Thinking Out Loud

November 19, 2022

My Twitter Account: The Last 100 Days

The original name for blogs was ‘weblog’ and if we’re honest, many of our posts to social media represent a log or diary of our thoughts and activities. I can’t imagine that whole archive simply not existing anymore if any part of the web were to go down, but that’s what people are saying today about Twitter.

A few days ago, Amanda Held Opelt, the sister of Rachel Held Evans said as much, and then some. Rachel’s gracious interactions with both her friends and her theological enemies were such a significant part of her life, that it’s hard to imagine a world where those can’t be sought out and referenced.

As I write this, we don’t know where Twitter is heading on Monday morning — toward a crash or a rebirth — but I went back and grabbed text-only of things from the past 3+ months.

Remember, this is really, really random.



I am convinced that some people I know suffer from a “naive theology.” I’ve never heard or seen this term before, but it certainly seems to fit.


My wife and I are considering attending a church on Sunday where the women (including guests) are expected to wear head coverings. She’s trying to decide between a top hat and a Viking helmet.


I don’t wish to try to psychoanalyze peoples’ motives, but I believe that in some cases, people are passionate about evangelism because of “the one that got away;” significant, critical past attempts that are stuck in their memory that caused them to redouble their efforts.


If data gathering organizations like Barna are going to start defining “regular Church attendance” in terms of two weeks per month, or even one week in four, there is a feature of church life which is going to disappear: Being missed when you are not there.


…it occurred to me that in a post-Covid world, a smaller church [like my wife’s] with a half-time pastor and a quarter-time assistant pastor may not be so weird; rather, it might be a model for churches in the future. All the advantages of multi-staff but less than one full time salary position.


I have said it before and I will say it again, none of this technology is serving us. We are serving it. Everything that happens to ‘improve our user experience,’ is actually done to advance their agenda, their plans, their purposes. Not ours.


My neighbors gave their dog a name that totally rhymes with their daughter’s name. Not sure what they were thinking. The poor puppy is going to be so confused.


Retweeting Jacob Coyne @jacoblcoyne

Jesus fed the 5,000 but only 500 followed him after lunch. He had 12 disciples but only 3 prayed with him in the garden before his arrest. Then, only 1 stood with him at the cross. The closer you get to the cross, the smaller the crowd becomes


Next week on As The Church Turns:
Worship team backup singer Wendy Alto rats out Central Church’s Director of Music Marvin Flatsharp for failing to post the Christian Copyright Licensing numbers on the worship slides.


Retweeting Paul J. Pastor @pauljpastor

Oh, the number of books that could be a chapter; the number of chapters that could be an essay; the number of essays that could be a paragraph; the number of paragraphs that could be a sentence; the number of sentences that could be one single word.


Fabric softener dryer sheets are to doing laundry what Keurig pods are to drinking coffee. Completely unnecessary products. Environmental catastrophes.


Retweeting Sarah Stankorb @sarahstankorb

Well, I cut 7k words from the manuscript, but marked a bunch of little holes I wanted to fill. I’m back up to 28k words over what it should be… with a week to go. 😶 Please, tell me your secrets for cutting copy! I have darlings to save. I mean kill.

to which I replied:

It’s too bad that authors don’t have the option afforded to music artists, namely to release a radio edit version of their book, and an extended play edition. Betting that a lot of good stuff ends up on the cutting room floor.


Author and Speaker R.T. Kendall @DrRTKendall challenged Graham Kendrick @MakeWayMusic to write a song about forgiveness and forgiving others. The result was ‘Merciful’.


Misinformation in the funny pages:

In the Aug. 14th comic Baby Blues by Rick Kirkman & Jerry Scott, the authors have a father saying to his son, “Some units here in the states are metric like our money.” However, US currency isn’t part of the metric system, the word you’re looking for is “decimal.”


Reading the end-notes of Christian books, I’ve noticed that many of my favorite authors frequently quote Ibid, and I’m wondering if some of you can recommend particular titles by him (or her)?


Stacety @Stacety Replying to @bethallisonbarr

…I feel this. My son went to Australia for YWAM; almost all of the photos he took/ sent to anyone were on Snapchat. What is the point of that?? My daughters would say, “did you see the photo Noah took of that huge spider?” I’d say “cool, no, show me.” Oh, it’s gone….

to which I replied

The transitory nature of digital media. This is why I keep encouraging members of our family to select some photos and actually pay to get them printed.


”To those who believe no explanation is necessary,
to those who refuse to believe no explanation suffices.”

-Song of Bernadette by Franz Werfel


For my Canadian friends looking for more Wordle-type adventures, there’s Canuckle, which allows place names and some French words, too. The thematic constraint makes it somewhat more difficult than Wordle or Lingle.


With regard to deconstruction:
Could it be that in some cases,
The elephant in the room
is unanswered prayer?


In the present state of our technology immersion, there is no greater idiot than the person who believes that information showing on Google is reliable and trustworthy.


I’m currently reading an advance copy of Parenting: Getting it Right by Andy and Sandra Stanley. It goes on sale January 17th. I wish it went on sale earlier. By that I don’t mean November. I mean like, 25 years ago.


Shoe box sized giving will produce shoe box sized results.


Retweeting quote posted by Duke Kwon @dukekwondc

If you had asked Paul to define what a Christian is, he would not have said, “A Christian is a person who believes X and Y doctrines about Christ,” but “A Christian is a person who walks in the Spirit, who knows Christ.”
— Gordon Fee, 1934–2022


Yes, the pop song was based on words of scripture, but that’s got me wondering if anyone ever tried to look up Turn Turn Turn in a concordance by using the word “turn.”


I wonder if more people would take out full membership in their Church, if membership came with a discount program at stores and restaurants, and maybe a dental plan.


Our son who is 28 moved back with us last year. He’s  a true millennial. He has no relationship whatsoever with newspapers and never reads them. Today I sent him to a store to pick up one for me. He did. He accidentally shoplifted it. He seriously had no idea they charge for them. [In his defence, he mentioned seeing me regularly picking up free newspapers of another kind.]


I really do miss the Jesus Music days. Whatever it is Nashville is sending out these days is just not the same. I long for the days of a movement that can produce beautiful things like this:


“…And He said to them, ‘Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s branding?’”
– Luke 2:49 (not)


I’m looking at Acts 18:24-28 in the NET version, and it has 19 footnotes which are embedded links in Bible Gateway. If I want to copy it quickly into an email and send it, that’s 19 links, which will certainly render the email as spam. I can deactivate them, but it looks a mess! [But I really like the NET Bible overall!]


From an article on compulsory voting in Australia, SBS News
“The United States and Britain are individual-rights cultures, so the idea that you should be forced to do something for the greater good of the majority would not be something that’s inherent in the political culture.”


What #church preaching will look like in 2023:
You begin by saying that you have four sermon points.
You present three of them.
Then you announce the fourth point is only for Patreon supporters, and is available on the church’s Patreon page.


My first rule for publishers using social media is that every quotation or author pic must contain an image of the book in question. My second rule is that any thumbnail book images must be visible on a phone. I realize sometimes these objectives may seem mutually exclusive.


We have a digital clock that is so confusing to reset, my wife wants to buy a second one and just keep one on Standard Time and one on Daylight Time and just switch them out as needed.


Worth Watching:
Religion isn’t usually the theme on this YouTube channel, but this one covers the subject well. There are differences in prayer, church attendance, and tithing; and let’s not forget the German church TAX.
[23 minutes]



That brings us up to today. Not sure how long we have this platform. In hindsight, I wish I had been a bit more diligent about keeping Thinking Out Loud updated. The wisdom of the time was that people were moving from WordPress to the concision and instant (stream of consciousness) posting on Twitter.

But look where we are today.

November 15, 2022

Tyler Staton: More Than Just Another Book on Prayer

I hear Jesus saying, “Pray with the heart of a lover and the discipline of a monk” – Praying Like Monks (p193)

If the Bible tells us anything about how to pray, it says that God much prefers the rough draft full of rants and typos to the polished, edited version. – Praying Like Monks (p21)

Review: Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools by Tyler Staton

Two years ago, when I reviewed Tyler Staton‘s first book, Searching for Enough, I commented that a book about the apostle Thomas was fitting since it is a recurring theme in Tyler’s preaching. Given the available instances online of Tyler speaking in his own church — Oaks Church Brooklyn and later Bridgetown Church Portland — and as guest speaker in various venues, that was an accurate reflection of his go-to theme.

In hindsight however, this sophomore book project, Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools: An Invitation to the Wonder and Mystery of Prayer (Zondervan, 2022) lands the plane on a topic that is more central to Tyler’s heart and by which his current ministry is more defined.

You could deduce this partly from the fact he’s done not one, but two teaching series on prayer in this calendar year alone; one series, Teach us to Pray in January; and a second “Vision” series which began in September. (Click here for Bridgetown’s teaching page.)

But you could also discern it from a look at Tyler’s life: Even before entering his early teens, prayer became a defining part of his spiritual journey, to the point of doing early morning prayer walks around his middle school to pray for the students in his year. Those prayers bore fruit. Today, he’s National Director of the United States chapter of the 24/7 Prayer Movement, an organization founded by Pete Greig.

Full disclosure: I am a somewhat rabid fan of Tyler’s teaching. It meets my current need for sermon content that is both informative, illuminating and pastoral. I would start to read a fresh chapter convinced I must have already read it the day before, because many of the illustrations had stuck with me; a sort of situation where you’ve read the book before seeing the movie, only the other way around.

I also deeply respect him not only for the breadth of sources and influences that shaped the book, but also for the personal anecdotes where the principles taught have been brought to life through interactions with people both in and outside the church, and on both coasts of the U.S. Honestly, I could write about prayer, but it wouldn’t emerge the same as someone like Tyler Staton who is practitioner of the things described; someone who lives the lifestyle taught.

For the cynics who say that there are already too many books about prayer in a crowded Christian publishing market, I would answer, “I agree, but you need to read this one.” I’m not overly emotionally, but several times I had to rub my eyes, if you know what I mean. At the same time, there are some more lighthearted references. In a podcast, I think Tyler referred to letting people breathe after particularly heavy moments.

Some churches end the sermon time with the pastor saying, “Today, for your homework, I want you to…” At Bridgetown, the language used is “practices” and each chapter of Praying Like Monks contains action steps you can take. The ten chapters lend themselves to small group study — I’d even say take twelve weeks — and it’s good if you can listen to a few sermons online so that you’ve got Tyler’s voice in your head as you’re reading.

It’s hard for new voices to find an audience, but I really hope you’ll take my recommendation and consider this one.


As an example of Tyler Staton’s writing style, I offer this short excerpt which I ran at Christianity 201 a few days ago.

Link to: Publisher’s book information page

 

November 13, 2022

A Worship Song I Can’t Edit!

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:46 pm

I’ve never been a fan of long worship songs. I know what it means to ‘lose yourself’ in a worship moment, but when ‘soaking songs’ started to become in vogue, I found the ADHD in me kicking in around the 5½ minute mark.

But then there’s this one.

I think that The Same God by Elevation Worship is a worship song we need in these times. This is the lyric version which clocks in at just over 8 minutes. You’ll find other versions online which run 11½ minutes.

Like the 11th chapter of Hebrews, it offers a catalog of people and events which serve as reminders of where God met people where they are.

And honestly, I can’t think of anything much I would want to take out to shorten this to the four-to-five minutes that many — especially non-Pentecostals or non-Charismatics — prefer.

So here’s my suggestion: If you don’t know this song, take the time now to just rest with it and let it speak to you. 

He is the same God today as he has been before.

September 19, 2022

When Celebrity Comes to Church

Review: Celebrities for Jesus: How Personas, Platforms, and Profits Are Hurting the Church by Katelyn Beaty (Brazos Press, 2022)

Katelyn Beaty is one of a number of writers who has been part of the Christianity Today (CT) orbit, as I was briefly, and generally speaking, I find that people who come out of that environment have a healthy and balanced perspective on issues facing the church, and are often granted access to information which provides for additional insights.

Celebrities for Jesus is very much (almost) equal parts

  • history lesson
  • analysis
  • memoir

As a (recent) history lesson, because of my involvement over the years with this blog and its attendant attention to Christian news stories, there was a sense in which Katelyn and I had much of the same information. As soon as she stated something, my brain would signal ‘Yes, but you really need to mention ___________,’ only to find her doing so in the very next sentence.

My wife reminded me that not everyone has the same knowledge. While it’s true that some of the stories she covers in this book were part of Jesus and John Wayne by Kristen Kobes Du Mez and A Church Called TOV by Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer (which we reviewed here and here respectively) there was coverage of situations and people that were beyond the scope of both books, and at least one name that caught me off guard given the context.

Generally speaking, the context was American, which left me wondering as to the preponderance of superstar pastors in other places. (We do hear occasional stories from South America and Africa; but these were not mentioned.) Is the case of Christian celebrity somewhat unique to the United States?

This brings us to the next part, analysis. This is where I felt the book shines the brightest, especially when the author compared the present state of Christianity to its Biblical ideals.

We do fall short in various ways. Our willingness to confer celebrity shows a flaw in our character, long before the man or woman in question has a misstep. Our stories are looking for heroes.

In each chapter, I never questioned Beaty’s qualifications to offer us some of her perspective. My only wish is that she had explored some of these things further and deeper, which would have resulted in a welcomed longer book.

Finally, there was memoir. On page 158, speaking about the high rates of deconstruction and “faith detox” among her peers, “I sometimes wonder why I am still a Christian.”

That could be said about so many that work or have worked at CT or similar environments such as Religion News Service or Relevant, and get to see the spectacular crashes of individuals and ministry organizations close-up.

And yet, she celebrates that something “about that early faith… that could blossom into an orientation that could withstand doubt, the loss of dreams and cultural pressures.” Absent the more progressive identification of an author such as the late Rachel Held Evans, she still shares that honest vulnerability as she’s wrestled with all she has seen and heard.

Celebrities for Jesus covers its topic well. I even wonder if this needs to be required reading for those younger leaders whose desire to do something great might materialize more about building their kingdom instead of God’s kingdom?

It might have helped a few people not trip up.


Celebrities for Jesus is published by Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group, for which its author is also employed. A review copy was made available through publisher representative Graf-Martin Communications who provide publicity, marketing and brand development for clients from their base in Elmira, Ontario, Canada.

September 8, 2022

Long Live the King!

One of my goals for the past 12+ years at Christianity 201 has been to create a body of devotional literature that is somewhat timeless; not influenced by current events or topics.

However, as I prepared the one which was to appear this afternoon, the world had learned of the death of Queen Elizabeth II, and it got me thinking about what the Bible says about government, rulers, and monarchs. I thought I would repeat it here.

For those of us who follow Christ, we are citizens of another world; an eternal place not appearing on earthly maps. The Bible plainly says we are “not of this world.” “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world (John 15:19a NASB) and again, “But our citizenship is in heaven…” (Phil. 3:20a NET)

This is spelled out again in Peter’s epistle:

CEB.1Peter.2.9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possession. You have become this people so that you may speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light. 10 Once you weren’t a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you hadn’t received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

We often use the word “theocracy” to describe a place where the rule of God is law, and the word “sovereignty” to demonstrate the ‘rulership’ (which we call Lordship) of Christ. This was also God’s ‘Plan A’ for the people of Israel, but they wanted what other nations had, a king. (Wasn’t there a commandment about coveting the things belonging to others?)

NIV.1Samuel.8.1 When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

And that is exactly what happened. “Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years.” (Acts 13:21 CSB)

And there we see, in Israel’s history at least, the beginning of kings.

But we believe that all these things take place under the sovereignty of God.  God then inspires Paul through the Holy Spirit to write these words to Timothy:

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior (1 Timothy 2: 1-3 NLT)

To the church at Rome, Paul writes,

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God [granted by His permission and sanction], and those which exist have been put in place by God. Therefore whoever resists [governmental] authority resists the ordinance of God. And those who have resisted it will bring judgment (civil penalty) on themselves. (Romans 13:1-2 AMP)

Especially note the phrase “for there is no authority except that which God has established.” (v1 NIV)

Writing to leaders, Paul tells Titus,

Remind your people to submit to rulers and authorities, to obey them, and to be ready to do good in every way. They are not to insult anyone or be argumentative. Instead, they are to be gentle and perfectly courteous to everyone.  (Titus 3:1 GNT, 3:2 ISV)

So our ultimate submission is to Christ, but Christ compels us to submit to earthly rulers who have been placed over us. Before his death, Jesus affirms,  “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom.” (NLT) or “My kingdom is not from this world.”

We are ultimately citizens of two worlds, this one and the world to come.

Where good, God-fearing, faith-honoring leadership has been given by earthly kings and queens, we give thanks, as we do today.

And we pray for King Charles III, that this may continue.

September 2, 2022

When Church Leaders Fall

Before the pandemic, I was determined that, having reached the ten-year mark, I would cut Christianity 201 back to being a Monday to Friday devotional blog. Or maybe Sunday to Thursday. I had announced four times that we were changing direction. But then, Covid-19 arrived, and I had more time, and people were looking for things to read online. Now we’re approaching the 12½ year mark, and still daily, and I find that, in addition to begging, borrowing and stealing devotional content from other sites, I’m writing more than ever on C201. Here’s one from yesterday.

There’s a passage in 1 Corinthians 9, where the Apostle Paul uses the analogy of the Christian life as running a race.

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.

For a preacher or Christian education teacher, this passage offers the possibility of a number of ‘running a race’ or ‘Olympic competition’ sub-analogies, to the point that you’ve probably heard it several times. So it’s easy to overlook the verse with which the section concludes:

27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

It’s one of a few passages in scripture where it’s made clear that the onus is on Christian leaders to live by the highest standards. One that probably comes to mind for readers here is in James 3:1

Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.

As we begin another month and enter the final third of the year, we’re already aware — and perhaps a bit numb — to the church leaders who have brought embarrassment to the global Church, and destroyed marriages and families and local congregations in the process. (For example, check out this list from 2020.)

There are however, certain checks and balances that all of us can put into place which will reduce the chances of moral failure, or loss of financial integrity.

The translations of verse 27 are insightful, particularly in terms of how they capture the consequences of failing to heed the warnings of Church history, spiritual mentors or older Christians:

  • I do this to be sure that I myself won’t be disqualified after preaching to others. (CEB)
  • Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified. (NLT)
  • I do this so that I won’t miss getting the prize myself after telling others about it. (ERV)
  • Otherwise I fear that after enlisting others for the race, I myself might be declared unfit and ordered to stand aside. (TLB)
  • so I won’t lose out after telling the good news to others. (CEV)
  • lest by any means, having preached to others — I myself may become disapproved. (YLT)
  • lest possibly, after I have been a herald to others, I should myself be rejected. (Weymouth)
  • so that, after I have preached [the gospel] to others, I myself will not somehow be disqualified [as unfit for service]. (AMP)
  • so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified. (NET)
  • lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. (KJV)

And yet… having read all these translations… what is the utmost desire of many Christians when someone has fallen? Often it’s a rush to see that person fully restored to ministry; a hurry to have them returned to the pulpit to continue, as the text says, “preaching to others.”

Maybe some people aren’t meant for public service, be it in ministry or political office, or entertainment. Or maybe the spotlight of public life has a corrupting effect. Or perhaps having power causes deterioration of good judgment.

As I write this, I look at my own life, and while I don’t see the overt sins to which others might succumb, I am aware of bad attitudes, or a lack of trust in God’s sovereignty over particular circumstances in my life right now. And then, as I sit at the keyboard to prepare and format a daily devotional — as I have for going on 12½ years — I genuinely fear the consequences of vs. 27; being disqualified, or rejected; of losing what Paul, in the passage which follows, calls “apostolic authority.”

Our closing verses today are from 2 Corinthians 13:

Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you[or ‘in you’]; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith.As you test yourselves, I hope you will recognize that we have not failed the test of apostolic authority.  (NLT)
 

September 1, 2022

Frustrated Leaders: As Ten Commandments Tablets Shatter

As Christianity 201 became my primary blog, I have found myself writing more original devotional articles for it over the past few years. This is one from last week.

There’s a bad Sunday School joke that goes something like, “Who in the Bible broke all ten commandments?” The answer is Moses, when he returned from the mountain and exasperated over the sin of the people sent the tablets crashing to the ground.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

First of all, the giving of the commandments in a physical form does not mean that this is the first time God establishes moral and behavioral boundaries of the people of Israel. The website Life Hope and Truth states,

…The answer is found in a fascinating statement God made about Abraham, recorded in Genesis 26:5: “Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.”

This is significant because Abraham was born hundreds of years before Moses received the law on Mount Sinai!

In order for Abraham to obey God’s commandments, statutes and laws, he had to know what they were. This means that Abraham was taught the laws directly from God or from others (or possibly both). God was not giving Moses a brand-new law on Mount Sinai. He was merely giving a codified, or formal, version of His law so that it could be used to govern the emerging nation of Israel…

The article then goes on to illustrate instances of such laws existing prior to Moses.

Let’s pick up the store in Exodus 19 and Exodus 20

NIV.Ex.19.20 The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up 21 and the Lord said to him, “Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. 22 Even the priests, who approach the Lord, must consecrate themselves, or the Lord will break out against them.”  …

NIV.Ex.20.1 And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before[a] me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.  …

It’s verses 4-6, which we call the second commandment — see the post from last month where we break them up into commandment 2a and 2b — where we want to focus. It’s reiterated in verse 22

22 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: 23 Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.

Then, for nearly a dozen chapters, God gives Moses instructions for worship, and also some amplification of the “big ten” commandments given. But then he tells Moses it’s time “get down to earth” because there’s trouble stirring.

NIV.Ex.32.1  When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

2 Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”…

…7 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt…

…15 Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. 16 The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.

17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting, he said to Moses, “There is the sound of war in the camp.”

18 Moses replied:

“It is not the sound of victory,
    it is not the sound of defeat;
    it is the sound of singing that I hear.”

19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.

Moses returns to see the people breaking the second commandment which was cited above. And he is livid. In his anger and frustration he shatters the “big ten,” which we’re told God Himself engraved.

It’s a very Moses thing to do. In his anger he will later strike a rock he is told to simply speak to, and that particular act of anger costs him entry into the promised land.

But here’s my point.

Before I started writing this, I gave it the title, “As Ten Commandments Tablets Shatter.” I was thinking about Moses and what the people did in his absence. But I was also thinking about pastors and church leaders today.

Depending on whose statistics you read, in North America 1,200 or 1,500 pastors resign (quit) from ministry each month. While conservatives are busy arguing about women in ministry, it’s probably a good thing some of those women are in place, because the mostly-men pastoral workforce is abandoning ministry in droves.

There are a number of reasons, but I’m sure one of them is frustration over the lack of spiritual dedication among the parishioners. Or, as Moses observed, a flagrant disregard for the will of God.

So figuratively, over a thousand each month are throwing the tablets up in the air and letting them crash to the ground while literally, they pack up of their church office library and dust off their resumés and begin to look for another career path.

Vocational ministry life can be frustrating. I write that even as a member of my immediate family prepares to enter into a greater level of vocational pastoral commitment. I am sure that like Moses, I would get exasperated by what I would see and would want to toss the tablets up in the air as well.

In North America, October is designated as “Pastor Appreciation Month,” however if people were serious about appreciating their pastor, they would, to use an archaic word, “harken” more to the things about the ways of God that he or she is trying to teach the congregation. Yes, they should live a certain way because it’s what God desires and what God requires, but there should also be a recognition that the very reason this person has been set apart for career ministry is to teach them such things with the expectation that they will follow.

Otherwise it’s all just empty words and meaningless worship.

Are there “ten commandments” violations that you see that would cause your pastor/rector/priest to want to toss the stone tablets in the air?


Related:

 

 

August 22, 2022

Henri Nouwen and the Acrobats: Behind the Making of the Book

In late May I received a short note from the co-author of a book I had briefly mentioned on my Christian book trade blog. The book was Flying, Falling, Catching: An Unlikely Story of Finding Freedom (HarperOne, 2022) by the late Henri Nouwen and Carolyn Whitney-Brown. Both Carolyn and I thought that the story behind the book deserved greater attention, and months later, she sent what follows, which at this point, we have exclusively. You can learn more about her writing at this link.

by Carolyn Whitney-Brown

I first met Henri Nouwen at L’Arche Daybreak in Richmond Hill [North Toronto] in 1989 when he drove me with my husband Geoff to a local pizza place for lunch. He was a terrifyingly inattentive driver. But we had a terrific conversation that day. Geoff and I were completing our PhDs in English literature, so like Henri, we were coming from academic backgrounds looking for ways to live the gospel more concretely in a diverse community.

As Gord, a longtime L’Arche member with Down syndrome, would encourage us, “Open your heart.” We lived with Henri and Gord and many others at Daybreak until 1997, learning to think and love and laugh and pray in new ways. Those were transformative years.

Carolyn Whitney-Brown with Henri Nouwen

Henri first saw the Flying Rodleighs trapeze troupe perform in 1991, and it hit him like a thunderbolt. He described a physical response that left him shaken, excited, in tears – a response of his body, not in words. Over the next five years, he got to know the trapeze troupe and they became close friends. His times with them were relaxing, inspiring and full of fun. He talked about them constantly.

I knew from conversations with Henri at the time that he wanted to write differently; something that would read like fiction or even a novel. He wanted his circus book to be different than any of his previous books, based not on ideas or insights, but offering a story that would draw readers into an experience and invite them to draw their own significances and connnections.

But he died suddenly in 1996, and the fragments that he left behind sat in his literary archives for decades.

In 2017, because I was a writer who knew Henri well, I was invited by the publishing committee of Henri’s literary estate to have a look at his trapeze writings and see if anything inspired me.

Immediately, I was hooked by two mysteries. First, why did his encounter with the Flying Rodleighs strike him so powerfully at that moment of his life? And second, why he did he not finish his book about them?

I started to read widely in the archives, trying to figure out what else was going on in his life and spirit in those years, what had prepared him to see, as he put it, “the angels of God appearing to me in the form of five trapeze artists.”

I couldn’t write the book that Henri would have written, but in Flying, Falling, Catching, I honour his desire to write a creative book that would be as engaging as a novel. I juxtapose his writings about his friendship with the Flying Rodleighs trapeze troupe alongside other significant moments in his life. Those experiences in Henri’s own words are framed by the true story of his first heart attack and his rescue out the window of a hotel in the Netherlands in 1996.

The book is in two voices, Henri’s and mine, with two typefaces so that readers know which writings are Henri’s and which are mine.

I had a lot of fun writing it.

After completing the book, I keep thinking about pedestals. It’s easy to put Henri on a pedestal: he was wise and brave even when he was demanding and anguished. He’s often called a spiritual master. But that elevates him to a unique and lonely place, and being admired like that was not a healthy place for Henri. The trapeze act involves a different image of a pedestal, as somewhere to launch from. You’d look silly staying on a pedestal. It’s a platform to allow you to take a risk. And trapeze performers are rarely on a pedestal alone: no one can do a trapeze act by themselves.

Henri Nouwen with The Flying Rodleighs
Photo: Ron P. van den Bosch

You can actually see some hilarious film footage of Henri on the trapeze pedestal on the online recordings of two book launch events, one with commentary by Rodleigh Stevens himself, and the other with L’Arche Daybreak. In that one, I tell viewers to notice that real friends will not only accompany you on a pedestal, but they will throw you off at the right moment! You can find links to both book launch events at:

https://www.writersunion.ca/member/carolyn-whitney-brown

It struck me recently that I am now the age that Henri was when he was so entranced by the Flying Rodleighs, and interestingly, so is Rodleigh himself, since he and I are close in age. At our age, Henri let his imagination be seized by a whole new adventure. He said,

On a deeper level, [my friendship with the Flying Rodleighs] has given me a sense my life is just beginning. I don’t know where it’s going but I’m only sixty-two so I may have another thirty years. The Rodleighs are saying to me indirectly, don’t be afraid to fly a little, don’t be afraid to take a few doubles or triples or a few layouts. If you really miss the catcher you fall into the net so what’s the big issue! After all, take a risk and trust, trust, trust.”

Henri cared passionately about building communities that honour differences, that work for justice, that seek God’s vision of peace on earth and goodwill to all. As you finish reading Flying, Falling, Catching, be open to the spiritual challenge: What seizes YOUR imagination? What excites you? What life of fun and creative energy does God imagine for each of us, not just alone, but in our communities?


Flying Falling Catching is also available in the UK through SPCK Publishing.


Related: At Christianity 201 — Henri Nouwen quotations

August 18, 2022

Skye Jethani Adds 3rd Title to “Serious” Series

Book Review: What if Jesus Was Serious About the Church?: A Visual Guide to Becoming the Community Jesus Intended (Moody Publishers, 2022)

Two years ago I was able to review the first book in what we now know has become a series, What if Jesus Was Serious? At the time, I mentioned that the use of “napkin doodles” therein was foreshadowed in one of Skye Jethani’s older books, With. I was unable to get a review copy of the follow-up, What if Jesus Was Serious About Prayer? but when the subject-at-hand for the third book was the modern church, I knew I wanted in, and despite the publisher’s great reluctance to grant review copies, was able to request one.

The reason I wanted to own this one in my personal collection is because this is a theme on which Skye is most outspoken when talking to Phil Vischer or interviewing guests weekly on The Holy Post Podcast. As a former pastor himself, and a former writer for over a decade with Christianity Today, Skye is able to articulate the challenges faced by the capital “C” Church worldwide, the small “c” church locally, and those whose vocational employment is church-related.

The podcast for which he is quite well known fails (in my view) in one respect, in that it is far too American-oriented. If you’re reading this review in the UK, or Australia, or Canada, and you’ve sensed that as well, you’ll be happy to know that the book casts a wider perspective beyond the U.S. I promise you’ll only roll your eyes once or twice.

So for those who need to play catch-up, as with the first two books, this one consists of short — never more than four page — chapters, each of which commences with a little drawing which might be a chart, or a diagram, or a cartoon, or a meme. It’s hard to describe them. Hence the reference to “napkin doodles.” The thing you would draw on a napkin (or blank paper place-mat) in a coffee shop when trying to explain an idea. (Again, the book With is must-reading to see how the concept evolved.)

This one has 51 such chapters, grouped in five sections; The Family Reunion, The Family Meal, The Family Gathering, The Family Business, and The Family Servants.

I immediately shared the second part with my wife. I find that I can never read enough about the Eucharist, Last Supper, or Communion Service, and our need to keep its centrality in the modern worship service. It and the third part, about the manner in which we worship are the longest two groupings in the book and include subjects that are important to the author.

Skye Jethani is so forthright and authoritative on these subjects, and I feel he is a voice that everyone in Evangelicalism needs to be hearing.

Because I tend to gush about the books I review — I choose them and don’t get books sent automatically — I do have a couple of criticisms. One is that for those who obsess over page counts, the 232 pages in this one include about 45 which are essentially blank. That’s a product of the way the book is formatted, and in balance, one needs to also consider this digest-sized paperback uses color process throughout.

The other thing was the ending. For me, there wasn’t one. The 51st article ended abruptly, which I expected given the concision that Skye employs throughout. But then I turned the page looking for a conclusion; something that would tie everything altogether, and there wasn’t one. No closing statement. Perhaps, as with the podcast for which he is known, there is a bonus chapter only available to Patreon supporters.

Those complaints aside, I encourage you to consider this. It’s fairly quick reading, and if you or someone in your family is employed in ministry, it contains a number of great conversation starters. If you simply care about where modern Evangelicalism is headed, it contains even more topics to provoke discussion.

August 8, 2022

Honoring the Offering

And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. – Hebrews 13:16

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  2 Cor. 9:7

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. – 1 Timothy 6:18

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Jesus, in Matthew 6:19-21

Many years ago my wife worked in a church leading worship where one of the members of the church’s “Program Team” objected to her sometimes having the congregation sing another worship song concurrent with the offering being received. She was okay with an instrumental song, but felt that combining the congregational singing with the placing of cash and envelopes in the basket being passed failed to “honor the offering.”

I have no idea where she got that concept.

Today we have quite a different situation. There is no offering received in many of our churches. During the pandemic, places of worship were told by local health authorities to avoid the surface contact generated by passing an offering plate or a tray of communion elements.

Long before the outbreak, some churches had switched to a box at the back of the auditorium. (I loved it when Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids would announce the “Joy boxes” and the congregation would cheer!)

Moreover, many of us give online these days. We use neither cash nor envelopes, and our electronic giving replaces checks. (That’s cheques for my Canadian/Aussie/UK readers.)

But giving is an act of worship, right?

If so, it follows that act of worship should be part of a worship service, right?

So how we incorporate “taking up the offering” when we’re not actually taking up the offering.

In once church I visited, people take a small card (business card size) that said, “I use automatic bank withdrawal giving,” as they walk in and then as the plate or basket is passed, they drop the card in. (Hopefully they’re being honest, or there’s a whole set of Ananias and Sapphira admonitions we could mention here.)

But one church we watched online did something different. It was an offering liturgy prayer that the entire church spoke, a declaration of a giving spirit (or perhaps the intention to do so as soon as the service ended.)  It’s worded this way:

Holy Father, there is nothing I have that You have not given me. All I have and am belong to You, bought with the blood of Jesus. To spend everything on myself, and to give without sacrifice, is the way of the world that you cannot abide. But generosity is the way of those who call Christ their Lord; who love Him with free hearts and serve Him with renewed minds; who withstand the delusion of riches that chokes the word; whose hearts are in your kingdom and not in the systems of the world. I am determined to increase in generosity until it can be said that there is no needy person among us. I am determined to be trustworthy with such a little thing as money that you may trust me with true riches. Above all, I am determined to be generous because You, Father, are generous. It is the delight of Your daughters and sons to share Your traits and to show what You are like to all the world.

This statement of what it means to be generous toward the world and toward God, both corporately and individually, replaces the offering for this church.


Source of Giving Liturgy: Westside AJC (a Jesus Church), this is the congregation founded by Phil and Diane Comer and taught for years by John Mark Comer. Click image to see full size or visit: https://westsideajc.org/about#giving-section

Scriptures used in the preparation of the Giving Liturgy (click the above link to see the version where these footnotes correspond.

(1) Psalm 24 v1, Psalm 31 v19, Ephesians 1 v7, James 1 v17, 1 Timothy 6 v17
(2) Proverbs 11 v25, 1 John 3 v17
(3) 1 Timothy 6 v17-19, Romans 12 v2, 2 Timothy 3:2-5, 2 Corinthians 9 v6-8
(4) Acts 4 v32-35
(5) Luke 16 v10-11
(6) Psalm 81 v10, Matthew 7 v7-11, John 16 v23-24, Romans 8 v32, Ephesians 1v3, Ephesians 1 v7-8


For our Canadian readers: Coincidentally (honestly!) this ran Sunday on our ministry Facebook page, but U.S. readers can give to this as well, though you won’t get a tax receipt.

It’s Sunday, and there are people reading this for whom it’s been a long time since you were in a place where an offering plate was passed. Searchlight’s recommended Christian charity of choice continues to be the Welcome Home Children’s Centre in Haiti. Your donation today can provide shelter, food, clothing, supervision, school fees, school uniforms, transportation, and more for 14 children, at the orphanage located two hours north of Port-au-Prince. Click on their page at Canada Helps to donate, or donate by credit card or Paypal using Welcome Home’s own donation page at this link.


Reprinted with the kind permission of the very nice people at Christianity 201.

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