Beautiful Eulogy (LIVE)

I’ve posted about the resurgence of artistry and theology in “Christian” music before but I’m increasingly in awe of the fact that there is a movement, most notably in hip hop. Yes, hip hop. That surprised me at first, but it actually makes perfect sense. In the opposite corners of the pacific northwest and the southeast we have collectives like humble beast and Reach Records/116 Clique which are more theologically rich than most preachers’ sermons, let alone most songwriters.

This LIVE video is from a new album I’ve been wearing out…

Beautiful Eulogy (artist)
“Beautiful Eulogy” (track)
Satellite Kite (album… and also the name of another track)

Go get the whole album.

The Power of Music

This speaks for itself…. There is something powerful about music. It connects on a deep level and brings us to life in ways nothing else can. How are we using the power of music to connect and stir people to life?

Listener – A True Original

I was excited to finally receive a late Christmas gift in the mail… Listener’s Wooden Heart album on vinyl + digital download… (if you like these videos, pick up a copy of this album). I admit, I wasn’t on board when I first heard this guy years ago on a rickety wooden stage on a field beside a lake. My friend and I were first introduced to Listener at PAPA Fest (People Against Poverty and Apathy) but his style has matured significantly since that first encounter. (And I’m in a different place too.)

His unique “Talk Music” is best described as Hardcore Spoken Word Poetry backed by sparse Indie Rock. He’s not hip-hop (He used to be). What used to stress me out is suddenly restful. This album just clicked one day near the end of 2011… There is an incredible empathy as Dan Smith confesses and relates stories in a brutally honest and emotional style that is like nothing else you will ever hear. There is a grace and hope that is as unexpected as the Christ he follows. After finally dialing into where he was coming from, I felt not only encouraged personally, but motivated in community. (be sure to check out Building Better Bridges and House On Fire and Seatbelt Hands… Save Up Your Hopes Friends is an urgent reminder of the truth in The Book of Revelation) The album is below to stream in its entirety. Skip around. Listen through. Just do yourself a favor and give it a chance.

Easter Sunday: Skeleton Bones

HE IS ALIVE!

The resurrection is not just a historical fact, theological truth, or future promise. It is a present reality. It is more than mere doctrine, it is definitive. This is the core of our life as a Christ-followers: New Life. Abundant and Eternal.

We worship the resurrected Son of God. And He has breathed His immortal Spirit into our mortal bodies. By His shed blood, the dead have been granted life. The sinful has been made holy. His love is our heart beat. We live on every word that proceeds from His mouth. Live in this power and freedom as you worship your risen King today!

“Skeleton Bones”

Peel back our ribs again
and stand inside of our chest.
We just wanna’ love you
We just wanna’ love you

Peel back the veil of time
And let us see You with our naked eyes
We just wanna’ love you
We just wanna’ love you

We want your blood to flow inside our body
We want your wind inside our lungs
We just wanna’ love you
We just wanna’ love you

Skeleton bones stand at the sound of eternity
On the lips of the found
And gravestones roll
To the rhythm of the sound of you
Skeleton bones stand at the sound of eternity
On the lips of the found
So separate those doors
And let the son of resurrection in.

Oh let us adore the
Son of Glory drenched in love
Open up your gates before him
Crown Him, stand Him up

Saturday: Closer

“God is dead.” Nietzsche penned his infamous 3-word sentence almost 130 years ago. What he meant was that religious belief in God no longer had a place in society – we didn’t need Him anymore. Or at least, mankind did not live in recognition of a God from whom absolute morality and justice was found. Look at his words:

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us?”

The irony, we know, is that while it is true that mankind largely lives as if God does not exist, or at least as if He does not have authority and power in our lives and the world, we need Him desperately. Though not as he meant it, Nietzsche’s words ring partially true of the Christian faith and of this holy weekend. He did not remain dead, but in some divine mystery, God became flesh and willingly died at the hands of sinful men. The Creator was murdered by His creation. What on earth is man capable of doing to make right this unthinkable sin of killing God metaphorically, but even more so of killing Him literally?

Nothing. There is nothing we can do.

It hit me a few years ago, that between Good Friday and Easter Sunday exists 24 hours of Saturday. For one day, Jesus lay in that tomb. The stone had not yet been rolled away. God… was… dead… Not in every sense, don’t get bent out of shape theologically if that sounds blasphemous to you. What I mean is simply this: Can you wrap you heart and mind around the historical fact that on Saturday, following the crucifixion, Jesus the one and only holy begotten Son of God was dead. Man had literally killed the divine: Jesus being fully God and fully man… Dead.

And there was no hope for anyone. What was a sacrificial death on the cross without the resurrection?

It is the Light breaking forth on Sunday that is our hope. It is by the power of His resurrection in us that we too experience newness of life. If the story ended with the cross and the tomb and a stone rolled over it, we would have merely sealed our own damned fate – eternally guilty of not only rebelling against God, but murdering His own Son. By His grace alone did He overcome the world and give us hope of redemption.

Don’t rush from the cross to the empty tomb. Meditate today on the fact that Jesus laid in the tomb, His body lifeless, as He waged war on sin and death. Yes, we know that tomorrow is coming. But today, the shadow of death was darkest as Christ was lain in a tomb, wrapped in grave clothes, and sealed in the earth by stone, guarded by Roman soldiers.

We need more than philosophy, science, morality, inspiration, or even religion. Today, we need a God who is real. A God who not only loved us enough to endure the cross on Friday and conquer the grave on Sunday, but to lay in that grave, burying our sins on Saturday – forever removing Death’s sting.

There is nothing we could do to ever draw closer to the God we have sinned against. We are helpless. We are forever in debt to sin unless our ransom is paid. But by His grace, He came to us, not just as the promised Messiah, but through the power of His Spirit, revealed in the gospel and received by faith. We have been set free. And we owe Him the very lives He has given to us!

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
(James 4:8-10 ESV)

“Closer”

Come closer, closer to me.
Find me broken, find me bleedin’
cause I need more now than a fairy tale,
a god who lives in a book.
I need someone real.

So would you come?
Would you come?
If i begged you, would you come closer to me now?

Come closer, closer to me.
Find me broken, find me on my knees,
cause I need more now than philosophy.
Some god in outer space doesn’t mean anything to me.

So would you come?
Would you come?
If I begged you, would you come closer to me now?
Would you come?
Would you come?
If i begged you, would you come closer to me now?

Son of David, do not pass me by,
cause I am naked,
I’m poor and I’m blind.
Son of david, don’t pass me by,
cause I am naked,
I’m poor and I’m blind.

Good Friday: Death In His Grave

Death In His Grave Performance from Christopher & Nathaniel Calnin on Vimeo.

I’m especially excited about this Good Friday. Amanda and I are meeting her brother and his girlfriend for Secret Church tonight at Brook Hills. What an incredible time to focus on Crucifixion, Salvation, and the Glory of God. Intense time in God’s Word and in prayer for the persecuted Church around the world.

My prayer is that the suffering, salvation, and sanctification of Christ becomes deeply personal today as we reflect on the work of Christ for the glory of God. (Read Luke’s account of Friday’s historical events here.)

*Check out John Mark McMillan’s blog for yesterday’s line-by-line commentary on today’s song.

“Death In His Grave”

Though the Earth Cried out for blood
Satisfied her hunger was
Her billows calmed on raging seas
for the souls on men she craved

Sun and moon from balcony
Turned their head in disbelief
Their precious Love would taste the sting
disfigured and disdained

On Friday a thief
On Sunday a King
Laid down in grief
But awoke with keys
Of Hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The Man Jesus Christ
Laid death in his grave

So three days in darkness slept
The Morning Sun of righteousness
But rose to shame the throes of death
And over turn his rule

Now daughters and the sons of men
Would pay not their dues again
The debt of blood they owed was rent
When the day rolled a new

On Friday a thief
On Sunday a King
Laid down in grief
But awoke holding keys
To Hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The Man Jesus Christ
Laid death in his grave

On Friday a thief
On Sunday a King
Laid down in grief
But awoke with keys
Of Hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The Man Jesus Christ
Laid death in his grave

He has cheated
Hell and seated
Us above the fall
In desperate places
He paid our wages
One time once and for all

Maundy Thursday: How He Loves

So, it wasn’t until the last couple of years that I knew what “Maundy” Thursday even meant. It comes from the Latin word for “Commandment.” So Commandment Thursday…. What is that all about? And what does it have to do with Easter Week? (Maybe you already know this – but it was a big deal for me.)

On the day before His crucifixion, Jesus met one last time with His disciples. As they celebrated the Passover at this “Last Supper,” Jesus said to His disciples: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 ESV)

The world should see the love of Christ in our lives as His disciples. That’s how they’ll know we follow Him. Not because we go to church on Sundays (or at least on Easter). Love. The Way Christ loved us. That’s what we should be known for. Deep. Passionate. Love for God and for each other. Is this what it means for us today to be a disciple, a follower of Christ? If we’ve turned it into anything else, I pray that this Easter weekend, we let Christ redirect our hearts’ desire.

A few weeks ago, we saw John Mark McMillan at Vinyl – a small bar venue in Atlanta, GA. The worship of our Resurrected Savior was undeniable. And I’m sure the bartenders had never experienced anything like the raucous praise filling the dark room and pouring out onto West Peachtree Street… flooding downtown with the love of Christ.

So for the next few days I wanted to post a video and lyrics from John Mark McMillan that fit the events of this Easter Weekend. What better way to kick things off than with:

“How He Loves”

He is jealous for me
Loves like a hurricane
I am a tree
Bending beneath
The weight of his wind and mercy
When all of a sudden
I am unaware of these
Afflictions eclipsed by glory
And I realize how beautiful you are
And how great your afflictions for me

Oh how he loves us so
Oh how he loves us
How he loves us so

Yea He loves us
Oh how

We are his portion
And he is our prize
Drawn to redemption by the grace in his eyes
If grace is an ocean we’re all sinking
So heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss
And my heart burns violently inside of my chest
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets
When I think about the way
He loves us

Oh how he loves us so
Oh how he loves us
How he loves us so

Yea He loves us
Oh

SISU = “Stubborn Guts” in Finnish

That’s your foreign language lesson for the day. How many Finnish words do you know? Probably one. Now.

I can’t remember the last time I was so floored artistically and uplifted spiritually as when I was introduced to the music of Josh Garrels. Truly unique, but the best I could put it is think: the surprisingly rich soul of Paolo Nutini or Alexi Murdoch, the beautiful realism of John Mark McMillan or Ben Harper, an occasional bend toward the eclectic hip hop of Citizen Cope, the haunting atmosphere of Sufjan Stevens or Gungor, and the middle eastern Mumford & Sons collaboration… all infused with a heavy dose of Holy Spirit. Did you follow that? Josh Garrels takes it to church. I want to see and feel and love Christ the way this guy so clearly does in his music. I want to know this deep kinship with martyrs and our brothers and sisters around the world.

Mason Jar Music Presents… Josh Garrels from Mason Jar Music on Vimeo.

Below are some links to freebies to get you started (including the song “SISU” which was too interesting a title to pass up) and if you like him… or love him… support what he does and buy something and spread the word – fresh, artistic and worshipful music that flows from and into a realm that is anything but mainstream and stale.

Go to his site joshgarrels.com to hear more, download free mp3s (click on the harmonica), link to his vimeo account and check out his store. *UPDATE: GET HIS NEW ALBUM FREE*

Click here to download a free concert from the Relevant Magazine Podcast.

Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise Video

This week’s free video on iTunes is The Avett Brothers’ Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise. (Download it here) But just like the title, the song’s video is a bit conflicted – an artistic juxtaposition…

First, let me say that The Avett Brothers put on one of the absolute BEST live shows around. My wife and I caught them this past New Year’s at The Fabulous Fox Theater in Atlanta with my good friend in life and ministry, Andy Blanks and his wife Brendt. All four of us were blown away. (I won’t detour into our people-watching adventures, but concertgoers can be ridiculous with their go-to dance moves, incoherent outbursts, and enthusiastic gestures…. head-bobbers, leg-slappers, fist-pumpers, whoopers and whistlers… and the token “i love you” guy.)

Second, I loved this video (obviously) and wanted to share it. I’m not sure if the art was done by Scott Avett or not; the painting seems to be very similar to his style (view Scott’s gallery). I can’t imagine how much time went into the production of this video. It’s over four minutes of stop-motion style animation with a painting, probably done digitally (like that iPad artist using the brushes app), and it looks awesome.

BUT, with the countless thoughts running through my head as my imagination was lead along this painted journey, I was left impressed by two things:

1. I love the Book of Ecclesiastes, and this video reminded me of the futility of man’s great achievements and the natural cycle of this world. There is nothing new under the sun. There are seasons, highs and lows. Ultimately, everything man does will be stripped away, returning to dust, only for the next guy to come along with the same  great “new” idea. So there has to be a greater purpose than living for the so-called success and progress depicted in this video. We can’t depend on the things of this world, especially material things, to find meaning and satisfaction. (Which is their point, I believe.)

2. I was distracted by the video to the point of missing many of the lyrics (which as a writer, is one of my favorite things about The Avett Brothers). Ironically, the other theme seemed to be intentionally inserted in the middle of the video. At one point the sign is surrounded by the noise of competing signs. I say this is ironic because it seemed to unintentionally speak to the video as a whole, the noise of the medium drowning out the message. This made me wonder about life, leadership, ministry, writing, teaching, and communication in general… how often does the message get lost in the delivery? Does the creative presentation draw too much attention onto itself? Do the two work together or do they compete? Even if the creativity, production quality, and message are all incredible, is it cohesive? Is there synergy?

If there is a greater purpose and meaning in life (which I believe there is) then I want to be able to clearly communicate that in everything I do. Sometimes that means knowing when to reel a great idea in to better suit the content.

8 years ago… our faith journey

Honeymoon in St. John (the journey begins)

“The tune that is yours and mine

to play upon this earth,

we’ll play it out the best we know,

whatever it is worth.”

Bob Dylan – The Wedding Song

Happy anniversary to my beautiful bride.

I thank God for the faith journey He has us on together.

8 years ago TODAY… God joined us together, man and wife and the journey “officially” began.

7 years ago TODAY… We moved to a new state, homeless, trusting God to provide a home as we followed His call… He did within weeks.

6 years ago… We stepped out in faith again, trusting God to provide a new job for Amanda… He did within a week.

5 years ago… We trusted God to provide as I stepped into a church staff position even though the math never added up… He has always provided.

4 years ago… God blessed us with our first daughter. Adalyn was born and we stepped out in faith again as Amanda stayed home to raise and disciple our child… God continued to provide.

3 years ago… God was growing our family and our faith as Amanda was pregnant with Ella, our second daughter… Our awe of God’s grace in our lives grew exponentially.

2 years ago… God called me to step into a new world – full-time writing – promising to open the doors of opportunity… He swung that first door wide open a month later.

1 year ago… We were surprised by yet another little girl – Katy Jane – and God grew our hearts and faith as we weren’t sure how we would manage now that we were outnumbered and the math had still never worked…

TODAY… God continues to provide, bless, and stretch our faith. We don’t know what the future holds, but He has proven faithful to us every step of the way and I am confident that He has great things for the years ahead as we seek to be faithful to Him. Thank you God for the gift of my bride and mother of our children. Thank you for calling us to this life together. Thank you for your guidance at every turn (thank you that those turns in our journey are never surprising to you and that you’ve always gone ahead to prepare the way).

What’s My “Cupcake”?

I was sitting in Starbucks this morning, reading Isaiah, and couldn’t help but overhear the conversation across from me. A suburban mom was meeting with her young personal trainer or some sort (super-cool young kid, with his Vibram 5-finger shoes… you know the ones with the toes in them… and tight t-shirt to properly display “the gun show” as Ron Burgandy would say).

With great enthusiasm he worked formulas, explaining grams and kilograms of what to eat and when as well as what amount of activity should be implemented at what intervals… blah blah blah… He never held her full attention during the conversation – she was texting and repeatedly getting up for napkins, etc. BUT then the barista gave away some free cupcakes which had tipped over, smashing the icing on top. The trainer instinctively snatched up the freebie without a second thought, much to my amusement. (No young guy passes up free food, even if he is a health nut.) He then proceeded to walk through calorie counts and whatnot while dangling his goodie bag as he spoke, literally. He held it in the air, with his elbow propped up on his knee between his notebook and the woman’s line of sight. Her eyes were hopelessly transfixed on the imperfect treat she had reluctantly declined from the trendy Starbucks employee… poor lady could have swam laps in the pool accumulating around her ankles as her mouth watered. She never blinked. If staring contests were an Olympic sport she’d have broken the world record this morning.

The scene obviously made me laugh, pondering the discrepancy between what this young man was “preaching” and what he was “practicing”… Who’s going to listen to the fitness guru telling you to count your calories as he munches on a cupcake?

On further reflection, I wondered how I was just like this hypocritical trainer – knowing all the information, speaking passionately about it, even looking the part, but unwittingly flaunting a temptation. Or how am I even like the half-hearted woman – committing to do the right things, going through the routines because it’s the right thing to do, but I sure don’t really care about it? I’d prefer to have my cake and eat it too, but i’ll practice self-control much to my own dismay.

In light of Isaiah 1:11-18, I wondered: What is MY cupcake?

What sin am I completely blind to? Am I flaunting it? Am I obsessed with it? Is it a distraction in my own life or do I even know that I’m holding onto this temptation, distracting others instead and ruining my own credibility?

Am I the hypocritical trainer? Am I the half-hearted trainee?

What in my life doesn’t lineup with the faith I claim? Has my worship and righteousness become a matter of empty-religious routine which God (and the world) wants nothing to do with, because it rings hollow of true conviction?

it would be super-cliche’ to conclude with : “food for thought”  but…

Life In The Office

Our office here has a culture that is a little different from most, I imagine. For starters, we have writing, editing, audio, video, photography, animation, design, drama, carpentry, sales, tech, programming, finance, events, and missions under one roof. And for the most part, we’re pretty young. So when you get all kinds of creative people into one place, someone is going to need a mental break, outlet, or moment of new inspiration.

The objective of this game is simple: walk from Drew’s office to Taylor’s office as quickly as possible while holding a fish eye lens to one eye and covering the other. (I went second in this round of attempts.)

Classic moments from days gone by – I miss some of these guys around here.

In the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, today I simply wanted to be reminded to make the most of the day, enjoying the work God has given to me, content in any and every circumstance, and doing it all in obedience to and awe of God. I’m thankful for awesome friends surrounding me as we pursue the glory of God with the gifts he has entrusted to us (and having fun along the way).

Student Life Office
Student Life Office