Wednesday, September 30, 2020

All Creation Rejoices

 Its been a while since I shared from our friend, artist Jason Kotecki, but since we have been talking about gratitude for the last couple months I thought it appropriate to share his latest newsletter with you...

Have you ever had one of those days when you’re angry at everything and nothing in particular? I had one recently. I went for a walk in an attempt to burn off my anxiety. Two laps around a spacious field of wildflowers near my home released some endorphins, but didn’t make a dent in my foul mood.

I pulled out my earbuds and fired up a playlist on my phone populated with praise music. My soul began to lift.

Then I came upon an older man driving a golf cart along the path, with a woman of a similar age as his passenger. She appeared to have some cognitive challenges as she seemed pretty unresponsive. I guessed that they were husband and wife. Perhaps he had been visiting her in the nearby mental health center and decided to take her for a ride on what was a beautiful day.

They were together, but not really. At least not in the same way my wife and I are when we go for a ride together, talking all the way. In that couple, silently traversing fields of wildflowers under the late-summer sun, not only did I see true love, deep loyalty, and the kind of frail but breathtaking beauty that only arises from brokenness, I also saw a million reasons to be thankful.

I turned off the path and headed back home, returning a happier, more hopeful person than the one who left.

Anxiety is the dominant emotion of our time. It’s a constant companion as we slog through our days, scan the headlines, and scroll through our social media feeds.

Fortunately, there is a cure and it doesn’t cost a dime.

The antidote to anxiety is gratitude.

If you are feeling anxious, make a list of ten things you are grateful for. It’s impossible to do this and not feel better. I double dog dare you to make a list of 100 and tell me your mood is not completely transformed.

Anxiety is anticipating the bad in what may never happen. 

Gratitude is acknowledging the good in what already has.

Why does gratitude make us feel better? This painting explores this phenomenon while addressing another. The photo I used as reference was taken during my family’s whale watching tour while in Mexico. I’m still amazed that we had the opportunity to see a humpback whale breach. I’m also amazed that mankind still doesn’t know exactly why whales exhibit this behavior. Scientists have theories about why they breach: to communicate, attract other whales, or warn off other males. But no one knows exactly why – yet.

Well, how about this as a theory: what if they’re literally jumping for joy?

Maybe all of creation has its own unique way of practicing gratitude and praising God. Maybe that’s why whales breach, fireflies glow, and swallows whoosh and whirl playfully in the air.

Maybe we were made for it.

And maybe that’s why we feel out of balance when we aren’t doing it and feel better when we do. 

It is just a theory, but a bestselling book proclaims, “Let the sea resound, and all that is in it…Let all creation rejoice before the Lord.”

It appears highly ironic to suggest turning to gratitude in times of anxiety, grief, or pain. After all, we usually think of “jumping for joy” when we feel good over something remarkable that’s happened.

The truth is, something remarkable is always happening. 

Praise aligns us with our Creator, giving us the new eyes we need to see it.

What are you grateful for today?

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

GMA Dove Awards

 Christian music fans - mark your calendars for the 51st annual GMA Dove Awards show on October 30th.  This year the show will be airing virtually on TBN at 7:00 and will feature performances by many of the artists that we have been featuring on this site such as For King & Country, We The Kingdom, Matthew West, Lauren Daigle, Zach Williams, MercyMe, Phil Wickham, and many, many more.

Since 1969, the Dove Awards has honored outstanding achievements and excellence in Christian and Gospel Music. Check out this year's nominees...

The announcement from the GMA:
This special, broadcast-only GMA Dove Awards will continue to showcase the music that moves us and also remind us how these songs and this Message minister to so many, especially this year. Please plan to tune in on Friday, October 30th for the 51st Annual GMA Dove Awards: Carry the Change broadcast celebration.

While this year is not what any of us planned for, God knew and He remains in control. He continues to use each of us, our words and our deeds, to bring His love to the world. We hope that you remain encouraged in His faithfulness. Thank you for your support of this music that points all of us to Christ. We hope to gather together again soon.
This should be an excellent show that CCM fans will not want to miss...

Monday, September 28, 2020

Attitude of Gratitude V

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.

Several weeks ago Pastor Dave challenged us to find things to be grateful for during these unsure times. So what exactly is gratitude? Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. 

So, for today's thought about gratitude I want to talk about being thankful for the ability to be thankful. Okay, I know that sounds strange, but allow me to elaborate... With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — to other people, other events, and certainly to God.

I did a little research and found that giving thanks and feeling gratitude is one of the healthiest things we can do. Here are 7 scientifically proven benefits of gratitude:

  1. Gratitude opens the door to more relationships. Not only does saying “thank you” constitute good manners, but showing appreciation can help you win new friends, according to a 2014 study published in Emotion. The study found that thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship. So whether you thank a stranger for holding the door or send a thank-you note to that colleague who helped you with a project, acknowledging other people’s contributions can lead to new opportunities.
  2. Gratitude improves physical health. Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people, according to a 2012 study. Not surprisingly, grateful people are also more likely to take care of their health. They exercise more often and are more likely to attend regular check-ups, which is likely to contribute to further longevity.
  3. Gratitude improves psychological health. Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. There have been multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. Research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression. 
  4. Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. Grateful people are more likely to behave in a prosocial manner, even when others behave less kindly, according to a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky. Study participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even when given negative feedback. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge.
  5. Grateful people sleep better. Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep, according to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. Spend just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed, and you may sleep better and longer.
  6. Gratitude improves self-esteem. A 2014 study found that gratitude increased athletes’ self-esteem, an essential component to optimal performance. Other studies have shown that gratitude reduces social comparisons. Rather than becoming resentful toward people who have more money or better jobs—a major factor in reduced self-esteem—grateful people are able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments.
  7. Gratitude increases mental strength. For years, research has shown gratitude not only reduces stress, but it may also play a major role in overcoming trauma. A 2006 study found that Vietnam War veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder. A 2003 study found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11. Recognizing all that you have to be thankful for —even during the worst times—fosters resilience. This is certainly important during our current uncertain times.
Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier, or thinking they can't feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.

We all have the ability and opportunity to cultivate gratitude. Rather than complain about the things you think you deserve, take a few moments to focus on all that you have. Developing an “attitude of gratitude” is one of the simplest ways to improve your satisfaction with life.

Here are some simple ideas on how you can cultivate gratitude on a regular basis.
  • Be Mindful of Your Blessings. As you go through your day, be in the moment. Instead of being distracted by all the things that are concerning you, the things that might happen, need to happen or have already happened, be present and identify what you are thankful for right now in the current moment. Savor the coffee you are drinking, the sunrise you see, the smile someone gives you. Go on a walk and count the blessings around you. Notice everything.
  • Thank someone. You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you letter expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person's impact on your life. No time to write? It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.
  • Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down or share with a loved one thoughts about the gifts you've received each day. Or create a To-Be-Thankful-For list and keep it where you can see it – on your refrigerator, bathroom mirror, or bulletin board. Challenge yourself to add to it on a regular basis.
  • Pray. We can use prayer to cultivate gratitude and give thanks to God.
  • Meditate. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. Although people often focus on a word or phrase (such as "peace"), it is also possible to focus on what you're grateful for (the warmth of the sun, a pleasant sound, etc.).
Perhaps the most important benefit of gratitude is that giving thanks brings us closer to God. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 is one of those verses that can be difficult to accept: “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” But what about those difficult and painful situations? Being grateful for suffering seems to make no sense. However, as we discussed in last week's post about the Book of Job, even though gratefulness doesn’t come naturally in difficult circumstances, a decision to thank God for walking with us through life makes us more sensitive to His comforting presence. It motivates us to always be aware of God's presence in our current circumstances. Thanksgiving reminds us of our continual dependence on God and helps to bend our will to submission to Him. Thanking God focuses our attention on Him rather than ourselves and our circumstances. "Gratitude transforms anxiety into peace, which passes all understanding" (Phil. 4:6-7)

The Lord’s purposes for your life extend beyond your days on earth. He’s working for your eternal good. Begin thanking God today, in whatever circumstance you find yourself. After all, what’s the alternative—bitterness, resentment, and grumbling? God made you for something far better: eternal, sustaining joy. The transformation starts with simple, small words offered from the heart: Thank You, Lord!

Friday, September 25, 2020

It's Friday again...

...and time for another flashback to the early days of Contemporary Christian Music. This week we feature a great band, Smalltown Poets.

Smalltown Poets was formed in Georgia in 1996 by high school friends Michael Johnston, Danny Stephens, and Byron Goggin, along with (then) Nashville musicians Kevin Breuner, and Miguel DeJesus. They burst onto the Christian music scene with their Grammy-nominated self-titled debut on Ardent/Forefront Records (EMI) in 1997 and released two more albums with the Memphis based label. Three number one singles and a total of ten top ten radio hits helped garner two Best Rock Gospel Grammy nominations, seven Dove Award nominations (including Best New Artist) and a Billboard Music video award for the band. Their song "Anything Genuine" was featured on the platinum-selling WOW 1999 compilation. Two albums would follow on Ardent/Forefront - Listen Closely (1998) and Third Verse (2000). In 2004. the band released It’s Later Than It’s Ever Been on BEC Records (EMI).

I think my favorite Smalltown Poets song is "Prophet, Priest, and King" off their first album...

Smalltown Poets went on hiatus several months after It's Later Than It's Ever Been, but regrouped in the fall of 2010 to produce a Christmas album, Smalltown Poets Christmas, in 2011. Over a year in the making, Smalltown Poets Christmas was released November 1st of that year, with their single "Good Christian Men Rejoice" reaching Billboard’s Top 30 songs on Christian radio. Subsequent Decembers have found them touring with their Yuletide repertoire, and they released a follow-up project, Christmas Time Again, in 2014. Along the way, a seven-song EP in the fall of 2012 reminded fans that the Poets aren't just a Christmas band. Under the New Sun is a collection of new songs and older compositions that had never been put onto an album.

In May 2018, Smalltown Poets released their first full-length, non-holiday album in over a decade. For Say Hello, Smalltown Poets returned to Studio C at world-renowned Ardent Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, where their first three albums were brought to life. “Going to Ardent the first time to record our debut album was a monumental moment in our lives,” recalls guitarist Kevin Breuner. “For this new record, we wanted to reach back into the magic and emotion of those formative years." While longtime fans will recognize the signposts of the familiar Smalltown Poets sound, the band took great pains to explore new textures, such as a Memphis horns section (on the song "Impossible") and a Gospel choir (on the song "Like Home"). "Song of Hallelujah," co-written with worship leader Aaron Keyes, is an example of the band’s heart for worship through music. Their latest single, "Love Is The Ocean" was released a few month's ago. 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

New Music

Here are a few new releases to share with you...

GRAMMY-nominated worship leader Kari Jobe has announced the release date for her upcoming album. THE BLESSING, recorded live at The Belonging Co in Nashville, TN, is set to drop October 23rd. "I’m really excited about this season and getting to share everything on this album with you," Jobe shared on social media.

In March, before the world was overcome with the pandemic, Kari Jobe, Cody Carnes and Elevation Worship gathered together to write "The Blessing" track, releasing it just days later via YouTube with the live video that now has more than 28 million views. We talking about this release at length earlier this year.

"I have cried so many times as I’ve watched different people all over the world declaring the blessing over their families, their churches and their nations," Jobe said on the impact of "The Blessing." "God is a God of His word and this song is straight from scripture. I love how He never changes and is always with us and for us. That brings so much peace, especially in a season of disappointment, uncertainty and fear like we have all been waking through this year. 'The Blessing' is truth that we can declare daily over our lives, families, and others. So grateful."

Jobe is planning to drop four singles ahead of the full album release. Listeners can get a taste of her new music with "First Love" released last week. The  video also features "Embers" and "Obsession" ft. Cody Carnes.

If you are a fan of more hardcore rock, Grammy-nominated, multi-platinum rock band Skillet delivered what Cryptic Rock called an "epic" deluxe project, VICTORIOUS: THE AFTERMATH (Atlantic) last week. The collection features all twelve original tracks from 2019s Victorious, plus eight additional tracks, including two brand new unreleased songs, and 5 reimagined songs. Of the brand new tracks is "Dead Man Walking," a favorite of lead-singer John Cooper, and for which the band released a 'Marvel-esque' lyric video.

Christian radio hitmakers 7eventh Time Down release their new single last week, titled "Questions". The Kentucky natives 7eventh Time Down first catapulted into the spotlight with “Just Say Jesus,” the hit title-cut from their 2013 sophomore set which spent a total of 52 consecutive weeks on Christian radio charts. In addition, the band's multi-week #1, “God Is On The Move,” was one of 2016's most played singles at Christian radio, according to Billboard. Comprised of lead vocalist Mikey Howard, drummer Austin Miller, bassist Cliff Williams and guitarist Scoop Roberts.  Check out their latest release...

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Songs From A Mug

 Are you familiar with WayNation? WayNation is a social media presence that creates videos, podcasts, articles, streaming music, and other online content that is Christian, non divisive, and non offensive. Their goal is to provide content that will allow us to have fun, learn, and explore meaningful questions without being shamed or belittled, join us to laugh, learn, and be encouraged.

I encourage you to go to the website and look around. Lots of great content to watch and listen to - especially if you are tired of mainstream television and all the current political adds.

One of the programs that they provide are the videos "Songs From A Mug" where they ask various artists to answer song questions pulled from a coffee mug such as favorite song, song you wished you wrote, song your kids hate, etc. and then the artists play a bit of the song, These are often fun, funny, and provide a lot of insight to the personality of some of your favorite artists like The Afters, I Am They, Sidewalk Prophets, and many more. A couple weeks ago they featured Songs From A Mug with We The Kingdom and it was a great video. The latest one is with Matthew West and is a lot of fun...

Make sure to check out WayNation next time you are looking for some wholesome and uplifting entertainment.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

A Rush Of Hope

Another good show on TBN last Friday called "A Rush Of Hope: Find Answers to Life's Questions". The intent was to present a Harvest Crusade in a completely new way. They simply called it a “cinematic crusade.” 

Hosted by Pastor Greg Laurie with music from MercyMe, Jeremy Camp, and for King & County—plus many more guests—this is a historic event, of which you’re going to want to be a part. 

Check out the trailer...

If you missed it, you can still watch it on YouTube at

Also, if you have the opportunity, I highly recommend watching the three movies featured in this show. They are all great.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Attitude of Gratitude IV

Today my gratitude is for my family. My wife, children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, and more. I am grateful that my family is still healthy. We don't get together as often as we would like, but we still communicate often. 

So what does the Bible say about family? The physical family is the most important building block to human society, and as such, it should be nurtured and protected. Proverbs 17:17 tells us that "A friend loves at all times, and a relative is born to help in adversity." Friends come and go, but family sticks with you during the hardest of times.

The concept of family is extremely important in the Bible. The concept of family was introduced in the very beginning...The very first people on earth formed a family. From the beginning, God blessed and encouraged families, commanding Adam and Eve to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Genesis 1:28). The example of Adam and Eve shows us that families are of God. 

A few well-known examples of families in the Bible are found early in the Old Testament. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all followed God’s command to marry and have children. Abraham went to great lengths to protect his wife, Sarah (see Genesis 12), and exercised faith to finally enjoy the blessings that came with having his son Isaac (see Genesis 21). Under the Lord’s direction, Abraham’s servant traveled a long distance to find Rebekah, a righteous woman, to be Isaac’s wife (see Genesis 24). And Isaac’s son Jacob worked for many years in order to marry and establish his own family, which became the house of Israel (see Genesis 29–30).

We also see early on that family members were to look after and care for one another. When God asks Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" Cain’s response is the flippant "Am I my brother’s keeper?" The implication is that, yes, Cain was expected to be Abel’s keeper and vice versa. 

The Bible has a more communal sense of people and family... When God saved Noah from the flood, it wasn’t an individual salvation, but a salvation for him, his wife, his sons and his sons’ wives. In other words, his family was saved (Genesis 6:18). When God called Abraham out of Haran, He called him and his family (Genesis 12:4-5). 

The importance of family can be seen in God's Commandments, two of the Ten Commandments deal with maintaining the cohesiveness of the family. The fifth commandment regarding honoring parents is meant to preserve the authority of parents in family matters, and the seventh commandment prohibiting adultery protects the sanctity of marriage. These two commandments seek to protect marriage and the family. The health of the family was important to God.

So how has Covid-19 and the resulting implications affected a family? Covid-19 has certainly changed the ability to get together, but I think that the pandemic and the resulting quarantines has actually worked to strengthen family ties.

In a recent survey of 2,000 Americans — of which about 1,200 were parents — respondents were asked about their time sheltering in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the perks of being surrounded by family.

From developmental milestones to simple heart to hearts, three-quarters of parents polled experienced a key moment, which they otherwise may have missed, with their children while in lockdown.

Some other findings:

  • The survey found 66 percent of those surveyed said the pandemic has brought them closer to their family than ever before.
  • It’s no surprise that 77 percent of respondents were also in agreement that they’ve enjoyed spending more time with the members of their household.
  • The survey also found respondents have learned a lot about their families while sheltering in place as well.
  • Nearly half of respondents admitted they didn’t really know what their significant other’s job was before they began working from home during self-isolation.
  • Seventy-nine percent of parents surveyed said they’ve also learned more about their children’s hobbies and passions during this time.
  • While another 77 percent of parents said their children have become more open to learning new things around the house and trying new activities.
  • In fact, 31 percent of those surveyed said they’ve taught a family member a new skill while they’ve been in quarantine.
  • Seven in 10 respondents also shared their increased time indoors has been a wake-up call for them to focus on their families’ unhealthy habits.
  • Forty-one percent of those polled said they’ve added more priority to eating meals as a family during their time in isolation.

These all sound like good things, coming out of a bad situation. Remember Romans 8:28

I hope that you are blessed with family. Even if not surrounded by family during these times, I pray that you have the ability to converse and see each other even if only via the phone or internet.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Flashback Friday

Today we need to wipe the dust off H.G. Wells' time machine and go back to the beginnings of Contemporary Christian Music and talk about The Imperials.

In fact, The Imperials originated long before Contemporary Christian Music. They started out as a successful southern gospel quartet and have been active for over 55 years! This innovative group would become pioneers of contemporary Christian music in the late 1960s. There have been many changes for the band in membership and musical styles over the years. They would go on to win four Grammys, 15 Dove Awards and be inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

Past members have included such notable musicians as Gary McSpadden from the Oak Ridge Boys, Russ Taff, Terry Blackwood, Larry Gatlin of the Gatlin Brothers, and more.

The group even recorded with Elvis in sessions from May 1966 to June 1971 and appeared with Jimmy Dean live and on his television show during the same period.

The Imperials surprised gospel music fans in February 1972 by hiring Sherman Andrus, a former member of Andrae Crouch and the Disciples. This made them the first interracial Christian group America had ever seen, which Andrus jokingly referred as: "to boldly go where no black man had gone before". 

The Imperials had some great CCM albums like Love Is The Thing in 1969,  Time To Get It Together in 1970, One More Song For You in 1979,  Priority in 1980, Stand By the Power in 1982, Let The Wind Blow in 1985, Free The Fire In Me in 1988, just to name a few and we haven't even made it into the 90's. A lot of this music takes me back to my childhood (yep, that long ago.)

The Imperials accomplishments are many:  

  • First Dove Award winner for male group of the year (1969)
  • First gospel group to perform live on The Grammy Awards.
  • First Dove Award winner for Artist of the Year (1981)
  • First group to have a No. 1 song ("Oh Buddha") on all three of the following charts (for 12 weeks): Contemporary, Inspirational, Southern Gospel
  • First Christian group to use four individual microphones on stage
  • First Christian group to use cordless microphones
  • First Christian group to use a live band on stage
  • Recorded the theme song for the Daniel Boone television series
  • Only Christian group to have a No. 1 song charting in 4 consecutive decades (1960s-1990s)

In 1998, The Imperials were inducted into the Gospel Music Association's Gospel Music Hall of Fame. All five original members, Jake, Armond, Gary, Sherrill, and Henry; as well as Terry Blackwood, Sherman Andrus, Joe Moscheo, Jim Murray, and Russ Taff were there to accept the induction.

In 2008, the Imperials were inducted into the Christian Music Hall of Fame. Russ Taff was inducted for his contributions separately but performed with the new Imperials and made the acceptance with them for the broadcast. In April 2008, The Imperials received the Southern Gospel News Awards' Album of the Year award for Back To The Roots.

Most recently, returning from a restless retirement and a short lived legal scrimmage for control of the "Imperials" name, Armond Morales, along with Imperials alumni Paul Smith and Dave Will, joined newcomer Rick Evans to continue the legacy of The Imperials. As the only “still performing” original member of The Imperials, Armond Morales, along with the reunited foursome, released Still Standing, their first project with Paul Smith in 25 years.

Hundreds of great songs to choose from... "A Thing Called Love", "Put Your Hand in the Hand", "He's Got the Whole World",  "Teach Your Children Well", "I'm Forgiven", "Because Of Who You Are", and on and on... but here is a video from a couple years ago giving a bit of history of the group and a medley of some of their greatest hits...

Thursday, September 17, 2020

New Releases

We Are Messengers have added to their sophomore project with Power +, released last Friday across all digital service providers. Included is a new track, “Image Of God.” 

We Are Messengers front man Darren Mulligan on the emotional track, which is slated as the band’s next radio single. “These are challenging times where we need unity, hope, empathy and love,” Mulligan shares of the message behind the song. “‘Image Of God’ is a song to unite us, reminding us that every single person is created wonderfully in God’s image, and as such, is invaluable and fully worthy of our time, respect, love and honor.”

Internationally known for worship anthems like “Death Was Arrested,” “Abundantly More” and “Love Come Down,” North Point Worship releases "Find A Reason" a week ago.

“‘Find A Reason’ was written a few months ago when a global pandemic was breaking out,” shares writer and singer Brett Stanfill, “and we had also just received word of a few different tragedies that had occurred in our local community. In that time, and in so many times throughout my life, I had to remember that regardless of bleak circumstances, heartbreak, fear or loss, God is still good, and He is still worthy of my praise. This song is a reminder that whether I’m experiencing the favor of God or it seems like all hope is lost, I can lift my eyes and find a reason to worship.”

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Pandemic and the Book of Job

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 finished my pandemic-inspired reading of the Psalms and decided that my next "adventure" would be reading through the Book of Job. It seemed somewhat appropriate to read about suffering and faith during our current social and economic conditions.

The Covid-19 pandemic can certainly provide a new way to understand the Book of Job. I believe we will see that Job’s circumstances way back in time and our experience with the Covid-19 have a number of similarities, which will help us identify with Job and with his suffering. Because of the current pandemic many people have lost their jobs, and find themselves economically devastated. Job unexpectedly lost all of his wealth in a very short period of time. He, too, was broke. This pandemic has taken the lives of friends, neighbors, and relatives, and so there is much grieving going on, around the world. Job lost all of his children in a moment of time. He, too, had much to grieve over. And finally, many of those who are currently infected with the Covid-19 are suffering greatly. So, too, with Job, whose suffering took him to the very edge of death. I don’t believe many today could claim that they are suffering as much as Job did, centuries ago, but many are suffering the physical effects of this virus

A lot of people are currently like Job and asking "Why God?" I think this book of the Bible asked precisely the questions that many of us struggle with today, but it doesn't answer them the way that we might expect. These same unexpected answers can now provide hope to face the coronavirus pandemic.

I would like to share the following article that addresses these very questions:

1. Will I Be Protected from Suffering?

This virus has stripped away the false security we find in our health and finances, leaving an anxious fog in its wake. The narrative opening of Job acknowledges our basic yearning to find protection from suffering; even righteous and wealthy Job feels it. In his anxiety, he offers sacrifices every morning on behalf of his children in the off chance that any have sinned (Job 1:5), apparently thinking sufficient sacrifices will protect him and those he loves from suffering.

Satan, true to his accusing role, points out this apparent chink in Job’s armor to God. He questions whether Job’s faith will survive the suffering he has been so determined to avoid through his sacrifices and substantial livestock nest egg (Job 1:9-11). So God allows Satan to rip Job’s wealth and health from him, just as COVID-19 has done to so many, not because of his unrighteousness but because of his righteousness. The book’s answer, therefore, to the question on all of our minds right now, “Will I be protected from suffering?” is a resounding, “I wouldn’t count on it.” As Jesus declares, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33, NIV).

2. How Should I Respond to God?

The book forces us, like Job, to move on from the anxiety-ridden question, “Will I be protected from suffering?” to the faith-building question, “How should I respond to God in the midst of suffering?” Once again, though, it refuses to offer the expected feel-good answer. We like the stoic martyr of faith we encounter in the first couple chapters, who declares, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21). This is all we tend to hear from Job. But Job has more to say. He curses the day of his birth, lashes out at his friends, complains (as might we) about his isolation from friends and family, even appears to accuse God of injustice (e.g., Job 10:3), enmity (Job 13:24), and vicious attacks (e.g., Job 16:12-14). Something is not right in the world, he insists, and God must do something about it.

Shockingly, at the book’s end, God declares that Job, not the friends, has spoken rightly about Him (Job 42:7). God doesn’t justify this verdict, but the rest of the Old Testament does. Job joins the heroes of Israelite faith, Abraham (Genesis 18:17-33), Jacob (Genesis 32:6-12, 22-31), and Moses (Exodus 32:1-14); the psalmists who dare to cry ‘Why?’ and ‘How long?’; and prophets, such as Amos, Jeremiah, and Habakkuk, in confronting God and demanding that He make things right. And God repeatedly responds favorably to their protests. Reflecting this biblical tradition, Jesus tells a parable of a widow whose persistent pleading convinces an unjust judge to intervene on her behalf, concluding, “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?...However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:7-8, NIV).

Job’s initial pious submission is easy to endorse when we consider suffering from the outside. However, as more are drawn into the inferno of infection, it may forge faith and protest together into a stronger theological alloy, which cries out to God in faith to rectify injustice

3. How Should I Respond to Others?

If we would raise theological objections against Job’s bold protests, the book’s presentation of Job’s friends should caution us. Attempting to console Job, they preach profound theological truths about God’s just punishment of the wicked and sovereign deliverance of the righteous—to a man whom God has allowed to suffer because of his righteousness. As Job doggedly declares the injustice of his situation, the friends turn on him, accusing him of great wickedness (Job 22:5). They feel they must, because if Job is genuinely righteous, their righteousness won’t save them from his fate. Their fear of suffering drives them to blame the victim in order to create a distinction between themselves and Job that can protect them from his suffering.

This same fear is behind my relief when I hear that a young, deceased victim of COVID-19 had some underlying condition that I don’t have. I want to keep their suffering at a distance by putting them in a different category than myself. The book of Job draws us into the suffering of others by destroying these imaginary walls separating us from it.

4. Is This Divine Punishment?

In times of suffering, we can feel, as Job did, that God has turned against us and become our enemy. Some have even attributed this pandemic to divine punishment. But righteous Job’s affliction should make us wary of such conclusions. Thus, when Jesus’ disciples ask if a man’s blindness was caused by his or his parents’ sin, he responds, “Neither...but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:2-3, NIV). Job’s story encourages us to ask, not what sin this pandemic is punishing, but how we might display God’s glory through our response to it.

5. What Does Suffering Tell Us about God?

God’s long-awaited answer to Job also violates our expectations. God doesn’t directly address Job’s suffering at all. Instead, after establishing Himself as the creator of the cosmos (Job 38:4-38), God describes His meticulous care for His creatures: dangerous, unclean, and uncontrollable animals below and beyond Job’s concern (Job 38:39-39:30). If God is good enough to hunt prey for lionesses, feed young ravens, and midwife mountain goats, surely He cares for Job. Jesus similarly claims God’s care for sparrows should dispel fear, since “you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31, NIV). Then God turns this argument around. If God is powerful enough to control Behemoth and Leviathan, embodiments of human fear, then surely Job’s situation is not beyond divine sovereignty (Job 40:1-41:34; cf. Romans 8:31-39). God guides Job’s gaze from his particular suffering to the breadth of creation in order to address his suffering, to provide him with hope that also applies to anyone and any affliction.

No one who suffers from COVID-19 is too insignificant for God’s care; none of the suffering we face is too powerful for His control. And yet, people are suffering. Job suffers. Some baby ravens starve. The divine speeches don’t attempt to explain why a good and powerful God allows evil to exist, why God created Behemoth and Leviathan (or COVID-19) in the first place. They redirect our question from why God allows suffering to persist, the answer to which is different in each situation and beyond our comprehension in most, to whom we must trust in every situation, and why this God is worth trusting. Job understands this. He is consoled while still on the ash heap (Job 42:2-6).

6. Will Things Ever Get Back to Normal?

But God does not leave Job on his ash heap. Some find the book’s happy ending disappointingly trite, but it is perfectly appropriate for the good and sovereign God to make everything right in the end. We don’t know when that end will come in the current crisis. But the hope of the book of Job, as of the Christian faith, is that the God who allows our suffering will also eventually end it, that if we emulate “the endurance of Job,” we will see “how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11). Job teaches us that persevering through suffering can create a new and better normal, one in which we see the God we had only heard of (Job 42:5) and anxious sacrifices are replaced with deeper trust.

So how about it? Can we be like Job and remain faithful during times of trouble and turmoil? I like to think so, but it does take effort when things seem to be falling down around us. Stand firm and remember that God is always with us.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

National Suicide Prevention Month

September is National Suicide Prevention month. Suicide is a national health problem that currently ranks as the 2nd leading cause of death for ages 10 – 24.  Suicide is also one of the leading causes of preventable death in our nation. 

This is especially relevant during our current social situations. From a pandemic to national conversations about justice and race to an election season featuring intense passion, there is a lot happening right now that can prompt anxiety or depression. 

In the era of Covid-19, as we all try to protect our mental health and cope with uncertainty, it’s more important than ever that we be there for each other and take steps to prevent suicide. 

In addition, across the United States, many communities are experiencing unrest and distress related to the unjust treatment of individuals who are Black in this country. Some individuals may have firsthand experiences of community discord, discrimination or trauma, or may be grappling with a loss of their sense of safety. Feeling overwhelmed or isolated, having trouble sleeping or difficulty concentrating are all common reactions to witnessing and experiencing community violence. Incidents of community violence can also contribute to heightened feelings of anxiety and depression, or lead to increased substance abuse. 

Mental health is important to talk about all the time, but September is a month dedicated to conversations about suicide and mental illness. You don't need to be a mental health professional to make a difference. There are several things we can do to work to change the conversation from suicide to suicide prevention, to actions that can promote healing, help and give hope.

  • ASK-   Research shows people who are having thoughts of suicide feel relief when someone asks after them in a caring way. Findings suggest acknowledging and talking about suicide may reduce rather than increase suicidal ideation
  • BE THERE-   Individuals are more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful by after speaking to someone who listens without judgment.
  • KEEP THEM SAFE-   A number of studies have indicated that when lethal means are made less available or less deadly, suicide rates by that method decline, and frequently suicide rates overall decline.
  • HELP THEM STAY CONNECTED-  Studies indicate that helping someone at risk create a network of resources and individuals for support and safety can help them take positive action and reduce feelings of hopelessness.
  • FOLLOW UP-   Studies have also shown that brief, low cost intervention and supportive, ongoing contact may be an important part of suicide prevention, especially for individuals after they have been discharged from hospitals or care services.

Suicide and mental health is an important topic that we all need to be aware of and keep in our conversations.

Last week, Matthew West released a live performance video for "Too Young Too Soon". "Many of my songs are inspired by true stories, and sometimes those stories hit close to home," West shared on social media. “'Too Young Too Soon' was inspired by one of my daughter’s classmates who took his own life. Sam was an amazing kid, always had a smile on his face. But he was fighting a hidden battle."

West added, "This month is Suicide Prevention Month and I thought it would be a fitting time to shine a light on this song in the hopes that it might encourage anyone out there dealing with depression or thoughts of suicide. You are not alone, you matter, God loves you and your life is worth living."

Monday, September 14, 2020

Attitude of Gratitude III

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 continue to practice having an attitude of gratitude throughout the day. It is a conscious decision to be grateful. Why? There is an old proverb that states "Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings." Having gratitude makes life better. So my thought of  gratitude for today is that during this pandemic I feel like I have more time. I know that this is not really true. Time is finite and there are still only 1440 minutes in a day, but for me it feels like I now have more time. 

As states issued stay-at-home orders to limit the spread of COVID-19, an increasing number of people started working from home, or they’ve lost their jobs and are navigating unemployment and hoping for the best. While this was all happening, we heard countless jokes about how people are bing-watching Netflix (like "Tiger King"), stress baking sourdough bread, decluttering their homes, or learning new languages. 

This is not really true for me... I still work every day (albeit from home instead of the office) and there are still things that need to be accomplished as always, but I no longer have to drive to and from work. Many of the "extra-curricular" events and social activities that I use to spend time on have been cancelled or postponed. Even so, I realize that in reality it is probably that my priorities on how I spend my time have changed.

I touched on this subject back in April... I feel like I have more time to reflect and spend with God in prayer and scripture. More time to do all those little things that I was putting off until I had the time. Time to spend in longer conversations with my wife and with my family (even though it may be via Facetime or Zoom).

But just because it works for me, I am aware that not everyone feels the same. More time spent at home doesn't necessarily mean more free time. For many, the pandemic means balancing their jobs with child care and home-schooling duties. For others, a layoff means filing for unemployment and finding ways to cut costs. Many of us are cleaning more to prevent the spread of the virus and cooking more  as restaurants close or offer limited takeout. As people work from home, the ability for work hours to bleed into personal hours becomes easier. Health care and essential workers are facing the stress of battling the virus on the front lines. At the beginning of self- and government-imposed social distancing, there was a flood of online discourse about how to spend quarantine, and some found it overwhelming. 

So if you feel that you have less time than before. Don't worry... you are not alone.

Remember as God tells us in Ecclesiastes 3...

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

So, maybe after more consideration, its not that I actually have more time... but "better" time. Time that is better spent than how I previously used it. Time to talk to family and friends (even if only via technology) is better. Time for thought and reflection is better. Time to do all the little things that I enjoy is better. Time spent with God in prayer and in His Word is better. If I am using my time for these things, it is better. 

So as they say in New Orleans (although I am certainly using it out of context),  "Laissez les bons temps rouler." - Let the good times roll.

I am grateful for the time that I have and that it seems to be better spent. I hope that you are blessed with "better time" as well.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Flashback Friday

 Its Friday again... time to be like Doctor Who and jump into TARDIS to go back to talk about Contemporary Christian Music in the 80's & 90's.

This week, I want to feature a Christian rock group from Minnesota, PFR. Though they never reached to level of success that a lot of our featured artists have attained, it seems important to feature a group with "local connections". 

PFR was founded in 1989 as the Joel Hanson Band by Joel Hanson, who was a camp counselor at Camp Shamineau, a Christian youth camp just outside of Motley, MN.  Patrick Andrew suggested the band change the name to "Pray for Rain" after a line from a poem. In 1992, the band released Pray for Rain, and gained some attention with the song "Do You Want to Know Love". Shortly after releasing the first album, an existing band (an instrumental group who did soundtrack work) known as Pray for Rain threatened a lawsuit, leading the band to settle on the name PFR

In 1993, PFR released their second album, Goldie's Last Day, whose title track was inspired by the passing of Patrick Andrew's pet golden retriever. One of my favorite PFR songs came off this album, "That Kind of Love"...

Also in 1993, the band recorded a cover of "We Can Work It Out" by The Beatles with guitar legend Phil Keaggy. PFR released their third album, Great Lengths in 1994. The album had the band's biggest hit, "The Love I Know", inspired by I Corinthians 13. The Great Lengths tour introduced a new band, Jars of Clay, who would become one of the most popular Christian groups to date, also enjoying great mainstream success.

Having changed musical direction with each album, PFR moved into an edgier, heavy sound for 1996's Them. While the album was well-received, the band shortly afterward announced that they were splitting up. In 1997, The Late Great PFR was released, a greatest hits album containing three new songs, with one, "Forever" becoming a Christian radio hit.

PFR disbanded in 1997, they reunited in 2000 and have since recorded two albums and performed several shows.

 In 2012, PFR performed the "PFR Twelve in 2012" tour. Their first show was at Joel's home church, The Church of the Open Door, in Maple Grove, Minnesota on January 27, 2012. In December 2012, PFR released a 13-track, live album entitled Minneapolis. This album was made available exclusively as a digital download.

In 2013, PFR reunited once again and played the main stage at the Sonshine Festival in Willmar, Minnesota, but unfortunately announced on October 16, 2013 that the band had once again disbanded, for the first time, permanently, since 1997. 

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Jeremy & Adrienne Camp

 Last week, GRAMMY-nominated singer/songwriter Jeremy Camp and wife Adrienne Camp (former frontwoman of Christian band The Benjamin Gate) released The Worship Project, a 6-song EP that declares a steadfast faith in a faithful God. It is the first time in their 16-year marriage, and in nearly four combined decades as artists, that the couple has ever released music as a duo. 

Adrienne (Liesching) Camp is a South African-born singer/songwriter who was the lead singer of multi-GMA Dove Award-nominated pop/alternative rock band The Benjamin Gate, before retiring from the band to focus on her family. With five gold albums and more #1 radio singles on Billboard's Christian AirPlay Chart than any other solo act, Jeremy Camp is one of the most successful artists in Christian music. His most recent album, The Story's Not Over (2019), has already yielded two #1 radio hits, and three GMA Dove Award nominations. 

In March of 2020, Jeremy and Adrienne partnered with Lionsgate and Kingdom Pictures for the release of the movie, I Still Believe, a biopic based on a portion of Camp's life.

Check out this song from the new EP called "Whatever May Come".

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

New Music Releases

A couple of new music releases to share with you...

Phil Wickham’s highly anticipated new single "Battle Belongs," was released last Friday. Co-written with Bethel Music’s Brian Johnson, the track is a powerful proclamation that in Jesus we stand on the side of a battle that has already been won. 

"In 2 Chronicles 20, one of my favorite stories in the Bible, a huge army has amassed to come against the people of God," Wickham explains. "Every time I sing 'Battle Belongs,' it pumps me up because we know that in anything we might face, our God is bigger. I hope this song reminds people that He is with us and for us. If we stand firm and hold our position, we will see the salvation of the Lord on our behalf!"

Also on Friday, I AM THEY released their latest single, "Delivered". This release comes on the heels of "Faithful God", which released earlier this summer (and we featured back in July). Prior to this new music it had been two years since I AM THEY - made up of Matthew Hein, Abbie Parker, (vocals), Brandon Chase (vocals, guitar), Justin Shinn (keys), and Nicole Hickman (drums) - released "Scars," the chart-topping and award-nominated single from their 2018 album Trial & Triumph. With "Faithful God", "Delivered" and the other new songs to be featured on the new project, there’s a heaviness that's been lifted and the band has a redefined sense of what it means to hope for the future. 

Finally, the best-selling and most-awarded female gospel artist of all time, CeCe Winans released her new single “Never Lost”

Winans says, “The message of this song is so powerful. With so much going on in the world, the prayer for ‘Never Lost’ is to encourage and remind us that God is undefeated! Let’s continue to trust in Him like never before!”

As one of the most honored and beloved gospel artists in the industry, Winans has influenced generations of musicians over the course of her storied career. Overall, in her musical journey, she has won 12 Grammy Awards, 20 Dove Awards and seven Stellar Awards. She has produced 11 albums and sold more than 17 million records worldwide. Winans has also been inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and the Nashville Music City Walk of Fame, in addition to being named a Trailblazer of Soul by BMI and garnering multiple NAACP Image Awards, Soul Train Awards, Essence Awards, and more. 

I predict that you are going to be hearing "Never Lost" often on CCM radio...

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

New Artist - Leanna Crawford

It's always fun to find new CCM artists to keep an eye on. Leanna Crawford is one such artist. For the past two and half years, the singer-songwriter from northwestern Washington, Leanna Crawford, has been writing, touring and singing with some of the biggest names in the Christian music industry. She’s gained more experience than many artists do in a decade, and while her music certainly displays the vocal and songwriting talent of a rising star in CCM, her grounded and honest lyrics make her feel more friend and confidante than star, more approachable than untouchable.  

Leanna points to a mission trip to Haiti in 2012 where she felt God spoke to her, calling her into music ministry, specifically reaching and speaking into the lives of young women. Since this trip, Leanna has been striving to do just that. Leanna’s hard work began to truly take shape when she won Praise106.5’s Music Search (2013) with her song, "Moment by Moment," produced by Dove Award winning producer, Ed Cash (from We The Kingdom). Over the next few years, Leanna capitalized on opportunities to open for artists such as Jars of Clay, Audio Adrenaline and singing the "National Anthem" for a sold out crowd at a Pentatonix concert.

Captured by her sound, Grammy Nominated & Dove Award winner Matthew West began working with her in an artist development capacity. Continuing to develop her song writing & performance skills, Leanna is actively songwriting around town and touring on a regular basis with artists such as Michael W. Smith, Matthew West, Jeremy Camp, Tenth Avenue North, Matt Maher, Plumb & Jordan Feliz.

Her best song to date, "The Truth I'm Standing On" is just now starting to get some widespread recognition. 

Keep a watch on Leanna. I think we are going to be hearing a lot more from her in the future.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Attitude of Gratitude II

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.

A couple of weeks ago, Pastor Dave posed the question, "What are we thankful for?" This led me to do some thoughtful searching and publishing an article last week about gratitude for my church family. According to A.J. Jacobs (author of Thanks a Thousand),  "I have been an admirer of gratitude for years, gratitude is one of the keys to a life well lived. Perhaps, even, as Cicero says, it is the chief of virtues." Jacob cites research that demonstrates that "gratitude's psychological benefits are legion: It can lift depression, help you sleep, improve your diet, and make you more likely to exercise. A recent study showed gratitude causes people to be more generous and kinder to strangers."

Since today is Labor Day holiday, it seems appropriate that this week's gratitude is for work. We published an article about several things to reflect on for Labor Day in the September newsletter. I hope you have a chance to read it if you haven't already. 

Though I am thankful to simply have employment during these tough times when so many are unemployed, having a job just to survive is not really what I want to discuss in depth.

We all like to complain about work. It's easier to whine about annoyances and obstacles than it is to celebrate what is great about work. But, did you realize that it’s all but impossible to feel angry, restless or unappreciated when you’re feeling grateful. Gratitude fills us up in positive, productive ways and makes us much nicer people to be around. In fact, it can brighten those around us, too, making for a more positive working environment. Taking time to think about what you’re grateful for and expressing it changes your outlook and makes you more resilient. So, if you’re juggling oranges and someone throws you a lemon, you can adjust and adapt more quickly.

Everyone has bad days. Gratitude is a tool to help you get past them. It’s a positive way of looking at situations that relies on finding a silver lining. After all, who couldn’t use a little more positivity in their life and work? People who express gratitude are happier. They focus on what they have instead of what they lack. 

Think about some things at work to be grateful for. Maybe some of these apply:

  • Your boss
  • Your colleagues
  • Company Culture
  • The opportunity to learn and grow
  • Work Flexibility (personally, I love working from home)
  • Work-Life balance (mine is better know than it used to be)
  • The work is fulfilling (everyone wants to feel that the work they do is important)
  • Time Off (vacations and holidays are fun because it is time away from work)
  • Salary and Benefits (this one is obvious)

I hope that you can be thankful for some, if not all of these things.

And remember... be thankful for the problems that create your job.

The only reason a job—any job—exists is to solve a set of problems... be thankful for the problems at work. One of may favorite sayings with my coworkers when discussing (okay, more likely complaining) about problems is to state that they are simply "job security".  No problems, no job.

The problem of getting information to your friends and relatives around the world goes away when you have Facebook, email, and Skype—and so go thousands of postal service jobs, too. The problem of making it easier for customers to withdraw money from their account fades when you introduce the ATM—and reduce teller roles. And when the problems are not clearly defined and measured, such as in the value of leading and managing people, those jobs disappear, too.

So be grateful for the problems that create your job. You can still wish them away, but their presence ensures your presence.

Very few jobs are perfect (only God is perfect!) and there are always things that we would like to change, but if you really want to be happier at work, it's as simple as looking for reasons to be and making sure you're taking the time to really appreciate what you already have. You must actively focus your attention on the good to be happier at work.

This is where gratitude comes in. Gratitude is the act of focusing your attention and your energy on the things that you appreciate about your experience, making those things an active part of your awareness when your brain might have filtered them into the background before. When you make the good things happening a more active part of your experience by appreciating them on a deeper level, your whole experience becomes better and the negative things tend not to bother you so much.

The benefits of gratitude are extensive. Research has found that those who practice gratitude experience the following benefits:

  • You'll reduce your stress levels.
  • You'll experience greater career success.
  • You'll have higher self-esteem.
  • You'll have better relationships.
  • You'll be more empathetic and less aggressive.
  • You'll have better physical health.
  • You'll be more optimistic about the future and more positive about your life as a whole.
You may be thinking that the whole gratitude thing is na├»ve. Life is moving faster, stress and fear are increasing dramatically and the country is fast approaching a divisive election that’s on everyone’s mind. These are exactly the times that call for the benefits of gratitude. While there’s no gratitude gene, it’s a skill you can learn. And like anything, the more you practice, the better at it you become.

So, how about you? Do you have an attitude of gratitude towards work. I pray that you do.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Back to the 80's...

Time to jump into the DeLorean with Marty McFly and head back to the 80's. 

If you were to ask a CCM fan in the late 80's who is the best Christian rock band in the world, there would only be two contenders. The winner would probably be the band Petra, who we featured a few Friday's ago, but the case could be made for this week's featured group, WHITE HEART.

White Heart was an American contemporary Christian music pop-rock band which formed in 1982. White Heart's discography includes thirteen albums, the most recent of which was released in 1997. For a full-tilt rock band the group's origins hardly exude street cred. In the early 1980s, Bill Gaither (yes, that Bill Gaither) - massively popular songwriter exponent of inspirational and Gospel music was playing to packed auditoriums leading his Bill Gaither Trio. Among the Trio's backing band were Steve Green (who sang backup vocals, also fronted the Gaither Vocal Band, and who we will probably discuss more at a future time), Billy Smiley (who played guitar and trumpet) and Mark Gersmehl (keyboards and trombone).

Frustrated by their role as anonymous sidemen they formed a band with Dann and David Huff drawing inspiration from groups at that time like Toto, Boz Scaggs, Journey, and Steely Dan. They sent a demo to Word Records and by 1983 had had their first rock gospel album released White Heart.

The story of the White Heart's move from church hall to football stadium gigs was certainly not a seamless progression. The band faltered and hiccupped through numerous personnel changes  (including four different lead singers), moved through four different record companies and went through a crisis in 1985 which was the rock gospel equivalent of the Bakker and Swaggart scandals. Yet the resilience of their founding members Billy Smiley and Mark Gersmehl and the single unswerving vision to "take the gospel to the kids" (in the words of Gersmehl) saw White Heart not only emerge as rock gospel survivors but grow as men of God while their full-throttle guitar rock continued to find larger and larger audiences.

With hits too numerous to list, like "We Are His Hands", "Sing Your Freedom", "Let Kingdom Come", "Bye Bye Babylon", "Powerhouse", "The River Will Flow", "Independence Day", "Vital Signs", and many, many more great songs. White Heart was a favorite band of mine in the late 80's and I had a hard time picking which song to share, but here is "Desert Rose"...

In the words of Mark Gersmehl talking about White Heart:

What we do want people to think when they hear the name. Do we want it to be a great band, or great musicians? And he answer is no, we hope that's the basis for it, but it's that we hope to make a difference with people.

That is big idea for me, because there are so many Christian kids out there that have so little self value. And a lot of churches and denominations will teach that God loves you, but you're really nothing. And I really don't believe that. I believe God made all of us in his image, and that's a beautiful thing. We really want to tell Christian kids that God has made that difference in your life and so you make a difference in other peoples' lives. That's really the summation of what 'Power House' says, and it's what we are really about.

Although White Heart is considered one of the premier bands to ever play contemporary Christian music, and despite the many No. 1 hits and albums, they never won a Dove Award. White Heart was inducted into the Christian Music Hall of Fame on November 6, 2010.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

More Contemporary Christian Country

Last week we discussed the evolution of contemporary Country artists releasing songs with decided CCM bent. 

Last Friday, seven-time GRAMMY Award winner and five-time CMA Female Vocalist of the Year, Carrie Underwood, premiered the first pre-release track from her first-ever Christmas album, My Gift, available globally on September 25, 2020. The pre-release track, "Let There Be Peace", was written by Underwood, Brett James, and David Garcia. 

“I’ve always wanted to make a Christmas album and it’s been a long time coming,” says Underwood. “I knew this would be my next music project after wrapping my tour last year, and I think it’s turned out to be the perfect time for an album like this, in this period of such personal and spiritual reflection. For me, it’s more important than ever to focus on the true meaning of Christmas in a project like this. Even though it has been a tough year for all of us, sometimes I feel like the greatest realizations can be inspired by the most difficult times, and make us more grateful for the things we do have and for what truly matters.”

Though I hesitate to bring up the thought of Christmas since it is only the beginning of September, this song is appropriate for now and deserves a listen. I sure we will hear it often in the upcoming holiday season and even have a suspicion that this may be the big new Christmas hit for 2020.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

It Will Be Alright

Our local school system has just started. I'm sure that if it hasn't already, it will soon be starting for your area also. Whether the year is starting in-person, distance learning, or a combination of the two, there is much apprehension from school employees, parents, and children. This year has been stressful enough, but this involves kids and increases the worry and fear. Who knows if things will run smoothly this school year or need to be changed.

God knows! We may not understand or comprehend, but God knows. As Christians we must rely on that fact. “Fear not!” is the most repeated command in the Bible. It’s been said that there are 365 “Fear nots” in the Bible. This is not literally accurate, but "fear" is spoken of over 500 times in the KJV Bible. Often in relation to being taught to "fear God". But this simply means reverence to God alone and not to fear anyone or anything else. 

It has definitely been a tough year. testing our ability to not fear, not worry, and simply place our trust in God. Maybe this is ultimately God's goal for us this year. His way of telling us to place all our worries, anxieties, and fears in His hands. Maybe this is God telling us that "You Got This" because GOD'S GOT THIS.

Dante Bowe (of Bethel Music) just released a new song with Amanda Lindsey Cook called "Be Alright" which expresses this sentiment.

"'Be Alright' is dedicated to 2020," shared Bowe on social media. He continued, "Dedicated to people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures, and point of views. Many of which have fallen subject to symptoms and effects of things like the Covid-19 Pandemic, Racial Injustice and/or hard, natural life situations. Things like financial struggle, job security, and relational challenges all matched with the inability to go to church, marital strain, and kids being unable to go to school."

Tuesday, September 1, 2020


On Friday, NEEDTOBREATHE released a new album titled Out Of Body

On Out of Body, the platinum-certified trio—Bear Rinehart [vocals, guitar], Seth Bolt [bass, vocals], and Josh Lovelace [keys, vocals]—examine life, family, and friends through a youthful prism. The guys take stock of not only two decades as a band, but also first-time fatherhood and the future over a rich soundtrack of soulful rock with stadium-size scope and poetic intimacy. After spending a week at a beach house in Charleston to gather thoughts and ideas, the trio headed to Nashville, to record. As they cultivated a team atmosphere, the songs organically came to life.

According to the band:

“We’re excited to release Out of Body into the world in a such a crazy time like this. In truth, it seems like this record was given to us exactly when we needed it and we are just thankful to be a part. The album is arranged to take you on a journey of healing and wonderment. Sometimes it takes a complete change of perspective to see the beauty around us, and this album is the music for your spaceship,”

Lots of good songs on this album. Back in June, we first featured one of the songs "Survival"Earlier this month, People premiered “Hang On” and applauded the track as “super catchy.” I agree it is a good and will surely get a lot of airplay. Last week premiered the official music video for “Who Am I”, praising it as “a chill-inducing portrayal of this powerful song.” 

One of my favorites off the album... here is  "Who Am I"...