Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday Fun: Inappropriate Graduation Songs

Of course we've heard of inappropriate wedding songs. Just ask Tim Hawkins.

But it occurred to me last week, as I put together the service for my church's Graduation Sunday, that there might be some inappropriate graduation songs, too. I asked around some of my fellow worship leaders for some potential offertory ideas on Graduation Sunday. Other responses were more serious. Others were tongue-in-cheek. Others were more like advice of what not to play. Below is the list of responses for the latter two categories. For me, at least, it's difficult and/or comical to imagine these being played in and dedicated to the high school seniors in a modern Graduation Sunday church service.

  • "I Believe I Can Fly" -R. Kelly 
  • "Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior" -hymn, Fanny Crosby 
  • "Rescue the Perishing" -hymn, Fanny Crosby
  • "Friends" -Michael W. Smith (Good song, but a few functional problems in the lyrics, and it's hard to break it from Smith's style).
Any songs you want to add to the list?

Thursday, May 30, 2013

How Do You Evaluate Art?

A recent blog on Crossway speaks on how we evaluate art.

Do you prioritize certain elements over others? Going through such a thought process usually turns into somewhat of a personality test. For me, personally, the expansion of my ability to enjoy a diverse plethora of art forms has helped me to further humbly celebrate the Creator-hood of God. Thoughts?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness Has More Depth and Consistency

We were halfway through the year of 1999. Star Trek: Insurrection (a.k.a. “Star Trek IX”) had just released into theaters, and the shows Deep Space Nine and Voyager will still running strong on network television. Also, many were anticipating the release of Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace later that year, the first Star Wars movie released in 26 years.

How things have changed. Who would have thought that virtually all of the Star Wars and Star Trek movies for the next ten years would disappoint? And who would have thought that, someday, one rising director would helm films from both struggling franchises?

What J.J. Abrams has done for the Star Trek franchise is best put, to quote Spock, “fascinating.” With added special effects, more action sequences and slightly better acting, it’s become (at least) a bit more “cool” to go to a Star Trek movie. I’ve seen Trek movies in theaters before Abrams entered the arena. Believe me, the audience was different. Abrams has successfully expanded (if only a little) the appeal of Star Trek beyond its loyal fanbase. How the purists respond (as with Lord of the Rings, Marvel Comics, etc.) will always vary.

I did write on a late blog (still on my Facebook profile) to review Abrams’s previous Star Trek (2009). I lauded the effort and graded each actor’s portrayal of their respective character. But I complained about inconsistencies with the original story (that still likely wouldn’t be justified by the change in the time continuum) and a lack of depth. However, I thought that there were more consistencies and more depth in Star Trek: Into Darkness

Into Darkness takes place a little while after the conclusion of its predecessor, after the crew (and the actors as well) have developed team chemistry. After violating the prime directive, Kirk is graciously only demoted to first officer. Then a mysterious disgruntled Starfleet officer named John Harrison starts assassinating high-ranking officials, including Kirk’s superior officer and mentor, Christopher Pike. In reaction, Starfleet’s general sends Kirk and the reassembled Enterprise crew on an under-the-table mission with mysterious prototype missiles to John Harrison’s hideout . . . in hostile Klingon space. And things continue to unfold from there. 

Warning. There be big-time spoilers ahead. Skip down to the last paragraph to avoid them.

John Harrison is a pseudonym for Khan, and the corrupt Starfleet general was using him (and the Enterprise crew) to indirectly trigger a war with the Klingons. I suspected the former from the trailer, but they made a good call to involve Khan in this story, and they portrayed him well. Virtually every character of the classic Enterprise crew showed accurate glimpses of what Trekkies know them to be (e.g. Sulu’s aspiration to be a captain, Scotty’s ethics, McCoy’s dry cynicism, etc.), and things tied in together. There were even some surprise references (e.g. the involvement of Carol Marcus and the mention of Section 31) that made Trekkies feel happy and smart. There was a bit more depth in Into Darkness than its predecessor as well, with Kirk’s rowdy captainship confronted, Spock’s continuing inner battle between his Vulcan and human self, general ethics and leadership, etc. It was a decently deep, action-packed and enjoyable ride.

But, seriously, did they need to make that many references to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan? Spock’s shout was borderline dorky at best. And there was never any kind of rebuttal to Spock’s purposeful strive toward inward apathy (in order to avoid pain). That might have left a few people (at least grief counselors) hanging. I wanted to quote C.S. Lewis to Spock: “To love is to be vulnerable.” 

And seriously, Earth needs to improve the surveillance and security systems of its own orbits. The entire time that the Enterprise was powerless, falling and burning in the Earth’s atmosphere (Kirk died of radiation, restoring the engines to save the crew), I was always thinking that, nearby, there’s got to be some type of willing and able starship that could stop on over with a tractor beam. And a tractor beam, missile or shield sure would have come in handy to prevent Khan’s kamikaze, which seemed to have knocked down half the skyscrapers of San Francisco. That part was a bit unbelievable (I know that’s a strange word to use when talking about science fiction).

Anyways, definitely see the movie, Trekkie or not. It’s a fun movie, and it actually got a hot girl (my wife) asking me questions about Starfleet history. That’s a scenario I never dared to imagine as a Trekkie in high school.  

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

How to Discourage Artists in the Church

Phil Ryken, pastor emeritus of Philadelphia's Tenth Presbyterian and now President of Wheaton College, writes well (with some research from the local artist community) on why and how pastors and churches should encourage and celebrate the Christian artists. Ryken quotes Francis Schaeffer:

For a Christian, redeemed by the work of Christ and living within the norms of Scripture and under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, the lordship of Christ should include an interest in the arts. A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God—not just as tracts, but as things of beauty to the praise of God.

This article is very well needed. I feel that many Western churches and related institutions have a view of the arts that is a bit narrow and based too much in function and the writings of Leo Tolstoy. I'm trying so hard to stay off the proverbial soapbox right now. It's just my hope that church leaders can take these thoughts to heart.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day, Flanders Fields and the Skit Guys

photo from
When I was a high school freshman in Iowa, show choir was a popular and competitive extracurricular activity. Show choirs would spend the entire school year getting four choreographed songs (and one non-dancing ballad) ready for competition season. When I was in my "freshman level" show choir (yes, our Iowa show choir competitions had levels like 4A, etc., depending on the size of the school, etc.), I got to share a solo in our ballad, which was "In Flanders Fields."

The ballad "In Flanders Fields" is a musical adaptation of the poem of the same name, written by a Canadian medical officer John McCrae in 1915 in regards to the First World War.

Joe Carter writes about how a college teacher and YMCA War Worker wrote a moving response to the poem.

. . . the blood of heroes truly never dies. Their sacrifices truly do live on, enriching the fertile soil of our memories, bringing forth red poppies that grow in honor of those who've passed on the torch.
Sleep sweet, brave comrades, until you arise anew.

You can enjoy the Skit Guys's new Memorial Day video here.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Friday Fun: Oh What a Jazzy Beautiful Morning

Here's a jazzy rendition of "Oh What a Beautiful Morning," with only upright bass and six vocals. This guy is a chord color genius. How old is he? He going to a big name conservatory or straight to the recording studio?

In any case, this will brighten your morning. Have a good Memorial Day weekend!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Adoption in Austin: the Gospel in Living Color

This video has been making rounds recently in Christian blogs. It's a powerful portrayal of the real-life experience that the Chens had, flying to a hospital to adopt their son Jacob.

This video was created by Austin Stone Church.

Austin Stone Church has launched an incredible adoption campaign to try and adopt all 244 kids needing adoption in the city of Austin, Texas. They have also created an extensive foster care initiative to provide Christian homes to children who need a family.

The story is a heart-warming example of seeing the Gospel in living color.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What We Learned From “The Office”: Intro & Pt.1

Watching The Office (U.S. version) was a fun activity and a fond memory for my wife and I, during our engagement and our first few years of marriage. Every Thursday night, we’d gather with housemates, co-workers, grad school classmates, and/or family to watch the unfolding love drama of Jim & Pam and the antics of Michael Scott. We sometimes even took turns hosting and providing refreshments. 

And now it’s over. I’m still processing that a story I enjoyed for so many years is done. There’s a few gleanings to share.

Yes, I know that the content of The Office is not family-friendly. The dialogue, mostly, kept the ratings in either TV-PG or TV-14, but its caricatured portrayal of the Midwest, suburban, middle-class work life struck a lot of cords. Recently, actors were interviewed and remembered scenes as early as the second season where they thought the dialogue and story were too real to be from a script. The Office is, arguably, the mockumentary with the most balance between realism and comedy, and it illustrated a lot of truths about our culture. Some of these truths we Christians need to understand. Others we need to celebrate. (It’s mostly my fellow Office nerds that will better understand things from here).

#1: Great Marriages Enrich Lives
Of course, I had to put Jim and Pam’s story up front here. Their romantic tension and drama was likely the biggest reason people kept coming back for the next episode during the first three seasons. I can’t help but notice, though, what their relationship revealed about marriage. Pam’s and Jim’s marriage isn’t perfect, but they viewed marriage covenantally and strived to be faithful. As their relationship matured (seasons 4-9) and they continued to be faithful to each other, loving each other, investing in each other and inspiring each other, both characters improved in their self-confidence, general joy and contentment. And that’s what covenantal marriage and biblical love do.

Before Jim and Pam started dating, Pam was an insecure, timid, loneliness-fearing girl (who joked about sleeping with Dwight to get a Saturday off), stuck in an unending engagement to a live-in boyfriend who didn’t treat her right, to say the least. As Jim’s girlfriend and eventual wife, she was much more outwardly self-confident, vivacious and professional, and she developed into a good wife, loving mother, art school student and shepherdess of the office.

Similarly, Jim was a gawky, sardonic and slightly unprofessional and awkward guy-with-a-crush who wanted out of the paper business. Once he was in a loving relationship with Pam, he became more gracious and efficient in the leadership of the office and his household. Jim dressed more professionally, and was able to pursue his dream of being a sportswriter (which he was willing to, at the same time, wholly sacrifice for the sake of his marriage).

Jim and Pam’s love story went from the most followed subplot to, perhaps, the most debatable. Some people think it should have tragically never happened. Others wanted more drama and rough patches for the marriage (e.g. Jim cheating on Pam with Kathy during Season 8). Yet faithfulness, selflessness and love in a covenantal marriage, as evident in Jim & Pam’s relationship, (after all, the show did quote 1 Cor. 13:4-7 in a crucial moment during the 9th season) helps to strengthen the marriage to survive common experiences (wedding planning, parenthood, family/in-law issues) and potential rough patches (e.g. threats of unemployment, long distance, etc.) with little to no drama. It’s inspirationally boring, and seemingly not good for ratings. But it was almost always evident that Jim and Pam’s marriage was benefitting to the two of them, their family and even the office. The list of examples goes on.

Next: Good Management is Key

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Viking to be Proud of: Leslie Frazier

In case you didn't know, I'm a Minnesota Vikings fan who lives an hour away from Lambeau Field. As a pastor, it makes for fun conversation with the congregants at my church. At a recent elder meeting, one elder mentioned his plans for a family excursion to the Twin Cities. I, jokingly, recommended he visit the Mall of America and go to the Vikings Locker Room. He retorted, asking if I wanted a Greg Jennings jersey. Realizing he might be honestly offering me a souvenir, I asked him if there was anything in the store celebrating the Vikings new head coach (of three years), Leslie Frazier.

Maybe they should make more jersey equivalents for coaches. It's more than just the Viking fan base that's noticed Frazier's mature guidance of the franchise from its collapse in 2010 to its promising rebuilding. I may be a bit biased, since Frazier once coached at my alma mater (where I got my graduate degree), but he took a team from 3-13 to 10-6 (with a playoff berth) using good and mature leadership tactics, and had more connections and support from the team and the office. I hope he remains the Minnesota Vikings coach for years to come.  

Friday, May 10, 2013

Friday Fun: Worship Slide Typos

They happen. Sometimes they can destroy a "worship moment" and give a (often undeserved) not-so-good impression of the church's intelligence and communication skills as a whole. After all, D.A. Carson once said to my seminary class that you will not make great impact for the Gospel if you're not a good speller.

Yet worship slide typos still happen. What's the most gracious response? Some ignore them and jokingly (and creatively) justify them in their minds. My favorite from my experience was when a line on the screen for a song I was leading said, "soothe their voilent wounds." I, for fun, explained that "voilent" is from the word "voila," meaning "surprising wounds." Still, there haven't been any "voilent wounds" on the screen since.

Here's how Jon Acuff responds, internally, to worship slide typos. How do you?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Gospel-Centered Worship Leader

There's, potentially, another sub-movement in philosophy of worship afoot. A dozen worship leaders contributed to the recent book, Doxology and Theology: How the Gospel Forms the Worship Leader, a copy of which I'll have to pick up soon. The Gospel Project's Trevin Wax interviewed two worship leaders "at the forefront" of this sub-movement. You can read it here.

So far, the movement seems to strive for musical sing-ability, rich theological truths, creative forms of Scriptural involvement, and Truth-based emoting. I look forward to learning more about their approach.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Troubling Viral Trend of the “Hilarious” Black Neighbor

A friend blogger of mine found this on Slate. Some good points. When I first watched the video yesterday, I also was remembering Antoine Dodson.

It's amazing how powerful mass media can be.

(Image from WEWSTV).

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Gospel (Randomly) Mentioned in Cable News

It could become a battle between FoxNews's Bill O'Reilly and MSNBC's Martin Bashir, both utilizing the life of Jesus as ammunition for their political points. Supposedly, Bill O'Reilly (who claimed the Bible is "all allegorical" in his interview with Mark Burnett and Roma Downey about their recent History Channel mini-series) claimed that Jesus Christ's death was about taxes. Martin Bashir, in this video, disagrees, quotes Isaiah 53 and explains substitutionary atonement to the viewing audience in a clarification that was (surprisingly) purely theological.

Judging by some of his other political/theological views, I would argue that Bashir has some more things to learn about biblical interpretation. But, judging by this clip, he seems to understand why Jesus died.

How Jesus's work and teaching relates to modern American economics, I'll leave to others to debate. But it's good to see the Doctrine of Atonement (complete with Scriptural references) portrayed in cable news.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Disneyworld and the Restorative Gospel

My daughters still have to wait a few years until we even think about going to Disneyworld. We want to at least wait until they're old enough to remember most of the trip. In the meantime, my wife and I strive to balance our daughters' Disney intake with productive and edifying activities. And when they start to talk about Disneyworld, we find a creative way to downplay or change the subject.

What was also in Orlando last month was The Gospel Coalition Conference, and one attendant wrote a good post, somewhat explaining the relationship between Disneyworld and Heaven, which we might need to explain to our daughters . . .

Friday, May 3, 2013

Friday Fun: Reminiscing About the 90's

I was never a Dawson's Creek fan, but as someone who grew up in the 90's, I sure enjoyed reading through these problems that we haven't suffered since that era.


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Can God Save a Fundamentalist School?

Northland International University, in my state of Wisconsin, is making news in Christian circles as its leadership is making some changes and facing some challenges.  One pastor friend I met in my denomination’s district is an alumnus of this school. 

Another alumnus, who went on to intern with John Piper in Minneapolis, get a PhD and pastor in Hawaii, writes for The Gospel Coalition about what’s happening in Dunbar, WI and how we can celebrate God’s work in the school and pray for them. It can be a great example of the significance of Gospel-centeredness.

You can read more here.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Future of Tebow? Baggage and Marketability

Professional quarterback Tim Tebow has been released from the New York Jets. His presence on that team made sense to very, very few people. And a lot about what's happening (or what's not happening) with the New York Jets isn't making sense right now. 

But where will Tebow go? His Christian beliefs have been made perfectly clear, but his marketability in the NFL is a mystery. As a quarterback, his numbers are questionable, but he did help bring the Denver Broncos out of disarray and into the second round of the playoffs. If the run-pass-option offense is a growing trend in the NFL (it arguably is), Tebow could be a good quarterback for certain teams. Why isn't he being rebounded as quickly as he was last year?

Is it because of Tebowmania?

Tebowmania is my term for the media hype and fan followings that surround Tebow, not because of his Christian beliefs alone, but his outspokenness thereof. There have been plenty of Christians in the NFL (e.g. Reggie White, Tony Dungy, etc.), but Tebow has been (arguably) more verbal about it, in (arguably) a more charged socio-political climate. We can endlessly debate the level of Tebow's outspokenness, but I think the fact remains that Tebowmania is baggage that affects his marketability. 

Off-the-field baggage, technically, should have no impact on marketability and job security. But it does when it affects on-the-field work. This pertains to all types of baggage. Team owners vary in opinion on this issue.

Still, why hasn't Tebow been signed? Where is his future? Thoughts?