Monday, December 20, 2010

WHO NEEDS SABBATH?

     Who needs Sabbath? Isn't it an outdated concept from some old history book? Don't tell that to author and pastor Mark Buchanan.  In his book THE REST OF GOD-RESTORING YOUR SOUL BY RESTORING THE SABBATH (2006, W. Publishing Group) Buchanan tackles the 'ancient' subject. In his mind we all need a time to rest. Whether you're a college student busy with papers and exams or a parent trying to take care of your kids and all that entails, it is a good and healthy thing to take one day a week-it need not be Sunday, and refresh yourself. God gave us Sabbath as a gift. Not only do we need to take a day a week to rest, we need to find times during our busy week to remember, reflect and anticipate. We need to reflect on who we are, who God is, what really matters to us.  A main enemy of Sabbath keeping is busyness. 
     The Sabbath points towards the eternal rest we will experience in heaven.  If we experienced perfect rest here, we would have no need for heaven.  Our citizenship is in heaven.
     Buchanan challenges the old idea of Sabbath being a time where you could have no fun. Not so many generations ago, you couldn't even throw a ball on the Sabbath.  Buchanan says legalism then, is another enemy of Sabbath keeping. On the Sabbath he says, we should do things that aren't necessary and things that we enjoy doing. 
     I have to admit I wondered how one could write a whole book on the Sabbath, but Buchanan has done just that and done it well.  He is a skilled writer.  If you find your life spinning out of control, with all your obligations and pressures pushing in on every side, I recommend finding time to read this book which offers solid practical advice on how to keep the Sabbath meaningfully, and find your center again.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

SOMEWHERE DOWN THE ROAD

     Amy Grant describes SOMEWHERE DOWN THE ROAD (2010, EMI) as a "collection of songs about the journey of life."  The songs on this collection were written between 1982 and 2009.  Four of the songs are from 1997.  Amy writes: "I was asking a lot of questions about truth and reality in those last couple of years of my first marriage.  With so much uncertainty in my life, music was a safe place to explore the landscape."  Three of the four tracks from this period are co-written by Wayne Kirkpatrick.  'Every Road' is mellow, and like so many of Grant's songs over the years, could be addressed to God or a human love interest.  'Somewhere down the Road' is about the things we don't understand, and assures the listener that one day we will have answers to our questions.  'Come into my World' is a rough recording featuring just Amy and a guitar.  It is about someone whose life is falling apart and expresses a desire for companionship during the process.
     Six of the songs are from 2009.  The album opener, 'Better than a Hallelujah' is inspirational and speaks of how God wants communion with us: "We pour out our miseries, God just hears a melody/Beautiful the mess we are, the honest cries of breaking hearts/Are better than a hallelujah." 'Overnight' is a duet with her then seventeen year old daughter, Sarah Chapman, who has a pleasant voice.  It is a song for the impatient and the weary: "If it all just happened overnight/You would never learn to believe what you cannot see."  'Find what you're looking for', co-written by Mindy Smith is a tune about how to treat each other: "Haven't we all learned the best life lessons/By falling and falling down hard/If we're looking for somebody's failures/We won't have to look very far."  Two tracks, 'Hard Times' and 'Third World Woman' would have fit nicely on Amy's LEAD ME ON record.
     Also included on SOMEWHERE DOWN THE ROAD are a 2010 version of 'Arms of Love', originally recorded on 1982's AGE TO AGE, and 2001's 'Imagine/Sing the Wondrous Love of Jesus' from LEGACY...HYMNS AND FAITH.
     Amy Grant brings a seasoned artistry to this CD.  She also utilizes many talented performers including Vince Gill, Greg Morrow, and Chris Rodriguez.  I'm giving this light pop release a 4.5 stars out of 5.  Now 50 years old, I look forward to what she does next!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

GOING DEEPER

     Stephanie Israelson's DEEPER STILL is somewhat of a departure from her pop/rock album LEAD ME THERE released two years earlier in 2007.  DEEPER STILL is decidedly a modern worship project, produced, mixed, and mastered by Andrew Horrocks in Kitchener, Ontario.
     Stephanie is the reigning Covenant Award Female Vocalist of the Year and one listen of this album reveals why.  The album kicks off with 'Reign in me', an upbeat song of surrender featuring good guitar work.  This is followed by a great, contemporary worship number 'Call on You' that evidences a fundamental confidence in God: "I will call and You will answer/You will be the light that shines upon my face/Your hand will guide me through the day." 'Mighty is Your Name' sounds celebratory and finds her in love with her God: "Mighty is Your Name above all others/I will celebrate You Lord/Mighty is Your Name/And I will praise and love You evermore."  'Alleluia', a radio single, is a ballad shining more light on why Stephanie is in love with God: "You are just and holy God and You see me through the blood/You have cleansed me from all sin and You overflow my cup."
     At least three songs look forward to the second coming of Christ, a theme too oft neglected in today's CCM.  'The Waiting' is a beautiful ballad acknowledging that we have to endure suffering before our Lord appears.  'Ageless One' pledges: "We will watch and pray awaiting Your return/Let us not grow faint/It's for You that we yearn." 'We Cry Out' has a more traditional feel to it to begin with, but then builds.  I could hear Crystal Lewis singing it.  It declares: "We're only here to tell the world about Your grace/Until the day You take us all away."
     The title track, 'Deeper Still' is a rocker that would have fit nicely on Stephanie's previous project.  Co-written with Andrew Horrocks and Naomi Knoll, it is about taking one's relationship with God to the next level: "Launch me out into the deep/Spirit take me/I will go deeper still in You/In You."  The only weak spot on the album is track seven 'I Will Tell'.  It is quite simplistic lyrically and seems better suited to a kid's praise project.
     All in all, this is a modern sounding record that I would recommend especially for 18-40 year olds.  It is clear that not only does Stephanie Israelson have a great voice, but she has a vibrant, loving relationship with her Heavenly Father as well.  I look forward to the next chapter in her recording career.  Thanks to David C. Cook Distribution Canada for carrying this release.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

WHERE IS GOD WHEN IT HURTS

     With Christmas less than six weeks away the subject of this book, namely pain and suffering, is quite relevant today. Philip Yancey's WHERE IS GOD WHEN IT HURTS was first published in 1977 by Zondervan Publishing House. The copy I read was a revised and expanded edition put out in 1990.
     Yancey writes: "Many suffering people want to love God, but cannot see past their tears.  They feel hurt and betrayed. Sadly, the church often responds with more confusion than comfort." Some have rejected Christianity because pain and evil exist.  Some see pain as 'God's one mistake.'  I like the following quote: "I have never read a poem extolling the virtues of pain, nor seen a statue erected in its honor, nor heard a hymn dedicated to it."  Suffering calls into question our most basic beliefs about God. Nietzche said: "It is not so much the suffering as the senselessness of it that is unendurable."
     The author believes that pain is valuable in that it tells us something is wrong and thus, is a doorway to recovery.  Much suffering he believes, is a result of the fall of humankind. In the Bible, both God and Satan cause suffering.  In addition people in Scriptures have to endure painful consequences for their sinful actions.  There are times in Scripture though when people suffer and it is not because of something they have done.
     Yancey proposes that we need to focus less on why we suffer and more on our response to suffering.  James 1:2-4 makes it clear that we are to count it all joy when we face trials. You don't have to be joyful about what you are going through, but rather, be joyful about what it can bring about in your life-things such as perserverance, strength, and character.  Yancey writes: "Where is God when it hurts? He is in us-not in the things that hurt-helping to transform bad into good." We can have hope in the midst of our trials: "Hope means simply the belief that something good lies ahead.  It is not the same as optimism or wishful thinking, for these imply a denial of reality." Hope is more like courage than cheerfulness.
     Yancey says there is no avoiding pain and suffering in this world: "The cross of Christ may have assured the final outcome, but battles remain for us to fight."  Christ took on all our pain at the cross and we should take comfort in that: "The surgery of life hurts.  It helps me, though, to know that the surgeon Himself, the Wounded Surgeon, has felt every stab of pain and every sorrow." When Christ ascended into heaven after rising from the dead, He left us the Holy Spirit to comfort us. 
     On a practical note, Yancey makes a strong case that we are to bear each other's burdens. This is something the modern church needs to make a priority.  John Donne said: "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main."  Yancey writes: "Today, if I had to answer the question 'Where is God when it Hurts?' in a single sentence, I would make that sentence another question: 'Where is the church when it Hurts?'  We form the front line of God's response to the suffering world."
     Christians can be encouraged by the fact that pain and suffering are temporary.  Yancey reminds us: "This is a groaning planet, and Christians expectantly await a world where every tear will be wiped away." We shouldn't be embarrassed to believe this.  Our bodies will be transformed to 'be like His glorious body.'  A secret to handling suffering is to nourish your spirit.  St. Teresa of Avila said "from heaven the most miserable earthly life will look like one bad night in an inconvenient hotel."
     In this book you will find an examination of the suffering people endured during the Holocaust, as well as the story of Joni Eareckson Tada, who was paralyzed in a diving accident when she was a teenager.  You will also learn how to redeem your pain.
     At Christmas, pain and suffering and loneliness come knocking ever the louder at one's door. Christians need to learn how to minister to those with physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs, rather than ignoring them or distancing themselves from them.  When Jesus walked upon this earth, He did not embrace pain with great joy. Rather, he healed many, and sought to relieve suffering.  This is the example we should follow.
    

Sunday, November 07, 2010

TAYLOR SPEAKS OUT

It is not often that I give an album a 5 star rating, but Taylor Swift's SPEAK NOW (2010, Big Machine Records) merits this honour.  The album clocks in at 67 minutes and 27 seconds and features fourteen tracks penned by Swift, and co-produced with Nathan Chapman.  The following is my song by song breakdown:

1. Mine-This radio single speaks of a playful innocence: "Do you remember we were sitting there by the water?/You put your arm around me for the first time/You made a rebel of a careless man's careful daughter/You are the best thing that's ever been mine."  The words flow freely off of Swift's tongue.
2. Sparks Fly-This song is joyful and about falling helplessly in love: "The way you move is like a full-on rainstorm/And I'm a house of cards/You're the kind of reckless that should/Send me running but/I kinda know that I won't get far."
3. Back to December-This is a ballad about regret: "So this is me swallowing my pride/Standing in front of you saying I'm sorry for that night." A good vocal.

4. Speak Now-This song takes place in a dream, and is similar in theme to 'You Belong with me' from her last album.  Vocally, Swift sounds like Leigh Nash on this one: "I lose myself in a daydream where I stand and say/Don't say yes, run away now/I'll meet you when you're out of the church at the back door." A playful song.
5. Dear John-This sounds like Avril Lavigne gone country.  It's about an unpredictable, unstable love interest.  You can hear the ache in her voice.
6. Mean-This has a more traditional country feel to it.  It looks to the day when she will make something of herself in the city despite naysayers.

7. The Story of Us-This is new country, and Swift uses her speaking voice on it a bit, to good effect.  It's about the breakdown of a relationship: "Now I'm standing alone in a crowded room/And we're not speaking/And I'm dying to know is it killing you like it's killing me?/I don't know what to say since the twist of fate when it all broke down."
8. Never Grow Up-This one's done in a folk vein.  It encourages young girls and teens to cherish their youth and their parents.  It would fit nicely on Christian radio.
9. Enchanted-This song starts stripped down and then builds.  It's about being infatuated and hoping that person isn't already taken.

10. Better than Revenge-I can see the crowds jumping up and down to this one.  It begins with Swift humorously saying: "Now go stand in the corner and think about what you did."  It's about a girl who steals other girls' guys: "She's not a saint, and she's not what you think/She's an actress, whoa/But she's better known for the things that she does on the mattress/Whoa/Soon she's gonna find stealing other people's toys on the playground won't make you many friends."
11. Innocent-This one is pretty and is encouraging to those who feel they've really messed up: "32 and still growing up now/Who you are is not what you did/You're still an innocent/Time turns flames to embers/You'll have new Septembers."
12. Haunted-This song has Swift throwing her voice a la Alanis Morissette somewhat.
13. Last Kiss-Is a ballad about when a relationship ends and one of the partners can't come to grips with it: "So I'll go sit on the floor wearing your clothes/All that I know is I don't know how to be something you miss/I never thought we'd have a last kiss."
14. Long live-Sees love set on a royal landscape and uses language like 'kings', 'queens', and 'kingdoms'. Sounds like a song of victory and puts me in mind of the Narnia movies and First Knight.

SPEAK NOW is a stellar work of art.  A must have for your collection!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

NEWSBOYS-BORN AGAIN

     I have two initial thoughts after listening to the NEWSBOYS latest full length project with new lead singer Michael Tait, BORN AGAIN (2010, Inpop).  First of all, this sounds neither like a NEWSBOYS record, or a TAIT project.  It sounds like a fresh new band for the most part.  Secondly, the album strikes me as being one of the most blatantly Christian albums lyrically I have heard in the Christian market lately.  It is a textbook of sorts for the Christian lifestyle.
     BORN AGAIN leads off with the title track, which is a good rock number that describes what the process leading up to conversion can be like: "I found myself looking into the mirror/Knew I wasn't who I wanted to be/Was living life the way I wanted/But my eyes reminded I'm not free."  'Escape' is another rocker, this time about fighting temptation.  It encourages believers with these words: "Press toward the Light/And the Light will ground you/Go with the flow/And the flow will drown you" and "Don't believe the hype/It's such a letdown."
     'One Shot' and 'When the Boys Light Up' are about sharing one's faith in Christ.  The latter song also addresses those who thought the band was done when lead singer Peter Furler retired from the road: "All the doubters-I heard 'em say/Now the band's gonna fade away/But the boys are back for a second act." And that they are!
     'Way Beyond Myself' has a contemporary, techno feel to it, and features female vocals by Chanel Campbell.  'Impossible' feels like a R&B song, and lyrically will be appreciated by possibility thinkers with a Christian bent.  'Running to You' and 'On your Knees' are both melodic numbers about prodigals returning home to God the Father.
     'Mighty to Save' is a great cover song for this band, which emphasizes the Good News and shining it brightly: "Saviour, He can move the mountains/My God is mighty to save/He is mighty to save/Forever, author of salvation/He rose and conquered the grave/Jesus conquered the grave."  The cd closes with a good cover of dc talks's 1995 hit 'Jesus Freak', with rapping duties handled by KJ52.
     Not only is BORN AGAIN a good pop/rock album, more importantly it encourages youth to give themselves wholeheartedly to Jesus. And this could start a spiritual revolution!
     I'm giving this one an 87%.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

SWIMMING IN THE OCEAN

     THE OCEAN is Bebo Norman's seventh studio project.  It was released September 28, 2010 on BEC Recordings.  It opens with a nice pop song, 'Everything I Hoped You'd Be', which expresses a desire for an intimate relationship with God: "Take me to the river/Lead me to the healer/Let it wash me over, oh my soul." 'God of my Everything', of which there are two versions on the album, one being more radio friendly, similarly petitions God: "Oh God of Heaven, come and hem me in/Gather the pieces that are broken/Show me the wonder of You again/Oh God of Heaven."
     'Could you ever look at Me' finds his voice sounding ragged.  It is a ballad about how God is the center of his wife's world, and not him: "I hope you never look at me the way you're looking at the ocean/Cause in the sunrise I have seen I was never meant to be/The light of your world." 'The Middle' is a ballad about relational struggle that I could see Michael Roe doing.
     Two inspirational tracks at the end of the album are noteworthy.  'I hope you see Jesus' is co-written and sung with Laura Story.  Norman's vocals are appropriately shaky on this one: "Instead of anger, instead of unbelief/Instead of weakness in the heart of me/Instead of a wounded soul that sometimes loses faith/I hope you see Jesus." Do I hear an "Amen" from the congregation?  'Remember Us' is a song of surrender to God: "When the light of day is gone/And our suffering is long/We lift up our needful song/To the Maker of all."
     OCEAN is produced by Bebo Norman and Jason Ingram.  Ingram co-writes and performs on the album as well.  I recommend this one to fans of light pop artists such as Sara Groves.  I'm giving it an 80%.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

HOW TO BE BORN AGAIN

     I just finished reading HOW TO BE BORN AGAIN by respected evangelist Billy Graham. The book was published in 1977 by Word Books.  That's right, thirty-three years ago!  Of the new birth, Graham writes: "Some have thought of the new birth as a single event in time, while others use the term to speak of all God wills to do in our lives.  Ultimately, there is a mystery about the new birth; we cannot understand everything about it, for our minds are finite." I found this to be an interesting quote. Graham points out that humans try to fill the void in their lives and souls with many things including fame, alcohol, eastern religions, and academics.  Of intellectuals, he writes: "They would like to save themselves, because pride nourishes self-esteem, making us believe we can manage ourselves without God." What a grave error this is! Graham believes that we should not reject the Gospel just because we don't fully understand it. There is much in life we accept but don't fully grasp. He writes: "If the human mind could fully prove God, He would be no greater than the mind that proves Him."
     Graham tackles the question of the eternal destiny of those who have never heard of Christ: "I am convinced that when a man sincerely searches for God with all his heart, God will reveal Himself in some way.  A person, a bible, or some experience with believers will be used by God to reach the one who seeks." This answer will not satisy everyone, but I think it is pretty decent.  Graham believes there are false religions who will use Christian terms such as 'messiah' and 'salvation', so we have to be on the lookout.  He believes, as do I, that there is only one way to heaven: "Nothing could be more grossly wrong than the old cliche that 'any religion will do, as long as you're sincere'." He reminds us that Abel brought God a blood sacrifice that pleased Him, while Cain did not.
     Sin is what separates us from God. It is 'living for self'.  He writes: "Sin is like cancer.  It destroys step by step. Slowly, without our realizing its insidious onslaught, it progresses until finally the diagnosis is pronounced; sick to death."  There is hope though.  God sent His innocent and pure, only Son, Jesus, who was fully God and fully man at the same time, to redeem us.  Graham proclaims: "The only human hope for peace lies at the cross of Christ, where all men, no matter what their background of nationality or race, can become a new brotherhood." The resurrection of Christ is key to the Christian faith. If Jesus did not rise up after three days, then our faith is worth nothing, and is 'folly'.  If we believe in this tremendous event there is much to be gained: "If you trust the resurrected Christ as your Lord and Savior, He will be with you when you die, and will give you life with Him forever."
     In order to come to Christ, we must repent of our sins and change our lifestyle.  Johnny Cash is an example of someone who did this. Only God can help us do this.  (Anyone who is a Christian knows this is a lifelong process in many ways in my opinion).  When we become a Christian, we are forgiven of our sins, past, present, and future.  We are adopted by God, and filled with His Spirit.
     To conclude the book, Graham prescribes three things to help a new Christian grow in their faith. These three things are spiritual food if you will. They are Scripture reading (the Bible), prayer, and Christian fellowship (church, small prayer groups, etc).
     Having been a Christian since 1986, I found HOW TO BE BORN AGAIN, to be a good refresher on the basics of the Christian faith.  It was also a good reminder of how salvation works and what follows.

Friday, September 24, 2010

LISTEN UP!

     Cindy Morgan's fourth album, LISTEN, was released in 1996 on Word Records and was produced by Brent Bourgeois.  It begins with 'The Master's Hand', which is about reliance on God during life's difficulties: "You carry me through the hard times in life/Oh and You rescue me from the storms in the night."  'Moon Days', the rockiest song on this project has a similar theme.  If it were to be covered by one of today's more popular artists, I'd choose Natalie Grant.  'To Fly' is a story song of sorts.  It is a pretty ballad that finds her on a train imagining what it would be like to rise up above life's hardships and find purpose: " 'Cause in our hearts/We seek the part/God designed for us."
     The lyric for the title track 'Listen', was written by Cindy's father Cova Morgan in the 1970's.  It is a plea for people to listen to the Gospel with their ears and their hearts.  'Gravity' concludes that we need God's help to believe in Him and that it is crucial that we believe: "Dear Lord, help us believe now/In the true light, burning tonight/'Cause we won't survive/If we don't believe now."
     'The Promise' is a ballad about the pain of divorce.  At the other end of the emotional spectrum, 'They Say it's Love ("Stars")' is a jazzy, fun, pop tune about falling in love.
     LISTEN is a fine pop album.  Impressively, Cindy wrote ten of the twelve tracks alone.  Vocally at times she sounds like Tammy Trent.  I'm giving this one 84%.

Friday, September 03, 2010

WE CRY OUT-THE WORSHIP PROJECT

     Jeremy Camp arrived on the Contemporary Christian Music scene in 2002 with his debut album STAY.  Ever since, he has been a force to be reckoned with, winning Male Vocalist of the Year in 2004 and 2005.  He has had nineteen number one hits!

     His latest release is his second worship album, WE CRY OUT-THE WORSHIP PROJECT (2010, Bec Recordings).  The album starts off strong with two stellar, guitar driven songs.  'Jesus Saves' written by Tim Hughes and Nick Herbert, is sung with determination and declares: "Free at last/What a joyful noise we'll make/As we join with heaven's song/To let all the world know that Jesus saves/Raise a shout to let the whole world know/That Jesus saves."  'Not Ashamed' written by Jeremy Camp and Jon Egan, is sung with resolve: "Even tho few may stand and proclaim Your great name/It's the life I want to live/Cuz I'm convinced there is none like You." 'The Way' is performed with the Joy of Africa choir and invites God's glory to fill the land.  How much that is needed in this day and age cannot be overstated!

     The title track 'We Cry Out' written by Jeremy Camp and Brenton Brown, is a beautiful, mid-tempo song that fans of the Newsboys worship material should enjoy.  It is celebratory: "We will cry out to You/Your loving kindness and Your truth/It has delivered us/You have delivered us." 'Unrestrained' is a ballad about wanting to be purified by God.

     I have two criticisms about the album as a whole though.  The first is that some of the songs are so mellow that they seem more aimed at people, probably ladies, in their forties and fifties.  'You are the Lord' written with Matt Maher, and 'Overcome' written by Jon Egan, are examples.  Die hard worship fans will appreciate the songs though.  My second criticism is that there are some covers of songs already overdone by other artists in the field.  How many versions of 'Mighty to Save' do we need?

     WE CRY OUT-THE WORSHIP PROJECT showcases great musicianship throughout, including Camp's band, as well as industry vets Scott Dente and Jerry McPherson on guitars.  The album was produced by Brown Bannister and Jeremy Camp. I'm giving it a 75%.

     A trailer for the album can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjH5MqH_jbc

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

REFLECTING ON WHAT MATTERS MOST

     Cheri Keaggy released her third album WHAT MATTERS MOST on Sparrow Records in 1997.  It opens with a bouncy, pop number 'What a Privilege' which features her uncle, Phil Keaggy by way of guitar solo and backing vocals.  The song is about intimacy with Father God: "I'll drink from Your cup/And You can fill it up/I know there'll be enough."  Next up is the title track, a ballad featuring album producer Phil Naish on accordion.  This song is decidedly about priorities: "What matters most/Is how much we love/What matters most/Is how much we give/What would it matter/If we just lived/Without loving our God/Without loving each other?"
     'Overture to Freedom' is a gorgeous instrumental track with Cheri on piano, accompanied by The Nashville String Machine and Concert Master Carl Gorodetzky.  The strings are arranged and conducted by the late Tom Howard.  When I listen to this, I can picture the graceful movements of ice skaters or dancers.  'Freedom Calling' is an inspirational anthem featuring The Soul Children of Chicago.  It shares the essence of the Gospel with these words: "There's only One who can give breath to life/Dead on a cross and then risen alive/So I could know freedom/And you could know freedom/And we could have freedom in Christ."  'Part of Your Story' is pretty and compels the listener to enter into a relationship with Christ: "Can you not sit at my table/We could be the best of friends/If you would just let me in/But you won't/'Cause you don't think you're in need."  Handing the reigns of one's life over to God strongly clashes with much of what today's society says is important and desirable.
     'His Banner over Me' and 'Glory Be' are great, original praise and worship songs.  I recommend this project to fans of Erin O'Donnell, Sara Groves, and early-era Amy Grant.  I'm giving it an 85%.

Friday, August 13, 2010

THE GENEROUS MR. LOVEWELL

     Given the creative title of, and the theatrical pictures in the booklet for Mercy Me's latest project on INO Records, THE GENEROUS MR. LOVEWELL (2010), one is led to believe that it is a concept album that tells a story.  This does not seem to me to be the case though.  That being said, some of the songs would fit nicely on a concept CD.
     There are several good songs on this project.  The title track is a pop song, with Beatles influence.  It wouldn't sound out of place on Randy Stonehill's WONDERAMA.  THE GENEROUS MR. LOVEWELL  is about the importance of doing small acts of kindness that benefit others: "He wakes up every day the same/Believing he's gonna make a change/Never wonders if but when/I guarantee he can find a way to reach out and make somebody's day."  'Crazy Enough' is slow and groovy and continues on the same theme: "Call me crazy/But what if we learned to love our brother for nothing in return."  One of my favourites is 'Beautiful', a song for when one is weary and downtrodden.  The message will ring true with everyone from the lonely college girl away from home to the overbooked soccer mom.
     Fans of Mercy Me's more worshipful tunes like 'I can only Imagine' and 'Word of God Speak' are not left out on this latest disc.  'All of Creation', already a Christian radio hit, and 'Only You Remain' will satisfy. 
     The problem with THE GENEROUS MR. LOVEWELL as an album is that there are three or four forgettable songs such as 'Move' and 'Won't You be My Love'.  The latter is similar thematically to Casting Crowns' 'If we are the Body', but is inferior to it.  While a new band might be forgiven this many average songs on an album, Mercy Me has been around the block enough times that expecatations should be higher.
     I'm giving THE GENEROUS MR. LOVEWELL a 70 percent!

Monday, August 09, 2010

GOD'S POLITICS

     GOD'S POLITICS-WHY THE RIGHT GETS IT WRONG AND THE LEFT DOESN'T GET IT was written by Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine, and published by HarperSanFrancisco in 2005.  This book is a thoughtful examination of personal faith and how it should influence one's politics.  Though Wallis writes mainly about the U.S. political scene, the faith principles he lays out can easily be applied to other countries as well.
     It doesn't take long to figure out that Mr. Wallis is not a fan of the Religious Right, represented by suich televangelists as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, and Focus on the Family head James Dobson.  He is an evangelical Christian though.  He feels, as do I, that the Religious Right has hijacked American Christianity.  In their version of Christianity, it almost seems like abortion and homosexuality are the only issues Christians are interested in.  Dangerously, this is often combined with a strong support for war as God's means to bring about peace.  Wallis, thus, was not a big fan of President Bush either.  Walllis sees no Scriptural proof that Jesus would support war, especially an unjustified one. Can  you say 'weapons of mass destruction'?"
     The Republicans are not Wallis' only target however.  He criticizes Democrats for not being willing to discuss spiritual and moral issues more openly.  He makes a strong case that neither party is properly addressing to the full the problem of poverty on home turf-this while millions are being spent on war.  Both parties need to tackle the environmental issues of our day as well.
     Wallis believes one can be morally conservative, but liberal when it comes to social issues.  One can support 'civil unions' but not 'marriages' when it comes to homosexuality.  There should be room in both political parties for people who hold these beliefs.  Furthermore, various faith groups in the U.S. must join together to fight for a better America.
     My only complaint with GOD'S POLITICS is that there is a fair bit of repetition when it comes to Wallis' major points.  This should not deter one from reading it though.

Friday, July 23, 2010

GETTING SNAPPY

     2007 saw Hokus Pick receive a Lifetime Acheivement Award from the Canadian Gospel Music Association.  Ten years prior to that, the band released what may well be the strongest album of their career.  SNAPPY contains the hit, horn-filled song 'I'm So Happy', a celebration of good things coming one's way: "Playing guitar in a band/Just got back from Disneyland/Driving a new 4X4/Ed McMahon is at my door."  It's good to see that over the years Hokus Pick didn't lose their quirkiness, even as their musicianship improved.  In this respect they could be compared to Barenaked Ladies.
     Russ Smith and the rest of the guys in Hokus Pick present a realistic view of Christianity on 'We are the People': "God never promised the skies would be blue/Smooth sailing all the way through/He never promised sun without rain/Joy without sorrow, peace without pain."  Love is a theme examined on SNAPPY.  The album opener, 'Faith, Hope and Love' states: "Love is patient, love is kind/It never withers, even in the grind."  The chorus of 'Our God' declares: "Our God loves us all/So let's all love our God."  Fans of the band's earlier, peppy material will enjoy 'Comfort Song' that exposes the fault of putting trust in anything but God: "I put my comfort in my looks/My face has grazed the front of magazines and books/I don't want to get beat up by a crook/I put my comfort in my looks/Give it up, let it go/Step out of your comfort zone/God is great, we are lame/Yeah (x6) really lame."
     I'm giving SNAPPY an 88%.  This is a fun, guitar driven album, conveying truths we all need to be reminded of.  SNAPPY was released on Freedom Records.

Monday, July 19, 2010

CHLOE

CHLOE came out in 2009. This film stars three heavyweights, Julianne Moore as Catherine, Liam Neeson as her husband David, and Amanda Seyfried of Dear John and Mean Girls fame as an escort.

The movie begins with Seyfried narrating matter of factly what her job description is.  In other words she describes what is required of her physically and mentally in her profession.  I feel that this was a good way for the movie to start as the flick is based around Catherine hiring Chloe to see if her husband is indeed being unfaithful to her, as she suspects.  The whole subject of escorts is a touchy one, no pun intended.  It certainly stirs a lot of emotions from people of all walks of life, so I found this tale intriguing. 

You could view this movie from several viewpoints. First, take the viewpoint of Catherine, the wife.  Imagine the betrayal you would feel if your partner cheated on you. The range of thoughts you would have would be wide. Inadequacy, anger, hurt, sadness, grief, despair, jealousy-you'd be a ball of flaming emotion!  Then, the viewpoint of the husband.  The lure of a younger woman, the thrill, the desire, the lust, the unknown, the game. But then, the guilt, the realization of what one has done to his family, and the sorrow and grief.  The matter of whether one could be trusted ever again.  Finally, the viewpoint of the escort, or the prostitute, or just the 'other woman'.  The excitement, the conquest, the need to be loved and feel valued. The worry about being found out. The question as to when the affair will come to an end. The abuse suffered for the money taken. 

This is one of those movies that will make you think about what you are watching. Amanda Seyfried is quick becoming one of my favourite actresses.  The movie is not excessive in its' skin content considering the subject matter.

CHLOE is a pretty good movie.  It was however slow at points and not put together the best in my opinion.  I'll give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

Monday, June 14, 2010

GOING TO CHURCH WITH PATTY GRIFFIN

     Patty Griffin released her gospel project DOWNTOWN CHURCH on Credential Recordings earlier this year.  It begins with the slow 'House of Gold' that showcases her powerful voice.  The song stresses that having assurance of where your soul is going is more important than having wealth.  Tell that to Wall Street!  Death and what follows it are recurrent themes on the album.  'Move Up' is a rockabilly Elvis style tune that speaks of going to see Jesus and relatives that have gone before.  'Death's Got a Warrant' is super heavy on the percussion and reminds us we can't escape death: "God's got your number/He knows where you live."  Buddy Miller joins Griffin on 'Never Grow Old'.  It talks of how we will praise God forever 'when our work here is done.'  'We Shall all be Reunited' gives us the hope that heaven has no sorrow or separation.
     Griffin shares some Bible stories on DOWNTOWN CHURCH.  This is something oft lacking in CCM songs.  'If I had my Way' is a bluesy song telling the tale of Samson and Delilah.  'The Strange Man' tells both the story of the Samaritan woman who meets Christ at the well, and the story of the woman caught in adultery.  Jesus is the 'Strange Man' because of the countercultural ways he deals with these ladies.  'I Smell a Rat' is the funnest song.  I could hear either Dolly Parton or Christina Aguilera singing it!  It is both fun and accusatory: "You won't tell me where you been/Whiskey running all down your chin." 
     I highly recommend this CD to anyone wanting to hear a truly authentic album by a genuine artist. Visit http://www.pattygriffin.com/ for more info on her.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

DANA KEY GOES HOME

     What will I remember most about Dana Key?  First of all, I will never forget the strong, evangelical Christian message, he and partner Eddie DeGarmo presented over the years through their songs.  They encouraged their listeners to own their faith in Christ, grow closer to Christ, and share Christ with others.  Songs like 'Casual Christian' and 'Rock Solid'  sought to build a vibrant, unshakeable faith.  With 'Boycott Hell', the urgency of saving souls was portrayed.  'Six Six Six', the first Christian video on MTV, warned of the Antichrist.  DeGarmo and Key also built the self-esteem of folks up, with tunes like 'I'm Accepted'.  Eddie and Dana also sang songs on topics such as teen suicide, premarital sex, and violence in schools.  They encouraged Christians to look out for one another if they were heading down a dangerous path or were discouraged.  As a teen and even into my thirties now, these songs have helped shape my faith, likely more than many sermons I have heard.
     When I remember Dana Key, I will also remember his incredible guitar work on songs like 'Hangin' by a Scarlet Thread' and 'Let's Get Upset'.  The man could really rock!  DeGarmo and Key's last studio album TO EXTREMES (1994) rocked harder than ever.  This was a band that had opportunity to go mainstream but did not want to compromise or water down their message.  Dana and Eddie, usually backed by Tommy Cathey on bass, and Greg Morrow on drums, knew how to put on an entertaining show and minister the Gospel.  There was always great anticipation for a D and K show!  Along with Petra, and Whitecross, these guys were heroes to me. 
     Dana defended Christian rock against critics in his 1989 book 'Don't Stop the Music'.  DeGarmo and Key helped upstart bands such as dctalk, Audio Adrenaline, and Big Tent Revival, by letting them open for them. 
     Dana released two solo albums.  The first, THE JOURNEY, traced the life of Christ in song.  The second, PART OF THE MYSTERY, included the songs 'Dear Mr. Clapton' about Eric's child's death, and 'Liar, Lunatic, or Lord', asking the listener to choose which of the three they thought Christ was. 
     Since they disbanded around 1995, D and K played a handful of reunion shows, including one at Cornerstone Festival's 25th year Anniversary in 2008.  Dana was currently pastor at The Love of Christ Church in Memphis, TN (http://www.tlcmemphis.com/).  He leaves behind a wife, and three children. 
     Thank you Dana for helping shape who I am today and what I believe.  If you're not familiar with DeGarmo and Key's music, check them out on itunes or youtube. Pictured above: Dave Alward, Dana Key, Mark Alward (my bro), and Eddie DeGarmo at Kingdom Bound 1994.
     My favourite DeGarmo and Key albums are 1987's D and K, 1989's THE PLEDGE, 1992's DESTINED TO WIN: THE CLASSIC ROCK COLLECTION, and 1994's TO EXTREMES.
     I believe I saw D and K about four times between 1989-ish and 1994, and I saw Dana solo in Paris, Ontario circa 1994.  Memories I will cherish for sure!

THE REST OF HEALTH

     I just finished reading my autographed copy of David and Sonya Cameron's THE REST OF HEALTH.  He is a family physician, while she is a liscenced marriage and family therapist.  I had the pleasure of attending Emmanuel Bible College with Sonya!  Are you feeling stressed out?  Having marriage problems?  Difficulties with co-workers?  Wondering who God is and how He relates to your everyday life?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, this book is for you.

     I liked this book because it does not minimize the problems we encounter in our daily lives, and frankly it does not give overnight solutions to them.  Much of the advice given, and many of the strategies presented, have to be worked hard at, and applied over and over.  Afterall, anything worth having isn't come by easily.

     I will touch on a few of the more interesting concepts to me in the book.  The Cameron's examine fifteen faulty thinking patterns we can fall into and offer healthy alternatives.  I studied some of these in an anxiety group I attended not so long ago.  Examples of faulty thinking include: negative filtering, thinking in extremes, pessimistic predictions, imagining a disaster, taking things too personally, and assuming emotion is truth.  I find the whole topic of faulty thinking fascinating.  There are some patterns I know describe me to the full.  There are some I thought I had, but now realize I don't.  As well, there are some I likely have, but am too blind to see it!  The book is worth picking up for this section alone.

     David and Sonya also write about the importance of physical health, exercise, and what one eats.   They offer some specific advice on these topics and show a direct relationship between our physical health and mental well-being that works both ways.  They also write about the importance of setting boundaries.  Are you the type of person who can't say no to others, to the point of burnout?  No worries, this book will show you how to break free of that!

     A final topic of interest to me was that of apology and forgiveness.  This is a very personal topic.  Resolving conflict in relationships is vital to our overall health, but so rarely done properly it seems. I have a lot to learn here.  David and Sonya walk the reader through steps to healing that both acknowledge the wrongs committed and the effects they had, and release the offender and victim from guilt and shame, so both parties can move on, and even potentially reconcile in many cases. 

     The Cameron's present all of these concepts and more, through the story of a fictional couple, Mike and Sara Forrester, which is effective.  My only beef with the book is minor-some of the humour is fairly corny.  I have been accused of the same though!

     For more on the book and the Cameron's, visit http://www.truefoundation.com/ and http://www.therestofhealth.com/.  Also, visit a bookstore near you and get your copy today!

Saturday, June 05, 2010

DEAR JOHN

     DEAR JOHN, like THE NOTEBOOK, is based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks.  Amanda Seyfried, who plays Savannah, and was in MEAN GIRLS, and is also in CHLOE, which I have yet to see, was mainly what drew me to rent this movie.  At times I loved her character as she is cute, down to earth, and good hearted, and at one point I despised her character.  Watch the movie and you can likely figure out at which point that was.  Channing Tatum plays her love interest, John.  While some male heartthrobs irritate me, such as Josh Hartnett at times, Tatum does not in this movie and acts quiet well and has good chemistry with Seyfried.
     DEAR JOHN examines long distance relationships brought on by one partner being in the military.  Long distance relationships of any kind require a reliance on strong communication and going through frequent bouts with loneliness.  Doesn't sound like much fun, eh?  The benefit though is a strong relationship if one perserveres.
     This film also looks at people who are not considered normal in our society-particularly the autistic and the obsessive, reclusive types.  The fast pace of our lives and our uncertainty on how to interact with these folks often leads us not to.  This movie shows healthy ways we can be involved that are beneficial to both parties.  Patience is key. For more on autism watch the special features on the dvd. 
     I give DEAR JOHN four out of five stars!

Monday, May 31, 2010

GETTING AN EDUCATION

     This BBC film was nominated for three Academy Awards this past year: Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay.  It came out in 2009.  When I rented it, I was thinking it would be in the vein of the Poison Ivy movies, ie a teacher-student fling.  I had not done a lot of research on it, and it actually turned out to be quite a different movie than what I had expected it to be.
     Carey Mulligan plays Jenny, a cute school girl who falls for a man more than twice her age, David, played by Peter Sarsgaard.  She is bored with her daily routine and going to school.  She needs a change. She wants to break away.  David is able to offer her travels, cultural experiences involving exposure to art and music, money, and attention.  He seems like a great guy, but there is more than meets the eye. You'll have to watch the movie to find out what that is, if you haven't seen it yet.
     This movie is a good examination of older guy, younger girl hookups. What is the draw for each party involved? What needs are being met on both parts? The movie allows you to draw your own conclusions about the morality of the actual relationship.
     The topic of education could also be studied using this movie, which is based on a memoir.  How much value is there in formal education? How could school be made more relevant to everyday life and peak the students interests and engage their passions? I think the movie shows that there are some lessons you can not learn in school. Life outside the brick walls has to teach you them. And you may have to learn the hard way. 
     Emma Thompson holds steady as Jenny's headmistress, while Alfred Molina is good as Jenny's dad, Jack.
     This one is on the slower, artsy side of things, but i'm giving it a 3.75 out of 5.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

BROOKS AND DUNN-THE LAST RODEO: My review

     Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn have been making country music together as a duo for a couple decades, and racking up over twenty number one's in the process.  They can sing about having a good time in a bar, and matters of faith equally well, and perhaps that has been part of their draw.  We are all 'saints and sinners' depending on the day or the hour.  There is a certain realness to their songs.
     THE LAST RODEO tv special aired this past Sunday night on CBS from 8-10pm est.  It was actually filmed though in Las Vegas shortly after the Academy of Country Music Awards.  As with any tribute show, this one had its' share of hits and misses.  Chick magnet Keith Urban gave a solid performance on 'Brand New Man' with its' religious lyricism.  Brad Paisley in a trademark white cowboy hat, did justice to the upbeat"Workin' on my Next Broken Heart'.  Carrie Underwood donned a nice silver dress and covered 'Neon Moon' which she said she'd been singing since she was eight years old.  I particularly enjoyed Taylor Swift's performance of 'Ain't Nothing Bout You'. She came out in a sparkling purple dress and was certainly not lacking in the energy department. I hope she records this one! Swift has a likeable, innocent personality.  I loved it when she tossed her guitar and took to the mic. 
     Other performances left me unmoved at times.  Darius Rucker's 'Hard Workin' Man' fell flat for me, but it was superb compared to Jennifer Hudson's awful take on 'Believe'.  Sugarland attempted to be artistic with one of my favourite Brooks and Dunn songs 'Red Dirt Road', but it was so slow it was almost depressing.  No one dared touch 'My Maria'.  I would have liked to have heard someone do "You can't take the Honky Tonk out of the Girl'.  I love that vid by the way!
     There is no doubt Brooks and Dunn influenced those who came after them.  They have set records that will be hard to beat as well.  Best of luck with your solo careers after one last tour together guys!

Monday, May 03, 2010

NEVER GIVE UP

     I received this Joyce Meyer book from my dad this past Christmas. NEVER GIVE UP came out in 2008 and is published by Faith Words.  I used to watch Joyce on tv more frequently and generally liked what she had to say. 
     This book is a must read for anyone who is going through, will go through, or even has gone through difficulties of any kind, whether the troubles be of a financial, relational, emotional, physical, psychological, or spiritual nature.  I like the book because unlike some prosperity teaching it starts with the premise that we will all go through troubles and can't just wish them away.  They are a part of life for believer and non-believer.  Troubles can be persistent. They are not easy to work through.
     I appreciated Meyer's honesty in revealing some of the difficulties she has had to work through over the years.  These include suffering abuse at the hands of her father, and facing ridicule as a woman trying to enter the ministry.  While she does not go into too much detail, she gives enough that she seems just like the rest of us trying to work her way through this thing we call life. 
     Reading this book you will learn the importance of properly using God's Word, purposely thinking in a proper manner, and defending yourself against the devil's attacks.  She assures the reader that rewards will come for our diligence and faithfulness, but they may not come in the form we desire them to or at the time we think they should.  Bravo Joyce! 
     This book could be used in so many ways really-to fight self-doubt, self-pity, depression, the list goes on.  Whether you are a post-secondary student, a middle-aged parent, or a senior citizen fighting loneliness you will find helpful tips in this book. It's easy to read and encouraging!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

FRANCESCA BATTISTELLI'S PAPER HEART

     Looking at, and listening to Francesca Battistelli's MY PAPER HEART-DELUXE EDITION (Fervent, 2010), it is hard to believe that Contemporary Christian music was once dominated by female vocalists old enough to be my mother or grandmother and would likely appeal to them more.  Names such as Evie, Sandi Patti, and Twila Paris will sound familiar to some of you.  Francesca brings a hip, contemporary, fashionable sound and look to the CCM genre, and the girl can sing, which doesn't hurt either.  In fact, she was this year's FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR at the Doves.  Style-wise, this album will appeal to fans of artists such as Natalie Grant and Miley Cyrus.

     There are several bouncy, upbeat numbers. 'Free to Be Me' is about discovering one's destiny: "Cause I got a couple dents in my fender/Got a couple rips in my jeans/Try to fit the pieces together/But perfection is my enemy/On my own I'm so clumsy/But on Your shoulders/I can see/I'm free to be me."  'Unpredictable' is about not putting God in a box and thinking we have Him and what He has in store for us, all figured out.  'It's Your Life' reminds us that it really does matter how we live as Christians: "It's your life/What you gonna do?/The world is watching you/Every day the choices you make/Say what you are and who your heart beats for/It's an open door/It's your life."  Balancing this out, is the ballad, 'Behind the Scenes' which features this confession: "Things aren't always what they seem/You're only seeing part of me/There's more than you could ever know/Behind the scenes/I'm incomplete and I'm undone." 

     Francesca shines on the simple, yet beautiful, worship track 'Forever Love', as well as on the soulful pop track 'Blue Sky'.  'Beautiful, Beautiful' is a good, powerful ballad in the vein of AVALON, about God seeing the best in us, and His ability to transform us.

     A couple of the weaker tracks in my estimation are, the title track, 'My Paper Heart', which has weak, cheesy lyrics, and, a somewhat lacking cover of Brooke Fraser's 'Lead me to the Cross'. 

     This deluxe edition includes bonus tracks from the Dented Fender Sessions.  A stripped down version of 'Free to Be Me' with a country feel to it, works well, while a piano based take on 'I'm Letting Go' doesn't work so well.

     Overall, I'm giving this project an 85 percent.  Visit http://www.francescamusic.com/ for more info!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Midget, the Speck and the Molecule


The Swirling Eddies are certainly one of the more unique bands in the history of the genre of music that is known as Christian rock. They are a side project of Terry Scott Taylor of DANIEL AMOS and LOST DOGS fame. Taylor writes all of the songs on the Eddies latest release, 2007's The Midget, the Speck and the Molecule, released on Stunt Records. My favourite Swirling Eddies tune from past projects is 'Hide the Beer, the Pastor's Here', in which the singer doesn't want his pastor to find out he's human and has flaws.

The latest Eddies project begins with the snarly, guitar driven 'It all Depends'. It is reminiscient of DANIEL AMOS' Kalhoun-era material. The subject of the song is perspective, as evidenced by this lyric: "Well they took away dear Jesus and they hung Him on a cross/Some say He won in the end/And some say He lost." This is followed by the title track, which is a slow, alternative rock number, I take to be about conscience, and whether we heed or ignore it: "Ah, turn back baby, turn around/The bridge is out and you will surely drown."

It's hard to tell whether the next song, 'Madonna Inn', is supposed to be humorous, meant to stretch the boundaries of what is permissable in Christian music, or is merely a story song. You won't hear these lyrics on the Christian top twenty at any rate: "Baby, let's drive to madonna inn/I've saved up my dough/Just so you'd know/You're my lady madonna/I'm your holy joe/We'll do everything righteous that your mama calls sin/At madonna inn." To be fair, Taylor frames the story in the context of a honeymoon. 'My Cardboard Box' finds Taylor frisky again, this time as a homeless man: "Come home with me sweety/Cos I like you lots/My place gets a little cold/Might wanna double your socks/And I will warm you with my lovin'/As the temperature drops/We'll make it toasty as an oven/In my cardboard box."

If you've followed Terry Scott Taylor's music over the years, you know he writes a lot tongue-in-cheek, and can be quite entertaining. Such is the case with the quiet 'Snow in a Can': "Candles for romance/Canned music for mood/Sex in a pill, and tan in a tube/For winter a heater, for summer a fan/Instant coffee and cameras, sea-monkeys and tang/Is just some of the stuff which I think is grand."

The Swirling Eddies have cooked up a real treat here on The Midget, the Speck and the Molecule. Some listeners may be offended by mild cursing. 77%.
For more on the Eddies visit www.swirlingeddies.com or www.danielamos.com

Monday, January 11, 2010

John Schlitt Live in Cambridge!

 
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On November 22, 2009 my wife Lauretta and I went to our first ever John Schlitt solo concert at Silverheights School in Cambridge, Ontario. John was the lead singer for the bands Head East and Petra. I had seen Petra a handful of times starting with the Beyond Belief tour and ending with the Farewell tour in 2005. Through my teen years up to the present, John has been one of my spiritual heroes.

The show got underway just after 7 pm, with a three piece worship band from the church (thelifecentre.ca). A young gal with a pink guitar was accompanied by a drummer and another guitarist. They led us in two loud worship numbers, the first of which was a Hillsong tune. There were about one hundred people in attendance, of all ages, which was nice to see.

John Schlitt came out around 7:15 wearing a black sportsjacket, a black t-shirt from 'Not of this World Clothing', and a pair of blue jeans. He definitely is looking older, and now wears glasses, but he looks in better shape than on the Farewell tour, trimmer and more muscular. He performed with tracks and guitarist David Teems, who would also be in his fifties I would guess, and may be working on a book on Schlitt's life.

Schlitt opened the night with the song 'Gravity' which speaks of God keeping us grounded despite all the different directions the world can pull us. The song also served to warm up his voice which he said had been tested on this Ontario tour which also included stops in Barrie, Bradford, and Burlington.

Next up, was 'God is too Big' from his second solo disc 'Unfit for Swine' from 1996, which was his foray into alternative rock. Schlitt told the story of how he had high hopes for the song at the time, but some radio programmers had complaints that it sounded like Schlitt was singing 'God is Stupid' and the song got pulled from rotation. It makes for a good story though. Schlitt had a boy around eight years old join him on stage to yell 'God is too Big' on the chorus. Quite a treat for the boy and his parents!

'Show me the Way' from his first solo disc 'Shake' from 1995, was next. It is an adult contemporary ballad with the same message as Amy Grant's 'Lead me On' or Smitty's 'Place in this World'. Two songs from 'The Grafting' cd, 2008, were next. The first was 'The Grafting', a song very close to Schlitt's heart, as he has five grandkids via adoption. He is so thankful the mothers did not choose abortion. The song also talks of how God grafts us into His family through the blood of Christ. 'Only Men', another ballad, speaks of the fact that there is only one true God to be worshipped. Schlitt said back in his early days with Petra he was in Europe and couldn't believe how Christians were made fun of over there. He said fast-forward to today and it's happening over here. He believes North America is the last bastion of Christian freedom. He said the Bible doesn't call Christians to be doormats. The way Schlitt reads the Bible, his Jesus didn't walk around in slippers and let people walk all over Him. Christians shouldn't be 'fluff and puff' people. Jesus got angry when people turned His Father's house into a marketplace! Schlitt also said he was not a big fan of President Obama's policies.

It was a real treat when for tracks six and seven Schlitt reached into the Petra catalogue and did 'Just Reach Out', and their signature song, 1990's 'Beyond Belief'. The crowd really came alive, including myself, during this one. A couple of times during the show, he pointed at me (we were in the third row), and I was apparently looking pretty excited, and wearing my 'I'm a Pethead' t-shirt. Schlitt stressed the importance of growing after we become Christians. We will never be perfect, but we should grow. Next up was the popular worship chorus 'Trading my Sorrows' from II Guys from Petra, which in my eyes was Petra's fourth worship project. Schlitt ended the night with 'Inside of You', which speaks of the wonders God can do in each of us. Schlitt encouraged those who did not have a personal relationship with Christ or had fallen away a bit, to talk to him afterwards or to to one of the pastors.

After the concert some of the people from the church laid hands on John and David, and a prayer was offered for their ministry. I should add that David was a great guitarist/sidekick. I was able to shake hands with John after the show and finally after all of these years got a picture with him thanks to my beautiful wife Lauretta!