Album Remarks & Appraisals:
"EMI Gospel has made it possible for you to spend an hour, or two, or almost three with one of its biggest stars, Smokie Norful... the pastor.
As most know, Norful ("I Need You Now") has parlayed his successful singing career into the establishment of his own church, the Victory Cathedral Worship Center in suburban Chicago. But if you cannot travel to hear the good pastor in person, you can listen to him speak via the new Worship & A Word series.
Each of the series' three CDs - "According to Your Faith," "The Myth of Unmet Needs," and "Matters of the Heart" - runs from 45 minutes to an hour and showcases Norful's engaging and personable repartee. He's not a whooping preacher but a motivational teacher. He reminds the congregation that his messages are lessons, not sermons, and keeps things lively with generous doses of humor and relevant references. Norful is alternately playful and serious, but in all cases, he keeps it real. The congregation responds positiv
ely and affectionately to its leader, although their specific responses are hard to hear because the audience doesn't sound miked.
The most poignant moment on the set occurs during "According to Your Faith." Here, Norful recounts his parents' hard-knocks upbringing in Arkansas, narrating a story of two people who struggled to make ends meet so their children could enjoy a better life than they did. For those unfamiliar with Norful's back story, this will be an especially eye-opening experience.
Pastor Norful concludes each lesson with a brief song selection from his recorded portfolio that reflects the message lyrically.
Sermon albums are not the rage they once were. Labels such as Randy's Spirituals, Jewel, Nashboro, Checker, Peacock, and Savoy used to pepper their gospel and spiritual catalogs generously with album-length messages by the country's most popular ministers. Some, such as Revs. James Cleveland, Cleophus Robinson and C.L. Franklin, could be heard preaching and singing. Perhaps Worship & A Word will ignite a resurgence of commercially available sermons and sermonettes so they do not end up entombed in the catacombs of church tape ministries or, worse yet, erased and lost forever." -TheblackGospel
"The first thing you'll expect from any music website, or release from a renowned musician, is a cohesive musical offering. Smokie Norful is a Grammy-award winning gospel singer, and one of the most successful African-American Christian musicians of this generation.
Appealing to many with his infectious yet worshipful infusions of gospel, soul and modern R'n'B, it's surprising to open his latest album and find, instead of the typically groovy harmonies that characterize Norful's music, a sermon. That's right, a sermon. Having said that, it's less groundbreaking than it seems on first viewing; Norful is the pastor of Victory Cathedral Worship Center in Romeoville, and thus has released a three-part sermon series designed to offer a different tangent of his ministry. This sermon, titled "According To Your Faith", is a rousing exhortation for a renewed belief in God, and is destined to lift your spirits to long for a greater relationship with Him.
Smokie challenges the notions of small-mindedness that has affected the Western church, challenging Christians to ask God for infinitely more than they can ever imagine; he also encourages listeners to have faith above and beyond what current society dictates. His trademark style underpins the whole delivery, and it's an extremely encouraging message that will no doubt influence you to go deeper in your relationship with God. I encourage you to pick up the other parts of this series, as Smokie truly showcases the depth of his preaching and his commitment to closeness with God; it's a worthy addition to any Christian devotional collection." -ThirdMile
Personnel: Smokie Norful (vocals, spoken vocals).
Gospel singer and Baptist minister Smokie Norful's Worship & a Word series of CDs ($5.98 list) combines a full-length sermon with one song reflective of the sermon's theme. Unlike the other initial discs in the series, Matters of the Heart (which addresses the role of God in emotional relationships) and The Myth of Unmet Needs (which is about God and material success), According to Your Faith deals with an esoteric subject, if one that is fundamental in terms of church dogma: the dichotomy between faith and good works as means of salvation. This is, of course, one of the 95 theses that Martin Luther nailed on the church door in Wittenberg, leading to the start of the Protestant Reformation. But that might not be fully appreciated by Norful's congregation, and he doesn't mention it. He does, of course, take the Protestant point of view, that faith alone is required. Perhaps realizing that his basic theme is not exactly a grabber (or even necessarily comprehensible) to his listeners, he frequently asks if he's being understood and quickly adds such remarks as "Let me break it down for you," "Let me help you out," and "Let me make it plain." This he does through common examples, including Oprah Winfrey and Beyoncé, as well as by using anecdotes referring to his wife, his children, and his parents and grandparents. In fact, at times he gets so far along into these stories that he seems to have lost the thread of the sermon. But the next in a list of scriptural references always brings him back to the point. He also uses his style of presentation to keep his listeners engaged, frequently working himself up to shouting at the top of his lungs, though what he's shouting about doesn't always seem to justify his fervor. Still, he gets his point across: to the Protestant believer, even if faith may be assumed naturally to lead to good works, it is only faith, not works, that matters. Martin Luther is smiling somewhere, even if his ears are ringing. (Some relief is provided by the closing song, "Run Til I Finish," a gospel ballad.) ~ William Ruhlmann
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