Friday, August 3, 2012

The Ballad of Acceptance and Repentance:

We have reached a time where the Christian church is wrestling through cultural, political, and societal decisions like never before.  While controversial subjects have come and gone, the controversies today are coming in greater volume and with more and more indecision than in years' past.  Christians are being called out and demanded to state where they stand on these hot-topic issues without any permission granted to offer a defense, either scripturally, or philosophically for the answer given. Without being granted permission to offer a defense, Christians are, therefore, choosing to remain silent.  Many sit idly by, holding onto the hope of the gospel, but choosing not to share that hope with others out of fear of being ridiculed and chastised for their beliefs.

In an attempt to counter this onslaught of controversies various Christian church leaders have focused a great deal of time and energy on two various aspects of the teachings of Jesus: 1) Jesus' grace and 2) Jesus' truth.  The purpose behind this type of education is in the "and".  Jesus communicated, lived, and loved others in both grace AND in truth.  Jesus wasn't one-sided.  Nor did Jesus place 80% of His effort and energy into grace and 20% into truth, or vice-versa. He lived and loved others equally through both grace and truth.  The message from these leaders has therefore been, "As Christians we must show a tremendous amount of grace to others AND clearly communicate what the scriptures say".  It's a message focused toward Christians who are one-sided or silent.  Those who have hope, but who may not choose to share that hope with others. 

Unfortunately, these efforts to teach others about grace and truth, as noble and honorable as they have been, have failed.  The reason they have failed, in my opinion, is that the lack of grace AND truth in how Christians communicate, live, and love others is only a symptom of a greater problem.  Are grace AND truth needed?  Absolutely.  But there's a greater problem in the church today than not living our lives equally within the bounds of grace and truth. The problem is this: the Christian church is living completely unbalanced in the areas of Acceptance and Repentance, and this unbalance mainly stems from varying understandings of the greatest four-letter word of them all.  Love.

Indeed, even among Christians today, the word "love" has a variety of meanings.  For some, love remains mostly an emotional feeling.  If one doesn't *feel* loved by others, then others are unloving, or worse, hateful.  For others, the word love isn't a feeling at all, it's about *being* loving toward others.  But once again, being loving toward others also has various interpretations.  And this is where we get into the subject of acceptance.

From my own observations, "acceptance" today has two meanings.  I could dive into this in greater detail, but for the sake of discussion I'll give 2 brief definitions.  One is that acceptance means loving a person, as a person.  Black, white, straight, gay, rich, love the person regardless of any ethnicity, sexuality, or fiances they may have.  Indeed the Bible says not to show favortism toward either rich or poor (James 2:1-4; Leviticus 19:15).  One may befriend them, respect them, and overall accept them as an individual.

However, there is a second meaning of "acceptance" today.  The second is that acceptance means loving a person and their belief system.  This means that if one is truly accepting of one who is rich, they must also accept the way he runs he business.  If one is to truly accept one who is homosexual, they must also accept his position on homosexuality.  If one is to accept one who is white, they must also accept his views on politics.  Some may see this as an exaggeration, but I see it far too often in today's culture.  "Acceptance" means accepting another person AND their belief system.  Tell somebody you disagree.  Tell them you see sin in their life.  Tell them they need to repent.  Say any of these things - whether a minor or major political disagreement, whether it's acknowledgement of sin, whether it's sharing wisdom or offering advice on how to "turn from" something (repentance) - it's seen as unloving.

As I observe this, I must turn to the scriptures to see how Jesus and others handled the subjects of acceptance and repentance.  And what I see is a great deal of Acceptance AND Repentance.  There truly is great power in the AND.  When I read John 8:2-11, I see Jesus firmly see the value in life and accept (love) an adulterous woman.  And she knew it.  The impact He had on her life in that moment was quite profound.  But what did Jesus say next?  "Go, and from now on do not sin anymore."  Yikes.  This doesn't go over well with the 2nd definition of acceptance above, does it?  But there's more.  Through the book of Acts, the first disciples have been called to share the Gospel, and they're called to do it to both Jews and Gentiles.  To the first disciples this meant taking the Gospel message to God's chosen people (the disciples understood this to be the Jews) AND to those who were not God's chosen people (the Gentiles).   What do the disciples say as they take this message onward?

In Acts 2:14-41 Peter gives one of a number of speeches that are located all through the book of Acts.  He concludes by saying, "Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for your sins."   We see it again in Acts 3:19, "...repent and turn back, so that your sins may be wiped out."  And again in 8:22, "...repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that the intent of your heart may be forgiven you."  This one, I believe is crucial, as entails the intent of the heart.  How often today does one say, "I believe you're engaging in sin," and they say it with a true heart of, "I really want what's best for heart is for you," yet they're seen as unloving, unaccepting, or perhaps even hateful.

But this word "repent" never really goes away.  We see it again Acts 18:30-31, "Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent..."  What was that?  God commands all people everywhere to repent?  Yes, that's what it says. God wants people to turn from sin.  All people.  Black, white, straight, gay, rich, poor...all people.  But to ask one to do so today is often considered unloving.  It's often considered unaccepting.  It's often considered flat-out wrong.  Or as modern culture has recently shows, it's intolerant, or hateful.

Outside of the disciples, what exactly did Jesus preach about repentance?  He said, "Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near."  (Matthew 4:17).  Additionally,  He said, "The healthy don't need a doctor, but the sick do.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."  (Luke 5:32).    Jesus' words in Luke 10:13-16 are stronger, much stronger.

I could provide additional examples, but the main point is that the scriptures clearly communicate the importance of both acceptance and repentance.  Jesus expressed both acceptance and repentance.  The disciples expressed both acceptance and repentance.  But today, Christians live in a culture that spends much more time, energy, and resources focusing on a faulty understanding of acceptance.  We would do better to fully understand what it means to accept a person.  Black, white, straight, gay, rich, poor...accept them as a person.  Not their beliefs.  Not their political views.  Simply accepting them as a person.  Yet be unafraid and unashamed to ask them to repent and turn to God.  Not out of pride, or arrogance, but out a simple, humble heart that wants God's best for all people.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

LDS Teachings: Part 1

Oh, no.  Another election year in the US.  This means that millions of Americans are and will continue to be up in arms about who to vote for, and why.  Notwithstanding, I'm not writing this post to promote or advocate any individual candidate.  I've simply observed the following in our culture:  1) Barrack Obama is a professing Christian, who (at least in the eyes of some) seems to teach/lead/believe certain things that may stray from Christian doctrine.  2) Mitt Romney is a professing Mormon (LDS).  With Romney pretty much a lock as the Republican candidate, downloads of "The Book of Mormon" have significantly increased, as people in our culture want to know what it is Mormon's teach and believe.  Additionally, this has led a number of people to ask me, "What is it that Mormons believe?"  Therefore, I'm creating this series of post to highlight some certain specifics on Mormon teaching.  After discussing a few of the major differences between Mormonism and Christianity, I'll write my opinion as to why Mormons believe what they believe as well as suggestions on how to converse with them.

Note: When conversing with anybody who is a Mormon, there is one general principle to follow: in the modern world, "Mormon" has become an almost taboo word.  Therefore, throughout this series of post I shall refer to Mormons as LDS (Latter Day Saints), which is the standard by which Mormons identify themselves.

LDS Teaching #1: There are numerous gods.

Ask a Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, etc. how many gods there are, and they are sure to answer, "One!".  Indeed, the Old Testament passage Deut. 6:4 HCSB (known to those of a Jewish background as the Shema) states, "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one."  There is One God...One.  Christianity teaches that God is One but found in three separate but equal persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  This is Christianity 101 type stuff. However, the LDS church teaches something vastly different.

As a part of this discussion it must be noted that the LDS church doesn't only look upon the Bible as a sacred text.  Nor do they acknowledge only the Bible and the Book of Mormon as sacred texts.  They have four.  These include, The Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price, and their Doctrine and Covenants.  For the sake of this conversation on gods, we must look at a book that is part of the Pearl of Great Price, "The Book of Abraham".

In 1835, Joseph Smith and the young LDS church purchased a scroll from ancient Egypt.  Joseph Smith quickly "discovered" that he was able to interpret the scroll, and that it was indeed writings of Abraham (see Genesis 12 onward).  Joseph Smith went on to interpret the scroll which is known today as the Book of Abraham.  This book is of crucial significance to LDS doctrine, as it gives a detailed account of the creation of the earth.  The book describes how a council of the gods comes together to discuss the creation and birth of various spirits, and the differences of the spirits...and so on.

At the time Joseph Smith and the LDS church purchased this Egyptian papyri, nobody on earth could translate Egyptian hieroglyphics, so nobody had any reason to doubt Smith's interpretation. The papyri was determined to have been written by the hand of Abraham himself, and nobody should doubt it's authority as a part of true scripture.  To make a long account short, the papyri was eventually lost, and thought to have been burned The Great Chicago Fire of 1871.  However, two things are of significance here: 1) Smith left facsimile's behind depicting the scrolls, and 2) the scrolls were later discovered to have not been destroyed, with the originals still fully in tact.

Due to the discovery of the Rosetta stone, these papyri have now been translated by scholars dozens of times.  They are certainly not anything written by Abraham, but is instead the writings of ancient Egyptian burial ceremony (much like a funeral service today) known as "The Book of the Dead".

However, this is still a tremendous belief system in the LDS church.  The Book of Abraham is still upheld today as a book written by Abraham himself, and Smith's translation of the document stands.

If discussing this point with an LDS member today, they will likely point to such Bible passages such as, Genesis 1:26 which says, "Let us make mankind in our image."  They defend the counsel of the gods by acknowledging the the Hebrew text of the Old Testament itself using the term "us".  However, the Christian teaching of this passage is that "us" refers to God and his angelic court, or perhaps is an early acknowledgment of the Trinity.  There is much that could be written here, but Christian scholars affirm that it is not an acknowledgment of a plurality of gods.

For more on the Book of Abraham, feel free to check out these resources:
20 Truths About Mormonism

Outside the Book of Abraham, the LDS church teaches that we may become gods ourselves.

The Doctrine & Covenants states:
19 And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, ...Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection; ...and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, ...and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.
20 Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.
21 Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye abide my law ye cannot attain to this glory.
22 For strait is the gate, and narrow the way that leadeth unto the exaltation and continuation of the lives, and few there be that find it, because ye receive me not in the world neither do ye know me. (Doctrine and Covenants 132:19-22)
This is a drastically different teaching than what one would learn from Catholics or Protestants today.   While there are some differences among denominations as to when believers in Jesus Christ will be in heaven with him (Luke 23:43), it is well taught that 1) We will be with Jesus - Phil 1:23, 2 Timothy 4:6  and 2) God will rule over a new heaven and a new earth (we won't rule or become gods over anything ourselves) - Revelation 19-21.

As you can see, these are not minor differences in a belief system, they are quite significant.  We'll discuss more in future posts, concluding with ideas on how to converse with LDS members today about these differences.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

1st Quarter 2012 Music Guide:

Do to my work on our other blog, I've neglected this one a great deal this year.  My apologies for that, but I believe our ministry will keep me focused on the other one the majority of the time.  Therefore, for the time being this blog will be where I occasionally write about the music I've been enjoying.  And here is a look into what I've purchased thus far in 2012:

All Sons & Daughter album "Season One": 

All Sons & Daughters are a duo worship pair who have released 2 EP's titled, "Brokenness Aside" and "Reason to Sing".  In 2012 they combined the 2 EP's, added a couple extra songs, some videos, chord chards, and voila, "Season One" was born.  If you haven't listened to All Sons & Daughters, they're probably writing and recording the best worship music you can get your hands on today.  It's well layered, yet they do an excellent job of allowing the instrumentation to take a back seat to the beautiful harmonies they create.  "Season One" on itunes contains worship videos and a bunch of extras for $11.99.  Amazon's digital download is $9.99, but they also have a hard copy CD (for the purists out there) that can also be found for about 11.99.  Either one is worth the expense, but the iTunes LP and/or hard copy CD/DVD is probably the best way to go.  As for their sound, I'd like to say AS&D is similar to "The Civil Wars" with more of a worship feel, but honestly, "I believe Season One" to be even better than "Barton Hollow".  Final Take: 4.5/5

Paul Baloche's album "The Same Love":

Paul Baloche is well known for some old worship favorites ("Open the Eyes of My Heart") but he's been putting out albums for a long, long time. His new one, "The Same Love" is brilliant.  Recorded in a few houses with some studio work and mixing going into it, he's delivered an album that's not only theologically solid, but also points the listener directly to the gospel, and he's able to accomplish this in every single song! without sounding mundane.  He worked with "All Sons & Daughters" on the track "Oh, Our Lord" as well.  I would be inclined to give "The Same Love" a 4/5, but Paul Baloche also decided to make the album available in hard-copy form as of March 13, and release it digitally on April 3. This gave bookstores some much needed business (Apple does take a 30% cut from itunes, you know, and I believe Amazon's mp3 store does too - buy directly from artists whenever possible! *rant over*) and those who preordered from this site got a truckload of bonus material, how-to-play videos, chord charts, demo tracks, and more.  Well done, Paul Baloche, well done.  Final Take: 4.5/5

Passion's album "White Flag":

Passion has become a bit too formulaic in my personal opinion.  It seems that all Passion artists/conferences have this mindset of, "If it's worked before, let's just do it again!"  Here me Passion, and understand this isn't a judgment of any one person on this album: You need to add a bit more creativity into in your music.  The lyrics are simplistic and the guitar riffs and effects are getting repetitive. I don't mind hearing a slightly similar sound ever now and then (think "The Edge" from U2) but most artists will mix things up just enough to sound fresh.  While there are a few songs on here with a slightly different sound than albums of the past, the album as a whole still falls short.  Nevertheless, I'm sure we'll be introducing some tracks to our congregation in the near future.  The Deluxe Edition adds 3 tracks, some videos and a Louie Giglio talk making it worth the extra 50 cents on amazon (The 268 Generation store doesn't sell the Deluxe Edition).  Not sure it's worth the extra $2.50 on itunes.  But as stated on Paul Baloche's review above, if you truly want to support Passion, purchase it directly from them.  Final Take: 3.5/5

27 Million: by Matt Redman and LZ7:

Matt Redman and LZ7 combine to bring a modern day hip-hop track in which the sole purpose is to bring awareness to human trafficking and modern day slavery.  It worked. I've heard this song and seen it advertised just about everywhere.  The song itself, isn't great.  It's not bad, but it's not great either.  Nevertheless, the message of the song and the awareness that it continues to bring gives this single track a 4/5.

Robbie Seay Band's album "Rich and Poor": 

Robbie Seay Band continues to remain quiet in the realm of "worship" music these days.  Many of the tracks are not congregational friendly, but the band pulls them off in a way that makes this album a real treat to sit down and listen to.  I've found it's not the kind of album to listen to just 1-2 tracks before moving on.  Instead, listen to the entire album straight through.  Honestly, this album was a surprise to me (I've been playing and leading on worship teams for 12+ years now) and I'll have it in my repertoire for the next several months, if not longer.  Final Take: 4/5

David Crowder* Band's album "Give Us Rest"

David Crowder*Band released their final album in January of this year.  They played their final concert at the Passion Conference and are now all moving in different directions.  "Give Us Rest" is a Requiem Mass, and it's wonderful. While lyrically bland in a number of places, the artistic nature of the music helps to off-set this.  A wonderful way for David Crowder and friends to go out, yet something tells me we'll see a "live" album or two come into play, as DC*B recorded every concert they ever played.  I could be wrong, but I'm hopeful to see a live CD if not DVD make it's way out in the next 12-18 months.  Final Verdict: 4.5/5

Hillsong United Album "Live in Miami": 

What I stated above regarding Passion I can state again for Hillsong United.  I purchased this album thinking they would mix up enough tracks to give various ideas for how to do some of their songs in a live setting. I was wrong. I feel like I've heard this album before. At least 3-4 times before. As much as artists may believe it helps the overall experience, the crowd yelling in the background doesn't help.  Final Verdict: 3/5

Rend Collective Experiment's album "Homemade Worship by Handmade People"

Rend Collective Experience had out one album before this which didn't do too much for me.  The more I listened to it, the more I felt like it was missing something.  I was expecting this to be a "Sophomore Slump" kind of album and sadly watch what could have been fade into obscurity. Thankfully, this didn't happen.  Rend Collective Experiment does a fantastic job writing fresh worship songs with great harmonies and the occasional horn section.  Here's hoping for even better things ahead for Rend Collective Experiment.  Final Take: 4/5

Bon Iver's Youtube video "Live at Air Studio"

Fading away from the "worship" music scene, I'd like to give my 2 cents on the Bon Iver live at Air Studios youtube clip.  Bon Iver (aka Justin Vernon) is either one of those artists you truly love, or truly don't.  Personally, I love the guy.  I do my best not to fall into the trap of what magazine's tell me I should listen to, but when it comes to Bon Iver, they were right.  The Grammy's Bon Iver won this year were very much deserved and I find these 5 stripped down recordings to be absolute perfection. Last Year's self-titled album and this video will be in my playlist for years to come.  Final Take: 5/5

Of Monsters and Men's EP "Into the Woods

Haven't heard of "Of Monsters and Men"? You will. They currently have a 4-track EP out titled, "Into the Woods" and their full album is due to be released April 3 (though many clips are already available on youtube). RELEVANT Magazine says they may be this year's "Mumford and Sons" and RELEVANT may be right.  Check out the sound clips from the EP and prepare yourself for what may be one of this year's best released.  Final Verdict on the EP: 4/5

Albums I'm looking forward to later this year:

 Of Monsters and Men - My Head is An Animal:

See Above Notes on their EP

Swithfoot's "Vice Re-Verses" Remix Album:

Switchfoot is releasing a Vice Re-verses remix album from their wildly popular Vice Verses album last year.  I get weary of many remix albums, but with artists like Paper Route getting involved, I'm wildly curious and have a slight restrained jubilation vibe (Seinfeld reference) about this album.

Paper Route - "The Peace of Wild Things"

Paper Route's album "Absence" is probably one of my favorite albums over the past 3 years....maybe 5! And they're returning with a new album soon titled, "The Peace of Wild Things".  Oddly, they've mixed up their sound, and not just a little, but a lot.  The two tracks they've released thus far via Noisetrade giveaway's have a lot more of a "pop" music flair to them.  Honestly, I'm not sure what to expect with the album, as what I've heard is very different from their former album.  I'm excited about this one, but I have a few reservations.  Here's hoping they pull out a "Rend Collective Experiment" and send my shallow expectations to the curb.

Mumford & Sons, U2, The Violet Burning, and more:

Word is out that Mumford and Sons very well may have a new album out in 2012, as well as U2.  Additionally, I'm aware that "The Violet Burning" will be releasing some acoustic tracks to last year's "The Story of Our Lives" (to select individuals who supported their last album - me being one of them).  That said, TVB may release some other new material as well.  I'm certain there are a number of albums coming out I've yet to hear about, nevertheless, 2012 has been a great year for music thus far, and here's hoping it only gets better!

What great album(s) am I missing out on?  Let me know in the comments below!