Thinking Out Loud

March 31, 2008

Great Writing

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Stuart Briscoe is a personal favorite author and speaker. I hope that Shaw Publishing reconsiders the “out of stock indefinitely” status of some of his books on The Apostles Creed, The Sermon on the Mount, The Ten Commandments, The Fruit of the Spirit; these books form a set called the Foundations of the Faith series.

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…”‘God is Love’ is certainly one of the most profoundly simple statements of literature.  God’s love for mankind was first shown in creation, more sharply focused in the long and trying relationship between Jehovah and the children of Israel, and brought to excruciating clarity in Christ.  The love of God went to the trouble of creating us, providing for us, and instituting the means of preserving us.   God’s love rested on Abraham, blessed Isaac, wrestled with Jacob, rebuked through prophets, governed through kings, ministered through priests, waited through rebellion, persisted through captivities, and showed itself in many and varied forms through Israel’s long and checkered history.

“But bright as the revelation of love has been, it shone with a new surpassing brilliance when Christ was born.   It was the Father’s agape that overlooked personal enjoyment of Christ’s beautiful presence in glory and for the sake of earth suffered the pain of his departure for faraway places…”
~ Stuart Briscoe in The Fruit of the Spirit, Shaw Publishing 1983

March 30, 2008

After Eden

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We’ve run a couple of cartoons on this blog page and in our newsletter (which goes out to people living in our local area), but this time around, the artist’s work is focused on a single theme and connected with a single organization, Answers In Genesis. AIG is involved in the distribution of print materials related to creation science and also operates the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY (part of greater Cincinnati, OH) and just a bit of drive (30 minutes?) off I -75 on your way to or from Florida (if you live in our part of the world). To learn more about AIG go to http://www.answersingenesis.org/

March 29, 2008

Aiming for Excellence

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Having neither cable television nor a satellite dish, we are very much at the mercy of off-air signals. When the sun sets on analog broadcasting in February, 2009 we are either going to have to succumb to one of the above delivery systems or give up television altogether. Either way, life will be very different.

One of the things I will miss the most are those days in July and August when summer weather causes freak reception of more distant stations. One of those occurrence has involved picking up a Christian television station operated by Cornerstone Television of Wall, Pennsylvania. The signal is present only for a few hours each summer, but what fascinating hours those have been.

One of their flagship shows — I don’t think it’s still in their schedule — was something called His Place. The program takes place at a restaurant which is reminiscent of an American diner, or maybe a larger version of Waffle House. The kind of hometown place that is dying as restaurant chains take over the market. Instead of the normal talk show format, interviews with guests are conducted within the framework of enjoying a meal — guests and hosts often eat real food during the show — and it’s not unusual for us, the audience to join the interview in medias res (i.e.: the camera and sound fade up with the interview already in progress.)

Guest interviews — and this is more astounding when you remember that these are guests, not program staff — often end just as suddenly. The camera may shift focus and suddenly another interview — already begun — is taking place at another booth in the restaurant as the sound crossfades between the two action areas. As someone who has worked in television production, I can assure you this is not as easy as it looks. Of course special music is also handled within the context of the restaurant theme, and there is the added bonus of subplots involving the restaurant staff discussing ongoing soap-opera-style developments in the private lives of their characters as they chat over the lunch counter.

I had forgotten some of His Place until last night when we happened to watch a DVD collection of four situation comedies produced by Cornerstone (CTVN) called Pastor Greg. At this point, I need to say that neither my wife nor I have any high expectations when “Christian” and “situation comedy” appear in the same breath. But at the end of two episodes, both of us used roughly the same words: It’s not that bad at all. From us that’s high praise. It wasn’t laugh-out-loud funny, but it had its moments. And while the scene of a church picnic breaking out in a food fight seemed to be milked for twice the length it should have, there was a lot of joy in that scene that stayed with me the next morning.

Here’s the point: Somewhere in Wall, PA, there’s something in the water; something good in the water that causes these people to aim high when it comes to writing, acting, camera-blocking, set design, lighting, sound, graphics, etc. Let me say that I believe that most of the most significant inroads Christians are making in the media are taking place on secular channels, be they broadcast, cable or digital. And I believe that the CTVN people probably have days where they don’t always get it right. But CTVN staff are turning out a higher quality product in a sector of the television industry where mediocrity is the name of the game.

I believe that no matter what you’re doing you should “do everything as unto the Lord.” That means even your secular vocation — while it may not be the same as an act of worship in the sense we normally think of it — should be done as unto God. But for those of you — myself included — who serve within the temple gates; your offering should be of the absolute highest quality. When it comes to Christian television, that means what we produce should be as good or better than what the world has to offer, not because we can ever match their budgets or their star power, but because we are producing something that reflects our Lord Himself.

Why the rest of the Christian television industry hasn’t been bitten by the same bug as has affected the people at Cornerstone remains a mystery. And if neither of the above mentioned shows are still on their schedule (www.ctvn.org) I can’t wait for a chance to see what they are producing today. I wish them God’s blessing and for just enough of that blessing to be financial to the point where they can buy time to show their work on other Christian networks.

~PW

March 28, 2008

The Day Politics Came To Church

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — searchlightevents @ 5:07 pm

After yesterday’s post re. Jesus for President it’s only fair to continue the theme with a mention of Greg Boyd’s book, The Myth of a Christian Nation.

But first, a disclaimer. I’m only on the second chapter, and I left the book at work today. However, the good news — especially for the vast majority of you who read these things and never pick up the book — is that you can download the sermons the book is based on free of charge from Woodland Hills Church website.

Greg Boyd believes — and some days he must think he’s the only one — that the destiny of the Christian Church is not inextricably linked to the politics of the USA. In fact, he dares to say that these kingdoms operate entirely differently. He points out that the kingdoms of this world operate by “power over” whereas the Kingdom of God operates by “power under.” He suggests a comparison between what society calls criminal and what the Bible calls sin: There are many things which are sins but are not crimes; but other things that are criminal in most jurisdictions, but not mentioned in the Bible as sin. If you still don’t think that makes the case, he looks at the things the U.S. has done and not only posits that it’s not a Christian nation now, but that it never ever was.

So how does this go over? By some accounts, about a thousand people left Woodland Hills after the series. However, to others it was greeted as a breath of fresh air , and they showed up at Woodland to replace those who left.

I could go on with all the good points Boyd makes in the sermon series, but I don’t want to pretend this is a valid book review until I get to the last chapter. Maybe I’ll come back to it at that point. What matters here is that it’s interesting to review the U.S. situation as a Canadian. Here we labour (spelled with a “u” up here) under no illusion that Canada is a Christian nation. There is civics and there is religion and never the ‘twain shall meet. We have no flags at the front of our churches; no voter guides are distributed at election times; no one has T-shirts suggesting we “take Canada back for God.”

We are however influenced by all of these kind of things taking place south of the 49th parallel. Not so in the U.K. where they also — and then some — have no illusions that government and Christian faith have direct connection. Perhaps that’s why I find the writing and Christian culture from the Britain so refreshing.

Anyway, to hear the sermons, the first link below will take you directly to the sermon download section of Woodland Hills website. Then go to 2004 (an election year!) and then go to April 18th and 25th (for the premise; these are the most vital sermons) and also May 2nd and 9th. You can download MP3 files; we copy to disc so we can loan them out when we’re done.

Sermon section: http://www.whchurch.org/content/page_26.htm
Straight to 2004 page (scroll to April): http://www.whchurch.org/content/page_274.htm

March 27, 2008

Jesus for President, or Prime Minister, or Chancellor

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“Growing up we were taught to sing the exciting songs of Noah and Abraham and little David and Goliath. But we were never taught songs about debt cancellation, land reforms, food redistribution and slave amnesty. We don’t know if it was just hard to come up with words that rhyme with “debt cancellation” or if folks were hesitant about venturing into the ancient (and sometimes boring) world of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy… Whatever the case, these books are where some of God’s most creative and exciting ideas come alive.”

Jesus for President pp 57-58

About fifty years ago elementary school students had something called “readers” which contained base materials for a variety of subjects. Each page brought some new adventure, they were the equivalent of a variety show for students with poems, psalms, pictures, maps, science articles, biographical stories and fiction. Basically, everything in it but the kitchen sink.

I’ve just finished reading Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw. Like Shane’s previous book, The Irresistible Revolution, this book has everything but the kitchen sink, too. (Shane is founder of The Simple Way www.thesimpleway.org and for those of you reading this where we are in Southern Ontario, he will be speaking at The Peoples Church in Toronto on April 20th. I’ve marked my calendar.)

This book begins with an overview of the early Jewish history as recorded in the Pentateuch. There is also a great deal of focus on Constantine’s influence on the Church in the 300s. Constantine, a hero to some for his legitimization of Christianity, isn’t doing well on review these days. (See Greg Boyd’s The Myth of an American Nation for more of this, or listen online to some of Bruxy Cavey’s teaching at The Meeting House in Oakville, ON www.themeetinghouse.ca or check the blogsphere for reviews of The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder. etc.)

But kitchen sink style, Claiborne and Haw then move on to practical ways that the Church can make a difference especially in terms of the environment, the economy and creating equity. They don’t stop at stamping out poverty. They want to stamp out affluence, too. In some respects, they could have got two very different books out of this, but their understanding of Israel’s history, their interpretation of Christ’s teaching, their take on the first few hundred years of Christianity; all these provide context for where they see the church today. In other words, first you get their motivation, then you get their methodology.

Like the school readers of old, you’re left with a primer on social action, with every page yielding something new. (And the visual dynamics of each page help, too.) And not one paragraph, not even one sentence in the book is theoretical. The Simple Way is about living all this out on a daily basis.

PW

March 26, 2008

Our Journey: The Love Experiment

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — searchlightevents @ 12:26 pm

Today’s thought is from James MacDonald, taken from the Our Journey devotional booklet published by Walk In The Word; reading for March 7th.

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…One of our small group leaders recently told me about a love experiment they had going in their group:

“Our small group realized that we weren’t making progress in ‘doing life together.’ We met each week, and hardly thought of each other till the next week. That changed when we determined we were going to work at really loving each other. We vowed to learn to:

  1. Lose ourselves in others. It’s about you, not me
  2. Listen deeply and hear what someone is saying / not saying
  3. Love the unlovely — in our group and in our community
  4. Leave our mistakes at the Cross. Love fuels forgiveness
  5. Discover God’s plan for our lives. We pray and seek the Lord for each other
  6. Lean on the Holy Spirit when we don’t know how to help or pray
  7. Lead others to Christ. Our family is not complete yet.

‘Loving one another earnestly’ (1 Peter 4:8 ) is not a slogan in this small group, it has become an astonishing reality.

~JMcD (If you’re not part of a small group, find a church that offers this type of ministry.)

March 25, 2008

Church of the Arts: At Golgotha

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The youth pastor at St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Cobourg has started a new program called “Church of the Arts.”   Among the first fruits of this is a short film, At Golgotha which was first presented on Good Friday.   The film was written and directed by Nathan Douglas who I’ve gotten to know a little bit over the past few years.   Nathan, and actors Adam Barrett, Jak Knight, and Tyler Mann have done a great job with this, and I’m pleased to present you the link.   Be sure to watch it in full screen mode.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dxSuXlOke78

March 24, 2008

Worship In The New Century

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — searchlightevents @ 5:46 pm

I belong to a cell group of sorts that meets in another city every 5-6 weeks. Several meetings back, one of our group challenged the worship music status quo with the question, “Why don’t these songs work for us any more?” I knew what he was asking. But as a worship leader myself, I found myself reaching for a moderate response. I’ve been in places where I think the worship is contagious, inspiring, genuine and (I think) pleasing to God. I’ve been in places where I believe they were doing what I call “sung worship” simply because every other church does it, with no authenticity. And I’ve been in places where fairly good worship is connecting with some people in the congregation but obviously not with others.

Sally Morgenthaler was for years the “go-to” person for worship ideas and concepts. Her Sacramentis website was a popular destination for discussion and breaking methodologies. Then suddenly, one day, it was gone. Sally explains this in a piece available on http://www.allelon.org The exact link for the complete article is:   http://www.allelon.org/articles/article.cfm?id=402

Here’s an excerpt for your consideration.

…Early in 2005 an unchurched journalist attended one of the largest, worship-driven churches in the country. Here is his description of one particular service:

“The [worship team] was young and pretty, dressed in the kind of quality-cotton-punk clothing one buys at the Gap. ‘Lift up your hands, open the door,’ crooned the lead singer, an inoffensive tenor. Male singers at [this] and other megachurches are almost always tenors, their voices clean and indistinguishable, R&B-inflected one moment, New Country the next, with a little bit of early ’90s grunge at the beginning and the end.

“They sound like they’re singing in beer commercials, and perhaps this is not coincidental. The worship style is a kind of musical correlate to (their pastor’s) free market theology: designed for total accessibility, with the illusion of choice between strikingly similar brands. (He prefers the term flavors, and often uses Baskin-Robbins as a metaphor when explaining his views.) The drummers all stick to soft cymbals and beats anyone can handle; the guitarists deploy effects like artillery but condense them, so the highs and lows never stretch too wide. Lyrics tend to be rhythmic and pronunciation perfect, the better to sing along with when the words are projected onto movie screens. Breathy or wailing, vocalists drench their lines with emotion, but only within strict confines. There are no sad songs in a megachurch, and there are no angry songs. There are songs about desperation, but none about despair; songs convey longing only if it has already been fulfilled.”

No sad songs. No angry songs. Songs about desperation, but none about despair. Worship for the perfect. The already arrived. The good-looking, inoffensive, and nice. No wonder the unchurched aren’t interested.

Truth may hurt, but if there’s something leaders do, they tell it. In 2000 I didn’t have all of the numbers I have now, but I had seen enough to know what was happening. The contemporary church—including the praise-and-worship church, the worship evangelism church—was in a holy huddle, and I began to talk about it. …I began challenging leaders to give up their mythologies about how they were reaching the unchurched on Sunday morning. Yes, worship openly and unapologetically. Yes, worship well and deeply. (Which means singing songs that may include anger, sadness, and despair. Have we forgotten that David did this? Have we discarded the psalms?) But let our deepened, honest worship be the overflow of what God does through us beyond our walls.

Conference organizers were confused. They wondered what had happened to me. Where was the worship evangelism warrior? Where was the formula? Where was the pep talk for all those people who were convinced that trading in their traditional service for a contemporary upgrade would be the answer? I don’t have to tell you this. The 100-year-old congregation that’s down to 43 members and having a hard time paying the light bill doesn’t want to be told that the “answer” is living life with the people in their neighborhoods. Relationships take time, and they need an attendance infusion now.

I understood their dilemma, and secretly, I wished I had a magic bullet. But I didn’t. And I wasn’t going to give them false hope. Some newfangled worship service wasn’t going to save their church, and it wasn’t going to build God’s kingdom. It wasn’t going to attract the strange neighbors who had moved into their communities or the generations they had managed to ignore for the last 39 years.

As I pulled my Sacramentis site off of the Web, I posted this statement: “Sacramentis has been a pioneer site on worship and culture for seven years. From the beginning, it has been a gathering spot for the most helpful worship ideas and resources we could find. Sacramentis has also been a place where church leaders could go deeper into what classic Christian worship is and does, and where they could re-imagine worship for communities where churchgoing is no longer the norm. But as culture has become incessantly more spiritual and adamantly less religious, we at Sacramentis have become convinced that the primary meeting place with our unchurched friends is now outside the church building. Worship must finally become, as Paul reminds us, more life than event (Romans 12:1-2). To this end, we will be focusing on the radically different kind of leadership practices necessary to transform our congregations from destinations to conversations, from services to service, and from organizations to organisms.”

…I am currently headed further outside my comfort zones than I ever thought I could go. I am taking time for the preacher to heal herself. As I exit the world of corporate worship, I want to offer this hope and prayer. May you, as leader of your congregation, have the courage to leave the “if we build it, they will come” world of the last two decades behind. May you and the Christ-followers you serve become worshippers who can raise the bar of authenticity, as well as your hands. And may you be reminiscent of Isaiah, who, having glimpsed the hem of God’s garment and felt the cleansing fire of grace on his lips, cried, “Here am I, send me.”

For my friend’s question, the key word is ‘anymore.’ This is a new day that requires a new approach. Music and Christian living are in many ways inseparable. But we need to rethink how this expression takes place in public services, and as Sally concludes, whether public services “work for us anymore” or if “outside the church” is where the spiritual action is.

~PW


March 23, 2008

Song for Easter Sunday

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The forces of Hell are gathered around Him / The storm clouds have rolled in filling people with fear / But beyond the horizon the sun is still shining / Awaiting the most special dawn of the year

For He has declared that He gathers a people / That no force or power could ever restrain / Though the people are broken, discouraged and shattered / He said that within three days they’ll be rejoicing again

This is the moment for which we have waited / This is the last scene in act one of the play / This is the day the church gathers to celebrate / Our leader is alive!

The soldiers are guarding the cave that entombs Him / His followers scattered and cannot be found / In the quiet hushed silence of that first Easter morning / From within the tomb begins a small stirring sound

This is the moment for which we have waited! / This is the last scene in act one of the play! / This is the day the church gathers to celebrate! / Our leader is alive!

On an early morning walk through the garden / The man asks of Mary the source of her cries / She hangs down her head and laments He’s been taken / But next through her tears she looks straight into His eyes

This is the moment for which we have waited / This is the last scene in act one of the play / This is the day the church gathers to celebrate / Our leader is alive!

In the last act again it seems that evil has triumphed / Some followers finding His cause hard to sing / But in the perfection of time He’s returning / And this time He is coming back as a King

This is the moment for which we are waiting! / The climactic scene at the end of the play! / The day he regathers his people to celebrate! / That He is still alive / Our Leader is alive! / Yes, Jesus is alive!

~ © 1992, Paul Wilkinson

March 22, 2008

This Is Love – A Song For Easter

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — searchlightevents @ 1:09 pm

Some of you know about GodTube, a Christian-themed version of YouTube. It works best with highspeed internet, but if you have dialup, you can simply download the videos while you’re making an sandwich.
This Good Friday / Easter video features back up vocals by Canadian singer Amanda Stott, and is performed by Todd Vaters a former Newfoundlander now living in the USofA. Copy and paste the following link if it doesn’t work by clicking:
http://www.godtube.com/view_video.php?viewkey=26648fa3b48e57f48f52&page=1&viewtype=&category=mvd

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