Listen to the album Birth of a King by Tommee Profitt!
Listen to the album Birth of a King by Tommee Profitt!

JFH Staff Blog | ...where the staff speak their minds

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Desperate: The Art Of Falling Forward by MC Hamsa

 

Picture this:

Crawling towards Jesus, on hands and knees; crying out, with a weak voice and tear-stained face. The rocks scrape your skin, and everything around you seems like darkness, but off in the distance you can make out a light. You struggle towards that light, no matter what, picking yourself up, falling, crawling, always moving toward the light.

This is the image God put in my mind one day while on my morning commute in sunny Southern California. I had been struggling with an addiction to pornography, and, having recently relapsed, my soul was in turmoil. It felt like no matter what I did, I just couldn’t seem to remain pure.

It’s at moments like this that I am reminded of the end of Romans 7, where Paul cries out in anguish, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” This exclamation follows a passage that all of us can relate to, one way or the other. We know what the right thing is, but we seem incapable of doing it. It’s almost as if we are imperfect beings, unable to achieve righteousness through our own effort.


Enter Jesus. No, I don’t mean, baby-in-a-manger Jesus, or even dying-on-the-Cross Jesus. I’m talking about the Jesus who spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well; who told the Pharisees to cast the first stone; who called to Peter from the shore after his resurrection. In all of these instances, Jesus shows His character as one who meets us in our brokenness and shame, knowing full well what we’ve done, yet still inviting us into a life that is surrendered to Him.

In my song, Desperate, I reference Zechariah 3, which is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. In this passage, the prophet Zechariah is shown a vision of the Accuser, Satan, confronting the High Priest Joshua with his faults, failures, and mistakes. But look how God responds:

And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan!

The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you!

Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?

Throughout the rest of the chapter, God goes on to remove Joshua’s filthy garments -  which he clarifies represent his sins - and dresses him in righteousness instead. This is a perfect illustration of what Jesus does for us when we enter into His presence. We show up, covered in the dirty rags of pride, lust, greed, and resentment, and He restores us, as we surrender these things to Him. Perhaps there was a reason that the very first word Jesus said in His ministry was, “Repent!”, which He followed up with the Good News, “The Kingdom of Heaven is here!


I don’t know what’s been weighing you down, keeping you from walking closely with Jesus, but I’d like to encourage you. Remember that you are not condemned (Romans 8), and that, though we may fall, Proverbs 24:16 tells us that we will get back up. In those moments, remember to fall forward.

By MC Hamsa

 

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

The Holy Spirit is our imPULSE by imPULSE Worship

 

“The Holy Spirit is our imPULSE

...our inspiration, guide, motivation - our lifeblood in the development of our craft, the writing of our original music, and the worship we facilitate. As a community we chase after the call to glorify Jesus’ name in freedom, with song, and full of joy. Some may call it impulsive - we call it: the worship imPULSE.”

We are imPULSE - a band of young people dedicated to worship through music, collaboration as artists, and fellowship as friends. We are born out of the youth program of a small church in Los Angeles, California, and strive to glorify God through our music. When COVID-19 hit, in person youth groups were put on hold. Without opportunities to play live worship sets, our band decided to invest in a new project. imPULSE Worship had officially been born.

In the midst of these unprecedented times, our team came together and set out on an adventure to organically discover and produce an anthem of worship relevant both to the situation of the world and to the condition of our hearts. We embark on this journey without the bolster of formal training, resources, production, or funding. Although not a single dollar was spent, what this project lacks in financial investment is surplussed by an investment of care, energy, talent, and time, all with the intention of developing the production of our song for God’s glory. Our single was birthed out of a desire to respond to the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, crafted by a group of friends in a humble closet home studio, and refined by our very own young technical producer.

Over the past couple months, our team collaborated over zoom meetings to write lyrics, choose chords, and pin down melodies for an original worship song.

The lyrics of our song are rooted in Romans 8:18 which says,

 “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us…(or other words) The pain that you’ve been feeling can’t compare to the joy that’s coming

The message of “Kingdom Coming” is one of hopeful anticipation for the day God’s plan will come to fruition in our world. For the time being, we can rest in the joy of knowing that the Holy Spirit provides breakthrough in our daily lives through the saving grace of Jesus Christ. This song serves as a reminder that in the midst of hardships, we can look forward to a greater joy that is on the way. 

imPULSE Worship

-imPULSE Worship Team is: Princess Badua (18), Anna Holyfield (18), Lianne Hong (16), Jordan Tritasavit (16), Matt Tritasavit (19), Noah Tyau (17)

Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Birth Of A King by Tommee Profitt

I have dreamed of making this album for 15 years. 

“A King is being born, welcomed by Angels, that is coming to save the entire world” ...that is an EPIC story. And my dream was to make an equally epic soundtrack to accompany that story! 

In 2005, one of my class assignments in college was to “re-arrange a Christmas song and make it your own” … the result was “Joy to the World 2 (He Is Come)”. I had so much fun doing it, and immediately knew that someday I wanted to make a massive Christmas album, re-arranging, and writing choruses, and putting my spin on Christmas classics. But I also knew I had to keep it timeless and classic at the same time; People don’t like it when you mess with their precious Christmas carols TOO much, so I knew there needed to be balance. 

I actually intended to make this Christmas album every year for the past several years, but every year time got away from me, I had too many projects on my plate, and I said “i’ll do it next year”. Well, when COVID-19 hit earlier this year, and the world shut down in quarantine… my schedule finally opened up, and I began production in March 2020. 

The following 5 months, I spent 12-13 hours a day, scribbling on paper, writing ideas, producing tracks, like a crazy scientist in his lab… it had to be right. There was 15 years of pressure on myself, and I wanted to do this once, and once only! 

So I began the process of figuring out each song. What could I do a LITTLE bit different to make each one feel unique, and cohesive throughout. I wanted to make a project that my ‘20 year old video game audience’ would love, but also my ‘65 year old moms baking christmas cookies in the kitchen’ audience would love. How could I produce an album that sounds like a movie soundtrack, that is for EVERYBODY! ...that was the biggest challenge. 

However, throughout the process, things morphed - it became less about the “sound” and the “production” … and became more about the message. I started realizing that an album like this is something that the world needs at the end of 2020 - arguably the worst year in history. People need hope right now. They’re craving it. And God started reshaping my vision, while keeping intact the integrity of my original vision… and I believe the album turned out to be the exact thing it’s supposed to be. 

As I was arranging these songs, a specific artist would come to mind. So I ended up arranging the entire thing around their voice, and their range, and blending their sound with mine… all before I even asked them! And I’m so grateful, because every artist ended up saying YES and they were all super excited to be involved. And they crushed it.

The result was 17 tracks, with 17 different featured artists. All of them, giving everything they had into their vocal performances, and recording the most dynamic versions of some of the most beloved Christmas classics. It feels like one giant collaboration… all of these eclectic artists, with different backgrounds, all coming together to make the most epic Christmas album ever made! 

While it was the most challenging project I’ve ever immersed myself in… it was also the most fun I’ve ever had working on a project in my life. It was so exciting finally seeing this vision come to fruition, and hearing where each song organically led during the process. At times, it’s dark and urban, with hiphop drums and 808’s and a gospel choir. All the while being soft and beautiful with piano and strings when necessary.

The entire thing is a story, meant to be listened to the same way you would watch a movie. I want it to be an experience. A cinematic journey that takes people somewhere. My prayer is that people go in thinking the’re just going to listen to Christmas music, but through the process, get hit with powerful moments that impact them in ways they weren’t expecting. 

A story so beautiful and epic deserves the same kind of treatment. That was the main goal, and I hope people are reminded more than ever before, WHY we celebrate this time of year - to honor the greatest gift in history - “The Birth of a King.” 

by Tommee Profitt

Author, Write My Story - A Songwriter’s Journey Written by Denae Joy

Have you ever sat down to write something - a book report, a poem, a song - and felt totally uninspired? Most of us have felt that way many times. We have those wonderful moments when creativity is flowing through our veins, and then we have those other moments when it just isn’t there. Sometimes we look at what we’ve written, then crumple it up and throw it away, deeming it junk. How many of us have stopped to think of our lives as a work of art in progress: a book, or a song, that is still being composed? Every day we are adding another phrase, another sentence, another paragraph. How many of us have looked back at the day we just lived or the decision we just made and thought, “Well, that was stupid.” It happens! It especially happens when we try to write our story without God’s help. In Jeremiah 10:23, the prophet said, “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” We’re human, and we don’t know what the future holds. We’re living out our story without knowing its outcome. That’s why we need help - help from Someone Who sees not only where we are, but also sees every moment of our past and our future.

It was while thinking on these things that I began to feel an urge to write a song called, Author, Write My Story. It took a while (didn’t all come in one burst of inspiration!), but finally came together. I was able to record it earlier this year. More than just a lyric, this song has become my heartbeat. I have a sign with the words hanging in my room. I speak them to God when I pray. I felt this song as I wrote it, and it taught me some very important lessons. In fact, it’s still teaching me.

“Born into this world, my life a book filled with empty pages...” We all come into this world with a clean canvas. The future is an endless road before us, our stories are not yet written.

“As I began to live, the void was filled with written lines and phrases...” As we grow, we begin filling the pages with our story. Tales of carefree childhood and echoes of laughter punctuate those early chapters. But also, the general direction of our life begins to take shape. The Bible says that “Even a child is known by his doings...” Prov 20:11. These are the formative years - our character and personality begin to speak to others of who we really are.

“But, it didn’t take that long to see that it would never be in me to write a story beautiful and true. Mistakes were made and lines scratched out, there were things I could not figure out...” Because we are born with the fallen nature of Adam, it doesn’t take long for us to start messing up. The problem is that unlike an article or a poem, you can’t press backspace 32 times and erase the wrong decisions, or words, or attitudes. This is real life, happening in real time, and there’s no going back for re-dos. Sounds kind of depressing, right? Well, for a lot of people, life is depressing. They feel in over their heads. Their story is not what they wanted it to be. But, we were never meant to write this on our own.

This song applies to more than just those who are broken and in a messed up place in their lives. I’m a preacher’s kid. I’m known as a good girl who loves God. And I do! But, I still don’t have the ability to write my life’s story. I’ve made mistakes, made decisions based on my own understanding, stressed about things I had no power to control or change. But, around the time of the writing of this song, a realization began to take shape in my mind: if I want my life to be beautiful, I’m going to have to climb to a higher place of trust in God. I can’t do this on my own. I don’t have the understanding or the expertise to write the story of my life. Oh, but, here is the good part: I have a Friend!

“’Til I began anew, and gave the pen to You...” Every single one of us has the option to ask for help in the writing of our story. You see, the One Who made us truly knows us. He sees where we’re at, and where we’re going. He sees the messes and mistakes, and only He knows how to bring beauty out of the ashes. He sees our confusion, wondering why things happen the way they do. He sees our frustrations at not knowing how things will unfold, or when the answers to our prayers will be provided. He knows it all - His understanding and power are infinite. He has a plan. And the best part is, He loves us! Everything

He does is for our good. He has only our best intentions in mind, and He proved it once and for all when He allowed rusty spikes to be driven into His sinless hands.

He alone can turn our stories into something beautiful...and He wants to. Oh, how He wants to! We make the smartest decision of our lives when we let go, and in sweet surrender, give God the pen.

“Author, write my story for Your glory, for Your good. May it be a testimony to a world in need of You. You alone see beginning to the end. Let every line and every chapter be according to Your plan. I know You love me, so write my story with Your nail-scarred hand.”

-Denae Joy

JoySoundProductions.com

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

1995 in Christian Music: 25 Albums 25 Years Later

 

I might be weirder than I thought you guys. I keep asking people what their favorite year is, and mostly I get blank stares. Is this not a thing? Do people not have a favorite year? Well, I do...and it’s highly likely that as a deeply nostalgia person who has loved music as long as he can remember that music may be the culprit. So here goes... another 90s music post. And yes, this was one of my formative years...let’s go all the way back to 1995. Also, in case you enjoy this post check out a few others like it here: 100 Greatest Christian Albums of the 90s, 100 Greatest Albums of Christian Music 1969-2019 Full List!!!, Every dc Talk Song Ranked

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I was fourteen, barely into my music collecting years and all of the sudden my CCM pop listening palate expanded rapidly. Like many a teen in the 90s it was two particular albums that were largely responsible for that. They along with twenty-three albums are present on this list on what I am calling my overall favorite year in Christian music...1995. Hard to believe these are all celebrating 25 years this year, but here we are and boy do I feel old! Some have stood up better than others as far as sounding dated to their time but I’d be willing to hold these twenty-five up to almost any other year. I think it would stand toe-to-toe with any other contender. So without further delay here is a ranked list (because I must) of what I believe to be the strongest year in Christian music during the 90s, if not it’s entire history. But that’s a blog for another time...here we go!

 

25. Super Deluxe - Morella’s Forest

Never listened to this one at the time but it’s got a high reputation. Noise pop musically in the vein of Starflyer 59.

 

24. Arms Around the World - Code of Ethics

Perhaps the most dated sound of the bunch I also first heard these guys via radio, and it was probably the pop song “Well Done.”

 

23. Self-Titled - Tony Vincent

Radio played the heck out of “Out of My Hands” and “Simple Things” and they were my introduction to Vincent. I would later love his song “One Deed” as a top song of the decade.

 

22. No Doubt - Petra

Not much of a Petra fan, but I think this album when I think of them. “Right Place” and “No Doubt” are my go-to tunes.

 

21. Brothers Keeper - Rich Mullins

Title track and “Let Mercy Lead” are my favorites though “Quoting Deuteronomy To The Devil” is up there too.

 

20. Strip Cycle - Michael Knott

I’ve listened to this one a few times due to its reputation but it hasn’t clicked with me yet. Need to revisit.

 

19. Happily Ever After - Hoi Polloi

Aggressive and moody female rock.

 

18. Unplugged - The Kry

The Kry was a truly underrated band in my opinion. This live and unplugged album is one of the few exceptions to my no live albums rule.

 

17. Extra*Ordinary - Johnny Q. Public

Strong alt rock with the standout track “Body Be” the most well-known of the tracklist.

 

16. I’ll Lead You Home - Michael W. Smith

I still know the words to most of these and love to sing along at the top of my lungs.

 

15. Love Education - Jon Gibson

Love this dude’s voice, this is probably my overall favorite of his non-hits albums. Solid from top-to-bottom blue-Eyed Soul.

 

14. Lonely HouseGrammatrain

Grungy Rock with growling baritone vocals from Pete Stewart. Excellent.

 

13. The Spark - Plankeye

College Alt-Rock with top notch lyrics.

 

12. Perfecta - Adam Again

Many would argue this as their best, and though I still think that album is Dig, this one is top-notch as well.

 

11. Self-Titled - Big Tent Revival

A bit of storytelling, country, pop/rock, ballads, alternative. All well done.

 

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10. Delusions of Grandeur - Fleming & John

Man, that voice! “I’m Not Afraid” is worth inclusion alone, but listen to the whole album for sure. Vocally operatic and musically alt/rock at its finest.

 

9. Blue Belly Sky - The Waiting

Quirky, charming pop/rock that should have been huge. “Look at Me” is a top 25 song of the 90s Christian Music scene if you ask me.

 

8. Gold - Starflyer 59

Its predecessor has a bigger reputation but I prefer Gold as an entire album. Hazy, Shoe-gaze rock.

  

7. Way Before The Flood - Blackeyed Sceva

If you love 90s alt/rock like I do then this one is a must. Lyrically challenging and willing to go places much of CCM in the era was not.

  

6. Love Is Against The Grain - Dimestore Prophets

Speaking of terrific alt/rock with top notch lyrics here’s another lesser known band and album of the era that should have gotten more love.

 

5. Teenage Politics - MxPx

Iconic punk rock. Fast, fun, and loud.

 

4. Mercury - The Prayer Chain

As weird of an album as you’ll find in the alt/rock “Chrindie” music scene, this one lives up to its reputation as one of the finest bands and albums that the more underground Christian music of the decade has to offer

 

3. This Beautiful Mess - Sixpence None The Richer

An album of contrasts I can hardly ever decide if I love this Sixpence album more than their self-titled. This one is raw and rough musically in all the right ways, and contrasted by Leigh’s angelic lilting voice. “Wishing A Room Somewhere” is their best song and it’s here.

 

2. Self-Titled - Jars of Clay

First in my heart, but second on this list of a incomparable year in CCM. Acoustic-based alt/rock with stirring string sections and poetic lyrics.

 

1. Jesus Freak - Dctalk

Buck it all you want, but this album cannot be equaled in its impact on CCM...it’s simply the best. Hit singles galore from the supergroup still on “intermission.”

 

What a year right?! Happy 25th to some of my all-time favorite albums in my all-time favorite year! What about you...what’s your favorite 1995 album? Why do you love it? Leave a comment and share if you think you know someone who’d enjoy the read!

Also, check out my other 90s Christian Music related posts for further reading here: Every Jars of Clay Song Ranked, 100 Greatest Christian Albums of the 90s, Every PFR Song Ranked

Happy listening friends! – Josh Balogh

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Thursday, October 1, 2020

Believe Again: From Salesman to Worship Album Producer by Gus Nunes

What happens when God calls you to quit your job, sell what you have, and begin on a new journey making an album with Him?

… Let’s rewind.

Being the son of a Pastor, I’ve been playing music in the church since I was 3 years old. At 16, I studied music technology in Sixth Form and University but always felt that I wasn’t the best. Recording and producing my own music felt like an unachievable and distant dream.

After getting married, I continued to lead music in the church but outside of it, I was working as a salesman in a successful job. My wife and I had our own place, work provided me with new cars, and we could enjoy different luxuries. For years, I focused on working and spending time with the woman I love. Recording music was something that I no longer had the time or energy for.

Little did I know that God had other plans.

In February last year, God told me and my wife, Barbara to quit our jobs and give away what we had because He had something else planned for us. He didn’t tell us what but He did tell us where – California.  So after prayer and confirmation, getting a three-month visa and tickets to LAX, we found ourselves living in LA. We found a local church and started to help with outreach, events, and anything else that was needed. He did a lot with us during our time there and used it to develop our character.

After the three months were up, we returned to England keen to know from God what was next. While we were waiting, I decided to reach out to a friend of mine who is a talented songwriter/musician about recording his song. I asked him if we could record ‘Faithful Friend’ in the church studio as I was a big fan of the song. Now that I had the time, I was happy to use some of my music tech knowledge to record a simple guitar track and video.

Once we released the song, I concluded that if God still hadn’t spoken about what to do, I will continue to make more music. Six years ago, I wrote ‘Hear My Devotion’ and I knew we had more songs. I called together the worship team and we wrote ‘Saved Me From Myself’. What was supposed to be a simple guitar recording was turning into a full production album.

The whole time, I was keeping an open mind in case God told me to get a job. I wanted to be obedient and as a married man, I felt the pressure to provide for my family.

Sometimes, I think of the Holy Spirit like a sat nav. When I am headed in the right direction, the sat nav doesn’t say anything. It’s only when I need to take a turn or go another way that I believe God will direct. So, I continued to make the album.

One year and ten incredible tracks later, the album Believe Again by Sunrise Worship has been released.

I now realise that God gave me an opportunity that I had never had before. I always wanted to record music but time and energy was always my excuse. During this time, God provided for us in unimaginable ways. While working on the album, He blessed my wife with an amazing job, we were able to pay rent and get a car.

Believe Again is an album from God to God.

All of the songs are different points of a journey walking with Christ. If your love is growing cold or if you are looking for love and hope – it’s for you. We hope that when people listen to it, they will experience God in the same way that we did.

I had every excuse but God created a way. I have now spent the past year without an income and every penny we earn goes straight back into promotion.

 I don’t know what is next (maybe another album!), but what I do know is that I will continue to listen for His instruction and be obedient. There is no journey like a journey with God leading you.

“Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” – Matthew 19:26

Believe Again is available on all streaming platforms here. To keep up with the latest news and releases, please follow us on Instagram or visit our website.

By Gus Nunes

Friday, September 18, 2020

All of the Earth is Yours by Shaylee Simeone

 

There’s something really comforting to me about the mystery of God. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by it. It’s also easy for our humanity to want to conquer that mystery, to fully wrap our minds around, understand it. As generations of people continue to evolve, our thirst for knowledge only grows, and our access to information broadens significantly as well. And I get that, I really do.  It feels good to know things, it gives us a sense of confidence and importance. But for me, I love the fact that I can’t fully explain God. I can’t even perfectly picture him in all his glory. It’s like the ocean, for example. There are depths that we still can’t reach, no matter how fancy the equipment. She is too vast, so much so that there are new creatures being discovered every day. I love that and I hope man never fully conquers her, just like we will never fully be able to grasp everything about who God is. And to me, the most amazing part of all that is the fact that this God, who’s arms shaped the mountains, wraps those very arms around us. He is powerful enough to create and orchestrate life itself, yet kind enough to bend down low and care for his people.

I wrote the song, “All of the Earth is Yours”, out of Psalm 24:

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,

    the world, and all who live in it;

for he founded it on the seas

    and established it on the waters. 

Who is this God, the creator, the artist of the skies? And who are we, that he would be gracious enough to care for us?  I find a deep peace in recognizing my smallness and leaning into this mystery, because one of the greatest of them is the fact that he would sacrifice so much and continue to love a people who are constantly messing things up. And I mean, we really mess things up! I do, at least.

And when I look at the rest of Psalm 24...

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?

    Who may stand in his holy place?

4 The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,

    who does not trust in an idol

    or swear by a false god.

5 They will receive blessing from the Lord

    and vindication from God their Savior.

6 Such is the generation of those who seek him,

    who seek your face, God of Jacob.

...this feels like our response to all of that, to the God who holds it all. I read that and I think how much I want to be a part of a generation that is known for seeking after the Lord, who keeps diving deeper into the mystery while being humble enough to know there is no end to it.  A generation that has clean hands that cling to grace, that speaks boldly the name of Jesus and against falsehood, one who holds to the truth of God’s Word and builds up his church in a really, really loud world. Because another great paradox is that as time keeps barreling forward and the world keeps constantly changing, God does not. He stays exactly the same. He isn’t intimidated by the chaos of this fallen world, and he tells us not to be surprised by it. So, that is my hope for this song, that it urges believers to find comfort in the bigness of God, to remember that he cares deeply for his children, and for it to be a prayer for this generation of the church to continue to strengthen as the world spins madly on.  

God, you are so much grander than we can even attempt to fathom. Even so, thank you for caring for us. Thank you for not giving up on us. Thank you for creating the complexity of the human mind, yet still remaining a mystery to it.  Help us lean peacefully into that. And may we be a generation that brings you glory and makes you proud, may we be worthy to ascend your mountains to glory and one day stand in your presence.

-Shaylee Simeone 

Friday, August 28, 2020

Q&A with Hillsong Young & Free

 

Q&A with Hillsong Young & Free

 

1.     ALL OF MY BEST FRIENDS is the new album title. Tell us about the meaning behind it. (Melodie Mezieres-Wagner)

All of My Best Friends is a project born out of collaboration, unity and seeking to express the raw, bright-eyed passion of our youth group. Capturing the uninhibited feeling of discovering the love of Jesus. The album is a reminder that we are all connected to each other, and when we approach our faith knowing this, we are better models of Jesus.

 

2.     Tell us about the album’s focus track single, "Best Friends." Where did the idea or concept of the song come from, and what is the key take-away message for listeners? (Karina Savage)

 

When we wrote “Best Friends,” we already had over 50 demos that the team had written collectively. We were looking for something outside the box. We started playing some chords and decided to write a brutish punk rock song, cause why not? We didn’t think it would ever be used on the album. Josh Grimmet had the original idea around “Best Friends” and it just grew from there. There’s so much young people deal with when it comes to social media and we know that they are done with the superficial hunger for truth. That’s definitely the biggest takeaway, that society can often try to push things on us as young people, but the real truth comes from God.

 

3.     What was the significance to you to be able to capture live recordings on the album during Summer Camp in Sydney Australia? What was that experience like? (Alex Epa Iosefa)

 

Summer camps have been monumental since I was 12 years old coming into our church. The time where I experienced God in a radical way, put time aside to focus on my relationship with the Lord, felt called for the first time, and created long lasting memories. So for me, letting the world in on experiencing our youth ministry go after God in its most raw elements, felt like a no brainer. And, it didn’t disappoint! It felt raw, authentic, fresh - a real stake in the ground for our youth ministry and songs that we needed for a time like this.

 

4.     What are some of your favorite songs on the compilation? Why? (Jack McGrath)

 

This is a super tough question to answer. I would have to say, “World Outside Your Window,” “Uncomplicated” and “Glimpse.” It’s still so crazy to me how these songs were recorded back in January, yet, the message behind them is so needed for what the world is going through right now. “Uncomplicated” takes you right back to the essence of the Gospel, and what was captured on the night we recorded it was so special. “Glimpse” is just a really fun song…easy to listen to, and the lyrics are so powerful.

 

5.     Hillsong’s music has influenced millions of people around the globe. What type of weight does this responsibility bear on Y&F and how has it influenced what you do?

(Melodie Mezieres-Wagner)

Wow! SO much…Ha-ha. It’s a whole lot of responsibility and we pray that we never take it for granted. To think that our church has been reaching people with timeless songs of worship since before some of us could talk is seriously mind blowing. We have this old saying, “we stand on the shoulders of giants.” It may sound cliché but it’s true. We have incredible spiritual giants that have gone before us and we feel so grateful that we get to be beneficiaries of what was pioneered all those years ago. So, with that epic legacy comes a certain weight of responsibility on us. Before we started writing for this album, I think we felt it the most. We had questions like...‘what if the songs don’t come?’ and ‘what if we think they’re awesome but they fall flat when we introduce them at youth?’ There were a lot of what ifs. And, because we’re human and we’re creatives, the process of diving into the deep end of a new project was daunting. But, we knew we ultimately had to surrender that humanity and creativity in trust to God, believing that He would take our worship and breathe on it anew.

 

6.     How do you hope your music impacts this generation as young artists creating for young people? (Melodie Mezieres-Wagner)

I think our greatest hope for our music is that young people, whatever their background, circumstance or belief, would know that there is a purpose for their life. That there is more to life than what we see and that they’re not alone and never have been. Being a young person in the 21st century isn’t easy and it’s becoming increasingly more complicated to navigate the world around us. We pray that the music we make and the example of our lives would encourage and uplift young people everywhere.

7.     Musically, how does ALL OF MY BEST FRIENDS differ from prior Y&F releases? (Melodie Mezieres-Wagner)

In making this album, we wanted to be intentional with bringing something new that was still ‘us.’ We decided to move away from the heavy electronic influences that we’re known for, but still include the best parts of all the sonic genres - new and old that we love as a band. On this record, you’ll hear more hero-ing of instruments, in particular electric guitar doing the heavy lifting on songs like “Best Friends,” “Never Have I Ever” and “Indescribable”. Also, we have voices on songs that haven’t been heard on previous releases. You’ll hear Josh Grimmett from Hillsong London who brought a real freshness to the collaboration space and sings the lead on “World Outside Your Window,” a driving anthem with UK pop influences. We find with more writers in the writing process, the more varied genres we’re inspired from. On All of My Best Friends, you’ll hear inspiration from punk rock, 2000’s dance, Caribbean beats, country, gospel and R’n’B. We’re really proud to present our interpretation of what pop in 2020 sounds like.

 

8.     Community and connection look a bit different in our world right now in light of the recent pandemic. What are some ways that you hope Y&F’s music can bring people together, particularly the youth? (Melodie Mezieres-Wagner)

It’s incredible how music can bring people together. We experienced that in a really special way on the night of the recording. And as much as we miss being together in a room singing all at once and with no real way of replicating that digitally, I think we’ve needed to remind ourselves that the power of the music isn’t in the gathering or even in the singing but it’s in people being unified, with one heart, one mind, one focus - Jesus. It’s when we’re all moving toward the one who created us, and in that pursuit, where whatever we’re facing comes into perspective. We hope with the purest intentions that our music can be a vehicle to align us again, with what really matters in this season.

 

9.     What are some unique and creative ways Y&F is staying engaged with teens/young adults during these times? (Melodie Mezieres-Wagner)

It’s been a process of innovating and thinking outside the box for sure. We’ve pioneered an online youth program that streams live on air every Friday night from Sydney, Australia. We stream praise and worship, have fun segments, special guests, and share around the Bible all while interacting with a live chat audience. Each week, we have people joining in from all around the world and have even been able to equip other youth ministries with a program to tune into with their young people. It was overwhelming at first to think how we would pull it off but there’s a dedicated team behind the scenes making it come to life and we are seeing the fruit of it in young people finding real community.

 

10.  Talk about how important it is to cultivate a space, especially with youth/young adults, where everyone belongs. (Melodie Mezieres-Wagner)

Yes, such a great question. It’s sounds so simple and obvious, but no one wants to be in an environment where they aren’t welcome and no one can fulfil their full potential if they aren’t loved, included and inspired. For all of us in Y&F, we’re doing what we do today because we found family in a youth ministry that loved and championed us - uniquely. The fact that we come from all different backgrounds and have different gifts, personalities and ways of looking at the world, is testament to the type of space that was created for us to thrive and find belonging. There’s sometimes a danger in wanting to reach as many people as possible and wanting to be as inclusive as possible in that we can try the one-size fits all approach to ministering. But I think valuing every person for who they are and calling out the potential that lies within them will never lead us astray.

 

11.  Why do you believe worship has become one of the most popular types of music (in and outside of the church today), and how is Y&F reinventing the genre? (Melodie Mezieres-Wagner)

As young people part of a youth ministry, one thing we’ve noticed is that more and more people are open and curious about spirituality. By looking at what Kanye West has created with Sunday Service and other celebrities like Justin Bieber expressing his faith publicly by getting baptised and sharing it with his following, there’s seems to be a kind of shift happening in our culture where all kinds of people are seeking out what it means to be a part of something bigger than themselves. We can’t speak for worship music as a whole, but for us, we think people are gravitating towards the message of Jesus either consciously or unconsciously because there’s really no substitute for the presence of God and at the very least, it makes them feel good. Young & Free has always been about reaching young people with music that we’d be proud to put on in the car and show our friends, so there’s a responsibility we feel to bring a new expression to what traditional worship music sounds like. And so that looks like taking risks and trying things no one else has attempted. The lyrics of “Best Friends” are a great example of us exploring to the very ends of what worship music sounds like, and that’s a really exciting place to find ourselves in.

 

12.  What’s your vision for ALL OF MY BEST FRIENDS and what do you hope it brings to those who hear it? (Melodie Mezieres-Wagner)

Our hope and prayer for this album is that even though we are going through such an unprecedented time that these songs would give young people words and prayers when they may not know exactly what to say. We pray that these songs would be an encouragement through hard times. These songs were written far before the crazy times that we’re going through right now, but we truly believe that these lyrics were directed by God.

13.  Is there anything else you want listeners to know about the upcoming album and other plans on the horizon for Y&F? (Laura Toggs)

We never could have imagined the turn of events that would follow the recording of this album and yet it is full of relevant songs that bring joy and perspective in the midst of uncertain times. I am so proud of that. Y&F will continue to inspire people towards hope in Jesus and create anthems that young people everywhere can run with. Hopefully we will be able to tour soon but we’ll just take it as it comes.

 

GRAMMY® nominated Hillsong Young & Free’s fourth career album “ALL OF MY BEST FRIENDS” is available worldwide today. The new compilation features 20 newly-penned songs (13 live performance tracks and seven studio recordings), including the group’s breakout single “Best Friends” which peaked at #1 on the Hot AC chart and remains the highest audio debut of any Hillsong track with more than 7.8 MILLION global streams.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

You Hold the World / Lockdown LP by Olly Knight

 

My name is Olly Knight, I'm a worship leader and songwriter based in Canterbury, Kent. Lockdown started in March and all my music work at conferences and photography work just vanished.

I started worshipping, singing and writing songs like never before! I’d write a new song pretty much every day.

At the same time I also started something on Facebook Live called “Come and Sing with me” I’d lead worship on weekday mornings and many people were gathering to worship online with me. Lots of people gave to me and my family to support us financially through the lockdown too.

At this same time my friends Jonny, Steve and Tom had lost all their work in the music industry because of the pandemic and I wanted to bless my friends as I'd been blessed myself. I decided to record an album of the songs I'd written in lockdown and employ the three of them to work on the album with me. We launched a Kickstarter campaign for people to pledge money towards the album. We set a target of 30 days to raise £4500. Within 14 hours we'd reached that target! I said if we got to £10,000 by the end of the 30 days I’d do an Irish dance on Facebook Live (thinking we’d never make it to that target) It turns out we got to £10,300… (I was sore for a few days afterwards). We recorded and mixed the album in June, got it mastered in July and then on 14th August 2020 “You Hold the World / Lockdown LP” was released to the world!

One of the hardest things during lockdown has been not being able to gather to sing together with other believers. There are a couple of songs on the album that center around this theme. My prayer is that God would minister to people through these songs and despite us not being able to meet together to sing HIS CHURCH WOULD STILL BE SINGING in their homes.

One of the things I've been wanting to sing about a lot and it comes up again and again on the album is the return of Jesus and how our hope is in Him returning to remake the earth and that we'll dwell with him forever free from disease, sin and sadness. My prayer is that people who don’t know Jesus would hear the album, desire that future hope that Jesus offers and begin a journey of following Him!

This album has been an amazing adventure! I hope it encourages you as you listen to it!

-Olly Knight

 

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The Victor by Jasmine Higgins of Life UNLTD

 

As I reflect back on the day where our first piece of “not so good news” was delivered to us, I am reminded just how far God has brought myself and my family on our journey and truly how good God is and continues to be to us.

Some may speak of our journey as one of healing and restoration, however, I see it more as one of growth and intimacy with Jesus. Jesus is always with us and His desire for us in the trials and triumphs is that we would not only draw close to Him, but that we would expect to feel His presence and His power at work in our lives!

In June 2017, my husband Matt was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. The calmness and peace that Matt delivered the news to me with was almost unbelievable and could only have come from Jesus. 

We prayed for him continuously and believed God for a miracle. We praised Him and cried out to Him. My husband wasn’t healed miraculously from the cancer, but God worked through our doctors. He had half of his thyroid removed and didn't require any further treatment. Praise God!

In March 2018, we were expecting our 2nd child. The pregnancy was tracking along perfectly until we received news at our 20 week scan that our little boy may have down syndrome and that I would need to undergo further testing to find out more.

We believe that children are a gift from God and we decided that regardless of our son's “medical discoveries” that we would praise Him for the miracle of a child!

To be completely honest and vulnerable, I was terrified. I felt initial sadness and loss of what might be a “conventional” childhood for my boy. I was afraid of how people would perceive me and my family and I was overwhelmed with insecurity and fear. Some days, I felt as though I couldn’t breathe.

It’s okay to experience these emotions, but it’s not God’s plan for us to stay there. 

My husband spoke the name Josiah over our boy. Josiah means “The Lord has healed”. We spoke healing, life and victory over him. We began to declare the victory of Jesus over our little boy. 

After an advanced test at our hospital we received news that Josiah was well and did not have down syndrome. We praised God for answered prayer!

Then, in April 2018, after experiencing debilitating pain in my leg whilst still pregnant, I was told that it was due to a tumour growing in my upper thigh. Unfortunately, my first response was not faith in this moment. It was fear and sadness. I reached out to friends and family and prayed that Jesus would help hold my head up and give me strength. 

I received this scripture from one of my pastors during this time...

“Listen, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Listen, King Jehoshaphat! This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid! Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow, march out against them. You will find them coming up through the ascent of Ziz at the end of the valley that opens into the wilderness of Jeruel. But you will not even need to fight. Take your positions; then stand still and watch the Lord’s victory. He is with you, O people of Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Go out against them tomorrow, for the Lord is with you!” - 2 Chronicles 20:15-17

Although I felt afraid and unsure of what the future held, I also knew that God was in this with me. That He is victorious and good! I began to write down what God was speaking to me about. I couldn’t move much from the pain of the tumour but I was able to sing, write and declare the victory of Jesus. And that’s where the song “The Victor” started. 

I received miraculous news in August 2018 that the tumour in my leg had dissipated without explanation. What felt like the scariest and most out of control 18 months of my life, I now reflect on being the season that I heard from God the most. It is the closest and most aware I have been of His presence and I am so thankful and grateful for his whispered words to me in my weakness. 

Jesus is loving, patient, kind, generous and close. He is always available and always willing to speak victory over our lives. We don’t go through trials alone and we don’t face challenges without Jesus being right beside us. 

I pray that wherever you are in your walk today, whether you're standing on the mountain top or in the deepest valley, that God would be real to you and that you would feel his presence and believe His victory over you. 

Fix your eyes on hope and stand and watch as your SAVIOR is the VICTOR!

Jasmine Higgins
Life UNLTD

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Life UNLTD's new single "The Victor (Live)" is available now. The single was released as a part of their latest EP with 4 songs from their debut live album, coming September 2020. Life UNLTD seeks to write songs that reflect the heartbeat of the Church, and exalt the name of Jesus and His great love. You can listen to their music through all major music platforms.

 

Saturday, August 1, 2020

'Abide in Me' by Andrew Marcus

ABIDE IN ME

During the COVID-19 pandemic we have constantly been encouraged to socially distance ourselves from family, friends and loved ones. We’ve been reminded with signs entering any store or restaurant, we’ve seen illustrations all over the ground with arrows pointing us to the appropriate direction of traffic flow, and I’ve even seen illustrations of eagles and bears in park entrances showing wingspans and lengths reiterating the fact that we must stay 6 feet apart. I recently went on a nice walk with my family and on one particularly narrow trail, it suddenly turned into a one way path to avoid breaking this rule we’ve been reminded of over and over again for months. In the midst of these constant reminders, God has been reminding me of something as well.

As we continue to socially distance ourselves from others, God continues to do the opposite. He draws near.

God draws near to us daily, and it is up to us to either distance ourselves, or draw near to Him. In John 15, we see what happens in our lives when we abide in Jesus, and we see what happens when we don’t.

John 15:1-12
The Vine and the Branches

1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. 9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

So what happens when we do not abide in Jesus?

Jesus says in verse 6 that, “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers, and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”

During the busyness of prepping for Easter services last year, this passage of Scripture became more real to me than ever before. After one of our pastors shared this exact passage during our week of prayer leading up to Easter, it hit me that night as I lay in bed restless, that I have not been abiding in Christ. This tends to happen naturally every Easter and Christmas if I am not careful. With the relentless pursuit of organizing services, teams, songs, rehearsals and overseeing how we will visually share the Gospel, I quickly find myself feeling like a branch that is withering away. I get so bombarded with the ‘to do list’ that I fail to observe and acknowledge the fact that Christ is present with me and drawing near to me in the midst of the chaos.

When we do not abide in Christ, we wither away and it becomes evident to not only us but everyone around us that we have not been receiving the proper nourishment we need to bear fruit.

After hours of trying to fall asleep that night, I got out of bed and went downstairs to pray (with the accompaniment of my guitar). It was in that moment where I heard the song “Abide in Me” sung over me. Now, I am very reluctant to say that God gave me this song and that I heard him sing it over me. I’ve had many artists tell me God gave them songs and when I listened to them my first response was, “well you better give it back.” “Maybe he wasn’t finished writing it?” Or quite honestly, “Don’t you dare blame God for this!” All that being said, I cling to Zephaniah 3:17 that declares that God is present, that he quiets me with his love and that he “rejoices over me with singing.”

That night I feel like I heard the song He was singing over me. In that moment my soul was realigned, and I found myself exactly where I needed to be: at His feet.

What does it look like to abide in Jesus?

In verse 10, we get a glimpse of what this looks like. Jesus says, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” What are the commandments Jesus is referring to in this moment?

In Matthew 22:37-39 Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

I believe that first commandment is the foundation of the second. When we love God with all our hearts, souls and our minds, that overflows into loving our neighbours as ourselves. Everything stems from this love. When we love God, we observe his leading, acknowledge his presence and obey his commands.

What happens in us and through us when we abide in Jesus?

We see the fruit of love displayed in our lives. This fruit is a testimony to the world around us that we are connected to the Vine.

Love is not the only fruit that grows on us as simple branches when we are connected to the Vine. Jesus says in verse 12, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” So we also receive Joy! Not just a temporary joy, a complete joy!

Thinking about the love and joy we receive when we are connected to the Vine makes me think of Galatians 5:22 where the apostle Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit.

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Without being connected to the Vine, we have no nourishment to bear fruit.

I encourage you today wherever you are at to realign your heart to His. I pray you can have a moment just sitting at his feet. Not doing anything, just being. Acknowledge that he is present with you in whatever situation you find yourself. Observe the reality that he has led you to this place and that he will continue to lead you to the next place he has in store for you. Obey his command to love Him and love your neighbour as yourself.

So, as we keep hearing that we must stay 6 feet away from those outside our bubbles, know that Jesus is in your bubble, drawing you closer and closer to Himself. Social distancing does not apply to the Lord, so rest at His feet and Abide in Him today.

-- Andrew Marcus

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Andrew Marcus's new single "Abide in Me" is available now. With six critically acclaimed recordings to his credit, including his BEC RECORDINGS debut album Constant featuring writing and vocal collaborations with Leeland and Paul Baloche, Marcus continues to write powerful prayers to encourage his local church community in Canada.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Josh Balogh's 100 Greatest Christian Albums of the 00s

This is the decade where my musical taste continued to grow and finally find its sweet spot. The first half of the decade coincided with my college years, and I have many fond memories attached to many of these albums because of it. The second half held the first five years of marriage, fatherhood, and the financial struggles of a young family. Because I listened to such a wider variety of songs as the CCM genre continued to expand, I chose to limit the times a band/artist could show up on this list to two. With the 90s list and the10s list, I had no such rules, but it seemed necessary for this decade to include as many of the greats as possible. In other words, though I may pick the “wrong” album by a band or artist, according to some, I at least tried to make sure they were represented.

Again, this list as the two preceding it is a bit of a hybrid, in that I tried to be as objective as possible to include albums that are widely considered great though it may not be my personal taste. There are 11 such albums present and bonus points to those that can pick them out. Also, the ranking was tremendously difficult, nay impossible so don’t get too hung up on where an album placed, especially anything outside of the top 40. I think they’re all great or I wouldn’t have included them. Some will be farther down the list because I either hadn’t heard them at (rare, maybe 3-5 albums), or had spent less time with them (about 10-15 albums). The higher the rank, the more my personal enjoyment, especially once we get closer to the top 25.

Another question that may come up is the “is such and such a Christian band/artist?” or “why would x be on this Christian list?” One of the things that I love about Christian music in the 00s is that the age-old question of what applies as “Christian” music continued to expand. Personally, I think it’s silly to define an entire genre on the lyrical content alone, but for better or worse that has been the history of CCM. For this list, I chose to include a few artists who are confirmed Christians though their musical output was beyond the borders of traditional CCM. No that doesn’t include U2, but it may include a few surprises.

If you missed the 90s and 10s lists I’ve already posted they can be found here: 100 Greatest Christian Albums of the 90s and here:100 Best Albums of the 2010s, and as always I’d love to hear from you on your favorites, as well as where you think I missed it, or maybe even nailed it.

Here we go!

~~ Josh Balogh

  1. Sanctus Real – Fight The Tide (2004)

Crunchy guitar-based pop/rock. Also worth mentioned that their Face Of Love album is also top-notch.

  1. Out Of Eden – This Is Your Life (2002)

This R&B/Pop sister group was criminally ignored by the radio. I feel like they were about ten years ahead of their time, and it’s a shame they weren’t bigger.

  1. Jeremy Camp – Stay (2002)

Camp burst onto the scene with multiple hit singles with songs like, “Understand,” “Right Here” “Walk By Faith,” “I Still Believe,” and “Take My Life.” Each one a solid pop tune directing praise to God even amid personal tragedy.

  1. Brandon Heath – What if We (2008)

Following up “I’m Not Who I Was” was going to be tough but Heath was up to the task with his best overall album spawning smash hits “Give Me Your Eyes” and “Wait And See.”

  1. Big Daddy Weave – One And Only (2002)

I love the saxophone that Big Daddy Weave features highly on this album. “In Christ,” “Friend Like You,” “Neighborhoods,” and “Audience Of One” are the cream of the crop.

  1. Nicole Nordeman – This Mystery (2000)

Deep and thought-provoking piano-pop at its finest. “Every Season” is an absolute gem and should make every list of greatest CCM songs in the 00s.

  1. Copeland – Eat, Sleep, Repeat (2006)

Whispery, reflective indie-rock.

  1. Showbread – No Sir, Nihilism Is Not Practical (2004)

A Tooth & Nail band, the vocal-shredding singer is an acquired taste. This is weird rock n’ roll with “Mouth Like A Magazine” being my favorite overall tune.

  1. Chris Tomlin – Arriving (2004)

Perhaps the quintennial worship release of the decade, Arriving is worthy of inclusion on this list due to “How Great Is Our God” alone.

  1. Francesca Battistelli – My Paper Heart (2008)

A radio-ready pop album if there ever was one, literally every song could have been released as a single, and the ones that were shot of the charts.

  1. The Cross Movement – Higher Definition (2004)

I did go through a brief rap period, (as we are all wont to do) and this is one of the ones that has stuck with me.

  1. Steven Curtis Chapman – Beauty Will Rise (2009)

A hard album to listen to, but an important one. His grief is palpable, but it isn’t without hope.

  1. All Star United – Love & Radiation (2007)

Exactly ten years after their debut we get another euro-pop/rock gem replete with wit and sarcasm. Excellence.

  1. Jennifer Knapp – The Way I Am (2001)

Best girl-with-guitar album of the decade in my opinion. Soul. Angst. Fantastic guitar playing. It’s all here.

  1. Further Seems Forever – The Moon Is Down (2001)

This emo band had trouble keeping a lead singer, with Chris Carrabba being the first to leave for more mainstream pursuits. Before he left he recorded this soaring debut full of the guitars and angst that are best known of the genre.

  1. John Reuben – Are We There Yet? (2000)

The always goofy, sarcastic, and self-aware John Reuben debuted with this hip-hop classic right out of the gate.

  1. Shawn McDonald – Simply Nothing (2004)

Singer/Songwriter debut with acoustic guitar-based songs and a dash of hip-hop rhythms.

  1. Thousand Foot Krutch – Phenomenon (2003)

Ah yes, TFK. A guilty pleasure perhaps, but this is their most complete album with a very little hint of the rap/rock hybrid of their debut. This is more mature, and spawned their career-defining hit “Rawkfist.”

  1. Tait – Empty (2001)

The first solo album to release from the “intermission” by supergroup dctalk. Joined by Pete Stewart (Grammatrain) and the Chapin brothers, this boasts excellent guitar work and a bevy of solid alt/rock tunes.

  1. The Classic Crime – The Silver Chord (2008)

Raw. Electric guitars. Intense. Dynamic. Mature. This is excellent rock n roll music.

  1. Third Day – Offerings (2000)

The worship craze was soon to take over CCM, but Third Day released one of the better ones before nearly every other artist followed suit.

  1. 38th Parallel – Turn The Tides (2002)

Does 38th Parallel bring to mind Linkin Park? Well yes, in some ways. The angry rap/rock combo is present but these guys set themselves apart with top-shelf harmonies in most of the choruses.

  1. Stacie Orrico – Self-Titled (2003)

There was a major mainstream impact with songs “Stuck” and “There’s Gotta Be More To Life”  and several other songs of pop goodness.

  1. Grits – Art of Translation (2002)

“Ooh Ahh” and “Here We Go” are the cream-of-the-crop, but there are other really strong songs. Overall this is a fantastic follow up to the better Grammatical Revolution.

  1. Hawk Nelson – Letters To The President (2004)

One of my favorite pop/punk albums of all time. High nostalgia factor here.

  1. Mark Schultz – Self-Titled (2000)

A piano man with a handful of catchy, tear-jerking songs. Great debut!

  1. Future of Forestry – Twilight (2007)

Well done melancholic indie-rock.

  1. LetterKills – The Bridge (2004)

Punk-emo rock with some screamed vocals and melodic singing thrown in the mix as well.

  1. MercyMe – All That Is Within Me (2007)

Some would pick their label debut containing smash-hit “I Could Only Imagine,” but this is the better overall album with crunchier guitar moments and their typically upward-directed lyrics.

  1. Adam Watts – Sleeping Fire (2006)

Maybe the best and most prolific songwriter most have never heard of with songwriting credits for Jesse McCartney, Colton Dixon, Jeremy Camp and a host of others. This is an alt/rock gem that all should hear. FYI Watts doesn’t make bad records.

  1. Michael W. Smith – Worship (2001)

I was torn whether to include this one, but sales, popularity, and the fact that this is a well-done worship cover album make it worthy of inclusion.  

  1. Project 86 – Songs To Burn Bridges By (2004)

This album is outside of my typical listening habits, but “The Spy Hunter” is a jam that must be turned up full blast.

  1. Eisley – Room Noises (2006)

With shades of Sixpence singer Leigh Nash in their angelic voices, the DuPree sister-fronted Eisley debuted with this hauntingly beautiful indie-rock album.

  1. Ben Shive – ill Tempered Klavier (2008)

With Beach Boys-inspired harmonies AND melodies this is a singer/songwriter treasure that is not to be missed.

  1. Mxpx – Ever Passing Moment (2000)

As my musical taste was expanding to harder rock, ska, and hip-hop, this pop/punk album was important in my early college years and my ever-developing musical palate.

  1. Emery – The Question (2005)

Not really my cup of tea, but objectively I understand why this rock album and band are highly regarded. Intense screams and melodic vocals play off of each other well creating a palpable tension.

  1. The Afters – I Wish We All Could Win (2005)

These guys had my attention for their first two albums but I lost interest soon after. I return to this pop-drenched debut most often as it is strong all the way through.

  1. Tenth Avenue North – Over & Underneath (2008)

In my mind, TAN never did better than this pop/worship debut. There isn’t any filler and it all sounds fresh with several standout songs “Love Is Here,” “Lift Us Up,” “By Your Side,” and “Beloved” among them.

  1. PFR – Disappear (2001)

An ironic comeback album title if there ever was one, at least we got this terrific pop/rock reunion record before they were gone again.

  1. Luna Halo – Shimmer (2000)

Losing the dynamic rap/rock band Reality Check after one superb album was a tough blow, but out of the ashes, Nathan Barlowe dropped this catchy euro/rock-influenced album. “Aliens” and “Superman” demand your attention right out of the gate, but the whole tracklist is worth a listen.

  1. Caedmon’s Call – Share The Well (2004)

The one where a folk band goes on a mission trip and is changed forever. That’s simplifying it too much, but the world-music influences are all over this diverse album. It was/is an important album in expanding my mind beyond my own little square-footage.

  1. Seabird – Til’ We See The Shore (2008)

Bouncy, rolling piano-led pop. Earworm central here. “Apparitions” is divine.

  1. The Elms – The Chess Hotel (2006)

Snotty, gritty-in-your-face-rock-n-roll at its finest.

  1. Mat Kearney – Nothing Left To Lose (2006)

Soak your acoustic guitar songs in hip-hop and chill.

  1. Five Iron Frenzy – The End Is Near (2003)

How did this album get here?! Cut and paste accident I guess…might as well leave it. Worst album by the worst band ever!

  1. Downhere – Wide-Eyed & Mystified (2006)

In the conversation for the best overall pop/rock album of the decade as far as I’m concerned. All that it tries to do it does well. Dual vocalists that both bring a different strength to well-written and executed pop/rock tunes.

  1. Tobymac – Welcome To Diverse City (2004)

The best overall album from the godfather of Christian music.

  1. Pax217 – Self-Titled (2000)

Reggae influences help this rap/rock group stand apart from others of the era.

  1. Julianna Theory – Emotion Is Dead (2000)

Emo/rock unafraid to slow it down to include dance, harder rock, and piano into the mix.

  1. Remedy Drive – Daylight Is Coming (2008)

Another terrific piano-driven pop/rock masterpiece.

 

Time for the Top 50!!!

  1. Starflyer 59 – Talking Voice vs. Singing Voice (2005)

A highly regarded pop/rock album from a highly consistent band.

  1. Derek Webb – She Must and Shall Go Free (2003)

A no-holds-barred acoustic guitar-based wake-up call for the church.

  1. Children 18:3 – Self-Titled (2008)

Three siblings formed pop/punk group Children 18:3. This is infectious and bratty in all the right ways, and it’s hard to get these pop/punk songs out of your head after listening.

  1. Jon Foreman – Seasonal EPs (2007-2008)

Ever the prolific songwriter for Switchfoot, these terrific tunes saw the light of day as solo releases. “The Cure For Pain” is my favorite from the Fall disc which is also my overall favorite of the four seasonal EPs.

  1. Sixpence None The Richer – Divine Discontent (2002)

Much more straightforwardly pop than their previous output, this is still high-quality art, doing the sound extremely well.

  1. Lecrae – Rebel (2008)

Leaps and bounds were made on this his third album and he would continue to soar to greater heights.

  1. Downhere – Self-Titled (2001)

Dual singers with contrasting styles, vertically directed lyrics, pop song constructs, and great vocal performances. The ballads really shine on this fantastic album. The trio of “Great Are You,” “Calmer Of The Storm” and “Protest To Praise” still get regular listens to this day.

  1. Phil Wickham – Cannons (2007)

Soaring vocals and worshipful lyrics with the title track, “You’re Beautiful,” and “True Love” being my favorite songs.

  1. Underoath – Define The Great Line (2006)

The Florida based Screamo/Hardcore band’s “defining” album? This is a genre shaking/shaping album just as their prior record They’re Only Chasing Safety before it.

  1. Sara Groves – Tell Me What You Know (2007)

Piano-based singer/songwriter with the deeper things to say in soothing ways.

  1. Earthsuit – Kaleidoscope Superior (2000)

There was nothing else like it in the genre as far I know…reggae-infused rap/rock with some of the best drummings you’ll hear. This was the one-hit-wonder band that launched out MuteMath from the ashes.

  1. Sufjan Stevens – Seven Swans (2004)

Lots of banjo and faith musings from an indie darling. I was late to this one, but its great. 

  1. Leeland – Sound Of Melodies (2006)

This young band took the industry by storm in a way very few had done before it. European influenced pop/rock with worship undertones abounding.

  1. Andrew Peterson – Carried Along (2000)

Thinking man’s guy and guitar, Peterson does it better than most. Poetic and charming.

  1. Sandra McCracken – The Builder And The Architect (2006)

Hymn-like song structures and feel to pair with a soothing voice and well-crafted lyrics.

  1. Needtobreathe – The Heat (2007)

This one didn’t leave my car stereo for a full year after I stumbled upon it. All the elements I love Alt/rock goodness, distinctive voice, strong lyrics.

  1. Falling Up – Captiva (2007)

Electronic pop/rock and the first album by Falling Up that I’m totally into up to this point in their career. Greater things to come, but this is a good start.

  1. Kevin Max – Stereotype Be (2001)

Euro/rock drenched offerings, there wasn’t/isn’t anything like it, and it holds up well to this day.

  1. Poor Old Lu – The Waiting Room (2002)

Glossier production than previously grungy funk/rock of the 90s output, this was well received by fans and holds up well years later. The highest highlight is the opener “Revolve.”

  1. Audio A – Lift (2001)

A highlight release from a long-tenured band. They lean more fully into the worship motif of the era, but it’s one of the best at it. “Tremble” and “Ocean Floor” is Audio A classics. 

  1. Family Force 5 – Business up Front, Party In The Back (2006)

Crunk-rock. Danceable. Goofy. So fun to see in concert. The best of their albums.

  1. Skillet – Comatose (2007)

Symphonic rock begging for pyrotechnics, this would be a career-defining album for them. 

  1. Flyleaf – Self-Titled (2005)

Female hard rock with heavy guitars, screams, and clean vocals. “So Sick” is still a jam.

  1. Kevin Max – The Imposter (2005)

Finely crafted pop/rock. His most immediately accessible album in my opinion, and my overall favorite.

  1. Mars iLL – Pro*Pain (2006)

Hip-Hop at its finest. Versatile beats, world-class rapping. 5 Star worthy.

  1. Relient K – Forget And Not Slow Down (2009)

A mature piano/punk break-up record.

  1. Newsboys – Thrive (2002)

The last Newsboys album I loved deeply, this was their best combination of quirky pop/rock tunes and the worship-based ones for which their later albums would be known.

  1. Shane & Shane – Pages (2007)

Passionate journal entry songs calling listeners to praise and worship the King. This acoustic-based duo was a favorite of mine during the 00s.

  1. Caedmon’s Call – Long Line of Leavers (2000)

The acoustic-driven band plugged in a few guitars and experimented with some other instruments on their most diverse album yet. I keep a copy in the car to spin this one regularly.

  1. Anberlin – Never Take Friendship Personal (2005)

Emo-flavored rock with pristine vocals.

  1. David Crowder Band – Church Music (2009)

EDM Worship music? Why yes, the ever-restless DC*B innovates once again pushing worship music into the future.

  1. Switchfoot – Hello Hurricane (2009)

Chock full of defiantly hopeful alt/rock anthems. Top 5 in their deep catalog for me.

  1. Thrice – Vheissu (2005)

My introduction to Thrice, and still my favorite offering of their discography. “Music Box” is creepy and explosive building tension perfectly. The song “Red Sky” swells and soars satisfyingly. Opener “Image Of The Invisible” demands your attention. Superb album.

  1. Lifehouse – No Name Face (2000)

At the time of release, the smash hit song “Hanging By A Moment” was inescapable. However, it’s far from the best song on the album. The ballads, specifically “Breathing” and “Trying” is first-class, and closer “Everything” is hands down the best track.

  1. Jars of Clay – The Long Fall Back To Earth (2009)

Primarily a horizontal relationship album with strong 80s vibes. Took time to grow on me, but now it’s top 5 in their discography. “Safe To Land” is my favorite of many exceptional songs.

  1. P.O.D. – Satellite (2001)

Three killer singles and several other great deep cuts make this album an easy best of decade pick. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard “Alive,” “Boom,” or “Youth Of The Nation” at some point.

  1. Needtobreathe – The Outsiders (2009)

I wore this album out after loving their album The Heat before it. Southern alt/rock with tremendous lyrics spread all around. There’s not a single skippable song present.

  1. Blindside – Silence (2002)

One of the few hard rock albums I return to often. “Caught A Glimpse” and “Pitiful” are my favorites.

  1. Mewithoutyou – Brother, Sister (2006)

The rare band that I listen to for the musicality alone, cause who the heck even knows what the lyrics are about? Brother, Sister is passionate and weird in all the right ways.

  1. Skillet – Collide (2003)

More on the raw side than Comatose, the rage in “Open Wounds” is palpable. “Forsaken is another highlight from an album full of them.

  1. Various Artists – Glory Revealed (2007)

It’s a simple album of acoustic/Americana Scripture songs but it has been a balm to my soul ever since I first happened upon it. It also stand s out as one of my top 5 favorite live shows I’ve ever had to pleasure of attending. “Who Is Like You” is my favorite song, but I love them all.

  1. MuteMath – Self-Titled (2006)

Though not a Christian band per se, this was the phoenix to rise out of the ashes of one-album wonder Earthsuit. Marketing aside, this is fantastic music no matter the genre. “Typical,” “Chaos,” and “You Are Mine” are the ones I return to most often.

  1. Brooke Fraser – Albertine (2006)

Piano pop doesn’t do justice as a descriptor of this artfully crafted album with few to no flaws. Each arrangement unique, nothing distracting from the art. Well done. 5 Stars.

  1. Anberlin – Cities (2007)

Hands down their magnum opus.

  1. Jars of Clay – Good Monsters (2006)

A tad more aggressive musically, this is where social justice came to the forefront of the message. “Work,” “Dead Man (Carry Me),” and the tremendous cover of “All My Tears” bring me back for more, and then I remember how amazing the rest of the album is too.

  1. Mae – The Everglow (2005)

An indie-rock concept album. This one demands your full attention. Best listened to while reading the accompanying booklet.

  1. David Crowder Band – A Collision (2005)

The amount of thought and attention to detail put into this one is staggering. My pick for their best overall album.

  1. House of Heroes – The End Is Not The End (2008)

This band and this album should have made them hugely famous. I’m still scratching my head why it didn’t. Pop/punk/rock with world-class vocals and harmonies. So. Many. Great. Songs.

  1. Relient K – Mmhmm (2004)

Relient K’s most cohesive and mature album to date. I still don’t think they made a better album than this.

  1. Switchfoot – The Beautiful Letdown (2003)

Hard to deny that this was a smash album on the strength of the reworked and re-released song “Dare You To Move” and the grungy mega-hit “Meant To Live.” With a storied career that is still going this still stands out as their best album in my opinion.

 

Honorable Mention:

Underoath – They’re Only Chasing Safety (2004)

Newsboys – Go (2006)

Emery – In Shallow Seas We Sail (2009)

Switchfoot – Nothing Is Sound (2005)

Casting Crowns – Self-Titled (2003)

Welcome Wagon – Self-Titled

The Choir – O How The Mighty Have Fallen (2005)

Pedro The Lion – Control

Fiction Family – Self-Titled (2009)

Slick Shoes – Self-Titled (2002)

 

Also Ran (didn’t finish):

Five Iron Frenzy – Electric Boogaloo 2 (2001)

 

High In My Personal Rotation During the Era:

Swithfoot – Oh! Gravity (2006)

Relient K – Two Lefts Don’t Make A Right…But Three Do (2003)

Jars of Clay – The Eleventh Hour (2002)

Steven Curtis Chapman – Declaration (2001)

Rebecca St. James – Transform (2000)

Phil Joel – God Is Watching Over You (2000)

Tobymac – Momentum (2001)

Larue – Self-Titled (2000)

The O.C. Supertones – Loud & Clear (2000)

Pillar – Where Do We Go From Here (2004)

Plus One – Exodus (2003)

FM Static – What Are You Waiting For? (2003)

Dietrich Haddon – Lost & Found (2002)

Royal Ruckus – Self-Titled (2002)

Everyday Sunday – Stand Up (2002)

 

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Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Hold Fast by Jaron Micah

Growing up I have had a different childhood than many. I say this knowing I have been blessed with my circumstances, yet still understanding it has been different. I have an older brother named Caleb who has severe autism, muscular dystrophy, and other disabilities. I often say despite the challenges his disabilities bring every day, he is the light and center of our family. Especially through the process of writing and recording my EP “Hold Fast,” I have realized I would not be the person I am today without the impact and influence my brother has had on me - all without saying any words to me. I have learned and been told that the best songs often come from a place of pain or deep emotion. So I write my songs and music from these experiences of growing up with a brother who I wished I could talk with, or wished I could play with, or wished I could see him suffer no longer from these mental and physical disabilities. 

Also growing up, I have had amazing examples of love, service, and patience from my brother, but especially my two parents. I feel they have helped ground me in my faith and in the Word and it is often from scripture that I draw inspiration to write my lyrics. This is especially true with my EP “Hold Fast” as it is a collection of songs combining contemporary worship with my own style of acoustic, intimate, and folky styles. An example of my lyrics being inspired by scripture can be heard in my second track on the EP titled “Blessings Poured on Us.” This song was written from Psalm 32 discussing how we receive blessings by our transgressions being forgiven through Christ. 

-Jaron

Jaron Micah Bundy is a 17-year-old musician, songwriter, and producer. His passion is music and what drives his passion is creating something that can reach and impact others.  Listen to “Hold Fast” by Jaron Micah out now on all digital platforms to stream or download.

 

Thursday, June 4, 2020

'Sanity' by Kyra Isaacs

 

 

I struggled with emotional and mental illness for about a year and a half. It was really overwhelming for me because like many may feel in that space, it felt like God was nowhere to be found. Until I came across this incredible scripture in the book of John chapter 11 verse 35 -- “Jesus wept.” Reading that validated so much for me. It made realize that I serve a God who doesn’t dismiss human emotion, he sees it, he validates it even when he himself knows of the goodness to come. Sometimes we don’t want to be told we’re going to be okay, because we know we will be. We want to be seen, known, and heard… and invalidating an emotion almost feels like you refuse to acknowledge that the problem exists.

That’s why I wrote Sanity -- to reflect the process of feeling known, heard and seen by the father. Expressing those raw emotions in the song itself so the depths of God’s love could be understood on the level he expressed it to me. He wept with me and empathized with my heart. He brought healing to what I felt would be permanently broken within me and I wanted the same for whoever struggled with the same feelings and emotions.

Sanity is a “song hug” it lets us know He sees , He knows , He hears and through that He Validates and brings resolution.

-Kyra Isaacs

 

 

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

“Dance Upon the Promise” by John Harter of The War Within

 

The overarching collective grief shared across generations and cultures during our current international crisis is truly something I haven’t experienced in my lifetime.  

 

Having been saved almost 12 years ago, I consider myself someone who lives each day with a great deal of hope – however, even I have had moments these last few months where I find myself sinking into despair, wondering what next month or even next week will look like for my family and loved ones. As someone who has struggled with addiction, and still wrestles through daily thoughts of relapse, it is a curious thing to look around and realize that perhaps the rest of the world has finally caught up to the craziness in my head. 

 

Like most songwriters, I often find myself responding to what I see and feel about the world with a guitar, a piano, and a pencil. So as I began to walk through the early days of the pandemic, I knew in my heart that my response to it all needed to be a song. So I took some old melodies I had been working on in years past and began penning what became our new single OUT OF MY GRAVE. Thematically, it certainly isn’t much of a departure from some similar themes that we often explore through our musical project The War Within. Light in the darkness; hope against despair; beauty within brokenness; love for the hurting; grace for the furthest. Singing about the valleys and the mountaintops; the joy and the pain of living here in this broken world waiting for our Saviour to come is sort of the lifeblood of our whole project. But I knew with this song, we wanted to take it even one step further and really explore the desperation of feeling like all hope is truly gone, to the point where we are “barely surviving, sinking beneath the waves”, setting the stage for God’s promise to come roaring back into our lives, our hearts, and our headspace. 

 

On the surface, it is kind of crazy to see my testimony of addiction and grace as sort of a metaphor for what the entire world is experiencing; but doing so unlocked probably the most honest lyrics I’ve ever penned. But I think the most important part of this song (like any The War Within song) is the Jesus moments. The moments where we know that even in light of every hurt, every addiction, every sin, every heartbreak and every deep soul craving, Jesus Christ is still waiting to take our hand and bring us back into a vibrant life with Him. A life of hope and grace. A life where we can take our brokenness, our pain, and even our pandemics and put them in their correct place: beneath God. 

 

My favourite line in the song is in the chorus. “When I was in my grave, You raised me up to sing and dance upon the promises You made.” When Jesus comes back, THAT is where I want Him to find me: singing and dancing upon His promises. I hope and pray that this song helps you enter that place of trust and celebration in His promises as well. 

 

-John Harter

 

 

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Thursday, May 28, 2020

Perspective by Sajan Nauriyal

 

I remember lying on the ground with my heart beating out of my chest. Staring at the ceiling seemed to be the only thing I was capable of doing in an effort to calm down from the intense panic that gripped not only my mind, but my body. It felt like I couldn’t breathe. The last year or so hadn’t been the easiest. I had struggled with fear, insomnia, anxiety, and food allergies that left me unable to eat much of anything.                                          

It was that moment that I knew that I had to commit to change. I had let my emotions of fear, worry, frustration, build inside for years and never set any boundaries to pursue wellness in my soul; that is, until it fell apart with a series of anxious breakdowns. As I lay on the couch for the next several months I made a commitment to get to know the Lord. I felt Him nudge me that my physical and mental healing would be found in being with Him. Not that I had to strive to be good enough for Him; this was a new way of relating to God for me. Just a commitment to show up with an open heart every day and talk to Him. As I did, the truths about how much I’m loved and how I don’t have anything to prove began to solidify in my life.                                                           

This is where my album “PERSPECTIVE” came from. It’s a collection of songs about healing with God. It’s about how our fears and worries are not what we think they are, and nothing can ever take away what Jesus has done for us. What if you knew that everything was going to be okay? Would you live differently?                                                               

The songs “fight,” “no worries,” and “trust” explore this concept: not that the goal of life is ease or comfort, rather that it will be filled with difficulty, but we have the comfort of Lord and Savior in the midst of suffering. “slow down” talks about assessing what’s important in life and stepping away from needless hurry. The album takes the listener on a journey considering what’s really important. I used to think I wanted an easy life, but I don’t anymore. I want a good one. And everything I will ever need is found in knowing Christ. I got to watch Him unravel all my fear anxiety with His constant peace and kindness, and no circumstance can take that away.                     

- Sajan Nauriyal

Friday, May 22, 2020

God Is With Us In The Mystery by Ian Yates

There’s a lot mystery around us

There’s a lot of mystery to our faith

I’ve been a Christian most of my life and I’ve been at my current church for over 30 years, yet if I’m totally honest I often feel like I know less now than I’ve ever done. As a teenager I was a passionate believer and saw everything black and white, I thought I had it all worked out. As I’ve grown older I’ve experienced grief, loss, pain, disappointment and a ton of interesting and difficult situations. 

When the rubber hits the road you really know what you're made of.

Through it all I’m certain that God is good, God loves us, God is faithful and God is with us. However I don’t fully understand why some things happen.

I firmly believe that God is with us in the suffering, the pain, the highs and the lows

God is with us in the mystery

God is with is in everything we face

Eight years ago I had a fresh revelation of my union with Christ. It changed my life. 

I lived as a well-meaning, devoted yet somewhat confused believer. Sometimes I thought I was close to God, then other times I thought I was distant. 

If I messed up I thought I was far away from God and that I had to grovel and somehow earn my place back at the table. 

I thought my actions could bring me close to God.

Finally, I got set free from this thinking

The mystical reality that I am one with Christ, went from my head to my heart. 

The beautiful reality is that God is always with me . I’m already in the presence of God, what’s absent is my awareness. 

Galatians 2:20 says ‘I’ve been crucified with Christ, It is no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me’. Christ lives IN us.

Colossians 2:9-15 (AMP) says; For in Him the whole fullness of Deity (the Godhead) continues to dwell in bodily form [giving complete expression of the divine nature]. And you are in Him, made full and having come to fullness of life [in Christ you too are filled with the Godhead—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—and reach full spiritual stature]. And He is the Head of all rule and authority [of every angelic principality and power]. 

Romans 6: 5-6 says; For if we have become one with Him by sharing a death like His, we shall also be [one with Him in sharing] His resurrection [by a new life lived for God].

We know that our old (unrenewed) self was nailed to the cross with Him in order that [our] body [which is the instrument] of sin might be made ineffective and inactive for evil, that we might no longer be the slaves of sin.

We were nailed to the cross with Him. We are one with Him.

In Him dwells the fullness of the deity and we are in Him

We are in Christ, if we feel it or not - We have been mystically joined to Christ

In the mysteries of life and faith we are not alone. God is with us. 

What a huge blessing, what a hope.

by Ian Yates

Thursday, May 14, 2020

'Giving Grief a Voice with the Stages of Grief EP' by Frankie Orella

 

I was 17 when my mom died after a 5-year battle with breast cancer. It was one of those “expected but not expected” scenarios.

One day she was at work, and the next her doctor told us the stage 4 metastatic breast cancer had consumed her liver and she had less than 3 weeks.

Three weeks ended up being less than 24 hours.

We live in a beautiful world, but tragedy seems to be around the corner or in our face (i.e. screen) every day. And especially now, during a global pandemic, we’re all losing something. A person. A job. A relationship. A sense of normalcy. Security. We are all dealing with grief in different forms.

Life and death are often right next to each other. The death of an organ donor who provides the miracle for a person in need. An elated family with a newborn in a hospital while a patient slips away from cancer one floor below.  

It’s impossible to separate the sad, tragic parts of life from the beautiful moments.

But I believe both need a voice. If we try to simply “get over” our pain or “move on” from difficult emotions, we’re ignoring part of what it means to be human. Grieving a loss is important.

Jesus, knowing he could and would raise Lazarus from the dead, stopped and WEPT over his friend’s passing. He took time to grieve, and he was 100% certain of his friend’s future in eternity.

In other times and cultures, you’ll see mourning last much longer than the typical funeral service window we see in our modern society.

This was the inspiration behind my latest project – “Stages of Grief” Ep. The 5 songs are based on the 5 Stages of Grief penned by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.

She initially used these stages while working with terminally ill patients to help them process their circumstances and what was to come, but it has since been adapted to help anyone understand what’s happening during grief. There has been controversy in recent years surrounding these 5 stages, primarily because they have been misunderstood as a linear formula. They are not meant to be sequential stages that lead to Acceptance where all is resolved. Instead, you may experience these stages in changing waves through different seasons of life.

At some point, significant loss will be a part of all our stories, if it’s not already. Because we are human, we are always in the process of learning, growing, and living with grief. It’s not about arriving. Be kind to yourself and others who experience grief. The best thing we can do is be present and often, silent. Don’t rush to “fix” someone who is grieving.

Of all the lyrics in these songs, the ones from Acceptance best represent why recognizing grief is so important – my hope is still healing.

My desire for these songs was to create space for people to grieve what they have lost and give words to what can often be hard to say.

I hope these songs give words to wherever you are. If you’re like me and learning to hope again, know you’re not alone.

-Frankie Orella

To listen and read more, visit https://frankieorella.com/

 

Trusting God Through Covid-19 by Lance Asher of Foothills Collective

I don’t know about you, but this whole season of dealing with COVID-19 has been pretty wild for me. Even as I sit down to write this, I have an undeniable feeling that I will be learning from this season for many years to come. There is something deeply unsettling about our routines being shaken up and this is really my first time experiencing something like this as an adult. Now, I’ve never been a particularly anxious person, but I have to admit, I have experienced some anxiety over the past few weeks and I have had to have some pretty honest conversations about it with myself and with God. I can’t say for certain if there is an overarching theme or lesson to be learned for this season just yet, at least for myself, but it seems to be in the small things where I have seen God the most recently.

After a few weeks of being quarantined to my home, a particular date was swiftly approaching, one that I dread year after year. It is the date that reminds me every year just how fragile life can be. On April 14th, 2004, my dad, my hero, passed away from a rare cancer. I would have to write a book on what I have learned and am still learning through that experience but suffice to say, as much has God has taught me, April 14th is still my least favorite day of every year. I woke up on April 14th, 2020, just a few weeks ago, only to find the main level of my house covered in more than an inch of standing water. There is no expression, no meme nor any idiom that could capture my feelings in that moment. It was almost comical that on this particular day of all days, something like this would occur. I had to dig deep. I realized in that moment that I had two choices. I could look down or I could look up. I could either focus on myself and wallow in self-pity, or I could look up and recognize where my help comes from!

Now I want to be very clear, this is easier said than done. I do not wish to over-simplify the decision to be made here in looking to the Lord but in His grace and strength, I looked up and recognized that I was not alone. My sister and brother-in-law had stayed at my house that night and they immediately sprung to action. My wife came home at 8am after working a night shift and hugged me and assured me everything would be ok. My grandfather came over and stopped the water. I could go on, but my point is this: in the midst of chaos, God is ever constant and unchanging. Sure, you’ve probably heard that before but there is no substitute for God’s peace that passes all understanding, which is why it is all the more important to remember in this season! There is no feeling that can match the truth that God’s presence is surrounding us, even now. When I fail to look up and recognize Him, I lose focus so quickly! The world starts to become more and more about me, and less and less about Him.

To whomever finds themselves reading this, please know this: you are loved. You are seen and you are heard. Your voice matters. Your presence matters. The same God who constructed the universe put breath in your lungs and what a blessing it is to use that breath to worship Him. You are not alone. God’s promises to do not fade. Now more than ever, it is important to make the distinction that worship is not music. Music is part of worship of course but that is not where it starts or ends. Worship is the position of our hearts. The more we can learn to look up and recognize God, the deeper we will move into worshiping Him in spirit and in truth. I know these times are crazy, but we are in this together and we serve a God that we can always, always trust.

by Lance Asher of Foothills Collective

Friday, May 8, 2020

The Songs of Shaping Season, Pt. 1: He Reaches to the Depths of Us by Benjamin Daniel

Shaping Season is a two-volume project of songs that I wrote roughly between mid-2016 to mid-2018. The first volume was released April 17, 2020. The second volume is set to be released toward the end of 2020 or by the beginning of 2021. What follows is a track-by-track breakdown of Volume 1.

I actually named the album after the album art. The art is of a tree that straddled my next-door neighbor’s yard and my own. In Spring 2018, my neighbor (whose name I shamefully still do not know although to be fair to myself it’s partially because he does not speak English) was in the middle of removing the tree and I thought it was a fascinating sight to see the tree being stripped of its branches. It looked almost symbolic of what Jesus was taking me through, but it also just looked like something out of a storybook. I decided to snap a simple iPhone picture, choose a nice filter, and the rest is history.

Aside from the art, the deeper reason for the title Shaping Season is that the timeframe in which I wrote these songs was one of the most difficult of my life. In Summer 2016, I began to experience unexplained exhaustion and achiness, which over time would lead to constant bloodwork, an MRI, and a trip to the neurologist. The ultimate diagnosis was a thyroid disease and adrenal fatigue. There were times that summer where I thought I was dying. My physical exhaustion also opened me up to fits of depression and sadness that I had never experienced before. Not only were there times when I thought I was dying, but there were times when I wanted to die. And the scariest part was not being able to explain either.

The songs had already started coming before my body started fading. But songwriting as a mode of catharsis wasn’t enough. I took no pleasure in reopening wounds when I wrote songs that simply expressed how I felt without anything more. To quote the wonderful Levi the Poet, “The release is never as satisfying as the promise to fix what’s been sewn.” Man, is that true. It was in understanding that I had to write not just what I felt—for that is an inevitability—but also what I needed that songwriting became less of a venting process and more of a tool for personal sanctification. With music, the Lord was not only giving me something to work on, but He was giving me something to work through. Through songwriting, He gave me an opportunity to bring the hard questions before Him humbly and honestly and to, like the psalmist, endeavor to hope in Him whether or not that question was answered.

This was all where Shaping Season began to take shape as an album. But the season itself kicked into high gear in 2017. It started spiraling that May when my beloved dog Darcy died suddenly in my arms. I drove around listening to the Paramore record After Laughter when it dropped that night. That same record would end up being the last record my close friend Blake and I would drive around listening to a month before he killed himself on September 30, 2017. My mom would break her back less than 48 hours later. Three months after that, in January 2018, she landed in ICU after dire complications during back surgery. We were in ICU with her for three more months. For all my wrestling before this point, it was during all of this that I found out what a panic attack was.

I don’t share these stories as a sob story. I have no desire to make trophies of my tribulations, as tempting as it can be when you are suffering. This is simply the back story behind Shaping Season, a story that is less about the trials themselves and more about the One Who works all things together for the good of His children:

Track #1: The Aching

The Aching feels like an appropriate opener to this project. Not only does it introduce key themes of depression and anxiety, but it also introduces the three key subjects of my songs: God, others, and myself. Each verse addresses each subject one by one beginning with God and ending with me. The final lines are the most important to me. I wrote them after my associate pastor preached a sermon where he compared rejoicing in tribulation to how the sun reflects off of the moon. We may not perceive that the sun still shines while it’s night, but we see evidence of it right in front of us in the glow of the moon. For that we can rejoice always (Phi. 4:4).

Track #2: Fall, Sky

I wrote this song in April 2017. Looking back, it feels eerily prophetic of the days to come. I surely didn’t know what I was asking for with the words of this song or I would have never written them. This song is about welcoming the way everything around us inevitably crumbles in order to embrace the One Who never will. When all around you fails, remember the words of Peter in John 6:68: “Lord, to Whom else shall we go?” Sometimes we need the false gods of our hearts stripped violently away one by one until only the true God remains. It’s a process. Lean into it. Celebrate it even while you’re weeping.

Track #3: Inside My Shadow

Depression. It’s a word that’s used liberally now in our mental health conscious society. I’ve already used it a couple times myself out of both habit and necessity. But strangely, for all the ways we speak of it as reality, it’s a pretty ambiguous term. I often wonder if our insistence on speaking vaguely about the giant all-consuming monster of depression instead of isolating the various components that make up said all-consuming monster is actually more detrimental to our spiritual, mental, and physical health. But I digress. This song is about that monster. And it’s about what happens when that monster becomes so prevalent that Stockholm Syndrome sets in and you think you might make friends with it despite the deepest parts of your soul screaming, “This is not home.” Thankfully, I find that no matter how far I get from home, home always tends to come after me. So endures the relentless love of Jesus Christ.

Track #4: Tax Day (Blessed Be)

This is the first song I wrote for this project (along with a song called “Cell Towers” which comes at the very end of Volume 2). I wrote this in May 2016 after seeing a dear family friend (who we call our “aunt”) for the last time in the hospital before she passed away. At the time, I was still working through college and was taking a world history class. As we went through the Holocaust, I found myself going on a dark rabbit trail of pictures taken during that time. Between the personal loss I was feeling, and the unimaginable loss of the Holocaust, I found myself wrestling with the age-old dilemma of theodicy (the problem of an all-good, all-sovereign God in a world where evil exists). This song was my answer.

April 15th (aka Tax Day) is the day two of my grandparents passed away (my mother’s mother in 1997 and my father’s father in 2010). I’m the youngest child of youngest children, which means the age gap between me and my grandparents was enormous. My last surviving grandparent (my Grandpa) was 93 when he died in 2010. I was 16.

Track #5: Homebody

“Homebody” was one of the first songs I wrote for this record and the very first song I wrote on the piano. This was written as I was emerging from the very bottom of that first hole in Summer 2016. It was the first time I ever contemplated suicide in a very real way, and though I’m still not sure I’d say I’ve ever been suicidal in the sense that the choice was ever realistic or felt imminent, I remember how terrifying it felt to even crack open that door for the first time. When I talk about writing what I need, not just what I feel, this song was the turning point in that. I’d gotten to such a heavy place I couldn’t afford to just wallow in my feelings. I had to speak truth or I wasn’t going to get up. The ending of this song is a paraphrase of Philippians 1:6, which is my favorite verse and has brought me back to reality time and time again.

Track #6: Alone*

An asterisk is typically used in writing to denote further information that the text doesn’t present on its own. For me, it’s that, but it’s also a nifty shortcut to making a common song title a little more unique (I’m a bit OCD about choosing song titles that have been used a lot). The refrain at the end serves as the metaphorical asterisk to my loneliness. No matter how alone and isolated my surroundings make me feel, I’ll never know what being alone is like the way my Savior does. And He is with me.

A side note: When I wrote this back at the beginning of 2017, it was the first song I wrote where I felt like I’d established my ideal sound. I couldn’t stop listening to the demo, not because I thought it was the greatest song ever, but because it sounded like exactly what I wanted to sound like. That was pure magic and a prime example how even writing a heavy song can be joyful if you just flat-out enjoy what you’ve written. I still refer to this one as my favorite on the record even in its fully recorded state.

Track #7: Don’t Be Shaken

This song is simply a retelling of the prodigal son story. I especially took inspiration from the image of the father running to meet the son while he was still a long way off. The love of Jesus is so hard to comprehend. The ending refrain contains the third verse of “It Is Well with My Soul,” which is probably my favorite verse of any hymn. Shout out to Esther Anderson for providing the cellos!

Track #8: Life Noise

I wrote this song after attending an Andy Gullahorn house show in November 2017. I absolutely love his songwriting and I guess I was inspired by the way he seamlessly merges humor with dead seriousness in his songs. I wanted some levity. Plus, I’d written most of the songs for this project and had already aired out my pain and insecurities, but hadn’t talked about my fear of the songwriting process itself. It felt like a good fourth wall break in the album: a song about writing songs. One of my deepest desires in putting music out is to encourage and bear up underneath others with my songs the same way guys like Andy, Levi, My Epic, and Andrew Peterson have done for me. But the tension comes when the means I’m using to encourage necessitate vulnerability on my part, which is basically what songwriting is. I always fear the brutal honesty will cancel out the comfort. But then again, where are comfort and truth without vulnerability? And what comforter’s arms am I trying to usher people into? God’s? Or simply my own?

Track #9: Kalmar’s Song

I don’t want to spoil it, but Andrew Peterson has an incredible book series called The Wingfeather Saga. This song is entirely inspired by the third book in the series called The Monster in the Hollows. There’s a character in the book whose story resonated with me so deeply that I wanted to write a song around him. It was also a way to pay direct tribute to Andrew Peterson’s work. His music has had a bigger impact on me than anyone else’s and it’s the reason any of these songs exist. I feel like he’s discipled me with his music similar to how one of my pastors has discipled me with his friendship. It gave me the courage to start writing and the desire comfort others through my work the way I’ve been comforted through his.

Track #10: Lifted

The outro of “Kalmar’s Song” that I wanted separate from the track just so there weren’t three five-minute songs on the back half of the record. This one is all Allen Odell, my too-close-to-classify friend who produced this record and made all of this happen. If you like how this album sounds, thank him.

Track #11: On Fallen Things

There is a man named Paul David Tripp whose sermons really helped me grow during this period. I built this song around this one snippet of a sermon on YouTube. The moment I heard it I knew it had to be in a song. It also gave me an excuse to bless others with someone’s words that aren’t my own. It’s a personal respite to just sit back in the latter half of the song and listen to Tripp do his thing.

Track #12: Shaping Season

I wrote this three days after my mom entered ICU in January 2018. We didn’t know what was going to happen next. I was home alone. It was 3am, maybe 4, and I couldn’t sleep. This is the only song I’ve ever written in the middle of the night and I can’t tell you how it came about. I can only tell you that it did. At the time, I think I was trying so hard to process what was going on around me and wanted to condense the events of the last couple days into a song. The first verse is about the spiritual pep talk I got on the way to ICU. All I knew was things had taken a very sudden turn for the worst and my associate pastor drove me because I was so distraught I couldn’t see straight enough to drive myself. The second verse is about my family. I won’t get into it here, but there are stories about what the Lord showed us as a family in those times that are remarkable. I consider the chorus (“There is not a hole too deep for us…”) to be the thesis statement of the album, so it made sense to make this the title track. I consider it the centerpiece of both Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 rather than the end of Vol. 1. And it’s blessed me to see the ways this song has already blessed others around me.

Track #13: Nosebleed


There is a place about 25 minutes away from home in the small suburb of Grayson, Georgia called Grayson Coffee House. This is where I did much of my studying for school, a good portion of my songwriting (both there and in the park across the street), and where I played my very first gigs around Gwinnett County. It’s one of my favorite places in the world. It’s also usually what I’m referring to when I talk about a coffee shop or doing coffee with a friend. This one particular time I was meeting there with my good friend Zach who had just come back from his mission field in Nepal (it might have been an accidental meet up because we both had a knack for studying there at the same time). We were having one of those much-needed iron-sharpening-iron kind of talks when my nose suddenly started gushing blood. Since we were outside, he had to run in to grab napkins and by the time he came out there was already blood all over my face. For the rest of the conversation, he kept having to interject where there was still a little blood that needed to be wiped off. I thought, “Life is like that sometimes,” and wrote a song about it. I don’t know where I’d be without faithful brothers walking me through my darkness and teaching me how to live. Many of my songs are built off of conversations, but this particular song is basically a compilation of many different ones. The concluding lines are both a paraphrase of 2 Peter 1:3 and based off a conversation I had with my associate pastor soon afterward (that faithful associate pastor who seems to keep coming up is named Jess Arnds by the way). The line about “chasing ghosts” is from a counseling practicum class I took online, where one of my class partners was counseling me for my anxiety and introduced me to that term. The first verse is where I started writing the song: my friend Gary’s house out in rural Jackson County, Georgia. He gave me that first line so I ran with it (Gary’s house is also where Allen and I recorded the stem for “Tax Day”—the only other recording place apart from our church and Allen’s house). This was also the last song I wrote for both Volume 1 & 2.

-

Two years ago when I began recording these songs with Allen, I never thought that I’d be releasing this album during a worldwide pandemic that would separate me from all of my friends. Some of these songs feel extra bittersweet because they remind me of times of suffering, but that suffering was done in community. Now it feels like all of that has been taken away. But it also feels appropriate that the Lord would place me in a position where I truly have to rely on Him as I put out a record that’s about just that. Be careful. If you pray for holiness, He will make a way. And that way is not always easy.

I’m looking forward to continuing the story (Lord-willing) within the next year. I’m really excited about this next batch of songs and a few of them are my very favorites on the entire project. If anything, I hope you enjoy the music itself. But my deepest prayer is that these songs invite you into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. He entered into the sin and death that looms over us only to conquer it and cast it off so far that it will be a distant memory. My pastor friend Jess recently said to me over the phone, “When we get home, the water we perceived to be up to our necks will have shown to barely touch our ankles.” If there’s one thing I want you to take from this record, or this blog post, it’s that. Paul wasn’t lying when he wrote in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

The suffering is real. But the stories are true. Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.

           
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This Tuesday, November 24, 2020
Jon Foreman Doubt - EP [Lowercase People]


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Jeff Deyo From Eternity EP (independent)
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Planetshakers It's Christmas Live [Venture3Media]
Jetty Rae Christmas for the Birds EP (independent)
Titus Showers Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - Single [A&P Records]


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Neal Morse Jesus Christ The Exorcist (Live At Morsefest 2018) [Frontiers]


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Patrick Mayberry Breakthrough Miracle Power - Single [Centricity]


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