Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Attention: Theology / Church History / Music Nerds

Check out this site. It contains recordings of all 150 Psalms from the Genevan Psalter. If you're not familiar with the Genevan Psalter, allow me to explain. It's a collection of paraphrases of the Psalms, compiled by John Calvin and first published in 1543.

At the time Calvin only allowed the members of his congregation to sing the Psalms during corporate worship. And, for reasons that I won't get into here, did not allow the psalms to be accompanied by any instruments or vocal harmonies. In other words, the whole congregation sang the same melody line unaccompanied - something that's completely unheard of in modern church music.

The website listed above has mp3 recordings of each of the 150 Psalms, all re-arranged in English available for download. But the original melodies from the Genevan Psalter are used, which is kind of neat. Except melodies from the 1500's are pretty weird. They're extremely hard to follow. It seems almost impossible to predict where the melody is going. Also, the recordings on this site are done a capella, which Calvin surely would have appreciated.

Each Psalm begins with a single voice singing the melody for the first verse, and then other voices join in and harmonize the following verses, which Calvin would probably disapprove of. You can also download pdf files of the sheet music for each Psalm. I can't imagine singing these with a congregation, but it would be fun to try.

The recordings sound great. I'm going to download as many as I can. They're kind of neat when you get to listening to them, and they're very powerful. Even though the language is a tad weird, you can't beat God's word set to music.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Something I Want To Remember

Every night Betsy and / or I usually read Jamie a story or two before he goes to bed. Jamie's favorite book is an Elmo counting book that counts different animals. He likes to make the sounds of the animals as he sees them in the book.

We were visiting with some out of town friends tonight, so we got home late - later than Jamie's usual bedtime - so Betsy just grabbed the first book she saw, which was NOT the Elmo book. The plan was to read a quick story and get him off to bed. After the book was done, Jamie sat up in Betsy's lap, looked at us and said, "I want Elmo," in about the most pathetic, cutest voice he could muster. It was impossible to say "no." So Betsy went and found the Elmo book, and everything was hunky dory.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Wet Blanket

Sometimes I think that it's my purpose in life to be the wet blanket. This isn't always the most fun or popular role to play, but alas, it seems I can't avoid it. Have you seen the video below? It's an extremely popular video of a Minnesota couple's wedding ceremony. Whaddya think?

Here comes the wet blanket: I'm not a fan. Yes it's fun, yes it's cute, yes it's funny, but I also think it cheapens - at least to some extent - the wedding ceremony.

I think this is because the actual meaning of a wedding ceremony has been lost on most Americans, even most Christians. Marriage isn't just a ceremony where vows are spoken and candles are lit. Rather, it is a covenant between two people and God. The husband and wife aren't just making promises of love and fidelity to each other, but also to God. It's an extremely serious commitment, and, as the Book of Common Prayer encourages, is "not to be entered into lightly."

So then, why do we treat the ceremony so flippantly? I've been to several weddings that have begun with some kind of goofy introduction. For example, one wedding I went to had the minister repeating the lines of the priest from The Princess Bride (Mawwige is what bwings us hew togeva today.). Is that really appropriate at a ceremony where two people are going to make a vow before God? The two just don't seem to fit in my mind, and I apply the same reasoning to the above video (not to mention the use of a crazy dance song during a sacred ceremony!). I have yet to perform a wedding in my ministerial career, but I think I can say with certainty that I would not be a part of one that did not treat the ceremony with the respect and seriousness it was due. Nowadays a wedding ceremony seems to be seen more as a formality that people have to go throw so they can get to the party afterwards.

On the other hand, I don't think I'm a prude who would be so uptight as to not allow a little good natured fun (for example, my best man at my wedding was going to give a prank ring to the minister, but chickened out at the last moment). A marriage is a time of celebration, but it is also a time of deep reflection, contemplation, and self examination. I just miss seeing people take their wedding seriously.

OK, I'm done being the wet blanket.

Monday, July 20, 2009

My Toilet Adventures

Don't worry - this isn't a post about using a toilet, but rather my adventures over the last three days in my efforts to replace my toilet.

It all started about 4 months ago when I noticed that one of the ceiling tiles in my basement bathroom had some brown spots on it that signify a leak somewhere. I took the tile down and saw what I could see. It looked to me as though water were coming in from the outside. The sewer pipe was right in front of my face, but it didn't show any signs of leaking, so I stuck with my original conclusion. I asked a plumber friend of mine, and he concurred: no plumbing leak.

As the days and weeks passed by, more brown spots showed up on the tile, and then it began to sag. I wasn't sure what I could do if it was a foundation problem, or if the leak was coming in from outside, so I kind of left the leak out of sight, out of mind.

The last two weeks were pretty bad. The tile was really sagging, and it finally broke. Now the actual leak had finally revealed itself. There still wasn't any visible problem with the plumbing, but something above the floorboards was definitely leaking. The wood was wet around the sewer pipe. The toilet was right above where the water was collecting, so I concluded that it had to be a leak in wax ring that seats the toilet to the sewer pipe.

The first thing I did was go and buy a new toilet on Saturday. I splurged and bought the "American Standard" toilet (which, by the way, is made in Mexico - go figure). The guy at Home Depot told me their sales schtick was that the toilet could flush a whole bucket full of golf balls. What can I say, I'm a sucker for good flushing power.

So I got home with the new toilet and proceeded to take the old one up. When I got the toilet up off the floor, I discovered that the flange that surrounds the sewer pipe and holds the toilet to the floor had corroded so badly on one side that one side of the slot that holds the carriage bolt had completely rusted off. And the wax ring was practically non-existent. No wonder I was getting water in the basement.

So I took off what remained of the old wax ring, jury-rigged the new carriage bolt with a wide washer that fit underneath the flange and on top of the floor for leverage, and seated the new toilet onto the pipe. I put the nuts on the bolts and started tightening them down. The bolt on the left side took very well, and tightened up nicely. As I was tightening the bolt on the right side I heard a snap, and the whole toilet went loose. What happened? The flange on the right side of the toilet snapped whe I tightened up the nut! So pretty much all of my work the whole afternoon was for naught. Worse yet, I had no idea how I was going to secure the toilet to the floor with no flange on the pipe. I gave up for the night and went to bed.

A trip to Home Depot the next day solved my problem: they sell a flange that attaches to the floor over the opening of the pipe. So I bought one, gooped up the floor around the pipe, and screwed the new flange to the floor. It worked perfectly. I seated the new toilet onto the pipe and and bolted it down. Success.

My next task was to hook up the supply line from the shut-off valve to the tank. I ran into a problem here, though. The supply coming from the valve was a 1950's model, and the line that new toilets use didn't match the supply. So I decided to just replace the whole valve.

I went back to the Home Depot with the old valve and asked them to match it up. The guy at the store gave me a pressure valve which, unbeknownst to me, was not the kind I needed. I found this out when I went home and tried to attach the valve. It didn't work. So I went back to Home Depot and got a threaded valve and brought it home. This time, it was too big. It was a 1/2 inch, and I needed 3/8 inch. By this time the store had closed so I couldn't go back to get the right size.

So now, Monday comes and I finally get back to the Home Depot to get a 3/8 inch threaded shut-off valve. I hook it up to the water line, and then get out the supply line to connect the valve to the tank. Get this: the line is about 1/2 inch too short! Back to Home Depot. I got home, attached the right line, and the toilet works like a dream. Although I have yet to flush a bucket full of golf balls!

I probably went to and from the Home Depot a half dozen times to get all of the right parts. It was a long job, but it's finally done, and I am now free to go numbers 1 and 2 all I want. Indoor plumbing really is a cool thing - even if it takes some time to get it right.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

I'm Feeling Numb

That's the title of a cool U2 song. It's also the condition of my left thigh at the moment.

A couple of weeks ago I started to have some pretty bad back pain, mostly in my lower back. It started pretty suddenly: one day I just stood up from my desk at work and my back was pretty stiff. I didn't think much of it until later that day when I stood up again, and it was even more stiff, plus there was some pain. Things got worse over the following days.

It got so that every time I stood up after sitting down for a time at my desk, I could barely walk because my back was so stiff and sore. And the pain lingered. It would hurt me on into the evenings, and pretty soon it was a regular thing. I finally made the link that my pain was probably associated with the chair that I sit in at my desk, considering that my back was most stiff when I stood up from it. I started sitting in a straight - back chair late last week, and it has been getting better. Until yesterday.

It was yesterday that I finally got around to replacing the toilet in our main level bathroom at home. It had been leaking for a while, and it just needed to be replaced. I had replaced a couple toilets before, so I wasn't too intimidated by the job. I went and bought a toilet, and then came home and pulled the old one out. When the old one was out, I noticed that one of the slots for the carriage bolts on the flange connected to the sewer pipe was rusted out and had broken. hence the leaky toilet.

I jury-rigged the bolt using a washer, and put the new toilet in place. As I was tightening down the bolts, I heard a snap, and the toilet went limp off its mountings. Tightening the bolts broke the flange on the opposite side! Now I had no way of securing the new toilet to the floor. Since it was getting late, I gave up for the day. But when I finally stood up, my back was stiff and sore again. Sitting on the edge of the bathtub, leaning over the toilet all day did not do my back any good.

I took the project up again on Sunday afternoon. There were several more unexpected difficulties, but I muddled my way through them (although the toilet is still not fully installed - stupid shut off valve!). During one of my four trips to Home Depot today, I noticed that when I reached in my pocket for my keys, I couldn't feel my leg. I had been sitting on the edge of the bathtub all afternoon again, and my back was pretty sore. And now my left thigh had gone numb! It still is as I write this. My wife thinks I may have pinched a nerve. I called my bro-in-law, who has had his share of back problems, and he thinks my spine is swollen and is pinching a nerve that runs down my leg. Great.

I'm not sure what to do except perhaps wait it out and hope something changes. It's a really weird feeling. I keep tapping it and scratching it, hoping to feel something, but nothing.

I'm feeling numb.

Study: "Lack of Time = Lack of Blogging"

Two kids, a full time job that regularly demands 60 hours a week, a marriage to maintain, and seminary take up quite a bit of time. Blogging's pretty low on the list.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Voting In Minnesota

I think pretty much everybody is glad that this election is over, no matter who you voted for. No, I am not extremely happy that Franken is going to be one of my two senators representing me in Washington, but that's the way it goes.

Although I AM glad that this election is finally over, Norm Coleman was certainly within his rights to have taken it as far as he did. And actually, he didn't go as far as he could have in contesting the results. A lot of people groan when they think about Coleman pushing on to another court for what will probably amount to yet another decision against him. But that's the way the screwed up voting system in Minnesota works. For me, this election has exposed many problems with the way Minnesota conducts its voting process. Here are some of my opinions on how our voting process ought to go:

1) Absentee ballots are too easy to mess with. In order to ensure that only properly cast ballots are counted, only those ballots cast on the day of the election should be counted.

2) Ballots should not be open to human interpretation. If you are too stupid to vote properly, then you forfeit your right to be counted. Don't give me this "My voice wasn't heard" crap. Read the instructions. Follow them. They are simple. Double check your ballot. Make sure you did it right. If you're worried, ask an election judge - that's what they're there for. If you still screw it up, you're a moron.

3) Contesting results takes forever. Under this system, the rules for counting votes are so liberal that it only stands to reason that everybody contest everything the other candidate does in court, which amounts to a ton of time spent counting, recounting, contesting the recount, and then suing for this or that. Nobody can blame Coleman for doing what he did. You would have done the same thing if you were in his shoes.

4) If the race is too close to call, don't do a recount. Recounts are too open to problems of interpretation and voter fraud. One particularly curious thing in the Franken V. Coleman election is that Franken not only erased the deficit he was losing by, but picked up a few hundred votes in order to win. How often does that happen? So a lot of the votes that were given to him were open to interpretation, which as Coleman is stating, is contestable. It's just not a good system to foolow. Rather, have a run off vote, or whatever it was that they did in Georgia. They essentially had a second election. That way, everyone still has a chance to vote, and if you actually care about the election and you aren't just caught up in the excitement of election day, you'll come back and vote for your candidate again.

I'm not speaking from a conservative point of view here. I can handle that Coleman lost. The thing I don't like is the potentially dishonest way that he lost (note: I am not accusing Franken of dishonesty - I'm more accusing the system of being too vulnerable to dishonest people) and the stinking incredible amount of time it took to get a decision. There's got to be a quicker, more accurate, more efficient way to handle voting.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A New Hat

My wife and kid went to the Mall of America today and brought me home a present: a new hat. I'm pretty particular when it comes to hats. I don't like hats with stuff on them: advertising, slogans, or sports teams. Just plain for me, thanks. And blue. I like blue. Dark blue.

The last hat that I bought was probably three years ago. It has certainly seen its share of sweat and wear. My family keeps telling me how gross it is. But it's comfortable! The picture below is of my old hat next to the brand new one that I got today.

Believe it or not, they are the same hat: the same color, the same size, the same brand - everything. It's hard to believe they were once the same color. Here's the inside of both hats.

Notice the tag at the back that says "LIDS." One is brown, and one is white. OK, I guess it was time for a new hat.

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Letter I'll Never Have To Write

I was interested and amazed to hear letters that were written to the judge presiding over Bernie Madoff's sentencing tonight on the news. People who had been scammed by Madoff wrote letters to the judge, describing their personal hardships as a result of being scammed by Madoff, in hopes that the judge would pass a stiff sentence.

I found the content of the letters to be incredible: some were full of cursing, name calling, and wishing doom and gloom (one woman said she hopes he burns in hell) to Madoff. It occurred to me that I'll never have to write a letter like that, hoping that someone who had scammed me will burn in hell, and for that I am thankful.

It goes without saying that the people who were scammed by Madoff have a legitimate reason to be angry, but I think their anger also exposes some things about what they truly love. They are out of a LOT of money, and as a result, their lives are devastated. I hope that I am never in a position where my life is so dependent upon my assets that the loss of said assets would destroy me as it destroyed many whom Madoff scammed. All they had was their money - at least their money was all that was important to them. And when that was gone, so was any enjoyment of life, hope for the future, and anything else they treasured.

I have little or no money, not much in the way of investments, and no desire to get rich quick, and I don't depend upon money for my self identity and enjoyment of life. So I don't have to worry about being scammed (let alone, entering into a ponzi scheme). I'm glad I don't have to write a letter to Bernie Madoff.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Parade of Churches

The Kaposia Days parade was held this past Friday in South St. Paul. The parade is always a fun event at our house, because the parade line just happens to go directly by my house. We always have fun, and we usually have friends and family over for the parade too.

Each year there are always several churches who have acquired a spot in the parade, most of which have some sort of live band on a float playing worship music, accompanied by people on foot, handing out little fliers for their church. Ten or fifteen years ago, a live band on a parade float may have gotten some attention from observers, and may have even been enough for onlookers to further investigate the church advertised on the flier they received. Times have changed though. Again, in the past, when live bands were fewer and farther between, the general public may have been inclined to check it out - church band or otherwise. These days, however, live bands - especially church bands - are a fairly common occurrence. People just don't care about live music anymore. It doesn't grab their attention. It doesn't cause them to do a double take. It's not even enough for them to go out of their way to check it out or listen. Why? I think it's because live music is so common nowadays.

I first realized this about a month ago when the band that I play in held an outside concert during the West St. Paul days parade. We weren't on a float, but were instead about a block away from where it was. We made sure that we were loud enough that people on the street would be able to hear us and come check us out. We also offered free hotdogs and drinks. Guess what? About two people came to check out the band. Lots of people walked by on the street, but barely anyone came to hear the music. All that to say that live music just doesn't cut it anymore. It's too common.

But that's not even what I was intending to write about in this blog. Of the half-dozen churches that were represented in the Kaposia Days parade, I received a flier from each, telling me about some ministry they had coming up. Needless to say, I was rather put off by each of the fliers I received, and if I were a Christian in search of a church to attend, I most likely wouldn't even darken the doorways of these churches.

Probably the most ridiculous of the fliers is from a United Church of Christ. It's an envelope that is filled with wild flower seeds (a "sunny perennial mix). On the front of the envelope is a large green label that reads in large print, "Lights, Camera, Go Green." The subtitle says, "A music video experience that explores what it means to care for our environment." Further investigation reveals that this is an advertisement for the church's upcoming Vacation Bible School program. That's right: it's all about teaching kids to go green. The rest of the description reads: "Remember the song, 'Big Yellow Taxi'? Even though the song was written in the 1970's, its message is still important today, and it is the inspiration for this year's Vacation Bible School. Come sing along with our band, "The Messengers," as we create a music video of 'Big Yellow Tax." There will be singing, learning, crafts, and snacks centered around the them of going green. On the last night we will videotape everyone singing this song at our Night to Unite event."

Notice anything missing from this description of the church's Vacation BIBLE School? How about THE BIBLE!? How about ANY kind of mention of the GOSPEL!? What a joke. Not only is it sad that there's no mention of the Bible or the gospel, or Jesus, but I think it's pretty disgusting that a church would come down on one side or the other of such a hotly debated political issue.

A flier for the local United Methodist church reads at the top, "Looking for some change?" A penny is taped to the upper left hand corner of the paper. Below that it reads, "See what kind of change God has in store for you. Come visit us this Sunday for a worship service and BBQ lunch." In other words: "We don't want to offend you, and we want to do anything we can to show you how cool and normal you are. We won't do anything to make you feel uncomfortable." Again, there's nothing about scripture, God, or anything spiritual. It's completely man centered.

A lot of churches probably consider getting a float in the local parade, having a live band, and handing out invitation fliers to be "outreach." But is outreach really nothing more than inviting people to a comfortable, non-threatening BBQ? Is it trying to get people to be a part of your fad environmental program? Or is it actually preaching the gospel? What are these churches trying to do in their "outreach?" If it's just getting people to come to their church, then they'll probably be successful. But if outreach is actually preaching the gospel, then their efforts surely fell short of the mark.

I guess I'm not sure what I'm trying to say. Maybe that there's a lot of supposed "outreach" going on that is not actually outreach at all. Maybe we need to reexamine what our purposes and intentions are and then adjust our methods accordingly. If we're going to preach the gospel, let's preach it. Let's not just get people to come to a BBQ.

So no, I'm not going to have our church band play in a parade any time soon, and I'm not going to do any "environmental outreach" and think that I'm fulfilling the Great Commission.

I don't know. The churches in the parade just left a bad taste in my mouth.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What I'm Listening To Right Now

Literally. I'm listening to this as I type. I first saw this on Facebook about two weeks ago. It's a compilation of classic hymns done in modern ways, a production of several bands out of Mars Hill church in Seattle. To put it simply, it's a great album, and the songs are done respectfully and with a lot of talent and creativity, considering it's usually difficult to make something really good (hymns) better (the modern rendition of the hymns). But I think these arrangers and bands nailed this one.

I was able to get the album for free, because I told five people about the album. You can do likewise here.

I seriously recommend that you check this album out. The hymns are great, and the new renditions are great. Although I will admit that it did take some getting used to for a few of them. For example, I wasn't a huge fan of the renditions of "I Sing The Mighty Power of God" or "The Solid Rock" at first, but they have really grown on me. The arrangement of "What Wondrous Love Is This" is perhaps the best I've ever heard (although the key could've probably been raised a half step). In fact, I plan to tweak the Rain City version a bit and make it into a 12 bar blues song. I first heard this rendition during the Mars Hill live broadcast of their Good Friday service, and I was blown away by it. (UPDATE: The version of "What Wondrous Love is This" that is on the Rain City Hymnal is NOT the really cool one - although it is also very good. Check out the version by the band "Red Letter" here) "Softly And Tenderly" is also very well done, as well as "All Creatures Of Our God And King." It really rocks, which in my opinion, it should! "Alleluia! Alleluia! Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son. Praise, praise the Spirit, three in one." How appropriate to be shouting those lyrics alongside a screaming, overdriven guitar and banging drums.

If you do download the album, also check out Tim Smith's explanation for rearranging ancient music into more modern styles. I think he's right on.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Green Parking Spots

I haven't blogged in a long time. At first I was extremely busy with finishing up the spring semester for seminary. Then as soon as that ended, my work schedule picked up significantly. Add to the mix that my wife and I are expecting baby number 2 in about a month, and I'm a busy guy. Hence the shortage of posts. But even with all of that, I couldn't pass this up.

I was just over on Facebook and noticed that the seminary I attend had posted photos of the new campus construction. The seminary has been building a new building since selling their existing property to the local hospital. Every month or so they post pictures of how the construction of the new building is coming. As I was perusing through the newest batch of photos, I saw this:

The caption for the photo reads: "Since going green, the seminary will also offer great parking spots to those who drive hybrid vehicles." I don't know if I've ever seen anything so asinine. First of all, I find it completely ridiculous (and foolish and ignorant) that the seminary has "gone green," and even more preposterous that the seminary is offering premier parking spots for those who drive hybrids. I really don't know what else to say. I'm kind of ashamed. To think that those who drive hybrid vehicles somehow deserve a better parking spot because of their "green-consciousness" is absolutely ludicrous. I literally don't know what else to say.

That's it. Back to work.

Friday, May 8, 2009


A couple years ago, Jake, the former youth worker at Riverview had been at a video store that happened to be selling a bunch of used CD and DVD cases. The cases were just typical slimline CD cases. They were selling a box of 200 for $10.00. Knowing how often we pass out CD's of music, files, and sermons, he immediately scooped them up. They eventually were stored in some closet at the church and forgotten about...until last week.

Last Saturday was our "all-church work day" where people from the church essentially do spring cleaning: the pews get polished, lights bulbs get changed, and paint gets touched up. In the process of the work day, someone unearthed the box of CD cases that Jake had purchased probably three years ago. The box was still unopened. I was glad they were found, because it seems like I'm always rooting around for a CD case. I put the box on the chair in my office.

Last night, I was in an informal meeting in my office with a couple other people. One of them opened the box and took out some of the CD cases and looked at them. On each of the CD cases was a little sticker label with the title of the movie that the case once held. As we looked at the titles on each case, there were nothing but porno movies! Each title we looked at was more filthy than the next. A whole box of CD cases that, at one time, contained porn.

Why bring it up? Well, I'm in the process of putting together the music for our worship team for the summer. In the process, I give the band a CD with the upcoming music on it. Think of it: what once contained perverted filth now contains music that brings praise and honor to God. Kind of neat.

P.S. I took off all the labels!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Martin Luther Is Funny

I'm in the midst of a research project for my Christian Heritage class. My subject is worship music of the reformation era. It turns out that some of the Reformers didn't think it was right to use music in formal worship, while others, like Luther, said things like this:

"A person who...does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs."

Wow! "...doesn't deserve to be called a human being." (!) That dude was serious about his appreciation of music!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Lamb-Style Evangelism

A couple weeks ago I delivered this message that argued that as Christians go about in ministry and evangelism, they are to do so as lambs. In other words, with courtesy, meekness, humility, gentleness, respect, and love.

I was emailed this video today, of Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller fame). Penn was recently ministered to by a Christian who gave him a Bible and encouraged him to read it. Considering that Penn is a raving, staunch, God-hating atheist, he had some very positive things to say about the experience, and about the guy who witnessed to him. It just goes to show how important it is to be a lamb amongst wolves, and not a wolf amongst wolves.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Apparently Burger King Doesn't Want My Business

That's what I think when I see this commercial:

I was absolutely floored when I first saw this, especially the fact that it's an advertisement for a KID'S MEAL. The ad is aimed at kids. Women shaking their butts (square or otherwise) in the camera, having the burger king run his tape measure across them, setting his square on them, etc. - it's aimed at kids.

I pity the parents who have to explain this to their kids who are old enough to understand it. Also, can you think of the conversations kids are having on the playground? I'm sure some girls will get teased that they have square butts, "just like the girls on the Burger King commercial." Way to go, Burger King. Real classy.

Swine Flu Hysteria

OK, don't you think we've gone a bit overboard on this swine flu thing? I just heard about the swine flu for the first time this past Friday, and since then it's become a global pandemic. How did it balloon to such a huge problem in such a short time?

These folks suggest that Twitter is partly responsible. Certainly the media involvement can't be ignored either. I first heard about swine flu on the radio on Friday (for the first time in my life, that is!) and now it leads every major news broadcast. There are videos of people walking the streets in surgical masks, and a lot of people are scared about contracting the disease.

But how much of this is actually something to be worried about, and how much is just hysteria, fear mongering, and rumors? The LA Times posted some statistics on the swine flu about 45 minutes ago (11:15 am CST, April 27). So far there have only been 40 confirmed cases of swine flu in the U.S. and all of those have been mild cases, and only 1 of those forty cases has been hospitlaized (considering the population of the U.S. is over 300 million, I like those odds). The flu is easily treatable with common flu medications available by prescription.

There have been 103 deaths in Mexico that have been attributed to swine flu, but here's what the media isn't telling you about that number: only 26 of those 103 deaths has been confirmed as having been caused by swine flu! So far, out of a planet of more than 6 billion people, 26 have died, and that's a global pandemic? Isn't the regular flu technically more lethal than the swine flu?

The LA Times goes on to say that rumors of swine flu being reported in other countries are just that: rumors. There have been no confirmed cases other than in Mexico, the U.S. and Spain (two mild cases were just reported in Spain by travelers who just returned from Mexico). The World Health Organization says that the numbers being "bandied about" by the media are over inflated and not true.

It's amazing to me to see the inflated sense of hysteria that has occurred regarding the swine flu, if nowhere else than in the media. I guarantee that if you turned the news on right now, you'd hear about the global pandemic of swine flu, and see people walking around the streets wearing surgical masks. What, are they afraid they'll run into one of the 40 people who have the disease?!

This is just another instance of how people need to look for the facts before they decide how to react. It's also another example of how the news media doesn't always have it right, and certainly doesn't always portray an accurate picture of what's actually happening.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dust Off The Barbie Dolls

It's confirmed: Jamie's getting a little sister this July. After the first ultra-sound yielded no positivie information regarding the gender of our unborn baby, Betsy had a second one today to find out what it is. The nurse checked like 5 times, and each time, she came back with the same result: girl! I guess I'll have to brush off the old Barbie dolls in the basement (Betsy's, not mine) and get my tu-tu and leotard out. That won't be a big deal, though - I'm already used to wearing spandex! (How ya like that mental image?)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Why I Love Baseball

If I could go back in time, it would be to my tween and early teenage years to go back and play baseball. I love baseball. Some of my fondest and most cherished childhood memories took place on the baseball diamond. If I had a few options for going back in time, my other choices would be to go back to the 1987 and 1991 World Series wins for the Minnesota Twins. A lot of other great childhood memories come from watching and listening to Twins games with my family. We all got into it. We cheered together, and celebrated Twins victories together, and complained about Rick Aguilera together. Those were some great times that I'll always remember. I can't wait to make such memories with my own kids.

Personally, I enjoy listening to Twins games rather than watching them. Just like the Twins players were a huge part of my life when I was a kid, so was the radio announcing crew. Another one of my cherished childhood memories is hearing John Gordon scream "Touch 'em all, Kirby Puckett!" whenever he or any other player hit a home run (game six of the 91 world series is especially sweet, as Gordon screamed "Touch 'em all, Kirby Puckett!" about a half dozen times in a row when Puckett hit a walk off home run to force the series into game seven - I'm getting goosebumps as I write this, just thinking about it).

Last night, I turned the Twins game on while I was doing homework. I specifically bought a small radio that I could plug in in my home office for just that purpose. After the seventh inning, the Twins were getting beat 8-3, and I figured the game was pretty much over, so I shut the radio off and concentrated on my homework. This morning, while I was at my parents' house, I noticed the front page of the sports section sitting on the kitchen table. The banner headline read, "Vicious Cycle." I immediately assumed that meant that the Twins' woes had continued and they fell to the Angels the previous night as I had suspected they would. But something was off: the picture below the headline was of several Twins celebrating around home plate. It didn't make sense that the Twins would be celebrating a loss, so I looked for the final score: Twins 11, Angels 9! I was flabbergasted, and immediately began kicking myself for losing hope and turning the game off before the comeback.

As I continued to read the story, I learned that Jason Kubel hit for the cycle (in other words, he had a single, a double, a triple, and a home run - actually a grand slam). I started to kick myself even harder. It's not everyday that you get to see your team come back from a five-run deficit, let alone to see one of the players hit for the cycle. It's only been done 9 times in Twins history. It's an incredible achievement. Now I was even more mad that I had missed the game. Plus, I was irritated that I wasn't able to hear John Gordon going crazy as he announced the hit (I can just hear him, "Hey! Touch 'em all, Jason Kubel! Touch 'em all, Jason Kubel! Touch 'em all, Jason Kubel!"). Later in the afternoon, I got on the internet to see if I could watch the progression of Kubel's hits. What I really wanted to do though, was hear John Gordon's commentary. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find it anywhere. But check out Kubel's cycle if you haven't seen it yet:

I've probably watched this clip a dozen times by now, and I get goose bumps every time I do. I love watching the crowd go wild when Kubel smashes that grand slam into right-center field. I love hearing the excitement in Dick Bremer's voice "A high blast to right field! Up...Back...Gone!" But most of all, I love the two kids at 1:05. Seriously, if you didn't watch the video, check it out, it's worth it. They both have their baseball gloves on, in hope of the off chance a ball would be hit their way (I did the same as a kid, and I was devastated when I didn't catch a ball). The kid on the right is clapping into his glove, celebrating the homer. The kid on the left is awesome: his jaw is literally on the floor. He can't believe he's just witnessed what he has: his home town team, staging a dramatic comeback for the win, achieved by a grand slam home run from a man who has just hit for the cycle. It's a memory I'm sure he won't soon forget, and it will drive his love for the game.

I am that kid.

Friday, April 17, 2009


If either of the two of you that follow this blog attend the 9:00 service at Riverview, check out this blog post to get a head start on what we'll be looking at this week.

Phil Johnson talks about giving answers to unbelievers that might make them angry. His conclusion is that, even if something we say makes someone angry, it must be said if it is truth. They key though, is to do so with gentleness and respect.

I'll be talking about these and other things during my message this Sunday. But even if you won't be at church, I'd recommend the post to you.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Knowledge and Responsibility

It's fun to watch the way God works in my life, specifically in my theological training. Last week at our church's Easter service I preached a message on the judgment and destruction of three Old Testament cities: Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon. Each of these cities was very wicked, and despite being warned by God several times to repent of their sin, they refused and were judged. In Luke 10, Jesus cites the judgment of these cities as being child's play compared to the coming judgment for those towns and cities that he had personally visited and ministered in, and yet the people did not believe.

One of the main points of my message was that everyone will be held accountable for their level of exposure to God, his word, the gospel, etc. I argued that the more exposure to God an individual has, the more accountable they will be to believe the gospel. Hence the judgment of Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon, and the more severe judgment coming for those cities (Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, specifically) that had heard and seen Jesus but still did not believe.

The obvious conclusion for our world in this day and age is that we are more exposed to the truth of God than anyone before us in history - especially in America. This is readily demonstrated by ritualistic/traditional celebration of Easter. Pretty much everyone goes to church on Easter, whether they're a Christian or not. And guess what? They are exposed to the gospel and the truth of God when they go to church on Easter. Know what that is? Knowledge. Know what comes with knowledge? A responsibility to act on what we know. Also, we have freedom of religion, practically everyone in this country owns at least one Bible (Christian or otherwise), practically everyone in this country has either been to church or heard the gospel in some way, plus we have 2000 years of Christian history that testifies to the truth of the gospel. So when it comes to exposure to the truth of God, I think it's safe to say that we are even more privileged than those who actually saw and heard Jesus when he was on this earth. In other words, I think we're going to be held to a higher standard for our level of exposure to God than any other people in history.

This begs a question, though, that a lot of non-Christians get hung up on: what about people who live in primitive tribes in the middle of the jungle? Will they be judged and go to hell simply because they haven't heard about Jesus? A lot of would-be Christians can't bring themselves to believe in a God that would send "innocent" people to hell. But if we look at scripture, it turns out that primitive tribes in the middle of the jungle don't have any more or less going for them than those in Sodom, Tyre, or Sidon did.

In Romans 1 Paul says that God has made himself known to all people through creation. In other words, it stands to reason that if there is a creation than there must be a creator (the same principle applies to the watch on your wrist - if you have a watch, you have to have a watchmaker. Watches don't just happen by accident.). So the people of Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon (and the primitive tribes in the middle of the jungle) are all exposed to God simply by walking out their front door. In Romans 2, Paul goes on to say that God has written his moral law on the heart of every human being. Paul makes his point by saying that Gentiles (non-Jews) follow the laws instituted by the Jewish faith. How can they do that if they have no knowledge of or participation in Judaism? The only answer must be that there is a Moral Lawgiver who has endowed all men with a knowledge of his law. In other words, when somebody does something wrong, they know it's wrong because God has put his law on their heart. This too, is a way that God has revealed himself to all people.

So then, it turns out that the people of Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon, and the primitive people in the middle of the jungle are all in the same boat : they won't be judged because they've never heard of Jesus (which, don't forget, the people of Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon had not heard of Jesus, nor had they read a Bible, much like people from the primitive tribes in the middle of the jungle) - they'll be judged because they've rejected the revelation of God.

That might sound harsh, but remember this: God is a powerful, loving, and merciful God who can save whomever he wishes, and he is not willing that any should perish. So if someone from a primitive tribe in the middle of the jungle uses his power of reason and realizes that since there is a creation then there must be a Creator, and that he has a conscience that bears witness to his sin, then God is powerful enough to see that person saved. He might send a missionary to them to explain the gospel to them and tell them about Jesus, or he might direct them to a more civilized part of the country where they can attend a church and here the gospel. But the key is to respond to the knowledge that is given to us by God, no matter how much it is, whether a lot of exposure to God (like in America), or just a little (like primitive people in the middle of the jungle).

This is where it's fun to watch how God uses things in my life to teach me and cause me to reflect on his word. Guess what we're studying this week in my "Creation, the Spirit, and the Church" systematic theology class? This very topic. It's been fun to rethink and re-examine my thoughts on this.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Two Corpses In One Day

This past Saturday I had resolved to get some serious yard work done. Rehearsals for the Good Friday service weren't needed anymore, considering Good Friday had come and gone, so I had the Saturday free. I started by trimming the bushes around the front and side of my house, with the use of a hedge trimmer that I borrowed from my bro-in-law.

After that I blew all of the clippings and leaves from the landscaping rocks that surround my house and garage, and also from where they get stuck in the bottom of the fence that surrounds my backyard (thanks again to the bro-in-law for letting me borrow his leaf blower).

A couple weeks prior to my spring cleaning, however, I had noticed a black garbage bag located on my western-most property line, amongst some leaves and other debris. At the time I wrote it off as being a bag of leaves that the neighbor had tossed there at some point. I didn't think much of it, except to make a mental note to clean it up when I got around to my cleaning. I had planned to take care of it and a bunch of other leaves and junk that had collected back in that area.

After my hedge trimming and leaf blowing fun, I decided to head back to clean up the bag and the leaves that surrounded it. As I approached the bag, I detected a seriously foul stench. As I moved in for a closer look while holding my breath, I noticed a very large bone lying on the ground next to the bag. Several other large bones were protruding up from out of the bag as well. My first reaction was to notice that these were BIG bones. They definitely weren't from a chicken or a dog (what would dog bones be doing in a garbage bag on my property anyway?). The conclusion that I came to was that these were people-sized bones. The bag had been torn open and some of the bones had been pulled out, presumably by neighborhood dogs. Not wanting to disturb what could potentially be a crime scene, I called the cops.

A police officer arrived shortly after my call, and we walked back to the bag. He didn't seem to be too concerned about disturbing a potential crime scene, and he went right up to the bag and tore it open. Amongst the bones that protruded from the bag, there were now two deer hooves that also stuck up and out of the bag. Someone had gutted, butchered, and boned a deer, shoved its remains in a garbage bag, and dumped it on my property!

The officer and I came to the conclusion that the dumping probably took place last November and was subsequently snowed over, and I didn't notice it until a couple weeks ago after all the snow had melted (what's weird and somewhat unsettling is that I probably walked by the bag a hundred times during the winter months, never knowing it was there). Also, the officer said that the deer was most likely poached. Why else would someone have dumped it and not disposed of it properly? I was not happy. What jerk would do something like this?!

To make the discovery all the more cheery, the officer told me the city maintenance department was closed for the weekend, and wouldn't be able to come by to pick it up until the following Monday. Goody! I got to have the deer carcass on my property for another two days!

Fast forward to today (Monday): a guy in a city truck came through my alley and I helped him load the smelly thing into his truck bed. He kept mumbling something about "The Great White Hunter," (seriously). After he left, I noticed that there was still a bone sitting on the ground, which I proceeded to pick up with a stick and put in my trash, where it sits even now, stinking.

Now rewind back to Saturday again. After my gruesome discovery, Beetz and the Fergeson arrive home after being at a friend's birthday party. They to play in the yard while I continue to do yard work. After a while, Betsy beckons me over to her to look at something. There in the middle of my yard is a field mouse, squished flat as a pancake. Where did that come from, and how did it get so flat?! I picked it up and threw it in the trash. So as I write this, there are currently two dead things in my garbage can.

Needless to say, two corpses on my property in one day was certainly enough for me for a while.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Crucifixion Description

You MUST watch this video. It's an excellent description of what Christ endured on the cross.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Hymns For Good Friday

As I was looking through my copy of "Our Own Hymn Book" I came across these fantastic hymns of Christ's suffering and death. These are just a few that stuck out to me. Enjoy them, and worship Christ as you read them.

THE CUP OF WRATH - Albert Midlane, 1864
Once it was mine, the cup of wrath
But Jesus drank it dry
When on the cursed tree transfixed
He breathed the expiring sigh
No tongue can tell the wrath he bore
The wrath so due to me
Sin's just desert; he bore it all
To set the sinner free
Now not a single drop remains,
"T'is finished!" was his cry
By one effectual draught he drank
The cup of wrath quite dry

DESPISED AND REJECTED - William Robertson, 1751
Rejected and despised of men,
behold a man of woe!
And grief his close companion still,
through all his life below
Yet all the griefs he felt were ours
Ours were the woes he bore
Pangs, not his own, his spotless soul
With bitter anguish bore
We held him as condemned of heaven,
An outcast from his God
While for our sins, he groaned, he bled
Beneath his Father's rod
His sacred blood hath washed our souls
From sin's polluting stain
His stripes have healed us and his death
Revived our souls again

THEY CRUCIFIED HIM - William Faber, 1849
Oh come and mourn with me a while
Oh come ye to the Savior's side
Oh come, together let us mourn,
Jesus our Lord is crucified
Have we no tears to shed for him
While soldiers scoff and Jews deride?
Ah! Look how patiently he hangs
Jesus our Lord is crucified
How fast his hands and feet are nailed
His throat with parching thirst is dried
His failing eyes are dimmed with blood
Jesus our Lord is crucified
Come, let us stand beneath the cross
So may the blood from out his side
Fall gently on us, drop by drop
Jesus our Lord is crucified
A broken heart, a fount of tears
Ask and they will not be denied
Lord Jesus may we love and weep
Since thou for us art crucified

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Is It Ever OK To Swear?

For the past couple of years I've been reading books by Mark Driscoll and watching some of his messages on the internet. For the most part, everything he's said/taught/preached has been right on (I particularly enjoyed his take on "The Shack," and I thought he did a fantastic job in the "Does Satan Exist" debate), and I especially appreciate his reformed view of theology and ministry. I've read a couple of his books and have found them to be helpful and fun.

A couple weeks ago, though, I watched this message by Driscoll on a verse from 1 Peter (I can't remember which verse it was) about what it means to be a biblical man. Again, I thought he was right on, docrtinally, and he was funny and engaging. I thought he had a lot to say about what it means to be a man biblically, except there was one point at the end of his message that pretty much skewed everything else he had said (at least in my mind it did). In a moment of just anger and intensity, Driscoll swore.

I've known that Driscoll has had issues with his language, but I had never heard him swear in any of his messages, books, or speaking engagements until now. I also know that Driscoll has had to apologize and "repent" of his foul mouth on many, many occasions. I assume his reasoning for swearing (at least in the message I saw) was that this issue was important enough, and he was so righteously indignant about men shirking their biblical responsibility to be a godly man, that he thought the situation warranted a curse word, if for no other reason than to express his seriousness about the topic.

Swearing and vulgarity have become increasingly permissible in many Christian circles for a variety of reasons. But mostly, I think a lot of people think that swearing is permissible if they get "angry enough," or for dramatic effect. Is that really OK though? To tell you the truth, I personally thought that Driscoll's use of swearing severely damaged his credibility when it came to the content of the rest of his message (one of his main points was that mistreating and using women was a severe cop-out when it comes to biblical manhood, a shirking of one's responsibility). When Driscoll swore in his message, I found myself asking if a "real, biblical man" would really need to swear in making his point. I think it shows at least some kind of immaturity to not be able to express truth (especially biblical truth) without using vulgarity.

Cut to today. Phil Johnson posted this on his facebook page: it's an article on swearing by Eric Pement. He offers seven common "reasons" (it's probably more accurate to call them justifications) for swearing, and why they don't work when compared to scripture. He finds the seven most common reasons for swearing are:

1. To "relate" to the rest of the world.

2. To avoid hypocrisy (for instance, if a person thinks a swear word, they might as well say it - thus, to think about swearing but not actually swearing is supposedly hypocritical).

3. To break religious/Christian stereotypes.

4. Pressure, suffering, or persecution.

5. Because the words aren't bad - the intention behind them is what could be considered sin.

6. Because the Bible doesn't prohibit swearing - just slander, gossip, blasphemy, etc.

7. Because some "swear" words are in the Bible.

Pement goes on to explain why none of these are valid justifications for using filthy talk. I highly recommend the article to you.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Fear Of The Lord

This little article came out with the Way of the Master weekly newsletter this week. I thought it was worth some thought:

The Fear Of The Lord
There have been about a dozen mass-shootings in the United States in recent months, and secular experts are still trying to piece together the profiles and common denominators of these murderers. However, every one of them had one thing in common. They all lacked a fear of God. If someone fears God they won't lie to you, steal from you, or commit adultery with your spouse. They won't even lust after them. They won't hate you, harbor anger or be bitter towards you, and they certainly won't kill you. "By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil." (Proverbs 16:6)

One of the major reasons this nation lacks the fear of God is that it's rarely preached from the modern pulpit. Think of what Nathan did with David. He put the fear of God in him by saying "You are the man! Why have you despised the Commandment of the Lord?" (see 2 Samuel 12:7-9). Without such a reproof David would have simply remained an unrepentant man who made an unfortunate choice in life. But the reproof revealed that he was a criminal who had despised the moral Law, and that God's wrath hovered over him for his terrible transgression.

We need to be Nathans to this nation and faithfully preach the Word, in season and out of season. We must "reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all patience and doctrine," and the well-spring of our words must be love for sinners. We cannot let fear stop us from showing them that they have despised the Law, and that they have personally sinned against God, as Paul did in Romans 2:20-24.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Don't Get An Obama-Burger

I have a friend who lives in Greenville, South Carolina. He just sent me an email that said that he has found a local restaurant that serves what they call an "Obama-Burger." Apparently it's pretty much a regular burger, except that when they bring the burger out to the customer, the server cuts it in half and gives half of it to a complete stranger at random! The best part is, they still charge you for the whole burger!

As far as I know this is for real, although I don't know how a restaurant could get away with something like that and maintain a customer base. I looked for the restaurant on the internet, but couldn't find it. Maybe my leg's being pulled. But even if it is, it's pretty funny.

Content Vs. Style

As I've gotten older, I find myself appreciating the rich, theological depth of the more "traditional" sacred music. You usually find these types of songs in hymnals, and most of them were written before the 20th century. When you compare new religious (worship) music to the old hymns, the new stuff just can't compare when it comes to content. In most cases, I detest the shallow, touchy-feely, "Jesus is my girlfriend" lyrics that tend to plague modern worship music. There's just no substantive content to most of it. Thus, my affinity for the older songs. I'm in a strange boat, however. While I love and appreciate the old school lyrics, I prefer a more modern musical style, and let me tell you, finding songs that are "old school" in content and "new school" in style are hard to come by.

I learned recently that my personal opinion on this issue is the minority. There are many within the church (including my church) who feel that older sacred songs should be sung with only the accompaniment of a piano or organ, or perhaps both. Their musical tastes are a little different from mine: they prefer the old content and the old musical style. Also I learned that many who feel this way also think that any deviance from the old musical style in some way negates or diminishes the content of the old song. In other words, they feel that when a modern musical style is combined with the lyrical content of an old hymn, the hymn becomes somehow "less" than what it is when accompanied by a piano or organ.

I disagree with that line of thinking, however. As I see it, the only "value" of a sacred song is in the content of the lyrics, and I don't think the content of a song is diminished by the musical style in which it is played. After all, what is the content or value of a song if not the theological truths it proclaims? The content certainly can't be in the music itself or the melody. The music is just an arrangements of specific notes and tones, arranged to form a coherent melody. Certainly the value or content of the music is in the words that are formed and arranged in order to bring glory to God. Here's a good example (click on the song "Nail My Glory" on the music player). If you didn't follow the link, you're missing out. It's a great song. Allow me to describe it to you: it's loud, fast, rock n' roll. The lyrics are as follows:

No more, my God, I boast no more
Of everything my hands have done
I quit the hopes I held before
To trust the merits of Your Son

Now for His love I bear His name
My former pride I call my shame
What was my gain I count my loss
And I nail my glory to His cross

And by Your grace I will esteem
All things but loss for Jesus’ sake
Oh may my soul be found in Him
And of His righteousness partake

All of the works of my own hands
I dare not bring before Your throne
My faith responds to Your demands
By pleading what my Lord has done

You may be surprised to know that this song was written by Isaac Watts in 1709, author of such hymns as "O God Our Help In Ages Past," "When I Survey The Wondrous Cross," and "Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed." Now, does the fact that Watts' words are set to a more modern musical style make them less true? I should think not. They have not changed. The rich, theological truths they proclaim remain unmolested.

Here's a another example, except this time, here are the lyrics to a "modern" worship song:

Looks like tonight the sky is heavy
Feels like the winds are gonna change
Beneath my feet the earth is ready
I know it's time for heaven's rain
It's gonna rain...yeah

Cause living water we desire
To flood our hearts with holy fire
Rain down, all around the world we're singing
Rain down, can you hear the earth is singing?
Rain down, my heart is dry but still I'm singing
Rain down, rain it down

Back to the start, my heart is heavy
Feels like it's time to dream again
I see the clouds and yes, I'm ready
To dance upon this barren land
Hope in my hands...yeah

Do not shut, do not shut
Do not shut the heavens
Open up, open up
Open up our hearts

Give me strength to cross this water
Keep my heart upon your altar
Rain down, yeah
Give me strength to cross this water
Keep my feet, don't let me falter
Rain down, yeah

I have no idea what this song is about. It's merely a conglomeration of churchy sounding phrases (holy fire, heaven, heart, etc.). Some of the phrases don't even make sense ("Can you hear the earth is singing/feels like it's time to dream again" HUH?) I don't know what the song is trying to say. I don't know what it says, if anything, about God. I don't know what it says about my relationship to God. I don't see how it praises God, or leads one into worshiping him. This song has little or no theological value at all. Plus it just doesn't make sense. The theme of the song seems to be a request for rain, as if rain is needed and is good, but towards the end of the song the lyricist states, "Give me strength to cross this water." Wait a minute! I thought you wanted water!

If you followed the link and listened to the song as it was played, you'll note that it is likewise modern and of the rock n' roll variety. But here's an interesting question: would setting the lyrics of this song to a piano and organ tune make it any less goofy? Would its content somehow become more valuable and rich? Certainly not! The lyrics would still not make sense, and it would still fail at telling the worshiper anything about God, or why he deserves praise, honor, and glory.

So then, I conclude, that the only thing that matters in worship music is the content of the lyrics. The musical melody, style, or tune does not factor into the value of a worship song (it should be noted that there are plenty of old hymns that are just as big of stinkers as many modern worship songs - they would likewise be useless in any musical style).

I explained this line of thinking to a friend of mine, and he challenged me by asking if I would be OK with a rap worship set in the morning church service. My response was "Yes, as long as the content of the song glorifies God." Now, that is not to say that we should convert all of our worship to rap - our culture has not dictated to us that rap is the acceptable medium of the masses. In other words, our culture dictates the driving musical style to us. Who knows, maybe in 20 years rap will be the main musical style of our culture. At that point in time, an all-rap service will make sense. And if and when it does, churches should not hesitate to have rap worship - as long as the content is sound.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

March Madness

No, not basketball. I'm talking about my crazy life, and it's starting to take a toll. This month has been particularly rough.

My life is super busy right now, and I'm starting to feel the effects. I got the lowest grade I've received thus far in seminary: a B-. AHH! I'm such a freak. In high school, I championed the "a C is average, and that's good enough for me," mentality (much to the shagrin of my parents, I might add). But I was really bummed when I got my Christian Heritage mid-term exam back with a score of 81/100. Partly because I thought I did better than that, partly because it was the first time I'd received such a low grade in seminary, and partly because it's a class that I really like! I'm eating up the reading like Garfield on lasagna. I'm one of those nerds that finds the reformation and its repercussions to be fascinating.

I started to take school a lot more seriously when I went back to college (after my freshman year, mind you - it took some growing up before I started studying like I needed to). I pretty much got straight A's through my sophomore, junior, and senior years of college. In fact, I found my undergraduate schooling to be so easy that I actually approached a prof one time and asked him if he was going easy on me (I wasn't used to getting such good grades!). He assured me he wasn't. That trend has carried over into my graduate schooling - until now.

I can only guess that my extremely busy and hectic lifestyle at the moment are the culprits for my poor performance. Things should lighten up a bit after Easter, though, and will certainly lighten up a lot, come this summer. I just need to make it two more months...and no more B minuses (boy, I sound like a stuck up jerk)!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mark Driscoll Has A Very Round Face

I just finished watching the "Nightline Face Off" regarding the existence of Satan, and I came to this conclusion: Mark Driscoll's face is very round. Almost like a basketball. Not his whole head, necessarily - just his face.

Seriously though, it was interesting, although I wish they could have found someone better to team up with Driscoll other than Annie Lobert, founder of "Hookers for Jesus." She's not a good debater (most of her arguments are based upon her own experience, which aren't debatable, and her saying that the historicity of the BIble isn't important doesn't help either), and she's also got some serious theological and practical issues that I disagree with. Deepak Chopra was on the other side, as well as Bishop Carlton Pearson, in his clerical collar and all, which is kind of ridiculous, considering he's essentially an agnostic. Chopra is just ridiculous. I find it hard to believe that anybody gives him any time anymore - he's just that goofy.

Props need to be given to Driscoll in this debate. Personally, I think a debate about the existence of Satan is a bit misleading. You can't really talk about Satan without talking about God (which Chopra and Pearson would like to do), and Driscoll did a fantastic job, considering what I just explained: he came straight out of the gate with the gospel, talking about sin, righteousness, and the substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross. Plus you can always count on Driscoll for a few good shots:

Chopra: "What makes you think that God is a 'He?'"
Driscol: "Jesus. You may have heard of him. He's a pretty big deal."

Pearson (speaking to Lobert): "If you want to get real strict, the Bible says you're not supposed to wear expensive clothes or jewelry."
Driscoll: "She might have shopped on sale. You're judging."

Driscol (to Pearson): "Do you believe that Jesus rose from the dead?"
Pearson: "Yes."
Driscoll: "So you have a problem with the devil, but not the resurrection?"

Chopra: "If you really believe in the resurrection and the virgin birth, then good for you."
Driscoll: "And bad for you."
Chopra: "Thank you for caring enough to want to save me."
Driscoll: "I love ya, man, and I want good for you!"

Driscoll is seriously witty and quick. It was fun to watch him.

If anything though, this debate just reminded me how important it is to know that evil exists, and that good exists, and that the two cannot intermix. It was also impressed upon me how badly Chopra and Pearson and others like them want there to be no devil, because if there is no devil then there is no God. And if there is no God, there is no one to hold them accountable, and they can sin until their heart's content.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I'm Going To Vote Against The Earth

I just heard about this new initiative called "Earth Hour" that's taking place on March 28 from 8:30 - 9:30 PM, local time. During this hour, everyone on the planet is encouraged to shut off all their lights. Apparently 84 countries, more than 2,000 cities and towns, and more than 20,000 business are taking part in Earth Hour, including the great pyramids, the Eifel Tower, Notre Dame, and several other well known cities and buildings around the globe.

When I first heard about Earth Hour, my initial response was that anyone who thinks that turning their lights off for an hour will actually help the earth is insane and lacks any sufficient brain power. It would be akin to saying that me taking my foot off the gas pedal and coasting for five seconds is helping the environment. It just isn't going to make a notable (any, actually) difference in the climate/global warming/environment.

It turns out, though, that the intention isn't to help the climate - it's more like an election - turning out your lights is a vote for the earth. According to the earth hour website, "Earth Hour has been transformed into the world’s first global election, between Earth and global warming. For the first time in history, people of all ages, nationalities, race and background have the opportunity to use their light switch as their vote – Switching off your lights is a vote for Earth, or leaving them on is a vote for global warming."

Considering how I feel about this issue, "Global Warming" can count on my vote.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Don't Blame AIG

So there's obviously been quite the hullabaloo about AIG giving several of their employees bonuses with the government bailout money, and now I think it's reached a fever pitch since I just heard on the radio that AIG employees are being encouraged to travel in pairs, and not to go anywhere at night for fear of some kind of mob justice. If you're asking me, the public is outraged at the wrong people.

I'm certainly no economist, and I haven't the first clue about how to run a successful business, but I think I know spin control when I sees it. If you're asking me (and no one is), the real culprit here is the government. If the public should be mad at anyone it should be them; AIG was doing business as usual. But that's the problem: business as usual becomes business as the government wants it done when you've got public money on the table.

Don't get me wrong. I think it was foolish and stupid for AIG to give out those bonuses, but that actually proves my point. We should never given ANY business public money. If we hadn't given them any money, there would have been zero chance that they could misuse it. We should have never allowed things to get to the point where we have to get mad at a company for its poor use of public money, and that's the point: businesses and companies shouldn't be using public money in the first place.

The government wants you to believe that this whole mess is AIG's fault, but we have to admit that they're at least a little bit involved too, don't we (see above)? In my opinion, they're the primary culprit, and the government should be the ones to shoulder this blame.

Now the government's spin on this whole issue is that there wasn't enough regulation, enough control, enough oversight. In other words, this fiasco occurred because the government supposedly wasn't involved enough a lot of people would say, "Yeah, that's right. If the government is going to give away my money to private businesses, then they SHOULD be watching what happens to it." If that's your opinion, you're still one step behind the thought process: no, the government shouldn't be regulating business, because the government has no place in business. The government shouldn't be regulating businesses because the government shouldn't be doling out money to businesses.

It all comes back to them. Follow the money. If you want to be mad about this, be mad at them, and hold them accountable.

Friday, March 20, 2009

One Of Those Days

Today has been about the busiest, weirdest, craziest day I've experienced in a long time. Check it out:

7:15 AM - I wake up, get dressed, change Fergie's nasty diaper, and get him dressed as well.

8:15 AM - Ferg and I pick up my dad at Saturn of Inver Grove Heights after he drops his van off to get some work done. We bring my dad back to his house.

9:00 AM - Fergie and I arrive at the church. He proceeds to tear my office apart and I can't get any work done.

9:45 AM - I am scheduled to run the video projector during a funeral at the church this morning. The family arrives just in time for me to test everything before the viewing.

10:15 AM - I leave Fergie with Gail (the church secretary) so I can go pick my dad back up and bring him back to Saturn so he can get his van back.

11:00 AM - I arrive back at the church, grab the Fergeson and head to the nursery where we will meet my dad so he can watch Fergie while I'm doing my thing at the funeral. The funeral begins.

12:20 PM - I sneak out of the funeral to go check on Fergie and my dad in the nursery to find Ferg passed out in my dad's arms. Cute, but nap time isn't till 1:00! I abandon hope of Fergie taking a normal nap.

12:45 PM - The funeral finally ends, and Fergie and I eat some lunch and head home for nap time. Much to my surprise (and delight), Fergie falls asleep pretty quickly and sleeps for a solid two hours, starting at about 1:20 PM. The next two hours are pretty peaceful, and I manage to squeeze some Wii time in.

2:50 PM - Betsy gets home from work, and has brought a pretty significant headache home with her as well. She doesn't feel good. She had plans to for her and The Fergeson to go to the adaptive (special ed.) sports tournament tonight so she could see her former students, but since she's not feeling well, she canceled.

4:30 PM - Knowing I have to get at least some work done today, I decide to head back into the office. On my way in, I get a call from Kerry Kern, asking me to help him reset the platform for tomorrow's Good Friday rehearsal. I agree.

5:10 PM - Betsy calls my cell phone to tell me that Fergie just puked up his supper all over himself and the couch (did I mention that he has been running a 101 fever since last night?). Considering her sensitivity to certain smells during her pregnancy, she can't even enter the room where the event occurred without gagging. She asks if I would come home from church to clean it up. I agree.

5:30 PM - I'm cleaning up half chewed chunks of hot dog and crescent rolls off my couch. I take Fergie's pants outside and hose the puke off of them.

6:00 PM - I finally get back to church, and start working.

6:15 PM - I find myself blogging about how busy I am, and how I don't have any time to get my work done.

We'll see what the rest of the night holds...

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Green Bible

Much to my disgust, I stumbled upon the Green Bible over at CBD. Before I go any further, let me clarify that I don't have a problem with the word of God - my issue comes with the ideology that insists that global warming / climate change / environmentalism is of the utmost importance, and then to tack that ideology onto a BIble is, in my opinion, disgusting and maybe even blasphemous.

CBD's product description of the Green Bible is as follows:

The Green Bible equips and encourages you to see God's vision for creation and helps you engage in the work of healing and sustaining it. With over 1,000 references to the earth in the Bible, compared to 490 references to heaven and 530 references to love, the Bible carries a powerful message for the earth. This Green-Letter edition of the Bible highlights scriptures in green ink that teach about God's care for creation and how God interacts with creation, in an effort to bring greater awareness to how this message is woven throughout the Old and New Testaments. Essays from leading conservationists and theologians on how to read the Bible through a "green lens" as well as a green topical index and Green Bible Trail Guide for personal study will be paired with teachings throughout the ages to show people how caring for God's creation is not only a calling, but a lifestyle.

I find it amusing that the reasoning put forth for the publication of the Green Bible is that the Bible talks about the earth so often. The description states, "With over 1,000 references to the earth in the Bible, compared to 490 references to heaven and 530 references to love, the Bible carries a powerful message for the earth," as if to imply that because the earth is mentioned so frequently in scripture, it trumps those other issues like heaven and love. Did you know that Jesus talked more about money than he did about heaven and hell combined? Should we likewise then start printing the "Money Bible?"

I also find the fact that specific "earth verses" are printed in green lettering absolutely ludicrous and shameful. I've talked before about my issues with global warming / environmentalism so I won't rehash that, but from the beginning of this whole "Christian Environmentalism" movement that has become so trendy the past few years, my main objection has been twofold: 1) if God is sovereign over the earth, are we really so arrogant as to assume that he would let it be destroyed by man's doing? and 2) wouldn't it be wiser (and more productive - see number 1) to put our time and energy as Christians into saving souls, rather than the earth (a mandate which is NOT given in scripture, mind you)? It literally angers me that Christians would expend so much energy in earth care while countless millions are on their way into eternity. Perhaps it would be more productive to read through the Bible and highlight all of the verses that describe the fate of the lost, and also the verses that command us to preach the gospel to them. According to the description of the Green Bible, "...caring for God's creation is not only a calling, but a lifestyle." What then, is the rest of the Christian life? Are we to elevate earth care above evangelism? Above preaching? Above fellowship? Above doctrine and theology (which, in my opinion, the Green Bible does because the premise that created it rejects the notion of God's sovereignty over creation).

Also, the encouragement is made to read scripture through "green lenses." Let me assure you: if you read scripture through "green lenses," you are completely missing the point of scripture.

One good way to filter out all of the new, trendy Bibles that come out these days is to ask ourselves how these renditions of scripture would play out in persecuted nations. Think about this for a minute: would a persecuted Christian want to read this Bible and take note of the "green verses?" Or maybe an even more pointed question: does a persecuted Christian care about earth care, or is he or she only concerned about truth and the gospel, because that is what their very lives depend on? It's shameful to think that we have reduced God's word and the glorious truth of his gospel to helpful steps for taking care of the planet.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Wounds Of A Friend

Ecclesiastes 7.5 says: "It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools."

This verse was played out, almost literally, in my life this past week. I was planning on attending a concert in the near future, when a friend (and brother in Christ) told me I needed to re-examine whether or not that was something I should be doing as a follower of Jesus. The issue comes in that this was not a Christian band, and the band has a bit of a reputation for being kind of harsh and foul-mouthed. So then, his "rebuke" for me (I consider it to be an encouragement) was that I should think seriously about whether or not this was the kind of activity that I should take part in, both as a Christian, and as an example to those around me. After a bit of thought I concluded that he was right, and I thanked him for looking out for me as a brother. So in this case, his wise rebuke literally kept me from hearing the song of fools.

Proverbs 27.6 says: "Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy."

This verse inspires an interesting and accurate picture: nobody ever likes to be rebuked or told they are wrong - it's just not a pleasant experience - it hurts one's pride. But that's kind of the point: the realization that it is indeed your pride that is wounded makes you change the way you think or act and realign yourself to a more Christ-like way of life. And so, the rebuke of a friend - while difficult - ultimately leads to a more disciplined, godly life. And for that, I am thankful.

Monday, March 9, 2009

No Religion

More Americans say that they have no religion. Read the results of the study. I guess there's no reason to be surprised.

Atheist Conspiracy Thwarted!

About a week ago I posted this article about Ray Comfort's new book, "You Can Lead An Atheist To Evidence But You Can't Make Him Think," and also about his offer to debate Richard Dawkins, perhaps the most prominent atheist alive today. Well, it turns out that online atheists took it upon themselves to try to, at the very least, diminish the sale of Comfort's book by spamming his website, and writing terrible reviews on Amazon (even when they had not read the book). Check out the whole article below, from worldnetdaily.com:

Atheists strategize against book on God
Online plot reveals plan to give Christian writing low rating

The Christian author whose book "You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence but You Can't Make Him Think" bumped atheist Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" on Amazon.com's best-seller list says he's uncovered a conspiracy to attack his work.

Ray Comfort, who works with Living Waters ministry and has argued against atheism at Yale University, debated the issue on ABC's Nightline and has authored some 60 other books, including "God Doesn’t Believe in Atheists," "How to Know God Exists" and "Evolution: the Fairy Tale for Grownups," noticed an unusually large number of negative reviews on the book sale website.

"If you look at the reviews on Amazon.com," he said, "you could come away thinking that this is worst book ever written. It has masses of one 'stars' with scathing reviews, saying things like 'Comfort is a charlatan' and 'Dreadful piece of drivel.'"

But he said he also found five-star ratings with comments such as "Great logical thinking" and "a must read."

When he got to one that said, "You can tell how good this book is by how many atheists are claiming to have read it and then give it a one-star review," he got to thinking and looking around.

On the Reddit.com website he found the answer: a conspiracy among atheists to drag his book down through their responses on the Amazon website.

A participant identified as "The Milkman" wrote, "Let's all vote one star on this piece of s---."

"Mithridates" also commented, "Pro-tip for people reviewing the book: giving it one or five stars makes it painfully obvious that you're just giving it that number because you feel the author to be on or against your side. To actually make it look like a real review you're going to want to go with two or four stars."

"Atheists spammed my blog, spammed our website and sent abusive e-mails about our new billboard, so I suspected some sort of atheist conspiracy on Amazon, and fortunately I found it," Comfort said.

The best-selling author said it was no big deal when spammers attacked his website, because it is so big it just didn't make much difference.

But he said he's sure his book sales have been affected because of the negative reviews, "because people purchase upon other people's opinions."

Still, he said, the book can't be too bad.

"The atheist who wrote the foreword backslid," Comfort said. "I sent him a copy, and a week later he wrote to me and said that he was no longer an atheist."

Amazon, which had featured dozens of single-star ratings and comments before this article was published, later apparently edited its content to provide only two reviews, one positive and one negative.

"There are interesting theological books out there, but this isn't one of them," the mild negative review said. The positive one said, "This book will receive hate-filled reviews, but the points will not be refuted."

Comfort said the strong opposition easily is explained.

"I simply expose atheistic evolution for the unscientific fairy tale that it is, and I do it with common logic. I ask questions about where the female came from for each species. Every male dog, cat, horse, elephant, giraffe, fish and bird had to have coincidentally evolved with a female alongside it (over billions of years) with fully evolved compatible reproductive parts and a desire to mate, otherwise the species couldn't keep going. Evolution has no explanation for the female for every species in creation," he said.

"I also show that the 'God' issue is moral rather than intellectual. No one needs to prove that God exists. Creation is clear evidence for any sane person that there's a Creator. But if I can convince myself that there is no God, it means I am not morally accountable, and evolution opens the door to a whole lot of sinful delicacies such as pornography, fornication, lying, theft, and of course writing bad reviews for a book I haven't read," he continued.

He said the logical problem that follows atheists, though, is that once they convince themselves God doesn't exist, they are left with the "insane" philosophy that nothing created everything.

"They will deny that through gritted teeth because it is intellectually embarrassing, but if I say that I have no belief that my Ford Truck had a maker, it means I think that nothing made it, and that's a scientific impossibility," Comfort said.

"When we said this on a billboard on a major Los Angeles freeway, Dan Barker, the President of Freedom From Religion, Inc., happened to be in California and happened to be on that freeway. He saw the billboard and wrote a scathing e-mail to me, calling me a liar. They hate their beliefs being exposed, and this book does just that."

One online review predicted such attacks.

Comfort "disproves every dumb atheistic assertion very simply with both scientific fact and common sense. This book is sure to enrage the atheistic and seculars of the world; but, their anger and 1-star reviews are only proof that they are not only losing the argument, but, have already lost," the reviewer said.

One of the critics went beyond attacking Comfort to cover all Christians in his opinion: "Ray Comfort appeals to the kind of people who would believe in Christianity. People who can't think themselves out of a box," the forum participant said.

WND has reported Comfort recently challenged atheist Richard Dawkins to a debate over God's existence, but Dawkins snubbed offers of both $10,000 and $20,000.