Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Come to the Waters (Collector's Edition) - Children of the Day

Genuine come-to-Jesus moments make this a classic

Come to the Waters (Collector’s Edition)
Artist: Children of the Day
Label: Born Twice Records (
Length: 9 tracks/38 minutes

Simple, diverse, sincere, earnest, and wise. It’s all here and more on Come to the Waters (originally released 1971) by Children of the Day.

It starts with the pleasant, straightforward “New Life,” a welcome-to-the-family song. A surprise follows.

The sound of a flute, followed by some woodwinds, and then harpsichord. The baroque-influenced melody and melancholy lyrics of “As a Child” extend for six minutes. It laments a former childhood openness that has disappeared.

“All Breathing Life” is a cappella, sung in the style of Handel’s Messiah, where parts of words are elongated, and the verses sung in rounds by the four members.

A Jewish rhythm animates the energetic “Children of the Day.” The combination of male and female harmonies, a folk style with no electric guitar, mainly acoustic instruments, electric bass and occasional drums (courtesy of John Mehler – Love Song, Richie Furay Band), with thoughtful, pointed lyrics, made Children of the Day a premier group.

It is unashamedly about a relationship with God through Jesus. We live in a different era. This kind of directness now might be considered preachy, but this does not sound forced. It’s a natural overflow from hearts that are full. It’s the desire to share treasure meant for everyone.

Records like this can remind Christians of their first devotion when God’s presence seems so near. It’s easy to let that slip because of cares and desires. Listening can actually rekindle lost aspirations.

Thanks to my mother, who played early Jesus music records on a stereo that went through our whole house, I had a soundtrack for my early experience just before and then after coming to Christ. Before I ever heard Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, Phil Keaggy and 2nd Chapter of Acts, my mom was playing The Way, The Joy Album, Let it Shine by Suncast, Love Song, The Praise Album, Come Together by Jimmy and Carol Owens, and others. The soft rock and simple lyrics were memorable, calling me. I never forgot some of those songs.

No doubt my mom had heard, “For Those Tears I Died,” the closing track on this record. It became one of the most popular songs of the period. It’s a genuine, moving come-to-Jesus moment, composed by group member, Marsha Stevens, who was only 16 when she wrote it. Mark Allan Powell calls it “an absolute masterpiece … it expresses adolescent piety better than any other Christian song ever written.”

New listeners may not feel a sense of nostalgia, but they can appreciate the sincerity and the primitive excellence.

Another classic invitation, “Two Hands,” written by Chuck Girard (Love Song), is elegantly covered here.

The song that follows, “Jesus Lives,” features background vocals that echo the female lead, all leading to an exuberant chorus that becomes euphoric when they begin to sing, “because of his love.” At that point, just when you think their voices can’t soar any higher, they do. Paradoxically, it’s a joyous song about Christ’s suffering and dying. It celebrates what that makes possible.

We have Born Twice Records to thank for reproducing this classic. As they detail in the liner notes, the masters were long gone, so they purchased a sealed vinyl copy and converted it to digital. Most people won’t be able to tell but those who pay attention to such things will notice. It sounds fine, and if you are into vinyl, you can find this album where used records are sold.

Born Twice Records has produced other classic Christian albums from the 60s, 70s, and occasionally the 80s. You can get the recordings at their website (see the address on the “Label” line).

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Alisa Turner EP

Your daughters shall prophesy

Alisa Turner EP
Label: Integrity Music
Length: 6 songs/26 minutes

Lauren Daigle. Audrey Assad. Mandisa. Sandra McCracken. Hannah Kerr. Now Alisa Turner. I marvel at how God continues to raise up new voices to declare his praise. I wonder if it’s a partial fulfillment of the prophecy, “your sons and daughters shall prophesy” (Joel 2:28c ESV, italic added).

Declaring the truth is one aspect of prophecy, and that is what these young women are doing in psalm-like ways. Of course, many other women could be added to the list, and even seasoned artists, like Jaci Valesquez, Nichole Nordeman and Amy Grant are finding new voice in declaring the riches that are in Christ. God continues to pour out his Spirit.

On this six song EP Alisa Turner expresses the confidence that comes through experiencing God’s faithfulness in the face of challenges. At age 20 Turner suffered the loss of her father and shortly thereafter debilitation caused by Lyme Disease, which left her bedridden for six years.

So she sings not of self-reliance or self-confidence but faith in God’s ability to sustain her. Ongoing health challenges make life difficult, and some days all she can do is just worship. It gives her the kind of perspective heard on the chorus of “Not Even Now,” one of her boldest declarations:
Not even if the sky is falling
Not even when the enemy roars
Yours is eternal glory
You are forever strong

These songs were birthed at the piano where God continually draws her back to himself. The music reflects this, being a soothing blend of keyboards, guitars and percussion. The other instruments continually add pleasant accents. Delicate guitar chimes grace the chorus of “Lift My Eyes.” A well-placed percussion echo adds punch to “Not Even Now.” Just before the bridge on this same track a delightful guitar interlude adds a rock edge.

Songs like “Not Even Now” and “As it is in Heaven” carry further impact when Turner’s voice merges into a chorus of voices.

“As it is in Heaven” adds violin. I like the phrasing in the chorus that summarizes the longing of the children of God, and even all creation:
On the earth as it is in heaven
Oh, let it be with us here right now
Where your word is fulfilled and your glory revealed
Oh, let it be with us here right now

Surely, this is cry that God delights to answer. Lofty sentiments and elegant music make this a majestic track.

The string-laden, piano ballad “My Prayer for You” conveys blessing on the “bruised reed” and the “smoldering wick.” Christ’s passion ensures that it will not be broken. It will not be put out (see Matthew 12:20). Though the melody conveys a touch of sadness that initially may be off-putting, it becomes memorable with repeated listens. This is empathy in music and verse.

Perhaps the most sublime moment comes on the closing “Psalm 13.” It starts out in lament, but then, as is often the case in the Psalms, it ends in praise. It’s just Turner and the piano. It’s the same way that Lauren Daigle ended her debut, and once again I find it to be one of the most moving moments.

This stands in the line of recent worship-oriented releases that are more articulate than the early efforts in this genre. That’s not to diminish the value and importance of simple choruses or songs conducive to a congregational setting. I just appreciate the growth and maturity. Sons and daughters are proclaiming God’s truth in new settings.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Overflow - Hannah Kerr

Young women leading the way

Artist: Hannah Kerr (
Label: Black River Christian
Length: 11 tracks/43 minutes

Hannah Kerr and Lauren Daigle have something in common. They each give voice to a maturity and wisdom beyond their years.

They sing to God in a musical language of todaypop/rock with underlying hip/hop rhythms. I also hear some Euro rock influences on Kerr’s Overflow. In between driving guitars subtle accents from over the pond shape the tapestry of sound. These small sonic details are among my favorite moments.

Kerr has a hand in the songwriting, which teams her with some of the best: Scott Krippayne, Matt Maher, Joel Houston and Meredith Andrews, to name a few.

Similarly, many of the musicians are seasoned pros; Stu G one of the prominent ones. Is that shades of Delirious I’m hearing?

Mark A. Miller does an admirable job of blending organic and programmed styles. I wonder though why the peak levels seem high, saturating the sound. Was this intentional to give it more of a raw and rugged feel? Or is it just my imagination and/or a limitation of my sound system?

Warrior” is a metaphor for life as a battle, and serves as a terrific opening song.
Staring down the face of fear Gotta keep breathingWhen the negative is all you hear Gotta keep believing

I easily identify with the thought that we live in a time of fear and negativity that seems to be getting worse. It’s a challenge but essential to stay in an attitude of faith, as suggested in the song.

Kerr did not have a hand in the songwriting, but she sings the chorus with forceful conviction:
You’ll never stop me, I’m a warrior When I fall down, I get stronger Faith is my shield, Your love is the armor

Pummeling guitars and strong vocals make this powerful song her own.

Never Leave Your Side” is a plea set in the context of a ballad. The chorus is sung from God’s perspective. In addition to the comforting sentiments, what makes this standout is the beautiful wash of keyboards and gentle guitars.

Kerr co-wrote “Your Love Defends Me” with Matt Maher. His imprint is recognizable in the structure and lyrics. It builds to a crescendo at the end with a gospel chorus.

The closing, “Be Still and Know,” features Mark Hall of Casting Crowns. It’s more subdued than the other tracks, being primarily piano and string-driven, but it’s a highlight. The opening lines set the stage for the encouragement contained in the title:
When your heart is anything but quiet And peace feels a million miles away When the world is heavy on your shoulders And you don’t know the path that you should take

Debuts like this and How Can it Be by Lauren Daigle add depth to the modern worship genre. This kind of praise and adoration appeals to me more than some of the simplistic forms that emerged at the beginning of this movement. I don’t mean to discount their value at the time or even now. I just appreciate the growth and maturity in music made by Christian artists, in all categories including modern worship.

We can be grateful to live in such a time as this when artists have a vision for continued innovation and service to others. Young women like Kerr and Daigle are among those leading the way.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Words from the Hill - Stu Garrard

Not a law to observe but a grace to receive

Words from the Hill: An Invitation to the Unexpected
Author: Stu Garrard
Publisher: NavPress (
Pages: 219

Has the gospel become too Pauline? Those who think so see the Christian life being shaped to its detriment more by the teachings of Paul than those of Jesus. Others see it as essential revelation: “You can judge any man’s preaching or teaching by this ruleIs he Pauline? Does his doctrine start and finish according to those statements of Christian doctrine uttered by the Apostle Paul? No matter how wonderful a man may seem in his gifts and apparent consecrationif his gospel is not Pauline, it is not the Gospel and we might as well get our minds settled at once as to that.”

Michael Card, perhaps best known as a recording artist, but also an author who has extensively studied the life and teachings of Christ, might take issue with the preceding statement. A gospel that is strictly Pauline, might be deficient in both content and application in relation to Christ. “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.” How can the message be complete if in form and outworking it does not make visible that Word of the Father?

I’ve read enough to think that a Paul versus Jesus dichotomy is false. Despite apparent contradictions there is harmony. We need not put the teachings of one against the other, just like some do when they pit Paul and James against each other in relation to saving faith.

What something meant to the original hearers may differ in how it applies today, which brings me to the Sermon on the Mount. Some today teach that only Paul’s teachings are formative for Christians. They say the Sermon on the Mount is part of the gospel of the kingdom, a message to the Jews, not to those who have been justified by faith in the gospel that Paul preached. How then are Christians to apply the Sermon on the Mount?

This was my impetus for turning to Words from the Hill by Stu Garrard, best known as the guitarist for the British band Delirious? A number of music artists have shared their stories in recent years, and I have enjoyed some of them, but I can’t help thinking that few of the many available can rival this in importance. It’s due in large part to the subject matterthe teachings of Jesusbut also because Stu G, as he is known, approaches the text with an honesty and humility that is vital to rightly discerning and applying the truth. I’m not saying that it makes him right about everything; just that his approach as a learner is not only necessary but refreshing. All of this makes this book one of the best by a rock star. I call him that lightheartedly because I’m sure that he sees himself more as a follower of Jesus. His gospel is assuredly not too Pauline.

What he shows through his own life, and the lives of the many friends that we meet through him, is what the outworking of the Beatitudes might look like today. His theme is a noble one: Jesus “tells us, when we find ourselves at the end of our rope, at rock bottom, God is there, God is on our side” (xiii). You could say that this is a refrain that he sings over and over again.

Those who look to Paul are sensitive to the division between law and grace. I think one of the unique aspects of this book is Garrard’s seeing the sermon on the mount on the grace side of the ledger: “When I look at the story of Jesus and the message of the Beatitudes, I’m struck by how confronting it is to my comfort level. I really have to fight the feelings of trying to attain something or of not ‘doing’ enough. The temptation to keep measuring myself against others who ‘do’ awesome things is always with me, but it’s such a distraction. It’s so easy to fall into ways of attaining, which completely misses the point. This is about who we are and not what we do; it’s about being and not doing” (43-44). This emphasis alone makes the book worth reading.

Garrard makes the Beatitudes not a law to observe but a grace to receive. It’s more or a description of who we are than something that we should strive to attain. Even so, there is a balance between comfort and challenge. It’s from that place of rest from our strife that God can use us to multiply his family.

Has the gospel become too Pauline? The problem may be in creating division where it doesn’t belong. These words from the hill are incorporated into Paul’s words. There may be a progression of revelation but there is no reason why they need to be at odds with each other. Paul said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 ESV). The line that begins in the Old Testament, which culminates in Christ, runs through Paul to us today.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Where the Good Way Lies - Steve Bell

Bell’s most mature effort makes the Good Way inviting

Where the Good Way Lies
Artist: Steve Bell
Label: Signpost Music (
Length: 13 songs/42 minutes

The attitude in “Bring it On” by Steve Bell on Where the Good Way Lies makes it one of my favorites among all his songs. He could not have picked a better way to open his latest recording. It’s the mindset of “come what may” I can handle it. It is a wisdom born of walking with God for many years:
Less to conquer, less to do
Less inclined to suffer fools
Just happy to grow old with you
Bring it on, bring it on

Written with Murray Pulver, who once again in working with Bell is outstanding as a producer and musician, this epitomizes the wit, beauty and excellent craftsmanship that you find throughout this release.

This is probably the finest all-around recording that Bell has done in a career that stretches over 25 years and keeps getting better. I can’t help thinking that this Canadian who cites a legendary fellow citizen, Bruce Cockburn, as an influence, is following in his steps by combining faith and art in winsome and striking ways.

How fitting that once again Bell honors his mentor by recording Cockburn’s “Love Song.” As Bell writes in the liner notes, it is an example of “his beautiful melodies and more gentle sentiments.” That phrase goes a long way towards describing this release, which contains some of Bell’s best writing and music.

Native American chanting and instrumentation open the title track. This leads into some lone keyboard notes and a voice speaking the word, “seven.” It kicks into high gear with a jazz melody and psychedelic noodling on a synthesizer. Before it’s all done, in addition to Bell’s smooth singing, there is more spoken word, rap and then more chanting as it fades. It’s a wild amalgamation that reminds me of an earlier Bell song, “Waiting for Aidan,” but more advanced. I credit Bell and the producer for creatively making it all work together. With its indigenous wisdom, a reference to the seven days of creation, and allusions to what we all share together, you could consider it a song for all peoples and nations.

This adventurous ride is followed by the sparse, finger-picked, “And We Dance” which has a gorgeous hook. I find it arresting. If I’m doing something else while hearing it, I want to stop and listen. It must be one of the most delicate and tender songs that Bell has ever composed.

For those who struggle with feelings of inadequacy and failure, there is “A Better Resurrection,” a poem written by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894). The barest of instrumentation, which includes a dobro, gives this a bluegrass-feel. This is the background for lyrics that should resonate with any who are feeling a bit battered and bruised by life.
I have not wit, no words, no tears
My heart within me like a stone
Is numbed too much for hopes or fears
Look right, look left, I dwell alone
I lift mine eyes, but dimmed with grief
No everlasting hills I see
My life is in the falling leaf

One could view these lines as depressing, but I find my heart strangely warmed. It’s a reminder that we are not alone when we feel blighted by the harsh realities of life.

Variations on the next two lines become the chorus after each stanza:
O Jesus, quicken me
O Jesus, quicken me

Direct appeal, spoken or sung, is powerful.

Another simple chorus taken from a quote from Augustine“Love is our way to God, for God is love”fits well with the upbeat, shuffling rhythm on “Love is our Way.” The invitation and welcome spring from a sermon preached by David Widdicombe.
All who carry disappointment come
Those who fear the fire of judgment come
And you who teach the royal way is not for some
Shame on you
Now lovers come

The line “you who teach the royal way is not for some” reminds me that the good news about Christ is for everyone, even those with whom we disagree and/or oppose followers of Jesus. As vigorously as we might need to defend the truth, we should always seek to avoid creating stumbling blocks or obstacles for others. It is more important to win people than arguments.

What freedom and joy are expressed in the final stanza:
The only thing left for us to do is love
If this alone be done it is enough

The cheerful melody is the perfect match for this all-encompassing virtue.

Melody, instrumentation and production wizardry come together beautifully on “Ash Wednesday,” which includes harmonica and banjo. The name comes from a service on that day, which provided the inspiration. Far from solemn, this has a full-bodied sound that strikes harmonious notes as the lyrics reflect on our misbegotten attempts to respond to God’s love.

If you have a record player and can afford to spend a little more, get this on vinyl. Analog equipment, that had long been out of use, was purposely restored for this project. Before the digital age, this was the means of recording, and many believe it provides a greater dynamic range. Even on the digital version, the sound is clear and rich. How much better on black vinyl? If I didn’t already have it, I would buy the record. Some releases are worth the extra investment; this is one of them.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The End of Protestantism - Peter J. Leithart

A bold summons to unity

The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church
Author: Peter J. Leithart
Publisher: Brazos Press (
Pages: 225

God’s Purpose & Vision was the title of a series of sermons preached at the non-denominational evangelical church I attended as a young Christian. It became a popular cassette tape package and book.

God’s purpose is for his people to glorify him through the accomplishment of a three-fold vision: being conformed into the image of Christ, evangelizing the world, and attaining to the unity of the faith. Much of the teaching that I have received over the years fits within this framework. Probably the most under-served categoryperhaps because of the challenge of implementationis teaching on the unity of the faith.

Since I first heard these concepts in the late 70s, the church is more divided than ever. Even then without necessarily saying it, many of us seemed to regard our church as superior to the ones around us. I wonder if at least subconsciously that is how many of us feel about the groups that we attend. That type of thinking does not foster unity.

Somewhere along the way I was taught that there is an invisible unity in the body of Christ, consisting of all true believers, regardless of their church affiliation. Leithart attacks that idea along with a host of related thoughts in The End of Protestantism. Right from the start, he boldly challenges the status quo: “Jesus wants his church to be one. But we are not” (3). Christ’s prayer for unity in John 17 is the foundation to all that he writes, and he never tries to make it mean anything less than a visible unity to a watching world.

This is an exhortation to move towards what the author terms a “Reformational Catholicism” (6). Catholic, of course, is used in the broadest sense: “the beliefs and practices of Christian churches that understand and describe themselves as being Catholic within the universal and apostolic church” (Wikipedia). This is Bonhoeffer’s “come and die” call to discipleship expressed in relation to the church. “We are called by our crucified Lord to die to what we are now so that we may become what will be” (7).

In sharing his vision the author orchestrates four movements. The first describes what the church of the future will look like. It dares to describe an entity that “expresses a biblical and Reformational” outlook. What Leithart sees is a “product of speculation and imagination, rooted … in Scripture and, to a lesser degree, in the church’s tradition” (26). He admits that he cannot know in detail what will be, nor how we will get there. “One thing we can know is that it will not be a mere continuation of any of today's churches” (26). It will be biblical but also sacramental and liturgical, and plenty more. Those in non-liturgical churches may find it hard to accept some of these elements. Just as others will be uncomfortable with what isn’t familiar to them, but this is where death to self is needed.

The second movement is a sweeping overview of denominational Christianity in the US. The case is made for and against its development. The verdict is obvious: “Whatever its accomplishments, denominationalism is an obstacle to the fulfillment of Jesus’s prayer for unity” (89).

After viewing the fundamental flaws in denominationalism whose end must come, Leithart takes readers on a historical survey showing how God continually tears down what becomes deficient and replaces it with something better. Applying this to the topics at hand: “Division cannot be the final state of Christ’s church. The names we now bear cannot be our final names” (114).

Even though I may be unsure about some of Leithart’s conclusions, I appreciate his thorough mastery of history and where we are today. This is an excellent resource on all things pertaining to unity. I don’t know of anything like it.

The third movement highlights how God is remaking the global church while the American denominational system is collapsing. He argues that this is an opening for implementing the vision that he lays out in the book.

Lastly, he offers guidelines to theologians, pastors, and lay Christians who want to move toward what will ultimately be a reunion. This is practical enough for anyone to benefit, if they are willing to take the steps. Even so, as we do what we can now, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger offers a helpful perspective:

It is important [to realize] that we cannot bring about unity in the church by diplomatic maneuvers. The result would only be a diplomatic structure base on human principles. Instead, we must open ourselves more and more to [Christ]. The unity he brings about is the only true unity. Anything else is a political construction, which is as transitory as all political constructions are. This is the more difficult way, for in political maneuvers people themselves are active and believe they can achieve something. We must wait on the Lord, that he will give us unityand of course we must go to meet him by cleansing our hearts (Plough Quarterly, Spring 2017, 77).

This reminds me of another obstacle to unity that Leithart touches on, namely, equating the church with politics. He writes, “Reformational Catholicism implies that the most basic political base for the Christian is the church. The church, not America or its interests, is the international context for evaluating and responding to global political events” (190). He is against mingling patriotism with the church.

A friend has written of a bold Christianity that challenges traditional thought. That comes to mind when I think of how this book addresses unity. The standard has been too low. Here is a man taking God at His word. He happily demolishes strongholds in the hope of something better. He imparts the vision and gives ways to run with it.

His lodestar is unchanging: Christ prayed for unity. How can it be otherwise?

Friday, March 31, 2017

Trust - Jaci Velasquez

Like Michael W. Smith, Velasquez combines pop and worship with similar results.

Artist: Jaci Velasquez (
Label: Integrity Music
Length: 10 tracks/42 minutes

Easter approaches as I write. A couple of songs on Trust by Jack Velasquez are easily associated with the season. “At the cross we find healing/At the cross we find peace” Velasquez sings on “Lay it at the Cross.” But what does this symbolism represent? “At the cross we find Jesus/At the cross we find all that we ever need,” we hear in elaboration.

Velasquez sings this chorus like the beacon of light that it is. Apart from Christ’s sacrificial death, we could never be made whole and have peace with God.

The words are punctuated by a synthesizer. It also generates a swirling sound on the chorus of the opening “Trust You.” After its initial heyday in the 70s the instrument became less prominent. Is it making a comeback?

I like the feel-good vibe of “Cross”; no brooding heaviness here.

Have you heard? Trust takes a turn toward praise and worship. For those who have enjoyed Velazquez’s previous releases, there is no need to fear. She does something similar to Michael W. Smith in fusing pop with lyrics of adoration.

That may seem a little sacrilegious to some, but my concern was that this type of music can be bland and generic. Worship for the masses can lose artistic integrity.

For those who might think that popular music styles do not belong in the sanctuary, consider this. If earlier generations could enjoy Fanny Crosby’s “At the Cross,” in the reverential music of their time, why can’t a similar awe and joy be expressed in the musical language of today. That’s not to say that this is for everyone, but I enjoy how this release incorporates the style and production of Velasquez’s past releases. It’s God-ward focus makes it all the more powerful. It’s not such a radical change that fans won’t want to come along for the ride. Some tracks lean more toward pop, others more toward modern worship.

There is only one song that might be called a standard, and that a modern one, “Great Are You Lord.” It’s a beautiful duet with husband, Nic Gonzalez, lead singer of Salvador. The clean annunciation highlights the lyrics. “Great is Your Faithfulness” is an original song, not the traditional hymn.

A favorite here is “I Will Call,” which is more subdued than the opener, but this is why I like it. It has a smooth feel reminiscent of her past work. Breathy vocals and spare, ethereal sounds break into an anthem-like chorus. Part of the appeal of Velasquez is her strong voice, which firmly declares God’s truth. Words of affirmation become dynamic.

Just the thought in the title “It’s Never as Dark as it Seems” is healing. The music is not quite as compelling but suitable.

My favorite might be “Rest.” The guitar is raw and rugged. The style has a subtle 50s influence. One could argue that it doesn’t fit, but I’m so glad to hear this stripped-down, lament-like psalm: “Slow me down enough to hear your voice/Speak your words of mercy over all the noise/Quiet the lies that blind me from the truth/I am Yours, I am yours.” What sounds like a Hammond organ adds texture. The simple lines in the chorus express a common desire: “Lord, I will rest in you/Lord, I will rest in you/Trusting in all you do.”

Back to Easter. If “Lay it at the Cross” is the death side, the triumphant “Praise the King” is the life side. It celebrates the resurrection.

I like this move by Velasquez. It builds on past releases, which include expressions of praise and worship. Those are like the seed, the sprout, the bud, and now we hear the flowering.

Come to the Waters (Collector's Edition) - Children of the Day

Genuine come-to-Jesus moments make this a classic Come to the Waters (Collector’s Edition) Artist: Children of the Day Label:...