Thinking Out Loud

July 25, 2015

Worship Moments

Filed under: Christianity, worship — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:34 am

Last week we attended an outdoor Sunday service in which the focus was honoring and respecting God’s creation. Toward the end, I was reminded of a poem I thought we had posted here, only to learn I had done so on a different website. On Friday’s post at Internet Monk, there was a statement that “American readers will refuse to read poetry.” Reading the poem there, I was reminded again of the one below.  I know nothing of the author of this poem, which I had memorized when I was much younger; in fact I had always thought it was written by Tennyson. Some conservative Christians will bristle at the phrase “Mother Earth,” but I love the premise of the first verse and last verse especially.

IN THE WOODS

Scott, Frederick George

THIS is God's house--the blue sky is the
   ceiling,
 This wood the soft green carpet for His
   feet,
Those hills His stairs, down which the brooks
   come stealing
 With baby laughter, making earth more
   sweet.

And here His friends come, clouds, and soft
   winds sighing,
 And little birds whose throats pour forth
   their love,
And spring and summer, and the white snow
   lying
 Pencilled with shadows of bare boughs
   above.

And here come sunbeams through the green
   leaves straying,
 And shadows from the storm-clouds over-
   drawn,
And warm, hushed nights, when Mother
   Earth is praying
 So late that her moon-candle burns ill
   dawn.

Sweet house of God, sweet earth, so full of
   pleasure,
 I enter at thy gates in storm or calm;
And every sunbeam is a joy or pleasure,
 And every cloud a solace and a balm.

July 24, 2015

The Day The Audience for the Music Died

…and they say modern worship is repetitious…

There is no denying that there’s been a slowing down in the production of the Gaither Homecoming video series, aka the Gaither Gospel Series. For the uninitiated, these concert videos — appearing first in 1991 on VHS and later switching to DVD — featured a large cast of singers performing a mix of old hymns and southern gospel standards. A trip down memory lane for people of a certain age, I suppose.

Back in the day, we couldn't resist adding former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to this Gaither Gospel DVD cover.

Back in the day, we couldn’t resist adding former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to this Gaither Gospel DVD cover.

The Wikipedia page for the series lists just under 100 titles, though it is in need of update. In its peak years, there were five or six new releases annually, also available as audio product on cassette and later CD.

(In America, the term gospel can mean two different things. The country-inspired, Nashville-flavored sound is usually termed Southern Gospel, while the large choirs historically coming from the African-American Church is often simply called Gospel or Mass Choir music. The Gaithers are the former category.)

The series, promoted through a weekly television show that was in reality an infomercial for the videos, was a major cash cow for the Gaither organization, their distributor, and retailers. Mark Lowry, a stand-up comedian who was also a member of the Gaither Vocal Band once quipped something to the effect that one of the most significant moments in the history of Christian music was the day Bill Gaither bought a camcorder.

But lately, the production of new titles has seen a somewhat sudden decline. There could be a number of reasons for this:

  1. Bill will be 80 in March of 2016, so perhaps he just wants to slow down his own pace and take it easy.
  2. The Christian retail industry is not in good shape generally. Over the years the U.S. base price for the series has dropped from $29.99 to $19.99, but price reductions are not enough to get people to buy.
  3. The faithful already have shelves and shelves of these things. There is such a thing as going to the well once too often. Also, the novelty has worn off.
  4. Many of the key compositions have now been preserved for posterity. This is significant because while some of the hymns and gospel songs exist on YouTube, many of those versions don’t have the feeling that many associate with them.
  5. Some of the target demographic are simply dying off.
  6. Some people who are moving into the target demographic are nostalgic for a different type of church music.
  7. Many of the videos were based on live concerts that are costly to stage and film. Some of the key personnel have done their time and don’t want to hit the road anymore. Last one out be sure to lock the bus.

More recent releases have focused on a new generation of southern gospel artists, such as Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, but even with appearances by people like Michael W. Smith or even Michael Tait, the concept just isn’t transferable to a generation accustomed to picking and choosing the songs they like and then downloading the mp3 or mp4.

Nonetheless, today we pay tribute to the Homecoming videos. They weren’t my personal preference, but there are definitely a key entry in any history of Christian music.

July 23, 2015

The Calvinist and the Altar Call

I don’t want to take a lot of time over-introducing the video segment here, lest I fall into the trap of putting some spin on it; but in this 11-minute clip there is a strange juxtaposition between the revivalism of John Piper’s description of his traveling evangelist father, and the context of the Calvinist audience to whom he is speaking. If your mind and hearts are open, there is a moment of unusual transparency here where we learn as much about the speaker as we do about the place of pleading in the salvation process.

This clip was posted (or re-posted) by Free Gift Media, a new resource I am just being made aware of. To learn more check their Twitter and their website.

July 22, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Church Twitter Banner

Okay. I left the name of the church off to save them embarrassment years from now when they’ve had time to second guess their tag line, but this memorial to it is still here. I get the picture. We know church isn’t perfect. We know you want to be a “church for people who aren’t into church;” but religion ain’t all bad. Read James 1:27 sometime.


 

Let the games begin:

So You Took Our Job

July 21, 2015

Shack Author Paul Young’s Newest Releases in Two Months

Paul Young - EveAfter the huge success of The Shack, many publishers were after Paul Young’s third novel, Eve. When first released, The Shack was a game-changer for Christian publishing, its commercial success rivaled only by the controversy it created, with many of the negative responses coming from people who had never read the book. It also was put in the rare situation of having various other books written about it. 

Radio host Drew Marshall once quipped, “There are two kinds of people; people who like The Shack, and people who don’t like The Shack;” indicative of the great divide the book’s portrayal of God created.

After nearly five years, Young reappeared with Crossroads, followed by another three year gap that’s about to change on September 22nd when Eve, a 320-page novel releases simultaneously in hardcover and paperback from Howard, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.

From the publisher’s blurb (excerpt):

…When a shipping container washes ashore on an island between our world and the next, John the Collector finds a young woman inside—broken, frozen, and barely alive. With the aid of Healers and Scholars, John oversees her recovery and soon discovers her genetic code connects her to every known human race. She is a girl of prophecy and no one can guess what her survival will mean…

…Eve is a bold, unprecedented exploration of the Creation narrative, true to the original texts and centuries of scholarship—yet with breathtaking discoveries that challenge traditional misconceptions about who we are and how we’re made. As The Shack awakened readers to a personal, non-religious understanding of God, Eve will free us from faulty interpretations that have corrupted human relationships since the Garden of Eden.

Eve opens a refreshing conversation about the equality of men and women within the context of our beginnings, helping us see each other as our Creator does—complete, unique, and not constrained to cultural rules or limitations…

You can read the full blurb at this link.

In an interview with Publisher’s Weekly published on Monday, Howard Vice President and Editor in Chief Ami McConnell said,

I think the thing that I am most proud of is that it’s the product of decades of thought and perhaps even pain on Paul’s part, and it’s a very rich experience. Every read that I’ve done has brought out new levels of awareness and understanding. This is a story that has never been told before. I have been working on just novels – no non-fiction – for a decade, and so I know the tropes. I know what notes you have to hit with certain kinds of stories, and I’m faithful to make sure that authors hit those notes. This is a story I have never read before. It’s a new approach to a story as old as our culture.

You can read more of that interview at this link.

 

July 20, 2015

It’s Summer: You’re Entitled to Some Diversions

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:03 am

For the most part, the Christian blogosphere takes itself all too seriously. When was the last time you saw anyone review a fiction title? And no, we don’t count the bloggers who trashed The Shack without ever reading it.

I try to read at least one fiction title in the summer. If I can’t actually go anywhere in the warm months, I can at least enjoy some small diversions or distractions.

The Deposit SlipThis year it was The Deposit Slip by Todd M. Johnson, which released back in 2012. I’d seen this one in the bookstore and it struck me that it was my type of storyline, and definitely male-reader-compatible in a field that attracts a mostly female demographic. I also didn’t want to start a series, so a stand-alone title was needed.*

The book is legal mystery that begins with a young woman who discovers a deposit receipt from a local bank when emptying out her late father’s safety deposit box. The amount is a cool $10.3 million. She hires a lawyer and from the beginning — this isn’t really a spoiler — you know the bank is as guilty as heck and covering the truth; but the remaining pages are needed to get everyone to what one expects to be a dramatic, final courtroom showdown.

The case has a variety of twists and turns, with a very fast-paced script based on the author’s 30 years in legal practice. Though this isn’t my usual genre, I was able to track most of the legalese.

The faith-focus in this novel is basically non-existent. Given its publication under the Bethany House imprint, a division of Baker Books, I checked a variety of other reviews to make sure I wasn’t missing something.

Otherwise, five stars.


*The following year the author released Critical Reaction which features a different cast of characters and this time around, a female lawyer. I enjoyed Deposit Slip so much that the 2nd book is currently in my pending stack of books.

July 19, 2015

The Increasing Number of Church Dropouts

We are in the middle of a church attendance crisis. What was always a weekly occurrence for individuals and families is often, at very best, only twice a month. Some are skipping entire months at a time. Others have simply discontinued the church habit, with no return in sight.

While some continue the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible study, others are more certain to have their absence from weekend worship signal a drift away. Twice in 1 Timothy 6:10 and 6:21, Paul uses the phrase “wandered from the faith.” The micro-context is “the love of money” and worldly influences; but clearly a faith that was more anchored would not drift.

We could look at all the factors that are in play right now causing many to give up a lifetime of church participation, but today I would rather focus on the positives; the things we gain by gathering together.

FellowshipFellowshipThere is so much to be gained from community. The small group movement has made this even more meaningful. As Andy Stanley says, “It’s harder to fall out of a circle than it is to fall out of a row.” When we worship in a larger body, we’re also observing other people at worship, hearing their testimonies, and witnessing the spiritual growth taking place in their lives. We’re also putting ourselves in a place to minister to others.

Corporate PrayerIt’s hard to participate in “If two of you will agree as touching anything on earth” prayers by yourself. There is something to be said for coming into God’s presence en masse and then interceding on behalf of individuals facing great needs, our spiritual leaders, the local and national government, and the work of God around the world.

Personal PrayerThe obvious consequence of corporate prayer is that there are people available to pray with you when it’s your need that is uppermost.

Corporate Worship Even if you don’t like the song, or don’t prefer the style, there are many intangible blessings of being part of a local assembly lifting their voices in praise that simply can’t be duplicated at home. I know those “worship moments” in nature are meaningful, and singing in the car with a worship CD turned up loud can be inspiring, but in my life, many corporate worship occasions have been life highlights.

GivingYou can give online, of course, but many people don’t. In the offering, we participate together in financing God’s work in the local church and are made aware of the needs of missions operating throughout the world.

Confession Many services offer a call to go forward or stand or raise a hand and through a physical action affirm that God is speaking to us about a particular aspect of the day’s teaching. Even a short time of silence gives us an opportunity to respond to God in ways that might never come about through watching a sermon on a computer or television, where ‘dead air’ isn’t desirable.

CommunionThis is last, but certainly not least. The modern “breaking of bread” service, or Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist has a direct connection to the Passover meal. As we receive the bread and wine in community we do so in humility and thanksgiving for what Christ has done for us.

These are just a few of the benefits that occur when we don’t give up meeting together. 


Appendix: Support scripture passages:

We should not stop gathering together with other believers, as some of you are doing. Instead, we must continue to encourage each other even more as we see the day of the Lord coming. – Hebrews 10:25 GW

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer… And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had…They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity. – Acts 2: 42, 44, 46 NLT

I was gladdened when they said to me, “We are going to the house of Lord Jehovah”! – Psalm 122:1 Aramaic Bible in Plain English


Christianity:

Coming under the loving Lordship of Jesus Christ and being joined to a company of imperfect people who are trying to live a new life in a new way.
~ Larry Tomczak (circa 1976)

 

 

 

 

July 18, 2015

Two Children’s Products Every Adult Should Own

You will learn much from these two products that were originally produced for a much younger audience. If you can’t justify the expense in a kid-less home, rent a kid for the weekend.

Jesus Storybook BibleThe Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones (Zondervan).

We attended a weekend seminar where the speaker walked up to the pulpit carrying only this book. While it doesn’t replace a regular Bible, it shows how the classic stories we read to our children anticipate or foreshadow the coming of Christ. Probably one of the few Children’s Bible story books to receive critical acclaim by theologians.

If you can’t bring yourself to own a kids title, in October the book is releasing in an adult edition as The Story of God’s Love for You.

 


 

WhatsInTheBibleSetBuck Denver Asks “What’s In The Bible?” by Phil Vischer (Jellyfish Labs).

Regular listeners to his podcast know that the Veggie Tales creator decided to go beyond the moralism of the video series that made him well-known, and this time around teach the Bible narrative instead.

There are sections of these stories that evidence the input of Christian education and theological specialists. There’s a lot of inane banter between the puppet characters, but in-between, there are lessons for both kids and adults that begin with the first introductory kid-friendly segment about Bible inspiration and interpretation. Each episode is about an hour with a break in the middle.

13 DVDs will set you back, so look for bundles like the one pictured here. A second series is now in production.

 


Check out an interview with Sally Lloyd-Jones on the Tuesday, June 19th edition of the Eric Metaxas Show, hour #2.

Check out the Phil Vischer Podcast and the What’s In The Bible website.

 

July 17, 2015

Crossover Songs from the Past

In the early days of CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) artists simply hit the streets with their music, often selling records out of the trunk of a car. As distribution solidified and the concert scene got more sophisticated, Christian solo acts and bands started dreaming of elusive crossover hit; the record that would go viral (though we didn’t have that expression back then) in the secular mainstream.

Often this became an obsession. One speaker at a conference I attended was quick to remind attendees, “If you’re going to crossover, you’ve got to take the cross over.” It was a good lesson and perhaps a bit prophetic, given the number of songs today that could easily pass as boyfriend/girlfriend love songs. When you factor in that the norm today is vertical worship music, it makes the love crush songs seem even more desperate for acceptance.

In the middle of all this however, something more significant was taking place. What I would call reverse crossover songs. To a young Christian, hearing these bands reinforcing their faith would be a huge encouragement. Today I want to highlight three of these songs, and if I get direct messages on Twitter or comments here with other suggestions, we might do more of these again some time. We’ll start with one that was in the link list a few weeks ago.

Given The Osmond Brothers Mormon (LDS) heritage, this song, He’s the Light of the World should come as no surprise. The lyrics have a high percentage of scripture borrowing with some lines you’ll recognize from The Sermon on the Mount.

This next one I was always aware of, but I don’t know if I’d ever listened to it at the time all the way through. (More on that at the end of this article.) This is the Chairmen of the Board, whose biggest hit was Gimme Just a Little More Time. This one is I’m On My Way to a Better Place. The quality isn’t great, but the lyrics are clear. (If anyone wants to send me a better quality mp3 by email, I’ll post it on my own channel.)

The last one we’ve featured here before, but it’s an always timely song. The Chi-Lites There Will Never Be Any Peace was also recorded by Christian band The Imperials.

Finally, the common link in all these is a radio show from that era, called A Joyful Noise with Paul Baker (aka Frank Edmondson). You’ll hear a telescoped version of these and other songs. With this, I have two requests. First, if anyone can tell me where Paul/Frank ended up, I’d appreciate it. Second, I’m trying to get my hands on a similar telescoped music demo of a similar radio show The Rock That Never Rolls with Brother Dale (aka Dale Yancey). I had a reel-to-reel version of it, but now I can’t even find that. I’d love to post that on the Lost Music channel on YouTube, sponsored by the people I work for, Searchlight Books. That show was light years ahead of its time.

July 16, 2015

Book Review: The First Time We Saw Him

The First Time We Saw Him - Matt MikalatosI know I’m going to lose some of you in the next paragraph, but…

This is one of those books where the writer takes key stories from the New Testament and retells them as though they happened today.

There. I said it. Yes, I know… been there, done that.

Updating the narrative is the stuff of every youth group meeting you’ve ever been to, right? But this one was different. I got ambushed. It totally brought the stories to life for me and cause them to see them in a fresh way. Christ’s birth. The parables. The encounters. The miracles. The crucifixion. The post-resurrection appearances.

For me, The First Time We Saw Him: Awakening to the Wonder of Jesus (Bethany House, 2014) shows that Matt Mikalatos is an author who can truly pull this off.

And yes, the above paragraph says 2014. The book was sitting unread in a stack of review copies that I obviously received a year ago. Something drew me to it. That’s probably what bothers me most; that great books like this just get lost in the shuffle because they don’t nicely fit into a specific (prayer, marriage, parenting, devotions) category.

At this point, the review is about to get subjective. If anything, reading The First Time We Saw Him awakened me to the idea that you just can’t wreck this story we call The Bible. No critic can detract from it. Science can’t undermine it. Poor translations can’t spoil it. Skepticism can’t keep you from being drawn back to it.

You can’t make this stuff up. It reminds me of a quotation Philip Yancey attributed to Walter Wink: “If Jesus had never lived, we never would have been able to invent him.”

It’s times like this I wish this blog, as popular as it is, had exponentially greater influence, because I’d like to start a movement that would get people passionate about books like The First Time Saw Him, and take this book in particular, and make it the sleeper hit of the year; rock it to the top of the charts. It’s definitely worthy of greater exposure.

I think later tonight, I’ll start back at chapter one.


…Since some might feel in my excitement in this review I wandered off course, so here’s the publisher blurb:

Scripture tells us that the words of Jesus made people uncomfortable, confused, angry, repentant, worshipful, and riotous. Today, we read the words of Christ in a steady, even tone and find ourselves wondering if maybe we’re missing something. Could it be that we’ve lost the emotional power of Jesus’s words simply because we’re too familiar with them?

With incredible insight into the surprising and unsettling aspects of Jesus’s parables and life, Matt Mikalatos reimagines familiar stories and parables in a modern-day setting, bringing alive for the contemporary reader all the controversy and conflict inherent in the originals. These emotional, sometimes humorous, and jaw-dropping retellings include the stories of the prodigal son, the good Samaritan, the lost coin, the feeding of the 5,000, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and more, asking provocative questions like What would be the modern equivalent of Jesus letting a “sinful woman” wash his feet? Who would be the hero of “The Good Samaritan”? How would Jesus tell the parable of the lost sheep in a city like Portland?

192 pages, paperback

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »

The Silver is the New Black Theme. Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.