Reflections: Perseverant Faith

“The testing of your faith produces patience” – James 1:3

In March, in the tiny community of Esperanza on the west side of Vancouver Island, our group was chopping wood when a hailstorm descended upon us with force, stinging the skin despite our jackets. We took cover until it lessened, then returned to our mauls. Our task was to serve the community by splitting enough wood to stock all the woodsheds. Having no alternative really streamlined our workdays: labour four hours in the morning, break for lunch, resume until dinnertime. Chopping was arduous but simple, as there’s one way to do it: hit the round in the right spot over and over again until it gives.

Many victories are possible through perseverance, and great harvests take time and work. Seeing results is encouraging, but we are tempted to live expecting rapid gratification. We rejoice over answers to heartfelt prayer and a return from seed we’ve sown. But when we don’t see them, faith is tested, sometimes in the company of frustration.

Faith is confident expectation. It involves waiting for something promised. Faith requires patience because everything doesn’t arrive at once, and we need a guard against anxiety about that. Patience allows the fruit of peace to grow.

Jesus declared we would receive the things we believe for in prayer (Matthew 21:22). Sometimes we ask amiss, praying our will be done rather than God’s. God, in his mercy, does not always conform the world to our desires! Yet despite that, God ardently desires for us to pray: “surely the sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing His plan to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).

Christ championed the virtue of perseverance in prayer. Perhaps we have not seen the wood split because we need to hit it a few more times. That’s one way to cultivate perseverance. God may be emphasizing work he wants to do in us to prepare the work he will do through us afterward. Though our prayers may be for the transformation of our situation, our prayers are simultaneously transforming us. Though it’s confusing and counter-intuitive, while you are interested in your destination, He is interested in your heart; entrust that to Him and he will prove trustworthy in it all. It is impossible for us to pray and for absolutely nothing to happen.

Reflections: Wandering

Published in www.convergemagazine.com

“Like a bird that wanders from its nest is a person who wanders from his place” – Proverbs 27:8

I remember my first time witnessing a sparrow hit a window. As the little thing lay lifeless on the ground outside grandpa’s office, it was unbelievable to think that life had departed so instantaneously. Leaving the nest is dangerous, but it’s a necessary process. A bird that never leaves the nest will never learn to fly – foregoing the quintessential characteristic of their species.

Like birds, we all have our nests; a familiar place, tangible or intangible, which we have constructed. We also wander from those nests, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. There are times of distress that force us to pack up and search for something more profitable. In Hebrew history, Jacob’s sons went down to Egypt to escape famine. David, while crown prince, was forced to flee the palace and live as a fugitive. Ruth and Naomi were left widows and had to return to Naomi’s old country.

Wisdom separates these sorts of wanderers from those who simply seek greener grass and are never satisfied. Today’s unprecedented mobility offers both opportunity and disaster. Unbridled experimentation becomes perpetual promiscuity, and I’m not just talking about sex. Unsure of what we seek, we wander, looking with blinded eyes for something that will satisfy. Promiscuity is easy, has moments of exhilaration, but is ultimately unsatisfying.

Our lives are filled with longing for better days. “In this life, you will have trouble”, Jesus says, “but fear not, I have overcome the world”. His challenge was whether you believe God is with you. If you do, your actions will reflect your belief that he is able to make good out of evil, see you through, and finish the work he began in you.

We don’t want to look back over our life and see what could have been if we had only stayed the course. “We feel that under other skies, we would succeed”, C.H. Spurgeon observes. “I may know something about my weakness in the present trial but I cannot know how I might stagger under another. Be wary of changing your trials. To exchange one trial for another is all the relief you will get.”

Not all who wander are lost. Nevertheless, be careful how and why you wander.

25 Albums That Redefine

Typically, unless you’re Pitchfork or Rolling Stone, no-one cares about your Top 25.

But for those hungry for great music, I’m serving bite size portions from last decade’s best independent music.

These artists, who are writing from a faith perspective, are not in the “Gospel & Religious” category assigned by the music industry. Many of them would rather not be associated with that category at all. They’re artists who produce authentic material in their own right, while not neglecting the deeper dimensions of the human experience.

1/ Misty Edwards – Relentless

Misty Edwards’ 2007 release “Relentless” absolutely rocks. It’s passionate faith sung with sonorous beauty, married with masterful guitar riffs and basslines. The quieter side of the album is just as powerful. The album comes as a double disc, with the second featuring acoustic material.

2/ Shad – TSOL

One of Canada’s best rappers, witty and eloquent emcee Shad is Rwandan-born and Ontario-raised. He articulates plenty of his spiritual insights within his clever and humorous lines of social commentary.

3/ Kye Kye – Young Love

Kye Kye’s Young Love is a gorgeous rippling indie glitch-pop wonder that’s equally performed in clubs and sanctuaries.

4/ Gungor – Beautiful Things

The album title refers to the beautiful things that God creates, but in a way it is self-referential; this is a truly stunning album. Lyrically, it is a celebration of many central and tender tensions in the Christian faith. The vision of this album seems equally inspired by the beauty of God’s works and the realization that there is yet much restoration to take place. Doubt, faith, joy and solemnity are all given their due as the listener makes his or her way through the tracklist. The heart and mind come away nourished.

This is Christian music at its finest. Gungor employ a multiplicity of styles and master them. What Gungor presents to their listeners with this release is an album that is sophisticated but unpretentious, deeply refreshing and reflective with meditation. It expresses the band’s growing understanding of a grander God and it dares the listener to open their mind.

5/ John Mark McMillan – The Medicine

For all of his lyrical and musical prowess, John Mark McMillan is not the sort of musician to produce just any song. He wrote on his blog at the time of his second album’s release, “the world has enough songs… if you have to write a song, write something that no-one’s said before”. He puts his money where his mouth is with this album as he paints rich allegory over stunning blues-rock backdrops.

6/ United Pursuit Band – Found

7/ Amber Brooks – Still I Rise

Amber’s debut album, Still I Rise, is passionate, beautiful, and a cry of the heart, personally and collectively. Find a love story in the lyrics about the mutual divine pursuit. Read my interview with her here.

8/ Audra Lynn (Hartke) – Vow

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9/ Sean Feucht & BURN 24-7 – Sacred Mountain

Imagine what ambient progressive instrumental music would be if it was inspired by God, then find it in listening to Sacred Mountain.

10/ John Mark McMillan – The Song Inside The Sounds of Breaking Down

The album with the song that took the world by storm, “How He Loves Us”, is filled with all kinds of good stuff. McMillan is a poet of rare calibre.

11/ The Listening – The Listening LP

With the experience of former band Rock ‘n’ Roll Worship Circus behind them, musicians Gabriel Wilson, Josiah Sherman, Chris Greely, and Eric Lemiere return as The Listening to release this creative and beautiful debut album.

Confident musicianship (You’ll hear them play in 3, 4, 5, and 7 time) paired with yearning lyrics fills The Listening LP and highlights not just the bands’ musical and lyrical maturity but their very passions and dreams. The album is filled with diverse sounds, melodies, and textures, revisiting the same echoes which could be heard in The Worship Circus’ music – Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Doves, Radiohead, and more. Each song is fresh and different, yet there is an unmistakable unity to the album. Each part articulate yet seamlessly woven together with the others; the work compliments the artistic sensitivity behind it and reminds this author of Paul’s demand of the church in 1 Corinthians 12. Whether it is the delightful metamorphosis of sound on “Triple Fascination” and “Be In Your Eyes” or the haunting musical narrative of “Lovely Red Lights”, each piece contributes to a greater vision, a vision the band has laid open to their listeners, an inspired message of hope. The Listening weave a musical story rich with contemporary insights as well as biblical allusion indicative of their spiritual convictions. One song on the album, “The Factory”, is a parable that, like the parables of Jesus two thousand years ago, followers do not always grasp immediately without explanation.

The innovative sound, honest lyrics, and oftentimes unusual instrumentation on The Listening LP blows a fresh breeze into the alternative rock world as well the sphere of Christian contemporary music. Overall, a fantastic record on multiple levels and should appeal to a wide audience.

12/ Brock Human – Come Away

Returning to the States from a trip with Iris Ministries in Mozambique and with the intention to record an album, Brock Human had a puzzling fall into depression and a complete creative block. With his desperate need for God to be real, God spoke to him in a dream. Brock writes, “in six days he showed me greater love than I could have imagined”. Within a week six songs were complete and the album was finished.

The album comprises simple, profound statements of faith and truth set against the backdrop of sweeping guitars, rich piano, and pulsing African drumbeats. The middle tracks are an encouragement of God`s good plans for each life, and a commitment to wait on the Lord. The album closes with a sung Apostles` creed and an instrumental progression. Let Me In is a flowing album filled with the real hope and inspiration of a real God. It is a true testament to the words of Jesus in Luke 18:27, “What is impossible with man is possible with God”.

13/ Matt Gilman & Cory Asbury – Holy

Two virtuoso voices come together to create one astounding album rich in scriptural allusion and prophetic insight.

14/ Will Reagan & United Pursuit Band – In The Night Season

Honest and unpretentious; this album set up the United Pursuit Band to become an influential force in contemporary worship music.

15/ Branches – Everything You’ve Ever Done Has Been Beautiful

Electronica wizard Jonny Hughes’ fantastic side-project called BRANCHES is ambient electronica that is peaceful and phantasmagorical all in one, well-fit for soaking (listening/meditative) prayer. This, his sophomore EP has been called a “heavenly slice of electro indie-pop” and described thus by XLR8R: “Throughout the instrumental affair, Hughes implements a bath of ethereal synths and arpeggios which is built upon using a seemingly endless supply of delicate melodies with interlocking rhythms that precisely play off each other. The first blown-out drum loop enters the procession just after the one minute marker, eventually disappearing only to pop up again in short spurts between a number of incredibly melody-washed breakdowns. In customary electro-pop fashion, the biggest burst of energy is saved for the track’s climax, where giant, glitched kicks and snares fire at will as Hughes’ melodies soar above, unscathed by the tumultuous sounds below.”

16/ Josh Garrels – Jacaranda

Sublime lyricist and instrumentalist Josh Garrels’ breakbeat folk album weaves lyrical poetic tapestries that challenge and clarify.

17/ Jon Foreman – Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter EPs

Jon Foreman (lead singer of Switchfoot)’s solo project brought forth an EP for every season, and did not shy away from allowing us to peer into his own wonderings and wanderings.

18/ Extol – The Blueprint Dives

Extol’s technical musicianship earned the band a Spellemannsprisen nomination for best metal album of 2005. The progressive extreme metal band writes music in subgenres including death metal and thrash.

19/ Jason Upton – Between Earth And Sky

Have you ever heard an angel sing? At the recording of Jason Upton’s album “Remember”, there were full grown men on their faces on the ground. Between Earth And Sky contains live versions with a studio quality of some of Jason’s most powerful songs.

20/ Jesus Culture – Your Love Never Fails

Jesus Culture’s 2008 CD/DVD release featuring Kim Walker, Chris Quilala and Melissa How (Wise) helped bring fresh spirit-led worship to the forefront of CCM by using material from the likes of Misty Edwards, Sarah McMillan, Chris McClarney, and others.

21/ Nina Landis – Fly

Nina’s clarion call to the church carries the urgency of a modern prophet, calling us back to our senses and to God’s heart. It’s incredible how strong the responses one album can provoke. “Fly” is as likely to have you weep on the floor of your bedroom as to rock out in your car.

22/ Phil Wickham – Cannons

The song “Beautiful” of this album is a diamond in a field of gems.

23/ Jeremy Enigk – World Waits

Jeremy Enigk, one of the founding fathers of 90’s melodic punk, became a Christian during his time as lead singer of the Seattle emocore band Sunny Day Real Estate and made a bold move in the punk community by opening up about how he had come to love Jesus and wanted to sing about him. His conversion to Christianity was met with mixed reactions and Enigk’s faith journey continued to be a point of contention in his fanbase. He has since released a handful of albums, carrying a change of tone from his old songs with Sunny Day Real Estate. A biographical account can be found here: http://www.explorefaith.org/music/enigk.html

24/ MewithoutYou – Brother, Sister

Masters of the modern parable.

25/ Rock n’ Roll Worship Circus – A Beautiful Glow

Pioneers of Christian indie music, the Rock n’ Roll Worship Circus’ bizarre name clues you in to the fact that they weren’t afraid to be different. Speaking powerfully of hope for humanity, A Beautiful Glow radiates joy via Moog Synth. Rock n’ Roll Worship Circus now exists as music collective The Listening.

Reflections: Belief

“As you have believed, so let it be done for you” – Matthew 8

Jesus’ disciples barely weathered a potentially life threatening storm as Jesus slept soundly. In panic, they woke Jesus and he pacified the storm around them with a word. As the storm within them calmed, Jesus perplexedly asked where their faith (confident expectation) was. The disciples had great faith in their impending doom, but Jesus needed them to have faith in the giver of life.

Jesus healed again and again throughout this chapter. He demonstrated his power over real and threatening circumstances. Sovereign over nature, he stilled a storm; sovereign over the spirit realm, he cast out demons; and sovereign over life itself, he raised the dead. All of this he did with a word

We are tempted to put our faith in many things and at times may question our ability to stay afloat. Instead, we are to place our faith in God’s ability. Incredibly, God is more real than anything we can experience, for He is not limited by our dimensions. This revelation will revolutionize one’s mind-set. With God, all things are possible.

A pivotal story in Matthew 8 is that of the Roman centurion. Approaching Jesus, he declared his faith in Jesus’ authority to heal his sick servant. Jesus proclaimed that the centurion revered God more than many of the “sons and daughters of the kingdom.” The centurion knew his own authority, including its limits, and realized the authority of God.

Jesus’ response to this man was, “Go your way, and as you have believed, let it be done for you.” To the centurion it was an affirmation that his request is granted.

Whatever we believe can come to pass. Cease speaking negative prophecies over your life – chances are they may come to fulfilment. Instead, seek to align your mindset with God. You will see life if you confidently expect to receive it from its giver. Focus your faith not on the potency of your problems but on the greatness of your God.

What Is Worship?

“In the company of Jesus, there are no experts; only beginners”, Jason Upton sings on a live recording of ‘Between the Graveyard and the Garden’ from his new album On The Rim Of The Visible World. This attitude is one of a humble heart – a soft heart that admits that God is God, and that I do not have everything together. It is a posture of worship.

In contrast, the church finds itself pressured into ‘professionalism’ in ministry and in worship. Professionalism is not a bad trait, but in the church setting, it can spring from roots of what the Bible calls the ‘fear of man’. “In a nutshell, the fear of man can either be a fear of what others think of us or will do to us, or a craving for approval and a fear of rejection”, writes Carolyn McCulley in her articleWhom Do You Fear?

Worship is not quite understood in some common contemporary interpretations. When a congregation is rehearsed into standing to face a particular spot in their building, they can be tempted to devote their attention to practiced musicians onstage and a bright PowerPoint overhead. To an alien, might it look as though the congregation was worshipping their own church?

I had a dream recently that I was in a church and the pastor stood up and announced that it was time to worship. At that moment, the ushers flung the doors open and the congregation poured out into the streets to minister to the homeless in downtown Vancouver. That would be beautiful worship to the Lord.

What is worship? Is it even best represented by music? (I say this as a worshipping musician.) If I allow myself to cling too tightly to a closed definition of what worship is or what it is not, I run the risk of making myself an ‘expert’ on a matter that belongs to God. In fact, arguments and judgments over what ‘styles of worship’ are suitable or unsuitable can divide a church. Might I suggest that there is no particular style of worship at all? Instead, a worshipper exhibits an authentic lifestyle that seeks to please God.

The Lord says this of some: “These people come near to me with their mouths and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13, NIV). What of those rules can we recognize in our own life or in our own community? The judgments we make about our worship, or worse, the worship of others, are a dangerous pitfall. That judgment could stem from different roots, but God’s response is the same: “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?” (Romans 14:4, NIV).

Seemingly, God created worship with an “outside the box” approach in mind. Besides singing, dancing, or playing music to God, how else is worship expressed? Surely I worship God when I sit back and recognize his power. He longs for us to “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) When I humble myself before God and recognize what little I have without him, I honour his wisdom, supremacy, provision, and power!

Worship, too, is trusting God. By trusting his word, I declare that I know him and I know who I am in his kingdom. After learning that his sons, daughters, livestock, and servants have all been brutally killed, the Old Testament prophet Job tore his robe and shaved his head, then fell to the ground in worship. After this, he declared, “naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised” (Job 1:20, NIV).

Worship is closely related to our attitude, perspective, and actions. God declares that he detests hypocritical praise, saying, “Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me! When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you. Wash your hands and stop doing wrong. Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:13-17, NIV).

Worship is in the practice of reconciliation; 2 Corinthians 5 expresses that we have been given a “ministry of reconciliation”. God loves reconciliation more than the offerings of our mouths.

Worship is a posture we assume before God. “Worship is the only possible response that we can have when we see Jesus for what he truly is,” muses Mark Watt, worship co-ordinator at Tenth Avenue Church in Kitsilano, Vancouver. “After we`ve realised the sheer vastness of everything God has done for us, and how he views us, our only response can be utter awe. After Jesus` resurrection, when he appeared in the room to visit his disciples, I`ll bet that some would have started weeping uncontrollably, and some laughing incredulously. Some were probably whimpering in utter amazement. When you are overwhelmed by Jesus, there`s just a gut response. We know they fell and clasped his feet in worship”.

Deep reflection and prayer for self-awareness may be required to overcome the “rules” we and those around us have constructed around worship. However, once we have realize that worship has little to do with form and everything to do with content (the heart), we`ll become more open to it not always looking as tidy as we once wanted and we`ll worship God the way he wants.