Posted in Book Review, Poetry, Sermon

Decoded by Jay-Z

9780812981155_custom-e0f9d3c36af9afb2eee8798548eee54697c35692-s6-c30.jpegWhat does hip-hop got to do with preaching?  This was my initial reaction the minute I learned from Helen Riley — United Bookstore manager, who Jay Z is.  My ignorance is pardonable, I suppose, because I came all the way across the Pacific Ocean and I am not a musician.  Stories fascinate me though and nothing captivates my undivided attention than a storyteller.  Jay-Z decided to tell a story and it opened me into a world completely different from my own.

It is a hip-hop world — a world where poetry and music collide.  It is a highly competitive world where only the toughest survive.  Jay-Z advocates hip-hop as poetry (235), therefore it is an art — structured yet free.  The minute he told himself “I could do that” (5) — after watching Slate do the rhymes, he did not stop until he reached the top.  His passion got hold of him until he mastered the craft and now reigns as the “king of hip-hop”.

It is a world of stories.  The second reason why Jay-Z wrote Decoded is to tell a little bit of the story of his generation (235) — a fatherless generation.  This generation was forced by their circumstances to mature early.  The streets became their playground, their workplace, their home, their graveyard.  It was a tough world out there — survival of the fittest.  The irony of it all though, is that the streets taught them how to dream and gave them a voice through an art form that expanded the musical horizon.  Hustling and rapping molded Jay-Z’s character and it is fascinating how the streets — regardless of the chaos and hostility toward skin color, contributed in making him a stronger and a better person (87).  His story and the collective stories of hustlers and rappers on the streets of New York and elsewhere in the United States at that particular time in history, convey how the society missed the gold mine — that is, the African American race.

It is a relatable world.  Though in varying degrees, violence and injustice exist in every culture and society.  Every person or race, in time, develops both coping and defense mechanisms.  Hip-hop, as I observed it from Jay-Z’s narratives, has become the creative culture of resistance against these atrocities — and it is understandable.  It channels the frustration, anger, pain, hopes, and dreams through an art form that has the potential the change mindsets and attack the source of one’s malady without being physically brutal or violent.

I commend Jay-Z for his honest, bold, yet fearless revelation of his life and passion.  I never knew him until I got hold of his book Decoded.  I was impressed about the strength of his character and as a preacher, I was challenged to evaluate my preaching skill.  There are several things that ran through my mind while reading the book but I will mention only two.  First, preaching is an art — an art to be mastered.  Jay-Z has a riveting commitment to his craft.  He did not learn it overnight because rapping has a beat and a flow.  He “honed over hundreds of hours of practice and work” since he was nine (141).  Jay-Z is driven by his passion to be excellent for his race and for the next generation.  I wonder if preachers — including myself, have the same level of dedication and commitment.  Am I practicing enough?  Do I exegete enough?  Do I pray enough?  To borrow Jay-Z’s words, do I have that “dead serious discipline” to the talent that I possess (143)?  Second, preaching has a story to tell — in fact, it is the greatest story every told.  Jay-Z’s fearless revelation of his experiences gained my respect both for him and his craft.  He was not ashamed of his story — of being a rapper and a hustler.  I really do not know much about hip-hop but when Jay-Z began telling the stories behind every song, I was drawn to check every song through he internet and listened to them while I read through the lyrics.  Though most of the words and slangs are foreign and quite vulgar for me, I came to accept the culture for what it is and I was led to a place where pain breeds love and hope.  If one knows the context, then acceptance and understanding would not be too hard and too slow to come by.  I have observed that boldness in preaching the Gospel of Christ is fast becoming a rarity.  Most messages today are too careful — no longer sharp as they used to.  Is it because, we as Christians, have already conformed to the patterns of this world?  Or, is it because we no longer have enough testimonies about the saving love and grace of God?  Jay-Z is preaching to me — without him intending to, but indeed, “truth is always relevant” (279) and “being offensive is not a crime” (163).  Preachers know the truth of the Gospel of Christ and it is still relevant and they know that the Word of God is like a two-edged sword — an offensive tool, but it is God’s story and it should be preached.

Decoded is an eye-opener for me — as strange as it may sound.  God, in His wisdom and love, placed small pockets of truth and wisdom all over the pages of this book.  It hit me hard.  Since its inception, rap was built on the question, “What is the meaning of life?” and it remains to be its subject (256).  There was a generation that asked that question and every generation that followed it asked the same.  Christians are supposed to know the answer and preachers are supposed to preach about the answer.  God has given the voice and the platform for preachers to make a difference in the lives of people — young and old.  The challenge is, are we going to let another generation come and go without letting them encounter the Answer to their ultimate question?  There are more Jay-Z’s out there who are just waiting to hear from the Father, are we ready to speak on God’s behalf?

Now, what does hip-hop got to do with preaching again?

 

Book on review:  Decoded by Jay-Z

Posted in Book Review, Sermon

The Choice: Living Your Passion Inside Out

the-choiceThough The Choice is set up to be a collection of sermons with backstories, it is to me a journey — walking with Frank Thomas through the pages of his life and ministry.  It is an honest assessment of one’s inner core and the courage to break out from the mold and be the person that God intended you to be.  I like the book for a lot of reasons.  First, it reminds me to view myself always from the inside out and not outside in.  This is listening to your inner voice and toning down the different voices around you — until only God’s voice fill up the room of your inner self and you become comfortable and accepting of who and what you were created to be.

Second, it is a healthy marriage of homiletics and psychology.  I like the dynamics.  Preaching becomes therapeutic, touching not just the spirit but the soul — I believe healing even of the body.  The sermon language is simple, honest, and connects to the people — it connected to me.  The words can strike a chord and I believe listeners could easily relate to them.  Third, the backstories give the sermons the soul.  I appreciate the fact that Thomas included the backstories for with them I was able to journey with him and understand his theology.  Great preaching is when a preacher is undetached from his sermon.  Sermons are powerful when they are drawn from the preacher’s experiences of the divine and how s/he translates those divine experiences into his human relationships.

Fourth, it is a voice for those who are rethinking their ministry.  I commend Thomas’ honesty about his inner desire to leave pastoral ministry and be a homiletic professor.  As a pastor, admittedly, I am forced to do things that I know I was not called/gifted to do but do it anyway because I love the Church and the ministry.  Most of the time, pastors choose not to reveal what they really feel out of respect for their position and ministry.  This book is a breath of fresh air — a voice of one calling in the wilderness.  There was an instance, when I came across Thomas’ desire to start a preaching center, that I thought I was reading about myself.  I knew from the start I will not remain in the four corners of the Church and do pastoral ministry.  I knew that God is leading me to establish a special ministry and it has something to do equipping the next generation of preachers in my country.  After 18 years of pastoral ministry, I am now taking the necessary steps towards my PhD in Homiletics and then go back to the Philippines to open a preaching center — preaching clinic as I call it.

Fifth, it reveals that preaching has different styles and methods.  I observed that Thomas used different methods in his sermons.  Though most of them utilized the point method in preaching, some are narrative and have the flow.  I like how the theme sentence — sometimes the sermon title, is repeated throughout the sermon.  This style makes sure that the message is clear and can be easily grasp by the listeners.  Finally, it teaches readers or any person in ministry how to gracefully exit.  I appreciate the program that was adopted to transition the church to its new chapter.  Change is almost always uncomfortable.  It breaks the status quo.  However, because the church followed a transition guideline, the Church and Frank Thomas were able to let go without severing the relationship.  I would recommend the same to any church.

Overall, the book has been of great help to me.  It gave me a new perspective of myself and my ministry.  It solidified my resolve to pursue my dream that God has placed upon my heart — to equip the next generation of preachers in my country.

Boon on review:  The Choice: Living Your Passion Inside Out  by Frank A. Thomas

Posted in Sermon

Love floats in chaos

I come from that part of the globe where natural disasters are a common place but I never got used to them. Witnessing destruction of an apocalyptic magnitude right before your very eyes left me horrified. One day the sky turned pitch black; the ground shook every minute; scary rumblings could be heard from afar; rocks, sand, and ashes pounded the roofs of houses like 10,000 marching soldiers; communications were cut; the air was heavy and suffocating due to sulfur dioxide brought by the winds and rains of Typhoon Yunya as Mt. Pinatubo, a once dormant volcano, began unleashing its fury at the same time on that fateful day of 1991. I was 17 and we were within the 40 km (24 miles) radius from the volcano’s summit. Destruction was unimaginable. Hundreds of lives were lost. When nature roars it terrifies us! Nations slump helplessly when undersea earthquakes trigger tsunamis that could kill hundreds of thousands of people. Remember the Asian tsunami in 2004 that killed over 230,000 people in 14 countries? Or the Japanese tsunami in 2011 that caused a nuclear meltdown and killed almost 16,000? Utter devastation! The saddest part is, we could not do anything to stop their onslaught. We watch in horror and are overwhelmed with grief. These calamities threaten and devastate us.

Equally devastating are the calamities that inundate our daily lives: marital infidelity; broken relationships; dysfunctional families; financial difficulties; depression, cancer or other life-threatening illnesses… name it! There seems to be an unbroken string of tragedies that destroys our lives… our relationship with ourselves, with others, and with our God. It is just overwhelming and sometimes we just feel like giving up. We feel like we had had enough of life. We who are in the ministry are not spared from all these. I must admit that I have thought of giving up on my ministry because of a lot of reasons and perhaps you did too.

God must have felt the same way when He decided to destroy humanity and all creation. He was in deep agony because of humanity’s wickedness. He grieves! Oh yes, God is in anguish! Imagine, only Noah was found righteous before Him. Who wouldn’t grieve? Who wouldn’t get mad? It seemed that God could no longer view his creation and say, “and it was good”, (“and it was excellent” in some translations). Creation defiled itself. And the only way to restore it is to destroy it.

Noah must have dreaded the time when finally God asked him to enter the ark that God commanded him to build. I believe Noah too was in deep distress of heart despite the fact that he and his family and all the animals they gathered were spared from annihilation. How can a man be jubilant about the sufferings of others? They were after all his people. It was after all his home. He couldn’t rejoice, he could only trust and obey God’s words.

God did not relent. Creation needs to be purged! Forty days and forty nights of continuous rains. I wonder what it was like for Noah and his family to live inside the ark hearing all the noises as the super typhoon or perhaps a series of category 5 hurricanes become stronger by the minute and the winds howl like a mad man. You hear the sound of rising flood waters – rushing and smashing the ark and finally lifting it to wander aimlessly in that vast ocean that used to be their home. The great flood destroyed everything. The first creation was no more.

But all is not lost – God preserved Noah and his family and all the animals with them! He saved them from utter destruction. He was with them through the storm. He was with them through the flood. God used the ark to protect them just like how He preserved and protected the life of baby Moses through the papyrus basket – floating by the river Nile and saved for a greater purpose.

Noah, his family, and the animals are a remnant of the goodness of the first creation. God looked beyond the destruction brought by the flood for He saw an obedient heart. Several times in the text it was mentioned that Noah obeyed everything that God had commanded him to do. An obedient heart satisfies the heart of God. God knew that saving Noah is not enough to restore creation. He saved his family as well. God is into the business of restoring not just a person but restoring relationships. Even the animals – two by two, male and female! God’s salvation is for all of creation. I can picture Him smiling as He looks at the floating ark with Noah and his family and all the animals in it, saying again, “and it was good”, “and it was excellent”.

The story of Noah teaches us that God’s love is furious! Think of how a hen protects her chicks from predators. She fights back! God’s love fights back. This is the most powerful demonstration of God’s love – though it destroys it preserves! He will crush anything that brings defilement to His creation.

Friends, I also believe that the Lord is saying the same way to all of us today. There are a lot of things going on in our lives that we feel so burdened and stressed as if it is the end of the world. As church ministers, we are so overwhelmed with the tasks at hand and at the same time we have families to attend to; bills to pay; and as students, books to read and papers to finish. But in the midst of all these, we know that His grace is sufficient for us and He will come and save us!

His love makes us resilient just like Noah in the midst of the flood. The ark was so tiny compared to the great flood – but the good news is, the ark floated! It did not sink! And just like the ark that floated and saved Noah, God’s love is the buoyancy of our hope. There is hope in the midst of despair. There is restoration in the midst of loss. There is love in the midst of hatred. There is wholeness in brokenness. There is forgiveness… there is mercy… there is grace.

Several months ago, we have heard of another school shooting in the state of Washington. Jaylen Fryberg, a highschool student, shot his friends – the people he loved, before shooting himself. One of the teenagers that he shot is Nate Hatch, his cousin. Nate survived thankfully and posted a powerful message for Jaylen on his twitter account that touched my heart. He said, “I love you and I forgive you Jaylen. Rest in peace!” That’s the love of God right there! Love floats in chaos. Grace sails with crisis.

God’s love forgives even though it hurts Him. His love saves even though it meant His death on the cross. His resurrection is for our restoration!

–  I preached this sermon in one of our preaching classes at United Theological Seminary.  Text is Genesis 7:1-18