Monday, September 29, 2014

A dilemma

At this point, I am torn on whether my favorite Michigan football coach is Rich Rodriguez or Brady Hoke.  RichRod had the advantage until last weekend's shellacking by the Gophers, so now I'm warming up to Hoke.

And not that my heritage of being born south of Columbus and having matriculated from Michigan State have anything to do with this, but if this pattern keeps up, I'm one of Hoke's biggest fans. 

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

In Praise of Harvest Bible Chapel

This will probably not be the type of praise Mr. MacDonald wants, but it's worth noting that his teaching on music is something of a "Rosetta Stone" in deciphering the problems with modern music.  Let's go back to what Challies notes;  that MacDonald notes that music ought to be addressed to God, not about God, that it ought to be simple and repetitive, and that it ought to be emotionally driven--and finally express itself physically.

Now, let's apply this to the text of Psalm 1.  Does God follow the formula MacDonald prescribes?

Answer; not by a long shot.  Psalm 1 is about the relationship of man to God and does not use the 1st or 2nd person at all.  Like many Psalms, it's all in the third person.  Moreover, its six verses are similar in complexity to the hymns so disdained by MacDonald, and there is no repetition at all.  In fact, apart from refrains, few if any of the Psalms utilize much repetition.  Finally, the Psalm--like most Psalms--is not emotionally driven.  The emotion--comfort, gratitude, etc..--is supposed to flow from the circumstances and acts of God described in the Psalm.  And an incitation to movement?  Not at all.  If we are blessed, that invites repose.

Now an interesting fact is that, whether influenced by MacDonald or not, or possibly vice versa, most modern church music, including a great portion of revivalist camp songs, more or less follows MacDonald's model.  Simple, emotive, repetitive, and a tremendous use of the 1st and 2nd person, and an outright invitation to move. 

And so it would seem that, whatever God intended by His example in Psalms, most modern Christian composers are missing it.  And if that lesson is important, we're quite a bit poorer for it.

Now since God does not give specific commands in music, there is presumably some wiggle room here, but going forward, I'm going to attempt some thoughts on what is truly important in music to be used in the church.

Monday, September 08, 2014

An addendum on the debate about church music

In my comments about the debate between traditional and modern music in the church, I've tried my best to abstain from using one of the oldest arguments in the book; that modern music is too often doctrinally shallow and emotionally driven.  More or less, I've seen it as a cheap shot.

Well, as a rule, I'll still hold off from using it, but it is worth noting that James MacDonald all but admits it in his book, "Vertical Church", as reviewed by Tim Challies.   Keep it simple, repetitive, and emotionally driven, because all that doctrine of old hymns is like drinking from the fire hose.

OK, let's test that hypothesis by looking at the first verse of one of my favorites, "Amazing Grace."
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.
 Now I can confess that we need to define grace, wretch, lost, found, blind, and seeing, and perhaps poetic language is a bit difficult in our prose-heavy society that considers Executive Order 13423 to be an essential part of learning literature, but for someone who can read at a 6th grade level, this should not be an insuperable challenge.  It certainly does not require the gift of glossolalia.

In short, what we have here is a music ministry designed for people with at best a 4th grade reading level (Chicago Public Schools graduates I guess), and a preaching ministry that will not help congregants to understand these concepts.  In other words, it's a church model designed to keep congregants in spiritual infancy--if even that. 

So if your church is using Harvest Bible Chapel products to guide music or other ministries, you may want to ask some serious questions. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Lord of the Sabbath

My family and I were reading through Joshua 6 yesterday, and it struck us that it was on the seventh day, presumably the Shabbat, when Israel marched around Jericho seven times (presumably a bit longer than the Pharisees' Sabbath walk) and conquered Jericho. 

In other words, as Jesus told us, the Sabbath is for man, not man for the Sabbath, and He is Lord of the Sabbath. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Belated thoughts on tragedies in the church

The recent difficulties of Doug Phillips (Vision Forum) and Bill Gothard (really a good portion of his family) have gotten me to thinking of a very obvious question; what do you and I do to avoid falling into the same trap as they did?  I've read a fair amount arguing that the problem at hand was a rather nebulous "patriarchy"--that somehow if Phillips and Gothard had walked away from the Biblical doctrine of male headship, they would have avoided this problem.  Which is, of course, exactly why a darling of the feminist left, Bill Clinton, has been a byword for this sort of thing for over two decades, and crimes committed by abortion doctors are glossed over by many.

Well, scratch that, then, as we obviously have other things going on, but perhaps Nina Burleigh--who infamously noted that she'd give Mr. Clinton a sexual act in return for keeping abortion legal--gives us a hint as to what is really going on.  Specifically, there is a cause, and a person connected to that cause, which is so important that the ordinary considerations of morality are of no import in comparison to that.

In other words, as far as evangelicals and fundamentalists are concerned, a lot of the abuses rest on a rejection of Paul's words in 1 Timothy and Titus to those who would be pastors, elders, and deacons; that it is a great task and a wonderful desire, but it must be given only to those whose character is shown to be fitting to the task.  In the case of Vision Forum, and in the case of the Institute for Basic Life Principles, the problem is not excessive fidelity to Biblical principles, but rather insufficient fidelity to those principles that ought to govern the church.

And how do we avoid these people before their moral failings become known?  Well, simply look at their teachings--others have gone into the details far more than I can here, but suffice it to say that the man who ignores God's Word and proceeds to church office when he knows he is not qualified is going to ignore the Bible on other issues, too. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Some thoughts on church government

Apparently, a mega-church pastor has gotten into some trouble--apparently including losing at least one affiliate--partially as a result of claiming that "Congregationalism is from Satan."  Now apart from obvious objections--like how does the "church" separate unrepentant sinners per Matthew 18:17 separately from the counsel of the elders apart from the consent of the congregation, or exclude or welcome back the sexual sinner (1 Corinthians 5 and 2 Corinthians 2) without the consent of the congregation, or test and approve elders like Mr. MacDonald without, ahem, the guidance and consent of the congregation--it strikes me that every church in the history of mankind has had, in effect, congregational polity. 

Now this does not mean that the Bishop of Rome, or the Archbishop of Canterbury, or other church bodies are necessarily putting things up to a vote, when a pastor--or bishop, or Pope--loses the trust of congregants, they vote by refusing to take part in ministries, by refusing their tithes and offerings, and finally by refusing to come at all.  It is the same vote that buyers of shoddy goods cast when the deficiencies are known, no?

It is interesting to note that as MacDonald has come up with this un-Biblical idea and failed to support it Biblically (or even acknowledge the counter-arguments), this is exactly what happened.  Attendance at Harvest Bible Chapel has plunged, and the church (which is deeply in debt) has undergone an austerity program

Why has this happened?   It is a simple thing; if one refuses to acknowledge (1 Cor. 12) the evident gifting of the congregation to handle the matters the Scripture does hand to church members, one signals a spiritual and emotional distance from that same congregation.  It is no accident that many pastors of mega-churches fall into the trap of assuming "my way or the highway" leadership, as they have the best "opportunity" to become distant from ordinary church members.  They simply no longer have the relationship needed to exhort and rebuke effectively, and therefore they grab for power because they no longer have that relational authority.

As for us, let us pray for the repentance of "my way or the highway" pastors, and remember for ourselves that leadership manifests itself not in "dominant" behavior in the church, but rather in service and love.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Time to change Vacation Bible School?

Ever since I came to Christ, I've been associated with churches which do a few days to a week of Vacation Bible School each summer.  Often, the youth pastor will speak a Sunday or two before VBS, reminding the congregation of the need to reach people while they are young, encouraging them to take part in VBS, and the like.  During VBS, there will be crafts, games, high energy music, and quite frankly a fair amount of "encouragement" to "pray the prayer" and become a Christian.

Afterwards, there will typically be exultation over the number of children who have "come to Christ", praise for the VBS team, and......

....afterwards, the VBS team and youth pastor go into a weeks-long decompression and coma from all of the activity.  At this point, it's a good thing that few if any of those kids who decided to pray the prayer actually follows through and goes to church, because the youth workers are too tired to shepherd them.

Oops, wait a minute.  That's not a good thing, is it?   Let's go to Matthew 13 and see what Christ says about this.....OK, we have the possibility that we've actually done evangelism for other churches.....OK, they're not seeing a huge increase in attendance, either.....or what we have is either seed on stony soil, seed choked out by weeds, or seed not planted at all, as far as I can take the Parable of the Sower.

More or less, I've been involved in children's ministry in seven churches since I came to Christ, and out of the thousands of "decisions" that these churches would claim from VBS, I can't think of anyone I've met who actually followed through and followed Christ who wasn't in church already.  There are presumably exceptions, but all in all, the overall effect is as if you'd sent the sower out into Death Valley.  Food for the birds and nothing more, really.

So what is wrong?  Well, allowing for people moving, changing churches, and the ordinary difficulty of following up with new believers, I'd have to argue that what is going on is that the "pressure tactics" (loud music, pressure to "pray the prayer", etc..) does not regenerate people.  Rather, they "go along to get along" and then....."snap back" the day after VBS ends to their former state.  They'll tell you they had a great time (and they enjoyed games, snacktime, and such, to be sure), but you will not see them in church.

What's to be done?  I'm not sure what all needs to be done, but it strikes me that if we want to see real decisions for Christ, churches might do well to sit down with the VBS team and say something like this.

Folks, as far as I can tell, we spent $3000 and 2000 man-hours preparing for VBS this year.  We had 35 apparent decisions for Christ, but I hate to tell you this, but none of them are in church with us.  We have done a great job making false fruit. 

What we're going to do is this. We're going to reduce the time spent preparing for VBS by half, reduce the decorations by half, and let's spend the time and money we save studying some books on evangelism that do not use pressure tactics.  In the meantime, the deacons and pastor are going to look carefully through the VBS programs we've been using, and we're going to make sure we're actually presenting the Gospel to these kids in a coherent way.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

La Leche Levity

A friend of my wife's gave her a few samples of a shake that will, theoretically, help her "gain back what she's lost while nursing."  Since the most obvious thing she's lost during nursing is about 20 pounds of pregnancy weight for each of our six children, we're not quite sure this would be a good thing.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Thoughts on the NBA snafu

Now that Donald Sterling is crying all the way to the bank, his soon to be ex-wife having negotiated a deal to sell the team for about twice what people thought it was worth, it's probably time for a thought;


Yes, it's time for the NBA to get rid of every NBA employee owner or employee who has been unfaithful to his wife, or has used racial slurs in adulthood.


Not gonna happen, but it would be fun to watch as the inmates realized the consequences of "sauce for the goose" being put on the gander, too.

Thoughts on the IRS and VA scandals

Well, beyond the exorbitant amount of money we're spending on both agencies, of course.  But regarding the difficulties we've had, if we had leadership that was interested in solving problems, it's actually a pretty simple task--certainly one that after years of delay ought to be done.   More or less, it's called a "process audit", and every ISO certified organization--and yes, this would include hospitals like those run by the VA, and yes, it would also include service (or malservice as it were) organizations like the IRS.


How is it done?  Well, you either select a customer at random, or use the case file when you have complaints, and you walk through the process and see how well the records match what's supposed to happen.  If you find that something is wrong, that is a "finding".  "Findings" are divided into "minor" and "major" findings, and falsifying records is always a major finding that calls for clear corrective action.  If a major finding is uncorrected after a year, that is grounds for the accrediting agency to revoke accreditation--and that, in turn, is grounds for firing managers.


Now since there are auditing agencies that work with the IRA and VA, and they did note the problems for the VA as far back as 2009.  What do we conclude?


Well, either the Obama administration has nobody on staff that understands basic process audits, or they have intentionally prevented major findings from being corrected.  Given that these issues (and many others are dragging on with significant noncompliance in terms of providing requested information to Congress, you know what my guess is. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

The perfect ambassador for pro sports?

Yes, I'm talking about Donald Sterling, of course.  How so?

Well, we have a man who, like a large portion of professional athletes--like the one he didn't want photographed with his ex-girlfriend--is not faithful to his wife.  As a former divorce lawyer and slumlord, he has numerous ethical lapses in his business career--just like the "pay to play" and "get richer quick" schemes that have impoverished so many retired athletes.   Like all too many athletes, he's flashy in his personal style, spends enormous amounts of money on entertainment, and his thinking leaves something to be desired.  To wit, he apparently objected to his girlfriend's taking pictures with Magic Johnson, but apparently he would have had no problem if she'd slept with the HIV-positive basketball legend.  Like many professional athletes, he (move to LA from San Diego) seems to be something of a financial mercenary.

And, like all too many professional athletes, he's got some repugnant personal views that are ignored in the name of the game until those views get too obvious to ignore, and he even had (like many pro athletes) organizations like the NAACP conned in this regard--again, at least until his views became too obvious to ignore.

In other words, he's the perfect representative of the game, at least until the NBA decides to get serious about the moral and ethical lapses of its owners, players, and office staff.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

It boggles the mind

Apparently, the owner of an NBA franchise has been caught yelling at his partially black girlfriend because he didn't want people close to him being photographed with African-Americans.

In related news, the owners of the Edmonton Oilers and the Maple Leafs told their families they didn't want them seen with Canadians, seven NASCAR owners told their teams not to give high fives to rednecks, and half of Congress and the chief resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue told their families they didn't want them photographed with lying thieves.

That last one's got promise, doesn't it? 

Friday, April 04, 2014

A thought for November

....is that the GOP could do little better than to take populism back.  President "Aragula is so expensive at Whole Foods" Obama talks it well, at least with TOTUS' help, but let's be serious.  He's a man of the people in far less degree than are Warren Buffett or Bill Gates.  Can't the GOP make these arguments:

Please tell me why the poor and middle class should be subsidizing hybrid and electric cars for the rich--especially when they're not environmentally sound at all?

Please tell me why the poor and middle class should be subsidizing entertainment--PBS, NPR, the NEA, and the NEH--for the rich?

Please tell me why the poor and middle class should be subsidizing windmills owned by the rich, solar companies owned by the rich, and the like?  Again, especially when one considers that the environmental "benefits" of these are far exaggerated to nonexistent?

Please tell me why the poor and middle class ought to subsidize corn farmers who own tens of millions of dollars worth of land, and ethanol refiners whose use of water requires them to drill new wells for many of their neighbors?  (real example from Janesville, Minnesota, by the way)

Please tell me why the poor and middle class ought to be subsidizing college professors through the 50% of Pell Grants and student loans granted to students with no serious chance of graduating?  We're victimizing the poor twice this way--first by taxing them to pay for this, second by saddling their children with student loans.

One can go on and on, but you get the picture.  Many of the most egregious offenses in the federal budget fall, directly or indirectly, under the banner of "programs which tax the poor and middle class to benefit the rich."  If we can't get some of these programs killed, we more or less are giving up the republic.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A thought on the Ukraine

As far as I can tell, the battle to save the Crimea was lost a long time ago--when President Obama removed anti-ballistic missile systems from eastern Europe in 2009, really, and was made a lot worse as he telegraphed his decisions, more or less telling the world "you just sit back a while, you'll get what you want if you wait until after the U.S. withdraws."  And then there's that "we'll have more freedom once I get reelected" bit.  Afghanistan and Iraq are even now paying a bitter price for this, and now it's Kiev's turn.

But that said, the controversy of the Crimea is about a former Muslim Khanate--the Tatars that tormented the Czars--absorbed into Russia, filled mostly (but not fully) with Russians and Ukrainians (58% and 24% respectively), then granted to the Ukraine in an effort to make it difficult for Kiev to operate independently of "Mother Russia."  It's a controversy that is more or less designed to be a pain in the rear for everyone involved.

So the solution?  Well, if I'm understanding things correctly, shedding the Crimea and a couple of other majority-Russian counties could be a huge blessing to the Ukraine.  Immediately the number of votes for the Pro-Russian party drops by about two million votes, and if the remaining Tatars want to be a pain like Chechnya, that would belong to Russia.  It might even reduce the fuel bill--though that's unsure, as Crimea does produce some natural gas.

In other words, you use the Russian tendency towards empire to make Ukraine a viable nation while ensuring that Russia has yet another headache to deal with.  You might even get Russia to pay for the Ukrainian bases and infrastructure they're taking.

OK, probably a moot point now--"leading from behind" is no way to run a superpower--but if we had someone in the White House who actually understood Russia and Eastern Europe (hint; they're all paranoid about being invaded, since it's happened so often), we might have had a much better result.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Where everybody knows your name

Back when we lived in a small town, but with its own emergency room, we were a little bit chagrined when our fourth daughter got on a first name basis with all of the doctors in town--but then remembered that there were only four of them, so it wasn't that bad.  Fast forward to this week, when our son was greeted at St. Mary's in Rochester by a nurse saying "weren't you just here last week?".    Since St. Mary's (the hospital used by the Mayo brothers and the Clinic today) is THE "go-to" emergency room for most of southern Minnesota, northeast Iowa, and western Wisconsin, it takes serendipity or some seriously bad luck to be recognized there.

Thankfully it was serendipity, and he's going to be OK, and he's going to get a whittling lesson from Dad before he tries again.  And the arrows he was whittling look great.


The little guy hard at work watching Cars while waiting for 5 stitches!

And it pays to patronize small business around here, too.  On one day, the gracious proprietress of "Ginny's Fine Fabrics" gave us some patterns for Civil War era dresses, and we got an invitation to the Wasioja Civil War Days ball from friends.  Just might have some sewing to do, and somehow I'm reminded of Famous Dave's.