Thursday, January 26, 2006

Justice vs. Charity

Bono's address as the innaugural winner of the TED (Technology Entertainment Design) prize pushed me over the edge, kicked me around the block, left me black and blue. How on earth can I say I'm a follower of Jesus Christ and not be about a life of gospel justice?! Read and weep.

Six and a half thousand Africans dying every single day from AIDS, a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can get in any pharmacy. That's not a cause. That's an emergency. Eleven million AIDS orphans in Africa, 20 million by the end of the decade. That's not a cause. That's an emergency. Today, every day, 9,000 more Africans will catch HIV because of stigmatization and lack of education. That's not a cause. That's an emergency. So what we're talking about here is human rights - the right to live like a human. The right to live period. What we're facing in Africa is an unprecedented threat to human dignity and equality.

The next thing I'd like to be clear about is what this problem is and what this problem isn't, because this is not all about charity. This is about justice. Really, this is not about charity. This is about justice. That's right. And that's too bad, because we're very good at charity. Americans, like Irish people, are good at it. Even the poorest neighborhoods give more than they can afford. We like to give, and we give a lot. Look at the response to the tsunami. It's inspiring.

But justice is a tougher standard than charity. You see, Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice. It makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties. It doubts our concern. It questions our commitment. Because there's no way we can look at what's happening in Africa and, if we're honest, conclude that it would ever be allowed to happen anywhere else. As you heard in the film, anywhere else, not here, not here, not in America, not in Europe. In fact a head of state that you're all familiar with admitted this to me, and it's really true. There is no chance this kind of hemorrhaging of human life would be accepted anywhere else other than Africa.

Link: Full Transcript

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

"We're in the same tale still!"

I never read Tolkien as a kid. My sister did though. I remember seeing The Hobbit on her bedroom floor once and noticing the dragon on the cover I asked her about it. She said something to the effect that it was a challenging read that I might be someday worthy of. Needless to say, I put off J.R.R.T until the Fellowship of the Ring hit the theatres. I watched the movie and wast totally gripped. Within a week I got my hands on the original sources. Immediately, my wife, Heidi, and I read through The Lord of the Rings, aloud together. It was a blast! Almost every night, we'd spend an hour or two (sometimes even more!) caught up in the drama, wondering what would happen next.

Our journeys into Middle Earth continued for months. One day, I became big-time convicted that I was more captivated by the drama of Tolkien than the drama of Scripture. In an amazing way, reading Tolkien introduced me to the significance of Biblical Theology. As great as it was (and continues to be) to travel alongside of Frodo throughout Middle Earth, it is earth-shattering to realize that I have a role in the Drama of Scripture. I, too am caught up in a epic drama of God's Creation, Humanity's Rebellion, and the Messiah's Redemption. The story Frodo and Sam found themselves in didn't begin at Biblo's one hundred and eleventieth birthday party. It goes way back to Illuvatar's creation of Arda (earth), the rebellion of Melkor, the arrival of elves and men, the forging of the Silmaril jewels and the wars that ensued. The complexity and unity of the Tolkien's story helped reveal the amazing story that Scripture describes.

The following quote describes the "Aha!" moment I experienced several years ago, when, like Samwise Gamgee, it dawned on me that I belong to a much larger story than I ever imagined.

‘I don’t like anything here at all,’ said Frodo, ‘step or stone, breath or bone. Earth, air and water all seem accursed. But so our path is laid.’

‘Yes, that’s so, said Sam. ‘And we shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, akind of a sport as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually—their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on—and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same—like old Mr. Bilbo. But those aren’t always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?’

‘I wonder,’ said Frodo. ‘But I don’t know. And that’s the way of a real tale. Take anyone that you’re fond of. You may know, or guess, what kind of a tale it is, happy-ending or sad-ending, but the people in it don’t know. And you don’t want them to.’

‘No, sir, of course not. Beren now, he never thought he was going to get that Silmaril form the Iron Crown in Thangorodrim, and yet he did, and that was a worse place and a blacker danger than ours. But that’s a long tale of course, and goes on past the happiness and into grief and beyond it—and the Silmaril went on and came to Earendil. And why, sir, I never thought of that before! We’ve got—you’ve got some of the light of it in that star-glass that the Lady gave you! Why to think of it, we’re in the same tale still! It’s going on. Don’t the greatest tales never end?’

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings 50th Anniversary Edition (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2004), p. 711-712.

Singing with Jesus

Yesterday, I started reading a fantastic new book, With One Voice, by Reggie Kidd. Mr. Kidd unpacks a theology of Song that is rooted in biblical theology, supported by rigorous exegesis, and communicated in reverent playfullness. I'm only on p. 54, but I totally resonnate with the author's premise: the missing element in both our corporate and private worship (i.e. our life!) is that we don't factor in the role of the Singing Savior. "For the Bible says that in the church Jesus is singing hymns to the Father (Heb. 2:12) and that, in fact, he is our Worship Leader (Heb. 8:2)" (p. 21). This is liberating stuff. I mean, how many times do we throw it all on ourselves to conjur up the right feelings of devotion, praise, passion, and repentance towards God? Or maybe we think it's the so-called "worship-leader's" job to get us excited about singing so that we can really "worship" God. This is not only self-defeating, but it gospel-defeating. Jesus has not only died for us, he lives for us, he intercedes for us, he SINGS for us! Check out this quote:

Here in a nutshell is the entire glorious mystery of the New Testament. By virtue of his resurrection, Jesus is alive in such a way that he can be both “with us” and “for us.” Simultaneously he is “in the midst of the assembly” and in the heavenly Jerusalem ever interceding for us. A permanent Singer has been installed. From one perspective, he sings with us in the church; from another he intercedes for us in heaven. When the church gathers in worship, earth and heaven converge. When we sing we are not singing by ourselves. There is a higher song going on above ours and a deeper song going on beneath ours.

Reggie Kidd, With One Voice: Discovering Christ's Song in Our Worship (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005) p. 115.

The author also has a website with lots of helpful resources on worship, biblical studies, music, and a blog.

Link:Reggie Kidd

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Raising Ebenezer

Here's a great excerpt of an article by Dr. Gary Parrett (of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) tackling the issue of should we modernize hymn texts. Here's part of what he has to say...

"One of my mini-crusades recently has been trying to help raise Ebenezer. I seize every opportunity to publicly lament modern revisions of that beloved hymn, "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing," written by Robert Robinson in 1758. The revisions all seem to agree on deleting "Ebenezer" from the hymn's second verse, which begins, "Here I raise mine Ebenezer." Some of the "improvements" offered through the years include: "Hitherto thy love has blest me," "Here by grace your love has brought me," and "Here I raise to thee an altar."

Why protest such efforts to make the great hymn's message more accessible to very-likely-to-miss-the-point worshipers today? After all, the word Ebenezer likely calls to mind that old curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge.

But protest I must, for several reasons. First, I protest on artistic grounds. As a hymn writer myself, I imagine Robinson felt he had found just the right expression to say what needed to be said. His phrasing, in this case, was succinct, biblical, pointed, poignant, and poetic: "Here I raise mine Ebenezer."

Second, the revisions are, at best, inconsistent attempts to be culturally relevant. How can the revisers leave in words like hither and fetter, as they typically do, while Ebenezer is heartlessly expunged?

Third, I protest on biblical grounds. Robinson's choice of Ebenezer (which means "stone of help") is a reference to 1 Samuel 7:12. After the Lord had given a great victory to Israel, "Samuel took a stone and … named it Ebenezer, saying, 'Thus far has the Lord helped us.' "

This single word ushers the worshiper into both the biblical episode and the greater narrative of God's redemptive dealings with his people. It points us, also, to Robinson's dramatic conversion three years before he penned the hymn, inviting us to reflect upon our own stories and to remember God's faithful dealings with us. By removing the word from the hymn, we likely remove it from believers'vocabularies and from our treasury of spiritual resources.

Finally, I protest as a Christian educator. What we have in such revisions is the worst sort of accommodation, even contribution, to biblical illiteracy. Our faith is filled with names and terms that were unfamiliar to us when we joined the family—atonement, propitiation, Sabbath, Passover, Melchizedek. What are we to do with such terms? We teach! How difficult would it be to simply explain the reference to Ebenezer?"

Entire Article: "Raising Ebenezer: We are misguided when we modernize hymn texts"

Looks good from here

The outside of our house is nearly finished. I'm quite pleased that it looks as good in reality as it did on paper. With the larger windows, crown molding and wide corner pieces we were hoping for an antique colonial look. I think it passes! Everything is primed inside. Kitchen cabinets go in this week. Tile and hardwood next week. Hope to move in mid February.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The value of corporate worship

One of the most influential courses that I took in seminary was a class by Dr. Gary Parrett called "Worship and Christian Formation." It was in this class that I began to understand the connection between our-life-of-worship and corporate worship. He said,

"Individual worship and congregational worship inform and strengthen one another."

This was so profound to me then because there's a lot of talk these days about how worship is not what we do on Sunday, but how we live our lives for God every day. To that I raise a hearty "AMEN!" But to emphasize that "our whole life is worship" to the exclusion of "corporate worship" is wrong. Not only is it wrong, but it is suicidal to our ministry to each other and our mission to the world.

I am convinced that God's total plan and purpose for his people includes a rhythm of the church gathering for edification (corporate worship) and scattering for mission (individual worship). One without the other creates a lopsided church. So on one hand we must remind each other that worship doesn't begin and end on Sunday morning, and on the other hand we must encourage each other that our total life-response to God throughout the week includes the Christian gathering.

My goal in shepherding WBC is that we see our entire lives in relation to God's total plan and purpose for his people. One of the ways to do this is to re-capture why we gather for corporate worship and how that affects our life of worship throughout the week. We gather to remind each other of the promises and character of God so that we might faithfully serve him throughout the week.

All of the elements of corporate worship (responsive readings, music, the Scripture reading, affirmation of faith, the sermon, testimony, the Lord's Supper, words of commission, etc.) are planned to reinforce the good news that Jesus is King. Why is this important? Because when we leave our time of gathered worship, the gospel is called into question almost immediately by the world around us and our deceitful hearts within us. Whether it be the pressure of persecution or the lure of seduction, our exclusive loyalty to God will be called into question. Thankfully, corporate worship is God's provision for his covenant people to remain faithful to him and to each other.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Hebrews 10:24-25

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A low-tech virtual tour

Kitchen view #1

Kitchen view #2

Our cozy living room

Yet another living room view

The den/study/home office/some-day formal dining room

Going upstairs

Master bedroom

Bedroom #2

Bedroom #3

Going back downstairs

Monday, January 02, 2006

The Passing of Uncle Robert

This weekend my family and I celebrated the life and mourned the death of my Uncle Robert. The Staples family gave me the great responsibility of co-leading the funeral service with another local pastor. I wrote the eulogy and sang both "It is Well with My Soul" and "On Jordan's Stormy Banks." I was overwhelmed through the whole process. Ever try singing at a funeral of a dearly loved one? I believe God strengthened me to be able to comfort the family and also challenge them to re-evaluate their love towards each other and their love for God.

Uncle Robert was a special man and I had the huge privilege of spending lots of time with him when I was a young child. My mother was his legal guardian after my grandfather passed away because Robert was born mentally retarded. I never met my grandfather, but my mom says I caught glimpses in Uncle Robert's sense of humor and generosity towards others. Even when I was a teenager he'd come to visit my family even though we had moved to Maine. We'd go for rides in the "Maine Woods" looking for moose. For years, when he'd call on Thurdsay nights, he'd always check to see if we'd seen any moose lately! He loved matchbox cars, remote controlled trucks, real Jeeps, and anything that would go through mud! It's not too often that your grown Uncle would be as passionate as you in the toy aisle! But that is what made him special--he never lost his childlike nature. You couldn't help but laugh if you were around him. You'd even forget, if only for a minute, all those things nagging for your attention and sapping you of joy. Without us even knowing it, Uncle Robert taught us how to love and how God intends for our joy to increase as we truly love one another.