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Where no oxen are…

A simple thought for the day from Proverbs:

“Where no oxen are, the manger is clean,
But much revenue comes by the strength of the ox.” (Pr 14.4)

Sometimes we convince ourselves that, the simpler we make life, the better it will be. However, what we often fail to realize is that it’s the complicated, messy things that are necessary for real success.

Take, for example, our good friend the ox. Oxen are big, awkward, smelly, and a real pain to clean up after; however, in Solomon’s day (and even in some parts of the world today), a farmer with no oxen would have no livelyhood, because he wouldn’t have the means to produce enough…erm…produce to make a living.

This holds just as true for our own lives. Sometimes it’s the things that are a real pain that are the things that we need in order to be more successful. This is particularly true in our walk with God. God pursued us in the most inconvenient possible that we might benefit from it. Jesus asks that we, in response, deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. He reminds us that nothing worthwile is ever convenient. The benefits of having an ox far outweigh the inconveniences, but it’s through the inconveniences that we are able to better value the benefits. Sometimes we need to suffer through those inconveniences in order to see the greatest benefit. Sometimes we need to suffer through cleaning the stable in order to generate revenue.

Where could you benefit from having an ox or two?

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Normally I wouldn’t, but…

Okay, so I had never originally intended to use this blog as a place to put out my thoughts on tech-related things, but here we go. Most of you who know me know that I’m a nut for computer’s, gadgets, and just about anything I can take apart and put back together, but I had intentionally left that part of my life out of here because, frankly, there are lots of people out there who can do a much better job of tech reviews (and have, you know, connections to put their hands on such things the moment they’re available). At this point, however, I felt that I should put in my two cents on Apple’s newly announced iPad.

If you do a quick Google search, you’ll see that there is a fairly large portion of the tech community who have already weighed in, and to say the reviews are mixed would be way more than an understatement. In fact, I think I’ve read more negative reviews than positive ones so far, and that may not be a good sign.

Here’s the rub, though. Most of these negative reviews are focusing on expectations they had for a device of which they had absolutely no prior knowledge. Apple fandom being what it is, I’m not convinced there weren’t people out there who thought the iPad would solve world hunger while it made you coffee and teleported you to work in the morning (and – oh yeah – played music, to boot!).

I, for one, see the iPad to be pretty much exactly what I expected it to be (and just a little bit more), but maybe that’s because I didn’t expect it to be made of unicorn tails and angel tears.

I didn’t expect a camera. It would have been a cool feature to do video chat, but I didn’t think that was the goal of the machine.

I didn’t expect Flash support. Frankly, Flash is annoying at best on a full-featured Mac, so why put that aggravation into something that’s less capable?

I didn’t expect multitasking. This, I think, is most people’s biggest beef with the iPad. I don’t honestly see it as that big of a deal. People gripe about this on the iPhone, too, and yet it’s still punching the smart phone market right in the face. The power that Apple has built into this thing means that, if you actually need to switch from writing an email to surfing the web for a picture to put in said email, you can be over and back in a pretty short period of time, such that I doubt the average person would notice the difference in time over switching between two running applications. (Please let me clarify on one point. I have not actually touched the device. I have only seen the demos. This last point is, therefore, a little speculatory, but again, the system works surprisingly well on the iPhone OS already, so why introduce unknown variables to an already solid platform?)

There are many other gripes that I’ve seen out there, but I just wanted to touch on the few that people seem most upset about. But, on to what I did expect.

I expected it be a big iPod touch. The iPhone OS has proven itself to be a capable platform, so why mess around with something that already works? There was a lot of hope out there that Apple was going to do something that was as revolutionary for tablet computing as the iPhone was for smart phone computing. I wasn’t nearly that hopeful.

I expected an e-book reader that could rival the Kindle DX. E-books are quickly becoming the best way to consume large amounts of words on the go without resulting in a lifetime of chiropractor appointments from carrying pulverized trees around in your bag. The iPad takes the e-book market and brings it to a whole new level. The iBookstore is open to any publisher who wants to join the party, and gives the user a great resource for finding printed words. That, in itself, is fantastic, but what really takes the iPad forward is the fact that it already supports other e-book marketplaces, including the Kindle store, since Amazon was so kind as to put it on the iPhone. All of a sudden, you’ve got any number of ways to get books of any kind onto your machine. This, in my mind, makes the iPad worth the difference in price between it and the Kindle DX.

(As a side note, E-ink is a fantastic invention, and I appreciate the Kindle for what it is, but the comic book geek in me still holds a deep-seated resentment for being limited to my laptop or my iPod Touch for reading digital comics in full color.)

(As a second side note, I am a little disappointed that the iBookstore won’t be available outside the US at release, but I trust it will come along in due time.)

Apple did also manage to surprise me in a couple of ways that made me quite excited by the iPad as a potential way to replace my netbook as my portable machine (and for only a slightly higher price point).

First, I didn’t expect to see a hardware keyboard option, let alone Bluetooth keyboard compatibility. I’m excited by this in the way that little kids get excited about snow days in winter.

Second, I didn’t expect to see iWork show up and be fully functional (and for a crazy low price, at that). Combine Keynote with the VGA output option, and the possibilities grow even further.

Third, I wasn’t expecting the level of support for the current app store apps that they opened with. I was kind of expecting to see, at best, iPhone resolution for some current apps, but I wasn’t expecting to see almost every app available (and in full-screen) without the developers releasing iPad specific versions.

Now, maybe I’m crazy. Maybe I’m more caught up in the hype than I thought. Or, maybe I just had really low expectations coming into this announcement. Either way, I see the iPad as delivering everything I want it to deliver, at a better price than I was expecting.

But that’s just me.

This Weekend at Allison

This week was an interesting week at Allison. It marked the third week of the ‘Crazy’ series that we’ve been going through of late, with this week’s message focusing on the ‘fake it until you feel it’ philosophy that people sometimes subscribe to (but more on that later). This has certainly been a thought-provoking series, as it’s been dealing with some of the false ideas that we sometimes subscribe to in different ways.

One of the other key features of this series has been the use of secular songs that center around the word ‘crazy’ in their themes and lyrics as a lead-in for the message. This particular week, we were treated to a performance of Hannah Montana’s ‘Let’s Get Crazy’.

The message itself focused on the idea that if we simply act as though we have our spiritual lives in order, eventually our actions will soak into our souls and we’ll be spiritually mature. The point, of course, is that it’s the opposite that’s actually true – we need to be changed on the inside first, and when our hearts change, so do our actions and attitudes.

As many of you are aware, I try to participate off and on (hopefully soon it will be more on than off) in the Sunday Setlist blog carnival, which has recently moved from Fred McKinnon’s blog to theworshipcommunity.com.  As part of it, worshipers can post recaps of their services with a list of the songs that were sung. Anyone is welcome to participate, be they worship leaders, pastors, support people, or anyone who might be in the congregation. All you have to do is blog about the worship service you attended and post a link to your post on this page. Whether you blog or not, though, please feel free to check out the links to the other recaps that people post. It’s really cool to see what others are experiencing in their respective services as we all join for worship at different times and in different ways.

So, without further ado, This weekend’s setlist for Allison Church:

Opening:
Meet With Me
How He Loves
Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)

Before the Message:
Let’s Get Crazy – Hannah Montana

Closing:
From the Inside Out

So, once again, Please feel free to check out Sunday Setlists over at theworshipcommunity.com.

What are we about?

Yeah, okay, so I know it’s late and I have to get up for work in the morning, but I felt compelled to write something down tonight.

In the wake of the disaster in Haiti, which I’m we’re all reeling over, there’s been another issue come up that seems to be stealing our attention away from the needs of the Haitian people, and provoking great anger among both Christians and non-Christians alike.

A certain televangelist (who I shall not name, as this post is not about him) made some rather unfortunate comments about the situation in Haiti, which has led to a rather large outpouring of unfortunate comments about this particular televangelist. Many of these responses and comments have left me with one question in my mind:

As Christians, what are we about?

My hunch is that, no matter who long or short your answer might be, there’s one word that rings common across the board:

love

We love because he first loved us (I John 4:19). It doesn’t matter from what denomination you hail, or what your theology is, you can’t argue that at the very core of the Christian faith is this one simple word.

love

I’ve seen the statement. What’s missing?

love

I’ve seen the responses. What’s still missing?

love

This issue is one of the very few things in this world that makes me truly angry. I know that we’re all in the process of regeneration and that we all have sin in our lives that we continue to deal with on a day-to-day basis, but there comes a point where we all have to agree to work on this one thing, and make that the thing that the world sees.

Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13.35). If we want to be known as disciples of Christ, we need to start with one simple command:

love

There are a great many issues that the secular world has with the Church, and I guarantee you that nowhere on the list is, “those Christians are just too loving!” More often than not, the issue is exactly the opposite. We’re often seen as judgmental, as bigoted, as downright hateful, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is saddened by that fact.

So, let’s start to change that. Let’s start in our homes, in our churches, in our neighbourhoods. Let’s deal with others with love and respect, especially those with whom we disagree. Let me be clear on this: we don’t have to agree with or condone the actions of everyone to love them. God does not love anyone any more or less than anyone else. Neither should we.

Let’s show the world that we belong to Christ. Let’s love one another, the way that God loves us. Let that be what makes headlines. Let that be what people think of when they think of the Church, and not the unfortunate comments of one man.

IMG_9398.jpgWell, it’s been QUITE some time since I last wrote here, but you all know by now what a terrible blogger I am, so I won’t dwell on that, but to say I’m going to be making a concerted effort to begin blogging far more regularly, if for no other reason than it’s good for me.

Anyway, at this point, we’ve been back from Korea for a little over two months, and we do indeed miss the Community of Joy and all its members, but it’s been great to be back home as well, and re-experience North American worship services with the knowledge that we gained from our time overseas.

This Sunday, I departed a little from my usual plan, and went to the 11:00 service at Allison Church rather than the 9:15 which is closer to home for me. I had a couple of reasons for this, both involving my plans to get involved in Allison’s music ministry since it looks like we’re in Moncton for a little longer than we had initially hoped (but that’s a story for another day, and probably isn’t why you’re reading today’s post).

This Sunday, being the third week of Advent, was the third week in Allison’s ‘Christmas with Izzy’ series, where we talk about the relevance of Isaiah to the New Testament, specifically the Christmas story. We were also treated to a presentation by the children’s ministry, with fairy tale characters talking about the Christmas story.

For this week’s chapter in the Izzy saga, Dave looked at Isaiah 40, leading us from the point of Isaiah saying, “The King is coming” to saying, “The King has come”. One of the most thought-provoking points that Dave brought up (that also happens to be the one that’s far to easy to leave at church and not take home with us) was that God calls us to SHOUT. ‘Shout for what?’ asks Isaiah. “HERE IS YOUR GOD” (see Isa 40.6-11). Dave makes the point that we find it so easy to shout at sporting events or at the visit of celebrities, but we seem to have a problem shouting for the King of kings. We don’t hesitate to shout our excitement about earthly things, but we often pause when it comes to shouting about the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us (see John 1.14).

We certainly need always to be willing to give an answer for the faith that we have, and this time of year is among the best times to do that, which is exactly why Dave said that Allison is doing multitudinous Christmas Eve services at both campuses.

For the music this morning, John and his team led, putting together a great blend of music that I know I appreciated. The list went something like this:

Opening music:

  • Meet With Me (Ten Shekel Shirt)
  • It Came Upon a Midnight Clear (with an extra chorus that I wasn’t familiar with)
  • Emmanuel (Hallowed Manger Ground) (Tomlin)

Next came the Children’s presentation, followed by a baby dedication, and the congregation joined the kids in singing their song.

Then, before the sermon, we sang Silent Night, after which Dave shared with us, and we closed with the chorus to Emmanuel as we had sung earlier.

Please feel free to head on over to Fred McKinnon’s blog and share about your worship services as part of his Sunday Setlists blog carnival. You don’t have to be a worship leader to participate, all you need to do is blog about the church service you attended this week.

Cross-post: We’re Coming Home!

This is a cross-post from The Nevers’ Adventures.

Alright, so there’s really not much to say beyond the title, but I’ll tell a little bit of the story.

We had been a little confused about our end-date, so we met with our boss two weeks ago to discuss the matter. At the meeting, she said that, based on the current enrollment, they were going to be downsizing a little and replacing me and Shannon with only one foreign teacher. She also said that, provided they could find someone to replace us, we would be completing our contract sometime in October. We said, ‘okay’, and went on our merry way, still wondering when exactly we were going to be heading home.

Fast forward to this week, and I’ll map this out for you a little bit.

Monday – I decide that I need to start emailing some people to let them know that we’re going to be coming home a little sooner than anticipated.

Tuesday – We get to work, and our other boss comes in to meet with us, tells us the new guy’s paperwork is almost done, and asks us when we’d like to go home. We say, ‘Whatever’s going to be best for you,’ so he replies by saying that THIS weekend is impossible, because it’s a major holiday in Korea this weekend (Chuseok, but we’ll have more on that later), but NEXT weekend should be alright. Shannon and I are in a little bit of shock, but we say, ‘okay’ and go on our merry way.

Wednesday – We look at possible flights and compare what we’ve found with what our boss has found, tickets are purchased, and we’re set to go, followed closely by tickets being purchased for the new guy. Shannon and I are still in shock, but we now have our tickets in hand, so we need to start making arrangements.

Thursday – We go to the post office to send a bunch of our stuff home, which we had been planning to do anyway, but now there’s a sense of urgency to it, because there’s a good chance we’re going to beat our stuff home, now. We send numerous emails to people, making last minute arrangements for the end of our time in Korea.

So, at this point, we’re still trying to figure some things out, but one thing we do know for certain: we’re leaving Korea at 5:20pm on Sunday October 11, and landing in Halifax at 1:45am on Monday October 12 (and if you’re following the time zones, that means that we’re going to be in transit for 20 hours, and yet only 8 hours will have passed on the clock).

We still don’t completely believe this is happening, but we’re excited to be coming home and we’re looking forward to seeing all of you for whom we’ve been writing this blog over the last year. So, as our second-last week winds to a close, we ask for your prayer as we get ready for the journey home.

WHAAAA…???

Just for a change of pace, I thought I'd share a little something I received from one of my students. I'll not share the student's name for obvious reasons, but it just felt the need to share it.
Here goes:

I send a free time mainly from inside.
To summer goes out in order for the outside to be hot and thing especially well. But winter the same case is different.
Also the probably different friends to winter are only the field to go out plentifully. Like summer is not hot is not and the cool snow gets off. So to summer the fact that divides from the outside likes the fact that is in the rather cool room and to winter like. When mainly being in the room, sees a novel with the usual computer, or, game.
In game disguises and there is a game which does not want Pelusonar 4 is.
Once buys will see is in the process of thinking in this time.

Did you notice the subtle dictionary use for effect? For the record, this is from a brand new student, so this sort of thing is not all that common. Also, in case you were wondering, this was in response to the question, 'In the summer, do you prefer to spend your free time inside or outside?'

Hope you enjoyed this brief glimpse into my classroom.

For the Sake of the Call

Pardon the Steven Curtis Chapman reference, but I could really think of no better title for this post, as we all wrestle through God’s call on each of our lives.

First, I want to make one thing clear: I believe firmly that, when we talk about what we’re called to do, that God has a clear calling in Scripture for every believer. The call to love God, love others, become like Christ, and preach the Gospel is clearly given over and over. What I’m going to be talking about is God’s call to specific vocations. I believe that the vocation we choose is not necessarily as difficult as we make it out to be. We simply need to ask ourselves what we can do in our lives to best meet the requirements of the general call. This means knowing what our gifts are and what we’re passionate about. For some of us, though, we feel that God has called us to a specific vocation.

Unfortunately, it’s not always as clear cut as Jesus appearing to Paul on the road to Damascus, or being a robot programmed for a specific task, but I do believe that God sets some of us apart for specific tasks. Here, however, is where it gets difficult: just because we feel God has called us to do something specific does NOT mean that we’re going to have an easy time of it. In fact, in my experience, doing what God calls us to do can often be the hardest thing we could possibly be doing. Often, if we feel called to do something, it’s something that we’re not comfortable with – something we feel unqualified for.

This brings forth the idea that pursuing our calling is an act of faith in and of itself. God doesn’t call us to do the things we want; he calls us to do the things He wants. As a result, when God calls us to do things that are beyond our abilities, we need to remember that He is the one who strengthens us to succeed. We don’t have to look hard at Scripture to see God calling someone out of their element to do great things. I love the story of Gideon for just this reason. Here we have a physically small man from a socially small standing, and God calls him to be a general of a ‘grand’ army (of 300 men) to defeat thousands upon thousands of Midianites. And God did this to show that He was the architect behind the victory, and not any particular skill or talent that we might have.

So, whatever God’s calling you to, whether it be a single task or to full-time ministry, keep in mind that no matter how daunting such a call may seem, we have a God who knows what He’s calling us to and who desires that we rely on His strength to pursue that calling. He knows our hearts, and He calls us to things a) to which He knows we’re best suited, and b) to which He knows we can’t do on our own power, “lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2.9) – but that’s a post for later.

(By the way, I’m aware that the above reference is just a wee bit out of context, as it’s referring to salvation rather than to calling, but the principle is still the same: we can’t do it on our own.)

This Week at COJ

It’s been awhile since I’ve put up my Sunday Setlist, not for lack of good intentions, but for lack of follow-through. Anyway, I figured I was well past due to put up a recap of our Sunday service at the Community of Joy, the English ministry of Chun Sung Methodist Church here in Daejeon, South Korea.

Part of my extra motivation for rejoining the Sunday Setlists blog carnival comes from a blog post that found its way into my Twitter feed this morning about the preponderance of Hillsong music in churches (check out the full post here). Reading the post struck home with me more than a little because our little congregation tends to sing Hillsong songs almost exclusively. Now, I don’t necessarily think that’s entirely a bad thing, since these are the songs that the congregation knows and relates to, and I also think that the quality of music that comes from the various leaders and songwriters at Hillsong church is mostly top-notch and widely appealing. The challenge, I think, is in figuring out how to fit songs together from different artists in order to keep with a theme. The various artists at Hillsong have written their songs so they fit well together for multiple reasons, so we start to put those songs together because we know they fit and flow together, and let’s face it: it’s much easier to put a set list together that we already know works, rather than try to tweak songs to blend the way we want.

I’ve long been a fan of medley-ing songs together, mainly because it eliminates awkward pauses between songs which can cause us to lose focus and get distracted (it may also have something to do with my ability to be distracted by another song while I’m playing the first one, but I’m more than willing to chock that up to the Spirit’s leading rather than my own short attention span). The beauty of this is that medleys work best when we’re bringing together songs by different artists that fit with the theme and the mood that we’re trying to convey. The joy is in seeing the reality of Romans 8:28 in this kind of situation, as two or more songs by two or more artists work together in a way that neither had planned when they felt led to write the songs in the first place. It’s a beautiful way of seeing God tangibly working all things together, and a great reminder that He can and does do so much more in the more complex issues of our lives and our churches.

All this to say that it is really to our benefit as worship leaders to expose ourselves to as many different worship artists as possible, so that we can see how God can work all of this music together for His glory.

As I said before, our worship team is quite Hillsong-centric, but that’s because, at the moment, that’s what our leader (and much of the team) is most familiar with. So, without any further ado, here’s our set list:

Opening worship:
Blessed be Your Name
Take it All
One Way
Deeper
Still

Before the Sermon:
Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

Offertory / Closing:
Hallelujah / Awesome God

Please, feel free to blog about your own worship service and share it over at fredmckinnon.com on the Sunday Setlists blog carnival.

Multimedia in Worship

Not too long ago, as I was reading through my Twitter feeds, and I came across a link by John Piper about his thoughts on the use of multimedia and drama in a worship service. You can see the whole article on the Desiring God Blog, but there is one particular line that struck a chord with me. He said, “I think the use of video and drama largely is a token of unbelief in the power of preaching.”

Now, I greatly respect John Piper as a strong, biblical preacher, but I’ll also freely admit that there are a lot of people I respect with whom I don’t agree 100% of the time (especially on theology). This was one of those times when I had to stop and read the whole article over again. (Go ahead; I’ll still be here when you get back.)

Here’s why I picked that sentence out of the article. The rest of it I can understand as his position on whether or not to use such things in a worship service. I can get behind “let drama be drama! And let preaching be preaching!” as a valid opinion – not one I necessarily agree with, mind you, but valid nonetheless – but the point where I get a little confused is where we have “faith in the power of preaching.” I personally don’t have faith in the power of preaching – I have faith in the God who gives power to endeavors undertaken in His name.

Granted, preaching is a gift that God gives to us for the building up of His Church, but preaching on its own has no power – just like drama or video clips on their own have no power. The only power that any of our human endeavors have – on their own merit – is power to corrupt. Fortunately, however, we serve a God who has chosen to use our feeble efforts for His glory, and He gives us power to use the gifts (like preaching) that He’s given us as an offering to Him. Let me say that one more time: our endeavors have no power of their own; God has all the power, and He chooses to exercise it through us.

Now, it’s possible that I’m taking this WAY too seriously, and if so, I apologize for the rant, but I do firmly believe that we should be using any and all methods we have at our disposal to minister to the people around us, and if that means that we should happen to, on occasion, illustrate a point in a sermon with a skit or a video clip, then I think the Lord can use that as He sees fit, and it certainly doesn’t take away from His power to use it for His glory.