Monday, December 31, 2012

Friday, December 28, 2012

Preview of Hillsong United's "Zion"

          Hillsong United has a new album coming out in February 2013 entitled Zion, almost two years exactly after their release of their previous studio album Aftermath. The title song of Aftermath strongly emphasized and celebrated the Doctrine of Atonement. Zion, however, judging by its description in the trailer, seems to focus on Kingdom come and the Church's role in it, juggling the paradoxes and emphasizing servanthood, perhaps giving a nod to what Matt Chandler calls "The Gospel in the Air."
          Curious. As opposed to the beautiful simplicity of Aftermath, "Zion" is a biblical, complicated and more ambiguous term, especially to the theologically-untrained. However, Hillsong United has, for years, written poetic lyrics with exegetical astuteness and maintained the centrality of the Gospel (and good ecclesiology, for that matter) in their worship leadership.
          I'm anxious to see what this album has to offer. Below is the trailer. Enjoy!


Thursday, December 27, 2012

What and What Not to Say About God's Will and Judgment

          It’s almost sadly predictable. Christians in this country seem to know exactly why God allowed or perpetrated tragic events in our country. And, without seeming prayerful consideration, biblical qualification or compassion, they make sure people know about it. 
          So it should be no surprise that, in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, CT, that some claim that God, at the very least, allowed this massacre because of banned school prayer, removing God from school, etc.
          I don’t have the space or energy here to give my interpretation of the tragic school shooting or delve into theodicy. My clear thought is as follows:
          Let’s not presume to know or declare God’s will in such specific and tragic circumstances.
          Especially in the face of mourning. Especially when the ones suffering are the neighbors whom we’re called to sacrificially love. 
          We should be careful to believe such confidently-stated yet biblically-unjustified interpretations of God’s will and judgment, or anything similar. Earlier this spring, there was a shooting at a college where, not only is God “allowed,” He’s even celebrated. Hurricane Katrina destroyed more churches than casinos. The list of questions and doubts goes on, and it also seems to insultingly oversimplify (and underestimate) God’s will to assume it in such political, convenient and, to be honest, nation-centered terms.
          In closing, it’s in fact very biblical to suggest our country (or any country or the world, for that matter) is inviting God’s general judgment with our disrespectful disregard for Him and His Word, and with our continual failure to be a moral and peaceful society. (I know such an idea is offensive to some people). However, it’s not biblical to go further and declare a specific tragedy as God’s wrath because of a specific deviance.
          Some more good thoughts here.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Don't Forget That Christmas Did Happen

          Anticipating the "post-Christmas blues," I thought you might enjoy this video from ShiftWorship.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Monday, December 24, 2012

Advent Candle Monologue #4: Cato the Intellect

          For our Advent candle lightings this year, our church is having actors/actresses from our drama ministry are performing historic-fiction monologues of first-century individuals who are processing the words of Christ from a certain angle and then celebrating his birth. Enjoy!

          Salutations, dear gathering of Christians. My name is Cato. I’m an aspiring intellect and philosopher, and I’d like to tell you a little bit about how I became a follower of ‘the Way,’ as we Christians call it. I’m not the best public speaker, so I prepared my testimony on some notes here. 
I would not have known about Jesus the Christ had it not been for the man you know as Pontius Pilate.     We were always very different people. He spent decades in the military while I spent decades in school. Pilate spent a lot of time as far away as Judea, whereas I went and stayed as close to Rome as I could. But we had two things in common. We were both born in Bisenti, fifty miles or so from Rome, and, until recently, we were both very cynical about religion. We were what you would call “pen pals” for most of our lives.
          Pilate didn’t really get along with the Jews he oversaw. He just didn’t understand why he couldn’t decorate Jerusalem with images of the state religion, even if only at night, or why he couldn’t use just some Temple money to build a town aqueduct, having the Jews contribute to their providing government. He always had a temper that got him into trouble with Emperor Tiberius. 
          But I consider myself to be an open-minded person. My cynicism about religion doesn’t come from any type of grown insensitivity or experience with stubborn religious folk. I’m just so used to seeing religion used for political career or personal convenience.  Senators in Rome flaunt their fake devotion to gods, whom we somewhat copied from the Greeks, so they can climb the political ladder. Pharisees have been known to be publicly explicit about their rituals and followed laws in their lifestyles, so that they get governmental benefits for being “religious.” I guess, in all the religions I’ve encountered, I’ve rarely seen followers who are giving a god some royal respect, being willing to sacrifice personal lifestyle, career and even safety for a king.
          That’s why I was so fascinated by Pilate’s last letter to me. He wasn’t whining about how he’d been disgraced and fired by the Empire for massacring some Samaritans. Pilate’s my friend, but I supported Governor Vitellius in that decision. Pilate, in his last letter, was still talking about his bewildering conversation with Jesus of Nazareth.
          Like I said, Pilate was no weakling. Quite the opposite, and to a fault. But he was so rattled by Jesus. Jesus stood before Pilate, tortured and bleeding, and said that his kingdom is not of this world, and that he’s come to testify to the truth. Pilate, a longtime religious cynic and a military man who’s long served an empire that mostly transitions leadership by assassination, struggled with the battered Jesus’s confident words. 
          Pilate wrote to me, trying to process all of this: “He’s blameless and he’s not threatening Rome, so why is he being executed? And why aren’t he or any of his followers trying to stop it? If his kingdom is of another place, then what is he doing here? What is this truth to which he’s testifying? You know I’ve never believed much in truth.”
          I learned later, exactly, what Jesus was saying. Pilate never really understood paradox. Jesus the Christ would die to set people free from the ultimate cost of their wrongdoing. He would rise again from the grave to conquer death. So, in essence, Jesus reigned, as King, from the throne of an execution tool: the cross. That’s a king I’d serve. And if his kingdom is of another place, why is he here? I think it’s a loving and compassionate effort to testify to this very truth.
          So, as I light this candle, I think of the birth of Jesus the Christ as the promised King, who came down to earth from His Kingdom in order to testify to the truth. He has conquered death for us and reigns in all of our hearts, and we are to serve him with thankfulness and respect. Because Truth is not something flexible that gets twisted for self-convenience. It’s something that we’ve seen fellow Christians sacrifice and even die for.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Tebow and the Theology of Football, Part II?

          Has a lot changed for Tebowmania in a year? Actually, maybe not.
          In case you forgot last year, Tim Tebow, an impressive rookie and first-round NFL draft pick, became the starter for the struggling Denver Broncos (their record was 1-4). Despite Tebow's very-different QB style and his inability to put up decent QB stats, the team, with Tebow under center, found ways to win and went 7-4 for the rest of the season. Under Tebow, they clinched a division title, a long lost playoff berth, and even a victory over the defending Super Bowl contenders: the Pittsburgh Steelers.
          Such a seeming miracle story was causing people (Christians and otherwise) to jump to some extrabiblical conclusions about the Christian view of the supernatural and God's involvement in human affairs, particularly football games. So, I wrote this post.
          Jump one year later. I was always curious why the New York Jets acquired Tebow. At first, Rex Ryan's Jet subculture didn't seem like a good fit for him, and now neither does their offense. So, Tebow may be getting a lot of unfortunate bench time, but Tebowmania and its miracles are still very much alive, according to a fascinated atheist and (non-Jet fan) columnist from the New York Times.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Carols Now a Form of Bullying?

          Another episode in our society's continuing attempted integration of faith, culture and state is happening in the Northwest.
          An anonymous group of parents in Montana are objecting to the repertoire of the elementary school's Christmas concert. So, a conversation will happen between the superintendent and said parents. Here's a portion of the letter:

          "With many of the children in our neighborhood up here being Jewish and Buddhist, as well as a few Muslim and atheist students, we were assured that this year it would be a secular program. One of the largest complaints last year were the young children singing about ‘their lord.’ This was concerning to many families and it was clear that several of the students were uncomfortable.

          "We have no problem with it being called a Christmas concert, it’s just the fact the material should be secular. Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. These are things that offend no one, but when the children are singing about their lord and savior, Jesus Christ ... public school is not the place."

          You can read the rest here.
          This isn't a surprise to me, as I've long noticed that the mainstream's most popular Christmas carols have little or nothing to do with the incarnation of God. But there's a few quirks to this complaint.
          First, it's interesting that, in this and other contexts, theological lyrics are objectionable, but titles with etymology or another connection that "smacks of the pulpit" (e.g. Christmas, St. Nicholas, holiday, etc.) are not. Second, it ignores an interesting argument from a special education professor that the popular, secular and supposedly non-offensive song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" actually promotes bullying.
          The article closes with a slideshow and list of new school taboos that could argue that the very definition of "bullying," for example, is becoming eerily and harmfully inclusive.
          My take? As a Christian pastor and musician who has studied music history and some ethnomusicology and, in the past, sung and participated in songs of and in multiple "religious" contexts, I'd take a multi-religious public school concert rather over a religion-free one any day. This will help better build community in the school, and it'd be a lot better of a concert, musically, too. (Sorry, but "non-offensive songs" tend to be low quality musically, etc.).
          But it's sad to think that songs that speak of a loving God coming down to the lowly earth in humble human form to serve, sacrifice and save mankind from itself is a form of "bullying."

Monday, December 17, 2012

Advent Candle Monologue #3: Hadassah the Shepherd's Wife

          For our Advent candle lightings this year, our church is having actors/actresses from our drama ministry are performing historic-fiction monologues of first-century individuals who are processing the words of Christ from a certain angle and then celebrating his birth. The one below is written by a creative and theological volunteer, Summar. Enjoy!

          My name is Hadassah. I am the wife of Simeon the shepherd. Oi! What a life is the life of a shepherd’s family. Much drudgery and toil. My husband must work long hours day and night tending and caring for our sheep. He must be very careful, for they are our livelihood.  
          Our sheep have many enemies: disease, wild animals, thieves, and dangerous terrain. Not to mention the sheep themselves, they are not the smartest creatures that ever lived. They will follow the wrong one right to their deaths. If they fall over, they can’t get up without help, and they are easily frightened and confused.  
          The life of a shepherd’s family is full of hard work, and it’s very monotonous.  Every day the same thing – watching the men come in and go out to take the flocks to pasture. So when something exciting happens in the town, or someone new comes – it is very momentous
          So this man named Jesus came to our village, teaching. Everyone went out to hear him.  I have never heard any man speak the way he did. His presence was so commanding, yet so gentle at the same time. Even though he was a carpenter by trade, he came to our village, full of shepherds, and spoke about shepherding as if he was one. He knew so much. My friends and I were amazed at how well he understood the life of a shepherd and the ways of sheep. 
          Last month, he taught something very interesting to us shepherd families , he talked about the difference between the hired hands and the actual shepherds  – how they will run away and leave the sheep unprotected at the slightest sign of danger.  How true this is – just last year a thief managed to get into the pasture with our sheep and  that rascal Elias just ran off in fear and left the sheep all alone to be stolen. We lost 10 sheep that day! 
          My husband will always try to protect his sheep and frighten away the wolves and thieves. But this Jesus, he then said something remarkable he said that He was the good shepherd and he lays down my life for the sheep. Now any decent shepherd will do all he can to protect his sheep, within reason, but if it is between my husband’s life or the sheep -well- he would let them die. But this Jesus said he was a shepherd who would lay his own life down for his sheep. He called us his sheep. 
          Well, now -all this time later- that unusual teaching makes sense to me. I suppose he’s right. We are a lot like sheep. We are frightened and confused, and we often follow the wrong ones even to the point of death. And when we fall in life, it is very hard to get back up on our own. Now it has happened: He did die and willingly lay down his life. He obeyed Father God’s commands and gave his life for his sheep. I now understand that I am His sheep and he saved my life from the thief of my soul. 
          I light this candle in honor of my good shepherd who knows me and willingly laid down his life for me.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday Fun: Taylor U.'s "Silent Night" B-Ball Tradition

          Taylor University (in Upland, IN) may not boast a large student body or be anywhere close to a blossoming metropolis, and its basketball team may not reach NCAA's Final Four anytime soon. But its basketball program experiences a yearly tradition that made it, this year, to CBS Sports (thanks to my brother for the link). You can read the whole story here, with videos. (Apologies for one PG-rated word in the article).

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Hillsong's "We Have a Savior"

          Our church has been singing Hillsong's new "We Have a Savior" this Advent. It's been received quite well. Have you heard it? The music video's below. Check it out!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Noah's Ark and Flood Possible, Says Archaeologist

          The archaeologist who does a lot of underwater exploring (and found the Titanic) suggests that it's quite possible that Noah's ark and flood happened. You can read about it here. While we can't know (as with the "Gospel of Jesus's Wife") how much any "finding" reported in mass media has been through scholarly circles, this is an interesting find.
          Maybe they should consult the makers of this film.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Advent Candle Monologue #2: Marrah the Servant Girl

          For our Advent candle lightings this year, our church is having actors/actresses from our drama ministry are performing historic-fiction monologues of first-century individuals who are processing the words of Christ from a certain angle and then celebrating his birth. The one below is written by a creative and theological volunteer, Summar. Enjoy!

          Hello. My name is Marrah, I am… well, I was a slave in the household of Maccabees until a few weeks ago. I was sold as a slave because of the debts of my father. My life was difficult. My master was stern and cold, and my daily life often involved abuse and neglect.  I served as a house slave, often waiting on the guests of my master.  
          One man’s visits that I dreaded, was Benjamin.  He was hard and angry and very wealthy.  He never let anyone forget his superiority or abundant wealth. Whenever I served him and my master I always felt demeaned and scorned. One day, Jesus of Nazareth visited our town, and it was rumored that Benjamin had an encounter with this Jesus.  Rumors were spread that something miraculous had occurred. Months went by and we never heard or saw Benjamin.  Not that I was bothered by his absence, I rather enjoyed the reprieve from all the degrading remarks. 
          Not long ago word came that during the Passover that same Jesus had been crucified. Some of us were sad others confused, but all in all that news didn’t change our daily lives. We were all still slaves of a hard-nosed master with no hope of ever being free due to the magnitude of our debts. 
          Then the most amazing thing happened. Benjamin showed up at my master’s house. I noticed right away that he was different somehow. He did not speak to me as harshly or make derogatory comments to me. As I stood by serving my master and Benjamin, I heard Benjamin tell the story of Jesus and how he had died to become the savior of the world and how he had paid the debt of sin for anyone who would believe.  I saw Benjamin break down crying as he told my master of how sorry he was for the awful life he had lived and now how he felt that it was his duty to make things right by serving Jesus for the rest of his life, helping people the way Jesus had helped him. 
          Then he looked over at me and said to my master, “How much is her debt?” My master was shocked and asked why – Benjamin insisted that he tell him the amount.  My master told him, but said that it didn’t matter. Even if my debt was paid, he had no intention of giving up the labor he received from me. Benjamin then took out his wallet and gave my master the amount I owed and then told him that he would stay and work in my place.  Benjamin said that Jesus had taught that serving is better than being served. 
          Much to the astonishment of my master, Benjamin took my place and took the role of a servant in Maccabee’s house and allowed me to go free. Just as Benjamin gave up his superior place in society to take my place as a servant, Jesus left his place of superiority and came to serve many more, erasing indebtedness with his sacrificial death. Today I gladly serve the Lord Jesus Christ. What less could I do for all that he did for me?  
          I light this candle in honor of Him choosing to lay down his life as a ransom for me and all who believe in him.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Gospel According to the Late Christopher Hitchens

          One year after the notable Neo-Atheist's passing, a graduate school colleague of mine wrote this for the Huffington Post.

          "Christopher Hitchens, one of our era's most eloquent atheists, died a year ago this month, and in his memory I thought I might share my favorite Hitchens quote with you. It speaks clarity into some of our nation's post-election identity crisis, and it's the kind of thing both believers and non-believers should cherish about Hitchens' work."

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Advent Character Monologue #1: Manahem the Priest

          For our Advent candle lightings this year, our church is having actors/actresses from our drama ministry are performing historic-fiction monologues of first-century individuals who are processing the words of Christ from a certain angle and then celebrating his birth. I wrote two of the monologues, and a theological and creative volunteer in our program, Summar, wrote the other two. Below is the first. Enjoy! We'll have one each subsequent Monday.

          Shalom. My name is Manahem, son of Jaron. I am a Levite, born and raised in Galilee. I was appointed and have been a priest for 34 years. There’s a lot to that general job description, but it seems what I do the most is sacrifice. 
          I’ve helped to put all kinds of crops and animals on the altar, and for all kinds of reasons. Some people are really sad to see good crops or cute and healthy animals go because of something they did. Others just don’t care. It would depress you to know the hypocrisy I see in our political leaders and how they take atonement, the idea of being right with their Creator God, for granted.
          Atonement is something I take very seriously. It’s my job to help toward it. I know I’m a bit biased, but I’m proud of the sacrifice ritual and God that I’ve served. Most our neighboring pagan nations and their gods either have borrowed from our holy book or sacrifice things, sometimes even humans, just to feed and manipulate impersonal and angry gods. But our God is holy. He will not be manipulated, and He very much desires our atonement with Him.
          Still, my job sometimes depresses me because, sometimes, I see people basically buy and self-justify their wrongdoing with their sacrifices. And I sometimes wonder . . . if I was God, would these sacrifices really be enough to cover all the injustice and evil that I know these people do?
          So, it piqued my interest when I saw these large crowds gathering to hear this commoner speak. His name was Jesus, son of Joseph, a carpenter. For a commoner, this Jesus knew a lot about the Levitical Law that I had spent so many years studying. He didn’t take it for granted like King Saul did. 
Jesus said he wasn’t going to abolish the Law, but fulfill it. Wasn’t exactly sure what He meant by that at first.
          He also said that to enter the kingdom of Heaven, we must be more righteous than the Pharisees and teachers of the law. I was somewhat intrigued by this. I know a few Pharisees. They’re good about ritual and sacrifice, but I know they have a few skeletons in their closet.
          But what I didn’t understand until later, though, even as a priest that specializes in altar sacrifice, is that He was becoming the perfect sacrifice to atone for people who had violated the Law. Jesus wasn’t sacrificing crops or animals. He was sacrificing himself has someone born under the law . . . and as someone who never violated it. Now, no more animals and crops are necessary to atone with God. 
          So, as I light this candle, I think of Jesus, the son of God the Father, coming to earth as a perfect embodiment. Not only is he the perfect sacrifice, but He is the perfect temple, as people come to Him to approach God the Father. Jesus is also the perfect priest as He is someone who, more so than me, takes atonement with God very seriously. Amen.  

Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday Fun: Questionable Christmas Carol Lyrics?

          Even as a child, I found these lyrics curious. Does anyone else? 

          There’s a line in the chorus of “What Child is This?” that I found fairly impractical.

          “This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing.”

          Really? As a kid, I worried that King Herod could gather a Roman army to attack the stable, and the only defense is a fistful of lowly shepherds with their . . . staffs. I always figured the angels should do the guarding and the shepherds should do the singing. Perhaps the angels really couldn’t contain themselves, or the shepherds were really poor singers. 
          Of course, as I grew up, I learned about the Hebrew definition of the term “guard,” and that angels can multitask.
          And then there’s the closing line from the first stanza of “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” a burdening line put to a pleasant melody.

          “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.”

          No pressure there, baby Jesus. But, of course, He’s the one and only Son of God and our Savior, so the hopes and fears of all humanity don’t stress him out.

          Any you want to add to the list?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Defining "Biblical"

          Biblical values. Biblical politics. Biblical models and definitions of marriage, etc. The term “biblical” has become a buzzword in the socio-political arena. I remember James Dobson objecting to Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, claiming he wasn’t advocating a “biblical form of government,” but he never really elaborated on that. Recently, Jon Stewart lashed back at Mike Huckabee for talking about the “biblical model of marriage,” which Stewart said was polygamy. Many Christian leaders encouraged citizens, in the past few months, to vote for biblical values, not explaining much what they were. Some cling to the term “biblical” as a kitschy cliche, while others disregard it. But, in most cases, it’s misunderstood.
          What’s biblical is not determined by strict literalist and exemplary interpretation. This is how, for example, people look at the polygamy and misogyny in the Old Testament and assume this is the “biblical model” of marriage. That’s like saying the Shakespearean model for transitioning royal leadership is conspiracy and assassination.
          Also, what’s biblical isn’t determined by taking verses or passages out of context. This is how, for example, look at the anointment of Saul in the early chapters of 1 Samuel and tote, perhaps, theocracy as the “biblical model” of government. But comparing the ancient and covenanted Israel with any modern and non-covenanted nation is poor interpretation.
          Finding what’s biblical involves a bit more reading context, studying history and objectivity. We’re to understand genres and look for themes. This is why most churches prefer pastors who graduated from seminaries which largely require a plethora of studies in history and ancient languages and literature.
          So, what is “biblical” is not always a shallow opinion. However, what’s “biblical” is not always clear. When we assert something as “biblical,” we need to be able to explain both its biblical-ity and its practicality, out of respect to the Bible. If we appear anti-intellectual, hypocritical or confused about our interpretation of the Bible, it will only become less and less believable.
          After all, there are some positives to studying and discussing the Bible.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Questions to Ask When Planning a Worship Service

          Coming from a music composition background, planning and "producing" services is probably my most familiar and enjoyed part of my job description. Thus, these questions are useful.
-Is there support for this service element in the Scriptures?
-Is this element comprehensible to outsiders?
-Is this element edifying to believers?
-Is this element offensive, alienating, or marginalizing to any section of the church body?
-Does this element exalt God or man?
-Does this element adorn the gospel?
         You can read the rest here.   

Monday, November 26, 2012

Black Friday/Cyber Monday and Advent

          Did anyone else notice this? Mathematics did this for us. Because Thanksgiving (always the 4th Thursday of November) started so early this year, the weekend that follows Thanksgiving was not (as it usually is) also the first weekend of Advent. So, while Black Friday and Cyber Monday made their usual splash, many churches (mine included) were still wrapping up the pre-Christmas sermon series and singing non-Christmas songs. We don’t light an Advent candle or add any Christmas decorations until next week.
          Personally, I kinda see it as a symbolic separation between when (and how?) true Christ-followers celebrate Advent and how everyone else celebrates the American “holiday season.” What do you say us Christ-followers try to play out this separation even further, striving to keep Christ-likeness in Christmas?     

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Black Friday and Good Friday Prayer

          I went on my first "Black Friday" expedition last year and had a blast because there wasn't a sale item that I urgently was seeking. This year, with three kids with poor sleeping habits, I rightfully deemed it idiotic to go anywhere after 9pm.
          Still, I found these thoughts very useful.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

An Historical and Expanded Thanksgiving Menu

          Happy Thanksgiving!
          It's my hope and prayer that you are able to take time today to count your blessings and remember not just what you're thankful for, but Who you're thankful to!
          The past few Thanksgivings, we (well, mostly I) have strived to make the menu of my family's Thanksgiving meal a bit more based on history and less on popular tradition. This became a passionate goal of mine when I found out that the original Thanksgiving meal featured lobster.
          As it turns out, the first Thanksgiving featured a lot of seafood, as well as ducks, geese and deer (good news, hunters!). Maybe we'll try these next year. It's hard to push such ideas when your wife is the only good cook in the family.
          You can read some more about the first Thanksgiving here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Anyone Else Heard This Thanksgiving Song?

          I stumbled over this song when programming my church's Thanksgiving service. Anyone heard this song before? One of the best of the Getty's, in my opinion.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Personal Freedom is Not the Answer?

          I was alerted to an interesting and provocative article in the New York Times regarding potential downsides to our “age of possibility” where individuality and personal freedom are worshiped. Quite counter-cultural, with a lot of points and thoughts on socio-cultural climate. and it even throws in a good word for the practicality of some tradition and structure.

          “People are not better off when they are given maximum personal freedom to do what they want. They’re better off when they are enshrouded in commitments that transcend personal choice — commitments to family, God, craft and country.”

          You can read the rest at Thoughts?

Monday, November 19, 2012

My Church's Adoption Blogs

          My church respectfully honored the cause of orphans and adoption yesterday, as November is National Adoption Month. I've already written about the significance of adoption, so today I wanted to let you know a few true stories that might be closer to home.
          As I might have said before, I'm proud of the church family that I serve because it has a positively disproportionate number of individual families that have adopted and/or are pursuing adoption. And only some of them write their inspirational stories in blogs, as listed below.
          As I said before, the blogosphere doesn't contain the other families from our church that have adopted from Korea, China, Russia, and domestically, but don't happen to be invested in social media. Feel free to read these stories. More to come!
          Happy National Adoption Month!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday Fun: How to Have a Big Rich Texas-Style Baptism

          My colleagues are passing this video around on social media this week. It appears to be no joke. After all, who needs an historic document written by the founding fathers of the Church like the Didache when you have a wealthy Texan housewife who's also an expert in fashionable hospitality and a reality TV star? 
          Apologies ahead of time for a PG-13 rated word said in this video. Another reason that these "instructions" should be far and away from any serious baptism service.
          So much to say in response to this.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

What’s with the Old Testament God?

          People go to the Old Testament and find polygamy, misogyny, abuse and other barbaric forms of hypocrisy, along with kooky restrictions (e.g. dietary) that modern Christians strangely don’t follow. Taking verses out of context and/or assuming that Old Testament Law is 1) God’s timeless and universal formula for political utopia and cultural flourishing or 2) a bunch of laws that were abolished with the New Testament, a deeper explanation of biblical living isn’t obvious, and therefore isn’t believed. In this debate, it’s been said that the Bible is an inconsistent and barbaric book, misunderstood and abused by Christians to justify hatred, bigotry, war, sexism, etc.
          This has been elevated in the past few months during the political election season. Cynics wonder why Christians that base their political stances (“anti-abortion,” “anti-gay,” “anti-women,” etc.) as well as their entire lifestyle on such a strange and maybe even dangerous book, and some Christians don’t know how to respond to such allegations against the Old Testament God.
          I thought I’d list a few sources for those curious and interested in conversation. These books still leave room for debate between Christians over how biblical values are to be applied in the political arena, but it does well to establish and defend said biblical values that affirm the dignity of all men and women, the sacredness of the biblical definition of marriage, the sanctity of human life, etc.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

"Every Good Endeavor" Trailers

          Most of the circles of Christian readership (myself included) are still processing the wisdom and weightiness of Tim Keller's Center Church so that not-so-many people knew that he, in fact, released another book yesterday, called Every Good Endeavor.
          I think it's quite timely, as I sense that both Christians and non-Christians alike, for various reasons, sometimes struggle to make the connections between faith, work and lifestyle in this political, diverse and disunited culture. You can view the trailers here.    

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Abby's 4 Years Old! And What's in a Name?

          My oldest daughter is 4 years old today. It's hard to believe how intelligent and conversational she is, and how much she's growing. We drop her off at preschool and Awana regularly. She's doing more things and is getting taller and bigger. Interesting to think I've been a dad for 4 years.
          This year, I thought I'd tell a bit about why we named my children the way we did, as I did for my son 6 weeks ago. I'll put forth the same disclaimer. Yes, I am a bit meticulous when it comes to naming my children, and all my children's names are carefully based on deeply biblical names and concepts. This speaks more to the idea that I'm an obsessively creative person (read: eccentric theological nerd) when it comes to naming my children, rather than the impression that I am "holier-than-thou" to anyone who approaches naming their children differently.
          "Abigail" is Hebrew for "joy of the father." It's a name that my wife had long wanted for her daughter since junior high. I supported it because it's the name of King David's most noble wife (you can read about my fanhood of David here). The senior pastor at my church once preached on marriage using Abigail's story (1 Samuel 25). 
          David and his supporters were still on the run from a vengeful King Saul. Samuel, the prophet who anointed David as a child and invested in and encouraged him so much, had just died. Nabal, a foolish farmer, carelessly disrespected David and inadvertently picked a fight with his army. David was about to take out his pent-up impatience with Saul and grievous anger over Samuel's passing onto Nabal and his farm   in a violent way. Enters Nabal's then-wife Abigail. Without Nabal's knowledge, she approaches David's army while they're far off and marching to Nabal's farm. Abigail humbly offers the army food and supplies and pleads against any bloodshed, both to protect her foolish husband and David's integrity. David recognizes and praises her wisdom and godliness. She kept him in check. Later, Nabal dies (but not by David's hand), and David asks Abigail to marry him. It's my prayer and strive that my Abigail become a strong and wise support for the God's grace and truth . . . and that she'd stay away from the Nabals of this world.
          "Grace" is a beautiful term that should need no explanation to those familiar with the love and truth of Jesus Christ. I praise God for His grace as he doesn't give me what I truly deserve, and often gives me what I don't deserve, and I'm learning to be gracious like Him. I know this book has been around awhile, but Philip Yancey's book What's So Amazing About Grace? and its portrayal of the biblical and beautiful concept was still fresh on my mind when Abigail was born. God gives me grace. I give her grace. She gives me grace. Her middle name's a good reminder.
          Like I said last year: Abby, you are, stubbornly and willfully, our creative little drama-princess. I hope you never lose your imagination or your bleeding heart. I like it when you cuddle up to one of your parents or give your little sister a hug or some help. I like it when you sing and dance, or try different color dresses on your princess dolls. I like it when you take conversational initiative with guests and visiting family, sometimes even more hospitably than me. It’s my privilege to raise you, and you’ll never lose my love and support as a father.       

Monday, November 12, 2012

Testimony from a Non-Convert

          I found this article interesting.
          Remy, a young "Jewish agnostic" woman grows up in a dominantly Jewish community in New York City and currently studies at Penn State. She catalogs Christians' and organizations' various attempts to "convert" her on campus. What can this testimony teach us about culture, reluctance and ministry?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Friday Fun: Soccer is God's Favorite Sport?

          Jon Acuff has some good arguments that soccer (or football, as it's called most elsewhere) is, in fact, God's favorite sport. The few and the proud soccer fans of the U.S. have cause to celebrate!
          You can read his seven reasons here.
          Happy Friday!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

"The Gifts of Goody Grisom" at My Church This Weekend

          Usually, I like to add an extra element to the full-length dramas I produce at my church. For Bridge of Blood: Jim Elliot Takes Christ to the Aucas, I added black-and-white digital backgrounds, produced a time-accurate soundtrack, and volunteers created a great museum display in the back of the sanctuary. For The Case of Humanity vs. Pontius Pilate, the script already had audience members in the jury, but I added an opening credits video and volunteers added live video feed on the projection screens. For The Gifts of Goody Grisom, a Christmas play that takes place in the ol' South and teaches about giving, we're having a charity drive. Three different charities are benefitting from the items and financial support we're hoping to gather at this event. If you're in the Sheboygan area, I'd encourage you to come! You can learn more here.
          Below are the "producer's notes" for the program:  

          My kids enjoy VeggieTales, a Christian CGI show that’s fairly popular. Three years ago, a Christmas episode started off with a financially-strapped father struggling to make his shift’s deliveries on Christmas Eve, only to have his truck break down and confiscated by a stingy mechanic, therefore facing imminent carless-ness and unemployment. It wasn’t time to think about “being good” and asking Santa for a new truck. It seemed like a good time to tell the story of St. Nicholas.
          The historical St. Nicholas, I imagine, understood (better than Santa Claus does) that, for some people, it’s not always easy to happily celebrate Christmas. Having helped hold a Christmas Eve service in a homeless shelter, I can attest to that. Poverty, disease, violence, untruth, and other circumstances continue to plague us. 
          That’s why God gave us the greatest Christmas gift of all: the incarnate Jesus Christ. He lived on little and traveled light, speaking truth and love, helping the poor and sick and encouraging a flourishing type of peace. And he encouraged his followers to do the same. Why do we love and give to those in need? It’s not to achieve any favor with God, any institution or fellow man. It’s because God eternally loves and gives to us in our need. 
          And the message worked. It fascinated people how the early Christians in Rome could be so “poor, yet make many rich.” And St. Nicholas was one of the many followers of Christ that took His call to help the poor to heart.
          And so did Goody Grisom.  
          It’s not so much Santa Claus and his elf-staffed toy factory that’s accurately emulating the biblical work of St. Nicholas (and Goody Grisom), but organizations like the Salvation Army, BabyCare and Love In Action, right here in Sheboygan. Those are the three gracious and loving organizations that we want to support tonight. They don’t just hand out food, money and supplies, but also truth, sincere love and friendship, being a more holistic and effective charity.
          It’s my hope that you would understand God’s love and gifts to you, and that it would bring you to a flourishing peace. We can give because God gave. Let’s give our financial support and fill a pantry.
          “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” -1 John 3:16-18 (NIV)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Catalog of Christian Cyber Responses Re: Obama's Re-election

          In light of the day that we change from reading political ads and rants in social and general media to reading gloating and/or doomsaying (regardless of who would have been elected), I thought I'd post to you all a catalog of links to various Christian responses in social media to President Obama's re-election last night.
          Said catalog is actually quite big and diverse.
          Trevin Wax recounts things we should learn. Ed Stetzer gives good tips in answering the question, "What now?," and an occasional contributor at Patheos gives us ways to "detox." Richard Stearns sees an upside to the cultural shifts indicated in Obama's re-election: the decrease in nominal Christians and the refining of faithful Christians. Al Mohler, on the other hand, is very concerned about America's "changing moral landscape." Russell Moore wrote a frequently-shared post on how we should honor and pray for the president, acknowledging God's unchanged sovereignty, purposes, and call to us, and that sentiment, generic but biblical and necessary to remember, is shared by Collin Hansen, Kevin DeYoung and Jon Acuff. Karen Zacharias encourages us to "be the change," and David Matthis reminds us that there's "bigger fish to fry:" disciple-making.
          Surprisingly and impressively, this sentiment was even shared in a video that's already been released, barely 12 hours after the election results. Check it out here.
          Any other good blogs are articles you think should be mentioned in this list?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Some Thoughts on Persecution and Culture

          I was intrigued to find this article in the Huffington Post. There's some sobering history and good thoughts to remember. Consider this a belated blog post for the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Friday Fun: A Capella "Carol of the Bells"

          This sample recording from Pentatonix's upcoming Christmas EP is making the "sharing" rounds on the Facebook profiles of many of my conservatory alum friends. It's a really creative a capella arrangement of the popular "Carol of the Bells." It's good to see some life given back to this particular carol after being annually butchered ad nauseam for seasonal advertising by companies like Garmin.
          To experience the audio for yourself, click here, scroll down to the media player and press "play." Enjoy! 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Misunderstood Bible Verse: “For I Know the Plans I Have for You”

          I’ll confess it. I had a shirt in junior high school with this verse displayed. 
          “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” -Jeremiah 29:11
          It’s a very encouraging verse. I even thought the book name and chapter/verse number sounded cool. The idea that all Christ-followers were looking at a prosperous and harmless future? Sign me up.
          But it’s not a message that the prophet Jeremiah said to all subsequent Christians. God was communicating, through Jeremiah, to His discouraged and repentant followers, living in exile. God is continuing on his “gracious promise” (v.10) to end the exile and the restoration to Judah (27:22). To the exiles, the overarching plan of prosperity, blessing and harm-free circumstances, even if not in the immediate future, was a very encouraging message, especially in contrast to the false prophets who were making false promises of more instant gratification.
          But it’s hard to make the argument that this encouragement is applicable to all Christ-followers, especially how literally one interprets the passage. Jesus’s apostles and the Church of early Rome experienced the opposite of earthly prosperity and harm-free circumstances, as Jesus predicted.
          So, God does have plans to prosper and not to harm His followers at the gates of eternity. But materially and physically? Not necessarily. Perhaps for when we suffer as Christians, we should more remember verses like 1 Peter 1:3-8, written by the Bible’s go-to guy on suffering.
          “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”   

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Reformation Sunday and a Polka

          Today we honor the 495th anniversary of the debut of the 95 Theses, a courageous and necessary defense of the authority of Scripture, the priority of biblical faith and the beauty of God's grace. Martin Luther, a flawed but brave saint, posted these theses against a Truth-less world with powerful, corrupted and legalist churches.
          In grad school, I learned of a clever song about the life of Martin Luther and the theological significance of the Reformation . . . to the tune of Mary Poppins' "Supercalifragilisticexpalidocious." I actually sang it in church for an evening service (see above) a few years ago. Below is a video of a recording of the song, but my musical interpretation was much more polka-oriented.
          Remember: sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia!


Monday, October 29, 2012

Nicolas Cage in a Reboot "Left Behind"?

Nicolas Cage in "Knowing," another film
involving world cataclysm
          It appears to be true. And just when I thought I had seen all possible and surprising ventures in the currently-explored concept of "Christian film." Let's admit it. It's already been an interesting year with Courageous, Blue Like Jazz, October Baby, Hellbound? and 2016: Obama's America, a diverse group of films in which (at least a portion of) the Christian community has presented itself in movie theaters. But a new Left Behind with Nicolas Cage? I didn't see this coming. At all.
          I don't know what's more surprising about this venture. That it involves an eschatological drama which, I think, has long lost its box office appeal (except for some seminary students) even without supernature or the Christian God in the script (e.g. The Day After Tomorrow, 2012), or that it involves Nicolas Cage, who's a bit of a different person altogether than Kirk Cameron. In addition, we're in a very politically-charged time when the relationship between faith and politics is very unstable. Not sure what could be accomplished by an intense cinematic reminder of potential chaos from above.
          It's a curious venture. I think it's got a few strikes against it, and few publications (Christian or otherwise) seem to be taking the concept seriously. But then again, I've been surprised before.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Hyphen: Growing in Modern Christian Jargon?

          Christian jargon (sometimes known as “Christianese”) continues to change due to trends in the culture and the church. While some terms that smack of old revivalism, fundamentalism or kitsch are fading into non-use, one trend of Christian jargon is becoming more and more popular. This trend isn’t a word. It’s a punctuation mark: the hyphen.
          When you read visionary blogs or books that speak about an overarching philosophy of ministry for the future, you’ve no doubt seen a few hyphens (e.g. “Christ-centered” or “Gospel-driven”). So many visions are -based, -grounded, -driven, -centered, and -empowered while leaders are re-ing and pre-ing everything as well. If one could make hyphens for a living, people would dash to fill out an application.
          How did it start? Some say with the popularity of “faith-based” initiatives in Washington early in George W. Bush’s term. Others point to popular books (that are actually inconsistent with their use of the hyphen) such as Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life or C.J. Mahaney’s Cross Centered Life.
          So, is this phenomenon of the frequent use of hyphens in Christian jargon only a grammatical fad, loved by some and annoying to others? Or is the hyphen doing well in an attempt to replicate the complicated compound words and terms explained well by Koine Greek conjugations, participles, etc. in the epistles of the New Testament?
          Only usage in context and time will tell, folks. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Misunderstood Bible Verse: “I Can Do Everything Through Christ. . .”

          And Abraham Lincoln and the NFL. That's a peculiarly cool subtitle, but it's too long to put up top.
          Anywho, I distinctly remember that, in 5th grade at my Christian grammar school, we learned about Abraham Lincoln’s quote where he expressed that his “constant anxiety and prayer” was not that God was on his side, but that he was on God’s side. The details of that quote and the faith of Abraham Lincoln are more complicated, but, even as a 5th grader, I understood the distinction. Desiring God to be on your side likely displays a desire for militant strength and victory, whereas desiring to be on God’s side likely shows a humble willingness to subject (and maybe even sacrifice) your cause to biblical standards. God isn’t a supernatural vending machine.
          I bring this up because a few popular Bible verses, even in Christian children’s literature, might need a little bit more context so that more kids understand the aforementioned distinction as did Lincoln (e.g. VeggieTales smartly explained the context of Matthew 19:26b). The most popular of these verses is Philippians 4:13 - “I can do everything through him [Christ] who gives me strength.”   
          This verse is often taken out of context to lead readers to believe that God may (or sometimes will always) empower His follower to miraculous victories over circumstances, as long as said follower has “enough faith” and “righteous motive.” That idea (only using the word “may”) is somewhat biblical, but it’s going a bit human-centered. One sign of the popularity of this misconception is a recent article in the Huffington Post that listed religious players in the NFL. Its catchy Tweet? Something along the lines of “Which NFL teams have God on their side?”
          The truth is that God strengthens us for what He desires us to accomplish for His will. The apostle Paul wrote that verse while in prison, awaiting trial on an appeal to Emperor Nero. He was writing to the churches in Philippi (churches whose work he was pleased with) and thanking them for sending him support of finances, food and prayers to God on his behalf. So, after thankfulness, when Paul reminds them that he can do “everything” through Christ’s strengthening, the “everything” refers to what God desires of him: his nomadic mission work. Which involved a lot of pain, strain, and sacrifice of all forms. It wasn’t a creative self-prescribed venture to which Paul was long emotionally-attached.
          Thus, let’s not run to Philippians 4:13 to ask for God’s power for a cause or venture that we haven’t necessarily thought or prayed through. Let’s seek to first know God’s will and desire for our earthly life and mission. We know what Paul’s “everything” was for which Christ strengthened him. What’s in the “everything” for which Christ will strengthen you?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Politics is Not a Cure-All

          Stumbled upon this article from Tullian Tchividjian this morning. Some good points that we're remember this election season. Political stake is just one way (and not the primary way) to positively change hearts and edify a society. We're to do more than vote our values.
          "Virtually every social scientist that I’ve ever talked to agrees that what happens in New York (finance), Hollywood (entertainment), Silicon Valley (technology), and Miami (fashion) has a far greater impact on how our culture thinks about reality than what happens in Washington, DC (politics). It’s important for us to understand that politics are reflective, not directive. That is, the political arena is the place where policies are made which reflect the values of our culture—the habits of heart and mind—that are being shaped by these other, more strategic arenas."

          You can read the rest here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Update in Clapping Ministry Leadership

          Indeed, one facet of worship leadership that is overlooked is how to functionally lead the congregation in clapping along. Jon Acuff had some good thoughts on that on Stuff Christians Like.
          I'm thankful that I have vocalists (and even some willing instrumentalists!) in my church to help me out, as I can relate to the worship leader's limitations with this issue.
          I can only be tongue-in-cheek for so long. Enjoy the article!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday Fun: Batman Uses iPhone 5

          I do not own an iPhone 5, but from I've heard, the "Apple Maps" app isn't getting rave reviews. Hence this clever video.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Contemporary Atheism is Optimistic?

          Stumbled over this in the Huffington Post a few days ago. There's some points in I had never thought of, pertaining to how I can be more Christ-like to the atheist and to the addict on the street.

          "Contemporary atheism is optimistic. Given its wall-to-wall phalanx of writers hell-bent on mocking everything that smells of religion, it may seem that this label is ill-applied. Yet under its bluster and iconoclasm atheism is full of good cheer and high spirits. Anyone who knows an actual atheist knows this."          

          You can read the rest here.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Columnist Reviews "Christian Art"

          Many of us Christians involve ourselves in philosophy-of-the-arts conversations, unknowingly. We do when we discuss questions like "What is a Christian film?" and "What is a Christian band?" These aren't new conversations. In fact, they're probably only old conversations, as my estimate is that most (both Christians and otherwise) have subscribed to Tolstoy's view of art when it comes to what makes art "Christian": effective communication of the artist's desired emotional message. Add to Tolstoy's view the frequent set function for indoctrination. This is why much "Christian" art, no matter how technically efficient, remains in subculture.
           This is why I found it interesting that a review of "Christian art" found its way from the Houston Chronicle all the way to the Huffington Post. It's conversations like these between Christians, artists and combinations thereof, discussing the depth of Scripture, literature and beauty, that worship and discipleship can happen in unexpected ways.