The Newsboys in Rowlett

June 30, 2005

Last Sunday night, we attended our second Newsboys concert at a weekend festival in Rowlett, Texas, about an hour away from our hotel.

These guys have a great sound, and they have so many hits that the audience expects to hear, that I suspect they get frustrated that there isn’t much room left for other songs that they want to do. They also put on what is probably the best show in the Christian music biz.

But the thing that made the entire experience worth the drive for me on Sunday night was their worship set. Following the trend in modern worship, the music doesn’t stop – for the most part – during that part of the program. The absence of any pause prevents the audience from stopping to cheer on the band, and maintains an appropriate, vertical focus.

After singing Amazing Love and He Reigns, and after a moving recitation of a psalm, Peter Furler – the lead singer spoke for about ten minutes.

I’ve said this in previous posts, but I really admire Peter. Even though he is a part of a band that is known for a lot of light, fun hits, he demonstrates profound spiritual depth in his words. On Sunday night, he eschewed the typical “altar call” type of presentation that you see at a lot of Christian concerts. Instead, knowing that his audience was almost 100% Christian, he spoke to us as fellow believers.

Peter talked about spiritual formation. He spoke of how Christians are no different from non-Christians any longer. He told us that we won’t really experience any changes in our habits or personalities until we come into community with other spiritually strong believers, and until we begin to get serious about being in the Word. He encouraged us to be in prayer, asking God about our purposes in this world, and he discouraged us from the type of escapism that reads end times books and sits on the rooftops, waiting for Jesus to return.

He reminded us that the church should be a light in the world.

Words like that bring even more meaning to their albums. I find myself listening to their songs this week, hearing that same message again and again in the lyrics of songs like Shine and Live in Stereo.

Fun music. Deep lyrics. Hearts that long for God, and which seek to use their influence to restore His church. That is the real secret to the Newsboys’ longevity and success.

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Of Shining Lights and Ignorant Left Hands

June 28, 2005

I’ve come to accept that much of scripture is in tension. By this, I mean that we don’t always get quick, snappy, rational answers to the questions that scripture attempts to address. For example, how – exactly – do you answer a fool? Two verses, back to back, give you different answers.

This sort of tension is okay with me, because I know that the mysteries of God are hidden somewhere within it. Better to embrace these statements as being in tension than to try to explain them in some superficial and ultimately unsatisfying way.

But there is one particular issue that is especially tough for me right now, because our family just came back from this inspiring mission trip, and I’m not quite sure what to do next.

The tension comes from two texts in the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5 and 6.

In Chapter 5, Jesus seems to be saying that by allowing others to see our good works, God’s light can shine in the world, and people will glorify God. This idea is simple enough: if people see us laying our lives down for others, they will know that God is at work in us. When they are seen, such acts testify to the presence of the Kingdom of God and invite others to participate in the Kingdom.

But then, Jesus serves up a nasty curve ball in Chapter 6. Be careful, Jesus warns, not to do our “acts of righteousness” before men to be seen by them. Thus, Jesus says, when you give, don’t let your left hand know what the right hand is up to: give in secret. God will see what is done in secret, and he will reward you.

I don’t think that there is a complete contradiction in these texts. The key seems to be whether the visibility of the acts in question will bring glory to us or to God. But the question still remains: when should we act silently and when should we act in bold, public ways? When is it better, after an act of giving or service, to remain silent about it? When is it better to speak openly of what God has done in that act?

This question – which, as I said, is a tremendously practical one at the moment – is really bothering me. Anyone want to take a shot at it?


Back at Home!

June 27, 2005

We pulled into the driveway about three hours ago, and – as fantastic as our experiences were for the last few days – I am really glad to be home.

I have about a dozen things that I’m ready to blog about: why I love the Newsboys, what it means to have a left hand that is ignorant of the right hand, some reflections on a bizarre stream of criticisms directed at modern worship music which characterizes it as “me-oriented”, more reflections on recent writings that bash short-term mission efforts, and – of course – more about work and the nature of the Kingdom.

But for now I just wanted everyone to know that we’re all back safe and sound… and ready for some serious rest!!


Off to Fort Worth

June 22, 2005

I’ll be in Fort Worth on a mission trip for the next few days. I probably won’t be blogging here until the trip is over, but I’ll be posting on our mission team’s blog, which is located here.

Hope to see you there.


The Joys and Pitfalls of Bloglines

June 21, 2005

I really like Bloglines. It keeps track of all of my favorite blogs and news feeds and lets me know when something new has been posted. Its a great time saver, because I never have to waste time load page-after-page to see whether my favorite sites/blogs have been updated.

I now have blog feeds set up for just about every subject that interests me: PC and X-Box gaming, sports, friends’ blogs, blogs from leaders in the emergent movement, Christianity Today, Slashdot (a really cool feed for techie-nerd types), etc.

Almost all of my web surfing time now originates from Bloglines. I normally don’t even look at headlines that aren’t associated with one of my hand-picked feeds. Bloglines has replaced (1) the newspaper, (2) the evening news, (3) news and talk radio, and (4) internet “homepages” with various headlines as my primary source of day-to-day information.

Today I’m wondering: is this really a good thing?

What I’ve done, essentially, is made myself editor-in-chief for all of the news and information that I review. I have a feed or two from MSNBC which, if I bother to review them, might tell me a little about what is happening in the world, but for the most part the information I consume is tailored to the relatively narrow spectrum of my personal interests.

Is this good? Today, I can tell you that Joel Quile has a virus, that Southern Baptists are starting to seriously dialog about emerging culture, that the high in Abilene today will be around 93, and that a new PC budget game called Fate has just hit stores. I can also tell you about Chris Gonzalez’ reading habits. On the other hand, I have only the smallest inkling about what is happening in Iraq (from occasional glances at MSNBC feeds), nor can I tell you about the hot issues in Washington these days. I also have no clue what my local government is (or isn’t) up to.

What do you think? In an age where it has become possible to assume control over the types of information that are consumed, should people be responsible about the way they go about selecting that information?


Random Father’s Day Reflections

June 19, 2005

A few random reflections, some relevant, some way off topic, on Father’s Day:
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Today, I’m grateful for the way my father encouraged me to find my own faith walk, rather than ramming the relatively hard-core beliefs of our small faith community down my throat. I grew up in a somewhat conservative church, theologically, but my dad wasn’t afraid to tell me where he disagreed with the prevailing beliefs. The same was true of my mom.

Equally important was this: even as they questioned the prevalent teachings, they also had the good sense to tell me that they – frankly – didn’t have all the answers.

I’m starting to appreciate how important their courage has been in my spiritual development. It has paved the way for me to ask my own questions and to explore my own issues, particularly issues relating to the relationship between Christian spirituality and the emerging culture.
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A confession: it is hard to know what to pass on to my own kids. Their world will probably be much different from mine, and a light year’s distance that of my parents and grandparents. Today, I’m struggling with how to go about preparing them for that world, when I’m not even sure about what they will face.

Part of the answer, I think, is to teach them what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, regardless of the culture where you find yourself. But, the truth is I can only hope that the things they are seeing in me and hearing from me will be what they need.

God, help me to help them.
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Its great to have kids that are all different. Personality-wise, none of mine are much like the others. One is very analytical and gentle (for a boy, at least). One is very mature and motherly. One is a little fireball with a wild imagination. One is a sweet package of sunshine.

What a great blessing to have different kids. I would never want a cookie-cutter family where all of the children are the same.
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I think I’m ready.

About three years ago, I started playing the keyboard after a 20 year hiatus, mostly because I wanted to learn how to make modern worship music. Now, after practicing on and off for several months, I’m ready to go public, either with a group, or in combination with a single worship leader, or maybe in my living room with some friends.

I’m not worship leader material myself. I sing fairly well, but I don’t have the upper range to sing most melodies. I think, however, that I could fit into a group pretty well as a keyboard/pads player and backup singer, and I love using soft pads to prayerfully bridge gaps between songs.

I guess I’ll just have to wait and see whether any opportunities come along. But even if they don’t, I’ll still enjoy playing to an audience of One in the years to come.
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For anyone who is curious, here is a partial list of the songs that I can do as keyboard accompaniment:

1. A Shield About Me
2. Here I am to Worship
3. Salvation Belongs to Our God
4. Blessed Be the Name
5. I Love You Lord (Jason Morant’s chord-rich arrangement)
6. I Can Only Imagine
7. Breathe
8. Before the Throne of God Above
9. All I Want (Jeff Deyo)
10. The Old Rugged Cross (Inspired by artists like Morant, I’ve put together my own chord-rich arrangement of this hymn).
11. More than Life (an incredibly powerful United Live ballad)
12. Jesus’ Love chorus (Delerious?)

There are more, but if I had to do a set list tomorrow, it would probably come from these songs.

Happy Father’s Day to all of you dads out there!


A Theblogogy of Work, Part 2

June 17, 2005

We can expect that work in a fallen world will be unpleasant and difficult, but does that mean that work itself is a bad thing?

Hardly.

Those of you who have read the comments that Jonathan and I exchanged yesterday already get the gist of this: even though we may experience work as an unpleasant and difficult thing in the present – it also seems to be a part of our spiritual DNA.

While the creation account doesn’t have a lot to say on the subject, it seems clear that God gave man responsiblities that we would characterize as “work” even before the fall. The primary thrust of those responsbilities seem to have required man to serve as a steward/ruler over the creation. Indeed, Adam was in need of a helper to share in his responsiblities.

But it is in some of Jesus’ parables in Matthew that the idea of a spiritual DNA of work really takes hold of me. Jesus hints that the Kingdom of God has need for workers, that even now we should continue to act as stewards of the Kingdom by producing fruit, and that great responsiblity is waiting for those who are found to be productive in the present age.

I could go on and on. If you doubt me, just pick up your bible and skim through the first book of the New Testament some time, looking for themes of work or labor that are associated with the present (and coming) Kingdom.

Why, then, has work been ruined?

Lets start with this: Work, it seems, can become a blessing when we are satisfied in it. The Preacher of Ecclesiastes knew this. And I think that most of us know that intuitively as well.

When I think about the times I have felt the best about work, those feelings tend to come when I know that I have done a really good job at something. I’ve won a trial (or gotten a frivilous case thrown out). I’ve put together a document that will help someone accomplish a legal objective. Or maybe I’ve given a piece of advice that has made a huge difference in a person’s life.

By contrast, work is least satisfying when I seem to have failed.

Funny thing. The feeling of satisfaction really isn’t dependent on whether I got paid to do what I did. It has to do with the fact that somebody’s life was made better because I had succeeded in my work. I used my own unique skills and abilities to make someone’s life better.

I’m not talking about a feeling of joy or happiness or ecstacy, so much as a simple thought that I did a good job for them. I am, to borrow the Preacher’s term, satisfied in my work. I’m sure that people who build things, or who do art, or who teach, or make and serve food, also know this feeling, though – perhaps – it comes in a slightly different way for them.

I know I’ve said it before, but I can’t overemphasize this point: satisfaction with work will never come as long as you chase The Lie, which says that more stuff and more money and more status/prestige are the reason for work. This happens, I think, because the focus is on making yourself happy instead of the impact that work is having on someone else.

I don’t want to be heard to say that, if we just change our focus, work will suddenly become fun or fulfilling in and of itself. Work, for many of us, will still carry that difficult quality about it, even as we experience this sort of satisfaction. But maybe, just maybe, the experiences that come from that change in focus do help to hint at what is to come.

If I am reading Jesus’ parables correctly, the day is coming when we will no longer work for money. On that day, we will no longer be used by other people to do things that they don’t want to do for themselves, because our work will be for nothing other than to reflect the glory of the One who made us.

Imagine having that kind of purpose in what you do, knowing exactly what you are made for and doing exactly that and nothing else. I suspect that the warm, gentle feelings of satisfaction that we occasionally glimpse in performing work in the present age will be nothing compared to the satisfaction that we will find when our spiritual DNA of work becomes fully active.

But, in the meantime, as I suggested before, God is redeeming us even today. So how does the already/not yet nature of the Kingdom come into play as we continue to work in a fallen world?

I’ve started to wrestle with that question during the last few days, and I hope to write about it soon. In the meantime, does anyone have any thoughts on the subject?
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Recent related posts:
The parable of Max the Bear
– Some commentary on Max’s parable
– A depressing look at real world economics
– A discussion about the joys of margin
– My theblogogy of work, part 1