thinking out loud

…things that are on my mind, heart, and soul

2.6.11 Worship Confessional

It’s Super Sunday here in Pittsburgh and it was pretty cool to see our worship space filled with people dressed in black and gold this morning. While we all had our thoughts on the big game later today, it was great to gather with the people of God and together express our love and devotion to Him.

Today’s gathering was the fourth in our series, “Five Ways of Being the People of God” and our focus was on the command to “be forgiving.” Katherine Sikma, our Director of Young Adult and Campus Ministry, shared an excellent message based upon Colossians 3 and Ephesians 4.

This past week I have been listening to the latest Defining Moments podcast from the Willow Creek Association and this month’s topic was “Spiritual Direction in Worship Services.” This is a extremely helpful conversation between Bill Hybels, Nancy Beach, and two of Willow Creek’s primary worship leaders, Aaron Niequist and Matt Lundgren and I would encourage you to give it a listen. The big question that this podcast caused me to wrestle was “how do we help non-singers connect with God in worship?” We place a great deal of emphasis on worship through music in our community of faith and as a musician and singer, it is easy for me to forget that not everyone’s pathway to God is through music.

This morning we took a fairly extended time of Scripture, reflection, silence and prayer wrapped around the themes of confession and forgiveness. Using the words from David found in Psalm 139, Psalm 51 and Psalm 103 we created some non-musical space for our worshiping community to invite God to examine their lives, bring their sin before God and receive words of assurance that remind us of God’s great love and forgiveness:

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us ” (Psalm 103:11-12).

What do you do to help non-singers connect with God in your worship gatherings? I would love to hear your ideas on this topic.

We also had some fun this morning as we used the Mumford and Sons song, “Sigh No More” as a lead-in to the message. This song was a bit outside our normal musical genre, so it provided an opportunity to stretch for our team.

Here’s the rest of our worship set included:

  • Nothing But the Blood (Brett Younker arrangement)
  • All Things New (Brett Younker)
  • Because of Your Love (Paul Baloche)
  • I Will Follow (Chris Tomlin)
  • Sigh No More (Mumford and Sons)

You can learn what other communities of faith experienced his weekend at The Worship Community.

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Filed under: leadership, reviews, sunday setlists, worship gatherings

Interesting Writing – Faulty Foundation

Soulprint: Discovering Your Divine Destiny is the latest release from Mark Batterson, pastor of National Community Church in Washington DC. I am a pretty big fan of Batterson’s past works and have used his Wild Goose Chase for a men’s group study (I find Batterson’s writing resonates especially well with guys).

Batterson is an excellent writer/story-teller and having had the opportunity to hear him speak in person, I actually feel he is a better writer than speaker. He knows how to craft interesting (and sound-byte like) sentences and fills the page with compelling stories lifted from art, music, sports, psychology, yesterday’s headlines and his experience as a local church pastor. One of the things I appreciate about Mark is that he writes his books first and after they are published he preaches them to his congregation. This is a different approach from many pastors/authors who preach first and then transcribe later.

Batterson describes Soulprint as a self-discovery book and takes his readers through an exploration of the life of David. His goal is to help readers discover their unique God-given identity and destiny. The book is filled with a significant amount of Scripture and contains plenty of truth and inspiration. That said, I have one major problem with the book – I disagree with Batterson’s basic premise For example:

  • “So the key to fulfilling your future destiny is hidden in your past memories”(6).
  • “David saw the person God had destined him to become: a giant killer. That was his true identity. That was his true destiny” (8).
  • “The only thing between you and your destiny is awkwardness” (113).

I don’t believe that these are true statements nor do they hold up against solid biblical thought, study and reflection. If you are looking for a solid biblical exploration of the life of David, let me recommend two classic works: Eugene Peterson’s, Leap Over a Wall” or Chuck Swindoll’s,”David.”

I have to confess that books with the word, “destiny” in the title make me feel uneasy.  While Soulprint is a well-written and interesting book to read, regrettably, because it is based upon some faulty theology, it ultimately falls short and misses the mark in my estimation.

(I received a complimentary copy of this book from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review).

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Filed under: books, reviews

The Next Christians: An Important But Incomplete Work

Gabe Lyons’ new book, The Next Christians: How a New Generation is Restoring the Faith” is an important, yet incomplete read. Let me begin with the important aspects to his work.

I was encouraged to discover that early in the book, Lyons’ challenges the typical evangelical view of America as a Christian nation. He writes, “our nation’s founders were influenced by Christians ideas, but they were also wise enough to structure America to allow for a pluralistic setting – a place where all faiths could be practiced and no faith would be given the upper hand”(22). And while the Church no longer holds a central place in the marketplace of ideas in our culture (at least among the younger generations), Lyons is hopeful that this is not a time to be discouraged, but instead a season to be encouraged by what God is doing in this new movement of the next Christians.

In chapter three, Lyons shares the fruit of a conversation he had with a Hollywood producer who had called upon Gabe to share his perspective on potential strategies for filmmakers to reach Christians. Lyons categorized believers into two groups based upon their interaction with culture identifying the groups as the Separates (insiders, cultural warriors and evangelizers) and the Culturals (blenders and philanthropers). Lyons goes on to present a third way (reflective of Jim Belcher’s approach in his book, Deep Church) to live out the reality of the Gospel in today’s world and this makes us the bulk of the book. This third way, which is reflective of the next Christians, is defined as the way of restoration. The posture of restoration involves having the full story of the Gospel in our minds and hearts – the story of creation, fall, redemption and restoration. The next Christians embrace this in its fullness.

Lyons identifies six characteristics of the restorers and devotes a chapter to each of these movements: provoked, not offended; creators, not critics; called, not employed; grounded, not distracted; in community, not alone; and countercultural, not relevant. The chapters are filled with inspiring and hopeful stories of people who are living out their faith in real-time as restorers. These stories are one of the highlights of the book.

This is an important read for people seeking to influence our world toward the kingdom realities of Jesus Christ.  Ministry leaders would be wise to gather some key people together and begin to engage in dialogue over Lyons’ premise and perspective. As well, Lyons includes a study guide that connects material from Q Notes with each chapter. This supplemental material is captured from the Q conference that Lyons facilitates and includes video messages from important thinkers (Scot McKnight, Andy Crouch, Ambassador Max Kampelman and others) in the various channels of cultural influence, as well as a number of commissioned essays by people like Tim Keller, Matthew Sleeth and Josh Jackson and Nick Purdy from Paste magazine.

While this is an important read, I also feel it is incomplete. My biggest critique is that Lyons identifies the next wave of Christianity by the individual actions of highly committed and passionate followers of Jesus. While I applaud their faithful efforts, as I read their stories I keep asking myself, “where is the Church?” The only substantive illustration of the next Christians that involves the church is Lyons’ discussion of what God is doing through the church in the city of Portland. In the last chapter, “The Next Big Shift,” Lyons also makes a minor reference to the church-planting movement that has swept the next Christians, but overall I keep coming back to the question, “what kinds of churches will help shape and nurture the next Christians?” Perhaps Lyons will have more to say about this in the future. Or even better, perhaps we need to engage in this conversation and create the kinds of churches that will model the third way of restoration.

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BTW: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Filed under: books, leadership, Q, reviews

A Beautiful End

First off, I thought the final episode of LOST was a beautiful and appropriate ending to this amazing series. Did it answer all of my questions? Absolutely not. Did it bring resolution to all the story lines? I don’t think so. Do I understand the significance of the number sequences, the names on the wall and Elose Hawking’s pendulum? Not so much. Was I upset about how they corrupted the beauty of the chapel with the hideous stained glass window that contained the symbols of every imaginable religious system under the sun? You bet. Did it have some lame moments (like Kate’s last words to UnLocke, “I saved my last bullet for you”)? Indeed. Nonetheless, in my mind Sunday’s finale was the most gripping and moving evening of television I have ever experienced and I embraced it as a beautiful end.

I have been pretty slow all along in grasping the complexity of the storyline and the layers of connections in LOST.  But last night as each character experienced his or her awakening in sideways world, a little light bulb went off inside of me and each one brought a sense of satisfaction and joy. Sun and Jin at the ultrasound; Charlie and Claire holding Aaron; Juliet and Sawyer at the vending machine; Kate touching Jack at the concert–connections made. What about Ben asking Locke for forgiveness and the words of Scripture that came to mind as Jack heroically gave his life for his friends (“no greater love than this than a man lay down his life for his friends”).

I like what James Poniewozik from Time magazine wrote:

The moving, soulful finale that Damon Lindelof and Carleton Cuse gave us met that challenge. The Island world, we learned, absolutely mattered to the physical fate of the survivors. (And sci-fi purists ticked over the spiritual ending should at least give it up for this: what happened, did, indeed happen.) And the Sideways world mattered because it was the culmination of the spiritual, moral, human lives–the souls–of the characters.”

And I was deeply touched by the power of community. It is interesting that this week in our Tangible Kingdom study we are exploring this idea of community. Community is a mysterious kind of thing and in many cases it seems to promise more than it actually delivers. But the episode reminded me to push into the power of community and it brought to mind the words of Gilbert Bilizekian who passionately insists that “only community remains.”

Recall this dialogue between Jack and his father:

Jack: Where are we?
Christian: This is a place you all made together so you could find one another…Nobody does it all alone. You needed them and they needed you.
Jack: For what?
Christian: To remember and to let go.

Thank you LOST. See you in another life, brotha.

Filed under: hope, reviews

Up in the Air – A Review

“Up in the Air” is a smart film and in my book it is the movie of the year. Containing elements of both comedy and tragedy, it possesses a tart underside and its message about relationships, intimacy and our need to connect with people on a deep and meaningful level is especially important in our ever-increasing technological and superficial culture.

“Up in the Air” is George Clooney’s best hour on the big screen (although I wondered at times how autobiographical the film actually was in nature). His character, Ryan Bingham spends his life flying from city to city (on American Airlines) and living in hotels (Hiltons). His task: firing people from their jobs when corporations downsize and he is masterful at his craft. Knowing he’ll never see these people again frees him to be as blunt or caring as each situation requires. Bingham has no real friends – he is neither known by others truly know anyone. He champions this life with no connections; in his mind it frees him to truly live, because “life is about moving.” Bingham is so certain of his philosophy that he even does motivational seminars on how to simplify life. Later in the film, Bingham’s sister refers to this mode of living as a “cocoon of self banishment.”

Bingham’s corporate seminar motivational talks are based upon a simple backpack analogy. He invites participants to imagine loading up their backpacks with all the things they have in their lives—their possessions, their homes, their relationships – “feel the weight of that bag. This is what we do to ourselves on a daily basis. We weigh ourselves down until we can’t even move. The slower we move, the faster we die; make no mistake, moving is living,” Ryan exhorts the expectant faces looking to him for that nugget of wisdom that will change their lives: “make no mistake, your relationships are the heaviest components in your life.” True that! And Bingham instructs his listeners to divest themselves of anything and anyone that would weigh them down.

And yet Bingham’s life betrays his own philosophy. He fills his life with relationships hat reflect pseudo-intimacy. For instance, he is welcomed by name by airline employees—not because they know and care about him, but because of his frequent-flyer status card. His life goal is to reach ten million frequent flier miles (he’d be only the seventh to get there) and he imagines what life will be like when he reaches that lofty milestone. And in an ironic twist, when he reaches his goal, he discovers just how empty a dream it actually was.

The turning point in the film was a scene in which Bingham was called upon to leverage his skills as a motivational speaker. Placed in a very awkward personal situation, Bingham was asked to sell a cold-footed groom on the merits of marriage and the benefits of a meaningful relationship (notice what book the groom is reading during this scene – as Bingham says, “heavy stuff”). And yet somehow Bingham’s words seem to resonate with something deep inside himself, a place that has gone untouched for far too long.

I began this review by stating that “Up in the Air” is a smart film. It contains far fewer of the “Hollywoodisms” that ask us to suspend our imaginations and believe the unbelievable. It doesn’t neatly tie up all the storylines with happy endings. And as Bingham experiences both the joys and disappointments of real relationships and meaningful connections, he is finally freed to truly live.

As I watched the film, the wisdom of Ecclesiastes 4:8-12 came into my mind:

There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his to yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. “For whom am I toiling,” he asked, “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?” This too is meaningless— a miserable business! Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If they fall down, they can help each other up. But pity those who fall and have no one to help them up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Every one of us has a need deep to serve and be served, love and be loved, know and be known.  We have been designed by our Creator to be deeply connected to one another. And in our day of Facebook friends and Twitter followers, the lure of pseudo-intimacy and superficial relationships is strong. “Up in the Air” contains a challenge to examine the place of relationships in our life and do what we can to truly live.

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Filed under: relationships, reviews

Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity

A couple of weeks ago I received an early Christmas gift – a preview copy of Mark Batterson’s latest book, Primal. I’m a pretty big fan of Batterson’s work, not only as the lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington DC, but even more so as an author. Last year, I used his book, “Wild Goose Chase” with a group of guys for an early morning Wednesday study and it was a tremendous resource as we pursued the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Straight up, Primal is an excellent read. There are very few books that I read cover to cover and this was one of the rare ones that captured my attention from the first page to the last. Batterson is a gifted storyteller and whether he is describing his descent down the stairs of the Church of San Clemente in Rome, his son Josiah’s adventures in sleepwaking or the remarkable story of Jasper Toe’s vision and his subsequent conversation to Christ – Batterson has the capacity to engage your mind and your heart and invite you into the story that God is writing in your life and mine.

The soul of the book is a call to a new reformation – Batterson writes:

“Reformations are not born out of a new discoveries. Those are often called cults. Reformations are born out of  rediscovering something ancient something primal. They are born out of primal truths rediscovered, reimagined, and radically applied to our lives.”

The primal truth Batterson calls the people of God to rediscover and reimagine is the Great Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.” Primal explores the four elements of the Great Commandment – compassion, wonder, curiosity, and power – and invites his readers to become a part of a movement that turned the world right-side up two thousand years ago.

One of the things I most appreciate about Batterson’s writing is his ability to bring fresh perspective to Scripture. Let me provide one example. In a section entitled, “Idea Stewardship,” Batterson illuminates Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 10:5, “Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Most of us view this text in negative terms. Take our sinful thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ. And while the text certainly contains that truth, Batterson suggests,

“This verse is also about capturing creative thoughts and keeping them in our minds. It means stewarding every word, every thought, every impression, and every revelation inspired by the Spirit of God. I call them God ideas. And the way we create culture and change culture is by taking those God ideas captive and turning them into reality via blood, sweat and tears.” (117)

Make Primal one of your first reads in the New Year. Or even better – in the week between Christmas and New Year, pick up a copy and head into 2010 ready to join a new reformation of men and women, boys and girls living compassionately, creatively, and courageously for the cause of Christ in our world today.

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Filed under: hope, leadership, reviews

about me

my name is terry and i've been married to a great woman, patty for 29 years and we have four children, (ranging from 17-25) and an awesome grandson. i serve as lead pastor of christ community church of the south hills in pittsburgh, pa (lets go pens!). i am currently working on a book on worship with a working title of "a movable feast: a liturgy for our everyday, ordinary lives."

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