Ruth: A Love Story

Out of the 66 books in the Bible, there are two books in particular I think are weird to find there: the Songs of Solomon and Ruth. It’s pretty obvious why Songs of Solomon is weird (it gets a little steamy), but don’t worry, it’s Ruth that I want to focus on today. Before the book of Ruth we have books devoted to our origin story, our laws, and our wars, but Ruth departs from all of that to teach us seemingly little about theology. Her book is more or less a short, random, overlooked love story.

This 4 chapter book begins with Ruth losing her husband and committing her life to her mother-in-law who also lost everyone dear to her. Ruth was from a different people and culture than her mother-in-law so it must have been a bit terrifying to follow her mother-in-law when she decided to return home to her own people in Bethlehem, but Ruth was committed to her, so she did it anyways.

While they were in Bethlehem, Ruth met a guy named Boaz. He let her freely take any food she wanted from his farm and made sure all the guys in his workforce left her alone. He protected her and took care of her and when mealtime came around he gave her more to eat than she needed, though she hardly knew who he was.

But he knew who she was, because he was a relative of Ruth’s mother-in-law. He had heard of how Ruth had committed herself to her mother-in-law instead of her own parents and how she had chosen the discomfort of being with her mother-in-law’s people rather than her own people.

And he was impressed.

Ruth and Boaz moved pretty quick. In chapter two they met and in chapter three Ruth gave a proposal of sorts through a bunch of interesting and confusing cultural practices, which you can all check out later if you want (don’t worry, it’s a short book). Whatever exactly it is that truly happened in chapter three, Boaz feels blessed by it and by chapter 4 they’re married.

So what’s the point of this book? Maybe to show us how God loved Ruth the Moabite, a woman from a people group outside of his own chosen Israel. Or maybe it was to tell us more about King David’s back story seeing as how Ruth ended up being David’s great, great grandmother. Or maybe it was so we’d know that not all mother-in-laws are evil—I don’t know!

But I do find it interesting that the Bible pauses for love. It pauses to tell us the stories not just of our heroes, but also of their love interests. Sure, many of these stories evolve into soap operas of sorts, but in this case, we find an incredibly short book breaking from stories of our origins, wars, and laws to tell us the seemingly unimportant story of how one little lady on the outside married a farmer on the inside—showing us that things like marriage and love matter.

Jesus himself (who was also a descendant of Ruth) talks about the importance of marriage. Even though he never married, he understood that it was a HUGE deal. He explained that in marriage we “are no longer two but one flesh” and that what “God has joined together, man shouldn’t separate.” He went on to explain that divorce was made by man, not by God—making it clear that not only does God care about our marriages, but that he takes them more seriously than humans do. He cares about your marriage whether your dating life was 3 chapters long or 6 years long.

Why does He care? Because He knows every hair on your head! I love my wife and my children immensely, but I don’t have the slightest idea how many hairs are on their heads! A God who is that meticulous about something so minuscule and unimportant as hair, of course cares about your marriage! That’s a huge part of your life! From today on out you’re two lives are fused as one and you need to know that God cares about it. He cares more than you do, which will be important to remember on some days.

He is a God who is constantly creating life, and he’s still doing it today in our marriages. It’s like our physical birth from our parents and our spiritual birth from salvation in Christ being melded together into some new kind of physical, spiritual, marital rebirth. Cherish it, just as God Himself cherishes it for you. For love is God and God is love and you dwell with God when you love each other.

Allow me to leave you with a scene from the movie Stardust. If you’ve seen it, you may recall in this movie that there’s a star that falls to the earth and becomes a human. Her name is Yvaine. After going on some adventures with a boy named Tristan she begins to wax poetic about love. Speaking from her prior perspective as a star looking at the earth she says:

“I know a lot about love. I’ve seen it, centuries and centuries of it, and it was the only thing that made watching your world bearable. All those wars. Pain, lies, hate—It made me want to turn away and never look down again. But when I see the way that mankind loves—You could search to the furthest reaches of the universe and never find anything more beautiful. So yes, I know that love is unconditional. But I also know that it can be unpredictable, unexpected, uncontrollable, unbearable and strangely easy to mistake for loathing, and—what I’m trying to say, Tristan is—I think I love you. Is this love, Tristan? I never imagined I’d know it for myself. My heart—It feels like my chest can barely contain it. Like it’s trying to escape because it doesn’t belong to me any more. It belongs to you…. Just your heart, in exchange for mine.”

I encourage you to make the same exchange. Your heart for theirs. Their heart for yours. If both of you are always about each other, consistently handing your hearts to one another rather than keeping it to yourself, your marriage will be filled with the love that God has for you, for He showed us that love for one another is found in humility and service to one another—freely handing us his heart if we wanted it even in times when we didn’t deserve it. We could just take the free gift of his heart in exchange for our own.

God, oh God, Who Are You?

“God, oh God, who are You?”
The ages have cried in fear
Trembling below mountains and storms
That cover the atmosphere

This being in the sky
That sees us day and night
Who, just, oh Who, are You?

For we’ve cowered in corners
And slipped through the broken walls
To find a shady place of solitude
Where Your eyes may strain to see us

But we know we can’t hide

For you see all things
The complexity of what makes us, us
And the minuscule details that
No lover would ever pick up on
Even after the summation
Of a life spent together

You know us in an instant
And in fullness
Our secrets
Our pains
Our brokenness
Our cares
Our desires
Our loves

Yet we know so little about You

Millenniums of life
Have brought us progressive revelation
New glimpses into the richness of who You are
But we in all of our knowledge can only create
So much of a systematic theology
Before we’re left speculating
Upon Your wonders

“God, oh God, who are You?”

You know us well
But we know You in comparison
Like a grain of sand on the beach
A trickle of water in the ocean
Stardust in the galaxy

And it’s here in our smallness and humility
That we tremble and shake
Expecting words like daggers
To echo through the skies

If You would speak
What would You say?
If you were wrapped in skin
What would you do?

Surely something awful…
Would You not?

But crimson letters on pages
Spell out a different story
Blood-soaked words of love
Crying out with the pangs of death
And the beauty of life

They write out a description
Of a God wrapped in skin
Of how flesh would look
If God was found within

And these words in their beauty
Paint a portrait for the question

“God, oh God, who are You?”

And it’s there I find that my God is a God
Who cares about celebration
A God who changes His plan
At the simple request of His mortal virgin mother

“Jesus, they have no wine.”

My God is a God who enjoys a good story
A God who writes classic literature about
Enemies caring for one another
Of women and lost coins
Of kings and unforgiving servants
Of virgins and bridegrooms and lamps
And of people burying money

He is a God who speaks in riddles
Beckoning His listeners to chase after Him
A God who speaks truths in ways
That will attract the hungry 

“Would You like living water?
You will never thirst again”

My God is a God who cares about the brokenness
A God who cares about repair so much
That His judgment is in regards to our ability
To serve such broken people

He is a God found in the desperateness of the beggar
A God who feels the cold sting of the naked
A God who knows the loneliness of the sick
And recognizes the prison walls of the encapsulated

He is a God who is served
When we serve people such as these

And He is a God who chooses to serve us
Both good and bad
For it rains on all people
The just and the unjust

He is not beyond washing our feet
And He displays His wonders to those in need

My God is a God who takes time for His people
Even when overwhelmed by the death of a friend
He stops for the groups that chase after Him
Saying “Welcome, have a seat
There is enough for all 9,000 of you”

He shows unbiased love to the prostitutes
He invites to dinner those who steal
He touches the untouchables
Loves the unlovables
And reaches out for a woman threatened with stones

This is God in skin
Despite His aversion to sin
This is God in flesh
Despite the purity and perfection
That clothes Him in white

My God is a God who heals
A God who watches sores fall off
And legs to walk
After decades of inactivity
A God who reveals the beauty of His creation
To a man blind from birth
And a God who brings cold, dead bodies
Back to life with tears in His eyes

For my God is a God who cries
A God who is full of strength
But knows emotion well

A God who can beat every trial
Yet is still familiar with temptation

My God is a God who imagined a different world
Full of unrelenting, never-ending, unadulterated love
A world so backwards from this one
That we knew He must have been from there

It is a world that called Him to obedience
Even if it meant a heavy wooden cross
A world that said there was more to life than life itself

For in His imagination, He pictured a place
Where nails and thorns
And slivers and blood
And spears and scars
And death…

All made sense

For the torn skin of the holy one
Taught us that death is not the end in this kingdom
For he holds its keys in His hand

We take a step back to ask once again
“My God, oh my God, who are You?”

And as a haze is removed
We see you in the beauty of the light of Jesus

You Are Love

Passage: John 5:19-20

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel.

Dear Hit-and-Runner

Dear Hit-and-Runner,

Yesterday morning you managed to run a stop sign and crash into my wife’s vehicle, leaving both her and our four-month old stranded on the side of the road. We have witnesses, we have statements, a description of your car, and a piece of your headlight that you left behind at the scene.

Obviously you did us wrong—once by hitting my family, and twice by fleeing the scene. Justice has not been carried out.

But I am here to tell you something bold. Something so bold, even some of my Christian brothers and sisters will be upset with me.

I forgive you.

I forgive you for leaving my family behind at the scene without checking on them and I have chosen to not consider the “what-ifs.” “What if my wife had been injured?” “What if my son had been thrashed around?” The good news is (and I thank God for this) that my family is fine. Sure, my wife felt the after-effects of the event later that night, but altogether she’s doing well. I am not going to hold the what-ifs against you because that’s all they are: “what-ifs.” In this case, contemplating them would only make me  pointlessly angry.

I forgive you for the damage you did to our car. It’s not covered by our insurance and will cost a bit of money to fix—more money than we’re willing to invest in it actually. It is fortunate we have acknowledged the fact that we may need a new car over the next few years and that the idea of buying one was not a complete and total surprise. Though you have forced our hand to do this while we are not in the greatest financial state, I still choose to forgive you.

I’ve been told that if we could find you, we would be able to sue you up to a thousand dollars—but neither my wife or I want to do that. As I try to put myself in your shoes, it seems to me that you must be in a difficult financial state of your own. Since you fled the scene, my guess is you do not have the proper insurance to cover the accident (or that you’re covering yourself for some other reason). Therefore, my family does not wish to make your financial state any more difficult than it currently is, even if we do have the full authority to do so. As I put myself in your shoes, I realize I too have ran stop signs and driven recklessly at times. As I put myself in your shoes, I see myself as having the capacity to be like you. As Henri Nouwen says:

“Compassion grows with the inner recognition that your neighbor shares your humanity with you. This partnership cuts through all walls that might have kept you separate. Across all barriers of land and language, wealth and poverty, knowledge and ignorance, we are one. Created from the same dust, subject to the same to the same laws, and destined for the same end. With this compassion you can say, “In the face of the oppressed, I recognize my own face. And in the hands of the oppressor, I recognize my own hand. Their flesh is my flesh. Their blood is my blood. Their pain is my pain. Their smile is my smile. Their ability to torture is in me too. Their capacity to forgive I find also in myself. There is nothing in me that does not belong to them too. Nothing in them that does not belong to me. In my heart I know they’re yearning for love and down to my entrails, I can feel their cruelty. In another’s eyes I see my plea for forgiveness and in a hardened frown I see my refusal. When someone murders, I know that I too could have done that. And when someone gives birth I know that I am capable of that as well. In the depths of my being I meet my fellow humans with whom I share love and have life and death.”

Obviously, what you did was not right, and I hope that you will not do it again should you find yourself in a similar situation. But regardless of what you did, my Savior Jesus calls me to appeal to the backwards politics of the Kingdom of Heaven and extend to you the grace, mercy, and forgiveness that you don’t deserve. He points to the cross and reminds me of the bloodshed on my behalf even though I didn’t deserve it—even though I put the nails through those hands. He asks me to turn the other cheek, to offer you my cloak, and to go the extra mile. He draws in the dust that makes up my life and asks me if I am without sin.

I drop my stone.

I forgive you.

And I ask my Savior to do the same.

May you be blessed and come to know (or rediscover) the great love of the cross,

-Jamin Bradley

SERVE: A Mini Documentary

I spent many, many hours this past week making a documentary on the Biblical importance of serving. I know you come to blogs to find short little tidbits of info, but I hope you might be inspired to give it a quick look :)

Holy of Holies: A Poem

Oh the desperation of this imperfect skin

Oh the inadequacy of holiness

that runs rampant through my life

Who am I to address the Throne of God?

To bear witness before His presence?

 

Do I not descend from the line of Adam?

Is not his fallen DNA rushing through my veins?

I feel it, I hear it, its pulse drums in my chest

At times pinging louder than any snare ever could

 

So who am I to bear witness before His presence?

 

While my soul longs to meet with Him face to face

The fear inside me cries out,

“Thank God for the earthly Tabernacle!

That I might keep my distance from His Holiness

That the Levites might be called before Him

And that their clan may make a wall around Him

To protect me from the place where He dwells

I am much safer here, on the outskirts surrounding

That humble tent of sacrifice”

 

My heart quickens as I imagine being in that place

Step by step, inch by inch

Getting closer to the Holy of Holies

The place where God dwells

 

Oh how beautiful the veil that separates our eyes

For how could I in my imperfection

Gaze upon such holiness and live?

Surely my life would crumble in a moment

Obliterated into shards, lying on the floor

Waiting to be swept away with the dust

 

Dust. Surely that’s all I am in His eyes

For I come carrying a multitude of sins

Some being simple mistakes

Some I’ve committed in full knowledge of their effects

So brush up the ashes of what’s left of me

And let it go to the wind, disappearing into the sunset

 

For the innocence of a thousand animals

And the gallons of their blood

Could certainly not make right the life of this sinner

Let alone the iniquities of my brothers

The conviction upon me is so great and so again I cry out,

“Thank God for the Tabernacle!

Thank God for the Levites!

Thank God for the veil!”

For without these, I’d be naked before Him

Every last hint of me visible

With a soul piercing gaze in His eyes

 

Oh the conviction

How it burns deeply in my heart

I would fall prostrate before him

Weeping until a river had formed

And my tear ducts had run dry

 

There with my face in the dirt I’d lie lifeless

Incapable of exerting any strength

“HOLY, HOLY, HOLY,” cries what’s left of my mind

The words I cannot speak, but the thought repeats itself

Over and over again, as steady as the ocean waves

“HOLY, HOLY, HOLY, HOLY, HOLY, HOLY”

For what other words can be found in this moment?

 

But the thing that confuses me most

As I imagine being before Him

Is that despite my sinfulness

Despite my inadequacy

Despite my unholiness

I can’t help but want to take a glimpse of Him

Like a bug chasing after a flame

Perhaps He will consume me

But the urge is irresistible

 

Though my strength is shot and I can’t move a muscle

My desire to look upon Him is so great

That I force it to happen with what feels like supernatural power

My world goes into slow motion as I stare into beauty

And that split second of life becomes all that I remember

 

So yes, I fear God—I dread His holiness

For who am I to address the Throne?

But I can’t help but desire with all that is in me

To come before His presence

 

 

 

 

My heart yearns for Him to walk among us

In the cool of the day as He did in Eden

To hear His footsteps in the lush grass behind me

before I had even turned around to see him

 

Oh if only such a possibility still existed

 

But here in the Tabernacle, God is only approached once a year

Oh what a dreaded day the Day of Atonement must have been

for the priest called beyond the veil

with only the smoke of his incense to protect him

 

What if he wasn’t holy enough?

Were the legends true?

Did they really tie a rope to his ankle to pull out his corpse?

Would there be anything left of him to pull out?

Such beauty the Day of Atonement represents

And such fear for the price in which it might be paid

 

One can only imagine how much the priest’s hands might have shook

How quickly his eyes moved to and fro

Or perhaps he stared at the ground

out of fear that his life, as holy as it was, wasn’t enough

 

I think of the innocent bull sacrificed on that day

And how it became a sin offering for the priest and his house

 

I think of its blood being sprinkled

On the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant

And obsessively sprinkled

Seven times on the ground in front of it

 

I think of the innocent goat sacrificed on that day

And how it became a sin offering for everyone else

I think of it’s blood also being sprinkled on the mercy seat

To make atonement for our transgressions

For our deliberate sins and our willful rebellion

Sin so serious that this blood was taken into the holy of holies

 

I think of the other goat whom the priest laid hands on

And how all of our evil was confessed over it

I think of how it was sent into the desert

To a place where it could not return

 

Run quickly young scapegoat

Take our sins far away and die with them

For to see them return would be more than we could handle

Release us from this burden we’ve brought on ourselves

 

Year after year came this bittersweet day

This Day of Atonement

Sins were recalled and then wiped away

Would this cycle ever be broken?

Or was this the circle of humanity

A never-ending pattern

The rhythm of life

 

Centuries later something new took place

An odd supernatural manifestation of color

Over time a new tradition was added to the day of Atonement

And a scarlet rope was hung from the tabernacle

It’s color reminding the people of the bloodshed on their behalf

But after one goat given judgment and sacrificed

And the other given mercy and released

This scarlet rope would miraculously turn white

 

No science could explain this

It had to be a sign from God

A reply from Heaven to say that

The Most Holy One forgives us

Our sins are wiped away

We are as white as snow

 

This sign happened for years

And then one day it just stopped

What was it that happened?

Had God forgotten about His people?

Had He stopped forgiving them?

Had they not been good enough?

 

Or was it that this was around the time that Jesus had died?

Was it that there was a new way of atonement?

Had an ultimate sacrifice been made?

A new covenant that overruled the old?

 

Yes! Perhaps that was it!

Perhaps He was it!

But then how?

How did the Tabernacle relate to this man at all?

 

Was His blood the atonement?

His life the sacrifice by which we enter the tabernacle?

If so, then shouldn’t I as a Christian be fearful?

After all, if He is the ticket to enter the Holy of Holies

Then am I to access God’s presence?

The place where His Spirit dwells?

The place I fear and dread and yet find oddly irresistible?

Surely that place is not open to me

 

But then the Bible says the veil was supernaturally torn after Jesus died

The very last thing that kept me safe from His Spirit

If His Spirit has been unleashed on the world, why am I still standing?

Is it that God has left the earth?

Or is it that He’s doing a new thing?

 

If Paul is right, and my body is a temple

And it’s there that the Spirit dwells

Have I become the very place I fear and dread?

 

After all, Jeremiah spoke on behalf of God, saying:

“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

 

Is this truly what Jesus has done?

Has He torn down the veil and placed God’s Spirit within us

And we have somehow survived?

Have we all come to know the Lord

And been forgiven—our sins remembered no more?

The scarlet rope inside us turned white?

The scapegoat sent away for the last time?

 

Who are we as humans to approach the throne together?

Who are we as humans to have the Spirit of the Most Holy God

Living inside of these broken, sinful bodies?

 

While His original Tabernacle may have been a humble tent

It was still filled with golden furniture

And when the permanent Tabernacle was made—the Temple

The Holy of Holies was far more magnificent than this lowly body

 

The walls were covered with about 46 pounds of pure gold

The nails themselves were made of gold

The statues of creatures were covered in gold

And they even had wings that were 30 feet across!

Even the veil was made of expensive linen

 

How could God possibly take residence in me over such a place?

For human hands cannot make much better a place than that Temple

 

God, how have we suppressed you so greatly

That after 2,000 years this is what the world looks like?

For Your Spirit is powerful and operates now in our bodies

Surely we have done something wrong

 

We ask you now to take up residence as King and invade our lives fully

For its Your presence we’ve been seeking since Eden

It’s the sound of your footsteps, but resonating from our own feet

It’s the fear of your presence that we find irresistible

 

We ask—no, we beg

That we may be raptured in Your presence

And confounded by Your love

Because for so long our flesh has expected You to be angry

But you have said that it is not so through Isaiah

 

“I dwell in the high and holy place,

and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,

to revive the spirit of the lowly,

and to revive the heart of the contrite.

For I will not contend forever,

nor will I always be angry;

for the spirit would grow faint before me,

and the breath of life that I made.

Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry,

I struck him; I hid my face and was angry,

but he went on backsliding in the way of his own heart.

I have seen his ways, but I will heal him;

I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners,

creating the fruit of the lips.

Peace, peace, to the far and to the near, and I will heal him.”

 

God, may we no longer backslide

May we be of lowly and contrite heart

May you bring us peace and heal us

For Your Spirit inside of us

Is the strongest force in the universe

They Will Not Be Convinced Even if Someone Rises from the Dead

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

” ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”

-Jesus telling a parable (Luke 16:27-31)

Wait, hold up Jesus—you’re telling me if a person literally saw a dead man in front of them, it wouldn’t convince them to change their ways? I mean, that seems pretty extreme and it sounds like it would work pretty well.

At least, that’s the way it seems…

But then if you think about it, people explain away the supernatural all the time now a’ days, just as I’m sure they found a way to do in Jesus’ time. Today we call people psychotic for having visions and try to check them into a mental hospital. We see people healed from an infirmity and so we turn to science and express the power of the brain over the body. We watch the Spirit knock people to the ground and send them into convulsions and we call it a seizure. We see people overcome with emotion and attribute it to a charismatic speaker. We see tons of people experience the same thing at the same place we refer to it as shared psychosis.

There are all kinds of variables when it comes to this stuff. Sometimes it’s God, and sometimes it’s people. Sometimes it’s supernatural and sometimes it’s science. But when the supernatural does happen, you’d be surprised how far we can go to try to disprove it.

I once accompanied a professor to Chicago where he taught a group of people about the power of the Holy Spirit and supernatural gifts. This was the first time I had seen a demon manifest. While at this event, a friend of mine on our ministry team told me about one of his own friends who had turned away from God after having seen all of this kind of stuff. He may have even experienced the Holy Spirit do supernatural things to him in more tangible ways than I had at that point, but for whatever reason, he turned away from God (or at least from the belief in God’s supernatural power and presence). Once you’ve been to the places where that man has been, you have to disprove a lot of your own experiences to disprove God.

Heck, I once saw probably a hundred people get slain in the Spirit in a fire tunnel in Alabama. Not only would I have to disprove my experience of watching that happen, but I’d also have to disprove every one of their own experiences!

I have learned how difficult it is to express the supernatural ways of God to many Christians (let alone nonbelievers). I’ve even learned how difficult it is to express the supernatural ways of God to people while I’ve been asleep, dreaming!

For example, when I was still dating my wife I dreamt that she, like Mary, had been made pregnant by the Holy Spirit. You can imagine that I suffered from a lot of emotion in this dream.

“WHO ON EARTH IS GOING TO BELIEVE THAT!?” I asked God as I could feel my entire life falling apart in the dream. I knew no one would ever believe that it was the Spirit that made her pregnant. They would blame me or someone else. Only she and I would know the truth that God had done a miracle. My parents wouldn’t believe me. My friends wouldn’t believe me. I’d no longer be able to go into ministry because people would think I had sinned and that I was a liar.

Again, this was a dream, but for a brief moment I felt the intense pain that Mary and Joseph must have felt. It was an amazing miracle, but no one believed. And furthermore, my life was greatly affected by it.

The reason this subject is really on my mind right now is because of another dream I had this morning. In it, I had commanded a dead man to come back to life and he did. It was an incredible miracle. He sat up slowly in his casket and looked at me. Only one other person saw it happen. He then got up and we left the building to go around town. It seemed at times that people who knew him saw him alive again and didn’t even think twice about it because they how impossible it was.

But despite this being an amazing miracle, I knew that when people noticed the body was gone I would be accused for being an organ harvester or something since I was the last one by the casket. Somehow my life was at stake for having raised the dead through the power of God. I would be imprisoned and science or logic would prove how the man was never actually dead and that the doctors and morticians who claimed him dead were being sued and fired. I knew there were going to be tests done to make sure that this was the same man who had died and not some kind of double. There would be blood tests taken and dental records matched.

This dream got weird real quick and despite how much of a miracle the dead man and I knew the situation to be, it only looked grim for me. I learned very quick that bringing the dead back to life is a lot more disruptive than you might think. Look at what happened to Jesus after he raised Lazarus from the dead:

So from that day on they plotted to take his life. Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea. Instead he withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples. (John 11:53-54)

You know, I’ve prayed many prayers trying to convince God that if He just did something supernaturally crazy, people would come to Christ. I’ve heard plenty of stories in which this has happened so when I pray for it, I hope He’ll respond in power. But to my surprise, Jesus has an interesting reply to my request:

“If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

I’m not saying don’t ask for miracles. I am saying, however, that God has many other ways of making Himself known: Moses, the prophets, and even you.

You are buried with Christ and made alive in His resurrection. You are the dead man who was raised again. You can be a walking miracle to others by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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.