Thinking Out Loud

April 30, 2012

God Meets a Family in the Midst of Crippling Loss

After my time serving on staff at a local church came to an end, we took a two-year break from that church and attended another in town, somewhat renown for its children’s ministry and Bible teaching. The pastor at the time was an excellent speaker, and his oldest son, Benjamin, was in a Sunday School class with our oldest.

Flash forward more than a decade and we learned that Ben had been diagnosed with a form of leukemia. To say this seemed to hit close to home was more than an understatement. It seemed to me like only yesterday the kids were saving seats for their dads at a Sunday School Father’s Day party by crossing their legs over the empty chairs next to theirs. My wife heard about a Facebook group, Pray for Benjamin Elliott, and as new feeds came in, she would forward them to me by email. Praying for Ben became part of our nightly prayer routine as a family.

After it looked like Ben had triumphed over the disease, sadly he relapsed; and not longer after, the Facebook group was renamed, The Ben Ripple; mostly because it appeared that the stories which rippled out from Ben’s life and death were impacting so many lives both near and far. Ben’s mom, Lisa Elliott carefully crafted each post, and the thought did occur to me that someday, this material might benefit a greater readership, and sure enough, much of the material from those Facebook posts have been gathered together into a book of the same name, The Ben Ripple.  (I suspect this will not be her last book.)

I asked my wife to take another look at those Facebook entries through the book, and share a few thoughts from a mother’s perspective.

The Ben Ripple is a challenging read.  Walking through another person’s pain and loss, even in retrospect, takes some doing, especially having been one of the followers of the ‘real time’ Facebook updates, which comprised an honest, hopeful and wounded journaling from a woman of faith and intelligence whose life was suddenly shaken loose.

In this book, Elliott brings back those first raw outpourings, ties them together with some more objective reflections on what was happening in the family’s lives at the time and closes each chapter with practical suggestions for those dealing immediately with cancer, and for those on the periphery who just want to not say or do the wrong thing.

Her writing is both skilled and passionate, drawing the reader closer to understanding and empathy with a situation that most of us will never experience -  the loss of a child -  and one that more and more of us live through – fighting cancer.  She takes time to explain the treatments, with their setbacks and successes, and to appreciate the medical professionals who were involved in her family’s lives.

All in all, it is important for us to know stories like Ben’s.  The places where God meets us face to face, and the places where he stands quietly behind us.  What the family next door might be going through and what they may deal with from one day to the next.  It’s been said that we live in a world that has forgotten how to lament — to cry out to God our pain and fear and loss.  This book is just such a thing, but like so many of the laments in Scripture, it ends on a note of “nevertheless…”  The possibility of healing, the value of trusting, the necessity of faith in one who loves us.

The Ben Ripple is a remembered and continuing journey well worth walking.

~Ruth Wilkinson

The Ben Ripple is published in paperback by Word Alive Press and available through them in Canada and through Ingram and Spring Arbor in the U.S.   A copy was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Graf-Martin, a Kitchener, Ontario based promotion and publicity agency which comes alongside Christian publishers to provide key titles with enhanced visibility.

April 29, 2012

Christian Bands and Artists: Think Twice About Selling Your Soul

This post appeared yesterday at Christian Book Shop Talk

All music products follow a natural cycle from top sellers to the delete bin. In the book industry, we call them remainders, with CDs their deletes. Not sure which is worse: Being ‘leftovers’ or ‘write offs.’ The end result is the same.

There are two surefire ways to make sure your songs don’t die after the album sales die: One is to make a comeback every five years; the other is to make sure the songs are remembered and perhaps even rediscovered years later to be covered by other artists.

If you’re an upcoming band or solo artist, you want to get signed to a label, and you want to get signed to a good label, and a good label is one that will work hard to aggressively promote your music and aggressively protect your copyrights, right?

Well, maybe not. Those royalties will certainly buy a lot of groceries and nobody wants to see their music blatantly ripped off. But I don’t think any musician lying on their deathbed is preoccupied with performance royalties or mechanical royalties.

They would much rather see their music outlive their lives.

I’m returning of course to the issue raised the other day concerning EMI-CMG, the Christian music group of EMI. Is getting signed with this label the top prize, or might you do better, in the long run, to sign with a more ministry-focused organization?

Today I decided to listen online to the song “More” by Mylon LeFevre. Classic Christian rock. “More of Jesus, less of me…” Beautiful harmonies.

But instead, I got the far too recurring black screen telling me the song is not available in my country. Apparently people in Canada are tripping over themselves trying to profit from Mylon’s material. (If I wrote this on one of my mainstream blogs, I would get back, “Mylon who?”) It’s a shame really, because the song is most worthy of a cover version.

I’m sure somebody at EMI thinks they are just doing their job; bowing to whatever copyright oddities permit the song in the U.S., but ban it in Canada, Japan, Serbia and three other countries you’ve never heard of. And in fairness, the notice also implicates Warner Music Group, who aren’t so much of a player on the Christian music scene, but probably own a song or two that you and I would want to recall.

The bottom line is this:

  • Christian music exists for a different purpose
  • Christian songs ultimately belong to the body of Christ
  • Christian artists answer to a higher boss

For years, the CCM industry yearned for “crossover,” we wanted to see our products rack up the numbers in K-Mart and Target and be equal players in the larger industry. So independent record companies like Sparrow sold out to the majors.

Perhaps it’s time to stop chasing success and start crossing over in the other direction; time to take back our music. And if you are a music artist on the cusp of signing with a ‘major,’ think twice about where you want your music to be long after the songs are deleted and the band breaks up. Available or locked in a vault somewhere?

April 28, 2012

Blog Posts Won’t Change The World; Actions Can

I originally wrote this on Wednesday at Christianity 201, but decided it needs to be seen here as well…

Many times at Thinking Out Loud, I pick up on news stories that are making the rounds and try to offer some fresh exposure or a fresh take on what is happening. I enjoy playing journalist, and I think it is significant that here at WordPress, when you’ve finished writing something, you click a button that says “publish.” It certainly gives me a sense of self-importance.

But I really haven’t come that far from when, 30 years ago, I was writing for CCM, a Christian music magazine based at the time south of Los Angeles. My final column gave my reason for quitting, “While it’s one thing to write the news, it’s a far better thing to make the news.”

Today, I would have qualified that sentence a little better!

The Christian internet is full of people with ideas to share, but I’m reminded of this verse in James:

NLT James 1:22 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.

The context is sin and obedience and the transformative power of God’s Word, but the application is still valid: We’re to be evaluated not on the basis of intention, doctrinal conviction or knowledge, but on what we actually do.

I just bought my wife an old Dilbert book titled, This is the Part Where You Pretend to Add Value. Sometimes in my blogs I tell readers I want comments where they are truly adding value to the discussion, not just saying, “Thanks, I really enjoyed that.” (Though some days I really need that encouragement, too.)

But ultimately, we don’t add value to God’s kingdom by just blogging, or just preaching, or just getting doctoral degrees in theology or divinity. We contribute more with our hands and our feet than with our mouths or our computer keyboards.

Here in North America, we face an economic crisis because nobody makes anything anymore. We ship out our raw resources, but our consumer and industrial products tend to come from somewhere else, often involving other countries shipping those same resources back to us. Our gross domestic product consists of trading and exporting knowledge and technological expertise, when the greatest needs in the world continue to be food, clothing and shelter. (And medicine, transportation and security.)

I have to ask myself,

  • What am I adding to God’s Kingdom? Am I producing fruit?

Note: They were a decidedly non-industrial community when the Bible was written, so fruit may not the metaphor of choice today, but the problem is I can’t think of a better one.

Another thing that occurs to me reading the Christian blogosphere for the past five or six years is that there isn’t a lot of the love of God evident. There are breakthrough days to be sure, like the day Jon Acuff’s blog, Stuff Christian Like raised $60,000 in 24-hours to build two kindergarten classrooms inVietnam. Why is what Jon did so rare?

Also, there are times an interaction in the comments section really touches your heart. But mostly there just a lot of opinion flying back and forth, some of it quite heated. If our key pastors and leaders were to be evaluated on the basis of their blogs by people outside the faith, what type of character could they infer from our discussions?

MSG I Cor 13:1If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

I’m not saying that Christian writers and bloggers aren’t loving people. I just don’t see a lot of context online to demonstrate the love of God and the outworking of grace. Our web-surfing should take us to places where what we read brings tears as we read it. The stories should stir us. The information should mobilize us.

I have to ask myself:

  • Do people see in my writing a reflection of the God’s grace and love?

Finally, all this writing online has produced some superstars, though some are just known for writing. We all like to read our stats, and there’s even a Top 200 list that’s crammed full of more stats than you knew were being tabulated. There’s a human cry to be recognized, to be known, to be honored; and though we try to deny it, we all want just a tiny bit more attention than we’re currently getting.

CEB: Phil. 2:3 Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. 4 Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others.

I’ve quoted this before: “There is no limit on what can be done for God as long as it doesn’t matter who is getting the earthly credit.”

I have to ask myself:

  • When someone says they want my help with some ministry project, do I envision myself serving at the front of the room or at the back of the room?

Summary conclusions:

  • Less talk, more genuine actions
  • Fewer opinions, more love
  • Reduced self-promotion, more humility

Read more on this topic at Chasing After Words

NLT = New Living, MSG = The Message, CEB = Common English Bible

April 27, 2012

Drawing the Body Together; Tearing The Body Apart

For years now I’ve been carrying on an ongoing dialog with a Pentecostal minister.  He was the one who first used the term, “the Charismatic-ization of Evangelical worship music,” while at the same time indicating that in many Assemblies of God and Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada churches, there is a decreasing presence of the gifts of utterance (particularly tongues and interpretation) such that the weekend service at a Pentecostal church now more resembles that of a mainstream Evangelical denomination, and the worship at the mainstream Evangelical church is slowly adopting elements (worship flow, extended songs, hands raised, etc.) once found only in Charismatic churches.

I was explaining that to someone this week when it suddenly occurred to me that the same time as there is a drawing together taking place along the charismatic axis, there is an increased distancing taking place along what we could label the Reformed continuum.

I call it the Reformed continuum and not the Calvinist-Arminian continuum because the issue is not predestination or eternal security. Those differences have always been, always will be, and do not come as a surprise to our Heavenly Father.  I’m referring instead to the way in which the New Calvinists, militant Calvinists, or YRR (Young, Restless, Reformed) crowd are slowly inching away from everyone else; slowly separating themselves from mainstream Evangelicalism, if — as some will want to argue — they were ever there.

I have written before how one of their number refers to insiders in their movement as “real friends of the gospel;” implying that the rest of us are not friends of the gospel; and how a popular online book distributor had to create a Reformed boutique site to earn the trust of Calvinist customers.

In August of 2010, I called this phenomenon the Cultization of Calvinism.

The larger picture is that it takes Reformed people and Reformed literature out of mainstream Evangelicalism, and takes mainstream Evangelicalism out of the Reformed sphere of awareness. It increases compartmentalization; a kind way of saying it advances what I’ve termed here the cultization of Calvinism, which, I would think from God’s perspective at least, is rather sad.

I believe one of the healthiest dynamics of Evangelicalism has been the cross-pollination that takes place through inter-denominational dialog (Br. – dialogue) and worship. Instead of conferences where only one theological brand is raised, we need to encourage events in which a variety of voices are heard. Instead of bloggers posting blogrolls where they are afraid to list someone who is outside their faith family, we need to be familiar with the much wider Christian blogosphere. Instead of encouraging Christian young people to only read certain authors and one or two particular Bible translations, we need to encourage them to study the wider compendium of Christian thought.

Two years later, I don’t want to return to that discussion here except to say that it’s notable that there is a shrinking of differences taking place along the Charismatic axis at the same time as differences become more pronounced — or perhaps, better to say borders become more pronounced — along another; not unlike the situation where the earth is at times closer to some planets and farther from others.

The subjectivity in this is huge. If you are old-school Pentecostal, and mourn the loss of tongues and interpretation, you have reason to be concerned. If you are Baptist, and find it genuinely upsetting when people raise their hands in worship, then you will dig in your heels and seek a more conservative faith family. If you are Reformed, you may find yourself become intolerant of mainstream Evangelicals if you view their views as heretical.

How this effects the corner of the Christian universe you call home I suppose depends on what potential interaction you have with people of both groups, or in which group you personally reside.

A wise person is one who will step back far enough to see the big picture, and note the trends taking place.

Image: Although the book in the graphic isn’t referenced in the article, the image was priceless, and I decided it was only fair to use the full jacket, acknowledging author Mark Johnston and Christian Focus Publications.  Learn more about it by clicking here.

Love Never Fails

Filed under: music — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 am

One of my all time favorite songs in the history of Contemporary Christian Music.   Sandie Brock sings lead with the band Servant.  Turn up your speakers.

Where there is faith we will be strong
Where there is hope we stand as one
Where there is love… love never fails

April 26, 2012

Ethnic Church Job Vacancy: Nobody Speaks The Language

Filed under: ministry — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:06 am

 NIV Rom 10:14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

I guess one of the challenges of being an ethnically identified church is that finding a pastor who actually speaks the language somewhat narrows the field of candidates:

After a fruitless 11-month search, Canada’s last remaining Welsh church is finding it harder than expected to find a minister who can speak Welsh.

“It’s a very shallow pond,” said Betty Cullingworth, a member of the congregation at Dewi Sant Welsh United Church, North America’s only Welsh-language church, in north Toronto.

Welsh is only spoken by an estimated 750,000 people worldwide, putting it roughly in the same realm as Esperanto and certain dialects of Swahili…

…continue reading at Holy Post (National Post)

25 Christian Blogs You’ve (Possibly) Never Heard Of

Filed under: blogging — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:04 am

Matthew Paul Turner offers you links to 25 blogs that aren’t the “popular faith blogs,” though a couple of them actually are in the Top 200 list. Only two of them are in this blog’s blogroll (another one was, but we dumped him; not saying who) and of the remaining 22, I’d only ever seen one of these before. There’s also a list of 14 runners-up.

Hop over to Jesus Needs New PR

April 25, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Heads I post this, tails I don't.

Welcome back to another edition.  Has it really been a week? And just eight more months to Christmas!

  • Our lead item this week is a look at the idea of presence in preaching, particularly as it applies to multi-site churches where the pastor’s sermon is on a giant screen. Carl Trueman makes his point well, and if you only click one link this week, make it this one.
  • Much sadness at the U.S. headquarters of the Voice of the Martyrs charity, following the death of the executive director, who it appears took his own life after allegations of molesting a young girl.
  • The sinking of the Titanic proved to be the basis of several sermons in the weeks that followed, 100 years ago. “By the time Titanic put to sea, this language had evolved into a boast — reportedly shared with passengers — that ‘God Himself couldn’t sink this ship.’ Thus, when the liner sank on April 15, 1912, preachers on both sides of the Atlantic were among the first commentators to raise their voices in judgment…”
  • Have you ever heard of someone stating a personal opinion about something, but trying to pass it off as Biblical? SFL got over 300 comments when they ask that question. Here’s an example: “One pastor I had… said that a podium or plastic stand was unbiblical. He said that Ezra used a pulpit of wood, and anything else was sin.”
  • Chances are that Easter and Holy Week looked a lot different at your church than it does in most of the 37 pictures from around the world at Boston.com’s The Big Picture. This is a crash course on the variations of Christianity. (Higher speed internet helps on this one.)
  • While away from his home in Canada, uber-blogger Tim Challies finds his U.S. hotel causes him to pass by an abortion clinic. Sample:  “… our society not only allows this to happen, but is actually complicit in this genocide.”
  • Not far from the Lincoln Tunnel in the middle of the part of New York City they call Hell’s Kitchen, Metro Baptist, with only 100 members, provides support to about 1,500 people annually.
  • Here’s a project we’re doing personallythat I will mention again in a week or two: We’re uploading some of the ‘lost’ songs in the history of contemporary Christian music so that more people can here them. Warning: It’s a very diverse collection.
  • You haven’t fully explored the religious sector of the internet until you’ve read a few entries from Sister Mary Martha.
  • Doug Wilson picks up the effeminate worship services issue, but Mike Morrell at InternetMonk finds the whole premise misguided.
  • Meanwhile, Perry Noble thinks there more pressing problems for The Church to deal with, four problems in particular.
  • Tony Jones explains why he agrees with the critics who panned Blue Like Jazz: The Movie…And then, if you want details, there’s this review.
  • Garfield without Garfield? Actually it’s the David Crowder Band without David Crowder. They call themselves The Digital Age. Here’s a rehearsal session of How Great Thou Art.
  • Darrell Vesterfelt guests at Nicole Cottrell’s blog on the relationship between sin and insecurity.
  • Left this out last week by accident, but enjoyed reading where Shauna Hybels Niequist — okay, I added the middle part of the name; she doesn’t — finally got to meet favorite author Anne Lamott.
  • When a Canadian Christian bookstore owner is also a YouTube user, sometimes enough is enough when it comes to the relentless message that “This video contains content from EMI, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds.” Time to send a wake-up call.
  • Lisa McKay, whose husband works for a humanitarian org in Laos guests at Rachel Held Evans’ blog on her fears upon becoming a new mom.
  • In Tennessee, allowing holding hands and kissing could lead to sex, so a newly legislated curriculum refers to both as “gateway sexual activity.”
  • I thought the picture below adequately describes the weather the past week across North America, where we seem to get all four conditions coming and going in any 48 hour period…

April 24, 2012

Church Taps Into Supernatural Power

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:21 am

While your ideal trip to New York City might include tickets to a Broadway show, my ideal visit would coincide with prayer meeting night at the Brooklyn Tabernacle. 

It’s not the famed Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, although that would be great; but just the idea of attending a service at a church where they break all the rules of what a North American church service is supposed to look like is enough for me to covet the experience. Where they follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Where they like loud music but aren’t afraid of silence; even extended silence. Where people line up around the block waiting for the doors to open on Sunday. Where people arrive two hours early for midweek prayer meeting because they want to spend more time in God’s presence. Where people get saved from crime, from crack, from prostitution.

This is actually a book review; and what you’ve just read above is really my biggest takeaway from reading Spirit Rising: Learning to Tap Into the Power of the Holy Spirit, the newest in a line of books by Brook Tab pastor Jim Cymbala. That’s it. Something good is happening there. Jim wants to share it. My guess is that he’s hoping some of it becomes contagious and spreads to your city or even your house of worship. With a healthy balance of teaching and amazing testimonies, this is a book that will transform your expectations of what can do.

For the many who read Francis Chan’s Forgotten God, here’s a book if you want to go deeper into understand the person and work of the Holy Spirit. If you’re a church leader or pastor who wants to be inspired for greater things, this book could be your game changer.

** Read an excerpt from Spirit Rising at Christianity 201

April 23, 2012

Here’s Your Problem: You’re Not Devious Enough

Among other reading, over the weekend I read the rather lengthy — 25 pages — introduction to a forthcoming title by author and Group Magazine editor Rick Lawrence.  Because the book, Shrewd: Daring to Live the Startling Command of Jesus isn’t releasing until August, I’ll return to it closer to the publication date, partly in deference to my brothers and sisters who have brick and mortar bookstores and therefore lack the luxury of locking customers in ahead of time. (Rather shrewd of me, don’t ya think?)

Shrewd is all about the Parable of the Shrewd Manager recorded in Luke 16: 1-9 — a parable not commonly taught in many churches — and about living in the tension between being wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove, a reference to Matthew 10:16.

I know of a few Evangelical fundraisers who don’t particularly need to hear this message — we’ve proved that Evangelicalism can be a prime breeding and hatching ground for all manner of financial schemes and ripoffs — but I’ll give author Rick Lawrence the benefit of the doubt on this one.  In general, sometimes Christian people can be very naive and very gullible and very trusting.

If you don’t believe me, look at the email forwards you’ve received from Christian friends. We are very quick to swallow just about any story that is on the circuit. Did you know Rick Warren is a Muslim? (He’s not, but now I can’t wait to see all the search engine hits I get for having that phrase here.) We don’t do due diligence.

But we also easily lapse into Christianese to explain away our lack of ingenuity. I’ve already written about how I fell into the trap of waiting for God’s leading in a particular season of life, instead of being proactive and making things happen. In the name of not striving, that’s a particular weakness I still wrestle with; and not having read past the intro, I suspect many of Lawrence’s examples will concern career and business decisions.

His definition centers on applying the right force, at the right time, in the right place.  Though the book is scheduled to be tagged: “religion, Christian life;” I think it’s also a definite book for political and business leaders, not to mention church leadership.

So what do you think? Are Christians too laid back or laissez faire when it comes to the things of this world? Do we need some lessons in shrewdness?

Or maybe it’s just that not enough of us play chess.

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