Thinking Out Loud

January 23, 2019

Wednesday Connect

For those of you who love alliteration, this is the smiling Satan statue in Segovia, Spain. He’s happy. A little too happy as it turns out. See today’s final linked item.

So here we are again. Thanks again to our contributors. Today as usual there is good news, bad news, and strange news.

♦ Breaking as we come on the air: Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury speaks in tongues.

♦ The story at Harvest Bible Chapel keeps going. Both of these links are to blogger and broadcaster Julie Roys who has been relentless in separating fact from fiction in this unfortunate drama.

  • The last time we looked, James MacDonald was going to be leaving regular preaching duties, but would have continued speaking at Harvest Bible Chapel in Naples. The Naples pastor didn’t think that sounded right, and was promptly fired. He says if he’d known about the internal turmoil at HBC, he never would have allowed his formerly-independent church to join the HBC network. Now he wants his job back.
  • Harvest leadership team admits there were shortcomings concerning the firing of the Naples pastor. (Tuesday)

♦ A $452 billion (USD) Saudi “mega-city” project would destroy crucial historical and archaeological evidence including bulldozing the site where Moses received the Ten Commandments.

♦ A most distressing day for pro-lifers in New York State and everywhere else. A new “radical pro-abortion bill Tuesday that would allow unborn babies to be aborted for basically any reason up to birth.” It gets worse: “Protections for babies born alive after botched abortions also would end under the new bill. Additionally, the bill says the state cannot “deny, regulate or restrict” abortion, not even for common-sense reasons such as parental consent for minors, informed consent or limits on taxpayer-funded abortions.”

♦ Happening in Vermont: The story of Kelly Haines and Pastor John Longaker. “No one conducted a background check when a small church in southwestern Vermont hired a pastor in 2010…” From there, it’s a long story. Or if you prefer, check out this timeline constructed by the Burlington (VT) Free Press.

♦ Persecution Watch:

  • “During 2018, the Iranian Christian community, along with other religious minorities, continued to suffer multiple violations of their right to freedom of religion and belief. Ongoing surveillance of Christians by the authorities was often accompanied by harassment. The end of 2018 saw an unprecedented wave of raids on private house gatherings, leading to large numbers of arrests. Many Christians received prison sentences, or had sentences upheld by the court of appeal…” This link will lead you to a 9-page .pdf report.
  • For reports from four other countries, “The Christian Post spoke with believers from India, Iraq, Nigeria and one undisclosed South Asian country about the violence they and their communities have faced.”
  • For people in the world missions community, the release of the Open Doors annual World Watch List is always anticipated. Last week, the group issued the report, significant for the top-10 placement forn India. (In this case, the .pdf file link is a 68 page booklet; be sure to allow ample time.)

♦ Leadership Lessons: Fighting insecurity. “Consider the best leader in your life. What made them so effective? Why did you love them? It probably had something to do with how they empowered you to be your best. Not that their coaching and feedback was always easy and stroked your ego, but it was what you needed. And it was delivered in a way that moved you forward, rather than holding you back.”

♦ Those Catholic kids seeming to clash with a Native protester? You can’t always trust viral videos. “For most people, the meaning of moving images seems to relate to the footage inside them—the people, settings, and events that the camera pointed at and captured. But in fact, the way those elements were selected, edited, and re-presented has an enormous impact on the way they are received and understood. In the case of the Lincoln Memorial encounter, neither the original video nor the new one explains what ‘really happened.’

♦ Parenting Place: Just read this. Even if you don’t have kids. Turns out the opposite (and better) strategy to giving your kids a time-out is giving yourself a time-in.

Roger Olson on the wall. (As opposed to The Wall, a Pink Floyd album.) Sample: “Imagine that a political or natural disaster crisis occurred in Canada and thousands upon thousands of Canadian men, women and children fled it by crossing the border into the U.S. technically illegally? I wonder how many Americans would be up in arms demanding that a thousands mile long wall be built?”

♦ Reading Genesis: “According to C. John Collins, professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary and the Old Testament editor of the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible, both of these camps [creationists and evolutions] are fundamentally wrong for the same reason.

♦ Essay of the Week: Bath Night, Baptism and Happy Days. (Awarded not for the premise itself, but for the execution including some musical memories.)

The uploader has not made this link available in your country.

♦ After winning Christianity Today’s Book of the Year award for The Storm-Tossed Family, Russell Moore thanks the publication not only for the honor, but for the magazine’s very existence.

♦ An eight part series on The History Channel explores the life of Jesus from the perspective of eight people with whom he interacted. Jesus: His Life “will premiere with two episodes back-to-back every week starting on March 25 at 8 p.m. ET leading up to the week before Easter.”

♦ An unknown number of LifeWay Christian bookstores are closing.

♦ Headline which forced me to click through: Blackmail and the Gospel. You might consider this approach next time you get a spam email asking for money.

♦ New Music from Planetshakers: All Around (turn up your subwoofers).

♦ You’ve heard people talk about the music at Urbana events like Urbana 18. Listen to “You Are God” described as “a multilingual, multicultural worship anthem.”(Is this what singing in heaven will be like?)

♦ The cost of social media marketing for Christian publishers: This guy gets some rather incredibly expensive Bibles for free in exchange for reviewing them on YouTube, but given the small number of views relative to the retail prices of some of the Bibles, there’s something wrong with this picture.

♦ On the weekend we covered ABC-TV’s rehash of the Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker story. Here’s a 20/20 extra with some extra footage you didn’t see of what is now the home of Morningstar Ministries.

♦ John Crist’s advice on how to know whether or not you should cancel your services due to weather.

♦ ‘Before we begin today’s session a moment of prayer..’ Only at an Alaska assembly meeting, the invocation will be given by Pastafarians and Satanists.

♦ Finally, back to the “smiling Satan statue in Segovia, Spain.” (I just like typing that phrase.) If you read the story, he’s smiling for the same reason you’re often smiling. He’s taking a selfie. TIME reports that, “The Satanic sculpture was commissioned by the city council in hopes of drawing tourists to some of the town’s lesser-known neighborhoods, according to Spain’s El Pais newspaper. But residents were perturbed by the playful Prince of Darkness. [Again, notice the alliteration.] Some 5,500 people — approximately 10% of the entire city’s population — have signed an online petition calling for the project to be scrapped.”

Satan sneaks a selfie in Segovia.


It turned out we had another selfie picture in the files. Why should the devil have all today’s pictures?

 

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January 22, 2019

Rooted in Reality, Released as Fiction: Book Took 23 Years to be Published

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:28 am

Last week, Michael Bell, one of the contributors at Internet Monk shared the story behind the just-released book In His Majesty’s Secret Service written by his younger brother, Patrick. First here’s what Michael wrote at iMonk:

A little over thirty years ago my younger brother, Patrick Bell, left on an adventure. He joined Greg, his best friend from high school, on a clandestine team smuggling bibles behind the Iron Curtain. For two years they crisscrossed Eastern Europe bringing Bibles, medicines, and food to Christians who faced persecution and even death because of their faith.

They took ten trips into Romania, where Christians were having a particularly difficult time under President Nicolae Ceaușescu. It was also very stressful for the smuggling teams. “When you hear gunfire outside your hotel and there are bullet holes in the window and blood on the carpet, you know you’re in the thick of things.” A network of informers meant that they could never be sure who they could trust.

In his downtime he started writing about what he was experiencing. He wrote in the genre of a historical fiction, with himself and Greg being portrayed as two of the main characters in the book.

His letters from their Austrian base kept us up-to-date on what he was doing. Some of his stories made it into the manuscript he was writing. Others for security reasons did not. He wrote to our family about some of the ethical issues that a Bible Smuggler faces: What do you do when asked at the border if you have Bibles? How do you hold church services when they have been banned? These very real dilemmas were addressed in his manuscript in the context of a story of high risk, betrayal, faith, prison escapes, near misses, revolution, death, and even a little romance. All was skilfully woven together in a way that put the manuscript into the “can’t put down” category.

In the late fall of 1989 we received a letter from Pat. “I’m not very hopeful for the situation in Romania”, he wrote, “there are soldiers with sub-machine guns on every corner.” Six weeks later, the revolution had been successful and Ceaușescu was arrested.. “When Ceaușescu was shown on TV, soldiers became so angry at him, they wanted to shoot the TV.” On Christmas day, 1989, Ceaușescu and his wife were led before a firing squad and executed. They had been tried before a secret tribunal and found guilty of multiple crimes against the country.

A few days later I was watching the CBS evening news. The Romanian border had just been opened with the West and CBS had a reporter on the spot interviewing the first visitors to make the trip across. I almost fell out of my chair when I saw my brother Pat, and Holly (his future wife), smiling at the cameras from inside their vehicle? “Why are you headed into Romania”, the reporter asked? “We heard there was great skiing in Romania!”, came the response. The Bibles were, as usual, still carefully concealed. I learned later that they were given a tank escort into Bucharest and he was offered a ride!

So what happened to the manuscript? In 1995, Pat and Holly moved to Japan to teach English in order to pay down school debts. The manuscript went into a box. For the twelve years they were in Japan, another year in Kenya, and nine more years in Canada, the manuscript sat in the box unseen. About a year ago Pat happened upon the box and opened it. There was the manuscript. The floppy disks on which it had been written were long gone. “We really should do something with this,” Holly said. With the help of a friend, Pat had the book scanned and converted back into readable text. Holly found a publishing contest to enter, and so Pat spent a few more weeks editing the book to get it ready to submit.

They won the contest!

At his website, Patrick writes: “…I’m a Canadian, now living in Kelowna, BC. I’m a graduate of Wheaton College (MA, Inter-cultural Studies, 1995) and Regent University (MBA, International Business, 2007)…” He adds that he “is an ambassador for Open Doors, Canada. If you want to help your persecuted brothers and sisters around the world, there are so many opportunities to get involved.”

At Word Alive, here’s a summary of the book:

Jim, Nick, and Kirsten have always had a heart for their fellow believers behind the Iron Curtain. It’s one thing to pray for their brothers and sisters in Romania, though, and another thing entirely to face hostile border guards with illegal Bibles hidden in their van. Only God can blind the eyes of those searching the vehicle so the three of them will be allowed to pass through safely.

Someone in the underground Romanian church is an informer, and the three Bible smugglers want to know who. The brutal dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu, the watching eyes of the secret police, and a personal vendetta being carried out by a colonel with a forty-year grudge have put them and all the believers in danger. As rumours of revolution swirl around them, Jim, Nick, and Kirsten face an impossible dilemma. If they can’t trust those who call themselves Christians, who can they trust?

At Internet Monk there’s an excerpt from the book.

Finally, at Word Alive Press, you can read the official contest announcement with winners and runners-up.

U.S. customers can inform their local bookstore that the title may be ordered through Anchor Distributors.


ISBN: 9781486617548 | paperback | 224 pages | $19.99 US/CDN

January 21, 2019

Eyeing the Competition

While 99% of the people in Pastor Reynold’s congregation met with him at the church or in a coffee shop, Olivia was good friends with his wife which gave her somewhat unfettered access to the pastor at his home.

Dropping in one day while Mrs. Reynolds was out, they stood at the front door and talked for five minutes, and as usual, Olivia was going on and on about the latest podcast she’d heard from some U.S. preacher. “You should check him out sometime; it was absolutely awesome!”

It wasn’t just her; there were a bunch of twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings in the church who seemed to trade teaching links the way his generation traded baseball cards. It was as though everyone is looking for the next big thing.

Finally he decided to state the obvious, “So did you like my sermon this week?”

“It was okay.” She seemed to be reluctantly volunteering that assessment.

“Would it be better if I got some skinny jeans?” he asked her, but she just laughed.

So he tried it another way, “Would it be different if I had a podcast?”

“You do have a sermon podcast; the tech team posts your message every Monday.”

“Oh right…” at which point he had to admit to himself that he’d forgotten that; in fact, he’d never even been to the page where the sermons were posted.

Olivia got a text back from Mrs. Reynolds saying she wouldn’t be home for an hour, so Olivia texted back that they’d meet the next day instead.

Pastor Reynolds went back to his computer and tried to find an email he’d received several weeks ago from Jordan, Olivia’s husband. Jordan had recommended that the pastor watch and listen to a particular speaker but the email had sat ignored.

“Where did he say that guy was from?” the pastor asked himself. “Bismark? Boise? Bakersfield?” He found the email, clicked the link and started listening. He’d set the expectation bar quite low and wasn’t prepared for what he saw and heard.

After about four minutes, out loud to no one besides the cat, he said, “Oh my goodness… this ain’t the kind of preaching I was raised on.”

It was actually two hours before Mrs. Reynolds came home, and by then Pastor Reynolds had heard three sermons by three different next generation preachers, and had scrawled two pages of handwritten notes…


…Every healthy church has people of different ages who are being influenced by speakers and teachers online from their generation.  Someone who loves Charles Stanley is unlikely to develop an affection for John Mark Comer and vice versa. A fan of David Jeremiah is unlikely to convert to a steady diet of Judah Smith. A daily listener to Chuck Swindoll is unlikely to abandon him for Levi Lusko.

The point of today’s story however is that pastors would do well to invest some time listening to those teachers who are influencing the people in their congregation. People like Olivia can’t get to John Mark’s or Judah’s or Levi’s church. If they live more than an hour from a major city, they might not even be able to get to one like it. Pastor, they worship at your church and they’re part of your congregation.

But they have these other influences, just as certainly as the older people take in In Touch, Turning Point and Insight for Living. Furthermore, the older members of the church often listen to these radio and television preachers on a daily basis, whereas they only come to church once a week. Media preaching has a greater impact on many churchgoers than what takes place at weekend services.

Shouldn’t pastors take some time every once in awhile to check out what it is people are hearing? In the story, Pastor Reynolds announces to an empty house not that the message is ‘Heresy!’ but rather that the communication style is exceptionally different; greatly engaging. The pacing is different; there’s less shouting; the messages are longer but the times seems to fly by. He makes notes.

I think the practice of listening to the group of rising pastors and authors should be part of a pastor’s occasional routine. I know people in vocational ministry are busy and groan under the weight of all the books people in the church tell them they should read, and podcasts they should watch or listen to, but if someone in your congregation is overflowing with excitement about a spiritual influence in their lives, wouldn’t one would want to know what it is?


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January 19, 2019

Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker Revisited

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:01 am

Although known for some decent investigative journalism, ABC-TV’s 20/20 show went all tabloid last night, retracing the journey of televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. I thought I’d quickly share some observations.

The big question for both my wife and I was: Why dredge this up now? There’s no breaking news, and really no new information. Given the fascination Americans had for the Bakkers as their life unravelled, I suppose there are some who are attached to the story, soap opera as it was and is. Tammy Faye is gone and Jessica Hahn is turning 60 this year, quite removed from the public eye.

Having been an avid follower of the program during the short time it was broadcast in my area, I just wanted to relive some memories. Having said that, the clips from the programs didn’t really resonate. I guess I’ve moved on.

I also realized how long it has been since I watched Charismatic television. I still believe in the infinite power of the Holy Spirit and am definitely a continuationist — often calling myself a “post-Charismatic” — but the scenes of people speaking in tongues on my television seemed so foreign to my current experience.

There were only fleeting scenes in one segment tracing Jim’s childhood and even less for Tammy Faye beyond a mention that the home had no indoor plumbing. The program mentioned that the couple got their start doing puppet ministry with the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) but neither there nor in a scene where both men were pictured was there verbal mention of Pat Robertson.

There was also no mention at all of the Bakker’s two children, Jay and Tammy Sue. They appeared in a couple of still photographs and nothing else.

While Bakker is credited as having created the Tonight Show-styled talk show format for Christian TV — which still airs today as The 700 Club — viewers were given the impression that this happened first at his own network, PTL. There was also no mention of the role he played in founding the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) on the west coast with Paul Crouch.

Only those deeply imbedded in the story were mentioned by name, John Wesley Fletcher, Jerry Falwell and Tammy’s marriage to Roe Messner. Many times we heard the opening voice-over for various episodes of their flagship show, The PTL Club, but announcer Henry Harrison who played second fiddle — also the title of his book — to Bakker wasn’t mentioned.

Money and power tend to corrupt. That was really the point of this episode of 20/20, if there was any message at all. I think most of us knew that going in. Tammy Faye, at the end of her life seemed to have grown and resorted her priorities. Jim is very much still the same Jim, doing the same dog and pony show.

January 18, 2019

Our Conservative Christian Home was the Epicenter of Corruption of Minors

Filed under: Christianity, parenting, pornography, technology — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:44 am

Although Tim Challies and I are quite far apart doctrinally, as a fellow-Canadian blogger I feel obliged to periodically checking in to sample his recent writing. He often writes about the impact of pornography, so I was interested in an article titled Has Your Child Been Looking At Bad Stuff Online?

Two paragraphs caught my attention:

…I think this is behavior we have modeled to our children in that we’ve taught our children when you have questions, you ask the internet. You ask, Google especially, and maybe as time goes on, you’re starting to ask your Amazon Echo or your Google Home or your Siri or whatever device you’ve got. You’re starting to model to children over the course of their young lives that you take your questions to the internet. That’s something we do and our kids learn the behavior.

I’ve got this funny memory of when I was in, I think it was eighth grade, a kid in my class was looking in the dictionary, looking up bad words or looking up bodily words in the dictionary. Now, why would he do that? It’s probably not something a kid would do today, but through his younger life, he had had it modeled that when you have questions you take it to a dictionary, you take it to an encyclopedia, right. And so when he wanted knowledge, that’s where he went. That knowledge was natural for a kid his age and then he went to the thing that had been modeled to him…

Our home was one that, for a brief period, my middle school friends flocked to after school. It wasn’t the old radio blasting out the rock station so much as it was because of a large, two-volume Funk and Wagnalls dictionary.

One rather precocious friend would indicate certain words for us to check out and then the books would be passed around among a bunch of curious kids. It was the equivalent of being the house that offered the kids unfettered access to adult websites today.

Kids talk loud, and eventually my parents overheard words they weren’t expecting from these Kool Aid-drinking pre-teens. One Sunday afternoon a biological lecture followed and while neither birds nor bees were mentioned, both myself and my father quickly came to realize that I didn’t know as much as we both thought I did.

Those days of innocence are long gone, but back then, if you made it past your teens and hadn’t seen anything truly X-rated, it’s possible you might never. For me that occurred much later, trying to guess the password on the restricted channels on a brother-in-laws satellite dish; and even then the images, though possibly filed away in the back of my brain, didn’t immediately spur me to seek out more of the same.

Today the kids see everything. Whether by choice or by accident, there’s very little about human biology, reproduction or sexual gratification that they haven’t seen, probably in high definition.

But back then, my two-volume dictionary was among the best anyone had.

It’s hard to believe looking back that my conservative, Christian parents’ recreation room was ground zero for the corruption of young minds; the place kids went for an informal sexual education. Within weeks, someone else’s home was the after-school destination of choice. Perhaps my parents locked up the dictionaries; I don’t remember.

I just remember the aforementioned precocious friend running around with some of his brother’s magazines into the schoolyard, and me following the crowd; all excited that we were doing something improper, but truly lacking a full understanding of what the excitement was all about.

 

January 17, 2019

Our Summer Church-Visit Holidays: The Pattern

We wanted to hear Rob Bell in person. The first time we travelled to Grand Rapids he was away, but we went back again to have the complete experience. Not long after, Rob was gone from Mars Hill Bible Church over his view of hell, among other things.

I had some history visiting Willow Creek to hear Bill Hybels, but my wife had not. We went several times to South Barrington to hear him. Last year, in the wake of #MeToo, Hybels was no longer at Willow nor were the people he had chosen as successors.

I had been captivated listening to James MacDonald’s preaching on radio while driving to work every morning. The first time we drove there we didn’t know that Elgin was just a new Harvest Bible Chapel campus so James wasn’t there. The second time we drove to Rolling Meadows and he was at Elgin. So technically, I’ve never heard him in person. This week he took — or was placed on — an indefinite leave of absence over issues involving money and control.

The moral of the story is we need to stop visiting churches…

…Actually, the moral of the story is something my father taught me several decades ago: Don’t invest your confidence or admiration in an individual preacher; they will invariably let you down at some point. The megachurches are always the biggest blips on our radar and many of them got there due to the charisma of a key personality.

Many of these Bible teachers are great communicators with a style that local church pastors may try to emulate though not always successfully. Often however, the character strength by which they are able to get up and speak to thousands of people each weekend also masks a character weakness in terms of how they handle that power and responsibility…

…There are a couple of churches I would still like to visit to hear the lead pastors speak in person, instead of on a small window of my computer screen. In the wake of all that’s transpired, I’m thinking it might be best not to. 


Sidebar: Both Hybels and MacDonald ministered in the area of greater Chicagoland called the ‘Nortwest Suburbs.’ I wonder what the impact is there on both Christians and non-Christians alike in the wake of watching the fallout from leadership crises at two of the largest churches in the area. I can imagine doubters and skeptics saying, ‘See; I told you it was all a sham.’

While these two churches will continue to serve their congregations, no doubt some disillusioned people will take a step away from church, at least for a season. It may also be the case the smaller, local churches are left to pick up former members at Harvest and Willow who want to escape the megachurch environment.

The people — and pastors — in this part of Chicago really need our prayers.

January 16, 2019

Wednesday Connect

We’re back with another list of news and opinion pieces and music. Thanks to those of you who send links. We try to use relatively recent items, but sometimes an online article will rejuvenate an older article or video. [Picture, above: See third item below.]

♦ Our lead item this week: Joyce Meyer saying her views on faith and prosperity were out of line? Relevant Magazine: “Joyce Meyer has posted a surprising video on Instagram where she seems to walk back some prosperity gospel and ‘word of faith’ theology.” But then…

♦ …In verifying the story at Relevant Magazine we found this little story with this headline from last March: “Watch Joyce Meyer Make a Strong Biblical Case for Getting Tattoos.” There was no actual video to watch, and this is the article in full: “Well, this is probably not the headline you were expecting to see today. Popular preacher and author Joyce Meyer recently preached a message in which she made the biblical case for getting tattoos, and explained why Christians who use the Bible to argue against them are taking the Scripture out of context. She also said that she is actually thinking about getting a tattoo of her own.”

♦ Equally Ridiculous: ‘If you have a brain, you must choose Calvinism.’ “I viewed this discussion with frustration at the willingness of these men to insult and denigrate the intelligent and theologically minded Christians throughout time who have not found a home in Calvinism.” (To which I add, frustration at how the views of others have been caricatured and misunderstood.) If you are theologically minded and also have low blood pressure, this will raise it. 12½ Minutes of Gospel Coalition preaching to the choir.  (Sample quotation: “It’s hard to imagine young Evangelicals being animated humanly speaking by anyone more than someone like John Piper.”)

🇨🇳 Persecution Watch — China: The [Early Rain Covenant] Church in south-west China has been shuttered and [pastor ]Wang and his wife, Jiang Rong, remain in detention after police arrested more than 100 Early Rain church members in December. Many of those who haven’t been detained are in hiding. Others have been sent away from Chengdu and barred from returning. Some, including Wang’s mother and his young son, are under close surveillance. Wang and his wife are being charged for “inciting subversion”, a crime that carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison…Early Rain is the latest victim of what Chinese Christians and rights activists say is the worst crackdown on religion since the country’s Cultural Revolution, when Mao Zedong’s government vowed to eradicate religion.

📖 This ain’t the theology textbook you’re accustomed to, but it would help you understand many a discussion you’ve possibly overheard. Scot McKnight’s preview of Contemporary Theology: An Introduction – Classical, Evangelical, Philosophical and Global Perspectives (Zondervan) by Kirk R. MacGregor is 50% comprised of the chapter titles, but what a list it is! Included are “a collection of names, movements, and methods that pervade theological and biblical discussions.”

✟ …Also recommended by Scot McKnight, this article: Has someone ever told you they are a theologian? What do they actually do after they arrive at the office and punch the clock? “…By implication then, all those who grapple with the question of God are, in one way or another, theologians. They might be very poor theologians, amateur theologians, professional theologians, perhaps even theologians whose work is widely recognized in the life of the church – but theologians they are…”

♀ On Sunday, Dana Trent invited people to post pictures of women in the pulpit. “Our daughters, nieces, sisters, and neighbors need to see themselves represented in worship spaces. This is what a preacher looks like.” Check out the pictures in the thread.

♦ With the passing of former SBC President Bailey Smith, the words which became a legacy: “It’s interesting to me at great political battles how you have a Protestant to pray and a Catholic to pray and then you have a Jew to pray. With all due respect to those dear people, my friend, God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew. For how in the world can God hear the prayer of a man who says that Jesus Christ is not the true Messiah? It is blasphemy. It may be politically expedient, but no one can pray unless he prays through the name of Jesus Christ.”

📣 “The sermon is generally the most important element of most Protestant church services (most take between 25 and 45 minutes), but there are serious doubts about its effectiveness and Biblical basis.” Check out this very lengthy, very thorough look into how we learn, suggesting that it’s time to reconsider the sermon.

♦ “Science is rational, faith is irrational.” Ever have someone say that to you? “To me, the only answer is to yield the point, but to dispute the assumption. Your friend is attacking you because they are assuming that the word ‘irrational’ implies ‘bad’ — that anything that cannot be rationally explained is, in itself, bad. Yet this is in itself a case of generalizing too far, and our hypothetical challenger would have to agree that there are many non-rational things in the world which are fairly uncontroversially natural and good…”

📖 Releasing February 1st from Eerdman’s: Mere Calvinism. “Learn why the teachings of Calvinism not only matter, but can renew your trust and hope in the gospel!” (Because goodness knows, without it, the gospel is pretty hopeless.)

♦ Apologetics Alley: At the YouTube channel Pints with Jack — obviously set in a bar with equal parts beer and C. S. Lewis — a 5½ min. discussion about the question, “What is the point of Christianity?

✈ Yesterday marked ten years since “the miracle on the Hudson,” where US Airways pilot Chesley Sullenberger pulled off the feat of a lifetime. The spiritual lesson in this is that while we sometimes only have precious seconds to make a decision, we can draw on a lifetime of training and experience.

♦ Here’s a fairly comprehensive weekly spiritual inventory. Sample “#8 Who knows more about God today because of my witness this past week?

🎬 Opening in theaters this MLK weekend: Canal Street featuring music by TobyMac, Social Club Misfits, Hollyn and many others. After being arrested for the murder of a white classmate, a young black man’s father fights in court for his son’s vindication. Watch the trailer or visit the website.

♦ Relational Dynamics: Most of us don’t want criticism and don’t want negative feedback. “I have spent so much of my life carefully calculating what would earn me affirmation, attention, and accolades. I wanted to be highly revered and deeply loved. I did all I could to be the good kid, the smart kid, the capable kid, the best friend, the funniest, the kindest, the holiest, the most responsible… And it worked.”

♂ Combating a culture of toxic masculinity: ICYMI, here’s that Gillette commercial everyone’s talking about.

♦ Parenting Place: When your kids are looking at things online you wish they hadn’t seen. “You know, kids today, they’ve seen modeled that when they have questions, they take it to the internet. So our kids are just doing what we functionally taught them to do over their younger lives. So, that puts a burden, a responsibility on us to monitor what they’re looking for. Because, clearly, looking up body parts in the Encyclopedia Britannica or in the dictionary is going to yield different results than just looking it up on Google.”

♦ Anchorage, Alaska (Huffington Post): “A conservative Christian law firm that once defended an evangelical baker who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple is now representing a Christian charity that refused to let a homeless transgender woman stay in its overnight shelter… The [Hope Center] charity has reportedly refused to provide information about its public funding, which would help determine whether it is a place of public accommodation that could be required to follow the [city’s] anti-discrimination law.

🇮🇱 In Haifa, Israel, a firebomb was hurled at the museum currently displaying the McJesus sculpture by Finnish artist Jani Leinonen. Christians want it take it down, but in an unusual twist, so does the artist.

★ Chris Pratt and fiancée Katherine Schwarzenegger: Apparently the celebrity couple feels living together is okay as long as you’re engaged. Katherine “– whose dad is movie star Arnold – only agreed to move in with A-lister Chris Pratt after he’d popped the question, because co-habiting would be against their strict religious beliefs.” 

♦ After I compile the list, I check out the links Michael and Eric have posted at Phoenix Preacher and see how many we had in common. (Their list goes up on Tuesday.) We had three, and then I saw these:

♦ Remember the ‘Bruce Jenner’ message on the church sign? The pastor who posted it has resigned to stop people leaving the church. 

♦ Podcast of the Week: Chris Fabry discusses self control with Drew Dyck author of Your Future Self Will Thank You.

♫ Part of the Hillsong UNITED 2019 tour, Mack Brock’s song Fresh Wind Fresh Fire borrows from a book title by Jim Cymbala. 

♦ Tweet of the Week: A social media history of philosophy. [See also below.]

♦ Finally, thanks to my son Aaron for discovering the Bible Illustrated videos on YouTube. Here’s the first one he sent me, showing the difference between Roman Catholic Christians and Orthodox Christians.



A brief history of Philosophy


Digging a Little Deeper

From the creator of Thinking Out Loud, check out Christianity 201. Guaranteed distraction-free, faith-focused blogging with fresh posts every day at 5:35 PM EST. www.Christianity201.wordpress.com

January 15, 2019

It’s Older than Most New Testament Books, But Not Part of the Canon

There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways.

~Didache 1:1

While New Testament scholars always knew it existed, it was not until 1873 when a dusty, worn copy was pulled off an Istanbul library shelf by an Archbishop who promptly left it on his desk to attend to other matters, where it sat for months before he finally grasped what it is he had discovered. In fact, the document whose lost text he had discovered was once considered for inclusion in the Biblical canon.

The Didache (pronounced DID-ah-kay) is only about half the length of the Gospel of Mark, but it provides an intimate view of Christian life and Christian community for the early church. There are many books on the subject, but a simple introduction — along with a copy of the complete text — is Tony Jones’ The Teaching of the 12 (Paraclete Press, 2009).

(Random) Highlights:

  • Let your alms sweat in your hands until you know to whom to give them. (1:6)
  • Do not be one who opens his hands to receive, or closes them when it is time to give. (4:5)
  • Do not give orders to your servants when you are angry, for they hope in the same God… (4:10)
  • Your fasts should not be with the hypocrites, for they fast on Mondays and Thursdays. You should fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. (8:1)
  • [Concerning the Eucharist, give thanks this way] “Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills and was gathered together and became one, so let your church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom…” (9:4)
  • Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord. But he must not remain more than one day, or two, if there’s a need. If he stays three days he is a false prophet. (11:4,5)
  • Concerning Baptism, you should baptize this way: After first explaining all things, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit in flowing water. (7:1, italics added)
  • Hate no one; correct some, pray for others, and some you should love more than your own life. (2:7)

The early Christians were also told to pray the Lord’s Prayer three times daily (8:3) and if they baked bread, to give the first loaf to the prophets (13;5). The translation above is from Tony Jones’ book, and seems to be closest to one online by Charles Hoole.

So in a post-DaVinci Code climate, where does a document like this fit in?

First of all, we have all we need in the Bible, and no one should feel compelled to read extra-Biblical writings like this, much less those on the periphery such as The Gospel of Thomas.

But for those who want a snapshot of New-Testament life, this document has the recommendation of many respected pastors, though don’t expect a movie anytime soon.

DVD: There is a 6-week curriculum DVD available based on Tony Jones’ book. Here’s some info — and a 2-minute promo video — from Tony’s blog, Theoblogy.

This post first appeared on Jan 26/11 at Christianity 201


When first published at Thinking Out Loud, this article attracted several comments; one that we’ll repeat here as well…

One gentle word of correction is that the Didache does not hail from the age after the apostles, but the age of the apostles. The Didache is actually older than most of the books of the New Testament, especially all the Gospels with the possible exception of Mark. Aaron Milavec who is one of the foremost authorities on it places its date between 50 & 70 AD! Yes that is 15 to 35 years after the resurrection. A dating this early means most of the apostles are still alive. Another authoritative voice is Thomas O.Laughlin, who though not as dogmatic, still takes it around that time. The last of the Apostles, John, was still alive in 98 AD when Trajan came to power. From a scholarly standpoint, this era from the resurrection up to the death of John is roundly considered the “apostolic age” and so documents like the Didache, Barnabas, and the Shepherd of Hermas are generally considered the “apostolic fathers” as compared with the documents of the post apostolic age which is generally considered the Ante-Nicene Fathers. On top of all this, the Didache almost made it into the canon. It was widely used among the Fathers and Origin referred to it as “scripture.” I whole heartedly agree with you that Scripture as we have it is sufficient. But I personally still feel that Didache is in a class by itself. [At this point the comment continued to a podcast link which is no longer valid.]

January 14, 2019

Toilet Seat Covers with Scripture Texts: Bad Taste or Worse?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:05 pm

I’ve been sitting with this Religion News Service story by Aysha Khan in my files for several days not sure whether to save it for Wednesday’s roundup, or it deserves greater consideration.

It’s just not a story involving Christianity. Click the title below to read the story in full:

Amazon pulls offensive bathmats with Quranic text

(RNS) — After complaints from Muslim advocates, the online retailer Amazon has removed more than 20 product listings that included doormats, bathmats and toilet covers featuring verses from the Quran in Arabic calligraphy.

The products, many of which included the name of God and of the Prophet Muhammad, were not produced or stocked directly by Amazon, but carried by independent retailers selling on Amazon’s platform…

…Muslims treat the Quran with great respect, performing ritual ablution before touching it and often avoiding putting it on the ground or in impure areas — including near feet or below the level of feet. Many will burn any materials containing the Quran or God’s name rather than allowing it to sit in the garbage…

…[The Council on American-Islamic Relations] CAIR has previously campaigned for recalls of other products that would be offensive to Muslim consumers. Back in 1997, Nike recalled a basketball shoe with a design — intended to depict the word “air” written in flaming letters — resembling the Arabic word “Allah.”

Last month, the nonprofit group United Sikhs successfully pushed Amazon to remove toilet covers and bathmats featuring Sikh religious symbols…

I know there are Christian retailers reading this who might, self-righteously say, ‘Yes, but we would never sell bathmats and toilet seat covers;’ but I think this story is a cautionary tale that sometimes what passes for Christian giftware can run the risk of crossing a line.

For example: A welcome mat with a scripture sentiment like “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord,” may seem appropriate, but someone might argue you’re inviting people to wipe their feet on the words of Joshua in the Hebrew scriptures.

Or a store or church might place some extra Bibles in a stack on the floor; whereas the practitioners of other religions would be greatly offended by that.

I think this story is an applicable lesson for us all.

January 11, 2019

When Should Christian Bookstores Pull Authors from Shelves and Online Listings?

Some of you know that when I’m not writing this blog and editing Christianity 201; when I’m not leading or assisting in weekend worship at a local church; when I’m not occasionally speaking at a church; during the rest of the time I am making decisions for our local Christian bookstore.

One of the hardest decisions I made in 2018 was to remove books by Bill Hybels from our shelves. It isn’t that those books don’t contain much truth and that many of them have been personally beneficial to me. It was just that — with shelf space at a premium in our small town store — we didn’t need the distraction.

I didn’t just make the decision, but personally removed the books, title by title, and put them in a box where they remain today. There were more than a dozen titles. Bill was a big influence on me and I have to say doing this really, really hurt, but as long as there were new ongoing developments in the story, I felt we needed to do this.

Christian bookstores have pulled product many times in the past. I got into this business through the Christian music industry first as a broadcaster and then as a performer and later as a vendor of records and cassettes. I once sat in a restaurant in Newport Beach, California and was interviewed for the job of assistant editor of Contemporary Christian Music magazine. My friends called me a ‘walking encyclopedia’ on CCM, and I given about seven seconds of audio, could name just about any song and artist, including that obscure cut at the end of side two.

When Amy Grant and Sandy Patti went through divorce, many stores pulled product. Oddly enough, those divorces are still in their past, but their music is back on the shelves. Divorce became more widely accepted among Evangelicals. I would argue that the whole LGBT thing in the church is where divorce was a couple of generations back. And I expect that, as in the case of Ray Boltz or Jennifer Knapp, stores still actively pull product when an artist comes out.

Why all this today? Because I’m staring at the shelves under “M” for James MacDonald. Christian radio stations are rapidly dropping his program (see Wednesday’s column) and James is trying to control the situation by announcing the shutdown of Walk in the Word’s broadcast division. There are calls for him to resign. Unlike those who were divorced, or Hybels’ flirtatiousness, the issue with MacDonald seems to be money and the control of money. It’s definitely his Achilles Heel.

Once again, those books contain much truth. James MacDonald is a great communicator and his writing includes a constant, unabashed call to repentance. He has served many people well in that area of his life. But at this point, I wonder if those books are also going to prove to be a distraction.

This isn’t about judgment. It’s about a shortage of shelf space, and a host of new, upcoming, younger authors who deserve to be heard. Some of those will prove themselves as the leading Christian voices to their generation. The cream rises to the top. By their fruit they will be known. Some will disappear off the scene within five years. Again, it’s not about judgment.

It’s also too easy for stores just to keep ordering key names; somewhat akin to living in a county — as I do — where every time there’s an election, people simply vote for the incumbents. So Max Lucado, Tim Keller, Mark Batterson, Lee Strobel, Stormie Omartian, John Bevere, Joyce Meyer, Neil Anderson, etc.; are always assured their latest title will get picked up at the local store level.

And honestly, if the sales reps came around with new titles by Hybels and MacDonald there are store owners who simply aren’t investing time keeping up online and would simply order those titles unwittingly.

The best analogy I ever heard was when a local pastor called my wife and I “gatekeepers.” I never thought of our role that way, but it’s a responsibility that needs to be taken very seriously. Conversely, pastors need to guard who they quote in sermons. They can easily grant authority and credibility to an author whose life doesn’t line up with their teachings.

Chances are, at the end of today, James MacDonald will still be on our shelves, but we’ll monitor the situation closely before making a knee-jerk reaction. Prayer helps as well!

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