Friday, July 31, 2020

Back to the 90's

Time for another walk down our musical memory lane... A couple of days ago we talked about Cain's "Revival"... Well, this week's Flashback Friday features another revival... a Christian rock band formed in Memphis, TN in 1991 - Big Tent Revival

BTR released five albums in the 90's, and were a five time Grammy-nominated Christian blues rock band. There were some great songs on these albums including "Two Sets of Jones" (a song about the importance of trusting Jesus through the storms of life instead of material things, in a style that was reminiscent of Billy Joel's, "Piano Man") "Best Thing in Life" (a memorable rock anthem), "If Loving God Was A Crime" (a soft rock song about not being ashamed of your faith), "Choose Life" (about choosing eternal life- reminds me of the style of an early Beatle's song), "Mend Me", "Famine Or Feast", and "What Would Jesus Do" - which became somewhat of an anthem for the WWJD movement in the late 90's. (Do you remember wearing a WWJD bracelet?)

Perhaps one of my favorites from Big Tent Revival was the 1996 song, "Here With Me":
You said you'd always love me, and you would never leave
Sure as the sky above me, I believe, I believe, I believe

Mountains high and valleys low
Desert land and driving snow
Like a river to the sea, you are always here with me

Few bands in any genre can claim a Grammy nomination for every album they have recorded. Big Tent Revival is one such band. But even with three critically acclaimed albums, numerous Dove and Grammy nominations, and a slew of #1 radio hits to their credit, they insist that the accolades, while affirming, was not the reason the band existed. Driven by a desire for musical excellence and spiritual maturity, Steve Wiggins (guitar/vocals), Spence Smith (drums), Randy Williams (lead guitar), Steve Dale (bass), and David Alan (keyboards), hit the road for 200+ dates per year for one single purpose—to tell the world about Jesus. During the 90's BTR toured extensively across the nation and internationally and were featured performers at the Harvest Crusades which were large scale evangelistic outreaches in the 90s.

In 2000, Big Tent Revival disbanded primarily due to the stress of extensive touring and desire to spend more time with family. BTR did get back together in 2012 and produce an album but received limited success. 

Thursday, July 30, 2020

More New Music Video Releases

A couple of noteworthy new music videos were just released...

REBECCA ST JAMES (a Flashback Friday artist from about 3 weeks ago) has just released a new EP of six songs. This is her first new release in about a decade. In her own words:
About three years ago while I was performing a few songs in Alaska, God radically called me back to music in a time when I wasn’t looking for it! In that season I had been retired for quite a few years and was living my lifelong dream of being a wife and mama. But while singing at an event with my brothers, for King & Country, I was on stage and had this Holy Spirit moment where it was like scales fell from my eyes. I knew God was calling me back to music. He has very obviously led the way in this return to my musical calling, and in times of vulnerability or insecurity, He has shown me that HE is enough, and HE is in control. I’m thankful!
The song that I would like to feature is the title track of the EP called "Dawn" and features her brother, Luke Smallbone (of for King & Country).

The second new video that I would like to share was just released by I AM THEY called "Faithful God". It is the title track off their upcoming new album being released in the fall. It's been more than two years since I Am They released "Scars," the chart-topping and award-nominated single from their 2018 album Trial & Triumph.

"'Faithful God' comes from Hebrews 10:23 which says, ‘Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful,'" explains Matt Hein, I AM THEY's vocalist and guitarist. "The song speaks to our persistence in the middle of what we’re going through because He is faithful.”
I will sing through fire and thunder 
Cause You are on my side 
I trust You with my life 
I know my story, it isn’t over 
Even against all odds 
You are a faithful God 
That’s who You are 
You are a faithful Go
"Faithful God" should hit the CCM radio airwaves in late August.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Raising Cain...

Okay... I know, corny title... Today I want to introduce a band that very few people know about called Cain. This self described "preacher’s-kids-growing-up-in-Alabama, sharing-one-room-all-their-lives, touring-as-a-family-band" consists of Taylor, Madison, and Logan Cain.  They have toured across the US, but just recently started producing Christian music. Their first EP (extended play release) with 6 songs was released this spring and they are are scheduled to tour this year with Zack Williams and We The Kingdom (if this tour resumes this fall we will probably hear more about them, but of course that is all still undetermined).

Cain has some nice songs with good harmonies and an easy listening style that is reminiscent of the 70's pop sound. If I were asked to describe them, I would say imagine the 70's soft rock band, BREAD with sibling harmonies playing Christian themed songs.

The songs on the EP are worth a listen... "Rise Up", "Yes He Can", and "The Commission" are all good and I encourage you to check them out, but perhaps my favorite is Revival:
There are days when I wake up 
And My faith is cold and tired
The light feels so dim
It’s not like me just to give up 
So I’m bringing you my dry bones
Breath in me again 

Need that wind to start blowing
Need these eyes to be opened 
Need my heart to keep hoping
So I’m calling out 

I need a revival 
Feel you moving in my soul
Give me that fire I haven’t felt in far too long 
Holy Ghost come awaken
Bring me back to the days when 
Wonder working power
Was alive in me
I need a revival, revival, revival

and here is the story behind the song "Revival"...

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Fighting Fear

Seems for the past few months the main topic of discussion has revolved around fear.. fear of COVID-19, fear of unemployment and mounting bills, fear of racial tensions, fear of the unknown future... fear. I know that is seems like we have been discussing this a lot over the past few months, but it is an important topic as many people are feeling uneasy and unsure how to handle all the recent storms of life.

So how do we handle all this fear... this uncertainty... this apprehension... this worry? I don't believe that walking around singing "hakuna matata" is the answer. I think the answer is in the assurances of God's Word. And as Pastor Dave said in Sunday's sermon, the answer is in following God's map for the direction we should go. 

Another thought is that it is difficult to overcome fear if all we are doing is reading, watching, and listening to all the problems and issues in the world today. Keeping up on current events is fine, but constantly watching the news definitely does not do much to abate our fears and worries. Instead spend time reading, watching, and listening to things that uplift our spirits. Spend more time in God's Word. For the past few weeks I have been watching a show on TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network) based on Max Lucado's sermon series, Fearless. These one hour shows have been excellent (especially if you are a Max Lucado fan) with a variety of speakers like Greg Laurie and Steven Furtick and musical guests like like Zack Williams, Bethel Music, and more. I recommend this program.

You can watch Fearless Part 1 HERE.
You can watch Fearless Part 2 HERE.
Fearless Part 3 just aired this last Friday. Watch the recording HERE.

Another interesting and relevant Lucado show on TBN about facing fear is Facing Giants. "The latest Goliath we face is not a 9 foot giant, but a virus."

Note:  You will need to sign up to access TBN on the internet, but it is free and they have a lot of good shows (both live and recorded) and older videos (like Billy Graham Crusades) to enjoy. So next time you want to watch something worthwhile and there is nothing on but reruns, check out these shows.

God tells us in Isiah 41:10 "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand" Remember this and you can proclaim the wisdom of the famous Alfred E. Nueman, "What, me worry?" Like it says in Matthew 6:34 " not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." 

One final thought is that when people wonder why you are not afraid, not worrying... remember God's direction to us in 1 Peter 3:15 "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have."

Monday, July 27, 2020

New Music Releases

There were several notable new music video releases last Friday...

We The Kingdom released a new song called "No Doubt About It" from their upcoming album Holy Water that will be released on August 7th. In their own words: "This song is about the journey of life. It can be discouraging to look ahead and see all the mounds of brokenness we have to overcome in order to be whole. But when we look back and see how far God has brought us, it fills us with the courage to keep on pressing on towards the goal."

Our favorite songwriter/storyteller Matthew West just released the official music video for "Truth Be Told" from his recently released album, Brand New. "This song is an honest attempt by me to be, well, honest. Authenticity is easier said than lived," West shared on social media when speaking about the inspiration behind his new song. "I think deep down we all like the idea of showing who we really are, warts and all, to the world. But allowing others to see the rough-around-our-edges, is a scary thing. What will people think? How will they judge me when they know I’m anything but perfect?" West added, "The crazy thing is, the truth is already told when it comes to God. Scripture says nothing in our lives is hidden from Him. For someone who hasn’t discovered the freedom of grace, the thought of a God knowing about the worst parts of your life can really freak you out. But to understand that there is a God that sees every secret sin, every struggle, every thought, every mistake, and loves you still- that is a freedom like no other."

Both of these videos are worth watching, but the video I'm going to feature today is from Charlotte Ave,  a new group that I introduced to you a couple weeks ago. Listen to the beautiful harmonies on this classic hymn:

Friday, July 24, 2020

Flashback Friday

This week we continue our look back 20 to 40 years in Contemporary Christian music with a look at DC Talk. Formed in 1987 as a Christian rap and rock group by Toby McKeehan (aka TobyMac), Michael Tait (who is the current singer of the Newsboys), and Kevin Max Smith (aka Kevin Max) who spent some time as the lead singer of Audio Adrenaline a few years ago. DC Talk stands for "decent Christian talk" and they were one of the most successful CCM groups in the 1990's.

The group has won four Grammys and numerous Dove awards with their distinct sound of a blend of rap, hip hop, and pop. In 1995, their album Jesus Freak achieved the highest first-week sales of any Christian release up to that time and was certified gold within 30 days of release, eventually be certified double platinum. The title track, Jesus Freak, was the biggest hit and was believed to have been the first link between grunge and rap in Contemporary Christian music and achieved some success on secular radio stations. The album also produced hits including  In The Light (which we still occasionally sing in church), Colored People, and though it was not their biggest hit, one of my personal favorites, What If I Stumble....

Later hits included Hey You I'm Into Jesus, My WillWanna Be Loved, Consume Me, and many more.

DC Talk was also known for their memorable remakes of other artists' songs like Larry Norman's I Wish We'd All Been Ready and the Doobie Brothers' Jesus Is Just Alright, Larry Greenbaum's Spirit In The Sky, and Bill Withers' Lean On Me.

DC Talk has been notable for their firm stance against racism and an uncompromising Christian message in their music. Whether or not their music style appeals to you, they were an undeniable influence for a new generation of fans and in reaching a new CCM audience in the 90's. 

In 2000, the members announced that they would take a hiatus to pursue solo careers. Though they have continued to sporadically release singles  and perform together, they have been very successful as solo artists and performing in other bands like Newsboys and Audio Adrenaline.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Call 911

Standard disclaimer: The views and opinions in this article are the rambling thoughts of the author and not necessarily representative of Living Word Lutheran Church.

I've been reading through the Psalms. (Did you know that if you search YouTube, nearly all the Psalms have been put to music?... some are good, some not so good, but many are interesting.) I recently read Psalm 91 and it made me think.. (Admittedly, I cannot claim that this is an original thought or epiphany, but it is a good thought nonetheless.) Here in the United States, 911 is the universal emergency phone number. Ironically enough, as Christians our emergency number should also be 911... Psalm 91:1. 
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This may be the best number to remember in a crisis. In fact all of Psalm 91 is a prayer for protection and strength. A prayer that speaks of God's blessing and protection for every possible attack on the children of God.

It’s hard not to think about the problems we are experiencing today: the pandemic, racism, civil unrest, unemployment, economic disaster, and more. These issues are constantly in the news and have literally touched every area of our lives. We’re separated from family and friends, businesses are closed or struggling, people are suffering. This time is confusing and frightening for hundreds of millions of people. During this historical moment in history, it’s hard not to be anxious or worry. 

But we can take comfort in Psalm 91... it is full of declarations and promises of God’s protection. This Psalm speaks of God’s presence, power, and protection against fear. Fear is the one emotion God doesn’t want to overtake us; because when we fear, it reveals in our hearts how we are relying on our own efforts and not trusting our Savior. Facing all of the problems in life, we have the right to be concerned but we do not have the right to worry or fear. There are over 365 verses about fear in the Bible and even Jesus tells us three times in Matthew 6:25-34, “Don’t worry.” God is still in control. Psalm 91 assures us of protection, comfort, and care. It reminds us we don’t dwell on the news, we don’t dwell in anxiety, worry, or the pandemic. He is our dwelling place.

Don't mistake this as an unconditional promise and proof that life would be smooth sailing; that we won’t face hardship, illness, or any other crisis. God doesn’t promise that we won’t get sick or witness loved ones suffer at the hands of this illness or anything else in life. What he does promise is to be with us and protect us from fear. The promises and plans he has for each of us offers us comfort that he is in control.

Just remember... just like 911 on the phone system. Psalm 91 is a "voice-activated" system. We need to be reading His Word and declaring His promises.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

For the guys...

Does anyone remember Promise Keepers? The organization founded in 1990 by Bill McCartney (head football coach of the University of Colorado at that time). The organization that held large stadium events around the country for thousands of men to gather "for training and teaching on what it means to be godly men".

I can remember attending several events in Minnesota.  The largest was in 1995 at the Metrodome with an attendance of 62,000 men. Though there was some controversy and opposition about the organization and the value of its teachings (as is often the case with just about everything "Christian"), I always enjoyed these events and found them to be uplifting. Unfortunately, by 2000 the attendance at Promise Keeper events had dropped drastically and became nearly nonexistent in subsequent years.

Well, I have exciting news... Promise Keepers is trying to reinvent itself and is hosting a virtual conference July 31st - August 1, 2020. In their own words:
Stand Strong. Stand United.
On July 31 and August 1, men all across the globe will gather via livestream in their homes, with their men’s groups, and at simulcast locations hosted by churches, to experience the Promise Keepers 2020 Global Digital Experience
Registration is free (though they do request a donation if possible), and they are featuring some great speakers: Tony Evans, John Eldredge, John Gray, Luis Palau, and Miles McPherson, just to name a few. With musical leaders of Michael W. Smith, Danny Gokey, and Phil Wickham. This looks to be a very good conference.

Take a look at the event trailer.

The conference runs on Friday, July 31st. from 6:00 p.m tp 9:00 p.m. and Saturday, Aug 1st, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.. I have my ticket. Hopefully you can join me.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Be The Moon

I had previously talked about Chris Tomlin's upcoming new album, Chris Tomlin & Friends that is due to be released on July 31st.. On Friday, he released another new song from the album called Be The Moon featurng country singers Brett Young (platinum selling artist of In Case You Didn't Know, Mercy, and others ), and Cassadee Pope (of The Voice fame).

As Chris explains:
"What I have said to each artist that is on this project is that the idea behind, ‘Be The Moon,’ is the heart of this record. The moon is not striving to be anything; it just puts itself in the right place and reflects the light of the sun. It's the same for us, we have no light of our own but reflect a greater light, the light of God. This is the essence of Christianity.”

“Singing with me on this song are two friends of mine, Brett Young and Cassadee Pope, who are both incredible artists. What I found out about Brett, like many of the artists on this record, is that he was brought up in the church leading worship in his youth group. All those incredible harmonies you hear in the song, that is all Cassadee Pope. I am so grateful that they are both on this song with me because I really feel that their hearts reflect the idea of the song.”
If you listened to the message at church yesterday (or watched the video on our website), this song is a perfect representation of how Pastor Dave talked about being a good example in how we represent Jesus. This a great song about reflecting a greater light... Gods' light...
I wanna be the moon, up among the stars
Fly around the world, lighting up the dark at night
I'm nothing without the Son's amazing grace
On everything I do
If You're shining on me, I'm shining right back for You
I wanna be the moon
Lord, I wanna be the moon for You

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Concert Notice!

July 28th at 8:00 EST... for KING & COUNTRY, Lecrae, Crowder, Jonathan McReynolds, and The New Respects are coming together for a one-night only, worldwide concert experience. Representing different genres, sounds and audiences, today’s hottest Christian voices are rising up to unite the global Church in this unprecedented cultural moment.

Filmed live 11-stories up in downtown Nashville, America’s “Music City”, Better Together is a unique concert experience unlike anything anyone has ever seen or heard before.

Believing we have something to say “for such a time as this,” we share the same heart, same stage, same message: now is the time to be light in the darkness, to bridge divides and heal past hurts. Now is the time to show we are truly Better Together.

Hurry and get your free tickets HERE.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Going the Distance

Another Flashback Friday... Taking Contemporary Christian Music back to the 90's... the days of long hair, flashy outfits, and mullets. A couple weeks ago I featured Steven Curtis Chapman and his hit song The Great Adventure. That song was cowritten by a close friend of Steven's, Geoff Moore. Check out this video of Steven and Geoff performing another great song that they cowrote, Listen To Our Hearts in 1993.

Geoff Moore and his band, the Distance were one of my favorite CCM groups in the 90's. Geoff was raised the son of a steel worker in Flint, MI and was a classmate to the future lead singer of Whiteheart (which we will probably feature in a future Friday). Geoff was introduced to the CCM industry by Michael W. Smith when they met at a clothing store at which Geoff worked. 

Geoff released several albums in the mid-1980's, and really became successful in the 90's after forming his touring band, the Distance. Geoff Moore and the Distance got their first real Christian radio exposure in 1992 with A Friend Like You and followed that with Grammy nominated albums Ev-O-Lu-Tion in 1993 and Homerun in 1995. There were lots of memorable radio hits off these albums like Evolution Redefined, The Vow, and Life Together. Here is one hit that I thought I should feature (this one is for you, Pastor Dave)... 

In 1998 Geoff Moore and the Distance disbanded and Geoff began a solo career that continues to today. I got to see them in concert in the late 90's and the highlight of the evening was when they ended the night with When All Is Said and Done... this song, which is really a prayer, remains one of my favorites today.

Here is a great interview video about the life of Geoff Moore and what he is doing today.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

A Brief CCM History

We have been doing Flashback Fridays for several weeks now, so I thought I would take some time and talk about the rise of what we refer to as CCM (Contemporary Christian Music). If you have been following this blog, you are well aware that I am a huge fan of this music. Is all CCM actually theologically sound and good? No, but it is not necessarily all bad, and as a source of entertainment it generally remains more wholesome than many other entertainment sources.

The birth of CCM goes back to the Jesus Movement of the late 1960's that originated with God-fearing hippies like Larry Norman (often referred to as the father of Jesus Rock) and Randy Stonehill. 

Contemporary Christian music was a topic of controversy since the 60's and remains heavily debated today. Rock music was generally considered to be associated with a variety of "non-Christian" themes and activities. Secular labels would not produce these songs because they believed the gospel message would offend their customers and Christian labels (which primarily produced albums of hymns or Gospel music at that time) believed that the popular sound (and maybe hair style) would offend THEIR customers. So "Jesus musicians" often self-produced their albums and toured Christian coffeehouses, festivals, and any other venues that would welcome them. Many of these early albums did not sound great because of the lack of funding for production, but the artists started to gain success because of the many live performances.

So CCM didn't really take off in popularity until the mid to late 1970's. This popularity was spurred by early artists like Andrae Crouch, Keith Green, 2nd Chapter of Acts, the Imperials, Phil Keaggy, Stryper, and Amy Grant. Grant (referred to as the Queen of Christian Pop) was a tremendous influence, as a fresh-faced teen singing songs whose lyrics were just vague enough to question whether she was singing about God or boys. It was a great strategy that led to many Billboard topping singles and the first ever Christian platinum album (Age to Age) as well as some crossover success with mainstream radio. Her fame would boost the fortunes of her keyboardist, Michael W. Smith, and many of her songwriters like Rich Mullins, Gary Chapman, and Michael Card, whose CCM careers would become very influential as well.

CCM became more than just something that record stores stocked to sell to area youth pastors. It laid the foundation for the next wave of CCM artists such as the Newsboys, Steven Curtis Chapman, and DC Talk (whose rap-influenced 1989 debut broke all kinds of records). By the early 1990's, CCM became the fastest-growing segment of the Christian music market. In 1995, Bob Carlisle's record Butterfly Kisses, displaced the Spice Girls at the top of the secular charts and became a smash hit on both country and pop stations. This was the proof that CCM had reached popularity in many genres of popular music.

Into the 2000's, CCM music began to rely more and more on a theological focus as "praise" or "worship" music - songs that people could sing in worship. Initially fueled by musicians like Third Day, Chris Tomlin, Jeremy Camp, Matt Redman and Sonic Flood and we now see worship-focused bands like Hillsong United playing large stadiums around the world. Most current CCM "hits" that are heard on the radio today have this focus.

Obviously I am a fan of all types of Contemporary Christian music today (I do feature a lot of new releases and artists on this blog), but I still enjoy a lot of the older CCM "ground-breaking" music. Therefore, the purpose of these Friday posts is to take a moment and remember some of the favorites that I enjoyed in the 80's and 90's. I hope you enjoy them too so come back for tomorrow's Flashback Friday.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Don't Sweat It

I watched a great virtual concert by Sidewalk Prophets at the Ryman Auditorium last week. If you missed it, you can watch the recorded video HERE on Facebook Live. This concert was promoting their new album, The Things That Got Us Here.

All the songs on this album are written from a place of uncertainty, yet in a sanctuary of peace, the honest, Gospel-focused nature provides a type of sanctuary for listeners, who may also find themselves in the middle of an uncertain time. One of the new songs on this album is really pertinent with our current situation living with the pandemic and other societal issues that are causing a lot of stress in our lives. It is a catchy tune written by Matthew West called Don't Sweat It.
Don't you worry 'bout tomorrow
Let tomorrow worry 'bout itself
Take the trouble that you've borrowed
Throw it right back on the shelf

Don't sweat it
I know you won't regret it
Just go on and forget it
Don't let it run away with your life
Don't sweat it

He meant it when He said it
He's always in control
Let it go
Leave your worries behind
Don't sweat it
This is a song you can cling to in the midst of those troubles, but also can sing in the moments of joy and celebration. A song that will bring assurance in the chaos and peace in the storm, encouragement to keep going, and remind us that God is always in control. I hope you enjoy it...

Friday, July 10, 2020

Another Flashback Friday

A few weeks ago I featured a new song from For King & Country, the band composed of Luke and Joel Smallbone. Though I have not yet been able to attend one of their concerts, I do remember seeing them on stage as teenagers singing occasional background vocals over 20 years ago when I attended a concert for their older sister, Rebecca St James. Yes, long before there was For King & Country, the biggest Christian music star in the Smallbone family was Rebecca Smallbone (performing as Rebecca St James).

Rebecca began performing in Australia in the late 1980's and moved with her family to America in 1990. She reached the height of her popularity in the late 1990's with certified gold albums God in 1996 and Pray in 1998. She won a Grammy and numerous Dove awards for her music and was a mainstay on Contemporary Christian radio in the late 90's. One of her hits was Yes I Believe in God in 1999 which was written in response to the Columbine shootings.

One of my favorite Rebecca St James songs was off the God album entitled Go and Sin No More.

Rebecca has continued to perform, tour, and produce albums and has achieved success as an author of Christian books and devotionals and as an actress in many Christian themed movies including Sarah's Choice and Faith of Our Fathers.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Charlotte Ave

It's not too often that I get to talk about a brand new group, so it is fun to introduce Charlotte Ave. Lauryn Evans, Olivia Charnes, and Mandy Allyn met in a church on Charlotte Ave in Nashville and started singing together as a worship team. In June they decided to form a trio - Charlotte Ave. They haven't done many songs yet, but they have a great acapella sound as you can hear in their rendition of this Allison Krause song, Down to the River to Pray:

Their latest release is a cover of the Thomas Rhett hit, Be A Light that has a great message for our current societal conditions.
In a time full of war, be peace
In a time full of doubt, just believe
Yeah, there ain't that much difference between you and me
In a time full of war, be peace

In a world full of hate, be a light
When you do somebody wrong, make it right
Don't hide in the dark, you were born to shine
In a world full of hate, be a light

It will be fun to see how Charlotte Ave grows and progresses. I believe that their future will be very bright.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

The Pursuit of Happiness

Standard disclaimer: The views and opinions in this article are the rambling thoughts of the author and not necessarily representative of Living Word Lutheran Church.

Celebrating Independence Day last weekend got me to thinking about the Declaration of Independence (yeah, I had a pretty uneventful weekend). Especially the well-known beginning statement: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”. The first two rights are self-explanatory – we have the right to live and the right to freedom. The pursuit of happiness takes a bit more thought to understand. 

What does it mean to be happy? 

We live in a world today that is obsessed with the pursuit of happiness... the Great American Dream. Many people equate happiness with being successful and having fun. Fun is temporary, an outward experience often shared with others. It’s not a bad thing, but it is fleeting. Happiness should not be a temporary mood or shallow state of being. The founding fathers were not talking about “chasing happiness”, they meant the experience of happiness.. finding it and living happy. They meant the phrase to signify a combination of fulfillment, contentment, self-worth, dignity, and community or civic duty.

Pursuing happiness does NOT mean pursuing your own desires at the expense of others, or at odds with God’s way.  It does not say “the pursuit of pleasure”.   And it is NOT the pursuit of materialism. More money, more power, larger houses, white picket fences or whatever you believe your “American Dream” to be… these things do not bring happiness. In fact, some of the unhappiest people I know spend their lives pursing these goals.

So how can we truly be happy?

Here’s a thought… happiness comes from putting others before yourself. Sin always puts self first. God’s way of bringing life is completely different than mans’ way. Man says do what you must to make yourself happy. God says do what you must to make God happy, and in the process you will find a greater joy than ever before.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony." In other words, the smaller the gap between what you should do and what you actually do, the happier you will be.

Psalm 144:15 tells us, “Happy are the people whose God is the LORD”. God is the true source of happiness, strength, hope, and wisdom. The only source of true happiness is the Lord. All of the things you receive in your life that give you happiness are because you believe in God.

Our society is in the middle of a great and turbulent upheaval right now, which is actually good news, because it has awakened us to the concept of happiness that we have been pursuing, it challenges us to examine whether or not these concepts are what we really want and/or need, and has opened up new opportunities to embrace. We need to think about what is really important to be happy.

Psalm 37:3-4 says, “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” This implies that the delighting yourself in the Lord is the desire of your heart and if you seek happiness in Christ you will find it. Happiness is not the focus, rather it is a blessing that is a byproduct of loving God. Joy is one the fruits of God’s spirit. In fact, God is Joy.

So as God (and Bobby McFerrin) tells us- “Don’t worry, be happy”.

Finally remember that the Declaration of Independence states that these “unalienable rights” of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are endowed by our Creator.  Given by God…. Not the founding fathers, not the government, not our own sense of entitlement… they come from God alone.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Child of Love

On Friday, one of my favorite current CCM groups, We The Kingdom, released a new song called Child of Love. We the Kingdom has been getting plenty of Christian radio airplay with their hits Holy Water, Dancing On The Waves, and God So Loved and I think this one will soon join the playlists.

This new song professes the joy of proclaiming the love of Jesus.
I’m gonna climb a mountain
I’m gonna shout about it
I am a child of love

I found a world of freedom
I found a friend in Jesus
I am a child of love
I hope you enjoy Child of Love...

Monday, July 6, 2020

Virtual Concerts

Exciting News! Here are a couple of chances to see Sidewalk Prophets in a virtual concert. Say that you are not familiar with this group? I'm sure you have heard some of their hit songs like Love Me Anyway, Smile, Live Like That, Save My Life, Keep Making Me, Come To The Table, Words I Would Say, Help Me Find It, To Live is Christ, and many more. It's impossible to listen to Contemporary Christian radio over the past few years and not hear songs by Sidewalk Prophets.

The first chance to to watch them on Facebook Live on July 9th at 7 PM CST and join them as they perform a live stream concert from the stage of Historic Ryman Auditorium. Children International presents: Sidewalk Prophets "Great Big Family Reunion".  Again, this special event will air on Facebook Live - July 9th @ 7pm CST.

The second chance is to get tickets to a virtual tour from Minneapolis on July 16th.  Each household can purchase a ticket with a small donation (or even for free) by going to this link:  Tickets are limited, so get yours asap. 

I am really looking forward to these concerts. I hope you can join me.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Happy Independence Day

Wishing everyone a Happy July 4th holiday as our country celebrates the Declaration of Independence, which was approved by Congress on July 4th, 1776 and declared our freedom as a nation. 

Freedom is a great definition of independence, as it is the result of the choices we make in our life. The power of choice is one of the greatest freedoms we have in our country, and knowing where to find it is important, as we see in Proverbs 2:6: “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding.”

Even though Covid 19 has caused the cancellation of many parades, community celebrations and events that we normally enjoy, I hope that you can spend time with family and friends and enjoy the fireworks, the beach, cookouts, picnics, or however you celebrate this summertime holiday. While doing this, I also hope that you take a moment to consider the benefits of the freedom this holiday symbolizes and all the things that we have to be thankful for:  The freedom to believe in God and live out our faith, the freedom to worship, the freedom to pray, and all those people past, present, and future, who protect and defend our country's freedom.

Billy Graham had this to say about Independence Day:
Although it is not a religious holiday like Christmas or Easter, for many Americans July 4th is a time to reflect on God’s goodness to us as a nation. Molded into the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia (which proclaimed our independence) are these words from the Bible: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof” (Leviticus 25:10, KJV). Our legal system reflects our Judeo-Christian roots.

While we look with gratitude to the past on this July 4th, may we also look in faith to the future, and commit it and our lives to God and His will. The ancient words of the Psalmist are still true: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).
At times like these, we may not feel so blessed, but there is still much to be thankful for, so please enjoy the 4th. I will leave you with this special music video from the group, Home Free featuring Lee Greenwood and the United States Air Force Band that was released last Thursday...

Friday, July 3, 2020

The Great Adventure

Another Flashback Friday... Its hard to talk about contemporary Christian music artists of the 80's and 90's without mentioning Steven Curtis Chapman. We still hear plenty of new music from him (I featured a new song from him for Father's Day), so it is easy to forget that he has been writing and performing music since 1987. He has not only written a lot of hit songs for other CCM artists, he has released over 25 albums and has more awards than any other Christian music artist in history with 5 Grammys, 59 Dove awards, and 7 "Artist of the Year" Dove Awards. He has sold more than 10 million albums and has 10 Gold or Platinum albums.

With this many hits, it is hard to feature just one song, but I think that one of his greatest successes was the release of The Great Adventure in 1992. This album and its title song was one of the first Contemporary Christian songs to become successful with a mainstream audience and really skyrocketed him to success. 

One of his biggest crossover hits was Cinderella, which was released in 2007 and written for his daughters. Tragically just months after writing this song his 5 year old daughter was killed in an auto accident involving his son. After the accident, the song took on a whole new meaning for the Chapman family. While the song had originally been written as a message to love and cherish parenthood while it lasted, it acquired another message of the frailty of life and how suddenly it can change. After his daughter's death, Chapman had said he was "pretty sure [he] would never sing the song again". On July 11, 2008 while singing on stage, he felt God talking to him through all his songs, confronting him. Chapman felt that he needed to believe in the hope he proclaims in his songs, and bring that hope to others by singing the song.

I'm sure you remember this...

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Halfway through 2020

Standard disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily representative of Living Word Lutheran Church.

Well, here we are in July, halfway through the year 2020. What a first half this has been! The majority of the year has been overshadowed by the pandemic, social distancing, civil unrest, discussions of systemic racism, business closings, event cancellations, and more. It certainly hasn't been an easy first half of the year.

One thought that I have been considering is: How have I, as a Christian, been doing so far this year? Maybe its time to give ourselves a mid-year grade. Here are some of the grading criteria that I have thought of:

Have I drawn closer to God?
Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  James 4:8 NIV
We have been on stay-at-home orders and practicing social distancing so there is really no excuse not to spend more time with God. We are not driving to many public events or spending time doing everything we used to do in our pre-pandemic lives. I feel blessed that I still have a full time job and that none of my family is directed affected by Covid-19, but I still have more time to spend in God's Word and to spend praying, simply having conversations with our Father. And speaking of praying...

Have I been praying for others?
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  Philippians 4:6 NIV
We have been called to intercessors, to pray and petition on the behalf of others. We’ve got to pray for God to heal us either with His almighty power or by equipping scientists with the answers. We must pray for those affected – those infected themselves or know people who are. People are dying daily and people are experiencing deep loneliness; it’s an emotional and mental battle too. It’s also necessary that we pray for those people on the front lines:  for all doctors, nurses, cleaners, police officers, security guards, etc. We must also pray for those who have lost their jobs and don’t know how they are going to get through the rest of the year. We need to pray for all the businesses that are struggling and/or closed. We need to pray for everyone affected by civil unrest and discrimination. We need to pray!

Have I been a good example of a Christian?
You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.    Matthew 5:14-16 NIV
As you are well aware, we are inundated with information and news from all sorts of sources. I have been grateful for some of the health advice and recommendations, but I am certainly tired of all the bad news. I think that as Christians, we are called to spread hope, not fear; encouragement, not conspiracy theories, positive views, not gloom and despair. Think about what you are posting on social media and what you are saying to others... does it do more harm than good? Ae you trying to help others that need help? Helping to support your community? Trying to share the love of Jesus in practical ways?  Now is the time to be a light and "shine on"!

Have I been obeying the "rules"?
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.   Romans 13:1 NIV
I may not always agree with everything I am told to do, but I need to try to follow the guidance of our leaders. I believe that most of them are trying to make the best of a bad situation and trying to save lives. If you really believe that our leaders are making poor decisions that are contrary to God's will, you can still remain respectful. There should not be civil disobedience simply to be rebellious. Let's not be counter-productive in society simply because of our attitude.

And remember:
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.       2 Corinthians 4:8-10vNIV
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.   2 Corinthians 4:17-18 NIV
Through all of this, we need to realize that God is in control. He specializes in turning bad situations into good. There are plenty of reasons for fear and panic, but remember that God will not give us more than we can handle. He is always with us and gives us peace. God can use this worldwide crisis to unite His church and His people. "God is faithful."

So how have you been doing so far? Whether good or bad, I pray that we can and will do better the second half of 2020.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

New from Chris Tomlin...

On Friday Chris Tomlin announced that his newest album, "Chris Tomlin & Friends" will be released on July 31st. Chris stated:
"The project has been unbelievable and unlike anything I have ever done before. The relationships, friendships, and the collaborations have been a gift. For me, the best part is that everyone created this together to bring glory to God. Since I was young, I have felt a calling on my life to help give people a voice to worship God.  I want people to have the opportunity to worship every day of the week not just on Sundays; while they are in their car, at work, running, or just listening to whatever shows up on their playlist. For me this record is a step towards breaking down the walls of the Christian genre and allowing the music to be accessible to a wider audience.  That's my understanding of the Gospel. Music about faith, God, salvation and forgiveness doesn’t belong to any one category... it is for the whole world. I hope this music touches your life the way it has mine..."
 To announce this new album, Chris has released two music tracks from the album. One is a collaboration with country artists Thomas Rhett and Florida Georgia Line called Thank You Lord. This is a catchy song in a country style, but I think my favorite so far is the song he performs with Lady A called Who You Are To Me. The words have real meaning:
Some people think Your distant just some words on a page
That You're nothing more than fables handed down along the way
But I’ve seen You part the waters when no one else could pull me from the deep
That’s who You are to me
Some people think You just live in cathedrals made of stone
But I know You live inside my heart, I know that it's Your home
And I’ve seen You in a sunset and in the eyes of a stranger on the street
That's who You are to me
Listen and let me know what you think: