First, here’s last Friday’s list from PARSE
- An Introvert Looks at Advent – “I’m willing to suspend my cultural cynicism for a moment and speculate that at the root of American consumer Christmas is a deep-seated desire for meaning. I may be way off on this, but I suspect the decorations, the music, the saturated social calendars, the capitalistic flurry, and the caloric overload are attempts at finding something true, something significant. Hopes for discovering community and transcendence… The problem, I think, is that our culture doesn’t know how to truly celebrate. Over-consumption and over-stimulation are the only ways we know how to mark a special occasion. Even though most of us implicitly know it doesn’t work and that we’re going to wake up with a hangover, it’s all we know how to do. When there is a significant event, we commemorate it by scurrying around, spending absurd amounts of money, gathering a crowd, and turning up the volume. If we’re not weighed down by anxiety and insomnia, then it must not be a very important occasion.”
- Christmas Has Always Been Complicated – “[F]rom a historical perspective, controversy surrounded Christmas for the first five centuries of church history; and its effects still linger in some circles today… The Ebionites, a legalistic first- and second-century cult, denied the Virgin Birth… In the second and third centuries, the Gnostics likewise denied the incarnation…In the fourth century, the Arians affirmed the humanity of Christ, but denied His full deity… The Nicene Creed, in essence then, was a defense of the biblical understanding of Christmas.”
- Material Possessions and Dependency on God – “Let’s be honest here, the American church has taken material wealth to levels never even dreamed by the founders of the New Testament church. ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ was a genuine, heart-felt prayer reflective of a deep-seated daily need by the early church. My church, on the other hand, raised $1.5 Million last year for a new air conditioner in our Sanctuary… The sad truth is, we just do not need God to meet daily needs when we have material wealth.” So this begs the question, where is the point at which we need God?
- Not Sure What To Say – Most of us don’t have a handy collection of responses when one or both members of a couple announce they are dealing with infertility. Telling them they can borrow your kids isn’t helpful: “Now, there is lots of room in the world for great aunts and uncles. I have taught children for several years without having my own children. But when you dismissively offer to give away your children (or tacitly encourage the abduction of your children), you minimize their value and worth. Yes, we know that kids are hard. We are paying thousands of dollars to try to have one anyway. Either you are pretending that children are not really worth it, or you are just a miserable person who should not have had kids to begin with.”
- George Whitefield Would Have Loved Twitter – Or, according to this article, Facebook and YouTube. You either loved him or hated him: “Actors felt threatened when Whitefield, an actor-turned-evangelist, decided to build a church called the Tabernacle in London just down the street from the theaters. ‘He’s lampooned in really popular plays, the most famous being the ‘Dr. Squintum’ play, which is just a total sensation in Britain,’ said [Thomas S.] Kidd of Whitefield, who was cross-eyed after a childhood ailment. He had rotten eggs, turnips and stones thrown at him and once was saved from a stoning by his beaver hat, wrote Kidd.” The article goes on to suggest that it was Whitefield and Wesley who started “the battles that continue between Calvinists and non-Calvinists.”
- Persecution Up Close and Personal – American Pastor Saeed Abedini writes, “These days are very cold here. My small space beside the window is without glass making most nights unbearable to sleep. The treatment by fellow prisoners is also quite cold and at times hostile. Some of my fellow prisoners don’t like me because I am a convert and a pastor. They look at me with shame as someone who has betrayed his former religion. The guards can’t even stand the paper cross that I have made and hung next to me as a sign of my faith and in anticipation of celebrating my Savior’s birth. They have threatened me and forced me to remove it. This is the first Christmas that I am completely without my family; all of my family is presently outside of the country. These conditions have made this upcoming Christmas season very hard, cold and shattering for me. It appears that I am alone with no one left beside me.”
- Our Tabloid Fascination with Rob Bell – “This is precisely why Rob Bell has and still does connect with so many of us– we may have different stories, but we all know what it is like to be taken out into the Evangelical church parking lot for asking the wrong questions… Rob has come to symbolically represent so many of us who have experienced the deep pain of being told, there’s no room for you in this inn. As I have gotten to know so many out there…the one trend I have noticed is this: we all have a very similar stories of pain, hurt, and loss that immediately followed our questions. Some are kicked out of churches, some out of seminaries, and many have real-world friendships stripped away from them – often over areas that are clearly “secondary” theology where there is room for charitable Christian disagreement.”
- Christian, Celibate, But Same-Sex Attracted – Julie Roys addressed this issue on a program for Moody Radio, and then profiled a counselor at Wheaton College who fits that description for an article at World Magazine. In turn, that produced a reaction from Carl Trueman: “Indeed, to say that those who use the label ‘gay’ should not find their identity in their sexuality is akin to saying that people who declare themselves to be Democrat or Republican may do so as long as they are not making a statement about their political sympathies and allegiances. If you do not find any part of your identity in your sexuality, then you should not use language which exists solely for the purpose of expressing identity through sexuality… One wonders what exactly the thinking on this issue is at Wheaton.”
- Someone Had to Go First – Just a month after approving women as bishops in the Church of England, the first such bishop, Reverend Libby Lane was appointed.
Next, we have today’s list from PARSE
- Government Agency Determines What Church Can Afford – There was a promise that mandatory closed captioning of television programs would be waived by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) if it would place an economic burden on independent producers. Despite issuing hundreds of such waivers, a local church was refused. “This month’s ruling was against one of those re-applying for a waiver: Curtis Baptist Church, which produces a weekly Sunday morning program on a TV station in Augusta, GA. While the church claimed the extra $26,000 per year for closed captioning would up its production costs by 61 percent and could threaten the continuation of this ministry of more than 30 years, the FCC rejected that argument. Notably, the FCC looked past the specific budget for the program, and instead at the church’s total balance sheet.”
- Understanding the People You Want to Show Up – “If you’re waiting for unchurched people to show up because their life is falling apart, you might wait a long time. Sure, there are always people in crisis who seek God out. But many are quite content with their lives without God. And some are quite happy and successful. If you only know how to speak into discontent and crisis, you will miss most of your neighbors.” (Italics added) Additionally, North Point affiliate pastor Carey Nieuwhof states, “Old school ‘revival’ meant there was something to revive. Now that we are on the 2nd to 5th generation of unchurched people, revival is less helpful to say the least. You can’t call them back to something they never knew.” 15 Things to know about those you want to reach.
- The Two Sins of Multi Site Video Venue (MSVV) Churches – In the wake of what some consider the key Evangelical news story of 2014: “Multi-Site Video Venue (MSVV) is prone to decontextualization. When one franchises either a teacher or a church model based on one location and transfers it en toto to another location, one has in essence disregarded the local context, its culture and instead assumes that who we are and what we say as a church applies to you with no dialogue or presence needed. It asks people to come to me on our terms. We have what you need. It is a profound act of colonialism.”
- When the Big Christmas Pageant is Past Tense – “For over 20 years, I was an integral part of designing our Christmas services at Willow Creek, and some of what I remember still makes me break out in a sweat! I remember the panic of no time to shop for gifts, of wrapping presents late at night on Christmas Eve, of disappointing some friends or family members when I just was not available for certain holiday gatherings… I am somewhat surprised to admit that there are some aspects of the entire experience I do miss. So maybe it will encourage you to know what they are – a quick list because none of you has time to read much of anything right now!”
- Facebook Loved This Diversion – “Two professing atheist authors recently held a contest in which they asked followers to ‘rethink the Ten Commandments’ and come up with ‘an alternative secular version … for the modern age.'” The top ten submissions included the maxim, “There is no one right way to live;” and an exhortation to “Leave the world a better place than you found it.” – No word if the atheist big ten will spark a movie with a Charlton Heston lookalike.
- Do People Need Reminding to Attend Church? – For years I attended a small group in Toronto, Canada that met on the 18th floor of a highrise apartment. Despite the fact I never missed, and despite the fact that seating in the small one-bedroom unit was at a premium for the thirty people who showed up, two nights before I would get a phone call from the small group leader reminding me that small group was approaching. So in my opinion, in a world with email, the concept of churches making contact on Saturday in reference to Sunday morning is a no-brainer. So I’m not surprised that, “57% of the churches that sent emails saw a week-over-week increase in attendance. The average attendance increase in those churches was 13%.” Check out four samples of the emails sent.
- Verses We Remember – Because the Bible has verse numbers, and because computers can store search stats, and basically, because we can, YouVersion has another annual list showing that when it comes to favorite verses, the U.S., Nigeria and Brazil have something in common, and that’s Philippians 4:5. But it was Romans 12:2 that received the greatest combined number of social media sharing and bookmarking. There’s more at the YouVersion annual report, but if you’re thinking that John 3:16 should be at the top of the list, then you are in agreement with the year-end statistical report at BibleGateway.com (containing a couple of impressive graphs, one resembling a Periodic Table of sorts.)
- It’s Like Herding Cats – I clicked through to read “Are House Cats Smarter Than Humans” not realizing it was a religion-themed website. “[G]etting two humans, ten, a thousand, or considerably more, to do the same thing at the same time is remarkably easy, and it’s successfully accomplished on a daily basis: Just put a TV in every home. Or set up a religious meeting in a football stadium. Or announce that some electronic device is on “sale” during a limited time period — say, between 4 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving — and get out of the way when the doors open.” And then, there’s where the writer took the subject next.
- Quick Take – In a recent Wall Street Journal infographic, clergy rank in the second highest category for obesity. Christmas dinner; just sayin’.
- Online Bibles – I actually had someone ask me yesterday what ever happened to Bible software? Basically, it up and moved to the cloud. Everyone has an online Bible site that works best for them, but here’s a list of the Top 20.
- Christmas Time Travel – Okay, the song itself isn’t very Christmas-y, but what’s more Christmas Eve than time traveling back a century to listen to the latest Christian music release 100 years ago; CCM in the year 1914. (And Jon Rivers was hosting 20 The Countdown Magazine even back then!)
Best Christmas wishes to you from Buck, Marney, Jern, Destinia, Rayleen, Cubber, Lareetta, Roscoe, Honalee, Tustin and all the rest of the Thinking Out Loud gang.
There will be a Friday Christian news roundup at PARSE this week, with some of the best stories we’ve seen all week.