In the Present Tense

December 19, 2009

I love Christmas music

Filed under: Uncategorized — edoutlook @ 5:46 am

I cannot remember a time when I did not revel in Christmas music. Over the years I have sung in and directed choirs, played in bands and orchestras, and even arranged music for choir and brass quintet (in which I played the French Horn)– and my favorite pieces always include multiple Christmas carols.

One thing I love is that Christmas has been around so long as  a celebration, , and has been celebrated by so many cultures, that we have a great variety of Christmans music. Music that sounds like a medieval French dance (the word “carol” means “to dance in a circle”) “Bring a Torch Jeanette Isabella;” or plainsong “O Come, O come, Immanuel.”

It seems like every year I learn or hear a new carol, from a new place and/or time. I remember the first time I head the Ukranian Bell Carol as a little boy. And when I heard the lovely “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly” Polish carol.  I just never get enough Christmas music. Not too long ago, I heard this new (to me) Nigerian Christmas Carol.

I hope you could get past the drums in the beginning to hear the whole thing out, because the words and the music are profoundly beautiful. One can imagine the Africans who originated the carol singing about their King:

We are glad we have a Father we can trust,

We are glad we have a Father to rely on,

The whole thing is very African– and very reverent. Now, it’s not the same way my pigmentally challenged ancestors would have expressed it– because they weren’t from that culture. But after seeing this, I was profoundly moved– and enriched. How blessed I am to live in a time and place where I have access to all these different expressions of joy over the birth of Jesus!

And if we can appreciate carols from different cultures, can we not also respect other expressions of worship?

It strikes me as I listen to carols from different cultures how different they are, and yet how profoundly they express the same emotions and sentiments, hopes and aspirations that I have. And rather than being threatened by their differences, I am enriched.

Why cannot we Christians see all the varied expressions of worship as facets on the same beautiful diamond, as expressions that we would not have thought of, but still true and beautiful? Will not the great choir on the Sea of Glass be made up of people from every tribe, and tongue, and people? And will they not all sing their own unique song of gratitude to the Lamb as they throw their crowns at His feet?

That’s how I see Christmas. I see it as a preview of that joyous throng on the Sea of Glass, celebrating God’s great gift to all.

December 12, 2009

Needs to be Killed

Filed under: Culture and the Bible, Present Truth — edoutlook @ 4:44 am

This discussion of needs, and my friend Martin’s comments, brought to mind one of my favorite stories. Before telling it, I want to preface it by pointing out that there we spend a great deal of time meeting the ‘felt needs’ of people who give big offerings, who sit on boards and executive committees–the older brothers who don’t rejoice when prodigals return.

But I know the person who asked the original question. She is a young adult, a young mother, like many I hear from, whose church consists too often of pharisse’s prayers and preaching to the choir. “We are thankful we have the Truth, and are not as other men and women,” instead of “I struggle to understand and conform to God’s will, and here’s what I’m going through.”

Young adults and people at large don’t need another sermon on vegetarianism, the need to find spiritual meat–food for their souls. And too many churches serve up either pablum or gruel, because “That’s the kind of preaching we had when I was young.”

Anyway, I want to share a story from Jack Hayford, who pastors a church in California, and the author of the song “Majesty.” I heard Jack tell this story myself, and I loved it immediately.

One day an elder came to Hayford and said, “Pastor, some people are uncomfortable because you urge them to lift up their hands when they worship and pray.”

“Well,” Hayford replied, “I don’t urge them to do anything. I do recommend it because it’s scriptural.”

“I have to tell, you, Pastor,” the elder said, sorrowfully, “it really hurts their pride when you say that.”

“Oh!” Hayford said, surprised and shocked. “I never meant to do that. I never want to hurt anyone’s pride.” He paused for moment, and said, “I meant to kill it outright!”

There’s far too much pious posturing and ostentatious humility in our congregations, because people think they need to be regarded as pious and humble. And those are needs to be killed outright.

December 9, 2009

Needs? Whose Needs?

Filed under: Uncategorized — edoutlook @ 4:32 am

Last time, I began to address the question, “What’s more important, a church that meets your needs or one of the proper denomination?”

I reiterate that the mere fact that so many should ask this question should cause every existing congregation to do some real soul-searching. And, that I have asked this question myself. My answer was to plant a new congregation.

But let me share something with you. When we originally planted the congregation, my purpose was to design a polity and a service that would be appealing to my childen’s generation.

Now, before the silly criticism starts, we didn’t “dumb down” our basic doctrines or theology. In fact, few congregations I have attended come anywhere near the theological content that we commonly experience. No, it was never about changing our beliefs, but about making them practical and accessible to people today.

Every church plant goes through growing pains. This was made clear by Bob Logan at Seeds ’96 (the first of eight I attended). Ours was no exception. And one significant cause for disaffection concerned whose needs would be made foremost. A number of our older members, dissatisfied with their previous congregation, were looking for a congregation that would put their needs foremost.

And, frankly, this is the question that keeps so many of our congregations from becoming vibrant and effective. And why so many of our young adults leave as soon as they can.

Many, many of our older members care only for their own spiritual comfort. I have seen this over and over again. One older mother (her children are my age), after lamenting to me about her children who do not attend  any church any more, then went on a rant about music and contemporary worship. I say it was a rant, but I must tell you I have a great deal of affection for this woman. Anyway, when the opportunity presented itself, I asked, “Would you be willing to be a little uncomfortable with the music, if that would help your children want to return to church.”

She thought for a moment before saying, “No.”

In our church plant, we did not ‘involve’ the young people. We gave them leadership. Did they always lead in ways and in directions that I felt comfortable with? No, they did not. Were they always right? No one is perfect– even older folks.  Have I grown spiritually and been blessed by their leadership? Yes, overwhelmingly.

Without reservation, I can say that I have grown more from the experiments and new directions from their leadership than I did in my entire life previously.

Somehow, older members have gotten the idea that we know exactly how God wants us to worship Him. Where could that idea have come from? For so many, they cannot tell the difference between what pleases God, and nostalgia for a past that never existed. They tell us of how much better things were back when–usually when they were much younger.

I always wondered, if things were so perfect in the past, why weren’t we all translated and taken to heaven? Obviously, because they weren’t that perfect.

What I have discovered is something very simple. If your religion doesn’t appeal to young adults and children, it won’t appeal to very many outside your church, either.

As I have argued in previous posts, for example here, the Advent movement is the movement of Present Truth, and if we aren’t speaking in terms which reach the present generation, we aren’t true to our spiritual heritage.

December 6, 2009

Needs vs. Denomination

Filed under: Present Truth — edoutlook @ 8:19 pm

Just recently I saw a young member ask this question: What’s more important, a church that meets your needs or one of the proper denomination?

There are a lot of different ways to address that question, but the first thing that comes to my mind is: What a condemnation of our denomination, that such a question needs to be asked! If there was ever a question that demanded soul-searching on the part of our church, this has to be it.

And yet. . . . and yet, I have to say, I asked that question myself years ago. My answer will not satisfy every one, neither do I pretend that it is the only or best answer.

Legend has it that Alexander the Great was confronted with a supposedly intractable problem, to untie an incredibly complex knot. No one had been able to do it, and some thought that whoever could untie the knot would rule the world. Alexander solved the problem but cutting the knot with his sword.

I mention that because sometimes the way to solve a problem is to reject the assumptions that are inherent in it. What I did was plant a new congregation.  To be honest, I wouldn’t have even attempted it, if it hadn’t been for how I defined “meeting my needs.” As for myself, I could survive without the support of a local congregation. Indeed, for a period of 14 months, I ceased to attend church because of the dysfunctions in what was then my local congregation. It was a place which not only did not promote spiritual growth in its members– it actively destroyed them.

My needs were not being met, but that was not what concerned me. I could not see any reason why my children would desire to be a part of such a church. That need, the need to pass on a faith worth living, to have a church that my children and grandchildren would choose to belong to, became an imperative for me.  That, and only that, could have motivated me to take on the task of planting a congregation.

But that was my answer, in effect, not to choose between a church that met my needs or one of a different denomination, but to cut the knot, and plant a congregation that would meet the needs I had identified, and remain in the denomination.

I do not pretend that is the answer for every one. But that is the first part of my answer to the question posed in the beginning: Define exactly what your needs are.

I’ll have more on this in my next blog.

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