Album Review: Sweet & Lynch – Only To Rise (2015)

Those familiar with the hard rock scene of the Eighties know who Michael Sweet and George Lynch are. I have been a fan of both Stryper and Dokken since I was in junior high and I honestly thought I knew what this album was going to sound like before I ever heard a single track from it. I expected Sweet’s powerful vocals and Lynch’s guitar wizardry. In my head I was anticipating Dokken fronted by Michael Sweet. I should have known better. The last project I heard from Lynch was KXM (featuring Dug Pinick and Ray Luzier) and it sounded nothing like Dokken. Although Sweet has been back with Stryper for over ten years and has deliberately brought back elements of their classic sound, his most recent solo album showed that he is willing to step outside of the box and take some risks. Only To Rise incorporates both sides of each guy and offers a little something for everyone.

Sweet’s powerhouse vocals are present and Lynch delivers some blistering riffs and solos but this isn’t an album that spends all of its time looking back. There are definite elements from both Stryper and Dokken and that is to be expected. I believe the rhythm section of James Lomenzo (White Lion, Pride & Glory, Megadeth) and Brian Tichy (Billy Idol, Pride & Glory, Whitesnake) provide the cement that pulls these songs together. I am currently listening to the album on Spotify (I won’t be able to buy it until next week) so I don’t have any of the liner notes to look at. Without knowing who wrote what, I am able to listen to the songs without expecting them to sound like the guy credited for writing them. After a first listen I can honestly say that it sounds like a real band and not just some guys getting together for kicks and giggles. There are places where you can hear Stryper and Dokken, but for the most part, this album manages to sound modern and relevent without sacrificing the melodic hard rock that the two primary members are known for. Only To Rise is the perfect fusion of everything that is great about their other bands. There are also hints of the Seventies bands that influenced them. Subtle organ and keyboards touches give it a “classic rock” vibe in several places.

Lyrically, it is a step away from both Stryper and Dokken. There aren’t any overtly religious tunes and there aren’t any of the stereotypical “hair metal” cliches either. The songs are introspective and do contain some “spiritual” elements but do not come across as heavy handed or preachy. They do sound like two middle-aged guys who have experienced quite a bit and are looking back on life and asking the same questions we all ask. There is a nice tribute to the events of 9/11 (September) that manages to capture the sentiment most Americans felt without resorting to bumper sticker catchphrases or militant patriotism. At the moment my favorite tracks are Strength In Numbers (which has some cool modern keyboard work) and Me Without You, which is very reminiscent of Dokken’s hit ballad Alone Again.

I know it is only the end of January but this album is already staking a claim for my favorite album of 2015. Given that Stryper is currently working on a new album for release later this year and Jeff Lynne is promising new Electric Light Orchestra songs, that may change. I can safely say that this one will most likely remain in my top three or four regardless of what comes out later this year.

I give it five stars out of five.

Monday Morning Rewind: 1/26/15

January is nearly over and I have not given this the attention that I had planned. I could sit and make all kinds of excuses but the majority of them would be nothing more than that…excuses with no real reasons to back them up. Truthfully, I am not as disciplined as I wish I was. Daily blogging requires a level of commitment that I have always seem to struggle with. I have good intentions and I really do want to write every day but there is always something distracting me or worse…I simply forget.

One of the ways I hope to change that is to write ahead. Whenever I have a free moment (and there are more of those than I care to admit) I want to sit and write something. If I do that every time I am sitting around wasting time I should be able to come up with five or six acceptable blog posts. If I can post with that amount of consistency I will be happy. Honestly, if I can regularly post four days a week (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday) I will feel like I am making progress. I would like to work my way up to six days a week (taking Sunday off) but I need to prove that I can at least be a consistent blogger.

I think that Mondays are going to be dedicated to discussing the sermon I preached on Sunday. If nothing else, it could be a tool for those in the congregation to go back and review what I preach. We have been recording the sermons and I have posted some of them on the church website but we’re still using cassettes (we’re small and have limited resources) and I haven’t been able to get the audio quality to where I would like it to be. That will come though.

I’m thinking that Tuesdays will be for discussing whatever books I am reading at the time. I have some friends who do this and we like to talk about the things we read. This seems as good a place to do that as any. I think Thursdays may be devoted to music and movie reviews (maybe even TV shows). I haven’t really had an idea for Fridays yet. I’m sure something will come to me though.

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Yesterday I preached about the Lord’s Supper. We have been doing a series of sermons explaining some of the basic beliefs that we (as an independent Church of Christ) adhere to. Last week we looked at Baptism and next week (at the request of a newer member) we’ll address Stewardship. These haven’t been sermons so much as they have been short lectures on doctrine. The elders thought it was a good idea when I suggested that we look at the things we teach and explain (from Scripture) why we teach them. I think it’s been good for me as well. I’ve been a part of this “movement” my entire life and sometimes I feel like I’m just going through the motions. We all need to stop an examine our own beliefs from time to time.

Reading Barth

Barth

This book has been sitting on my shelf for three years. I have finally decided to pick it up and read it. If you are unfamiliar with Karl Barth, he was a Swiss theologian who is considered to be one of the great Christian thinkers (if not the greatest) of the twentieth century. His views are sometimes referred to as a “theology of the Word” and stress the fact that God’s relationship to man requires both judgment and grace. This particular book is called Evangelical Theology: An Introduction and is taken from a series of lectures that he presented at the University of Chicago’s Divinity School and Princeton Theological Seminary in 1962. It’s actually a first edition that I picked up when I was managing the Habitat ReStore.

A few select passages that I highlighted during my reading this morning:

“There is no man who does not have his own god or gods as the object of his highest desire and trust, or as the basis of his deepest loyalty and commitment. There is no one who is not to this extent also a theologian. There is, moreover, no religion, no philosophy, no world view that is not dedicated to some such divinity.” (p. 3)

“The God of the Gospel is the God who mercifully dedicates and delivers himself to the life of all men – including their theologies.” (p. 6)

“Just as his oneness consists in the unity of his life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so in relation to the reality distinct from him he is free de jure and de facto to be the God of man. He exists neither next to man nor merely above him, but rather with him, by him and, most important of all, for him. He is man’s God not only as Lord but also as father, brother, friend; and this relationship implies neither a diminution nor in any way a denial, but, instead, a confirmation and display of his divine essence itself.” (p. 11) [emphasis is Barth’s]

“Evangelical theology is concerned with Immanuel, God with us! Having this God for its object, it can be nothing else but the most thankful and happy science.” (p. 12) [emphasis is Barth’s]

“Theology stands and falls with the Word of God, for the Word of God precedes all theological words by creating, arousing, and challenging them.” (p. 17)

all quotations take from:

Barth, K. (1963). Evangelical Theology: Introduction. New York, Chicago, San Francisco: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Just Thinking….

12-weeks

The above photo is what a human looks like in utero at 12 weeks. It’s fascinating to look at. I have three children and I can remember the sense of wonder as I thought about the new life that was growing inside of my wife. There are few things that I call miracles…but I do believe this is one.

So, why the photo? Do my wife and I have exciting news to share? No…sorry. We are quite blessed and happy with the three children that God allowed us to bring into this world. So, again, why the photo? Well…that’s what my grandchild looks like.

I am going to be a grandfather. We’ve known for a couple of weeks now but have not said much about it. It’s Geo and Becca’s right to share the news and tell everyone. They finally made it public so now I can talk freely about it which is great because I was about to explode.

I will turn 45 this year and part of me says, “Dude, you are way too young to be a grandparent.” When you consider that Robin and I have been married almost 24 years it really isn’t that surprising. We have friends who have been grandparents for five or six years already. We actually waited a few years before having kids so the truth is that we could’ve been grandparents at 39 or 40.

While I do wrestle with certain aspects of this…the truth is that I am excited. I am excited for Geo and Becca because they are going to discover what it’s like to be a parent and to love something unconditionally. It wasn’t until a became a father that I really started to understand how much God loved me and how much He wanted me to love Him back. It was pivotal moment in my life and I pray that God moves in Geo and Becca’s lives in a similar way.

So…Um…Yeah

I made a politician mad yesterday. I am not joking and I don’t think that I am exaggerating either. Allen West a popular African-American conservative who says things that I often agree with. He has a Facebook page where he shares and discusses all sorts of things. Like I said…I often agree with him.

Yesterday he posted a story about the massacre of over 2,000 people in Nigeria by Boko Haram, an extremist Islamic group. I had seen several reports about the incident which took place this weekend and I may have even shared the story with a couple of friends. The post Mr. West made had a rather large image of a woman and infant that had been burned alive. It wasn’t a thumbnail and it didn’t have any sort of warning about graphic content. It was just there.

I reported it for displaying violent and disturbing images. I have done this on numerous occasions when I felt something just wasn’t appropriate. To my knowledge this is the first time that any of the posts I reported were actually flagged. Needless to say, Mr. West responded by removing the image (not the story) and proceeded to decry the censorship that conservatives face at the hands of the liberal media.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the comment section EXPLODED with attacks against the godless liberals who cannot handle the truth. Trust me when I say that was the nicest thing that was said. This continued for hundred of comments so I decided to actually respond and say that I reported it and give my reasons for doing so. Surely, most of these folks are educated, reasonable folks who will understand even if they disagree…right?

Boy…was I shocked. I identified myself as a conservative Christian pastor who agreed with Mr. West on many issues. I even agreed that we should tell the world what is going on at the hands of barbarians. I just didn’t feel that that image was appropriate without a warning or an option to not see it. You would have thought I was the one who killed all those people. Instead of attacking some faceless liberal enemy, they turned on me and made it personal. I cannot even repeat some of the things that were said. Honestly…I was shocked.

I eventually deleted my comment and clicked to stop following Mr. West’s posts. I know that there are fringe elements on both sides but after watching some of the responses today I began to understand why so many people think that all conservatives are raving lunatics. I just wonder how they would respond if someone was posting the charred remains of all the people killed at the hands of American forces, whether on purpose or by accident? How would they would feel if someone started posting photos of all the dead U.S. Soldiers killed in action? I don’t know, maybe they would like those too.

I want so much to understand and relate to many of these people because I am sure that there some in my family and my circle of friends who feel the same way. I just don’t know why people are so blood-thirsty and insensitive. Seriously, do you have to show murdered children to get your point across? It leaves me sad and frustrated.

Just Another Friday

Jamie is at home recovering from having her tonsils removed yesterday. She feels crummy but I guess that is to be expected. Robin is at home with her. She had some family sick days that don’t count against her so she used two of them. That made this little adventure so much easier. It also allowed me to come to the office and work this morning.

I am waiting for a young couple to come in for our first pre-marital counseling session. I am officiating their wedding in May so we’re trying to take care of all this stuff early. The bride grew up in this congregation. Her Dad is an elder here and two of her brothers still attend here. This should be a relatively stress-free wedding as far as I’m concerned. Unless they come in here this morning and drop a bomb shell on me, this one will standard fare.

I must confess, I feel awkward asking all of these questions that I’ve complied. Robin and I met with the minister who officiated our wedding once and he didn’t get into any deep issues. If he had pulled out a list like this I probably would have been overwhelmed. I think some of the questions won’t be necessary depending upon other answers so I’ll play it by ear.

It isn’t quite as cold as it was yesterday but it’s still cold. I think the high today is supposed to be around 25 degrees. We did get about an inch of snow overnight. It was snowing when I get up at 3 am to put wood in the fire. It’s tapered off for the moment. I think there is a chance for light flurries for the next couple of days.

I’m listening to All Star United right now. If you’re not familiar with them, they were a Christian band fronted by a game named Ian Eskelin. He started out doing synth-pop (he was in Code Of Ethics briefly) but shifted to guitar-driven power-pop. His songs are incredibly catchy and the lyrics are slightly off-the-wall. He has a slight sarcastic tone and he sometimes uses it to address issues within corporate Christianity.

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My first true pre-martial counseling session went well. I was nervous (don’t know why) but everything went smoothly. Good. I don’t want this couple thinking I’m a dweeb. I’m actually having my first session with another couple on Tuesday. The two weddings are a day apart in May. Should be lots of fun.

Busy

This will be a short post because I have just now gotten home and settled down. Robin and Jamie had to be at the hospital in Elmira, NY (about 35 miles away) at 7:00 this morning. Jamie had her tonsils removed. I got there about 9:00 right before they took her back. We weren’t sure if they were going to keep her overnight. The doctor had mentioned that they might keep her just to be safe. By 2:00 it was obvious that she was doing great and didn’t need to stay.

Sitting in hospitals isn’t fun…even when it is something relatively simple. I have never bought into the concept of “minor” surgery. If a doctor is cutting you…it’s surgery. Period.

Anyways…she’s home…she’s doing good…and she’s eating freeze pops. One of the ladies from church brought a box of 100 assorted ones. I think that may a kid’s version of hitting the Power Ball.

To Blog…Or Not To Blog…Or Something Like That

How do you blog (I really don’t like that word) when you have nothing significant to say? I really do want to write every day and I would like to encourage and inspire those who might happen to read my ramblings. I know that there are four or five people out there who do check this thing out when I update it. I do want it to be worth their time.

Until I figure out some sort of format or structure that works, I’m just going to offer up whatever it is that might be on my mind at the time I sit down and write. I guess that (for the time being) this will function a lot like a journal. I probably won’t be as open or as brutally honest as I would in a private journal, but I’m fairly transparent. There isn’t much that I shy away from.

It is cold outside and there has been snow falling for most of the morning. I’ve spent the last two and half hours going through Revelation chapter 8 in preparation for our 1:00 PM Bible study. With the temperature being as low as it is (10 degrees last time I looked…but probably a little warmer now) and the snow (however light) still falling, I don’t know that we’ll have more than one or two folks show up. That is understandable and doesn’t bother me one bit.

I’m currently listening to PFR’s exceptional 1996 album Them. I always liked them because they had hooks for miles. They were a really good pop-rock band and it’s shame that they only released four albums. There were elements of The Beatles and The Beach Boys in their songs while maintaining a modern (at the time) vibe. They occasionally cranked up the volume and when they did, they were quite capable of rocking out with the best of them. As I have mentioned in other posts, I LOVE vocal harmonies and PFR excelled at those as well.

They (along with Jars of Clay) were not afraid to write songs that broke the typical CCM mold of the day. Their songs did not sound like Michael W. Smith or Steven Curtis Chapman (not that those guys are bad) and their lyrics didn’t sound like them either. They didn’t seem to be afraid to tackle any subject and that was refreshing at the time. Sometimes they got silly (Goldie’s Last Day…in which they lament the loss of a pet) but they often challenged their listeners to look inside and examine their relationships with God. The song Anything is a perfect example of that.

The first verse and chorus go like this:

Nothing I can say
Won’t matter anyway
Just a faint display
With me in the middle
No more empty words
Will anymore be heard
All my rhymes and verbs
Mean very little
Like whispers thrown against the wind
Empty phrases caving in
It doesn’t mean anything without You
Just a nice melody without You
Without Your Spirit to sing
All the hope and the joy that You bring
Without You it doesn’t mean anything

I don’t know how many times in my life I could have sung those words. I have spent more than my fair share of time just going through the motions. Jesus constantly rebuked the Pharisees for displaying an outward holiness while being spiritually dead inside. I have to assume that all of us have been there at some point. Some of us may have been there a little longer but we all understand the struggle to maintain a proper attitude. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13, says that we can do all sorts of incredible things but if we don’t have love, they are useless. It’s just a show.

I wish I could sit here and say that I no longer struggle with that but I do. I am a pastor so I am doing all of these things in public that suggest that I have it all figured out and that I am holy and righteous. The truth is that there are days when I feel dead deep down inside. My brokenness gets the best of me and in spite of all the prayers, lessons, and sermons, I am not feeling it on the inside. Fortunately, grace is there. It covers during those times when my attitude is rotten. It covers me when I take my eyes of Jesus and go off in search of my own desires.

Even when I am just putting on a show, the love and grace of Jesus Christ is working in my life. The Holy Spirit is continually pulling back to where I belong. He is constantly cleaning up the mess inside so that the things I do match the things I say. As PFR sing, without Him, it really doesn’t mean anything. With Him in my life, it means everything.

Happy Tuesday

I am sitting in my office watching the snow fall. It is a very fine powdery snow and although it is extremely cold (last time I checked it was 14 degrees) I don’t think we are expecting any significant accumulation. That’s a forty degree drop since Sunday. I guess Old Man Winter has finally decided to make his presence known.

The furnace in the fellowship hall went out over the weekend so I am hanging out here at the church building while the guy from Williams is working on it. I normally don’t come in on Tuesdays but I will be able to get some things done that I normally don’t get to until Thursday. I also came in for a couple of hours yesterday and did some studying for a new series I’m working on. I am trying to get into a routine and maintain it this year. I didn’t do too bad last year, especially since it was my first year doing this, but I want to be consistent.

I am listening to Kevin Max’s first solo album (courtesy of my buddy Nate down in Louisiana) and it really fits this bitterly cold, white-washed day. Of course, I am sitting in a heated office listening to it but the dreamy nature of the songs fits the mood outside. I have spent one full winter up here but I am still getting used to it. When I look out at the hills (small mountains) and see the snow falling it seems so surreal to me. It is not something I am accustomed to but I love it. Every now I have to stop and remind myself that this isn’t a dream.

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I am now at home. I have a pot of chili cooking so Robin can eat dinner when she gets home. Jamie and I will have spaghetti and Chris will have a burger. I pulled out some records (yes…records) and have been enjoying listening to them while working on various things. So far I have listened to Stryper and Def Leppard, which were constants during my high school years. I almost feel like a teenager again. Almost.

The snow has tapered off but it is still pretty cold. We got just under an inch, which is exactly what was called for. I think we’re supposed to have a couple more days of light snow this week and the temps are supposed to dip below zero tomorrow night. Like I said…Hello Old Man Winter.

I started reading THIS book (also courtesy of my buddy Nate). I love Rich Mullins. I love his music…I love the things he wrote. I love the fact that he understood that we are all broken (sometimes dirty) people but we’re still covered with the grace found through the blood of Christ. For that I am thankful. I really hope there is some sort of Meet-And-Greet in heaven because I would love to hang with Rich (Keith Green too).

Happy Epiphany, Theophany, and Old Christmas.

Happy New Year – 1.5.15

This is my first post of the year and I hope that it will serve as a relaunch of sorts. 2014 saw the most consistent blogging I have ever done but there were still several gaps when I disappeared. Most of November and December were neglected. There were several different reasons (some good…some bad) but I don’t want to make excuses. What I want to do is commit myself to regular (hopefully DAILY) posts. I have yet to figure out a structure or schedule that has proven successful for me so for the mean time I will be winging it.

I believe that I will accomplish more if I just post about the things that are important to me. Sometimes I feel like my posts all have to be super spiritual or theologically deep. I’m a pastor and all of my thoughts should be focused on the Bible and nothing else…right? The truth is that I like TV and movies and music and sports and I like to talk about those things. I have a wife and three kids and Lord willing, I will become a grandfather sometime this fall. I serve a wonderful congregation that continually amazes me. There are so many things on my mind and I have finally decided that it’s okay to talk about all of them…even if they aren’t necessarily about the Bible.

So, after having said all that, I want to briefly discuss a band called The Rembrandts. They were (I don’t think they’re still together) a pop band (for lack of a better word) consisting of Danny Wilde and Phil Solem. I’m not exactly sure how many albums they released but I own their first three. They had several hits during the early Nineties but they are best known as the guys who wrote the theme for the massively popular show Friends. It was expanded and included on their 1995 album L.P.

Although I like heavier rock music, I have always been a fan of melodic pop music as well. My tastes are fairly diverse and range from ABBA to Electric Light Orchestra to Def Leppard to Rush. I especially love songs with tight vocal harmonies. I love The Everly Brothers, The Beach Boys, and The Beatles because they all had impeccable vocals. I love it when groups have multiple singers who trade off and harmonize with one another. The Rembrandts nailed this.

Not only did their songs have instrumental hooks and singable melodies; the two of them sang well together. They didn’t hide the fact that they were influenced by The Fab Four but I think the vocals recall the angelic harmonies of the aforementioned Everly Brothers. The songs are catchy and instantly recognizable even if you have never heard them before.

I think my favorite song of theirs is the doubly titled Moonlight On Mt. Hood/Goodnight. It is mostly acoustic guitar, strings, light percussion and clocks in under two minutes. It is a nearly perfect pop song. The finger-picked intro recalls The Beatles’ Blackbird before launching into the main tune which (not surprisingly) echos The Beatles again. This time they channel We Can Work It Out by way of Phil and Don Everly. The lyrics are simple and sound as if they were penned for a young daughter. I am a musician and a father so this one speaks to me on so many different levels. It just may be one of my favorite songs ever.

So…there it is. I hope to be back tomorrow and share whatever it is that comes to mind. Hopefully you’ll be entertained or amused by my ramblings.

Happy New Year