The God Anthology: A Modern Day Cathedral

The first cathedrals were built as instruments of worship.  They were intended to honor God through their excellence—as He deserves the best we can offer—and to inspire awe through their grandeur—reminding visitors of the greatness of God.*

Today we often view things like cathedrals as frivolous. It seems almost obscene to spend so much time, money, and effort on a building when there is such great need in the world. Shouldn't we rather care for the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and advocate for the voiceless?

Yes, we must do these.  If there's one thing that my generation of Christ followers has done better than my parents' generation, it's just that.

But in Scripture we read the story of a woman who takes a bottle of perfume worth a year's wages and pours it over Jesus' head. When those around object that the money should rather have been used to help the poor, Jesus tells them to "Leave her alone" and asks "Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me."

"She has done a beautiful thing to me."

She met no tangible need, served no practical purpose.

And yet Scripture says:

She did a beautiful thing... to Jesus... the Son of God... Creator of all that exists.

God: big, mysterious, powerful, holy, faithful, wrathful, sovereign, merciful, beautiful, jealous, love...

...and because of all of those things, worthy. He is worthy of a jar of ointment worth a year's wages. He is worthy of grand monuments. He is worthy of being worshiped with extravagance and seeming frivolity.

I fear this may be something that my generation has forgotten. We've elevated our acts of service and unrooted them from a profound understanding of the magnitude of our Creator and our primary purpose in life: to glorify the Almighty.

We've made our God small enough that small acts of worship are sufficient.

NCC spent last summer exploring nine attributes of God's character. We preached sermons on them. We discussed them in our small groups. We sang original music about them.

When the summer was over we held a church-wide event (no small feat when you're one church with seven locations) where we worshiped in song with the pieces that our musicians had written, and we recorded the event in order to produce a live album.

It was a huge undertaking. The amount of staff time that went in to writing the songs and orchestrating the event was incredible. The amount of money that was spent renting facilities and equipment, hiring production staff, and paying music producers was significant.

There have been times when I've asked myself, "Was it really worth it? Was it really worth all of the time and money and headache to record some songs?"

But what I've come to realize is that these aren't just "some songs." This album is a modern day cathedral. It is an alabaster jar of ointment.

These songs were written by our worship leaders—people who are committed to excellence in their craft—assisted by our discipleship staff—people who are concerned that we speak truthfully and accurately about God. They were performed by our mostly volunteer musicians who gave up a great deal of their summer to practice. They were sung by our congregation who spent their summer learning about and reflecting on the attributes of God in light of the studies led by our small group leaders and the sermons delivered by our teachers.

People gave their best to create their best music, their best art, to glorify God as best as they could.

It was an extravagant act of worship, undertaken because God is worthy of extravagance.

The album releases next week. I'd encourage you to visit this modern day cathedral.

*I recognize that many cathedrals were built with mixed, if not outright wrong, motives.  However, I believe that many cathedrals were built with the intention of bringing God glory.,_basilicas_and_abbey_churches#cite_ref-Wim_4-1

Discipleship. Community. Theology. Life.

Last night my small group was at my house until nearly 11 PM, and my co-leader didn't leave until 11:40.  We had wrapped up the group around 9:00, but as people sat around the circle chatting, two of the group members began to talk about a play they had seen over the weekend, "A Bright New Boise."  As they related the story, it paints a picture of Evangelical Christians as people who disengage from the world because they're really only concerned about getting to Heaven.

This began a conversation about how well (or not) this stereotype represents the American Church, role of faith and works, the Church's response to homosexuality, the need to serve the poor, the tendency for a purely social gospel to replace the Gospel, the need to love others, whether ongoing sin will cause someone who believes in Jesus to go to hell, the problems with faith as our parents practiced it, the blind spots of our generation of Christians, and the perception of the Church by those who are not a part of it.

As I sat there listening and participating, there was a moment when I remembered and rediscovered why I do what I do, why I lead small groups, why I help others organize and lead small groups.  I help create environments where conversations like this can happen.  I help create environments where people can wrestle with their faith, where they can figure out what it means to live out their faith, where they can disagree and still walk away as friends.

It was a rich conversation.  It was the sort of conversation that is worth its weight in gold.  The feeling is much the same feeling as giving your all on the soccer field or the basketball court with a team of friends.  It was challenging, draining, and invigorating all at the same time.

It was discipleship.  It was community.  It was theology.

It was life-giving.

The challenge now is to make sure it translates into life-change.

Photo by ElvertBarnes

Twitter and Flickr, Rich and Poor, and the West

This morning I ran across this map of Twitter and Flickr activity around the world.  The blue dots represent Twitter activity, while the orange-ish ones represent Flickr photo uploads.

I think the prevalence of activity in the West says something about the world, although I haven’t nailed down exactly what that is yet.

It’s related to something I’ve been thinking about recently: what it means to be rich and what it means to be poor, how even the poor in the west are quite well off compared with the poor elsewhere.

Map by Eric Fisher