Monday, November 30, 2009

What is 'Advent'? Because people keep askin' me...

The term "Advent" comes from Latin word ad-venio meaning "arrival."  For well over 1,000 years, the Christian Church worldwide has designated the four weeks prior to Christmas as a time to prepare for Christ's coming into the world.  We seek to prepare ourselves as a community, as individuals and, ultimately, as those who anxiously await Christ's Second Advent (arrival/coming).

It is no coincidence that Advent falls during the darkest time of the year:  Until December 23, our hemisphere of the earth continues to tilt further and further away from the sun, resulting in shorter days and longer periods of darkness.  During this time, we frequently find ourselves longing for more physical light and warmer temperatures amidst the longer and colder evenings.  Consider the days when electricity and heating beyond fireplaces were unavailable—the dark and long days certainly stoke the desire for spring, light, and life.

The early Christian church did not know the exact date of Jesus' birth, but they believed that Christ was indeed the Light of the World (John. 9:1-41).  It made sense to these early Christians to celebrate the birth of the Messiah during a time of the year when everyone was most aware of the lack of light in the world.  

During this Advent season, we acknowledge the "lack of light" in our lives, the sorrow, hurt, grief, and even despair.  We cry out for God's presence, His healing and transforming touch.  We seek to prepare our hearts to be receptive to Christ, our Savior, and we eagerly await the celebration of His birth at Christmas.

We invite you to join us during this 2009 Advent season in preparing room in our hearts, minds, homes and gatherings for our Savior, Christ the Lord.
George R. Haraksin II
NewSong Church
November 2009

Thursday, October 15, 2009

iPods, Idols and the Technology of Worship

A friend of mine (Eric Herron, a former staff member at NewSong, now missionary worship artist—who still leads worship for us from time to time) writes, “Is technology appropriate for incorporating into worship? If so, how much and toward what end?” He continues, “Simply put, worship is the dialogue between God and humans, in which God initiates the conversation and humans respond in cyclical fashion. The goal, then, would be to facilitate this dialogue (to the extent to which we can).  Once we have agreed upon our goal or definition of worship, there are more questions to ask that are specifically relevant to evaluating the technology in question. For instance, we might ask: How will this technology help us ‘hear’ what God is saying to us?” I think this will remain a vital question for leaders and participants in a worship community.  We must keep aware of our ends and means in worship. Another way to state what Eric is saying is that we need to critically pay attention to both our functions and forms in and of worhip. Our function (to worship God, and enjoy Him forever) is logically prior to the form (reading a psalm, singing with a worship band). As Eric states, some in the contemporary church have thought that we can use whatever form we want as along as it accomplishes our function. Yet this is not the case, and great harm can come as a result in buying into such an idea. Just as the ends do not always (or ever) justify the means in ethics, a similar principle may apply in worship of our God. Some forms shape us in ways that are antithetical to our function/goal. Such consequences may be unintended but it surely happens and we must repent (that is, change our ways). For instance, a person can become accustomed to listening to his personally selected playlists of worship songs on his iPod or mp3 palyer. She may then arrive at a gathering (church) to worship with other Christians. She may discover a difficulty in submitting to the selection of songs the worship leader has chosen or the order and hymns the liturgy dictates for that particular day. Feelings of disconnectedness, discomfort, and dislike can arise in her soul and she can become dissatisfied and critical of the so-called “worship time.” This seems to be harmful albiet an unintended consequence. The iPod in the case becomes a modern day idol, standing for authority and supremacy of our individuality, preferences, and choices over others.  Surely there are disciplines that can counteract its affect, such as fasting, submission and confession. Perhaps we can generate a list of contemporary forms and describe the unintended ways that some of those forms can move us away from our goals. We may then suggest spiritual disciplines that can help place us in a posture where God can help change us, shape us, keep us on the road of walking and worshiping rightly with Him–while still using some the technologies we have learned to like and cannot seem to do without.  In our journey through the technological lanscape we must be mindful of our modern idols and how they come to us, because they can subtly be rationalized and justified as a means to us worshipping God.

George Haraksin II
Pastor of Christian Formation
NewSong Church October 2009

Sunday, September 13, 2009

God, Time, & Eternity

God, Time, and Eternity (2009-09-13)

Is God beyond time or in time or both?  If you think both then you need to provide a model or some way of understanding how God can both be in time and beyond all time.
God is eternal.  He lives from everlasting to everlasting.  God is the creator of time.  He existed without time.  He is not restricted by the dimension of time.  This week in his BIG series lead pastor Dennis Bachman taught on the issue of God being eternal yet he God “all the time”.
God was, He is, He will be.  He is called the “Alpha and Omega,” the “Beginning and the End.”  The Epistle of Jude states in 1:24, “Now to the one who is able to keep you from falling, and to cause you to stand, rejoicing, without blemish before his glorious presence, to the only God our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time, and now, and for all eternity. Amen.”
I think there is a way to resolve the paradox of God being both beyond time and in time. God is timeless without creation, and in time subsequent to creation.  That is, without creation there is no time and God simply exists atemporally.  Yet, God really relates to us in time.  In fact, God became man, a human being, in time, for yours and my salvation.  However, God’s nature does not grow or develop in any substantial way thereby undergoing an essential change in His nature.
The fact that God is not bound by time does not mean that He is not conscious of and concerned for what is now occurring in human experience.  God is aware of what is happening, has happened, and will happen at each point in time.  Yet at any given point within time He is also conscious of the distinction between what is now occurring, what has been, and what will be.
God has from all eternity determined what He is now doing.  Thus His actions are not in any sense ‘thoughtless’ reactions to events taking place.  He does not get ‘taken by surprise’ or have to formulate contingency plans.  God is neither diminished by time, nor is he wearied by it.  What this means is that “time” is good, though we think of it as a commodity or something to be managed in America.  God is the creator of time and space.  Time is created by grace, just as our salvation is by grace.  God enters time, he condescends to it just as God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, condescends to space by becoming human.  Reflection on such topics is not an act of intellectual gymnastics but means of devotion and worship that should awe and inspire us.
The fact that God is timeless sans (without) creation and endures throughout all time  should help us rightly engage His world, with His patience, with His sense of urgency—is we can all it that, and with His long-suffering. 

George Haraksin II
Pastor of Christian Formation
NewSong Church

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Paradox of Choice: Freedom, Choice, & Fruit

Freedom and choice seem to logically go together. In order to have freedom, in some sense, there must be some choice available to me. Choice in our culture has become a sacred right, not a means to responsible freedom. In the message at NewSong this week we covered Galatians 5 (Listen to Message). I suggested—though not original with me, many others have made the observation—Paul demonstrates that the follower of Christ possesses four (4) freedoms: 1) Freedom to love, 2) Freedom by the Spirit, 3) Freedom from slavery to sin, and 4) Freedom to/for transformation. The coin of freedom has two sides, a positive and negative side: freedom from (negative, not in that it is ‘bad’ but that we are free from something) and freedom to/for (positive, we may or can choose some action X or Y). These freedoms should result in the what the Bible calls “fruit” in our lives. Fruit is the resulting character virtue(s) that make us Christ-like from the inside-out. One culturally embedded obstacle to growing this fruit is “choice” oddly enough. It is not that choice itself is bad but the particular presumptions we have about choice and the unintended consequences to our lives that results from a culture of choice. This is what some sociologists have titled “the paradox of choice”.
The paradox of choice is that it becomes “the tyranny of choice.” Barry Schwarz in his powerful book The Paradox of Choice exhorts that we need to love constraints saying, “As the number of choices we face increases, freedom of choice eventually becomes a tyranny of choice.” As we decide to follow a rule (e.g. wearing a seat belt) we avoid having to make a deliberate decision again and again. This kind of rule-following frees up time and attention that can be devoted to thinking about choices and decisions to which rules don’t apply.
Schwarz observes in a section of his book entitled Choosing How to Pray that we “religion consumers” shop in the market until we find what we like. Even when people join communities of faith and embrace at least some of the communities practices they simultaneously expect the communities to be responsive to their, needs, their tastes, and their desires.
We who follow Jesus and ‘walk in step with his Spirit’ (Gal. 5) would be served well by examining our understanding of freedom, reflect on how we view and engage choice, and take times in solitude and prayer before God to see if we are growing our ‘fruit’ well.

George Haraksin
Pastor of Christian Formation
NewSong Church