Brave Ruth – Before the Brave (2012, Great Spirit)

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Hoping to find a place where your burden is lightened?  Need a respite from the weight of the world or even just the weight of your own life?  Look no further.  A song can deliver these things, and song bearing the absolute truth of God’s mercy delivers emphatically.

Before the Brave is a folk quintet from San Francisco.  Their sound is familiar but ever original with a real sense of chemistry and personality.  Led by Jason Perry Stevens, this up and coming group has certainly brought something special to the table of unplugged-heartfelt-worshipesque music.  I probably sample a half-dozen bands like this almost every week, it seems.  But Before the Brave separates themselves greatly with their newest EP from last year, called, “Great Spirit.”

In particular, the song Brave Ruth, struck a cord with me.  I’m not sure if it supposed to be about the biblical character/story of Ruth or something else.  Nevertheless, the spiritual input from these lyrics as it applies to anyone’s faith in Christ is unmistakable.  Listen to the sound of your heat voiced in a simple, yet striking tune about being brave enough to be touched by God’s mercy:

I’ve been looking for You all over this town,                                                                           I’ve been looking for truth but truth won’t come around,                                                     now my head’s in the highway and my heart’s in the clouds,                                                   and I’m glad it was You that came lookin’ around                                                                and I’m glad it was You that came lookin’ around.                                                    

so break my bones and hold my tongue, and shed my skin after all I have done,             You washed my feet in the river so sweet, I’m a restless soul trying to find who to be,           and I’ve looked for days upon days upon nights,                                                                     I’m sick of the taste of the failure to fight                                                                             now You made the Spirit to dwell in my bones,                                                                   and I want to fly over all that atones for good, 

so break my bones and hold my tongue, and shed my skin after all I have done,              and You wash my feet in the river so sweet, and I’m a restless soul trying to find who to be, and I hear Your voice as I’m sleeping at night,                                                                     He tells me to be brave, be brave I just might.

Superb lyrics, the likes of which I have not come across in quite a while.  “I’m sick of the taste of the failure to fight” stirs my lukewarm soul in a way that is painfully good and awakening.  The core of this song is the message to be brave enough to respond to God’s mercy with a kind of striving gratitude that changes your life.

We sometimes feel relief when God is merciful to us.  Relief because somehow we thought that His mercy is deserved or earned.  Other times, we feel a numbness because of the disbelief in our hearts.  God could never actually be kind to me, could He?  Still, in other times we might even feel so uncomfortable, so caught off guard, that mercy never sinks in – never wraps itself around our prideful hearts, because we won’t let it.

After all that we have done to spit in the face of God through our sin, we still have the gall to respond to God’s loving act of utter sacrifice in these pitiful, self-centered ways.

This song simply testifies to the battle of being brave enough to properly thank God for His love, mercy and grace by striving to give to Him a living sacrifice.  The beauty and the rest that we receive as Christians is that even these battles are already won by God’s great Spirit – who finishes our faith for us!

The Cross is what humbles us deeply and truly.  The Cross is what shows us how unclean and unholy we truly are.  But, the Cross never tells us to move “beyond” this place of mercy.  The Cross never teaches a life outside of dependence upon the Spirit of God or even outside of being in dire need of God’s unmeasurable mercy.

“And I want to fly over all that atones for good” (I hope I have that line right) – I take this to mean that he feels so ashamed of how much mercy he needs from God to be made righteous in His eyes, that he just wants to be done with justification/sanctification already.  But the Christian life (at least this first part here on Earth) calls us all to be brave enough to constantly hold together our need for God’s mercy and our proper response of gratitude and trying to give back.

Of course, we have nothing to offer to God – nothing except but what God created us to be: vessels of mercy and worship.  To be God’s vessel for His own glory is both the most humbling and honoring position in existence.  To be a vessel is to become a citizen of Heaven!  And yet one of the keys to being a vessel of mercy is to be brave.  Brave enough to admit my own depravity.  Brave enough to accept God’s offer of complete mercy and love.  And brave enough to live completely for Him, by living completely through Him.

When you lay in bed tonight and all the world reaches that moment of silence before you drift off to sleep, ask yourself if you can hear that Voice telling you to be brave.  Remember that His is a voice of mercy and love.  His is a voice of tenderness when we only deserve severity.  His voice is telling you and me to be brave.

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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!

Hope of Glory – Young Oceans (2012, Young Oceans)

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When I started this blog, my first song was a ten minute saga about waiting for the return of Christ.  My philosophy here is that you can never put a time limit on a really good song and you can never sing too often about the Lord’s Second Coming.

Young Oceans is another group composing original modern hymns. They formed out of a church in New York City who desired to worship and meditate on God musically uninhibited by the framework of time or structure.  These gatherings became popular and led to the recordings that we are featuring from today.  They are currently working on a series of songs for Advent, so keep a close eye on Young Oceans (or really anything that comes out on the Asthmatic Kitty label).

“Hope of Glory” is a hymn that serves the Christian like a perseverance tonic.  If you’re having a bad day, month or year then let this song lift you up before God and recharge you, like a spiritual solar panel on a sunny day.  The lyrics are both a personal plea for strength and a unified declaration of fealty to our Savior, as we await His grand re-entrance:

Sear to my soul Your word of truth, O Father
And make us heirs of Your throne
Rescued at last from darkness through Jesus
Faithful we carry on and gladness shall be our song
This is the day for Christ the Hope of Glory
O Mystery made known to us
Now is the time soon there will be no sorrow
Prepare our hearts to stand before You Lord
So we proclaim the mighty cross, O Savior
With wisdom and to this end
Struggling as one, we labor with Jesus
We will wait for You O Lord
May our hearts be ever pure
Holy Spirit fall on us, may Your blessed Kingdom come.

The song (as mentioned before) is long, about eight and a half minutes to be exact.  This serves a crucial purpose for me as I listen to both the truth in the words and the emotion of those truths in the sounds of instrumentation and artistic backdrop.  In other words, the verses and chorus declare Scriptural knowledge and encouragement; and then the listener engages sections of the song that allows for quiet, thoughtful meditation on these truths.  All the while the melodies provide a faithful flow or crescendo that carries you all the way to the end.  Too many songs either give you too much knowledge to digest in a few minutes or nothing but fluffy, romantic sentiments without any biblical content.

If you listen carefully, you can even hear children playing in the background on some parts of the song.  I like this, for it helps integrate these truths into everyday sounds and environments.  Instead of stepping into a worship song and then, when its over, stepping back out into real life this song cries out a blend of authenticity, transparency and a  harmony between song and life.  In short, the song is indeed it’s own worship experience.

This is a popular trend in secular music.  Instead of predictable timings and beats, some musicians are leaning towards ambient sounds, irregular rhythms and nontraditional song-flows (i.e., Sigur Ros, Sufjan Stevens, etc.).  Call it alternative, organic or whatever.  This style lends itself to better meditation on God’s truth, when the music has the right message and the right length.

Listen to David in Psalm 63 as he describes the way he praises and meditates on the Lord:

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
    and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
    and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
    and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
    your right hand upholds me.

Let this song be more than just a new addition to your playlist.  Use it’s unique qualities to engage God, alone, while you open up the depths of your soul to a deeper embrace of the truth in this tune.  God is King.  God is coming back for His faithful ones.  Our hope is in Christ alone…and that is enough for anything this life has to throw at us.