Friday, April 30, 2010

Mike Hamilton Preaching

Mike Hamilton will be filling the pulpit for me this Sunday at Valley Christian Church. I'll be attending church in Washington DC where I'm attending a conference. Mike is our Associate Pastor of Student and Family ministries, and I'm sure he'll have some great things to share.

Sunday, May 2
The Worshiping Church
Living with Reverence for Christ Jesus

Matthew 28:16-20

Friday, April 23, 2010

New Teaching Series

I'm beginning a new teaching series at Valley Christian Church this Sunday. If you live in the Twin Cities, I hope you'll consider joining us on Sunday mornings. Driving directions and service times are available on our website.

You can also listen in to our podcasts. Here's the ground we'll be covering over the next nine weeks.

Sunday, April 25

The Learning Church
Living with Readiness to Understand
Luke 24:33-53

Sunday, May 2
The Worshiping Church
Living with Reverence for Christ Jesus

Matthew 28:16-20

Sunday, May 9
The Christ-Centered Church
Living in Faithful Obedience to Jesus

Acts 1:1-11

Sunday, May 16
The Biblical Church

Living with Passion for the Scriptures

Acts 2:1-35

Pentecost Sunday, May 23
The Proclaiming Church
Living with a Message of Good News
Acts 2:36-41

Sunday, May 30
The Tangible Church

Living with Faith that Takes Action

Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-35

Sunday, June 6
The Subversive Church

Living with Loyalty to God above All Else

Acts 5:17-41

Sunday, June 13
The Giving and Caring Church

Living with Generosity toward Those in Need
Acts 9:32-43

Sunday, June 20
The Boundary Breaking Church

Living with Grace that Heals and Unites

Acts 11:1-18

Spiritual Growth for Family

I ran across this article today. It has some good suggestions for those who want to be intentional about cultivating spiritual growth in their family life. Intentionality and effort are central to all spiritual formation. If you don't have goals and a plan of action, you won't get far. Aim at nothing, and you'll probably you hit it.

I'm not a fan of this website or the NeoReformed camp it comes from, but this is a good little article. Not everything in it will appeal or resonate with everyone, but certainly the idea of setting goals and taking action should. Give it a quick read and see if there isn't a suggestion or two you can act upon. Maybe you can share this with a friend.

How I Pastor My Family
by Justin Hide

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What's the Right Thing to Do?

Here's your opportunity to join a class on ethics and justice at Harvard University. Michael Sandel's series, Justice, is available for viewing online. Why waste your time with TV shows when you could be discovering just how fun it can be to think and learn.

Sandel is a master teacher who is able to work a large lecture hall as though it were a small group discussion. The filming and production quality are first class, and the content is superb. Watch the trailor and at least the first session, and you'll likely find yourself drawn into this wonderful course. You may also be interested in Sandel's book, Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Icelandic Opera!

Long ago, as a music undergrad at the University of Nebraska begrudgingly fulfilling the degree requirement for science courses, I was surprised to find myself really enjoying a course in meteorology. I discovered just how fascinating weather and atmospheric phenomena can be.

Well, everyday there is something new to discover. And today, thanks to a volcano in Iceland and Minnesota Public Radio's Updraft blog, I learned about a most impressive weather wonder. Volcanic lightning! Very volcanic! Very Wagnerian!

Music and meteorology may actually go together better than you think.

Monday, April 19, 2010

John Cleese on Philosophy

Here are some entertaining thoughts about philosophy, recorded by John Cleese (in 2003?) for the "Philosophers of America" who were apparently "celebrating 100 years of thought."

You've got to admit it; philosophy sounds more interesting when you hear John Cleese talking about it. Thanks to Josh Hunt for the link suggestion.

I highly recommend the John Cleese audio book for The Screwtape Letters (C. S. Lewis).

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Scott McKnight at Cincinatti Bible Seminary

Scot McKnight posted today about a recent visit to Cincinatti Bible Seminary where he spoke at the Stone Campbell Lectures. He had some very nice things to say about the churches who share the Restoration Movement (or Stone-Campbell Movement) heritage, and he concludes his remarks with: "...they are doing excellent work in Bible and theology and church ministry. And neglecting this movement has weakened the robustness of the evangelical voice in the USA."

I grew up in this tradition, and the church I now pastor has a Restoration Movement heritage. Scot is right in observing that these churches have never really been "evangelical" insiders. Their steadfast commitment (perhaps overemphasis) regarding the importance of baptism and weekly communion has always been out of step and worrisome for most evangelicals. In my younger years of ministry, that was a source of frustration to me. Today, with evangelicalism finding more ways to implode upon itself every day, I'm just fine with not fitting in.

I'm happy to say that Valley Christian Church values its heritage--so much so that we are not bound to it. We're not Restoration Movement Christians, we're just plain old Christians. We're just happy to be a group of people doing our best to follow Jesus--seeking God, sharing our lives, and serving others. I hope we're making a contribution to the Kingdom that merits some of McKnight's generous praise.

Scot McKnight is a Bible teacher and author of many books, including two of the books we recommended during our recent Lent and Easter teaching series: The Jesus Creed and 40 Days Living the Jesus Creed. He also writes the popular Jesus Creed Blog.

Book: The Whispering Walls

The Whispering Walls
J. E. Hunt

A friend of mine, Josh Hunt, is currently releasing a four-part book series called The Wanderers. What follows is a review I posted on You can find out more about the series at Carius Books.

When you read book one of a four-part series and enjoy it, you're instantly ready to move on to book two. The problem with reading book one of a NEW four-part series is that book two isn't available. I guess that's also part of the fun.

The Whispering Walls is beautifully written. The places, events, and people are compelling and believable. I think Hunt is especially good at explaining the feelings and motives of his characters. Many times, I found myself thinking, "What a perfect description!"

The further I read, the more I wanted to read. I finished the last four or five chapters in one sitting. My only serious complaint is that I want book two, and I want it NOW! So while I wait for book two, I'll be encouraging as many others to read book one as I can. Misery loves company.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Questions and the Quest

Brian McLaren
Minneapolis 2010.04.15

I attended the Twin Cities Emergent Cohort meeting this month for the first time. Brian McLaren was in town to speak at the Westminster Town Hall Forum the next day, and he was good enough to spend a few hours with the cohort on Wednesday night, speaking and fielding questions. I'm guessing there were about fifty people in attendance. I enjoyed bumping into some old friends and meeting some new ones.

McLaren got things started by giving a thumbnail overview of his new book, A New Kind of Christianity. The book is organized along ten critical questions he believes it is important to ask as we consider the future of the Christian enterprise. The first five are more theological in nature, and relate to: the overall message of Scripture; Biblical authority; the character of God; Christology; and the Good News of the Kingdom. The last five are more practical in nature, and relate to: the Church; personhood and sexuality; the theology of future; Christianity in relationship to other religions; and practical ways to turn questions and conversation into constructive action.

After this quick overview, McLaren spent the rest of the evening entertaining questions. The questions were very thoughtful. In most cases, they revealed the questioner's desire to find ways to experience authentic Christianity and live it out in the world. There was a real sense that the people gathered really wanted to find a Christianity that could change the world.

While McLaren's answers to these questions may be controversial, it is clear that every one of the questions resonated with his audience. My own pastoral experience over the last 20 years confirms the importance of these questions. They are questions the world is asking, and with good reason. Christians may not all arrive at the same answers, but we must wrestle with the questions. We must be willing to think and talk about these questions with each other, even those with whom we may not agree.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Music in Minneapolis

Parker Quartet
I enjoyed an evening of wonderful live performances last night. First, I caught an early show, The Parker Quartet, at the Varsity Theater in Dinkytown with my son, Tyler.

I got quite a shock when we walked into the Varsity; it has been completed remodeled and redecorated à la Loring Pasta Bar. The transformation is impressive. We got some comfy seats about halfway back, but the acoustics and PA system buzz were annoying me, so we moved to seats right next to the stage.

I first heard the Parker Quartet perform at the SPCO's Music Room on the third floor of the Historic Hamm Building. They played Dvorak's string quartet in E-Flat, Op. 51, and I was blown away. They play with such energy, feeling, and precision! They played two Dvorak pieces last night as well. The second Dvorak piece was my favorite of the concert.

The PQ hail from Boston, but we've been blessed to have them in the Twin Cities for the past couple years. They have played with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and are just completing a stint as Artists in Residence for Minnesota Public Radio. I hope they will stay with us for a long time to come. I think they make the Twin Cities a better place.

Ben Rosenbush / Brighton
Later, I went over to the 331 Club where Tyler was playing a set with Ben Rosenbush / Brighton. I have listened to Ben's CD many times, but this was the first chance I've had to hear him perform live. It turned out to be a fantastic show.

Ben's songwriting and singing is absolutely fantastic. The band of players he pulled together for the night was just great. The word needs to get out about this guy! Buy his CD and go to his shows before the rooms get too packed and the tickets get too expensive.

Books: The Jesus Creed

The Jesus Creed
Scot McKnight

40 Days Living the Jesus Creed
Scot McKnight

During Lent and Easter this year I preached a series of sermons I called The Jesus Way. The whole series of sermons was based, just as McKnight's books are, upon two short passages of scripture: The Jesus Creed (Mark 12:29-31) and The Jesus Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13).

I encouraged people in our church to use McKnight's 40 Days of Living the Jesus Creed as a Lenten devotional guide. We also made The Jesus Creed available for purchase in our resource center.

You can only teach so much in weekly 30-40 minute sermons. That's why I frequently package my sermon series in ways that encourage people to read good books. I try to write and preach sermons that cover the same topics and themes as the books, but with a different approach. The intent is for the preaching I do and the reading I encourage to serve as good companions. I hope that my sermon series will enhance the reading of the books, and that the reading of the books will in turn help people get more from my sermon series.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Concert: St. Paul Chamber Orchestra

St. Paul Chamber Orchestra
March 21, 2010
Benson Great Hall - Bethel University
Conductor - Roberto Abbado
Violin - Dale Barltrop

Requies for Chamber Orchestra (Luciano Berio)
Violin Concerto in D Minor, WoO 23 (Robert Schumann)
Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 120

An amazing afternoon of music. Dale Barltrop's execution of Schumann's violin concerto was simply stunning. It was the first presentation of this piece for the SPCO, and the crowd responded with a long and loud standing ovation.

Abbado's introductory comments preceding the performance of Berio's Requis were helpful and served to make the piece more accessible. The performance of Schumann's Symphony No. 4 was flawless. I left the concert hall feeling happier and more alive than when I arrived.

Have you purchased tickets for the 2010-11 season? Now is the time. You won't be disappointed.

Poetry: A Glass Half Full

A Glass Half Full
Felix Dennis

TED Talks is one of the podcasts I enjoy. That's where I first heard Felix Dennis reading selections of his poetry. Dennis is an enigmatic character to say the least. His poetry is thoroughly 21st century in it's content, but is written with the meter and rhyme you would expect from a nineteenth century poet.

The poems range from profane to profound--from provocative to proverbial. There were more poems in the collection that I enjoyed than not. The book also comes with an audio CD of Dennis reading his poetry.

All men know themselves a fraud,
Society or hoi polloi;
Strip the polish off a lord,
You will find a frightened boy.
from The Mask, p. 45

And wise the man who will not lend,
But in the dead of night will send
A gift. And thus, will save a friend.
from "Neither a Lender...", p. 153

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Book: Manhood for Amateurs

Manhood for Amateurs
by Michael Chabon

Last November, just a few days after I heard Michael Chabon interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air, I saw this book strategically blocking the entrance to the Barnes and Noble store in Apple Valley. I happened to have a gift card in hand and so made my purchase. Score another one for the book marketing machine.

Chabon is a gifted writer. These essays, all framed from the vantage point of manhood, come across as part confession, part memoir, and part social commentary. I really liked it for the most part. There were parts that disappointed and others that made me squirm, but overall I was glad to be reading. I laughed. I learned. I was moved and even inspired. My favorite essays were: The Binding of Isaac; The Wilderness of Childhood; Faking It; Sky and Telescope, and Normal Time.

"...Maybe my children will just look up and remember the weight of my hand on their shoulders as they stood beside me on a warm summer night, the rasp of my beard against their cheek, my voice soft at their ear, telling them, Look."
--from Sky and Telescope

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Michael Spencer 1956-2010

Our good brother, Michael Spencer, has died. My prayers are with his wife Denise and his children, Noel and Clay.

The Internet Monk, as Michael was known to most of us, was a constant wellspring of conversation and inspiration. His website, articles, and podcasts were thought provoking, life-giving, and just plain fun.

His passing is a Kingdom loss that will be felt far and wide, but his work and words have not died. The impact he his has made, is making, and will continue to make are beyond death's grip. By faith, though dead, yet he still speaks.

In Memorium

Mourning the Passing of a Friend