Monday, August 29, 2011

The Top 20 Albums You Never Thought to Buy

I thought it would be fun to take a break from my usual writing on theology and Christian living and take a few blog posts to talk about my other great passion music. Ever stumbled upon an album and wondered where this artist was your whole life? The fact of the matter is modern music promotion isn’t designed to promote the newest and hottest not the classics and greats; even less so albums that are hidden gems that don’t immediately sell well. Often great albums are overlooked by the masses because they are out of their time or just simply because they didn’t advertise well. Well no longer! Here they are (in no particular order) the top 20 albums you probably never thought to buy.

1. Unforgettable, with Love- Natalie Cole

Genre: Jazz, Big Band

Year: 1991

Label: Elektra

Now arguably this album shouldn’t make this list at all. After all an album that has sold 7 million copies hardly qualifies as an “album you never thought to buy” however I never cease to be amazed by how many people under 30 have never even heard of it. Natalie Cole released the album to pay homage to her father, jazz legend Nat King Cole. As such the casual or new jazz listener may hear many songs they know, but didn’t know were Nat King Cole standards.

The Youtube age has given the title track “Unforgetable” a great deal of staying power, and the track is deeply touching as father and daughter do the duet they never had the chance to do in life. However, listeners who only explore this title track will miss some of the best this album has to offer. Natalie does wonderful covers of “Orange Colored Sky”, “Smile”, and oft overlooked classic “Avalon”. Natalie made her career in throaty R & B but she proves she has the pipes for Jazz, with a tender handling of “Mona Lisa”.

In addition the band arrangements are perfect big band. Never simple, but not too ornate to cover the singer, these arrangements give the listener the feel that “this is what big band should sound like”. Even more so, the players do the tunes great justice, showing particular mastery on “This can’t be love”.

This album offers some hidden benefit as well. If you’re new to Jazz and big band, this album is a great primer. It offers 22 big band vocal classics with great players and arrangements, for less than the price of a pizza. And to top it off it’s all new recordings so it will be easy listening for the casual listener who has a bit of trouble listening to older jazz albums due to their recording quality. All around an album that shouldn’t have been forgotten.

… next week R&Bappella?

(c) Jamin Eben 2011

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Momentary Geek Out

The blog has slowed down a good bit lately because of my graduate studies. Learning Hebrew doesn't leave much time for waxing eloquent about the theological flavor of the week. In the long run I hope it will make me a much better thinker and writer over all. So in lieu of doing my own good thinking I divert to an entirely non-theological thought on film making from very possibly the most underrated film maker of our time. Irvin Kershner. Most well known for directing "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back", 'Kersh' as his friends called him never made it big in hollywood. For the person willing to seek out his movies however he made some amazingly moving and thoughtful films. His perspectives on film making are almost lost on hollywood today, so I thought it might be refreshing to air a few of them out here. From an interview with sound and vision magazine ( Kershner talks about what really makes movies good, and where Star Wars (read all of Hollywood) has gotten off track....

Were you chosen to direct specifically because you would give more humanity to the characters?

We never talked about that. I was just supposed to make a terrific film, one that was better than the first one. But how do you make a terrific film? Do you put in more action than the first one? No, action is not what it's about. It's about characters, and caring about them. And that's where I wanted to put the emphasis - on the people.

Do you think that the new Star Wars films have moved too much toward the technology and away from the characters?

Who am I to comment when the audience loves them? But I feel that maybe George is sacrificing some of the potential for drama - the interior drama that that kind of film needs - for the terrific technology. I mean, he's getting giant scenes, thousands of robots rolling along and things flying around. They are amazing. To me, though, they're nothing to do with emotion. And I also wonder about Yoda. I think maybe Yoda should have been kept a little bit closer to what I had, a man who says, "Don't get angry. If you get angry, you're going to lose." Now he gets angry. This is a different interpretation. But nobody knows the subject better than George, so if this is what he feels it needs, that's it. The audience likes them, the kids love them, and they do have a look that no other films have.

You know Kershner, may he rest in peace, was right. He was right, the fans liked them, but not nearly in the culture shifting way the original films were received. And I think he's right in his assessment. A culture that constantly sees things bigger, faster, angrier, and more powerful, doesn't necessarily understand itself better.

I'm done geekin out. Time to go study vowel points.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Doing good to get to Good News

What is the best way of sharing the Gospel? Everyone involved in missions needs to be asking this question. The bible mandates that all Christians be involved in missions in some light, so it follows that every Christian should be asking that question. In our time my generation (20-30-somethings) have found a new and broad answer to that question. Call it emerging, call it missional, call it ywam or venture or anything you like. The model is basically the same; Meet needs, emotional and physical, to gain the right to present the gospel. It certainly is a good model and one that has seen beautiful work being done from the plains of Africa to the streets of New York. Here's the catch. It isn't the only way, our brothers and sisters from times past haven't always seen it as the dominant way, and it's arguably not the most widespread biblical way. So it becomes worth asking, How can we best use God's resources to spread God's news? It behooves us to take some time and a good dose of humility as we answer.

The bible shows many different models of presenting the gospel. Some of them involve meeting a felt need, others ongoing relationship, and some with almost no prior contact and only proclamation. In our generation a great deal of emphasis has been placed on a model that emphasizes a certain introduction. Usually involving some form of building relational capital, be that through friendship, or some sort of good will gift (feeding programs, schools etc.) These programs are absolutely wonderful, but as in all human endeavor not without the presence of indwelling sin. (Is 64:6) Knowing our greater temptation to blindness and pride when we are doing God's work, we shouldn't be too defensive to examine even our Gospel sharing method.

You may wonder why some, especially older, pastors seem less gung-ho about this new missional movement then most of us twenty-somethings. First this in itself should give us pause. God gave us generations in the church not so the younger could correct the older (though in a fallen world there is a place in humility for that to happen) but mostly for the older to correct the younger. The command to honor our parents carries to our spiritual elders and doesn't stop magically at age 18. I'm sad to say "young missional emergents" have often been guilty of making broad sweeping statements about "the church" often making unfair generalizations about the very people who taught us what we know of the Gospel. So first, if many faithful Christians of the past generation have hesitations with the missional movement, we need to stop being prideful and at least listen. No you aren't smarter than your parents, and yes God still expects you to listen to old folks even if you have been through 4 years of DTS.

Secondly there is always a temptation to pride in any movement. Movements are not evil. In our age it has become somewhat vogue to be part of "non-movement" movements. Just like the non-conformist t-shirts of a few years back, someone had to get a bunch of non-conformist to buy them all alike, in the same way our "non-movement" missionalism has a tendency to at times look an awful lot like a movement. That said there's nothing neccesarily wrong with that. Many of the most wonderful changes in the church have come out of bonified self proclaimed movements (eg. the reformation). With organization however comes temptation; specifically to pride. For example: you feel called to go on a missions trip. You send out letters to folks in your home church and circle of influence, and by God's grace you raise enough money to go. You go to Africa (picking on myself here) and there see some of the terrible poverty that ravages the third world. Holding children and meeting these foreign faces breaks and rebuilds your worldview. It's a wonderful God given experience. Then you go home. After a few weeks you find you now have a judgmental streak you never noticed before. You notice the guy at church who drives a hummer rather than a hundai like you. He must not understand poverty. Why does the preacher wear thom's rather than tom's, doesn't he know there are people without shoes? And without knowing it you and I can slip into a judgemental attitude toward many of the same people who sacrificed to provide for our mission work. With just a few days watching God work, we've now tried to take his job.

Thirdly, and perhaps most dangerously there is in emergent missionalism a temptation to be ashamed of the Gospel. Let me explain. In the first century after Christ has risen from the dead the apostles start working out the implications. This rabbi Jesus has proven that the kingdom to come won't be based on this kingdom. The implication is that everything in this life pales in comparison to the importance of the next. They sell their property and explode on the world giving up everything they have here to gain a life where Christ is going. They give their lives, proclaiming the world, dying in poverty or by the sword. Fast forward to our day and age. We often see missions more categorized by program than proclamation. Why?

Partly we have adapted to our culture. This is in many ways good. Contextualization without compromise is wonderful. However often I meet young people relying on the program because of a good deal of fear. Fear most of all that without some sort of programatic build up the gospel simply won't be received. I've heard phrases like "if we don't meet their needs they simply won't listen to us" or "we have to build relationship or the gospel won't mean anything". While these are true in many situations they are a far cry from the gospel boldness exhibited by the apostles. They seem to have no stock at all placed in whether or not people respond. Peter proclaims in the synagog imediatly after pentacost, a message saying in essence he doesn't expect them to respond. Jesus himself says some have ears to hear and others don't, even saying the gospel has been veiled from some. Even more the bible itself proclaims the intrinsic power of it's message saying it "will not return" without accomplishing exactly what it was meant to (Is 55:11). With such power at our backs do we need to fear that we need some other in to present this message? Furthermore if all in this life will burn and usher into eternity in the next, have we not every reason to shamelessly point to the Gospel as the only true and enduring need?

I am not saying we should stop using good deeds to usher in and adorn the gospel. Far from it, they will know we are his by our love. However, we need to take great care that in our effort to show love, we don't exalt loving over Jesus. Think with me for a moment, have you ever felt ashamed that all you had to give was the gospel? When feeling led to talk about Christ have you ever felt like you had to earn the right? When seeing photos of those joyful poor in third world countries who seem to have nothing but Christ do you feel sorry for them, rather than righteous envy for their spritual riches? I think there is a great danger in young missional evangelicals becoming ashamed of their gospel. We wouldn't say it that way, but when pressed we're uncomfortable if we can't provide the gospel and something else; The gospel and food programs, the gospel and schools, the gospel and comunity improvement. The world has suckered us into believing that the Gospel isn't gift enough in itself to justify stopping people in their tracks.

Paul specifically warns us not to be ashamed of the gospel. In fact in his ministry he met very few felt needs. He had no feeding programs or improvment projects. He healed some, but not a great many. He traveled, preached, and started churches, and specificaly told people not to be ashamed that the only good they had to give was in the next life not this one. Where does this leave us? Love people. There is no alternative. Give like crazy, if you have internet to read this you are what would technically be called by world wide standards "Stinking filthy rich" but never, never, never be ashamed to present the gospel. It is far more refreshing than clean water, far more saving than medical care, far more important than community improvement. Far more precious than any other service you could ever offer. It is the power of God to salvation. In closing I found these words from pastor Thabiti Anybwile very helpful as we think about this multifaceted and deeply important question.
I once heard a dear brother in the Lord express his ministry philosophy, in part, with this formula:

"Good deeds leads to good will which creates platform for Good News."

I don't think it's original to him; he mention an author I didn't recognize. I suspect he's not alone in holding this veiw of things. And, again, this is a very dear brother in the Lord.

When I heard my brother articulate this point of view, instantly I was thinking, No, it's:

"Good News creates a new people who do good deeds that lead to good will."

In other words, good deeds and good will are not needed to accredit the gospel or give the gospel power. Acceptance of the gospel isn't fundamentally a matter of how well we adorn the gospel. Faith rests on the power of God, not the persausiveness of men. Moreover, the gospel has long had its effect in areas where good will evaporated in the heat of persecution and hatred.--


Romans 1:16
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.


(c) Jamin Eben 2011

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Me-nifesto

We are out for me

I am out for me

I must listen to me

Feel me

look out for me

Why not no one else will

though I do expect them to

I will look to me to make me happy

I will look to me to make me fullfiled

I will look to me to love me

and if I fail to fulfill any of these things,

I will certainly not blame me

I will not see me as selfish

At least not as selfish as he is

at least not as bad as she is

at least not as uptight as he is

Me is just good enough to deserve a good life

Maybe even heaven, tian, or nirvana

what ever I choose

because no one knows better than me

everyone better than me is amazing

everyone worse is a disappointment

I will love me

forgive me

provide for me

and expect you to do so too

Why wouldn't you?

Don't you like me?

I can't see why not?

I like me

well most of the time I like me

and when I don't like me,

I will work to like me

I will spend time liking me

I let me tell me I forgive me and love me

I will let me lead me

After all the best truth is to follow my heart

so me is a perfectly good guide to me

Me is the lord of my domain

me is the captain of my soul

the sovereign of me is me

unless something bad happens to me

then it wasn't my fault.

I wonder why I have trouble finding people to love me

I wonder if they too are looking out for me

Luke 9:23-24 (NIV) Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it."


© Jamin Eben 2011

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Philosophy Geek Humor

The new Nirvana advertising campaign slogan: BUT WAIT, THERE'S LESS!

(c)2011 Jamin Eben

Monday, March 14, 2011

"I Don't Know Myself"

There's no humor intended in that title. In fact, it's a phrase I've heard from several friends in the last few months; Always coupled with a bit of sadness. On the surface it seems the impossible statement, how could we feel in effect, unable to know ourselves? Yet this seems to be the tacit goal of our culture. "Be who you are" and yet how often do we find our efforts, often wrapped in the garments of some subculture, look, or relationship, to, in the end, never quite satisfy. Whatever I am, I am more than my labels, more than my group, more than my stereotype whether I like it or not. I am more than the sum of my parts, and I cannot seem to figure out the math.

If you struggle to understand yourself, it might either bring you great joy or great distress to know you are in the grandest of company. From the great to the least, all struggle to understand themselves. Often it is the most self defined in our culture that in the end cannot find any "self" to hold on too. (the latest exploits of Charlie Sheen would seem to lend themselves to this interpretation) We are left looking deep inside and wondering why we are lost without our latest identity (the person, the group, the look, the job) or striving on to make a new one. Or as likely much of both. We are identity addicts, staring at the bottom of the bottle of unfulfilled life roles.

Where did we derail? Why can't the only self aware being on this planet manage to deal with his own self awareness? Why? He was never meant to do it himself.

The king of the reformation theologians, John Calvin, opens his magnum opus(1) with this one twice inverted thought: Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self. Read it again. Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self. No knowledge. None. We grasp at an ever growing chasm between ourselves and true knowledge of ourselves without first understanding God. Perhaps you don't believe in a God. Perhaps you do,l but deep down you know, you don't know him as you should. Either way, humor me for a moment.

If there is a God, assuming anything by such a definition must be a creator in some shape, he must have had a hand in our creation. If so it seems particularly peculiar that he would choose to make a creature of self awareness. Certainly such a creature seems to have the makings of unique origin. A favored existence. The one creature that shared the amazing special bond with its creator of perceiving and changing its own world and interpretation. A creature that by its very thinking creates a perception of its own world. A creature that by very nature of it existence has an inseparable bond with its creator, and yet has the ability to truly change, not only exist. What if that creature were to turn its back on that bond. By some ill event to have its vision clouded. The base as it were removed from the statue so that the perception is now unbounded. He would feel definitionless, floating, unable to understand his own ablility to change himself. Without the core truth of why he his what he is, he can never truly master his own spirit.

I think we know it is true.

Perhaps this is why we so long to be known. Whether through workaholism, or being too quick to relationships, we need to be known. We feel alone in a crowded room, and lost in a lonely one.

If this is all true, then there is a great hope. The God, knowledge of whom is the only solution to our problem, has chosen to reveal himself.

Hebrews 1:1-3 (NIV)

1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

He chose a people, he wrote a book, and ultimately he ripped open the heavens and came himself. God has revealed himself. His name is Jesus. He offers not only the knowledge of God, which would only serve to condemn us because of our mistakes, but also the path to God. He offers a real lasting relationship of growing knowing and being known.

You need not look to your self any longer. You may know that you are known.

Psalm 139
For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.
1 You have searched me, LORD,
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
you, LORD, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts,a]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[a] God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.

19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, LORD,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

New International Version, ©2011 (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica


(1) The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Westminster John Knox press, ed. John T McNeill (c) 1960
(c) Jamin T. Eben 2011

Monday, March 7, 2011

Why Go to Church?

Do you go to church to get something, or to meet someone? I'm afraid the "League of Tyndale" hit the nail on the head with this humorus but a bit too true assesment.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

We need God's wrath to forgive

An amazingly succinct telling of this deep truth by pastor and writer Kevin DeYoung on his blog. If you've ever been sinned against in a way that you think is impossible to forgive. If you lie awake at night beating yourself up because the pain is too great for you to "just get over it" this beautiful truth is for you. THE BIBLE DOESN'T ASK YOU TO GET OVER SIN! I know the all caps thing is technically poor form in internet world but I desperately want Christians to understand. The cross is not just freedom from your own sins, but freedom for sins committed against you. God is your defender. Here's Kevin's words.

"we need God’s wrath in order to forgive our enemies. The reason we can forgo repaying evil for evil is because we trust the Lord’s promise to repay the wicked. Paul’s logic is sound. “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). The only way to look past our deepest hurts and betrayals is to rest assured that every sin against us has been paid for on the cross and or will be punished in hell. We don’t have to seek vigilante justice, because God will be our just judge.

If you submit your life to the cross of Christ he is not only your savior but also your defender. You can take shelter at the cross. Here's another amazing resource on this subject by John Piper. Stop trying to get over it, dive in to Christ and let him handle it.


Monday, February 7, 2011

What to do with the superbowl after the superbowl

Incredibly helpful thoughts from Pastor/Leader C.J. Mahaney from his blog last year

"Sometime after the game-that same evening or the next day- its helpful for a father to draw his child's attention to the game in light of eternity. It's also helpful for us as fathers to be reminded of an eternal perspective. Apart from those few who listen excessively to sports talk radio, this game will be quickly forgotten. Let me ask you this- who won the Super Bowl even five years ago?

The day before the 1972 Super Bowl, Dallas Cowboy running back Duane Thomas said, "if it's the ultimate game home come they're playing it again next year?" Some players seem to get it. Sadly, many fans don't.

More recently Tom Brady, quarterback of three Super Bowl championships, is quoted in a 60 minutes interview saying "Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think there's something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, "Hey man, this is what is." I reached my goal, my dream, my life. I think, "God, it's got to be more than this." I mean this isn't, this can't be what it's all cracked up to be."

I anticipate that in a week or two, after the Super Bowl has been won, the champions will experience this same dissatisfaction. As Augustine said, "You [God] made us for yourself, and our hearts find no peace till they rest in you.""

Pastor Mahaney wrote this for fathers, and super bowl super fans, but as I read it it hit me we all have something we try to make- as Brady would say it- "all this is cracked up to be". Whether it be the dream job, the dream girl (or guy), the dream victory, or the dream buisness, everything seems empty the morning after. To point us back to Augustine's enduring quote and reverse it, our hearts will find rest when we rest in God.