Capitol Christian Music Group / Hillsong Music Australia
Release Date: November 5th 2021
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- That’s the Power (feat. Benjamin Hastings)
- That’s the Power (Reprise) (feat. Benjamin Hastings)
- Surrounds Me (feat. Mi-kaisha Rose)
- Freedom (feat. Reuben Morgan)
- Hope of the Ages (feat. Reuben Morgan)
- Never Walk Alone (feat. Mi-kaisha Rose)
- Resurrender (feat. Brooke Ligertwood)
- Secret Place (feat. Chris Davenport)
- Waiting (Spontaneous) [feat. Brooke Ligertwood]
- Song For His Presence (feat. Aodhan King, Saye Pratt)
- All To Him (feat. Joel Houston)
Here’s an assertion that I reckon is pretty spot on, in my own opinion. Hillsong Church is probably one of the most well-known, popular, inspirational, loved, hated, controversial, and much needed churches/bands/institutions ever. All of these adjectives at the same time, you ask? Well…yes. In short, Hillsong and all of its incarnations have encouraged many, and have angered much more. Yet even as a divisive international entity, the biggest church in Australia still offer so much hope to the world, that it’s hard not to be floored in a good way, and amazed at the group’s musical endeavours. Particularly Hillsong Worship of late, we have “What A Beautiful Name”, “Who You Say I Am”, “King Of Kings”, and more recently “Hope Of The Ages”, each breaking records on radio and changing lives. My brother Jon even wrote about Hillsong on one of his latest Momentous Mondays blog posts last year.
Yet just as early as a couple of years ago (and also well into this year!), Hillsong has been in the news for all the wrong reasons though. In July 2019 I think (I can’t be sure of the exact date!), former worship leader Marty Sampson renounced his faith in Jesus. In response to this unexpected news, John Cooper the frontman of rock band Skillet, wrote a lengthy response to Marty’s admission, which in effect spoke about the importance of placing our faith in Jesus and reading the Word of God rather than looking to worship leaders as the source of all of our truth. As John firmly reminded us all to place our roots in the Bible so that they can’t be shaken…Hillsong stayed silent on this ever-prevalent matter (aside from a generic statement they posted on their website, which I saw back in August, but I can’t find now!). Now I’m not sure if many worship leaders from Hillsong were walking with Marty in his time of need, and are still walking (I’m hoping and praying that they are!), but I reckon a public statement from the church about all of this wouldn’t do any harm, and clear up any speculation about the church’s stance of what Marty has said- once and for all. And though right now you hear nothing from Marty (I think he’s cut himself off from anything to do with church and with Christians), another ‘scandal’ reared its head this year, as Brian Houston is now on trial for concealing evidence back in the 70’s of his father abusing children. And so, whatever your own views on what is happening right now with Hillsong and their church, in the forefront of the media- there’s no denying that there’s still some impressive music that these guys have released.
It is under these same skies that Christ’s church–His body on earth–exists today. And–though separated by oceans and closed borders–the mission of Hillsong Worship continues under these same skies. One in heart and spirit, unified in mission and cause–to glorify the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to build His Church, and to serve His Church with the new song. We pray and believe that all of our labor sown in faith will mean a harvest for God’s glory, and we pray something that really blesses you and helps you to encounter Jesus in a fresh way in this season.
When I reviewed the Spanish album Hay Mas from these guys, I firmly reiterated that ‘…It isn’t known whether Hillsong Worship will retire (I really don’t think so, and my guess is that they’ll keep going, and eventually phase out older members and introduce newer worship leaders, resulting in eventually a brand-new movement). And it also isn’t known what will happen in the near future- their reputation and brand may hinge upon what they say in response to Marty’s revealing post. However, I think personally that their best is yet to come!…’; nonetheless, These Same Skies, a new live album and their first since There Is More in 2018 (which Marty was in fact a part of!), released this past week. Considering everything that was going on with Marty and with Brian over the past few years, I was hesitant to dive deep into a Hillsong album at great depth- especially last month when I read the press release about the album being released. Even though I knew some songs would be inspiring- I was positive that I wasn’t going to be in the right headspace to listen to something by a worship movement who has been in the news for all of the wrong reasons. Yet one re-listen to the lead single “Hope Of The Ages” and I was hooked. This was yet another reminder from God that These Same Skies is an album that needs to be listened to despite everything that happened to Hillsong the church- and such an album needs to be extensively examined- and we need the separate the artist from the art.
When I say the word ‘Hillsong’… obviously I’m sure some of you may feel hurt from the church. For those of you, I reckon that maybe These Same Skies may not be for you at this time, because it might dredge up old wounds not healed properly. However, this album objectively presents to us promise after promise that God has impressed to us upon our hearts; and if we can set aside for a moment any preconceived ideas we may have about this group, then I firmly believe that These Same Skies will be a powerful and moving worship album that we all might be able to listen to again and again and again. Opening with “That’s The Power”, Benjamin Hastings leads this emotional, powerful and honest melody, as we are ushered into a vulnerable and heartfelt moment of praise and worship to our God and King. And as Benjamin eloquently relays to us that it is the name of Jesus that brings forth power, and that ‘…that’s the power of Your name, just a mention makes a way, giants fall and strongholds break, and there is healing, and that’s the power that I claim, it’s the same that rolled the grave, and there’s no power like the mighty name of Jesus…’; we are inspired to give glory and thanks to God simply because of who He is. For far too long we’ve been praising God in the good times and giving Him the blame in the bad times. Yet this song brings forth the issue of praising Him always because of who He is… and for that I reckon this opener is just what us believers need to hear.
The rest of These Same Skies more than lives up to the album opener, as a myriad of talented worship leaders combine to deliver probably the best collection of Hillsong Worship songs since No Other Name in 2014. The poppy and radio friendly 3 minute tune “Surrounds Me”, led by Mi-kaisha Rose, is written by Reuben Morgan and up and coming pop singer Griff, as Mi-kaisha eloquently and fervently relays that ‘…You will be the one I trust, You will be the one I love, Your goodness surrounds me, Your goodness surrounds me, You will never leave my side, You will never change Your mind, Your goodness surrounds me, Your goodness surrounds me…’; while “Freedom” (so uniquely titled!), is led by Reuben Morgan, and is a no-nonsense, earnest melody about Jesus being our freedom. It’s a song that I’m sure might be lost in the shuffle, considering songs like “I Am Free” (Desperation Band) and “Freedom Is Here” (Hillsong UNITED) basically reiterate the same thing. However this song, despite the lyrical sameness to other tracks, still inspires and still impacts; while the honest piano led ballad “Never Walk Alone” also led by Mi-kaisha Rose, is written with Jenn Johnson of Bethel Music, and powerfully imparts to us that Jesus is always beside us, and that ‘…I have never walked alone, a’ve never been abandoned, You are my inheritance, You are my strength and shield, and I have confidence, You go before me, You’re my deliverer, I know I never walk alone…’.
Personally, my favourite song of These Same Skies is “Hope Of The Ages”, and as Jon reviewed this single around Easter this year… can I say that I totally agree and echo Jon’s sentiments? In fact, Jon has said it so good, that I’ll quote: Standing at a bit over 5 minutes in length, this song is humble and heartfelt, compelling and confidence-building, and a song to be the ‘sequel’ if you will, to ‘King of Kings’. Led by both Cody Carnes and Reuben Morgan, we are met with a song that states the reality of what the gospel is (or should be) to people, and through the words of the first verse, we know that this is a song that has the power to impact just like songs ‘King of Kings’ and ‘What a Beautiful Name’ beforehand- ‘…the gospel of Jesus, it’s the hope of the ages, burning brighter and brighter and standing forever, the church He is building, nothing can stop it, it’s a city that’s shining, a light in the darkness, nothing can stop it…’ ‘Hope For the Ages’ is a great reminder of what the gospel of Jesus can and does do for people who fully understand the gravity of our own sin, and the extraordinary love of God in spite of how we have behaved… Reuben’s been a founding father for Hillsong Worship all these years ago, and so to see him leading this song is a nice touch. Cody is starting to become one of today’s most emotive and humble worship leaders, so for both Cody and Reuben to collaborate on this track is a reminder that two different generations can still come together united in Biblical truth. It is in not only this song, but through Take Heart (Again) and At Easter EP, where I’ve found a new-found appreciation for Hillsong, and maybe, just maybe, people can revisit songs from these two aforementioned EPs, and be reminded that in a time of 2021 with the pandemic not slowing down anytime soon; timeless, familiar songs (like Hillsong’s two previous EPs), and songs that can seem to feel like they’re familiar and timeless (like ‘Hope for the Ages’), can often get us through even the most difficult of circumstances. Well done Cody and Reuben for this emotive and powerful song, maybe a lead single for a forthcoming album in the future? And let me just say that there’s nothing much more to say about this song. It’s God-breathed and special in oh so many ways, and if there’s ONE song to listen to from These Same Skies, this would be it.
But after the high of “Hope Of The Ages”, does this mean that the rest of the songs pale in comparison? A little bit, but not a whole lot though. “Resurrender”, sung by Brooke Fraser (also known as Brooke Ligertwood), dives deep into the theme of us belonging to God and us falling deeper and deeper in love with Him, so much so that it leads us to re-surrender our entire lives and our very being to Him and to His perfect plans for us; while “Secret Place” combines with the spontaneous free-worship piece “Waiting” to create a 13 minute epic anthemic melody led by Chris Davenport. Recorded and structured like a modern hymn, the 6-verse melody is sure to be sung in churches everywhere in the future, and vibrantly and eloquently reminds us all of the fact that God’s love is visible to us, but isn’t in the spotlight, and isn’t concerned with fame and fortune. It’s in the ‘secret place’, and it’s when we are humble and are willing to learn from God, that we can in fact see a glimpse of everything He’s planned for us, and then we can truly worship our King and Saviour. “Song For His Presence”, led by Aodhan King and Saye Pratt, is a piano led ballad that inspires and comforts, and is another emotional, powerful and honest melody about worshipping God for all that we are. It’s a simple melody with simple lyrical content… but there’s something about this song that makes me come back to the track again and again and again! While These Same Skies ends with the Joel Houston led “All To Him”. A simple song lyrically and musically, Joel and the team prayerfully and worshipfully express their love for Jesus for who He is, and as we emotively relay to God that ‘…to Him, who took that cross, and took down all my sin, all my shame I bring, all my soul will sing to Him who broke my chains, to live is Christ, to die is gain, there is nothing I want more than my last breath confess, a life lived all to Him…’, we are once again ushered into a powerful moment of praise, devotion and showing to God in song how a life led all to Him looks like.
If you guys aren’t into Hillsong Worship– then I’d say the studio album Awake is the best place to start. But if you are a fan and are unfazed by the ‘off-field drama’; then These Same Skies is right up your alley. “Hope Of The Ages”, “Secret Place” and “Never Walk Alone” are the standouts, and essentially every single track on this project is proof of the band’s longevity and their incredible song-writing and worship-leading ability. Even though I do enjoy the Hillsong United albums better than the Live counterparts (really, what is the difference besides a few worship leaders on one and others on the other?); the megachurch are still a force to be reckoned with, both in CCM and worship. They make the 3-4-albums-a-year aspect work, and if they stick with what they know, then it will definitely work for them in the future! Personally, I reckon “Hope For The Ages” is as good as Hillsong Worship have ever been, and I’ll be eagerly awaiting more future projects in the coming months! Well, I guess now it’s time to re-listen to Awake and There Is More; don’t you reckon?
The first few chapters of the book of Matthew are action packed. Beginning with lineage (genealogy), then moving to the heart-racing action narrative of the circumstances of the Messiah’s extraordinary and divine conception and birth, we then meet adult Jesus. It is here that from an open heaven (Mt 3:16) we read of the manifest Trinity and hear the words of the Father place an exclamation point on all the prophetic fulfilment we’ve already read of thus far: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased”.
After a chapter of testing and the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry on earth, we reach chapter five, where we are suddenly and gloriously invited to take a seat with those on the mountainside, to sit under open skies as we hear the words of the Teacher of all teachers – the Lord Jesus Christ – teaching us about the radical nature and culture of the Kingdom He has come to establish through this most beloved and treasured Sermon on the Mount.
It is under these same skies that we live, receive Jesus’ teaching and His here-and-soon-coming Kingdom today. It is also under these same skies that we are called to be a Kingdom people as we grapple with the harsh and at times cruel realities of a fallen world and a fallen humanity that are our shared experience. Jesus Himself addresses this at the end of this same chapter – “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”, He says in Matthew 5:45, right after He has urged: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven”.
These same skies that were formed by the Lord’s utterance (Genesis 1:8) became the canvas for the Lord’s promises to the earth and every living creature in Noah’s day (Genesis 9:12-17), and His promises to the Church through Abram (Abraham) (Genesis 15:5).
These same skies that declare God’s glory day after day and night after night, proclaiming the workds of His hands (Psalm 19:1-4) are the same ones under which Christ Jesus was born, lived, obeyed, suffered, was crucified and rose again.
These same skies the disciples saw the Lord ascend into in Acts 1 (Acts 1:9-11) are the same ones that angels (Acts 1:11) and Jesus Himself said He will return on (Matthew 24:30, Matthew 26:64, Mark 13:26, Mark 14:62).
It is under these same skies that Christ’s church – His body on earth – exists today. And – though separated by oceans and closed borders – the mandate of Hillsong Worship continues under these same skies. One in heart and spirit, unified in mission and cause – to glorify the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to build His Church, and to serve His Church with the new song.
3 songs to listen to: Hope Of The Ages, Never Walk Alone, Secret Place
RIYL: Planetshakers, Hillsong UNITED, Hillsong Young And Free, The City Harmonic, Elevation Worship, Passion, All Sons And Daughters