30 December 2007

If you have ABSOLUTELY nothing else to do...

So, since getting my MacBook, I've had some fun messing around with GarageBand. Over the summer, I bought a M-Audio 73-key USB keyboard to go along with GarageBand. For Christmas, I had my parents buy an expansion pack of sounds for the program, including some vintage keybaord sounds (Rhodes, Wurlitzers, Hammand Organs, etc.). I've posted some of my boredom adventures on myspace. If you have nothing else to do, you can check them out here.

On there, I have three recordings I did on GarageBand. Each one has at least two tracks that I laid down. The drums on "Random Night on GarageBand" is a loop. "First Attempt at GarageBand" is a mix of three recordings using the built-in microphone (two guitar tracks and one djembe track) with two software tracks played on the keyboard (piano and synth pad). "Jazz Improv" was a two-track recording that I did in May 2005 (long before my MacBook) for a class project. The live recording is a SWU chapel worship set that I led in April 2007.

If you have any comments on the raw recordings, let me know. Thanks for taking the time.

29 December 2007

The "Cotton Candy Gospel" of Joel Osteen

Recently, I saw a re-airing of an episode of 60 Minutes in which they did a segment on Joel Osteen. Joel Osteen is the lead pastor of the largest church in America, Lakewood Church, located in Houston. They meet each Sunday in a 15,000 seat sports arena (which took $100 million to renovate when it was given to the church).

You can watch the segment and read the whole interview here on CBS's website.

What made me enjoy this segment most was the words of Rev. Michael Horton, a professor of theology at Westminster Seminary in Escondido, California. He has this to say about Joel Osteen's message:
I think it’s a cotton candy gospel. His core message is: God is nice, you’re nice, be nice. If it were a form of music, I think it would be easy listening. He uses the Bible like a fortune cookie. 'This is what’s gonna happen for you.' 'There’s gonna be a windfall in your life tomorrow.' The Bible's not meant to be read that way... It is certainly heresy, I believe, to say that God is our resource for getting our best life now. Well, it makes religion about us instead of about God.
Thank you, Rev. Horton!

Even the interviewer, Bryan Pitts, says this of Osteen:
Osteen preaches his own version of what is known as the "prosperity gospel" -- that God is a loving, forgiving God who will reward believers with health, wealth and happiness. It's the centerpiece of every sermon.
Read this excerpt from the interview:
But the real money for Osteen comes from his book sales, which are re-packaged versions of his sermons. His latest book, "Become A Better You," for which he reportedly got a $13 million advance, debuted in October at number one on the New York Times bestseller list and has stayed on the list ever since. The book lays out seven principles he believes will improve our lives.

"To become a better you, you must be positive towards yourself, develop better relationships, embrace the place where you are. Not one mention of God in that. Not one mention of Jesus Christ in that," Pitts remarks.

"That's just my message. There is scripture in there that backs it all up. But I feel like, Byron, I'm called to help people…how do we walk out the Christian life? How do we live it? And these are principles that can help you. I mean, there’s a lot better people qualified to say, 'Here’s a book that going to explain the scriptures to you.' I don’t think that’s my gifting," Osteen says.
What I really want to understand is if Osteen believes he is NOT gifted to explain the scriptures to people, then why the heck is he pastoring thousands of people and taking on the responsibility of teaching all of them each week from the living Word?!?! The pastor who preaches regularly is responsible to be the one person in that community of people who is most trained in understanding the Scriptures as deeply as possible, so as to be able to correctly explain them for the chance that those listening would take those Scriptures to heart and live them out. The pastor is to be the local theologian for those people. The pastor is to give his life and time to doing his best to understand the Scriptures and correctly lead people to those truths in order to see life transformation. If he KNOWS he is not gifted and trained in doing that, then stop! By saying he knows he's not gifted in that, Osteen has completely negated his own authority to use Scripture for teaching. So he might as well just become some life coach or Dr. Phil. The only thing that would change about his message is he would stop twisting the few verses of Scripture that he's ever read and used.

I'm not claiming that anyone else has the understanding of Scripture down. If that was so, how do we explain the two thousand years of conflicting ideas about interpretational issues? I certainly don't believe that I have it down. Far from it, in fact. I am a student of the Scriptures and I will die a student as well. However, I also know that I am a servant of the Scriptures. Osteen treats the Scripture as if it is there to serve him in supporting his self-help campaign. He treats it as if it, along with God himself, are here to serve us. He would be better suited to be a writer for a fortune cookie company than take on teaching the Scriptures.

I know that all my understandings of God and the Scriptures are not completely right. There are other traditions of theology and beliefs within Christianity that have valid beliefs and understandable interpretations of Scripture to lead them there. I can accept that, loving them as brothers and sisters under the same Jesus. However, there come some who do completely pervert the Gospel message of servanthood and humility and make it about gaining wealth and prosperity. That sort of obvious twisting of the Gospel can not be validated as just another sect of Christian interpretation. That is a complete disregard for who Jesus was, what Jesus did in GIVING all of himself for humanity, and what Jesus taught us to do (follow him and his example of servanthood). Listen to Jesus' teaching to his disciples in Mark 8:34-36, right after Jesus taught that he must suffer and die soon.
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?" (ESV)
This doesn't sound like the Jesus of Osteen's gospel. This is the Jesus who said, "I must give everything I have for those who don't deserve it because I love them. Now, if you want to follow me, you must live like me." We have to understand that when Jesus asked them to "follow me," that was a loaded statement! That wasn't simply, "Walk behind me." It wasn't even just, "Walk with me and worship me." It was, "I'm going to give all of me for you. Go and do likewise." Paul understood this as well. Listen to these words from Philippians 2:3-8.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (NIV)
That is the Gospel message. God who came down from all glory and honor to give it all away in a horrible, human death for the sake of all humanity. God who asks those who follow Him to follow His example of sacrifice and servanthood. That is the beautiful yet arduous Gospel.

28 December 2007

What's New About Your New Year?

So what's the use of celebrating the coming of a new year unless it is a milestone for reflecting on the past year and the starting line for new beginnings in your life? If the only part of life that changes with the new year is throwing away your wall calendar to replace it with a new one, then why celebrate the new year? There is no reason to set aside time to recognize the beginning of a new year if all that changes is the genre of pictures on your wall calendar!

John Wesley recognized this, seeing the importance of utilizing this celebration for reflection and re-commitment. Starting this tradition in 1755, Wesley called the service a "Covenant Service." It was typically held on either New Year's Eve or the first Sunday of the new year. It was a service specifically meant to aid in reflecting on the past year, seeing what needs to change, and rededicating the whole of one's life to God.

I'm not the biggest believer that just because someone else did it in church history, we should. I'm the last person to ever say, "That's how we've always done it," as reasoning for doing something. Tradition is good to look at and glean from, but not in the least amount imperative to use. However, in my opinion, there is much to glean from Wesley's tradition of the "Covenant Service."

This comes down to more than New Year's Resolutions and just trying to better oneself. This goes beyond mere self-improvement tapes and "7 Habits to a Sucessful Life" junk. This goes farther than Joel Osteen's "fortune cookie" way of using the Bible as a self-help manual. This goes to the depth of our souls as we understand that we are not our own, but are God's. We are His servants and owe Him every part of our lives for His use. This is why we need to take time like this to reflect, re-evaluate, and re-focus with new goals, dreams, and passions for the coming year. It is taught throughout scripture that each arena of life (physical, mental, emotional, social, etc.) is a part of one's spirituality and one's striving towards holiness. All those parts matter to God. Since we are creatures of forgetfulness and distraction, we have to take time out of our busy lives to evaluate where we've been, where we are, and where we want to be. Even more than where, we need to evaluate who we've been, who we are, and who we want to be.

Take time over these next few days to pray and think through this. Take extra time to evaluate this past year. Think about what you've done. Celebrate your successes and relationships with others. Mourn your mistakes and shortcomings. Think on who you've been. Take joy in your growth as a person and your discipline to become more like Jesus. However, recall your selfishness and tendencies to fall back into self-centered desires. Learn from all of this and look forward to this coming year. How do you want to be different? How do you want to walk closer with the Spirit every day? How do you want to serve instead of take? How do you want to love instead of hate? Think about each area of your life (physical, mental, emotional, social). These parts are a part of your spirit as well. When these areas of your life are marked by balance and discipline, your spiritual life begins to take on better balance and discipline as well. Measure yourself up in each of these areas.

Let these not be merely new year's resolutions, but commitments made in a covenant with God.

27 December 2007

Settling in the New Residence

I'm finally settling in down here in Liberty, SC. It was crazy trying to move my life down here and having to gear up for Christmas festivities at the same time. I made it though! I'm now settled in my house, living with Brady. It's quite fun so far. It will be even more fun when SWU starts back up. Then, we'll have more friends close by, and especially because Kindel will be less than 10 minutes away instead of 45 minutes away in Westminster. Here's a couple pictures of the house:

This is the living room. Yes, I know what you're thinking. You are in love with the fake wood wall paneling. I know. You're jealous. Ha... Brady and I are going to hook up extra car subwoofers (two 10" subs) into our sound system. I think the wood paneling will blow off the walls when we do that!

This is my growing DVD collection. For Christmas, I received:
- House - Season 3 (completing my House collection!!!)
- Scrooged
- Gladiator (3-Disc Extended Edition)
- Hamlet (2-Disc Edition)...This is NOT Mel Gibson's version. This is the good version done by Kenneth Branagh (4-hours long and GOOD)

This is the office room. Brady's section is on the left and mine on the right. Here's a closer look at my side:
I finally have two bookshelves to store my books on. And I still have a space for some music stuff. Thanks to Benji for the free desk! Much appreciated!

This is a picture of my floor lamp in my bedroom. I was planning to take more pictures of my room after this one. However, my camera broke. After a dreadful fall to the ground while the lens was out and unprotected, the camera cannot move the lens in and out very easily to focus. The sound of broken things inside makes me assume that the teeth of gears that move the lens back and forth are broken. This was quite a sad day. Now, I have yet another expense to take on whenever I get a job.

Other news in my life:
  • I'm reading Authentic Spirituality by Barry L. Callen. I read portions of it for a class in my undergrad, but I wanted to read the whole thing this time. It's not an enjoyable read so far, but it is informative.
  • I joined the Central-Clemson Rec Center a couple days ago. I'm starting a new routine of lifting and running again. I'll need encouragement to get back into it. The first month is the hardest!
  • Health insurance is expensive. Period.
  • I saw I Am Legend twice. It was remarkably good! If you have read the book, you might hate the movie. To pull a random number out of the air, it is only about 5-10% like the book. That's it. However, Will Smith is one of my favorite actors ever and he has again proven himself in this film! If only they could burn Wild Wild West and act like he never did that one...
  • I really want a hybrid Civic! I rode in Phil Pranger's hybrid Civic a few days ago and loved it! I hope I can get one in a couple years!
  • I'm looking forward to 2008! More on that in a post coming soon!
  • I miss the Wilmore guys! I'm looking forward to seeing you guys in a few weeks at Jack's wedding!
That's all for now. I'm tired of the coffee shop and am going home to find food. Until next time!

24 December 2007

Apologies to my readers....or reader...

To the few of you who frequent my blog, my apologies for not posting for quite some time. I moved from Kentucky to South Carolina a couple days after my last post. In Kentucky, I had internet access at the house, but Brady and I have not ordered cable and internet services yet. Without that access, my internet usage is limited to coffee shops and Panera Bread, which is where I am right now. It's hard to sit down in a coffee shop and collect all my thoughts for a blog, especially since I am usually not alone when I go there. After Christmas has come and gone, we will pick up our search for getting internet service at the house. Then, I will be able to pick up the pace and start blogging regularly. I hope to make blogging a daily practice, hoping that I can post about something interesting and at least not mundane each day. We shall see.

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you have time to spend with family and all whom you love over this season! I pray that you experience the work of God's Spirit in your life in a refreshing way!

10 December 2007

Housemates' Christmas Portraits

SWU boys. Free time. Trip to Goodwill. Tacky Christmas sweaters. Mmm...

So, yet again, a trip to Goodwill has paid off in quite some laughs. You can view the full photo album here on Facebook, but here is a glimpse at a few of them for your laughing pleasure. I hope it brightens your day...

09 December 2007

Bear Grylls - A Man Among Mere Boys

Bear Grylls is the man. Over the past couple years, I have become a regular watcher of "Man vs. Wild" on Discovery Channel. On this show, Bear is dropped off into remote regions of the world and shows how to survive the hardest predicaments in each area. He's been through rain forests, jungles, arctic tundras, the glaciers of Alaska, deserts (including the Sahara), the Outback of Australia, Patagonia, deserted islands, the Alps, the Rockies, Mount Everest, and more.

"Bear" Grylls (real name: Edward Michael Grylls) did not start out in the media, however. Bear served in the British Special Forces, where he was trained in unarmed combat, desert and winter warfare, combat survival, medics, parachuting, signals, evasive driving, climbing and explosives. However, after three years, his service in the Special Forces ended abruptly with a parachuting accident while serving in North Africa. When his parachute ripped, Bear dropped to the ground from 16,000 feet at twice the normal speed. He broke three vertebrae in his back. (This paragraph's information can be found here.)

Two years after this incident and severe physical rehabilitation, Bear completed his childhood dream at the age of 23 by becoming the youngest British climber to make it to the summit of Mount Everest and come back alive. In the coming years, Bear, along with his team from the Everest climb, circumnavigated the British Isles in a jet ski and led the first unassisted crossing of the frozen North Atlantic Ocean in an inflatable boat! Bear went on to set more world records by eating a three-course meal at a table suspended a hot air balloon at 24,500 feet in the air and then flying over Mount Everest in a powered paraglider. (This paragraph's information can be found here.)

Just as a sidenote to those who think Bear Grylls is inferior to Les Stroud, better known as "Survivorman" from the show by the same name. Look at it this way.
Bear Grylls, by trade: Special Forces soldier, all-terrain and all-climate combat survivor, mountaineer, adventurer.
Les Stroud, by trade: Canadian musician and film maker.
I will admit that Les Stroud has done some amazing survival feats, but his credentials are nothing compared to Bear Grylls.

Beyond the fact that Bear is the epitome of manliness, I am also a fan of Bear for his openness about his Christian faith. This is rare to find when people are public figures. Recently, I was watching Bear's recent episode of Man vs. Wild when he was in Patagonia, the most southern area of South America. After building a fire, he was sitting down at the end of the day and said this (I left out the conversational "you know's" and "and's"):
I think the magic of places like this is that everything slows down and life becomes much more rural. Those things that keep you going in life suddenly become much more prominent. For me, certainly that's my Christian faith. [It] is a big part of that and it's helped me through so many difficult and often quite lonely times. For me, that's my backbone, I think.
This was great to hear. Again, while discussing how he prepares for doing each episode, this quote comes from a post on Bear's blog:
The final part of the equation is my Christian faith…I look at this as the thread that binds all these other elements together. I pray daily for my family and we also have little quiet times together, and I pray hard when out filming for safety, good judgement and for protection in all the dangers.
He discusses again the importance of his Christian faith here on his website. Also, Bear lists some Christian books in his Top 10 books list, as well as mentions Mother Teresa and John Wesley in his Top 10 people with whom he wants to have dinner.

I already had tons of respect for Bear as a "manly man," but now, I respect him even more for having such influence as a public figure and still being open about his Christian faith. What a true picture of what the Christian man should be: not necessarily the eating raw animals and drinking water from camel dung, but the mixture of adventure and strength with humility and dependence on God.
It [Christian faith] feels like the rock in my life and it has taken me a long time to no longer be afraid to say that. But I have learnt that it takes a proud man to say he needs nothing.
:: Bear Grylls
Photo of Bear Grylls from here

08 December 2007

The City: Weeping Over the City

It's been awhile since writing a post in my "The City" series, but I guess I'll write a new installment.

In Luke’s gospel we find a glimpse of Jesus’ heart for the city, specifically Jerusalem.
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it [Luke 19:41]
I could imagine Jesus coming towards Jerusalem, and while at a distance, he sees the cityscape of Jerusalem and weeps for it. He goes on in the next few verses to explain that he wishes the people of Jerusalem knew “the things that make for peace,” but now it was hidden from them and soon destruction would come for Jerusalem.

Jesus wasn’t weeping for the city itself. He wasn’t weeping for the buildings, or the city walls, or even the temple itself. He was weeping for the people! He was weeping for these people who needed redemption. He was weeping for these people who couldn’t save themselves from coming destruction. He was weeping for the masses.

When have we taken on this part of Jesus’ character? When have we taken on a compassion for people that runs so deep that we cannot help but weep for them? The very word compassion comes from Latin words meaning, “to suffer together.” Jesus was so broken inside for these people and their situation that He wept openly. Not only that, but He also did something about it. He didn’t come to solve their problems of coming physical destruction, but He did come to solve their problems of spiritual destruction. Are we moved in our spirits so deeply that we are moved to action for the masses? Are we moved beyond mere sadness for others to compassion for others? Sadness and pity doesn’t move people and doesn’t solve problems; compassion moves people and loves people.

When was the last time you looked over your community, or walked down its main streets, seeing those less fortunate than yourself and those who do not have the love of Jesus in their lives? When was the last time you thought about those in your community or city and wept over their problems, whatever they might be? Even more, when was the last time you were moved to action through compassion for those people? When have you helped to bring the love of Jesus to them, even in the most tangible ways?

This is what it means to have a heart for the city, to weep over the city, to love the city for Jesus, wherever you might live. Last year on Christmas day, I worked at a homeless shelter for the evening. It was a great time for me. It wasn’t nearly what I should be doing to give to others, but it was a start. As we approach the Christmas season, let’s celebrate Jesus coming to us in flesh by being “Jesus in flesh” to someone else. Give more than you get. Go “suffer together” with those who suffer.

05 December 2007

God's Will for Your Life

If you scan through any Christian book store, which I personally vow to rarely set foot in, you will probably find a collection of books claiming to help you "find God's will for your life." They say that the Bible has the answers to finding God's will for your life and they have figured out the formula to finding it. One book a few years ago claimed that if you prayed an obscure prayer from an obscure reference in the Old Testament, and prayed this prayer every day, God would guide you the way you should go.

They set up formulas as if God's will is an algebra equation that can be solved for "x." If you do A, B, and C, God will reveal His plan for your life. If you believe A and B, practice C and D daily, and practice E weekly, God will guide your steps to your destined job or mate. God is being understood as this entity that can be charted on a chalkboard and understood using formulas and graphs. I say this because I, too, was one of these ignorant followers.

As life has continually moved forward (as it typically does...), I have begun to understand that God cannot be put on chalkboards and figured out in equations. Within that truth is truth about God's will for each of us. God's will for our lives cannot be solved as you would undertake solving for "x" in algebra class. You can't manipulate the numbers to show you the answer you want to see.

For starters, our idea of "God's will for my life" is out of order. As I read through the Scriptures, I do not see this individualized view of God's will. God's will is for humanity before it is ever about you or me personally. American culture has individualized everything. We cannot see past our own hand in front of our face in broad daylight! God is interested in communities, cultures, and humanity as a whole. We have made God into "MY personal savior" instead of the Savior and King of Creation, and we have begun to believe we are the center of His life. We see God as our personal healer, personal guide, personal mentor, personal sacrifice for our personal sins, personal match-maker, personal job-hunter, etc. When did God become our personal assistant?

So...God's will for my life? What does that question conjure up in your mind? What job should I have? Who should I marry? Where should I live? Should I talk to "so-and-so" about Jesus? Should I play soccer next year? Should I do this major in school? These are the questions that we wrestle with in our late teen and twentysomething years. These are the questions to which we want answers! These are the questions that matter and we want to know what God thinks. I think most of us genuinely want to know God's will in these matters so we can serve Him best. I think most of us have valid reason to want to know because we see these as life-altering decisions (well, most of them can be).

I want to suggest to you, however, that these questions are not necessarily the forefront questions of God's will for your life. These are not the questions we should be concerning ourselves with when it comes to asking God what to do. I believe we are missing something. If these issues were the biggest issues dealing with God's will in our lives, wouldn't God have orchestrated the Scriptures to help guide us in making these decisions? Wouldn't God have shown us how to ask for God's will in these situations? Wouldn't stories from the Gospels, Acts, and Paul's exhortations been more closely focused around these issues if they were the center of God's will for our lives?

However, this is not the case. God does not teach us how to ask about God's will in our career moves, sport selection, course selection, city of residence, etc. We do not see stories of people asking God to show them if they should be a plumber instead of a carpenter. Sorry, it doesn't happen. Just to add to all of this, most of the second person pronouns (you, your, etc.) that you find in Jesus' teaching and the letters of the New Testaments are plural, NOT to individuals.

So you want to know what the New Testament teaches about God's will for your life? Let's go to 1 Thessalonians 4:3:
For this is the will of God, your sanctification...
There it is. Paul goes on for the next few verses giving a list of some of the attributes of what that sanctification looks like. This is it. Want to know God's will for your life? Strive to be like Jesus. It answers all of your questions!

Who should I marry? Strive to love like Jesus
What occupation should I do? Strive to serve like Jesus
Where should I live? Strive to live wherever you are like Jesus

If you take the time to dig into this truth, you will begin to see that this IS the core of God's will for your life. You see, if your life is being spent to become a true follower of Jesus (learning and obeying his teachings as well as living dependent on the Spirit), you will find the other questions either "fall in line" or "fall away." It is through this striving for a holy life that we are able to make these other decisions. Could this be why Paul says in Romans 12:2:
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and perfect.
It is THROUGH our transformation from wretched to holy that we are able to answer the other questions of life. However, it must be understood that those questions are not the forefront of the issue. Who you marry, where you work, where you live, and what you eat for breakfast tomorrow are not the biggest issues. Striving for holiness through obedient love to God is the biggest issue. After that, everything else will be better understood.

So don't waste your money buying the books and don't waste your time trying the formulas of pray, fast, and repeat. That's not the heart of the matter. The heart of the matter is you putting your questions aside to wholeheartedly seek after Jesus and strive to become like Him.

03 December 2007

Favorite Christmas/Winter Songs

Over the last couple weeks, I've been putting lots of hours on the roads between Kentucky, South Carolina, and North Carolina. I've also been driving my dad's truck because I borrowed it to tow a U-Haul trailer in a couple weeks. Unfortunately, I've had to listen to the radio because I can't plug in my iPod to it and I don't own any CDs anymore (it's all digital now). Since it's December, all the radio stations have been playing hours of Christmas music. Although much of it is quite obnoxious, I do enjoy some of it. So I decided to make a Top 10 list of my personal favorite Christmas/Winter songs (since some don't technically fit in the Christmas category).
  1. Do You Hear What I Hear? - words and music written by Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne
  2. O Come All Ye Faithful - written by John Francis Wade in Latin (Adeste Fideles)
  3. Carol of the Bells - music by Mykola Dmytrovych Leontovych and English lyrics by Peter Wilhousky
  4. Baby, It's Cold Outside - words and music by Frank Loesser
  5. Let It Snow - words by Sammy Cahn and music by Jule Styne
  6. O Come, O Come Emmanuel - origins unclear; English translation from Latin by John Mason Neale
  7. My December - written by Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park (not a traditional Christmas/Winter song, but it's good!)
  8. O Holy Night - original French poem by Placide Cappeau; carol composed by Adolphe Adam
  9. Little Drummer Boy - words and music by Katherine K. Davis
  10. Silent Night - original German lyrics by Josef Mohr and music by Franz X. Gruber
What's your favorite?