Friday, June 29, 2012

Friday Fun: Story from an Ol' Time Mentor

          This is a real-life conversation that was once had and then told to me. Enjoy!
          Associate Pastor: I feel like some of my sermons aren't engaging. A lot of the congregation has that glazed-over look.
          Senior Pastor: Oh, I like the glazed-over look.
          Associate Pastor: You do?
          Senior Pastor: Oh, yeah. It means that they've heard your good points loud and clear, but are still wrapping their heads around the depth of your points.
          Associate Pastor: You're sure that's what that look means?
          Senior Pastor: Oh, yeah. I get it all the time.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mark Twain Endorsing Forms of Missiology?

          There’s been some big-time reevaluation of the general advisability and practicality of the “missions trip” going around Christian thought, most recently in Christianity Today and The Gospel Coalition.  The legitimate worries are that short-term missions trips is that they can turn into a Christian form of tourism, be of poor stewardship of resources, and leave “warped impressions on both sides.” Some argue that the whole idea should be abandoned in favor of local projects.
          I say that we should refine, but not abandon, the missions trip.
          From my perspective, one of the main fruits of short-term missions has been, ironically, expressed in a quote from a well-known author from the other side of the theological spectrum, Mark Twain. 
          “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
          I, regrettably, did not leave the continental United States and truly have a real live cross-cultural experience until I was 24. Such experiences, arguably, do unprecedentedly well to instill the cultural transcendence of the Gospel, the glory and significance of Pentecost, the sheer vastness of God’s working/growing Church, and the humble truth of just how small we are. I don’t think such experiences should be limited to those who have committed to years overseas.
          Personally, I understand completely the arguments against short-term missions but, like I said before, let’s refine it as necessary. Not abandon it. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

How Long Can Your Non-Marriage Last?

illustration credit: Brian Rea
          A seminary friend of mine posted this piece from the New York Times.
          It's entitled "The Case for Marriage," but it's the content is far from what I imagine the average reader would expect from the title. The author, Jessica Bennett, doesn't go deep into statistics about co-habitation and divorce or even go as far as to say that a marriage definitely would have saved her and her longtime fiance's relationship. Her article does raise many questions and acknowledge some cultural realities, namely the questionable and diverse reasons for either reluctance or insistence on marriage, and how life was on the other side of the fence from the institution of marriage.
          I wouldn't support this article as a prominent part of a Christian argument against co-habitation, namely because of its use of the "contract" concept (as opposed to the biblical covenantal idea), but it's an educational and interesting read on the life (and doubts) of someone who lived on the other side of the spectrum.

Monday, June 25, 2012

There's Moneyball, But What About Money-stry?

          Sorry for the pun.
          This past winter, my wife and I finally broke down and rented Moneyball. Its rave reviews and Oscar nominations eventually overcame my reluctance (but if Jonah Hill had won the Oscar the year after Christian Bale, I would have lost all faith in the Academy). It's the mostly story of an overrated draft pick turned MLB General Manager, Billy Beane, who, with the help of a young sports economist, experiments with a new and cost-effective method of team-building and coaching the Oakland Athletics, otherwise the league's poorest franchise. It seemed quite counter-cultural and controversial from the norm, which was (and still sometimes is) to use big money to get big-time players (more wealthy franchises like the New York Yankees are stereotyped with this, but I don't want to open that can of worms).
          It got me thinking, though, are they ways to do money-stry?
          One of the faults, in the film, of spending big money on bigtime players or hyped-up draftees is that they sometimes (or often) didn't pay off. Do churches do that with hires, programs, facilities or equipment? Are we investing our money and energy in things and people that are effective and resilient? Or are we, like the ol' managerial staff of the Oakland A's, looking at the wrong measurements?
          I'm not wanting to be critical of anyone or start up a heated discussion. This goes beyond a church's financial committee. I'm thinking this over for both my worship arts ministry and my family's financial life. Are there ways we can do money-stry and better ourselves as stewards of all that God has given us?

Friday, June 22, 2012

To Some, Tomatoes are Christian

          This has nothing to do with Bob the Tomato. I stumbled over this in the Christian Post today.

          “A Salafist group from Egypt appears to be trying to retract a post on Facebook that warned that eating tomatoes are ‘forbidden because they are Christian.’ However, the Muslim traditionalist group, calling themselves the Popular Egyptian Islamic Association, apparently still finds tomatoes offensive if they are cut in such a way that reveals the shape of a cross, according to the Now Lebanon website.”

          You can read the rest here.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Qualification Hurts

          I was visiting a big church near Nashville one summer awhile ago. Three things to know about most Nashville churches: they’re musically amazing, you can’t overdress for them, and there’s no such thing as a celebrity. The particular church I visited had members and Bible study leaders who had abilities in writing published books and recording popular albums. 
          I was excited to get a chance to talk to one of this church’s music directors, who had just finished closing the service with a grand and inspiring version of “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” Thrilled to get his email address (the domain of which was big Christian recording label), I told him I was planning on going into church music leadership.
          His smiling response: “Are you sure?”
          I chuckled, though I’m still, to this day, unsure as to the reason for his curious and potentially discouraging response. Regardless, it’s a question that shouldn’t be avoided in the hearts of all aspiring pastors. I was thinking this recently for this reason: the qualification process for ministry leadership hurts. Especially early on.
          To strive for the qualifications of an overseer (1 Tim. 3:1-7), it will very likely require permeating and potentially painful insight into your weaknesses. Do we understand this as we sing the popular “Refiner’s Fire”? It’s based in the apostle Peter’s encouragement (arguably the Bible’s persecution go-to guy) that such searing refinement makes faith worth more than gold (1 Pet. 3:3-7). It can hurt.
          At the same time, however, it’s been glorious to see, in my own life, how God can use all injustice and tragedy to heal hearts and better qualify people for ministry. He used my mild depression to teach me where I should find my true affirmation. He used my unemployment to teach a more selfless, compassionate and steward-like lifestyle. There are plenty of examples I can think of in my life (and I hope you can think of in yours, too!) of how God can heal from personal tragedy and use it for an otherwise unforeseeable “good” (Ro. 8:28) for His children.
          Just like professional athletes and method actors surrender their physical bodies to be refined (often painstakingly) in order to better the team effort, those who want to be ministry overseers (not just people in full-time ministry) ought to surrender their hearts, minds, bodies and souls to a refining process. It will likely be a painful (and lifelong) process, but it’s greatly overshadowed by the joy that comes from serving for God’s glory. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

New Thoughts in Children's Music Ministry?

(l to r) Ellie Holcomb, Sandra McCracken, Katy Bowser
and Flo Paris. These four are working on a new album called
Rain for Roots: Big Stories for Little Ones.
Image found on
          My wife and I are carefully navigating how our kids grow musically and how that affects their spiritual growth. We want them to have an enjoyable holistic experience of music and how God's Truth and glory are celebrated through it, even in this kitschy and media-bombarded world. It's quite daunting, also imagining what type of technology kids will be using to listen to music on their own in 10 years.
          Sandra McCracken, a respectable Christian singer/songwriter, wrote a piece on her new album and some good thoughts on music ministry to Children.

          "Some friends and I were remembering and laughing about which childhood songs we could remember. We especially remember the Sunday school songs like 'Seek Ye First,' the camp/scout tunes like 'Rise and Shine,' or the hymns our grandmothers sang to us in the rocking chair 'I Love to Tell the Story.' This conversation got me thinking about what a significant moment that is in a child's life when he or she can absorb art and beauty by way of these clever little soul vehicles called melodies."

          You can read the rest here.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Calvin's Cologne

          A ethnodoxologist friend of mine posted this. I suppose, then, Limited Atonement is an acapella group, etc.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Canadian Christian Walks Above Water

image via Wikipedia Commons
          Christians have been creative in their achievements outside of the pulpit this year. Christians set records in Twitter following. Early this calendar year, one Christian brought a professional football team from the league's cellar to the second round of the playoffs. Later, another Christian pitched a perfect, professional baseball game.
          And now a Christian has become the first to walk on a wire across Niagara Falls. According to the Toronto Star:

          “Moments before strapping on the harness, the daredevil joined hands in riverside prayer with wife Erindera — an eighth-generation wire walker herself; Nik proposed on a wire — and their three children Yanni, 14, Amadeus, 11 and Evita, 9. Prayer comes easily to Nik, a born-again Christian, who thanked God and Jesus out loud — and through his microphone to the world — for much of his 25-minute feat.”

          You can read a collection of articles about it here.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day to Those Living the "Dad Life"

          I know this video is two years old, but it's unprecedented. Enjoy and Happy Father's Day!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Friday Fun: Creative Bumper Sticker

          This is, granted, a theology nerd's joke. An amillennialist friend of mine posted this. I figured if he could enjoy it, so could we!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Glimpses in the Church of Another World: An Overview of Liao Yiwu's "God is Red"

image found on
          No, this book has nothing to do with the Republican Party of the U.S. Rather, it has everything to do with the communist party of China. I found this book and read through a few chapters. "God is Red" is a collection of stories from surviving saints of Mao's anti-religious reign.
          In this collection of stories, there's only the interviewer/co-author in common. There's, seemingly, no specific intertwined theme or thesis. However, there's a couple things I picked up from the few stories I read that I'd like to highlight.

          1) The Church, when faithful and loyal to its biblical convictions, can and does thrive, even under the most oppressing and resourceless circumstances. Even when the government is intrusively and violently antithetical to biblical living, there's a gold mine of inspirational stories about Christians in China that more people in the West ought to dig into. Sure, they're not all perfect stories (e.g. we learn a few stories of people who fearfully leave the faith and cheer along the persecution), but there's a reason that William Craig said Mao became, inadvertently, "the greatest evangelist of all time."

          2) The Gospel is transcendent. The author does well to paint a picture of life in the various villages of China, and it's quite the experience to see the Church in play in places worlds apart from the West. How many years before Christianity becomes an "indigenous religion"? Well, according to this book, in small villages of China, it only takes one generation. Modern academia (and sometimes, arguably, Christians in the West) need to learn that Christianity isn't the "white man's religion" anymore.

          It's pointed out in the foreword that Yiwu is, in fact, not a Christian, despite his driving passion and intrigue to create this book. This always stirs a mix of emotions in me. It's good that God-ly people can be positively portrayed by an "unbelieving" source (e.g. the ancient letter Those Christians), which may better communicate to unbelieving readers (perhaps better than Brother Yun's Heavenly Man), but, as Christians, we want unbelievers to be more than just intrigued.
          However, This book is a good source of stories of what all God is doing through the Church in China. We can learn from their unwavering reliance on God, tolerance of suffering, selfless hearts, God-ly attitudes, and maybe a few of their church practices.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Forbes: Clergy are Happiest Employees

photo credit: Bob Thomas/iStockPhoto
          A former seminary prof of mine posted recent articles from Forbes on the ten happiest and most hated jobs, respectively. It's an interesting read.

          "Why were these jobs with better pay and higher social status less likely to produce happiness? Todd May writing in the New York Times argues that “A meaningful life must, in some sense then, feel worthwhile.  The person living the life must be engaged by it.  A life of commitment to causes that are generally defined as worthy — like feeding and clothing the poor or ministering to the ill — but that do not move the person participating in them will lack meaningfulness in this sense. However, for a life to be meaningful, it must also be worthwhile. Engagement in a life of tiddlywinks does not rise to the level of a meaningful life, no matter how gripped one might be by the game."

          You can read the full lists and articles here. I'm sure the Teacher in Ecclesiastes could relate.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Monday, June 11, 2012

Guest Post: The Model Christian Blogger

          My wife, who blogs on the daily life of a young Christian mother, has posted my thoughts on the model on her blog, Momma Day By Day. Here are my main points.

          1) Conversation, not narcissism.
          2) Truth, not cliche.
          3) Hope, not despair.
          4) Love, not judgment.

          You can read the rest here.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Happy 5-Year Anniversary to My Wonderful Wife!


          On Saturday, June 9, 2007, I began sharing the pilgrimage of life-service to God with my best friend, making her my wife.
          In the past five years, we've had 2.5 kids and a year of unemployment. We've lived six different places and accomplished 4 of the 7 stages of marriage (according to It's been an adventure with some lows as well as highs, but I wouldn't share it with anybody else.
          Happy Anniversary to my wonderful Christina!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Five Years Ago Today, pt. 3

          Friday, June 8, 2007 was a day of rehearsal. And not just of the wedding ceremony. But in the morning, we had to run more errands and make sure some more new arrivals had a ride home from the airport, including two more groomsmen, their girlfriends, and a co-officiant: my grandfather.
          But I spent the entire afternoon in my fiancee's large church facility, wandering between rehearsals. My best man went off to a large classroom to practice his toast, and I watched a rehearsal of an original song I wrote for my bride. I waited for one violinist (who had yet to purchase a cell phone) to arrive a bit late from upstate New York. All the while, my bride was scrambling on last minute errands.
          Finally, the wedding rehearsal started. And it went really well. Then we had our rehearsal dinner in another state (which isn't as far away on the East Coast as my Midwest friends feared). My wife and I spent parts of the dinner at various tables before we had a present-giving ceremony for the bridal party, wedding volunteer friends, and close family members. I remember I got each of my groomsmen one moderately expensive creative gift and a bunch of even more creative gifts from the dollar store (e.g. rubber chickens).
          And then, again, it was time for bed. I haven't mentioned yet that my lodging was the vacant bedroom of Christina's friend's sister. So, I spent my last night of bachelorhood sleeping in a pink room with pink sheets.
          But I did sleep, though. I wasn't going to be able to sleep if I thought I could process the magnitude of what was going to happen tomorrow.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Five Years Ago Today, pt. 2

Me and the men, about to start the bachelor party.
          Thursday, June 7, 2007 was my first morning in Delaware. I had flown in the previous day, whereas some of my groomsmen and friends had made a road trip out of it. We met them in the parking lot of a nearby Target and then they followed us to what would soon be Christina's former permanent address. There, with Christina and her parents, we had some refreshments before we went to our respective places of lodging within home of local church friends and family. We were pretty tired. 
          But on Thursday, itself, we had a few things to do. I needed to make sure my best man (also the ceremony's worship leader) was practicing with the pianist. Then, we had lunch at my fiancee's house, with my extended family and a few other members of the bridal party that had arrived. After that, it was time for the men to try on the tuxes. 
          My groomsmen used what sparse time and regional knowledge they had to produce a bachelor party, which consisted of a brief game of kickball, a quirky ceremony in the woods on the passage to Christian husband-hood, dinner at TGI Friday's and then watching Mel Gibson's Apocalypto on a big-screen TV. It was a good time.
          Was tired by the end of the day, though. Barely got through the movie. Maybe it was partially because my system was still on the coffeeshop shift clock. I went to bed early, because there was more to do tomorrow.  

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Why We Sing in Church

          A blogger I follow linked to this article about why we sing in church, written by Michael Kelley, an author/speaker at Lifeway.
          Kelley has some good points. I've served in church plants that have hosted people that have never attended a church or anything like it, so they're very unfamiliar with the concept of corporate musical worship, and the idea of organized and amateur group singing, aside from the "Happy Birthday" song or something patriotic, is new and peculiar.
          Kelley's words are succinct and, I imagine, help to explain the significance of corporate musical worship to those who don't understand it from tradition or ecclesiology.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Five Years Ago Today, pt. 1

At my wife's college graduation ceremony with friends, within
a month of our wedding ceremony. 
          On June 5, 2007, I slept on the couch in a quaint little 1br apartment in Wheeling, IL. I didn't sleep well, though. Unfortunately, I had had to work a full week of morning shifts (each starting at 4:30am) at the coffeeshop during finals week at grad school. But I had successfully moved out of my shared 2br apartment about 10-11 miles away, and had made the apartment nice and clean with, mostly, Ikea furniture.
          Because in less than two weeks, I wasn't going to be alone in this apartment. I would be sharing it with a Mrs.
          I was sleeping on the couch because I had taken the second copy of the registry's bedding straight from the package and onto the bed, so that we could come home from our honeymoon, cross the proverbial threshold, and sleep on "fresh" (still with folding creases) sheets.
          And maybe I didn't sleep well because, early the next morning, a friend was going to pick me up and drive me to O'Hare, so I could eventually find myself in north Delaware to get married.
          Five years ago today.

Monday, June 4, 2012

We're Consumers, Not Juveniles: a Response to the recent Christianity Today Cover

         The current issue of Christianity Today has a cover article, entitled "Forever Young: The Juvenilization of the American Church. When are We Going to Grow Up?" The article is by Thomas Bergler, who wrote a book of a similar title. I picked it up, thinking it'd refer to Christians' (and even Christian leaders') struggles with biblical or even basic immaturity in our leadership and witness during this politically-charged year in this individualism-worshipping society.
          In the article, Bergler rightfully notes how the average transition of an American citizen into adulthood has drastically changed in the past century. He feels the Church has adapted to this shift by questionably modulating its worship music, service format, message content and even general ministry philosophy to more of an adolescent-friendly format. He acknowledges the success thereof, but he warns of the potential aftereffects.
          Bergler's article has some good points and makes a good argument, but he fails to define his main terms, muddling his message. Namely, if he consistently maintained the aspects of the "adulthood" that's lacking as "responsibility, self-denial, and service to others," then I would agree wholeheartedly, as those are aspects that we urgently need to teach and promote in our church families against our consumerist and individualist society. But Bergler's aspects of non-adulthood (which he calls "juvenilization") spill over into what isn't considered American professionalism. If, in Bergler's eyes, a more grown-up church involves dressing up in one's Sunday best, worshipping to what's considered by Western society to be more "sophisticated" music, and listening to more academic and jargon-oriented sermons, then that's arguably even farther from the approach we see in the New Testament's Church.
          Bergler also, I think, might have oversimplified and downplayed the vast (and sometimes effective) efforts by the Church to communicate to our complex and changing culture (from Youth for Christ to the Emerging Church). This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine: When Christians in our country bring the Word of God to vastly diverse and contrasting cultures overseas, using proper translation, hermeneutics and ethnomusicology, it's supported mission. But when Christians in our country want to use almost the exact same methods to communicate to a local subculture (e.g. postmoderns, people that really enjoy pop rock) that, strangely enough, isn't taken to extrabiblical traditions and Christian jargon, it can be prejudicially deemed as unsupported compromise of the Gospel. I'm getting off my soapbox now.
          This article makes some good observations about how the Church needs to be counter-cultural in teaching adulthood, leadership, community and self-sacrifice against our self-serving and often leader-less society where God is only used for random, individual emotional needs. This is the battle against the Church's tendencies to consumerism, not juvenilization. I feel Bergler let some ol' fashioned, American, extrabiblical and unnecessary aspects of adulthood slip into his agenda. 
          It seems every movement has some positive effects and negative aftereffects. We're still learning, as a Church, through biblical study, cultural exegesis and prayer, to increase the former and reduce the latter. The good news for Bergler (and me) is that I strongly sense that the megachurch model is on its last leg.            

Friday, June 1, 2012

Friday Fun: Crosstown Rivalry Humor

          I lived in the Chicago area for 20 years. Thus, I have deep respect for Cubs fans. Despite a World Series drought that outlasted the Curse of the Bambino, and still with no end to said drought in sight, the vast majority of the fans still support the team in all ways for which it could hope. And despite the increasing archaic aspects of Wrigley Field, the Cubs remain a profitable franchise. Like I said, I have deep respect for Cubs fans.
          But I'm so glad I'm not one of them.
          People like me who grow up on the west side or suburbs of Chicago, not being north (Cubs) or south (Sox) have a choice. I chose the White Sox when I was in grade school. The "Crosstown Rivalry" between these two teams is quite the cultural phenomenon.
          And somebody decided to make something very clever and entertaining out of it. New Era, a manufacturer of baseball caps, decided to produce some web sketches featuring to Chicago-based comedians to exchange honest trash-talk about the "Crosstown Rivalry."
          Below is the sketch where they talk about what a Cubs fan would give up to see them win a World Series. Enjoy! (Forewarning: Some of the humor in the series is PG-13 rated).