Productivity, Planet Earth and Pop Culture Meanderings

I’ve given up facebook and twitter for Lent, which have been clearly of positive value for my personal, professional and spiritual life (to elaborate later), but I realized that I have no place to post up random links and thoughts I’ve had on stupid, inconsequential things. Then I dusted off this blog and VOILA a place to dump some random thoughts in a semi-organized manner.

I began week 2 of implementing David Allen’s Getting Things Done system through the Omnifocus platform with limited success. Keeping more accurate track of my work flow has led me to this incredible epiphany: that I’ve somehow been under the impression that their are 39 hours in a day. My view of time is kind of like how Lloyd and Harry discover a briefcase filled with money for the mob and carelessly spend it on pastel suits, mani/pedis and a horse-drawn carriage rides and leave IOU’s behind. So I guess time really is money; when you over spend or borrow too much of either, eventually the mob will come and get you.

Another achievement I maintained a zero-inbox for a record 5 whole days. By setting email retrieval to “manual” and a few other helpful tips, I was able to stem the never ending flood of reply alls, FYIs and other crap. But by Monday I had a few hundred emails in my box… and I haven’t been able to get through the past few days.

I am looking forward to my favorite comedian/talk show guest Norm Macdonald‘s TV comeback with “Sports Show” on Comedy Central. His non-sequiters and easy delivery inspire me and crack me up each time. In my futile attempts to be like him, I’m afraid I come off more like Michael Scott than anything. But I still try!! Continue reading


Affliction (IV) by George Herbert


Broken in pieces all asunder,

Lord, hunt me not,

A thing forgot,

Once a poore creature, now a wonder,

A wonder tortur’d in the space

Betwixt this world and that of grace.


My thoughts are all a case of knives,

Wounding my heart

With scatter’d smart,

As watring pots give flowers their lives.

Nothing their furie can controll,

While they do wound and prick my soul.


All my attendants are at strife,

Quitting their place

Unto my face:

Nothing performs the task of life:

The elements are let loose to fight,

And while I live, trie out their right.


Oh help, my God! let not their plot

Kill them and me,

And also thee,

Who art my life: dissolve the knot,

As the sunne scatters by his light

All the rebellions of the night.


Then shall those powers, which work for grief,

Enter thy pay,

And day by day

Labour thy praise, and my relief;

With care and courage building me,

Till I reach heav’n, and much more, thee.

Dreaming for a King-Sized Faith: Ten Reflections from Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” Speech

Coming off of InterVarsity’s National Staff Conference (which I will be blogging about soon!), I was challenged with a vision that InterVarsity can not only see students’ lives transformed by the Gospel, but see the WHOLE UNIVERSITY transformed by the Gospel. I was inspired by the story of Scripture which says that God so loved the WORLD that He sent His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. My heart stirred at the thought of all creation groaning and crying out, waiting for release, waiting for redemption and for God to make all things new. I prayed with my 1,200 colleagues, “Let Your Kingdom come, let Your will be done, on earth as it is heaven…”

I left believing afresh that God was at work in my world moving actively and powerfully.

It was in this place that I encountered yet again the prophet, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I’m thankful as a nation we annually commemorate his life, because each year I am challenged anew at not just His life, but the God that he so faithfully served.

When I was a kid, I read a 60-page scholastic biography of Dr. King and read the book so often that the pages fell out. It was one of my favorite books, next to Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Boxcar Children. Yet I don’t remember much from the book apart from the fact that Dr. King’s friends and family called him “M.L.” and I wanted to call myself “A.S.” until I thought that would sound like I was calling myself “Ass.” But it captured the attention of an 8-year-old.

Now this 26-year-old is in awe of a man who boldly lived out His faith in profound and effective ways.

I spent a portion of this afternoon listening to Dr. King’s sermon, “Beyond Vietnam” at Riverside Church in New York City in April of 1967. I actually picked it at random. I wanted to listen to a Dr. King sermon for my quiet time. And while random, I genuinely believe that the Lord wanted to speak to me through Dr. King’s words. I sat in the Evanston coffee shop, headphones on, mesmerized by King’s words and how the transcendant truths of the Kingdom of God were incarnated into the tumultuous, complex issues of late 60s political arena.

Before I go further, I should point out the obvious and say that there are a lot more eloquent, learned and SUCCINCT reflections on Dr. King, and perhaps your time is better spent reading them instead of what may turn out to be a long-winded entry filled with giant quotes. I’m thinking specifically of Tim Wise’s editorial challenging of Michelle Obama and the prevalent temptation to depoliticize and sanitize Dr. King’s political legacy. Or a Troy Jackson’s reminder to not just reflect on Dr. King but take action and work for Biblical social change. Or finally Jerrod McKenna’s fascinating blog on how Dr. King’s legacy relates to the current fight against climate change.

But personally I just wanted to blog to process Dr. King’s Beyond Vietnam speech and put down on “paper” some of the ways I’m responding to Dr. King’s words from over four decades ago. His words came just about a year before his untimely death and was perhaps the first and strongest public repudiation of the Vietnam war. And this speech contains some really rich passages that give us clues to Dr. King’s deeper beliefs about God, society and the motivations for his ministry.

I’m including some of my favorite excerpts from the speech, but to be honest, I think the WHOLE speech is worth listening to. I’d highly recommend taking some time to listen to the entire speech. If you actually read this far into this entry, I implore you to listen to the speech. Because each of the excerpts I’m going to paste below really come out strongest in the context of the whole argument Dr. King makes. But here are some reflections, with excerpts from Dr. King’s speech in grey:

1. Dr. King saw a fundamental component of His role as a minister of Jesus Christ to make peace and work for the poor and oppressed around the world.

I cannot forget that the Nobel Peace Prize was also a commission, a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for “the brotherhood of man.” This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances, but even if it were not present I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I’m speaking against the war. Continue reading

SC11’s Hymn of the Week: To Dream the Hymn-Possible Dream!

We’ve prepared a cornucopia of worship music for Staff Conference 2011 from a wide spectrum of genres — Anthemic Rock, Contemporary Gospel, Latin, Disco, Power Ballads… and I know that they will all be fun, worshipful and I will hopefully sound pretty good too. But the genre of music I’m particularly excited about and frankly just interested in seeing how it will turn out is… HYMNS! And not just hymns done in the folk hipster genre or Gospel genre or Chris Tomlinized rock genre… all which are lovely. But what about the more “traditional” genre of hymns, with 4-part harmony and piano? Some people may think that’s corny, cheesey, old-fashioned, but that’s a genre too, right?

what some people imagine when they think of hymns

Well we’re going to try a hymn in that style at Staff Conference, and I don’t know about you, but I’m excited!

Full disclosure: I didn’t always enjoy hymns. I grew up in a Methodist church where, during youth group worship time, we’d first have our “real worship” (vineyard choruses, passion and eventually hillsong stuff with guitars, drums and such) and then in the middle of service our pastor would force of to sing a few Charles Wesley hymns — and suddenly the service descended into uncomfortable stuffiness or humor (what 7th grader wouldn’t have giggled after singing about asses and celestial balls?). To me, hymns represented moving backwards in worship, obligation, legalism and this weird style of music of my parents– I didn’t understand it, didn’t appreciate it, and simply had no desire to either.

But as an InterVarsity student and a regular attender of chapter camps at Cedar Campus, the camp for Great Lakes East and West in the Upper peninsula of Michigan, I grew to not just tolerate hymns, but to love them as well. There were these dusty old IVP Hymnals, “Hymns II,” that we’d sing out of a bunch of times that week. Slowly I learned about the history of hymns, the rich theology of hymns and the beauty of singing the music together in parts… and after a few years of doing this…  I became hooked!

I kind of equate it to my experience with Sauerkraut, there were times I was forced to eat it as a kid and I hated it and didn’t understand it, but something happened as I got older where something clicked, I loved it and now can’t live without it. Mmmmm… Sauerkraut.

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Sing with Us: An Assortment of Staff Conference Worship Tuneage…

Its just about a week before we kick of National Staff Conference 2011 and I’m excited!

I really believe God will do great things through our week in St. Louis and I’m feeling more and more a sense of gratefulness and joy to just be a part of it. I was reading Luke 2 this evening and was captivated by the story of Simeon, the elderly prophet who longed for the Messiah. In God’s grace and mercy, He allowed Simeon to not only glimpse the Savior in the infant, just-named Jesus, but also to encourage the young couple, Mary and Joseph, that their baby was in fact who the Angel said He was. And then you never hear about Simeon again — He’s gone! I read that passage and  felt like that was our job as a worship team, to glimpse Christ ourselves, point Him out to others and then be gone, letting Him take center stage in the story.

Anyways, that passage super-encouraged me and got me even more excited about the week to come. But as usual, I digress. I originally just wanted to share some of the songs that we’ll be doing in St. Louis so you can worship along with us at home! And if you’re reading this and you are one of my staff colleagues who will be joining us in St. Louis, I hope this can get you excited about the week and also give you a chance to take a listen to some of the songs we’ll be doing! Its not a full list, but some of the ones you may not have heard before…

Obviously I’m biased, but even collecting the youtube clips of these songs blessed me so much, and hope you enjoy them as well!

Deeper, Israel Houghton

I can’t think of a better song that captures BOTH the idea of worship as entering into God’s presence but also being sent out in mission. This is a song that I pray for myself as well as our staff community, that we would go deeper into the waters of God’s presence, that we would be consumed, healed, restored and that would also receive God’s heart. Continue reading

SC11: Fishing or Pond-Saving, you decide…

I’m looking forward to leading worship at InterVarsity’s National Staff Conference 2011 next week. Its our triennial gathering of all staff in our organization — maybe somewhere around 1,000 staff from campus ministries, our camps, intervarsity press, our national service center– for the purposes of training, casting vision and seeking God’s direction for the future of our movement.

I’m feeling a ton of different emotions, excitement, nervousness, anticipation, curiosity… but above all, I’ve felt a unusually strong sense of confidence that God is really going to do great things in and through us.

We are focusing on “Campuses Renewed” the second part of InterVarsity’s national vision of seeing “Students and faculty transformed, campuses renewed and world changers developed.” Out of that great vision, the first and last seem pretty clear — we have a good idea of what it looks like for life transformation to happen or to see people go out and change the world (not easy, but at least we have a picture of what it looks like.)

But campuses renewed? Not as clear.

We’ve often used the analogy that InterVarsity isn’t just out to fish and save individual fish, but we want to save the pond. Our national leadership puts it in a helpful way:

InterVarsity is more than a student ministry—we are a university ministry! The first of our twelve core values identifies the college and university as our context and declares: We are called to be a redeeming influence among its people, ideas and structures.

What does it look like for Northwestern's campus to be renewed?

That all sounds cool, but again, what does it look like for us to save the pond that is our university world? What does it look like to be a redeeming influence among its people ideas and structures? Continue reading

Worship Log: Christmas, where the music outside is frightful but also sometimes (SOMETIMES) delightful

Another year, another Christmas, another opportunity to be thoroughly conflicted about Christmas Carols.

There are some that I love and others that want me to stuff my ears with mistletoe. A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a Starbucks having a great but intense conversation with a student. We were going to pretty deep places in our conversation and things were getting emotional, then all of a sudden this God-awful version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” played that was about 20 decibals higher than the previous yultide hipster crap (some of which I rather like I should confess, but it does not change its destination as Y.H.C.). My student didn’t notice the awful sounds emanating from ceiling, but I did, and it took every once of my focus and concentration, not to mention my my deep staffworkerly compassion to focus on the conversation taking place.

But anyways, that was another painful reminder that Christmas brings about some beautiful music for the soul, but also so heinous crap for the toilet. (I’ve touched on this subject before, but it’s worth revisting.)
One thing I am pretty sure of is that the bar for listening to music is certainly higher than the bar for singing along to music. This is a universal principle that has its roots in tribal dancing, gregorian chants and karaoke. For example, if somebody decides they want to cover “All I Want for Christmas Is You” at a club where you paid a $10 cover for, chances are it will be a cringe-worthy disaster even if they are good. The potential for sounding contrived and overly-sentimental is too great. But take that same music and that same singer and put them in a small Chinatown karaoke bar with a bunch of their close friends and some good food, beverage and glow-in-the-dark tambourines, you have a rick-rollicking good time, particularly if the music really bad!!! I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a version of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” that I enjoyed, but I can honestly say that it is one dang good hymn to sing in Church.

Anywoo, I led worship at church last Sunday the 26th and it was an opportunity to explore this idea of Christmas Carols…

The set:

  • O Come O Come Emmanuel” as performed by Sojourn
  • “O Come All Ye Faithful” my arrangement
  • His Hame is Jesus” by Fred Hammond
  • “O Holy Night” an arrangement with solos, maybe somewhat Mariah Carey-esque, or at least we tried!
  • Offertory: “Light of the World” by Matt Redman with a poetry reading, “First Coming” by Madeleine L’Engel

Some of the things that came up:

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