Thinking Out Loud

April 1, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Pete Wilson teaching on the birds and the bees. These are bees.

Pete Wilson teaching on the birds and the bees. These are bees. (Select week 3 at this link.)

Featured items:

As tempting as it was to come up with something in lieu of today’s date, I decided that the stories and articles here are often strange enough. Besides, I felt bad five years ago when some people went for this one.

A Different Type of Creation Debate - The UK’s top Christian podcast, Unbelievable?: “John Walton, professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, Illinois, has authored the book The Lost World of Adam and Eve. He argues that Adam and Eve were intended as archetypes for humankind, and the story is not mean to be taken as an account of our material origins. Stephen Lloyd, who holds to Young Earth Creation, argues that Walton undermines Christian theology as a whole with his view of Genesis.” 80 minutes of agree to disagree. (John is also a guest on this week’s Phil Vischer Podcast.)

On Taking Notes During the Sermon - Jerad Wilson: “I first began thinking about note-taking in relation to what preaching is when I heard Tim Keller, echoing Lloyd-Jones, say in a sermon, ‘I don’t mind if you take notes at the beginning of a message, but if you’re still taking notes at the end, I feel like I haven’t brought it home.’… I began discouraging note-taking (not forbidding it) and relieving my church from the duty of note taking (meaning, saying they didn’t have to) because I want them to see preaching in the worship service not as a lecture or as primarily an educational transmission to their minds, but as prophetic proclamation and as primarily aimed at their hearts.”

Church Decor That Welcomes Men - David Murrow: “Men are intensely visual. The way a room is decorated tells guys whether they are welcome in that space… The typical church is decorated grandma-style: Quilted banners and silk flower arrangements adorn church lobbies. More quilts, banners, and ribbons cover the sanctuary walls, complemented with fresh flowers on the altar, a lace doily on the Communion table, and boxes of Kleenex under every pew… This femme décor sends a powerful subconscious message to men: you are out of place. The moment men set foot in the vestibule, they look around get the same uneasy feeling they experience in a fabric store, flower shop, or any other female-oriented locale.” Be sure to click the two photo galleries.

Welcome Gifts for Your Church Visitors - “You are inviting guests to come to your church and a great way to indicate to them that you expected them is to have a gift ready just for them…A gift for your guests gives you the opportunity to explain what makes your church tick … you can give them an inside look at what it means to be a part of you community.” A 9-minute podcast with notes, plus a look at what’s in all those church gift bags.

The Bible on Disabilities - A short teaser for a short article: A new look at who are the weaker members of the body in I Corinthians 12.

God with a Capital G - Terry Mattingly, who notices such things, thinks we may be seeing a subtle shift in style occurring in Associated Press news stories. As it stands right now at AP: “Capitalize God in references to the deity of all monotheistic religions. Capitalize all noun references to the deity: God the Father, Holy Ghost, Holy Spirit, Allah, etc. Lowercase personal pronouns: he, him, thee, thou. Lowercase gods and goddesses in references to the deities of polytheistic religions. Lowercase god, gods and goddesses in references to false gods: He made money his god.” But rules change. (I now find myself vacillating between ‘He’ and ‘he.’)

Proportional Giving Isn’t Always Sacrificial - “I knew a preacher who mentioned the challenge he and his wife had experienced, trying to increase their giving by 1 percent each year. And I wonder, Why am I satisfied to give only what I’m giving today? …Stewardship is about managing every dollar, every asset, every possession, every experience to please God and lift up his name. The fact that I give doesn’t make me a good steward.”

Down is Up - People with Down Syndrome often report the highest levels of happiness. “The lives of people with developmental disabilities speak sermons and image the great mysteries of life. How can we prepare ourselves to be taught discernment and wisdom in this way? People with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities are just people. I often hear others tell me that they couldn’t do my job. Most of the time, I quickly correct them: ‘Yes, you could. You can treat humans like they are human.’ We don’t do it perfectly, but we make sure to get involved.”

When Your Childhood Hobby is Satanic - On a new book about Dungeons and Dragons: “I think than fantasy role-playing games really can function like a religion, in the sense that players work together to construct an alternative world in which they can meaningfully dwell. As sociologists of religion know, when people can imagine an alternative world they tend to see the social order differently. Much like religion, these games create a new mental space from which players can look back on the world and their lives from a new perspective. The converse of this comparison is that a religious worldview can be compared to a fantasy role-playing game: As long as the adherents of the religion ‘play their roles,’ the world of the religion is ‘real’ and does not require empirical confirmation.”

One for the Road - You know you go to a cool church when Stevie Wonder drops in for a visit. And you know that means you’re gonna hear a song.

Short Takes:

Musician Cause of Death by Genre

 

March 31, 2015

How Evangelicals Lose the Plot on Good Friday

good-friday

If, by someone coming here via a search engine, I can help even one church make their Good Friday service more meaningful, this will have been worth the effort.

Maybe you heard the phrase, “At that point, they lost the plot.” Or, “That’s where it went off the rails.”

…I’ve always found it interesting that no matter how contemporary or how alternative some churches are, many of them often begin their communion service with the “words of institution” from I Corinthians 11. It’s like a little, tiny slice of liturgy in an unexpected place.

Today, I want to propose we add another little slice of formality, namely the construction of the Good Friday service, if indeed your church or community has one. If this were a song by Jamie Grace the line would be, “We need to get our Anglican on.”

I wrote about this three years ago:

Evangelicals don’t know how to do Good Friday…

Good Friday is a big deal here. All the churches come together… Right there, I think the thing has become somewhat unmanageable. Each church’s pastor has a role to play, one introduces the service, another prays, another takes the offering, yet another reads the scripture, one preaches the sermon and so on. It’s all rather random and uncoordinated. They really need a producer…

In Evangelicalism, nothing is really planned. I love extemporaneous prayers, as long as some thought went into them, but the tendency is to just “wing it.” Like the pastor a few years ago who opened the Good Friday service by talking at length about what a beautiful spring day it was; “…And I think I saw a robin.”

Fail.

This is Good Friday, the day we remember Christ’s suffering, bleeding, dying. Evangelicals don’t understand lament. We don’t know how to do it, we don’t know what to say.

My wife says we tend to ‘skip ahead” to Easter Sunday. We give away the plot and lose the plot all at the same time. We place the giant spoiler in the middle of the part of the story to which we haven’t yet arrived; diminishing the part where we are supposed to be contemplating the full impact of what Jesus did for us. We rush to the resurrection like a bad writer who doesn’t take the time to develop his story, and then wonders why the impact of the ending is not as great.

I learned this year that in a number of traditions, once the season of Lent begins, you are not supposed to say or sing ‘Hallelujah.’ Then, on that day that recalls that triumphant day, the Hallelujahs can gush force with tremendous energy. But we Evangelicals spoil that by missing the moment of Good Friday entirely. Can’t have church making us feel sad, can we?

My concern now as then is that we are rushing toward Easter, rushing toward celebration, wanting to scream out at the top of our lungs, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.”

But the disciples didn’t know from Sunday. Their memory, etched so clearly, was of the life draining out of Jesus’ broken and bloodied body. At worst, rejected Messiah’s were supposed to fade into obscurity, not die a criminal’s death at the hand of the Romans. One by one they disappeared…

We need to feel that.

We need to feel what it meant for him to (a) enter into the human condition, (b) always give preference to others, (c) experience physical death, and (d) have that death be the most excruciating ever devised.

In another essay here I talked about the equally concerning practice of losing the plot on Easter Sunday.

My own thoughts that day included a study of songs churches in the U.S. had used:

[I]t’s amazing to see the difference between the worship leaders who really focused on the death and resurrection of Christ, and those who simply did the songs that are currently popular, or the songs they were going to do anyway before Easter “got in the way.”

…there seems little room for critical evaluation here.

The one that really got me was the church that went ahead with a sermon series acknowledging that it had nothing to do with Easter.

So returning to Good Friday, here is my manifesto:

  1. We need to set a tone at the very beginning of the service; allow a ‘holy hush’ to come over the crowd.
  2. We should then incorporate other silences throughout the service.
  3. As far as possible, every word spoken should be planned. We need to borrow from our Episcopalian friends for this service.
  4. We need agreement from participants on what we will not do. No, “It’s good to see everyone;” no “It’s finally warming up outside;” no “We do this in anticipation of Sunday;” or the worst, “I hope you all found a place to park.”
  5. If your service is interdenominational or has many participants, do not introduce people at all, i.e. “And now Delores Jones from Central Methodist will favor us with a solo accompanied by her husband Derek.” Don’t waste words.
  6. We need to skip the final verses of some hymns or modern worship songs if they resolve with resurrection. We need to immerse ourselves in the moment.
  7. If your church uses a printed program, consider the idea of the congregation whose Good Friday bulletin cover was simply a folded piece of black construction paper. In other words, use other media to reinforce what is taking place at the front, and remove things hanging in the sanctuary that might be a distraction.
  8. No matter how big the crowd, and how tempting this makes it, don’t use Good Friday as a fundraiser for a church or community project.
  9. Preaching needs to be Christological. This would seem obvious, but sometimes it’s not. It’s not about us, except insofar as he suffered and died for us.
  10. That said, we also need to be Evangelical. What a wonderful day for someone to stand at the level ground of the cross and look into the eyes of a loving Savior who says, ‘I do this for you;’ and then have an opportunity to respond to the finished work on the cross.

Finally, if your church doesn’t do Good Friday, consider starting it. I worship between two small towns which both have an annual interdenominational morning service, but several years ago, my wife’s worship ministry did a Good Friday evening service and over a hundred people attended. She assembled worship songs, solos, video clips, readings and had a local pastor do a ten minute homily. It will forever be one of my favorite, most cross-focused Good Friday events, even though I was busied with the planning and running of it.

 

 



March 30, 2015

Baby Christians Need Time

img 032915A recent conversation proved to remind me that people new to the journey of following Christ often need time in various outward areas. Their inward growth may be great: A love for Jesus, a desire to tell others, and a cultivation of personal discipline in Bible study and devotions. But some things may need more time, such as:

  • Language – If you are directly involved in mentoring the person, then it’s appropriate for you to try to help them shape their speech along higher standards. But if you’re not doing discipleship with them, you have to let this go, most times.
  • Spending Priorities - A person may have begun a process of percentage giving to their local church, but still has spending patterns about which you may not approve. This may just be a matter of time and spiritual maturity.
  • Dress - This is usually a discussion about women, though it doesn’t have to be limited to them. In a church setting, sometimes someone needs to be pulled aside on this one, but it has to be done very lovingly so as to not drive the person away.
  • Addictions - The Twelve Step Program meetings, in various forms under various names, are proof that once addicted, battling this can be a lifelong fight. One program which confronts this from a Christian perspective is Celebrate Recovery. Some things however, like smoking, should be considered superficial.
  • Attitudes - Everything from racial prejudice to arrogance could get tossed into this basket. Remember, they’ve not arrived yet, and neither have you. It’s possible that more is caught than taught here, so let your own attitudes be Christlike.

Did I leave some out?

None of us started this walk fully formed, fully arrived; but solid 1:1 discipleship, the influence of a small group, sermons which deal with the lifestyle application of various scriptures, and the conviction of the Holy Spirit will make a difference in what people see.

With people who manifest outward traits that you or others find problematic, remember that God looks on the heart.

March 29, 2015

Parents, Plead With Your Young Drivers Not to Become Statistics

Filed under: parenting — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:24 am

teen driver on phone

I saw a lot of weird driving toward the end of this past week. But the situation with the girl talking on her phone was one of the worst. It wasn’t a parked car like the one pictured, it was a 6-lane highway at about 70 mph. She was, trust me, oblivious to the busy traffic pattern and lane shifting taking place.

She may have been your daughter, your niece, perhaps even some youngster’s mom.

If you’ve got a young driver in the family, beg, plead, entreat them not to ever, ever talk on their phone while the car is in motion.

Be firm.

…I waited at a traffic light because it looked like she got off at the same exit as I did. But when the car pulled up beside me, it was another young girl who seemed to be doing something with a laptop on the seat next to her. Sigh! 

Everyone thinks that the things that happen to bad drivers will never happen to them.

March 28, 2015

Weekend Link List

Filed under: links — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 am

animal grace dinner

Featured Stories and Articles

Adding a Millennial to Your Church Staff - “Very few churches have senior pastors age 35 or younger, and most pastors on staff at a church under 35 are probably going to be youth pastors, which is fine. That’s normal… There isn’t a problem with a church not having many Millennials on its staff, because most of them are still pretty young—even as young as 15. I’m in the middle of the Millennial generation and I’m only 24, which is pretty young for a pastor of any type. The problem arises, however, when churches are unwilling to hire Millennials and the demographic of church leadership isn’t reflective of the community. If your church is large enough to have more than just a senior and an executive pastor, you should really consider hiring someone born between 1980-2000.”

Bobby Schuller Talks Candidly About Ministry and Family Dynamics - “Everybody thinks the Crystal Cathedral is the greatest thing my grandparents built, but it wasn’t. It was the Hour of Power. The huge reach of that ministry is amazing. The fact that God kept it intact is such a great thing. I miss the Crystal Cathedral, but honestly, my message is so grassroots and people-oriented that the design of the Crystal Cathedral, as amazing as it was, was probably not a good fit for me as a person. I was used to preaching barefoot in an American Legion Hall with no pulpit, Calvary Chapel-style. With the Crystal Cathedral I actually felt, in the brief time I was there, like I was a curator of a work of art of something. At some point, it’s almost like it’s a double-edged sword. It draws people. It gives you gravitas as a pastor. It also can be a distraction, I think, for people, where the real value can be put in the building rather than in your faith.”

The Most Important Skill Church Leaders Need - “What is the most important leadership skill in a church? For a pastor of students, kids, worship or a lead pastor to have? The most important leadership skill in any church is recruiting. Who you surround yourself with, who you put on a team, who you hire, who you make an elder. Nothing else matters or makes more of an impact on the life of your church than this. You might wonder, isn’t it prayer? Prayer isn’t a leadership skill. Prayer is a Christian skill. Prayer and the Holy Spirit makes or breaks your ministry. What I’m talking about are the things you as the leader can control and do.” Three problems churches have with this, and three ways to find the right people.

Baby Gone with the Bathwater - “John Shuck is a Presbyterian pastor in good standing who doesn’t believe a single thing you learned in Sunday school… John likes church. He likes singing hymns, dressing up in vestments, and drawing upon the ‘practices and products of our cultural tradition to create meaning in the present.’ …Evangelical preachers have always warned that once you start questioning the Bible there is no logical stopping point, and John Shuck just became exhibit A.  Begin with questioning the virgin birth or the parting of the Red Sea and you will soon be giving the atheists practically nothing to disbelieve.  The baby Jesus goes out with the bathwater and you’re stuck with ‘belief-less Christianity‘.”

On Hating Yourself - “I will admit that I am constantly struggling with self worth. I hate my sin, and I often feel like the worst sinner and the biggest hypocrite who ever lived. I don’t feel qualified or capable to do many of the things God calls me to do. Often times I look in the mirror and hate the person looking back. I beat myself up over every mistake I make and imperfection I have, regardless of how big or small. Without even realizing it I succumb to the sin of pride by constantly focusing on myself and how much I don’t like me, instead of keeping my focus where it should be.”

Sing It Like You Mean It - “If the Holy Spirit’s work in the hearts of His people to stir them up to sing God’s praises is one of the sweetest of all His works then why do so many congregants fail to sing with all of their heart in worship? …In many performance-driven congregations worship teams overpower congregational singing and the singing that happens is akin to the drowned out admiration singing at a concert. …Additionally, too many in our churches are overly self-conscious about what others will think of them if they sing too loudly or, at times, out of key. The messiness of congregational singing is part of the beauty of God using weak and broken people.” The author follows with 5 reasons to sing your heart out.

Sex Ed in Public Schools - “Christian parents would do well to lead the way through the panic and champion the teaching of age-appropriate basics about sex and reproduction and contraception in schools. We should also discuss it openly – without shame or (too much) embarrassment – in the home. This way, our kids can develop a solid theology of sex for themselves, a theology that recognizes sex as a good thing – a gift from God – and a theology immersed in grace. Such a perspective would grasp that when we – or others – misappropriate or misunderstand the gift of sex, it doesn’t forever tarnish or ruin. Sex – and our understanding of it – is never beyond redemption.”

Reading Dallas Willard - “Dallas Willard (1936-2013) has been one of the key evangelical interpreters and provocateurs regarding the important doctrine of formation into Christlikeness… Sometimes due to Willard’s spearheading the importance of spiritual practices among Protestants, he is viewed as having said little else on the topic of Christian formation (Richard Foster claimed that Willard was his mentor on that particular subject, in the acknowledgement section of Foster’s classic book, Celebration of Discipline, HarperSan Francisco, 1978). But there is much more.” Four themes, with quotation from four books.

More Faith-Based Cinema Fare to Follow - Basically, it’s a review of Do You Believe? but Variety’s first paragraph is telling: “The massive profits earned by last spring’s surprise hit God’s Not Dead have emboldened Christian production outfit Pure Flix to finance an entire slate of faith-based fare coming soon to a theater near you.” The review itself wasn’t so great.

In Memory of the Potluck Supper - “For many churches, those days are gone. In those places, the potluck is a thing of the past, something of an embarrassment from our history that we’d like to sweep under the rug. And that’s pretty sad… Food anxiety runs high in this country, and we’ve brought that into our churches… The church needs to eat together. That needs to be a basic part of who we are. And even though it’s inconvenient and messy, I think we need to share our own food, not just go to a restaurant. We need to be involved in the preparation and the clean up. We need to learn what other families find appealing. We need to look one another in the eye and say, ‘God gave me this, and I want to share it with you.'”

Paul is sorry he couldn’t top Wednesday’s T-Shirt link, but promises to keep trying.

 short takes

  • A South Pacific teaching trip to an island nation became a relief effort after Cyclone Pam devastated Vanuatu
  • Sermon of the Week: Willow’s Steve Carter on The Theology of Social Media. 40 great minutes.
  • LifeWay has pulled 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper and other “heaven tourism” books after a 2014 SBC resolution that the scriptures are sufficient for what we need to know about the afterlife.  (Question: Will LifeWay stick to that resolution when the DVD is released?)…
  • …and a car crashed through the front window of a Family Christian store in Bartlett, TN when 10 customers, 2 staff and 2 children were inside. Remarkably, nobody was hurt.
  • We often speak of the number 666 as the “mark of the beast” but some early manuscripts say the number is 616.
  • Since when does Popular Mechanics cover Bible apps?
  • Astronaut Chris Hadfield was a recent guest on Context with Lorna Dueck.
  • With all the gay rights lawsuits against cake decorators, I’d like to go back in time and find the first person who ever used a cake piping tip to write something on food, and say, “Nooooooooooo!” Meanwhile, a suggested disclaimer: “Compliance with relevant statutory requirements does not necessarily constitute approval of the activities in question.”…
  • …and then there are Gaybies, the children of gay couples. In an Aussie documentary, told from the perspective of four kids, faith enters the trailer at the :48 mark, where one of the kids is reading The Big Picture Story Bible and the local priest saying that “Mom is sinning against God.”
  • If you have never heard Lacey Sturm’s story, she recently guested on Life Today.

March 27, 2015

Currently Reading: Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby

I’ve written before that I like to alternate the books I am given to review — and book reviews here are very much down in quantity from a year ago — with older books or even classic Christian titles by authors now deceased.

I’m currently reading Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God by Henry Blackaby. The book I’m reading was first published in 1994; the edition now sold is a revised and expanded edition from 2008.

Although I’ve recommended the book here before, I had never actually sat down and read it page-by-page. The reason is I could recommend it is that the book is a kind of “Snakes on a Plane” title inasmuch as once you’ve seen the chart listing the book’s “Seven Realities,” you’ve grabbed the essence of the whole.

Experiencing God Seven Realities

Perhaps that’s not enough to go on.  The seven realities are:

1. God is always working around you (Exodus 2:23-25)

2. God pursues a continuing personal love relationship with you that is real and personal (Exodus 3:1)

3. God invites you to be come involved with Him in His work (Exodus 3:8, 10)

4. God speaks by the Holy Spirit through the Bible, prayer, circumstances and the church to reveal Himself, His purposes and His ways (Exodus 3:2-8)

 5. God’s invitation for you to work with Him always leads you to a crisis of belief that requires faith and action (Exodus 3:11, 13; 4:1, 10, 13)

6. You must make major adjustments in your life to join God in what He is doing (Exodus 4:19-20)

7. You come to know God by experience as you obey Him and He accomplishes His work through you (Exodus 6:1-8)

Still it’s not enough to just speed-read through those, it’s more helpful to read the book — which doesn’t take long — and also to explore the ongoing parallels to the life of Moses, which is why the scripture references are all from Exodus. (The first time I saw the book, not knowing its basis in the Old Testament, I honestly thought the picture of Moses on what was then the back cover was Henry Blackaby.)

I also mentioned this book yesterday because I believe it to be one of a select handful of foundational titles every new and veteran Christian should read. As I said, I’ve been recommending it for years — because of the chart above which condenses the teaching points — but it’s another thing to actually go through chapter by chapter.

There’s also a large format workbook that can be purchased separately if someone wants to dig deeper. It’s published by LifeWay which doesn’t give bookstores much of a discount on it because it’s considered curriculum, albeit undated. It was one of their first successes with workbooks (now called Member Books) in a time before Beth Moore had achieved her present fame. I haven’t checked one out recently, but it’s packed with details and would make a great personal Bible study for someone not connected to a small group or just preferring to work on their own.

Finally, if you’re at a crisis point of wondering what God has for you, the book subtitle is, after all, about finding and doing God’s will.

Experiencing God is, in my opinion, destined to remain in print for a long time yet. It is truly a modern classic Christian book that should be on everyone’s reading list.

 

That's Moses, not Henry Blackaby on the workbook's cover

That’s Moses, not Henry Blackaby on the workbook’s cover

March 26, 2015

Big Box Book Stores’ Christian Shelves Lack Essentials

img 032615

Saturday night around 6:30 PM we dropped into a Chapters store. The Chapters and Indigo stores are the Canadian equivalent to Barnes and Noble, and whether I’m in Canada or checking out B&N on holidays, I love to hang out in the Religion section and see what conversations I can initiate.

This time it was a couple whose son was being baptized the very next day in the church where I was baptized many years earlier. They were looking at a couple of Joel Osteen books and when I tried to steer them away from those, they didn’t actually need much convincing. They immediately commented on the somewhat random assortment listed under ‘Christianity.’

“Why is Deepak Chopra here?” they asked.

“You could always move them around the corner;” I offered. I like to keep my options in these stores open, so re-shelving books isn’t in my repertoire.

Anyway, instead of just scanning the shelves out of personal interest, I tried to see it from their perspective and said to myself, “Okay, if we were standing in a Christian bookstore right now, what would I suggest to them?”

And then I hit the wall.

First, so much of the inventory on these shelves was new releases. There wasn’t much in the way of recurrent, perennial Christian books. The strength of the Christian book market has largely rested in the strength of what is called its ‘back-list’ titles. By this I don’t mean the classic writers who are now deceased, but rather simply the best books of the last 25 years. Some earlier Yancey titles. Experiencing God by Blackaby. The Lucado series on the crucifixion and resurrection. Even more recent stuff like Joyce Meyer’s Battlefield and the first two Case for… books by Lee Strobel were missing. (Having the classic writings of Andrew Murray, A. W. Tozer, Spurgeon, etc. isn’t a bad idea, either. The Lumen Classics series would be a good fit at low price points.)

Second, there are so many books which simply did not belong in that section at all. I saw title after title that was completely foreign to me. To sort this out you need two things. One would be an awareness of the publisher imprints on each book and a knowledge of who’s who. The other would be a combination of discernment and plenty of time to study each book carefully. Obviously trusting the publisher imprints is faster, but if it’s a truly special occasion — say a Baptism gift — you do really want to take the time to get the best book.

Given their son’s age, I decided to go for younger authors. I’d just watched the live stream release party for Judah Smith’s newest, Life Is _____; and then they had Jefferson Bethke, the guy whose launch was tied to a YouTube video, “Why I Hate Religion.” But then, a book that seemed almost out of context: Radical by David Platt. I told them a bit about the book, and Platt and the Secret Church movement, and even though I don’t usually align with Calvinists, I said I thought this was the best choice overall. I left before they made their final decision.

…The reason this family was in the store at all was because the nearby Christian bookstore had just closed permanently. A friend of a friend was supposed to do a book signing and release party that day and had arrived to find the doors padlocked. These (for lack of a better word) “secular” bookstores are all that many communities have now, but finding the book you need is a major challenge.

The publisher reps who visit these stores are no doubt aware of strong back-list titles that would work, but the bookstore chains’ buyers are under orders to buy only the newest titles. To get their foot in the door, publishers need to be constantly re-issuing the older titles in new formats, but it’s hard when their orientation is to what’s new and forthcoming.

March 25, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Today’s graphics are a couple of Cheezburger classics from 2009.

cat-can-part-snow

Is the Modern Offering the Same as Biblical Almsgiving? - “I have never heard an evangelical sermon on almsgiving. Despite countless texts in the Hebrew Bible about generosity toward the poor, the example of the first Christians, and a long tradition of the practice, especially during Lent, I have rarely heard the word mentioned in my adult life as a Christian. ‘Tithes and offerings,’ yes of course, and many are the sermons I have heard about the generic subject of ‘stewardship’ or ‘giving,’ but rarely has anyone explained to me what ‘almsgiving’ means and how it relates to other kinds of giving practices…’Bible-believing’ churches…have gotten the subject of Christian generosity and serving others with our resources all jumbled up… Almsgiving is not grounded in the need to support theocratic institutions, but on the specific call to “remember the poor.”

Fans Continue to Make(up) Pilgrimages to See Tammy Faye - From January in The Witchita Eagle: “Since her death on July 20, 2007, fans and friends of Tammy Faye Bakker Messner occasionally make pilgrimages to where the ashes of the Christian television celebrity were laid to rest. There, they leave the types of cosmetic items – lipstick, mascara – that helped give Tammy Faye her distinctive look. In a Harper County cemetery, remote and unmarked, Tammy Faye’s gravestone is far away from the glamor, controversy and cameras that followed the woman who helped build three Christian television networks…” Widower Ron Messner said, “She was the most common, down-to-earth person you ever saw. The press always made her out to be some nitwit type of person. She was totally different. Her IQ was 165.”

35 Years Later, Bob Jones Retracts Idea of Stoning Gays - The Washington Post quotes him: “I take personal ownership for this inflammatory rhetoric…This reckless statement was made in the heat of a political controversy 35 years ago. It is antithetical to my theology and my 50 years of preaching a redeeming Christ Who came into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved… Upon now reading these long-forgotten words, they seem to me as words belonging to a total stranger — were my name not attached.” The retraction came after a petition was begun demanding it.

The Divide Over Franklin Graham’s Facebook Comment - First Graham said, “Most police shootings can be avoided. It comes down to respect for authority and obedience. If a police officer tells you to stop, you stop. If a police officer tells you to put your hands in the air, you put your hands in the air. If a police officer tells you to lay down face first with your hands behind your back, you lay down face first with your hands behind your back. It’s as simple as that.” Then Jim Wallis responded, “It is not that simple. As a leader in the church, you are called to be an ambassador of reconciliation. The fact that you identify a widely acknowledged social injustice as “simple” reveals your lack of empathy and understanding of the depth of sin that some in the body have suffered under the weight of our broken justice system. It also reveals a cavalier disregard for the enduring impacts and outcomes of the legal regimes that enslaved and oppressed people of color…” Other leaders signed on to his statement, while the discussion plays out in over 1,000 comments at Sojourners. (More coverage at CT Gleanings.)

Small Groups Based on the Sunday Sermon - This is an in-house link to a sister blog of PARSE that really struck a chord because we’ve had the discussion at our house many times over the past few years; and as it turned out, Ed Stetzer wasn’t just trying to sell more LifeWay curriculum: “Proponents of the sermon-based model love the synergy their people get; instead of bombarding them with different messages multiple times in a week, the church is able to hammer again and again the core truths of the week. It creates a greater sense of focus than you might otherwise have; that sense of focus is at least part of the reason for the growth in these types of groups. But with the benefits come a new set of challenges to effective disciple-making through sermon-based groups.”

USA Today Explores the Decline of Sunday School - “Instead of a day of rest, Sunday has become just another day for over-scheduled kids to be chauffeured from sports practice to music lessons or SAT tutoring. It doesn’t help that parents themselves, so overwhelmed by life, are skipping church. ‘You would go to church, and then an hour or hour 15 minutes of Sunday school. It takes up all your morning. It felt like more of a chore for them to go, when you’re giving up some of your weekend and attending school during the week,’ says [LeeAnn] MacNeil. ‘By the time they come home, it’s 12 noon, and when you have a weekend, you want to play with your friends outside and be a kid.'”

On Commercial Christian Publishing - Ed Cyzewski: “When I didn’t reach the sales goals I needed to meet, my future as an ‘author’ hung in the balance. I didn’t know how to survive without the approval of others for my work. Adding in the pressure to make at least some money from book publishing, I had created a toxic mixture of personal approval and financial pressure that poisoned my writing work… I never knew how tightly I was holding onto commercial publishing as the source of my identity until I let go of it.”

How Your Sponsored Child Picture is Taken - Some of the Compassion International children have never had their picture taken before and so it’s a pretty big deal.“They feel so excited to take the pictures that they come jumping and dancing to the project. At the time of their photo shoot, they become more serious, and we have to keep telling them to smile. Otherwise, they are enthusiastic.”

Men, Sinful Cravings, and Pornography - Two related articles; first, one by J.D. Greear when you wonder why God doesn’t simply remove the cravings: “[S]ometimes God allows us to struggle with a lesser sin to keep us from a greater one—pride. Because if you or I were immediately cured from certain sins, we’d become insufferably proud.” Second, Dave Jenkins with six essential ingredients necessary in repentance from porn: “The porn addict lives in a world where they go through a cycle of feeling sorry for what they did, but never coming to see the gospel seriousness of what they have done.”

Ten of the Worst Christian T-Shirts - and we’re sure there were plenty of runners up. “I’ve always found American Christian culture’s diminishment of the sacred to be extremely troubling. In a manner foreign to other faiths, evangelicalism often obscures the holy in a cloud of kitsch. Take, for instance, the Christian t-shirt. Now here’s a phenomenon that serves absolutely no purpose. Oh, I know that they’re sold as powerful tools for evangelism, but let’s be honest. Have you ever met someone who saw a ‘Lord’s Gym’ t-shirt and fell to the ground crying, ‘WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED!?‘”

Song of Solomon’s Ideal Woman - “At first glance, this might look like nudity. But I promise it’s just gazelles.” Okay, but it may not be safe for the church office. (And yes, we remember the Wittenburg Door version.)

A Refreshing Musical Voice - This time last week we had never heard of Heather Janssen who has been posting videos to YouTube for six years. Enjoy a minimalist acoustic guitar cover of Hillsong’s This I Believe, or the fuller grand piano sound of an original song.

I had enough material this week for two columns; be sure to check back on the weekend for more.

funny-dog-pictures-jesus-shepherd

March 24, 2015

To the Person With an Un-Churched Friend

img 032415Dear _________,

Your friend dropped by the Christian bookstore last week when I happened to be there. Every once in awhile, I get into a conversation with someone who really opens up; who really wants to share something, and this was one of those times.

Your friend has a lot going on inside her. There’s a battle raging between the more conservative values she was raised with, and her desire to be a more progressive, rational humanist, liberal wife and mom. She gets nothing out of church, but she goes to please her husband. She thinks it’s good that her kids are getting some type of faith focus in their Sunday School, but bristles at the absolute exclusivity of Christianity and worries that perhaps they are getting brainwashed.

And then, she has you.

You probably don’t see yourself as such, but you are her one spiritual anchor in a sea of confusion and questions. You are the person she talks about as a Christian influence in her life, more than her husband or any author or TV personality. You are the only Bible she reads.

And you are part of the problem.

First, you leave no room for her questions. Your faith and personal theology are so neatly wrapped up and tied with a bow that you seem to have trouble seeing life from her perspective. This is how it was, is, and ever more shall be would be a statement describing your intransigence. Don’t get me wrong, the scriptures are clear, God is unchanging, and if the buck is going to stop somewhere, solo scriptura is not a bad place to land the plane.

But you need to meet her in the middle if you’re going to bring her back to your starting place. You have to have the conversation. She wants to have the conversation with you. If you don’t have empathy for her situation, you need to at least pretend to have some sympathy for whatever has brought her to her present spiritual state.

She needs to see compassion. She needs to see that God is a God of grace, and that grace extends toward her.

Second, you need to embrace her in a spiritual sense. Instead, you regard her has some toxic influence in your life that should not be permitted. You shut her down when she starts saying things that you don’t approve of or using language you can’t condone in your house. At that point, all you offer her is your own self-righteousness.

You are afraid to listen. Your world is probably saturated with Christian books, Christian radio or podcasts, and Christian television. When your friend starts talking with you, her words are so totally foreign to your everyday experience that you are afraid of being polluted by them. You want to spend your entire Christian life at the conference; at the retreat; at the worship service.

Jesus got his hands dirty. He hung out with political zealots, tax collectors and prostitutes. There’s a lesson there, I think.

Third and finally, you need to invest in an intense study of Christian apologetics. You may be shutting her down at every turn because you have nothing to offer her. The idea of ‘always being ready to give a response’ is lost on you. It’s easier to put your hand in her face and tell her you don’t want to talk about it.

When the gang gets together for a social evening, you win every round of Bible Trivia, but when it comes to discussing your faith with seekers and skeptics, Atheists and Agnostics, you’ve got nothing.

You’ve preached to the choir for so long you haven’t noticed the audience behind your back.

Listen _________, your friend needs you. She needs you to be her link to a world of Christian belief that she is missing right now, but she needs your love and your time and your willingness to enter into her spiritual world.

The Bible can take her challenges. Our doctrine and theology can deflect her doubts. Christian resources can answer her questions.

But right now you are her contact point, and as a team, we’re all counting on you not to drive her away. Or you can continue to make a mess of it, and hopefully somebody else can pick up the pieces.

March 23, 2015

When Down Is Up

Today’s article contains some graphic imagery.

About 40 years ago, Kirk, the son of family friends, was walking in a park near his apartment complex when he was lured into a public washroom where he was then sexually assaulted. As I was very young, my parents felt it better to spare me some of the details, but in the hushed whispers I gathered that it was an assault of the worst kind, and although the event faded over time, as I grew older the sense I got was that Kirk had been sodomized, and while I was never to speak of it if I had contact with him, I was left to believe that for one person to do this to another was an act of unspeakable horror.

Fast-forward 40 years and I’m checking out who some people on Twitter are following and I land on the account of a young man who is probably now the same age as Kirk was when his assault took place. A quick look told me this was not an account I wanted to check out further; in between the model cars and sci-fi themes there was some very hardcore gay pornography. But before I clicked away never to return, I wanted to see how he had captioned a picture of two guys who were, well… It said, “I wish someone would do this to me.”

The title of this old Doobie Brothers album sums up how change takes place: "What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits."

The title of this old Doobie Brothers album sums up how change takes place: “What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits.

What was for Kirk a couple of generations ago an act of the worst kind imaginable, is now something desired by high school students, and even middle-school students. The very activity that made Kirk a victim has become in some places a recreational, after-school sport.

How did things change so quickly?

I don’t want to blame the internet for things it didn’t do, but we know that revolutions in communications brought about by technology tend to accelerate social change. From the reaction of our family friends to Kirk’s unfortunate assault to 2015 where a kid wants this type of contact, something has shifted radically.

But it doesn’t always take place over the course of 40 years.

Sometimes worldviews are altered more quickly. I don’t need to footnote this with a source to be able to say that even within the church, attitudes toward homosexual practice or gay marriage have shifted, even in the last two years, with some suggesting that attitudes toward polyamory and incest are also in flux.

Your attitude toward an particular social issue or behavior can change over two years, but it might change over two weeks depending on what voices are allowed to speak into your situation, or what types of input you allow yourself. What was once so very wrong becomes less of a big deal. You find yourself now ‘soft’ on a particular subject that years before would have produced a ‘hard’ reaction.

If you are the type of person whose values and worldview are absolute, that is, in one sense, good to hear. But anyone who ever changed political party, or switched from coffee to tea, or made any other type of shift knows well that we are capable of having our opinions reshaped.

That’s what happening right now in our society in general, and in the Church. We’re living in a time when down is up, and that should horrify you every bit as much as Kirk’s attack did our family 40 years ago.

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