Sunday, November 27, 2011

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Plus La Change

"Plus la change, plus la même chose." The more things change, the more they stay the same.
"What has been will be again,
 what has been done will be done again;
 there is nothing new under the sun."
          (The Teacher, Ecclesiastes 1:9)
Y'know, sometimes this can be bad news, but sometimes it can also be good news.

The usual connotation of these timeless expressions is to the negative -- a sort of almost fatalistic resignation to "that's just the way it is" (cue the Bruce Hornsby song of the same name, all ye who willingly admit-eth thine age).

But what if there being nothing new under the sun could actually be helpful, healing, and reassuring?

Consider the "dark side" that we find in Acts chapter six:
Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.

Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”

So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin.  They produced false witnesses... (Acts 6:8-14)
This passage always amazes me -- these are the spiritual leaders among the people, who are resorting to deception and manipulation to get their way. It's mind-boggling in its audacity and the inability of these leaders to recognize how completely incompatible their actions are with their supposed beliefs.

And sadly, there is nothing new under the sun in this regard, either. The methodology of today's leaders who should know better, as those who claim to follow Christ, is often no different. Agendas coupled with power are dangerous things, and I've seen and heard far too many examples of deceit and manipulation being employed by "spiritual leaders" to destroy good people who got in their way.

But there is some very good news, found in the same story, where "nothing new under the sun" is a source of life, not death:
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:59-60)
Stephen is paraphrasing His Lord and Master's words, uttered during Jesus' own death on the cross.

Remember what Jesus taught His disciples about life in the Kingdom? "But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:44-45)

Jesus did this very thing on the cross, when He prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34) And in the end, He trusted Himself into the hands of His Father (Luke 23:46).

Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian church, was following the teachings and example of Jesus, while he was being murdered. He forgave them, and he entrusted his life to his Father.

When it comes to the path of healing and recovery, there is nothing new under the sun.

Jesus taught and modeled it.

Stephen got it, and did it.

And we have the same opportunity: forgive, and entrust ourselves to our Father.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Perchance to Dream...

Now those memories come back to haunt me;
They haunt me like a curse.
Is a dream a lie if it don't come true?
Or is it something worse?

(Bruce Springsteen, The River)

Dreams aren't necessarily destinations.

Nor are they synonymous with road maps. Or game plans. Or five year strategic projections.

Dreams are more like a lit match being applied to a fuse.

Consider some of the more well-known dreamers in the Bible.

Abraham, who was given a dream of becoming a mighty nation. Who would have thought all he'd have to show, at life's end, would be one boy.

Joseph: now here's a guy whose dreams were accurate. Except that he never would have figured how many years of prison would be part of their fulfillment.

Paul the Apostle: you have to feel some empathy for a man who saw Jesus in a vision (right after getting knocked off his ass), and Jesus informs him how much he is going to suffer (Acts 9:15-16)

Maybe we focus too much on the dream itself, assuming that (A) all will be smooth sailing of joyous fulfillment, and (B) that we already know just how it will turn out.

And, of course, we fail to take into account the journey between the dream's inception and its fulfillment.

The blisters, abrasions, aching fingers and hours of practice before the guitarist is worth listening to.

The years of self-discipline, denial, and harsh physical training before the athlete is ready for the Olympics.

The long hours, sleepless nights, and School of Hard Knocks lessons before something resembling Wisdom begins to be formed within.

The shipwrecks, beatings, stonings, and imprisonment that Paul endured in fulfilling his calling, his dream, his mission.

Frustrated dreamers, longing to see the actualization of what they've seen in their dreams, are also in training through the School of Hard Knocks. We dare not lose sight of this, when the going gets tough. But we are in good company. Lots of good company.
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Crazy-Makin' Music

So, what's the state of the union, when speaking about worship music?

According to my very-talented son, the hottest and most impactful worship music these days was written at a minimum of 200-300 years ago.

That's right, I'm talking about old hymns.

Because the younger generation has finally gotten fed up with the trite and sappy lyrics of most modern day worship ditties.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I sat in a church service and felt enormous empathy mixed with pity for the worship team, sentenced to doing Trading My Sorrows for the gazillionth time.

It's just a strange song, from the weird lyrical mix of an encouraging bit of Scripture awkwardly coupled with trite prosperity-mentality, followed by the mind-numbing mantra of "yes, yes, yes" ad infinitum.

I'm always surprised when non-charismatic churches do this song. Don't they realize that what they're singing doesn't fit their beliefs?

I know some name-it-and-claim-it people who refuse to sing Blessed be the Name of the Lord because it contains the lines
You give and take away
You give and take way
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name
even though it's from the Bible (Job 1:20-22). They hate this song because, in their worldview, God never takes away, He only gives (if your speaking in faith is up to par, of course). I don't agree with their theology, but at least they're thinking about what they're singing.

Another song -- which I actually really like -- that doesn't make a lot of sense is The Stand by Hillsong. It's musically powerful, and the ending chorus is a great lyric of surrender to His Lordship. But what's with that line "my soul now to stand"? It's awkward even as a single sentence in English, and it makes zero sense thematically with the lines before it.
Personally, I love singing the song in Spanish, because the line has been translated as "I come to You". ¡Vive México! :)
Full disclosure, here: I've also been guilty over the years of leading some songs during worship that I am now embarrassed to admit. Anyone remember Undignified? (insert sheepish expression here)

But I am impressed and encouraged to see that people like my son and his friends, and also the worship leaders at the church we attend, have added a healthy helping of older hymns of the faith -- with great new musical arrangements -- to their repertoire of worship.

One of the things that didn't come back from Mexico with me is my singing voice. Even just as a member of the congregation, my attempts at singing always degenerate into fits of coughing. So while I still enjoy the worship, I am more aware of the words of the songs than ever, from the different perspective of a non-singing participant.

So while I'm thankful for the thoughtful and creative song-writers of today, like Phil Wickham and Chris Tomlin (although I hope the trend of power-pop-praise gets tempered with some reflection and transcendence), I'm also thrilled to see the renewed interest in the old hymns.

Friday, November 11, 2011

I Didn't Forget

But sometimes, it takes a few poppies to bring it back to mind.

Wendy and I had the privilege of seeing one of our life-long dreams come true last year: we spent nine incredible days touring around Scotland. It was a 25th wedding anniversary gift from my parents, and it was all the more memorable because they came with us, celebrating their 50th anniversary.

I've known, as far back as I can remember, that my great-grandfather died in combat during the first World War. I've seen pictures of him in his uniform, with his regiment before they were deployed, and also of his grave-site.

But somehow, visiting the Scottish War Memorial in Edinburgh Castle, and being able to look in the very large books commemorating those who were killed while fighting for freedoms that I all-too-often take for granted, and seeing his name -- David Lennox McAlpine -- made it somehow more real for me.

And the usual noise of tourist chatter that you could hear all around Edinburgh Castle was hushed to almost complete silence inside the Memorial building. The gravity of the size of the monument, and the sheer number of names -- even though only one had any personal significance to me -- was powerful.

Lest we forget.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Post-Charismatic Finale

It's amazing how quickly time can go by. It is beyond surreal to think that it was only five years ago, in 2006, when Post-Charismatic debuted on this blog as a sprawling sub-section of the site.

It didn't take long for word to spread through greater blogdom, and my email inbox was soon bursting with responses, and the forum Brother Maynard kindly set up for the site was equally busy.

I was given the privilege of writing the cover story for an issue of Next Wave.

And then Kingsway Communications contacted me about publishing it as a book. At first, I thought the email was possibly a digital version of a prank phone call. But it turned out to be legit.

And the next thing I knew, I was up to my eyeballs in the new experience of becoming a published author.

Post-Charismatic was released as a book in 2008. I was thrilled and humbled to receive such positive responses from a wide variety of people, including Bishop Todd Hunter, Dr. Winn Griffin, Nigel Wright (Principal, Spurgeon's College London), Frank Viola, and Stephen Cave of the Evangelical Alliance in Ireland.

But all good things come to an end, as they say, and the same is true of Post-Charismatic. There are still used copies available here and there online, but the original publishing run will end soon.

To be honest, it feels just a little weird to know Post-Charismatic will go off-line, but at the same time, I'm very grateful for its impact during its three year print run.

Many people from around the world took the time to write and share a part of their journey with me. And for that, I am truly grateful. It was an honor to hear your stories, and as a writer, there is no greater reward than knowing something you have written has been used by God in the lives of others.