tragedy will find us.

After a couple good naps, lunch breaks with coworkers, and plenty of Settlers of Catan throwdowns, the first couples of days of a new year are over. I’ve been one for resolutions before, but not in a triumphant way. Many of them were epithets about “this being the year” I would shed the skin of my addiction for good but doing so by avoiding the pain of putting my life under the surgical knife of the Great Physician in John 5. I made few unsubstantial goals since then to preserve the guilt of not following through on them, but as I have been blessed by God’s grace to be in a time of my life where I have enjoyed the fruits of sobriety, recovery, and transformation, the new year shines in different shades, now. Small, measurable goals seem to be the most logical of any resolutions I’ve seen people be successful with, but even those are still subject to some kind of failure in a calendar year. As a result, I figured it’s meaningless to even try. But, this is where grace is key.

I hear a lot of commentary about God’s grace, but I’m going to pull at this string and say we don’t understand the depth of its definition on a cultural level. It’s not like we can fully comprehend it to begin with (hence, the scandal of grace), but there’s always two sides to every coin. I think it’s easy and moving to lift our hands in praise to God for the incomprehensible mystery of His unending grace, but how often do we understand that it’s built on something to be given grace from? I get caught in this current time and time again. Without acknowledging the inevitability of personal suffering down the corridor of a week, a month, or when we pen new year’s resolutions, grace is devalued and cheapened. The apostle Paul talks about this in Romans 6 – What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? New years resolutions are made to be broken. It’s not a matter of if we will break a resolution, but when. It’s not a matter if there will be difficulty, but how. It’s not a matter of if we will unintentionally hurt someone relationally, but whom. The difference is how we respond to it when our faith is tossed and fro by the winds as said by Jesus’ brother James (1:1-6). Grace is anti venom for hurting hearts, wounded emotions, frail spiritual devotions, and those broken resolutions. But, should we stop making resolutions to preserve ourselves from feeling bad about it? By no means!

In 2015, Canadian hardcore vanguards, Counterparts, released their most commercially successful and emotionally revealing body of work yet, Tragedy Will Find Us. Soldering the melodic veracity of post-hardcore from the early 2000’s, modern metal, and a dash of punk grit, Counterparts have a handful of powerful albums that prove themselves to have gusto in a scene that lead singer, Brendan Murphy, himself coins as a “congregation of outcasts” – the amalgam of a socially conscious, dissatisfied vector of young people, searching for something bigger and outside of themselves. I have power stomped and screamed my way through the bridge of songs like, Outlier, probably half a million times when my roommates have been gone. I have air drummed my way through supercharged passages on songs like Withdrawal and have head banged through the melodic haze of Tragedy countless times as well. I’ve reviewed them on this blog before, but they’ve ascended the ranks in my favorites list after a couple years of taking in their last two records. Tragedy Will Find Us is a half hour burn book that illustrates a crestfallen period of the lead singer’s life coming off tour between their previous record, The Difference Between Hell and Home. Murphy’s lyrical content has always been kind of standoff-ish, but this new record is way more uncompromising. The underlying themes of despair and brokenness have silver linings of some sort. Because, according to Murphy, the ten songs on Tragedy Will Find Us is a collective recognition that difficulty is unavoidable and we have to find some kind of strength to move learn and move past such circumstances. On this album, Murphy muses the existence of God and His role in suffering. Going back to the idea of grace, I believe God works in suffering to produce something that we cannot see with the tunnel vision we often have in trials as further reflected through Paul – Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4). Pastor John Piper says it well…

Not only is your affliction momentary, not only is your affliction light in comparison to eternity and the glory there, but all if it is totally meaningful. Every millisecond of your pain from the fallen nature or fallen man, every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that. I don’t care if it was cancer or criticism… slander or sickness. It wasn’t meaningless. It’s doing something… of course you can’t see what it’s doing.

This new-year, I have a new resolution echoed by Switchfoot’s lead singer, Jon Foreman…

Sing into the storm.

Face trials as they come along and see them as learning opportunities that sharpen me like iron on iron in Proverbs 27:17.

Though, this sounds morbid and fatalistic, we should remember that in darkness, light pierces through with even more power and luminescence. I look forward to future plans unfolding prepared by God’s work in the previous year, the gift of continuing to invest in friendships both here and far, growing in sobriety, leadership, and even to the storm clouds on horizons I can’t see right now. By intentionally sailing into and not spiritually circumventing them in my cocoon, the Holy Spirit will never put wind in our sails to serve others, to invest in others, to sacrificially love others.

Though tragedy will find us, Jesus will meet us there to pick us up, put wind back in our sails, and inspire us to keep loving and serving when storm clouds blacken.

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finished people.

Last November, I attended a one-day Catalyst conference hosted by Grace Church in Eden Prairie with the interns and select staff from Pleasant Valley. It was a great day to absorb pragmatic, Biblical knowledge from skilled communicators and experienced pastors from all over the country. Later that evening, a couple of us stuck around for Provoke and Inspire – a seminar put on by Come & Live and Steiger Ministries, both of whom equip and disciple artists as they hone their craft and message. Soon after one of my musical heroes, Mattie Montgomery, spit fire out of Isaiah 6, a guy named Chad Johnson took the mic. I didn’t know who he was, but I was captivated as I listened to him talk about a radical prayer life he developed after being told by a multiple strangers that the Lord would lead him into a seismic career change. At one point, my buddy Zach leaned over and asked me if I knew who the guy was. It turns out that Chad was the A&R of a metal and hardcore label called, Tooth and Nail Records that had a premiere roster of legendary bands – some of whom are still my favorites today. Some of Chad’s stories of transforming prayer involved a band called, Sleeping Giant. Over the years, their name had come up before in hearsay during conversations with friends of mine who are also metal and hardcore enthusiasts, but were unfortunately, not that favorable. So, under that impression, I avoided listening to them. Fast forwarding to last week, I was adding more music to a couple of Spotify playlists, when I ran across them again as a recommended artist under Gideon. Thinking back to the stories Chad Johnson was telling combined with the positive buzz I heard about their last record, Finished People, I gave some of it a listen….

Turns out this thing is a collection of BANGERS.The mix hits like a crowbar and is lyrically powerful! Funny enough, Will Putney, whom I praised in the last album review collection I posted in March was the man behind the mastering of this record – and it shows! The grit of the guitar tones, bass, kick drums, and even the smallest of hi hat taps are captured in a fierce package. Lead singer, Tommy Green, also writes honest, raw lyrics about Jesus showing up in the most barren of places that we write off. As I began doing some more investigating about this record on Youtube and band interviews throughout the web, I ran across this video.

I got goosebumps and teared up watching this the first time.

“I follow a master and he says I never give up on anybody… If he hadn’t wiped my record clean, I belong with them and He forgave me. And He’s a forgiving God, He is so good. And I think it’s our responsibility to not get comfortable, but to remember the ones on the bottom…. those are my people. Those are your people. We are all finished people.

Right now, the intern year is wrapping up at my church, summer is on the horizon, and we will be spending the next few months in reflection – fine tuning programs, planning,  gearing up volunteers/ourselves for the forthcoming fall, and bathing it all in prayer. I know many of my friends are in finals right now (best of luck!) and I consider this is to be one of my final assessments for this year. I can confidently say it’s been an amazing 12 months of growth that was catapulted by God allowing me to step into an environment where I can experiment with and teeth out my passions, abilities, and gifts in the company of incredible people who are passionate about the work of Jesus. This time of self-discovery has given me a lot of insight about how the Lord is molding me and I think part of that is the result of being in recovery. I’m beginning to feel more comfortable in my own skin and seeing the blemishes I have as part of my testimony rather than embarrassing scars to cover with good works.

Participation in Celebrate Recovery on Friday nights and in step group has taught me a lot about the heart God has for people at the bottom – for the people who live with the feeling of living in the trap doors beneath rock bottom at the stranglehold of narcotic abuse and other addictions, domestic violence, anger, mental health issues, and imprisonment. I can recall Friday nights where people have come through the front doors carrying the baggage of multiple lifetimes worth of pain and suffering. With sunken eyes and fractured spirits, they sit down in the student ministry center for large group and you can see it in their facial expressions. They’re hurting. They feel as if they’ve run out of chances and that the world has closed the door on them, locked it, and put yellow do not cross tape around it. They feel like finished people.

Though Tommy Green talks specifically about prison in this video, I think we can all think of a time when we were imprisoned by our own bitterness, insecurity, shortcomings, addictions, and broken relationships. Maybe prison has been something you’ve experienced. Biblical heroes like Paul wrote whole New Testament letters in cell blocks! He says in 1st Corinthians 15 that if Christ was not raised for the dead then were are to be pitied among all men and we are without any hope. He even called it, the first importance. I read a verse like that and remember that without the grace and forgiveness of a loving God who wiped my record clean – separating my sins like David said in Psalm 103 as far as the east is from the west, I would have taken a wrong turn at the fork and crashed my car in the fog of addiction.

We talk a lot in Celebrate Recovery that step one in recovery is snapping back to reality and addressing denial. If we truly had a handle on everything, we wouldn’t have a need for the ministry to exist. Quite honestly, we wouldn’t need God either. In Romans chapter 7, Paul talks about the conflict he has of wanting to do the right thing, but the internal conflict he has with God and the fallibility of his human nature fails him…. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”

We are all finished people…

But God isn’t finished with us.

There is no greater honor that I have as an intern, roommate, friend, son, and brother to see people pick up their crosses and rise above their hurts, habits, and hangups. Seeing the transformation in people’s lives this year has been incredible and evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work, but the most awesome moments for me are the ones where people begin to first believe that there’s life on the other end of it all. The conversations I have when the wheels begin to turn in people’s minds and hearts that there is hope are the moments that remind me of why I do what I do. Progress happens in the minute details. They occur in the margins of our lives, the small decisions, and “minor” tweaks in our attitudes, routines, and schedules. Those build up in capitol to big decisions that will be made well when push comes to shove. I love being front row for those decisions in the lives of people at Celebrate Recovery, my church, family, and friends. It’s one of the best things I get to carry with me as a reminder of what the Lord has done this year and what He has in store next year as well. Those moments remind me that those are God’s people, therefore they are my people. And I’m in the trenches with them.

Philippians 1:2 says, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” I am a work progress that has only been made possible when I came to the transforming conclusion that without Jesus I am a finished person – hardened and unaware of the collateral damage I was causing. I have the honor in being part of a community where we are comfortable opening those padlocked, tightly secured, and taped off doors to God and each other. It may come at different points for everyone and random bones from the skeletons we keep in there may stumble out, but there is no more satisfying feeling to see someone have the courage to turn the key to those doors, take a deep breath, and examine what’s inside.

The ones who don’t want to get out of bed because their depression is too much to handle and need someone to comfort them; the ones who walk into a room alone with sunken spirits, because they feel forgotten; the ones who have been abused, violated, and hurt; the ones who sit in a cell block; the ones who suffer from addictions; the ones who grieve… those are God’s people. Those are OUR people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

kintsugi.

Once I sat down and started writing this, I began to feel it flesh out like a part two for a previous post I did about a passage in Hosea that Jefferson Bethke commented on, so that’s how I’m going to treat this – as a follow up that gives some absolution to our walks in the wilderness. What happens when we return from those excursions? What do we do with those conversations with God when the darkness of the wilderness sets behind a new day for us to live? What purpose do those scars have now that we’ve come back to the real world? I think the overarching question transitions from how do we allow the Lord to point out and process them, to how we allow people in on the stories behind them. Who do they impact?

Keeping with the theme of commentary from Jefferson Bethke, I recently watched an online sermon of him speaking at Pastor Craig Groeschel’s church in Oklahoma City about the concept of Biblical healing. Bethke spoke about how scars are our open books that leaf through chapters of screw-ups, pitfalls, and ultimately end in Jesus’ redemption. He made this brilliant analogy for how God illuminates those scars that caught me hook, line, and sinker, but I’ll return to that soon.

 

At this point I’m waist deep in this recovery process wading through our Friday night Ceebrate Recovery curriculum. In the closing chapters of our material, Rick Warren of Saddleback Church calls this process of paying it forward, Recycling Pain. Think about the process of recycling – you take what’s considered a “waste product” and somehow make it into a useful resource. The catch is that Jesus doesn’t consider us wasted products, even though we consider our character defects as undesirable. Romans 5:8 says, “When we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” For example, some of the relationships in my life that I severed have been the result of wanting to leave parts of my life behind me, thinking that time and separation will heal those wounds. While the separation was healthy, the clocks have ticked too long for me to ignore many of them anymore. I grew weary from running from my problems, because every exit door led me deeper into isolation from the people I cared about most. Facing the fact that I had become calloused is part of the harsh reality of allowing myself to be in God’s repair. In fact, Paul says in Romans 12, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” That’s an imperative, not a second or third string play option. While I won’t get into details, I’ve recently had some therapeutic conversations with people about my shortcomings as my way of being at peace with people in situations that are laced with a lot of unnamed tension. I used to think that those relationships were wasted. Unable to salvage any of its raw materials. I began to wonder for a while…

“Can I really be whole again after all I’ve done?”

 

In this sermon, Jefferson Bethke talked about an ancient Japanese art form, called Kintsugi – literally translated as “gold joinery” that is also namesake for the latest album from famed indie rock outfit, Death Cab For Cutie (maybe I’ll review that, soon ;)). As I began to research, Japanese culture has high esteem for the things that are broken and put back together. To them, things like furniture with cracks, splits, and rot in the wood are seen to have character and experience. Every person that has sat and conversations that have taken place on them are intricate parts of a story these objects tell. It seems kind of funny when we contrast that to a westernized culture that places a consumerist value in the newest gadget. The old is left to waste with the memories latched to it. As Bethke began to explain, Kintsugi is when someone would mix gold and silver dust with a strong adhesive and put pottery back together, kind of like this…

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“The actual places where it broke is exactly where you’re eye’s drawn. It’s this place of beauty and glory. I think that’s an interesting way of thinking about Jesus…. might Jesus be the one who says, I not only want to heal you, but sometimes the very place that you’re broken and I’ve healed you, become the most glorious parts about you.”

You feel those goosebumps, too?

 

Those wounds that God exposes to us in those journeys through the wilderness are usually the very things that tell the best stories about where we are, now. We may night realize it immediately and it may even take years to finally arrive at a point of realization. 2nd Corinthians 12:9 says, But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” I actually used to have zero desire to work with those who had addictions. Somehow I figured I could “get over this,” leave my addiction behind me, and move on with something new – as if this piece of me would be trashed, never to be recycled, and left to rot. As it turns out, my chinks in the armor have become the places that can only be protected by Jesus. When I began to look in the rearview mirror and allow the Lord to mend those relationships I was so afraid to face, they’ve actually become vignettes that fit into this personal meta narrative of the Lord’s redemption in my life. They’re joys I get to celebrate and know that reconciliation is the result of God healing those third degree burns with gauze and grace – the gold laced within our brokenness.

The brokenness in our life experiences are not in vain. They didn’t go to waste. Our stories are unique. They give us an angle that no one else can fully understand, but people can relate to. People can relate when they see God in the cracks of our broken pots, plates, relationships, job situations, and spiritual lives. “Me too” are two of the most powerful words we can say to someone else. What are those things that you can allow God to use as the gold and silver lining? Though they may feel like salt in a wound to say or confess, you may be surprised what happens when the Lord uses those scars to illustrate the best stories of His work.

we are all kendrick lamar.

Kendrick_Lamar_-_To_Pimp_a_Butterfly_coverart
To Pimp a Butterfly album cover photo credit: comfortmagazine.com

There’s been a lot of buzz in entertainment circles, the web, and friends of mine about the new Kendrick Lamar record, “To Pimp a Butterfly.” Released two weeks ago, this album is considered a prolific genre milestone for hip-hop. Some say this puts Kendric Lamar in line to join the ranks of rap demigods like Tupac with its flagrant social consciousness, diverse sonic influences, and contrast against a generation of mainstream hip-hop.

Kendrick Lamar’s presence as a rapper has sparked conversation among religious circles concerning his music, message, and faith.

Given the controversy, I think this is worth sharing as a way to open to floor to discuss how people express their faith, the art of storytelling, and my thoughts on the debate over his authenticity.

To understand this conversation better, let me provide some context.

Kendrick Lamar is a hip-hop artist native to the rough and tumble concrete jungle of Compton, California. Festooned with drugs, gangs, violence, and economic inequality, Compton is showcased as an example of a place that underpins a myriad of negative influences for young men. Good Kid m.A.A.d. City is an album that paints a vulgar portrait of Lamar’s upbringing. Being raised around gang life, feeding into promiscuity, drugs, and alcohol, the dialogue on this album demonstrates the pull he feels between wanting to fit in and not getting caught up in the negativity. The end of the album marks Kendrick Lamar’s turning point when he publicly professed his faith and was recently baptized while on tour. Throughout GKMC, you hear dispersed voice mail interludes from other family members of Lamar who express their concern and provide silver lining for the sexually provocative, violent, and suggestive imagery. There’s obvious conflict being dramatized. This is where people unsheathe the criticism.

Through recent interviews with the New York Times and XXL Magazine, Kendrick Lamar’s Christianity has become a crux for heated discussion about the credibility of his expressions of faith.

Statistics from David Kinnaman and the Barna research group reveal that millennials are disenchanted with the brand of Christianity that our parents and grandparents were raised by. They’re in search of something that raw, authentic, non-politicized, and accessible. With that comes pastors and modern theologians who raise questions otherwise not questioned by American predecessors. I think people like Kendrick Lamar are the lightning rod for discussion concerning authenticity of newer Christianity.

I’m 22 years old. My age and experiences in the church make me part of this conversation of how do we as Christians openly communicate our doubts, concerns, fears, and shortcomings with dignity and honesty. It’s a hard but necessary discussion to have in house. It’s messy, but is a catalyst for creating tight-knit organic community, growth, and moving forward.

Good Kid m.A.A.d. City album cover photo credit mzshyneka.com
Good Kid m.A.A.d. City album cover photo credit mzshyneka.com

Kendrick is not only conscious of the criticism he receives for the verbiage in his rhymes, but is conscious about the pull he feels between his environment, the temptations of stardom, and his new found faith. I mean, Swimming Pools from GKMC is a perfect example. Underneath the grimy west coast instrumental hypnotism lies a narrative about Kendrick living around alcoholism and his friends tempting him to take part. While it might seem that Kendrick promotes the lifestyle, it’s an undisguised story about peer pressure and how he deals with a very human phenomenon…temptation.

There’s honesty to songs like this in ways that hit me in waves. Tyler Huckabee said it best in an article written for Relevant Magazine… “That might lead some people to call him a hypocrite but then, he’s already beat them to that particular punch.”

It’s a bummer for me to read a sea of Facebook commentary and see people putting Kendrick Lamar and their fellow believers in front of a social media firing squad. People are putting Kendrick Lamar’s character into question and going so far as to saying he’s not really a believer because of his language. Someone did say in this mammoth thread that his story is worth telling, even if he’s not as squeaky clean as Lecrae.

I don’t call out Lecrae to set him as the bar for all others, nor do I encourage Kendrick Lamar to be so vulgar. What I’m saying is that guys like Kendrick Lamar are sharing a testimony in the same language, but in a different dialect.

Kendrick Lamar deserves grace, guidance, and encouragement just like the rest of us do. Our lives aren’t pristine trophies of triumph, joy, and pervasive delight in the Lord. We deal with temptation from the vices of our past and will sometimes feel the pull. It’s how we deal with those temptations and tell that story that matters.

Personally, I can relate to Kendrick Lamar. Not because I grew up around gangs, in an impoverished neighborhood, or was exposed to a lot of violence, but I understand the acute conflict between temptation and searching for God in the midst of coping with my past. It’s not an easy balance and is stressful. When I tell my story it’s not meant to be polished and refined to appeal to a marketable audience. I would rather sit down and be real with someone.

This reminds me a lot of Romans 7:15 where Paul writes, “ I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” That feeling of being caught up in something self-destructive but trying to continue finding meaning in what God has for us.

Loud and clear, I don’t endorse Christians cutting rap albums festooned with explicit imagery and vulgar language, but I don’t think we need to immediately go after Lamar for doing so either, especially because he’s new to the faith. I don’t expect people who have newly accepted this life in Christ to be sterile and unaffected by a life they have lived for so long. I didn’t. I still don’t.

Now that I think of it, all of us as Christians are Kendrick Lamar in a way. We are all in this narrow walk towards Christ, taking the bumps as they come along – sometimes with ease, sometimes with hardship, always with grace. We are all telling a story of restoration that is sometimes painful and is also partially unwritten. We have growth ahead of us, joy to look forward to, rough times to tackle, lessons to learn, and are always striving to be more honest with each other, our neighbors, ourselves, and God.

wall balls. part 2.

Everyone has that one exercise that one step above hard for them. In CrossFit terminology it’s called your “goat.” Mine? Wall balls. It’s a pretty simple movement.

It’s usually done in high reps and wears out everything in your body. The first workout I ever did had wall balls in it. I was on my back in a pool of sweat after 6 minutes. I hadn’t had that kind of a workout in years.

When I committed and returned for more workouts in the next month, the wall balls kept showing up. I was learning more power and Olympic barbell lifts and doing more calisthenics in the mean time. In the beginning, wall balls were an integral part of the programming our owner and coach designed. Over time when members became more comfortable with more compound movements, the workouts began to evolve. Wall balls were more intermittent, but I still didn’t like them that much. 20-pound medicine ball throws thrashed me. They still do.

Faith in Christ is a relationship. Relationships, whether they be romantic or not, require dedication, effort, and a willingness to endure the less-than-ideal times.

If you want to become a better person of faith, you need to be willing to adjust your lifestyle. You begin to develop new habits and/or drop old ones in that process, because you want to be taken seriously. More than that, you do it out of obedience to God. Though the routines are sometimes broken, not always followed through, and in need of refining, it’s the effort. You might not follow through on prayer or read your Bible on a day to day basis, but when we discipline ourselves to throw ourselves into those rituals, they begin to have much more intrinsic value. It transcends doing it out of routine and it becomes something you enjoy and want to do.

CrossFit caused my lifestyle to change. I eat better, sleep more, and have never been stronger or in better shape. I’ve also seen a lot of mental health benefits. Any health professional could tell you that even mild to moderate exercise has the ability to alleviate mild depression and anxiety. I feel much more of an even keel when I frequently exercise. I go when I’m tired, not at 100 percent, or frustrated. It’s gratifying when I want to pass out from a long workout – it feels like I did something with my day when the endorphins rage. It makes me want to go back. It also challenges me to go back and push heavier weight, have a straighter pull on barbell lifts, and get stronger. It’s a pervasive strive for improvement. When I began to think about the effort I have to put into my workouts, the more I thought about how I have to put in the same efforts into my faith. It’s a need for improvement to be more dedicated to prayer, in scripture, and know God better. I saw the value in seeing spirituality as a discipline. I find something new and exciting about diving into Biblical text and trying to improve my prayer life. It all begins to translate with how I take on life, the attitude I have towards people, how I approach God, and how He sees me. That feeling of emotional stability that exercise provides has given me a clearer set of eyes in my head and more equilibrium in my spiritual life. When I didn’t exercise all last semester I was more high strung than a chipmunk super saiyan charged with Red Bull. Christ was one of the last things on my mind when I was stressing so hard.

I will now pull the curtain back and state the obvious… life can suck.

Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Lamentations, and even Romans are all laced with God breathed truth about the frailty of human consciousness and how we will have hard days.

The challenge is how we decide to tackle those tough days. I’m not suggesting that we ignore reality and live ebulliently as if life doesn’t happen. What I’m saying is that we need to be willing to take our licks, learn from them, be bummed out about it for a minute, and move on.

I have to approach wall balls the same way. The way through Christ does not mean life gets easier. There will be days where grades are sub par, cars break down, friendships are on the rocks, an things don’t go my way. There will still be wall balls in the workouts. The difference is that instead of skipping the workout because of the wall balls, I take it with confidence knowing that during, it may suck, but at the end, it will be worth it. It makes me a stronger more well rounded CrossFitter. It’s in the same way that accepting the hard days and walking through them will make us all more conditioned and stronger Christ followers.

My challenge for us all is to live out Philippians 3:12-14 and press on when life takes a left turn towards a cliff.

Approach life’s natural strife and off days with the conviction of Romans 5:3-4 and understand that perseverance holds the key.

Remember that Ecclesiastes 7:1-5 says there are days where we will sing the blues.

In all of it, hold close that in all of this there is an ultimate contentment and sustaining peace in Christ.

We Will Not Be Shaken – Bethel Music: Music Review

Bio:

Riding a newer contemporary wave of worship music and based out of Bethel Church in Redding, California, Bethel Music is a singer songwriter collective that began in the church’s worship ministry. It has since expanded into other artists who are based out of other churches and write individually. Since 2011, the artists in this collective have collaborated to put out a couple of studio albums and extensive live plays. More recently, a worship session overlooking a gorgeous scenic view of Lake Shasta inspired their new live album, We Will Not Be Shaken.

Background:

Most people who know me well understand that this is a genre of music that has never appealed to me. I don’t say that to depreciate the passion behind the musicians or their faith. One of my buddies here in Winona posted a quote on their Tumblr page that struck me when thinking about this… “Bad Christian art that reflects a lack of investment of time, commitment, craft, or skill, presents the illusion that the Christian life is not worthy or requiring of the same.” – Karen Swallow Prior

thechristianmanifesto.com
Bethel Music playing over Lake Shasta in 2014 Photo credit: thechristianmanifesto.com

Poignantly stated by Prior – a professor of English at Liberty University, this is what makes most “Christian” music unappealing to me. God gave us all unique gifts and aptitudes that we should exercise as a form of worship in accordance to Romans 12:7-17. It is something to be celebrated about our individuality in the likeness and image of God. I feel like when someone is given the gift of music, they should look for ways to further their craft. It would be the same way a teacher would want to strive for excellence in their respective field and not settle for mediocre. Unfortunately, I think this kind of music has become so industrialized and homogenized for the masses, the craft doesn’t really even matter. It’s marketable to an audience who will buy the music because of its label, regardless. For the purposes of this review, I will step off the soap box, because I want to give you some insight to an album that packages worship in an honest way. When I transferred to Winona and got involved in ministry, I saw the raging popularity with groups like Hillsong United, Rend Collective, and David Crowder Band. I immediately drew back thinking that these groups had absolutely nothing more to offer that I haven’t heard from countless other Christian artists. I began to warm up to them when I had such constant exposure and saw the passion it invoked through so many people. I still have my reservations, but after a year and a half of being down here, these groups began to rub off on me slowly. Rend Collective’s Campfire is now one of my favorite worship records to date. It’s spontaneous, organic, and wistfully created. A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon an upcoming live album from Bethel Music when a couple friends of mine screened it. Curiosity took over and now here I am writing about it.

Track Reviews:

Who Can Compare to You is the first song I listened to on this album. It showcases the voice of Matt Stinton who has an unbelievably dynamic vocal range. Starting off the song as a bass, he progresses to a nimble soprano by the end of the track. Packed with atmospheric string sections, delicate interludes, and sample pad percussion, this song actually feels authentic.

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We Will Not Be Shaken album cover Photo credit: hellels.com

In Over My Head is probably the highlight of this album for me. Jenn Johnson’s Regina Spektor like whisper in her vocal style gives this song personality and adds to its ethereal depth. The way this song builds to this ultimate climax and unleashes a symphonic hurricane is not only epic, it’s moving. Home follows much of the same musical formula as many of the other tracks on this record, but Hunter Thompson’s higher vocal range and the way this song catchy chorus and pace makes it accessible. The title track begins this record softly with a memorable piano line over the acoustic guitar with Brian Johnson’s gravely voice. As I said above, the song structure follows a similar blueprint, but an ear worm chorus and well layered instrumentation makes this song a good preview for the rest of the album.

Instrumentation/ Songwriting:

While I may seem critical of modern contemporary worship, there is something to be said for the attention to emotions that it tries to focus on. Many times, the parts in these songs that hit their peaks is when they feel the most genuine and natural build up that is accented well with some out-of-this-world singing. On the topic of singing… there is not one artist in this collective that doesn’t have a standout set of pipes. I think all of them are a couple notches above others in the genre and they are able to transition well throughout the song’s they’re featured on. For example, Jenn Johnson has the ability to seamlessly adapt from a soft whisper to a boom. They all do. In addition, I actually like the feel of this record. For a live album, this actually has a lot of qualities of something that is unplugged – I think that’s why it feels very easy to listen to. Recently, lead singer of progressive metal band, Fallujah, Alex Hoffman said that the ultimate goal of their new record was to make people feel. The band wanted to write songs and develop a sound that manipulated emotions and took you on a journey throughout the record. That’s how We Will Not Be Shaken comes across. You really get the feels when you listen to this record in a way that most post rock outfits like Explosions In the Sky are Jedi Masters at.

Lyrics:

I have always found satisfaction in artists who put craftsmanship into lyricism that is profound and meaningful. I would say that this is a number one mission for groups in this genre, because the message is central to the craft… sometimes too central. Many times I feel like Christian music pours so much into the lyrical content that the craft itself qualitatively diminishes. In my experiences where that is the case, the lyrics may be heartfelt and potent when pen hits paper, but on record it feels forced. With that said, I believe that these artists truly pour themselves into what they write, lyrically. When listening to We Will Not Be Shaken, I hear a lot of the same themes you would expect to hear on a Hillsong or Rend Collective album, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s sub par. The greatest thing about the lyrics on this record is that they are back dropped against some pretty stellar instrumentation. It automatically makes them sound much more convincing.

Promo for We Will Not Be Shaken photo credit: lourderthanmusic.com
Promo for We Will Not Be Shaken photo credit: lourderthanmusic.com

Production:

This will look a little different, because We Will Not Be Shaken is not something done in house. This is a live record. It’s an outdoor stage on the face of a bluff where the sound travels exponentially more than a recording studio. Treading the same lines of instrumental post rock, the production in this album focuses more on the ambiance and gentleness of the instrumentation. What it leaves is more room for this is vocals, which are the dominant element in the mix. When you hear those acoustic lines that are more stripped down, it’s emblazoned by this atmospheric aura that makes the sound more relaxed and easy on the ears. I really dig it. The way that many parts in the songs transition from these simple lines and climb into these bombastic climaxes is effective.

Conclusion:

Guys, I’m stumped. I found a worship album that is beautifully crafted, live, has a ton of replay value, and continues to grow on me. I don’t have that much to complain about with this record, but I’m still slowly transitioning into this new style of worship – I’m more stuck on my go to hymns that I grew up with. For what it is, this is pretty top notch. I’m excited to see where this group goes, where they’re called, and how each of these artists expand – in faith and music.

Score: 90/100