Friday, October 23, 2015

Top 10 Christian Albums of My Last Year

With the past year being so challenging for myself and many others I know and with the heaviness of spiritual warfare increasing as time goes on, I believe it's really important to be continually surrounded by godly music that ultimately glorifies and shares Christ. Now, I don't just mean worship music, because what is that really, I'm also talking about rock, folk, country, pop, metal, and many other styles of music that can still have the goal of honoring Jesus. These are my top ten favorite albums that I have discovered this past year, some of them are newer, some are older, but either way I believe they get that job done.

I did not include "Best of..." CD's because I would have included "7: Best of Stryper" and the "Best of Disciple 2005-2013" and I also didn't include albums that I had listened to in year's past such as "Awake" by Skillet or "To Hell with the Devil" by Stryper, otherwise those would've been high on this list as well. These are merely my discoveries in the past year...

1. Mirror of Souls - Theocracy
One of my best friends introduced me to this one around this time last year, if not a little bit later, during a time where I was overcome with fear. Fear of man, fear of death, fear of Hell, it wasn't looking good for me. But when I heard the titular track ("Mirror of Souls"), I was very encouraged by the good news presented in the 22 minute song. Not only is "Mirror of Souls" one of my favorite pieces of art (the song itself, not just the album), but this album is one of the most solid albums I have heard all the way through. "A Tower of Ashes", "Laying the Demon to Rest", and "Bethlehem" are probably my favorite tracks after the titular track itself and really the whole album is solid. Although I'm not a huge "power-metal" fan, Theocracy has not only grown on me but quickly become one of my favorites in the metal genre as well as the Christian music scene.

2. I Am They - I Am They
Vastly different from power-metal, I Am They takes Jesus' prayer from John 17, where He refers to His disciples as "they", and turns the saving power of the Gospel into catchy and joyful folk rock tunes for the whole family! I Am They is an extremely new band with their first album "I Am They" only having been released earlier this year. These guys can be fast-paced and catchy as in their #1 hit "From the Day" and "We Are Yours" but they can also slow down and just make you think about the words you're singing as in "Here's My Heart" and "Amen". "I Am They" is one of the most encouraging albums I've ever listened to and really helps you to be reassured in what, and who, Truth really is.

3. God - Johnny Cash
One of my personal favorites in all of the music industry, Johnny Cash does it again in "God". I had never heard this album until a few months ago, but these country, gospel, folk, worship, and just good ol' Cash-classics really bring out the good truths of Scripture. "Man in White" (in contrast to Cash's famous "Man in Black") is about Paul's journey to redemption where he meets Jesus on the road to Damascus, "Belshazzar" talks about Belshazzar's role in the Book of Daniel, "My God Is Real" - Cash's proclamation that the Lord is in fact real, and "The Old Account" which describes the transition from being under the Law to being under Grace. However, my favorite and the most powerful track is that of "Redemption" which pains a picture of the blood shed for us on Calvary by Christ Himself. This album is great for fans of hymns, gospel classics, and the Man in Black himself!

4. As the World Bleeds - Theocracy
Another Theocracy album, "As the World Bleeds" is not as good as "Mirror of Souls", but it certainly holds up as some great work by this Spirit-filled group! "I Am" is an 11 minute epic which declares the names, roles, and goodness of God; this is the song that makes this whole album worth a shot! Some other greats on this album include "Light of the World" which convicts believers for not sharing the Gospel, "30 Pieces of Silver", "Hide in the Fairytale", "The Master Storyteller", and "Drown", all powerful additions to the Theocracy library. Check this one out!

5. Attack - Disciple
I literally only discovered Disciple three weeks ago when I was hanging out with a friend of mine who is a big fan of them himself (we're actually potentially going to see them next week!). After listening to the "Best of Disciple" compilation album (which is great by the way, go get it!) I decided to try out their latest album from 2014 entitled "Attack", and boy is it great! "Radical", "The Name", "Unbroken", "Angels and Demons", "Attack", and "Yesterday Is Over" are all incredibly powerful tracks that shake you down the the core in truth. In fact, all twelve songs are worth a couple listens! Disciple is one of those Christian bands that you can just tell live for Christ both on and off the stage, and "Attack" inspires you to be like that too!

6. The Art of Celebration - Rend Collective
One of my favorite bands, Rend Collectives' "The Art of Celebration" has some of my all-time favorite songs, ever. "My Lighthouse" is a fantastic picture of how God will always be there, no matter what doubt, pain, or tribulations you're going through. "More than Conquerors" empowers us to live like Christ and gives us the "Resurrection power" we need to change the world, "Burn Like a Star" is a prayer asking for our hearts to be changed in order to fulfil the Lord's will, and "Joy" is just a simple encouraging song grafted into the hope of Jesus Christ. Rend Collective does it again here with "The Art of Celebration" and continues to be one of the most truthful and energetic Christian, worship, and folk bands out there!

7. Fallen - Stryper
Ah Stryper. You've got to love Stryper. From Michael Sweet's vocals to Oz Fox's guitar, Stryper just loves to "rock out for Jesus" and it's great! Having only released "No More Hell to Pay" two years or so ago, "Fallen" picks up right where this classic rock/metal group left off. "Yahweh" declares the glory of God and Jesus Christ through a powerful opening act that will blow you away, "Fallen" continues that tradition when talking about Satan's fall as well as that of humanity, "Pride" is all about our own sinful-pride, "Big Screen Lies" discusses the lies that Hollywood and the mainstream media puts out about Christians, and then you've got some other great songs like "After Forever", "King of Kings", "Let There Be Light", "The Calling", and "Heaven". "Fallen" is a great album that takes Stryper back to their glory days of "Soldiers Under Command" and "To Hell with the Devil". Plus, isn't that album cover super-cool!

8. of Beauty and Rage - RED
RED has always kinda tread the line when it comes to being a Christian band, but I believe that "of Beauty and Rage" should solidify their stance as being a believing band (if it wasn't already with "Release the Panic"...). This album has great tracks that really make you feel their words, such as "Darkest Part", "Of These Chains", and "Yours Again" (which is especially powerful and probably my favorite track). "Falling Sky", "The Ever", "Part That's Holding On" and "Shadow and Soul" stand out as great songs here as well. RED continues to deliver and improve each album! This is also one of the few albums on the list that actually came out this year after "I Am They" and "Fallen". 

9. Restart - Newsboys
At the end of my first semester in college, about a year ago, I really got into Newsboys. I really love the group now that Michael Tait is the lead singer (did not like that other guy's voice...) and I really do believe that their music is extremely beneficial to believers. For those struggling with faith, I recommend my favorite song on this album, "We Believe". It's essentially the "Christian manifesto" in terms of what the basic beliefs of believers are. "That's How You Change The World" is an encouragement that every little thing, little prayer, little action, matters. "Live with Abandon" is a prayer, declaring your desire to live for Christ alone. And "Fishers of Men" and "Restart" challenge you to to change your life for Christ and allow Him to flow through you.

10. Extremist/Extremist (Deluxe Edition) - Demon Hunter
Probably the most "sketchy" band I listen to. Demon Hunter is like hard core metal (a lot of "screamo"-type stuff, but I don't listen to those songs generally) and my buddy and I continue to wonder "is this even Christian?" Well, they are, and they're reaching a crowd that neither Newsboys or I Am They could ever reach through music. "Extremist" goes all out on this album. With their usual heavy music aside, tracks like "Last One Alive", "I Will Fail You", and "Hell Don't Need Me" are all songs that relate to the mentality of a believer with "Heart of a Graveyard" (probably my favorite one on this album) begging people not to put their hope in death, that there is something afterwards. "Artificial Light" is also a cool one. 

Honorable Mentions:
As Family We Go - Rend Collective
No More Hell to Pay - Stryper
Lead Us Back - Third Day
God's Not Dead - Newsboys
Time's End - Saint

Well, these are the songs and albums that have really been an encouragement to me the past year, I hope they all help you all to grow in Christ. I really believe that the music we listen to both helps reflect and shape who we are, and as believers we need to be intentionally listening to music that glorifies God. I find that when I'm out on my own, I'm generally listening to Christian music, whether something on this list or not, but when I'm around others I'm tempted not to because of "peer pressure". We need to remember who we live our lives for and that it's a 24/7 commitment. There are no breaks, no pauses, and no surrenders, we are His and He is ours. Live for the glory of Christ and continue to represent Him and obey Him daily!


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Biblical look at Angel - The Old Man vs the New

For those who don't know, Angel is a character from Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series from the mid-nineties who, due to his popularity, was given his own five season series cleverly entitled Angel. Angel, born human in 1727 in Ireland as Liam, was sired by the vampire Darla and became Angelus. For over 100 years, Angelus worked his way across Europe, eventually becoming one of the biggest mass-murderers in the world until 1898 when a gypsy's curse returned his soul. After that, Angelus renamed himself Angel and driven by his soul he turned from a life of pure evil and death to one of "helping the helpless" where he would try to preserve life at all costs.

Disclaimer: Before people go all off on this article and freak out, I want to make a few things clear... 

  1. Scripture is very clear that vampirism is wrong (Leviticus 17:10-14) and I in no way am going to condone or support vampires, vampirism, and/or that Christians and vampires (or just demons for that matter) are the same. 
  2. The comparisons here are made simply based on my experiences watching the character of Angel on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, nothing more or less. 
  3. I am in no way saying that either show mentioned above is good in a spiritual sense or even that I condone the actions that take place on the show (besides killing demons I don't condone much of the character's actions actually), but after watching the characters of Angel and Angelus for a while I have come to see him in a different light than I did before through the lens of Scripture (oddly enough), hence this article.
  4. The essential reason I'm writing this article is to give fans of these shows, believers or not, the chance to understand the regenerative nature of the Christian life from a perspective that makes sense to them.
All this to say, although there ARE similarities between Angel and a born again follower of Jesus Christ, they are NOT the same thing! On that note, let's look at how Angel and Angelus are able to represent the New and Old Man that we are made aware of in Romans 6:6 and Colossians 3:9-11...

"We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin." - Romans 6:6 (ESV)
From what the Book of Romans tells us, we can assume that once we become born-again believers, we are in fact a whole new creation, a whole new person! As we can know from various passages of Scripture throughout the New Testament, Christians are supposed to continually be conformed to the image of Christ, to be "little Christs" as the actual word itself means.

So how does this relate to the character of Angel?

Well, it does in a few ways actually,...

As you read up above, Angel was once Angelus, a vampire/demon without a soul whose soul-purpose (ha ha...) was to "rape, pillage, and plunder". This is symbolic for us as Christians because before-Christ (B.C.), we actually were enemies of God (Romans 5:10)! But with a soul, Angel's life changed forever, just like ours is changed as believers! Here's how:

  1. "Helping the Helpless" - Angel's tagline for his solo-series, Angel, was "helping the helpless". As time went on, Angel looked out for the little guy. He didn't let evil demons, or evil men, determine what happened to others! In fact, he willingly went out and saved lives on a daily (or in his case, nightly) basis. As Angel continued on, he helped save the world many times, even saving Fred from a Hell-dimension (an allegory for him saving someone from Hell?). As we see by the fruits of the Spirit in Scripture (Galatians 5:22-23), we are to exhibit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Throughout Buffy and Angel, the vampire with the soul often shows us these traits in his life. His love for his friends and family (and Buffy), peace when he is alone, kindness and goodness by saving people daily, faithfulness by (over-all) staying true to his mission and convictions, and self-control by often resisting the urge to turn back into his former self, usually through drinking blood.
  2. "Saving Souls" - Angel not only saves people physically though, he usually is out to save the souls of people as well, in terms of making them into "good people". Now, for Christians, we are working to lead people to Christ who will LITERALLY save their soul, but for Angel, he saves their souls in terms of redemption, much like his story. In the first season of his solo-outing, Angel works hard to show anti-Buffy, the Slayer named Faith, that her soul, no matter all the atrocities she's committed, he continues to love her and fight for her soul. He eventually helps Faith turn her life around and she goes off to save the world! But not just faith, there are others too, like Doyle, Gunn, Wesley to an extent, Connor, and even Darla who he fights for, not because he has to, but because that is who he is. I sometimes wonder why I don't have the same persistence and conviction about sharing the Gospel that Angel did with bringing people to redemption.
  3. "The Powers that Be" - In the Buffyverse, there are two different entities that represent good and evil. The Old Ones are the rulers of the Hell-dimensions, they are the original demons & are evil. However, on the Heaven-dimension side of things, we have the Powers that Be. Now, obviously these Powers aren't God, but in the Buffyverse they're the closest we've got. Angel is commissioned by the Powers to fight the evil, demonic forces threatening Earth, and they often give him help in the form of messengers (Cordelia). In Scripture, before Jesus ascends back into Heaven, He commissions His disciples, and in turn all Christians, to "go and make disciples among all nations" (Matthew 28:16-20). This is obviously different than Angel's mission from the Powers, but I think it's easy to see the connection between the two when looking at it from the perspective of the Powers commissioning Angel to go and help save souls like the Lord tells us to do as well.
  4. "Angelus" - We all have our dark side. The "Old Man", the sin nature, that creeps out from time to time to wreck havoc on our lives and our mission for God. For Angel, that "sin nature" is Angelus. When Angel loses his soul (which has happened twice in the Buffyverse officially, though unofficially a few more), he becomes the demon he was before he was "redeemed". He goes back to murder, kidnapping, siring, blood drinking, and many other things, usually including arson. Angel knows that Angelus is always lurking beneath his psyche, waiting to get free, and when he does he usually breaks whatever Angel has built. In the lives of Christians, how many times to we see this too? A loss of self-control means that a pastor could end up having extra-marital relations, or when we find ourselves in an "impossible" situation and lie, thinking it'll help but it only destroys any trust left in the situation. We see this all the time, whether in our own lives or others.
"Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in the knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all." - Colossians 3:9-11 (ESV)
Now I want everyone to remember that vampirism is wrong, and the drinking of blood is a sin like any other sin. But Angel being a vampire aside, I think for fans of Buffy or Angel, or really any TV series or film, it's important to look at the characters and situation of the show(s) in the context of a biblical worldview to see how we apply whatever we're watching to our Christian life. Obviously there are times where that's hard and even impossible, but I believe that we should all be striving for the goal that is Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12).