Thinking Out Loud

June 11, 2018

Becky Goes to Church

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:24 am

I introduced this graphic less than 90 days ago when we were discussing Christian radio playlists.

[M]y wife pointed out something that the more I thought about it, the more profound it seems. She said something like, “There’s more variety on any given contemporary Christian music album than what is played on Christian radio.” In other words, the songs chosen to be the single off the albums tend to get chosen because they all match the station sound and therefore they all sound alike.

In my mind, I envisioned the diagram where each line represents the range of the songs on any given artist’s album — some exploring a greater number of musical genres — and the dots representing the songs selected to be featured on the radio.

Wouldn’t you like to hear some of the songs from the edge of each artist’s collection?

The article then proceeded to introduce Becky, the imaginary customer for what Christian radio has to offer.

But the hard reality is that Becky does indeed park the minivan once a week as she and her family attend church. There, the decisions being made about which songs to sing are being made along similar criteria, and in fact, there is currently an all-time high in overlap between the recurring songs at churches doing modern worship and what the Christian radio industry is promoting.

It’s basically about which songs work and the chosen few songs are those which are compressed into a narrow range stylistically, but also compressed into a narrow range vocally because, without the SATB parts breakdown of hymnbooks, everyone is being compelled to just sing the melody…

…In our community there is a church which broke away from the Roman Catholic Church many years ago. I’ve visited on many occasions and have described their worship as a blend of songs drawn from Catholic folk liturgy and modern worship. Recently however, the pastor corrected me and said, “Actually, we’re mostly just doing modern worship now.”

I felt a little sad. The diversity of music offered at churches in our area now stands as a binary choice: The hymns still sung by Mainline Protestants and the modern worship of Evangelicals.

A worship leader I spoke with yesterday described the pressure to do a song, “just because it’s popular;” despite his theological misgivings about some of the lyrics. We also talked about songs which need a spoken introduction describing the background and how a church might do this the first week, but if it fails to continue this in successive weeks, people don’t understand what they are singing; necessary in some cases as songwriters seek out fresh language or metaphors to describe scriptural truth.

In terms of style, full marks to those churches that continue to pursue a greater variety of music. The ones that still have solo pieces. The ones which include an occasional string quartet. The ones which reassemble a choir for Easter Sunday.

Unfortunately, in order to do that, you need a large pool of talent to draw from, which is why we see this type of thing at North Point or Willow, but not at the church around the corner from where you live. Mostly now it’s a matter of having the basics: A guitarist, a bass player, a drummer and a keyboard. For whatever reason, God did not distribute the gift of drumming equally around all the churches. Perhaps we’re meant to do more sharing in this department…

…I’m sure somewhere in this blog I’ve championed the value of doing pieces familiar across all Evangelicalism. It’s great if you’re visiting to know a few of the songs which are, after all, now ‘the music of the church.’ I don’t agree with going great distances off the path for an entire set, or only doing songs which are original compositions by members of your own band.

But I think we need to avoid blandness or sameness.  We need to look at the lyrics and say, ‘What sound best captures what the lyricist is saying?’ The original word I heard used for this is prosody. I can’t find the particular definition now among the several offered, but I was taught it implied “a marriage of lyrics and music.” In other words, let the music fit the words. Go beyond the fast song vs. slow song dichotomy.

I think Becky would appreciate it.





June 10, 2018

God in the Nighttime Sky

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:37 am

The heavens declare the glory of God…

The sky speaks to the glory of God, provided you’re willing to read it that way. During the daytime, the beautiful textures of various types of clouds show God as the Master Artist, and as the sun is tracked across the sky the world around us takes a different shape as shadows disappear at high noon and then reappear at dusk.

But the daytime sky is nothing compared to the nighttime panorama of stars, galaxies, comets, and of course our very first satellite, the moon.

The problem is seeing them. The term “light pollution” describes the challenges we face — especially in urban environments — of seeing everything God has placed there. This is a major loss, as the great questions the vastness of space begs (such as, if some of those stars are light years away, determining when the light left there to be seen on this particular night) is less part of our conscious observance, as are the constellations which so captured the imagination of mankind throughout past centuries.

Why this particular topic?

On Saturday (6/9) The Toronto Star had an interesting story by Charles Wilkins about the Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Reserve — described in the entrance sign as “the world’s first permanently designated dark sky reserve” — located in an area outside Gravenhurst, Ontario, a town about 90 minutes north of Toronto. Despite an arrangement with the nearby municipality, parking lot lighting at a big box store complex and illuminated signage from a popular fast food restaurant are spoiling the view.

…At its founding, environmentalists hailed the reserve as a radical initiative in ecological preservation. No one had yet thought to include darkness and the clarity of the night sky among inviolable ecological legacies, such as uncontaminated soil, breathable air and clean water. “The pathetic truth,” says [Mike] Silver, “is that nobody had even thought of the visible heavens as something that could be lost. Forever. And yet here we are today, clearly losing this magnificent resource.”

By the time the Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Reserve was officially dedicated in 2000, the Royal Astronomical Society had endorsed it, as had astronomers and ecologists in half a dozen countries. And Silver, as much as any amateur stargazer, had emerged as a kind of avatar of public access to the epic natural laboratory in which Copernicus, Galileo and others had sorted out the cosmos…

…Pythagoras realized in 500 BC that the mathematics of Earth and the mathematics of the galaxies are one. David Thompson’s first map of North America during the early 1800s was devised from the particulars of the heavens. Van Gogh’s Starry Night, one of the dreamiest and most disturbing of paintings, is said to convey the mysteries of the human heart as the artist perceived them while locked in the asylum in Saint-Rémy during the days before his suicide…

It turns out the towns own welcome sign is equally guilty. “Your own sign! Your own regulations!” he told them. When he was angered by McDonald’s sign, he was told it was applied for before the bylaw came into effect, something he feels his negated by the fast food chain’s application for an exemption.

…[I]n 2009, the town passed its multi-part dark-sky bylaw. “The problem with it,” says Silver, “is that there’s never been adequate enforcement. When there’s a violation, the town often just looks the other way. So we’re still getting all sorts of light pollution.” …

…When it was suggested to Silver that certain Gravenhurst council members might benefit from an evening under the stars, he says, “We should all be getting out there. When you’re up on those rocks in the dark, gazing at the immensity of the night sky, a lot of what bothers us on Earth can suddenly seem pretty small, pretty solvable.”

Read the full article at The Toronto Star

If you live in a major urban center, this affects you as well. God is putting on an amazing show, but it’s like trying to watch a play or a concert when the people in the row in front insist on standing the whole time.

I hope you can find that special place, away from everything, to catch the display this summer. Admission is free.

Whenever I mention the constellations, there’s always a very small element who think we’re referring to astrology rather than astronomy. They’re different.

For more on the Biblical meaning of the constellations, check out a review we did a few years back on the DVD The Story in the Stars by Joe Amaral. Or the article about this recently published book for young adults, Sky Scrapers.

My favorite line in the above story:

No one had yet thought to include darkness and the clarity of the night sky among inviolable ecological legacies, such as uncontaminated soil, breathable air and clean water

image: Torrance Barrens Facebook page; click image to link

June 9, 2018

Canada Elects Its Own Donald Trump

Filed under: Canada, Christianity — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:25 am

Ontarians aren’t heading for a three hour tour aboard the S.S. Minnow, but rather a four year mandate under a controversial leader.

On Thursday, Canada’s most populated province elected a Progressive Conservative majority government. Doug Ford — the brother of the late Rob Ford, Toronto’s controversial Mayor — with a host of comparisons to the U.S. federal election of Donald Trump.

For those unfamiliar, as Premier of Ontario, he’s in a parallel position to being the Governor of a U.S. state. With a population of 13.6 million, we’re talking about a state that would be larger than Pennsylvania but smaller than New York (ranked 5th and 4th respectively). The importance of the job is seen in better perspective when one considers the entire country is only 36.3 million.

During the campaign, Ford made promises, but there was no hardcore published platform. On the CBC national news on Friday night, federal officials called him “incapable of governing” and “a manifestly obvious unqualified candidate.” For ourselves, when voting on Thursday we followed the adage that character counts.

The results — Ontario’s first with electronic counting, with networks declaring the winner less than 20 minutes from the polls closing — were both surprising and particular at the same time. Voters tossed out a Liberal government with a track record never endearing themselves to Christians in the province, or for that matter Muslims and Jews either.

Residents of Ontario are holding on to their seats, because it’s going to be rough ride.

June 8, 2018

Proudly Meeting Behind Closed Doors

As soon as the conversation started, I knew this was not someone whose Christianity I would identify with. She and I had never met or spoken before, but she seemed rather angry about something. When pressed, she made it clear she was part of the “Closed Brethren” not the other two versions of Brethren which I’m familiar with in my part of the world, represented by “Bible Chapels” (more open) and “Gospel Halls” (less open).

Technically, the Plymouth Brethren aka Exclusive Brethren are Evangelicals. Given what follows here, it stands as another example of how the Evangelical moniker is battered and bruised.

Wikipedia isn’t always your best go-to on theological matters, but it was handy:

The Exclusive Brethren are a subset of the Christian evangelical movement generally described as the Plymouth Brethren. They are distinguished from the Open Brethren from whom they separated in 1848.

The Exclusive Brethren are now divided into a number of groups, most of which differ on minor points of doctrine or practice. Perhaps the best-known of these, mainly through media attention, is the Raven-Taylor-Hales group, now known as the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, which maintains the doctrine of uncompromising separation from the world based on their interpretation of 2 Corinthians 6 and 2 Timothy 2, believing that attendance at the Communion Service, the ‘Lord’s Supper’, governs and strictly limits their relationship with others, even other Brethren groups.

The origins of the exclusivity are often tied to the idea of “fencing off” the communion table, lest anyone partake unworthily. I attended a fairly conservative version (but not, strictly speaking, closed) of this in my hometown. I visited the “Gospel Service” at 11:00 AM, as opposed to the “Breaking of Bread” at 9:30 AM. I was told that I would have been permitted to participate on the basis of my own recognizance. I guess it’s nice to be a local Christian celebrity in a town of 20,000.

Recognition usually comes through a letter. “Do you have a letter?” is the oft-asked question in larger churches of this stripe, when a visitor shows up to break bread. If that’s your tribe, and you’re on holidays, you pack your letter with your swim trunks and camera so that you are guaranteed admission to such a church, which you’ve already determined exists.

When it comes to who gets to participate in The Lord’s Supper, aka Communion (aka Eucharist, but they would probably bristle at that Mainline Protestant term) I can understand this. Too often Evangelicals have gone too far the other way, allowing visitors to partake or small children. We’ve covered that before here and here. It also leads to discussion of communion as an extension of the Passover meal, and the ramifications of terms like “worship evangelism” and “household salvation” and other attempts at inclusivity.

But that’s not the subject of today’s thoughts.

Rather, it was the woman’s entire demeanor — the word once used was comportment — which was telecasting a version of faith that only the best of the best can ever hope to attain. Many times she took to reiterating elements of the conversation with me, as if I wasn’t quite getting what she was saying. It came across as more than just controlling, she was obviously better than a mere mortal such as myself.

That’s when it hit me: This just isn’t like Jesus.

Somewhere along the line, this particular denomination had wandered farther and farther down the path away from the heart of a loving heavenly father and the grace found in Jesus.

It wasn’t that her group is closed, it was that were proudly closed.

All of this seems a million miles away from the whosoever of scripture.

By all means, act in good conscious toward how you see scripture defining participation in The Lord’s Supper, but don’t let the restrictive nature of this practice be the thing which defines you.

And smile more.


June 7, 2018

A Ramadan Lesson for Christians

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:00 am

img 060718Guest post by Lorne Anderson

There are two weeks left in the month in which Muslims have a religious obligation to fast during daylight hours. Most of those reading this probably haven’t given that much thought.

When Ramadan falls in December the fast is relatively easy. Not so at this time of year, where there is 15 hours between sunrise and sunset where I live. It’s a total fast – no water allowed either.

It is a spiritual discipline that puts most Christians to shame. Mind you, it comes more from fear than grace. Many Muslims fast more due to social pressures than out of any religious conviction.

What conversations are you having with your Muslim neighbors this month? Have you talked about their fast, or about Christian traditions of fasting, and the differences? Have you shared the love and freedom that Jesus brings? Has your church done anything to reach out to the Muslim community?

I ask this because I was at a fast-breaking event on the first Saturday of Ramadan. It was a community event, families coming together to share a meal. More than that, it was an outreach event But it wasn’t put on by Christians — this was a Muslim outreach..

Members of this particular Muslim community had been told they should invite their non-Muslim friends to share the meal. Looking around the room it seemed to me that most had either not bothered or been unsuccessful. There were obviously very few of us who were not part of the tribe. In that way it reminded me of some church outreach events I have attended – we too aren’t always good at inviting our friends to our events.

Language was an issue, as this is an immigrant community. The woman who invited me is a language school classmate. After four months we have enough German for extremely simple conversations, but have not yet reached the point where we can touch on faith matters. And neither of us speaks the other’s mother tongue.

The organizers though recognized that could be an issue. There was a German-born Muslim who made sure to stop by any table with visitors. He is the one who talked about their community and Ramadan and how they wanted to share with those around them. At least I think that is what he was saying. Certainly he was there to put people at ease, to be the smiling face of Islam. After all, anyone there was probably likely to be somewhat open-minded –  they came because of a relationship they already had with a Muslim. If it wasn’t a positive one, they wouldn’t have come to the meal.

Which got me to thinking. Two things really.

The first is, how well do we do at outreach to those not of our tribe? We have events at Christmas, Easter and other times of the year, but how many personal invitations do we make to non-Christian friends? Few, judging from the events I have attended. I know I probably haven’t done enough. We can’t ever do enough. And how easy is it for someone not of our tribe to just walk through the door?

The second thing is, what are we doing from Ramadan? No, I am not suggesting adopting the fast or emulating Islamic legalism. But Ramadan is more than just fasting, it is a daily cycle of deprivation and celebration, with a huge party at the end of the month.

It is probably too late to organize an end-of-Ramadan outreach event, for this year anyway. But there is nothing to stop you from inviting your Muslim neighbors to join your family for a fast-breaking meal in your home sometime in the next week or so. Yes, that means a late night, you won’t be eating until after nine. And don’t forget the dietary restrictions, so you don’t embarrass yourself and your guests. It is a perfect tie to show Christian hospitality.

Many Muslims are immigrants. They have often been met with fear and suspicion in their new countries. They come from countries where family and community are extremely important – and they may never have been invited into to a family home in their new country. They see this new country as being Christian – and being deficient in hospitality. You can change that perception.

This month is Ramadan. How are you observing it?

Lorne Anderson blogs daily at Random Thoughts from Lorne

June 6, 2018

Wednesday Connect

Today’s Wednesday Connect rates a 95 on the Evangometer.

This one’s from the old Theologygrams site…before the two Theologygrams books, I think.

Our goal each week is to present you with stories and opinion pieces you might not see elsewhere, but this week I had a few emails asking me not to overlook the Supreme Court decision on the (former) wedding cake baker Jack Phillips’ refusal to design a cake for a gay wedding many years ago. The two I decided to go with were actually the two which were forwarded to me, this summary of the entire case history at Baptist News, and an analysis by Skye Jethani. (The latter is a Facebook link, for which I apologize. There was a web-equivalent to Skye’s mailing list version, but the link was particular to my subscription, and Skye didn’t post to his blog.)  

Also, before you read further, we need to let you know that this was a Weekend Link List weekend. Seven items that couldn’t wait until today.

► Essay of the Week: The nature of cover-ups which protect a particular institution, and the resultant fall when the truth is exposed. “For justice to be done, the village had to be broken because the village was not a true community but was simply a made-up idea that powerful men came up with to protect their status.

► The American Bible Society “has decided to adopt such a statement [which “requires employees to embrace a host of Christian beliefs and practices”] after functioning for 202 years without one does make this development noteworthy. As the author of perhaps the only scholarly history of this storied Christian organization, I can attest that the “Affirmation of Biblical Community” represents a definitive break with the vision of its founders. It also represents the culmination of a roughly 20-year transformation of the Society from a diverse Christian organization to a ministry with strong ties to American evangelicalism.

► Technology impacting U.S. churches: After having to stop using their wireless microphones in the 700 Mhz spectrum, now the 600 Mhz band is being impacted. Yes, “…you have to do it again. In a nutshell, most of that affected wireless spectrum in the U.S. has been sold to mobile broadband and similar carriers for their exclusive use, meaning that no one else may broadcast radio signals to potentially interfere with their services. The clock began ticking last spring on the 39-month transition period to clear the spectrum, and it’s not a given that you have that entire period to react. If the purchasers start using a particular band in your area earlier, you must stop using your competing devices. Importantly, T-Mobile – a major purchaser of that 600-MHz spectrum throughout the U.S. – is already deploying and testing its new system using those frequencies in many markets. If you’re using wireless microphone systems (or in-ear monitors or intercoms) in the specific frequency bands in which they are deploying in your area, their new services legally have priority and you are obligated to stop your transmissions – with hefty fines for non-compliance.  Not to mention that the stronger signals from these 600-MHz broadband services might begin to cause interference with your Sunday service...” (Seems a bit unfair to me.)

► Canada’s national news service, the CBC, covers the story of longtime Christian blogger and pastor Jamie Arpin-Ricci who is “a father of two and married to a woman he loves deeply. He’s also bisexual and leads Little Flowers Community, an Anabaptist- and Franciscan-inspired church… In the past two years, he has opened up with his small congregation and the broader Christian community about the fact that he is bisexual.”

► What are home-schooled kids really being taught. I wish the author, himself home-schooled, had done this as a blog post, rather than a Twitter thread, but the photographed pages from a single Abeka book are very interesting, to say the least. Apparently we did a lot of good for the Africans by colonizing their homelands and bringing them here to pick cotton in nice warm climates.

► Bible Tribalism: Your current translation of choice says a lot about you, according to Scot McKnight who reminds us that, “there is a distinction between the text and a translation of the text. The authority is with the former; those who know that text are informed enough to decide about translations.” 

► Vocational ministry can be dangerous: “A Protestant pastor was killed by a crocodile during a baptism ceremony in an Ethiopian lake… Lake Abaya has lately had a shortage of fish, and the crocodiles have become aggressive toward humans, who have little chance to spot them in the lake’s murky red waters.”

► Resigning: Amid some tears on the weekend, the founder of the humanitarian organizations One Day’s Wages and the author of Overrated, Eugene Cho felt it was simply time to step down from his position of Pastor at Quest, the church he founded.

► Is he nitpicking or providing an important clarification and reminder? Stephen Altrogge says we’re not saved by faith but we’re saved by Christ. The phrase is actually somewhat lacking.

► Provocative Headline: “Why the Catholic church is ‘hemorrhaging’ priests.” The article notes that, “the pope has suggested filling the gaps in the priesthood with something markedly similar to an existing institution, the diaconate. Also known as “deacons,” these men complete a two- to four-year course and are ordained to assist priests and bishops. They can baptize, marry, preach and administer the Eucharist, but they cannot take confession. Though the concept is as old as Christianity itself – the Church traces it to the apostles – the diaconate has garnered renewed interest in recent years as priests have become scarce.”

► Ever found yourself saying, ‘Well…that’s a gray area.’ Or, ‘Scripture isn’t really clear on that.’ In this article, the author gives 6 reasons that some so-called gray areas are really quite black-and-white.

► “Christine Caine grew up revering the Bible, and even kissing the Bible, but never reading it for herself. In her family’s Greek Orthodox tradition, reading the Bible was reserved for priests. When Caine—an excited new follower of Jesus at age 22—came home with a Bible, her mother was mortified. ‘Christine, who do you think you are?’ her mother exclaimed. ‘You’re being brainwashed!'” A profile of the author’s life and ministry at Bible Study Magazine

► …from the same source, in case you wondering, the answer to the question Why the Ark of the Covenant will Never be Found.

► “Danielle Strickland is passionate about serving and loving the marginalized all over the world, at one time holding the most unusual job of acting as chaplain for brothels across Canada.” Two amazing five minute video segments

► …If that leaves you wanting to hear more of her, she recently spoke at Canada’s Peoples Church. 41 minutes, audio only.

► The Great Gay Divide: This time it’s the United Methodist Church, with the same result as others know too well. “Some conservative churches have already voted to leave, including a few of the denomination’s largest and wealthiest; their departures would mean the loss of significant financial support and raise complicated issues over how to divide up local church property, which is held in trust by the denomination.”

► (re)Defining Our Terms: A short, six-point reexamination of the idea of being “called.”

►Snopes of the Week: No, the Pope did not order white women to breed with Muslims.

► If he were alive today, C. S. Lewis would probably earn a “Farewell, C. S. Lewis” from John Piper.

► No, we haven’t forgotten you, Michael Pierce; we’re just trying to maintain a certain level of dignity now that we’re the more upscale Wednesday Connect and not a mere link list. But this one was good: The 7 People You Meet at Baptist Church Picnics. (Hardcore fans will want to read the one he posted after, though.)

► Finally (and you know this is bizarre if the Michael Pierce link isn’t the “finally”) at the Bethel Church BSSM — Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry — there is the “Drive-through fire tunnel” where “On the way into the church the 2nd year [BSSM Students] were blessing, praying for and prophesying over leaders arriving for the Leaders Advance.” See for yourself.  (This video isn’t current, but the items linked were, with the implication this is an ongoing practice.)

June 5, 2018

A Whole Other Solution to Evangelists Needing Jet Airplanes

♫ Gimme a ticket for an airplane
Ain’t got time to take a fast train… ♫

The other day my wife said something that was so outside the box that I felt I needed to share it here, even though there will be a lineup to poke holes in her logic.

Basically, she was saying that if an evangelist on the east coast is trying to figure out how to get to an appearance on the west coast, perhaps, instead of accepting that engagement, they should have checked around to see if there is a west coast evangelist who is equally capable.

Makes sense to me.

Why not have an East Coast branch and a West Coach branch? One takes the gigs on one side of the Mississippi and other takes the gigs on the other.

Why not have people you’re mentoring in ministry all the time? Billy Graham did this for decades. They had an entire stable of “Associate Evangelists” such as Leighton Ford, and John Wesley White.

Why not revisit the whole star system; the whole celebrity mentality?

…Well, there are reasons.

It doesn’t build empires.

It doesn’t sell as many books.

It doesn’t look good on fundraising letters to say that Reverend Bob only preached a few dates last month that were all within a six-hour drive of his mansion. (Last word in that sentence is also a whole other article.)

…But these guys are all being too self-important. As if the Holy Spirit can only work through them.

That’s just not the case. There are a lot of very gifted people out there. People capable of putting together a series of meetings and preaching the requisite sermons.

If the capital ‘C’ Church in the local area chooses to, they can lend their support to these individuals, invite their friends, and pack larger venues with those whose hearts God has already been preparing. (Last seven words in that sentence chosen to be both Calvinist- and Arminian-friendly.)

Many of these gifted individuals also have one especially gratifying characteristic: They don’t mind flying commercial.

On Saturday, our friends at Internet Monk uncovered this rather pathetic piece of video.

Jesse Duplantis made news this week when he asked his followers to pony up 54 million for a new jet. Of course, he already has a jet, silly… “but I can’t go it one stop. And if I can do it one stop, I can fly it for a lot cheaper, because I have my own fuel farm. And that’s what’s been a blessing of the Lord.” Besides, he’s just being Christlike:  “If the Lord Jesus Christ was physically on the earth today, he wouldn’t be riding a donkey. He’d be in an airplane flying all over the world.”

Duplantis’ fellow-evangelist Kenneth Copeland recently upgraded to a new jet as well. If you have five minutes and a VERY strong stomach, you can see the two men defend their aquisition of these jets:

Three years ago this very month, it wasn’t Jesse Duplantis, but Creflo Dollar who was asking God (through you) to supply $65,000,000.00 for a new Gulfstream G-650 jet. Adam Ford (who you remember from The Bayblon Bee) commented via this extended infographic-type-thing; click this link to see it all:




June 4, 2018

The Fallible Pastor

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:20 am

That books like these ever existed is proof that the challenges faced by pastors and ministry workers are nothing new.

Pastors are people, too.

It seems obvious, but it’s not always the case that people really grasp the underlying principle: The humanity and fallibility of those we “set apart” as our shepherds. They are subject to all the temptations, frustrations, emotions, and disappointments that the rest of us face, with the added challenge of living out their lives in a fishbowl.

It’s a stressful, always-on-call-24/7 lifestyle.

And now, thanks to both mainstream media and social media, every time a pastor falls, it gets reported around the world. Nobody may have ever cared about the little neighborhood church in Nowheresville, Idaho before, but when word gets out that the youth pastor was caught at the Rest-Awhile Motel with one of the high school students, it becomes a trending hashtag.

And all of that impacts your pastor.

All those stories of moral failure denigrate the job.

Ever watched one of those funerals for a policeman who dies in the line of service? Representatives from forces across North America converge. A different city; a different state; but he or she is one of their own. They show support at those times; a loud chorus resonating, “We’re all one team.”

Pastors need someone to talk to. They’re reluctant to do this with parishioners because they are supposed to be strong for them. It’s unusual for a pastor to have someone in the congregation or on the board with whom they can be completely candid about a struggle they are facing. There are organizations which come alongside in tough times, and there is usually a denomination chain of command allowing a hurting minister to turn to his superiors in moments of crisis.

Not every pastor wants to ask.

There’s something about the job which either overtly, or subconsciously trains pastors to put on a brave face, or suffer in silence. From early days they are taught that sometimes their public position may not be the same as their private position.

All of this, bottled up inside with nowhere to go, inevitably leads to a breakdown.

Meanwhile, media continues to report on another failure of another clergy person. It’s like running a marathon where all of a sudden, the runner next to you runs into the ditch, and then the one on the other side simply collapses and drops. In the next mile, it seems like runners are dropping left and right. You can see the finish line in the distance, but the intellect is busy processing, asking, “What the heck is going on here?” And, “How long before I drop to my knees?”

At the beginning, I said that pastors are people. They are fallible. If you prick them, they will bleed. But the Apostle Paul reminds us that “love believes the best.” With no reason to proceed differently, we need to hold them in high esteem and not allow the stories on the evening news or on Twitter to have any bearing on our pastor.

What’s more, we need to come alongside them with support and encouragement.

We just don’t know what challenge or crisis they are facing, and due to the intricacies of their calling, they’re not always likely to tell us.


June 3, 2018

My Favorite Worship Song Doesn’t Work Congregationally

The blue Pacific on a summer’s day
Rushing in to meet the yellow sand
The view’s terrific I see Monterrey
Lookin’ mighty fine from where I stand
The water dances in the sun’s reflection
A thousand silver birds fly in my direction
Now isn’t it beauty, isn’t it sweet perfection?

If someone were to ask me my favorite worship song, I suppose I could easily think of songs like “Shout to the Lord,” “Majesty,” “How Great Is Our God,” “Revelation Song,” and a number of hymns including “Our Great Savior,” which you may or may not know.

But not every praise song is meant to be sung congregationally, and we do ourselves a disservice when we try to take every great worship chorus and force congregations to sing songs that perhaps don’t match up with their personal expression of adoration to God. Sometimes we’re just meant to listen to someone else’s thoughts.

The song embedded below is an example of that. The late Tom Howard wrote “One More Reason” with a first verse that expresses the beauty of God in creation that he is familiar with growing up in California, with its references to the Pacific Ocean and Monterrey; the spirit of which was captured by the person who made the tribute video. To sing this in our church, the first thing I would want to do is make that verse more generic, but I’ve never got around to writing different lyrics because I rather enjoy the song just the way he wrote it.

The sky is singing, the earth proclaims
Always one more reason to praise Your name.

June 2, 2018

Weekend Link List

Happy Saturday. And Sunday. Again, some things you may or may not have seen elsewhere.

  • If your church ever had Koinonia Groups, you would certainly know how to spell the word, right? For Karthik Nemmani, described as “a soft-spoken eighth-grader from McKinney, Texas,” the word was worth $40,000 in the Scripps Spelling Bee.
  • God Chose Donald Trump: The Movie  “Liberty University students and faculty are making The Trump Prophecy. Students at Jerry Falwell’s evangelical Liberty University are helping produce a film that argues Trump’s presidency was divinely foretold.
  • Traditionally, God’s people prayed to… well… God. So in the Christian era, when did prayer to Jesus originate? “…[I]n early Christian baptism, one called upon Jesus, invoking him over the baptized person. Indeed, in 1 Cor. 1:2 Paul refers to fellow believers simply as those who everywhere ‘call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Perhaps our earliest reference, however, is 1 Thess. 3:11-13, where God and Jesus are jointly called upon to enable Paul to re-visit the Thessalonian church.”
  • Tony Campolo’s issues with modern worship include the question of tense “I think it’s wonderful that it’s captured the music that young people can relate to and they get into it with great love and emotion. But compare ‘My God reigns’ with the old hymns which say: ‘Jesus shall reign’ – it’s future tense, not present tense… The Hallelujah Chorus never says: ‘God is in control’. It says: ‘The kingdoms of this world will (when the second coming occurs) become the kingdoms of our God and he shall reign forever and ever hallelujah’.”
  • A candidate for President of the Southern Baptist Convention offers a four-part strategy for revitalizing the denomination. One of those is planting new churches; “…[W]e must continue to plant churches of every style and variety in every context possible. In 2016 we recorded the lowest number of churches added to our convention since 1988—732 new church starts and 232 new affiliates for a total of 964. It is not a matter of church planting or revitalization but a matter of both/and.
  • Mixed Message: An article on how the brothers can encourage the sisters in ministry is nonetheless set in a complementarian mindset. I mean, I applaud the effort, but it doesn’t really change anything
  • Finally, it’s apparent that Kevin Sorbo has a lock on Christian film casting assignments. He’s due to appear in The Pastor at some point this year. “In a forgotten part of town, overrun by a ruthless gang; a community struggles with its faith, as they see their neighborhoods torn-apart and their youth targeted for gang recruitment.”

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