Joy To The World: Music Video

When I recorded "Joy To The World," and made this video, I wanted to find a way to highlight the profound dissonance (for me, at least) of singing this carol in a broken world... JB

Listen to the rest of the album here:

Longing, Joy, & Hope: The Seasons of Advent and Christmas

Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.  We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.  We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.  We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.  We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.  We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.  To you we say, "Come Lord Jesus." Amen. -Henri Nouwen

  “The Nativity Of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” Rublev.

“The Nativity Of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” Rublev.

Liturgical Season

Christian worship is fundamentally about union with God.  That is, God gives himself to us in worship.  And as we receive him- not merely by hearing his word, or making mental assent to a set of doctrines about him, but as we eat and drink him in Holy Eucharist- we are transformed into the image of Christ, unified with God, and brought into the very life of the Trinity!  And all of this happens by his grace, mysteriously, every time we gather to sing and praise, pray and preach, confess sin, receive absolution, share in the peace of Christ, and celebrate the sacraments.  This is Christian worship!

One of the unique ways the Church has learned to open herself up to the transformation that God offers, is through the observance of different liturgical seasons.  Basically, the Church says "Christians, let your worship of God be so pervasive and defining of your identity that even your calendars remind you of the gospel."

I love this!  And I find the observance of the liturgical calendar to be one of the most beneficial practices in my relationship with God.

Currently we are in the season of Advent, coming upon the season of Christmastide.  Let's use these as examples of how God shapes us in worship.  We'll ask: what parts of our human identity will be brought into union with God by Advent and Christmas?  I see three ideas here: Advent teaches us to be aware of our existential longings, and to point them in the right direction (toward Christ).  And Christmas- Christmas reminds us that union with God is a reality of joy and hope.  It is the fulfillment of our human longing!  The two liturgical seasons work together in this way.

Advent: Longing

In Advent we set out on a journey.  It's a journey of LONGING.  In the hymns and collects (prayers), the assigned scripture readings, the greenery around the church, and the progressive lighting of the Advent candles, we rehearse the plight of Israel in the First Testament as they waited for their Messiah to come and rescue them from slavery and oppression.  So we sing hymns with lyrics like this:

O Come, O come, Emmanuel, to ransom captive Israel.

Of course, the Messiah did come!  And so our longing during Advent is actually directed in large part toward the second coming of Christ!  It is a season layered with meaning and truth.  This is why sing:

Lo! He comes with clouds descending, Once for favored sinners slain; Thousand thousand saints attending, Swell the triumph of His train: Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! God appears on earth to reign.

Even the colors of Christian worship help us tell the story of the gospel.  During Advent you'll see purple and blue vestments and linens around the church.  Purple is the color of royalty, but also of lament and repentance (purple is also used during Lent).  Blue is used in some churches, and it represents the anticipation of the season, like the deep blue color of the sky, just before dawn.  It is also the color of the Blessed Virgin in Christian iconography.

So the colors blue and purple remind us that, in Advent, we are longing and lamenting, waiting with anticipation, making repentant preparations for a Savior-King!  We don't have to leave our longings at the door of the church.  We can bring them with us to worship, knowing that God desires to meet and fulfill them in his coming.

Henri Nouwen, in his monastic diary, gives us these words about longing: "An important part of the spiritual life is to keep longing, waiting, hoping, expecting. In the long run, some voluntary penance becomes necessary to help us remember that we are not yet fulfilled. A good criticism, a frustrating day, an empty stomach, or tired eyes might help to awaken our expectation and deepen our prayer: Come, Lord Jesus, come. (Henri Nouwen, The Genesee Diary).

 Cathedral Church of Saint Luke, Orlando, FL

Cathedral Church of Saint Luke, Orlando, FL

Christmastide: Joy and Hope

Then?  Christmas comes!  The blue and purple vestments and linens turn to gold and white, colors of celebration, joy, and light.  The dawn from on high has broken upon us!  The Church celebrates Christmas not with a single day, but with an entire season called Christmastide- twelve days of reveling in God's coming.  This means that, even when the stores take down their decorations on the 26th of December, Christians continue to linger in the joyful mystery of the incarnation.  Christmastide is an exuberant and vibrant time of worship as God shapes us into a people characterized by joy and hope.

The emotional uplift that comes with Christmas shouldn't be missed in the sentimentality of the moment.  We need to lean into the joy of Christmas just as we did the longing of Advent!  In a world as broken as ours, joy and hope are precious realities that can sometimes be covered up in the Advent waiting.  Christmas gives voice to the truth, at least once every year, that our ultimate destiny in union with God is joy, hope, and fulfillment.

So my prayer for all of us during this season of Advent and Christmas is that, through the self-giving of God in Christian worship, we may become a people who know our longings, and know the hope and joy that comes with the God who fills them with himself.

- Josh Bales

Sunday Nights At The Cathedral Church Of Saint Luke - Downtown Orlando

Saint Luke's Cathedral Orlando
Saint Luke's Cathedral Orlando

What: Christian Worship In The Anglican Tradition 

If you're in the Orlando area (or nearby), I want to invite you to Sunday Nights At St. Luke's.  Each Sunday night in the heart of downtown Orlando, in a beautiful Gothic-revival style church called The Cathedral Church of Saint Luke, I lead worship for an ancient Christian service called Holy Eucharist.  In songs and prayers, in scripture readings and preaching, we reenact the story of the Bible together: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration.  It's a worship experience that involves all five of your senses.  You could say we even taste, smell, and touch the story in the bread and wine of communion.  So from the architecture to the liturgy, as poet Gerard Manley Hopkins said, "Christ plays in ten thousand places."  And it's glorious.  For more on Anglican liturgy and the Bible, HERE'S an article from one of the priests at St. Luke's, and my friend, Justin Holcomb.

 Saint Luke's Cathedral Orlando

Saint Luke's Cathedral Orlando

When: Sunday Nights 6pm

We meet each Sunday night from 6-7:15pm.  In Anglican churches some worshippers come early to kneel and pray silently in the Cathedral before the service begins.  You are welcome to do this!  After worship, we walk to a local pub for food, drinks, and conversation.

 Saint Luke's Cathedral Orlando

Saint Luke's Cathedral Orlando

Where: The Cathedral Church Of Saint Luke

Address: 130 North Magnolia Ave Orlando, FL 32801

Website: www.stlukescathedral.org

 The Risen Christ, Altar, Saint Luke's Cathedral Orlando

The Risen Christ, Altar, Saint Luke's Cathedral Orlando

How: Parking

Parking can be difficult in downtown Orlando.  There are three good places to park when you come to the Cathedral: 1) Metered street parking around the building is free on Sunday nights, 2) The Lanier Parking Lot sits RIGHT BESIDE the Cathedral and parking is FREE there for those attending Saint Luke's, 3) The Regions Bank Parking Garage is another great free place to park.  Pull into the garage, take a ticket, and get a parking voucher from an usher at the Cathedral before you leave.  As you pull out of the garage put both tickets in the machine and that's it!  Get more info on parking HERE.

Who: Leadership

One of the great things about Christian worship in the Anglican tradition is that its liturgical style ensures that the gospel's proclamation isn't based on one pastor's personality or sermon.  Nevertheless, God's church is led by imperfect men and women and we want you to know who they are!  These folks have a steady role with us on Sunday nights.  For a full list of wonderful staff of the Cathedral, go HERE.

 Bishop Greg Brewer

Bishop Greg Brewer

 Dean Reggie Kidd

Dean Reggie Kidd

 Canon Justin Holcomb

Canon Justin Holcomb

 Canon Josh Bales

Canon Josh Bales

Every Lament A Love Song: The Pulse Shootings In Orlando, FL

 G. Rouault

G. Rouault

What Do We Do With Pain?

In ninth grade English class, my brutally honest professor once asked me, "Josh, do you know why your papers get C's?  Because your Christianity keeps you from writing honestly about the evil in the novels we're reading- and in your life as well."

He was right.  At the time, my understanding of evil was that any kind of worthy faith in God explained it away- if not with denial, then certainly with trivial answers and quickly referenced scripture verses.

A number of years later I spent a summer preaching through the different genres of the psalms for a church in Tennessee.  I didn't know it then, but that summer would become a turning point in my theology, in my relationship with God, and in my relationship with suffering.  That's because I learned that, more than any other kind of Psalm in Israel's hymnbook, there are Psalms of Lament, of sadness, pain, anger, confusion, ambiguity, and discouragement.

So what does it say to us, in the wake of the shootings in Orlando last Sunday, that God's people wrote more sad songs than any other kind in their hymns of "praise?"

Here is the audio link to a sermon on Psalm 13 I gave a few years ago.  The title is a phrase from Nicholas Wolterstorff's fantastic (and heartbreaking) book "Lament For A Son," where he says that every lament is [ultimately] a love song.

By the way, during that summer of preaching on the psalms, I tried to write a modern day psalm of lament.  I called it "I Need You."  A few years later it was picked up by a band called the Swift and got some radio play.  You can hear the song here.

You can hear the Swift's version of the song here.

Josh Joins The Grace Party on the Steve Brown Etc podcast

Listen to the podcast.

 Grace Party

Grace Party

Last week I had the pleasure of joining one of my seminary professors and heroes, Steve Brown, in his studio to record a Steve Brown Etc podcast for the upcoming Grace Party that Steve's Ministry, Key Life, will be throwing later this month in Orlando, FL.  I shared a couple of songs while Charlie and Ruth Jones, and Buddy Greene, also joined the conversation.  It was a lot of fun!

Something that was especially meaningful to me to was sharing "Only The Sinner," a song that was inspired by Steve's teaching about God's grace.  You can hear the podcast here or click on the image above.

Last year I wrote a guest blog for Key Life about "Only The Sinner" and you can read the story and listen to the song here.

If you're in Orlando the weekend of May 20th, please join us at Willow Creek Church for Key Life's Grace Party.  It's going to be a blast.  Details here.

A Fall Update From Josh

  Mindy and I have had such a full summer and fall, and I wanted to catch you up on the highlights.  

Mindy! A photo posted by @joshbalesmusic on

We are expecting a baby girl in January! Mindy suspects good songs will come from me rocking our new daughter to sleep this January, in the middle of the night...We are so excited.

And we had a wonderful summer of music and counseling.

In July, for the 10th year in a row, I played the Summit Ministries conference in Tennessee- joining a few hundred folks in ten nights of 35 minute liturgy and hymn sessions! It was a blast and is an event I look forward to each year.

  July was also the month we released The Birds Their Carols Raise, a new album of hymns.  The process of making this album on my own was so challenging and exhilarating that I have already begun to dream about a second hymns album.  I'll keep you posted on that.  

The months of September- November are always full of opportunities to share music and this year has been no different.  Over the past few weeks I've played the songs of The Birds Their Carols Raise and Count The Stars for audiences at Christ Church Intown in Jacksonville, FL, Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Saint Gabriel's Episcopal Church in Titusville, FL, Wycliffe Bible Translators in Franklin, NC, Orangewood Christian School in Maitland, FL, Clergy Conference for the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida in Oviedo, FL.  I never grow tired of the excitement and energy that comes from playing live music in a room full of people!

"Signs amid the rubble..." Beauty in the midst of business today at the office. @ccslorlando

A photo posted by @joshbalesmusic on

  Also in September I accepted a full time position as Canon Missioner at the Cathedral Church of Saint Luke in downtown Orlando.  

  My role at Saint Luke's involves heading up our weekly 6pm Eucharist (pictured above) along with other pastoral duties.  It's also a role that encourages me to continue writing, recording, and touring, for which I am very grateful. If you're ever in Orlando for the weekend please come see us.  More information about the service can be found here.    

In addition to music and pastoral ministry, Mindy and I have continued to see clients at Journeys Counseling Center in Orlando.  This remains a treasured part of our lives and vocations.

Just a few days away... Can't wait for you to hear it. #christmasmusic

A photo posted by @joshbalesmusic on

It's that time of year (almost!). As we round the corner of November we will celebrate the first anniversary of The Holly & The Ivy, my Christmas album! You can stream this album online or download it at iTunes/Bandcamp.

Y'all, thanks so much for supporting my music!  I hope to see you at an event this Winter or Spring.  And please continue to write and say hello. I love hearing from you and do my best to respond to each note. JB

Relevant Magazine's The Drop Features Josh's Album

If you're interested in checking out the new hymns album, you can stream it for a limited time at Relevant Magazine's The Drop!  More about the album...

About "The Birds Their Carols Raise"

An album of hymns from singer-songwriter Josh Bales

I've wanted to make a hymns album for years.  Hymns are the songs I sing when I'm leading worship at my local church, or on the road.  I love their poetry.  I love their history.  I love their theology.  I love their ability to take a thousand different voices in a room and make them one.  They are common songs for a common faith, and that's a REALLY.  GOOD.  THING. This Is My Father's Worldand Fairest Lord Jesus both ask me to read the day's pessimistic headlines only after I've engaged nature and been reminded by it that, though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet. and,  Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer, who makes the woeful heart to sing.Be Thou My Vision asks me to consider the way Orthodox Christians talk about salvation- a life long process of God cleaning the lens of my heart so that I can see him, the world, myself, and others aright. I first heard The King Of Love My Shepherd Is on a choral album from John Rutter and The Cambridge Singers.  I'm brought to tears each time I sing, Perverse and foolish oft I strayed, but yet in love He sought me, and on his shoulder gently laid, and home, rejoicing, brought me. And of all the destructive ways and places that I seek to hide from life's storms, Rock Of Ages offers me the hope that God, in Christ, is my ultimate refuge. Holy, Holy, Holy! helps me sing the mysterious doctrine of the Trinity, and transports me into the heavens where, with all the saints and angels, I join in the song of Isaiah, Revelation, and the Church's early Eucharistic prayer (did you hear the Sanctus at the end of the track?). In Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah, I proclaim that God's provision for me- a weary pilgrim- will be enough. I also wanted to update the recordings of several original songs that I consider to be the brothers and sisters of hymns- at least that’s how I intended I Need YouThe Pilgrim SongCome to Me, and A Hymn For All The World.  Thanks for supporting my music all these years.  I hope "The Birds Their Carols Raise" will be the first of a few projects focused on the songs of the Church! - Josh