Thursday, September 22, 2005

Choosing Indie Christian Music

Christmas being one of the best excuses for telling people the good news they wouldn't otherwise be open to hearing, I was doing some early Christmas pressie research (attempting to avoid last minute intensives like the one last year) and came across IndependentBands.com, a Christian owned and operated online CD store specialising in Christian independent artists.

Unfortunately, IndependentBands.com is so independent that it doesn't ship to Singapore. But it's still a good resource list of some of the Christian music that is out there.

Some indie's actually rather mainstream like Steven Curtis Chapman, Jars of Clay and Switchfoot (haven't had a proper listen to any of them yet) and also Casting Crowns (still good for their social church commentaries).

To my amusement, it was pointed out that I choose CDs first by googling the lyrics online: are they biblical? Are they God-of-the-Bible-centric and gospel-centric? If I wanted a CD just about God as my lover/boyfriend/girlfriend/cash cow/best friend/psychiatrist, I'd just buy an expressedly "secular" CD instead of the neither-here-nor-there half-hearted attempt to please both Christian and "secular" audiences with vague lyrics that ultimately insult the great and awesome God we have.

Then I listen to samples to see if the melody's catchy enough. No point having good lyrics if the song's so boring that the recipients of these pressies give them away to the Salvation Army at the first opportunity [well, perhaps in God's purposes and sovereignty, that might be of some use...lyrics that tell of man's danger and God's rescue in a cheap CD...]

Then I order them for a full hearing.

So far, have had a go at Andrew Peterson's "Behold the Lamb". Presumably no relation to David Peterson of Oakhill College or Mark Peterson whose last solo CD was the much-feted "Whatever Happens".

Not a bad Christmas CD. It's actually a compilation of songs written for his church's Christmas musical. The people who've had a taste of it like the biblical theological flavour of some songs and think the tunes rather hummable.

There's the one about that Great-King strand running through the Old Testament:
So long, Moses
Hello, Promised Land
It was a long, long road
But your people are home
So long, Moses

Hello, Joshua
Goodbye, Canaanites
We're coming to town
Twelve tribes and no crown
No crown, Oh Lord

We want a king on a throne
Full of power, with a sword in his fist
Will there ever be, ever be a king like this?

Hello, Saul
First king of Israel
You were foolish and strong
So you didn't last long
Goodbye, Saul

Hail, King David
Shepherd from Bethlehem
Set the temple of God
In mighty Jerusalem

You were a king on a throne
Full of power, with a sword in his fist
Has there ever been, ever been a king like this?
Full of wisdom, full of strength, the hearts of the people are his
Hear, O Israel, was ever there a king like this?

Hello, prophets
The kingdom is broken now
The people of God
Have been scattered abroad
How long, O Lord?

So speak, Isaiah
Prophet of Judah
Can you tell of the One
This king who's going to come

Will he be a king on a throne
Full of power with a sword in his fist?
Prophet, tell us will there be another king like this?
Full of wisdom, full of strength,
The hearts of the people are his
Prophet, tell us will there be
another king like this?

"He'll bear no beauty or glory
Rejected, despised
A man of such sorrow
We'll cover our eyes

He'll take up our sickness
Carry our tears
For his people
He will be pierced

He'll be crushed for our evils
Our punishment feel
By his wounds
We will be healed."

"From you, O Bethlehem
Small among Judah
A ruler will come
Ancient and strong."
©2004 Andrew Peterson
He even managed to set that geneology of Jesus in Matthew 1 (important in demonstrating the fulfilment of God's promises) to fun country music:
Abraham had Isaac
Isaac, he had Jacob
Jacob, he had Judah and his kin
Then Perez and Zerah
Came from Judah's woman, Tamar
Perez, he brought Hezron up
And then came

Aram, then Amminadab
Then Nahshon, who was then the dad of Salmon
Who with Rahab fathered Boaz
Ruth, she married Boaz who had Obed
Who had Jesse
Jesse, he had David who we know as king

David, he had Solomon by dead Uriah's wife
Solomon, well you all know him
He had good old Rehoboam
Followed by Abijah who had Asa
Asa had Jehoshaphat had Joram had Uzziah
Who had Jotham then Ahaz then Hezekiah

Followed by Manasseh who had Amon
Who was a man
Who was father of a good boy named Josiah
Who grandfathered Jehoiachin
Who caused the Babylonian captivity
Because he was a liar

Then he had Shealtiel, who begat Zerubbabel
Who had Abiud who had Eliakim
Eliakim had Azor who had Zadok who had Akim
Akim was the father of Eliud then
He had Eleazar who had Matthan who had Jacob
Now, listen very closely
I don't want to sing this twice
Jacob was the father of Joseph
The husband of Mary
The mother of Christ
©2004 Andrew Peterson
We also liked the one about Jesus' birth and how:
It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyways that night
On the streets of David's town
Some poetic licence perhaps since none of the Gospel writers said as much but not far off I would imagine, for Mary was a sinner like every one else and like every woman, she would have been under God's judgement and would have had to bear with increased pain in childbirth (Genesis 3:16). Not quite the pristinely clean, neat, spotless and holy Mary enjoying an epidurally blissful birth in a quaint but sanitised stable that some Catholics and Christians like to imagine.

We also usually tend to forget what a scandal Christmas is. Modern culture tells us it's all warm family reunions, roast turkey with delicious stuffing, firesides, presents, love, joy and mistletoe. But prior to that first Christmas, Joseph discovered that his wife-to-be was preggers and he knew he wasn't responsible for it. And so being a righteous man, he would of course have called the marriage off...except for the angel's intervention...(Matthew 1:18-25). We can only imagine what faith and trust in God's words it must take to go on with the wedding and bring up the kid, being subject to ridicule as a cuckolded husband, and himself not quite understanding who this mysterious boy was and what it must all mean:
So it came to pass this man named Joe was with his fiance
Back when her pregnancy began to show he planned to go away
But it came to pass that in a dream an angel of the Lord
Said, "Joseph, don't you be afraid to marry Mary for
The little baby in her womb it is the Holy Spirit's work
You may have read the prophet said a virgin would give birth

So it came to pass that Joseph was the noblest of men
With a woman on a donkey on their way to Bethlehem
And I wonder whether either was aware enough that day
To know the child would bring a Kingdom
and the old would come to pass away
©2004 Andrew Peterson
I also wrote to Billy and Cindy Foote to ask how I could get hold of their CDs since IndependentBands.com didn't ship to our sunny island. Cindy responded by sending me 2 CDs free-of-charge.

Whether it was a marketing ploy or good stewardship of money, am greatly encouraged by the thinking behind their songs. Billy writes in verticalmusic.com:
The Word In Song
by Billy Foote
You Are God Alone (Not a god)
by Billy Foote

You are not a god created by human hands.
You are not a god dependent on any mortal man.
You are not a god in need of anything we can give.
By Your plan, that's just the way it is.

You are God alone, from before time began,
You were on Your throne, You were God alone.
And right now, in the good times and bad,
You are on Your throne, You are God alone.

Unshakeable, unchangeable, unstoppable,
That's what You are.
Unshakeable, unchangeable, unstoppable,
That's what You are.

You're the only God whose power none can contend.
You're the only God whose name and praise will never end.
You're the only God who's worthy of everything we can give.
You are God, that's just the way it is.
One of the great joys that comes with writing a song from a God-centered, Biblical perspective is the fact that the Word of God is the final authority on subject matter. The thoughts expressed in the song,"You Are God Alone (Not a god)" are not my thoughts or ideas. They are God's words. When we sing,
You are not a god created by human hands / You are not a god dependent on / any mortal man / You are not a god in need of anything we can give…
We can rest assured that He has already proclaimed this truth about himself.

In Psalm 50: 9-12, God says,"I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it."

In Acts 17:24-25, Paul says to the religious men of Athens,"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else..."

It is good to know that God was not our idea. We did not make him. The first four words of the Bible say it all… "In the beginning, God…" (Genesis 1:1, NIV).

We live in a day where relativism runs rampant through a Christ-less culture. We are told that we should respect opposing views and ideas. We are told that we should be open to all religions and other gods. We surely should not say that our God is the only god. Should we? Let us turn again to the Bible and see what God says about this.

Isaiah 44:6 says,"I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God."

The very first of God's Ten Commandments says,"You shall have no other gods before me."

The second commandment states,"You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…."

And Deuteronomy 6:13-14 (NIV) says,"Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. Do not follow other gods, the gods of the people around you."

The chorus begins by saying,"You are God alone from before time began, You were on Your throne, You were God alone…" To say this is to only agree with what God has already said of himself. Psalm 93:1-2 (NIV) says,"The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and is armed with
strength. The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity."

In Psalm 103:19 (NIV) we find the psalmist saying,"The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all."

Isn't it encouraging to be reminded that God's kingdom rules over all? He answers to no one. He is never caught off guard. He does not have a bad day. His plans are never hijacked by the enemy. God has never had to campaign for his position as Ruler of the universe. He will not be up for re-election in four years. His plans will not be changed, shaken or stopped. This is why we can go on to say,"And right now, In the good times and bad, You are on Your throne, You are God alone."

He is in control! So, in our seemingly good times or bad, let us agree with the Psalmist when he says,"But my eyes are fixed on you, O Sovereign Lord; in you I take refuge…" (Psalm 141:8 NIV).

Lastly, we should review the second verse of the song: You're the only God whose power none can contend./ You're the only God whose name and praise will never end./ You're the only God who’s worthy of everything we can give./ You are God, that's just the way it is.

In verse one, we say that God is in need of nothing we can give. We come to that conclusion from verses such as Acts 17:24-25. It is true. He is not a god in need of anything we can give. He is, however, as said in the second verse, the only God who is worthy of everything we can give. He is worthy of our time, worthy of our lives lived for His glory.

So, as you go through the day, remember: God's word is tried and true. And his word confirms this: He is worthy of worship because He was, is and forever will be God alone.

********
23 September 2005
suggested Grassroots Music, which ships to the red dot below Peninsula Malaysia. My first pitstop should have been the indie queen herself!

recommended Nathan Tasker's "A Look Inside" CD, especially the words of "Divine Relationship" and "He has washed us".

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