Appeal to Christians Regarding President-Elect Trump

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Head over to appealtochristians.com to see “Appeal to Christians Regarding President-Elect Donald Trump.” I’m honored to be joined by more than 30 Christian faith leaders who have signed the letter. The appeal culminates in this five-point commitment and call to action:

1. We will pray for President-elect Trump, elected officials, our nation, our churches, and each other.

2. Rooted in the teachings of Jesus and the prophets, we will tell the truth about the world around us, and we will speak up for those who have been marginalized and taken advantage of.

3. We will actively resist the temptation to overlook or normalize values, speech, and behavior that are in conflict with what Scripture calls us to.

4. In the name of Jesus, we call President-elect Trump to repentance for dishonoring the image of God in others.

5. We will fix our eyes on Jesus and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, redouble our efforts to honor the image of God in all people and to love all our neighbors as ourselves.

Read the whole thing here, add your name if you are so inclined (you’ll see a link), and share freely.

John the Baptist: Are You Ready?

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Are you ready?

John the Baptist arrives on the scene today, the second Sunday of Advent. Here’s how Luke describes it:

The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

Through the Incarnation of Jesus, God exalts the humbled, humbles the exalted, brings light into darkness, and reverses the fortunes of the rich and poor alike, of those who are ahead and those who feel left behind. What a wonderful promise that we would see the salvation of God in this way!

Even as God himself lowers mountains and straightens crooked paths and makes rough ways smooth, we can look inward to our own hearts and ask, “What crooked ways are here? What mountains have I tried to build so I can climb them and exalt myself above others? Where are my own rough ways?”

Are we ready?

Christmas in the Middle of Something

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And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

—Luke 2:8-15

Where were you the first time you remember hearing about Jesus? Or if you can’t remember a “first time,” what are some early memories you have of encounters with the God who came to earth? And just as important: how and where and in whom have you seen Jesus these last few weeks, days, and even hours?

The shepherds were just minding their own business, really. They were “keeping watch over their flocks at night.” That phrasing has become virtually poetic to us now, so tied is it to this beautiful story. It’s merely a preamble to the glory of the angels and of the Lord, a glory improbably made manifest in a “baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

But this is also just like saying, “They were at work when God’s glory found them.” Or, “They were standing at the sink washing dishes when the Lord’s invitation came.” Or, “They were fixing a chain on a bicycle when Christ came to them.” Or, “They were practicing their caregiving role when they caught a sudden glimpse of God’s great love.”

No matter how well saturated we are with Scripture, no matter how solid our Christology, no matter how long we’ve been following Jesus, we simply do not know all the times and places where Christ is going to meet us. Chances are he will come to us while we’re in the middle of something else.

Encounters with the living God can be intense. But just as Luke is keen to point out Mary’s obedience to a seemingly bizarre call, he is eager to show us the willingness of the shepherds to drop their staffs (and leave their sheep momentarily unattended? or bring them along?) to “go… and see this thing that has happened,” which God told them about.

Christ has come to earth! He came in the form of a servant, taking on human likeness. Christ will come again! He will come in a glory that will surpass even that of the “great company of the heavenly host.” Christ comes to us! He comes and visits us each day in myriad ways, big and small, obvious and subtle, extraordinary and mundane.

Like these shepherds who were surely caught off guard by the interruption, may we have the willingness to see Christ whenever and however he comes to us. And may we hasten to the places where he is today, running to his feet, bowing down, and worshiping him.

 

The above is adapted from an Advent reflection I wrote as part of a devotional our church’s Deacons prepared for our congregation this Advent.

Advent: At Least It’s Not Lent!

If branding and marketing tag lines had been a thing when Advent found its way into the church calendar, the church of the late sixth century could have used: “Advent: At Least It’s Not Lent!”

It’s true—December just feels more exciting than February-March, and the four Sundays of Advent seem to get to the point more efficiently than what can seem like the 40-day slog of Lent. Besides, who’s ever heard of fasting from sweets in the weeks leading up to Christmas?

But both Advent and Lent share an important—if at times challenging—characteristic: they offer us church folk a chance to carve out deliberate spaces to look inward to our own spiritual state and outward to the person and work of Jesus.

 

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We remind ourselves in Advent that we live in a waiting room of sorts. We have the fortunate lot in life to not have to wait for the coming of Jesus to earth—we know it happened and we still have the eyewitness accounts! But, ah… that second coming. No one knows when it will be. Even Jesus-on-earth said he didn’t know the hour.

So we wait. And wait. And wait. Each Advent that comes and goes is a poignant reminder that the kingdom is (still!) not yet fully present among us.

But that’s no reason to give up hope and stop waiting. On the contrary, we wait all the more eagerly. Luke 12 says:

Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. …You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

To our waiting we add watching and making ready.

The master has not yet returned, and our lamps too often dim when we forget to tend to them in the rush of other commitments. This Advent, may we keep our lamps brightly lit, persistent in our waiting, watching, and making ready for the coming of our King.

 

The above is adapted from an Advent reflection I wrote as part of a devotional our church’s Deacons prepared for our congregation this Advent.

The Rain for Roots CD Winners Are…

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The forthcoming Rain for Roots Advent album is phenomenal. Read more about it here.

Today I’m posting with the results of the giveaway contest my review post included. I’m pleased to congratulate the two winners, Ruth Ohlman and Elisabeth Kvernen! Nice one!

(I will be in touch with both of you via email to make sure the CD gets sent to the right place.)

In case you’re curious… I didn’t count duplicate comments, but did count one entry for a comment and one additional entry for a comment that said a person shared on Facebook or Twitter. There were 59 entries total. I used a random number generator to pick.

 

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Thanks to all who commented! There were a lot of really meaningful reflections on Advent that folks shared, and I only wish I could more fully engaged with each of them, but I read them all and loved it. Rain for Roots has some pretty great fans.

And thanks again to the good folks at Rain for Roots for sponsoring the giveaway and–more importantly–for writing, recording, producing, and releasing this fabulous record for a season of waiting.

Rain for Roots’s Waiting Songs for Advent (and CD Giveaway)

 

Cover Art by A. Micah Smith
Cover Art by A. Micah Smith

 

Rain for Root’s Waiting Songs releases November 10. You can pre-order it here now with a 20% off discount using code WotW.

Also, Rain for Roots is performing an online/streaming concert to celebrate the album’s release, about which you can learn more here.

Finally, there are a few more days left to enter to win a physical copy of the CD, courtesy of Rain for Roots. I’ll randomly select two winners from comments made at this link. For one entry, simply answer the question, “What is Advent to you?” For a second entry, share a link to that post on Facebook or Twitter, and come back to the comments to tell me you did. I’ll announce the two winners Thursday.

Almost, Not Yet, Already: Rain for Roots’s New Advent Album (and a Chance to Get the CD Free)

 

Cover Art by A. Micah Smith
Cover Art by A. Micah Smith

 

There are notoriously few tools for parents to use in engaging Advent with their kids. Rain for Roots this year offers a new and creative resource, Waiting Songs. The album is a joy to listen to, even as it draws out the difficulty of waiting, and helps the listeners to enter into the sometimes awkward liminal space of Advent.

The band explains the genesis of the album:

 

 

Here’s a brief, track-by-track overview.

1. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

The album begins with a beautiful, stripped down version of my favorite Advent hymn. I’ve always taken this song to be the quintessential articulation of both Advents (so far!) of Christ. What better place to begin a season of waiting (“until the Son of God appear”) than with this classic prayer-hymn?

 

2. Come Light Our Hearts

The full band is in on track 2: guitars, piano, lots of great harmonies, bass, banjo, drums…. Sandra McCracken affirms,

For you, O Lord, our souls in stillness wait

Truly our hope is in you

It’s a compelling and reassuring waltz, giving language to those who wait.

 

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3. Isaiah 11

Next is a twangy, string-bending, rollicking country-ish number. “A little child will lead them,” sing some wonderful mothers! Partway through there is a child reading from Isaiah 11:10, using Eugene Peterson’s Message. The song goes from, “A good, good king will lead them” to, “A good, good king will lead us.”

 

4. Every Valley (It’s Hard to Wait)

Have you ever wondered how to explain Advent to a child? This gentle bluesy, soulful song does a great job:

When you write a letter to a friend

And you don’t know when

You’ll hear back again

It’s hard to wait

It’s hard to wait

So hard to wait

When the one you love leaves on a plane

And you’ll know that she’ll

Come back some day

It’s hard to wait

It’s hard to wait

So hard to wait

BUT!

There is gonna to be a day

Every low valley he will raise

There is gonna to be a day

Hills and mountains gonna be made plain

There is gonna be a day

Winding roads gonna be made straight

Comfort, comfort, comfort, comfort!

I noticed it was getting awfully dusty in my room as that song played.

 

5. The Weight of the World

I’m not a lover of the kind of the stylized vocals that carry this track, but the song itself is—like all the others—a good one: memorable, meaningful, and singable.

 

6. Mary Consoles Eve

First of all, I just saw this “Mary Consoles Eve” image last Advent for the first time ever.

 

“Virgin Mary Consoles Eve,” Sister Grace Remington, http://www.mississippiabbey.org

 

And now there’s a song that accompanies it perfectly:

Almost, not yet, already

Almost, not yet, already

And

Eve, it’s Mary

Now I’m a mother, too

The child I carry

A promise coming true

This baby comes to save us from our sin

A servant King, his kingdom without end

This whole album is so catchy and well-written–even more so than their previous album on the Kingdom of God, if that were possible!–and this is perhaps the song that will stick with listeners the most.

 

7. Zechariah

“Zechariah” is pretty funny, because not only is the story of Zechariah’s speechlessness kind of funny (in retrospect! probably wasn’t for him), but this song gives kids and parents a chance to talk and sing in a babbling, tongue-tied manner.

 

8. Magnificat

“Magnificat” is another catchy—if somewhat somber—tune. This track stands out less to me than some of the others, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be hitting fast-forward when it comes to track 8 on the album. Flo Paris Oakes’s vocals and Kenny Hutson’s guitar and mandolin work call to mind Lead Me On-era Amy Grant… which is, now that I think about it, the album I am going to listen to while I work on my sermon this morning.

 

9. Great Rejoicing

Yet more beautiful lyrics:

The troubles of this world

Will wither up and die

That river of tears made by the lonely

Someday will be dry

There’s gonna be a great rejoicing

Also, while playing this song with my wife and three-year-old in the room, I asked my wife, “Do you like this music?” To which my three-year-old replied, “I DO like this music!” The pedal steel and Skye Peterson’s lead vocals partway through the song are icing on the cake.

 

Don't you want to hang out with these awesome people? Next best thing: put this album on repeat
Don’t you want to hang out with these awesome people? Next best thing: put this album on repeat

 

10. Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

Waiting Songs ends much as it began: with a beautiful, stripped down version of a classic Advent hymn. (Side note to worship leaders: yes, there are Advent hymns in the hymnal! And you should sing the few of them that exist as many times as you can in the four Sundays leading up to Christmas.)

Rain for Roots’s addition to the hymn will stay with you for days, even after your first time hearing it:

We are waiting

We are waiting

We are waiting for You.

McCracken’s “Hallelujah, what a Savior!” background vocals float above the “We are waiting,” bringing the album to a satisfying close. Advent purists ought to be able to overlook the use of “the H-word” during Advent here. Or does “Hallelujah” sung on top of “We are waiting for you” deliberately point to Christ’s third Advent, when he comes again in glory?

 

Final Thoughts and Where to Get It (or Win It)

 

I really love this record, not just for myself, but for my kids, and for any other kids and families that have the privilege of hearing it! Also, I’m totally going to teach some of these songs to our congregation during our intergenerational Sunday school hour this Advent. They’re excellent.

I was a big fan of Rain for Roots’s previous album, too–it is still on regular rotation in our house, especially on road trips. But Waiting Songs even tops The Kingdom of Heaven is Like This. It’s a remarkable record.

The album releases November 10. You can (and should) pre-order it here. AND… three more cool things for you before you go:

  1. Rain for Roots is performing an online/streaming concert to celebrate the album’s release. Find out more here.
  2. If you use the discount code WotW you can get 20% off the album when you pre-order (in various formats) here. That code is good through November 9, the day before the album releases. (EDIT: Should have clarified–the code is applicable just to the digital download option.)
  3. Want to have a chance to win a physical copy of the CD, courtesy of Rain for Roots? I’ll randomly select two winners from the comments below. For one entry, simply answer the question, “What is Advent to you?” Or, you know, just say, “Yo.” For a second entry, share a link to this post on Facebook or Twitter, and come back here to the comments to tell me you did. I’ll announce the two winners in a week.

 


 

Thanks so much for the good folks at Rain for Roots for the pre-release stream of the album so I could review it.