Moriah Peters: Brave, Album Review

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CCM artist, Moriah Peters, returns with her Sophomore album, Brave. The question is, does the music sound like its title? Brave and not safe? Well, yes and no.

The album begins with what is easily the best track of the record: Brave. I love the overall epic feel of this track, it’s definitely a cool sounding song and brings a much needed originality in the CCM genre. My favourite lyrics are, Cross before me, world behind me,
there’s no turning back.

The next track, O Fear (My God is Near) is another strong followup with an enjoyable, catchy chorus that will make your day just that bit better.

One thing this album is full of his catchy hooks and pop anthems that just put a smile on your face. They’re not the most original songs in the world, yet there’s something about them you can’t refuse. A great example of this is the track, Leave it All Behind. Lyrically, this subject has been covered many times, (though it’s a subject one can’t sing enough of, there have been better examples) yet there’s just something really enjoyable about it musically, and it makes for another strong highlight.

Though this album is chocked full of mostly original pop songs that are very For King and Country-ish (probably due to the fact that Joel Smallbone, Moriah’s Husband, produced the album), this album isn’t without its faults. You Carry Me is a little too tailor made for radio and comes off as just a bit bland overall. Stand Strong also suffers a bit from being uninteresting, though no where near as much as the aforementioned track.

The other highlights on this album are the last three songs, Born to be Free, Waterall, and Give me Jesus. Born to be Free brings a Come Now is the Time to Worship feel lyrically, and beckons those broken to Reach out where you stand. Waterfall is a brilliant highlight, and along with Brave, is my favourite. It boasts some incredible lyrics in the chorus with I was afraid that You would turn away but I’m covered by amazing grace underneath Your waterfall. And Give me Jesus ends with the much loved hymn and brings the album up to a great finish. At least it should have been the finish.

The album actually ends with a remix of Brave featuring rapper, Andy Mineo. Other than Andy’s inclusion, the song bares hardly any difference to the original, so it ultimately comes off as unnecessary.

Overall I was surprised at how good this was in places, and in others it dwells a little too much in safe territory. Though it balances the line of brave and safe, fortunately, it leans more to the former. Lyrically, the album doesn’t suffer from loads of Christian cliches, and is bold about Christ, which is always welcome to this reviewer’s ears.

So for those looking for an uplifting record to tap and dance along to, look no further than Moriah Peters Brave.

3.5/5

You Don’t Have Enough Faith?

Are you going through a tough stage in your life that doesn’t seem to be ending, and the only advice you have been given is, “It’s your lack of faith”? Really, that advice never helps, and only serves to make us feel inadequate in the Lord’s work.

I want to tell you that it isn’t your lack of faith that’s holding you down. I want to encourage you that your faith towards something  is never going to work. You will never get that victory. Why is that encouraging? Because you no longer have to believe for the victory. It’s already been done.

Today we have this idea that we need a lot of faith if we’re going to overcome whatever obstacle we’re facing, but in reality, the case is not how much faith you have, but how much faith He  has.

Christ knew we could never overcome, that’s why He died on the cross. He knew we couldn’t do it. If we could heal ourselves, or overcome our obstacles by our faith, Christ’s death would have been in vain. It makes Christ death obsolete because we’re saying the victory hasn’t been won. We’re trying to gain what Christ has already given.

But here’s the good news. We only need faith the size of a mustard seed to move mountains. That Scripture doesn’t give power to our faith, but to His.  It shows how little of our faith is needed, and it’s hardly a significant amount.

So how do we have the faith of Christ? We stop looking to the circumstance, and look to Jesus.

I feel the Lord wants me to share this true story I heard awhile back about a preacher named Smith Wigglesworth. He and his team of ministers were praying for healing for this girl who was dying from a disease. I can’t remember the specifics, but I know healing never came until they did one thing. They stopped praying for healing, and instead they began to speak the name of Jesus. They spoke His name over and over, and eventually they had forgotten about the girl’s healing altogether. They experienced God’s strong presence in that room as soon as the focus was on Jesus, and they continued to speak the name of Jesus with eyes closed. When they opened their eyes, the girl was standing, completely healthy and restored.

That is incredibly encouraging because the victory is no longer held in my hands, but in His. It’s no longer my works that saves, but Christ’s.

I will leave this post with one of my favourite verses: Hebrews 11:6. “ But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”

Repent=Apologize?

We’ve all heard the word. Repent. It’s a major part of the Christian life, and I’m sure we’ve done it more than once. But I’ve been thinking, we throw this word around so much, is it doing the world any good?

When someone hears the word “Repent” I’m sure the scene that comes to their mind is one where a pastor is yelling from the pulpit, or even out in the street. “Repent, or you’re going to Hell.” Even if that’s not what they’re saying, that’s the message they’re trying to get across. But really, we’ve turned the word into something that isn’t, and something the Lord never intended it to be.

Though we’re probably not intentionally doing it, shouting out the word repent to an unbeliever is quite condemning, and leaves a lot of questions unanswered. We use the word as a means of saying, “Apologize to God for all the sins you’ve done.” And that leaves a few questions. Sin is our entire lives. We were born in it, so repenting, or apologizing for the things we’ve done, isn’t going to save us. A repentant heart doesn’t come to Christ filled with remorse, it comes to Christ with thankfulness.

We’re saved by Grace and grace alone, not by works done in righteousness. We’re not saved by apologizing for the things we’ve done, but confessing that we are sinners, and that we need to be saved from ourselves. Repenting is realizing we’re a mess, and turning from our own sins, to the Lord, who will wash us and cleanse us in the blood of Christ. When we turn to Him, He will begin the process of change in us, and the sinful things we used to indulge in, will no longer be of value to us.

But we’re so focused on the sins of the unsaved we can forget the unconditional grace of God that allows us to change, and that’s where a lot get into trouble. Jesus died for all sins: past, present, future, and calling the unsaved out on their sins only puts them in bondage because they only see their own sinful ways. We apologize for our sins, yet we never break away from them because that’s all we see. We eventually feel unworthy and unloved. We can’t follow the path God has laid out for us because we’re falling and repenting for our sins every second of the day.

But the truth is, repenting is taking a different view. Recognizing we’re living the wrong life, and turning to a new life in Christ. Repenting is knowing we’re on the wrong path, and setting our eyes on the right path: the cross. And how do we let the unsaved recognize they need a savior? By showing them how much we need our savior.  How much we need Christ’s love and grace. Conviction for their own lives will only come naturally, and in the end, they will come to Christ, not because they feel obligated to, but because they want to.

When the only thing we see is the cross, that’s the only thing those around you will see as well. And isn’t that what saved us to begin with?

The Armor of God: The Shield of Faith

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The Shield of Faith is a pretty straight forward part of the armor, isn’t it? Your faith protects you from the attacks of the enemy. But the question to ask is, faith in what? Believe it or not, some Christians have faith in the wrong thing.

There are three types of faith I’ve seen Christians have: faith in their religion, faith in their faith, and faith in Jesus.

Faith in a religion is faith in a belief system. A faith in a theology that, without Christ, is always flawed. What I’ve seen this type of faith do is cause division among Christians in the church. A few examples is that some Christians believe Christian metal, or Christian horror, is an oxymoron, while others believe it’s just another type of music or genre used to give glory to God. I’m not going to point out who’s right and wrong because that will contradict what this post is about, but debating such trivial things like that is leaning more towards a faith in a belief system, and since the two view points contradict, it can only lead to division which is one of the enemy’s biggest weapons against Christians.

The other type of faith Christians can have is faith in their faith. This is what a lot of pastors call, the “Name it and Claim it” faith. It’s more material focused than the other types, and only leads to independence, which of course will lead to disappointment and emptiness. Our own will is the object of this type of faith, and really, what do we know about what we need?

The last type of faith is faith in Christ. This is the faith Christians need. Like I said before, the enemy wants to cause division and strife within the church, and we’re open targets because we all think we have the answers in our correct beliefs. We can’t see the flaming arrows the enemy is shooting.

Faith in a belief system isn’t fireproof, faith in your faith isn’t fireproof, only faith in Christ can withstand the enemy’s attacks. And when we pour our faith and trust in Christ, His Holy Spirit will begin His work in us, and He’ll lead us into all truth. He’ll deliver us from the lies of the devil.

A soldier puts all his faith in his shield for his protection. It’s time we fixed our eyes on, and put our trust in, the object of our faith: Jesus Christ. Our mighty shield.

Phil Wickham: The Ascension, Album Review

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In celebration of an old friend returning home, I thought I’d go ahead and review his favourite worship album, Phil Wickham’s the Ascension.

Phil Wickham is easily one of the best worship leaders active today, and the Ascension is just another addition to his ever growing collection of worship albums that are above the norm. Even the cover is as beautiful as the music itself.

So the album begins with the three strongest openers I’ve heard in a good while. The Ascension, Holy Light, and Carry My Soul are beautiful, sometimes up beat, and just plain soar. Phil’s falsetto is amazing in the bridge of Carry My Soul as he passionately cries and I will keep my lamplight burning in the night, I’ll be waiting here for you, watching for all Your signs . Take a listen.

The next two songs stray a little from the brilliance of those three openers, but by themselves, they’re great. And that proves that while Over All is the weakest song on the record, it’s still a great tune to sing along to in church.

What I found is that this album seems to be split in separate parts: the up beat acoustic numbers, the congregational sing along songs, and now the delicate, acoustic hymns, When My Heart is Torn Asunder, and Mercy. These two songs really bring a classic, hymn like feel to them that if put in a hymnal, would fit effortlessly.

The album returns to prior sounds with another congregational tune, Glory, and another up beat acoustic on par with the first three (and my personal favourite), Tears of Joy.

I love when the angelic voices come in at the bridge. Just beautiful, and again, Phil’s voice takes this track to another level.

The record ends with Thirsty, and what a way to end the record! A song earning for the presence of our creator.

Overall, for me this is easily better than Phil’s last record, Response, but it slightly misses the mark Heaven and Earth set back in 2009. But even though it’s not Phil’s absolute best, it’s been on steady repeat since a good friend introduced me to him, and it gets better with each listen.

So if you’re looking for a worship record that’s above the average standard, look no further than Phil Wickham’s the Ascension. I can’t wait to see where Phil goes from here, and if this album title is anything to go by, he’s just going to get better.

4/5

My Epic: Curse (Who are we?)

Has anyone ever hurt or rejected you? More than likely, unfortunately, you’ll answer yes. Has anyone ever condemned you for not living the way you should? Yep, unfortunately that too happens a fair bit in churches. It’s felt by anyone who tells you to live under the law. But the real question I want to ask these people, and you if you have ever hurt anyone, is this: Who are you?

The Lord has just placed this song so strongly on me lately that I can’t shake it (no, it doesn’t have anything to do with how amazing it is!). Though I’ve used it in another post, it has so much rich lyrical depth that I can’t even lay it all out in one post alone, nor will I try.

So the song talks about people who claim, “I’ll go anywhere Lord, even to death.” Remind you of anyone? Peter said those exact words before he denied Christ three times in the midst of danger. We say, “I’ll stay with the Lord no matter where He leads me,” like a spiritual warrior, but do you realize that we’re doing the exact opposite? Churches, Christians, we’re all standing before the cross and not feeling moved. We’re watching Jesus be slashed with the cat o’nine tails yet we never shed a tear. We’ve hardened our hearts. How? By turning away from the world.

Christ shed his flesh and blood for those in the world, yet for some reason, we like to stay “sanctified” within the church building. We believe the church building is our safe house, and the people of the world must come into our church in order to receive Christ. But when we’re out of our safe house (where the church really is) we do nothing to convince those in the world that they need a savior.

A line that really hit me in the song is, “How can I claim to love you, when here your body lies strewn. I dwell amongst the pieces and never feel moved.” Each one of those who have rejected Christ, His very flesh and blood is upon them. So we walk amongst the world, walk amongst the flesh and blood of Christ, and we never feel any anguish and pain for them. They tear Christ limb from limb in their sin, “yet we find our peace in our distance.” Isn’t that going against the “I’ll go anywhere you go Lord” proclamation?

The truth I’ve found is, when we’re resisting the things of the world, their pull becomes a hundred times stronger. It’s no wonder Christians don’t want to go out, they’re afraid they’ll give in to temptation. Yet Christ dwelt among it all. How is that possible?! It’s simple, every percentage of His desire, His flesh, was surrendered to God. Christ was dead to the world, which was why He couldn’t be tempted. God filled His entire being, and He had no thirst for the things of the flesh.

But have you looked around you? My novel in progress, Virulent, is set in a town that has a law prohibiting Christianity and the use of Jesus’ name. When I began writing, I thought it might be a bit preposterous, but when I look around now, we’re basically living in that fictional town. We’re living in a world where God is dead, because the Christians are all in the church. Their sanctified safe houses. Yet I’ve seen other Spirit filled Christians pray for those same broken, sinful people in the street and the alleys!

The hopeful truth is, when we’ve laid down our lives for Christ as He did for us, the Holy Spirit dwells inside of us, and no matter where we go, we bring the Holy Spirit with us. So our debate between Christian places like the church, and secular places like a shopping mall (which in my opinion can be just as filthy and tempting as a bar) is no longer valid, because when we’ve died to ourselves, wherever we go that place becomes sacred, because we take the Holy Spirit with us. Of course, if we partake in the sin those places offer, the Holy Spirit is going to leave, but that’s for another post.

So to end this incredibly long post (and I haven’t even gone through half of the song) I pray that we’ll grow an anguish for those unsaved and become the embodyment of Christ God has called us to be, “For greater works as we walk as one in His likeness, so that men can behold and believe.” Because that’s who we are: “The flesh you’ll wear ’till the worlds end.”

The Creative Process (and a little on my current novel)

It’s been a while since I’ve done a post on writing, and since I’m a writer, I thought it time to write another post on, well, writing! With this post, I thought I’d walk you through the basic steps I take in order to write a full length novel, short story, or anything your heart desires. Take note that this is what I do and am comfortable doing, you might have a completely different take. That’s what makes being creative so fun, everyone does it in their own way.

So I’m nearing the end of my latest novel, which I’ll give the title to away in just a second. I’ve written two thirds of it and have the last third mapped out in my mind, written in notes, and ready for the paper. It’s been a whole lot more challenging to write than my last novel, The Restoring, and I’ve stretched myself further in places as a writer. To convey the themes and questions I’ve asked, it’s in the thriller genre. While I could also label it horror, it doesn’t go far enough into that territory to be labeled as such.

The question I asked going into it is, “What’s the very thing that separates us from God, and what brings us back to Him?” Of course, there are loads more questions and themes packed into it, but that’s where it all began. As for the title, I’ve held it off but I think it’s time to share. It used to abide by a different title, but the story has changed a little, so the set title for my latest novel is Virulent. I’ll talk a little more about it when I get closer to the finish, which will be around July/August next year (that includes editing), or possibly before then.

So what’s the process I use to write? After completing two novels now, I’ve grown accustomed to a certain series of steps, some of which I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog. I begin simply with a question, just like the one I asked for Virulent. Then I’ll play around with a few scenarios that revolve around that question. When I’ve found the scenario I want to build from, I’ll then build a theme to set the story around. The theme is basically what your story is about. What moral message you’re sharing through the story.

When I’ve worked out the theme, I’ll build the characters and setting. Where my story will take place, and who will be the lucky (or unlucky) ones to take part. Next I’ll map out the main story arc. The three main points that is the beginning, middle, and end.

After I’m confident I’ve got all I need, I’ll begin with the first draft. Simple rule for the first draft: be messy and write. Let go of all thoughts of spelling, grammar, and punctuation, and just get that story down.

When I’ve finished the first draft, I’ll look back, and this is where I decide, “I don’t want that and that, and I think I could portray this idea better this way.” That usually makes way for a plot change. Nothing that will detract from the original idea, but an improvement of the original. Then the second draft can begin. After that I’ll look back again, and usually I’m happy. Again you can write another one if you think it can be better, but what I’ll do is rewrite that draft until I have the story as strong as it can be, and then of course comes the editing. This is where you improve all the things I told you to forget about in the first draft. I usually set around half a year for this stage to make sure it’s the best I can make it.

After that, it’s off to my family, friends, and anyone else who wants to read it. I’ll gather their feedback, edit again with their advice, and then get it ready to send it in to a publisher (which I will work at next year).

Overall that’s the basic steps I take to complete a story. Leave a comment and we can have a discussion on the different ways you like write. I’d love to hear your creative process!

Jackie Hill Perry: The Art Of Joy, Album Review

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One of the most consistent labels over the past few years has easily been Humble Beast. The amazing rap label that gives all their releases for free. Jackie Hill Perry’s debut album, The Art of Joy, is the latest of the Humble Beast releases, and it’s a beauty.

Jackie’s testimony is an amazing one. Once a homosexual, she found and gave her life to Christ and He gave her a new life and transformed her into the strong Christian she is today. Her story is strewn skillfully throughout this record and it makes for an enormously encouraging listen.

Lyrically, like most of Humble Beast’s albums, it’s drenched with deep theology and themes that will make you think and question. Honestly, each song is a lyrical masterpiece, even rivaling my favourite Humble Beast artists, Beautiful Eulogy and Propaganda. Songs like Educated Fool deal with the dangers of seeking knowledge as Jackie raps, “It’s like following after our role model Eve, when she found that apple attractive, it wasn’t the apple she was after, it was the satisfaction of wisdom from other masters.”

Better, featuring fellow Humble Beast artist, JGivens, talks about rising above the norms and ways of the world and becoming, “Better than all the stuff around you.” Featuring a beautiful hook by Natalie Lauren, this is a definite highlight.

Another unmissable highlight is The Solution, featuring Eshon Burgundy. It speaks of the problems and brokenness of the world, and that our solution is only in Christ. What I love is that Jackie raps with such a passion, you can feel that she means every word she says. This isn’t a person who found a religion, this is a person who found life. As you listen, make sure to listen to the end, as there is a hidden track that’s another lyrical gem in itself.

A song that hit home for me is Dead Preacher. A track about the state of the church and their money hungry ways. Production and music wise, it’s pretty dark, I even found it a little creepy, but it works beautifully. I love the interlude with the preacher speaking to his congregation. A truly convicting track and a must listen for any music fan.

I could go on and highlight each track, but since this review is getting pretty long, I’ll look to the raps and production.

Jackie’s raps are near perfect. She flows effortlessly and sometimes rhymes so fast, if you aren’t listening carefully, you’ll miss what she’s saying. To the listener who’s new to rap, it could begin to sound the same on each track, but if you take the time to let it sink in, you’ll find that each track has its own personality.

Production wise, it’s flawless. Though it won’t break any new ground, it doesn’t stay safe either. It sticks out the box just enough to keep it fresh and to avoid it sounding like just another rap or hip/hop album. Even a few pop influences are thrown in in the hooks, especially in Get Better and the title track. At no point does the album veer off course apart from the spoken word piece, Suffering Servant. Spoken poetry is what Jackie began with, so it’s a really nice surprise to hear a track like this on the record.

Overall, this is a very cohesive rap album that ends as strongly as it begins, and no where does it waver in the middle. It’s an experience through brokenness and hope you won’t forget, and I encourage anyone who likes hip/hop, or just good music, to check out Jackie Hill Perry’s debut record, The Art of Joy.

As with all Humble Beast records, you can download the record for free right here, http://www.humblebeast.com/  You won’t regret it.

4.5/5

Masturbation: It Can Be Overcome

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If you read the title, you’re probably cringing. Yes, I’m going to talk about the single most hushed over subject in Christian circles because I know some (ok, it’s more like all) of you are struggling with the habit. Now I could begin this post with an only for mature readers comment like I did for the one on pornography, but I think we all need to hear this, If you disagree, then stop reading, because I’m going in deep! For clarity’s sake, this goes for men and women.

Ok, confession time. Here we go….masturbation was a huge part of my life. For years I was stuck in the same cycle, and only a week ago did I make a solid decision to stop by joining the amazing community of Nofap. I’ve gone a week without it now, and I’ve never felt better. So why am I telling you all of this? Simple, I don’t want you to end up in the same rut I did. I want to encourage you.

I’m sure every person that has masturbated has felt intense guilt when the pleasure was over. I went through that cycle for years. I know what it feels like. It’s horrible. I’m sure a lot of Christians can be quick to condemn the action, but from personal experience, all that does is put us in more bondage. In fact, I was terrified to confess my habit to Christians because of how judgmental they can be about it, yet I could tell non-believers without shame. Guilt and condemnation never freed anyone, which is why Christ took it on the cross in exchange for grace.

But what about the question, “Is it a sin?” Quick answer: yes. If you feel guilt, it’s only because you are guilty. But to pin point the sin itself, it’s not in the action, but in the fantasies. The lust filled thoughts. That’s where the sin lies, because we’re objectifying women and using them for our own self pleasure.

Christians can use the excuse, “It’s not in the Bible,” to justify it, and no, it’s not explicitly mentioned. People also see the story of Onan in Genesis when he spilled his seed as talking about masturbation, but it isn’t about that at all. I think the Scripture that best portrays it is Romans 6:3 “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin (masturbation): but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God (sex within marriage).” .

So how do we overcome? By yielding ourselves to God. By sacrificing our bodies and desires to God and exercising self-control and discipline. Masturbation is self pleasure, and the problem with that is the word, “Self.” It’s not giving to another person like intercourse in marriage does, it’s satisfying yourself. The flesh.

Another thing that can help other’s overcome is encouragement. Encourage those struggling in any way you can.

In the end, the final truth is that sin was defeated on the cross, and therefore no longer has a hold on us. We don’t have to give in, there’s victory in the blood and in the word of our testimony, and our testimony is that we are redeemed and freed from the hand of sin.

So to end, I want to encourage you to open up about the issue to your friends and family, and don’t feel ashamed because you gave in to natural desires. Know that there is victory. More are stronger than one. Together we can achieve it!

Discussion is open in the comment box, and I’ll encourage you in any way I can. Remember we’re in this together. You’re not a weirdo, you’re not perverted, you’re not going to be separated from God. And above all, you’re not alone.

The Armor of God: Feet Shod with the Preparation of the Gospel of Peace

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The next part of the Armor of God I’m going to look at is the shoes of the preparation of the Gospel of peace. So what does it mean to have your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace? First, I want you to look at that word: Preparation.

We need to wear the Gospel and to leave its mark on every road we travel. We need leave the footprints of the Gospel behind us in our every step. To do that, we need to remember that the Gospel is works orinitated, and no, I’m not contradicting myself :) The Gospel is summed up in one action: sacrifice. Christ’s work on the cross.

But the truth is, sacrifice is hard. It requires obedience and giving your all to Christ and those around you. I’ve said before in my post on active voice that support is unbiblical. What I mean by that is we can’t just encourage and hope that will be enough. We need to bear their burdens, as Jesus did for us, and that requires sacrifice. Sacrifice of time, and our plans.

So the preparation is sacrifice. To obey whenever and wherever Christ call you. And that’s the Gospel.

What about peace? How do we find peace? Where does it come from? Peace is all an illusion, isn’t it? Without sacrifice, it is. But when we sacrifice our lives to Christ, we have that peace, because we no longer need to rely on ourselves, but on Jesus, and you know He has delivered you from the hand of the enemy. People need to see that in you.

I’ll continue with the subject of peace in a future post as I’m going astray a bit here :) But what I want you to ask yourself is this: am I prepared to make a sacrifice today? There is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends.

 

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