Friday, February 25, 2011

Weird Showers

Our small group is currently looking at a DVD series from Matthew Sleeth called "Hope for Creation/Hope For Humanity." It is a Christian-based view of environmental and social justice issues, and how we are called to respond as followers of Jesus. So far it has been really good. I'll likely share some of the experiences and findings from our group on this blog, but in the meantime, I thought I would share a little of personal experience.

In an effort to improve our water conservation, one project I have undertaken this week is to take "weird showers." That is, I get in, wet myself down, turn the water off, soap up, turn the water back on, and rinse off. You can save an awful lot of water this way. In many parts of the world, this is how the majority of people shower [if they shower at all--in many parts of the world, showers are still too wasteful].

So I've been doing these showers this week, and here's what I have learned:

1. Your skin dries more quickly than you think, so you must soap up quickly.

2. It's not as cold as you would think.

3. It's difficult to turn the shower back on without blasting yourself with really hot or really cold water.

4. The shower time is shortened considerably.

5. I now feel guilty about taking a regular shower. So I'll probably be doing the weird shower more often.

Go ahead, give it a try.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Artistic Integrity in the Church, Part Two

As I see it, there are two reasons to strive for excellence in whatever it is that we do for God.

First, that which we produce [be it music, writing, manufacturing, teaching, supervising--whatever we do] can reflect the very glory of God. If we can bring the very best of our talents and giftedness, this excellence radiates the beauty of God. God is the giver of every good and perfect thing. So when good things come from our hands, they pulse with God's life and goodness and beauty.

Second, our efforts to bring our best are accepted as worship to God. Our laborous efforts, intensely trying to get things right in order to honor God, is worship. When we bring God our best work, our serious effort, our attention to detail, we worship.

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. [Colossians 3:17]

Friday, February 18, 2011

Artistic Integrity in the Church

I've been thinking more recently about the arts in the church, for better and worse. This stems from the release of the new Hillsong United album, titled "Aftermath." It is, by far, their most artistically interesting album ever. It is highly nuanced and dynamic. As you could probably guess, I love it.

However, if there will be a criticism of Hillsong for this, it would be that its music is not accessible to local congregations. That is to say, the church is going to have to get used to it, or not worship with it at all.

My opinion is that works of art like this, by the church and for the church, are to be celebrated. Sadly, most of today's worship music has devolved into simple, obvious, predictable arrangements. The Church at large loves it, because it's catchy, and easy to remember and adapt locally. Personally, I am more and more feeling stale from this tired formulaic approach to worship music. It's making it difficult for me to enjoy many worship releases these days. This latest Hillsong release is a breath of fresh air.

I am in the midst of writing music for a solo worship album, and I'll be using this Hillsong release as an influence. I could [and have] written some boring, obvious progressions and arrangements, but that's not what I want to do. It's not excellent. It's not bringing my best effort. And I want to do all things with excellence, as a reflection of the glory and beauty of God, and as worship to God.

I celebrate more creative, nuanced versions of spiritual art. These things have an artistic integrity that most modern worship music seems to lack.

I long for such artistic integrity in my own work.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Prayer Does Not Work

I've recently been struggling with how we interact with God in prayer. I do believe that God hears our prayers, and responds to us in prayer. And I believe prayer to be the most important thing we do as followers of Jesus [yes, more important than studying the Bible, although I give that high priority as well]. Like all relationships, communication is pivotal to relational growth and development. If I want relationship with God, I must communicate with God. Prayer is the primary way I do that.

After that, it gets less clear for me. Many Christians believe that God's "mind" can be changed based on prayer. There are scriptural examples supporting this belief, and I used to believe it was that simple. But now the waters are muddied. I tend to subscribe to other Scriptures that say "Who can know the mind of God?" [Romans 11:34, 1 Corinthians 2:16]. Many say that God "answers" our prayers, or acts based directly on our prayer. I have espoused this belief in the past, yet now I think this might be too simplistic an explanation.

It's like this: I have a dear friend who has struggled with lymphoma for years, and now has had a recent flare up of a more aggressive kind of cancer. She is receiving treatment, which is going well. I know hundreds of people have been praying regularly for her healing, which so far has not come.

Why hasn't God healed my friend as a result of all of the prayers? Surely he isn't waiting to get to 50,000 prayers for her, and then POOF, she's healed. Surely he isn't waiting for one specific person to pray for her, and then POOF, she's healed. Surely he isn't waiting for a "right" prayer to come, and then POOF, she's healed.

So how does God interact with us in prayer? Can we change his mind? Does he act [or not act] based on what we pray?

I am still very short on answers at this point. However, I recently read this helpful quote from Andy Crouch in a book called For the Beauty of the Church:

"Does prayer work? Should prayer work? No. Prayer does not work. It does something far better than work. Prayer brings us into the life of the one by whom all things were made and are being remade."

This feels a lot better to me. Prayer shouldn't "work." Just like talking with my wife doesn't "work." I talk with my wife, and she talks with me, because we love each other. I communicate with her so that I can be brought into her life.

Recently, our 18 month old twins have not been sleeping well. One night this week, my four year old [Ava] prayed for God to give them a good night's sleep. And we all slept like babies. It was very tempting to ask her to pray the same prayer again the next night. But something about that felt giving God my to-do list.

I don't think I want prayer to "work." I want to be brought into the life of the one by whom all things were made and are being remade.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


This weekend is a huge blessing to me. We've recently had lots of time as a family [mostly because of sick children]. But because of some special events and parties this weekend, I'll be spending the majority of my time with different groups of close friends.

What an awesome blessing friendship is. This weekend, I have already enjoyed time with longtime friends and new friends from church, laughing, dancing, eating, and enjoying each other. I have laughed a lot already!

Tonight, I get to enjoy time with friends from college. They are some of my oldest and closest friends, and probably know Amie and I the best. [I'll also have the blessing of playing some music with longtime friends, and being around a combination of old and new friends].

Tomorrow, I'll experience church with longtime and new friends, and will host a gathering of friends in our home tomorrow night.

There's a unique blessing in friendship that differs from the blessing of family. Perhaps it is the rarity of time together. Perhaps it is that laughter comes easier and differently than it does with family...whatever the case, I am simply drinking in the goodness of time with friends. I am thankful to God for this good gift. It is filling me.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Stop Worshiping Jesus?

In his book If The Church Were Christian, author Phil Gulley suggests that the church should worship Jesus less and follow his example more. By "worship," Gulley seems to mean the general practice of the Christian church of putting Jesus on a pedestal and essentially equating him with God.

While I'm not sold on this theologically, I arrive at the same conclusion as Gulley. Essentially, he makes the point that because of our reverence for Jesus as divine, we dismiss his life as impossible for us to follow, thereby excusing ourselves for falling short of what Jesus lived and taught. Inherent in this discussion is what exactly it means that Jesus [according to traditional Christianity] was both fully human and fully divine. That is, was Jesus simply God with skin on, able to live and act with his own internal God-power? Or, was Jesus so human that he relied totally on God, depending on God's power completely [as we mere humans do]?

For a long time, I thought that Jesus was so God that he was Supreme Power in a human shell. He could do what he wanted when he wanted. However, the more I read the gospels, and the more I think about what it means to be human, the more I believe Jesus was just as human as me, and was, in fact, completely reliant upon God's power to do the things he did.

What does this mean for me? I think, quite simply, that I can live as Jesus lived. Can I perform the miracles that he performed? I don't know [although I know I'm certainly not at that point yet, if I ever will be]. At the very least, though, I have no excuse for dismissing his compassion, love, and concern for others. I can approach others with the same grace and acceptance as Jesus. I can begin by following his example of affirmation, love, and hope.

And this is the point Gulley makes in his book. The conclusion he gets to is that we should stop treating Jesus as God, and start treating him as our supreme example. I don't intend to stop worshiping Jesus, but neither can I let myself off the hook for not following the example of Jesus in the Bible, living out his same love, charity, and compassion, and encouraging others to do the same.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

American Exceptionalism

One week ago, the President gave his annual State of the Union address. Prior to the speech, analysts and strategists and talking heads said the President hoped to evoke a renewed sense of "American Exceptionalism," or the concept that America is special and unique above other nations. Pundits said that this feeling is missing amongst Americans today. We had it, and we lost it. So apparently the hope was that the President, through some eloquent turn of a phrase, could inspire us again to believe that we were special and unique among the nations.

Many believe that America is special, exceptional even. Often I hear that America is the greatest nation in the history of the world. Perhaps even that America [or democracy or capitalism] is the hope of the world. Perhaps even that God's anointing is on us [more so than any other nation].

I once read a bumper sticker that said, "You're special. Just like everyone else."

And I agree. America is special. Just like everyone else.

But that's just the problem. When we begin to believe in our own "exceptionalism," we begin to elevate ourselves, either as a nation or as individuals [or both], to a higher plane than everyone else. We become convinced of a superior "us" and an inferior "them." "Our" ways must be right, and "their" ways must be wrong. "We" are better than "them." After all, we're special. We're unique. We're chosen by God. God is for us; who can be against us?

The greatest atrocities of mankind have been committed by people unshakably convinced of their own superiority.

Do we really need a renewed sense of American exceptionalism? Or is it possible that one of the greatest things the last few years of recession and decline have taught us is a renewed sense of humility? Or the realization that we aren't too big to fail? That we aren't too mighty to tumble? That maybe we can't trust and hope in our own "exceptionalism"? That we should pledge our allegiance to something even higher and greater than ourselves?

I don't think we need a renewed sense of American exceptionalism. I think we need a renewed sense of faith, hope, and love. A renewed love of God and neighbor. I think we need a renewed sense of humility and servanthood, following in the way of Jesus.