Monday, December 27, 2010

A Simple, Three-Word Prayer for 2011

Yet another Christmas has come and gone, New Year's Day is close at hand, and whether or not we are the type of person who likes to make resolutions, this time of year tends to cause all of us to look around a bit, assess our lives with more scrutiny than normal and try to decide what (if anything) we would like to try doing differently in the coming year. The key word in that last sentence is "try;" even though survey after survey routinely points to the fact that the vast majority of us will have abandoned our New Year's resolutions by mid-January, we nevertheless want to continue believing that lasting change really is possible, and thus the calendar-driven inventory takes shape in our hearts and minds...whether we want it to or not.

I abandoned the practice of making "formal" New Year's resolutions long ago, about the same time when I realized that change - deep, lasting, soul-level change - is not something that I can ever hope to muster up on my own. I'm just not capable of it. True, there have been times when I have experienced radical, life-altering changes that began with a deep conviction of the heart, but I credit that inner stirring entirely to the work of God in my life, not me. I am absolutely certain that, left to my own devices, I would still be doing all of the things that were so destructive during my teen years and young adult life.

As near as I can tell, everybody who claims Christianity loves Jesus...until He asks them to stop sinning, that is. It is precisely at that moment of confrontation that many people find the Person of Jesus to be, well, somewhat irksome. "Why can't I have Jesus and my sin?" No one phrases it that way, of course, but that's what we all secretly want, if we are able to be honest with ourselves. And yet, we have to admit that Christ pretty clearly calls us to discipleship but also calls us to change. Jesus' exhortation, "unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:1-5) doesn't leave a whole lot of room for slippery interpretation.

Like most people, my heart rebels at being told what to do. My self-styled delusion of being firmly in control of every aspect of my life instinctively lashes out - at least internally - anytime someone suggests that I may be caught up in active sin, folly or rebellion. Those of us who have settled their Christian theology in the five-point reformed camp can even begin to blame God for the lack of repentance in our hearts. "God is sovereign over everything," this seriously-flawed argument goes, "so how can I possibly change my own heart? God will either choose to help me change, or He won't, and there is nothing I can do about it!"

Nonsense. (I really wanted to use a different word here, similar in form to the one that Paul uses in Philippians 3:8.)

As someone who also finds it extremely difficult to change, particularly in the face of besetting sinful response patterns, I'd like to offer up some hope that came to me through a passage that I have heard many, many times...but never had "ears to hear" until just recently. In the past couple of months, I have spent a lot of time meditating on the response of the disciples when confronted with Jesus' unbending call toward righteousness. In Luke chapters 14-17, Christ is doing some fairly serious teaching; by the end of this particular teaching moment, I imagine the disciples are feeling just a bit overwhelmed. It is then that Jesus issues yet another direct call to change; specifically, He instructs His disciples to forgive a repentant sinner up to seven times each day. The disciples, for their part, are very clearly aware that they are not up to the task:
Luke 17:1-6 (ESV)
"Temptations to Sin"

And he said to his disciples, "Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' you must forgive him." The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" And the Lord said, "If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.
A couple of things really grab me in this passage. One, Jesus is (as always) utterly realistic about the temptations to sin that are sure to assail each and every one of us. Two, the disciples don't really want to forgive a transgressor seven times within the course of one day; their sinful hearts immediately push back against Christ's command to forgive so "recklessly," so they all stop scribbling in their notepads for a bit and basically confess both their unwillingness and their inability, something like: "Seven times in one day?! Are you kidding me? Would you consider strapping a jetpack to my sanctification process, please?" (And I'm right there with them, believe me.)

Jesus responds by assuring them that with faith, they can accomplish what they would never think possible.

If you are anything like me, though, you are not often in need of uprooting and transplanting mulberry trees into the sea. But maybe you are finding it difficult to respond graciously to someone who just cut you off on the way to work. Perhaps you feel overly burdened by an unwelcome assignment at work. Someone who has been a perpetual thorn in your side may have chosen today to send you an unsettling e-mail. Maybe someone ruined your Christmas celebration with an unkind remark, or an unwelcome rehash of some of your less-flattering history. Whatever slights you may have experienced, I wonder if you might have responded differently with a quick burst of prayer to Jesus:

"Lord, increase my faith!"

To my own detriment, I tend to think of "real, serious prayer" as those rare, isolated moments when things are quiet, I have a few moments to collect my thoughts, and I am reading and praying over a Psalm or a chapter in one of the gospel accounts. Those times are all well and good, but not always available to me. I do not, for example, have time to pull over and read a Psalm or two every time some idiot cuts me off in traffic. And it is in those moments, those mundane, life-as-we-know-it times, that I find I most need to run to God in prayer.

For whatever this is worth, I have found that by simply asking God to increase my faith in those real-life moments has, in fact, made a real and noticeable difference in my life. Since I started doing this a couple of months ago, a few close friends, unaware of my new habit of echoing the disciples on this point, have offered that I seem "calmer," more "settled" somehow. I can only say that repeating this statement whenever someone or something ticks me off has really helped to shine a brighter light on those areas where I am failing to believe the promises of God. Whenever a harsh light is cast upon my own sinful attitudes and habits, it tends to make me want to step back from those habits (instead of embracing them).

How's this for a drastic understatement? I am a long way from where I need to be in my own walk with Christ. I suspect you are, too. We all are. Whenever I encounter the weakness of my own faith, my gut reaction is to over-respond with something like, "This year, by golly, I'm going to read the entire Bible in its original Hebrew and Greek, once each, every week, memorizing all of the Psalms as I go!" But this kind of change lasts about as long as our perennial New Year's resolutions, and is about as effective.

Rather than set ourselves up for failure and discouragement, I'd instead like to commend Luke 17:5 to you and encourage you to call upon it whenever you are confronted with something that you know you can't handle all on your own. The hard truth is, we are all confronted several times every day with people, places and things that we can't hope to walk through on our own without sinning in some way. Silently echoing the disciple's cry of desperation gives you a split second to change course, leaning instead on the strength of Christ for the possibility of a change.

I'd like to suggest that this one, simple prayer may actually be a resolution for 2011 that you can actually keep, and that results in real change as you lean not on your own strength, but instead put your hope in the only One capable of making any lasting change: "Lord, increase our faith!"

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Songs and Scenes from December 26, 2010

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This week's Sunday song review features photos by Scott Myers. You'll find links in the song titles that will allow you to purchase recorded versions of the songs (where available).

Angels We Have Heard On High - Words: Traditional French carol, Music: Traditional French melody, Based on an arrangement by Chris Tomlin (with new chorus by David A. Cover and Christine Cover)

Come to Bethlehem and see
Christ Whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee,
Christ the Lord, the newborn King.
Gloria, gloria, gloria
in excelsis Deo!

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Holy, Holy, Holy
- Words by Reginald Heber (1783-1826), Additional Lyrics and contemporary music by Page CXVI and David Wilton

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!

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Jesus Messiah by Chris Tomlin, Daniel Carson, Ed Cash, Jesse Reeves

Jesus Messiah, Name above all names
Blessed Redeemer, Emmanuel
The Rescue for sinners
The Ransom from heaven
Jesus Messiah, Lord of all

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You Have Redeemed My Soul
by Don and Lori Chafer, Arranged by Page CXVI

I was a hungry child, a dried up river.
I was a burned out forest
and no one could do anything for me.
But You put food in my body, water in my dry bed,
and to my blackened branches
you brought the springtime green of new life
and nothing is impossible for You.

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O Come, All Ye Faithful - Words and Tune: attr. John Francis Wade (1742), tr. Frederick Oakeley (1841), Music: Irregular (Adeste Fiedeles) Arrangement by Chris Tomlin

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning;
Jesus, to Thee be glory given;
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.
O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him,

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Hail to the Lord's Anointed
- Words: James Montgomery (1821), Music and Arrangement: Vito Aiuto (2008)

Hail to the Lord’s anointed, great David’s greater Son!
Hail in the time appointed, His reign on earth begun!
He comes to break oppression, to set the captive free;
To take away transgression and rule in equity.

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Music Team for December 26, 2010:

Andrew Camp - electric guitar, mandolin, vocals
Christine Cover - vocals, percussion
David Cover - vocals, electric and acoustic guitars
Nick Havens - bass guitar
Scott Johnson - piano, keyboard, vocals
Andrew Luley - drums
Kristen Pierce - vocals
Ethan Vizitei - vibraphone, percussion

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For more information about music written for corporate worship by members of the music team visit The Crossing Music. You can also find us on Twitter and Facebook.

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Eve at The Crossing: December 24, 2010

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"The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was going to come into the world." - John 1:9

O Come, All Ye Faithful - Words and Tune: attr. John Francis Wade (1742), tr. Frederick Oakeley (1841), Music: Irregular (Adeste Fiedeles) Arrangement by Chris Tomlin

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning;
Jesus, to Thee be glory given;
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.
O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him,

122410 7383 Crossing Christmas Eve

Call to Worship: The Light by Keith Scherer

Joyous Light - Words by unknown author, late 3rd -early century 4th century; translated by John Keble, 1834, alt. Arrangement and additional chorus by Chris Tomlin, David Crowder and Louie Giglio.

Hail Gladdening Light, sun so bright
Jesus Christ, end of night, alleluia.
Hail Gladdening Light, such joyous Light
O Brilliant Star, forever shine, alleluia.

122410 7254 Crossing Christmas Eve

Lesson 1: Isaiah 7:13-14, 9:2, 6-7

O Come, O Come Emmanuel - LM 88 88 (Veni Emmanuel), Words: Latin, 12th Cent; tr. composite Tune: "Processionale:, 15th cent. ; adpt. Thomas Helmore (1854), Adapted from an arrangement by Phil Wickham

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

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Lesson 2: Isaiah 11:1-9

Hail to the Lord's Anointed
- Words: James Montgomery (1821), Music and Arrangement: Vito Aiuto (2008)

Hail to the Lord’s anointed, great David’s greater Son!
Hail in the time appointed, His reign on earth begun!
He comes to break oppression, to set the captive free;
To take away transgression and rule in equity.

122410 7407 Crossing Christmas Eve

Lesson 3: Luke 1:26-38

Savior of the Nations, Come - Words: Ambrose (4th Century), Martin Luther (1523), Traditional: Calvin Seerveld (1984), Music: Enchiridia, Erfurt (1524), Arr. Bruce Benedict (2009)

Savior of the nations, come,
Show yourself, the virgin’s son.
Marvel heaven, wonder earth,
That our God chose such a birth

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Lesson 4: Luke 2:1-7, Matthew 1:22-23

Once in Royal David's City - Words: Cecil Alexander (1848), Music: Henry J. Gauntlett (1849), Adapted from an arrangement by Sufjan Stevens

Once in royal David’s city
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her Baby
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little Child.

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Lesson 5: Luke 2:8-20

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing - Words: Charles Wesley (1739)
Music: 77 77 D w/refrain Felix Mendelssohn (1840), Adapted by Williams H. Cummings (1856)

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

122410 7377 Crossing Christmas Eve

Angels We Have Heard On High - Words: Traditional French carol, Music: Traditional French melody

Come to Bethlehem and see
Christ Whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee,
Christ the Lord, the newborn King.
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

122410 7367 Crossing Christmas Eve

Lesson 6: John 1:1-14

Joy to the World - Words: Isaac Watts (1719) (based on Psalm 98), Music: ANTIOCH C.M.rep. George Frederick Handel (1742), Arr. Lowell Mason (1836)

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

122410 7499 Crossing Christmas Eve

Instrumental: The First Noel - Words & Music: Traditional English carol, possibly dating from as early as the 13th Century, Adapted from an Arrangement by Linford Detweiler

Instrumental: What Child is This/Greensleeves - Words: William C. Dix, The Manger Throne (1865), Music: Greensleeves, 16th Century English melody, Adapted from an Arrangement by Linford Detweiler

The Passing of the Flame

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Silent Night - Words: Josef Mohr (circa 1816-1818), Music: Franz X. Gruber (circa 1820), Based on an arrangement by Red Mountain Church

Still the night, holy the night
God's dear Son, bringing light,
Saving us all from sin's dark thrall
Giving life and love to all,
Christ the Light of the World,
Christ the Light of the World.


Christmas Eve Music and Tech Team:

Carly Allen - bass
Josh Anger - lights
Andrew Camp - percussion, mandolin
Mark Collum - vocals, percussion
Dave Cover - speaker
Sadie Currey - violin
David Cover - acoustic and electric guitars
Scott Ferguson - media
Rachel Johnson - liturgist
Scott Johnson - vocals, acoustic guitar, piano
Andrew Luley - drums and percussion
Kristen Pierce - vocals
Kermit Summerall - euphonium
Ethan Vizitei - vibes and piano
Cortney Wright - keyboard
Randy Wright - liturgist

Christmas Eve photos by Gerik Parmele.

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In Defense of Christmas

Just a quick note to point you to some helpful Christmas Day reading. In yesterday's Wall St. Journal, John Wilson, editor of Books and Culture (an evangelical review and sister publication to Christianity Today) addressed the charge that Christians are overemphasizing Christmas, particularly in comparison to Easter. The gist of his take:
Where to start with what's wrong with this analysis? Let's begin with Rabbi Hoffman's contention that Christmas never "really mattered." Such hyperbole reveals the false dichotomy at the heart of this particular Anti-Christmas Rant: the idea that Christmas is more important than Easter, or vice versa, and we must choose between them. That's no more cogent than suggesting that Revelation is more important than Genesis.

Christmas brings us face-to-face with the mystery of the Incarnation—the preposterous claim that the creator of the universe sent his son (but how could he have a "son"?) to be born of a virgin (what?), both fully man and fully God: "Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness," as we read in Paul's letter to the Philippians.

This claim we call the Incarnation—and celebrate at Christmas—can't be separated from "the paschal mystery of death and resurrection." The babe in swaddling clothes comes with a mission to fulfill. And as we sing carols for his birth, we see him taken down from the cross, wrapped in "a clean linen cloth," and laid in the tomb of a friend. That's the cloth that is left behind in the empty tomb on Resurrection morning.

Easter is implicit in Christmas, and Christmas is implicit in Easter. When we celebrate the one, we celebrate the other, looking forward to the restoration of all things.
Read the whole article here. And a very Merry Christmas to you all.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Great Unimaginable Love

The article caught my attention in an e-mail I received this week, an electronic newsletter from the Little League Baseball Association. It was the story of a young man who had played Little League ball for six years as a young boy, then went on to join the military and give his life in Iraq for his country. The article focused on the fact that the young man, Ross McGinnis, posthumously received the Medal of Honor, the highest decoration possible for a member of the U.S. military, and in so doing became the first known Little Leaguer to be awarded such a high honor.

I don’t know why I was compelled to read it or, for that matter, how I got on the Little League mailing list anyway. But read it I did, and I found myself in tears as I read how Ross joined the Army right out of high school, intent on building a career in the military, only to be killed by an enemy hand grenade within 16 months of graduating from training.

The article (you can read it here) described his death this way:
According to the official reports, on the afternoon of Dec. 4, 2006, Pfc. McGinnis and his platoon were on mounted patrol in Adhamiyah, Iraq, to restrict enemy movement and quell sectarian violence. During the course of the patrol, an unidentified insurgent positioned on a rooftop nearby threw a fragmentation grenade into Ross' vehicle, a Humvee. Without hesitation or regard for his own life, Pfc. McGinnis threw his back over the grenade, pinning it between his body and the Humvee's radio mount. He shouted "grenade" to others in the vehicle, then absorbed all lethal fragments and the concussive effects of the blast with his own body - giving his life to save his four comrades.
McGinnis was only 19 years old.

While this happened four years ago, I found I went through the rest of my morning thinking about this young man and how he died, or, more accurately, why he died. Why is it that stories like this resonate so deeply within all of us?

It may be that the strong emotions elicited in me had something to do with my mother’s heart, and a few uncomfortable similarities. I have a 20-year-old son, Nate, and he too played baseball for several years, beginning as a little boy and continuing up through high school. I imagine Ross' mother and I both spent a great many years similarly cheering on our little boys. My son has also joined the military, the Army National Guard, and while he's currently a full-time student at Mizzou, after his graduation he may well be deployed to parts unknown. It's certainly true that I fear my own son being called to serve his country in such treacherous and dangerous conditions, and I can only imagine this, too, was something Ross' mother wrestled with.

But I also think there’s a deeper reason.

For the Christian, of course, it's an intimately-familiar story, someone taking the death that we all so richly deserve. But stories like this - the almost unfathomable reality of someone giving his own life so that others might live - seem to penetrate everyone's heart, whether they believe the gospel or not, because God has implanted His story of redemption and a sense of eternity deeply within each of us. Believer or unbeliever, we all have a reaction to death that says, "It shouldn't be this way." We all innately seem to know there are deeper truths going on within these stories of redemption and sacrifice.

It's a startling thing to read about a young man who was willing to die in order to save his friends, and I think it almost spontaneously sends us, believer or unbeliever, looking for answers. Why would he do that? What kind of instinct compelled such a young man to give up his life for any reason, especially when he was so young? I have to think Ross must have felt a great kinship with the other young men in the vehicle with him. I also wonder if he himself was a Christian. Of course, the article doesn't mention anything about his faith, and even if it did we may well never know this side of heaven.

But no matter his motivation, his actions also took me again to a place I've often been: trying to wrap my head around the fact that Christ gave his own life for us - for me, personally - when we were not friends, but enemies. Hostile to His call, He nevertheless willingly accepted death for us before we ever cared for Him at all (Romans 5:6-8).

Unimaginable. Unimaginable great love.

And that same great love is what we're all poised, this Christmas Eve, to celebrate. Jesus' death, so willingly embraced for our sake, began with an obscure birth into a dirty, sin-stained world. That Christ would willingly die for me is still very hard for me to grasp. That He would first willingly step into humanity, leaving the glory of heaven to lower Himself into our hopelessly-broken world and experience every difficulty, pain and disappointment that this life has to "offer," is an integral part of that great unimaginable act of love. God's great sacrifice, magnificently made manifest at Golgotha, began in Bethlehem.

ESI readers, may God richly bless you and your families as you celebrate Christ's birth and His great, unimaginable love for you.
1 John 4:9-10
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
1 John 3:16
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.
John 15:13-14 (The words of Jesus, just prior to his arrest and death.)
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Gift Ideas, or, A Gift of Ideas (Updated)

By now, you’ve probably seen a good number of gift idea lists, including the one offered last week by our own Keith Simon. I’ll admit that I regret not thinking of a similar list earlier. After all, it’s amazing how quickly Tuesday—a.k.a. “my day to post”—rolls around every week. But even if I could come up with few good ideas, it likely wouldn’t do you much good at this point anyway. That is, unless you’re like me and you’re a bit, um, dilatory in your shopping.

So I decided to up the ante. Instead of giving the loyal readers of ESI gift ideas, why shouldn’t I give you a gift? Of course, that could mean getting a gift for as many as a half dozen people. And there’s only so much holiday cheer I can spread.

Undaunted, however, I came up with the solution: a gift of ideas, food for thought to help you peek through the bustle and busyness (both good and bad) of the holiday season and glimpse the glory, fragility, and the desperately needed grace of Christmas.

And though it's grammatically awkward, I can still technically call these “Christmas gift ideas.”

So here you go, a list with a few comments of my own, and a sincere Merry Christmas to you.

1. First off, the consistently thoughtful Ross Douthat recently offered up a interesting piece entitled “A Tough Season for Believers” in his regular New York Times column. From the closing paragraph:
Christians need to find a way to thrive in a society that looks less and less like any sort of Christendom—and more and more like the diverse and complicated Roman Empire where their religion had its beginning, 2,000 years ago this week.
2. From the “How Did We Get Here?” department: NPR’s Nina Totenberg apologizes for using the expression “a Christmas party":

As a single incident, this isn’t a big deal. But it’s worth asking: does it reflect some kind of wider cultural reality or point to a spot further down the path on which we seem to be traveling?

UPDATE: It appears the critics, including me, have wrongly interpreted Totenberg's comments. From a story in the Washington Post:
Then we reached Totenberg herself during her "Christmas vacation" (her term) in Jamaica. Turns out her critics got it completely wrong: She was, she says, defending Christmas. The DOJ celebration was officially dubbed a "holiday" party, and she was gently mocking that generic designation. "I think that's kind of silly because it's obviously a Christmas party," she told us. "I was tweaking the Department of Justice. It was a touch of irony at the expense of the Justice department, not at the expense of Christmas."

As for the bloggers who were so quick to judge -- without bothering to ask her what she meant: "Jeesh, these folks need a life -- and perhaps a touch of the Christmas spirit, as well."
Consider this blogger appropriately chastened.

3. If you’re a U2 fan (and you should be), you’ll appreciate this article by Julie Clawson over at The Christian Century, as well as the band’s accompanying video, “I Believe in Father Christmas.” It’s amazing what a single word change can do to a song’s interpretation.

4. If you've got preschoolers and missed these posts last year, my wife came up with a short series of devotional activities that will help your youngest kids begin to grasp the significance of Christmas. Check them out here: #1, #2, and #3.

5. While being thankful for the relative societal tranquility that we typically enjoy this time of year, we might also remember and pray for fellow Christians who must observe Christ’s birth in turbulent and dangerous circumstances. The situation of many Iraqi Christians (1) reminds us that Christmas really is worth celebrating and (2) encourages us to look toward and pray for the time when the Prince of Peace brings peace at last.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

The Greatest of All Rescue Missions

Last night, our entire family watched the 2009, computer-animated version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol starring the voices of Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Robin Wright Penn and Cary Elwes. None of us had seen this particular Disney version prior to last night...that fact, in and of itself, is something of a rarity in a household of seven. And, truth be told, some of us still haven't seen all of it...a delicious ham-and-potatoes dinner ahead of showtime provided the perfect impetus for a few of us to take a mid-movie snooze.

The film itself was fairly solid entertainment - though perhaps just a bit too much on the dark side - but as I sat watching it with our kids I found myself comparing and contrasting this latest version of the Dickens classic with the countless other versions I have seen in movie theaters, on stage or on television. I mean, many times has this particular story been retold in one format or another? I would be hard pressed just to give a reasonable estimate of how many times I personally have watched the familiar storyline unfold, always knowing full well where the plot was headed. What, I wonder, do we find so appealing about this particular storyline that we are perfectly content to see it staged and restaged over and over again?

The answer seems obvious to me. I think the enduring appeal of A Christmas Carol lies in its unwavering commitment to the theme of redemption. A cold-hearted miser is completely transformed through a "rescue mission" heralded by the ghost of his late business partner and carried out by three different spirits in the course of one night. This is no half-way effort, either; the character of Ebenezer Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning a completely transformed man, generous where he had previously been stingy, loving where he had previously been cold and cruel. The popularity of this particular storyline reveals, I suspect, an underlying desire in all of us to bear witness to a miraculous transformation such as this, both in others and, perhaps most often, within ourselves.

Few of us are indeed fortunate enough to be able to recount stories of people we know personally who have, in fact, been radically transformed...inexplicably snatched off the highway to perdition and somehow enabled to live out a life of repentance and grace toward themselves and relayed outward toward others. While these stories can be few and far between, I still find it incredibly merciful of God to provide us with even one flesh-and-blood example of His mighty power to change the human heart. There are biblical precedents as well for the idea that dramatic change is, indeed, possible, and that a radical inbreaking of the kingdom of God shines forth every so often. Charles Dickens seemed to understand that even one miraculous turnabout provides hope for us all, that we too might be freed from our own Scrooge-like sins, addictions, hang-ups and spiritual enslavement.

Quite recently, I spent a good amount of time poring over 1 Peter as I was writing a term paper on his theology of the cross. What struck me again and again as I read and reread this epistle is the obvious, dramatic change that took place within Peter himself such that he was able to confidently call other Christians to suffer and die (if need be) for the sake of Christ. I mean, after all...this was the guy who denied Christ three times, all three of them a pathetic, self-interested attempt to escape physical harm! And yet, the epistle of 1 Peter is replete with exhortations to early Christians to expect to live out a lifestyle that includes suffering (1 Peter 1:6-7; 2:12; 2:19; 3:9; 3:14; 3:17; 4:1-2; 4:12-19; 5:10) and to follow the example of Jesus in His crucifixion (1 Peter 2:21). That this book was written by the very same Apostle who so famously tried to give Jesus a crown without a cross (Matthew 16:21-23; Mark 8:31-33) is itself a vivid example of a complete change of heart.

One of the worst mistakes I ever made was inviting Jesus to enter my life and rescue me on my terms, not His. "I need You to fix this, this, and this...but I would prefer that You not mess with that, that, and especially not that!" By His grace and mercy, I was taught over and over again that Jesus never embarks on a partial rescue mission. He is fully committed to each and every one of us who call upon His name for salvation (Romans 10:13), and He loves us too much to limit His mission to those few, paltry things that we are willing to hand over to Him. God always goes for complete transformation. It probably won't happen in one night - as with Ebenezer Scrooge - but once the work has begun, we know for a fact that He Who is faithful will see it through to completion (Philippians 1:6).

Just in the last few years, I have come to increasingly realize that what I need to be rescued from, more than anything else, is myself. My false ideas, my relentless selfishness, my insane preference for sin over and above the truth and beauty of God expressed in the face of Christ. I now live with deep regret that I did not fully give myself over to the rescue mission of Jesus right from the start. So many painful episodes could have been avoided; so many people could have been helped when instead they were hurt.

It's tempting to look at the miraculous transformations of Peter and Paul (Acts 9) - or perhaps even people we know nowadays - and think that something that wonderful could never happen to us, could never remove the sinful tendencies and failures lodged so deep within our own hearts. Perhaps we think we've been the way we are for so long that "it's just too late" for us. Perhaps that's yet another reason why we all find so much comfort in the storyline of A Christmas Carol. Redemption comes to Scrooge very late in life, when all odds are against it and when just about any other character in the story would bet serious money on Scrooge dying alone and unrepentant.

It's worthwhile particularly at this time of year, I think, to really meditate on the truth that we are loved by a God Who broke into human history and willingly took on flesh and bone that we might find it possible to have a reconciled relationship with Him. Just like A Christmas Carol, perhaps, we have all heard the story so many times that the improbability of it all no longer causes us to be astonished. By all rights, though, we should be astonished that Jesus took upon Himself the greatest rescue mission of all time, and that His amazing story is not a piece of fiction concerning one miserly accountant in 19th-century London, but a real-life rescue mission set solidly within the confines of human history, available to all who would call on Him. As you begin this Christmas week, I invite you to join me in spending time not only wrapping presents, baking cookies and visiting family, but also meditating on the stories of the Christ child's birth (Matthew 1-2; Luke 1-2).

Then, consider whether or not you want to continue believing that it is "impossible" for you or I to change, really change, at a heart level. Will we really accept the idea that God Himself took on human flesh...and yet live out a practical rejection of the truth that this was done in order that we might break free and really, truly live? As Paul likes to argue from the greater to the lesser, "How will He not along with Him graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32)
Luke 2:22-35 (ESV)
"Jesus Presented at the Temple"

And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord") and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons." Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, "Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel." And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Fourth Sunday of Advent: December 19, 2010

121910 7177 Crossing Worship

This week marks the fourth Sunday of Advent, a season that remembers the story of Christ's birth and anticipates His return. Sometimes it feels like the rough and noisy sounds and images that contain the empty sentimentalism of the season can overwhelm our thoughts and prevent us from turning our hopes and hearts to the advent of Christ. Henri J. M. Nouwen gives a word of encouragement in turning our attention back to Christ.
I keep expecting loud and impressive events to convince me and others of God's saving power...our temptation is to be distracted by them. When I have no eyes for the small signs of God's presence...I will always remain tempted to despair. The small child of Bethlehem, the unknown man of Nazareth, the rejected preacher, the naked man on the cross, he asks for my full attention. The work of salvation takes place in the midst of a world that continues to shout, scream and overwhelm us with its claims and promises.

(Advent & Christmas Wisdom From Henri J. M. Nouwen, p. 2)
And so this week, The Crossing entered into another week of waiting, watching and longing for Christ, our Emmanuel, so that we may "prepare a way" for Him in our hearts this Advent season.

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Hail to the Lord's Anointed
- Words: James Montgomery (1821), Music: Vito Aiuto (2008)

This hymn with a lilting new melody by pastor/musician Vito Aiuto (of The Welcome Wagon) helps us to celebrate the first Advent of Christ, the anointed Savior of world, while pointing us to His promised return.

Hail to the Lord’s anointed, great David’s greater Son!
Hail in the time appointed, His reign on earth begun!
He comes to break oppression, to set the captive free;
To take away transgression and rule in equity.

We also have The Welcome Wagon's CD in The Crossing's bookstore. It's well worth checking out.

121910 6985 Crossing Worship

Mark lead us in a congregational prayer and then we sang...

One Redeemer by David A. Cover, Christine Cover and Patrick Miller

God has sent a Redeemer, His Son Jesus Christ, to redeem sinners like us. He did not leave us alone and abandon us in our time of need. This is what Advent and the whole bible is about.

From start to end,
You are the "Amen!"
to Your promises,
Jesus, my soul's Savior,
the great story's One Redeemer.

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You Have Redeemed My Soul
by Don and Lori Chafer, Arranged by Page CXVI

"You Have Redeemed My Soul" was one of the first songs we sang when The Crossing started. Our friends, Page CXVI have revived the song with this wonderful new arrangement. The verse gives a poetic picture of a life before and after Christ.

I was a hungry child, a dried up river.
I was a burned out forest
and no one could do anything for me.
But You put food in my body, water in my dry bed,
and to my blackened branches
you brought the springtime green of new life
and nothing is impossible for You.

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Kermit Summerall lead us in a reading of John 1:1-14 which reminded us of the light of Christ which has pierced the darkness of this broken world and brought salvation for all who believe.

You Are the Light by Matthew Smith and Jeff Pardo (based in part on a hymn text by Charles Wesley)

In You Are the Light we ask Christ to illuminate our dark hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God.

Dark and cheerless is the morn
without Your hand to comfort me.
Joyless is the day's return
'til Your mercy's beams I see.
'Til they inward light impart,
Glad my eyes and warm my heart

121910 7164 Crossing Worship

We heard a call to confession based on John 3:19-21 followed by a time of silent confession.

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The Christ, Our Light by Martin Reardon

When all was dark and without dawn
You gave us Light, you sent your Son.
The Christ, the Christ, He shines, He shines
and drives all dark away, away.

121910 6965 Crossing Worship

Forever by Chris Tomlin

"Forever" was a great response to Dave's sermon this morning. The whole team worked on the "Advent" arrangement of the song which drew out the heart of the lyrics in a fresh way.

Give thanks to the Lord,
our God and King,
His love endures forever;
He is good, He is above all things,
His love endures forever;
Sing praise, sing praise.

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Music Team for December 19, 2010:

Carly Allen - bass guitar
Andrew Camp - guitars, mandolin and percussion
Mark Collum - vocals
David Cover - vocals, guitars and percussion
Scott Johnson - vocals, piano, acoustic guitar
Andrew Luley - drums
Kerry Maggard - keyboards
Kristen Pierce - vocals
Kermit Summerall - liturgist, percussion
Ethan Vizitei - vibraphone, percussion

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This week's music blog features photos by Gerik Parmele. For more information about music written for corporate worship by members of the music team visit The Crossing Music. You can also find us on Twitter and Facebook.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Is the Gospel Subservient to Ideology?

For over 30 years, Richard Cizik served as the Washington lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals. Cizik resigned in 2008 after openly supporting civil unions for homosexuals and revealing his vote for Barack Obama in the Virginia primary.

I find it interesting Cizik has since resurfaced, forming the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. I found my way to this new information concerning Cizik by way of a recent piece in Newsweek. You can find the article here. What really surprised me was the following quote about Cizik within a link from the aforementioned article;

“Cizik says he represents a tradition of evangelicalism going back to the beginning of the 20th century - to Francis Schaeffer and Carl Henry, evangelicals who were strictly orthodox, but advocated a broad engagement with the world.”

Why was I so surprised? Just this week, in a discussion with an acquaintance, I said what amounts to the very same thing when asked how my own Christianity influences my social and political views. I even conjured up the name of both Schaeffer and Henry. However, I would expect Cizik and I stand diametrically opposed on more than one societal issue.

The article from Newsweek which links to Cizik’s story seems to follow the typical pattern of modern journalism; surgically extract the mean and neatly differentiate all entities into polarized sections of “A” and “B”, “Black” and “White”, “Right” and “Left”. The problem is that most of us really are in the middle. The populous gravitates towards the mean, right?

So, given my apparent commonality with Mr. Cizik, my own conscious beckons me to choose for myself. Am I “A” or “B”? “Black” or “White”? “Right” or “Left”? I think too often we all fail to see the reality of continuums in individual thought and even more so in theological application. There have even been discussions in our own church recently which evoke the same passionate tendency to “divide and conquer”. Contributors to this blog are still appealing to our commonalities within the debate of an old vs. new earth interpretation of Genesis.

In the midst of the arguments, I can’t help but wonder if there really is room for variance in ones application of theological interpretation towards societal problems while maintaining biblical unity? With biblical unity being the ties that bind, instead of vice versa? I ask because it seems that whatever we are doing now doesn’t seem to be working! Modern Christian activism (both conservative and liberal) seems more polarizing today than it has ever been.

Let’s return to the Newsweek article. I think the author is correct in surmising the rising tide of a new Christian patriotism that Cizik and others are attempting to temper. Consider this quote from the article;

“The marriage between evangelicalism and patriotic nationalism is so strong that anybody who is raising questions about loyalty to the old, laissez-fair capitalist system is ex post facto unpatriotic, un-American, and by association non-Christian.”

As the ideological pendulum will inevitably sway, I hope pervasive movements such as this do not become a cancer in our churches as once again the gospel is drowned out by the loud voice of self-righteous moralism.

The bible teaches that through the gospel we are given freedom because it was for freedom that Christ set us free (Galatians 5:1). It would do us well to remember that includes freedom from ideology.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Gift Ideas

Since Christmas is almost here, I have two sure to win suggestions for men (or at least men who have the same interests that I do).

The first idea is the book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. Hillenbrand's first book was Seabiscuit which was about an unknown racehorse during the depression and was later made into a movie. In this new book she also uncovers an unknown athlete--Louis Zamperini.

Zamperini grew up in California and through an unlikely process discovered that he was a great runner. Because of his late start in training and his relatively young age he wasn't able to make the 1936 U.S. Olympic Team in his best event, which was the mile, and had to settle for running the 5,000. After competing in Berlin, Zamperini set his sights on being in Tokyo in 1940.

World War 2 changed his plans forcing the cancellation of the games and sending Zamperini into the military assigned as a bombardier on the new B-29. He eventually made it to Tokyo but not in the way he expected.

The story that follows is hard to believe. I could share many highlights about the book but the best way to read it is without knowing how the story unfolds. Let's just say that the subtitle gets it right describing the story as one of survival, resilience, and redemption. Near the end of the book, right when I thought the author was wrapping up the story and there can't be anymore surprises, there is another turn of events that I never saw coming.

The second idea is the recently released first 15 episodes of the ESPN 30 for 30 series on DVD. I think that the series started as a way for ESPN to celebrate their 30th anniversary. The self-proclaimed "sports leader" asked 30 well known film directors to choose a sports story from the "ESPN era" and then explore it through a short film.

While I've only seen a couple of these, that's kind of the point. There's a good chance that the man you are buying for hasn't seen them all either. And these little films are excellent mostly because they are about far more than the event they cover. The directors capture the personalities behind the story and explain the significance of what happened. Each director was given creative control of their own film and so each film has its own unique flavor.

My hunch is that Every Square Inch will be taking a bit of a break some time next week around the Christmas and New Year's holiday. We'll get things started back up after the first of the year. Have a great Christmas celebrating Christ's birth.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

God Loves to Reveal Himself Through Music

In my last blog I wrote about how God describes the kind of artist he uses to do his work—artists who are "filled with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship" (Exodus 35:31). This is the kind of artist God values and uses to build his kingdom, and therefore it is the kind of artists the church must be committed to attracting and developing.

I would suggest that if you have not yet read that previous blog post, that you do so by clicking here.

What I’d like to now discuss is how God uses musical artists to reveal himself in a special way in the hearts and souls and minds of his people. There are numerous examples of this in the Bible.

In the Old Testament, one of the primary roles the priests (also called “Levites”) carried out was their mediating the presence of God for his people in worship. And a major way in which they did that was through their music.

For example, when King David (one of the Bible’s premier musicians and songwriters) wanted to draw himself and his people in worship before the Lord, it says, “David told the leaders of the Levites to appoint their fellow Levites as musicians to make a joyful sound with musical instruments: lyres, harps and cymbals” (1 Chronicles 15:16). A lyre was kind of like a little guitar. And those who mediated the presence of God needed to be skilled with a wide variety of stringed instruments, wind instruments, and percussion instruments. This is how God wants his people to worship him.

When the temple was finally completed and dedicated to God for his glory, it was the musicians that mediated the special presence of God so much that God’s Spirit filled the temple in a visible way.

2 Chronicles 5:12-14 (TNIV)
“All the Levites who were musicians …stood on the east side of the altar, dressed in fine linen and playing cymbals, harps and lyres. They were accompanied by 120 priests sounding trumpets. The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang: ‘He is good; his love endures forever.’ Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God.”

The Bible’s longest book is a collection of songs (the Psalms). That’s not insignificant. And the very last song in the Psalms urges us to continue with the music.

Psalms 150:3–6 ESV
“Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!”

So we can say that one enormous function of any church is to use a wide variety of musical instruments and styles in order to keep worship fresh.

Sometimes the best worship is simply through listening to a well-performed instrumental.

2 Chronicles 29:28 (TNIV)
“The whole assembly bowed in worship, while the musicians played and the trumpets sounded.”

This was true of the prophet Elisha, who needed to listen to a skilled musician in order to allow the Holy Spirit to touch his heart and mind in a special way before he could prophesy. So Elisha had to make a request…

2 Kings 3:15 (TNIV)
“’But now bring me a harpist.’ While the harpist was playing, the hand of the Lord came on Elisha.”

We saw the power of well-played music when a young, musically talented, Spirit-filled David was brought into the presence of King Saul. When Saul was being tormented by an evil spirit, the Bible says that “David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him” (1 Samuel 16:23 TNIV).

Of course, it was NOT that the lyre was a magical instrument. It was that David was “filled with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship,” and so God’s Spirit used him to touch the soul of Saul in a spiritually powerful way.

There’s a power in Spirit-filled and skilled musicians and vocalists to touch our hearts and souls in ways mere words cannot do. And the Holy Spirit is the one who is in our midst in a special way when he inspires his musicians and vocalists in song.

As Nathan pointed out in his blog last week, there is no style of music prescribed for us in the Bible. But what IS prescribed is variety: a wide variety of instruments and a constant flow of new songs. In the Bible, there are nine instances where God commands or speaks of His people singing a “new song” (Ps 33:3, 40:3, 96:1, 98:1, 144:9, 149:1; Is 42:10; Rev 5:9, 14:3).

These many varied instruments and songs are not some kind of cacophony rising in a chaotic, unskilled, unplanned, unprepared manner. They are to be prepared and performed with thoughtfulness and skill.

Psalms 33:3 ESV
“Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.”

Think about it—God wants his church to understand and carry out the priority of attracting and developing and having skilled musicians and vocalists and songwriters so that his people can worship him in a fresh and Spirit-filled way.

We’re told that the angels sang together when God created the earth (Job 38:7). And the Book of Revelation shows us angels and other heavenly beings playing instruments and singing the gospel before the throne of God (Revelation 5:8-12).

The Bible also tells us that God himself loves to sing—that God is a singing God.

Zephaniah 3:17 ESV
“The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”

The night before Jesus was crucified, he sang a hymn with his disciples according to Matthew 26:30. And Ephesians 5:18-19 indicates that the Holy Spirit inspires songs in believers’ hearts as he fills them.

As Bob Kauflin writes in his excellent book on worship entitled, “Worship Matters”—
“…God gave us music to deepen and develop our relationship with him. The Father sings, the Son sings, and the Spirit sings. How can we keep from singing?” (p. 99).

It’s clear all throughout the Bible that part of being created in the image of God is to be beings who express our deepest hearts through song, and that we therefore sense God’s presence in a more profound way when we gather to sing and listen to others sing and play in worship. That’s why churches need to take very seriously the call and the challenge of raising up and investing in musicians and vocalists and songwriters who are “filled with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship.”

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Watch Your Language

Some cultural change comes like a lightning strike, leaving the world instantly and irrevocably altered. Think 9/11. In one morning, America (and indeed the Western world) was brought face to face with a “new normal,” a change in so many facets of life.

More often, however, such change happens slowly, incrementally, and rather inconspicuously. This kind of change can easily be overlooked unless, for one reason or another, something spurs us to take a step back and consider just how different things have become. If a man looks at himself in the mirror everyday, he may never be struck by the fact that he’s gained fifteen pounds in the last year. Looking at last year’s Christmas photo, on the other hand, might make the issue much more vivid.

Thomas Kidd, an associate professor of history at Baylor University and Senior Fellow of its Institute for Studies of Religion, provided a similar opportunity this morning in USA Today’s weekly “On Religion” column. Entitled “Watch Your Language, Mr. President,” the piece draws attention to President Obama’s avoidance of religious references central to our nation’s history and culture. Kidd explains:
Earlier this fall, President Obama repeatedly misquoted the Declaration of Independence, saying "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that each of us are endowed with certain inalienable rights." Why leave out the "Creator"? Doing this once would have gathered no notice. Twice, and the grumbling began. Three times, and people began to wonder whether he had made a conscious decision to reword this founding document, presumably for the purpose of political correctness.

Another misstep came in his speech in Indonesia a month ago, when Obama told the audience that America's national motto was E Pluribus Unum, or "Out of Many, One." Of course, this is incorrect: the national motto, since 1956, is "In God We Trust." (Didn't they teach that at Harvard?) This error would be a minor problem in isolation, but it continues to fuel the growing concern that this president is recasting the ways in which these capacious religious principles have stood at the heart of our national identity.
It’s instructive to compare President Obama’s course, be it intentional or not, with one of his famous predecessors. If you’ve been to the Lincoln Memorial, you’ve probably read these words:
Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
Those words, taken from President Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, are literally engraved onto the wall of the Memorial. Much apparently has changed in the intervening years.

Of course, change isn’t always bad. In the immortal (?) words of Billy Joel, “The good ol’ days weren’t always so good and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems” (ironically taken, given the present discussion, from a song called “Keepin’ the Faith”). So is it a problem to steer away from these religious references? Kidd continues:
So is the president's misuse of our God-centered dictums a big deal, or is it just one more example of his enemies piling on when they see a chance? Given our conflicts over America's religious identity, it really is a big deal. First of all, it is important for President Obama not to repeatedly misquote the Declaration of Independence and to incorrectly identify the national motto. But more substantially, his mistakes send a message—hopefully unintentional—that the president wishes to define America as a secular nation.

In 2009, the president generated another controversy when he said that Americans "do not consider [them]selves a Christian nation." To the extent that this means we are not an exclusively Christian nation, he is correct. Religious liberty in America has always sheltered non-Christians under its protective shield. But it is quite another thing to construe America as a secular nation, in which religion—or principles of faith—will have no role in the public sphere. A secular nation is hardly what the Founders intended. Religious principles have always undergirded the nation, and none more so than equality by God's creation.

The notion that "all men are created equal, (and) that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights," is indispensible to understanding American history. It is not susceptible to casual modification by the president, or anyone else. This idea assures us that our equality comes from our common standing before God, our Creator, who has endowed us with rights that no one can justly violate.
I agree with Kidd and would amplify the point along the following lines. The idea of basic human rights and equality of worth originating from God is not merely indispensable to understanding our history. In other words, it’s not just a matter of appreciating how we got to this point as a nation. No, if we remove God from the equation, how do we consistently account for the concepts of human rights and equality of worth at all?

Notice I said “consistently account.” We could of course appeal to public opinion about what constitute rights and so forth. But public opinion changes. What we really need is some standard, something that stands rooted, that can tell us if such opinion has changed for the better or worse. But where does such a standard exist apart from a transcendent God and his constant character?

As the tide of secularism has risen, many people have pointed out that there is nothing behind its proverbial curtain. One day those who believe they’re doing a favor for human rights by advocating secularism may just realize they’re sawing at the very branch on which they stand.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Silencing Civil Discourse in the iPhone App Store

There is a widespread notion floating around in our Western culture that we should endeavor to admire the works of others completely apart from any consideration of the moral and/or ethical disposition of that person (or persons, or organization, or whatever). "Judge the work itself...not the creator," or so the thinking goes.

While I can certainly appreciate the noble sentiment behind such a philosophy, I have admittedly not always been able to fully accomplish this particular feat in real life. Who someone is, and what they stand for, can noticeably color my perception of his or her work, whether for good or bad. (I suspect this is at least partially true for just about everyone...I am simply trying to be honest about it.)

For example, I will confess that I previously enjoyed listening to the music of Elton John far more than I do today. Although he has been an avowed homosexual for most of his life, I was totally OK with setting aside his lifestyle decisions when listening to his songs. I could still readily appreciate his obvious musical talent...and invest in it. Indeed, my vinyl record collection at home is chockful of his albums. It was only after John began attacking religion (and Christianity in particular) that my enthusiasm for his recordings began to wane. No, I did not launch a boycott. No, I did not remove his albums and CDs from my shelves and angrily burn them. None of that "crazy Christian reactionary" stuff. Truth be told, I still really like a lot of his work from the 1970s, "Tumbleweed Connection" in particular, and yet I note with interest that his stuff doesn't show up on my turntable or in my iPod as much as it used to.

I also found my great enthusiasm for old Woody Allen comedies ("Love and Death," "Take the Money and Run," several others) negatively affected by the news surrounding his sexual affair and subsequent marriage to his stepdaughter Soon Yi Previn. With all due respect to his prodigious talent at filmmaking, it's just really difficult these days to push past "the creepiness factor" and assess his work solely on its own merit. (Easier by far just to pick a different movie, right?) I also was a huge fan of Mel Gibson back in his "Road Warrior" days, and greatly impressed with the courage he showed in bringing "The Passion of the Christ" to movie theaters. Gibson's subsequent decline into drunken bouts of anti-Semitism, extramarital affairs, divorce, and horrifically-ugly custody battles has dimmed that appreciation somewhat, too.

Some might dismissively label what I am confessing as "prejudice," but after much soul-searching I honestly don't think that's right. The "adjustments" I'm trying to describe are more along the lines of an unwanted change of heart, more akin to the sinking feeling one gets when reading unexpected bad news about a friend or coworker with whom one enjoys a cordial relationship. The latest unexpected entry into the pantheon of Feeling Somewhat Betrayed for Having Previously Liked Somebody is Apple Computer. (And this one really bums me out, to be honest.)

If you haven't yet read about it, Apple recently caved in to pressure from various organizations and removed The Manhattan Declaration from its iPhone app store. Ostensibly that particular app was pulled for being "offensive to large groups of people." I've read (and signed) The Manhattan Declaration. I invite you to read the document and decide for yourself. There is nothing at all that could seriously be classified as "hate speech" in it. Had there been any language that failed to recognize the intrinsic worth of each and every human being, I would never have signed it. Sadly, it just seems like we have arrived at a point in our culture when saying "Look, I just disagree with you" is considered one and the same with "I am an intolerant religious zealot." But this contentious attitude is not at all accurate nor fair; it is instead an ill-informed response to a cartoon caricature of faith.

I have been using and enjoying Apple products ever since the mid-1980s, when they first launched. I still do. Just this past year I purchased yet another Apple laptop for my college-bound daughter. If I were to walk around the house and count up the number of iPods, laptops and other Apple products in my home, we would hit double-digits without breaking a sweat. (We have several children, just FYI.) The kids clearly prefer Apple products, so do we, and I have no plans to stop buying Apple anytime soon. Still, I have to confess that it gets harder to get psyched up for our next Apple purchase in the face of astonishing corporate cowardice and an unwillingness to protect free speech, or more specifically, an unwillingness to protect the free speech of Christians.

Chuck Colson is understandably upset at Apple's pulling The Manhattan Declaration app without notification or anything remotely resembling "due process." We should all be upset that approximately 8,000 activists are able to effectively silence another organization with differing views. I invite you to read Colson's op-ed piece in the San Francisco Examiner and decide for yourself how you feel about this issue. You can read more about The Manhattan Declaration at their website and you can also view a fairly amusing video which was also posted to The Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

As you do your own Google searches and sift through the press releases, statements and counter-statements, I'd like to ask you to consider how this episode in the corporate life of Apple would have been viewed had the shoe been on the other foot, i.e. if Apple had caved to pressure from a half-million signers of The Manhattan Declaration and removed iPhone apps that were pro-Islam, pro-abortion or pro-whatever? I wonder how that might have played out in the media?

We should all be alarmed whenever the cause of civil discourse is short-circuited and a few very loud, very angry people are permitted to silence the opposition. We should be terrified when we consider "what's next" on the agenda for those who achieved this "victory" by bullying the powers that be at Apple. Thus emboldened, does anyone really think that the removal of one iPhone app marks the end of the campaign to silence people of faith? Seems unlikely.

But this sort of thing is nothing new for the Christian, of course. The Bible has very helpfully provided us with at least two very clear examples of what happens when people decide that it is time to silence someone speaking truth. To get some idea of the heart attitudes that can be revealed whenever the cause of Christ becomes inconvenient, we merely need to read about Jesus' inaugural sermon in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30) or the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7.

For my part, I am perfectly content to have every other worldview given a fair hearing in today's marketplace of ideas; such is my confidence in the truth claims of Christianity and in the sovereignty of God to change hearts for those He elects to eternal life. And in case you are wondering, this blog was written on a MacBook Pro; yes, I'm going to keep using Apple products and trust that Apple will soon recognize how dangerous it is to allow any group with an agenda to step all over the reasoned discourse of another. It really doesn't matter whether or not you or I fully agree with the tenets of The Manhattan Declaration; the bigger concern here is that thoughtful, respectful statements of opinion can be so quickly shouted down and a giant "culture maker" such as Apple so thoroughly intimidated into compliance.
2 Timothy 4:1-5 (ESV, emphasis mine)
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Third Sunday of Advent: December 12, 2010

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This week marks the third Sunday in the season of Advent, a season that remembers the story of Christ's birth and anticipates his return. In his Advent devotional "Preparing for Jesus", Walter Wangerin writes,
"The light of Christmas shines into our darkness! We should be the walking dead. What we deserve, in fact, is the absence of God - a cold and cosmic isolation - for this is our sin, that we chose to be gods in the place of God. In the day we disobeyed we began to die. We should, therefore, be dwelling in a land of deep darkness, mistrust, hatreds, hopelessness, finality and death.

But here in a child comes God, the light! And light in darkness in a frightening thing. ("People loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" John 3:19.) O my friend, a self-examination both humble and true must cause us to tremble before the living God... But even as we feared, so do we rejoice when we hear the light say, "Don't be afraid. I have not come to punish but to give you life...I am the Savior born for you."
And so our observance of Advent provides an opportunity for such "humble self-examination" as we reflect on our deep need for Jesus Christ, the Light of world to come and pierce the darkness of our souls and world to bring newness, life and hope.

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Prepare a Place by Michael W. Smith and Christine Dente

Prepare a place while you're waiting.
Prepare a place for the coming One.
Prepare a place and be patient,
while you wait for the coming One.

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Joyous Light - Words by unknown author, late 3rd -early century 4th century; translated by John Keble, 1834, alt. Arrangement and additional chorus by Chris Tomlin, David Crowder and Louie Giglio.

Joyous Light was adapted from the Phos Hilaron, one of the earliest known hymns in Christendom. The Phos Hilaron was sung by the early church to celebrate the Risen Lord.

Hail Gladdening Light, sun so bright
Jesus Christ, end of night, alleluia.
Hail Gladdening Light, such joyous Light
O Brilliant Star, forever shine, alleluia.

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The Christ, Our Light by Martin Reardon

Throughout the Bible we see that God uses the metaphor of light to describe his character, particularly in regards to His Son, the Light of the World. With this new song we remember the darkness of our hearts apart from Christ.

When all was dark and without dawn
You gave us Light, you sent your Son.
The Christ, the Christ, He shines, He shines
and drives all dark away, away.

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We also read Isaiah 60:1-5, 19-22 together.

You Are the Light by Matthew Smith and Jeff Pardo (based in part on a hymn text by Charles Wesley)

In You Are the Light we ask Christ to illuminate our dark hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God.

Dark and cheerless is the morn
without Your hand to comfort me.
Joyless is the day's return
'til Your mercy's beams I see.
'Til they inward light impart,
Glad my eyes and warm my heart

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We returned to Isaiah 60:1-3 with a confession (from the Worship Sourcebook) which helped us to see areas where we have failed to see and acknowledge Christ in our lives.

Come, Lord Jesus (An Advent Song)

In Christ's death and resurrection, death has been swallowed up in victory and we live with the hope of His second Advent.

You will flood our souls with light,
Bring the broken world to rights,
as You swallow death with life,
we will be singing,
Come Lord Jesus, come redeem us
we will wait for You.

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O Come, O Come Emmanuel - LM 88 88 (Veni Emmanuel) / Words: Latin, 12th Cent; tr. composite / Tune: "Processionale:, 15th cent. ; adpt. Thomas Helmore, 1854

O come, Thou Dayspring come and cheer
Our spirit’s by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel!

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Savior of the Nations, Come - Words: Ambrose (4th Century), Martin Luther (1523), Traditional: Calvin Seerveld (1984), Music: Enchiridia, Erfurt (1524), Arr. Bruce Benedict (2009)

We participated in communion together and sang Savior of the Nations, Come arranged by Bruce Benedict (a great musician and an acquaintance of mine). Bruce himself shares some thoughts on the hymn in his blog, Cardiphonia, that give some insight into its history and meaning.
Savior of the Nations, Come is a fairly obscure but ancient hymn that beautifully reflects the themes of advent as well as reinforcing the tenants of the Apostles Creed, the humility of Christ (Phil 2), His Intercession, and the gloried anticipation of his expected return.

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Joy to the World - Words: Isaac Watts (1719) (based on Psalm 98), Music: ANTIOCH C.M.rep. George Frederick Handel (1742), Arr. Lowell Mason (1836)

This favorite Christmas hymn is based on Psalm 98 where all of creation is invited to join together in praise and anticipation of the coming Messiah.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Music Team for December 12, 2010:

Carly Allen - bass
Taylor Bonderer - Violin
Mark Collum - vocals
David Cover - percussion
Rhett Johnson - acoustic guitar
Scott Johnson - vocals, acoustic guitar
Shane Murphy - cello
Kristen Pierce - vocals
Aliston Tatum - violin

This week's blog features photos by Scott Myers. For more information about music written by members of the music team for corporate worship visit The Crossing Music. You can also find us on Twitter and Facebook.

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