Big Candy Bar Church: A Meditation on Halloween

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I grew up in a neighborhood full of rent houses. They were all flash built in several years. It was the perfect place to raise children. Almost every house had a kid my age. Consequently, these circumstances meant it was a horrible place to trick or treat. Between a bunch of broke young families not having the money to really do it up AND having their own children to cart around…we had to go offsite.

Everyone remembers doing this. You head over to the rich part of town on October 31st. These are the houses that have all sorts of surprises. Guys in costume jumping out and scaring you, automatic ghosts falling out of the tree and Big Candy Bars. You know, not this fun size nonsense…but full size Gas Station candy bars.  Those houses are remembered. They might even be marked on a map by some grubby hands covered in nougat and caramel.

How do our churches fit into this scheme? Are we known for starlight mints, the mini Reece’s cups or a big Butterfinger? This isn’t about how much $$$ we give away…but the gospel message we deliver. Do we talk about an abundant life with God or bemoan the loss of a previous Christian culture? Are we pushing forward to better express the life of the sacrificing Son of God? Do we think and talk like Jesus really saves us?

As Christians, the call to the Kingdom of God should be ever present in our vision. The writers of the Gospel show us this message is a reality we can hardly comprehend. We need to express this fullness in every way, shape and form. In each community this looks different. What works for me will be different from you.

But we need to load up. Fill up the proverbial bucket with the good stuff. Don’t hold back. People remember who gave them the best.

The 5 Records That Saved Christian Music For Me.

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I grew up on Christian music. The late 80’s and early 90’s were the Forefront years, when Contemporary Christian Music began infiltrating many suburban homes. I remember my Dad driving me to 6th grade and me listening and learning every word to New Song’s hit “Tug of War”. When I was in Jr. High it was all about DC Talk. I bet I can still remember every word to most of the “Free at Last” record.

Then I heard Gun’s N Roses. Everything changed. Sorry Audio Adrenaline, Big House simply couldn’t compete with November Rain.

Around the time I was 14, me and Christian music broke up. It was messy…none of the “let’s be friends” stuff. I remember sneaking a White Zombie tape onto the bus for church camp hidden inside a Third Day tape case.

To a point, I still have the aversion. I have no good excuse for it. Even as a pastor, I don’t instantly jump to the genre. I even rolled my eyes a little when a church member invited me to go see Casting Crowns (sorry Ashley). Most Christian music never managed to hold up against other music. It wasn’t artistic and just felt canned and without emotion.

I am thankful over time I have found Christian artists writing music that really does appeal to my music snobbery.

The 5 Records That Saved Christian Music for Me.

1. The Normals “A Place Where You Belong”.
This was actually the third (and last) release by the Normals. A band I played in opened for them once and I realized they were playing a completely different sounding version of Christian Music than I was used too. They recorded with a producer I was fascinated with and shared production credits with Daniel Lanois, who can be thanked for some of U2’s best records. The Normals had a level of brutal honesty and atmospheric music I really enjoy. It scratches the itch Pink Floyd started for me in High School. The main lyric writer for The Normals, Andrew Osenga, has had a great career. His songs are able to uniquely identify emotion and feeling and how this plays into the faithful life.

2. Johnny Cash “My Mother’s Hymn Book”.
I grew up with hymns and didn’t fully appreciate their lyrical depth till discovering this Johnny Cash record. Since Cash recorded this after the death of June it really provides a snapshot of what faith looks like at the end of life. It has the typical appointments of his American era recordings. It is sparse, clear and focused on the simplicity of Cash. I absolutely love it and listen to it weekly. These songs are filled with hope and the selection really focuses on the idea of the afterlife.

3. John Mark McMillian “The Medicine”.
Funny thing, throughout most of my refusal to listen to Christian music I was leading worship. John Mark McMillian is part of the new renaissance of artists seeing themselves as worship leaders and song crafters. He possibly owns this identity better than anyone else. The Medicine is beautifully spacious and intense. It also just enough country twang to make me really enjoy it. He is a southern artist and the geographical identity comes through in his music. McMillian grew up charismatic and it really shows through in his music. These songs are filled with wonderful biblical imagery and he is able to write about worship in a wonderful way.

4. Matt Redman “10,000 Reasons”. 
This is pretty pedestrian, but 10,000 Reasons is possibly the most played “worship” record of my life. I love how theological Redman is able to get while also sounding totally different from everyone else writing and recording modern worship. I love the whole album.

5. Delirious? “Touch”.
I could put most of the Delirious? catalog on this list, but I had to settle with Touch. It isn’t that well known record. What I love about it is how complex it is. A Christian record necessitating a headphone session is rare. Right when I started getting into more electronic music I found this album. I think it is an artistic masterpiece. Delirious? writes songs about the deep experience with God and how he works at the personal level. I love them.

I am thankful for these 5 records. They opened my eyes in different ways and at different times. There are more where these came from, but I wanted to highlight the records I consistently come back too.

If you have been reluctant to listen to Christian music tell me what records reopened your eyes to them in the comments.

Geek to Chic: Brand Identity as Christians

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I once received an email notifying me Williams-Sonoma has Star Wars cookie cutters on sale. I chuckled a little bit, because I usually assume Williams-Sonoma is a bit high brow. Geek has gone Chic, with even high end outlets realizing the power of the geek.  Wired Magazine has a blog called GeekDad, and Japanese culture has seen the rise of the Otaku, a status once looked down upon as unproductive.

Geek has become big business.

So much, even the Martha Stewart crowd gets into it. The popular Apple vs. PC commercials show the transition from a former negative (pc) to a new (and cooler) definition of being a geek.

Our culture will conform to anything if a seemingly positive result will emerge.

No matter what the negative may be, if quantifiable gain appears, we will sacrifice previous feelings to push progress.  This topic of “geek” is tongue in cheek, but nerds truly have revenge now.

What is our brand identity as Christians?

The topic of progress and relevancy often pushes the church forward.  Adaptability is a key concept in mission.  Contextualization is key.

James 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (NRSV)

The hinge point in this verse lies in the and. We are called to engage and provide in the world, but while doing so we are to avoid the pitfalls of the sinful world.  What is interesting in this verse is the relationship between “undefiled” (ἀμίαντος) and “unstained”(ἄσπιλον).  At first glance they appear as synonyms. But the meaning and shape of these two words lie within the sacrificial tradition of Israel.  Sacrificial animals were required to be spotless and undefiled.  Christ is presented as a spotless lamp in Revelation.

Our actions of mission are sacrificial.  In them, we represent the Father’s covenant promise to forgive sin, through the person Jesus Christ, and echoing the tradition of Israel in the Old Testament.  In this process, we need to be extremely careful we are not greatly conforming to culture.  When we lose our prophetic and sacrificial presence, we lose our mission. Just because a quick gain can be found, do we trade this in by offering something that doesn’t match up with our character (Star Wars cookie cutters fitting in with $500 knives)?

Do our transitions break our greater resemblance of Gods people?

Do we still look like him constantly, are we obviously pursuing holiness because God has commanded it (1 Peter 1:15)?

More simply, have we broken our brand identity?

Just as jarring as the cookie cutters relates to the suburban high end cooking store, when Christianity as taken in the world so much we no longer appear to be outside the culture, our alarms should be going off.

Introducing the Productive Pastor Podcast

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Over the last 6 months I have jumped headlong into podcasting. I have started listening to around 15 regularly. You can read about my favorites here. I am also privileged to produce and host The Threshing Floor alongside two great friends. It is a great show and I always look forward to it. You figure that would be enough….

In the last couple of months I have been contemplating how to share a good amount of content I just didn’t think would fit the overall vibe of this blog. I really try to stress several things and my fascination with productivity and ministry would cause conflicting vision. I have found myself in some amazing conversations about the topic both online and offline. After talking about my ideas with some friends, I think the best way to get it out is to start another podcast.

Let me introduce you to the Productive Pastor Podcast.

The Productive Pastor is an honest and helpful look at the struggle and joy of time management and productivity for ministry leaders. With a focus on practical tools, methods and tips The Productive Pastor focuses on living out the called life in a hectic world.

Episodes will generally be around 20 minutes and will focus not just time management, but also the theological idea of productivity. Even though I am producing it for people in ministry, anyone can get some great tips and tricks out of it. I will host it through revchadbrooks.com.

The preview episode is only 8 minutes long and will hopefully get you excited for the first episode and season to begin on November 1st. You can join the conversation on twitter with #productivepastor. I would love for you to leave an iTunes review!

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The Biggest Reason People Miss Out on Life

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Have you ever had the fear of missing out? You wait to leave a party or event because you fear the fun bus is always just one block away? Have you woken up in the middle of the night and lost sleep because you fear you made a dreadful mistake? Sometimes this is just us always wanting more…but other times they are honest fears.

Everyday people are missing out on how life can be awesome.

Let me tell you the biggest reason I think people miss out.

People miss out on the future because people fail to plan for the future.

It’s that simple. For things to be the way you want them to be…the simplest answer is to plan for the life you are called too. The fancy language is “preferred future” and it is just that. A future that is what you want it to be. Now you can’t anticipate the curve balls but you can most certainly practice hitting them.

Over the last few weeks at St. Paul’s I have been elbow deep in a preaching series called “Future: Living into our preferred future”. You can imagine these ideas have been sitting in my head for longer than a couple of days.

I think it is important for us to realize there are two kinds of future.

The first is the unplanned future. This is what happens to us when we resign to simply go with the flow. When we don’t learn to anticipate we have to improvise. Whatever is thrown at us is the way things are supposed to go. Sometimes it ends up alright. Other times it might end up dreadful.

I don’t believe this is how we are supposed to go through life, both as individuals and organizations.

The second type of future is the planned (preferred) future. This happens when people honestly come to a goal (or a set of goals) because they honestly think it is a call. This doesn’t happen easily or instantly. It happens when you put your knees on the ground and your eyes in scripture. It happens by asking hard questions to yourself and the people who know you best. When all this is said and done, we can emerge with a picture of what we think God wants our life to look like. We can then just takes steps backward and evaluate how to get there.

It’s hard work. Hard work stops many people.

If you think there isn’t a spiritual example for a planned life, let me point out a few examples.

Nehimiah knew very well he had to do something. He wasn’t exactly sure what it would look like, but he was willing to jump headlong into it. He asked and he planned. Then he pulled it all off.

David knew God needed a home, a place where His name and presence could dwell. The Lord told him he wouldn’t be the one to do it, David’s son would. That didn’t stop David. He stored up supplies and made the necessary political arrangements for Solomon to build the temple.

Paul’s ministry was motivated by singular focus and his understanding of calling. He adapted constantly but never let his eyes drift from what he had to do. He knew his life needed to be directed in a certain way and there was eternal consequences.

I don’t want you to miss out on what life could be like…not a life you design for yourself, but a life God has created and molded you for. The biggest personal fulfillment any of us can have is when we know we are living in the middle of the call and will of God Almighty. When we just give ourselves over to coasting through things we are missing out on the life God wants and calls us for. He never intended on things to be dull, boring and lifeless.

So put it down on paper today. Name one thing you know you need to do and figure out how to get there.