Archive for the 'ODM Responses' Category

 We’ve been studying the book of Ruth on Sunday mornings in church. There were a few things that stuck with me in today’s study of chapter 3. All (human) credit to our pastor for these thoughts.

THE GOOD

(well, as in, good joke)

After Boaz goes to sleep on the threshing floor, Ruth goes to him, uncovers his feet and lies down. Verse 8 tells us that “at midnight that the man was startled”, woke up and saw Ruth there. The Hebrew word translated “startled” is better translated as “shivered”, which probably was caused by the fact that his feet were uncovered.

And so here we have Biblical proof that for thousands of years, women have been stealing the covers from their husbands.

THE BAD

(well, as in, bad pun)

Later in the chapter, Boaz gives Ruth a large amount of barley to take back to Noami. The New King Jimmy says that it was “six ephahs of barley”, however this is probably a translation error, as six ephahs would have equated to roughly 48 gallons, which Ruth couldn’t possibly have carried. Other translations say “measures”, and it’s probable that it was six omers, which would have been 30-40 pounds, a much more manageable amount, but still a great deal.

Thus, Boaz gave Ruth a really big omer pile. (insert rim shot here)

THE BEAUTIFUL

(no explanation needed)

As we see in verses 12-13, there is a relative who is closer than Boaz, who has first legal right/responsibility to act as kinsman redeemer for Ruth. One can see that Boaz wants to perform this act himself, but goes through the correct channels first.

There are many pictures of Christ in Boaz, but this one hadn’t hit me before. If he had chosen to do so, the “closer relative” would have acted as kinsman redeemer because of the obligation of the law. Boaz acted as kinsman redeemer because of the obligation of love.

Ephesians 2:4-5

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) …

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From the best Christmas album ever, Behold the Lamb of God, by Andrew Peterson.  (No, I’m not biased at all.)

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“Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4:15-17).

“Jacques Ellul insists that this resurrection life must be lived in this world, but at the same time he insists that the Christian ‘must not act in exactly the same way as everyone else. He has a part to play in this world which no one else can possibly fulfill.’” (Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection, 261)

Graduate school is a lot of fun. I am learning so much about achievement gaps, high-stakes testing, functional behavior assessments, response to intervention, No Child Left Behind, and more. I am learning about Bloom’s Taxonomy, KWL, Evidence Based Practice, content standards, teacher accountability, labor unions, graphic organizers, charter schools, magnet schools, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and…well, there are more ways for a human to be ‘broken’ than I could have ever imagined…and I could go on and on for a while. I have learned more than I thought I needed to know, and less than I probably need to know. Who would have thought that teaching children to read would be such a complicated ordeal?

Education is a serious enterprise in the United States. I am getting my money’s worth out of this experience and I am glad for it because I am spending a lot of money getting this education.

About 9 months ago or so, I began to realize something strange. It goes something like this. I am in school to learn about more than the multitude of variations of ASD that a child might have. I am learning about more than the thousands of children’s books published every year in the United States. I am learning about more than what is required to be a certified teacher in the state of Ohio (3 different praxis exams including HQT requirements for NCLB, comprehensive exams, 52 hours of graduate school, a semester of student teaching, a portfolio, and more).

You know what is scary? I have been learning about myself. You know what I realize? I’m ugly. I realize that I am pretty much un-fun. You know I have had to learn how to laugh and be the class clown again? I’m boring. I’m sensitive to rebuke. I Hate failure (I recently lost three points on an assignment; not happy). I’m jealous of the success of others. I’m impatient (the trip to Cleveland about kills me). I’m arrogant. There are a few people who are smarter than I am (I didn’t get the highest grade on a recent mid-term). I’m comfortable. I like leading, and not so much following. I like talking, and not so much listening. I like being in charge, and not so much taking orders. And, trust me, there’s more.

I am learning not just what is required of a teacher, but I am also learning the sort of teacher I do not want to be. This has been the most important lesson I have learned and not just from going to class at CSU, but also from working a part time job at a local school. And I realize, most importantly, that the teacher I do not want to be is a teacher who is not the things I just listed, above, that I am. I don’t know if that makes sense or not. I’ll say it this way then: not having my own pulpit any longer is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It is harder to lose a pulpit than it is to gain one.

What I have learned, though, is that those things I described above are the very things that I had become. I hate mirrors. I keep asking God, ‘Is it safe to land?’ He keeps saying, ‘Wait’ (which I suspect is God’s way of saying, ‘Oh, I have a few more revelations for you.”) As I look back on nearly fifteen years in the pulpit I realize that I had quite forgotten what it was to be a terrified 25 year old fresh out of Bible School and stepping into a pulpit for the first time. I had grown quite comfortable with my skills. Frankly, I had become impatient, arrogant, condescending, comfortable, boring, sensitive, jealous, boring, and un-fun. And more. You know what I forgot most? People. I did a lot of serving, but I think sometimes I did it so I could be up front, in charge, and not (always) because I loved people.

I forgot what it was like to work 60 hours a week and have to get up on Sundays to worship. I forgot what it was like to have visitors in town and want to stay up late Saturday thus necessitating an absence on Sunday. I had quite forgotten that most people do not have Bible College educations and even less have seminary educations. I forgot to be with people and their hurt. I forgot what it was like to serve because I was called to and not because I was paid to. I used to complain that the money I was paid tied me down, bound my hands and prevented service, real service. As I look back I realize it did so, but not in a way I expected: that is, I stopped serving because I could and wanted to and started doing so because I had to.  I forgot what it was like to drown in sin, to struggle with addiction, and to feel hopelessness. I forgot what it was like to think God had moved a million miles in the opposite direction.

I forgot how to suffer. I forgot how to hurt. I forgot how to feel. There is a certain amount of pleasure and satisfaction that comes from a sermon well-written and better-delivered. And don’t get me wrong: a great sermon goes a long way on paper. But for all that I suffered, I forgot to suffer. I forgot to weep with my people. I forgot to hold them. So protective of myself was I, so angry at not having leadership, so frustrated by the lack of growth, so bitter at betrayal, so jealous of fellas half my age preaching in churches a hundred times the size of mine…I was becoming more and more the person I was warning the congregation not to become. I gave up the safety of insecurity and vulnerability and weakness for the caves of strength and clarity and well-spokenness. I traded. In the end, the only way for Jesus to awaken me was to destroy me.

Now, here I am, alone with the self I hate, the one I created in the image of the world. Here I am, now, alone with my introspection. I am the Bob Eucker of preaching: thought I belonged in the front row only to find out…not so much. Here I am, now, saved by grace only much more aware of it than ever before in my life. I am learning what I had forgotten: how to love and be loved, how to be known by Jesus, how to walk by faith. I am learning to let Jesus be in charge. I am learning to follow and listen. Learning that temptations are all around and there are people who will spoon feed them to you if you ask.

I’m in no way undermining the consequences or the failure or the sin of those who hurt my family. But, and this is a huge but, but, neither I am clinging to them for dear life and breath any longer. Holding on was probably worse than experiencing them to begin with. Genuine love, true joy, is possible when the person counts on Christ for his love and joy and not on the perfection of circumstances or identity. I spent almost ten years forging an identity in this community where I live only to have it taken away in a matter of hours and days. I spent the better part of 20 years becoming a preacher, but along the way I forgot how to be a disciple.

Sad. But true.

I should wrap this up for now. In learning what sort of teacher I do not want to be, I have inadvertently, or not, learned the sort of preacher that I had become. I also have learned why I became not so useful in the church. You see, I let My Ministry become that which defined me and my life and my existence. I learned from Tim Keller that this is a bad thing to do. My identity, Paul wrote, is not wrapped up in who I am or what I do. That is why he writes that we are to imitate Christ. Our identity is wrapped up in who He is which is, precisely, why Paul writes that we are to become like Christ.

I do not know yet what part I am to play in this world, but I am learning that if I must continue that I must find myself in Jesus first. So all I’m really trying to say is this: be careful. Maybe you are a young preacher, setting out on your way and looking to forge an identity or be the next big thing on youtube or the next big itunes podcaster. Don’t give in. You were meant for less.

Maybe you are a long time faithful person in Jesus. Don’t despise the wilderness.

I am meant for less. Thankfully. Because where there is less, there I will find Jesus, the one who has been looking for me all along. And now that I am exposed, undone, out in the open…now, I suspect, he can finally see me, and I can finally see Him.

And He is a sight to behold!

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Daily Office

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’“ “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

I know, before I make a single stroke on my laptop keyboard that this post will not be well received. I apologize in advance to those of you who will find my struggle with this passage offensive and immature. I do not intend to offend, but I think I will.

Fact is, and I don’t think anyone will disagree with this: the lawyer asks Jesus a theological question with eschatological implications. He asks Jesus this question: What must I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus does not tell the man this is the wrong question to ask. No. In fact, the very fact that Jesus answers this question is enough demonstration that this is a valid question to ask and, to be sure, that Jesus is the right person to ask it of. Ultimately, the answers that Jesus gives all work their way back to the man’s original question: What must I do to inherit eternal life?

The theological, eschatological and practical answer that Jesus gives is simple: Love God, love people. Easy, breezy. This is something Jesus had said another time (Matthew 7:11-12). Even later on in the letters, Paul will say that love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:9-11). I think, at this juncture, we are probably all in agreement. Love is the fulfillment of the law; love sums up the Law and Prophets; love is what we must do to inherit eternal life. Love God; love our neighbors. Love. Seems a simple task, and easy requirement.

My problem is that this parable is often taught as simply a matter of defining who is a neighbor and that the Samaritan is the neighbor we must strive to be: loving those who hate us, tending those who despise us, helping those who hurt us. But this parable is not primarily about who is and is not a neighbor. This parable is spoken in the context of a theological, eschatological, question of salvation: What must I do to inherit eternal life?

When the conversation and the parable are done, Jesus simply says: Go and do likewise.

The problem I have is that Matthew or whoever wrote this Gospel, this book, wrote this story, this encounter, and this parable down after the cross even though the story happened, the conversation took place, and the parable was spoken before the cross.

Go and do likewise. To my knowledge Jesus never rescinded this command: neither to the lawyer in the story nor, since it was written down after the cross, to us.

All the commentaries I read, and have ever read, narrow this story down to this basest point: who is my neighbor? But none seem to wrestle with the real question that this particular passage of Scripture is itself wrestling with: what must I do to inherit eternal life? When Jesus said “go and do likewise” he was “this is what you must do to inherit eternal life: love God, and love like your Samaritan neighbor.” (William Willimon interprets this from the point of view of the man in the ditch, but I’m still not sure that is correct either. It doesn’t wrestle enough with how this parable answers the man’s original and secondary question.)

Please don’t be angry because I want to understand this passage of Scripture, why Jesus said it, and why Matthew preserved it. I want to understand how to better interpret this story and how to better teach it. There doesn’t seem to be, despite the exegetical gymnastics that the commentators engage in, an emphasis so much on being neighborly as much as there is an emphasis on what someone must do in order to inherit eternal life.

It’s tricky. I wrestle and struggle here greatly. I’m not trying to be contrary or difficult, but with all the emphasis we put on issues of grace and mercy and forgiveness and the cross and the resurrection, nothing seemed to change after the cross: Paul said love your neighbor; Matthew records Jesus telling us to do the same thing. Whatever else I might say, or confound, or struggle with here, one thing is certainly true. You can love your neighbor quite apart from loving God, but you cannot love God without loving your neighbor. Jesus does not define how to love God, but spends a lot of time defining how to love your neighbor. Hmm…

I don’t think we, as Christians, have struggled enough with this passage of Scripture and how it relates to the inheritance of eternal life—regardless of who are neighbor is or is not. The so-called Good Samaritan is not just someone who happens to do good deeds while he or she is on the way to McDonald’s to get a burger—as if the fact that he was a Samaritan is the main point of emphasis here. The Good Samaritan is, in some mysterious way, an example of what we must do if we want to inherit eternal life—since the emphasis in this passage is on what the Samaritan did.

Jesus didn’t say: Go and be (a Samaritan) likewise. Jesus said: Go and do likewise. Too many people are content to be mere Samaritans without any regard for how what the Samaritan did relates to his/her eternal inheritance. We should talk about what it means to do what the Samaritan did more.

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“Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. – Jesus (according to Matthew 7).

Recently a group I am part of studied these verses and the surrounding context.  It is quite possible that this excerpt from Jesus’ sermon is one of the most oft quoted and oft misquoted of his proverbial sayings.  Contrary to our cultural pressure; it is obvious from the context that Jesus is not making an absolute prohibition against judging others.  It is equally clear that Jesus is calling for judgments that are fair, informed, and free of hypocrisy.

Shortly after this study I came across a new entry into the Museum of Idolatry.  It is a posting of a video… offered without comment, explanation, nor objection.  It carries the simple title: Marriage Dance?. The comments in response to the posting are but three, yet they acutely illustrate Jesus’ concerns about judging.

The posting and comments exemplify the insatiable need felt by many within the Body of Christ to judge others without restraint, without context, without relationship, and without a proper understanding of culture, and from a decided ethnocentric point of view.  In short – they judge by a standard they would never want applied to them.  They judge by a selfish standard of their own creation.

The dance is offered as an “artifact of apostasy”  - an example of “the Great Apostasy that is sweeping through the “Christian” Church.”  The misuse of 2 Thessalonians in this context will not be pursued, what will be asked is why the posting is entitled “Marriage Dance?”  What purpose does the question mark play? What is being questioned; there marriage status, their ability to dance?

The real travesty plays out in the three short comments.  The comments display and incredible lack of cultural insight and abundance of ethnocentrism – of improper judging.

Comment:

I couldn’t watch the whole thing, I turned it off before 2 mins were up. What is this doing in a church service? How is it edifying our Savior? I’m sorry but I would have walked out if I was there in person. The only good thing I have to say, it that at least they were married to each other (I hope). Still, not the thing to be showing in church!

It’s unfortunate this person cannot appreciate the manner in which people who are different from him/her express themselves to God.  Marriage was created by God.  The marriage covenant is one of the grander illustrations of the Trinitarian nature of our God… it also serve as an illustration for the relationship between our Savior and his Church.  Therefore, this dance could edify our Savior because it celebrates marriage.  And just why is this not appropriate for church?  How do you know it was a worship service?  Or is dance always inappropriate within a space used for worship?

Dance has a rich heritage in the African culture and nothing in Scripture prohibits it as an expression of God’s greatness.  The description of the video itself (which I suspect the commenter did not bother to research) gave the reason for the dance – “Married couples minister in dance: Giving thanks and honor to God for the blessing of marriage.”  Apparently thanks can only be given to God in a way that is culturally acceptable to Shar.

In response to this comment came:

You are so right, this is what is wrong with the churches today. It is suppose to be worship of the Most high God, not lifting up of the flesh.

Married couples giving thanks and honor to God for the blessing of marriage through dance is what is wrong with the churches today?  Seriously?  Again, no rationale is given as to why this is wrong, just the declaration that it is.  Though Floyd does add one clear objection – it lifted up the flesh.  This is an interesting (and rather cliché) objection. Since the Most High God created the flesh, created marriage, created the physical and spiritual bond… how is celebrating that “fleshly”  - in the improper sense.  Particularly when done in a tasteful manner.  Nothing in this video was inappropriately suggestive, or erotic.  Makes me wonder how Floyd would respond to… oh… say the Song of Solomon.  Talk about lifting up the flesh!

The final comment agreed:

Even worse than the obviously inappropriate, human-centered dance, is all the womens’ voices I hear cat calling in the background; makes me understand why Paul said women should be silent in the assembly. Boy, was he right.

This one made me laugh.  “Human (or man) – centered” is another cliché that is so over used it has become meaningless.  It’s basically code for “Anything I dislike.”  But Melba also shows a lack of understanding of the audience’s response.  No one was making cat calls.  They simply responded audibly to what they were seeing.

The bottom line is these comments show how easy it is to take our own cultural standards and assume them to be biblical… to impose on others the same cultural (as opposed to biblical) standards we hold… to assume the way we do things is the only biblical was to do things… to judge others who are different as inappropriate, as an examples of apostasy, as sinful – not on biblical standards, but upon personal preferences.

Appendices to address expected objections:

A – I am not accusing anyone of hypocrisy.  I do not know the poster or those who commented.  Nor do I intend to fully defend the Marriage Dance.  In fact, one could have come up with all sorts of biblical/legitimate objections to the theology and practice of a UCC church.

B – I found the dance posted twice on YouTube (here and here).  Each posting gives one line to describe the video.  They are “The Married Couples Dance Ministry of trinity united church of christ in chicago dance to BabyFace” and “Married couples minister in dance: Giving thanks and honor to God for the blessing of marriage.”  Neither video gave the context of the dance.

C – The issue here is not one of race, and certainly not racism.  The issue is judging others without the facts and from a false premise.

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Daily Office

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:1-6)

I did a quick search of Matthew’s Gospel and found that Jesus uses the words ‘do not’ relatively few times as far as direct commands are concerned. If I counted right, and I’m tired so I might not have, twenty-six times. That’s not a lot considering that Matthew wrapped thirty-three years of life into a mere twenty-eight chapters. Jesus probably heard ‘do not’ more than he ever said it, I guess. “Jesus, do not play with your food,” or something absurd like that. Or, “Jesus, do not give your brother swirlies.” I’m just guessing here.

This section represents one of those twenty-six times and this first verse is usually bandied about like a six-shooter and everyone lays claim to it for one reason or another. Everyone says, “Don’t judge.” It seems that anytime a pagan has a criticism of a disciple this is one of the first things out of their mouth, “You Christians do too much judging…didn’t Jesus tell you not to judge?” Well, yes. He also told us not to throw our pearls before pigs. I suspect we all retain a lot of riches in this way. As DA Carson is fond of reminding his listeners when preaching on this verses, “Someone still has to decide who is and is not the swine…and that involves judgment.” Ah, yes!

Jesus told us ‘do not’ to a lot of things. “Do not swear at all, by heaven or earth.” And, “Do not resist an evil person” (one I’m sure requires no judgment either!) “Do not judge” seems to carry the same moral and theological imperative as, say, “Do not worry” or “do not be afraid” or “do not call anyone on earth ‘father.’” But I know better than that. You and I know that the first thing we do when we see someone is we judge them, we size them up, and we form an opinion about them based solely on the way they look. I do it every time someone walks into my store.

Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” In a vacuum this means what it says: Don’t do it. But we don’t live in vacuums so Jesus also clarifies: the standard you use is the standard that will be used. OK. So I should be gracious, kind, merciful, and considerate. We need to read this post-Calvary, post-Easter, post-Ascension, and Pre-Parousia. Post-Cavalry disciples read this in light of the cross where the world and sin were judged. Not only do we understand the world differently, we understand ourselves relatively completely: we know there is a log in our eyes and this log necessarily obfuscates our vision. This means, I believe, that I simply cannot pass judgment on anyone. It will not do. Why? Well, frankly, because I’m no better.

We cannot even see ourselves, let alone someone standing in front of us. Hauerwas notes, “Following Christ requires our recognizing that the one I am tempted to judge is like me—a person who has received the forgiveness manifest in the cross” (S Hauerwas, BTCB, Matthew, 86). I might also add that it also means we are just like them: blind to our own unrighteousness. How have I heard it said? We are like one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.

This world is different now that Jesus has been resurrected. (Different also as we await his appearing.) Our judgments and opinions need to be sober, sophisticated, and humble. Or we should just be quiet. We belong to a community that sees life for what it is. We see reality: cold, hard, and determined. We see hunger and thirst and suffering and opportunity. But do we see the world that is God’s world? Judgment is too easy. Passing judgment, acting upon our judgment, withholding love because of that judgment is a damnable offense. We belong to a new community that is not conditioned upon judgment, but love. We belong to a community free of judgment.

Judgment is associated with a lot of things in this world: power, hate, prejudice, racism, and a whole host of other damaging behaviors. Judgment is associated with many things, but love is not one of them.

As I listen to the Spirit sing into my heart, I hear the words of the poet, “Love is blindness.” Where there is love, there is no judgment. Open my eyes so that I might see myself, Lord, and love as I have, indeed, been loved. I think when the plank is removed from my eye, and I confess the truth of my own sin, I’m not going to be so concerned about the sin of others.

Next time you want to judge: Just don’t; just love.

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Brotherly love

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the release of Joe Banua’s debut EP, “Broken” with about 1200 other folks at my church. Since then, I’ve been listening to it quite a bit in my iPod rotation, and I am constantly moved by the depth and passion of it.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve known Joe for the past five years or so, and have had the pleasure of playing with him on the Sunday-morning worship team for much of that time. He’s an incredibly talented guy (he is able to play most every instrument we use in our worship services – and do so quite well), and his heart for the Lord and serving him with music is incredible. So it was totally incredible when an anonymous donor offered to fund the production of a professional EP for Joe, which he is now able to take with him during the week while he tours (and which has gotten a good bit of local radio play time).

In choosing the songs for the album, Joe first put together some quality acoustic recordings of ten or so of his songs, which he invited his friends & family to vote on, for inclusion in the EP. While there was one I was rooting for that didn’t make it (”Yeshua”), the ones chosen were quite good:

“Bring You Glory” – The first song released to Christian radio stations in the area, Bring You Glory is stylistically similar to Chris Tomlin’s recent worship songs, and is incredibly solid (and catchy). In all honesty, of the songs selected for the EP, Bring You Glory had been one of my least favorite from the acoustic set (as an acoustic song), but its translation to the studio reminds me of the difference between Rich Mullins’ acoustic demo for My Deliverer and its posthumous studio production.

“You Are Holy” – Not to be mistaken w/ Marc Imboden’s song of the same title (and the odd coincidence of knowing Marc, who lives about 15 minutes away), You Are Holy is a sweet interlude that always reminds me of the meditative time spent in our weekly Communion services.

“Broken” – From a songwriting standpoint, Broken is the best song on the album, and probably my favorite (though the last track is neck-and-neck with it). Broken explores Jesus’ love and healing, particularly focused on the broken and downtrodden.

These are the hands that were nailed to the cross,
These are the feet that run to the lost,
These are the arms that wrap around those who are broken.

These are the eyes that see through our sin,
Whatever we’ve done, wherever we’ve been,
These are the lips that speak to the hearts of the broken…

Broken could very well have been produced as more of an acoustic-feel track and been ever stronger than the full studio treatment (similar example: Rich Mullins’ acoustic demos of Elijah were more timeless than the pop-style production of Reed Arvin), but even so it is an incredibly powerful song that truly deserved to be the title track of the album.

“Never Failed Me” – Joe’s exploration of the concept of God’s grace and our response to it, Never Failed Me speaks to God’s unfailing mercy, in a catchy, but laid-back, Southern Rock style.

“Feet of the Nations” – Probably the song that changed the least between the acoustic recording and the studio album, the polish provided in the professional recording takes a great song and makes it incredible. An examination of the common, every-day love of serving our neighbors, Joe brought tears to the eyes of a lot of folks when he first played this song last year in our sermon series on loving one’s neighbor. Interestingly, this song was written in less than a week, but lyrically is amazingly both tight and raw the emotion it brings across.

Dark and lonely, breathing slowly,
He’ll drift and fall asleep.
Wishing only for a hand to hold,
So he can finally leave.

Just another beating heart for him to feel,
Just another comforting voice for him to hear,

I will fall to my knees,
Down at his feet,
For the Lord has first loved me.
As the water flows down,
Oh that beautiful sound,
All the dirt, it is washed away.
And I give up my pride and let it be taken,
So I can wash the feet of the nations…

Broken is an incredibly powerful and moving album which I hope you will enjoy as much as I have. You can give a listen to some of it at his website here, or you can download the whole thing from iTunes.

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“I hated the hypocrisy that niceness cloaks.”

–Stanley Hauerwas, Hannah’s Child, 28

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I’d like to go ‘old-school’ for a moment or two as this day of mine comes to a close. Think back to a time not long ago when U2 released the CD they titled, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. It wasn’t that long ago, and yet it seems forever and a day. One of the (in my opinion) better tracks on the CD is a song simply called YHWH. The lyrics are such:

Take these shoes
Click clacking down some dead end street
Take these shoes
And make them fit
Take this shirt
Polyester white trash made in nowhere
Take this shirt
And make it clean, clean
Take this soul
Stranded in some skin and bones
Take this soul
And make it sing

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, Yahweh
Still I’m waiting for the dawn

Take these hands
Teach them what to carry
Take these hands
Don’t make a fist no
Take this mouth
So quick to criticize
Take this mouth
Give it a kiss

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, Yahweh
Still I’m waiting for the dawn

Still waiting for the dawn, the sun is coming up
The sun is coming up on the ocean
His love is like a drop in the ocean
His love is like a drop in the ocean

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, tell me now
Why the dark before the dawn?

Take this city
A city should be shining on a hill
Take this city
If it be your will
What no man can own, no man can take
Take this heart
Take this heart
Take this heart
And make it break

We were driving home from worship—the culmination of a nice Sabbath I treated myself to. Worship, by the way, was amazing today. I feared for the preacher who had the nerve to say to his congregation, “Don’t be a tumor on the body of Christ,” and, best, “Dead churches do not ask you take responsibility; living churches do.” I nearly fell out the soft padded pew. Next week I am not sitting in the balcony, that’s for sure.

We were driving home after hearing the preacher say such things and we were listening to Yahweh.  My children were horsing around in the backseat and my wife and I were engaged in conversation. I heard the lyric, “His love is like a drop in the ocean” and I paused…I thought about it…it didn’t make sense to me for some reason, but I couldn’t figure out why. I said to the lovely and gracious Bumblebee, “that lyric seems out of place, it doesn’t make sense.”

She nodded as she does when she is trying to indicate that I am over-thinking something. I persisted.

“Seriously. What is he saying there? A drop in the ocean is small compared to the ocean. Is Bono saying that God’s love is really small? Is he saying that God’s love is condescending, that it becomes small to accommodate our inability to comprehend it’s vastness? Or is he saying it is indistinguishable from everything else around it? It’s only one small part of what God in his grace gives us?” She agreed, which I think was her way of saying she wasn’t really interested in ruining a nice song with analysis.

Then it happened. I confess that right now, twelve and a half hours later, I am still in a bit of shock. It happens that my youngest son, Doodle-boy, Pookie, was listening to our conversation and, evidently, the song. He piped up, “it means it’s hard to find.”  Huh? This from my son who is about as interested in school as a chicken is in Tyson. I hadn’t thought of it that way, and I’m still having trouble understanding why my 12 year old did, but I think he might be right.

Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

So my thought is this: If God’s love is so vast, so great, so big, so deep, then why is it so hard to find? Is it really so indistinguishable from everything around it? Do we really have to search and search and search for God’s love?

I know that my 12 year old is not the only one asking such questions. Bono is no neophyte in matters of the mystery of God and God’s love. And we, with outstretched hands and longing hearts, too want to know this love of God that others seem to find so easily and readily. Maybe what Bono is saying is that God’s love is hard to find because it is only found in one place and we have to go through a lot of, uh, crap, to find it: it is one treasure hidden in a field, one pearl in a market place, it is one Man among millions, it is one drop in an ocean. It is hidden in plain sight, yet for all we see it is indistinguishable from its surroundings.

I do not know what was going through the mind of my Pookster, but I know what is going on inside my own heart and mind. And the truth is that sometimes God’s love is difficult to find, feel, or see. The preacher this morning said that true church membership is a loving relationship between the members. But maybe it is also the place where God’s love is felt most acutely while we are having our shoes, feet, shirts, cities, hands, and mouths changed, that is, while new children are being born. And in the meantime there is pain.

Or maybe humanity is the ocean, and Jesus is the one drop of God’s love?

Who knows? All I can really say is this: If God’s love is a drop in the ocean, I’d rather know that one drop than all the rest of the waters of earth. For it seems to me that no matter how difficult it may be to find, there, in that one drop, is all the sustenance I will need for a thousand-million years. And it would be worth searching a million years or more to find that one drop.

I’m glad Snakers spoke up this morning. He reminded me to keep on looking, to keep on searching, to keep pursuing the God who relentlessly pursues me.

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I imagine this could be a fun topic to run with for a long time and that I could write a nice piece on it that would justify a certain church’s actions in regard to the Qu’ran. I’m not going to mention the church nor link to their website or their blog. Instead, here’s a link to the story at foxnews.com where we learn that even General Patraeus is warning of the potential danger of burning the Qu’ran.

“Images of the burning of a Koran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan — and around the world — to inflame public opinion and incite violence ,” Gen. David Petraeus said. “Were the actual burning to take place, the safety of our soldiers and civilians would be put in jeopardy and accomplishment of the mission would be made more difficult.”

In the interest of developing a good practical interpretation of Acts 19:17-20, one that all of us can benefit from, I ask you the following questions: Is this particular church right on or suicidal? Is this what God demands of us as citizens in this world? Is this at all helpful in the cause of evangelism?

The foxnews.com story also quoted from the church’s blog:

“We are using this act to warn about the teaching and ideology of Islam, which we do hate as it is hateful. We do not hate any people, however. We love, as God loves, all the people in the world and we want them to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

Is this how we help ‘the Word of the Lord’ increase and prevail? Is this how we demonstrate our love for ‘all people’?  What are your thoughts on this very sensitive, hot issue?

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