Monthly Mix CD: March Loves Sabzimentals

March 31, 2012 at 6:44 pm

So, I decided that in 2012, I would make and give away one mix CD/month. I love the idea until it gets to the end of each month and I remember that i forgot to do that month’s mix! So here we are, with March quickly closing out and I just realized that I haven’t posted this month’s mix. It’s one that I’ve actually been excited about.

A few months ago, now, I discovered a DJ/Producer who goes by the name Sabzi. Sabzi is the production duo of underground hip hop sensation The Blue Scholars. I’ve been listening to Sabzi’s instrumental beat tapes a lot lately while I study and write, so that’s what I’m going to pass along your way this month. I can’t even necessarily say these are some of my “favorite” tracks because everytime I listen to his stuff I come away with new favorite tracks. So, if I were to re-make this mix next month (which I won’t), it would probably look pretty different. So here’s a version of my “Sabzimentals” mix:

 

  • Download January’s monthly mix: “Skinned Alive”.
  • Download February’s monthly mix: “Raintermentals”.
  • Download March’s monthly mix: “Sabzimentals”.

Humble Beast In The Spotlight

March 28, 2012 at 9:38 am

I don’t know that I’ve ever put a link here from the 700 Club, but there’s a time for everything, I suppose. I’m not a huge fan of hip hop, though I do appreciate a lot of it and I’m not a big fan of “Christian” music, but one of my favorite things happening right now in music is the Humble Beast label out of Portland, OR and not just because my friend Foreknown is included.

700 Club Interactive recently profiled the label and I wanted to share it with you. Here is the bulk of the profile (I couldn’t find a better edited clip and I didn’t feel like posting the whole 30 minute episode):

 



Everything (Jesus) Is Amazing And Nobody’s Happy

March 26, 2012 at 10:36 am



By now I’m sure that most of you have seen the clip of Louis CK appearing on Conan in which he wonders if it might be better, at least in the longrun, if our society collapsed and we all went back to donkeys with bags hanging over their sides. He goes on to explain: we are, perhaps the most spoiled generation in history.

Easter is coming and I’ve been thinking about Louis CK’s clip in a perspective he probably most certainly never intended. I know lots of pastors and church planters and it’s always curious to me to watch how stressed so many of them get to make sure they “pull it off well” and “get the numbers” they’re shooting for. There’s one church in my area that takes “Easter Extravaganza” to a whole ‘nother level. One year, they framed the service after “Mission Impossible” and had people rappel from the ceiling. The next year, it was a “Scooby Doo” play where they “gang” was trying to explore why the tomb was empty.

I can’t help but sympathize with Louis CK here. I mean, come on. We have the Creator of the universe  (John 1:1-5, Colossians 1:15-20, etc.) Who has taken on human flesh (John 1:14, Philippians 2:1-11) to live without sin (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5), and yet become sin on our behalf so that we could become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus died for our sins and rose three days later (1 Corinthians 15:1-11), not only paying sin’s penalty but breaking its power over us (Romans 6).

What could be more amazing than this?! What better news is there?! But, when we try to “dress up” our Easter worship,  or our Christmas “service” with live animals, or our youth groups, or our children’s ministries, aren’t we in essence saying: “Yes, that is pretty amazing, but it’s not entertaining enough.” Of course, we wouldn’t be crass enough to word it like that, but in practice, the moment we begin to add lasers and fog machines and stop watches to make sure everything happens “smoothly,” we’re saying that Jesus needs to be dressed up to keep our attention.

Of course, I know the arguments; people say that we’re simply using those amenities to help draw attention to Jesus, but I may be in the minority when I say that I actually find them distracting. I may be in the minority when I worry that we’re simply emphasizing our culture’s consumeristic tendencies rather than challenging them. I find it instructive that the church actually thrives in cultures of persecution and lulls itself in to complacency in most of the free world.

But then again, as with many issues, I just could be overly cynical. I just know that I want to be part of a church family that is amazed because Jesus is amazing, not our production.

Everyone Is Looking For A Spiritual Experience (Radiohead in Concert)

March 16, 2012 at 8:43 am

Kristi and I had the chance to go see Radiohead last night. We didn’t think we were going to be able to make it (it was the last night of our foster care training course) but that’s a different story.

Going to concerts is always an interesting experience (as I noted seeing Mumford and Sons in a tiny club). Especially bands people are passionate about. You know, the ones where they know every word and they close their eyes and really get in to the music and sometimes even raise their hands.

It’s interesting that people can get more excited about about a concert than actual worship sometimes. I mean, I’ve seen people moved to tears by seeing their favorite bands and I’ve seen people sing about the greatness of God like it is a funeral march.

The bands that seem to create the most (genuinely) emotional experience tend to draw the larger crowds. Whether it be slow, building music leading to cathartic crescendos or personal, connecting lyrics. This should lead us to suspect something that seems pretty obvious: people are looking for a spiritual experience.

This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about as I meet with pastors and church planters in my area who are striving to lead missioanl churches. I’ve been thinking a lot (it’s probably a bit too strong to say that I’m worried but it might be OK to say I’m concerned) about a trend I’ve been seeing in lots of missionally-minded churches. There seems to be a trend to downplay the worship aspects of a weekly gathered worship. Sometimes it is framed in the idea that the weekly gathering should primarily be about hearing what God is doing in people’s lives so sharing and dialogue take the center spot. Other times, it seems to stem from a concern that unbelievers won’t feel alienated. As missional community churches shift their “organizing principle” away from Sunday morning to missional communities throughout the week, I am concerned that we are downplaying gathered worship.

Our Church of the Cross family often tries to publicly find that balance. We tell people that Sunday is not a production, so there will be times when everything doesn’t seem to flow as smoothly as at other churches. Prayer is not a time for the band or pastor to “magically appear” so that we can stick to our stopwatch. Prayer is talking to God and since it’s not a production, it’s OK if there’s a minute or two of “awkward silence.” And, since prayer is talking to God, the emotional keyboard or guitar noodling in the background is actually a distraction, so we don’t do it. And since worship is not a production, we don’t have fog machines and fancy lights. But at the same time, worship is a key part of the Christian life, even emotionally-stirring worship (even though emotional experiences may or may not actually be worship but that’s for another time).

People are looking for spiritual experiences. That much is evident from simply going to a concert. But what happens when our churches downplay that experience? How do we find that balance of not being a production while not responding to God like the “frozen chosen” (the answer probably has something to do with faithful, clear and regular proclamation of the Gospel, don’t you think?)?

Though worship should be a part of everyday life, there is also something special about Gathered Worship and I want to see our missional churches not lose sight of that. Thank you Radiohead for prompting these thoughts.

Mark Dever And The Red Scarecrow Herring Man?

March 14, 2012 at 9:15 am

Like many, I am sort of a hybrid of church cultures. I grew up in a non-denominational vanilla theology wanna-be megachurch. I did my MDiv at the Southern Baptist Theological seminary and I have served in Southern Baptist churches. I hold to a reformed soteriology but many in the “reformed” world view me as a “low calvinist,” which is fine because I think of them as “Big R” reformed folk.  I don’t think you can rely solely on either presuppositional or evidential apologetics. I consider myself “missional” but not “emergent.” I believe that the church needs to get off of its collective butt and start loving and serving our communities while never losing sight of the fact that we are called to preach the Gospel; the good news about Jesus, who He is, and what He’s done.

As such, I have been thinking a lot lately about this clip featuring Ed Stetzer interviewing Mark Dever.




 

Url Scaramanga wonders: “Is Dever asking us to put theological tradition ahead of Scripture?” I must admit, when I first came across this segment, I wondered similar things. After all, I find myself in the midst of a church culture where personal evangelism has been so emphasized that it takes a lot for people to realize that it also means that they should go out and serve the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40). I find myself having to remind people that the Gospel is about so much more than just “going to heaven when you die” and here is Dever saying that we don’t emphasize personal evangelism enough.

Dever admits that “gospel” has restoration/kingdom aspects to it but want to make sure that, as he says: ”that individual component has to be there.” He notes that in Acts, when the “Gospel of the Kingdom” was proclaimed, individuals repented and were baptized.

But here’s the thing: I have no idea who Dever is concerned about. He doesn’t name names, instead simply noting that if ”this generation that’s coming now” focuses primarily on Matthew 5 and 1 Peter 2 and doing good works so that the world will glorify God when He visits us and that’s what we major on, “then nobody’s going to evangelize.”

But I don’t know anyone in the missional world who espouses or practices any such thing. In fact, I have been tremendously challenged in these areas by Alan Hirsch, Michael Frost, Neil Cole, Jeff Vanderstelt, Caesar Kalinowski, Steve Timmis, Tim Chester, Hugh Halter, Matt Smay, and even Ed Stetzer with whom Dever is speaking. No missional leader that I know would say that Francis Assisi’s quote: “Preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary, use words” is adequate. Everyone I hear in the current missional conversation is calling for missionary lives of service coupled with the loving, humble proclamation of the Gospel.

So, why is Dever so concerned? It seems to me that there are at least 3 options, if not more:

  1. Dever has specific people in mind whom he simply chooses not to name.
  2. Dever is simply concerned about the possible “trajectory” of kingdom theology moreso than its actual current practice.
  3. Dever has larger concerns with the “missional” movement (which I am largely equating with the issue of “kingdom” that Dever and Stetzer discuss because that connection is there with every missional leader I read or listen to).

There are probably other options that I’m missing but these seem to me to be the most likely. I think it’s probably mostly #2, that Dever is concerned with the possible trajectory of current emphasis on “kingdom work.” After all, we have come through the era of the “social gospel” where the actual proclamation of the Gospel was often next to nil. However, the cynical side of me is concerned about the comment Dever makes at the 1:05 mark: ”I’m all about community . . . in one sense . . . ” Nearly every missional leader I know emphasizes community, so is Dever making a jab here or am I making too much out of his comment? I’m not sure.

Do you know the people about whom Dever is speaking? Do you know people who’ve swung the pendulum so far into “good works and service” that they no longer share the Gospel? As I’ve said, my experience seems to be the polar opposite. I find far too many Christians who simply think all we ever have to do is “get to the Gospel” with someone; so much so that it ends up being unloving because people simply become a number or a project. We’ve trained our people for years that it’s all about the sharing of the Gospel so that it’s not uncommon for well-intentioned Christians to not even know their neighbors’ names but they feel faithful because once, when they first moved in, they told those neighbors that God is mad at them and Jesus can make it all better.

The Gospel cannot be separated from words or action. I appreciate so much of Dever’s ministry but I’m just a bit confused about who he is going after here. Do you know these people?

A Disconnect In Church Planting Culture? Or Maybe I’m Just Overly Cynical?

March 12, 2012 at 8:20 am

There’s trouble in paradise. There’s a growing disconnect in church planting culture; at least in some of the circles in which I travel. In many regards, I’m still being told that the goal is to have a “megachurch.” For all the talk about discipleship-based church models and missional living, the speakers at nearly every conference are megachurch guys, which communicates that they’re the guys who’ve done it well, that I should be learning from. I don’t for a second doubt that I do, in fact, have a lot to learn from these guys, but what if I don’t ever want to be a megachurch pastor?

I’m being told that church planters should check out AT&T’s coverage because they let you block certain people from calling you and that “there will just be some people in your church who don’t need your number” while my wife is being told all about how some pastor’s wives are escorted from the house into worship by bodyguards who even get to determine who gets to talk to said pastor’s wife.  But what if I don’t ever want to be a megachurch pastor and my wife doesn’t want bodyguards determining who can talk to her?

Everywhere we turn in church planting culture, the megachurch guys are the ones giving advice and the assumption is nearly always that, what they’re doing is what we should be doing. And yet, at the same time, there’s a growing number of megachurch guys who are openly admitting their struggles with the megachurch approach. Matt Carter, of Austin Stone openly laments that if his church were to add even 3,000 more people on Sundays that little would actually change in his city and that he’s tired of just adding more people (a paraphrase from his 2010 Phoenix Acts 29 Boot Camp sermon – I couldn’t find the audio) while Matt Chandler of The Village also regularly talks about similar issues.

My friend Justin Anderson of Redemption Church, in his insightful piece “Reflections on Seven Years of Church Planting,” writes:

I’ve seen the “Promised Land” and it’s just OK. For the last couple years, I have been living the dream. Our church has seen explosive growth, people be saved, baptized, and join groups all the time. We have four campuses, thousands of people, and a great staff. Finally, all the toil of church planting has paid off and the prospect of megachurch stardom was a reality.

Most of us want some version of this in ministry. I finally reached the promised land, and I can report that it’s just OK. Don’t get me wrong: there were parts that I loved, but at the end of the day there is always more to do, always another idea, hill to climb or battle to fight—it never ends.

After several months of reflection, I can honestly say that I will miss the people whom I have grown to love over the last seven years far more than I will miss big budgets, assistants, buildings, speaking gigs, or any of the perks that come with megachurch life.

Though Anderson doesn’t go as far as Carter does in his denunciations of the megachurch model, notice that he’s also not extolling its virtues. In fact, he says that, as he transitions from AZ to CA to plant all over again, it is the relationships that he’ll miss the most. So, on the one hand, I’m being told (at least implicitly) that megachurch-dom is the goal and yet, many of the megachurch guys are openly saying that they don’t necessarily want to be in the position everyone else is saying church planters should strive for. There’s a disconnect.

Jared Wilson reflects on Anderson’s piece:

Too often we envision “successful ministry” — this vision may look different from person to person, church to church — and pour our energies and affections into seeing that vision become a reality, assuming that once we finally “arrive,” things will be better, easier, finally and ultimately fulfilling. This is, functionally, idolatry. It is a creation of a false heaven, not simply false in its falling short of the real Paradise but false in its inclusion of talent, acquired skills, and grit to reach.

Don’t settle for the false heaven of a “successful ministry.” Because real success is faithfulness. Big church or small church, growing church or declining church, well-known church or obscure church — all churches are epic successes full of the eternal, invincible quality of the kingdom of God when they treasure Jesus’ gospel and follow him. Jesus did not give the keys of the kingdom with the ability to bind and loose on both sides of the veil only to those who’d reached a certain attendance benchmark. So do well, pursue excellence, and stay faithful. God will give you what you ought to have according to his wisdom and riches.

Even (or, one might say “especially) in church circles, we’ve come to believe the lie that bigger is always better and that measuring “success or failure” in ministry is akin to counting numbers. And yet, many of the guys who have “made it” are realizing the disconnect. I’m not sure if he was trying to make this point or not, but I believe that Anderson, in the same piece, identifies the issue behind the disconnect:

Make a specific plan for discipleship-and call it discipleship.

In Matthew 28, Jesus’ final command was to “go and make disciples.” This was a direct statement of purpose for the church, but in many of our churches, there isn’t a clear definition of a disciple, let alone a plan for discipleship. Praxis was no different. We knew exactly how we wanted to run our worship services and live on mission but had no plan for discipleship.

Most of our churches are doing discipleship, if only accidentally, but few of us call it that. So, instead of spending all your time on promotional flyers, try to craft a simple plan to make disciples of Jesus. Also, stop wracking your brain trying to think of a unique Greek or Hebrew word for it—just call it discipleship.

Now, let me be clear: I’m not saying or hinting that megachurch can’t or don’t do discipleship well or at all. But I am saying that it’s more difficult in a megachurch environment and probably happens less often than in a smaller, Gospel Communities on Mission – style church where discipleship is the driving factor, the main organizing principle rather than the weekend event (yes, I realize I just smuggled in all sorts of my own bias, so if you disagree, I’d love to hear from you; have you seen megachurches become megachurches because discipleship was their primary focus?).

If discipleship is, as Anderson says a “purpose of the church,” then shouldn’t it be at the center of our churches? Shouldn’t it be the focus and drive the structure of the local church? If discipleship doesn’t have as naturally or as easily in a megachurch environment, then why are megachurches held up as the model for church planters?

Most church planters have not been called or equipped to be megachurch pastors. But they can faithfully disciple some and equip them in turn to do the same. Where is the conference telling them that’s not only OK but better?

But then again, maybe I’m just overly cynical.

 

 

Trembling Lips and Pale Fingertips

March 6, 2012 at 11:13 am

I love discovering new music. But, perhaps even more, I love new music from my favorite artists. Today, Denton’s Doug Burr drops a new 7″ and digital 4-song EP.

Several years ago, when I was living in Texas, my wife, some great friends and I drove in to Dallas to see Bill Mallonee (of Vigilantes of Love) play in a yoga studio. I remember being disappointed because there was an opening act, especially one we had never heard of. Burr took the stage accompanied by Glen Farris and I had an experience that has become all t00 rare: I was blown away. Burr played with passion and told haunting tales of toxic train crashes and soaring on the wings of eagles.

Since that night, Burr’s music has become a mainstay in our life. His music is both challenging and, at the same time, finds that spot in your soul where you feel like it’s always been part of your life. It connects. He has grown in skill and focus and that becomes tremendously apparent on this new 7″/EP. Velvet Blue describes the new release:

It’s alternate versions of songs from his critically acclaimed record O Ye Devastator.  It’s limited ed. 7″ and available every where digitally.  2 tracks on the vinyl, 4 on the download card.

The tracks are beautifully stripped down, which isolates the actual song and really allows room for Doug’s distinctive vocals and lyrics to be out in front.

I’ll be honest: I’m not a completist, you know, one of those people who HAS to have EVERYTHING his/her favorite artist has EVER recorded. So, when I saw that the new release was alternate versions of previously released material, I almost passed. Why do I need different versions of songs I already love, I thought. But, after listening, I’m glad these recordings have been released. It’s one thing to admire an artist’s fully-produced, full-band albums. But, there’s always that question; if the full-band and full-production are stripped away, do the songs themselves still stand up? The answer here us unequivocally yes.

The EP opens with a stripped down, piano-led version of ”A Black Wave Is Comin’” and demonstrates without question that Burr’s songs, not the production that surrounds them is the driving force here. Accompanied by gently strummed acoustic guitar and plucked banjo, the song hauntingly holds on to hope in the midst of what seems to be impending doom. Though the lyrics some times deal with the darker side of life (“Chief Of Police In Chicago,” for example, details a baby born with a gene determined to cause criminal behavior), the tone is always warm and even welcoming.

The EP is largely piano-driven with splashes of acoustic guitar and banjo with little electric instrumentation or percussion, which puts Burr’s voice and lyrics up-front. He is a story-teller tapping in to the human condition in a way few others are able. His vocals are both assured and vulnerable, and, after repeated listens, I’m convinced that Burr is an important American songwriter that you should get to know.

With any musician, we should always be asking: when everything’s stripped away and we’re left with just the songs, is that enough? In Doug Burr’s case, the answer is a resounding yes.

Here the “Forest Fortress” version of “A Black Wave Is Comin’”




 

Watch the video for “Should’ve Known” from On Promenade, featuring a cameo from Josh T. Pearson: