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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 73: 25 – 26, 28 says,

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

Ecclesiastes 12:1,8 says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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…

Grace Hurts Harder – Gorilla Poets (2012, ?)

Click on image to listen to song for free.

We move from the #1 bestselling album (at least this week),  the Les Miserable movie soundtrack, to an obscure band with only a single song to their name that most of us have never even heard of.  We also swing the pendulum from the classical, theater-style sound of our fathers to a modern, laid-back tune from our youth.

Gorilla Poets are brand new (they don’t even have a website yet).  In fact, they haven’t even really arrived yet.  Nevertheless, a little background on these guys is definitely worth considering.  See if you can follow this: First, we have the slightly well-known author, N. D. Wilson, who is known best for his exiting, fantasy-based young adult novels.  He has also written a couple of nonfiction works, one of which plays into our song selection for today.  Next, you have Aaron Rench, who spearheads a not-so-well-known writing/filming enterprise entitled “Gorilla Poets.”  These two guys came together to write the music and lyrics for our song, which was then performed by the actual band members (names appear on the song link), who have no notoriety (at least, none that I could google).  Finally, the song is intended to be a single release in anticipation of a future album that will serve as a companion to the nonfiction book to be release by Wilson this coming May entitled, “Death By Living: Life is Meant to Be Spent“.  So, did you follow all of that?

Well, whatever the case may be, this song captivated me instantly – both in lyric and style.  The sound of Gorilla Poets is probably best described as a cross between The National and Guggenheim Grotto.  If you don’t know those names, then don’t bother figuring it out.  Just put into that general folk-guitar category and you’re good to go.

The lyrics, however, are unmistakably heart-piercing and truth-shouting (I’m a little obsessed with hyphens today, sorry).  Fair warning, you are gonna want to read/listen to this more than once in order to really get it:

Took a drive in the car to visit the house of sorrows
But the woman at the door said maybe come back tomorrow
Rustle some feathers, shake up the weather
Turn up the trouble, make it a double

In the middle of the flood a dove
In the fires there was a yell
Drink the shame but taste the love
Only grace hurts harder than hell

Took a ladder up a tree just to claim my grief
But the man with the nails, he called me a thief
The curtain was torn, you’re asleep till you’re born
Now there’s mud on your eyes, blood on your lies

In the middle of the flood a dove
In the fires there was a yell
Drink the shame but taste the love
Only grace hurts harder than hell

If you’re still lost and wonder what the intended meaning of these lines are, rest easy.  This is a biblical reflection on the power of God’s grace versus man’s depravity.  Theologically speaking, the Gospel is the propitiation (redirection) of God’s righteous wrath that we (mankind) deserve, but was instead put on God’s Son – Jesus Christ when He died on the cross.  In essence, we earned punishment and damnation, but God trumped our sentence with His own grace.  Grace is more powerful than any other force in existence.  So why does grace hurt harder?

This question can be answered a number of ways – all of which are beautiful and God-glorifying.  For one, grace hurt the power of sin and hell in a permanent and absolute way.  And that is saying something extraordinary!  Hell is an unstoppable, righteous force that God should and could rightly put on each and every one of us sinners.  Nothing can undo the necessity of a Holy God’s plan to appease His unchangeable holy nature – nothing except His unchangeable nature that includes the even mightier power of grace.  In Christ, it is not as though God said to the redeemed one, “Oh, you don’t have to pay that silly price for your sins.”  No.  It is that the redeemed one is (by definition) bought and paid for by Christ’s blood and sinless life, so that both holiness and grace are equally preserved, exalted and glorified.

And so grace hurts harder, additionally, because when the believer is saved by Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice we are awakened to the cosmic reality of how badly we have hurt God with our rebellion.  “Took a ladder up a tree just to claim my grief; but the man with the nails called me a thief.”  Think that through for a moment.  We strive and toil all our lives to win God’s favor, but all of our efforts only result in worsening our position against a perfect Being.  The “man with the nails” is Christ and He is hanging there in agony on your behalf, crying out, “You are the thief (sinner), but I’m dying for you anyway, because I love you!”

When we meditate on these truths and let them sink deeper and deeper into our black, corroded souls it becomes more and more shameful to see.  And yet that grace is still there – unending and unrelentingly pulling us back up to the face of a smiling, forgiving God who says, “Call me, Abba!”

Ephesians 2 says, “Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world.  He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.

But God is so rich in mercy, and He loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For He raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of His grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all He has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

Only grace can do these things.  Only grace can hurt the powers of sin and hell for the one who embraces Christ.  Only grace can make us feel our true shame and sorrow for what we really are apart from the blood of Jesus – and then turn right around and make us hurt (or ache) for the future that has been bought for us in Heaven with our perfectly gracious God!  Grace hurts harder, my friends.  Keep your eyes and ears honed in for these guys…I can’t wait for more.