Empires by Hillsong United + Giveaway

Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of Empires from Family Christian for review purposes.  All opinions shared my own, and I clearly loved the CD seeing as I bought a copy to give away.

{I wrote this review over the summer some time but out of insecurity never posted it. I feared it was too long and detailed.  As time passed it seemed as if the moment had as well.  Since the CD was no longer on anyone’s radar why post the review?  Now that “Say the Word” was just released as a single, I decided to shed my insecurity and share my thoughts on this beautiful piece of art.}

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Oh. My.  This album is incredible.  It’s not the kind of worship CD you pop into your car’s stereo system and get your praise on to, though.  It’s the kind of worship album you need to listen to when you can steal away some time to be still and glorify the Lord.  If I had only one word to describe this project it would be ethereal {extremely delicate and light in a way that seems too perfect for this world}. Even when the music and vocals build and the percussion is more up tempo, they build so organically and fall so effortlessly that it seems like the natural ebb and flow to each song.

It took me multiple naptimes – my sons’, not my own – to listen to all of the songs, as several of them are over five minutes in length.  While percussion strings the songs together musically, the Gospel message does so lyrically.

As I listened to the songs I jotted down things down, including lyrics, that stirred my soul.  Here is a synopsis of each song and a lyric from each that really struck me.

1 – HERE NOW (MADNESS) is pure adoration.  It speaks of the closeness of God.  It’s an invitation asking God to speak, to move, and to have His way.  The song shares the Gospel message of grace, redemption, and Holy Spirit led living.

“Grace found my heart where logic ends”

2 – SAY THE WORD celebrates the power, majesty, and character of God.  To me it’s a reminder of just how important it is to read God’s Word.  How else can I get to know Him if I don’t read His Word?  Sermons are great but that’s second hand knowledge.  To get fresh manna I need to seek Him for myself.  Amen?

“My soul will hang on to every word You say”

3 – HEART LIKE HEAVEN is a beautiful reminder that perfection is unattainable and imperfection is okay because God wants our busted hearts, not perfection.  Jesus came for the sinners, not the righteous.

“Face down where mercy finds me first”

4 – TOUCH THE SKY is the first single off of Empires.  It speaks to the reality of how upside down God’s kingdom is.  So often we find ourselves exhausted from striving in this life.  But throughout His word God tells us that not only can we do nothing apart from Him, but His power is made perfect in our weakness. {The cover art work speaks directly to the upside down nature of God’s kingdom.}

“I found my life when I laid it down.  I touch the sky when my knees hit the ground.”

5 – STREET CALLED MERCY reminds me of 1960’s American folk music because of the beautiful opening harmony.  The lyrics call up images of the prodigal son returning to his father’s open arms, Moses proclaiming that he will not go on without the Lord, and the psalmist proclaiming his loyalty and devotion to God.

“Tired of endless walking not knowing which way to go, I collapse on a street called Mercy.”

6 – WHEN I LOST MY HEART TO YOU (HALLELUJAH) is the most straight forward worship song on the album.  You know, the kind that gives you permission to lift your hands up in abandon and let’s you sing along even if you don’t really know the words.

It has the most simple chorus “You have my heart…hallelujah” and again speaks of God’s upside down kingdom “I found Your love when I lost my heart to You.”

7 – EVEN WHEN IT HURTS (PRAISE SONG) is not your typical song of praise, as it lists “even when” circumstances and situations which remind me of Paul’s teachings on contentment and John’s teachings regarding trials.  This song touches on the same issues raised in other contemporary Christian songs, but stresses that our hallelujah can be in tact even when our spirits are broken.

“Louder then I’ll sing Your praise”

8 – PRINCE OF PEACE is a beautiful declaration that God is still God in spite of all of the things in this life that invite fear and anxiety.  As Lysa Terkuerst says, “He is still God, He is good, and He is good at being God.”  Amen!

“Your love surrounds me when my thoughts wage war”

9 – EMPIRES is a beautiful portrait of salvation, sanctification, and eternity with God.  I’m so grateful that God has gifted people with the ability to share such deeply spiritual subject matter in music.

“We are shadows and portraits, empires of light and clay, images of our Maker.  Sinners called out as saints.”

10 – RULE  is a call to Christ to be exactly who He says He is.  It’s like praying the Scriptures back to God, but in song.  It reminds me of the words of the Psalmist – set to a very danceable beat.

“Hope came dancing on an empty grave.  Death has lost its rule to the King of grace.”

11 – CAPTAIN speaks to walking by faith and not by sight.  It’s also a beautiful reminder that when we walk by faith we are not walking blindly, since we have a faithful Guide.

“Lost in the shallows amidst fear and fog Your truth is the compass that points me back north.”

12 – CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW is by far my favorite song on this album.  It’s also the longest song on the album, at over nine minutes long.  But it’s worth every second of your time, I promise.  It reads like a beautiful love letter.  The first half is written from Christ’s perspective, calling us to not lose faith and reminding us of all He has done and continues to do out of His great love for us.  The second half is written from a believer’s perspective, acknowledging Whose we are and who we are in Him.  If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to have a tissue handy.

“For I’m Yours and You are mine and my soul knows well, You are here.”

If you haven’t already purchased Empires, you can buy your own copy here or click on this link below for a chance to win a free copy!

2/07/16 Update – the raffle is now closed.

Wicked Women Of The Bible

I would like to thank Family Christian for sending me an advance copy of this book  in exchange for sharing my honest opinion.  “Wicked Women of the Bible” is available for pre-order now at Family Christian and will be available in stores on September 22nd.

Wicked Women of the Bible

I was instantly intrigued when I read the title of this book.  I’ve always wanted to know more about women like Jezebel and Delilah.  I was so excited when I go the book that book I opened it to a random chapter, “A Wicked Woman of the Night: The Story of Rahab”, and started reading.  I was not entirely surprised to see that Rahab had made her way into the book.  She was an innkeeper and as such it’s presumed that she ran a brothel and perhaps was a prostitute herself.  So how did a woman of the night make her way into the Hall of Faith (Hebrews 11)?  Because she chose to help Jewish spies and trust that their God would spare her and her family.  I enjoyed the way in which author Ann Spangler shared Rahab’s story so much that I kept reading.  I was much more surprised to see that Deborah was the protagonist of the next chapter.  How is it that a judge, prophetess, and mighty warrior made her way into a book about wicked women?

A little bewildered, I decided to flip to the beginning of the book and read the introduction. Within the pages of the intro she shares that wanted to keep with the oral tradition of the Bible and do her “best to reimagine the stories of some of the Bible’s most fascinating women in order to bring them to life for contemporary readers”.  In my opinion, she nailed it.  She doesn’t contradict or stray from the Bible like so many biblically inspired movies do.  She fleshes out each of the women in such a way that I can identify with all of them, even the “wicked bad” women.  Through her writing style, be it in the main story or in the Takeaway section that follows, she prompts me to wonder about their insecurities and fears.  I start to question their motives and wonder how their story would have turned out if they allowed God to lead them.  As for women such as Deborah and Esther, they were included in the book because Spangler’s “aim has not been simply to highlight the stories of some of the Bible’s worst women but also to explore the stories of those who might be considered ‘wicked good’ or ‘wicked smart’.”

The timing of receiving this advanced copy could not have been more perfect.  For the past several months I’ve been feeling underqualified, not good enough to do the work I feel God is calling me to do.  Reading the stories within “Wicked Women of the Bible” has reminded me not only of God’s character, but that He can use anyone in His story.  If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about the women of the Bible, or wondered how God could use someone like you, this book is for you.

I just read this on the “Wicked Women of the Bible” site: Pre-order Wicked Women of the Bible before September 22, 2015 and receive a free copy of Wicked Men of the Bible. This 40-page ebook includes the stories of Cain and Jonah. Simply email a copy of your receipt to admin@annspangler.com. Once we receive your email, we’ll email you back the PDF of Wicked Men of the Bible and you can begin your wicked study right away!

10/06 Update: I am attempting to offer the first giveaway on this blog using an autogenerated giveaway widget.  I’m hoping it works.

Well, from what I can tell you need to click on this link: a Rafflecopter giveaway

10/12 Update: The giveaway is closed and the winner is Helene!

Noah’s Ark – New VeggieTales Movie

In February, Family Christian sent me an advance copy of the latest VeggieTales release, Noah’s Ark, in exchange for a review.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get my review out before it was released.  {The twins had ear infections (first Michael and then Andrew) and then pinkeye (first Andrew and then Michael).  The joy and reality of motherhood.}
veggietales-noahs-arkMy oldest and I used the movie as one of our Mommy-Son dates.  The first thing we both noticed was that the opening credits are different.  Same song, but instead of the whole VeggieTale crew, it’s just Bob and Larry.  Also, the animation is different – looks a little more computer generated.  We felt pretty cool when Bob and Larry alluded to the changes in the opening scene.

The singing within the movie was different, too.  More polished than it normally is.  Not to say the singing hasn’t sounded professional in the past, but this was a little too “produced”.  Maybe I wouldn’t have paid much attention, but with the animation and opening credit changes…it was just a lot of change to take in at once.  My son didn’t mind at all, though.

Although the story presented a good lesson in trusting God, the movie strayed from the Bible in many ways.  Maybe my expectations were too high, since this is the first Bible based release from Big Idea in several years.  I figured that they’re so good at weaving themes of repentance and redemption into their movies that Noah’s Ark would have been a no-brainer.  I know that it’s a kid’s movie, but I really felt that the creators got a little trigger happy when it came to taking creative licenses in the retelling of the story of Noah.

My son liked the movie – changes in production and all – but I still have mixed feelings about it.  Have you seen it yet?  If so, what are your thoughts about the story and changes?

From Good To Grace

Christine Hoover’s latest book is an invitation to have a daily reprieve from an addiction to goodness.

I received a copy of this book as a Family Christian Blogger.  The opinions expressed in this review are my own and not influenced by Family Christian or anyone else.

Years ago, while reading Lysa Terkeurst’s Becoming More Than A Good Bible Study Girl, I received such freedom from God that I thought “Whew, I’m so glad I learned all of those powerful Biblical truths!”  I truly believed that I was cured from the need to be good in the eyes of others.  But in the years since then I find myself continuously surrendering my desire to please others, just to pick it back up.  And then surrender it again.  It’s exhausting.

I know that’s why I connected with the cover of Christine Hoover’s latest book From Good to Grace: Letting Go of The Goodness Gospel.  It shows a woman (probably a mom) sitting in a laundry basket as she thumbs through a book.  I can totally identify with her – too tired to find a “proper” place to recline and read.  Like her, I have to steal away moments to read.  And I’ve loved every moment I’ve spent reading this book.

Godo to Grace 2

She had me at “Good, Bye”

Yes, that’s totally a reference to “Jerry Maguire”.  High five for those of you who got it.  And for those of you who didn’t, you can look it up later.  The book is split up into three sections, each covering three chapters (the math teacher in me was tickled by the symmetry of that).  I’ve only gotten through the first section which is titled Good, Bye (hence the heading above).  Although I’m only three chapters into the book I know that Christine wrote this book just for me.

Sure, I know it’s her story, but it’s just as much mine as it is hers.  She talks of her obsession with being good – trying to win the approval of others and God. My heart winced as I let her words sink in that the gospel isn’t just for salvation; it’s for everyday life.  Too often I wave the banner of God’s power and tout what He’s done, totally neglecting what He is still doing in my life.  I accept that salvation is by faith alone, but somehow expect sanctification to be a different story. Thinking and acting as if I need to go it alone.

The goodness gospel that Christine describes is all about caring more what others think of us than what God does. She writes about putting chains on ourselves and I can most certainly relate.  I take the chains of bondage that Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection freed me from and I wear them like jewelry.  They weigh me down and I remain stuck for fear that whatever I share will be judged, or the presentation of my thoughts won’t be witty or compelling enough.  I question and doubt not only my ability to write, but my calling to be in this arena, or any other for that matter.

Christine spoke directly to my heart when she confessed “Unfortunately for me, a large part of a goodness obsession is an addiction to self.  Goodness is evaluated by activity, completed tasks, responses from others, and results.  It requires a focus on appearance and image and maintaining some semblance of religious behavior […] Goodness fed both my pride and my self-condemnation”  Oh how I wish that I could just create the perfect checklist and be better once I’ve completed all those tasks.

Alas, I know that isn’t possible.  What’s more, I know that isn’t what God wants from me.  Or you.  As Christine succinctly puts it, “He simply wants us to follow him, receive him, submit to him, and […] let what we receive from him compel us outward to serve and love others.”

I’m looking forward to reading the rest of From Good to Grace.  I smile just thinking about stealing away moments to read it.  I must confess that I almost added it to my daily checklist.  I decided not to.  I decided instead to let it remain a “get to” rather than a “have to”.  I highly recommend this book if you, like me, struggle with a goodness addiction.