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Thursday, September 11, 2014

#4 - Memento Mori (The End is Always Near)
Life | 398 views

About two weeks ago, I posted a simple question on my personal Facebook wall--a question that was fueled by a number of current events.

Violence, death and racial tension in Ferguson. The brutal rise of the ISIS caliphate. A new, troubling ebola epidemic in West Africa. The reality of a new Cold War with Russia and the specter of a third world war. Earthquakes. Hurricanes. Highly publicized (and perhaps glorified?) suicide. 

These were the things that have ruled the airwaves as of late, and were in the forefront of my mind as I posted the question: "If you had to summarize the narrative in world news these days in one sentence, what would it be?"

There were lots of responses, but the first response immediately struck a chord in my heart.

"We're all going to die."

From what I know of the person who wrote it, they weren't being funny or over-the-top. And in my own analysis, I completely agree with that assessment. (I mean, it's going to happen to us all eventually, right?)

While some people will see those five words as a reason to be afraid and to "take necessary precautions" and whatnot, the people of faith should see that as a reason to refocus on what's important. 

We had that focus 13 years ago today, on Sept. 11, 2001, when our concepts of safety, security and our own invincibility crumbled in the rubble of the World Trade Center towers. Our mortality was in full view as we realized that our well-planned Western world was entirely vulnerable. 

And while many got angry in the wake of those events, I'd wager to say many more started praying. At a time when we all realized tomorrow wasn't guaranteed, it became crystal clear for many of us that an uncertain future required a rocksteady Savior. 

In the face of so many threats these days--both from within and without--we need to walk with the intensity of those days 13 years ago, not out of fear, but out of adequate perception of our reality.

You know, the end could be near. All of these threats could snowball and become the pages of Revelation unfolding in our lifetimes. But even if not, the end is always near. Tomorrow is never guaranteed. 

Memento mori, which is the title of Flyleaf's second album, means "remember you will die." The Bible is clear that it's better to hang out at funerals than parties, because only when we realize the brevity of life can we truly be effective in it. 

So what do we do with that? Will we just be content being consumers, listening to Christian music, buying Christian CDs, wearing Christian T-shirts? Is it enough to just be positively encouraged? Or is there more for us out there? 

For our part, our heart is that these songs--all this stuff we present you with each week on our website--would not be an end unto themselves, but a soundtrack to the life you're called to. Let these be encouraging anthems that begin the healing process when you're beat up out there. Let them be signs to you that at the end of the day, you're not alone. You're in the company of billions of believers from throughout the ages who learned to number their days, and did something with them. And, most importantly, you're in the company of the Creator Himself, and the Spirit of Jesus Christ. 

One of the other responses to my Facebook question was, "There is no plan."

It certainly feels that way, and the narrative given by a world that's lost its way certainly supports that. But, rest assured, there is a plan.

You're that plan.

How you carry out the purposes and plan of God is as unique as your DNA, and to hear otherwise is an affront to the Creator. Reach the world with love, forgiveness, reconciliation, social justice, teaching Sunday School--whatever! Live a good story with God. That story always involves the saving of many lives. It always involves others. 

On Sept. 11, a lot of people didn't go to work. They couldn't, because the tasks they'd accomplish there just seemed so insignificant in light of what was happening. Instead, they wanted to be with (or call) loved ones. That says something about our perspective when faced with our mortality. See what happens when you follow that logic.

I think that's why last week's blog post resonated with so many people (more than 40,000 of you). There are a lot of us who are tired of just doing church. We're tired of getting hung up on petty infighting and finger pointing when there are still people out there without homes, without food, without hope, and most importantly, without Jesus Himself. The Good News needs to continue to be just that. 

Teach us, O Lord, to number our days. 

Thursday, September 04, 2014

#3 - Here's Which 'Christian Musicians' Really Aren't Christians
Misc Thoughts | 45215 views

Have you ever seen the "Mean Tweets" segment of Jimmy Kimmel Live? For those of you who aren't aware, it's a portion of the show where celebrities read excessively negative or just outright mean posts about them that have been posted on Twitter.

Many of the posts are people's casual comments about public figures' appearances or their general dislike of them. For example, actor Mark Ruffalo read the following tweet that was directed at him: "Really, Mark Ruffalo? That's the face you're going with?"

The segment shows that in this Internet age, people see celebrities as products or ideas rather than actual human beings, and their real-time reactions--which range from angry to sarcastic to slightly rattled--show that even words from "regular folk" to the "celebrities" carry weight. 

Sadly, this disconnected trolling of people in the spotlight--people with whom they don't remotely have a relationship--has found a home in Christian music and entertainment. 

I've seen it a number of times in my travels on NRT and our various social media--TWICE this week. 

First, we relayed news that beloved singer-songwriter Audrey Assad would be transitioning from full-time "church music" as a profession and into a new, more mainstream "pop" project. This decision, she said, was made after lots of prayer and soul-searching. 

"I will never listen to her," one commenter remarked. "I won't be supporting her music," another said. Others wrote her off by calling her "Katy Perry 2.0" And others still took the opportunity to attack her Catholic faith. 

I'm sure all these comments would make Audrey stop in her tracks and go, "Oh yeah! You're right! What was I thinking!? I totally should be serving the Church! Because they're so supportive!"

Oh, wait. 

The rampant judgment and pontificating on Audrey's "real motives" was so bad that one of her good friends and even her husband had to weigh in. 

They will know we are Christians by our... incredibly harsh rhetoric?

Of course, that wasn't the end. The next day, news of Switchfoot's surprise new EP came with an announcement that they'd be touring this fall with Gungor. What came in the comments section of the Facebook post was nothing less than a full-scale assault on both bands.

"So, you've got Gungor who questions the Bible, and you've got Switchfoot who doesn't want to be classified as a Christian band, touring together," wrote a commenter. "Sounds about right."

"Switchfoot is no Christian band," another summarized.

One of the biggest attacks levied here by fellow believers from the comfort of their keyboard was that Michael Gungor is a heretic because he believes the Genesis account of the Bible is symbolic, rather than literal. Despite the fact that Michael Gungor claims a saving relationship with the person of Jesus Christ, they say that because he "doesn't believe the entire Bible," he isn't a Christian and has no place making music for Christians.

While Michael Gungor's delivery certainly could use some softening when conveying his opinions, the fact of the matter is, the people denouncing the faith of Gungor, Switchfoot, Audrey Assad, or ANY band, pastor, celebrity or anyone with whom they come in contact are deciding to ignore an important part of their own Bibles. 

Take a moment and read this. Heck, even skim through it if you're hurting for time.


From Romans 14:1-13 (my emphasis added):

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person's faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. It is written:

"'As surely as I live,' says the Lord,

'every knee will bow before me;

    every tongue will acknowledge God.'"

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.


One of Audrey Assad's detractors had this to write in order to damn her, but instead paints a rather ominous warning to all of us: Those people who "knew about Jesus will be judged more harshly than those who did not."

Think about the non-Christians out there sending those mean tweets. And then think about the people who get on Facebook and Twitter and craft fiery rhetoric that proves why someone isn't a real Christian and is going to Hell.

Who again will be judged more harshly?

Look, it's OK--and healthy!--to have disagreements. The ridiculous statements of Victoria Osteen as of late are a really great example of when it's not only OK to speak up, but where speaking up is much-needed. The line is crossed, however, when people start putting themselves in the place of God, claiming to know human hearts and their eternal destination. That, in my view, is far more dangerous than not believing in a literal 6-day creation. Jesus would probably agree.

Are you not a fan of a band's music? OK. Do you have some disagreements in theology? That's fine, too. Do you not like some of their antics or public activity? Go ahead, see their fruit and make a personal decision not to listen to music or attend a concert. That's quite alright. 

But to decide that someone is damned, has renounced their faith or otherwise is fueled by secret, evil motives crosses a line that, no kidding, the Church simply should not and must not cross.

You want to know which Christian musicians really aren't Christians? Too bad. You can't know. But instead, how about praying for them?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

#2 - 'Brave' and 'Oxygen': Trend or Theme?
Music | 350 views

OK, let’s play a little game. I’m thinking of an album. It has been out for a little while now, but it’s certainly still considered recent. It’s put out by a fairly well-known entity in Christian music. It has a pop-worship edge to it, and it has “Brave” in the title.

If your answer was Shawn McDonald’s Brave, Moriah Peters’ Brave or Bethel Music’s You Make Me Brave, you’d be right. (For those with good memories, we can throw in Nichole Nordeman’s Brave too.)

Of course, things are changing, and now the focus has turned toward that just released, much-anticipated new album by that high-profile artist that has “Oxygen” in its title.

You know the one… or two, I might say: Oxygen by Lincoln Brewster and Oxygen:Inhale by Thousand Foot Krutch. 

When I first caught wind of these similar titles from both the “Oxygen” and “Brave” camps, I cocked my head to the side like a puppy dog. I thought to myself that either these bands were copying one another, that the Nashville bubble is spreading around the same ideas or that those themes are soooooo in right now.

Upon further analysis, I think there’s another, more likely option. These aren’t trends. They’re themes--themes God feels passionately about and wants to communicate to the Church. 

In a recent interview with Moriah Peters, I asked her about the fact that her album title is so similar to others released in such a small window of time. Here’s her answer (watch from 7:40 until 9:26).

That really rings true for me. While Christian music is an industry, and a business for sure, we have to remember that at the heart of what’s going on here is one of God’s primary ways of communicating with His church (at least in our culture). And these artists care about being conduits of His heart.

Think about it. At a time when there are plenty of things in the world to scare us and make us disheartened, or at a time when we can feel pressured not to live for God in a world that is increasingly against Him, the message for now--for these days--is be brave. Stand firm. Put on Christ as your strength and your shield.

This is a theme, not a trend, in my view. Because even when Moriah knew that other artists were doing the same thing, she couldn’t back down from “Brave” being the title of the record, because God had impressed that upon her so deeply. She had nothing to gain, and much to lose from sharing a title with at least three other records--two of which had been released the same calendar year! 

(Side note: The theme has found its way elsewhere in music, too, from Sara Bareilles to J.Lo to Josh Groban and beyond… there's something to ponder there.) 

And a great companion to that message, that theme is that of “Oxygen,” which basically reminds us that our core need to truly live is Jesus. Not only do we need Him more than we need to breathe (another reference--ha!), but our desire is to breathe HIM in. That’s captured not only on the two releases that came out within a week of each other--from Brewster and TFK--but from the title Carrollton’s 2014 release, Breathe In Deep.

So let’s see this for what it is: a theme God is weaving throughout His Church that we are to be brave in Him, and to do so requires a supernatural dependence that allows us to live the abundant life that changes the world for Jesus.

What other themes are you seeing in Christian music or worship songs or albums? What else is God speaking to His people through them? Let’s keep the antennae of our eyes, ears and hearts up so we can perceive what the Spirit is speaking in these times!

Here’s my "Brave Oxygen" Spotify playlist I put together, which features the aforementioned albums (minus Lincoln Brewster’s) and some other similarly themed tunes you’ll enjoy!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

#1 - Does Christian Music Stink?
Music | 989 views

Hey! So from time to time, there are things happening in and around Christian music and media that just wouldn't fit in our NEWS section, nor would they fit as an exclusive article or devotional. This place is for that. This is a place where, at least once a week, I'll talk about some aspect of Christian music that begs for discussion. I'm hoping you'll participate in this discussion by commenting and sharing on various social media! Thanks for reading! --Marcus, NRT Executive Editor

It’s astounding to me how many people within the Church I meet who simply don’t listen to Christian music. When people ask me what I do for a living, and I tell them that I’m the Editor of the largest Christian music site online, sometimes I think they look at me like I’m creatively telling them that I’m unemployed.

Of course, then they ask what that means exactly, and I tell them (as best I can) about doing interviews and reviews, managing an incredible staff team, producing articles and content and a host of other things in the Christian music world.

  And when the topic turns to the bands with whom we interact, I often see that confused nod that basically says, “Yeah, I don’t know who you’re talking about.” 

Really? You’ve never heard of tobyMac? In the voice of Vizzini from The Princess Bride: “Inconthievable!”

Sometimes, if I’m feeling especially inquisitive, I’ll ask back, “Do you listen to Christian music?” And surprisingly, more often than not, people will say, “Not really.”

Most of the time, the reason for that answer, they say, is that they’re not really impressed with the quality of music that comes out of Christian artists. 

If you’re in that boat, or know someone who is, the response is clear: You just aren’t aware of what’s out there!

That argument may have held water in the mid-1990s. No offense to any of the great CCM pioneers, but I know kids growing up didn’t necessarily want to listen to adult contemporary music when the Beastie Boys, Nirvana and Michael Jackson were making tunes that simply were more fun for a particular age group.

Don’t get me wrong… there were still a few fun options for the youth at that time (hello dcTalk and Newsboys!), but the prevailing artists of that time weren’t really geared towards them.

Christian music is increasingly less a genre unto itself, more about its content than a musical pigeonhole. Bands who claim a relationship with Jesus are putting out inventive, creative stuff these days that rivals (and in many cases surpasses) its secularized counterparts. 

There have been incredible advances in production value, as well as serious swagger in hip-hop, electronic dance music, pop and rock

The fact is, the argument that Christian music somehow is subpar just doesn’t hold water anymore. There's really no reason anymore to listen to the shallow, empty, worldly stuff out there in mainstream land. (NOTE: There are plenty of great bands outside of Christian music making deep, beautiful, perhaps even godly music... but you know the kind of grossness out there I'm talking about.)

There's just so much good stuff nowadays. Let’s just take 2014 as an example. Think about the incredible releases from Hillsong Young & Free, Andy Mineo, Colton Dixon, Shonlock, Beckah Shae, Tedashii, Bellarive, Family Force 5, Danny Gokey, Anberlin, NEEDTOBREATHE and—hello somebody—Switchfoot!

And we’ve heard some of the material from albums yet to come, from for KING & COUNTRY’s “Album of the Year”-quality sophomore record to Thousand Foot Krutch’s strong rock record to Lecrae’s industry-frying Anomaly (and more!). 

There are scores of independent artists and others who don’t even get on the radio who are making some pretty incredible music.

If you know someone at church or in your family who shares the viewpoint that Christian music is cheesy, or somehow lacking in quality, send them to us. (I’m not kidding!) Send them to NRT Radio or our NRT Radio App. Part of why we exist is to mine out the best that faith-first music has to offer… and these days, it’s not that difficult to do.

What arguments have you heard from Christians as to why they don’t listen to Christian music? Talk amongst yourselves...


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Top 10 Songs of Summer 2013
Music | 1370 views

Thanks to a tremendous first half of 2013, there's been a ton of great music available for summer soundtracks. This non-scientific list of THE summer songs of 2013 takes into consideration the upbeat, pop 

1. "Every Good Thing" by The Afters

This one's just a ton of fun. There's so much on the band's Life is Beautiful album that's upbeat and good, clean pop/rock, and "Every Good Thing" is the kind of summer anthem you want while you're cannonballing into a pool with your closest friends. St. Irenaeus said "the glory of God is man fully alive," and this is one of those songs where you feel fully alive, worshipping God in joy.


2. "Ready or Not" by Britt Nicole (feat. Lecrae)

Now, while this song has been out for a while with Britt's Gold album, many people are just discovering it thanks to the single release dance between record labels and radio. Regardless of its age, this song has become an anthem of the summer because it's catchy, it's relevant, it's aggressive in its positivity, and it features a solid rhyme interlude from the premier rapper in Christian music. What more could you want?


3. "Condo in Neverland" by The Jellyrox

Synth rules the roost these days, and nobody does synth-pop better than the Jellyrox. The carefree days of summer are a lot like how Peter Pan's Neverland is described. Like all good things, summer has to end, and this song is a great declaration of how we all just want to walk away from the stress of life and get "a condo in Neverland." It's a ton of fun. In reality, all of The Jellyrox's Embellish EP qualifies as a summer anthem, with special mention going to the song "Rebel Tide."


4. "Chainsaw" by Family Force 5 (feat. Tedashii)

Every summer has to have its signature dance, and Family Force 5 provides that with the earworm song "Chainsaw" from their Reanimated remix project. There's nothing particularly profound or spiritual about this song—though the NRT staff has had fun shoehorning speculative theology into the party lyrics—yet it's just good, clean lumberjack fun. 


5. "Dead Come to Life" by Jonathan Thulin (feat. Charmaine)

This is the most serious song on the list, as it has the meatiest subject matter, spiritually speaking. As is the case with many Jonathan Thulin songs, the real magic is in the music video here. This is easily the best music video of the year—although it's in contention with another Thulin vid for "Bombs Away"—yet the audio certainly can stand on its own. With powerhouse duo vocals and a memorable hook of a chorus ("the dead come to li-i-i-ife"), this single from The White Room deservedly found momentum on Christian radio.


6. "Sick of It" by Skillet

Picking just one song from Skillet's defining new album, Rise, is a tough one, but I thought best to go with the one that started it all—debut single "Sick of It." The song is the rock anthem of the summer, and has electrified audiences at festivals (Christian and mainstream) with its message of "enough is enough" with the brokenness, death and pain in the world. It's got this great vibe of fighting back against the darkness of our times, and screams rock and roll. If you haven't experienced this song live yet, make a point to do so. You'll be raising your hands "if you're sick, if you're sick of it."


7. "Believer" by Audio Adrenaline

The new incarnation of Audio Adrenaline, with Kevin Max at the helm as frontman, rode its title track for quite a while as its first single before releasing their second single from Kings & Queens. And that single is "Believer," which takes Kevin's already strong vocals and pairs them with the equally impressive (but infinitely different) performance of keyboardist Jason Walker. The song was inspired by a blind surfer, which is equally inspiring and eternally summer-riffic. The song's all about taking big risks for God, knowing that He is with you.


8. "Beautiful Love" by Shine Bright Baby

This new band on BEC Records really wanted to communicate joy in this song, and that's exactly what they did (in the music as well as the fun music video). The song—the first single from Dreamers—is a head-bobbing pop/rock gem. It's a love song, really, but while so many songs on mainstream radio are talking about their fleeting summer crush, Shine Bright Baby is enthusiastically and endearingly singing about the perfect love of God.


9. "I Feel So Alive" by Capital Kings

If you're looking for the club track of the summer, look no farther than Capital Kings. Their song "I Feel So Alive" is a declaration of the life that Jesus brings us. It's got a great modern sound, a simple, unforgettable hook, and a great introduction to what has quickly become one of the top dance-pop groups in Christian music. Check out their entire self-titled release.


10. "Never Beyond Repair" by Everfound

There are definitely more summer-y songs on Everfound's self-titled album, but this is the one that's experienced traction so far as the band's first single. This epic-sounding rock band presents a Sanctus Real-like declaration anthem about how we're always within the healing reach of God. It's the ballad of summer 2013, and fills that necessary role of emotional heart strings-puller.

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