Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Back to Blogosphere

It's been over five years since I last posted on this blog.  However, I've made a commitment going into 2013 to post on a much more semi-consistent basis.  Here's to a much better 2013.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Tale of Two Autumns

The poetry that is our little lives in the hand of the sovereign, holy, and good God is a lyric filled with beauty and wonder. However, the beauty of God's handiwork/craftsmanship in our lives (cf. Ephesians 2:10) is understood with respect to the whole, the bigger picture, much more than at the micro-level of the moment-by-moment chain-of-events/consciousness of our daily lives (although even there God's work is present if we seek to find Him by faith in hope - cf. Jeremiah 33:3). God writes sections of both major and minor keys into the lyric of our lives, parts that are allegro and some that are largo, pianoforte and pianissimo, staccato and fermata, crescendo and decrescendo, even instances where the simultaneous levels/notes of our lives seem to briefly clash in a momentary cacophony. And yet it is the trust and hope that our lives are being crafted into beautiful and glorious songs and poetry which are "to the praise of His glory" (Eph 1:6) -- and for our conformity to the glory/beauty of Christ -- which ultimately gives us the power to overcome the world's chaotic noise in order to sing our individual parts in the worldwide "chorus of faith" to God through His church (cf. Eph 1:22-23).
This whole reality has been again impressed upon me as I have recently reflected on the work of God in my and my family's life since last Autumn. It was one year ago yesterday (Sept. 25, 2006) that I awoke at 3:00 a.m. to a phone call that my only younger brother Timothy had just been killed in a auto-pedestrian accident in Tucson, AZ. Prior to this, I had lived for 34 years with a blessed (but perhaps naïve) inoculation to death (at least with regard to anyone particularly dear to me). Little did I realize at the time that this would prove to be the beginning of an avalanche, an extended dark, slow, and minor-keyed portion of our lives. Toiling through the next two months of seminary and full-time work with a wife who was 6-7 months pregnant with our second set of twins was an immense strain on all of us. Then came November 30 when Karen had to have an emergency Caesarean-section because our twin girl (whom we named Meagan Brooke) had a critically low pulse. On December 9, after 10 days of hoping and praying, the Lord took her home to be perfected in His presence. The next month until January 7 were spent then finishing up the incomplete assignments at seminary for which I had needed to receive extensions, and all while my wife and I were grieving the loss of Meagan while rejoicing the birth of her twin brother Ethan.
However, by stark contrast, this Autumn things have come full circle. Having graduated from Covenant Seminary in May, 2007, and having sought a call to pastoral ministry all Summer, the Lord is apparently opening a very desirable opportunity for us in Iowa as the pastor of a small but very solid Reformed Evangelical church. I can see that the trials of last Autumn have tenderized my heart and taught me to love more deeply in the midst of distress. I have seen the Lord provide for us in amazing ways which has increased my faith in his persistent goodness to us in every situation. Praise God for this past year, not because it was fun, but rather because it was full of grace. Our God, the Master Musician and Conductor, continues to direct the beautiful chorus of faith which he composed for us before we were even born. His music plays in and through us to His glory and our good. Amen.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Reformed Plug for Keith Green

I was recently taking a trip down a musical Amnesia Lane, listening once again to the collected works of Keith Green (The Ministry Years vols. 1-2, 1978-1982). Keith Green’s music has always been among my favorite despite the fact that he was so overtly non-Reformed (although he was very overtly Christian, which really is more important anyhow). Yet my deep admiration for Keith Green is (I suspect) something akin to that of the admiration I’ve heard that George Whitefield, the great English Calvinist itinerant evangelist and “open air” preacher throughout the 13 American colonies during the First “Great Awakening”, possessed toward John Wesley, his English Arminian/Methodist counterpart whose itinerant open air preaching in England was powerfully blessed to effect a large-scale revival there. I’ve heard it said that, despite Whitefield’s well-documented disagreement with Wesley on the doctrines of God’s sovereign and unconditional grace (and his many attempts to lovingly persuade Wesley to embrace them), he still loved and admired Wesley deeply. I once heard it said that Whitefield, when asked by a zealous young Calvinist student and admirer concerning whether he anticipated seeing Wesley in heaven, responded in the negative (much to the proud young Calvinist’s Pharisaical delight). But he continued on by offering the addendum that his anticipated inability to see Wesley would not be due to Wesley’s absence there, but rather because Wesley would be so close to the throne of God that he (Whitefield) would not be able to see Wesley from his own position so far back.
Don’t misunderstand me. I have some definite points of theological and practical disagreement with Green, and there are some things he said in a couple of his songs that make me cringe a bit. He had zeal a-plenty, but sometimes perhaps with too little understanding. At least in a few of his songs, his demeanor seems da-meaner than I feel it should be, almost proud and borderline arrogant toward spiritual peaons (like me) who merely live ordinary work-a-day lives in “secular” vocations and who(he seems to suggest) don’t really get on board with the sold-out and fully-devoted life of radical faith and discipleship with Jesus (not that I personally buy such a distinction). I think for example of his song Jesus Commands Us to Go, in which he basically seems to insinuate that Jesus commands almost all of his people today to go out into formal mission work, so much so that “it should be the exception if we stay.” Because of his improper hermeneutic (in which he takes Jesus’ statements to his first disciples who were living/working in a different context than ours and applies them directly to us individually today in a strict one-to-one correlation), he ends up equating staying at home and supporting missionaries through means of dedicated monetary giving and prayer to be the exception (a lesser call of sorts), as if throwing more and more numbers of missionaries at the lost world is the real solution to reaching them. I think it likely that after the initial mass exodus of believers from Jerusalem during the Sauline persecutions, most believers settled in local communities and endeavored to live quiet lives in godliness, supporting missionaries like Paul and Silas, Barnabas and John Mark. But for Keith, it seems to be quantity over quality (Maybe a more balanced approach would be better).
Still, Keith’s music is, for the very most part, just Scripturally-saturated and full of zealous passion and love for the things of the Lord. As one who believes that our theological formulations and theologi-speak in preaching/teaching (and even in our lay conversations around our dinner tables) should sound more overtly Scriptural in language and form, I welcome Keith’s approach to music. For example, in I Don’t Want to Fall Away From You, Keith speaks very honestly about the whole subject of (the very real possibility of ) apostasy for a child of God and His prayer for God’s preserving grace to persevere until the end unto final salvation/vindication/justification at the last judgment. Such a song may make high/hyper-Calvinists nervous – after all, don’t we know that the “elect” can never really fall away from the faith and that those darned “Arminian-sounding” apostasy passages in the Bible are merely hypothetical? Still, there’s no question that he speaks the language of apostasy just like the Scriptures do, as well as acknowledging the reality of the final judgment according to our deeds (2 Cor 5:10; listen also to the end of his marvelous musical re-enactment of Matthew 25:31ff in The Sheep and the Goats.). Yet, if you listen to Grace by Which I’m Saved or You Put This Love in My Heart or Draw Me, you’d almost believe that Keith had a decidedly Calvinistic bent. Furthermore, though he speaks strongly of a working/fruit-bearing faith, he clearly affirms the reality of the imputed righteousness of Christ as our only covering, hope, and status before God in songs like When I Hear the Praises Start (although admittedly even in this song he goes on to affirm that imputed righteousness is vitally linked to righteous living). He is just so comfortable using both Calvinistic-sounding and Arminian-sounding language (like the Scriptures do in various places), without any apparent thought of contradiction. He is certainly scripturally literate and informed, even if he’s perhaps not so theologically precise and systematic. He’s like Bunyan, he bleeds Bib-line.
Furthermore, The Ministry Years volumes shine through with many of the classic and enduring praise songs which Keith left to the church as a legacy. Whether it be The Easter Song (“Hear the bells ringing…”) or There is a Redeemer or Create in Me a Clean Heart or How Majestic is Thy Name, those of us who remember the early days of CCM (back when it still meant Contemporary Christian Music instead of Contemporary Carnal/Compromising/Crummy Music) can’t help but enjoy Keith’s passionate praise and worship style. Also, Keith had an almost prophetic message and manner which challenges our often petty notions of comfortable Christianity (and the Lord surely knows that we need it). Songs like Asleep in the Light, A Million Starving People, If You Love the Lord, The Sheep and the Goats, Make My Life a Prayer to You, I Pledge My Head to Heaven, My Eyes are Dry, To Obey is Better than Sacrifice, and Go to the Hungry Ones call us afresh to a type of Christianity (actually the only real type – James 1:27) that measures itself not in the high-resolution precision of its theological formulations -- though theological formulations are by no means irrelevant or unnecessary -- but rather in the abundance and reality of its love for God, the brethren, and the lost (and that love being not in word only, but in deed and in truth).
A couple of other short points are in order here also. Keith was a masterful story-teller. A number of his songs are really just very memorable re-tellings (with a certain amount of creative license) of Bible stories. The Victor (on Jesus’ passion/resurrection), The Prodigal Son Suite, On the Road to Jericho (Good Samaritan), The Sheep and the Goats, and So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt are all songs that really bring the stories alive in very tangible ways. I also appreciate the fact that Keith was unashamed to so often speak of the hope of Christ’s second coming – both to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. I didn’t actually count the number of times in which that theme was prominent, but it was quite a few. Granted that Keith was somewhat a product of his times and held (uncritically) to the common hermeneutic that simply takes the imminence statements in the New Testament with respect to the Second Coming and applies them directly to us as the terminal generation without regard to how they would have been heard or understand by the original audience (along with implications thereof), he nevertheless rightly focused on the future hope of Christ’s second coming as a primary driving motif in his songs. We Reformed, in our Biblically-justified rejection of Dispensationalism, have so very often relegated the doctrine of the Second Coming to the area of a tenet of the faith to be affirmed but with very little practical “ooomph” to it "where the rubber meets the road." . In the NT, the 2nd Coming was a (or more likely “the”) primary driving reason used by the apostles to motivate the believers to fear, holiness, hope, faith, love, and watchfulness. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that NT ethics really depends on a vital doctrine of the second coming of Christ and the final judgment (contra the hyper-preterist types). Keith rightly and repeatedly focuses believers back to the parousia as “our blessed hope.”

I could go on with more , but I’ll stop here. I’ve not yet read Keith’s biography, No Compromise, but I hope to do so soon. He may not have been as Reformed as I’d personally like him to have been, but I’d take Keith Green over just about any musician or any music that you will hear on most “Christian” music radio stations these days.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Candidating Conundrums

The mind and heart of a young man fresh out of seminary who is candidating for a position of ministry in a local church can be a paradoxical quagmire of hopes and doubts. On the one hand, one understands the absolute and consummate necessity for churches to be deliberate, patient, methodical, and thorough in their investigation of a ministerial candidate. The strengths and weaknesses of a man's character will greatly affect the flock of Christ in which He is charged to lead, both for good and for ill. I have personally seen how various churches with which I've been associated over the years have paid dearly for poor choices with regard to the character and leadership qualities in the men they called as pastor(s). I have also seen the great and immense blessing that it can be to a church when their pastor is a man of strong and unshakable character, faith, and conviction, a passionate lover of people who nevertheless fears and loves God's approval even more. Still, the process of waiting, watching, and praying is challenging. There's always that part of you that wants to "get on with it" so-to-speak, as if, having paid my dues in seminary, God now "owes" me a position in short order. Yet, I'm reminded by the wise words of one particular seminary prof who told us that ministry is all about "downward mobility". God's timetable and ways with His ministers are not those of the "professional" world in which one graduates from grad school, gets the first job/big break, and then proceeds to begin working His way up the ministerial career ladder. Ministry is a calling, and the Lord is the sovereign and wise king and Master Shepherd, not a corporate CEO. I and my family are learning the lessons of contentment and patience at this time in new and fresh ways as we seek to serve the Lord here in our current context even while we wait for Him to open the doors of ministry/service in a more direct way within a local congregation. One particular church in Iowa appears to be a promising and potential field for ministry, but there is also a lot of uncertainty and just as many questions at this point as there are answers. They seem to really like us (at least the elders) and we personally resonate with and feel a kindred spirit with them also. Yet what should I make of all of this at the point where the "rubber meets the road"? Do we seek to broaden the scope of our search or do we wait and focus our efforts primarily on this particular church? Given the overall positive and highly encouraging interactions with the session and brethren there, is the response of faith on my part to simply wait and trust the Lord to overcome any potential remaining barriers/concerns (in due time) to my ministering there? Am I truly trusting God if I try to begin candidating afresh with other churches while waiting to see what will come of the opportunity at the church in Iowa? I'm not expecting an audible answer from the sky, but I know that my God is a giver of wisdom to those who ask in faith(James 1:2-8). For any who read this, I would greatly appreciate your prayers along with me and my family for His wisdom and clear leading (as well as the gift/grace of great patience and contentment should our wait need to continue on for a significantly longer period of time). Moses spent 40 years in Midian before His call to "ministry" among the people of God in Egypt, and while I do not think myself better or more worthy than he, I still would like the interval for me to be much less. If my period of preparation and waiting needs to be extensive, I'd very much like to know more of why and how the Lord is working through our wait for our good and His glory.

Monday, June 4, 2007

A little bit about me (in case you care to know)

Welcome to my blog. This is my first expedition into the brave new world of the blogosphere (thanks to a little bit of encouragement from my dear CREC pastor friend, Rogers Meredith, out in Colorado). Since you've taken some of your precious time to visit my blog (or in case you just providentially stumbled in here), let me take a moment to introduce myself and the other family units associated with me. I'm Steve Morris -- avid tennis junkie, ad hoc musician (piano, guitar), wannabe and occasional composer, blessedly married husband of my wonderful wife, Karen, father of five (Ian, Jordan, Shannen, Ethan, & Nathan), lover of good books (especially Theology & History), enjoyer in careful and deliberate moderation of Irish beers/ales and good wines, seminary graduate, pastoral candidate, and (most importantly) unapologetic lover/disciple of Jesus Christ. I'm a native Texan (Austin, to be exact), but my family and I currently dwell in St. Louis, Missouri.  I serve as a personnel manager over a group of men in the Enterprise Audit group at EPC, Inc., the largest Secure IT Asset Recovery firm in the Midwest.  I have a passion for music of many sorts (classical, classic contemporary christian, Christian hymnody, bluegrass, traditional Celtic/Irish, and Norah Jones). So that's me. There will be more to come about other non-me matters in the near future.