Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Top 10 Things About Thanksgiving Day

1 - Jesus

2 - Robyn

3 - Our kids

4 - Extended family

5 - Turkey, dressing, potatoes, & gravy dinner
(& pumpkin pie for dessert)

6 - Wife will finally allow me to listen to Christmas music

7 - Football

8 - Macy's parade

9 - The whole Pilgrims & Indians thing

10 - Post-dinner nap

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Best Thanksgiving Movies

1 - A Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

2 - A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973)

3 - Holiday Inn (1942)

4 - Desperate Crossings (2006)

5 - Plymouth Adventure (1952)

6 - Pocahontas (1995)

7 - Alice's Restaurant (1969)

8 - Pieces of April (2003)

9 - Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)

10 - Home for the Holidays (1995)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Best Rock & Roll Movies Ever

1 - A Hard Day's Night (1964)

2 - Woodstock (1970)

3 - Dont Look Back (1967)

3 - This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

4 - Stop Making Sense (1984)

5 - Purple Rain (1984)

6 - The Last Waltz (1978)

7 - The Blues Brothers (1980)

8 - The Concert for Bangladesh (1972)

9 - The Kids Are Alright (1979)

10 - High Fidelity (2000)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Greatest Horror Film Icons

1 - Lon Chaney

2 - Boris Karloff

3 - Bela Lugosi

4 - Vincent Price

5 - Christopher Lee

6 - Peter Cushing

7 - Anthony Hopkins

8 - Donald Pleasance

9 - Anthony Perkins

10 - Elsa Lanchester

11 - Linda Blair
12 - Lon Chaney, Jr.
13 - Colin Clive
14 - Max Schreck
15 - Janet Leigh
16 - Peter Lorre
17 - Robert Englund
18 - Jack Nicholson
19 - Jamie Lee Curtis
20 - Heather O'Rourke

Friday, October 16, 2009

Best Videos in Rock & Roll History

1 - "Take on Me" (1985) by a-ha

2 - "Billie Jean" (1983) by Michael Jackson

3 - "Sledgehammer" (1986) by Peter Gabriel

4 - "Hurt" (2002) by Johnny Cash

5 - "Thriller" (1983) by Michael Jackson

6 - "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (1991) by Nirvana

7 - "Subterranean Homesick Blues" (1965) by Bob Dylan

8 - "Vogue" (1990) by Madonna

9 - "One" (1989) by Metallica

10 - "Addicted to Love" (1985) by Robert Palmer

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Scariest Films Ever Made

1 -Scott of the Antarctic (1948)

2 - Psycho (1960)

3 - Jaws (1975)

4 - The Blair Witch Project (1999)

5 - Phantom of the Opera (1925)

6 - The Exorcist (1973)

7 - The Amityville Horror (1979)

8 - Deliverance (1972)

9 - The Haunting (1963)

10 - Race With The Devil (1975)

Friday, October 09, 2009

Happy Birthday John Lennon

John Lennon was born sixty-nine years ago today.

Here is a performance by John Lennon in 1968 from the Rolling Stones' TV special "Rock & Roll Circus". Mick Jagger handles the introduction, followed by a pretty cool performance of the Beatles' "Yer Blues" featuring Eric Clapton on guitar, Keith Richards on bass, and Mitch Mitchell on drums.

Best Records in Rock & Roll History

(note: This is not a "Best Songs" list, nor it is a list of "Most Important Records";
those would be decidedly different lists)

1 - "Good Vibrations" (1966) by the Beach Boys

2 - "Be My Baby" (1963) by the Ronettes

3 - "Like A Rolling Stone" (1965) by Bob Dylan

4 - "Strawberry Fields Forever" (1967) by the Beatles

5 - "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" (1968) by Marvin Gaye

6 - "Johnny B. Goode" (1958) by Chuck Berry

7 - "Runaway" (1961) by Del Shannon

8 - "River Deep - Mountain High" (1966) by Ike & Tina Turner

9 - "Reach Out I'll Be There" (1966) by the Four Tops

10 - "Respect" (1967) by Aretha Franklin

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Greatest Classic Monsters

1 - Vampires
(best: Lugosi, 1931; Lee, 1958)

2 - Frankenstein's Monster(s)
(best: Karloff, 1931; Karloff & Lanchester, 1935; Boyle, 1974)

3 - Werewolves
(best: Chaney Jr, 1941; Naughton, 1981)

4 - Kong
(best: 1933)

5 - Witches
(best: Hamilton, 1939; Lake, 1942; Hayes, 1969; Robertson, 2007)

6 - Ghosts
(best: The Haunting, 1963; Blair Witch Project, 1999)

7 - Mummies
(best: Karloff, 1932; Parker, 1955)

8 - Zombies
(best: Romero films, 1968 ff)

9 - Godzilla
(best: Toho films, 1954 ff)

10 - Phantom of the Opera
(best: Chaney, 1925)

Friday, October 02, 2009

Most Overlooked for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

(note: these artists should already be in the Hall, but sadly are not;
several are nominated for possible inlcusion in 2010)

1 - Bernie Taupin (non-performer)

2 - Patsy Cline

3 - Tommy James &
the Shondells

4 - Pat Benatar

5 - Brian Epstein (non-performer)

6 - ABBA

7 - Genesis

8 - Chic

9 - The Monkees

10 - Moody Blues

Friday, September 25, 2009

Most Underrated Artists in Rock and Roll History

1 - Crowded House

2 - The Monkees

3 - The Moody Blues

4 - Dave Edmunds / Rockpile

5 - Culture Club

6 - Stray Cats

7 - Squeeze

8 - Procol Harum

9 - Blue Cheer

10 - Chris Isaak

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Greatest NFL Dynasties

1 - Pittsburgh Steelers 1970s

2 - San Francisco 49ers 1980s/1990s

3 - Green Bay Packers 1960s

4 - New England Patriots 2000s

5 - Cleveland Browns 1940s/1950s

6 - Dallas Cowboys 1990s

7 - Miami Dolphins 1970s

8 - Dallas Cowboys 1970s/1980s

9 - Buffalo Bills 1990s

10 - Pittsburgh Steelers 1990s/2000s

Friday, September 18, 2009

Greatest Vocal Groups in Rock and Roll History

(note: these are not bands, but groups of singers)

1 - Temptations

2 - Miracles

3 - Four Tops

4 - Platters

5 - Drifters

6 - Shirelles

7 - Four Seasons

8 - Supremes

9 - Coasters

10 - Martha & the Vandellas

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Greatest Defensive players in NFL history

1 - Joe Greene

2 - Lawrence Taylor

3 - Reggie White

4 - Mel Blount

5 - Bruce Smith

6 - Mike Singletary

7 - Rod Woodson

8 - Deacon Jones

9 - Dick Butkus

10 - Ronnie Lott

Friday, September 11, 2009

Greatest Duos in Rock and Roll History

1 - Everly Brothers

2 - Simon & Garfunkel

3 - Ike & Tina Turner

4 - Sam & Dave

5 - Eurythmics

6 - Righteous Brothers

7 - Steely Dan

8 - Sonny & Cher

9 - Jan & Dean

10 - White Stripes

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Greatest Wide Receivers in NFL history

1 - Jerry Rice

2 - Don Hutson

3 - Randy Moss

4 - Lynn Swann

5 - Michael Irvin

6 - Steve Largent

7 - Cris Carter

8 - Marvin Harrison

9 - John Stallworth

10 - Lance Alworth

Monday, September 07, 2009

Prayer for Labor Day

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart,
as working for the Lord, not for human masters,
since you know that you will receive
an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.
It is the Lord Christ you are serving."
(Colossians 3:23-24, TNIV)

Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another
that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives:
So guide us in the work we do,
that we may do it not for self alone,
but also for the common good;
and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor,
make us mindful of the rightful aspirations
of other workers,
and arouse our concern
for those who are out of work;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.
(adapted from the Book of Common Prayer)

Friday, September 04, 2009

Greatest Frontmen in Rock and Roll History

(note: these are persons who fronted groups, not solo performers)

1 - Mick Jagger (Rolling Stones)

2 - Freddie Mercury (Queen)

3 - Bono (U2)

4 - Jim Morrison (Doors)

5 - Michael Jackson (Jackson 5)

6 - Roger Daltrey (Who)

7 - Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin)

8 - Steven Tyler (Aerosmith)

9 - Debbie Harry (Blondie)

10 - Axl Rose (Guns n'Roses)

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Greatest Running Backs in NFL history

1 - Jim Brown

2 - Barry Sanders

3 - Emmitt Smith

4 - Walter Payton

5 - O.J. Simpson

6 - Franco Harris

7 - Gale Sayers

8 - Eric Dickerson

9 - Earl Campbell

10 - Tony Dorsett

Friday, August 28, 2009

Greatest Songwriters in Rock and Roll History

1 - John Lennon & Paul McCartney

2 - Bob Dylan

3 - Chuck Berry

4 - Carole King & Gerry Goffin

5 - Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller

6 - Smokey Robinson

7 - Brian Wilson

8 - Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier & Eddie Holland

9 - Paul Simon

10 - George Harrison

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Best Current NFL Quarterbacks

1 - Tom Brady

2 - Peyton Manning

3 - Ben Roethlisberger

4 - Drew Brees

5 - Donovan McNabb

6 - Kurt Warner

7 - Brett Favre

8 - Philip Rivers

9 - Matt Ryan

10 - Eli Manning

Friday, August 21, 2009

Greatest Drummers in Rock and Roll History

1 - Ringo Starr

2 - Keith Moon

3 - Ginger Baker

4 - D.J. Fontana

5 - Stewart Copeland

6 - Earl Palmer

7 - Mitch Mitchell

8 - Hal Blaine

9 - John Bonham

10 - Gene Chrisman

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Greatest Quarterbacks in NFL history (Super Bowl era)

1 - Joe Montana

2 - John Elway

3 - Johnny Unitas

4 - Terry Bradshaw

5 - Tom Brady

6 - Dan Marino

7 - Steve Young

8 - Peyton Manning

9 - Brett Favre

10 - Roger Staubach

Friday, August 14, 2009

Greatest Keyboardists in Rock and Roll History

1 - Stevie Wonder

2 - Ray Charles

3 - Jerry Lee Lewis

4 - Little Richard

5 - Billy Preston

6 - Billy Joel

7 - Ray Manzarek

8 - Elton John

9 - Steve Winwood

10 - Tony Banks

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Best Current NFL Coaches

1 - Bill Belichick

2 - Jeff Fisher

3 - Mike Tomlin

4 - Andy Reid

5 - Tom Coughlin

6 - Tony Sparano

7 - Ken Whisenhunt

8 - Mike Smith

9 - Jack Del Rio

10 - Norv Turner

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Great post from Jay Voorhees

Over at Only Wonder Understands, the blog of Jay Voorhees (a UM pastor in Tennessee), we find a wonderful post entitled The Myth of Relevancy.

Jay mentions the seeming obsession in contemporary Church circles with the desire to be "relevant" and illustrates his concerns simply, briefly, and quite well. I recommend this post as some great food for thought.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Greatest Bassists in Rock and Roll History

1 - Paul McCartney

2 - John Entwistle

3 - Bill Black

4 - Carol Kaye

5 - James Jamerson

6 - Jack Bruce

7 - John McVie

8 - Chris Squire

9 - Noel Redding

10 - John Paul Jones

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Prayer for the Bridgeville, PA tragedy

Gracious God of love, who created a world of harmony and peace which has become broken because of our sin, be with the people affected by the shooting in Bridgeville - those who have been wounded, those who have lost loved ones, as well as the loved ones of the shooter - that by the power of the Holy Spirit there might be healing, there might be reconciliation, there might be forgiveness, and that your reign of justice and tranquility might soon be revealed, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Greatest Coaches in NFL history

1 - Vince Lombardi

2 - Paul Brown

3 - George Halas

4 - Chuck Noll

5 - Don Shula

6 - Tom Landry

7 - Bill Walsh

8 - Joe Gibbs

9 - Bill Belichick

10 - Bill Parcells

Friday, July 31, 2009

Greatest Guitarists in Rock and Roll History

1 - Jimi Hendrix

2 - Eric Clapton

3 - Chuck Berry

4 - Carl Perkins

5 - Scotty Moore

6 - George Harrison

7 - Steve Cropper

8 - Eddie Willis

9 - Jimmy Page

10 - The Edge

Friday, July 24, 2009

Greatest Singers in Rock and Roll History (female)

1 - Aretha Franklin

2 - Tina Turner

3 - Brenda Lee

4 - Patsy Cline

5 - Janis Joplin

6 - Ann Wilson

7 - Etta James

8 - Annie Lennox

9 - Gladys Knight

10 - Shirley Owens

Monday, July 20, 2009

Friday, July 17, 2009

Greatest Singers in Rock and Roll History (male)

1 - Elvis Presley

2 - John Lennon

3 - Paul McCartney

4 - Marvin Gaye

5 - Otis Redding

6 - Sam Cooke

7 - Freddie Mercury

8 - Jackie Wilson

9 - Roy Orbison

10 - Michael Jackson

Friday, July 10, 2009

Greatest Bands in Rock and Roll History

1 - The Beatles

2 - The Who

3 - The Rolling Stones

4 - U2

5 - Creedence Clearwater Revival

6 - The Beach Boys

7 - Cream

8 - Led Zeppelin

9 - Queen

10 - Guns n'Roses

Friday, June 05, 2009

Prayer for Annual Conference 2009

God of the seasons turning,
another year has come and gone
as we prepare to gather for the
Western PA Annual Conference
of the UMC.

To Grove City we will bring
all the celebrations and hardships,
the joys and the sorrows
of the past 12 months.
We will pause to remember those
whose lives we have celebrated
as we said goodbye
until Jesus returns.
We will remember the highlights of the year, ministry moments and opportunities, blessings and transformations, love and compassion.

We will gather to look forward to what the coming years have in store.
We know that they will not always be easy,
that life will always have a mixture of easy and difficult.
As we meet to discuss the life and work of this part of your family
we pray that you would be a part of our discussion.
May your Spirit move in our hearts,
opening them to hear what each of us has to offer,
bringing light to both possibilities and realities,
drawing us always to consider what you would have us be and do
in this time and place.
Remind us that we are called to be bearers of Jesus’ life, light, and love
to all we meet.
Help us to live in such a way that we draw closer to your vision for us
and journey faithfully in your Way.

In our time together help us to celebrate the many gifts we all have to offer.
Help us offer what we can to your service and your glory,
mindful of our great giftedness in so many ways throughout our lives,
even as we are overcome by our individual and collective sin and inadequacy.
These things we pray in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah and Lord,
in whose name and for whose sake we gather together as a community.
- adapted from a prayer by Gord Waldie

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Rerun: Jesus' Ascension

Originally posted May 1, 2008

" they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.'"

- Acts 1:9-11 (NRSV)

Today is Ascension Day...the day on which we remember the "Ascension of the Lord". This Sunday, Christians all over the globe will be remembering this important event (if you're choosing to ignore it, then shame on you!). This event is a crucial theological event that pastors need to talk about and need to address, particularly in today's postmodern environment.

Too often, we get caught up in the idea of Jesus going "up", knowing that as one rises through the atmosphere, one reaches not the otherworldly realm of the Almighty, but Earth's orbit and, eventually, deep space. We must remember that the writer of Acts, as with all the early disciples, were trying to describe something which happened before them which was difficult for them (and us) to understand, using the vocabulary they had, and working out of the worldview they maintained.

In N.T. Wright's fascinating book, Surprised By Hope, he deals extensively with the notion of Jesus' Ascension. Bishop Wright describes heaven - the place to which Jesus "ascended" - not as a place far above in the sky, but rather as another dimension of God's creation, which exists concurrently with earth. He (brilliantly) compares it to C.S. Lewis' Narnia, which is distinct from our world yet only a wardrobe away.

The Church believes that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, and affirms this each Sunday in the Creed. Given Bishop Wright's understanding, this means that Jesus is very present with us now, though he is distinctly somewhere else. This says wonderful things about the absolute Lordship of Christ.

More than this, however, the fact that Jesus is now in heaven and not on earth reminds us that he will return on the Day of the Lord. We read on page 117 of Bishop Wright's book,
"At no point in the Gospels or Acts does anyone say anything remotely like, 'Jesus has gone into heaven, so let’s be sure we can follow him.' They say, rather, 'Jesus is in heaven, ruling the whole world, and he will one day return to make that rule complete'."
So, the Ascension strengthens not only our understanding of the Lordship of Christ (a strengthening which is greatly needed in today's Church), it also reminds us that our eternity will be spent not "in heaven" as disembodied spirits flying around the clouds (a la "I'll Fly Away"), but rather in the New Jerusalem on the New Earth, as transformed and embodied children of the living God, a concept sadly forgotten by many Christians, but a concept which has incredibly far reaching implications, theologically, practically, missionally, politically and socially.

So, my prayer is that the Church is blessed this Ascension Day, and that pastors and congregations across the planet ponder these issues and rejoice in the hope of glory!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Rerun: The Ascension of Jesus

Originally posted May 14, 2007

"He said to them, 'This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.' Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.

"He told them, 'This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.'

"When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God."

- Luke 24:44-53 (TNIV)

I think that the Ascension of Our Lord might be the final act in God's narrative of the redemption of humankind (with Pentecost and the parousia being a glorious epilogue). I truly wish that we made a bigger deal out of this almost-forgotten holy day.

Luke's account of the Ascension (often forgotten in favor of the account in Acts 1) is a tremendously powerful passage. It presents a summary of the Passion and Easter, going on to commission the disciples for ministry, giving the promise of the Spirit's power. The skeleton of the gospel is encapsulated in a few verses!

Finally, after blessing his disciples, Jesus is "taken up into heaven". To be honest, this sounds very antiquated to me. After all, while the Biblical writers operated out of a pre-modern "three-tiered universe" understanding, we know that if one goes up, up, up into the sky, they'll arrive not in the Throne Room of Heaven, but in orbit and, eventually, deep space.

But we ought not allow ourselves to become too sidetracked with physics, which most pastors don't understand anyway (myself included). Instead, I'm intrigued by the language the Gospel writer used to describe this bizarre event. To describe the idea that Jesus was "taken up", Luke used the Greek word anaphero, which certainly does mean "to be taken up or lifted up to a higher place".

It's an interesting word, wonderfully rich in depth of meaning. Anaphero, as it happens, was also used to mean "to offer a sacrifice on the altar".

Look at these other New Testament usages of the word:

"Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself." - Hebrews 7:27

"...Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him." - Hebrews 9:28

"Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?" - James 2:21

In fact, one of the primary themes of the book of Hebrews concerns the motif that Jesus had to ascend to Heaven after his suffering, death, and Resurrection in order to take his place in the Throne Room, where he serves as the Great High Priest and mediates on our behalf...

"Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself." - Hebrews 9:24-26
Symbolic, metaphorical language? Perhaps. But it is powerful language, filled with an astoundingly imperative truth...Jesus' priestly role. I'm not sure evangelicals deal with this particular role of Our Lord particularly well. We love to talk about the Prophet who challenged (and still threatens) the status quo; we are quite fond of the King whose sovereignty we proclaim as absolute in a relativistic world.

But the Priest? That's a mite too Roman for many of us. What's next...Mary? Many evangelical pastors aren't even clear as to what this priestly role is all about.

But the Ascension gives us an opportunity to ponder this aspect of Our Lord's continuing ministry. Jesus, who was the perfect, unblemished sacrifice, ascended to become the Great High Priest who proclaims absolution from the Throne Room of Heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father (a position of honor and authority). This makes the Ascension a crucial part of the redemption story, and something we need to address and celebrate in the Church.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Upcoming UMC Amendments

Of all the many videos available about the upcoming proposals, I appreciate this most, because it comes from the African perspective, which we desperately need to hear.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Beyond Here Lies Nothin'

Haven't updated in a while; hope to get to it soon.

In the meantime, here's Bob Dylan's latest; good stuff.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Sunday 2009!

"When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body.

Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, 'Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?'

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.

As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

'Don't be alarmed,' he said. 'You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid."
- Mark 16;1-8 (NIV)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday 2009

"And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, 'Eloi, Eloi,
lama sabachthani?',
which means, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'...

With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom."

- Mark 15:34, 37-38 (NIV)

Monday, April 06, 2009

Praying the Psalter

"We are in danger of losing the Psalter in our churches; indeed, many have already lost it, and so it is no accident that many people in our congregations do not know how to pray."
- Elizabeth Achtemeier

Friday, April 03, 2009

Interesting idea...

"There lives more faith in honest doubt,
Believe me, than in half the creeds."
- Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Arminianism vs. Calvinism

Here is a link to an admittedly simplistic but effective analogy of the Atonement presented by the Wesleyan Arminian blog.

Thanks to Craig L. Adams.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

St. Augustine on the Church

“He cannot have God for his Father who will not have the Church for his mother.”
-St. Augustine

Marva Dawn on Church shopping

“We have turned churches into 'vendors of religious services and goods' where people shop for worship, instead of 'a body of people on a mission'. People choose a church by what makes them feel good, instead of belonging to a community in which God will kill us, and then raises us up into the new life of obedience!”
- Marva J. Dawn, Living in the Lamblight,
ed. by Hans Boersma

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ron Luce on Leadership

“Those who speak up shape culture.”
- Ron Luce, BattleCry

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Problems with "Contemporary worship"

I have often complained about "contemporary-style" worship, by which I refer to worship styles which generally utilize a "praise band" and newer "choruses" with words projected on a screen or wall, as opposed to organs, choirs, and traditional hymnody (I'm obviously painting with broad strokes).

Some complaints:

1) "Contemporary worship" is not contemporary. It is better termed "Baby Boomer-style" worship, since the Baby Boomer generation (those born in roughly 1945-1967) is the generation which created it. Post-Baby Boomers are creating and recapturing other styles; in fact, "contemporary" worship is really just worship that was contemporary 30 years ago, as opposed to 500+ years ago (as with "traditional" worship). It's no more contemporary than Gregorian chant, and we ought to stop referring to it as such.

2) Baby Boomer worship is largely devoid of Christian symbols. By getting rid of stained glass windows (which tell the story of Jesus and his Church), robes and stoles (which help root the Church in a theological tradition), the liturgical year (which helps root us in Scripture and the salvific story of Jesus), and traditional hymnody (which connect us through music to those saints who have gone before as well as to others who share this hymnody in the Church Universal), as well as other symbols, we sanitize worship of some of its most Christian elements. We thus miss opportunities to teach who Jesus is and who we are in him. One of the most shocking aspects of seeing Joel Osteen on television (other than inadequate theology) is that the cross has been replaced with a rotating globe. Very telling.

3) Baby Boomer worship is extremely exclusive. If I don't know the latest praise band "hit", I simply can't sing it. No music is offered for my education; I simply see the words projected on a screen. I am therefore invited to stand and listen as others sing, while I cannot. That's more concert than worship. If I am not already immersed in the Baby Boomer worship subculture, I am excluded.

4) Many incorrectly believe Baby Boomer worship to be the answer to the decline of the mainline Church. I attended a meeting a few weeks ago at which a United Methodist bishop (gently) chastised those gathered for continuing to sing older songs, such as "How Great Thou Art" (odd, considering that particular song is relatively "contemporary" when compared to the works of, say, Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, or Fanny Crosby). His point was that these songs, produced by earlier generations, simply did not speak to a 21st century population. He failed to show what was so dated about lyrics such as:

"O For A Thousand Tongues to sing my great Redeemer's praise, the glories of my God and King, the triumphs of his grace!"

"Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of his Spirit, washed in his blood."

"Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I once was long but now I'm found; was blind, but now I see!"

"Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia! Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia! Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia! Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!"

"O make me thine forever; and should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never outlive my love for thee."

"When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died; my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride."

"O Love divine, what has thou done! The immortal God hath died for me! The Father's coeternal Son bore all my sins upon the tree. Th' immortal God for me hath died: My Lord, my Love, is crucified!"

"Rescue the perishing, care for the dying, snatch them in pity from sin and the grave; weep o'er the erring one, lift up the fallen, tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save. Rescue the perishing, care for the dying; Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save."

"Be thou my wisdom, and thou my true word; I ever with thee and thou with me, Lord; thou and thou only, first in my heart, great God of heaven, my treasure thou art."

It is not mainline music which has resulted in decline; it is theological uncertainty, missional lethargy, evangelistic malaise, and institutional compromise which is killing us. We need leadership in these areas, not in the remaking of our hymnody.

If we teach the gospel faithfully, as we pledged to do in our ordination vows, these songs can and will come alive for Christians of any century. Poor teaching is no excuse for replacing quality texts with choruses containing less challenging lyrics.

5) The quality of Baby Boomer worship songs is generally poor. I freely admit to being a music snob. I regularly listen to the songs of the greatest songwriters of the past hundred years - John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Brian Wilson, Carole King, George Harrison, and others. The latest Baby Boomer worship hit pales by comparison. Let's be honest: much of what passes for "contemporary Christian music" doesn't stand up to these great writers. Every now and then, there's a good song. But, by and large, it's awfully bad.

This is to say nothing about the poor quality of most praise bands. Again, I plead snobbery. I have heard few (if any) praise bands which can compare to the instrumental mastery of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, or the Who. If you're going to rock it up, do it well - or, please, don't do it.

Here is a link to a post by John Stackhouse entitled "Chris Tomlin’s Worship Songs: We Have Got to Do Better".

I am an advocate of "indigenous worship". Use the gifts and graces of the folks who are part of your congregational fellowship. But don't necessarily reject the practices of traditional worship, which have much to teach. Too often we confuse "traditional" with "traditionalism", two terms which are not synonomous; slavish devotion to things past is not the same as embracing the best of what has gone before. Surely we can be "current" while still recognizing the timeless power in a worship style and in music which has praised God powerfully and inspired the Church through the ages to be her best.

Worship done well that remains Biblical, Spirit-led and Christocentric is always, by definition, relevant. May we strive to do and be our best.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Karl Barth on Preaching

“Preachers must not be boring. To a large extent the pastor and boredom are synonymous concepts. Listeners often think that they have heard already what is being said in the pulpit. They have long since known it themselves. The fault certainly does not lie with them alone.

"Against boredom the only defense is being biblical. If a sermon is biblical, it will not be boring. Holy Scripture is in fact so interesting and has so much that is new and exciting to tell us that listeners cannot even think about dropping off to sleep.”
– Karl Barth, Homiletics
(Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1991), 81.

Friday, March 20, 2009

David Peterson on Worship

"Is worship, then, essentially an experience or feeling?

"Is it to be identified with a special sense of the presence of God, or with some kind of religious ecstasy or with expressions of deep humiliation before God?

"Are there special moments in a Christian meeting when we are truly 'worshipping' God?

"Are church services to be measured by the extent to which they enable the participants to enter into such experiences?

"Such a subjective approach is often reflected in the comments people make about Christian gatherings, but it has little to do with biblical teaching on the matter.

"Furthermore, it creates significant problems for relationships amongst Christians, since not all will share in the same experience and some will inevitably be made to feel that their worship is inferior.

"Worship must involve certain identifiable attitudes, but something is seriously wrong when people equate spiritual self-gratification with worship."

— David Peterson, Engaging with God:
A Biblical Theology of Worship

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Interesting quote

"There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much we know."
- President Barack Obama,
at the National Prayer Breakfast
(Source: The White House)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Here's a great acronymn take-off on the famous (and incorrect) TULIP of Calvinism:

F reed to believe by God's grace
A tonement for All
C onditional Election
T otal Depravity
S ecurity in Christ

Thanks to A.M. Mallett over at Introspectives of an Arminian Christian

Monday, March 16, 2009

Rerun: Was Jesus "punished" for us?

"...he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the suffering that brought us peace,
and through his wounds we are healed."

- Isaiah 53:5

This wonderful verse is crucial in Atonement theology, yet it is often, in my view, mistranslated and misunderstood. This can lead to some views of the Atonement which are not Wesleyan and, perhaps, not even Biblical.

The misunderstood word is the Hebrew word "musar". This is a word that traditionally has meant "correction", "chastisement", "instruction", "suffering", "rebuke", or "discipline", as from a loving father. In fact, "musar" is used 50 times in the Old Testament, and the King James Version always utilizes one of these English words. The ASV followed suit, as did the RSV about 50 years later.

According to Isaiah 53:5, then, and assuming a messianic perspective, Jesus suffered for us. The verse does not teach that Jesus was punished for us; "punishment" comes from an entirely different Hebrew word which is not used in reference to atonement.

This is an important distinction, because punishment and forgiveness are not synonomous, and salvation hinges on forgiveness in Wesleyan theology. When a person is found guilty of a crime, they are sent to prison, the imprisonment being their punishment. Let us assume that they have been sentenced to two years in prison. At the conclusion of those two years, they are freed from their cell, having served out their punishment.

It would be inappropriate for a judge to then say, "You have been in prison for two years; now, you are forgiven." The criminal was not forgiven; he took his punishment. The same would be true if a person received a fine for a parking violation. If they pay the fine, they have received their punishment, they have paid their debt.

Conversely, if a judge were to say to the criminal, "You don't need to serve two years; you are forgiven", or to the parking violator, "You don't need to pay the fine; you are forgiven", then there would be no punishment. Punishment and forgiveness are not the same thing.

In the 1970s, the Good News Bible (also known as "Today's English Version") appeared, translated quite loosely, a style known as "dynamic equivalence" (as opposed to the more literal KJV and RSV). In this translation, "musar" was rendered in Isaiah 53:5 as "punishment". Still, this can be forgiven, since the Good News translation itself was fairly paraphrastic and not really intended for academic or theological use.

The New International Version (NIV) emerged in 1978 as a legitimate translation alternative to the KJV and RSV. This wonderful translation made the mistake of translating "musar" as "punishment". Why?

Calvinists have held to a particular view of Atonement theology which states that Jesus, on the Cross, received our punishment. Thus, the demands of divine justice were satisfied by the death of Christ. The NIV was translated primarily by Calvinist scholars, so it is only natural that Isaiah 53:5 reflects their theological bias, even if translating "musar" as "punishment" was truly innovative, and without real precedent in the history of the English Bible. Surprisingly, the NRSV followed the NIV upon its release a decade later, as did the HCSB in 2004. I am grateful for the ESV (2001), which renders "musar" as the more traditional "chastisement".

Wesleyans should not forget the actual meaning of the verse. Jesus suffered for us, thus reminding us of the importance of suffering and the terrible pain inflicted upon our loving Lord...not that any debts would be paid through punishment, but rather that we might be truly forgiven. Jesus' suffering was substitutionary in that his suffering, "...became a substitute for something else that would otherwise occur" (in the words of the late J. Kenneth Grider). In other words, Jesus' suffering served as a substitute for our punishment.

In the words of Gordon Olson, "The sufferings and especially the death of Christ were sacrificial, were not the punishment of the law but were equivalent in meaning to it, were representative of it and substituted for it. The demands of the law were not satisfied by it, but the honor of the law was promoted by it as much as this honor would have been promoted by inflicting the legal penalty upon all sinners. The distributive (or vindictive) justice of God was not satisfied by it, but His general (or justice for the public good) as a responsible Moral Governor was perfectly satisfied."

This is more than simply a "moral influence", intended to show God's love and break our hearts, as much of traditional Protestant Liberalism maintains. Jesus suffered and died for a uphold God's moral sovereignty and to make real forgiveness possible, that we might know salvation. This is truly good news. We can know real forgiveness! Without question, due to our sinfulness, we deserve punishment - but are forgiven, because of the faithful suffering of Our Lord.

I urge my Wesleyan sisters and brothers to ponder this perspective as we approach the darkness of Good Friday and the glories of Easter Sunday.

- Originally posted 3/19/2007

Monday, March 09, 2009

Rerun: Kenosis

"Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient
to the point of death -
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father."
- Philippians 2:5-11 (NRSV)

This is my favorite passage in all of Scripture, and it is absolutely loaded with Christological claims...

  • it presumes Jesus' pre-existence and "equality with God";
  • it affirms that Jesus became incarnate in human flesh;
  • it emphasizes Jesus' humility and obedience to God, even to the point of a gruesome death on the Cross;
  • it clarifies that, on the Cross, Jesus really died; there was no pretending, no "show";
  • it proclaims Jesus' subsequent exaltation and universal Lordship.
What a powerfully important passage!

Verse 7 has always intrigued me...particularly the phrase "emptied himself", which may have serious implications in Christology. The Greek root word used is "kenosis", which means, "to empty" or "to be emptied". While some translations render the phrase "made himself nothing" (NIV, ESV) or "made himself of no reputation" (KJV), I believe that these are attempts to interpret a difficult concept, that of the Son "emptying himself", rather than simply translations of the text.

It seems to me that in the Incarnation, the Son "emptied himself" of something, according to Philippians 2:7. The question is, "Of what did Jesus empty himself?"

I believe that Jesus emptied himself of the glory of divinity. If God were to appear to us in all of his glory, how could we survive? So, Jesus emptied himself of God's glory, while remaining fully God. St. Gregory of Nazianzus, in stanza 2 of his "Oration 37" speaks of it as a "...reduction and lessening of his glory".

Retaining the divine nature, being emptied of divine glory also meant that Jesus emptied himself of the "omni" qualities of God. Pre-Easter, Jesus, in my view, was not omniscient, was not omnipotent, and was certainly not omnipresent.

If he were omniscient, then why do we have these words in Mark 13:32, in which Jesus is speaking of the eschaton in the so-called "Marcan Apocalypse"...
"But about that day or hour no one knows,
neither the angels in heaven,
nor the Son, but only the Father."

Additionally, why do we have the claims of Luke 2:40 and 2:52 that Jesus grew in wisdom? It seems to me that, like every human being, he was learning - about God, about himself, and about his calling. That's one of the most human of qualities, and, if Jesus didn't need to learn and discover his calling, he may not have been fully human.

If he were omnipotent, then why do we have these words in Mark 6:5-6, during a visit to his hometown of Nazareth...

"...he could do no deed of power there,
except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.
And he was amazed at their unbelief."

Faith seems to be required in some way in order for Jesus to perform a miracle. This suggests that Jesus was limited in some way, and not all powerful.

I suppose I don't need to make the case that Jesus emptied himself of omnipresence. For one to make the claim that Jesus was omnipresent during his earthly ministry is to not only demonstrate a misunderstanding of human nature, but to seriously question Incarnational doctrine, which clearly affirms that Jesus lived in a definite place and time as a human being.

If Jesus had not emptied himself of these divine attributes, then he could not have been fully human. Imagine the baby in the Bethlehem manger. Now, picture that same baby as knowing everything, as being absolutely all powerful. He'd simply be playing human...toying with Mary and Joseph. This beautiful image can become very frightening, if the "baby" in the manger isn't really a "baby" in any sense that we would recognize; he's really quite monstrous.

So, Jesus emptied himself of divine glory, which includes the "omni" attributes, in order to become fully human. But, he remained fully divine. How can this be?

Our God is a god of paradoxes. The first shall be last, the last first. The God who never changes changed by becoming incarnate in human flesh. God is a god of wrath and mercy.

The Incarnation is a holy mystery. We can know in part, but not entirely (at least not yet). We may not be able to fully understand how it all works, but we can know that God does understand it, and that his reasons for doing things the way he did come out of his deep, abiding love for us.

It is a touching sign of grace that God is self-limiting in his love. This is part of the beauty of Philippians 2:5-11, and why I am thankful that it appears in the lectionary each year on Palm/Passion Sunday. It provides an excellent means to discuss not only the horrific tragedies of Holy Week, but also to talk about the greatness of God's love, and what the ways in which God modeled this love, to prepare us for heaven.

I am reminded of Charles Wesley's wonderful words...
"He left his Father's throne above
(so free, so infinite his grace!),
emptied himself of all but love,
and bled for Adam's helpless race.
'Tis mercy all, immense and free,
for O my God, it found out me!"
- "And Can It Be that I Should Gain"
(The United Methodist Hymnal #363)

- Originally posted 3/26/2007