Called Home, Over The Rhine (2013, Meet Me at the Edge of the World)

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Living in the dead of winter is my favorite time of year.  Sure, I love the Spring and Fall, too.  Summer is grand, make no mistake about that.  But the real gem of all seasons is that January through March when the holidays are over, the sky is bleak and gray, and life couldn’t possibly feel more depressing.

Am I serious or being sarcastic?  I am serious…dead of winter serious!  Let me explain.

We enjoy and prefer things in life based on their differences from other, lesser things.  We only like warmth because we have felt the sting of cold.  We only ache for love because we have learned how to hate and be lonely.  And our favorite moments in life are usually right when we rise out of darkness into light or when we are just coming up for air after being underwater for so long.  You might even say that anticipating that moment is more thrilling than the happy relief itself.  For when you finally realize that the bad is ending and the good is coming, your stomach catches into your throat and your eyes widen with mirth and delight!

In the dead of winter, there is provided an opportunity to anticipate and long for the relief of Spring.  The snow melts feverishly, the birds sing happily, and the sun breaks through with color and heat.  It is finally March, and I feel that anticipation deep inside.  I have braved the majority of this winter onslaught, and soon the rewards of change and life and perseverance will be reaped. It is this moment of the year that I cherish the most.

Therefore, the dead of winter is my favorite place to be.  The dead of winter, spiritually speaking, is a place I call home, as well.

I have had it on my list to write about this next band from the very beginning.  Well over 20 years ago, Over The Rhine began its musical journey and I have had the privilege of following them for almost the entire way.  I would be hard pressed to find a more satisfying and influential music group on my life than these fine folks.

Last year, Over The Rhine released a new double album that featured the themes of home and end of life.  Over The Rhine, comprised primarily of the happily married couple Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist, live in southern Ohio on an, old small farm.  The song we are featuring talks about two themes: the place that we call home today and the anticipation of being called home for eternity.

For OTR, their farm has become a refuge and a safe haven.  Music and life have arisen fruitfully from Nowhere Farm, as they like to call it.  They are not the landscaping type, as you might guess from many of their songs.  I listen to them speak and sing about the peace and rest they find at home and I find myself very jealous.  But this song also talks about a state-of-mind-place called home that directly ties itself to the Christian’s anticipation of eternity in Heaven with God.  Have a listen:

Just shy of Breakin’ Down
There’s a bend in the road that I have found
Called home

Take a left at loneliness
There’s a place to find forgiveness
Called home

With clouds adrift across the sky
Like heaven’s laundry hung to dry
You slowly feel it all will be revealed

Where evening shadows come to fall
On the awful and the beautiful
Every wound you feel that needs to heal

And silence yearns to hear herself
Some long lost memory rings a bell
Called home

Old pre-Civil War brick house
Standin’ tall and straight somehow
Called home

Mailbox full of weariness
And a word of hard won happiness
Called home

Leave behind your Sunday best
You know we couldn’t care a less
Out here we’ve learned to leave the edges wild

And stories they get passed around
And laughter – it gets handed down
Read it in the lines around a smile

Our bodies’ motion comes to rest
When we are at last
Called home

The song is comfortable sounding and lyrically inviting to all who are seeking rest and acceptance.  There is a quiet confidence concerning the things that matter most: where do I belong? and where will I end up?  These resolutions can only be found in Jesus.

Even though we Christians struggle, suffer and slip at times, the promise of Heaven through God’s grace always remains.  Standing under the shelter of these truths is the place that the Christian should call home.  Listen to Paul talk about it in 2 Corinthians 4:

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies…

…We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to Himself together with you. All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!  So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”

All of this text reveals of the guts of true hope.  Just like in the dead of winter, we rest in the fact that Spring always comes and it is always good.  Where I live, we have broken snow and temperature records this year, but none of that deters my belief in the near arrival of Spring.  The more harsh our winter is, the more sweet the relief will be when Spring finally comes.

So it is with the believer’s inheritance in Christ Jesus!  He is coming soon and when He does all will be made right again.  Justice will be exacted; wounds will be healed; the dead will rise again; the pain will permanently subside and perfect joy will be rewarded to all of God’s children!

And for now, the believer who dwells and meditates and rests upon this reality has a true place to call home.  We strive and struggle through all of our winter moments in this life in order to maintain a spiritually healthy home in our hearts…until God finally calls us to our true Home – A New Heaven and a New Earth!

Consider taking this March – this dead of winter time – to allow Christ to call you home: both in growing your trust in His promises and actively anticipating that glorious moment when we are finally called home.

Farther Along – Josh Garrels (2011, Love & War & and the Sea In Between)

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I’m a real sucker for good driving songs.  You know, like the ones you maybe put on a playlist (or cassette, if you’re a little older like me) for road trips?  I’m also a sucker for songs that overwhelm with overarching, big-picture truths rolled into one glorious tune.  This selection is all of the above and more.

Josh Garrels hails from Portland, Oregon where he crafts a very special brew of music, as well as running his own independent record label, Small Voice Records.  He has been writing songs and blazing his own trail in the quiet, aesthetic world of (Dave Matthews-esque?) folk/pop music for several years.  Most everyone agrees that “Love & War & the Sea In Between” is his best album and this song is certainly a flagship tune within his entire collection.  We will definitely be returning to Josh’s storehouse on this blog.

There is so much here lyrically, that I hate to serve it up with any predispositions.  Each line of each verse is a meditation in and of itself (hence, the overarching effect).  However, the one thing I’ll say before you listen is that if you hold to the truths of Scripture within your heart, then you will definitely be encouraged by the end of this song:

Farther along we’ll know all about it
Farther along we’ll understand why
Cheer up my brothers, live in the sunshine
We’ll understand this, all by and by

Tempted and tried, I wondered why
The good man died, the bad man thrives
And Jesus cries because He loves em’ both
We’re all cast-aways in need of ropes
Hangin’ on by the last threads of our hope
In a house of mirrors full of smoke
Confusing illusions I’ve seen

Where did I go wrong, I sang along
To every chorus of the song
That the devil wrote like a piper at the gates
Leading mice and men down to their fates
But some will courageously escape
The seductive voice with a heart of faith
While walkin’ that line back home

So much more to life than we’ve been told
It’s full of beauty that will unfold
And shine like you struck gold my wayward son
That deadweight burden weighs a ton
Go down into the river and let it run
And wash away all the things you’ve done
Forgiveness alright

Still I get hard pressed on every side
Between the rock and a compromise
Like the truth and pack of lies fightin’ for my soul
And I’ve got no place left go
Cause I got changed by what I’ve been shown
More glory than the world has known
Keeps me ramblin’ on

Skipping like a calf loosed from its stall
I’m free to love once and for all
And even when I fall I’ll get back up
For the joy that overflows my cup
Heaven filled me with more than enough
Broke down my levee and my bluff
Let the flood wash me

And one day when the sky rolls back on us
Some rejoice and the others fuss
Cause every knee must bow and tongue confess
That the son of god is forever blessed
His is the kingdom, we’re the guests
So put your voice up to the test
Sing Lord, come soon

The Gospel can have a giddy effect on people, sometimes.  Believe me, I’ve seen it.  Sometimes, these happy moments are spontaneous and so contagious that it could only register as proof of the activity of God in our lives.  Sure, we have to be careful of how our feelings lead the train.  Yes, faith (especially faith in the factual things of life) must come first.  But that sure doesn’t mean the caboose of this Gospel train means nothing.

Music is a place to connect it all.  Link together our fundamental cars of truth that God has revealed of Himself and His love for us through His Son.  Then, we step back…way back, until we see as much as we can bare to fathom.  This is when we are allowed to feel the rush of reality and the overwhelming joy of our salvation.  This is when music binds and vivifies the spiritual world in ways that can be bigger and better than anything else.

Paul wasn’t afraid to write about Gospel truths and his goofy feelings that he had for them.  In Romans, Paul constructed his most complete and elegant composition of what the Gospel truly is.  It took him eleven chapters and when he got to the end he cried out,

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand His decisions and His ways!  For who can know the Lord’s thoughts?  Who knows enough to give Him advice?  And who has given Him so much  that He needs to pay it back?  For everything comes from Him and exists by His power and is intended for His glory. All glory to Him forever! Amen.”

I know that it is just words, but you need to hear the emotion and the projection that Paul puts into this concluding statement.  Even the word, “Oh!” carries so much guttural weight in the original language.  Paul is actually saying, “WOW!!!” in a loud, joyous way as he is literally unable to wrap his mind around who God is and what He has done for us.

Only the Christian has this at his or her disposal at all times.  Only the true believer in Jesus has the hope that is anchored in unwavering, unshakable truth.  Only the sinner saved by true grace has these things consistently rising and growing within them until the Kingdom comes to manifest itself completely and permanently.  Only God’s children are moving farther along in this dying world.  Amen!

“So put your voice up to the test!”

All I Have Is Christ – Na Band (2008, Looked Upon)

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Just one post this week, but it is a very special one.  The song is quite simple and plain, instrumentally speaking.  In fact, at first listen, you might toss it right into the heaping pile of modern worship songs that look, sound and feel just about the same.  But, of course, I wouldn’t subject you to such torture without good cause.

First, some background on the artists.  Na Band is a branch of Sovereign Grace – a mega-factory of modern worship music in recent years. My one sentence assessment of SG is that they are talented, but sometimes lack originality in their music; however, lyrically they are unmatched and incredibly faithful to what worship ought to be.   In fact, their leader Bob Kauflin, is THE authority figure on what our churches should be doing with worship.  He pioneered modern Christian music back in the early 70’s with the band GLAD (anyone remember them?) and he literally wrote the book (find it here) on this subject and I recommend it above all other books on Christian music.  Period.

I mention Kauflin because two of his sons have followed in his footsteps, Devon – who sings our selected song, and Jordan – who wrote said tune.  The song is a first person reflection/prayer/psalm about being a sinner saved by grace through faith in Christ (by the way, a much better analysis of this song is also available at the link for listening to the song):

I once was lost in darkest night
Yet thought I knew the way.
The sin that promised joy and life
Had led me to the grave.
I had no hope that You would own
A rebel to Your will.
And if You had not loved me first
I would refuse You still.

But as I ran my hell-bound race
Indifferent to the cost
You looked upon my helpless state
And led me to the cross.
And I beheld God’s love displayed
You suffered in my place
You bore the wrath reserved for me
Now all I know is grace.

Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life

Now, Lord, I would be Yours alone
And live so all might see
The strength to follow Your commands
Could never come from me.
Oh Father, use my ransomed life
In any way You choose.
And let my song forever be
My only boast is You.                                                                                                       

The strength to follow Your commands could never come from me

Powerful words indeed.  Such humility and Christ-centeredness are consistent marks of a Sovereign Grace song.  But there is more to the story of this particular tune.  I mentioned Jordan Kauflin, songwriter of “All I Have Is Christ”.  Little did I know that as I researched him for this blog post I came across a family blog that his wife writes.  I learned that shortly after writing this song, Jordan’s two year old son was diagnosed with Leukemia.  His second child has been in treatment for his cancer for the past two and a half years and is almost finished, now in remission and returning to normal health.

As I read about their story, I thought of the last verse of this song: “Oh Father use my ransomed life in any way You choose…”  I wonder if he had any clue how God was going to take him up on that offer when he was writing these lyrics.  Very few things in life are harder seeing your child suffer.  Having Christ, clinging to a deeper connection with Christ in the midst of that kind of trial is where our lives are truly defined.  There are some events in my life that deeply resonate with this kind of story.

All believers are on a course set for the same destination – to know and love Jesus Christ.  To have Him in His fullness.  And to have Him fully means to literally have nothing else.  There might be some who would look at this and think that this is selfish of God to want all of us and not share, or that this notion is just an unattractive offer since it requires giving up everything else.  If you are thinking this way, then let Paul offer perspective from 1 Corinthians 2:

For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the One who was crucified. I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God.

Yet when I am among mature believers, I do speak with words of wisdom, but not the kind of wisdom that belongs to this world or to the rulers of this world, who are soon forgotten. No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—His plan that was previously hidden, even though He made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord. That is what the Scriptures mean when they say,

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
    and no mind has imagined
what God has prepared
    for those who love Him.”

10 But it was to us that God revealed these things by His Spirit. For His Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. 11 No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. 12 And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us.

In short, when we cut out everything except Christ, we finally get full access to God’s deep secrets – i.e. “the wonderful things God has freely given us.”  I’ve heard it said many times that when Christ is all you have, you realize that Christ is all you need.  But this statement isn’t big enough.  Jesus isn’t like a some survival kit that only contains the bare essentials of our spiritual journey.  Jesus is the key to unlocking access to all of God!

Abraham had no clue what God was doing with his life when God asked him to sacrifice his son, but he obeyed and trusted God’s plan…and he became the father of God’s people.  Paul was a zealous idiot before Christ grabbed a hold of him on the road to Damascus…and he became the primary leader and writer in New Testament times.  Jordan Kauflin’s two year old son was dying of cancer, yet he didn’t through this song out the window.  My guess is he clung to it with every drop of fear, confusion, rage and hurt that he could muster.  As a father of two children, one of which has faced her battles with Leukemia as well, I fully relate to the struggle of singing a song like this and pressing on through life’s trials towards the goal of Christ alone – even when you feel like giving up.

It is not that everything or everyone else is meaningless.  Far from it!  It is simply that Jesus is the key to it all.  He is the key to redemption, to being a better person, to being a better parent, friend, spouse, etc., to a future and a hope that lasts and is vividly real, AND He is the key to all of God!  Therefore, it is better to say (or in this case sing), “All I have is Christ.”  Because then, my friend, you truly have everything.