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The Best Christians Albums of the 2010s

porters gate work songs

I recently joined a panel of voices helping come up with a list of the best Christian albums of the 2010s. If you’ve been around my writing for a while, you know I’m a huge fan of celebrating noteworthy music.

As part of the process of the group, I came up with my own list of the 10 best albums in the last decade. This list is a blend of personal favorites, music celebrated far and wide, and music that moved the genre of “Christian” music forward in a substantial way. Here’s my personal list:

—Josh Garrels “Love & War & the Sea in Between”

—Needtobreathe “Rivers in the Wasteland”

—John Mark McMillan “The Medicine”

—Andrew Peterson “Counting Stars”

—Lauren Daigle “Look Up Child”

—Tenth Avenue North “The Light Meets the Dark”

—The Porter’s Gate “Work Songs”

—Hillsong United “Of Dirt and Grace LIVE”

—Chance the Rapper “Coloring Book”

—Lecrae “Anomaly”

Honorable mention: Gungor “Beautiful Things” (Not only does Gungor no longer exist, I’m not sure they would call themselves Christians leaving me with no choice but to omit what I do see as one of the great albums of the last decade).

For the article this panel produced, I wrote up a summary/explanation for two of the albums I had on my list that also made our top 25 list:

The Porter’s Gate, Work Songs (2017)

The Porter’s Gate debut is a visionary endeavor, bringing together a variety of artists (Josh Garrels, Liz Vice, Audrey Assad, Aaron Keyes, Madison Cunningham, and many more) to build up the church for the six days of the week beyond Sunday. While Works Songs has a stripped-down feel (there are no drums), there’s an overwhelming sense of power evident as each track was recorded live in a single take. Standout tracks: “Little Things With Great Love,” “Wood and Nails,” “We Labor Unto Glory,” “Establish the Work of Our Hands.”

John Mark McMillan, The Medicine (2010)

While many know of this album because of the song “How He Loves,” this debut release from John Mark McMillan represents a new standard for how an artist can write singable songs for the church while still embracing their unique artistry. Having released many other albums since, The Medicine stands out as establishing McMillan as an artist others look to as a voice of heartfelt honesty and worshipful reverence. Standout tracks: “Death In His Grave,” “Carbon Ribs,” “Skeleton Bones,” “Reckoning Day.”

Listen to my podcast with John Mark McMillan

You can read about all 25 albums the panel I was on came up with. Also you can listen to all 100 “noteworthy” tracks we selected from those albums down below. I’ve loved listening to these songs for the last few weeks. Come here to listen email readers.

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A Secular Age

We are embedded in and overwhelmed by a world that is increasingly secular—a world without a need for God—leaving many Christians at a loss for how to navigate being people of faith. Listen in as Andrew Root helps navigate these tumultuous times for Christians looking for a way forward.

Andrew Root is a professor at Luther Seminary, author of many books, and one of the many tortured Minnesota Vikings fans. In this episode Andrew Root helps explain the work of Charles Taylor: who he is, why his insights matter, and what we can learn from him.

Listen to the full episode below (click here email readers):

Or find the episode wherever you get podcasts, including:

Apple Podcasts || Spotify || Google Podcasts || Overcast

Links from the episode:

Please rate and review the show wherever you listen! It’s so helpful for helping others find us.

About Called Out

Called Out is a show helping the church move from the reality of its brokenness toward the healing power of Christ.

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Nothing is Hidden

The recent Netflix documentary The Great Hack has once again brought internet privacy into focus as a vital discussion within our society today. More than likely you’ve had a friend on Facebook post something along the lines of:

Deadline tomorrow!!! Everything you’ve ever posted becomes public from tomorrow…Channel 13 News talked about the change in Facebook’s privacy policy. I do not give Facebook or any entities associated with Facebook permission to use my…etc, etc.

European-Union-Facebook-privacy-investigationsThe paranoia surrounding Facebook following the Cambridge Analytical scandal involving the Bretix decision and 2016 election is real. Did these large corporations do something unethical, or even worse, illegal? No one would ever know, right? Who reads the fine print of agreements when signing up for any of these accounts?

Several years ago I had the unfortunate role of asking someone in my church about a sinful choice they were making. None of these interactions are ever easy. Though I want my confrontation to be filled with grace, often the response is not a welcome one. In this particular instance I was told to, “mind my own business.” The person felt I was intruding on their personal life. As their pastor I believe it is my God-given responsibility to do so, but the desire for privacy often exceeds accountability.

I’ve noticed in recent years that when I am able to articulate my sinful decisions or tendencies I am less likely to continue with them. Whereas when I leave them hidden from others, I am more likely to hide them from myself, thinking that as long as I don’t focus on them they are less likely to be true. Try as I might, I can’t hide anything from God.

Proverbs 15 says, “The eyes of the Lord are everywhere.”

Hebrews 4 says, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.”

It’s one thing to recognize God’s omniscience (God knows everything), it’s another to welcome God into the parts of your life you would rather hide.

The desire for privacy is a natural one for a society increasingly focused on self-autonomy. And while I’m certainly not advocating for the unethical practices many companies have used in the exploitation of online information, the push for privacy within our society won’t provide the cure we’re looking for.

As we open up ourselves for God and others, denying ourselves the hiddenness privacy offers, we find healing for our shame. Few things are more powerful than the bravery of exposing yourself, and healing is found no other way. Privacy is a weak goal, because it always falls short of the value we want hiddenness to provide.

Under the prayer of “Self-Deprecation,” The Valley of Vision prayerbook includes this final statement which you may find helpful as a conclusion:

You know the snares that become my corruptions,

and that my greatest snare is myself.

I regret that my apprehensions are dull,

my thoughts mean,

my affections stupid,

my expressions low,

my life, cheap.

Keep me ever mindful of my natural state,

but let me not forget my heavenly title,

or the grace that can deal with every sin.

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On Temptation

Last Sunday I shared a sermon from Luke 4:1-13 which covers the temptation of Christ in the wilderness. As part of my study I read through John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation, which comprises several separate books written by Owen many years agoThough I wasn’t able to incorporate much of it into my sermon I found his pointedness about temptation and its push toward sinfulness to be especially convicting and helpful.

His framework became the backdrop I used for approaching the subject as a whole, even though I didn’t share much from his work. Here are a few quotes that stood out to me:

“It is to be feared that very many Christians have little knowledge of the main enemy that they carry about with them in their hearts.”

“Mortification of sin by self-strength, carried on by ways of self-discipline, unto the end of self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world.”

“To kill sin is the work of living men; where men are dead, sin is alive, and will live.”

“Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.”

“Do not seek to empty your cup as a way to avoid sin, but rather seek to fill it up with the Spirit of life, so there is no longer room for sin.”

“Mortification of sin by self-strength, carried on by ways of self-discipline, unto the end of self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world.”

Though pieces of this wonderful book were difficult to understand and work through, overall all Christians would be better for understanding what Owen highlights about temptation and sin.

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What Are People Looking For in a Church?

Throughout much of my time as a pastor I’ve been viewed as a young leader who should have insight into what “young people” want from a church. What makes people come to a church? What makes them stay? Whether I have any helpful insight on these questions remains to be seen, but I have been asked them too many times to count.

These conversations have picked up following a sermon I gave at my home church titled “The Intergenerational Church.” I have noticed churches are becoming more homogeneous. Meaning churches become reflective of themselves. This is true of age and race, and the lack of diversity means we rarely have to do the hard work of reaching out to someone completely different than us, which means we lose out on growth opportunities because we are relational beings who grow in community.

It’s becoming less and less common to see churches filled with a variety of ages. Often the older struggle to connect with the younger, and the younger sensing this lack of connection ultimately either leave altogether, leave to start their own thing, or leave to join a church full of people like them.

This reality is not a positive thing. We do not understand how to navigate close proximity with those unlike ourselves, to our own detriment. On the one hand the question of “how do I get more (pick your generation of choice) in my church?” is tired and antiquated, but on the other hand is the question is poignant and necessary, even though the answer is probably more than most are willing to endeavor toward.

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of things churches have done to try to accommodate or be relevant to people recently:

  • Coffee shops in church (everyone drinks coffee right?)
  • Theology and beer groups (everyone drinks beer right?)
  • Electric guitar and drums (everyone likes loud music right?)
  • Low light with candles (everyone wants good vibes and soft tones right?)

Feel free to tweet at me or comment below with your own examples, I’m sure there are plenty.

From my experience I believe people are looking for two specific things from a church:

RELATIONSHIP

The statement of “they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” fits here. Can’t get them to join your groups or serve in your ministries? Maybe they don’t realize they are wanted. Maybe they haven’t been given a compelling vision about the power of knowing and being known by others.

There’s a reason most of the groups my wife and I have led meet in our home. A home gives a sense of comfort, lack of formality, and encourages people to let their guard down, all of which are vital if a group is going to grow in closeness with God and each other.

I asked a newer couple to my church what they were hoping to find in a church. One specific thing they said stood out to me: “We wanted people to know we were new.” In other words, they wanted people in the church to notice them and reach out. While some may look for the largest church in town hoping they can connect with God while sitting unnoticed in the back row, many who walk through the doors of a church long to be in a place where they can be known.

These are questions worth considering:

Do I open my home for people from my church? Do others do the same?

Do I know what’s happening in the lives of people at my church? Do others?

What sacrifices have I made to pursue relationships with others in my church?

GOD’S WORD

While previous generations may have been able to assume that God’s Word was foundational to society, today that is no longer the case. For many, The Bible is thought to be antiquated at best and promoting hate at worst. Yet the Bible’s claim upon itself is that it is God’s Word for us. It has something to say!

More than simply opening the Bible, people want to know what the Bible says today. What does God’s Word have to say that may hold transformative power in their lives?

Prioritizing God’s Word is about more than just asking your pastor to “preach the Word.” It’s about helping others learn the whole counsel of God’s Word (Acts 20:27). It’s about helping people think theologically about life, and how to approach the ethical questions of our time through a biblical lens. It’s about more than just knowing a few well-known verses. It’s about helping people see life through the worldview of God’s Word.

Many churches faithfully preach from God’s Word, yet if the impact remains limited to a thirty-minute sermon on a Sunday it’s no wonder people today question whether the Bible is still relevant to us.

As a pastor I’ve come to recognize I have limited opportunities to impact the lives of others, so I’ve staked my claim at valuing relationship with others in my church community while pointing them to God’s Word. I pray God will continue helping me be faithful to those ends, for His glory.

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Our Created Design: The Pressure of Parenthood

Within the creation account of Genesis is the striking conversation God has within His Being: “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). God who is relational in nature, loving and serving the other within Himself—Father, Son, and Spirit relating and caring for each other—from this foundation of who God is, He creates us. And we are created to reflect the same relational nature of God Himself.

One of the ways we see this created design in us is through the early stages of infant development after birth. As our most recent addition has grown (now over 3 months old! time flies) I’ve been thinking about this created design we have to relate with and care for one another.

Psychologists have studied the desire of infants to connect right out of the womb, in what is known as attachment theory. Attachment theory is basically the idea that we were born with a desire to connect and be loved in a secure environment, but not all of us receive that, and relational issues of trust and intimacy later in life can be connected to struggles infants had early in life.

I’ve been known to jokingly refer to attachment theory by saying it’s a good way to blame my parents for all my problems, but honestly, I find it helpful to consider as a parent and a pastor. Here’s how Richard Plass defines attachment theory in his wonderful book The Relational Soul:

“The quality and character of the programming we received early in life establishes a pattern of attachment that controls our relationships later in life.” 

In other words, God designed us to not only connect with others but to absorb their presence into our lives, especially when we are young.

Infants try to establish a connection with their environment. so that they can develop trust and stability, through the primitive instincts of sucking and eye contact. Primitive instincts are essential things humans do without being taught. They just happen. The sucking aspect is fairly important because it is also how infants feed themselves, and the eye contact instinct is obvious enough because you’ll always lose a staring contest to an infant. 

One of the tensions of parenthood is trying to create an environment that allows for meaningful connection between child and parent, but also produces children who are independent enough to make their own (smart) decisions. Balancing these two tensions is difficult and differs from child to child, moment by moment.

My life has undergone an incredible shift in the last decade since I started writing in this space. At the time I was attending graduate school, gaining work experience so I could have something on a resume. My marriage was also young, with no children in the picture.

Fast forward to today, I’ve built the work experience necessary to advance my career, I’ve finished school, and my marriage has advanced from years to beyond a decade. The family picture now includes 5 people instead of 2.

I’ve gone from thinking through experiences based primarily on how they impact me, to instead think about how they impact others. I’m no longer advancing for the sake of moving up, instead my advancements are to help others.

I share these pieces of information about attachment theory because previously I would think about attachment theory out of a curiosity of how my environments as an infant might have shaped me as an adult. But now I think of attachment theory in terms of what kind of environment I am creating for my children and the other people in my life.

Let this not be a discouragement in a “look another way I can fail in life” way, but the encouragement to ask the question, what kind of environment am I making for the people around me?

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