I have probably been to more summer camps in my life than anyone else reading this blog. In my former life (as a kid) I tagged along with my family every summer as my dad spoke at different camps and conference centers all across the United States. We traveled thousands of miles, starting off in my home state of Florida and sometimes traveling as far away as Portland, Oregon. Over the years our summer stops included camps in Texas, West Virginia, Colorado, and New Mexico.
In my current life (as a musician) I still get to travel to camps every summer. Leading praise and worship for a bunch of screaming energetic teenagers is one of the highlights of my year. Not only do I get to participate in wonderful times of praise and worship and hear some of this country’s top speakers, I also get to experience some of the world’s longest zip lines, climb some of the highest ropes courses, and ski behind some of the coolest boats. It’s an awesome job!
One of my favorite camp activities is “blobbing.” If you have been to a summer camp in the last fifteen years, you know what I’m talking about. It’s kind of an X-games version of jumping on a trampoline. Someone sits or kneels (or assumes whatever posture the lifeguard will let them get away with) at one end of a partially inflated giant airbag while someone else jumps off a platform at the other end, lands on the airbag and launches the first participant into the air – and hopefully into the water and not onto dry land. Fun and excitement are added in the form of tricks that are performed while that participant is in midair. I love to launch – and I really love being launched! It’s the only event where I can experience big air without encountering big hurt.
So, anyway, how can I give this physical activity some kind of spiritual significance? Well, the other day as I was climbing the platform to launch a 70-pound middle schooler, I noticed how meticulously my blobbee was preparing himself for my assault. I snickered, and then began to taunt him, realizing that no matter how carefully he tried to secure himself or how conscientiously he adjusted his balance, sooner or later he was going to land in the water.
It reminded me of a lesson God had been teaching me about my walk with Him: No matter how prepared I am for the onslaughts of life, sooner or later, something or someone is going to knock me off balance and send me flying out of my comfort zone. It’s not a question of “if” – it’s only a matter of “when.” But preparing myself for the upcoming difficulties can determine how well I will land.
I have noticed that if I start on my knees, when I am being “blobbed,” I can do more tricks and enjoy the journey more than from any other position. And if I face the blobber, I can anticipate the bounce, and sometimes I can even land back on the blob instead of being tossed into the water. The same is true in my spiritual life. The best position for me to be in when I encounter Satan’s attacks is on my knees. Colossians 4:2 tells me that I need to stay alert. It says, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving.”
My best friend at the time, Ethan WIllis introduced me to the sounds of Holland. Unfortunately, I didn't really get into it until they had disbanded and The Lonely Hearts had formed. Still, there is a lovely sense of nostalgia that overcomes me every time I spin this disc. Those Holland boys have something special. - Josh Taylor
Our synopsis: "Holland's first and only album before becoming The Lonely Hearts is a catchy, upbeat rocker that showcases some of the best that Tooth & Nail had to offer." (Recommended by JFH's Josh Taylor) Perfect For: The Lonely Hearts fans, Rolling the car windows down, Spiritual renewal Song Highlights: ""Shine Like Stars," "I'm Not Backing Down," "Goodbye Texas"
So, what are your thoughts on and experiences with the album Photographs and Tidalwaves? Do you recommend it? If so, why?
I am fully reclined in a faded blue woven wool seat inside of an American Airline 747 with all the other guys in MIKESCHAIR flying to Tulsa, OK for the first of many stops during our CD release week. The pilot announces over the intercom system that we are 33,000 feet off the ground, above the clouds and my heart starts to pound.I try taking out my headphones and listening to music, I try closing my eyes and falling asleep, I even try to humor the idea of purchasing a bug vacuum off of the sky mall magazine that they so cleverly placed in the seat pocket in front of me for my leisurely reading. Every time I feel like I am almost fully distracted enough to bypass the anxiety, we slam into some turbulence and I am abruptly confronted with the situation I am in.
It's funny to me that something as small as me being a wimp on a flight can remind me of a much broader human tendency to fill our lives with distractions. Things that we know aren't really going to get us through whatever conflict we are facing, but are rather temporary fixes to a much deeper wound. We can get lost in our distractions, but as soon as that “real life” turbulence hits us hard enough we wake up, look around and still feel helpless in the situation we are presently in. We all have our own means of worldly escape. Maybe it's social networking that lets you vicariously live through someone else's life that takes your mind off the problems of your own, or fantastical movies that transport you to another place, or even something as simple as your favorite “feel good” song on your iPod. We fill our lives with meaningless noise, distractions and deterrents to put off facing our every day problems and fears.
Honestly, the very last thing I thought to do in an effort to get rid of the feeling was to close my eyes and pray. I prayed for safety, I prayed that God would continue to let me live to be used by Him, I prayed for forgiveness of my sinful nature, I just sat there and prayed for the entire remainder of the flight. I told God all about my fears, my lack of faith and my desire to fully trust Him and Him alone for my safety.
I opened my eyes and immediately realized that I didn't need a bug vacuum, didn't need the calming music on my iPod, and I didn't need to pass out asleep to get through this ridiculous fear of flying. I just needed to trust that God had all of it under His control even when my own understanding and brain told me something different.
The Bible tells us in Proverbs 3:5-6 to, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
I pray that all of our lives can continually grow in trusting the tender hands of God more and leaning on our own feeble minds less.
Britt Nicole’s debut album, Say It, released in May 2007, was a breath of fresh air for any pop music lover. Christian pop has never really been able to compete with current mainstream artists. However, Britt and her producers did an amazing job putting together music that is both fresh and current. The Christian lyrics are indeed a plus, dealing with topics like being “on fire” for Jesus (“Set The World on Fire”), having a positive outlook on life (“Holiday,” “Good Day”), and even dealing with divorce and self-worth (“Don’t Worry Now,” “When She Cries”). This album stays relevant, especially to teenagers, and there is truly not a bad song on the entire disc. Here’s hoping her sophomore effort, The Lost Get Found, can measure up to its incredible predecessor. - Matthew Watson
Our synopsis: "Fun pop perfection, able to stand up to any mainstream counterpart, without forsaking Christian messages." (Recommended by JFH's Matthew Watson) Perfect For: Relationships; Faith; Pick-me-ups; Summer! Song Highlights: "Holiday," "Set the World on Fire," "Good Day," "Ready," "When She Cries," "Say It"
So, what are your thoughts on and experiences with the album Say It? Do you recommend it? If so, why?
Let's rewind to late 2008/early 2009. I lived in Topeka, KS. My girlfriend, Sharie (pronounced Shawr-ee, not Share-ee) lived in Cuero, TX. I wanted to be with Sharie. She wanted to be with me. We prayed a lot, and I ended up moving to Texas to be with her. As of now, I've been in Texas for about four and a half months. Recently, her and I came into a tight situation where we needed to depend on God's provision in a way we never had to before. Saying that it's an easy thing to do would be a lie. It's hard. It's freaking hard. So we've been praying and having our friends and members of the body of Christ pray for us, and we've come to what seems to be the conclusion: I'm moving back to Topeka, and she's coming with me. Though it's obvious that I'm excited about getting to go back home and see my friends and family again, I'm also a little torn. 1) I've grown attached to Sharie's friends, and it's hard to leave them. 2) I know what it's like to leave everything behind and move 700-something miles away, and I'm afraid for her to feel the effects of that. Sometimes I feel bad about doing it, like I'm being selfish, but my pastor told me that's just Satan trying to make me feel bad about listening to God and doing what He wants me to do. 3) I don't understand it. Why would God tell me that it's okay if I move down here, only to send me back after five months (it'll be almost five by the time we roll out of here). I just don't get it. It makes me realize that I don't know everything, and that I don't have to know everything, and that, really, I wasn't designed to know everything. If I did, faith would be an impossibility for me. I'm only human. But still, I wish I did understand what God's doing. I guess I'll just wait for Him to reveal what He wants to reveal to me, and try to be content with that.
Singer-songwriter Bebo Norman made his national debut to Christian music with Ten Thousand Days, the follow up to his indie release The Fabric of Verse. A decade later, it continues to be a classic worth revisiting. Though I remembered the radio singles “Stand,” “The Hammer Holds,” and “I’m Alright,” it wasn’t until a year or two ago that I picked this up on a friend’s recommendation and discovered just what a great album it was.
Bebo’s signature style is acoustic folk with lyrics that find a quiet center between hope and brokenness, and his first CD is filled with peaceful, introspective gems. “I’m Alright,” one of the more upbeat and better-known songs, simultaneously acknowledges the “demons in my history” and declares with hope that “I will get by.” “Where the Angels Sleep” is probably my all-time favorite Bebo Norman song. The music is focused on acoustic guitar with a delicate female harmony and just enough strings and percussion to give it a majestic swell where it needs it, and lyrically, it’s a masterpiece of honest, real poetry. The closer, “Rita,” is one of the most powerful musical responses to death I’ve ever heard. As he rails against trite responses to grief (“It was not her time / That’s a useless line”), he also acknowledges God’s sovereignty and power to heal broken hearts (“But the God that sometimes can’t be found / Will wrap Himself around you”).
Ten Thousand Days lives in the contrasts, the place between hope and despair, the ruined and the beautiful. Whether revisiting the beginnings of Bebo Norman’s career or finding his music for the first time, track down a copy and discover this classic for yourself. - Jen Rose
Our synopsis: "A blend of acoustic folk and poetic depth are the highlights of this classic singer-songwriter debut
." (Recommended by JFH's Jen Rose) Perfect For: Hope, reflection, quiet rainy days
Song Highlights: “Stand,” “The Hammer Holds,” “I’m Alright,” “Where the Angels Sleep,” “Rita”
So, what are your thoughts on and experiences with the album Ten Thousand Days? Do you recommend it? If so, why?
I actually took a chance on this CD when I bought it. I saw it sitting on the new release rack, and had no idea who it was. I had never even heard this dude's name. But I looked at the tracklist and I saw guest appearances from Pigeon John, Playdough and RedCloud. I said "Well, it must not be bad if it has guests like that." So I bought it, went out to my car and popped it in the stereo. What did I get? Gold. There's a mixture of acoustic, singy-type songs and an array of fantastic flows. And Heath McNease did both very well. His singing voice is soothing, and his rapping is skilled. What strikes me as odd is that on this very website, this album was only given 3 stars. I mean, we all have our different tastes in music and different ideas about different artists. But I still wondered why it was given so low of a rating. It's definitely a good addition to your collection if you like hip hop. If you don't have it, consider it officially recommended by JfH, and you can also sit back and wait for his newest album to come out (hopefully sometime very soon). - Scott Fryberger
Heath McNease The Heath McNease Fan Club Meets Tonight(2007)
Our synopsis: "A debut album that displayed incredible talent from a young rapper and musician
." (Recommended by JFH's Scott Fryberger) Perfect For: Humor, love, humility
Song Highlights: " Where I'm Not Wanted," "Rumors," "Love Me," "Call Me Mister," "So So," "Nintendo Thumb
So, what are your thoughts on and experiences with the album The Heath McNease Fan Club Meets Tonight? Do you recommend it? If so, why?
I’m not much of a reader. I wish this wasn’t true. But, for me, reading books is a lot like eating vegetables. There isn’t anything about it I enjoy. Yes, you understood that correctly – I don’t like ANY vegetables. Just ask my wife! But believe me when I say, “I wish I liked vegetables.” It would sure make eating healthy a lot easier and much more enjoyable. Fortunately I have found an alternative that seems to work for me. Every morning I chug a V8 (low sodium of course). It’s not that I enjoy V8, but through the magic of a blender I can down an entire day’s vegetables in about 8 seconds. It’s kind of like a veggie bronco ride! I fully grasp that this isn’t as nutritious as eating fresh, real vegetables, however, it’s certainly better than not getting any greenage.
As for my dislike of reading, well, I have a metaphorical V8 for that as well. Books on tape! Actually, it’s books on iPod, but the latter really doesn’t sound as good. Being a full time musician I spend countless hours on the road. Perhaps one day I’ll have a bus driver, but for now it’s usually me sitting behind the wheel of my overstuffed Honda Element. Rather than scan the dial every time the signal fades or risk growing painfully tired of my current CD collection, I’ve decided that listening to books on tape is a great way to keep my drives interesting.
My latest digital book purchase was Andy Stanley’s The Principle of the Path. I listened to most of this book as I returned from a festival in Ohio to my home in Nashville, TN. During this drive Andy pounded home one of the simplest, yet most profound points I’ve ever heard. He said, “Our destination is determined by our path! “ Think about it. Where we end up is a result of the direction we choose.
It sounds elementary, and it is. However, I find myself living as if this principle isn’t true. For example I’m not incredibly out of shape, however, I would love to get back the six-pack abs I had as a college athlete. Right now I’m about 15 pounds away from that goal. And, although I’d really like to end up at a destination that includes those abs and doesn’t include my 15 extra pounds, the path I’m on won’t ever lead me to that destination. My average diet and average workout routine will NEVER result in a better-than-average physique. The same principle can be applied to my guitar skills. I would love to become an amazing guitar player – the kind that can melt both faces and hearts. However, if I continue along the path I’m currently on (practicing maybe an hour a week), I will never reach that destination.
Perhaps the most important life application I took from Andy Stanley’s book deals with my relationship with God. I desire a destination where I’m so close to God and so tuned in to His voice that He is able to use me in incredible ways. I hope that one day people will trust me to give godly counsel on some of their most important decisions. I would love to be defined as a man “after God’s own heart”. However, I now realize that if I am ever going to arrive at that destination some things need to change. My current path of luke-warm passion, apathetic prayers, and sporadic scripture reading will NEVER get me there.
I’m ready to change some of the paths I’m on. Are you?