Monthly Archives: December 2008

Selah

סלה is pronounced “Selah” in English. Appearing 71 times in the Psalms, the word remains a mystery to modern day translators. There are many theories, but nobody knows for sure what it means.

Selah is probably either a musical mark or an instruction on the reading of the text, something like “stop and listen.”

The Psalms were mostly designed to be sung or accompanied by musical instruments. Many of the Psalms that mention a “choir master” also include “Selah.” This suggests a strong musical link with the word.

Some scholars have suggested that “Selah” is used to separate stanzas or distinct thoughts. It could serve to indicate a musical rest or pause. But this explanation doesn’t work in all instances. The word does seem to interrupt the flow of a logical strain of prose in some places. It also occurs at the end of a psalm and provides contrast between various thoughts within a psalm. 

We just don’t know for sure what the word means, and we have no real good way to test various hypothesises. I kind of like that this word is a mystery. This fact invites personal interpretation and sparks the imagination of the reader. For some it may be a musical rest or an invitation to pause and ponder the greatness of God. For others, it could just be a mystery. This points to one of the great realities of God – He is beyond comprehension, and we encounter God by stopping to ponder His greatness.

Nothing New Under the Sun

While studying for my Old Testament exam today, it suddenly struck me that the Hebrews in the Bible are not that different from people today. Although we have the Internet and modern plumbing, when it comes to basic human nature – humanity keeps making the same mistakes. Our society may have evolved somewhat from the Bronze and Iron Ages. But I don’t know that we are as “enlightened” as we might want to think we are.

Regardless of who you think wrote the Torah, it is a fairly progressive document. From the focus on social reforms in Deuteronomy to the depiction of a gracious God who keeps on giving second chances, I have found my OT plunge this semester to be eye opening. Sure, there are comments about stoning rebellious children and seemingly unimportant laws about mildew. These seem extreme or out of touch to us today. But overall the heart of the Law was meant to push the people toward an ideal that we might find remarkable today.  I wonder what would happen if the Year of Jubilee were reinstated today. Given all the financial problems in the world, that might be a refreshing idea from thousands of years ago.

Putting myself in the other person’s shoes is a lot harder thing to do when you are trying to relate to somebody who lived 3,000 years ago. Yet, I can certainly relate with many of the emotions and situations that the Israelites must have felt. I understand what it is like to mess up and keep needing mulligans from God. I know what it is like to face new challenges and transition just as the Israelites did as they stood on the edge of the Promise Land.

I know the pain that King Saul must have felt when God’s voice seemed distant. I can relate with the sense of an overwhelming task just as Moses must have felt many time on his journey in the wilderness. There are other times  this semester that I read a story and was challenged to the core by the example presented. For example, I may not have felt as generous as Joseph did when he finally revealed his true identity to his brothers.

What makes Scripture such an engaging text? Is it that the people are so real? Is it that I approach the text differently than a non-believer? Is it that there really isn’t anything new under the sun and these people are a lot like me?

Why Can’t I Hear God Any More?

The above question seems to plague most grown ups at some time in our lives. I have noticed that it seems easier for children to hear from God because they are more open to trust and have fewer inhibitions.

Mike Yaconelli wrote about this in his fantastic book Dangerous Wonder. Yac wrote, “Sadly by the time we are adults, most of us have lost our God hearing. We have decided that listening to God is less important than knowing about God. By the time we are grown up, we have jobs and children; the noise of our lives has increased to such a level that we couldn’t possibly hear God because God rarely shouts – He whispers.”

Can you hear the thin silence of God whispering to you? Consider stopping, unplugging and listening to rediscover the joy of being God’s kid again during this holiday season.

Grading the New Blackberry Storm

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas so I bought myself a new phone two weeks ago. It arrived in the mail on Friday, and I have had two days to play around with my new Blackberry Storm.

For anyone who has drunk the Apple kool-aide, the Storm device won’t be as cool as the iPhone no matter what I say. Online reviews by technology experts have been especially brutal over the last two weeks. Sure, there have been problems with the device as Research in Motion pushed it out just in time for Christmas. But the latest software updates seem to have fixed some of the major criticisms of the first devices.

Here’s what I like about the Storm. You can edit Word, Powerpoint and Excel files without adding extra software like you have to with the iPhone. You can e-mail pictures and easily integrate with your Flickr account.   The camera takes great pictures  and video with its 3.2 megapixel lens. It has a built in flash too.

As a business device, Blackberry has always been the leader. My Storm seamlessly syncs with my Outlook email, calendar, to-do lists and contact information. I think the Storm has better e-mail capabilities at the moment.

The Storm gives you  all the conveniences of a Blackberry with a pretty nifty touch screen. I like the clickable screen because it gives you the impression of punching real buttons. Some people may not like it. But I find it easier to use than just a touch screen device. The Storm has more data input options including a full landscape keyboard in most functions. The iPhone only offers this for its Web browser. Plus the Storm has Blackberry’s SureType option. As a browser, the iPhone is a bit better in the ability to do pinch gesturing for zooming in to items on a Web page.  

The functionality of the media player is okay although it is not as good as an iPhone in the eye candy department. The Storm has fewer third party applications right now than the iPhone, but this could change in time if it becomes popular enough. The iPhone blows the Storm out of the water when it comes to gaming. No Dave… I can’t do bowling on my new phone.:)

Overall, I am very happy with the device although the initial setup process was about as pleasant as eating jello with chopsticks because the instructions left out critical steps. By the time I figured this out, Verizon’s new device setup department was closed until the next day. Thus, my Storm languished as a paperweight for one night until the tech department opened the next day.

The browser didn’t work right for a few hours on Saturday. But Verizon quickly got that corrected. The best news is that I discovered a great tech rep at Verizon. He was like the phone wizard and will be my go-to-guy for any future phone problems.

Probably the biggest benefit is Verizon’s network. All of my friends are on Verizon. It has the best network. The Storm seems to function well as a phone, which is something that may not be true for the iPhone depending on where you are calling from.  

Another major plus for me is that Verizon is not AT&T. After a major phone battle with AT&T eight years ago, I swore to myself that I would never do business with AT&T ever again. The only other vendor that I dislike more is Pitney Bowes. AT&T  could develop a phone with the ability to read people’s thoughts, time travel and zap bad guys and I still wouldn’t buy it.

Here’s a fairly positive review of Storm by another Website: http://www.tgdaily.com/content/view/40305/145/

Any other thoughts from actual Storm users? iPhone apologists please don’t comment. I have a big chip on my shoulders, and his name is Steve Jobs. I am tired of hearing how Stone Age  I am because I have not joined the Apple cult.

Are U White Enough?

While hanging out with a friend today, I was introduced to the little book called Stuff White People Like. This book takes a satirical look at yuppie white folks. And I just couldn’t stop laughing.

Here’s a quick look at some things white people like (or at least non-rednecks):

  • The idea of soccer
  • Vintage anything
  • Bottles of water
  • Difficult breakups
  • Whole Foods and grocery Co-ops
  • Public radio
  • Apple products
  • Vegetarianism
  • Coffee
  • Standing still at concerts
  • Threatening to movie to Canada
  • New Balance Shoes
  • Pretending to be a Canadian when traveling abroad
  • Nintendo Wii (especially Wii FIT)
  • Public transportation that is not a bus
  • Conspiracies

The author (Christian Lander) offers some hilarious explanations for his list. The book is worth buying just for his charts and descriptions of how whites think about things from where to live to dealing with kids.

Full disclosure: I have no financial interest in this book although I am mostly white with a tad of conservative redneck thrown in for good measure.

 

http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/stuff-white-people-like-the-book/

Theater Church Visit

The following is a report I wrote after visiting National Community Church at Union Station in Washington D.C.  I did this little exercise for one of my classes at Union-PSCE.

I would love to hear from others about innovative churches that they have visited or are affiliated with in some way.

Godspeed!

  

 Church at the Movies

 

 

            National Community Church (NCC) in Washington D.C. has taken a novel path to reach the “unchurched and the dechurched” in the nation’s capital. NCC meets in movie theaters and coffee houses that are located near metro stops. These public spaces are out in the marketplace; people are willing to visit these places even though they might never set foot in a traditional church building. Renting public spaces is a long-term part of the church’s outreach strategy, not just an interim solution before the church builds its own megachurch complex. 

            I visited NCC’s flagship location at Union Station near the U.S. Capital. The service was easy to find and access from the metro stop in the basement of Union Station. A pleasant, young woman warmly greeted me at the door and handed me a bulletin. Portable signage at the front of the theater indicated the church location. Signs were located throughout the theater complex letting visitors know where to go for various things, such as prayer, visitor information, childcare, etc.

            Just inside the door was a table where greeters warmly interacted with people who desired to know more information about the church. The refreshments stand served free coffee and doughnuts.

            Outside Union Station is a large parking deck. The only problem is that it costs $1 to park if you get your ticket validated by the church. A few blocks away are a lot of parking places on the street. According to NCC, 25% of its regular attenders ride the subway to church. This is quite intentional because NCC as a community encourages people to use public transportation as much as possible.

            Currently, NCC meets in four locations and is launching a 5th site to serve the Kingstowne, Va. area. NCC uses a multi-location model where each site has a lead pastor who runs the service and handles pastoral care for that particular area. The sermon is either preached live or presented as a video message. The worship is always conducted live by a praise band dedicated to each location. Running so many simultaneous services requires a lot of coordination.

            The Union Station theater is a neat location with kind of an art deco feel. Bathrooms were easy to find. The chairs were almost too comfortable although the service moved along quickly, and I never once nodded off to sleep.  

            NCC does not own a church building. Instead, it operates one of the top coffee houses in the city, and its offices are connected to that facility, which is located only a block from Union Station as well as one of the largest office buildings in the city. NCC bought a dilapidated crack house in 2002 and turned it into Ebenezers Coffeehouse four years later.

            The church decided to develop Ebenezers because coffeehouses have become the gathering places for our postmodern society. Ebenezers is designed to be “a place where the church and community cross paths,” according to NCC. It really is a neat facility with a large multimedia room in the basement that serves as one of the service locations as well as the space where the weekly messages are recorded for distribution to the satellite churches.

            From the unique way that NCC does its service to the coffeehouse to the media and modern music used in its service, the church comes across as very creative and innovative. Actually, it was recently rated as one of the top 25 most innovative churches in the country by Outreach Magazine.

            I attended the 11:00 a.m. service which was packed with probably 250-300 people. Visitors were not identified in any way or made to feel uncomfortable. The site pastor did greet visitors and ask for them to see the information booth and/or fill out a very brief form to put in the offering bucket.  

            NCC appears to be attracting the young, urban professional set in the D.C. area. There was a mixture of races in attendance although 65% were white. NCC has 1,300 in weekly attendance last year. Here are some interesting stats about NCC’s community:

·        66% of NCCers are single twenty-somethings

·        76% of NCCers invited someone to NCC last year

·        54% of NCCers visited theaterchurch.com before visiting a service

·        55% of NCCers are involved in a small group

 

            The worship service started off with a quick introduction video explaining the church and its mission. This was shot to look almost like a movie preview. Then there was time for greeting a few folks seated around you. The site pastor then said a beginning prayer before an “indie rocker chick” accompanied by a full band led in three modern worship songs. The words were put on the giant screen. I knew two of the songs – Everlasting God and Take My Life. The worship music was relevant, tasteful. It certainly created an inviting atmosphere to encounter God. The worship mixed two upbeat songs with one more solemn song.

            The entire service was very informal. A lot of people walked in a few minutes late. Some came in with coffee and doughnuts. The flow of the service was easy to follow. Instructions were either given verbally or provided on the screen. The site pastor gave some announcements, welcomed guests, handled the offering and then talked about a recent missions endeavor in Malawi by the church. He introduced the speaker who spoke to us via video, which was recorded the previous evening.

            At first I thought this video approach would seem too distant to be effective for a sermon, but the communicator was skilled, relevant, vulnerable and interesting. Mark Batterson, NCC’s lead pastor and main teache, did not speak this week. Instead, Margaret Feinberg, the author of Sacred Echoes, spoke on hearing the voice of God.

            Feinberg’s main text was 1 Kings 19:4-13 where Elijah hears God in the gentle breeze. Although her comments were not rocket science, they were honest and theologically provoking in a non-combative manner. She shared a lot about her story and told about one time that God impressed something clearly on her mind. She said that God told her, “If you don’t wear your crown, I will give it to someone else.” She then explained her journey as she tested this word and explored its meaning for her life. She closed by challenging the crowd by asking, “What is the crown that Christ is calling you to wear?” She identified a number of possibilities from reconciling with someone to serving the poor to living with less so that other can merely live, etc.

            The service ended with the song God Reigns followed by a standard prayer of benediction. During the song, the worship leader encouraged the community to reflect on the key question that Margaret asked. The entire service lasted approximately 65 minutes.         Although the service clearly reflected the Gospel, there was no direct Gospel presentation or call for people to begin a relationship with God. You could see the Gospel in how things were done more than what was said in this church.

            The name of Jesus was not mentioned in any of the songs. While the cross was a prominent part of Feinberg’s talk, the name of Jesus was only spoken a few times. The style seemed to be a cross between an emergent gathering and a seeker sensitive approach. I felt that one thing that could have been stronger would have been a Gospel appeal to the unchurched as well as a non-intrusive way for people to receive immediate prayer. There was a prayer card in the bulletin, but I generally think that most churches should do a better job of encouraging prayer and follow-up immediately after the service.

            NCC has developed a discipleship map with ports of call to encourage spiritual growth in its congregation. This usually starts with the Alpha program, a series of discipleship classes, retreats, and small groups. NCC has developed a great Discipleship Map that details the programs, service opportunities and spiritual formation activities of the church.

            The Website (www.theaterchurch.com) has detailed information on the church, its beliefs, small groups, programs, etc. Sermons are made available on the site as well as broadcast via a podcast. Mark Batterson writes a regular blog on theology, culture, his life at www.evotional.com. NCC’s Website is top notch including lots of resources and ability for members to connect with each other.

            Starting with an existing core group of about 19 people in 1996, NCC grew significantly over the next few years. A key to the church’s growth has been its creativity and willingness to try new things. Mark Batterson said, “There are ways of doing church that no one has thought of yet…The church ought to be the most creative place on the planet.”

            Honestly, I wasn’t sure how I would feel visiting a church in a movie theater. It seemed awkward for the first few minutes. Once the music started, I forgot that I was even in a movie theater. The atmosphere and content were engaging. It was kind of cool how they created a sacred space right in the middle of a normal movie theater.

            I talked with Clay at the visitor center. He said that many people like the movie theater atmosphere because it seems less churchy. Some people will visit theater church when they would not visit a traditional church building. Clay said that many people come into the service because they are curious about a church that meets in a movie theater or they just happen to be in the train station while traveling. Union Station is one of the most visited destinations in the nation’s capital.

            Overall, the experience was favorable. I would go back again if I lived in the area. A few things could have been better. I would have liked for the service to have included some element of traditional Christianity, such as a hymn, a responsive reading, a congregational prayer, communion, etc. While the greeter and Clay were nice, no one else really spoke to me. I got the feeling that it might take a while to get noticed there. It might be a good place to hide if you happen to be between churches at the moment. A lot of people seemed to quickly leave the theater once the service ended.    

            Although there was a room designated for prayer, there was no mention about the staff being available to pray with those in need. There was no altar call or quick Gospel presentation for anyone who happened to be unsaved in the room.

            NCC meets right next to a big food court. I think that would be a great opportunity to bless the merchants and ask the church and visitors to fellowship there after the service. This could be done in some coordinated way to provide a deeper opportunity to connect directly after the service.

            I heard Margaret Feinberg share the exact same message a few weeks earlier at a major pastor’s conference. Thus, the message was not necessarily new although it was challenging.

            The day after my visit, I had an opportunity to talk with Chris Jarrell, the NCC campus pastor for Union Station. Chris said that NCC doesn’t have membership per se. Instead, the church’s members are small group leaders or ministry leaders. Thus, you can’t really become a member until you take an active role in the church. In order to be a leader, you have to attend a small group for a semester, be involved in a ministry, attend periodic leadership summits, etc. Currently, NCC has about 150 leader members with 1,300 in attendance on a weekend.

            Chris said, “Our mentality is that outreach is about serving the community not filling chairs.” He added, “We don’t use the term evangelism.”

            However, the church is very active and visible in the community. It just finished this fall a city wide outreach effort with the Convoy of Hope at RFK stadium where 10,000 people received groceries, medical treatment, resume assistance, family/fun activities, etc. Every year, NCC sponsors a big Easter Extravaganza on Capital Hill. In December, the church offers a live nativity to the community as a way to celebrate Christmas.

            Homelessness is a big problem in the D.C. area. NCC has a group that goes out and feeds the homeless every Sunday morning. Much of this ministry organically sprung out of concerns that arose in small groups. Ebenezers offers a free meal and a Bible study every Wednesday for the homeless in the area. Chris added that a number of homeless people attend NCC’s Union Station location on Sunday morning.

            One of the reasons that NCC has tried so many different things is the energy and leadership style of the lead pastor. Chris said, “Mark (Batterson) is an entrepreneur sort of guy by nature. He always pushes us to branch out.”

What Kind of Christian Are U?

One of the things that I am most concerned about is how my words and actions reflect on the Christian faith. I am far from perfect. And I know my passion can sometime boil over into something that doesn’t look much like Jesus.

There have been a long line of people that have come before me who have contributed to society’s concept of what it means to be a Christian. Some of these contributions leave a positive impression. Others not so much.

While in DC last week, I read the print version of The Onion, the nation’s national lampoon newspaper. It featured a parody column that made fun of God and the typical Christian caricature that we see in the popular press. Although the depiction of God was a bit unfair and lacked proper exegesis, the column did raise some key concerns that non-Christians mention when they talk about their attitudes toward Christianity.

If you have thick skin, I suggest you read the column to see how Christian statements, actions and teachings can appear to others. Remember that the Onion is not meant to be taken seriously. The real problem is that some people think the “opinions” shared by this phantom author are an accurate depiction of God and most Christians.

http://www.theonion.com/content/opinion/im_not_one_of_those_love_thy