JESUS CALLED – HE WANTS HIS BODY BACK

One of the wonderful things about blogging is that you sometimes cyber-meet someone who is a partner in the work God has given you. Paul Clark Jr. is the Director of Worship and Music ministries for the Tennessee Baptist Convention. He is wise, well-spoken, and well-read, and he writes one of my favourite blogs on the internet. The following post is a good reminder to us of what worship is and what it should not be twisted toward.

Paul Clark Jr's Blog

Body of Christ This may sound overly blunt, and some may think does not even need to be said, but under an unction to do so, I need to posit that the church’s worship is not a proving ground for trying out a song, seeing how people react to new lighting effects, a cool video clip illustration, or a hymn arrangement. I am certainly not proposing that none of these innovations be used in worship. I am cautioning that one of the many ways Christian worship is stolen away from its sacred purpose is when it becomes utility experiment with the means rather than unadulterated focus on the ends. We are not gathered to market a worship product to consumers we dub “worshipers.” We are engaged in eternal sacred practice with the Bride of Christ to the glory of God.

The church is a body. It is not just a compilation of individual…

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Theologian Valentines

Some special Valentines for my readers… enjoy. (I just wish I had thought of them first!)

The Monday Heretic

A few years ago, I saw some hilarious Valentines based on dictators. And I thought, I should totally do that with famous theologians! (Because, you know, that’s how my brain works.) So here you go!

Also, if you don’t present the Calvin valentine with a bouquet of tulips, you are missing out on a prime pun opportunity. Just sayin’.

Theologians

Disclaimer: I have the greatest respect for all of these folks from church history and their contribution to the faith. I also think they might have found these amusing.

Any alternate caption ideas or ideas for theologians who aren’t featured?

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New Year’s Reclamations – 2015

I was going to post some resolutions for this year, but I decided I liked my friend Corrie’s resolutions so much, I would steal them for myself. Enjoy!

Pastor with a Purse

In the past two weeks I’ve moved away from Hawaii, celebrated Christmas in Phoenix, bought a car and moved to California. It’s been 11 days of constant motion, packing and unpacking, traffic, goodbyes and hellos. So yesterday I took my Sabbath and went out exploring with no particular agenda. I ended up at the largest Starbucks I’ve ever seen and bought a latte. As I waited for my coffee, I noticed that every single person filling the twenty-odd tables had some kind of screen in front of them. People were sharing tables but no one was talking, making eye-contact, or smiling. It struck me as odd, for a room to be so full but so devoid of life.

I grabbed my latte and went to sit outside in the sunshine. For thirty minutes I watched the parking lot bustle with activity. Drivers zoomed in and out of parking spaces with…

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I Don’t Know Everything

I am pleased to announce that I have accepted a position at Columbia Bible College, in Abbotsford, BC, as the Director of their Worship Arts Program. I am delighted with this opportunity, and have been nothing but impressed by Columbia: by its administration, its faculty, its staff, its students, its programs. I’m excited to begin teaching. And I’m terrified. In almost equal measure.

Columbia Bible College

Columbia Bible College

When I was in elementary school I was one of those kids that looked forward to school in the fall. Oh, I loved summer. No doubt about that. But my nostrils would flare at the smell of pencil crayons, and I would spend weeks salivating over back-to-school flyers – meticulously making my lists, marking off the cheapest prices, and then dragging my poor Mum to at least five different locations in order to purchase the items I had circled carefully in each and every flyer. But, every year – just before the start of school – the twinge of anxiety would begin. “There’s no way I can handle grade four. They have to do multiplication and division. They don’t just colour maps… they have to know things on them!” It’s a pattern that continued, at least somewhat, throughout my academic career. “I can’t do High School. They have to read Shakespeare!” “I can’t do University. They have to write papers and complete labs!” I can’t do Grad School. They’ll actually expect me to know things!”…..

We often miss the point of education. We get so caught up in the idea that we must know all things, that we must be “enough” for every aspect of our lives, that we are no longer able to learn. We either decide that we must pretend to know everything in order to appear smart, or that we are incapable of knowing anything more because we do not know it already. Both decisions are clearly ridiculous. Both decisions result in a closed mind and stilted personal growth. The only way to learn something is to begin by acknowledging that I don’t know it, and to proceed on the understanding that I am capable of learning it.

I don’t know the demographics of everyone who reads this blog, but I do know that every single one of you is a student. And a teacher. All of us – students, teachers, butchers, bakers, candlestick-makers – have something to learn and something to teach. We reach a hand forward and a hand backward at all times, hoping to pull someone else along behind us, even as some of our weight is taken by the person ahead of us.

There is a certain delight in being able to teach someone something you have learned well: whether it be a concept, a skill, or an attitude. There is also joy in the admission that you don’t know everything – because that means there is more out there to discover. And I definitely don’t know everything. I know some things. I have some experience. But the diversity and richness of this goodly-created world means that we can exist in a constant state of wonder and learning.

Tomorrow I step onto the steepest learning curve my life has thrown me to date. But I enter into this new chapter knowing that I have much to give and that there are people who will be willing to receive it; and knowing that I have lots to learn and that there are people – staff, faculty, students, writers, practitioners – from whom I can learn much.

I think I’ll go buy some pencil crayons.

Listening in Two Directions: Listening to the Spirit While Practicing

Listening in Two Directions: Preparation
Listening in Two Directions: Listening to the Spirit
Listening in Two Directions: Listening to the Spirit While Planning
Listening in Two Directions. Photo Credit: Mark S. Images, Flickr Creative Commons

Listening in Two Directions. Photo Credit: Mark S. Images, Flickr Creative Commons

The idea of listening to the Spirit during practice may seem silly. After all, you’re simply figuring out who plays what, when, and making sure everything will go smoothly when it’s time for the real deal.

But practice is more than rote learning, or getting our musical ducks in a row (if only we all had musical ducks!). It’s also a moment of confirmation and adjustment. Either practice confirms that I’m following the Spirit’s voice or it is another opportunity for the Spirit to interrupt the “me-show” and re-align my plans with his calling and purpose.

We may have planned well and thoroughly, and tried our best to listen as we did so, but sometimes our sin-selves still get in the way. As we, with prayer, enact the prayer-soaked plans we made, we hear we feel the places that are “not quite right.” The spots where my pride, or my agenda, or my selfishness got in the way of my service to the Spirit.

Listening during practice is also essential because it is at this point we invite others to enter our conversation with the Spirit, adding richness and diversity. It is often in practice that I realize someone else should lead a certain song. Sometimes a band member will offer a Scripture passage that completes a transition – or a band member’s sharing of their spiritual journey through the week will subtly and beautifully transform the shape and flow of the service. Sometimes it becomes very apparent that a certain song simply does not work, or needs to be placed elsewhere.

Again, there is no set way in which the Spirit speaks during practice: except that your practice should lead you (and your band, if you have one) to Jesus. If that happens, you can assume you have heard the voice of the Spirit. If that happens, you can assume that you are serving this part of your “audience” well. That you are offering a gift to the Spirit by joining in his work.

Review: Lent to Maundy Thursday, Page CXVI

Page CXVI, New Release: "Lent to Maundy Thursday"

Page CXVI, New Release: “Lent to Maundy Thursday”

Today one of my favourite bands, Page CXVI released a new album: Lent to Maundy Thursday. From their website: “Page CXVI is a project started with the idea of making Hymns accessible and known again. They are some of the richest, most meaningful, and moving pieces of music ever written.”

However you define the word “hymn” and whatever you think of the dismally named “worship wars” – whether you wish the church would blow off some cobwebs and communicate more effectively in this generation, or whether you feel current music is vapid and lacks the depth of music that has stood the test of time (I stand, by the way, on both sides of that argument) – Page CXVI is doing beautiful things with the time-worn poetry of the church.

Lent to Maundy Thursday is comprised of 7 tracks:

  • And Can It Be that I Should Gain
  • Before the Throne of God Above
  • Were You There? (which includes pieces of O the Deep Deep Love of Jesus)
  • Fast From, Feast On
  • This Blessed Day
  • Hosanna
  • I Love the Lord

The album, over all, is brighter than I expected. Often, when we think of Lent, we think of darkness – of confession and withholding. What Page CXVI has done here is focus on the often passed-over brightness that Lent contains. We confess, yes, but we do so without despair – knowing that forgiveness is readily available. The album fastens on the concept that Lent is not just about fasting – it is also about feasting. This is captured especially well in my favourite song on the album “Fast From, Feast On.” Fasting is never solely about withholding and taming the passions. We fast so that we can feast on other things that are too often forgotten. So we abstain from something that eats up our time, so that we can instead spend time consuming the word. We fast from sweet things, so that we can meditate on the sweetness of Christ’s sacrifice. There is always a so that. Consider the lyrics of “Fast From, Feed On”:

Fast from the swelling darkness, Feast on the power of his light. Fast from discontentment, Feast on the joy that he brings.

 Sustainer, Protector, the Well of Life. My Helper, My comfort, the bread of life is you.

Fast from the fear that haunts us, Feast on the power of his might. Fast from the trap of judgment, Feast on all that’s been redeemed!

From the sorrow’s shadow to perfect light. From the darkness of our doubt to a cleansing white. From the sorrow’s shadow to perfect light. From the blindness of our sin to healing sight.

It’s a beautiful set of contrasts and it encapsulates Lent with depth and power.

I have one reservation about this album that I should mention, which is Page CXVI’s version of “Were You There?” (which is combined with O the Deep Deep Love of Jesus). Somehow this rendition misses the mark for me. At first I thought the arrangement was too joyful for words like “Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?” But in talking it through with Andrew, I realized it’s something more than this: the music is too light, too frivolous for the depth of the words sung and it creates – for us at least – too grating a juxtaposition. This is a big miss, because the combination of these two songs, lyrically, is brilliant. I wish the music had the same weight.

The rest of the album, however, holds enough beauty and weight to counterbalance this one miss – so don’t let my opinion about one song hold  you back from the album as a whole. I will certainly listen to this album throughout this season of Lent, as a launching pad for my fasting and feasting during this blessed walk through darkness and into light.

Over all this is a beautiful album that I heartily recommend to you. You can listen to the full album here. Buy it on Page CXVI’s website, or on Amazon, or on iTunes. There are also (Praise God!) chord charts provided on their website.

This album was graciously provided to me by Page CXVI for the purpose of review – with the understanding that I was free to express my full opinion regarding the music it contains.

Advent 2013: Resisting Idolatry, Choosing Christ

2011, 2012 027This year our church is moving through a number of texts in Isaiah during Advent and on Christmas Eve. The readings below take the traditional themes of Advent (hope, love, joy, peace) and unpack them in an effort to determine where we place our trust. Isaiah deals with themes of idolatry and re-alignment with God through the actions of a Suffering Servant. I’ve counterpointed those themes with a repeated congregational reading of part of Mary’s song in Luke 1, which is a prophetic proclamation of the work that Christ has come to do – the work of a Suffering Servant.
 
(Texts used: Luke 1:46-55; Isaiah 1:2-3; 2:2-5; 40:1-11; 11:1-16. Dark print to be read by the congregation.)

WEEK 1: Tenacious Hope

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.

We have a tenacious hope. A thin cry in the darkness that somehow, slowly, inevitably, pushes away the darkness and reveals the light. What can overcome the weight of sin in the world? What can overcome our idolatry? What can overcome war, and hunger, and murder, and rage, and the sorrow of a world bowed under—lost in darkness? What is big enough? What is strong enough to beat back the darkness?

The answer, it seems, is a baby. The weakest and most vulnerable humanity. Not even from a powerful family. Destitute. Poor. Fragile. A fragile hope. But a hope that acknowledges a God that goes beyond our expectations. Stepping down into the world he created. Choosing to live with those who have rejected him. Extending hope where there appears to be none.

Let us turn away from the false hope offered by our own power and wisdom and place our hope in Jesus Christ.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,  for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.  From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.

We light this first candle of Advent as a sign of our tenacious hope.

PRAYER: Hope of Israel, as we walk through the darkness and difficulty of this world, would you help us to fix our eyes on you—to know that your work is not finished. Please teach us not to hope in ourselves. May we look instead to you, our hope. Knowing that you continue to work your hope steadily into this world. Knowing that, at your coming, all war and oppression and sorrow will cease. That the darkness that feeds on this world cannot withstand the coming of the light. Come, Lord Jesus, Come. Amen.

WEEK 2: Steadfast Love

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.

We have a steadfast love. A love that follows and pursues us even when we would push it away. What can overcome the weight of sin in the world? What can overcome our idolatry? What can overcome war, and hunger, and murder, and rage, and the sorrow of a world bowed under—lost in darkness? What is big enough? What is strong enough to beat back the darkness?

The answer, it seems, is a baby. The weakest and most vulnerable humanity. This small, crying one, as we move to comfort him, turns instead to comfort us. For in his weakness, Christ brings us strength. Killed by hate, he lives to extend his love to us. A steadfast love: not dependent on the circumstances in which we find ourselves; not dependent on our actions or our words; not dependent on how well we perform. The love of a God who goes beyond our expectations. Stepping down into the world he created. Choosing to love those who have rejected him. Extending love where there appears to be none.

Let us turn away from the love of our own power and wisdom and accept the steadfast love of Jesus Christ.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,  for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.

We light this second candle of Advent as a sign of our steadfast love.

PRAYER: Love of Israel, as we walk through the darkness and difficulty of this world, would you help us to know you—to know that you love us. Please teach us to love beyond ourselves. May we look to you, the one who loves us with a steadfast love. Knowing that you continue to work your love steadily into this world. Knowing that, at your coming, all war and oppression and sorrow will cease. That the darkness that feeds on this world cannot withstand the coming of the light. Come, Lord Jesus, Come. Amen.

WEEK 3: Persevering Joy

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.

We have a persevering joy. A joy that moves through suffering and sustains us, even when we think we cannot continue. What can overcome the weight of sin in the world? What can overcome our idolatry? What can overcome war, and hunger, and murder, and rage, and the sorrow of a world bowed under—lost in darkness? What is big enough? What is strong enough to beat back the darkness?

The answer, it seems, is a baby. The weakest and most vulnerable humanity. And it is this child that brings joy even to those in darkness. For it is a persevering joy born neither in circumstance, nor in the things we buy, nor in the triumphs we celebrate, but in the knowledge that one day all will be well and all manner of things will be well. The joy of a God who goes beyond our expectations. Stepping down into the world he created. Choosing joy despite his rejection. Extending joy where there appears to be none.

Let us not run after temporary happiness in our own power and wisdom, but find persevering joy in Jesus Christ.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,  for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.  From now on all generations will call me blessed,  for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.

We light this third candle of Advent as a sign of our persevering joy.

PRAYER: Joy of Israel, as we walk through the darkness and difficulty of this world, would you help us to rejoice in you—to know that your work is not finished. Please teach us not to run after temporary happiness, but to find our joy in you. May we look to you, our joy, knowing that you continue to work your joy steadily into this world. Knowing that, at your coming, all war and oppression and sorrow will cease. That the darkness that feeds on this world cannot withstand the coming of the light. Come, Lord Jesus, Come. Amen.

WEEK 4: Persistent Peace

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.

We have a persistent peace. A peace that goes beyond understanding and stills confusion, upheaval and war. What can overcome the weight of sin in the world? What can overcome our idolatry? What can overcome war, and hunger, and murder, and rage, and the sorrow of a world bowed under—lost in darkness? What is big enough? What is strong enough to beat back the darkness?

The answer, it seems, is a baby. The weakest and most vulnerable humanity. And it is this child that stops the war engines, turns instruments of torture into instruments of growth and flourishing, and stills the turmoil in our hearts. He brings a persistent peace that erodes the tempers of this world. The peace of a God who goes beyond our expectations. Stepping down into the world he created. Demonstrating peace in the midst of his rejection. Extending peace where there appears to be none.

Let us not seek our own peace through our own power and wisdom, but seek after the persistent peace of Jesus Christ.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,  for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.  From now on all generations will call me blessed,  for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.

We light this fourth candle of Advent as a sign of our persistent peace.

PRAYER: Peace of Israel, as we walk through the darkness and difficulty of this world, would you help us to know you—to know your peace. Please help us to seek peace in you rather than through our own efforts. May we follow you, knowing that you continue to work your peace persistently into this world. Knowing that at your coming all war and oppression and sorrow will cease. That the darkness that feeds on this world cannot withstand the coming of the light. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

CHRISTMAS EVE: Abundant Life

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.

We have an abundant life. A life that springs up from the stump of Jesse, from the withered vine of human flourishing, and injects into that vine the abundant life of the creator. What has overcome the weight of sin in the world? What has overcome our idolatry? What has overcome war, and hunger, and murder, and rage, and the sorrow of a world bowed under—lost in darkness?

The answer, it seems, is a baby. The weakest and most vulnerable humanity. A fragile flicker of life that extends God’s abundant life in all directions: providing justice, reconciling differences, unifying our shattered and scattered world. An abundant life that confounds death and suffering. The life of a God who goes beyond our expectations. Stepping down into the world he created. Giving life to those who have rejected him. Extending life where there appears to be none.

Let us find our lives secure in the power and wisdom of Jesus Christ! (Light Christ candle.)

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,  for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.  From now on all generations will call me blessed,  for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.

Rejoice! For the light of life has entered the world and conquered the darkness! He has come! He is coming!