Thinking Out Loud

September 19, 2022

When Celebrity Comes to Church

Review: Celebrities for Jesus: How Personas, Platforms, and Profits Are Hurting the Church by Katelyn Beaty (Brazos Press, 2022)

Katelyn Beaty is one of a number of writers who has been part of the Christianity Today (CT) orbit, as I was briefly, and generally speaking, I find that people who come out of that environment have a healthy and balanced perspective on issues facing the church, and are often granted access to information which provides for additional insights.

Celebrities for Jesus is very much (almost) equal parts

  • history lesson
  • analysis
  • memoir

As a (recent) history lesson, because of my involvement over the years with this blog and its attendant attention to Christian news stories, there was a sense in which Katelyn and I had much of the same information. As soon as she stated something, my brain would signal ‘Yes, but you really need to mention ___________,’ only to find her doing so in the very next sentence.

My wife reminded me that not everyone has the same knowledge. While it’s true that some of the stories she covers in this book were part of Jesus and John Wayne by Kristen Kobes Du Mez and A Church Called TOV by Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer (which we reviewed here and here respectively) there was coverage of situations and people that were beyond the scope of both books, and at least one name that caught me off guard given the context.

Generally speaking, the context was American, which left me wondering as to the preponderance of superstar pastors in other places. (We do hear occasional stories from South America and Africa; but these were not mentioned.) Is the case of Christian celebrity somewhat unique to the United States?

This brings us to the next part, analysis. This is where I felt the book shines the brightest, especially when the author compared the present state of Christianity to its Biblical ideals.

We do fall short in various ways. Our willingness to confer celebrity shows a flaw in our character, long before the man or woman in question has a misstep. Our stories are looking for heroes.

In each chapter, I never questioned Beaty’s qualifications to offer us some of her perspective. My only wish is that she had explored some of these things further and deeper, which would have resulted in a welcomed longer book.

Finally, there was memoir. On page 158, speaking about the high rates of deconstruction and “faith detox” among her peers, “I sometimes wonder why I am still a Christian.”

That could be said about so many that work or have worked at CT or similar environments such as Religion News Service or Relevant, and get to see the spectacular crashes of individuals and ministry organizations close-up.

And yet, she celebrates that something “about that early faith… that could blossom into an orientation that could withstand doubt, the loss of dreams and cultural pressures.” Absent the more progressive identification of an author such as the late Rachel Held Evans, she still shares that honest vulnerability as she’s wrestled with all she has seen and heard.

Celebrities for Jesus covers its topic well. I even wonder if this needs to be required reading for those younger leaders whose desire to do something great might materialize more about building their kingdom instead of God’s kingdom?

It might have helped a few people not trip up.


Celebrities for Jesus is published by Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group, for which its author is also employed. A review copy was made available through publisher representative Graf-Martin Communications who provide publicity, marketing and brand development for clients from their base in Elmira, Ontario, Canada.

September 8, 2022

Long Live the King!

One of my goals for the past 12+ years at Christianity 201 has been to create a body of devotional literature that is somewhat timeless; not influenced by current events or topics.

However, as I prepared the one which was to appear this afternoon, the world had learned of the death of Queen Elizabeth II, and it got me thinking about what the Bible says about government, rulers, and monarchs. I thought I would repeat it here.

For those of us who follow Christ, we are citizens of another world; an eternal place not appearing on earthly maps. The Bible plainly says we are “not of this world.” “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world (John 15:19a NASB) and again, “But our citizenship is in heaven…” (Phil. 3:20a NET)

This is spelled out again in Peter’s epistle:

CEB.1Peter.2.9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possession. You have become this people so that you may speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light. 10 Once you weren’t a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you hadn’t received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

We often use the word “theocracy” to describe a place where the rule of God is law, and the word “sovereignty” to demonstrate the ‘rulership’ (which we call Lordship) of Christ. This was also God’s ‘Plan A’ for the people of Israel, but they wanted what other nations had, a king. (Wasn’t there a commandment about coveting the things belonging to others?)

NIV.1Samuel.8.1 When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

And that is exactly what happened. “Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years.” (Acts 13:21 CSB)

And there we see, in Israel’s history at least, the beginning of kings.

But we believe that all these things take place under the sovereignty of God.  God then inspires Paul through the Holy Spirit to write these words to Timothy:

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior (1 Timothy 2: 1-3 NLT)

To the church at Rome, Paul writes,

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God [granted by His permission and sanction], and those which exist have been put in place by God. Therefore whoever resists [governmental] authority resists the ordinance of God. And those who have resisted it will bring judgment (civil penalty) on themselves. (Romans 13:1-2 AMP)

Especially note the phrase “for there is no authority except that which God has established.” (v1 NIV)

Writing to leaders, Paul tells Titus,

Remind your people to submit to rulers and authorities, to obey them, and to be ready to do good in every way. They are not to insult anyone or be argumentative. Instead, they are to be gentle and perfectly courteous to everyone.  (Titus 3:1 GNT, 3:2 ISV)

So our ultimate submission is to Christ, but Christ compels us to submit to earthly rulers who have been placed over us. Before his death, Jesus affirms,  “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom.” (NLT) or “My kingdom is not from this world.”

We are ultimately citizens of two worlds, this one and the world to come.

Where good, God-fearing, faith-honoring leadership has been given by earthly kings and queens, we give thanks, as we do today.

And we pray for King Charles III, that this may continue.

September 2, 2022

When Church Leaders Fall

Before the pandemic, I was determined that, having reached the ten-year mark, I would cut Christianity 201 back to being a Monday to Friday devotional blog. Or maybe Sunday to Thursday. I had announced four times that we were changing direction. But then, Covid-19 arrived, and I had more time, and people were looking for things to read online. Now we’re approaching the 12½ year mark, and still daily, and I find that, in addition to begging, borrowing and stealing devotional content from other sites, I’m writing more than ever on C201. Here’s one from yesterday.

There’s a passage in 1 Corinthians 9, where the Apostle Paul uses the analogy of the Christian life as running a race.

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.

For a preacher or Christian education teacher, this passage offers the possibility of a number of ‘running a race’ or ‘Olympic competition’ sub-analogies, to the point that you’ve probably heard it several times. So it’s easy to overlook the verse with which the section concludes:

27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

It’s one of a few passages in scripture where it’s made clear that the onus is on Christian leaders to live by the highest standards. One that probably comes to mind for readers here is in James 3:1

Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.

As we begin another month and enter the final third of the year, we’re already aware — and perhaps a bit numb — to the church leaders who have brought embarrassment to the global Church, and destroyed marriages and families and local congregations in the process. (For example, check out this list from 2020.)

There are however, certain checks and balances that all of us can put into place which will reduce the chances of moral failure, or loss of financial integrity.

The translations of verse 27 are insightful, particularly in terms of how they capture the consequences of failing to heed the warnings of Church history, spiritual mentors or older Christians:

  • I do this to be sure that I myself won’t be disqualified after preaching to others. (CEB)
  • Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified. (NLT)
  • I do this so that I won’t miss getting the prize myself after telling others about it. (ERV)
  • Otherwise I fear that after enlisting others for the race, I myself might be declared unfit and ordered to stand aside. (TLB)
  • so I won’t lose out after telling the good news to others. (CEV)
  • lest by any means, having preached to others — I myself may become disapproved. (YLT)
  • lest possibly, after I have been a herald to others, I should myself be rejected. (Weymouth)
  • so that, after I have preached [the gospel] to others, I myself will not somehow be disqualified [as unfit for service]. (AMP)
  • so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified. (NET)
  • lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. (KJV)

And yet… having read all these translations… what is the utmost desire of many Christians when someone has fallen? Often it’s a rush to see that person fully restored to ministry; a hurry to have them returned to the pulpit to continue, as the text says, “preaching to others.”

Maybe some people aren’t meant for public service, be it in ministry or political office, or entertainment. Or maybe the spotlight of public life has a corrupting effect. Or perhaps having power causes deterioration of good judgment.

As I write this, I look at my own life, and while I don’t see the overt sins to which others might succumb, I am aware of bad attitudes, or a lack of trust in God’s sovereignty over particular circumstances in my life right now. And then, as I sit at the keyboard to prepare and format a daily devotional — as I have for going on 12½ years — I genuinely fear the consequences of vs. 27; being disqualified, or rejected; of losing what Paul, in the passage which follows, calls “apostolic authority.”

Our closing verses today are from 2 Corinthians 13:

Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you[or ‘in you’]; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith.As you test yourselves, I hope you will recognize that we have not failed the test of apostolic authority.  (NLT)
 

September 1, 2022

Frustrated Leaders: As Ten Commandments Tablets Shatter

As Christianity 201 became my primary blog, I have found myself writing more original devotional articles for it over the past few years. This is one from last week.

There’s a bad Sunday School joke that goes something like, “Who in the Bible broke all ten commandments?” The answer is Moses, when he returned from the mountain and exasperated over the sin of the people sent the tablets crashing to the ground.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

First of all, the giving of the commandments in a physical form does not mean that this is the first time God establishes moral and behavioral boundaries of the people of Israel. The website Life Hope and Truth states,

…The answer is found in a fascinating statement God made about Abraham, recorded in Genesis 26:5: “Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.”

This is significant because Abraham was born hundreds of years before Moses received the law on Mount Sinai!

In order for Abraham to obey God’s commandments, statutes and laws, he had to know what they were. This means that Abraham was taught the laws directly from God or from others (or possibly both). God was not giving Moses a brand-new law on Mount Sinai. He was merely giving a codified, or formal, version of His law so that it could be used to govern the emerging nation of Israel…

The article then goes on to illustrate instances of such laws existing prior to Moses.

Let’s pick up the store in Exodus 19 and Exodus 20

NIV.Ex.19.20 The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up 21 and the Lord said to him, “Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. 22 Even the priests, who approach the Lord, must consecrate themselves, or the Lord will break out against them.”  …

NIV.Ex.20.1 And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before[a] me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.  …

It’s verses 4-6, which we call the second commandment — see the post from last month where we break them up into commandment 2a and 2b — where we want to focus. It’s reiterated in verse 22

22 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: 23 Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.

Then, for nearly a dozen chapters, God gives Moses instructions for worship, and also some amplification of the “big ten” commandments given. But then he tells Moses it’s time “get down to earth” because there’s trouble stirring.

NIV.Ex.32.1  When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

2 Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”…

…7 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt…

…15 Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. 16 The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.

17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting, he said to Moses, “There is the sound of war in the camp.”

18 Moses replied:

“It is not the sound of victory,
    it is not the sound of defeat;
    it is the sound of singing that I hear.”

19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.

Moses returns to see the people breaking the second commandment which was cited above. And he is livid. In his anger and frustration he shatters the “big ten,” which we’re told God Himself engraved.

It’s a very Moses thing to do. In his anger he will later strike a rock he is told to simply speak to, and that particular act of anger costs him entry into the promised land.

But here’s my point.

Before I started writing this, I gave it the title, “As Ten Commandments Tablets Shatter.” I was thinking about Moses and what the people did in his absence. But I was also thinking about pastors and church leaders today.

Depending on whose statistics you read, in North America 1,200 or 1,500 pastors resign (quit) from ministry each month. While conservatives are busy arguing about women in ministry, it’s probably a good thing some of those women are in place, because the mostly-men pastoral workforce is abandoning ministry in droves.

There are a number of reasons, but I’m sure one of them is frustration over the lack of spiritual dedication among the parishioners. Or, as Moses observed, a flagrant disregard for the will of God.

So figuratively, over a thousand each month are throwing the tablets up in the air and letting them crash to the ground while literally, they pack up of their church office library and dust off their resumés and begin to look for another career path.

Vocational ministry life can be frustrating. I write that even as a member of my immediate family prepares to enter into a greater level of vocational pastoral commitment. I am sure that like Moses, I would get exasperated by what I would see and would want to toss the tablets up in the air as well.

In North America, October is designated as “Pastor Appreciation Month,” however if people were serious about appreciating their pastor, they would, to use an archaic word, “harken” more to the things about the ways of God that he or she is trying to teach the congregation. Yes, they should live a certain way because it’s what God desires and what God requires, but there should also be a recognition that the very reason this person has been set apart for career ministry is to teach them such things with the expectation that they will follow.

Otherwise it’s all just empty words and meaningless worship.

Are there “ten commandments” violations that you see that would cause your pastor/rector/priest to want to toss the stone tablets in the air?


Related:

 

 

August 22, 2022

Henri Nouwen and the Acrobats: Behind the Making of the Book

In late May I received a short note from the co-author of a book I had briefly mentioned on my Christian book trade blog. The book was Flying, Falling, Catching: An Unlikely Story of Finding Freedom (HarperOne, 2022) by the late Henri Nouwen and Carolyn Whitney-Brown. Both Carolyn and I thought that the story behind the book deserved greater attention, and months later, she sent what follows, which at this point, we have exclusively. You can learn more about her writing at this link.

by Carolyn Whitney-Brown

I first met Henri Nouwen at L’Arche Daybreak in Richmond Hill [North Toronto] in 1989 when he drove me with my husband Geoff to a local pizza place for lunch. He was a terrifyingly inattentive driver. But we had a terrific conversation that day. Geoff and I were completing our PhDs in English literature, so like Henri, we were coming from academic backgrounds looking for ways to live the gospel more concretely in a diverse community.

As Gord, a longtime L’Arche member with Down syndrome, would encourage us, “Open your heart.” We lived with Henri and Gord and many others at Daybreak until 1997, learning to think and love and laugh and pray in new ways. Those were transformative years.

Carolyn Whitney-Brown with Henri Nouwen

Henri first saw the Flying Rodleighs trapeze troupe perform in 1991, and it hit him like a thunderbolt. He described a physical response that left him shaken, excited, in tears – a response of his body, not in words. Over the next five years, he got to know the trapeze troupe and they became close friends. His times with them were relaxing, inspiring and full of fun. He talked about them constantly.

I knew from conversations with Henri at the time that he wanted to write differently; something that would read like fiction or even a novel. He wanted his circus book to be different than any of his previous books, based not on ideas or insights, but offering a story that would draw readers into an experience and invite them to draw their own significances and connnections.

But he died suddenly in 1996, and the fragments that he left behind sat in his literary archives for decades.

In 2017, because I was a writer who knew Henri well, I was invited by the publishing committee of Henri’s literary estate to have a look at his trapeze writings and see if anything inspired me.

Immediately, I was hooked by two mysteries. First, why did his encounter with the Flying Rodleighs strike him so powerfully at that moment of his life? And second, why he did he not finish his book about them?

I started to read widely in the archives, trying to figure out what else was going on in his life and spirit in those years, what had prepared him to see, as he put it, “the angels of God appearing to me in the form of five trapeze artists.”

I couldn’t write the book that Henri would have written, but in Flying, Falling, Catching, I honour his desire to write a creative book that would be as engaging as a novel. I juxtapose his writings about his friendship with the Flying Rodleighs trapeze troupe alongside other significant moments in his life. Those experiences in Henri’s own words are framed by the true story of his first heart attack and his rescue out the window of a hotel in the Netherlands in 1996.

The book is in two voices, Henri’s and mine, with two typefaces so that readers know which writings are Henri’s and which are mine.

I had a lot of fun writing it.

After completing the book, I keep thinking about pedestals. It’s easy to put Henri on a pedestal: he was wise and brave even when he was demanding and anguished. He’s often called a spiritual master. But that elevates him to a unique and lonely place, and being admired like that was not a healthy place for Henri. The trapeze act involves a different image of a pedestal, as somewhere to launch from. You’d look silly staying on a pedestal. It’s a platform to allow you to take a risk. And trapeze performers are rarely on a pedestal alone: no one can do a trapeze act by themselves.

Henri Nouwen with The Flying Rodleighs
Photo: Ron P. van den Bosch

You can actually see some hilarious film footage of Henri on the trapeze pedestal on the online recordings of two book launch events, one with commentary by Rodleigh Stevens himself, and the other with L’Arche Daybreak. In that one, I tell viewers to notice that real friends will not only accompany you on a pedestal, but they will throw you off at the right moment! You can find links to both book launch events at:

https://www.writersunion.ca/member/carolyn-whitney-brown

It struck me recently that I am now the age that Henri was when he was so entranced by the Flying Rodleighs, and interestingly, so is Rodleigh himself, since he and I are close in age. At our age, Henri let his imagination be seized by a whole new adventure. He said,

On a deeper level, [my friendship with the Flying Rodleighs] has given me a sense my life is just beginning. I don’t know where it’s going but I’m only sixty-two so I may have another thirty years. The Rodleighs are saying to me indirectly, don’t be afraid to fly a little, don’t be afraid to take a few doubles or triples or a few layouts. If you really miss the catcher you fall into the net so what’s the big issue! After all, take a risk and trust, trust, trust.”

Henri cared passionately about building communities that honour differences, that work for justice, that seek God’s vision of peace on earth and goodwill to all. As you finish reading Flying, Falling, Catching, be open to the spiritual challenge: What seizes YOUR imagination? What excites you? What life of fun and creative energy does God imagine for each of us, not just alone, but in our communities?


Flying Falling Catching is also available in the UK through SPCK Publishing.


Related: At Christianity 201 — Henri Nouwen quotations

August 18, 2022

Skye Jethani Adds 3rd Title to “Serious” Series

Book Review: What if Jesus Was Serious About the Church?: A Visual Guide to Becoming the Community Jesus Intended (Moody Publishers, 2022)

Two years ago I was able to review the first book in what we now know has become a series, What if Jesus Was Serious? At the time, I mentioned that the use of “napkin doodles” therein was foreshadowed in one of Skye Jethani’s older books, With. I was unable to get a review copy of the follow-up, What if Jesus Was Serious About Prayer? but when the subject-at-hand for the third book was the modern church, I knew I wanted in, and despite the publisher’s great reluctance to grant review copies, was able to request one.

The reason I wanted to own this one in my personal collection is because this is a theme on which Skye is most outspoken when talking to Phil Vischer or interviewing guests weekly on The Holy Post Podcast. As a former pastor himself, and a former writer for over a decade with Christianity Today, Skye is able to articulate the challenges faced by the capital “C” Church worldwide, the small “c” church locally, and those whose vocational employment is church-related.

The podcast for which he is quite well known fails (in my view) in one respect, in that it is far too American-oriented. If you’re reading this review in the UK, or Australia, or Canada, and you’ve sensed that as well, you’ll be happy to know that the book casts a wider perspective beyond the U.S. I promise you’ll only roll your eyes once or twice.

So for those who need to play catch-up, as with the first two books, this one consists of short — never more than four page — chapters, each of which commences with a little drawing which might be a chart, or a diagram, or a cartoon, or a meme. It’s hard to describe them. Hence the reference to “napkin doodles.” The thing you would draw on a napkin (or blank paper place-mat) in a coffee shop when trying to explain an idea. (Again, the book With is must-reading to see how the concept evolved.)

This one has 51 such chapters, grouped in five sections; The Family Reunion, The Family Meal, The Family Gathering, The Family Business, and The Family Servants.

I immediately shared the second part with my wife. I find that I can never read enough about the Eucharist, Last Supper, or Communion Service, and our need to keep its centrality in the modern worship service. It and the third part, about the manner in which we worship are the longest two groupings in the book and include subjects that are important to the author.

Skye Jethani is so forthright and authoritative on these subjects, and I feel he is a voice that everyone in Evangelicalism needs to be hearing.

Because I tend to gush about the books I review — I choose them and don’t get books sent automatically — I do have a couple of criticisms. One is that for those who obsess over page counts, the 232 pages in this one include about 45 which are essentially blank. That’s a product of the way the book is formatted, and in balance, one needs to also consider this digest-sized paperback uses color process throughout.

The other thing was the ending. For me, there wasn’t one. The 51st article ended abruptly, which I expected given the concision that Skye employs throughout. But then I turned the page looking for a conclusion; something that would tie everything altogether, and there wasn’t one. No closing statement. Perhaps, as with the podcast for which he is known, there is a bonus chapter only available to Patreon supporters.

Those complaints aside, I encourage you to consider this. It’s fairly quick reading, and if you or someone in your family is employed in ministry, it contains a number of great conversation starters. If you simply care about where modern Evangelicalism is headed, it contains even more topics to provoke discussion.

August 8, 2022

Honoring the Offering

And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. – Hebrews 13:16

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  2 Cor. 9:7

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. – 1 Timothy 6:18

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Jesus, in Matthew 6:19-21

Many years ago my wife worked in a church leading worship where one of the members of the church’s “Program Team” objected to her sometimes having the congregation sing another worship song concurrent with the offering being received. She was okay with an instrumental song, but felt that combining the congregational singing with the placing of cash and envelopes in the basket being passed failed to “honor the offering.”

I have no idea where she got that concept.

Today we have quite a different situation. There is no offering received in many of our churches. During the pandemic, places of worship were told by local health authorities to avoid the surface contact generated by passing an offering plate or a tray of communion elements.

Long before the outbreak, some churches had switched to a box at the back of the auditorium. (I loved it when Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids would announce the “Joy boxes” and the congregation would cheer!)

Moreover, many of us give online these days. We use neither cash nor envelopes, and our electronic giving replaces checks. (That’s cheques for my Canadian/Aussie/UK readers.)

But giving is an act of worship, right?

If so, it follows that act of worship should be part of a worship service, right?

So how we incorporate “taking up the offering” when we’re not actually taking up the offering.

In once church I visited, people take a small card (business card size) that said, “I use automatic bank withdrawal giving,” as they walk in and then as the plate or basket is passed, they drop the card in. (Hopefully they’re being honest, or there’s a whole set of Ananias and Sapphira admonitions we could mention here.)

But one church we watched online did something different. It was an offering liturgy prayer that the entire church spoke, a declaration of a giving spirit (or perhaps the intention to do so as soon as the service ended.)  It’s worded this way:

Holy Father, there is nothing I have that You have not given me. All I have and am belong to You, bought with the blood of Jesus. To spend everything on myself, and to give without sacrifice, is the way of the world that you cannot abide. But generosity is the way of those who call Christ their Lord; who love Him with free hearts and serve Him with renewed minds; who withstand the delusion of riches that chokes the word; whose hearts are in your kingdom and not in the systems of the world. I am determined to increase in generosity until it can be said that there is no needy person among us. I am determined to be trustworthy with such a little thing as money that you may trust me with true riches. Above all, I am determined to be generous because You, Father, are generous. It is the delight of Your daughters and sons to share Your traits and to show what You are like to all the world.

This statement of what it means to be generous toward the world and toward God, both corporately and individually, replaces the offering for this church.


Source of Giving Liturgy: Westside AJC (a Jesus Church), this is the congregation founded by Phil and Diane Comer and taught for years by John Mark Comer. Click image to see full size or visit: https://westsideajc.org/about#giving-section

Scriptures used in the preparation of the Giving Liturgy (click the above link to see the version where these footnotes correspond.

(1) Psalm 24 v1, Psalm 31 v19, Ephesians 1 v7, James 1 v17, 1 Timothy 6 v17
(2) Proverbs 11 v25, 1 John 3 v17
(3) 1 Timothy 6 v17-19, Romans 12 v2, 2 Timothy 3:2-5, 2 Corinthians 9 v6-8
(4) Acts 4 v32-35
(5) Luke 16 v10-11
(6) Psalm 81 v10, Matthew 7 v7-11, John 16 v23-24, Romans 8 v32, Ephesians 1v3, Ephesians 1 v7-8


For our Canadian readers: Coincidentally (honestly!) this ran Sunday on our ministry Facebook page, but U.S. readers can give to this as well, though you won’t get a tax receipt.

It’s Sunday, and there are people reading this for whom it’s been a long time since you were in a place where an offering plate was passed. Searchlight’s recommended Christian charity of choice continues to be the Welcome Home Children’s Centre in Haiti. Your donation today can provide shelter, food, clothing, supervision, school fees, school uniforms, transportation, and more for 14 children, at the orphanage located two hours north of Port-au-Prince. Click on their page at Canada Helps to donate, or donate by credit card or Paypal using Welcome Home’s own donation page at this link.


Reprinted with the kind permission of the very nice people at Christianity 201.

July 18, 2022

A Compelling Case for Christianity

The book we’re highlighting today is special to me because I’ve known the author, Clarke Dixon for a decade, and had read the material when it first appeared as part of his blog, now called Thinking Through Scripture and later re-blogged on our own Christianity 201 page, where, when not on sabbatical, Clarke is our regular Thursday devotional writer. He is a pastor in Ontario, Canada.

Beautiful and Believable: The Reason for My Hope is especially directed towards those who might be sitting on the fence regarding Christianity, or doubting its core claims, or having specific objections.

From the introduction:

The picture of the diving board on the cover was taken by one of my sons where we vacation. My sons have taken the plunge from this board many times. Me, not so much. I can understand reticence. However, despite my caution, there are good reasons to dive in from this board. The water is deep. There are no sharks. Jumping in can be great fun. Or so I am told. I tend to be a skeptical person.

There are many reasons people share for being skeptical of the claims of Christianity. In this short book I would like to introduce you to some reasons that we can lay aside our doubts and fears and take the plunge into a life of faith. It is beautiful. It is believable. And it can be great fun.

This book is presented in two parts. The first part gives reasons to believe in God and trust in Jesus based on the beauty of Christianity. The water is refreshing on a hot summer day. Jumping in is a beautiful experience. Christianity, when expressed well, leads to greater beauty in one’s life, and indeed the world.

The second part gives reasons to believe in God and trust in Jesus despite the warnings of the people who say it is foolish to do so. According to the evidence, the water is deep, there are no sharks. Faith is not a blind leap, but a reasonable step.

If you are skeptical, I understand. However, I invite you to discover how Christianity is both beautiful and believable. I invite you to join me on the diving board, maybe we might even take a step . . .

The chapters are short — this is a great title to give to a guy, since some men have trouble staying on track while reading — and Beautiful and Believable is printed in a very clear, readable font.

Your local bookseller in Canada and the U.S. can order through Ingram, using ISBN 9798836457112 for the print edition, or of course, the usual (!) online source for books for both book and eBook, or from Apple Books; currently the print MSRP has been set generously low for the 142 page paperback.

June 22, 2022

Understanding Our Diminishing Attention Span

A mini-review of Stolen Focus by Johann Hari

It wasn’t even my copy of the book. And my intention was to just read the first few chapters. But I was hooked. In a world where people have trouble concentrating, the author certainly had my attention.

For regular readers here, this isn’t my usual type of review, which normally concerns books in national release by Christian publishers. Nobody received a review copy, and I don’t have to write this at all. But I feel compelled to recommend this title to anyone who interacts with technology to any degree — hint: you’re reading this on my blog — or anyone who has children, or anyone who simply breathes the air on planet Earth.

Why can’t we pay attention? Why does our mind seem to wander more than it once did? Why does the world suddenly seem filled with a million distractions? I haven’t done a whole lot of reading this on this topic, but my suspicion is that Stolen Focus has got to be one of the more comprehensive books on the subject.

Not content to do phone interviews, Johann Hari spends as much as half the year traveling the world doing research, spending time with the top experts in various branches of education, psychology, the environment, and many other disciplines. (Audio of those interviews is available on a related website.)

There are so many things we could do to re-order our lifestyle to mitigate against where technology has taken us, but ultimately, at the end of the book, he names three. (Sorry, no spoilers.) And no, the problem isn’t Facebook; at least the problem isn’t just Facebook; but when it comes to putting your money where your mouth is, the author does just that, shutting himself off entirely from the internet for three months. The experience changes him dramatically.

That ‘field trip’ also makes the book so much more engaging, as it’s as much about the author’s personal journey with this subject as it is a thoroughly-researched piece of journalism.

Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention and How to Think Deeply Again by Johann Hari is available in North America in 344-page hardcover from Crown Publishing.

For regular readers here, I suspect there might be some overlap between this book and a Christian title I really wanted to review but simply couldn’t arrange: The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer. Other recommended Christian books along these lines include The Truth About Us by Brant Hansen, and Your Future Self Will Thank You by Drew Dyck.

June 9, 2022

3 Kinds of Book People: 3 Axioms

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:17 am

For purposes of these simple statements, the word “logic” refers to the entire operating paradigm, including the type of products with which there is interaction, and the needs of the people being served.

For purposes of these simple statements “used bookstores” may also refer to the book departments in thrift stores.

The three statements:

Trade bookstores do not understand the logic of used bookstores and libraries.

Libraries don’t understand the logic of trade bookstores and used bookstores.

Used bookstores don’t understand the logic of libraries and trade bookstores.

Why it matters:

While each one of us may interact with all three types of “book handlers” in any given time period, the entities themselves have entirely different points of access to books and entirely different reasons for existing. We can’t expect one to fully understand the modus operandi of the others, or expect one type of institution to do something for us which is best suited to one of the others.

Allies or competitors:

The proprietors of all three types of book people are all true bibliophiles. They share a love of reading. The store manager or owner wants you to buy books. The librarian wants you to borrow books. The thrift store or used bookstore wants you to help find books a second home.

There’s a “competition for eyeballs” and leisure time for reading is limited, but eventually, it comes down to a love for the printed page. Quite often, in any given city or town, on any given day, the same book may be accessed by readers in all three types of locations.

I would argue that these are more allies than competitors, but unless given the opportunity to work for a week in the environment of each of the others, they might regard those others as a distraction from what is they do.

 

 

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