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Monday, August 31, 2009

"Worship songs aren't for the blokes"

An interesting clip from Matt Redman (who wrote all of the songs you sing in church except the ones Chris Tomlin wrote) about using romantic language in songs. Do you "blokes" feel comfortable singing "I love you" over and over to another bloke (Jesus)?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Church Shopping: Evangelistic Temple

This was our first Sunday morning visiting away from our old church. We actually visited World Outreach Church last Wednesday and planned to go back today, but Cathy's cousin Dee-Wee emailed us to tell us that her son Michael would be performing at the end of the service at their church, Evangelistic Temple, so we visited there instead! (It was on our list anyway, so we would have visited within the next few weeks.) The youth from the church had gone to a national competition with some drama, music, photography, and other kinds of expressions of their faith in the arts, and Michael had been part of two competitions: a drama skit and a comedy rap song. The drama team was scheduled to perform; the "rap group" kind of snuck in at the very end. :)

Dee-Wee (that's a nickname I accidentally invented for her several years ago... long story. Her real name is Melody, but most everyone calls her Dee-DEE, not Dee-WEE) met us at the door when we got there. We got the baby checked in at the nursery, and the ladies there were very friendly and cordial. Hannah seemed a little bit nervous, but she was OK once she spotted the toys! Once she was settled in, Dee-Wee took us for the two-dollar tour of all the places around the church where the youth meet, the kids meet, the little coffee area, that sort of thing. It was kind of fun to get to see the facility! By then it was almost time for the service to start, so we went back to the main sanctuary.

At E.T. they have an early "traditional" service and a later "contemporary" service; we were there for the contemporary service. In the lobby we found Dee-Wee's husband (Lee-Wee), and we ran into Krista, the sister of my roommate from my ORU days. So we felt very much surrounded by friends. The associate pastor, who was to be speaking that morning, even spotted us and came over to say hello! We felt very welcome, and very at home! (Cathy and I had both been to E.T. before, although it has been years and years for both of us, so it wasn't a totally alien environment, either.)

The service was wonderful. It looked like maybe they were having some sound issues at the beginning of the music time; I saw a guy scrambling around checking some cables or direct boxes or something. But the worship was well-done and certainly heartfelt. Not quite as slick of a production as what we've been used to at the much larger churches we've attended, but I've absolutely heard MUCH worse, and I had no trouble joining in (the sound problems got fixed fairly quickly, as well). The sanctuary was maybe half-full by the end of the music portion; at the very beginning it was really sparse. I suspect that was partly because people were chatting out in the lobby area, which is really just part of the same large room with a partition in the way; you're almost in the service even when you're in that lobby. The musicians did a great job; as a music-oriented person I actually enjoyed watching a lady who was playing congas and some other percussion in the background. I thought it was cool that she had a tambourine mounted on a stand on the ground and she was playing it with a kick pedal. :)

Cathy and I LOVED the message. He started off talking about the "cash for clunkers" program that has just ended (bring in your old dilapidated car to trade in for a new one with a government refund for the "clunker"), but then he turned it around to "grace for clunkers"! The idea was that God has taken our messed up lives and given us something infinitely valuable in exchange. It was really inspiring; I was impressed at how evangelistic it was in nature, but still very relevant and useful to the already-converted. I thought he did an excellent job.

When the message was over and announcements and the offering were done, we were treated to the youth drama performance, which had won third place at the national competition. Here's the video of the performance at nationals:

Dee-Wee's son is Satan and the beginning, and Jesus at the end. Now THAT'S a conversion story!

The first service didn't get to see the next part. Michael is one-third of a tongue-in-cheek rap act called "Creepers 4 Christ," and somehow they got the associate pastor to let them on stage. :) This is their performance which won FIRST place in the national competition!

After that, all that the associate pastor could say was something to the effect of, "If Pastor ever hears about this, I'll know it was YOU guys that told him!" It was really funny!

The pros of E.T.: we have family and friends there already. They appear to have very active programs for children and teenagers. They have some outreach programs that appear to be fairly active as well. The message was excellent, and the people were super friendly to us. This is no fly-by-night church; they've been there a long time and there's no reason to suspect that they won't be there for years to come. There were several visitors this morning besides us (which probably means people are inviting their friends), and they baptized several kids and adults this morning, one woman who had received Jesus right in the church just weeks ago.

The cons of E.T. (for us): mainly that it has a little bit of a throwback-to-the-70s feel to it. The building isn't brand-spanking-new, and it feels lived-in. That is by no means a reason to write this church off, and we haven't scratched it off our list by any means! But it's a little more shall we say "retro" than we're used to.

Final impression: I think we could be very happy having E.T. as our home church. There are some bells that rang for us at World Outreach that didn't ring here (I'll blog World Outreach after we get to a Sunday service there), but I would highly recommend E.T. to anyone who asked me about it. It's a wonderful place, and we look forward to visiting again there from time to time.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Jones In Motion

Yesterday was a big day. We got in touch with some of the people from our church and told them we were saying goodbye.

We're not moving to another state or even another city... just another church. The reasons are varied, and honestly there is no one single reason that would be enough to make such a drastic decision. I've been attending this church since October of 1996 (I had moved back to Tulsa the summer before) with a one-year stint at another church when we were having some "people" difficulties at our church home. So it's not a decision you make lightly, ending a 12-year relationship with a church body, and it's really hard. If I wrote each of our reasons for making this decision on a card and handed you the cards, one at a time, as you read each one you would say, "Well, that's not so bad. You can deal with that," and I would agree with you. But when we were done, you'd be holding a pretty sizable stack of cards. It's definitely a camel-with-many-straws-on-his-back situation. We love the people at our now-former church, and we have great respect for the pastor and staff, but taking all factors into account, it's just time.

I'm not naming here the church we're leaving, although if you really wanted to know and didn't know already, you could easily enough find it in the archives. Like any other church, there are some things our old church is good at and other things that it's not good at, and a big part of the reason for moving on is that our priorities as a family have shifted and we need to find somewhere that better fits what we feel God is calling us to do. And that's the last thing I'm going to say about why we're leaving the old church, because it's a great place and many good things (including a HUGE amount of Bible knowledge for me and my wife!) have come out of there, and I have no reason to or intention to say anything at all bad about it. It's an excellent place to go and learn God's Word. I would HIGHLY recommend it for someone who needs a really solid Bible foundation; it's just short of going to a Bible school where you pay tuition! I won't talk that church down, but I will be giving my impressions of some of the places we visit over the next couple of months. We have a short list of churches we're curious about, and I'll share what we think about those churches as we visit. And by about Christmas time, I hope we've found someplace to spend the next twelve, twenty-four, or fifty years!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Root Beer

A few days ago Mikey got THE PREACH on him. Now, when Mikey gets THE PREACH on, we just sit back and listen, because by the time he's done, my wife and I usually learn something we didn't know before! This time was no exception. Mikey taught us something about root beer.

"The Holy Spirit is like root beer!" Mikey said. "When you shake it up, there's the same amount of root beer, but it overflows anyway!" In his class Sunday morning at church, they had talked about the Holy Spirit flowing out of you, and we had just been talking about the Holy Spirit in the car on the way home from the concert we had just been at.

"You know," I said, the Bible says to stir up the Holy Spirit that's inside of you. the carbon dioxide is already in the root beer, but when you shake it up, that's what makes the root beer overflow!" I don't know if Mikey realized how dead on target his analogy was, but it was certainly a perfect visual! "Mama," I said to Cathy, "This boy is a walking children's church lesson!"

It's not just a kid subject, though... I suspect that most of us adults can benefit from that lesson. That's why I'm posting it here. Let's be root beer today! Let's think about the Word, pray, and look for chances to bubble up and out!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Left Behind: antichrist and anachronisms

This morning I suddenly came to the end of the original book #1 of the "Left Behind" series, which is of course titled Left Behind. You may remember my post from a few weeks ago stating my disappointment in the three prequels. That disappointment in the series evaporated when I got into Left Behind. Now I understand what people were so excited about back in 1995! The story is interesting, the pacing is fast and exciting, you care about the characters. Characters that came off as one-dimensional in the prequels gain depth in the original novel. I watched the movie version a long time ago, and I remember hearing that the book authors were disappointed in the result... now I think I can see why. If I remember the movie correctly, an awful lot of story was left out for the big screen.

One thing that kept striking me as weird on my way through the book were things that were commonplace in 1995 but are dated now. A reporter on a plane when the rapture happens tries to get through by communicating with his home office via a modem in his computer... who has a modem in a laptop these days? Some people, but these days Internet is so prevalent that I doubt the home office would even have a modem pool to dial into. A college student is out of touch with her father as she tries to get home because there is no way to reach her... what college student these days doesn't have a cell phone? A pastor makes a videotape explaining what has happened, and after the rapture his left-behind parishioners view the tape... who even has a VCR these days? A man knows he is receiving telephone calls even when his phone ringer is turned off because he can hear his answering machine clicking... who these days even has an answering machine, much less one with mechanical parts? Everybody these days has voice mail from the phone company. It was kind of weird running into those things, knowing that it's because the book was written 15 years ago, but also knowing that the story is supposed to be about the end of time... dated technology kind of throws you out of the narrative when you bump into it.

What is definitely not dated is the human story... the way the characters themselves feel and interact. The panic of learning that millions of people are gone without trace or explanation. The horror of learning that you're not as great of a Christian as you thought you were. The agony of people who are struggling with their decision for Christ, wanting to be true to themselves but slowly coming to the recognition that they do believe. The joy when they accept Jesus into their hearts, even though they know that very hard times are ahead for them. The terror when the reporter is face to face with the man he knows to be the antichrist, and that man is holding a gun, killing people in cold blood. The story certainly draws you in! I enjoyed it as much as any book I've read in quite some time.

For Christians, the book has the added effect that it presents a scenario that, we believe, will quite possibly match future events pretty well. It reinforces an idea that maybe we don't think about very much... there are going to be masses of people left on the Earth to suffer through the seven years of the tribulation. The little technological glitches are nowhere near serious enough to distract from the true message of the novel: the time to get ready is NOW. The time to make sure your family is ready is NOW. If you are a believer and you are gone, there is no guarantee that your loved ones will be exposed to someone who will know enough about the Bible to be able to reach them, and Satan's persuasiveness during the Tribulation will be strong. Our chance to share Jesus with those around us is now; once we're gone, we can't do it any more. There will be no ten-minute warning. If the prophecies of the Bible are true, one day there will be a generation of Christians who will disappear without warning or trace. If that's us, let's use the time until then wisely.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Peeping Tom

Not too long ago I was reading a book, a story about a kid who was running around town doing various things, and I thought, "This would make an interesting scene in a movie or on TV." The character was watching various people as they went about their business, catching some of them doing things that they didn't expect anyone else to see (a husband and wife yelling at each other, teenagers smoking, etc.) and it occurred to me that although it's fun to watch someone go about their business in a story on TV (we watch those kinds of stories all the time), I'm not sure I would want to follow someone around like that for real. Who knows what they would do? Do I want to know? What if I saw them going somewhere they shouldn't go, or doing something they shouldn't do? I think maybe part of the reason we enjoy fiction is that it is kind of a "safe" form of voyeurism. We get to spy on someone without them knowing, and in the end, even if they do something bad, it wasn't real. It was "just a story." But if I catch my friend, or my coworker, or my wife or my children doing something I wish I hadn't seen... and don't kid yourself, we all have dirty little secrets and things we hope nobody else ever sees us do... if I catch someone doing something I don't want to know about, then that's a burden I have to carry. It's a responsibility to me. It's not "safe" like watching someone do the same exact thing on a movie screen.

But wait a second... Someone does see it when we do those things. We know that God is omnipresent, and He sees everything, and that frankly is unnerving. So I have two options: I can live my life aware of that, or I can ignore it. I can't constantly be looking over my shoulder to see if God's watching, but I can't just do stuff He clearly doesn't approve of and think He doesn't know about it, either. The solution is to soak up the presence of God instead of resisting Him. "God is watching you" is a recipe for living in fear; being conscious of the presence of God all throughout your day is a recipe for holy living. When we deliberately expose ourselves to the Lord's presence through prayer and worship, we can take that awareness of God's nearness with us through our day; that's is what empowers us to live a holy life. Fear won't motivate us, but God's Love has the power to change us so that we do the right things without coercion.