Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Stand in Awe - Jon Thurlow

Things are not okay, and they won’t be until Christ returns.

Stand in Awe
Artist: Jon Thurlow
Label: International House of Prayer (
Length: 11 tracks/1 hour 1 minute

Stand in Awe by Jon Thurlow strings biblical allusions together, conveying longing and hope for the transcendent. This is a less is better approach. Better to have five words that are inspired than a hundred that are not.

A slight drawback is it that it tends toward repetition. On the upside, this can aid a person in concentrating on the object of worship more than singing words. That’s the downside of more complicated songs. It can become an intellectual exercise.

Those who want a meaningful balance have no need for concern. There is plenty to meditate on, and the repeated phrasing can facilitate it. It gives one the chance to catch what is being sung.

One of the brightest moments is “Have the Glory,” which starts with bouncy drums and synth, reminiscent of The Killers. This highlights the parable of the soils, where Jesus talks about the good soil producing thirty, sixty and even a hundred fold from what is sown. A. W. Tozer, who could focus on truth like a laser, once remarked about the absence of joy in worship. Even though we have innumerable praise choruses and try to manufacture gladness, his sentiment, spoken many years ago, would seem to hold true in our own time. The note of joy endears me to this track. How we need authentic manifestations in our gatherings today.

On the more somber side, but not inappropriately, is the title track. It begins with violin taking the lead, much like Michael W. Smith’s “Agnus Dei,” which is similar in style. There is a slow build to a crescendo before it begins to ebb like a retreating tide.

In between these two songs, Thurlow throws a bit of a changeup, using light jazz, R&B, gospel and strings to provide more lightheartedness and welcome variation.

Lyrically, many of the songs here and on other International House of Prayer (IHOP) releases, reflect a theology of having a strong love for Christ. The danger to which they may be most susceptible is to distort and take the bride and bridegroom analogy to an extreme.

The January 30, 2014 issue of Rolling Stone featured the article, “Love and Death in the House of Prayer,” which profiled an offshoot of IHOP and shows how dangerous wrong thinking and practices can be. It should serve as a cautionary tale to everyone, especially those connected with this ministry. After reading the article, I can more readily see the influence of IHOP doctrine in the music releases, not that it is all bad.

I digress further, but I can’t help thinking that it would be beneficial if IHOP leaders allowed their theology and practices to be scrutinized. It may need to come from outside the organization. Pride makes us believe that we know best and are not answerable to anyone. What life might come from being humble and teachable, willing to admit when we are wrong.

On a lighter note, piano is Thurlow’s instrument of choice, so there are plenty of keyboards. They help close this release with “Things are Not Okay.” I liked this title, even before I heard the song. It does not disappoint. It’s a fitting conclusion that reminds listeners that this world won’t be right until Christ returns. What’s wrong includes our faulty attempts to live the Christian life.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Hymn Sessions, Vol. 1 - Jimmy Needham

Words fail to describe the joy

The Hymn Sessions, Vol. 1
Artist: Jimmy Needham
Label: Platinum Pop
Length: 10 tracks/40:44 minutes

The Hymn Sessions, Vol. 1 by Jimmy Needham reminds me that language often falls short in conveying reality. Think of Scripture’s depiction of heaven. It is a glimpse through a glass darkly. What we see and know is little more than the tip of the iceberg.

How do I describe Needham’s interpretation of “Rock of Ages”? Is it funk? Is it R&B, or some combination of both? Words fail me. It starts with vocal gymnastics that are a prelude to snappy percussion. Bass lines dance around big beats. Whatever it is, my heart is smiling.

As much as I like hymns, some are so familiar as to make them tiresome. Not so here. These adaptations, which vary from straightforward to exotic, have me alternating between jumping for joy and feeling peace like a river.

“Great is Thy Faithfulness” is just soulful singing and expert picking on an acoustic guitar for a pristine loveliness. “Holy, Holy, Holy” begins with raw emotion and the sounds of a church organ. It takes on a beautiful delicacy as piano, acoustic guitars and background vocals, courtesy of Shane & Shane, provide restrained accompaniment.

At the other extreme you have songs like “How Great Thou Art.” Rapper Trip Lee riffs on the greatness of God before Needham jumps in with the traditional chorus to the sound of rock chords. It’s a long way from a song for altar calls, but it becomes more relevant to a new generation.

“Come Thou Fount” is jazz complete with horns. This may be too much for purists, but I find it refreshing. It’s hearing the familiar in novel ways.

“Joyful, Joyful” may be Needham at his best. It has a new melody, an added chorus and some brief instrumental interludes, all in an R&B groove. This influence is felt throughout.

The classics are framed by two original songs. After an opening prelude of industrial-sounding Latin chant, “The Gospel” explodes with modern rock. Fittingly, “It Is Finished,” a song about the completeness of Christ’s work brings the recording to a close. It’s a gorgeous conclusion of lofty and delightful sentiments. Words escape me. Descriptions fall short.   

Amazing! On one hand, my mother would appreciate the moments of stark allure. On the other, the wild creativity might lead one to inwardly laugh out loud. As Needham sings, “You make me joyful.” What better way is there to describe it?  

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