Thursday, December 25, 2014

Have a Merry Christmas!

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. -Isaiah 9:6

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Hopes and Fears of All the Years

If Christmas carols bring to mind images of hot chocolate and coziness, you have them in the wrong mental category. Carols contain some of the deepest theology of all hymnody. If you don’t believe me, you should spend some time with “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” or “Joy to the World.”
While “O Little Town of Bethlehem” may be associated with nativity plays and children nestled all snug in their beds, it contains this bold and compelling claim: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
What does this mean? How were the hopes and fears of all the years met in Bethlehem the night Jesus was born?
You can read the rest here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

From Disbelief in Santa to Belief in Jesus

There are some interesting points and connections in this article.

I used to hang around the mall and tell kids there is no Santa. I’d buttonhole them after they’d exited the fat man’s lap. Come here, kid, I got some news for ya. I didn’t do it because I was mean. I did it because I was 13 and in the mood to share my own disillusionment. I told myself that I had a higher purpose. I’d come to believe that faith in Santa stood behind a loss of faith in general— churches shuttered, pews empty. Some blamed Darwin. I blamed that sleigh-crazed fat man from the frozen north.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Charles Dickens and Christmas

For those that wonder about where we've gotten all of our various extra-biblical Christmas traditions, you'll find this article very interesting.

A hundred and seventy one years and two days ago, Charles Dickens first published A Christmas Carol. Like many others, my Christmas always starts with him. People say Dickens invented Christmas: he didn’t – though he aided its revival. Britain’s newly urban population didn’t have much energy or opportunity to celebrate it, thanks to the extremely un-festive combination of long hours of unregulated industrial toil and displacement from the rural communities they’d grown up in. Dickens was the most successful of numerous cultured Victorians keen to revive the season, both out of nostalgia for the (more fondly than accurately) remembered country Christmases of yore and a sense of social conscience.
Many of our ideas about what makes a merry Christmas (including the phrase itself) were his first. Dickens placed charity at the heart of the season and made us hope for snow. In his imagination Christmas was always white, which his biographer Peter Ackroyd puts down to the eight unusually cold, happy winters of his boyhood, before his father, John, ended up in debtor’s prison.
So, if you're planning on it, go on and have a Dickens of a Christmas!
You can read the rest here. HT: Lauren Laverne

Friday, December 19, 2014

Friday Fun: Sheboygan Scanner in BuzzFeed

The twitter account of the police scanner of Sheboygan, WI, where I've been serving in ministry for the past 4.5 years, has made it to BuzzFeed as "The Best Police Scanner You Aren't Following."

You can read what they deem as the best tweets here.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Happy Christmas from the Middle East

Canon Andrew White (AP)
A Christmas message from a pastor who has shepherded refugees suffering the ISIS onslaught.

The fact is that Christmas has one reason only -- that Jesus was indeed born. Throughout history from the Jewish tradition there was the profound belief that one day the Messiah, the anointed one of God, would be born. He would be the one who would lead people to their heavenly father God. He would be the one who would change peoples understanding of God forever. He would be the one known as the King of Kings.
Yet he was not born of the right stock, he was born of an unmarried mother who was no more than a refugee. She gave birth to her son in a grotty stable, in a grotty little town just outside of Jerusalem called Bethlehem. Not a very grand start for the person who would change history. From the day he was born history was divided into before him BC or after him AD. Those who follow that refugee child now call themselves Christians.
Christmas is also a time when you assess what has happened over the past year. For me this year has been so hard because I am not the vicar in a leafy Parish in the Hampshire/Surrey boarders where my family live. My parish is Baghdad in Iraq. The nation where the Christians have been dismissed from their hometowns in there hundreds of thousands. They have fled in their masses to the very North of Iraq fleeing the onslaught of the terrorist group known as ISIS. There for weeks my staff team have fed and clothed, provided mattresses and cradles for the thousands and thousands of internally displaced people.
Here in their refugee camp, the Christians with no Christmas like us in the West have placed a refugee tent for Jesus, and there in the camp is a tent for another person who was also a poor refugee who had nothing.
This Christmas as we celebrate what we have, let us not forget that we too are celebrating the birth of a refugee who had nothing but gives us everything. As we delight in what we can give to people this Christmas let us not forget what this Christmas is really about: the time when this refugee child comes to all of us as the one who leads us to God and offers us the most wonderful gift possible this Christmas. Christmas is all about relationship with our ultimate creator.
You can read the rest here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The American Jeremiad

An intriguing biblical and historical look at the notion of "good ol 'days," "golden eras" and our country's seeming moral decline.

You don’t need me to tell you that things are not what they once were for Christians in America. Much has changed in the last two decades, let alone the last two centuries. And some of this change hasn’t been good—not for America, not for American Christianity.
But there is a way of responding to declension—real or imagined—that only compounds the problem. We must guard against any response to decline that appeals to a past that never existed or to a future that God hasn’t promised us. In this article, I merely wish to sketch a cautionary tale. Narratives of decline, especially in our American context, build on an approach to history with a long history of its own.

You can read the rest here.  

Friday, December 12, 2014

Friday Fun: Home Free's "Angels We Have Heard on High"

"Home Free," the most recent winners of The Sing-Off, have made a music video for "Angels We Have Heard on High" from their Christmas album. They strive for hymnbook chord modulations, and I especially enjoy the little trill in the melismas.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Vote for Your Favorite Christmas Hymn

The Huffington Post decided to have a vote among their readers for the best Christmas hymn. And these are hymns with theological clout, not the radio-popular carols that mostly talk about winter and/or Santa's operations. So far, "O Holy Night" is winning.

You can view the contestants and vote here.

Let me know if you come up with or see any trash talk in a "best Christmas hymn" contest. I'd be really curious.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Churches and Architecture: Round or Linear?

One blogger I follow on Patheos's Evangelical Channel reposted a recent editorial from the Catholic Channel. I use the word "editorial" precisely because this article seems a bit like a tirade that assumes a few things, especially about the common churchgoer's supposed frustration with "round" church facilities (seemingly defined as anything other than linear seating arrangement, including amphitheater-like settings). He shows pictures of some modern churches and their amphitheater-like seating arrangements and writes:

Have you noticed that nobody loves modern churches? Nobody. I mean NOBODY.

Seriously. Have you ever met anyone who sees a church like this and and heard them whisper, “I just love that church! It is so inspiring!”.

No. Never.

Have you ever gone into a “worship space” like this and heard someone say how awed they were to be in the presence of God? I doubt it.  

That’s because these buildings were not designed to inspire awe or to remind you about the presence of God. They are people centered, not God centered. They are auditoria, not temples.

You can read the rest here. He does bring up some points from Old Testament temple construction and Roman Catholic history. Architecture is also a form of art with which we worship, like music. Like music, architecture in the church must always deal with the balance of aesthetic and function. Like music, architecture in the church has suffered centuries of debate over what God's plan and use for it really is. And, like music, the debate of architecture in the church really seems tangential when we think of the churches of pre-Constantine Rome or modern China.

What are your thoughts on church architecture and how it does or does not affect our communion with God on Sunday morning gatherings?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Three Reasons Why We Sing in Church

Christianity is a singing faith. It’s one of the chief things followers of Jesus are renowned for, both down through the ages and now all around the world. While the proportion of singing has varied from time to time and from place to place, most churches today devote about a third of their gathering time to congregational singing and invest a considerable amount of time, money, effort, and energy into the musical side of church life.
But why do we sing? What does our singing accomplish? What purposes does it fulfill? According to Scripture, God has both created and called us to sing for three principle reasons: to help us praise, to help us pray, and to help us proclaim. Let’s look at each of these reasons in turn.
1. Singing Helps Us Praise
2. Singing Helps Us Pray
3. Singing Helps Us Proclaim
You can read the explanations here.
HT: Rob Smith

Monday, December 8, 2014

Special Personal Announcement: God's Calling

Yesterday, during Sheboygan Evangelical Free Church’s morning services, it was announced publicly that, this next month, my wife Christina and I are following what we believe to be God’s calling in returning to the Chicago area to serve Him in ministry. This calling stems from my growing heart to serve a multi-cultural church in a highly urbanized location, and my wife’s growing heart to learn more about vocational ministry. This call brought us two opportunities:

1) I have accepted a call to serve as the Worship Leader for Skokie Valley Baptist Church, a multi-generational and multi-ethnic church with the Baptist General Conference in Wilmette, IL. 

2) Christina has been accepted on a scholarship at Wheaton College Graduate School to pursue her Master of Arts in Christian Formation and Ministry with a focus in Church and Parachurch ministry.

We will be leaving our current home and ministry in Sheboygan County and moving to the Chicago area in January of 2015. In the meantime, I’ll be working with staff and volunteers on the transition plan.

We will miss serving in Sheboygan Evangelical Free Church and are grateful how the church family, beginning with Pastor Mark Steele, took me under its wing, almost fresh out of seminary and invested and cared for him in his first full-time ministry. From the keytar and the accordion to brass/string arrangements to the wonderful plays this church has produced, it’s been a wonderful 4-1/2 years, and we look forward to keeping in contact and visiting on occasion. We have learned so much about ministry in our years here and are so thankful to have been serving with you!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Friday Fun: Acapella Nutcracker

This video by the acapella sensation Pentatonix has been out in cyberspace for a few days now, but I think it deserves a lot more attention. Pentatonix has now covered Tchaikovsky's "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy," bringing pop acapella into the world of classical music. Has this been done before? If so, let me know of some examples. The Nutcracker's "Russian Dance" was one of my favorite pieces as a kid (I played it on the piano for a recital in 4th grade), so I listened to a decent amount of Tchaikovsky. Pentatonix's arrangement and execution seems to nail the chromaticisms, modulations and complex chords of the barely-tonal piece Tchaikovsky intended. On top of tackling this work, Pentatonix creatively added some vocal percussion and, I think, made a slight homage to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" music video. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Top 7 Bible Verses for Christmas Cards

These Bible verses might be good choices as you write Christmas cards and find other ways to communicate the message of Christmas to others this year.

Isaiah 9:2
John 1:29
Luke 1:37
John 1:9-10
Psalm 117
Matthew 3:17
John 3:16

Read the explanations here.

HT: Grace Robinson

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

This Year's Christmas Musical Feast

My family and I have the blessing of being introduced to a variety of Christmas music this year. Some of it is new; some of it we just discovered. In the past, my Christmas music was mostly defined by a collection of a late 80's/early 90's CCM compilation that I snuck into my mom's shopping bag at my Christian grade school fair. That music was good, but I've really needed to expand my horizons. Thus, below are the albums we're pulling from for our Christmas playlist.

Campfire Christmas, Vol.1 - Rend Collective: Give this album a listen if you can. It's festive and happy, just like you would imagine a Celtic campfire gathering to be. And they have very cool lyrics to "Auld Lang Syne."

White Christmas - Seasonal Hits of the 1930's and 40's: Our church recently produced Taproot Theatre's "Christmas on the Air," which takes place in 1935. This album was the soundtrack.

The 8-bit Hymnal 2 (Christmas) - Tyler Larson: If you're like me and would really love to play grade-school adventure video games from the late 80's/early 90's while listening to Christmas carols, this is your album.  

Christmas Masterpieces and Familiar Carols - The Westminster Choir: I had to go back to my classical-loving side at some point. This album contains several carols performed excellently, as well as some classical seasonal classics, including from Handel. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

What About the Mothers of Bethlehem's Massacred Babies?

1824 (oil on canvas), Cogniet, Leon (1794-1880)
Musee des Beaux-Arts, Rennes, France /
Giraudon / The Bridgeman Art Library
I still remember when I first saw The Ten Commandments in grade school. The brief clip of the Egyptian massacre of infant and toddler Hebrews (that Moses escaped) brought my young soul to tears. Ever since, I've only seen portrayals of that story, and the Christmas story when King Herod orders a similar massacre, where such elements are much more downplayed, if not excluded. I've sometimes wondered how to help teach my kids (and anyone) about the tragic and unjust part of the Christmas story, and how it does have a happy ending. I came across this really powerful article

A disastrous event that took place in Bethlehem related to Jesus’ birth that is also part of the picture of Christmas. Herod ordered the slaughter of all the boys two years old and under. Yet we tend to allow sleigh bells, evergreens, and shopping trips to push it out of view. It is nevertheless, in all its brutality, what Christmas is about: a Savior’s “invasion” (to borrow from C. S. Lewis) and confrontation with the forces of evil.

Matthew’s narrative of Christ’s birth juxtaposes noble and wretched characters in stark contrasts: stars and swords; majestic kingly visitations and twisted kingly agitation; Mary rejoicing, Rachel weeping; children who die and the child who gets away. How do we reconcile this glorious birth with the bloody death of those boys?

Jesus had to escape Herod’s decree in order to face the day when the angels would not intervene and when Joseph would not whisk him to Egypt; the day when Mary, not Rachel, would weep and could not be comforted.

When Jesus delivered us from evil, he went, like the mothers I read about, to crime-ridden sewers to bring back his loved ones from slavery. He went, Wright writes, “solo and unaided into the whirlpool [of evil], so that it may exhaust its force on him and let the rest of the world go free.” Jesus, in the end, was the one “who was not delivered from evil.”

In the verse that follows Rachel’s lament, Jeremiah writes: “Do not weep any longer, for I will reward you. Your children will come back to you.” God’s portrait of grief—the weeping mother—is overruled by the picture of children returning.

Friday, November 28, 2014

New VeggieTales on Netflix

A new series of VeggieTales joins the list of shows only viewable on Netflix, and it debuts today. It's called VeggieTales in the House. The voice cast looks to remain the same, but the scriptwriting and music composition crew seems to have changed, along with the appearance of the characters.

You can read about the new series here.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What I Bought From the Store for Thanksgiving Dinner

I am no cook, and my wife and my mother are taking care of the primary elements of the Thanksgiving meal. However, I wanted to make this Thanksgiving meal a creative and Wisconsin-based experience. Thus, I took my son to some stores and meat markets, and I purchased:

  • Gibbsville Cheese Curds
  • Sprecher Cream Soda
  • Miesfeld's Summer Sausage
  • and finally, lobster (it was part of the original Thanksgiving meal, after all!)
However, I wasn't able to find any venison. Oh, deer.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Perspectives on Ferguson

In anticipation of the grand jury's decision, protestors got ready to march in cities all across the country (e.g. Chicago, New York, Washington, Oakland, Seattle) and schools and offices in the St. Louis metro (including where some of my family and friends go) had already planned not to open. 

Here are some links I found to be good reads regarding the situation in Ferguson:

A Decision in Ferguson: How Should Evangelicals Respond? - Ed Stetzer

Monday, November 24, 2014

“Before (____) was, I AM.”

I read through a good piece on idolatry this morning.

Idols take many forms. I don’t find too many people in my circles fixated with Abraham and the nation of Israel. For example, I struggle with the idol of professionalism and career. I can easily try and commodify Jesus to leverage him for my career, whereas I should pray that God would leverage me and my career for him. What do you struggle with? American nationalism? Career? Family? Money? Fame? Reason? Power? Health? Comfort? Experience and Benefits? Know this: Jesus will not allow us to leverage him for our various idols, including our experience and benefits of him. 

HT: Paul Louis Metzger

Friday, November 21, 2014

Thursday, November 20, 2014

One Perspective on Religion in the Public Square

I found this to be a very-informed and balanced perspective on religion in the public square of our country, written by a Jewish law professor at Northwestern University near Chicago.

In an essay in 1997, I predicted the demise of conventional, innocuous Christian public observances as the obvious consequence of what I called the “Menorah Principle” – the notion that religious minorities must share equal, not pro rata, space with the majority religion makes public (i.e., governmental) religious symbolism effectively unworkable. In a nation with a multitude of religions followed by less than one percent of the population, giving everyone a turn will in the long run render public religious displays or any kind either meaningless, incoherent, or excessive. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Worldwide Christmas for Kids

I might be interested in trying out this Wycliffe project.

12 Days of Christmas with Kate and Mack

Christmas is almost here, and Mack and I have been traveling all around the world to learn about all the different ways Christmas is celebrated! It’s been such a fun trip, and we want to share all that we’ve learned with you. Over the first two weeks of December, you will:

1. Learn how 12 different countries celebrate Christmas.
2. Make delicious Christmas treats or fun crafts from around the world.
3. Remember the true reason for the season — Jesus Christ!

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Doubly Offensive Jesus

A very important paradox pointed out by Trevin Wax:

Jesus said He came to call sinners to repentance. The church is offended that Jesus’ call is for sinners. The world is offended that He calls for repentance.
That’s why the world minimizes His exclusive claims until Jesus is reduced to a social justice warrior who affirms people as they are. And that’s why the church minimizes His inclusive call until Jesus is reduced to a badge of honor for church folks who think their obedience makes them right with God.
You can read the rest here.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday Fun: Parody Tribute to Aaron Sorkin

The cast and crew of Late Night with Seth Meyers give a well-written parody tribute to the work of Aaron Sorkin. Fans of his work, especially The West Wing, will enjoy this. (Excuse one PG-rated word).

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

"Saving Christmas" Info and Reviews

And here we have yet another entry into the new years of of "Christian film," which seem to be also growing in their variance of format and content. Kirk Cameron's "Saving Christmas" is no exception. While the movie could be best described as a comedic drama, it seems to also be part-documentary, part-soapbox.

PluggedIn, the Christian parents-guide reviewer, provides us the most detailed synopsis. It barely reviews the content, but argues that the film is mostly meant for Christians (sometimes vehemently) reluctant to celebrate the extrabiblical Christmas traditions of the U.S.

The Huffington Post has yet to post a thorough review, but links to Kirk Cameron's interviews with The Christian Post and The Blaze, from which they predict this movie's message to be a historical-cultural apologetic (which Cameron has arguably done before with his documentary Monumental) for why Christmas (including all our country's traditions surrounding it) is Christian and, maybe, why it should be okay to put up nativity scenes in the public square.

Apolomedia, however, gives a review. Here's a portion:

Whether you fully embrace Christmas [including extrabiblical traditions], want to abandon it, or fall somewhere in between, the most important thing is to back it up with Scripture. Some of us will look at the world, and at history, and decide that Santa is appropriate for their household. Others, will look at how the culture has perverted the idea of Santa or how he is part of the distraction from the gospel and decide not to allow him into their home. Kirk seems to push that everyone should be in the first group and come up with a biblical reason to accept everything. However, not celebrating Santa doesn’t mean you’re a Christmas Grinch. In fact, regardless of what you do or don’t celebrate in your own home, you can use Christmas culture to tell friends about Jesus Christ. 

And here's the trailer:


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Christian Bloggers, Let Mark Driscoll Be

Here are some wise, convicting and gracious reasons from a pastor's-kid-turned blogger as to why we should no longer follow Mark Driscoll's movements.

1) It really serves no good purpose.
2) It obscures Christian forgiveness.
3) It empowers skepticism toward the local church.
4) It punishes Driscoll's family.

You can read the explanations here.


HT: Samuel James

Monday, November 10, 2014

Misconceptions of "Scripture Alone"

As citizens of the 21st century, we have the unprecedented opportunity to read the Bible with the hindsight of nearly two millennia of scholarly investigation and interpretation. Why do we disregard this opportunity? 
An interesting piece on how sola Scriptura does not mean license for individualistic interpretation and how Americans believe in heresies that were actually theologically answered almost two millennia ago.    
Personal piety and a desire for truth are not guarantees that we always read Scripture aright. Consequently, we must rely upon our brothers and sisters in the faith to correct and rebuke us when we err, demonstrating our errors by Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16). And this reliance on brothers and sisters refers not merely to those Christians who happen to be alive at the same time as us. Instead, it refers to the whole Christian Church, throughout time. We rely on those who have gone before us. They too get a say in the matter. As G. K. Chesterton has wonderfully put it, this sort of tradition is a “democracy of the dead.”
Of course, doctrine is not itself a matter of democracy per se; we don’t (or at least ought not) vote for dogma in the Church. Dogma is a matter of truth, not popular opinion. But Chesterton’s words remind us that it is arrogant to ignore the teachings of our forefathers in the faith. They faced many of the same theological questions we do today, and their answers have stood the test of time.
You can read the rest here.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Friday Fun: History and Theology of Christian Beards

In honor of No-Shave November, here's a fun article with a pictorial history of Christian beards and their attached theology.

You're more likely to see a beard in the pulpit today than at any time since the 1800s. But beards—especially among clergy—were once serious, symbolic matters. They separated East from West during the Great Schism, priests from laity during the Middle Ages, and Protestants from Catholics during the Reformation. Some church leaders required them; others banned them. To medieval theologians, they represented both holiness and sin. But historian Giles Constable says that rules on beards sound more forceful than they really were. Clergy (especially powerful ones) were likely to follow fashion in their day, too.

You can read the rest here.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

"O Holy Night" Then, Now and in the Future

Hymn lyrics and tunes have always been changing, and even the most popular hymns have had many more "versions" than people estimate. Hymns also have their own biographies, and "O Holy Night" has a particularly interesting one. Bob Kauflin posted a revisitation of "O Holy Night." Thoughts?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Future Billy Graham?

There's a book entitled Igniting the Fire: The Movements and Mentors that Helped Shape Billy Graham. It studies Billy Graham's formative ministry years and makes the surprising argument that a future era of mass evangelism is far from impossible, contrary to popular perception.

You can read an interview with the author here.

HT: Trevin Wax

Monday, November 3, 2014

Rend Collective Christmas Album

My wife shared the rumor with me, and I've only found one article to confirm it. Anybody else have any more details?

From an interview by a pastor in CA . . .

Pastor Skip: “What's the next project for Rend Collective?”

Gareth: “Even though we said we'd never do it again, we're doing a Christmas campfire album. Christmas is just such a wonderful time of year, so magical, and singing these songs in a group like that is a real bridge for young people to connect with Christmas.”

You can read the rest of the interview here.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Friday Fun: Reformation Memes

Today is Halloween and Reformation Day. I didn't have time to post extensively on either (and I was getting tired of annually posting about the "Reformation Polka"), so here's some Reformation fun: Reformation memes.

It's fun to imagine the collision of Renaissance culture and modern cyberspace. I wish I had discovered these last year.

You can read the rest of them here, and it might be only the surface.

HT: Kevin Halloran

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Pope and Bad Press

I have to be honest. It feels like integrity is dwindling in the news. Quotes are taken out of context and blown out of proportion. Stories are twisted and rephrased to feed the trolls and tribes of social media. Plus, there's kitsch and hoaxes everywhere. Ironically, in this "information age," I have to accept the fact that there's so much I don't know about a certain incident across the country, no matter how much others read into it.

This happened with the Pope in the past few days. (I don't want to start a creation-evolution debate here). TIME Magazine noted how much people got it wrong.

In grad school, I was taught about a disturbing new trend. In past times, when an archaeological find was uncovered, its validity and legitimacy was thoroughly reviewed by a circle of scholarship. If it passed, then it made it to the press and the rest of the world. That's not the case now. In our Twitter sound-byte culture, rumors, half-truths and even falsehoods get published everyday. For example, the "lost tomb of Jesus" and the "Gospel of Jesus's Wife" weren't legitimate (the former's research was even laughable), but they were good news that got a lot of clicks.

So yeah, the Truth of the Bible and a lot of good truths about what the Church is doing in the world today are not getting good press, but I know these aren't the only victims of mass media. And here's one perspective on what to do about it.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Work and Passion as Worship

Here's a very good article on work and passion as worship.

Over a cup of coffee, Wendell—an entrepreneur with a PhD in biomedical engineering—told me that he was thinking about making a career change. “I don’t want to waste my life,” he said. “I want to do something that has real significance, where I can glorify God and actually love people.” He went on to ask me if I thought he should become a pastor, a missionary, or a nonprofit leader—jobs he thought really mattered in God’s economy.

HT: Jim Mullins

Monday, October 27, 2014

Some Thoughts on Theology and Creativity

There is plenty of room within orthodoxy to be creative, to think, re-think, and re-express the faith given in Scripture, canonized in the creeds, and articulated in the confessions. So as a theologian, I want to play within the safe zone, but in that zone there’s a lot of playground to have fun spinning around on!

You can read the rest of the interview here. Thoughts?

HT: Dave Dunham and Michael Bird

Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday Fun: Middle Earth Airlines

This is a good and clever advertisement for New Zealand tourism, and all-around fun for Tolkien fans.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Christians in Academia

The work of The Veritas Forum has made its way to The Daily Beast. You can read about it here. A few years ago, I finished reading through a very inspirational devotional book that was produced, in part, by members of The Veritas Forum. I'm very happy that it exists, and I hope that it can encourage Christians not to shy away from academia, and model the type of civil and peaceful dialogue for the rest of the country as faith and culture continue to clash.

The work of Veritas demonstrates that faith can survive, and even thrive, on America’s college campuses. 

HT: Jonathan Merritt, Kirsten Powers and Ed Stetzer

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Christian Films: A Marketing Perspective

We've had a lot of talk about the definition and ministry philosophy of "Christian film," but I find this particular marketing perspective interesting.

HT: Drew Turney and ChristianityToday

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Journey to "Christian Rap"

With the rise and success of LeCrae, even though "Christian rap" has been around for decades, some Christian bloggers are asking (as if for the first time) questions about the intersection of Christianity and rap music, questions I thought were fairly well-answered years ago.

But, despite such a question being in the subtitle, I appreciate this Christian college dean's story of coming to know and appreciate "Christian rap" music.

HT: Dan DeWitt

Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday Fun: Study Shows NFL Referees May Be Biased Toward Disciplined Teams

Clever bit from The Onion.

HOUSTON—Shedding light on the suspected league-wide officiating trend, a new study published Wednesday by researchers at Baylor University has suggested that NFL referees may in fact display a clear bias toward disciplined football teams. “According to our analysis of officiating decisions over the past several seasons, referees do appear to distinctly favor teams that exhibit poise and play in accordance with NFL rules and regulations,” said lead researcher Randall Levitz, explaining that on-field rulings disproportionately punish teams that frequently jump offsides, engage in excessive celebrations, or shove opponents after a play is blown dead. “In any given game, for example, the team that repeatedly delivers cheap-shot late hits on the opposing quarterback is targeted for roughing the passer penalties far more often than the team that does not do that. And accordingly, maintaining focus and professionalism throughout all four quarters yields a distinct and, frankly, totally unfair competitive advantage.” The study went on to confirm that the blatant officiating bias has directly affected the outcome of virtually every game involving the Detroit Lions over the past five seasons.

Monday, October 13, 2014

"Oceans" and Other Challenging Praise Lyrics

Hillsong United's "Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)", even though it's more than two years old, is still popular to sing and to talk about. In my worship leader circles, the debate centered around how singable it was by a congregation, and then how to match its balance of ambience and energy. Recently, a Christian blogger, Annie Downs, pointed out something about the lyrics in an article that's been going around cyberspace, Stop Singing "Oceans".

Downs's problem isn't with the song itself, but with the hearts of the congregants who sing it. Do they really, honestly mean it when they sing through that challenging bridge? Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders, let me walk upon the waters, wherever You would call me. Take me deeper than my feet would ever wander, that my faith would be made stronger, in the presence of my Savior. That's giving God license to challenge and refine you, including by proverbial fire. So yeah, Downs has a good point.

But "Oceans" is far from alone in having strong, honest and worshipful lyrics that we may not think through singing (but we should). Here's a list of popular worship lyrics (both recent and from hymnody) that also may fall in this category.

"Lord, strip it all away, 'til only You remain" -Simplicity, Rend Collective

"Go, then, earthly fame and treasure! Come, disaster, scorn and pain!
In Thy service, pain is pleasure; with Thy favor, loss is gain." -Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken

"If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus 'tis now." -My Jesus I Love Thee

The Holy Scriptures have the good news of the Gospel, but they also convict us of our sin and challenge us with a call to God-directed sacrificial living. It's good that both hymns of old and modern praise songs are reflecting that balance.

Can you add any challenging praise lyrics to this list?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Christian (Subcultural) Art Apologetics?

It seems that two recent events have really sparked more discussion on "Christian film" and even general Christian subcultural production. First, there was LeCrae's new album Anomaly, its success and his statements about Christian art. Now, there's the (non-Christian and Christian) lambasting of the new Left Behind movie.

I admit that I'm a bit surprised at the voices rising up to defend the artistic output of Christian subculture. I think it's good that discussions are getting deeper into artistic philosophy and vision when it comes to Christian art. Here are some links to some of the discussion:

In Defense of Christian Subculture

How Christian Critics are Killing the Christian Film Industry 

Defenders of Christian subcultural film and art are correct to point out the artistic shallowness and moral vacancy that plagues most of the commercialized entertainment industry, and I wouldn't find it hard to believe, personally, that there might be a bit of prejudice against "Christian film" among reviewers. However, I really think that an improvement of Christian subcultural production is possible when we ask (and try to answer) the hard theological and artistic questions. What makes a film "Christian"? What is this art's purpose? To entertain, affirm, evangelize, disciple, and/or make a certain statement (all the while keeping in mind that too much "purpose" can easily detract artistic integrity)? In better answering these questions as artists and consumers, I'll be brave to say that there's could be a day where reviewers don't lambaste Christian art.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Review of Jennifer Knapp's "Facing the Music"

Like Trevin Wax, the contemporary Christian music of the late 90's and early 00's defined most of my teen years, though mine heavily toward Tooth & Nail Records and the like rather than what was on the WOW albums. I was still, though, very familiar with Jennifer Knapp's music and testimony, and I made it to the back of a moshpit for her showing at Cornerstone 2000. Many of my youth group friends were very moved by her testimony and her music.

Trevin Wax wrote a very good review of what looks like a very revealing autobiography, Facing the Music. You can read it here.

HT: Trevin Wax

Monday, October 6, 2014

"The Song" Trailer and Review

There's yet another unique (and maybe promising) contribution to the increasing list of what could be considered Christian films. "The Song" is a modern tale based on the song of Solomon, and no - it's not what you're thinking. The film seems to be a blend of nods to Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs and Proverbs that will strike a chord (pun fully intended) with its viewers. 

Sandwiched between two major studio productions about biblical legends (Noah and Exodus) is an independent film about the rise and fall of the ancient Hebrew king, Solomon. While The Song lacks the artistic depth of Noah and the presumably jaw-dropping special effects of Exodus, it may have more heart and real-world value than either one. 

You can read the rest of the review here. The movie's website is here. (PG-13).

Friday, October 3, 2014

Friday Fun: Tetris Movie

Perhaps in honor of its 30th anniversary, it's been announced that there will be a Tetris movie, adding a curious entry into the growing list of film adaptations of video games.

I'll have to level with you. How they'll put together the script, to me, is quite puzzling. They probably have enough to build upon. I hope everybody remembers their lines. Will it be filmed in 3D? Is it being filmed from Russia with fun? Will the sequel be called "Next"? Okay, I'll stop with the puns and give you guys to think of a few.

You can read more about it here.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Stinking at Grace

I've written about this before, but Jon Acuff provided a light-hearted but important reminder that we, as Christians, shouldn't "stink at grace."

I run into these situations and realize I stink at grace:

1. When someone walks across an intersection I'm at and doesn't hustle.
2. When you poorly wrap my burrito.
3. When someone is slow to get off a plane.

You can read his explanations here. Can you think of any other examples where we can show more grace?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

LeCrae and Christian Rap: His New Album Review

Here's an interesting take on LeCrae's new album and the concept of Christian rap. I wouldn't agree with everything said in this article, but it has some interesting points.

Who is Lecrae? He has the no. 1 album in the United States. That album,Anomaly, is classified as Christian rap, because he’s widely thought of as a Christian rapper.
Not a rapper who is Christian, but a Christian rapper.
In addition to topping the Billboard 200, Anomaly holds the no. 1 spot on the gospel charts (his sixth album to do so) and the no. 1 spot on the Christian charts (his fifth album to do so). He is the first person to pull off this feat. And it very much is that: a feat.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Rend Collective Concert Recap

Chicago traffic added more than an hour to our trip. There was no restaurant within a 10-minute radius from the church venue, so we grabbed some snacks at a lonely Walgreens nearby. Due to our lateness, we had to sit on the far side of the balcony. But it was a landmark refreshing experience, both spiritually and musically.

Rend Collective (formerly known as Rend Collective Experiment) is a family of songwriters and worship leaders from Ireland who've been around for a few years but are starting to get some deserved international attention. My wife bought me their album Handmade Worship by Homemade People last Christmas, which shows impressive versatility. In this album, they matched the skills and creativity of any professional worship band, as well as Sarah MacLachlan and Mumford, and they involved the banjo, cello, dulcimer, mallet percussion and brass, just to name a few instruments. Their latest album, The Art of Celebration, was released this past St. Patrick's Day and focuses on Celtic folk very well. Their currently on their Art of Celebration Tour.

Rend Collective's lyrics and approach are very mature and biblical. They refuse to list band member names on their albums and say there are no rockstars here, just servants. "Collective" refers to the fact that we are all the Body of Christ. One member took time to tell us about Compassion International, while another told us about the devotional theme of the album.

"I don't know about you Americans," he said, "but us Irish are really grumpy. Don't believe the Lucky Charms. This is why it's called 'the art of celebration,' not 'the natural inclination to celebration.'" Through the lyrics of the songs, we were all well-encouraged to celebrate our freedom from condemnation and the power and love of God, and to choose joy.

Rend Collective is a creative, mature and much-needed addition to the playlist of Christian worshippers today. Again, their live worship leadership was a very refreshing and encouraging experience. If you're not familiar with Rend Collective's work, I'd encourage you to visit their website and YouTube page. Below is their video about the story of their most recent album.