Reason to Sing – All Sons & Daughters (2013, Live)

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Sometimes worship songs sound incredibly fake and unrealistic.  This reality presents a true dilemma for the Christian.  The Bible calls us to worship our God in spirit and truth, but sometimes we simply don’t feel like a praise song.  Maintaining some level of purity and authenticity in our singing to God is not easy.  In many ways, the real value of worship is blocked off from our hearts because of this tension between holy expectations and the everyday reality of our humanity.

Enter All Sons & Daughters, once again, to build us a bridge between what sometimes might feel impossibly too far away for us to reach.  This is my second time writing about their music and I’m excited to come back to them, especially concerning this issue of transparent worship.

The element that keeps our hearts glued to our God amidst our worship is the element of art.  Of course, theologically speaking, the Holy Spirit is the One who actually accomplishes worthy worship giving within us, even when we ourselves are incapable of offering it.  But on a more tangible level, it is the art of song and prose that deliver a variety of vehicles for us to enter the presence of God, no matter how we feel or what we think.

Please don’t misunderstand.  A song is not a license to just sing whatever you want and call it worship.  It has to be real and it has be right.  But here, we also recognize that different tunes offer different moods and styles so that we can find the one that matches the place where our worship is coming from today.  The Psalms is the bedrock example of this principle.  Their are several kinds of prayers (or songs/poems/etc.) in the Bible, such as songs of praise, lament, royal psalms, imprecation and reflection.  Each style of song, or art, comes out of different seasons of life – and not all good ones!  You can successfully pray and worship when you are sad, mad and bitter.

Sometimes, worship in the lower moments of life is exactly what God uses to help bring us out of the depths of the valley and into His marvelous light.  Listen to All Sons & Daughters in their new, live version of “Reason to Sing”:

When the pieces seem too shattered
To gather off the floor
And all that seems to matter
Is that I don’t feel You anymore
No I don’t feel You anymore

I need a reason to sing
I need to know that You’re still holding
The whole world in Your hands
I need a reason to sing

When I’m overcome by fear
And I hate ev’rything I know
If this waiting lasts forever
I’m afraid I might let go
I’m afraid I might let go oh

Will there be a victory?
Will You sing it over me now?
Your peace is the melody
With You sing it over me now?

I need a reason to sing
I need to know that You’re still holding
The whole world in Your hands
That is a reason to sing

I will sing, sing, sing to my God my King, ‘fore all else fades away;                                        I will love, love, love with this heart in me, for You’ve been good always.

The beauty of this song for me is that it couples together (like many psalms also do) words for the wind with words of timeless truth.  Words for the wind are those thoughts and phrases that don’t necessarily reflect absolute truth, but they capture how I might feel today.  “I need a reason to sing” almost sounds like flat-out disobedience to the Scriptural command to praise God at all times in all circumstances.

Why would we sing to God about needing a reason to sing to God?  It is not because we are trying to defy Him or belittle Him, instead we are expressing our feelings to Him, “God, I don’t feel like I have a reason to sing praises to You today.”

This is perfectly OK to do and God wants to hear your heart, no matter how it sounds.  David says in the Psalms, “God, why have You abandoned me?!” or “God, why are all my enemies improving and I am left to suffer?”  David doesn’t mean these questions literally.  He knows that God never leaves Him and his enemies will not have victory in the end; but he chooses to say to God how he is feeling at the moment and then he lets those words fly away with the wind.

Then our song, just like David, comes back around to the words of timeless truth: God does have the whole world in His hands, including me.  Even in the midst of feeling alone, abandoned, hurt and confused – we can claim God’s infinite truth over our lives.  We can ask God to lay His sovereignty and grace over our broken hearts and lives like a galactic-sized security blanket.

God is both intimately concerned about our true thoughts and feelings as He is about our trust in His character.  We have an endless number of reasons to sing to Him – and some of them include our self expression of both the good and the bad within our true self, the worthy and the pathetic of all that makes us who we really are.  The idea of worship is that you stay connected to Him: head to Head, heart to Heart.

Let music be your tool to keeping communion with Abba, Father and always keep the true you in your tunes for Him!

The Days To Come – The 77s (1990, Sticks & Stones)

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In the wake of last week’s terrorist attack in Boston and other tragedies, I decided to dig into the archives for a song with a helpful message.  Responding to evil and disaster is a difficult and sensitive topic.  It is at least part of the biggest reason why people choose to turn their backs on God.  Why devote yourself to a Being that allows so many bad things to happen in this world?

The elusive answer to this question has been written across history for centuries.  Merely stepping back and getting a bird’s eye view will show that these tragic events are not new, nor are they an indication of what is to come.  However, we ought to admit the fact that it is hard to remember this ageless cycle of violence when we are hit in the face with a new wave of evil’s thorns.  It feels so unnecessary, uncalled for, and unimaginable.  The amount of “how” and “why” questions that I heard asked throughout the last few days reflects this challenge.

Therefore, I’ve called upon a voice from the past to encourage us with the old, but ever-new message: forget the past, and prepare for the days to come.

The Seventy Sevens (77s) dominated the rock scene throughout the 80’s and into the 90’s.  Led by front man, Michael Roe, they began as a ministry-based quartet.  Their integrity of both musical style and lyrical power lifted them into the hall of fame of Christian rockers (if there is such a place).  I certainly cut my teeth on their sound in my early years.  Like a surprisingly large amount of 80’s bands, they still play and tour even today and you can listen to their entire discography at the link above.

Today’s song comes from their best album (in my opinion), “Sticks & Stones.”  Listen to the balance of a sensitivity to pain, as well as the encouragement of the future:

Something tells me that we’ll come out of this
With a healing compassion or a scarring bitterness
Don’t revive painful times, let them rest
Don’t drag a net through the sea of forgetfulness

The cut was deep, the blood was warm
I can’t deny what it’s done
But if we don’t release the past
We’ll slap the face of the days to come

There’s a hand at the door refusing to leave
Its pulse is throbbing, its heart on its sleeve
It’s a new tomorrow waiting to be received
By somebody ready and willing to believe

The cut was deep, the blood was warm
I can’t deny what it’s done
But if we don’t release the past
We’ll slap the face of the days to come

Remember this melody
Don’t ever let it go away
Sing it to your heart
Day after day after day

The cut was deep, the blood was warm
I can’t deny what it’s done
But if we don’t release the past
We’ll slap the face of the days to come

The “days to come” obviously refer to the promise of Heaven and all things being made new in Christ.  It is the time when the kingdom of God comes to reclaim and remake everything that was once lost and broken.  The crux of these future days, as it relates to current evil, is that God has promised to put an eternal end to every evil, every sorrow, and every tear – for those who are found to have true faith in Jesus.

The informed Christian sees the news headlines from last week and thinks, “Come, Lord Jesus!”  And this is all well and good, but the fact remains that Jesus didn’t pick yesterday to return and rescue His people from woe.  That day is still to come.  Today is still a day filled with pain, regret, anger, restlessness, loneliness, and fear.  What can we say the grieving and hurting people who need help?

The bottom line, as insensitive as it might sound, is these things are simply the inheritance of our human ways.  Yes, there are positives to be celebrated from last week, such as the heroes who helped the injured, saved lives and captured the bombers.  And yes, we are not all like those who would destroy innocent life for any reason.  But, our human heroes are not our saviors; and our bombers are still our neighbors and fellow sinners before the Cross. All of the “how” and “why” questions are found in each of our hearts.

Do not be surprised by the clutches of evil in this world, for as severe as it seems at times God is actively holding evil at bay.  Do not linger upon the tragedies of the past, for they will repeat themselves again and again until the White Horseman rides down from the clouds.  And do not lose hope amidst the ashes of this world, for there are better days to come.

“3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.[a] He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.”                    – Revelation 21:3-7

The Valley – The Oh Hello’s (2012, Through the Deep, Dark Valley)

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Last week, we entertained the idea of revival and spiritual awakening.  Today, we revisit the reason why we, human beings, have a dire need for such things in the first place.

May I introduce to you Maggie and Tyler Heath (siblings), otherwise known as The Oh Hello’s.  This group proudly hails from Texas (does any Texan not have pride in their state?) and are self-described “intentionally independent, self-produced music makers.”

Speaking of “self” our subject today is original sin and total depravity, or in layman’s terms, the smell of humanity.  As already mentioned, our spiritual odor is the reason why we need to be washed by the blood of Christ.  But more than that, we are so filthy and stinky that we need to daily enter that baptismal of spiritual renewal that is only found in God’s Son.  We have stunk so badly for so long, we tend to forget the stench is even there.

Any media outlet (no matter it’s level of quality or bias) you choose to monitor will remind you of that – somewhat hard to forget and hard to remember – aroma that is the fallen-ness of humankind.  It follows us everywhere like a skunk spray times infinity.  Within the core of our beings we each carry the potential to be as awful and ugly as a Hitler or a Marylin Manson.  We were all born this way and none of us can simply shake it off on our own.

Listen to a song that is the opener for The Oh Hello’s concept album put out last year designed to explore and express personal reflections about the fall of people and a single response from God:

We were born in the valley of the dead and the wicked
that our father’s father found and where we laid him down
We were born in the shadow of the crimes of our fathers
blood was our inheritance, no, we did not ask for this

Will You lead me?

We were young when we heard You call our names in the silence
like a fire in the dark, like a sword upon our hearts
We came down to the water and we begged for forgiveness
shadows lurking close behind, we were fleeing for our lives

Will You lead me?

Still You lead me, never leave me, never leave me

That last line actually comes from a reprise at the end of the album, along with a lingering refrain from the famous hymn “Come Thou Fount.”  The line from the hymn that our song highlights is a human confession of our ever present tendency to wander away from God, back towards the land of human filth and pathetic-ness.

It is as if we are standing in river current that constantly pulls towards the depravity that plagues every member of the human race.  Even when we relax and do nothing, we will simply drift back towards all things putrid and rebellious.  The Christian knows that it is his/her lot to strive against this undertow on a daily basis.  But the Christian should also know that Christ will be the One who leads us upstream and away from the valley.

Here’s how Paul explains the battle within himself (Romans 7:14-25):

14 So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. 15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate…

18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong…

24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord…

The entire album by The Oh Hello’s does a great job of exploring this topic and you can enjoy the whole thing at the link on the image above.  I appreciate their efforts to join Paul in humbly admitting that our depravity is still here – even for those who have been washed clean by the love of Christ.  Some might have trouble with that statement, wondering how could being born again in Christ still leave this odor of sin all over my heart and hands?

I think when we are all honest with ourselves, it isn’t that hard of a truth to accept.  The hymn writer felt his proneness to wander – while he was worshiping his Savior and leading others to do the same.  Paul taught his churches of his own struggle – in the midst of teaching them about the Gospel’s saving power, as well.  You and I know in our heart of hearts that our striving will only cease when this flesh is dead and gone.

But until then we must remember where we have come from, where we still live and where we are headed.  We came from the valley of death, sin and destruction.  The valley of spiritual wretchedness still exists in our nature (even for believers in Jesus), but it will end on the mountain top of that final victory awaiting all those who truly embrace the Christ.

He will lead us through the deep, dark valley!

Awake – The Ember Days (2013, More Than You Think)

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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!

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

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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

Garden – Need To Breathe (2009, The Outsiders)

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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!

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

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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)

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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…

Iscariot – The Last Bison (2011, Quill)

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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!

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Approach My Soul, The Mercy Seat – Jamie Barnes (2011, The Split EP)

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Ash Wednesday and Lent season is almost upon us.  Catholic and non-Catholic believers have much to glean from this tradition, if applied in the right way.  Sojourn Church and worship leaders are embracing the value of these events and so I offer this song for the purpose of heart preparation.

Jamie Barnes is on staff with Sojourn and also writes his own music.  This song was inspired by an old hymn by the great hymn writer, John Newton.  Ash Wednesday is not a means of salvation, but rather an opportunity to remember how incredibly damned and dead we are without our Savior – Jesus.  Ashes to ashes.  The Bible exemplifies and calls us to lament and be sorrowful over our sin.

And Lent is a brief season for us to practice sacrifice (electronics, comfort foods, luxuries, etc.) in order to invigorate our prayer lives and reflect upon Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for us on the cross.  It is good and fitting to find music that compliments these pursuits, so that our hearts and minds are prepared for maximizing these exercises.  Listen:

Approach my soul, the mercy seat
Where Holy One and helpless meet
There fall before my Judges’ feet
Thy promise is my only plea, O God

Send wings to lift the clutch of sin
You who dwell between the cherubim
From war without and fear within
Relieve the grief from the shoulders of crumbling men

O God—Pour out your mercy to me
My God, Oh what striking love to bleed.

Fashion my heart in your alchemy
With the brass to front the devil’s perjury
And surefire grace my Jesus speaks
I must. I will. I do believe. O Lord.

I cannot stress enough how important it is for Christians to marinate within the core Gospel truths over and over again.  Ash Wednesday is all about focusing on how close we came to spiritual death and destruction and how incredible it is to be saved by God.  Lent is a time to sharpen our ability to be living within the grace of Gospel truth as we exercise restraint from worldly things (good things or not so good things) in order to make more room for meditating on Christ.  Lent is a great idea any time of year, but especially helpful as it leads us towards the passion of Christ and Easter Sunday.

John Newton understood this and I believe Jamie Barnes does as well with this song.  In addition, we could learn a lot about being a harmonious group of brothers and sisters in Christ – doing honorable traditions together for the sake of purifying Christ’s bride.  God wants us to practice His life within us together.

Paul reminded the church in Rome about these things as it pertained to a controversial issue related to eating food sacrificed to idols:

So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.’  Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God.  So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.

I know and am convinced on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat. But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong.  And if another believer is distressed by what you eat, you are not acting in love if you eat it. Don’t let your eating ruin someone for whom Christ died.  Then you will not be criticized for doing something you believe is good. For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.”

Le me encourage all of us to see these days as an opportunity for better Gospel-centeredness, better self-control, and better Christian community living.  And let us allow songs like this one to lead the way for our souls to better embrace the Mercy Seat.