Monday, December 30, 2013

Boxing Day: Celebrating Christ After Dec. 25?

It shouldn't surprise us that the distracting trappings and customs of American Christmas last past Dec. 25. But here's an interesting post from Dr. Ben Witherington:

While Americans are busily treating Dec. 26th as ‘exchange day’ when they take unwanted Christmas presents back to the stores and exchange them for something they like better, the British, and other nations in the British Commonwealth (and other European nations) are busily celebrating Boxing Day. 

You can read the rest here.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Friday Fun: Hipster Santa

This was only a matter of time. Any "Hipster Santa" statements you want to add?

Hope you had a Mighty Christmas!

HT: Jon Acuff

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas's Three "S" Taboos

This was posted last year, but it's a good reminder!
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to overstate the significance of the Incarnation.
Writers, philosophers, poets, and composers through the centuries have searched in vain for words that adequately capture the wonder, mystery, beauty, and power of Jesus as Emmanuel, God with us.
The miracle and meaning of the Incarnation can be so difficult to grasp that we can give up and start to view Christmas in ways that leave us impoverished and unimpressed with the real story. Even in the church our songs and reflections about about Christmas can fail to leave people gasping in amazement or humbled in awe that God would come to dwell among us.
You can read the rest here. HT: Bob Kauflin at Worship Matters

Friday, December 20, 2013

Friday Fun: Taylor University's Silent Night

This is the last year I'll be posting about this creative sports tradition that takes place in a small little Christian college in rural Indiana.

You can read about it here.

Enjoy the video!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Rethinking Nativity Scenes?

In case you haven't heard, nativity scenes aren't accurate. But at least I learned it incrementally. In my Christian grade school, I learned that the original Christmas didn't take place during the winter and that the wise men weren't there when Jesus was a newborn. The president of my undergrad believes Jesus's birth took place in a cave, and I recently was tipped to this article, which flies into the face of almost everything else about nativity scenes, some Christmas pageants and the lyrics of several Christmas carols.

So there were no wise men or stable, and the animals may have been only present intermittently. But I'm not going to keep my toddlers from playing with their newly-given (thanks, Memaw and Gipa!) nativity set from Fisher Price. Because there are some things that nativity sets get right:

Jesus was born in a humble place. A peasant home that included the stench of animals. He was laid in a container where animal food is delivered. You can keep the stable. The significance of Jesus's birth, despite its lowly setting, transcended culture, political status and income level. Keep the "three kings." Jesus's birth was overseen and celebrated by angels. Keep the singing angel above the non-existent stable.

An historically accurate nativity seen would look a bit different, much less an historically accurate Christmas pageant. Learning about the true story of Christmas as read in the Scriptures should challenge us time and time again to see how much tradition and otherwise has spilled into what we see as Truth.

At the same time, the secondary historical details aren't as important as the truthful symbolism of the transcendent gospel. Even if the typical nativity scene was historically accurate, should we recall or boycott the international nativity scenes that don't give nods to secondary details of historical accuracy yet fully convey the symbolism of the gospel?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Jesus, Santa, District 11 and Race

Interesting thoughts.

My elder daughter loves the Santa Claus story (especially where Rudolph enters the scene), but she knows it only as a fictional tale. She’s told that the presents she receives on Christmas morning are from her family, not from a man who slides down the chimney our house doesn’t actually possess. For my girls, Santa takes his place in a milieu of imaginary characters along with Cinderella and Winnie the Pooh and the cast of Dinosaur Train.
Yet it is troubling to me how easily angered so many people are by the mere suggestion of a non-white Santa. It reminds me of the upset caused by Rue in The Hunger Games; though Collins describes the character’s “satiny brown skin,” some viewers of the film were astonished and outraged that the tributes from District 11 were portrayed by black actors. Both scenarios speak to racial privilege as powerful even within the imaginary realm—that even characters described by their creators as non-white can be assumed white. In both the discussion of Santa and Rue, there’s also the underlying belief that a white character is somehow universal while a person of color can only represent or speak to another person of color. It’s not just that Santa is most frequently depicted as white, it’s that so many people simultaneously insist on his whiteness as essential and obvious without recognizing what that says about how much race actually matters to us.
You can read the rest here. HT: Erin Wyble Newcomb

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Have a Mighty Christmas

One of my most creative and theologically-minded informed me about Ace Collins, an author whose books include historical background to popular Christmas carols. Below are excerpts from when we was interviewed regarding "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen."

"I wanted to find out what “rest” meant in the Old English language. It did not mean 'sleep.' It meant 'make' or 'keep'—'God Make You Merry, Gentlemen.' But there was something else I wanted to find out. I figure, 'If the word ‘rest’ meant something different, maybe, ‘merry’ meant something different. Maybe, it wasn’t Robin Hood and his ‘happy’ guys out in the forest. Sure enough, it wasn’t. 'Merry'—in the 1500’s and 1600’s, when this song was written—meant 'mighty'—'mighty' or 'great.' Think of the song this way: 'God make you mighty, gentlemen. Let nothing you dismay. Remember Christ your Savior was born on Christmas Day.' So, rather than saying: 'Happy Christmas,' or, 'Merry Christmas,' to each other this year, we need to be saying: 'Mighty Christmas,' 'Have a Mighty Christmas,'—'Have a powerful Christmas,'—'Have a great Christmas!' That’s what that song means. That song, which we kind of almost discredit in modern-day usage, has a very, very powerful meaning that we’ve lost."

You can read more about Ace Collins here

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Story of George Washington's Church

A true and moving story about an historic church in suburban D.C., illustrating how faithfulness to the Gospel can be costly, yet rewarding.

When I came on staff as a worship leader at my church in 2004, we had a beautiful campus with a modern sanctuary, a historic chapel (where George Washington had worshipped, really…), classroom and office space, and were located right in the middle of the incredibly wealthy city of Falls Church, Virginia. The city took its name several hundred years ago from our church’s name, and we had the historical markers and plaques to prove it.
We were very comfortable with ourselves.
That all changed when we decided as a congregation to leave the Episcopal Church. We felt that, in order to remain faithful to the Gospel, we couldn’t remain in a denomination that was denying it. We knew this might not be easy, but we knew what God was calling us to do.
You can read the rest here.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Friday Fun: Funny and Real Misunderstandings of Christmas Carols

True story. A boy once walked up to his mother at home and said, “Mommy, does God like peas?” Puzzled, the mother answered, “I imagine He does. Why?” The boy was referring to a song in church, the first verse of Michael Card’s “Barocha,” one of the many musical interpretations of Numbers 6:24-26. The boy, however, thought the lyrics were as follows:

“The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord make His face shine upon you
And give you peas, and give you peas,
And give you peas forever.”

So, in that vein, I’m recalling a few of the misunderstandings of Christmas Carols I’ve had or heard.

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear - I couldn’t help but worry about proper musical posture when the angels “bent” near the earth to play their harps.

Hark! the Herald Angels Sing - For a long time, I thought “Herald” was the name of an angel, not a role of an angel.

What Child is This? - Why are the shepherds guarding while the angels sing? As a child, I was worried that Herod could send a trained army to the stable, and its only defense would be the shepherds.

O Little Town of Bethlehem - “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.” No pressure.

Away in a Manger - Did the baby Jesus truly ever cry? Did the author intend that sentence as a present indicative? People get into tongue-in-cheek theological debates about this almost annually, but I think we can all agree that Jesus never figuratively cried, as in He never fully resigned himself, emotionally, to any situation. That’s why I feel fine singing this song.

We Three Kings - When I was a kid, I didn’t know about all the historical assumptions of this song, but I thought they were from a place called “Orientar.”  

Can you think of any other examples?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

9 Things to Know About "The Hobbit"

Tomorrow, the second part of the epic films series based on The Hobbit will be released in theaters. Here are nine things you should know about the original book and its author, J.R.R. Tolkien.

HT: Joe Carter

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Pope Francis is Time's Person of the Year

In an era where there are many merited complaints about how journalism just doesn't "get religion," and to show favor or compliment to a particular absolutist religion would cause controversy and threaten profit, it's a bit curious and refreshing to see the humility, grace, doctrinal firmness and virtual non-denominationalism of Pope Francis portrayed by Time Magazine, who has made him their Person of the Year. I'm not Catholic, but there are a few things we can learn about ministry and culture from the works and words of Pope Francis.

And so Francis signals great change while giving the same answers to the uncomfortable questions. On the question of female priests: “We need to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman.” Which means: no. No to abortion, because an individual life begins at conception. No to gay marriage, because the male-female bond is established by God. “The teaching of the church … is clear,” he has said, “and I am a son of the church, but”—and here he adds his prayer for himself—“it is not necessary to talk about those issues all the time.”
If that prayer should be answered, if somehow by his own vivid example Francis could bring the church into a new relationship with its critics and dissidents—agreeing to disagree about issues that divide them while cooperating in the urgent mission of spreading mercy—he might unleash untold good. “Argue less, accomplish more” could be a healing motto for our times. We have a glut of problems to tackle.
Read the whole article here.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Happy Birthday Roast for My Little Brother

My brother turned 22 yesterday, but he’ll have to wait until I see him for Christmas before he gets his gift. I like to save on postage.

Twenty-two years ago, his birthday was also on a Sunday, and it was fun. My parents had me stay over at a nearby friend’s house who had a ton of video games, including Super Mario Bros. 3. I was elated. I was a singing angel in my church’s Christmas pageant that morning, and after my dad picked me up from video game heaven to see my newborn brother at the hospital, we stopped at McDonald’s on the way home (every 8-year-old boy’s dream), and I finally got the Happy Meal toy “Wonder Pig,” to complete my collection of Looney Tunes superheroes (along with SuperBugs, BatDuck and The Tasmanian Flash).

Yeah, my brother’s birth was awesome. My dad had to remind me that announcing his birth was a higher priority at grade school the next morning than announcing I had gotten “Wonder Pig.”

He was fun to babysit. We watched a lot of fun movies and ate popcorn together. But as my brother grew older, he got more annoying. I started my struggle with weight, and he fell in love with fruits and vegetables. I had my array of soccer “participation” pins, and he entered the era of “participation” trophies. Then he started using his scooter to run over the Brio tracks I’d made him. He just couldn’t stand that I would want to watch Bob Saget’s America’s Funniest Home Videos without him, and he was starting to beat me as Fox McCloud in Super Smash Bros. and with his warthog double-barreled pistol in our Nerf battles. He also preemptively adopted (more like kidnapped) all my stuffed animals and renamed them. That hurt.

Thankfully, as my little brother grew older, he began to know his place as I was still (I thought) smarter than him and could at least wrestle him into submission. He was a frantic and creative comic, like the squirrel in Ice Age. He was a good jester for our family.

Now he’s probably smarter and stronger than me. He’s about to graduate from college and have a job in another part of the country. I’m proud of him, and now he’ll be even better (which I didn’t think was possible) at leaving me alone. Despite eight years of age and other types of relational distance we’ve experienced, he gave me the complete “little brother” experience, both the positive and negative parts. And I will always make time, for the rest of my life, to annoy him. As payback.

So, happy birthday to my little brother. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

'Twere the Days Before Christmas

(This is best read in a narratorial tone with a mild British accent).

‘Twere the days before Christmas, when all ’round David’s town
Not an Israelite was smiling, but more likely to frown.
Zechariah laid the incense by the altar with care,
Frightened to see the angel Gabriel there.

For God made a promise to the elderly gent 
A Spirit-filled baby will lead many to repent.
He will shout from the wilderness, ‘Prepare ye the way.
‘Be righteous and charitable as we wait for the day.’

He’d be dressed in camel hair, from his head to his foot,
Eating locusts, wild honey and never staying put.
Zechariah’s son’s message would cause the rich strife,
And immerse the lowly and unholy in new life. 

For Zechariah’s son, John would be his name, 
Would bring God’s righteousness and saving plan to fame.
John’s birth would be one of many miracles to come,
But because Zechariah doubted, he then became mum.

But though Zechariah could not speak of his glee,
his wife Elizabeth praised God for pregnancy.
Though the land was morose under Caesar’s quick sword,
There was then a sense of hope in the Lord.

Then, in Nazareth where hearts are gloom laden
The same angel appeared to a humble young maiden
Her name was Mary; she was celibate and lowly
But she would give birth to One Most Holy.

His name would be Jesus, meaning ‘one who saves’
He would rescue many bound for a perennial grave
For His kingdom’s rule would never be undone      
And He would be called God’s very own Son

Mary was frightened and joyful at once
But submitted herself to God at this bunce
With haste, she trekked miles, perhaps more than a dozen
To see Elizabeth, who was also her cousin

When Mary saw Elizabeth, John jumped in her womb
For joy was tangible in that little room
Then Mary composed a psalm of great praise
For His humble servants the Lord would raise

Later John was born, but his name still debated
And the mute Zechariah became quite frustrated
He wrote ‘John’ on a tablet, giving the final word
And his voice then came back, everyone shockingly heard

Zechariah then went from priest to prophet
And spoke of his newborn’s God-given docket
Along with the salvation that God would afford
And everyone in Judea had fear of the Lord

Then back in Nazareth, Mary’s betrothed then heard
From Caesar, that another census was spurred.
So Joseph and Mary, in her maternity gown,
Would trek to Bethlehem, Joseph’s hometown.

The carpenter and his gravid fiancee packed all day,
 and hopped on a donkey for a small place to stay.
Their loved ones watched until they trekked out of sight,
Shrugging, “Safe travels and have a good night!”

Though it seemed to many that God’s world had crumbled
He was, in fact, blessing families faithful but humble
Through a miraculous conception and an incarnate birth
This is how God would come save the earth     

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Three Ideas for Black Friday

It feels like Thanksgiving is diminishing. More like being crowded out. Most of the pumpkin and straw-man decorations available in department stores are for Halloween, and they’re quickly transferred to the clearance shelves as soon as November 1 arrives to make away for more Christmas merchandise. Wreaths, lights and holly are all set up in the city streets before Thanksgiving can have its day. Now, it seems Thanksgiving is getting the shorter end of the proverbial stick as Black Friday sales can’t wait for midnight on their namesake day to open the store doors anymore. They’re creeping into Thanksgiving Day itself, competing for our business and tempting us with low prices, should we be willing to potentially jettison what some utilize as rare time together as extended family.

Now, I’m not going to argue for traditional Thanksgiving celebration and a boycott of Black Friday. But here’s a few ideas for Black Friday madness:

1. Don’t forget Thanksgiving. It’s an attitude we should strive for year-round, but let’s not ignore the annual reminder. Make time for your family. Don’t use your Black Friday shopping schedule to avoid, for example, a family movie night or the conversation where you need to reconcile with a relative. 

2. Check your motives and your aura. It can be seen as seriously seen as hypocritical to celebrate a holiday of thankfulness, only to show passion and aggression in an arena of materialism the next day. Why do you go to Black Friday sales? Are they needed (or wanted) gifts for others? As a shopper, do you have an aura of clamoring desperation or contentment and mild curiosity? Do you really need these products and prices? How much are you getting suckered in by the hype?

3. Be creatively ministerial. Some Christians, for example, rather than shut down their house and boycott trick-or-treating, have found creative ways to utilize the once-a-year opportunity to engage their neighborhood with the light of Christ. We have similar opportunities on Black Friday when we’ll be in long, long lines. Make conversation with people. Maybe even hand out bottled water, food or hot cocoa to the exhausted waiting customers. When you’re inside the store, be a peacemaker among scrambling shoppers. Encourage the overwhelmed and even traumatized store employees. You could also do your Black Friday shopping at ethical businesses and charities.

I’m not wholly against a Christian attending a Black Friday sale, as long as they think of such ideas and consider the true cost. When you miss opportunities to be with your family and several hours of sleep, coming off like an unthankful, selfish and desperately materialistic lemming with frostbitten fingers (from waiting in line for so long), is 50% off really worth it?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ten Times It's Wise to Hold Your Tongue

A blogger I follow posted this. Very wise words.

1. When you have no idea what to say
2. When you're wrongly accused
3. When you're mad
4. When you're confused about life
5. When you wouldn't want someone else to find out you said it
6. When you don't really mean it
7. When you can't stop yearning for the good old days
8. When you have a lot to do and you don't like it
9. When the timing is wrong
10. When you don't have anything to say that gives grace
Click here for the full post and each reason's Scriptural explanation.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Does Your Facebook Rant "Honor Everyone"?

Some wise and convicting words from Trevin Wax. 

The Apostle Peter’s letter was written to “exiles,” believers facing persecution far greater than any of us Americans have ever seen. These Christians were living under a tyrannical government far worse than any bureaucrat in a D.C. office. Yet Peter instructed believers to live honorably among others (1 Peter 2:11-17). The “others” refer to those who are not “in Christ.”
The word “conduct” appears thirteen times in the Bible, and eight of those times are in Peter’s letters. It’s safe to say, Peter cared about how our conduct was viewed by outsiders.
Now, the fact that Peter says we should live honorably among others means we must indeed be among the lost. Some evangelicals, weary of partisan bickering and political posturing from their Christian friends, are ready to throw up their hands and avoid political engagement altogether. I understand that sentiment, but failing to be present or involved in any meaningful sense in a democratic republic would be to forfeit the stewardship we’ve been given. There is no retreat here.
Let's take it from the apostle Peter. He knows what he's talking about.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday Fun: Preventing Thanksgiving Family Arguments

A few weeks ago, my church showed a Christmas dramedy that involved some moments of awkwardness and tension as three siblings reluctantly got together for Christmas. The play was humorous, and it was God-given maturity and grace that helped them to celebrate the holiday without any heated arguments and lingering discord.

But maybe this is a good idea, too. Well-written and clever. It sometimes takes strange and strenuous measures of grace and sacrifice to heal and maintain a family.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Robertsons of "Duck Dynasty" Share Some Testimony

Some powerful stories from some good people who aren't aloof and aren't what many wrongfully (and sometimes rudely) think.

You can view the video here.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Modern Christmas Grinches

As Advent approaches, an interesting perspective from Kevin DeYoung. Sure, there's merit to abandoning Western Christmas traditions and taking, for example, an ascetic approach to celebrating Jesus's birth, but it's a bit hypocritical to have a Grinch-like rebuking aura to others when celebrating a season of Joy.

There is a time for fasting in the Christian life and a time for feasting. The Old Testament teaches us that. And so does Jesus. If Western Christianity is selfish and bloated, let us be the first to say so and the first to show a more excellent way. But let us be the last to use the occasion of the incarnation for moral preening. If the disciples were to rejoice when the Bridegroom was with them, surely we can do better than to be outraged sourpusses every year when we commemorate his coming.

Read the rest here

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Death of the Album?

I was the most connected with the "popular music" world in high school. I could hum a few bars from most of the Billboard 100 and had my own rock band. We didn't ever get signed and we never even had a manager, but we did manage to release something resembling a full-length album. Back then, my fellow music fans and I waited patiently for their favorite bands to release new albums, excited to hear/see the rare previews on the radio or TV. Making a good album (not just a few good songs) was seemingly the measure of a good band, and albums easily (and often rightfully) defined tours and even chapters of a band's life. "Concept albums" were a growing trend among contemplative songwriters.

This "era" was just over 10 years ago, just as iTunes was only arriving on the horizon. And now the "album" may be on its last leg.

I don't listen to Katy Perry's music, but this article (Warning. Some PG-13 language.), linked by a music production colleague of mine, has some good but sad points about the pending death of the album in the recording industry. Due to the increasing number of recording artists, access and customizability in the music industry and the technology thereof, bands are dealing with a more demanding and instant-gratification culture where the shelf-life of a hit song (much less an album) is discouragingly short. No doubt this will further drive the wedge between those who want to make what sells and those who want to just want to make creative art, not distracted by any factors.

It sounds ridiculous, but what if this demand of consumers spilled into other forms of art and entertainment, e.g. film? Would producers need to rush the schedule (potentially losing key cast and crew unwilling to overcommit) to make an awaited sequel six months earlier than what's typical? Or should we pass on releasing films in theaters anymore, and just release them in 10-20 minute segments online every 1-2 months so we can appease the impatient audience?

This socio-cultural reality applies to corporate worship in churches as well. Although profit is not the end goal of writing and executing worship songs, it's a bit troubling how short of a shelf-life even the best modern worship songs have.

Music-makers and Christ-worshippers, what are your thoughts?

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Bible, Soldiers, and PTSD

An interview with a pair of televangelists wherein they (very) wrongfully misinterpret a passage of the book of Numbers to deny the reality of post-traumatic stress disorder and berate its victims is making the rounds in social media, sadly. 

Here's a truly awesome response from Joe Carter that honors both the sacred truths of the Bible and soldiers suffering from PTSD.

How then should we answer the fools Copeland and Barton? While it is tempting to ignore them completely, I believe that would be a mistake. Had they merely proffered another laughably inept reading of the Bible, it would have hardly been worthy of notice. Throughout his career, Copeland has been accused of various heresies, most of which he created through his inept handling of Scripture. And though Barton is still, inexplicably, trusted by many conservative evangelicals, he has himself built his reputation on twisting and misrepresenting historical documents for ideological and propagandist purposes. They are, in other words, among the last people who could be relied on to intelligently interpret a text.

Throughout most modern wars, from World War I to Vietnam, both the military and civilian worlds denied or downplayed the existence of this form of psychological trauma. It wasn't until the post-Vietnam era that the medical community began to recognize that experiences of PTSD sufferers were not only real, but also that the causes were likely rooted in genes and brain chemistry, rather than a defect in the veteran's character.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Friday Fun: Jingle Hoops

This video is an early Christmas greeting to the fistful of NBA fans in the state of Wisconsin (and, of course to NBA fans elsewhere in the world. Go Bulls!


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Are Our Smartphones Killing Us?

Some provocative points. 

Recently, and for no apparent reason, a man gunned down a random college student in the middle of a crowded rail car in San Francisco.
You know what’s even more unsettling?
There were no Good Samaritans.  According to surveillance video, no one responded when the gunman drew his weapon.  In fact, no one noticed at all.  All of the passengers were so distracted by their smartphones that it took a gunshot to rouse them from their digital torpor.
Not since John Harley and Bibb Latane studied the murder of Kitty Genovese in 1968, coining “the Bystander Effect,” have we seen such an egregious example of the absolute uselessness of eyewitnesses to a crime.  In the case of Kitty Genovese, the New York Times reported that 38 people witnessed her attacker assaulting her before any one of them took enough responsibility to call the police.  In San Francisco, these eyewitnesses didn’t even get to the point of making a moral decision about whether or not to intervene.  Even if they had wanted to save the college student’s life, they weren’t aware enough of what was transpiring around them to recognize that one of their fellow human beings was in life-threatening danger.
Could this be even worse?
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Happy 5th Birthday, Abby the Artist!

Early this morning, I headed out to my town's new Dunkin Donuts to buy some munchkins for my daughter for her first breakfast as a 5-year-old. Hard to believe it's been 5 years since we've been parents.

Nonetheless, happy birthday to my daughter who is more like me than what's for your own good. You're creative and passionate, so we've had to throw funerals and burials for pet slugs, make jack-o-lanterns from 4-inch pumpkins, and play along with an idea for a "message-in-a-jar" on our front porch. Not surprising, since your dad, as a young boy, threw a birthday party for a pair of shoes. We've also purchased you a $6 "art desk" from the thrift store, because you love to do "projects," some of which we're keeping for the long term. A mobile you made is currently hanging from our minivan's rearview mirror, and a painting you made (inspired by your uncle's mission trip to Mexico) is sitting on a small easel on my office bookshelf. I'm crossing my fingers that your skill turns into a free ride to a prestigious art school and our ticket to fine museums all across the world. 

In any case, have a happy 5th birthday! And never lose your passion and joy in life! 


Monday, November 11, 2013

Best on Theology and Art

I'm thrilled to be reposting thoughts and meditations of Dr. Harold Best, Dean Emeritus of my alma mater, whose insightful (and sometimes challenging) works/words have been one of the foundations of my development in thinking about theology and art and in becoming a worship arts pastor.

At base, culture is an interaction between what people believe and what they make.  Its forays into idolatry will be seen in the extent to which things believed and things made are dependent on or equal to each other.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only forum in which things believed and things made are unconfused, properly differentiated, and fully integrated.  For the Christian mind—the biblically theologized mind—truth and beauty are not confused, relativities and absolutes are properly defined, creature and Creator are wisely separated, means, ends, and offerings are wonderfully clarified, and gift and Giver set in eternal hierarchy.  Thus the arts are never elevated to a place of means or end.  They are simply and purely offerings—perfume—poured over the feet of Jesus, while others catch the fragrance, first of Jesus and only then, the gift.

You can read the rest here

Friday, November 8, 2013

Friday Fun: Packers Practice Injuries

Looks like somebody (besides fistfuls of realistic Packers' fans and local Wisconsin news) has noticed the above-average swathe of injuries received by Green Bay Packers.

I wish there was an article to accompany the photo, which headlined "Packers Warm Up By Rolling Around On Field Clutching Knees."

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Happy Birthday, Billy Graham!

Billy Graham, perhaps the most influential and loving preacher of integrity in the 20th century, turns 95 today, and what better birthday greeting and coverage to post than from his pastor/professor grandson Tullian Tchividjian.

"Today 'Daddy Bill' turns 95. I’m in North Carolina to celebrate his birthday. Among the invited guests who will be there are Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, Bill Clinton, Rick Warren, and Lecrae. He told me that he doesn’t plan on speaking (he’s so weak), but I wouldn’t be surprised if he took this rare (and perhaps last) opportunity to preach the Gospel to the gathered guests. He just can’t help himself. It’s who he is. He can’t get it out of his system.
"Born November 7, 1918 on a dairy farm outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, 'Daddy Bill' (who lived the majority of his life on the world stage) rarely leaves home now. His mind is still sharp but his body is weak and frail. He says that getting old has been hard. His wife of over 60 years (my grandmother 'TaiTai') died 6 1/2 years ago. Most of his friends have died. He still sees a world in dire need but is now, for the most part, relegated to the sidelines-cheering his brothers and sisters on, but wishing he could still be in the game. He told me recently that he thinks he’ll live another year or two. I hope it’s longer."
You can read the rest here.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Hazing vs. Initiating

As if it wasn't enough for my longtime football-fan friends that the increasing awareness of the dangers of concussions is likely pressuring NFL authorities to make game-changing rules, now the abusive and threatening messages from Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito to teammate Jonathan Martin might inspire the powers that be to ban/limit in-team hazing.

While the denotation of "hazing" can't help its own case, my experiences of hazing, as a newcomer in a few organizations, have been nothing but playful, harmless and productive in initiating me into the community and excellence of the group. Perhaps it was better termed as "initiating"?

"Hazing," on the other hand, may not have the basis and goal of building team chemistry (e.g. trust), hence why such scandals happen when hazing rituals "go too far." Minnesota Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier has made efforts to ban hazing on his team.

"Initiating" newcomers is a creative way of building community, excellence and future leadership. "Hazing" seems to reek of divisiveness, arrogance and in-team abuse that leads to, among other things, discord, which isn't good for a team sport.

What are you thoughts on hazing and initiating?  

Friday, November 1, 2013

Friday Fun: Reformation Polka

In celebrating Reformation Day, this is a lovely little ditty I learned in seminary, and my church actually let me dress up as Martin Luther and sing it for the congregation during a Sunday evening service. It's to the tune of "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious."

When I was ein younger man 
I studied canon law;
though Erfurt was a challenge 
it was just to please my pa.
Then came the storm, the lightning struck; 
I called upon Saint Anne:
I shaved my head, I took my vows 
– an Augustinian.

Papal bulls, indulgences and transubstantiation:
speak your mind against them and face excommunication.
Nail your theses to the door, let’s start a reformation,
papal bulls, indulgences and transubstantiation.
When Tetzel came near Wittenberg, St Peter’s profits soared,
so I wrote a little message for the All Saints’ bulletin board;
‘you cannot purchase merit for we’re justified by grace;
here’s ninety-five more reasons, Brother Tetzel, in your face!
They loved my tracts, adored my wit; all were ex empleror;
the pope, however, hauled me up before the emperor.
‘Are these your books? Will you recant?” King Charles did demand;
“I will not change my diet sir, God help me, here I stand.’
Duke Frederick took the wise approach, responding to my words
by knighting George a hostage in the kingdom of the birds.
‘Use Brother Martin’s model as the languages you seek,
stay locked inside the castle with your Hebrew and your Greek.’
Now let’s raise our steins and concord books together in this place
and spread the word that ‘catholic’ is spelled with lower-case;
the word remains unfettered when the Spirit gets a chance,
so come on, Katie, drop your lute and join us in our dance.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

An Ol' Fashioned Iowa Farm Halloween

Some interesting points on Halloween from Galen Dalrymple. What was Halloween like in yesteryear's farm country of northwestern Iowa? His answer may surprise you.

As my mind recalls, at Halloween every year, the sky was dominated by a bright orange harvest moon that held me spellbound as I gazed over the freshly harvested fields of corn. The corn stalks stood like ghostly shadows as the moon beams touched the face of the earth. Leaves skittered across the gravel in the barn yard as the breeze stirred, casting a chill wherever it journeyed.
We lived too far away from neighboring farms to walk to trick or treat, so our parents had to drive us from one farm house to the next. Unlike today when kids will visit upwards of 100 houses in a night, we were grateful to visit say, 10 neighboring farms. We knew the people well. It was the kind of community where everyone helped one another in time of misfortune or harvest. We didn’t need to fear razor blades or poison in the candy. The love of family and friends surrounded us every moment of those early, innocent years.
You can read the rest here.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Cessationist Review of John MacArthur's "Strange Fire"

I found a notable reaction to John MacArthur's Strange Fire book/conference in the form of a book review, written by Thomas Schreiner, self-dubbed fellow cessationist, professor at Southern Seminary (Louisville) and the author of a book on Pauline studies currently sitting on my office shelf.

"Despite my fundamental exegetical and theological agreement with MacArthur, however, Strange Fire suffers from a focus on the extreme adherents of the charismatic movement. (I did wonder, incidentally, whether Joel Osteen should be labeled a charismatic, for one can be a prosperity preacher without being charismatic.) MacArthur says early in the book he doesn’t distinguish between the three waves of the charismatic movement, but this failure to make distinctions is problematic. He claims the extremes and abuses characterize the movement. But who really knows what the numbers are? Certainly, there are extremes in the movement, and obviously many who have gone astray. But many charismatics reject the likes of Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland.

"Despite qualifications here and there, one could get the impression MacArthur thinks almost all charismatics dishonor the Holy Spirit and are opposed to God. Certainly that is true of false teachers like Benny Hinn, but there are also many charismatics who repudiate the teaching and practices of people like Hinn, and hence the rhetoric of the book should be modified. MacArthur seems to acknowledge as much in his open letter to continuationists who have sound theology, though he believes they are a very small minority. Nevertheless, the clarion call of warning should be modified with clearer and more forthright admissions that many charismatics adhere to the gospel and are faithful to God’s Word."

You can read the rest here

Friday, October 25, 2013

Friday Fun: Packer Fan Dedication . . . or Insanity

So, a 6th grade Packer fan hailing from a small town of southwestern Wisconsin has been his Aaron Rodgers jersey constantly. For three years. You can read about it here and here.

Hope he hasn't forgotten how to take a shirt off.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

9 Things to Know About Down Syndrome

From Joe Carter, who writes for The Gospel Coalition and Patheos.

As an older brother of someone with Down Syndrome, this hits close to home.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A New Form of Worship War

From Stephen Miller, author of Worship Leaders, We Are Not Rock Stars. (I should have posted this two months ago).

Ours is a generation marked by war.

I’m not referring to a war with guns and tanks, though we have certainly seen our share of that as well. We are a generation that grew up witnessing the church fight over the very thing that was supposed to unite us: the worship of Jesus.
The Good Old Hymns vs. Modern Worship Choruses.
Organ & Piano vs. Those Demon Drums.
Few of us emerged from these consumerism driven worship wars of our younger years unscathed. Their impact has been profound, both personally and corporately.
Fast forward a decade or two and, at first glance, the worship wars that once plagued the church seem to have died down. So it might be easy to chalk it all up to a problem from a bygone era.
Until we walk out of a church service that didn’t meet our own standards.
We have become professional critics of corporate worship. We complain about everything.
The volume is either too loud, or not loud enough. The lighting is either too bright or not bright enough; too showy or too bland.
We grumble about song selection, saying things like, “They introduce too many new songs,” “Why do we keep doing the same songs over and over,” or “I hate that song.”
From key signatures to instrumentation; from the worship leader’s fashion sense to vocal tone – it’s all fair game for our consumer-driven critique.
We are the fast food slogan-slinging generation of “Have it your way.” We are American Idol’s panel of expert judges.
Read the rest here. Thoughts?

Monday, October 21, 2013

What Millenials Wanted to Be When They Grew Up

This Huffington Post article has been making the rounds in cyberspace.

Some very interesting points that strike a chord with many an old millenial (e.g. my peers).


Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday Fun: Composer Insults

And you thought Shakespearean insults were brutal. In college, I studied music composition and philosophy of the arts, so my colleagues and I were used to such exchanges of constructive criticism in sharpening our music-writing. But not this nasty, especially from Tchaikovsky. Wow. The Nutcracker composer (and one of my faves as a kid) really had an axe to grind.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Jesus's Temptation and Worship

I'd like to apologize to both of my faithful readers for not posting the last few days. I was at a very wonderful and rejuvenating worship summit in Minneapolis. (Props to my wife for holding down the 3-kid fort so well). While I was there, I really enjoyed this excerpt from D.A. Carson, connecting Jesus's temptation in the desert to worship ministries. The following is from the presentation notes:

When Jesus was tempted by Satan, the ultimate issue was allegiance, true worship. As they looked over all the kingdoms of the world, Satan said, "All this I will give you if you will bow down and worship me." Jesus's answer was clear and strong: "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'" (Matt. 4:8-10; cf. Lk. 4:5-8; Dt. 6:13). D.A. Carson writes about this exchange: "This was not an invitation to change styles of 'worship' - to move, say, from pipe organ to guitars. In fact, it was not an ecclesiastical or corporate matter at all. It was private and personal; more importantly, it dealt with the fundamental question, the question of ultimate allegiance; Whom do you serve?

"This, surely, is where all questions about worship must properly begin. The critical issue is not the techniques of worship, or the traditions of worship, still less the experience of worship, but who is being worshipped, and who is worshipping.

" . . . If the heart of sinfulness is self-centeredness, the heart of all biblical religion is God-centeredness: in short, it is worship. In our fallenness we constrict all there is to our petty horizons . . . The sign that self is broken is true worship: God becomes the centre, the focus of delight, the joyfully acknowledged King, the Creator, the Redeemer. In this sense, none but the transformed can truly worship - and they too discover how much more transformation is still needed. Thus all worship becomes an eschatological [end-time] sign, a marker of what will be in the new heaven and the new earth, the home of righteousness, when the children of God have been 'glorified' (Rom. 8:30), and God is all in all. In anticipation of that day, and 'in view of God's mercy', we offer our bodies 'as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God,' for this is our 'spiritual' (Rom. 12:1)."

("'Worship the Lord your God': The Perennial Challenge," in Worship: Adoration and Action, ed. D.A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 13-14).

Friday, October 11, 2013

Friday Fun: A Worship Leader's Nightmare

Our church's tech director Twittered this goodie. Don't let this video inspire any pranksters at your church. (I wish it had audio).

Thursday, October 10, 2013

"Erasing Hell" Author Writes for Pacifism

For those that remember Rob Bell's Love Wins and the controversy and ugly quibbling that ensued from its theological ramifications, the most pastoral, informed and well-written response was the book Erasing Hell, co-penned by Crazy Love author/speaker Francis Chan and his fellow Simi Valleyan Preston Sprinkle, who is also Professor of Biblical Studies at Eternity Bible College.

Sprinkle has now written a book arguing for pacifism, which CT reviews here. Fight: A Christian Case For Non-Violence was released in August, and may have been overlooked, due to its arguably recently-neglected and unpopular topic.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Outrage Hunger and a Healthful Emotional Diet

After reading the CT piece on “outrage hunger” last month, I have some expanded thoughts on what types of literature, blogs and memes to which we, as Christians, subject ourselves. 

We ought to bring into serious question what our “emotional diet” contains.

Outrage is the obvious and best current example. According to the CT article, Christians in this country (but they’re not alone in this habit) peruse cyberspace to find links of articles, editorials and memes (that vary extremely in accuracy and logic) that will enrage them, usually regarding a socio-political issue. Usually, the conversation that ensues from the reactive post (or “re-post”) on social media is less than Christ-like, to put it mildly.

Beyond outrage, there are works and kitsch out there that can make us disturbed and fearful enough to never let our kids outside the house. Some fluff can put us on a temporary and false euphoria. Other works will challenge belief in God. 

There’s a variety of consumable works out there, so I encourage that one strives for a balanced diet. Just like an individual prone to heartburn, try to foresee the for-sure consequences of what you consume, and be wise and practical about when (or even if) you should partake. 

I’ve had to strive for this balance, too. When I’ve just had a tiring day, for whatever reason, it isn’t the best time to read, for example, an atheist’s vitriolic editorial. That can wait until tomorrow. When I’m about to drop off my kids to school, it isn’t the best time to read a fear-mongering blog about violence between students. My kids are in God’s omnipotent hands. And I could be wrong, but popular political rants on Facebook aren’t going to do squat to change the minds of the politicians responsible for causing/fixing a political situation, so why bother jumping on the soapbox?

The truth is that certain emotions are just plain exhausting: fear, bitterness, anger, anxiety, unforgiveness, sadness, etc. They’re not how we’re called to live our daily lives, they don’t do anything to solve the situation that usually caused them, and they hinder us from living the life of holiness and service that Christ died and freed us to live.

This world is marked by unspeakable horror, wrongdoing and tragedy. We cannot be in denial or ignorance about that. But, as Christians who believe in the selfless sacrifice, suffering and sovereignty of Jesus, we have something that overpowers all such parasitical emotions: hope. Let’s maintain a healthful intake of truthful, reasonable objective material, meditate on God’s Word, and not react to events in this world as those who have no hope.

Love one another. Pray. Serve. 

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” -Philippians 4:4-9


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Pope Francis and Culture

Some interesting points and pondering from Ross Douthat on Pope Francis's general reception, and how it pertains to the recent past, present and future of the relationship between religion and culture.

It’s been the story of religion in the West for over 40 years. The most traditional groups have been relatively resilient. The more liberal, modernizing bodies have lost membership, money, morale. And the culture as a whole has become steadily more disengaged from organized faith. There is still a religious middle today, but it isn’t institutionally Judeo-Christian in the way it was in 1945. Instead, it’s defined by nondenominational ministries, “spiritual but not religious” pieties and ancient heresies reinvented as self-help.
Of late, this process of polarization has carried an air of inevitability. You can hew to a traditional faith in late modernity, it has seemed, only to the extent that you separate yourself from the American and Western mainstream. There is no middle ground, no center that holds for long, and the attempt to find one quickly leads to accommodation, drift and dissolution.
And this is where Pope Francis comes in, because so much of the excitement around his pontificate is a response to his obvious desire to reject these alternatives — self-segregation or surrender — in favor of an almost-frantic engagement with the lapsed-Catholic, post-Catholic and non-Catholic world.
You can read the rest here.