Thinking Out Loud

February 28, 2013

Local Churches are Better Together

So what happens when five local church pastors show up for four Sunday mornings at the wrong churches?

That’s what’s happening right now where I live. Actually, it kicked off last weekend. The concept has been in the planning stages since early fall, and this extended game of pastor musical chairs is called Better Together.  To be sure, these Evangelical pastors are making history.

Each week for four weeks they are preaching a sermon series that finds them in a different location. Then on week five they speak at their home church. The series culminates in a joint Good Friday service five days later, something these churches have been doing for about 25 years.  The Good Friday event is actually two services, held in the grand ballroom of a local hotel.

Participating congregations and ministers include our local Fellowship Baptist, Pentecostal Assemblies, Christian & Missionary Alliance, Convention Baptist and Salvation Army churches.  It’s a great show of unity. It’s a great demonstration to the local community that we’re not in competition with each other; that we share a single message even though we meet and worship independently.

But there’s more.

Part of the Better Together initiative is to raise both money and a labor pool for the construction of what is currently the last remaining Habitat for Humanity property in the town. The offering will be taken at the Good Friday service and the pastors have pledged $60,000; an ambitious goal in a small town. It’s the type of thing that no church in this area could take on themselves, but another reminder that we are Better Together.

Would this work where you live? I think you have to have the right spiritual atmosphere for something like this to work and I believe the annual Good Friday service has paved the way for something like this to happen. Added to this is the dynamic of the particular lead pastors currently serving in the town being in one mind on this project. 

But whether it works now for you, or in the future, I hope this idea becomes contagious.


February 27, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Bart Simpson - Love Wins

Link and the world links with you…  The cartoon? See item 4 below:

For Heaven's Sake - Feb 4 2013

February 26, 2013

C201 Crossover Post: Accusation vs. Conviction

I’ve been trying to write more of the C201 posts myself lately. But it ain’t easy. Anybody can blog. You have to work a little harder to write a Bible study or devotional article, especially if people are depending on it as one of their key reads for that day.

As it turns out, you’re reading this first, since C201 posts appear in the afternoon. Enjoy.

NLT Ps. 51:3 For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.

KJV Ps. 51:3 For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

ESV Revelation 12:10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.

NIV I Thess. 1:4 For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake.

NIV I Tim. 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…

Sometimes you just know when you’ve messed up. You need neither the devil’s accusation nor the Holy Spirit’s conviction. It’s black and white. You missed the mark. You weren’t even aiming for the target. You recognize that the border between the righteousness and holiness that people in your church think you live out, and the propensity to sin of weaker brothers is a border only micro-millimeters thick.

How did I think that? What made me say that? Why did I look at her/him the way I did? Why did I charge that customer for two hours’ labor when I did the job in one? Why did I click on that website? Where did that anger come from when they mentioned that person’s name? Why did I say I’d be there when I have no intention of attending?

Yikes! I’m no different than anyone else! Here I thought — and everybody else thought — that I was super spiritual, when in fact I’m … human.

That’s the moment to confess.

This is often referred to as “keeping short accounts with God.” The blog Amazing Grace Bible Studies explains:

…let’s consider the phrase as it is used in accounting acumen. To keep your accounts payable on a “short basis” simply means to keep them “paid up”, or rather, not to let them become extended. An example of this would be to pay off your credit card balance every month.

In the spiritual sense, when looking at the theology that prescribes this practice, it always refers to confession of sin(s) (the equivalent of a liability or debt in accounting terms), and requesting to be forgiven of sins on a daily basis.1 When you hear believers say that they are “prayed up” this invariably means that they’ve got all their sins “confessed up.”

Rick Warren adds,

“Clean hands” simply means a clear conscious. Does that mean we’re perfect? No. None of us is perfect. But we can keep short accounts with God. 1 John 1:9 (TLB) says, “But if we confess our sins to him, he can be depended on to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.” So when we sin, we just say, “God, I was wrong. I confess it.” There is no power without a clear conscience.

Classic writer A. B. Simpson wrote:

…I was very much struck some years ago with an interpretation of the verse: So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God (Romans 14:12). The thought it conveys is that of accounting to God daily. For us judgment is passed as we lay down on our pillows each night. This is surely the true way to live. It is the secret of great peace. It will be a delightful comfort when life is closing or at the Master’s coming, to know that our account is settled and our judgment over. For us, then, there is only the waiting to hear the glad Well done, good and faithful servant; . . . enter thou into the joy of thy Lord (Matthew 25:21).

But sometimes we feel a sense of a nagging in our heads and hearts either because (a) we haven’t confessed yet, or (b) we have but something about our sin is such that our brain won’t let go of it — or at least that would be a superficial explanation to what is going on.

But what’s really going one? In either case above, it has to be either:

  • the conviction of the Holy Spirit (or you might read the I Thess. passage above as ‘the conviction of the gospel’ or in I Tim., the rebuke of God’s Word); or,
  • the accusation of Satan who is described (in the Rev. passage above) as the accuser of the brethren (and, as some translations add, the sistren.) (Yes, I know that’s not a word.)

Conviction or accusation?

So when you find yourself in the situation of unconfessed sin, or of sin you feel you did indeed confess, then is what you are experiencing conviction or accusation?

Does it really matter?

No, I mean that question. We looked at a tough passage a few days ago where David took the census, and the two Old Testaments account differed in terms of whether the idea for David to do this came from Satan or from God. Theologians aren’t sure; the jury is still out on how to interpret this passage.

So here’s what I think. And remember this is just one guy’s opinion.

Devil Accusation Holy Spirit Conviction

I believe that, to use a train analogy, sometimes conviction and accusation arrive on parallel tracks. Both will lead you in the same direction. One is very negative: “So I guess we’re not so spiritual after all, are we?” But the other comes from a heart of love, “Let’s get that confessed, so that we can spend the rest of the day walking in grace and forgiveness.”

One will beat you over the head. Actually, you don’t need to be a Christ-follower to have that experience. All humans have some degree of guilt-reflex.

But the other will free you, provided you act on that conviction, confess and move on.

Visit Christianity 201 for more daily devotional / Bible study material

February 25, 2013

Support Your Local Youth Pastor

Last week at the Hemorrhaging Faith seminar, presented by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, we were reminded that the youth pastors in local churches sometimes are at the bottom of the totem pole or church hierarchy, but in fact are most critical to the future survival of the church. Even the churches that are the best at retention of their young adults — losing only a third of them — will be, in two generations, one-sixth of their present size if the trend does not reverse itself. 

Then on the weekend, I dropped in for just a few minutes at the Today’s Teens conference in Oakville (outside Toronto, Canada) where I picked up a brochure containing a document representing a pledge of support from local Canadian churches to their youth ministry worker(s).  It’s based on a similar program in the UK for which you can download the .pdf booklet here.

Youth MinistryThe Canadian organization that drafted this is headed by Marv Penner. Marv was a fireman who went on to serve the youth at Bayview Glen Alliance Church in Toronto and later went on to write youth ministry curriculum for Zondervan, and get a graduate degree in counseling. He was one of the featured speakers at the conference. 

I tried to locate some of the Canadian document online to link to and include here, but I will simply have to summarize it:

  • churches pledge to give youth workers prayer and spiritual support
  • churches pledge to give youth workers space for retreat and reflection
  • churches pledge to give youth workers ongoing training and development
  • churches pledge to give youth workers at least one full day of rest per week
  • churches agree to share responsibility towards youth
  • churches pledge to strive to be an excellent employer
  • churches pledge to celebrate and appreciate what the youth worker is doing

…A few weeks ago I was helping someone who was experiencing problems with their telephone service and the call got transferred briefly to a department called “Win Back.” I thought it interesting that this rather monopolistic telecom had a department devoted entirely to customer retention.  Middle aged and older adults are not leaving church at the rate that young adults are. The youth pastor of your church is, in fact, the “Win Back” department; the person in charge of church member/adherent retention.

Staff turnover in youth ministry is abysmal, yet each staff transition represents an ideal exit time for young people which they frequently seize. So in a way, this is also all about youth worker retention. Keep the youth pastor happy and engaged, and he/she will stay. When the youth worker stays, the local church has consistency in that ministry department. Where there is consistency, kids, teens and young adults don’t drop out.

February 24, 2013

5 Years of Blogging: What Really Matters

Blog AnniversarySo what have we learned so far? I can’t speak for “we” but I can speak for “me.”

First of all, God has a very large, very diverse family here. Even the most prominent are but a very tiny piece of much larger puzzle. And we can be puzzling at times. We have to learn to see those who believe differently on peripheral issues not in terms of the differences, but in the light of our agreement on the core principles of our faith.

Second — and this is related — only a few of us ever attract attention. Some make the headlines for good reasons, and some for activities not so God-honoring. But the great majority of those of you (us) who follow Christ do so “in your small corner, and I in mine.” We quietly work out what it means to be kingdom people. We try not to be star-struck.

Third, our best hope of kingdom living, our best desire to do what The Book says we should do is constantly under threat both from the larger culture and from the church culture. The broader culture wants to bring us down to their level of depravity, the church culture wants to take our simple faith and make it into religious observance.

Fourth, the western church is totally corrupted by materialism and success. Even the poorest of the poor in developed countries enjoys a level of comfort unknown in the two-thirds world.

Fifth, for the most part, even the most vile and uncharitable people love their children. There are some elements that are just part of the human experience we have in common. God sees the redemptive potential in even the worst person, and so also should we.

Sixth, for the Christian, text matters. Far too much — including what you’re reading right now — is being written that doesn’t start with scripture or isn’t rooted in Bible text. (The daily hunting and gathering for C201 reminds me each day how few bloggers actually begin with text.) Scripture memory is generally on the decline, and many — men especially — aren’t reading Christian literature at all.

Seventh, each one of us needs to be developing a personal, systematic theology so that we can respond when asked what we believe. We should know the ways of God; truly know what Jesus would do. But we should write our theology in pencil, not pen; remaining open to the possibility that what we see as through frosted glass will become clearer over time and therefore subject to change.

Eighth, we need to travel lightly. This is an area where I have failed. We have too much stuff. But people who have their suitcase packed are free to follow God’s leading. This may seem to lend itself more to single people, but I’ve heard of families who followed God’s leading to simply pack up and go.

Ninth, we need to stop always characterizing behavior in terms of right and wrong, and recognize that in many cases, missing the mark means missing God’s best. While sin is sin with God — He has no gradients — we need to think in terms of: good, better, best. Then we should work to promote and practice the best but not alienate those currently settling for the good (or less).

Tenth, we need to do what Henry Blackaby calls ‘coming alongside areas where the Holy Spirit is at work.’ We need to celebrate and join hands with people and organizations who are spreading the kingdom by traditional means or by reinventing the wheel. We need to focus on what and who we admire, the people and institutions that are excellent and praiseworthy. That’s part of the purpose of Thinking Out Loud.

~Paul Wilkinson

February 23, 2013

And Then We Were Five

Filed under: blogging — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:07 am

Have I really been doing this for five years?  Apparently.

What do I want as a birthday present?  More comments.

Why am I using this awkward question and answer format?  I have no idea.

Blog AnniversarySo here we are at the five year mark. Marks for consistency, right? Like the student whose marks are influenced by the fact they had perfect attendance. But an exercise in consistency and personal discipline isn’t a bad thing, right?

Generally, although it is a lot of work some weeks, I am really happy that I launched Thinking Out Loud all those years ago. I have met some of the greatest people, been encouraged to read some of the most interesting books, have been kept abreast of some of the most bizarre religious news stories, and mostly, I have been forced to think about things that I might have never considered.

And then there’s Christianity 201, which is very much a part of the Thinking Out Loud story. If you have trouble maintaining a steady Bible study and devotional habit, then start a Bible study and devotional blog. Seriously. Even if nobody shows up to read, it is its own reward; which I realized last week when an hour’s worth of research and quote-pasting disappeared completely. It was frustrating, but I knew that time was primarily for me, and that perhaps the full text I had prepared was never meant to be seen by the blog readership.

So while we don’t have cake and ice cream, I hope you’ll take some time today to pick a few blogs and websites from the list that appears on the right sidebar here every day, and pay a visit to some of my online friends and acquaintances.  (Just keep coming back, as they don’t open in new windows.)

5th Anniversary Reader Testimonial*

I was suffering from a case of general malaise and, punctuation issues and was several weeks between jobs and just not very happy. Then I started reading Thinking Out Loud. I noticed an unquantifiable change began to take place as I was reading. Within the next five days I was able to get a job and even though my new employer may not be operating legally, my malaise disappeared and was replaced by a blissful feeling of indifference, which I believe is better.  So I wrote to you and you told me to write this testimonial and to embellish the facts a little.~ B. R.

*an actual reader response from an actual reader which we made up ourselves.

So there you have it.

And I believe that reader speaks for all of you.

Archives: Jeff Larson’s The Back Pew has appeared many times at this blog, but this was not only the first cartoon, but the first graphic.  Apparently it took me a month to add pictures, it appeared on March 22nd, 2008 and it’s been here so long the page is starting to yellow:

Jeff Larson - The Back Pew

Special Shoutouts:   Clark, Cynthia, Martin & Nancy, Cloudwatcher, Regent Jon; and everyone else who comments and sends link suggestions — Thanks! You know who you are!  To Ruth (aka Mrs. W.) thanks for the typo spotting and transcribing.

Finally: For those feeling disappointed that there’s no actual content here today, or certainly nothing new, we want to introduce you to Derek The Cleric.   (I had a hard time choosing which panel to include!) Be sure to check out his website and Facebook page.

Derek The Cleric - Pope Envy

February 22, 2013

David Gregory Makes it a Trilogy

Filed under: apologetics, books — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:15 am

Night With A Perfect StrangerAlthough there has been a publisher change between the second and third books, David Gregory’s Dinner with a Perfect Stranger and A Day with a Perfect Stranger now has third companion title,  Night with a Perfect Stranger  (2012 Worthy Press hardcover).

I got to know David through the first two books, and then followed him to the nearly 400-page novel The Last Christian, which I reviewed here.  The first two books were also used as the basis of two movies, but with some significant plot changes. I explained the mapping of the two books to the two films here.

So it was interesting to follow David back to the much shorter (120 or so pages) format of the earlier titles.

I actually borrowed this book because I wanted to read it. I’m not aware of Worthy (the publisher) having any kind of review programs. So having mentioned it here let me use bullet points to highlight a few things:

  • The basic premise you have to agree to is that Jesus can appear to people today in the flesh. Yes, of course you disagree that this happens, but you need to suspend that issue to enjoy the book.
  • While this continues to be “apologetics fiction,” the main theme here is the nitty gritty of living the Christian life, of keeping up the zeal we have at major turning points when spiritual disciplines or church life become routine.
  • Tied to this is the nature of God’s dealings with us and the nature of God’s presence.
  • Like the first book — but not the second — there is more appeal here to the male reader, but not at the expense of women who will enjoy this as well.
  • This one is less static; there are more locations; there is more action.
  • There is a fun reference to “that book where God is an African-American woman,”  and readers of “that book” and others like it will enjoy this.
  • The back cover of the book, above the bar code, doesn’t indicate the title as fiction which, in terms of literary genre, it clearly is. Not sure why.

At $14.95 U.S., hardcover gift books like these are not cheap, but they are certainly worth giving to the right person who is struggling with a present Christian life that doesn’t equal past Christian experiences; or is simply longing, as we all do, for something more.

February 21, 2013

At the Mercy of The Cloud

Filed under: blogging — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:03 am

Tuesday night I returned home to find an email waiting from WordPress, the people through whom this and my five other blogs are available. Apparently, back in November 2010 at Christianity 201, I re-blogged a very short poem from a UK blogger who failed to mention that he had borrowed it from someone else. The someone else turned out to be a rather high profile poet, who had noticed it on my site — or had it pointed out — and was invoking copyright action to have it removed. 

wordpress_iconsNo problem, I was happy to comply within about 60 seconds.

But the notice also said, “…Republishing this material without permission of its copyright holder – or continuing to publish material that results in DMCA Takedown Notices – will result in a permanent suspension of your site and account.”

I suddenly realized that this blog — five years worth of my thoughts on various issues including some pieces involving extensive research — exists only by the grace of WordPress.

And I realized that the success this blog — and others like Book Shop Talk and Christianity 201 — have achieved is a bit of a source of personal pride. I would be very sad to see it end and more sad to see it disappear, a fate that has befallen a few of my fellow bloggers who published on other platforms. But pride isn’t a good thing; and I needed to be reminded that everything we think we are doing whether it be for God or for ourselves, is all basically here today and gone tomorrow.

So yes, I put a lot of work into this thing, but I can’t let it consume or become my identity. (I know bloggers whose success has, I believe, created a monster that must be fed and watered several times a day.)  But I will check out sources on articles (and pictures) more carefully to make sure I’m not stealing anyone’s intellectual property that wouldn’t want their material disseminated on other platforms, which fortunately is the desire of most writers in the Christian blogosphere.

Besides, we have a five-year blogaversary to celebrate on Saturday.

February 20, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Cleveland City Mission

Who needs LinkedIn when you’re linked in here?  The picture, Gasoline Gospel is from; captioned “August 1937. ‘Gas station and gospel mission in Cleveland, Ohio.’ In addition to Koolmotor ‘Gasolene,’ a long-defunct Cities Service brand, we also seem to have at least a couple of the major food groups represented here, as well as two verses from the New Testament. Photo by John Vachon.” Click the image to see the entire picture full size along with more glimpses into history.

  • Start with this one: 33 Ways to Know You Were a Youth Group Kid.
  • Nick Vujicic, born without arms and legs, is the father of a newborn baby boy
  • Got 19 minutes? Meet Atheism 2.0, an atheism for people who are attracted to the ritualistic side, the moralistic side, but can’t stand the doctrine.
  • First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas is just days away from the opening of its new $130 million facility. And don’t miss the three videos which rationalize that expense.
  • A sixteen-year old in Texas is suing her parents who are trying to coerce her to have an abortion she does not want. (See update in comments section.)
  • Rick Warren has shied away from TV and radio, but is launching a 30-minute daily radio show to air in the top 25 U.S. markets.
  • Early artwork has surfaced for the new Left Behind movie; which is actually a remake of the original (book one) story; this one with Nicolas Cage.
  • Also at Todd Rhoades’ blog: Should churches have Tweet seats
  • When a U.S. Lutheran pastor attended an interfaith prayer event following the Sandy Hook shooting, he violated denominational rules against ‘joint worship’ with people of other faiths. Now the LC-MS denomination is embarrassed by the reaction on social media.
  • Veteran Christian music artist Carman reveals to his Facebook followers that he has an incurable cancer.
  • Here’s info on an upcoming conference (April 11-13) in Virginia that I would love to be able to attend; presented by Missio Alliance, it’s titled The Future of the Gospel
  • Home-schooling is banned in Germany, so a family there fled to the U.S. for asylum which was granted in 2010. But now, the Department of Homeland Security is seeking the family’s deportation, which would lead to persecution back home.
  • There are some new posts at The Elephant’s Debt, a website devoted to issues of alleged financial improprieties involving James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel.
  • An alternative wording to The Lord’s Prayer — the Kiwi version, perhaps — you never know what you’ll find in used bookstores
  • Here’s what I wrote to my colleagues in the Christian book trade about the dwindling relationship between bloggers and publishers seeking book reviews.
  • And since we’re ending on a book theme, here’s the chart — including one title error, if you can spot it — of what people in my part of the world purchased in 2012:

Searchlight 2012 Chart

February 19, 2013

Ben Witherington’s Seven Papal Suggestions

I considered this for the link list, but decided it was truly worth a re-blog. You can read it at source at Ben Witherington III’s blog Bible and Culture.  (If you want your comment to be seen by the author, leave it at the source blog, not here.)

I was caught totally off guard. When was the last time a Pope stopped poping while still wearing his Papal slippers? The answer is almost six hundred years ago. No wonder I didn’t realize this could even happen. On further review, shock turned to understanding. A Pope who was PUP (physically unable to perform the job) decided it was time to step down, and hopefully let younger healthier folks do the job. One of the great problems of course with electing Popes is that it has tended to be based on seniority and experience. And this in turn means that old folks who already have their AARP status become Popes. But frankly the job of Pope is too demanding even just physically for almost any 75-85 year old person, and it became so for Pope Benedict.

Benedict, as we now know, had had a pacemaker inserted into his heart recently. He was tired, worn out. I am not referring to world-weariness or even the weariness that comes from fighting things like the scandal of pederasty again and again in the church. I have no say whatsoever over who should be the next Pope, but if I did here is what I would use as criteria:

1) Pick someone over 50 but under 65 for a change. We need a younger person with fresh ideas not to mention someone in the peak of physical health.

2) If you can find someone who is as good and critical a thinker and theolog as Pope Benedict, by all means pick that person;

3) Pick someone who is not so wed to Catholic traditions that have not been part of ex cathedra pronouncements that he would tend to avoid some serious changes— like for example the option of a priest to be married if he did not have the gift of celibacy. This in itself would probably reduce the danger of pederasty considerably.

4) Pick someone who is prepared to continue the ecumenical discussions with Evangelical Protestants, working towards more concordats on faith and praxis.

5) Pick someone who is prepared to continue the process of weeding out superstitious practices and inessential ideas. For example, the recent dropping of the expectation that a good Catholic ought to believe in limbo is a good thing. In short, a more Biblically focused faith, and one less steeped in traditions that do not comport with the Bible (for example Jesus’ descent to the dead) would be a welcome development.

6) Pick a Pope more concerned with protecting his sheep than his shepherds when crisis arises, especially when the crisis is caused by the behavior of the shepherds themselves. Continue to set up accountability structures to protect the young, the innocent, the naive, the poor, and so on.

7) Pick a Pope from somewhere other than Europe. It would be nice to have a North American one for once, considering that English both on the Internet and off of it is the lingua franca of an increasingly global community, society, market.

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