Thinking Out Loud

April 16, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Pet Blessing Service

I’m writing this assuming everyone survived the prophetic implications of the blood moon, but maybe the April 15 income tax deadline is a form of judgment. 

As we do each Wednesday, clicking anything below will take you to PARSE where the links are live.

Paul Wilkinson writes the rest of the week at Thinking Out Loud, and edits the daily devotional Christianity 201 page.

Lettuce Pray from _ChristianHumor Twitter

April 15, 2014

Gospel Music Association to Induct Rich Mullins to Hall of Fame

Filed under: media, music — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:52 am

Ragamuffin Rich Mullins Movie

It’s an honor that would have made Rich Mullins blush.

The GMA (Gospel Music Association) will induct Rich Mullins, writer of “Awesome God,” into the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame at their inaugural GMA Honors Ceremony to be held on Tuesday, April 29th at Lipscomb University’s Allen Arena. The event celebrates those being inducted into the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame as well as individuals and organizations that are impacting our culture globally both past and present. Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant are the first performers announced for the ceremony, with more to be added.

The GMA honor comes on the heels of the Color Green Films Ragamuffin movie inspired by the life and legacy of Mullins whose tour launched earlier this year and is currently screening across the nation.

source: Christian Cinema

The movie has been on a tour of single-night showings across the U.S. since January, due to wrap up at the end of May. A full list of remaining venues is available here. Here is a short trailer:

Mullins left a legacy of great songs — including Our God is an Awesome God — but this will always be my personal favorite:

Another one was the powerful song Creed, a declaration of faith and doctrine which we featured here.

I realize that I may not get to see this until it is released on video, but I would not want to miss this story.

Ragamuffin Movie

April 14, 2014

Should Couples Hold Hands in Church?

Church behaviorDifferent denominations have different ideas as to the appropriateness of what is sometimes called PDA — public displays of affection — in the context of Christian camps or youth group meetings. Any rules that might exist are usually put in place with the intention of applying them to teens and twenty-somethings. Some churches have very strict standards on this, while in others, you’re probably wondering why this topic is here today.

Hand holding is a mark of commitment. If people want to know if it is true that the divorced usher on the east aisle is seeing the alto in the choir, walking in arm and arm should clear up that mystery in a hurry. In the context of gay relationships, in addition to being a gesture of affection, hand holding is really making the statement, ‘Yes, we are gay;’ and so doing this in church is a bold declaration of that situation.

But today I’m not looking at PDAs as physical status updates nor am I as concerned with the puppy love in the youth group. I’m talking about couples who have been married for some time and have nothing they’re trying to broadcast by being affectionate.

Yesterday I attended three different church services. I am always aware of men who put their arms around their wives during the service — and sometimes it’s the other way around — and there are times I do this myself. Whether the church in question has pews or chairs, I like to stretch out anyway, so whether there is an empty seat or it’s my wife sitting next to me, I am likely to do this, though I probably have my arm around her less than half the duration of the sermon.

On the other hand — pun intended — there are the couples who sit really close and the hug lasts the duration of the sermon.  (Except in summer in one church I visit which has no air conditioning.) I always see this as a church service = movie date type of posture. I would hope that in worship we see ourselves as standing before God individually even though as we sing we are worshiping corporately. The worship time is our personal response to God, and not something I can do with my spouse. (A possible exception might be if the worship leader invites everyone to join hands and sing a classic like “We are One in the Spirit,” or “Father Make Us One.”) I would also like to believe that in an ideal world, during the sermon we are busy taking notes, or looking up passages in our Bibles, even when the words are on the screen.

I also believe that during the actual time of the service, our “arm around” is broadcasting more than we realize.

  • It says to everyone that we are happy and committed. (Oh, if only they could see the chaos just ten minutes before we left home!) So in that sense, we are modeling what we consider to be the normal husband/wife relationship. We’re saying that the church family is a place where we are free to express that. It might be the only time we’ve had all week to just sit together.
  • It possibly serves as a major distraction however to singles. It could be a jarring reminder that they are sitting alone; that they have no such relationship; no hand to hold. I’m not sure this is the intention, but with all the other things the church does which tends to cater to couples with 2.4 children, I’m not sure we need one more. (Especially the one where, at the end of the benediction, the couple shares a quick kiss.)
  • It does equate to something we might do at a concert, play or movie. In that sense, we are saying that we are observers; that we are the audience; when the worship environment should be one where we are participants.
  • It gives the aforementioned kids in the youth group unspoken permission to do the same, which when combined with the current trend toward low lighting levels in our modern auditoriums, should beg all kinds of other questions. Can teens with raging hormones get all turned on while the preacher is discussing righteousness and judgment? (It’s a rhetorical question.)

HandsSo while I realize the intentions and motivation in the first case may be pure enough, and while I hate to be The Grinch that ruined the only moment of affection you and the significant other had all week; the second, third and fourth points seem to suggest a more conservative approach. I’m not saying you won’t catch me next Sunday with my arm around my wife, but it’s good to occasionally stop and think our actions through.

What do you think?
Any stories to tell on this subject?

 

 

April 13, 2014

Reminder That Life Can Be Short

James 4:13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” 14Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”…

Canada is getting ready for a state funeral for the former federal Minister of Finance, a man who stepped down from that position just three weeks ago. He guided Canada through some tough waters over the past few years and with his strong leadership plus some strong economic fundamentals built into the fabric of Canadian fiscal policy, the country weathered the storms created in the U.S. by recession, bank failures, the mortgage crisis, etc. without succumbing to same fate as did our American cousins.

Jim Flaherty passed away last week from a severe heart attack, at age 64. While we don’t wish to exploit the family’s grief, it is a reminder that life can be very short. Flaherty was looking forward to slowing down and having more time for hobbies, friends and family. But it never happened.

On the other hand, he lived a very full life and made a difference in his world. The state funeral equivalent in the U.S. would be giving such an honor to a member of the Cabinet or the Speaker of the House.

What have you accomplished so far?

What are you putting off for ‘later’ or for retirement that maybe you should do today?

What will your life be remembered for?

This is a song I wrote a long, long time ago. (Yes, it’s got several verses; I was verbose even back then!) It seemed appropriate to run this here even though it appeared only 18 months ago.

The time has come to look around
Just before the daylight ends
Wish I could have accomplished more
The life I lived seems empty
Now I wish it had been full
What will my life be remembered for?

Some men have built great buildings
Some men have written songs
Others were heroes in a war
I’m not a writer or inventor
Nor a teacher or a preacher (so tell me)
What will my life be remembered for?

Some men have found diseases’ cures
Others ways to lighten loads
Some gave leadership, and more
Doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs
I’m neither one of these (so help me)
What’ll my life be remembered for?

Society bears the mark of ones
Who contributions made
To boldly go where no man’s gone before
Butchers, bakers, candle-makers
Libraries list their names (but not mine)
What’ll my life be remembered for?

Some men make it in Who’s Who
While others write on walls
While astronauts and pilots higher soar
The Guinness Book of Records
Shows what other men have done (but not me)
What will my life be remembered for?

If I could leave a painting
Or a book or an idea
Or maybe sail uncharted shores
Entertainers, living legends
Athletes, immortalized
No famous quotation have I to share
So what’ll my life be remembered for?

I’d like to be in pictures
And no introduction need
And give of my time, talents, wealth and more
The hour glass runs out of sand
No moments for me
A lonely poor man cries out loud
“What’ll my life be remembered for?”

April 12, 2014

On First Communion and Confirmation Gift-Giving

First Communion Confirmation

…And how it relates to adult Baptism by Evangelicals

I don’t know enough Roman Catholic Church history to know at what point First Communion and Confirmation became gift giving occasions; though I do see how the Christening of a baby might occasion a little remembrance from close family. More recently, I’ve been asked if there is a gift or card appropriate for First Reconciliation, the first confession necessary before receiving the sacrament.

In the last several years, this activity has not been restricted to friends and family of Catholic Children. Believer’s baptism of adults and teens in Evangelical churches often joins the rank of religious occasions sending people out into the marketplace frantically searching for just the right gift. I’m not sure if this by outsiders who feel the gift is expected, or by insiders who have been caught up the current of purchasing started by their Mainline Protestant and Catholic friends.

As someone whose daytime employment allows for the possibility that I have a huge conflict of interest here, let me say for the record that I have always put principle over profit, and in this case I think a card is sufficient and a gift is not warranted.

Yes, it’s okay to give people Christian books and Bibles to encourage them in their Christian journey generally; and some CDs and wall plaques might even suit the occasion. But nobody reading this should ever feel that when someone desires to follow Jesus in the waters of Baptism that this necessitates a shopping trip. 

Perhaps this a microcosm of our modern consumerist disease that propels us to take any situation — good or bad — and throw money at it. There is also the possibility that if it’s a young adult being baptized, Christians are searching for a counterpart to the Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah enjoyed by our Jewish friends, or Catholic or Anglican confirmation itself.

Rather, just as a wedding is an opportunity for a couple to think back to their wedding day and inwardly renew their vows, an adult baptism service allows you and I to look carefully at our own walk with God and refresh that commitment.

Someone at the early stages of their Christian journey needs you as a mentor, not a benefactor. Don’t buy something, be there for them.


I got into a much deeper Bible study using this topic as a springboard today at Christianity 201. Click here to read Cheapening Spiritual Progress With Giftware.

Image: Random pics from two Google Images searches for Confirmation and First Communion Gifts. I only saw one thumbnail picture of a Bible among the pictures selected.

 

April 11, 2014

An Outsider Looks at Together for the Gospel

I’ve been aware of the Together for the Gospel conference for a long time, but this week, through the miracle of live streaming and a schedule that coincided, I was able to catch a portion of many of the sessions, including a few sermons from beginning to end.

In many ways it reminded me of an experience a long time ago where I suddenly found myself immersed in a denomination that had always been completely foreign, attending an annual Easter Conference that consisted of speaker after speaker I had never heard of addressing content I was not fully grasping.

I came to this particular event a little better informed as to the subject matter and a great deal more familiar with the speakers, in some cases by reputation in other cases having read their blogs or books for quite some time.

Still, I am very much an outsider, and had I attempted to enter the event physically instead of virtually, I am sure that all manner of alarms would have been tripped. Better to view from a distance, I suppose.

I have a few takeaways from what I was able to catch over the three days that I believe are worth sharing. If you’ve never heard of T4G, this will be an introduction. On the other hand, if this is your tribe, you’ll see at least one person’s perception of the event and surrounding culture.

Together for the Gospel - Constituencies

The Players

T4G is very much a product of what is sometimes called The New Calvinism, or the Young, Restless and Reformed movement. I saw evidence of four streams blending into the T4G pond; consisting of (from smallest to largest):

Presbyterian: I suspect this was the smallest constituency numerically, but Presbys are Reformed in doctrine. So maybe these are the cousins, what Holiness Movement denoms are to hardcore Pentecostals, perhaps. This is also probably considered the liberal wing of the Reformed set, but in balance, if you like your theology capital “L” liberal you probably don’t frequent conferences such as these that skew a little more small “e” evangelical.

Classical Reformed: By this I mean your standard purebred CRC (Christian Reformed Church) or RCA (Reformed Church of America) members, or historically Reformed variants on those two denoms. Dutch ancestry is optional, but it helps.

Southern Baptist: This is where I thought it gets interesting. There is some agreement that to some degree, 5-point Calvinism is becoming the doctrine de rigeur of the SBC, though not all welcome this. (Free Will Baptists are definitely a minority and Free Willy Baptists don’t even show in the stats.) So you see many prominent SBC-ers (more on that in a minute) showing up on panels and as speakers and lots of commercials for LifeWay (a Baptist cash cow) showing up on the giant screen.

New Calvinists: This is the primary target audience for the conference, these are also the people both great and small who dominate the Christian blogosphere and Christian publishing for that matter. (More on that later as well.) They appear to be one of the fastest growing sectors of Christianity right now, but again some of that has to with online perception; the internet was made for this movement, and this movement was made for the internet. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. Doctrinally, we’re talking a more hardline 5-point Calvinism than many Classical Reformers. This also takes in sub-sectors such as the Acts 29 Network and the Sovereign Grace churches; and also close friends such as the Harvest Bible Fellowship churches.

The Conference Itself

The three day event in Louisville, KY as evidenced in the main, arena venue consisted of worship times, panel discussions and main speakers. Admittance was by wristband, which apparently one didn’t want to misplace. Grace is a key component of T4G teaching, but apparently it’s not universally applied. In general, I have no complaints with the conference structure…but that doesn’t make for interesting reading, so we’ll move on.

The Music

All of the music that I saw was led by Bob Kauflin, who I got to meet in the very early days of Glad, a “Jesus Music” band dating back to the late ’70s. Bob led from a grand piano facing the stage, so the live streaming consisted entirely of a medium closeup of Bob with a few audience members in the background. No band. No backup vocalists. I wondered if this is normative with the various types of churches represented in the audience.

The music was dominantly hymns with the addition of some Sovereign Grace music and modern-hymns of the Stuart Townend/Keith & Kristyn Getty variety. With almost each piece, Bob would stop playing so that phrases or entire stanzas could be sung a capella. This creates a rather amazing worship atmosphere — especially in a large arena — if not overdone. In my opinion, this was overdone.

At this point, I recognize I run the risk of irate comments, so let me say this is in no way personal. Kauflin is a respected leader in the field of worship music, though we disagree on some issues, such as making minor lyrical changes or the composition of extra verses by local church musicians. His track record in this field is laudable.

But as a musician and worship leader who has been in a similar situation — not once, but twice — I believe it’s time to think about a succession plan; to look toward passing the torch. Working in that direction begins by sharing the stage, by letting younger worship leaders try their wings. I am sure there are, within their movement, some younger musicians deserving of this honor.

The Books

No, I’m not talking about T4G’s finances. One of the things that really stood out to me was the constant reference to the conference bookstore. In addition to some books that delegates received gratis, there were books promoted by the chairperson for each session, and discussion panelists who mentioned a book were often informed seconds later that the particular title was indeed, available at the store.

As someone who loves books, obviously I feel this is commendable. But it’s also a reminder — and please hear this carefully — that this is a particular faith culture that is very much about words. Books, articles, blogs, etc. matter and matter a great deal. (There are very few Salvation Army bloggers, because they’re all out doing what the rest of us only write about.) Your future in the New Calvinist movement depends much on being aware of the latest encyclicals from the movement’s leaders, and participants seem to go deep, past conversational familiarity with the works in question. 

Still, many of the books would be foreign even to mainstream Christian bookstore proprietors, which is why they are often sold through exclusive channels. I’ve written about this elsewhere, so we’ll move on.

The Superstars

I should say first that each denom has its own key people. Whether you attend a district conference, or a national one, there are certain people who, by whatever means, have risen to the top of the organizational hierarchy and are thereby held in high regard.

T4G is no different really. The composition of this year’s lineup — all male, by the way — is somewhat similar to the Venn diagram above, with a similar ratio of speakers and panelists representing different constituencies.  Still, it seems to run to extremes here, with key leaders held in dangerously high esteem, and members of the rank and file working hard to be able to quote chapter and verse from their latest pronouncements. In a Q & A, someone asked via video if Albert Mohler would consider running for President of the United States. Was that tongue in cheek? I might have said ‘yes,’ were it not for the context.

Other main speakers included Kevin DeYoung, Mark Dever, John Piper, David Platt, Matt Chandler, John MacArthur, Thabiti Anyabwile, and Ligon Duncan. (These messages are soon to be posted.)

(As an aside, there was some discussion about a particular high-profile speaker who had recused himself from the conference several months earlier, but was then spotted on the front row, and as to whether you can have it both ways.)

The Gospel

There was definitely some great preaching. I would watch/listen to Kevin DeYoung a second time when that message comes online, and I am always personally challenged by the passion of David Platt.

But I’m always somewhat mystified by the constant references to “the gospel.” It reminds me of the movie The Princess Bride where Vizzini is constantly saying, “Inconceivable;” and finally in a scene Inigo Montoya finally says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

The New Calvinists are constantly talking about “the gospel” and dare I say are obsessed with getting it right. But what particular aspect of this is in view? In my world, the gospel is Jesus. If we speak more about the good news, but not so much about the content of that evangel, then I think we’re allowing ourselves to be party to a mammoth distraction. It would be interesting to know what the word-count was for “Jesus” versus “gospel” in remarks made from the platform. 

(One of their number once used the term “real friends of the gospel” to describe New Calvinist churches, implying that others are not.)

In fairness, some of the sessions did address things like the need to share our faith, but you have to remember that this is a community that has historically looked askance at the seeker-sensitive strategy, abhors topical preaching and has been openly critical of anything involving the word missional. I believe that such a verbal witness would be constrained to somewhat limited parameters of their choosing.

Conclusion

I am thankful for the opportunity to get more than a passing glimpse into this particular event. If the option exists, I would definitely try to clear more time to watch in 2016. I think that as the larger, capital “B” Body of Christ, we really don’t know each other. There was some great preaching, and I have better insight into the core values and central issues for the constituencies represented at T4G. There is much we can learn from people of different denominational stripes, and I can only hope my Reformed brothers and sisters would tune in equally for a Wesleyan or Anabaptist or Charismatic convention. 

As an outsider, I am always concerned if the passing of time is bringing us — in this case Calvinists and non-Calvinists — closer together or farther apart. My hope is the former, but reality suggests the latter. As the group represented by T4G grows, I see it becoming more entrenched; there is increasing tribe/brand loyalty, a type of religious jingoism, increasing isolation; and all this is a loss for people on both sides of the divide.


Lighter moments: Check out the Twitter feed Not the T4G

Image: Church-At-Our House Graphics

Related: Defining Calvinism versus Arminianism

 

April 10, 2014

Reconnecting With Cartoonist Kevin Frank

Kevin Frank - Wrong Abraham

Early in 2009, we introduced some of you to veteran Christian cartoonist Kevin Frank as he launched the book Balaam’s Chicken. Then last year, we showed you just a portion of larger illustration of the Cornerstone Festival. (In an earlier lifetime, Kevin appeared regularly in Cornerstone Magazine.)

But this week, we heard from Kevin, and on the occasion of his website makeover, he allowed us to splash some new panels on the wall here at Thinking Out Loud.  So we’ll definitely do one on next Wednesday’s link list, but I thought we’d also do something today.

When you arrive at the site you have eight choices, but my favorites are True North (a somewhat autobiographical story about an American transplanted in Canada that appears in Canadian newspapers) and Heaven’s Love Thrift Shop, a story about a… well, you get it. That’s where the one below is from, but honestly, there were so many to choose from.  (If you’re in children’s ministry, this one was my runner up.)

Kevin Frank - Thrift Shop - Price Rip-off

 

Larry Norman: Still Preaching from Beyond the Grave

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:36 am

Our friends at Flagrant Regard* sent us this picture from a Facebook page dedicated to the memory of Christian musician and songwriter Larry Norman:

Larry Norman Gravestone

The caption on Facebook read:

I was able to visit Larry’s grave last week. I was feeling very sad until I went into the office to ask where Larry’s grave was. I was told that it was easy to find because their was a mail box next to the tomb stone. my reply was “of course there is.” (That is so Larry.) I spent a few minutes there where I shed a few tears and reflected on the impact that Larry had on my life, I looked into the mailbox to find it had a message from his family and a bunch of CDs. I left encourage. Larry is still spreading the message of Jesus.

I love the line “Evangelist Without Portfolio.” Shouldn’t that describe all of us?  

  • larry norman bwRelated: Billboard Magazine reported last week that along with U2′s The Joshua Tree, Larry Norman’s Only Visiting This Planet was selected for “long-term preservation” by the Library of Congress.

For our Canadian readers: We still have lots of sealed Larry Norman CDs for sale. See the full list here.


*If you haven’t seen them, here are my two favorite Flagrant Regard videos:

 

 

April 9, 2014

Wednesday Link List

New Pews

I am a linkoholicSo, if I go to see one of the many faith-focused movies currently running, can I skip church that weekend? While you ponder that, here’s this week’s link-o-rama:  Clicking anything below will take you to PARSE, the link list’s benefactor.

Paul Wilkinson’s writing the rest of the week is made possible by readers at Thinking Out Loud and at C201, and by viewers like you.

Between Services - Sacred Sandwich

Above: After a forever away from posting something new, Sacred Sandwich awoke as from a giant sleep.

Below: This is from the Abandoned Pics Twitter feed: @AbandonedPics and is a wooden church somewhere in Russia. 

Click the respective images to link. (Or the irreverent ones.)

Abandoned Wooden Church in Russia

April 8, 2014

The Equivalent to Hiring Someone Who Is Gay

Hiring Policy

In the last 17 years, we’ve hired over 40 people to work with us in a ministry setting in four different locations and three different cities. To the best of my knowledge we’ve never had an employee who is gay. But we have dealt with the equivalent.

In conservative Christian circles, especially going back a few years, the equivalent was hiring someone who was divorced. The religious stigma was huge. We did this. More than once. As an adjunct ministry of local churches.

In one case, I know that the family were outsiders, so the story was not apparent. But in another case — life in a small town being what it is — I know some former customers voted with their feet. Nobody ever said to me, “How could you hire her?” but we always had the sense that certain people were part of a silent boycott.

Thinking about those two in particular, I can look back and say with the benefit of hindsight: They were among the best employees we ever had. They knew life. They knew pain. They knew joy. They knew Jesus. Therefore, they were able to connect with certain customers in ways I could not then and cannot now, and I’m thankful for their part in our story.

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