O God Arise - A Lament

 
 
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I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience of creating something and at the same time not feeling worthy of it. In this instance, my sense of unworthiness isn’t due to a lack of time, effort, or wrestling with this song, but instead is due to the heavy nature of the subject. I am Irish by birth and upbringing. I was not raised in American culture - and so I am in many ways ignorant and insensitive to the complexities of this subject, and certainly do not have a comprehensive understanding of the impact that lynching had in America. I have however witnessed injustice in various incarnations in my life, and so was able to draw on those places to try and gain some sense of commonality. All that said, I’m aware of my need to ask for grace as I share this song. I trust you will extend that courtesy.

The vision behind the song ‘O God Arise’ was to write something that would highlight some of the similarities the cross and the lynching tree. The song began as a creative response for a class I was taking at Northern Seminary which coincided with the heightened racial tension in the spring and early summer of 2017. One of the things I’ve appreciated most about my time as a student at Northern is the diverse required reading list of our classes which are full of ethnic minorities and worldviews that I ordinarily wouldn’t read. Once such voice is that of James H. Cone and specifically his book ‘The Cross and the Lynching Tree’. Cone states that we will miss something of the cross if we fail to compare and confront it to the history of lynching in America. He states:

“The cross and the lynching tree interpret each other. Both were public spectacles, shameful events, instruments of punishment reserved for the most despised people in society. Any genuine theology and any genuine preaching of the Christian gospel must be measured against the test of the scandal of the cross and the lynching tree.” [Cone 161]

Hone is a difficult read, this book was hard to stomach, but well worth the wrestle in confronting my own ignorance and indifference on the subject. This song is merely a response to the book, most definitely an ill-informed, incomplete one - but it’s the most honest that I could muster. Madeleine L’Engle writes:

“Our truest response to the irrationality of the world is to paint or sing or write, for only in such response do we find truth.”

For me of the most powerful scenes in the bible is when God confronts Cain after he murders Able.

“And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!”

I’ve often celebrated how the blood of Jesus cries out from the ground pleading freedom and forgiveness for the believer - I’ve even used that concept in a bridge of ‘Your Power is Greater’:
 

“His blood avails
It covers every stain
He bore my sin, the debt is paid

His blood it pleads
And cries out from the ground”
 

More recently however I’ve been haunted by the thought of the blood of murdered black innocents that rises from graves and church yards all across America and cries out for justice. I’ve been heartbroken over the recent stories where hatred and injustice are put on display in the headlines. And I’ve been forced to look inwardly at the places where pride and fear still exist that would lead me to hate another human being. I’m reminded to confront the injustices of our day in myself.

Henri Nouwen writes, “The awareness of our impurity in thoughts, words, and deeds can indeed put us in a remorseful mood…but if the catastrophic events of our days...are kept outside of the solitude of our hearts, our contrition remains no more than a pious emotion.”

In a time where racism seems to be more belligerent and bigotry has become emboldened, may we never forget the narrative of our past. As a people who follow the ultimate victim of injustice, may we remember and grieve those who have also suffered under the yoke of injustice. May we continuously confront and repent of the evidences of hatred in ourselves.

 

O God Arise

The crowd surges and thunders
The righteous are howling for blood
My dignity is quartered
Death chokes the breath from my lungs

O God, are your hands idle
Or worse do you strengthen our foe
Why is evil left to prosper
Breaking our backs with its yoke

O God arise, how long will you be silent

The watching children linger
Innocence stripped from their souls
Forsaking their own brothers
They’re ready to cast the first stone

How can we plead mercy and crush our fellow man
How can we cry freedom but live like no one’s bound
How can we preach justice, with these rope burned hands

 

 
 
 

The Vision Behind GATHER

 

We recently released a record entitled Gather: Live in the Living Room. The goal of this record was to capture the worship of the community who have been meeting regularly in our living room for the past three years. More than just the songs, we wanted to record every part of a worship night in the living room setting—everything from how the worship leaders led the group, to how those present engaged. As you can imagine, capturing every moment (down to the raw, unfiltered, even sometimes awkward moments) in a living room setting was quite the undertaking. At times in the process we weren’t even sure going in how the project was going to turn out!

We’re convinced that whatever God wants to do in the world today, He wants to do through all of His people, not just through a select few leaders. Every believer is called to minister to the Lord, utilize their gifts in ministry to others, and to intercede for the lost, broken, and those that need healing in our city, nation, and world. We believe that as leaders, it’s our highest call to train, equip, and empower every believer to do those very things.

As we think of applying this to worship and the gathering, a passage of Scripture we often come back to is 1 Corinthians 14:26:

“What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”

Paul in this passage is stating that when we gather as the church, each person brings something of merit to the table. Some would teach, some would bring a prophetic word, some would speak in tongues—others would interpret, and some would lead singing and prayer. All of this would be done in love and for the encouragement and building up of the body.

At the same time, Paul certainly has a high view of the role of leadership and order in the gathering (see 1 Cor. 14 and 1 Tim. 2 for example). He viewed leadership in the same way Jesus did—not as a means for domineering and commanding, but as the role of a servant and a shepherd.

When we set out to record Gather, we had all these things in mind. During the night we had a time where some folks shared testimonies of how the Lord was moving in their lives, we all broke into groups and interceded for cities that were hurting around the world, and we prayed for healing and relief from anxiety for those present. We believe all these elements are valuable when we gather. If all we do is sing together, then we’ve missed out on so much of the beauty of what it is for believers to commune with the Lord and with each other.

 
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We hope that as we present these elements in a raw, honest living room setting that other communities, small groups, and families might have an example they could try for themselves. We hope and pray that wherever you and your community gathers, you would experience the Presence of God alive and at work in your midst.

You can listen to/purchase the record in all the normal places, but you can also CLICK HERE to find out how you can download a free copy!

Finally, we’d love to serve you in any way we can. If we can come and serve your community in your home, please email us and let us know if we can help lead a night of worship in your living room.

Andy & Rachel

Special thanks to:
Mathis Turley - our co-producer on this project
Josh Noom - graphics & design
Joe O'Neal - all things video

 

 

GATHER // Live in the Living Room OUT NOW!

 
 
 

Today marks the release of our first live record. "Gather: Live in the Living Room" was recorded in our living room last December.

"WE HAVE PLENTY OF ALBUMS FOR CONGREGATIONAL WORSHIP. THAT'S RIGHT, GOOD, AND AS IT SHOULD BE.  BUT WE ALSO NEED LIVE ALBUMS FOR LIVING ROOM WORSHIP."

We're also excited to announce that in partnership with 100 Movements, you can download the whole album for free when you signup for their newsletter! It's also available in all the usual places!

 
 
 
 

Finally you can check out a preview of the tracks on the album on the video below, or find out more information about the project HERE.

 
 
 

Lessons from a Birmingham Jail

 

Today we celebrate the life of one who helped turn the moral compass of a nation. Indeed this day is one where we celebrate all who have stood up for justice and equality in our world, whether they were heralded or silenced. Recently I read 'letters from a Birmingham jail' a letter to the church in America at the height of the civil rights movement. In it's pages we find a message as pertinent today as it was in June of 1963.

In light of all the recent racial tension in America, the rise in religious tension surrounding the refugee crisis, and more broadly the injustice that exists in our world, what should our response be as the church? Are our hearts heavy when we see those made in the image of God marginalized, oppressed and justice withheld? Too often our response is moderate, impotent, or frankly we are apathetic and have no response at all. Do the words of Jesus in Matthew 23 reverberate in the emptiness of what should be our humble acts of compassion kindness, mercy and justice?

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

Proverbs 21:3 says: “To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice”. If this is true, righteousness and justice are much more than social issues; they are issues of right worship. For if issues of justice and righteousness do not prick our conscience and result in action, then we have missed the heart of God or worse fashioned an image of a god that gives us permission to be passive.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” (Dr. King)

King’s was convinced that human evil should not be met with violence but with an active good, that was by nature non-violent. However, his non-violent approach to issues of injustice should not be misinterpreted as abdication, but instead his life, words and action illustrated how a pacifist’s approach can be far from passive. His words offer guidance on how we the church in the 21st century can identify and respond to issues of injustice on a local, domestic and global scale.

King states, “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: 1. collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; 2. negotiation; 3. self purification; and 4. direct action.” (Dr. King)

In order to be able to determine if injustice exists we first must have our eyes open. One cannot live blindly in this world thinking that by ignoring injustice, somehow it will disappear or be resolved. This at its core is self-preservation, escapist and is ultimately rooted in narcissism. One must weigh the arguments, identify, wrestle with, and own the pain that injustice would inflict on on our fellow man and how that would grieve the heart of God. One must seek to understand both sides of the injustice; the oppressor and the oppressed. It is from a place of informed understanding that we can move to ‘negotiation’, Dr. Kings second step. If resolve cannot be found through negotiation, one must proceed to step 3 and examine ones own heart and motives, ‘self purification’. From the place of self purification one can then take ‘direct action’ in a way that does not seek to promote self or violence, but is the action of someone who has done due diligence to ensure their heart and action (insomuch as a human can) is aligned with the heart of God for that time, place and people.

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One of King’s greatest concerns in his letter was not the response of the extremists to the civil rights movement. He was convinced that those who were ‘moderate’ or indifferent did more to thwart the advance of justice and equality than even the extremist. I fear that too often find myself in this place of indifferent, self-preservation that seeks my own comfort more than God’s heart for justice. King goes on to say that moderates “prefer a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” If God is by nature just and the presence of justice is not cultivated in our lives, then we must ask the hard question: Is the peace that we enjoy the presence of God or a seduction that the enemy has used to lulled us to sleep?

The words of Reverend King cut to the heart in a world of refugee crisis in Syria, the rise of racial tension in America, a turbulent Middle East, a fearful Europe and the widening of the gap between the working and middle class. It’s my prayer that this blog post would stir something first and foremost in my heart as well as yours. I don’t have the answers of what non-violent, direct action looks like, but Reverend King would exhort us today in the same way he did in his letter: “this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action.” 

May God give us faith, courage and creativity to respond to the brokenness and injustice in our world as an act of worship. May our worship be a response to His righteousness that rages against injustice and a response to His glory that is diminished when those made in his image are stripped of dignity. May we be spurned to action as our hearts break with His and may our response ever be like that of our Savior, one of compassion and love for the oppressed and the perpetrator.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” (Dr. MLK)

 

Bibliography

The Holy Bible ESV: English Standard Version : Containing the Old and New Testaments. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles, 2007. 

King, Martin Luther, Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Birmingham, AL: Self published, 1963 Accessed December 18, 2015. http://okra.stanford.edu/transcription/document_images/undecided/630416-019.pdf

 

 

 

The Second Weekend of Advent

 
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On the second week of Advent we light the Bethlehem Candle, the candle of Peace.

"But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
    who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
    from ancient days."   
Micah 5:2

We remember that Jesus was born to a specific place and time. We remember the historic context, the tyranny of Rome and the longing of Israel to be liberated and experience a restoration of peace; shalom. However, King Jesus was not born in the city of Jerusalem and a throne, but to Bethlehem and a manger. Jehovah Shalom did not to liberate a nation from a political regime, but came to liberate all nations, people, tribes and tongues; every man woman and child from spiritual slavery and bondage. He came to announce the Kingdom, proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the captives, recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free and to herald the year of the Lord’s favor.

"In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn."   Luke 2: 1-7 

 

 

What is Advent?

 
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Why do we celebrate advent?

 

Advent means 'arrival' or 'coming'. At Christmas we celebrate the advent, arrival, birth of Jesus the Messiah.

Here is just 3 reasons why we as Christians celebrate advent!

1.     To celebrate the coming of Christ into the world, the word incarnate made flesh. Immanuel, God with us. Very God, begotten not created. He was born of a Virgin to break the curse that passed from generation to generation through the seed of man, all the way from Adam.

2.     To remind ourselves that God not only came as a baby, but today is also Immanuel, God with us, through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

3.     With great anticipation we wait for His second coming, His return, the resurrection of the dead, when He, with righteous, absolute authority will judge all mankind, all powers, principalities, and every spiritual being. When every knee will bow and tongue confess him as Lord and Savior to the Glory of God the Father.  When He will make all things new and complete God’s redemptive plan for the world ushering in the Kingdom in full, an everlasting abode of God with men; Immanuel, God with us.

Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over His kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. Isa.9.7