Thinking Out Loud

July 23, 2016

Weekend Link List

  • A 40 year flashback to a 3-part series Sports Illustrated on religion in sports.
  • A must-listen podcast for anyone in business or management: The value of giving value, aka Donald Miller goes to Chick-fil-A.
  • CT visits The Ark Encounter. I loved this quote:

Ark Encounter Review at CT

Flocks by Night

  • There are five ways you can respond to terrorists attacks, and none of them involve hashtags.
  • Reaching the online world: InterVarsity launches Ministry in Digital Spaces.
  • Video of the Week(end): They make choir arrangements of modern worship songs. I already knew that. Just never pictured it included newer bands like Rend Collective:

July 22, 2016

Paying Someone to Tell My Wife I Love Her

Greeting Card Rack

The Short Version: Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about a display of blank greeting cards at the local Christian bookstore. Some people love them, but most people would never consider having to write their own thoughts. It occurred to me that at Christmas, Valentines Day, Mother’s Day, birthdays and anniversaries, I have basically been paying strangers to tell my wife I love her.

This doesn’t include cards I’ve sent to our kids, my parents, and others. The costs alone are probably staggering if I add it all up, and eventually the cards are thrown away.

Some Background: For years I’ve known a guy who owns a greeting card store. We were talking a long time ago about the evolution of gift wrapping and he shared this chronology:

  • People would wrap a gift in fancy wrapping paper and then tie it with a ribbon which would form a bow on top.
  • Then people started skipping the ribbon and bow.
  • Next, the gift bag arrived. No wrapping at this stage, you simply toss the gift in the bag and add a bit of tissue paper.
  • Then the gift itself ended. Instead, people purchased gift certificates and gift cards for a store the recipient would like, and placed that in a greeting card.
  • Finally, the gift card was replaced with an electronic substitute, sent by email.

How it Relates to Cards: It got me thinking about the cards themselves. Here’s my conjecture as to a possible sequence:

  • At one time, I’m sure people wrote more letters than we do today. People kept boxes of stationery in their homes and penmanship mattered. Some of these letters might run several pages — admittedly smaller format paper — and were kept and treasured by the ones who received them. Frequent writers dabbled in calligraphy, and people knew how to spell and compose a proper sentence.
  • Wikipedia traces the history of the greeting card — known to the Chinese in the 15th century — to its genesis in the 1850s. The introduction of postage stamps was a key factor.
  • By the late 1990s, the demise of greeting cards was said to be imminent, with the e-card replacing the need to mail a physical product. But when is the last time you got an e-card?
  • At the same time, some people were producing cards on their computers, which allowed them to possibly format a more personal message. This tied in with the scrap-booking trend, where people were making cards from scratch.
  • In 2016, Millennials are less likely to send cards, or even see the importance of them, unless a great aunt happens to send one containing money. Here in Canada, postal rates have skyrocketed over the last few decades. Sadly the tradition of sending thank-you notes (i.e. to the great aunt) has also diminished greatly.

Blank Cards: Again, I can’t overstate what I see as the value in blank cards. The idea of writing something from the heart and not relying on what someone, sitting at a desk at a greeting card company office wrote.

In the Christian field, I continue to be appalled at what is offered by the dominant card company, Dayspring. Their texts seem to me as too flippant, too cute, and usually quite irrelevant. It never ceases to amaze me how they continue to rule this particular market in North American Christian stores.

It also occurs to me that with greeting cards in general, unless you add at least three sentences of your own at the bottom, you are basically outsourcing your expression of love, gratitude or respect.

Admittedly, sometimes it is hard to find the words. Sympathy cards are always needed because you want to do something, but don’t always know what to say. But even there, I think even a half-literate person could take a blank card and write down a memory they have of the person who had died. Imagine yourself asked to say something at a funeral or memorial and commit it to writing; to print

Also, it needs to be said that many today in North America don’t know how to spell or write. Computers and phones are contributing to the de-evolution of the English language. So people avoid the possibility of disaster by letting someone else do the heavy lifting.

Why I Will Continue to Purchase Cards: All this said, I think that the effort of going to a store and selecting a card means something to my wife. The absence of a card would be noted. It’s one of the things we do when we love someone. Sometimes there are flowers, and they don’t last much more than a week, but it reminds her (and me) that I took the time, that I was thinking about her, and that I didn’t mind spending the money to show my love.

Cards and flowers represent terrible financial stewardship. In our economic situation, we can ill-afford to do this. But so is an expensive meal in a nice restaurant, and every once in awhile, you need to do these things. You do it just because.

However, I will continue to try to insert my own thoughts into the card. I really don’t want to outsource my expression of love; I don’t want to pay some stranger to tell my wife I love her.

July 21, 2016

Separated at Birth – Carey Nieuwhof and Steven Curtis Chapman

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:21 pm

The North Point affiliate pastor, Christian television co-host, and blogger on church growth and leadership issues sure looks a lot like the CCM artist who recently celebrated 30 years since the release of his first CD.

But do you know which one is which?

Carey Nieuwhof and Steven Curtis Chapman


This is part of a continuing series. (You have to scroll down for the last one.)

July 20, 2016

Wednesday Link List

Evangelism - Moorland College promo image

The theme of the above picture is Evangelism, and was featured on Twitter in promotion of a September conference at Moorlands College in the UK.  The artist is Annaliese Stoney

I enjoyed putting this week’s list together and hope you enjoy it also. Please take some time to look over this week’s stories and opinion pieces.

Vegangelical

July 19, 2016

A Caution to Seniors in the Church

…and Those on the Cusp of Becoming One

seniorsSo I’m sitting at my computer compiling tomorrow’s link list and I see this article and I’m thinking, ‘This is gold! How do make absolutely sure people read this?” Then I remember I still haven’t posted anything this morning.

This is by Thom Rainer. That’s right, the LifeWay guy. Me and LifeWay are not usually on the same page, I know. Still, you should click through (on the title below) and read this at source because you really want to read the comments as well.

Oh… before you think you really should forward this to somebody else, you might want to remember that if you’re not already there, you soon will be!

Five Things I Pray I Will Not Do as a Senior Adult in the Church

I received my first AARP material in the mail six years ago.

I turned 61 years old two days ago. One of my sons says I am fossilized.

I am a senior adult.

Have I noticed any differences in my life at this age? Certainly. I move more slowly. My idea of a mini-marathon is running to the kitchen from the family room. I see things differently. I don’t know if I am wiser, but I certainly have different perspectives.

And I have to admit I view church life differently. In fact, I sometimes scare myself with my rigid attitude. I need to write these words quickly lest I become too comfortable or too complacent.

I have five specific prayers. They are for me. They are for my attitude about my church. They are reminders I will need to review constantly.

  1. I pray I will not feel entitled because I am a key financial supporter in the church. This attitude means I consider the money my money rather than God’s money. That means I am giving with a begrudging heart.
  2. I pray I will not say “I’ve done my time” in the church. Ministry through the local church is not doing your time, like serving a prison sentence. It is an outpouring of joy and thanksgiving to God. I love those churches where senior adults are the most represented among the nursery workers. I need to be among them.
  3. I pray I will not be more enthused about recreational trips than ministry and service. There is nothing wrong about me getting on a bus and going to Branson, Missouri, or Gatlinburg, Tennessee. But there is something wrong when that is my dominant involvement in ministry in the church.
  4. I pray I will not be more concerned about my preferences than serving others. I’ve already blown it on this one. I did not like the volume of the music in the service at my church a few weeks ago. I complained about it to my wife. And then I was reminded of all the young people in the church that Sunday worshipping and praising God during the music. I was more concerned about my preference than seeing others worship God.
  5. I pray I will not have a critical spirit. I attended a business meeting of a large church some time ago. The total attendance at the meeting represented fewer than five percent of the worship attendance. One of the men who recognized me approached me before the meeting, “We come together at these business meetings to keep the pastor straight,” he told me. In reality, they came together to criticize the pastor and staff. I pray I will not become a perpetual critic. I don’t want to grow old and cranky; I want to grow old and more sanctified.

Now that I am a senior adult in my own right, I need to make certain I am not a stumbling block or a hindrance to health and growth in my church. I pray my attitude will be like that of Caleb:

“Here I am today, 85 years old . . . Now give me the hill country the Lord promised me on that day . . . Perhaps the Lord will be with me and I will drive them out as the Lord promised” (Joshua14:10-12, HCSB).

May the Lord grant me wisdom and service all the days of my life, including my senior years.

Let me hear from you. I bet I will.


Related: From 2014, here’s a look at the ideal, the multi-generational church.

July 18, 2016

Lost Voice 4 – Dann

Filed under: Christianity, Lost Voice Project — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:21 am

The Lost Voice ProjectAs important as I think it is, I see I’m posting these Lost Voice stories only every other year. We’ll have to do something about that.

Unlike the other people in this series Dann (don’t forget the second ‘n’) isn’t really in a situation where anything about his career, marriage or circumstances makes him invisible in the local church, in fact he seems to be participating in a variety of activities when something needs doing. The reason his story is here is, when you think of it, entirely superficial. But that’s exactly what makes his situation so ridiculous.

Simply put, Dann — who is Swiss-born and about 55 years old — speaks perfect English, but with a thick German accent. Everybody knows him and he usually sticks around for a few minutes after the service ends, but some people should really come with subtitles. People often have to ask him to spell a word so they know what he’s saying.

So there are, in this small-to-medium size church, opportunities for public ministry which fall to other people that simply don’t fall to Dann.

For example, he’s never been asked to do the scripture reading. Yes, it would be a little unclear at times, but would it be any worse than trying to follow along in the NLT while someone up front is reading from the NASB? I think we’re all accustomed to that sort of thing by now.

Or open in prayer. In his church, this responsibility gets passed around but it never gets passed in his direction…

…Is Dann a Christian? It’s a silly question in many respects, but if you’ve never heard someone give a testimony or had the privilege of listening to someone in prayer, you don’t always know. Even the passion with which someone reads the scripture passage can tell a lot about their faith. After-service conversations often focus on other matters. Katie, who has been a member of the church just wants to go up to him and ask, “When did you become a Christian?” Or, “How did you become a Christian;” because it seems like he’s a bit of a mystery spiritually. It’s hard to see someone as a leader in the church if they never done anything which exposes their spiritual gifts to the congregation…

…This all shows how much the modern church prizes verbal gifts. Guys who can speak well get asked to do the announcements or chair the men’s meeting. People who can orate get asked to fill in when the pastor takes his annual two weeks in Florida. And Anne, who has a beautiful British accent, always ends up narrating the children’s Christmas musical. “And they wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; and the next morning they had scones with breakfast tea.”

Maybe Dann should asked to be baptized again. At the baptismal service, you at least get to share your testimony. In some churches, it’s your only chance to share something from the platform.

In many respects, we are a people of words; the Christian faith is all about being able to articulate it...

…Dann is one of the lost voices in the modern church. His contribution to his local church might be significant, but after years of being marginalized, it’s unlikely he’ll be asked to do much moving forward.


a continuing series about people whose contribution to local church life never happened

July 17, 2016

Worrisome Worship Words

Filed under: Christianity, music, worship — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:58 am

Worship BandWe are the sons
We are the daughters of God

I get the sentiment, which is appropriate to the times we live in. But as someone recently pointed out, in Bible times a son had an inheritance, which a daughter did not. Perhaps it would better, even if female, to be able to say you are a son, having full rights and privileges. However, I will defer to those just trying to be politically correct.

Yahweh, Yahweh,
We love to shout your name, O Lord

This one really grates on me because the Lord’s name in this form was generally not pronounced, let alone shouted. A Wikipedia article (on YWYH, the Tetragrammaton) mentions Philo’s teaching that “…it is lawful for those only whose ears and tongues are purified by wisdom to hear and utter it in a holy place…” and “He who pronounces the Name with its own letters has no part in the world to come!” Such is the prohibition of pronouncing the Name as written that it is sometimes called the ‘Ineffable’, ‘Unutterable’, or ‘Distinctive Name.'”

Our God is greater
Our God is stronger

There’s nothing wrong with the lyric per se, the issue is where the emphasis (accent) falls musically: OUR God is greater, OUR God is stronger. It sounds like a moment in an apologetics debate where the discussion got reduced to a schoolyard level. ‘Oh yeah? My God is bigger than your God.’

Oh, I feel like dancing
It’s foolishness I know

A song bridge best left out, in my opinion. I can never say that anytime in the last two decades where I’ve sung this song that I felt like dancing. But I sometimes sung the words anyway. (Which is foolishness, I know.)

I want to touch you
I want to feel you more

I always wonder what visitors think when hearing this song for the first time. I’ve heard the expression, ‘prayers that touch the heart of God,’ but this one is a little less clear even in context of the rest of the lyrics.

My sin, oh the bliss
Of this glorious thought

I just wanted to be fair; it’s not just modern worship that has awkward lyrics. I would place the offending line in parenthesis, or use em-dashes, just to be clear.

He is jealous for me
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree

So much has already been written on the “sloppy wet kiss” line that I hesitate to mention it at all. The goal in leading worship should be to minimize distractions, yet this one has distraction built in. But the opening line begs you to stop and say, “I want to see where this going before I continue singing.” Yes, God is described as a jealous God. But if these are the opening lines, I want to read it over before I sign the contract, so to speak. And I can say that because I am a tree.


After writing most of this, I came across these articles:

 

July 16, 2016

Intercessors for Hire

Filed under: Christianity, prayer — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:08 am
Need prayer? Just give us your credit card information and we'll be happy to do that.*

Need prayer? Just give us your credit card information and we’ll be happy to do that.*

It all started 7 years ago when a guy named Joel wrote and asked if I would promote his now defunct website on my blog. These requests increased as the readership grew, as well as people wanting me to promote books.

I took one look at prayer-helpers.com and frankly I was appalled at the idea of people setting up a commercial enterprise to “prey” on those who wanted someone to pray for them. Without questioning the authenticity of whether any prayer would ever actually happen, I was concerned that this site would simply exploit people who were disconnected from a local church, or from friends or family who would pray for them.

“Generally,” my wife said, “You pray for people you are in relationship with.” I agree with that sentiment; though I have done several shifts at a prayer counseling center. But we didn’t charge people. The “pray-ers” didn’t get paid, either. Probably 90% of the people I’ve prayed for have been people who I knew more than superficially.

First, here is part of Joel’s letter to me:

…I was hoping that you might be willing to consider reviewing my new Christian website, prayer-helpers.com on your site. I think the concept of pay-for-prayer may be controversial and interesting for your audience. My goal is to bring easily accessible prayer partners to people who may not have them available. I would happily answer any interview questions you might have.

Interesting, yes. Controversial, definitely. Deeply disturbing, incredibly. Maybe somewhat guilty-by-association. I wrote back:

Yes it is controversial.
Too controversial.
This is why people need to belong to a local church.

That left Joel wanting more. He replied:

Why do you say it is too controversial? Also, some people are either too far from a local church (alaskans, etc) or for some reason are physically disabled and unable to go so the online community needs to be there for them.

I’m sure Sarah Palin would get a chuckle out of the (small ‘a’) Alaskan stereotype. This is the closest I came to thinking I was being “had” in this entire exchange, except the website was real. I wrote back:

“Freely you have received, now freely give.”

The example of Jesus driving out the profiteers from the temple is sufficient evidence for me that we can’t exploit a person’s spiritual quest for the sake of deriving income. (Trust me, being in the Christian bookstore business, I’ve spent countless hours working through that whole situation.) I know that pastors are paid, and spend some of their time in prayer, but the idea of taking a need for prayer and the clicking “add to cart” is crossing a line, I think. And it’s reminiscent of the Catholic church asking people to pay for indulgences before the Reformation. Or televangelists asking people to send in their prayer requests on a special form, and then there is suspicion as to whether any prayer was offered or if the forms just went out to the dumpster, where the network TV crews found them.

Plus, we’re supposed to pray with as much as possible, not just pray for.

I just don’t see the convergence of internet technology and prayer being best applied here.

Joel ended our dialog with:

Thank you for your response. I respectfully must disagree with you. I see no difference between your christian bookstore and the prayer-helpers.com website.

And for me, that response clinched it. I wrestle on a daily basis with what I do vocationally and the things done by the Christian bookstore industry in general. Some of the marketing, the branding, the excesses, etc. are downright shameful. At the end of the day though, people are taking home a resource, be it a CD, DVD, Book or something they place on a table or on the wall to remind them of their Christian identity.

Prayer is somewhat of an intangible in that sense. Furthermore, when I pray for people in the bookstore, I never charge extra.

Joel saw no difference.

Also, we need to remind ourselves that while the local church solicits donations, they are never for a specific service offered to a specific person, but one is contributing to the overall work of the pastoral staff. Can you imagine the Apostle Paul saying, “Okay, I’ll lay hands on you and pray, but that will be 20 shekels.”

The church should never operate on a fee-for-service basis, and if you see that happening, you need to find another church.


*No, Thinking Out Loud does not accept credit cards for prayers.

July 15, 2016

North Point Community Church on Race Relations in America

North Point July 10 2016

Sometimes it seems like we’ve gone back to the 1960s. The state of the relationship between black and white seems to be at a low that the present generations have not witnessed since the race riots of the ’50s and ’60s. Furthermore, it seems to be getting worse.

Has this — police violence against black people — been going on longer than we know? All I can say is that in this case, I’m thankful that phones now have cameras, and that we have social media to spread the word. (See also the book review here a few days ago for Shane Claiborne’s new book, where he also covers the history of black lynching in America.) Media holds us to a higher level accountability. (I’m reminded of Luke 8:17, Luke 12:2, and even the unique wording of Acts 26:26… You can run but you can’t hide.)

Last weekend, Andy Stanley at North Point Community Church in Atlanta preempted his schedule sermon to have a discussion about the subject with Sam Collier & Joseph Sojourner. The day before he Tweeted: “When you decide to rewrite your message on your day off… Don’t miss church tomorrow!” This church service was rather spontaneous.

I had hoped to embed the message here somehow, but I’ll point you to the link and trust you to click through. This will involve about 45 minutes of your time. (They sing only two songs, have one baptism, and go straight into the interview.) If you have any interest at all on this topic, I assure you that once you start, you’ll want to stay with most of what follows. It’s worth at least watching about 20 minutes of this.

A large percentage of the U.S. population should not have to live in fear from the very people sworn to serve and protect.

Here’s the link to North Point Online.

July 14, 2016

Miracles Happen: A Review of Miracles From Heaven

Miracles from Heaven DVD

This review contains spoilers…

Miracles from Heaven is a movie based on the real life story of Kevin and Christy Beam, and in particular their daughter Anna who contracted a rare gastric disease in which her central nervous system stopped sending signals to her intestines, making it impossible for her to process food. Her pediatric specialist does not offer the family much in the way of hope.

But one afternoon while climbing a tree with her older sister, she suffers the equivalent of a three-story fall. Miraculously, she has little more than a concussion. There are no broken bones, no spinal injury.

Even more amazing is when it becomes apparent that the fall has caused a jump re-start of her nervous system and thereby kickstarted her intestinal tract. At the time of filming, the real-life Anna has not been sick in three years…

…DVD releases create a unique challenge for the reviewer. With the theater run played out, the basic plot line is already known, and I’m a little freer here with information than if it was the theatrical version we were considering. We have a general idea where the movie is going and simply mark the various steps toward its conclusion. This isn’t an intricate plot, and so the emotional level of the movie is somewhat steady throughout the first two-thirds of the film.

On this however, my wife and I had different reactions. At the beginning I noted to her that they seemed to be moving rather quickly, with some scenes rather abruptly jump-cutting to the next. But she felt the the movie dragged in places and could have moved faster.

It’s also difficult to watch as a parent. You empathize with the tremendous stress the entire family is experiencing. And as someone who isn’t a fan of medical drama, the hospital scenes are more documentary than entertainment.

But it’s hard not to be invested in the final third of the movie when Anna’s miracle happens. We long for happy endings, and this movie does not disappoint. There’s also an element at the end which is similar to the movie Heaven is For Real which released from the same production company; in fact there is an edition of the DVD available in which Heaven and Miracles are bundled into a single package.

The film’s purpose is not to discuss the validity of miracles in an age of science and skepticism, however there are some realistic moments where the possibility of facing this story with doubt and disbelief are brought to the surface. (On this I am reminded of the blind man in John 9:25 who is faced with people wanting to know the why and the how: “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!“)

Christy Beam’s faith is fragile, perhaps even non-existent at points in the journey. It’s understandable, given the situation the family faces, not only with the daughter’s illness, but also the financial stress. Some of the people in her church, like Job’s comforters, don’t exactly help either. While those people are southern stereotypes, the portrayal of her church seems realistic.

I did not see Heaven is for Real but I’m glad I got to see this one. The DVD released officially on Tuesday. Enjoy the preview below or learn more at MiraclesFromHeaven-Movie.com .

 

 

Thanks to Sony Entertainment Canada and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. for providing a pre-release screening link to this movie.

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