SOng Recommendations

As we spend extra time at home over the next few months, I thought I'd start throwing out song recommendations of tunes that have affected me personally over the years. I write a bit about each song, but, more importantly, you can listen to the song itself by clicking the artwork.

Feel free to reach out at [email protected] if you've got a song you want me to check out or if you love or absolutely hate one of these songs. I'd love to know why!

"Tendons" by Bellarive

Though I grew up going to church, it wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I realized Christians sometimes used electric guitars in worship. I’d never heard of Hillsong, Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, none of that. But suddenly here at James Madison University’s Cru and at the local A29 Church, Aletheia, they were shredding. That was all the motivation I needed to try out for worship teams, start a Christian band, and ultimately become the worship leader for Cru and, eventually, here at Portico. 

That’s probably not the most deeply spiritual reason to get involved with worship, but I’d never connected with Christian music—or indeed God personally—in any major way until I realized he spoke through many forms, including one near and dear to my little music-nerd heart.

This set me down a path of seeking out all sorts of alternative worship bands to deepen my faith and better understand this new facet of Christian creativity I never knew existed. One of my favorite bands from that time was called Bellarive. They have informed a major part of the way I approach electric guitar during worship, and this song in particular remains one of the most affecting pieces I’ve ever heard from a lyrical standpoint.

The spoken word section near the end gets me every single time. It’s raw and honest without sacrificing musical integrity or feeling off-the-cuff or ad libbed. I love how he wrestles with complacency and his struggles to accept “this grace that just falls like rain.” 

The singer references Romans 7:24 “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” And it’d be easy to assume he, and Paul, are merely longing for a separation from their physical body so they can live purely spiritually in communion with God. But I think that’s quickly negated by verses such as Romans 8:11 “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”

The process of sanctification and new creation is often painful, and our bodies may be riddled with disease and sickness, and life can feel like tendons ripping, but I’m encouraged even more so by Romans 8:22-24 “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

So, yes, we can pray and shout for God to burn this bone and tissue, but ultimately this is so they can be repurposed and refashioned into our new redemption bodies which we’ll carry with us through eternity.

Also, you know, the guitar in this song rips.

"Felix Culpa" by Kings Kaleidoscope

Kings Kaleidoscope is the first worship artist whose albums I ever physically purchased. I respect their creativity and musicality as much as any mainstream rock artist. Whether you realize it or not, Portico has started mixing a few of their songs (Grace Alone, Defender, All Glory Be To Christ) into our Sunday mornings as well as taking inspiration from their takes on classic hymns like Come Thou Fount and Before The Throne. My secret hope is to one day have enough classical musicians to pull off big, nasty songs like this. Not every week, of course, but every once in awhile just to celebrate God’s infinite, messy creativity.

Besides the amazing arrangements, I love the lyrical back and forth present throughout the song. The songwriter acknowledges that he is broken, sinful, and in a constant battle with himself and his flesh. And yet, no matter how “bad” he becomes or how many “bodies he’s stacked”, God’s grace is always present, always available. In fact, his stories of sin and pain ultimately become songs of the sweetness of grace. In fact, Felix Culpa essentially translates to fortunate fall and is a theological concept exploring how the Fall of man has essentially brought about a positive outcome in that it ultimately led to Jesus’ Resurrection and our redemption. The song itself more personally explores how our failings lead to beautiful redemption in Christ.

And, yes, once again—the guitar rips.

"Psalm 27 (Who Shall I Fear)" by Bloomfield

Okay, I’m cheating with this one. This is a song I wrote with my wife, Anna, about a year ago. While writing big, fat rock songs has always come easily to me, I’ve been hesitant to write a true worship song. I often struggle to articulate sound theology alongside my emotional responses, and songs come out as either too heady or too trite or too flat-out boring. What can I say that hasn’t already been said a hundred times?

Fortunately, there’s a whole Bible full of truth waiting to be explored. One day I was reading through Psalms and this verse jumped out at me: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” It struck me, because sometimes I feel we as American Christians think so much about the future and Heaven and the New Earth at the expense of the here and now. But here the Psalmist claims if he could only ask for one thing, it’s not to “escape” these present sufferings and blast off to heaven—but rather to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of his life. Right now!

It really spoke to me, and a melody just sort of sprang to mind fully formed, and so I recorded a rough demo on my phone and put it aside. But thanks to all this coronavirus stuff, the song sort of came back to me, and I decided I wanted to share it with you all as a way to remind us that God cares about us right here, right now, and to be with him (again, right now), is what we should seek. Even though the wars rise against us, we can be confident in the Lord who is with us for now as well as forever.

Also, the guitar actually doesn’t rip, for once. So that’s nice.

On a side note, I’ve made this song available for download. You obviously don’t have to give, but I’d ask you to at least consider donating  to Portico’s Mercy Fund. A lot of people are, or will be, in need, and the church is uniquely positioned to help.

"Sugar" by Paper Route

Alright, I’m going to pivot again. I’m going to keep things simple this week by choosing a song that’s meant a great deal to me throughout my life. Paper Route doesn’t consider themselves a Christian band, but they all met at a Christian University and their faith can’t help but come out in their songs. It’s a reminder to me that true creativity and Christian faith do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Now, “Sugar” is ostensibly a love song, but there are several lines that always remind me of how we are to respond to God. “If I am the great sea / you’re what I’m reflecting” reminds me of our call to reflect God, “So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord--who is the Spirit--makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NLT)

“A world in a world / a shell to a pearl / Is how I'll protect you” reminds me of The Parable of the Hidden Treasure and The Parable of the Pearl “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” Matthew 13:44-46 (ESV) Love like this is precious enough to protect.

And beyond the Biblical allusions in the lyrics, the way the music swells with the violins in the bridge gets me every single time. As you might have guessed, this is the song Anna and I danced to at our wedding so… I’m a bit biased.