Lover – Derek Webb (2003, She Must and Shall Go Free)

click on image to listen to song for free. (it’s #5 on the album)

February is here.  Love is in the air, perhaps.  But today’s love song is old, yet unique…romantic, yet tragic.  It is the age old story of boy meets girl, girl plays hard to get, cheats often, and cruelly disregards the treasure of the boy’s love for her.  Boy dies in order to prove love to girl.  Girl appreciates the gesture, but still wanders into other relationships and lesser pleasures, despite the boy’s epic commitment to her and her alone.  And in the end…the boy sets the girl free.  Free from a life of shame and swine, so that boy and girl can be together forever.

Wait, that doesn’t sound like a normal, healthy love relationship to you either?  Nevertheless, it is a rough summary of God’s relationship with the Church.  God always intended to have a sacred place on Earth that we could come and meet with Him.  He never had to give this kind of access to us, but He graciously offers Himself to us in so many ways.  Unfortunately, we have continually and cyclically complained about, ignored, scorned and desecrated these meeting places.

Derek Webb 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.  Ten years ago, he took on a project that brought a lot of attention and criticism.  A concept album about the state of the Church in America would definitely be a difficult and highly scrutinized ordeal today.  However, it was a prophetic piece and we are in greater need of its message than even last decade.  “She Must and Shall Go Free” includes a song called, “Lover” which is composed from the perspective of Christ speaking to His bride, the Church.

As you listen to the lyrics, consider how reflecting on Jesus’ attitude towards the Temple in the Gospels compares to how He might speak to us, the Church, today:

Like a man comes to an altar, I came into this town
With the world upon my shoulders
And promises passed down
And I went into the water
My father, he was pleased
I built it and I’ll tear it down so you will be set free

I found thieves and salesmen living in my father’s house
I know how they got in here and I know how to get ‘em out
I’m turning this place over from floor to balcony
And then just like these doves and sheep oh you will be set free

I’ve always been a lover from before I drew a breath
Some things I loved easy and some I’ll loved to death
Because love’s no politician, it listens carefully
So of those who come I can’t lose one, so you will be set free

But go on and take my picture, go on and make me up
I’ll still be your defender and you’ll be my missing son
And I’ll send out an army just to bring you back to me
‘Cause regardless of your brother’s lies oh you will be set free
I am my beloved’s and my beloved’s mine
So you bring all your history and I’ll bring the bread and wine
And we’ll have us a party where all drinks are on me
Then as surely as the rising sun oh you will be set free

Ever since the turn of the twenty-first century, America has come down hard on evangelical Christianity.  The younger generations are leaving the church in droves and society isn’t really respecting the Church as a meaningful and positive element of our world.  We only have ourselves to blame for these trends.  We’ve lost our way, once again, and the world is tired of us.

Now, there is no need to push the panic button yet.  There are bright spots here and there and God is certainly active and involved in His bride today.  But, in general, we are failing…we need to return to our First Love and remember the joy of our salvation that still stands strong as the cornerstone of the Church.  We exist to be a lighthouse to a dying world.  Jesus didn’t just die for you and me.  He died and rose again so that we would believe and become His ambassadors.  There is an “us” that we need to submit to and sacrifice for more than we have been willing to embrace as of late.

God knows that we need this reminder often.  Even before He sent His Son, He sent prophets to help us with remembering our place and calling.  One such prophet was Hosea.  Listen: Hosea 2:14-23:

“But then I will win her back once again.
    I will lead her into the desert
    and speak tenderly to her there.
I will return her vineyards to her
    and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope…
 When that day comes,” says the Lord,
    “you will call me ‘my husband’
    instead of ‘my master…’
I will make you my wife forever,
    showing you righteousness and justice,
    unfailing love and compassion.                                                                                               I will be faithful to you and make you mine,
    and you will finally know me as the Lord…
I will show love
    to those I called ‘Not loved.’
And to those I called ‘Not my people,’
    I will say, ‘Now you are my people.’
And they will reply, ‘You are our God!’”

God loves His people!  When we actively look to His love together as one, the world will take notice once again (but, in a good way).  When we let God’s love lead us from the inside out, society will favor us once again.  When we humble ourselves, put the Gospel first in our Churches, the unchurched will want what we have.  Jesus is the greatest lover of all and we are His bride.  May He make us worthy of this title and privilege, so that others can be set free, as well!

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Tree to Grow – The Lone Bellow (2013, The Lone Bellow)

Click on image to listen to song for free.

I have inadvertently pursued a theme so far this month of songs that demonstrate the power of redemption in the context of both faith and marriage, or faith and life at least.  In other words, January’s songs are much closer to earth than perhaps many of our good Christian musicians tend to be.  Growing our faith is always about building that bridge between where we are at and where God is waiting for us.  Of course, Christ has already done all the leg work, but manifesting what we have become in Christ in our everyday lives is sometimes another story.  That is where everyday stories about redemption in real people can really help.  Even better when it comes in the form of a dazzling new tune!

Today’s song is technically our first 2013 selection, since all other songs had been released before the new year (some well before).  And I predict by the end of this year that many people will remember and know about The Lone Bellow.  Their debut album isn’t expected to be out until the 22nd of this month, but it is already receiving a lot of buzz nationally.  NPR is streaming their entire album on their website right now (which is where the link above takes you); Paste, Relevant and Billboard have already reviewed and/or interviewed them; and iTunes already has them on their pre-order list.  Plus, they will be celebrating their album debut by appearing on the Conan show.  So much for the quiet, indie route for these folks.

This trio hails from Brooklyn via some southern route south of the Mason-Dixon line.  Their sound is New Englandish folk/country and their story is quite amazing – full of sorrow and redemption.  I’ve only gathered bits and pieces, but enough to be hooked and refreshed by their creativity and authenticity.  The lead man, Zach Williams, never intended to write songs or be in a band.  But, at some point, his wife was in a horrific accident that almost left her paralyzed for life.  As he reflected about this event and journaled, one thing led to another and eventually The Lone Bellow was born.

Hence we return to our song of the day and the aforementioned theme of redemption in everyday life, especially married life.  “Tree to Grow” is a song for his wife apparently about a time when he almost walked away amidst a rocky season in their relationship.  The transparency of the lyrics reveal that something changed in him and his commitment to his bride was renewed.

These lyrics are not official.  Since the album has not been released yet, this was the best I could do by ear.  I hope I got it mostly right:

And you told me you were sorry and you did not want to pray,                                          you looked outside your window as I went outside away,                                                     the street it was much warmer on my bare feet than the rain,                                            that fell out of the sky just like my thoughts fell from that day,

I poured out one more handful of the rain that fell that day,                                                     I collected it in my spare time as I walked back home that day,                                           In the night you said you’re sorry, on the night my colors changed,                                       I waved at you from outside as you screamed of all my shame,

I’ll never leave, I’ll always stay,                                                                                                 I swear on all that I keep safe,                                                                                                A tree I’ll grow to let you know,                                                                                             my love is older than my soul,

? don’t smile your well-known face, your tapping shoes, your wicked grace,                   your precious time, your darker days, the days I left you with no space,                             to breathe or even think of me without the weary that I always leave,

I’ll never leave, I’ll always stay                                                                                                  I swear on all that I keep safe,                                                                                                  I swear,                                                                                                                                 but it gets harder and harder,                                                                                               but my love is older than my soul.

A tree I’ll grow to let you know                                                                                              my love is older than my soul. 

Such a beautiful and honest declaration of a devoted husband.  It’s not easy.  Marriage never is; but instead of leaving, he renewed his vow with “love that is older than my soul.”  When I got married, my wife and I wrote our vows together with several common lines.  One of those lines reads, “I love you with a love only Christ Himself could give me.”  This is the core of the song, I believe.

I have good reason to believe that The Lone Bellow are Christian artists, even though it is not spelled out in their songs.  Also, the well-known Christian producer and songwriter, Charlie Peacock, produced their album.  In any case, the ability of us as listeners to take a song like this and see the power of the Gospel in it towards our marriages and homes is appropriate and exhilarating.

God instructs husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church.  Yet this instruction has always implied that it would take Christ to accomplish this.  My wife and I try to repeat our vows to each other each year on our anniversary; but the reality is we have both had several days like the one in this song where we almost walked away from it all.

Commitment and unconditional love is really hard.  Doing these things passionately, genuinely and consistently is impossible.  Humans are too selfish, stubborn and evil-centered to be good partners on our own.  Christ has made a way for us to be together with Him and with each other through His strength and grace.  And remember that His power to love is older than your soul.  You can do this, because He has already done the work for you.  When you depend on Jesus to love other people, especially the ones that you are closest to, then you will receive the joy of having your loved ones see Jesus in you!  And you’ll have your own tree to grow.