Snow Shovels and Evangelical Social Justice

(an irritatingly general perspective on evangelical social justice)

Snow Shovel

Four inches of snow showed up today. The HOA (Home Owner’s Association) didn’t. Normally, my neighbors and I can count on them to faithfully plow our driveways before we head out for work in the morning. Not today.

So I made the trip to the local hardware store, shelled out the $15, and bought a snow shovel. By the time I got home, I had the words “Do for others what you would have them do for you (Mt. 7:12)” in my head.


It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t say: “Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t have them do to you.” In other words: “Just avoid hurting people. Hold back. Restrain yourself.” That’s too passive for Jesus. For Jesus – and therefore, for the Christian – love is necessarily active.

It isn’t God’s design that the church merely hold back hate – but that we actively help, serve, and love a hurting world – that we do. I’m pretty sure that’s what God means when he says “faith without works is dead (Jms. 2:26).”

So I shoveled my neighbor’s driveway too. Incidentally, I don’t mean to sound noble. According to Jesus, loving your neighbors is probably just supposed to be normal.

Honestly, I had a hard time just wanting to. After all – it’s cold out there.

A huge part of my 9-5 job is developing strategies and thinking strategically. Strategy is great. Strategy ensures that we don’t waste time and effort with needless mechanisms. But here’s the question: When we see a need in the world – when governments fail and other social institutions prove their impotence – are our churches agile enough to respond?

Christians are supposed to be the people entrusted with the power to love honestly and unconditionally.

But maybe we spend too much time waiting on the HOA (“isn’t that someone else’s responsibility?”). Maybe we spend too much time thinking about what snow shovel to buy (“I’m not sure we’re ready to partner with those types of Christians…”). Maybe we’re simply scared of what active love might mean (“after all, it’s pretty cold out there“).

In the mean time the snow keeps piling up and our neighbors find us shockingly un-shocking.


The Discipline of Solitude: Praise to the Lord, the Almighty

Joachim Neander

Joachim Neander was German. And he was good at it.

Industrious – Seriously minded – Gifted.

He was born in Breman (as in the musicians) in 1650. His father, a Latin teacher, died with Neander was 16. Unable to afford to go away for a respectable education, he stayed at home, enrolling at the local bible school.

At first, he didn’t take to it. He actually led a pretty wild life until one day his faith was rocked by a stirring sermon from Theodor Undereyk – a relatively unknown preacher.

When he was 21, he moved to Heidelburg where he became a tutor at the University. Heidleburg was an awakening for Neander. Surrounded by a larger city, and one of the oldest and most respected universities in Europe (founded in 1386), Neander’s horizons were expanded and his faith was given wings. This season of Neander’s life laid the foundation for prolific few years which were to follow.

After only three years at Heidleburg, Neander moved to Dusseldorf to continue his education and prepare for pastoral ministry. Still only 27 years old, he served as a tutor at a Latin school in town.

In between classes, Neander would take long walks in the valley near the Dussel River. Alone in the rolling hills and removed from the hectic pace of scholastic life, Neander felt his soul restored and his imagination stirred. He would sing – often singing and adapting Psalms into tunes that would fit his mood:

Praise to the Lord, who o’er all things so woundrously reigneth
shelters thee under His wings yea, so gently sustaineth,
hast thou not seen,
how all thy longings have been,
granted in what He ordaineth?

Here’s the point:

We can fake worship any time we feel like it. Throw a key-change in here or there – dim the lights – squint our eyes – lift our hands and we’re there. Or are we?

One of the strangest realities for worship leaders, pastors, and artists in the church (at least for me) is to neglect the private adoration of God. We simply haven’t cultivated the discipline of intentionally leaving space in our calendar – allowing us to “ponder anew.” If you’re not a worshiper of God in private, you’re not called to lead His church.

Neander died when he was 30, serving only 1 year as a pastor in his hometown Breman. But not without leaving his mark – writing over 60 hymns in the short span of 5 years. Ironically, the famous “Neander-thal” skeleton (literally, “Neander’s valley” in German) got its name from the valley where Neander contemplated the beauty of God’s creation.

Neader's Valley, Dusseldorf, Germany

Desperation Brings Clarity: Rock of Ages

Augustus Toplady was definitely one of those guys.

Augustus Toplady (note the smirk)

You know the kind: on their way to their systematic theology class, six 800-page books under one arm, ready to recant the five points of Calvinism with anyone who would listen – and in theology-incensed 18th-century Britain, plenty of people did.

John Wesley – arguably one of the foremost theologians in England during the late 1700’s – was the object of Toplady’s argumentative fury. Toward the beginning of their relationship, Toplady and Wesley were actually quite good friends. But because of Toplady’s insistence on his particularly narrow brand of Calvinism, his relationship with Wesley became increasingly bitter and distant, resulting in Wesley making this bout-ending remark to a close friend in a letter:

John Wesley

Mr. Augustus Toplady I know well. But I do not fight with chimney-sweepers. He is too dirty a writer for me to meddle with. I should only foul my fingers. I read his title-page, and troubled myself no farther.”

That’s English gentility for you.

Here’s the interesting thing: in the midst of all the arguing, writing, pamphleteering, and preaching, Toplady found a few seconds of give the English language one of its most beloved hymns, Rock of Ages.

The story goes that while he was traveling in between preaching engagements, (and likely on the run from those who would ruin him), Toplady was caught in a life-threatening storm. Finding a limestone boulder along the road, he decided to wait out the storm in one of the crags. While he caught his breath, Toplady pulled out whatever paper he had and began to write:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy wounded side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure;
save from wrath and make me pure.

So – what to do with all of this?

Desperation often brings clarity. That’s how most of the Psalms were written – out of a spirit of desperation. Do yourself a favor – forget about the inconsequential pieces of minutiae that invite controversy. Spend your time developing a faith that learns to find God in the moments that matter.

reclaiming the past: informing the present

I recently began taking a blogging course offered by one of my friends, Jeff Goins.  Aside from being an all around great guy, Jeff’s a writer with the vision and ability to help others develop their craft.  One the things I’ve been learning is that successful blogs narrow their focus to broaden their audience.

Since I began Children of Dust 18 months ago, I’ve received a lot of great feedback.  I’m continually honored that you consider this blog to be worthy of your time.  Looking back across the posts and recalling personal conversations, it seems that the content that has been the most valuable to you as a reader has surrounded the topics of worship leadership and song story – often against the backdrop of history and creativity.

Honestly – that’s what I’m most passionate about.

So, I’m re-purposing Children of Dust to hone in on those two ideas: worship leadership and song story.  What you can expect:

  • The category and posts dealing with “mobilization” will start to shrink.
  • The categories “church” “leadership” will continue to grow.
  • Two new categories “worship” and “song story” will be added soon.

My continued hope is that your leadership will be strengthened, your worship will be enriched, and your church will be changed for the better.


Old Hymnal by ati sun, Flickr

And thanks, Jeff for your insight and help.  You’re a gift and a friend.

If you’re interested in taking Jeff’s course, I encourage you to sign up for FREE by clicking here. Jeff blogs at GoinsWriter and at Pilgrimage of the Heart.

Auld Lang… What?

Auld Lang Syne

We hear it. We sing it. Well, sort of. What does “Auld Lang Syne” mean? And what’s with the awkward words?

Well for starters, it’s Scottish – which gives it extra awesome-points, but makes the lyrics that much more imperceptible.

“Auld Lang Syne” is probably derived from the phrase: “old days long gone.” Try it. Say it out loud. Those crazy Scots. It starts to sound even more like that after a few strong Scottish ales. I’ve heard :) In old Scots Language, “auld lang syne…” is used to introduce everything from fairy tales, to toasts, to speeches, and songs. Think of it as a Scottish version of “once upon a time.”

The song starts out with a rhetorical question: “Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?” In essence saying: “In light of everything going on these days, what good would it do us to forget our old friends?” Great question.

It fits then, that Auld Lang Syne is most typically sung at New Year’s Eve: friends around – with the light of the previous year just over your shoulder.

Here’s to lasting friendships.

Friendships tested.

Friendships victorious.

Happy New Year.


For those curious – here are Burns’ English-ified lyrics (do your best William Wallace impression you’ll do just fine):

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
in the days of auld lang syne?

For old days long gone, my dear,
for old days long gone,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for old days long gone.

v2. And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!
and surely I’ll buy mine!
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for old days long gone.

v3. We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since old days long gone.

v4. We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
since old days long gone.

v5. And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
And give me a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for old days long gone.

2011 A Year in Books

Books are mirrors – at first you only glance not knowing what to expect, make casual observations, finally get comfortable with what you see, and eventually move on – hopefully more aware.  I thought I’d force myself to write down a one-sentence take-away from how each one left me.  I’ve linked each title in case you’re curious.

Ye Olde Reading Chair

Linchpin (Seth Godin): I can talk myself out of anything.  Essentially, that’s poor stewardship.  And probably telling God that He made a mistake.

The Poor Will be Glad (Peter Greer): There is no excuse for me not to be involved help the poor.  Because of where and when I live, God has entrusted me with the ability to connect.

The Dip (Seth Godin): There are some dreams that I need to quit chasing because they’re not up to me.  There are others dreams that I need to push because I’m the only one having them.

The Man Within (Graham Greene): I have unending capacity for self-deception and vanity.

The Next Christians (Gabe Lyons): I need to really listen to people younger than me.  This needs to be a lifelong discipline.

Radical (David Platt): I’m boring myself faithless. (for a fuller explanation, see my previous post here).

Barabbas (Par Lagerkvist): I have been forgiven of more than I yet realize.  I sin – I repent – I find forgiveness – I am deeper in debt to grace than ever.

Worship Matters (Bob Kauflin): Worship is precious.  I am privileged.  I cannot lazily stumble in.

How the Mighty Fall (Jim Collins): Corporate hubris is born of personal insecurity.  I need to watch my myself and invite accountability.

The 1997 Ford Taurus Owners Manual:  It can’t all be roses and sunshine, folks.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (Don Miller): I have a story.  I need to discover it.  It’s worth digging for.

Less Clutter Less Noise (Kem Meyer): I need to surround myself with good communicators.

The Collected Poems of Emily Dickenson (Barnes and Noble Classics): If death, houseflies, and romance can be found within the same 8-lines, I need slow down my life and look harder.

Making Ideas Happen (Scott Belsky):  Any ideas that I might have don’t count if they’re only ideas.  I need to have the courage and discipline to make a lasting difference.

The Dubliners (James Joyce): People always have profound reasons for their darkness and insecurities.  It’s not my place to speculate or merely observe.

The Hidden Smile of God (John Piper): Men who have lived lives worth being written about are worth taking the time to read about.

The Cross-Centered Life (CJ Mahaney): I am able to come up with endless things to devote my life to.  Most of them deceptively noble.  Most of them fairly vain.

George Muller: Delighted in God (Roger Steer): It’s very possible that I haven’t the slightest idea how to live in faith.  It’s very possible that God is eager to teach me.

Beginner’s Guide to Fly Fishing (James A Casada): Everyone has hobbies they can’t afford…

Wild Years: Myth and Music of Tom Waits (Jay S. Jacobs): It’s probably best that I’m not a professional musician.  It’s probably best that the closest I’ll ever get is banging on the steering wheel.

The Leader Who Had No Title (Robin Sharma): I can’t hide behind a small business card.

All is Grace (Brennan Manning): God loves me as I am – not as I ought to be.  That’s a freeing realization because I’m pretty hard on myself.

Lost in Transition (Christian Smith): My kids are entering a world that I will know nothing about unless I’m a prayerful learner.

Gilead (Marilynne Robinson): I need to tell my story.  I need to trust the power of reconciliation.  The reason I don’t is tied to my tendency to want to orchestrate it.  Let it come.

The Next Story (Tim Challies): Discernment is a discipline to cultivate.

Home (Marilynne Robinson): My family will see my weaknesses in ways that no one else will.  That’s no reason to hide them – it’s a reason to be simple and honest.

It Came Upon a Third Verse Clear

Spoiler alert: this may well indeed wreck your caroling experience. But it might help it – in the long run.

It’s always bothered me that “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” never mentions sin, Jesus, the cross, or redemption. A little background:

The original verses (there are a total of 5) were penned by Edmund Hamilton Sears (1820-1876). A graduate of Harvard Divinity school, Sears served as a Unitarian minister throughout Massachusetts. While orthodox in his confession, his most renowned hymn has always left me a little dry.

This criticism isn’t new. The British carol scholar Erik Routley wrote that “in its original form, the hymn is little more than an ethical song, extolling the worth and splendour of peace among men.”

Don’t get me wrong: Not every Christmas carol needs to recant the theological veracity of Romans in metered poetry, but it seems like a missed opportunity. Christmas is a time for clarity. But not the militant, wave-a-flag-in-your-face kind of clarity. Not the kind that gets unreasonably offended when a well-intentioned grocery clerk wishes you “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” It’s a soft claritya steady clarity. The kind of clarity that uses the front door, and knocks gently – but firmly.

In light of that, I humbly submit my addition:

A painful cross awaits this child
who now in a manger sleeps
For all who know the stain of sin
and dwell in darkness deep
Look now, our God has made a way
His perfect salvation to bring
Redemption’s plan provides our peace
And lifts our souls to sing.

(Thanks Eddie – can I call you Eddie? – for allowing me to impose. Incidentally, I’m looking forward to chatting it up some day.)

A Winter Tree