30 December 2015

My Top Music of 2015

In the past, I've often taken time at the end of the year to run down what I considered to be the best music of the year. In a former life (college, really) I was a music reviewer. While I won't be crafting the sort of thing a music journalist would in this space, I will review what I considered to be the best music of 2015. There is one caveat, however. I don't have the resources or time to keep up with everything. So, this post is me telling you what is the best among the music I picked up in 2015. These selections were all released this year (with the exception of an honorable mention that was released in summer 2014 but I only discovered in mid-2015). So, away we go ...

Honorable Mention:

As I mentioned above, this one was actually released in 2014 (otherwise, it would easily make my top five list). The Cold Stares are semi-local as they are based in Evansville, Ind., but heavily gig around Nashville. The band is only a duo (drummer and guitarist) but are the sound of Black Sabbath backing up Muddy Waters. I dig their sound immensely and can't recommend them enough. Great riffs, great singing. Blues with a touch of spirituality mixed in. Pick it up, folks. The band also released two EPs in 2015 that are stellar and fairly varied.

Lately, there have been several artists appear who seem to be throwbacks (Adele comes to mind) to when singers had soul and sang quote-unquote "real" music. Time will tell whether they are one trick ponies or not. However, Leon Bridges, with the release Coming Home, has delivered something seemingly authentic and, well, just real. Featuring narrative-style storytelling on several songs, the laid-back groove will put you in a different era. Everything about this is a throwback to the days of Otis Redding and what may seem like a simpler era. We know, of course, that is not necessarily true, but the main thing I take away from this album is being transported and that's one thing good music does. Be sure to pay attention to the Scripture woven throughout. This is the way to do it, folks.


Number Five:

This duo was relatively unknown to me before a guy named Jeff (at our church) pointed them out to me. Lots of people point out lots of music to me so I didn't give it much thought (I had a song of theirs from the Divided and United: Songs Of The Civil War album I loved from several years back). However, when I saw they were giving away this album on NoiseTrade, I immediately gave it a download. What it turned to be was one of my favorites of the year. Neo-folk can be great or awful. I put this in the former category. Full of stomping rave-ups, Swimmin' Time makes me laugh, think, and just generally feel good about life. It's repeat listening.

Number Four:

One of the former Mars Hill Church bands, Ghost Ship was never my favorite of those bands (Citizens, Red Letter, King's Kaleidoscope, etc.). It's not that I disliked them, they were always just OK in my book. However, their sophomore release, Costly, written in the wake of Mars Hill's dissolution, is next-level material. Cam Huxford's songwriting is stellar (we sing their song "One God" at our church) and, refreshingly, honest and raw on this album. Songs like "Provide" are blunt and necessary for the church. songs like "Adoption" give new perspectives to Jesus' sacrifice and love for us. I often dislike modern worship music because it's, well, bland and derivative far too often. this is the opposite and something I hope more churches search for in their worship music catalogs.

Number Three:

Mark Tremonti is one of the hardest working guys in hard rock music. Formerly of Creed (while I wish no ill will toward Creed, their music or fans, I hope the band is done) and currently a driving force in the awesome band Alter Bridge, Tremonti, takes a thrash-ier turn with the second release from his side project called, strangely enough, Tremonti. The band's first album, All I Was, was consistent and heavy with good melodies. This album ups the ante a bit in every way. The melodies are stronger (by the way, I love heavy music, but melody is 100% essential), the riffs are heavier, Wolfgang Van Halen's bass more groove-inflected and Garret Whitlock's drums more brutal (in a great way). If you like heavy music, this needs to be in your catalog. Just listen to "Another Heart," "Sympathy," or "Tie The Noose" if you doubt me.

Number Two:

The exciting thing for me as a music fan when following a band is seeing a clear progression in quality and songwriting from a band. Needtobreathe is perhaps the best example. I've followed them for a few years now (since The Outsiders). I saw them live on The Reckoning tour and was impressed. However 2015's two releases from the band are proof the band is only getting better. The live release, Live From The Woods, captures and frenetic energy of their vastly-improved live show (catch them sometime, it's an experience). However, the Rivers EP is a collection of different mixes of songs from their Rivers In the Wasteland album. I'm sure this was meant as a little bonus release for fans. However, it's one of the best releases of the year. The songs are even better than the original versions, in my opinion and capture the band at its best. I'm very excited about the next release.

Number One:

My co-worker at the church, Drew, came in to my office one day in early May and told me about this guy Chris Stapleton who had just released his debut album a few days earlier. Stapleton had, apparently, been building quite a buzz around Nashville as a songwriter and, with the release of his debut Traveller, was gaining ground as an artist in his own right. I gave it a cursory listen on Spotify and was blown away. I went to my local Walmart establishment (the only place to buy physical music in our town these days besides the quasi-scary Kmart) and picked up a CD copy. If it was possible to wear out a CD, I would've word this one out. Of course, by now, many know him because of his breakout performance with Justin Timberlake on a recent awards show. I hesitate to use the term "real country" because that's kind of played out (he's not the latest "real country" savior following Jamey Johnson and Sturgill Simpson ... though I love those guys and that sound as well). He's just a country singer that owes as much to the blues as George Jones. Check out "Fire Away," "Tennessee Whiskey," and "When The Stars Come Out." This is seriously good, even with all the hype. I'm grateful for the tip from Drew for this one.

22 June 2015

The Confederate Stumbling Block

I was born and raised in Paris, Tennessee. Being a native of west Tennessee, I used to heartily embrace the Confederate flag as a symbol of my “southern-ness.” I had a license plate carrying the phrase “American by birth, Southern by the grace of God.” I thought it (and I) was pretty clever with that thing in the back of my first pickup truck.

I am extremely grateful to be from the South (capitalized on purpose). It's a deep, deep thing engrained in the DNA of people who were born and raised there. If you’re not from the region, you may not understand it and that’s OK. However, it's a very real pride that can’t be quantified.

The South and its history is not pure and pristine. Neither is America and its history. There is much shame running throughout our entire nation’s past. We have done wretched things to one another. Slavery and its sister, the Civil War, being toward the top of that list. You can get into semantics over where today’s incarnation of the “rebel” flag came from. You can honestly debate state’s rights and all sorts of things. It’s a rabbit hole you may never escape from. The Civil War was fought over the right of one man to own another man as property. Don’t let that get clouded in any other argument over this very dark portion of our nation’s past. Men fought and died for a cause. There was great valor and honor spent and much blood spilled to protect the right to own another human being as property.

The flag and its various Confederate incarnations was — and is — a symbol of this horrifying fact.

In the past, my embrace of the flag carried no connotation of slavery, in my mind. But, when I became convicted by the Holy Spirit of the very real pain and hurt the flag’s prominence caused friends, family, and many Christian brothers and sisters, I could no longer embrace it with a clear conscience.

If you are a follower of Jesus, you should recognize the term “stumbling block.” Plain and simple, that’s what this flag is. It simply is highly offensive to many of our brothers and sisters as well as to many who aren’t followers of Jesus. The life of a Christian is marked by laying down one’s life for others, including preferences, oftentimes. Are my preferences to laud my southern heritage more important to me than people? Surely not. This should not be.

Be aware of your history, your heritage, your roots. In many cases, a healthy amount of encouragement should come from those things. I am encouraged by my family’s history and the work ethic and determination passed down from my Scots-Irish, Southern roots. I am comforted by the “way” things are in the South in regards to everyday life and faith, family, and friends. I’ve spent nearly 15 years above the Mason-Dixon in Indiana and I’ve often joked about being a missionary to a foreign land of Yankees (of the German-Catholic variety).

However, the pain of this symbol of my “homeland” is all too real. As Christians, we should never embrace symbols of oppression and symbols of hate. Just as the swastika was not originally a Nazi symbol, it is now. Just as the Confederate flag may, to you, be a symbol of Southern pride, the pain it carries now is one we should reject.

If we truly believe all men are made in the image of God and life is sacred, followers of Jesus can not embrace the symbols of ownership of our fellow man. We can’t embrace the symbols of a certain skin color being superior to another. We can’t embrace the Confederate flag.

11 June 2015

Trust in God and the ‘how long?’

Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me! Psalm 35:1 (ESV) 

Our nation is in rapid moral and spiritual decline. There’s not many left arguing against this thought. The shift in our nation’s spiritual climate in just the past 25 years has been jarring for most believers. Thankfully, American Christians are not currently suffering any real persecution, contrary to some arguments, however, the day looks much closer than it did when I was a younger man. In other parts of the world, though, persecution is a daily reality. 

How should we respond? There are various ways and no shortage of opinions. In reading, Psalm 35, David provides a model for us. Facing imminent (physical) harm, David cried out to our heavenly Father for help. 

He shows us in his prayer we can’t win this battle on our own. Instead, we need God to contend on our behalf. 

First, we simply ask God to fight for us. How often we overlook this and skip straight to our own methods, our own plots, our own schemes, leaning on our own understanding. We are small, however. God is infinite. 

Next, we pray the schemes of the wicked would fail, that they would suffer shame, and, ultimately, destruction. Of course, we desire everyone to repent and follow Christ. But the reality is, our protection means harm for our pursuers. In this, we are not to be vindictive, but instead to pray for our enemies as Jesus instructed. Praying for the Holy Spirit to soften their hearts of stone and make them hearts of flesh, but ultimately, trusting that God is the ultimate judge, not us. Hear more about this from (the much smarter and more eloquent) John Piper, below.

Third, believe. We trust God will deliver His children. Scripture is rife with these promises from Genesis to Revelation. Do we trust God and his word? He. Will. Deliver. He shows us this in the cross. We can trust His faithfulness because the promise He made to Adam and Eve and all throughout the Old Testament is fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He lived the life we could not live. He took the wrath for sin that was ours to take. He rose from the dead, defeating our ultimate enemy in death. If we can’t trust this, we have no hope for any other battle in life.

Proclaiming this faithfulness is the apex of Psalm 35 as well as the apex of our lives and all battles. We should proclaim this faithfulness to ourselves and to the nations.

In the meantime, we long for the defeat of evil. We long for God to rescue us from those who would pursue us and wish us harm (seemingly more and more of our culture actually does seek our harm). Unfortunately, we live in the very present world and waiting is hard. Joining David, we cry out with the familiar refrain of ‘how long?’

How long until rescue? How long until things are set right?

It’s not an easy wait, but trusting in God’s faithfulness and Jesus’ defeat of Satan, sin, and death is necessary. Take heart. Our perfect father has won the victory for his rebellious kids.

26 June 2014

CCJ Radio on The Scratch (06.29.2014)

Here, you'll see what I get to be a part of each week.

Below is the playlist for June 29.

Listen to The Scratch via iTunes (stream) this Sunday at 11 a.m. EDT (a CCJ worship service is played from 10-11 a.m.)

19 June 2014

CCJ Radio on The Scratch (06.22.2014)

Here, you'll see what I get to be a part of each week.

Below is the playlist for June 22.

Listen to The Scratch via iTunes (stream) this Sunday at 11 a.m. EDT (a CCJ worship service is played from 10-11 a.m.)