Thinking Out Loud

July 31, 2009

Look Out, Coldplay: Pope Benedict is Chartbound

Filed under: Religion — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:59 pm

USA TodayThe music industry, hungry for a hit, may have one here as Geffin Records has signed the Pope to record an album of prayers.

USAToday reports:

Pope Album Story USAToday

An album of prayers to Mary? That’s what it says. Mary. Not God. Not Jesus. Not the Holy Spirit. And we know that Mary hears our prayers because of what’s found in … what’s that Biblical book and chapter again? Oh right. There isn’t one. Not even in the Catholic Bible. Not even a hint.

Don’t call this religion Christianity. It’s Marianity.

Click anywhere within the story to open the full page at USAToday Religion.

July 30, 2009

Pornography: Help for Wives, Sisters, Mothers, Daughters, Girlfriends

Redemption comes in various forms.   The redemption of a period of several weeks being counted among the this-could-never-happen-to-me addicted to the internet’s dark side, was a book manuscript that would help females understand what’s going on in the lives of some male they know.

screenshot - book onlineToday marks one year that The Pornography Effect has been available online as a free internet resource.

Sadly, this is totally defeating the point.    The original idea was that as a crisis resource — which describes the under-24,000-words length — this book would be a print product that would be given to women who might be completely unfamiliar with the workings of the internet.    Having the book online is helpful, but that help is now limited to those who can get online to find it.

The original publisher contact — who told me his company did over 400 titles in 2007 — took this one step further and suggested that the book be shrinkwrapped in packs of four or five, so that pastors and counselors could have copies on their desk to put in the hands of those dealing with this problem.   But then came the “backhanded complement” that this project was “too big” for his company to handle.    Hmmmm.

Sadly, I’ve been unable to find a publisher who would catch that vision and meet two industry criteria as to its distribution to retail stores.   But then again, I think this topic is “hot” enough that I’m not prepared to pay an agent to place the title; and some of the largest publishers of Christian books only work through agents.   (Essentially, that’s how they all missed out on The Shack, which, whether you agree with the book or not, you have to admit it’s a major title to have missed out on.)   Perhaps I shouldn’t have limited its potential to the Christian book market.

In the meantime, people needed help; hence the online version.

So here’s the highlights of my book for those of you that don’t want to click the link at the beginning and end of this article.   If you do click; allow about 50-55 minutes to read the thing fully, and since it’s formated as a “reverse blog,” click on “previous entries” to find chapters 7-15.

Chapter by chapter, the book goes something like this:

  1. Any exposure to internet pornography results in immediate changes in relational dynamics between men and women.    A man who watches this stuff over time will look at his wife, or girlfriend — and perhaps even his sister, or daughter, or even his mother — differently.
  2. Addition to porn is at the extreme high end of the spectrum of addictive behavior and addiction consequences.   Its availability is not unlike the cigarette company is standing outside the junior high school passing out samples.
  3. After much exposure, the tastes of porn viewers “skews” to interest in things they would have previously considered reprehensible.   I don’t believe anyone just gets up one morning and says, “I think I’ll look at pictures of naked eight-year-olds.”  Doesn’t happen instantly like that.   But does happen over time.
  4. The long-term consequences of pre-teens and teens growing up with pornographic images freely available won’t be known for at least 20 years.
  5. Immersion in pornographic and related websites will eventually change your worldview on a number of issues connected to family and sexuality.
  6. Porn is more than pictures.    The guy in the office staring at a screen that is all text may well be reading erotica.   Text sites can also be a gateway to visual or photographic porn.
  7. For all the pictures on pornographic websites, don’t expect to see shots of people in love.    Porn sites are all about people “using” other people.  Nobody “cares” about anybody else but themselves and their own personal gratification.
  8. Whether it’s passive viewing on internet sets, or the more interactive nature of chat rooms, the “next step” of “acting out” on something seen online is just a heartbeat or two away from happening.
  9. There is a limitless number of formats that pornographic websites can take.   Many are inter-linked and all of them eventually want to you to produce a credit card number so that you’ll pay for what was formerly free.
  10. Just because it’s set up as “photography” or “art” or “modeling” or “recreation” doesn’t mean it’s not porn.   Many of these are just shallow attempts at establishing legitimacy.
  11. Cartoon pornography is porn nonetheless.   Aimed at kids, it’s actually more dangerous.   And it has a mission:   The incest agenda.   Promoting the acceptance of incest.   (Betcha those other books on this subject didn’t tell ya that one!)   And the kids are watching.   And downloading.
  12. While psychologists debate genetic predispositions to homosexuality, a lot of same sex attraction begins with the internet and is based somewhat randomly on the type of website — and surrounding online community — that gets to a young person first.
  13. If a family member is caught up in online porn, you are — whether you like it or not — engaged in a battle.   You have to start fighting back, for the sake of that person and the sake of nuclear and extended family.   The forces you are fighting are giants and you are David.   But…
  14. …Faith can be the slingshot you’ve got to go up against the giant.   Pray, yes; but pray very specific prayers. Teach your kids self control and delayed gratification.    Be intentional about the spiritual formation of yourself and your family.   But always remember that many people clicked on that first website because of personal hurts that also need to be addressed.
  15. You are not alone.   There are number of different types of resources available to help.

That’s the bullet-point version.   But you may know someone who needs to read this in full, with the topics fully discussed.   For them, here’s the link one more time to The Pornography Effect.

July 29, 2009

Blogroll Backstory

Filed under: blogging, internet — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:15 pm

So here are the answers to all the questions that have come through my “contact us” page, which wasn’t working properly anyway; and has now been revised.

  1. Thanks for saying you come to see the blogroll.   Uh,  you do read the posts, too; right?
  2. Although it’s been somewhat static for the past eight weeks, officially, sites come and go off the list.   Some sites seem to get off-message for awhile and then they bounce back; so they’re put back on the list.   One blog has been on and off about three times now.
  3. Blogs that don’t post for three weeks generally get de-listed.   I try to focus on blogs that are posting regularly.   Especially now, as Homer Simpson would say, that the internet is available on computer.
  4. Size matters.   Typesize.   Every post here at TOL gets customized to a stronger, bigger font because the template for this theme is teeny, tiny type.    It adds about ten seconds to each day’s post.  Call it: Blogging – Large Print Edition.
  5. I did my own customization to the drab gray and changed everything to bright red.   It looked really cool.   Then I tried to apply it and discovered you have to pay for CSS customization.    Oh well.    If you know HTML, CSS isn’t that hard to learn.    Now I’ve forgotten it all, though I kept the style sheet.
  6. I chose the gray theme for the wide border.    I downloaded a wide-body theme from John Scaddington at the blog Human3rror called “I Like Content” but you can only use it if you’re on self-hosting wordpress.org; as opposed to wordpress.com
  7. I don’t list blogs that spend endless time talking about the technology itself, nor FaceBook, nor Twitter, nor BlackBerry, etc.   At TOL, the medium is NOT the message.    This post means I would disqualify myself.
  8. I like blogs that stay on a Christian theme.    If you talk about your spouse and kids, I suppose that’s truer to the original web-log concept, but I like blogs that get into talking about church, doctrine, apologetics, theology, application, etc.
  9. An exception would be Resolved to Worship.   I needed more links to sites women would relate to.   I think we can all learn much from what Ann posts, but I don’t actually read much of it.    It’s my gift to my women readers.    Bonus points if you can figure out where they live; the kids never wear shoes.  Never.   I figured it was Australia or something, but then they celebrated the 4th of July.   I’m leaning toward Key West or San Diego.
  10. I try to balance the Wesleyans and the Reformers.   Actually, as the saying goes, some of my best friends are Reformers, but they get a lot of link love elsewhere.   I don’t link the obvious ones, just to tick some people off.
  11. The “fun” links are there because some of you take yourselves way too seriously.    Take some time out and do the Jumble Puzzle, or some of the ones at USA Today.
  12. I didn’t delete Daily Encouragement, it’s now listed under Devotions instead of Blog.   Everybody needs friends like Stephen and Brooksyne.   As John Denver once sang, “Life in Amish Country is kinda laid back…”
  13. Scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.    Actually, I was about to delete this one guy, ’cause he was getting hopelessly off topic, and then I realized that I was on his links.    He’s still there, but he’s on probation.  You know who you are.
  14. Check out the “Five Questions” series Rick has been doing periodically at the Just a Thought blog.   Some talk shows get all the good guests.
  15. We’re up to three variations on the “Stuff Christians Like” theme.   Jon Acuff is one of my few must-read blogs, provided we’re not stuck in a hotel where “Free Wireless” means nothing.
  16. Reviewed a book?   Link to A**z*n and you’re toast.   I’m the head of the Society for the Preservation of Christian Bookstores.   SPCB.    (Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: “and then he’s going to bring back rotary dial phones.”   Well you’re wrong.   I was thinking more of hymnbooks.   See we just take all the modern worship choruses and put them in a book and give them all a number…)   Anyway, a town that loses its Christian bookstore has lost far more than a retail enterprise.
  17. The number of blogs I have in my personal bookmarks is approximately three times what’s listed here.   I try to get to all of them at least once a week.   Some of my best writing is in their comments section.   You can sometimes write better when you’re reacting to something.
  18. Alltop is the blog-aggregator place to be.   The “badge” on the sidebar currently links to Alltop Church (modern Church), but previously linked to Alltop Christian.   I suggest visiting both reguarly.   Hover your mouse over each story to read the first hundred words or so.
  19. The highest single-day hits here have come from posting the Vietnam War photo and blogging about Robert Schuller (Jr. and Sr.)  One of those posts attracts comments from people who seem to think they are posting directly to Robert A. himself; despite two comments by myself telling them to knock it off.    He won’t get the message.
  20. If you don’t like my blogroll you can always scroll down to my ‘pages’ section and click on “Stealing Anne Jackson’s Blogroll.”   I tried a few of the links last week and got to read some really interesting stuff.
  21. I have no 21st point
  22. I have no 22nd point
  23. I have no 23rd point
  24. The link to my book celebrates a one-year anniversary tomorrow.   And this blog itself continues to go another day without a single YouTube embed.   (I embedded four of them in one day on my book industry blog just to reassure myself I could do it.)

So there you have it.  24 points of interest about my blogroll.   And you were there.

Sites/blogs mentioned here are all in the blogroll itself.   Clicky clicky.

Did he just say ‘Clicky, clicky?’

July 28, 2009

The Rain, The Park, and Other Things

Bruxy Cavey on “Soul Sisters”

4-week sermon audio on the Book of Ruth available for download.

bruxyBruxy Cavey may be a name unfamiliar to my mostly U.S. readers, unless you’ve happened upon his book The End of Religion (NavPress).   He is the teaching pastor of The Meeting House, Canada’s fastest growing “church movement,” and one of the few multi-site churches here, with nine locations.  The church is based on Oakville, Ontario.

When your wife has the same name as one of the books of the Bible, you pay closer attention to those sermons, so I thought I’d heard it all before when it comes to this short, OT book.   But Bruxy has a unique way of bringing classic stories to life.   This series, which will carry on with other OT and NT personalities, is aided by the fact that Bruxy lives in house full of women.   So he’s preaching to his own daughters as well as to everyone else.

We usually download the audio.   Each TMH sermon begins with a video clip and unfortunately there isn’t descriptive audio; you’ll have to just jump in with everyone else.   But if Bruxy is a new commodity for you, you might want to try your first sermon on the recently-added video download option.  You may be surprised!   Simply go their website, and then click on teaching, and then click on the Soul Sisters series.

And if you have friends who haven’t crossed the line of faith and they’re looking for something that challenges the intellect, consider The End of Religion.

Buffer Zone

Here are some lines from a song I wrote awhile back:

I used to have a job

Just half a block away

There was no separation

Between my work and pay

But now my new workspace

Is in a different place.

Though it is not that far

I have to take the car.

Yes, I know the rhyme scheme changes in the second verse, and I’ve lost the rest of the lyrics; but the point is that when I wrote this, while sometimes I get really tired of living in one community and working in another (especially when the gas/petrol prices are high) I really appreciate having a “buffer zone” between the two life components.

Buffer zones can happen in a variety of circumstances, which bring us to today’s question:  What would you think about your pastor living next door to you?   Too close for comfort?   Would you have to change anything?   How would the pastor feel about it?   What stories can you tell us about times where — in the words of Seinfeld‘s George Costanza character — your “worlds were colliding;” i.e. your boss, your kid’s teacher, or the chairman of the church board lived either next door or across the street?

Mankind Toons

Here’s a new cartoon making its debut at this blog.

Mankind Toons is drawn by Ben Bateman.   He’s got some good stuff, and choosing one for today wasn’t easy.   You can see more at MankindToons.com.   BTW, a lot of these comic creators really make us think, but they rely on contributions to do what they do… so, if you enjoy what you see, click on the site and make a donation.   Tell ‘em we sent ya.

Mankind Tunes - Monkey Evolution

July 27, 2009

The Value of Doubt

Filed under: Christianity, Faith — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:53 pm

Years ago, I remember saying that if ever wrote a book, it would be called “The Value of Doubt.”   I think it’s important sometimes that we allow the rug to be pulled out from underneath us so that we re-affirm the propositions that underlie the faith we verbally confess.    I think it’s good to re-take ownership of those basic truths every once in awhile, the same way a good sports coach will go over the fundamentals of the game with his team on a regular basis.

This article is similar to that idea, but also different.   I was going to simply link, but I wanted to make sure that you got a chance to read it.   You can use the link at the bottom to add comments to the original, and you may also want to subscribe to the Reclaiming The Mind newsletter.

Can Christians Doubt God at a Fundamental Level

faith_posterby C. Michael Patton

I have been in a conversation recently about doubt. Most specifically, the question that has risen is, “Can a true Christian doubt God at the most fundamental level.” A girl just wrote to me and said that she often envies Christians who don’t ever doubt. I told her that there is really no such thing. All people doubt!

Let me be clear (for this is something that many people would disagree with me on): I don’t think that belief should ever be conceived of as “black and white.” No, don’t go there. I am not talking about some form of relativism with regard to the nature of truth (i.e. there is no such thing as truth). What I am saying is that people vary with regard to the strength of their beliefs. And I am saying that this can vary from time to time. Belief can go up and down. In other words, belief is not something that you either have or you don’t.

I have already revealed my proposition (i.e. a truly born again believer can doubt). Let me define “fundamental level.”  What I mean is that a Christian can doubt to such a degree that they even doubt the very existence of God. Yes, I am assuming that you have done the same. I have and sometimes still do.

Where did this come from? I had a different conversation today when a lady, whom no one would ever expect, came to me in confidence expressing her inner pain. “I have recently been doubting the existence of God,” she told me with much trepidation. I think that she was most surprised that I was not surprised (well, maybe a little).

A dictionary definition of a straight line is “the shortest path between two points.” The definition of doubt, at least from one perspective, is the line that bridges our faith and perfect faith. I am under the assumption that no one has perfect faith. If this is true, then everyone’s faith is lacking in some respect. This lack will take on different forms for different people and different circumstances. Sometimes it will show itself though particular habitual sins. Sometimes it is our own pride. Many times it takes the form of doubt at our most fundamental levels.

I don’t believe that this is wrong. Let me step back and rephrase. In a fallen world with fallen people—and Christians who are still battling the flesh—should we expect anything else? Do you really believe that once you become a Christian doubt is no longer a foe? So it is wrong only in the sense that living in a fallen world is wrong. It is bad to the degree that being a resurrection short of full redemption is bad.

These are the words of another who sent me an email today (it has been a day full of this issue for some reason): “I lived for so many years doubting as religion was crammed down my throat, and watched those very same people live in hatred and judgment…now I know that Christ is not about rituals, dogma, and I was so relieved to find out it was OK to question…I just didn’t know what I didn’t know.”

I can’t read too much into this, but my assumption is that many people, like the one above, are afraid to make a commitment because they have worked under the unfounded assumption that our faith must be perfect. J.P. Moreland once said if someone believes 51% and disbelieves 49%, they are a believer in that which holds the greatest percent.

Do Christians doubt? Of course we do. But this does not mean we don’t believe. You may be at 63%, 95%, or 51%, but know that your ability to rise above 50% is of the Lord. He is with you and will hold you tight. Doubt is a necessary by-product of imperfection. It is a necessary evil that accompanies us on our road to belief.

To comment on this, go here.

Michael Patton blogs at Parchment and Pen, always linked on our blogroll.

July 26, 2009

Keeping Asthma and Allergy Sufferers Out of Church: Perfume

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:32 pm

It happened again this morning to my wife.   Mrs. W. figured that by attending a “camp meeting” style service where the side of the “tabernacle” is all windows she would be safe.   Sitting at home it was a fair perception, the reality when we got there proved quite different.

She notices these things more than I.   But this time, before we even got inside — which is most unusual — I was aware of the distinctive scent of artificial fragrances.    When we walked in the lobby, it hit us like a wall.   We headed immediately to a seat on the side under a ceiling fan where we figured everything would blow away from our direction, but it was already embedded deeply in her lungs and was slowly wafting over to the side from the center of the auditorium.    We settled on a seat next to an open window.    She made it through the service without standing for any of the hymns or choruses; but at home, eight hours later, is still short of breath.

You can read about what this feels like in her February guest post on this blog.

Perfume1As she said — or perhaps whispered — on the way home,

  • it doesn’t happen at the grocery store
  • it doesn’t happen at the bank
  • it doesn’t happen at the kids’ school
  • it doesn’t happen at the post office
  • it doesn’t happen at other types of churches.

The last point is significant.   There is a very definite spike in perfume at this one denomination; and our schedule takes us to many, many, many churches in the course of a year, so we ought to know.    Three of her last major attacks have taken place in churches of one particular denomination.    Sorry… but that’s the way it is.

And these people don’t care.

I say that based on something else that happened this morning.   About three “items” into the service, it was time for the opening prayer; what some of you know as the invocation prayer.   At that exact moment, a woman walked up to the woman in the row in front of us, grabbed her hand and started into a prolonged greeting and attempt at conversation which lasted throughout (and drowned out) the entire prayer, which wasn’t just a few seconds.    Complete and total disregard for anything and anybody else.   Or God.

My first impulse — and trust me, I don’t know why it was these particular words — was to say rather firmly, “He’s praying, damn it.”   I guess my brain was figuring that the d-word would be appropriate to the urgency of the moment.   I didn’t.   This means that I would have been swearing during the invocation prayer; which someone would argue is far worse.   I let the impulse pass.

“So;” you say, “Why don’t you get the message and stop going to churches of this particular stripe?”

It’s not an easy decision to make.   This is a denomination wherein my wife and I have a lot of history.  Our youngest son has also recently made his home among this same group of people.

However, I think that, in terms of going to worship as a couple, we made that decision absolute and final today.

July 25, 2009

Personal Stuff

  • I am so spiritual.   This week, anyway.   Today is the first day of the last seven I haven’t been to a two-hour morning church service.  Living in the same town as the district office of a national denomination has its advantages, especially when they hold a summer camp meeting program with their best speakers and top guest musicians.    …Truth be told, going to church every day doesn’t make you more spiritual, but I have enjoyed the teaching of Dr. Van Johnson, dean of Master’s Pentecostal Seminary, which is a joint venture between the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada and Tyndale University College & Seminary.   “Dr. Van,” as is students call him, stays down-to-earth by also being the worship leader in a local church in Toronto.
  • Orthodox HereticI’m currently reading a book by one of the guest speakers at Rob Bell’s recent “Preachers, Poets and Prophets” conference.   Peter Rollins’ The Orthodox Heretic is a mixture of folk tales and stories combined with remixes of classic Biblical narratives; followed by commentary.   Not surprisingly,  Bell, a co-conspirator in storytelling, wrote the foreword.   I’m still not sure where this title ‘fits in’ to the larger body of Christian literature that’s out there.   The chapters are short, and seem to scratch the surface of something deeper that’s not entirely fleshed out.   Lots of good ideas, to be sure, but ideas alone don’t make a book.   I’ll let you know when I’m finished.  If anyone else out there has read it, I’d love to hear your opinion in the comment section.
  • This one arrived too late for yesterday’s link collection, but it’s a YouTube embed at the blog, Human 3rror; featuring a wedding processional with a twist.   After watching it together, we both came to the same conclusion that this probably reflects the atmosphere that prevailed at weddings in Biblical times.   Check out the action, here.
  • In doing some research for someone this week, I came across an apologetics website which had previously escaped my radar.   Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry contains several good online articles on major faith groups, plus a few smaller ones you may not know.    They certainly helped with what I needed.  Check them out at carm.org
  • After three weeks of being empty-nesters, our youngest son is back from camp, while our oldest is halfway through his ten week mission at Camp Iawah.    (Donations toward his support still count; VISA and MasterCard accepted; just contact us for more info.)
  • I know a lot of Evangelicals aren’t big fans of Michael Moore, but we watched Farenheit 911 last night after Mrs. W. picked it up on sale really cheap.    Without wanting to engage a wider, very emotional debate, the movie demonstrates with great clarity that the issues surrounding the American military action in Iraq and Afghanistan are very, very complicated; especially, but not limited to, the complications involve the Bush family itself, and their historic relationship with the Binladen family.    And of course, those issues also bear on the involvement of troops from coalition nations such as Canada, Britain, Italy, etc.
  • We spent an hour this afternoon in our ‘rented’ garden plot, mostly pulling weeds.    When you’re getting your hands dirty, it’s easy to recall some of Jesus’ agrarian parables.    The one that came to my mind today — recalled slightly askew — was the one about the weeds and the tares growing side-by-side.   We have a lot of weeds and tares.   They totally choked out the potatoes, and were dwarfing everything else.    But that’s what happens when it’s been eight days since your previous visit; and that visit was nine days before that.    You can’t be a farmer and enjoy summer holidays.

July 24, 2009

Link Letter

lynxIt’s been awhile since I ran some lynx links here, so lets take a run at it:

  • Back on July 12th, Michael Spencer aka Internet Monk did an assessment of the spirituality to be found in the blogosphere.    First observation: “The Christian blogosphere is overwhelmingly male. It is not only male; it thrives on “maleness” in perspective and voice. For various reasons, some confessional, some not, many of us have a seriously limited exposure to the feminine mind, voice and experience of the Christian journey. In fact, our “maleness” is affirmed in the blogosphere in ways that are useful, and neutral and harmful.” Read the rest of this one, plus nine other key observations, here.
  • It’s not just Christians who are listening to Christian radio.   According to a Sojourners Magazine article,  Jewish and Muslim listeners are tuning in also:  “Last spring, Asra Nomani, a Muslim writer living in the Washington, D.C. area, programmed “number three” on her car radio to 91.9, her spirits as a stressed single mother lifted by the lyrics she heard. ‘No matter how daunting your problems seem, this music gives you hope,’ she said.” Read the story here after creating a free login.
  • On July 21st, Justin Wise at the blog BeDeviant (yes, that’s the name) asks the musical question, “Is ‘No Sex Before Marriage’ a Realistic Expectation?”  He writes:  “I would rather marry a couple who is living together and provide some sort of Christ-centered influence than let them go off and find a non-Christian alternative.” So far, over 100 comments.   Join the conversation, here.
  • Some of you are huge fans of the humor/satire blog Stuff Christians Like, but unless you’ve caught a live webcast or been to one of the live events, you’ve never seen Jon Acuff live.   Recently, Jon was asked by Pete Wilson to speak at CrossPoint church in Nashville, and the message is posted at CrossPoint (click on “Adam and the Three Questions”) as well at SCL, where you can catch it here.
  • Author and seminary professor Randal Rauser writes “A Note to Atheists Before They Attempt to Refute Christianity.”    He begins with this: “But what is frustrating for an atheist is doubly frustrating for a Christian. Countless times I have seen atheists assume what I as a Christian must believe. And often this assumption reflects what is no doubt a very restricted experience with Christianity… As a result, atheists who assume what a Christian must believe because they read a few Christian books or attended a church for several years are like self-described travel experts who offer authoritative advice on California vacations because they once stayed at the Super 8 in Pasadena.” Check out his piece, here.   (BTW, in an offline note, I linked Randal to the piece I did here, “You Think You Know Us,” which he appreciated.)
  • Bridging the Gap DVDI’m not sure if this item is available for shipping outside of Canada, but New Direction has put together a 4-week DVD curriculum titled, Bridging the Gap: Conversations on Befriending Our Gay Neighbours. The kit includes 3-hours of video content and a 40-page leader guide with reproducable worksheets.   I haven’t seen this yet, but I know that material on this subject is badly needed.  Guests include Brian McLaren, Bruxy Cavey, Tony Campolo and eight more.   You can read more about it, here.
  • How about a vacation in Chernobyl?   Or a museum of genitals?  This one has no Christian connection that I can think of, but just for fun, I wanted to tell you about Atlas Obscura, which describes itself as “A Compendium of the World’s Wonders, Curiosities and Esoterica.”
  • With a backlog of new subjects to consider, I haven’t done many remixes of older blog posts.   I might repost this one sometime, but for those of you who joined us recently, here’s one from February entitled, “Why II Kings is in the Bible.”    Okay, I doubt it’s the only reason.   Link to that one, here.
  • Canada’s leading Christian male vocalist and recording artist Steve Bell has a new website with occasional free song downloads.   Check that one out, here.
  • The item that was originally my tenth and final link here had to be removed at the request of its author.   So in exchange — to keep it an even ten — Anne Jackson offers an excellent piece on how Christian activity and “busyness” have a drug-like effect that keeps us from Jesus Himself.   Read that piece, here.

July 23, 2009

Free Market Small Groups: National Community Church

In a few weeks churches will be starting to promote the fall season of small group ministry.  In the part of the world where we live, the dominant model is one where the pastoral leadership determines a course of study for the whole church, regardless of when and where the group meets, often consisting of material based on the sermon the previous Sunday.    So I was intrigued by a comment in the book unChristian by David Kinnaman, where guest Mark Batterson, pastor of National Community Church in Washington says something to this effect:  ‘We have a free market approach to small groups.’  I wondered how this plays out and asked them for further clarification.   Does it always work out or are there liabilities?   Heather Zempel, Discipleship Pastor at NCC was good enough to write back and include a link to her blog, where she defines “Free Markets” more clearly.   You can link here to read the article as it appeared in 2006 at her blog, Wineskins for Discipleship, or simply read it reproduced below, with a special greeting from Heather.

I’m the discipleship pastor here at National Community Church… The bottom line is this: we encourage our leaders to get a vision from God and run with it. We don’t have a structure and a system that we ask leaders to come serve. We don’t have a set of curriculum we ask them to cover. Instead, we encourage them to leverage their gifts, abilities, interests and influence to create community and make disciples.

I view my primary job as not to give our leaders direction on what to do or study in their groups but to discover and excavate the God-given disciple-making DNA he has placed inside our leaders and then equipping them, encouraging them, and empowering them to go make disciples.

Free Markets

A free-market small group system allows for a high degree of relational connection and creativity by allowing leaders to turn their existing relationships, gifts, interests, passions, and hobbies into disciple-making small groups.

Oswald Chambers said, “Let God be as original with others as he was with you.” So why do churches force people into little clusters that all look alike, slap the label “small group” on them, and then promise that they will grow exponentially in their faith as a result?

For any small group or discipleship program to be successful, you need leaders who burn white hot with a vision for making disciples. That’s why we implement a free market small group system at NCC. We believe discipleship happens best within the context of shared interests, and it flows naturally out of leaders who are driven by a passionate vision from God.

Too many churches establish a vision and a small group model and then ask their leaders to come serve that vision and model. At NCC, we have reversed that by encouraging leaders to get their own vision for discipling others and then equipping them to do it in whatever relational context they find themselves. The NCC vision for small groups is specific enough to give direction and focus, but broad enough to give latitude for leaders to get their own vision from God and run with it. Leaders are motivated when they see where their passion meets a need.

We only have 2 basic requirements for NCC small groups. One, there must be opportunity for connection and relationships (relational). And two, discipleship should be the primary purpose (missional). And of course, the leader must also meet the leadership deployment requirements as specified by NCC to be an officially recognized NCC group.

We want to encourage innovation and creativity. We believe that God has designed each person uniquely, and he can use that uniqueness as a catalyst for disciple-making.

Examples of some groups that have come out of our free market system include:

  • Fantasy baseball
  • Spiritual warfare
  • Sign language
  • Inductive Bible Study
  • Acting
  • Evangelism
  • Running
  • C.S. Lewis’ Writings
  • Women in Leadership
  • Weight Training
  • Church History
  • Crown Financial

For more reading on this particular topic, see the following resources:

Dog Training, Fly Fishing, and Sharing Christ in the 21st Century (Ted Haggard)

Small Groups That Buzz (Heather Zempel)

  • So how are leaders and topics for small groups (cell groups, house church, etc.) chosen where you worship?
  • Does your church allow a free-market approach to midweek groups, or is the course contented dictated to house leaders by senior leadership?

July 22, 2009

Paying Someone to Pray for You

Filed under: prayer — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:47 pm

Joel wrote and asked if I would promote his website on my blog.   I get more of these requests lately as the readership grows, as well as people wanting me to promote books.

I took one look at prayer-helpers.com and frankly I was appalled at the idea of people setting up a commercial enterprise to “prey” on those who wanted someone to pray for them.    Without questioning the authenticity of whether any prayer would ever actually happen, I was concerned that this site would simply exploit people who were disconnected from a local church, or from friends or family who would pray for them.

“Generally,” my wife said, “You pray for people you are in relationship with.”   I agree with that sentiment; though I have done several shifts at a prayer counseling center.   We didn’t charge people.  The “pray-ers” didn’t get paid, either.   But probably 90% of the people I’ve prayed for have been people who I knew more than superficially.

I made up my mind I would not promote Prayer Helpers here at Thinking Out Loud; something I admit I am now inadvertently doing.   I want to know what my blog readers think.   [At this point, you might want to click on the link to the site, above...]

First, here is part of Joel’s letter to me:

…I was hoping that you might be willing to consider reviewing my new Christian website, prayer-helpers.com on your site.  I think the concept of pay-for-prayer may be controversial and interesting for your audience.  My goal is to bring easily accessible prayer partners to people who may not have them available.  I would happily answer any interview questions you might have.

Interesting, yes.   Controversial, definitely.    Deeply disturbing, incredibly.  Maybe somewhat guilty-by-association.   I wrote back:

Yes it is controversial.
Too controversial.
This is why people need to belong to a local church.

That left Joel wanting more.   He replied:

Why do you say it is too controversial?  Also, some people are either too far from a local church (alaskans, etc) or for some reason are physically disabled and unable to go so the online community needs to be there for them.

I’m sure Sarah Palin would get a chuckle out of the (small ‘a’) Alaskan stereotype.  (This is the closest I came to thinking I was being “had” in this entire exchange.)   I wrote back:

“Freely you have received, now freely give.”

The example of Jesus driving out the profiteers from the temple is sufficient evidence for me that we can’t exploit a person’s spiritual quest for the sake of deriving income.    (Trust me, being in the Christian bookstore business, I’ve spent countless hours working through that whole situation.)   I know that pastors are paid, and spend some of their time in prayer, but the idea of taking a need for prayer and the clicking “add to cart” is crossing a line, I think.   And it’s reminiscent of the Catholic church asking people to pay for indulgences before the Reformation.  Or televangelists asking people to send in their prayer requests on a special form, and then there is suspicion as to whether any prayer was offered or if the forms just went out to the dumpster, where the network TV crews found them.

Plus, we’re supposed to pray with as much as possible, not just pray for.

I just don’t see the convergence of internet technology and prayer being best applied here.

Joel ended our dialog with:

Thank you for your response.  I respectfully must disagree with you.  I see no difference between your christian bookstore and the prayer-helpers.com website.

And for me, that response clinched it.   I wrestle on a daily basis with what I do vocationally and the things done by the Christian bookstore industry in general.   Some of the marketing, the branding, the excesses, etc. are downright shameful.

Joel saw no difference.

That pretty well sums up what Prayer Helpers is all about.

~Related post at John Saddington’s Church Crunch blog.

…but sadly, it gets worse at… (wait for it)… Christvertising.   Seriously.   Or maybe not so seriously.  You never know these days.

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