#109: Simple Songs

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #109, on the subject of Simple Songs.

I find myself in the awkward position of defending a practice I don’t particularly like.  Someone criticized Christian record companies.  I think that there are serious problems with Christian record companies, but I don’t think that the particular problems suggested in the supposedly satirical video were the real problems.  I will probably write more on this subject, but first I want to talk about the problem of simple, that is, simplistic, music.  The video (undoubtedly facetiously) suggested that record companies demand that all Christian songs use the same three chords.  That’s not something record companies ask or expect.  What they expect is that songs be marketable to the people who are expected to want them, and for a certain kind of Christian song that inherently means simple.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not impressed by simple songs and I do my best not to write them.  I had an argument with a piano player who insisted that the B# I wanted him to play (in a G# major chord with a minor sixth added–I know, ugly chord, but the song needed it) did not exist.  I cringe sometimes at the fact that so many of the songs I wrote on the piano when I was in high school and college are so similar, and eventually made a point of not writing songs on the piano unless I could do something really different.  I could probably be a lot more prolific if I weren’t so insistent that every song had to be distinct.

Worship band Hillsong United
Worship band Hillsong United

I also remember being horrified when I was in high school when someone I knew casually told me that he had been baptized in the Spirit on Friday night and over the weekend God had given him five hundred songs.  I approached skeptically, and discovered that he knew three chords, stopped the music to change between them, and sang very nearly monotone.  There is nothing wrong with the miraculous happening in connection with the Holy Spirit; this I don’t think was that.

The temptation is to think that all the musicians who write such “simple” three-chord songs with simplistic melodic lines are like my high school friend, unable to do better or even to know they are doing poorly.  The fact is they are not doing poorly; they are writing the kind of songs needed for their ministry.  One thing that helps me not judge other ministries is understanding what they are actually trying to do and why, and how that is different from what I am doing, and why that different objective requires different methods.

We talked extensively about Christian ministries.  Of particular relevance here, the 1960s and 70s were dominated by evangelist music ministry, which meant music that would catch attention of unbelievers and cause them to listen to the message.  It was frequently interesting, often intricate, always performance-oriented material.  Today, we noted, the dominant stream in music ministry is pastoral, music that benefits the sheep, with participatory worship music at the top of the list.

Don’t misunderstand.  Many great professional composers from Michael Praetorius and J. S. Bach through Charles Ives and Randall Thompson have written some great worship music to be presented by professional musicians, and there is a worship experience in which the worshipper listens and is overwhelmed by the beauty of the music and the presence of God.  However, that is not participatory worship.  When men like Luther and Wesley wanted to get people involved in worship, they took simple songs that their audience knew–usually from singing in taverns–and wrote Christian words to them, because the majority in the congregation are not musically literate and can only sing simple songs that they know or can quickly learn.  The typical congregant can’t handle complex melodic lines, intricate syncopation and time signature changes, modal and key transitions; those are for professional musicians.  Thus songs for participatory worship are best if they are simple.

Further, when someone records a song intended for worship, the expectation is less that you will listen to the recording–which is certainly part of the intention–but more that churches throughout the world will learn to play it and use it in their worship.  Johnny Smith who got a guitar for Christmas and has been trying to teach himself to play has to be able to stand in front of Little Country Church and lead half a dozen worshippers in a song they might never have heard.  If it isn’t simple, it isn’t going to succeed.

There is complex and interesting Christian music out there, because there are still musicians doing non-pastoral ministry, and pastors using music for aspects of their ministry that go beyond corporate participatory worship.  The primary forms on Christian radio though are songs of worship which ordinary people can learn easily and sing along while driving; the primary songs that get played in churches are the simple songs of worship which the congregation can embrace quickly.  They are the kind of music most Christians are buying; they are important in the scheme of music ministry; they are not the totality of it.

Returning to record companies–well, I probably have more to say about the recording industry, but for the moment to give them their due, they have to be interested in the bottom line, in producing recordings that people will buy.  That means songs that will be played on the radio and sung in churches.  That means, primarily, simple worship songs.  Sure, they produce more than that, but since songs for participatory worship are the most popular in the Christian market, they dominate product.

If you want to do something different with your music, that’s a good thing; just understand that you are not looking to reach the present core Christian market if you aren’t doing simple worship songs, not because of the record companies but because of the audience.

#108: The Value of Ostentation

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #108, on the subject of The Value of Ostentation.

As sometimes happens, one of my political web log entries got me involved (I hesitate to say “embroiled”) in a discussion.  This time the post was mark Joseph “young” web log entry #105:  Forced Philanthropy, and the argument was carried on Facebook.  In that discussion, someone said

I would just rather live in a world in which people don’t starve while others walk around with $5000 purses and $25,000 watches.

My gut reaction was to agree with that–but then something in my brain started nagging at me.  Why?  That is, what does the one have to do with the other?

The half million dollar Audemars Piguet Diamond Fury ladies' wristwatch
The half million dollar Audemars Piguet Diamond Fury ladies’ wristwatch

I got to thinking about that expensive purse and that expensive watch.  The very definition of “expensive” means that our ostentatiously wealthy person parted with a large amount of cash to obtain it.  I expect that somewhere there are designers who themselves are becoming ostentatiously wealthy from the sales of their products, but ultimately someone–undoubtedly several someones–is getting a paycheck.  I don’t know that it matters whether that money is funding a few very healthy paychecks of skilled craftsman or a lot of factory wage checks for employees–it is moving the money from the bank accounts of very rich people to the wallets and pocketbooks of ordinary working-class families.  It is creating jobs.  That expensive bauble is proof that that wealthy person parted with a large sum of cash.

So it seems that in some sense the purchase of those expensive purses and watches is money going to feed someone other than the very wealthy owners of said baubles.  It is in that sense communicating exactly the opposite of what the critic perceives–not money wasted that could have fed people, but money spent to provide paychecks so people can eat.

Sure, some of it goes into nonsense like all those diamonds that stud the watch, but ultimately we’re still talking about money moving away from the wealthy bauble purchaser toward the working classes.

The objection seems rather to be that the wealthy person is showing off how much money he has by spending it on severely overpriced merchandise.  Why should anyone spend that much money on a handbag?  Indeed, our wealthy person could have walked into Walmart and purchased a perfectly functional handbag for under twenty dollars.  My wife does so frequently.  It seems that the only reason to spend more than that is to have something that will say, “Look at how much money I wasted on a handbag, because I am so incredibly rich that I can.”

Of course, the makers of those expensive products will argue that the price is justified by the quality.  The purchasers, likewise, will say that the products they bought are genuinely better in real ways than the ones everyone else buys cheaply.  After all, “cheap” generally means both that something doesn’t cost much and that it isn’t worth more.  What we have a hard time imagining is that the expensive handbags and watches and other baubles are really worth what the wealthy pay.

That may be something we cannot genuinely or fairly assess.

I have never played a Stradivarius; I have heard a few of them played, but only reproduced over computer sound systems.  They’re said to be priceless, and those few people who have the opportunity to play them believe them to be worth every penny paid for them.  How can I know?  I’ve played a few violins of varying quality, and would say that some are worth more than others, but I cannot really imagine one being so much better that it would be worth as much as that.  I have played a couple of Fender Stratocaster guitars.  They’re good guitars, but I’ve always had the feeling that they were way overpriced–you can get a decent electric guitar for a tenth of what some Strats cost.  Yet there are professional musicians who won’t play anything else, or at least who insist on having one in their collection for use when they want it.

I agree that some instruments play better than others.  When I was in high school, tenor saxophone was one of my instruments.  I often wondered whether I could play alto, and one day I saw an alto sax lying around and tried it, and was impressed with how nicely it played so I looked at the stamp–and discovered that it was the band director’s instrument.  I once picked up a Rickenbacker bass, and it was also very nice.  I’m not sure what these instruments cost, and I’m not sure I could justify spending that much on one.

On the other hand, when I was in The Last Psalm I purchased recording tape for every concert.  RadioShack® then had three grades, and I bought the cheapest for the first few years–and told the sound engineer that as soon as I could hear the difference, I would upgrade to the better grade.  I did so for the final years of the band’s run, because my hearing was better.  I wonder today whether the costs of producing high-quality recordings are worth it, because most people listen to low-quality mp3 copies on low-fidelity equipment.

The point is, an assessment of the quality of a product and the value of that quality is an essentially subjective question.  I can’t imagine a watch being worth as much as that, but some people see it as a quality issue.  If someone puts that kind of effort into producing a product that is in some way better than the norm, and can persuade wealthy people to pay that much for it, that is probably overall better for the economy than having the wealthy people buy the ordinary quality products at the ordinary price.

And the rich person who spends five thousand dollars on a designer handbag instead of twenty dollars on a practical Walmart model has parted with an extra four thousand nine hundred eighty dollars that has gone into paychecks that feed ordinary people somewhere.

So what is it that bothers us about these ostentatious baubles?  Perhaps more precisely, what is it that we want instead?

Some of us want there to be no wealthy people in the world.  Of course, as one of the people in the referenced conversation reminded, half of everyone is below average.  He was speaking of intelligence, but it’s true of wealth as well, and so is the converse:  half of everyone has more than average.  I might feel it unfair that Donald Trump owns his own hotels or Hillary Clinton can jet to Europe on a moment’s notice without checking her bank balance, but I might as easily object that my neighbor could afford to install automated lawn sprinklers or an enclosed garage.  Some people will have more, some will have less.  It is the nature of such differences that they form a bell curve, and it is the nature of natural bell curves that the extremes are extreme–fewer and fewer people having more and more (or less and less).

We can, of course, try to alter that unnaturally–perhaps create a tax that takes 100% of all income or assets over a certain amount.  That is problematic on so many levels.  A fixed amount means that the inflation which drives down the value of a dollar correspondingly drives up the amount of money that is needed for the same standard of living, and so more and more people will hit the ceiling.  It is also detrimental to the economy:  if after this point I am not making any money, why should I work?  That also applies to questions like why should I invest–I won’t hire the people to build the new hotel if once it is finished I make no additional income from it.  No, putting a ceiling on income is not a good plan for the economy; the fact that people can become incredibly wealthy is one of the incentives that drive economic progress.  It is also one of the incentives that drive technological progress:  people invent new devices in the hope that it will make them rich.  It also drives people into popular culture, giving us movies and music and other art forms, as well as star athletes.  You can’t both have the incentive that people work hard to make a lot of money and the limit that no one can be ostentateously wealthy.  That part does not work.

Perhaps we feel like there shouldn’t be anything we, ourselves, cannot afford if we want it.  That is, if I admire your car, I should be able to afford to buy a similar car–maybe not today, but within a few years if I work at it.  Everyone should be able to afford a basic standard of living much higher than everyone can afford–a car, a house, a college education for his children.  What about a boat?  What about an indoor swimming pool, a private indoor gym, a personal jet?  What defines this minimum standard of living?  The reality is, and has always been, that some people will have more than others, and those who have less will be envious of those who have more.  It does not really matter, as we just noticed, how much more or less; the envy exists because it is never exactly equal.

Perhaps that aspect of things we cannot afford goes the other direction:  handbags and wristwatches should not cost that much, no matter how good they are.  How much, though, should they cost, and how do we decide this?  If I can sell the rights to a song I wrote for thirty dollars, is there a reason why I can’t sell the rights to a song I wrote for thirty thousand dollars?  J. K. Rowling sold the rights for the first printing of the first Harry Potter book for a paltry sum; by the time she finished selling the movie rights for the seventh book, she was (literally) richer than the Queen.  Can it be said that the books were not worth that much money?  Obviously the movie producers thought they were, and presumably made much more on income from the movies than they paid her for the rights.  Would we be screaming that she got shorted if they paid her a lot less?  And why, then, should it be different for a handbag or a wristwatch?  Pricing is not arbitrary:  it is based on what people are willing to pay.

So why are wealthy people willing to pay so much for baubles which perform functions suitably managed by considerably less expensive items?  Perhaps that is our objection:  they do it to get attention, to display their wealth, in essence to be ostentatious.  Is that what bothers us?  What is interesting about that is that it only bothers people who care about it.  I would not know the difference between a five dollar pocketbook and a five thousand dollar handbag.  I might be able to tell if I examined it closely that one was better made than the other, but at a glance it means nothing to me.  It only means something to two groups of people:  those who can afford such expensive objects, and those who wish they could and so read about them and drool over them.  The cost of these baubles only matters to people who want to show off and to people who are impressed by them.  The rest of us don’t really care how much it cost.  If I knew how much the handbag cost, my impression would be that had I that much money, I would spend it on something I would enjoy a lot more.

But then, I don’t have that much money, and I don’t really know what I would want to own if I had it.  Would I buy a Stratocaster?  A Stradivarius?  And that raises the question of what we want these wealthy people to do with their money instead.  Should they hide it in storehouses like King Midas?  Should they spend it on armaments or their own personal armies and fortresses?  Should they buy companies, and so make more money?  However they spend their money, it is going to be ostentatious in the eyes of someone.

We would rather have them give it all away to people who have less.  Even when that doesn’t mean “including me”, it is still asking them to spend their money for our benefit:  if they give their money to aid the poor, we don’t have to part with so much of ours and don’t have to feel bad about not being able to do more for the poor without suffering more ourselves.  We don’t have “enough” money for ourselves.  However, a long time ago I learned about the concept of rising aspirations:  the more money you have, the more things you perceive as necessities.  Does anyone really need two televisions?  Two cars?  Two warm coats?  We complain about ministers who own their own personal jets, but these are people who have to travel to the places they have been asked to speak and arrive comfortable and refreshed, so they see these as needs.  No one has “too much” money; everyone can think of what he would do with a little more.

And if we get wealthy people to spend money on ostentation, we get that money into the hands of poorer people as surely as if we were to tax it or coerce them to contribute it to charity.  We get them to part with that money voluntarily, not under compulsion; and we do so in a way that creates jobs instead of making more people dependent on our generosity or pseudo-philanthropy.

#107: Miscellaneous Music Ministries

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #107, on the subject of Miscellaneous Music Ministries.

This continues our miniseries on what it is to be “called” to “music ministry”.  Our first installment was #95:  Music Ministry Disconnect, making the point that most Christians are not what we call “ministers” and most musicians are “entertainers”.  In #97:  Ministry Calling we examined how to know whether you are “called” to be a “minister”, based largely on who you are, what motivates you and how you relate to others with needs.  Following this we identified five specific “ministries” in #98:  What is a Minister?, and addressed each of these individually in its own article.

Someone is undoubtedly saying that I missed something, because he knows that he is called to music ministry but does not fit into any of those.

It is certainly plausible that there are ministries Paul did not happen to mention in that passage; he does not specify that it is an exhaustive list of possible ministries.  On the other hand, they do provide comprehensive coverage of most of what we can identify as the spiritual needs within a congregation.  If you have a spiritual ministry, what does it do?  Does it bring the gospel to people who have never heard it and launch churches, as the Music Ministry of an Apostle?  Is it focused on bringing God’s specific direction, timing, and confirmation to His people when they need it, and thus a Prophetic Music Ministry?  Is it about bringing unbelievers to faith, an Evangelist Ministry?  Are you drawing believers closer to God and each other, the Music Ministry of the Pastor?  Are you enabling believers to understand the truths they have embraced, as a Teacher?  If you are not doing one of these five things, what are you doing that constitutes spiritual ministry?

img0107Congregation

On the other hand, there are other positions in the church, and we speak of other kinds of ministry today.  The Ephesians list gives us a rather sweeping collection of spiritual servants, but as we previously noted there are other kinds of service within the church, and our use of the word “ministry” has been in a sense selective for our purpose.  You might serve by playing the organ, conducting the choir, singing the liturgy, and be quite correct that God has put you in a place where you are using your gifts for His service.  Some of those ministries have names; the degree to which music can be involved depends very much on how the position is understood.

In some ways the simplest of those named positions is the previously mentioned diakonos or “deacon”.  In Acts 6 there was a problem concerning the distribution of food–members contributed food to the church which was delivered to widows, among the poorest with the worst prospects at that time.  The Apostles decided to have the church choose seven people to become “servers”, to deliver the food fairly to the women.  Paul later discusses in letters to Timothy and Titus how to select such “servers” for the local church, and we assume that they have much the same function, of overseeing the in-house charitable assistance.  We have expanded on that, but our expansions have gone in two distinct directions.  In one direction, deacons have become the business managers of the church, because they handle the assets and spending; in the other direction, deacons (and particularly deaconesses) have become the charitable arm of the church, because their original assignment was to attend to the poor.  Because of the tension between these two in some ways disparate objectives, the office has tended to become whatever the particular denomination or congregation wanted it to be, or even what the appointed individual made of it.

It should be noted that being a server does not preclude being some other kind of minister.  The Philip named among the seven servers is the one we discussed as Philip the Evangelist.  It is also certainly possible that music can be incorporated into service as a deacon, as for example entertaining in a mission or soup kitchen, or at a concert to raise money for and awareness of the homeless or otherwise impoverished.

The “presbuteros” or “elder” is more difficult.  We know that there were elders in synagogues, and they were quite simply the old men who had been in attendance for many years.  They had learned much and accumulated some wisdom, and so were sought to provide insight and direction.  Nowhere are we told how they are selected or identified, but in I Timothy Paul suggests that they are in charge of “ruling” the church, and that they get paid for this (“double honor” refers to what we would call an honorarium, money given as thanks, and that it is “double” for those laboring in preaching and teaching suggests that those “elders” who are not preaching and teaching are still paid for “ruling” the church).  He also suggests that some of them are involved in preaching and teaching–but that some are not, and thus again we have the suggestion that some elders also have other kinds of ministries, and also that some who do not have ministries of the sort we equate with standing in the pulpit are still very much involved in serving the church as leaders.  That might sometimes include using musical gifts at church gatherings of one sort or another.

Also unclear is the office of “episkopos”, a word compounded of “atop sight” giving us the concept of “overseer”.  It is often rendered “bishop”, derived indirectly from the Greek (Greek “episkopos” becomes Latin “ebiscopus” becomes English “bisceop” and eventually “bishop”).  We know that there is a selection process and qualifications; we don’t know what these people did.  The title has become part of the hierarchy in many denominations, ranging from the head of a local church to the head of a denomination.  It has something to do with ruling and caring for the house of God, but whether that means financial management or spiritual oversight is pretty much a guess.  It thus also makes it difficult to suggest how music might fit into service in so uncertain a job.

Some speak of a “healing ministry” and identify some persons as “healers”.  The nearest word for that in the New Testament is “iatros”, which properly means “healer” but is almost always rendered “physician”.  In most occasions it is used rather generally or often metaphorically about medical doctors.  (The familiar metaphor is “Physician, heal thyself,” which is more poignant when we replace “physician” with “healer”.) The only specific individual ever said to be “iatros” is Luke (in Colossians 4:14, in passing as a way of identifying him).  It is not impossible that Luke was a “healer” in the sense intended by those who use the term, but tradition has always maintained he was a medical doctor, and his writing supports this contention in several ways.

Meanwhile, there is an interesting exegetical issue in I Corinthians 12:9.  It is in the middle of a list of gifts the Spirit gives, immediately after “faith” and before “effecting of miracles”.  We are very uncertain what many of these gifts are, but the quirk with healing is that it doesn’t say “healing” as a gift, but lists the gift as “gifts of healings”, as if perhaps this person received a package from God that contained healings he was to distribute to those who needed them.  This person is not really exercising a gift of being able to heal people; he is working as a deliveryman who has been given these healings to give to others.  That does not make it not a position of serving God and the church; it does significantly alter our perception of it.  Yet as important as such physical healing is, our perception is that healings in the New Testament were always connected to bringing people to God.  Thus those who have gifts of healing are probably also exercising one of the Ephesian ministries, enabled by these gifts, whether apostolic, evangelistic, pastoral, or one of the others.  If music fits the “healing” ministry, it will be because it fits in the way that is appropriate to the ministry which the healing is supporting.

Music is part of life, and has been from the early chapters of Genesis.  It has been used in worship and in ministry, but was not invented originally for that purpose.  We can have Christian entertainment, which is good, and we can use music in many ways within the church.

I hope this series has been helpful to your understanding of ministry and the place of music within it.

#106: The Teacher Music Ministry

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #106, on the subject of The Teacher Music Ministry.

This continues our miniseries on what it is to be “called” to “music ministry”.  Our first installment was #95:  Music Ministry Disconnect, making the point that most Christians are not what we call “ministers” and most musicians are “entertainers”.  In #97:  Ministry Calling we examined how to know whether you are “called” to be a “minister”, based largely on who you are, what motivates you and how you relate to others with needs.  Following this we identified five specific “ministries” in #98:  What is a Minister?, and began looking at individual ministries with #99:  Music Ministry of an Apostle followed by #101:  Prophetic Music Ministry and #102:  Music and the Evangelist Ministry.  Last time we considered #103:  Music Ministry of the Pastor, including worship leading.  We previously established that pastor and teacher are not the same ministry, but jointly important in the local church.

The fact that I am a teacher both simplifies and complicates the effort to explain the ministry–simplifies because I know it intimately, complicates it because first it is always difficult to see what makes yourself different from others, and second because it is easy to confuse personal experience with that which is generally true of a group.  I was a Boy Scout, but I did many things as a Boy Scout that probably most other Scouts did not do, and there are many things that were done by many Scouts which I never did.  My experience as a teacher is in some ways unique, and in some ways general, and so the difficulty arises in identifying that which characterizes all teachers, as distinct from that which is specific to me.

img0106Hall

Where the pastor is most concerned with people and relationships, the teacher is most concerned with knowledge and understanding.  Our theology and doctrine is laced with the concerns of teachers, and contains a lot of trivial minutiae that is, in ultimate terms, inconsequential.  To pick on one of the biggest issues, questions of the nature of God as three persons but one God, the doctrine of the Trinity, are not essential to salvation:  even most seminary graduates have trouble with the concepts, and one of the details is one of the major points of disagreement between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox denominations.  People are saved and go to heaven every day with no clue as to how there can be only one God but the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all that one God and are in some sense also distinct persons.  It is better to understand aright than to misunderstand, but what we call the Apostles Creed is not found in the writings of the Apostles.  It is an effort by teachers to make sense of what we know, which is valuable but not essential.  Understanding what you do not believe is worthless; believing what you do not fully understand is sufficient, although understanding helps undergird belief.  Developmentally handicapped and autisic persons who understand almost nothing but trust God through Jesus Christ go to heaven; seminary graduates who do not believe the God about whom they learned exists do not.

Yet the teacher explains things.  It was probably Paul’s calling as a teacher that was behind much that was in his letters.  We see how he takes the facts he knows–that Jesus has come to save not the people who were working hardest at keeping the law as perfectly as possible, but ordinary sinful commoners, and recognizes from this that keeping the law has nothing to do with pleasing God, but trusting God is what really matters.  His application of reason to build significant explanations of soteriology, ecclesiology, sanctification, eschatology, and more, are all efforts to enable us to understand–because understanding is the foundation for both believing and acting.

A teacher is thus someone who is always explaining, always instructing, always trying to help others understand what it is that he has learned.  It is most valuable when he is explaining scripture, doctrine, Christian life and conduct; it expresses itself through his character in that he is always explaining everything.  Just as we cited Tom Skinner’s comment that he would have been a great used car salesman had he not been an evangelist because he is that kind of person, so, too, the teacher is marked by a seemingly irresistible urge to teach, to explain and clarify and help others understand.  Others often find this annoying because they don’t really want to understand, certainly not at the depth and level that the teacher does–because the teacher is driven to learn, to study, to contemplate, to grasp everything as completely, thoroughly, and deeply as possible, and (because we all suppose that everyone is more like us than otherwise) assumes that the student has the same hunger.  Teachers thus want to know, and try to explain, everything in much greater depth and detail than anyone really “needs” to know.

Yet that depth and breadth of knowledge is important within the church.  It is easy for congregations to wander into error simply from failure to understand simple truths–the basic understanding of how the gospel frees us from the law without making us immoral scoflaws; the importance of the concepts of tithing and Sabbath-keeping as they point us to God’s total ownership of all our money and time; the types of ministry within the church, what each accomplishes and how they work together.  What teachers bring to the church is essential.

As mentioned, teachers are focused on truths and facts and explanations, not on people.  We can seem a very uncaring bunch, not because we don’t care but because our concerns are more about whether you understand than anything else.  A teacher presented with someone with a problem will answer with teaching, answers to theological questions, expositions of scripture.  If he remembers to pray with the person, his prayer will probably reflect a belief that understanding these truths will solve the problem.  That is sometimes the case–the prayers in Paul’s letters are nearly always on the order of “God, may my readers understand the truths I am about to explain to them”–and there is a degree to which God brings people to that minister best able to help them.  Such explanations are often the answer to difficult problems, particularly when someone is hearing questionable claims or struggling with challenging issues.  At the same time, such teaching does not replace pastoral ministry:  learning about God and the message is important, but learning to live in relationship with God is not gained by absorbing facts and doctrines, even when such teaching is pointing in the right direction.  One of the truths I had to learn very early in my ministry was that the closeness to God and divine warmth I observed in some of my fellow students was not the result of some truth they had learned, but of time spent in prayer and meditation, communing with God.  Teaching is of great value to the students, but we confuse knowledge with relationship, and we teachers are partly to blame for that.

I observe with my own music that I am often incorporating lessons into the songs, from apologetics to instruction in Christian life and truth.  Songs which answer the questions about being Christian are the heart of the teaching music ministry.  They can be used as introductions to spoken lessons, but can also take advantage of that aspect of music we noted for both the evangelist and the pastor, that people will learn the songs and sing them, reinforcing the lesson long after the concert has ended.  If you leave one of my concerts singing “Lord, you’ve got me convinced”, or “Passing through the portal to the new world”, or “And I’ll trust Him again”, or “How can they hear if we don’t tell them?”, you’ve carried the lesson with you.  That’s the objective.

That completes our consideration of the five ministries identified in Ephesians 4.  The series will continue with some consideration of other ways of serving God that may use music but do not seem to fit these categories.

#105: Forced Philanthropy

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #105, on the subject of Forced Philanthropy.

Somewhere in the archives of Charles Schulz’ wonderful Peanuts comic strip is the one (shown below) in which Linus says, “When I get big, I want to be a great philanthropist!”  Charlie Brown observes, “You have to have a lot of money to be a great philanthropist…”.  After a moment of consideration, Linus clarifies, “I want to be a great philanthropist with someone else’s money!”

We laugh.  It is funny because it is absurd.  There is nothing particularly charitable about giving away money that belongs to someone else, regardless of who benefits.  It is completely absurd.

img105Linus

Yet when politicians say it, for some reason no one laughs.

That’s probably because politicians have demonstrated that they are quite able to do exactly that:  They have the power to take money away from some people and use it to help others.  We have given them that power, and there is a degree to which we are pleased with the outcome, as programs like food stamps and medicaid have reduced poverty in this country to the point that very few Americans are really truly poor.  That is, the kind of poverty we see in Third World countries including India and parts of Africa just does not exist here; we have relatively isolated cases of people “falling through the cracks”, not cities packed with homeless people mobbing the streets and refugee camps bursting at the seams.  We could do more, and we are doing more, but what we have done has been accomplished in significant part because politicians have decided to be philanthropists with our money, and we have approved that.

Yet when Hillary Clinton starts talking about how she would use Donald Trump’s money claimed by the Estate Tax he wants to eliminate, it bothers us.  As Mitch Album (Detroit Free Press) says,

The whole image of the government rubbing its hands as you take your dying breath should creep you out.

We have seen it in Blackadder, as the wealthy nobleman is dying and the King and the Archbishop are drooling over who should get his estates.  Hurry up and die, Donald:  Hillary is already counting the share of your money she is going to give to the less fortunate.

Let’s be clear on this.  It’s one thing for us to agree, however reluctantly, that all of us who are scraping by will sacrifice a little money we could really use for something else, and let the government use it to help those who are not scraping by.  It is entirely different for all of us who have enough to be comfortable to decide to gang up on the few who have more than we do, take their money, and give it to the less fortunate.  The former is almost altruistic, and with bit of stretching can be made to appear as if it is our generosity helping the poor.  The latter is simply criminal–and however much we want to admire Robin Hood, we would have little sympathy for a modern criminal waylaying everyone driving expensive cars and giving the money to farmers who feel their tax burden is too high.

However, somehow politicians have persuaded us that it is a noble idea to rob from the rich and give to the poor, that in doing so they are being charitable.  Like Linus Van Pelt, though, they prove to be philanthropists with someone else’s money.  It is not admirable to take money from the rich and give it to the poor when it is not your money.

I don’t know what Donald Trump has done that counts as charity.  I’m told that Hillary Clinton and her husband own and operate a major charitable fund, and accept contributions from many very wealthy donors.  I gather, too, that they have both personally profited substantially from operating that fund.  She seems to have demonstrated a talent for taking money from other people and making it appear she is a philanthropist.  I suspect she has made more money on her philanthropic activities than she has contributed from her own independent income.

However that is, though, it does appear that she is ready to take money from anyone who has it.  I can only be grateful that I don’t have enough to catch anyone’s attention.

#104: Novel Learning

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #104, on the subject of Novel Learning.

With permission of Valdron Inc I am publishing my second novel, Old Verses New, in serialized form on the web (that link will take you to the table of contents).  If you missed the first one, you can find the table of contents for it at Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel.  There was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; the last of those for the first novel is #71:  Footnotes on Verse Three, Chapter One, which indexes all the others and catches a lot of material from an earlier collection of behind-the-writings reflections that had been misplaced for a decade.  Now as the second is being posted I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers, and perhaps in a more serious way than those for the previous novel, because it sometimes talks about what I was planning to do later in the book or how this book connects to events yet to come in the third (For Better or Verse)–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them, or even put off reading these insights until the book has finished.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

These were the previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts covering this book:

  1. #74:  Another Novel (which provided this kind of insight into the first nine chapters along with some background material on the book as a whole),
  2. #78:  Novel Fears (which continued with coverage of chapters 10 through 18),
  3. #82:  Novel Developments (which continued with coverage of chapters 19 through 27),
  4. #86:  Novel Conflicts (which continued with coverage of chapters 28 through 36),
  5. #89:  Novel Confrontations (which continued with coverage of chapters 37 through 45),
  6. #91:  Novel Mysteries (which continued with coverage of chapters 46 through 54),
  7. #94:  Novel Meetings (which continued with coverage of chapters 55 through 63),
  8. #100:  Novel Settling (which continued with coverage of chapters 64 through 72).

This picks up from there, and I expect to continue with additional posts after every ninth chapter in the series.

img0104Classroom

History of the series, including the reason it started, the origins of character names and details, and many of the ideas, are in those earlier posts, and won’t be repeated here.


Chapter 73, Kondor 66

I never put a year on Kondor’s visit. Within the past decade or so libraries, or at least the library I have most frequented, have changed their systems drastically. At one time when you picked up a book on the shelf there was a paper pocket glued inside the cover in which was in essence an index card on which were the names of everyone who had borrowed the book, along with the date that they did so. Thus the information Kondor wants would have been available easily. Today you would need to access the library circulation desk computer and run a special routine against the database to obtain the same information, but since at least a few of the books I get from library discards have those pockets in them (cards removed) it is likely that the cards were still in use wherever/whenever Joe is doing this.

At this point I was working from the view that Ralph Mitchell stole the vorgo. I had worked out that his motive would be connected to the death of his wife, that he hoped he could use it to restore her to life. The first time I ran the scenario as a game (which was after I wrote this) I went with that solution. This time it was falling into place too easily. However, it was easy to make Krannitz and Merrick seem innocent—I had not at this point considered that they might be guilty.


Chapter 74, Brown 25

Again we see Derek’s negative reaction to “school” as a concept.

I needed to skip Lauren primarily because I needed to get Derek’s reaction to the school expanded before I returned to her.

It’s obvious that some people know how to read and write, because Chicker writes and someone else is able to read what he writes. However, it’s not a particularly common skill in a world like this, and it is probably needed to go forward.

The giant moth and the snake with eight arms both came from Gamma World games. It took me a very long time to understand that the eight foot tall winged creature that traded information for tasty clothing was a mutant moth, and I’m not at all certain of the origin of the eight-armed snake but I think the books called it a “menoral”, so I got the concept pretty clearly.

It is an interesting point that my schools had rooms that were set up similarly to office meeting rooms, and some offices have presentation rooms set up similarly to lecture halls, so there is enough overlap that you can easily run a small school in a large office.

Derek notices that Lauren seems to be able to keep up on everything she is doing even as she increases her workload. That’s not really true, as we see in the next chapter, but I’ve noticed that it is not at all uncommon for busy people to become busier and realize themselves that they are becoming overburdened long before anyone else notices it.


Chapter 75, Hastings 68

Lauren has a bit of a crisis of faith. Most believers have them, times during which God seems to be absent. Hers is particularly understandable, because she is in a low-magic world, a world in which spiritual realities are restricted. Yet it lets me talk about such faith crises in a way which addresses them in the real world as well.

Lauren left the world in about 1999. The Internet existed and had opened to ordinary people, but most ordinary people weren’t using it yet. She never had much contact with it; it just wasn’t part of her life as housewife and mother at that time. Even Derek had only some exposure to it, and it was not nearly so massive a thing as it is now—he left a few years later, when Google was still an upstart and Facebook hadn’t displaced MySpace. So they don’t know much about cyberspace yet.


Chapter 76, Kondor 67

It occurs to me that this is the second mystery in this book—Derek had to solve the slasher summer camp murders. I’ve always wanted to write a murder mystery, but they’re not easy; I suppose I’m practicing for that.

I wrote a web page once about expanding the local phone service to eight-digit numbers by replacing the three-digit “exchanges” with four-digit variants. People said it would be much more trouble than it appeared.

The bit about banks wanting to be located in expensive buildings is, or at least at one time was, true. Insurance companies do the same thing with their main offices. The idea is as Joe suggests, that the real estate investment makes the company look solvent so you trust that they’ll have your money when you want it.

I remember realizing the difference between measuring mass with a balance scale and measuring weight with a spring scale sometime in high school. Electronic scales would undoubtedly also measure weight, and the value of gold, despite being given in dollars per ounce, is really based on its mass.


Chapter 77, Brown 26

The idea of bringing in the Internet, in some form, seemed essential to Derek’s future: I needed him to learn far more about computers, particularly, than he could learn simply by looking at the ones in the compound. The site would have been connected to information elsewhere, and that was the way to make that possible.

My recollection is that robots were fairly common in Metamorphosis Alpha, and were also found in Gamma World, but I had not included them in my version here to this point partly because I did not want Derek taking one with him.


Chapter 78, Kondor 68

The “batteries included” line was something of a throwaway, because of all the products in our world that say “batteries not included” on the package. It was actually difficult to package early chemical power cells and have them stay fresh and not leak, which meant that many products would have a shorter shelf life if the batteries were in the package, so “batteries included” is probably the exception, but it didn’t seem inappropriate for that to be another difference between universes.

The comment Krannitz makes about the Vorgo rumored to have real magic is one of the clues. I realized when I created the game version that I needed two different versions of the magician (there named Merlin Mandrake for mnemonic purposes), one of whom holds the view that magic is not real, and the other who believes and hopes to find it in the world somewhere.

Making up names of places that sound real is part of the game, and part of the story. The places given sound like they would be real places in the world, but not in this world.

Seeing is clearly not believing, and Joe illustrates that by his attitude that all the inexplicable things he has seen have explanations, he just doesn’t know what they are. Magic is denied as the starting point, and the fact that he can find scientific explanations for some things that are thought to be magical to his mind proves that the rest of the supposedly magical things have similar scientific explanations that are simply not yet known to him.


Chapter 79, Hastings 69

I am not certain now that I understood why Grarg was so against the Internet when I put him in that position. Part of it was my feeling for a character I had played a few years before, and part of it was that I needed someone to cause friction, to disagree with the rest of the group, without being or seeming to be a villain. I started with the idea that the science of the ancients had destroyed the world, and I knew that there were factions within that game world that felt that way; but I also saw that that was an insurmountable objection, that Lauren probably could not ever win Grarg over to her side if that was the real problem. I thus went with the idea more as Grarg’s smokescreen for his real problem (perhaps inadvertently illustrating that people often have arguments against what they want to reject that are not the real reasons), and looked for something that could be solved.

I ultimately looked up the quote Lauren cites. It is apparently attributed to George Santayana, and in its original form reads “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Lauren didn’t need to have it right or know where it originated.

Running a school is challenging, but it’s also somewhat boring to watch. I needed to bring some action into the story. That would arise again later for Derek, but I also knew that I had to make Derek an independent character and also start teaching Bethany, so the powerful Lauren had to be moved forward.


Chapter 80, Brown 27

As mentioned, I needed some action. I figured that the cat had to lose, but Lauren was going to be killed in the process, and that meant that someone had to fight against the cat besides Lauren. Derek was the obvious choice to see the monitors, and I could use his perspective to describe the fight and thus avoid having to cover the moment Lauren is killed. It also gave me the chance to show how powerful Grarg was and how skillful Qualick was—two characters about whom I knew a great deal more than had been included in the story. That’s often the case, but it helps to reveal the characters in action.


Chapter 81, Kondor 69

I think it was about this point that I decided Mitchell didn’t do it. I needed a more interesting mystery, and he became my misdirect.

I also decided who did it, because now I had a viable suspect the reader would not have guessed, but who fit the pieces well.


I hope these “behind the writings” posts continue to be of interest, and perhaps some value, to those of you who have been reading the novel.  If there is any positive feedback, they will continue.

#103: Music Ministry of the Pastor

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #103, on the subject of Music Ministry of the Pastor.

This continues our miniseries on what it is to be “called” to “music ministry”.  Our first installment was #95:  Music Ministry Disconnect, making the point that most Christians are not what we call “ministers” and most musicians are “entertainers”.  In #97:  Ministry Calling we examined how to know whether you are “called” to be a “minister”, based largely on who you are, what motivates you and how you relate to others with needs.  Following this we identified five specific “ministries” in #98:  What is a Minister?, and began looking at individual ministries with #99:  Music Ministry of an Apostle followed by #101:  Prophetic Music Ministry and #102:  Music and the Evangelist Ministry.  We now come to the pastor, fourth on the list.  We previously addressed the question of why pastor and teacher are linked as they are in the text, and suggested that it is not because they are the same ministry but because they ascend to importance in the local church together.

The word pastor is problematic.  It appears to have been imported from the French directly, and given a meaning drawn from its Latin roots, although there is some indication that it once meant shepherd in English (as it originally did in Latin and French).  We use the word because we have imbued the office with theological significance which is not captured by the literal translation:  the Greek word for which it stands is the ordinary word for a shepherd, and any theological meaning it has comes from its metaphoric attachment to this ministry.  Unfortunately, there are reasons why we cannot easily replace pastor with the literal word shepherd.  First, it has become in some sense the title for a particular category of ministry (although it is abused, covering some persons who are not and not covering some who are spiritual shepherds).  Second, the concept of “shepherding” fell into disrepute in the last third of the previous century from its use in some rather authoritarian hierarchical church structures.  Third, the Middle Eastern method of shepherding is very different from the European approach which dominates our understanding.  We thus have to understand the image to understand the metaphor.

img0103Shepherd

Shepherds in Europe, the Americas, and Australia tend to drive sheep.  This is relatively easy, and you can hire anyone to do it.  The trick is to get behind the sheep and frighten them into fleeing in the direction you want them to go.  Dogs are easily trained to assist this, because sheep are terrified of dogs, and while the dogs can be trained to protect the sheep, the job of herding sheep involves making them frightened enough to move away from the dogs.  The Bible, however, speaks of shepherds leading sheep, and explains that the shepherd has a relationship with his sheep:  he calls, and they follow him.  This is not some fantasy Jesus created; this is the way shepherds manage their sheep in the Middle East.  I am told that they will gather around watering holes such that hundreds or even thousands of sheep are mingling, trying to get water, and then one of the shepherds will start to walk away and will give his call, and all of his sheep will separate themselves from the mass and follow him.  It is his job to lead them to food and water, and to the shelter which protects against predators.  He does this by making them feel safe and secure, and because they know that he will care for them, they follow him.

Peter, as we mentioned, is the only person in the New Testament connected by name to the office of shepherd or pastor.  He uses it of himself in his first letter.  More significantly, in John 21, Jesus charges him with commands that are very much those given to a shepherd:  “Tend my lambs….Shepherd my sheep….Tend my sheep.” (Updated New American Standard Bible).  This is what a shepherd–a pastor–does.

Peter is unfortunately not a very clear example, because he is also an apostle, and much of what we see him do is based on that ministry.  Yet what we see in his letters and in the directives Jesus gave him seems reasonably clear:  pastors care for people; this means they care about people.  People matter to them, and they are nurturers.

I use to have a lot of trouble listening to pastors preach, because their exegesis was often shoddy and their statements often questionable.  It wasn’t until I came to understand that pastors are not teachers that I recognized why the standards I applied to teaching the Word were not appropriate for pastors.  When a pastor preaches, it is not his primary job to convey understanding or information, to deliver doctrine or explain mysteries.  Peter does none of that in his letters.  The pastor is there to make sure that the sheep are safe and growing.  It is about their lives, the love they have for each other, the way they live and interact, the choices they make.  Pastors are there to lead believers closer to God.  We make the mistake of thinking that feeding the sheep is about teaching truths, but that is a very small part of it.  It is truth, not truths, that sheep most need.  They need direction, someone to show them how to get closer to God and to each other.

With this understanding of the pastoral ministry, it becomes obvious that those musicians we call “worship leaders” are actually exercising pastoral ministry:  in leading people in worship, they are drawing us closer to God.  Again, as with the evangelist, part of the value of music in this is that aspect that we easily learn and often repeat songs that are simple enough for us to handle.  Thus in teaching us worship songs and leading us in worship, these pastors are also teaching us to worship, and how to worship, when we are away from the group.

Pastoral ministry also involves bringing us together in love, getting us to embrace each other and live and work together and build each other in faith and love; and it involves encouraging us to reach beyond ourselves, both individually and collectively, that is, that I would reach out to those around me but also that we would reach out to those outside the faith.  These are the ministry objectives of pastors, to show us how to live Christian lives and enable us to do this.  For the pastor, people are the most important thing, and pastors are driven to work with people individually and collectively to profit and edify through relationships with God, each other, and those beyond.

That leaves us with the teacher.

#102: Music and the Evangelist Ministry

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #102, on the subject of Music and the Evangelist Ministry.

This continues our miniseries on what it is to be “called” to “music ministry”.  Our first installment was #95:  Music Ministry Disconnect, making the point that most Christians are not what we call “ministers” and most musicians are “entertainers”.  In #97:  Ministry Calling we examined how to know whether you are “called” to be a “minister”, based largely on who you are, what motivates you and how you relate to others with needs.  Following this we identified five specific “ministries” in #98:  What is a Minister?, and began looking at individual ministries with #99:  Music Ministry of an Apostle followed by #101:  Prophetic Music Ministry.  That brings us to the third ministry on the list, the evangelist.

In one sense we significantly covered the evangelist when we examined the ministry of the apostle, as we needed to distinguish the two ministries.  We looked at Philip the Evangelist, the only person in the New Testament to be identified specifically as an evangelist, and recognized that wherever he went he preached or explained the gospel message and brought people to faith in Christ (but did not, we noted, found any churches).  Yet we also commented that in the nineteen seventies nearly all Christian music was connected to evangelism, to the degree that it was generally assumed that if you were a Christian and a musician you were an evangelist.  That is not so, as this series has already observed, but it is at least interesting that it was then thought to be so.

The Reverend Doctor Billy Graham
The Reverend Doctor Billy Graham

It is interesting because that was a time of revival–we called it “The Jesus Movement”, and the many converts became known as “Jesus People”.  Concerts grew into festivals–the first Woodstock-like Christian gatherings occurred at that time and are still held today largely because they have become a tradition (they did not exist before that).  The ministry of the evangelist is closely tied to revivals.  George Whitefield, John Wesley, and Jonathan Edwards are all remembered as evangelists in the First Great Awakening; Charles Finney and Lyman Beecher are leading names from the Second Great Awakening; D. L. Moody is connected to a time of revival some call the Third Great Awakening.  The Jesus Movement was marked by a huge number of evangelists preaching on streets, in coffeehouses, at outdoor concerts, and elsewhere.

We do not have that today.

Some would say that we do not have revival at present because we do not have enough evangelists, or enough people doing evangelism.  There are groups trying to train believers to be evangelists.  This is wonderful, of course, as everyone needs to be able to share the faith with others; but you can no more be taught to be an evangelist than you can be taught to be female.  As we noted, Christ gives to the church people who are the gifts, the ministers, among whom are evangelists, evangelists since before they were born given as gifts to the church.  Thus arguably it is not that we do not have revival because of a lack of evangelists, but that we do not have evangelists because this is not a time of revival.

That does not mean there are no evangelists.  God always has people calling others to salvation, some of whom are specially given for that purpose.  However, revivals are special times–Dr. J. Edwin Orr has identified them as “God’s periods of recruitment”, and a significant number of those who are in church ministry today accepted Christ in that revival.  Billy Graham, Bill Bright, Dick Halverson, and a host of others who were leaders in the church then became believers in the previous revival.

It also does not mean that there are not evangelists growing up among us right now.  After all, those of us who were in our teens and twenties in the seventies are in our fifties and sixties now, and God is going to need a new crop of leaders and believers.  It will be in His timing, and He has been known to skip a generation or two, but He will not allow faith to vanish from the world.  Revival will come, and the number of evangelists will explode anew as the message is brought to the lost once again.

To the evangelist, Jesus is the answer to every problem.  It is a simple gospel, a simple message, that whatever the problem is, Jesus is the answer–absolutely true, but often overly simplistic when dealing with human problems.  That is why there are other ministries besides the evangelist, because believers need the nurturing of pastors and teachers to help unravel how Jesus is the answer to all the problems.  The focus for the evangelist, though, is always on Jesus, pointing people to Him as the solution.

The Booths used music in their evangelism, having brass bands and singers attract crowds on the streets by singing revival hymns, creating a “Salvation Army”.  Music was used much that way in the Jesus Movement, as something of a billboard to attract the attention of people who needed to hear the message–and the message was preached, but it was also sung.  In the preface to his book Inventing Champagne:  The Worlds of Lerner and Loewe, music historian Gene Lees comments that music is an incredibly effective form of advertising because people voluntarily memorize the words and repeat them.  Getting the gospel message into music that people will want to hear and sing is a significant part of the evangelist’s music ministry–and many of the musicians and bands of the early Jesus Movement did that extremely well.  The modern musical evangelist has a solid collection of examples from that era, some of whom continued ministering for decades thereafter.  Learn from them.

Which brings us next to the pastor.

#101: Prophetic Music Ministry

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #101, on the subject of Prophetic Music Ministry.

This continues our miniseries on what it is to be “called” to “music ministry”.  Our first installment was #95:  Music Ministry Disconnect, making the point that most Christians are not what we call “ministers” and most musicians are “entertainers”.  In #97:  Ministry Calling we examined how to know whether you are “called” to be a “minister”, based largely on who you are, what motivates you and how you relate to others with needs.  Following this we identified five specific “ministries” in #98:  What is a Minister?, and began looking at individual ministries last time with #99:  Music Ministry of an Apostle.

The ministry of the prophet in the New Testament church is much more difficult to assess, for several reasons.

  1. There are Old Testament prophets under the Old Covenant, and we do not know to what degree New Testament prophets under the New Covenant are distinct from them;
  2. There are at least two persons in the Gospels identified as prophets–John the Baptist and Anna–and because their ministries are entirely prior to the resurrection and ascension we do not know whether they are Old Covenant prophets or New Covenant prophets;
  3. There is also a “gift of prophecy” identified in the New Testament, and we do not know whether having that gift and being a prophet are the same thing or different things;
  4. On at least one occasion in the New Testament we are told that someone who was definitely not a believer in Christ prophesied, when the High Priest Caiaphas said that it was best for one man to die for the nation.

All of this adds up to a complicated collection of information about prophets.

On the other hand, there are more than half a dozen prophets identified within the New Testament church, including several leaders of the church at Antioch, the four daughters of Philip the Evangelist, and a pair named Silas and Judas.  Of these last two, we are told that because they were prophets they encouraged the believers in the gentile churches they were visiting, but little more.  There is only one person in the New Testament identified for us as a prophet about whom we are told anything significant concerning his ministry.  He appears twice in the Book of Acts, and his name is Agabus.

The Prophecy of Agabus, Painting by Louis Cheron
The Prophecy of Agabus, Painting by Louis Cheron

The very word prophet means “foreteller” that is, “saying in advance”, the English being drawn directly from the Greek.  For a lot of reasons, we don’t like the idea that God lets some of us know the future, particularly as that seems so useful and most of us are unable to do it.  Thus some argue that there are no longer prophets in the church because they are no longer needed, and some argue that it is not foretelling but “forthtelling” that matters, that every preacher declaring the message of God from the Bible is acting in the role of a prophet.  These, though, do not fit with the ministry we see of Agabus.

We might describe Agabus’ first appearance as a minor mention of a major role:  he warns the church of an impending famine in Acts 11:28.  It was because of this warning that the Christians in Antioch (where Agabus was at that time) started collecting resources for the Christians in Judea, ultimately delivered by Barnabas and Paul.  Thus it appears that in this specific instance, the ministry of the prophet involved announcing a future event for which the hearers would want to prepare themselves.

His second appearance is sort of the reverse, a major part in a minor role.  In Acts 21:10ff he visits Caesarea to see Paul, and rather dramatically (literally dramatically:  he takes Paul’s belt and uses it as a prop in a show) announces that Paul’s visit to Jerusalem is going to result in his arrest.  Once again it appears that the prophet is telling someone what is going to happen.

This, though, proves to be rather intriguing.  All of Paul’s companions in Caesarea immediately start begging him not to go, but he responds that he was quite prepared for this, seemingly already knowing what was going to happen.  In any case, he is not in the least surprised.  It seems that the message was news for Paul’s companions, but it was only confirmation for him:  he knew he was headed into trouble.

The chapter on Guidance in What Does God Expect? and my web page on Objective and Subjective Christian Guidance go into some detail explaining why Paul needed that confirmation.  The point for us is that the ministry of the prophet, as we see it in action in the New Testament, appears to be that of alerting believers to trouble on the road ahead so that we can prepare, or be prepared, for what is coming.

There is one other aspect that might be part of the prophetic ministry.  In Acts 13:1ff we are told that there were “prophets and teachers” in the church at Antioch, among whom were Barnabas, Saul, and three others.  We are told that this group heard the Holy Spirit tell them that it was time to separate Barnabas and Saul for the work for which they had already been called, which was the beginning of their apostolic ministry.  It seems likely that it is part of the prophetic ministry to provide guidance to other ministries, concerning when to take significant steps, possibly what steps to take next.  I have heard enough stories and had enough personal experience to believe that this happens, that God has some in the church who are given messages helping others be certain of God’s direction for them, often without themselves understanding the meaning of the message.  This prophetic ministry keeps us moving in the right direction.

It is also significant that it is second on the list, because it contributes greatly to enabling the congregation to identify the ministers among them, as well as preparing us for struggles ahead.

How does a prophet integrate music into his ministry?  I face this question with some reservations.  I have only twice knowingly spoken with prophets, and they were not musicians and we did not discuss their ministries.  A prophet with musical gifts might well align himself with another minister with musical gifts–it seems likely that Barnabas was a prophet and Paul a teacher (both were apostles), and that Paul did most of the talking because he was in some sense the frontman of the ministry.  That is admittedly guesswork based on the facts that both appear on that list of “prophets and teachers” and Paul is known to be a teacher but not a prophet which increases the probability that Barnabas was one of the prophets in the group; and when they were in Lystra together the locals observed that Paul was the speaker and Barnabas the leader.  There are those who only speak when they have something to say, and one might expect prophets to be of that sort.

At the same time, there is a phenomenon which might be part of the music ministry of a prophet.  I have only once spontaneously sung an entirely new song at a gathering.  I do not mean improvised something on the spot, but realized that there was a song I needed to sing that neither I nor anyone else had ever sung before, and did so.  I might expect that to be part of a prophet’s music ministry, as the Lord gives him a word couched in a melody with an accompanyment.  On the other hand, I don’t know that this would necessarily be part of such a ministry, or necessarily mark such a ministry as prophetic.  I am not a prophet and the song was not prophetic; yet I can see how God would use such songs to deliver unique messages to specific persons or groups.

The third ministry is the evangelist, which we will tackle next.

#100: Novel Settling

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #100, on the subject of Novel Settling.

With permission of Valdron Inc I am publishing my second novel, Old Verses New, in serialized form on the web (that link will take you to the table of contents).  If you missed the first one, you can find the table of contents for it at Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel.  There was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; the last of those for the first novel is #71:  Footnotes on Verse Three, Chapter One, which indexes all the others and catches a lot of material from an earlier collection of behind-the-writings reflections that had been misplaced for a decade.  Now as the second is being posted I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers, and perhaps in a more serious way than those for the previous novel, because it sometimes talks about what I was planning to do later in the book or how this book connects to events yet to come in the third (For Better or Verse)–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them, or even put off reading these insights until the book has finished.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

These were the previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts covering this book:

  1. #74:  Another Novel (which provided this kind of insight into the first nine chapters along with some background material on the book as a whole),
  2. #78:  Novel Fears (which continued with coverage of chapters 10 through 18),
  3. #82:  Novel Developments (which continued with coverage of chapters 19 through 27),
  4. #86:  Novel Conflicts (which continued with coverage of chapters 28 through 36),
  5. #89:  Novel Confrontations (which continued with coverage of chapters 37 through 45),
  6. #91:  Novel Mysteries (which continued with coverage of chapters 46 through 54),
  7. #94:  Novel Meetings (which continued with coverage of chapters 55 through 63).

This picks up from there, and I expect to continue with additional posts after every ninth chapter in the series.

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History of the series, including the reason it started, the origins of character names and details, and many of the ideas, are in those earlier posts, and won’t be repeated here.


Chapter 64, Kondor 63

I have no idea why I went with Krannitz the Stupefying.  I think I wanted to suggest something about this world being different, such that a name that sounds pretty silly to most people might be a successful performer in this other world.

Kondor’s problem really is that something supernatural did happen, and he is well practiced in explaining away the supernatural, but when Krannitz does it this time he creates an explanation that does not fit the facts known to Kondor.

The idea of having the story embellished seemed to fit with everything, and particularly with Kondor’s annoyance at the difference between the truth as he knew it and the history that was recorded about him.


Chapter 65, Hastings 65

The idea of Derek moving between horror movie settings had more sprung from my desire to stretch into the genre and try to do something frightening; the logic behind it, the connection to who he was, came after that, although to a degree it sprang from those events.  I had already characterized Derek as someone who knew all the horror movies, so I started to think about why he had watched them (something I’ve never wanted to do).


Chapter 66, Brown 22

Right at the beginning of their relationship, Derek, still really a boy, struggles with what to call Lauren, even in his thoughts.  She is probably about as old as his parents, in appearance, and of course much older in years according to her stories.  So he thinks of her as “Mrs. Hastings” and then corrects himself because she insists he call her “Lauren”.

Derek is eventually to be the great computer hacker; to get him there, I needed to give him opportunities to practice and let it appear that he was doing so.  Thus the continued efforts here.

I was trying to create a rather alien mindset for Spire.  It was not the most alien mind I’d ever done, perhaps, but it had to be conveyed easily.  The poor linguistic skills, the seeming lack of awareness of time, were juxtaposed against her intuitive grasp of forgotten technologies.

The food packets were inspired by trail foods, particularly the Gorp at Philmont and Gumper’s four-man meal packs, from my Boy Scout days.

The idea of putting the system on maintenance status was the only thing I could think to do that would make sense to the reader.  I know some electronics, but nothing about security systems, really, so I was making it up as I went along.

Starson calls Lauren “the lady”.  I remember playing in a Gamma World game once and saying that even though our characters were all teenagers, it was really unthinkable that we had reached that age at all in so dangerous a world, let alone without having learned what was safe to eat.  I would not expect very many people in this world to reach thirty, and those who manage it would probably be recognized and treated with a certain amount of respect.

I realized that whatever this compound once was, Derek would eventually know, so I had to decide.  The satellite tracking facility idea was mostly devised as something that would have all that sophisticated gear but be in the main inoperable for anything significant.


Chapter 67, Kondor 64

At this point, I had decided that the man who left early was my culprit; it wasn’t until it was all falling into place too easily that I decided to shift that.

That shifting would in turn inspire a game version of this part of the story.  The first part, the quest to recover the Vorgo told in the first book, had already been released for game play, but only in electronic form.  The events to this point sounded like they’d be a lot of fun to play, and a mystery would be fun to write.  The problem I faced was making it such that those who read the book wouldn’t know the solution.  The answer to that problem was to provide multiple suspects and tweak the facts slightly for each, so that any of them could be suspect but only one could have actually done it in any particular instance.  As I say, that idea that more than one person might have been guilty was inspired by the switch I made when writing this version.

I was also going to follow the thread of Kondor studying to be a magician under Krannitz’ tutelage; shifting the villain derailed that entire direction, and instead forced me to look elsewhere, and get him involved in advanced physics, which seems a better choice for him anyway.

The events in the hotel room were to give the feel of time passing as well as provide Kondor with an alibi; I also wanted to have his thoughts come to the fore, particularly about the magic lessons, which he might yet pursue in a future world.

I thought quite a bit about whether the police would knock on the door or the concierge call upstairs to let him know they were there; I decided that the police would insist that no call be placed.

This was the first time I had to think about what Joe wore to bed, and since he sleeps alone I thought boxer shorts would probably work, at least in the privacy of his hotel room.


Chapter 68, Hastings 66

This chapter started precisely because I didn’t know what Lauren was going to do here.  I knew that Derek was going to come to understand the verse from what she taught him, and that he was going to pick up his computer skills and get in shape and learn to fight; I didn’t really have anything planned for her except to support him, make it seem like her presence here mattered, and move her on to meet Bethany.  Thus this chapter was in part my own effort to determine what she should do, as she sought such guidance for herself.

There is a bit here on the uncertainty of guidance from circumstance.  Lauren recognizes that she could have followed either of two paths, both of which would have led to her being here with Starson’s group and Derek.  Her purpose for being here might be connected to any one of those things.  In my mind, it was connected to Derek; but it didn’t have to be, and there was nothing to say Lauren had to reach that same conclusion.

When I first wrote that she could teach, I of course meant Derek, and maybe Starson’s group; but it was the beginning of the idea of the school.  I didn’t have that idea yet, but I was headed that direction.

The evangelistic angle was problematic.  I realized that I couldn’t duck it–Lauren would have to think of that.  At the same time, I didn’t want her chapters or Derek’s to become so blatantly Christian that it would turn off those who disagreed with her.  At this point I didn’t know how I would handle that, but I would have to move that direction.


Chapter 69, Brown 23

I had modeled parts of this on several role playing games; in one of them, people had cards (and in another, bracelets) which were color coded for what kind of access they provided.  That had bothered me; there was too much access.  I wanted to keep the flavor of the electronic access, but not have the universal access suggested by those approaches.  Thus I devised the identity card notion from crossing what I knew of modern cash/credit cards and information systems.

The skill plus attribute system Multiverser uses for skill success is enhanced in regard to combat with an extra attribute bonus, a “strike value” that averages more basic scores to increase the chance of hitting a target.  (There is also a “target value” that is subtracted from the chance to hit, representing the target’s ability to deflect and dodge.)  As a result, it is possible for someone to have a natural ability with ranged weapons that increases their chance to hit a target even with an unfamiliar one.  Derek has been developing his hand/eye coordination through video game play, and that’s one of the attributes that contribute to strike value.

Lauren’s improved shooting ability is from using her other weapons.  Shooting branches off trees outside the compound fence showed both the accuracy of the weapon and her own skill.

Neither of the games on which this scenario is based (Metamorphosis Alpha and Gamma World, the latter probably based significantly on the former) had power cell chargers, at least that I ever encountered, but it was evident that something like that must exist or the weapons made no sense.  The portable one was in some sense less likely, but only because in a compound like this wall units would be the obvious choice, and travel supplies would not have been in demand.  Yet there might be one lying around, and that was what Lauren hoped.

It was necessary for them to practice extensively with the new weapons so that their level of skill with these in the future would be credible.

These weapons are more potent than those used by Bob and Joe (and these are photonic, while those are kinetic/gravitic).  They hit harder.  Bob’s weapon gets more shots, but not as deadly; Joe’s weapon gets as many shots on its high power setting, which is not as potent as this.

One of the lessons Lauren learned in the parakeet world was that it might be valuable to teach what she knows to other versers.  She is very much in teaching mode in this world, and Derek is her primary pupil; but she lets him decide what he wants to learn, while making what she offers to teach sound somewhat attractive.  Thus having shown him how to use the rifle and coached him a bit to improve his ability, she now offers to teach him how to fight in close combat.


Chapter 70, Kondor 65

Knowing that there were going to be police questions, I had written the previous section of Kondor’s story to include several contacts with the hotel staff, so that there would be little if any question of him having left the room.  I knew he would be a suspect, and I wanted to reduce that credibly as soon as possible so he could get on with solving it.

The library was a sudden inspiration; I was trying to think of a way that Kondor could get the clues he needed to track down the culprit, and that seemed the best way at that moment.


Chapter 71, Hastings 67

This was particularly difficult for me, because I am specifically not a specimen of physical fitness and have never been particularly interested in becoming one.  I studied some tumbling at the Y as a boy, but most of what I know about gymnastics and martial arts comes from observation.  Working out how Lauren would train Derek in these skills was a bit of a challenge.

Lauren finds her purpose in this world in teaching pretty much everything to people who have lost all knowledge of their own world.  She focuses on coming to it from a Christian base, but she covers quite a bit ultimately.


Chapter 72, Brown 24

Limiting Derek’s ability to identify his own location freed me from having to be too specific about it.

Derek has the kid’s immediate negative reaction to the idea of school.  Because it is mandatory, we see it as undesirable; because everyone goes, we don’t see any individual advantage.  It isn’t until we’re older that we realize the benefits of school.


I hope these “behind the writings” posts continue to be of interest, and perhaps some value, to those of you who have been reading the novel.  If there is any positive feedback, they will continue.