Thursday, December 18, 2014

Happy Christmas from the Middle East

Canon Andrew White (AP)
A Christmas message from a pastor who has shepherded refugees suffering the ISIS onslaught.

The fact is that Christmas has one reason only -- that Jesus was indeed born. Throughout history from the Jewish tradition there was the profound belief that one day the Messiah, the anointed one of God, would be born. He would be the one who would lead people to their heavenly father God. He would be the one who would change peoples understanding of God forever. He would be the one known as the King of Kings.
Yet he was not born of the right stock, he was born of an unmarried mother who was no more than a refugee. She gave birth to her son in a grotty stable, in a grotty little town just outside of Jerusalem called Bethlehem. Not a very grand start for the person who would change history. From the day he was born history was divided into before him BC or after him AD. Those who follow that refugee child now call themselves Christians.
Christmas is also a time when you assess what has happened over the past year. For me this year has been so hard because I am not the vicar in a leafy Parish in the Hampshire/Surrey boarders where my family live. My parish is Baghdad in Iraq. The nation where the Christians have been dismissed from their hometowns in there hundreds of thousands. They have fled in their masses to the very North of Iraq fleeing the onslaught of the terrorist group known as ISIS. There for weeks my staff team have fed and clothed, provided mattresses and cradles for the thousands and thousands of internally displaced people.
Here in their refugee camp, the Christians with no Christmas like us in the West have placed a refugee tent for Jesus, and there in the camp is a tent for another person who was also a poor refugee who had nothing.
This Christmas as we celebrate what we have, let us not forget that we too are celebrating the birth of a refugee who had nothing but gives us everything. As we delight in what we can give to people this Christmas let us not forget what this Christmas is really about: the time when this refugee child comes to all of us as the one who leads us to God and offers us the most wonderful gift possible this Christmas. Christmas is all about relationship with our ultimate creator.
You can read the rest here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The American Jeremiad

An intriguing biblical and historical look at the notion of "good ol 'days," "golden eras" and our country's seeming moral decline.

You don’t need me to tell you that things are not what they once were for Christians in America. Much has changed in the last two decades, let alone the last two centuries. And some of this change hasn’t been good—not for America, not for American Christianity.
But there is a way of responding to declension—real or imagined—that only compounds the problem. We must guard against any response to decline that appeals to a past that never existed or to a future that God hasn’t promised us. In this article, I merely wish to sketch a cautionary tale. Narratives of decline, especially in our American context, build on an approach to history with a long history of its own.

You can read the rest here.  

Friday, December 12, 2014

Friday Fun: Home Free's "Angels We Have Heard on High"

"Home Free," the most recent winners of The Sing-Off, have made a music video for "Angels We Have Heard on High" from their Christmas album. They strive for hymnbook chord modulations, and I especially enjoy the little trill in the melismas.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Vote for Your Favorite Christmas Hymn

The Huffington Post decided to have a vote among their readers for the best Christmas hymn. And these are hymns with theological clout, not the radio-popular carols that mostly talk about winter and/or Santa's operations. So far, "O Holy Night" is winning.

You can view the contestants and vote here.

Let me know if you come up with or see any trash talk in a "best Christmas hymn" contest. I'd be really curious.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Churches and Architecture: Round or Linear?

One blogger I follow on Patheos's Evangelical Channel reposted a recent editorial from the Catholic Channel. I use the word "editorial" precisely because this article seems a bit like a tirade that assumes a few things, especially about the common churchgoer's supposed frustration with "round" church facilities (seemingly defined as anything other than linear seating arrangement, including amphitheater-like settings). He shows pictures of some modern churches and their amphitheater-like seating arrangements and writes:

Have you noticed that nobody loves modern churches? Nobody. I mean NOBODY.

Seriously. Have you ever met anyone who sees a church like this and and heard them whisper, “I just love that church! It is so inspiring!”.

No. Never.

Have you ever gone into a “worship space” like this and heard someone say how awed they were to be in the presence of God? I doubt it.  

That’s because these buildings were not designed to inspire awe or to remind you about the presence of God. They are people centered, not God centered. They are auditoria, not temples.

You can read the rest here. He does bring up some points from Old Testament temple construction and Roman Catholic history. Architecture is also a form of art with which we worship, like music. Like music, architecture in the church must always deal with the balance of aesthetic and function. Like music, architecture in the church has suffered centuries of debate over what God's plan and use for it really is. And, like music, the debate of architecture in the church really seems tangential when we think of the churches of pre-Constantine Rome or modern China.

What are your thoughts on church architecture and how it does or does not affect our communion with God on Sunday morning gatherings?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Three Reasons Why We Sing in Church

Christianity is a singing faith. It’s one of the chief things followers of Jesus are renowned for, both down through the ages and now all around the world. While the proportion of singing has varied from time to time and from place to place, most churches today devote about a third of their gathering time to congregational singing and invest a considerable amount of time, money, effort, and energy into the musical side of church life.
But why do we sing? What does our singing accomplish? What purposes does it fulfill? According to Scripture, God has both created and called us to sing for three principle reasons: to help us praise, to help us pray, and to help us proclaim. Let’s look at each of these reasons in turn.
1. Singing Helps Us Praise
2. Singing Helps Us Pray
3. Singing Helps Us Proclaim
You can read the explanations here.
HT: Rob Smith

Monday, December 8, 2014

Special Personal Announcement: God's Calling

Yesterday, during Sheboygan Evangelical Free Church’s morning services, it was announced publicly that, this next month, my wife Christina and I are following what we believe to be God’s calling in returning to the Chicago area to serve Him in ministry. This calling stems from my growing heart to serve a multi-cultural church in a highly urbanized location, and my wife’s growing heart to learn more about vocational ministry. This call brought us two opportunities:

1) I have accepted a call to serve as the Worship Leader for Skokie Valley Baptist Church, a multi-generational and multi-ethnic church with the Baptist General Conference in Wilmette, IL. 

2) Christina has been accepted on a scholarship at Wheaton College Graduate School to pursue her Master of Arts in Christian Formation and Ministry with a focus in Church and Parachurch ministry.

We will be leaving our current home and ministry in Sheboygan County and moving to the Chicago area in January of 2015. In the meantime, I’ll be working with staff and volunteers on the transition plan.

We will miss serving in Sheboygan Evangelical Free Church and are grateful how the church family, beginning with Pastor Mark Steele, took me under its wing, almost fresh out of seminary and invested and cared for him in his first full-time ministry. From the keytar and the accordion to brass/string arrangements to the wonderful plays this church has produced, it’s been a wonderful 4-1/2 years, and we look forward to keeping in contact and visiting on occasion. We have learned so much about ministry in our years here and are so thankful to have been serving with you!