Thinking Out Loud

December 31, 2010

Whatever Happened to the Memory Verse?

My mom turned her head to the back seat, “…You’ve got your offering, right?”

“One dime, same as always.”

“And you know your memory verse?”

“Oh, oh!”

A quick leaf through the student manual and I found the verse, which I committed to memory in about 30 seconds.  Most of them, I still remember today…

…Fast forward to 2011…

…What happened to scripture memory?   My kids went through the Sunday School system and have emerged with a fairly accurate God-picture and understanding of basic theology — probably more than I at their age — but very little actual memorization accomplished.

Meanwhile, we have some friends whose kids are part of a national “quizzing” program that has involved memorization of entire chapters of Paul’s epistles; even the entirety of some shorter ones.    So perhaps it’s us;  we failed as parents in this respect.

Either way, I think the Christian book market is going to be very, very ready for Gary Smalley’s new book Guarding Your Child’s Heart:  Establish Your Child’s Faith Through Scripture Memory and Meditation.

I’m not on any kind of review list for NavPress — I don’t even think they do that sort of thing — but I thought this book deserves some highlighting anyway.  Here’s what they say about it…

Most people have 20,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. And for Americans, more than half of those thoughts are negative. So how do you teach your children to guard their minds and hearts in today’s society? The last thing you need is more parenting advice that proves futile.

Your beliefs strongly influence your thoughts, words, and actions, which in turn form your emotions. So the key to a high-quality life is to create powerful beliefs within your heart that control your behavior. You can think whatever thoughts you want, but what would happen if you mainly thought about the words Jesus told you to think about more than two thousand years ago?

Seasoned marriage and family relationship expert Dr. Gary Smalley clearly understands the frustrations of trying to defend your children from destructive cultural influences. In this interactive twelve-week companion workbook that accompanies the Guarding Your Child’s Heart DVD series, Dr. Smalley presents how-to steps, engaging questions, practical exercises, and fun activities to help the whole family memorize and meditate on key Scriptures and lead an enriching life of humility, love, and gratitude.

I can so easily picture grandparents buying this for parents.   For whatever reasons.   I think scripture memory has become a lost art.   So maybe, just maybe, it’s a lost art we need to recover.

There’s also a DVD for this to be used in a small group situation.

“A spiritual community that does not transmit its sacred writings to its children is one generation away from extinction.”


December 30, 2010

Banned from Stuff Christians Like

I have always been a fan of Jon Acuff.   We started our blogs around the same time, though I suspect his daily readership is just a tiny bit larger than this one.    (He also backdated his early posts, so early visitors ended up seeing what appeared to be a work already in progress.)

I reviewed his book not once, not twice, but three times on blogs I write or administrate.   I’ve linked to him many, many times here.  Plus, I created a sidebar advertisement for the book which appeared on those same three blogs.

But I couldn’t help but notice several months ago that the recent comments I was leaving on the blog were not appearing.

Then, last week, Jon wrote about the fact that sometimes his wife sees some rather hurtful comments online before he does.    He then went on to talk about how sometimes these comments are simply intended to wound or discourage.

I figured that was as good a time as any to both (a) suggest that it is equally hurtful when valid, positive comments are excluded; and (b) to thereby test the waters to see if that comment might actually appear.   I didn’t copy and paste the comment before sending it, but I think I ended up by saying that no matter what else, I have always been and will always be supportive.

I think Jon Acuff is a brilliant writer who is genuinely funny and yet, at the same time has a real heart for people, a phrase he would probably have some fun with.    I have been thrilled to introduce his book and his blog to a number of people this year.

But I am currently being blocked from participating in that particular blog community.

Without knowing why.


Do you have any Christian blogs where your comments have been blocked without any particular provocation on your part?   Did you stop reading those blogs, or are you still a fan nonetheless?

Graphic:  Today’s graphic is actually from Facebook (which I’m not on) not any blogging network.    I fully empathize with anyone who has been so blocked without reasonable justification.

Elsewhere on this blog:

December 29, 2010

Wednesday Link List

A shorter group this time…

  • The big news that finally reached our corner of the world this week is Canada’s most popular Christian male vocalist, Steve Bell,  has recorded a new album with the title song, Kindness, written by Brian McLaren.   Yes, that Brian McLaren.   Details at Christian Week.
  • But in a slightly different musical genre, Steve has company on the link list, as the song Avalanche by Manafest (aka Toronto’s Chris Greenwood) is getting lots of airplay.    Start your investigation of Manafest at this MySpace page.   Or watch the video from Tooth ‘N Nail Records.
  • While most of the attention is focused on New York City, there are residents in Murfreesboro, Tennessee who don’t want a mosque in their backyard, either; and it’s taxpayers who are footing the bill for the legal batter, as reported at USA Today.
  • It’s unfortunate when you have to frame a definition in opposition to other circulating ideas, but Dan Phillips suggests the entry for Mary in a Bible dictionary might read, “The mother of Jesus. A pivotal yet minor figure in the New Testament, mentioned by name in only four books.”
  • Regent College professor, Pentecostal scholar, and author of How To Read the Bible for All It’s Worth Gordon Fee has a 30-minute video YouTube clip on how the book came to be as well as some of its major themes.
  • It must have a slow year for Christian news stories, because Christianity Today’s top ten stories of 2010 seems to missing anything of urgency.   And eight of its ten stories are U.S.-centric.
  • Always provocative — to some — Christian music artist Derek Webb is back in the online pages of Huffington Post.
  • Christianity 201 devotes two consecutive days to the writings of Rick James, author of A Million Ways to Die (David C. Cook)
  • We always end the link list with a cartoon and many of these have come from Baptist Press cartoonists such as Joe McKeever below.   Sadly, it looks like this is the last one, as the cheerful people at BP are attempting to invoke copyright that will permit e-blasts but not blogs.   Too bad; I thought when God gives gifts they’re for sharing.  Oh well.  We’re slowly running out of cartoons we can actually run, although I’m not sure what legal action they would take against a Canadian.    But never underestimate Baptists.   (Or cats.)  This one was quite funny, and it seems a good one to end 2010 with. To Joe, Doug, Dennis, Dennis, Frank and David:  We’ll miss you!

December 28, 2010

Where The Symbolism Ends

Filed under: cartoons, Christmas, Church — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:59 pm

This appeared on Dave Walker’s Cartoon Blog before Christmas.    After e-mailing it to a few people, I thought it really should appear here.    So many times in church life, new people come in to our various congregations and fellowships and don’t know where the doctrine ends and the surrounding culture begins.   “Don’t steal.”   That’s Biblical.    “Children should not run in the sanctuary.”   That’s surrounding culture.   “Honor your parents.”   Biblical.  “Wear your best to church on Sunday.”   Surrounding culture.

And so on.   We know the difference, right?  But does everybody?

BTW, if you don’t already have Cartoon Blog bookmarked, now’s a good time; especially if you’ve got connections to the UK, or Anglican/Episcopalean roots.


1,000,000 Channel World

Filed under: media — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:48 pm

Seth Godin blogged this a few days before Christmas, where it appeared under the title…

Three ways TV changed everything (and what’s next)

TV changes everyone it touches.

TV brings mass. For fifty years, TV meant that programmers and advertisers had a very good chance to reach everyone, or almost everyone, at the same time. TV integrates a culture, because there’s instant common touchstones being generated daily. (When I say, “yadda yadda yadda” or “where’s the beef,” you know what I mean, right?)

TV brings pluralism and diversity.  This seems to contradict the first, but it doesn’t. Once TV has opened a channel to the brain, it can bring in whatever it chooses, without clearing it with you first. So, the viewer can discover that people-who-don’t-look-like-us aren’t so different, or that women might be good cops, or that a member of the [insert oppressed group] might also be a person too.

and finally, TV brings dissatisfaction.  Advertising needs to make you dissatisfied to work. And picture perfect sitcom families have more money and less trouble than most folks (because they’re not real).

Now, of course, TV isn’t what it used to be. No more three-channel universe. That means that the cable/internet virus changes everyone in a very different way. Call it the million channel world (mcw).

The mcw brings addressability. There is no mass any more. You can’t reach everyone. Mad Men is a hit and yet it has only been seen by 2% of the people in the USA.

The mcw bring silos, angry tribes and insularity. Fox News makes a fortune by pitting people against one another. Talkingpointsmemo is custom tailored for people who are sure that the other side is wrong. You can spend your entire day consuming media and never encounter a thought you don’t agree with, don’t like or don’t want to see.

And finally, I have no idea if the mcw is making us happy. Surely, a substantial use is time wasting social network polishing, and that’s not really building anyone’s long-term happiness. And the mcw makes it easier to get angry, to waste time (there’s never ‘nothing on’) or become isolated. Without a doubt, the short-term impact of mcw is that it makes it easy to spread terror and harder to settle on the truth. At the same time, there’s no doubt that more people are connected to more people, belong to more tribes, have more friends, and engage more often than they did before it got here. We got rid of some gatekeepers, but there’s a race for some new ones. In the meantime, a lot of smart people are fending for themselves, which isn’t so bad.

One thing we learned from the TV age that’s still true: more media is not always better, particularly when we abdicate our power to filter and choose.

December 27, 2010

Not All Tweets are Mindless

Randy Morgan writes this past week of joining the Twitter-ers.    Well, reluctantly:

One of the reasons I’ve resisted using this medium for so long, is that some people “tweet” some pretty inane things.  Call me unkind, but I don’t care what you order at Starbuck’s.  Another pet peeve of mine is people quoting people who quoted someone else.  I would think if I had nothing to say, I simply would not tweet.

But then he came across Bob Goff who seems to have taken a higher road when it comes to the 140-character limitation.

Goff is an attorney who founded Restore International, a non-profit organization which was established to address the atrocities and injustices committed against children.  Besides traveling around the world to save children, this guy is totally quote-worthy.  He almost single-handedly restored my faith in Twitter.  If you don’t follow Bob Goff, let me share a few of his most recent tweets…

“Gold? Incense? Myrrh??? I wanted a bike”

“Jesus never hides, but even wise men needed to look for Him”

“We all get a chance to be Innkeepers; who we let in can make us wise men too

“The gospel story is just as much about the beginning as the ending; us too

“We get to be Christmas; we don’t need to just celebrate it”

“I love that Christmas isn’t an event; it’s an invitation

“Our faith doesn’t just happen; some assembly required”

“The whole world is holding its breath, hoping that you will be incredible

“Eat, drink and be helpful

“Do everything that you can to put yourself in the position of doing everything that you can

“Take off your shoes; God is present. We may not know all of the steps to take, but we usually know the next barefoot one

“Stop loving people like we’re on probation; do it like you’re on the honor role”

Unfortunately, Randy didn’t include the @name, or should that be #name?   Don’t know.  But I did find this.   It’s great to find people out there who are raising the bar; who want to be influencers.

So today’s question(s) to fellow-bloggers:   Do you have an epic post?   Do you think Bob Goff has the right idea?   Are you willing to join me in committing to stepping up our use of social media to publish the occasional item of richer substance?

P.S.:  You can always link from here to Randy’s blog anytime using the blogroll at right, look for Blog: Your Best Life Later.

December 26, 2010

Getting Clear Vision for 2011

Many of you are in leadership positions at your local church.   Tony Morgan just had the opportunity to interview Will Mancini, the founder and Clarity Evangelist of Auxano. Will describes his job title as consultant, strategist, and vision architect for churches and ministries across the country. The Auxano team provides churches with consulting about the clarity of their vision, rather than marketing and promotional consulting.

TONY: From your experience, what does a great vision look like?

WILL: Just like wind, we can describe either the wind itself or the effects of the wind. When most people think about great vision, they think about the effects. Things like enthusiasm for being a part of something big, a real sense of togetherness or freedom to take risks. The list goes for miles.

But in describing what great vision itself looks like, I boil it down to having a clear, concise and compelling answer to five questions:

  • What are we doing?
  • Why are we doing it?
  • How are we doing it?
  • When are we successful?
  • Where is God taking us?

In the end if individuals on the team don’t  “own” a common response to these questions, than vision clarity work is an urgent need that should be developed before other decisions are made…

continue reading here

December 25, 2010

Christmas Narrative, Street Bible Style

Rob Lacey was an actor and street performer in England who performed in inner-city London and Manchester, and wrote a book called The Street Bible which was a kind of “highlights reel” of all 66 Biblical books and later became published in America as The Word on The Street.   Before passing away all too soon he also wrote a more complete free-style paraphrase of a harmonization of the synoptic gospels that was published in both countries as The Liberator.

Because my wife had taken the time to type out the text for a Christmas Eve service we did, I wanted to include them here for all to read.   She made some minor edits to it, and the poem is of other origin, which I can’t trace right now.   Remember, this was written for inner-city youth in urban centers in the UK and makes no pretense to be an actual translation.

So how’d it happen?  Baby Jesus.  The Liberator?  You ready for this?

I’ll tell you:  his mum, Mary, is engaged to Joe.  They’d not had sex yet, but – weird!  She’s pregnant!  Courtesy of the Holy Spirit.

Focus on Joe.  A good guy, trying to do the right thing and he’s desperate to keep this news quiet.  The locals would come down so hard on her.  He’s working out how best to deliver the “sorry, but it’s off” speech – without the gossip grapevine crashing from overload.

He’s smashing the billiard balls of his best options around his brain, well into the early hours.  Finally he drops off and God downloads a dream:  An angel saying:

“Joe Davidson, don’t you chicken out of making Mary your wife.  I’ll tell you why.  ‘Cause it’s the Holy Spirit’s baby.  She’ll have a boy, and you’ll put the name Jesus down on the birth certificate.  Why “Jesus”?  ‘Cause it means Liberator and that’s what he’s going to do for all his people…. liberate them from all the mess they’ve gotten themselves into.”

Joe wakes up and, yes, realizes it was all a dream.  But he follows his Angel Orders to the letter and the wedding’s back on as soon as the baby’s born.  Joe makes sure the birth certificate reads, “First name:  Jesus.”

Meanwhile, in the depths of the Roman Empire, he-who-must-be-obeyed, Augustus Caesar, announces the Big Count.  Caesar, the Big Cheeser, wants accurate population stats across the empire.  Everyone is expected to trek back to their hometown for the registration.

So Joe Davidson sets off on the 130 km trip down the map, crosses the border and arrives in Bethlehem, Davidstown, in the south.  He takes his fiancee Mary, who’s pregnant and showing.  Three, four, maybe five days later they arrive and realize someone else is about to cross a border and arrive in Bethlehem.

Crisis!  Her waters break!  “No vacancy” signs in every B&B window.  Decision.  Mary has a ‘home birth’ in a livestock shed.  She wraps strips of cloth round the baby and uses an animal feeding trough as a cot.

Noisy night, chaotic night
All is alarm, all is fright
Rounded virgin, now mother to child
Wholly infant, so other, so wild
Awake at an unearthly hour
Awake at an unearthly hour

Pull back to the fields outside the overpacked town, focus in on a local Sheep Security Team sitting through their night shift.

One of God’s angels turns up, with brilliant supernatural special FX packing the fields with God’s radiance.  The guys are scared stupid.

The angel delivers his standard, “Don’t panic” line then hits them with, “I’ve got great news, great news to bring a smile to every shape of face on the planet.  Mark the date in your diaries.  Today over in Davidstown there’s a new baby born.  Not just any baby – The Baby!  The Boss, Liberator God himself, turning up for you in baby shape.  You’ll know which baby – he’ll be wrapped up snug and lying in a feeding trough that’s caked with old animal grub.”

Cued to make their entrance on the last line of the breaking news, the whole angel choir turn up and blast out the song:

“Celebrate!  Elevate!  And on planet Earth, serenity.  In your earthly home, shalom for all who have known God’s smile.”

Once the angel choir scoots back up the Heavenly HQ, the Sheep Security Team come out with, “Let’s check it out”.  “Yeah, let’s hit the town.”  “Search the whole of Bethlehem for this baby.”  “God’s put us in the picture – let’s go!”

They leg it and, sure enough, they track down Mary and Joe, then find the baby in his makeshift cot.  The next days they fill the pubs with echoes of what they’d been told about this baby.  The public pulse is breakneck pace as “Liberator Talk” bounces round the walls of the town.  The reactions range from amazed to – well, amazed.

The Sheep Security Team go back to work, talking up God for letting them in on the whole adventure.

And Mary’s reaction?  She’s quietly storing away all of this in a safe place in her heart, bringing memories out when ever she has some space to wonder.

December 24, 2010

When the Camera Zooms in a Little Closer, Christmas is Messy

Today at the CNN Belief Blog, Shaine Claiborne and Common Prayer co-editor Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove take a few minutes to rethink Christmas.   As with other things Shane has written, this should make you sufficiently uncomfortable!! The beginning of the article is here, click through at the end to finish reading, or simply link there now.

It’s not all that strange this time of year to see Christians outside in bathrobes, trying to keep a little baby warm in the straw of a cattle trough. (Truth be told, it’s usually a doll; but we get a real donkey from time to time.)

We Christians like to re-enact the birth of Jesus and hear the angels sing again, “Peace on earth, good will toward men.” This is our good news. It feels good when our neighbors pause to listen.

But we rarely tell the whole story. The baby in a manger is cute. The shepherds in their field are quaint. The magi from the east give the whole scene some dignity.

But most of our churches are “seeker sensitive” when it comes to retelling the Christmas story. Our kids don’t dress up like the undocumented workers who do shepherds’ work today. We often fail to mention that Mary was an unwed mother. When we re-create the manger scene, we don’t reproduce the odor. We like to clean the whole thing up a bit. It makes it easier to go home and enjoy Christmas dinner.

As much as both of us love a good meal with our families, we’re pretty sure Jesus didn’t come to initiate a sentimental pause in holiday consumption. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” John’s gospel says. Jesus moved into the neighborhood, and it wasn’t necessarily good for property values.

Christmas reminds us how Jesus interrupts the world as it is to reveal the world as it ought to be. When we pay attention to the story, it exposes our desperate need for a better way. This always makes some people mad…

…continue reading



On a personal note, I want to wish T.O.L. regular readers a Christmas season rich in the depth of meaning of God’s gift of love.     I also want to thank the hundred or so of you who have clicked through to watch our little Christmas song.   It’s not the finest recording job, but I hope the song speaks to some people about what Christmas is all about.

December 23, 2010

An Incredible Act of Generosity

Filed under: charity, philanthropy — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:09 am

As we come within hours of a day marked by believers and non-believers alike with a spirit of giving; here’s an example of that kind of giving spirit in action.  Today I want all of you to click the links. I dare you. The first one will take less than 1:00 to read and will make you want to click the second.  But it’s not for the weak of faith.

This is the Christmas Sunday service at Cross Point church in Nashville, Tennessee where Pete Wilson pastors.

To prepare you for what you’re about to read, here’s the short version.

Now that you’re ready for it, here’s the detailed version.

That is one amazing Christmas service people will long remember.

And what better time to remind my Canadian readers that we have two days left to contribute to the Salvation Army iKettle. Click here to donate. Your donations stay with the S.A. branch closest to your community.

Watch or listen to the service at Cross Point.  Go to their media page and select December 20th.

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