Monday Morning Update – 3.15.10

What’s Been Going On –

– Dylan has been rolling over!
– Already using very bad words, Nathan is living out the pastor’s kids stereotype. He’s having trouble saying “Truck”. What can you do?
– Susan is very concerned (Oh and church nursery workers are meeting with the elders tonight).
– I am a proud parent – come on the kid is talking!
– Fantasy Baseball draft is tonight. It’s a long baseball season, hoping for a good draft.
– Needing to fill out my NCAA bracket to defend my championship performances in my church and seminary. My working theory is that the worse of a Christian you are, the better you do at the Tournament Challenge. I am a little worried because I have some steep competition this year ;-)
– Last week I got to have lunch with a couple youth pastor friends. We’ve been meaning to for a while, it was worthy the work and waiting. Some good people serving around here.

What I’ve Been Watching –
– Lost! I’m right on the border of being impatient & irritated and sheer suspense. Btw, loved this Homebrewed Christianity podcast that was about Lost. Chris Seay, pastor, author, dude just released a book called The Gospel According to Lost. He’s done a couple of these books like one on Tony Soprano and another on the Matrix. He’s also one of the pastors who begain the Advent Conspiracy experiment – good guy, good thinker, good stuff.
– 24. I’m back on it like it’s 2002.
– The Office – the baby episode was the funniest I have seen since, what – 2002?

What I’ve Been Listening to –
Some new music, like Johnny Cash American VI and whatever was in my Paste Sampler. Also, downloaded Broken Bells when it was on sale for a couple bucks on Amazon. It was worth it – I need a few more listens to comment more. Not what I expected in a good way.
Still listening to Jim Belcher’s Deep Church on my way to school. I am enjoying it; I find many points of agreement and a couple points of respected disagreement. Hope to offer a few thoughts in the future.
Always listening to the Relevant podcast.

What I’m Reading is now called “What Books I Should Be Reading More of” –
Beyond Culture – by Edward Hall for a new seminary class on Culture.
Justification – NT Wright
The Gospel According to the Simpsons and Super Heroes and Philosophy for our Second Mile service

Student Ministry Update –
– Sent out letters for our mission trip to New Orleans. The other week I mentioned that some know they are coming and asked they pray about it first. And a long time ago, some decided not to go and I asked that they pray about coming. Either way, I hope it’s after prayer that we decide to join or not join this trip. It always leads to a better trip and a better attitude as a whole in our group.
– Some are also participating in organizing and packing clothes for Haiti and then next month, there is a local clean up day in Montvale.
In Sunday School, we are discussing how the Bible was put together. A little nerdy but it’s interesting. We Christians should know how our holy book was put together.
Wednesdays we are doing a series called the Practical Atheist (Thank you Life Church. Oh that’s right, you told me not to thank you ;-)

Looking Forward to –
– This week’s Second Mile service. The message is entitled, “The Gospel According to Superman, the Simpsons and Starbucks”. Everyone has a “gospel”, how do they contrast to the Christian one? Further, have we as Christians settled for a weak “Gospel” or are we truly living out the Gospel message? We are meeting in the balcony this time and hoping it works better for us as a gathering spot.
– Visiting Susan’ family next month as a family. It will be our first family vacation with the 4 of us. In fact, the last time I flew to FL, we didn’t have any kids.
– the NT Wright Theology Conference at Wheaton next month.

Reflecting on the idea of the Culture Wars – Part 4

I ended the last post by stating that my greatest hope is that we seek communion with God, Himself. Thus, I do believe in things like evangelism, mission work, serving others, etc. This brings us to the “social justice” discussion. For various reasons, this is a tricky term. Those who have been raised in evangelicalism tend to dismiss the idea of social justice as liberalism. The charge is often made that these types of advocates only want to help people for the sake of this world and disregard the message of Jesus or salvation, etc.

For me, I want to preach a Gospel that can be accepted or rejected. God has given us the free will to make accept or reject His grace. No I am not a Calvinist (further, Calvin himself didn’t seem to be a good one either). The gospel can be rejected. When I read passages like John 6, I see Jesus allowing people to leave him. Earlier in that chapter, He feeds the 5000. The next day he crosses the lake, the people follow and to paraphrase His preaching, He says, “You have come looking for the temporary things of this world (bread and more signs in this case), but I am the bread of life.” Upon hearing this, many left feeling disappointed and confused. In fact, among the few that stayed were already His disciples.

It’s always been so interesting to me that He still fed the masses the day before. Being Jesus, He must have known how this would have happened. My western mind could think, “Wow, that was inefficient.”, or “Quick say something less confusing so they stay longer!”, “Levitate or levitate them so they know that you are the Messiah. Do something so they don’t leave!” Jesus doesn’t do any of that. The Gospel can be rejected.

It’s not the Gospel if it’s manipulative. It’s not love if it’s forced or coerced. It’s not the abundant life if it’s been demanded against my will. I am sure that Jesus wanted every one of those 5000 people to stay, believe, and become His followers. But as John 6 records, many of them left and He let them. That’s the Gospel. It feeds people, helps them, even heals them, with no strings attached. That’s also justice. Being righteous because there is no other way to show that your love is truly without condition then to allow it to be rejected.

I am still not sure what Glenn Beck tired to say. I’ve listened to parts of the original broadcast. I’ve seen quotes from his follow up and for the life of me, I do not understand what He’s trying to say. At face-value, it sounds ridiculous. Yes, there are some churches that have sold Jesus short. That has been in many ways, from promoting a preacher-personality higher than Jesus, from creating a community that is exclusive or self-caring, to putting programs ahead of the mission of the Christian faith.

But the idea of social justice is a very important part of the Gospel itself. A follower of Christ cannot say to a poor hungry person “Hey, I’ll give you food if you agree to hold my beliefs.” Or to the rich and depressed person, “I would like to offer you the hope of a meaningful life of Jesus, but first, you need to agree with me.” That’s not justice.

Throughout Lent, I’ve been reading through the Gospels and every time I read through them, I think, “Wow, if I was Jesus, I would have said things so differently. I would have said more. I would have said less. I would have ….”. The other day I was reading through Matthew and there are a series of healings in chapters 6-8. it’s like Oprah, “You get a healing, and you get a healing, and you over there, you get a healing!” It used to strike me as odd that in numerous cases, Jesus heals the person but doesn’t offer a moral lesson, or a charge to love God, or an offer of repentance. He doesn’t even leave a business card. He just heals and walks away. He demonstrates love, compassion, and grace with no strings attached.

That seems like a better way to take part in the “culture war”.

Reflecting on the Idea of Culture Wars – Part 3

If you have been reading along, you know that I have expressed my frustration of the way, we Christians have discussed and engaged in the idea of the “culture war”. I’ve been saying a lot of what I don’t want and in this post I hope to communicate things that I do want. In fact, I hope we all want them.

First, let us stop calling it a “culture war”. There is one, I know I get it. I am not suggesting that we call it a “cultural misunderstanding”. I know many have not only been hurt but destroyed, physically, emotionally, spiritually, in every way possible. Not only am I aware of this but my heart is broken for this too.

Further, it’s not the violent imagery that I am against. Our Scriptures are full of that type of imagery, “fighting the good fight”, “I’ve come with a sword”, “Our battle is not against flesh and blood”. I am aware of this too. What I am frustrated by is that imagery lends itself to readily to “Us versus Them” mentality. And I find that unloving. The narrative of the New Testament (and you could argue for the Old as well) is that the Christian mentality needs to be “Us and Them” or even “Us for Them”.

in good conscience, I cannot sing, “They will know we are Christians by our love” and preach against the culture war. I do not want to create and label any more “enemies” that what we already have. And to those who call themselves as enemies of the Christian faith, we should find ways to reconcile.

As Christians, we are called to show the sacrificial love of Jesus, demonstrate reconciliation, teach, disciple, serve, and be a part of redemption. That’s a messy process because it involves dealing with the consequences of people’s selfishness, sin (personal and institutional), and pride. Then there is our own sin and failures that do not allow us, myself included, serve in perfect righteousness. I am very well aware of many instances when in the attempt of serving someone, I have hurt that person or someone else. But praise God, there have been times when serving has brought healing, glorified God,

I suspect it’s true for you as it is for me, when we serve, we do not feel like we are at war.

I want to be a part of the momentum created by hope and redemption. I want to encourage people to not only support churches, para-church organizations, and political parties but also support local and global ministries, NGO’s and various charities. Please note that I did not stop supporting the former and choose the latter. Please also note that I do not mean financially only.

Imagine what it would look like if we channelled our energy, resources and focus from our many institutions, broadcasts, magazines, newsletters, fundraising etc. to people, projects, and programs that helped the suffering and oppressed. I know that was a long sentence and I know many will dismiss it as naive idealism but this is my prayer. If the last 100 years of conservative evangelicalism was spent on building institutions, subscriber lists and all too often, self-serving programs, may the next 100 be spent focused outside of our walls.

One last thing I wish to offer. My ultimate hope is not to alleviate the suffering of the world. As one who also suffers in some ways, I know it is not possible to live a pain-free life. Even if we could, I believe there’s more. My great hope is that people be reconciled to a loving God that sent His Son Jesus to die for our sins and allow us to be reconciled to our Creator. So may the Holy Spirit work through, in and beyond us as we live this hope and mission but I have concluded that people are seldom reconciled in war, they’re further hurt and displaced. Let us do better. More on this next time.

Reflecting on the Idea of Culture Wars Part 2

I finished the previous post by offering a brief overview to my introduction to the idea of the “culture war”. This post I want to engage in how many of us as Christians have been fighting the culture war. As you saw in the last post, there was a connection between Christianity and political conservatism. While not all Christians have made that same connection, I did. It was a reflection of our Christian faith – to vote conservative. While I will not argue that the right evangelical expression is to vote more liberal/left (or moderate, or not vote at all, etc.), it is my aim that our faith must transcend our political ideologies. Said another way, our faith can be reflected in our political views but not defined. For me, “fighting” in the culture war did not allow me to see that and I suspect that many young evangelicals can relate.

It should be said that some do not actually see a culture war but instead see many expressions of beliefs and practices that some respond with varying degrees of tolerance/intolerance. For our purposes, I will simply use the idea of “culture war” to reference the fight that results between our conflicting ideologies, namely conservative versus liberal, Christian versus non-Christian. However, as the posts unfold, I am more interested in the Christian’s perspective and posture towards the idea of the culture war.

From where I sit, I see four typical responses to the way the culture war has been fought by Christians.

One is way of the “Conquistador”. They can be the trailblazing missionaries that jump off of boats, planes, and blogs ready to claim soul and land “in the name of Jesus!”  You could argue the missions movement of the 19th century was another example of this. You could also make the case the birth of America was rooted in this too but good luck explaining how the treatment of the Native Americans was moral, Christian, or in an sense, acceptable.  But those may be subjects for another day.

Easier examples might be the more modern versions of the “Conquistador”.  Sometimes the Conquistador is an innovator/builder/mogul like a Billy Graham.  At its laziest and lamest, the Conquistador is the “copycat” who sees You Tube and creates God Tube or sees MySpace and creates HisSpace or something like that. The purpose is to claim “space” in the name of God.

The second response I see is the “Guardian” mentality. The Guardian is the one who is scaring the life out of people on radio, television, internet, and from behind the pulpit. “The ACLU is coming to get you! And if they don’t succeed, the other secularists will! And so, if you send $50 to our organization, “Keep God Where He Belongs”, you will do your part in making sure the omni-presence of God stays where it belongs, right here in America!” Yes, that is a caricature.

Probably a better connection point is the common sentiment that the 1950’s were a very Christian and moral time in America and we need to get back to it. It’s the hope of Pleasantville and the personalities are the televangelists like Falwell, Robertson, Dobson, etc. You could say that the Guardian mentality is the generation (not 40 years of time but of mentality) after the Conquistador. They quote Paul and the Founding Fathers in the same breath. That’s a problem for the Christ-follower who claims to be seeking the Kingdom of Jesus.

Succeeding the Guardian is the Debater/Protester/Activisit. This person is a combination of the Conquistador and Guardian. They are (re)claiming something and guarding something else. In the political world, it could be Ann Coulter. In the subversive Christian world, it could be a Shane Claiborne. (By the way, this is the only time in the entire internet that those two names will be found in back to back sentences). This person is typically passionate and prophetic. To its extreme, this person is the assassin.

The final Christian response to the culture war is the “Private Apathetic”. This is the person who has more or less seen the gravity of the situation, has fired upon others in the culture war, has been fired upon and has been wounded. This person has regretted hurting others and being hurt and has consequently abandoned the fight.

Some have retreated deep within the Christian sub-culture and filled their days praying for the rapture while waving their finger of judgement at the decadent world. While others have abandoned any form of institution whatsoever and in some cases, forsaken Christian community as well, wishing only to worship God “privately”.

What’s interesting to me is that most of us have dabbled in all four mentalities at some point, some at the same time.

Now, I am not saying that there is no virtue in any of these. I am trying to draw broad strokes on a blog post here. Certainly there is a place for Innovators. Indeed, there is a time when we do need to guard important matters. There is a place for debate, protest (hello Protestant Reformation), and activism. There is also a time to retreat from the affairs of the world and find rest and renewal. I would contend that the work and the cross of Christ can be seen in these mentalities and more. I would also argue that the work and cross of Christ go much further and thus, so should we.

I’ll pick up here in the next post.

Reflecting on the idea of Culture Wars

It was back in college (Liberty University) that I learned about the “Culture War”. I remember having to be convinced that there was one. Prior to that, I do not remember having many enemies. In the 90’s, I think I disliked two groups of people, abortion doctors and Red Sox fans ;-). Around that time, I only had a few problems, bad luck with girls, Greek (the language, not any frat reference. Come on, the context is Liberty University! ;-), and rock n’roll sucked. As I recall, in 1997, there were two songs on the radio, Matchbox’s 20 “Push” and Sugar Ray’s “Fly”. Oh wait, there was Chumbawaba and boy bands were about to take over the world. In response, I started listening to John Coltrane, Miles Davis and other classic jazz musicians.

Anyway, I was informed that we were at war. I’m not talking about Ephesians 6 (Our battle is not flesh and blood …), but a war of competing ideologies, beliefs and values and the fate of the world rested on it. My real enemies were the ACLU, Bill Clinton and his Democrats, and Marilyn Manson. It was then that I started reading Chuck Colson’s Breakpoint, World Magazine and books by Cal Thomas and William Bennett. I was also very interested in apologetics and really believed that I could prove Christianity. So Ravi Zacharias, RC Sproul, and Phillip Johnson and on serious days, Gary Habermas and William Craig. I remember that summer reading Robert Bork’s Slouching Towards Gomorrah (which is an awesome book title) and thinking that I needed to be ready “to take a stand” and “hold the line” because a good Christian was a good soldier.

Like all good soldiers, I was headed down the road of not questioning my superiors. The orders I was given were more of disposition and rarely of action (after all, we were evangelicals ;-) But as influential as Bork’s book was, I remember coming across a report where the ACLU represented a student-led after-school Bible study in a public school. What??? I knew that Jesus said, “a house divided against itself cannot stand” but was this something even more diabolical? I started seeing that things were a bit more complicated. Later I began understanding things like why many people had abortions (turns out, the white, affluent, liberal, career women represented a very, very, tiny percentage. It was lower-income minorities that comprised much of the stats.) And while that didn’t change my position on the topic of abortion, I started seeing the complexity of life, this world and God, Himself (including His mercy and justice).

Later I stumbled across Addicted to Mediocrity by Franky Schaeffer which eventually led to the work of his father, Francis. Titles by C.S. Lewis and Peter Kreeft starting filling up my shelf and while I have always been and still remain conservative/moderate on most issues, the idea of objectivity (meaning that we as flawed, sinful people could actually be objective) was losing its grip on me. While I did not recognize it at the time, the idea of postmodernity was becoming a good thing and instead of seeing myself at war within my society, I started understanding the potential virtues of plurality and the power of relationships and conversation.
Part 2 later.

Doubt is Good … Reflecting on Our "Religulous" Winter Retreat – Part 2

Doubt is Good For the Soul
The first time I showed Religulous to our youth leaders, some confessed that they felt guilty for laughing. Being a product of sacrilege, I didn’t think too much of it. I was more concerned about the doubt that would be created and reinforced – which was part of the reason I was showing the movie. Everyone I know doubts. Not just Christians – I mean everyone I know doubts something that they were at one point certain about.

It’s my opinion that we don’t doubt enough! If we did, I think many of us would have a stronger faith. For many the first time they truly examine their doubts is in the proverbial ancient literature class where they discover the idea of “Genre”. The Bible is a narrative with various genres – Historical, Law, Poetic, Apocalyptic,

I think a solid youth ministry discusses that first. For Bible-believing Christians, we don’t teach our students enough Bible. There are various reasons for that which I can’t get into here but we don’t teach enough Bible. Even more importantly, as Bible-believing Christians, we don’t teach our students enough the importance of walking in the Spirit. When we explore our doubts as we are seeking the Holy Spirit, a lot of beauty, truth, and the presence of God is found.

“Umm, God, Do You Really Exist. Can I ask that without getting smited?”
God is not afraid of our questions. I used to think He was. I used to think that my submitting any question in the direction of God would grieve God and I’d either get cursed with a broken television or worse get called into pastoring at a King James Version only church (I can the blog reader say it right now, “If the King James was good enough for St. Paul – it’s good enough for me!”.

Doubt is Two-Edged Sword
All that said, doubt is a two-edged sword. People give up the Christian faith for various reasons, but among them is because of a giving into their doubts. Bill Maher would say something like, “No, they grew up out of these idiot fantasies about space gods and virgins and started thinking for themselves!” But whenever I think of some of his statements, the CK Chesterton line comes to mind, “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything.”

The Line Between Great Doubt and Great Faith is Very Thin
I used to also think that the less you doubted the more your faith grew. Though I’m not a good linear thinker, if you could picture a line and on the far left, it was labeled, “Great Doubt” and the far right “Great Faith”, i would have assumed that they were polar opposites from each other. But I think it’s a pretty thin line. It’s when we believe in spite of the doubt, in spite of the pain, that our faith is growing.

I see Matthew 7:7-8 as a promise to the seeker of faith (“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened”) and reminded our students as I have been reminded many times, great people of faith doubted before they obeyed – Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah, Thomas and you could even make the case that Jesus was tempted to fall into doubt. When He’s prays in the garden for the cup to pass over him, that is not just poetry. Luke 22 describes that he prayed so earnestly that drops of blood fell to the ground. Wether this is figurative language or the A rare physiological phenomenon “hematohidrosi“, he was certainly stressed. I dislike the idea that Jesus skipped his way to His crucifixion and gave a “thumbs up” before being nailed to the cross. In fact, it’s this Jesus in Gesthemane that encourages my faith. Indeed, Jesus knows what it’s like to at least be tempted to doubt … and to believe.

I’m not sure where I found this now but have loved it:

The Skeptic’s Prayer
Dear God,
sometimes I’m not altogether sure what I believe or why I believe it. But I do want to know you. I want to find you. I thank you that you’re walking with me on this journey, even though it often doesn’t feel like it. I invite you to plan an even bigger role. Guide me, lead me, help me, God. I want to rest in you. I want to work with you. I want to believe in you.

Reflecting on our "Religulous" Winter Retreat Post 1

Last weekend we went on our Sr. High Winter Retreat to Harvey Cedars. For the past few years, these winter retreats have been very confirming moments in our youth ministry. We’ve been doing movie-themed weekends (Crash, Saved!, The Matrix) and getting into deeper discussions than we normally get to during our Wednesday night gatherings. Being away from a Friday to a Monday, not having school the next day and having multiple sessions allows for us to dive deeper into our themes.

This year we showed Religulous and our main themes centered around doubt, faith and practice.

What’s interesting to us about Bill Maher is that he grew up in Rivervale, NJ and graduated from Pascack Valley High school which is less than a mile from our church and of course attended by several of our students. He grew up attending a Catholic church in the next town as well. As his story goes, they stopped attending when he turned 13. We laughed several times at these connections and we couldn’t resist wondering if Bill ever visited our church.

What would we have said to him? What should we have said? We made it clear that we ought not to demonize Bill. He’s not an enemy of the faith. In fact, he brings up various points that we found easy to agree with. Generally speaking most of the types of Christianity he presents in his mockumentary are types of Christianity that I disagree with as well. From greedy televangelists to characters and visitors at Orlando’s Holy Land Experience, I shook my head too many times frustrated by what is considered “Christian”. We all did.

While it is necessary for us to remain humble and acknowledge the many stumbling blocks that we have created, I hope we were reminded that we desperately need to be a better Church. We need to practice a better Christianity.

A Brief Endorsement of A New Kind of Christianity

I’ve been reading the new Brian McLaren book, A New Kind of Christianity and have been trying to figure out what to say about it.  First, it’s pretty good.  Second, I hope people really read it.  Third, it seems to me that people have been very quick to label this book as “(insert your word or phrase here)” but I feel that misses the point of the book.

It reminds me of why I love reading these types of books.
Here’s my basic premise.
1. As a follower of Christ, I love God and others.
2. Because of the New Testament (specifically the Resurrection of Jesus), I believe in the mission of the Church and doing my part in serving God’s Kingdom.
3. The Church is failing to capture the attention of the culture. Meaning more and more, people are becoming less interested in Church, Christianity, and even Jesus.

If this describes you as well but you have not heard of Brian McLaren or heard that he is heretical, I’d like to ask you to read this book before making that conclusion. While I have yet to meet anyone who agrees with Brian point for point, he is one of the good guys. He mentions in the beginning of the book the many labels he has acquired over the years, “Dangerous”, “UnBiblical” and of course as mentioned , “Heretic”. He isn’t. And as a conservative evangelical, I want to continue in the conversations that he raises because I find these conversations to be very important.

For instance he brings up Scripture,
He asks, “What is the Gospel”. Most people like to say that it’s the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, which it is but is that all it is?  For years now, I have been discovering that the Gospel is so much bigger than I ever gave it credit for.  He discusses Scripture, the Church and also asks some important questions regarding sexuality.

Again, these are conversations and they are worth having. I encourage those who are interested in the future of the Christian faith to consider picking up a copy of New Kind of Christianity. In the meantime, I plan on posting more about this promising book.

Monday Morning Brief – 2.22.2010

What I’ve Been Up to –
1. We had our Sr. High Winter Retreat last weekend at Harvey Cedars. I am thankful that it went well. I plan on blogging some thoughts concerning our material. We showed Bill Maher’s Religulous and discussed the topics of doubt and faith. A lot of content but our students did well with it. We also had a pajama party game night and a talent show over the weekend. Some really great moments.
2. Went to the Ecclessia gathering last minute. That was a good thing for me and I really enjoyed my time there. Dallas Willard’s Divine Conspiracy was a game changer for me back in college. I am realizing that I need to read more of him, I need more voices like him in my life. There were some other excellent speakers there too, I hope to blog about that too.
3. Susan and I went out to eat over the weekend. It’s funny that we used to go out all the time and now a monthly date is quite the event. Also funny that we decided to go to the Olive Garden. I know, I know, it’s not cool but we do like that salad dressing and we said, “Who cares about fine local eateries, we are going to sell out to the corporate juggernauts because they do have awesome salad dressing!” It’s like the Big Mac secret sauce.
4. Watching Lost and reading Lost blogs. I can’t wait for this week.

Regarding Lent –
If ever there was a time of the heart’s preparation that I needed, it’s now. For years I had given up coffee and I’ve gotten bored with that and so I am among the many that have decided not to give up something tangible but to give up something spiritual. If the idea is about trust and prayer then the I need to give up my anxieties. I know how that reads on a blog – lame. But if there’s one thing that would help me prepare my heart to celebrate the Risen Savior Jesus, it would be to expend my mental energy on the things of life, loving God and others, sacrifice and life again as opposed to the things that are sabotaging my life. It feels like there is a lot going on and it’s distracting and I truly need to focus on the essentials here and am committing to some spiritual disciplines to get me there.

What I am Reading –
Read The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift by R Todd Mangum (one of our Biblical professors).
Reading A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren. My fellow Evangelicals, as you know fewer people are calling themselves Christian (or Evangelical). We should read this book because it carries a number of insights that would be helpful as we serve the Kingdom.
Need to read Piper’s Future Grace. This is like the Ridderbos of 2 classes ago – long-winded, reformed, not yet sure if it’s repetitive.) In truth, I think it’s actually a good book.
Just started NT Wright’s Justification for a independent class that Evan and I just started.

What I am Listening to –
Another Side of Bob Dylan, The Wilco album, and some worshipful playlists.
Relevant Podcast. And I’m behind on the rest.
Jim Belcher’s Deep Church on audio. Everyone has raved about this book and I think it’s pretty good too. I’ll reserve my final thoughts for a review post but Belcher sounds like a fair soul at this point. He’s trying to see the traditional-emerging discussion from all angles and I give him credit for that.

What’s Going on in our Student Ministry –
Invisible Children benefit Concert this Friday. If you’re local, come on by to the Back Door Cafe in the Nyack Community Center at 7pm. We will have the IC roadie team sharing between sets and the music will be by local high school bands in the Bergen-Rockland county areas.
We will be starting a few new series soon. One is called, “Practical Atheists – We say we believe but do we live like we do?” and another on how the Bible was put together. Should be fun.
Looks like I’m going to a lot of school plays in the coming weeks. We have some serious talent in our group so I’m looking forward to it.

What I’m Looking Forward to –
Catching my breath at home.
Second Mile service this weekend. The message is entitled “Love & Heartbreak From Chicago to Dashboard Confessional and yada, yada, yada”.

Reflecting on the Beautiful Life Dawood Abdelmessih

Last week I had the privilege of sharing at my uncle’s funeral service. While I don’t literally remember exactly what I said, here’s my best attempt at a written eulogy and some thoughts on his life and ours.

Dawood (David) Boutros Abdelmessih – September 7, 1935 – February 1, 2010

We’ve come with such heavy hearts. In all the years and in all the funerals I’ve been to, I am always stunned by how much each service hurts.  Probably because among other reasons, the pain reminds us of love.
Each time we enter the season of grieving, our heavy hearts remind us of that the superficial things of life will fade. We are reminded of the things that we have organized and centered our lives around are so trivial. If we were feeling numb, it’s during grief that we feel again. We are awoken by the pain of it all.
But worst of all – Death reminds us that we are not in control.
the reason we have gathered in a church is not out of tradition. The reason for which we pray is not out of piety and the reason we sing is not due to preference.
I know we have have lost someone very special and dear to us – a husband, a father, a grandfather, a brother, an uncle and a dear friend to many but today
A son has returned home to his heavenly Father.

I Corinthians 15:50-58 tells us quite emphatically that death is not in control
For the Christian, this is also a day of celebration for today is a day of salvation.

Many things come to mind when I think of my uncle. The picture to the left of the casket was very appropriate as his smile shone through.
I remember him being a very tender and loving soul. I think of him and his music and how he loved songs. I’ve always wondered what is about a song that is so powerful? It is more than words and a tune. I think of how we play certain ones over and over. How we project ourselves into them and think of them as soundtracks for our lives. I think of how we reflect on them and how we are anxious to share them with each other. What is it about a song that makes it so beautiful?

I remember it was Christmas day and I was about 10 and everyone was staying over our home. I had gone to bed and had been awoken by the playing of a piano. I’m sure it sounded great, but when you’re 10 you have little appreciation for such talent. All I knew was that I was sleeping and someone was banging away at the piano. I got out of bed, wiped the sleep from my eyes, and sought out the man responsible for waking me from my slumber. I saw my uncle playing away and as a bratty 10 year old, I told him that it was late and he couldn’t play the piano at this time of night.

I remember realizing that he seemed quite oblivious to the time of night and I remember him cupping his hands around my face and saying he was sorry that he woke me up. I also remember thinking that his reaction made it difficult to remain angry with him. I returned to bed, got under my covers, adjusted my pillow, closed my eyes, took a deep breath and resolved to fall back asleep. It was at that moment, the piano resumed playing. I couldn’t believe it. I now know that a musician needs to finish the song.

I reflect on my favorite songs and my favorite melodies and my favorite words. Among them is Mark 12:29-31. In a lot of ways, Scripture is a lot like a brilliant song. You think about it, memorize it sometimes, imagine your life in it, etc. To love God and to love others is a song I hope to keep singing. Indeed, it’s one for all of us and frankly I believe it’s the song that makes all the difference. Who is it that I truly love with all of my heart? It is myself, is it my God, is it my wife, kids, family? Is it in loving God, I am able to love my family better? Understanding what we love reveals a great deal about us. It tells us who is the god/God of our lives.

The night before the funeral, I kept asking my cousin Ayman what his dad’s favorite song was. He kept saying that there were so many, it was impossible for his dad to pick one. As he is a talented piano player as well, he explained that there were just too many songs to pick from. However, my cousin remembered one of the last songs his dad played on the piano. The whole family had gathered and my uncle, frail and a bit weak made his way over to the piano. I imagine he felt that they were made for each other and the most natural thing to do was to play. He chose an old Arabic hymn that was about rejoicing about the day one accepts Jesus as their Savior.

My cousin kept saying that there are just too many amazing songs and it’s impossible to pick one. And that got me thinking – Our lives are like songs and God loves them all. Sadly, there are short songs, and there are longer ones. I wonder, if our lives are like songs, what kind of song are our lives playing today?

Have you ever heard a song that started appealing but as it played, it seemed to have lost its way?
Or have you ever heard a song that you weren’t sure about from the beginning but as it continued, as it went into the chorus, and the second verse, and as it built, it was just amazing!? I wonder if that’s the song of the repentant, the forgiven the song of the second chance.

Days of grief move differently. Time takes on a different type of pace. In the strangeness of it is an appropriate time for all of us to take inventory of our lives and reflect on the type of life or the type of song our lives are singing.

My uncle loved music, he loved singing songs. But because of death, his body can no longer sing.
But the beauty of death for the believer is that it cannot silence the soul.  For again, death is not in control, and this is the significance of the Resurrection of Jesus.  Psalm 40:3 says, that God “has put a new song in my mouth” and while my uncle could not choose a favorite song in this world, I like to imagine that this new song is his favorite.