Zach’s 20 Favorite Songs from 2015

As we near the end of the year, I’d like to take a step back and reflect on some of my favorite things from this year. So let’s do it!

My 20 favorite songs released this year, in no particular order. Couldn’t have more than one song from the same artist, otherwise there’d be multiple Tori Kelly, Dave Barnes and, of course, Bieber.

I Was Made For Loving You – Tori Kelly feat. Ed Sheeran

What Do You Mean? – Justin Bieber

White – Tim Halperin (co-Favorite Music Video of the Year)

Can’t Feel My Face – The Weeknd

This Is Living – Hillsong Young & Free feat. Lecrae

More Like Love – Ben Rector

Where Are U Now – Jack U feat. Justin Bieber

Stitches – Shawn Mendes

Wrapped Up – Olly Murs feat. Travie McCoy

Growing Up (Sloane’s Song) – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feat. Ed Sheeran

Drag Me Down – One Direction

Here We Go – Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors (co-Favorite Music Video of the Year)

Headlights – Dave Barnes

Everything Must Go – Brandon Heath

Centuries – Fall Out Boy

Who You Say I Am – Among the Thirsty

anniversary – Abandon Kansas

All He Says I Am – Aaron Gillespie

How Can It Be – Lauren Daigle

Fly – Derek Minor feat. Colton Dixon

There’s a Spotify playlist to this that you can listen to (minus “Growing Up (Sloane’s Song),”which is available for free right here). Enjoy!

Ben Rector Has It Right. I Just Wanna Look More Like Love.

One of my favorite Ben Rector songs is off his new album Brand New. The song is called “More Like Love.”

It ends like this:

I find the farther that I climb
There’s always another line
Of mountain tops
It’s never going to stop
And the more of anything I do
The thing that always ends up true
Is getting what I want
Will never be enough

So I just wanna look more like love
I just wanna look more like love
This whole world is spinning crazy
I can’t quite keep up
It’s the one thing around here
That we don’t have quite enough of
So I just wanna look a little more
Like love

It’s a beautifully-arranged song, with piano mixing well with strings in the background and Ben’s fantastic voice. But the songwriting is the best here. It’s penned with a heartfelt honesty and vulnerability that’s beginning to populate modern music, and I love that, as (all seven of) you who read this blog regularly will know.

I read Titus this morning as I ate my sausage and egg sandwich before showering and heading to work. One of the themes of Titus is “good works” – that phrase itself or a slight variation is mentioned five times in the text of the letter:

  1. “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works…” (2:7)
  2. “…our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (2:14)
  3. “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work…” (3:1)
  4. “…I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works…” (3:8)
  5. “And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.” (3:14)

Pondering the emphasis on “good works” made me think of my life and the good works that I’m doing. Or am I doing any good works? What does “good works” look like? What’s the basis for my good works?

Sometimes I feel like our “good works” often become our ability to not do bad things. And I don’t think that’s the point of pursuing obedience, of pursuing Christ. Pursuing good works is about intentionally setting our mind to doing good things for other people, to honor God, to serve the world.

And that’s where Ben Rector’s song becomes a good tentpole for our aim. What does love look like?

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

This kind of attitude is at the base of every good work. Against love, there is no law. Pursuing loving others is the highest of callings, and it’s the calling we have as Christians.

It’s being patient and kind with one another. It’s pushing aside pride and boastfulness. It’s putting others first, rejoicing at what is true, bearing, believing, hoping, enduring. It’s echoing Christ’s love of us towards others.

If we pursue those things, we’ll start to look a little more like love.

Sometimes the Devil Sounds a Lot Like Jesus

“Sometimes the devil sounds a lot like Jesus, telling me I’m not enough. And I don’t believe it, no, no, but I can feel it. And I need you so, yes, I need you so.” – Ben Rector

A difficulty I face (among many, many things) is the devil. He’s perhaps the greatest difficulty. He is a tempter. He likes to tell lies to us, to tell us we’re not enough, to get us to doubt God’s love.

I am a chief victim of his lies. So often I doubt the truth of God’s love in my life because all I see is my sin, all I see is the condemnation I deserve.

I pray, for myself and for you who feels the same way, that we not see God this way.

Check out 1 Peter 5:8,

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

The command here is to be sober-minded. The Greek for sober-minded means “to be sober, to abstain from wine.” When someone is drunk or not in a sober state of mind, it’s likely that they don’t have their emotions in check, they’re not thinking straight. Peter challenges his audience (and God’s challenging us) to keep our emotions and our thoughts straight.

Why? Satan’s trying to devour us. Satan is trying to take us away from God, make us forget about all the grace and all the love that God offers us. Satan lies about God’s goodness (check out Genesis 3) and says the pleasures of the world are better.

When we sin, if we’re not focused on grace, we’re probably going to see the condemnation and the guilt that sin provides. Conviction of sin is good, it’s right, it’s biblical. But not seeing grace is missing the whole point of God’s love (I wrote about this recently).

I often implant my thoughts of myself on God’s lips, the devil’s guilt trip as my Father’s words. And what a sad state of affairs that is! I think God hates me, I think God can’t stand the sight of me, I think God has no business dealing with me. The feeling is horrible.

And what greater lie is there? Satan’s biggest goal is not to get people to follow him, it’s to get people to stop following God. I am fully confident of this. He pulls us away from truths in God’s Word, truths like these:

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” – Romans 8:1

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39

“But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” – Psalm 86:15

When we are oblivious to or can’t find truth, we find lies because we need to cling to something. When it seems you can’t find anything to hold onto, cling to Christ! Cling to spiritual truths that promise God’s love and forgiveness for your sins if you come to him with a broken and contrite heart!

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” – Psalm 51:17

Let that grace spur you on to obedience.

I find the final verse to Shane & Shane’s “Embracing Accusation” quite appropriate here to close:

Oh the devil’s singing over me
An age old song
That I am cursed and gone astray
Singing the first verse so conveniently
He’s forgotten the refrain
Jesus saves!

Five Albums You Should ‘Star’ on Spotify/Buy on iTunes: First Edition

I listen to a lot of music, but I’m not about to tell you my music taste is totally refined. You can talk to my brother Addison for that. But in my listening to a lot of different music, I run across some gems every once in a while. Here are five that are going into my ears consistently right now. I’ll post Spotify boxes below the album where applicable. Not all of these are on Spotify.

1. Jess Ray – Jess Ray and the Rag Tag Army – 2010

I was recently introduced to this artist, as in about three days ago recently. I’m hooked. The honest lyricism matched with the sincere reverence and worship of God combined is good enough for me.

jessray“I’m deaf and dumb and blind and lame, with no hope, no way, no chance…Jesus Christ of Nazareth, You’re my only chance!” Ray exclaims in the chorus of “One Name,” one of the better three songs on the album. The second is aptly-titled “Better,” where Ray lists what knowing Christ is better than. It amounts to pretty much everything, which is truth. “Gates” describes the joy of the believer in light of weaknesses – “In my weakness, it’s far more clear. In my failures, it’s far more clear to me just who You to me and what You did to me, to me” – and the longing to see heaven – “And I can’t wait until You walk me through those gates, hallelujah!”

Looking for solid worship with a melodic, indie kick? Check out Jess Ray and the Rag Tag Army.

Get “Jess Ray and the Rag Tag Army” on iTunes

2. Ben Rector – The Walking in Between – 2013

Not often do we find great love songs that are clean with wonderful lyricism and a refreshing approach to the genre. Ben Rector is that, and with his latest output, The Walking in Between, he captures the topic of romantic love in several different ways that are truly refreshing each time.

The highlight for me right now is the upbeat, driving “When I’m With You,” in which Rector describes how he feels when he is with his special someone – “But when I’m with you, I’m no longer wondering. But when I’m with you, I swear I can breathe. But when I’m with you, I know who I am and who I want to be.” Other highlights include the simple “I Like You” (“There’s no need to complicate, dress it up or overstate it, without too much hesitation, here’s the way I feel, I like you”) and “Forever Like That” (“I wanna love you forever I do, I wanna spend all of my day with you, carry your burden and be the wind at your back, I wanna spend my forever, forever like that”). The iTunes version of the album includes an acoustic version of “Forever Like That.” benrector

He also tackles non-love topics, such as “Making Money” and a plea to God (I’m guessing) on “If You Can Hear Me” (“Sometimes the devil sounds a lot like Jesus, telling me I’m not enough. I don’t believe it, no no, but I can feel it. And I need You so, yes, I need You so”).

Like the romantic singer/songwriter-vibe? Check out Ben Rector’s The Walking in Between.

Get “The Walking in Between” on iTunes (No Spotify for Mr. Rector)

3. Dre Murray – Gold Rush: Maybe One Day – 2013

This Christian rapper’s major exposure is little to the common Christian rap fan. Murray appeared on the song “Welcome to H-Town” on Lecrae’s Church Clothes mixtape last year. He’s part of the group W.L.A.K. (which includes Alex Faith, Swoope and Christon Gray) on Collision Records. But after this album, it will be hard to ignore him.

dremurrayThe album follows how a man is trapped in his obsession with material possessions, playing with the motif of Egyptian kings and queens who were buried with their gold and wealth in hopes it would come with them to the afterlife. Highlights “Maybe One Day” (featuring Christon Gray) and “Pharaoh” (featuring Tragic Hero) capture the image of a man who is seeking for the material that will satisfy him. On “Pharoah,” Murray exclaims, “Dear Pharoah with a tomb for your gold, food and drink abound, not an inch for your soul. Your death will soon show that you’re not in control.”

My personal favorites are “Fiend” and “Gold Rush.” On the former, the narrator laments how he has become a “fiend,” a danger to those around him because of his desires, while the latter is a track that captures the theme of the whole album, how the possessions just aren’t worth it in the end.

(Also: Christon Gray shows up four times on the album, which instantly makes it better.)

Like rap that approaches a real topic with some nice production and honest, real lyrics? Check out Gold Rush: Maybe One Day.

Get “Gold Rush: Maybe One Day” on iTunes

4. Still Trill Christians – Kings – 2013

Some dapper young fellas grace the cover of this Christian rap group’s debut Kings. The album is filled with “bangers,” songs that you can drive to, work out to and jam to. The theology isn’t too deep, but the message is clear.

The standout is “No Sex” (featuring Willie “P. Dub” Moore), in which the guys rap about how sex is best saved for marriage, that that approach is the most God-glorifying. It’s a refreshing look at sex as opposed to most of what we hear these days – “We can hit the mall and go shopping while we in it, and you be looking good, baby girl, I must admit it, but I don’t need no sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, because you’re worth more than that, that, that, that, that. Please don’t get me wrong, ‘lil mama, you so fly! But I listen to my Daddy, and that’s the reason why, that I don’t need to sex…”still-trill-christians-kings_n

Trying to just jam? Check out “Bingo,” “Keys & Yams” and “Winner” (feat. Jordan Armstrong. STC also shouts out to the beauty of doing relationships the God-centered way on “Miss You” (featuring Nina Sims) and “Loyalty.” “War” (featuring Mic Tunez) approaches the battle inherent in biblical warfare.

Like some upbeat Christian rap with a few songs refreshingly approaching romantic relationships? Check out Kings.

Get “Kings” on iTunes

5. Christon Gray – Even With Evil With Me – 2011

I mentioned this guy a couple albums ago as being a supporting actor on Dre Murray’s Gold Rush: Maybe One Day. This is his first output as a solo artist, and it’s tight. The guy can sing and rap and glorify Christ while doing both. I can’t tell you which one I enjoy better. To get a hint of both, listen to this album. This is just about all singing, but it’s beautiful.

Even+With+Evil+With+MeThe highlights are the worshipful “Reign” and the title track. The former is a soulful track praising the reign of God over the world and over the life of the singer. The latter is an exclamation of how God still works in the life of the believer, “even with evil with” him – “Now I am trying to be the hero, just to find that I’m the criminal. And I’ve discovered through the course of sin that I’m no good alone. Jesus, oh Jesus, my Jesus, that’s why I love You so. Stories I am not inclined to tell, to say the least I laid my bed in hell. But You were there to catch me when I fell, tossed my sins in seas and fared thee well. Surely, goodness and mercy should always follow and never return void.” Gives me chills.

But perhaps the best is “Isle of You.” It’s a piano-driven love ballad Gray wrote about his wife – “Lord knows I deserve nothing, I’ve got everything, yes I do. Flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone, baby, He knows I’m no good alone. You bring out the best in me, and let me tell ya bout the way you make me feel.” It’s one of those wedding songs.

Like soulful, Gospel-lite Gospel-centered music that will drive you to worship? Check out Even With Evil With Me.

Get Even With Evil With Me on iTunes

——-

If I keep finding more and more awesome music, I might just do this again. That’s a “First Edition” with a hesitancy.