I’ve Got Good News, and I’ve Got Bad News…

…but I’m only going to tell you the bad news. Or at least that’s the way it felt twice on Good Friday this year.

During this Easter season, I have the privilege of performing in several presentations of Piercing Word’s Passion: The Musical, a performance of word-for-word Scripture portraying the Last Supper, trial, crucifixion, resurrection, and Great Commission of Jesus. However, for two of our performances on Good Friday, we were requested to end after the crucifixion.

I understand the idea behind these requests. I can see why our hosts would want to focus specifically on the suffering of Jesus, on His death in the place of sinful people, on the sheer magnitude of His sacrifice. It is perfectly valid to meditate on how He took God’s wrath in our place.

With that said, it still rubbed me the wrong way. Being asked to stop with Jesus dead on the cross instead of going on to show the hope and joy of His resurrection irked me, perhaps more than it should have. Why? Well, to be honest, I think it started with the superficiality of the fact that I like the joyful ending of the production – the soaring melody of the angel at the empty tomb (written by my friend Dan Keeley), the powerful scene of Thomas seeing the risen Jesus and putting his trust in Him, the inspiring charge of Jesus to make disciples of all nations. But the more I thought about the whole scenario yesterday, the more I considered the implications of the resurrection.

To be honest, I struggle with Christian doctrine at times. Not all of it, and not all the time, but there are some things that I really just don’t get, and some things that I think I understand, but that I don’t really like. I find great comfort in the Bible; I also find great perplexity in it at times. But in my pondering over the past couple of days, I have only become more convinced of the centrality and importance of the resurrection.

If the resurrection is a fact, it changes everything. If someone was dead for a few days, then got up, folded His grave clothes, and started going around surprising old friends in locked rooms, it is not something that can just be ignored. If someone comes back from the dead, I have to pay attention to that person — I have to play by their rules, so to speak.

Much of my thinking in this post is shaped, more or less subconsciously, by Timothy Keller’s The Reason for GodIn it he writes, “If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.”

Similarly, in a discussion about hard-to-accept Christian doctrines, my brother once said, “just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean it isn’t true.” I completely agree. The thing is, there is an awful lot to like about the resurrection and the hope of everlasting life that it gives! If Jesus was raised from the dead (and by the way, He raised a few other people Himself before that point), He has defeated the strongest enemy, the unavoidable and inevitable destructive force common to all life on this earth. Even if I don’t understand or like something He says, it makes no sense for me to oppose the One who has power over death. But even more than that, it makes no sense for me to oppose the One who took on death in my place out of love.

Despite what I said at the top of this post, I realize that when we were asked to stop our performance after the crucifixion, we were not delivering “bad news.” Good Friday is called “good” for a reason — there was great good accomplished through the work of Jesus on the cross. But that good is meaningless if He did not rise from the dead. As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19 ESV). Or, as one of my friends put it (and this one’s for all my fellow music nerds), “If the gospel ended in death it would be about as satisfying as a symphony ending on a deceptive cadence.”

I’ve talked mostly about what is implied by the resurrection of Jesus, if it is true. I would highly recommend Keller’s book for a good overview of reasons to believe that it is in fact true. Or, if you would prefer, I challenge you to ask Jesus to reveal Himself to you. After all, if He was resurrected, then He’s still alive, and if you set your heart on seeking Him, you will find Him. As God said through the prophet Jeremiah, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13 ESV).

Enjoy your Easter this year, and take time to reflect on the Good News of Jesus — His death and resurrection, and what that means for us right now, today.

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I Wish the Church Looked More Like the DMV

It was with a good deal of impish glee that I drove myself up to the DMV last week to get my learner’s permit. Of course, my Mom was in the passenger seat, and this would be my third time getting a permit, so there was nothing illegal or truly rebellious about it – I was simply giving up my Indiana permit to get another Pennsylvania one. In any case, I pulled into the lot of 131 Rohrerstown Road, and in we went.

The DMV is a sort of people-watcher’s dream. You have a constantly shifting population in a room with lots of lines and seats and buzzing-beeping lighty-uppy intercom things – so basically, an amusement park with lots of rides but no roller coasters. And we’re not just talking people with enough money to blow on a day at the amusement park. We’re talking everyone. Everyone who wants to be somewhat functional in our society comes to the DMV. So you have your bright-eyed 16 year-old girls and their proud-but-nervous parents, you have guys like the gruff, hefty, not-at-all-interested-in-conversation gentleman I sat next to, you’ve got people whose English proficiency is barely enough for them to scrape through the red tape, and you’ve got the very-well-to-do, who, despite their high position in society, cannot escape the long lines through which all motorists must go.

As Mom and I sat there together between the gruff gentleman and a friendly young African American lady, we talked about the remarkable diversity present at the DMV. “I wish church looked like this,” I said to her.

Imagine that. Trade out the buzzing-beeping lighty-uppy intercom things (or keep ‘em, if you like) for some pews, or some rocks under a tree, or a couch in someone’s basement, or wherever your part of the global Church meets, but keep the same people there. Don’t “fix them up” (the rich ones OR the poor ones) – just take them as they are. Now I don’t know what you’re picturing, but to me it is starting to look a lot more like Revelation 7:9-10, where it says “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice,“Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

I don’t intend to make this a dissertation on diversity in the Church. However, if we as the Church are to be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1), then not only should we strive to act in accordance with His love, but I believe we should reflect God’s Triune character, the very essence of His being, which He has revealed to be a diversity in complete unity – three distinct Persons who are yet one. So the next time you drag your feet to the DMV (or happily skip there, though I think the former is more common), look around the room while you are waiting. (Odds are, you will have a good bit of time for such an activity!) Look at the people, a snapshot of your local flavor of diversity, whether it be racial or socioeconomic. If you have received God’s free offer of salvation, I would encourage you to think of the scene at the DMV as a little preview of the kind of people you will stand with at the end of the world before the throne of the Lamb as you declare the goodness of your God. And think of how we as Christians can seek to work today for a beautiful “unity in diversity” in the Church that reflects the nature of our Triune God.

The Republican National Convention, Robert E. Lee, and Jesus

 

This past week I spent two nights in a rather fancy-schmancy house in Ocean City, NJ, right on the edge of the water. The lady who hosted us seemed to be quite the dedicated advocate of the GOP, and, in fact, I was somewhat startled walking into the kitchen area at one point to find a life-size cardboard cutout of Donald Trump staring back at me. With that in mind, it was not really shocking to come back to the house after dinner our second night there and find her watching some recorded coverage of the Republican National Convention.

Though I had been quite determined to go to bed early after a long day out on the beach and boardwalk, I figured that perhaps it would be a good idea to educate myself a little on what actually is happening in the world of politics, first-hand.

I listened to Willie Robertson, of Duck Dynasty fame, as he gave a somewhat humorous speech in support of Trump. Shortly afterwards, though, the mood shifted dramatically, as Marcus Luttrell, whose story was the inspiration for the movie Lone Survivor, appeared onstage. Having seen the film myself, I was intrigued as to what this man, who had gone through so much, would have to say.

Luttrell’s speech was heartfelt, and his loving devotion to his country shone clearly through it. The crowd responded with great enthusiasm to his obvious patriotism. He touched something deep in the hearts of many, as shown by the teary eyes and loud applause from the audience. But the whole time, I could not shake the feeling that something was amiss. I felt as though Luttrell and his audience had a clear grasp of a partial truth, but were missing the greater reality.

Luttrell addressed the fear that is a part of life in our world when he said “the world outside of our borders is a dark place, a scary place. America is the light.” I agree that the world is a dark, scary place, but I do not believe America is the light of the world. Frankly, I think there have been enough dark and scary events in our country over the past month alone to show that America is no better than any other country. However, I would like to suggest an alternative to Luttrell’s assertion. Jesus told his followers that they are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). This is not because of anything special about Christians — it is because of the life-changing power of the God who is love at work in and through them.

Take a detour with me. During a long car ride a couple weeks ago from New York state to near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, we decided it would be fitting to watch the epic film Gettysburg, which is about the Civil War battle that occurred there. It is one of those older movies where much of the 4.5-hour duration is taken up by “well, there’s a guy riding a horse…and now there is some infantry marching…oh look, another guy riding a horse,” etc. ad nauseum.

At one point in the film, the Confederate general Robert E. Lee rides among his soldiers as they cheer wildly for him, many pressing in and reaching out to shake his hand. This goes on for probably a good two minutes of screen time, and it is nothing but the Confederate soldiers expressing their admiration and love of General Lee. Something about it tugged at my heart. I wanted to join in such a celebration of a hero, to be part of a movement with a leader who was worthy of wholehearted devotion and unabashed celebration. It made me think forward to the return of Jesus, when He will be a just and righteous conqueror, and we will adore Him in all of His goodness.

My point in bringing that up is this: people are searching for something to put their hope in; something to give their lives to. For some, perhaps, that was Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy he fought for. For some that is the GOP, for others it is jihad, and it is a million other things for billions of other people. But anything that is of this broken world or of the broken people who live here (that’s all of us, folks) is bound to disappoint in the end.

The only cause worth all our devotion is that of loving and serving God. The only person worth all our admiration and love is the one true Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (So I guess that makes three persons in one…not enough room to delve into the depths of the doctrine of the Trinity here!) The only kingdom worth all our loyalty and patriotism is the kingdom of God.

So for all those who were moved by Marcus Luttrell and his speech, I do not necessarily want to quench your patriotism for the United States of America. And for those of my generation who were inspired by the challenge he gave us to “love something more than you love yourself…[to] step up and take the fight to the enemy, because it’s here,” I do not want to crush your enthusiasm to rise to that challenge. Instead, I want to point you to a far greater cause, because I believe with all my heart that America is too small and flawed a cause to be worthy of the highest devotion, and the people who might come to mind when we think of “enemies” are actually not who we should be concerned with fighting against. Ephesians 6:12 (ESV) says,”For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” There may be a time to take up arms against men whose aims are evil, but I feel those times are few and far between. (I actually lean towards pacifism, but that is not the point of this post.)

The world is in a desperate condition. Even where this is not outwardly obvious because of some tragedy, many, many people are wasting away inside, drowning in hopelessness, starved for love, unable to find a way out of the brokenness that permeates the human race. Luttrell is right: the fight is here. 1 Peter 5:8 (NIV) says, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

But thanks be to God! Through Jesus, God is reconciling to Himself all things in heaven and on earth (Colossians 1:20). The God who made the world good in the beginning is at work in our world now, and in the end will make all things new (Revelation 21:5). And He is calling us to join in His work; to dare to love our enemies, to strive for justice, and to point others to Him, the wellspring of all that is excellent and beautiful, the very source of life!

So I join with Marcus Luttrell in calling not just my own generation, but all people to step up to the challenge to love something more than yourself. But the call I aspire to for myself and all those around me is greater than service to any country of the earth. It is the call to love the God of the universe and take part in His kingdom work.

So the next time you find yourself caught up in the emotion of some speech or movie, when your heart rate quickens and a longing to be part of something great wells up inside of you, savor that feeling. Take it in, relish it, and let it point you to the One who is most worthy of all such joyful devotion.

Panda Express and My Discovery of “Work”

“Is this for here or to go?” asked the rather jolly Panda Express employee who was getting my lunch ready for me.

“It’s for to go,” I replied. I’ve been using that “for to go” phrase for several years now — most fast food workers seem to get a kick out of it. Actually, this particular lady seemed to get a kick out of everything. Maybe that’s why she’s working at Panda Express, because, you know, Kung Fu Panda. But I digress.

“Are you going to work today?” A simple enough question, but it made me think. Was I going to work today? When I think of “going to work” I imagine wearing uncomfortable formal clothes and sitting at a desk in front of a computer, glancing at the clock from time to time and wondering how it could be possible that only five seconds had passed since the last time I looked. Either that or going out in the blazing summer humidity and getting a nice golden-brown crust of dirt around my sunburned skin from ten hours of hard manual labor.

“Um, well, sort of,” I mumbled.

Are you going to work today, Daniel?” a voice questioned from behind me. Apparently, my boss had walked in from the parking lot while I was ordering. His question quickly helped me find some clarity concerning my answer.

“Yes, I am going to work today,” I informed the Panda Express lady, now with much more conviction. “But I’m not sitting in a cubicle, if that’s what you mean.”

She didn’t ask for further clarification, and I didn’t give it. However, the short interaction did make me think about how thankful I am for my job. God has blessed me with the opportunity to do something I have wanted to do for years but wasn’t sure I would ever have a shot at. I get to travel around and perform concerts, and I even get paid to do it. Sure, we do our fair share of manual labor moving heavy equipment, and yes, I do look at the clock in the car to see how much longer we have to drive. But at the end of the day, I am playing music, giving a good gift to the people in the audience and my friends onstage as we delight in its mysterious power to enliven, inspire, and encourage, and as we celebrate the goodness of God together. So maybe I am going to work as I type this, sitting in the car on the way to a concert venue.

But when it comes down to it, my job is music, and I love my job.

We’re Christians. We DO stuff!

During my four years at Taylor University, I lived on a floor renowned for various shenanigans, known as The Brotherhood, or “Broho” for short. One day, my friend Carson was about to do something a little crazy and collegiate — to be precise, he was about to hurl himself into a ginormous snowman (which was more like a rock-hard iceman by that point) outside of our dorm. Why? Well, just before he did it, he gave voice to his rationale for such an action: “We’re Broho! We do stuff!”

The other night, I was backstage during our concert in Greenfield, IN, and there in the pastor’s office was a poster. It had an image of a rather intense Dietrich Bonhoeffer and this quote:

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil; God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

I don’t think that I’m the only Christian who can be a little reluctant to act at times. I like the intellectual side of Christianity a lot — it is interesting and, at times, exhilarating to ponder deep theological tenets, and rejoicing in the love of God is not something that pains me. But when it comes to actually acting on my faith, passing on the love of God to others, many times I am hesitant. And I don’t think I’m the only one.

Let me give you a small for instance: last night, one of our group members got rather sick in the middle of our performance. During the skit, I was backstage with the two other guys who don’t have a role, while our sick friend was sweating on stage for three minutes for the sake of his one line. I felt as though we should pray together for him, but I got hit with a case of the awkwards. As I was inwardly hemming and hawing around, I remembered something my friend Alex said last summer when he suggested we pray as a group:

“I mean, we’re Christians – isn’t this what we’re about?”

Well put, Alex! So prompted by the Holy Spirit, and reminded of Alex’s wisdom, we prayed for our friend.

Today I was once again reminded of the brokenness of the world. My sister posted something on Facebook about the desperate condition of the people of Fallujah caused by ISIS. The other day when we were in downtown Nashville, right there amidst the glitz and glamour, we saw homeless people, heads bowed, displaying signs such as “Why lie, I need smokes.” These are just just a couple examples of so many things that are just plain wrong with the world. It is easy to get lost in the immensity of the darkness all around, and its sheer weight can make it hard to take a step and do anything at all. 

But as Bonhoeffer exhorts, we cannot turn a blind eye. The apostle John puts it this way: “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18 NIV). Or as God said through the prophet Isaiah, 

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”

-Isaiah 58:6,7 NIV

One of the most important things I have been learning as I have been growing in concern for the problems of the world is that I cannot fix everything. OK, let’s be real: I can’t fix anything. Jesus said ““I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 NIV). If anything is to be accomplished, it will be done through His power. The God who made the world good in the beginning is at work to bring restoration now.

That said, in wonderful, mysterious way, God has chosen us, His church, a rather weak, disobedient, and stubborn (though changing!) bunch of people to bring about His restoration. As I once heard a pastor say, Christianity is not merely an intellectual assent to some ideas. We are called to act. To build off the ideas of Alex and Carson, perhaps one of our rallying cries as the Body of Christ should be “We’re Christians. We do stuff!” Or, as we are doing God’s work in its many forms, we should think to ourselves, or tell a passerby, “We’re Christians — this is what we’re about.”

So what can we do? I most certainly do not have all the answers, but here are a few ideas:

  1. Pray. Remember that whole “vine and branches” thing? Apart from God we can do nothing, so I think our first calling is to seek Him and remain in His love (see John 15:1-17).
  2. Give. Time. Money. A listening ear. Whatever it is, we can respond to the world’s needs out of God’s love for us by giving of whatever resources we have been blessed with. As some thoughtful soul etched in a library bathroom stall at Taylor University: “Love is giving and the greatest thing to give is time!”
  3. Talk. The waters of conversation can be difficult to navigate, and most of the time we stick to the safe, shallow currents of weather, sports, food, etc. — you know how it is. However, I think that if we just occasionally gave voice to the deeper issues, it would go a long way. Especially when our own lives are comfortable, it can be easy to drift along, ignoring the hardships of others, but there is great power in simply raising awareness. “You don’t know what you don’t know,” and nobody will respond to an issue they are unaware of.

One last story: I look up to my dad a lot — sometimes he does really cool things. For instance, he is 64 years old and is working like crazy to earn his doctorate. But more than that, he is taking the hard road. Originally, his dissertation was going to be on the rather safe topic of credentialing pastors. However, he felt that God was calling him to do something else, something much more challenging, but extremely important. And so, he is now many months into researching the topic of child abuse in the Kenyan church, with an eye toward developing policies for protection. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to immerse oneself in such a topic, but he is obeying the Lord. I’m excited to see how his work benefits the Church!

That’s all for now. If you like music, here is a link to a song by Matthew West that had a part in inspiring my dad’s decision (and the video, which I watched just now, is actually pretty cool!): “Do Something”

 

Restart

I like blogging the way that many Americans like soccer. To paraphrase from the Stuff White People Like blog, “Americans like the idea of soccer.” Every four years when the World Cup rolls around, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more dedicated population of fans — for about three weeks. I started up this blog page for a class assignment at Taylor University in the spring semester of 2013, and have let it collect dust ever since. Now that I have graduated, my schedule has a void in the absence of homework, so naturally, blogging seems like a good idea.

Perhaps the largest obstacle for me in actually getting this back up and running is the fact that I don’t have life-altering epiphanies on a daily or even weekly basis (hard to believe, I know). I mean, what’s the point of writing a blog if it is not going to inspire the readers to give all they have to the poor and sail across the Pacific on a raft to live among the people of a tiny island in Indonesia?

I don’t have a concise answer to that question, but I am coming to the conclusion that hitting a home run (or perhaps “scoring a goal,” for my fellow World Cup fans) in the “life-changing message” department of blog-writing is not really the goal. Time is one of the greatest tools for teaching anything, and often learning comes slowly, imperceptibly. A case in point is this: I have just left my college friends and now I am traveling with a group of fellow musicians in the King’s Brass. I want the same depth of relationship with these new friends that I had with my friends from school, but the simple fact of the matter is this: relationships take time. Similarly, anything I have to share that will be deeply thought-provoking or insightful will likely come only after a good deal of time has elapsed since I first started kicking it around in my mind. Often, it is not until I have taken the time to “become good friends” with an idea that it takes a clearly defined shape and is ready to be shared.

So I invite you to journey with me as I take the time to put down my thoughts and experiences. When epiphanies come, feel free to start building the raft for your Pacific journey, but don’t hold your breath for those moments. Instead, take a few minutes to enjoy life and God’s goodness with me through the small things. At the end of however long, we can look back together and find that we indeed have changed, little by little, as we have traveled along. And hopefully it’ll last longer than a three-week World Cup soccer phase!

 

A Real Page-Turner!

So today I was thinking about God’s faithfulness over time, from Israel to the end times (although I suppose He was faithful before that), so I flipped to find Revelation and read about His faithfulness in restoration, and lo and behold, I instead flip right to the page of my concordance which had “faithfulness” on it. Interesting.

When I did get over to Revelation, I read 21:26, which talks about how no one who does what is shameful or deceitful will enter the New Jerusalem, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. I know I do shameful and deceitful things, and although I know Jesus has saved me and made me new, I didn’t feel all that assured about it right then. My Bible had a note about the book of life, referring me to Revelation 3:5, so I went to turn there, and flipped to a verse 3:5, which says, in the NIV, “But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.” I then realized that this was 1 John 3:5, not Revelation 3:5, but was that ever what I needed to hear – a great scriptural reminder of the fact that Jesus HAS taken away my sin! Hallelujah!

It is great how God sometimes shows you neat things when you flip through your Bible that you are not even looking for but that you need to see. I have no doubt that He was guiding my page-flipping today to show me that page of my concordance with “faithfulness” and then just a little later that flip to 1 John 3:5. It seems like He wanted to give me a playful reminder of His presence with me.

Karibuni!

Greetings, one and all! I am glad you have found your way to my site. My name is Daniel Morrison. I am a student at Taylor University majoring in Music with a Concentration in Theatre. I grew up as a missionary in Kenya, the youngest of six kids.

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I hope that you will enjoy your time looking through my site! There is a blog which will hopefully cheer and encourage you, and other fun features soon to come.