13 Jul 2009

Late last week I received my copy of Sojourn Music's new album Over the Grave: The Hymns of Isaac Watts, Vol. 1. You can catch some samples at their Facebook or Myspace pages.

I've listened through the album a couple of times since receiving it, and I really enjoy Over the Grave. The musical style is hard for me to describe, but to my ears it is a nice blend of refreshing non-pop creativity and engaging riffs. Though there are, as usual with any album, some songs that I enjoy better than others, I haven't found any yet that I just hit "next" and skip over.

As the album sub-title suggests, the lyrics are adapted from Isaac Watts hymns, most of them little-known. Using lyrics from long ago of course does not guarantee that the words will be accurate and edifying, but Over the Grave draws on work that focuses on Christ as our redeemer from sin, our hope in suffering, and judge of the world—themes that are worth sinking your teeth into.

To order a copy for yourself head over to the Sojourn Bandcamp store.

Other, more complete reviews:
Justin Taylor
Bob Thune

9 Jul 2009

"Run Fatboy Run" and Perseverance

Submitted by Paul Brown

Last night after we finished up with our chores for the day, Holly and I enjoyed an evening in with popcorn and a movie. We watched Run Fatboy Run, a British romantic comedy about a man, Dennis, who left his pregnant bride Libby at the altar. As the movie progresses, we see that the man, Dennis, is basically a goof-off loser who does stupid thinks like scratching his private parts while on the job as a retail store security guard and teaching his son to play practical jokes on joggers at the park. Dennis never follows through on commitments and seems to be going nowhere in life.

This all changes when he meets Whit, the man that Libby has been dating. Whit is a successful businessman who is fit and kind and overall seems to have his life together. Whit is preparing to run in a charity marathon and Dennis, though he is terribly out of shape and smokes regularly, decides to run the marathon as well to prove that he can change and finish something.

WARNING: Plot Spoiler Ahead!

Dennis works hard to train for the marathon and actually seems to get into reasonable shape. His friend and his landlord help him train by encouraging him and occasionally smacking him with a metal spatula. Shortly before the race, Whit and Libby get engaged, albeit with some apparent hesitation from Libby. Dennis is devastated and nearly gives up on the race. He has a crucial conversation with his son in which he explains the importance of not running from challenges but pushing through and sticking with it even when the situation is really hard. At the end of the conversation, Dennis' son asks him, "Is that what you do, Daddy?" Dennis has an Aha! moment and determines that he will run the marathon, not to win Libby back but for himself, to finally finish something.

The film wraps up as any good romantic comedy should: The day of the race, Dennis overcomes long odd and extreme adversity to run and complete the marathon, defeating his rival Whit. Whit shows his true stripes and turns out to be a coward and an arrogant jerk. Libby is impressed by Dennis' resolve and accepts a dinner date with him. Everything works out in the end. (See a somewhat more complete synopsis over at Wikipedia.)

END PLOT SPOILER

The moral to the story of Run Fatboy Run was simple: If you don't persevere, you get nowhere. If you persevere, you might beat your rival and get the girl, and at the very least you will earn your own self-respect.

This is a good moral, one which all of us ought to take to heart. Jesus says things like "he who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Mat 24:13, Mrk 13:13) or "by standing firm you will gain life" (Lk 21:19). But how does perseverance fit with the gospel? Does this idea of sticking with goals and tasks motivate me to rely more upon myself and my own willpower? Or does it move me to a greater appreciation of my own weakness and the surpassing greatness of Christ, leading me to cast myself more upon him?

Fortunately, Scripture teaches that my perseverance ultimately depends upon God rather than on me. "He [Jesus Christ] will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful." (1 Cor 1:8-9) "Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come." (2 Cor 1:21-22)

Scripture also teaches that the means of perseverance is to dwell in Christ and continually look to him. "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him 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 sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." (Heb 12:2-3, see also John 15:1-8)

From that, I can see that perseverance with respect to standing firm in the faith is dependent on and focused on the Lord. Well and good and certainly worth remembering! But what about perseverance in other tasks? Like running a marathon or pursuing a relationship? Life isn't a romantic comedy, and we have no guarantee of success. How can I be focused on the gospel even as I pursue goals that I may or may not reach no matter how hard I work?

Let me offer a few suggestions for applying the gospel to day-to-day perseverance:

  1. Remember that God is sovereign (Jam 4:13-17) and trust in his grace and his goodness. In light of that, you don't need to fear failure.
  2. Remember that you are created in God's image (Gen 1:26). You were made to exercise creative ability and get things done.
  3. Remember that the world is fallen and getting things done takes hard work and diligence. (Gen 3:17)
  4. Remember that success will merit you no more favor with God and that failure will take no favor away. If you are in Christ, his full and complete obedience is already yours by faith, and you can neither add to it nor take away from it.
    1. I'm sure there are probably more and better approaches as well, but that should give a start. The comment box is open!

27 Jun 2009

"Going to Church"

Submitted by Paul Brown

I don't remember where it was that I heard this, but recently I heard someone question the propriety of the phrase "go to church". Perhaps it was Jeff Vanderstelt at the Gospel Conference (Session 1 or 2), who I remember at the very least never using that phrase but substituting "gather with the church" or something similar. It could have been in Total Church. Maybe it was somewhere else. At any rate, "being the church" over against "going to church" is a popular topic, at least according to Google.

The concern about phrasing arises from understanding the meaning of "church". In the New Testament, "church" is always the redeemed community of Christ-followers. Sometimes it refers to the local church (Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 16:19), sometimes to the universal church (Eph 5:25; Mat 16:18), but in no case does it refer to anything like a building or an event that one could go to. I don't think that this teaching is controversial or peculiar to those who have been emphasizing the missional nature of church.

Although many of us who are Christians know this doctrine about the church, nonetheless our language more often than not refers to church as someplace to go or a meeting to attend. For example, Holly and I commonly refer to what we do Sunday morning as "going to church". Likewise we call our Sunday evening activity "going to Regen", and during the week, we "go to community group". Fundamentally, church, Regeneration, and community group are all communities of people, yet we refer to a meeting or gathering of it as if it were the thing itself.

While I don't want to get hung up on the phrasing per se, I do think that the way we say things both reflects and shapes the way we think about those things. When someone says "church", what is the first thing that comes to your mind? What do you visualize? When I hear that word, the first thing that comes to my mind is the Bear Valley Church building, perhaps an image something like this (but with more of Kendrick Lake in the background).

I don't know whether it is worth going to the effort to train myself to abandon the language of "going to church". But I do know that I need to cultivate an attitude of rightly seeing the church as the community of those who are redeemed in Christ and to live out my identity as part of that community all the time, not just at our gatherings. Maybe changing the way I talk about it will help.

16 Jun 2009

New Layout

Submitted by Paul Brown

I changed the layout of the site today. The new theme is based on Black Mamba but includes, as usual, a number of modifications to get it to look the way I want it.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the new layout, and if you notice anything that is goofy, please let me know.

20 May 2009

Maturity?

Submitted by Paul Brown

Yesterday, I was really humbled by this blog post by the lead pastor at Coram Deo Church in Omaha about the results of their informal church demographics survey. The notable statistic was that 55% of the respondents described themselves as "mature disciples of Jesus". Since the church is comprised of mostly young adults who have mostly been only recently affiliated with the church, the pastor reacted with incredulous shock: "Really? 55% of Coram Deo people are 'mature Christians?' I think some of you are being too generous with yourselves...." As Paul says in Rom 12:3, "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you."

I must admit, when I imagine how I would have responded on such a survey, I would probably have described myself as "mature". But am I really? This then raises the question of what it means to be a "mature" follower of Christ. The way this was answered in the comment thread was to point to this sermon on the subject, which outlines the three-fold areas of gospel, mission, and community as the barometers of maturity (something like what is shown below, I guess, based on the audio alone).

Maturity is the intersection of Gospel, Community, and Mission

When I stop and consider all that Christian maturity entails and how young and inexperienced I still am, my mouth is stopped and I am humbled by how far short I fall of "attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Eph 4:13). I guess "maturing" in Bear Valley parlance is probably a better descriptor. After all, I've not arrived, but by God's grace I am heading in the right direction.

Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:13-14)

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