Review of olivar’s “it’s ok to be honest”

Nashville based rock group, olivar, made up of Cole Maness and Parker Deal, released their debut EP “it’s ok to be honest” this past week.  As a lifelong friend of Cole’s, I quickly downloaded the album and gave it a listen.  Rather than just casual listening, though, “it’s ok to be honest” stirred me to honest contemplation.  From start to finish, this brief EP shows the strength of olivar, both musically and lyrically.  Each individual track combines well into a cohesive picture of reality, undergirded by strong message of hope.

The EP begins with “daybreak”, a bright song carried along by a pulsing drum beat.  This track sets the tone that is carried on throughout the EP.  The chorus rings out, “oh, to see the rising tide, a mountain upon us and smile” which touches something of resilience in the face of adversity.  The song ends musically with a really nice break down and build up, creating a nice launching pad for the next track “embers”.

In contrast to fast breaking drums of “daybreak”, the next track “embers” begins with slow, methodical guitar that matches well with Cole’s reverberated vocals.  The synchronization of guitar and vocals creates a haunting sense of retrospections.  The lyrics, “looking for some direction/ looking for neon signs/ in the woods, in the pines/ anything but a reflection” capture well the common human bond of longing.  The song seeks to impart the subtle truth that this relentless longing comes from the exilic nature of mankind as seen in the lyrics, “all the earth seems to be/ is a lesson in belief/ not a place to call home.”  In spite of this, there remains a thread of hope seasoned throughout.

This brings us to the title track, “to be honest”.  Carrying the tone of a confession, olivar takes a shot at transparency.  Though full of fears and faults, the lyrics suggest a sort of cleansing: “With a pen an inch from the page/I retract the anchor from all my mistakes”.  This track is quickly becoming one of my favorites.  The obscurity of the lyrics helps the listener relate them to his or herself with ease, making the song have a more personal feel.  The tone reminds me of Relient K’s “Forget and Not Slow Down” album and would fit in well with it.  Musically the drums and the guitar play off each other to create a track that is both somber and hopefully, and overall enjoyable.

The EP continues with the simplistic (and I mean that positively) track “86”.  The bass guitar really is featured nicely, especially paired with the drums.  The song consists of two lines, “knock it all over/watch it fall into place”, showing once again the ambivalence that presents itself throughout this EP.   This is where chaos and peace meet.  In spite of adversity, there is an ultimate hope.

The EP concludes with the track “blood moon”.  This track includes two symmetrical verses that highlight this same longing that has followed us throughout the EP.  This track is lyrically interesting, but it’s really the musicality of olivar that shines on “blood moon”.  The bridge begins what seems to be a symphony of chaos.  Although the guitar is relatively consistent, the drums continue to become more and more erratic as the song builds.  This is all undergirded with subtle shouts of “blood moon” behind it all that ties the climb together nicely.  Yet, we aren’t left here.  When we reach the climax and the chords begin to fade away, we are presented a much welcomed reprise of “embers”.  The added banjo with the acoustic guitar really solidifies this transition, as the song and the EP come to a masterful end.

Just as the title of the EP suggests, olivar seeks above all to make honest music.  Sometimes it’s raw, sometimes it’s uncomfortable, but it’s always undergirded with an unshakeable hopefulness.  Beginning with “daybreak” and ending with “blood moon”, the listener is brought full circle.  The strength of this EP is its cohesiveness.  Each track fits perfectly and adds to the overall theme.  Overall I would give this EP a solid 4 out of 5 stars.  No track really sets itself above any of the others as the highlight of the EP, but taken together as a complete picture, olivar has created a strong first attempt that leaves the listener seeking more.

Download “it’s ok to be honest” here:

Christian, Uncategorized

Maybe Scrooge Was Right?

Few characters in Christmas literature personify the antithesis of the season like Ebenezer Scrooge.  Penned in 1843, Charles Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol” has been told and retold.  It has become a fixture of the season.   So ingrained in our culture, is this story, that everyone knows the name “Scrooge” and the negative connotation that accompanies it.  But what if, instead of just a cranky old miser, Ol’ Ebenezer Scrooge was more of a rather observant social commentator?  In order to defend my rather peculiar thesis, let me set forth the particular meaning of Scrooge’s famous catch-phrase as exhibit number one.  At the beginning of the tale, the infamous old miser, when told, “Merry Christmas” vehemently replies, “Bah! Humbug!”  Now, I am quite sure that even though this phrase has found its way, perhaps permanently, into our cultural vocabulary, many of us are not actually aware of its meaning.  The word humbug is “deceptive, false, or insincere behavior.”  Scrooge’s main problem with Christmas then is the lack of sincerity.  This then provides a key insight to Scrooge’s hatred of Christmas.  He earnestly believes that the so called, “Christmas Spirit” is just a hoax.  It is no more than an attempt to deceive and receive, if you will.  Scrooge places his life and faith, therefore, in the fortune that he has amassed because he knows that money has no ulterior motive.  Scrooge believes that he is the only one honest enough to admit that good will toward one another during this time is simply a charade done once a year.

Where Ebenezer Got it Right:

Now before three intrusive Spirits visit me in my sleep tonight, let me explain.  I believe this is an astute social observation of secular Christmas.  Call me negative or call me pessimistic, but I believe that Christmas stripped of its Christian significance can be nothing more than a hollow charade.  Christmas without its roots in Christ can only be a humbug.  The problem in our world today is that many Christians are buying into this secularized Christmas.  The same mouths that cry, “Keep Christ in Christmas” only want him to be a small portion of their holiday.   In his book, “God With Us” John MacArthur reveals to us the problem the world has with Christmas.  He writes, “The world is happy to let Jesus Christ be a baby in a manger, but not willing to let Him be the sovereign King and Lord that he is.”  As believers, we have made the disastrous mistake of allowing our culture to borrow Christ for a season.  Much like Scrooge feared, the culture’s reason for adopting Christmas carried with it, it’s own impure motive.  This is seen in the marketing and the materialistic emphasis that now seems to go hand and hand with our holiday.  The opening of the Christmas season is now marked by folks trampling and fighting one another for slightly discounted vacuums at Walmart.  Brothers, this should not be.  We cannot pimp the story of Christmas out to our materialistic culture and expect them to treat her like a lady.  But yet, I still believe there is a better way.

Where Ebenezer Got it Wrong:

What am I suggesting then?  Should Christians stop celebrating this holiday because of the many perversions of it?  Certainly, I would not recommend the Ebenezer Scrooge approach.  We know Christmas to be a celebration of the birth of the Christ; “the fullness of God in helpless babe”  We know that Christmas celebrates the freedom that Immanuel has brought his people.  We are filled with joy and hope because God has not left us fatherless.  In spite of our great rebellion, God continues to pursue us in the most unbelievable way!  This perfect, sinless babe would one day become a man.  This man would be no ordinary man, but instead would be God incarnate.  He would “for the joy that was set before him” endure the cross as our substitute, accomplishing our salvation.  This must be celebrated!  Worship springs forth from the fountain of this great knowledge.  MacArthur helps us again here, “What is the right response to Christmas?  What should characterize the way we observe the holiday?  An emphasis on peace toward men?  The spirit of giving?  Joy and gladness?  Kindness to our fellow man?  All those things are good, but they are inadequate responses to the birth of Christ – unless they are the products of a worshipful heart.”  Christians must show the world that we are the exception to Scrooge’s aforementioned thesis.  Though the world may only offer a hollow picture of the truth, we Christians must set forth the sincere picture of joy that Christ has wrought in our hearts.  We have been changed! We must show, therefore, that Christ is all in all, not just at Christmas time.  There are many disillusioned Scrooges in our world today that need to see an authentic presentation of the gospel at work in our lives.

What a haunting idea.

This might be the underlying idea in Charles Dickens’ work.  He writes in the preface, “I have endeavored in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea…May it haunt their house pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.”

May a clear presentation of the gospel in the words and deeds of believers in our world today be the Ghost in the life of our culture.  A Ghost that leads to a change in heart.  May our miser of a society see and embrace the riches of the gospel of grace that we proclaim.


Matchless Beauty in the Redeeming Grace of God.

Passion.  Pleasure.  Desire.  These themes seem to drive our society today.  The banner of our culture’s moral therapeutic deism avidly screams, “Do what thou wilt!”  This has become our great commandment.  If it pleases you, do it!  Unfortunately, because of our society’s crazy, almost overpowering lust for pleasure the church has too often been pushed into an unhealthy dichotomy.  Simply put, the church has been characterized as those who are against pleasure.  For some of us this condemnation is just.  We have put up our “no fun” signs at the front of the church doors and have determined to live a boring, tasteless, passionless life until Christ calls us home.

But what if we were meant for more?

What if the biblical writers understood something about passion that at best we’ve forgotten, or at worst that we’re afraid to let ourselves feel?

When it comes to the problem of seeking pleasure, I’m inclined to agree with the venerable C.S. Lewis.

Lewis wrote, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

If this is true, and I believe it to be, then the question that would naturally be set before us would be, “How do we redirect our passions in order to experience what Lewis called, infinite joy?”

David, another man of righteous passion, gives us a clue in Psalm 16.

If we are to live a life of true joy we must first understand the beauty of the Lord’s redeeming love for us.  David writes, “The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. (Psalm 16:5-6)”

One thing I desire for myself, my wife, and my church is to see more clearly the infinite beauty of God on a daily basis.  Christianity is not stale; Christianity is not boring.  It can never be without pleasure.  In fact, our inheritance with God is aesthetically superior than anything our feeble human minds can imagine.  It is beautiful.  The love of God for helpless, hostile sinners and his work of grace to make these rebels into sons is not only a display of God’s infinite greatness, but it is also art!  Imagine, the Creator has chosen to recreate!  God has woven a beautiful tapestry of grace that even the angels long to look into!  God, being the very fountain of beauty, has given us a pearl of great price.  To fail to recognize the beauty of it would be an insult to our Creator.

It is in this beauty that we find our true source of joy.  David again writes, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)”

Did you catch that?  In the presence of God, there is fullness of joy.  Nothing in this world can bring us fullness of joy.  This is not found in wealth; it is not found in influence.  It cannot be found in our perverted pursuit of desire.  It can only be found in the shadow of the Almighty.  Our world has fallen to the great deception of Satan that suggest we can find this fullness in our finite, trivial pursuits.  This is not possible. Nothing gold can stay.  Only the gifts of the Infinite One can last forevermore.

We must seek this true and holy pleasure.  We must not cede authentic pleasure to the world.  It is ours, the Lord has given it to us.  We must not be content until we truly know what it means to bask in the glory of God.  This relationship that God has given to us should make the depths of our being rejoice!  O, how I long to see this great beauty with untainted eyes!  I long to sing of it with an untainted tongue.  I long to feel it in perfection, completely separated from the corruption of sinful flesh.

This, my friends, is full redemption.


Death Be Not Proud

“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;

For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow

Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.”

– John Donne

Death is an ever pressing reality in our world today. From the war torn Middle East to our home in America, death seems to reign supreme in our world. No one can escape it. Everyone is affected by it. So how should a Christian react to death’s proud presence in our lives? For the Christian, we have a paradoxical view on the realities of death. Paul told the Galatians that, “to die is gain” but the reality is death does not feel like gain. We feel little “gain” when a loved grandparent passes away. We feel little “gain” when thousands are slaughtered in a mass genocide. We feel little “gain” when a small child struggles daily with the pains of death until finally Death overcomes it’s victim. What then should our reaction be? Is this God’s will that Death should viciously take and take, until there is nothing left?

In Genesis 3 we witness an event that would change our world forever. God’s warning to Adam was clear, “the day that you eat of (the fruit) you shall surely die.” The Great Deception of Man not only brought sin into the world, but this event introduced us to our long time enemy Death. Death then is an effect of sin, it is the fruit of a fallen world. The first reaction a Christian should have toward Death is that we should detest it. We should loathe death, and the reality of death should cause us to loathe sin even more. Where there is no sin, there is no death. Death is a constant reminder that we live in a fallen world.

Death has been Conquered:

Death, however, should not cause us to question the Sovereignty of God. God is the Creator, and death is just a creation. Death may be a consequence of man’s sin, but death is limited by God’s grace. It is God’s will that we live in a fallen world, and death comes along with that, but God has not left us to struggle with sin alone. When a Christian is face to face with death, we should hate sin more, but praise God for his graciousness. God is well known for using evil for good, and that’s exactly what he does concerning death. Is God not gracious in taking a Christian early to heaven? When we realize the superiority of being in the continual presents of God, we realize that God uses the horrific reality of death as a tool of grace. God shames death by taking what death has meant for evil and using it for good. We also know that God ultimately defeated death by the cross. The resurrection was God’s confirmation that Jesus has indeed bridged the gap between man and God. Death has been defeated and is now on a timer. When Christ returns to usher in the consummation of his church, death will be done away with for good, sin will be no more, and we will see Christ face to face. This is the reason Paul could say that for him, “to die is gain.” For a Christian, death is just a passage we take to live with Christ forever more. Death leads us on to heaven to see our reward. We should not fear death, but should instead boast in our God who has defeated death.

Jesus is the only ailment to the stings of death:

Still death is a hard pill to swallow. Thank God that he is the Great Comforter. When we experience the stings of death, we must run to our Heavenly Father and be comforted by his great love and grace. We must trust his sovereign choice in death. He is not in a dualistic battle with death. He is all powerful, and his hands are not tied by any created thing. So if we think lightly of God we will think heavily of death, but if we esteem God to his rightful place, and acknowledge that he is God, then the fact that death has been defeated will become a reality in our lives, and we will cast ourselves before our loving Creator, who through his sons’ substitutionary death accomplished our salvation, and worship him.

These realities should cause us to join with John the Apostle who said in Revelation, “Amen, Come, Lord Jesus.”


Better Ballplayer than Pastor?


I realized something this week. I’m a better NBA Basketball player than I am a pastor. Yep, you read that correctly, I’m a better National Basketball Association Basketball player than I am a pastor. If you know anything about my life, then you know I’m barely 6 feet tall and I have a love for sweets that causes me to be a little too out of shape to jump at least in real life. You see, in my video game I’m a 6’8 athletic machine. I’m the lead scorer in the NBA and a five, yes FIVE, time NBA Finals MVP. I just signed a 5 year, 22 million dollar contract with the Indiana Pacers, and, boy, my life is good! The only problem with this is that it’s not real life.

This is My Problem:

In real life, I’m a 22 year old brand new pastor and husband. I’ve learned something this week. Being an effective Pastor is hard. Being a loving husband is tough. Reality hit me like a rock. Life is hard. Monday morning I hit the snooze button five times, finally turning off my phone, and sleeping another hour. I went to my office to start on my sermon for Sunday only to come up with nothing. I wrestled for about 15 minutes with my text not knowing where to begin. After getting frustrated, I got on twitter to keep up with SEC Media Days. Then my wife came in to remind me we needed to go 35 miles away to the nearest Belk to shop for our niece. Groaning, I reminded her I was “busy” at work. After rereading the text and still finding no direction, I called it a day, went to our living room, and entered my fantasy world as an NBA Player. I wish I could say this was a one time event, but Tuesday I did almost the same thing. Whenever being a pastor got difficult I fled to the comfort of my fantasy world.

Being an NBA Player is Just Easier:

Now I’m not saying video games are of the devil. I’m not the water boy’s famous Momma. What I am saying is that when life got hard and I had the choice of fight or flight, I flew every time. I wish I could say I discovered this dangerous error myself, but the Lord wouldn’t allow me that chance to boast. Instead, he had my beautiful wife, Jordan, point it out to me. She came in one night while I was playing for the third time that day and said, “You really are playing Xbox a lot lately. You could be doing more productive things.” I knew all too well that what she was saying was true. You see it’s easier to play video games or watch T.V. or go fishing or do anything else in the world than to work to be a better pastor or husband.

This is Our Problem:

But I don’t think I’m the only one with this problem. In fact the Apostle Paul talks about straining forward in his sanctification, or his process of becoming more like Christ. Because of the sinful nature that we’re born with becoming more like Christ is not an easy process. Paul says this is Philippians 3:12-14 “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” You see, Paul tells us here that life does get hard, but because, “Christ Jesus has made me his own” I strain and fight against my laziness and slothfulness and my sinfulness to what lies ahead: the prize of full salvation. The prize that guarantees that one day I won’t be struggling with my weaknesses because I’ll be perfected in Christ.

By The Grace of God:

Yes, I may be a better NBA player, but I want to work toward what actually matters in life: becoming a better Pastor for the people Christ has set before me, and more importantly becoming more like Christ my Savior. By his grace, I know He’ll accomplish this work in me, not because I’m faithful – but in spite of my faithlessness – because He is faithful.

Christian, Movie, Society, Uncategorized


Darren Aronofsky’s Noah seems to be the next big event that has Evangelical Christians parting quicker than the Red Sea.  Christian blog FINALLY have something to write about.  Should we go?  Should we boycott it?  Should we storm the gates of Hollywood Bibles in hand, ready to protest in the streets?  Before we start sharpening our pitchforks, here are a few quick things to consider.

1. Hollywood is not a Christian entity.  Hollywood is not Christian, nor do they claim to be.  What did we expect?  The Bible tells us that spiritual things are foolishness to those of the flesh (1 Corinthians 2:14).  Hollywood didn’t promise us an exegetically correct film that stands for Christian values.  So let’s not act surprised here.  If we get upset at the LGBT organization for acted “shocked” that evangelical Christian organizations support the biblical view marriage, then we can’t respond the same way when a non-Christian organization isn’t as biblical as we want.

2. The Story of Noah isn’t as “picture perfect” as we’ve made it.  Go to any church nursery in the South and what do you see?  A depiction of the story of Noah, complete with smiling animals and Noah smiling from ear to ear.  Like so many stories in Genesis, we’ve made them into cutesy stories, but the reality is these were real life events involving real life people.  God the Just was judging the sinful mass of humanity for the crimes they had committed.  Noah and his family were graciously saved from this judgment.  As the rains poured down, the reality of God’s judgment probably hit Noah and his family with a force.  Their neighbors stood outside the arch condemned because of their wickedness.  This isn’t a story that is exclusively the children’s bedtime story we’ve made it.

3.  Let’s make lemonade.  When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, right?  This is the situation we find ourselves in.  Lost people are flocking to this movie based on a Biblical event that is a perfect depiction of the severity of sin, the righteousness of a Sovereign God, and the grace and mercy of that same God upon those he loves.  What makes more sense, condemning the movie or using this a springboard to present the gospel?  There is a judgment coming, Christ is our perfect Ark in which we can escape the righteous wrath of God upon our wickedness.  There is no other shelter.  No other covering.  Let’s proclaim this with a voice that drowns out the sound of other’s complaints.

4.  All things are permissible, but not all are beneficial.  This movie will not condemn you to hell, but we do have to approach any movie with discernment.  Even “Christian” movies should be approached with discernment.  For example, the movie, “Heaven is For Real” is coming out soon.  To take our views about heaven from a film based upon a four year olds experience instead of looking to the Bible is just as bad as accepting the movie of Noah as the way it really happened.  Let’s check what we’re affirming by comparing it to the Bible.  Whether or not you go see Noah or not is your prerogative and in between you and God.  However the bigger issue is whether or not we decided to be people that exhibit grace toward a lost generation or whether we just want to argue about it between ourselves some more.


Is Drinking a Sin?

I normally don’t billboard the fact that I’m a minister in public (by billboard, I mean I don’t wear a t-shirt that says “Youth Pastor” on it). Not that I’m ashamed of my profession or religion, but because I try to build a relationship with someone before I drop the “Minister” bomb. When I do finally drop the “M” bomb, I get the strangest reactions. The most frequent reaction comes at a surprise. The reaction is a question: “Well you don’t think drinking is a sin, do you?” Instead of answering this question (that’s right, you’ve been mislead) I think as evangelical Christians we should ask ourselves a different question.

A Different Question

Why is this a lost person’s first reaction when finding out we’re Christian? Yes, part of the problem is the fact that non-Christians don’t think in spiritual terms (these things are foolishness to them) but we can’t just blame them and not examine ourselves. As Christians, specifically Southern Baptists, we’ve done a great job at telling our society what we stand against, but I think we might have fallen short in telling them what we stand for. Let me clarify, I’m not suggesting that we take an accepting roll when it comes to sin, but what I am suggesting is that we start preaching a gospel that transforms. When we preach against drinking or smoking cigarettes or gambling, we’re only dealing with the symptoms. There is a deeper problem.

The Real Problem

The real issues here is that the sinner is dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1-3). He does not respond to any spiritual stimuli so therefore he has no desire to act like a saint, nor does he have the power to act like a saint even if he wanted to. What he needs is not a lecture on the wiles of gambling, but a new heart. He needs a gospel that transforms. After Christ makes alive a lost person, then, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we as the church can help them conform their life to biblical teachings. When we try to clean a person up before they come to church we’re essentially teaching a works-based salvation. We must remember the words of Paul in 2 Timothy 1:9, that God saved us, “not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace”. So often when the focal point of our preaching is against something we end up setting up the person trapped in that sin as our enemy. We look at the teenage unwed mother as irresponsible and foolish instead of having compassion on them. We see a drunk instead of a human being who needs the grace of God. Maybe we should take a page out of our Savior’s book. Did he compromise sin in his conversation with the woman at the well? No. Did he give her a 45 minute sermon gracelessly condemning her lifestyle of lust? No! He did, however, preach to her a Savior who could change her life! Oh, the difference this made in her life! May we strive to do the same in our culture today!

The Challenge

The challenge we have is a very ambitious one. What if we lived in such a way that lost people asked us a different question? What if when they found out we were Christians they asked us, “Do you really believe in the saving power of Christ? Do you really believe that God cares enough to show us grace?” Yes, we do believe in a God who saves and we believe it enough to preach Christ and him crucified to all we know.