Thinking Out Loud

April 10, 2018

In the Middle of the Miracle

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:40 am

My stomach is growling.

He’s been teaching and doing miracles all day and nobody in particular wants to leave. But it’s obvious that people are hungry. Someone near the front is discussing this with him and there’s a question if anyone has any food. For a crowd this big?

Yeah, right. I’ve got my caravan of camels loaded up with food just over the hillside. Not.

The woman next to me has been slipping snacks to her kids all afternoon but she’s not volunteering anything. In the distance a little boy is handing Jesus a cloth bag and he’s removing the contents. He’s quietly saying a short prayer.

We’re asked to sit down in groups of 50 households. Since it would later be reported that 5,000 men — plus women and children — were fed, that would be about 100 groups. His disciples start circulating through the crowd. Where did those baskets come from?

When they get to our group I can see the bread and the fish pieces quite clearly. But as I reach for a piece of bread, my eyes go blurry for second and it looks like the piece that’s in my hand was just replaced. Someone would write later that everyone had their full, so hungry as I am, I reach in and grab a second piece. Again, it appears to be replaced. There are now two pieces in my hand, and I grab a piece of fish, and quickly pass the basket to my right.

I think the same guy who served us comes around to the group next to us minutes later and the basket is still filled to the top. The kid who had the cloth bag is standing next to Jesus and they’re both sharing a private moment and laughing with delight.

Is this what it’s like to be in the middle of a miracle?

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April 9, 2018

Book Review: The Jesus I Never Knew

It is, without doubt, my favorite book by my favorite author.

When it was published, in 1995, I was sitting behind the counter of a Christian bookstore when a man came in and asked if we could order him five copies. A few days later someone else asked if they could order six. A few weeks later the first man came back for ten more.

I knew I had to read this book. I was familiar with Philip Yancey because of his connection to Campus Life magazine and The NIV Student Bible. He was the guy with the hair. Trained in journalism, he is an example of a Christian author rising to prominence not having formally studied theology or having pastored a church.

Yancey had written many books before The Jesus I Never Knew was published. Three were with leprosy doctor Paul Brand, as well as Where is God When it Hurts and Disappoint With God.

But in a way, The Jesus I Never Knew would kick off a run of prime titles for Yancey which include: What’s So Amazing About Grace, Reaching for the Invisible God, The Bible Jesus Read, Rumors of Another World, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference, What Good is God and Vanishing Grace.

When he writes, he stands in for all of us, with all our questions, misgivings, disappointments, doubts, and hopes when it comes to Biblical texts. He’s not afraid to wrestle with the scriptures and if, as with Jacob, that takes all night, then so be it. He’s never written a formal autobiography — unless you count Soul Survivor — but you come to know him as you read his writing.

This was my third time reading The Jesus I Never Knew.

My first reaction, on completion of the last page, is to want to turn to chapter one and begin all over. Jesus simply leaps off the page. Yancey has looked at the life of Christ and assembled a myriad of data and then rearranged that information to give us a picture of Jesus as he would have presented himself to the disciples and gospel writers.

An alternative title might be, The Jesus You Thought You Knew, or perhaps The Jesus You May Have Missed. If the gospel accounts might be considered an outline drawing of Christ’s life, with this book Philip Yancey fills in the colors, the shading, the textures of the big picture. Over the years, readers have found the section on Christ’s temptation and the Sermon on the Mount to be especially helpful. There’s also the drama of the encounters Jesus has with everyone from the Pharisees to the lepers. He offers much in the way of context then along with personal application for us now.

So…today’s review is not a new book, but if it’s new to you, I hope you’ll track down a copy.

Zondervan, paperback, 9780310219231

April 8, 2018

Two Kingdoms in Conflict

The world says ‘seeing is believing.’

Jesus teaches ‘believing is seeing.’

The world says attain wisdom

The Bible teaches we should be willing to become a fool

The world says ‘be a survivor’

Jesus taught we should be willing to lose our lives

The world says ‘go for the gold,’ achieve greatness

Jesus taught us to be willing to be the last, the least

The world exalts leaders

Jesus said we should make ourselves servants

The world exalts human potential and greatness

Jesus said we should humble ourselves

The world says ‘look out for number one’

The Bible teaches we should look out for the interests of others and count others better than ourselves

The world says ‘get all you can’

Jesus says ‘give all you can’

The world says we should make our good deeds known

Jesus taught we should keep our good deeds secret

The world says love is a feeling, it’s conditional and it will grow old

The Bible teaches the love is a lasting, unconditional commitment; love never fails

The world says we should hate our enemies

Jesus taught us to love our enemies

The world says ‘get even,’ retaliate

Jesus taught forgiveness

The world puts spin on events to cover up mistakes

Proverbs teaches us to confess our mistakes

The world emphasizes the great things human can accomplish

The prophets taught things happen ‘not by might, nor by power,’ but by God’s Spirit

The world says ‘drown your sorrows’

The Bible contrasts that with ‘be filled with the Spirit

The world operates on cynicism and skepticism

Jesus taught that all things are possible to those who believe

The world says you should consult your horoscope

Jesus talked about searching the scriptures

The world says the Bible was written by human agency only

The Bible itself claims that all Scripture is God breathed

The world says the Bible is old-fashioned and out-of-date

Jesus said that heaven and earth will pass away, but not his truths

The world thinks Jesus was a good man

The early church confession was that Jesus is Lord

The world says Jesus is not coming back

Jesus promised ‘I will come and receive you to myself’

The world concludes, ‘I’ll never worship Jesus Christ’

The Bible says that someday every knee will bow and every voice will admit that Jesus Christ is Lord.


~adapted from Straightforward by Larry Tomczak, a classic book from the Jesus movement of the late 1970s.  Italicized sections allude to or quote scripture passages unless otherwise indicated.

April 7, 2018

The Waldos in Your Life

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:15 am

Google is running some type of contest involving Waldo on Google Maps. I really don’t have time to figure out what it is, and when we were in a unfamiliar part of a city this week, my wife didn’t care for having more clutter on what is already a small screen on her phone.

Where’s Waldo? For me that question might be, ‘Where’s Tim?’ Maybe you have someone in your life who has disappeared off the map.

It’s weird saying that in an age of social media. There really is a Tim, I played at his wedding and we have a number of people in common, but getting anyone to actually track down an address — email or physical — has proved elusive. I’ve had people write down my info and promise to find a way to relay it to him. Then, more silence.

Can you imagine people of an earlier generation trying to reconnect before Facebook, or even the internet itself? Would they write letters and wait weeks for replies that might never arrive?

The Salvation Army works with street people. I don’t know if they still do this, but for many years they offered a find service, probably mostly used by family members. Of course, you could also run a personal ad in the newspaper and hope the person had a contact who would read it

A few years back there was also a Dave. I managed the band he played in. I sort of knew the where in this case, but I couldn’t get anyone who was in closer proximity to him to forward an email or even a phone number. We finally did connect. He had never received any of the messages. In one case I discovered a pattern of a Christian leader repeatedly ignoring email, not only on this but many other fronts. I know she’s a busy person, but rude is rude…

…I’ve always believed it’s important to stay connected to the people who knew you when. (Yes, that’s a complete sentence.) I think it keeps us grounded to have touchpoints with people who were involved in various stages of our lives. Perhaps it even keeps us humble…

…So who are the Waldos in your life?

Is locating them an obsession?

Do you ever wonder if they’re still alive?

Have you asked yourself if you did something to offend them that would make them want to break contact?

Is there an important message you want to give them, or something you need to get off your chest?

I hope you find your personal Waldo.


image: Anonymous postcard sent to PostSecret in late 2011 or early 2012.

April 6, 2018

Update of a Classic Christian Poem

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:46 am

Today’s episode, in which a classic piece of Christian/Inspirational poetry gets updated, more accurately reflecting contemporary attitudes…

Touch of the Master’s Hand

Not exactly the way you remember it…

old-violinadapted by Ruth Wilkinson

It was battered and scarred, And the auctioneer thought it
Hardly worth his while
To waste his time on the old violin,
But he held it up with a smile.
“What am I bid, good people”, he cried,
“Who starts the bidding for me?”
“One dollar, one dollar, Do I hear two?”
“Two dollars, who makes it three?”
“Three dollars once, three dollars twice, going for three”,

But, No,
From the room far back a grey haired man
Came forward and picked up the bow,
Then wiping the dust from the old violin
And tightening up the strings,
He played a melody, pure and sweet,
As sweet as the angel sings.

The music ceased and the auctioneer
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said “What now am I bid for this old violin?”
As he held it aloft with its bow.
“One thousand, one thousand, Do I hear two?”
“Two thousand, Who makes it three?”
“Three thousand once, three thousand twice,
Going and gone”, said he.

The audience cheered, But I just cried,
I hardly could believe
I’d almost got that old violin –
I could have had it for three.

‘Til that interfering old know-it-all sod
Stuck his nose where I wished he had not
And some overdressed twit outbid my three bucks
By a thousand times what I had brought.

So I watched that old fiddler return to his seat
Near the back where he had been sittin’
As he passed where I sat, I just couldn’t resist
I stuck out my foot and I tripped him.


Faith Films: We’ve Been Here Before

At risk of this becoming a one-note blog/site, with me constantly gushing over the Christian-themed films currently available, I want to simply point that we’ve been down this road before. The chart below, from Box Office Mojo, as posted in this 2014 article at Grantland, shows that in the Winter/Spring of that year, we had four major faith-focused titles in the space of 48 days; a situation not dissimilar to where we find ourselves this year.

 

April 5, 2018

Mercy Me! This is a Popular Movie

We continue our series of better-late-than-never movie reviews. Think of this as being an early review for the DVD release.

…So it turned out that I had a pass for I Can Only Imagine that I didn’t know I had. Going through some review books on a table, suddenly, there it was. I called Mrs. W. (whose birthday is today, BTW) and said, “Drop everything! We’re going to a movie.”

Okay, here’s the spoiler:

A guy in a band writes a song which becomes very popular.

Didn’t see that coming, did you? Okay, maybe you did. The plot of the movie is somewhat of a given, and the movie begins with a documentary style introduction which thankfully is mostly abandoned once the story starts to roll. So on the surface, this is a film about a song. A film anchored in a real-life story which takes place in recent history.

However, great songs are, nine times out of ten, born out of significant, intense, great experiences. There’s often a story behind the song, and the better the song, the better the story.

Furthermore, many of the songs we like are born out of a great deal of pain on the part of the songwriter. Even a song which on the surface appears to be a joyful (if mellow) composition anticipating the celebration which awaits us in eternity.

…This movie has had a very strong reception in North America. When we arrived at the cineplex and asked the ticket taker which theater it was, she just pointed and said, “Follow the crowd.” Greater success of faith-based films has allowed for larger budgets which translates into better quality.

The casting is great. The movie’s Amy Grant, while admittedly not the singer herself, is quite convincing; my own buy-in on her character is an example of the film’s credibility.

This isn’t Biblically based in the sense of Paul, Apostle of Christ but this contemporary story has had great impact on those who have seen it. I think it’s an example of God is using the large volume of Christian films currently available to reach all types of people.

J. Michael Finley as Mercy Me’s Bart Millard


Thanks (again) to Graf-Martin Communications in Canada for an almost-missed opportunity to see I Can Only Imagine.

April 4, 2018

Wednesday Connect

With this piece of ephemera found in my basement from 2003, if my arithmetic is correct, then 2018 is the 25th anniversary year of Bob, Larry and the French Peas.

There are some great items here this week, and honestly, if you don’t click every single one of them, you don’t get any dessert.

► I’ve seen articles before about churches paying secular musicians to act as ‘ringers’ in a church orchestra or on a modern worship team, but I’d never considered the possibility of these people also playing late night gigs in clubs and bars the night before and being totally hung over when they show up for church.

► Follow Up: John Ortberg responds to the fallout from the article regarding Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Community Church which appeared in the Chicago Tribune. “This is not a reconciliation issue between Bill Hybels and me. We had no conflict. I spent nine wonderful years on Willow Creek’s staff and taught there regularly and joyfully for years after my departure…” However, “In this case, the tremendous courage of several women has been met with an inadequate process that has left them without a refuge and with no way to be assured of a fair hearing.”

► Australia’s Michael Frost sets up the article he wrote in this Twitter summary: “Across the country churches are being sold from under their congregations to pay for the past sins of pedophile priests. Before we complain about Christianity being under attack, can we just acknowledge we’ve brought so much of our own demise on ourselves.” He titled the article, Paying for the Sins of the Fathers.

► First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas — the scene of a mass shooting killing 26 — is set to break ground on a new building. (Anyone can donate through a website.)

► The Faith-Based Film You Never Saw at Easter: Removed in January from North American release, the movie Mary Magdalene released nonetheless in Australia and the U.K. One review: “As I was watching the movie, I was wondering how the script-writers were going to tell the story of Mary Magdalene being the first person to see the risen Lord, as there are a few minor variations in the Gospel accounts… The solution was to come up with a couple of scenes that bear no resemblance to the Gospel… It is even unclear in the movie that Jesus really has risen from death; it could be understood that Mary is, instead, seeing visions of the post-crucifixion Jesus that only she can see.”

► Must Reading This Week: A look at Francis Chan, “Touch not the Lord’s anointed,” and what you get into when you join a church. “I would contend that most people have no idea what they are signing up for when they join a particular church. Sometimes, that lack of knowledge leads to unexpected conflict.

► Enhancing the Teaching Ministry of Your Church: “The Four Cs are a way in which the congregation celebrates biblical truths, theology, and ecclesiastical bonds with the past. These Four Cs are: creeds, confessions, catechisms, and covenants.”  

► Not an April Fool’s Joke: Amy Grant to appear at the Wild Goose Festival.  (Are they going mainstream?)

► Thinking Out Loud maintains a very full, old-school-style blogroll which includes links to a number of Christian news organizations. You’ll notice we have removed The Christian Post from the list, a site we have frequently linked to in the past. The removal follows a revelation that the site uses code which is considered malicious, the same type of code which got Newsweek Media Group in trouble. “The code enables a publisher running it to earn revenue on ads that would otherwise not meet industry standards for viewability.”

► Lessons for Leaders: A heartfelt essay on the dangers of pastoral leadership and being placed on a pedestal by one who saw five of his friends lose their ministry due to moral failure

► Remembering: The attack on Christians by ISIS continues in Pakistan.

► Elevation Collective is a sort of ‘supergroup’ that began with Elevation Worship and then added guest musicians including Israel Houghton, Tye Tribbett, Tasha Cobbs Leonard,  Travis Greene,  Kierra Sheard, and The Walls Group. Check out Unstoppable God featuring Tribett and Here In The Presence featuring Houghton. (These Gospel arrangements may not sound like the Elevation Worship you know.)

► …And for those of you who appreciate the music we post in these lists, before we get too far past Easter, here’s Rend Collective’s Nailed to the Cross.

► Returning to Her Roots (by which we don’t mean hair color): Katy Perry quoted this week saying, “I know that God has His hand on me, and I know sometimes I go through things and they’re just too intense and I can’t handle them and then He swoops in and He shows me that it’s His grace that brings me through it.” However, less than a year ago, the same news organization, CBN News reported that the singer was distancing herself from that very faith, saying at the time, “I’m not Christian, but I still feel like I have a deep connection with God. I pray all the time—for self-control, for humility.”

► Most curiosity-inducing opening line we read this week: “A contemporary Christian singer will not be Costa Rica’s next President.”

► This Week’s Scandal: “A Texas megachurch pastor and a Louisiana financial planner have been charged with defrauding mainly elderly investors of between $1 million and $3.4 million.” The investors were sold “historical Chinese bonds that authorities say have no financial value.”

► Another anon account on Twitter: Earl Evangelical

► Weirdest Minute of Video Ever: White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders reading the Easter story to children.

► For the Christian imprint of Penguin Random House, a forthcoming (May) Babylon Bee book represents WaterBrook’s first venture into humor. Publishing humor and satire is the extreme sport of religious publishing. Everyone in the process is required to tread carefully so as to not offend.

► Finally — What Roman Catholic Theology students are being taught: “Dr. Tat-siong Benny Liew, chair of New Testament Studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., said Jesus was a ‘drag king’ who had ‘queer desires.’ He also claims the Last Supper was a ‘literary striptease’ and that Jesus was not a man, but gender fluid.”  

…All of our closing images today — and I would love to have borrowed many more from their six years of archives — are recent ones from Christian Funny Pictures. Send them some stats love by bookmarking and frequently checking back. Also a great distraction while you’re listening to podcasts.





April 3, 2018

Cruising the Liturgical Worship Continuum

A few years ago, Evangelicals starting using words like Advent and Lent and Lectio Divina. While some purists probably thought this was the proverbial “Road to Rome,” some of us were thankful that the Episcopals, Anglicans and Catholics didn’t have a copyright on the liturgical calendar.

However, at the same time as this is taking place there is another distressing trend at the other end of the worship continuum. Increasingly, worship leaders seem blissfully unaware that there are songs which are especially suited for Easter Sunday and more disturbingly, Good Friday, or the mandate that these days issue to them.

I attended a number of Good Friday services this year and got to witness this firsthand. The lack of focus was rather appalling, however, as I said, the standard has been eroding for at least the past decade, to the point where younger worship leaders and worship planners have never had an Evangelical Good Friday service properly modeled for them.

I covered this in two previous articles:

One of the services I attended included Hosanna, which is a song for Palm Sunday and comes packed with the mood you’re not trying to create on Good Friday. Ironically, of all the services we attended or watched online, it was a capital “L” Liberal denomination’s church that got it right. We sat in a room with only 22 attendees and although there was no sermon, I give them 100% for liturgy and 100% for music in terms of capturing the intent of a Good Friday service.

This is a rant I will never stop. I’m sorry, but… well, here’s what I tweeted a week ago, possibly in anticipation of the weekend which was to follow.

It’s not just Good Friday, either. Thanksgiving has slowly fallen off the worship leaders’ radar. I’m not saying we need to sing We Gather Together or Come, Ye Thankful People Come endlessly; I’ll take a modern worship expression of the same theme. But the people choosing our songs apparently live in a total vacuum when it comes to awareness of the seasons in question. (And yes, I know Thanksgiving isn’t part of the liturgical calendar.)

April 2, 2018

Thoughts After Watching Jesus Christ Superstar on NBC

It had been a long, long time since I’d listen to the album I purchased as a kid, and I’d never seen the movie or the stage show, so last night my wife and watched NBC-TV’s live (on the East coast at least) broadcast of Jesus Christ Superstar.

I have to admit that part of my interest was in the fact this was a live broadcast, and other than some sound problems at the beginning, the production did not disappoint. Working the various handheld cameras around the action required some detailed blocking on the part of the actors and choreographers and I was impressed with what I saw, as well as the times they cut away to actors reacting to things happening front and center.

My wife rarely watches broadcast television, so for her the number of commercials — always playing at a louder volume despite an FCC restriction that stations are now ignoring — were supremely annoying. Better for the network to charge more for fewer spots, in my opinion. The only good thing here was that in four of the commercial breaks there was a split-screen  allowing you to see the backstage action as cast and crew prepared for the next scene. But this was offset by the sheer number of “blipverts” in those packages; I’ll swear there nearly 20 corporations represented in each break, or so it seemed.

Unlike Godspell which purports to cover the entire life of Christ, Superstar is focused on the final week of Christ’s life; in other words, the ‘Hosanna’ procession into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the betrayal and arrest, etc.  (For my thoughts on Godspell see this article.) The entire production is sung, i.e. there is no spoken diaglog. This was, after all, one of the original rock operas.

The script puts a heavier focus on the relationship between Jesus and Judas, and Jesus and Mary Magdalene than we find in scripture and has to invent screenplay to do so. Otherwise, the basics of the story are intact, but there is no resurrection, and the only reference to Jesus being laid in the tomb is an instrumental on the album simply titled “John 19:41” (Text: At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid.)

It’s at this point the script becomes problematic. Conservative Evangelicals were not happy with the Andrew Lloyd Webber – Tim Rice musical when it released in 1970; the show’s very title causing sermons to be preached against it. The romantic interest in Jesus by Mary M. didn’t help. There are no parables or teaching. Only one reference to the people who came seeking healing from disease.

Today, 48 years later, there is far less Biblical literacy. There were no graphics showing who was speaking and when I wasn’t 100% sure about one, twenty minutes in (and also due to the aforementioned audio issues) I found it simpler to pull up the full lyrics on my smartphone, and consult those when I felt I was missing a line here and there. For someone unfamiliar with the Bible account, the show might have been more bewildering.

The problem with productions like this are the same as what I said about watching the movie Paul, Apostle of Christ earlier this week. (See review here.) A generation not Biblically literate would have difficulty knowing what is canon and what is not.

Overall, the production, focusing on that last week of Christ’s life as it does and minus a resurrection, is rather dark. I felt like I was watching 1,500 people watch a stage show in a science fiction movie, the cavernous Marcy Armory adding to that impression. The costumes for the Pharisees looked more out of Star Wars than 1st Century Palestine. John Legend was credible as Jesus, and no mention of Alice Cooper playing Herod (see photo) would be complete without noting his costume, which some say appeared to be on fire.

I also followed the people live Tweeting at #JesusChristSuperstar during the production. Although the following should have a language warning, it was the only one I actually liked, as it summed up my feelings about the show: “Hope no religious folks are offended by this. Think about it this way, you have a shit ton of us non-theists watching a show about Jesus on Easter. I call that a win.”

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