Sunday, February 26, 2006

Live Audio Basics

So you've just invested in a new PA system, and now you're trying to figure out how to run it? Check out Down 2 Earth's DVD training course on "Live Audio Basics." As it's name implies, this three-hour course covers the basics -- and in the process, it gives some good tips on how to avoid common mistakes, and does so in a lively enough way that it captured (and held) the attention of the high school students who run our church's PA system.

Yes, at $70 it is a little pricey. And I wish that talked more about the ways you can tie in "auxilary" systems (such as tape decks and CD players). But if you're looking for a place to start, this is the place to do it.

Follow the money

Big article in the Washington Post about money problems in the Orthodox Church of America -- donors say it wasted millions to in paying off the credit-card debts of its leaders. (There are even charges that some donations went to pay blackmail!)

I've always said that, if someone really wanted to reform the church, they'd start something like the Journal of Adventist Church Finances, and provide accurate information on where they money goes. Wouldn't you like to know, for instance, which Conference spends the least on overhead . . . and which spends the most?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The children of Jubal

Rock-and-roll is over 50-years old. Christian Contemporary is at least forty. And even Rap has been around for thirty-years.

So why are we still fighting about music in church?
Because our taste in music is pretty well set by the age of 18. And because the Adventist health message enables us to stick around even longer to fight about it.

That sounds rather cynical.
Music is important. So is worship. But even after 50-years, most of our discussions about music boil down to “I like this. I don’t like that. And I know God feels the same way I do.”

So what would you add to the discussion?
Two points: one is that God can use just about any kind of music. The second is that the devil can use just about any kind of music.

But how could God speak through . . .
The Blues? I can’t think of any music that is more rooted in misery, despair, and sin than what Mahalia Jackson used to call “the devil’s music.” But when Thomas Dorsey wrote “Precious Lord,” the Blues bowed down in worship.

But surely some kinds of music are just more . . .
Elevating? Back in the 20th-century, remember, nobody did more to promote good “Classical” music than Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

So you’re in favor of Christian Contemporary Music (CCM)?
I actually prefer Pink Martini. (Hey – I’m 48-years-old; what do you expect?) But my daughters listen to CCM, and that’s fine with me.

Would you play it in church?
In my community, I would be better-off going with a “Country & Western” church service. As it is, our church has four Praise Teams. Two are traditional. Two are “contemporary” – though you’ll notice the quotation marks. We’re not talking Reliant K, or even the Newsboys here; more like Peter, Paul, and Mary.

No, it comes down to one of my biggest complaints about CCM: the stuff is actually more difficult to perform than a “traditional” worship service. You need more musicians. They’re playing more songs. They’re using more electronics, putting more demands on the PA system, and illustrating it all with handy-dandy PowerPoint presentations that always manage to freeze up halfway through the song service.

Practice, practice, practice.
Yeah, and who has the time? Then too, a lot of CCM works better in concert than it does in a worship service. People listen, but they don’t sing along.

Why is that?
Some of it is just hard to sing along with. Then too, you have to work the volume a little harder with CCM than a traditional service – and that means you need a good PA system operator. Too loud, and people just shut up to listen. Too soft, and people lose the beat.

I wondered how long it would be before you brought up “the beat.”
All music has a beat – and if you’re leading a song service, then you need to set the beat. If you have a dozen people, you can do it with an acoustic guitar. If you have 75 or less, you can do it with a piano. More than that, and you need a conductor, an organ, or drums.

Drums in church?
Been there. Done that. And the good news is that a good drummer can add life to any song service – traditional or contemporary.

The bad news.
The bad news is there aren’t many good drummers out there. And since the drums will be the loudest instrument playing, that means your song service will soon take on a dreadful sameness. If the song’s in ¾ time, for instance, it will sound like this: “BOOM-cha-cha, BOOM-cha-cha, BOOM-cha-cha-BOOM.” And if it’s in 4/4 time, it will sound like this: “BOOM-cha-cha-cha, BOOM-cha-cha-cha, BOOM-cha-BOOM-cha, BOOM-cha-cha-cha.”

So what’s your advice?

  1. Use the musicians you have as much as you can in whatever format they feel comfortable using.
  2. If you switch to a CCM worship service, then get ready to practice a lot. (This includes the person who runs your PA system . . . and yes, you will need to upgrade your PA system as well.)
  3. Use kids as much as possible. It's good for them; then too, most of your Seniors will be so happy to see them in church that they won't care what kind of music the kids are playing.
  4. Pray a lot. Repeat as necessary.

With Jesus in the family . . .

The family that prays together, stays together.


But sometimes, following Jesus means leaving your family behind.

And that’s one of the dirty little secrets that your Sabbath School lesson doesn’t talk about this week – the fact that religion can bring families together, but it can also split them apart.

Back in Roman times, after all, one of charges laid against Christians was the way they subverted “traditional family values.” Christianity undermined the authority of parents, people said. Christianity weakened the ties of marriage, people said. Christianity encouraged children to revolt, women to think for themselves, and men to lose all sense of honor, dignity, and even patriotism.

In short, Jesus would never have been invited to speak on Focus on the Family – not back then.

And sometimes, maybe not even today.

Disagree? Then check out these texts – and see what your class makes of them.

Matthew 8:21-22
In asking leave to “bury his father,” this would-be disciple may have been saying that he would follow Jesus just as soon as his elderly father no longer needed care – something that could take years! What would be a similar statement today? What did Jesus mean when he said we should “let the dead bury the dead”? How do you balance the needs of aging parents with the demands of following God? How would you know if Jesus called you to do something similar today?

Matthew 10:34-39
What kind of conflict did Jesus promise? Why is that – and whose fault is it? How do verses 37-39 amplify and explain verses 34-36? Why is Jesus so harsh in these verses? Is he right – or does Jesus ask too much from us?

Matthew 12:46-50
Mark 3 brings out the fact that Jesus’ family was there to take him home because they thought he was crazy! What are some of the ways you’ve seen families “get in the way” of following Jesus? What does Jesus promise in these verses? What does this promise mean today? Have you seen examples of this promise in your own life?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

How do you teach an NC-17 lesson to a PG-13 class?

Sex, of course, is a wonderful gift that God gave us to strengthen the ties of intimacy in a marriage.

Yadda, yadda, yadda.

And no, I’m not going to say, “been there – done that.”

But the fact remains that most of your class members don’t believe that sex is evil, nasty, and bad.

Embarrassing, yes.

But not evil, nasty, and bad. Not anymore. Not if daytime TV is any guide.

In fact, any poll I’ve ever read suggests that devout Christians are more (ahem!) happy, active, and “satisfied” than the general public.

This week’s lesson, in other words, is probably one in which you could just declare victory and move on to another topic.

And the alternative, to be honest, doesn’t bear thinking about. I mean – really, what kind of practical applications would you draw from the Song of Solomon . . . practical applications that you don't discussing with a mixed audience? (And no, don’t even think about using PowerPoint!)

You see, sex is like money – nothing wrong with it, but you have to really, really trust somebody before you discuss it with them.

That’s why I’m going to suggest an “indirect” approach – one that goes back to last week’s lesson in Proverbs. That way, you can bring up most of the topics from this week’s lesson in a way won’t leave your class feeling embarrassed or confused . . . or even wondering what you've been up to lately.

Read Proverbs 5 and Proverbs 31:10-31.
These chapters introduce two very different women.
  • Sum up the character of each woman in a sentence or two (and if you like, you might describe the typical appearance of such a woman today). In what ways are these two women similar, and in what ways are they different? How do you account for their differences?

  • What do men find attractive in each type of woman . . . and what do they find frustrating? Is there a male counterpart for each of these two women – and if so, what would they be like? What do women find attractive in men such as this . . . and what do they find frustrating?

  • There’s an old saying about marriage that “kissing don’t last – but cooking do.” Is that all these chapters are saying about a relationship, or is there more? What does Proverbs 5 tell you about relationships that Proverbs 31 leaves out . . . and what does Proverbs 31 tell you about relationships that Proverbs 5 leaves out?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Too soon old, too late smart

William Willimon notes that it takes three or four years for a new pastor to make the mental transition from attending school to leading a church.

Myself, I think he’s over-optimistic . . . but thinking about his statement, I came up with the following list of the ways my time at school was different than my subsequent life in the ministry.

1. In school, I knew I was working hard if I stayed up late (i.e. “I was up till 2 AM working on that paper!”) In the ministry, people judge how hard I’m working by how early I get up in the morning. (In fact, I’ve had several church members who’ve made it a point to find out!)

2. In school, I knew what the questions were, I knew those questions had answers, and I eventually found out what those answers might be. In the ministry, none of this is always true.

3. In school, I was required to answer every question I was asked. As a pastor, I’m usually better off if I answer with another question – or even just shut up and listen.

4. In school, all things eventually come to an end – the papers are completed, the exams finished, the grades handed in for the semester. In the ministry, there’s always a sequel.

5. In school, the highest values are truth, creativity, and self-expression. In the ministry, the highest values are loyalty, reliability, and community.

One more thing – in school I learned Greek and Hebrew. While I’m glad I did, I’m beginning to suspect I might have been better off learning Spanish.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Why churches burn

Arsonists torch an average of 15-20 churches every week. Click on the title of this post for a good article in The Christian Science Monitor on what's behind this statistic. The chief culprits? Burglars who are covering their tracks. But yes, we do get hit by the occasional knothead with a grudge.

Jacob and Esau (part three)

Friends may come, and friends may go . . .

But enemies endure.

So they tell me – and from what I’ve seen of families, it’s probably true. There’s nothing like a family, after all, to keep a grudge alive. And when it comes to family feuds . . . well, you’ve got your Montagues and Capulets. Your Hatfields and McCoys. Not to mention your two great-aunts, Beulah and Mabel, who haven’t spoken to each other since the Great Potato Salad Fiasco of 1973.

To be sure, you may want avoid this subject entirely – and to be honest, this week’s lesson in the quarterly really isn’t all that bad.

But if you want my advice, I’d save this week’s lesson on the Book of Proverbs for next week; that way you can skip the following week’s lesson on the Song of Solomon. (And trust me – you don’t want to spend an entire Sabbath School lesson discussing the Song of Solomon! There’s stuff in that book that is still illegal in the State of Idaho!)

Instead, I’d suggest you spend this week finishing-up the story of Jacob – the story of a family feud that just would not disappear on its own.

Genesis 25:21-34; Genesis 27:1-28:9
Quickly review the cause of Esau’s feud with Jacob – who do you blame the most? Notice the three ways people try to deal with this conflict:

  • Esau dreams of revenge.
  • Rebekah tells Jacob to leave until things “blow over.”
  • Isaac pretends that nothing has happened.

Which of these three strategies appeal the most to you? What has been the result in your life? What are the results in Jacob’s family?

Genesis 32
It’s been 20 years since Jacob saw Esau! What message did Jacob send? What does this message suggest about Jacob’s hopes? His fears? What message comes back to Jacob . . . and how does Jacob respond? What does Jacob’s prayer tell you about Jacob’s priorities? How did Jacob try to “buy” peace with Esau – and how effective was this? When have you tried something similar – and how did it work for you?

Genesis 28:10-22 and Genesis 32:22-32
Compare Jacob’s first vision (i.e. Jacob’s vision when he was leaving Canaan) with his second (i.e. Jacob’s vision when he was re-entering Canaan). How are they similar? How are they different? What has changed in Jacob’s life – and in his relationship with God?

Genesis 33
The Bible gives no explanation for Esau’s behavior in this chapter; obviously, something has changed in his life – but we don’t know what. (In some sense, forgiveness is always a mystery!) What does Esau do when he sees Jacob? How do you account for this? Has there been a real reconciliation between the two men – or is there still some wariness between the two? Why does Jacob refuse Esau’s offers . . . and was he wise to do so? Can you think of times you’ve had to do the same thing (or times you should have done the same thing!).

General reflection:
Who is the “Esau” in your life – and what are some of the ways you’ve tried to deal with this person? What hope do these chapters give you for your relationships? What guidance? What warnings? What would it take for there to be a reconciliation with the "Esau" in your life?

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Adult Sabbath School lessons

Need help teaching this quarter's Sabbath School lesson for adults? This link takes you to a series of "relational" studies that I'm writing for my Sabbath School teachers -- a new lesson gets posted every Thursday PM.

The Trouble with Tough Love

So you have a teen in your church who is out of control, and the parents are asking you if they should look into one of those "tough love" programs -- the kind of program that takes kids out in the woods, takes away their priveleges, and gives them mega-doses of structure and control.

Well . . . maybe. But as this article warns in the Washington Post, some of those programs may do more harm than good.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Jacob and his family (part two)

You can’t raise children in a vacuum.

For one thing, it’s illegal.

More to the point, it’s never just you and the kids. No, it’s you and the kids, and the grandparents, and all the aunts and uncles and cousins, and your brother-in-law’s ex-wife’s children (who created such havoc last Christmas), not to mention those bratty kids who live next door and have a mouth on them like you wouldn’t believe.

In short, the whole stinking village gets to help raise your child – whether you like it or not.

And what better way to talk about this than to study by studying the life of Jacob!

Genesis 29
“History doesn’t repeat itself,” said Mark Twain, “but it does rhyme.” Notice how this story “rhymes” with the way Isaac acquired a wife – and notice the way Laban’s actions “rhyme” with those of his sister Rebekah! What are some of the patterns that seem to keep repeating in your family?

Genesis 30
How do Rachel and Leah battle for their husband’s affection – and how do their children get drawn into this battle? Are there any similarities between their behavior, and that of Laban? Of Isaac and Rebekah? Who do you blame the most for what’s happening here?

Genesis 31
Why doesn’t Jacob trust Laban – and why do Laban’s daughters now share his mistrust? Do Laban’s actions justify their feelings about him? What are some of the ways that Laban’s daughters have shown that they are like him? Why do Jacob and Laban draw a “boundary” between them – and what do they hope to solve by this? (Note: “household gods” may have indicated property rights; in losing them, Laban may have lost his right to pass on his own property to his heirs!)

General reflection
Twice now, Jacob has dealt with family problems by leaving – the first time by leaving his own family, the second time by leaving his in-laws. How effective is this at solving problems? Is it ever justified? When have you used a similar strategy – and what were the results? With whom do you identify in this story, and why?