Eileen and I have been fans of Enter The Worship Circle since we were in college in Boulder, CO. Their ability to create non-commercialized, creative, artistic, and passionate worship music has always moved me. And their newest cd continues in that tradition, while adding some new twists. The best part about Fourth Circle is that it includes so many of the different artists associated with EWC. Ben and Robin Pasley are back, but now have Aaron Strumpel and Laurie and Tim Thornton alongside them, plus Karla Adolphe and Caleb Friesen. I’ve enjoyed the solo work of Aaron Strumpel and the Blackthorn Project (even back to Tim and Laurie’s time in Newcomer’s Home), and their contributions to Songs for A Revolution of Hope are some of the most creative on the cd. To have them all together on Fourth Circle brings a new depth to the lyrics and variety to the music. The instrumentation is different than past Circle cds, but it manages to keep the same organic and raw sound. Tim’s mandolin adds a fresh touch, as does the addition of strings in several songs. They also use a full drum set occassionally , in addition to the hand drums which have in the past led their music to be described as “tribal.”
Fewer of the songs are going to be useful for corporate worship than in First Circle or Second Circle, but the songs are still powerful. “Never Again” cries for justice, while “Give Me Your Hand” sings of the width of God’s grace. “Your House” and “Bright and Beautiful” both give a picture of what it means to be adopted as beloved sons and daughters of God, with God’s kingdom as our home. (I’ve never before heard a praise song use the words “adopting love”!) Altogether, it’s a great cd. Especially for people who were introduced to these artists through McLaren’s “Songs for a Revolution of Hope”, this is a great gateway into the worshipful music these musicians have been making for years.
Our meeting with the Presbytery’s NCD Commission went well yesterday. Michael and I presented for about 25 minutes about our vision and told the whole story of how we’ve felt God calling us to this point. Most of the committee responded well – only person seemed lukewarm and she was the only one who hadn’t had time to read our paperwork in advance. The next steps are pretty clear (1) Michael and I need to talk to the other Presbyterian church in the neighborhood we’re targeting. We’ve already tried to contact their pastor a couple times, but with the busyness of holy week weren’t able to connect. (2) After that, we can start contacting other churches about support, both in terms of people and finances. (3) As another way of getting the word out, our dreams may be mentioned at the next Presbytery meeting. (4) Our next meeting with the Commission will be sometime in the summer, when we’ll turn in grant applications and formally request official funding. In the meantime, we’re free to continue conversations with Open Door (the next one is tonight, actually) and the Korean Church, and to start gathering people to form the core seed group for the new congregation. We’re also gathering people to be on a prayer-team for us. These people will commit to pray regularly for the new church and for us as leaders. It will be a few weeks before we start sending out updates and prayer requests, but if you’d like to be included, just let me know.
In 1 Corinthians 11:27-29, Paul writes some terrifying words: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves” (NRSV).
What does this mean? The historical context of 11: 17-22 is probably a church with class divisions, a church in which the rich indulge themselves in a food and wine while the poor go hungry and this division carries over into the celebration of the supper. But these later verses, 27-29, seem like a more general principle applicable to any form of sin. But if it applies to any and all sin, who is ever worthy to take communion? Surely we all fall short even in our estimations of our own sin, so how can we even rightly examine ourselves? As one of the readings in our service tonight said, “ God looks down from heaven on the human race to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 53:2-3 TNIV).
As I stood in the intinction line tonight, watching others dip their pieces of bread in the cup, it occurred to me that this is a paradox. It is only through Christ’s broken body and shed blood that we are worthy to partake of his body and blood. This is what we realize when we examine ourselves. As BJ said in the service tonight, “The only requirement to come to the table is that you recognize you need a Savior.”
Things are moving forward with the new church development ideas my friend Mike and I have been pursuing, so I thought I’d give two quick pieces of news. First, my friend a partner in ministry Mike has migrated to a new blog on WordPress, so check it out. As you can see from the post he has up now, he really has a passion for worship that includes all the nations of the world, and this is going to be a huge part of our vision for ministry. Second, we presented the idea to a group of elders at the Korean church this morning. Altogether, they were encouraging, asking questions about worship style, other churches in the neighborhood we’re targeting, affirming the age-group we want to target, and agreeing to take time to prayerfully consider how they can collaborate with us in this. Please pray that God will continue to give us guidance and give the leaders of both KUPC and The Open Door wisdom. Next stop: The Presbytery’s NCD commission meeting on March 26th.
A new class I’m taking at the seminary is “Evangelism in Context” with professor Scott Sunquist. One of the first things we did in class yesterday was define evangelism. Here’s my definition:
“Evangelism is the proclamation of the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the good news of the Kingdom of God which brings forgiveness, justice, peace, and reconciliation between both humanity and God, and persons with one another. This good news is proclaimed relationally in both word and deed, as empowered by the Holy Spirit for the sake of the glory of God.”
As the class shared different aspects of their definitions, I was surprised that I was the only one who specifically mentioned the Kingdom of God. Isn’t this a central theme for evangelism? It’s what Jesus preached (see Luke 4:43 and Mark 1:14-15). Speaking at a church here in Pittsburgh several weeks ago, Tony Campolo defined evangelism as recruiting people to join God’s revolution, meaning the Kingdom of God. The fact that this theme was glossed over in class yesterday is troubling to me – an indication of our reductionist and individualistic tendencies in American Christianity.
That said, I have some questions. What’s your definition of evangelism? What else is missing in the definition I give? What is evangelism not?
Eileen and I just returned from a two-week trip through southeast Asia. We went with a group from the seminary to visit friends and church leaders and to learn about the experience of the Church in this area of the world. For most of the trip, I was having flashbacks to the summer of 2003, which I spent in Chiang Mai, Thailand, teaching English. As quickly as I can summarize what we learned on this trip, here are three themes which kept jumping out at me while we were there. More thoughts on the trip may come later, but here’s what you get for now:
1) Spiritual warfare is real. The best way to explain this here is that there were times on this trip when we could tangibly sense evil. God led us deeper into prayer in these times and drew us closer together as a group. I have a new appreciation for the tradition of reading the Psalms, where the pslamist frequently curses his enemy or cries to God for deliverance from the enemy, as a prayerbook for struggles with the spirtual forces of evil.
2) Idolatry is real. In the West we’ve come to interpret idolatry metaphorically – greed as idolatry of money, pride as idolatry of self, or making an idol of whatever consumes our heart or controls our desires. The closest thing to real idol (i.e. image) worship most people encounter in the West is pornography. But in other parts of the world, idolatry as we see it described in the Old Testament really does exist, and it captivates people, and ultimately enslaves many to superstition. The testimonies we heard from many church members included talk of being freed from idolatry.
3) Poverty, warfare, and environmental degradation are all urgent global issues. This is something we all “know” but it doesn’t move from being head-knowledge to heart-knowledge until you see it close-up. We visited orphanages where children stay because their parents can’t afford to provide for them at home. We saw the scars which war leaves on land and people. We stood on the streets of a city where our skin and eyes burned because of the pollution in the air.
Whenever I’ve gone on trips like this before, I’ve come back a changed person. I have a feeling that I won’t know the depth of the ways this trip has changed me for a long time. To anyone reading this who supported us in prayer or finances on this trip, thank you. I’m grateful to have been given such opportunities to explore the world and look forward to seeing how God uses it to shape our future ministry.