Thinking Out Loud

October 9, 2019

Review: Worldviews and the Problem of Evil

Every so often, one needs to challenge themselves by reading something that is one level above what they might normally peruse.

I’m not entirely sure how a copy of the just-released Worldviews and The Problem of Evil: A Comparative Approach ended up in my mailbox. Lexham Press — home to bestselling apologist Dr. Michael Heiser — doesn’t normally send me review copies, and so I figured this one had arrived unsolicited and tossed it on the ‘unread’ stack.

Neither was I familiar with the author. Dr. Ronnie P. Campbell has lectured as Assistant Professor of theology at Liberty University’s Rawlings School of Divinity. His bio states that his “research interests include God’s relationship to time, the problem of evil, the doctrine of the Trinity, and religious doubt.” He’s also one of the contributors to the recently-released Zondervan Counterpoints title, Do Christians, Muslims, and Jews Worship the Same God? Four Views.

I placed the book off to the side for a few weeks, and then intentionally returned to it this week to give it a brief mention — they had mailed it after all — as an academic title that was ‘beyond my pay grade,’ a phrase I am given to using rather frequently.

But surely, even though my criteria is to not offer something as a formal review unless I’ve devoured every single word. While that’s not the case here, an attempt to give a cursory overview of the table of contents drew me in, and before long, I had covered well over half of the book’s 298 pages. (Not 352, as one popular Christian book retailer states.)

Campbell begins by presenting four dominant worldviews:

  • Naturalism
  • Pantheism
  • Panentheism
  • Theism

and I must confess the third of these was new to me; which sent me running a rabbit trail back to Kirk Macgregor’s Evangelical Theology, in order to brush up on process theology. But I digress.

With each worldview, Campbell looks at how it deals with life, consciousness, good and evil, and human responsibility.

He then settles in for a longer treatment of theism, exploring the implications of a God who loves beyond himself (though a trinitarian view allows for an internal love), a God who takes action, and a God who defeats evil, now and in the future.

The thing above about it being an ‘academic title?’ Instead, I found this accessible, and even delved into many of the exhaustive footnotes.

The publisher’s back cover blurb states the book’s approach integrates apologetics and theology, but I would argue that the book is also very much a work of philosophy, or if you prefer, Christian philosophy. I personally found some exposure to symbolic logic was additionally helpful…

Too much time had passed between receiving this book and not mentioning to my readers, so I decided to make amends today with the goal of continuing to read later today and tomorrow. While theologians may never cease considering the problem of evil, Campbell makes his point well that the Christian worldview is best suited to understanding pain, suffering and evil in our world.

A glossary of key terms — also highlighted in bold throughout the book — and extensive bibliography completes the book.

9781683593058 | Paperback | $22.95 U.S. | In Canada: Parasource

Title webpage at Lexham Press

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October 4, 2019

The Acts of the Apostles: What Were Those Acts?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:12 am

As an information guy, I really love those books which present a complete harmony of the gospels. If you can’t afford to buy one, have a peek at any Bible version’s edition of the Life Application Study Bible and at the end of John’s gospel, you’ll see a list version summarizing 250 events in the life and teaching of Jesus gathered from all four gospel accounts.

It occurred to me this week that I personally (see below) know of no such list that would relate to the book of Acts since there are no other books with which to harmonize. (I say that loosely however, because the corroborations between Acts and the Epistles are the object of frequent study.)

I decided to pick up a copy of the NIV 2011 and simply copy out the section headers from all 28 chapters of Acts. (Which is why the words are all capitalized.)

Having said (see above) that I know of no such list, with the thousands of Bible-related things that are uploaded to the internet each day, I am sure there are dozens of these lists, but for me, the value was in the doing of this; taking time to look at the Acts story arc (compared to the Gospels story arc) and then my wife reading these back to me as we both shared a different type of discovery process in this account of the first generation church.


1. Jesus Taken Up Into Heaven
2. Matthias Chosen to Replace Judas
3. The Holy Spirit Comes at Pentecost
4. Peter Addresses the Crowd
5. The Fellowship of the Believers
6. Peter Heals a Lame Beggar
7. Peter Speaks to the Onlookers
8. Peter and John Before the Sanhedrin
9. The Believers Pray
10. The Believers Share Their Possessions
11. Ananias and Sapphira
12. The Apostles Heal Many
13. The Apostles Persecuted
14. The Choosing of the Seven
15. Stephen Seized
16. Stephen’s Speech to the Sanhedrin
17. The Stoning of Stephen
18. The Church Persecuted and Scattered
19. Philip in Samaria
20. Simon the Sorcerer
21. Philip and the Ethiopian
22. Saul’s Conversion
23. Saul in Damascus and Jerusalem
24. Aeneas and Dorcas
25. Cornelius Calls for Peter
26. Peter’s Vision
27. Peter at Cornelius’s House
28. Peter Explains His Actions
29. The Church in Antioch
30. Peter’s Miraculous Escape From Prison
31. Herod’s Death
32. Barnabas and Saul Sent Off
33. On Cyprus
34. In Pisidian Antioch
35. In Iconium
36. In Lystra and Derbe
37. The Return to Antioch in Syria
38. The Council at Jerusalem
39. The Council’s Letter to Gentile Believers
40. Disagreement Between Paul and Barnabas
41. Timothy Joins Paul and Silas
42. Paul’s Vision of the Man of Macedonia
43. Lydia’s Conversion in Philippi
44. Paul and Silas in Prison
45. In Thessalonica
46. In Berea
47. In Athens
48. In Corinth
49. Priscilla, Aquila and Apollos
50. Paul in Ephesus
51. The Riot in Ephesus
52. Through Macedonia and Greece
53. Eutychus Raised From the Dead at Troas
54. Paul’s Farewell to the Ephesian Elders
55. On to Jerusalem
56. Paul’s Arrival at Jerusalem
57. Paul Arrested
58. Paul Speaks to the Crowd
59. Paul the Roman Citizen
60. Paul Before the Sanhedrin
61. The Plot to Kill Paul
62. Paul Transferred to Caesarea
63. Paul’s Trial Before Felix
64. Paul’s Trial Before Festus
65. Festus Consults King Agrippa
66. Paul Before Agrippa
67. Paul Sails for Rome
68. The Storm
69. The Shipwreck
70. Paul Ashore on Malta
71. Paul’s Arrival at Rome
72. Paul Preaches at Rome Under Guard


The section headers are part of the NIV core text, so it’s probably helpful that we mention that this was prepared using Bible Gateway. Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. 

Image: Adapted from the cover of a book by William A Anderson, Liguori Publishing.

October 3, 2019

It’s How You Finish Which Matters Most

Say what you will about the original The Living Bible translation, but it has helped and inspired many people, and the spirit of it lives on today in The New Living Translation or NLT.

When Ken Taylor was wrapping up II Kings, he did something that translation experts might consider the worst thing he could have done, but I would argue that the worst thing he could have done was also the best thing he could have done.

Wearied perhaps by the kings who simply didn’t learn the lessons of history, or chose to wander from God, Taylor lapsed into point form in some of the final chapters, simply listing the kings and the characteristics of their reign.

Taking it one step further, and using bullet points, there emerges four possibilities:

  • Started badly, ended badly
  • Started well, ended badly
  • Started badly, ended well
  • Started well, ended well

I already looked at this at the beginning of the year when we considered our resolve for a new year, or if you prefer, new year’s resolutions.

I repeat mention of it today simply to remind us all that I believe how you end is of utmost importance. It’s often the legacy you leave more than anything you did previously. And the Bible is filled with scriptures that speak of continuing, abiding and enduring to the end. Of faithfulness, and not giving up.

In the past two years or so we’ve seen pastors and leaders who, when they die, their account before God may be cleaned by the remembered-no-more grace of God (provided they sought his forgiveness), but their Wikipedia article is going to reflect times of controversy, scandal or failure.

I hope that you and I are thinking in terms of our legacy.

 

October 2, 2019

Wednesday Connect

 

This modern worship leader and author of five books is running for Congress in California. See story below. *

The Union Theological Seminary faculty member behind #plantgate. “We processed into the chapel carrying plants and placed them on soil. Immediately people started to come to the plants, to confess their forms of relation or non-relation.” See story below. **

Welcome to the Long-Haired-Newsmakers edition of WedCon, aka Wednesday Connect #75. Don’t forget to try to get your link suggestions in by Monday evening.

■ The danger of accepting public funding: “Some ATC [Adult and Teen Challenge] centers are trying to walk a dangerous tightrope. They’ve instituted short-term, state-licensed programs, which usually come with more funding. But state-attached strings can make that programming look more like clinical rehab plans instead of the Christ-centered message ATC has always brought to its students.” ATC co-founder Don Wilkerson is worried for people accepted into the program, “They need to be surrounded 24/7 in a spiritual atmosphere…

■ Rethinking the Sermon (1): A trainer for TED Talks comes to Nashville and meets with local pastors.

…Every pastor in the room felt a certain amount of vindication when her eyes went wide with surprise as she found out we, the pastors, have to write a new “speech” every week.

“No way,” she said. “No one can do that. There’s not enough time”.

We agreed, and then, it was our time to be stunned. How long do you work on a TED Talk?

Three months, she said…at a minimum.

Mike Glenn guests at Jesus Creed.

■ Rethinking the Sermon (2): Essay of the Week — Skye Jethani writes at the UK’s leading Christian magazine:

I am a preacher. For hundreds of years my craft was in high demand. People travelled inconvenient distances to hear my sermons, they paid for my training so I could improve my skill, and they sacrificed to supply me time and space to study and write my weekly monologues.

But now the forces of modernity and technology have conspired against me. Seemingly overnight the conditions that made my vocation valuable have disappeared. I feel like a lamplighter at the dawn of the 20th Century, watching the cold glow of Edison’s lights replace the warm flicker of flames across my city. People still need light, just not mine…

…An audit of virtually any Protestant church will reveal a massive percentage of the institution’s resources (space, funds, leadership) are devoted to the Sunday preaching event and its related activities. In other words, most churches have inherited a 16th Century model that is increasingly unsustainable with 21st Century realities.

■ Students are being handed gender-neutrality by progressive educators, but rather than protest, push back quietly by creating unspoken, more traditional structures. The children “are pushing back against the delusions that adults are imposing on them.”

■ The end of “evangelical” – an expanded book review: Alan Jacobs discusses Tommy Kidd’s Who Is An Evangelical? A History of a Movement in Crisis. ” So we now have a peculiar situation in which people who don’t know what the term evangelical historically connotes and who massively distrust one another—God-and-Country moralistic therapeutic deists on the one hand, and a press that simply doesn’t get religion on the other—have combined to take the term away from those of us who know and care about its history.” 

■ Amanda Opelt reflects on the last few months and on heading out to the Evolving Faith Conference that her sister, Rachel Held Evans, helped to organize. “Woundedness wasn’t a status for her; it was a tool with which she could better love and serve others and fight for justice.”

■ These are times most challenging for Bible translators. Bill Mounce reflects on the specifics of “Gender Neutral,” “Gender Inclusive,” and “Gender Accurate.”

■ Maybe they should have called it ‘Know Where You Believe.” This is the book that fellow Moody Press author Drew Dyck called “genre bending.” “…each community had its own way of doing Christianity, and usually did not understand how others could think differently.” The title is Not From Around Here: What Unites Us, What Divides Us and How We Can Move Forward.

* This isn’t a Babylon Bee article: Bethel Worship musician Sean Feucht is running for a congressional seat in California.

■ Suffering with the little children: “When I was preparing in seminary to become a pastor, I was offered an internship at a local church. The pastor asked me what area of ministry I was interested in focusing on most. I told him I would do pretty much anything – teaching, adult discipleship, student ministry, missional living, worship and liturgy, or polishing the pastor’s shoes and being his errand-boy – whatever the church needed me to do would be fine. I told the pastor that there was just one group I wasn’t interested in working with – little children.” You can guess where he was assigned.

■ Your Acronym of the Week: DMM = Disciple Making Movements. If nothing else, watch the 96-second video and see how this fits with what your church is doing.

■ Provocative Headline of the Week: “Franklin Graham: The Apple That Fell Far From the Tree.” Sample: “To turn ‘The Hour of Decision’ into a thinly-veiled promotion for President Donald Trump (or any political candidate) betrays the passionate, singular cause that Billy Graham espoused in more than 400 crusades in 185 countries.”

■ Unique Podcast: Gabe Lyons, host of Q, welcomes his wife Rebekah Lyons who shares the story of her second book Rhythms of Renewal: Trading Stress and Anxiety for a Life of Peace and Purpose (Zondervan) which officially released yesterday. Moving to New York was the beginning of her first panic attack. (Audio, approx. 15 min.)

■ Church History Department: Ever heard of Renée of Ferera? Born in 1510? “She was the daughter of King Louis XII of France and Anne the Duchess of Brittany, the richest woman in Europe.” She figures largely into the story of Charles d’ Espeville, a.k.a. John Calvin. Yes, that John Calvin. And it’s not a story which casts him the best light.

■ Academic Alley: With Christmas approaching, resolving the differences between Matthew’s and Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus.

■ As devotional literature gets increasingly specialized, this one for families involved in service of all types: “Though the book does specifically address families that serve in the military, as first responders, and in other ‘front line’ ways, it is applicable for EVERY family that is serving the Lord and others in their home, church, and community.” 52 Weekly Devotions for Families Called to Serve.

** The answer to the question we’re all asking, from the leader of the chapel service in question: Dr. Cláudio Carvalhaes, Associate Professor of Worship at Union Theological Seminary on Why I Created a Chapel Service Where People Confess to Plants.

■ When joining a church is conflated with joining a particular political party. “..it gives those considering the Christian faith the strong impression that to be converted, they need not only to believe in Jesus but also to become members of the (fill in the blank) Party. It confirms what many skeptics want to believe about religion — that it is merely one more voting bloc aiming for power.” complicated by this: “…Increasingly, political parties insist that you cannot work on one issue with them if you don’t embrace all of their approved positions.” Timothy Keller in the New York Times.

■ Canada Corner 🇨🇦: “Eight months after declining to ban conversion therapy, the Liberal party is promising to do just that if re-elected in October…In its platform released Sunday, the Liberal party said it will criminalize the practice.”

■ Shameless Internal Link: This week we were blessed to have a guest post here from Dr. Robin J. Dugall on how local churches succumb to the temptation to over-program, trying to be all things to all demographics.

■ A rabbi, an imam and a pastor walk into a plot of land: Flashback to 2013 and the unique Tri-Faith Initiative in Omaha, Nebraska.

■ From high (church) to low (church), Ten Minute Bible Hour, in a video that may not be as interesting as their Catholic and Orthodox visits, decides to check out an Evangelical Free Church in Colorado. (Video, 16 min.)

■ What “hard core Evangelical” looks like to K. P. Yohannan of Gospel for Asia. For me at least, church never looked like this.

■ Newish Music: ♫ An indie Christian band based in greater Cincinnati; enjoy Where You Are by Mere Vessels. (From March, 2019)

■ New Worship: ♫ The former Dove Award-Winning band, Soulfire Revolution is now G12 Worship. This is We Invite You by G12 Worship.  (Released last week.)

■ New Music: ♫ An acoustic version of a song we featured previously, I Feel Bad by Hollyn. (Released two days ago.)

■ New Music ♫ Thought we’d end the collection with something LOUD! This is the song Premonition by Becoming Bristol. (Released two weeks ago.)

■ Oh, my! A recent poll confirms that Britain’s favorite hymn is the one recalling the time that Jesus visited England.

■ Update ICYMI: The band had in-ear monitors and simply kept playing for a few seconds after the cross fell off the wall and landed on the drum kit and the drummer.

■ Baptist “pastor” Robert Jeffress says there will a civil war if Donald Trump is removed from office. Then he gets the opportunity to dial it back a little, and doesn’t.

Do it yourself link. What’s a weird and wonderful story, or a good and beautiful essay that you read this week? Comments are open. You remember comments, right?

■ Finally, for those who have often wondered, here’s what happens if you’re speaking in tongues and checking your phone at the same time:



A concluding new-way-to-do-ministry image from this week’s Happy Monday:



Last week’s top clicks: Click here to read last week’s WedCon:

1. Purge Sundays
2. World Vision new sponsorship paradigm
3. Is Greta Thunberg being used?
4. Cameron Strang stepping back from RELEVANT
5. TBN founders’ granddaughter keeps $900K
6. Racism charges at RELEVANT
7. Universalism
8. 10 Redemptive Films

October 1, 2019

The Time Public Giving is Appropriate

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:05 am

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.
– Matthew 6:1-2

Fund-raising events like this one may incur costs to present, but donors want to know they are part of a larger host of supporters.

There is a value in fundraising banquets, and that value is not confined to the ability of the charity to present their work, or the fact that people come predisposed to make a significant contribution that they might not make in response to a direct mail campaign.

The value lies in giving corporately, or to be more specific, in knowing that you are contributing to a cause in which others are also invested.

Let me come at this the opposite way.

Unless you give to “blue chip” name-recognizable Christian charities — and frankly, I think your money goes much further when you support younger organizations and second-tier charities — you don’t know what support the organization already has. Your attitude might be, ‘I would give to this more fully if only I knew that other people are also supporting this.’

When you attend the charity’s public events, you see that not only are others deeply invested, but their support extends to doing volunteer work and if available, even short-term commitments overseas.

You’ve all seen Christian telethons for various ministries, I suspect. The host announces, “There’s a group of businessmen who have pledge to match everything that’s given in the next half hour up to $40,000.”

I always thought these dollar-for-dollar matching challenges were somewhat contrived, but now I’m not so sure. Those businessmen (and women) simply want to know that their major donations are being accompanied by grassroots donations of a great host of people who can’t do what they are doing, but they can do something.

The verses in Matthew 6 above indicate that your giving can be both in secret and in public. It’s a caution against name recognition more than anything else. But if your name and amount given (or pledged) remains confidential, you can still show up and by doing so, say ‘I support this cause; I stand behind the activities being carried out by this organization.’

In the larger assembly of people, you might even find yourself adding an extra zero to that check.

September 26, 2019

Local Church Initiatives: More Isn’t Better

Some background: On Tuesday I posted a brief article contrasting those churches which are programmed to death with those not offering enough avenues for engagement. You can read that article here.

That promoted this reader comment:

I’ve been involved as a leader in both “kinds” of churches…at one church, we had the philosophy that MORE ministries were better, in other words, it was like a smorgasbord of ministries that were available every week. The calendar HAD to be full. I constantly felt the pressure as a leader to fill positions, fund initiatives, provide space, and pressure people to be involved.

Then I started leading a church where the only ministries we had were the ones that “surfaced” within the Body itself…in other words, people who felt the leading of the Lord to begin a ministry, started them and “staffed” them with like-minded people they knew who shared their passion, I found so much freedom in that…and I found that the ministries took care of themselves better over the long haul.

I am now a firm believer in “less is more”…in fact, in most of the churches I’ve led since my “smorgasbord” days, the church has been healthier because we have allowed the Lord to lead us in birthing ministries instead of having a busy “template” for what church should look like. In fact, I think for most churches, they could let about 1/2 of their ministries “die” and they would be happier and healthier. The issue is giving people the freedom and encouragement to build their lives in the Lord IN the midst of their lives instead of forcing them to live the life we think they should live…one built around church activities instead of simply living for Jesus in the spheres of influence that is their daily life. That’s been my experience…

The comment came from Rev. Dr. Robin J. Dugall who describes himself as “Pastor, Professor, Musician, Teacher and follower of Jesus;” and writes at Spiritual Regurgitations. (see more below*)

Because of his insights with this, I invited him to expand on this…

More isn’t better: It’s exhausting and counter-productive

The editor of this blog started “thinking out loud” and, in the process, requested a bit more from a reply that I posted to “Volunteers Wanted.” This issue has been the story of much of my professional life in the Church. Without bringing up at all any thoughts regarding the differentiation between “volunteers” and those using their gifts in ministry as an expression of their unique Kingdom calling, I’ll wade into the invitational waters.

I never thought I would say this much less write it, but I’ve lived a good majority of my 65 years of life involved in some manner or form of “Church.” From parachurch ministries to outdoor ministries…from small congregational ministries to what used to be regarded as “large” church settings. Thanks to the Lord, I’ve never had the opportunity to live my Kingdom life within the sphere of the megachurch. There is a part of me that cringes simply imagining the intensity of financial and organizational pressure that goes along with the management of any large “company.”

As a “churchworld” (I’ll define that term below) leader, my responsibilities have ranged from that which would be regarded by some as the sphere of the Senior Pastor to the leadership of a plethora of “sub-ministries” including children’s, youth, music, small groups, leadership and theological/biblical development. So, in regard to this issue of “Volunteerism” and what it takes these days to not only “do” ministry but enable and equip Jesus following people to be responsive to the call of God upon their lives, I’ve had my share of experience.

I must say that I’ve made some drastic, strategic and, in my mind, God-honoring changes in my ministry philosophy over the past two decades. Much of those changes have occurred because of witnessing the futility and counter-productivity of the “more is better” mentality. I’ve been involved as a leader in both “kinds” of churches…at one church, we had the philosophy that MORE ministries were better, in other words, it was like a smorgasbord of ministries that were available every week. We operated under with the mindset that the “calendar HAD to be full.” Subsequently, it was. It wasn’t simply the fact that I was out of my home probably five to six out of seven nights per week, but we constantly felt the overwhelming pressure as leaders to fill positions, fund initiatives, provide space, and pressure people to be involved. The key aspect of the previous phrase is “pressure people”…and, trust me, that’s what happened.

When Christendom ruled, the belief stood that the Church should be the center of life. And, in some respects, Christendom did appropriately draw one’s faith journey into a rich life of worship, fellowship and encouragement in faithfulness. Yet what has occurred over time as many Christians have bemoaned Christendom’s demise is that a form of institutional tyranny arose in its place. The Church was no longer the center of culture, so Church people formed a hybrid (more of a mutation) of Christendom to take its place – something I call, “churchworld.” When I talk about “churchworld” I am attempting to put into approachable language some way to clarify the overwhelming, insatiable “hunger” of religious institutionalism to demand the whole of a person’s life and attention.

“Churchworld” is one-part theme park and one-part assembly line…one part “money pit” and one-part shopping mall. It is built upon the values of consumerism and utilitarianism – in other words, how can we get the most out of people in order to give back to people what we perceive they need. In my humble opinion, that’s what “churchworld” does…just as the price of a ticket to any Disney park has insanely and prohibitively increased in cost for day’s excursion, so has the “cost” in time, energy, money, and “personnel” of feeding the demands of “churchworld.”

My wife and I have adult children that are involved in “churchworld” ministries. They constantly give witness to the increasing demands for the totality of their lives to be focused on sustaining the institution’s strategy of ministry. They have shared with me the fact that many people who are their friends in the Lord have made it a habit to leave churches after a year or so simply because of the increasing burdens and demands of involvement. Once involved in feeding the “beast,” it is hard to back away graciously without risking the subsequent woes and grief given by overwhelmed staff. I would never coin myself as a predictive prophesy individual, yet it doesn’t take much forethought to see the coming fall of “churchworld.”

One of my favorite authors, John Kavanaugh compares Ancient Rome’s adherence to “bread and circus” (the book, Following Christ in a Consumer Society; John Drane says the same in his books on the McDonaldization of the Church) to that of “churchworld’s” fascination with entertainment and feeding/attracting the masses.

Contrast that experience with what happened in my life as a leader and fellow disciple when I started leading a church where the only ministries we had were the ones that “surfaced” within the Body itself…in other words, people who felt the leading of the Lord to begin a ministry, started them and “staffed” them with like-minded people they knew who shared their passion and sense of calling for that ministry. Some call this ministry strategy, “Organic.” Truthfully, that kind of language aptly describes what occurs in reality. The kingdom of God that Jesus described is viral, organic and, by nature, a movement. It grows where no apparent strategy or potential can be found…and it lives, not by human energy and ingenuity, but by spiritual mystery.

In the organic ministry realm, we are much more apt to be praising God for his leadership and fruitfulness in people’s lives than praising ourselves for the plethora of activities that we can effectively manage and multiply by sheer effort and relational intimidation. Personally, I found so much freedom living as a living “organism.” With that mindset, with a renewed embrace of the dynamic spiritual nature of the Body of Christ, I found that the ministries took care of themselves better over the long haul. For example, in my current congregational setting, we have a few teenagers who would benefit from a good youth ministry program. Now, I could for a ministry team, hire a youth worker and build an entire infrastructure to handle that ministry need…that’s the programmatic approach. Even so, we have no one in the church who is sensing the “call” of God to form another program.

In the past, I would have beaten down people in an attempt to build another program. I chose not to do that. Instead, I called a pastor friend of mine who leads another church in town. They have an amazing youth ministry program and have built a solid ministry strategy to disciple teens. I talked to the pastor; told him I was interested in “investing” the kids in our church into their youth ministry program. I felt that partnership was more important than simply duplicating what is happening right down our street (so to speak). I talked to the parents of the teens, the youth themselves and now they are loving what God is doing in their lives as they participate in that other church’s ministry.

Some might say, “well, aren’t you fearful that you will lose that family to that other church?” No, I’m not and if they did leave, I would bless them on their way. I’m not going to try to be “all things to all people” any longer. I’m not going to fear ministry partnerships…in fact, I want so desperately to affirm them.

Church, at least in what I read in the New Testament, has more to do with organic living than most people want to admit. I am now a firm believer in “less is more”…in fact, in most of the churches I’ve led since my “smorgasbord” days, the church has been healthier because we have allowed the Lord to lead us in birthing ministries instead of having a busy “template” for what church should look like. In fact, I think for most churches, they could let about half of their ministries “die” and they would be happier and healthier.

The issue is giving people the freedom and encouragement to build their lives in the Lord IN the midst of their lives instead of forcing them to live the life we think they should live…one built around church activities instead of simply living for Jesus in the spheres of influence that is their daily life. This explains why Jesus did not ask us to go and “make gatherings or churches or home groups or…” He did not ask us to go and “make house churches.” He said, “go and make disciples.” Discipling viral disciplers is the end game. This places YOU and ME squarely in the midst of reproductive life that the kingdom is intrinsically about. We become movement-starters not church-starters. We release disciples who will influence the world throughout their lifetime and beyond.

When we start “churches, communities, meetings, etc.”, our focus tends to be on the communal gathering—what to do, how to do it, what it looks like, etc. We may say to ourselves that we are learning to “be” the church but often our priority remains on developing the structure/form/institution. When following Jesus and inviting others to follow him becomes our focus (discipling viral disciples), we have to shift from the “gathering” mentality to the “lifestyle-going” mentality. This shift will propel us from being church-starters to movement starters (where churches and gatherings spring up along the way).

One more thought – consider “wiki-based ministry.” In other words, I desire to build a “Collaboration based” ministry environment. I believe that God is active in EVERY person so that our community creates meaning – our ministry partnership is a reflection of a descriptive process with no prescribed meaning; we fix us, no experts are needed; leadership teams and pastors are good but only one of the gifts of community. We believe in a distinctly relational ecclesiology. That is organic…that is a celebration of less is more.

 


*From his About page: “Currently, in addition to being an Adjunct Professor in Biblical Studies at Azusa Pacific University, he is a pastor of a faith community, Adjunct Professor at Concordia University (Portland, OR) and an instructor/mentor of the Missional Training Team for the Lutheran denomination.”

September 25, 2019

Wednesday Connect

Well, that was rather cruel, wasn’t it.

Welcome to Wednesday Connect #74. Your comments and suggestions via email or Twitter are always appreciated.

■ The U.S. President, amid walking out during climate change presentations at the United Nations, comes out on behalf of worldwide religious freedom. “The United States of America calls upon the nations of the world to end religious persecution, to stop the crimes against prisoners of faith, to release prisoners of conscience.”

■ Disrupting the child sponsorship paradigm: I saw this earlier in the week and sent it to some people involved in missions. Pictures of kids waiting to be sponsored on a table in the church lobby? Not this time. It’s the kids looking at the pics and making the choices, turning ‘I hope someone chooses me’ completely upside-down.

■ Climate change is not exactly a Christian news story, but if you missed young activist Greta Thunberg’s speech to the United Nations, you really need to take the five minutes…

■ …But if you don’t believe in climate change, and its consequences, you’ll probably react like this.

■ Trinity Christian Center, the parent of Trinity Broadcasting Network, must pay $900,000 to the founders’ granddaughter Carra Crouch who said she was drugged and raped during a telethon in 2006 when she was just 13.

■ Provocative Headline of the Week: “What If Universalism Were True? A Question for Evangelical Christians Especially.”

■ Then again, maybe this one, charging racism at RELEVANT Media Group, is more provocative: “Black Christians Deserve Better Than Companies (And Churches) Like Relevant Media Group.”  … and then …

■ … an announcement Monday from Cameron Strang that he is taking an extended leave of absence from RELEVANT following the racism charges, which he does not dispute.

Essay of the Week: “…I also learned that the reason leaves fall from the trees is because the tree is trying to prepare itself for winter and, eventually, for the coming spring. Wherever a leaf falls from a tree, a new leaf will grow in its place. So, the mother tree must push its own leaves, those little extensions of itself, from the branches so that life can continue. If the earth is always doing what is necessary to keep the seasons, to keep going as is her custom, to keep creating and breathing life and dying and creating again, maybe we can do the same.”

■ Okay readers, this one’s not new. In fact this 2005 article predates this blog, let alone the Wednesday Link List. But it’s been the object of several discussions I’ve been part of in at least three locations during the last two weeks. It’s the idea of “Purge Sundays,” a daring ‘culling the herd’ which separates the passive from the committed, practiced by the church mentioned to this very month. Pastors, your thoughts?

■ Nothing ‘newsy’ in this link, either, but I really enjoy (when I remember) listening to A. J. Sherrill. The sermon begins at 36:00, but if you’re interested, there’s a thing at the beginning describing Mars Hill Church leasing their building long-term to a local school board which is bursting at the seams.

■ Want to start a blog of your own? Dee at Wartburg Watch writes, “One of the things people always ask me about is insurance. If you have a homeowners insurance, yo might check to see if they cover you for blogging and even leaving comments on Google, restaurant reviews, etc. My USAA insurance policy covers me for this. I did not have to buy it separately.”

■ I always think of Passion plays happening in the spring season, but this one rolls out each summer, has an extra 30 minutes devoted to the birth of Jesus, makes the audience part of the Sermon on the Mount story, and boasts an ecumenical cast, 80 percent of whom return each year.

■ Movies with a Message: “Here then, from a long-time movie buff, are ten recommendations from various eras and genres that hold forth the ancient ideals of truth, goodness, and beauty.”

■ Persecution, American style: “[F]our Wheaton College students pushed back when [Chicago’s] Millennium Park instituted rules they believe undercut the First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of speech and free exercise of religion.” They are now suing the city. Their lawyer says that one of the restricted areas is the sculpture Cloud Gate, commonly known as the Bean; adding that, “The Bean is one of the highest tourist attractions in the United States … that’s where you want to get your message out.”

■ Persecution, UK style: The headline reads,”Christian doctor lost his job after refusing to identify a six-foot-tall bearded man as ‘madam’, tribunal hears.” Well, almost true, except there was no actual “bearded man” in the story. He was being asked ideological questions about hypothetical clients.

■ If you follow Christian Fiction books, here are your 30 finalists for this year’s Christy Awards.

■ Leadership Lessons:  7 Errors in thinking that can hinder your church’s growth. 7 ministry “Thinkholes.” However, on the topic of growth…

■ …There’s strength in numbers. Big numbers as well as small numbers.

■ This is rather unsettling: “The Sept. 13 disclosure that the preserved remains of over 2,200 aborted babies had been found at the rural Illinois home of the recently deceased Indiana abortionist Ulrich “George” Klopfer has sparked outrage and demands for immediate investigations by authorities.”

■ Biblical confirmation or wishful thinking? A Christian archeology and research group claims to have found the boat anchor dating back to the Apostle Paul’s shipwreck on Malta.

■ For the (Married) Guys: 10 Ways to stay attractive to your wife. Five are about physical things, and five are about character.

■ New Music: ♪ From the author of Build My Life, Pat Barrett – Hymn of the Holy Spirit.

■ New Music: ♪ The Good Music Blog writes, “We recently met up with singer-songwriter indie worshipper Tina Boonstra at her church, Soul Survivor Watford, where she treated us to a live rendition of her new song ‘Second Chance’, a bold and honest song about God’s gracious love despite our constant struggles.” Tina Boonstra – Second Chances.

■ New Music ♪ From the same source, “We’ve been supporting Cortes since day one, and have loved seeing him grow as an artist over the years… Just like his latest releases, the vibe is smooth as ever, but lyrically he’s still coming strong with challenging the culture and not afraid to use the platform to point people back to the riches found in Christ, which he does in this song by reminding listeners of the truth that in all things, including our difficulties and struggles God is still working things for our good. Cortes – For The Best. (Audio).

■ New Music ♪ A heartfelt rendition of a song “dedicated to brain injury warriors, caregivers, and families.”  Cristabelle Braden – Not Giving Up (Piano Version). (Like the song? Here’s the full band version.)

■ Having dinner in the V.V.I.P. section with T.D. Jakes in Nairobi would set you back the equivalent of $723.30 US. “Those tickets were out of reach for the average Kenyan considering the per capita gross domestic product of Kenya is $2,010.”

■ Briefly anyway, last week’s story about Union Seminary students confessing to plants became a hashtag, #plantgate.

■ Finally, here’s the entire article, headlined “Priests spray holy water from plane to stop ‘fornication’” —

(ABC NEWS) — Russian Orthodox priests in the Central Russian city of Tver took to the skies in a small airplane to save citizens from “drunkenness and fornication,” reported a Russian local media outlet.

On Sept. 11, Sobriety Day, an unofficial Russian holiday, the priests carried 70 liters (about 18 gallons) of holy water onto the aircraft.

Once the plane reached an altitude of 200 to 300 meters (approximately 800 feet) the blessings began. Clergymen held a prayer service before pouring the holy water out of the plane’s open door.

 

September 24, 2019

Volunteers Wanted: A Tale of Two Churches

Ted and Tom are twin brothers. In their early 40s. Living at opposite ends of a large city. Both attend churches with weekly attendance in the four-to-five hundred range.

volunteers needed 2At Tom’s church, the Sunday announcements are fairly predictable. More people are needed to serve in the nursery. And the food pantry. And the middle-school boys Sunday School class. And the tenor section of the choir. And a drummer for the contemporary worship team. And the facilities committee. And now they’re asking for people to serve as parking lot attendants.

“Why do we need parking lot attendants with only 250 parking spots?” said Tom aloud to no one in particular.

“Shhhh!” said his wife, as the couple in front turned around and scowled.

“Did I say that out loud?” Tom asked.

…Across town at Ted’s church the situation is much reversed. There are not as many ministry initiatives, and Ted who happens to be a drummer and a tenor and a fairly competent pre-teen Sunday School teacher has nothing to do on Sunday morning. He shows up. He gives money. He has meaningful conversations with people during the coffee time between services. But he always feels a little lost on Sunday mornings and to his credit, he helps out on Monday nights at The Salvation Army and on Saturday mornings he is committed to a men’s group at another church. There just aren’t any pressing needs for anything Ted has to offer.

Ted and Tom often compare notes. While there’s nothing new about churches asking for assistance in various departments, Tom wishes his church was more like Ted’s (and that there were fewer announcements.) On the other hand, Ted his envious of Tom’s situation; he’d like to feel he was needed even if it was the superfluous task of welcoming cars in the parking lot.

volunteers neededSo which is the more healthy situation? What would the church metrics people say about these churches? Is a healthy church one in which there are always needs because lots of exciting things are happening, or is a healthy church one in which people are stepping up and filling volunteer ministry positions as quickly as they become available?

And what about Ted? Should there be some avenue of service for him to continue to develop his spiritual gifts? Should Ted’s church be creating some new ministry initiatives so that people like Ted can feel more involved or plugged-in?

Where on the continuum does your church lie?

September 23, 2019

Down the Mountain: The Ten Commandments as Narrative (sort of)

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:55 am

by Aaron Wilkinson

I once heard it suggested that the Beatitudes could be interpreted so that each statement corresponds to a stage of one’s spiritual growth; that we begin as poor in spirit and meek, grow to be merciful and pure in heart, and eventually become peacemakers willing to suffer for righteousness sake. I’m not sure if this was what Jesus had in mind when he taught the Beatitudes, but it is an interesting interpretation.

As a thought experiment, I wonder if something similar could be done with the Ten Commandments. I grew up finding these strictures rather dry, despite their obvious moral value. I prefer subtle narratives and symbolism to plain rules, so this is my effort to grapple with iconic scripture. (And I’ll assume the reader can either remember the ten in Exodus, or look them up.)

At the beginning there is God, before he issues any imperative, saying who he is and what he’s done. “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt…” His actions are put first because he is the first actor, as in the creation account of Genesis. Then he commands that we (who are only now in the picture) are not to have any other gods before him.

Next we have humans that don’t just exist but can make stuff and talk; two commandments concerning our ability to create (don’t make idols) and to speak (don’t misuse my name). Again comparing with creation, Man’s work and speech (including naming the animals) follow God’s work and speech (including naming the light, the land, etc.)

Not only can we make stuff and talk, but we can also not do those things. Here we get the command on Sabbath. And so works, speech, and rest are all to revolve around God.

In four commandments we have a Genesis-steeped crash course in what humans are like, which itself is founded upon what God is like. Now we just have to learn how to get along with each other.

It is often remarked how the first of the six people-oriented commandments concerns how we relate to our parents, which is quite fitting since how God relates to his people is likened to how a parent relates to their children. It is also true that our parents are the first people we form relationships with, which may also be a good reason to put this commandment first of the six.

Our next relationships are usually siblings, who are our first rivals, first opponents, and first people we have to be told to stop fighting. Equating “Thou shall not murder” to sibling relationships is a bit of a stretch, but then again the first murder in the Bible was between brothers.

Later in life romance and marriage become priorities and there’s another kind of relationship to figure out (and a corresponding command). Then we continue to grow into active members of our community, at which time one’s property and repute may increase in priority (making theft and gossip all the more damaging.)

The last commandment is a longer list of things you aren’t supposed to covet. The positive flip side of this portrait is a person who lives a grateful and contented life, happy with their house, their family, their animals, and all the rest – someone who has learned how to relate to others in his world.

We start by knowing God and knowing how to relate to God, then carry that knowledge forth into expanding spheres of community around us. There is both a logical and chronological sequence to the Ten Commandments that has us start with the peak of God’s identity, and then works its way down the mountain into all other areas of life. Of course, most of us will spend our entire lives regularly revisiting how we spend our sabbath, treat our parents, and take care of our donkeys. All the same, it might be useful sometimes to use the Ten Commandments as a kind of checklist to make sure we’re letting God’s identity sink into our own.


This was first published at Aaron’s blog, The Voice of One Whispering

September 18, 2019

Wednesday Connect

Every six months or so I drop in at Church Stage Design Ideas to see what’s new. The very fact that we have (for many years now) a site like this shows how different the modern church has become from what many of us remember in our youth. But wait a minute, Haran Baptist Church in Roanoke, Virginia is taking the opportunity to do something more than retro, a stained glass window motif. What does this say about our hunger for a more classical faith? (Click the image to see more pictures.)

Since we last met it appears you survived the full moon falling on Friday the 13th, which I know, as good Evangelicals, was top of mind that day. We’re back with a shorter list this week. It’s our ‘All Wheat, No Chaff’ list, accomplished through the process called winnowing, and I’m not talking Winnows 98, either; this is Winnows 10.

■ After five years in jail, a Christian couple in Pakistan — ranked as the 5th worst nation in the world for religious freedom — faces the death penalty for blasphemy, but they may be holes in the prosecution’s case, “including the allegedly blasphemous messages being in English even though Emmanuel and Kausar don’t speak English.”

■ This time around WORLD magazine looks at the ECFA, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. The organization appears to have been nothing more than a rubber stamp for member charities. Julie Roys writes:

As the WORLD article notes, this shameful pattern at the ECFA goes back decades. In fact, the criminally fraudulent spending involving the PTL Club and Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker in the 1980s occurred while PTL was a member of the ECFA.

Start at Julie’s article, then click here to read the piece at WORLD.

■ 10 Minute video: “The Church of the Godless;” a look at the rise of the “nones” who now exceed the number of Evangelicals.

■ On Friday, 200 Liberty University students staged a protest demanding an investigation of Jerry Falwell, Jr. following the article in Politco.

■ Financial improprieties? Catholics have them, too. “Some parts of West Virginia are so poor they can’t afford running water in their homes, and their shepherd took ‘necessary breaks’ at Palm Beach penthouses

■ One of the things for me that makes Jarrid Wilson’s death so hard to take is that just one day earlier, he had officiated the funeral for a woman who had committed suicide.

■ On a variation of ‘Was that the Lord, or last night’s pizza?’ a pastor notes that we need to discern the difference between the leading of the Holy Spirit versus the latest trending insights of church leadership experts.

■ Respected Christian journalist Jana Reiss provides a thorough look at David Kinnaman’s new book Faith for Exiles (co-authored with Mark Matlock.) The book looks at the faith of Gen Z-ers and Millennials.

■ We mentioned the job posting at Willow Creek last week for a senior pastor. Scot McKnight critiqued the job description and found some things over-emphasized and at least one thing seriously lacking.

■ If you did a 500-mile pilgrimage, can you imagine doing it for a second time? I can’t, but it must have been special since Brian Zahnd and his wife are again walking the Camino Francés pilgrim route.

■ The United Methodist denomination: When God wants to write a new chapter, the previous chapters don’t always have a verse which anticipates the change. (That sentence isn’t in the article, but you get the idea. I hope.)

■ Women’s Workshop: “Yes, it is good to be independent but it’s also good to be interconnected. We can do it alone, but we don’t have to – we can belong to each other and this makes life so much richer.”

■ Slate.com: “Churches are using targeted ads on social media to convert and recruit.”

Katie Allred—co-founder of the group and assistant professor of software development and digital media at the University of Mobile, a Baptist-affiliated school—cites the Parable of the Lost Sheep, in which a shepherd leaves his flock of 99 sheep to recover the wandering one, as biblical inspiration. According to Allred, “If your church has a marketing budget, you don’t want to use that budget to reach the 99. You want to use your ad budget to reach the one, so that someone who is far from Christ might be interested in learning more.”

■ Parent of a high school student already thinking about September, 2020? The Christian University College Fair tour has kicked off for another year. (I mention this annually because one of these events was extremely helpful to us a few years back.)

■ Worship Musician-ing: In our present environment flow is everything. However, “Silence between songs is not the kiss of death. If the Glory of God is revealed in your worship service it’s because He’s chosen to show up. No amount of liquid, musical fluidity can coax Him. No amount of choppy chord changes can deter Him.”

■ Time to sell the church? A Jacksonville congregation has had that epiphany. “The fact of the matter is that an institution that is spending 53 percent of its budget on plumbing and heating and buildings and facilities, that is not a church anymore. That is a property management organization.”

■ New Zealand wants to greatly restrict access to pornography. You can guess who isn’t happy about that.

■ Parenting Place: This particular forum on Reddit doesn’t usually see this type of engagement. The question asks people who grew up in the church and are still following Jesus if there’s anything in particular they feel their parents did right.  Closing in on 400 responses.

■ Seeing God Work: Earlier this summer the people at Southeast Christian Church heard pastor Kyle Idleman share the history of the rapid growth of their church.

■ New Music ♫ – Until last night I had never heard of Lindy Conant, though her band goes back several years. Check out the latest, Stand in Awe by Lindy and the Circuit Riders.

■ New Music ♫ – One of my personal favorite artists. Butterfly by Josh Garrels. (This is a really cool song.)

■ New Music ♫ – Is it a music video or a graphic novel? Check out Dreaming of Eden by Skillet.

■ New Music ♫ – One of the most anticipated albums this fall in mainstream CCM is the one for which this is the title song:  I Give Up by Laura Story. A companion book was released by Thomas Nelson and is already available.

■ First there was Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Now there’s Christians in Cars Getting Spiritual. But it will not have that title. And judging by the one-minute trailer, there might not be cars. But there will be Kirk Cameron. (Actually, it looks like fun!)

■ Confessing your sins to plants. You’ll think it’s an Onion article. Or Babylon Bee. But Union Theological Seminary was serious. Don’t miss the comments, either.

And people say there is no God. Explain this.


■ If you’re into the whole church sign thing, we found 42 of them at this link.


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