Thinking Out Loud

March 4, 2015

Wednesday Link List

 

Read the screen carefully: The modern Evangelical religious establishment probably wish this is how the text read.

Read the screen carefully: Some who are part of the modern Evangelical religious establishment probably wish this is how the text read.

Don’t forget to read the short-takes following the featured links…

Sundays are Still the Worst - A year ago here we linked to a website dedicated to stories of servers in restaurants who are forced to deal with an influx of church-goers whose behavior is abominable. Sundays Are The Worst still gets submissions, but this recent one shows in great detail what all this looks like from the other side. ” I wasn’t expecting a tip, but I also didn’t expect any of the nasty notes (calling me a whore, slut, telling me I’m ugly and too stupid to do anything besides serving, that I was incompetent, that I was going to hell, etc.) from the women. Some of them even finished off their notes by stating that they’d “pray for me to better myself.” But the icing on the cake? The notes from the husbands of three of the women who left their phone numbers for me. This was the experience that ended it for me. In tears, I collected all of the notes, finished clearing up the table, went to my manger and showed him the notes, and told him that I quit, and that I wouldn’t be coming back.”

Essay of the Week: Tradition vs. Nostalgia - “Michael Spencer, having been rooted in Baptist traditions in the American South, used to write just as strongly about churches that were little more than memorials to the ‘good old days’ of the post-war era, when people wore suits and dresses to church, sang the ‘old hymns’ (actually, fairly recent revivalistic gospel hymns), filled age-graded Sunday School classes, heard ‘real preaching’ from the King James Version, and went forward for the invitation. Lots of good in all that, I’m sure. But Michael had seen how wistfulness for all that had killed churches dead. Real dead.”

You Should Feel Like a Room Without a Roof - “I am increasingly convinced that Christianity is an inherently optimistic – and even happy – faith. Now I get it, even as I make that assumption more than a few of you are objecting to it. Your objections are most likely rooted in your view of the depravity of humanity, or your eschatology that believes some level of impending doom is imminent. It also might be true that you know of human suffering – particularly the suffering of other believers who live under regimes and find themselves at the wrong end of the wrath of various non-believers. I won’t contest any of those realities, but I still contend that our faith ought to be optimistic.”

Well Remembered but not Remembered Well – The FBI released 250 pages of documents relating to Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church. On the one hand, “Multiple FBI bulletins describe Phelps as ‘keenly aware of what his rights and limitations are… He and his followers carry a video camera with them to film those who attempt to stop them from demonstrating.'” On the other hand, “The feds also suspected they were dealing with a mental case, according to a 1987 document that stated: ‘[Fred] Phelps was felt by office of origin to be in need of psychiatric care as a result of persons interviewed claimed Phelps to be irrational.'”

Creating Environments for Sex Abuse Recovery - Responding to past article here at Leadership Journal: “In more than a decade of research, almost every article I’ve come across addressing sex offenders in church communities reveals pastors and leaders focusing exclusively on the sex offenders—the theological grounds for their presence, the church’s obligation to care for them, how to support them, how to monitor them, how to protect ministries from potential lawsuits due to their presence, and so on… But offenders are not the only ones in need of a welcome in our churches. Too often when victims/survivors are considered, it is offender focused. Survivors are told they are required to forgive or reconcile with offenders… we must find true empathy for victims/survivors and how sexual abuse has affected them.”

Definitely Not a Midweek Service – A look at a church in Syracuse, NY which holds one of its weekend services on Thursday night: “I started our Early Weekend Service (Thursday, 6:30 p.m.) because I realized what a huge need there was for it.  A third of the American workforce works on the weekend. At least 60% of families with children between the ages of 6 – 17 participate in organized sports, with many of those having weekend events. We are located in an area where a large number of people have camps/vacation homes that affect their attendance during the summer. Throw in both parents working and chores to be done, lawns to be mowed and families just wanting to spend time together, and church on the weekend wasn’t always making it on the calendar.”

Religion and America’s Top Office - “There are arguments for and against our need to know what presidential aspirants believe… Not so long ago, it was enough for most Americans that our culture’s vibrant religious traditions fostered personal morality, civic virtue, public-spiritedness and a commitment to the common good. We expected our presidents to adhere to some faith, but few were obsessed with parsing out his views on specific doctrines…The trouble with making presidents’ religiosity just another weapon in our ongoing ideological war is that we may have ruined religion for presidents themselves.”

Kids, Death and Funerals - The author of this piece notes that, “the biggest segment of disenfranchised grievers are children. Children are disenfranchised for two reasons: their parents haven’t confronted death on a personal level and have become so frightened of it that their natural reaction is to shield their children from the perceived “monster of death.”  And two, parents simply repeat the evasive cliches and religious euphemisms they’ve been taught, leaving kids to believe that the deceased is just “sleeping” or “gone to be with the angels.” Cliches act as an unintentional defense mechanism that often keep the children from full death confrontation and thus grief.” He then offers ten ways to involve the children.

Does This Make Me Look Pious? - “Luma [Simms] opens saying that one of the reasons that she converted to Roman Catholicism was so she could wear a mantilla. She states, ‘The mantilla is a lace veil women have worn over their heads while worshipping God since the time of the New Testament Church.’ But was it? While women did wear head coverings in the New Testament Church, the mantilla is a more recent, fashionable custom that originated from Spain and seems to have made its way into the west around the 1960’s. Women in the New Testament church were not wearing lace.”

The Moral Neutrality of Mathematics - “Surely there’s one thing Christians and atheists can agree on—math. Like dirt and rocks, it’s not good or bad—it’s just a tool. 2 + 2 = 4 no matter what you believe. You don’t need the Bible to appreciate and use tools properly . . . right? I’ve often heard Christians, even Christian teachers, say that some aspects of our lives, such as math, are just tools, neither good nor bad. No “Christian perspective” is required to fully understand and use them…The argument that math is neutral like rocks ignores the fact that God called all creation, even the rocks, good when He created them on the third day…”

No, no, no! It's Omartian. No apostrophe. And pronounced Oh-MAR-Tee An, not like little green men from Ireland. Peoples' names matter.

No, no, no! It’s Omartian. No apostrophe. And pronounced Oh-MAR-Tee-In, not like little green men from Ireland. Peoples’ names matter.

If you’re reading this on its release day, Wednesday March 5th, don’t forget that tonight is the opening night of a very limited run for The Drop Box movie in major U.S. and Canadian cities.

Short Takes:

There is absolutely no reason for Mark "Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage" Gungor's picture to be here. But he does make you want to smile, doesn't he?

There is absolutely no reason for Mark “Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage” Gungor’s picture to be here. But he does make you want to smile, doesn’t he? Watch the podcast at markgungorshow.com

March 3, 2015

First Person Faith

B. J. Stockman

This first ran here three years ago under the title “A New Type of Bible Translation” It was produced by B. J. Stockman and appeared as a guest post at another blog that is now dormant.  Stockman called the concept “Preaching to Yourself” and it involved taking a chapter of an epistle and re-interpreting it in the first person, so that instead of it being Paul writing to a first century church, it’s me making a declaration to live out the things Paul is teaching. You might want to pause here and read his introduction to the first chapter.

I had already posted a link to the original introduction and first chapter of Galatians, when I decided to share it in our family Bible study evening that night using the section of chapter three I had posted at Christianity 201, and also reading the original text from my NIV Study Bible. What amazed me was how this reconstruction of the text served as commentary; how much it brought the text to life.

I thought I would allow you to look at Galatians chapter five in parallel.

ORIGINAL TEXT – NIV
Freedom in Christ

1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

7 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? 8 That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. 9 “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” 10 I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. 11 Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. 12 As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!

Life by the Spirit

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.


FIRST PERSON


  • Jesus set me free. Therefore I will not submit to any “yokes” of slavery that are add-on’s to the Gospel no matter how spiritual they may seem. My freedom hinges on Jesus’ work—nothing else. (5:1)
  • I will stand firm in the Gospel. My right-standing before God is due to Jesus not something that I do or don’t do. I stand firm in Christ not self. I know that love for the Gospel will breed humble Christ-confidence not prideful self-confidence in my life. (5:1)
  • I recognize that if I receive something else besides Jesus, like circumcision, to increase my spiritual standing before God Jesus is no benefit to me. The benefits of the Gospel come from Jesus alone. (5:2)
  • When I receive religious traditions and law as well as the person of Jesus, I place myself under obligation to keep the whole law. In light of this, I trust Jesus and thus reject everything else as a means to finding favor with God. (5:3)
  • I know that seeking justification from law is falling from grace. Falling from grace isn’t so much a direct rejection of Jesus, but an indirect acceptance of anything else besides Jesus to make me right with God. If I treat Jesus as only a piece of God’s saving work, I sever myself from Jesus. Therefore I will seek to sever all those things from my life which disconnect me from Jesus even if others think those same things connect me to Jesus. (5:4)
  • I wait for the hope of righteousness through the Holy Spirit and by faith. Righteousness comes from the work of the Spirit not through my works. (5:5)
  • I believe that faith works through love. Faith is not empty. Faith is filled with love. Therefore by faith I believe that Jesus alone means everything, and that religious traditions like uncircumcision or circumcision mean nothing. (5:6)
  • I desire to run my race well, and I believe that I run best not by adding things to the truth of the Gospel, but by trusting the truth of the Gospel. I will train myself daily with the Gospel believing Jesus’ work on my behalf. I will begin my days not doing work for Jesus but trusting Jesus’ work for me. (5:7)
  • God calls me to Jesus—not Jesus plus something or someone else. God loves persuading people to the sufficiency of his Son not to self-sufficiency. (5:8)
  • I know that my life and the church as a whole can become filled with leaven—filled with things other than Jesus. Since leaven spreads quickly I will seek to be on guard against any particles of the leaven of legalism and law-living in my life and the community of faith that I am a part of. (5:9)
  • I recognize that false teachers who sneak into the community of faith and preach another Jesus or in addition to Jesus will come under judgment. (5:10)
  • I believe that the cross is a stumbling block. It is offensive. I will not be surprised then when moralists are offended by the radical grace of Jesus, nor will I be surprised when false teachers attempt to undermine the centrality of the cross of Jesus in the church. (5:11)
  • Paul uses harsh language when speaking of false teachers. He wishes that those who advocate circumcision along with Jesus as a means to salvation would go all the way and castrate themselves. Therefore I will not be soft on false teachers who know better. (5:12)
  • I will use sarcasm for the sake of the Gospel to reveal the foolishness of false teaching. Sarcasm is not to reveal my cleverness but to point people to Jesus. (5:12)
  • My freedom in Christ is not a freedom to sin. Therefore I resist tendencies to turn the radical grace of God into license. Instead Gospel-freedom moves me to serve and love others, not serve and indulge myself. (5:13)
  • Since the Law is fulfilled in loving my neighbor as myself—I will love Jesus and love other people. Radical grace emboldens me to love radically not sin radically. (5:14)
  • I will not engage in biting and devouring other people through my self-centered words and actions, but will seek to build up the church. (5:15)
  • By faith I will walk by the Spirit so that I do not carry out the desires of the flesh. I will not fight flesh with flesh, but flesh with Spirit. (5:16)
  • I know life is war and that an inner conflict of flesh versus Spirit wages within me, and within those in the church. Therefore I will seek to live by the Spirit, and will strive to be patient with others and forgiving toward others knowing that perfection will not be achieved till Jesus returns. (5:17)
  • Because of Jesus I am not under the law, but led by the Spirit. I will avoid living a life led by law, and pursue the Holy Spirit’s work in my life. (5:18)
  • I will seek to kill the following sins in my life: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and other things similar to these. I take the warning of Paul against these things seriously, and will not play with sin. I know that playing around with particular sins end in practicing and being addicted to the same sins. At times I will examine myself and ask the opinion of others to see that I am not engaging in these sinful deeds. (5:19-21)
  • I know that those who practice and live consistently in these sinful lifestyles will not inherit the kingdom of God. I will not lift my noses at others who engage in these things, but will live soberly knowing that I too could become entangled in them. Also, I will not be controlled by my past when I have engaged in these things (even if the past means yesterday), but I now ask Jesus to forgive me and ask for the Holy Spirit to enable me to kill my sin and bear the fruit of the Spirit. (5:19-23)
  • I desire and ask the Holy Spirit to produce the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in my life. I know that these aren’t fruits plural but fruit singular, and that I am called to walk in all of them not just some of them. I will not settle with my current level of maturity, but desire growth in the Spirit. (5:22-23)
  • Because I have died with Jesus, I have died to the flesh and these sinful passions and desires. Therefore I will live and act like I am dead to them, because I really have died to them. I don’t kill sin in order to die to sin and in order to be alive to Jesus. I kill sin because I’m dead to sin and alive to Jesus. (5:24)
  • Because I live by the Spirit due to the person and work of Jesus I will walk by the Spirit. I know that this is not passive, but an active pursuit. Therefore I ask God for help and for more of the Spirit’s work in my life. I desire continual fillings of the Spirit so that I am empowered to walk filled with the Spirit. (5:25)
  • I know the Spirit hates boasting, and challenging, and envying my brothers and sisters in Christ. Therefore I will strive to boast in others successes, encourage others in their faith, and rejoice when others are blessed. I believe that the Holy Spirit works supernaturally, but sometimes the great work of the Spirit is found in the “simple” things like an encouraging word or holding one’s tongue. (5:26)


A few takeaways about the process itself:

  • You can do this. Yes, you. Great Bible study motivator.
  • Your small group, Sunday School class, youth group can do this.
  • You can repeat this process with the same book months or years later and get new results.
  • Some of you are familiar with a practice of ‘praying the scriptures’ and this can be seen as a variant on that.
  • Be sure to read the introduction mentioned above to learn more about the process.

About the author (from B. J.’s blog, 5:21)

B.J. lives on the redwood coast of California with his beautiful wife Kate, daughter Grace, and son Adoniram. He has a passion for leading people deeper into the gospel of grace in Jesus and the glory of God. He graduated from Bethany University with a B.A. in Biblical & Theological Studies, has studied at Fuller Theological Seminary, serves pastors around the nation through Docent Research Group, and has a real day job too.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit (vs 25)

March 2, 2015

Martha’s Busyness vs. Mary’s Devotion

Today’s post appears courtesy of Christianity 201

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things…” (Luke 10:41 NIV)

Most of you are familiar with the story of Mary and Martha. (Click this link if not.)

On the one hand we have Mary, so willing to just sit at Jesus’ feet and take in each precious moment of teaching.

I had an experience once where I was talking to a pastor after a church service while he in turn was trying to listen to some things the guest speaker was saying to people near the door as they were leaving. He made it clear that he wanted to hear what was being said, even though, of all the two thousand people in the building, he had the most unlimited access to this man before, after and during his time in the city. What I got from that was the local pastor’s teachability; his desire to be ever learning.

On the other hand, Martha is making lunch for their guest, so willing to express love through an act of service.

As a very small child, we visited a church in Wisconsin which had a group called the “Lend-a-Hand Marthas.” While it grates me to type that — I hope groups don’t get named like that today — it was a group that clearly wasn’t dedicated to prayer (though I’m sure they prayed) and wasn’t dedicated to Bible study (though I’m sure they had devotional times) but was dedicated to getting their hands dirty and helping those who needed help. A similar group where we live today is called Love in Action.

Mary and Martha imgGenerally speaking, the takeaway people get from this story tends to castigate Martha and put Mary on a pedestal. The KJV many of grew up with says, “Mary hath chosen that good part…” after all, so clearly, if the story needs a hero, that would be Mary.

But the church needs Marthas as well, or nothing gets done. Andy Stanley focuses on this in his recent series Brand New, and especially so in the fifth of five parts which you can watch at this dedicated link. (Select part 5.) We can’t equate holiness with Bible knowledge or an ability to teach the scripture.

We can’t be too quick to jump to conclusions about this story. Luke places it just after the story of the Good Samaritan. The moral of that story is that the person who truly kept the commandment to love their neighbor was, as the expert in the law states, “The one who had mercy on him.” Obviously not the priest or the Levite. But then we have Mary, who chooses the better part.

Is this what is echoed at the end of I Corinthians 12 where Paul wraps up an entire chapter on the exercise and use of spiritual gifts by saying, “And yet I will show you the most excellent way” and then proceeds to speak about love?

I think what is called for here is balance.

I have friends who attend Mainline Protestant churches, and after describing a period of dryness or frustration I will simply say, “You need to take a month off and do the tour. You need to visit the Baptist church, and then the Pentecostal church, and then the non-denominational church and finally a Missionary Alliance or Salvation Army church.

To those in a similar position in an Evangelical or Charismatic church, I will say, “You need to take a month off and do the tour. You need to visit a Presbyterian Church, and then a Lutheran Church, and then an Episcopalian church, and then a Catholic mass.”

The idea isn’t that they’re going to leave the church they attend, the idea is that they will return with a fresh perspective.

The same applies to today’s text.

There are some Marthas who need to set aside the service for a period of time and do the tour of Bible study and learning. Buy a few good Christian books; perhaps two recent ones and a couple of classics. Watch some sermons online from some of today’s top communicators. Immerse yourself in a deeper study of a particular book of the Bible using study notes, commentaries or a fill-in-the-blanks type of outline.

Then there are some Marys who need to do the tour of getting their hands dirty. Do some volunteer work downtown. Help out on the church Spring cleanup day. Sign up for church nursery duty. Offer to deliver hot lunches to shut-ins.

I am writing this today partly with one individual in mind. He runs around his church like the proverbial headless chicken, often tied up in some backroom activity while the rest of us soak in great teaching in the church’s main auditorium. I watch him and sometimes wonder if we even follow the same God (seriously) because his expression of his faith on Sunday mornings is so demonstrably different than anyone else in the building.

But perhaps you know someone who is so quick to quote chapter and verse and understands vast bodies of knowledge about doctrine and theology and church history and hermeneutics, but comes off like the clanging cymbal Paul writes about in I Cor. 13.

The key is balance.

While this may be slightly out of John 21:6’s context, let me encourage you to cast your nets on the other side.  Do the tour!

March 1, 2015

5 Perspectives for Power Point People

While it’s not listed in the New Testament, assisting the worship leader or worship team by being the computer graphics or Power Point person is definitely a gift, if not a spiritual gift. Here are some things on choosing who serves in this area, or if you are that person, the qualities needed:

1. You need to be really comfortable around a computer.

The goal is to minimize distraction and allow people the freedom to enter wholeheartedly into expressing their worship to God. The last thing you want is for the computer to decide to run updates in the middle of the service, and you need to know how to make sure none of that happens, or what to do if something goes wrong.

2. You don’t get to sing along.

Unfortunately, as much as you may love musical worship, you will eventually run into problems if you decide to sing along with the congregation. While playing various instruments with a worship band there are times I get to sing along, but there are also times I need to focus entirely on a particular instrumental part. Sorry, but you need a certain level of detachment or you get distracted.

3. You need to know the songs.

Most worship leaders I’ve worked with have their weekend set(s) established by noon on Thursday at the latest. Make sure you have the list and then give the songs — especially the new(er) ones — a listen on YouTube, playing each one several times.

4. You need to see yourself as part of the worship team.

That means attending relevant practices and being on time for the sound check. As much as you can track each song fully during the rehearsal process, you’re less likely to make errors during the actual service.

5. People need to form the next word before they sing it.

Your changes between slides need to occur slightly before people actually sing, because the brain needs to be able to tell the mouth to shape the words coming next. You can’t wait for the band to move on to that next line, you need to know exactly where they’re going so that you can get there ahead of time.

Again, this is not everyone’s gift. Placing someone in a position of trust here when they don’t have the necessary aptitude results in a messy slide presentation. I believe God wants excellence in worship. Band practices and rehearsals are a great opportunity for interested volunteers to see if this is a good fit. Otherwise, perhaps there are other areas of service for which they are more suited.

Bonus item:

6. People who do a great job with the worship slides might not do a great job with the sermon slides.

And vice-versa. Furthermore, in most churches the pastor’s sermon notes are often prepared in a different program than the program that runs the worship lyrics. They may even originate from different computers. The person doing the sermon notes need to focus on the sermon and intuit where the pastor is going next, even if the preacher stays somewhat close to a fixed manuscript. At this point in the service, a change in personnel may be the best way to avoid errors. This means your weekly schedule may mean you’ve got two different people working each service. But don’t change people in the case of multiple services; any issues arising in the first service — i.e. worship leaders spontaneously adds an extra chorus — are better resolved in the second service.

Writing about people needing time to form the lyrics reminded me of this video, where guitarists can see the chord that’s coming next.

February 28, 2015

Weekend Link List

Filed under: links — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:15 am
...and CBD carries this why exactly? The tag "slightly imperfect" fits well, however.

…and CBD carries this why exactly? The tag “slightly imperfect” fits well, however.

Some great stories for your weekend reading:

The Benefits of Bad Preaching  – “My Evangelical friends just don’t get [liturgy], and so I’m always happy when they join me at Mass to experience it for themselves – although I know what the fallout will often be: Scrunched up faces and raised eyebrows as they suffer through seemingly mindless ritual, rote prayers, and the occasional lousy sermon…Indeed, there’s a benefit to mediocre preaching once in a while, and it’s this: The faithful will be all the more likely to focus on what’s most important in the Mass if they aren’t distracted by the brilliant homily. ‘A preacher may be able to hold the attention of his listeners for a whole hour,’ Pope Francis wrote in Evangelii Gaudium, ‘but in this case his words become more important than the celebration of faith.'”

Growing Up Global - A blog devoted to “communicating across boundaries” asked Third Culture Kids (TCKs) to share their experience, producing a number of responses. She writes, “Our shared history is like a puzzle with pieces scattered all over the globe and very few pieces right beside us. I remember a couple of years ago saying to my husband ‘We can’t keep friendships! There is no one we’ve known longer than x number of years.’ but then we thought about it and realize we have so many long term friends, just very few right around us.” She would like to hear from more TCKs about their experience.

The Problem with Religion – While not actually using the R-word a whole lot, Andy Stanley shifts the discussion to the problem with “the temple model” which he defines as one which “grants extraordinary power to sacred men in sacred places who determine the meaning of sacred texts…The heart of the temple model is this question: what must I do or believe to make things and keep things right between God and me? Because at the end of the day, my religion is all about me.” But if this seems demanding fear not, “In temple religion, you will always find a loophole..” Read a summary of the sermon series which wraps up this weekend, or watch the messages at this dedicated link.

The Christian Edition of #SNL40 - Reframe Media has assembled all of the best religious themed skits from Saturday Night Live in one place so you and Church Lady and Father Guido Sarducci can do your own 40th Anniversary show.

It’s All Greek to Me - While admittedly this article is promoting a particular piece of Bible software, it’s a computer program that doesn’t require you to know Greek or Hebrew, though it’s more helpful if you do. The unique feature of the Phrasing software is that you manipulate the text which “allows you to visually trace a passage’s argument: simply indent to subordinate.” A series of five videos explains the methodology with examples in Hebrew, Greek and (for me) English.

Balancing the Load – She and her husband lead an international orphan-care ministry, but she’s also a mother of nine. “Just the other day, I came home from a trip and I could tell the kids were not amused. They were feeling my two day absence. I sat them down and took the opportunity to tell them about an upcoming trip to another country we had just bought tickets for us to experience as a family. Their eyes lit up and I told them, this isn’t a bribe, I am not trying to get myself off the hook from where I have been, I am just telling you honestly that what mom does sometimes costs us as a family and sometimes benefits us. And that’s how most of life will be.”

Reviewing The NIV Proclamation Bible – “In the summer of 1981, 40 men engaged in a preaching ministry gathered at a center in Surrey for a conference on ‘expository preaching’…the “Proclamation Trust” was born and it is this group that is spearheading the release of this new Bible…Tim Keller calls this a “study Bible” and I suppose that term can be loosely applied to any volume, but for me, when I call something a study Bible it has passage notes. It has tools that allow me to “study” the text built into the Bible. This Bible – as far as the text goes – only has chain reference and textual footnotes. This Bible has no actual textual commentary.”

Teaching Memory Verses to Two-Year Olds – “Can we really expect a 4-year-old to recite the memory verse two hours after he heard it in your small group on Sunday morning? Can we expect a 2-year-old to properly pronounce all of those words so that Mom and Dad understand what she is saying? …We can also expect that parents will need to have the memory verse to take home to review, sing, and move along with the words. It is frustrating to a 3-year-old who is trying very hard to tell Grandma about her verse from church and Grandma just doesn’t quite get it. Some type of written version made available to take or send home solves that problem…”

Publishers Who Can’t Stand the Heat Should Get out of the Kitchen – In a scene eerily similar to last year’s God and the Gay Christian, a Christian publishing house has distanced itself from the gay-sympathetic author by canceling publication of a book that was designed to attract a new generation of readers. Brandan Robertson’s Nomad was scheduled for fall release, but Destiny Image’s Don Nori in a ‘nothing to see here’ response dismisses the idea that the cancellation was anything other than financial. It seems they want the revenues that progressive Christian book buyers can bring, but not the ideas associated with them.

Short takes:

Actual things on the internet:

February 27, 2015

Target of the Month: Andy Stanley

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:35 am

Andy Stanley - Why in the WorldIt only takes one or two conservative bloggers to write something against a particular pastor or author and quickly, and all their many acolytes jump on the bandwagon. It was such with Mark Batterson’s book The Circle Maker, though few of his critics had ever bothered to read his earlier works, or, as the criticism continued, his new book The Grave Robber which is nothing more than straight commentary on the miracles in John’s gospel.

I noticed over the past week that North Point Community Church in Atlanta, Georgia has become the most recent target. I have followed Andy’s sermon series to the point where I can safely say that there is not a sermon that he has preached in the past six or seven years (or however long the streaming site northpointonline.tv has existed) that I have not heard. I believe I can offer an informed opinion based on a high degree of intimacy with where he is coming from.

While I believe he needs no defending I wish to offer what follows.

1) You cannot preach the whole compendium of Christianity in a single sermon.

Anyone who tries to isolate a particular theme in scripture from the larger picture, and then pretend that it represents the entirety of Christian doctrine would be foolish. So when Paul speaks in Philippians about adopting the attitude of humility, you could try to extrapolate from that the idea that Christianity consists merely of walking with a humble attitude as Christ did, and you would miss other themes such as his divinity, the need for repentance, the atoning work of Calvary, the second coming judgment, etc.

You can try to work everything in to your weekly sermon if you wish, but your preaching will become repetitive, and you won’t leave enough time to really grow your people in different areas. Each of the epistles and each of the minor prophets has a particular emphasis; and while it’s helpful to see the Christological features of a particular book, it’s not helpful it appears forced.

2) Veteran Christians are in emotional bondage to certain words and phrases.

It was Canadian pastor Bruxy Cavey who first pointed this out to several of us. He had just preached a long sermon where he passionately referred to “the Kingship of God,” and then as people were leaving took some criticism from a woman upset that he had never mentioned the sovereignty of God. Sovereign and King are the same thing in my dictionary, but because he didn’t use the right words, she wrote him off.

In the rush to condemnation, many critics have an imaginary checklist and as preachers use certain references they award approval. (Right now “gospel” is worth five points for the initial use and three points for each additional usage; “ESV” is worth six points.)

3) Sometimes it takes a fresh analogy.

I believe the purpose of Jesus’ parables was in part to restate truths in a fresh way.  In my own discussions with people about a particular issue, I’ll speak about the way I believe God intended us to live, and then borrowing a computer term, I’ll suggest we need to ask God to help us “restore default settings;” i.e. return to the original design.

I don’t believe for a minute that anyone doing this on a regular basis is departing from orthodoxy any more than translating the book of Mark into Swahili is an affront to the original Greek text.

4) The best local church preaching is contextual.

There is a clash of objectives that takes place when a local church puts their sermons online for the world to watch. For that reason I’ve heard that a handful of churches are opting out of media pages on their websites. The sermons were preached in a single location at a particular time for a unique group of people.

Andy Stanley has an interesting demographic thing going on right now at North Point. You see it reflected occasionally in the testimonies of people being baptized, but it really needs to be the subject of a whole other article than we have space for here. Suffice it to say that in the current sermon series where he is speaking about “the Temple model,” he is really addressing the problem of religion in a way that mostly avoids the R-word; and he’s doing this with a particular hearer in mind. Perhaps it’s just one person, that one person coming from a place in life where this approach resonates, and then it is being expressed to a larger audience.

5) It doesn’t get more exegetical than this.

The complaint is often that ‘seeker-sensitive’ churches have topical sermons, but as I watch Andy Stanley working his way through passages on a phrase-by-phrase basis, what I see is a very old-school style of teaching — you can easily visualize people marking their Bibles — being offered with freshness and passion. Last Sunday’s message (the fourth in the series) had six specific passages (they’re posted for reference before and after the sermon) of which at least a couple went into great detail.

But before I dismiss this, why are we still hauling out this ‘seeker sensitive’ label? That’s so 1983. Survey results at North Point among people attending five weeks or less shows a desire on the part of many to go deep and jump into service. The people who show up and brave the traffic congestion at the various North Point sites in greater Atlanta are not necessarily doing this just to fill a spectator role. (Study results at Willow Creek also confirm this.) When you castigate the church with a pejorative use of the ‘seeker sensitive’ adjective, you’re really demeaning very sincere people who hunger after more of God.  The problem is not that some churches are seeker-friendly; the problem is that too many churches are seeker-hostile.

6) Listeners are encouraged to come back for more.

There is a classic story of Dwight L. Moody opting one week not to give an altar call, which proved to be the week before the Chicago Fire in which many perished. The story is told to encourage pastors to lead people to a point of decision on a weekly basis.

While the imperative of the gospel is “choose today who you will serve,” and “now is the acceptable time, today is the day of salvation;” odds are that an Atlanta fire will not consume the city in the week to come. The whole point of a sermon series is to build toward a conclusion.

The first Sunday of any of the North Point series is intentionally introductory. But the final Sunday often ends with the band playing the 21st Century version of Just As I Am, or some song that leads people to a point of decision and taking next steps. I don’t believe it’s fair to isolate any particular messages without looking at the whole.

7) We often misunderstand the role and power of sermon.

I’ve written before about how ideally, Evangelicals need to see sermons through a sacramental lens. Compared to Roman Catholic or Mainline Protestant churches, we place greater emphasis on the message than the ‘liturgy’ which proceeds it in Evangelical churches, and we do sometimes pray that through the teaching of the word, ‘we will leave here different than when we came in.’ So we need to preach for change.

But we also have to understand that this sometimes takes place over time. Last summer I purchase some clear wood stain as well as a gallon of opaque wood stain for another project. With the clear product, it took layers and layers and application before I noticed a difference taking place and it immediately struck me that this is what happens with sermons. Applied to our life in layers, the effect is initially invisible, but evidenced over a lifetime of faithfully attending to hear from God’s set-apart leaders.

For those reading this, ask yourself: What was last Sunday’s sermon about at the gathering you attended? Some might have an answer; many might have forgotten.

8) I believe Andy Stanley crafts his sermons with the criticism anticipated.

There are times I’ve listened to a North Point sermon and it has struck me that Andy is saying something in a certain way in anticipation of criticism or misunderstanding. Obviously no one wants this. He works to make identification with conservative Evangelicalism, while speaking its truths to those who are new to the doctrinal and theological concepts.

Thankfully, the ministry that I believe God has raised up at North Point has operated in such a way that many of the complaints and accusations brought against other large churches just don’t stick; in fact their Christian Education program has been a model for churches around the world and their track record on charitable giving has been exemplary.

That people miss these obvious signals and forge ahead with criticism I believe says more about the critics than the one being targeted. The survival of many ‘watchdog’ or ‘discernment’ ministries hinges on always having fresh targets and their followers thrive on all the negative messaging.

All this to say, I encourage you to check out the series Brand New at the website brandnewseries.org .

 

 

February 26, 2015

Destiny Image Publishing Cancels Book by Progressive Christian Writer

I thought it was strange that the first I heard that blogger Brandan Robertson had become the Christian publishing news-maker of the week, it was a story at the online page of TIME Magazine, not my usual Christian information channels. The book in question was Nomad: Not-So-Religious Thoughts on Faith, Doubt, and the Journey In Between, scheduled for release October 20, 2015 by Charismatic publisher Destiny Image.

Brandan RobertsonThe article begins,

A prominent Christian publisher canceled a book project this week after the author refused to say that he did “not condone, encourage or accept the homosexual lifestyle,” the author told TIME.

Okay, so it was the gay thing again. End of story, right?

For its part, Destiny Image was dodging the issue:

When TIME asked [Don] Nori why Destiny pulled the book, Nori did not address the role that Robertson’s position on sexuality played in their decision: “There is nothing significant to report,” Nori says. “We did not reject or refuse. As with all books, a publisher decides what is financially viable. We released the book back to the author with our sincere prayers for his success. This occurrence happens every season.”

The implication is that here, in the first quarter of 2015, the sales force had already determined that there wasn’t enough interest in a book scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2015. Seems a bit far off, doesn’t it?

Furthermore, there was one report that the word gay only occurred one time in the final manuscript which the publisher had received only hours before.

The more I thought about this, the more weird it seemed that Destiny Image had tapped Robertson for a book at all. Destiny Image is a publisher of Charismatic books. Their top titles at Spring Arbor Distributors and Send the Light Distribution include The Maker’s Diet, When Heaven Invades Earth, The Lady in Waiting, Hosting the Presence, The Supernatural Ways of Royalty, The 40-Day Soul Fast, and God’s Armor Bearer and they have been home to authors such as Myles Munroe, Bill Johnson and T. D. Jakes.  Knowing that, I reached out to Brandan on Twitter:

Brandan, As a longtime veteran of the Christian bookstore business, I don’t know how the heck you ended up with Destiny Image in the first place.

But then two days ago Brandan wrote a blog post which got picked up by Huffington Post yesterday which sets the scene a little clearer:

…My former publisher, Destiny Image, signed me in March 2014 to be one of the first in their new “progressive” line of books along with books by my friend Benjamin L. Corey (who blogs at Patheos Progressive). As a then 21 year old senior in college, I was excited at the opportunity to turn so many of the thoughts that I had been sharing through my blog Revangelical into a book, a dream that I have had since I was a child. My book was to be a collection of memoir-essays that outlined some of the most important lessons that I have learned over the course of my spiritual journey thus far. I would be raw and honest, but also seek to write from an evangelical perspective to evangelicals. In order to do that, I intentionally kept out a chapter on sexuality, hoping to not detract from the broader message I was trying to communicate…

Okay, so it’s the progressive publishing imprint thing again. End of story, right?

Don’t they ever learn?

This is so reminiscent of the situation with Waterbrook. If you’ve forgotten, they published a book — God and the Gay Christian – which also caught some flak because of sexuality issues. But then, they argued that the book was issued under the Convergent imprint, not Waterbrook per se. That didn’t fly with anyone, since the other imprint shared the same acquisitions and editorial staff. So the company severed the two divisions, as they should have from the outset.

Destiny Image had not announced a different imprint. The book was listed at two industry sites as being issued under the parent label.

Like Rob Bell, Robertson’s book was not afraid to ask questions. The author is quoted on the book’s page at Ingram Book Company of which Spring Arbor Distributors is the Christian distribution arm:

Nomad - Brandan RobertsonToo often in Christianity we equate wandering with negative categories like eternal damnation, deception, and going “astray.” We have often stigmatized those who wander from our group as weak and easily deceived. But what if we’ve been wrong? What if ones tendency to go wander off is truly a gift? What if the driving force beneath the curiosity that leads a person to wander off the beaten path is not immaturity, but the wild, untamable Spirit of God, drawing them into the foliage to be refined, to discover fresh insights, and pioneer a new way forward for a new group of people?

That’s how I have come to understand my life and my calling. I have come to appreciate and not fear getting myself lost. In my disorientation, I am forced to attune myself to the gentle breeze of God’s Spirit and allow myself to be moved into new, unexplored territories. Sure, it’s scary sometimes. Uncomfortable most of the time. But it’s always rewarding.

So here’s my advice to Christian publishers: You want to attract an edgier type of reader? Fine. But if you’re playing with fire, be prepared to get burned. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have controversy without… controversy. Make up your mind to just go for it, and then be all in, or find a different avenue that will help you make your sales targets.

The book has been released back to the author, and after the publicity that has been generated, Brandan should have no problem getting it published, and may not have to wait until October if the new publisher decides to fast-track it to take advantage of the newly-generated interest.

Finally, if you think this is just desserts for an author that was probably too young to have this publishing opportunity bestowed on him in the first place, you might want to hold back that thought; his resumé is impressive. The information Destiny Image supplied to Ingram notes:

Brandan Robertson is a writer, speaker, activist, and the dreamer behind the Revangelical Movement. Brandan has a B.A. in Pastoral Studies and Bible from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago (as of May 2014) and is pursuing his M.Div. Degree from Wesley Theological Seminary (August 2014). Brandan writes for Revangelical, Red Letter Christians, Sojourners, and IMPACT Magazine and has been a featured contributor to a number of well-read blogs and news outlets. Brandan is also the host of the Revangelical Podcast and the director of an action-oriented social justice initiative called “Revangelicals for a Better Tomorrow.” He is also a sought after consultant to churches, denominations, and faith-based organizations on issues of the faith of the millennial generation and issues surrounding building bridges across religious, cultural, and political divides.

In other words, while I’m sure the offer was flattering at the time, he doesn’t need Destiny Image to get his message out.

February 25, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Family Circus 02-22-15

First, the PARSE links for Pastor People:

Carl Trueman on Evangelicals as Johnny-Come-Latelys to Lent - “I suspect that the reasons evangelicals are rediscovering Lent is as much to do with the poverty of their own liturgical tradition as anything. American evangelicals are past masters at appropriating anything that catches their fancy in church history and claiming it as their own… I also fear that it speaks of a certain carnality: The desire to do something which simply looks cool and which has a certain ostentatious spirituality about it…” Hmmm…

The Church and Beer Combo Meal - This time it was PBS’ turn to highlight the trend: “At Pub Theology in Washington, most believe that traditional churches are too rigid and confining… It’s estimated there are upwards of 130 church pubs in the US, many more in Europe, and that the number is growing.” But not all clergy interviewed for the story were supportive.

Debriefing the Sermon You Just Preached - Of the four points in this article, the second addresses the great vulnerability of a pastor right after speaking: “Any criticisms you hear need to be received, graciously acknowledged, and then honestly considered, but not one hour after your sermon.  Most of us who have just poured our hearts out in preaching are not at a good place to evaluate criticisms.  Always graciously receive all comments.  However, those comments that may be particularly hard or even harsh to hear are better evaluated after two good nights of sleep.  Write them down.  Leave them on your desk.  Try to forget about them until Tuesday…

New Church Construction at its Lowest Since 1967 - In a four minute audio segment, NPR looks at the house church movement. “The Bible says, ‘What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has has a hymn, a word of instruction, or an interpretation’ — all of this done for the strength of the church,” [Greg] Stultz says. “Where is that being done?” Furthermore, one of the groups would actually qualify as multi-site: “Three years later, Redemption now has three house churches that meet around Bristol. Once a month, they have a group service…”

Memo to Pastors: Knowing Your Audience when You Preach on Sex - “In your congregation are numerous people who have committed adultery. There are hundreds of porn addicts and fantasizers of both genders. We are not a sexually pure people. So please don’t preach like we’re riding on your high horse with you (whether or not you mean to be up there). The Bible is clear about sex and its place in marriage, and it is your job to preach it. But when you stand up there and preach like ‘we all know fornication is evil’ it shames us. When you lay low the adulterers with your scorn it shames them. And are you even thinking of those who became sexually active by force through rape or molestation? How low must they feel when you speak of the “loss of purity” like it’s a candle that was blown out?”

Revisiting the President’s Conversion Story – Within the church we call it a testimony. We call it a conversion. So when Get Religion — a website that reports on how religion is reported — looked at a recent statement by Governor Scott Walker, it also hauled out a 2007 transcript of Obama’s own description of the day he responded to the altar call: “…I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity [United Church of Christ] one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany…But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt I heard God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth and carrying out His works.”

Writing a Book for Limited Distribution - Every once in awhile, an article surfaces which is more than six months old, but would be new to many of you. So even though older things online aren’t as cool as things written yesterday, here are 5 Reasons to Write Books for Your Own Congregation.  Sample: “You know your audience. Few writers get to target so specific an audience because most mass market books are geared for the widest readership possible. But when you write for your own congregation, you can tailor your subject, approach, illustrations, and suggestions to your unique ministry setting.”

Poll Results - Not entirely scientific, but Thom Rainer asked his Twitter followers for reasons why churches today seem to be less evangelistic than in the past. Here’s some random samples: “Christians have no sense of urgency to reach lost people.” “Many church members think that evangelism is the role of the pastor and paid staff.” “Church membership today is more about getting my needs met rather than reaching the lost.” “Some churches have theological systems that do not encourage evangelism.” “Our churches have too many activities…” He grouped the many responses into a list of 15 reasons.

Rob Bell on Gay Marriage - Excerpt: “One of the oldest aches in the bones of humanity is loneliness,” Rob Bell said. “Loneliness is not good for the world. Whoever you are, gay or straight, it is totally normal, natural and healthy to want someone to go through life with. It’s central to our humanity. We want someone to go on the journey with.” That statement prompted a question from Oprah: “When is the church going to get that?” “We’re moments away,” Rob Bell said. “I think culture is already there and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense, when you have in front of you flesh-and-blood people who are your brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and co-workers and neighbors and they love each other and just want to go through life with someone.”

40 More Recommended Articles - If you’re a pastor trying to balance vocational ministry with marriage and parenting, David Murray, author of the just released book The Happy Christian has 40 online resources you don’t need to search for.

Counseling for Pastors - “The counselor assumed I was making a referral. He was surprised that I was scheduling myself. That first appointment was so healing, so fresh, so needed… In our next church board meeting I presented a proposal about the church both requiring and paying the cost of each staff member seeing a counselor at least twice that year. After a healthy discussion, they agreed.

Please remember that inclusion of items here or at PARSE does not imply endorsement.

Water into Wine Birthday Card

Short Takes

  • Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas is now a multiple award-winning movie, though these may not have been the type of awards they were going for
  • …In other movie news, the creators of Fireproof, Facing the Giants, and Courageous have a new title in the works. Check out the preview for War Room, releasing in theaters August 28th…
  • …But when the history of Christian movies is written, the one story that won’t get left out involves the classic, The Jesus Film, which has now been translated into 1,300 languages.
  • In a more detailed look at Rob and Kristen Bell’s comments on gay marriage, a response from Line of Fire host Michael L. Brown: “So, according to Rob Bell, the Church of Jesus should follow worldly culture and deny the plain teaching of God’s Word in order to be ‘relevant…’ I guess what’s trending on Twitter trumps the timeless wisdom of the living Word of the living God, I guess an emotional appeal carries far more weight than transcendent Truth.”
  • I do not, for one minute, understand what people get from reading Chris Rosebrough, even though I might agree with him on a number of issues. He recently created these faux-billboards. Some of them are funny and also quite true, but what is gained here? Yet, as the author of the piece linked here points out, people do need more discernment. (But I wouldn’t want this to be the tenor of my discernment ministry.)
  • Twitter is reading our tweets. (It’s probably in the agreement when we signed up.) So based on your Twittering, an analysis of the top 100 things we gave up for Lent.
  • Jamie the Very Worst Book-Reviewer on that… that book… which became a movie.
  • A Detroit doctor refuses to treat a baby who has two moms.
  • What to do when you don’t know what to do: Setting personal parameters for the issues that aren’t black and white.
  • This summer, Pope Francis be a plush doll from the same company that does Yankees’ pitcher Derek Jeter and the Green Lantern, Bleacher Creatures, announced just as we’re hearing that a figurine from the Playmobil toy company of Martin Luther — aka “Little Luther” — is shattering sales records.
  • KidMin Korner: Ideas for sharing St. Patrick’s Day with children.
It was a funny joke, and now, apparently, also a product.

It was a funny joke, and now, apparently, it is also a product.

February 24, 2015

Seven Years of Thinking Out Loud

Number 7 Quickview Bible

The first post, February 24, 2008 - We began this journey as a response to comments I was getting from an email newsletter I produced that people “liked the articles.” The first post was titled “Honestly! The world DOES need another blog page!” and consisted of some excerpts from the 2003 book A is for Abductive by Leonard Sweet, Brian McLaren and Jerry Haselmayer. Interesting to look back and consider that aspect of the blog’s beginning alone.

…It appears that God may be more active outside the church than in it. In other words, “inside the church” may not be the best place to share in God’s work, and if we want to be involved in God’s work, we may need to get out more.

…It may be more valid to celebrate this idea of God’s activity outside the church, because perhaps God’s purpose for the church all along has been to equip people to be agents through whom God works in the world.

…It may be helpful for us to distinguish between “church work” (i.e. our work inside the church to keep it going) and “the work of the church” (i.e. the church fulfilling its mission in the world). …The old complaint about 20% of the people doing 80% of the church work in this light may be misguided. If the minority (20%) can do church work, then maybe the majority (80%) can focus on serving God outside the box and boat.

First Anniversary, February 24, 2009 - Noted the day before that the first year I wrote 660 posts, an average of two a day.

I figured I wouldn’t write anything; I’d just use a huge backlog of articles I’d developed in other places for other reasons.    Boy, did I get that one wrong.   As every Israelite knows, the manna doesn’t stay fresh for long.

I also figured I’d read more stuff online, but didn’t realize that other bloggers would spur me on to read more books as well.   Do I get a diploma for doing this?   A little academic credit perhaps?”

Second Anniversary, February 23, 2010 – Had to celebrate a day early because the midweek link list was already becoming a priority.  It was noted that:

Thinking Out Loud began the same week as two other blogs, 22 Words and Stuff Christians Like…

…It’s also interesting to note that — as far as Canada is concerned — each day, I get to speak to six times as many adults than half of all pastors here see on Sunday morning…

Too bad those other two blogs never amounted to anything! My statement of purpose at this point was:

I also want to continue to make this a blog for the ‘spiritual commoner.’   That’s the person who feels he or she has a real contribution to make to the life of their church, Christian fellowship or broader community…

Third Anniversary, February 24, 2011 – Christianity 201 had launched that year…

I remember years ago participating in a discussion about the “emerging” internet where the main concern ran something like this, “How are they ever going to get enough content to keep those websites supplied with fresh material?”

How indeed?

In 2011, a better question might be, “How does one find enough hours in the day to read all the sites they are subscribed to or have bookmarked?” I figure a typical week lands me on about 1,000 different types of internet sites, and I don’t consider myself a heavy online user. Every single person reading this actually has a completely unique internet experience weekly.

Today, this blog enters year four. I have mixed feelings about that. I’m happy that this blog has become a voice albeit in a crowded room of voices all talking at once. I’m continually amazed — and somewhat humbled — that hundreds of you show up here every day, many just to see what’s been posted recently…

…There is much to be thankful for today. I actually oversee seven blogs now, of which the latest, Christianity 201, has arrived on the scene since we celebrated this time last year. It keeps me humbled. Very humbled. While some endeavors in the Christian life remind you how far you’ve come and what you have accomplished, C201 reminds me of how far I’ve got to go.  Jesus set the bar rather high.

A handful of you also read my book industry blog, Christian Book Shop Talk… Yesterday’s post had someone suggesting bookstores are going the way of record shops and video rental stores. Sigh. In that setting, I get to be a voice in an increasingly empty room…

Fourth Anniversary, February 24, 2012 – A rather light and concise post:

I decided to check the blog’s dashboard to see what other meaningful statistic I could parade out before you on this solemn occasion, and I found this:

Akismet has protected your site from 294,600 spam comments already.

I don’t know how that compares with the big boys, but I’m honored just to think that on 294,600 occasions Russian models and manufacturers of imitation European handbags found this particular blog so worth spamming. And while the rest of the blog stats may pale in comparison, just think how quickly they are about to rise now that we’ve used the phrase ‘Russian models.’

Fifth Anniversary, February 24, 2013This one is probably the most interesting and the only one I’ll actually link to here. I listed, in no particular order, ten things I’ve learned in the course of reading and writing Christian blogs. I might re-run this item later in the week, but in the meanwhile, here is the link. There was also a regular anniversary column the day before:

I am really happy that I launched Thinking Out Loud all those years ago. I have met some of the greatest people, been encouraged to read some of the most interesting books, have been kept abreast of some of the most bizarre religious news stories, and mostly, I have been forced to think about things that I might have never considered.

Sixth Anniversary, February 24, 2014 - At this point the Wednesday Link List had become part of what is now called PARSE, the former Out of Ur blog.

I’m also thankful that this summer, Thinking Out Loud gained a greater platform itself by becoming a weekly part of life at Leadership Journal, a division of Christianity Today. I still believe it’s a greater thing to make the news (in a good way, not the weird stories) than it is to simply write the news. But I don’t mind playing scribe if it means I get to choose some things I think are worth noting as part of each week’s passing scene.

I am truly grateful for being able to be in online contact with an organization I have always respected and some people who I was already aware of. Thanks to Skye, Drew, Paul P. and Tim for your encouragement.

…which brings us to Seventh Anniversary, February 24, 2015 

 

7 is the perfect number

I thought of including a screenshot of the first column, but like the McDonald’s logo, not much has changed here visually. 3,094 published columns later, I’m still happy I started this little project.

As blog readership continues to wane as people have so many choices online, I’m pleased to report that Christianity 201 continues to attract new readers. If you ask me which blog I think about first thing in the morning, it really does vary. I enjoy doing both, and while I could have kept both types of articles on a single platform at Thinking Out Loud, I’m glad that separating them forces me to look at both types of writing on a daily basis.

If you read widely on the Christian internet, you know that the definition of evangelical is currently under the microscope, but I want to keep the writing at Thinking Out Loud somewhat mainstream evangelical as I believe that the voices from the margins tend to dominate. That said however, those voices have much to contribute.

There’s an adage that “even a stopped clock is wrong twice a day,” and I feel that instead of looking for the thing to criticize, we ought to look for the little gems — the nuggets of gold — where writers we might otherwise disagree with actually do get it right. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of grace online, even among Christians. This always saddens me.

I think that’s why doing the link list is so much fun. Again, I am forced to read the widest variety of Christian news and opinion pieces from a vast field of writers I might not otherwise consider. I may disagree totally with what they wrote Thursday and Saturday, but if they make some good points on Friday, I want to be able to celebrate that.

I’d like to think that I am capable of sitting down for coffee with any writer who has trusted in the atoning work of Christ on Calvary for salvation. I do know that some of them might not want to reciprocate that. That is unfortunate and I believe grieves the Holy Spirit.

In conclusion, I guess I’m just grateful for what this writing platform had done for my own Christian growth and understanding of the Church, the body of Christ. I’m also thankful for the books it compels me to read which enhance my understanding of God and His ways. And last, I’m thankful for you, the faithful readers whose page views and link clicks demonstrate a shared interest in these things.

Thinking Out Loud: Matters of Faith Because Faith Matters

Year 8 begins tomorrow with the Wednesday Link List

 

 

 

 

February 23, 2015

The City Guy at the Christian Camping Mini-Conference

Short StoriesAs I thought about tomorrow’s 7th anniversary for this blog, I started reading some of the early stuff. This one seemed worthy of a third time around…I think that many of our organizations and local churches would be different if we could take this to heart…


 

The director of a large regional camp center had just returned from a large Christian Camping conference when he decided to host an all-day meeting for directors of smaller facilities who would never be able to attend such an event. He gathered the names of about a dozen small places from around the state, found 14 people who were interested in coming and amazingly found a Tuesday that they could meet.

Some of them only ran day camps, and one of them had a parcel of land that only operated as a camp for only two weeks out of the summer. He shared some things that had taken place at the conference but was careful not to be the big camp telling the small camps how to do things. They watched a few video clips, ate lunch together, and gave a tour of his site to those who hadn’t seen it before.

Mostly, he led discussions. Realizing that it was becoming a one-man show, he tried to get someone to come as a speaker to wrap up the thing before dinner. Everybody he picked, including members of his own staff and board, were tied up that day, so he invited a guy from his church who was a good Bible teacher but honestly wouldn’t know the difference between a camping facility and a dairy farm.

At 4:00 PM, his friend arrived, coming straight from the office in the city still wearing a suit and tie. Not a jacket and tie, but a suit that looked like he had just stepped off a New York subway into downtown Manhattan. He stood and stared at the group of nine men and five women who were wearing mostly jeans and golf shirts.

If he didn’t feel out of place enough for that reason, he had also realized about half-way through the day that he’d left his Bible and his notes somewhere else. However as he kept driving — and praying — a backup plan slowly began to take shape, so that when he was introduced, he knew the exact direction he wanted their time together to go.

“I don’t really know much about what you do;” he started, “but I want to ask you just three questions about your facilities. The first question is, ‘Do you have hard water or soft water?'”

This took everyone by surprise, including the person who had invited him. But it recovered quickly into a lively discussion on how all water is not the same, and mineral levels, and how it affects everything from laundry to making coffee.

“The second question,” he continued, “is, ‘Do you have hard soil or soft soil?'”

This time around they knew the drill, and discussed not only the growth of plants and trees, but lime and phosphates, and how soil type affects drainage during a storm, or putting up new buildings.

After another few minutes on that one, he put up his hand to calm the discussion and asked a third question.

“The final question,” he said, “is, ‘Do you have hard people or soft people?'”

One person laughed out loud but mostly there was silence.

At this point he said, “You know, I got invited here because I teach the Bible at our church, but the truth is I’ve checked my car twice at lunchtime and my Bible and notes aren’t there, and I’m lost without them.

“But I really felt directed to talk about this. In any organization there are people. Some work behind the scenes and only interact with the other staff. Some work on the front-lines and interact with the broader community. But all of us need to be people who the Holy Spirit can work through and can be seen working through. All of us need to lose the tough and rough edge and be people who have been softened, so that the higher purpose of what we do is evident to anyone who meets us. All of us need to develop the ability to communicate the love of God to people, not over the course of several days or hours, but over the course of several seconds. Those first impressions count. The love of God needs to be something we wear on our faces. There needs to be a difference.

“The problem — and I expect it’s true in Christian camping as much or more as anywhere else — is that we’re so task driven and so physically stretched that we lose sight of being the people God wants us to be in encouraging others and being salt and light in the bigger world. We miss the moment. We miss an opportunity to show that what we sing or confess on Sunday morning is a real factor in our lives. We appear to have it all together, when in fact, Christianity is meant to be a community of broken people. We give the impression that the job at hand is more important than the people we’re doing it with.

“I guess that’s it;” he concluded. He had driven for an hour out to the country to deliver less than 300 words of exhortation.

He decided the closing prayer would take the form of silence, with each person praying their own benediction on the time they had spent together.

So… here’s the question: In your church, in your ministry organization, in your family, do you have hard people or soft people?

~PW, originally published July, 2006

 

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