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Music

Music from the eyes

Jamie Soles on what turned him into a songwriter

*****

Growing up, my oldest brother Dave had a record player in the room he shared with my other brother Stephen. Dave was gone a lot of the time, so I spent many hours in that room, playing record after record, or, if I really liked it, the same one over and over. I think I learned every word of Randy Stonehill’s Welcome To Paradise and Equator, Larry Norman’s In Another Land, Phil Keaggy’s What A Day, Love Broke Thru, and Ph’lip Side, all the Keith Green ones and Don Francisco ones, and several others. These got many a play from me when I was 12-15 years old. This music was life-shaping for me. I wanted to do what they were doing; to make music that would bless people, that would glorify God, and honor Jesus, and sound cool at the same time. My guitar-playing skills developed a lot in those days, as I learned how to listen to the music, and to hear what was in it. I learned how to identify chords when I heard them in the music, and started to develop the ability to understand what chords went with what chords, and how to anticipate what might be coming next. I found that I could play along (roughly) with Randy Stonehill or Don Francisco, but was sensible enough to put my guitar away when listening to Phil Keaggy, who I could tell was a long way above my pay grade. As I acquired my skills on guitar, it also became apparent to me that I was going to need to learn how to write songs if I was ever going to make it in the music business. But I had no idea where to begin. When I would try to think of lyrics, everything I came up with sounded too stupid to sing out loud. I learned somewhere that songwriters were supposed to sing from the heart, from what was inside them. Turn the stuff inside you into a song. This, I could see already at that age, was bad counsel. For I knew the Bible well enough to remember what it said about the heart; that it was “deceitful above all things and desperately sick and wicked, and who could understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). And I am supposed to write songs from there? It did not add up, but I did not know what to do about it. I tried to write a song for two years, from my 13th year to my 15th year, and everything I wrote seemed foolish even to me, and how much more foolish it would seem if I sang such schlock for anyone? I kept silent and tried again. And again. I could not seem to think about what I should write about. All the songs on the radio seemed to be love songs; maybe that is what I should write about! But I was a backwoods, backwards farm boy with no shower at hand, and I had no experience in that field. During the summer of 1981, I went to work as a Junior Counselor at Camp Sagitawa on Moberly Lake. I was there to be the second man in a cabin full of boys, week after week, all summer. But I was one of the main music people because I was quite good at guitar by then. So I spent that summer with my guitar in one hand, and Christian teaching about the glory of God in the other. One day I was admiring the beauty of creation there at camp, and I decided to try and write a song about that. Lo and behold, it worked! I wrote a sensible song! I sang it for people that night at the campfire, and everybody loved it. I was so inspired; I sat down and wrote another, and another. I spent the rest of that summer writing songs because I had discovered the key:

Do not write what is in your heart. Write what is in your eyes.

The Disney version of life is not correct. You are not going to find good things, things of which you can make sense, in your heart. For me, it was when I looked outside myself, when I looked at God and his creation, that my tongue was unlocked to sing his praises in a way that blessed people. This is the way the world works. It is not about you, not about your thoughts, not about your feelings. But it is about Jesus, and about what he has done. Sing that.

You can hear Jamie Soles' music on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, YouTube Music, SolMusic.ca, and many other places.

  A new way to support Christian music I was with a fellow musician the other day, and we were lamenting our current predicament as musicians. “We are deeply invested in doing good work and creating a product people will love. But the market has changed. Our music is worth nothing anymore, financially speaking.” This is truly the case, as you can probably attest in your own home; have you bought a CD this year? These days music is delivered to the masses via streaming services, which pay artists very little (even though my music is being streamed upwards of 200,000 times this year). Then COVID and the panic it has engendered greatly curtailed my ability to get out and do concerts. I have done two concerts this year, instead of the 30+ I had planned. So, out with the old business model, and here is the new: please consider becoming a patron to my art, a regular monthly supporter. If, in the old days, you might have purchased one CD a year from me, you might use that as a guideline, and support me at $2.00 a month on Patreon. You would not be buying my music for cheap, since it is already virtually free on streaming services. You would be supporting Jamie Soles, the artist, at whatever amount you are willing to give on a monthly basis. A side benefit would be free access to all my music, but the real benefit is knowing that I am still making music for the world. You can find out more by clicking here: patreon.com/join/2034697. And if you still like CDs, well, you can still get those at my website: SolMusic.ca. Blessings to you, my friend! – Jamie Soles

Music, News

U2 shows us how love can hurt

It’s been quite a week for U2. In the space of just four days, the Irish rock band took public stands in favor of homosexuality, transsexuality, and abortion. On May 1st the group tweeted their support for legalizing abortion in their native land. They told their 1.5 million Twitter followers that they wanted to “Repeal the 8th” which is the amendment to the Irish constitution that protects the unborn. Three days later they released the video to their song Love is bigger than anything in its way. More than three dozen people are shown, all in brief clips, and what’s most noticeable is the fashion choices made, particularly among the gentlemen. One man is wearing a bra, another a corset with thigh high boots. Many of these men have lipstick, pink shirts, pink pants, or a pink backpack. Among the women are some who look to be men dressed as women. Lest anyone think this all just a case of unique fashion choices, the video also includes shots of lesbian and gay couples kissing. We wouldn’t expect different from most any other rock band, but this is U2. The group has never publicly identified itself as Christian, but their songs contain dozens and dozens of biblical references, including 40, which is based on Psalm 40 and Psalm 6. And the lead singer, Bono, has professed to be a Christian, publicly talking about his family’s prayers, and noting that they regularly read Scripture. In an interview with music journalist Michka Assayas he gave a decent explanation of the atonement: “The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That's the point. It should keep us humbled. It's not our own good works that get us through the gates of heaven.” So it was to the surprise and disappointment of Christian fans that the band is ignoring God’s prohibitions against murder and homosexuality and is encouraging their fan-base to do likewise. Bono has often spoken of God as being love. Now it seems, he thinks love is God. What’s the difference? When we understand that God is love, then we are willing and even eager to submit to His wisdom and direction. Then we know that it isn’t loving to encourage behaviors He forbids. We understand that His restrictions protect us, in much the same way that a loving parent’s rules protect their children. Why does God forbid homosexuality (and abortion too)? Because as our Maker and our Father He knows this isn't good for us. But for Bono and his band, “love is bigger than anything in its way.” Are God’s commandments standing in the way of you and the same-sex partner you crave? Well, U2 wants you to know that love is bigger than God. But pursuing love while running from God isn’t going to bring anyone happiness. Oh, sure, rebellion can make us happy for a time. So can drugs, sex, and fame. But it doesn’t take long for the meaninglessness to become evident. In a strange turn, this brokenness is even evident in the video for U2’s latest song. More than three dozen lesbians, homosexuals, and transgender men and women dancing, hugging, and kissing. U2 is trying to tell us that this is love worth celebrating… so why does everyone look so miserable? Yes Bono, God is love. But love as a replacement for God? That’s going to be misery....

CD Review, Music, Parenting

Fun music for your kids (that you might like too)

We often find that turning on some music can completely change the mood of our house: kids go from complaining to dancing and singing. So here are three recommendations – oldies but goodies – that have been tested in our household, and recommended by lots of friends and family too. Fun and Prophets by Jamie Soles 2006, 48 minutes When I asked around for other good children's CDs, Jamie Soles was a clear favorite with friends and family. While he has adult albums too, Soles is best known for his children's music, which has a solid Reformed theology behind it. Some of his songs retell Bible stories, others help children memorize things like the books of the Bible, the order of the Creation days, or the names of the patriarchs.  A lot of it is energetic, with a bit of a beat. The kids enjoy them all, but one of my favorites is "Run," from the album Fun and Prophets, based on the passage 2 Kings 9:1-13, where a nameless prophet is instructed to anoint Jehu as king of Israel, and then get out of there quickly. Sometimes a prophet has to stand Like an iron wall against the land And standing is fine, when the time is right But the time is wrong, and it's fine for flight so.... RUN! Jehu is king, so RUN! If you want to live you better RUN! Jamie Soles has more than a half dozen children's albums (Giants and Wanderers, Wells, Fun and Prophets, Memorials, Up From Here, The Way My Story Goes, Good Advice) all of which can be ordered, and downloaded at SolMusic.ca. He is worth checking out! Go to the Ant by Judy Rogers 1989, 31 minutes As I was asking around, another name that came up repeatedly was Judy Rogers, the wife of a Reformed Presbyterian pastor, who has been making music for more than 25 years. In Go to the Ant she bases most of the songs on passages from Proverbs, teaching children about the dangers of "The Tongue," about what we can learn about hard work when we "Go to the Ant" and about the cost of attending "The School of the Fool." The lyrics are a solid mix of fun and wisdom. A problem common to children's Christian music is that it often strays into irreverence but that is certainly not a concern here. If you are familiar with Jamie Soles, Judy Rogers has an overall quieter sound – quite a bit less beat. Her voice is beautiful, and also contributes to the lighter sound; this is folk music that won't be confused with pop/rock. My three-year-old daughter is a fan and, incidentally, R.C. Sproul is too. Overall I would say this is an album that kids will like, but it won't have the same crossover appeal with parents that Jamie Soles seems to have. To hear song samples and read the lyrics, visit JudyRogers.com. The album can be ordered many places online including Amazon.ca. Hide 'Em in Your Heart Vol. 1 by Steve Green 1990, 37 minutes Steve Green's music is bright and cheerful, and the words are always clear and easy to understand. Each song on this album is a verse, or two, from Scripture (either NIV or NKJV) with Green beginning each track with a short, spoken introduction. The verse is repeated at least a couple of times in each song, but Green finds a nice balance in promoting Scripture memorization and keeping the repetition to a minimum so the songs don't become wearisome – on average each track is less than 2 minutes long. The album also features some of the very best children's singers. The boys and girls still sound like normal children, rather than professionals, while hitting all the right notes. If I had to pick a nit with this album then I could point to a couple of the spoken introductions, where Green seems to explain the passage in a slightly Arminan-ish way. But this really is a nitpick, because kids won't notice, and the parts your children will be singing all over your house are the verses taken straight from Scripture. I love this album because I love hearing my daughter sing "And Jesus grew in wisdom, and stature and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:52 and Track 8). Very fun!...

Music

Some thoughts on Christian Contemporary music

I’ve loved music all my life, so when I was approached to write about music, I was happy to oblige. I grew up listening to music at home, from classical music, to the marches of John Philip Sousa, to Buddy Holly and the Beach Boys, and finally to some of the giants of country music like Johnny Cash, Jimmy Rodgers, and Hank Snow. Those are some of the names I remember from my dad’s record collection. My taste in music has broadened over the years; while I’ve largely abandoned the world of popular music (which more than occasionally offends my Christian sensibilities, but almost always bores me), over the years I’ve found myself exploring the vast musical treasures that can be found in the worlds of jazz, classical, blues, world music, and elsewhere. But when it comes to popular Christian music, Black Gospel music from the 1950s and 60s used to be about as contemporary as I would get. Up until very recently, I’ve found myself repeatedly disappointed, and to be frank, disturbed, by the quality of the music that you’ll hear on Christian Contemporary radio. Why? Well, whereas from the 1930s to about the 1960s it was the music of the church that had a profound influence on the secular music industry, in the 1970s the trend was reversed. The music of the church once exerted a profound influence on the world. But in the past three decades, Christian music has done little more than imitate trends in popular music, rather than shaping them. Where’s the meat? The content of a lot of Christian Contemporary music is highly individualistic and largely divorced from the greater context of Scripture, and this poses a major problem when it comes to singing about the Lord Jesus. On a corporate level – as the body, the Church – we know and confess that the Lord Jesus has taken the Church to be His bride. The Church is the beloved of the Lord, and as a body, we live in this relationship of love with Him. He is the ultimate Husband, who gives His life for His Bride (Ephesians 5:25). The problem comes about when the corporate aspects of this relationship are forgotten, when the message becomes all about me, and my relationship with Jesus. What happens when Christian musicians do this? They go from praising the Lord Jesus, the Husband of His church, to singing a sanctified love song to Jesus, the greatest boyfriend you could ever imagine. Here’s a recent example, by Jamie Grace, called “Hold me”: Oo, I love the way you hold me, By my side you’ll always be You take each and every day, Make it special in some way. I love the way you hold me, In your arms I’ll always be You take each and every day, Make it special in some way I love you more than the words in my brain can express. I can’t imagine even loving you less. Lord, I love the way you hold me. There are a couple of problems with songs like this one, but the most serious one is this: apart from the word “Lord” in the final line of the chorus, the lyrics to this song are virtually indistinguishable from any other love song ever recorded. The song has little in the way of actual content; it’s solely about a feeling of being loved – but there’s so much missing! What’s the basis of this love? What’s the content of this love? What’s the context of this love? What kind of love is this anyway? As I mentioned earlier, until recently I have pretty much ignored Christian Contemporary music. Musically I find much of it boring, lacking in originality, pre-packaged, mass-marketed, appealing to the lowest common denominator. Lyrically, even where there isn’t overt false teaching, the messages are often shallow, effeminate, and cringe-inducing, to say the least. There are some gems out there, if you’re willing to look diligently enough. But like all “art” that’s produced to appeal to a mass market, there is all too often a tendency to tread worn paths, to follow trends, to “dumb it down.” In short, the motto that rules Contemporary Christian music too often seems to be, “Do what works,” and not necessarily, “Do what’s right.” A change is happening But over the past year, a couple of young men in my congregation have introduced me to another type of Contemporary Christian music; I hadn’t realized that this genre of music even existed, but when it was introduced to me, I found myself devouring it. And that music came from a surprising source – the American hip-hop culture. I was introduced to the music of men like Lecrae, Shai Linne, Tedashii, Timothy Brindle, Trip Lee, and Sho Baraka. And the more I listened to their songs, the more impressed I became. I had avoided Hip-hop and Rap music, since, as a genre, so much of its message is totally opposed to the Christian faith. When I thought of Rap music, I thought of musicians who reveled in wickedness, boasted of evil, and extolled the virtues of a godless lifestyle. But imagine my surprise when I heard songs like this one, “All-Consuming Fire,” from Shai Linne’s latest album, The Attributes of God: The Lord is speaking through His prophecies and all of His commands Unequalled in His qualities, He’s awesome and He’s grand He’s regal and His policies are gloriously planned He’s peeping the idolatry that’s all over the land How people in society ignore the Son of Man By seeking their autonomy, they are caught in a trance But He will put a stop to the evil and apostasy The devious hypocrisy, the fallenness of man We’re teaching you theology so y’all can understand According to His plans: the slaughter of the damned Unspeakable reality to fall into His hands No sequels, it’s finality and awful is the span No weeping or apologies, no sneakiness or bribery will keep the Lord from honoring His law and its demands We’re pieces of His pottery – He causes us to stand His people see Him properly – exalted is the Lamb! That’s just one example, but it’s indicative of Shai Linne’s lyrical output. It’s God-centered. It’s honest. It doesn’t shy away from the “hard truths” that the Christian message is filled with. It’s unashamedly theological, it’s got real depth to it, and it speaks prophetically to a world that needs to hear this message. Simply put, I would not hesitate to recommend any one of Shai Linne’s albums to Reformed, Christian people, young or old. Musically speaking, the style may not be your cup of tea; but there’s no denying the quality of the production, the originality of the musical accompaniment, and the centrality of God’s glory to the message of the lyrics. This is music that glorifies God and edifies His people. This first appeared under the title “Some thoughts on Contemporary Christian Music (Part 1).” Rev. Witteveen is a missionary who has served the Church in Canada and now Brazil....