Monday, December 31, 2007

What's your theological worldview?
created with
You scored as Reformed Evangelical

You are a Reformed Evangelical. You take the Bible very seriously because it is God's Word. You most likely hold to TULIP and are sceptical about the possibilities of universal atonement or resistible grace. The most important thing the Church can do is make sure people hear how they can go to heaven when they die.

Reformed Evangelical




Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan




Neo orthodox


Classical Liberal


Modern Liberal




Roman Catholic


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thank the Lord and Pass the Patriotism? (by Obery Hendricks)
reposted from the God's Politics Blog

In many pulpits during this Thanksgiving season, love of our country and pride in our citizenship will be pronounced in the same breath - and often with the same intensity - as declarations of love for our God. But we must be careful, for patriotism can be destructive as well as constructive. Worse, it can become idolatrous.

Constructive patriotism, or what James Forbes, pastor emeritus of the Riverside Church in New York City calls "prophetic patriotism," is the willingness to strive in word and deed to ensure that this nation is healthy, whole, secure, and conducting its affairs at home and abroad according to the political doctrines we claim to hold dear.

Destructive patriotism, however, is primarily focused on discrediting or destroying those it perceives as opponents of America. The purview of destructive patriotism is "us" against "them" - "them" being not only foreigners, but also any American who openly disagrees with the official actions of the leaders of the United States, no matter if their policies contradict our Constitution, harm the public good, or violate the most basic ethics of the biblical faith they claim to hold dear.

If we who call ourselves patriots are to be true to our faith, our patriotism must ever be constructive, because constructive criticism of governmental policies and practices is squarely in the tradition of the biblical prophets and the gospel of Jesus. It is not only concerned with political affairs - it is also concerned with the spiritual and moral health of America. Constructive prophetic oversight is the highest and healthiest form of patriotism because it seeks to help the nation become its best and most righteous self,.

That is why true patriots will welcome prophetic critiques of our government - because they can help America become its most righteous and most just self. Conversely, the true patriot will reject uncritical abdications of our prophetic responsibility to make our nation its best self that are expressed in such slogans as "America - love it or leave it" and "Criticism of our government equals support for our enemies." To the degree that patriotism causes division and enmity between God's children, it is in opposition to the gospel, pure and simple. But when patriotism seeks to silence prophetic criticism, it is more than oppositional; it is idolatrous, because by following its own beliefs, judgments, and interests rather than the prophetic mandate, it makes an idol of them. This blind, idolatrous brand of patriotism is blasphemous because it values the welfare and even the humanity of some of God's children - that is, Americans, and not all of those, either - over the welfare and humanity of all others, particularly those who look, speak, and worship differently. In contrast, a God-centered patriotism will confess, like the apostle Peter, "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God" (Acts 10:34-35).

Therefore, if we are to be true patriots and true followers of the biblical imperative of justice on earth as in heaven, then each day before we pledge allegiance to the flag and the republic for which it stands, we must first recommit our allegiance to the gospel of Jesus, the justice of God, and the love of our neighbors it commands. We must never forget that the flag does not supercede the cross.

Thus, if it is the gospel that is truly the object of our faith and our allegiance, this Thanksgiving let us give thanks to God for the faithful voices that, despite the derision and even the personal physical harm they risk and sometimes suffer, nonetheless continue to speak out against every action, policy, and pronouncement of our leaders and our government that distances us from the liberating gospel of Jesus and the kingdom of God.


Obery Hendricks is the author of The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Teachings of Jesus' Teachings and How They Have Been Corrupted.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword." -- Matthew 26:52

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Found this article in my inbox from Christianity Today a few days ago, and I've been mulling it over.

"Faith is relevant for many people, but church is not," says Bryan Wilkerson, senior pastor of Grace Chapel in Lexington, Massachusetts. "People want to attend to the spiritual side of their lives, they are interested in God, but their experience of church has not been relevant.

Spiritual growth, then, may be occurring for many of today's Christians in non-traditional ways. Instead of attending church on Sunday mornings, many opt for personal, individual ways to stretch themselves spiritually.

"Emerging generations may not see themselves as churched, but neither do they see themselves as any less committed," says Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland Church in Longwood, Florida. "The traditional programming that churches do is becoming less essential to work out faith for many people."

I think the bulk of the people I know tend to fall into this trend. As a believer myself, I still feel the need for getting together and building and strengthening the relationships I have within my church, but I understand that as the many churches that seem to distance rather than draw people and judge rather than love and extend grace to people continue to become a deterrent to faith in their communities, I don't expect people to stop seeking God elsewhere, such as in nature, etc.

"The old paradigm of evangelism was a transactional sharing of the gospel," says Ken Fong, senior pastor of Evergreen Baptist Church of Los Angeles. "I would try to get people to intellectually agree with me. But the new paradigm is different, an approach in which I invite you to walk alongside me, examine my life, and see evidence of the truth, and hopefully there will be something compelling that you see. It's a no-strings-attached invitation to enter my life as I follow Jesus.

This one is a big deal for me. I can't stand the mindset that Fong addresses here, that "target and convert" mindset that so permeated the place I used to work. I remember constantly trying to promote the idea of relationships vs. evangelism, and no-pressure vs. sales technique, and the relationship being contingent on shared belief vs. the relation being a safe place to either agree or disagree. I'm still surprised how many people within the church just don't get this concept, as if God were sometime limited by the church's ability or inability to "sell" him to the biggest "market" possible.

Another necessary shift is recognizing that the old metrics of success may no longer apply. Wilkerson says, "We need to spend the next ten years investing in the life of our surrounding community and finding ways to regain a hearing for the gospel. Instead of going to the nursing home and holding a church service, we're just going to go and love and serve people for years and years, until the staff and residents ask, 'Why do they care so much?'

Perhaps the biggest "duh" moment of all. If this is the kind of life Christ modeled, why do we still try to treat our religious faith like a humanistic, romantic, rationalist (the worldviews) exercise of intellect and purpose rather than an organic, always ebbing and flowing, always changing and growing part of our being? And as such, we become living "testaments" simply by being Christian (ie, exercising grace, love, patience, concern, care, charity, etc.) and showing people we actually do all this crap we talk about.

Of course these are just my thoughts. Your mileage may vary.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Seemed appropriate, after the previous post...
Two strong op ed column blogs... (I think)
Coming from a position of Christianity, and a Christian position that seeks to reveal many of the fallacies of the conservative fundamentalist slant in my chosen faith, I found these two blog entries really interesting.

I think the article names in the links below say plenty all by themselves.


From the above link:
I remember about eight years ago when then presidential candidate George W. Bush repeatedly claimed that he would restore honor to the presidency, soiled as it had been by our previous president's infamous affair. I remember hoping he would succeed. But a new kind of shame has come to the office and to our nation as reports surface about our government's secret authorization of torture. We all share in this shame.

From the above link:
However the vast majority of Americans, especially those who describe themselves as born again Christians, are solidly in support of Bush, and even question the Christian identity and commitment of those who disapprove of Bush...

The only problem is that somehow his aggressive American-ness has been identified with his being a Christian. But we in India cannot see the war as the work of a Christian.


What I'd love to see is a candidate who is either a conservative democrat or a liberal republican, someone who supports the poor and elderly and opposes a proactive war but supports a strong military, who seeks equity in taxation across all income levels, but also encourages responsible exercise of free speech in media and art without creating censorship options (prefer a sort of responsible self-censorship as self-sacrifice for the greater good and a willingness to discuss what that means without resorting to bipartisan name-calling), and open discussion on hot bed topics such as abortion and illegal immigration without having to castigate either side as evil or "the enemy" (at worst) or stupid uninformed religious hicks or liberal nutjobs (at best).

But sadly, I don't expect to find that anytime soon.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Karl Barth back in prison?!

I don't know if you've been following this story about religious books being pulled from prison libraries, but thank God it has a happy ending... for now.

Yet another example of throwing the baby out with the bath water in order to root out the dangerous religious extremists. This kind of lowest common denominator thinking is just more proof that the collective wisdom of our politicians has dropped.

Common sense approaches like finding and getting rid of the dangerous stuff but leaving the other stuff may take more time and be harder work, but isn't it the more Christian thing to do in this case?

Again, just my thoughts. Your mileage may differ.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Thought on War from a Christian

Well, here's an article that just reinforces the fact that people should listen to what he has to say.

Taken from this article.

My favorite bits:

"Our previous president had a love affair with a young Jewish intern. This was despicable to many of us, disgusting, dishonoring. Our current president also has a kind of special affection - with Evangelical Christianity. Many of us have an infatuation with him that may eventually hurt us as much as that young intern was hurt after her infatuation."

"Great leaders through Biblical history, like King David for example, have made great mistakes and needed to be counseled or confronted (as the prophet Nathan did for David). Being chosen by God didn’t give Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Saul, David, or Solomon (or even the Apostle Peter for that matter) a carte blanche to be above needing counsel and confrontation at times. Those who think they stand above the need for counsel are warned in Scripture that they too can fall, and if they are proudly overconfident about their standing, it is certain they will fall. So, yes, we must pray for our president, and we must speak the truth to and about him and his policies."

"First, I should say that I agree with some things expressed in those four italicized paragraphs. For example, we should not harshly criticize our country and our president. Part of this is simply a matter of “doing unto others.” As a pastor, I am routinely criticized by people who are certain they know more than I do. Meanwhile, I am often privy to dozens of facts and confidences of which they are unaware, and if they knew and saw what I do, they wouldn’t be so critical. I simply must endure their criticism (some of which is harsh and mean-spirited). Their criticism doesn’t make my job any easier, nor does it increase the likelihood that I’ll do better in the future – rather, the reverse. So harsh criticism is not good for anyone. That’s why I believe that harsh criticism of our leaders can be ultimately counterproductive, even if our leaders are deeply and dangerously wrong. So, I am against criticizing our president with harshness, insult, or arrogance. However, that cannot mean we aren’t allowed to raise questions, express concerns, or even voice strong disagreement – as long as we do so respectfully and with appropriate humility, understanding, and charity."

"American Christians have a long tradition of doing so. Since colonial days, we’ve seen ourselves as a beacon of light, the leader of the free world, the New Israel, and other similar notions. “Manifest Destiny” was a self-affirming doctrine promulgated by many Christians in our early years, and our president seems to echo this belief. He said recently, for example, “The advance of freedom … is the calling of our country.” He has defined America’s mission to “rid the world of evil.” “This call of history,” meaning the call to rid the world of terrorism through military action, he said in the 2003 State of the Union address, “has come to the right country.” In September of 2002, he said, “This ideal of America is the hope of all mankind…. That hope still lights our way. And the light shines in the darkness. And the darkness has not overcome it.” For of all of us who know our Bibles, our President is associating America pretty closely with Jesus. This seems to be what he believes. And perhaps many of us do too? This belief is comforting. It makes us feel proud and blessed. It gives us great confidence. But it also makes us dangerous. Our ancestors who believed they had a divine mandate (Manifest Destiny) didn’t think twice about stealing lands from the Native Peoples or First Nations here. Even when we made treaties, we broke them."

Saturday, September 08, 2007

More books...

Asking the big questions …

A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis
The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
Holy the Firm by Annie Dillard
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
The Manger Is Empty by Walter Wangerin, Jr.
Living the Questions by Carolyn Arends
Joyful Noise edited by Rick Moody and Darcey Steinke
Disappointment with God by Philip Yancey
Hungry for Heaven: Rock ‘n’ Roll & the Search for Redemption by Steve Turner
Reality and the Vision edited by Philip Yancey

Friday, September 07, 2007

the view from...
Brian McLaren

(For Brian's official bio, go to

Formless Rambings: Tell us a little about how you became a Christian. What experiences led you to believe that there had to be something more than just this life?

Brian McLaren: I was brought up in a committed Christian family, and like a lot of church kids, I had to reach a point where I either rejected the faith or made it my own. That happened for me in my teenage years. Right at the point where I had the opportunity to walk away, God brought into my life several friends my age or a little older than me who lived a life of radical discipleship, and they challenged me to join them, and I did. During this time, I had some very powerful experiences with the Holy Spirit which led me to the conviction that God was real.

FR: How did those experiences and that decision to follow Jesus Christ impact your life and the relationships you had with others?

Brian: Interestingly, the first thing that I remember was a desire to get along better with my parents, and the second was to "cease and desist" from some of the crude and hurtful behavior that a lot of my buddies were part of. The third was to begin sharing my faith with some friends.

FR: What does your faith mean to you? Why is it crucial to you?

Brian: I think that life boils down to a choice between running my own agenda (or some other agenda created by human beings) or seeking God's agenda. My own agenda will focus on my personal interests, pleasure, prosperity, security, and so on. God's agenda will focus on love, joy, peace, justice, character development, and so on. One will make me part of the problem in the world, and the other will make me part of the solution.

FR: What lessons have been the most valuable to you during your experience of following Christ?

Brian: I'll mention three. First is the importance of staying in close contact with God. It's so easy to keep up religious activities but not actually be "abiding" in God. So, disciplines or practices like prayer, practicing God's presence, solitude, silence, Scripture reading and meditation, and so on, have been central to my life. Second, I've learned how important it is to see Christ in the people most often rejected or forgotten by others. The Holy Spirit always draws me to find the loneliest person in a crowd, or the youngest, or oldest, or most different to befriend them and connect with them - and this has been very important to the direction my life has taken. And third is the need to keep learning. I'm in my early fifties now, and I feel that I have more to learn than ever. I've seen some acquaintances become complacent or even proud - as if they have all the answers - and I don't think this is a good sign. So I try to keep learning, keep asking questions, keep aware that however old I am, before God I'm just a little kid who knows next to nothing.

FR: Many Christians seem to have retreated to a subculture where they can recreate the world into a "safer" version of reality, with Christian TV, Christian music, Christian fashion. Do you feel this retreat from the world has helped give the impression that Christians don't really care about people but instead care about protecting themselves from the "bad" influences out there?

Brian: Yes. Sadly, there's a dangerous religious impulse - I read where someone called it a "religiously transmitted disease" - where people create us/them, in/out groups. They become culture warriors and exluders instead of healers and peacemakers as Jesus was. Jesus' movement in the incarnation was downward, to come among us, to bring God to us, while the Pharisees movement was upward, to place themselves above others and look down on them in judgment. This whole movement into a Christian subculture and parallel religious universe, it seems to me, is both understandable and problematic for people who want to be followers of Jesus, not modern-day Pharisees.

FR: How do you avoid that retreat, particularly as a writer and established "Christian thinker"?

Brian: I remember feeling this very much when I left my first career as a college English teacher and became a pastor. I had to take intentional action or I would have been isolated in a religious parallel universe. What I did back then was to get involved in community soccer and start doing volunteer work in an area of interest for me. Just yesterday, my wife and I organized a picnic for all our neighbors and we had a great time getting and staying connected with everyone.

Because my works are considered controversial by some people, I could easily get sucked into intramural arguments with my critics. But I've chosen instead to focus on issues that are common to all humanity - not just religious folks - so I'm increasingly focused on what the gospel says to global crises like the environment, peace and war, and the gap between the rich and poor. This puts me into increasing contact with people in the society at large who care about these things.

FR: The notion of separating the sacred (that spiritual existence) and the secular (the "real" world of jobs and flat tires) -- what's your response to the person who tries to divide the world into these simple divisions?

Brian: This shows the degree to which we've become devotees of the Greek god "theos" instead of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus. The Jewish concept of God was not dualistic -- God was the creator of the physical world and all its stuff, and God called it all "good" and "very good." The Greek god "theos" was interested in spirit but not matter, souls but not bodies, eternity but not history, and escape not incarnation. So, I would encourage the devotee of the Greek deity to reconsider how different Jesus was, and what he reveals about God - a God who "became flesh" and "dwelt among us," who ate with tax collectors and sinners, who immersed himself in our world of dust and dirt and sweat and tears.

FR: In your open letter to worship songwriters, you address several concerns that could be leading to a lesser level of spiritual depth or at least to a less well-rounded faith that goes beyond just "me-nes." How has recent spiritual songwriting contributed to generating Christians that don't seek to engage the world with the mystery of Christ?

Brian: I think that "the worship industry" has great intentions, but sadly, it begins to function like the mass media of which it is part. TV, radio, video games, even the internet have a way of sucking you out of "real reality" and into "virtual reality." You watch "Animal Planet," but you never get out and see an osprey diving for fish, or ride a real horse, or make friends with the neighborhood squirrels. In a similar way, we can become addicted to a "feeling" of "God's presence" which we experience "in worship" - maybe like Peter wanting to stay on the mount of transfiguration in the Gospel story. We want to build our tents there. But Jesus always leads us down the mountain and into ministry. I love to be on the mountaintop and have those intense experiences, but I find that they go stale. As Jesus said, he is is the kind of shepherd who leads us in and out to find pasture ... he doesn't lead us in and in.

FR: Who are the thinkers, artists, and writers who have influenced your understanding of the life of faith?

Brian: There are so many, it's hard to know where to begin. In my early years, C. S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer were a huge influence. Then, Walker Percy's writings really helped me. In the last decade or so, Lesslie Newbigin, David Bosch, Walter Brueggemann, Wendell Berry, and N. T. Wright have helped me so much. In the last few years, I've been tremendously inspired by African, Asian, and Latin American theologians - like Alan Boesak, Jon Sobrino, Leonardo Boff, Rene Padilla, and others.

I'd have to say that the music of Bruce Cockburn, David Wilcox, Carrie Newcomer, Mike Blanchard, and others like them has been the kind of soundtrack for my spiritual life. The poetry of Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver mean a lot to me, along with William Wordsworth and William Blake and John Donne.

FR: What do you see as the biggest hang-ups keeping Christians from being able to make an impact in the world at large, or becoming what Bob Briner refers to as "roaring lambs"?

Brian: Lately, I think it's the culture war mentality that has swept through Evangelical and Charismatic Christianity. I think its long-term effects will be so negative. Put that together with the Prosperity Gospel, and I think you have a religion of power, aggression, selfishness, and greed ... hardly what Jesus intended. Much of this is made worse by the "left-behind" eschatology that encourages Christians to dream of evacuating or abandoning the earth rather than incarnating the gospel into it and seeing it transformed by the good news of the kingdom of God. Some of this comes from a theological assumption that God hates the world because of its sin, and that God wants to destroy it as soon as possible. So, I think the causes of these problems are deep, interconnected, and highly related to some bad theology.

FR: What do you see as the real issues Christians should be addressing to a today's generation and its culture?

Brian: This is really the subject of my newest book, which is called Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope. I try to understand the world's most serious crises and see what the message and example of Jesus teach us about how to respond. In the book, I describe four crises - the prosperity crisis, the equity crisis, the security crisis, and the spirituality crisis. I'm very hopeful that the book will get people thinking about the question you raise - and help us focus on deeper issues than we've been preoccupied with.

FR: Suppose I'm an honest skeptic standing before you at this moment. What's the one thing you wouldn't want me to leave without hearing?

Brian: First, I'd want to say I'm sorry for all the confusion and aggression that religious people create in the name of God. I would want you to know that I can see why, in light of crusade and jihad, in light of religious scandal and hypocrisy, you would feel that being a skeptic is a better option than being a religious bigot or hypocrite. But then I'd say that there are many of us who are devoting ourselves to seeking a better way, and we believe that this is the way God showed us in Jesus. I would want you to know that you're welcome to come along and see what we're up to, what we're learning, and whether there is good reason to move from honest skepticism to honest faith. I would want you to know that we're not perfect and that you'll see a lot of problems and failures in our lives, but that we won't expect you to be perfect either, because in the end, we believe that God loves and accepts us all just as we are.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

NOTE: Another old one, but one of my favorites.


What kind of choice is that?

Okay. Here's the scenario. Jonah's hanging out with his friends at the Dead Sea Beach Club discussing the current headlines and why the resident priest needs to be impeached when all the sudden the conversation shifts to the free will of man. Well, Jonah (still wearing big fish belch marks all over his body, not to mention the amino acid scars) can take no more of this banter, and cuts in:

"Choice? Free will? Let me tell you guys a little bit about that. I know all about it -- first hand, me and Moby Dick out there swimming around. Here's the choice God gave me -- Jonah, go to Ninevah, or Jonah, go to Ninevah. Some choice, huh? Well, right off the bat, I'm thinking 'No way am I going to Ninevah! Surely God can respect my decision in this matter. I mean, what's He going to do, make me go?' Some stooge I was.

"Well, anyway, the whole point is this -- I didn't really have a choice, did I? Do it, or wait until He pushed me into doing it. What kind of choice is that?"

* * *

Just to what degree is God in control of history? What is the difference between His permissive will and His perfect will? Is there indeed a difference? What's the point in telling me to choose whom I will serve when the same Bible tells me that all of my days are already mapped out and known? If God is omnipotent, then why can't he make things happen just like He wants them to?

Well, to be perfectly honest, he does. History is always under the power of god. God is never under the power of history. Not a single event has happened without passing under God's careful planning and scrutiny. Communism, the Roman persecution of Christians, stillbirths, tragic accidents, slavery, all are a record of history. Surely God didn't approve of these things. And yet, they are a part of history.

To understand, first we need a more accurate understanding of God's will, both permissive and perfect, active and passive. We must never think that God's will can be deterred. When we speak of God's permissive will, He permits it because He wills to permit it, knowing full well that it will also accomplish His perfect will. And when we speak of God's passive will, we must never think that God is being passive, for God is actively passive. In other words, if God chooses not to act and let events take their natural course, it is because by allowing things to happen on their own, they accomplish His plan.

Too often, we apply words like can't and not able to to God's abilities. One thing we must never forget is that God is omnipotent. According to Webster, that means having unlimited power or authority. and that leaves no rooms for can'ts and not able tos. Sometimes God doesn't do things, but that never means He is unable to. For example, have you ever heard that God can't work in your life if you don't let Him. Sure you have. Well, what about Pilate? He wasn't exactly what you'd call a model Christian, and yet God used him as a key player to accomplish His will for the redemptive work of the cross.

How can things like accidents, murders, poverty, abuse, gang fights, wars, affairs, terrorist attacks and even hunger accomplish the will of a holy and loving Lord? Because He told us so.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28, NIV).

Read that again. Whose purpose? Which things?

There is so much we can't yet see through our glass darkly. But God cannot only see the big picture, He's the Creator who made that picture. He, and only He, knows what's best. Our job is simply to draw closer to Him as He goes about His business of keeping the universe in order and working out His plan.

And guess what? He made us another promise, that if we draw near to Him, He will also draw near to us.

© 1994 Sean Taylor

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The best redemptive films...

Now, I'm not proposing that these are necessarily Christian films (not that a film could be Christian or not, but the directors, writers, and actors could or couldn't -- yes, I know, it's a semantics issue, but an important one for me), but they are definitely films with a strong redemptive storyline.

The Spitfire Grill
The Apostle
The Shawshank Redemption
The Sky Is Watching
Black Snake Moan
Cool Hand Luke
The Green Mile
Meet John Doe
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
The Poseidon Adventure
Spirited Away
The Return of the Jedi
Blade Runner
The Matrix Revolutions

What films do you think should be added to the list?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

NOTE: Here's another old one. In this case, a really old one. But I think writing this one so many years ago really helped begin shaping my understanding of my life of faith. So, in essence, this one's one of my formative ones.


The Great Moralization

A man walks into a doctor's office with a knife stuck in his back. Of course the receptionist sends him straight in, and the doctor leaves his other patient to check the wound. But... When the doctor reaches to remove the knife, the patient protests, "You don't understand doctor. I just wanted some medicine for the pain. You can leave the knife where it is."

Most all of us would say that this idiot is crazy. If he'd just let the doctor remove the knife the wound would heal, and the pain would eventually go away for good. It's a classic case of deciding whether to cure the symptoms or the disease, get rid of the cause or the effects.

What a stupid story, you may say. But did you know that Christians do that very thing? If abortion was made 100 percent illegal, vague prayer allowed in schools, and homosexuality pushed back into the closet, would Christian groups be satisfied? I think that by and large, they would, and that is a sad commentary on modern Christianity.

Are we attempting to help the world be redeemed or are we simply trying to moralize society? Sadly, the time spent in "moral" activities vastly outweighs the amount of time in "redemption" activities.

It would seem that we are more interested in subjecting the world to our common sense of decency and morality than in helping people find God. Just as the pain was a symptom of a knife in the back, all those things we fight against in culture are only symptoms of a greater problem -- sin! It would have been foolish for our doctor to focus only on the pain and not on the knife. It is equally foolish for us to focus only on the symptoms and not on the sin that causes them.

A moral society does not equal a redeemed society. A redeemed society will become a moral society, however. But the order is reversed. See the difference?

Perhaps the problem lies in the Christian's escape from the real world. As Christians, somewhere along the timeline, we saw that the world was going "bad." So we retreated into the ordered Christian subculture where we could have as little contact with the big, bad world as possible. But then the big, bad world started to encroach into our territory, so we fought back by organizing political groups and launching publicity campaigns. Even though the world was going to hell in a handbasket, it didn't bother us until it rained on our parade.

Please don't misunderstand me. It is not wrong to speak out against things we believe are morally wrong. Every American has not only the right but the responsibility to free speech. But it is wrong to make it our primary concern. Jesus told us to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. His kingdom is in the hearts of men, and His righteousness is inside the soul of men, not in the political and social structures of humanity's society.

He also said that if He be lifted up, He would draw all people unto Himself. Instead of liftng up causes, let's try lifting up Christ. As we get to know Him better, we'll find that He's a lot more than just a political or moral stance.

He's life. And life greater than anything we could ever imagine.

© 1994 Sean Taylor

Monday, September 03, 2007

Living by fiction ...

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
Lilith by George MacDonald
Phantastes by George MacDonald
At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald
The Girl I Left Behind by Shusaku Endo
The Final Martyrs by Shusaku Endo
Silence by Shusaku Endo
The Brothers Karamazov by Feodor Dostoevsky
Crime and Punishment by Feodor Dostoevsky
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Divine and Human by Leo Tolstoy
Saint Ben
by John Fischer
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
Between Heaven and Hell by Peter Kreeft
The Singer by Calvin Miller

Saturday, September 01, 2007

NOTE: This is one I wrote years ago, but after reading over it again recently, I was reminded how much it still holds true for me, so I wanted to share it again.


Why I {STILL} Believe in God

As I type this, I sit in a cramped, coach aisle seat listening to waltzes on Delta radio while flying from Atlanta to Ft. Myers, Florida. In spite of the relaxing music, I can only partly enjoy the three-four rhythms thanks to a faulty pair of headphones. Try as I might, I just can't keep the foam cover in place on the right ear piece. So, instead of gliding through the classics with ease and comfort, I instead am forced to endure sharp, hard plastic in one ear while my other ear remains cozy and comfortable.

My discomfort, however, doesn't steal one iota of beauty from the music. Those classic melodies aren't lessened or made less haunting, lilting, or uplifting by my bad connection or my lack of sensory ingestion. They remain as they always have been. Only my ability to experience them fully is diminished.

A few years ago, this would have been a hard truth for me to digest, but after dealing with doubting questions and spiritual discomfort for years now, I'm learning to become more accustomed to experiencing beauty and good and truth and faith through the perpetual haze of discomfort, almost in spite of it, rather than dismissing the beauty simply because my senses can't completely register it to the degree I wish they could.

My life of faith is never a comfortable one -- nor should it be. If I ever grow comfortable with God or begin to feel I can understand Him and the way He works, then I bring something (or Someone) that should be well beyond my ability to comprehend down to a level I can put in a box, label, and store on a shelf in my mind. But if the God I believe in is big enough to be God indeed (and not some altruistic, self-actualized, cosmic superhero or Santa Claus-esque gift giver dependent on my selfish wish lists), then I must allow for my life and His world to include things I can't understand or wrap my finite mind around in a way that makes me comfortable.

Why do people starve to death if God is love? Why does my wife's grandmother have Alzheimer's? Why are we at war with people who also claim to love and serve God, though under a different name? Why did a godly, honest believer like Steve die from a crippling, body-betraying cancer? Why do I so often feel that God is a zillion miles away? Why do I not get the evidence I need to help me draw a line in the sand and say "Here's that final shred of proof to cast away all my doubts"? Why? Why? Why?

I used to be afraid to deal with questions like these, terrified that the lack of answers would cause my faith to crumble like the walls of Jericho in that Sunday School story I always loved to hear Ms. Betty Fulghum tell me and the rest of my class at Summertown Baptist Church when I was barely young enough to sit still long enough to listen to the abridged version for attention-span-deficient children.

Now, however, I've learned to admit that living a live of faith doesn't do away with difficult questions, but it does prepare me for dealing with the lack of answers. Much like Job, I find my honest, earnest, desperate questions answered with only the silence (often) or the presence (occasionally) of the God I claim to have faith in. And like Job, I've learned that what God desires from me isn't that I know the answers so I can serve Him better, but instead that I know Him so that the answers don't seem as important as my friendship with Him.

However, I have found several reminders (Ebenezers, if you don't mind me using the biblical reference to the symbolic monument or marker) that help me to realize that God is here and that He is always with me, in spite of -- and perhaps thanks to -- my questions.

The first reminder is my daughter, Charis.

While nothing would please me more than to have her believe as I do and begin her own journey of faith, I have to admit that I am mortally afraid of inadvertently coercing her into saying she believes something that she in fact does not. (Granted, she's only six years old, so perhaps my fear is a little justified.)

Still-and the reminder is simply this -- God is faithful. It's almost as if the more I push back to resist hijacking her own journey of faith by imposing my own conclusions, the more she seems to seek God on her own, almost as though God were proving to me that He's big enough to draw her all by Himself, without my help and even in spite of my overcautious fears.

The second reminder is my son, Evan.

I can't tell you how many times he picks up gravel and rocks from parking lots and just about anywhere else to add to his "rock collection." Bear in mind that his rock collection is mostly just a few handfuls of similar-looking pieces of broken rocks and dirty gravel sitting up on top of his dresser in his bedroom. No matter how often I try to tell him, I still can't get him to recognize the difference between unique, interesting, collectible rocks and plain, old pieces of ordinary junk rock.

To his four-year-old mind, all rocks are unique and interesting and collectible and worthy of admiration. To him, the magnificence of creation itself is something to be fascinated by and appreciated-even to the point of collecting what I consider a bunch of dirty rocks. Perhaps I should be more open to learning from him rather than trying to "teach" him how to devalue one part of nature (or creation) in contrast to another.

Evan serves as a reminder to me that God has given me not just the evidence of spiritual urgings (as in my daughter) but also the gift of the physical world, uniquely crafted and created in such a way that even scientists have to admit it was a billion-to-one shot in the dark that it could have happened by sheer chance (give or take a few zeros on those billions -- I don't have the latest study handy).

My youngest son, Jack, is the next reminder.

You don't even have to know Jack to appreciate his constant smiling and laughter. At three years old, Jack sees the world as one huge playground, filled with all kinds of fun things to play with and enjoy. I know it's too early to tell, but I believe (and I certainly pray for and hope so) that Jack will grow up to be the person who sucks the marrow out of each day, who exercises carpe diem in a reckless, holy abandon, resting in the knowledge that yes, the world is indeed a playground, and that God created it that way.

Jack reminds me that God smiles. That God laughs. That God likes nothing better than to surprise us.

In Genesis we read the story of Abraham and Sarah, and how that they, when way past their child-bearing years, received a promise from God for a child. Sarah laughed at the thought, challenging the very idea, incredulous that such a thing was possible even with God. Later, when that child was born, they named him Isaac, meaning "laughter." I think they chose that name not only to remind themselves of Sarah's mocking laughter, but also to remind for the rest of their lives of God laughing as He surprised them by making them gray-headed parents.

Another thing that Jack reminds me is that not only does God laugh, but that He desires our laughter too. All of my kids are incredibly ticklish -- it's a personality trait I've worked hard at instilling in them from birth. And none of our games is as much fun for either of us as this tickle game. He squeals and giggles as I pin him down on the floor and tickle his ribs, the backs of his knees, his underarms, his neck, until he begs me to stop. But just for a moment. Then, almost always, he says, "Do it again, daddy." And I do.

As much as he enjoys the game, I think I enjoy it more. Sure, he gets to laugh and be as loud as he can in the house (which is normally not allowed), but I get to hear him laugh and see him genuinely enjoy his time with me.

And I think God sees us the same way. He surprises us because our laughter and our enjoyment delights Him.

My wife, Lisa, is the final reminder in my life of God's presence. In our relationship, I see an imperfect model of how God loves me. There's a reason the biblical writers often write of God's love for us as a romantic relationship and compare it to a marriage -- perhaps because it's the best model we have for understanding, even a little bit, how our relationship with Him can be.

When Lisa and I married, we were extremely clear on one key issue -- our love wasn't based on feelings (that could change from day to day or as the result of a bad day or too much pepperoni on a pizza the night before). Our love was based solely on a promise to stay together. Till death do us part, as the vows typically go.

And we meant it. We still do.

Sure, there are times when another woman may catch my eye. There are times when I may venture into thoughts of "I wonder what it would have been like if…" There are times when I catch myself contemplating what it would be like to be married to someone else or to be free to date indiscriminately.

And there are times when Lisa doesn't seem as loveable to me as she did on our wedding day. There are times when we fight that I try not to think of just chucking it all and taking the easy way out and not having to deal with working things out with her. (And I'm honest enough to know that at times I drive her to similar thoughts.)

Those are the times I remind myself that when she's hardest to love, I need to love her the hardest. Those are the times I remind myself that I made a promise, and that I intend to keep my word and find a way through the problem, the disagreement, the fight, the battle, the selfishness, the whatever, to dig in and pursue her with all that I am.

That sounds noble and admirable, but I'm sad to say that I don't always pull it off. Many times when I need to love her more, I let myself love her less. Many times when I need to remember the promise, I want to disregard it instead.

I'm imperfect. I'm only human. I fall. I fail. I screw up.

But God never does. What I can do only imperfectly, he does perfectly. When I make myself unloveable to Him, He digs in and pursues me all the harder. When I put myself at odds with Him and disregard or ignore Him, he remembers His promise to never leave me and begins to woo me back to Him with complete forgiveness for my rejection and inattention.

I look at my wife, and I see me. I see a recipient of love undeserved. She doesn't deserve my love any more than I deserve hers. I give it to her as a gift just as she gives it to me as a gift -- in spite of my unworthiness. She gives it because she wants to give it, because she has chosen me. And not just a gift, but a gift attached to a promise that the gift will never be stripped away, even if I don't keep trying harder to earn it.

There are lots of words used nowadays to describe followers of Christ -- supportive words like Christians and saints, painful words like hypocrites and racists and hatemongers. But the word I like best to describe the whole lot of us is this one: screw-ups. I've recently come to the conclusion that followers of Christ are just a bunch of screw-ups God loves anyway.

Just like I love Lisa. Just like she loves me.

Looking back over my list of "Ebenezers," I don't see any partings of the Red Sea, nobody raised from the dead, no manna from heaven, no miraculous meal of loaves and fishes -- just a bunch of plain, ordinary things. Children. A wife. Rocks. Laughter. Marriage.

But surely everyone has one or perhaps all of these things. Aren't these things too plain, too ordinary, too common to help someone support an esoteric, spiritual belief system, a philosophical/ religious worldview that needs quantifiable data to back it up and make it trustworthy and dependable?

You're right. These are very ordinary things for me to consider them spiritual landmarks or reminders that merit such importance. But I do.

I have never been able to read ultrasound pictures. I can't tell you how many times family members and friends would whip out these horrid, little, black-and-white, grainy pictures and try to point out elbows and heads and legs and whatever else their "precious little one" decided to show off for the camera. I tried, but I just couldn't get it. I had better luck seeing the birds or wolves or jet fighters in those 3-D, magic-eye pictures in mall specialty stores (and it took me two years and a new pair of glasses to figure out how to see those brain-killers).

So imagine my surprise when Lisa was pregnant with Charis and we had our first ultrasound. As the technician pointed to little smudge marks on the screen, the most bizarre thing happened. They suddenly began to look like elbows and heads and legs and whatevers. It was as if the fact that it was my kid on that screen and in that picture somehow improved my vision.

And imagine my further surprise when (after Charis was born) I wanted to show off my newfound ability to decipher the hieroglyphs of modern ultrasound technology to friends and family members (after bragging about it, no less), only to find ultrasound pictures of other peoples' kids just as incomprehensible as they had been before.

I think faith operates the same way. We see the smudge marks more clearly as elbows and legs when it's our kid in the picture. We see the ordinary as the reminders they really are when it's our faith up on the chopping block. Call it desperation. Call it perception. Call it hopeful blindness. Call it spiritual tunnel vision. Call it faith. They're no way to escape it. I can't give you your evidences or reminders, just as I can't be sure that the grainy blur on your kid's ultrasound picture is really a kid at all.

But I can see mine.

And that's all I need ultimately.

It's really between you and God to see your own.

© 2002 Sean Taylor

Thursday, August 30, 2007


Yet another group of books I recommend... These are the ones that helped me get a feel for what this culture is today that I'm supposed to be salt and light in.

13th Gen by Neil Howe and William Strauss
Generations by Neil Howe and William Strauss
Postmodern Pilgrims by Leonard Sweet
SoulTsunami by Leonard Sweet
Soul Salsa by Leonard Sweet
The God Who Is There by Francis Schaeffer
A Christian Manifesto by Francis Schaeffer
He Is There and He Is Not Silent by Francis Schaeffer
Escape From Reason by Francis Schaeffer
A Reverence for Live by Albert Schweitzer
What on Earth Are We Doing Here? by John Fischer
New e-view coming!

I've arranged an interview with author Brian McLaren, who has written such books as The Story We Find Ourselves In, A New Kind of Christian, Finding Faith, More Ready Than You Realize, The Secret Message of Jesus, The Church in Emerging Culture, Adventures in Missing the Point, etc. I'll be posting it soon, so keep your eyes peeled.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Pride (In the name of God?)

Going through the motions doesn't please you,
a flawless performance is nothing to you.
I learned God-worship
when my pride was shattered.
Heart-shattered lives ready for love
don't for a moment escape God's notice.
(Psalm 51:16-17, The Message)

For thou delightest not in sacrifice; else would I give it: Thou hast no pleasure in burnt-offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: A broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. (Psalm 51:16-17, NASB)

It's probably pointless to add any of my thoughts to this, I'd say. The more important thing would be to simply remember it. I particularly love the way The Message paraphrases the verse, and I think, still captures the essence of the verse quite well, even if it isn't an exact translation: a flawless performance is nothing to you.

And how do we overcome that tendency? I think this part answers it best: I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered.

To quote Stan Lee, the famous Marvel comic book guy, "'Nuff said."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Defuzzing the Picture

The previous list of books are the ones that helped me learn to "dance in grace," but these are some of the ones that helped me rediscover the Jesus that my years of church had sadly stripped away from me and re-learn how crucial the necessity and efficacy of faith can be.

Immanuel by Michael Card
The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey
Reaching for the Invisible God by Philip Yancey
Finding God in Unexpected Places by Philip Yancey
Can Man Live Without God? by Ravi Zacharias
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
No Wonder They Call Him the Savior by Max Lucado
Alone in the Universe: Aliens, The X-Files & God by David Wilkinson
God, Sex & the Search for Lost Wonder by Mike Starkey
Can the Real Jesus Still Be Found? by Sigmund Brouwer
Streetwise Spirituality by Jim Thomas
Coffeehouse Theology by Jim Thomas
Heads AND Tails

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne.
Unfailing love and truth walk before you as attendants.
Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship,
for they will walk in the light of your presence, Lord. (Psalm 89:13-15, NLT)

We human people tend to think in terms of either/or, I've found. We see it all the way from high school cliques (either a jock or a geek or a goth, etc. rarely a combination of several types) to adult career choices (are you going to be a real "career" person or make the sacrifice and be "family" person?) – after all, a coin can't be both heads and tails at the same time, can it? We just don't do balance very well, at least not the people I've come in contact with in my 38 years.

Luckily God is big enough to put opposites together in a way that may not make sense to our puny little human minds. Take his justice and his mercy, for example. Common sense would tell us that we can either give judgment to the guilty or give mercy to them. But God does both somehow.

This Psalm tells us that justice and righteousness are the foundation of his throne, and that love and truth are his attendants. In other words, everything thing he does is based on the simple fact that God is righteous and just and he will never do anything to contradict that. But the filters (if you will) through which he delivers himself are love and truth. Or, everything he does, including dispensing justice and demanding righteousness, he does in and with love and truth.

Our human courts don't give us an adequate understanding of this principle. When we think of justice, we think of people getting what they deserve. But mercy would be the equivalent of a judge passing down a ruling and then serving the sentence in the guilty person's place. That scenerio would settle the accounts for being both just and merciful.

No wonder then that, if that's the way God loves us, we would be happy to hear the joyful call to worship and to walk in the light of his presence.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The late Mike Yaconelli was a genius...

Or at least he was one of the few who actually "got" this faith thing.

At least in my opinion, as the disclaimer goes.

If you've not read Mike's book Messy Spirituality, you've missed out on something amazing and genuinely life-changing. Mike had a way of cutting through the garbage to get to the heart of the matter of what it means to have and live faith. These are just two quotes I found this morning as I was looking at some of the stuff he wrote. He died a few years ago, and the world is so much poorer for the loss.

I post these here because I think they have particular relevance to the issue of how an artist who is a Christian (note I didn't use the vomit-inducing phrase "Christian artist") can and perhaps should approach his or her creative life.


For the Christian, there is no distinction between the sacred and secular. Everything a Christian does is an expression of his faith.He does not make choices based on the religious significance of the alternative. As a Christian he makes the choice that is a logical extension of the values he has derived from his faith…


What happened to radical Christianity, the un-nice brand of Christianity that turned the world upside-down? What happened to the categorysmashing, life-threatening, anti-institutional gospel that spread through the first century like wildfire and was considered (by those in power) dangerous? What happened to the kind of Christians whose hearts were on fire, who had no fear,who spoke the truth no matter what the consequence, who made the world uncomfortable, who were willing to follow Jesus wherever He went? What happened to the kind of Christians who were filled with passion and gratitude, and who every day were unable to get over the grace of God?

I’m ready for Christianity that “ruins”my life, that captures my heart and makes me uncomfortable. I want to be filled with an astonishment which is so captivating that I am considered wild and unpredictable and …well…dangerous. Yes, I want to be “dangerous” to a dull and boring religion. I want a faith that is considered “dangerous” by our predictable and monotonous culture.


Predictability and faith cannot coexist.What characterized Jesus and His disciples was unpredictability. Jesus was always surprising the disciples by eating at the wrong houses (those of sinners), hanging around the wrong people (tax collectors, adulterers, prostitutes, lepers), and healing people on the wrong day (the Sabbath). There was no Day Timer, no strategic plan, no mission statement; there was only the eager anticipation of the present moment. The Pharisees wanted Jesus to be the same as they were.His truth should be the same truth that they had spent centuries taming. But truth is unpredictable.When Jesus is present, everyone is uncomfortable yet mysteriously glad at the same time. People do not like the surprises—even church people—and they don’t want to be uncomfortable. They want a nice, tame Jesus.
A few of my favorite things... to read!

Just thought I'd share a few of the books I've found to be helpful in coming to my understanding and interpretation of this life of faith. These books are the ones that helped me learn to "dance in grace" and get over the need to try to show off my Christianity for the church's dog and pony show of "my morality is better than your morality." These are some of the books that really helped to shape my longing to simply love and serve God and in doing so ditch a lot of the trappings that are just religious baggage.

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
Reaching for God Knows What by Donald Miller
Through Painted Deserts by Donald Miller
The Message paraphrase by Walter Wangerin
On a Hill Too Far Away by John Fisher
Making Real What I Already Believe by John Fisher
12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee by John Fischer
Real Chrisians Don’t [with "Don’t" crossed out] Dance by John Fischer
True Believers Don’t [with "Don’t" crossed out] Ask Why by John Fischer
Reaching for the Invisible God by Philip Yancey
What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey
Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church by Philip Yancey
Ice Cream as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe by Billy Sprague
Addicted to Mediocrity by Frankie Schaeffer
The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis
The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
Roaring Lambs by Bob Briner
The Wisdom of Each Other by Eugene Peterson
Messy Spirituality by Mike Yaconelli
Dangerous Wonder by Mike Yaconelli
A Simple Path by Mother Teresa
The Importance of Being Foolish by Brennan Manning
The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning
Scribbling in the Sand by Michael Card
A Fragile Stone by Michael Card
The Story We Find Ourselves In by Brian McLaren
Tangled Up in the Bible: Bob Dylan and Scripture by Michael Gilmour
Bob Dylan and Philosophy: It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Thinking) edited by Peter Vernezze and Carl Porter
The Door and The Wittenburg Door magazine
Restoration and Worship

Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
and put away your indignation toward us!
Will you be angry with us forever?
Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
Will you not revive us again,
that your people may rejoice in you? (Psalm 85:4-6, ESV)

Wow. When's the last time we sang something this powerful, this emotional, this desperate in a church worship service? I dare say we've never known this kind of sheer desperation for God to act on behalf of his people and that because of that, we have probably never seen this kind of longing in a worship song or hymn. Besides, that kind of display has no place in a formal, organized and tidy service, does it?

Bah. Yeah, you heard me. Bah.

To the Jewish people, God was real, very real, so real in fact that he was just the type of King they could complain to like we might complain to a local political leader or educational beuracrat when we don't like something going on in our children's schools.

Equally real was their sin and the depths and punishment they faced because of it. Experiencing political and geographical slavery served as a rather intense reminder or how serious God was in dealing with sin. In our post-Jesus'-death-and-ressurrection age, I think we may take that more lightly than serious. And the current sermon series will, I hope, cause us to reflect more on the effects sin can have on our ability to have a close relationship with God and thereby to really, honestly, truthfully worship him.

Maybe we need more of this attitude in us when we worship, the kind of desperation that would plead with God to restore and revive us, that we may rejoice in Him.
The Uniqueness of God

There is none like you among the gods, o Lord, nor are there any works like yours. (Psalm 86:8, ESV)

A few things stick out to me when I read this verse.

1. God didn't apparently expect his chosen people to think in purely monotheistic (i.e., there is only one God) terms at all points during their road to maturity. Either that, or they were too dumb to get it, and he put up with their ignorance without making a big deal about it. (If not, how could he ever allow us to ever consider him as just the greatest among many in one of the worship songs recorded in the Bible?)

2. Even if his chosen people didn't get it then, they at least understood enough to know that even if there were other gods out there, Yahweh stood alone and unique and the most and best among them. There was something special and real about God that set him apart from all the Baals and sun gods and fertility goddesses and harvest gods that all the people around them served and worshipped and lived in fear of.

3. There were proofs, works, that people could go back to and draw a line in the sand to say, "God did this, period." And those works were different enough to stand out.

What I can gleam from that as a worshipper is that even when I don't get all the picture that is the majesty and worthiness and holiness of my Lord, if I don't miss the main point -- that he is holy and great and worthy of my praise -- then at least I'm on a decent footing from which to begin. And like he did with the Jewish people, he will continue to bring me along to a more full understanding and appreciation of his glory as he continues to work in me. Even when I'm wrong. Even when I'm confused. Even when my stupidity gets in the way.

I think the idea of the works of God is a good place for worshippers to begin and continue. We see it in lots of the praise songs and hymns. We frequently see topics like:

* Jesus' death on the cross
* Jesus' resurrection from the dead
* Jesus loving us
* Jesus teaching us
* God creating the world and nature
* Etc.

Even contemporary songs from the past few hundred years get this apparently. They're filled with pointing people toward the working proofs that God loves us and is worth following and worshipping.

Our job as a worship team, to a large degree I believe, it to help people get those first steps down. Even if they aren't mature believers, even if they aren't sure if they want to be believers at all, even if they worship in ignorance of God's truth, even if they are clearly wrong about theological fine points as argued by scripture, we are to help them get a picture of the mightiness and grace and awesomeness of God. We are to help them see the uniqueness of the God who can take care of all the rest of that as they draw closer to him and he draws closer to them.

And if we can lift Jesus up in song and point people to even just a few of the things God has done for us, then maybe that will help some small seed take root in someone's life as God does the work of drawing men and women unto himself.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Kissing, Bowing and Telling It Like It Is

Then the disciples in the boat worshiped Jesus. "Truly you are the Son of God!" they exclaimed. (Matthew 14:33, Good News Bible)

Worship. The principal Old Testament word for it (Shah ah) means to bow down or be prostrate. The principal New Testament word for it (proskune´o) literally means to "kiss toward"?a tender and intimate notion that goes deeper than just the contemporary "experience" of worship all wrapped up in music and tied with a bow of calm and/or peaceful feelings derived from that music, or perhaps even the combination of music and lyrics.

Both words tell us that worship is something more than just feelings we get from songs and sermons. They tell us that worship is more of an attitude combined with the natural actions that play out from that attitude. Whether we bow down and acknowledge our submission to a holy God or if we kiss toward our loving Savior with affection and adoration, our worship is best seen to be true in the light of our responsive action.

Still, even in with all that being true, I think the disciples did a wonderful job of summing up the very basic nature of worship when in Matthew 14:33 they said, "Truly you are the Son of God!"

To me, this is where all worship begins and ends, with us simply acknowledging Christ as the Son of God, as God himself. I think that should be one of our driving forces, if not THE driving force, behind our approach to worship here as the Lakeland Community Church praise band, simply declaring to our congregation and our community that Christ is the Son of God. Then we set the stage for the responsiveness to follow, each following the dictates of his or her own heart and own relationship with that Christ. Some will bow. Some will kiss toward. Some will worship in quietness. And some will sing and dance. That's not our concern, though. We just have to make it known, like the disciples, that "Truly you are the Son of God!"

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Worship Conversation

"Now sing praises to God! Every kingdom on earth, sing to the Lord! Praise the one who rides across the ancient skies; listen as he speaks with a mighty voice." (Psalm 68:32-33, CEV)

Worship is communication. That means talking and listening. (And I'd hope more listening than talking or singing. The old cliche about having two ears and one mouth and listening twice and much as speaking applies here quite well, I believe.

In writing fiction, those non-dialogue bits that appear to give the speaking parts rhythm and pacing are called "beats," and they give the reader an opportunity to let the words said sink in.

Even worship music has beats, those times when we need to take our focus off our singing and just listen. Sometimes that happens when the band is silent. Sometimes that happens when the band is simply playing an instrumental interlude. And sometimes it can happen in those rare songs that people sing the choruses and sit out during the verses. The important that is that we as a team build in time to encourage God's people to converse and not just sing, to listen and not just talk, to now God more by what He says to us than what we sing to Him.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

the view from ...
Kim and Jim Thomas of Say So

T-Verse: Tell us a little about how you became a Christian. What experiences led you to believe that there had to be something more than just this life?

Say So: We both became Christians at an early age and grew up in the church. Later on, during our high school and college years, we began to understand that being a Christian is about more than just sin management.

T-Verse: How did those experiences and that decision to follow Jesus Christ impact your life and the relationships you had with others?

Say So: Discipleship means integrating our faith into all the other areas of our lives. Because we have decided to follow Christ, it means we look at life in a completely different way than we used to.

T-Verse: What does your faith mean to you? Why is it important to you?

Say So: The Christian faith begins to answer all the BIG questions of life i.e. Why are we here? What is the purpose of life? How can we know the difference between right and wrong? Where are we going?

T-Verse: What lessons have been the most valuable to you during your experience of following Christ?

Say So: Understanding the importance of seeking hard after God and studying the scriptures which reveal God's thoughts.

T-Verse: While many Christians today seem to retreat into a subculture of Christian music, Christian books, Christian TV, your music seems to speak openly and honestly about faith and life in fresh ways, not just telling Christians something they want to hear or repeating the same old things over and over again, but speaking so that anyone can listen and wonder. Do you feel that this retreat into the subculture has kept many Christians from being able to have a real voice in the world?

Say So: Perhaps. American evangelicalism has on occassion fallen into the trap of trivializing and sloganizing the Christian faith.

T-Verse: How do you avoid that retreat, particularly as songwriters and artists?

Say So: In the lyrics of our songs and in the books we've written (Jim: Coffeehouse Theology and Streetwise Spirituality, Kim: Simplicity and Living in the Sacred Now) we've tried really hard to speak in a language that anyone could understand. We try to think more in terms of worldview and less in terms of a Hallmark card approach to our faith. We feel we should sing/speak/write about all of life from a Christian worldview.

T-Verse: How do you perceive the state of Christian music today?

Say So: It's probably fair to say there is some very good, some ok, and some bad. But that's nothing new.

T-Verse: One of my favorites songs you've recorded has the line: "water and blood and flesh and bone ... mysterious jewel in a plastic box." That line has always stuck with me since. What was the genesis of that song?

Say So: The first part speaks of our solidarity in physical terms and the second of our solidarity as creatures made in the image of God. The mysterious jewel is the image of God that sets us apart from the rest of creation and gives us the capacity to know our creator as a heavenly Father.

T-Verse: Who are the thinkers, artists, and writers who have influenced your understanding of the life of faith?

Say So: C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Dallas Willard, John Stott, Alister McGrath, Francis Schaeffer, Annie Dillard, Madeline L'Engle

T-Verse: What do you see as the biggest hang-ups keeping Christians from being able to make an impact in the world at large, or becoming what Bob Briner refers to as "roaring lambs"?

Say So: I think we are doing better than we were in the past couple of decades. But there are probably several things that still hold us back at times. Our use of "Christianese" or, insider language. The arrogance we so often display. Our lack of unity. Our lack of social responsibility. etc.

T-Verse: What do you see as the real issues Christians should be addressing to a postmodern generation?

Say So: One thing is that we need to rethink evangelism. I think we need to approach it on more of a relational level. This takes more time and involves more listening and less talking which we aren't used to. But that is definitely what it will take if we're going to make more Christians and better ones at that.

T-Verse: Okay, supposing I'm an honest skeptic standing before you at this moment. What's the one thing you wouldn't want me to leave without hearing?

Say So: That the Designer of your brain (God) really does exist or you wouldn't even be able to think your skeptical thoughts. That the ancient scriptures reveal how this Designer desires to be in relationship with you, so much so, that in spite of your doubts, He loves you and is in hot pursuit of you.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Well and Holy Group of Us?

"I can't wait to hear what he'll say.
God's about to pronounce his people well,
The holy people he loves so much,
so they'll never again live like fools.
See how close his salvation is to those who fear him?
Our country is home base for Glory!" (Psalm 85:8-9, The Message)

The simple truth of worship is that God loves us. I think we tend to overemphasize our own importance and think that, even if just a little bit, it's about what we are doing and saying to God. But it's not. It can't be. We don't have it in us to really worship him. The truth be told, we're probably thinking about our next chord change, not missing the words, the football game after church, or what our children did that morning that really made us made and put us in a bad mood for church. (Or maybe that's just me...)

Somehow, when we're supposed to be focused on simply loving and adoring and celebrating our Lord, we just plain can't sustain that kind of focus. Maybe that's why I love to read stuff like this in Psalms:

God's about to pronounce his people well,
The holy people he loves so much...

If God can love us and call an imperfect and undeserving group of worshipers well and holy, then I'm safe in knowing that its all about him doing the act of worship through me, and I'm good with knowing that worship doesn't have to happen because of me or my ability to "do" it.

Monday, August 20, 2007

the view from ... Chuck Dixon

T-Verse: Tell us a little about how you became a Christian.

Chuck Dixon: Well, I was born and raised Catholic. And no matter what that teaching stays with you. Those nuns had a big impact on me and I thought that priests had to be the coolest guys on the planet. I still do. And I suppose I'm still a Catholic in a cultural sense. But my wife introduced me to the Church of Christ and their beliefs seem so simple and streamlined with strict adherence to The Word and none of the mystical mumbo jumbo. And that's where I call home.

T-Verse: What experiences led you to believe that there must be Someone or Something out there beyond just this life?

Chuck: Simple faith. You look at the life of Christ and His words and you'd have to be in total denial not to see that He was a model for humanity and civilization as well as the Big Answers. Once I had faith the rest fell into place. I could clearly see how everything around me sprang from Somewhere; Someone greater than us. The simple fact that science consistently proves rather than disproves the words in the Bible should convince anyone. As someone recently said, "The only reason you wouldn't believe in The Word is because you're afraid to admit it's true."

T-Verse: How did that decision impact your life and your relationships with others?

Chuck: Not terribly. It's not like I hung with the Hell's Angels or anything. I've always been a quiet, straight arrow kind of guy. I didn't fall to rise again. Hey, I'm just a comics geek.

T-Verse: Many Christians seem to have retreated to a subculture where they can recreate the world into a "safer," Christian morals-based mirror of reality, with Christian TV, Christian music, Christian fashion. Do you feel this retreat from the world has helped give the impression that Christians don't really care about people but instead care about protecting themselves from the "bad" influences out there?

Chuck: I think you have to be in the game to win. I could have retreated to Christian comics and probably been happy creatively and financially. But that's preaching to the choir. I think it's better to present moral values in the wasteland of general entertainment. I dealt with the abortion/adoption issue in a Warner owned publication and reached an audience I would never have reached otherwise. I backed out of a government funded project to produce an anti-drug comic because it was ill-conceived and poorly executed. One of the participants accused me of being some kind of heartless jerk saying, "You'd rather make money writing Spider-man." Truth is, I probably reached more readers with anti-drug stories featuring Batman and Robin than any government handout could have.

All that said, as a dad I can see the allure of all-Christian entertainment. It can serve as a filter to block out the crass and vulgar stuff thrown at kids today. They say kids are growing up faster than they used to. That's a load. They're FORCING the kids to grow up by spewing puerile muck at them.

T-Verse: The notion of separating the sacred (that spiritual existence) and the secular (the "real" world of jobs and flat tires) -- what's your response to the person who tries to divide the world into these simple divisions?

Chuck: One of my favorite quotes of all time was said by George Foreman when someone challenged his devotion to Christ when he was a boxer. "I think Jesus and boxing is a great combination." He went on to explain the relationship between sportsmanship and Christian ethics. I agree with him. Jesus' teachings can guide you through anything. The answers are all there.

T-Verse: In what ways have you had the opportunity to see your beliefs and writing career integrated?

Chuck: Mostly in the fortunes God has allowed me. He granted me the talent to write stories in a series of static pictures and then guided me to a career in that area. With His help and guidance I've had an unusually long and successful career.

I mentioned the other ways earlier -- the opportunity to introduce a moral element into stories.

T-Verse: I notice in your writing that you don't limit yourself to writing "Christian" comics or "Christian" books, or even turning the stuff you are writing into outreach publications. And some of the publications you've written for aren't markets most Christians who write would consider (such as The Simpsons comics or war comics). Is that intentional?

Chuck: The Simpsons are the only characters on television or in comics who attend church regularly. Even that insipid family on 7th Heaven only rarely stops in for a service. The Simpsons also deal with BIG issues and their experiences cover the entire moral spectrum. When they address religion, they are often irreverent but never sacrilegious. As far as I'm concerned the episode where Bart sells his soul to Milhouse should be shown in Sunday Schools. C.S. Lewis couldn't have done a better job explaining sin and redemption.

As far as war comics go, it's a part of human experience and fascinates me because it represents the best and worst in human behavior. I've never written stories that wallow in gore and carnage and excuse myself by claiming that my story was "anti-war." I usually emphasize sacrifice and heroism and deprivation in my war stories. My war stories for The 'Nam and Savage Tales were also blatantly anti-communist. As far as I'm concerned that's serving God in a BIG way.

T-Verse: Do you find that by being in the real world and not in the Christian subculture you have opportunities to meet people where they are and discuss your faith naturally instead of using the memorized or "canned" approaches many church outreach programs use?

Chuck: Certainly. I think my job as a Christian is to get atheists and agnostics to question their LACK of beliefs. I'm not out to convert by evangelizing. I think it's better to start by shaking others arguments and at least opening them up to The Word.

T-Verse: What does your faith mean to you? Why is it important to you to believe? What has believing in and following Christ benefited you as you look back on your life?

Chuck: Well, every time I ignored what I knew to be The Truth I made enormous mistakes in my life.

But more importantly my faith gives me courage. Or it helps give me courage to face what comes at me. I'm not one of these guys who shrugs and says, "Oh, it's God's will" when some calamity strikes. But I will explore the nature of the bad news to find what good God meant in it. I find that as my faith deepens my doubts are more easily swept aside.

My belief in Christ also prepared me for my most important job; as parent to my children. You can throw out all those parent guides and how-to books. Raising kids is all covered in the books of the Bible. It's also given me the patience to deal with kids. And that's the most important element of being a parent.

T-Verse: If I were an honest skeptic standing with you right now, what would be the one thing you would tell me in regard to opening my mind to the idea of believing in God and following Him?

Chuck: The Book of Genesis blows it all away.

What other religion or mythology has a creation story that is proven to be true each year by scientific research?

Our universe was created in a series of stages from an explosion of light to the birth of life. And each of these stages happened in a particular order. Science has proven that these events in this order are the way it happened. How did the ancient Hebrews, essentially a bunch of nomadic shepherds, know about the Big Bang Theory, astronomy, biology, thermodynamics, geology, etc., to get all that right? Especially when other cultures had patently ridiculous ideas like the world resting on the back of a turtle or everyone walking down to the earth along the blade of a sword. Hey, maybe somebody TOLD them how it happened. And Who was that Somebody?

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Mixed-Up Worship Songbook of God

"Declare them guilty, O God! Let their intrigues be their downfall. Banish them for their many sins, for they have rebelled against you.
"But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
"For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield." (Psalm 5: 10-12)

I chose this verse simply because I appreciate that the ancient songbook (the book of Psalms) understands that songs used in worship went beyond just simple adoration and "good feeling" songs. If you read the book of Psalms with an open mind, you will quickly find songs dealing with praise and adoration, but not only that. You'll just as quickly also discover songs filled with repentance and regret and sadness. And it gets worse. You'll also find songs demanding retribution against enemies, songs expressing doubt about why the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer, and songs about fond memories of being able to worship freely that were written during the Jewish captivity.

Why is this important to me? For me, this knowledge enhances my experience of worship. It means I can worship in doubt and misunderstanding, as well as in joy and praise. It means that worship songs don't always have to be upbeat and happy. It means that when God demands that we worship him in spirit and in truth, he means it.

Sure, our modern, contemporary take on worship likes to highlight the adoration and praise elements, but if we are going to worship in the way that scripture's songbook guides us, we will have to be sure that our definition of "worship music" is always open to be changed by the truth of God.
Another note on some upcoming posts...

Intermixed with the e-views from the former Form and Matter site, I'll also be posting each day one of my "worship thoughts" that I have included in the Nothing Regal newsletter that I send out to the band each week to help us prepare for that upcoming Sunday's worship service. These are quite as philosophical, but they are more devotional in nature. I thought they might be appropriate here regardless. So, enjoy.

the view from ... John Fischer

T-Verse: Tell us a little about how and why you became a Christian.

John Fischer: I grew up in a Christian home and have believed most of my life. My issue has not been believing but making real what I believe.

T-Verse: What lessons have been the most valuable to you during your experience of following Christ?

John Fischer: A Christian is to be real. There is no need to hide. It is not how good we are but how honest we are to ourselves with Christ living in us.

T-Verse: You helped usher in Christian music during the '70s with many songs that became campground favorites of that youth generation. Tell us a little about that experience and how you perceive the current Christian music culture (or subculture)?

John Fischer: I have books written about this. The short of it: The Jesus movement was turned out towards the world. The subculture that grew out of it is turned in on itself.

T-Verse: In one of your CCM columns from years ago, you wrote a statement that I've had tacked on my office bulletin board ever since. You said, "Is there anyone out there fool enough to think they can still change the world with their guitar? I don't think anything's going to happen until there is." Do you still hold to that statement? How do you think it applies to this current generation of Christians, even those without musical talents?

John Fischer: We can make a difference in the world through living as an honest Christian in our own sphere of influence.

T-Verse: One of the things I've enjoyed about your writing is the sense of honesty and realness and transparency that comes across in your books. Do you make a conscious effort to stay real or does that come naturally to you? Why is that important to you and your writing?

John Fischer: When I gave my life in service to God as a college student, it was on one condition. That following Him -- being a Christian -- would be real. He's kept his side of the bargain. I've tried to be honest about mine.

T-Verse: In your earlier books Real Christians Don't Dance and True Believers Don't Ask Why (editor's note: both books have the word "don't" crossed out on the cover) you wrote of the hang-ups that plague Christendom and keep Christians from focusing on the truly vital issues of being salt and light in the real world. Do you still see those hang-ups getting in the way? Or does each new generation develop it's own set of hang-ups to focus on?

John Fischer: We have new ones as culture and society and people change. I see the big issue now being fear of the world and a desire to hide in the Christian subculture where we can be safe.


The In's and Out's Of It
by John Fischer

"In it not, of it," the statement was made
As Christian One faced the world, much afraid.
"In it, not of it," the call was made clear,
But Christian One got something stuck in his ear.
"Not in it, or of it," was the thing that he heard.
And knowing the world was painfully absurd,
He welcomed the safety of pious retreat,
And went to the potluck for something to eat.

Now Christian Two, he knew what to do,
He show those fundies a thing or two!
How will the world ever give Christ a try
If we don't get in there and identify?
So "In it, and of it," he said in his car,
As he pulled in and stopped at a popular bar.
"I'll tell them the truth as soon as I'm able
To get myself out from under this table."

Now along comes Christian Three jogging for Jesus,
In witnessing sweats made of four matching pieces.
His earphones are playing a hot Christian tune
About how the Lord is coming back soon.
"Not in it, but of it," he turns down the hill
And stops in for a bite at the Agape Grill.
Like the gold on the chain of his "God Loves You" bracelet,
He can have the world without having to face it.

While way up in heaven they lament these conditions
That come from changing a few prepositions.
"Not in it, or of it," Christian One thought.
But who in the world will know that he's not?
"In it, and of it," thought Christian Two.
But who in the world will know that he knew?
"Not in it, but of it," thought Christian Three.
But who in the world watches Christian TV?

And Jesus turns to Gabriel, shaking His head.
"'In it, not of it,' wasn't that what I said?"

(used by permission)


T-Verse: One of your books contains a poem that perhaps best illustrates how Christians have misunderstood Christ's intention for our interaction in the world and have created a Christian subculture. In your opinion, how and why did such a "counter-culture" develop and why is it such a danger for Christians to pull away from the world at large?

John Fischer: It developed out of a preference for the familiar and a desire to be safe -- to protect our kids from the world instead of prepare them for it. We created an alternative world with a Christian version of everything cultural so we could reject the world and still enjoy it anyway.

T-Verse: What do you think are the biggest trouble spots or blind spots contemporary Christians face in trying to impact their culture and develop ongoing, genuine relationships with people who may not believe as they do?

John Fischer: Most Christians are trying to prove the world wrong. The world is not wrong as much as it is lost. We don't know how to dialogue with our culture. We spent our time and effort fighting culture instead of making a difference in it.

T-Verse: Any advice for Christians who want to impact their culture rather than retreat from it or judge it from a "safe" distance?

John Fischer: Don't surround yourself with Christian things. Be a Christian in the world. The world doesn't need Christian music; it needs Christians making music. You can substitute pretty much anything for "music" and get the point.

T-Verse: Just as your writings have influenced many people in this generation, who are some of the writers and thinkers who helped to influence your views on faith and living out that faith? Why are they important to you?

John Fischer: C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Frederick Buechner, Harry Blamires

T-Verse: Tell us a little about the concept behind the book 12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (Like Me).

John Fischer: The biggest errors of Christians are in attitudes of self-righteousness and condemnation. I felt the recovery model would suit breaking out of those attitudes well. Someone came to me after a talk and said my writing was like a 12 step recovery program for a Pharisee. I told them right then and there that I wanted that for a title of my next book. Two years later at the same event I was able to give that person a copy of the book!