

And I know that I am only lashing out
At the One who loves me most
And after I figured this, somehow
All I really need to know

Is if You who live in eternity
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in time
We can’t see what’s ahead
And we can not get free of what we’ve left behind
I’m reeling from these voices that keep screaming in my ears
All the words of shame and doubt, blame and regret

I can’t see how You’re leading me unless You’ve led me here
Where I’m lost enough to let myself be led
And so You’ve been here all along I guess
It’s just Your ways and You are just plain hard to get

How often we sit in church or alone, trying to connect with God, but these kind of thoughts and emotions serve as the chasm standing between us and Him.  Mullins faithfully writes like the psalmists of old – who left no doubt or fear tucked away in their hearts – but instead, laid it all out at God’s feet.  And yet he includes references to the everlasting truth that God loves us best!  The cross proves this over and over again!

Deep within our hearts we must always keep telling ourselves that the cross trumps all doubts, fears and shortcomings.  Let Easter be a time to feel the freedom that was earned for you by His blood.  Let the Passion of Christ wash away all your reservations about God’s love for you.  Let His resurrection release your heart the from cage of fear and death.

But most of all, let Jesus be Jesus.  In one very important sense, Jesus was just a man.  A man who loves you best and died to prove it.  You are deeply known and deeply loved by the Son of God…and He has written you into His story, if you have given your heart to Him.

Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed, Sojourn (2009, Over The Grave)

click on image to listen to song for free.

Today we close out the Passion aspect of Lent season (I will take the next two weeks on the resurrection) with a song that truly captures the best response that the heart could have to the suffering and death of Christ.  We must consider seriously meditating on how much Jesus did for us: that He laid His life down for sinners like you and me.  We must find a heart of gratitude for these things at the deepest level, no matter how uncomfortable it might be.

Therefore, I am calling out an all-star cast for this occasion.  All-star, meaning our song is a time-tested, hall of fame-like tune performed by a well-loved, veteran group of artists that are at the heart of the “new hymns” movement today.

Without further ado, here is Sojourn performing Isaac Watt’s classic hymn, “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed” :

Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die.
Would He devote that sacred head
For sinners such as I?
His body slain; nailed to the cross
Bathed in his own blood
There received the wrath of God
His soul in anguish stood.
It was for crimes that I had done
That kept him on the tree.
Amazing mercy, matchless grace
And love beyond degree.
When Christ, our own creator died
And took upon our sin
Not even in that darkest hour
Could glory be shut in
My thoughts fixed on His sacrifice
The cross that draws me near
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness
And melt my eyes to tears.
Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die.
Would He devote that sacred head
For sinners such as I?
Drops of grief cannot repay
The love I owe to you
Lord, I give myself away
Its all that can do.

I have printed these words out and kept them in my Bible for years now. It seems to capture that initial and essential response to the Cross so perfectly.  It is the very function of worship music to repeatedly take core truths deeper into the heart and mind of the worshipper.

Because of how rich this song is, I encourage all readers to simply focus on the lyrics themselves, more so than my reflections about them.  Re-read the biblical accounts of the crucifixion in companion with this song.  Perhaps intensify things by watching the Passion of the Christ movie in conjunction with your reading and listening to this song.

Don’t let this season pass you by without stepping into the depths of the death of death and sin.  The resurrection is coming and it is supremely grand and important – but it wouldn’t mean a thing if our Savior didn’t bleed for us first.  Watts says is best, “My thoughts fixed on His sacrifice,the cross that draws me near, dissolve my heart in thankfulness, and melt my eyes to tears.

Alas! and did my Savior bleed.”

Garden – Need To Breathe (2009, The Outsiders)

Click on image to listen to song for free.

For Lent season and Easter preparation, I wanted to include a song that features Jesus’ time in the garden of Gethsemane, the night before He died.  There aren’t many songs specifically about this event, but Need To Breathe has one and it’ll do the job just fine.

Need To Breathe is a rock quartet out of South Carolina who have over 13 years of experience under their belts.  They are a good example of a modern Christian band who avoid the need for extensive labels, yet they are unashamedly clear about their beliefs.

This song takes the liberty of guessing at some of the things that Jesus might have said in His prayer to His Father on that scandalous night.  It isn’t theologically perfect and it tends to drift off into a ballad about singing songs to God, too; but there is an important sentiment at its core that is worth meditating upon:

Won’t you take this cup from me
Cause fear has stolen all my sleep
If tomorrow means my death
Pray you’ll save their souls with it

Let the songs I sing bring joy to you
Let the words I say confess my love
Let the notes I choose be your favorite tune
Father let my heart be after you

In this hour of doubt I see
Who I am is not just me
So give me strength to die myself
So love can live to tell the tale

Father let my heart be for you

The sentiment that resonated strongly for me from this song is the one that matches a real prayer given by Jesus shortly before His death, recorded in John 17:

Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son may glorify You…I have revealed You to those whom You gave me out of the world. They were Yours; You gave them to me and they have obeyed Your word. Now they know that everything You have given me comes from You…I pray for them…Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your name, the name You gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one.

“…Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.  My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You… Then the world will know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me…I have made You known to them, and will continue to make You known in order that the love You have for Me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Sounds a lot like “If tomorrow means my death, Pray you’ll save their souls with it…So love can live to tell the tale.” 

Clearly, one of the most special things about what Christ did for us on the cross is that He really wanted us to know and experience His love for us and His love for His Father God.  When His hour of truth and ultimate testing came He had us on His mind and heart.  When we spat in His face, mocked His glory, and drove the nails in His flesh He cried out, “Father forgive them!”

I do believe that one treasure awaiting us in Heaven is the sweet reminiscing of those biblical moments that we can only now imagine.  Consider sitting around the campfire while Jesus played back that John 17 prayer in all its emotion and detail.  Or listening to Peter laugh about how they ran to the empty tomb, not understanding yet how their great Teacher had defeated death for them!

For now, our hearts are greatly helped by at least picturing our Saviors big heart for us during that fateful night when He could have considered so many other things.  Praise Him and thank Him today that He was able and oh so willing to follow through with the Father’s plan to save us!  The cup did not pass from Him, His blood was shed, and we are saved!

Should we label music as either Christian or non-Christian?

All music that is made by humankind is both expressive and subjective.  Expressive, because that is the nature of music – to convey through song a thought, feeling or experience.  Subjective, because someone has to be the one to write, compose and perform the tune.  All forms of art carry these two primary qualities and for this reason it is fair to say that all music is always creative and always flawed (both attributes coming in varying degrees, of course).  Creative in the sense that it came from within someone’s heart and mind – as opposed to being something that already existed (i.e., trees, love and despair are ongoing realities of life, but each new song about trees, love or despair are new creations).  In addition, there is at least some level of imperfection or flaw in every song’s message, just as there is with everything else that humanity creates or designs – because we are imperfect creatures.  This doesn’t mean that it can’t be beautiful or convey truth.  All it really means is this: if God didn’t create it, than it is less than perfect.

Because of the assumptions laid out above, I believe music doesn’t require spiritual categorization: especially Christian versus non-Christian categories.  I am not saying it is wrong to try to make these distinctions (I do it all the time, simply out of habit).  In many ways, we are forced to do it at some level (picking church service songs, etc.)  All I’m saying is that it is too difficult to get it exactly right and it is unimportant to try.  Now some readers might gasp or frown at this last statement.  Please understand that I intend to offer an alternative to categorizing music as Christian or not and I will give reasons why it isn’t helpful to force these distinctions.

First, some reasons why Christian categorizations for music are not helpful.  By the way, by categorization I do not include musical styles (jazz, pop, punk, etc.); instead, I am only referring to placing a song in either Christian or non-Christian categories.  Now then, if I claim a song or artist to be Christian, what am I claiming?  Are their levels of holiness and infallibility involved in this kind of claim?  Or is their trustworthiness assumed and given, despite a lack of testing and biblical checking?  And who decides these things for all of us?  You can see how these questions foster an attitude of judgmentalism and over-analysis.  There shouldn’t be these things involved in music, but I believe many people apply an unhealthy level of this kind of thinking towards music that is labeled Christian.  A Christian song is not the same thing as a Bible verse, yet how many of us can claim that we are spiritually impacted more by verses than the songs we choose to listen to?  If we’re all honest with ourselves, we can at least agree that the temptation to be formed more by our music than Scripture is definitely there.  So music is indeed important, but trying to assign universal spiritual value to someone else’s expression of art or worship is a slippery slope.

Another reason categorization doesn’t help is because it usually doesn’t help the artist.  So many music artists today are trying not to be labeled, simply because it hurts their livelihood.  Music artists who are Christians trying to use their music as ministry are also feeling this tension between adhering to a label and the freedom that comes without having one.  Music today is becoming more and more un-industrious, meaning there are less record label contracts and more Kickstarter projects, less manufacturing of what the masses want and more independent expressions that comfortably fit in the thousands of small niches that exist today.  We even have niches for “city country music” and other paradoxical themes that simply didn’t exist before.  Christian labeling and categorizing doesn’t help the artist nearly as much as it used to.

So what should the Christian do about music, if saying that music is either Christian or non-Christian doesn’t help us anymore?  How do we wade through the mountain of mp3s that are so accessible and affordable today?  How do we guard our hearts and steer towards the songs that enhance our worship and broaden our view of the One True God?

My solution is not complex and it is not new.  It is simply this: like all other forms of expression (books, film, speakers, etc.) we must put all of it through the grid of Scripture.  You can find truth in a Christian song, but you can also find falsehood.  Likewise, you can find truth in a non-Christian song sometimes.  Why bother making general distinctions about whether or not the song came from a “Christian” artist or label?  Whatever the source, each of us ought to measure a tune’s value by the Word of God.

We often times make the mistake of assuming that it is the musicians job, if he/she claims faith in Christ, to present the full Gospel (complete with the most obvious churchy words) in every song.  That is like asking a Christian pie maker to bake an evangelism tract into every pie!  Would that really be considered better stewardship or better faithfulness?  All Christians are indeed called to evangelize the lost, but we are NOT expected to produce a four-point outline of how someone can be saved with every breathe we take.  Music artists are not inherently evangelists – no more so than pie makers.  Certainly, many artists who are Christians see a calling on their lives to evangelize through their music, but it is not a prerequisite.

On the flipside, non-Christians who express themselves honestly in music can sometimes stumble upon a biblical truth and convey it with power and beauty.  Paul talks about people “accidently” preaching Christ, even though they don’t have Christ in their hearts.  Nevertheless, God is glorified in it anyway, if it entails the absolute truth of Scripture.  It is true to think that this would be a rare thing in the secular music world, but not impossible.

What I am proposing is important for a few reasons: 1) it protects our hearts better.  We are not as likely to be deceived by a heretical “Christian” song if we are not trying to just follow music categories already made for us, but instead challenging all songs by the standard of the Bible; 2) it causes us to sharpen our biblical framework, so that we are ready to discern any given song against God’s Word; 3) it gives the artist a better chance to be heard objectively.  We are never fully objective, but knocking down our preconceived stereotypes certainly helps; 4) it puts the onus on us, the listeners, to filter in (or out) music in a constructive way.  This is appropriate when dealing with the realm of art and media (as opposed to the realm of preaching and organized religion); and finally, 5) it enhances our worship because it forces us to discern and decide whether or not a song glorifies God faithfully, as opposed to assuming that labels and leaders have already done that for us.  If my biblical antennas are up while I listen to music, then I will be more likely to get the right message from the right tunes.

In conclusion, the believer in Christ should be a hunter of excellent art that pulls out the appropriate expressions of the life and color of Gospel truths.  There is no debate that art is powerful and it can be a great force for spiritual good.  At the same time, wrong music can deceive, ensnare and defeat us in significant ways.  Both kinds of music can come from any source at any time – and that is what labeling dangerously leads us to forget.  This truth should encourage us to strengthen our Scriptural grid that we lay over our eyes, ears and heart.  We should not pre-label our music (legalism), nor should we go to the other extreme and strain “truth” out of every song (license).  Be fair, be open, be sober and cautious…but above all, be biblical!  I truly believe that this is the best path towards the greatest amount of beauty in music, which would give God the most glory.

Sincerely,  TruthinTunes guy

P.S. I intentionally left out musical examples from this article.  I researched many other writings that attempted to address the same question as I did here and each time they used examples to make their point I found that the subjectivity and lack of balanced perspective took away from their arguments.  Art is meant to be discerned and criticized, but this article should serve more as a primer for how to do that as a Christian, not a lecture about what grade to give every song that’s out there (and there are actually websites that do this).  Feel free to comment below about specific songs or ask me what I think about any given song.  You’ll also get a better idea of some songs that I like by reading other articles on this blog.

Hosanna – Andrew Peterson (2008, Resurrection Letters Vol. 2)

click on image to listen to song for free.

Continuing the opening theme of confession within our focus on the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Andrew Peterson, once again, steps up to the plate for this week’s selection.

Today’s song takes the question of “Why did God have to die in the first place?” and the answer that Page CXVI gave us last week (“You bled by our hands…”) and brings all of it further in and all the way through to the ultimate conclusion: God died.  We put Him there.  But God did it anyway, because He is King of our lives and our hearts!  The “further in” part has to do with Peterson’s humbling and cutting confession as a fallen child of God that we could/should all claim for ourselves.  But listen also to the hinting and foreshadowing of victory that this song offers:

I am tangled up in contradiction. I am strangled by my own two hands.                                 I am hunted by the hounds of addiction. Hosanna!                                                                 I have lied to everyone who trusts me. I have tried to fall when I could stand.                        I have only loved the ones who loves me. Hosanna!

O Hosanna! See the long awaited king come to set his people free. We cry O Hosanna! Come and tear the temple down. Raise it up on holy ground. Hosanna!

I have struggled to remove this raiment, tried to hide every shimmering strand.                   I contend with these ghosts and these hosts of bright angels. Hosanna!                               I have cursed the man that you have made me,                                                                   as I have nursed the beast that bays for my blood.                                                            Oh, I have run from the one who would save me. Save me, Hosanna!

We cry for blood, and we take your life. Hosanna!                                                                 It is blood, it is life that you have given.

You have crushed beneath your heel the vile serpent.                                                       You have carried to the grave the black stain.                                                                   You have torn apart the temple’s holy curtain.                                                                   You have beaten Death at Death’s own game. Hosanna!

O Hosanna! Hail the long awaited king, come to set his people free. We cry O Hosanna! Won’t you tear this temple down, raise it up on holy ground. O Hosanna!                              I will lift my voice and sing: you have come and washed me clean. Hosanna.

This song is set primarily within the story of Jesus arriving in Jerusalem on a donkey and being hailed as King of the Jews by the people (Matthew 21).  This triumphal entry occurs only a week before the same masses would cry out, “Crucify Him!”

The irony that the Gospel authors allude to (and Peterson picks up on in this tune) is that Christ is indeed Israel’s “Saving King” but not in the way that they expected.  The Jews hoped for a physical saving from Roman oppressors, but God meant His Son to be a spiritual savior.  Nevertheless, Christ will reign over all realms in the end and the cry of “Hosanna!” is and will be completely answered.

The other beautiful symbolism in this story is Jesus clearing out the Temple shortly after His regal welcome to the city.  Again, Jesus drives the point towards the spiritual focus that His mission was always centered on.  The Temple is symbolic for our bodies and our man-made religious efforts.  And so the lyrics of our song today rightly call us to plea with God, saying “Come and tear this temple down. Raise it up on holy ground. Hosanna!

In order for Jesus to do this, He had to die.  This song captures the riveting defiance that we pit against the immeasurable offer of sacrificial love given to us by God through Christ.

The word Hosanna in the Greek literally means, “save now!”  What a succinct way of defining both our great need and the great hope that Jesus Christ is exactly the One who can save us.  May we continue to better understand exactly what we are to be saved from (ourselves, the wrath of a holy God, etc.) and Who is doing the saving.  May the cry of “Hosanna!” be written on our hearts over this Lent season more and more.

O Sacred Head, Page CXVI (2012, B-Sides)

click on image to listen to song for free.

Passion/Resurrection theme continues this week with a powerful old/new number addressing the awful reason why Christ had to die in the first place: us.

Page CXVI is a trio endeavoring to revive old hymns with new musical life.  Their style is one of simplicity and a little shoe-gazing, but beautiful for sure.  Their name?  Well, in their own words, “We got our name from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia in The Magician’s Nephew. Page 116 in the book (CXVI in roman numerals) is where Aslan begins to sing Narnia into creation. Melody being the driving force behind creation really resonated with us, and we stuck with it!”  Perfect!

“O Sacred Head” was originally a passion hymn from the Dark (or Middle) Ages.  I guess a few things good did come out of such a bleak time period.  The old text has many more verses and “Thees” and “Thous”, but the gist of the lyrics is captured by Page CXVI here:

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
How pale art Thou with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
Oh how Your face bends solemn, which once was bright as morn!

Men mock and taunt and jeer Thee, Thou noble countenance,
Though mighty worlds shall fear Thee and flee before Thy glance.
Grim death, with cruel rigor, hath robbed Thee of Thy life;                                                Thus Thou hast lost Thy vigor, Thy strength in this sad strife.

You bled by our hands, You bled!

My burdens You have carried, my sins you have borne,
For it was my transgression which brought this worldly scorn.
I cast me down before Thee, wrath – my rightful lot;
But You have sweet mercy, Redeemer by the cross.

You bled by our hands, You bled for me, for you, for us!

A strikingly personal and hard-edged psalm contemplating the all too well known fact that we (humanity) literally put Jesus on the cross.  Sometimes, we get desensitized by this reality because we’ve heard about it over and over again.  Our numbness grows with each Easter season, and yet reality has never changed…not for the last 2,000 some years.

It is good and fitting and horribly difficult to really meditate on this truth: God bled for us and by our hands.  Isaiah 53 is exactly what our hearts need in order to properly dwell on exactly what Jesus did for us and what we did to Him:

Who has believed our message?
    To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?
My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot,
    like a root in dry ground.
There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
    nothing to attract us to him.
He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care.

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
    it was our sorrows[a] that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
    a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
    crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
    He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all.

He was oppressed and treated harshly,
    yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
    And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
    he did not open his mouth.
Unjustly condemned,
    he was led away.[b]
No one cared that he died without descendants,
    that his life was cut short in midstream.[c]
But he was struck down
    for the rebellion of my people.
He had done no wrong
    and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
    he was put in a rich man’s grave.

10 But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him
    and cause him grief.
Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,
    he will have many descendants.
He will enjoy a long life,
    and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.
11 When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
    he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience,
    my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
    for he will bear all their sins.
12 I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,
    because he exposed himself to death.
He was counted among the rebels.
    He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.

Yes, Easter is several weeks away.  However, we are not able anymore to just think upon these things and be impacted by them as we should be.  Remember, we are numb.  Therefore, let Lent season serve it’s purpose.  Begin thinking now about the cross by meditating on Christ’s suffering and focus on why He had to endure all that He did.

Imagining the Sacred Head of God’s Son with a crown of thorns and a countenance of ultimate anguish is where we need to start this process of getting all the way through to the empty tomb.  Don’t pass over what is the absolute center of the cross, Easter and the Gospel itself: God died for sinners.  God died.  He bled by our hands…

Iscariot – The Last Bison (2011, Quill)

Click on image to listen to song for free.

Today, we kick off an extended season of celebrating and examining songs about the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Much like December was dedicated to Christmas songs, I will attempt to do same thing in anticipation of Easter Sunday.

I begin this endeavor with a double feature about an unlikely song subject, Judas Iscariot.  We are used to hearing songs portray heroes and greatness, but perhaps we are not so comfortable with tunes about the despised betrayer of Christ’s saga.  As evil as Judas’ actions were, his role was important, ordained and useful to us today.  And we have two songs that declare these truths for us in splendid sound and instruction.

First up, The Last Bison.  This seven-member band of Virginians hone a very mountaintop-esque version of folk.  They are a young group on the rise with new stuff ready to be released in early March, I believe.

Their take on Judas Iscariot is one of embalming his final acts, their consequences for him, and how Jesus implemented good out of what was intended to accomplish evil.  Listen:

Woe unto you
Double crossing the Son of Man
For in the dish you have dipped your hand

Lo you come here
To deliver the deliverer
From simple kiss into tainted hands

Iscariot, Iscariot
The devil has you now
You’re set up for betrayal
Iscariot, Iscariot
The devil has you now
Your kiss tastes like a crown of thorns

I have used, I have used
Your unbelief, to set them free
So die now, die now my Judas

A sobering, naked portrait of the reality of a “Benedict” to God’s Son.  Yet, the closing phrase, “I have used your unbelief to set them free…” shows the redemptive quality of what took place between the Teacher and His once-close disicple.  Jesus and His Father’s plan for salvation was so much bigger than Judas’ betrayal or any other schemes unhatched by the devil in that day.  If He can master and sovereignly will His love to the cross for our sake, then surely anything we imagine as doubts or fears or inhibitions are less than what Christ can handle.

Furthermore, we can examine Judas’ heart in his horrible actions and ask honest questions about ourselves today, such as, “Am I reflecting a Christ-like image or a Judas-like image in my life?”

That is what Poor Old Lu seeks to do in this throwback grunge/rock tune from their glory days.  “Rail” (click on image below to listen) is admittedly not just a song about Judas, but rather a personal admission to God about the struggles of living out a Christian life.  These lyrics demonstrate that sometimes even close followers of Jesus have low moments:

Jesus tie these hands
I used to think
that every thing I touched
turned gold
but it don’t
it turns cold

and reason guides this man
like spring, and fall
and wind to sand
I sway, I sway,
I cannot stand

what do I do,
when it seems I relate to Judas
more than You
and I can’t ever
I can’t ever
see the end…

Jesus help me see
it’s not about consequence
it’s peace
and I won’t seek
on my own knees

and grace is over me
It’s true I feel, I know it’s real
but will I live
what I believe

Again, such a transparent take on living with the reality of our sin, except this time coming from the other side of the cross.  What a difference between Judas – who was condemned for lack of trust – and believers, who betray Jesus almost as much as anyone else, yet know grace through trusting in Christ!

This is the power of Easter.  Let these songs and the story of Judas Iscariot remind us all that our greatest treasure and hope lies within the passion and resurrection of God’s Son for all sinners.  But it is only realized in the ones who place full faith in Jesus’ work.  Even though we, Christians, rail and falter at times, our fate is entirely opposite of Iscariot – only because of the cross!

click on image to listen to song for free.