Thursday, July 28, 2011

New CD:William Matthews--Hope's Anthem

Hope’s Anthem is the debut release by singer/songwriter William Matthews. With a combination of styles such as R&B, soul, pop and a bit of bluegrass, Matthews original compositions take the listener through a range of worship styles from joyful and carefree to introspective and contemplative.

Beginning with his participation leading worship at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, MO, Matthews then moved on to Bethel Church in Redding, CA, where he currently lives, writes and continues to lead worship. Additionally, Matthews will be conducting a tour of California churches, featuring songs from his debut album.

The album opens with the unconventional sound of banjo and mandolin in the upbeat I’m Free. This is followed by a range of styles from slow to driving tempo tunes such as Deep Cries Out. Matthews brings a fresh version of Psalm 40 in the upbeat So Good To Me, as well as a remake of Psalm 23 in The Lord Is My Shepherd.

Echoing Bluetree’s God Of This City is the fourth song on the album, We Believe:

You hear us Lord when we lift our voice, here in one accord,

Father we ask, may your kingdom come and your will be done here across this land

Father we stand in your truth,

We believe that our nation will be saved, that our cities will be free,

Every promise that you give God,

We believe that your love will never end and your mercy cover sin.

Every promise that you give, God, we believe.

My pick from the album is This One Thing

My heart and flesh cry out, O living God,

You’re where I wanna be.

This song I sing, this prayer and offering, to you, beautiful King.

And all I want is just your heart. Yes, I am living just to see your glory

You’re where I wanna be, you’re where I wanna be

My heart it beats for this one thin

I’m so in love with you, I’m so in love with you,

My heart is singing this one thing…..

With solid, Biblically based lyrics, Hope’s Anthem is just that – a call to renewed confidence in the power and promise of God’s word and calling in us.

-Ann Ahrens

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Campus Crusade for Christ starts working out, loses weight, changes name.

To get an unbiased scoop of today's story, go here.

To get an idea to what caused me to write this, go here.

What you need to know: The leading Christian Evangelical network for college students, "Campus Crusade for Christ" has changed it's name to, "Cru."

The reason being that the word crusade has a pitiful historical resume as thousands have been unjustly murdered in the name of the Christian God during the crusades. For more on the history of this word click here.

The removal of the word Crusade is not what is drawing the fire of many Christians however. Rather, the word "Christ" is gone too....

And this seems to be a really really big deal.

Christians are angry. Outraged even.

 There could even be pitchforks.

The people up in arms about this name change argue that Campus Crusade for Christ's name change to Cru is indicative of the hopelessness of today's age apparently. It seems that the secular monster of the land is at it again, trying to stricken the mention of Christ from any public representation. This is the same monster that is trying to take the Christ out of Christmas and he just won't stop until no one knows what Christianity is anymore! Or so that seems to be the consensus among the Christians against the name change to Cru....

And I couldn't disagree more. While I am certain that they Christians against Cru really have good intentions, and really believe that the name change is proof that we live in such a secular age even Christians are compromising their very name for the sake of acceptance within the secular culture...and they may certainly be right. I may even be a symptom of this secular age.

But I also went away to college for four years, where a big part of Cru's battle is fought. One of those four years I was a confessed agnostic/atheist hybrid. Another year I was almost Jewish. The last two years I became Christian  again. And I can easily say that sadly the most offensive thing about Christianity on secular college campuses is hearing the name Christ preached openly. This isn't Christ's fault though.

I would watch "Christians" stand at the heart of campus and preach with a red-faced hatred that "fags are going to hell" and that everyone who was not Christian would have the same result. These sermons happened monthly from different people. I can't recall a mention of the Holy Ghost or the Cross once. If I were to tell you what Christianity was about based on the campus sermons I heard, I would tell you it was about a God who wanted you to say you were a terrible sinner, and if you did not say you were a sinner he was going to condemn you to an eternal furnace. These loud mouthed fundamentalists were representing Christianity to people who may have never actually read the Bible before. And I'm sure they were all proud to call themselves Christian (unlike Cru apparently).

During my agnostic/atheist days, the campus preachers would make me laugh to myself because their hate confirmed why I wasn't one of them. I liked Judaism because they were never preaching condemnation to the roving masses. They were quiet and unassuming. I liked that. But when I came back to Jesus, walking past the Christian campus preachers was never a pleasant experience. I would bow my head and walk swiftly by, ashamed for my brothers and how they were representing my Jesus. How could I witness to my college peers when Christianity to them meant a God who looks forward to throwing you in hell?

My point is simple....  in a secular environment, Christianity ain't the best brand to display. Like the crusades misrepresented Christianity, I really believe the Bible thumping, hell condemning Christians (who may be the same ones who were upset at Cru for changing their name) give us a bad rep. I'm not saying having conviction is a bad thing. And I am definitely not one of those postmodern, "tolerate all religions" kind of guy. Really, I'm not. Because if there is one thing that irks me more than fire breathing preachers in the middle of campus, it's "tolerant secular liberals" who only are intolerant to Christianity.

All I am simply saying is that when it comes to being a campus evangelical group, having a name called Campus Crusade for Christ or "Cru," I whole-heartily would tell people that for today, Cru will get the message across much better. We can stick up for our Christian title and in the process offend many people away from ever giving us a chance to tell them about the Good News, or we can not put our faith in the names of our organizations, and hope that secular people will see the Christianity in us and through our words instead of in name alone...

Paul did this on Mars Hill. He was subtle with his message. He started off preaching in the context of the Greek culture and then introduced Jesus.  Hell wasn't the first word for Paul. And sadly many Christians have made hell the first thing that comes to a lost soul's mind when they hear "Christian."

And while it's sad that Christianity can't be all public like it used to, is today's situation not more similar to the context that Christianity was first born in, where persecution of Christianity abounded and thus Christians had to be creative on how to get their message to spread a midst a predominately secular society?

"Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.  To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings."      I Corinthians 9:19-23

Monday, July 25, 2011

New CD: Stuart Townend--The Journey

Modern hymn writer Stuart Townend’s new release, The Journey, is a modern folk-style offering of new hymns, modern psalms and introspective tunes. Townend attends and regularly leads worship at Church of Christ the King (CCK) in Brighton, UK.

Departing from the usual electric guitar and drum based tracks of most modern worship bands, Townend pulls out what one might expect on a folk album – slide guitar, mandolin, drums, guitar, fiddle, flutes, whistles and banjo. It is a mixture of bluegrass, Celtic and mountain music, not in the usual mold of worship music. But Townend is convinced that this, too, pleases God. He states, “So I hope that this album might provoke some of us to broaden the musical and thematic horizons of what we do week to week in our local churches. But most of all, I hope it causes us to see the providential grace and love of God in our lives and to respond in worship and obedience to Christ.”

Tracks include the upbeat and dance-like Vagabonds, a new bluegrass take on the hymn It Is Well With My Soul, and a new take on the traditional chant, Kyrie Eleison.

Purposefully departing from the norm of the modern praise and worship style, The Journey by Stuart Townend is just that – a “journey” down a new a fresh path of worship and contemplation.

-Ann Ahrens

Thursday, July 21, 2011

New CD: Jake Hamilton--Freedom Calling

Jesus Culture worship artist Jake Hamilton releases his new album, Freedom Calling, this summer. Following on the heels of his debut album, Marked By Heaven, Hamilton continues in the same straight-forward rock style. Seeking to reach a “new generation of worshipers,” Hamilton’s lyrics are honest, thought-provoking and geared to the youth culture. “I long to give the Body of Christ a language for reformation and revival through melodies that will be carried on for generations,” states Hamilton.

Raw, rock style vocals, coupled with driving drums and guitars, set the stage for this message. Beginning with the driving War Drums, Hamilton sets the stage for a musical journey through themes of surrender, intimate worship and that of surrender to God’s purpose – a “leaning” away from one’s own purposes and into the calling and plan of God.

While the entire album is lyrically rich and musically diverse, my pick tune has to be “Looking For One.” Hamilton acknowledges,

Jesus came to save the world, then he let us give it a whirl

And we messed it up, but I’m not givin’ up.

Cause far as I know mercy still remains, judgment only comes if I don’t remain

Faithful. You’ll find me faithful

You’re looking for one who can feel your heart beat

Can feel when you lead, the time and the season,

You’re looking for one who’ll stand in the gap

Never look back, find your heart in their freedom,

You’re looking for one.

Sure to be a hit with those who like their music hard, loud and “in your face,” Jake Hamilton’s Freedom Calling brings the challenge we all need to hear.

-Ann Ahrens

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

New CD: Aaron Keyes--Dwell

The sophomore release by Aaron Keys entitled Dwell is a collection of worship and devotional songs. Keyes is the worship pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Snellville, GA where, for the past eight years, he has not only lead in worship but, along with wife Megan, has opened his home to a discipleship program for young worship leaders.

Although the collection contains a variety of styles with unique instrumental tracks, Keyes has made certain that one element is constant among all the songs – that of the Word of God. In an interview with Melissa Riddle Chalos, Keyes states, “It doesn’t seem right that I can go to some of the biggest worship conferences in the world and see some of the biggest worship leaders in the world and no one’s saying anything about the Bible. It makes me nervous because if the Word of God is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path, if we’re leading without it, we’re leading people into darkness.”

Born out of personal spiritual warfare, the songs on Dwell were written to place the listener in the presence of God, the only place spiritual wars are truly won. Keyes places high priority on putting listeners in a place of worship and surrender so that God can fight the battle and bring authentic victory.

Evoking images of Psalm 91, the title track, Dwell, reminds the listener that we cannot escape from God’s presence, nor can we be blocked from it for God is with us always.

I will dwell in the shelter of the most High God

I will rest in the beauty of your presence.

Your faithfulness is a shield and my great reward

I will not be afraid, I will trust in the Lord.

From the upbeat Lavish, to slow and meditative tracks such as In The Name of God, Aaron Keyes new release Dwell is a call to return to pure, Bible centered worship – a truly enriching experience.

-Ann Ahrens

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Sneak Peek Music Video: Sanctus Real's Hammitt

Multiple Grammy-nominated, Dove Award-winning Sanctus Real lead vocalist Matt Hammitt’s first solo album, Every Falling Tear, comes out September 13.

Here's the first video from the new album.

Friday, July 08, 2011


More thoughts from the news.

(1) Tired. I'm tired of hearing about people talk about Casey Anthony. I was never interested in the proceedings. I didn't follow the OJ saga either. If you know little or nothing of either, God bless you. I know less than most, probably, but more than I would like. I wish that my knowledge of Casey Anthony was zero. Our collective national interest, or, should I say morbid fascination, reminds me for some strange reason of the scripture "have pleasure in them that do." Taken out of context, of course, and not really directly relevant, but oddly interesting nonetheless. I'm not accusing anyone of taking pleasure in watching the brutally painful ordeal that Casey Anthony is undergoing, but why does it have to be so public? And why are people so fascinated by it? This article explores that question in thoughtful detail. I passed by the lunch room one day a few weeks ago, where the TV is always on, and I was completely disgusted that it was on. I watched it for maybe 90 seconds, but it was about 88 seconds too long. I am relieved that the trial is over.

(2) Surprised. The Supreme Court ruled against violent video games for youth. For a while I wasn't sure where I stood on this issue. Then I realized it's a no-brainer. If they can rate movies with an "R" for violence, why isn't there an analogous rating system for violent video games? There should be.

(3) Angry. Outraged. I was listening to NPR one morning last week and caught this segment. While well-reported and informative, there was an audio clip of gunshots, and a man crying out for help in another language. As the narrator described watching the video and seeing the person's life ebb away, I was unable to bear it. I've seen people get shot on film. But film and real life are very different hings. I don't know what the editors were thinking when they allowed that to run. We have a ratings system for film that precludes certain images from being seen by certain people. NPR will often preface reports such as this with a warning (and it did in this case). However, I usually disregard the warnings anyway as I simply turn the dial if I can't tolerate what's being aired. In this instance, I turned the dial, but it was too little too late. I am now stuck with the audio image in my brain.

(4) Intrigued. Witness the increasing number of high profile athletes using some form of elimination diets. David Zabriskie is riding the Tour de France on a nearly vegan diet. Novak Djokovic just became the first gluten-free person to win Wimbledon. I find this all very exciting. Living in a household that avidly promotes gluten-free living (in addition to other nutritional trials to numerous to count) any promotion of a greater awareness of the importance of diet is fabulous news.

(5) Bored. I absolutely hate it when I hear someone say that he or she is bored. It should be illegal to be bored. There is so much to do, so much to read, so much to experience. And yet . . . "I'm bored" is the hallmark cry of youth. But if there's one thing that bores me it's things like the upcoming Roger Clemens trial. The author of the aforelinked article thinks it's a good thing. I think it's a shame. Who cares?

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Civilization Brightens

I'm always on the lookout for trends that maybe tell us happier news about our society. This article in USA Today is one of those about where families are living today (hint: parents are moving in with grandparents).

Among other 2009 findings for children under 18:

— 69 percent lived with two parents.

— 4 percent lived with both a mother and father not married to each other.

— 59 percent who didn’t live with a parent lived with a grandparent.

— 7 percent lived with an unmarried parent who was cohabiting.

— 16 percent lived with a stepparent, stepsibling or half

Friday, July 01, 2011

Friday Round Up

Friday Round Up. Or Week in Review. Or basically a handful of interesting bits I caught in the news in the last week or two.

(1) They found James Bulger. Finally. I caught the segment on NPR last week and thought to myself, "Huh. I guess if part of the Pakistanis excuse for not knowing the whereabouts of OBL rested on our inability to find certain criminal elements in our country, someone in the DOJ decided to 'clean house,' as it were." Well done, guys. I heard one segment in which an ignoramus of the highest magnitude called for leniency in the case because he had been so many years on the lam and was presumably now a model citizen. C'mon. The guy was wicked evil. I believe in forgiveness but Whitey's gotta do some time, preferably, the rest of his life.

(2) There's been a lot of sex in the news in recent weeks. Maybe this isn't anything new. But consider: that wicked French guy. Wienergate. And now Bristol Palin comes out with a tell-all in which she intimates she was date-raped. She doesn't quite come right out and say it that way, but if you read the plain account as she tells it, it's certainly the plainest reading of the text. And now, let me see if I can parse out the 'news-worthiness' of any of the foregoing. (A) Dominique Strauss-Kahn: if guilty, needs to do some jail time, definitely news (late-breaking questions of her credibility aside). (B) Anthony Wiener: behaving badly member of congress involved in scandal not even to the point of an extra-marital affair? not really news. In fact, I'm surprised he didn't hold to his guns and stay in office. Although I was glad to hear he was planning on getting some counseling. and (C) Bristol Palin: Who Cares? Why do people continue to pore over a feeding frenzy over nothing substantive. Please don't get me wrong. I am not demeaning her nor do I take lightly her claim, but why is this national news?

(3) Is the incidence of autism in kids today climbing slowly, skyrocketing, or maintaining at a steady pace? Is it just being diagnosed more frequently or is there something wrong with our environment where an enormous quantity of toxins are being introduced with devastating results? I'd like to draw your attention to a recent study from South Korea where it is estimated that 1 in 38 kids are affected with some form of autism. Startling? Unbelievable? While there may be some methodological issues or some exaggerative hype, I am concerned that autism will be the next pandemic. Okay, well pandemic isn't quite the right word because it isn't "infectious," but it does adequately express my alarm.

(4) A recent Harvard study shows that eating potatoes makes you gain weight while eating nuts and yogurt makes you lose weight. If only losing weight could actually be that simple. I first encountered the story in the aforelinked Post article. I actually think this is much better summary.

(5) Jose Antonio Vargas. Perhaps one of the most compelling news stories last week in a week full of news was that a renowned journalist came clean and admitted that for the last many years he has been working in the U.S. illegally. I'm not sure what side of the fence you all are on, but I have to say that I am on Jose's side. I think they should give him a free pass. Good work, guy. And way to bring a critical issue to the forefront of our national discussion. Having said that let me return to point #1. There are crimes and then there are Crimes. Bulger certainly belongs behind bars. But while I am a strong believer in the rule of law, I don't think Vargas deserves to be excoriated. He broke the law. Surely there should be some kind of punishment or restitution. But don't deport him. Let his story be the catalyst for passing some version of the Dream Act.