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.”