Sunday, October 30, 2005

Halloween: Good or Bad for Christians?

I walked into a heated discussion in the comments section revolving around Joe Carter's post Trick or Tract: Satan, Jack Chick, and Other Halloween Horrors. The article was mainly about how scary and misguided the fundamentalist Jack Chick tracts had been to young Joe, and his denunciation of them now for use as a Halloween tract. Many commenters shared similar stories of their bad experiences with Chick tracts.

Examining one particular Chick tract more closely, Mr. Carter seems to be saying that its twisted, fundamentalistic response to Halloween, that seeks to inspire "irrational fear" in the hearts and minds of young children, is more dangerous and "demonically-inspired" than the holiday itself. While Mr. Carter's article makes a good case that Chick tracts are not the best Christian response to Halloween, he really doesn't address how we should respond as Christians. He says he mostly disagreed with a post on the topic by Bonnie from Intellectuelle, but reading her article tonight, I thought she made good points about the holiday's associations that should be considered by believers deciding what to do about Halloween.

Interestingly she read the comments I had posted (see below) at Joe Carter's site and thanked me, saying that my thoughts echoed her own.


Thanks for the post. Judging from the comments alone, it seems Halloween is one of those holidays on which the opinions of Christians are quite divided.

The day is perhaps an innocent diversion to some, an occasion for dressing up in costume, eating candy, having fun. Yet in America it is a holiday that has associations with the evil side of life-- for example, at this time of year all the TV networks bring out the horror movies and films dealing with the occult-- obviously because being frightened and spooked is associated with Halloween.

The holiday may have Christian roots, as one poster commented, or perhaps it is more pagan in origin. I suppose that if one as a Christian has given the matter some thought and prayed about it and then decided that they can celebrate the holiday in good conscience, that's fine. I like dressing up in costume and so in the past, I have enjoyed going to costume parties on Halloween. The parties were not at all "ghoulish", although some people might have dressed up as ghosts or something sinister.

Having had personal experiences with the reality of spiritual warfare since then, I have more questions and reservations now about the nature of Halloween. I don't want to inadvertently celebrate a day that in any way gives glory to Satan or demons.

I agree that unreasonable fear (or obsession) with Satan is unhealthy, but respect for the reality of the satanic realm is healthy and wise.

The world in its ignorance may enjoy the thrill of being scared by Hollywood versions of satanic activity, but satanic evil is far more subtle and yet far more horrible than what is portrayed in such movies. I don't think Christians should dismiss this lightly, but rather should resolve to be armed with biblical insight about the nature of such warfare. It is because of my own experiences in this area that I have some hesitations about Halloween. However, I would only caution fellow believers to consider whether they in good conscience can celebrate the day to bring glory to God, and not cause others to stumble.

The Dane of Nowheresville makes a case that Halloween can be celebrated in good conscience by a believer, Tim Challies of talks about why he's celebrating it, and John Fischer of Breakpoint argues convincingly that a "hiding-from-Halloween" strategy by believers is counter-productive to the gospel.

Mr. Fisher's argument that on a holiday such as Halloween, Christians should be engaging our neighbors, rather than creating safe alternative (e.g. Harvest Celebration) that separates us from them, is compelling. Nevertheless, a holiday associated with evil and the dark side is one that many Christians (including me) have hesitations about participating in, especially if one has encountered the reality of the dark world and rightly, doesn't regard it as a joke.

I think this is a tough question to decide, but one in which we have freedom to act according to the dictates of conscience before the Lord.

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God (Romans 14: 5-6, ESV)

As for me and my wife, if we are home, we might as well give out candy and be neighborly.

P.S. Here's what seems to be a sensible post from a Christian family that has "evolved" in its stance on Halloween.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Pleasing to the Master

Today I read a poetic, thought-provoking post about The Meaning of Success by Allthings2all. My attention was drawn to this post by Charlie Lehardy of Another Think, via his also very good article, Upside Down Success.

It is certainly very tempting to measure success by externals-- things like popularity, influence, sales, polls, or ratings. It sure is a lot easier to do this kind of measuring than to make a true evaluation of success, which goes beyond externals to seeing what is invisible to the human eye-- motivations, for instance.

But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." (1 Samuel 16: 7)

If only I would stop to remember this more often-- that the Lord looks on the heart. Then as I ponder those who display dazzling gifts of speech, creativity, beauty, or valor, I would recognize that such gifts are from God, and that what really counts is to what end such wonderful talents are used. And this, of course, will depend on the quality of the heart.

For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? (1 Corinthians 4:7)

Everything we have is received, Paul is reminding us. So how can we exult in ourselves, as if by our own greatness we have created ourselves or done anything? For example, our culture is obsessed with physical beauty. It used to be that in the area of beauty, one had to accept the "hand you were dealt", so to speak, but in this age of plastic surgery, if you aren't born "beautiful" (at least in comparison to the cultural ideal), you don't just have to accept it. You can re-make yourself, through surgery, in the image of your favorite celebrity. Sadly, even though I know better, I still tend to react to others on the basis of their physical attractiveness, rather than respond to the inner beauty of their character. As physical beings, we can't help but interact with things through our senses, and there is nothing wrong with admiring physical beauty, of course. But do we place higher value on a person's mere physical beauty, than on their spirit and character?

Society does, which is why we have the insanity of millions of dollars spent on megavitamins, health clubs, age-defying cosmetics and plastic surgery; skinny young girls starving themselves because they think they're fat, more men than ever fixated on improving their appearance and doing so not just by exercise, but by going under the knife. I too struggle with shaking off my culture's obsession with outward beauty. But what does being physically beautiful have to do with true success? Nothing. Zilch.

What is true success, anyway? Well, first I ask this question:

Is there a God to whom we will all one day be accountable, because He gave each of us life, and along with life certain talents, a particular body and personality, and various opportunities? Does He expect a return on His investment in us?

I begin with the starting point that there is a God like that, one who is our Creator. What then, does He expect from us? As usual, the best place to look for answers to such profound questions is to the One "through whom all things were made" (John 1:3), that is, Jesus Christ. He told His followers this story once:

The Parable of the Talents
"For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents,to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.' And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.' He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' But his master answered him, 'You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' (Matthew 25: 14-30)

One thing the story shows is that the first two men, who had invested their talents well and thus received a good return on them, were pleasing to the Master (God). Unlike the third man in the story, these two seemed to know the character of the Master they were serving, that He would be faithful in rewarding them for their efforts. And this knowing the character of the Master led to good fruit in their lives. The third man, on the other hand, totally misjudged the Master, and it is for this reason primarily that the Master was greatly displeased with him. And the story shows too that his wrong view of the Master had prevented him from using his talents.

So from this story, how would we define true success? True success is pleasing the Master, by putting to good use the gifts He has given us, in the knowledge that He is a good, loving Master who rewards us both faithfully and fairly.

Some are given more than others, but in the story the Master deals with each of the three men as individuals. In "settling accounts" with each man, the Master's question to each could have been, "What did you do with the talents I gave you? What is your return on them?"

The parable doesn't explicitly tell us that the first two men in the story were motivated by love of the Master, but this is implied. And of course, if you are a Christian, we are told that the greatest commandment of all is to love God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22: 37-38). We are also told that all accomplishment, if not motivated by love, is a "clanging cymbal" that does not make you any better nor bring you any lasting benefit (1 Cor 13: 1-3).

I must guard my heart as I cultivate love for God and neighbor, knowing that my gifts will amount to nothing if not placed on the altar of love of God. A heart motivated by true love of God will yield productivity, accomplishment that is lasting and most importantly, a life pleasing to the Master. That is true success.


Well, I spoke too soon, I'm a RAT again. Still adorable, though, don't you think? Such soulful eyes... "Squeak, squeak"!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Hey, I'm a "K"!

I'm a Marauding Marsupial again! Yay, I'm a K!... that's more like it! (those who know me understand why this category fits me better... in a few ways. First, it's my nickname--"K" short for Kangaroo-- well, only my wife calls me this, but anyway. Second, I may be cute, but you don't want to get me mad... I'm apt to do some marauding)! The pic is not a recent one, it's from my younger days... oh, how we used to hop... "sigh"

I know, you come to this blog for the serious content and this nonsense is what you get. Don't worry, serious posting soon to come :) Be patient, please.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Still Just Squeaking

Not sure what happened-- last week, for a brief moment, I was triumphantly transformed into a Marauding Marsupial in the TTLB Ecosystem Rankings. But then, suddenly, mercilessly, I was cast down again, turning back into my Adorable Little Rodent self. Ahhh, the Christian ecosystem-- so fleeting and capricious its approbation (pitiful squeaking sounds).

Monday, October 24, 2005

Led by a Pure Heart, or Driven by Idols?

In a recent post, Doug Groothius writes "Against Multi-tasking". Decrying the worldy imperatives which seem to drive us to use modern technologies such as cellphones, laptops, iPods, etc., to "multi-task", thus distracting us from meaningful focus with the present moment, Groothius urges his readers to rebel against them. Doug's post inspired Dan Edelen of Cerulean Sanctum, who has written on similar themes before, to post his take on the topic, titled "Are You a Hamster?". And CJR of RunToWin blog provided some insightful comments on the both their articles in his post, "In Praise of Busyness?". This interesting dialogue sparked my own thinking on how blogging technology may be used for good, or for evil. I quote my own comments, in response to the Groothius post, below:

"I think Christians, especially, ought to question how much spiritual value multi-tasking holds. Our hearts are so easily distracted; perhaps we use multi-tasking as a way of making ourselves feel we are accomplishing something, when in fact we are just distracting ourselves from what really needs to be done, because of an uneasy conscience.

I'm all for using technology, but too often, technology seems to be using us. Still, like one of the other commenters here, I don't think that technology itself is the culprit.

For example, this blog that we are interacting through is made possible by technology, and provides opportunity for people who might otherwise never have met to engage with and hopefully edify one another.

I just came back from the first-ever GodBlog convention held this past week at Biola University.

One of the themes of the conference was that if Christians who blog do so thoughtfully and excellently, with a civility, humility and love that reflects that Christ is indeed Lord over our lives, then we can build a like-minded community that will be a powerful force for positive influence on our culture. Thus technology can be constructive if used properly.

Still, I agree... that if we who set about this mandate fall prey to the false notion that mere busyness equals significance and accomplishment, then what we end up saying on our blogs probably won't run very deep, (nor be very helpful)."

Building on CJR's argument that it is not modern technologies that keep us distracted from purposeful activity, but rather the propensity of the human heart, I would add that, in the right hands, guided by the right kind of heart towards right ends, technologies can be constructive.

"To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled" Titus 1:15, ESV

I think modern life, for those of us blessed enough to live in a materially-blessed nation such as the United States, presents us with the age-old temptations to spiritual laziness and complacency that the love of money and comfort has always presented. Except that many Americans are in a position to make such things into idols perhaps in a greater way than many other cultures in this world, who don't have our wealth and means, or more than previous generations, whose lives were more dominated by concerns of survival.

So we Americans have built a "system of living" that is based on the lies of the world-- that material wealth, physical attractiveness, achieving power, etc,-- is what brings true fulfillment and happiness in life. But such false notions of what true life is about is, of course, not limited to American culture. How do we topple such a system, so that we are freed to live the abundant life that Jesus promised?

By growing in our own discipleship and understanding of what it means to be a citizen of the kingdom of God, and by destroying any idols that dwell within our own hearts. I must ask myself-- what, or for whom, am I truly living; does my lifestyle, my behavior, and the innermost secrets of my heart reveal that I am really a lover of Christ, or of this world system?

It is hard to sacrifice the goodies I've come to take for granted, and even to expect and justify, as a sign that I am "blessed of God" -- so may God have mercy on me, that I may have a right relationship to Him and thus, to everything else in this brief life.

Brad H of 21st Century Transformation also has a take on this topic.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

How Shall We Then Blog-- Parts I, II and III

10-20-05 Mark D. Roberts, a blogging pastor who also attended GodBlogCon, posted earlier this month on the topic of blogging. I think his posts, How Shall We Then Blog, Part 1 and Part II are a good Scriptural look at the topic, and a nice follow-up to my post.

10-22-05 Pastor Roberts has added a third installment to the series, How Shall We Then Blog.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Keeping Up With The Jones' Blog (or, Wisdom from a Talking Heads Song)

Well I'm back from GodBlogCon, invigorated by the great conversations, the encouraging words, excellent presentations, a sharpened vision of blogging's potential to change the world... and ready to blog! But then, it takes me all the way to Tuesday to finally send forth a post into the blogospehere, one summing up my thoughts on GodBlogCon. By that time, it seems there are already hundreds of posts on GodBlogCon, and many have already moved on to the next topic. Next!

I got to thinking... there's so many talented folks out there blogging. I met a lot of them over this past weekend. People with PhD's, power-blogging pastors (some who run marathons), people with national radio shows, erudite people, who know so much about... everything.

And some of these people blog so fast and furious-- the ideas just flow from them... and they're good ideas too, well-articulated. And I began thinking... how am I going to "keep up with the Jones" blog, anyway?

But then, for some odd reason, an old Talking Heads song popped into my head, and I remembered these lines from it:

"You're talkin' a lot, but you're not sayin' anything.
When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed.
Say something once, why say it again?"

Okay, I know these lines are from a song called "Psycho Killer", but they do make a certain amount of sense. I don't want to talk a lot, but not say anything. Or participate in the conversation, just to be able to say, "Hey, I was in the conversation!" Nor do I want to repeat myself, or merely repeat what everyone else is saying.

The blogosphere is a place where things happen at lightning speed, a very reactionary landscape. Sometimes it feels like if you want to say something, you better say it fast, or it will be too late. Too late for what, though? Do I have to be the first to say something in order for it to have a beneficial effect on someone else's life? Which brings me back to the question: why am I blogging, anyway?

In the days after GodBlogCon, I admired LaShawn Barber's honest and reflective post, Fallen But Forgiven, in which she admitted the pride she felt rising up inside of her as a well-known blogger, and how she was dealing with it. I too recognize that my sudden anxiety about being able to compete in the blogosphere has much to do with my own ego.

I want to be clever with a quip. Or better yet, profound with a point. But most of all, seen and recognized. But if that becomes the driving force behind my blogging, I may end up with not much of a reward. I remember Jesus' warning words to His disciples about praying to be seen by men:

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. Matthew 6:5

Convicting words. I know that excellence is important, and I will certainly strive to be an excellent blogger-- a better writer, more informed, faster to post (maybe). But most of all, I want to be able to say something meaningful, real and helpful to others. So if you don't see any posts on my blog for a while, and you're wondering-- what's happened to that Jordan fellow, has he abandoned the faith?--

Then just remember me in your prayers and kindly pray that a few days of pondering, a few weeks of reflecting, or just a solid hour spent with my Lord, will bring me back to my blogging with fresh power, new excitement, and hopefully, something worth saying. God bless you all.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

GodBlogCon 2005 Photos

Free books, anyone? Marketing strategy from Stacy Harp's breakout session  Posted by Picasa

DJ Chuang, Emerging Church Blogger, Roger Overton and Amy Hall of A-Team Blog Posted by Picasa

Lores Rizkalla of Just a Woman blog in action Posted by Picasa

Reflections on GodBlogCon 2005

Escaping by jet plane the downpour of rain that was drenching New York City, the clear, sunny skies in La Mirada, California were like a revelation of new possibilities, and a perfect setting for the first-ever Christian bloggers conference, GodBlogCon 2005. Hosted and organized by the Torrey Honors Institute of Biola University, the conference took place on October 14 through October 16, 2005. I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in this historic event. Matt Anderson and his volunteer team of students did an excellent job of organizing the logistics and flow of the event, and were gracious and helpful hosts.

There were 135 bloggers in attendance, and the 3 days of activities included a lecture by Biola philosophy Professor John Mark Reynolds, two multi-panel plenaries, an evening panel discussion moderated by national talk-show host and author Hugh Hewitt, and a number of "breakout sessions" on various blogging topics.

Lovely extras
There were also added, unexpected bonuses: a chance to sit in on a live broadcast of Hugh Hewitt doing his radio show as he interviewed "God-bloggers" and interviewed several people by telephone, including Cameron Crowe about his new film Elizabethtown. There was a free screening of the film on Friday night. I'm not one to turn down a free screening, but unfortunately I had to skip it because I was too tired and needed my sleep. On the last day, we also watched a preview of the upcoming film Narnia, which included interesting background on how it was made. I also got several free books!

I thought Professor Reynold's Friday evening presentation was probably the most substantive talk of the weekend. Mr. Reynolds is an excellent speaker with a quick, dry sense of humor, though at the moment I'm not able to recall examples. His presentation focused chiefly on attractive possibilities the medium of blogging presents. Contrasting the limitations and the benefits of "live" vs. preserved discourse, Mr. Reynolds made a case for blogging as a new media that has exciting potential because it incorporates the benefits of both live (theater, music performances, lectures) and preserved discourse (books, music CD's film). Like a book, a blog post is recorded for posterity, subject to examination and response [Indeed, Reynolds warned that Internet communications pose the danger of haunting us into the future, by virtue of the fact that they enter the permanent public record]. Yet the interactive, immediate, communal nature of the blogosphere turns blogs into "living books" that constitute a dynamic conversation. Original insights are extended and amplified through the comments and responses of the blogging community.

Mr. Reynolds said that Christians have a stake in both preserved and live performance, because while we live according to the preserved "Book" (the unchanging, nevertheless living and active Word of God --my words, not his), our lives as Christians are also lived in the interaction of community, which "cannot be captured, only experienced". "Christian orthodoxy cannot survive without the life of the Spirit", he said. Thus, blogging offers an additional avenue for building community that helps us move beyond holding mere propositional truth, to living out those truths together.

The breakout sessions I attended included "God and Pop Culture" with Barbara Nicolosi and Mark Joseph, "Using Your Blog to Make Money" by Stacy Harp, and "Turn Your Blogging Into A Writing Career" by James Scott Bell. All of these sessions offered decent advice and also pointed me in the direction of further resources. However I certainly have to do much more research, brainstorming and praying to figure out what role blogging can play in my future vocation, and whether I can expect it to generate anything like a substantial amount of revenue.

The plenary discussions offered words of sagely wisdom from some prominent Christian bloggers, including Joe Carter of Evangelical Outpost, David Wayne of Jollyblogger, Andrew Jackson of Smart Christian. Friday evening's panel discussion, moderated by Hugh Hewitt, included the aforementioned John Mark Reynolds, as well as Tod Bolsinger, and Mark D. Roberts. It was noted that women were not well-represented at this particular conference; I think that Amy K. Hall, aka "Face", over at the A-Team blog, offers an excellent analysis on this phenomenon.

Pursuing blogging as a spiritual discipline was a topic of the first plenary, moderated by John Schroeder. I find this idea very helpful. Like many, I have found that putting into words the insights and revelations I am receiving in my walk with God helps me both to sharpen them, and gain perspective on their meaning. And hopefully, as I share them with others, my thoughts also stimulate and bless others in their own spiritual journey. I have written before on how blogging challenges me to achieve greater integrity-- to live up to the Christian ideals I write about. The panel suggested that "spiritual formation of character" is a vital part of the spiritual discipline of blogging, and that this formation takes place in the context of Christian community, which of course includes fellow bloggers. The maturity we gain, as well as the connections we make, leads to expanded ability to influence positively for Christ.

Although the community created within the blogosphere is no substitute for face-to-face community, it is nevertheless a real community; we can meet people we otherwise would never have met, and there is opportunity to build friendship, deepen connections, expand the circle of community we're part of. "The church is other Christians", as Joe Carter said.

"Blogging should be really seen as a resource", said David Wayne, the blogging pastor of Jollyblogger. We should be intentionally integrating the web and blogs into our disciplemaking and formation of Christian character. There should be practical means of helping people discover blogs, as well as other great resources on the Internet, and to begin using them.

Blogging attracts different types of people, including those that may not be drawn to church. Thus it extends the accessibility and influence of the church.

My Thoughts and Notes on Plenary 2

Christians ought to be on the cutting edge of the information revolution of blogging, rather than mere followers. The gospel is our framework for interpreting what is happening in our culture and is to be applied to all areas of life. Higher culture needs to be impacted, because it in turn impacts pop culture. Overall, culture is in a state of continuous flux.

How do we distinguish ourselves as Christian bloggers?

The church needs to become a real community, in order to have greater impact. But Christians aren't primarily a political force--– they must be Christians first, whose primary commitment is to God and building His kingdom. Through study and careful thinking that understands and can respond to counter-arguments, Christians must develop arguments that apply to all different areas of life. Conversion is often a process, so we don'’t have to measure the success of each post by whether or not it shares the gospel.

Evangelism is not necessarily limited to a presentation of the gospel as "Four Spiritual Laws". We must make the principles and values of the gospel bear upon the whole of culture as we write our blogs. Each of us has a different "niche" in this endeavor and must follow our particular calling and temperament to discover that niche and play our part.

The blogging community will have more power in reaching culture if it can demonstrate that it is becoming a more unified force,– but this pursuit of "power" shouldn't be achieved by worldly methods. It is not primarily a political pursuit of power, but a pursuit of a greater, more unified voice, for the purpose of giving God the glory.

The gospel has public policy and social action implications, and so we try to influence government and culture and politics through intelligent, creative sharing of biblical truth and worldview.

Business models for blogging will emerge, and Christians should be proactive in developing this model. We ought to be praying for one another, especially the bloggers that we personally read. We ought to encourage blogs that are just starting. Christian bloggers ought to be willing to be accountable to one another, willing to listen and respond to criticism. We should expect and prepare for persecution, and respond in grace. Be accessible.

American Christians especially should use the blogosphere to become better informed and less ignorant about global concerns.

Making Connections

An important theme that seemed to run throughout all the various presentations was the need of building Christian community through blogging. Many bloggers in attendance had interacted for a long time via their blogs, but had never met face-to-face. The best part of the conference for me was meeting all of these intelligent, articulate, cultured people who, as blogging Christans, are impacting this world for Christ. I came away with the impression that this group of bloggers was also a group of thinkers, people who have deeply thought about the implications of their faith.

I was pleased too by the friendliness and accessibility of the group, even the "big name" bloggers. Hugh Hewitt walked up to me and made my acquaintance. La Shawn Barber wore a friendly smile and had an easy laugh. In conversation, John Mark Reynolds revealed quite the odd sense of humor; he was no stiff academic.

I met Mark Daniels, whose blog I had previously interacted with and who happened to be staying at the same hotel as me. I found him a real encouraging and interesting fellow, not to mention a man of excellent taste in music (he's a quite knowledgeable McCartney fan). I also got to spend time with Charlie LeHardy, who has an excellent blog called Another Think. Like Mark, Charlie was a good listener and a great guy. He was also very gracious in giving me a lift back to my hotel after a group of us had lunch. Also had a good conversation with Roger and Amy of A-Team blog, during which, as usual, I blabbed away.

At a final impromptu lunch gathering, I enjoyed fellowship with a great group of fellow bloggers, including Amy Hall and Roger Overton of A-Team blog, Charlie LeHardy, DJ Chuang, Lores Rizkalla, Stacy Harp and her husband, Randall Harp(a fellow musician), Christy Lynn Wilson , and Aaron Pina .

For more thoughts and summary of GodBlogCon05, visit the GodBlogCon blog. There you'll find insights from other bloggers, some of whom were "live-blogging" during the event.

It was a great event, and I'm already looking forward to GodBlogCon 2, scheduled for August 2006.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

A Wayward Blogger Looks at Being Famous vs Leaving A Legacy

I haven't posted for a while and must humbly admit that the cause has been a lack of blogging inspiration and focus, in addition to dealing with some personal issues, about which I'd rather not be too specific. Today though, I am feeling spiritually cleansed, inspired and refreshed after a particularly excellent service at my church, Trinity Church International, in Bayside, NY.

God willing, I'll be heading to the GodBlog'05 conference in La Mirada, California, this coming Thursday, and will receive much-needed vision and motivation during my time away.

One thing that has been distracting me from blogging, however, is not necessarily a bad thing-- my love of music. I attended a Paul McCartney concert here in NYC at Madison Square Garden last Saturday evening. Mr. McCartney, or Sir Paul, as he is sometimes referred to these days, is now 63 years old, but he put on a tremendously energetic three-hour+ show. The set list included songs that ranged over his entire illustrious career, Beatles songs as well as selections from his own extensive post-Beatles catalog. He also played some tunes from his latest album, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (see my earlier album review and a related article). McCartney and his band were in fine form, and Paul seemed very relaxed and at ease on stage.

In the weeks leading up to the concert, I listened to a lot of Paul's solo music, and in the process, I was awed by the sheer volume of material he has released since leaving the Beatles in 1970, which includes 20 studio albums and a number of other albums. He has even composed pieces of classical music and had them performed by a major symphony, and, since taking up painting at age 40, he has created over 300 works and had these works in a major art exhibit.

Probably my favorite thing in the world to do is to create something new, especially songs. I envision myself as a creative communicator, and have longed to use my talents in music and writing in a greater way. Yet I know I have been held back to a degree by my own lack of focus, and I have allowed "inner demons" to keep me from being as productive as I could be. So seeing a guy like Paul McCartney, whose music I greatly admire, was an inspiration, but also a bracing slap in the face. How does he manage to be so productive? What drives him? And what am I waiting for? When will I finally record my songs for a CD?

Another thing I witnessed and was reminded of at that concert is the unique power of music to communicate. While blogging is certainly a wonderful medium in which to communicate thoughts and ideas, music is much more a transcendent language, so unique in its ability to communicate powerfully, memorably and universally. People from all different types of backgrounds can share in the feelings and messages music transmits, somehow connecting to each other through the magic of the shared experience of listening to music.

So I am burning again with a desire to write songs, and to not spend all of my free time blogging. Nevertheless, the two pursuits don't have to be mutually exclusive-- the key will be for me to have a driving vision from the Lord that will help me maintain focus, supply crucial daily strength and fresh inspiration, and help me to be disciplined and productive. I must remember too that ultimately, it's not about me, it's about the Lord, making His glory known. The closer I get to Him, savoring His glory and experiencing it for myself, the more I believe I will be touched by that glory, and this in turn will anoint my creativity in a way that nothing else can.

It all comes down to worship. Who or what am I worshipping? Will people be able to look at my life both now and in the future, and say, here is a man who made an impact on the world, for the glory of God? Or am I instead trying to make a name for myself?

Will I strive and discipline myself to greater productivity because I am driven by pursuit of my own fame, so that I will be known as somebody? Or, will I view myself as a steward of God-given gifts, on loan to me for the purpose of communicating His message that alone saves and transforms?

My songs and communications don't all need to be gospel tracts, but will I make statements and bring out truths that bring honor to God, that have the ability to touch peoples' hearts with His transformative power? Or will I settle for being admired for whatever cleverness and talent my artistic endeavors may convey?

I read recently a brief article by pastor and teacher Charles Stanley, adapted from his book "Living the Extraordinary Life". In the article, Mr. Stanley challenges Christians to consider what legacy their lives will leave behind. "When God created you, he writes, "He had a very specific purpose in mind for your life, and He endowed you with all the talents and abilities you would need to accomplish His plan." He goes on to explain that the number of years we live is "less important than how that lifetime is invested".

For example, Mr. Stanley recalls the lives of people, such as Oswald Chambers, who lived briefly here on Earth, yet nevertheless left behind a legacy of great spiritual impact. And of course, the Lord Jesus Christ, "our ultimate example", "altered history forever" in his short life.

Whether my impact is made as a well-known figure, or as a person who lives and dies in obscurity, I will leave behind some kind of legacy. What kind of a legacy do I want it to be? What do my actions each day reflect about my real priorities? I don't yet have children, but if I did, would my example inspire them to dedicate their own lives to love and serve Christ?

Today, it seems the ambition of may is to get their "15 minutes of fame". "Reality" television shows turn people into instant celebritities, celebrated not for accomplishment but merely for being known. There is, I think, a legitimate longing in the human heart for significance (there is eternity in the heart), but the quest for mere fame or celebrity turns that noble impulse towards a base end. Achieving notoriety any way you can is a cheap, ultimately empty substitute for leaving behind a legacy of real and lasting impact. The advent of multiple media technologies makes it more and more possible to shout out to the world I'm here! But will my voice merely stop at saying that? Or will I use my voice to communicate more substantial truths, with all the intelligence, eloquence and talent I can possibly bring to the endeavor? Will my blog (which, after all, is just a extension and a reflection of who I am) be "blah, blah, blah" about "me, me, me"? Or will I purposefully strive to make it a rich coversation about who God is?

The wise man Ecclesiastes' great reflection on the purpose of life (which was derived, not only through careful and studious lifetime observation, but by actual participation in all the wayward ways of men), came to a pointed close with this final admonition:

Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil (Eccles 12: 13-14). Charles Stanley's grandfather advised him, "Obey God and leave all the consequences to Him." And tonight, I say to myself, "Use the gifts, talents and opportunities God gives you to leave behind a legacy in the name of Jesus Christ that will last-- by helping bring souls into heaven."