Category Archives: church

On Unions

On Unions

I am a member of two labor unions: The Association of Pleasanton Teachers and the American Federation of Musicians Local 6 (I play trombone).  In the last few months, I have been synthesizing some of my experiences where I have observed the importance of unions, and also their potential negative side effects.  I would love to hear what my friends and colleagues have to say about some of my jumbled thoughts.

Musicians’ Union

It seems that every time I do a non-union gig, something weird or unusual happens.  Something as little as making announcements during my warm-up time, being asked to show up and hour early (without overtime) before a concert for some last-minute rehearsal (I said no), or being told the wrong start time, and consequently staying at a church service for an hour after the stated end time.  (I stayed, and received no extra compensation for my time.)

All of these stories come to mind when I agreed to play for free at the church I attend with  my family this Easter.  When I said yes to my church, I felt like  tried to check my “union” attitude at the door and wanted to serve Christ’s church however I was needed.  Then I received the first e-mail about rehearsal times.  4 hour rehearsal on Tuesday, 2 1/2 hour rehearsal on Saturday, call time an hour before the 8:00 first service.  My part in all of this consisted of playing five 3-4 minute long tunes, about 20 minutes of music total.  My union sensibilities crept back into my mind.  Much of the rehearsal time was spent with the vocalists working out parts around the piano.  My thoughts were 3 fold:

1) If I were being paid and hourly rate, they would have had me come 2 hours later during the 4 hour rehearsal, and rehearsed the vocal stuff without me.

2) There are many people in the church who donate much more of their time and expertise than I do, and that humbles me.  We are currently without a music pastor, and many lay musicians are maintaining the high quality of our program.

3) I am glad I brought a good book to read.  (I am an orchestral bass trombone player, I know how to come prepared!)

On Sunday, I am embarrassed to say, I arrived a couple of minutes after the 7 AM call time.  No need to worry, as rehearsal as far from commencing.  the first thing that was rehearsed, at 7:20 once all forty musicians were in place, was a vocal solo accompanied by a single keyboard.  This went on for about 10 minutes or so.  After 7:30, the whole ensemble did a sound check for a couple of minutes.

In contrast, when I arrive at a union gig, it almost always starts and ends on time.  Announcements are made after the clock has begun.  They are brief.  On the rare occasion that service goes overtime, I (and everyone else) get compensated.  Our time is given a great deal of respect.

Teachers’ Union

This brings me to my membership in the teachers’ union.  In the 1980s the teachers in Pleasanton went on strike to demand more respect of their time, their professionalism and of course, to demand more money.  Teachers are constantly being asked to do things that are not in their contracts.  Much like the requests made of me at a non-union gig, teachers are asked sometimes to go on overnight field trips, spend non-paid hours filling out detailed report cards, bring home essays to correct, etc.  In this context, I bring up that Pleasanton teachers were recently asked to work 2 fewer days and take an equivalent pay cut for the upcoming school year.  For teachers who had gone on strike to gain the pay, benefits and respect that we current teachers enjoy, this was  a tough pill to swallow.  The pay cut would preserve programs for students, and jobs for our fellow union members.  How responsible for providing programs to students are teachers?  Are we entirely responsible, and should we carry a burden for a large chunk of the budget cuts through a cut in salary?  (We would be providing a tremendous benefit to the community at no additional cost to the community.)  Are we somewhat responsible or not at all?  I found myself solidly on the side of “take the small pay cut for the good of our students and the teachers that were given lay-off notices (pink slips) for next year”.  I had trouble understanding why any teacher would be again saving programs within our district.

The Connection

I had a better understanding as to how some of my teaching colleagues could vote against taking a pay cut to preserve programs after this recent Easter.  Since I was not being compensated for my time, it was easy for those in charge not to use it efficiently.  If I don’t say to my church, “You can’t do that again next year, or I am not playing,” then they have no incentive to be more time efficient.

Similarly, if teachers simply say, “Don’t cut programs!  Take some of my money!” this will automatically become the first choice for fixing budget problems.  Other solutions will be skipped and avoided.  It was remarkable to me when a young pink-slipped teacher voted NO to this pay cut, when he of all people had something to gain (the likelihood of his job).

I have been bouncing back and forth on these ideas.  If you carry the “no cuts for teachers ever” idea too far, you can end up hurting students by allowing programs to be cut and newer teachers to be laid off.  If you offer and inch in pay cuts today, you might be asked for a mile tomorrow.  I am trying to find a balance between these opposing concepts.

Where We Are Now

The teachers in Pleasanton agreed to forego 2 days worth of salary and we will have a 2 day longer Summer… IF the communty matches our efforts.  We traded less money for more time (furlough).  The caveat is that the community has to come through as well, and a parcel (land) tax that will be put to the voters in Pleasanton on June 2 has to pass for the teacher 2-day furlough to occur.  I like this approach because it ensures that everyone in the community will sacrifice, not just the homeowners and not just the educators.

ProTip: Phone Interviews

Addison Road proudly presents today’s “Getting Hired” ProTip:

If you respond to an ad for a paid position, and you and person hiring for the position agree to conduct a phone interview at a certain time, and you don’t answer the phone at that agreed upon time, and instead let the phone call go to voicemail, where your outgoing message is mostly just you and your frat buddies belching into the phone, you’re not getting the job.

Today’s ProTip has been brought to you by not one, but TWO of the candidates on my phone interview list for today.

Wanted: Tech Director who will do what I’m thinking but forget to tell them.

Hey, so, our church is hiring a sound guy .. I mean, a tech director. We had one candidate that was very close, but at that last minute withdrew himself from consideration. So, I’m kicking this out to you all. Do you know anyone who might be a good fit? Here’s the job description I posted on Craigslist:

Christ Community Church in Buena Park is searching for a qualified technical director. The primary responsibilities are running sound for two contemporary Sunday Morning worship services, setting up slides (sermon powerpoint and song lyrics) in Media Shout software for the service, some website content updating, and managing a team of technical volunteers in supporting roles.

This position requires about 10 hours of work per week, most of which occurs on Sunday morning. Compensation is fixed at $150 per week. Candidate must be a practicing Christian of any denomination, with experience in mixing live sound for contemporary bands.

A full job description is available at the following link:

http://cccbpmusic.com/tech-director.doc

Interested candidates should send a brief email describing how your experience fits the job description.

If you know anyone who might be right for this, have them drop me an email, michael [at] addisonrd [dot] com. We have an interim helping us out, but he leaves in about 3 weeks, so time is short. Any and all help is appreciated.

Faith = Doubt

Without doubt, there can be no faith.

Webster’s defines the word “Faith,” as follows:

1a: allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty b (1): fidelity to one’s promises (2): sincerity of intentions 2a (1): belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2): belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b(1): firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2): complete trust 3: something that is believed especially with strong conviction ; especially : a system of religious beliefs

I hadn’t looked up this definition when I started crafting this post in my head. I was hoping against hope that there would be something like the, “Firm belief in something for which there is no proof,” statement. I was immensely gratified to read it, as it props up my little thesis.

Without doubt, there can be no faith.

Near the very end of the last Gospel, in John chapter 20, we find the story of Doubting Thomas. Thomas was the Apostle who wasn’t buying the news that Jesus had been resurrected. He was rational, cool, and frankly, pretty well reasoned in his statements.

“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

Downright reasonable, if you ask me.

A week later, Jesus shows up, and has Thomas go ahead and get a nice, long feel on those scars. Thomas falls to his knees and exclaims, ”My Lord and my God!” Jesus, being Jesus, has this awesome little zinger for him.

“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

I haven’t seen Jesus. I haven’t put my hands on his scars. I didn’t see Him forming the foundation of the earth. I don’t know how it will all shake out in an end times scenario. I am not certain that every Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Atheist, and Democrat will all burn in eternal damnation. I have a sneaking suspicion that God is greater and kinder than our little, offensive value judgements. I have also, in my darkest moments, been terrified that this whole Jesus thing is just a big sham, a human construct to give some meaning to our random, miniscule existence.

But still … I believe.

At the end of the day, I cannot shake the feeling loose that the words and teachings of this Jewish carpenter are not from this world. At the end of the day, I calculate my doubts, and I calculate the evidence, and realize that this equation will simply not balance out, and I take a deep breath, and make a choice to hold some things in a state of unresolved tension, and I simply… believe.

Jesus of Nazareth, The Lion of Judah, the Alpha and Omega, said that I will be blessed in the presence of my fully reasonable doubts, for I am a man of faith.

What Africa Needs Now

An atheist ex-pat from Malawi writes about how important Evangelical missionaries are to the future of Africa. Not just the work they do, but what they believe. I read it from a position of ignorance, but I hope that he is right. Looking forward to discussing this with my brother-in-law Scott, a missionary in Tanzania.

Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

used to avoid this truth by applauding – as you can – the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It’s a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.

But this doesn’t fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.

Read the rest of the article here.

I know some the folks who hang out here have some unique insight into this issue, and I’d love to hear it.

10 Days of Christmas: The Kenosis

Posts in the 10 Days of Christmas series

  1. 10 Days of Christmas: Rulers from their Thrones
  2. 10 Days of Christmas: Matthew 1
  3. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary and her Donkey
  4. 10 Days of Christmas: Of The Father’s Love Begotten
  5. 10 Days of Christmas: The Kenosis
  6. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary Ponders
  7. 10 Days of Christmas: The Meaning of It All

What an absurd celebration we have embraced to remember the incarnation.

We celebrate by filling up. Calendars, full. CD players, full. Gift lists, full. Credit cards, full. Belly, full. Every moment of this season is dedicated, months in advance, to being filled up. Not all of the filling up things are bad things – time with friends and family are good things, gifts given out of selflessness and friendship are always a good thing.

But taken all-together, the result is a season that is every moment filled up, without a second to breathe, and no time to think or reflect.

What an absurd way to celebrate the incarnation. I wish we could push all of that to Easter, the great celebration. Let’s move our Lenten fast to Christmas, and celebrate the incarnation by imitation.

Who, being in very substance God, did not consider his divine prerogatives as things to be gripped tightly, but emptied himself. Made himself nothing. Humbled himself.

This is the Christmas story that has captured me. The folding down of the divine person into the frail and corruptible human story, the setting aside of every perfect glory to take up this mundane flesh. All the redeeming that is to come begins in that moment.

Christmas is the great emptying out.

Previous in series: 10 Days of Christmas: Of The Father’s Love Begotten

Next in series: 10 Days of Christmas: Mary Ponders

10 Days of Christmas: Of The Father’s Love Begotten

Posts in the 10 Days of Christmas series

  1. 10 Days of Christmas: Rulers from their Thrones
  2. 10 Days of Christmas: Matthew 1
  3. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary and her Donkey
  4. 10 Days of Christmas: Of The Father’s Love Begotten
  5. 10 Days of Christmas: The Kenosis
  6. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary Ponders
  7. 10 Days of Christmas: The Meaning of It All

As sung by the APU Men’s Choir. Sorry this link will only work if you have a facebook account, but it is so amazing, it might be worth signing up just to hear it. We saw this concert live twice, and got a little weepy both times.

UPDATED: Here’s the same thing, now hosted on YouTube for all to hear.

Of The Father’s Love Begotten
Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see, evermore and evermore!

At His Word the worlds were framèd; He commanded; it was done:
Heaven and earth and depths of ocean in their threefold order one;
All that grows beneath the shining
Of the moon and burning sun, evermore and evermore!

He is found in human fashion, death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish
In the dreadful gulf below, evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever blessèd, when the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bare the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore!

This is He Whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord;
Whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long expected,
Let creation praise its Lord, evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert sing, evermore and evermore!

Righteous judge of souls departed, righteous King of them that live,
On the Father’s throne exalted none in might with Thee may strive;
Who at last in vengeance coming
Sinners from Thy face shalt drive, evermore and evermore!

Thee let old men, thee let young men, thee let boys in chorus sing;
Matrons, virgins, little maidens, with glad voices answering:
Let their guileless songs re-echo,
And the heart its music bring, evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving, and unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory, evermore and evermore!

Previous in series: 10 Days of Christmas: Mary and her Donkey

Next in series: 10 Days of Christmas: The Kenosis

Advent Reminder

Every year, I have to ask Doug to remind me what the weeks in advent stand for. Since I don’t have a handy notebook near, I’m posting this here to remind me throughout the season, and so that I can find it with a snappy little blog search next year.

Advent is four weeks long. The four weeks are:

  1. Hope – the Prophet
  2. Love – the Holy Family
  3. Joy – the Shepherds
  4. Peace – the Magi

On week 5, we celebrate the traditional “80-Proof Christmas” candle, wherein all music pastors pass out from exhaustion and slip into the numb embrace of Bookers.

A Grateful Heart

I’m giving the message tomorrow night at our Thanksgiving service. I thought about giving a 12-part dissertation on the dispensational reading of Romans, with annotated commentary from the Darby Bible. Doug thought it might be better to focus on gratitude.

First, a little music to set the mood.
be-grateful-hawkins.mp3
Be Grateful by The Hawkins Family (not OUR Hawkins, different Hawkins)

I think gratitude is a powerful antidote for some of the diseases of the heart. Not actual heart disease – the cure for that is to quit smoking and lay off the television. But for the pervasive ills of the soul, gratitude is a strong prescriptive. If we choose to practice gratitude, there are some things that come along with it, some benefits that accrue to the grateful heart.

A Grateful Heart is Humble

It is impossible to be grateful and self-satisfied at the same time. It is impossible to be grateful and also arrogant. Gratitude takes humility as a prerequisite, because gratitude admits that we have been the recipients of generosity, have been given something we had no claim over. It acknowledges that we have relied on others to extend to us the benefit of their free will, used on our behalf. It recognizes the freedom and dignity of someone other than us, and places us in their debt.

When Paul builds his case against natural righteousness in Romans 1, he says that the cardinal failure of those outside of the covenant is not that they were ignorant of God; how could they be, with such manifest evidence poured out around them? He says that the cardinal failure is the failure to give thanks to the God that they know must exist. Failure to admit humility before him. Failure to praise. And, out of that failure, Paul gives a litany of crimes against humanity that pour out of the ungrateful heart:

And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things with are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, unloving, unmerciful …” Romans 1:28-31

Those of us spending time with family and in-laws this Thanksgiving might take pause for a moment to see that “disobedience to parents” was included in such august company with the other mortal sins.

I’m going to hell.

A Grateful Heart is Content

This was one of the 16 points in my epic 96-minute sermon from earlier in the year. The short version, which was definitely NOT the version I used during that sermon, is that gratitude shakes us free from focusing on what we lack, and refocuses us on what we have been given. “Things We Lack” is an infinite category, and like all good infinite sets, no matter how many things we take out of the set and add to the category “Things We Have”, the infinite set is still infinitely vast. (In my previous message, I skipped the whole 20-minute side lecture on number theory and the irrationality of actual infinites. Looking back on it now, that’s probably why so many people complained. Note to self: next time I preach on contentment, include more math-based proofs.)

Gratitude is incompatible with the twin symptoms of discontentment: greed and envy (both make an appearance in Paul’s notorious list in Romans 1). Greed feeds on our fixation with the future, and envy makes us competitors to those around us. Gratitude wrenches us away from the future and places us in the present. Gratitude restores our unity with those around us. Both are the hallmarks of contentment.

A Grateful Heart is Joyful

Gratitude often travels hand-in-hand with joy. The Psalmist knew it. Check out Psalm 100:

1 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.

2 Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.

3 Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his ;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.

5 For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

A Grateful Heart is Generous

I grew up in a strand of Protestantism that valued states of mind. Faith was a certain way of thinking about things, salvation was a certain state of belief about God, redemption was the renewing of the mind. The purpose of the church was to impart, defend, and celebrate certain states of mind. It was never articulated in quite that way, and if you stopped to talk to the teaching leadership in the church, they would likely protest. But the force of expectation and participation was all intently focused on that one aspect of being: the ideas and perspectives that we held in mind.

In coming to possess my own faith, I see the poverty of that perspective. Ideas, at least the kind of cherished by people of faith, are not static, and cannot be contained by the mind alone. They are ideas that compel, they are states of mind that pour out into actions. Gratitude that begins and ends with a state of mind is not worth celebrating.

Real gratitude expresses itself. It responds. If someone is generous to me, my gratitude provokes me to be generous with others. As God has been supremely generous to me, and if by faith I am filled with unspeakable gratitude toward Him, I will respond. My posture toward those around me will be generosity.

It will be a generosity propelled by humility, contentment, and joy.

Polytonaly Yours, With Love

The opening lines of “It Is Well” don’t normally include clashing polytonality and inscrutably rhythmic patterns. I took a creative risk this morning. Note clusters. Non-functional harmonic groups. Painting with colors that are so far outside of our normal 3-chord pop-tastic worship that at one point I was screaming inside for a 3rd hand, so that I could fully realize the Eb / D(6/9) / Dbmaj9 stack that I wanted. I know. Using chord notation at that point is just gratuitous. You get my point.

And then, because I like my church and enjoy my current level of employment with them, the crashing cacophony resolved down into notes that made sense, notes that made happy, notes that made me fairly certain that I will be welcome back next week. But for a little while, it was glorious.

I blame Alex Wen, my ne’er-do-well teaching assistant. That kid causes me more trouble. He has a frustrating habit of dropping by, serving up some canapé of intriguing speculation, and then leaving me to process and re-process for the remainder of the week. I enjoy it so much that I don’t have the heart to tell him that it’s supposed to work the other way around.

This week, it was on the role of music in worship. Alex was talking about the use of aggressive and difficult music, modern compositions that will not yield easily to passive listening, but that richly reward the engaged.

Which left me thinking about the role of music in church. Not just in worship, but in the institution at large, the cultural and social phenomenon that the gathered people construct around themselves.

Music is nearly gone from public education. We recruit our best musicians at APU either from secluded art-intensive high schools, or from other countries that still consider a musically literate public to be a worthwhile expense. The musicians who grew up in the church come to us either as butt rock guitar strummers of the most parochial kind, or as power-pop vocalists. Some are very good, but good only in the narrowly confined musical space that is useful for corporate worship. Good at dreamy delays and 3-note gospel harmony. Good at ripping off Coldplay. Good at dropping out after the bridge to build up to the final chorus.

Can we do more? Should we do more? Should we, as the church, be elevating the musical language of our congregants? Should we be force-feeding them dissonance, poly or even a-tonality, and complex musical ideas until they know how to understand that rich language of tension and resolution? Should we give them musical meat that is not yet useful in worship, until it is? Can we move to repair some of the musical poverty caused by our federal abrogation of all non-testable educational outcomes? Can we train up young players to understand and appreciate music that is just beyond them, until it isn’t? Should we bring in talented artists capable of transforming and elevating the congregation’s perception of what music is? Can we set them loose to play things that are not trite rearrangements of popular hymn melodies?

Once we move beyond music as marketing, music as useful, music as emotional scripting, is there a role for music in the church qua music?

Creative By Committee: A Christmas Miracle

In this week’s episode of the popular and ongoing “Creative by Committee” series, the fabulous collective musical genius of the roadhouse will be helping The Right Revered Professor Lee (DMA, MA, SPF, Esq.) assemble the musical soundtrack to that most miraculous of seasons, Stressmas. NervousBreakdownmas. Noseefamilymas. Can I get a shout out from all the pastors in the house?

So, I’m looking for three things this christmasy season. First, I’m in desperate and immediate need of choir music suitable for eager and hardworking seasonal choir members of limited reading experience. In token and pledge of gifts to come, I present to you “Child of Peace“, done by our choir last year, freely yours to use this year. Dan, I’m looking your way. Share the love. The lovely, lovely love. If your piece is picked, you will be the proud winner of a complementary set of rehearsal tracks, recorded for my choir, free to use for yours.

Second, I’m looking for hymns, psalms and spiritual songs that have fallen by the wayside, and deserve to be picked up, dusted off, and lovingly reused as either congregational worship or special music, possibly with string quartet. Chad, I know you have some good good in your back pocket for this one. Aly, I’m looking at you too.

Finally, most contempo worship for Christmas belongs in the crap drawer, next to contemporary music for weddings and contemporary music for funerals. If you happen to be in secretive possession of that most elusive of finds, a singable up-tempo modern Christmas song that doesn’t make you want to drink yourself into oblivion and start a fist-fight with the nearest lyricist, then by all means, share.

It is hereby moved and seconded, the motion carries, Creative by Committee is now in season … er … session.

the gospel according to Pixar

From The Pixar Touch, by David A. Price:

Andrew Stanton, Co-Director of Finding Nemo, “…also spoke of a spiritual aspect to the relationship of Marlin and Dory. Dory was, literally, an angel fish. ‘The protagonist’s battle was to overcome fear by discovering faith, and certainly Dory represented the angel, or the helper who showed him how to let go and not be consumed by his worries,’ he told an interviewer for a Christian-oriented film web site.
He observed that subtlety is critical in giving films such as Pixar’s a spiritual or religious dimension. ‘My personal view is that if you go into things on a pulpit or with an agenda in the creative world, it can easily get in the way of your creativity and quality… Be Christ-like in everything you do, not worrying about whether you’re furthering the cause.’”

Non-crappy Bible Study

This message was sent to me on a BBS forum I frequent. I asked the other person if I could post it here, to get your input on her question:

Hey Michael, I’m hoping you might be able to help me with something. The background is, there’s this woman in the neighborhood who I have recently become friends with, and she suggested that the two of us do a Bible study together as part of hanging out with our collection of babies during the days. For a variety of social reasons, there’s no way I can politely get out of doing it.

The problem is, I have spent my adulthood avoiding Bible study groups like the plague because, at the risk of sounding hopelessly arrogant, most of them are SO PAINFULLY INSIPID. It is not enjoyable or interesting in any way to listen to someone say, “I think what he’s saying here is [insert some synonyms for exactly what's on the page],” and then everyone nods sagely. I find large portions of the text to be really, really self-explanatory, and somehow these always seem to be the ones that get focused on in Bible studies. The last time I was in one, in fact, I got in a lot of trouble because I actually said in frustration, “Come on, it’s not like it’s Shakespeare.” Yeah.

So on the occasions where I am obligated to participate in such things, I’ve generally learned to just keep my mouth glued shut and practice my sage nodding. But that’s not going to work when I’m one of only two people in the room. So my question is, are you able to perhaps recommend a set of materials that are meatier and more interesting than your typical “See, here’s how we know God loves us!” kind of thing? She wants me to pick the subject, which is good because I have a chance to make sure it doesn’t suck, but is bad because… well, I’ve kind of been operating on the assumption that they all suck. I know there must be some smarter ones out there, but I don’t know where to find them.

So, any suggestions?

An Oasis

It’s been a long time since I’ve been a worshiper while leading worship. It’s been a desert. This morning was an oasis, though. It was alive, responsive, passionate, and the words I was leading were true for me too. Songs that had been clunky and awkward in previous weeks just soared.

What a blessing.

The Secret of Contentment

Posts in the Sermon Prep: Contentment series

  1. This Week’s Sermon Will Be on Contentment
  2. Contentment and Gratitude
  3. Paul’s Writings on Contentment
  4. Solomon vs. Paul: gratitude, simplicity, the present, and meaning
  5. The Secret of Contentment

I’m a little hesitant to post this … I’m really not content (har har) with how the message ended up, but in the interest of completion, here’s the recording of the message on contentment:

direct link: The Secret of Contentment

08-03-2008_service.mp3

Previous in series: Solomon vs. Paul: gratitude, simplicity, the present, and meaning

Paul’s Writings on Contentment

Posts in the Sermon Prep: Contentment series

  1. This Week’s Sermon Will Be on Contentment
  2. Contentment and Gratitude
  3. Paul’s Writings on Contentment
  4. Solomon vs. Paul: gratitude, simplicity, the present, and meaning
  5. The Secret of Contentment

A few passages from Paul’s writing on contentment:

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
(2 Corinthians 6:3-10, NIV)

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
(1 Timothy 6:6-10, TNIV)

Paul gives context to his claims of suffering:

Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness …
(2 Corinthians 11:23-27, NKJV)

Which gives all that much more depth to his claims of learning contentment:

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
(Philippians 4:11-13,NKJV)

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God Has Brought His Children Home

Tomorrow Doug is speaking on the afterlife, our eternal hope. He and I share a frustration with the popular perception that human beings are destined for some disembodied state, to be fitted with harps and floating through the ether in perfect, vacuous, albino bliss. How is that something to look forward to? I mean, better than the flaming alternative, I guess, but the biblical picture of the afterlife is much richer. The Evangelical reading goes something like this: trumpets, 2nd coming, taken up to heaven, transformed, bowls of wrath, beasts, judgment throne, all that jazz, EARTH GETS REMADE, and we return to a perfected earth. With bodies. And wine. Certainly with music, art, architecture, work (the good kind), maybe even sex (heaven forbid!). If Phil gets his way, the laws of math and wave physics will get that one last tweak so that a note can function in both “equal tempered” and “just intonation” scales at the same time.

The point is, that last part, the returned to a redeemed and perfected earthly existence, that gets overlooked in the popular view. To the cheapening of hope, I think. I have no desire to be apart of some ethereal disembodied state. But an eternal future of human experiences, without all the brokenness, as it was meant to be? That’s worth looking forward to.

In trying to find a hymn for tomorrow, I realized how strongly fixated the traditional hymnody is on heaven, and how non-existent good songs are that portray the remade earth. I’ll even go so far as to say that this is an area where modern worship music has outshone its traditional counterpart.

So, for tomorrow, I decided to write a good old fashioned honest to God (get it?) hymn that focused on the redemption of earth as the well-suited home for human beings, and it’s place in the end-times narrative. This is still in draft form, and will be until 10:25 tomorrow morning, when I finally have to put my pen down and sing the thing.

God Has Brought His Children Home

Words and Potential Music by Michael A. Lee
In death the pow’r confirmed
Of he who rose again
The grave bereft of fear
For we are coming home
Yes we are coming home

Refrain:
Swing wide, ye gates of glory
Ring out, ye choirs of heav’n
Sing out the ancient story
God has brought his children home

The earth shall be made new
All brokenness undone
The triumph of redemption
In this eternal home
This our eternal home

(refrain)

And we will lift the song
Of peace and hope eternal
The glory of the savior
In justice here displayed

Come join the King of Ages
Come sing the song eternal
Of Christ who rose in triumph
Now raising up all things

(refrain)