Sep 23, 2011

911 - How Far We Have Come in 10 Years

I got this from a dear friend, Andrew Scott - who comes from Northern Ireland, a area of the world that was ripped and torn by sectarian violence for more than 400 years.  His insights here into the United States of America are so prophetic, and insightful, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to copy this to my Blog.  Please read this, and ask God what to do.  - Bill

With all the coverage of the events commemorating the terrible happenings on 9/11 something became painfully obvious to me.

Before I share what it was I will admit to being one of "them there foreigners" and so my view is from the perspective of one who has only lived here 9 years but who has always loved the USA. I guess I am a little unique - many Americans claim Irish roots while I am an Irish man who has American roots - my mother's parents met and married in New York and all her siblings were born here.

What became evident to me (I would believe many others also) is the stark contrast between the US in the days after 9/11 in 2001 and now 10 years later.

10 years ago we had a Christian statesman Billy Graham give a message outlining our need, as a nation, of God. He said, "we desperately need spiritual prayer is that we will feel the loving arms of God wrapped around us." We had scripture reading and prayer in the name of Jesus. Our president said that these events "lead us to pray....prayers that yield our will to a will greater than ours.....may He always guide our country." Today the same event was held excluding evangelicals and certainly was a far cry from the messages we heard 10 years ago. It was more of a muddle of syncretism and political correctness.

10 years ago the solution in 2001 was to turn to God and today it seems to be "if we can come together." Difficult for God to wrap His arms around a people who distance themselves from Him. In regards to the New York service Mayor Bloomberg stated, "what religion would we chose anyway?" A strange question for a leader in country which states in their pledge, "under God," a God who the founding fathers had no doubt as to His identity.

10 years ago this country was united in an unprecedented way - Americans stood shoulder to shoulder hand in hand. I remember visiting 6 months afterwards and still every house, every yard had at least one flag flying. Today this country is as divided as it has been in decades.

10 years ago people flocked to churches with a new understanding of their deep need of the Judeo Christian God and a desire to feel his comforting touch. Church attendance immediately increased by 25% that Sunday. The following week, half of American adults attended a church somewhere. Today many churches are far below pre-9/11 numbers. Surveys show us that there seems to be more acceptance of other ways and sources of peace and God has been downgraded to one among many.

10 years ago our president called out on our behalf to Almighty God and challenged us to do the same. Today our president deems national prayer unconstitutional.

We have come a long the wrong direction.

God gives us a simple solution.

If we would humble ourselves, pray, and turn from our wicked ways He would heal our land. Could it be that the pain that we are feeling as a nation today is somehow linked to our unwillingness to do these three things. 9/11/2001 humbled us and caused us to pray like never before. I fear that we we have not simply become passive in this regard but have taken clear steps to move in the opposite direction of doing these things.

May God have mercy on us and turn the hearts of this nation once again to Him.
May we personally learn the lesson of how easy it is for us as individuals to also slip and forget some of the foundational principles of our faith.

Sep 16, 2011

The Sending Out

"The dismissal tells a story. It is more than a signal that the time of worship is over.  It is the beginning of service in the world.  The content of the Dismissal, although brief,  should be well thought through. . . . [We] need to give careful thought to the words and actions that send God's people into the world."

Robert Webber, Worship Is a Verb: Celebrating God's Mighty Deeds of Salvation  (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing, 1992), 102-103.

One of the great things about doing the Master's Course on Worship Studies at IWS in Jacksonville, Florida, was that it really helped me to see things from a different perspective.  For example, looking at the "Four-Fold" pattern of worship that seems to have permeated the life of congregations from very early on, until even now in our more liturgical expressions.  Entering in to God's presence, or even being reminded of Jesus entry into this world, however you look at it, we "enter" intentionally into meetings, seasons, and experiences that are designed to make us more keenly aware of God's presence.  The same goes for the ministry of the Word, The Table, and of course, the Dismissal.

But what got my attention about the above quote, were two things that are usually not intentionally done or communicated well in our congregational gatherings beyond a closing prayer: 

1)  The Story - of service in the world - being sent into that world
2)  Why does this incredibly important aspect of worship need to be brief?

The emphasis on service (Romans 12:1&2) is so important to how we live - daily - in an extremely complex world.  Making direct application, and moving from propositional truth to incarnation truth is so imperative in today's postmodern world, not only for relevance sake, but also for our own - we really do need to keep it real.

And an exhortation to really consider how we can, as is said in Hebrews 10, "Stimulate one-anther to love and good works" is so necessary in an environment today that is so fed up with talk, and really wants to see reality in people's actions.  How might our congregations meetings look if we took one Sunday a month and emphasized this all too often passed over critical element in the life of a congregation's worship?

Sep 4, 2011

Brokenness is the Beauty

True Beauty is at the core of God's self-disclosure.

IF this is true, what is to be said of the Incarnation,
not to mention nails, thorns, and blood?

(artwork from Bruce Herman)

Aug 30, 2011

Csodalotos (Cha-dal-o-tosh)

What word do we have in the English language that comes close to expressing this idea:  "brokenness is the beauty"?  The Paradoxical collision of sacrificial selfless love with the nefarious nature of crucifixion unleashes a tidal wave of impact:  the defeat of the powers of sin and death, and the provision of the saving grace made available for mankind - all met at the cross of Jesus Christ. No wonder this hideously beautiful moment stands as the center-point of human history.  Perfect love, total wrath, graceful beauty, complete brokenness, malicious cruelty and compassionate kindness all occupied the same space in one climactical moment.  Such was the truth that God gave us for Baja, Hungary July 10-17, 2011.  The Hungarian word for beautiful miracle: Csodalotos.

A visual arts team (Artslink - led on this trip by Pat Butler, who actually came up with the theme word that became the focal point of our outreach), a Dance team (Dancelink), a contemporary band (Bill Drake Band), and a Church team from Peachtree City, GA, all converged on this beautiful Hungarian city just a few miles from the Serbian border.  The results were eternal.

Arts Camp, English language learning, a city square concert,  regular team devotions, nightly praise and worship, all great opportunities for God to work on campers and Short Term missionaries alike. We worked together, played together, worshipped together, struggled together, and triumphed together.

The Tipping Point came on a Wednesday evening when the leader of the Dancelink Team, Cheryl Vigereaux, spontaneously began to dance to the song "How Great Is Our God" in the little cellar/converted into a chapel of the Language School where we were based in Baja (boy-a), Hungary.  Sharing in devotions on Thursday morning, one of the team broke down as she tried to convey a vision she had seen during that dance - the bricks in the cellar exploded outward in an array of blinding light, and all of a sudden Cheryl, who hadn't missed a step, was dancing before the King of Kings, who was on His throne.  Our team-mate expressed that our Lord was pleased with this worship, and was pleased to see us glorify Him with our talents and gifts. This set the team up for an expectancy for Thursday evening, and God did not disappoint. After a full day of drawing, sculpting, dancing, and harmonizing, the Hungarian campers were ambushed by the love of God. Hungarian Translator Bence exhorted the campers to come up and share what they were experiencing. Camper after camper related how loved they felt here, and in that love, they were experiencing God. Bence related the love of Christ, which compels us to share Him, His truth, and His love. A number of Hungarians were in tears, and a number gave their hearts to Christ. It was an awesome evening, But nothing prepared us for the explosive response we were to experience the following evening outdoors in Baja City Center.

The high-water mark of the Camp/Outreach was Friday night in a stage in the city center square. Hundreds of Hungarians were drawn to the vibrant sound of our Bands, the colorful power of our Dancers, and the awesome spectacle of our visual artist's graffiti wall, painted on a huge canvas during the last song of the Bill Drake Band concert. Bill, who had been leading from behind his keyboard, came to the very front of the stage, and pointing to the graffiti wall, asked the crowd who would like to declare that they would like Jesus to do in their hearts and lives what was so colorfully and skillfully displayed on the canvas:  Csodalotos. Bill exhorted the audience to indicate a decision to follow after Jesus Christ by coming up on the Stage, wetting their hand with paint, and putting their hand-print on the canvas around the word.  Many came forward, and the Artslink team had the joy of helping all those who were making decisions to come forward and make their mark for Christ.  Around 30 came to Christ that evening.

Praise God for what He did there in Baja, a miracle of New Life in Christ for many young Artistic Hungarians who had the experience of the Ultimate Artist calligraphy His truth on their hearts. Csodalotos.

May 2, 2011

The Direction of Worship

"One of the greatest discoveries of my Christian pilgrimage has come with the realization that the primary importance in worship is not what I do but what God is doing. In worship, God is present, speaking to me, and acting upon me. It is in worship that God feeds, nourishes, and cares for me. And it is in worship that he gives me his grace, surrounds me with his love, lifts me up into his arms, affirms me as a member of his community, and sends me forth into the world with a fresh vision of his work and a new concern to live for him."
(Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing, 1992), 66.

This quote is awesome for a number of reasons!  I love it because it puts the primacy of worship on God, not me.  It puts the focus of worship on God, not me.  It puts the flow of worship in the proper perspective, and it demonstrates that eternal truth - that it starts with God, it's all for God, and it will end with God.  And it shows that "worship" is not an end in itself - it is for the glorification of God in the moment, and, for the furthering of His worship in the nations of the world. Do I have a part in it?  Yes, of course I have a part to play - I was born to worship!  But lest I forget that somehow it is all about me, the style I like, the instrument I use, the visual or visceral response of the congregation that I can "see" or "get" - the immediate results - Jesus is the High Priest, not me, and it is He Who initiates, sustains, and completes worship - not me! But this line of thinking leads me in to an area of a bit of controversy when played out in real life!  In regard to God being the real worship leader, I have noticed an interesting fact.  For the most part (and there are exceptions to this), in cultures where the Church (body of Christ) has put an "end time" on their "worship services", the church is stagnant - it is not growing in a big way overall.  In cultures where the Church has not put an "end time" on their "worship services", the church is exploding, or has just exploded.  Hmm.  Should we decide when it is over, or should God? Of course I am very familiar with the age old tension between "Does the Holy Spirit work in the planning, or does He work in the spontaneity of the moment?"  The answer is obviously "BOTH", and therefore the previous question sets up a false dichotomy.  The better question might be, "If God is the true worship leader, does He have the 'room', or the 'freedom' to act in congregational worship outside the man-made boundaries that we maybe impose on Him?  And does He have the 'room', or the 'freedom' to act in my personal life of worship in a way that might take me right out of my comfort zone, and transplant me into a place where He sovereignty decides that if I go there, He will get even more glory?"  I am thinking that it is in this sense that worship has a real Director, and His worship has a true relevant direction.

Apr 18, 2011

The Journey Into Death

When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I have always been extremely impressed with the way Jesus Christ turned everything we thought we knew on it's head.  To be exalted, you need to be humbled.  To be great, you need to be a servant.  And in order to live, you need to first die.

I wonder if this was on Abraham's mind as he took Isaac up Mt. Moriah for what he knew would be none less than a human sacrifice.  And I wonder if Isaiah knew that he would be sawn in half when he said those infamous words, "Here am I, send me." 

Friends, I am becoming more and more keenly aware that we have all been invited, pulled inextricably into that crux moment in history where true love and pure wrath met, where unrestricted grace touched unbridled judgment, where beauty and horror embraced, where the vertical and horizontal were nailed together, and salvation and damnation were clearly hung out for the entire world to see.  And we are asked to make a choice:  Who lives?  Who dies? 

"As I contemplated the spiritual journey of Holy Week . . . I knew this was not a week for shopping, vacation, parties, or hilarity. I sensed this was the week that above all weeks was to be set aside for the journey into death. I knew the worship of the church would take me by the hand and lead me step-by-step into the experience of death and rebirth, if I would allow it to do so. I resolved then and there to walk in the way of the cross. I purposed to make this the week God intended it to be for me, a week of intense spiritual struggle--and reward!"

Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Year 
(Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004), 118-119.

I remember being blown away by the Sunday School wall in a persecuted church in Antioch, Turkey.  There they had hung portions of scripture that were to be summarily memorized by their children.  Of course there were the usual verses that we in the west might expect, like "Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become Children of God", and "Let the little children come unto me…"  

What I wasn't prepared for was this one:  "For if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's."  Not the normal Sunday School verse for little children, unless you realize that training up a child in the way he should go, as followers of Christ, is to experientially understand that unless one is dead to self, one cannot really live.

My friends, Christians do not celebrate Easter.  They celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and should be unembarrassed to say and do so, for it is only here that we can find and have true life.  Neither do we embrace pagan fertility rites (even if we are sometimes, like in our own lives, found ignominiously scrambling around for painted eggs and marshmallow chickies).  Rather, like Jesus Christ, we were born for the life of the cross, the tomb, and of course the power and reality of the Resurrection.  Let us therefore be unashamedly "baptized" into this, for it is in this that we truly "live, and move, and have our being". 

Have an awesome Holy Week, and Resurrection Sunday!

Mar 5, 2011

A Dream

Given all the current unrest and heartache in North Africa, I was so blessed to receive this testimony.  I have checked the veracity of this story, and it was confirmed from two different sources, both directly connected to the event.  Praise God for what He is doing in the midst of such struggle.  My encouragement to us all is to try to look beyond geo-political agendas, and media coverage when it comes to the inevitable spin that gets put on such events.  The reason is, that God's ways are not our ways.  He is doing far beyond what we could ask or think, and even in the middle of destruction, He bring beauty from the ashes.  Bless you as you read this blessing . . .

N.Africa:  "A young man was very dedicated to Islam.  His parents were very proud of him.  However this young man became very sick psychologically.  It happened very suddenly.  His desperate parents looked everywhere for help to heal him, even trying witchcraft. Nothing worked. One night the father dreamed that his son was in a pit full of snakes, all biting him.  In the dream he tried to pull his son out of the pit.  All in vain.  Suddenly, a man appeared, of tremendous beauty and glory wearing a white robe.  The man reached down into the pit and took his son by the hand to lift him out.  But the son was holding on to something in his other hand.  The shining man told him to release it.  It was a copy of the Qu'ran.  As soon as he released it, he was lifted out of the pit and the snake bites disappeared.  The father was so happy to see his son rescued and healed.  He woke up, fascinated by the dream and began to search for its meaning.  Some who follow Jesus heard about it and visited him, telling him who the man in white was.  On hearing this, the father gave his life to Christ.  They then prayed for the son, and he was healed.  The entire family now has begun to walk the path!"

Feb 6, 2011

A Provocative Perspective

"For the Apostle Paul, you do not live in the world and go to church. You live in the Church and go to the world. Take off your head, shake it and put it back on; because that was not the way any of us were trained to think. Church, for Paul, is not something you attend. Church is something you organically are—or not! It is more a living organism than a formal organization. You don't join it as much as you breathe it. He is announcing an existing mystery more than establishing a new institution."

-- Richard Rohr

If this is truly the case, then my understanding of what I am really a part of needs to change.  Church is not a destination any more than Worship is only a noun. 

And while I may align myself with this or that denominational or non-denominational structure, I am "connected" to brothers and sisters around the world by a "spiritual ethnicity" that binds me closer to them than just about any other relationship I have - Jesus took that "spiritual ethnicity" so seriously, He said some very difficult things every time He was confronted by a challenge to prefer blood or even family ethnicity (see Luke 14). 

It is very true that in many cases, I have more in common with my persecuted brothers and sisters in Palestine or China than I do my own extended generational family.  And it is in this that I find the "real" definition of Koinonia - a community/communion/family/united expression of the Body of Christ that extends a loving invitation to all, to come to the table of celebration that God has prepared through the sacrifice and resurrection of His Son.

Jan 15, 2011

Worship Is Breath In Another Form

Worship is another one of those critical threshold moments where Heaven and Earth intersect, and engage in the same holy activity in time and space, and in eternal presence.  Man I wish I could "live" as if that is true all the time, rather than grind through hours and days "killing" time vs. radically investing it. 
Worship is not a commodity.  Nor is it a style, or a program.  Worship is breath in another form. 
It is life-giving, and life sustaining.  It should be constant, and it is totally necessary.  It is found in obedience, and intimacy.  It can seem so hard to maintain, even though many times it comes in waves and we drown in it. 
We receive worship in the sense that without Jesus' worship, His sacrifice, and even His constant vigilance as our High Priest, we don't stand a chance.  We draw in His grace like a breath of sweet air and as a result, we live. 
We give worship in the sense that in whatever we do, wherever we go, whatever we say, and whatever we think, we demonstrate our allegiance, our hope, our love, and our faith, as being given to the Deity or some devil or some idol in between. 
I don't know if we will "breathe" in heaven, but I do know we will worship.  It's one of the few activities here on earth that we are guaranteed to continue there.  Let us worship therefore as we breathe, for in this is the oxygen for our souls.