Monday, May 23, 2011

As for Me and My House - John Waller

Tearing down idols

As for Me and My House
Artist: John Waller (http://www.johnwallermusic.com/)
Label: City of Peace Media
Length: 11 tracks/47:16 minutes

The first two songs on As for Me and My House by John Waller are bold battle cries. “Spirit of death you have no place here, I command you to leave in Yeshua’s name,” Waller sings over Middle Eastern sounds on “Our God Reigns.” It’s the opening salvo in a war against the ills that plague humanity. “Our God reigns here,” Waller declares in the chorus. “We claim this ground in Yeshua’s name … the battle’s won, have no fear, because God reigns here.” This and the closing “Bless Us and Keep Us” reference Israel, which is a nod toward the parallels Waller sees between the Christian life and the children of Israel, particularly in the areas of bondage and freedom, and spiritual warfare and dominion.

The next song, “As for Me and My House,” finds Waller in a declarative mode – something he is known for –, but making it personal. “I’m done building my own kingdom,” he sings. A key part of the triumphant chorus is the mention of “idols raised, tear them down.” Prior to this recording, Waller was struck by the realization that he was motivated by a strong desire for recognition in the Christian music industry. He tore that and other idols down after an intense time of seeking God. Words from the William Cowper hymn convey the idea: “The dearest idol I have known / Whate’er that idol be / Help me to tear it from thy throne / And worship only thee.”

Toward the end there is a bridge where Waller is joined by a chorus of children singing, “We will cross over Jordan / We will claim what you promised.” Waller gets the motif right. Jordan has often been likened to heaven, but the Promised Land is the life that we enjoy through laying hold of the promises. Waller knows that it’s a fight, which is why the song is like a trumpet call to Christians, encouraging them to make Joshua’s pledge their own: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15 ESV). This is the recording’s foundation.

The aggressive stance translates into music that often carries a punch. The chorus of “Yes” is similar in sound to a fist-pumping Bon Jovi anthem. Waller continues to rock on “Because God is Good,” co-written by Mac Powell of Third Day and producer Jason Hoard.

It does not slow down until track five, “Somebody Else’s Story,” a winsome song that blends a pure desire to help others with mandolin-accented acoustic music. You find a similar sound on “The Marriage Partner,” which is a tender duet between Waller and his wife Josee.

“Man of the Valley” is a mid-tempo song that opens by describing the mountaintop experiences in the Christian life. “It’s so beautiful way up here / Where the air’s so crisp, and I just wish I could stay / On this mountain where all is well,” Waller sings. Then comes the funny realization: “But I’ve looked around and nobody else / Seems to live here.” As much as one might enjoy euphoric experiences, most of our lives are lived in the valley, which is where God refines us and most of our learning takes place. The delicate female harmony on the chorus is a beautiful touch to a memorable song.

Waller is a skilled singer/songwriter, who occasionally slips into the modern worship mode as on the song “Fallen.” He continually weaves in Scripture from a variety of places – often in the same song – without it sounding wooden, giving the songs added power.

This is John Waller’s third recording. A song from a previous release, “While I'm Waiting," has the distinction of being the only track played in its entirety in the movie Fireproof, the No. 1 independent film of 2008.

You can check out the title track video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjRiNL1HKns.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Luke: The Gospel of Amazement - Michael Card

Amazing commentary is a delight to read.

Luke: The Gospel of Amazement
Author: Michael Card
Publisher: IVP Books (www.books.ivpress.com)
Pages: 284

In Luke: The Gospel of Amazement Michael Card is a scholar. I have known him for years as a singer/songwriter, and more recently as an author, but more than ever this book shows how learned he is in the Scriptures.

Luke continually writes that people were amazed and in awe of Jesus. Card amazes by making the text come alive. Thanks in part goes to his late mentor, William Lane, who told him, “I am going to teach you how I read Scripture.” Lane’s approach is to read with “informed imagination.” It’s engaging the Bible with both heart and mind. It’s asking the right questions to find out what the text means.

Card starts with an astute introduction to Luke the person, which I immediately recognized as Card’s most insightful analysis and best writing. He moves on to major themes before making each chapter of Luke a chapter in the book.

Card describes one of Luke’s themes as “when those who should don’t, and those who shouldn’t do.” The least expected get the message while those who should understand reject it.

Reversal is a key concept in Luke. The blind see. The lame walk. The poor become rich through the gospel. The first are last, and the last first.

Card’s love affair with words, namely untranslatable ones like hesed, becomes apparent. It’s a word that God uses to describe himself. The best translation Card has found takes an entire line: “When the person from whom I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything.” The New Testament equivalent is normally translated “grace” or “mercy.” Card continually draws the reader’s attention to examples of its use.

Luke’s interest and eye for detail enables us to see more of the prayer life of Jesus. I also love how Luke shows Jesus’ concern and care for the marginalized, particularly his tender treatment and elevation of women, some of whom were his closest followers.

That is something this commentary is geared toward producing: faithful followers. Card is excellent at providing a clear, concise sense of the meaning of a passage, which is essential for personal application. He gives us a highly readable, imaginative and informed account of the life and ministry of Jesus. Even though the commentary is brief, the depth of it becomes even more apparent when he gives his reasons for occasionally departing from conventional wisdom. Plus, he does an excellent job in showing how the other gospel accounts differ and harmonize with Luke.

Aesthetically, the book is pleasing to the eye from the cover to the layout on each page. It clearly surpasses the ordinary fonts and styles found in most commentaries. The entire text of Luke is included and italicized to distinguish it from the commentary. Imaginative but simple outlines precede each chapter.

Aside from exceptions, the Scripture text is from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

The chapters are short enough to be read in 15-20 minutes. Reading a chapter a day from Luke while following along in the commentary makes for a great devotional exercise.

This is the first of four books (one a year beginning this year) from Card that will cover each of the four gospels. A collection of songs based on each gospel will be released with the publication of each book and available separately (see Luke CD review).

If you are a fan of Michael Card’s music, Luke: A World Turned Upside Down is what you would expect: thoughtful reflections from Luke with acoustic guitar and piano led music. His special guests include Matthew Ward (2nd Chapter of Acts).

I enjoyed this book even more than some of his others that I have read. The scholarship is impressive, the meaning is clear, and it is well-written. It does not go into as much depth as more traditional commentaries, but it makes a great supplement to that kind of volume.

Many people rightly think of a commentary as a reference book to be used as a resource. This is meant to be read from cover to cover. It’s not written for the academic, which makes the content accessible to anyone who wants to know more about the life of Christ as seen through the gospel of Luke.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Luke: A World Turned Upside Down - Michael Card

Commentary on Luke inspires Card’s latest

Luke: A World Turned Upside Down
Artist: Michael Card
Label: Covenant Artists, Distributed by InterVarsity Press
Length: 11 tracks/42:11 minutes

Few can turn Scripture into song as well as Michael Card. His lyrics cover every book in the Bible, but his new CD focuses on the gospel of Luke.

This collection is associated with Luke: The Gospel of Amazement (see separate review), which is the first of four commentaries on the gospels in Card’s Biblical Imagination Series. A commentary and CD on the remaining gospels will be released in each of the next three years.

Card is currently hosting Biblical Imagination seminars across the country teaching how to “engage with Scripture at the level of the informed imagination.” Judging from the quality of the commentary, and the response that he is receiving from the seminars, these events are worth attending.

Those who know Card’s music recognize that it has always been informed by the Scriptures, but with the release of his new commentary, it’s apparent that he is a scholar, having been mentored by the late William Lane.

His exposition of Luke provides the basis for these songs, which cover the life of Christ from beginning to end. For those who appreciate nativity songs, there are three that cover: the Magnificant (“What Sort of Song?”), Christ’s birth (“A King in a Cattle Trough”), and His dedication in the temple (“Simeon’s Song”). Jeff Taylor’s gentle accordion beautifully ties all three together.

Acoustic guitar and piano predominate making this a mellower, more folk-oriented offering than some earlier releases that had more pop and rock influences. It’s relaxed, mature and inspiring.

He employs banjo and uilleann pipes on an instrumental (“A Little Boy Lost”) and on the last song (“Seven Endless Miles”). His banjo playing is not fast, but steady and strong, and the interplay with the pipes is a delight. It gives these songs a Celtic feel.

“The Pain and Persistence of Doubt,” set between the crucifixion and the resurrection, is just piano and strings at their most mournful. It captures a mood of melancholy, since Christ’s followers were not expecting him to rise. The somber tone has a beauty of its own.

Community is important to Michael Card. He sees the creative muse springing from collaboration rather than solitude. Three of his four children contribute, along with Matthew Ward (2nd Chapter of Acts), Kirk Whalum, Scott Roley and others. Matthew Ward and Kirk Whalum (saxophone) are featured on the opening standout track (“A World Turned Upside Down”), and Ward also sings on “A Breath of a Prayer,” which is a combination of the Jesus Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer. Matthew Ward’s contribution drew me to this release, and though he and Card have been singing for many years, their voices remain strong.

On “Freedom,” Card starts off singing, “I am lost and I am bound / And I am captive to the shame that keeps holding me down.” With just piano, strings and vocals he succeeds in capturing the heart’s cry to be free from the burden of sin. I also appreciate that he continually points to Christ as the answer. He is our freedom. He is the bread and wine. Card doesn’t get any better than this for me. Each of his recordings has a gem like this that resonates deeply.

Ironically, this is the only song that is not directly tied to a passage in Luke. Perhaps it says something about the challenge of adapting scripture to song, which can make it sound wooden. More likely, “Freedom” is a favorite because the lyrics are personal and vulnerable, making them highly relatable to all of us who feel the burden of being human in a broken world.

I welcome scripture songs like the ones found here for the truth and life they contain. It’s not hard to appreciate how artful Michael Card is with these texts. Best of all, he fashions them in such a way that they point to Christ. He is the way, the truth and the life.

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