Thinking Out Loud

September 11, 2017

Two Communities Converge to Rescue Each Other

Sometime after lunch yesterday, I carried the book out to the backyard with the intention of reading, at best, three chapters. By late last night I had devoured all 192 pages in just two sittings.

All Saints: The Surprising True Story of How Refugees From Burma Brought Life to a Dying Church by Michael Spurlock and Jeanette Windle (Bethany House) is not my usual read. But reading a friend’s review and remembering I had been sent a copy spurred me to take another look.

The publisher, Bethany House, is home to some of the best Christian fiction available, and to read the first two paragraphs of their description is to imagine you’re reading about someone’s fictional story. Things like this just don’t usually happen. But if God places the right Episcopal priest in the right parish at the right time, anything is possible. It is the stuff movies are made of.

And a movie was. All Saints (the movie) released at the end of August, and in something you don’t see every day, the original contact with the movie producer is included in the story.

A Karen family wedding at All Saints (from the website of Over My Shoulder Foundation; click image to link)

The books subtitle (above) has conveyed much of what you need to know: Life changes for a young man in his first pastorate — a financially crippled parish which has just endured a painful church split — when three “scouts” from among a group of Burmese refugees living in Tennessee show up only because the church is the same denomination as what they experienced in their homeland, copies of their translation of the Book of Common Prayer in hand; there to check out the orthodoxy of the church. As the story progresses, the groups go through the growing pains of integrating, and then the pastor gets a vision of turning the church’s acreage into a farm. 

The story unfolds switching back and forth between the story of Pastor Michael Spurlock and his wife Aimee in the U.S. and the story of Ye Win (and others) among the Karen [kah-REHN] dealing with a less comfortable life in what is now Myanmar. The manner in which Ye Win’s little band of refugees converge with this Tennessee church is certainly the stuff of fiction, not real life. But remarkably, it happens.

This is a textbook case study on the assimilation of minority groups and refugees into North American churches. Not every story will read as this one, but it’s an excellent example of a pastor, a bishop, and a small group of parishioners being open to the possibility that God is doing something among them. Something worth writing about. Or making a movie.

Read more: Washington Post movie review.


A copy of the book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

All Saints Episcopal Church of Smyrna, Tennessee (image from Over My Shoulder Foundation, click to link)

 

 

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August 22, 2017

Church Life: Special Music

In a majority of the middle part of the last century, a feature of Evangelical church services was “the special musical number” or “special music” or if the church didn’t print a bulletin for the entire audience, what the platform party often logged as simply “the special.”

While this wasn’t to imply that the remaining musical elements of the service were not special, it denoted a featured musical selection — often occurring just before the message — that would be sung by

  • a female soloist
  • a male soloist
  • a women’s duet
  • a men’s duet
  • a mixed duet
  • a mixed trio
  • a ladies trio
  • an instrumental number without vocals

etc., though usually it was a female soloist, who, in what would now be seen as an interruption to the flow of the service, would often be introduced by name. “And now Mrs. Faffolfink, the wife our beloved organist Henry, will come to favor us with a special musical number.” This was followed by silence, with the men on the platform party standing as the female soloist made her way to the microphone. (We’ll have to discuss ‘platform party’ another time.)

While the song in question might be anything out of the hymnbook, these were usually taken from a range of suitable songs from the genre called “Sacred Music” designed chiefly for this use, compositions often not possible for the congregation to sing because of (a) vocal range, (b) vocal complexity such as key changes, and (c) interpretive pauses and rhythm breaks. These often required greater skill on the part of the accompanist as well.

A well known example of this might be “The Holy City” which is often sung at Easter, though two out of its three sections seem to owe more to the book of Revelation. “The Stranger of Galilee” and “Master the Tempest is Raging” are two other well-known examples of the type of piece. Sometimes the church choir would join in further into the piece. (The quality of the performance varied depending on the capability of soloists in your congregation.)

By the mid-1970s commercial Christian radio stations were well-established all over the US, and broad exposure to a range of songs gave birth to the Christian music soundtrack industry. More popular songs were often available on cassette from as many as ten different companies. Some were based on the actual recording studio tracks of the original; some were quickly-recorded copies; and some of both kinds were offered in different key signatures (vocal ranges.) Either way, they afforded the singer the possibility of having an entire orchestra at his or her disposal, and later gave way to CDs and even accompaniment DVDs with the soundtrack synchronized to a projected visual background.

Today in the modern Evangelical church, this part of the service has vanished along with the scripture reading and the pastoral prayer. If a megachurch has a featured music item, it’s entirely likely to be borrowed from the Billboard charts of secular hits, performed with the full worship band.

This means there is an entire genre of Christian music which is vanishing with it. This isn’t a loss musically — some of those soloists were simply showing off their skills — as it is lyrically. The three songs named above were narrative, which means they were instructional. They taught us, every bit as much as the sermon did; and were equally rooted in scripture texts. The audience was in a listening mode, more prepared to be receptive. Early church historians will still despair over the passive nature of listening to a solo, but I believe the teaching that was imparted through the songs was worth the 3-4 minutes needed.

My personal belief is that this worship service element will return, albeit in a slightly different form, as congregations grow tired of standing to do little more than listen to pieces they can’t sing anyway because of vocal range or unfamiliarity. This may be taking place already in some churches.

We’ll be better served when that happens.

 

July 4, 2017

For July 4th: Where Does the USA Fit into Prophecy?

America in Bible Prophecy

Three years ago we spun the magic Google wheel and landed on these answers to the question, “Why isn’t America in Bible prophecy?” We thought it was good time to haul these out again.

We start with Greg Laurie:

When I look at Bible prophecy, one thing that is of great interest to me, and of great concern, is the absence of the United States. It is interesting to note that a number of nations are mentioned in the Bible that will be active in the last days. Libya is mentioned by name. Persia, which became modern Iran and Iraq, is mentioned. Ethiopia is specifically mentioned. Quite possibly China and Russia are mentioned. And certainly Israel is mentioned. But the one nation that is strangely absent is the United States of America.

Where is the United States? Why are we not in the last-days scenario? Why is it that we can read of nations like Iraq and Iran and Libya and that we possibly can find China and Russia mentioned, but we cannot find the United States?

I would like to offer three plausible answers.

[…continue reading here…]

From The Remnant Report:

…Maybe we’re just not as important as we once thought…we in the Western world tend to think of prophecy in terms of “prediction/fulfillment.” In other words, something is predicted in the Bible which is later fulfilled.

But, Jewish scholars and many good Christian theologians tend to think of prophecy in terms of biblical “pattern.” For instance, nations fall into patterns of behavior which results in God’s judgment again and again. These are clearly outlined in Scripture.

In terms of pattern there is no question that almost all nations including America fit into biblical prophecy. For example, Deuteronomy 28 & 29 lists the blessings of following God’s law and the consequences of disobeying it. Hosea 4 and Ezekiel 7 are two books which also list patterns of disobedience and God’s judgment. We might include Isaiah chapter 5 to feature consequences of disobedience, too. This one mentions large, beautiful houses sitting empty due to God’s judgment.

[the article then lists a variety of these patterns of judgments]

…I think you could make a good case for America suffering this kind of judgment at God’s Hands today. The pattern fits, doesn’t it?…

[…continue reading here…]

From a lengthy article at WARN Radio

1 Peter 4:17
For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?

This last September 11th we remember the trouble on that date and the many lost lives. We have people who are mourning the lost and many others who let the moment of the day bring swells of tears and pride. During this time we have many who see and are blinded at the same time by the same thing Israel was blinded by. Their own pride and stubbornness. They simply did not see their sins, nor acknowledge that the LORD God would judge them so severely. Even today the churches and many Americans do not see the trouble that is coming.

Simply put, it will come to this nation, in like manner as it did to Israel. The reason again, pride and stubbornness, with an unwillingness to repent of their sins. This nation was raised out of the earth by God himself. It stood so many years for his good pleasure, not ours. Yet, the sins of the nation has become past being as bad as Israel. America is blinded!

[…continue reading here…]

A short interview with author Joel Rosenberg:

…The bottom line is there are a lot of theories over the years over what prophecy in the Bible might refer to the United States. A careful analysis of all of them indicates that there is not a single direct reference to the United States as a player in the last days.

So, the question really is ‘Why not?’ If we are already in the last days, how could the United States not be a clearly defined player? The answer is, we don’t know because the Bible doesn’t say.

Something happens by which the U.S. is paralyzed, sidelined or neutralized and therefore unable or unwilling to project influence to be a major force in the major events of the last days. That’s what Implosion is about, walking through a whole series of things that could happen to the United States, things that are consistent with Bible prophecies and what the Bible says will happen to various nations in the last days.

There is not a verse specifically about what happens to us. You have to look at a whole range of scenarios and say any one of these, or even a combination of them, is possible…

[…continue reading here…]

A differing opinion: In this 35-min audio, the presenter feels America is in prophecy.

July 7, 2015

God’s Got a Picture of the USA on His Refrigerator

Keep in mind that God has had his fridge for a very, very long time.

Keep in mind that God has had his fridge for a very, very long time.

Hey, America! You’re special in God’s eyes. At least according to yourselves. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is rolling its collective eyeballs. Here’s some stuff people were linking to on Twitter yesterday:

As one person Tweeted, America is special “In my humble opinion, no more so than Canada, Monaco or Luxembourg. The U.S. exists at God’s pleasure and providence, but not like ancient Israel.”

Journalistically speaking these concepts are a whitewash. They say things that I am sure America wants to hear, but the ideas don’t hold up under the microscope of either history or theology.

No one from the east or the west
    or from the desert can exalt themselves.

It is God who judges:
    He brings one down, he exalts another.

Psalm 75: 6,7

 


Related:

 

July 29, 2014

When God Left the Building

Though the vast majority (77%) of Americans identify themselves as Christians, they have largely stopped attending church. Less than 20% of the population now makes it to church in a typical week. Some 4000 churches are closing every year. It’s a major and unprecedented social upheaval.

As the movie begins its fall schedule of single-night showings across the U.S., another short excerpt has been posted online, so I thought I would share both the trailer and the excerpt.  This is so reflective of the state of local churches across North America.


 

July 4, 2014

4 Thoughts for the 4th: Where’s America in Prophecy?

 

America in Bible Prophecy

We spun the magic Google wheel and landed on these answers to the question, “Why isn’t America in Bible prophecy?”

We start with Greg Laurie:

When I look at Bible prophecy, one thing that is of great interest to me, and of great concern, is the absence of the United States. It is interesting to note that a number of nations are mentioned in the Bible that will be active in the last days. Libya is mentioned by name. Persia, which became modern Iran and Iraq, is mentioned. Ethiopia is specifically mentioned. Quite possibly China and Russia are mentioned. And certainly Israel is mentioned. But the one nation that is strangely absent is the United States of America.

Where is the United States? Why are we not in the last-days scenario? Why is it that we can read of nations like Iraq and Iran and Libya and that we possibly can find China and Russia mentioned, but we cannot find the United States?

I would like to offer three plausible answers.

[…continue reading here…]

From The Remnant Report:

…Maybe we’re just not as important as we once thought…we in the Western world tend to think of prophecy in terms of “prediction/fulfillment.” In other words, something is predicted in the Bible which is later fulfilled.

But, Jewish scholars and many good Christian theologians tend to think of prophecy in terms of biblical “pattern.” For instance, nations fall into patterns of behavior which results in God’s judgment again and again. These are clearly outlined in Scripture.

In terms of pattern there is no question that almost all nations including America fit into biblical prophecy. For example, Deuteronomy 28 & 29 lists the blessings of following God’s law and the consequences of disobeying it. Hosea 4 and Ezekiel 7 are two books which also list patterns of disobedience and God’s judgment. We might include Isaiah chapter 5 to feature consequences of disobedience, too. This one mentions large, beautiful houses sitting empty due to God’s judgment.

[the article then lists a variety of these patterns of judgments]

…I think you could make a good case for America suffering this kind of judgment at God’s Hands today. The pattern fits, doesn’t it?…

[…continue reading here…]

From a lengthy article at WARN Radio

1 Peter 4:17
  For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?

This last September 11th we remember the trouble on that date and the many lost lives. We have people who are mourning the lost  and many others who let the moment of the day bring swells of tears and pride. During this time we have many who see and are blinded at the same time by the same thing Israel was blinded by. Their own pride and stubbornness. They simply did not see their sins, nor acknowledge that the LORD God would judge them so severely.  Even today the churches and many Americans do not see the trouble that is coming.

Simply put, it will come to this nation, in like manner as it did to Israel. The reason again, pride and stubbornness, with an unwillingness to repent of their sins.  This nation was raised out of the earth by God himself. It stood so many years for his good pleasure, not ours. Yet, the sins of the nation has become past being as bad as Israel. America is blinded!

[…continue reading here…]

A short interview with author Joel Rosenberg:

…The bottom line is there are a lot of theories over the years over what prophecy in the Bible might refer to the United States. A careful analysis of all of them indicates that there is not a single direct reference to the United States as a player in the last days.

So, the question really is ‘Why not?’ If we are already in the last days, how could the United States not be a clearly defined player? The answer is, we don’t know because the Bible doesn’t say.

Something happens by which the U.S. is paralyzed, sidelined or neutralized and therefore unable or unwilling to project influence to be a major force in the major events of the last days. That’s what Implosion is about, walking through a whole series of things that could happen to the United States, things that are consistent with Bible prophecies and what the Bible says will happen to various nations in the last days.

There is not a verse specifically about what happens to us. You have to look at a whole range of scenarios and say any one of these, or even a combination of them, is possible…

[…continue reading here…]

 A differing opinion: In this 35-min audio, the presenter feels America is in prophecy.

 

November 10, 2012

Weekend Link List

Weekend List Lynx

Do not ask for whom the link list tolls… as I won’t know what you’re talking about.

August 1, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Apologies to subscribers whose paragraphs have had ever-increasing font sizes. WordPress doesn’t always interpret HTML tags consistently, but we’re checking each post now before it publishes. Hopefully…

  • In 40 rooms in England’s Lake District, copies of The Bible in the bedside table have been replaced with Fifty Shades of Grey.
  • Classic Media, the parent company of the Veggie Tales brand is to be purchased by DreamWorks, creators of Shrek, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon.
  • God called me to add this link — okay, not really, but Heather Goodman things we overuse Holy Spirit language.
  • “Accepting people is more important than agreeing with them;” is among the findings of Elastic Morality, a 2011 Canadian youth research title that’s been flying under the radar.
  • Anglicans at The Falls Church in Virginia prove they can do modern worship songs as good as anyone else. Click here to listen to A Thousand Amens
  • And speaking about breaking denominational stereotypes, how about this: Baptist Monasteries. Yes, they exist and they aren’t new.
  • Meanwhile, conference speaker and author Gordon Dalby gets busted by a Catholic Priest for receiving communion. 
  • Mixing church history and doctrine, Parchment and Pen offers a thumbnail sketch of the rise of the Catholic Church
  • If you missed the video embed here Monday, you need to go take a look. For those who did watch, here’s another speaker from the same Lutheran youth conference, Leymah Gbowee.
  • When churches close, there’s no place for no place for marginalized kids to go; and Karen Spears Zacharias knows this from experience.
  • It’s not new, but here’s a classic video of Tony Campolo explaining how he came to throw a birthday party for a hooker at 3:00 AM.  
  • David Platt on video talks about comparing modes of radical Christian living. 
  • Two articles from New Direction Ministries that someone you know might need: (1)For the straight conservative Christian trying to repair a relationship with a gay loved one; and (2) The other side of the coin: When gay people long for reconciliation with their conservative Christian family
  • A portrait of Joel Osteen has been removed from a Georgia Library even as the TV preacher describes his message as not so big on hell-fire.
  • And speaking of preachers, this list goes back to February, but I like how Dudley Rutherford handled this listing of the top ten preachers in America.
  • An Australian church that averages about 300 attendees is applying for permission to build a 5,000 seat auditorium.
  • In the spirit of the First World Problems meme, Michael Belote offers First World Theology Problems, though I’m not sure I get all the nuances of this.
  • To new bloggers just starting out on WordPress: (1) Get rid of that “Hello World” post that came with your theme template by either deleting it or writing something profound to appear as the ‘first post’ you never wrote; and (2) Replace that “Just Another WordPress Blog” with your own tagline. Please!
  • Graphics today are from Faith in the Journey.

April 11, 2012

Wednesday Link List

WLL #99, but who’s counting?  Besides they existed before the name became uniform each week. 

  • Fine artist Thomas Kinkade died over the Easter weekend. He chose to highly commercialize his art rather than sell in galleries; and after becoming a Christian many of his works were faith-focused.
  • Many local churches are discovering how to do what we call The Lord’s Supper or Communion in something closer to its original context as a meal. Alan Knox shares how that happened in combination with an Easter Sunday gathering.
  • You may have seen the Google predictive search results for phrases beginning with “Christians are…”  Matt Stone tries Google searching the same phrase substituting other religions.
  • An Ontario school board wants to ban the distribution of Bibles, and now board members are receiving threats which are not coming from the Gideons.
  • The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) ran a report on Easter Sunday on how technology is impacting various world religions. Bobby Gruenewald of livechurch.tv was interviewed, and there was a brief shot of Craig Groeschel, but otherwise, Christian representation was limited to file footage of Billy Graham et al.
  • The American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) wandered down the same road on the same day with an interview with Rick Warren, who hasn’t done much media lately.  Don’t miss the part on page five of the transcript where he affirms that dogs and cats go to heaven. Yes, he said that. (Video not available outside the U.S.)
  • And speaking of heaven, Time Magazine revisits the concept four years later.  Here’s a link to their coverage then and now; the ’08 article is available in full, the current article will cost ya.
  • The Russian Orthodox Church went to a lot of trouble to airbrush a photo showing Patriarch Kirill I wearing a $30,000 wristwatch, but while they got they watch removed, they missed its reflection in a highly polished table.
  • Peter Rollins publicly denies the resurrection. But before you quote me on that, better watch the video.
  • Yesterday at C201 we tapped into a series from Mike Breen’s blog wherein a British pastor reflects on the differences between the church in North America and the church in England.
  • A graduate student in theology and support staff worker at Randy Alcorn’s Eternal Perspective Ministries gives a short Christian response to The Hunger Games franchise.
  • Rachel Held Evans spoofed her own Sunday Superlatives — the equivalent to this Wednesday Link List — on what happened to be April 1st. Too bad; some of the articles looked promising.
  • Blogger John Shore participated in a “Burning of Resentments” ceremony on Easter Sunday. Apparently in 2013 this is going to take place across religious lines in San Diego County.
  • What Every Man Wishes His Father Had Told Him is a new collection of essays from author Byron Forrest Yawn. Check out the book trailer.
  • The character in this Motts for Tots packaging looks really familiar, but shouldn't that be tomato juice instead of apple juice?

    Jefferson Bethke, aka the “I hate religion but I love Jesus” guy, is interviewed by Trevin Wax on the topic of Student Ministry.
  • The old church annual report is never the same once it goes digital.  Here’s an analysis of the one from Elevation Church (Steven Furtick) which includes video links, infographics and humor.
  • Want to take your church service online?  Check out Church Online Platform and also 316 Networks.
  • It’s been ten months now, and this post about regulations at Perry Noble’s church still draws a lot of comments from both sides.
  • The Worship Song links in the sidebar at Christianity 201 have finally been updated, and the blogroll here is in the middle of some serious editing. Only blogs with posts within the last 30 days are listed, though some do return after disappearing.
  • Christianity Today now requires a subscription in order to read selected articles online. If you find a link here to what is now paid article, let me know and it will be deleted.

February 15, 2012

Wednesday Link List

First, two strongly related links:

  • Author Mike Breen guests at Verge Network with Obituary for the American Church.  He notes three factors responsible for killing the church, celebrity, consumerism and competition.
  • Rachel Held Evans guests at Relevant Magazine with a particular focus on the celebrity mindset in the church, check out When Jesus Meets TMZ.

Other links this week:

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