Monthly Archives: December 2010

Prodigal Me

Adam G & Pat M performing Shane Barnard's "Prodigal Me" for us after a sermon at Blue Ridge staff meetings. So good.

Derek had Adam & Pat perform “Prodigal Me” at Blue Ridge staff meetings as a reflection song after his talk. It is a way good song, and it was even better in the context of the sermon and that week’s focus (Luke 15). It was a real wake-up call to hear the father’s voice in the song – “my servants and I pray for you daily to return.” Do I ever think of God yearning for us? That is the nature of His love, to pursue (He’s been called before the Hound of Heaven) and call us back to Himself and His household as true sons.

If you’ve never heard the song (which is very likely since it was on Shane Barnard’s solo album), you can watch it here. A very good artistic representation of the Parable of the Lost Sons:


Stuff to Do vs. Father to Love

I recently saw this humorous “informercial” YouTube video called “Pre-Blessed Food!” In short, you should buy this food because it’s pre-blessed, meaning you don’t have to pray before meals. Obviously it’s a satire about Christian marketing, with all the hyped-up elements and self-aware “it’s the 20th century; we can sell anything!” not to mention the “that’s not all.” But to me it’s also a comment on how we view prayer, or any other spiritual discipline (or habit of faithfulness if you prefer). And I probably am picking up on it because I am a major perpetrator of this kind of thinking/living/worship.

In this silly vision, spiritual activity is a marketable or capitalistic-substitutable item. “I don’t have to pray (thankfully!) because someone else already did!” It’s an pre-requisite instead of relationship. Do we see praying before meals (or any other particular act of devotional life) this way? I wonder if our spiritual lives don’t suffer from an over-amped achievement orientation, where we take the idea of a Protestant work ethic into unsafe territory (ultimately, works-righteousness).

At our staff retreat we focused on Luke 15 – Parable of the Lost Son. While the younger son goes and ruins his life with soul-destructive wild living, the elder son doesn’t do much better. In fact he ruins his soul with his over-concern for obedience and work. While he avoids the flagrant sins of his brother, he also manages to avoid the relationship with his father. And that of course is the real problem with all of us and our world.

Thus, both sons become define by their actions – one by sin, one by obedience. In fact, both are made irrelevant and taken care of by relationship with the Father. I don’t to sermonize about how this might affect our Christmas-time experience etc. so I won’t. I hope however that in Christmas, and always, we see our Christian faith as about the Father to love instead of just doing what He says. It’s so much richer that way.

Christian? Or Christian Culture? K-Love vs. Colbert on Christmas

I recently got to visit my good friend Ben from Duke IV the other day. As we were in the car, he lamented to me that one of the nationally-syndicated Christian radio stations, really seemed hypocritical to him. It always calls itself “positive and encouraging,” and claims that it’s main mission is to broadcast content (whether music, mini-sermons or even down to its choice of DJs) that is God-glorifying, and Christ-centered. But during Christmas, “of all times!” said Ben, they regularly broadcast distinctly secular songs!

Now I’m not someone who always cares about the so-called sacred/secular divide, but Ben has a point. Not that I dislike “Jingle Bell Rock” or “Here Comes Santa Claus” but do those have a place on a Christian radio station? No. But they do have place on a Christian Culture radio station. I’m not trying to be legalistic, but if you claim that all your content is Christ-centered, then you can’t blast a song about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or Frosty the Snowman. Nice as they may be to sing or enjoy, they are not at all related to Christ. Maybe they’re harmless, but what you’ve done is expressed that Christmas is as much about our cultural secularization as it is about Christ. And that’s a problem.

The pains of trying to live out Christianity in our lives and in our culture are always present and very hard to deal with. Conversely, I came across a video from Stephen Colbert. I don’t always agree with his word choice, political views, or his satirical approach but his supposed-satire clip — click here to watch it, called “Jesus is a Liberal Democrat” — is a lot more disturbing (because it might be true/logical) than we want to admit. Unlike the Christian radio station, Colbert’s message about Jesus doesn’t subsume or make excuses for secularized cultural values that have become associated with Jesus or Christmas.

Colbert’s last line is a very honest attempt to try and instantiate Biblical commands in life – to be Christian instead of the self-justified Christian culture that we often cling to:

“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we’ve got to pretend that Jesus is just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition & then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”

Again, decide what you will about his political values or the specific actions suggested by the satire (welfare etc.) but the process at least of Christian vs. Christian culture should make us pause to examine what we call Christmas, or Christian.

Regional Conference: Intimacy With the Father (Preview)

Hi everyone! Right now I’m writing from the lobby of a dorm at Rockbridge Camp. I’m here with all the other staff from the Blue Ridge IV region (NC, SC, and VA campuses) from Mon-Thurs of this week. I am very excited to be here for these four days.

The conference’s focus is Intimacy With the Father. While training, program, and strategy development are all important aspects of a staff worker’s life, our work would be fruitless and empty without a strong and vibrant relationship with the Father. Just like we do with training/skills, it can be a real benefit to spend extra time delving deeper into our own spiritual formation. Our theme Scripture is Luke 15, the parable of the lost son, or sons really since both have lost their way in terms of relating to and loving the Father.

Intimacy with the Father is the heart of life. It is the heart of what we were created to be and do. Even in ministry, like the older son, we can easily lose our focus, and our role as son is reduced to work and labor. We want to embrace the Father with humble love like the second son with the faithful obedience of the elder son. Pray for us as we seek to throw out the false visions or thoughts we have when it comes to ministry and spiritual life.

Our regional director - Jimmy Long - leads the opening session for Regional Staff Conference

Grasping vs. Grasped

My friend and former co-worship leader, Dan Chang, posted an excerpt of a sermon given at Duke Chapel (found in the link above). I think the quote applies to any elite university, UVA included. I am struck by one part especially:

We have spent years educating you into the conceit that you have all you need to grasp the world, to understand, to figure it all out, to get the truth, to use it, make money off of your knowledge, grab reality by the tail & twist….You don’t grasp him; he grasps you.

In short, the conceit that the world in all its workings can be understood, operationalized & controlled is the profoundest stumbling block. Not that this should surprise us, Jesus is the great skandalon (stumbling block) himself. Last week I finished J.I. Packer’s “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.”  The first 2 pages say this about real prayer, which also serves to encapsulate relationship with God which relates very closely to that thought above:

The recognition of God’s sovereignty is the basis of your prayers…. The prayer of a Christian is not an attempt to force God’s hand, but a humble acknowledge of our helplessness & dependence…. In effect, therefore, what we do every time we pray is to confess our own impotence and God’s sovereignty

God is sovereign, we are helpless. This is a very hard teaching for students in a university world that promotes & expects perfect performance all the time (as I posted before about “busy sickness”). It requires that a competent, hard-working, self-motivated (and ultimately self-saving) young man or woman relinquish this view of life to embrace instead the mysterious Father, incarnate but divine Son, and the incomprehensible but present Spirit as the author, leader, savior, and source of all real life.

I have seen repeatedly though that when these non-Christian friends do, they find a freedom and wholeness incomparable to anything before. I can think of at least four people at Duke who had this very experience – from performance-based life to grace-covered life. This is very thing that UVA and other high-octane students need: saving from over-competence.

Pray that as UVA students (not just IV but all of them) are in the midst of exam studying and test-taking for the next two weeks that they would get a glimpse of a different way of life, one that does not require that they grasp every iota of data and practice precisely, but hear God calling them to the one where He, God of all power and love, grasps them entirely. And, in grace and truth, speak against this false way of life to any students or friends you know. It might be the very thing they have been aching to hear.

“Receive. Reject. Redeem.” Christians & Culture by Mark Driscoll

My friend and disciple Tim Yoon has a 2nd great find in as many days. It’s an article by Mark Driscoll (senior pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA), entitled, “Why Christians Go Postal Over Facebook, Jay-Z, Yoga, Avatar, and Culture in General,” and blog-length commentary of Christians & culture. <;

(NOTE: It’s not particularly important, but if you don’t know what he’s talking about with that NJ pastor and adultery, quick read here about the original “banning Facebook” story and then here about his own history of infidelity. It doesn’t change or affect any of the substance of Driscoll’s post though)

Do you watch movies? Should you? Or maybe a better question – how should you? Driscoll’s post on culture takes a stab at a wholistic Christian response to interacting with culture. Many of the churches my students come from have likely fallen into the camps that Driscolls notes in this article when it comes to viewing culture – syncretism and separatism. I like his explanation of how each is not only incomplete/extreme, but also insufficient (it doesn’t accomplish its own intended goal).

As far as “what’s a better way to be?” I like his explanation of watching TV with his children to explain, unpack, and understand the depicted ideology/worldview/morality etc. on film or television so they will have a fuller understanding that culture is to be critiqued. And of course, “All things to all people” is rightly alluded to in the post. I totally agree that there is no such thing as a “pure untainted” Christian culture or cultural artifact/good, nor is there a categorical stamp against ‘secular’ goods (excepting those that are patently evil like pornography) even the expletive-ridden music of Jay-Z containing artistic originality and God-intended gifts.

All in all, his “receive, reject, redeem” is a concise and helpful thought.

If this is a topic that interests you…

  • Andy Crouch’s book “Culture Making” is a more developed and nuanced view of interaction as well as a vision for Christlike creation and redemption of culture. Crouch gives FIVE responses to culture and talks about how/when they are appropriate. This is very helpful for anyone especially those leading/serving in ministry.
  • The real heralded classic on Christians and Culture is the aptly named “Christ and Culture” by H. Richard Niebuhr – my mentor Derek considers it the most theologically ground-breaking and complete exposition on this issue. Happy reading!

Receive / Reject / Redeem

What musical worship isn’t/shouldn’t be

This article was found by a former disciple of mine (he also inherited my leadership role at Duke IV as worship coordinator) — it’s from Relevant magazine, called “Confessions of a Former Worship Leader.”

If you’ve ever led worship or thought about it or lead ministry stuff with someone who does (or supervise a leader) read this and recognize that this critique about music and “worship” is a right theology for you/your worship leader to have. This is an excellent, Biblical, and personally-informed commentary on what is right and then really wrong about modern evangelical musical worship (again, there is an assumption that worship must have music of a certain style). Great find Tim!