Thinking Out Loud

April 30, 2009

Mark Driscoll to Preach at Crystal Cathedral

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:08 pm

mark_driscoll9I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t see this one coming, though doctrinally their reformed roots are similar.   Culturally?   That’s a different story.   Will Dr. Schuller offer Mark one of his robes to preach in?   Will Mark’s language be too edgy for television broadcast standards?  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, here’s the story; and you don’t even have to click on anything.



This story is from Church Solutions, an online magazine that I will definitely be bookmarking.   Current stories on the home page include a look at mission trip cancellations in the wake of the Swine Flu outbreak; and news that Pat Robertson intends to step down next year from Regent University, which he founded.    And no, it’s not a spoof news site.   I confirmed this one.

(Click on the story image to post a comment directly to their site.)


April 29, 2009

The Growing Easter Worship Void: A Last Look at 2009

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. ~Galatians 2:20


I mentioned a few weeks ago that I enjoy reading the worship sets that people file at Fred McKinnon’s blog as part of something called The Sunday Setlists.   So I looked forward to the recap of what was being presented on Fred’s blog for Easter Sunday in some of the top churches in the U.S., Canada and beyond.    I know some worship leaders find the Christmas Carols frustrating — we won’t get into that debate now — but figured anything dealing with suffering, death and resurrection of Christ would represent the best that Christian music (modern and traditional) has to offer.

Some worship directors clearly rose the occasion.   In both their comments and their choice of songs it was clear that this high point in the church calendar was also the high point in the worship music cycle of their house of worship.

good-friday1But other worship leaders clearly weren’t going to let something as pedestrian as Easter get in the way of their worship agenda.    In fact a couple of churches — as evidenced either in the WL’s writeup or further linking to the church sites — clearly continued with other theme series they were running.   At least one did a kind of split service between their current series and Easter, as though the ‘holiday’ was an interjection not unlike making room for a baby dedication or mention that it’s the Sunday closest to Veterans Day.

On April 13th, I wrote the following letter to McKinnon:

I didn’t want to spoil the mood in the Sunday Setlist comments, but it’s amazing to see the difference between the WLs 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.”

Everybody encourages everyone else in the respective blog comments; 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.

As a guy who is being edged out of weekly WL duties — it is a young man’s game — I really wish I was still more active, when I see so much disregard for the central Sunday of the church calendar.

More recently the blog Slice of Laodacia reports that the website Pirate Christian Radio awarded the “Worst Easter Sermon Award” to Joel Osteen.   Here’s some highlights:

“Every Christmas Christians whine and complain about secular and atheistic efforts designed to take Christ out of Christmas yet more and more Christian pastors have committed an even worse offense and have removed Jesus Christ and His victorious resurrection from the grave from their Easter sermons,” said Chris Rosebrough. “Far too many pastors have played the role of Judas and have betrayed Jesus. Rather than being paid 30 pieces of silver, these pastors have sold Jesus out for the fame and adulation that accompany having a ‘growing, relevant ‘man-centered’ church’.”

…The sermons Rosebrough picked for this year’s contest included:

  • A sermon that explored the “deep” spiritual lessons of the movie Slumdog Millionaire .
  • A sermon entitled “Beer Babes & Baseball”
  • A sermon entitled “Livin’ Venti” that encouraged people to live life to the fullest.
  • A sermon entitled “You Have Come Back Power”
  • And a sermon entitled “Easter in the Octagon”

This year’s winner of the first ever, Worst Easter Sermon Award went to Joel Osteen’s sermon “You Have Come Back Power”.

Commenting on Osteen’s sermon Rosebrough stated, “Jesus didn’t die and rise again on the cross so that you can have ‘come back power over life’s set backs’. Osteen completely missed the point of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and as a result he missed the entire point of Christianity.”

Said Rosebrough, “I wasn’t surprised that Osteen was the first winner of this award. Osteen is like the Tiger Woods of heresy, he takes false teaching to a whole new level.”

And also a couple of days ago, Stephen Weber on the devotional blog Daily Encouragement writes the second of a two-parter called The Tyranny of the New writes:

…Most churches now want to be identified as contemporary (whatever that really means). Wouldn’t most churches in 1900 or at any other time in history have been contemporary during their age?

My annoyance at the contemporary church is not the embracing of the new, something I feel has been done all through history, but rather the tendency to devalue and disparage the old.  Among so many I encounter a snobby attitude toward older music, i.e. hymns or even music written within the past twenty five years.

I was visiting with a friend after Easter who attends a self-identified “contemporary” church in our area. He’s my age and has a history in the church. I asked him about the service, “Did you sing some of those great Easter songs like ‘He Lives’ or ‘Christ The Lord Is Risen Today’?”  He told me, “Oh no, we just sang new choruses.” I asked if they sang any songs dealing with the Resurrection. He told me they sang an “old” song from 1999 that he thought might have had something to do with the Resurrection! That’s sad!

One of the best memories I have of 2008 is a Good Friday service where the worship was led by a man in his late 60s.   He chose mostly modern worship pieces, but the choices were so absolutely, totally focused on the message of the cross. At the time, the choices seemed so self-evident — especially having just come from a similar service in a nearby town — but I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote them all down anyway, trying to preserve this lesson in choosing worship material.

By the way, Weber’s text for his post was:

“This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it'” (Jeremiah 6:16).

christoncross1I think that something key is being lost when worship leaders miss the point.   In the church I contributed to most over the past three years, I was solely responsible for the first 35-40 minutes of the service, and then the pastor would speak for 35-40 minutes.   That’s a major responsibility.    I wasn’t on staff, I wasn’t on the board, but I had the second largest contribution to each person’s Sunday worship experience.    Humbling.

Therefore, I wouldn’t dare walk into an Easter Sunday service without being absolutely convinced that this particular date demanded my absolute best.    Easter is why we have a church.   Easter is why we have a faith.   Easter is why we have a hope.   Easter is why we have salvation.


Update March, 2010:  As we approach Easter again I noticed this particular post was getting a lot of traffic.   I just want to point out here that The Sunday Setlists — mentioned in the first paragraph — is now part of The Worship Community blog.

Also, if you’re not a regular reader here, I also didn’t want to leave the impression I was giving a blanket endorsement to the Slice of Laodicea blog or to Pirate Radio.   I’m just saying that I think in this instance they got it right.

Don’t Believe Anything I Say

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:18 pm

If you have strong convictions about some things, if you’re passionate about other things, and if you believe that truth matters, I can guarantee that not everybody will like you.

Yesterday a woman, on leaving my place of business, turned to my associate and said, referring to me, “Don’t believe anything he says.”    This is a woman whose pet ministry project (for lack of a better word) for the last twenty years — exactly twenty as of this fall — is currently under much local scrutiny.

There are currently large amounts of speculation and conjecture flying around as to what happened, what is happening and what will happen.   Personally, I like to stick to the facts.

That’s where the problem starts.   I have a very good memory for things.   I know who said what to who, when they said it, where they said it and possibly even what they were wearing.   But I try to deal to deal in facts.

Also, I tend to focus on comparisons.   Without actually acknowledging the issue someone else is raising, I may come back with, “Actually that’s very similar to an issue taking place in a number of locations right now; for example the way they’re handling something like this in…;” and then I’ll launch into a narrative that can only be described as informative.

I have a broad view of what is going on right now in church and ministry circles — blogging helps, too — and I believe that knowledge is power.   The more truthful and accurate information that is given to others, the better equipped they are to assess situations and make decisions.  My only part of the story that would concern this woman is admittedly subjective, and therefore has only been shared with a smaller subset of the whole, but it’s something that fortunately I have in writing.

In other words, I have no problem sleeping at night; but for the echoes of people like her making comments like that about people like me.

And in the middle of all that God sends someone.   Actually twice in six days, the same person has entered my life at moments of extreme vulnerability.   I don’t even know his last name.    He spoke encouragement and appreciation and helped me realize that for every Pharisee that is getting worked up over ecclesiastic issues, there are lepers and blind men and tax collectors  and prostitutes and broken people — which we all were and are at some time — who are being helped and healed and taught and encouraged and sorted.

We had a great conversation today.    I have no idea how long we talked, but I was an hour late getting home.    (And because of his delaying my departure, I had another great interaction with someone who came in after quitting time.)

So God is good.   No matter what the Pharisees think.   But don’t believe it just because I said it.

April 28, 2009

Great Sex Series: Great Idea or Great Mistake?

Filed under: Christianity, family, issues, marriage — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:04 pm

Before you get upset with another public school board trying turf out another Evangelical church group, ask yourself, is it possible that God is trying to tell somebody something?   Is this the real “face” of Sunday morning worship we want our churches to project?


HT: Gerrard Fess’ blog, Deep Thoughts.
Original story at (North Carolina)

Revisited: The Touch of the Master’s Hand

Filed under: Humor — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:52 am

Not exactly the way you remember it…


It was battered and scarred, And the auctioneer thought it
Hardly worth his while
To waste his time on the old violin,
But he held it up with a smile.
“What am I bid, good people”, he cried,
“Who starts the bidding for me?”
“One dollar, one dollar, Do I hear two?”
“Two dollars, who makes it three?”
“Three dollars once, three dollars twice, going for three”,

But, No,
From the room far back a grey haired man
Came forward and picked up the bow,
Then wiping the dust from the old violin
And tightening up the strings,
He played a melody, pure and sweet,
As sweet as the angel sings.

The music ceased and the auctioneer
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said “What now am I bid for this old violin?”
As he held it aloft with its bow.
“One thousand, one thousand, Do I hear two?”
“Two thousand, Who makes it three?”
“Three thousand once, three thousand twice,
Going and gone”, said he.

The audience cheered, But I just cried,
I hardly could believe
I’d almost got that old violin –
I could have had it for three.

‘Til that interfering old know-it-all sod
Stuck his nose where I wished he had not
And some overdressed twit outbid my three bucks
By a thousand times what I had brought.

So I watched that old fiddler return to his seat
Near the back where he had been sittin’
As he passed where I sat, I just couldn’t resist
I stuck out my foot and I tripped him.

Ruth Wilkinson

April 27, 2009

Andy Andrews’ Fourth Novel is More Autobiographical

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:54 am

noticerWriting in the first person this time, Andy Andrews, author of Traveler’s Gift, again presents what is very much a self-help book presented in narrative form.   In The Noticer,  officially releasing Tuesday (28th) the story is situated in his real-life community and refers to his real-life wife and sons, and shares experiences and principles that Andrews has found helpful in his own life.   But should it end up in the fiction section with his other books?  It’s clearly meant to be about Andrews himself.

The central character of the story however, is a man who simply goes by the name Jones.   Not ‘Mr. Jones,’ as we’re often reminded.    Christian book readers will immediately notice some similarities between Jones and John, the central character in The Shack-related title So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore, as both lead characters simply “show up” at pivotal times in peoples’ lives.

But while the John character is used to introduced a kind of Socratic dialog that deals with doctrinal matters — a similarity shared with David Gregory’s Dinner With A Perfect Stranger and its sequel — the Jones character in The Noticer leaves the title firmly planted in the “inspirational,” not doctrinal or apologetic category.   Its main message is that navigating through life is often a matter of perspective.   That’s the core essence of the book.  Other truths are added extras, much like the added toppings on a hamburger.

Some of the ideas clearly echo concepts brought out in The Traveler’s Gift, the first Andrews novel in this series published in 2002.   Both deal with people dealing with hard times, especially economic, so the release of this title right now is quite timely.     One early chapter is strongly reminiscent of Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages, abbreviated to four languages in this treatment.

The length of the book and the careful distance it seems to keep from stronger Christian terminology makes this an excellent gift for someone who has not yet crossed the line of faith; who is not a heavy reader; for a younger or older male reader; or for someone not interested in reading that fits into the regular “Christian living” section at the Christian bookstore.

This review is a part of the Thomas Nelson Book Review Bloggers series.
For an earlier review in this series, check out The Principle of the Path by Andy Stanley reviewed here.

April 26, 2009

Around the Blogosphere – Lots of Links

  • Gene Appel both followed Bill Hybels as lead pastor at Willow Creek and then preceded Bill’s return.   This article fills you in on where Gene is today.
  • Abraham Piper is away for a few days, so a rather large number of guest bloggers are living within the word-length constraints of filling in at 22 Words.
  • Flickering Pixels (Zondervan) author Shane Hipps gives four reasons in this short YouTube clip why he feels we can never achieve real community in the blogosphere.  His reasons are compelling — especially the idea that we tend to be part of blogs wherein we already share common ideas — but see the next item also.
  • Despite Hipps’ assertions (above), there is no escaping the gut-wrenching reality as blogger  John Saddington at Human 3rror   pours out his heart following the news from his wife’s OBGYN that their expected baby’s heart isn’t beating.     Read this, and then say a prayer for John and family.
  • Israel Houghton (“Friend of God”) has a new music video which you can watch here.
  • I don’t usually link to Stuff Christians Like because all Jon’s posts are great and I wouldn’t know where to begin; but this one from a few weeks ago (but just in time for the start of the American football season) really got to me, and I’m not even a sports fan!   (BTW, if you’re searching for humour (US-‘humor) of a Christian nature, Jon invited readers to suggest sources on this post.   You might even want to copy and paste all the comments.)
  • erin-betheaCanadian blogger and YWAM missionary Rick Apperson posts some short but pointed devotional thoughts every other day at the blog Just a Thought.   His blog doesn’t have a huge following, but we’re about to change all that, okay?    Right now I want to focus on a series of “Five Questions” he’s doing, mostly with people you already know, but also this one, with actress Erin Bethea who stars in the movie Fireproof.  Now we just need to get the guests to give longer answers!
  • Another Canadian — this one currently pastoring in the U.S. — Gerrard Fess at the blog Deep Thoughts by the G-Man,  suggests that when pastors relocate to a new community there are fourteen people they should get to know.
  • Just to clarify, my purpose with the Saddleback story (no pun intended) yesterday was to promote thought and discussion.  I’m totally in favour of the concept, just wondering about the long-term implications.   The “Signs” lyrics (not to mention Veggie Tales) may have suggested that I was being more judgemental than I was.

April 24, 2009

Church for the Wealthy: Saddleback Laguna Woods


If your view of church is that it’s an equalizer; that there is neither “male nor female; this ethnic group nor that ethnic group; or rich nor poor;” get ready to have that ideal shattered.

And the sign said long haired freaky people need not apply
So I tucked my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why
He said you look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you’ll do
So I took off my hat I said imagine that, huh, me working for you

jim-casparSaddleback Community Church has planted a church in the middle of a gated communityLaguna Woods in Laguna Hills, CA — and no, you can’t visit.   Neither can the Mystery Worshiper from Ship of Fools, nor can Jim and Caspar go to church for a visit, unless they or you are invited by a resident on the inside.

And the sign said anybody caught trespassing would be shot on sight
So I jumped on the fence and yelled at the house, Hey! what gives you the right
To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep mother nature in
If God was here, he’d tell you to your face, man you’re some kinda sinner

To be fair, (a) this is a community of 18,000; an unreached people group you might say, and (b) southern California invented the whole gated community thing; they exist there on every block the way Waffle House or Cracker Barrel exists in the southeast.    Still, there’s something unsettling about this, if only because (a) if it’s been done before, it’s certainly been low key and (b) it’s hard for anything connected with Saddleback to be low key.

I became aware of this through the blog called (wait for it…) Church Marketing Sucks and its link to Monday Morning Insight.    Before you jump to conclusions, I’d encourage you to read ALL the comments attached to both posts, since they provide not only opinion but further background information, some of which question whether gated communities should exist in the first place.     Still…

And the sign said everybody’s welcome to come in, kneel down and pray
But when they passed around the plate at the end of it all, I didn’t have a penny to pay,
So I got me a pen and a paper and I made up my own little sign
I said thank you Lord for thinking about me, I’m alive and doing fine

Having listened to the arguments for and the arguments against Saddleback’s initiative, I gotta say, I’m at a loss for words.   I just don’t know,  if I was sitting in the conference room at Saddleback a year ago or whenever this egg first hatched, which side of the opinion spectrum I’d be on.

veggie-gated-communityThe Gated Community
Is where we’ll always be
Our smiles are white
Cause we’re inside
In comfy custody
And when you come to visit
You can stand outside and see..
What a smiling bunch we are
In our gated unity!

On the one hand, I want to applaud Saddleback for their inventiveness, for recognizing a particular people group some of which are retirees who don’t get out in their cars as often as they’d like.   On the other hand, I’m reminded of something that served the United States Evangelical movement perfectly well for the better part of the last century:  (wait for it…) Bus Ministry.   (In capital letters, no less.)   Especially with the main Saddleback campus only ten minutes away.

Oh! The Gated Community

Is where we like to be

Our clothes are never dirty

And the lawns are always green

And when you come to visit

You can stand outside and see

What a tidy bunch we are

In our gated unity!

I guess my biggest concern is that everything we do should be without a hint of suspicion, so the blog comment that Saddleback is just ‘following the money’ has some justification, at least on the surface. And I often think about Proverbs 16:2, which says (he paraphrased) that everything we do can be rationalized one way or another, but God is busy checking out our motivation.   (And also reminded that no one is to judge the servant of another.)

The Gated Community
Is where we’ll always be
Our smiles are white
Cause we’re inside
In comfy custody
And when you come to visit
You can stand outside and see..
What a smiling bunch we are
In our gated unity!

So what are your thoughts?   If you have an issue with this, what’s the problem?   If you’re at peace with this, why do you think it’s got so many others steaming?

Lyrics from “Signs” by the Five Man Electrical Band (lyrics from the band’s home page) and from “The Gated Community”  from Veggie Tales’ Sherluck Holmes and the Golden Ruler (from Veggie Tales lyrics site.)   See sites for full lyrics with choruses not printed here.   Pictured gated community in Atlanta, GA    Persons priveleged to attend Saddleback Laguna Woods will be happy to know that free coffee and donuts are available both before and after each service.

April 23, 2009

Driving Against The Clock

Filed under: Christianity, family — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:57 pm

whatever-nexxt-clockFor some reason, it seems that every time we get in the car to go somewhere we are in a hurry.    The digital clock on the dashboard is a reminder that in order to get where we need to be on time, we really need to push it.   We call this situation, “Driving against the clock.”

First of all, I know some of you are thinking, “You need to ‘back-time’ your trips.”  Be assured, I am the master of back-timing.   I lay in bed at 4:00 AM thinking of what events need to take place before we leave and set the target departure time accordingly.

But then some of you are thinking, “In addition to ‘back-timing’ it, you need to also add a ‘buffer zone,’ some additional margin for unexpected delays.”  This is also good advice and we do that also.   Frankly, I’d rather arrive relaxed ten minutes early than be rushing in late.

Of course, some of you will say, “In addition to ‘back-time’ and ‘buffer zone,’ you need to analyze what throws you off your targets.   Are the events you need to do before you leave given sufficient time?   Should you set a larger buffer margin?”   These are good questions, perhaps you should go into the time management business.   Trust me, I’ve done the analysis and the problem is always something different every time.

Finally, some of you will dissect my original statement and say, “Obviously the problem is that you are driving against the clock; you need to let your wife drive and be free of the responsibility and pressure that comes with being the driver.”   While my wife will agree with this, and whereas it sounds good in theory; in practice I am a more restless and impatient passenger than I am a restless and impatient driver.   Being the driver at least keeps my hands and eyes busy.

Some day perhaps, I will ask God a question.   I’ll set it up by mentioning that in American football (for you Brits, it’s the one we play with a rugby-shaped ball) there are 50 yards on either side of the field.   In Canadian football there is an extra ten yards due to a “Center yard line;” though it’s probably spelled “Centre yard line.”   So my question would be, “Why couldn’t there have been a center-hour; midway through the day, that was neither morning nor afternoon, but a middle hour just for people like me to catch up?

At that point, He will probably look around and ask if anyone else has any questions.

So what have we learned today?   At the end of the day, we’re rarely late for anything.   That’s good, I suppose.   We just arrive totally frazzled.

Whatever clock sold at

Today’s Bonus — The Shack: Some Balanced Comments

With all The Shack-bashing taking place online, I thought posting links to these two reviewers would provide a bit of balance:
Well known blogger C. Michael Patton at Parchment and Pen
along with 63 comments and over 200 comments respectively

April 22, 2009

Am I A True Christian?

wolf_in_sheeps_clothingWell, this is a first for this blog: Using material from John MacArthur, albeit indirectly.   But I really like this series of 11 questions from I John, which I found last night posted on the blog Fallen and Flawed.

[We interrupt this blog post to point out that the graphic at left is, as the Brits would say, unnecessarily ‘over the top’ …  Now back to our regular programming.]

Now be very clear on this:  I want you to link to his blog so that you don’t miss the comments, but at risk of you not clicking and thereby missing out entirely, here are the 11 questions themselves:



1. Do you enjoy a close relationship with God and Christ? 1 John 1:2-3

2. Are you sensitive to sin in your life? 1 John 1:5-6

3. Do you obey God’s commands? 1 John 2:3

4. Do you reject this evil world? 1 John 2:15

5. Do you long for Jesus’ return? 1 John 3:2-3

6. Is the pattern of sin decreasing in your life? 1 John 3:8

7. Do you love other Christians? 1 John 3:14-15

8. Do you experience answered prayer? 1 John 3:21-22

9. Do you feel like the Holy Spirit is with you? 1 John 4:13

10. Can you tell the difference between spiritual truth and error? 1 John 4:1-3

11. Have you suffered rejection because of your faith? 1 John 3:13


Much as I like responses, I thought it would be a nice idea for you to leave any on this test with the source blog itself, so I’ve turned them off for this post.   (See link above.)

Special note to John MacArthur if you’re reading this:  “Nothing personal.”

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