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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White As Snow – The Modern Post (2012, Grace Alone)

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The phrase “pillars of the faith” comes to mind first as I begin to reflect upon this modern gem of a song.  There are several reasons for using this term, but first, allow me to introduce to you The Modern Post.

Actually, if you’ve been following this blog for at least a couple of months, you’ll recognize that I am drawing from the old well in at least three different ways: first, the song was written and first recorded by Jon Foreman (who I wrote about last fall) in 2006; second, the lead singer of The Modern Post is Dustin Kensrue (who I used last Christmas); and finally, this band is another product of the Mars Hill Worship network (who I covered via Future of Forestry last November).

There are several other good music products coming out of Mars Hill these days that I may get to over the course of time, but you can check them all out for yourself, if you like.  The Modern Post is exactly what the title states: modern.  They are self-described as “upbeat, synth-laden and bass-heavy sound that leads the congregation to praise the creator with freedom and joy.”  So if you’re ready to get your happy-grunge-worship on, then have a listen to “White As Snow.”  If the music is not to your liking, still consider the words, for they have quickly become as memorable, anchorable and central as some of the greatest hymns of all time.

Have mercy on me, oh God
According to Your unfailing love
According to Your great compassion
Blot out my transgressions

Would you create in me a clean heart, oh God
Restore in me the joy of Your salvation

Wash me white as snow
And I will be made whole

The sacrifices of our God are a broken and a contrite heart
Against You and You alone have I sinned

OK, back to the “pillars of the faith” part.  There are a few quintessential truths and patterns that the Christian faith stand upon.  If you removed even one of the them, the entire structure would collapse.  Deity of Christ, Trinity, the resurrection, and grace alone would be a few examples of these pillars (head coverings and dancing would not).  Another one that rises up out of this tune is the authentic repentance of the believer in Christ – both in the beginning of our faith journey and continually moving forward.

“White As Snow” is lyrically a direct quotation of Psalm 51, which captures the heart of David after he is finally convicted of his sin with Bathsheba.  Thus, it is a Scriptural example of what it looks like to be genuinely contrite and repentant towards God.  It’s as simple as this: the real grace of God always produces a desire for real purity before God.  Because He has incredibly gifted us with His righteousness; therefore, we are intended and designed to respond with humility and passion for His holiness.  “Wash me white as snow!” is our heart cry as a people consumed with the saturated grace of the cross.

If you have moved towards the Gospel by just mentally assenting its validity or accepting it as a license to live life however you want to, since you believe you have your fire insurance, then you’ve missed what Jesus really meant for you to gain and you have a shaky pillar underneath your feet.  You haven’t swam to the deep end of the pool yet, my friend.

Examine the Bible and see that each time grace is mentioned, that it is coupled with an intense, direct command to live your life in light of the light of God and the pattern that He has set for us through Christ.  The brilliance of God’s expectations of us is that He offers His Spirit to us in order to accomplish this perfect response to His mercy.  David doesn’t say to God, “I will wash my own heart white as snow for you, God.”  No.  He asks God to do it for him.

Our attempt to live out a Christian life must be paramountly focused on a daily, even hourly, dependence upon His strength.  We do this by living in constant meditation upon His grace for us through Christ and letting that beautiful gift naturally bleed into a heart that wants to and is capable of being more and more like Jesus.

A song like this is like a daily multi-vitamin for me that reminds me to keep this focus, to stand upon the pillar of responding correctly to proper grace.  Confess my sins – because I don’t love them anymore – for I love the God who has and is making me whiter than snow!  What does God expect of us?  What can we give to the almighty Being of the universe?  According to His love letter to us (the Bible) it is a repentant heart.  Let your daily playlist reflect songs such as this one that emulates what God is so excited to see from us – constant restoration of the Joy of our salvation!

This Is War – Dustin Kensrue (2008, This Good Night Is Still Everywhere)

Click on image to listen to song for free.

Click on image to listen to song for free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have many plans for posting about Christmas songs this month, and I’m excited to get started on this theme.  I plan to include several new songs as well my favorite renditions of old ones, so keep an eye out for Truth In Tunes this month.  My hope is that it enhances your worship of our “New Born King” this Christmas season.

Dustin Kensrue is best known for leading worship at Mars Hill Orange County and writing songs for the hard rock, Christian band Thrice.  His solo efforts are a rare gem of gritty, Springstein-esque folk rock that plays into the theme of this song perfectly.

“This Is War” doesn’t sound like a very good Christmas song title.  And when you here it (if you haven’t already) it won’t include the usual harmonies, bells and chorale background that you might be accustomed to.  However, it is one of my favorite Christmas songs of all time because it captures the essence of why this holiday means something.

Christmas always feels like a warm, cozy event – once you get past the crazy shopping/travel secularization part.  That is a tall order in and of itself; but, even then the picture is of a quiet, solemn gathering with loved ones where candles, hot drinks, gifts and laughter hopefully abound.  You’re probably doing really well if you get this far.   So, then if you include a Christmas devotional time with the retelling of the story of sweet baby Jesus arriving on a Silent Night by humble means, then Christmas is truly a success, right?  Well, all of this is well and good (trust me, I try to include all of the above), BUT it leaves out one loud, crucial element: the abrupt, in-your-face assault by God in the epic campaign against Satan and sin.

This is the only Christmas song that I know which attempts to deliver a gloves-off version of this important Christmas truth (please tell me if you know about others!).  God coming to earth as a man was the war strategy that the devil could not possibly counter or prevail against.  He tried, but failed!  For Jesus came with truth and grace – the two weapons in the ultimate spiritual warfare of salvation history that could not be defended against.  It’s ironic and beautifully holy to see this weapon of war clothed as a soft infant born to peasants in a small hick town.  But do not underestimate what this event really meant and probably felt like to the enemy of God.  For Jesus’ birth was the all-time game-changer that rewrote the world’s entire destiny.

Having said all of that to set up this song and these lyrics, consider letting this anthem become a regular part of your holiday listening experience – because it is, after all, our victory cry and the pivotal core of the what Christmas is worth to all who believe:

This is war like you ain’t seen.
This winter’s long, it’s cold and mean.
With hangdog hearts we stood condemned,
But the tide turns now at Bethlehem.

This is war and born tonight,
The Word as flesh, the Lord of Light,
The Son of God, the low-born king;
Who demons fear, of whom angels sing.

This is war on sin and death;
The dark will take it’s final breath.
It shakes the earth, confounds all plans;
The mystery of God as man.

It’s probably not as eloquent and rich as other carols, but that’s because its a soldier’s song.  Simple, accurate, bottom line truth – in a tune that reflects the spirit of an everyday, common man’s theology.  The Gospel is born and charged with energy through this song in a way that I hope kindles your fire well beyond holiday sentiment.  God came to us as a man – and by that act declared all out war against sin and death and Satan – so that we could be rescued and join the battle as God’s warriors.

Life is full of moments where we are still and calm, so as to reflect on truth and beauty.  Christmas is certainly a good time for these things.  Life also provides moments that call our guts to well up and roar against the forces of evil.  Christmas fits within these moments, too.  Christ gave up everything for us to be able to have confidence within these moments, knowing that the battle has already been won by Him.  Live life like the Baby is your War Hero and Victor.  This is December…and this is war!