Saturday, April 18, 2009

Live Revelations: On Stage Off Stage Back Stage DVD/CD - Third Day

Third Day in context

Live Revelations: On Stage Off Stage Back Stage DVD/CD
Artist: Third Day (http://www.thirdday.com/)
Label: Provident
Length: DVD – Approximately 72 minutes plus bonus material; CD – 9 tracks/35:35 minutes

If context is important in interpreting Scripture, it’s also helpful in getting to know Third Day. Live Revelations follows the concert DVD trend of taking the viewer behind the scenes between song performances.

This documents the fall 2008 Music Builds Tour, which Third Day co-headlined with Switchfoot. It records times and destinations, life on the tour bus, backstage banter before and after concerts, meeting with fans, getting together with family in Atlanta (the band’s hometown), interaction with Nigel James (Tour Pastor), and other events along the way.

Viewers get to follow the band through their days to the stage and off again. One of the most touching moments is hearing the band members talk about their families and seeing how they interact. “Born Again” from Revelation plays not only in the background but also on heartstrings as you see the sacrifices that these families make. Other songs from Revelation serve as background for other segments, so there’s no shortage of music on this DVD.

The majority of the concert songs are from Revelation, but you also get a short, acoustic version of “Cry Out to Jesus,” in which the audience sings along. In addition, Third Day perform the reworked version of “Thief,” originally from their first album, and “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “Rockstar” from Wire.

It’s not until the second half of the DVD, during the Nashville segment, that you have more than one song together. In the previous sections, the pattern is one song followed by a look behind the scenes and then another song. You get three uninterrupted songs in the Nashville sequence.

The performances and technical aspects are all excellent. Robert Randolph makes the only DVD guest appearance on “Otherside.” The flames on the screens in the background are entirely appropriate as Randolph and the band heat it up with passionate playing.

The CD has a couple of songs not found on the DVD. The most interesting is a performance of the old U2 song “When Love Comes to Town,” which brings together Third Day, Robert Randolph, Jars of Clay and Switchfoot.

The sound on the CD is not as clean as I would like, but it may be as close to normal as they could get for a rock concert. The CD serves as a nice extra—the DVD is clearly the main attraction.

The highlight of the bonus material is the music video for “Revelation.” It includes numerous images of what is known as “Salvation Mountain.” Located in the California desert outside of Palm Springs, this is artist Leonard Knight’s visual presentation of the gospel. The cover art (also found on the Revelation CD) is a representation of the mountain. Live performances of “Slow Down” and “Tunnel” are also part of the bonus material.

Third Day rocks on this release but what I appreciate most is the fascinating look into their lives. Viewers will appreciate the authenticity. This is a must-have for Third Day fans and a great way for anyone to get to know the band better.

Then Sings My Soul: 24 Favorite Hymns & Gospel Songs - Ronnie Milsap

Country star shines on first gospel release

Then Sings My Soul: 24 Favorite Hymns & Gospel Songs
Artist: Ronnie Milsap (http://www.ronniemilsap.com/)
Label: Star Song Music
Length: 2 CDs (24 tracks/84:04 minutes)

It was just a matter to time. Country music star Ronnie Milsap knew that he would record a gospel album, he just didn’t know when.

His timing is appropriate. These are difficult days, and there is a comfort in songs that not only highlight gospel truths but also bring back fond memories. These songs have served as the soundtrack for many adults, especially while they were growing up. It would be a mistake though to just associate these songs with sentimental thoughts of the past. Their sometimes simple but timeless revelations still speak to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

They made a lasting impression on Milsap when he was only young. After being abandoned by his mother and told that his blindness was a curse from God, he grew up with his grandparents who loved him and took him to church. That was where he first heard songs of faith and discovered that he could memorize music quickly. As an adult, he has sung, “The Old Rugged Cross” for years, but has only now recorded it.

This 2 CD collection has both the popular and the lesser know. Alongside classics like “How Great Thou Art,” “Amazing Grace” and “Holy, Holy, Holy,” you get wonderful versions of “Father Along,” “Peace in the Valley” and “Swing Down Chariot.” There are also three new songs plus the contemporary songs, “Soon and Very Soon,” “Stand By Me” and “People Get Ready.”

The arrangements are reverent with subtle creativity. One refreshing departure is a slowed-down “I’ll Fly Away,” which is graced with a beautiful piano bridge. It breathes new life into an often-recorded song.

The music has a timeless quality that is a hybrid of country, gospel and pop. Milsap is one of country music’s most successful crossover artists into the world of pop. That skill is in evidence here, which gives this broad appeal. You don’t have to be a country music fan to enjoy this.

It’s amazing that his voice is in such fine form and that he sings with such warmth at the age of 66. The renditions are all excellent, and especially beautiful when he sings tenderly.

In an interview with Andy Argyrakis, Milsap expressed his desire for this recording, “I hope that they (gospel audiences) believe what they hear, because it’s real. It’s really me at this time in my life, and I hope they will open their hearts and accept me.” He’s made a believer out of me, and this release ought to be widely-embraced by the Christian community. It’s a feast for lovers of hymns and gospel music. I hope for more recordings like this from this talented artist.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Christianity Beyond Belief: Following Jesus for the Sake of Others - Todd D. Hunter

A call to a larger story

Christianity Beyond Belief: Following Jesus for the Sake of Others
Author: Todd D. Hunter (www.toddhunter.org)
Foreword: Eugene H. Peterson
Publisher: IVP Books (www.ivpbooks.com)
Pages: 199

I did not need to look beyond Todd Hunter’s opening acknowledgements to find something that I could appreciate. His broadmindedness was evident (no small thing) in his claim of indebtedness to viewpoints as diverse as Greg Laurie and Chuck Smith on the one side and John Wimber on the other. Along with others, I have had reservations about the latter’s teachings, but I see in Hunter’s writing a maturity that has drawn from the best of his influences while avoiding the controversial. His gallery of mentors includes Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Eugene Peterson and N. T. Wright. If you appreciate their teachings and writings, you will enjoy this book.

In the foreword, Eugene Peterson sets the stage for what is to follow: “Story – the Jesus story, the king story, my story – take priority over information and argument in the way we go about following Jesus.” Without denigrating the need for right belief, Hunter emphasizes that Christianity is a way of life. He defines eternal life as “the quality of life derived from and lived within the kingdom of God. It is personal, intimate communion with the Trinity.”

Hunter places the doctrines of sin, forgiveness, heaven and hell within the context of humanity (and creation) being restored to fulfill God’s purposes. This keeps Christianity from being reduced, as it has been in our day, to just a personal relationship with God. This is a much broader view of salvation than just “inviting Jesus into your heart” and escaping hell. He argues that this makes “the forgiveness of sins the sole plot line.”

He sees forgiveness as not the finishing line, but the starting point for “forming a new life, a cooperative friendship with God.” This is one of four pivotal phrases that summarize his understanding of what it means to be a Christian. The following four concepts are unpacked in detail:

1. Cooperative friends of Jesus
2. Living in creative goodness
3. For the sake of others
4. Through the power of the Holy Spirit

The goal in all of this is becoming whole so that we can participate with God in his plans for the world. Heaven is our destination, but not the end. The emphasis is on serving God through living for the benefit of others.

Hunter offers practical examples in a spirit of humility. He takes pains to make the work of the Holy Spirit seem natural rather than something that is controversial and spooky. This is a welcome reminder of what a difference the Spirit’s help can make.

Much of the book seems to be a response to the alarming decline in church membership, the growing hostility to Christianity, and the growing numbers of people who identify themselves as non-religious. Hunter’s thoughts offer a way out of this wilderness. I appreciate his efforts to communicate the Christian faith afresh to an unchurched, post-modern generation. It’s not that he is reinventing what it means to be a Christian. He succeeds in turning our attention to truths that have been neglected.

This book effectively makes the case that it’s not enough to have right belief. As important as that is, it must be accompanied by right practice. For too long those outside the faith have seen little that attracts them to it. They want to see the difference that Christ makes in our living.

A key to making that a reality and implementing the concepts of this book is what Hunter calls Three Is Enough (TIE) groups. The idea is for a group of three people to bind together for the purpose of creatively doing good for the sake of others. While relying on the leading of the Holy Spirit, group members look for opportunities to serve those around them. It can be as easy as just paying attention to people in our environment and being available, so that God can use us in their lives.

TIE groups have a dual nature. They simultaneously focus “on the inward journey of spiritual transformation and the outward journey of serving others.” Hunter provides significant evidence that a group of three is an ideal number. The chapter contains a wealth of practical information and examples on how these groups function.

I was reminded of the need for this type of book in a recent conversation with my sister. She is one of many who identify themselves as Christians but do not affiliate with a church. Having been part of various churches for years, she and her husband can’t relate to what many churches have become. It would be easy for me to be right there with her, since churches are often disappointing.

Authenticity is paramount for my sister. I also prize humility. It’s what many people inside and outside the church want to see. This book is a helpful step in that direction, and in writing it, the author models both of these qualities. He avoids the controversies that divide the church and provides a vision that every Christian can rally behind. He has a heart to see people become genuine Christ-followers, who participate with God in the larger story of fulfilling his plans.

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

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