Monday Music: ‘Wings to Fly’ (Plankeye)

I am a sucker for a good guitar solo. Growing up listening to 80s and 90s rock music made me vulnerable to the allure of heavy distortion and speedy riffs. Unfortunately, it was not always easy finding any decent Christian Rock during those days (some even claim that such a genre does not exist, but I beg to differ). One of my favorite bands of that genre during that time was a band by the name of Plankeye. I stumbled across them by spending hours in my local Lemstone Books listening to every tape I could find that even looked like it might have a guitar solo in one of the songs. I discovered just such a tape when I found Plankeye’s album “Spark”. It is a great rock album with several really good songs. My favorites include: ‘Open House’ and ‘So Far From Home.’ But the greatest song on the album is the almost bluesy ‘Wings to Fly.’ It is actually a simple praise song set to three chords and a funky lick. When the drums and the distortion come in hard on the chorus, you can’t help but smile. I love it.

But all of that just sets the stage for one of my favorite guitar solos of all-time. It starts low and slow, mostly just feed back, but then gradually builds and builds into pure shredding. And just when you think it is going to end, he takes it one step higher for one more run. In fact, even when they take it back to repeat the chorus, the guitarist is still wearing it out in the background. He doesn’t stop until the last chord. It is great! So if you like a little funky praise with a serious solo, you have to check this out:

Wings to Fly

We probably won’t be adding that one to our praise set anytime soon, but man I love it.



Monday Music: ‘When the battle’s over’

I have a standing gig at the Clearview Nursing Home. The residents like it because I bring my guitar and I like it because they never complain about my playing! Every Thursday morning we sing ‘I’ll fly away’ to start and ‘Amazing Grace’ to close and I am always blessed to hear them sing.

But something special happened last Thursday. I have been teaching through 1 Corinthians and we had been talking that morning about our future victory over death through faith in Christ (ch. 15). As usual, when we finished, we closed with ‘Amazing Grace.’ Only this time, when we finished that last verse acappella, one of the ladies began to sing this line: ‘When the battle’s over, we shall wear a crown.’ On the second time through the others joined with her. I am not overly familiar with that old hymn so I just listened as they sang:

“When the battle’s over, we shall wear a crown

When the battle’s over, we shall wear a crown

When the battle’s over, we shall wear a crown

In the New Jerusalem.”

They sang through the verse and the chorus together. Their voices are not as strong as they used to be, but they sang with power and conviction. And it was beautiful. Not just because of the song or the words but because of their belief. I could hear faith in the coming victory through Jesus in their voices. I could see it on their faces. I have rarely been so moved by a performance. It was everything I could do to keep from weeping in the floor. Even now, just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes.

As a culture, we are enamored by big performances. Millions tuned in to watch the half-time festivities at the Super Bowl. Thousands pack stadiums and concert halls to hear the latest acts. Yet, the more I live, the more I am convinced that the greatest performances go largely unnoticed. I mean, who cares about some people singing at a nursing home? I can tell you One person who cares. I can see Him leaning in to take delight in their praise and smiling over their persevering faith. We should do our best to listen as well.

Each week the residents of Clearview Nursing Home teach me that faith can last a lifetime. Unlike these bodies we possess, it does not get old or wear out. On the contrary, it is stronger with each passing day and each passing year. Each week they remind me of that. And this past week they taught me even more. They taught me the beauty of enduring praise. I figure from now on, if someone asks me about my favorite concert, I will have to at least mention the time I got the privilege of hearing the impromptu performance of ‘When the battle’s over’ by the Clearview singers. What an encouragement to my soul!


Monday Music: ‘You set a Table’ (Kip Fox)

I was reading an article of top Christian albums for 2015 (HT: Challies) and I stumbled across Kip Fox, who was listed in the top 5. Fox did not actually release one album last year, he released four consisting of only three songs a piece (12 songs total for the year). The group was titled ‘Unheard’ and was listed as vol. 1-4. The music is mostly just him and a guitar, but they are some of the best songs that I have heard in a while. I listened to a number of tracks off of his full albums, but really preferred the acoustic offerings of the ‘Unheard’ volumes. This is mostly because the songs are just that good. The melodies are memorable and the lyrics are strong. Some of them could be used in corporate worship, while others are more personal and reflective. It is always exciting to find a new artist with great music and that is how I feel about Fox. He may not release much more like the ‘Unheard’ volumes, but I hope he does.

Since my favorite volume is the first, I decided to link to the first song of those three. It is a rewriting of Psalm 23 in such a simple, but profound way. I love the second verse and chorus:

“In the gravest valleys

I am not afraid

Of the foes around me

or the claims they make.

For you set a table before me

and prepare a feast,

You pour the wine in the presence

of my enemies.”

Nothing fancy, but a great reminder of God’s presence no matter what we are facing. I love this song (and I love the others as well, seriously take some time to check them out). Give it a listen here (the album version sounds just like this video):

You set a Table

Monday Music: Top 5 Christmas Hymns

So this is my final installment of Christmas music for the season. Up today is my top 5 Christmas hymns:

5. Come Thou Long Expected Jesus: Great old hymn by Charles Wesley (one of the best hymn writers). Best line:

“Come thou long expected Jesus,

born to set thy people free;

from our fears and sins release us;

let us find our rest in Thee.”

4. O Come, All Ye Faithful: My favorite part of this hymn is the simple chorus which is the only appropriate response to Christ becoming flesh: ‘O Come let us adore Him!’ Best line:

“Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing!

O Come let us adore Him!”

3. Joy to the World: My favorite hymn writer of all time is Isaac Watts. His impact on congregational singing is profound. I think this is his best Christmas hymn. We sing it all year round at our Church! Best line:

“No more let sins and sorrows grow,

Nor thorns infest the ground;

He comes to make His blessings flow,

far as the curse is found!”

What an incredible line and an even more amazing truth!

2. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing: Did I mention that I like Charles Wesley? This is his best Christmas hymn. The melody is not necessarily my favorite, but the writing is great! Best line (well, lines):

“Veiled in flesh the God-head see

Hail the incarnate Deity

Pleased as man with men to dwell,

Jesus our Immanuel”


“Mild He lays  his glory by

Born that man no more may die

Born to raise the sons of earth,

Born to give them second birth.”

1. O Come, O Come Immanuel (David Crowder Band): So my hope was to try to find the best recordings of hymns, but the holidays slipped up on me (and it might have changed my list a bit). But my favorite song also has my favorite recording. I love the lyrics and melody of this old hymn. It has hints of longing, expectation, mystery, and joy running throughout. And I love the way Crowder captured them all with this recording:

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

So there you have it, my favorite songs of Christmas. Hope you have enjoyed them and hope you have a Merry Christmas! And never lose sight of the Savior who heard our prayer:

“O Come Thou Rod of Jesse, free

Thine own from Satan’s tyranny

From depths of hell thy people save

And give them victory o’er the grave!”


Monday Music: Top 5 Contemporary Christmas songs

It is not that easy to write a Christmas song that will stick around year after year. In fact, it seems like there are many years when no new Christmas songs are recorded that will still be around 10 or 20 years from now. And of course, some will not stick around because they will just not be that popular with the masses, for whatever reason. Yet, there are some great contemporary Christmas songs. Here is my top five:

5. Joseph’s Lullaby (Mercy Me) This is one of my wife’s favorite new Christmas songs, so I included it for her (and because it is a good song). It captures well the mystery of God being a son of Joseph. Listen to it here: Joseph’s Lullaby

4. Breath of Heaven (Sara Groves) This song is similar to the first, the mother of Jesus wrestling with the mystery of the parenting of God. I chose this one over ‘Mary, Did you know’ (another great song) due to this recording by Sara Groves, which I really like: Breath of Heaven

3. Born to Die (Shane and Shane) Shane and Shane released a really good Christmas album called “Glory in the Highest” (it includes great renditions of ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ and ‘Silent Night’).  This song is one that they wrote and included on that album. It captures the weighty truth that the tiny baby in the manger would one day die on a cruel cross for our sins. The story does not end in the stable. And glory be to God it does not end at Calvary either! Listen to it here: Born to Die

2. Labor of Love (Jill Phillips, Andrew Peterson) My favorite Christmas album of all is Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb of God.” It consists of original songs (he does a couple of instrumental covers) that tells the full story of redemption, which begins long before Jesus’ birth. Songs like ‘Passover Us’ and ‘So Long Moses’ do such a great job of telling how the Old Testament points forward to the coming of Christ. The song ‘Matthew’s Begats’ is such a creative (and fun) version of the genealogy. My favorite song on the album is ‘Labor of Love,’ sung by Jill Phillips (another great artist). Like most of the Christmas songs that I enjoy, it has a haunting melody and lyrics that capture the mystery of God being born in the flesh and spending His first night in David’s little town of Bethlehem. We often lose sight of what it would have been like for Mary and Joseph. This song communicates the earthy realness of giving birth to a child in a stable. It’s powerful. “For the girl on the ground in the dark, every beat of her beautiful heart, was a labor of love.” Listen to it here (and go out and buy the album if you do not have it): Labor of Love

1. Adorn (Alli Rogers) Of all the songs on my list, this is probably the one that you have not heard (unless they played it on Christian radio and I never heard it). I am not sure how I stumbled across it. But it is my favorite  Contemporary Christmas song. The Creator of all became a man. What was it like when the Creator of the stars slept under them and the Maker of the earth walked upon it? How powerful was the moment when the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords took His first breath? Rogers writes: “There must of been a million songs written at the very moment you arrived.” I love that line. The chorus asks the simple but profound question: “How could we ever adorn you?”How could we ever give that baby the praise and devotion that He deserves? We are so unworthy of His incarnation and His perfect life and His death upon the cross for our sins. How could we ever adorn Him? Give it a listen here: Adorn

Some great songs here. Hope you enjoy them!


Monday Music: Top 5 secular Christmas songs

(Seems like Ray could have found a better sleigh for the picture!)

The Christmas season is officially upon us (just ask anyone who is working retail). This means Hallmark movies, decorated homes, and Christmas music on the raido (I’m sure Pandora has a few good stations!) If you are like me, then you have a sort of love/hate relationship with Christmas music. I very rarely drive around listening to the station on my dial playing 24 hour Christmas songs because so much of it is soooooo bad (I’m looking at you Paul McCartney and your ‘Wonderful Christmas time’). But even if it is rare, I do love the good stuff.

So in hopes of spreading my love of Christmas music (and not so much the hate), I am going to spend the next few weeks posting about my favorite Christmas songs. I have broken the genre into three categories: secular, religious but not hymns, and hymns. Also, I am limiting my lists to actual recordings, which makes things a bit tricky with the hymns category, so that you can actualy find these songs and add them to your ‘Best Christmas Songs’ playlist on iTunes (if you don’t have one, you should start one with these songs).

Today we begin with my top 5 secular Christmas songs:

5. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (Jack Johnson): To be fair, I chose this one more for the recording than for the song. I like Jack Johnson on occasion and this is a fun version of the silly song about a reindeer (with a surprise ending): Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

4. Carol of the Bells (Glenna Marshall): There is something haunting about the melody of this song. Of course, there are some poor versions of it, but my personal favorite is my wife playing it on the piano combined with ‘What Child is This.’ We recorded this a few years ago for an album that we did for our Church. You can listen and download it for free here: What Child is This/Carol of the Bells.

3. White Christmas (Bing Crosby): I cannot claim to be a huge Bing fan, but I do love hearing this song around Christmas. And truth is, I always want Christmas Day to be covered with snow, unless I am driving through 3 states to get home (which has happened on a couple of occasions). The song and recording is a classic: White Christmas.

2. The Christmas Song (Nat King Cole): There is a reason why this song is near the top of everyone’s favorite Christmas song list. Cole’s voice and simple tickling of the ivories combined with the nice strings makes for a great song. Yes, it is overplayed and yes, it is a bit cliché, but it is still a great recording: The Christmas Song (sorry about the Thomas Kinkadesque video, it was the best one I could find of the song without Frankie singing along).

1. The Spirit of Christmas (Ray Charles): So there is a particular Christmas movie that I enjoy that features this song in one scene that I love (perhaps the only semi-serious scene of the entire movie). And maybe I would not like the song as much without the scene, but as it is, I love this song. Everytime I hear it I am both happy and sad at the same time (a little shout out to ‘Inside Out’ for helping us understand the importance of that mixture of emotions). Great song Mr. Charles: The Spirit of Christmas.

Enjoy these great songs on your Cyber Monday!  More to come!


Monday Music: ‘Skin’ (Vigilantes of Love)

Vigilantes of Love garnered a good following in the Christiam music scene in the 90’s. Their frontman and songwriter, Bill Mallonee, is sort of a combination of Bob Dylan and Tom Petty (with the band being the Heartbreakers I guess). Mallonee is good at turning a phrase and writing honestly about truth and love and Christianity in America. I am not a huge fan of their sound, but they have a few really great songs (‘Resplendent’ off the Audible Sigh album and ‘Double Cure’ which I can’t seem to find anywhere).

One of my favorite songs of theirs is about Vincent Van Gogh (another artitst I really enjoy). The story goes that Vincent was in love with a woman who did not share the same feelings. Thus, Vincent did what any normal man in love would do and hacked off part of his ear, literally. It is an odd story about an odd artist who created some of the best art the world has ever seen. Mallonee saw in it a good idea for a song and wrote ‘Skin.’ It is a song about the difficult labor of love and the fight to persevere through the suffering it often brings. Some of my favorite lines include:

“Now I’d seen him despondent,

a few times as of late

Sometimes the answer that love gives

is the hardest one to take”


“If you’re gonna come around here

and say those sorts of things

you’re gonna take a few on the chin

You talk about sin and redemption, you

better bring your thickest skin.

Sometimes you can’t please everyone,

sometime you can’t please anyone at all

You sew your heart onto your sleeve

and wait for the axe to fall.”

It’s a great song. Give it a listen here:



Monday Music: ‘O Holy Night’ (Seven Day Jesus)

I can’t say that I am quite ready for Christmas music just yet, but I was working in my yard this morning, preparing everything for the winter to come, and Seven Day Jesus’ version of ‘O Holy Night’ came on my iPod. And it was nice. Getting ready for the coming cold and hearing one of my favorite versions of one of my favorite Christmas songs on a beautiful day, well, it was nice. So, here’s to getting ready to get ready for Christmas:

O Holy Night

Seven Day Jesus only had a couple of albums (their first one,  “The Hunger,” was great) and this song was on a compilation Christmas album called “Happy Christmas” (pictured above). You should be able to get it on iTunes if you are putting together your early Christmas playlist. I might post later on what would be on mine, that would be fun.


Monday Music: ‘Jesus I my cross have taken’ (Indelible Grace)

Indelible Grace has been recording and producing good music for many years now. They started with their first album, “Indelible Grace”, and since then have recorded five more studio albums and a live album as well. Their approach is simple: take well-written hymns of old, write new melodies, and get great artists (Sandra McCracken, Matthew Perryman Jones, Andy Osenga, and many others) to sing and play on the recordings. Other groups have joined with them in this labor to recover old hymns for new generations and great music has been the result. They have made all their songs available with chords and sheet music at their website to encourage churches and ministries to enjoy these hymns. It is a great resource for corporate worship. You can find it here: Indelible Grace Hymnbook.

One of my favorite songs of theirs is off their second album “Pilgrim Days” (which is also my favorite album, ‘Thy Mercy’ is another favorite song of mine on that album). The song is ‘Jesus I my cross have taken’ written by Henry Lyte with new music by Bill Moore. You can read the words and learn how to play it here: Words and music. (For my Baptist readers, this song is in the Baptist Hymnal, but the melody is different and they took out some of the verses.) It was recorded by Andy Osenga on the abum, which you can listen to here: Jesus I my cross have taken.

We sang the song in our service yesterday and I was once again struck by the great lyrics:

Go, then, earthly fame and treasure,

Come disaster, scorn and pain

In Thy service, pain is pleasure,

With Thy favor, loss is gain

I have called Thee Abba Father,

I have stayed my heart on Thee

Storms may howl, and clouds may gather;

All must work for good to me.

I love the line: “I have stayed my heart on Thee.” In the midst of life’s difficulties, the great labor and the great joy of the Christian is to find rest and solace in the presence of God. You can stay your heart on Him.

The last verse rings with hope for future glory (I love the way Osenga sings/shouts these lines):

Haste thee on from grace to glory,

Armed by faith, and winged by prayer.

Heaven’s eternal days before thee,

God’s own hand shall guide us there.

Soon shall close thy earthly mission,

Soon shall pass thy pilgrim days,

Hope shall change to glad fruition,

Faith to sight, and prayer to praise.

Again, such great lines. The great hope that our pilgrim days our passing, that heaven’s eternal days are before us, and that God’s own hand shall guide us there. What amazing promises!

So check out the song and the other great music by Indelible Grace. Print off some of the music to play for yourself and to teach to others. May these great hymns be an encouragement to the church for generations to come!


Monday Music: ‘Carbon Ribs-Live’ (John Mark McMillan)

I cannot say that I am a huge fan of the direction that John Mark McMillan took on his latest album “Borderland” and I hear the influnce on his newest release: “Live at the Knight”. But he is a great songwriter (very poetic I think) and his live version of ‘Carbon Ribs’ is great. I really like how he closes by going into ‘Nothing but the blood of Jesus’ at the end. Good stuff. Give it a listen on Spotify here (and if you don’t have Spotify, why not?):