What Does It Mean (To You)?

David Crowder’s latest album Neon Steeple just released but the single “I Am” has been out for a while now. Here are the lyrics to the chorus without any capitalization or punctuation:

i am holding on to you

i am holding on to you

in the middle of the storm

i am holding on

i am

How would YOU interpret that? When I first heard this song, I wondered, “Does he mean that he is holding on to God or does he mean that I Am is holding on to ‘you’ so be encouraged? (Or is he being creative and meaning both or switching back and forth?)”

It’s a great song. You can hear it here: http://youtu.be/mw4ES27w3oU

Music is really powerful. It moves people in ways that nothing else can. That’s why I think it’s really important to clear up any vagueness that can occur with worship songs. If you’re singing to and/or about God, you’re presenting some kind of doctrine, whether you know it or not.

With Crowder’s song, neither version I offered presents a false doctrine. But I think the stronger image and message is that I Am is holding on to me in the storms. This interpretation puts the focus on God, rather than my efforts or desperation.

That’s why I was thankful that Crowder provided this:

If you didn’t watch it, he explains how amazingly reassuring it is that I Am, Creator God is holding on to us. Unfortunately, not all artists provide explanations for their songs. And even if they did, how many people would find those explanations rather than just assigning whatever meaning they want to the work?

Not too long ago John Mark McMillan released “Future/Past.” Here’s the chorus:

and you,

you are my first

you are my last

you are my future and my past

I know I’m guilty of over-thinking things but when I hear that chorus, I think, “What does that mean?” It sounds great and the video is nothing short of epic, but is it ok to apply any meaning that doesn’t contradict scripture? Or, worse yet, any meaning that is relative to the hearer? Or should it be more specific, especially since it’s a worship song? I looked, not very hard admittedly, but could not find McMillan’s explanation of the song.

And I’m not intending to attack McMillan. He just has a song that fits the bill here. I have been blessed by his music and we sing it in our College and Young Singles ministry often. But when “Future/Past” came out, a handful of leaders from our church, including some worship pastors, offered different meanings to the lyrics. (All of them were doctrinally sound!) This was a fun and interesting poll but also concerning. If leaders in the church are not exactly sure what the song means, how do we expect those new or unfamiliar to the faith to interpret it?

I understand that scripture can be (and is) misinterpreted often, too, but if we can take measures to clear up confusion, shouldn’t we? Or should we leave room for “what ifs” for the sake of art?

I remember a friend years ago taking issue with people singing, “Who may ascend TO the hill of the Lord?”

“Anyone can ascend TO the hill of the Lord,” he argued. “The question is who may actually ascend the hill!” The memory makes me chuckle. He was definitely more ardent, but I share his conviction for truth!

People connect with music very deeply. We sing and are moved but are often moved by the artistry and emotion of the song rather than the truth of the lyrics. So, I personally believe it’s important to guard doctrine when “teaching” through song, and I’m thankful for the worship leaders in my life who value this principle, as well.

May we strive to worship in spirit AND truth!

Setting Things Straight

So, the fellas over at Outside the Box Score have an 80s Movie Tournament Bracket going. Naturally, they messed up several of the seedings. This caused me great anguish in picking certain movies over others. They also snubbed Raising Arizona completely. So, myopia strikes again.

I’m trying to darndest to make sure The Goonies keeps winning. That’s right, I’m voting as many times as I can. Which is possible if you clear your cache, so the poll doesn’t remember you. Goonies never say die.

I liked their tournament idea, but decided I’d just declare some of my favorite movies because that’s the kind of narcissistic exercise that blogs accommodate so well!

I consider myself a movie guy. “Movie buff” seems too intense and lofty for my level of fandom. But, because I’m a movie guy, I can’t just answer what my favorite movie is without some explanation. And I certainly cannot list my top five or ten favorites in order. SO, I usually resort to this:

Favorite War Movie: Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Favorite Action Movie: Die Hard (1988)

Favorite Adventure Movie (Yes, it’s different than action.): Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Favorite Christmas Movie: Home Alone (1990)*

*Technically, Die Hard is my favorite Christmas movie but I figured I shouldn’t duplicate any entries.

Favorite Monster Movie: The Monster Squad (1987)

Favorite Silent Movie: The General (1926)*

*This is actually the only silent movie I’ve ever seen.

Favorite Comedy Movies: Raising Arizona (1987) and Bottle Rocket (1996)

Favorite Mob Movies: The Untouchables (1987), The Godfather (1972), and The Departed (2006)

Favorite Sports Movies: Hoosiers (1986) and A League of Their Own (1992)

Favorite Sci-Fi Movies: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Back to the Future (1985)

Favorite Fantasy Movies: The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) and Willow (1988)

That’s all the categories that came to mind off the top of my head. When it comes to movies, “favorite” and “best” are two different things, I believe. A movie can be a favorite because of nostalgia, impact, resonance, etc. without being good. Conversely, a movie can be really well made but not interesting or enjoyable to me (see The Aviator (2004)). So that brings me to my favorite movie of all time.

All-Time Favorite Movie: The Goonies (1985)


All Style, No Substance

I had an idea to post this right after NBA All-Star weekend. So, TBT to All-Star Weekend and a shout out TBT to the “good old days.”

I haven’t watched an entire dunk contest in years. I remember watching Blake Griffin jump “over” a KIA… that’s about it for the last several years. For some reason, I watched this year’s competition. Apparently it’s now officially called “Sprite Slam Dunk.” Which just sounds awkward. Would it hurt them to add “contest” to the title? I mean, there is more than one dunk involved…

Regardless, what stood out to me about the dunk contest and the all-star production, in general, was the gaudy amount of flash/production and the glaring lack of substance. This dissonance was really apparent when finalist Ben McLemore came out dressed in a robe, preceded by a herald, and had Shaq sit in a throne for him to jump over… then he missed the dunk. “All show, no go,” comes to mind. He made the second attempt and then knelt to be crowned by Shaq. But the wind had already left the sails. SO much build-up.

John Wall just came out and dunked. He executed, on the first try, a physically impressive dunk. Then went into a swaggerlicious victory dance. Something to be said for letting the work speak before going into hype mode. Wall not only executed this platform, he verbalized it in this article, questioning the role of hype in recent contests.

Of course, back in MY day, I don’t remember any victory dances. Just raw dunkage and maybe a mean game face afterward. Those were the days. Less pyro, less fly-girls, less hype men. You tuned in for the athletic competition. So what happened? Either the crowds/audience/consumers have grown hype-thirsty, demanding high-fructose entertainment along the lines of the WWE or the NBA realizes there is nothing new under the sun and all the dunks have been dunked, so to speak. (Dunkers realize this, too, as made evident by the influx of props and hype over the last several years.)

It’s also evident in the NBA’s formatting remodel that they’re trying to keep up or stay relevant somehow, knowing their product is lacking. It’s also glaringly evident that there is a lack of superstar showdowns. Where is Lebron? Where was Griffin? This year’s contestants were no slouches, but at the NBA’s peak the brightest stars threw down (Jordan vs. Wilkins, anyone?) One of my favorite dunk exhibitions of all time was Vince Carter. Props for no props, if you know what I mean.

Dunks!

I think the superstars are afraid of losing. They claim they are too busy, need/want to rest or possibly avoid injury. More likely, they just can’t afford to hurt their brand, so younger, hungrier dudes are trying to make a name for themselves or gain some ground on the elites.

Overall, I feel like All-Star weekend is broken. It was a bunch of smoke and mirrors perfectly cued and timed, accompanied by the reality of missed shots and dunks. The fanfare presented superheroes, but real people came out to compete. It kind of creates a disconnect.

All that to say, maybe I think it’s “too loud” because I’m just too old. Maybe the NBA’s targeted demo loves the hype machine. Maybe they love being told what is awesome by emcee Nick Cannon, rather than just waiting and reacting to the events as they unfold.

I’m sure the “good old days” I keep referring to are abhorrent to previous generations. The idea of a dunk contest, in general, is pretty self-aggrandizing I realize… as are blogging and tweeting, heh. But yesterday’s dinner table soapbox rant is today’s blog post. Welcome to the table.

I Love My Pastor

Today marked the one year anniversary of Pastor Steve Bezner coming to Houston Northwest Church. I am just one of many, many people thankful for the blessing he has been since his arrival. Here are just a handful of reasons why I love my pastor.

-He loves Jesus.

-He encourages me frequently.

-He loves my family well.

-He loves his own family well.

-He loves our church well.

-He has a pacemaker, but it seems to work more like Iron Man’s flux capacitor chest thing, powering him!

-He is my friend.

-He loves Blue Bell.

-He’s read everything.

-He laughs at my jokes… usually.

-He is obsessed with great BBQ.

-He is a “why not?” person which I admire because I am a “why?” person.

-He dreams big.

-He’s wicked smaht but doesn’t flaunt it.

-He does sound effects when he tells stories.

-He listens and he cares.

-He gets really excited about sharing Jesus with others.

Happy Anniversary, Pastor! Here’s to many more!

We Are One

As our church has considered Christian community over the past several months, certain things have really resonated with me. As we strive to really be the Church and truly experience Christian community, diversity cannot be ignored. I think there are a few factors that have fueled this soapbox in my life.

My background plays some part, I’m convinced. I spent nearly the first 10 years of my life in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. I was born in San Benito, and then lived in Brownsville and McAllen before moving to Albuquerque, NM (and finally Houston). If you’re not familiar with the Valley, trust me when I say there is a pervasive Latino culture. Whereas larger cities have pockets of other cultures like “Chinatown” or “Little Italy,” most of the Valley is “Little Mexico.” So, I grew up celebrating Charro Days and next door to a boy whose name I thought was Meho and whose grandparents I called Abuela and Abuelo. (Later I realized they were calling him “mijo” which is a term of endearment meaning “my son” and abuela and abuelo mean grandma and grandpa!) Anyway, I’ve always been pretty comfortable around Hispanic cultures/people and probably a little more sensitive to cultural diversity, in general, because of my roots.

Another factor that has increased my cultural awareness is participation in international missions. Cultural diversity will definitely cross your mind when you go from being in the majority to being in the minority with regard to skin color, language or customs! If you’re a believer, you need to engage the world with the Gospel! Houston is one of the most culturally diverse cities in America. Embrace it!

More recently, I’ve even noticed some lack of diversity within our existing church crowd. I don’t mean that our church crowd isn’t reaching people different than us. That’s the point I was trying to make in my previous paragraphs! The point I’m making now is that we’ve built up walls even between our mostly white, middle-class selves. I think I’ve been more aware of it recently because I’ve worked closely with or entered into several different church demographics over the last few years.

For my first 10 years or so on staff at HNW, I worked with junior high and high school students. That was my world. My community and fellowship was with students and student workers (mostly apart from their families). Then I transitioned to the College and Young Singles (CYS) ministry. Since I started working with CYS, I have gotten married and, in the next 3 months, will have a son! The changes in scenery, community and Life Groups have been distinct!

The predominant thinking in modern church culture is to provide a Christian community for every little stage of life. And while there is definitely something to be said for affinity and the power of the shared experience, it’s still important that we pursue diversity demographically as we pursue diversity racially and culturally.

It really irks me when Christian college students don’t want to be in fellowship with Christian twenty-somethings… or when married twenty-somethings don’t want to be in fellowship with married thirty-somethings… or when married folks without kids don’t want to be in fellowship with married folks with kids… or when marrieds and singles don’t want to be in fellowship with each other… or young folks don’t want to be in fellowship with senior adults, etc. etc.

This is not the heart of the Gospel. The heart of the Gospel is what Paul writes about in Galatians 3:28 when he says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

It’s the power of Christ to break down walls and unite the different into one, in Him. Shame on us for rebuilding walls that Christ has demolished and for creating walls that never should have existed to begin with!

Because, in case you don’t realize, Heaven will not be segregated into our convenient, customizable demographics and English is not the official language. One of the sweetest blessings I’ve ever experienced is worshiping with Christians in other nations. It’s a great reminder of how diverse the new heavens and new earth will be! We celebrated this truth in Kenya with a favorite praise song that the children sing, boasting, “We are many, but we are one!”

If you believe the plea in the Lord’s Prayer that says “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” you should appreciate diversity now, because we can’t practice for eternity in uniformity.

Strange Things Are Afoot

Ok, so quite possibly the weirdest thing to ever happen in my life unfolded tonight!

I went with some of the college guys from church to our traditional, end-of-study dinner to cap off the summer. We decided on Paul’s Pizza Shop because pizza buffets and college guys go well together.

Shortly after approaching the counter I thought one of the workers there looked familiar and a named popped into my head, Adam Watson. I said, “You look familiar. What’s your name?”

“Adam,” he replied.

“Adam Watson?” I suggested.

“No. Adam Somethingerother.”

“Oh, sorry. You look like someone I used to know.”

Later in the dinner it was still bothering me as to why I thought he looked so familiar. So I toyed with the idea of pulling up a picture of Adam Watson on Facebook and showing this guy so he could see the resemblance. I at least wanted to prove to myself that he looked like the person I remembered.

So, I looked up Adam Watson on Facebook (yes, a bit stalker-ish, but I knew we had mutual Facebook friends so I didn’t feel TOO creepy about it).

As soon as the real Adam Watson’s picture pops up on my phone, I realize he doesn’t look anything like the guy working at Paul’s Pizza. So now I’m really confused as to why I made the association. Then it dawns on me that the pizza guy might resemble Wayne Watson, Adam’s dad. So I Google a picture of Wayne Watson to confirm my suspicions and find that I was right! The pizza guy looks a little like Wayne Watson looked at one point in time. Enough to trigger all these associations, anyway. But then it gets SUPER WEIRD.

RIGHT AFTER THAT, THE REAL LIFE ADAM WATSON WALKS INTO PAUL’S PIZZA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It was ca-razy. I was freaking out. I don’t really even know Adam Watson. I just met him like 15 years ago and haven’t seen him since. I told the college guys I was with who agreed that this was a freaky occurrence and then I got up and told Adam Watson all about it, too! I’m sure he thinks I’m a complete basket case, but I wasn’t worried about it. He had to hear this nonsense.

And I’m so weirded out by it all that I decided to tell the world (or anyone willing to read our blog.)

I Don’t Get It

I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. I haven’t investigated all the ins and outs of abortion policy but as I understand it, the most recent legislation that was blocked sought to, among other things, ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy in Texas.

I believe abortion at any stage is the taking of a life. Is that not what an abortion is? There is a life that needs to be ended for an abortion to be deemed successful, yes? It’s not simply a removal… it’s a cessation of life. That’s why Kermit Gosnell ensured “fetal demise” (killed live-born babies) in his clinic. Because the mothers chose abortion and he wanted to complete the procedure that was chosen.

Regardless, to focus (more so) on the recent legislation, how could anyone ever disregard the life of a 20 week or older fetus? It blows my mind and sickens my heart. I recently went to an ultrasound reading with my pregnant wife. Here is an image from the visit:

Baby Wilson

This image was taken at 13 weeks… 13 WEEKS.

My baby has a face, a nose, arms and legs. Baby Wilson is a person. Baby Wilson is alive. How could anyone, let alone the president of the United States, celebrate the blocking of legislation that would protect a life well after this stage of pregnancy?

I cannot wrap my mind around this thinking. Fighting for the “right” to choose? What is the choice, exactly? Can it be denied that the choice is to end a life?

Is that the logic in the argument? That women should have the right to choose what happens to their bodies? Surely abortion proponents realize that the fetus is a BODY inside of a pregnant lady’s body. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills and missing the point.

Pregnant ladies can’t even ride roller coasters. Whose body is being protected by that policy? Where are the protests on that attack on choice?

We’re worshiping ourselves. It’s a scary day when each person is their own authority.

That’s the self-exalting attitude that roused protesters to disrupt lawmakers in Austin. It’s the same self-exalting attitude that celebrates the freedom to end the life of the unborn. And our nation is reveling in and rabidly fighting for it.

And I just don’t get it.

“People, people who need people…”

We are a people who need fellowship with others. God has designed humans to be this way. It’s not easy for all personality types to engage in fellowship with others, but that doesn’t mean we don’t all need it.

Consider the creation account in Genesis. God created Adam and was in fellowship with him. Before the Fall all of creation was as it should have been and yet God deemed it “not good” for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). You would think that man in fellowship with God only before the Fall would be perfect, but God didn’t see it that way. God created man to be in fellowship with others. I realize that Eve was created to partner with Adam in ways that only husbands and wives are to partner (and “Hallelujah!” for those ways!), but I still believe there is a more general need for human interaction in all of us that is a part of how we’ve been wired.

The Trinity exists in perfect fellowship, independent of man, with three persons in one being and, man has been made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26). I believe the image of God in man reflects and longs for the things that God experiences perfectly whether the person is saved or not. So, the need for fellowship is not reserved for the Church. It is a basic human requirement.

The rewards of community and the effects of isolation are manifested in good and bad ways throughout all levels of society and stages of life: parents put kids in time out, teens often seek belonging and community through gangs, prisoners are isolated to solitary confinement, people join clubs to discuss books and movies and wine, etc.

The Church, however, has to approach this need for community from a biblical perspective. If believers are to be devoted to the purposes of God since He has set us aside as His holy people (1 Peter 2:9), we need to understand community through His eyes.

As Christians, we do not have the right to avoid people in order to appease our preferences. We have been called to God’s purposes. We are different parts of the body of Christ fit together by Him and submitted to His headship for His glory (Ephesians 4:11-16)

May we, as believers, better reflect God’s nature in the ways we love our neighbors. May we engage our brothers and sisters in Christ in fellowship and unity to the glory of God. May we point people to Christ as we interact with each other and submit to the freedom He brings in overcoming our differences.

I’m so thankful for the community God has blessed me with and am hopeful that you will seek out and find it in your life, as well. It’s not always easy or comfortable to be part of the Church, but it is our purpose and calling!

“How’s that cross feel?”

I was having a conversation with some fellow seminarians recently that got me thinking (believe it or not). This group of classmates was a mix of vocational ministers and laypeople and we were all discussing a recent trip to one of Houston’s megachurches.

During our trip to this megachurch, the senior pastor led some sessions on how and why they do church the way they do. Many of his points were discussion worthy, but the one that I want to address here is his statement(s) about small groups in homes. He, if I understood him correctly, basically said that studying the Bible in homes does not work on a big scale.

I think the heart of his argument was that it’s difficult to provide quality Bible teaching in an environment that is conducive to learning on a convenient schedule that fits the lives of SEVERAL families. (Enough qualifiers there?)

What seemed to stand out to me and some of my classmates was the idea that groups in homes are hard, so they “don’t work” and we shouldn’t pursue them. At least one of my classmates echoed the “megapastor’s” sentiments that home groups pose too many problems logistically to be very effective.

This made me wonder, “What about Acts 2?” and “When did anyone ever say discipleship would be easy?” The message of Scripture, and especially of Jesus was that following Him would be difficult, painful and most likely inconvenient. Where did we lose that along the way? (Maybe I should remember from Church History…)

It’s as if we’ve become tailors fitting Christians for the crosses they’re to bear, “How’s that feel? Nice and snug, but not too tight? Let me know if it’s uncomfortable and we’ll change it. We want you to feel the support and comfort of the cross, but not the suffering or persecution.”

Hear me, I’m not arguing for self inflicted pain or asceticism. But it seems like a lot of church “strategy” is focused on making discipleship easier for people to embrace and fit into their lives. I know that we need to find ways to engage the culture, but I also know that we’re not called to easy street in Luke 9:23.

Hear me again when I say I’m guilty of the very thing I’m indicting here. I just sense a dangerous trajectory in ministry that I’m sure has been around for years.

And I don’t want people to lose sight of the fact that ministry and discipleship will probably be messy and will often be hard.

Jesus warned us:

Luke 14:25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

I know I haven’t experienced a fraction of the persecution that I’ve read and heard about, so I hope to not offend those who have from where I sit. I simply wanted to put out a reminder and a caution.

When Jesus said “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30), I believe He’s referring to our Spiritual efforts. The work there is finished (John 19:30)! Hallelujah! Jesus has done the heavy lifting for us!

But following Him while on Earth isn’t an effortless piggy-back ride as we seek to proclaim His great gospel with our lives. The commandments to love God with all that we are and our neighbors as ourselves aren’t just mental exercises (Luke 10:27).

mlk


further along, but not there yet.



can’t help but think of the gospel in relation to mlk’s dream. complete and final reconciliation will only come through christ…

revelation 21:1-5

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth ; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes ; and there will no longer be any death ; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain ; the first things have passed away.” 5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

the church should be leading the way in achieving mlk’s dream…