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A Lifestyle of Enough

Guest Post by Eugene Cho

A few years ago, my wife, Minhee, and I made one of the hardest decisions we’ve made thus far in our marriage and in our calling as parents.

In our hope to honor a conviction of the Holy Spirit to give up a year’s salary, we had begun the two year process of saving, selling, and simplifying in 2007. Our goal was to come up with our then year’s wages of $68,000 – in order to launch a movement called One Day’s Wages. With only a few months left to come up with the total sum, we were a bit short and decided to sublet our home for couple months and asked some friends if we could stay with them on their couches or their guest room.

Needless to say it was a very humbling time.

Our instruction for ourselves and our children were very simple: Each person gets one carry-on bag for their belongings.

I still remember crying the night I told our kids of our plans. This wasn’t what I had signed up for. This was by far more difficult that I had imagined; I felt I had failed my wife and children. I felt like a deadbeat. A failure.

Had I known, there is no way in Hades I would have agreed to this conviction.

But as I look back now, I’m incredibly grateful for this experience. We simplified our lives and sold off belongings we didn’t need. For about 2 years, we agreed as a family not to buy anything beyond our necessities.  When we stayed with friends, we were reminded what was most essential in our lives:

Our Faith and Hope in Christ.
My marriage.
My children.
My community.

In our 2500+ square feet homes, it’s so easy to get lost in our stuff, our possessions, our rooms, our floors, our gadgets, our TV sets, our personal music listening devices, our tablets, our books, our whatevers, etc.

We can get so lost in our stuff that we forget – or take for granted – the most important things: relationships.

Now in our present day, I worry that the invaluable lessons we learned during our season of simplicity may be getting lost on us – again.

Every three years I take a sabbatical with my family. I treasure that time away. During that time we try to sublet our home – if we can find renters we trust. While it’s not something we particularly want to do, it’s an important source of income that allows us to travel without financial worries. But in order to sublet the home, we have to minimize and clean up the home.

A few months ago (before we left for our 7000+ mile road trip), we couldn’t believe how much stuff we’ve accumulated since we gave up our fast of  “not buying anything beyond essentials.” We couldn’t believe the stuff we’ve accumulated in our closets, our garage, our toyboxes, our offices, etc. And to be honest, the stuff we’ve accumulated in…our hearts.

And this is from a family that takes great “pride” in simple living!

Again, I’m reminded of the great power in the story of Jesus. There are so many things that compel me about Jesus but one of them is what I call the story of downward mobility.

It completely contradicts the movement of upward mobility that is pervasive in our culture. We want to upgrade everything at every opportunity:

We want the bestest, the fastest, the strongest, the mightiest, the largest, the mostest, the most horse powerful-est, the beautiful-est, the most blazing CPU processer-est, and the list goes on and on…

Even as I’m typing this on my lethargically slow netbook, I want…I need…I lust…for the latest Macbook, ultrabook, superbook…

But I digress.

Upward mobility never stops. Because we go through this cycle constantly. And the powers to be know this.

The incarnation is the story of how Jesus humbled himself and chose not to exercise his divine rights and, instead, took on flesh and bone to simultaneously assume full humanity – being fully God but also fully man. Born in a manger to simple commoners, he assumed a simple lifestyle as a carpenter and throughout his life, he owned nothing except the stuff he traveled with.

It’s the story of downward mobility.

This is a lesson and a story we have to all get behind. This is the Jesus we have to get behind – not the Jesus of bling bling, the Jesus of total prosperity theology; a Jesus of exclusivity and elitism; a Jesus of total health and prosperity, or the Jesus of “send $49 and we’ll mail you this special anointed cloth.”

It’s not to suggest that we have to adopt a lifestyle of poverty but rather…a theology, praxis, and lifestyle of enough.

We have enough.
We are blessed and blessed immensely.
God has given us enough.
God is our enough.

I’m reminded of the wise words of G. K. Chesterton: There are two ways to get enough: one is to continue to accumulate more & more. The other is to desire less.

So true. So true.

Perhaps, an easy and one (more) step we can take to grow in “our lifestyle of enough” is to simply give away our birthdays or to consider how we can creatively celebrate the Christmas season in parallel to Jesus’ model of downward mobility.

The Story of One Day’s Wages from One Day’s Wages on Vimeo.

Another Way for Africa

Photo Credit: Socially Responsible Safaris

Guest Post by Heidi Wright

Sometimes I just want to retire and bake cookies. I really think I’d be be happy doing that. But my heart is still in Africa and God has given me so many experiences that I can’t keep to myself.

My husband and I moved to a remote village in Uganda when I was 25. I was young, naïve and ready to change Africa. For three years we lived in a village with no running water, no electricity, and no other Internationals.

My first month there I thought I would teach the women in the village to speak English, because obviously everyone wants to learn English, right?  They all started laughing at the first sentence out of my mouth and I thought to myself, Who do I think I am? Over the years I actually developed relationships with these women. We nursed our babies together. We pumped water at the well together. We experienced new life together—and the sadness of life lost too soon.

Life there was hard. Experiencing life, motherhood and womanhood in that village was an experience that shaped me and my view of Africa significantly.

After three years we moved back to the states for six years before moving to Nairobi, Kenya. As expats in Nairobi we lived the life opposite of village life and met entirely new groups of people. We had a gardener, twenty-four hour security guards, housekeepers, and our kids went to an international school.

In that time we got to know our staff and their families, I saw how hard they work and learned their views on political happenings. I learned to see things from their point of view—where guards are working from 6am to 6pm and are happy to have that job. They don’t want people to give them money, they want jobs, they want investment in their country, they want a way to take care of their kids.

Those two drastically different lives have given us a new perspective of Africa from when we first moved there. We got to know people and live life with people on all levels—from women in poor villages to expats. Those real encounters moved me from thinking I can go to Africa and save them, to a more authentic, relationship-based view. They gave me a new heart for engaging, learning and contributing.

I see the huge potential of people: educated, empowered, passionate and actively engaged in their country.

There is so much to learn about a country and its people. If we start from a position of learning, we are in a much better, more authentic, nuanced and informed position. Our lives become focused on real people rather than quick-fixes. Through my experiences I’ve discovered local businesses that truly make a difference; businesses that provide sustainable employment, responsible development, and promote culture. More and more, this is one area where we feel called to engage.

For example, Amani Ya Juu is a great fair trade sewing and economic development program for marginalized women in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and Liberi. They emphasize ethical business practices and harmonious relationships among various people groups and religions. Their products create sustainable incomes for women to help support their families.

Another great way to invest in Africa is through Socially Responsible Safaris. Tourism is one of the fastest growing aspects of the global economy and ecotourism, when done well and responsibly, can have a significant positive impact on a country. Socially Responsible Safaris bring positive economic benefits to local communities, involve environmentally sensitive accommodations, off-set carbon emissions, and generate meaningful relationships with host communities, schools and orphanages along the route.

Socially Responsible Safaris allows visitors to get a small glimpse of many aspects of Africa – poor people and wealthy people, incredible natural wonders and beautiful culture. These are the experiences that teach us we don’t go to Africa to fix things, but to learn how to engage with what is already going on there.

Americans often feel like we have to start our own organizations on our own terms, but there are already so many good things going on.

I don’t live in Africa anymore but I recently took a group of women to Kenya and Ethiopia to share my experiences with them. I wanted to take people who wouldn’t go on their own, to go on more than a tour and more than a mission trip. We visited women’s projects, prayer groups, sewing groups, and microfinance groups. Women have a unique ability to relate to each other even when they have diverse backgrounds and everyone came back with a new perspective and new experiences.

This type of experience is what I feel like I can offer. I can show people the country, make connections, facilitate a brief education, help them learn what they can do, and give them handles for deepening their engagement.

As much as I want to stay home and bake cookies, I know I’m called to more than that right now. For now I want to help lead people toward another way of engaging with Africa.

Charles Marsh on Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Photo Credit: Gudron Senger

Charles Marsh is the Commonwealth Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia and director of the Project on Lived Theology. His latest book is Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and he is the author of seven previous books, including the memoir The Last Days, and God’s Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights, which won the 1998 Grawemeyer Award in Religion.  He was a recipient of the 2009 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in the Creative Arts and named the 2010 Ellen Maria Gorrissen Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin.  He has also served as the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Visiting Professsor at Humboldt University in Berlin. He lives with his family in Charlottesville, Virginia.

KW: There have been several biographies of Bonhoeffer, including the first by his friend and student Eberhard Bethge and one more recently by journalist Eric Metaxas. What made you feel the need to spend so many years to produce a new one? What sets this biography apart from the others?

CM: I’m pleased that Eric Metaxas has inspired such a spirited and intense conversation on Bonhoeffer’s life and legacy. Nevertheless, I wanted to tell the story afresh, as that of a deeply human figure and not merely just a saintly one, and to do so relying primarily on new archival discoveries, as well as interviews and primary documents. In fact, while I was working on my “Strange Glory”, I took all the Bonhoeffer biographies in my library and hid them in the basement. I did this so I could re-imagine the narrative arc, which was my main concern. The arc, the plot and the cast of characters in Metaxas’s biography all rely on Eberhard Bethge’s magisterial 1969 landmark biography. And this has been the case with all other Bonhoeffer biographies. I felt it was time to wrestle Bonhoeffer free of his best friend’s protective grasp, to re-examine all his relationships and his actions.

My colleague Victoria Barnett, who is the director of the Committee on Ethics, Religion, and the Holocaust at the U. S. Holocaust Museum in Washington and General Editor of the 16-volume Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, told me many years ago that though she’d spend years of her life translating thousands pages of Bonhoeffer’s writings and read every word he’d ever written, she still really didn’t know who he was. I’ve tried to get at this elusive mystery of character.

KW: In recent years political partisans have tried to claim Bonhoeffer for their own causes. What do you make of that?

CM: The attempt to squeeze Bonhoeffer into our ideological box of choice does a grave disservice to his legacy. Bonhoeffer’s life and thought exhibit above all an uncommon generosity and openness to the world. His more popular works make biblical faith intelligible to believers and nonbelievers alike—The Cost of Discipleship, Life Together, books written amidst the chaos and fury of the Kirchenkampf—and do so without reducing complex ideas to clichés or pious talking points. No other Christian thinker crosses quite so many boundaries while yet remaining exuberantly—and one must always add—generously Christian. This is why his has story has attracted both liberals and evangelicals, Catholics and Protestants, Christians and Jews, church-goers and secularists alike. What all admire is Bonhoeffer’s indisputably authentic witness. But it’s human nature to imagine that someone we admire but see everything just as we do, and that has certainly happened with Bonhoeffer.

KW: In 1934, Bonhoffer called himself a pacifist. But by 1940, he had joined the conspiracy against Hitler, conferring God’s blessings on tyrannicide. What changed his mind?

CM: His brother in law, the conspirator Hans von Dohnanyi, used his position at the Ministry of Justice to obtain the Nazi confidential records and compile a “Chronicle of Shame,” a day-by-day listing of war crimes, military plans, and genocidal actions and policies, the full realization of which made clear to Bonhoeffer that his principled commitment to pacifism must yield under these extreme circumstances to actions intended to “kill the madman”, Hitler. Still, he understood the gravity of taking a life, even that of a brutal tyrant. His decision most certainly also involved a “sin and sin boldly” proposition, risked in fear and trembling, and in hope of forgiveness.

KW: Bonhoeffer’s first visit to America in 1930-1931, to study at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, was not one he embarked upon with great enthusiasm. He even considered his visit to America as “one more jaunt in his privileged life.” But . . . it was his first exposure to the authenticity and vitality of the worship experiences he witnessed in the African American churches that changed all of this, and proved to be a great turning point in his faith. What was the significance of these encounters?

CM: This was singularly transformative period for Bonhoeffer, this year as a visiting student at Union Theological Seminary in New York. When he arrived in Manhattan he was a straight-arrow academically ambitious twenty-four year old assistant professor with two doctoral dissertations under his belt. The trip was really a lark for him, something to pass his time. But when he left New York ten months later, he possessed a bold new understanding of his vocation as pastor and theologian. “It was the problem of concreteness that concerns me now,” he wrote. What happened?

In America he journeyed into new regions of experience: into the tenement buildings of New York, into the Harlem Renaissance, into the Deep South weeks after the Scottsboro Boys went to trial, and into a six month immersion in the black church. He engaged the National Women’s Trade Union League and the Workers Education Bureau of America; wrote notes on the labor movement, poverty, homelessness, crime, and the social mission of the churches. He met with officials from the American Civil Liberties Union, the nation’s premier defender of civil liberties which after its founding in 1920 had focused heavily on the rights of conscientious objectors and on the protection of resident aliens from deportation. And in the spring of 1931, he and a graduate student from Calais, France–who would later take part in the French Resistance –took a road trip together that carried them through the heart of Jim Crow South.

In these unfamiliar regions, among a nearly forgotten generation of American radicals and reformers, he found the courage reexamine every aspect of his vocation as theologian and pastor and to embark upon what he would call “the turning from the phraseological to the real”.

KW: Yet he remained critical of Christianity in America? Could you say a word about this?

CM: Suffice it to say, he was underwhelmed by what he experienced as the lack of intellectual seriousness among American Protestants. “Is this a theological school or a training center for politicians?” Bonhoeffer asked Reinhold Niebuhr after a class at Union Theological Seminary. But despite his numerous grumblings over American Christianity, it is undeniable that Bonhoeffer was moved and inspired by the social theology of Reinhold Niebuhr and company, by theologians who engaged the social order with civil courage and ultimate honesty—who insisted that the enterprise of theology required maximum attention to race, politics, literature, social justice, citizenship and the complex realities of the day. He would never again consider theology to be an activity confined to the academy, but part of the lived life in Christ.

KW: What’s the most surprising thing you learned about Bonhoeffer during your research?

CM: That Bonhoeffer’s most provocative insights lie not in the answers he gave on matters of faith and doubt in the modern age, but in his courage to ask to ask the difficult questions; “Who is Christ for us today?”, “Are we still of any use?” “What is religionless Christianity?”, “Who am I?”

KW: “Religionless Christianity” has caused always stirred controversy. What did he mean by it?

CM: Karl Barth, the theologian who influenced Bonhoeffer more than any other, had flummoxed his liberal Protestant contemporaries by claiming—as he put it bluntly—that “Jesus has nothing to do with religion.” Bonhoeffer’s late, fragmentary mediations on “religionless Christianity” trades, in some measure, on this rather forthright evangelical conviction; that religion is based on humanity’s search for God, but Christianity begins with God’s reaching out to humankind. So “religionless Christianity” means relationship with God without the entrapments of religion.

Nonetheless, it is undeniable that aspects of Bonhoeffer late meditations move in new and quite daring directions. “I am living, and can live, for days without the Bible,” he said. But when he opened his Bible again after an absence, he could hear and experience the “new and delightful . . . as never before.” “Authenticity, life, freedom, and mercy” had acquired a new significance for him. A worldliness heretofore unknown was unexpectedly refreshing his spiritual being, and with it he felt a growing aversion to all things “religious.” What a glorious discovery, the vast new spiritual energies he was feeling! It was an impulse to let things take their own course and try his best not to resist. It was his first intimation of spirituality outside the church.

KW: What else struck you?

CM: On a more mundane level, I was surprised to discover the extent of his sartorial refinement—he kept a detailed account of his wardrobe and went to quite extraordinary lengths to ensure that his friend Eberhard, the son of a country parson, was similarly furnished with the best dress shirts, ties, suits, furs, and outfits for special occasions. This—and other earthy details—added color to the story; not even the great Protestant martyr could have too many pairs of shoes.

KW: What would you ultimately like readers to take away from your book?

CM: Above all, I want the reader to be swept up into an engaging and vivid narrative that follows the journey of this golden child of the Berlin Grunewald as he struggles under the impress of horrific historical events to see clearly, to act courageously and the live life to the fullest. I want the story to inspire and move, delight and surprise, but to appear finally as an artful telling of a beautiful and righteous life.

Knowing God Part IV: Worship and the Idol of Pain

A Story of Mud, Protest & Justice

Photo Credit: Peter Burgess, Creative Commons

Guest Post by Kent Annan

The rain roars down. That season has arrived. The rain might as well be tears, drenching hundreds of thousands of people in tents and under tarps [after the earthquake here in Haiti].

I’m back staying with the Woshdlo family [I used to live with] as I check on the rebuilding progress in our nearby schools. The family is all in one home talking and telling stories while waiting out heavy rain. The provisional house is holding. Père, the grandfather, comes and goes in these times. He won’t sit for too long. Having lived on this plot of land for sixty-seven years, he is long past letting rain paralyze him, even if he understands that the rest of his extended family prefers to stay dry.

Eventually he comes to get me. It’s late and everyone is ready to sleep. Though I could find my own way, Père wants to escort me to the little room in the provisional tin house where I’ll sleep.

We slog together through mud and water at least a foot deep. It’s slippery, so I lose and then retrieve a flip-flop a few times. Occasional lightning makes the path clear. We arrive at the little porch of the house and I’m getting ready to go in when Père stoops down to where he had put a bucket of water. Suddenly my foot is cradled in his hand and he’s gently washing off the mud.

I protest. No, I’ll do it. No, please don’t, Père. But there’s something holy about it. Of course I think of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and their protesting. I’m humbled to silence. Père isn’t doing this because he’s subservient or feels like he has to. For more than seven years I’ve watched his humility, generosity and kindness.

The fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22 have seemed too soft and too reinforcing of the status quo to me since realizing what the world is like. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” is a great list, but not enough. It should also include, based on other parts of the Bible, “risky compassion, discomfort with the comfortable, defiance in the face of injustice.” Read in a middle-class church, the original list can just strengthen self-satisfaction and complacency. Sure, it’s not easy to be all those things in your marriage or with colleagues or neighbors, but it’s a lot easier than giving up what I have to engage with people who are poor or challenging the very systems that help make life good for my family. The fruit of the Spirit—the fruit of being shaped to be more like Jesus—has to be more revolutionary.

I think about how I’m supposed to follow Jesus to love more—but then of course here I am, humbled and being loved far more than I can love. In thirty years, when I’m Père’s age, I hope I’ve become a little of the man he is. I look up to him in every way. I balance now on my clean foot just inside the doorway as he washes the mud covering my other foot.

He is full of dignity, confidence, stubbornness. He gets angry and yells at himself or just in general or occasionally at the grandkids when they’re disobedient—but always still with a twinkle in his eye.

I don’t want my soul shaped by the market or the latest technology or pride. I don’t want my ambition or my fears to shape me. I want to make a difference and support the right causes, but they’re not enough either.

Let the philosophers and scientists and skeptics mock; even though I’d like to be more sophisticated—and it is more complex than this— I’ll just say what’s true as I’m here in the rain with Père: I believe in Jesus in part because Père believes. And I even believe in that revolutionary kingdom that Jesus says has come and is coming in and around us.

The same was true many a morning at 5 a.m., when only the roosters and Père were awake and I laid in bed in this house listening for an hour as Père prayed to God, asking for his provision (even for me and my family) but mostly thanking God in prayer and in song.

On Love and Atheism

Photo Credit: JM Scott, Creative Commons

I was recently asked whether love was something atheists could actually have in their evolutionary worldview. If so, what would it be and how could they account for its existence?

Atheists can believe in love as part of conscious thought and something they think developed through evolution as a survival instinct to do with the herd, the collective and group behavior. In other words, it is one of the virtues that emerged over time through the survival value it conveyed.

Or if you’re an extreme atheist and deny free will, then you may attribute love to more animalistic drives, responses, inputs and outputs etc.

From a Christian standpoint, however, love is love whether it is from a Christian or an atheist.

The Christian believes people were created in the “image of God” (the Imago Dei) and thus are capable of love even if they are apart from God or don’t believe in God. It is a potential that exists for all people because of how we were created. Love, therefore, is a part of what is called natural grace, which means common to all men, rather than special grace, which refers to the things we believe are common only to followers of Christ.

The Christian teaching is that a relationship with God in Christ allows us to experience true love, find greater motivation for love, and grow into the ability to love in more sacrificial ways than we would without God.

In other words, love begets love and grace begets grace.  We literally love because God first loved us.

This doesn’t mean that all people who call themselves Christians are loving and that people who are not Christians are unloving. In fact, Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan uses an outsider as the example, the one who demonstrates love, contrary to the insiders who don’t demonstrate love.

Love is a virtue.  It is common to all men and women and we all have the potential of being loving.  Our relationship with Christ is something that, in addition to other things, should grow our virtues, inform our virtues and motivate our virtues.

Another way of putting it: since Christians are given commands by God and atheists deny any kind of higher authority – there is no excuse for a Christian without love while there is no necessary reason for an atheist to love.

This is an ethical statement and not a statement of fact. It is about the logically necessary duties or obligations of Christians and Atheists within the respective ethical and moral systems of each worldview – not whether a certain Christian or atheist can or does have sacrificial love.

Todd Deatherage on Emphasizing Human Dignity in Conflict

How do we emphasize human dignity within conflict? from :redux on Vimeo.

A Plurality of Voices

Photo Credit: Gilberto Agostinho, Creative Commons

Guest Post by Luke Suciu

As a youth pastor I frequently get asked by parents, “What are some issues the students are dealing with in their faith?” and while I am convinced that the removal of obstacles does not equal the presence of faith, I believe the question is a good one. My dad is a pastor, and he always jokes with me that when he was in seminary he was told he only needed to know two things to be a pastor: his position on divorce and remarriage and whether he was going to use the NIV or KJV. Now the humor (or ignorance depending on which angle you look at it) of the position of the Christian seminary in the ‘80s is stunning and if we never ask ourselves the question “What are the new issues?” we are left with an aggressively mediocre approach towards things that can get in the way of faith. With that assertion, that we should be frequently reexamining the issues that our faith encounters, the rest of this blog post will be dedicated to what I believe to be the biggest obstacle to faith in the lives of middle and high school students: an early exposure to a plurality of voices.

Young people are exposed to more voices earlier in their life than ever before. We live in a world where there is a constant stream of people screaming advice. There is always another TED talk to listen to and another blog to read (the irony that I am currently adding to the cacophony of screaming heads is not lost on me) and they all speak as if they have the absolute authority of a medieval monarch. “7 Things That Will Fix Your Depression.” “The 3 Practices That Will GUARANTEE College Acceptance Letters.” “Why Vassals Shouldn’t Have Rights.” Okay maybe I made the last one up, but you get the idea. Scroll through your Facebook feed and keep track of how many status updates and posts are offering the mystical piece of advice to cure every problem you currently have. It never ends. Life has been reduced to a deluge of advice where everyone is a self appointed prophet. Conclusions about difficult issues are constantly asserted as if years of research and depth of thought are backing the conclusion. Ken Wytsma has already dealt with some of these issues in a post he wrote for the Huffington Post titled Are We Talking Too Fast? and while this is not a specifically generational issue I believe this reality has had a profound impact on young people.

Most young people do not have the developed sense of skepticism that the adult world seems to ingrain into the very fabric of existence. There is something beautiful about this naivety, about the ease of belief that comes with youth. It reminds me of the film “The Invention of Lying” where everyone in the world has no ability to lie. Until one man figures out how to lie and everyone believes everything he says simply because they have no reason to doubt anyone who makes any positive statement. Now indulge me for a moment and attempt to imagine the reverse situation: everyone can lie except one person, who uncritically believes what everyone else says. Now give that person internet access, let them watch the evening news, or listen to a few politicians debate. What would they walk away with? This is hyperbole but only slightly (in all fairness this post is dedicated to adolescents and most young people do not watch political debates, but they do watch the Disney channel and in my mind it is generally a toss up as to which medium will produce more blatant lies). We hand our teenagers smart phones, with outright access to the entire sordid history of human thought, and then wonder why they are rebellious or how they developed a self-refuting worldview. Most thirteen year-olds have not developed the ability to discern which people, which blogs, and which videos are credible; it is all just a giant wash of suggestions to be accepted and attempted. As much as I love Google that is not where I want my middle school students to turn when they have questions about sexuality, truth, or why their friends cut themselves. The pluralities of voices are all given equal weight with devastating results.

Before I go any further: I am not advocating for absolute isolationism of children until they turn eighteen when we throw them to the wolves with a handshake and an un-encouraging “Good luck.” Rather, that we as people of faith have bought into a culture that is systematically providing wrong answers and it is time to reconsider the absolute access to the world that we give to young people. 

I am also not advocating that anyone should exclusively read or listen to people that they agree with across the board. Rather, that handing your ten-year-old “Mein Kampf” (which is rather mild in comparison to many things you can find on the internet) in the interest of exposure could be a bad idea for someone of that age. 

The question then remains: What are we to do about this new obstacle our culture presents to the faith of young people? We are not going to be able to reverse the totality of western culture, and even the most careful parents will not be able to make sure that their child never hears from an erroneous voice. There are times when this battle can feel like we are standing underneath a waterfall asking it all to go back up. Is there more of an answer than simply “Try to be careful what you children watch, read, and listen to?” I am by no means an expert on parenting or young people and this is a far more complex question than my two simple suggestions are going to solve, so all I can offer is a starting point from what I have learned in my experience as a youth pastor.

If you are a parent do not simply teach your children the decisions you have already made: teach them how to make decisions. Give them the tools to equip themselves to be discerning people. Our world will present new problems and if we make all the decisions for them eventually they will be left knowing their position on divorce and remarriage and NIV or KJV but nothing else. Before children are given unmitigated access to the world give them the ability to differentiate the good from the bad.

If your child is older and has already been given access to too many voices too early they generally respond in one of two ways: I) accepting everything they hear (truth is relative) or II) rejecting every voice trying to speak into their lives (becoming their own arbiter of truth). In either case the parental response is the same: speak truth and be consistent. No child who has grown up in the overly saturated advertisement world is going to be tricked into thinking faith is cool enough. Faith cannot be cosmetically fixed to look more attractive, simply speak truth and be consistent.

Parenting will never be easy and faith is never guaranteed. If you are a parent trying to help develop faith in your adolescent I beg you to continue the through the difficult journey (as someone who had two godly parents I can promise you it makes a difference). Be careful what voices you allow to speak into the life of your child, teach them how to make decisions, speak truth,  and be consistent.

When Immigration Takes a Human Face

Guest Post by Jon Huckins

I recently looked out my front door and saw a woman sitting on the stairs of my patio. She was out of breath, sweaty and had a large basket next to her full of cans and plastic bottles to be recycled. She looked desperately in need of some rest and refreshment. I’m pretty good at ignoring people in need (sadly), but when they come to your physical doorstep, I couldn’t imagine not stepping outside to check on this woman.

Opening our front door, she looked up at me with a bit of concern on her face thinking I might ask her to get off my patio. To calm her nerves, I simply sat down on the steps next to her and we exchanged warm smiles. Because she offered me a greeting in Spanish, I quickly realized she didn’t speak much English and I gave my best shot at speaking in Spanish. Over the next 10 minutes, we simply sat on my patio overlooking the main street of our neighborhood that runs in front of my house. Sometimes we talked, sometimes we just sat in comfortable silence. Her name was Conchetta. Finally, I asked if I could get her some food and a cold drink and she quickly said, “yes.”

After taking in some needed nourishment, Conchetta, offered me a warm smile filled with the richness of humanity and gratitude, and leisurely went back to work assembling the best of our neighborhoods “trash” so she could bring some life to her family.

Our faith community has spent a lot of time over the years becoming students of our neighborhood. As a result, we discovered that roughly 60% of our neighborhoods’ residents are Latino (most are Mexican because of our proximity to the border) and a high percentage of those are undocumented. In fact, it’s a safe assumption that my new friend, Conchetta, is undocumented.

As the “immigration issue” continues to be discussed in our country, for me, it is becoming much less of a political talking point and much more about genuine, human relationship. They are my friends. They are my neighbors. They are humans beings who live with the same needs, desires and aspirations as the rest of us. They have kids, grandkids, parents, brothers and sisters. They are children of a God who reigns over a global kingdom. A kingdom that was inaugurated in a Jesus who spent his life crossing borders to tangibly love the outsider and remind them of their sacred identity as sons and daughters of the Father and citizens of his kingdom. In the context of relationship, like I now have with Conchetta, “they” become “us.”

Obeying the greatest commandments of loving God and neighbor leaves my faith community and me with no choice but to pursue this issue with radical love and moral obligation. This isn’t yet another political debate to be waged in such a way that widens the partisan divide. It is a human reality with human implications that the Jesus Community must be waging peace right in the middle of.

May we walk with our friends — whether immigrants, ex-convicts, orphans, etc. — out of the shadows and into our homes, around our tables and begin co-creating a better future in the neighborhoods, cities and world in which we have each been entrusted.

Here are a few suggestions of things you can do to get involved:

1. Build friendships. Friendship not only humanizes issues, it moves us to action.

2. The Evangelical Immigration Table is a great organization that offers resources, spiritual disciplines and tangible actions around a biblical view of immigration.

3. Walk with your immigrant friends towards citizenship. There are courses we can take (offered by World Relief) that give us the credentials to offer immigration counseling that is desperately needed by those seeking citizenship.

What I’m Reading

The Abolitionist Imagination (The Alexis de Tocqueville Lectures on American Politics), by Andrew Delbanco: When is the demand for purifying action honorable, and when it is fanatic and irresponsible? Many activists and reformers have often been labeled as fanatics before they became famous for enacting social reform. The story of the historic abolitionists is fascinating as an example of one of the early, modern human rights crusades and provides a great background for learning to engage in current conversations and action.

The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution, by John Allen Jr.: According to the secular International Society for Human Rights, 80% of violations of religious freedom in the world today are directed against Christians. As Christians in America we might hear stories of religious persecution but we don’t know what to do about it and are often able to insulate ourselves from it. This book is a great resource for understanding what Christians outside of our American culture wars deal with and allows us to pray and stand in solidarity with them.

Governing the World: The History of an Idea, 1815 to the Present, by Mark Mazower: My favorite subject is history and as a history lover this book provides an interesting look at how the idea of power, dominance and governance has evolved and how the dynamics shape our current world.

The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left, by Yuval Levin: Have you ever wondered about the history of our two current political parties and how we got where we are today? In this book Levin looks as the original debates between Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine, 2 people who embodied the ideas of the right and left, and traces the effect that has on our current political climate. This is a fascinating read about the roots of progressives and conservatives and what it means for us today.

The Art of Innovation

Guest Post by Casey Parnell

Years ago I went to Rome with some of my greatest friends in the world. Rome is an incredible place and, in case you happen upon this city, I want to make sure you plan for multiple days there. We were there for only one spectacular day and it wasn’t enough. We barely scratched the surface of its history and majesty, visiting the Pantheon, the Vatican, and the Colosseum all in one day’s time. Tucked away inside our brief hours in the city, we “attended” mass in St. Peter’s square led by Pope Benedict XVI. Catholics sure can draw a crowd. There was a casual 10,000 people in the square on a Friday morning and we listened as the Pope led the crowd in a hymn of worship. I will never forget the weight and power of that moment.

Before mass we had the opportunity to walk through the Sistine Chapel; what I would say was one of the highlights our two-week trip to Europe. The brilliant and controversial Michelangelo spent years of his life painting in this space. While working on the ceiling, (taking almost 4 years to complete) they say he nearly went blind from paint dropping into his eyes. This chapel is still where new Pope’s are elected, a rise of smoke to signify someone has been chosen. Photography is also not allowed, although there is an astonishing amount of photographs that surface from a search on Google (apparently people don’t care that God is watching them or security or something).

The Sistine chapel was recently brought to mind again in one of the creative meetings at our church. We were discussing how the concept of innovation has changed the world for better or worse. If it is, in fact, the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods, then we see it all around us everyday. It’s found on our computers through Spotify and in our homes through our refrigerator. It’s a significant word. With it empires rise and without it they crumble.

The Chapel is a stand-alone masterpiece but is also only a speck of artwork at the Vatican. Entire wings, hallways, corridors, and courtyards are covered with masterworks from many centuries.

Why does the Sistine Chapel even exist? Why was the ceiling painted or “The Last Judgement” on the chapel wall or other tapestry’s labored over? Did previous Popes not have television and required paintings everywhere to alleviate their boredom? More accurately and less sarcastically (which is also an excellent life motto), a good answer is found in the early 1500′s, while Michelangelo painted, the vast majority of the world was illiterate. Paintings, stained glass, maps, carvings, sculptures, and murals showed the masses the story of God. A pretty brilliant idea for education. The Egyptians also had been telling their story for centuries in similar fashion.

I asked the team why the concept of innovation is an important one. They responded that the power of innovation could be used for good and for evil, but generally people innovate to be more effective at what they do.

Like fire, the introduction of new ideas can do one of two things; it can build up through warmth or break down through destruction. The Sistine Chapel is an example of innovation building up the broad base of Catholic attenders. The Chapel is actually a minute example of how High Renaissance Art throughout Europe told the story of God.  When people cannot read, they need pictures. (Thank you, magazines!) When we get stuck in situations we can’t bear, lack of profit in a startup business, a basketball team that keeps losing, or a church that isn’t growing, we must innovate to spark a change.

Innovation has also led to the demise of many organizations, but we don’t have time to talk about failed car companies or Blockbuster.

The vast majority of organizations already have the “it”; that core value, that flagship product, that central thing that holds the whole thing together. In the church it is the Gospel of Jesus. This obviously does not change, but the circles around it, the way it’s put on display, must. To use a popular Christian term, “The message doesn’t change, but the method does.” To be more effective as leaders, we MUST innovate. We must at times step out of our own ordinary and reach further to take ground.

Some close friends of mine were visiting new churches a while back. They drove across town and ended up in a smaller non-denominational congregation, this Sunday, as they would come to find out, was also the last Sunday the church was going to exist. The pastor explained to the 20 or so sitting in the pews that this would be their last gathering and they were closing up shop. Any marketing person before giving up would say, “What could innovating teach us here?” Are the services too long? Do the neighbors know they are welcome to attend? Many churches find themselves so entrenched in “how they do things” they can’t see another possible way to look at the whole picture.

Jesus, Himself, came and innovated. He changed the way we saw God, and He was VERY good at this. Where people used to think God was a rule-creating, vengeful, silent, great and fearful distant entity, Jesus came and explained it differently using words like “Father” for God and telling stories about runaway kids finding their way home. His approach made many people angry, but those that were healed in heart and body were overjoyed.  In the same way the Sistine Chapel connected people back to the story of God, Jesus was the original storyteller and His thesis was love.

Where religious leadership was motivated by rules and consequences, power and influence, Jesus came with a different motivation and this selfless love was proved over and over again until we killed him for it. His present, risen life is still showing us what love is today.

As God innovated through Jesus, reshaping our view of Himself, this same spirit of innovation exists in our hearts today; the soul of creativity, the spark of imagination, the mind that thinks anything is possible. It breaks us out of our boxes into new roads, new lands, and new thoughts. I don’t think anything we do in this life should be done without asking why. The why leads us to conversations, plans, and places we never thought were possible. Asking why forces us to innovate in our own world. Jesus was always asking questions. He never left people out of the equation, but guided them to the next place.

I want to invite you to join us to continue the discussion of innovation and leadership at The Well Conference, May 8-9, 2014 in scenic Bend, Oregon. This time with speakers Erwin Raphael McManus, Bo Stern, and Ken Wystma, as well as inspiring music and workshops, is sure to lead you onward as you change the world around you.

Register Today! The Well Conference

Knowing God Part II: Glorify God and Enjoy Him Forever

Enemies Become Friends

For a short time early in the life of Antioch, we put a yellow stress ball in each of the visitors’ welcome bags. Designed for squeezing as a way to relieve tension, they had the simple phrase “Love your enemies” written on them. We envisioned the irony of people who were frustrated (likely with the behavior of someone else) squeezing bright yellow stress balls with the reminder on them of Jesus’ command (in Matt. 5:44) to love one’s enemies.

One Sunday morning, a family describing themselves as Bible-believing Christians visited. The kid argued with his Sunday school teacher about the Scripture teaching, and the dad made a fuss to the Associate Pastor on his way out of church. It wasn’t until the following day that we realized both circumstances involved the same family; at that point, one of the pastors called the family in an effort to disarm the situation and extend grace and care. During the phone call, the dad got increasingly worked up and animated. He finally blurted out, “Then to top it all off, when we got in the car to drive away my son took a stress ball out of the welcome bag. Love your enemies!? What a ridiculous phrase-that even contradicts the Bible!”

We didn’t know whether to be shocked or amused by the absurdity of a so-called Bible believing family’s inability to recognize the command to love-even our enemies-as one that comes from the Bible.

So adamant about his commitment to Scripture, this guy missed the very heart of Scripture. He was so committed to his idea of the Bible that he missed one of the things it mostly clearly commands us to observe.

We’re to love our enemies and pray for our enemies.

We have a King in Jesus who died for his enemies.

One of the saddest experiences I’ve had in ministry is when people become legalistic-focused too much on sin management-they actually develop a blindness to the explicit and primary commands of the Scriptures, such as the command to love others.

My friend, Marcel Serabungo, is a pastor in the Congo and works for World Relief. Once when he was visiting Oregon, I invited him to sit in on a staff meeting at Antioch to share a bit of his experience with us. As he shared his heart with us, he began to plead with us, as passionately as anything I’ve heard, to forgive each other of the slights, misunderstandings and ways we may hurt each other, to pursue unity at all costs, and to learn to truly love each other as a church team.

Marcel speaks in a methodical cadence and with an accent that comes from English being his second language. I found myself being entranced by his exhortation and wasn’t ready for the final point he was driving toward. He abruptly changed direction and gave this concluding remark:

“If all of you can’t learn to forgive and be reconciled here, with relatively minor and petty offenses, how can you ever hope to have anything to say with regard to forgiveness and reconciliation to the brothers and sisters in Congo and Rwanda who have suffered genocide, murder, rape or the pillaging of their land?”

Loving like Jesus is hard work.

True forgiveness and reconciliation means we’re willing to let our enemies become our friends.

We always want to out-love them, out-last them, out-rejoice them. We do not want to let enemies defeat us.

Ultimately, however, the goal is not just to survive bad relationships, but to redeem them.

Christ died for our enemies just as he died for us.

It’s a subtle yet real danger that the righteous can become self-righteous.

As Christians we must not claim to be Bible-believing yet become love-denying in practice. We cannot devour each other with petty rivalries and selfish ambition. As those who seek to do justice in the world we must understand the full implication of forgiveness and reconciliation for our own lives.

It’s rare that it happens and sometimes it feels risky or exhausting, but the Christian ethic of love means we see our current enemies as our future friends.

Don’t Give Up on Congo

Guest Post by Stephan Bauman

One of the reasons so many people give up on Congo is because its problems are chronic.

The following note from Charles Franzen poignantly depicts the urgency of the situation against the backdrop of everyday life — moms and dads and sisters and brothers, just like you and me, working and cooking and cleaning and hoping for a better future:

Yesterday was an epic day in the history of United Nations peacekeeping in the DRC as it was the first time that UN-authorized troops engaged the M23 rebels in actual battlefield armed exchanges.  This was in response to the artillery shelling of the city during the latter part of the afternoon which resulted in the deaths of several people and several dozen injuries.  This morning, Friday, the UN troops together with the FARDC in support attacked positions of the M23 in Munigi which is only about 3 miles north of town.  Those of our staff living in that part of town reported heavy exchanges of artillery and machine gun fire throughout the early morning as well as artillery response by the UN against M23 positions in the hills overlooking the airport and the city to the north.  Despite later reports of shells falling on the town later in the day, we heard nothing in our office area and so it appears that there is enough confusion and uncertainty among those responsible to halt additional firing of shells into the center of the city.  In order to be safe and to allow people to get home in good time (with motorcycle taxis reluctant to operate after nightfall) the office was closed at 3pm.  Traders in the main shopping area were seen closing their shops early and stockpiling goods in their warehouses in anticipation of additional trouble.  Helicopter gunships of the UN have been utilized heavily against rebel positions throughout the day and this may have had some effect in pushing infantry and artillery back from their redoubts established post-Goma takeover in early December last year. 

It is very quiet now in Goma with cooking fires burning and pots simmering with porridge and relish.  Despite yet another uncertain time unfolding, people go about their daily tasks washing children and cleaning clothes while the kids play football under the street lamps.  There is such incredible perseverance and hope reflected in these routine activities, but we have to remember that this has been a regular occurrence for the residents of this city for many years. 

Many people ask – when, oh when, will this end?  And often they turn their weary eyes to the FARDC and UN as they have done so often in the past.  Perhaps this is the herald of a new day.  Who can say?  Who dares to say? — Charles Franzen, World Relief Country Director in Goma.

Belinda and I recently visited Goma. Our staff at World Relief are physically weary but strong in faith. They inspire me.  As for giving up on Congo, most people I meet shake their heads and whisper “Congo” with a sigh. Many say it’s crazy to believe peace is possible anytime soon. People politely smile at the notion of prayer changing a nation.

Yet I find a counter narrative of hope against the dominant one of despair. But it comes at a great cost.

I recently met a Pastor who told me about a man whose wife was “stolen” by a rebel militia. The man looked for his wife and mother of his children for months, but he could not find her.  After six months he met with the Pastor who married him and his wife. “My wife is dead” he feared, “What should I do?”  The Pastor released him from his marriage. Some months later, the man took another wife.

But after nine months of captivity in the bush, serving as a slave to the rebel army, the man’s first wife was miraculously released. She came home to her husband and children.

The man appealed to the newly formed Village Peace Committee near Goma. “What should I do?” he said. “I don’t want to dishonor God or my new wife, but I want to be married to the mother of my children.”

The Village Peace Committee met with the Pastor and each wife, and counseled their extended families. After a season of prayer, the second wife asked to honorably step out of the marriage. In time, the Village Peace Committee helped her find another husband. The Pastor married the new couple and also re-married the man to his original wife.

After hearing this story, I asked the Village Peace Committee leader, “What would have happened had there been no Village Peace Committee?” He said, the wife who was held captive would have blamed the Pastor for marrying her husband when he didn’t “find her grave.” He said, “the courts would have eaten all their belongings,” meaning, they would have bribed the families for the little, if any, justice they would provide. And he said the families of the two wives would have settled into an enmity with the likelihood for life-long revenge.

Instead, there is peace. The Pastor is honored. Two women are happily married, one receiving help for her time in captivity. The extended families even worship together.

Just one flicker of hope tucked between torrents of suffering.

I hope you never give up on the Congo.

Holy Tension

I’ve been thinking tonight about the difference between holy tension (tension over injustice and unrighteousness) and idealistic tension (tension over the gap between my expectations and reality.)

Both cause stress.  Both aim at a better reality.  Both extend beyond our realm of control and become subject of prayer.

One, however, seeks to align us with God’s view of imperfection and sin in the world. The other seeks to have perfection and maximize our desire for pleasure.  One looks through the lens of true love.  The other looks through the lens of self-love.  One seeks to give life away, while the other seeks to gain it.

There’s a lot of stress out there.  Often, we feel we have the majority share…

The question is, what lack, deficiency, problem or tension point are we going to focus on? The ones that stir up righteous passion or the ones that fuel self-pity.

I’m going to have tension in my life and I’m going to want to bring it to God in prayer. My hope is I’ll come before God fueled by holy tensions rather than idealistic tensions. I long for my fervor to match God’s.

This all reminds me of when I was a high schooler on a trip to Kenya to build youth buildings.

Our camp was out in a national park area and we had been dealing with army ants for days. These ants are huge, pinch like mad and can literally blanket the whole area.

One night, the ants found a way into the girls’ tent.  Around 3 a.m. they started screaming.

The whole camp came alive to try and help – except me. I somehow stayed in my bed and kept trying to fall back asleep. When I realized what had happened I hollered at a friend to “put ash in front of my tent door.”  These ants didn’t cross ash and it seemed logical to have someone put some in front of my tent.

Later I realized how ridiculous I had sounded to everyone else. While the others were trying to help hysterical girls with ants in their hair, their clothes, and their bags, I was thinking only of my comfort.

I ended up staying up all night after the others crowded into the remaining “ant free” tents to keep the fire alive and spread ash. It was my form of penance and attempt to appease my sense of shame for being so stupid.

This is kind of a picture for me.  How often do I ask God to spread ash in front of my tent? How often do I miss opportunities to unite with God in serving others, helping the vulnerable or giving to the needy because all I see is my own comfort?

Holy tension v. idealistic tension. May we be occupied with the first…

Find Rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. Psalm 62:5

Churches Planting Churches

Guest Post by Rick McKinley

When Imago Dei first got off the ground, I met a man named David Nicholas who had started a church in Boca Raton, Florida called Spanish River Community Church. David had this vision for planting churches because he loved seeing people come to Christ. They had committed 10% of their budget to church panting and we were one of the churches they funded. Over the course of David’s ministry they planted over 300 churches all around the world and saw thousands of people meet Jesus.

Imago Dei, the church I pastor, took on that same commitment. We have helped plant several churches over the years, and a few years ago we decided to bring these churches together and create a new network. Waterhouse church planting network was born out of a desire to be in relationship together as churches committed to a common vision.

We recently had our network conference and it was an amazing time of meeting like-minded pastors who are committed to planting churches and reaching people for Jesus.

The values we share are being lived out by these churches all around the western US. We are committed to having the Gospel at the center of our churches, keeping the Kingdom at the forefront of our mission, engaging culture through creative mission, understanding the church as the people of God who both preach the good news and live lives of good deeds, and, finally, expressing our unity through planting racially diverse churches.

When we gathered the room was ethnically diverse with almost half white and half African American pastors. That kind of diversity creates such a rich environment of learning through each other’s stories. Our network is being shaped by the unity we share through the Gospel and how that expresses itself in the uniqueness of who we are. We are learning that, to take church planting seriously, we need to understand how to plant white churches, black churches, and multicultural churches. That requires us to re-think how we equip, train, and fund planters.

It’s no easy task but the beautiful thing is that when we listen to one another and how God is shaping our stories, churches, and communities, God creates a new way of seeing each other and the world through our time together.

When our time ended we had so many guys wanting to jump on board it was a little overwhelming, but the thing that gets us all excited about the future is that God in the midst of this thing. He is bringing together people whose backgrounds have very little in common, but our love for Jesus allows us to learn from each other, work together to further the Kingdom, and, at the end of the day, love each other in a unique brotherhood created by Christ.

What would it look like if your community caught a vision for planting churches? How would it change our churches if we really believed that Jesus brings us together to send us out so that we can bless the world? What if we thought of sending money and people to plant a church as multiplication not subtraction?

I can’t wait to see how God changes lives and cities through these leaders and churches. You can learn more about the Waterhouse Network here:

Twitter: @waterhousenet

Knowing God in Knowing Christ

The Mysterious Impact of Worship

Photo Credit: Monica Liu, Creative Commons

What is it with Christians and music?

In ordinary American life, there are very few places other than church where we sing songs with a large group of friends and strangers.

Psalm 96 begins:

Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.
For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
he is to be feared above all gods.

This Psalm is a song about singing. It exhorts us to tell the story of God and his salvation in song. It’s a fascinating Psalm to me because it talks about singing about God’s work among the nations and all the peoples—it’s about singing our way out into the world so that the world will know God.

Does singing have a specific power? Or is this just poetic language?

Consider this: when God brings his people out of Egypt into the promised land to defeat Jericho, he has them circle the walls and sing until the walls fall down. That is when they are finally able to fully enter the land God had promised. Similarly, we see that singing is important in the story of Paul and Silas. In the midst of their suffering in prison, they sing to God and it has a clear impact on the situation and on those around them.

Maybe there is something about singing about the glory of God, singing our way into the nations and singing that others might know God that’s actually mysteriously and mystically powerful.

If music is truly important, then it’s worth pausing to reflect and think more deeply about it. In fact, when we study music we find that it is more complex, purposeful and nuanced that we may have originally thought.

Here is a brief list of different types of music that play various roles in our lives and the life of the church.

Comfort Music starts when we’re young. Before we even know what music is, our mothers sing lullabies to help us sleep. It’s not just about the message, but the soothing quality of the musical tones. As we grow older certain songs and sounds take on a special quality as we experience them in different times in our lives. After those experiences the songs stay with us and offer comfort for the rest of our lives.

Unity Music is music that identifies a group. It’s the national anthem, a school or university fight song, or other song that allows people to unite under one symbolic piece of music. We see this with soldiers, as well, who sing as they go through their many exercises. The music unites them and carries them along.

Protest Music has played a role in many freedom and activist movements. Think about the Vietnam protests or the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Most freedom movements through history have songs that accompanied them and that simultaneously played a role in helping unify those standing together in righteous protest.

Educational Music helps us remember things. Isn’t it amazing how learning history put to song helps us remember long lists of facts? Hymns were also written as educational pieces of music to help us learn deep, theological truths, the stories of God and salvation. Many were written coming out of the reformation for a largely illiterate class of Christians who weren’t able to read the Bible on their own. The reformers had a high view of the mind, and wanted to make sure that when Christians were singing, that they and we were saturating their minds with theological truth that carried into their daily lives.

Experiential Music is a more modern form of music. For example, consider modern praise songs contrasted to hymns. They don’t talk as deeply about theology, but are more about saying, God, I want to know you. The Psalms are replete with songs directed to God in a very personal manner. Depending on your personality and upbringing, you may prefer traditional Christian hymns or more experiential praise songs. Neither is wrong; they are different forms of music that we can engage and enjoy.

Celebration Music might be the most fun. In Exodus 15 we read the story of how God leads the people across the Red Sea. Now that they can fully experience their freedom, song breaks forth in the song of Moses & Miriam. All throughout Scripture there are times when God delivers his people, and the natural, fitting end to that is for them to sing praises to the God who has intervened on their behalf. As C.S. Lewis said, “We delight to praise that which we enjoy.” The praise is not different than the enjoyment; it’s actually the consummation of the enjoyment. The singing isn’t a separate act; it’s both the outgrowth of and expression of our joy.

Music of Lament is easily overlooked. We have a whole book of the Bible on this in Lamentations. These songs give a new tone to life and our experience. Often we can’t fully grapple with the suffering, loneliness and brokenness of the world unless there is this music of lament that helps us feel and process our pain. The Blues is a whole music genre that, among other things, grew out of and gave voice to shared suffering, existential loneliness and despair.

Remembrance Music is also important to our faith. Psalm 121, a Psalm of Ascent begins, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” This psalm would have been used when a family was on their way to Jerusalem for a remembrance festival. The journey was an upward journey that offered a view of the hills where the Ark of the Covenant had recently returned. These Psalms help us remember the role God has played in delivering us and when we look at our own problems today, we are reminded that God will have to play a role in delivering us, as well.

So what is it with Christians and singing?

When we examine it, we see there is a reason for it and there is great depth to it. Once we know this we’re confronted with the choice of entering into the music—or not. Watching people sing karaoke has taught me something: singing is ultimately a choice. It’s not usually about the song or the singer; it’s about the choice of entering into an experience with others.

Entering into music is a choice. Entering into worshipping God with the body of Christ has a great history, gravitas and impact—and it’s our choice whether or not to fully participate.

May we choose to celebrate, remember and pursue God through the corporate discipline of Christian praise and worship.

Messages from Antioch Church

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