The Weight of Glory Second Edition- Heath McNease (2013)

click on image to listen to the entire album for free!

There are a lot of firsts in today’s post: first total album post, first hip-hop music post, and our first C.S. Lewis – themed post.  All very good things to initiate into Truth in Tunes.

Heath McNease is southern boy who somehow grew up on both Bob Dylan and N.W.A.  As Christ got a hold of his heart, his music stayed true to both his varietal styles and his deep faith in God.  One of those deepening influences on McNease has been C.S. Lewis.  So much so, that he made an entire album dedicated to Lewis’ written works.

This album is entirely creative and impressively comprehensive.  Most all of C.S. Lewis’ major works are represented on this 12 song collection.  From theological treatises such as Mere Christianity and Weight of Glory, to spiritual introspections such as A Grief Observed and Surprised By Joy, to fictional masterpieces such as Narnia and Perelandra…and many, many more.  Each tune is like a personal rap of the cliff-notes version of each book (or book character).

The album doesn’t stop offering there.  You can tell that Heath treasured this project because he made two versions of the album: the first edition captures his singer/song writer side and this second edition remixes the same genius with his hip hop nature (with the help of Greg LaFollette).  In addition, each song is eloquently explained through a brief video featuring Heath McNease on his Youtube channel.

I appreciate his energy and versatility in all of his music.  I also admire his generosity of offering his work to fans without price.  So, if you dig this drop, be sure to give him props (there, that’s my feeble attempt at rhyme).

Finally, a word about the works of C.S. Lewis put to music.  He was truly blessed with a great gift (much like our favorite musical artists) to deliver God’s truth to us in a special way.  He helped all of us see better – both the beauty of simply truths as well as the brilliance of complex doctrines.  Yet, one of his greater gifts was always this ability to be humble in the midst of his legacy.  He knew he was just a vessel for God’s glory and that he wasn’t perfect.

His other great gift was to remind his readers that our ultimate satisfaction can only be found in God.  Specifically, he helped me to see that all of life, good and bad, points forward and outside to a place and a time that true believers in Jesus constantly look to and long for.  This high hope is what holds us together while we’re here.  Thank you Lewis, for your writings and thank you Heath for your tunes.

“The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them,and what came through them was longing.

These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols,breaking the hearts of their worshippers.

For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”  – C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

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

click on image to listen to song for free.

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

Jesus – Rich Mullins (1997, the Jesus record)

click on image to listen to song for free.

We’ve come to Holy Week and the time to reflect upon the cross.  In this series of posts throughout the week, we will major on two things: the resurrection and our response to Jesus.  I may go back and forth, but be sure to come back frequently, for I hope to blog several times this week.

Let’s open with a rough diamond that I have treasured for many years.  This would fall mostly in the category of response and reflection and I offer it first for one simple reason: our personal heart response to the cross is what matters most during this week.  God’s Son did not die for any other reason than to glorify His Father through bringing people close to Him again.

But we have a tendency during the Easter season to zero in on things like cross, resurrection, salvation, etc.  These are central and colossal matters in scope and depth and its so easy to get lost in doctrine and rhetoric.  One thing that might get lost in the shuffle is the pure, stripped down truth that a man named Jesus loved us so much that He died and rose again on our behalf.

Rich Mullins is exactly what we need to capture the angle of Easter that reminds of a love from a man that is so intoxicating, we simply cannot resist.  This song is actually just a poor recording that was released posthumously.  Mullins died in a car accident, but shortly before his death, he went alone to a small chapel and recorded a demo of songs for his next project.  The plain, scratchy sound seems to perfectly reflect a lonely, human heart aching to be attached to the sparkling, yet approachable heart of the Son of God.

Listen to the magic of a song without fanfare and frills:

Jesus
They say You walked upon the water once
When you lived as all men do
Please teach me how to walk the way You did
Because I want to walk with You

Jesus
They say you taught a lame man how to dance
When he had never stood without a crutch
Well, here am I Lord, holding out my withered hands
And I’m just waiting to be touched

Jesus
Write me into Your story
Whisper it to me
And let me know I’m Yours

Jesus
They say You spoke and calmed an angry wave
That was tossed across a stormy sea
Please teach me how to listen, how to obey
‘Cause there’s a storm inside of me

Jesus
Write me into Your story
Whisper it to me
And let me know I’m Yours

Jesus
They drove the cold nails through Your tired hands
And rolled a stone to seal Your grave
Feels like the devil’s rolled a stone onto my heart
Can You roll that stone away?

The hint of the resurrection at the end of the song connected to our personal struggle to be revived is truly palpable.  Sometimes, our Easter meditations become too disconnected from our every day lives.  Yet, no one could ever accuse Rich Mullins of promoting such a disconnect.  He reaches across the gap and pulls us into the realm of the authentic and the honest.

I wanted to include another song from this “album” because it takes this issue even further.  Listen to an excerpt from the lyrics of “Hard To Get” by Rich Mullins:

Did You ever know loneliness
Did You ever know need
Do You remember just how long a night can get?
When You were barely holding on
And Your friends fall asleep
And don’t see the blood that’s running in Your sweat

Will those who mourn be left uncomforted
While You’re up there just playing hard to get?

And I know you bore our sorrows
And I know you feel our pain
And I know it would not hurt any less
Even if it could be explained

And I know that I am only lashing out
At the One who loves me most
And after I figured this, somehow
All I really need to know

Is if You who live in eternity
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in time
We can’t see what’s ahead
And we can not get free of what we’ve left behind
I’m reeling from these voices that keep screaming in my ears
All the words of shame and doubt, blame and regret

I can’t see how You’re leading me unless You’ve led me here
Where I’m lost enough to let myself be led
And so You’ve been here all along I guess
It’s just Your ways and You are just plain hard to get

How often we sit in church or alone, trying to connect with God, but these kind of thoughts and emotions serve as the chasm standing between us and Him.  Mullins faithfully writes like the psalmists of old – who left no doubt or fear tucked away in their hearts – but instead, laid it all out at God’s feet.  And yet he includes references to the everlasting truth that God loves us best!  The cross proves this over and over again!

Deep within our hearts we must always keep telling ourselves that the cross trumps all doubts, fears and shortcomings.  Let Easter be a time to feel the freedom that was earned for you by His blood.  Let the Passion of Christ wash away all your reservations about God’s love for you.  Let His resurrection release your heart the from cage of fear and death.

But most of all, let Jesus be Jesus.  In one very important sense, Jesus was just a man.  A man who loves you best and died to prove it.  You are deeply known and deeply loved by the Son of God…and He has written you into His story, if you have given your heart to Him.

Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed, Sojourn (2009, Over The Grave)

click on image to listen to song for free.

Today we close out the Passion aspect of Lent season (I will take the next two weeks on the resurrection) with a song that truly captures the best response that the heart could have to the suffering and death of Christ.  We must consider seriously meditating on how much Jesus did for us: that He laid His life down for sinners like you and me.  We must find a heart of gratitude for these things at the deepest level, no matter how uncomfortable it might be.

Therefore, I am calling out an all-star cast for this occasion.  All-star, meaning our song is a time-tested, hall of fame-like tune performed by a well-loved, veteran group of artists that are at the heart of the “new hymns” movement today.

Without further ado, here is Sojourn performing Isaac Watt’s classic hymn, “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed” :

Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die.
Would He devote that sacred head
For sinners such as I?
His body slain; nailed to the cross
Bathed in his own blood
There received the wrath of God
His soul in anguish stood.
It was for crimes that I had done
That kept him on the tree.
Amazing mercy, matchless grace
And love beyond degree.
When Christ, our own creator died
And took upon our sin
Not even in that darkest hour
Could glory be shut in
My thoughts fixed on His sacrifice
The cross that draws me near
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness
And melt my eyes to tears.
Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die.
Would He devote that sacred head
For sinners such as I?
Drops of grief cannot repay
The love I owe to you
Lord, I give myself away
Its all that can do.

I have printed these words out and kept them in my Bible for years now. It seems to capture that initial and essential response to the Cross so perfectly.  It is the very function of worship music to repeatedly take core truths deeper into the heart and mind of the worshipper.

Because of how rich this song is, I encourage all readers to simply focus on the lyrics themselves, more so than my reflections about them.  Re-read the biblical accounts of the crucifixion in companion with this song.  Perhaps intensify things by watching the Passion of the Christ movie in conjunction with your reading and listening to this song.

Don’t let this season pass you by without stepping into the depths of the death of death and sin.  The resurrection is coming and it is supremely grand and important – but it wouldn’t mean a thing if our Savior didn’t bleed for us first.  Watts says is best, “My thoughts fixed on His sacrifice,the cross that draws me near, dissolve my heart in thankfulness, and melt my eyes to tears.

Alas! and did my Savior bleed.”

Garden – Need To Breathe (2009, The Outsiders)

Click on image to listen to song for free.

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!

Should we label music as either Christian or non-Christian?

All music that is made by humankind is both expressive and subjective.  Expressive, because that is the nature of music – to convey through song a thought, feeling or experience.  Subjective, because someone has to be the one to write, compose and perform the tune.  All forms of art carry these two primary qualities and for this reason it is fair to say that all music is always creative and always flawed (both attributes coming in varying degrees, of course).  Creative in the sense that it came from within someone’s heart and mind – as opposed to being something that already existed (i.e., trees, love and despair are ongoing realities of life, but each new song about trees, love or despair are new creations).  In addition, there is at least some level of imperfection or flaw in every song’s message, just as there is with everything else that humanity creates or designs – because we are imperfect creatures.  This doesn’t mean that it can’t be beautiful or convey truth.  All it really means is this: if God didn’t create it, than it is less than perfect.

Because of the assumptions laid out above, I believe music doesn’t require spiritual categorization: especially Christian versus non-Christian categories.  I am not saying it is wrong to try to make these distinctions (I do it all the time, simply out of habit).  In many ways, we are forced to do it at some level (picking church service songs, etc.)  All I’m saying is that it is too difficult to get it exactly right and it is unimportant to try.  Now some readers might gasp or frown at this last statement.  Please understand that I intend to offer an alternative to categorizing music as Christian or not and I will give reasons why it isn’t helpful to force these distinctions.

First, some reasons why Christian categorizations for music are not helpful.  By the way, by categorization I do not include musical styles (jazz, pop, punk, etc.); instead, I am only referring to placing a song in either Christian or non-Christian categories.  Now then, if I claim a song or artist to be Christian, what am I claiming?  Are their levels of holiness and infallibility involved in this kind of claim?  Or is their trustworthiness assumed and given, despite a lack of testing and biblical checking?  And who decides these things for all of us?  You can see how these questions foster an attitude of judgmentalism and over-analysis.  There shouldn’t be these things involved in music, but I believe many people apply an unhealthy level of this kind of thinking towards music that is labeled Christian.  A Christian song is not the same thing as a Bible verse, yet how many of us can claim that we are spiritually impacted more by verses than the songs we choose to listen to?  If we’re all honest with ourselves, we can at least agree that the temptation to be formed more by our music than Scripture is definitely there.  So music is indeed important, but trying to assign universal spiritual value to someone else’s expression of art or worship is a slippery slope.

Another reason categorization doesn’t help is because it usually doesn’t help the artist.  So many music artists today are trying not to be labeled, simply because it hurts their livelihood.  Music artists who are Christians trying to use their music as ministry are also feeling this tension between adhering to a label and the freedom that comes without having one.  Music today is becoming more and more un-industrious, meaning there are less record label contracts and more Kickstarter projects, less manufacturing of what the masses want and more independent expressions that comfortably fit in the thousands of small niches that exist today.  We even have niches for “city country music” and other paradoxical themes that simply didn’t exist before.  Christian labeling and categorizing doesn’t help the artist nearly as much as it used to.

So what should the Christian do about music, if saying that music is either Christian or non-Christian doesn’t help us anymore?  How do we wade through the mountain of mp3s that are so accessible and affordable today?  How do we guard our hearts and steer towards the songs that enhance our worship and broaden our view of the One True God?

My solution is not complex and it is not new.  It is simply this: like all other forms of expression (books, film, speakers, etc.) we must put all of it through the grid of Scripture.  You can find truth in a Christian song, but you can also find falsehood.  Likewise, you can find truth in a non-Christian song sometimes.  Why bother making general distinctions about whether or not the song came from a “Christian” artist or label?  Whatever the source, each of us ought to measure a tune’s value by the Word of God.

We often times make the mistake of assuming that it is the musicians job, if he/she claims faith in Christ, to present the full Gospel (complete with the most obvious churchy words) in every song.  That is like asking a Christian pie maker to bake an evangelism tract into every pie!  Would that really be considered better stewardship or better faithfulness?  All Christians are indeed called to evangelize the lost, but we are NOT expected to produce a four-point outline of how someone can be saved with every breathe we take.  Music artists are not inherently evangelists – no more so than pie makers.  Certainly, many artists who are Christians see a calling on their lives to evangelize through their music, but it is not a prerequisite.

On the flipside, non-Christians who express themselves honestly in music can sometimes stumble upon a biblical truth and convey it with power and beauty.  Paul talks about people “accidently” preaching Christ, even though they don’t have Christ in their hearts.  Nevertheless, God is glorified in it anyway, if it entails the absolute truth of Scripture.  It is true to think that this would be a rare thing in the secular music world, but not impossible.

What I am proposing is important for a few reasons: 1) it protects our hearts better.  We are not as likely to be deceived by a heretical “Christian” song if we are not trying to just follow music categories already made for us, but instead challenging all songs by the standard of the Bible; 2) it causes us to sharpen our biblical framework, so that we are ready to discern any given song against God’s Word; 3) it gives the artist a better chance to be heard objectively.  We are never fully objective, but knocking down our preconceived stereotypes certainly helps; 4) it puts the onus on us, the listeners, to filter in (or out) music in a constructive way.  This is appropriate when dealing with the realm of art and media (as opposed to the realm of preaching and organized religion); and finally, 5) it enhances our worship because it forces us to discern and decide whether or not a song glorifies God faithfully, as opposed to assuming that labels and leaders have already done that for us.  If my biblical antennas are up while I listen to music, then I will be more likely to get the right message from the right tunes.

In conclusion, the believer in Christ should be a hunter of excellent art that pulls out the appropriate expressions of the life and color of Gospel truths.  There is no debate that art is powerful and it can be a great force for spiritual good.  At the same time, wrong music can deceive, ensnare and defeat us in significant ways.  Both kinds of music can come from any source at any time – and that is what labeling dangerously leads us to forget.  This truth should encourage us to strengthen our Scriptural grid that we lay over our eyes, ears and heart.  We should not pre-label our music (legalism), nor should we go to the other extreme and strain “truth” out of every song (license).  Be fair, be open, be sober and cautious…but above all, be biblical!  I truly believe that this is the best path towards the greatest amount of beauty in music, which would give God the most glory.

Sincerely,  TruthinTunes guy

P.S. I intentionally left out musical examples from this article.  I researched many other writings that attempted to address the same question as I did here and each time they used examples to make their point I found that the subjectivity and lack of balanced perspective took away from their arguments.  Art is meant to be discerned and criticized, but this article should serve more as a primer for how to do that as a Christian, not a lecture about what grade to give every song that’s out there (and there are actually websites that do this).  Feel free to comment below about specific songs or ask me what I think about any given song.  You’ll also get a better idea of some songs that I like by reading other articles on this blog.