Friday, March 31, 2017

New Look, Same Great Taste: Breaking Tradition in Christian Music

I'm 22 years old, and I've been saved for almost 17 years. My Christian walk started in a Baptist church, and my current home church is interdenominational, so I grew up listening to a wide range of Gospel artists, everything from Shirley Caesar and The Williams Brothers to Mary Mary, Kirk Franklin, and Keith "Wonderboy" Johnson. I've noticed that as I've matured, my taste in music has expanded to include more contemporary artists like Travis Greene, Jonathan McReynolds, Anthony Brown, The Walls Group, and most recently, Todd Galberth and WillMBand...and the list goes on and on. One thing's for sure: No other music makes me feel like Gospel music does.



While I still appreciate the hymns and songs that require double clap, I am loving the fresh, transparent anointing I'm hearing in Christian music from my generation. This new wave of psalmists is revolutionizing the genre and redefining what it means to be a Gospel artist. It's not just one sound anymore, but it's still raw, undignified praise. They're making it personal. Unlike older Gospel, which primarily focused on what God did in Biblical times, more contemporary artists candidly sing about what He's currently doing or has done most recently in their own lives. Sometimes, tradition has to be broken in order for change to occur. I think that's what's happening in Gospel music right now. All of the aforementioned artists in my playlist are fairly young, but they have deep, "churchy" roots. If you listen to their work closely, you'll hear influences from hymns, quartets, and many of the reknowned Gospel legends who paved the way for them. You'll also hear influences from popular artists in the secular realm, instances where Christian artists give a nod or two to a melody that is familiar to the world, but the music itself still does its job, which is spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

When a company wants to revamp its image and boost its sales, the first thing it usually does is change its packaging. Since the company doesn't want to lose its returning customers, it marks this packaging with a seemingly trivial but very important label: "New look, same great taste!" The same thing applies to new-school Gospel. In order to reach new Christians who may not be drawn to the old-timey church songs our parents and grandparents loved, God is giving a new song (and a new fashion sense) to artists who don't fit in a traditional box. New sound, same great message.

Folks write artists off if their sound isn't "traditional," but all that really matters is that God is pleased. Gospel artists have to market themselves a certain way because Gospel music is (and should be) held to a certain standard, but some young artists are also pressured to dress a certain way because of the type of music they sing. We are imperfect Christians serving a perfect God. These artists' main objective is to win souls for Him, even if it doesn't look "traditional." I'm not saying young Christian artists should be wearing provacative clothes, but if their demographic is young people (many of whom may not know Christ), dressing on trend while still remaining modest can help them show others that serving God is cool. Erica Campbell said it best in her hit, "I Luh God," "Cuz none of this means nothin' if He come and I miss Him, shawty!" That's it in a nutshell.

As Christians, we are required to meet certain standards, but at the end of the day, however you praise, just make sure you don't miss Him! Don't get so caught up in the new packaging of the sound that you miss the message. Open your mind, heart, and ears to the music that the Lord has placed inside of these young singer-songwriters. These are more than songs, they are psalms, from their hearts to God's ears. These are the sounds that souls who don't know our Savior desperately need to hear.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Cut to the Chase (Inspired by Joseph Solomon)

A few days ago, I was scrolling through my subscription list on YouTube and I noticed a new video had been uploaded on the channel formerly known as Chase God TV. Chase God TV is the brainchild of Joseph Solomon, a speaker, poet, and singer-songwriter who hails from Fort Hood, Texas. Joseph recently changed the channel name to his given name and expanded it to include vlogs, but its God-centered content remains the same. Christianity can seem daunting to many people who are not familiar with it, especially young adults who are trying to discover themselves while exploring the Christian faith. Chase God TV is Bible-based, but it caters to those who want to learn about God from a more fresh, contemporary perspective. It focuses on doctrine, but in a cool way, simplifying it into a pursuit: chasing God. Through the channel, Joseph Solomon has found an innovative way to win souls for Christ by looking at the larger-than-life Jesus through an everyday life lens in discussions about relevant issues and topics that a lot of young adults face.

The title of the video I'll be discussing in this blog is Chase God, Not Her. The title alone caught my eye for two reasons: 1) It alluded to the channel's former name and 2) It reminded me of a post I wrote back in January called "Living Single (and Saved)." After watching the video twice, I started thinking about a lot of things, but mostly these: What do the things we chase say about us? Why do we chase them? And, perhaps the most important point of all, what does it mean to chase God for God's sake? Feel free to watch the video below before you read my commentary:

In Chase God, Not Her, Joe talked about how he had a crush on a girl and chased God in order to chase her. At first, he chased God because he thought it would impress her. She loved Jesus, so he thought if he could prove that he loved Jesus too, she would love him. When it didn't work out that way and his feelings weren't reciprocated, he had to stop and reassess why he was chasing God in the first place and decide whether or not he wanted to continue pursuing Him. This was SO profound to me. God is always available to us, always behind us to catch us when we fall. He is in constant pursuit of our hearts, but it is up to us to stop running from Him and start running to order to actually reach HIM, not the things of the world. Chasing God is a choice.

If you want to truly know who a person is, find out what they're chasing and why they're chasing it. If they're chasing a significant other, they want love. If they're chasing dreams, they're ambitious. If they're chasing money, cars, and clothes, they're materialistic. If they're chasing God, no matter where life takes them, they're headed in the right direction. In Matthew 6:31-33 (NIV), Jesus says:

So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'

For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

I like the King James version of Matthew 6:33 even better because instead of "given unto you," KJV says, "all these things shall be ADDED unto you." Everything you need, you'll find in God. He alone is enough. Everything else He gives us, the things we unnecessarily chase instead of chasing Him are bonuses! Chase God, and He'll send love your way. Chase God, and you won't have to chase your dreams; they'll come to you. Chase God, and He'll provide you with the resources you need. Money, cars, clothes, all those things we can't take with us when we die, they hold no value in Heaven. Chase God for God's sake, meaning chase Him just because He's God. God is not a fad or a trend. His love never fades or fails. Don't chase Him because of what He can do for you, or because Christianity looks cool (It IS cool, though!), or because everyone else is doing it. You can't serve Him to serve others. You have to make a personal, conscious decision to let Him in.

God wants us to cut to the chase, cut out all distractions and focus solely on following Him. The world may not understand the race we're running, and yes, there will be hurdles to jump over, but it'll all be worth it when we reach the finish line. As Joe would say, grace and peace, fam!

Check out more of Joseph Solomon's videos here. To find out if he's coming to a city near you, click here.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Hit Me With Your Best Shot (feat. Mali Music's "Ready Aim")

After a month-long hiatus, I'm back to blogging. I took a break to block the enemy's punches. In mid-February, I had to have unexpected minor surgery, and after a six-day hospital stay, I came home and found out a few days later that one of my cousins suddenly passed away. The last week and a half has been a whirlwind, and honestly, part of me is still in disbelief. As I went through the motions of surgery recovery followed by the stages of grief, I kept this blog in the back of my mind and found myself struggling to figure out what to write and how. I thought about taking another week to gather my thoughts, but I knew if I did that, a week would turn into a month, and before I knew it, I'd just stop writing altogether...and I couldn't let that happen. Writing is my gift, my assignment. The enemy packed a powerful punch, but I couldn't just let him win, so I wracked my brain to find songs about how to fight back when the Devil does everything in his power to knock you down...and God gave me Mali Music's "Ready Aim," a rock/soul hybrid from his 2014 album Mali Is..., about how to keep a winning attitude when it seems like Satan is giving us everything he's got.

Mali Is... cover art / Amazon 

Verse 1:

I’m on an airplane

And the destination of this flight is to the

other side

Guess I have to go there

Guess I have to come here, yeah

I know where I’m from but now

I’m headed where I’m going right

"Ready Aim" is essentially one giant extended metaphor. The "flight" is the Christian walk, and the "other side" is the place/person/thing that may cause us to doubt God and/or lose faith. In this life, there will always be an "other side," unfamiliar territory, new stresses we haven't dealt with before, and sometimes even unbelievers who will try to convince us that God's not real. God exposes us to certain people, places, and things in the world to allow us to grow in Him; sometimes to be a light in darkness, and other times to see how strong our faith is. When Mali says, "I know where I'm from but now / I'm headed where I'm going right," he means that as followers of Christ, we are IN the world but not OF the world. In an excerpt from John 15:19, Jesus says, "You do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you" (NIV).

It's not just the physical world that hates us, though. There are evil spiritual forces working against us too. Mali references these forces in the song's hook, "But there are powers, in the air, you can’t see them / And they have rockets and machine guns / And they’re firing on my plane." Ephesians 6:12-13 reads:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

The "rockets and machine guns" Mali mentions are a metaphor for the spiritual weapons that evil principalities use against us (our weaknesses, shortcomings, negative feelings, etc.) to keep us from becoming who God has called us to be.

Since Mali is equipped with the full armor of God, he challenges the enemy, basically telling him 'Hit me with your best shot!':

But I say fire, fire oh

Ready, aim, fire,

You can’t shoot me down, no

Fffff fire! Fire

Ready, aim, fire, you can’t stop me now, no

In spite of Satan's efforts to keep him down, he says he's on a mission:

Tryna make it straight cause it’s sideways

Tryna take water to a dry place

Tryna take hope where it ain’t none

Tryna take low to a high place

Wanna make the shooter put the gun down

So a mother gets to hold her son now

Wanna make the lame man run again

Make the blind man see the sun again

But all I hear is bang bang, gat, gat

I don’t think the powers really want that

Breathing down my neck

Always on my back

Got the guns out

The Devil is threatened by who we are in Christ. He sees the good we try to do in the world and does everything he can to stop us because he doesn't want other people to board the flight we're on, the airplane whose destination is eternal life. The enemy will always be on attack, always awaiting our downfall. It's up to us to fight back. Our lives, and the lives of almost everyone we're connected to, depend on it.

Ephesians 6:14-16 (NIV) says:

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,

and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

Satan can throw all the arrows he wants. As long as God is on my side, none of them will ever hit my bullseye. No weapon formed against me shall prosper. Victory is mine (and yours)! In Jesus' name, amen.

Check out the acoustic version of "Ready Aim" below: