Thinking Out Loud

February 1, 2013

Getting the Most out of The Christian Blogosphere

Two weeks ago I ran an experiment at Christianity 201 that I hope will be a prototype for similar articles there in the future. The idea was to use the Christian Blogosphere as a commentary resource for particular scripture passages.

Now remember, anybody can have a blog. Just because it’s on your screen doesn’t mean it’s correct, or authentic, or that the person writing has any particular expertise or authority. (The first one below however is a highly respected author.)  But it does offer you insights into what other people just like you extrapolate from the text in question, many of whom did consult a commentary or at least the notes in their study Bible before they sat down to write.

So here is how that first one looked, and I’m always looking for suggestions for other passages that would work at C201.


for-such-a-time-as-this

Today we begin an occasional feature where we will take a particular scripture verse and see how different pastors, authors and bloggers reflected on it. If you have a verse you would like us to consider, let us know.

“For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Pastor Greg Laurie writes:

When Esther won a beauty contest and ascended the throne in ancient Persia, she was a Jew. But she kept that information quiet. And one day, because of the wicked efforts on the part of a man named Haman, there was a plot conceived to have all of the Jews in the empire destroyed.But Esther’s uncle, Mordecai, came to her and essentially said, “You are there in the palace. You are in a place of influence. You can go to the king and speak on behalf of your people.” But then he added this telling statement: “If you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).

The idea behind Mordecai’s statement was this: “God put you where you are for a reason. Now, are you going to leverage that opportunity for God’s kingdom, or are you going to keep it all to yourself? Guess what? If you don’t do it, the Lord will find someone else.”

God has put you where you are today. You have a sphere of influence. You have a circle of friends. You have neighbors around you. You have coworkers and others with whom you come in contact on a regular basis. Will you go to them? Or will you run from them?

You might ask, “Well, if I don’t go, will the job still get done?”

As a matter of fact, it will get done. The reality is that God doesn’t need you. Certainly God doesn’t need me. But God does want us to participate in the process.

When God says go, what will you say?

Blogger Shanda Hasse adds:

This is SO powerful because I have known that I have a calling from God to reach out to this dark world for His glorious Kingdom, as we all do, and I have really been praying into exactly what he wants from me, as his faithful servant. I definitely know that direction, but it isn’t fully clear yet as to when and how to take action. Money is a large portion of the wait, but I know God will provide me in His timing with all of the resources I need to take flight with this calling.I just love the articulation, “you were made queen for just such a time as this” — we are called as followers of Christ to reach out in His name and not stay silent. This is such a relevant command, especially in the wake of the disaster our world is facing through these perilous times. We are to be queens & kings for Christ now more than ever . . . by that I mean LEADERS. We are to lead people to Christ and the abounding, endless love and hope that he has for all those called according to His purpose — that CAN be everyone if they choose!!

SO, get out there in this mess, don’t try to hide or segregate yourselves and your family from what is going on now with the economy, government and society. We must dive in and radiate Christ’s light and help those in panic and need. The jobless, homeless, seniors who have lost all of their retirement money and many others come to mind. Seek these people out, and help them in Jesus’ name. Pay for their dinner, help them look for a job, point them to the limitless resources of our merciful God. We are being called to serve a powerful purpose in such a time as this, so let’s get out and show the weak, lonely, desperate, lost and so on, the love of our AWESOME God. You go, you Kings & Queens of Christ.

Blogger Suzanne Benner writes:

This is a great verse. Esther was afraid to approach the king and ask him to save her people because approaching him without being asked was risking her life. When Mordecai answers her, it shows a lot of faith. He’s basically saying… if you don’t do it, God will still save our people, but you and I will die. And maybe this is the reason that God has put you here. As it turned out, it was. … I think that is a good thing to ponder as we approach all of our problems. Yes, it is very true that God will accomplish his purposes on this earth without us, if need be. But being where we are, and who we are, we all have unique opportunities to participate in his work. And perhaps we are exactly where we are for such a time as this. Today, wherever we are, and whatever position we are in, let’s overcome our fears, and stand up for God and his work.

Blogger B. Kessler (whose blog’s name is taken from this verse) writes:

…Esther did end up going to the king and because of that the Jews were saved. I am not the kind of heroine Esther was. In fact, I would describe myself as pretty average. But I do realize that by Ethiopian standards I live in a palace. I have luxuries I take for granted. In fact, compared to most of the world I live like a queen. It leaves me to wonder why I have so much when others have so little. Do I deserve more? Well, you may not know me but let me assure you the answer to that is no. I can’t give a good reason for why I was born in the U.S. and not some remote village in Africa or some country where the people are so oppressed they can’t even worship God without fear of being beaten or even killed. I have been thinking lately, as we pursue the adoption of an orphan whose name I don’t know and whose face I have never seen, maybe God has placed me here in these circumstances for “such a time as this”.

Finally, from Truth and Freedom Ministries:

There are those in the Bible that were right on time, others went ahead of God’s appointed timing, and then there was One, born in the fullness of time

…Esther’s words – “…if I perish, I perish.” gives me assurance that she believed this was God’s timing for her to act. In her words you don’t see an assurance that everything will work out in her favor, but you do see the character that it takes to step out in God’s timing and leave the results to Him.

March 1, 2012

Warning Signs: Your Church May Be Dying

Blog Crime in Progress:  I want everybody to read this, so it’s here in full, but give credit traffic where credit traffic is due and read this at Trey Morgan’s blog.

You may have already read these, but according to Barna, 3500-4000 churches close their doors every year… AND recently the Christian Chronicle just published a report saying that in the past nine years that church attendance has dropped by more than 100,000.

Just a few days ago I visited with a man that was very concerned about the church where he was attending. His exact words were, “We’re dying and the sad things is … some don’t care, and the others don’t know what to do about it!” He and I got to talking about some of the signs they were seeing that pointed to their church dying out. We made quite a list, and of course a few were tongue-in-cheek. I thought I might share a few with you today. Of course I’m no church growth expert, but I’d bet that most are generally true.  So, here are “17 Signs your Church may be Dying.”

  1. If your church does nothing to reach the community where it is located.
  2. If your church believes doing church is something that takes place inside the walls of the building on Sundays and Wednesdays … instead of outside the walls in the community during the week.
  3. If your church’s sermons are issue oriented or not relevant, instead of being relationship centered and Jesus focused.
  4. If your church is afraid of change, making changes and taking risks.
  5. If the only thing your community knows about your church is where it’s located.
  6. If the only thing that seems alive in your worship service is the greenery at the front of the auditorium.
  7. If the song you sing most on Sundays is, “Tis so sweet to Rust in Jesus,” or something close to it.
  8. If your worship is quiet because there are no children.
  9. If the only new members that are ever added to your church are people who have moved into the area … instead of people from your community.
  10. If your church is content with just keeping its heads above the water.
  11. If your church is out of touch with the current generation.
  12. If your church’s leadership’s motto is, “But we’ve never done it that way before.” 
  13. If your church has money in the bank that could be used to reach the lost and serve the poor, but it’s being saved for a rainy day or an emergency.
  14. If your church’s biggest fear is criticism.
  15. If your church’s leadership doesn’t set the tone, and is more concerned with supporting the system than shepherding the people.
  16. If your church promotes outreach as an option and not a necessity.
  17. If your church lives in the past not in the present.

Honestly … It makes me sad that the topic of churches dying is even a topic that is trending…

~Trey Morgan

July 23, 2011

Campus Crusade? No, Just Plain “Cru.”

Campus Crusade for Christ International (CCCI) is embarking on a nine-month mission to change its name to Cru, years after its founder, Bill Bright, wondered whether the evangelistic ministry should alter the brand. ~Christianity Today

They’ve taken the military theme out of Campus Crusade.  Can the hymn, “Onward Christian Soldiers” be next?  That’s a discussion for another time.  Right now it’s about one organization.  And Campus Crusade (CCCI) has been taking some heat for this decision as indicated on its website:

Recent media reports have questioned our commitment to Jesus and our calling as ministers of the gospel. Those who know and partner with us realize that this is simply untrue. As an organization, we are unswervingly committed to proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ in all that we do. We are committed to the centrality of the cross, the truth of the Word, the power of the Holy Spirit and the global scope of the Great Commission.

As Christianity Today points out in an article this week, it’s a change that CCCI founder Bill Bright had talked about making but never implemented.  The move is part of a general trend:

Campus Crusade is not the first organization to distance itself from the term. In 2000, Wheaton College removed its Crusader mascot and eventually became the Thunder. Only this year, the school unveiled a physical mascot, “Stertorous ‘Tor’ Thunder,” a 2-person mastodon costume weighing 99 pounds (the largest mascot in the NCAA). In 2002, evangelist Billy Graham began using the word “mission” to describe what he always called “crusades.” His son Franklin Graham and evangelist Luis Palau call their gatherings “festivals,” while Greg Laurie uses “crusade.”

But many of the 80 people who left comments after reading the story aren’t convinced that “Cru” is the best they could come up with, even though the name was used internally by staff for many years; while some of the same respondents freely admit that it was time for “Crusade” to be retired.

  • If the problem is that the word Crusade is offensive, how does just shorting the word help?
  • So…we get rid of an organizational name that had name recognition that is the envy of almost every other Christian organization…Name recognition on par with World Vision or Red Cross….AND, we remedy all of this by SAVING three letters out of the offending word…and, make THAT our name?
  • What is with the trendy names? My own denomination the Baptist General Conference changed their name to Converge Worldwide. I guess I am now a “convergist.” What is that? What does it mean? What an idiotic name. “Cru” is another name that communicates NOTHING.
  • The thing about tattoos is that by the time you realize they’re stupid… its too late. Fortunately, this is not so with a stupid name. Change it; never should have had the dumb name to begin with.

Meanwhile, over at Faith and Reason, the religion blog of USAToday, Cathy Lynn Grossman focuses more on the dropping of the “…for Christ” element of the former name; a point which CCCI (or Cru) addresses at its website.

We were not trying to eliminate the word Christ from our name. We were looking for a name that would most effectively serve our mission and help us take the gospel to the world. Our mission has not changed. Cru enables us to have discussions about Christ with people who might initially be turned off by a more overtly Christian name. We believe that our interaction and our communication with the world will be what ultimately honors and glorifies Christ.

This is of course the thing that the “discernment blogs” are jumping all over.  I checked out a few of them.  But we’re not linking to them here, and we’re not posting their comments.

But Cathy Lynn also raises a point about the “Campus” element of the name:

And it turns out that “Campus” had become passe. The web site touts that the movement launched by Bill and Vonette Bright as a campus ministry in 1951 is now on 1,029 campuses. The group claims 37,900 new souls for Christ over the last five years.

That sounds exciting until you do the math — about seven converts per campus per year. However, the campus side of “Cru” — as it will be known next year when the re-branding is finished — is not the primary focus any more.

So what’s your take?  What’s in a name?  Do you like the sound of “Cru?”

June 14, 2011

Choosing a Church in a Vacuum

Here’s how this works:  You have to write a comment based on the very limited information you have.  There are no prizes. 

  1. You are just married, no kids, and have moved to a rather small-ish town with very limited church choices within the type of church you’re familiar with; in fact, there is only real possibility according to the information you were given before you moved.
  2. You make contact with someone to get the address and time only to discover that this particular church has had some kind of split with half the congregation staying and half going to a new location.
  3. The person you’re talking with is very helpful and informative, but doesn’t attend either and really can’t offer you a thing as to why the church split and what the particular issues were.
  4. You have to choose between the two; picking something else or staying home isn’t an option in this particular scenario.

So which one do you choose and why?

There is actually a good reason to choose one over the other.  But it might be a different choice for different people.

I’ll be back on Thursday — after Wednesday’s Link List — with what my choice would be and why I would make it.

April 9, 2011

Billy Graham: The Generation after the Next Generation

Oh yeah! People come up and say, “The years of mass evangelism are dead,” and I say, “I don’t believe in mass evangelism,” and they’re like, “That’s what you guys have always done.” I say, “No, we don’t. We do personal evangelism, but we do it on a massive scale.”

~Will Graham, son of Franklin Graham

Christianity Today sits down Will Graham, an associate evangelist with his grandfather’s BGEA and assistant director of The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove.

It’s worth a look.  For example, here’s a change from everything you’ve been reading lately on hell:

I can’t speak for what Rob Bell talks about, but most people I come across still believe in hell. Now the idea of what hell is, that’s changing, but there are a few things we do know that the Bible says. One, that there is a place called hell. Just as heaven is real, so is hell. The whole reason God came to search out man was to save us from hell. The Bible says hell was never created for man. It was created for Satan and his angels that rebelled against God. Since man has decided to rebel against God, they were going to spend eternity in hell totally separate from God.

He also talks about other aspects to crusade evangelism, some new initiatives the organization has started, and comparisons to both is father and grandfather.

Read the whole piece at CT Online.

November 18, 2010

Sometimes Bigger IS Necessarily Better

I’ve been thinking (not out loud) all day about this one.

Sometimes a church or ministry organization will begin a period of rapid and accelerating growth.   They hire new staff.   They add new programs or services.   They need larger premises in which to conduct their activities.

All this time, there are people critics standing on the sidelines suggesting that they’ve created a monster, and now all their energies need to be spent feeding the beast.

And that’s often the case.

Sometimes growth is a natural product of the effectiveness of a church or parachurch organizations ministry.   If it’s working, if it’s blessing people, if it’s bringing people into the kingdom, we want to see it grow, right?

Now… I know there are people reading this who have an issue with “big.”    They like to give to niche mission organizations and perhaps their weekly worship thing is a smaller congregation or even a home church.   Is that you?   Then trust me, I’m on-side.  I know the intimacy that comes through worship in a smaller group, and I know that your missions giving yields more bang for your buck when the people in the office and the people ministering on the front lines are the same people.

I’m not, across-the-board, in favor of “big.”

But I also realized today that there are some major liabilities that can take place when you have a ministry that is powerful and effective, but somewhere along the line you failed — or were unable — to build an organization.

This isn’t about the fact that as president of my own company, I occasionally empty the wastebaskets or clean the toilets.   I don’t mind modeling servant leadership.    In fact, there’s nothing I would ask any employee to do that I don’t do or haven’t done myself.     I believe good leadership involves getting your hands dirty.

I’m just realizing that perhaps as a leader, I failed to set my sights on greater possibilities, and am paying the price today for not bringing in more strategic partnerships.

Because I think that sometimes, bigger is better.   Even in church and ministry.

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lower image: AllPosters.com (click link)

September 2, 2010

Taking it to the Streets

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:43 am

This is actually the third time this particular post has appeared here.   I never get tired of the quotation that forms the centerpiece of this…


Several years ago, a long-time customer came into our bookstore and brought with her a new purpose and a new motto for our business, “marketplace ministry.” It was a fresh vision and a reminder that we should try to be more present in the public square, in civic life, and less dependent on churches which so often let us down.

The phrase “marketplace ministry” also reminded me of this quotation:

“I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the center of the marketplace, as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a high cross between two thieves: on the town garbage heap; at a crossroad so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew, in Latin and in Greek…. At the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse and soldiers gamble. Because that’s where He died. And that is what He died about. And that is where churchmen ought to be and what churchmen should be about.”

This quotation belongs to Scottish theologian Dr. George MacLeod (1895 – 1991). According to Wikipedia, MacLeod is also the founder of the Iona Community, an ecumenical movement committed to social justice issues and “seeking new ways to live the gospel of Jesus in today’s world.” Most of its activities take place on the Isle of Iona and its interdenominational liturgies and publishing are developed by the Wild Goose Group, the name taken from an ancient Irish symbol of the Holy Spirit. (Apologies to “dove only” readers!) Its books and music resources deal with social justice and peace issues, spirituality and healing, and innovative approaches to worship.

Someone years ago taught me that so much of what the church considers “outreach” is actually “indrag.” We need to find ways to engage the concept of “marketplace ministry.” Evangelicals have long neglected issues of social justice or relegated the ’social gospel’ to mainline churches. But that is changing. And perhaps the thing we need to do in the center of the marketplace is to live out the gospel with visible demonstrations of Christ’s love, not just taking the quotation above as a call to loud street preaching. Is there someone in your sphere of influence to whom you can give “a cup of water” to today?

July 31, 2010

Hello, I Love You, Won’t You Tell Me Your Name

Filed under: ministry — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:43 am

This is the first of several occasional posts written in her early blogging days by my wife , who is, in many respects, the better writer in the family.   This originally appeared online in December of 2006:

There’s an episode of Seinfeld where George announces that he is going to tell a girl that he loves her. He’s never said this to anyone before and it’s a big step.

Jerry asks him whether he is sure of the “I love you return”. “Because if you don’t get that return, that’s a big matzoh ball hanging out there.”

I’ve been thinking lately that the church has gotten very practiced at saying, “I love you.” We put on community fun days, fill shoe boxes with toys, sing carols to the seniors at Christmas, rent billboards, start radio stations, make TV shows, buy our own broadcast satellites, write books, publish books, put scripture in greeting cards, find creative (sometimes sneaky) ways to “share the gospel”, preach the sermon first, then feed the hungry. We invite and invite and invite. We re-engineer our Sunday services to “meet the needs of seekers”, then put together very cool websites to let everybody know that we are a “different kind of church”– Google that phrase sometime; it’s hilarious — which often means the preacher wears jeans and the coffee is in the middle of the service, instead of after.

But for all that, we aren’t getting the “I love you return.”

People aren’t saying it back. Instead, in answer to all of our efforts, we get an awkward silence (at best) or a sneering challenge. And a sense that maybe they’d rather we stopped saying it.

As a character on The New Adventures of the Old Christine observed recently, “People who go to church only like other people who go to church.”

And maybe that’s the problem. We can convince ourselves that we “love the lost” but we haven’t convinced them that we like them.

I was in a conversation lately with a man who I’m really coming to respect who works on the frontlines between ‘church’ and ‘world’. He has been involved in two initiatives recently. One is a chapel service which he says he really enjoys and is energized by and that’s what he expected to happen. The other, a doors open meal, has taken him by surprise. Every evening, he works on serving the meal and sits with the diners to talk and listen to their stories of blood sugar levels and bowling scores and, as much as he values the chapel service, this is the one that’s capturing his heart. He finds a comfort level there that he didn’t expect and I say that’s because he’s getting the “I love you return”.

The Church needs to rediscover what it means to be human in the world. As much as I love the Noomas and the H2Os and the big worship gatherings and time spent with other believers, we have to recognize that it isn’t invitations to videos and big events and holy huddles that will change the world.

I’m increasingly convinced that we won’t accomplish much until we can convince people that we like them.

- Ruth Wilkinson, 12/05/06

July 30, 2010

Jesus to Return on 5.21.11 — Colorado Bus Bench Ads

Filed under: evangelism — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:29 pm

Be sure to read the May 18th update below…

They’re nice looking ads.   Buying space on the bus benches in Colorado Springs probably doesn’t come cheap, either.  (Try $1,200 for the period from now through October.)   Especially for a 31-year old woman who is unemployed.   The theme is “Save the Date.”   (It’s a Saturday, if you’ve got plans…)

Left Behind co-author Jerry Jenkins is happy the discussion is happening, but calls it “folly” to choose a date, since Jesus himself knew “neither the day nor the hour.”   (Though we are instructed to know “the times and the seasons.”)

Watch the CNN video report here.   Or check the website, WeCanKnow.com

What do you do with people who are willing to spend their own money for something they believe in so passionately?    The woman in the story compares herself to Noah, who was derided by his contemporaries when he began to build an ark.   What do you do when there probably will be some positive spin-offs in individual lives, as people contemplate the return of Christ or discuss it with friends?

But then, on the other hand, what do you do with the negative publicity in the [most probable] event that life continues as normal into the day the follows?

For all the lessons we’ve learned from date-setters — the book 88 Reasons Why Jesus is Returning in 1988 comes to mind — why do people keep doing this?

With files from the Colorado Springs Gazette.


May 18th update...

Okay, so over 100 people showed up here today. For this blog, that’s a lot of traffic.  So what if it’s true?  What if the world as we know it were to end on Saturday?

Better yet, what if you’re standing at the gate of heaven and God (or St. Peter!) is standing there saying, “Why should I let you in?”

If your answer is because you went to church, or lived a good life, or never stole or murdered, or gave money to the poor; then you’ve missed it.  That’s “religion,” where standing before God is measured by what you “do.”  But the only acceptable answer is that admittance to heaven is based on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Only his blood can satisfy a holy God.  In other words it’s not based on “do,” but based on “done.”  It’s been done.  You simply have to tell God, through prayer, that you recognize the need for forgiveness for those areas where you missed the mark, or standard, of his holiness, and want to be included, or covered, in what Jesus has already done.

Then you can have the assurance that you don’t have to worry about whatever happens on May 21st…

Click here to learn more.


7:00 PM (EDT), Saturday May 21st:  Here’s my take on how the day went!

July 22, 2010

Calling Apostles (and Everyone Else)

No matter what the people who print calendars tell you, the school year cycle determines when the start of the “new year” is in most churches.

Nothing lasting happens in your local church without (a) vision, (b) prayer and (c) planning.    Vision begins with people who are ‘initiators’ that is, people who feel God is sending them into the middle of a situation or area to give birth to something that will either (a) serve those with needs, or (b) proclaim Christ;  to provide opportunities to be salt and light at particular place and time or for their particular generation.

At a very low point in my life about ten years ago I asked God, “If my health improves and I am able to take on something, what do You want me to do for Your kingdom?”

The answer came in the middle of a worship service as clear as what you’re reading right now:  “You need to be doing more.”

More?   More what?

I wasn’t sure.

Some day, I’ll finish that story on this blog.  It wasn’t the answer I expected.  I was looking for a fresh vision.   Instead, I was led to expand on a vision already in progress.

Let me say here that there is nothing you can “do” for God.   He is concerned with what you can “be” for Him.   But I know a lot of people are working on that “being” to the extent that nothing happens about “doing.”   Sometimes by “doing” God shapes our “being.”   With the exception of a handful of people who have some major stuff they need to work out, you can’t wait until you are perfect.   That day will just keep slipping further and further into the future.

As the fall season approaches in your local church (or some local parachurch organization) you have a choice:  You can maintain the status quo in your life, or you can choose to be a little apostolic; you can be a person who makes things happens.

What will your role be as another season of ministry commences in a few weeks?

You need to be doing more.

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