Dluxe's World

Friday, February 24

"Come here and let me tell you something..."

First, something inane and lighthearted: I work at a college where everyone and their cousin seems to have an iPod. When I walk to a meeting or to grab a bite to ear, easily 2 out of every 3 people have the tell-tale white headphone wires running up to their ear.

As an iPodder myself, I know how awesome it is to just lose myself in some tunes or something for a few minutes each day.

However, architecting a tie to hold an iPod Nano (discreetly, mind you) is a little much. Actually, I'm just jealous that I didn't think of it first.

On a more serious note, what is the name of that 'law' that says you'll notice cars just like the one you just bought? You buy a blue Dodge Caravan and suddenly the road seems filled with them. Anyway, whatever that law is seems to be in full effect right now for me. Sadly, not re: cars.

No less than 4 of the blogs I regularly read had vignettes re: abortion today. The most depressing was easily this one I found liked on Between Two Worlds. Quoting the BBC's article:
Stacy Dow, from Perth, was 16 when she found out she was pregnant with twins and decided to have an abortion. However, when she returned to her doctor after 33 weeks she was told one of the babies had survived.
In a landmark legal case, lawyers will argue that as a result of the failed termination, [the mother] suffered loss, injury and damage... and suffers "an impediment in her ability to obtain employment in consequence of her care for the child."

Wow... This is so wrong on - well - EVERY level! There's more...
Ms Dow's action states: "As a result of the failed termination the pursuer suffered loss, injury and damage. She suffered distress and anxiety upon the discovery of her continuing pregnancy."

I bet. Seeing a fully-formed infant in her stomach and coming face to face with the reality of her previous decision must've been a real kick in the teeth. I wonder if it was that kinda pang of conscience that prodded her to keep the baby? Unless I'm mistaken, and given the circumstances, she probably could've had another procedure...

But now, after 5 years, she decides to sue the hospital. Her court action states:
"She has the financial burden of care, upbringing and aliment of Jayde. She suffers an impediment in her ability to obtain employment in consequence of her care for the child."

But she chose to keep the baby... Twice! At the moment she found out she was (still) pregnant and again when she left the hospital with the little girl. I imagine adoption wouldn't have been a problem for a healthy, caucasian baby. And what set of parents, let alone single parent, doesn't share and manage similar 'burdens'?

Anyway, here's the bit that brought me to tears thinking about it:
"I have got a child now that I wasn't planning to have and I believe the hospital should take some responsibility for that," she said.
"I still don't know if, or what, I am going to tell Jayde when the time comes. Maybe when she is nine or 10 I will sit her down and explain it to her."

Just imagine that conversation for a moment... A 10 year-old's world is radically changed. Not exactly your typical mother/daughter tea stuff.

I've heard that Malcolm Muggeridge said something along the lines of, "The depravity of man is the most unpopular of all dogmas, and at once the most empirically verifiable." While this article presents an extreme, BTW's Justin correctly reminds us that the same depravity shown here was once alive in every believer's heart. What a frightening thought.

"Oh, to grace, how great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be."

Tuesday, February 21

Pausing to ponder other things...

It occurred to me this past Sunday that I'm up to teach in our next three ABF classes. That the call to memory was preceded by our fearless leader's annoucement that I was teaching is purely coincidental. Seriously, I remembered on my own. Really.

We're covering some pretty heavy material this year, so I wanna be careful to prep well. With that in mind, I probably won't be wrapping up "Give Praise to God" for a little while. I'm not exactly sure what will be here instead... Prolly a smattering of random thoughts and some things that I've come across preparing for ABF.

For today, I was struck by two things happening in the media. One is this whole UAE port debacle that has sprung up in Washington... Depending on the facts that surface, this might be the nail in the coffin that finally makes me change my voter-registration to the Constitution Party. Yes, I'm just that right-wingy-wacky.

The other one is South Dakota's proposed abortion ban. For some reason, I've had abortion on my mind a lot lately... Perhaps it was the Piper sermon I caught on the radio this January (around the Roe v. Wade anniversary). Or perhaps it was stumbling across the strangely tasteful, and yet brutal, Abort73 website shortly thereafter. The most likely 'culprit' is that a colleague's husband has gotten involved with a local pregnancy center (handling programs for men) and so I've been just hearing more about it.

Now, South Dakota's legislature has approved a bill that would ban abortion in their state unless there is specific danger to the life of the mother. The US Supreme Court is also planning to revisit the 'partial-birth' abortion ban later this year.

Given the text above, it obviously doesn't take much to figure out where I stand on the issue of abortion. I guess the reason that I'm posting is that I recognize abortion to be a bitterly devisive issue in our country. I don't think it should be - the truth is pretty clear. Nonetheless, this stirring of the hornet's nest is likely to make for a fascinating couple months.

I hope that those of us who would call ourselves 'pro-life Christians'... As an aside, isn't it fascinating that both of those terms are needed? Completely blows my mind that there'd be another kind of Christian...

Anyway, as I was saying - I hope that we will keep our heads and hearts focused on Christ in all this. While people argue and yell and spit and fight, I hope that we can boldy speak the truth and truly do so with genuine grace and love.

I can hear the talking heads on [insert your favorite news source here] warming up their posturing and yelling already.

Friday, February 17

Thoughts on "Give Praise to God" - Part 7 of 3278

People in business pay a lot of $$$ to people to write things for them. Though it's maddening, it certainly shouldn't be surprising. Think of the way our thoughts can be steered by one little word.

In the latest essay in "Give Praise to God", the author challenges us to reconsider our 'personal worship'. The majority of Christians probably think of this as our 'devotional time', 'quiet time', or 'personal devotions'. Do you see a difference between those terms? Is our quiet time worshipful? Yes. Valuable? Of course.

But do we really enter it with the same expectation and eagerness that (I hope) we typically feel on Sunday morning? Obviously, we should. If our chief end is to "glorify God by enjoying Him forever" [putting the Christian Hedonist angle on it], does our personal time with God shine with joy and eagerness?

It certainly should!! And, to me at least, the term personal worship is so much richer in that context. Perhaps this sounds naive, but I honestly can't recall hearing that term before - though that's what I would've affirmed my devotional time should actually be. For someone who doesn't get it, you can imagine how terminology could make drastic difference.

All this talk about seeing our private worship time for what it is runs outside the bounds of the corresponding essay in "Give Praise to God"... The author is mainly concerned with two things: First, that the regulative principle of worship (that God has defined the right modes through which we worship Him) should be applied to our personal worship. Easy sell, right?

The bulk of the chapter is aimed at flesh out point #2: Encouraging us to purposefully integrate all the elements of biblically regulated worship into our personal time with the Lord. This should be an easy sell as well, I think. It's our personal worship time, after all!

Rather than recount how we should leverage all these 'elements' in our private worship, I thought I'd bare myself again. That's always fun, right? Here's the things that I've been challenges to change about my private time with God. This has been an ongoing thing, but this chapter served, in some way, to hammer it home.
  1. Joyful approach - I do ok with the 'discipline' of spending time with the Lord. Obviously, I could do better there, too... However, the big hurdle for me is one of attitude. I want to recapture the joy of coming to Christ all by myself, one-to-one. I want to approach my devotional time with the same excited feeling I get for corporate worship on Sunday.
  2. More focused Scripture reading - I love reading the Bible, but I tend not to have a real 'plan of attack' for reading. Usually I migrate to something familiar, that I'm immediately interested in, or that I feel like I haven't touched in a while. For example, the other night at Bible Study someone suggested looking at the lesser prophets for a while. I got excited, remembering how much I've enjoyed reading Habakkuk or Zephaniah or others. Then, I realized how long it had actually been since I read them... I need to be more strategic in my reading.
  3. "Be still and know" - I need to shut up. I tend to come to God and lay my concerns before Him... But I certainly fail to give Him a chance to get a word in edgewise. To be honest, I'm not sure even how to be quiet before the Lord and just listen for Him... I'm not sure what that's supposed to look like. But, I am convinced that having a one-way conversation isn't having a conversation at all. So, I need to shut up.
And what an appropriate way to end this post! "Shut yer trap already, Dellinger!"

So, here's your chance to get a word in... What are the joys and struggles of your personal worship?


Wednesday, February 15

Thoughts on "Give Praise to God" - Part 6 of 3278

I have met a lot of people... It's all about the 'Woo' in me, I suppose. While I've interacted personally with only the smallest fragment of the world's population, I have yet to meet someone who doesn't like music. While I've met people whose musical taste is strongly in question, I can't recall anyone who lacked some appreciate for the art.

Music is powerful stuff... The Greeks believed that certain modal harmonies could alter people's moods. The mythic Orpheus stormed the gates of Hades to win back his love, Eurydice, using the power of his lyre - moving the shades to tears with music. Leonard Bernstein said that music can "name the unnamable and communicate the unknowable."

It's no wonder, then, that the authors of "Give Praise to God" devote two more chapters to different aspects of musical traditions in church. The two essays address the promotion of "Hymnody in a Post-Hymnody World" and the restoration of the Psalter tradition.

I could write responses to these two essays for weeks. Fortunately for you, kind reader, I'm not going to do that. Instead, I'm attempting to condense my entire position on music in the church into only a couple more screenfuls of text. I should note, for safety's sake, that when I blog you're getting the uncompressed thoughts of Dluxe. This isn't edited or refined... So, I don't want this to be treated as some definitive statement or anything. But these thoughts are representative of what I believe right now.

Music is a key element of worshipping God, both now and in eternity. Is it surprising to us that both in Revelation and elsewhere, the heavens worship the Sovereign Lord with singing? I don't think it is... And I think that's because our Creator saw fit to weave that almost divine response to melody and harmony into our mortal frame.

We must acknowledge the selfish desires we often bring to worship… Namely, that we desire to experience something for 'our sake' rather than to offer glory to God for who He was, is, and always will be. This selfishness has no place in worship. God desires to meet us and refresh us in our worship of Him, so we can come expectantly. But we must seek His glory, not merely that which gets our toes tapping or tickles our ears.

When scripture recorded heavenly music, it only preserved the lyrics. This is not by chance, in my opinion. Rather, I would say that the intellectual content of the music (what we’re saying) is more critical than musical content (how it's being sung).

Good music naturally reflects cultural vernacular. If you were born in the 1970s, it's almost a certainty that you’ll remember a lot of 80s tunes. That music defines you, somehow, and you can appreciate it for what it was (at the time). Your kids, born in the 2000s, will likely think that most of it is crappy, campy junk.

Great music, in contrast, transcends the vernacular and reaches the sublime somehow. Bach's harmonic twists and craftsmanship were light years ahead of his contemporaries. Wagner, deplorable person though he may have been, almost single-handedly caused the trumpeting of the 'death of tonality' (at least as traditionally defined) with works like the Prelude and Liebestod from "Tristan und Isolde". People of all ages still listen to the Beatles "Sgt Pepper".

To appreciate the present, we must understand the past. This is true for music and all of life. To really get where we are today, you need to look at the road that brought us here. Musically, if you listen to Bach critically you'll hear how he set up the scaffolding upon which every tune John Coltrane ever played rests. We mustn't forsake the past.

So, here's the summary (as readers breathe a collective sigh of relief):

God has blessed us with music, an art of His own design for bringing Himself glory. If a chemical engineering researching the latest in polymer technology can glorify God in his/her work, a songwriter writing 'contemporary music' can also offer his tunes as an offering to God. In a corporate worship setting, we should seek to draw on the full range of musical colors that Lord has given us to glorify Him. In some churches, heritage or location will determine what musical forms/styles are dominant (we shouldn't ask or expect a church of urban, Latin-Americans to sing solely ancient, Scottish hymnody).

While styles are up for grabs, the message must not be. Songs lyrics must lift the minds and spirits of the singers to worship God in spirit and truth. As music is so good at pressing things into our minds and hearts, we must use it to infuse our worship with things that are worth dwelling on. Songs should be saturated in solid theology and the word of the Bible... But that need not be communicated in King James English. The Savior came to save people from every language, race, and time. We should connect with them all, not being latched only to the immediately relevant or the frozen past.

I heard a fascinating little story in a lecture by Bob Kauflin... With this, I leave you:
We have a guy in our church named Curtis Allen who grew up in the streets of Washington, D.C. and was a rapper... He joined our church, which is called Covenant Life Church - when he initially joined he called it 'Covenant White Church' although it is more mixed racially than it was when he joined...

The strange combination of his past and our theologically, cross-centered church has resulted in him writing rap songs that are heavy in theology and that actually are quite powerful for moving people’s hearts. So we've had some Sundays where Curt has come up and done rap as part of a song. One of the most enjoyable, enigmatic, amazing things was to have a 60 year old woman come up to him after that meeting and say, "You know, rap would not be my music but I was in tears when you were rapping this morning"...

This is a teaching moment... Rap music, though it’s associated with a lot of evil things (and this is not an endorsement of rap music), the vehicle itself is not evil. And when done by someone who’s a Godly man, who’s biblically trained, and who is not arrogant, it really has a powerful effect. And I felt it! You get a phrase that is very meaningful and then another phrase comes quickly. You have this collusion or combination of phrases all hitting together in your head at the same time. The effect is very profound, and different... And you realize that you’re overcome by truth.

I never would’ve thought rap music could be used to glorify God, but it can be. And I think that's an example of making a distinction between the main things and the things that can change.


Tuesday, February 14

New Discoveries (was "To be a fly on the wall")

Today, I stumbled across the blog of Mark Driscoll... Initially, I had it in my head that he was one of the big Emergent Church dudes. Having now read more of his writings, it seems like he's going to be among my new heroes. Driscoll seems to be bridging the worlds of Reformed theology and culturally relevant, missional churches. Cool stuff.

Browsing his blog, I happened to notice this post about to roll off the main page. What caught my eye was the pic of Ravi Zacharias he attached to the article.

Being a big Ravi fan (not a big Emergent fan), I read the article. I would've loved to have heard this little tidbit.
As we talked I asked him what issues were of the greatest concern to him and what he was preparing to focus on in the coming year. Much to my surprise, he said that the Emerging church was a great concern to him because it held a low view of truth and was gaining momentum as a gathering point for all kinds of aberrant Christian doctrinal agendas.

As Driscoll goes on to note, it's interesting that someone with such a globally-focused ministry would highlight the ECs as a point of concern.

On a loosely related note (at best), I mentioned that I've been re-reading the Psalms. Today I read Psalm 102 which is just cool, cool stuff... I'd encourage you to read it, too! So, do it!
But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever;
you are remembered throughout all generations.
You will arise and have pity on Zion;
it is the time to favor her;
the appointed time has come.
For your servants hold her stones dear
and have pity on her dust.
Nations will fear the name of the Lord,
and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory.
For the Lord builds up Zion;
he appears in his glory;
he regards the prayer of the destitute
and does not despise their prayer. (vv12-17, ESV)

Sunday, February 12

{Mouth open in shock}

I have seen a lot of strange things, but this one shocked me.

Checking my daily blogs, I came across a link to a particular church that had the following scripture quote in their banner... I'm attaching a clipped image, both to protect the guilty and to prove that I'm not making this up!

Now this looks good, right? Nice sounding passage... And, it's actually quoted correctly from the KJV. What's the big deal?

Remember my point on Thursday about context when reading the Bible? This quote from Luke is serves as a superlative, albeit distrubing, proof to my comment. Let's take a look at the surrounding story-line, shall we?
And the devil took [Jesus] up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, "To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." And Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'" Luke 4:5-8, ESV

Who botched the proofreading job and let that get through? Worse yet, someone determined the image had been in place since April, 2005. How is it that it took over 9 months and the surfing of a random blogger to catch it? I guess no one there had a Bible handy (including the Pastor).


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Saturday, February 11

Thoughts on "Give Praise to God" - Part 5 of 3278

Continuing with the 'elements of worship' trend, the next chapters in "Give Praise to God" turn to tackle the two most familiar sacraments to believers in the church: Baptism and the Eucharist.

Personally, I've spent a lot of time considering baptism over the past handful of months. I grew up Methodist and was sprinkle-baptised as an infant... For some reason, I was never really comfortable with the idea of infant baptism. While I appreciate it as a symbollic act (dedicating the child's life to the Lord), there are obviously plenty of people baptised who don't go on to lives that worship in spirit and truth.

I don't think infant baptism is bad. It's a misapplication of a good thing. Baptism should be viewed as a sign and seal of our rebirth and restoration as children of God through Christ. Just as my parents can't pray me into heaven, having an infant (or anyone else, for that matter) baptised aside from the Spirit's work in them has no real, effectual impact..

Thus far, I'm jiving with the authors in "Give Praise to God" swimmingly. Here's where I'm puzzled: How should a church handle those individuals who were baptised as infants? Should they be encouraged to be (re)baptised? Should they be excluded from church offices or membership until they 'come around'?

This is my wrestling match, I suppose. I honestly can't remember a time that I wasn't a 'believer'. I've had people tell me, with no lack of fervor, that there was no way I could've understood the gospel and it's relation to my life before I was [insert age]. I would agree without hesitation that my depth of faith has grown... Heck, it continues to grow - that's what this little blog exercise is about. But the fundamental understanding has remained rock solid.

So, should I be re-baptised? Well, I feel no compulsion in my spirit that I should... I do feel 'bad' when other people look at me with horror that I was "only baptised as an infant *gasp*". But is that feeling a desire to be approved by men or a prompting of the Spirit? I'm not sure I've answered that question well enough, yet. But I am convinced that just getting re-baptised to 'cover my bases' is not the right answer either.

I welcome your thoughts. Moving on...

The chapter on Communion was fairly vanilla, IMHO. Nothing really was presented here that seemed to rock the foundations of most evangelical churches. As is often the case, there's a couple things that your mind spins and chews in new directions.

The first was an issue of frequency: How often should we include the Lord's Table as part of a coporate worship service? I'm fairly convinced that answer should be, "Regularly". How's that for lacking in clarity? To try to put legs on that - I think that Communion is an crucial element of worship, both in obedience to Christ's command and in presenting an authorized illustration of Christ's work on the cross.

But, I don't think Communion needs to be done every week or service. It seems to me that we tend to get entrenched in routines awful easy and miss the sublime in the familiar. Would we approach the Table with the same awe and reverence if it happened all the time? Certainly we should... But would we pull it off?

The next was the issue of proper place: In what setting, and under what conditions, should Communion be administered? Should we be able to observe the Eucharist outside of an officiated church service...? Some people believe in 'Family Communion', where the father officiates a mini-service at home. Other folk believe this is occasionally appropriate, so long as the father is a pastor or elder of a church. Still others, like the author of the essay in "Give Praise", think that Communion observed outside of a formal, officiated worship service is bad.

I'm not even close to a conclusion here and don't want to venture into heresy... Still, it has always struck me that Christ chose bread to represent His flesh and wine for his blood. After all, there was probably lamb meat there because they had just celebrated the Passover.

I imagine bread and wine were part of nearly every meal the disciples ate on this earth. And I bet that every time one of them pulled a morsel of bread apart, they remembered His hands that night in the Upper Room. I'm sure every time they lifted a cup of wine to their lips, there was a flood of memories from the Last Supper and of their Lord on the cross. As they chewed/swallowed and considered how that food or drink was sustaining their physical frames, they were reminded of how their Savior was sustaining their soul day by day.

What a cool thing if we approached every meal with the same sense of Thanksgiving for both the physical provision and the deeper, spiritual one...


Thursday, February 9

Thoughts on "Give Praise to God" - Part 4 of 3278

I could quickly sum up my feelings about the chapter 7 (a "call to the reclamation of the public reading and praying of Scripture in the corporate worship of God") of "Give Praise to God" in one word. That word - Amen!

In college, I had the cool privilege of taking a couple vocal lessons from a woman who was a fairly well-known opera singer. If I was staging an opera, it'd be pure silliness to put ask her to come sing in the chorus. "I know you're the best, but could you just go over there and sing some 'oooo's behind this pathetic soloist I've picked? Thanks!"

In case your curious, her advice relative to my singing was: "I love the saxophone... Why don't you play for me instead?" But, I digress.

My point simply is that The, Singular, Holy, Awesome God of all space and time has given us His words in the Bible. How cool is that?! To give the reading and exposition of the Bible anything but the preeminent role in our worship is just whack, to borrow from the vernacular. Duncan and Johnson are, not surprisingly, more eloquent:
In the reading of God's word, God speaks most directly to his people. And so, this act of worship, in which the verbal self-revelation of God is addressed unedited to the hearts of his gathered people, ought not to be ignored, skipped, or squeezed out... It ought to be arresting to the congregation. It ought to grab their attention. It ought sometimes to make them tremble and other times rejoice. (p.142)

As I've noted before, it's nice when you find smart people who think like you do. I'm used to finding no one who thinks like I do, making the occasional affirmation is a welcome thing. The authors go on to address two of my passions...

First, the reading should be done well. The message of Scripture accomplishes what God intends (thus saith the Lord in Isaiah 55). Still, it can seem like that effect takes longer when the verses are read... by some.. one who... caden... er, ca-den-ces their speech poorly and emphasizes strange WORDs in the text ... when they READ them. In addition, a some well-thought out exposition or context-setting prior to reading is a great thing.

One little area of potential difference: The authors assert that the reading of the Scripture within corporate worship should be solely the office of the Pastors or Elders. To quote:
It is all about the coordination of the read and proclaimed word. The read word is not on some lower order of significance than the proclaimed word, but that is the inevitable message sent if preaching in the church is restricted to ministers and elders and the the reading of the word is not. (p.144)

Point taken. But, I recall something different from my own experience. When I was growing up, it was a huge excitement and motivator for my own study when an 'average Joe', like me, could get up and read God's word with clarity and command. This helped confirm to me that the Bible was not strictly the property of academics/elites.

Again, it must be read well. No exceptions on quality! But the 'who', I believe, should not be so narrowly set.

The other point I loved was that the authors strongly advocate for the reading of large passages of Scripture. Some people in our ABF probably think that several passages in the Bible start with the words, "I'm going to jump back a couple of verses, if you don't mind." I'm deserving of the blame, I suppose.

The issue is really one of context and depth to me. For example, I alluded to Isaiah 55 earlier in this post... I could've just cited part of verse 11 to make my point:
[S]o shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose...

While that 'says' it, look how much richer the context is by simply adding verse 10 and then continuing through all of verse 11:
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Do you see a difference? With both verses, not only is God's word effective in accomplishing God's purpose but there's an added sense of the Scripture as a tender, Sovereign provision for the hearer. Now, just for more kicks, click here to read the full chapter of Isaiah 55. To me, it's like a flower blooming - pretty from the outset, but blossoming into something richer with every moment.

It takes just a few more seconds to read the extra verses... I'm convinced giving God those few extra seconds to speak to us directly is the most important thing we can do.


Wednesday, February 8

This is so me!!

Let me start off by saying I am not a South Park supporter or fan. I'll watch an episode once a season or so. Or whenever they make fun of some group I think is humorous...

However, I was getting a little fed up with my avatar on here... While ol' Fats Waller certainly represents a part of me (chubby wit), he certainly falls short elsewhere. So, I have been thinking about a new avatar for a while. If there are any of you who don't know me, it might surprise you to know I'm not black. Sorry 'bout that.

Anyway, I tried a super-hero generator out on the web... While cool, I don't feel too 'super' and they were too complicated to come up with a good 'me' from home in limited time. Then I remembered the South Park Character Generator. While I'm not a fan, per se, I think a short cartoon version of me would be appropriate.

So, here's the new Brian avatar:
Coolness, eh? In many ways, this is so me. I'm down with the retro-headphones and the 'lost in the Israel Houghton jammy' look on my face. And, yes, I would be all about a fro if I could make it happen. Where this departs from reality is the whole 'winter coat' thang. However, all the other clothing options made me look way skinnier than I am. So, I just went with the puffy, down-filled look and made the background fit.

So, there you have me... What would you look like?

When the music fades...

I've been reading through the Psalms again as part of my recent, little songwriting 'exercise'. Today was Psalm 51.

I wonder how many of us know the words at the mention of that reference... Some, perhaps. But, if I were to sing "Create in me a clean heart, O God! And renew a right spirit within me"... Now, people would be able to recall a handful of verses.

This is the power of music - to press words into our consciousness - that we should be embracing. That said, what really intrigued me was to consider where to 'stop' quoting a passage when you're songwriting... For example, the plea for God to create a heart that is cleansed is a wonderful one. But, the verses that follow the ones we typically sing are awesome:
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
(vv.13-17, ESV)

I was particularly struck that the first statement David makes after his plea for restoration is evangelistically/missionally oriented. And the thought that follows reminds us that our salvation is turned, in all respects, towards the worship and glorification of our Rescuer... With all this talk about God-centered worship - here it is from David. "Restore me for the sake of Your testimony and glory, Lord!"

Makes me wish I was a better lyricist!! Oh, and melody writer. And player. I also wonder how many songwriters will have to hand David royalty checks when we all get to heaven...

Tuesday, February 7

Thoughts on "Give Praise to God" - Part 3 of 3278

My book has made a shift from discussing the guiding principles behind 'constructing' corporate worship to an exploration of different facets of worship. Al Mohler, who I've mentioned a couple times on this blog, presents this state of affairs relative to preaching:
The anemia of evangelical worship is directly attributed to the absence of genuine expository preaching. Such preaching would confront the congregation with nothing less than the living and active word of God. That confrontation will shape the congregation as the Holy Spirit accompanies the word, opens eyes, and applies that word to human hearts. (p.111)

Powerful stuff... As believers, shouldn't our desire be to meet God and be molded by the clear proclamation of the Word? Why would we 'settle' for less?

During another conversation today, I started to wonder if we are encouraged to seek a maturing faith… In a rare moment of inspiration, I made the analogy to parents teaching their kids to eat well. If I allow my kids to just eat candy, what's the likelihood that they'll want steak or spinach or something later? By exposing, encouraging, and, yes, even forcing, them to try strange, green things called "veggies", we're working to build good habits for the future. If we do that over cauliflower, imagine the exhortation we should give/receive to have a maturing faith…

The second point is that, by nature, I think we're often quite comfortable *not* being confronted by the living God... People who bump into God face-to-face are not usually thrilled or jolly over the experience. When we’re confronted with our sin vs. God’s holiness, our malaise vs. His sacrifice, we realize where we rightly stand. We often want God to be something we're comfortable with, and that’s not the sum total of God revealed through grounded expository preaching.

The next essay really got me thinking... Dovetailing off Dr. Mohler's comments, Mark Dever presents the synergy that should exist between evangelistic and expository preaching. To quote:
Through expositional preaching, non-Christians need to be instructed in the truth and taught how God views his world - including them. They need to be challenged to rethink their priorities, their work, their family, and most of all their own lives. They need to be rediagnozed by God's word. Both Christians and non-Christians need to hear God's word expounded. (p.126)

Whether a sermon is truly evangelistic is determined not by our motives or the results afterward or by the setting or the style, the time or the place. One thing and one thing alone determines whether a sermon can properly be said to be evagelistic, and that is its content. Is the evangel - the Good News - present? Even better, is it presented forcefully and with heart to sinners in need? (p.127)

Dever's case is that Pastors have fallen victim to seeing those as separate exercises, rather than a synergistic whole. Certainly this is our distinction, not the Lord's. Just look at something like Galatians 3 and 4. Believers should be eager to hear the clarity of the Gospel and refresh our wonder at being ransomed from slavery for adoption as sons. In that same breath, the seeker is confronted with their need for grace and the great gift that was offered through Christ.

The amusing thing is this linking of exposition and evangelism obviously makes perfect sense. So, why do we try to segment the two so often in practice? That’s been running through my head all day.

Just an amusing side-note, in good fun: Dever suggests that “[e]ven sermon titles can be provocative for drawing people to consider their lives and consider coming to hear the sermon.”

Our most recent sermon title at church was “Who’s Your Daddy?”... Provocative titles? We’ve got that in spades.

Especially if your parentage is a little clouded.


Saturday, February 4

Thoughts on "Give Praise to God" - Part 2 of 7237

I got an email today encouraging me to post the 'bombs' promised in yesterday's little review of "Give Praise to God". *Then* I find out that there are a couple more people who are actually tuning in. This makes posting seem even more unnerving than it has been.

Anyway, here goes:

Picking up from yesterday, I stated my agreement that God has defined what worship should be like in the Bible. When reading heady books, this is often referred to as the 'regulative principle of worship'. If that's true, how could I (as a professed Bible-thumper) have something that made me grit my teeth at this book I've been given. At least, you would expect it to have taken more than 3 little essays (out of 18) before I was ticked off.

I'll throw out and respond to two quotes, and you'll prolly quickly gather where my bias departs... First, Pastor Boice:
One of the saddest features of contemporary worship is that the great hymns of the church are on the way out. They are not gone entirely, but they are going. And in their place have come trite jingles that have more in common with contemporary advertising ditties than with the psalms. The problem here is not so much the style of the music, though trite words fit best with trite tunes and harmonies. Rather the problem is with the content of the songs. The old hymns expressed the theology of the church in profound and perceptive ways and with winsome, memorable laguage... Today's songs reflect our shallow or nonexistent theology and do almost nothing to elevate one's thoughts about God.

This little snippet makes me want to tear my hair out. On the one hand, I also lament the departure for the great hymns of our faith. They are woven into who I am as a believer, having sung them in church week in and out since I was five. They are meaty in what they say and connect us to those who've come before in a valuable way.

However, I have three issues here as well... First, though Dr. Boice states that the problem is not really musical I'm not sure I think he really feels that way. The next comment ("...trite words fit best with trite tunes and harmonies...") seems to suggest that there is some musical superiority to hymnody that makes it a more lofty vehicle for worship. I feel this is a comment made, largely, in musical ignorance.

Even having a formal background in music, I believe that there are melodies being written today that are just as captivating as those of any hymn. In addition, the majority of hymns are not masterpieces of harmonic motion or innovation. In fact, I think the harmonic/melodic colors available to modern songwriters is far broader and more interesting. I personally feel that those hymns that we consider iconic in our faith (like "Holy, Holy, Holy!", perhaps) have earned that badge because they incorporate lyrics and music that makes a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Second - Lyrically, I can buy into Dr. Boice's point... A lot of songs we sing today are saccharine in what they have to say. However, it's important to recognize that what we have today is the distilled output of the hymn-writers of all the church age.

When Martin Luther was penning "A Mighty Fortress", I'm sure there was someone else on the other side of Germany writing hymns that were marginally 'popular'. Interesting that they haven't survived into the hymnals of today, isn't it? The reason is simple... As a music professor once told me, "Time is the world's greatest censor and judge of taste". The hymns we call classics today are the wheat that was left over after years of blowing the chaff away. I would imagine that far more crap than masterpieces are written, painted, or sung on any given day. Today, as then, we must pick through the rubbish to find the jewels.

There *are* wonderful worship songs, both lyrically and musically, being written today. The work of Keith and Kristyn Getty, Sovereign Grace Ministries, and others represent some of the best...

Take a look at the hymnals of the 60s (my church has one if you need it) and take note of some of the 'classics in the making' that were included. We don't sing them much anymore. History has worn off the luster of the new to reveal the true patina of crap underneath. I know that's stongly worded, but I wanted to use the word patina.

Lastly on the musical issues - I think this little quote is important from Dr. Boice's comments: "The old hymns expressed the theology of the church in profound and perceptive ways and with winsome, memorable laguage..."

Winsome and memorable to whom? If it hadn't been both to the people who were around then, I doubt that we'd know the song today. One of the continuing challenges we face in the church, I believe, is conveying the correct, clear messages of the Scripture in ways that engage a contemporary audience. Please, do not misread this... I am not saying that the message should be 'dumbed down' or spun so it is hip. Truth must remain truth. However, communicating that truth in King James English would probably not be winsome to the people of today.

When Luther and others penned the great hymns, their lyrics were (to a large extent) within the vernacular of the day. Just as a good modern translation of the Bible, like the ESV, combines accuracy and the cadence of modern speech, we should strive to give people songs that are both meaty and 'attainable'.

Ok... Enough about music.

My other big area of griping so far has been around the book's discussion of historical moorings. Quoting Derek Thomas in essay #3:
Part of the reason for [the Presbyterians moving away from creedal moorings and worship tradition] lies in both the modern disdain for history and the ignorance of it. "Chronological snobbery," to use the C.S. Lewis phrase, applies to those who suggest that we have nothing to learn from the two millenia since the resurrection of Jesus Christ and that worship is purely a matter of taste.

There is much truth here. There is an element in the church seeking to emerge into a new understanding of who/what the church should be. They quick dismissal of tradition by some in those circles takes away a large body of normative information.

Aside for the doctrinal risk that's created by discarding the past, we lose something of our identity when we are simply a product of the moment. Why do so many people have a huge interest in geneology? At least part of the reason is that connecting to our past enriches the present. Our perspective is tempered a number of different ways when we see ourselves as part of a whole rather than just a isolated blip on the radar. The Church does well to consider and understand the legacy that we have inherited today.

My issue is that I think the reaction to this 'chronological snobbery' is often more 'chronological snobbery'. Where the emergent people are seeking to cast of history like a skin to be shed, there are many on the other side of the ledger who seem to wrap themselves in the Flag of Heritage. Perhaps I am reading more into the author's words here than I should... If I am, I apologize.

Still, there is a reactionary tone in this that is unsettling. "We've gotten our focus wrong, let's swing the pendulum all the way back!" You know, we have been errant in our focus - tied up in ourselves instead of the Author and Perfector of our Faith. Still, have there been no correctives since the Protestant Reformation that are worthy of being considered? Did the church stop growing in our knowledge once the Westminster Confession was penned? There are some faiths (Mormonish, Jehovah's Witness) who believe that the faith was corrupted after the death of the last Apostle. I sadly think there are those in the Church today who would echo this sentiment, changing only the date to reflect the death of the last Puritan.

As someone who reads a lot, I totally dig this idea of reclaiming our heritage, of reaffirming the truths that split us off from Rome many years ago, and of driving at a faith that is steeped in and regulated by the thoughts of the wise people who've gone before. If we're coming up with any super-novel interpretations of Scripture or doctrines today, we should tread gently indeed.

Still, we must recognize that the history that precedes us is potmarked by humans who sinned and erred just like we do. There are ways we can grow, develop, and more fully realize the truths they sought to flesh out. We should be "always Reforming"... And that means we should be getting better, guided and tempered by those who came before.

Well, I've now commented on everything I've read... I'll go to bed and then get back to reading (barring my excommunication, of course).


Friday, February 3

Thoughts on "Give Praise to God" - Part 1 of 7237

One of the 'challenges' in posting a blog is that there are more than a handful of times that you're not really sure what to say to the world. You sit staring at your 'last update', fully realizing that it was over a week ago, and your mind churns trying to figure out something witty or substantive to say to your flock of readers (be they real, or imagined).

I think I'll have plenty of ammo over the next couple weeks, however. I was loaned a very interesting book by Pastor Tim called "Give Praise to God - A Vision for Reforming Worship". The book is a tribute (festschrift for the nerdy) to Reverend James Boice who was Pastor of Philadelphia's famed Tenth Street Presbyterian church for a number of years. Dr. Boice was the founder of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and a respected leader in this resurgence of Reformed Theology.

The book is long-ish, fairly dense, and my reading time limited. I usually pull my posts together at home in the evenings, so I have to prioritize reading or posting about what I'm reading. All this is to say that this will be a long series of reflections...

To start it off, lemme frame the overarching theme of the book as it is presented early on... As followers of Christ, we are called to live lives that are essentially defined by our worship of God. As the Westminster Catechism states, our "chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever". But what, exactly, should that look like in corporate worship settings? Have we redefined how we should worship God to suit our own selfish (and sinful) purposes? If so, what is the proper, Biblical, 'regulative' admonishments for worship that we should be observing?

To quote Dr. Boice himself:
Whenever in the church biblical authority has been lost, Christ has been displaced, the gospel has been distorted, or faith has been perverted, it has always been for one reason: our interests have displaced God's and we are doing his work in our own way. The loss of God's centrality in the life of today's church is common and lamentable. It is this loss that allows us to transform worship into entertainment, gospel preaching into marketing, believing into technique, being good into feeling good about ourselves, and faithfulness into being successful. As a result, God, Christ and the Bible have come to mean too little to us and rest too inconsequentially upon us. [emphasis mine]

To this, I can offer a full-voiced 'Amen!'... As I've noted previously, there are phenomenon in the church that (while pehaps well intentioned) seem to set people and our personal desires for what church should be above what God stated as His purpose for the church. In a very real way, there are churches that seem to be recasting God's part in the cosmos... Images of a politician seeking photo-ops with babies/kittens or John Kerry hunting come to mind.

God is God. Period. As such, He's not searching for some marketing agency to tell Him how to rebrand Himself so it takes hold with today's wired youth. Instead, He gets to define in His own pleasure how/when/where we worship. Coloring outside the lines isn't 'creative worship', it's rebellion (as shown here and here).

Yet God hasn't left us adrift. His Word provides us an authoritative guide to how we can rightly approach God in corporate and private worship. This 'regulative principle' of worship is something I jive with fairly strongly. However, this would be a boring series of posts if all I did was agree with the book, right?

Right. However, I noted how long I was talking... So I clipped the bomb-dropping grumbling for next time. Aren't you happy?

You should be... Or this post would be three or four times as long.