Friday, January 16, 2009

Basic Christianity: 50th Anniversary Edition - John Stott

Revisit a classic of the Christian faith from a master communicator

Basic Christianity: 50th Anniversary Edition
Author: John Stott
Publisher: InterVarsity Press
Pages: 160

In searching for books at a thrift store I came across an old, well-worn copy of Basic Christianity by John Stott. Knowing that Stott is a popular and well-respected author, I debated about buying superior content in an inferior package. I regretted my decision to not buy it.

After reading Basic Christianity: 50th Anniversary Edition I realize what a strong apologetic (defense of Christianity) it provides. It’s ideal for any seeker, new Christian or anyone wanting a clear, concise presentation of a historic faith.

This new edition includes a foreword by Rick Warren. Warren’s critics have multiplied with his success. He certainly rises in my estimation when he calls this one of the rare landmark books that everyone in the world should read. Bravo Rick for using the platform that God has given you to point to another book that provides purpose for living.

Also included is a new preface by the author. He reflects on how God has used the book in the lives of others.

Along with updating the language of the original volume, Today’s New International Version replaces the Revised Standard Version text used previously. It makes the book even more readable.

The content is divided into four parts: “Who Christ Is,” “What We Need,” which deals with sin and its consequences, “What Christ has Done,” and “How to Respond.”

One of the highlights is Stott’s focus on the graveclothes in his discussion of Christ’s resurrection. He emphasizes that the position of these items was a clear indication that Jesus had risen from the dead. When those first eyewitnesses saw the position of the cloths, they knew. It’s an awe-inspiring moment.

There may be a number of books that cover the same ground and go deeper and broader, but there are few wasted words in this volume. If you love the truth of Scripture, and appreciate a straightforward presentation, you can’t help rejoicing as you read this.

The intervening years since its original publication have not diminished its power. If it’s the life that prays, it’s also what adds power to these words, which sometimes challenge. Stott has lived an exemplary life, reflected in his being recognized by Time magazine in 2005 as one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World.”

This belongs on any list of the top Christian books ever written.

If you ever come across it at a bargain price, buy it to give away, regardless of the condition. If you love what is pure and right, read this for the simple joy of being immersed in life-changing teaching. It does a Christian good, to reflect again on the old, old story of Jesus and his love.

Acoustic Storytime (Live Songs and Stories) - Jason Gray

Refreshing transparency and humor in song and story

Acoustic Storytime (Live Songs and Stories)
Artist: Jason Gray (www.jasongraymusic.com)
Label: Centricity Music
Length: 22 tracks/77:43 minutes

Acoustic Storytime by Jason Gray reminds me of the early days of Christian music. From the stage, artists shared not only songs but also their lives and stories. Real ministry took place between the set list as performers spoke honestly and intimately about their relationship with God. Back then, much of it aimed at evangelism, encouraging non-Christians to receive Jesus Christ.

On Acoustic Storytime the live songs, studio cuts and stories serve to encourage and build-up Christians. But even non-Christians will appreciate the transparency and humor found here. The songcraft and musicianship are also excellent. Everything fits together seamlessly.

What makes this unique is Gray’s perspective on weakness, brokenness and loss. He makes it all seem like gain as he talks about his speech impediment and God’s dealings in his life. He embodies and promotes the idea that “God’s strength is best seen in our weakness.”

The stories are funny and make a point without being preachy. The most hilarious is about a woman that prayed for Gray’s healing after a concert. The respectful way that he tells it says a lot about his character.

Gray reveals his whimsical side on the love song, “If I Were A Dog.” Here he imagines the benefits of being a canine in the presence of the object of his affection. Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” reinforces the sentiment expressed on “Not Going Down,” a song about standing your ground. I can’t imagine anyone listening to this CD and not being encouraged.

A radio remix of “Everything I Own,” from All the Lovely Losers, his debut recording, is included as a bonus track. All the other songs, whether recorded live or in the studio, are just Jason and his guitar and occasional electronic enhancement. This song has other instruments, but what makes it so powerful is its expression of such a holy desire. It makes me think of Job. When he saw the holiness of God, he repented in dust and ashes. What would I give to be pure in heart? Gray answers, “I would give everything that I own.” He reminds us that life is more than passions, accomplishments and possessions.

As I listened to Gray’s dialogue, I couldn’t help wondering if this happens much today. Just when I might be tempted to think that singer/songwriter’s sharing their music and lives are disappearing, along comes Jason Gray with his wonderfully refreshing take on weakness.

Count me as one of the lovely losers and a new fan.

Monday, January 5, 2009

As Tomorrow Comes - Daniel Kirkley

Passionate inspiration and worship on a strong collection of songs

As Tomorrow Comes
Artist: Daniel Kirkley (www.danielkirkley.com)
Label: Centricity Music
Length: 6 tracks/25:18 minutes

Imagine the voice and conviction of CCM pioneer Steve Green, and the sound and style of Fernando Ortega, and you get some idea of what this sounds like. As Tomorrow Comes by Daniel Kirkley combines faith-inspired and worshipful lyrics with the sparseness of piano and cello.

It’s a production change from Let Love Win, his debut CD. Kirkley’s first love has always been the piano. This is like an intimate concert in the home where he grew up playing an upright piano. It’s where Kirkley first learned to read and write music. “I felt that it was important for each song to be a personal reflection of my life and relationship with my Heavenly Father,” said Kirkley. It adds to the power of the songs.

The spiritual depth in each track inspires faith and hope. The strong content should be no surprise when you consider that the songwriters include Matt Redman, Brooke Fraser, Fernando Ortega, Brandon Heath and Nicole Nordeman. Kirkley’s sole composition, “All is Well,” is of the same order. It’s an ideal end-of-day song and a peaceful and soothing way to closeout this six song EP.

With just two instruments, the sound may be a little too stripped-down for some, but it serves to highlight the lyrics and Kirkley’s passionate singing and performing. His version of “Give Me Jesus” has the same intensity as Fernando Ortega’s. He sings the chorus on “Lead Me to the Cross” in earnest. He communicates trust in Redman’s “God of our Yesterdays.”

This alternates between inspiration and worship, and Kirkley is adept at both. Believers will find challenge and solace in this CD.

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:...