Seeking God's Face
By Darlene Zschech and The Hillsong
Worship Team, Hillsong Music
The church worldwide continues to be blessed by Hillsong Church's anointed praise and worship ministry. The Australian music team's 12th live project, recorded at the Sydney Entertainment Center, includes 12 new cuts as well as two recently released on a Hillsong youth album titled United Live King of Majesty.
Produced by worship leader Darlene Zschech, Blessed is an orchestral confluence of trumpets, violins, violas, cellos and saxophones, wedded with powerful offerings of vocal praise. As with most live Hillsong albums, the first several cuts embody a hyper-charged, joyful, crowd-pleasing texture before things segue into a series of reflective ballads and end with another collection of high-energy praise numbers. The group takes many of the songs beyond the typical five minutes, allowing them to exhibit the depth and richness of what this ministry has to offer.
The opening title cut sets the tone of the project as it encourages worshipers with lyrics such as, "We will go from strength to strength / until we see You face to face." Another beautiful track is "Made Me Glad," with its rising tempo and the lyrics, "You are my shield / my strength / my portion / deliverer / my shelter / strong tower / my very present help in time of need."
"All the Heavens" ascends to a crescendo that completes the project in stirring fashion, with Zschech and company declaring: "Beautiful is our God / The universe will sing / hallelujah to You our King." This is the heart of worship, indeed.
John M. DeMarco
Gospel for All Ages
By Dorinda Clark-Cole, GospoCentric.
There is a little something for everyone on the solo debut of Dorinda Clark-Cole. From the opening "If It Had Not Been for the Lord" to the hidden track, "Need Him," with producer J. Moss, Clark-Cole is high-octane.
Recorded live at Bailey Cathedral in Detroit, Clark-Cole uses a variety of styles to spread her gospel message to all ages. She stays true to her musical roots with the toe-tapping "You Can't Hurry God" and "Nobody Like Jesus," and shows her versatility with the upbeat sound of "I'm Coming Out," a song of praise and perseverance.
Her sisters join her on "Show Me the Way," a tender ballad that showcases the Clark Sisters' unique sound and harmony. "No Not One," with special guest J. Moss and background vocals by Karen Clark Sheard, seamlessly blends the hymn "No Not One" with the Clark Sisters' classic "Angels." "You Don't Have to Leave Here" is a song of inspiration filled with a message of hope and faith.
"It's Not Me" and "You Can," produced by Paul Allen and J. Moss (PAJAM) are two highlights that have an urban-contemporary sound, which Clark-Cole does very well. Dorinda Clark-Cole is a high-energy mixture of traditional and contemporary songs that works well together and showcases her talent and versatility. It should appeal to a broad spectrum of gospel music fans.
Brittney N. Elston
The Art of Translation
By GRITS, Gotee.
It's not every day that a secular hip-hop station finds a Christian rap group they're willing to play. But for a day in August, GRITS' "Here We Go," the opening cut on their latest release, The Art of Translation, was the most requested song on one of Nashville, Tennessee's, top hip-hop stations. And their cut, "Tennessee Bwoys" was generating positive buzz from members of the NFL's Tennessee Titans.
It could be said that Christians who share their faith through hip-hop are gaining ground. But to make that claim without acknowledging GRITS' longtime commitment to musical excellence, the fluidity of their rhymes or the intelligence of their prose would be a great disservice to Teron "Bonafide" Carter and Stacy "Coffee" Jones.
GRITS (Grammatical Revolution in the Spirit) isn't a new kid on the block; they've rounded it a couple of times, earning the respect of mainstream peers. They've shared stages with artists such as LL Cool J, Outkast and Jay-Z, and last year they were panelists at the Rap and Race: Educating Black Minds summit at Fisk University alongside Erykah Badu, MC Lyte, Goodie Mob and Kevin Powell.
In The Art of Translation, the pair keep listeners moving with strong, steady beats and thoughtful lyrics. And though they are firmly committed to spreading the gospel, listeners won't find Scripture laced throughout their songs. Instead they share their worldview--on relationships, for example, in "Be Mine," secular standards of beauty on "Video Girl," and God's grace on "Ooh Aah."
Each GRITS release has outpaced the one before, and this is no exception. It offers an excellent introduction to Christian perspectives for secular rap fans, and could grant GRITS access to even more nontraditional platforms in the future.
Adrienne S. Gaines
A Reflective Poet
All Right Here
By Sara Groves, INO Records.
If you haven't heard of her, Sara Groves is an extremely talented songwriter who isn't afraid to express the thoughts and questions that stir in the back of all our minds. While the music of All Right Here is tender and gentle, much like Groves' vocals, it's the lyrics, with their wit and honesty, that grip the soul.
They reflect on the brutal challenges of life, but respond with hope and a message of God's faithfulness. The natural, organic sound is contagious, running in the vein of a David Gray and Sarah McLachlan. "Fly" takes listeners on a piano-laced walk that explores the unabashed power of love. The whimsical "Just One More Thing" reminds listeners that as busy and hectic as life becomes, life and relationships are the most important things. This extremely well-done, acoustic folk-pop album is a real find.
By James Robison, Tyndale House,
250 pages, hardcover, $22.99.
On the wave of the moral awakening brought on by 9/11, evangelist James Robison, co-host with his wife of the daily TV program Life Today, proposes that America return to the principles that guided its founders to re-create a fair and prosperous nation. Writing in The Absolutes, Robison is talking about ingenuity coupled with compassion for the big payoffs of security and peace. Seasoned with inspiring stories, the absolutes he's referring to may surprise you.
It's an absolute, he says, that greed destroys, that sex is a gift, that strong families make the difference and that character counts. Good government means the freedom to disagree and, through systems like the electoral vote, minorities have a voice. "People matter most," he says, and he's living proof. Robison is a product of rape. Nearly aborted, now a preacher that meets with presidents, his passion to protect all life runs deep. The most effective strategy for the United States and abroad is to target specific needs. His ministry, Life Outreach International, for example, installed heating and cooling systems in Chinese orphanages and feeds 275,000 children in parts of Africa.
His proposed strategy is this: "If we would focus on strengthening everything that is good, raising our standards to conform to the absolutes...if we would pour our time and energy and other resources into positive action that benefits people of every description--we would produce a bumper crop of goodness in our society and the influence of evil would be pushed to the margins where it could easily be controlled."
Change of Heart
Matters of the Heart
By Juanita Bynum, Charisma House,
248 pages, paperback, $13.99.
Well-known for her book No More Sheets, Juanita Bynum takes on a deeper theological subject in Matters of the Heart. Acknowledged as a prophetic minister by many, Bynum uses her strong voice to combat the place of image in the church. She confesses to having dealt with her own heart first on this issue, finding that she placed more value on the accolades of men than on pleasing God.
While confessing she had "accepted Christ" and was "converted" earlier in life, Bynum felt that somewhere along the line she had begun to operate from a "works" orientation, not from the heart. Using scientific studies, she shows the place of the heart in keeping harmony and why the heart must be surrendered to God. Just as God called on Israel to repent and receive a "new heart," so, Bynum believes, Christians who have allowed their hearts to become hardened must receive a new heart.
While Bynum's use of the "new heart" metaphor may be distracting to some, the essence of Matters of the Heart is that many Christians are being controlled by their carnal minds. She asserts that until they receive new hearts infused with God's power and spirit, they cannot be the Christians God wants them to be. Bynum appropriately calls those who have been deceived by the condition of their hearts, particularly spiritual leaders, to truly yield to Christ.
Christine D. Johnson
The New York City Noon Prayer Meeting
By Talbot W. Chambers, Wagner Publications,
135 pages, paperback, $11.95.
Originally published in 1858, The New York City Noon Prayer Meeting recounts the first prayer meetings that helped spawn a revival in New York City. Under the leadership of Jeremiah Lanphier, New York City's Fulton Street Noon Prayer Meetings attracted believers of all denominations and had an impact on cities worldwide.
Lanphier was ministering to the poor and downtrodden in the area when he felt an immense need for more prayer. He asked a few businessmen to join him. What began with seven people grew into tens of thousands gathering for an hour to pray. From 1857-58, conversions, healings and life transformations were reported in the wake of these prayer times.
Interestingly, the site of these meetings was in the exact vicinity of the World Trade Center. Tom Mahairas, who writes the introduction, poses the question, "Does God intend to use this horrific attack [of September 11] to bring revival from the rubble--from the same place He did in 1857?" It's a fair question, and this book will challenge many readers in their prayer lives.
No Ordinary Life
All the Way to Heaven
By Elizabeth Sherrill, Fleming H. Revell (Baker),
208 pages, hardcover, $19.99.
Elizabeth Sherrill and her husband, John, have co-authored a number of best sellers, including God's Smuggler, the story of Brother Andrew's life. They have traveled the world, writing for Guideposts magazine and were co-founders of Chosen Books. The Sherrills were used to writing about people of faith, but it took years of writing for "a religious magazine" before they made their own connection with Jesus.
Elizabeth finally tells her story in All the Way to Heaven, in which she brings to her "ordinary" life a talent for description that should keep readers interested from beginning to end. She reveals her 20 years of psychiatric care for depression, and how a 10-week "experiment" at an Episcopalian church eventually led to her salvation and John's healing of melanoma. She tells what it was like interviewing Martin Luther King Jr., and the fact that her father, a private eye, provided the original stories for Perry Mason.
No ordinary life indeed. The Sherrills are well-known in the world of Christian publishing, but even those who do not know them will find this reflection of their spiritual journey delightful.
Christine D. Johnson
Cloud Ten Releases Left Behind Sequel
Left Behind II: Tribulation Force
By Cloud Ten Pictures, 95 minutes.
As the philosophical battle rages about how a "Christian" film ought to be defined, Cloud Ten Pictures has released a sequel to Left Behind that can easily be described as overtly evangelistic.
Left Behind II: Tribulation Force reassembles journalist Buck Williams (Kirk Cameron), pilot Ray Steele (Brad Johnson), his daughter Chloe (Janaya Stephens) and pastor Bruce Barnes (Clarence Gilyard), who work together as a "tribulation force" to expose the Antichrist's schemes. The plot hinges around Buck's attempt to capture on live television a historic meeting between the world's leading religious scholar and two "witnesses" who ancient prophecies foretold would proclaim the gospel during the tribulation.
Though the production quality cannot compare to most mainstream fare and the story isn't as compelling as, say, Signs, Tribulation Force is not a bad film. Viewers may be surprised to see cameos of Bishop T.D. Jakes and Bob Carlisle, who is featured on the soundtrack.
At press time, Cloud Ten had not determined whether it would follow its previous marketing model, serving up the video version before the theatrical release. Whatever happens, Tribulation Force is an appropriate film for family movie nights at churches. It does not veer from its predecessor, so those who enjoyed Left Behind will likely want to see its sequel.
Adrienne S. Gaines
Theme Parks Battle For Christian Fans
With conservative estimates of at least 50,000 people passing through the gates, Orlando, Florida-based Walt Disney World and Universal Studios once again became Christian music headquarters for one weekend in September, booking more than a dozen of Christian music's top acts for two nights of concerts.
With the economy and music sales down worldwide, and Christian music one of the only genres showing growth (up 18 percent at mid-year sales tallies), the spotlight was on Disney's Night of Joy and Universal's Rock the Universe events to see what the attendance would be.
Not to worry. Disney sold out both nights for the first time in recent years. Although the park declines to name exact figures for its ticket sales, it sold more than 21,000 tickets each night (at $35 each, or about $50 for both nights), according to WJIS-FM deejay Dan Brody.
Artists that included Third Day, Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Jars of Clay, Newsboys, Audio Adrenaline, Jaci Velásquez, Stacie Orrico, Toby Mac, Kirk Franklin, Petra and Mary Mary rocked the parks.
Disney started the tradition 20 years ago with Leon Patillo as headliner and has since seen more than 800,000 fans enjoy the music and attractions after regular park hours. "We have been striving for 20 years to stage an event that showcases the finest contemporary Christian musical talent--and to make our event a stylistically diverse musical 'tapestry' with a broad appeal," said Dave Herbst, senior publicist for Walt Disney World.
Universal got in on the action in 1998 and has taken a harder-edged approach, booking less family-friendly and more teen-oriented acts. "We saw what Disney was doing and we thought we could do something with a bit of a more cutting edge," Skip Sherman, senior vice president of entertainment for Universal Orlando, told the St. Petersburg Times.
In 1984, Amy Grant took the big stage in front of Cinderella's castle and introduced her keyboard player, Michael W. Smith, as someone who was "working on" his own solo album. This year Smith headlined the Saturday concert.
Natalie Nichols Gillespie
When Judith Christie-McAllister began leading worship at West Angeles Church of God in Christ (COGIC) 13 years ago, she says praise and worship did not exist in the African American church as it does today. Congregations had long placed heavy emphasis on "praise service," but worship was rejected at first. In the early days at West Angeles, some members called the songs she learned as a student at Oral Roberts University (ORU) "white man's music"; others called them cultic. Today she says all the churches in the jurisdiction her pastor, Bishop Charles Blake, oversees embrace praise and worship. And non-COGIC churches often invite her to teach on the subject. Featured on Bishop T.D. Jakes' Woman Thou Art Loosed 2002 worship CD and the Saints in Praise series, Christie-McAllister, executive director of music and worship arts at West Angeles, is a leading voice in praise and worship. As she did while at ORU, she has helped many white believers learn the importance of praise, while they have taught her about worship. With the release of her second solo project, Raise the Praise, this month, Christie-McAllister continues to give standards "a little seasoning," and introduces new songs that may become classics. In the meantime, she's enjoying the increased unity she sees in the body of Christ, which she says is God's way of "readying us for heaven."
Adrienne S. Gaines
When Judith Christie-McAllister began leading worship at West Angeles Church of God in Christ (COGIC) 13 years ago, she says praise and worship did not exist in the African American church as it does today. Congregations had long placed heavy emphasis on "praise service," but worship was rejected at first.
In the early days at West Angeles, some members called the songs she learned as a student at Oral Roberts University (ORU) "white man's music"; others called them cultic. Today she says all the churches in the jurisdiction her pastor, Bishop Charles Blake, oversees embrace praise and worship. And non-COGIC churches often invite her to teach on the subject.
Featured on Bishop T.D. Jakes' Woman Thou Art Loosed 2002 worship CD and the Saints in Praise series, Christie-McAllister, executive director of music and worship arts at West Angeles, is a leading voice in praise and worship. As she did while at ORU, she has helped many white believers learn the importance of praise, while they have taught her about worship.
With the release of her second solo project, Raise the Praise, this month, Christie-McAllister continues to give standards "a little seasoning," and introduces new songs that may become classics. In the meantime, she's enjoying the increased unity she sees in the body of Christ, which she says is God's way of "readying us for heaven."