Thinking Out Loud

April 24, 2014

Of Fancy Homes in Hidden Places

front_gate

Lately, a lot of attention has been turned to the housing that certain pastors and church leaders enjoy and are building. In an internet world, with Google Earth and Google Street View tracking every square inch on earth, there are very few secrets.

If you believe that Christians inhabit a world where there is neither “male nor female; this ethnic group nor that ethnic group; or rich nor poor;” get ready to have that ideal shattered. The divisions between rich and poor exist, and some of your favorite writers or televangelists live in places that, were you able to get past the gate somehow, the security force would be tailing you within seconds.

And the sign said long haired freaky people need not apply
So I tucked my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why
He said you look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you’ll do
So I took off my hat I said imagine that, huh, me working for you

Several years ago we did a story — and ran the same pictures and the song lyrics — when a Saddleback campus was planted in the middle of a gated community in Laguna Hills. On one level, just another unreached people group, I suppose. On another level, rather awkward.

And the sign said anybody caught trespassing would be shot on sight
So I jumped on the fence and yelled at the house, Hey! what gives you the right
To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep mother nature in
If God was here, he’d tell you to your face, man you’re some kinda sinner

To be fair, (a) this was a community of 18,000; an unreached people group you might say, and (b) southern California invented the whole gated community thing; they exist there on every block the way Waffle House or Cracker Barrel exists in the southeast. Still, there was something unsettling about this, if only because (a) if it’s been done before, it’s certainly been low key and (b) it’s hard for anything connected with Saddleback to be low key.

When we tried to track this particular campus this week, we couldn’t locate it. But we’re well aware of the people that make up the Evangelical star system who live in similar neighborhoods.

And the sign said everybody’s welcome to come in, kneel down and pray
But when they passed around the plate at the end of it all, I didn’t have a penny to pay,
So I got me a pen and a paper and I made up my own little sign
I said thank you Lord for thinking about me, I’m alive and doing fine

Do major Christian leaders need a “retreat” from their parishioners, the press, and the public at large? Certainly Jesus tried to break away from the crowds at time, seeking some rest and renewal, but the texts also tell us the crowds followed him. And far from a gated community, we’re told he was completely itinerant, “having no place to lay his head;” and sometimes camping out on the fold-out couch in the homes of his followers.

veggie-gated-communityThe Gated Community
Is where we’ll always be
Our smiles are white
Cause we’re inside
In comfy custody
And when you come to visit
You can stand outside and see..
What a smiling bunch we are
In our gated unity!

The question is, “How much money is too much?” “When does a house become excessive?” It’s sad when it reaches the point where someone has started a Twitter account from the viewpoint of a pastor’s grand estate.

Oh! The Gated Community

Is where we like to be

Our clothes are never dirty

And the lawns are always green

And when you come to visit

You can stand outside and see

What a tidy bunch we are

In our gated unity!

I guess my biggest concern is that everything we do should be without a hint of suspicion.  I often think about Proverbs 16:2, which says (he paraphrased) that everything we do can be rationalized one way or another, but God is busy checking out our motivation. (And also reminded that no one is to judge the servant of another.)

The Gated Community
Is where we’ll always be
Our smiles are white
Cause we’re inside
In comfy custody
And when you come to visit
You can stand outside and see..
What a smiling bunch we are
In our gated unity!

So what are your thoughts? If you have an issue with this, what’s the problem? If you’re at peace with this, why do you think it’s got so many others steaming?

Lyrics from “Signs” by the Five Man Electrical Band (lyrics from the band’s home page) and from “The Gated Community” from Veggie Tales’ Sherluck Holmes and the Golden Ruler (from Veggie Tales lyrics site.) See sites for full lyrics with choruses not printed here. Pictured gated community in Atlanta, GA

April 23, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Promised you last week when we did a feature on Kevin Frank there would be one more panel in it for you (see Genesis 8:20) …

Noah's Sacrifice by Kevin Frank

Time once again for things on Christian blogs and news feeds you may have missed and some you’ll now wish you had. Clicking anything below will take you to PARSE, which paid $1,000,000.00 for exclusive rights to this weekly feature, plus a third-round draft pick.

WordPress says this is Wednesday Link List number 200, but it doesn’t count the times I typed the word Wednesday in a hurry, or the variety of names it existed under before uniformity set in.

 

We leave you this really simple explanation of how to pray; at least according to one denomination.

Prayer image 041814

March 18, 2014

Your Critics are Your Friends

celebrity-jeopardy Driscoll Noble Furtick

The above picture is taken from an article by Matthew Marino at the blog, The Gospel Side, titled Celebrity Jeopardy, Pastors Edition. In it he said one thing that for me really nailed it:

Last summer, in a post entitled “When did evangelicals get popes?” I pointed out the ironic similarities between celebrity video-venue preachers and the papacy that Protestantism rose in protest against. Extending the irony has been Pope Francis’ humility this year in contrast to the growing list of celebrity pastor abuses…

I encourage you to read all of it.

Like Matthew, I got comments — by email, Twitter and on the blog — that my emphasis on this topic and of Driscoll in particular was skewing too negative. But I think that there’s a time and a place to raise awareness of issues and thereby hold leaders accountable.

And if Warren Throckmorton’s blog post yesterday is accurate, maybe now is the time to back off:

…As it turns out, the publisher, Harper Collins Christian, has now corrected the section in question by quoting and footnoting the section of Ryken’s book I identified. Nearly all of the problems I identified have been addressed…

More to the point, there’s been an indication of true repentance as posted at Christianity Today yesterday in an article titled Mark Driscoll Retracts Bestseller Status, Resets Life.

…In the lengthy letter via Mars Hill’s online network, The City, Driscoll reflects on what he has gotten right and wrong over the past 17 years, which have seen the church he founded grow beyond his expectations to an estimated 13,000 people worshiping weekly in 15 locations in five states. Many praised the statement on Twitter for its humility, while many others said it still left their concerns unresolved…

[The full letter was leaked on Reddit.]

In Proverbs 27 we read,

Faithful are the wounds of a friend;
profuse are the kisses of an enemy.  (ESV)

If I am critical of the prominent writers and pastors who have been the subject of recent brought-on-by-themselves controversies, I am doing so as an insider, as someone who wants to see the scandals off the front page of the Christian websites and blogs. So we bring things into the open hopefully for a short season in order to see a turnaround and as a preventative that things don’t get worse.

Several years ago I wrote a paraphrase of II Tim 3:16, the verse that talks about scripture being useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. While I am NOT drawing a parallel between a blog and God’s holy word, in the paraphrase I noted that scripture:

  • shows us the path God would have us walk
  • highlights when and where we’ve gotten off the path
  • points the way back to the path
  • gives us the advice we need to keep from wandering off the path in future

Now mapping that back to the verse in Proverbs; this is the kind of thing I hope that we would do for and with one another. “As iron sharpens iron…”  The goal should be that we would raise the standard of integrity, point out when and where we leave that path, find the way to get back on track, and put safeguards in to place that stop us from wandering.

Furthermore, I would want someone to do that for me.

March 7, 2014

Scandal Tracking: Prominent Christian Authors

Some of you know that for the last [oh my, has it been that long?] years I have done the buying for a chain of Christian bookstores that has now been reduced to a single location. Cutbacks in the industry necessitate very careful buying and frankly, I don’t need a lot of excuses to cut back on any given author’s quantity commitments, or even skip a title altogether.

So all the recent discussion that is taking up a lot of space on Christian news pages and in the Christian blogosphere certainly tempers my buying for these writers, and saves me some money in the process. Maybe I should thank them.

Anyway, if you’ve not been keeping up with some of the latest ones, here the current top five — Pat Robertson and Jack VanImpe are assumed — and if you can think of others I’ll add them.  And we’ll give Joyce Meyer a pass on the private jet for today; maybe it is more efficient than booking commercial flights.

Mark Driscoll

  • allegations (proven) of widespread plagiarism over several years involving many titles and three different publishers
  • allegation that he manipulated the system by which books appear on the New York Times bestseller list for the title Real Marriage
  • suggestions that church funds were used to facilitate the NYT list placement
  • question of ethics over distributing copies of a book on the grounds outside the Strange Fire conference (may or may not have been escorted off the grounds by security staff, depending on version of story)
  • requires church leadership to sign non-disclosure agreements preventing any discussion of church policies or revelation of insider information
  • various questions about church discipline and shunning and dis-fellowship of members who voice dissent
  • various concerns about ultra-conservative views on the role of women, to the point where spouses of staff members may not work outside the home

James MacDonald

  • allegations of various types of financial improprieties and secrecy concerning compensation and benefits and/or concerns over lavish lifestyle, resulting in many staff and leadership departures and the creation of a watchdog blog containing a variety of other revelations concerning the authoritarian style of church government
  • linked to at least one gambling venture with Jerry Jenkins (see below)

Jerry Jenkins

  • concerns over Jenkins’ “hobby” as a “recreational gambler” in Las Vegas and timing/relationship of relaxed standards for Moody Bible Institute faculty and staff (but not students) for which Jenkins is board chair

John McArthur

  • concern that the Strange Fire book and conference has now polarized the Pentecostal/Charismatic community and non-Pentecostals; that his rant goes too far and is dividing Evangelicals

Steven Furtick

  • concern over $1.75M home he is building and statements that the home is paid for from book royalties
  • allegations that he used the same New York Times Bestseller sales strategy as Mark Driscoll to plant his new title, Crash the Chatterbox on the list. (Driscoll and Furtick are friends.)
  • possible implication of involvement of church funds in so doing
  • concerns that strategic placement of volunteers throughout the Elevation Church auditoriums manipulate the response to baptism altar calls
  • questions as to whether Furtick’s contemporary and creative preaching style may leave new Christians confused as to the fundamental application of popular scriptures and themes

It should also be noted that several of the megachurch pastors have a ‘council of reference’ that includes other megachurch pastors, and it is these, not the local church boards or directorates, that advise on salary issues. Many of these pastors are also compensated for appearing at each others’ conferences; the whole conference subject being an issue for another discussion entirely.

November 20, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Times of Testing

If your work week runs Monday to Friday, by noon on Wednesday you’re ‘over the hump,’ but the Baptist in me still blushes when someone says, “Happy Hump Day!”  With that, I think we’d better quickly move on to the links which you’ll find at Out of Ur.

The Wednesday Link List is written by Paul Wilkinson who blogs the rest of the week at Thinking Out Loud and Christianity 201.  Professional stunt blogger. Do not attempt at home. Offer not valid in Wisconsin or Hawaii.

Sister Mary Clara Vocation Doll

October 23, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Life is Like a Moving Sidewalk

Not many weird religious news stories this week; try to do something stupid over the next few days, okay?  This is a link list without links. To see them click over to Out of Ur. As for the above graphic, you need to listen to Phil Vischer Podcast

  • According to a CNN story, the head of Christian Copyright Licensing Inc. claims that Chris Tomlin is the most prolific songwriter in the United States right now.
  • Personally, I thought my alternative ending to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire Conference would have been an interesting touch…
  • …but of course, truth is always stranger than fiction.  While I first read about Mark Driscoll crashing the party, I’d not heard James MacDonald’s name mentioned until this.
  • Two pieces on the subject of porn: Eric Simmons at Desiring God with I Hate Porn, and Tim Challies offering some preventative measures with The Porn-Free Family.
  • Did you see marathon swimmer Diana Nyad talking to Oprah? Is it possible to be an atheist and still be “in awe?”
  • Short Essay of the Week: What if modern technology permitted Biblical education to take place individually, and the place we gather weekly was for interaction, coaching, personal support and prayer? Be sure to read David Morrow’s The Flipped Church.
  • Medium Essay of the Week: Dancing as “keeping in step with the Spirit;” a metaphor for a life of faith, unless of course you believe that, “the praying knee can’t belong to a dancing leg.”
  • A Minnesota Pastor takes 20% of the revenue from a land deal and creates entrepreneurial opportunities for young people. Read the original CT article and this response (with video).
  • Most Provocative Title: From Catholic writer Tony Agnesi, are you Living Your Resumé or Your Eulogy?
  • Starting Over: For Jon Acuff, this particular blog represents Day Zero.
  • Academic Article of the Week: We all know what the gospel is, but if you’re studying alternative texts, what exactly is a gospel?
  • …and aggregate the Tweets of some well-known Christian academics, and you might find yourself reading Bible Gateway Bible Profs News.
  • Kid Min Corner: Unlike many children’s DVD series, Phil Vischer didn’t stop at the end of Acts. So what themes from Paul’s letters did he feel were worthy of inclusion in a kids video?
  • Youth Ministry Corner: Apparently some parents would rather just write a check to pay for missions trips, and the kids don’t want to do fundraising, either.
  • Know any Aspies? That’s a term for people with Asperger’s Syndrome; people for whom the church can feel like an alien place.
  • The blog Sliced Soup found this 18-month old guide to Hebrew pronunciation of YHWH, but as it turns out the video channel it’s from is a goldmine of instruction in Ancient Hebrew.
  • What should worship leaders do when the keyboardist who wants to join the team is a classically-trained pianist.
  • Pastors: If that illustration you’re using is actually debunked on Snopes.com, look out! Turns out Millennials like to fact-check sermons.
  • Video(s) of the Week: Two beautiful acapella song covers on YouTube by David Wesley — One Thing Remains and the more recently posted (last week) How Deep the Father’s Love.
  • People You Should Know: Another edition of the Young Influencers List.
  • Charlotte Church is now 27, but she knows the pressure put on young music stars to be hyper-sexualized.
  • Questions about the film’s ending has caused tension for the March, 2014 movie based on the life of Noah.
  • Music Flashback: From our Lost Songs collection, the worship of Calvary Chapel Downey, with the hauntingly beautiful song To be Like You.
  • Denominational stereotypes? Christianity Today answers the question, ‘Why are Google searches so much fun?’
  • Finally, if you’re going to steal stuff from a church, don’t try to flog it at a yard sale only a few streets away.

Link list curator Paul Wilkinson blogs at Christianity 201 and Thinking Out Loud, the latter of which still sports its original look and theme, an actual functioning blogroll that is updated regularly, and a merry-go-round that still operates. (Not that last thing…)

Main branch of the Kansas City Public Library.

Main branch of the Kansas City Public Library.

April 2, 2013

James MacDonald Preaches about Money on Easter Sunday

James MacDonald - Easter Sunday 2013A reader posted a comment to an October blog post here about debt issues at Harvest Bible Chapel.  She claimed that instead of the standard Easter sermon, James MacDonald spoke about money and fiances. Huh? What the finance was he thinking?

At first, I didn’t want to believe what she wrote. But as I write this on Monday night, I’m listening to the Easter Sunday sermon at the main campus of Harvest Bible Chapel. I can see myself having brought a coworker or neighbor to the service, and I am squirming more and more with each of the 46-minutes.

Okay, so he spins the story of Judas to fit. Even that would be an offbeat theme for Easter Sunday morning.  I’m not sure how long it’s going to be online, but if you can, watch the it at this link even if you only see the first ten minutes. (Sermon notes .pdf was at this one.) Anyway, I’ll let my reader tell it:

I’d attended an Easter service at Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows yesterday and am so disgusted and disillusioned with Pastor James I will never attend Harvest again.  Instead of celebrating the Risen Christ on Easter, he started a new series on MONEY, stating that, for those who think he can’t start a new series on Easter about money, “WATCH ME!!” The man’s arrogance knows no bounds.

I’ve attended Harvest on and off for ten years or so and have found many things that I don’t like or agree with over that time, but this was the final straw. I even brought a friend with me, and there were surely many other guests as well, all there to listen to his latest pontifications about MONEY, on Easter, no less! No communion, no gospel, no Jesus per se. There was some “apology” about his having taught about money at Harvest for 25 years but now he’s come to find out what he’s taught was wrong and asked for grace; my first thought was how am I to know that what he is going to teach NOW is correct?! Oh, that’s right, he put up pictures of Francis Chan, Dave Ramsey and other Christians wise about money and, since he is important and well known enough to have had one-on-one conversations with them and others of their ilk, apparently now is well versed in being a good steward.

How is it that the MacDonalds are “wealthy” when Jesus didn’t even have a place to lay his head? How is it that he speaks of wonderful vacations while asking for our tithes and offerings and I haven’t been able to afford a vacation in years?

I received a phone call tonight from a friend who used to attend there … saying that she had found out Pastor James talked about tithing…on EASTER!…and that she was also told of how desperate the financial situation at Harvest really is. Perhaps this is why Pastor James felt it necessary to talk about money on such a sacred day. All it took was a Google search to find out how bad the situation is. And to think he stood up there shaming me and others about our credit card debt…on Easter, no less. Did God put this on his heart to discuss on the day we celebrate His Son as our Risen Savior?! Did the elders approve this?!

Best of luck with your megachurch, Pastor, but my soul is not being fed while you’re too busy expanding your own kingdom.

..And to think I get upset if one of the worship pieces isn’t totally on the Easter theme.  A serious lapse in judgment, don’t you think?


Update 4/4/13

Basically what you’re seeing in the comments section is four possible responses:

  • Supportive (objectively) — People who feel J. MacD. was within his rights to preach this topic on Easter Sunday because it was a legitimate message even for “Holy Week.”
  • Supportive (subjectively) — People who rally around J.MacD. as their pastor or shepherd and want to defend him.
  • Opposed (subjectively) — People who choose to criticize J. MacD. on whatever grounds or based on whatever leadership criteria, or choose to examine this particular topic in light of other information about James and/or HBC.
  • Opposed (objectively) — People who — regardless of whether or not they liked the message — feel the topic was inappropriate for Easter Sunday.

It was the two objective types of comment we were hoping to have heard from here.

September 19, 2012

Wednesday Link List

I appear to have spent my link list capital this weekend by turning links I had banked for today into full stories. Sigh! Please have your link list suggestions in by Monday night around 7:00 PM EST. (For my European and Aussie/Kiwi readers, that’s 19:00 New York City time.)

  • Jeremy Mann writes at The Evangelical Post on the lack of good pastors and why this is happening. 
  • Somewhat related, Perry Noble unearths a year-2000 email from the early days of New Spring, where he is averaging 60 people in attendance and running out of room! He encourages struggling pastors to remain faithful. 
  • A rather complex article by Bruce Epperly that is, one one level, an examination of the theology in James MacDonald’s Vertical Church, but also deals with the contrast between God’s transcendence and God’s immanence, and also how we translate scripture and update hymns. So basically, you want to read this twice.  
  • Frank Shaeffer is blogging and has chosen Patheos as his blogging home.  The Blog is titled, Why I Still Talk To Jesus  – In Spite of Everything — if you know his story, you’ll get that — and he kicks off with a four parter titled, The Blessed Hypocrisy “Method Acting” of Salvation. (Link is to part one.) 
  • Okay, something a little lighter… from this week’s blog discovery, Annie Blogs, a piece about God’s love with a video embed of Love Came Down a Bethel Live song covered acoustically here by Brian and Jenn Johnson.
  • If you can’t get enough of the whole link thing, Rachel Held Evans usually has a great list every Sunday, like Ben Howard’s Christian Denominations are Like NLF Teams (sure you have to be American to get it fully, but the premise is interesting), or at The Axiom Monastic Community blog, a motorcycle pilgrimage in search of St. Francis of Assisi
  • But of course, that would force us to mention Rachel’s own rather shocking re-examination of Esther (yes, the “for such a time as this” Esther) who RHE sees as far from a Disney Princess; sparking over 100 comments. Quote: “And if we’re going to be faithful to scripture, we must learn to love it for what it is, not what we want it to be.” 
  • Most popular at GodTube this weekend, Unlike Christ, a church/sermon video clip from Worship House Media.
  • And since one good sermon clip deserves another, here’s the one they showed in one local church on the weekend, simply titled Masks. (Well, the first three minutes, anyway.)
  • Christian Week (Canada’s Christian news source) story of the week concerns a Kitchener MP who wants to reopen the debate about human life and origins with a call to define the term “human being.”  
  • Christianity 201 marks 900-posts.

April 13, 2012

James MacDonald’s Holiness Test

In fairness, this is not meant to cover the entire range of what it means to be holy; rather, this was just one part of one of several points on Tuesday’s broadcast of Walk in the Word.  But the questions are worthy of your consideration:

  1. When was the last time you made a crude joke or laughed at one? 
  2. When was the last time you sat through a sexual scene on television, probably between unmarried people, without turning it off, maybe completely undisturbed? 
  3. [Guys, especially] Do your eyes look over someone attractive in a way that would make them uncomfortable if they knew or if they noticed? 
  4. Are there dirty words in your vocabulary which link you to the world and not to Christ? 
  5. Do you read books that tell stories of immorality and rationalize your enjoyment of them? 
  6. Do you go places where the sexual atmosphere is thick and not feel deeply troubled? 
  7. Are you even now, maybe this past week, struggling with an attraction or a relationship with a person not your spouse, or if you’re single, someone who’s not a Christian? 
  8. Do people sense the freedom to be off-color around you?  Do they have the impression that you will tolerate it? 
  9. How do your convictions about appropriate entertainment differ from someone you know who doesn’t know Christ? 
  10. What do you do that you would not do if Jesus Christ were visually present with you?

March 23, 2012

Microblogging Friday

Heard a couple of interesting quotes from The Elephant Room II at James MacDonald’s blog; here’s the first one:

T. D. Jakes on the need for the church to be more integrated:

“When you write the books you read, your truth will always be distorted.”

Second quote from ER II

I think it was Crawford Lorrits on the need for us to stop obsessing on the finer points of doctrine when we’re supposed to be evangelizing:

“When someone is drowning, don’t describe the features of the rescue boat.”

from David Platt quotations at GoodReads.com

“We are settling for a Christianity that revolves around catering to ourselves when the central message of Christianity is actually about abandoning ourselves.”
Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream

More microblogging this week at this entry at C201 blog

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