Three Amazing Books

Occasionally a book comes along that changes your life and you just can’t stop talking about it. It’s not super common. Often you’ll read through a ton of books and only a select few will impact your life in this way. That being said, here’s my list of those few.

1. Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne

When I learned in a college class one day that Jesus spent most of his time talking about the Kingdom of Heaven, I was confused. Why did he talk so much about the afterlife? Or did I not really understand what Heaven was? When Shane Claiborne’s book, Jesus for President came out, I immediately bought it due to the fact that (A) I loved Shane Claiborne and (B) every page was graphically designed the whole way through. I didn’t really know what to expect from this book, but as I made my way through it I began to realize that it was dripping with the understanding of what Heaven was. It was a place that existed here and now, had its own backwards ways of life, and even its own politics that ran very much contrary to our own. It caused me to think differently about how I needed to live my life and I actually became a different person in many ways after reading it, which is something just about no book ever does to its readers. If you want to live the Christian life out as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven here and now, there is no book I could recommend more for you to read.

 

2. The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning

I remember hearing about how popular this book was when I was a kid, but being a bit of a hipster, I guess I didn’t want to read it since everyone already knew about it or something. Many years later I saw the movie Ragamuffin, in which an actor portrayed Brennan Manning in a few short scenes. I didn’t know if the lines the actor said were pulled straight from Brennan’s books or just based on him, but I knew I wanted to read his books after hearing those lines delivered—some of them nearly brought me to tears. Some time later I busted out The Ragamuffin Gospel, and came in contact with God’s love more clearly than I ever had before. No book had ever been more convincing that God loved me even in my brokenness. No book had ever been more convincing that I had to love other people—all other people even in their brokenness. Some of the greatest quotes I’ve ever read are found in this book. Love is pretty much what ever Brennan Manning book is about and they’re all great, but I would start here.

 

3. C. S. Lewis: Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces

We all rave about C.S. Lewis and rightfully so. The man is a genius. I don’t know where to begin to tell you to read as most of his work is eye-opening, so I’ll recommend one of my favorites from him. I thought when I bought his Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces, that I may just be buying into a publisher’s attempt at milking Lewis for all he’s worth by throwing all of his extra material into a book, but I found that wasn’t the case. Lewis’ essays are wonderful to read and they get into all sorts of topics (even aliens!). They’re also often succinct, so you get a concentration of his wisdom in each essay quicker than you might find in some of his books. It’s a long read, but it’s worth it. Though if you’re looking for fiction, his Chronicles of Narnia series have become some of my favorite fiction. #AslanGivesMeShivers

 

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Favorite Worship Artists and Albums

Sonicflood

In my personal opinion, this is the best album Gotee records ever put out (and considering the album went gold, many must agree with me). And when I mention Sonicflood, let’s be clear that I’m referring to the original Sonicflood that released a debut self-titled album and a live album entitled Sonicpraise. I am not talking about the band that kickstarted INO records by taking on the same name with nearly all different members.

A friend of mine had bought Sonicflood’s first album for me as a moving-away present back in about 1999. I had heard their hit I Want to Know You, but didn’t know much about them otherwise. And so I threw it in my portable CD player and was almost immediately addicted to it. I don’t know why. This was well before I played any instruments so I could only understand the beauty of their music to the extent that my ears enjoyed it, but I still loved it.

This was the first worship music I had ever heard that was incredibly intimate and rocked out at the same time. It was also the first music I heard in which the songs weren’t trying to be three minutes a piece. The songs were as drawn out as the band wanted them to be and it was perfect that way.

I even happened to see them live at the very first concert I ever went to. They opened for the Newsboys and even though they only had about 15-20 minutes to play they must have only gotten through two songs altogether. I didn’t understand the repetition at the time because it was before I had a charismatic bone in my body.

And then, in 2001 when their live album Sonicpraise came out, I threw it in my CD player and rarely took it out. There was something magical about this album just like the first one. I listened to it for hours and scratched it up pretty good. I especially couldn’t stop listening to their Spontaneous Worship track which was a whopping 9+ minutes—way beyond what any Christian record label would have put out at that time.

Why was I so attracted to this? What was it about this album?

I now believe that my attraction was to an anointing God had put on this album. It had been blessed and turned into a true worship project. It was highly musical, incredibly genuine, and ground-breaking for its time. The spoken words that started the album must have literally done something in the spiritual realm:

We love you Jesus. Manifest your presence through this album and through the lives of these men who go out commissioned by Your word to be worshippers of the true and holy God. And making disciples in Jesus name.

You could see even more of their desperation for God in the hidden track, which is about three and a half minutes of discussion of the album.

Again, the original Sonicflood isn’t around anymore, but their lead singer Jeff Deyo has been writing and releasing some great albums you should look into.

Jesus Culture

As of right now, my favorite worship band would have to be that of Jesus Culture. The first time I had heard of them was when a friend of mine had used a video of them singing How He Loves in a presentation she had given in a worship arts class. I remember being captivated by it, but I didn’t look into the band until David Crowder Band made John Mark McMillan’s song an even bigger hit than Jesus Culture did. Soon the whole Christian realm was aware of How He Loves and many were pointed to the live recording that Jesus Culture had done.
That’s what happened to me. I posted a review here on my blog about David Crowder’s version of How He Loves and someone left a comment telling me to check out the Jesus Culture version. After watching the video I was immediately overwhelmed. I had to get some of this band’s music. Why? I think it was because I hadn’t heard any music that had been so anointed since the original Sonicflood albums.
Jesus Culture is probably gaining popularity more than any other worship band right now (even Relevant Magazine recently wrote an article on them), and they’re doing so by playing long extended songs full of passion and spontaneous praise. They don’t want to succumb to industry standards, they just want to worship. And with it, I believe a generation of worshipers is being unleashed. On top of that, many are turning to Bethel Church in Redding, CA where Jesus Culture is based. Because of this, many are learning of the gifts, miracles and phenomena of the Spirit that take place there and are running to learn more about how God can do such things in their own life.
I think my favorite album of Jesus Culture’s would have to be Come Away, but I can’t help but push you to buy everything they’ve released. It’s all spectacular and anointed.

Bethel Music

Since I’m on the topic of Jesus Culture, I might as well mention Bethel Music. This is the church I just mentioned above in my overview of Jesus Culture. Bethel is home to Jesus Culture and therefore their albums have all kinds of artists on it—from those in the Jesus Culture band, to others who lead worship at Bethel. The original songs coming out of this church are quickly making their way into mainstream churches and even into mainstream worship leader’s new albums. Bethel does so many amazing things and in my opinion is one of the leading churches that God is putting over America right now. I stay on top of not only the music they release, but what their church is doing through a subscription to iBethel.tv.

All Sons & Daughters

I only discovered All Sons & Daughters a few months ago, but I was immediately taken by their music. That’s honestly a bit strange for me because their particular genre is one that I’ve heard a lot of over the past few years and am not usually smitten with. But strangely enough I found myself wrapped up in their music and quickly buying everything they had to offer. There was something very genuine about their music and I got to see it firsthand when they played a concert at my alma mater just weeks after discovering them.

It was incredible. I’ve never seen a band with no drummer sound so full. It was truly a time of intimate, stripped-down worship and I was very moved by it—even after discovering that they were more or less a church worship band! I’ve noticed recently that a lot of church worship bands are trying to get their music out there when they probably shouldn’t be. But All Sons & Daughters is one of those church worship bands that the Christian music realm desperately needs and desires.

You have no need to buy all of their EPs because they just released an album entitled Season One, which has almost all of their music to date, plus two new songs.

Jeremy Riddle

Jeremy Riddle is closely connected to Bethel Music and has even released a few songs on Bethel’s albums. He is an amazing worship leader with a great atmospheric rock sound and lyrics of desperation. His album Furious is an amazing album that can really help you enter into the presence of God. His song One Thirst and Hunger is among one of my favorites of his and I use it in our church’s worship services quite regularly. Outside of that his song Always is among one of the most peaceful and beautiful worship songs I’ve ever heard. I love to set an atmosphere and just blast this song in all of it’s ambient-prayer-closet-beauty.

Cory Asbury

There are few studio worship albums I probably listen to more than Cory Asbury’s Let Me See Your Eyes. If this dude writes a song, you better believe it’s going to be catchy, born out of desire, and full of Scripture. On top of that, I’ve never known any worship artist to succeed at so many different kinds of genres. I get excited anytime I catch live him on IHOP.

Cory Asbury would also have to be king of the fast songs in the Christian music worship scene. There are so many good slow worship songs out there, but so few fast ones. Cory is able to operate on both sides of the table—whether it be the joy and uplifting sounds of the upbeat side of things, or the desperate and worshipful cries of the deep, intimate side of things.

This man is truly anointed by God to be a worship leader and you should definitely grab his album. And while I’ve been patiently awaiting a new album from him, I’ve also grown addicted to an album he worked on with Matt Gilman entitled Holy. Both are well worth a purchase.

Pas Neos

There’s another IHOP artist outside of Cory Asbury that I am in love with named Pas Neos. These guys are still pretty new to the scene but they have done something that few worship bands have ever done so well: electronica.

I am a huge electronica fan. It’s actually more or less my favorite genre. And now that it’s taking over the radio I’m that guy who gets to yell at everyone and say, “I’ve been listening to that kind of music for like a decade! I was obsessed with it when no one else would listen to it!” And no, I’m not a hipster.

This band is straight up indie-electronica and they do an amazing job at it. Their lyrics are also so Scriptural that the words they use in their songs can catch you off guard at first. They really push you to think of what they’re saying. It’s one of the most intriguing worship albums to come out in a long time and I am so incredibly happy that it has come out of IHOP.

IHOP

“Man Jamin,” you say. “I’ve never heard someone reference pancakes so much when talking about worship music.”

“Yeah, I actually get that a lot,” I reply.

But if you’ve been in the worship scene for awhile, you probably know that when I reference IHOP, I’m not talking about the International House of Pancakes, but rather the International House of Prayer. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I was made aware that there was a place out there that hosted 24/7 worship and that you could watch it online. I was immediately intrigued and spent many hours streaming IHOP into my room. In fact, I have it streaming right now.

The IHOP musicians can literally play one song for an entire hour on the IHOP worship stream because they know how to dwell in a time of worship. Half the time they’ll make up the song on the spot by singing Scripture. It’s no surprise that such amazing music would come out of this House of Prayer. Both Cory Asbury and Pas Neos mentioned above have come out of Forerunner, the label associated with IHOP.

One of my favorite live albums that has come out of IHOP is Onething ’09. This is another great album to look into if you’re looking for more upbeat fast songs for your worship sessions.

Shane and Shane

Shane and Shane visited my campus one semester and a friend of mine couldn’t stop talking about how amazing their worship session was after they had left.

He was right. Shane and Shane had just released their album Pages which was full of some of the most intimate lyrics I had heard in a long time. They opened the show with one of my favorite songs of theirs, Vision of You. This was one of the most intense “inviting-the-presence” songs I had ever heard before. Their beautiful voices soared over the music and drew the entire audience into worship.

I only walked out of the room for a few minutes and that was so I could buy their album. I now own several of their albums and press you to listen to all of their works.

Matt Redman

Not only is Matt Redman a great worship artist, but he’s also a great author. Actually, I did a lot more reading of his books before I really got into his music. I mean, I knew his big hits like everyone else (like Better is One Day, Heart of Worship, and Dancing Generation), but I hadn’t really listened to a lot of his music up until recently.

Fortunately, because I had read some of his books before I got into his music, I was able to truly see the passion he had for leading and writing worship music. I was especially moved by his album 10,000 Reasons. It had great songs all the way through it and was full of true worship and praise. If you haven’t listened to this album yet, I suggest you buy it along with one of his books like The Unquenchable Worshipper or Mirror Ball.

David Crowder Band

 

David Crowder Band has always been one of my favorite bands, especially for their work on A Collision (Or 3+4=7) and their latest and final album Give Us Rest or (A Requiem Mass in C [The Happiest of All Keys]). Crowder has some of the most interesting and creative worship lyrics. Even more so, he has some of the most intriguing music. You can’t play half these songs at your church, mostly because they’re too amazing. Even some of their most simple worship songs that are played in churches all the time throw worship bands off. Sure the chords may be G D Em C, but you hold out the C an extra measure on this pre-chorus, two measures on the second one, and one and a half measures on the third.

But that’s David Crowder for you and you have to love it.

If you’re looking for a simple prayer closet album, check out his debut, All I Can Say, which many have overlooked in the success of his most recent albums.

And just a heads up: even though David Crowder Band is now officially broken up, most of the band members of DCB have started a new group called The Digital Age. They’ve released a few glimpses of what they sound like and it is AMAZING. Here’s a video of them doing their own take on All Sons & Daughters‘ song All the Poor and Powerless.

Chris Tomlin

Like I even have to mention Chris Tomlin. This guy has written (or at least made famous) many of the worship songs every contemporary church plays. This includes songs like: How Great is Our God, Our God, Forever, The Wonderful Cross, Famous One, We Fall Down, Indescribable, Holy is the Lord, Enough, Made to Worship, Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone), Jesus Messiah, God of This City, and I Will Rise.

Again, he didn’t write every one of these songs, but he at least made the majority of them famous. He’s perhaps the most well known worship leader because he writes some of the greatest, catchiest, thoughtful, wide-spread worship songs we’ve ever heard.

And if you like all of the Tomlin songs I just mentioned, just buy How Great is Our God: The Essential Collection, because I literally just gave you the track listing.

Worth Dying For

There are many other worship groups I could mention, but I want to end by mentioning a newer group called Worth Dying For. I discovered them when they released their album Love Riot and was captivated not only by the music, but by the genuinity of their worship. It was some of the best rocked out worship music I had heard in a long time. They also just put out an amazing live album Live Riot.
Also, feel free to download some of my own worship music for free here.

Compassion Amidst the Vipers

I’m currently reading St. Teresa of Avila’s book, The Interior Castle. Let me tell you, this lady is full of divine knowledge and I feel as though I’m underlining nearly every paragraph as I read through it.

Throughout this book, St. Teresa takes the reader through several different rooms, each one bring us closer and closer to God. I thought I’d share with you an amazing paragraph of grace from chapter two, paragraph four:

These souls hear our Lord calling them, for as they approach nearer to where His majesty dwells He proves a loving Neighbour, though they may still be engaged in the amusements and business, the pleasures and vanities of this world. While in this state we continually fall into sin and rise again, for the creatures amongst whom we dwell are so venomous, so vicious, and so dangerous, that it is almost impossible to avoid being tripped up by them. Yet such are he pity and compassion of this Lord of ours, so desirous is He that we should seek Him and enjoy His company, that in one way or another He never ceases calling us to Him. So sweet is His voice, that the poor soul is disconsolate at being unable to follow His bidding at once, and therefore, as I said, suffers more than if it could not hear Him.

She goes on in paragraph six:

Do not think lightly, sisters, of this first grace, nor be downcast if you have not responded immediately to Our Lord’s voice, for His Majesty is willing to wait for us many a day and even many a year, especially when He sees perseverance and good desires in our hearts.

A Starbucks Adventure

So the internet back at the homestead was really ticking me off and I really felt like getting oot and aboot. For that reason, I took a walk two blocks down to the home of the copyrighted green and brown colors to order myself a hot chocolate and borrow a few kbps.

I grabbed a hot chocolate, agreed to some terms of service, and then opened up Words with Friends on my iPad to kill sometime. I must have started somewhere around 10 games of that off-brand Scrabble app before a man came in and sat across from me.

The two of sat there in silence until I finally decided to break the ice.

“How’s it going?” I asked.

“Mmm ah sh sna,” he answered.

Of course that’s not what he said, but it was what I heard. I couldn’t make out his reply at all. And so I decided to give up on making conversation. But then I decided to give it another shot a few minutes later having spotted his giant art pad.

“Are you an artist?” I asked, afraid I was somehow wrong.

“Yeah, I draw comic books,” he replied.

“Wow,” I said as I continued my iPad game with my fiance. “Those must be giant pages.”

“Yeah, mmm ah sh sna,” he explained.

The two of us carried on in conversation for the next few minutes. We talked about comics, movies based off of comics, the Chicago neighborhood, and so on and so forth. And then we came to one of those awkward-but-at-the-same-time-not silences.

In other words, the conversation just ended and we left it at that.

A few minutes later, she came around and took my iPad away from me! Seriously! My off-brand Scrabble game stolen right out of my hands!

Well okay, she didn’t steal it exactly, but she made it very difficult to continue my game! Watch for yourself:


Now if you happened to watch that video all the way through then you saw my hand go over the lens as I picked up a conversation with another stranger before turning off my camera.

“Hey man, I hate to ask this but my car is out of gas and I was wondering if you had any money I could use? I’ve been asking around everywhere and I can’t find anyone to help me out.”

Now when you’re in Chicago you sometimes think twice about such questions. You wonder if this is some kind of trick or not.

“Sure,” I answered. “Can you just show me that your car doesn’t work first?”

“Yeah man. It’s out this way.”

I apologized to the little girl for stealing my iPad back and then we exited stage left and walked about a block to his car.

“It’s this black one right here.”

“I see,” I said, still a little weary that I was being scammed. “Can you turn it on for me?”

“Turn it on?”

“Yeah, just show me that it actually is your car?”

“Man, I left my keys with my cousin. Hang on, he should be around here somewhere.” He then picked up his phone and called some number. It went straight to voicemail and he left a quick message. “Man, I promise you this is my car.”

Now he seemed very genuine even though his story wasn’t entirely working out for him, so what was I to do? To believe or not to believe? I waited around for a few minutes to see if his cousin would come by. Finally, I moved to a new plan.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said. “If you let me pray for you, I’ll give you some money.”

Now if you’ve been reading my blogs lately, you’ve seen that I’ve been on this pray-for-people-trip as of late. And if he really wanted this money, I didn’t think he’d refuse a quick prayer.

“What?” he said, really confused. “I can’t turn down prayer!”

Good, I thought. He sees that this is a win-win situation.

We then exchanged names and I began to pray for him as he said a few thank-you-Jesus-es in the background. I figured if he was lying to me, he still got blessed (I also secretly figured that if he was lying he would think harder before taking my money). But he really did seem genuine, so here’s hoping the money gets him to his destination.

Then I made my way back to good ol’ homestead to finish my Scrabble game with Jodi. But the internet still didn’t work there when I got back.

The End

Oh, and here’s what else we’ve been up to:


Lewd Conduct

I was reading my Bible last night when I came across an interesting verse in Ezekiel. Now if you’ve never read the prophets, you should know there’s a lot of destruction-type-things in it. Basically God is upset with how Israel has been acting and how sinful they’ve become, so He is warning Israel (through the prophets) of the doom that is soon to come upon them if they don’t turn from their ways.

And so as you read prophetic book after prophetic book after prophetic book, you get a similar story said in many different ways. And despite all the doom, God’s love is shines brightly through it all.

But the verse that stuck out to me last night is in Ezekiel 16:27:

Behold now, I have stretched out My hand against you and diminished your rations. And I delivered you up to the desire of those who hate you, the daughters of the Philistines, who are ashamed of your lewd conduct.

Now there was a pretty popular Philistine you might remember by the name of Goliath. Yeah, he was Israel’s enemy, as were all the Philistines. They had had their share of scuttles throughout the years.

Israel was God’s holy people. The Philistines were the enemy. And yet we see here in Ezekiel that even the Philistines are ashamed of how Israel has been acting! Even the enemy is sickened by the holy people’s sin! And if you haven’t read the list of Israel’s sins, trust me, you would be too.

Not only does this story speak to me where I’m at, but I imagine it reaches out to some of you as well. It speaks to the story of every Christian who wanted so badly to get it right, but continually made the same mistake time and time again. It speaks to the story of every atheist who rejected Christianity because they knew Christians to be hypocrites. It speaks to story of the entire world as it dukes out the themes of religion and sin.

But God will meet us where we’re at and help us get clean. He wants to. We just have to ask Him to do so and then pursue His leading. And we, as God’s holy people, need to pursue holiness so that others (and ourselves) aren’t ashamed of our lewd conduct.

We can see here in Ezekiel that this whole hypocritical thing is nothing new. However, holiness might be a new thing if we puruse that.

Demon Oppression

My whole life I’ve been taught that if you’re going to make noodles, you first must boil the water. Then, once the right temperature is reached, you may place those lovely little shapes of dough into the water. Tonight that lovely little shape is radiatore:

Radiatore Noodles

In all honesty, I’m not really hungry.

In all honesty, I’m addicted to plain noodles.

With salt…

LOTS of salt.

And tonight, I decided to break the rules of noodle physics and not wait for the water to boil, but rather place them in right at the beginning. And go figure, my lovely radiatore tastes quite fantastic and no different than usual. I even got them several minutes faster than usual :D

So many times we never challenge what we’re taught. In plenty of instances this can be a good thing. For instance, if we’re taught the dangers of driving we will hopefully refrain from getting hurt. But on the other hand there are plenty of times where we are taught what is considered to be truth, but is, in fact, not.

I bring this up because tonight I started what I can already tell is going to be an amazingly awesome read called, “When Pigs Move In” by Don Dickerman.

When Pigs Move In

It’s awesome to see someone so anointed by God take his time to write a book to tell us about what many don’t understand. Within the opening chapters he brings up the fact that there is much he has been taught by the church and his seminaries that he just accepted as truth until God invaded his life in ways he didn’t expect. Hence my sad attempt with the noodle analogy.

Now this guy has genuinely seen people changed by God, delivered from demons, and physically healed in full instantly. God has made the scriptures real to him. He was taught that all the crazy physical healing and demonic oppression that happened in the Bible died out with the apostles, which go figure, was what I was taught. I didn’t question it for the longest time until God grew my curiosity for what the Holy Spirit was really capable of a couple years ago or so.

One of the many things Christians have come to believe about demon possession is that demons cannot possess Christians. However, this is a common misconception, which any deliverer would happily tell you. In fact, Dickerman hits on this as early as chapter two as he tells the story of how God helps him through his first deliverance. He is delivering a female inmate from years of demonic oppression since she was born into a demonic family who dedicated her to satan. In fact, they were so deep into demonic oppression that they were actually setting their daughter up to be the bride of satan. Can you imagine how many demons are haunting this girl since her birth?

On top of that, she is fully Christian. She has dedicated her life to Christ and yet these demons continue to oppress her until the moment she is delivered several times in one sitting. The way Don portrays his dialogue with the demon is exactly like an audio session I heard of a deliverance. The demons actually tried to trick Dickerman several times into thinking she had been delivered when there were still a few left in her.

Surprised?

It’s time for the people of God to relearn this stuff. Far too many of us have fallen into this misconception that this stuff doesn’t happen anymore. That’s exactly what satan would have us think. And it’s done him well, too. I seriously encourage you to go to Borders, Amazon, or somewhere and get this book. Let’s learn together and become stronger in Christ.

I leave you with something that gave me the “Holy Spirit chills” all over my body tonight. At the end of delivering the woman above, Dickerman wrote this in his dialogue with her.

Angrily the demon persisted, “She’s mine!” I began to command with more boldness, “NO! She’s not yours, she belongs to Jesus Christ, and she has been bought with a price, purchased, redeemed, born again! She is an heir of God and a joint-heir with Jesus Christ. You have no right to her life, and you will leave her now in Jesus Christ’s mighty name.” The woman began to cough. She jerked and trembled and cleared her throat as the vile demon left.

May God give you dreams tonight to push you into learning together and becoming stronger in Christ.