My Favorite Albums of 2015

something more than free

Something More than Free, Jason Isbell

It isn’t better than Southeastern, but it’s close. “24 Frames” is the definition of cool.

traveller

Traveller, Chris Stapleton

The 1b to Something More than Free’s 1a. It’s the album I’ve listened to the most this year.

Every Open eye

Every Open Eye, CHVRCHES

CHVRCHES took everything that worked on The Bones of What You Believe and made it bigger. The result is fantastic.

cass county

Cass County, Don Henley

Stacked with killer tracks and personnel, and well-worth the fifteen-year wait.

I love you honeybear

I Love You Honeybear, Father John Misty

caracal

Caracal, Disclosure

“Magnets” is one of the top-5 songs of the year for me.

art angels

Art Angels, Grimes

pimp a butterfly

To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar

People will want to kill me for not having it #1. K-Dot still the best rapper alive.

natalie prass

Natalie Prass, Natalie Prass

carrie and lowell

Carrie & Lowell, Sufjan Stevens

Good, not great. Not even close to Sufjan’s best, despite what your friend on Facebook thinks.

on your own love again

On Your Own Love Again, Jessica Pratt

Jessica Pratt is my favorite discovery of 2015.

depression cherry

Depression Cherry, Beach House

Beach House put out two great albums this year, but Depression Cherry is the alpha.

Then came the morning

Then Came the Morning, The Lone Bellow

It’s better produced than 2013’s self-titled The Lone Bellow, but the songs aren’t nearly as good.

the waterfall

The Waterfall, My Morning Jacket

all your favorite bands

All Your Favorite Bands, Dawes

sometimes i sit and think

Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit, Courtney Barnett

in colour

In Colour, Jamie xx

emotion

Emotion, Carly Rae Jepsen

One of the best pop records I’ve ever heard. And I like pop music.

star wars

Star Wars, Wilco

jack u

Skrillex and Diplo Present: Jack Ü, Skrillex and Diplo

if you're reading this

If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, Drake

love is free

Love is Free, Robyn & La Bagatelle Magique

how big how blue how beautiful

How Big How Blue How Beautiful, Florence + The Machine

sound and color

Sound & Color, Alabama Shakes

honeymoon

Honeymoon, Lana Del Rey

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Henley.

Just watched Don Henley’s episode of Austin City Limits, and it was predictably incredible.

I think I have more vivid memories connected to Don Henley songs than any other artist.

Boys of Summer: I’m driving in my old Jeep, windows down, going way too fast on the 130 toll road back before they started policing it, on my way to and from Houston.

All She Wants to Do is Dance: I’m eating biscuits and gravy in a strip mall diner somewhere outside Guadalupe State Park.

New York Minute: I’m at my gate at Sky Harbor before 7 am the morning after a wedding wearing a hoodie and sunglasses indoors like the Unabomber because I’m running on two hours of sleep.

End of the Innocence: I’m in West Texas on a run to Lubbock to play a gig at the Blue Light, staring out the window of the band van at all those windmills.

Heart of the Matter: Well, I’m a million different places all at once.

Monday Must-Read: Gerhard Forde on Sanctification

“Sanctification, if it is to spoken of as something other than justification, is perhaps best defined as the art of getting used to the unconditional justification wrought by the grace of God for Jesus’ sake. It is what happens when we are grasped by the fact that God alone justifies. Is is being made holy, and as such, it is not our work. It is the work of the Spirit who is called Holy. The fact that it is not our work puts the old Adam/Eve (our old self) to death and calls forth a new being in Christ. It is being saved from the sickness unto death and being called to new life…

Sanctification is thus simply the art of getting used to justification. It is not something added to justification. It is not the final defense against a justification too liberally granted. It is the justified life. It is what happens when the old being comes up against the end of its self-justifying and self-gratifying ways, however pious. It is life lived in anticipation of the resurrection.

Talk about sanctification is dangerous. It is too seductive for the old being. What seems to have happened in the tradition is that sanctification has been sharply distinguished from justification, and thus separated out as the part of the “salvationing” we are to do. God alone does the justifying simply by declaring the ungodly to be so, for Jesus’ sake. Most everyone is willing to concede that, at least in some fashion. But, of course, then comes the question: what happens next? Must not the justified live properly? Must not justification be safeguarded so it will not be abused? So sanctification enters the picture supposedly to rescue the good ship Salvation from the shipwreck on the rocks of Grace Alone. Sanctification, it seems, is our part of the bargain… The result of this kind of thinking is generally disastrous.

On the level of human understanding, the problem is we attempt to combine the unconditional grace of God with our notions of continuously existing and acting under the law. In other words, the old being does not come up against its death, but goes on pursuing its projects, perhaps a little more morally or piously, but still on its own. There is no death of the old and thus no hope for a resurrection of the new. The unconditional grace of God is combined with wrong theological anthropology. That is disaster… Justification by faith alone demands that we think in terms of the death of the old subject and the resurrection of a new one, not the continuous existence of the old. Unconditional grace calls forth a new being in Christ. But the old being sees such unconditional grace as dangerous and so protects its continuity by “adding sanctification.” It seeks to stave off the death involved by becoming “moral.” Sanctification thus becomes merely another part of its self-defense against grace.”

(From Forde’s essay on sanctification in “Five Views of Sanctification”)

Law and Grace Between the Hedges

The Georgia Bulldogs came into yesterday’s game with something to prove. After suffering a humiliating loss to Alabama two weeks ago, and losing Heisman candidate running back Nick Chubb to a gruesome knee injury in last week’s loss to Tennessee, Georgia faced a home matchup with the Missouri Tigers, who have won the SEC East two years straight and entered yesterday’s game with the top passing and scoring defense in the conference. Georgia’s hopes of catching up to current SEC East leader Florida rode on the Dawgs’ ability to come away from yesterday’s game with a W.

The game was low-scoring and tight, with both teams failing to reach the endzone. With 5:40 remaining in the game, it fell to Georgia kicker Marshall Morgan to put the Dawgs ahead by making a routine 24-yard field goal.

He sent it wide left.

Four minutes later, with the score tied 6-6, Marshall was given another opportunity to put Georgia ahead, this time with less than two minutes to play.

Before the play, Coach Mark Richt could be seen on the sideline, his arms around Morgan’s helmet, looking him in the eye, speaking intently into his facemask. In his post-game press conference, Coach Richt recounted what he said to his kicker with the game on the line:

Richt:Morgan

“I looked him in the eye and said ‘Look son, I want you to know I love you no matter what happens.’ … I just think student athletes – and maybe people in general – sometimes feel like, ‘When I produce, I’m lovable – I can be loved. But if I don’t produce, I don’t deserve love.”

Marshall Morgan went out and kicked a 34-yard game-winning field goal. Georgia snapped a two-game losing streak. And the Bulldogs got their first win without a touchdown in twenty years.

There’s something I’ve found to be true about people – when confronted with the pressure to meet a standard of perfection, we don’t. We simply can’t. We can’t possibly meet every deadline, check every box, or produce at a high level at all times, and we all live with the constant awareness that we can’t do everything right. It affects every aspect of our lives, from our jobs to our relationships, and the exhortation from bosses, spouses, parents, and pastors to “shape up, try harder, act right, be better” is of no comfort to anybody. In fact, it’s more like a cruel joke.

This is because The Standard of Perfection can’t produce in us what it’s asking of us. As long as there’s scorekeeping involved we will fail, and even well-meaning people who encourage us to work hard to improve plant seeds in our hearts that grow into forests of condemnation. There’s only one solution to our dilemma: we have to unplug the scoreboard. The only way to win is to refuse to play the game.

That’s what grace makes possible. Where The Standard says, “If you produce I will love you, but if you don’t produce we’re not going to get along,” Grace says, “I love you no matter what.” And, as it so happens, the environment of Grace is a greenhouse where growth can actually occur.

If you’re a leader, a boss, a parent, or a pastor, you have to understand this. How you react when your employees, followers, or children fail to meet The Standard is of critical importance. You have to choose now to turn off the scoreboard. You have to choose now to say to your people, “I love you no matter what,” and mean it.

“The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20)

(Picture courtesy of @Dawgs247 on Twitter)

Secret of the Easy Yoke (Pedro the Lion)

I could hear the church bells ringing
They pealed aloud Your praise
The member’s faces were smiling
With their hands out stretched to shake
It’s true they did not move me
My heart was hard and tired
Their perfect fire annoyed me
I could not find You anywhere
Could someone please tell me the story
Of sinners ransomed from the fall?
I still have never seen You
And some days I don’t love You at all
The devoted were wearing bracelets
To remind them why they came
Some concrete motivation
When the abstract could not do the same
But if all that’s left is duty
I’m falling on my sword
At least then I would not serve
An unseen distant Lord
If this is only a test
I hope that I’m passing
‘Cause I’m losing steam
And I still want to trust You
Peace, be still.

The Cure: Lifting the Veil of Shame

Recently I’ve found myself revisiting my highlights and notes on John Lynch’s magnificent book, The Cure – a book I read last year that profoundly transformed my relationship with Christ.

One section has been especially moving to me this week. In a series of bulleted questions, Lynch offers a diagnostic for sorting out whether our relationship with God is one of shame, or one of grace. I hope you find these as helpful, and as encouraging, as I have.

How do I know if my relationship is with the God I see through my shame, or with the God who really is:

Do I measure my closeness with God by how little I’m sinning, or by my trust that, to the exact extent that the Father loves Jesus, the Father loves me?

Do I see myself primarily as a “saved sinner,” or a “saint who still sins”?

When I talk to God, do I spend more time rehearsing my failures or enjoying His presence?

Am I drawn to severe authors and preachers who challenge me to “get serious about sin” or those who encourage me to trust this new identity in me?

Am I drawn to messages telling me I haven’t done enough or those that remind me who I am so that I’m free to live out this life God’s given me?

Do I believe that one day I may achieve being pleasing to God or am I convinced I’m already fully changed and fully pleasing?

Is my hard effort spent preoccupied with sin or in expressing and receiving love from others?

Do I trust [spiritual] disciplines to make me strong or grace to strengthen me?

Do I believe that God is not interested in changing me, because He already has?

Do I read the Bible as “You ought, You should, When will you?” or as “You can, This is who you now are”?

God has shown all of His cards, revealing breathtaking protection. He says, in essence, “What if I tell them who they now are? What if I take away any element of fear? What if I tell them I will always love them? That I love them right now, as much as I love my only Son?

‘What if I tell them there are no logs of past offenses, of how little they pray, or how often they’ve let me down? What if I tell them they are actually righteous right now? What if I tell them I’m crazy about them? What if I tell them that, if I’m their Savior, they’re going to heaven no matter what – it’s a done deal? What if I tell them I actually live in them now, my love, power, and nature at their disposal? What if I tell them they don’t have to put on masks? that they don’t need to pretend we’re close?

‘What if they knew that, when they mess up, I’ll never retaliate? What if they were convinced bad circumstances aren’t my way of evening the score? What if they knew the basis of our friendship isn’t how little they sin, but how much they allow me to love them? What if I tell them they can hurt my heart, but I’ll never hurt theirs? What if I tell them they can open their eyes when they pray and still go to heaven? What if I tell them there is no secret agenda, no trap door? What if I tell them it isn’t about their self-effort, but about allowing me to live my life through them?”

Summer 2015 Reading List

This is my summer reading list. thanks to an Audible subscription and lots of drive-time over the summer I’m making pretty rapid progress, and I love it.

What’s on your list? Which book have you most enjoyed this summer? Would love to hear from you in the comments section below.

Blackout

Blackout, by Sarah Hepola

Conservatarian

The Conservatarian Manifesto, by Charles CW Cooke

Modern Romance

Modern Romance: An Investigation, by Aziz Ansari

How the West Won

How the West Won, by Rodney Stark

the silencing

The Silencing, by Kirsten Powers

free people's suicide

A Free People’s Suicide, by Os Guinness

The Useful Sinner

The Useful Sinner, by J. David Hawkins

My Bright Abyss

My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer, by Christian Wiman

Who will deliver us

Who Will Deliver Us?: The Present Power of the Death of Christ, by Paul FM Zahl

Charis

Charis: God’s Scandalous Grace Toward Us, by Preston Sprinkle