27 August 2014

Adding to the Noise: 3 principles to remember concerning Christian liberty

Frankly, I've grown weary of arguments over Christian liberties.  And frankly, I hate to be contributing to the noise with this post.  However, in the time I've spent studying the issue, there have been three important principles that have consistently jumped out of the Scriptures at me -- three principles, I would argue, that most arguments miss.  This is problematic, because I believe these are the three most crucial elements to consider when it comes to choosing a stance on a particular liberty.

For this post, I'll predominantly be using the example of alcohol as representative of all liberties -- partly because it seems to be the most prevalently debated amongst Christians, and partly because it's a freedom in which I personally engage.  However, this post is not a defense of alcohol, and it is not a treatise on my personal approach to practicing the liberty.  Neither of those conversations are even remotely beneficial in an internet setting.  What I am writing about is the crux of Paul's whole argument in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 10.  The principles he outlines in these passages should inform the way we operate, whether we engage in a liberty or abstain from it.

1. I should be willing to engage in reasonable dialogue about the practice of a liberty.

The reason why I'm writing this post, and the reason that all of Christendom vocalizes its opinions on this topic, is because there is room for disagreement.  There is room for various walks of life, various cultural and personal biases, and various personal applications.  There is no one right way to exercise liberty as far as when, how, where, and why are concerned.

Paul writes, "Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.  Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?  It is before his own master that he stands or falls."  In other words, it is ultimately to God alone that I must give an account of my decisions, not to another believer (14.12).  However, because there is room for differences of opinion, I should be willing to explain my choice to practice or abstain from drinking to anyone who might broach the topic.  Conversely, I should also be willing to listen to and understand someone else's point of view on the matter.

This type of reasonable dialogue can take the form of confrontation: "Hey, I saw that you had a drink and I'm just concerned about your testimony."

Reasonable dialogue can also take the form of conversational curiosity: "Hey, I come from a background where drinking isn't allowed, and I'm just wondering how you handle drinking as a believer?"

In either regard, we have the opportunity to give a reason for our choice in the matter, as well as provide encouragement to someone who might be wrestling through their own personal understanding of the issue.  The undergirding aspects of this principle are that we should be considerate of where other believers' convictions land on the matter, and that we should be willing to engage with them even if their opinion is in opposition to our own.  After all, the "weaker brother" whom Paul describes in these passages is not the one who abstains from alcohol.  As a matter of fact, the one who abstains can have a perfectly good, Scripturally-based reason for his or her decision, just as an individual who engages can give biblical principles to support his or her choice.  For the individual who believes he/she personally should not engage in drinking, to have a beer would be to legitimately offend their personal faith concerning that liberty.  By contrast, the "weaker brother" is the individual who doesn't have a fully developed understanding, or the one who would judge another person for their practice or abstention from a liberty.  There is room, Paul writes, for different perspectives.  However, they must be informed perspectives, and they must be personal perspectives -- not abrasive opinions that should blanket the whole body of Christ.

Furthermore, the goal of engaging in reasonable dialogue should never be to "convert" the other individual to your point of view.  The goal should be a). to give a defensible (not defensive) reason for your practice, and b). assist the other individual in understanding the topic from a different perspective.  Maybe you yourself have some underdeveloped notions concerning the liberty in question and can garner a deeper appreciation for another individual's personal convictions.  Ultimately, reasonable dialogue should be as much an exercise in personal humility as it is an opportunity to instruct a weaker brother or sister.

2. I should be willing to abstain from my "right" to practice a liberty.

Most arguments for the acceptability of drinking are defensive.  I've yet to find one that doesn't spend the bulk of its far-too-wordy text explaining why alcohol is a morally neutral object and that God gave wine to "gladden the hearts of men," and therefore everyone should be willing to give up their ultra-conservative viewpoints on the topic because -- after all -- this is the modern era.

Paul addresses the issue this way: "I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean."  In other words, the issue is not whether or not alcohol itself is acceptable, but whether or not an individual's faith is strong enough for him or her to engage in the practice of that particular liberty.  It's all about caution and careful, prayerful consideration, because the one who doubts is "condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith... [and] whatever does not proceed from faith is sin."

Knowing this -- that to engage in drinking with a weak conscience is a sin  -- then not only should we carefully consider our personal practice of a liberty, but we should also be willing to abstain if someone who is weak in their understanding is present.  Paul says, "Let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother."  In other words, I have three choices available to me in the moment I sit down at the reception, across the table from someone who doesn't share my opinion that alcohol is acceptable: a). be considerate of their possibly weak conscience and abstain, b). engage openly with careful explanation, or c). be judgmental and partake regardless of the other individual's stance.

Obviously, one of those options is not glorifying to God.  While option "b" probably strikes most people as perfectly reasonable and constructive, I'm convinced that Paul is arguing for the first approach in any instance of reasonable doubt.  While there may be times that option "b" is appropriate, we should always prioritize consideration for others above serving self.

The practice of a liberty is never simply about my "right" to exercise it.  In fact, I even hate calling it a "right" for that reason, because we owe the pleasure of a liberty to the Savior who has redeemed all things.  Therefore, the practice of a liberty should always be about mutual enjoyment and mutual edification, never lighthearted or thoughtless revelry, and always an opportunity to prefer the needs of others above our own (1 Cor 10.24Phil 2.4).  We should never insist on our "right" to engage in a liberty, because the moment it becomes a "right" I deserve, it also becomes an idol.

Certainly, this conversation looks a little different when it comes to an individual operating under a legalistic mindset -- in other words, a mindset that would enforce a personal conviction on other people: "I believe the consumption of alcohol is always wrong and there is never a good reason to drink.  Therefore, everyone should think this way."  The legalistic mindset forces its personal preference upon other individuals, and while they may have noble intent -- to protect other believers from stumbling -- it is not appropriate to attribute a personal conviction a type of law that all should adopt.  After all, while "everything is indeed clean," it is "wrong for anyone to make another stumble", whether by what he drinks or doesn't drink (14.20).  However, even in the occasion where I rub up against this type of misinformed position, I should still be willing to abstain if a). my practice of liberty in that individual's presence is going to cause an argument (notice earlier I said reasonable dialogue), and if b). my desire to drink is more about a "proving them wrong" or changing his or her mind on the topic than it is to simply enjoy my "right" to engage in that particular liberty.

For that matter, we should also be willing to abstain in the presence of individuals who take their liberty too far.  Rather than encourage them in their wanton abuse of a so-called gray area, we should be willing to abstain in order to differentiate our choice from theirs, as well as to engage with them in reasonable dialogue that might bring them to a deeper understanding of what purpose Christian liberty actually serves.

In any of these instances, abstention is not a permanent life change, but a decision to suspend my "right" in order to encourage, prefer, or possibly even confront an individual whose opinion does not line up with my own.

3. I should be fully convinced of my own stance.

Paul writes, "One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike.  Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind."

The bottom line, Paul argues, is not about which side of the fence we happen to fall on, but which side of the fence we choose to be on.  In other words, there should be deliberation involved in the practice of or abstention from a liberty.  We should never engage just because others are doing it, just because it's fun, or just because it's a "liberty" -- an available option.  We should abstain if we don't have a solid opinion on the matter, if our conviction is strongly against the practice, or if there is a history of abuse in our personal or familial history.  Reasons abound in favor of either viewpoint -- some biblical, some personal.  Both are legitimate factors when it comes to this discussion.  Whichever side of the fence we choose, we should seek the wisdom of the Scriptures and godly individuals in order to formulate a defensible (not defensive) stance toward a given liberty.  Whether we choose to engage or abstain, we should have a thorough reason for our choice.  Each should be fully convinced in his own mind.

As stated earlier, the "weaker brother" is not someone who holds the opposite opinion.  The "weaker brother" is not the individual who doesn't drink, and the "stronger brother" is not the one who does.  It's not a matter of capability or choice, because -- according to the Apostle Paul -- both opinions are equally viable if they are held because the individuals better glorify God as a result of their respective choices.  The "weaker brother" is the one who simply has no opinion, who doesn't know how to handle a liberty, or who would impose his or her practice/abstention on other believers.  The bottom line is that we should be fully convinced of our personal stance on the issue -- still teachable, certainly, but informed and wise in our approach to exercise or abstention

There are plenty of other things I could discuss under this topic -- things like responsible practice, or how much is too much -- but I believe those issues are covered under these three principles.  If we engage in a mature approach to the practice of a liberty, are capable of reasonably defending our decisions, and are fully convinced of the reasons we have chosen, then questions like "what is responsible drinking" and "how do you define 'drunk'" don't need to be asked.  If these three principles inform our approach to Christian liberty, then we'll be full of the Spirit (Eph 5.18), sober-minded, vigilant, and fully aware of the devastating temptations Satan is capable of placing in our paths (1 Pet 5.8).  We'll be wary of what the abuse of liberty looks like, and we'll be cautious in our exercise because we want to good stewards of the lives, time, and resources that God has given to us.

Ultimately, whether we eat, drink, or abstain altogether, we do it not because it is our "right," but because we can glorify the God who has redeemed us from a life of sin and bondage through either avenue (1 Cor 10.31).  Furthermore, if these three guidelines inform our thinking, then we won't destroy the work of God in another individual's heart simply for the sake of exercising our "right" (14.20).

May all that we do be to His praise and glory.


I wanted to clarify two quick things.

1. Legalism

I think we throw this word around a lot, often misusing it to describe conservative churches, schools, and other institutions.  There is nothing wrong with a Christian university mandating that, while a student attends their school, he abstain from drinking, smoking, and even from certain forms of media in an effort to focus on his studies specifically during that time.  That is not legalistic.  That is, in fact, a form of fasting and something I myself would encourage and participate in doing.  Even more conservative schools that insist on uniforms, dress codes, or certain haircuts for their students are not necessarily being legalistic.  There is nothing wrong with an institution mandating certain rules for its attendees during their tenure there.  Legalism, on the other hand, is a dogmatic insistence on an extra-biblical principle.  For example, a school explicitly teaching that alcohol and various forms of media are inherently sinful and never acceptable would be legalistic.

Furthermore, a church that requests its Elders and teachers not to drink would not be legalistic if the request is made from the standpoint of caution, avoiding the appearance of evil, and setting a strong example for the congregation.  It is well within the rights and authority of church leaders to make such requests of its ministers, who should be submissive to the leadership placed over them.

Let's make sure we can distinguish between "conservative" and "legalistic" when it comes to Christian liberty.

2. Legality

I will hear no arguments about the unfairness of the drinking age or how maturity and responsibility aren't tied to physical age.  Frankly, unfairness is a fact of life, and drinking is nothing more than a wasteful pastime and a social problem for individuals under the age of 21.  For that matter, it is more often than not a wasteful pastime and a social problem for individuals over the age of 21, which is why the exercise of the liberty to drink must be done in sincerity, with caution and prayer.

Regardless of our personal opinions, we are to be subject to the rulers, authorities, and legislations that govern our society (Rom 13.1).  Therefore, if you are under the legal age of 21, you biblically do not have the right to exercise the Christian liberty of drinking alcohol.  Therefore, if you still live in your parents' house and they request that you don't drink, you biblically do not have the right to exercise the Christian liberty of drinking alcohol.  If you are still living in their home, your parents are your rightful governing authority -- even if you are over the age of 18 or 21.

In either of those instances, to drink is not a liberty for you to exercise.  It's a sin.

Granted, there are instances where parental approval can make provision for minors to drink.  For example, an Italian family that has wine with dinner and has no problem with children or teenagers having some, or in a church that uses real wine for communion and allows parents to give their kids wine instead of juice if they so desire.  Generally speaking, "parental consent" is not a loophole.  There are times, however, where it is acceptable.

08 August 2014

The Worship Lifestyle, Pt. 4


I'm not sure if this is a new school of thought or if it's existed for some time now, but I've encountered on a number of occasions now the perspective that a god who demands worship is a god who is needy or selfish.  "If I'm going to worship a god," these individuals say, "I want to worship a god who deserves it.  Not one who just tells me to."

Though He does require of us adoring praise and worship, the God we serve needs no validation.  He is not an emotionally insecure deity -- like some Greek god, lusting after humans and self-fulfillment, all as part of an endless competition with other minor deities for supremacy.  To the contrary, God demands worship because He is worthy to receive it, and there are no other gods with which He contends.

Furthermore, when we raise our voices in praise to Him, we are not giving Him something He does not already possess.  By attributing to Him glory and honor, we are not adding to His character or refilling his "glory" tank, as though He is somehow dependent upon us.  The popular vote of the people is not what will elect Him "God" for another four years.  When we worship our God, we are merely celebrating who He is by making statements pertaining to His holiness, justice, power, and eternality.  We are making much of who He is.

One of my favorite hymns captures the idea this way:

Could we, with ink, the oceans fill
And were the skies of parchment made
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade
To write the love of God above
Would drain the oceans dry
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky

In our worship of God, we are merely in the act of describing what He already possesses.  Furthermore, our best effort -- our life-long endeavor -- will still fall so far short of the praise God truly deserves.  Yet our practice of worship is not an exercise in futility, because we offer our lives in totality.  As believers, we are giving everything we have in response to the grace which He gave to us.  That is why, for all of eternity, we will join with the angels in constant and unending praise of our Father, Maker, Redeemer, and Friend.

The first verse of another favorite hymn begins this way:

Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing
My Great Redeemer's praise
The glories of our God and King
The triumphs of His grace

I used to think the writer of "Oh For a Thousand Tongues" was longing for a throng of fellow worshipers to join with him in praising God, and that a thousand was just an arbitrary number intended to evoke the image of a huge crowd, all worshiping together.  However, upon deeper reflection, I think what he's really wishing for is a thousand tongues all of his own with which to give the Great Redeemer praise, because the solitary instrument he does possess is simply not enough.  He sees the worship of God for what it is: an exercise in reflecting back to God His own honor, glory, and praise.  Even 999 additional tongues in the mouths of all the saints could not possibly express the sum total of God's magnificence.

We worship a God who is not "needy."

We worship a God who needs no validation.

We worship a God who is worthy of the praise and adoration we express to Him, and then some.

We worship a God whose surpassing greatness eclipses the wisest theologian's estimate, yet whose humble condescension on our behalf brought Christ the Son to an inglorious death on a cross, forsaken by man and the Father alike -- all for the sake of His creation, out of the kindness of His eternal, gracious character.

That is why we worship Him now, and it is why we will sing of Him for all eternity. 

He is rich in might, love, and power.

He breaks the power of cancelled sin.

He sets the prisoners free.

What more could we possibly give Him than all our hearts in adoring worship?  He deserves that and more.

07 August 2014

Building a House

As I was meditating today on Psalms 71-72, chapters that together represent the end of David's life and the beginning of Solomon's reign as king, I was brought back to the historical account of the latter monarch's ascent to the throne.

1 Kings 3 states that Solomon "loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of David his father."  He had inherited his father's habits along with his heritage, and resolved at the outset of his kingship to pursue righteousness before God.  Later, 1 Kings 6 records the long-anticipated building of the temple in Jerusalem, and God's promise to Solomon: "If you will continue to walk in my statues and obey my rules and keep all my commandments and walk in them, then I will establish my word with you... and dwell among the children of Israel and will not forsake them."  At the end of that chapter, the writer records that Solomon devoted seven years to complete the project of building the Lord's temple.

The very next verse, the opening words of chapter 7, states, "Solomon was building his own house thirteen years."

Seven years spent on the Lord's temple, as opposed to thirteen years on his own house.

Some would argue that Solomon's eagerness to complete the temple resulted in the disparate time frames.  However, it's a commonly known fact that Solomon, the wisest king who has ever lived, began a slow descent into the lifestyle he would later lament as "striving after the wind" (Ecc 1.17). Even at the beginning of his reign, where his humble request for wisdom earned him God's favor and blessing, Solomon quickly became enticed by the lure of riches, wealth, and status.  He may have completed his appointed task of building the temple, and may even have devoted a lot of time to it (seven years is certainly nothing to scoff at), but he spent even more time perfecting his own palace and reveling in the wealth that would pour into Jerusalem for the entirety of his reign.

Seven years.  Thirteen years.

In personal study, as well as in lesson planning for my teens, I've repeatedly run up against this issue -- that is, the desire for wealth and a comfortable living.  Examples are prevalent throughout the Scriptures.  The very root of American culture -- the "dream the bigger dream" sentiment -- is also a living testament to the fact that there are far too many people in this world who are making a good living but not living well.  There are far too many people who lose themselves in their own financial planning, putting a little extra toward the mortgage each month while making sure there's still enough set aside for a good vacation come August.  These are far too many people who care more about finally putting that addition on their homes than they do about ministry, and far too many who work themselves into oblivion six days a week before claiming Sunday as their rightful own, as a day to sleep until noon, watch ESPN, and maybe -- if they feel ambitious -- do some projects in the garage.  Any of these are the folks who, like Solomon, are "building their own house for 13 years" -- sometimes even literally.  Instead of dedicating themselves to building up their own temples to God -- that is, developing spiritual disciplines and the type of wholeheartedness that God justly desires from those who claim to be His -- most American Christians find themselves balancing their faith in one hand, and their checkbook in the other.  Many of us distract ourselves from what really matters for the Kingdom by stressing how to split our resources between the vacation fund and July's outrageous electric bill.

Can I just be perfectly blunt?  The obsession we have in this culture with making a good living is a misplaced priority, and almost always a hidden idol.

Spending means Hitler wins!
Sometimes "making a good living" can take on the guise of prudent budgeting.  What we call thriftiness can really be a militant obsession with controlling every last cent that enters the bank account, because spending even one penny too much on anything would invalidate everything we've worked for our entire lives, and perhaps even upset the course of nature.

Sometimes "making a good living" looks like a never-ending quest for just a little bit more financial elbow room -- choosing yet another long night of overtime pay when you haven't been home to see your family in nearly 24 hours, just for a little leg-up this month.

Sometimes "making a good living" means we simply make more than we absolutely need to live on, so we have the luxury of owning a shore house and can tithe in excess of 20 or even 30% without feeling the increase.

In any of these circumstances, it's easy to let our money (or lack thereof) manipulate our decisions.  It's simple to let the income dictate how much we can afford to serve in our local church body, how often date night can happen, and even how much sleep we get at night.  If we're not careful, we can follow the alluring promise of a better salary off the narrow and perhaps uncertain financial path God is leading us down, only to find ourselves stuck in the unforgiving quicksand of the corporate ladder.  Even quality financial planning -- something we all should strive to put into practice -- can become a self-sustained savior that we elevate above the provision God promises.

Everyone knows that Jesus likened the probability of a rich man entering heaven to the likelihood of a camel passing through the eye of a needle (Matt 19.24).  Certainly, not many of us would consider ourselves "rich" -- especially not when we have millionaires living in our neighborhoods (seriously, who else can afford the modern "single family" home?).  Those are individuals who clearly make a few more zeroes each month than we do, so they're the ones to whom we can actually apply the Matthew 19 passage.  "Thank God I'm just making a good living, and not exuberantly wealthy like that guy," we think unconsciously, because comparison is the basis of human existence.  "That's not what I'd do with the money if I had it."  And yet, Christ called us to be imitators of Him, not a people who judge our own standing by the well-being of everyone else on our block.

Regardless of whether we're just barely making ends meet or rolling in the dough, any one of us could don the rich young ruler's shoes.  We all love money.  We work so hard to earn it.  To some degree, we all buy into the worldly philosophy that money above all else brings comfort and security.  That's why Jesus identified the love of money as the root of all kinds of evil practices: the evil of loving money doesn't just mean money laundering or grand theft auto.  It also includes the type of idol worship that occurs when my inability to trust Him with a looming financial deficit drives me to wish that I had the job my next-door neighbor does, because then I wouldn't have to worry.  Any time we consider our own well-being above the glorification of our Savior, we have entered the dangerous "love of money" territory, and thereby opened the door for all kinds of potential evil.

Scrooge McDuck: honorary owner of the very first McMansion.

For all of these reasons, I am convinced that making good money should not be the Christian's priority.  Nor, for that matter, should it be something we encourage our children to do.  Nowhere in the Bible does an apostle say “seek sound employment to make enough money to be happy in this life.”  Nowhere does Christ suggest that we structure our lives around our jobs so that the money-making aspect of our lives becomes the most vital point on which all other facets depend.  The Bible does say, however, that we should trust in God’s provision and cast all of our cares upon Him, because He earnestly cares for us.  The Bible does command that we be hard and honest workers in whatever occupation we find ourselves, because in all things we should strive to bring glory to God through our excellence and diligence.  It also teaches that we are merely stewards of the things we "own" -- meaning that the money flowing out of our bank account as quickly as we stuff it back in isn't really ours to begin with.

In that regard, while landing a good job with exceptional pay is certainly not a sin, we would do well to remember that we live no longer for human passions, but for the will of God (1 Pet 4.1-5).  Making good money is a desire tied to living comfortably in an expensive and bankrupt world that values profit and personal benefit above all else.  While providing for our families is unquestionably a God-ordained priority -- one that we should not take lightly -- we more often than not mislabel our drive to succeed as a sacrifice for our loved ones, when really we're trying to bring in just a little more with each paycheck so that we can keep up our hobbies.  That, or we're working all kinds of odd hours to impress the boss, all in an attempt to finally lasso that elusive promotion.  That kind of pursuit is a good sign that we are operating not with eternity in sight.  It's an indicator that our ultimate focus is not heaven, but the present.

Of course, some might delineate between "pursuing wealth" and "making a good living," insisting that they are in fact walking the narrow track between those two extremes.  I'm not claiming there isn't any middle ground.  I am, however, saying that if we make our aim a comfortable living, then we should check our priorities against the Scriptures.  We get offtrack when we place more emphasis on our finances than on the ultimate purpose of living -- that is, to glorify God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as well as we love ourselves.  The fact of the matter is that, if we truly love Him with every fiber of our beings, then we will sacrificially place the needs of others before our own, and the temporal desire for wealth that plagues our culture will naturally find no foothold in our lives.

This post is preachy.  I apologize for the tone, but please understand that it is as much directed at myself as it is an exhortation to anyone who might happen to read it.  I'm a homeowner, a husband, and a full-time ministry employee, and I haven't fully figured this out in my own life yet.  Living modestly and seeking to glorify God with the financial decisions that I make is a difficult process.  Ultimately, I want to be absolutely sure that I'm trusting my well-being to Him above all else, because He is the One who gives and takes away.  In any financial season, I want to practice Job's refrain: "Blessed be the name of the Lord."

I don't want to spend thirteen years building my own house.  I want to devote my time to working on the kingdom.

And that's really the bottom line.

Is it wrong to succeed?  No.  Success can be part of excellence.  Does God bless some with material wealth?  Certainly.  But that is an expression of His overflowing benevolence.  The true blessing He offers is Himself -- not the car we drive, not the dream job we worked years to obtain.  We lose sight of that, because more often than not, financial success is consuming.  It demands our focus and our time, both of which could be better used elsewhere.

One way or another, regardless of where we fall on the scale of wealthiness, we're all builders.  We're all laboring at something.

Some of us are painstakingly plotting the blueprints of our lives, making sure every last detail falls precisely into place, so that we have enough to pay the cable bill and hire the landscapers our cousin recommended, while being sure to put some aside for retirement at the same time.

Some of us are just scraping by right now, without much budge in the budget at all.  So, while we really wish we could afford to build the model with the big front porch and in-ground pool, we'll settle for a roof and four walls while we plan for future investments.  We'll upgrade whenever we finally hit the big time and the money starts to pour in.

Some of us are working on the blueprint that was handed down from the upper management.  That plan is the one that instructs us to build on the foundation that will hold, and to use materials that will weather holy fire.  This is the plan that might seem meager to some, and is probably the most difficult to follow, but it is based entirely on the final result -- a bottom line that was already achieved by the Master Contractor Himself.

We just need to follow carefully in His footsteps.

02 August 2014

Reviews, Pt. 3

Part 1 -- Part 2 -- Part 4 -- Part 5 -- Part 6 -- Part 7 -- Part 8 -- Part 9

Next on the playlist!  These are all bands I've reviewed since the end of May.  Clicking on the album covers will take you directly to sites where you can sample or listen in full to each band's material.  The hyperlinks will take you to my reviews of their music.  Let me know what you think.


Soup - The Beauty of Our Youth (Norway)

Wistful, ambient, and achingly gorgeous, The Beauty of Our Youth is a soundscape of purposeful orchestration, recalling the days of childhood and adolescence in a dreamlike haze of retrospective emotion.
Psycrence - A Frail Deception (Greece)

Psycrence write song-oriented metal, with composition, fury, and melody.  This is a young band with a personal sound, plenty of ability, and the ambition to write quality music in the voice they’ve found.

Yossi Sassi - Desert Butterflies (Israel)

Desert Butterflies has all the elements of music that I love: inventive use of themes, blurring of genre lines, technical performance, attentiveness to melody, and solid performance. The pioneer of "Oriental Rock," Yossi Sassi delivers a memorable sophomore album.
Jeff Green Project - Elder Creek (Ireland)

Elder Creek is a great example of new-wave or crossover prog, and tells a story of memory.  A unique mix of symphonic prog, psychedelic rock, folk ballad, and classical mythology, this is an uplifting album with the power to entertain, encourage, and invigorate.
Paving the Labyrinth - Polyopia (South Africa)

Paving the Labyrinth are a practiced and technical band with a strong debut album.  Polyopia is a combination of technical post-rock and melodic prog with an experimental edge, and will appeal to any fans of gritty, complex music.
Anton Roolaart - The Plight of Lady Oona (New York)

The Plight of Lady Oona is unique and ambitious, and ultimately an impressive album – easily one of my favorite releases of 2014.