Thinking Out Loud

March 14, 2014

Lent Guilt

Filed under: cartoons — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:28 am

So which dies faster, New Year’s resolutions or Lent promises? If you’ve failed to give up something you can take some consolation in the fact that nowhere in scripture is this particular ritual sacrifice taught.

Which brings us to today’s infographic. The people at Twentyonehundred Productions — a division of InterVaristy — come up with these on a regular basis on their Facebook page. We thought we’d borrow this one in exchange for telling you to that, if there’s an IV chapter in your city or town, be sure to support them. If not, buy an IVP book or two!

Lent Guilt

If you liked that one, check out the latest Worship Poses: Olympic Figure Skating Edition.

February 25, 2014

Mark Hall: We Were Made to Thrive – Book Review

Constitution Oak, a live oak at the junction between the Pea River and the Choctawhatchee River  in Geneva, Alabama. It is believed to be among the largest and oldest live oaks in the state. [Photo: Wikipedia Commons]

Constitution Oak, a live oak at the junction between the Pea River and the Choctawhatchee River in Geneva, Alabama. It is believed to be among the largest and oldest live oaks in the state. [Photo: Wikipedia Commons]


Like the book The Well by Mark Hall which we reviewed here in August, 2011, Thrive is both the title of a book and a compact disc. I’ve been privileged to hear the CD several times and read several sections of the book twice. While some authors may appear to write from a theoretical standpoint, Mark Hall is in the trenches, doing youth ministry first and foremost, and then what he views as a second role, as a musician with the band Casting Crowns.

Thrive - Mark HallThe book’s full title is Thrive: Digging Deep, Reaching Out and the subtitle and the cover telegraph the book’s outline and content. Using examples from his years in student ministry, as well as a few road stories from Casting Crowns, Mark delivers something fresh in each of the book’s 30 chapters. I’m struck by how he is both forthright and yet transparent and vulnerable at the same time.

The primary audience for Thrive will be people who are familiar with the band’s music, but really, this is a contemporary Christian living title that earns a place next to popular writers such as Kyle Idleman, Pete Wilson, or even Max Lucado. Almost every chapter brings new life to familiar scriptures.

I remember once hearing, “Part one of the gospel is ‘taste and see,’ part two of the gospel is ‘go and tell.’” That’s really the focus of this book. It is suitable for both new believers and those who are spiritual veterans. It is equal parts teaching, anecdotal and autobiographical.

I read parts of Thrive out loud this past week at our family devotions. I can only say that this was the right book for us and it arrived at just the right time.

Thrive is published by Zondervan in paperback at $15.99 US. Thanks to Laura at HarperCollins Christian Publishing in Toronto for a review copy. With both Zondervan and Thomas Nelson titles, you guys have the best books!

May 22, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Rescued

Welcome to yet another installment of “Let’s see what everybody else is doing online.” Actually there are some really strong links here this week, you won’t be disappointed, but I think both guys in the above cartoon are going to be.

  • Our lead link this week isn’t lighter fare. The Dictionary of Christianese worked hard to provide you with the meaning of all things kairos, such as kairos time, kairos season, kairos opportunity and kairos moment.
  • Todd Rhoades invites you to play: Who Said It? Oprah or Osteen? Before peeking at the answers, why not phone a friend or use this as a small group icebreaker.
  • Jamie the Very Worst Fundraiser admits that some of the pictures — and descriptive language — you see in missionary letters may not be entirely representative of what is taking place on the mission field. Partner with someone to read this. 
  • The church once known as the Crystal Cathedral will be renamed Christ Cathedral, while the people who once worshiped at the Crystal Cathedral will gather under the name Shepherd’s Grove.
  • The Christian teen whose song Clouds recently reached 3 million YouTube views, Zach Sobiech, died Monday surrounded by family at his home in Lakeland, Minnesota. He was 18.  
  • As of last night, Oklahoma pastor Craig Groeschel reported that 71 families from Lifechurch had lost their homes.
  • At Parchment and Pen, perhaps the reason many adolescents and young adults have faith collapses is because they aren’t properly conditioned on dealing with doubts. Must reading for Christian parents. 
  • Also for parents: If you’re wondering what to do with your teens (or tweens) over the summer, you won’t be after reading this list.
  • Catholic readers should note that there are some rosaries on the market that aren’t exactly kosher.  William Tapley guides you to spotting the iffy prayer beads.
  • This just in: “No man whose testicles have been crushed or whose penis has been cut off may enter the Lord’s assembly.” Actually, it’s in Deuteronomy. A must-read for guys.
  • A music therapist at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville gets kids to write songs, and then gets the songs recorded by the city’s best. A seven minute documentary; keep the tissues handy. (Love what the kid said who had a song covered by Amy Grant!)
  • Pastors’ Corner: What if your weekend sermon was more like a TED Talk? Could you deliver the same content in 18 minutes or less? 
  • So in a debate of house churches over traditional churches who wins?  This article includes discussion of The Meeting House in Canada which reflects the best of both.  (Be sure to continue to page two.)
  • Graphic of he week: A conversation at the atheist’s car garage.
  • Top selling Christian music in the UK this week is the band Rend Collective Experiment, according to a new music chart service there.
  • …And graphics for your Facebook or Tumblr each week at Happy Monday at The Master’s Table.
  • The subject of the Soul Surfer book and movie after losing an arm to a shark while surfing, Bethany Hamilton is getting married.
  • My video upload this week for Searchlight Books — sponsor of our Christian classics collection — was a scratchy 45-rpm single of Roger McDuff (the gospel music guy) doing Jesus is a Soul Man circa 1969. To get on this YouTube channel, the songs have to not be previously uploaded.
  • Baptist book publisher Broadman and Holman aka B&H wants to stop publishing fiction in 2014 unless the book in question can have a tie-in with Lifeway curriculum product or other brand merchandise.
  • Ron Fournier aka Tehophilus Monk has a short excerpt from the book Why Priests? by Gary Wills which calls into question the entire concept of priests in the ecclesiastic hierarchy.
  • We can’t do it by ourselves. Sometimes we need Outside Help. Classic pop/rock some of you might remember from Johnny Rivers.
  • Not enough links for ya this week? Dave Dunham’s got another 15 for you at Pastor Dave Online
  • During the week between link lists, I invite you to join my somewhat miniscule band of Twitter followers.
  • The lower graphic this week is from an article at the youth ministry blog Learning My Lines.

Teenager's Brain

May 21, 2013

Firsthand Faith: Making the Family Beliefs Your Own

Like authors Ryan and Josh Shook, I grew up in a Christian home. Years ago, I remember giving my testimony to the church high school group and being very clear that it wasn’t enough to simply ‘adopt’ the faith of your father and mother because that’s all you had; you had to take ownership of it in a more objective sense. Just because you were born in McDonald’s doesn’t make you a hamburger.

Firsthand Ryan and Josh ShookThe Shook brothers — sons of Kerry Shook whose book One Month to Live attracted much attention — have developed this concept into Firsthand: Ditching Secondhand Religion for a Faith of Your Own (Waterbrook Press). Although the book is written expressly to people in this particular faith situation, early sales of the book indicated that Firsthand struck a cord with Christian kids in their late teens and early twenties; the very people that statistically experience a great faith upheaval in what can be pivotal and transitional years. Here’s a sample:

We watched our parents step out in faith and plant a church when we were boys.  They had very little money at the time, just a dream God had placed on their hearts to reach the lost and hurting.  They started with fifteen people and from there it dwindled to eight after the first gathering.  Five were our family!  Now thousands are part of the church.  But we know all the little miracles God did along the way as our parents would step out in faith and watch God come through.

We feel as though we’ve had front-row seats to watch God working in our parents’ lives as they’ve taken risks in faith to obey God’s call.  But in a sense it’s been their experience, not ours.  We need our own experiences of stepping out in faith and watching God act. We don’t want front-row seats anymore.  We want to be in the game! We want to see God at work up close and personal in our lives.   (p. 108)

The structure of the book is notable. Each of the chapters is followed by a section called Making It Real, which is itself divided into Other Voices (quotes from people in similar situations) Think About It (a short study guide) and Might Try This (a variety of action steps and links to short films by Ryan). In addition to the Other Voices section, the book is very much the product of interviews with young adults whose journey contains the type of faith crisis the book addresses.

Firsthand is a resource worth knowing about that allows a specific audience to reconstruct the foundations of their faith. I’m not sure why the religious publishing division of Random House chose to do this in hardcover — especially when its target market is the demographic most likely to download rather than purchase a print copy — but the $17.99US/$20.99CAN price has not dissuaded buyers. It should also be must reading for anyone who works in high school and college-age student ministry.

A copy of Firsthand was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Waterbrook Press’ Canadian distributor, Augsburg Fortress.

May 15, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Giving Thanks

“For what we are about to receive…”  The human and the dog seem sincere but cats are always overly dramatic. (And why does the cat have a marking that looks like another cat’s tail? Photoshop? No way!)

Time for another link list. Try to have your suggestions in by 6:00 PM Eastern on Mondays. More during the week at Twitter.

Songs with substance: Classic worship

If you check the right hand margin over at Christianity 201, you’ll see that all of the various music resources that have appeared there are listed and linked alphabetically. Take a moment to discover — or re-discover — some worship songs and modern hymns from different genres.

March 25, 2013

Jamie, The Very Best Parenting

“It took me a lot of years and a lot of conversations with God (and with people who know more about God than me) to understand that everything I believed about my own sexuality was built on two huge lies.” ~ Jamie Wright

What happens when you have three teenager boys in the house, and your expectations for them come crashing against the realities of what you did when you were their age?

Jamie WrightThose of you who have been here for a little while know that this is a blog that places a premium price on transparency and honesty. We all clean up pretty good for Sunday morning (or daily blogging) but life is often messy, so when pastors, church leaders, authors or just everyday run-of-the-mill bloggers are straightforward and tell it like it is, they get my vote.

Jamie Wright may call herself “the very worst missionary” but she proves herself, in an article published on Friday, to be trying to be the very best parent.

This is a very explicit article that needs to be read in full, so I’m not going to excerpt from it here beyond the quotation above.  If you have children, have grandchildren, help with a church midweek program, teach Sunday School, or simply want some insight into what perfectly ideal Christianity looks like from the other side, you should click through now and read Jamie’s article simply titled Sex. (Yes, I know some of you are programmed never to click on that word online; however…)

March 4, 2013

Teens With Idle Hands

clock spiral

This weekend I accidentally stumbled on the mother of all teen forums. The discussion boards actually generated a fair bit of traffic both from the UK and the US. Adding it all up, I probably spent more than 90 minutes listening to what the kids were saying.

At this point, you should have all sorts of warning lights going off in your brain, so let me assure you that I wasn’t stalking anyone, didn’t create a login where I pretended to be a teenage girl, didn’t chat or leave any comments, and didn’t set up a time to meet anyone in a public park on Tuesday after school.  Actually, the site seemed to be heavily moderated, and additionally, I got the impression that some teens are selected to act as prefects to find problems the moderators miss.

As I considered what I was reading, I realized there is a root issue about life for the modern teenager in western Europe and North America that we might miss.

Parents, generally speaking, worry about what their sons are watching online, who their daughters are texting at 12:30 in the morning, and generally what activities go on in the school lunchroom, on the school bus or at weekend parties. They worry with good reason. Much of your child’s worldview is being shaped by the internet. Television is no longer a big factor. Magazines are no longer an influence. And radio is… what is radio again?

Some of the online discussions were healthy interaction on concerns teens worry about as they face the uncertainties of growing up. I’m not saying we don’t need this type of website. But peer-to-peer advice is a kind of wild frontier where subject matter is often reduced to the lowest common denominator. No one truly speaks with authority, and everything is opinion; nothing is footnoted or referenced.

Your pre-teens’ and/or teens’ worlds are being shaped by social media platforms arriving so quickly that if I were to name any here, it would immediately render this article dated.  Unless the world experiences considerable alteration, kids growing up today will spend a full 25% of their lives (minimum) sitting in front of a screen. That’s not waking hours. That’s hours, period. Whatever happened to playing road hockey and hoops and yelling “car” every time a vehicle wanted to drive through? Card games and board games? It’s hard to generate interest in a plodding game of Scrabble with kids who grew up playing first person shooters. And most teens would rather debate the merits of keeping suburban lawns trimmed than actually help cut the lawn.

The family agenda and the family core values are set by screens and what the screens transmit. These kids have grown up in a screen culture; have never known a world without screens. So how to pull the kids away? Some people say the kids simply have too much unstructured time. But why do they have this free time?

Simple. In our move from rural to urban life, kids have no chores.

Once upon a time, there were cows to milk, eggs to gather, tomatoes to pick, manure to shovel and firewood to chop.  But now that is not the case.

Once upon a more recent time, there were part time jobs for teenagers. But the reality of the new economy is that those entry level jobs at fast food restaurants and departments stores are now scooped up by desperate people in their thirties, forties and fifties who lost great career opportunities and now fill two or three part time positions that in a previous era would have gone to students.

So… no chores, no jobs.  Social media fills they void and they can stay up until 12:30 texting because they haven’t done anything physically exhausting all day.

What is the solution to this? Soccer, swimming and baseball are good, but many families cannot afford to get their kids into sports; though as space permits in local parks and schools, some informal competitive sports  can happen for those who can’t afford the equipment and uniforms.

If you have the luxury of relocating to what is at least a hobby farm, you would be doing your kids a big favor.  Seriously.  Or at least plant as big a garden as you can in whatever space you have.

Youth groups: Can’t say enough good about this option. Get your older teens into one (or two) high school groups and then get them helping out in junior high groups.

Music lessons: You can reduce costs by finding teachers who do group music lessons. You can reduce musical instrument costs by starting the kids off with ukeleles or budget-priced guitars or starter electronic keyboards.

My wife and I are big believers in summer camp ministry. If you can get the kids in for several years as campers, and then let them grow into leadership training and finally staff positions, your initial investment will pay for itself, and in some cases provide the teens with income at a time in economic history when summer jobs otherwise don’t exist.

Urban chores: Get your teens to step up and do things that you or your spouse might normally have done. If their rooms need painting, get them to do it themselves with a trip to the building store for paint and supplies. Do they need some shelving in their rooms? Get them to build it themselves. Set up a pizza garden where they grow some of their favorite toppings. Allow older teens to help with any home renovation you’re doing, or a minor car repair.

Finally, volunteering: At the seniors home, at the local library, at the community center. It’s not only a great place to meet other teens committed to not vegetating in front of screens, but the volunteer hours can be logged and possibly translate to scholarships in their senior year of high school. Furthermore, you can put volunteer positions on a resumé, which means better prospects for part time jobs that do come available.

The teens in the discussion groups I saw this weekend — especially in the areas drawing the greatest number of views — were fixated on things that are not going to improve their character, their prospects, or their sense of self-worth. The discussion forum itself is a glaring example of teens with too much time on their hands.  They often feed off encouragement toward negative behaviors that can only be described as self-destructive.

They need something else — anything else — to occupy their waking hours.

February 25, 2013

Support Your Local Youth Pastor

Last week at the Hemorrhaging Faith seminar, presented by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, we were reminded that the youth pastors in local churches sometimes are at the bottom of the totem pole or church hierarchy, but in fact are most critical to the future survival of the church. Even the churches that are the best at retention of their young adults — losing only a third of them — will be, in two generations, one-sixth of their present size if the trend does not reverse itself. 

Then on the weekend, I dropped in for just a few minutes at the Today’s Teens conference in Oakville (outside Toronto, Canada) where I picked up a brochure containing a document representing a pledge of support from local Canadian churches to their youth ministry worker(s).  It’s based on a similar program in the UK for which you can download the .pdf booklet here.

Youth MinistryThe Canadian organization that drafted this is headed by Marv Penner. Marv was a fireman who went on to serve the youth at Bayview Glen Alliance Church in Toronto and later went on to write youth ministry curriculum for Zondervan, and get a graduate degree in counseling. He was one of the featured speakers at the conference. 

I tried to locate some of the Canadian document online to link to and include here, but I will simply have to summarize it:

  • churches pledge to give youth workers prayer and spiritual support
  • churches pledge to give youth workers space for retreat and reflection
  • churches pledge to give youth workers ongoing training and development
  • churches pledge to give youth workers at least one full day of rest per week
  • churches agree to share responsibility towards youth
  • churches pledge to strive to be an excellent employer
  • churches pledge to celebrate and appreciate what the youth worker is doing

…A few weeks ago I was helping someone who was experiencing problems with their telephone service and the call got transferred briefly to a department called “Win Back.” I thought it interesting that this rather monopolistic telecom had a department devoted entirely to customer retention.  Middle aged and older adults are not leaving church at the rate that young adults are. The youth pastor of your church is, in fact, the “Win Back” department; the person in charge of church member/adherent retention.

Staff turnover in youth ministry is abysmal, yet each staff transition represents an ideal exit time for young people which they frequently seize. So in a way, this is also all about youth worker retention. Keep the youth pastor happy and engaged, and he/she will stay. When the youth worker stays, the local church has consistency in that ministry department. Where there is consistency, kids, teens and young adults don’t drop out.

February 20, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Cleveland City Mission

Who needs LinkedIn when you’re linked in here?  The picture, Gasoline Gospel is from Shorpy.com; captioned “August 1937. ‘Gas station and gospel mission in Cleveland, Ohio.’ In addition to Koolmotor ‘Gasolene,’ a long-defunct Cities Service brand, we also seem to have at least a couple of the major food groups represented here, as well as two verses from the New Testament. Photo by John Vachon.” Click the image to see the entire picture full size along with more glimpses into history.

  • Start with this one: 33 Ways to Know You Were a Youth Group Kid.
  • Nick Vujicic, born without arms and legs, is the father of a newborn baby boy
  • Got 19 minutes? Meet Atheism 2.0, an atheism for people who are attracted to the ritualistic side, the moralistic side, but can’t stand the doctrine.
  • First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas is just days away from the opening of its new $130 million facility. And don’t miss the three videos which rationalize that expense.
  • A sixteen-year old in Texas is suing her parents who are trying to coerce her to have an abortion she does not want. (See update in comments section.)
  • Rick Warren has shied away from TV and radio, but is launching a 30-minute daily radio show to air in the top 25 U.S. markets.
  • Early artwork has surfaced for the new Left Behind movie; which is actually a remake of the original (book one) story; this one with Nicolas Cage.
  • Also at Todd Rhoades’ blog: Should churches have Tweet seats
  • When a U.S. Lutheran pastor attended an interfaith prayer event following the Sandy Hook shooting, he violated denominational rules against ‘joint worship’ with people of other faiths. Now the LC-MS denomination is embarrassed by the reaction on social media.
  • Veteran Christian music artist Carman reveals to his Facebook followers that he has an incurable cancer.
  • Here’s info on an upcoming conference (April 11-13) in Virginia that I would love to be able to attend; presented by Missio Alliance, it’s titled The Future of the Gospel
  • Home-schooling is banned in Germany, so a family there fled to the U.S. for asylum which was granted in 2010. But now, the Department of Homeland Security is seeking the family’s deportation, which would lead to persecution back home.
  • There are some new posts at The Elephant’s Debt, a website devoted to issues of alleged financial improprieties involving James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel.
  • An alternative wording to The Lord’s Prayer — the Kiwi version, perhaps — you never know what you’ll find in used bookstores
  • Here’s what I wrote to my colleagues in the Christian book trade about the dwindling relationship between bloggers and publishers seeking book reviews.
  • And since we’re ending on a book theme, here’s the chart — including one title error, if you can spot it — of what people in my part of the world purchased in 2012:

Searchlight 2012 Chart

February 9, 2013

Festival Attending in a Security Obsessed World

Beruna Music Festival

So yesterday we remembered the Cornerstone Festival; part of the carefree days in the ’70s and ’80s when Christian music festivals sprang up in Midwest parks and Pennsylvania dairy farms. Ahh… simpler times.

Things have changed. I’ve never been to Kingdom Bound, a bit of trivia which my closer friends find amazing given my history with CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) mostly because the idea of a Christian festival in a theme park seems somewhat contradictory.  Two hot elements competing with each other: The bands and the rides.

But then there’s another issue. Back in the day — and you know you’re getting older when you start talking about ‘back in the day’ — the speakers and the musicians shared a somewhat equal billing. Even the most star-struck music fan could tell you about things the speakers said in the tents. At some festivals today, you’re lucky to get three speakers for every twenty music acts. Or less.

Which brings us to The Beruna Festival being held in July (19-20) on “The Flats at Molson Amphitheatre” in downtown Toronto; the first multi-day Christian event to be held there.  Well, almost downtown; the picture makes it look like the CN Tower and Air Canada Centre are directly in the background, when in fact they are a few miles further down the road. But you wouldn’t want the sound echoing off the high rise buildings anyway, nor the complaints from the condo owners.

Having nothing better to do on Tuesday night, I went poking around their website. The lineup is certainly good.  The pricing is probably somewhat normal for this type of event. The sponsors and event organizers are well respected.

But buried away on a FAQ page, you’re reminded that this is a venue used for general market events not Christian events; that this is 2013, not 1983. So no backpacks. No rigid liquid containers. No beach balls. Really? From all the outdoor concerts I’ve seen, I thought beach balls were required.

And then the one that broke the proverbial camel’s back. No SLR cameras.

What the festival is up with that?

My wife has been talking about getting a Canon SLR camera for some time now. But if we decided to attend this event in July — and we’re free that week and greatly admire some of the 22 bands and both of the speakers — she would be denied admittance.

“You mean I can’t take a SLR camera to the event?  Seriously?”

A camera with a removable lens is considered a professional camera, and professional cameras are not allowed. You might intimidate the people with smaller cameras.

And I’m sorry to say this, and perhaps it sounds rather petty, but with that, they lost me…

…Working with concert promoters for many years before I got married, the management and operating staff of the various venues we used were always impressed with the good behavior of the people who attended Christian events. In two words, they liked that there was “no trouble.” Over the years the promoters built up credibility equity, which meant they were afforded some grace, which they were then able to pass along to ticket buyers. (Neither grace nor customization of the rental package here; the beer vendors will be open though probably not quite doing business as usual.)

In a post-911 world, security at mass gatherings is essential. Purses and satchels do need to be checked. And refreshment vendors are counting on the dehydration of young people spending 12-hour days in the hot sun. And yes, it only takes one person to ruin it for everyone.

And I know that those in youth ministry see the value of these events for their students, and really want these events to be there as an option for the youth they work with.

But in the contract negotiations, I would be crusading hard against a one-size-fits-all approach which, for example, bans beach balls.  (Headline: Beach Ball Ban Baffles Blogger) Or a camera easily picked up for free with Sears points. If it’s that uptight an environment, it’s just too easy to lose the heart of the event. What’s next? Security staff at the megachurch? Oops! Too late. Maybe this is what happens when we get too big.

In a world of liability litigation, environmental impacts, and stricter safety standards for staging (Headline: Staging Safety Standards Set Stricter), it’s not as easy to find a Pennsylvania dairy farm willing to host tens of thousands of teens and twenty-somethings; but make no mistake; those dairy farms do exist and some of those dairy farmers are willing to give it a try.

Anytime soon would be good.

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