John Mark McMillan – The Medicine

I first read about John Mark McMillan after I googled the writer of “How He Loves.”  I heard it on the Jesus Culture (Kim Walker) album We Cry Out. It is such a powerful song and even though I’ve never been quite able to get cozy with the “sloppy wet kiss” line, the song still moves me.  There’s no doubt the Spirit is all over it.  I also read his blog and enjoy his views on all sorts of things from songwriting to sleeping in on Easter (not to mention his appreciation of Springsteen, which I’ve been known to share :).

So I was excited to download his newest album, The Medicine, a couple months ago.  If I was going to make a comparison voice/soundwise it would be to Shawn Mullins.  The writing is original and intricate; full of striking imagery and evocative sounds.  The production is intricate and you truly get an album born in the studio with a soundscape of layers that reveal themselves in new ways with each listen.

“Carbon Ribs” exemplifies this with its plucked strings and layers of electric guitars.  There is a definite moodiness to the track as it explores the wonder of being dead but yet alive.

My favorite track, “Dress Us Up,” contains a lyric that took my breath away (literally) when I first heard it.  It begins, “Dress us up in your righteousness/Bring us in with a ring and a kiss/When you walk into the room you know we can’t resist/Every bottle of perfume always ends up on the floor in a mess.”  I don’t think I’ve heard a more original description of what happens when Jesus comes in a room: we have to worship.  If there’s perfume (as with Mary in John 12) the bottles come out and we pour it on His feet.  We give Him the very best of what we have — it’s automatic.  He elicits this kind of response when we see Him for who He really is.

There are many other standouts like “Skeleton Bones” and “Philadelphia,” but I recommend digesting it as a whole album.  Turn off the shuffle and enjoy a well thought-out and imagined work of art.

Gifts and Kindness

So I’m almost done with the second of Malcolm Gladwell’s books, Blink. I have thoroughly enjoyed this one as well as the first: The Tipping Point. This morning on the train I found myself getting emotional in some passages that aren’t really meant to be emotional. I was trying to figure out what in the world it was that was affecting me and I have a hunch. The passages in question are quoting experts in their field. A military expert, a police expert, a psychological expert, and so on (Blink is about rapid cognition — the two second decisions we make with our unconscious mind). My theory is that people using their gifts to their full potential moves me.

I know that’s kind of odd (I’ve been accused of that before :). But it does. Most people like to see an athlete be the best in the world. We even celebrate the exceptional high school football player that will most assuredly play college ball. But I have this soft spot for all kinds of disciplines: science, medicine, government, and, of course, music. There’s something about seeing a talent, an ability, a gift come to fruition in someone’s life. Proverbs 18:16 says, “A gift opens the way for the giver and ushers him into the presence of the great.” That’s what I feel happening when I read (or watch, or hear) about people who are using their gifts. Their gift is making a way for them.

Romans talks about the kindness of God and how it leads us to Him. The gifts God gives people are evidence of His kindness and it draws me to Him. How kind is He that he gave me the gift of playing music, of writing songs, of leading His people in worshiping Him? How kind is He?

This is for unbelievers as well. Romans 11:29 declares, “For God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable.” Even if someone is far away from Him, he gave them abilities and He does not take them away. This is why I disagree with Christians who say we shouldn’t listen to “secular” music, movies, or other entertainment. God gave the gift and I’m celebrating Him by enjoying it in another person – believer or not!

What is even more amazing is that God set us up to seek out our gifts, to discover our calling. We all want to know what we were created for. You see surveys all the time that illustrate the sky-high percentages of people who are dissatisfied with their job and want to do something else. If only they could make a living from their passion. I believe God put that desire deep down in us so we would seek out our gifts and how to use them. In that process we would discover Him – the Giver of gifts, creator of kindness.

So I Have This Theory

So I have this theory.  The simplest way to begin to explain it by using songwriting.  I feel like songs are “in the air.”  I, as a songwriter, reach up into the air, retrieve and assemble them, and voila: you have a song.  That’s not to say it’s easy.  But it is to say that the song is there — waiting to be written. (One of my all-time favorite lines from a song is by Darrell Scott: “A good song never comes to those who chase / it comes to those who listen)

That’s the start of my theory, but it expands to other areas.  Prophetic words, for example.  One line of thinking says that God gives a word to a person to give to another person.  If that person doesn’t deliver it, then the message is not given — at least in that manner.  My feeling (totally mine, I don’t know of Scripture that explains it) is that the word was “in the air” (more specifically “in the Spirit”) around that person.  What it needed was a person with a prophetic bent to pick it out of the air and deliver it.  It may even be possible that more than one person could hear the word.  God may just be looking for someone to hear it and have the guts to deliver it.  I think of Jesus with the woman at the well in the Gospel of John.  He had a word of knowledge about her (she had had five husbands) and it radically changed her life.  I imagine that knowledge, that word was there in the Spirit as a revelation from the Father because he knew it would be a sign to the Samaritan woman.  Jesus heard it in the Spirit and delivered it.

I believe that God, at the appointed time, releases things into the Spirit.  These can be creative (songs, books, dance, art, etc.), spiritual (prophetic words, theological understanding, apologetics, etc.) or scientific (inventions, cures, discoveries, etc.).  Even business and political realms are wide open.

This is just a little idea that God has been sparking in me, but I was quite surprised to come across this article from New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell recently.  He argues that the geniuses we herald so much (Einstein, Bell, Edison, etc.) were actually geniuses at deciphering what was “in the air.”  Almost every major discovery of the modern era was simultaneously made by several people (the telephone, calculus, oxygen).  Gladwell goes into detail about the scientific / cultural / educational reasons for this, but I was struck by the spiritual implications.  This is exactly what I had been sensing!

So, once again, it’s just a theory, but I will be listening like crazy to hear what the Lord is saying.  I want to hear.  I want to discover.  Help me deliver.

Jeremiah 33:3 (New International Version)

3 ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’

Proverbs 8:12 (King James Version)

12I wisdom dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge of witty inventions.

(I was turned on the Malcolm Gladwell’s writing by Bob Lefsetz.  I read a few New Yorker articles and was hooked.  So I got his first book, The Tipping Point and must say it was great.  He’s written three books and I’m working my way through all of them.

What strikes me the most about Tipping Point is the discussion of teen suicide in Micronesia and how it became the cool thing to do after a particularly charismatic teenager took his own life.  Gladwell argues that there’s a tipping point because the teens that follow suit have been given social permission for the behavior they’ve only fleetingly considered.  I would add a spiritual dimension to it: it’s the Satanic imitation of God.  Satan is releasing evil in the spiritual realm and there are people who are susceptible to that particular influence.  They grabbed it “out of the air” and acted on it.)

Update

It’s been forever…I know!!  Lots going on here in NYC.  Just following the Lord and doing a lot of waiting and listening.  I’ve been reminded lately of a great word from “My Utmost for His Highest” where Oswald Chambers talks about the “glorious uncertainty” of being in the Lord.  I am not certain of what today will bring, but I am certain of Him.  I am still searching for that place He has for me to lead worship, but I’m more content everyday just doing what He has set before me and waiting for Him to move how He wills and surprise me.  I did get a great new long term temp job at the NFL in their charities department.  It’s cool to come through the doors and see the original Vince Lombardi trophy in the the reception area.   I’m thankful God has given me something to do while I’m waiting :).

Been writing a ton and just enjoying the city.  I’m excited to see what’s coming up in this “glorious uncertainty.”

Jon Thurlow – Songs About Jesus

Download the MP3 album here.

I’ve waited a long time for a record from Jon Thurlow. The fact that it’s just piano (a real one at that!) and voice is even better. From the first notes to the last it’s an act of worship and a work of art. What a great offering to Jesus.

 My favorite track right now is “Equality with God.” It has a chorus that cuts you to the heart with lyrics like, “And it’s the very same thing that cast the devil from Your presence / The very same thing that tripped up Adam and Eve / And it’s the very same thing that I struggle with inside of me…” The vulnerability of saying, “Hey, this is something I struggle with, too…I’m not perfect” is so refreshing and reminds us that, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Musically, the mix of styles and the sophistication of the harmony while still being accessible is great. The Lord’s gifting in Jon is evident and clear.

I would highly recommend this album and encourage its use in times of prayer and worship. It will bring you great enjoyment — it’s done that for me!