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Archive for February, 2008

I am pleased to review another CD from Sovereign Grace Ministries.  Their music ministry seeks to provide the church with songs that encourage passionate, biblically informed, Christ-glorifying worship, and this CD is no exception.  You and You Alone by Pat and Joel Sczebel has been released as the fifth CD in Overflow, a series featuring new songs produced by local churches within the Sovereign Grace family, and it continues the quality that has come to be expected of its label.

Listening through the tracks for the first time, I admit that primary purpose was to see what music might be incorporated into worship at my local church.  The clarity and truthfulness of the lyrics have always been outstanding, but I also looked for that “singable” quality.  To that end, I focused on three songs that probably would be the first I would introduce: In You, Over All, and Trust In You.

Now, one of the ways in which worship music fails is often that the most catchy and popular songs are also those which have very little worship to them.  Many are man-centered, and speak mostly of what we promise to do for the Lord, or even our affections for the Lord.  Rather, true worship is our response to the attributes and acts of God.  One of the quick tests for music is to look at the chorus, since these are often the fluffiest yet most repeated aspect of the song.  Here is the chorus for Over All:

Sovereign King
You are over all
Sovereign Lord
None can thwart Your plan
You are seated high upon Your throne
Over all

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Al Mohler on ADHD

The most recent post by Al Mohler on his blog is so poignant and concise, that I felt it is best to just include it in its entirety:

When thinking of signs of our times, consider this advertisement from a Nebraska newspaper. The ad was brought to my attention by a helpful listener to the radio program.

Now, let’s think carefully about this. Can’t sit still? Can’t play quietly? Loses things? Does not seem to listen? Has difficulty paying attention? Is fidgety? Honestly, do you know any 6 to 12-year-old children who do not fit this description?

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Here are some suggestions synthesized from this post which I found very instructive:

  1. Prayer. That has to be number one.
  2. Communication. When I go back to visit my church in August I’ll probably know about half or a third of the number of people I knew there when I left.  But still the blow can be softened by hearing a bit more of what’s going on in church. What’s the teaching on at the moment? What challenges are you facing, and what new stuff are you doing? Are there any projects starting? What’s going on?
  3. Challenge. Most of us are providing the teaching in our churches. If we get off track, our church gets off track. So we need some contradictory and thought-provoking stuff thrown at us to keep us real.
  4. Encouragement. Out of sight can mean out of mind; we know this, and so it’s not a huge problem. But that’s precisely why just the occasional note every so often to let us know that we’re still remembered and we haven’t dropped off the radar is a huge, huge encouragement. Replying to the prayer letters we send is a good one, even if it’s just a few words, it stops us thinking we’re talking into a vacuum.
  5. Participation. In these days of Skype and high-speed Internet access, I can “virtually” turn up at your events. You don’t actually need to make a big thing of me being there. I did a couple of Skype interviews with my church groups recently, but actually one of the nicest bits was just sitting there and listening to the service like everyone else. Give me an AV feed and I’ll be happy. It helps with the whole catching-up thing I mentioned above, and it keeps that connection between us going.
  6. Places to stay. Organising hospitality for me when I visit is one of the most practical and powerful ways you can show that you care. Nothing amazing, just a bed for the night; but someone on location is much better placed to ask around and find people who can offer than trying to do it from five thousand miles away, and it takes all the stress out of it.
  7. Care packages. I’m in two minds about this one. I love my life here in Japan, and I’m happy living like a Japanese. But I hope that even those who are into radical contextualization would be prepared to turn a blind eye to the odd jar of Marmite or Fray Bentos pie every six months or so, and of course it’s the thought that counts more than the pie.
  8. Briefing and debriefing. When we come back to our home countries, or set off again, we’re going to be in a whirl. Maybe those missionaries in troubled countries are going to have seen some disturbing stuff – now mostly the mission agencies will help them deal with that or put them in touch with professionals who can – but everyone will come back to reverse culture shock, disorientation and above all change. And as Marjory Foyle puts it, you can have stress without change but you can’t have change without stress. Getting us in for a debriefing will (a) help us adjust to what’s changed so we can expect it, and (b) show us that you are prepared to invest some time and organisation into helping us. (b) is probably more important than (a), when it comes down to it. Similarly for briefings when we go again. Having some sensible questions prepared to talk through with us can help identify any areas where you can help us more or we can help you more. (Oh yes, that reminds me: this isn’t a one-way thing, and it actually helps maintain that connection between us if it’s not one-way. If there is anything we can do to help serve you better, we want to know about it.)
  9. Money. It would be a bit insane to pretend that this isn’t a consideration but honestly, it’s got to appear at the bottom of the list because it’s often the least of our problems.  I would honestly much rather be supported a church which couldn’t offer me much money but which loved me than one which gave me all the cash I needed and just left me to get on with it.

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Theodore Roosevelt Quote

It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt
“Citizenship in a Republic,”
Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

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Judges, a Paradigm for Media

How are we to discern which secular media (movies and television shows in particular) is fit for consumption, and not only that, but which we can commend to others?  Alan Noble from Christ and Pop Culture basically explains that a book such as Judges portrays the world as it is, and thus portrays truth, and in the context of a larger redemptive truth.  The assumption here is that there are similarities between this truth and the redemptive themes that my run through secular media.  To this end, I offer the following brief analysis of Judges 3:7-11 as a paradigm for true redemptive narrative, which will in time become and introduction to a sermon I suspect.  Please bear with me and consider these thoughts:

Observations and Arguments.  First, this book is included in Holy Scripture, so there is something that can be learned or emulated from it.  Christian cultural commentators might say that it is the portrayal of truth, and that the communication of truth is always desirable.  The book simply recounts people acting as they are.  Second, the book of Judges portrays the sin and rebellion of the nation of Israel.  Cultural commentators are quick to parallel this with the sin that is portrayed in media, and that viewing or reading about sin does not necessarily cause us to sin.  An honest presentation of mankind is incomplete without the depiction of sin.  Third, the book demonstrates a subsequent downward cycle of rebellion and wickedness.  Judges does not end with a fairytale happy ending.  So others take this to show that movies must not necessarily have happy endings.  Sometimes evil appears to triumph over good, and these cases may still and often most powerfully teach a lesson or make a point.  Finally, Judges is not only permissible to read but imperative, as it is Scripture. and portrays the reality of our world.  Movies, likewise, portray aspects of the world and allow us to be involved and experience what we might otherwise be unable to, in order to better understand the world in which we live.

Analysis.  While clearly the above are arguments given in support of media, there is not merely a fine distinction but rather a gaping hole in the argument.  After meditating on the passage the differences are irreconcileable.  Certainly the book of Judges records the history of the nation of Israel in the time between the Exodus and kingship.  However, the account is not merely historical but also theological, written and preserved in such a way as to make a point.  I concede that media makes a point as well.  So one task is to compare the purpose and see if they are aligned, or even similar?  What is the purpose of the book of Judges?

The purpose of the book of Judges is to highlight the faithfulness of God in contrast to the faithlessness of His people.  Did you catch that?  God is the great protagonist, and the judges act out his will upon the earth.  It is the Spirit upon them which gives them their strength.  Perhaps you don’t like my purpose.  Expositor’s Bible Commentary decides that the purpose is to demonstrate that Israel’s spiritual condition determines its political and material situation.  What was the purpose of the last movie that you watched?  I imagine it does not have the God of the Bible anywhere near its controlling purpose statement.

With that in mind, we might now respond to the four claims above.

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Neil Postman wrote Amusing Ourselves to Death and I wish that more people not only read it, but would take heed.  If it is any indication of how insightful I believe this segment to be, I typed up each word, and I think the final paragraph will change your life:

If you were a producer of a television news show for a commercial station, you would not have the option of defying television’s requirements.  It woudl be demanded of you that you strive for the largest possible audience, and, as a consequence and in spite of your best intentions, you would arrive at a production very nearly resembling MacNeil’s description.  Moreover, you would include some things MacNeil does not mention.  You would try to make celebrities of your newscasters.  You would advertise the show, both in the press and on television itself.  You would do “news briefs,” to serve as an inducement to viewers.  You would have a weatherman as comic relief, and a sportscaster whose language is a touch uncouth (as a way of relating to the beer-drinking common man).  You would, in short, package the whole event as any producer might who is in the entertainment business.

The result  of all this is that Americans are the best entertained and quite likely the least well-informed people int he Western world.  (more…)

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Thoughts on Life

This morning I had the privilege of attending the funeral service for the mother of a friend, who was a dear member of our church. Many came out in support of the family, which was heartwarming to see. But also heartwarming was the warm and sincere testimony of the family, that in the midst of their grief they praised God and shared the good news of salvation with those who were there. In particular, one testimony instructed the friends and family not merely to listen and think what a wonderful woman she was and life she had led, but what a wonderful God that she served. This woman modeled in many ways the Christian charity that we should all be demonstrating, and personally she was one of the first to be supportive as I made a commitment to full-time ministry. By the way that she lived, and not by what she said, she showed many of us what it looks like to really care for another. She attended to friends when they needed it most, such as at funeral services, rather than simply in the good times.

As I reflect on such a wonderful life, it causes me to wonder about my own life. I think that is one of the purposes of God in death, to remind those who are living of the preciousness and purpose of their lives. So much seems insignificant in light of this. Our worries, our jobs, papers, deadlines, arguments – they all fade away.

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