Saturday, December 31, 2005

Blips on the Blogosphere: Christmas/New Year Edition

Christmas Ballyhoo
As with other holidays, Christmas has had it share of controversy this year. First, with all the politically-correct, "separation of church and state" folks not wanting people to say "Merry Christmas" or to display Nativity scenes. Then there was all the uproar over the decision of many churches this year to be closed on Christmas day, which this year happened to fall on a Sunday. For many, these closings were an indication of wrong priorities-- they thought that churches should remain open because we must not allow the celebration of the holiday to override our celebration of Jesus.

Within the Christian community, the old debate over whether to even celebrate Christmas was again revived. In his usual pointed way, Steve Camp brought out the issues in his post Is Christ Jesus the Reason for the Season? Read The History of Christmas to find out

Camp's article quotes an article by Jim McCutchan that argues that the pagan and Roman Catholic roots of the Christmas holiday prevent us from celebrating modern day Christmas in a way that rightly celebrates the birth of our Savior.

Yet others say that we have the history wrong, and that the notion that Christmas has strictly pagan roots is a myth. Gene Edward Veith, in Why December 25?, argues that the origin of Christmas had nothing to do with paganism. His article is based on the conclusions of historian William J. Tighe, in his 2003 Touchstone magazine article Calculating Christmas.

The always eloquent Albert Mohler, Jr. offers his positive take on celebrating Christmas in The People Who Walk in Darkness Will See a Great Light.

I particularly liked Jim Eliff's presentation of good reasons for celebrating Christmas, Christmas: Bah Humbug or Gloria in Excelsis. Though the holiday may not really celebrate the actual birth date of our Lord, and does have some "Romish" history, Mr. Eliff argues that Christmas can be celebrated in a God-honoring way if done in the right spirit.

Jollyblogger offers a nice wrap-up of the debate in his article The Ol' Origins of Christmas Debate.

Finally, I think Diane at Crossroads offers a challenging message to the Church with the post Satan's Meeting. In our busyness, just who are we really following after? This article prompts us to sharpen our spiritual awareness, and is espcecially appropriate as we enter into the new year.

Blessings to you all in New Year 2006!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

O, To Be a Spirit-Led Blogger

Mike over at Eternal Perspectives has written some true and very sharp observations in his post, Blogging: on the outside looking in. He spent 5 months away from posting on his blog after the recent death of his mother, but continued to spend time observing and commenting on other "God-bloggers".

What he discovered is something I too had been noticing about my blogging and that of others in the Christian blogosphere-- a lot of the time, we are not blogging about anything that really matters. I have only been away from blogging for a week or so, but found myself wanting to get back to blogging for many wrong reasons: I'm going to lose my standing in the TTLB ecosystem; no one is going to come back to my blog if I am not regularly posting; some great new blog conversation is going on and I'm going to be completely "out of the loop".

It's quite true that all of the above probably does happen when you don't blog regularly enough, but the question is: so what? Do I blog because I think I have discovered something significant to say about the issue at hand, or am I writing simply to throw my own "two-cents" into the dialogue?

I need to spend significant time with Jesus Christ, learning at His feet. Then I will gain new understanding of who He is, and who I am in this world, and will perhaps be prompted by the Spirit to blog about some subject that has eternal significance for me, or for someone else.

Now I don't think that every blog post I make necessarily needs to be super-profound, or even that the subject matter I take up must always be grave and serious. But I certainly agree with Mike that I ought to bring an eternal perspective to it all. I ought to ask myself regularly, "Is this worth spending my time writing about? Who am I writing this for, and why? Is my blogging something God approves of?"

Blogging has been, overall, a good development in my life. I feel God gave me a gift for writing, and my educational training was in English Literature, but until I began blogging, I had never written on a regular basis, either professionally or personally. Blogging has opened up a wonderful outlet for spiritual, creative and intellectual exploration, through which I dig deeper into my faith through the act of writing regularly, and interact with many excellent thinkers and writers of "Godblogdom". In this way, my observations are hopefully becoming richer and more useful. But, it is so important that I don't fall into the trap-- which I have all too often -- of making the blog about... Me.

Whatever I say, I want it to be something that others can read and find truth in, and I want it to be something that somehow shows forth the excellence of the Christian way, and of Jesus Himself. I don't want to be a "blog, blog, blog" blogger, reacting to every blog conversation that develops, and prompted by fleshly considerations rather than by the Spirit. I want to continue blogging as a spiritual discipline that helps me (and others) draw closer to our God, rather than distracts me away from Him. And I hope that in blogging and in my life, I will be learning to listen more intently, that I may hear the voice of the Spirit speaking to my heart as I write.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Christian Carnival 101

The 101st Christian Carnival, Christmas Edition 2005 is up at The Bible Archive. My recent post, Follow Me has been included.

Merry Christmas, Carnival readers!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas to You

Merry Christmas to all Jordan's View visitors and regulars. May we remember this day our Lord Jesus Christ, how in His great love for us, He humbled Himself to become a human baby and grew up to become the Light of Salvation for all mankind.

I haven't posted much lately but will be posting more soon.

Blessings to you all, in His name.


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Blips on the Blogosphere 3

From Breakpoint this week: "Hebrews 11 tells us that, apart from faith, it is impossible to please God, and, thus, to know the many benefits that flow from Him. That much is clear. But what is faith?" The always insightful T.M. Moore presents a biblical answer in Pleasing God-The Nature of Faith and the Pursuit of God, in his regular column, "Second Sight".

Dan Edelen wraps up his fine series on "Hidden Messages in American Christianity" with a post that looks at the most critical hidden message: the life and witness of believers. Does the way we live communicate lies or truth about Christianity?

Joe Carter of Evangelical Outpost hosts a Christian symposium on a very timely subject: The Truth About Torture? He has gathered together some leading Christian ethicists and opinion journalists for the discussion, and invites comments from the blogosphere.

Christian blogosphere reviews of Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

Good Messages at Christmastime

Tod Bolsinger of It Takes A Church: "The real meaning of Christmas is about truly receiving the grace and mercy of God, of recognizing that no matter what we have or what we have accomplished, or no matter how secure we are, or how respected in our world, we are no more deserving of God’s gracious presence, God’s great love, God’s invitation to come to the manger and follow the Jesus the King that a lowly shepherd". Read God is Better than Santa .

Miscellanies on the Gospel also presents pictures of living under grace in Don't Live in Despair Because of Your Failures in Following Jesus!

Better Living: Should Churches Close On Christmas, Part 2- Mark Daniels writes "The fault I find in not worshiping on Christmas Day is that it just happens to fall on a Sunday this year. And while there is nothing that says churches must worship on Sunday, it is an appropriate habit for Christians and those interested in the faith to gather for a weekly celebration of Jesus' resurrection". Nevertheless, Pastor Mark does not charge churches that have chosen to remain closed with the sin of unfaithfulness, and has also helpfully gathered together links to some other bloggers on this topic. See also Tim Challies' post Christmas Sunday

runalong with pastor mark: 12 Days (of Christmas)

Allthings2all: Spotlight on Darfur: Christmas Edition spotlights the current humanitarian crisis in Sudan's western region of Darfur. Read also this background article from the BBC. What can we do to help? Read these articles and find out (HT: Charlie Lehardy at Another Think).

Jay Adkins urges us at Christmas to pray for The Persecuted Church.

Monday, December 19, 2005

See What You've Been Missing

Visitors to this site who use the venerable Internet Explorer browser have probably never seen this blog as it is meant to be displayed. For reasons I haven't figured out yet, Internet Explorer pushes my sidebar (the left column of Jordan's View, which includes profile info, resource links, RSS feeds, etc.) all the way down to the bottom of the screen! It also changes some of the display fonts. Basically, the blog is just a big mess when displayed in IE. I am trying to fix the problem from within my template, but I can't guarantee a quick fix (or any fix at all).

So, if you're a frequent visitor here, or if you would just like to be able to see what this blog is supposed to look like (how gorgeous and functional it really can be), then I strongly urge you to view it using the Firefox browser. If you don't have Firefox, you can download the latest version (1.5) here.

Firefox: A Great Browser to Have
Even if you're not using it just so you can view my site better, Firefox is a terrific browser to have anyway. The extensions Firefox offers are simply amazing and seemingly never-ending, extending Firefox's capabilities t make it the most customizable, fun, efficient browser available. For example, you can change the look of the browser using any of hundreds of available themes.

Some Firefox extensions I use
Recently, I installed RSS reader extensions (WIZZ RSS News Reader, Fizzle) which allow you to view RSS feeds within your Firefox browser. Firefox also has a built-in "Live Bookmarks" feature-- any page that has an available RSS feed will display a special icon in the address bar-- click on it to create a bookmark that reads the feed. For those who just have to use Internet Explorer, IE tab extension lets you view pages as an IE tab within Firefox.

More extensions
Want to block out annoying ads? Use Adblock. Control your favorite media player right from the browser using Foxytunes. Or get the weather report built-in to Firefox with Forecastfox.

For more ideas, read the PC magazine article Top 15 Firefox Extensions. So don't hesitate! Download the great Firefox browser and see what you've been missing here at Jordan's View!

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Decline of Pop Culture and the Shining Light of Christian Dialogue

I wrote the following (developed a little further for posting here) as part of discussion thread in a community forum on Paul McCartney's website:

There has been an unfortunate overall decline in quality and creativity in big selling pop music, which statistically is being bought by a younger age group (teens-early 20's). The significant question is: why?

Pop music is really a reflection of the culture. In the 60's and 70's, artists that were born in the 40's and 50's were coming into their own. As adults, those artists may have rejected some of the previous generation's attitudes, becoming looser about sex and other lifestyle choices, but they were still products of an older generation that valued family, tradition, marriage, loyalty much more than the succeeding generations would (I think that background is why Paul too has been such a curious blend-- a "pot-smoking, influential rock star" who nevertheless was a faithful family man).

My theory is that as Western society has become more cynical and materialistic, pop culture and especially pop music has become progressively about exploiting our most base instincts of greed and lust, with messages that amount to the following: "look at me, I'm bad"; "I'm the stud with the most money, chicks and gangster credo"; "I'm so sexy-- you can't help drooling over me"--shut up and buy my albums!; or "I may be a gangster and an ex-con, but hey, now I'm a entrepreneur".

Raised in the age of MTV, Howard Stern, exploding Internet pornography, cynicism about the trustworthiness of our leaders; a time when the values of civility, courteousness, honor, and integrity have been increasingly superseded by a selfish, me-first mentality, it is not surprising that many young people today buy into these messages of pop music uncritically-- it's reflecting what they know. Taste and discernment and value judgments are not only missing, but many young people don't recognize that they're missing. There's a common idea that everything is of equal value and no one's opinion about something is better than another's, especially when it comes to taste in music, for example.

Fortunately there are exceptions, young people who somehow manage to rise above the culture's addiction to mediocrity. I think that those of us who can see the decline ought to try to point it out to them somehow. Yet elevation of the pop culture will only come about through deep changes in the souls of people, in what they value and think is important.

I would recommend reading Francis Schaeffer (my Christian readers are probably already familiar with his name and writings) as a thinker and a kind of modern-day prophet who saw the decline in our society happening and predicted that it would get worse. He understood history and saw how ideas have consequences that trickle down into popular culture after first being developed at the universities and from society's thinkers/influencers. In his analysis, the truths of the Judeo-Christian heritage had provided a foundation for the greatest progress in science, law, government, in Western European culture, and also for our own amazing development of a democratic system that was unprecedented in producing economic growth and increasing freedoms. But he saw an attitude and philosophy developing among the intellectual elite that was not seeing this, that was instead portraying Christianity as an outmoded relic of more superstitious, irrational age. He knew that this was a deadly mistake and sounded the alarm through his books and teaching. Unfortunately today we are seeing the negative fruit that Schaeffer accyrately predicted, particularly in popular culture.

Schaeffer did not see the work of artists, even today's popular artists, as insignificant. He saw that artists are among those whose products and creations enter the competitive marketplace of ideas, with great potential for influence not only people's minds, but also touching their hearts.

Bloggers too, will exert their influence, as many differing sectors of society-- media, musicians, politicians, artists, home-schoolers, liberals, conservatives, scientists, etc.-- are beginning to see.

But Christians are to go beyond mere talking. It's not our job to shout the loudest and make the most noise, but rather to humbly demonstrate, through lives that demonstrate gospel values, that we are for real and that our God is real. Retreating into a Christian sub-culture that avoids interaction with the world for fear of contamination, but too often mimics its values anyway, is not an option. We are to be in the world, but not of the world.

Let us seek to first meet with our God deeply and then boldly go forth to speak forth His message; to participate in the dialogue that isn't primarily about getting noticed, but seeks to redeem and transform with the light that the gospel shines.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Blips on the Blogosphere 2

My friend Mark Daniels at Better Living continues an excellent series on the qualities of a leader with Leadership Lesson #7: The First Thing a Leader Must Do to Get People to Follow

Postmod or Postmill? This sharp post by Doug Wilson looks at Brian Maclaren's message and points out that the existence of hell is not something that can be brushed aside-- as if not a crucial part of the gospel. An interesting discussion also follows in the comments section (see also my post Heaven and Hell).

In Are You Preaching the Gospel to Yourself During Your Drive Time?, Rob Wilkerson of Miscellanies on the Gospel suggests some ways to help yourself stay rooted in God and His word, even while driving. I really need to do this, as my thoughts while driving tend to not be very godly, I must admit.

As part of a series continuing the ongoing blogosphere dialogue about the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts, presents an interview with Bible scholar Wayne Grudem titled Continuationism and Cessationism: Interview with Wayne Grudem, Part 1 and Part 2.

Dan Edelen posts yet another insightful look into the church with his latest series post, Hidden Messages of American Christianity: "Family Cocooning Session: No Trespassing Allowed!"

Note to myself: Read the internetmonk series on The Christian and Mental Illness. I haven't yet had the chance to read it but the questions he raises (and promises to address) in the first post are excellent.

John Mark Reynolds, Biola University philosophy professor and a "God-blogger", presents a paper looking at the phenomenon of blogging and its future (based on one of his recent GodBlogCon '05 lectures). Mr. Reynold's exellent lectures were perhaps the most substantive feature of the GodBlogCon'05 conference.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Follow Me

Follow Me
You lift up my spirits, you shine on my soul
Whenever I'm empty, you make me feel whole
I can rely on you, to guide me through, any situation
You hold up a sign that reads, follow me.

You give me directions, you show me the way
You give me a reason, to face every day
I can depend on you, to send me to, any destination
You hold up a sign that reads, follow me, follow me.

Down the track of loneliness, down the path of love
Through the woods of heartache, to the end
On the shores of sorrow, where the waves of hope crash in
The perfect place for me to find a friend.

You lead me to places, that I've never been
Uncovering secrets, that I've never seen
I can rely on you, to guide me through, any situation
You hold up a sign that reads, follow me, follow me,
Follow me, follow me,
Follow me, follow me

Paul McCartney, Christian?

Are these the words of a CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) songwriter, say, Steven Curtis Chapman, or Jars of Clay? Though these words sound like they could be the words of a Christian songwriter, they are actually from the pen of none other than Sir Paul McCartney. The lyrics from Paul's song "Follow Me", off his latest album, the Grammy-nominated "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard", suggest that Paul McCartney is writing from personal religious experience. Yet in interviews, McCartney has often affirmed that he is not religious, at least not in an orthodox sense.

For example, in an interview published in the November 2005 issue of Reader's Digest Canada, Paul said:

"I believe in the spirit of goodness, so I can sympathize with Christians, Jewish people, Buddhists, Muslims. I think essentially they're all trying to say the same thing: You ought to choose between good and bad...

I don't subscribe to any one religion, but I do feel a oneness with a spirit of goodness. But I don't know if there's an old man with a beard in the sky"

Still, the lyrics of "Follow Me" do sound Christian, especially in Paul's use of the phrase "follow me" (a direct quote of Jesus), and also in the way the lyrics describe what seems to be a personal relationship with God (a subject very common in CCM).

What I find interesting is that McCartney, who in his own words does not "subscribe to any one religion", would write an "inspirational" song with such strong religious, and particularly Christian, connotations.

"Never Discuss Religion or Politics"

At the official Paul McCartney website, the community forum recently participated in what became a quite heated (at times) discussion of this particular song. The person who began the discussion thread identified himself as Christian, and said he found it interesting that "Follow Me", like other songs Paul has written (Let It Be, for example), has such strong Christian overtones. He asked for feedback, and while many agreed with his initial observation, the thread soon veered into various argumentative tangents (among the questions debated were: is Paul really a Christian, in any sense of the word; what is the definition of the word "Christian"; what does it mean to really be a Christian, anyway; and why not just enjoy the music and not bring Paul's religious beliefs into it).

Some participants in the discussion were deeply offended at the idea that Paul might identify himself as Christian, and seemed all bent out of shape at the mere suggestion of such a notion. Others insisted that Paul is closer to being Christian than to any other religion. I threw my own "two-cents" into the discussion, responding to a narrow technical definition of the term "Christian" that someone was offering, by stating that a Christian is more than just someone who takes the name "Christian", and isn't born into it in the same way that one is born a citizen of a country. Rather, a Christian is someone whose faith in Christ results in their developing a certain way of life, one that follows the way of Christ.

Why were people so riled up by this discussion? What is it about the name of Christ, or the subject of Christianity, that makes people so uncomfortable, so hostile and reactive?

Paul's Faith, In His Own Words

It seems quite clear from Paul's words on the subject that he is not a Christian-- and yet many, including myself, find that in his music there is a spiritual component that suggests that he is a "spiritual person", i.e., that he believes in some sort of spirituality. In interviews he confirms this. For example, in the following excerpt (from another 2001 Reader's Digest interview given shortly after the death of his wife Linda), Paul was questioned about the inspiration behind his music.

RD: You've said in the past that "Yesterday" emerged fully formed from a dream. What do you make of that? What is your personal understanding of inspiration?

McCARTNEY: I don't understand it at all. But I love it. I think life is quite mysterious and quite miraculous. I mean, when I saw my first baby, Mary, born, I remember just thinking "That is magic." I know how we did it. But there's still a miracle happening. I still don't know how I write songs. And I don't want to know. Every time I come to write a song there's this sort of magic little thing where I go, "Ooh, ooh, it's happening again. Ooh, ooh, ooh." I'm just thrilling myself with this sort of thing. And I do it all the time. I just sort of sit down at the piano and go, "Oh, my God. I don't know this one." And suddenly there's like a song there.

It's something I love. And, like I say, I find the magic in it so -- it's a faith thing. I think thereƂ’s a great thing there in life. I think there's also not-so-great, and I think what we're in is a mix, and I prefer to go with the great stuff and maximize that as much as I can. You can't always. This is life. We're born, we die. But, with creativity, I just have a faith. It's not a faith of any particular religion because I worry that religions start wars. It's a great spiritual belief that there is something really great there that I probably refer to as a spirit of goodness. I'm doing a choral piece at the moment for a choir in Oxford. I sort of talk to a spirit of goodness, because I don't want to alienate Catholics, Jewish people, Muslims. '‘Cause I know we're all good, there's good in all of us. But that's my belief, that there is something sort of magical there. And that was what helped me write "Yesterday." I don't quite know what it is. Something to do with me, something to do with my love of music and my faith in the process. But I don't quite know what it is and I don't want to know.

Mysteries In Life

In the above quote it seems to me Mr. McCartney is saying he recognizes that there are these great mysteries in life-- moments of wonder and goodness that can't be explained, but that need to be pondered, savored, treasured. He seems to compare the magic of such moments, the birth of his child Mary for example, with the magic also present in the moment of creative inspiration, the birth of a song. One need not be an artist to experience such moments of recognition regarding life's mysteries; but if gifted like Mr. McCartney, one may be able to capture and express such moments beautifully in their art.

Perhaps because of his inability to explain, for example, how the inspiration for song writing strikes him-- where it comes from, how exactly it happens-- McCartney seems to view such events as spiritual mysteries. In the moment of creation, for example, McCartney has developed a "faith in the process"-- that his inspirations will indeed become something tangible and worthwhile (as they have so often before).

Paul also speaks of his "great spiritual belief that there is something really great (out) there, that I refer to as a spirit of goodness". Perhaps he feels that this "spirit of goodness" not only inspires him to create, but also motivates him to bring this good into the lives of others through the "magic" of song.

Speaking of how he wrote "Follow Me", Paul says:

"It's one of those songs that kind of wrote itself. You know, sometimes you're feeling great about your life, not always but you've been lucky. You're feeling great. I actually had done something where I had sung Let It Be and I was thinking, it's nice having a song like that because it's kind of quasi-religious, but it's very uplifting. What is it? It's just somebody very important in your life or is it spirits of goodness, something kind of great - 'You lift up my spirits, you shine on my soul, whenever I'm empty, you make me feel whole, I can rely on you to guide me through any situation, you hold up a sign that reads, follow me.' It was one of those songs, it's just inspired."

RD: Do you have a philosophy that has guided your life? You've had so many really intense experiences. A lot of people would be very thrown by some of the things that have happened to you. What keeps you as centered as you seem to be?

McCARTNEY: That's a really hard question. I don't know. I think there is a sort of faith in things and in life being a miracle. But when it's tough times, you sort of know there's a good chance that it will come good. So I sort of have faith in that. Coming from where I'm from, my upbringing, there was no silver spoon in my mouth. So I had to do things like paper rounds and odd jobs and stuff. It sort of gave me a love of life, I think. And knowing that if a thing is tough, you've got to try and think, "Right, what's the way out of this?" I think that's my first thought: "How do we get out of this, in a bad situation?" Where I think some other people aren't as fortunate and might just think, "That's it. I'm gone." I'm not really like that. My first thought is "Oh, holy cow, what do we do now?" And I'm a bit of a fighter that way.

Following the Mystery

In all of the above quotes, it seems to me Paul is expressing a faith in the mystery of life: there is something more to life that what meets the eye; life is full of these "miraculous" moments that can't be explained and which seem to point to a "spirit of goodness" or "something really great" that exists. As one who has experienced great "highs" and come through terrible "lows" in his own life, Paul seems to have developed a faith that things will work out for the good, and a philosophy that one must be "a fighter" and keep on believing that good will come, even when times are really rough.

Like his long-time friend and songwriting partner, John Lennon, Paul too developed his own "working philosophy" of life, one that seemed to make sense of his experiences. Today he finds "there's good in all of us", and believes "in life being a miracle". Interestingly, despite their contrasting personalities, both Paul and John came to some of the same essential conclusions regarding life. Both were romantic idealists who really believed that love would save the world. Their song The End sums up their message pretty well: "and in the end, the love you make is equal to the love you make". Paul's music post-Beatles has continued to reflect this optimismistic love message, in Paul's characteristically upbeat way.

But in the same way that Lennon's utopian vision, expressed most clearly in his song Imagine, was an incomplete view because it failed to fully take into account the evil of human nature, so also Paul's present philosophical outlook is inadequate to make sense of the mysteries he finds. Though Paul has seen mystery, he has stopped short of following the mystery all the way through, in order to reach a definite conclusion about ultimate reality.

Of course, none of us, whether a brilliant musician, a visionary scientist, a deep theologian or just an average person, would be able to decipher the mystery at the heart of existence.

Yet, if our eyes have been opened to recognize that life is a mystery and humbly admit that we know so little, we may follow this mystery all the way through to the find the Truth, because Jesus is still speaking today, testifying to the Truth: "for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me" (John 18: 37)

So we are to listen to Him, if we want to find truth. But what man would be so audacious as to speak this way? What mere man would dare claim to speak on behalf of "the Truth"? And so, as always, many are offended by Jesus. Of course, our tendency is to think of truth as only principles and ideas, and many steer clear of the claims of Christ by taking Him as a merely a teacher and a good man. But Jesus boldly declared: "I am the TRUTH, the way and the life".

Jesus was not saying, "Follow me, and I will give you the principles of truth". Rather, he was saying, in effect: "Follow me, because I AM the Truth-- I am the living embodiment of Truth, and the One from whom all truth originates." Follow me, because my authority comes from who I am.

Like Mr. McCartney, we may recognize that life is miraculous and full of mystery, and this may cause us to wonder, and to marvel and rejoice. We can embrace the goodness that we see around us, while condemning that which is evil. Yet if we are honest enough, we find that same evil within our own hearts, and all around us, and must recognize that it is not enough to merely wish that all will be made right someday. If we are honest, we see that mankind has been helpless to produce the deep changes within himself necessary to save himself and the planet, despite education, despite scientific advances, despite our so-called "evolvement" from lower creatures, despite our good intentions.

A world destined to perish, but still proud in her arrogance, her willful ignorance and in her rejection of God, has been humbled by the birth of a little baby, born in a manger to humble parents with little money in an obscure place. Yet this baby, who came into this world of darkness, grew into the Man who has become its light and hope.

"Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12)"

Christian Carnival 100

Today marks the hundredth gathering of the Christian Carnival, and fittingly, Christian Carnival 100 is hosted today by Nick Queen, the blogger who "started it all" by launching the Carnival on January 21, 2004.

My article Imagine- A New Heaven And a New Earth, posted last week in remembrance of the 25th anniversary of John Lennon's death, is included in the carnival.

I encourage to visit the Carnival and don't skip Nick's opening prayer, which reveals his heart and vision for the Carnival: both to edify those who already believe, and help those who don't believe to find and receive Christ.

Friday, December 09, 2005

McCartney's Chaos and Creation Nominated for Four Grammy Awards

As you probably have guessed from reading my blog, I am a big fan of the music of Paul McCartney, John Lennon and The Beatles. Some might ask, as an evangelical Christian, how can you be a fan of their music? My quick response is that I recognize their musical gift as something tremendous and God-given, and so I can appreciate the beauty and the craft of their songwriting, without necessarily endorsing the philosophical or other beliefs of their songs.

In any case, I am very pleased to hear that McCartney's latest album, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, has earned Paul three Grammy nominations: Album of the Year, Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for the album's first single, "Fine Line", and Best Pop Vocal album; in addition, Nigel Godrich is nominated as Producer of the Year for his work on the album.

Why am I pleased? Well for one thing, I think the album is very deserving (see my review). It is also gratifying that something that I really like personally and appreciate musically is being recognized by these well-known awards, that represent, at least by the standards of the present music industry, the best work in the field. In recent years, I have found myself at odds with a lot of popular and critical taste in music, feeling that there has been a degeneration in the recognition of what constitutes excellence in music, and a corresponding overall decline in the quality of popular music.

I'm quite certain however, that I'm not alone in this feeling. Music lovers perhaps have an instinctive understanding that there is such a thing as quality in music, and that although tastes in music will always be marked by subjectivity, nevertheless, true excellence can be recognized (or else why have awards?), sometimes intuitively, sometimes through training. Whenever music that is truly deserving because of its excellent quality is recognized and lauded, I think a step forward is made toward the restoration of true beauty and artistry back to popular music.

Congratulations, Paul! I hope you win!!

The 48th Annual GRAMMY Awards will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 8, at Staples Center in Los Angeles and once again will be broadcast live in high-definition TV and 5.1 surround sound on CBS from 8 – 11:30 p.m. (ET/PT).

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Remembering John, Embracing a New Dream

Today is the 25th anniversary of that fateful day --December 7, 1980-- when John Lennon was murdered by gunshots just outside of his home at the Dakota in NYC, his stunned wife Yoko only a few feet away. I remember that at the time, I had become a recent fan of John Lennon's solo work, and as a songwriter was inspired by Lennon's unique voice-- his combination of pithy, in-your-face lyrics and sensitive vulnerabilty. On one song, Lennon would rock with a jaded, satiric bite, and in the next, he was tender and gentle, singing paeans to love and Yoko.

In some ways, Lennon was an iconoclast, yet he was deep enough to know that "rock and roll" rebellion, for its own sake, was meaningless. In one of many acts of controversy (which he seemed to court), John and Yoko appeared totally nude on one of their album covers, as if to say, this is me, this is who I really am, I'm not this mythical Beatle icon you've constructed, I'm just a man, standing here with the woman I love. So also in his music, John got "naked" at times; it seems he sought to strip away his youthful illusions, to reject the false messages of society, that he might find and embrace his primal, essential, true self.

Listening to his music, reading and watching him in interviews, I felt kind of like I knew John. I considered him a friend. Despite his seriousness about things like peace in the world, John also seemed like he'd be fun to hang around with-- he had a playfulness which was child-like, even goofy at times; he seemed interested in many things; he was articulate and never boring. So when John was shot, I felt as if someone I knew had died and I was very sad. John had sung, about the Beatles and his past, "the dream is over", and now, with John dead, it seemed it really was.

I was young and dreaming ahead of my future, seeking to understand the meaning of it all, and John's quest for peace, his music and his relationship with Yoko had all seemed very romantic and inspiring. Maybe I too could be an artist, and make my impact on the world through my songs and vision. It would be a few more years before I would come to embrace a different vision, one with similarly high ideals of the potential for love and goodness to prevail over evil and ugliness, but also one that had to be embraced by a faith that saw that God is real, and that I needed Him.

Still today I remember John Lennon, the man and his music, and I'm thankful for the inspiration he gave me to make music and in making music, to try to say something that matters. Yoko, Sean and Julian, I pray you may find the Truth that I have come to know in the person of Jesus Christ. And in honor of John's passing, I am re-posting today an old article- Imagine: A New Heaven And a New Earth. To listen to John and the Beatles music, go to Q104.3's special tribute in honor of John here.

P.S. Another of my old posts, Gimme Some Truth, was inspired by Lennon's song of the same name, and may also be of interest.

P.S.S. My friend Mark Daniels at Better Living also has posted his own memories and thoughts on this anniversary of John's passing. Very well-written!

Lennon at the Bed-In

Imagine- A New Heaven And a New Earth

It is hard to believe that 30 years have already passed since the Beatles disbanded and went their separate ways, and John Lennon and his wife Yoko went off and staged their famous "Bed-In" for peace. I was only a young child in the decade of the 60's, but the social landscape today seems so far removed from that era's idealism. The 1960's had been a time of great unrest and turmoil-- the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., Bob Dylan, The Beatles, hippies, drugs, "free love", and the Vietnam War were just a few of the personalities and phenomena making up the volatile social scene. But with all the unrest and violence that existed, there was yet a feeling, reflected in the arts and especially the music of the time, and perhaps bolstered by the elections of youthful and different kinds of leaders, like President John F. Kennedy and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, that the love and peace movement would somehow triumph over the evils of the "establishment". If people could somehow find the love and peace existing within themselves, and want them badly enough, they could foment a social revolution that would stop the evils promulgated by the "establishment"--the wars manufactured out of greed, the repressiveness of traditional societal roles, racism towards the Negro, intolerance of alternate sexual expression, and conformity to the status quo. The ideal of seeking harmony through "free love"-- the "Make Love, Not War" attitude--appealed to a young generation that, behind the facade of happiness of the previous generation, saw what it thought was hypocrisy, prejudice, hate and materialism.

I recently watched a documentary entitled "John & Yoko's Year of Peace" (2000), which follows John and Yoko's activities in the year 1969. The Beatles were soon to break up when John Lennon met Yoko Ono, an avant-garde Japanese artist, at one of her exhibitions, fell in love and married her. Like star couples of today, John and Yoko were major celebrities whose every move was being reported by the media. So Lennon and his new wife, spurred on by the thrill of honeymoon love and by their idealism, ingeniously decided to turn the media circus to their advantage and promote the cause of peace.

Watching footage of the Lennons in various interviews, including the famous "Bed-In" (the honeymoon rendezvous in which John and Yoko invited reporters to interview them while in bed to talk about peace), I was struck by the seriousness of their demeanor, yet also their light-heartedness and humor. Lennon is articulate and intelligent, gentle but also forthright when expressing his views. Yoko is serene and less vocal, but also shares her views with dignity and conviction. They talk about the cause of peace in the world with the optimism and sincerity of true believers. They seem convinced that their voice, being just one of many, will help spur on many like-minded people to speak out for peace, to become an effective worldwide movement. As their famous slogan plastered all over the world at the time declared: "War is over, if you want it".

Alas, we know today that Lennon's peace crusade, admired by some and vilified by others, did not mushroom into the powerful force for peace that they had hoped for. Conservatives shunned them, viewing the Lennons as foolish and naive at best, arrogant and dangerous at worst. Liberals sympathetic to their cause may have been too busy pursuing other agendas to join in mass, although the documentary shows that the Lennon's campaign did generate a certain momentum, which included a concert. Like Woodstock, the Lennon's year of peace seemed to be of the moment, generating a buzz that dissipated quickly. Yet the social and sexual revolution of the 60's did result in a certain measure of envisioned changes, including improved treatment of black people in America, better opportunities for women in the marketplace and new trends in politics, media and the arts that began then and continue to unfold today. Depending on your worldview, these changes have been either good or bad (or somewhere in-between) for America.

As a person of artistic temperament and an admirer of the songwriting genius of Lennon, I was, in my pre-Christian days, quite drawn to his message of love and peace. I would say that I'm still of course, sympathetic to his dream of a world where love and peace triumph over hate and war. Yet I also believe that Lennon was short-sighted in that, rejecting the Christian explanation of reality, he necessarily moved into a position that required him to believe that the innate "goodness" of humanity was a real thing, and if tapped into would become a potent force for radical change. In his song Imagine, Lennon dreamed a utopian world where, through the power of vision, humanity would reject all the illusions that separate us from one another-- "Imagine there's no... "Heaven", "hell", "religion", "countries", "possessions". Detached from all these divisive influences, these constructs of man, mankind's beauty would shine forth, enabling people to live "life in peace" and "be as one".

But world events since 1969 reveal, just as the world events did before 1969, that mankind is plagued by evils that have been part of human interaction since the dawn of history. The idea that simply getting enough people to wish for (or strongly desire) a world full of peace will bring it into reality has a certain easy charm. But can we continue to stare into the face of evil that we see all around us worldwide--the genocide, the rape, the murder, the starvation, the injustice-- all resulting from our inhumane treatment of one another--and believe that innate goodness will win the day?

Or is the answer to be found in rational thinking and education? If we train our children to be "tolerant", to view history according to our conceptions, and to think properly, will it prevent them from becoming criminals, of either the blue or white-collar variety, and instead becoming great and caring citizens?

Today across America we find among our young people rampant cheating, kids that start experimenting with sex at ever earlier ages, even kids killing other kids at school, sometimes for their iPods or sometimes just because a kid snaps and goes on a killing spree. We have heard of very young children beating each other brutally. Of course, there are many wonderful children in this country who don't steal, don't cheat and do become productive members of society. Yet it seems the negative patterns we see here in America are also present in Europe and in other "developed" nations.

The evils perpetrated by the adult world is their model. And this is not even taking into account all the horrific crimes perpetuated globally by terrorists, suicide bombers, and regimes that can only be properly described as evil in how they treat their people. With all of this wickedness surrounding us, are we naive enough to think that simply wishing for peace will make it come?

I applaud the fact John Lennon used his celebrity to advance a worthy cause (when he could just have easily, with his wealth, avoided controversy), and the fact that he was willing to confront hypocrisy and evil even as he sought to be a peacemaker; nevertheless it can be seen that his dream of peace was ultimately ineffective, because it did not properly diagnose the problem: the evil at the heart of mankind.

This is not a pleasant or politically correct message, though it is an accurate one. The Bible says in Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" There is no time to be politically correct. Jesus may come back at any moment. The message of Jesus Christ is that we are in desperate need, and if we recognize our need, Jesus will fill it. What is our need? Our need is to know Jesus in order to be saved from our sins, which otherwise will destroy us forever.

Jesus spoke often of the reality of His kingdom and of the beautiful nature of it. It is a spiritual kingdom, one that is not of this present world, yet one that will someday physically reign over a new Heaven and a new Earth. All who are part of it will also be new people, with hearts (our spiritual center) and bodies completely made whole. And yes, peace will reign there. Yet His message to all who seek to enter this kingdom is "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand."

More Lennon-related posts: Gimme Some Truth and Remembering John, Embracing a New Dream.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Christian Carnival XCIX (99)

Christian Carnival 99 is up today at Attention Span, and Rev-Ed has come up with an ingenious theme- Famous 99's in History.

I was fortunate to get into the Carnival with my recent post, Another Way of Excellence, (a bit past the deadline, but Rev-Ed kindly took it anyway).

I encourage you to visit the Carnival, which, as usual, highlights some excellent and very fresh material from the Christian blogosphere. It's also a great way to discover new bloggers.

For instructions on how to contribute a post to the Carnival, go here. I can attest that hosting the Carnival is a lot of work but a worthwhile experience, having recently hosted the 96th Edition of the Carnival. The link above also provides instructions on how to apply to be a host, which besides being a good service to the blogging community, brings benefits to the host, in the form of traffic and links. So what are you waiting for?


This will be a recurring section in which I highlight various recent posts of interest around the blogosphere.

With God, Nothing is Impossible-- thats goes for both Introverts and Extroverts!

This week, Dan Edelen continues his excellent series of posts on hidden messages in the American Christianity with a post titled: Pastor O'Gill and the Little People. In the post, Dan, who describes himself as a "raging extrovert", makes the argument that introverts are too often left out of the leadership and activities of the American church, since the church is mostly overrun with extroverts.

I offer the following observation-- one I think Dan would agree with. While it is true that God has endowed each of us with a unique personality-- we need not be limited to whatever our so-called personality "type" is. Sometimes life calls upon extroverts to act in introverted ways, and sometimes introverts are challenged to become like extroverts. If each of us is relying on the empowering of the Spirit as we pursue obedience to God's mission for us, we may be expected to get out of our comfort zones.

The example of Moses
Moses, for example, didn't seem to view himself an "extrovert". When God called upon him to lead the people of Israel out of their slavery in Egypt, he complained to God that he wasn't very good at public speaking (Exodus 4: 10). Nevertheless, God expected that Moses would have no problem fulfilling the call God was giving him, saying to Moses, "Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak (Exodus 4: 11-12)." When Moses still hesitated, the Lord became angry, but in seeming concession to Moses' lack of confidence, he appointed Moses' brother Aaron, a more natural speaker, to become the mouthpiece of Moses, as it were. Yet we see from God's anger towards Moses that God would have been more pleased if Moses had relied upon Him to provide the necessary enpowering to speak the right words in his appointed ministry.

Purpose-Driven or Spirit-led?

Over at Windows to My Soul, Victoria Gaines has an interesting post titled Be Led, Not Driven. I think her post is a good warning to heed in regard to much teaching Christian teaching today regarding pursuing your purpose. "There is no purpose or destiny outside the life of Jesus Christ. We can't have life unless we have HIM," Gaines says. She continues:

... I'd rather cling to Jesus than all the motivational quotes in the world. I'm starting to see how power and enablement come, not through grand human effort, but by His Spirit. I want to work in tandem with His purposes, fueled by His Holy Spirit, but I need to be willing to pull away when all the world beckons. It also means giving up my dreams, my goals, my ambitions. It's a paradox. And it's a hard word: surrender. But in surrendering my agenda, I find His.

When life gets riddled with dream-speak and purpose-driven agendas, hey--just give me Jesus. Not programs, growth methods, or man's plans. Just Jesus.

His purpose for me is to know Him...

I agree with her main point, yet I do believe that God may inspire us through dreams, visions or just via the motivatios and giftings He has given us. I think that natural gifts and motivations, just like the spiritual gifts God equips us with, are not accidental, but given to point each of us in a direction that coincides with God's specific calling. Nevertheless, the important thing is not to hold tightly to such things, but to be willing, as Gaines says, to surrender all to the Lord, in order to discover His agenda.

Hat tip to Milton Stanley at Transforming Sermons.

Reformed Charismatic Debates with Cessationsists

Regarding the ongoing blogosphere discussion about spiritual gifts, continuationism vs. non-continuationism, etc., Adrian Warnock recommends two pastor bloggers who are reformed charismatics and notes that the debate has seemed one-sided so far, with Reformed Charismatics mostly offering their side. Diane over at Crossroads accepted the debate challenge with several posts, such as this one on healing, which I am only now discovering and catching up with. And Rob Wilkerson has again updated his massive and well-researched overview of the larger blogosphere discussion on this topic, in his post A Theological Pillow Fight Refereeing the Debate Between Cessationists and Charismatics. Thanks Rob!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Seven Questions, Seven Answers

Charlie Lehardy, over at AnotherThink (he's my good friend that I met at GodBlogCon'05, and now, a finalist for "Best Religious Blog" in the 2005 Weblog Awards!), was recently tagged to participate in a new "meme". As he described it on his own meme post, "a meme is something like a chain letter that spreads from blogger to blogger until someone starts a new one. Most memes seem to involve lists. This one requires seven answers to seven questions:

1. Seven things I'd like to do before I die.
2. Seven things I cannot do.
3. Seven things that attract me to my wife.
4. Seven things I say most often.
5. Seven books I love.
6. Seven movies I watch over and over again.
7. Seven people I want to invite to join this meme."

Now Charlie has tagged me, and today I'm finally getting around to posting my responses. Here they are:

Seven (how about 8) things to do before I die:

* Travel around the world
* Get meself published (articles, books)
* Complete all my unfinished songs, record and perform them
* Have children and raise them well
* Play cool "leads" on guitar
* Play a cool lead in a show
* Win a Grammy or some other big award
* Leave behind a lasting Christian legacy

Seven things I cannot do:

* Dunk a basketball into the hoop on a real basketball court
* Fold towels properly (well, not quickly anyway)
* Tie a bow tie
* Calculus
* Not correct a spelling error
* Drink without making loud gulping noises (according to my wife)
* Drive under 50 miles an hour on the highway (just kidding, officer)

Seven things that attract me to my wife:

* She's quite the cutie
* Her lovely and compassionate heart
* She laughs at my goofball humor; and can be quite a goof herself
* Her intelligent and creative mind/her artistic bent
* Her persevering, growing faith in God
* Her loyalty
* She loves me graciously, despite my many flaws

Seven things I say most often:

* "You know", or, "you know what I mean?"
* "Well,"
* "Anyway,"
* "Huh?"
* "I think"
* "Well... a blog is..." (responding to "what is a blog?")
* "I understand"

Seven books (or series) I love:

* The Bible
* Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
* Mostly anything from John Piper, Derek Prince or Andrew Murray
* Everybody Loves Raymond (the question said series, I guess that includes TV series)
* Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
* Greater Works: Experiencing God's Power by Smith Wigglesworth
* Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Seven (or 8) movies I have watched many times... and still enjoy watching

* The Sound of Music
* Groundhog Day
* It's a Wonderful Life
* The Wizard of Oz
* A Hard Day's Night
* Sleeper
* Tootsie
* Scent of a Woman

Seven people I want to join in, too

I don't think I'll post that right now, or this post will be delayed by another week!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Another Way of Excellence

Dan Edelen at Cerulean Sanctum has begun an interesting series of messages analyzing Hidden Messages of American Christianity. His first post in the series: Kneeling at the Altar of Excellence, resonates quite strongly with me.

Mr. Edelen exposes the wrongheadedness that characterizes the American Church when it shows partiality to the rich, successful (in worldly terms) and those exceptionally gifted, and recruits such to be members and leaders in the church. It is not that the rich and successful and gifted don't belong in the church, but we are not to measure the value of people, or of the church itself, in these terms. The phenomenon Edelen describes illustrates yet another example (the CCM industry is another) of problems that occur when Christians follow after worldly models: it then begins to use the world's values and mindset to judge success.

The scriptural qualifications for being an elder or an overseer (Titus 1: 6-9, for example), have to do with being spiritually mature; proving yourself to be a person of character and trustworthiness through a demonstrated record of service. Unfortunately, many churches in America, perhaps unwittingly influenced by the "business model" mode of organization, measure success by the size of church membership, and recruit leadership on the basis of degrees earned, or one's business resume, rather upon a record of faithful service within the church.

The early church chose people of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom (Acts 6:3), but we choose those who have earned theological degrees, or those who have proven themselves, but only in the world's marketplace. Yes, Christians ought to be excellent in their chosen fields, and this is an important part of one's reputation. But when choosing suitable leaders for the church, ought not the priority to be to search out godly men and women, not just the most talented or most accomplished? These two sets of criteria are by no means mutually exclusive, but neither are they one and the same. The marks of the mature, godly man or woman are discerned, not only in how they do their jobs, but also within their homes, in their relationships with spouse and children; in their relationships within the community; and in the depth and intimacy of their relationship with God, from which comes true spiritual wisdom and power.

Of course, the church wants to be successful in reaching the world, and so it may seem that if you've got large numbers of previously unchurched people filling the pews of your church-- that is a sign of success. And if "excellent" programs are what seem to attract them, then why not cultivate this type of excellence?

But the mandate of the church is to make disciples (Matthew 28:19), not just to increase the numbers of people coming into the church. If you have lured people into church by creating for them a "user-friendly" message that says Christianity is mostly about you and your family's success, without also presenting to them the challenge of submitting to the Lordship of Christ in all things, as the gospel of Christ does, then you have brought them in under false pretenses. The gospel indeed promises great fulfillment, but only to the one who will "deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me (Luke 9:23).

"The inroads that business practices made into our churches through the Church Growth Movement have enshrined success as the be all and end all. The only problem is that now there is no room for true grace for the fallen", says Mr. Edelen.

How true. The gospel calls out to the poor, the uneducated, the ordinary, the marginalized, the disenfranchised, and offers a message of hope, deliverance and renewal to such. God is no respecter of persons. He loves the one who is poor in this world's eyes, giving him dignity by speaking to him with the respect due to one made in God's own image. And He loves the rich too, and appeals to the affluent, powerful and successful man to consider from whence his opportunities and blessings have come, that he may also give the Creator the praise and honor that is His due.

As a singer and songwriter I too have been infected with this way of thinking at times. Sometimes I have been afraid to put my music out into the marketplace for fear of failure of not being "good" enough (to sell lots of records). I have feared that music too explicitly Christian will have limited commercial appeal, and so I have waited and waited. On the other hand I have thought of myself as too "good" to play at church, if sometimes other musicians or singers did not seem to be on my level, forgetting that playing in church (or anywhere else for that matter), the most important thing is to have your heart in the right place towards God.

I do believe that Christians ought to be excellent! But I will try to not to let the world squeeze me into its mode, with a definition of excellence based upon numbers, popularity, or other accolades it may offer. Rather I would define excellence as putting one's God-given abilities to use for the will of God, laboring with all of your energy and putting forth your very best efforts in full cooperation with the Holy Spirit, so that one's whole life may "adorn the doctrine of God our Savior (Titus 2:10). When the church values excellence in this sense, it will take into account that people have diverse callings, with various measures of faith, and many differing talents, but that all are to be encouraged to develop their strengths and to use them, because each of us has an important role to play in the life of the church.

I happen to be a Christian who has been given an artistic calling, so my way of being excellent will differ from those with other callings. But being a Christian should help me to line up my priorities in regard to my particular, artistic calling. In his Christian Reflections, C.S. Lewis said about the Christian artist:

"the Christian knows from the outset that the salvation of a single soul is more important than the production or preservation of all the epics and tragedies in the world. The Christian artist, unlike the Pagan artist, will tend to look at the receivers of his artwork as his superiors, rather than his inferiors. Furthermore, the Christian artist has no objection to comedies that merely amuse and tales that merely refresh, for he will realize, like Thomas Aquinas, that we can play, as we can eat, to the glory of God".

May our pursuit of excellence always have the Lord's mission and heart to save the whole individual as its driving force.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Christian Carnival XCVIII (98)

Cadmusings brings a light-hearted approach to this week's Christian Carnival, Christian Carnival 98 (XCVIII), calling it the Dog Show edition (inspired by his very cute litte boy's love of dogs). The approach is light-hearted, but many of the posts dig into quite serious themes. My recent post the Abundant Life (Part 1) is represented.

The Christian Carnival is a weekly gathering of recent posts contributed by bloggers who write from a Christian perspective. Each week the Carnival is hosted by a different blog. I recently had the privilege of hosting Christian Carnival '96, here at Jordan's View. People from various denominational and theological backgrounds contribute, so while one may not agree with all the views expressed, it is an opportunity to be exposed to some fresh, interesting writing.

For instructions on participating in the Carvival, go here.