Friday, May 27, 2011

Guitars, Jesus and the Life of Faith

A friend of mine has a running joke with me that he is going to turn me in to guitar protective services for abusing my guitars.  Yes it’s true that all of my acoustic guitars bear the same scars on the top from years of gigs and worship services.  I haven’t been abusive to my instruments intentionally (as I am not playing punk rock at this stage in my life) but I have not left my instruments locked in a closet either—I have used them to make music, to write songs, and to create music with others.

I watched a documentary on a Luthier (guitar maker) by the name of Danny Ferrington who has made guitars for some of the best-known artists in rock and country.  At one point in the documentary he showed a picture of a guitar he had made for Johnny Cash.  As with most of his guitars it was exquisite in its design and inlay work but the back of the guitar was chewed up and splintered from the constant friction generated by Cash’s belt buckle.   Ferrington was asked if he was disappointed in how this masterpiece of a guitar had been treated by Cash.  But Ferrington was just happy as a guitar-maker that Johnny Cash had connected with that instrument in such a way that he played it that he played it all the time.  In the end Ferrington made the point that no matter how beautifully designed a guitar is by its creator its main purpose is making music—a guitar is meant to be played!

Jesus once compared the life of faith to salt and light.  Both salt and light do no good if they are hidden either as a lamp under a bed or salt in a shaker.  The truth is that the Pharisees had an exquisite system of complex belief  but rather than bringing out the God colors and flavors in the world around them they were just keeping their faith hidden in their own little club like a beautiful instrument that is never taken out of its case. 

We are invited by Jesus to join the music of new creation not to simply construct a complex system of beliefs and doctrines that we can take pride in.  The reality is that a faith that works to engage life will not make it unscathed anymore than a guitar that is regularly played will retain its original external beauty and yet the true beauty of faith is not in perfectly constructed doctrines but in the song in which it participates.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

No Formula

I hope to post some of the songs I have written along with the lyrics.  This is a song I wrote several years ago and recorded for my album MOVE.  Lyrics and video with the song below. 

No Formula
Sometimes it seems like the empty places inside
Stretch on for miles
And there seems to be no place from where a song can rise
And nothing for love to hold onto

And it seems I’ve been looking
Like reading a book that when I’m done I think I would learn
But the pages are torn and the edges are worn
And I still haven’t figured it out

There is no formula
There is no manual
There is no equation
That can make sense of all that I can’t understand
To fill in these spaces I’ve made with my hands
With my righteousness wrong
And my wrong sometimes right
And my heart that’s grown weary from fighting the night

Though my heart longs to search all the infinite depths
Of loves intimate sacred reward
I am so much defeated by repeated attempts
To work love like it’s some kind of job

And you seem to get so blessed by messing up all
Of my brilliantly well-crafted plans
So that I have to know you not just with my mind
But by getting your dirt on my hands

There is no formula
There is no manual
There is no equation
That can make sense of all that I can’t understand
To fill in these spaces I’ve made with my hands
With my righteousness wrong
And my wrong sometimes right
And my heart that’s grown weary from fighting the night

Monday, May 23, 2011

Should Christianity Concern Itself With Predicting the Future?

I came across an interesting blog post today reflecting on science and religion in the aftermath of the failed apocalyptic predictions of Herold Camping.  In the post Time, Duration and Prediction: Some Thoughts After Armageddon, astrophysicist Adam Frank makes the case that the reason we give science such and exalted place in our world is precisely because it has been proven to be such a good predictor of natural phenomenon.  Through science we can predict eclipses, hurricanes, and even the likelihood of a person’s risk of disease.  As Frank sees it religion has been shown time and time again to be a lousy predictor of natural phenomenon as demonstrated most recently by Camping’s failed claims of the end of the world.  Regrettably I think I would have to agree with him on this if only based on all the crazy and failed apocalyptic predictions I’ve seen in my short time on earth.  

I tend to think we Christians are at our worst when we try to either predict natural phenomenon or when we try and interpret natural phenomenon on behalf of God.  Whenever we expend much of our energy in either of these pursuits we begin to miss the point of simply and humbly following Jesus in the here and now.  
  • Do you agree with Adam Frank’s post or do you think he’s just trying to make excuses for why we don’t need religion?
P.S. Since I published this yesterday Herold Camping has come out publicly with further insight into why his prediction of Judgement day was right and yet how the end of the world won't really come until this October 21.  Read article.

The Fear Factor in Spiritual Growth

Today I have a blog posted over at Not the Religious Type called The Fear Factor in Spiritual Growth.  Check it out when you get a chance.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Dangerously Good News of the Gospel

 For the past several months Northshore Vineyard has been going a few verses at a time through the book of Philippians.  The passage we looked at church this morning (sermon audio here ) concerned the Apostle Paul’s continual fight against a works based righteousness that was threatening to creep into all of the churches he had planted.  In Philippians 3:1-6 Paul gives one of his strongest warnings against those who would try to add to the gospel of Christ by works of the flesh.  It is tempting to see the issues that Paul was addressing in these scriptures as merely issues facing the early church and yet I can’t help but think that these issues are still alive and well today.  While modern day churches rarely have folks coming in trying to persuade folks to get circumcised, the temptation to add our own efforts to the work of Christ is always there.

In my early years as a Christian I really struggled with a works-based righteousness.  I had come to think that prayer, worship, service, and giving somehow made me more acceptable to God.  This caused my relationship with God to be a continual roller coaster.  When I was reading my Bible, praying, giving and serving in the church whenever the doors were open I felt that God was somehow impressed by my performance but when I would stumble and sin I would run from God (like Adam and Eve) thinking that I needed to hide for a bit until my feelings of shame would subside and then I would get back into trying really hard to do better. 

In many of the churches that I was a part of in my earlier days as a Christian it was quite normal to have a 15-20 minute message on giving before the offering plate was passed.  One of the typical messages that I heard at least 8-10 times a year was based on Malachi 3:8-12
8 “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me
“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?
“In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.

The message communicated with these verses was that if you wanted to be blessed or if you didn’t want to be cursed you would give more money.  I surely wasn’t a big fan of being cursed and was quite fond of being blessed (especially financially). 

The thing is that as I continued my faith journey I finally started learning something about how to study the Bible (which can be very dangerous indeed!)  The number one rule of studying the Bible is to try and understand the scriptures in context.  Once one has made a reasonable effort to understand what the scriptures meant to the original audience, in context with other scriptures and the grand narrative of scripture then one can move on to how to apply those scriptures to the current modern context.  And yet when I began to do that with these verses from Malachi I began to realize that what I had been taught so many times was not appropriate for one in the New Covenant.  In Malachi 3 God is getting on to Israel for not living up to the terms of the covenant he had made with them.  This would be no different than someone violating the marriage covenant by sleeping around.  God was rebuking then because they were no longer participating in their part of the agreement.  That’s the meaning of those verses.  But to apply those verses that were based on the terms of the Old Covenant to our New Covenant life in Jesus is to bring legalism and works based righteousness into our experience.  This simple illustration is no different from what Paul was confronting in his churches, it’s the gospel of Jesus Plus and it really isn’t the gospel (the good news) at all!

The last time I remember hearing this message on Malachi 3 was some 10 or 12 years ago and I had finally had enough of it.  I looked at Dina and said, “I quit!”  I told her that we were not going to tithe anymore for at least a year.  Dina was very scared at first thinking that somehow we would be cursed but I had come to realize that in Jesus I am not cursed.  In Jesus I am freed from the curse!  In Jesus I am as blessed as I will ever be!  So that day Dina and I embarked on a wonderfully scary adventure of giving in a way that participates with Jesus instead of trying to add to the work of Jesus.  Instead of giving out of guilt and manipulation, instead of giving to try and be blessed and not cursed, we began to invite God into our finances.  Each month we would take the money we had set aside to give and ask God how we could best spend it for his purposes.  Many months we just gave our money to the church but on many other occasions we found all kinds of opportunities to participate in the generosity of Christ.  On several occasions we paid the bills of people who had their electricity turned off or bought groceries for those who didn’t have enough food or diapers for a single mom who couldn’t afford them.  When we stepped away from legalism we didn’t become less generous but more generous.  We weren’t giving to get blessed but giving because in Jesus we are blessed!  Even though we were two poor college students we began giving at a whole new level of sometimes even 20 percent of our income each month. 

The truth is that anything we do in church can become legalism if we are not careful.  Though prayer, worship, serving and giving can all be vibrant expressions of faith in Jesus, none of these things get us points with God.  Hebrews makes it clear that Jesus is our high priest, our mediator between us and the Father.   As New Covenant people when we pray we are entering into the intercession of Jesus before the Father.  When we worship we are entering into the worship of Jesus before the Father.  In Galatians 3 Paul talks of how when God approaches Abraham with a great blessing (Genesis 12:1-3) that Abraham simply responded in faith.  According to Paul this response of Abraham to the blessing of God made Abraham righteous.  The same is true for us today with Jesus.  We simply respond with faith saying yes to all that Jesus has done and all that he continues to do.  This is the good news!  But it seems too good to be true doesn’t it?  There is something within us all that wants to add to the simple sincere response of faith to who Jesus is yet to add anything to what Jesus has done is to take away from what he has done and to return again to the slavery of which Jesus came to save us. 

Grace is a dangerous thing.  Grace was dangerous when Paul encountered Jesus on his way to persecute the church.  Grace was dangerous when Martin Luther encountered it as a monk reading Paul’s writings on how we are saved by grace through faith, lest anyone should boast.  Yet the offer of grace is open to any who will be crazy enough like Abraham to simply believe, to simply follow God into his wonderful plans. 
  • How have you lived a Jesus + faith in your journey?
  • Do you struggle with getting your identity in what you do rather than what Jesus did?
  • How have you found grace to be dangerous in your own journey?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Wrestling With My Daughter's Education

Note: this is previously published post that ran on this blog August 30, 2007.  I often meet parents that are struggling through the questions of how to educate their children.  This post gives a look into how Dina and I have wrestled with what the best educational options for our kids might be.  We continue to wrestle with the best options but this captures part of the journey as we try to live out the calling as kingdom people in regards to this issue.


few years ago it was getting very near the time when my daughter would be attending kindergarten. No big deal right? Well, for my wife and me, it was a big deal. We had lots of big questions, some which were spiritual, some concerning education, and some concerning the general safety of our daughter.

While I have many good friends who home-school their children, we quickly ruled that out as an option. For one, it seems to take a high level of gifting and patience (neither of which we had in great supply) to teach your own children in an effective way and secondly, we really wanted our children to have ample opportunity to learn how to interact with others. So the next option we considered was private Christian schools. Again, we had a couple of issues there as well. First, after years of doing youth and college ministry I had noticed that many of the kids that went to Christian schools were often very ill-equipped for the real world and many times were much less than adequate examples of Christ-followers than their counterparts in other schools (though I do know plenty of kids that turn out well in the right type of Christian education). This left us with one remaining option - the dreaded public school system. 

Our objections to public school went something like this,
“Don’t kids kill each other in the public schools?”
“My daughter will be offered drugs!”
“The education will be second rate!” 
“Can’t we as her parents do a better job teaching our child than the government?”
“Won’t she get contaminated with anti-Christian ideas and philosophies?” and so on…

The objections in our minds seemed to be endless. 

However as we struggled with these issues one phrase of Jesus kept coming to mind – “You are the salt of the earth…you are the light of the world, a city on a hill that cannot be hidden (Matt 5:13-14.)” In spite of all of our questions I could not shake the firm conviction in my soul that I wanted my daughter to learn to be a Christian, not isolated and shut off from the world but, in the real world. Our struggle finally gave way to an abiding sense of peace that putting our daughter in public school was the right thing for us to do.

For the most part the first year went off uneventfully. We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of education and our daughter seemed to really enjoy it as well. That is, until another kid attacked her with some scissors one day. Though our daughter was not seriously injured, suddenly all of our fears were confirmed. We just knew everything was too good to be true. We began to seriously question whether we had done the right thing. This minor crisis began to cause us to really question what we believed about God, about family, about education, and very much with what we thought God had called us to do. We reluctantly decided that we would keep our daughter in school. However,what we were about to find out is that our child’s education was not simply about her or us but something much bigger. 

Dina (my wife) met with the principal a few days after the scissors incident. She went in to get answers about how something like that could happen to our daughter but was caught off guard when she heard herself asking the principal if there was a mentoring program in place for at-risk kids in the school. Though there was no mentoring program in the school at that time we could both sense God moving in our hearts and in this situation to get something started. While I will spare the details of what transpired over the next few months, we were in fact able to get a mentoring program in place in that public school. The mentoring program, Kids Hope USA, pairs churches with public schools to mentor at-risk children ( .) We are now starting our third year of Kid’s Hope in my daughter’s school with around fifteen mentors from our church that will spend one hour a week throughout the school year mentoring a child.

Last month Dina attended a meeting with the teachers the week before school started to connect with them about Kids Hope USA again. When the principal introduced Dina, she recounted how when my daughter had been attacked by a scissors-wielding child that she figured that we would either pull our daughter out of school or get a lawyer and sue the school. She recalled being taken aback that we would actually respond to the situation by trying to help the school out by mentoring children. 

So all of our wrestling with these various complex beliefs ended up coming full circle. Through the process, Dina and I realized that there was more to the school question than simply education and spirituality. In this wrestling match, God wanted to get at something in both of us and bring his kingdom to bear in our small corner of the world. I write this not to boast or say we did anything extraordinary but simply to illustrate the struggle of wrestling with our worldview and our values. I am thankful that we did wrestle with these issues rather than simply follow the dictates of the “Christian” culture or surrounding society. I suspect there are several kids that get mentored each week who are glad we wrestled too.

I have come to realize that education is far more than academic, far more than book knowledge and the regurgitation of facts.  Children are educated by everything they experience whether at home, in a classroom, or just learning to get along with people who are very different from them.  Like any parent I want my daughter to learn how to read and write and do math but I also want her to learn how to get along with a diversity of people from differing races, religions, and backgrounds. I want her to grow up thinking that normal Christianity is experienced not in hiding from the world but in engaging it. I want her to have a faith that is not cowering in fear of the darkness but displacing darkness with light. The smartest kids in the world are at a disadvantage if they don’t know how to engage with the world around them. And kids who come from devoutly religious families are certainly going to have a hard time in college and the surrounding real world if they have simply been hidden from it for their entire childhood. 

These are issues that we have wrestled with and will continue to wrestle with as long as these children are in our care.  There may come a day when we feel God leading us to homeschool our kids but for now we sense God with us in this current educational path.