Welcome to a Blog Community!

I want to welcome you to my blog. Please feel free to add your thoughts and comments and join in the discussion.
I feel I learn best when in conversations with others, so let us search and muse together!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

New Blog Site

Hello friends!

I want to thank you all for following my blog over these past few years. Unfortunately, I have not posted much in the past year or so. Due to this, I have decided to do a total re-vamp of my blog presence on the web by staring a new one. Here is the address:


I'd love for you to continue to offer your thoughts and comments, so feel free to jump over to the new site and follow!

Many blessings,

Monday, November 28, 2011

Read through the NT during Advent

This is an idea I have taken from some of my Eastern Orthodox brethren. Though their season of Advent officially began on November 15, and our (Protestant) season of Advent began yesterday, I have adapted a reading plan that goes through the entire New Testament beginning today and ending on Christmas Eve. I would love for anyone to join me in this, especially since I could use the accountability. Advent blessings be with you!

Schedule to read through the entire New Testament during Advent

Mon. Nov. 28
Matthew 1-12
Tues. Nov. 29
Mathew 13-24
Wed. Nov. 30
Matthew 25-28
Thurs. Dec. 1
Acts 1:1 – 4:37
Fri. Dec. 2
Acts 5:1 -15:41
Sat. Dec 3
Acts 16:1 – 28:31
Sun. Dec. 4
Mark 1:1 – 11:33
Mon. Dec. 5
Mark 12:1 – 16:20
Tues. Dec. 6
James, 1-2 Peter
Wed. Dec. 7
Galatians, Ephesians
Thurs. Dec. 8
1 -2 Thessalonians
Fri. Dec. 9
1-2 Timothy
Sat. Dec. 10
1 Corinthians 1:1 – 11:34
Sun. Dec. 11
1 Corinthians 12:1 – 2 Corinthians
Mon. Dec. 12
Romans 1-8
Tues. Dec. 13
Romans 9-16
Wed. Dec. 14
Thurs. Dec. 15
Luke 8-16
Fri. Dec. 16
Luke 17-20
Sat. Dec. 17
Philippians, Colossians
Sun. Dec. 18
1,2,3 John – Jude
Mon. Dec. 19
John 1-7
Tues. Dec. 20
John 8-14
Wed. Dec. 21
John 15-21
Thurs. Dec. 22
Titus, Philemon, Hebrews
Fri. Dec. 23
Revelation 1 – 11
Sat. Dec. 24
Revelation 12 – 22

A Lighter Side of Black Friday

This past Friday my wife and I procured that labels of greedy, materialistic, super-consumerist, selfish, and un-Christian. This was a result of our choice of going out to do some shopping on Black Friday instead of indulging ourselves in another slothful day of gluttony at home (instead, I did that on Saturday!). Granted, these titles were not directed strictly at either one of us; rather, they came down upon us through blanket statements made on various social medias. Not once did I see something to the effect of, “If you are Black Friday shopping today, be safe, be patient, and remember to wear a smile!” Instead, most cyber-reflection seemed to come from a self-assumed authoritative position of Lording superiority over followers and friends.
Of course, there are some very ugly aspects to Black Friday. The media loves to showcase the herds of people standing in line for twelve hours to be first in line for a $299 42-inch, flat-screen television. Stories are spotlighted such as a person who uses pepper-spray to fend off other potential shoppers rushing for their item. In no way do I defend these actions or attitudes.
On the other hand, there are other facets to Black Friday than many simplistic blanket judgments offer. For starters, Black Friday has become a family event for my wife and me. Until I met my wife, I had never been Black Friday shopping. In her family, it is tradition. Being some of the most financially savvy people I know, her family loves it. And I have loved spending that time with them.
Black Friday is also good for the economy – something that cannot be ignored in the current climate of our country. I am not blind enough to say that Black Friday will solve all of our nation’s financial woes, but it doesn’t further the problems. And it does it in a way that is more helpful to my wallet.
For example, I do not do a lot of shopping for myself throughout the year. (That’s the kind of super-consumerist I am.) I don’t buy a lot of clothes. Most of what I have comes through birthday and Christmas gifts or is purchased by gift cards I receive. I am unwilling to pay $65 for a new dress-shirt. But when that dress shirt is 40% off on Black Friday and I have a $30 coupon I can use on top of that, I am very willing to pay $10 for a new dress shirt.
I have found that Black Friday helps me practice good stewardship. I am able to do a lot of Christmas shopping early and for much cheaper prices. This allows me to save more money and in turn use it to support missions, to buy gifts for underprivileged children, and to offer gas money to a friend struggling to find finances to get home for Christmas. The time spent shopping for gifts on this vacation day saves me time later that can then be dedicated to the ministry I do at church.
I was encouraged by this facebook post by a friend on Black Friday, pointing toward the benefit of stewardship on this day: “I am not usually a Black Friday shopper, but our Giving Tree kids requested a couple of items that were on sale. Saved more than enough to pay for the helmet to go with the scooter--I love it when shopping and stewardship collide!”
Another personal benefit I have found on Black Friday is that it teaches me patience and generosity. Sure, the lines can sometimes be long. Traffic can be bad. This gives me an opportunity to be patient with others. I often let others go in front of me in line or take the closer parking spot that would have made my walk much shorter. It also gives me a chance to offer some encouragement to workers who have been going since 12AM, 4AM, 6AM, etc. Here is an example of one conversation I had at a register this past Friday:

Me:                         Thanks for working today. How long have you been here?
Worker:             Since 4AM. It’s been a long day!
Me:            Yeah, I’m sure it has. I hope it goes quickly and you can get home and rest well.
Worker:            Thanks! Yeah, I’ve got just a few more hours.
Me:            Well, we really do appreciate you being here for us today, even though I know you’d probably rather be elsewhere. Thanks so much for what you are doing. May God bless you greatly over this Thanksgiving and Christmas season!
Worker:            Thanks! You too!

Sure, it’s nothing big, but I feel like I was able to offer some encouragement to someone who would be out there working regardless of my presence or not.
            Honestly, for the most part, I find most people to be jovial and encouraging on Black Friday. There are those bad apples that get all the attention, but by no means is that the vast majority. The friendliness often lends itself to good conversation while waiting in line. This past Friday I was able to ask a mother and her daughter if they had a church they attended. It turned out they were members of a Methodist church in town, so we were able to talk about some of the upcoming worship opportunities at our churches. That’s not a conversation I usually have with people at the mall.
            Though these are all some of the benefits I have found for shopping on Black Friday, by no means is my purpose to make an apology of Black Friday, convincing everyone that they should participate in the day. I will admit that the day is full of consumerism and materialism, but so is every other day of the year.
            My purpose is actually pretty simple and has nothing to do with Black Friday at all. The true point of my writing could be summed up in a simple four-word phrase – “Think before you tweet.” Or post. Or comment. Or whatever social media you use.
            Many of my views on Black Friday could easily be erroneous. It is something I commit to keep in prayer. But I can honestly say that the judgment I saw on social media throughout Black Friday troubled my heart greater than anything I experienced while out in the consumerism of Black Friday. Perhaps as Christians we often approach social media as an opportunity to be prophetic. If so, exercise caution. I have found many of these “prophetic” statements to address superficial issues through generalized terms, causing the writer to appear as a self-proclaimed expert. There is often a much deeper-rooted problem to be addressed and, honestly, social media will not sufficiently do it. 
            Instead, I offer the suggestion to allow social media as a chance to enter the lives of others, and allow them to enter yours. I would have gladly welcomed a tweet on Black Friday that said, “Enjoying the time relaxing at home with family today. Praying that God will find good ways to bless those who cannot enjoy the day and have to work.” I think this is very different than saying, “Black Friday shows the evil consumerist heart of America.”
            Maybe I’m wrong and being over-simplistic myself. Regardless, I pray that we can all take time to think through the multiple facets of whatever subject we approach through social media, addressing it with both careful insight and wisdom. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lyrical Theology: O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing

Most of the following (lengthy) post comes from a section of a paper I wrote in seminary on the theology of Charles Wesley:

Charles Wesley is certainly one of the most beloved of all hymn writers, especially within the Methodist denomination. Yet, in the midst of Charles Wesley’s lyrical medium, it must not be overlooked that he was also a successful evangelist. Though he did not travel as extensively as his brother John, Charles remained very active in the life of his congregations in Bristol and London. For Charles Wesley, lyrical theology was a way of teaching and preaching. Perhaps still today his greatest influence on the church was his and John’s development of A Collection of Hymns for the use of People Called Methodists, published in 1780 and otherwise known as the large hymnal.
Part of the purpose of this hymnbook was to be a daily devotional guide as much as a musical book in worship. John writes in his prologue to the hymnbook that its purpose was to provide a “full account of scriptural Christianity” and “the experience of real Christians.”[1]
Thus, through the writing of hymns, it was for Charles Wesley that the inner experience of salvation was manifest through the praise of God. This is why, since the early establishment of the Methodist hymnal, the introductory hymn has always remained the same. We commonly know the hymn as “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing.” Charles wrote this hymn as a reflection on his own conversion experience. The original hymn contained eighteen verses, written by Charles on the first anniversary of his conversion. He appropriately entitled the hymn, “For the Anniversary of One’s Conversion.” John’s final edit for the hymnal pared it down to eight stanzas, beginning with the line “O for a thousand tongues.”
It is not only the backdrop of conversion that gives importance to the study of this hymn; the progression of Charles’ original eighteen stanzas exhibits the brilliance of his lyrical theology.
The first stanza of the hymn begins with a doxological prelude toward God:

Glory to God and praise and love
Be ever, ever given
By saints below, and saints above
The Church in earth and heaven.

There is a deep ecclesial context found within these lines. The individual’s experience of conversion is put into context through the praise of God, calling on the “saints below” and “saints above” who are offering this same praise. Thus, salvation is rooted in the praise and glory of God, and is understood in the context of a communal doxology.
            Stanzas two through six become testimonial, offering a description of Wesley’s own experience of salvation:

            On this glad day the glorious Sun
            Of Righteousness arose
            On my benightened soul he shone
            And filled it with repose

            Sudden expired the legal strife
            ‘Twas then I ceased to grieve
            My second, real, living life
            I then began to live

            Then with my heart I first believed
            Believed with faith divine
            Power with the Holy Ghost received
            To call the Saviour mine

            I felt my Lord’s atoning blood
            Close to my soul applied
            Me, me he loved, the Son of God,
For me, for me he died!

I found and owned his promise true,
Ascertained my part
My pardon passed in heaven I knew
When written on my heart

            Stanza seven then returns to the doxological proclamation with which the hymn first began. Stanzas eight through eleven continue this shift from testimony to proclamation, becoming a sermon of the gospel message of Jesus Christ and reflecting the universal call to salvation so important in the Wesleys’ preaching:

            O for a thousand tongues to sing
            My great Redeemer’s praise!
            The glories of my God and King
            The triumphs of his grace

            My gracious Master and my God
            Assist me to proclaim
            To spread through all the earth abroad
            The honors of Thy name

            Jesus, the name that charms our fears
            That bids our sorrows cease
            ‘Tis music in the sinner’s ears
            ‘Tis life and health and peace

            He breaks the power of cancelled sin
            He sets the prisoner free
            His blood can make the foulest clean
            His blood availed for me

            He speaks, and listening to his voice
            New life the dead receive
            The mournful, broken hearts rejoice
            The humble poor believe

            Wesley shows in these lines that with the experience of conversion comes the proclamation of the gospel. Furthermore, thought the call for salvation is universal, Wesley gets specific. In stanzas ten and eleven he shows that Christ comes to bring salvation to specific experiences of those to whom the proclamation is addressed: sinners are freed from the power of sin; prisoners are set free; the dead are given life; the sorrowful are given joy.
            Wesley takes an important further step in the final seven stanzas of the hymn. Thus far the hymn has been rooted in God’s glory. It has been testimonial. It has proclaimed the gospel. Now he recognizes the need for exhortation, commanding in boldness for others to accept this gospel message:

            Hear him ye deaf, his praise, ye dumb,
            Your loosened tongues employ
            Ye blind behold your Saviour come
            And leap ye lame for joy

            Look unto him, ye nations, own
            Your God, ye fallen race!
            Look, and be saved through faith alone
            And justified by grace

            See all your sins on Jesus laid
            The Lamb of God was slain
            His soul was once an offering made
            For every soul of man

            Harlots and publicans and thieves
            In holy triumph join
            Saved is the sinner that believes
            From crimes as great as mine

            Murderers and all ye hellish crew
            Ye sons of lust and pride
            Believe the Saviour died for you
            For me the Saviour died

            Awake from guilty nature’s sleep
            And Christ shall give you light
            Cast all your sins into the deep
            And was with Ethiop white

            With me your chief you then shall know
            Shall feel your sins forgiven
            Anticipate your heaven below
            And own that love is heaven

            The structure of the hymn (glory – testimony – proclamation – exhortation) demonstrates that the spiritual life is not to be primarily concerned with pious introspection of the individual; instead, conversion should lead to the praise of God and sharing the good news of the gospel. Teresa Berger writes, “on the one hand, this is developed by a way of a doxology that gives thanks for the events of the past, while, on the other hand, sounding the call to proclamation in the present.”[2]
            The Wesleys were evangelists. At the heart of their preaching was the universal call to salvation freely offered to all. Though many of us may not feel as gifted (or perhaps as bold) as the Wesleys, we do have a story to tell. Through this hymn, Charles Wesley brilliantly shows us how our own conversion presents a remarkable opportunity to give praise to God, tell our story of salvation, proclaim the gospel message, and encourage others to take claim of it in their life.

[1] B. Manning, The Hymns of Wesley and Watts: Five Informal Papers (London: Epworth Press, 1948), 14.
[2] Teresa Berger, Theology in Hymns? A Study of the Relationship of Doxology and Theology According to A Collection of Hymns for the Use of People Called Methodists (1780) (Nashville: Kingswood Books, 1995), 81. 

Monday, May 2, 2011


Warning: this might be the most candid post I’ve yet written.

I am in a strange place today. One of confusion and struggle, torn between joy and grief. And it is all centered around one of the most evil men to dwell upon this planet in recent years.

Of course, I am talking about the news of Osama bin Laden’s death.

Millions of blogs, articles, tweets, and facebook statuses have already been written on the topic. I’ve done a few myself. But I want to reflect for a few moments on what I have been wrestling through over the hours since hearing the news.

My immediate reaction when hearing the news of bin Laden’s death was shock. I thought, “Wow, that’s it.” A man, who for decades has terrorized America, was dead. I didn’t necessarily feel any safer. I didn’t even necessarily feel avenged. I just felt closure.

Then the tweets and facebook statuses began to roll in…

The response was overwhelming. The sense of national pride and victory was poignant. As I was reading, suddenly it hit me – I didn’t feel the same way.

Now, let me explain. I love my country. I am proud to be an American. (My favorite song in 4th grade was by Lee Greenwood.) But for some reason, my heart was heavy, not joyful, as I began to reflect on Osama bin Laden’s death.

I don’t know why this is. I certainly do not think myself as more holy than any others, nor do I consider my response to be the appropriate one. In fact, my own response has confused me more than comforted me. This was my initial post:

I struggle to have any love for Osama bin Laden, but for some reason I also have trouble rejoicing in his death. He was definitely evil, but I grieve for his soul.”

I couldn’t bring myself to rejoice over this death. I felt grief. I felt sorrow for a man who rejected so strongly God’s grace and love. And the ongoing tweets and statuses did not help. I felt guilty for not joining in the celebration. I felt anger and shame at some of the things fellow Christians were posting. I felt confusion as many friends and mentors raised good thoughts on appropriate approaches to this celebration.

Yet, in the midst of it all, I kept thinking to myself, “What is the appropriate Christian response? How do I reflect the heart of God in this moment?” I have and offer no definite answers. I can only relate my own process right now.

The best place to begin any search like this is by looking at what the Bible says. The first part of Ezekiel 33:11 states, “Say to them, As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.

Furthermore, Jesus says in Matthew 5:43-48: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Maybe it’s an empathetic heart God has placed in me, but I cannot delight in the death of any person, be they wicked or good. In fact, I grieve harder knowing that another soul has been lost. As a Christian, I cannot bring myself to delight in that. Likewise, I struggle to find that line where I begin to worship my nation over my God.

However, in the midst of this, I have found that my proper response needs to be one of worship. I worship by lamenting over evil and the destruction that evil has brought into this world. I worship by celebrating God’s ultimate victory over death and over the powers of evil. He reigns victorious, and I give Him the glory. I worship by submitting to the Holy Spirit, allowing its peace and comfort to penetrate my life, being okay with not having all the answers I am looking for. I worship by knowing there is a community of faith in this process with me, finding ways to seek out and do justice.

And so, today I celebrate justice, not vengeance. Peace, not violence. A sense of closure for victims, not feelings of wrath. The end of an evil era, not the end of another child of God. I grieve that evil people continue to be at work in this world, and pray that we will continue to stand up against such evil. I pray, not for the destruction of evil people, but that they will repent and know Christ. I celebrate Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. I celebrate that I am a child of God, and that feelings like this remind me He’s not done with me yet.