Friday, November 13, 2020

Track by Track: Rich Tolbert, Jr.’s Never Be Defeated

2020 has been crazy, so I told myself I was going to take the rest of the year off from blogging. I had every intention of doing that...but then Rich Tolbert, Jr.’s debut album dropped, and I just had to write about it. 

Rich Tolbert, Jr. - Never Be Defeated (2020)


This was the most highly anticipated album of the year, as far as I’m concerned. I follow Tolbert on Instagram, and he’s been teasing snippets of these songs for months. I needed more, so I scoured the Internet for live performances to tide me over. Thanks to YouTube, Instagram, and the handful of times I’ve seen Tolbert live, I already knew a few of these songs before the record was even released. Thankfully, the wait is over. Never Be Defeated, the live album, is here! I’ve played it from start to finish every day for the past three weeks, and each time, I hear something I didn’t notice before. This project is a spectacular debut. Get it here.


Track 1 is “Crown Him (All Hail the Power Hymn).” This is Tolbert’s take on the classic hymn, “All Hail The Power of Jesus’ Name.” It begins with Tolbert’s soft but powerful lead:


All hail the pow'r of Jesus' Name!

Let angels prostrate fall;

Bring forth the royal diadem,

And crown Him Lord of all!


And then his singers, collectively known as Campfire Movement, sing with one voice, “Crown Him, Lord...” they eventually split into parts and modulate into a crescendo of sound that stirs the spirit and shows the listener that they are not your average choir. What an opener...and an appropriate nod to Bronx, NY native Tolbert’s COGIC roots.


Track 2 is “He’s in Control.” If you need a reminder that nothing catches God by surprise, if you’re struggling to trust His sovereignty, you need this song in your library. This one is especially fitting given the current state of our world. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, “We will sing hallelujah to Jehovah! Hallelujah to our God!” If this song doesn’t restore your faith and make you dance, play it a second time. You’ll probably want to replay it, anyway. I know I did.


Track 3 and 4 are the sweet spot on the album for me. “I’m Alive” and its reprise have been ministering to my heart literally every day for the past three weeks. I wake up singing:


God knows the plans

He has for me

He knows the thoughts

He thinks toward me

And nothing is an accident

I’m alive because there’s more!


It’s the perfect way to start the day in and on purpose, anticipating the “more” that lies ahead. Particularly, though, the “He didn’t let me die” portion really sets me off. I’ll save my personal “I’m Alive” story for another post, but hearing Tolbert’s testimony and the inspiration behind this song is enough to make you take off running. Check it out below: 



"I'm Alive" is one of those songs that seems simple until you let it marinate. It's so good, it needs a reprise. Judging by the outbursts of "Hallelujah!" and "Glory!" in track 4, this song resonated with a lot of people. It seems to be generating a lot of buzz on social media as well. It would've been hard to condense all of that anointing into one track.

Next up is another favorite of mine: Track 5, “Isn’t He Beautiful.” This up-tempo track features Dante Bowe of Bethel Music, and it’s impossible to sit still while listening to it. I’ve been waiting for the album version of this song since I first heard Tolbert and Bowe sing it at City of Praise Family Ministries in July of 2019. I found myself leaping as they led us in exaltation of Jesus:


Be exalted!

Be lifted high!

King of Heaven

Be glorified!

All creation testifies

That You’re Jehovah

The Lord Most High!


These simple, repetitious lyrics get listeners excited as we think about what it’ll feel like to look upon His face:


He’s got the eyes like fire

And the hair like wool

He’s got the feet like brass

Oh, isn’t He beautiful?!


He is beautiful indeed.


“Isn’t He Beautiful” fades into the project’s second feature, “Get The Glory” with The Walls Group’s Darrel Walls. It begins with lyrics that empower:


In Jesus Christ, there’s no defeat

Against all odds, there’s only victory

In everything, He gets the glory

He’ll get the glory

He’ll get the glory

Somehow He’ll always

He’ll always get the glory


Tolbert uses this track to encourage and uplift, reminding us that no matter what a situation looks like, God will find a way to use it for His glory. In fact, the next track, a reprise to “Get The Glory” is entitled “He’ll Find A Way.” The whole song is a tag team of Tolbert and Walls repeating, “He’ll find a way, way, somehow.” Bring your shouting shoes for this one, too. And don’t listen to it while driving. It goes from 0 to 100 real quick. You’ve been warned.


The next song on the record, entitled “Jesus,” opens with a voice that I was introduced to posthumously: That of Thomas “TC” Clay. Clay, who passed away unexpectedly 4 years ago, was a phenomenal psalmist whose voice was an atmosphere all its own. His sound was literally other-worldly, and I’m convinced that the melody heard in Heaven is sweeter because he’s in the choir. His legacy lives on through his son, Tahir, who is featured on “Jesus.” Tahir not only looks like his father, but sounds like him, too. 


After a sample of Thomas Clay’s unmistakable sound, Tolbert picks up where he left off—literally and figuratively—eventually passing the mic to then 9-year-old Tahir (now 10), whom he affectionately calls his nephew. Tahir’s continuous belting of “Jesus!” induces instant chills. This kid is definitely one to watch, and he will undoubtedly flourish under Tolbert’s musical wing. 


Track 9 is a familiar one if you’re a fan of J.J. Hairston and Youthful Praise. It’s Tolbert’s solo version of “Miracle Worker,” a song he wrote and was featured on for Hairston’s project of the same name, released in 2019. The duet version was a Dove Award-nominated, chart-topping hit. It made an explosive resurgence earlier this year on the Stellar Awards with yet another version that featured Hairston, Tolbert, and vocal powerhouse Kierra Sheard. Music connoisseurs know that no one can sing a song quite like the person who originally wrote it, and this is certainly true for Tolbert’s solo version. This song is a powerful reassurance that God is and always will be the “God of miracles, signs, and wonders!”


Tracks 10 and 11 are the album title track, “Never Be Defeated” and its reprise. Earlier this year, I wrote about why this is my “stomp-on-the-devil’s head” song for 2020. In that post, I also said that Rich Tolbert, Jr. was one to watch. Both of those statements are still true. When you listen to the Never Be Defeated album in its entirety, you’ll be reminded that a man named Jesus sits on the throne. You’ll rest assured that He’s in control and still in the miracle-working business. You’ll see that His face and His ways are beautiful, and even when you don’t understand, you’ll trust Him to find a way to get the glory out of situations that seem impossible. By the time the last note is played, you’ll know that you have a purpose, that He’s kept you alive because there’s more in store. And because He is the greatest power, you’ll rise up and never be defeated. With a praise on your lips and joy in your soul, you’ll crown Him Lord of all. As you listen to this album, if He hasn’t already, the Jesus in your headphones and speakers will make His way into your heart, and soon everyone will want to know who He is. That is, after all, the ultimate goal. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Blackness or Christianity: What Comes First?



The days following my post about police brutality have taken a toll on me mentally and emotionally. On Sunday, a black man told me to “Shut the [expletive] up” on Twitter because I tweeted that rioting in response to George Floyd’s murder is counterproductive. In the same tweet, I also acknowledged that I do not have an alternative solution for our voices to be heard. In misplaced anger, this man poured salt on a wound that was just like his.

The next day, an ally who is neither black nor white assumed that because I’m black, it is not awkward for me discuss racism and police brutality. She also asked me how I would respond to all of this as a Christian. That question prompted me to ask myself what comes first. Am I a black woman who is Christian, or am I a Christian woman who happens to be black? The answer is both. My identity is comprised of several components, but black and Christian are always at the forefront of who I am. It is up to me to choose which of those facets comes first, and especially in situations like these, I have to choose wisely. 

As a black woman, I’m torn between I don’t have to explain myself and I have to speak out. Almost every black person I’ve talked to wants to fight fire with fire, and I understand why. I understand Martin Luther King Jr.’s assertion that “A riot is the language of the unheard.” The blatant threat against black bodies is more hurtful and frightening than anyone could ever fathom. The only way to even begin to comprehend the magnitude of this is to be born black. Every time a black person dies, a part of us does, too. We are still attempting to understand it ourselves, and the heart-breaking truth is, we may never have adequate language for it.

The riots are black people’s attempt to force non-black people to feel the emotions we feel when black blood is spilled in the streets. I choose not to utilize this method of protest, but my blackness won’t let me overlook the fact that it is absolutely justified. It is also important to note that black people are not the only ones looting and rioting. A percentage of the white majority, those who seek to undermine and taint the Black Lives Matter movement, are also adding fuel to the fire—literally and figuratively.

Over the past few days, hate and love have wrestled in my heart. I’m choosing love—but NOT because, in Dr. King’s words, “hate is too great of a burden to bear.” I choose love because in this case, choosing hate would be taking the easy way out. It would be easy to blame an entire race for the inhumane actions of their ancestors, but I choose to obey Christ’s command to love my neighbor as myself (Mark 12:31). I am called to do this whether my neighbor loves me or not. My Christian faith won’t let me allow anger to cause me to sin (Ephesians 4:26), but by the same token, my blackness makes it impossible for me to stay silent.

Black people are constantly subliminally warned by society to walk on eggshells. We follow an unspoken rule of being careful of what we say to avoid offending others, but it seems that no one cares about what offends us. Wrongful black death is not only creating a divide between blacks and non-blacks, it’s pitting the black community against itself. Racists don’t even have to work hard to divide us. We’re dividing ourselves. 

We are criticized by our own community if we don’t speak out against every injustice. It doesn’t matter if we’re still traumatized from the last incident; we should subject ourselves to the recording of yet another tragedy because we have to “stay woke.” If we peacefully express our pain in a way that does not condemn everyone in the majority, we are labeled as traitors. Being black is absolutely exhausting, especially in times like these, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in this world. I wouldn’t trade Christianity for the world either, especially in times like these, because the ultimate reward is eternal life.

Hear me clearly: This isn’t about “us vs. them.” It’s not about me proving to anyone why I deserve to be alive. I recognize that I am not obligated to explain or prove anything. This is about me vs. me. I’m caught in a tug-of-war between the freedom I know I have in Christ Jesus and the bondage I feel here on earth as a black woman. I may never be able to reconcile the two, because salvation is given by God and suffering is inflicted by man. Regardless of race, we, as God’s children, are all made in His image. The issue is that not all of God’s children choose to live and love like Him. 

Being a Christian is a conscious choice. Being black is not. Knowing this, I will still continue to boldly be both. I will continue to show grace as I attempt to educate non-black people who care; those who want to say something, but may not know what the appropriate rhetoric is in such a sensitive situation. I will open up my heart (and my direct messages) to have dialogue with people—especially white people—who genuinely want to learn what it means to be proactive when things like this occur. Most importantly, I will bombard Heaven and ask God to heal our land, to show all people that #BlackLivesMatter

If anyone knows about the pain of wrongful black death, it’s Jesus: Half man, half deity, whose eyes were like fire and hair was like wool. As He was being crucified, Jesus said, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). They knew what they were doing. They just didn’t realize who they were doing it to. 

As a black Christian, I can’t tell you who all black people are, and I can’t tell you how all Christians would approach this issue. I can only tell you three things:

  1. I can tell you who Jesus is.
  2. I can tell you who I am, and
  3. I can tell you that while racism is a sin issue before it is a skin issue, it is absolutely both.

The bottom line is, if Jesus were here in human form today, He would be on the side of righteousness, crying out for black lives. Regardless of the color of your skin, if you believe that He lives inside of you, you should do the same.

***SHARE THIS. And then create space to have the difficult, necessary conversations that facilitate real change. Sign petitions and find other resources here. Call precincts. Donate. Do something. This is what it really means to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Combatting The Real Pandemic...

Image source: Ted Littleford, Facebook

Hey, y’all. I wish I could come back to blogging on a happier note, but I can’t breathe. Whenever I think it’s okay to exhale, another black man takes his last breath. Usually I’ll just cram all my thoughts into flowery poetics and leave it at that, but not this time. We’ve been distracted by Coronavirus, but racism is the real pandemic that plagues us. This issue extends further and deeper than any poem could ever articulate. This blog is called Music, Message, Messiah, and the message I'm about to share is a very important one. Thankfully, one of the benefits of this space is the freedom to speak from the heart. The aim of this post is to do as the Bible says in Proverbs 31:8-9:

"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy." (NIV) 

With that being said, let’s be real. 

Truth is, I wish I could just unplug. I wish I could turn away from the screen when I see a recording of a black life being taken. Quite frankly, I wish I didn’t feel obligated to speak on this issue—especially on social media—but the fact that the victim’s skin matches mine means that I don’t have the luxury of being ignorant. I have to say something. I can’t afford to forget to mourn George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and others just because the murder of a black man has become the norm. This should never be considered normal. I am a black woman with a black father, a black brother, and black uncles. One day, I may have a black husband, and whether my husband is black or not, I will have black children. Although I didn’t know either of these men, they could’ve been any black man I love. For that reason, I never want to forget what the sting of wrongful black death feels like.

I’ve seen countless posts of people crying, singing, protesting, talking through their emotions...doing whatever they need to to try to make sense of a senseless tragedy. The most practical (and heart-wrenching) response that I’ve seen thus far is that of Yvette and Glen “Beleaf” Henry. Their YouTube channel, Beleaf in Fatherhood, is centered around the haps and mishaps of black fatherhood. The channel showcases a lot of happy moments, especially as it relates to the couple’s four children, affectionately known as the “Chocolate Babies.” Glen, an MC turned stay-at-home dad, has written rhymes and even a book about the joyful magic of being black. As the Henry family emphasizes a celebration of black culture, they also delve into more sensitive subjects surrounding blackness. In their most recent video, Glen and Yvette have “the talk” with their two oldest sons, Theo, 7, and Uriah, almost 6. This talk is not the sex talk, but an arguably more frightening one: A necessary introduction to the harsh reality of police brutality.

When I look at the Henries, I see a projection of what I want my future to look like: A home full of joy and love. This particular video, though, was hard to watch for so many reasons. As Theo and Uriah processed what their parents said to them, I could see the innocence melting off of their faces. Their little lights dimmed for a moment as they realized that they are targets. I watched them ponder questions they don’t yet know how to ask, and it broke me. 

Yesterday in a newsletter, Glen reflected on the video and said, “I wish I did not share it. Not because of the response, most people were saddened by the conversation but almost everyone deemed it ‘necessary for survival.’ The thing that made me wish I never shared it was how my oldest has been distant from me since our talk.” He added, “I think we've reached a point in this channel where I have to hold back on what I share because of his comfort.” As a long-time follower and patron of Beleaf in Fatherhood, I’m sure that Glen’s intention for sharing the video was the same intent that lies at the heart of the BIF brand: “To equip fathers, bring hope to mothers, and inspire children.” I’m glad that he took the time to consider Theo’s feelings. I also respect the fact that he will give him more autonomy in the decision to share intimate parts of their lives online. The line between privacy and publicity is a thin one, especially on a platform as big as YouTube. Their comfort should absolutely come first, but I’m grateful that they did share this. I needed to see it. 

When I look at the Henries, I see a projection of what my future will look like. I watched Yvette weep as the rose-colored glasses were forcibly removed from her children’s eyes, and I saw myself. One day I will also be a black mother raising black children in America, and I hope I’ll know what to say when it’s time for my husband and I to have “the talk” with them. If, by chance, my husband isn’t black, I will have additional hurdles to jump over. Those hurdles will include not only explaining racial issues to him, but also explaining to our children that his privilege doesn’t extend to them. I am open to dating outside of my race; however, I think it would be more difficult to make sure a non-black man not only understands what black people go through, but also is properly equipped to stand firmly in this fight.

As I said before, the real pandemic here is racism. In the last decade, I’ve heard a lot of people say that we are in a post-racial society. Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd’s cases prove otherwise. We are nowhere close. Those who have chosen to be colorblind will say that all we need is love, but there’s much more to it than that. There are still so many people in this country who need to examine their hearts and be honest with themselves about why they hate people who don’t look like them. And then they need to do the work to turn that hate into understanding, tolerance, and THEN love—but the first step is acknowledgment of the problem.

Ironically, I don’t think the problem of racism can be solved until white people get as angry about the issue as black people. Again, let’s keep it real: Racist white people are only open to hearing from other white people. So, I think the solution is to gather white allies who are willing to stand up for the cause and explain to racists why hating people of a different color is wrong. The fact of the matter is, no matter how many black people protest, white racists still aren’t going to hear it. They still won’t care because all they’ll see are black faces, which they hate. Until and unless we partner with strong white allies, the problem will continue. 

Glen and Yvette’s video is linked below. I encourage you, regardless of the color of your skin, to resist the urge to look away—especially if you are white. If you are white, I know it is not comfortable for you to read this post. If you've read up to this point, I commend you. These conversations are never easy, but they're necessary. I know it's politically correct to say that you don't see color, but when you watch the video below, I need you to see it. I need you to see it and empathize with the difficult concepts and emotions that these innocent children are having to work through. 

Lastly, a note for everyone: After you watch the video, I implore you to make a change, to BE the change you want to see in your world. Share the video on social media, but don’t stop there. Use it to facilitate meaningful, proactive conversations with your children and those closest to you. DO SOMETHING about it. If we are all proactive, someday we can change the world. Hopefully that day will be sooner rather than later. Until next time, as Beleaf would say, “protect your life”—now, more than ever.


For more information on Beleaf In Fatherhood, visit https://www.beleafinfatherhood.com/.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

My Very Human Reaction to Jonathan McReynolds' "People"

If you ask me who my favorite artist is, without hesitation, my reply will be, “Jonathan McReynolds.” I’ve been #TeamLifeMusic since 2014, and it seems as though his pen gets more oily with every album. From “No Gray” on 2012’s Life Music to “Comparison Kills” on 2018’s Make Room, Jonathan has always had a unique way of humanizing the Christian experience. Last Friday, he released a single that, in my opinion, is his most human song yet—and, quite fittingly, it’s called “People.”

Image source: iTunes

The first time I heard “People,” I was caught off guard, because the track begins with a chorus of voices—not singing, but talking. It’s a muffled jumble of words we might hear in a public place, like a mall or a crowded hallway or city street. It’s hard to make out everything that’s being said, but the first thing I hear is, “People think they can just say anything nowadays, and I don’t understand it,” followed by “I don’t think you’re good enough,” and, “I just don’t believe Christians.” And then, “Maybe your music could be a little bit more spiritual.” As Jonathan begins to hum, another voice says, “You’re just a bit too...different.” And another: “I don’t like it.” And yet another: “You should take my advice.” Finally, “I just expected more from you...” I paused here and said, “Makes sense so far: A song called ‘People’ that’s clearly about, well, people.” Pressed play, and Jonathan’s “Shhh...” silenced the crowd of voices. And then, the first verse. I wasn’t ready! *Kevin Hart voice*:

They are the best and the worst You’ve created
Loving and hating and opinionated
Loners in basements and those congregated
Deliver me...

Pause.

Me: “Wow, Jon. DEEP, straight out of the gate. Whether loving or hating, on computers in their basements or in the pews of the church, everybody always has an opinion, solicited or otherwise.”

Play.

Far from the peaceful shore I was sinking
Deep in the ocean of thoughts they were thinking
Don’t know what validation I was seeking
Deliver me from
People, people...

Pause.

Me: “WHEW! This! Why do we drown ourselves in their thoughts? Why do we crave their validation so badly? And who are “they,” anyway?”

Play.

When You said You could heal me from anything
Did You mean people?
People
Deliver me

‘Cause I can’t point ‘em out
I won’t say their names
I don’t know the damage
Or which one to blame
It’s just people, people
Deliver me...

Pause. 

At this point, I had tears in my eyes, because the chorus made me remember who “they” were for me: The children who bullied me mercilessly from kindergarten through twelfth grade, some of whom I didn’t identify until I was in my early 20s, and a few I still don’t know about. Kids used to pick on me because, due to a mild case of cerebral palsy, I walk with a slight limp and my eyes wander a little. I had buried that pain years ago with no intention of ever digging it up again, but here comes this song. Jon, if you’re reading this, stop writing my life! I can’t deal.

*deep breath*

Play.

She was the reason I smiled in the morning
He took the last bit of joy I was storing
That’s too much power for anything human
Deliver me...

Pause.

These lyrics made me think about how much of the bullies’ negativity I had internalized. I brushed it off as it was happening years ago, but this song brought it back, and it really stung. The reason I chose to shrug it off back then was because, as much as it hurt me, I refused to give them power...but ignoring it doesn’t make the pain go away. The song’s bridge helped me make sense of it all:

The hurt are hurting
And the broken are breaking
And the ones who had their joy taken away
Are out here taking
From other people...

Pause. 

Hurt people hurt people, and broken people break others. Because the world didn’t give me my joy, the world can’t take it away...but the world tried to. People are people, and they do people-ish things, but the song itself isn’t about people at all. The song is about how the people-ish ways of the world and the focus on all the things we expect “them” to do and be for us causes us to take our eyes off of the Father. If we allow “their” voices to be louder than His voice because of our people-ish tendencies, we will inadvertently start to become “them.” In 2 Corinthians 6:17 (NIV), God’s Word commands us, “Come out from them and be separate...Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” So Lord, “Forgive me when I’m one of those people.” Deliver me...not just from them, but from me, too.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.


Check out “People” below, and make sure you’ve got tissue close by. You’ll need it.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

How Do You Like Them Apples?

Happy Singles Awareness Day! I usually post around Valentine's Day every year about how excited and optimistic I am for the future, anticipating the day when God sends me a husband. This year, though, I'm not nearly as pressed as I used to be, and I’ve been digging a little deeper to really figure out why I want to be married. I'll admit, I'm a hopeless romantic, but I don't just want a nice wedding. I want a marriage that lasts. And if you don't know your "why" before you say "I do," you'll be tempted to say "I don't" when times get tough. In marriage, the "yes" should be unconditional and ongoing. One huge reason I desire to be married is because I believe that intimate companionship is important. Not only that, but there’s purpose attached to marriage. Marriage is a ministry. We are all called to minister in different ways, but regardless of where a person is called to serve, every ministry begins in the home. The first person to reap the benefits of my close relationship with God is myself; the second person who reaps those benefits is my spouse. As God pours into me, I become better equipped to pour into my husband, and vice versa. The way we pour into each other will affect how we pour into our children. Our pour into them will affect how they pour into the people in their world, and before we know it, our marriage ministry will have global impact.

With that being said, before I settle down, I have to make sure I’m not settling. There is a difference. Let’s go apple picking.

Image source: Trip Advisor

Personally, I love the juicy crispness of a perfectly ripe apple—but it wasn’t until recently that I considered what happens between the time it’s picked off the tree and the first bite. Before it lands in the produce section at the local grocery store, it must first be inspected. For example, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, the highest grade of apple, called U.S. Extra Fancy, must be “mature but not overripe, clean, fairly well formed, free from decay, internal browning, internal breakdown, soft scald, scab, freezing injury, visible water core, and broken skins. The apples are also [deemed to be] free from injury caused by bruises” and so on and so forth before they are approved for sale and consumption. If you read between the lines, this is a whole word! 

Apple picking is not a casual task. Single ladies, when you examine the fruitfulness of a man, look closely! Make sure he’s pulled together and well-formed, whatever that looks like to you. I mean, c’mon, sis, you’ve gotta look at him every day! 😂 All jokes aside, though, being “well-formed” on the outside is cool, but the inside is even more important. A wise man once said, “Don’t get so caught up in how they’re formed that you miss what they’re full of” (shoutout to Pastor Keith Battle)! A “grade A” man is mature, but not overbearing, and able to lead well. Look at his heart and make sure it’s not decaying; rotting and breaking down under the weight of his past, self-doubt, and/or malice. Most apple inspectors steer clear of scabs and bruises, but in this case, as humans, we should extend grace. A man can have scabs and bruises and still be considered “grade A.” Scabs and scars indicate that he has healed in some areas and is still healing in others. Just make sure he’s not trying to reopen old wounds. He may have been hurt before, so his water core—his tears—may only be visible to you. If he trusts you enough to be vulnerable with you, you should be honored. In human terms, a “visible water core” is a good thing. It means his heart hasn’t experienced a freezing injury. It may have been broken before, but it’s still warm, which means he has the capacity to give you the love you deserve. Some types of healing can only take place within the marital covenant. God will teach you how to deal with that.

Keep in mind that nobody’s perfect, but it’s very important to choose wisely! The same goes for the fellas. The fruit your future spouse bears is the fruit your future seeds will eat...and what they eat, they will produce. If you need a reminder of how one bad apple spoiled the whole bunch (literally all of mankind), just flip back to the story of Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis. How do you like them apples?


Saturday, January 25, 2020

ANWA Live! DC Recap + Artist on the Rise: Rich Tolbert, Jr.

Hey y’all, happy new year! Wait, is it still socially acceptable to say that? January’s almost over! Anyway, it’s been a minute since I did a concert recap, but I’ve got a brief one for you, plus an artist on the rise that you’ll want to be on the lookout for: Rich Tolbert, Jr. Let’s rewind it back to Monday. 

Monday night, I attended ANWA Live! DC, an extension of an effort implemented by the All Nations Worship Assembly, a network of churches that seeks to plant sanctuaries all over the nation. The initiative is spearheaded by the senior pastor of All Nations Headquarters in Chicago, IL, Apostle Dr. Matthew L. Stevenson III. I entered the Columbia Heights Education Center anticipating a mighty move of God, and I got exactly what I came for. Benita Jones set the pace for the evening with soaring vocals and fresh fire. Todd Dulaney took us “Back To The Book” (that’s his new EP, available for pre-order as of yesterday) with a soul-stirring rendition of Psalm 23, and Apostle Matthew Stevenson followed up with a powerful prophetic flow. Finally, JJ Hairston took us home with his worship staple, “You Deserve It”—but the highlight of the night for me was Rich Tolbert, Jr.

Rich Tolbert, Jr. / Image source: Singersroom

I’ve been singing Rich’s anthem, “Never Be Defeated” over myself since summer 2019, when I saw him at City of Praise’s Planted conference with Campfire Movement. I didn’t record his performance of the song then because I was deep in worship, but something in my spirit said, This song will shake the nation. I followed him on Instagram the next day, sensing that it would only be a matter of time before his career really took off—and I was right. This was around the time that JJ Hairston’s “Miracle Worker” album was released, and Rich is featured on the title track as both singer and songwriter. As “Miracle Worker” began to buzz, “Never Be Defeated” and “Isn’t He Beautiful?” another of Rich’s songs that has not yet been released, started to gain traction.

Ever since Planted, I told myself I was going to make it my business to see Rich live again. I wanted to get another chance to fully appreciate the song that has been the soundtrack of my life for the past six months, so when I heard that he’d be in DC for ANWA Live!, I jumped at the opportunity to go (AND it was free!). Rich’s sound is unlike anything I’ve heard before. It’s hard to put into words, but I think the best way to describe it is...the sound of freedom. There’s an undignified quality in it, a boldness that is absolutely electrifying. It set something off in me!

I’ve decided that “Never Be Defeated” will be my stomp-on-the-devil’s-head song for 2020. The song itself is almost 19 minutes long (including the reprise) but I play it on loop tirelessly. Whenever I sing it, it makes me feel empowered. It reminds me Who’s in control, Who holds the future. 

And because God is the greatest power, / We shall never, never be defeated. Because the greatest power lives in me, I have the power to declare a thing, and it shall be so:

I SHALL rise!
I SHALL be!
I SHALL go in VICTORY!
No weapon formed against me
Will EVER overtake me (emphasis mine)!

The declaration is simple, but it makes my spirit leap. And this next part is where I come thisclose to shouting:

The devil is a liar, God is exalted / Never be defeated, never be defeated. Rich repeats this over and over until I believe it—and everybody around me does, too. I play this aloud in my house like, “The devil IS a liar! We all gon’ catch this Holy Ghost fire!” It’s literally impossible to sit still while listening to this song. And don’t even think about playing it while driving (unless you’ve got time to pull over, because ready or not, here comes the anointing)! And if you like “Never Be Defeated,” you’ll love what’s coming next in Rich’s arsenal. As I mentioned earlier, the studio version of “Isn’t He Beautiful?”, which I think is his next single, isn’t even available for purchase yet, and it’s already taking churches across the country by storm. 

God is a “Miracle Worker,” and in Him, we’ll “Never Be Defeated.” As we marvel at His magnificent works and unceasing victories, we’ll behold His face and say “Isn’t He Beautiful?” Stay tuned, because God is just getting started with Rich Tolbert, Jr. He’s definitely one to watch in 2020 and beyond, and I personally can’t wait to hear what God uses him to say next.

Check out Rich's performance of "Never Be Defeated" at ANWA Live! DC below:


Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Surrendering My 2020 Vision

Sisters, how are y’all feeling? Brothers, are y’all alright? Merry Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa...whichever holiday(s) you and yours celebrate, I hope the season has been good to you. Listen, I know it’s been awhile since we’ve talked, but life (and grad school) took up a lot of my time. Now that winter break is upon us, I’m back to blogging.


Image source: Getty, via Forbes


Usually when I take a break from blogging, it’s because of creative burnout. I either let the numbers get to me, or I just feel like I don’t have anything to say at the moment. This last hiatus, however, was different—and intentional. While this pause was primarily to focus on grad school, I also needed to take some time to dream with God and tell Him what I want to do for His Kingdom. I was recently given Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, as a gift, and I plan to use this word as my mantra for 2020. I haven’t started reading the book just yet, but the title alone has inspired me to try to figure out who/what He wants me to become. I’ve always heard people allude to Habakkuk 2:2, the Scripture that reads, “Write the vision and make it plain.” I had my own ideas about who I thought God was calling me to be, so I’d write down all the things I wanted to accomplish and then include if it be Your will as an afterthought. The problem was, I allowed my thoughts to “talk over” His voice—that is, until I read the verse above in context. 

Habakkuk, the man that this particular book is named for, is a prophet. He asks God, “GOD, how long do I have to cry out for help before you listen? [...] Why do you force me to look at evil, stare trouble in the face day after day” (Habakkuk 1:2-3, MSG)? Habakkuk is frustrated because all he sees around him is danger, death, and destruction, and he can’t understand why it seems like God isn’t doing anything about it. Angrily, he asks, “Why are you silent now? This outrage! Evil men swallow up the righteous and you stand around and watch” (Habakkuk 1:13 MSG)! Personally, I can’t tell you how many times this year I’ve been angry at God, how many times I’ve cried out to Him and felt like He wasn’t hearing me, and wasn’t trying to do anything to change my situation. At a point, I even asked Him, “God, why does it seem so easy for other people to get ahead while I’m struggling?” Nothing made sense to me until I read Habakkuk 2:2 again. 

This time, I studied the Contemporary English version, “Then the Lord told me: ‘I will give you my message in the form of a vision. Write it clearly enough to be read at a glance.’ The MSG version says, “Write it out in big block letters so that it can be read on the run.” Just as God spoke to Habakkuk, He spoke to me as I read. He said, “Remember that assignment you keep picking up and putting down? That was My idea. Don’t abandon what I gave you.” So, I purposely got quiet so I could hear what He has to say about my goals. And then came the revelation: I’ve been writing the vision and making it plain right here on this blog. That’s why my tag line is, “Where music is diversified, message is simplified, and Christ is glorified.” My purpose is to simplify His message so that His people can read it on the run...as they run towards Him!

And the Contemporary English version clarified it even further, “At the time I have decided, my words will come true. You can trust what I say about the future. It may take a long time, but keep on waiting— it will happen” (Habakkuk 2:3)! The moral of the story is that our hopes and dreams do matter to God. He considers us in His plans because we are the vessels that He uses to carry out those plans. The vision for our lives is His and not our own. That’s why it’s important to take everything to Him in prayer and make sure to get His stamp of approval.

Daring to dream with God means surrendering our vision to Him, trusting that He can see what we can’t. We can rest in knowing that if He said it, it WILL happen—but only when He says it’s time. While I wait, I’m challenging myself to hold on to what I know He promised me. I hope you’ll do the same. Let’s BECOME together. Happy New Year!