20 Songs From My Four Years in College

I’m a big music guy. I can’t play anything besides the piano worth a lick, and I’m still learning a lot about that. Music has been a big part of my college experience simply because I listen to it so much and particular songs have had an impact on my life as I’ve progressed through. So I picked four songs from 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 each to help tell the story of my college experience. Some have had a serious impact, while others are just fun ones that I enjoyed.

Note: The year is based on release date. It’d be tough for me to remember exactly when I heard each of these for the first time, so I’ll narrow it down this way.


  • “Forgiven and Loved (Acoustic Version)” – Jimmy Needham – Nightlights
  • “Grace Amazing” – Jimmy Needham feat. Trip Lee – Nightlights
  • “Better” – Jess Ray – Jess Ray & The Rag Tag Army
  • “King of All Days” – Hillsong United – Across the Earth: Tear Down the Walls

I didn’t hear the first three until after that year, but all three were released that year. The two from Jimmy Needham are two of my favorite songs of all-time. The original “Forgiven and Loved” is on an album that was released a couple years before, but the acoustic version really displays Needham’s soul side. “Grace Amazing” pairs one of my favorite singers with one of my favorite rappers, so you can’t go wrong there. “Better” is maybe the best selection from an incredible album. I could have chosen any of four or five songs from that record. I actually heard “King of All Days” the first or second time I went to a service at the church I attended freshman year; it’s probably one of my favorite worship songs that Hillsong has done.

Honorable Mention: “Forgiven” by Sanctus Real, “I See the Light” from Tangled soundtrack by Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi, “The Invasion (Hero)” by Trip Lee feat. Jai


  • “Mercy and Grace” – Shai Linne feat. Timothy Brindle – The Attributes of God
  • “Give Me Faith” – Elevation Worship – For the Honor
  • “The Space Between Us” – Shawn McDonald – Closer
  • “Blessings” – Laura Story – Blessings

Shai Linne’s The Attributes of God album ranks as one of my top 3 Christian rap albums of all-time alongside Trip Lee’s The Good Life and, well, maybe it’s just 2, there’s too many to pick from. So my favorite song from that album deserves to be here. Elevation Worship killed it with “Give Me Faith,” a beautiful praise song with exclamations for faith to believe God’s promises and trust Him with everything. Shawn McDonald’s Closer album is a great one from this year, and “The Space Between Us” was personally relatable to me during that summer. And I can remember one night in particular where “Blessings” was particularly impactful to me that fall.

Honorable Mention: “Where Your Heart Is Prevailing” by Great Awakening, “The Glory of God (Not to Us)” by Shai Linne, “Something Real” by Shawn McDonald


  • “Anchor” – Beautiful Eulogy feat. Josh Garrels – Satellite Kite
  • “The Struggle” – Tenth Avenue North – The Struggle
  • “I’m Good” – Trip Lee feat. Lecrae – The Good Life
  • “No Regrets” – Lecrae feat. Suzy Rock – Church Clothes

2012 introduced me to Beautiful Eulogy, perhaps the best rap group out there (competing with Social Club for that title). Their first album was incredible, with “Anchor” being the pinnacle of their excellence. Tenth Avenue North’s The Struggle album was one of my favorites from that year, with the title track as an incredibly-relatable song to bust out singing to. I mentioned The Good Life earlier – I could have picked any of three or four songs; “I’m Good” just happens to be my favorite. And “No Regrets” was a constant in my car stereo that summer and beyond.


Honorable Mention: “Hello” by KB feat. Suzy Rock, “Demons” by Imagine Dragons, “Until I Pass Out” by Uncle Reece


  • “Never Giving Up” – Alex Faith feat. Social Club – ATLast
  • “Faith to Believe” – Shane & Shane – Bring Your Nothing
  • “Shallow” – Andy Mineo feat. Swoope – Heroes for Sale
  • “BC” – SPZRKT (feat. Marz) – Lucid Dream


Many, many great albums this year. Heroes for SaleATLast and Bring Your Nothing top the list for me, while Ben Rector, Beautiful Eulogy and Flame also produced incredible records. “Never Giving Up” is the highlight for me, featuring those rowdy boys from Social Club a bit subdued this time around. “Faith to Believe” is a similar song to Elevation Worship’s “Give Me Faith,” yet in the Shane & Shane style, which I love. “Shallow” is an incredibly relatable song for any single guy, while “BC” delivers with two great voices singing about the changes Christ brings to lives.

Honorable Mention: “If You Can Hear Me” by Ben Rector, “Headphones” by Black Knight, “All In” by Flame feat. KB


  • “Doubts” – KB – 100 EP
  • “Awkward, Pt. 2” – Social Club feat. ABIV – Misfits 2
  • “All We Got” – Andy Mineo feat. Dmitri McDowell – Never Land
  • “Wanna” – Christon Gray feat. Jgivens – School of Roses

Not much to this year yet, with many big albums yet to come. But I love what KB did with his EP, particularly the track “Doubts.” Well done both lyrically and production-wise. Social Club’s Misfits 2 has a few gems, but none better than this ode to awkwardness in attraction. People gushed over Andy Mineo’s Never Land, and “All We Got” is a beautiful guitar-driven track contemplating how God’s love is all we have for sure, and all we need. Christon Gray’s School of Roses solidified his place in my mind as my favorite vocalist, and “Wanna” is a perfect mash-up of his singing and writing abilities.

Honorable Mention: “Undefeated” by KB feat. Derek Minor, “Problem” by Chad Jones feat. Propaganda & Canon, “Beautiful Times” by Owl City feat. Lindsey Stirling

Check out the Spotify playlist at the bottom:


The Right Response to Messing Up

I always struggled with how to respond to a bad grade in school. Hopefully, I won’t have to deal with that for a while, now that I’m graduating and all. But there’s been times where I’ve been pulled between two different responses: 1) Just let it go, not worry about, it’s done, just do better the next time, or 2) Freak out, fret, obsess over how I blundered each and every mistake.

A handwritten book report is given an F for poor work.The idea for both responses was to stir myself to do better the next time, to not make the mistake I just made.

The same thing doesn’t really apply with sin, because we’re going to mess up again. It’s not like we can just perfect everything until we’re blameless in our actions. God promises to make us more like His Son; in fact, He predestined it from the beginning of time (Romans 8:29). But we’ll continually sin because that’s who we are. I haven’t heard of older men who say, “Yeah, I don’t really sin anymore.” In fact, all I’ve heard is that sin is still there. I imagine that, as one advances in life, you find different ways to sin. If I get married, I’ll sin in different ways than I do now as a single person. If I take a leadership position in a company, I’ll sin in different ways than I do now as a currently-unemployed about-to-be college graduate.

What I’ve found difficult over the years is how to respond to my sin. There’s two different ways I’m thinking of that we could take, one extremely detrimental and self-centered and the other extremely helpful and God-glorifying.

1. Work to get back on God’s good side.

This is generally my first reaction. When I see sin in my life, my first thought tends to be, “OK, crap, how do I turn this around? What can I do to get back to being a ‘good Christian?'” Usually, this involves seeking an intense time of Bible study with a relevant passage, reading a book related to the topic, some time spent in prayer. The thing is, that’s not what God desires of us in those moments.

In Romans 4:5, Paul states: “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”

When we mess up in the classroom or at the workplace or in the social arena, we usually have to do something good to get back on the teacher/boss/friend’s good side. When I make that bad grade, I need to work extra hard to earn an A on the next project to make up for that C or D.

I don’t think God works that way. Yes, when we mess up, we need to seek restored relationship with God by spending time with Him in those ways I mentioned early. That’s crucial, for reminding us of truth, for confessing sin and seeking repentance, etc. But we should not approach those times with the mindset of “getting back on God’s good side.” That’s an ignorance of our status with God as His children and the grace given to us by the blood of Jesus.

Plus, we can’t “get on God’s good side” on our own ever.

2. Spend time with God for healing.

Our sin hurts us. Sin of others hurts us. Sin hurts. There’s no getting around it. That’s why, when we see the sin in our lives, we need to turn to God for healing.

Hebrews 4:16 says that, because we have a great high priest Jesus, we can “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” 

We don’t draw to the throne of grace to work our way back up the totem pole of “good with God”-ness. If you’re in Christ, you’re already good with God! Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” In those times of sin, we can still draw near to God with confidence to “receive mercy and find grace to help.”

We receive mercy, not getting what we deserve: condemnation, death, punishment. And find grace, getting what we don’t deserve: forgiveness, healing, new life.

So when we approach God after seeing our sin or spending time committing intentional disobedience, we need to go with Him for restoration and healing, reminders of our status before God, reminders of His love for us, reminders of our mission and call as Christians. Only with the truth of God’s Word can those wounds be sewed back up. Only with time in prayer can that relationship be restored.

But we must approach those times seeking healing that only God can provide. Healing, not work, is the right response to sin.

I’m Not Quite Doing What I Hoped to Do

Back when I arrived at Elon before my freshman year of college, I figured that I’d get some serious time at home during the summers, but after that, I was gone from good old Sanford forever. But then even the summers got taken away. After my freshman year, I worked as a camp counselor at Snowbird Wilderness Outfitters. After my sophomore year, I went to Myrtle Beach as part of Campus Outreach’s Summer Beach Project. After my junior year, I went to South Africa for seven weeks as part of Campus Outreach’s Cross Cultural Project.

After my senior year, I figured, I’d have a job somewhere away from home.

Fairview Dairy Bar in Sanford.
Fairview Dairy Bar in Sanford.

However, things are different in real life.

I’m going home.

There were a couple job options away-from-home that didn’t quite work out. Plus, there’s potential employment at home that could work out. I don’t quite know for sure what that future holds, but whatever it is, Lord-willing, I’m going back to Sanford, N.C., after graduation on May 24 to live in my parents’ house.

This wasn’t what I expected.

This wasn’t what I hoped. I hoped to be “moving on” by this time. I hoped to be “growing up” by this time. I never equated “growing up” or “moving on” with going back home.

However, I’m stoked.

See, God has a funny way of altering our life trajectories, at least in our view.

It was always in his plan that I would be back home after graduation, sleeping in the same bed I slept in during high school (I got a new one around freshman year), in the same room, in the same house, with most of the same people (my brother will be a junior at Elon), going to the same church, driving around the same town. A lot of it will be similar.

But now, I get a do-over in Sanford, almost. Back in high school, so much of my relationship with my city was from a distance, for lack of better words. I didn’t give Sanford much thought, to be honest. I went to school in a different town. The only real serious relationship I had with Sanford was my church.

Now that I’m coming home, I get a chance to approach Sanford in a whole different way. It’s a city that, like every other city, needs the gospel. They need the hope of Jesus, the hope of the gospel, the joy that comes from pursuing God. I’m excited about doing what I can to help there. I’m excited about plugging into my church, Turner’s Chapel, in whatever way possible. I’m excited about developing relationships with guys my age to pursue Christ together. I’m excited about any ministry efforts God throws my way. I’m excited about going to church with my family every Sunday.

I’m excited about eating at the Dairy Bar, Elizabeth’s Pizza, Yamato’s. I’m excited about going on jogs at Kiwanis Park. I’m excited about going grocery shopping at Food Lion. I’m excited about hitting up Belk’s for the dress shirts I’ll probably need for my new job if I get it.

I’m excited about a lot of things. But I wouldn’t have pegged this opportunity that way four years ago. God has a funny way of doing that.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28) 

The One Time Trying Something Different Is a Horrible Idea

I’m a real stickler for not trying something new. I know that’s not always a good thing. I had a conversation with a friend the other night and I was explaining it to her this way: if something works the way I’ve always known it, then why try something new when that could go wrong? For instance, if I always love the Reese’s Cup milkshake at Cook Out, then why try something else? Something else might be good, but it might not be.

That basically boils down to the fact that I sometimes really hate taking risks. I like comfort way too much.

somethingnew1But there are some things where we need to stick to what we know is true and not try something new. So often in college I’ve seen people reject the way they lived at home and take on a whole new way of life. People who had some semblance of faith coming into college lose it by trying something new, like the party scene or investing themselves in something else.

Paul would have something to say about this. Check out Galatians 1:6-7 —

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are returning to a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.

For Starters

One of the main themes of Galatians is justification by faith alone and not by works. This is the central message of the Christian gospel, and that’s why it’s striking Paul so greatly that his audience is abandoning it, wanting to add works to that justification. But, as v. 6 says, they are “quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ,” God. Any abandonment of the gospel of God is ultimately an abandonment of God.

That’s how serious Paul takes the truth of the gospel. He states that there are “different” gospels being preached, ones that “distort the gospel of Christ.” Ultimately, preaching anything that does not reflect the true gospel is a distortion.

However, Paul boldly claims that those aren’t even a real gospel. He says, “Not that there is another one” (v. 7). People are preaching a different one, but it’s not even the real gospel, so Paul doesn’t even want to give it the title of “good news.” There is no good news other than the good news of the Christ-dying, sin debt-paying, eternal life-giving gospel that’s worth giving your life to.

Abandoning the Gospel = Abandoning God

Paul says that, in the case of the Galatians, deserting God results in turning to a different gospel (v. 6). I think it also works the other way around: when you desert the true gospel, you desert the true God. For what is accepting the true gospel if not running towards God in recognition of your need of a Savior? By abandoning the true gospel, you abandon God. It’s so crucial that we recognize that because it displays God’s connectedness to the true gospel and the imperative we have to stay true to it.

God is intricately the initiator of the true gospel. He calls sinners to Himself, made possible by the atoning death of Jesus Christ. He calls us “in the grace of Christ.” We would not be saved it not for God’s calling.

We must stay true to it. Our reliance on the true gospel is an indication of our trust in God and His Word. If we trust God and His Word, we’ll stay true to the gospel we are taught by Scripture.

False Gospels = Distortion

Those who are preaching “different” gospels are “distort(ing) the gospel of Christ” (v. 7). Ultimately, anything claiming to be “good news” is going to promise similar things. But here, the ones teaching falsely were distorting. The Greek for distort in this verse – “metastrophō” – is literally translated “to pervert.” The pervert something is to change the purpose, meaning or intent of something, usually for bad purposes. The false teachers were teaching a twisted version of the truth.

In his commentary on the verse, John MacArthur writes, “By adding law to the gospel of Christ, the false teachers were effectively destroying grace, turning the message of God’s undeserved favor toward sinners into a message of earned and merited favor.” This is a perverted version of the truth. God is still a part of this “gospel,” but it’s a horrible interpretation.

Just like any teaching that doesn’t reflect the true gospel that’s spelled out in Scripture, this is a corruption of truth and should not be trusted. Yet sometimes I believe it and trust it, that I need to do a bunch of good works to get on God’s good side. Praise Him for His grace in those times.

No Good News Other than Jesus

Paul says there is no other gospel but the one that preaches the grace of Christ (v. 7). At the heart of the Christian gospel is the truth that there is no other way to be saved. In Acts 4:12, speaking of Jesus, Peter says, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

There is no real good news other than the gospel of Christ. We’re sinners who, by our own choice, have rebelled against God and deserve death. But in His infinite grace, God provided a way for us to have restored relationship with Him and eternal life, forgiveness of our sins. Jesus, the image of the invisible God, came to earth, paid the debt that we could never pay, rose to life and defeated the grave. Romans 10:9-13 shows the way to find this relationship with God and eternal life and forgiveness of sins:

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Have you believed in the real gospel? Have you trusted the real God? Following any other way that promises life and joy will ultimately let you down. Only by following Jesus can you find true life.

God’s Faithfulness Is Eternal…Even If I Feel Crummy

I’m a pretty emotional guy. I tend to let my feelings and emotions get the better of me in a lot of situations.

Sometimes it can be a good thing. Last night, I stayed up until 1 a.m. looking at old Facebook pictures, all the way back to high school, up to high school graduation, freshman year of college, different summer activities. It was a little emotional, I admit. A good thing. Nostalgic. It’s time to move on and it’s a little emotional. It brought some joy to look back.

shutterstock_1122256641Sometimes it can be a not-so-good thing. Sometimes we can take the littlest thing and make it such a big deal. For instance, there’s always that moment when you see that someone has read your text and they’re not typing a response. That can be a little frustrating in this day and age, especially if you’re expecting a response. Maybe it’s just me. But sometimes I have little patience. And I feel frustrated.

The one thing that the above examples show you about me is that my emotions are not stable very often. And I’d be willing to wager that there are others out there whose emotions go back and forth like a ticking clock.

Often, I find myself attributing my feelings to how God feel about me. If I feel crummy, then I assume God feels crummy about me. That’s the Spirit moving, right? That’s the Spirit telling me that I’ve got work to do, right?

Silly me.

One of my favorite quotes is from a guy named Curtis Allen. He’s a pastor and rapper in the DC area. While speaking at the Campus Outreach New Year’s Conference this past New Year’s, he said this:

The secret to Christianity is not changing how you feel, the secret to Christianity and obedience is changing how you think.

That’s stuck with me, I think because it’s profoundly true. I want to focus more on how this applies to God’s faithfulness to us.

There might be times where we feel God feels crummy about us. We think, “Oh, look at my sin. I just flat out am not cutting it. God must hate me.”  So not true. If we’re Christians, God loves us in spite of how we feel He’s thinking. And He will love us eternally.

What happens in those situations is that we begin to trust our feelings above the Word of God. We look at the Bible and we say, “OK, yeah, those promises about God’s love for me, they’re only true for me when I’m being fully obedient the way I think I should be. When I’m sinless, when I do everything right, I’ll accept that God actually loves me.”

Eh. Not the way to approach it.

I’ve had to learn that lesson a lot this year. As an emotional guy, I tend to be in that vein of thinking. But I’ve had to continually remind myself to bring to mind promises of Scripture, like…

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him because he cares for you. – 1 Peter 5:6-7

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39

I love the Romans 5:8 verse because it says “God shows.” It’s not “God showed.” The present tense of the verb implies that it is an ongoing thing, a continual state of the display of God’s love for us. Christ’s death on the cross is not conditional on our good behavior. To think that would be to mock everything He came to do.

Yet I mock it.

I need to continually learn to change how I think I remind myself of the power of the truth of Scripture. That God loves me unconditionally. No matter how I feel. No matter what I might think.