Sunday, September 29, 2013

Overcomer - Mandisa

An encouragement to Miley, Katy, Taylor, Britney and Lady Gaga. Mandisa has crafted a near masterpiece of pop that could serve as a soundtrack for all who seek recovery from our fallen state.

Artist: Mandisa
Label: Sparrow Records
Length: 11 tracks/41 minutes

Miley, you are getting lots of attention, albeit for reasons that you may regret some day. You have a monster following, Lady Gaga, but where are you leading? I wonder, Katy, without any condemnation from me, if you remember your first love. Of course, I’m not speaking of a guy, but the God you sang about before your rise in popularity. Taylor, you are a class act, even when you sing about relationships that don’t work out. I’m sorry, Britney, that the chaotic time you went through became a spectacle.

Even though you all standout in the world of pop music, for me, Overcomer, by Mandisa exceeds your work in a crucial way. In short, it’s because it is God-haunted. Mandisa’s faith in Christ permeates the lyrics, offering truth and hope, which our world needs more than ever.

Overcomer may never get the same attention as your releases. Your works will out-sell hers, but this surpasses in glory because she extols the God of glory. It adds a dimension missing from a lot of music, much like putting God at the center of marriage deepens it.

As I listen to the title track, I can sense God’s strength supplanting my weakness. It’s remarkable that no matter where we find ourselves, he pursues us to close “The Distance.”

“This shouldn’t be complicated/This isn’t that hard to see/It’s not about what I do for you/It’s what you’ve done for me,” Mandisa sings in “Back to You.”  The music conveys some of the joy found in that realization. Believing in what Christ has done gives us the hope that we will see him “Face to Face.”

I write to encourage, not condemn. Just as in “Joy Unspeakable,” Mandisa begins it this way, “This is not another song about all we’ve done wrong/We already know/I think it’s time for us to find the freedom and trust of letting go.” It’s ironic that it’s through surrender that we know true liberty. As hard as it might be for me to submit to others, it can provide rest and protect me from making mistakes. Jesus said come to me, and I will give you rest.   

Though it runs counter to our culture, it’s wise to keep oneself pure for a future spouse, as on “Praying for You.” Otherwise, say hello to needless heartbreak. Someone may say it’s too late, but we can begin again right where we find ourselves. Even when we fail, as we all do, “What Scars are For,” looks at past wounds as reminders of God’s faithfulness. It’s not that he inflicts them; he heals us. “They teach me that my brokenness is something that you can use/They show me where I have been/And that I am not there anymore/That’s what scars are for.”

“Where You Begin” is such a great reminder that God starts when we come to the end of ourselves. On “Dear John,” one friend tenderly affirms to another that there is freedom on the other side.

With all the fame and accolades that you enjoy, I hope you won’t dismiss the work of a former idol contestant. She has crafted a near masterpiece of pop that could serve as a soundtrack for all who seek recovery from our fallen state.

The production is impeccable. The music rivals anything on Top 40. It’s immediately accessible but it has depth. Best of all, it deals with the spiritual, which is the real root of our problems.

Maturity does not come easily. Overcomer is like a roadmap to follow. 

Reformation Commentary on Scripture: New Testament XI – Philippians, Colossians

Instead of just consulting something more recent, why not give these ancients a voice at the table?

Reformation Commentary on Scripture: New Testament XI – Philippians, Colossians
Editor: Graham Tomlin
Publisher: IVP Academic (
Pages: 297

The rich devotional insights that grace every page may be the best reason to use any of the volumes in the Reformation Commentary on Scripture series. These ancient Christian commentators are concerned primarily with how Scripture relates to the Christian life. If they were merely engaging in academics it would seem a betrayal of the spirit of their time. Reformers like William Tyndale sought to make the Scriptures accessible to everyone. It reminds me of his famous retort to a bishop that had criticized this life ambition, “If God spare my life, ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plow shall know more of the Scripture than thou doest.” In reading this volume, I get the sense that these commentators are drawing from the deep wells of their own piety as they seek to faithfully expound these texts for the benefit of all, from the ploughman to the highly educated.

Covering Philippians and Colossians, the writers eloquently address favorite topics like righteousness by faith and Christology. In addressing the former, Henry Airay suggests that faith leads God to even reckon desire to our credit, “For such is the fruit of our communion with Christ, that being engrafted into his body and made bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, through him and for him, our faith in him is accounted to us for righteousness, and our very desire to live godly in this present world is accounted to us for holiness of life. If there were no other proof for this point but this which I speak, that the apostle here reckons the Philippians as having always obeyed, though they lacked much in their obedience, because they believed in Christ and desired to live godly, it would be enough. But the Scriptures everywhere reckon the same” (56). Astonishing! How often has this valuable insight been overlooked?

Is it possible to ever think too highly of Christ? How could finite minds ever fully grasp the glory in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells? As Huldrych Zwingli points out, in relation to Christ being the image of God, “By image it means the exact image. That is, he resembles the Father in everything, and not merely like an engraving or a picture” (153). John Owen adds, “He is glorious in this—that he is appointed as the only means of exerting and expressing all the treasures of the infinite wisdom of God toward his creatures” (169).

The perspective of these reformation saints is shaped by their proximity to the events of the reformation. In choosing selections for this series, the editors use passages as far back as the 1400s, and stretch all the way to the mid-seventeenth century. If one was to date it from the time of Luther posting his Ninety-five Theses at Wittenberg in 1517, and ending it with the death of Calvin in Geneva in 1564, this range gives voice to both pre- and post-reformation believers. If the thought in every age is corrected by those outside of it, Christians today can benefit from how their understanding can enrich our own. Just as the Word of God can be like cleansing for the soul, the devout exposition of these commentators can be a source of refreshment in our toxic environment.

Their writings are wordier, but they are also imbued with a loftiness, which is often missing today. Communicators in our time focus on clarity and being practical, which is beneficial. This approach, however, can leave out majesty and beauty because it is not as valued as it was in the past. Older writings like this make even simple truths seem grander. Thankfully, commentators like Michael Card are recognizing the value of nurturing the imagination.
As a Logos Bible Software user, I note that three volumes in the series our available as electronic books, which makes them searchable and adds to their value. Hopefully, the publisher will eventually put the complete set in this format. In any form this scholarship is a worthwhile addition to any library.

Instead of just consulting something more recent, why not give these ancients a voice at the table?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Awaken Love - Matt Gilman

Gilman captures the imagination with the beauty, majesty and humility of God.

Awaken Love
Artist: Matt Gilman
Label: Forerunner Music (
Length: 11 tracks/55 minutes

On Awaken Love Matt Gilman’s instrument of choice is the piano. The disk label shows Gilman from behind, his hands gracing the ivories. I imagine that this is how many of these studio tracks came to be. Each of these modern worship songs were written or co-written by Gilman. Producer Ed Cash (Chris Tomlin, Kari Jobe, Steven Curtis Chapman, David Crowder) gives this a full sound.  

It’s evident from the lyrical content and delivery, which is saturated with Scripture, that Gilman is earnestly passionate about worship. He seeks to capture the imagination of listeners with the beauty, majesty and humility of God. On “This is My Beloved,” every line is a description of Christ’s loveliness. As C. H. Spurgeon wrote, “Every attribute of God should become a fresh ray in the sunlight of our gladness.”

Gilman’s piano playing lends elegance to the quieter tracks like “Though You Were Rich,” and the ending “Closer,” which are both stripped-down. The latter is just piano and a stringed instrument. The former was written as a four stanza hymn that covers the life of Christ. Both are favorites. I would like to hear more of this side of Gilman but recognize the need for the welcome diversity found on this release.

Those looking for anthems will not be disappointed. The piano playing frequently gives way to a crescendo of rock. The opening “As the Deer,” mines most of Psalm 84 before breaking into a driving chorus taken from Psalm 42. It’s also one example of Gilman drawing from multiple passages.

I like the combination of powerful sentiment and captivating music expressed in the bridge near the end of “New Jerusalem”: “I love the day of Your appearing / I want to hasten Your return / The Spirit and bride say come for Your beloved ones.” It reflects a healthy and holy attitude.

The opening lines of “Eyes of Mercy,” accented with a little hip-hop percussion, serve as a clear expression of God’s grace, “My heart is dark, but You say I am lovely / My shame is gone for I know that I am beautiful in Your eyes / Nothing can take me away from You / I’m Yours.”

This is the first solo album from this former International House of Prayer of Kansas City worship leader. Gilman, his wife Alexia, and their twin sons are becoming part of the Orlando House of Prayer.

His song, “Holy,” which is featured on this release, was recorded by Kari Jobe and Kim Walker of Jesus Culture.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The World is Waking Limited Edition - Unspoken

“Good fruit demands a good tree” (J. H. Jowett)

The World is Waking Limited Edition
Artist: Unspoken (
Label: Centricity Music
Length: 10 tracks/34 minutes

What surprised me about The World is Waking by Unspoken are the soulful vocals of lead singer Chad Mattson. His tone and style remind me of Jimmy Needham. The R&B influence adds distinction to the band’s pop/rock sound.

The opening “Lift My Life Up,” summarizes the sense of abandon that ties the release together. The album clearly points to God as being the source of every need and celebrates His provision.

It starts with a bang. On the opening, “Lift My Life Up,” there is a pause just before the thud of a drum launches a chorus of guys shouting, “I lift, I lift my life up / I give it all in surrender / I lift my heart, I lift my heart up / You can have it forever / All my dreams / All my plans / Lord, I leave it in your Hands. Have your way.” It’s a catchy chorus. Listeners that know hymns also hear a line that may sound familiar but with an updated ending, “Take my life and let it be … all for you.”

Some songs, like the title track, convey the sense of peace that comes from placing all in God’s hands (“In Your Hands”) and leaving old ways behind (“Walking Away”).  

The rhyming wordplay on “Walking Away” makes it memorable, “I’m walking away from the trouble / Walking away on the double.” It highlights the decisive nature of repentance.

If there was a time when the organ fell out of use in popular music, I am thankful for its return. It adds warmth to the chorus of “In Your Hands.”

The three aforementioned songs are part of the first five tracks, which are produced by Seth Moseley. Moseley and Jason Ingram, both well-known and respected in the industry, are co-writers on “Lift My Life Up” and “Walking Away.”

The production and writing on the second set of songs is no less engaging. “Just to Get to Me” is a bittersweet highlight, “Sometimes You shatter dreams / You tear down walls / You wake me up when I’m half asleep / Just to get to me / You shower me when I don’t deserve / You never hold back anything, no / Just to get to me.”

“Who You Are” affirms that it’s never too late to change, “You can never fall too hard, so fast, so far that you can’t get back when you’re lost / Where you are is never too late, so bad, so much that you can’t change who you are.” 

J. H. Jowett wrote, “When the soul is ‘true,’ all our words, and deeds, and gestures will be ‘of the truth,’ and will be true indeed.” Undone make the tree good; the songs are the good fruit. This encourages listeners to be right at the Source. When we are, the offspring will be faith, hope and love.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Radiate - Tricia

Radiate fills a void of encouragement, especially for girls and young women, to rise above cultural norms.

Artist: Tricia
Label: Inpop Records
Length: 12 tracks/39:58 minutes

As I listened to the words of “Everything as Loss,” the opening track on Radiate by Tricia, my heart leaped for joy. More than all the mixed messages that we get on the radio, this is what I want to hear. This has the familiar big beats and electronics, but most compelling, a mature spiritual perspective.

The opening line expresses it well through seldom used sarcasm, “What I want / What I need / Has got me running after the temporary / Like the stuff that I get will make me complete.” I want to laugh out loud at hearing what I know to be true said in such a funny way. Oh, for a revolution in radio where we get such a winsome combination of truth and creativity.

The booming chorus provides an alternative to fleeting pursuits, “Let my life prove that compared to what you finished on the cross / I count everything as loss.” It’s amazing how such monumental truth can fit so well in a pop song. This song deserves a wide audience.

Some tracks deal specifically with identity, image and esteem issues for girls and young women. The chorus of “Mirror Mirror” is adapted from the old fairy tale, “Mirror mirror on the wall / Do you really think you know it all / You don’t know me / You don’t own me / Mirror mirror on the wall / It doesn’t matter what you think at all / We’re more than just a reflection / Because when I look at you / All I see is beautiful.” This reminds listeners that each person is an individual, an original, made in God’s image and loved by Him. Beauty is more than superficial features.

“Good to be a Girl” mixes attitude and humor in marching orders for an “army dressed-up all in pink.” Girls need not be ashamed of being different. In a call and response section, even the guys are asked if they get it.

A different side of Tricia is expressed on “Love Will Not Let Me Go” and “What I Know,” which are serious keyboard-driven ballads. Both provide comfort.

The biggest, most delightful surprise is “Without You,” a folk-infused praise song. Banjo and handclaps add to a gentle driving sound. I am glad that artists like Mumford & Sons have popularized this style. Otherwise, what may be my favorite might not have shown up on this release.

Tricia is the lead-singer for Superchick. Radiate is a collaboration with her producer-husband, Nick Baumhardt (Stellar Kart), who co-wrote many of the songs.

Role models fall short, just as we all do. Radiate fills a void of encouragement, especially for girls and young women, to rise above cultural norms.

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...