Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Pull up a Chair CD & DVD - Nathan Clark George

Makes Me Smile

Pull up a Chair CD & DVD
Artist: Nathan Clark George (www.NathanClarkGeorge.com)
Label: Franklin Springs
CD Length: 14 tracks/47:32 minutes
DVD Length: 1 hour 14 minutes plus a 28:52 minute documentary

Nathan Clark George’s music makes me smile. It reminds me that despite life’s harsh realities, living can be good. Where some artists take pleasure in singing about the worst one can imagine, George relishes singing from a faith perspective that makes this world seem a little less foreboding.

He does so with sincerity and a gentleness that reminds me of John Michael Talbot, Catholic music’s troubadour for the Lord. George could easily be the evangelical equivalent. He and his wife, and their five children, have spent the last 3½ years living out of a mobile home as they travel between concerts. The DVD includes an insightful documentary that shows the challenges and blessings of their time on the road.

This togetherness provides a wealth of material for George’s touching songs on family life. But he also excels at writing songs from Scripture. He recognizes that Psalm-singing is something that has been lost to our generation. He bookends his DVD concert performance with two songs of this type at the beginning and end. George exhibits the same kind of skill as Michael Card in joining Scripture passages with likeable and fluid music.

The sound is basic and acoustic. George alternates between performing solo with his acoustic guitar, and performing with a small backup band. Benjamin George, Nathan’s brother, handles drums and percussion. Ross Sermons plays bass guitars, and Mark Stoffel, a Bebo Norman lookalike, is heard on mandolin, violin and BGVs. The mandolin and violin give some of the songs a slight country and bluegrass feel.

George’s classical and folk influences are evident. Growing up, he was more familiar with artists like Simon & Garfunkel than with contemporary Christian music and modern praise and worship. This background gives him a fresh sound that appeals to all ages. His music never gets heavier than pop or soft rock.

“You Make Me Smile” is a love song for his wife. It doesn’t get much sweeter than this. This and the other songs are a window into his heart. James 3:17 summarizes what I see: “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (ESV). Expressing this kind of goodness may be foreign in a culture that calls good bad and bad good. That’s what George, who seems to care little about being cool—other than a few days growth of beard—, does so effortlessly.

The DVD is filmed in High Definition. The production on it and the CD are excellent. The CD includes three strong studio tracks as a bonus. The sound is a little fuller than the other tracks, which are the live performances also found on the DVD.

This is one of those rare releases that can be enjoyed by an entire family.

Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion - Richard J. Foster & Gayle D. Beebe

You Don’t Have to Go it Alone

Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion
Authors: Richard J. Foster & Gayle D. Beebe
Publisher: IVP Books
Pages: 364

Among some Christians, there is little, if any, attention paid to church history or those who have gone before. In some cases, the writings and thoughts of past luminaries may be disregarded or frowned-on because of their religious tradition, or because some of their teachings are considered controversial or unorthodox. Our tendency to write people off that we disagree with is tragic. We end up losing out on whatever we might have learned from them and may diminish their significance in the eyes of others. I’m not suggesting that we embrace false doctrine. When we encounter teaching that may not be correct, one noted Bible teacher of the past likened it to eating fish: “eat the flesh and spit out the bones.” This is an approach that I favor, one that requires us to become mature, able to distinguish between right and wrong.

This is the broadminded way that Richard Foster and Gayle Beebe take in Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion. They serve-up the best from twenty-six different historical figures who in some way have contributed to our understanding of experiencing God.

The book is divided into seven major sections. These consist of the seven primary paths to God that have been recognized throughout Christian history. The authors summarize them as:

 The spiritual life as the right ordering of our love for God
 The spiritual life as journey
 The spiritual life as the recovery of knowledge of God lost in the Fall
 The spiritual life as intimacy with Jesus Christ
 The spiritual life as the right ordering of our experiences of God
 The spiritual life as action and contemplation
 The spiritual life as divine ascent

The three or four individuals selected for each section were chosen “because of the way their witness to Christ has endured over time and guided people through the ages.”

The mature perspective, the ability to place individuals and events in their historical context, the expert synthesis of each individual’s thought and major writings, plus the simple but profound practical applications at the end of each chapter, combine to make this an outstanding resource. One slight drawback might be that you don’t get much of each person’s own words, but it would be hard to adequately represent their teachings through quotations in such short chapters. Some of these original writings can also be difficult to read. But if that’s what you want, each chapter gives you the titles of major writings. The book serves as a fine introduction to many of the brightest lights in church history.

This is easy to read and the chapters are short enough that you can read one a day as a devotional. The content is deep enough to provide much to think about. Richard Foster, who writes the “Reflecting and Responding” sections in each chapter, wisely chooses to keep his applications simple. Some of the thought is complex and as helpful as it may be, it’s important not to get overwhelmed or to try and copy the experience of someone else. We never want to lose the simplicity of personal devotion to Christ. Fortunately, the authors are of a similar mind in that they keep Christ at the center. One way to approach the book is to be like the Bible character Ruth in the fields of Boaz. Anyone can glean from the wealth of material presented.

Though I’ve read about a number of individuals covered in this book, I count it a joy when I can learn about people that are not as familiar. One such person for me was George Hebert, an English poet and pastor. His appreciation for beauty and language are endearing and an uncommon reminder of the role that they can play in our life with God.

Is humility something we can work at? Wouldn’t that generate pride in our ability to achieve it? If you are tempted to think that there is nothing that can be done to foster humility, you may want to read Benedict of Nursia. He “leads us through twelve degrees of humility that usher us into the presence of God.” One of the most interesting is “to speak gently, using reasonable words and humane tones. This emphasizes the way human speech can lift up or tear down.”

If you have ever read much of A. W. Tozer, regarded by some as an evangelical mystic, you may have come across repeated references to a book that was influential in his life and the lives of many others. The Cloud of Unknowing by an anonymous author is completely summarized here, so that I now know what it’s all about. The “cloud of unknowing” represents all that we don’t know about God. Our mind can make us aware of our lack, but this classic emphasizes that it’s only though our love for God that we begin to penetrate that cloud.

Don’t be tempted to think that this book might be too mystical, or one that advocates more of an ascetic lifestyle. I was pleasantly surprised throughout by the authors’ practical emphasis. They and their subjects continually remind us of our need for community and combining devotion with action. Love for God and service to others is a theme echoed frequently.

Some of us may have started out in the Christian life thinking that we are on our own when it comes to spiritual growth. This books shows that many others have traversed that path, and there are helpful things we can learn from their experience.

Rock Gets Religion - Mark Joseph

Christians making music for the many rather than the few Rock Gets Religion: The Battle for the Soul of the Devil’s Music Auth...