December 29, 2009

The Silent Monks

A Few Over-generalizations

Some of you may remember that I’d basically given up on the whole evolution “debate” out of what amounts to sheer exasperation with pretty much every side involved. Recently, however, I seem to have been drawn in again, mostly through discussions with several youth members at church. It has led me to do some more reading in the area, on two sides (of many) in particular, and yet I still find myself at a place of …

… “So?”

The issue that keeps coming back for me is this: how is it that the two sides in question seem so full of paradoxes, and how then can we then make these central debates to any sort of worldview?

For example, young-earth creationists claim that the universe was created in six, 24-hour days (because time was measured that way already) by a benevolent God who told them to be fruitful and multiply and to take care of their garden and the people of the earth He loves so much. I get the opposition to abortion, it seems to fit pretty well with “God loves all creatures”. However, they then oppose social health care, as if it would be such a terrible thing for everyone to be healthier, for more people to live, and for more people to live well. Now, I know there are issues with health care reform and socialized health care from an economic perspective (i.e. we can’t really afford it), but how on earth can you claim that these are issues that scripture can oppose? Sure, they’re not particularly consistent with traditional American values, but scripture isn’t particularly for or against America. I’ve yet to hear from any of the conservatives/fundamentalists how the two go hand-in-hand. Now they may, there’s the possibility since everything is really a religious issue, but I’ve yet to hear their justification for it. What the world does is only my concern inasmuch as I need to understand it to then show them the love of Christ in a way they can understand.

My beef with the other side is that they’re just as paradoxical. Most naturalistic evolutionists would say that there was no particular cause for everything, just random chance (if we can label it that). They also would tend to say, by definition, that everything arose through natural selection of genetic variation, the fittest genes survive, the most cunning are able to pass on their genetic material for a new generation. However, what I don’t understand is that the same group of people – to over-generalize – also seem to be most often in favor of universal health care, socialism, etc. This isn’t to knock those ideas one way or the other, but to notice an inconsistency: if you’re so in favor of naturally selected survival, then why on earth would you try to guarantee everyone surviving? And THEN you say that it’s our freedom of choice that we should make abortion legal. It seems a contradiction and a paradox to me as to how these can all coincide in the same worldview.

Just some thoughts, hoping that maybe it’ll get my writing juices flowing again. I’ve been away from this for far too long and I miss it. And yet I also seem to have very little time for it. Ah well.

Cheers.

December 17, 2009

Snowball Fight

So Will put this together and then sent it out to the whole staff ... I was almost worried about worship and youth pitted against children, spiritual formation, and senior leadership ... almost ... but it's too funny to pass up. Cheers.

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November 10, 2009

Sermonizing

I know I've been terrible about posting since I moved to South Dakota, but let's be fair, I've been so incredibly busy that life has afforded me very little time for scholarship and writing. In addition to moving into our new house and leading worship this past weekend, I preached my first sermon as a pastor. More to the point, I've only preached twice before - once in my teen years in a youth service, and once with five minutes warning in India. So this isn't coming from a lot of experience. But I've done my share of writing.

Below is the text of the sermon text and audio.


Many of you know this already, but for those of you that don’t, my wife Liz and I were missionaries in Australia for a year, planting a church in Melbourne. Moving into a new place can be a bit scary, but it’s exciting at first. You spend a lot of time “oohing” and “ahhing” over the cool things you see, hear, and taste. But somewhere around month two, you start to realize that not everything is as shiny as you thought. What comes to mind is that when we were in Melbourne, I could never figure out why people kept running in to me when I’d go places, especially in the Central Business District of the city. We’re talking pretty much anywhere I’d go; I’d be walking along crowded city streets, and people would just walk right into me. It took me forever to figure out that it was me, not them, who was the problem.

When you walk along a sidewalk here in the states, we tend to make the assumption that it works like we drive. We drive on the right side of the road, and so we also walk on the right side of the sidewalk; it’s just common sense, right? Well, Australians drive on the left side of the road, and so I assumed that they’d walk on the left side of the sidewalk. And yet every time I would stick to my brilliant plan, I’d inevitably walk right into people. And so one day I was in the city and decided that instead of getting hit over and over again, I’d stop and watch and see what I was missing. And sure enough, as I watched, I began to notice that people didn’t actually walk in straight lines, but instead wove in and around each other as they bustled from place to place. It wasn’t until I stopped to watch and then imitate their behavior that I could walk unobstructed through the city.

Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery, but I want to suggest today that it’s probably got to be more than that if we’re to be Christians of the highest caliber. Around the year 61 AD, in a letter to a group of churches near the city of Ephesus, the Apostle Paul wrote these words:
“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly beloved children, and walk in the way of love just as Christ loved us and gave himself up as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” [Ephesians 5:1-2]
I think you'll find that a lot of the really profound things in scripture are built on "therefore" statements. This usually forms the hinge of many of Paul's writings in the New Testament; because God is, because of what came before, because of how good God has been, therefore we act. So in order to understand what we're reading here, we'll have to start with what came before.

1. What Came Before:

Ok, so what did God do?

Well, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. That's how the greatest story ever told starts, right? First there's nothing but God, and then God sets aside something that's not Him and calls it good. In fact, He created an entire universe.

But we all know how the story goes after that, right? Another part of creation, something or someone else not-God, referred to as the "serpent," decides to try and get us, the creation, off track, to pull us out of that relationship we had with God, and we fell for it. We made a choice, and a rift was created between the divine and the mortal, a barrier built between God and humanity.

But God already had a plan in motion.

You hear about it all over the place. Whispers at first, really, and then growing anticipation. God is moving, God is working, God is seeking redemption with His creation. All the way back in Genesis it says that God called out a particular family to be the vehicle for this, to be as numerous as the stars if they'll strive to be faithful to the way of life He's set aside for them.
The LORD had said to Abram, "Go from your country, your people and your father's household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing." [Genesis 12:1-2]
And God kept His promise – Abraham’s family grew and grew and grew, just like God said. But growth can be scary, especially to your neighbors, and eventually, Abraham’s family, who became the Hebrews, were enslaved by another nation, Egypt.

And so the desire for redemption, for reconciliation turned into a longing, a plea for freedom. One day, in the midst of this oppression and slavery, God called a man named Moses to be a voice for Him, to speak out and demand that God's people be set free. When they were, they were sent out to cross the wilderness. They were given a way of living that would honor God, who would honor their freedom if only they'd keep to this way of life. In Exodus we read that, because God freed them from Egypt, they were to obey His law.
And God spoke all these words: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Therefore, you shall have no other gods before me. Therefore, don’t make graven images … therefore …" [Exodus 20:1-17, abridged]
We know the rest of the ten commandments, right? In remembering the things God has done for us, we are to be moved to Obedience.

But we don't always obey too well, and neither did our predecessors; no sooner had the Israelites been freed then they fell back into their old ways. And so God decreed that they move back into the wilderness, until, when the last of those freed from Egypt had passed on, they were once again called to move, only this time into the land God had promised.

And so they took the promised land for their own, but once again, they disobey. In fact, God spends centuries trying to teach them to obey the law He'd given them. Over and over again, but worse each time. Prophet after prophet was sent to remind the Israelites of their calling, and prophet after prophet was cast aside by King after King. Even removing the Israelites from their home as punishment only worked for a short time, and all the while the world groaned for redemption. But God had not forgotten, and through His prophet Isaiah spoke these words:
"Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. … He who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives life to those who walk on it: I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness." [Isaiah 42:1-7]
And when all seemed darkest, God chose to act. On a seemingly ordinary night, some shepherds were going about their business as usual when the skies lit up with beings the likes of which they'd never seen, announcing the birth of the world’s redemption.

But notice the manner in which God chose to act: He chose to come in the most humble means possible: He was born to an unwed teenage girl in enemy-occupied territory. He only told two groups of people about it: a bunch of peasants, nobodies, and then several years later, a small group of astrologers (Bibles often translate the term "magi"), who found the child and presented gifts intended for burying a king. Nothing about this story makes sense to our understanding of things – and yet this is how God chose to enter history; in the most ordinary means available. Isaiah 53, a prophetic chapter talking about the messiah, says that Jesus would be ordinary, plain, simple.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. [Isaiah 53:2]
It’s like if you took a group picture of Jesus with the disciples, you couldn’t pick out which one was Jesus! And yet, THIS is the man who history hinges on. He then spent thirty years growing up, learning how to speak and write, memorizing the Torah and Talmud, learning Hebrew customs, and working with his adopted father as a carpenter before he began any kind of public ministry. And when he did begin, who did he call to work with him? The second-rates, the guys who flunked out of Rabbi School and had to instead work as fishermen and tax collectors.

Then he had the nerve to further challenge the religious establishment and tell them that in the two thousand years since Moses, they STILL hadn't managed to understand the intent of the Law they'd been given. He taught with authority and conviction, telling stories about fields and wheat and coins, stories drawn from the very lives of the people who followed him. And for simply teaching Truth to people who were not considered clean, Jesus – God himself – was betrayed, sold out to the very enemies that occupied the promised land, then tortured and killed in one of the most painful manners that history has ever devised.

THIS is why Paul writes that our gospel is a stumbling block, a folly to Jew and Gentile alike. It doesn't make sense to us that God would act like this!

Paul tells it like this:
Jesus, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a humble servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even a criminal's death on a cross! [Philippians 2:6-8]
This was the fragrant offering that Paul is speaking of in Ephesians 5. In the Ancient Hebrew Temple, incense was burned 24/7, its smoke a symbol of the prayers of the people drifting into the Holy of Holies, where God Himself lived. At the exact hour that Jesus died, the Scriptures say that the very curtain separating the rest of the Temple from God was torn, top to bottom, from God's side to ours.

Of course, we know that the story doesn't end there. In the hour that humanity reached its lowest, Jesus was resurrected. He beat death, and having become the very offense we were supposed to be – He wiped the slate clean. He began the story anew, and fulfilled the redemption for which the world had been longing since Adam and Eve first chose themselves over God.

2. Therefore:

God came in skin, into a zip code and sandals and mortality and all the trappings that went along with that. John’s gospel says that “the Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood,” that He was “generous inside and out,” that he was “true from start to finish.” Not just the stories about Jesus, they are true, but JESUS HIMSELF was TRUE! He told stories, he ate food with people, he healed those that were sick, he touched the untouchables, he taught with authority. And then when it became necessary, He gave Himself up as a sacrifice for us and died at the hands of those that opposed Him, and rose from the grave and defeated death.

And we are supposed to be different because of this story, because it is THE true story.

In each of Paul's letters, it is this story that he starts with. For Paul and the early church, the gospel story is one in which we remember what came before, because it's in remembering that we are inspired to action. Because God did this for us, THEREFORE you ought to imitate God. Matthew 28 - because all authority has been given to Jesus, because of what he's done, THEREFORE go and make disciples of all nations. Romans 12 - because of what God has done, THEREFORE offer your bodies as living sacrifices and don't conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds as your spiritual act of worship. Philippians 2 - THEREFORE if you've been encouraged by your life in Christ, have the same attitude as Christ, value others above yourself and be a servant!

It’s sort of like God was a missionary. Historically, one of the ways that theologians would describe God was with the term “Missio Dei.” In English, it means the Missionary God. And this story is why! If we are to imitate God, then we need to imitate Him as missionaries. Because God IS a missionary, we too are to be missionaries. We all tend to think of missionaries as those people who go off and move to exotic places with lots of sand and people with bones through their ears. But not everybody can do that; it’s just not possible, and I don’t think God asks that of everyone.

So the question comes, what does that look like? For those of us that don’t get to go to those exotic places, for those of us that feel a bit too ordinary, how are we missionaries to our own culture?

Well, again, what did Jesus do?

Jesus, I think, used the ordinary to point to the extraordinary. He told stories using ordinary things like plants and coins and wedding banquets and lamps and fields. What’s more, even when He did do extraordinary things, like healing, He STILL asked people to do the ordinary things like wash in a river and put mud in their eyes. It was through the ordinary that their extraordinary faith was shown.

Jesus was like a tour guide for the way that God was already at work within the world. And that’s what we’re supposed to do! We say, “God is working in the ordinary!” God didn’t just abandon the world to its own fate, He intervened, and the stories are all around us just waiting to be told. Paul said it this way:
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. … To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. [1 Corinthians 9:19-22, abridged]
A great example of this in action can be found in Acts 17. Paul has just come to Athens, Greece. Now, a little background about Athens. You’ll remember from grade school that the Greeks were polytheistic, that means they had a lot of gods that they worshipped. And by a lot I’m not just saying like, five or six, I’m talking hundreds of them. There were so many that what they’d do was make a little statue, or sometimes a really big statue of those gods to remind them who they were worshipping. They were so nervous that they had forgotten someone that they’d gone and made up a statue called “the Unknown God” just in case!

Another thing that was really common in those times was the public debate. A guy would get up in the street and start giving a monologue, and inevitably someone else would come along and start debating with him. It’d be like a guy getting up in Walmart, and starts to tell everyone why the Packers are so great, and of course that doesn’t go over so well, so then someone else gets up and starts telling him no, the Vikings are far better, and here’s why. And they go through player stats and game stats and history and maybe trade a few insults, and all the while everyone’s standing around going “huh, that’s interesting, I never thought of it that way.”

Well the same thing happens to Paul. Now Paul walks into the scene and is worried by all the statues everywhere. The scriptures say that when he saw the idols he was “greatly distressed.” He starts doing this whole debate thing in the marketplace and some philosophers come along and start debating with him. But it gets to the point that they hold a formal meeting and invite Paul, and at the meeting Paul sees the statues all standing there, including the statue to the unknown God, and of course he knows what that means, because he’s spent time with them. So what does he do? He gets up and gives them a huge compliment – “I see that you are very religious!” The Greeks all smile. Then he says, “I see you have this statue to an unknown God. And maybe you didn’t know who this is, but I know this God, I know that He’s THE God, the one who made everything and you and me and that a relationship with Him is beyond anything you can possibly imagine …” Paul used His surroundings, the things that the Greeks took for granted, and turned them into a gospel message! He gave them a tour of their own religion, of their own culture and showed them how God had been working the whole time, even when they didn’t see it!

Now, not everyone believed. But some did. “All things to all people so that some might be saved.” Paul could take the ordinary and show them how it pointed to the extraordinary.

What ordinary things in the lives of those around us can we use to point to God’s work? What parables can we tell? What questions are there being asked that we can help to answer? Who is seeking that we can seek with? What in our lives is ordinary, and how will God use it to do extraordinary things? What about garden gnomes? Or pheasants? Cows? Corn? There’s a lot of that around here. Taxis? What stories are there waiting in the ordinary to be made extraordinary?

But Jesus didn’t just USE ordinary things, He didn’t just talk about them.

What did Jesus do? Jesus actually became ordinary!

Why would he do that? I mean, if I was omnipotent and omniscient and omnipresent and all that, I wouldn’t want to give it up. I’d like being that, I think. But Jesus, Jesus was better than that. Jesus really loved the people he came to serve. What we need to remember the most is that we too must actually care about those that we are here to serve. Not just out of obligation, not just because we have to or because it makes us feel better about ourselves, but because we genuinely care for them, about them. The same way that God cares about us.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Those who live by the truth come into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” [John 3:16-17, 21]
A friend once told me a story that illustrates this well. Some Navy SEALs were performing a covert operation, freeing hostages from a building in a dark part of the world. The team flew in by helicopter, made their way to the compound, and stormed into the room where the hostages had been imprisoned for months. The room was filthy and dark, and the hostages were curled up in a corner, terrified. When the SEALs entered the room, they heard the gasps of the hostages. They stood at the door and called to the prisoners, telling them that they were Americans. The SEALs asked the hostages to follow them, but the hostages wouldn’t; they sat there on the floor and hid their eyes in fear. They were not of healthy mind and didn’t believe that their rescuers were really Americans.

The SEALs stood there, not knowing what to do. They couldn’t possibly carry everyone out. Then one of them got an idea. He put down his weapon, took off his helmet, and curled up tightly next to the other hostages, getting so close that his body was touching some of theirs. He softened up the look on his face and put his arms around them. He was trying to show them that he was one of them. None of the prison guards would have done this. He stayed there a little while until some of the hostages started to look at him, finally meeting his eyes. The SEAL whispered that they were Americans and were there to rescue them. “Will you follow us?” he asked. Then he stood to his feet and one of the hostages did the same, then another, until all of them were willing to go. The story ends with all the hostages safe on an American aircraft carrier.

A long time ago, God came into our cell, took off His powers and His immortality and everything that made Him God and curled up next to us. And then He rescued us. What he asks is that we be willing to do the same to those around us who haven’t heard about that rescue, who don’t know what true freedom is like.

During this song, I want you to think about how you’ve been telling the story. The purpose of this time is for reflection; the words will be up on the screen for you to think through, not to sing. To that end there’s a blank space in your bulletin if that would be helpful for you, or listen to the music if that would. But think about this: do you know the story? If you know the story, how are the ordinary parts of your life given over to God? How well do you dwell in your neighborhood? Do you take offense at their habits or their language, or do you extend grace? Do you try to learn about them, about who they are and what motivates them and whether or not they like baklava and how they feel about the Huskers?

[Sing "Worlds Apart" by Jars of Clay]

October 21, 2009

The Church of Starbucks

A friend from church sent this to me, and let me say, I think I've seen pretty much everything in this done in real life. Ah, Christian Culture, how you frustrate me!

August 21, 2009

Culture Shock

Allow me to apologize for the lack of blogging in the recent past. It's been far too long since I've written anything here, but I do have a valid excuse: we moved.

We're now residents of the sprawling suburb of Mitchell, South Dakota. It took us three days, 1500ish miles, $800ish in gasoline (diesel and unleaded), one truck, two minivans, too much fast food, and not enough sleep to get here. We have an apartment for now, hopes to get a house, and I'm working as the worship arts pastor at Mitchell Wesleyan Church. And I can't tell you how weird it's been adjusting to the new culture.

Let me first say that I tend to not be big on "christian culture"; I'm more comfortable in and around a more religiously, politically, and ethnically diverse crowd because as a missionary, that's what I've been used to. The most religiously diverse it gets here are the various denominations, who mostly seem to get along. But it's as if everyone speaks another language here - I hear things like "what a blessing!" and "take a stand!" and "the Lord is good!" on a regular basis.

And they all call me "pastor."

I didn't realize they were even talking to me at first - I thought they were talking to Keith, the Senior Pastor, since he was around often enough when they said it. But it finally dawned on me when they were helping us cart boxes into the apartment and someone called me that directly to my face ... I suddenly realized how many people I'd just ignored for the past hour. It's taken some getting used to, and I can't decide if it'd be a cultural faux pas to insist on being called by my given name.

Also it's very flat out here.

But let me tell you, these are some of the most generous people I've ever met. We've had dinners made for us almost every night since we got here (Liz was especially thrilled), and the leftovers alone will give us another week at least. But on top of that, the - bags - of veggies we've gotten from various people (corn especially, but also peppers, jalepenos, tomatos, etc.) will go well with the full quarter of a cow that someone from the church gave us. That's roughly seventy-five pounds of South Dakota beef, to the uninitiated.

They've been very good to us, and we are very grateful.

We continue to work on getting settled, change our government papers (car plates, mailing address, etc.), organize our stuff out of boxes, and generally learn the area. Rori has been doing well in the new apartment, with so much space, she gets to run around a lot and ends up sleeping longer at naptime. Life is a little crazy right now, but as soon as it starts to get a bit more routine, I'll be sure to start writing again - I do miss it. But thank you so much to all of you who've been praying - God has been very good to us.

August 4, 2009

And Other Ill Effects

As global warmi ... sorry, "climate change" began to take its toll, it seemed that nothing was left sacred ...

August 3, 2009

We're Moving!


We've been busy: I got a job (w00t!) in South Dakota, and so we've been preparing all our stuff, finding an apartment (still none yet), and making other arrangements. And so naturally we took the opportunity to visit Rhode Island once more before we move into the midwest where the only saltwater is the sweat beading off your brow in the summer heat. We're not sure quite when we leave yet, but it's soon. Very soon.

Thanks for all your prayers :)

New pics up on
Flickr.

July 23, 2009

Gig at Lakeshore

We led worship at a church up in Rochester called Lakeshore Community Church, and they were kind enough to post the videos of the worship set online. I've put them up here for your thoughts - what did we do well, upon what could we improve? Also, it's just cool to finally have a recording of us at a church with HD video technology and a sound board that's plugged into the recording.



He Was There (David Crowder, arr. Chris Logan)


Blessed Be Your Name (Matt Redman, arr. Chris Logan)


From the Inside Out (Hillsong United, arr. Chris Logan)


Take My Life (arr. Chris Tomlin)

July 8, 2009

Words From the Dark

To all those who still check this blog, thank you. It's been a rough few weeks for me, mostly because of the amount of work I've been doing for various churches and applications. But also because, last week, my HP Tablet Laptop died on me, in a manner of speaking. I say it that way because, technically, it still works, but barely. I couldn't turn it on for hours every morning, and by the time it worked, it worked so slowly that it made getting anything done very worrisome - I never knew if it would shut off on me and lose my data.

So after much thought and research, I decided that it was time for a change. I went up to the apple store and did not buy anything - they were out of the laptop I wanted. So instead I ordered it through the website: my new 13" macbook pro.

Relax.

I know I've never been much of an advocate for Apple products, but they've grown on me as they've added to the features and their quality has become better and better. For instance, my new laptop has a keyboard that lights up when a little sensor tells it that the room is too dark. I can now see my keyboard when I'm anywhere, anytime, and that makes me very happy. It also has a possible 7-hour battery life, assuming that I've got the LED-backlit screen as low as it'll go. But even if it's about half-way between low and high, it lasts around 5-ish hours if I'm careful, and this also makes me happy. With the 2.53 ghz dual-core processor and 4gb ram, it's very fast for the 4.5 lbs it weighs.

It also runs Windows, which means I didn't lose any of my programs. It seems to run windows faster than my previous laptop, which was a bit of a surprise, but not bad. So I've been using Vista Ultimate, trying to adjust myself to the multi-touch trackpad with no buttons, and generally getting a lot more done than I did before. I'll also be dabbling with Garage Band and Keynote at some point in the future when I'm able to get the DVD for iWork out from our storage area.

All in all, it's been a weird change, but a really good one. I still like Dell, but sadly the laptops I looked at there didn't quite compare with their options. Those that had lit-keyboards and the power-saving LED screens were also the same ones that had reviews worrying about how hot they run - the same issue I had with my HP. While the apple was a bit expensive, I'm hoping it'll last longer than the 3-year warranty that it came with.

Odds are good, I'm told.

June 16, 2009

The Parable of the Soils

A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.
So as you all know, I've not been at a steady job of late because, well, I can't seem to find one. I'm sure that some of the blame goes to the economy for the lack of new jobs, but I'm starting to wonder if in our season of need, God's been closing doors for a reason. But God is good, and He takes care fo us even when we can't; we've got a wonderful family, and to that end, my grandparents have "hired" us to garden for them. As they've gotten older, they've had a harder time taking care of my Grossmami's addiction to all things green and flowering - she's literally surrounded the house with one big garden, which, over time, has become somewhat an extension of the yard. So our job has been to turn it back into a viable garden again. And wouldn't you know it, as we've had time to talk, I've been learning a lot, things my seminary career never taught me. As Morgan Freeman says in Bruce Almighty, "people underestimate the value of manual labor." I am no exception.

What came to mind has been this parable in Matthew 13, where Jesus describes a gardener (ok, farmer) that goes out to plant his crops and what happens in the garden after the farmer walks away. And let me tell you, when my grandparents walked away (so to speak), their garden started to look an awful lot like three of the four types of soil in this parable.

The garden is so wide that in one area, my grandparents had to put down a small path to get to their tomato plants and currant bushes. The path is made of several stone pads and some packed dirt. Wouldn't you know it though, nothing grew there, even in the packed dirt which, when we tilled it, was otherwise healthy and fertile. The idea of a "hardened heart" makes a bit more sense to me now. As the metaphor goes, the person's attitudes (their "heart") become very monotone, very set; you can't convince them of anything new! God can't plant the seeds of wisdom or knowledge or anything in a hardened heart ... but give it a good till (assuming it's not hard as stone) and suddenly all sorts of things can grow. Also, you now have to weed carefully.

I can't say that we've encountered any thorny soil yet (it is, after all, a garden), but the whole of the place might be a good example of why weeding the thorns out is a good idea to do sooner rather than later. The more weeds that grew in the garden, the more obvious it was that there was competition for nutrients; the garden plants weren't producing as many flowers or as many new bulbs as when they had freedom to expand. Lots of the newer seedlings of the garden plants were weak, small, and flimsy; they were easy to take out, but I hope they'll grow strong now that they have room to expand. The longer you go, the bigger and deeper the thorny plants get, and eventually take over completely. Ironically, all it takes is some weed killer to take them out, but the weed killer takes out both the weeds and the few good plants that are left. But still, we have to remember that good soil is REQUIRED for the thorny soil; remove the thorns (whose roots often go deep), give it some time, and the soil will be ready to plant good seed. Think of those people who have begun to recover from addictions; often, their lives are somewhat empty for a while as they remove the thorns and struggle not to let new thorns take over. But they are often the most fertile soil of all, and once the thorns are removed and the good seeds planted, they become extremely fruitful fields.

Today we spent two and a half hours weeding a small patch of ground. In the center was a large bush full of flowers, but around it, very rocky soil. The parable mentions rocky ground being a place where weeds spring up and then wither and die because their roots never get very deep. This is true - we discovered that the weeds came up really easily, but the shrub we couldn't budge (good thing) because its roots were very deep and very wide. The rocky soil is a problem, not only because seeds grow without depth and die, but because turning it into good soil is nearly impossible. As I said, two and a half hours spent on maybe three square feet of ground, and we barely made a dent in the number of pebbles mixed in the surface dirt. In order for this patch to become good soil for healthy, useful crops, it would require literally pulling away everything on the surface, a total transplant of the upper layers. I've heard of this happening before - remember Paul? But it's not an easy thing, nor is it terribly economical (God had to blind Paul in order to 'exchange the soil,' so to speak), but it IS possible, and often it can be worth it.

It's a parable about discipleship, and I understand why it was that Jesus cautions his audience about what they're up against. Matthew, for one, loved to tell the parables of Jesus that had missionary implications; a person could spend a LOT of time tilling ground and weeding and removing rocks or thorns before good soil might bear crops with fruit. Sometimes I worry that we use the parable as an excuse to just avoid those people who don't look like "fertile" fields to us. Something that Jesus never quite mentions in the parable is that any field ALWAYS starts out like one of those three soils; there's no such thing as a perfect field that's born ready for planting. It starts out with weeds and rocks and sometimes stone paths; it takes work and dedication and love to produce a fertile field on which to sow the good seed.

The question is, do we give everyone that chance?

Brilliance

Had a beautiful day today and decided to take a few pictures in my in-laws' flower garden. These were the best. Enjoy.

June 15, 2009

The Day That True Love Died

Jon did this piece at Crosswinds this past weekend, and I'd never heard it before. But it hit me hard, and I went home and bought it off of iTunes. I highly recommend you have a listen, it's quite a good piece. Lyrics are below.



Come close listen to the story
About a love more faithful than the morning
The Father gave His only Son just to save us

The earth was shaking in the dark
All creation felt the Fathers Broken Heart
Tears were filling Heaven's Eyes
The day that True Love died, the day that True Love died
When blood and water hit the ground
Walls we couldn't move came crashing down
We were free and made alive
The day that True Love died, The day that True Love died

Search your heart you know you can't deny it
Come on, lose your life just so you can find it
The Father gave His only Son just to save us

The Earth was shaking in the dark
All creation felt The Fathers broken heart
Tears were filling Heaven's Eyes
The day that True Love died, the day that True Love died
Find More lyrics at www.sweetslyrics.com
When blood and water hit the ground
Walls we couldn't move came crashing down
We were free and made alive
The day that True Love died, The day that True Love died

Now, Jesus is alive

Jesus is alive
Jesus is alive
Jesus is alive
Jesus is alive
Oh, He is alive
He rose again

When blood and water hit the ground
Walls we couldn't move came crashing down
We were free and made alive
The day that True Love died, The day that True Love died

Come close listen to the story

Strategies for Unwanted Career Change

June 4, 2009

Facedown: Final Version

Here's what I'm calling my "final" arrangement of Matt Redman's "Facedown". It's not actually a ton different from the last one, although I did mess around with a few suggestions from people (more reverb on the sax, pulling the guitar arpeggio out of the first chorus a bit, etc.). Anyway, hope you enjoy it.


Now onto my next project, something I actually wrote this time. Guess we'll see how it goes!

May 28, 2009

Facedown [UPDATED]

So my good friend Dan pointed out a way in which I could post an mp3 here on my blog. I've completed the audio demo that I've been working on. It's a song by Matt Redman called "Facedown." Enjoy!





Welcomed in to the courts of the King
I've been ushered into your presence
Lord I stand on your merciful ground
Yet with every step tread with reverence

And I'll fall facedown
As your glory shines around
Yes I'll fall facedown
As your glory shines around

Who is there in the heavens like you
And upon the earth who's your equal
You are far above you're the highest of heights
We are bowing down to exalt you

And I'll fall facedown ...

So let your glory shine around!
Let your glory shine around!
King of glory here be found!
King of glory!

Please, Talk to Your Kids

May 26, 2009

The Story Continues

For those of you following our little story, there's not a whole lot more to report. I've continued working on (and am in the final phase of) recording and editing a new audio demo that I really hope will wow all the churches to whom I apply. On a totally random note, if you know a way to put such recordings up on a blog (without putting them in a video), let me know, I'd love to post the recording here to get your opinion.

We're currently in Canandaigua, and going back and forth between
Crosswinds Church and Little Lakes Church, as Crosswinds has been home for a long time, and Little Lakes has given us a stream of opportunities to lead worship and keep on top of our skills. We've met some wonderful new people and been reunited with some old friends, which has been nice. The search for a job, however, continues in earnest, and we'd appreciate your continued prayers in that direction. Maybe you might also mention to Him that I'd love to be writing again, if only I could work up the words.

On that note, however, I have some fun stuff too: pictures. It seems in lieu of writing, these days, I've been overly inspired in the arts of recording and photography. I've just put two new sets up on flickr,
here and here. But this is my favorite shot, from my sister's party celebrating her graduation from RIT this past weekend. Enjoy.


May 1, 2009

Hear and Remember

"Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast."

[1 Peter 5:7-10]

Thanks to Matt for the reminder this morning ...

April 28, 2009

Another Question

I've been having a rough time of it lately, both for writing and with the job search. For those that haven't heard, we're moving back to NY until we get said elusive job.  So in lieu of the writing that I can't seem to get myself to do, let me ask you all a question:

What, in your perspective, does the ideal "local church" look like?

April 12, 2009

Project

Sorry for the silence of late. I've had writers block on the next post in the "Music and Mission" series (it needs to be just right). More importantly, I've started a new blog in the hopes that it'll get my brain juices going to write a book I've been working on - in my head - for a while.

You may be wondering about the URL - "enter the numenous." Rudolf Otto once wrote a book called
The Idea of the Holy, a book that has inspired me to this day. I find that Otto did a phenomenal job of putting into words the fact that God is a beautiful mystery. To talk about this, he had to make up a few new words. God's holiness is partly known, and partially mysterious to us, almost unknowable. It was this mystery that he called the numenous.

The journey of the Christian Agnostic is one of diving headfirst into a life of mystery, of danger, and of uncertainty. We entrust ourselves to God by suspending disbelief and allowing Him to work in our lives, to reveal Himself to us through our investigation and through our experiences. To enter the numenous is not safe, but it is good.

I encourage you to take a look, comment, and contribute in any way you think will be constructive.

Thanks in advance.

March 31, 2009

Music and Mission, part I: Terra Nova, part 2

It was through the course of our fundraising that I started to wonder if I really wanted to be a pastor; after all, the church wasn't exactly on top of things when it came to postmodernism, and besides, I was starting to wonder how much Christians in general actually cared about Jesus or what He had to say. Church started feeling a bit bitter to me, with every disappointment another confirmation that I might be barking up the wrong tree. But Ruth had the same discontent, and our church plant was the chance to do something about it.

So off we went. I had delusions of grandeur in my head, about how all my theories of postmodernism were going to come in handy, how I was the expert, yadda yadda yadda. Naturally, this was all obliterated in the first month when I realized that I had no clue what I was talking about. Theory is, after all, nice and tidy only until it's actually put into practice. So since I had the chance (how many times was I going to get to live in Australia?), I enrolled in the FORGE missional training program to get some perspective on Australian culture and maybe learn a few things about being a missionary at the same time.

It turned out to be a life-altering decision.

If you've never heard of FORGE, I'm not surprised - most Americans haven't. However, some of you may have read The Shaping of Things to Come, by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost, both of whom happen to be the co-founders of the FORGE program (the book was actually written as a textbook for FORGE). In any case, FORGE is based on the principles of "action-reflection" learning, the opposite of most seminary educations. The idea is that one must participate in an internship as the cornerstone of the program and thus praxis, action, and activity are the basis for learning; one then reflects on the actions to garner the theory, which is then put into papers and then reapplied back into the internship. It is supposed to be a holistic model of education, and it seems to fare rather well.

I was placed in a social-poverty agency in the inner city called Urban Seed for my internship, which changed my perspective on a lot. In fact, what I hadn't expected was that the whole cross-cultural experience in the inner-city showed me more about being an American - and an American Christian in particular - than I learned about Australian culture. Take consumerism for example: we in the west, and especially in America, are prone to it because our culture is founded on acquisition. I was once asked if "Desperate Housewives" is what suburban life is like. I laughed it off as ridiculous and said no, but started to wonder how much of a charicature it really is. I wondered if our worship services hadn't become much the same, weekly (or more often, several times a week) performances to be consumed, dramatizing an otherwise mundane and selfish culture. In the first six months, this persuaded me that my dreams of being a worship pastor may have been misplaced, that maybe what American churches needed were not more worship pastors, but more people who were missionaries in their own culture, people who were more concerned with being a positive influence in their local communities in the name of Christ than with tauting the party line or overworking themselves to maintain their steady salary. Worship without relationship is meaningless.

The Gathering during lunch at Credo Cafe (part of Urban Seed) messed with me a lot. The lunch is a time for people of any stripe - housewives, prostitutes, lawyers, heroin addicts, and anyone in between - to gather together as one community for a meal and fellowship. Everyone learns an awful lot from each other, the ultimate liminal experience (as the sociologist says), and, for the most part, is better for it. But the Gathering is their once-a-week worship gig just before lunch, and everyone is invited to come. But let's face it, the group, while mostly artists, is not full of professional musicians. They take whoever they can get to lead singing, and to someone like me who had been usd to much more professional sounding music, it was ... harsh to the ears.

But it was also passionate in a way I'd never expected.

By the time we came home, I had no idea what to do with my life, once again. The Gathering made me wonder how necessary worship arts staff are in a church; if they could worship without the "show" part of it, maybe it wasn't something in which I should invest my time. The time at mimos, too, was a time of less-professional worship, a smaller community gathering in the back room of a pub and playing quiet, reflective music for singing, but also providing times of reflection over scripture and candlelight and holding communion as a meal bought from the pub. Let me tell you, they had wonderful french fries and a fantastic Kangaroo dish that melted in my mouth. I've missed it since I've been home. The community was genuine - everyone wanted to be there and felt no obligation to it; people even volunteered to pray on a regular basis, negotiating with others for the chance. With a church like that, who needed all those paid positions? Worship was as much participation as it was singing, and the dawning realization made me frustrated with my chosen career path.

But seminary still seemed important for some reason, if only because I had no clue what to do next. If anything, at the very least it meant I'd be able to influence people in the church because I had "MDiv" on my resume, and, after all, people listen to other people who have that sort of thing. Naive, I know, but it was my first ESJ class that began to get me thinking again. On a whim, I took a class called "The Change Agent in Missions" with a professor named Mike. Mike is an anthropologist, a student of humanity through the ages, but more importantly, he's also a missionary. Mike talked a lot about culture, about how we view culture, how we participate in culture, and finally, how we change culture. But his views on this were once again participatory - we are to change culture from within, as "change agents", rather than as outside directors. We are to be with the people, living as they live, eating as they eat, but using our growing understanding to show them in terms they understand how their decisions could be better. His rationale? Jesus was like that.

What if worship was like that?

(to be continued ...)

March 26, 2009

Update

Just a quick update, for those of you waiting with baited breath (weirdest phrase ever, by the way) for the next post in my series on music and mission. I've been in the process of re-vamping my entire laptop because HP programs were slowing it down ... a lot. You might say I gave it a personality transplant; I obtained Vista Ultimate from a friend and have since been installing it and formatting hard drives and installing drivers and all that. But in the process, I may have lost the text file I'd saved for all of the work on this series. So it may be a few days before I'm back up and running again, but at least the lappy is working faster.

March 24, 2009

Evasion Stratagem

Jeff found these pictures on the interwebs this week and ... let's just say you ought to view them before you drink anything.


March 23, 2009

Question of the Day

What, to you, are the most pressing social issues facing the Church today?

Post your thoughts in the comments section!

March 19, 2009

Music and Mission, part I: Terra Nova I

This is a story of discontents, of how one discontent after another led me to where I am now. I know it's a long story, but if I'm going to get to the bigger picture, this is necessary material. I hope it's not TOO boring, but bear with me.

I suppose I should start by saying that this is not exactly the path I had planned. I know that everybody says that, but in my case, it's pretty easy to tell. See, when I was a kid, everybody knew I was going into science. I excelled in all of my science courses, pursued science on the side, ate, slept, and breathed science. Biology, in particular, became my biggest obsession; living systems fascinate me. I couldn't decide between biochemistry, evolutionary biology, and neurobiology - they were all fascinating. Eventually, however, neuroscience won out, and I enrolled at the University of Rochester, one of few universities in the US with an undergrad neuro program. Everyone expected great things.

Somewhere in the midst of my freshman year, though, I started to have doubts. I know everybody does, but these were on a more fundamental level. I was doing pretty well in my classes until my advisor, a geologist (who knew nothing about neuroscience) advised me to enroll in an advanced biochemistry course in my second semester of college, a course that required organic chemistry, which I had not yet taken. Needless to say, I tanked it with a D, something I'd never done before. It threw me for a loop, but it was the wakeup call I needed. I had always enjoyed working labs for science, but they were controlled labs with predictable results; I started wondering if I really wanted to do true research, the kind where I had to invent the experiments myself, the kind where I had to spend my every waking moment in a white polished room in a jacket with goggles on.

I hated the goggles.

By my sophomore year, when I realized how terrible I was at memorizing chemical formulas in organic chemistry (using them was easy, but remembering what they were to use them was another matter), I realized that R&D wasn't my thing. I briefly toyed with the idea of changing to Evolutionary Biology, but my parents convinced me I shouldn't do that (although I still don't know why it was such a big deal to them). My music minor suddenly started looking more and more promising; I've always been a musician, but never had it pegged as a career simply because everyone told me it wouldn't help me earn a living.

Apparently, artists only get paid, like, a dollar or something.

Still, the idea of excelling in something that might not earn as much money beat trying to be mediocre in something that might pay more. I changed my major a week later. But something was still missing. It was when I realized that I play too many instruments that I couldn't focus exclusively on music; I'm sort of a "jack of all trades, master of none" sort of guy; I'll play what I play decently well, but I'm not exactly Dave Matthews on my guitar, Kenny G on my saxophone, etc. I can't even name a famous horn player, but I wouldn't be him either.

But I really, really liked leading worship. I had started a worship team for Campus Crusade in my sophomore year at the urging of my friend Rob. I'd never realized how much I liked it, how much the glove fit, as it were. I signed up for an internship that summer at a local church, and after that summer, I was hooked.

Sort of.

So I'm wishy-washy. Fine, I'll admit to being occasionally dissatisfied with the status quo, but it's worked in my favor so far. I wouldn't be where I am without what I hope is a healthy discontent with mediocrity.

I loved my music theory classes, but the history courses were tailored for music education majors; I wasn't one. I finished two of them before I couldn't take it anymore - and not for want of a good professor either, Dr. Meconi was a wonderful storyteller and very encouraging of my interests. Still, something just didn't sit right, and it was then that I "happened" upon a unique program at the University of Rochester: the Department of Interdepartmental Studies.

That's right, it gets a whole department.

Basically, it's a cross-disciplinary program that allows students to build their own majors. The idea is that since the world is becoming increasingly specialized, the students shouuld be allowed to pursue specialized interests from the start and not "waste" time on parts of majors they don't need. For example, if one wanted to major in music recording, one need not waste time with a lot of music history, and can instead take extra courses in recording; my friend Steph did that.

In my case, I decided to build my own worship arts program at a secular university. I called it "Music in Christianity" and it combined courses in Christian history with music theory, and tied it all together with an eight-credit thesis project. In the course of my study I'd come across a word that I couldn't shake from my mind: postmodernism. It kept cropping up everywhere, but nobody seemed to know what to do with it, especially my Christian friends. So I decided to do my research thesis on this "postmodernism" idea, and since I had to talk about music too, I decided it was the perfect chance to talk postmodern music in the Christian sphere - where did postmodernity come from, and how has it influenced Christian music.

I graduated with a 95 page paper in one hand and an honors diploma in another. I had every intention of going to grad school somewhere with a worship arts program, when God once again stuck his nose in the mix. This time, it came in the form of an invitation from a friend of my wife. Ruth wanted to know if Liz and I wanted to take a year and help them plant a church in Melbourne, Australia.

And how do you say no to something like that?

(to be continued)