God is Not Omnipotent

I find the God of scripture to be limited. He cannot lie. He cannot break his promises. He cannot act unjustly. He cannot sin. He cannot fail. He cannot die. He cannot cease to exist. He cannot destroy himself. He cannot tolerate wrong. He cannot be impure. He cannot be unclean. The list goes on.

To say that God "can" do these things, but chooses not to, is to call into question the very nature of God. Can God not be just? Can God not be love? Can God not be God?

Can God create another God who is equal in power and ability? If God is the most powerful being, can He create a being who is also the most powerful?

All of these questions can be put more generally as a question of God's power or ability to accomplish logically impossible outcomes. Can God create a square triangle? Can God make 1 + 1 = 3? Can God be God and not God?

The answer is not "yes, but he chooses not to." The answer is no. He is not limited by His choice, He is limited by His own nature and necessity. He does not have power over His nature. He cannot change His nature. He must exist. And He must abide by the nature of His existence. It is impossible for Him to do otherwise. Against this He is powerless.

God cannot be a husband to my wife as I can. He cannot give my love to my wife. Only I can do that.

God cannot raise my children as me, and be all that I am to them in the way that only I can.

God cannot offer my forgiveness to someone else. He cannot forgive them for me and still accomplish in me and in them what my forgiveness accomplishes.

God cannot offer someone else's forgiveness to me. It will not accomplish in them or in me what their forgiveness would.

God cannot do what only people can do.

God became a man so that He could suffer and die, so that he could stand in solidarity with humanity, so that He could be tempted just as we are, in order that we would know that He empathizes with our weakness. He became a human in order to experience things in the way only humans can, to do the things that only humans can do.

Yet Christ could not suffer for the Colossians in the same way that Paul did. It would not mean or accomplish all the same things. Christ's suffering was lacking in this way. Only Paul could suffer as Paul.

God institutes His church to do what only the church can do. We are at work, in every relationship we have, doing for God what God cannot do alone, what only we can do, yet by His power. And so simultaneously, we need God to do what only He can do, or else we could never do our part.

God cannot love others through us without us.

Prayer - It Makes A Difference

Yeah, it took an hour. Sorry about that. Thanks to Greg Boyd, John Cobb, Francis Chan, John Piper, and others for their inspiration. Yeah, that is a weird list. Watch and see...

A Better Atonement: Beyond the Depraved Doctrine of Original Sin

I just finished reading this latest book by Tony Jones. To begin my review, I have a minor nitpick with regard to the editing. I am by no means a professional editor, yet I found many typographical errors throughout the book. I am sure this was a cost saving measure, as the book was self published (and I think it is only currently available digitally). But I found myself having to guess at the correct wording of more than a few sentences. I found it humorous to see a quote from Mark Driscoll in the book where Mark says meritous instead of meritorious, and THAT error is highlighted by a (sic) after so many of Jones' own errors in the book are left uncorrected. Funny. But overall this is a minor point and should probably be expected given the nature of the book's publishing process. I found similar editing issues with his previous book, The Church is Flat, also self published. I do commend Jones for self publishing and wish him and others great success in pushing this type of publishing forward. Perhaps Jones will become an exclusively indie author and open doors for other indie authors to have more and continued success? The book business is changing just like the music business.

A Better Atonement was a very fun read for me. The nature of the atonement and issues regarding penal substitution and original sin have been an ongoing interest for Jones that I have followed with interest over the years. I remember an Emergent Village podcast from several years ago where Jones and others solicited requests for new atonement metaphors. "The atonement is like a ..." I don't recall what the winning metaphor was. Anyone remember?

The book is apparently in part made up of a compilation of Jones' blog posts about the topic with new material added in. I gather this from self references to the blog that remain in the text of the book. Another editing nitpick I suppose. I am glad to have a definitive statement from Jones on these issues in book form. It makes his overall argument effective and compelling.

The book is written in two parts. The first addresses the doctrine of original sin and the second the doctrine (or more accurately theories) of atonement. I was not particularly swayed by Jones' arguments against original sin. Although he specifically stated that he did not wish to set up a straw man, I found that his arguments were primarily positioned against an Augustinian biological understanding of original sin. Perhaps it is just my own understanding of original sin that I find to agree with Jones' understanding of humanity's proclivity toward sin? I do not believe I am guilty of Adam's sin, but I am predisposed toward sin because of Adam. And to the extent that my inherited predisposition unavoidably leads to my own sin, I am guilty. I am not a paedobaptist, and I think Jones is primarily arguing against a paedobaptist view of original sin.

On atonement, the book summarizes all of the major theories. Jones is careful to point out that his intention is not to fully dismiss PSA, but only to usurp its authority as the dominant theory. For many evangelicals, PSA sits on the throne of atonement theories, with all others in submission. I think Jones wants to at least give other theories equal place alongside PSA. Or even to give other theories a higher role of importance. Jones makes Solidarity his personal choice for atonement theory. As a well know fan of Jurgen Moltmann's work, it should comes as no surprise that Jones supports the Solidarity theory of atonement as described in Moltmann's book The Crucified God.

A few years ago I gave a Good Friday message where I outlined the various atonement theories. As does Jones, I believe that PSA is a narrow view of the atonement that does have value, but one that scarcely suffices alone to explain the magnitude of meaning behind Christ's death on the cross. In isolation, penal substitution presents a very negative view of god the father, posits god the son in a subservient role within the trinity, and makes Christ's resurrection an afterthought. There is much more to the atonement than merely PSA. I applaud Jones for continuing to take up this important issue, and I recommend the book to anyone interested in learning more.

"Valleys Filled In and Mountains Made Low" a metaphor for Social Justice

When Isaiah prophesies about John the Baptist, he predicts that every valley shall be filled in and every mountain and hill made low. Is this a metaphor for social justice? Watch the entire Advent message here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCLNiEtinOY

Testing the New Blogger App

It has been a while since I have posted to this blog. A lot has changed in my life. I am now the Lead Pastor at the church where I have served for the last ten years. It has been an amazing process and transition and I feel like I am still getting my feet under me. I also finally switched to an iPhone after being a loyal Blackberry user for over seven years. And now I am composing this post with the Blogger app. I also need a haircut. Change is good.

Review: 'The Church Is Flat: The Relational Ecclesiology of the Emerging Church Movement' by Tony Jones

I just finished the book today and have to say that I am very impressed with Jones' latest work. A "lightly amended version" of his recent doctoral dissertation, the bibliography reads like a who's who of postmodern scholarship. The first chapter in particular goes in depth in outlining the variety of intellectual property from which Jones draws to underpin his research into the Emerging Church Movement (ECM). It is not a light read by any stretch of the imagination. Acknowledging this, Jones admits that the dissertation style is not his favorite, and jokingly offers the reader forgiveness for "skipping the sections that don't interest you."

At the core of the book is Jones' own study of the ECM. He performed research into eight leading churches within the movement, including his home church of Solomon's Porch in Minnesota (founded by Doug Pagitt), Cedar Ridge Community Church in Maryland (founded by Brian McLaren), and Vintage Faith Church in California (founded by Dan Kimball). From both the quantitative and qualitative data he obtained through his research, Jones identifies four concrete practices common to all the studied churches: Communion, Worship, Preaching, and Community. He also identifies five practices of virtue: Hospitality, Theology, Creating Art, Priesthood of All Believers, and Sacred Space. Jones sees relationality as the "binding characteristic" of these practices, and turns to the "relational ecclesiology" of Jurgen Moltmann as a means for bringing theological understanding to these practices.

And for me, this is where the book shines. As a founding leader within the ECM himself, Jones readily admits that the theology of the ECM is not well articulated. But he understands that the longevity of the movement is dependent on the existence of "thorough and robust theological reflection". I see this book as Jones' attempt to begin this reflection for the movement, by taking a studied look at the practices that exist within it, and seeking to draw theological conclusions from them. (He relies heavily on Moltmann for this, devoting an entire chapter to his theology. But Jones has criticism for Moltmann as well, and does not turn to him exclusively.) In my opinion this is a much needed course of action, and I am thankful that Jones has begun this process. It will be interesting to see if the ECM can indeed take some firm theological stands on a larger than local basis while still practicing a local communal hermeneutic. Its continued existence may depend on it.

As a side note, the book also includes a wonderful short history of the Emerging Church Movement. This historical synopsis, along with the in-depth study of the core churches currently leading the movement, is enough for me to recommend the book to anyone who is even remotely interested in the ECM. Feel free to skip the parts that don't interest you.

Are Christians Persecuted In America?

I am preaching again on August 21. The passage I'm covering is Acts 4 where Peter and John are called before the Sanhedrin for "teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead." Recently Jon Stewart discussed the issue of religiously motivated terrorism, highlighting the difference between how Christians and Muslims are treated in the American press.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
In the Name of the Fodder
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

And here is the rest of the segment, where Stewart continues to discuss the "victim card", albeit with a more political slant.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
GOP - Special Victims Unit
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

The topic of Christian persecution is not new territory for Stewart. Here are a couple recent quotes from him:

"Does anyone know...does the Christian persecution complex have an expiration date? Because...uh...you've all been in charge pretty much since...uh...what was that guys name...Constantine. He converted in, what was it, 312 A.D. I'm just saying, enjoy your success."
- Jon Stewart

"I have to say, as someone who is not Christian, it’s hard for me to believe Christians are a persecuted people in America. God-willing, maybe one of you one day will even rise up and get to be president of this country - or maybe forty-four in a row. But, that’s my point, is they’ve taken this idea of no establishment as persecution, because they feel entitled, not to equal status, but to greater status."
– Jon Stewart to Mike Huckabee on The Daily Show

As I dig into Acts 4, I see great opportunity to speak on the issue of real religious persecution around the world. But at the same time, I have heard WAY too many sermons where Christians in America are told they are victims. Ever hear of the Humanist Manifesto? Francis Schaeffer? Dominionism? Do you have a worldview? Is your worldview in competition with someone else's? This is a topic that runs very deep. If you've never studied it, perhaps this post has piqued your interest? Or piqued your disinterest?? Love that verb!

The Resurrection of the Body

My Easter message on the Resurrection of the Body. Going to heaven is not our hope. 1 Corinthians 15.

Cessationism vs Continuationism

My most recent message on Acts 2. Speaking in Tongues: Cessationism vs Continuationism. Enjoy the mullet!

Ignorance Is Bliss

Is premarital sex damaging? A recent study from BYU seems to suggest so, at least with regard to marital satisfaction. I am a big fan of The Young Turks news program on YouTube. And several months ago they posted a video (actually a pair of videos) on the BYU study. Ana, one of the hosts of the show, seemed to not like the study and claimed that it was biased. Check out the second video below:

As I found myself disagreeing with some of Ana's assertions, I posted some comments on the video. They elicited quite a response from the TYT faithful. Here are some excerpts from the YouTube comments section. Mine are in italics

The study found that people who did not engage in premarital sex were 15% more satisfied with their marital sex lives than people who did. It compared two groups of married people: Those who had sex before marriage and those who didn't.

If you don't plan to get married, then the study results are basically meaningless for you. But if your goal is to one day be married, and you want your marital sex life to be as satisfying as possible, then you would be smart not to engage in premarital sex.

The reason these kinds of studies most often come from religious organizations is not because they want to intentionally bias the results to push an agenda. It is because no one else is interested in finding out the answers to these questions. Most people are satisfied assuming that premarital sex is not harmful. They don't want to study it to actually find out if it is or not. I say let's study it and try to discover the truth.

To Emergingworshiper: Yes, they would be happier because THEY WOULDN'T KNOW WHAT THEY'RE MISSING!!!!

I think you are exactly right. The problem with premarital sex, from my experience, is that it creates preferences and expectations that a future spouse cannot completely satisfy by themselves. Having a wealth of sexual experiences with a variety of partners will certainly teach you a lot about sex. But it will not make you happier if your goal is to one day be truly satisfied with only one partner for the rest of your life. As you said, you will know what you are missing.

@emergingworshiper: Yes. It's no surprise that those with a sample size of one are more satisfied. I thought my first time was great at the time. (if a bit awkward) But in retrospect, no it wasn't. I'm sure I'd be satisfied with a dial-up internet connection if i'd never heard of broadband. Ignorance is bliss, we all know this.

Then we agree. Those who remain virgins until marriage feel more sexually satisfied than those who don't. The study is accurate. Ignorance is bliss.

So the question is, which is more important to you? Would you rather have knowledge and experience or satisfaction? I would rather have the latter. You are free to choose the former.

What if you were married to the person you had that awkward sex with the first time? What would sex be like with them now? Probably much better!

@emergingworshiper: Not really shocking that those who've has only one sexual partner are going to be more satisfied with their sex lives... When you have a sample size of one and only social/religious conditioning about how awesome it's supposed to be as a point of reference, it's fairly unsurprising that you'd get skewed results. When I was 16 and had had only one sexual partner, I was satisfied with all the sex I got too. Impressive study there mormons.

The point of the study is not how awesome the sex is, but how satisfied the people are.

If a happy marriage is not important to you, then go ahead and get as much sexual experience as you can. Then you will have lots of experiences to compare your spouse to and be unsatisfied about. Or don't get married at all. But if you want to have a satisfying marriage, you would be wise to avoid sex beforehand.

@emergingworshiper: THINK ABOUT IT.. if you only had SEX WITH one person.. you would think its the best. cause you have nothing to compare to.. as to people who had many sex.. knows.. there is better things.

So what is more important to you? Being satisfied, or knowing better? If you want to be married to and satisfied by one person for the rest of your life, then you would be wise to heed the findings of this study and avoid premarital sex. But if a happy marriage is not important to you, then go ahead and get as much sexual experience as you can. Then you will have lots of experiences to compare your spouse to and be unsatisfied about.

@emergingworshiper: Notwithstanding the unrepresentative methodology, is it possible to say that the people who engaged in pre-marital sex have experience and they are going to know if they are with a terrible lover than those who have nothing to compare it with.

Besides, celibates will just be happy they finally got there.

I agree. But the reality is that no one is a perfect lover, so terrible is a relative term. It is relative to your experience. Not to pick on Hugh Hefner, but he has so much experience that I wonder how good a woman would have to be to keep him satisfied? Probably most women could not satisfy him.

@emergingworshiper: "If you don't know any better then of course you're going to be more satisfied. "

"That wasn't no regular cracker was it? ... that was a Ritz!"

So which is more important to you? Being more satisfied, or knowing better?

I suppose porn stars KNOW all about great sex, but I bet it is harder for them to be satisfied with just one person.

If you want to be married and happy with one person for the rest of your life, then avoid premarital sex. But if you don't care about having a happy marriage, then this study shouldn't matter to you.

To demonstrate cause you have to randomly assign people to one of the groups (not ethical for this) or follow people over time to demonstrate that one variable was preceded in time by the other. Here, participants had selected themselves into the premarital sex or no premarital sex group. Therefore, whatever lead them to that choice (tending to conform to dogma, conscientiousness, etc.) could have also lead them to report more satisfaction. CORRELATION DOESN'T EQUAL CAUSATION!!!!!

Yes, correlation does not equal causation. But trying to control for all possible variables is not realistic, especially those as vague as conscientiousness or conformity. Therefore, as you probably already know, statistical causation is basically impossible to prove in sociological studies like this. What the study shows is that waiting is positively correlated with increased satisfaction. That's enough to warrant a discussion about the potential results of one's personal choices.


I congratulate BYU on their efforts, but I hope the research does not end here. There need to be more studies, larger studies, and better funded studies, from a variety of sources. A small study from a religiously affiliated institution is too easy to dismiss, as The Young Turks have done here.

I am still quite a fan of The Young Turks. In fact, I just got their iPhone app. You should definitely check out Cenk's video on why he quit MSNBC. Fascinating insider stuff. Here is the link to that vid: http://youtu.be/5x7o0sNrulg

In the end I am happy to concede that ignorance is bliss. There are many issues in my life where I would happily trade my knowledge and experience for more happiness and satisfaction. I don't have a problem with that at all.

Agape vs. Phileo in John 21

I am preaching John 21 this Sunday and have gone around and around with this… here are my thoughts on the distinction between agape and phileo. This discussion has been around for quite a while, but has been renewed by changes in the recent updates to the 2011 NIV translation. Here is the passage in John 21 from the 1984 version of the NIV (emphasis added):

"15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep."

Notice Jesus' use of the phrase "truly love" as distinguished from Peter's answer of simply "love". The 1984 NIV translates this way in order to show the distinction between the word agape (which Jesus uses twice) and phileo (which Peter uses all three times, and Jesus uses the third time). However, in the 2011 NIV this distinction has been removed, and both words are translated the same, simply as "love" (as opposed to "truly love" for the case of agape in the 1984 NIV).

Why was this change made?

Current scholarship believes that a meaningful distinction between these two words for love does not exist here in John 21. Many point to John’s tendency to use synonyms as a stylistic tool and say that because John likes to use synonyms, we should deduce no other meaning than that. They also point to the fact that these two words are used interchangeably in some places in scripture, where Godly love is described as phileo and wordly love is described as agape. So therefore it is not safe to attach any strict definitions to the words. They can mean the same thing, simply love, and John is only making use of them both here in order to avoid repetition.

But there are a couple problems with this reasoning.

First, it doesn’t actually seem to be true that John uses these words interchangeably to avoid repetition. There are six passages in the John’s writings where agape is used multiple times: Jn 14:15-31 (15 times in 15 verses – no phileo); Jn 15:9-17 (9 times in 8 verses – no phileo); Jn 17:23-26 (5 times in 4 verses – no phileo); 1 Jn 3:1-23 (9 times in 23 verses – no phileo); 1 Jn 4:7-21 (27 times in 15 verses – no phileo). There are only 2 passages where both words are used, John 11:3-36 (where phileo is used twice – once by Martha and once by the pharisees; and agape is used once by the narrator) and John 21:15-17.

So the stylistic argument doesn’t seem to pass muster. John seems more than willing to repeat agape many times over without resorting to phileo for style. Additionally, we likely assume that Jesus and Peter were speaking in aramaic, and so we do not have a definite knowledge of what words were actually used. We only know what greek words John chose to describe the conversation. And since style does not seem to be a plausible motivation for his choice here, we are left to wonder why he chose different words.

Secondly, although I accept that the two words may be fairly synonymous, and that there has been much meaning attached to them that is unwarranted, the fact remains that they are different words. So let us agree with the scholars that the words are mainly synonymous, yet slightly different, and that we should not attach strict definitions to them in order to distinguish them. In so agreeing, we can STILL deduce a deeper meaning from the dialogue than what appears in the 2011 NIV translation.

For example, if I were to ask you a question such as “do you love me”, and you were to answer, “yes, I do care greatly for you”, I would be left to wonder if you had really answered my question or not. If you were to answer, “yes, I have deep feelings for you”, or “yes, I am very much fond of you”, or if you were to insert ANY other synonym for love other than the specific word I had used, I could have cause to be suspicious of your answer. Why would you answer me by using a different word? Even if that word was for the most part synonymous? It would be an uncertain answer, a vague answer, an evasive answer.

Attorneys and politicians often answer questions in this way to avoid admitting something or to appear to be in agreement with a statement without actually committing to full agreement, saying what they want to say rather than giving a clear and direct affirmation. And it seems to me that answering a question in this evasive manner would almost certainly result in what we find in John 21, a repeating of the question.

So I believe that there is an implication in Peter’s answer that he does not want to fully agree with Jesus’ question “do you love me”. He wants to say yes, but he can’t fully do it. He does love Jesus, but he feels the guilt of his denial. Maybe he isn’t exactly sure what Jesus means by “love”. And though he knows that he does love Jesus, to be safe, he uses a slightly different word to describe it. Maybe he is afraid of Jesus’ rebuttal? “If you love me, why did you deny me?” So he uses a different word to try to avoid that. Whatever the possible motivation, Peter's answer seems evasive.

So I think we are right to point out a distinction between the words in John 21. At the same time, we are right to move away from the popular definitions of agape and phileo that are inaccurate and can be very misleading. But fully dismissing any possibility of there ever being a meaningful distinction between the two seems obtuse. Especially in John 21, where a slight distinction is very explanatory for the repetition of the question, as opposed to the somewhat reaching (yet very popular) explanation that Jesus asks three times due to Peter’s three denials. I would argue that it is safer to teach that Jesus repeated the question due to Peter’s evasiveness, because that at least is found clearly implied in the text. A direct connection to the three denials is not nearly as clear. But the 2011 NIV takes the distinction away from the average reader, removing the more obvious reasoning for the repetition, and leaving them to draw more speculative conclusions. Hardly an improvement, even if undertaken for good reason.

O Come Let Us Adore Him

As a worship leader, I struggle quite a bit choosing new music at Christmas time. It's hard to avoid getting into a rut and doing the same songs year after year. So I thought I would share this song that I arranged a while back.

It's my rendition of O Come All Ye Faithful. My goal was to take a traditional Christmas carol and arrange it into a more current worship song. I like building dynamics through repetition, and this arrangement clocks in at over seven minutes long. I modified the original chorus to lend itself more toward repetition, added some Alleluias, and here you go. It's a bit lengthy, and it starts out slowly. There's even a breakdown toward the middle with the original latin lyrics (Venite Adoremus). But give it a full listen and see where it goes from there. Hopefully, if you're like me, you will appreciate having a new option for Christmas music selections this year.

O Come Le Us Adore Him

Here's the link to the direct .mp3 download.
Here's the link to the chord chart in Word .doc format.

This particular recording was done on a benefit project for Emanuel Children's Hospital here in Portland. It features the ISing Community Choir and the worship band at Our Place Christian Church.

Love Your Enemies

"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you."
Luke 6:27-28

Therefore, according to 1 Corinthians 13:4-8,

Be patient with your enemies. Be kind to your enemies. Do not envy your enemies. Do not boast against your enemies. Humble yourself before your enemies. Do not be rude to your enemies. Do not delight in the evil of your enemies but rejoice with their truth. Always protect your enemies. Always trust your enemies. Always be hopeful for your enemies. Always persevere with your enemies. Never fail your enemies.

Who is your enemy? Are liberals your enemy? Are Muslim extremists your enemy? Are homosexual activists your enemy? Is corporate America your enemy? Is Fox News your enemy? Are evolutionary scientists your enemy? Are prosperity preachers your enemy? The list goes on...

Do you love them? Really??

Discovering The God Imagination

Jonathan Brink has a new book out. Check out the promo videos below:

The Woman Caught in Adultery

Here is my latest message, from John 8, the story of the woman caught in adultery.

One Sonic Society - One EP

Just downloaded this album tonight. What a surprising offering. One Sonic Society is the new project of Stu G and John Thatcher, formerly of Delirious? The EP contains five tracks, as listed below:

1. Our God Will Come
2. Forever Reign
3. The Greatness of Our God
4. Burn
5. Meet With Me

I highly recommend this EP. This is the kind of stuff that translates SO well into a community environment. This is not an album of three minute pop songs. These are clearly and unapologetically worship songs. The production is a little safe, the songwriting perhaps a bit formulaic. But just a little; just a bit. In fact, this balance might be what makes the EP so great.

Let me say this: I spend hours listening through album after album of "christian music" and "live worship" looking for good songs, and I'm lucky to find one or two per album (if ANY!) that work for me. Call me picky, but lyrics and melody are important.

On this EP, I immediately hear four of the five songs working in public worship. Maybe even five out of five. Thematically, the lyrics are all the way there for me. Easy to sing, as if they were my own words. And from there, I can hear what I would do to make the music heavier and more powerful, what I would do to stretch the songs out and fill them in. There is a framework here that I can jump off from. Add a little here; take away a little there. This is what I do as a worshiper, and as a facilitator. Start with a foundation, seek my own voice of worship through it, and help others to find theirs.

One Sonic Society has succeeded in creating a collection of songs that are unobtrusive and unassuming. The songs are not overly written. The songs are not focused on themselves. They are purely worship focused, and are thereby a platform for worshipers. I found this refreshing and unexpected. Here are some lyrics from "Meet With Me" that bear this sentiment:

I'm not here to pretend, I'm not here just to sing
But I'm asking You please, meet with me.
I have felt You before, and I'm certain there's more
So I'm asking You please, meet with me...

Strip it away, strip it all away, 'til I am left with You
Break it away, break it all away, all I want is You

Here's a video from the band, about the band:

1962 Blonde Fender Bassman

OK, here's a few pics for those of you who are interested. Again, cosmetically she's not the prettiest, but the tone is all I could ask for.

Here's a close up of the head. Obviously a "brownface". Notice the Presence knob to the far right and the Pre-CBS company name "Fender Elect. Inst. Co."

And here's the tube chart. The "LA" stamp in the upper right corner means the amp was manufactured in January of 1962.

Jesus Manifesto

Just came in the mail this week. Finished two chapters so far...

If you are not already familiar with the book, it is by Len Sweet and Frank Viola. It just came out this month, but was actually preceded by a wordpress blog post entitled "A Jesus Manifesto." In its original form it was much shorter, and the old post has now been replaced by a short page of information about the new and now larger "Jesus Manifesto" book.

I wrote a response to the original manifesto almost a year ago, which you can read "here." In it, I criticized the authors for failing to give practical examples of how we as Christians are to give Christ the ultimate supremacy in our lives (although I very much appreciate them both and their work on a variety of topics). I am looking forward to finishing the new book and seeing if it improves on the original version.

And again, I am very much on board with the idea here. In my opinion, Len and Frank are absolutely right about our need to bring Jesus back to the forefront of our faith. I just hope that this time they will not shy away from telling us how we can do it.

Singability and Guitar Solos

What is this idea of "singability" in worship music? I've heard so many different points of view on this that I thought I would share my thoughts on the issue.

As far as music style, it is marginally true that some songs are easier to sing than others. The most significant variable that affects singability is familiarity. Hymns are some of the most difficult songs to sing when one is unfamiliar with them, due to the lyrical syncopation and accents that often run counter to normative diction (for example, the word "fortress" in "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" is sung in three syllables, requiring a sort of double tonguing of the first "r", not easily done unless you are familiar with the song, and one of hundreds of like examples).

And the debate on singability runs to and fro. Many who prefer hymns argue that choruses are "too simple and repetitive". And while modern/postmodern worship music is increasingly embracing hymnody and returning to values of complexity, intricacy, and depth in worship music, those who prefer simpler choruses argue for singability. And while there are good points to be made on all sides, in the end it truly boils down to taste and familiarity and circular logic. "I like what I know and can sing and worship to easily", "I can sing and worship easily to what I like and know", etc.

The idea that some songs are more worshipful or more conducive to worship than others is a truly flawed proposition. Worshipfulness is in the heart of the worshiper. Everything on the exterior is taste and familiarity. Hymns are not better or worse than Hillsongs in any spiritual way, nor are Hillsongs better or worse than Vineyard or SixSteps in any spiritual way. The only way they are better or worse than each other is in the way that they meet people's expectations and tastes, or put another way, in the particular language that they speak to particular people. You can read my post called "Music as Language" to learn more of my opinions on this idea.

However, I do feel that some songs, and especially certain lyrical styles, are better suited for leading worship. I believe that ALL music is worship. But not all music is best suited to lead others in worship. For example, I could write a song with lyrics about being addicted to drugs, and how I trust in God for deliverance... and when I sing that song, I would definitely be worshiping God with it. But it might not be the best song for me to use to lead others in worship. Certainly it could lead others to worship, and it would perhaps be awesome and powerful for those who could connect with it somehow and worship through it. But it would take a special connection that not everyone would have. So I see a slight difference between music that is designed and written for personal worship versus music that is designed and written to lead others in worship.

At the same time, during a church gathering there is definitely room for all kinds of music and worship styles. I have experienced great connections with God in personal worship through experiencing the talents and personal worship of others, even if I am not participating in it, but only watching it. When I hear an awesome guitar solo in church, it moves me to worship God all the more because of the amazing talents and gifts of creativity that He gives to us, and for the way that others use those gifts to worship Him. I don't have to participate in a guitar solo to be led in worship by one! But it is my personal choice to worship God for what He does. Some people might get distracted by a guitar solo, or be tempted to give praise to the soloist instead of the Creator who gave the soloist the talent. Some might make judgments about the soloist, assuming that he or she is looking for praise. Instead, I worship God for the talent He has given the soloist, and in my own way I join with the soloist in worshiping God. My assumption is that he or she wants to give God glory by soloing. That is AWESOME to me.

(Originally posted in 2005)

1962 Blonde Fender Bassman

OK, time for some more guitar gear stuff.

I just picked up an old Fender piggyback Bassman for $200. It was broken when I bought it, so I had it looked at by Bryan Sours at Soursound here in Portland. It ended up needing to be recapped and the speakers replaced, which weren't original anyway. Funny thing about it... someone had spray painted the head and cabinet black, which it turns out was not an uncommon practice after Fender changed their amps to black in 1964. People wanted newer looking amps! But the original blonde tolex was there underneath the paint and came out fairly clean after using hefty amounts of graffiti remover. It still looks old, but the discoloration and cigarette burns give it a distressed vintage vibe that you usually have to pay extra for. I'll post some pics when I get around to taking some.

I had Bryan order a pair of Weber Vintage Series Ceramics (12F150-A) to install in the 2x12 cabinet, and they sound perfect. The great thing about the amp is that other than the caps, power tubes, bias adjustment, grounded AC, and speakers, the head and cabinet are 100% original from 1962, choke, transformers, everything. It's a 1962 Blonde Fender Bassman, brownface (pre-blackface), with the original 6G6-A circuit. And boy does it sound good. All told I am in to the amp for less than $700, which is what the heads alone can sell for on eBay. Mine's not in the greatest cosmetic shape. But the tone is there!

This is my first true Fender tube amp. I got my first tube amp back in 1998, a used Laney 50w 1x12 combo. Since then I have owned a Marshall JTM310, Marshall TSL602, Mesa/Boogie Road King, Budda Superdrive 18, and a TopHat King Royale. I have been playing through the TopHat for a few years now, which is basically a Vox AC30 circuit in channel one and AC30TB circuit in channel two, modified but very similar. And I have really liked it. It cleans up pretty well when I roll back my guitars volume, but gets nice and crunchy when I open it up. And it definitely has a Vox vibe that is different from Marshall and Mesa. People like to call it "chimey", which isn't exactly how I would describe it, but it's close. It's hand built, point to point wired, and the craftsmanship is off the scale. It's a great amp. But perhaps my ears are tiring of the Vox thing, because this Bassman is really a much better sounding amp to me.

Until now I never really liked the sound I heard from Fender amps. I had a band mate once who played a HotRod Deluxe. I didn't care much for it, but it was a nice contrast to my Marshall tone at the time. And I've heard plenty of Twins and always thought they were shrill. But this Bassman is something different. It's warm, rich, and full. Yes, the clean top end can saw your head off if you're not careful. That's what Fender's do. But the 2x12 closed back cab has plenty of bass response. And I keep the treble knob right at about 12 o'clock, which is just right. Plus the old Bassman's have a presence knob, not a bright switch like later Fender circuits. So it's not an on/off thing, too bright versus not bright enough... I can dial in just the right amount of shimmer without getting too harsh.

I would say that the Bassman is not quite as dynamic as the King Royale. It doesn't crunch quite as hard, and certainly doesn't come close to the modern high-gain my Marshall's have. But it has a wonderful clean tone that beats them all! With the guitar volume rolled back just a bit it sounds like warm glass. And cranked up it does have a nice gritty bluesy classic rock tone. So there is quite a bit of range. Just not all the way there. It's a unique thing I guess. It does what it's supposed to do. None of my other amps sound as good clean or slightly pushed. Now I know why so many people swear by Fender's for clean and Marshall's for gain. Maybe a dual amp setup is in my future??

I am planning to eventually post some gear review videos, maybe do a shoot-out between a couple of my amps. Play a variety of guitars through them. Listen to the different tones they create. Maybe do a Fender vs. Marshall "clash of the titans" vid? I've been thinking for a long time that it might be fun... and educational at the same time! I figure I'll learn as much about my amps by doing it as anyone will by watching it. Maybe I'll have some time this summer...

Community Missions

Here is my message from last Sunday, about Community Missions. Ministry to the poor is not an option, it is an obligation. It is not a calling, it is a command...